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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