What I´m worth in numbers (please mind that the title is ironic)

My family normally don´t call actions, attitudes or people “good” or “bad”. They talk about “intelligent” and “stupid”, though that basically has the same meaning as “good” and “bad”. “Stupid” is their version of an ultimate damnation. When I confessed to them that I was in a relationship with a guy even though I didn´t love him at all and that I was in trouble because his best friend had found out and intended to tell him, the reply I got was: “Well, just don´t be that stupid next time.”

They could have told me I was cruel, deceitful, cold or simply very wrong – but they chose to tell me I was stupid (then, by the way, dismissing the issue and making it my problem to deal with because bloody hell it was my birthday and we wanted to have a comfy family dinner). It was, aside from my father´s paranoid suspicions that I might be sympathizing with nazi ideas, the worst thing they could think of. Or the only thing that really was a “sin” in their book. The ultimate sin, though. So you can imagine that, when I recently had my IQ tested, what was at stake emotionally was my worthiness as a person.

The reason I exposed myself to this was that I wanted freedom. I didn´t want them to have the power to make me worry if I was “really that intelligent” (something my father loves to do). Each time I make a life choice he doesn´t like, he wonders why an intelligent person like me would do that. I wanted to take the power to affect my self-worth in that way out of their hands. Knowing the truth, either way, they could no longer intimidate me.

There are several levels of brilliance, so to say. If you have an IQ above 130 you are gifted, a genius, whatever. 100 is average, and everything between 120 and 130 is sort of above average. The emotional connection I had to these numbers was that if I was above 130 I was “intelligent”, whereas anything else would fall under “normal” (=worthless in my parents´eyes). This is an emotional connection I made on my own, my parents have nothing to do with it. They never mentioned that I should have my IQ tested. Their use of the word “intelligent” was always fairly unspecific and fairly absolute (an IQ test hardly determines the validity of your opinions).

I scored 127.

I had been fully aware this could happen, was even likely to happen. My parents (who, of course, are clueless of this test) always put me on a pedestal, my father went as far as assuming I might be the most intelligent family member (while worrying that nothing might become of me) and they always claimed that all my problems stemmed from me being so “intelligent”; but always while holding the Damocles sword of “stupid” over my head. I never knew how clever I really was, being the ball in a game of ping-pong between my parents´ idealizations and their devaluations.

And then? Well, there I had it, in black and white, that I was a failure.

For a few moments I suffered an attack of tunnel vision, I felt dizzy and shocked, as if I had received terrible news (like of someone being dead). Feelings of complete inadequacy were washing over me, but I also knew I had been through worse. I knew it would pass, and eventually make room for something better. I love and praise football for teaching me that much.


Indeed, the breakdown was outside of me. It were walls breaking down around me, not me myself. When the noise had died away and the dust had settled, I felt like my view was suddenly a whole lot clearer. Like after a massive defeat in football, I felt closer to myself. Closer than any victory or success could get me. Like after the failure regarding my thesis and finding a tutor for it, there were boundaries emerging in the fog that I call my sense of self. I no longer felt the obligation to be everything, to win a medal in every sport, so to say.

What if I had been above the magic number of 130? Would it have confirmed to me that I could be what my parents want me to be? For being below, even by three points, told me clearly that I could not meet their expectations. (They never demanded from me that I should have an IQ above 130. But if you´re told every day of your life how great intelligence is and how you are sure something absolutely special, those associations kinda form…)

If I cannot ever meet their (internalized) expectations, though…I´m free. I can do whatever I want. I felt an odd urge to try things I´ve never tried before, just for the hell of it. I felt like taking an instrument I never learned how to play and just fool around with it because I don´t have to be good at it anymore. And I´m only starting to understand how much my parents´expectations and unspoken demands must have crushed my interest in the world and my joy at exploring. How much my not wanting anything must be down to the pressure to perform.

I must learn it is legitimate to just have fun. Or at least I might. I can only try to snatch shreds and traces of that feeling yet, but it feels so alive. I guess this is what it is like not to be depressed.

I´m not entirely happy about how it turned out. It would be a lie to say I´m happy. The reason for that is not so much my family, but Athena. I know she actually does have an IQ above 130. Knowing the person who broke me into little pieces in just a few months is objectively more intelligent than I am doesn´t make me feel any better. It is something I hardly dare think of. We were competing intellectually and now her superiority seems to be carved into stone. In a way I feel like my existence is useless because she is a superior version of me anyway. Nobody who knows her would come to me with anything. Then again, she would never have fought to destroy me as much if she didn´t sense the same threat emanating from me.

I´m not sure how to cope with that yet. I´m starting to feel like there is a chance I will one day sort out what happened between the two of us and that I will not emerge from that feeling as worthless as I do when I think of her now. Maybe that day is rapidly approaching, because the horrible feelings are returning and they will not leave me alone. Maybe now, with objective data at hand, what happened back then is becoming accessible to me.

I feel like I ought to write a chronological account, the way I did with Dr. Stoneface. I don´t feel up to that, though. I don´t mean to dramatize things by only making sinister allusions and leaving you alone with that – I simply don´t feel up to it. I´m not sure enough that I wouldn´t fall back to constantly demonizing myself. I need to gather enough mental armor before I can look at everything through a magnifying lens.

So here is what hurts, what hurts most about it: To be faced with a person who is superior. Who is superior in all regards, in terms of looks, intelligence, character, social skills – and to try and fail to love such a person.

My true, genuine, selfless love of her despite the circumstances would have been a proof that I was different from everybody else, from a world full of selfish, narcissistic people who were trying to hold her down (such as her parents, who truly sucked). Despite my faults and inadequacies, despite my inferiority in all regards, it would have put me on one level with her.

I cannot love her. I squirm and ache with envy and hatred when I think of her.

When I first allowed myself to feel that way I wanted to defeat her, live a greater life, be more successful; show her she is nothing. I felt evil giving in to these impulses, but I didn´t care anymore. I had always been evil in her book, so if she wants evil, she gets evil. If she is going to accuse me of things, I will at least take care she doesn´t wrongly do so.

But should I fail?

I´m not sure anymore that even if I put all my efforts into it I could defeat her. I cannot even beat her at an IQ test. Besides, I have no idea where to start. What shall I excel in first? What has she done in the meantime? On which level are we even competing? We were competing on all possible levels, and, as she once more or less told me: If my motivation is to be better than her, and not my passion for the things I´m doing, then I´ve already lost. The sentence is true in many ways, but coming from her it was merely a weapon. I´ve learned afterwards that she never had any qualms about competing with me.

But back to the problem: What if she simply is superior?

It doesn´t just hurt. It makes me understand the concept of seppuku. If I cannot come back and defeat a person who humiliated me at her will, then I must choose another way to erase the shame.

I defeated Dr. Stoneface and like-minded mental health professionals. I nailed down their ideology. I feel like if I go on like this I will soon be able to mentally fend off everything their internalized versions might be throwing at me. I feel like I´m gaining control over my internal arguments. Today I read an article with recommendations for victims of emotional abuse which was so upsetting that I felt the old familiar urge to smash the author´s head to pulp with a baseball bat. I was going to write about it here (maybe still will) and I was under considerable levels of stress while I was reading it, but my reaction dissipated sooner than usual. I was fairly sure that I would be able to validate my feeling upset about it, to intellectually take apart that piece, so I didn´t feel so helpless.

With Athena, though… I feel like I will never get the upper hand in any argument, real or imagined. She has the higher IQ, so she has to be intellectually superior. Or, even if I should win, it would be by wrongful means because since she has the higher IQ she must surely be right, maybe she just can´t think of the right argument because I somehow bewitched her or had her confused.

Then again, I´ve been watching football for a while now. I´ve seen technically inferior teams win against vastly superior sides through sheer willpower and dedication. And as long as I lack any courage even three additional points on the IQ hierarchy wouldn´t help me one damn bit. As long as I don´t even try to stand my ground I am still adhering to the idea that she is completely and absolutely superior and cannot ever be demystified. And such an idea, according to my experience, is false.



2 Responses to “What I´m worth in numbers (please mind that the title is ironic)”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    My mother used to be obsessed with IQ scores. I did well and I think she liked to believe that 1) she was the primary reason for this achievement and 2) she was smarter than me

    Then her favorite golden child, my younger brother, took the test. I have no clue of his score, only that it was lower than mine and perhaps higher than my sister, the middle child.

    Suddenly, my mother started saying how arbitrary IQ scores were, that they were bunk. I don’t doubt the fact she felt I was constantly rejecting her while my brother catered to her had an effect on what she thought about our intelligence.

    It’s just a number. I don’t remember much about the test but I do remember thinking that I didn’t care for some of the answers or spent time wondering what I was supposed to be answering. I got yelled at for not answering things I wasn’t 100 percent certain of. What the hell good was that? How do you measure someone wanting to pick apart the questionnaire?

    I’m not saying that makes me a genius or an idiot. Just saying the results of those type tests are rather arbitrary (as much as I hate to agree with my psycho mother). Who decides what makes someone smart? Who decides they ask the right questions to measure this?

    Somewhere you know the answer yourself about who you are. You’ll find it.

  2. I´m really glad you think those tests are arbitrary because that validates some of my own doubts. How you perform in such a test is really a matter of how well you prepare for it. See the number series. If I had prepared for the math part, too, then I might have been able to answer those questions as well. But how does that measure anything other than how much you have learned?

    Learning cannot be underestimated. It looks like I must have a talent for languages because I can write an English blog. When I was in fourth grade, though, I was the laughing stock of the class because I didn´t know how to pronounce “Christmas” or what it meant. It was after learning English for a few years when I started to read English books (because I didn´t want to wait for the translation) that I started to feel comfortable with the language.

    I think it might have been a good idea to do it anyway, just for my reaction. It might help me get rid of the idea that talent and skills are something static which I either have or don´t have.

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