I know someone who lost a precious stone from a ring. Imagine the difficulty inherent in the losing--you look down at your own important thing, which should be grasped in its familiar place--and it's gone.
I hear repeatedly the story about how self-esteem is like that missing stone. A person spends much of childhood feeling neither arrogant nor mouse-like, but instead experiencing just the right kind of sense of self. Adolescence comes, like a thief in the late morning, and throws around the drawers,hunting for gems. When early adulthood comes, the furniture is largely shuffled back into place, but the garnets and amethyst are all missing. No sparkle, no translucent shining moment, no deep crystalline certainties.
I remember my delight when I made my first close friend from a person I originally thought frightfully arrogant. To suddenly have that moment of insight, when I could "see" that the shell was all brittle, but inside the person needed understanding--that was pure poetry. I savored that first sight so much that I began to cultivate the ability to put myself in another's place. I sometimes think that if I could understand where people are coming from better, then I could get along with more people.
I know it's considered entirely appropriate these days to say that if one just waves one's hand, and claps one's heels together, and says "there's no person like me, there's no person like me", one is transported from the wicked witch's castle to a Kansas of appropriate self-regard. But I've never quite found it that easy. But I come to see self-loathing and self-defeat as obstacles rather than as inescapables, and I want to push them aside a bit better.
I think that self-doubt has its survival skill aspects. I am cultivated by training to question anything and everything, trying to understand the arguments for and against any proposition. A person with low self-esteem frequently can make a wonderful lawyer, because that self-questioning, coupled with the blustering way with words that sometimes folks use to mask their self-defeats, can be a potent litigator's combination.
Yet I still wonder if self-doubt is not another diversion, and another way to avoid authentically living. In the world of real challenges and real relationships, one faces the possibility of failure and, ultimately, death. Self-loathing lets one remove the possibility of Heaven from the mixture. It's a liberation, in that way, but a sad liberation from the chance of really finding meaning in one's life.
I find that self-loathing and self-doubt can be grist for the best creative writing, if one can just get the cap off the pen. Self-doubt can be a good editor at times, but also a vicious editor, worse than the worst rejection slip one could ever imagine. I think that the attempt to channel inauthentic living within oneself into authentic connection through self-expression is a noble and healthy thing. But I also think that there is an "authenticity" to just living that can be so elusive unless,for a moment, the self-doubt is just put aside.
I think that accepting oneself is so difficult. I tend to anesthesize myself from my own pain with a mini-chocolate, or with killing time needlessly. It's funny how one can choose the undisciplined path (or the over-disciplined path) and miss the real connections in life.
I think that one stressor which afflicts many is that sense that there is all this rich, earthy possibility in life that one will inevitably miss. It's as if there is some large roller coaster that one simply must ride, or be a big fat nothing. I used to read a LiveJournal I thought well-written, but which was afflicted with an almost panicked sense of "look who I met, look what I did". Now there's certainly nothing wrong with plugging one's friends, and there's certainly nothing wrong with connecting oneself up with a larger literati out there. But it's that sense of "I'm so hip" alternated with "I'm so miserable". I am all for people writing and publishing and meeting and connecting. But the frenzy inside is not stopped by a by-line, a new car, or even public praise. The frenzy inside requires some work on oneself.
My point is not that there is some hip cognoscenti that is well-adjusted, and the rest are damned. I always liked that Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the salvation of a gross thousand (144,000), but always feel, somehow, like I am number 144,002 (although I fade a bit as I write that, because I don't mean any real disrespect). To me, the self-loathing among us is like the common cold, just something that as a body politic we all sneeze a bit about, unless flu sets in.
Self-obsession is so hypnotic. When you're staring into the crystal ball of self, it's so tempting to believe that nothing else avails. People skills a little rusty because you don't extend yourself? Great! When your first forays to change that fail, you can blame it on yourself. Got a few failures in trying to change? Great! Nothing like being self-obsessed at how one is a failure at being anything but self-obsessed. I saw my cobra, in the mirror, and he weaved and danced and hypnotized me, until he had bitten me. Now I'm mortally self-regarding, my eyes fixed on him.
I hate, too, that way that for some people lack of self-esteem is almost a pheronome, so that they attract people who either respect themeselves even less, or try to exploit the one who is down.
It's like folks just need something to hang from their rear-view mirror, that lets them take their minds off themselves once in a while.
I like classical music, ambient music and jazz, because all liberate me from the mindfulness of my own inadequacies, and help me to key into what I really think. A nice hike or a nice drive can do the same thing.
I dislike that moment of stress when I say "it's okay if I do this, because I am really feeling under a lot of stress".
So how does one repair oneself when one's mechanical breakdown is self-obsession?
It's a puzzle!
I love this eBay auction I am doing this week of my ruined Ford Crown Victoria. I am getting people sending me e mails how they love the "ruined car" humour of the ad copy. I have had the predictable e mail asking me to end the auction early in violation of eBay rules and sell the car for a bit of ready money now.
But my favorite e mails are the e mails--"can I come see the car?". I always e mail back my office number, say "give me a call" and all that. Nobody has called yet. It's one thing to send an e mail, to run a google search, to browse on eBay. But to make a human connection? Unthinkable.
I make a point in LiveJournal to appreciate those who want merely a remote reading experience. There's a cool nobility in that, somehow. But I also like that I have made "real" friends in LJ, and I try to cultivate that, too. It's a solace against self-obsession. It's something real.
It's so easy to get lost in the inauthentic--to see life's choices as between a sickly sweet fake happiness, bedecked with cute unicorn stickers, and a dredgy, no-hoper "realism", larded with negativity of every kind.
But I want to focus on change, and on being. I am done with focusing on my faults. I may have to extend myself a bit. I may have to fail, sometimes. I may even have to plan and have goals. But I want to be in the moment, and not in the worries. I want to be able to talk to people, and hear them talk back.
I've heard that voice inside me, telling me things I don't need to say to myself, and I'm ready to leave that voice behind.