Okay, let’s do this and try to stay calm and not break things. This post might be a little manic, literally.
Think. Where does it come from? Yes, there is experience from the past that says something like: when you do your best to express yourself, people take advantage of that, make fun of you, and hurt you, emotionally and physically. This took place throughout my young life. So the self-berating is a maladaptive self-defense mechanism. The idea being if this self-berating voice speaks loud enough, then it will snuff out self-expression, and in that there will be safety from the dangers of being hurt.
But this is the past. I step away from the past, I forgive it, and I move into the present.
But perhaps, I suppose, there is this fear: that the past exists still, today.
A fear body that feels that I might still say something embarrassing. No, that’s not right. More that I will say something, whether embarrassing or not, that will be used as a weapon against me, and that I will be harmed by that.
Something like that.
First, a realization: I have taken responsibility for other people’s actions, you see. I have said unto myself, and internalized, that the reason the people in the past were cruel was not because they made a choice to be a certain way, was not because perhaps they had low self-esteem and made choices reflecting a feeling of inadequacy, but instead I took responsibility, saying that, it must have been something I said, that was terribly offensive, that was terribly inappropriate, why else would someone act so cruelly?
On the subject of saying dumb things: I cannot say that my record is flawless. I have said some idiotic, ignorant, mean, and even (alas) bigoted things, and also some manipulative things just to get my way, in the past. But what I am considering here is those moments where I express myself honestly, from the heart, and then I fault myself and berate myself and say truly harmful and destructive and traumatic things to myself immediately after, for the shame I feel. Is it shame? Or perhaps embarrassment, or more so: fear. I feel embarrassed because I am scared I may have said something that someone might in some way use against me, or that someone might laugh on the inside about.
I am doing my best to be as coherent as I can.
What I believe I am looking at is a paradox. It states: "I fear others using my words to hurt me, and so I want to be sure that anything and everything I say will never, in any way, from now to eternity, offend, upset, discomfort, or in any other way adversely affect anyone, and moreover, that no one will find anything I say anything other than positive, constructive, pleasant, etc."
The paradox really ought to have a name. Perhaps the Perfection Paradox? Because it extends not only to words and speech, but to behavior and general being-ness as well.
Now, it is one thing to want to have one’s speech be impeccable. For me this is a worthwhile goal: to ensure that my words are honest, that I mean what I say, and that I choose my words carefully and do the best I can to have them have a positive and constructive effect on whomever hears or reads them. Sounds good. Why not? It’s a commitment, the idea being to create a habit. There’s no perfection involved and thus the goals are quite achievable. If you want to try and speak well, then by all means, do it. If you’re having fun, keep doing it. Quite simple.
But what I am describing is different. By placing an imperative not to allow others to find anything I say discomforting, offensive, etc., this creates the impossible situation. Honesty, for example, is sometimes discomforting. Sometimes simply being oneself offends others. People are offended by things not because of rational processes, but because of emotional, and often knee-jerk, biases. Anti-muslim, anti-west, anti-gay, anti-semite, none of these are rational. So, sure, I can do what I can to make my speech impeccable, because it interests me to do so, but requiring myself to make my speech perfect, so that nothing I say would ever cause anyone to be offended or discomforted or want to use these words against me, is where the problems creep in.
And, besides, the whole thing is incredibly counterproductive. Because I can hear them now, the repeating negative mantras I hear when I violate this ridiculous requirement. You are a piece of shit Adam... you deserve to die... These are the sorts of things that run through my head if I find myself in such a place, sometimes all because, for example, I wrote the words “Best regards” in my email, as opposed to “Very best”. Oh, you stupid piece of shit! What the fuck was that?! Who the fuck ever says “Best regards”!!! You piece of shit! Someone will use this against you! They’re going to judge and mock you! You just wait! You should just kill yourself! You can’t do anything right!
So, as we can see, counterproductive. What I recounted is a true experience, no joke, and probably an extreme version of what I imagine many others experience, in a more mild state, all the time. Our shared suffering may be part of our shared humanity: this sense of shame at saying what we mean; the second guessing it endlessly along the perfection paradox; the fear of reprisal for our honest expression. There is something fundamental about this, and herein lies an area that, at least for me, within myself, I not only intend to alter, but believe I have the power to, despite the fear I feel even right now.
Perhaps one key is to establish and/or clarify, internally, a sense of something I’ve mentioned before: meaning what we are. This is sort of my chief goal in my life right now: to mean what I am. I know I have not attained this. Perhaps it is a lifetimes-long journey. But what I find I can do is commit to it, which is what I have done. I have committed to meaning what I am and meaning what I say. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly vigilant; I have days when I am tired and things will slip out that I didn’t exactly intend, and I have to correct myself, and it’s not a big deal, it happens. Currently for me, there are worse days, when my medication gives out, and I am in the deep vortex of rapid-cycling, and truly truly hurtful things come out. Yes, sometimes it’s stuff that needed to be said, maybe, but rarely if ever in the way it comes out. Anyone who thinks my wife is a softy hasn’t a fucking clue what they’re talking about.
So anyway, again, perfection must go. We all know this. But back to this specific instance. The intention: to mean who I am, and, specifically in this case, what I say. When this is applied, one key component of the perfection paradox, and more importantly, its negative-script aftermath, is significantly reduced if not eliminated: second guessing. I find, if I can somehow remember and say to myself, Hey, it’s all good, you said what you felt honestly, you expressed yourself and meant what you said, then I can rest a little easier knowing that even if what I said was completely asinine, at least it was authentically so.
But really how is this comforting? So great, I’m an authentic moron and everyone knows it. But here’s the catch, and perhaps why I’m writing this at this time. Trust and compassion. These are words I hear a lot and sometimes I love them and sometimes they piss me off. Right now, it’s a bit of both. Because, wtf, once again all you have to do is throw trust and compassion and you’ll “be fine”. Sometimes it starts to feel a little like chicken and cheese and a Rachael Ray cooking show... sure, you know that delicious meal; it’s only thirty minutes away, but really, a cheesy chicken dish again?
But go with me here. I’m not saying this is right for everyone. Heck, I’m not even saying this is correct at all. But I’m just wondering. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for. Somehow to find a way to be okay with what I say, to be alright with who I am. To alter not only my chemistry, but perhaps even genetics, so that the harmonic underpinning of my soul going through the universe goes from blame and shame to trust and compassion. So perhaps it’s not about just throwing trust and compassion at it. It wouldn’t make sense. I’m not merely looking to use trust and compassion; I’m looking to Be trust and compassion.
But it’s that acceptance, that being alright with yourself, with what you mean to be and say, that first, tiny step along the road of compassion, that eliminates what to me is the biggest component of what makes the perfection paradox so pernicious: the fear element. The fear that someone will judge. The fear that someone will mock you. That someone will hurt you with something you said. If I am truly, honestly, okay with who I am, you cannot mock me. Judgment is irrelevant, as I do not grant you or anyone else such authority. You cannot use my words against me. And not because of any status I possess or extrinstic quality, but because I am alright, truly, with who I am, within. You can call me a stupid fuckwad. You can call me hopeless. You can call me a brown-boy piece of cowshit. I am okay with who I am.
One small step. Dare I take it. I so want to. And I have, many times. But other times, the fear shows up. But I cannot and do not give up... what’s the word? Hope? I don’t do hope much. I prefer action. Faith, then. Perhaps. If I keep going, if I can just find a way to be okay with the fact that I wrote a poem, or a story, or a song, the way I felt it in my heart, whether or not anyone likes it or even cares, or that I chose to write “Hi David” instead of “Hey Dave” in an email to a friend, if I can start to be okay with even that tiny part of me, then maybe I can change my heading by one tenth of a degree. Away from judgment, fear, shame, and towards love, compassion, and trust. And maybe that’s the tenth of a degree that will make all the difference in the world. I don’t know. But I know it’s worth trying.
Thank you for joining me on this.