Giving Others Your Light

There is this quote that I have seen bounced around on social media, by an unknown author:

“Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light”.

There’s something about this idea that struck me, and it has to be more than a somewhat accurate metaphor.

Perhaps it’s this idea of self-sacrifice (to this degree) being connected solely to good people, the implication being that, if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent when they produced the quote; more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a ‘good’ person is by putting out your light is, admittedly, an interesting one to me.

Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have known people who gave everything that they had, all of their time and energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

I have known people who do, in fact, expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as ‘not good enough’ if they spare a little light for themselves.

But, personally speaking, I do not think that giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.

This quote relies on an idea that we have in our society, that you need to give people your 100 percent greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if you have made a commitment to them such as marriage. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms you emotionally, then that’s your problem that you need to work on, because that person needs your attention. Society has decided that you owe them that.

But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.

You should not feel like you are a candle, melting away to give light to others; ideally, you should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.

Remaining in a toxic relationship and allowing the other person to drain you away to nothing does not make you a good person, and walking out of that relationship does not make you a bad one. These really are not moral questions. If someone is hurting you, or making you feel like you are diminishing, then sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away, for our own sake. Because not everyone in this world is going to make us feel this way; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past. Sometimes, the only thing that good people can do is leave.

And maybe that does mean that the other person has to go without light for a little bit, but they will find it again, even if they have to create their own. But if you allow yourself to burn out completely, you may never get yourself back. You only have one you, so value it.

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time to time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light for a bit. We put too much emphasis on giving everything we have to others, that sometimes, we forget that we need to give something to ourselves as well, and this doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.

 

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Why We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.

 

 

Sticks And Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words Will Hurt Us Worse

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

We said this as children, when we didn’t have anything clever enough to retort back to our playground bullies, those big, mean, ugly kids who called us names but, end of day, didn’t matter because they were stupid.

We said this to ourselves to nurse the wound that words caused us, to tell ourselves that it didn’t hurt, that we were fine. That it didn’t matter because they were stupid and we were awesome and they just didn’t understand. That words bounced right off our skin, tough as armour, and we never thought about them again. And if we did feel any pain, then that was stupid; they were just words after all.

Then we got a little bit older, and we stopped saying this, because, slowly but surely, we learned that words did hurt. And yet, we still had a little bit of that old mentality – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words should never hurt me”. They’re just words, they don’t mean anything. If that person telling me that I’m fat and ugly hurts me, then that’s my problem, I’m too sensitive. I mean, yeah, end of day, maybe that person is a little bit of a jerk for saying that, but that’s just the nature of the world. There are jerks everywhere, and I’m going to have to get used to dealing with them. I have to suck it up, learn how to accept it, move on and stop dwelling.

And yet, we got ever older, and we dwelled. We remembered that person that called us fat, that told us we wouldn’t ever be able to do anything, that we were stupid and lazy and useless and wrong. They may have stopped saying those things, we may even have stopped knowing them, but we heard their voice nonetheless every day. We heard their voice when we looked in the mirror. We heard their voice when we considered applying for our dream job. We heard their voice when we were faced with any disappointment or struggle, and their voices began to mingle with our thoughts. They began to define how we saw ourselves – they told us enough times who we were, and in our own minds, that’s who we became. We were stupid and lazy and ugly, not because of who we were as people, but because that was what they made us see in ourselves. And we didn’t really stop to question who it was that they had defined us as.

But, even saying that, these are not the only voices that we can hear. It is human nature to look in the mirror and hear the voice of that one man who told you that you were “too fat to be attractive”, but you can also look in the mirror and hear the voice of the woman at that party who gushed on and on about how pretty your hair is. When applying for your dream job, chances are, you will hear the voice of the teacher who told you that you won’t be able to do it, but it is the voice of the friend who told you that you were really talented and you really had a shot at doing it that will make you truly go through with it.

You just need to be able to shift your focus from the negative comments to the positive ones, and more than that, you need to seek out and surround yourself with people who will give you these positive comments in the first place.

And maybe one of the first steps in doing this is being one of those people who gives positive comments, who compliments and lifts up and tries to focus on the positive (even when the positive may be really hard to find; in fact, especially then). And we can do this both toward other people, lifting them up and helping them see the beauty in themselves, as well as toward ourselves.

Because when we were kids, we got it completely wrong; sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will hurt us worse. Words will change who we are as human beings, or at least change the way that we see ourselves. Words will attempt to define us, to trap us in boxes and low self-esteem. And, similarly, words have the power to break us out of our traps, whether these be the words that we speak to ourselves – the words that we use to challenge the way that we see ourselves and how we have been defined – or the kind words that others speak to us.

Words are immensely powerful – more so than we seem to want to realize. So let’s utilize that power. Let’s use them for good instead of harm, and let’s do this for ourselves as well as for those around us.

 

You Are Not Only ‘Beautiful’

A few times, I’ve written about how important it is for us to recognize our own beauty, and I very much still believe this. But right now, I want to talk about a different sort of beauty. More specifically, inner beauty.

Because our society has a very odd relationship with women and their… well, pretty much everything. It is important for women (in particular) to reclaim their comfort in their bodies because women are consistently told that they shouldn’t think of themselves as beautiful. They’re told that they’re too fat, too thin, too tall, too masculine, they wear too much make-up, not enough make-up, they dress too provocative, they dress to conservative, etc., etc. So whenever a woman claims comfort in her own body, that is always a revolutionary act.

But at the same time, society never really tells women that they need to be any more than beautiful. I mean, yes, they very, very, very much need to be beautiful, and becoming beautiful is supposed to be a constant battle in the eyes of society, something that you can never really stop working on, but if that’s the case, then that sort of robs women of any time that can be spent on developing their character.

In fact, to a certain extent, women are somewhat dissuaded from developing their character from a very young age. I mean, think about the traditional heroes and heroines that we tend to see in simplistic storytelling aimed at children: we have the dashing prince – handsome, yes, but also noble, courageous, and intelligent. And then we have the beautiful princess, who is… beautiful. She might also be described as soft, sweet, kind, innocent, naive, etc., but most of these traits are not necessarily traits of grown women, but frequently of children, and they most certainly are not traits of any active agent. These traits are not given to the heroine so that she can charge her way through the story and really do anything, but to set her as this image of sweet, simple femininity.

And perhaps because of this, if you ask a little girl what they want to be when they grow up, many of them will include the word “beautiful” before they say anything else. Not “intelligent”. Not “courageous”. Beautiful.

And if we want to talk specifically about the trait of intelligence, some studies have shown that girls as young as six years old begin to view intelligence as a primarily male attribute.

But ‘beautiful’ continues to be assigned primarily to women.

And, of course, our obsession with being beautiful comes from society itself. We see TV and movies all the time where not traditionally attractive men are married or involved with traditionally beautiful women, like Family Guy and the Simpsons, and no one really bats an eye at this, and yet we don’t really see this represented the other way around very often. In the workplace, women are sometimes told that to get ahead, they need to present themselves as more physically attractive (though how much this really works is another issue), and some workplaces, such as restaurants, even have uniforms that are intended to show off the beauty of their female employees. So the message that all of this sends to women everywhere is that, if you want love or a career or worth, then you’d better be beautiful.

But ‘beautiful’ is not the only thing that women can be.

It is important that you are comfortable within your body, however it looks, because you are going to have to live in it for the rest of your life. But at the same time, it is also important that you are comfortable with who you are as a person, because similarly, we are going to have to be that person forever.

And we as a society tend to ignore who women are as people.

This even extends to the sort of compliments that women receive. Right from infancy, baby boys are described as “curious”, “cheerful”, and “strong”, while baby girls are described as “beautiful” and “gorgeous”.

Personally speaking, by the time I was in my teens, I had been told that I was beautiful so many times that I knew I was – to this day, I don’t really doubt it. But I hated who I was as a person, because nobody had ever told me that I was strong or intelligent or kind or brave.

And coming from that experience, I see how important it is to have a character that you are proud of.

Because no matter what your gender is, ugly is not the worst thing you can be. This world has been harmed again and again by people who are cruel or manipulative or thoughtless or vindictive, but never by someone who didn’t match their society’s definition of beauty.

People devalue having a good character by saying things like “kindness has never caught someone’s eye from across the room”, but a good character is what builds strong and lasting relationships. You don’t stay with someone long-term because they’re beautiful; you stay with them because they’re kind or intelligent or well-meaning.

Lives are build off of character. Some of our world’s greatest discoveries were made by people who were allowed to develop their intelligence. Some of our world’s most charitable acts were made by people with the strength to persevere despite great hardship. And, yes, some careers can be started from beauty, but if that’s all you are, then you really aren’t going to make it that far. You also need courage, intelligence, creativity, curiosity, passion, resilience…

So, yes, it’s important for us to tell women that they are beautiful; it really is. All women deserve the chance to feel beautiful, regardless of their size, age, race, sexual orientation, ability, or genitals. But ‘beautiful’ is not all that you are, and it is not all that we should aspire to be. It is important that we let women and girls alike know that the pretty princess of childhood stories gathers her worth, not just by being beautiful, but by following her passions, by being intelligent and loving and determined.

And part of the way that we start doing this is by changing the language that we use toward girls, including the ways that we compliment them. Because too often we focus only on what we can see when it comes to women, rather than what we feel and hear.

Romantic Love is Not The Most Important Love

We as a society are positively in love with love.

We have love stories. We have rom-coms and romances and Harlequins and YA-novel love triangles. We have countless songs telling us that “all you need is love” and “I was made for loving you, baby“. We maintain Pinterest boards, planning out our dream wedding for that day when we finally find the right person. We have this idea in our society that we are not complete human beings, that we need someone else to complete us, to make us whole. And once we find that other half, then everything will come together and we’ll live happily ever after.

Our obsession with love is an oddly limited sort of obsession. We do not care all that much for a very sort of love felt toward all man-kind; some find that admirable, sure, but if the amount of violent video games and movies where the heroes preach shooting first and asking questions later is any indication, then this sort of love is too often forgotten about. We do not show the same level of obsession toward platonic love between friends or siblings or family members; we like it sometimes, sure, but it isn’t quite represented as the same.

No, our specific breed of obsession is toward romantic love.

And this can be somewhat alienating to people who have no interest in romantic or sexual love, people who identify as asexual or aromantic. But even if you do not identify with either terms, this obsession can be somewhat harmful.

This obsession might make you feel like you need to be in a relationship, no matter who it’s with. Because you find your value by attaching yourself to another person, any person, and it’s better to settle than be alone.

Except it isn’t.

This obsession might lead you toward feelings of depression and loneliness when you’re single, feelings of being not good enough, of being unloveable, just because you aren’t currently involved with someone.

But that isn’t true.

This obsession might force you to make sacrifices that you wouldn’t otherwise make, because you’ve been told by everyone and everything – by your friends, your family, your movies, your magazines, your songs, your self-help book – that love is the most important thing in this world, and nothing else can possibly compare.

But there are more important things.

Like, say, your happiness.

I won’t deny that romantic love can be very fulfilling, as well as a great source of happiness. But, despite our society’s obsession with it, it isn’t really the most important type of love out there.

After all, self-love is more important.

It is more important for you to find completeness within yourself than within another person. It is more important for you to value yourself than your relationship.

Because, end of day, people leave. Circumstances change. The world turns, and things don’t always turn out for the best, but ideally speaking, you should always be able to depend on yourself.

Self-love is what will make you realize that you deserve better than to settle for a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.

Self-love is what will make you realize that your comfort matters, that your dreams and desires and wishes, they matter just as much as anyone else’s.

Self-love is what will make you realize that, even if you aren’t in a relationship right now, that doesn’t mean that you are unloveable.

So maybe all we need is love, but it isn’t always romantic love. Sometimes, the only sort of love we really need is to look at the mirror and to realize that the person looking back at us is strong, capable, resilient, and worthwhile. That that person is loveable, even if, right now, that love doesn’t come in the form of a lover.