We are taught in Western culture that we should be harder on ourselves than we are on others. This pervades Judeo-Christian thinking, but also shows up in management books, books on leadership.
Are my therapists swimming against the tide?
With such a weight of culture bearing down on all of us, is there any wonder that this view might come into conflict with self-love? How can you be hard on yourself and still love yourself? Tough Love? The drum that my therapists all seem to be banging with me has to do with self-love. Creating and holding space for myself. That appears to be the essence of self-love. Private affirmation.
So far, so good. But that is a bit in isolation. What happens when there are other people involved, as there inevitably are? Involved in the sense that they are on your case? How can you practice self-love when others are already being hard on you? Do you have to take it? Turn the other cheek?
Turning the other Cheek
This Christian concept is one that Judaism has looked askance at in history. It has been posited that for the Jew, this Christian admonition is a slap in the face…that it is anathema to a people whose cultural identity has been forged from a need to fight to protect.
In this sense, I think the Jewish mindset has it right. And indeed, in my life, the Jewish women I have dated were all far more body positive, grounded in themselves, and living without shame. Their sense of self felt more whole to me. I shouldn’t generalise really, but it is my observation from a small number of people I have loved. My theory? This comes from boundaries. There is something about the setting and maintenance of boundaries that fosters this kind of self-hood, positivity.
I should like to see some studies on this subject—whether certain cultures are better than others at setting personal boundaries and how this might manifest itself in various life outcomes. How about you?
While I do not mean to draw from the particular to the general…you may deduce that my own struggles with personal boundaries, and the damage they cause to my sense of self, are in part born from this cultural milieu. While personal circumstances will be the prime mover, it is without doubt that the environment I grew up in will have left this residue on me. As an adult, shaking this business free is much more difficult, covered with the silt of past experience, reinforcing these bad habits, keeping wounds perpetually open.
Charity begins at home
Here is another Christian expression which puzzles me. Why should charity begin at home? If this is meant to be the antidote to turning the other cheek, then ‘home’ is the self. But I don’t think this is what has been meant. The expression means to treat your kith and kin with greater warmth than anyone else. Bollocks to that. It is kith and kin that most often abuse our boundaries. Keeping boundary abusers in our lives is a form of self-harm.
Taken together, does a facetious interpretation of Christian doctrine say, “turn the other cheek” (let people walk all over you) and “charity begins at home” (meaning with the people who are most likely to abuse you or to challenge your boundaries)? In other words, is one of the central tenets of Christianity to just bend over and take it even if you don’t want it? Isn’t that what it’s like to live in a politically-charged world where the haves have more and more and the have nots are the fastest growing social demographic?
A political rant
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience”St. Paul, Romans 13:1-3,5
I include this passage from the bible, a quote from St. Paul, founder of the Catholic Church, for a political reason. The Church through history was an ecclesiastical authority, one whose temporal power often eclipsed that of the state. As such, it was a tool of oppression. The Church was not nominally meant to be concerned with the affairs of daily life, and yet it very often was, going as far as starting war, exterminating people, and certainly controlling our “moral” lives. I point this out because the teachings of the Bible are used to control us rather than what they are meant to be for–to uplift our inner holiness. And that’s before you get to the micro and macro level hypocrisy which laces the institution–which ironically is another way of making the point of this post–be harder on yourself than others, turn the other cheek, and be forgiving of those who trespass against you, especially family.
Do I believe these things? I’m not sure anymore. I’m not sure it is healthy to.
Have you ever noticed that people who have less often seem willing to give more? As a proportion of what they have to give it is certainly more…and yet, I often find that such people actually are much richer in the ways that count–spirituality. And no, I don’t ascribe tot he Marxist idea that Religion is the drug to subdue the masses. Perhaps the Church is, but faith itself is not. Today’s drug is television–turning us all into suitably supine slaves–but that is another post!
I can hear the protests of the privileged. But what about people like Bill Gates who gives away such vasts sums of money? Never look a gift horse in the mouth? That was a post about giving and manipulation. Here are the ways that Bill Gates’s largesse may not be so innocently altruistic:
- BG was said to have attended the underage sex molestation parties of Jeffrey Epstein, and has a supposed fetish for “fresh meat”;
- His wife divorced him over his affairs–and who knows what else we don’t know;
- BG’s wealth comes from Microsoft, and the B&MG foundation was started at the same time as Microsoft was under fire for monopolistic practices and being forced through the wringer of Congressional hearings and EU investigations–what better way to throw off the perception of malign motive than to don the clothes of the innocent schoolboy–“see, I mean well.”
- What about the tax breaks he gets for charitable giving? Paying taxes is a form of charitable giving insofar as the government is the primary source of wealth redistribution in the economy (regardless of what you think about the politics of this). Does avoid taxes by giving money to your pet projects put you above the voters, who collectively as a society through representative government have expressed the kinds of giving that are needed?
A friend recently said to me that altruism can be real. We were talking about a book I had read recently called “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dworkin. An excellent book, and one that is up to be reviewed here at some point. She put forth the idea that for altruism to be real, for giving to be meaningful, it should hurt a little. A gift which costs the giver nothing, is not really a gift. I’m not sure I fully agree, as I think that some gifts for the receiver may have more value than they do for the giver…and a giver who sees that, and then gives just because they see the receiver will benefit, also qualifies in my book for an altruistic act.
The doctrine of submission
I did a little google search with the words “Christian doctrine of submission” and you know what? Every single result was about female submission to the man in a marriage. Gross. [Here is one of the more enlightened posts on the topic, but even here, the writer is an apologist, spending his energy saying, the original bible didn’t mean that when they talked about submission]. But Christianity is a discriminatory religion about power dynamics, so this is not all that surprising.
I contrast the Christian admonition to submission to that which occurs within BDSM…the former being unhealthy–about subjugation, a loss of agency. In BDSM, the essence of submission is founded on the basis of communication and consent. As such, it is empowering. While I don’t agree that the submissive is the holder of power in BDSM (maybe in a professional-client interaction because of the economics and because most such sessions play out around the buyer’s needs), in fact if one is truly submissive, one defines ones “success” or very existence by the pleasure they can provide the other.
But clearly the Christian perspective is what dominates our cultural interpretation, and this might explain why the social interpretation of being a submissive male is pejorative–because the kind of submission that is described in the bible is wrong. It involves a surrendering of agency. And isn’t this what turning the cheek becomes? What charity beginning at home means? What being harder on the self before others means? How does Christian doctrine in this sense not run counter to self-respect? Unless of course you’re a man. Or someone who doesn’t think the rules apply to you. And I’ll tell you what, I have to meet a Christian who isn’t hypocritical in some way (and I meet a lot of them because of my own beliefs and because of work). And gosh, that seems to me to be the definition of narcissism–to espouse the rules but to think they don’t apply to you.
And I think of my friends who are telling me to go easy on myself–and I don’t even notice I’m doing it–but thankfully that’s what friends can do. But I will tell you something. The more I learn about BDSM, the more I find that it is the antidote to the rot inside. We can bring our best selves. We can ask for help from someone we trust to cleanse us. And this work, this play, this experience is something that we can’t do with a therapist because to access it we need to go to places that would be typically considered out of bounds within the context of therapy.
I look forward to the day when I meet a SW, hypnotherapist, dominatrix, who is also looking for a non-binary slave. If you know one, please send her my way!