Wednesday, 11 February 2015


So I've been reading this book 'Let Go'* during my prayer time each day. Last week, I was reading about 'The Discovery and Death of Self'...
'It was Henry Van Dyke who said, "Self is the only prison that can bind the soul." Let Go Introduction
I've known for years I was self-obsessed. (That's why I tell people I'm going to be the patron saint of humility.) The photo folder named 'Me' that I kept adding photos to might have tipped me off. The way I skimmed through photo albums, and only paused if there were pictures of me. The constant obsession with (the unattractiveness of) my hair, compliments, guys who paid any attention to me, how much I talked about myself.

But now the more I think of it, the more I realize how easy it is for MOST people to live a life completely revolved around the God of ME, no matter what they may be doing. Its the most evident in the world of Facebook.

Selfies are only the tip of the iceberg. Or liking your own status.

Selfies circa 2005 or so... Somebody stop me!

 This didn't happen.

It's writing witty/wise/thoughtful statuses and incessantly checking how many 'Likes' you got.

It's that sinking feeling when no one reacts to something you posted.

It's checking WHO the 156 people who liked your profile pic are.

It's constantly changing your profile pic. Un-tagging unflattering pictures of yourself. Bugging people to upload photos from the last party/holiday because you want to see yourself in them.

I don''t want to mock anyone who does these things because I've been there. And they, like me, are just hungry for recognition, affirmation, validation. And maybe it doesn't mean that your ego is too big. Maybe it means your self-image is kinda shaky, and it needs some bolstering. Why NOT get it through a bunch of Facebook likes?

Because it can so easily become addictive. When you try to deal with low self-worth by feeding yourself with 'I'm-so-awesome-all-these-likes-prove-it', you begin to live for your next fix. And it will never satisfy.

We see the addiction and aggrandizement of self in blogging too. Nothing like a platform to make people feel self-important. 'A space for ME.' I think that's a direct quote from my first blog post of my first blog that I started almost nine years ago. Writing about MY experiences, MY opinions, MY feelings. Having an appreciative audience. Watching the stats, the number of pageviews, the comments. And that's just on an itty-bitty blog like mine that mostly only my friends read, and hardly anyone ever comments on. What must be the temptation for the BIG bloggers?

Okay, stop blogging then, Sue. Get off Facebook. You obviously need a reality check.

Don't worry, there's room for being self-obsessed everywhere! And there's better ways of hiding it from even yourself, under the guise of social acceptability. How about some doing good work... to make yourself feel good? How about thinking AS you help someone, 'Well, that was thoughtful of me'? (Like Phoebe in Friends 'There's no such thing as a truly selfless good deed.')

How about Instagramming your life to make it look prettier and more quirky/fun/meaningful than it is?

How about conversations that keep going back to YOU? (If not aloud, then in your head.) My sister and I have a code to remind each other when we're doing that- 'I don't have a cat'. Because of this:

Person 1: My cat died.
Person 2: I don't have a cat.

How about editing what you say to people about your day or week so that they hear about only the good version of you? Or wait, how about putting yourself down a little, being a little self-deprecating, so THEN they think you're humble? So much more subtle.

How about choosing your religion or beliefs or opinions from whichever option sounds the most polished/intellectually elite/popular/funny? Something that makes you feel a little rush of  'I'm so above all these uneducated, simplistic masses'? Don't worry, there's versions of that in people who profess to follow Christianity, atheism, agnosticism, and probably most other belief systems. How many of us love truth for truth, uninfluenced by how good that version of truth looks on us, or how it makes other people view us?

What about falling in love? How often do we call it 'love' when it's really about how the other person makes ME feel, how well they stroke my ego, the attention they pay me? Do I dwell longingly on the times when I saw signs of their interest in ME? Are they at all interesting to me if it's not in reference to me? Do I want marriage and babies because it'll make me feel validated and important in the eyes of the world?

Someone I know recently mentioned the rush of self-importance even of standing up as a lector at Mass. I have felt the rush of giving talks where I can see the effect of my words on my audience. I win them over, and I LOVE the feeling. Because IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!

How many of us approach any kind of social occasion thinking 'What will they think of me? What kind of impression am I making?' or 'How can I maximize my own pleasure at this thing? How can I get the most attention? How am I feeling?' (I once drew a graph of how much fun I was having WHILE hanging out with friends. Yeah, I think I'm so funny.)

I could go on.

There's self-important and self-obsessed people everywhere. It's more obvious in some. Most of us, if we dig a little deeper into our motivations, find that those self-important, self-obsessed people are us.

So what's the solution? I can delete my Facebook, and my blog, but that won't stop the ego from trying to poison other things in my life. Should I stop doing good works because of the impure motives mixed in the purer ones? Probably not. I could write blog posts about being self-obsessed, but maybe that would just make me feel I was being so authentic and honest, without really changing. Do I just accept my self-centredness as a fact of life, and resign myself to it?
I refuse.

The reason I have hope is because of the saints. The joyful, selfless people I've met who seem to have found the secret. And the secret isn't self-hatred. I think there are three keys to killing the self-obsession.

1. Take a good, hard, honest look at the ugliness of your own self-obsession. As it meets the light of truth, it will shrivel.
... Your ego can neither be convinced nor forced into submission by any means (except being reduced to a state of weakness): it is always finding secret lines of supply from your own courage; it is always discovering impenetrable retreats in your own cleverness. It was hidden from your eyes while it fed upon the subtle poison of an apparent generosity as you constantly sacrificed yourself for others....

Self love, forced into the light, sees itself as it really is in all its deformity and despair and disgrace...

To expose self love (is to) no longer see self as wise, prudent, polite, composed and courageous in sacrificing itself for others..
All you have to do is to quietly look at it as it is. The moment you can do this, self will disappear. (Letter 10, Let Go)
Once you've surrendered the worst, most shameful, vain, selfish part of you to a merciful God, who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, let go.

2. Choose to live in the theo-drama: 'The favorite theologian of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Hans Urs von Balthasar, distinguished between what he called “the ego-drama” and “the theo-drama.” The ego drama is the play written by you, produced by you, and above all, starring you. The theo-drama is the play written and produced by God. You, along with everyone else, have a role to play in it, and discovering that role is what will make your life worth living. That's the pearl of great prize. That's the treasure buried in the field. Your life is finally not about you — and that is wonderful news.' Fr. Robert Barron, Providence College Commencement Address

Since I am only who I am in the eyes of God, neither the world's praise nor its blame can make or break me.

Living in the theo-drama doesn't mean choosing to beat oneself up all the time. It isn't to think BADLY of yourself. It is to stop spending so much time thinking of self at all. It's turning the gaze outwards- to God and neighbour.

3. 'Sparkle with self-forgetfulness'.

(Insert sparkly Instagram picture of girl who 'obviously' isn't self-obsessed, nah, doesn't work)

Some years ago, I was in the middle of one of those dramatic situations where Girl 1 and Girl 2 like Guy, Guy had been paying some attention to Girl 1, until Girl 3 turned up, then Guy falls for Girl 3, who is flirty and attention-seeking and altogether unworthy of Guy's attention according to Girl 1 and Girl 2 anyway. We were about to go for some outing, and I (Girl 1) was upset and worried about how everyone was going to relate to each other, whether Guy would pay any attention to me, how I should behave, etc. Then I went for Mass, and everything changed. From my journal:
Without consciously realizing it, my instinctive reaction was to think of how I could get maximum attention and happiness for myself. But then during Mass, grace kicked in! It suddenly all fell into place. The question was “What should I do? How should I be?” And the Answer came “Love.”
And I saw it all. The obvious answer obscured by my selfishness. Radiant with self-forgetfulness. I saw exactly how I should be. Playing with the children, talking to the adults, singing with the girls, fully present to the people I was with, listening, involved, not constantly following (Guy) with my eyes, or focussing on the drama or evaluating how much attention I or anyone was getting. Truly being who I was supposed to be. Being completely happy. And praise Jesus, it worked! He worked! It was such a great day.
It works. Try it.

*Let Go' is a collection of letters from Fenelon, a Catholic Bishop to bunch of people who he was spiritual advisor to at the court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century.

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