Society today is facing a grave epidemic. This toxic plague affects almost every aspect of our lives—our interpersonal relationships, our capacity to work and succeed, even our ability to play. This illness is so prevalent and mainstream, many brush it off as a natural part of life.The disease: self-ism (note: this is not a medical term. In fact, I just coined it 3 seconds ago. I don’t suggest using it amongst medical professionals).
Self-ism, narcissism, an overly enthusiastic self-concept, or an all-consumptive love for self—this is one of the most colossal ailments facing our nation today. Humanity in general perpetually thinks, speaks, and acts for itself. We have become extraordinarily selfish—me, it’s all about me.
The Concept of “Me”
Self-concept—the ability to recognize our reflection—is actually a very human characteristic (shared only by apes). We can recognize our own image from an early age. If you were to put a dog, cat, or earthworm (actually, scratch that, earthworms are blind) in front of a mirror, they would view their reflection as simply another life form. They would make gestures and vocalize greetings but retain no notion that this imagine in the mirror is, well, them. Contrarily, when apes are placed in front of a mirror, they begin to groom themselves, use their reflection to pick food from their teeth, and make faces for their own entertainment. Apes recognize their image. This same self-recognition has been observed in mini-humans (babies) as young as 18 months old. Recognizing our own image is often the first concept of “me.”
Okay, we recognize ourselves in the mirror. So what?
Not only do we recognize ourselves, we’re obsessed with ourselves. I was curious to discover how much time the average individual spends in front of a mirror (the studies I found were from North America and Britain. They do not include surveys from developing nations). One survey from the Huffington Post indicated that women spend an average of 55 minutes per day on personal appearance (this equates to about 335 hours or two weeks per year). While men may not apply eye-shadow and mascara, a survey of 1,000 British males revealed that men will “check themselves out” as often as 23 times a day (women look at their reflection a mere 16 times). Men however, tend to view themselves simply to admire favorite body parts (76% check out their arms, 54% their legs, 49% their smiles, 43% their eyes, and 38% their hair—nydailynews). I’m not here to act as judge. I’ve certainly spend my fair share of time in front of a mirror. But not only are we obsessed with our appearance, we are also obsessed with our very names.
Did I just hear my name?
The cocktail party effect is the ability to focus one’s attention on a word or conversation while filtering out all other noise. Pretty much, it’s selective hearing. For example, have you noticed that you can be in the middle of a hectic, noisy environment, yet still hear your name spoken on the other side of the room? This is the cocktail party effect. It shows how we can become selective in our attention—especially when a subject is directly related to us. We are overly sensitive to our names, or any aspect of who we are, for that matter.
Okay, so we recognize our face in the mirror. We can pick out our names. Whatever. We just love who we are!
Do we really, though? Is it possible that our self-preoccupation could be correlated to a lack of self-esteem? Maybe we spend so much time in front of the mirror because we’re ashamed of the way we look. Perhaps we recognize our names so easily because we fear what others think and say about us. Could this narcissism and self-absorption be a byproduct of low confidence? The truth is, almost everybody feels worse after thinking about themselves. It’s
discouraging. We have in our heads an ideal version of who we think we should be. We should look a certain way, act a certain way. Yet, as we delve into introspection, we realize just how far we fall from our imagined, perfect image.
A Different Deadly Plague
So maybe narcissism or self-ism isn’t the greatest, most potent plague facing society today. Perhaps the most destructive, deadly, and dangerous epidemic is a lack of self-confidence. Is there even a cure for that? Waking up and simply demanding self-respect has helped exactly no one. The negative image we carry of ourselves has often been influenced by years of degrading comments and unrealistic expectations offered by society. There’s a standard for appearance: the picture-perfect magazine-cover model. We cannot reach such a standard. There’s a standard for actions: employee of the month, the top-ten most successful leaders, and the greatest American entrepreneurs. Whatever it is, we see affluent, prosperous, and beautiful people all around us, and all we can think is that we have somehow missed the mark. So we spend the rest of our lives wishing we were different—obsessing with ourselves—trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of society and failing every time.
So what to do? Well, I’m no psychologist or expert, but here’s what’s worked for me:
- Embrace individuality.
If we all learned to appreciate our uniqueness, imagine how amazing this world would be! People would be viewed as distinctively original, beautifully singular and extraordinary. Find out what makes you you. Try to look past the habits and hobbies that have been influenced and molded by society. Dig deep into your core to discover what you love and embrace it.
- Don’t judge.
It’s so easy to fall into the habit of judging others for the very same insecurities we face ourselves. Besides the fact that no one ever feels good after negatively judging someone else, it also consciously or subconsciously reminds us of our own inefficiencies and difficulties. Give everyone a break. No one’s perfect. The people you encounter are almost certainly as insecure as you.
- Look in the mirror and smile at yourself.
Like, seriously. Smiling is beautiful.
- Tell yourself what you like about your appearance and personality—out loud.
Sure, you’ll sound slightly crazy. That’s awesome! Crazy is the new normal! Compliment yourself. This isn’t prideful or arrogant. It doesn’t stem from conceit or egotism. It’s you accepting and liking who you are. “Wow, my hair is actually looking pretty good today!”
- Give yourself a break.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to be a better person. We should strive to reach our full potential and be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. But don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably fail. It’s okay. Life goes on. Learn from your mistakes. Sure, you’ll make them again, but that’s part of growing!
- Laugh at yourself.
Life is a lot simpler when you learn to laugh at yourself. If you can chuckle at the little things—your obnoxious nose, that annoying cowlick—others will respect you for your attitude. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, our little perplexities really don’t matter. Life goes on.
- Confidence is beautiful.
Stand up straight. Keep your shoulders back. Hold your head high. Think about your actions. Think about your words. Speak and act with boldness. Pure and un-conceited confidence is true beauty.
- Remember you have value.
You’re alive, you’re a human—you are infinitely valuable. Don’t ever let another soul degrade you—ever.
If you really put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price. – Unknown
Society respects those who respect themselves. If you are in a constant rush to live up to unrealistically impossible expectations, you’ll be miserable and end up hating yourself. Don’t allow the world to place a price tag on you—the world doesn’t know true value. Work on becoming the best version of you possible, but don’t over-obsess with yourself. Narcissism and self-ism isn’t pretty, it’s destructive.
Let’s break this lousy chain of unrealistic expectations, low self-esteem, and self-absorption. Be yourself, love yourself, and remember: Today will be AMAZING!