We (must) matter most to ourselves

As I was continuing my thoughts about friendships (SO. MANY. THOUGHTS), one word that kept coming to mind was “matter.” To form a friendship is to make someone matter to us. To matter is to be of importance. To matter to someone is to be of importance (to be important) to someone. All relationships are about other people mattering to us, in various and differing ways.

I think I’ve been a little confused, for much of life, as to what it means to have someone else matter to me and how to structure the hierarchy of mattering, for my own and their well-being. And I realized… I have put myself way down that hierarchical structure, to the detriment of my relationships.

I have finally come around to accepting, embracing, and honoring the fact of being human that the person who matters most to me and will always matter most to me is… Me. Myself. Literally and pragmatically.

This person here is pretty great. I want her to be well. She matters.

All “mattering” of others is at least one step removed from the most important thing that matters, which is myself. I matter directly and immediately to myself. When I bifurcate myself, by working to notice my thoughts and feelings from a somewhat detached perspective, I realize that I am the being of absolute most importance to myself because my own well-being directly affects, well, me. It sounds a little strange, but we do say something true about life when we say that our sense of identity is a certain experience of ourselves, or an experience of a certain projection of ourselves.

I experience my “mattering” immediately, directly, without intermediary, conjecture or even empathy (though with the bifurcation also comes an ability to self-empathize). My mattering is not a matter of assumption, but of knowing. My mattering to me is merely a way of being. As such, it’s silly and harmful to continue to advance an extreme form of self-sacrifice (like the one I was raised with, as a woman from an evangelical Christian family).

I am the one most affected by my state of mind, by my well-being (or lack of). It’s the same for other people, too — each individual is the one who matters, realistically and pragmatically, to theirself the most. This is an experiential, biological fact. I may be of importance to other people, as they are to me, but in reality I only matter to them as a reflection of what they want for their own well-being. In other words, I matter to others, but only (on a deeper level) instrumentally.

This may sound a little odd because it suggests a calculating indifference or apathy, neither of which is characteristic of healthy relationships (which I believe we are capable of having!). I simply think that at heart, our relationships and other people matter to us because they impact our quality of life. A good relationship with them is important to our well-being; it impacts our well-being, and part of our well-being is dependent on it. But what that means is that we, and our well-being, matters the most to ourselves because that well-being is our well-being. In a sense, it’s almost tautological. But we really should embrace and accept this reality of life and make ourselves the person that matters most to us. We shouldn’t make ourselves the only person who matters to us (that will only, ironically, undermine or harm our well-being in the long run). All our relationships require us to do certain things that may not feel awesome — I don’t always want to give up my reading time to go hit a bucket of golf balls with my husband, but I know that sometimes that is the right thing to do. So even while making other people’s well-being matter to us, we should always be the person who matters the most to ourselves, and should always take our own well-being the most seriously, to make it the most important, in the way we navigate the complexities of life and relationships. Because the reality is, it already does. Ignoring that fact is unhelpful and can ultimately be harmful to us and those around us.

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