Now when that kind of question pops up, my reflex response is, how else do I feel special if not through somebody else? My response then splits into two conjectures, why do I want to feel special in the first place and if I do, why do I need someone else to do it?
Trust me, when you start contemplating just a tiny bit, you’ll find your entire existence is wrapped around this delusion. Don’t mind my use of some heavy weight words like “existence” and “delusion” (it serves my creative vanity), but you’ll begin to see the pull of this phenomenon so integrated in your everyday life.
I am quoting a little incident here, just to give you an overview perspective. My son is quite literary for his age I would say, and it indeed makes me a proud parent. One of the mornings, he had few minutes to spare before his online classes. And in that squeeze of time he came up with an incredible poem from nowhere. My husband and I were quite spellbound by his thought-scape and choice of words. As eager as grandparents are, his grand dad shared the poem to our extended family which garnered sincere appreciation from everyone.
All this while, my daughter was watching the admirable rise of his brother and as much as she likes him being hailed, there was a twinge of envy. She came up to me and said, “I want to be popular too, so I am going to write a song as well.” She indeed wrote a good one. She even went ahead to sing and record it and then demanded it be shared around with everyone. I was amazed at the play of this innate need for self appreciation, validation, and gratification at every age.
When I delved deeper into this incident it revealed more. As much as I felt proud of my son’s writing skills, I felt personally gratified as if I had succeeded in passing on a part of me onto him. And further as I thought of my own writing, I realized no matter that I write for personal satisfaction, I undeniably yearn for others approval of it. Yes, it matters how many viewers visited the page, how many likes it gathered and how many comments I moderated. Unbeknownst, I also enjoy intellectual or philosophical conversations with others because it allures my mental self.
For me, an apparent inference that stands out from all of it is that we constantly need a source to feed our physical, emotional and mental vanity. Someone or something that makes us feel good about ourselves. It satisfies us. At the same time, it pushes us to perform better, behave better, even love better as you’ll see.
As I lift this inference and drop it into inter-personal relationships, can you imagine the kind of hold it has upon us? Let’s look at the simplistic dynamics of being in love, you love loving but more than that you love being loved. You love the idea of being centre-stage in somebody’s life, to hold their attention so endearingly, to accentuate their feelings so effortlessly. Of course, you do the same in return and that person revels in similar adoration of themselves. Being in love is an extremely pleasurable experience where your physical, emotional and mental self are almost gratified at the same time. No wonder, we attribute so much importance and time to it.
Self-gratification doesn’t make love any less beautiful. We certainly and genuinely want to express or let the lover know how they light up our lives, and occupy this very singular and special place in our hearts. But now you can imagine the dopamine spike that this all-encompassing love provides to its recipient, like a surging current of exhilaration… taking you up to cloud nine.
In turn, to continue seeking this pleasure, you put in every effort to keep your image perfect and intact as he/she sees. If he finds you intellectually stimulating you want to continue doing it, if he finds you seductive, you want to look charming always, if he thinks you are funny, you keep making him laugh. Basically be as lovable and likable as you can be.
Going back a little, the dopamine spike of being in love might also explain the “rebound love” phenomenon after a break-up. “Feeling special” is almost an affliction, and when it ceases to come from one, you acutely need it from another. And you fall in love again as quickly as you fell out of it. Taking a cue ahead, it might even explain why partners or lovers feel greatly hurt or insecure at the prospect of a straying partner. I am not talking from the grounds of morality or virtuosity at all, purely psycho-physical. When a position you thought was invincible, un-sharable, secure and special, comes under attack or you perceive the “specialness” of it being lost in some way, it is bound to cause anxiety, insecurity, jealousy or just plain hurt. Because the advantage of your reserved place is compromised.
The evolutionary psychology, that I recently studied a bit, gives a very interesting explanation for our delighting needs. In the natural selection, as we were evolving, the basic aim was survival and transmission of genes. For which it made and makes sense that we project our best self forward. Doing so, greatly enhanced our chances of success in every sphere of life. At the same time, this success induced a very evident pleasurable sensation, the release of dopamine. We were smart enough to associate the pleasure spikes with the phenomenon of being admired, appreciated, adored, loved, desired and respected by someone.
Little did we know, that in the course of eons of evolution we’ll almost be slaves to this affliction and association as we are today. But the good news is we aren’t hard wired for it, nothing is in fact. Personally, I wouldn’t look upon this self enchantment with new found cynicism or scepticism. It would essentially rob me of my very worldly delusional but pleasurable life. But yes, I would most definitely want to be more mindful and stable of my transient gratifications through others and by others, and not be in its total trap.