Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


There Are Two Types of People in the World

 . . . Those who understand anxious self-doubt as a constant state of mind and those who don't.

There's the officially-labeled Social Anxiety Disorder, but there are plenty of people who simply feel shy, insecure, isolated.  Who would say they understand self-loathing.  Who have been known to say, I hate myself.  Who always blame themselves if something is not right, who never stop feeling at least some measure of guilt and responsibility for everything wrong around them.

Everyone can relate to these feelings, of course, but there is a depth to which some people experience them that many don't, and it sets them apart.

I'm convinced of this particularly by discussions about two particular books.

A year ago, a large group at a Mock Printz Discussion was divided about Chime by Franny Billingsly, a book that starts, I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.  Now, if you please. Some of those who read it felt like they couldn't identify with the character, that she was too whiny about and obsessed with how awful a person she was.  They found her annoying.  I, on the other hand, thought she was a brilliant depiction of someone who had been manipulated into feeling constant guilt and been taught nothing but self-hatred, and I was frustrated that they had no empathy for her.  Finally, it dawned on me that they couldn't relate, and I said something along the lines of, You just aren't proficient enough at self-loathing to understand what she's going through or really feel what she's feeling.  The first part of the epiphany for me was realizing that not everyone could relate to this particular character; the second was that, with no abuse or manipulation of my own, I could, and that that made me different than them.

More recently, I was browsing the newer and popular reviews of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith at Goodreads.  I was struck by how many of the reviewers weren't all that impressed with the book because they didn't really "get" Jack, the main character.  They thought he was a jerk for not loving the people in his life, but seemed to have missed the fact that he couldn't love anyone because he didn't love himself.  They were disappointed that this supposedly "horrific" book wasn't all that gruesome or scary, when the true horror in the book is Jack's psychological trauma; they wanted physical and missed the emotional.  I just had the overwhelming sense--as I did with the Chime discussion--that they couldn't ever truly appreciate the book because they couldn't relate to what Jack felt, his irrational, gut-level self-loathing.

As I said, I have no particular abuse, horror, or trauma in my past; I've lived a pretty good life.  Yet something instinctive in me understands these characters.  It's something present in the people I can relate to, all of my close friends, that deep anxiety and insecurity and struggle to feel self-worth.  When I'm getting to know someone who doesn't appear to feel it, I am left with a sense that the person is shallow, less interesting, and not someone I can really identify with. And it's a theme that pops up regularly on this blog.

From the list of recent posts currently showing up on this page right now, for instance, there is this little bit about the Dunning-Kruger effect in How the Lizard Brains End Up in Charge:
"She's saying ignorance encourages confidence," said Ajay.  "Intelligence creates insecurity.  Therefore, the stupid act with blind assurance, while the smart are crippled by self-doubt."
And, in I Wanted to Capture the Quotes, this list from the book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:
- I got the flu and I feel terrible and I also feel terrible inside.

- I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.

- I hated my mom for a minute or two because she told me I didn't have any friends.

- Dante is the first friend I've ever had. That scares me.

- I think that if Dante really knew me, he wouldn't like me.
Back to the two books I mentioned above for a moment.  The "annoying" character from Chime, an example of her self-hatred:
I mustn’t get back to thinking of myself as a princess, or wolfgirl. All the silly things I used to imagine. Stepmother was right. It doesn’t matter that you look like a princess on the outside. You’re a witch on the inside and nothing will change that. It’s best not to look at yourself at all. . . .

I hate myself.
You must take care of Rose. Stepmother had said that again and again. Take care of Rose. And I had promised.

I’d learned how to do it. I’d learned I had to hate myself.

I crashed into the kitchen. The cupboard door was ajar.

When you hate yourself, you don’t neglect your responsibilities. When you hate yourself, you never forget what you did.

I’d even forgotten about Rose’s cough. How little it took, two bright eyes and a couple of paper clips. What if it’s the swamp cough and she dies, Briony? How will those bright eyes look then?

Let’s review the rules, Briony: What, above all, mustn’t you forget?

You mustn’t forget to hate yourself.
Here's the link to my full review, by the way, the one in which I call Briony an exquisitely real narrator, one whom we’re not sure we can trust because of her all too tangible and realistic self-loathing, if you want to investigate more.

Jack, of the Marbury Lens, hates himself too.  He describes himself as a monster in the second sentence of the book and can't stop thinking, Fuck you, Jack, to himself because he hates himself so much.  In fact, if you search author Andrew Smith's blog for the phrase, "I hate myself," you get a nice long list of results.  This post, Cold Nausea, is a particularly good representative sample:
Today, I am convinced that Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (maybe Dostoevsky, too) must have had permanent colds.

I never get sick, but, every two years or so, when I do run head-first into a sudden and incapacitating head cold, I believe I stumble upon the true origins of existential philosophy.

I deserve this.

Just this week, I was chastising an eternally-outraged acquaintance... oh, I NEVER get sick, because the great-big-giant ME eats fresh, non-GMO-bastardized apples and runs miles at altitude every day, without fail, even when it's snowing...

I hate myself.

I hate myself even worse than usual today.
Link to my review if you want to know more about the book.

Alternately, here's something from a book I've recently reviewed that I can't really relate to:
How could he be so self-righteous?  After all, he had been guilty of devious dealings in Philadelphia.  And he was at that moment plotting to betray his country!  But therein lies the key to understanding Arnold: he didn't feel guilty.  He was always able to convince himself that what he was doing was right.  And if any feelings of remorse popped up, instead of dwelling on them he blended them with anger, and spewed them outward at his enemies.
Nor do I think this psychological phenomenon that I first read about in You Are Not So Smart (blogged here and here; covered, I believe, in Chapter 28: "Self-Serving Bias") is accurate in the case of myself and those I'm close to.  I think we are much more likely to see ourselves failing in comparison to others than the opposite.  From an article that explores the Dunning-Kruger effect from a different perspective, "Revisiting Why Incompetents Think They're Awesome":
It is important to realize that the Dunning-Kruger paper was not such a shocking finding. It was, for instance, already known that seemingly everyone evaluates themselves as above average in everything. Are you a better driver than average? Certainly am. How do you rate your ability at math? Oh, a little better than average. How about mountain climbing? Well, I've climbed the local hill a couple of times. I bet Kilimanjaro can't be much more difficult.

A large pile of research on various groups of people, covering various skill sets, indicates that in the face of all evidence, humans are irredeemably optimistic about their own abilities.
See, I just don't get that.  I'm pretty confident in areas where I've received consistent, overwhelming feedback that I have talent and skill, but about everything else I have no confidence whatsoever.  I have no real explanation for this, no idea where it comes from, it's just the way I've always been.  I'm insecure, feel others must surely not like me, feel it's because of things I've said or done--or not said or done--know I can never be good enough to relax and trust that others enjoy my company and respect me and see me as someone valuable.

I don't say all of this to be whiny or because I think it somehow makes me special; it's more that I naturally assume everyone is like me, that we're all the same under the surface and can relate to the same emotional experiences, and continue to be surprised when I run into evidence that that's not the case.  It seems something innate might make some of us a little different.  Perhaps it goes back to the idea I've shared before, that some people are born "high reactive."  From the article, "Understanding the Anxious Mind":
But some people, no matter how robust their stock portfolios or how healthy their children, are always mentally preparing for doom. They are just born worriers, their brains forever anticipating the dropping of some dreaded other shoe. For the past 20 years, Kagan and his colleagues have been following hundreds of such people, beginning in infancy, to see what happens to those who start out primed to fret. Now that these infants are young adults, the studies are yielding new information about the anxious brain. . . .  

People with a nervous temperament don’t usually get off so easily, Kagan and his colleagues have found. There exists a kind of sub-rosa anxiety, a secret stash of worries that continue to plague a subset of high-reactive people no matter how well they function outwardly. They cannot quite outrun their own natures: consciously or unconsciously, they remain the same uneasy people they were when they were little. . . .  
If the person feels he or she is intelligent and capable and has a strong internal locus of control, then that anxiousness gets turned inward and also has an internal focus--I have the ability to impact those around me and my surroundings, so if anything is amiss then I am most likely the cause.  And something is always amiss, so I am always at fault.  The only state that could allow me to stop worrying is complete perfection.  It's almost narcissistic, having such grand expectations of oneself in this way, that if I am not perfect then I am wrong.

I revisited the idea of the naturally high reactive in another post, connecting it to a couple of other things I'd read.  One was a Lemony Snicket book and some of the dark quotes from it (like: Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake someone else up, so that they can feel this way, too.), and in particular the title of one of the chapters: "An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does."  I saw its internal counterpart in a quote from another book by the same author who wrote the list earlier in this post:
"Some people have eating disorders and there's a special group for that. Some people have more than one person living inside them and there's a special group for that. That's serious stuff. That really does stun the hell out of me. I mean, I only have one of me living inside me and that's bad enough. If I had more than one of me inside me, I'd off myself."
I'm sure there are extroverts who are anxious self-loathers, but I can't separate the experience from being an extreme introvert.  Someone was looking at the results of my most recent encounter with the Myers-Briggs, and they were blown away by the fact that I wasn't somewhere in the grey area of the I/E continuum, as most people are, but at the extreme introverted end of the scale--100% of my responses to none the other way.  That's how it always comes out.  It just seems natural to me that if a person is insecure and self-doubting--feels others can't possibly like them and they are the cause of anything bad that happens--they'd be withdrawn around others, cautious, and would get drained from being constantly on high alert when there is anyone else around to impact in any way whatsoever.  When I have a conflict with someone else, for instance, there is no moving on for me; the tension must have been at least somewhat caused by me, so I obsessively replay it and beat myself up and compose next encounters and have no ability to let it go--because it eats away at my self-worth, knowing there is someone out there who is upset with me, doesn't respect me, or things negatively of me, so I can't be at peace with myself until the situation can be positively resolved in some way.  It's much less stressful to simply spend time alone then to be around others and feel constant anxiety I might do or say something that will impact another person in the wrong way and lead to that state of obsessive self-hatred and insecurity.  To me, anxiousness and introversion are two sides of the same coin.

In Anxious Introversion Has Its Advantages, I compared the high reactive article to one that considered an innate introverted nature for part of the population, "Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?"  They made very similar claims about high-reactive people and introverts, from both being 15 to 20 percent of the population to coping strategies and more.  In Loving My Headphones, I considered my experience of being an introvert, including excerpts from a website that describe the innate differences between the way the brains of introverts and extroverts work:
 . . . introverts operate heavily in long-term memory. . . . 

This also explains why we sometimes feel humiliated about our "failures", particularly when they are in public. Extroverts will quickly forget what they did at a wild party the night before (what party? what drinks? whose girlfriend?) whereas introverts will remember every excruciating detail intensely as if it were all going on again right now.
I obsess about (real or imagined) mistakes I've made, punishing myself for them over and over in my head.  It's hard for me to let go and move on.

One final self-referential bit, from way back in the day (2006) when I was new to this blogging thing and part of a community of blogging friends.  I did one of those prompt posts, where you answer a series of questions about yourself, including: 18. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? Just one? Insecurity.  I decided to expand upon that answer in a follow-up post, where I wrote:
The above is just one example of my general high school experience. I didn't say a lot and didn't interact with too many people. I don't know that I ever made a conscious decision, but somewhere along the line during my college years I started working to become less shy. I suppose I've succeeded, because now people doubt my introverted-ness. I still think of myself as the quiet, nice guy--kind of the way I see Captain Barbarossa--but have to admit I'm more assertive and outspoken now. The thing is, while there were many things about being withdrawn (and awkward) that I didn't like, I never doubted my niceness. Now I constantly wonder if I've said something I shouldn't have, if I'm selfishly seeking attention or missing the flow of the conversation or making a fool of myself or, worst of all, saying something offensive or hurtful. I used to worry that people wouldn't like me because they didn't notice me or know me; now I worry because maybe they do.
Even before I was thinking and writing about these issues, reading and sharing articles that resonated, this kind of thing came to the surface.  I'm a healthy, happy person who has lived an un-traumatic life, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm innately introverted and anxious, that I always doubt myself and have to fight insecurity every step of the way, constantly aware of the melancholic weight of potential self-hatred trying to creep in through the cracks and crevices.  I can't escape it, because it's part of who I am.  And I understand, relate to, others--fictional or not--who are the same.  The self-loathers are my people.


At 11/30/2012 4:42 PM, Blogger CDL said...

LIke - and worth waiting for

At 11/30/2012 4:47 PM, Blogger Degolar said...

So I'm not way off base, then?

At 12/05/2012 5:24 AM, Blogger CDL said...


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