I'm thinking a lot today about engaging with my own faults. Confronting my poorer traits instead of shying away from them. This is counter to my usual strategy for dealing with feelings of shortcoming. Normally I try to protect myself from any perception that I am deeply flawed. At some point, this self-shielding became defined as healthy behavior for me (It's important to have good self-esteem, right?) but I don't think it really is.
There's a science fiction short story, and I'm going to be utterly obnoxious in referencing it because I can't remember anything close to its title or author, and it's shelved somewhere at my condo too far away from me right now to look up. I'm going to talk about it anyway because it is an important reference point for me when I think about my own insecurities.
In this short story, there's a boy who has some dread disease of the brain. Miraculously, though, he gets an experimental treatment and lives. Unfortunately, his miracle cure leaves him completely unable to experience happiness. The part that is important for me is when the author describes the interactions that the boy (er.... man, at this point) has with others. Because he cannot process any positive feelings, all of his conversations with other people are tinged with a sense of disapproval and the perception that he is disliked. This struck me because OH! That's like me! Not all the time, of course, but sometimes I feel as though EVERYONE, from cashier to confidant, disapproves of me and is annoyed by my presence.
In the midst of these feelings, I cannot tell if they are periods of clouded vision or moments of clarity. Because I am too far down into it to refute the criticism I perceive at every turn, I turn to other strategies for preserving my sanity and self-esteem. Usually, I make plans to FIX and IMPROVE and THEN, once I have stopped "being horrible" or having qualities that inspire criticism, everything will feel ok.
(And when she is perfect, then she will be loved.)
(When this doesn't work, I retreat deeply into fantasy until it goes away.)
The problem with this is that no amount of self-improvement has helped, and even if I could become perfect, I suspect that this feeling would still come on sometimes, like a storm or the flu. Nothing I've ever tried in the past has made this cycle STOP. I've been able to disappear into myself until it goes away, but it always comes back.
Also, I ...ah... will never be perfect.
(This took me a while to accept, actually. Asked to solidify my goals for therapy once, I said, "I would like to know that the voices in my head that tell me I'm not good enough are wrong, and if they're not, I'd like to become good enough to silence them.")
So what do I mean by engaging with flaws, and how would that help this situation?
My real issue isn't that I'm not thin enough or pretty enough or good enough a teacher (or engaging enough a conversationalist, interesting enough a person, creative enough an artist, productive enough a worker...). My real issue is that I crave approval and affirmation to an extent that isn't healthy.
Which is a hard thing to admit.
And I think it leads me not only to the above-described blue periods, but also to a spirit of unhealthy competition. (Perfect = The Best at Everything.) This in turn leads to being impatient with and critical of everyone I encounter, even as I imagine that they are criticizing me. (I become mean and jealous, oversensitive to small slights, and generally nasty.) It sucks, but these states of mind make me doubly wretched -- both self-loathing and hateful of others.
Since I'm writing about it, I guess it goes without saying that I have been feeling like this for a few days now. My methods for dealing with it are as ineffective as ever, and, like I said, I am a miserable person in this state, as hateful as I feel hated.
The impatience with and lack of compassion for others is actually more of flaw than any of the failings I feel so painfully at these times, but it's the personal imperfections that I always choose to focus on. I'd like to change that.
(The desire for approval is even more of a problem than that, but I don't have a strategy for dealing with it right now.)
Inspired by the genuine and affectionate (if naïve) heroine of my current gothic novel, I decided today that every time I felt cross and impatient with someone, I'd stop and think about what I like about them. It sounds affected and utterly Pollyannish, but it kind of worked. I stop focusing on MY need for approval and love and start trying to just give it instead.
Does any of this make sense? It all follows logically in my head.
1. Before, when I got lost in the spiral of self-loathing, I'd try to fix the things I hated about myself at the time. Superficial things like my looks and my manners.
2. The trouble isn't those things though. Much worse is the way that I am when I feel this way. I feel miserable, and I think miserable things. I think that's where the spiral comes from.
3. I'm not yet ready to address the source (desperate need for approval), but at least I can change my miserable thoughts, which is a long way from plan A, which was telling myself, "just be perfect, dumb bitch."
(This should really be in a personal journal and not online, but I just typed it all here, so... here it is.)