Defining Myself Through Others, Revisited

A deeper look at an old topic

Some time when I was a child, I asked my mother if she loved her nails more than she loved me. She had this kit full of nail tools — clippers, files made of metal and emery, toe separators, fake nails separated in little boxes, even a small hand-held, battery-operated dremel with different attachments used to grind, sand, and polish — that she would carry with her around the house. When I asked her this question, she picked me up in her arms, and vehemently denied it. I didn’t believe her though, not in my heart. She had always paid more attention to her nails than to me.

My dad was no better. One time I googled his name to find his work number, and came across an audio/visual site where he had written a small paragraph as a review on a projector he had. I was crushed. It was more effort than he had ever put into my life, sitting in a couple of short sentences in front of me. It would have been okay if he had been so uninterested in everything, but he wasn’t. He loved his car, he loved his home theatre, he loved his karaoke, but me he had no interest in.

So, before I had become a teenager, I started to look for some kind of approval from other people. At that point, it was Andrew and Alex. They were my best friends in grade 3 and 4, but I changed schools in grade 5. Even after this, I tried to hang out with them but they seemed to be more interested in school, and we lost touch.

Pretty soon, I realized that I wasn’t anyone’s “best friend”. I cried and I cried and I cried. I felt like I needed this to define myself. I needed be a priority to someone because I certainly wasn’t a priority to my parents. Without being someone’s best friend, I was worthless.

As an adult, you may feel insecure about certain aspects of your life. You lack self-confidence in areas where you feel vulnerable — intimate relationships, social situations, or work. Within your vulnerable areas, you feel inferior to other people. You are hypersensitive to criticism or rejection.

I still feel this way now. The problem is that the need isn’t being met. Everyone puts other people first, and the one foundation I believed I had in my life has crumbled. I’m never important enough.

Two things keep me from killing myself.

The thought that one day, I may mean something to someone. Or the thought that one day, I’ll be able to stop defining myself through others, and simply be content with who I am.

Either way, something’s gotta give.


  1. hey,
    just to say, i wish i could help. feel free to write back if you need someone to talk to.

  2. Dude, killing yourself is stupid. I’ve thought of it plenty of times. Totally brash what-ifs, because I honestly don’t think that far into the future. The only thing that really keeps me going is the promise of pleasure, somewhere in my life, through something, with someone. I realize that despite all my accomplishments and how hard I seem to work for things, any real sense of fulfillment only comes when someone else is fawning over me or interested in what I’m doing. I feel like that’s a fault of my personality, a weakness, to put my happiness in other people … but maybe this is just what happens to kids that grow up without parents that were there to love them 100% of the time. Like 100%. :/

    I’m starting to accept that. I’m realizing, in this flurry of spring fever crushes, that when I start to like someone, I think about adapting myself to them, to enjoy THEM and have them be this new interesting fixture in my life. But now that I think about it, that makes me less interesting, it takes away from what I could develop into. I’m not sure what love is. Or how I should act when I’m in love, or even just think someone is fun an interesting. Lately I’ve been drinking just enough to make myself ignore those hesitant thoughts and just have that uninhibited person talking.

    I feel alone. All I cry for is physical comfort, but when I’m feeling really frustrated and hopeless, I find myself mumbling “someone who loves me, someone just for me.” I’m not sure what it all means. It seems like it’s too much to ask for, because life is so absurd.

    I don’t know what I mean to say. Just an encouraging feeling from someone who is going in and out of the same shit. Life is absurd. Pleasure is where you find it. Read Henry Miller. Don’t die. Fluttery hearts everywhere.

  3. @ana — Thanks ana. It’s nice to know I have another person to turn to.

    @Maggie — I don’t really think about killing myself, it just seems like the natural thing to do sometimes, an idea that goes through my head on the verge of my consciousness. This probably means that I’ll never go through with it, cause when I actually do think about it, I shake it off.

    Your admittance of the fact that you only get fulfillment through others strikes a chord with me seeking of approval/acceptance (thank you for being open and sharing this part of yourself). It’s certainly a lot of pressure to be putting into someone; perhaps this is the problem I have. I can’t accept it, because it seems somewhat unfair, yet I need it. It’s like I’m at fault for feeling this way.

    In my romantic relationships too, I always think of adapting myself to someone else. To me, changing yourself for someone — that level of self-sacrifice — is the greatest act of love, and I’m always ready to prove that I love someone in this way. The pity is that I always do this, hoping my girlfriends feel the same way, but they never do. Most just tell me that I have to accept them as they are, and I get let down every time.

    It’s interesting that we’re in two very different sets of circumstances, yet we’re both roughly going through the same thing. I’m not really sure how your words are supposed to be encouraging, but the fact that we’re together in this absurdity makes me feel less alone. Having someone tell me “don’t die” makes me smile too.

  4. You know, I think I first heard “Don’t die” in Speed, the movie with Keanu Reeves. I was a preteen and felt my first blush of adolescent passion for a movie star… ohhh boy.

    Yeah, the fleeting thoughts of “if I killed myself dadada” come to me too. But similarly, the moment I consciously think about it, it’s a great big cackling HAH!

    I think self-sacrifice is too much nowadays. After I gave up so much of myself of someone who abused it (ex Roberto), I cannot let myself do the same again. But how I want to ADORE someone! I can’t bring myself to write it in my own journal just yet, but I had the chance to caress the skin of a beautiful boy, with an elegant script tattoo of “Willing” on his collarbone, and oh how much I would just like to sit around naked with him and talk about things and feel the weight of his muscles.

    Unfortunately, that will never happen ever again. I’m kicking myself. It hurts. I knew nothing would come of a one-time thing, and yet I still have become SO attached. I can’t figure out why this happens. I don’t know what my ideal relationship would be now anyway. “Love” doesn’t make sense. I want flirtatious companionship, and yet I want to adore freely.

    What on earth. Solidarity, yo.

  5. You need to know that even though there are days where it may seem that no one cares, but they do, and they would definitely care if you weren’t around. I think it’s also hard being an only child, with parents who were never really there for you emotionally.

  6. @Maggie — What scares me is that I don’t laugh when I think about suicide. My cases against it don’t seem strong enough for it to be considered ludicrous. Still, very unlikely that it’s going to happen.

    In your words, I read a bit about your own D/s tendencies between the lines. Just don’t kick yourself for falling for someone, even if you get hurt. There’s nothing more beautiful than being in love.

    We walk the line between both worlds — that balance between the freedom of being single, and the support of a relationship — and we can’t figure out which one we want more, which is probably why we’re so undecided.

    You’re right though, love doesn’t make sense. I guess that’s what makes it love.

    @Sophia — I wish I could believe that people would care if I was gone, but their actions lead me to believe otherwise. Either that, or there hasn’t been a strong enough situation to prove such an idea.

    A mother (of three) did tell me once that it’s harder on an only child, because all the hopes and dreams of children, all that pressure, is in one person. It’s definitely a pressure I felt when I was young, passed the point where I moved out of the house.

  7. What would happen if you are important enough for that somebody? Wouldn’t his/her attention freak you out? What is the line you’ve drawn in the importance factor? Should the person stalk you? Should the person drop everything in their life to come to your calling anytime?

    Is being very important for someone you don’t respect enough to fulfill your need? Alternatively, what does important mean for someone you respect?

  8. I’m sure you have been told or even come to realize on your own that you cannot rely on other people for your own happiness. This is hard at times and I often have to remind myself of the same things. I weigh my own self worth on how often I can make others feel better or how much I can do for someone else. Its one of my character flaws–I care entirely too much of what people think of me even though I am quick to say that it makes no difference. We are often our own worst enemy and sabotage chances of being happy without even realizing we did it. Try not to let things pull you too far down…life is ever changing and sometimes the best thing to do is roll with the changes coming your way.

  9. @Causalien — You can be extremely important to someone without being their centre of attention (and I would definitely be freaked out if I was someone’s centre of attention).

    I don’t expect my friends to drop everything when I want them to. I don’t even expect them to drop everything for me when I need them to. If I did, I wouldn’t be a very good friend. I think friendship and love is to never expect something from someone, but never having to ask for it as well, because it’s provided when needed.

    What makes me sad is that I don’t feel important to my friends; the support I need isn’t provided unless it’s convenient for them.

    I think you’re trying to oversimplify the issue. Being important “enough” isn’t something that can be clearly defined. It would be like defining the feeling of love. How would someone know that someone loves you? Can you tell because they buy presents for your birthday? Or because they listen to you when you need to talk to someone? Or because they cook for you without having to ask? If they stopped doing one of these things, would it mean that they don’t love you anymore?

    And being important to someone I don’t respect doesn’t fulfill any needs of mine.

    @Lucy — I try very hard to not depend on other people for my happiness, but often I find I’m not strong enough to achieve happiness for myself. As you say, it’s hard at times. Maybe it’s because I’m not happy with myself to begin with. It’s something I’m working to fix.

    It’s true that life is full of change, but I think there are a few things, such as childhood and friendship, that should be solid and stable in order for us to grow.

  10. What do you say if I say if I had a boy I would not help him even when he needs help( barring desperate need of help) just to train him to be strong and independent enough to face the real world? That’s really what I would do. I call that love.

    Your idea of love seems to be in the subtlety of not asking for help and not accepting help from you friend when he/she offers help, but there must be the offer for love to exist. You wouldn’t accept the help because that way you wouldn’t be a good friend yourself. With this mentality, one would consciously or subconsciously show the need for help, without the actual need, just to prove to oneself that one is loved. That could be dangerous, that would be like “cry wolf “.

    One really have to choose between the freedom of being single and the support from a relationship. But in real life, it’s about the degree of freedom vs. the degree of support, hoprfully they can strike a balance. This reminds me of the Taoist symbol where there’s the black in the white, and the white in the black. The question is, if a person is good enough for you to love, why would you want him/her to change for you?

  11. I would say that there are certain situations where that kind of “tough love” would be appropriate, but not in all. There needs to be a balance between too much help, and not enough. Of course, it depends on the person as well. Not everyone would be able to survive being raised like that. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to find this fine line for each child, and to raise each accordingly.

    You’re right about my idea of love. I don’t show the need for help unless I really need it though; I never cry wolf, because that would make me a terrible friend. This is part of the reason why I’m insecure in my friendships. I feel like love is never shown to me. Unfortunately, my friends never ask for help either, so I feel like I have no way of “proving” or showing that I love them as well.

    I believe that changing for someone is also a relative thing, something that can’t be defined, quantified, or compared. Even healthy, strong relationships take work, and this may come in the form change, because I don’t believe in a “soul mate” or a perfect partner. Relationships should have a balance between compromise (change) and acceptance.

  12. Regrettably, this was the same as my situation and I remember quite plainly thinking that my mom cared more about our dog than me.

    I also remember a weekend in which I realized that I was actually very, VERY much alone in my own experience in life (I was perhaps 10) and I began crying and couldn’t stop. My parents, first my mother, attempting consolation, then showing worry, then showing annoyance, then feigning true concern, and finally calling in my father to tell me I had to stop, period, use some self-discipline, for heaven’s sake… I cried for about three days and didn’t sleep or eat and couldn’t lock my door, since there was no lock; they just kept coming in and asking why, and I could say nothing at all. I had nothing to say to them. If I offered the slightest weakness, it was always trumped, so I never offered the truth to them. And when I finally stopped from exhaustion they never went any further. Just, ok, that’s done, good.

    Now when I’m criticized or found lacking, I can hide my reactions, but it’s still crippling. It makes me have the wrong assumptions, conclusions, ruins my life with its abnormality and my overboard reactions. Even now I’m fighting it. I have to fight me all the time. It’s so tiring, so hard to keep up with. I have felt like suicide more than a few times, but to actually get close to such a thing, I realize it is not my friend, and I will fare no better there than here. All in all, I’m very Dorothy Parker about it now. Might as well live.

    For me, you are the gargantuan, ebullient promise of good. You make my experience valid, even your sucky messed up childhood. To me, you’re the pure and untouched, the familliar voice I have had to keep myself company with all these years, while doubting it was only me behind a curtain. You have no idea how comforting that is to me, even in print. And, though I probably shouldn’t say so, the fact that you are like this and are a guy rather than female, makes me all the more amazed and pleased. I should like to meet you one day, very much.

  13. Your parents sound as cold as mine. They also sound like they shouldn’t have had kids, because compassion is necessary to a child.

    I’ve learned to hide my emotions as well. It’s a defence mechanism where I can’t be hurt if I don’t give my parents (or other people) the opportunity to let me down. This causes the same problems though; “clamming up” makes us terrible communicators. Therapy is helping me fix this.

    Perhaps it is exactly this messed up childhood that makes us connect. While far from being pure and untouched, I’m glad I’m able to make you feel less alone, as you’ve done the same for me. It’s funny that you say it’s me being male with these feelings and issues that gives them more significance, when it’s usually the cause of ridicule and me being considered effeminate.

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