There has been a lot of insecurity going around in my life recently — in my head, in friends’ lives, in conversations I’ve had with them, etc — so when I was scrolling through my notes to pick one for this Throwback Thursday, naturally this one jumped out at me.
Original post is from June 30th 2013.
Nothing taps into my insecurities — or reminds me that I have them — as fast or as powerfully as being liked.
It’s funny, you think it’d be the other way around, that having people not like me would get me all worked up and wondering why, what’s wrong with me, what did I do? But it doesn’t. Hasn’t in years. Being disliked just rolls off me. (Unless I thought you were my friend. Then if I find out you’ve secretly been disliking me and being nice to my face, you are dead to me. Dead-dead, not even mostly dead. All dead.)
But being liked — ouch. It’s like whiplash. It’s like, why. Like, what’s wrong with you? I don’t mean being casually liked by people I hang out with and have known for a while, I mean those times when I meet someone once or twice and they really really like me and actively want to spend more time with me. Especially when I wasn’t even trying to impress anyone. (Which is most of the time, since I’ve mostly given up on impressing people in non-professional situations.)
Why do you like me. Can’t you see I’m unpredictable, I’m lazy, I’m weak, I’m unfocused, I’m selfish, I’m flashy, I’m a coward, I’m cruel.
It’s amazing how many negative character traits will explode out of the woodwork of my brain when someone normal and nice who’s just met me says,“I really, really like you.” Or asks me to hang out when they totally didn’t have to. Or otherwise makes it clear that they want to be my friend.
It is weird, y’all. It’s the emotional contrarianism, exhibit A. You don’t like me? You should; I’m awesome. You do like me? WHY WOULD YOU, I’M A TERRIBLE PERSON OMG.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction; I’ll automatically ask myself what this person could possibly be seeing in me, and how I must have managed to fool them. If it’s a guy, my immediate and probably unhealthy instinct is, “Oh, you just think I’m pretty.” If it’s a girl, it’ll be more along the lines of, “Oh, she just doesn’t know me well enough. JUST YOU WAIT.” (Sorry for this heteronormative breakdown — obviously it doesn’t cover all contingencies.)
I mean, it’s obvious that each of us are our own harshest critic. I’m the only one who sees what is going through my head every second of every day, and how very empty and not-brilliant most of it is, so when people think I’m deep and brilliant, I have a hard time agreeing.
I have a friend who constantly asks me where my confidence comes from, and the truth is it doesn’t come from always thinking that I’m objectively awesome — it comes from knowing that most people are worse off most of the time. Even if I’m not brilliant, I’m smarter than most other people. Even if I’m not that productive, my spurts of production are often more impressive than those of others. Even if I’m not drop-dead gorgeous, I am more attractive than a lot of other girls.
So there, I said it. I derive my self-esteem from looking down on other people, rather than working on myself. Psychologically, I’m no different from your garden-variety bully.
And that loops around and taps into the biggest insecurity that I have ever had — that I am not a good person.
That’s been my biggest hang-up for as long as I can remember having hang-ups. I can even trace some of its origins and the ways it became amplified, like when I realized I was absolute crap at the belief-in-God part of my religion and decided, okay, that’s a lost cause, but the do-unto-others part is also important, so if I can just do that, be good to other people, then I won’t be a complete and utter failure as a human being.
Which I guess is a decent mindset to have because, y’know, kindness and goodness and all that, but is pretty unhealthy when it comes to the amount of pressure a person like me will put on herself for it. Like, if your one assurance in life of not being a bad person is being kind and compassionate and giving, etc, then when you screw that up, or recognize things about yourself that show that you are not that type of person at all, then you do feel really royally screwed.
I know I’m not a bad person, but the way I know it is by comparison to other people who are worse. So yeah, just because I have the psychological underpinnings of a bully, I’m not that bad because I don’t usually actively go around putting other people down. It doesn’t matter if I have the potential for it, as long as I don’t act on it.
Like Batman says, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Or like Dumbledore says, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Or if you want an obscure Jewish reference, there’s a midrash I once heard about how someone was looking at a soul, and it was ugly and twisted — bumps of arrogance, ridges of cruelty, welts of selfishness, and so on. (It’s a metaphor; go with it.) The person was revolted and asked, “Yikes, whose soul is that?” And from behind him, Moses steps out of the shadows and says, “Mine. That’s what I am inside, but I worked on myself to be better.”
I like those ideas, I really do (even if I do think that King David would have been a more apt figure than Moses for that particular lesson and I’m also not 100% sure that it’s an actualmidrash and not something the teacher made up). But even so, they don’t wipe out the feeling that I am fundamentally flawed inside and that all the good actions are just camouflage and repression. I cannot fix a fundamental flaw — that’s what makes it “fundamental” — I can only paint over it.
But then again, the point of all those quotes and stories is that everyone is fundamentally flawed inside and has their various negatives and dark threads.
But then again, that’s just using the “but everyone else is just as bad” rationale to excuse my own failings.
Still. If it’s good enough for Batman, Dumbledore, and Moses, it’s probably good enough for me.