The Problem with Myself
How self confusion causes us to mangle reflexive pronouns
The misuse of myself makes my blood boil. In fact, I get so bothered you would think this mere misdemeanor should be classified a felony, akin to an errant parent leaving a loaded weapon lying about the house. Why we ever began mistaking myself for me (or I), I haven’t the slightest. But we have all heard it: “If you have a question, you can send an email to myself.” Cringe. Most likely, you are so used to being myselfed you are numb to its misuse... Fair enough!
But the grammarian inside me screams, as if each misplaced myself were a knife thrust into my abdomen. Forgive me (not myself) if I sound snooty. Ten plus years of foreign language study, with all of the befuddled looks of puzzled but patient friends in places like Russia (verb tense catastrophes!), Kyrgyzstan (vowel disharmony!) and Singapore (tonal terrors!) let me know a painful truth: grammar really does matter. Ignore it at your peril. Case in point: a grammar gaffe in 2009 caused the U.S. State Department to mistake reset for overload, and US-Russian relations have been in the toilet ever since.
Those of you who know me (definitely not myself) well enough know that the persona in the preceding two paragraphs is a ruse. True, myself does get misplaced with quite some frequency, but a felony it is not. The real problem here is not the abuse of myself, but rather, the self, er, itself.
You see, there is perhaps no greater mystery to humanity than the question of the self. While the vast majority of the world takes for granted that each of us has only one, other philosophies and worldviews beg to differ. Some posit many, others - none. (“No Self No Problem” proclaims one recently published book.) In fact, one such way of thinking, called Internal Family Systems, promotes the idea of multiple selves in the form of subpersonalities. The grammarian in me, for example, would be one of these. And when the grammarian is in the driver’s seat of the self, whoa! Look out!
But however we view our self, we have a problem, especially the more we view it. Our thoughts about our self become like a shroud we wear, separating us from others (check out “Hands as Thoughts”,) making it nigh impossible for us to connect with others fully. Therefore, the more we think of our self, the less happy we often become.
Take, for example, one of the most common of our selfing problems: self-limitation. We too often see the self as a fixed entity, whether our own, or that of others. This leads to problems with the fixed mindset. The self, instead of being drawn in pencil (or even erasable ink!), has edges fixed by a Sharpie marker. Don’t like your outline? Too bad! There’s nothing to be done; the ink has bled right through the page! Self-loathing is a painful result.
Or, what if we feel we’re drawn by Dali? How wonderful we are! Wes (spoken to myself), you know your grammar! How dandy I am! (as I gaze at myself in the mirror…) Following by… Why can’t everyone just learn to use reflexive pronouns properly?!? Self-exaltation quickly bleeds into self-righteousness. Ouch.
Come to think of it, it shouldn’t surprise us that we misplace myself so often, given all of our mismanaged selves. And why being oneself can be so difficult. Mike Naumenko, perhaps, said it best, in his song, “Ode to the Bathroom”:
Oh, God! How we want to be somebody!
A millionaire! A rock star!
A holy being, a prophet, someone insane,
or at the very least, oneself…
Oneself? That’s difficult…
And possible only here (i.e., the bathroom).
Naumenko’s song also underscores our need for self-acceptance. Acceptance... now THAT is difficult indeed! (But oh so freeing, if we can achieve it.)
So the next time I hear someone say, “My daughter and myself had dinner together the other night...”, I don’t have to bolt for the door, or seethe in silence. Or wish for an errant parent. All I have to do is just get over my… self.