You know how self-help books, your family, and friends are all up in your psyche (and your uterus), insisting that you haven’t found love (or an impregnated womb) because you haven’t learned to properly “love yourself?” And you know how society is so unrelentingly certain that your absence of romantic love in your life is totally all your fault? Yeah. Well. There’s a rebuttal for that.
In her new book, Why Love Hurts, Eva Illouz asserts that it isn’t women (or men, for that matter) who need to “work on themselves” before they’re ready for, capable of, and worthy of love. As a sociologist, she argues that it’s society that shapes and misshapes our ideas about what relationships entail.
In an interview with Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin, Illouz lays out one of the book’s main premises:
… Psychological modes of understanding, at the end of the day, always blame it on you. You may be living in a violent society with a very fuzzy sense of norms, and yet it will be your problem if you do not find ways to adapt to it and be functional in it. [This made] me irrevocably committed to explaining problems in sociological, rather psychological terms.
Love followed that logic. I reject the premise that relationships are so difficult because of our difficult childhoods and immature psyches. Of course, some people can and do benefit from talking to the psychologist but many of our problems in romantic relationships have to do with the way the two genders have been made to follow different social paths.
She goes on to further state that assuming all the responsibility for your own self-worth and your ability to attract healthy love is problematic, because self-worth is intrinsically tied to those with whom we interact:
… “Self-blame” seems to be an art of the female psyche. Women connect their self-worth much more closely to the realm of love and relationships and when that realm poses problems and difficulties, they view it as a direct reflection of and threat to their self-worth.
This is what the hackneyed “you’ve got to love yourself first before someone else can love you” comes to express, without really knowing it—it comes to express the idea that you must make your self-worth independent of others’ love of you, because their love cannot be counted on, whereas yours for yourself can.
The problem however, at least for a sociologist, is that you can never be the source of your own self-worth. This is an idea concocted by psychologists, which does not have any sound sociological basis. We can only build self-worth through and with others. This is why building good and nurturing environments, as families, schools, workplaces, is so crucial.
Interesting stuff. While it’s always a good idea to work on your self-confidence and esteem, it’s certainly worth considering that work can’t be done in a vacuum. Consider the people you know with high levels of self-confidence. Is it entirely because they’ve geeked themselves up or are have they had a series of positive interactions with family and friends who support, encourage, and compliment them? Without that network of support, can your own positive affirmations be enough to combat criticism, abandonment, or rejection from others? Have these relatively new psychological trends toward “loving yourself before anyone else will love you” caused us to undervalue the impact others have on bolstering our sense of self-worth and lovability?