In human beings we see a hierarchy of worlds within worlds. ~Dara Eklund
In order to create a new world, we must first destroy the old one. ~from Rurouni Kenshin
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. ~from the Bhagavad Gita
One week ago, I caved and purchased a pack of cigarettes. At lunch, I had the unopened pack on the table in front of me, some moody music reverberating through my one working headphone. I was just sitting there, staring at that pack, feeling a combination of disgust and resignation. This was inevitable, wasn’t it? I’ve tried to quit before, after all. It never worked. After a few weeks, I’d always come creeping back to the fold. A cigarette here, a pack there, and suddenly I was back up to two packs a week.
Why fight it?
But as I sat there, staring bitterly at that unopened pack, I couldn’t help but feel a powerful compulsion to fight it. To finally succeed where I had failed before. Just buying the pack made me want to go to confession. But to whom would I confess? And did I even want to be forgiven? Was it a sin, by whatever code I live by, to buy this pack?
I didn’t quit for the health benefits, you know. Or even for the financial benefits, really. If I was to be perfectly honest, both with you, sweet galleons, and with myself, I quit because I wanted to prove I could. I didn’t want an addiction.
If I’m going to destroy myself, I want to be in control of the destruction.
The concept of self-destruction is so married to self-harm in the eyes of most people that the mere mention of having self-destructive tendencies causes the public to give a collective shudder. But self-destruction is about more than the desire to harm oneself physically. There is a psychological component to self-destruction. And an emotional one. These facets of self-destruction are often overlooked, or, at the very least, rationalized by our brains. We gloss over the fact that we are constantly destroying bits of ourselves in various ways.
Perhaps it’s time we all just acknowledge the fact that most of us are self-destructive creatures.
What is self-destructive behavior? At its base, self-destructive behavior is just that- behavior we engage in that destroys some portion of ourselves.
And here’s where I’m going to go off the beaten path a bit and say some things you may not agree with. I posit that cutters are not engaging in self-destruction. The cutting itself, while perhaps a form of emotional “release”, does not serve one fundamental purpose necessary to elevate it from self-harm to self-destruction.
What purpose might that be?
Destruction is the complete annihilation of something. When something is destroyed, it cannot be rebuilt.
Self-harm is damaging, but it is not destructive. Damage can be fixed. Destruction cannot.
There are two very different forms of self-destruction: the physical and the psychological.
Physical self-destruction is the more familiar. We would better classify physical self-destruction as suicide. Smoking, overeating, drug abuse. These behaviors are nothing more than long-term suicides. With each, you work to slowly kill yourself.
Psychological self-destruction, on the other hand, is not a destruction of the body, but of the self. The identity we’ve crafted for ourselves.
Of course, the concept of the self is a gnotty puzzle all its own. Just what is this construct we call our self? Jung believed the self to be the center of a person’s total personality- conscious, unconscious, and ego. It is toward this belief that I tend to lean. It is our personality. It is what makes each of us us. The self is the identity we’ve crafted within our magnificent brains, a tangled mass of memory and experience and genetic nudging.
To destroy the self, we must engage in behaviors that do not attack the physical. Psychological self-destruction is a more subtle beast, a quiet assassin lurking in all of our minds. We practice it without consciously realizing we’re doing so.
The pièce de résistance of psychological self-destruction is the romantic relationship.
There is no better way to dissolve the self, to utterly obliterate that unique identity, than to become part of a couple. We speak of searching for our “other halves”, for people who will complete our individual identities. But that is not what happens. Complimentary individual identities may exist in the beginning, but the endless series of compromises and experiences spell out a future we don’t always foresee. We attempt to impress our partner, to know them better, and in doing so, we change ourselves to suit them. We pick up their habits and interests. Slowly, we become a chimera of who both parties were before the relationship occurred, coupled with some third, shared self created through the experiences we’ve had together.
We recognize other behaviors as psychologically self-destructive that are really just psychologically damaging. Jealousy. Longing/limerence. Pent-up anger. These behaviors do not destroy the self, they simply harm it.
Psychologically self-destructive behaviors are not always ones we think of when we list off potentially harmful behaviors. Competition, for example, is extremely self-destructive. To truly compete, you must deconstruct yourself, and from the wreckage, build up a new, different, better person. Be that an athlete or a scholar, the competitor, in order to shed themselves of their weaknesses, must create a new self. A victor. It’s not simply about confidence or ability- in order to win, you must become a winner. A statement that sounds paradoxical, but one that is true nevertheless.
And the only way to create a new self is to destroy the old.
I never said self-destruction was a bad thing.
Maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves. ~Chuck Palahniuk
We do not always destroy the entirety of ourselves. But we have the ability to destroy large chunks of the self, to purge the parts we don’t want or need.
And, sometimes, we have to destroy some of the good stuff, too. In order to create a new self, there have to be sacrifices.
But why? Why would anyone want to create a new self, a new identity? We’ve all had those moments where we think our lives would be better, easier, richer if we woke up one morning as another person entirely. But, if we were actually given the option, how many of us would take it?
I would wager the number would be small. The loss of the self is too personal, too intense, for most of us to consciously handle. Where would the reward be if you woke up as someone else? You wouldn’t know, would you? Because you would no longer exist.
That being said, the fact that so many are dissatisfied with their self speaks to something. Take, for example, the booming self-help industry. It’s an industry based on the idea that people want to make a new self. Of course, the industry itself is bullshit, feel-good clap-trap. It’s an easy way to lose a ton of money and gain a temporary boost in superficial self-esteem, but it does nothing to solve the underlying issue. The issue that your sense of self is tainted, somehow.
Be it through media influx or cultural pressures or experiences or relationships, our selves get wrested out of our control. We are shaped by so many outside influences that many fail to see a connection to their own self anymore. Where am I in this panoply? We are each a buzzing fountain of commercial jingles, the habits of past lovers, the catchphrases of close friends, the political opinions of reporters, the philosophical ideals of professors. At times, this crush of other can be overwhelming.
How, then, can one regain a sense of individual identity? The self always will be crafted by outside influences. There is nothing that can change that. But, if we destroy the former self (or portions of it, as is more common), we can have the control of the creation of the new self. This time, we can choose the influences on it, the path of its growth. Enough so that, at the end of the day, we can feel like we have built ourselves, that we are, truly, our own people.
And maybe everything I just said is bullshit. Who knows? But when I look around me, I see people actively destroying their selves every day. And I think to myself that it isn’t a bad thing, so long as they build something better in its place.
I think many romantic relationships do this (at least, the ones we deem “healthy” relationships). It is not a bad thing that, when part of a couple, we develop a new self. I suppose, if you want to think of it in terms of a cliche simile, the self that went in and the self that came out are akin to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. What emerges is not what went in (okay, bad analogy- genetically, the two creatures are the same… dammit, just roll with it). But, in many respects, it is an improvement over the old.
A good relationship will, in fact, destroy your old self. But in its place, it will help you build something better. It is the ultimate in self-destruction, but it is the ultimate in creation, as well.
The point of all this is, I never smoked that pack of cigarettes. Instead, after carrying it around with me for a day and staring at it for nearly an hour on my lunch break, I gave it to my coworker, Taka.
I, like everyone, am already destroying myself in a hundred little ways.
Let that destruction be of my own choice.
Let it be within my control.
Let something good come from it.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
This post was rambling and rather stupid. I don’t know what I set out to say, and in the end, I don’t think I said anything.
We’ll end with a picture of Hulk holding up some chick’s tits:
Because we’re classy like that.