Friday, 25 February 2011

why we are who we are

"Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing; that we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying; that, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved."

(Alain de Botton: On Love

This, today. I could rattle on and on about Alain de Botton's skill with words and minds. De Botton goes on to speak about how we mirror the people around us, acting according to their expectations, and how important it is to be close to people whose expectations are good for us. "We cannot come to a proper sense of ourselves if there aren't others around us to show us what we're like," de Botton writes. "Our selves are fluid and require the contours provided by our neighbors. To feel whole, we need people in the vicinity who know us as well as, and sometimes better than, we know ourselves."

 "The problem with needing others to legitimize our existence is that we are very much at their mercy to have a correct identity ascribed to us. Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are. Our selves could be compared to amoebas, whose outer walls are elastic, and therefore adapt to the environment. It is not that the amoeba has no dimensions, simply that is has no self-defined shape."

This is something I've been talking about a lot with my therapist recently, my too-sharp awareness of the expectations of the people around me, and my too-urgent need to live up to them. I will act stupid and insipid with people who don't expect much from me, I will retain a happy look with people who expect me to be fine. And inside I feel lost, because I am so inherently unable of acting like the self I know.

It is the curse of humanity, isn't it? "A man can require anything in solitude except a character,"  Stendhal wrote, and sometimes the process of requiring a character feels desperate and even pointless. (But I will get there, I know I will.) 


  1. I love all the tags on this post :P
    And I'm so glad you mentioned Alain De Botton. He really is amazing. My boyfriend has a DVD series of different topics he explores. It's been so long since I've seen it... so I can't remember what it's called. There was one episode devoted to love, one to anger, one to friends and so on. Deep stuff. It's funny how people change so quickly depending on the company they keep. A lot of my friends will be one way around me, and then almost completely the opposite around their other friends. I never quite know how to feel about it.
    I do the same thing. But as I grow more, I find it easier to chisel away at niceties and formalities when I am around people and show them more who I really am. You gain true friends that way, and you deflect the people who won't do you any good whatsoever. It's hard to get into a habit of doing, but you'll figure it out in your own way.


  2. I want to thank you for sharing this for I have been feeling quite similar. I love these quotes.