The inner kindergarten – report from the battlefield

I read some stuff by Barbara Sher, and while I think she is pretty cool in general (of all the psychobabble I read, hers is the only stuff that doesn´t make me want to smash dishes right away), some parts piss me off over and over again. She describes people who have a deep-rooted hatred for ordinary jobs and lives (thus constantly get into financial trouble and demand others to care for them), connects that with narcissism and explains that inside of them lives an angry child who – well, needs to be understood and soothed and treated nicely, but all in all, who most of all needs to grow up.

Those passages piss me off the way stuff only pisses me off when it hurts or threatens me somehow. I´m always torn between thinking “oh shit, this describes me perfectly well” and thinking “but it´s not fair, I´m doing this dull side-job for over three years now and I don´t even dream of becoming a star anymore”.

This is me in two sentences. Seriously. It is true, I am oddly well-behaved most of the time. I floss and brush my teeth regularly (no, that doesn´t mean regularly once a month^^), I write my essays and hand them in (though commonly on deadline day after an all-nighter), and I dutifully say that of course I want a career, I don´t want to stay at home all day and be dependent on a partner.

It is also true, though, that I feel suicidal at the thought of getting up every morning, put on reasonable clothes and go to some godawful boring meaningless office where I stay over time because the boss absolutely needs that report until tomorrow morning. In my defense, I can say that it´s not just ordinary jobs that make me feel like that. When I was taking those acting classes, for the entire first week each time I went home and crossed the bridge over the railway tracks I thought about jumping. I knew I wouldn´t do it, but I felt a deep sense of hopelessness, homelessness and alienation. And I had enjoyed those classes.  Still, the thought of having to be an actor seven days a week 52 weeks a year for the rest of my life made me feel like killing myself. Go figure.

Well, now I´ve gone figure, and I feel like I´ve figured part of it out. The side of me that gets so angry and suicidal is indeed a child. It is a loud, trollish adrenaline junkie of a kid who wants anarchy and adventure – or death. Well, ALRIGHT!, it yells and stamps its foot, You can make me go to work, and you can make me smile and be polite all day, but you can NEVER make me accept it! I will always HATE that life, even if it means that I have to suffer for the rest of my life! FUCK YOU!

I know how people respond to this kind of attitude. They think it is extremely immature, extremely embarrassing and completely irrational. It assumes that there is someone who makes me go to work, after all. Well, who does, really? There is no Über-Parent who kicks me out of bed every morning. I am talking to someone who doesn´t exist. I´m tilting at windmills. I´m only harming myself.

The logical step would be to ask that child who she´s talking to. Trouble is, the child is smart. It´s a smart-ass, alienated, ten year old punk who knows precisely why I´m asking so nicely: So she feels taken seriously and in turn drops that out of line attitude.  Until I actually mean it, until I´m ready to give the child a chance, all I´m going to get is silence.

But why can´t I mean it? Why is asking the kid just a trick? Because “I” am a repressed (and repressive), rigid person who cannot tolerate a trace of imperfection. All “I” want is for the child to shut up and comply so I can be a person who doesn´t cause any offense and therefore will never have to feel shame again. “I” am the opposite of the kid´s total rebellion and refusal. “I” am total submission, obedience and pleasing. No, sorry, not in a sexual sense (Child: “Ick!”). In the sense that I must please everybody, do everything perfectly, and conform to every standard there is, even if they contradict each other. Limitless servitude, always with a relaxed, enlightened smile on my face (Child: “ICK!!!”).

You´ve met that kid before on this blog. She expresses herself through swearing, hyperboles, manic anger and other antics. Other than “me”, she does have a sense of humor. “I”´m the one who anxiously takes everything and everybody seriously and gives crappy theories a third chance just so I don´t cause offense and get attacked or even proven wrong once again and feel like an idiot.  We constantly fight over who gets to tell the story.

Now what happens when I decide that I need to work on my essay even though I don´t want to? Exactly. It´s like forcing a six-year-old ADD child to do her homework.  Good luck, and enjoy the ride.

On the other hand, though, how do “I” think I need to write my essays? Yes. Preferably I´d have written them already. It is already an imperfection that I need to start now. I should always have started long ago (well, okay, I do procrastinate until I get under pressure, but I feel like I should start straight at the beginning of the term, that´s a bit exaggerated). Then, it is completely unforgivable if my thoughts drift off or if I don´t start writing/working straight away. It is already ruined. I´m getting mad at myself. Why am I not capable of being a model worker/student?

So, interesting. Here, the objective is not to really get the essays written, but to…be a perfect student. Lead a perfect life. Well, THE perfect life. I must be the only one.  It is a subtle revenge against everybody else. I´ll be perfect, and perfect means that I outshine everyone in everything. Which is highly paradoxical. You can´t outshine everybody else in modesty and asceticism and at the same time outshine everybody else in being a star who has a wild sex life. Doesn´t matter. It will work.

Huh. Looks like this, too, is actually a child. But not a child child. It´s a child who was always an adult. Or the caricature of an adult. What adults look like from a child´s point of view. Super-disciplined. Super-industrious. Impeccable. … Robotic…Dead inside….Slaves.

In a way, the same kind of despair seems to emanate from both kids, and yet it is also very different. The little perfectionist decides to figuratively kill herself (that is, feelings, wishes, personality) and just accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. The idea of genuinely wanting and enjoying some of the stuff she does, or even focusing on stuff she enjoys, is perfectly foreign to her. Her life is a To-do-list, and her greatest joy is ticking off the stuff on the list she´s already done. To make clear the absurdity of her thinking: She´d try every sexual position once, just to have that gotten over with, and the sole pleasure she´d get out of that would be that she has gained sexual experience now and won´t die a virgin loser. Okay, what´s next on the list?  (To be fair, she´d probably want to achieve multiple orgasms so she is not a-loser-who-doesn´t-enjoy-sex.)

The punk kid despises adults and the adult world the way only a child or a grumpy teenager can (or a child in an adult´s body). To her, adults are pathetic hypocritical slaves who claim to be acting on their own free will: They get dressed up in business suits every morning “because they want to” (sneering, scornful voice), they wear make-up “because they want to” (and not because they are sooo concerned with what other people think of them), they go to work “because they want to, they *snicker* enjoy their careers! How brainwashed do you have to be in order to enjoy doing stupid, dull, meaningless, robotic work from 9-5 every day of your life??? This could never happen to me!”

And yet this child´s greatest fear, and object of her raging paranoia, is that “this” might, indeed, happen to her.  She might be brainwashed. She might start to enjoy a career. And then, suddenly, someone she used to despise will come and ridicule her and she will realize she lost her integrity.

Deep down she fears that she has this coming to her for being so disdainful. The impossibility to escape having to grow up, become mature and enter that slave life feels like a particularly sophisticated punishment to her. “You are forced to become what you despised. How appropriate.” She feels humiliated at the thought of having to go to work, and she feels equally humiliated at the thought of being dependent on anyone, particularly her parents. Nothing she can do except hope for a miracle which will never happen.  Or maintain her integrity by seeing work life as a martyrdom. She vows to never stop suffering. And this is why this dead-inside, aimless near-complacency that characterizes so much of my life is such a shame. Why feeling nothing significant makes me feel homicidal. Because the punk kid inside of me is banging against the walls of my chest, screaming “LET ME OUT! LET ME THE FUCK OUT! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO MY LIFE?!?!?!”

There is another version of the perfectionist, however, who is a martyr of sorts as well. “Look”, she says with a strange, mischievous glee in her voice, “look, here I am, smiling while I´m murdering myself. It looks so splendid from the outside, I bet nobody would believe I´m not happy.” *manic chuckle*

I guess she does want to evoke pity, but she would never accept pity. She mustn´t even know that she wants to evoke pity. She is the one who believes that shutting up is the only suitable way of expressing – uh, “our”selves. She feels such disdain for the punk kid, because all that kid ever does is throwing noisy, whiny, passive-aggressive and so terribly unsubtle  pity-parties; and worst of all, that kid is demanding.  The kid demands to have a great, adventurous, fulfilled life! Now, everybody knows that´s pathetic! Being demanding just shows you are dependent. You need to shut up and stop wanting anything and be perfect, then you have a right to feel silently and righteously unhappy. Well, too bad that right to be unhappy expires as soon as the unhappiness is voiced. Really, all you may do is drop very, very subtle hints and hope that someone saves you.  Oh, and the shame each time the hints go unnoticed! Of course they were heard, just nobody responded because they were pathetic and my demand is unreasonable! People are nice not to mention this, actually! Learn to be more modest and shut up next time. You will be saved if you deserve to be saved. If nobody saves you, then you don´t deserve it.

One last word on the punk kid: When someone demands something from her, like some kind of behavior or attitude, she feels attacked and humiliated. You could tell her to wash the dishes and she´d throw a fit (Yes, I do, when my mum tells me something. I just don´t always let it out because I´d feel like an idiot.). So is she just spoiled, lazy and ungrateful, with a massive sense of entitlement?

Maybe not. I don´t think so, actually. I think she feels disrespected – but not because of the demand itself. The demand seems to imply something humiliating. I think it is the concept of punishment, once again. She is fighting against someone who she believes wants to break her. The thing is, I have no emotional problem with washing the dishes after my girlfriend and I have been cooking – if and only if my mum isn´t home yet to ask me if I´ll wash the dishes later. I might feel listless and lazy, but I don´t feel humiliated. I just wash the goddamn dishes. Whereas, when my mum is home…

I don´t know what it is that pisses me off. But something about her tone or attitude does. It makes me feel like I´ve already done something wrong. Not in the sense of guilt, but…like I´ve already acted like a spoiled child. Even when I´ve just had dinner, which should be within the boundaries of acceptable behavior, shouldn´t it?

Okay, I´m getting a clue, but I´m not sure if it ever happened in precisely this way. Let me give you a little scenario: My mum is coming home. I haven´t washed the dishes yet, because I hate to jump up right after dinner and scrap the rests of the meal I´ve just eaten off the plates. It´s kinda disgusting, and besides, yes, I am a little lazy. So she looks around in the kitchen, and says to me in a hushed, apologetic voice: “But you will wash the dishes, will you?” So what does that voice seem to imply? That something about the situation is embarrassing. Like how it is embarrassing for a child to be scolded in front of her friends. So despite her apologetic tone she is, in fact, scolding me, or at least her request comes from a position of authority? The way she handles the situation clearly suggests that something about asking me to wash the dishes is humiliating for me. She sounds as if she expects that I´ll throw a temper tantrum. Like she needs to be careful when talking to me because I´m wild, crazy and dangerous. A real problem child.

And here is what I think: I think that this extreme resentment against washing the dishes is not originally part of me. It is an artificial feeling she produces in me. I feel like she acts sympathetically (apologetic tone, she is so sorry that she has to demand this from me), but only to embellish any feelings of not wanting to wash the dishes I might potentially have, and in the same breath she makes it clear that I´ll have to do it nonetheless. It´s like telling a kid: “I know you don´t want to do your homework, homework really sucks, homework is an abomination – but you absolutely have to sit down and complete it, and there is nothing you can do about that! Ha! … I meant…”poor thing”!”  

It sounds crazy, but I wonder if this is some kind of emotional vampirism. I never now if my family´s “sympathy” is genuine and I´m just too fucked up to interpret it correctly – or if their “sympathy” is indeed fake and just a way to capitalize on my emotions. Like when I had an argument with Irene about how I should start looking for a flat NOW NOW NOW and then she suddenly said, in a voice that was dripping with understanding: “You really don´t want to leave home, do you?” I was stunned into silence. I really didn´t know what to say. I didn´t have any feelings about moving out in general. I want to, after all, at least at some point. All I wanted was to not be kicked out all of a sudden when it suits our parents best. So what made Irene think that there was some deep painful sentimentality behind my anger at our parents´ behavior? Was she really inquiring how I was feeling? No, you do that differently. You don´t make assumptions, you just ask. So what was she trying to do? Trying to get me psyched up into some painful feeling? Was she trying to make me cry?   



One Response to “The inner kindergarten – report from the battlefield”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    I related to a lot in this post.

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