“You do you.”
“Be true to yourself.”
“I’m just a shy person.”
“I’m just an angry person.”
I’ve noticed a trend. At some point, being true to oneself became about accepting one’s flaws as innate and unchangeable. Flaws and faults became something that should be celebrated and supported. Pettiness is met with calls of “YAS GIRL YASSSS” instead of what it really is: a lack of self-control and the willingness to be cruel to others. Outbreaks of anger and verbal beatdowns are shared on social media, meant elicit a chuckle over my morning coffee. Drunken misdeeds are high-fived, people are publicly ripped to shreds on social media, and perpetual adolescence is lauded as living your life. Our glamorization of harm prioritizes instant gratification over the well-being of self and others, all under the guise of self-acceptance and being true to oneself.
Maybe it has always been this way–I really can’t say–and social media has just made it easily-documentable. Maybe social media encourages this type of behavior because it allows people to indulge in their darkest urges in a virtual setting, and it has trickled into the way one acts when the screen goes black. Punching a wall does not expunge you of anger; being cruel online does not expunge you of cruelty. And, besides–as technology progresses, the difference between life online and offline is blurring. Regardless of whether or not it happened through a screen, actions have consequences. It doesn’t matter if you are online or offline: if you’re being shitty, you’re being shitty. Hurting oneself or others no longer requires human contact.
Dark impulses–the urge to laugh at others’ pain, the urge to be self-destructive, the urge to hurt others–are a part of the collective experience of being human. It is natural to experience these emotions. Everyone experiences these emotions. Just because we all experience them, however, does not mean it should be applauded when we act upon them. It shouldn’t be celebrated when someone takes down another person publicly. It shouldn’t be celebrated when someone engages in self-destructive behavior. It shouldn’t be celebrated when adults act like children who don’t know better. We do know better. It might be easier and more fun to act as if we do not, but we do have self-control. We do have foresight.
There are some things about ourselves that we should never accept or applaud. Being true to myself does not make it okay for me to be true to the harmful aspects of my personality. I want to be the type of person who does no harm to others. I want to be the person who is productive, kind, and happy. Claiming that my negative traits are just the way I was born to behave is a cop-out. We were all “born” to kill any person that threatens us, to go for the jugular if it meant protecting our food source. We are “born” to judge anything that is different from us, to hate anything that might challenge us, to run from anything that scares us. Choosing to turn around and face our predilections is what separates man from beast.
This can take a turn down a really dicey and political road when faced with mental illness. With enough effort, any trait is changeable. In the very least, all urges do not have to be acted upon (even if the desire is still felt). Some people may never be able to eradicate their detrimental behavioral patterns, but every person can make progress if the desire is present. I cannot pretend to understand every person’s mind. But I will say this: while exercise, proper nutrition, deep introspection, and the willingness to force yourself to do unpleasant things will not “cure” anything, it will damn well help. It can mediate that which is truly unchangeable.
By saying that someone with depression (or anxiety, or schizophrenia, or OCD, or bipolar disorder) will always be that way no matter what is a bleak and inaccurate statement. That person may always carry the diagnosis, that person may always need to take medication, that person may lead a more trying life than someone unafflicted, but they still have the ability to enact change. While I understand the societal push to accept one’s flaws within the context of mental illness–some people cannot empathize with a struggle they do not understand unless it is put is such cemented terminology–I personally believes it takes away from one’s autonomy, even if the ability to be autonomous is incredibly slight.
Accepting that we all have flaws is not the same thing as relinquishing responsibility for fixing those faults disguised as self-acceptance. At some point, I feel as though it became uncommon for people to stop and ask themselves if the urge on which they are about to act will harm themselves or others in the future, only on whether or not it will make themselves feel satisfied. Snitty comments go viral. Petulance gets views. Treating people like shit is monetized. Self-destructiveness is humorous.
Every person has a seed of darkness within them, but we do not need to water it. And we certainly should not celebrate its growth.