You know, self-introspection is great any everything, but sometimes I wish I would give myself a god damned break already. Every week I keep having revelations about what’s wrong with me and my list keeps getting longer and longer. Further, I keep digging deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the superficial issues always managing to find the more underlying ones…the ones that dictate everything I do and cause me the most pain and stress. They are buried and excavating them results in anger and sadness equivalent to unearthing a mummy with a nasty curse attached to it.
My present conscious brain is a lot like that rich asshole who bankrolls the expedition. The local guide that she paid next to nothing to get her and flunkies to the pyramid warns of the curse and she’s all, “Curse, shmurse. I’ll worry about the curse AFTER I pry off these rubies from the sarcophagus.” And then there are locusts…or something.
I’m trying here, people. I think I can still be funny sometimes, but fuck if I can muster it much at the moment. What I’m saying here is that I’m really angry. I don’t know how to deal with anger. I don’t really get angry about things. I get sad. I get anxious. I feel guilt and all that. I don’t get mad. And more to the point, the person I am angriest with is myself.
In our last episode of “Gina Thinks About Things that Have Happened and Cries About Them at Her Desk,” we see our hero realizing that she never actually dealt with the sexual assault she went through two and a half years ago.
I hadn’t it called it assault before this past Friday. Not really. After writing the post, I decided that torturing myself about the whole thing was a great idea, so I went back and read the email I wrote the asshole that I called “scathing” and, because of the magic of Google and archiving, I even still had the gchat I had with this guy during which I forgave him and let him off the fucking hook. I read all that and felt sick to my stomach.
Here’s what I did. Yes, I told him that he’s a creep and a prick (in more eloquent terms that that, but that was the underlying message), and then I said all the things that I did wrong to bring this about on myself. And then I told him that he wasn’t a bad guy and we just had a misunderstanding, but I just wanted him to know that he hurt me physically and emotionally so that he could treat others better in the future.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, GINA? Really? You want to make sure he knows that he hurt you NOT because you want him to feel some damn pain himself and get some retribution for having a wrong committed against you, but because you want to make sure his future relationships are fulfilling and healthy for all parties involved?!? REALLY? What the hell is wrong with you?
I know this is kind of bizarre, me yelling at myself in blog form, but this is part of the process people. The thing I realized is that no, what happened to me was not my fault. What WAS my fault was that I completely minimized it for everyone else, especially him, so that I wouldn’t be an inconvenience and I wouldn’t ruin anyone’s life with my trauma. Why? And here’s the terrible realization: I don’t matter to myself.
Self worth is an important thing. Being able to recognize it for yourself is an important thing. I have articulated this many a time when talking about things like jealousy and general insecurity. If you don’t think you are worth anything to anyone except for something you can physically provide (something tangible), then of course you will be afraid of losing everything eventually. Perfection is the only way to keep people close to you if you subscribe to this philosophy (how hard I work and how much I give of myself is equivalent to my value in other people’s lives) and obviously, we can not achieve perfection so people who think like this are pretty much screwed.
I am one of those people! But I have figured out a much harder thing! I KNOW that I matter immensely to the people who love me. The problem is that I don’t matter at all to me.
And this shouldn’t really be that much of a realization. I think I’ve generally known this, but I have used different words. I put everyone else first without even thinking about it. The thing that is surprising is how deeply engrained this attitude is.
But it shouldn’t be surprising. Growing up, I was rarely asked for my preference. I was taught that kids don’t really have preferences, or at least, if they do, they don’t matter. The only people’s preferences that matter are the adults (and in my case, really only one adult’s preferences mattered). If I disagreed about something and tried to engage with my parents about it, I was told to stop copping an attitude and was barred from expressing my opinion. It’s not that I wasn’t getting an attitude, but I was never engaged, only quashed. I am a really docile and obedient person. I always have been. I still don’t like walking on grass unless I know that’s absolutely OK. It was easy (and still is often) to manipulate me into giving people what they wanted. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. And I learned very early that it was easiest to like and love me if I didn’t have opinions or preferences.
This continued into my teens. My peers were strong minded and self-absorbed (you know, like teenagers). I found that my having no preferences and no standards for how I should be treated made being friends with them a lot easier. I barely even thought about it. It didn’t matter anymore if I was at home or at school or anywhere: What I want or need does not factor into any equation. I am a multiplicative factor of 1. Whatever you want, I echo, because, well, I’m not important. It was not until I was in my late twenties and Wes had had a few years to start breaking through all this that I started to state preferences. And it’s not easy. It takes a huge amount of effort for me to say, “Well, if I had my choice I would do Y.” It is a script I make myself say in the hopes that some day it won’t feel like I’m in a stupid play.
I am shaking with rage thinking about this. How dare I let this seep into me so deeply! How dare I allow this to become the most defining factor of my fucking identity!
And I talk about this and know that people reading it probably don’t get it because I’m such a weirdo. I have odd interests and hobbies. I’m creative and have a good sense of humor. I like public speaking and am generally outgoing and confident (about certain things). I project a personality of one who is “her own person”. But the tragedy is that I know now that I would change it all at the drop of a hat if someone I loved told me that they didn’t want me to be any of those things anymore.
Luckily, I’m not completely useless and worked to find people to love who inspire me and appreciate me for the many different things that I am, given my druthers. But I wait anxiously for them to disapprove. Since I don’t matter much to me, my defining characteristics can become unimportant to me too.
That is absolutely infuriating and terrifying. It means that I have an underlying fear of interacting with new people because I can’t trust myself to value myself enough to not change or conform to their ideal vision of me. I can’t trust myself to think I’m worth feeling safe. I won’t feel that way because I’m not worth anything to me. The only thing that makes me responsible for my safety and my individuality is that I have a handful of people who would be very sad if I were a different person or if I got hurt. It is for them, not for me.
So, I have some major work to do and I have no idea how to do it. This realization explains so clearly why I am fundamentally unhappy. Not a bad thing to figure out at the young age of 32. But I don’t know what I need to do now. Over the last several years, I have learned a lot of useful skills for dealing with my emotions. Much of these skills are related to identifying the underlying problem, articulating it to myself and others in a clear and definitive way, and then solutions come easier because I know the problem to solve. But here, I am filled with anger and sadness at knowing that I have spent 25 years or so simply not caring about my well-being for my own sake. I have minimized my worth and needs and desires for my entire life. It’s the dreaded “Who I Am” that I have to dismantle and I don’t know what to replace it with.
I want to truly love myself. I want to see myself the way that the people close to me see me. But I have no real concept of what this means to me personally. I don’t know what wiring needs to be redone. How deep does this go?
This is what real freedom means to me. I want to be free from the cage I have built for myself since I was a tiny kid. Freedom to me has nothing to do with not having a 9-5 job or doing music and theater and art full time. Freedom is feeling comfortable in my own skin, being everything that I can be without fear.
Other things that equal freedom to me (and this is sad, but also an amusing exercise):
- Cooking mushrooms with dinner even if no one else I’m cooking for at the time likes them.
- Picking the flavor of ice cream I like because I’m the one that went to the store.
- Finding funny what I find funny and not justifying it to the people who don’t laugh.
- Turning people down who want to make out with me at a party.
There are many other ridiculous things that I worry about. My neuroses run deep. But the first step is admitting it.
Hi, I’m Gina and I don’t matter to myself.
Hi, I’m Gina and I have run out of patience with myself.
Hi, I’m Gina and I want to be truly happy and healthy.
Hi, I’m Gina and I just don’t know what to do.
Unfortunately, due to Real Life, I can’t now just sign off and go on some kind of walkabout or anything. My job might dislike that and I’d run out of money FAST. So the journey is going to have to be more local…like…in my head or something. I need to figure out how to strip all this away and be done with it finally.
Thanks for reading. I am hoping to be inspired soon to write about less heavy things, but we write what we know, ey?
6 thoughts on “Well, What Do I Do Now?”
I could make a list of all the choices I’ve made over the years in effort to make my mom happy and/or to like me better. Ultimately, none of it is ever going to work, b/c I’ve finally realized that she is never going to be truly happy, even if she were to get everything she’s ever wanted out of life. For as long as I can remember, it’s been drilled into my head that if I’m not a certain way, people aren’t going to like me, so I ought to conform to what everyone else wants or what they perceive as to how I should be. Needless to say, I have no idea how to act around people, constantly second-guess myself, and feel completely incompetent for not being able to decide things for myself w/out fearing backlash from anyone/everyone around me.
Long story short, I understand completely.
I love the subject of identity. People are basically machines that crank out two things: preferences and implications. Obviously you do care about your self, or you wouldn’t be writing this. Maybe you just want to care more, which is the process of improving your self-worth. This is the job each of us have to do, every day we live. The implications of our ability to choose a preference are amazing, and are the root of a healthy self esteem. I think it’s also important to rely exclusively on one’s self for self-image. If successful, then other’s negative opinions can’t hurt, and their positive ones just add value and improve our opinion of them. The key to this is to value and respect our own preferences, and to manage them in ways that eliminate all contradictions. Then, as we learn from that sexy Russian vixen, Ayn Rand, we can truly live without pain, fear, or guilt. Good post, Gina, and excellent introspection.
Oh, one more thing. I came up with a ‘happiness formula’ a few years back, if you’re interested. I think it’s a nice structure you could follow to accomplish some of the goals you stated above. Let me know if you want something like that, and I can dig it up for you.
I’d be interested in that formula, Nat. I’m going through the same process as Gina. I also want to let you know your comment made me smile. Thank you.
Nat, I have to echo Wes’s words elsewhere on polyskeptic that Ayn Rand is a grossly inappropriate reference here, especially given that Gina has explicitly stated that what she is attempting to process (at least in part) is rape – a topic where Rand falls squarely on the side of perpetrators and not survivors, and is as guilty of romanticizing and sexualizing non-consent, victim-blaming, and the cognitive dissonance associated with rape culture as I don’t know, E. L. James.
Gina’s constant and tireless search for fulfillment and happiness has been interrupted by this trauma, not by a conflict in the vector calculus of her emotional life. She has not made some “mistake” in her thinking about where bliss originates. Rather, external forces have been visited upon her, wresting self-determination from her. I have to say, your intentions may be perfectly altruistic (though I gather you and I will likely understand that term quite differently), but your execution is simply another enactment of the flawed and harmful culture promoted by thinkers like Rand.
I made it through that whole thing without a single ad hominem. I deserve hugs from baby sloths and otters.
I’m not a regular reader, and just kind of stumbled across this post. I wanted to thank you so much for writing this. I have some of the same patterns: not valuing myself, not believing that I am important, not standing up for myself. I have allowed partners to control my life to a stunning degree in the past, and for the past couple years I’ve been working on boundaries and healthier relationship skills. I’ve been working on being my own person. But I don’t think I have been working on my self-worth too much. Probably a little bit here and there, but it hasn’t been a focus. Seeing you explain the patterns that you have, and more importantly, WHY you have them, has been very helpful to me. It does add one more thing to the list of stuff to work on. However, I’d much rather be aware of it than try to work on other, related things and keep stumbling over the self-worth thing. Because I imagine ignoring that will fundamentally thwart much of my other efforts.
So thank you so much for sharing. I get the sense that you’re at the place where you’re very overwhelmed because it feels like there’s so much work to be done, and you aren’t sure how to start. It’ll get better, I promise. Identifying the issue is the most important part, and you’ve done that beautifully. Bonus points for understanding where it came from.
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