Psychologies: Isn’t pleasing and loving each other the same thing?
Jean-Philippe Zermati: Absolutely not. There is real confusion here, the source of much suffering. When we talk about loving ourselves, we are not referring to the same things as when it comes to pleasing ourselves. Whether it is in relation to oneself or to others. Physical pleasure depends on the distance that separates the perception we have of ourselves from the criteria of beauty commonly accepted by society. The closer we feel to it, the more we like it. And vice versa.
But beauty is nevertheless a very subjective concept?
J.-PZ: Much less than is claimed. To summarize, I would say that “beautiful” is what a majority of people find beautiful. Many experiments have been made on this subject, consisting in showing a panel of observers photos of individuals with different physique and asking them to choose the most beautiful. We observe a consensus each time: everyone selects the same shots. Physical beauty ultimately leaves little room for subjectivity. Even if its criteria vary over the centuries or according to cultures, it always refers to the dominant values of a society at a given moment. And this constantly. For example, there was a time when Gironde women were considered the most beautiful, because their curves evoked fertility. Fertility which ensured families a perpetuation of their lineage and a future retirement. Today, thinness and youth are immediately associated with beauty, because they induce, rightly or wrongly, a certain idea of performance, dynamism or willpower, very “positive” values in our companies.
In your opinion, is it possible to love each other without pleasing?
J.-PZ: Not only is it possible, but it is, in my opinion, the only way to be at peace with oneself. Loving does not depend on the particular physical qualities attached to the person. Let us refer to the conception of Spinoza, for whom “love is a joy that accompanies the idea of an external cause”. In other words, we love a person because they make us feel good. And, contrary to what one might think, it is not for its physical or moral qualities, but for the feeling of fullness that it arouses in us. Take the example of our children, our spouses or our friends. Do we like them in all respects? When I ask this question to my patients, they very often answer me yes and struggle to recognize their faults. It is simply magnificent! But they only have to think about it for a moment to admit that it is false. The truth is, we don’t like people because they’re great. We find them great because we love them. This proves that, in a loving relationship, physical considerations quickly become secondary. Who would love their child more if they were blonder or curlier? His friends if they were thinner? Anybody ! We love imperfect people, we are loved by people who know we are imperfect. Why would we be the only ones to demand to please ourselves in order to be able to love each other? On the other hand, it is necessary that we have the feeling of being good people for ourselves.
Does this question come up often in therapy?
J.-PZ: I systematically approach this subject, because the therapies that I offer are based on work concerning food sensations, emotions, but also acceptance. People who come to see me for eating disorders very often show great intransigence towards themselves. They forgive each other few things and mistreat each other regularly. It is this lack of benevolence towards oneself that generally causes the aggravation of the disorders. It is fundamental to get them to love each other, regardless of the image that the mirror sends back to them. Because it is by accepting the idea that they do not need to be perfect to be lovable that they will be able to get by. We undergo permanent incantations inviting us to surpass ourselves, to be the best in everything, to control everything. However, nothing is less true, we cannot control everything. And it is even our attempts to control that are at the origin of an eating behavior that escapes us.
It has been proven that a “beautiful” person has much less difficulty finding a job, getting a raise, creating a bond… Would pleasing yourself allow you to have more self-confidence?
J.-PZ: I absolutely do not question the social power of beauty! I’m just saying that the people chosen because they like them won’t necessarily be liked. We simply hope that their beauty and the values it conveys will rub off on us. It has nothing to do with love.
Is it possible to have self-confidence other than by having fun?
J.-PZ: Would you trust a person – yourself – who mistreats you all the time? The important thing is not to please yourself, but to do yourself good, to take care of yourself and to be kind to yourself. What makes us love others, without demanding that we like them, is also what makes us love ourselves and have confidence in ourselves.