Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Can a Little Jealousy Be Good for the Self-Loathing?

Seeing your crush date other people may help you see yourself in a better light.

People who are self-loathing see ourselves as inferior, inadequate, or lacking in some important ways. This is particularly hurtful when it prevents us from engaging in romantic relationships with people we care about because we feel they can do better. (See here for a list of previous posts on self-loathing and relationships.) As one of my friends with whom I’ve discussed this is fond of saying, “I never feel good enough for a woman I like—but I know I’m a hell of a lot better for her than any other guy!”

This may be a bit extreme—not for my friend, mind you!—but I do think that, in a milder form, this feeling is quite common for self-loathers (and perhaps some other people as well). You don’t feel good enough for the person you care about, and you hope that he or she will find someone better. As it often turns out, however, this person finds someone whom you feel is not good enough for him or her—and maybe even worse than you think you would be! You think something such as, “Why is he with her? She’s not good enough for him! Even I’d be better for him than she is!” As a self-loather, you may not like yourself very much, but you like this other person much less—especially as a romantic partner for the person you do like.

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Ironically, this feeling may point to a way for self-loathers to realize their own worth. Remember that self-loathers see ourselves in a much more negative light than other people do. We often exaggerate our shortcomings and de-emphasize our positive qualities compared to how other people see us. Even though we often idealize the people we care about—which many tend to do whether self-loathing or not—we may be able to assess other people more accurately, including the people our crushes end up dating.

Of course, we may tend to be overly critical of these people—even if only out of jealousy and resentment. But this may turn out to be good for self-loathers: if we can look at these people realistically, by comparing ourselves with them we may be able to look at ourselves more realistically as well, especially if motivated by concern for the people we care about (and long to be with). After all, it’s more difficult to regard yourself as unworthy of someone’s attention when you see him or her date people you feel are “really” not worthy. This is most obvious when the other person is mean, obnoxious, or rude—no one deserves that. But even if this person isn’t a “bad” person overall, you may still feel that he or she isn’t smart, funny, or kind enough for your beloved—and this might help you see that you are.

Furthermore, this response relies on the same attitude of care that, when filtered through feelings of inadequacy, normally keeps self-loathers away from those we care about. Taken in isolation, we think our crushes would be better off without us. But that same concern may also motivate us to step in when we see the people we care about with people that we feel are “even worse” for them than we would be. And if we (of all people) are able to think we’re better for our crushes than these other people are, imagine what our crushes themselves likely think, given that they probably see us in a much better light than we see ourselves.

Whatever the cause of our self-loathing, when combined with care it leads us to stay away from those we care about. However, it’s possible that that very same care can enable more realistic thinking when we’re forced to compare ourselves to people we feel are not good enough for those we want to be with. Anything that can help us see ourselves as others do—specifically those who think we have value and worth—is a great thing, even if it appears in the form of a jerk your crush is dating. And if you really care about this person, prove it—by showing him or her that you're a better choice.

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For a select list of my previous Psychology Today posts on self-loathing, relationships, adultery, and other topics, see here.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, visit me at my website, and sample my other blogs: Economics and Ethics and The Comics Professor.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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