I can remember being agonizingly self-conscious at a very early age, like about 6 years old (the age the abuse started.) I now think this is unusual – more like abnormal. As an adult, when I have observed young children, I have been amazed at how un-self-conscious they are. Even to the extent of running around nude outdoors with no embarrassment. I wonder if that is one of the effects that the abuse had on me – a focus upon myself – my body, my thoughts, my feelings - that was premature and unhealthy. I know that there was anxiety from a very early age, too. (I have to stop talking about myself in that objective, detached way. I have to start owning the thoughts and feelings totally.) I know that I felt a lot of anxiety from a very early age, too. I was nervous, insecure, fearful, withdrawn and very self-aware, introspective and introverted. I worried about the future - what was going to happen next, who was going to say or do what. I was wrapped up in my own feelings and thoughts – “daydreaming” was the way it was interpreted by parents and teachers. This led me to a form of Narcissism – not the self-loving kind – but a more negative and critical self-obsession where I was always super concerned about how other people were seeing me, thinking and feeling about me. Appearance was only part of it. Their opinions and reactions were way more important to me than they should have been. I was tied up in knots with desperation for approval, affection, affirmation and acceptance. I became perfectionistic and an over-achiever academically and artistically.
The upside of it is that I know myself and understand my motives much more clearly than many people seem to. I never went through the “Who am I?” phase or felt like I needed to “find myself.” In fact it was just the opposite – I knew very well who I thought I was and wished I could me somebody else. That sel-absorption – unlike the psychological definition of “Narcissism” also helps me to psych out others pretty accurately and instinctively. And empathize with their feelings. I also became very observant – sort of the plus side of hyper-vigilance – which has helped immensely in my art, writing and acting. And I think I probably think more seriously and deeply than many “normal” people and started doing it at an earlier age. People thought I was very smart and precocious as a kid. I’m not bragging about that – I felt like a misfit – not as if it was an advantage! Also I think it might have helped in therapy – to have already figured out some stuff about myself and how I think and react already so that when the memories came along and I started making connections, things fell into place much more quickly.
But I am still very introverted, worried about how I come across to others, and self-obsessed. I am inhibited, often paralyzed by feelings of insecurity, inferiority and inadequacy. I don’t ever feel like I fit in or belong in any group.
Now I am realizing that I have spent way too much time in self-examination and criticism. It was necessary while going through therapy but I need to turn it down.
I’d love to get out of my skin and be more self-forgetful. But I don’t know how to do that – how to turn off the mental mirror. It happens once in a while – when I am totally absorbed in a book or movie or music. Rarely, I can get totally caught up in an experience – while traveling or viewing art - and like Emerson’s quote – “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all.” But it is one of those ironic impossibilities – the more you strive to become self-forgetful, the more it eludes you. I am NEVER spontaneous – unless I plan carefully to be! I always habitually examine everything before I act. And as soon as I realize that I have been losing myself in something – I ruin it and it is gone!
I can’t help but wonder if this might be an alternative reaction to abuse – instead of going away into neverland or dissociating to the point of becoming a different personality or identity – I get stuck in the one I’ve got and obsess about my “self”?
Does anyone else relate to this?
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense to not himself.
Or just as mad.
So there you are.
Stark raving sane.
- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead