Love me, so that I can love myself: A Western identity crisisAnja van Kralingen
I recently watched a thought provoking TED Talk by Yann Dall’Aglio, a French philosopher. His talk was about the current Western approach to love. There is no doubt that we all want to be loved, not only romantically, but also by family, friends and peers.
Yann makes compelling observations about the way this “desire to be loved” has impacted on modern Western society, and that it is not necessarily in a positive way; in fact he reveals a rather disturbing and disillusioning reality.
Yann Dall'Aglio's theory
Yann examines Western consumerism, its cause and the effect it has on our approach to relationships.
He posits that we all need to feel valued and desirable within our relationships. He explains that love is the desire to be desired, and that we will go above and beyond to figure out how to become – and remain – desirable.
Yann further describes how current Western consumerist society is the result of this basic drive to make ourselves valuable and desirable. Unlike older societies where family and social structures have remained in place for hundreds of years, Western traditional family and social structures have disintegrated. Prior to the 13th century, family and social structures were governed by a clear set of social rules. Depending upon one’s age, sex and social status there were well defined expectations and principles of behaviour, thus, to the degree that you played your part in this structure, you were loved and valued.
The Renaissance contributed to new cultural movements resulting in a mass identity crisis, as modernity ushered in the era of scientific research, political democratisation and the industrial revolution. As a result, reason is now the ruling attitude, individual rights are paramount and trade has been liberalised. These three movements have annihilated traditional Western bearings, giving rise to a society of individuals who are free to value or disvalue any choice, attitude or object. The problem for Western citizens is that we, in turn, have each become subject to this same devaluation by others. We are no longer valued for our roles, our age or the positions we occupy within our social structures, and therefore experience the driving compulsion to renegotiate our value in society on a daily basis.
This obsession is a constant source of contemporary anxiety.
The solution for most individuals is to hysterically collect symbols of desirability. Yann coins this act of collecting as “seduction capital”, which he affirms is the drive behind our modern, Western, consumerist society. He claims that the idea of Western consumption being materialistically motivated is wholly untrue. It is Yann’s theory that our individual drive to improve our value capital is what promotes our excessive consumerism. He describes our motivation towards consumerism as being sentimental and unmaterialistic, by referring to a teenage boy who buys a brand new pair of jeans and then tears them at the knees just so that ‘Jennifer’ will notice him.
Yann postulates that there are two likely future outcomes of this view of contemporary love or “seduction capital”.
He foresees that this narcissistic capitalisation will intensify. Perhaps in the future your value will be defined by your height/weight ratio, your professional degree, your income or your popularity as indicated by the number of “likes” on your dating profile. Using the example of current day loyalty points Yann refers to “seduction capital points”. He postulates a future in which a chemical treatment for breakups would lessen any residual feelings of attachment. Yann envisages a reality in which the state of permanent seduction value is preferable to being in an actual relationship, and he refers to an existing MTV programme in which “pickup artists” view falling in love as, a disease; an infection; a “squandering of seduction capital”. Heartache is referred to as “one-nitis”; an affliction during which you are infected by the “one”. He imagines a scenario in which we would be able to present our romantic genomic credentials as we would a business card, in order to establish seduction viability.
Inevitably such a relentless pursuit for seduction value has a shadow side; the huge disparity in seduction satisfaction is bound to leave many people with feelings of loneliness and frustration, calling in to question modernity itself, which is the origin of seduction capital, thus playing to the agendas of neo-fascist and/or religious communities who oppose and reject the modern capitalist approach.
What is the solution? How does one renounce this “hysterical” need to be valued? Yann proposes that we all need to accept that we are basically useless. This is demonstrated by our inability to perceive ourselves as having any intrinsic or inherent value, unless it is through the desire from another.
Ultimately, “I want to be perfect to gain the approval and love from another, and I want my partner to be perfect so that it justifies the value I attribute to them”.
In contrast Yann calls for tenderness – “love” as tenderness -, which allows us to accept the loved one’s weaknesses. He believes that there is much charm and happiness (joy) in a tender relationship that can be demonstrated by a greatly underrated form of humour comprised of deliberate frankness and light-hearted self-mockery.
Watch the talk here https://www.ted.com/talks/yann_dall_aglio_love_you_re_doing_it_wrong
How this talk spoke to me
I thought that Yann expressed his theory succinctly and convincingly. I think he is onto something. And it doesn’t look good for the future of Western civilisation. I recognise that seduction capital is what drives media, movies, TV, advertising and it certainly provides the impetus behind most sales strategies.
Schooling systems are designed to create productive, successful human beings with triple A personalities. There is no place for the creative, non-conformist child and to find an environment in which such a child is valued often comes at great cost to the parents. Many of these children are medicated to fit in because the parents feel pressured into having a “normal” child.
There is increasing urgency for people to improve themselves and a great desire to become perfect. Facebook is a means of assessing how others perceive us; it is important that we appear happy; as though we are constantly having fun.
We are driven to succeed and set goals. Modern focus in the therapy industry has moved from the depth psychological approach to behavioural and cognitive therapy. The goal is to become a functioning and productive member of society. For those who are already functioning and productive, the next step is coaching. You must set and achieve personal goals. There is always some aspect of you that needs improvement or “tweaking” to make you more successful, more acceptable and more lovable. Not only do you want to belong and be accepted; you also need to be better than anyone else at this game.
So you play this game. But nobody seems to know exactly what the game is or what the rules are. We just know we need to be better, cooler, more together, happier and on top of ourselves.
We live in a society that is focused on your value as a commodity. It does not matter which sub culture you belong to, your value in that environment is based on how well you fit in so that the other can accept you and love you.
At the Centre, we see firsthand what it is like for students to feel isolated, unloved, frustrated or lonely. Most people start on the Jungian journey because they are experiencing deep sadness. They feel lost and unhappy and disconnected from themselves and others.
A Jungian Solution
Yann has a romantic idea of tenderness and acceptance, and is even willing to ridicule himself to achieve this. But to shift the whole of society to adopt this attitude would be quite an achievement; especially in a reality where failure is not an option.
Perhaps there is another way – Jung provides us with a unique solution to this challenge. The key to the problem lies in changing our focus to become inherently and intrinsically valuable to ourselves; not to improve ourselves to impress others; not to pursue goals and standards that are set by society; not to pursue perfection; not to outdo our neighbour.
Although this is as idealistic as Yann’s solution, it can be accomplished. This is the focus and the work we do at the Centre for Applied Jungian Studies. I believe that the work we do affects, and profoundly changes, the orientation our clients and students have towards their lives and the world. Each one of these individuals in turn influences and teaches his/her friends, family and peers.
I think we all dumb down our own individuality in order to belong to a group. Even the fringe sub-cultures fall into this category. The moment you are sacrificing your interests, thoughts, feelings and needs in order to belong to a group, you fall into a trap; the trap of selling yourself out. The psychological truth is that your relationship with yourself is reflected in how you feel in your life. Are you feeling lost? Then you have lost yourself. Are you feeling lonely? Then you do not know yourself.
Every person should be encouraged and guided to individuate; to develop their inherent talents, their own interests and what makes them happy; to be individuals who are mindful of themselves and self-reflective; to who know who they are, what they are good at and what they are not good at; to have an internal compass to guide them; to be individuals who find meaning and purpose in expressing themselves uniquely.
I believe, as did Jung, that this is of the utmost importance for the evolution of our society. It is no surprise that our society projects all that is unacceptable, undesirable and threatening onto the other. In this pursuit of perfection, all that is less than perfect will have to be carried by another so that we can feel okay about ourselves. No wonder there is so much genocide, hate, bullying, rape and oppression.
As Jung said, our ability to accept and accommodate each other lies in our ability to accept and accommodate ourselves. Inner strife and conflict is projected onto the other and I do believe that by pursuing individuation, we will achieve a love and respect for diversity, a tolerance for the other and the ability to accept and admire that which we are not. Self-acceptance is key to feeling content with oneself. Being at peace with and accepting yourself removes the barriers to being good enough and lovable enough. And this in turn brings about an acceptance of the other.
The Jungian Approach
Jung’s teachings are about finding out who you are. The focus is on the process of individuation, which is a journey towards becoming more (and more) yourself. This is not an outcome; it is journey. There are no rules that you need to obey or follow. It is a system, of tools and skills that teach consciousness – self-awareness and self-reflection. It is a movement inwards, towards yourself.
You are not born a tabula rasa (blank slate). The complexes, archetypes and unconscious parts of yourself comprise who you are. In a world in which we are pushed and molded to be like everyone else, the authentic self is suppressed and oppressed. But feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness cannot be ignored; they seep out of us no matter what we do to silence the inner voice that is our true self.
There is an idea from Jungian psychology, that we become whole and congruent when we align ourselves with our complexes and archetypes. The mis-alignment is what causes neurosis, a condition in which you keep repeating a way of being or behaviour that causes you to become stuck.
The Jungian approach is not exclusive. It does not expect you to break away from your current structures or religion. It is a process of making conscious what your world offers you. It can help you align yourself with your world and extract meaning from it.
Jung has left us a model; an approach to finding out who this essential being is beneath all that conditioning. The Jungian system will allow you to embrace who you are with a deep understanding and connection. Knowing who you are and understanding what is going on within yourself brings acceptance of self. Only once you have reconnected and aligned yourself with who you really are is it possible to uncover your true purpose.
I am going to use America vs China as a sample to support Yann’s theory. This data was taken from an article dated November 20, 2017. In America 30% of the population suffer from anxiety, and 20% from depression. In China, anxiety is at 5% and depression at 2%.
The author quotes researchers who state that this is because of essential differences in the way the West and East view the world. Westerners divide the world into good vs evil, self vs other. They mentally isolate people, objects and events from the broader context. They view themselves as free agents who are independent. The East considers that opposites coexist, and they see events, people and objects from a broad perspective. They define themselves in terms of relationship and mutual obligations.
I think the research supports the theory that in the West, we tend to split our experience into good and bad, pursuing only the good. Isolation and loneliness are things that many people suffer from and our independence and freedom are paramount to us, which creates an idea that we are not part of a whole, or in fact responsible for the whole.
Last year we wrote a blog about the focus of the Jungian concept of transformation and I think this article expands on that. I do not believe that Jung’s approach is the only approach to achieving this goal, but it has worked for me and all the individuals who have been privileged to encounter this body of knowledge.
I want to encourage you as you read this, to reflect for yourself; what do you think your value is that makes you desirable; and what have you have sacrificed to achieve it and keep it?
Can you say that you love yourself for who you are?
These are profoundly difficult questions to ask yourself since it requires total honesty and we, as human beings, have an uncanny knack of deceiving ourselves and justifying our own behaviour. But the signs will be there if you are not living your authentic life; depression, anxiety, listlessness, sadness and feeling lost and unhappy. If these feelings keep cropping up, it is time to re-evaluate who you are and redefine yourself.
The path to authenticity is through developing a relationship with yourself. Find out who you are at the core; your essence. Learn how to speak the language of your soul and to engage your unconscious. Make friends with those parts of you which you don’t like. Learn to listen to your body, emotions and feelings, since this is the way to understanding what is really going on for you.
I would like to leave you with a quote from Jung:
“… but, in so far as society is itself composed of de-individualized human beings, it is completely at the mercy of ruthless individualists. Let it band together into groups and organizations as much as it likes – it is just this banding together and the resultant extinction of the individual personality that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one. Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally short-sighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world had seen more than enough of what a well-disciplined mob can do in the hand of a single madman.
… People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations in the world can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans.”
Carl Gustav Jung – The Undiscovered Self
Until next time