Archive for goals

I´d have to re-read this to find an appropriate title and I´m afraid sleep comes first

Posted in morbid, personal with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

There is something I seek time and time again: Advice and how-tos about things which are very personal to me. Such as writing. Or living at all. It´s not so much practical advice as it is advice about which attitudes to have or what to feel. And I really don´t know why I´m doing this to myself because I always end up feeling like shit and rebelling against it. To make things worse, the latter also adds immaturity and arrogance to my list of personal shortcomings.  I´m trapped in that cage of “but why do I have to be such a horrible person where did I go wrong”, running against the same four walls again and again. It is impossible to just accept you are like this. I should know better than to ask those questions, really. I´m too much of a cynic to believe in a great why, and the “how did it happen” question only gets you into more trouble since you will inevitably look for explanations which take the blame off you or make it look like it´s a proof of your character strength that you didn´t turn out worse.

It sounds much more reasonable to identify my strong reaction to this kind of “advice” as the problem. My only problem, maybe. Nobody is perfect, but I have too strong a reaction when faced with my shortcomings. This doesn´t help me, though. It makes me feel like just as much of an arrogant nitwit. Not accepting you have any shortcomings is ignorant, immature and somewhat ridiculous, if not pathetic. It also leaves you extremely vulnerable. And I hate feeling like I´m at anyone´s mercy. So maybe that´s why I keep on going back to such advice even though I´ve noticed plenty of times it does me no good. After every major or minor life change I challenge how solid or important it was by putting myself to the test: “Can I stand this now? Can I take it with a smile? Can I learn from it or do I maybe find I no longer need to? Can I perceive this as helpful and constructive?” So far, I have always failed.

These failures have always demoralized me. It happens so reliably that you can rightly call it “self-sabotage”. But when I go back to those advice pages I´m always bursting with optimism. I´m dimly aware I´m doing something I had, in a moment of better judgement, promised myself to avoid in the future, but I do it anyway because something about it is intoxicating. It is intoxicating in a similar way as is any kind of transgression, just that in this case I get punched in the stomach half-way through.

It is a pattern I´ve shown even as a little kid of maybe five when I insisted on playing rough-and-tumble with my father even though I knew it would end badly. I was always excited for that part when I would start to get afraid because I was hoping that this time – by using fucktons of willpower, self-discipline and attitude adjustment – I could make it feel good. I never could, I always ended up panicked, pleading, and eventually deeply resentful. I complained to him, I might even have complained to my mother, but it didn´t satisfy me when he stopped taking it too far. It is a great life lie of mine that I didn´t want such things to happen to me. I do, and a lot of my anxiety is tied to that. A lot of my self-disdain as well. It´s probably the same guilt-shame-what-kind-of-an-ungrateful-monster-am-I mixture most masochists suffer from at some point in their lives. I´m sure I´d never have tried to believe I had really been abused if it hadn´t been for those toxic feelings. Or, as I´d say in my darker moments: If I wasn´t that kind of monster. That kind of person (let´s not kid ourselves here; “monster” is a form of flattery. It´s so poetic.).

I digress. What I was originally going to ask myself (before I started to ponder the complexities of masochism) is why on earth I´m wasting my time fighting one tiny little vulnerability. Okay, maybe not so tiny. Vulnerabilities are big and serious by definition. And maybe it is kind of relatable that one would try not to be vulnerable. The only reason to stop fighting vulnerabilities is if there is a chance it might make you less vulnerable. Is there?

Let us do a thought experiment. I walk through life and I still feel horribly upset every time I encounter someone who is better at living than me. Shouldn´t be difficult, as I´ve just proven I´m one of those fools who think life is a competition, so absolutely everyone is entitled to lecture me by default. But enough of the snappiness and self-defense. I walk through life and I cannot cope with the fact that I have serious personal shortcomings. Meaning that every time it is somehow pointed out to me I either fly into a fit of rage and angry internal (hopefully!) dialogue or I feel depressed and demoralized and secretly punch myself in the bathroom. Well. The worst thing that can happen is that things remain just the way they are. Which means that I can keep on fighting or I can give up – the outcome will be the same.

The advantage is – as long as I´m fighting, I´m aware of my problem. I am anxious to avoid situations which could expose my vulnerability. The disadvantage is that in order to do that, you pretty much need to avoid life. Any attempts at doing something I will suck at initially – and be it writing the first draft of a novel – are such a punch in the stomach that I avoid them, too. The result is more shame. Not good at anything because my ego is too sensitive to be a beginner. Great. Who doesn´t want to be that kind of person?

The promise that lies in awareness, though, is that it might help me avoid humiliation. I always remember to display so much humility that no one could possibly think of attacking me. I try very hard not to find myself in a situation where I angrily yell at someone who´s just scratched my ego (best of all, at the verge of tears, full of self-pity and over-the-top accusations) just to realize they´re not only right, they´re also going to call me out on my behavior. Of course, awareness is a 100% guarantee this is never going to happen to me again. Until the next family meeting, if I´m lucky.

Family meetings are the worst thing ever. You compare notes with anyone roughly your age, you realize they´re more happy, more successful and better sons and daughters than you are, your sister helps your mom in the kitchen while you´re just surfing the web and by the end of day two you are seething with barely restrained self-loathing that makes you want to start fights and take everyone down to your level. Comparing yourself to the person you believe to be at work or around your friends is to look into the mirror and to find your image chuckling at you with just the right amount of pity in their disdainful voice, saying: “You bloody hypocrite!”, before smashing you straight in the face. No need to mention I approach family meetings the way I approach life advice.

So, essentially my only conclusion can be that fighting my vulnerability doesn´t make me any less vulnerable. It doesn´t make me feel less shame or provide less reason for self-loathing. I will run into my that sword all the same. So why don´t I just stop fighting it?

Excuse me, what? That would require anything about my character has changed. It hasn´t. I´m still dead scared of any kind of humiliation. And the thought that I carry the recipe for my own worst case scenario within the foundations of my personality is nothing I can just shrug off and get over. At best, I can find it tragic and inspiring.

Well, there might be something equally good, or maybe it goes hand in hand with “tragic and inspiring”. If the shame, the rage and the hurt pride are somewhat fateful emotions I´m bound to experience again and again, then maybe I can separate them from whatever currently happens to be their object. I cannot prevent myself from feeling them, but I can deal with them more intelligently. Such as by not assuming I should respond to them with therapy or any other attempts at self-improvement. Fate should not be messed with. Those emotional responses are my individual burden and if they are rooted so deeply in my character as I fear they are then I´ll be damned if I let something so personal be taken away from me.

I think your life can be a whole lot more characteristic of who you are if you devote less time on trying to force yourself to be someone better.  You can get realistic expectations of the kind of experiences your life will likely contain by imagining which conflicts a novel character with your sort of character flaws will encounter in various areas. That story is a whole lot more individual and interesting than the happily-ever-after-I-fix-that-one-unforgivable-flaw fairly tales we tell ourselves. It only works, though, when you have a fundamental and not entirely philanthropic liking for predicaments.

This is not to say that you can never try to conquer your flaws. Even swallow your pride. But you should make sure you have your own consent. Are you doing it in order to reach a self-chosen goal (such as learning a craft even though you hate being a beginner with all your heart and soul), or are you trying to escape the stinging bite of shame and the scornful voices of a bunch of people who don´t even know you exist? Doing what you do on your own free will lends a lot of dignity to actions that would otherwise damage your pride. Actually, that process itself is, like any kind of transgression, kind of intoxicating.

And here we are back to where we started. One of my most intense fantasies at this point in my life is to let someone point out to me everything that tortures me about myself and to let him see exactly how much I mind that. Not just anyone, of course. I do have a specific person in mind, but the main point is that it would have to be someone who wants me to be just that flawed. The intention behind this exercise couldn´t possible be to improve me. If it turned out the person doing this to me does not 100% embrace who I am, that would be an unforgivable breach of trust. I´d feel used and manipulated, just like I always did in therapy. I want love for who I am, not help to become someone else. And if I do need help, I want help for the person I am. Telling me that I wouldn´t have the problems that I have if I wasn´t the person who I am is not help. It is a trivial observation with an overtone of dismissal.