There's a lot of misinformation still circulating from the 1970s New Age "love yourself" mandates and psychiatry's "how are you feeling" emphasizing that, unfortunately, is making it more difficult to roost ourselves up out of our depression because we have been encouraged to self -focus. Those very institutions of marriage and family that should be our help and support and keep us out of depression and loneliness are not significantly nourishing for us because we have focusing on ourselves instead of investing ourselves. We have been looking to marriage and family for what we want to get out of it rather than what we want to put into it.
The misguided self-esteem precept that we need to love ourselves first before we can do anything worthwhile probably devolved from the simple reality that what we really love about anything – person, place, or thing – is our own investment in them. Our own investment in something is what colors our warmer perception of it. That's what sparks up our neurons-our own thinking and action. People wrongly believe that our interest in something comes first and then we make an investment. Nope! Our neurons do not start to really sparkle at any great depth until after we get busy.
One reason why so many marriages and families are falling apart is that we do not understand this. If we want to love something or someone, if we want to feel bonded and connected, we need to start making an investment of our time and energy in them. That's what bonding is. That's why "love" is a verb. We do not really love another person; what we love is our interest in the other person. As we expand our investment in them, we expand our interest in them, and we expand our love for them.
I caution people about paying their children an allowance for work they do around the house. "No," I caution. "Children need to make an investment in their own family. They need chores and responsibilities. That's how they feel connected and bonded and" part of. "Their investment in the family is not their investment in them. comes first, but then you should be teaching them how to invest themselves. An allowance is for the purpose of teaching them money management.
Love is our decision to invest ourselves in some specific other person by making them "special" to us. We make people special to us by doing nice things for them; by finding nice things about them to notice and to think about; by politely averting our eyes during their "ugly" moments (we all have them); by showing forbearance for their grievous flaws (we all have them); and by putting their interests ahead of our own, whether we "feel like it" or not. If we are not able to put someone's interests ahead of our own, the point is not that we do not love them; the point is that if we do not put someone's interests ahead of our own, we can not love them because we will not be able to develop, thereby, the neural capacity to love them.
The opposite is also true. If we find we have developed an unchosen romantic interest because we have autonomously mind-wandered into making an investment in "the other woman," or "the other man" as the case may be, we can refuse to think about the person or situation. We simply choose other thoughts, direct our energy elsewhere, and before long we will find that as our investment has lessened, the associated neural activity fades and our interest cools.
Today's children are suffering more and more from alienation and loneliness. They need encouragement from the time they are 4 or 5 years old to invest themselves in their own families so that their families exist as more than just another free handout for which they feel they owe no debt or respect and to which they exhibit no gratitude. By the time they are teenagers they should have some sense of family identity and connection and bondedness that they have important "family duties." They should have a good feeling that the family counts on them, and in putting in some hard work themselves, they will have more of a respect for the hard work their parents do on their behalf.
Remember the old phrase "dutiful son." Would children today even care to be called that? Probably not. Duty is so devalued today and yet duty is what we can cling to when nothing else can save us from plunging into the bottomless despair of depression. What is duty? Duty is our personal investment in life. Our personal investment in life is the only thing we can really count on. The only thing that can not be taken away from us. That's why it sustains us as nothing else.