Saturday, March 17, 2018

emotional vampires

Throughout high school and college, I met a lot of women who revealed themselves to be emotional vampires: they fed on the validation they received from the opposite sex, and they defined themselves according to the level of that validation. A vampiric woman adored by many guys is happy to the extent that she has options, socially speaking. Such women lead charmed lives, never once earning their social status through strength of character or through achievements that hint at hard work and deeply held values.

The problem, of course, is that when you define yourself by what others think of you,* you become dependent—a slave to others' opinions. I have no respect for such people. At my most compassionate, I pity them, for they seem unable to see the marionette strings that force them into their puppet-dance. At my least compassionate, I simply despise folks who define themselves only in terms of others.

If you want to live an authentic life, don't be a slave to the thoughts, opinions, adoration, adulation, and validation of other people. I'm not saying you should become a chest-beating egomaniac, but at the very least, develop the ability to function independently. Don't say, "I'm nothing without someone else." That's bullshit. Then, having developed a foundation of confident independence, if you do meet someone and decide to become life-partners, the person you meet will respect your inner strength and autonomy, and you'll respect that person's in return. That's the healthiest sort of relationship: a bond between two strong people who, if need be, can function perfectly well alone and apart.

Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Love is born of strength, not weakness—of independence, not slavish dependence. First function alone and find your strength. It's when you stop seeking in a needy way that the right person will come along. Got that, lady vampires (and guy vampires, too)? You can't coast through life on charm and beauty; these things don't last. Orient yourself to what does last, and you'll lead a deeper, more fulfilling life.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

*Here in Korea, this is how millions of Koreans live their lives: defined and confined by others' opinions. I can't tell you how many young, beautiful, talented female TV stars have committed suicide because they got swamped by a wave of online hate after making some moral mistake like cheating on a boyfriend or engaging in a racy photo shoot. In theory, such successful women ought to hold enormous social power, but instead they see themselves as prisoners of public opinion. And because a Korean sees him- or herself as a nexus of relationships and not as a monadic individual, once cut out of the network of relationships, that Korean is cast adrift and has nothing to live for. Reduced to nothing by social rejection, a Korean is left desolate, unmoored, and unable to find purpose or self-affirmation. This is what leads to suicide. Otto Rank and one of his disciples, Ernest Becker, theorized that suicide is the result of losing the conviction that you are the hero of your own personal life-narrative. All it takes, for a Korean, to lose that heroic status is to suffer mass rejection—or even just the rejection of immediate family: look at high-school students who throw themselves off apartment-building balconies in despair because they're convinced they've done poorly on a college-entrance exam. Allowing oneself to be so weak and dependent is the royal road to crafting a fragile life, one that is easily shattered, wasted, and lost.


John Mac said...

Wow! Well said, Kevin.

In a narrower sense, having your heart-felt love for someone rejected is a tough blow to any ego. I'd take your point to be not to ever define yourself by the need to love or be loved which gives someone else the power to control your emotions.

Anyway, good food for thought here as I strive for a life of "confident independence".

Kevin Kim said...

"I'd take your point to be not to ever define yourself by the need to love or be loved which gives someone else the power to control your emotions."

Yup, that's pretty much it. You can't go through life all weak and needy and expect to end up with a good life-partner. And you're doomed to sadness after sadness if you peg your own worth on what your significant other thinks of you. It's a paradox, but if you can't imagine living life by yourself, you'll never find the right person to be by your side.

(Of course, taking that attitude to a loner's extreme isn't going to guarantee you a life-partner, either...)

Kevin Kim said...

To be sure, I'm talking to myself as much as to the vampire women: I've been that weak, needy, utterly dependent guy.

Charles said...

True words. And I think it is important to recognize the flip side of the emotional vampirism coin, too: Not only are you dependent on some else for your emotional sustenance, but in obtaining that sustenance you drain the other person of their energy. Love is not a zero-sum game; it is synergistic.