I’ve had a couple of experiences lately of people pointing out the traits I’m sensitive about. No one’s been mean about it; the remarks have been delivered offhand, as in: “Wow, you’re pretty grumpy about this,” or “You like to be in control, don’t you?” Each time the comment has taken me by surprise and left me with an unpleasant sensation of hurt inquiry: if you’ve noticed that, what else are you thinking?
I’ve heard that alcoholics, drug addicts, and people with disordered behavior often think that no one else notices what they’re doing. They think their family hasn’t seen the extra drinks they’ve downed with the holiday meal, or the sneaking out for a hit, or the sounds of retching that issue regularly from the bathroom. It appears I felt the same way about my pickiness, my control-freak tendencies, and all my other neurotic habits — else why would I be so surprised at these remarks?
When I’ve talked to Erik about my need to be liked, particularly in situations where I find myself wondering whether someone really likes me, he’ll say jokingly, “I guess it’s time to tell you. Everyone criticizes you behind your back.” I’ll then reply melodramatically, “I knew it! I always suspected it was true!” Though the loving humor always makes me feel better, there’s a part of me that’s really not kidding, that does think everyone secretly hates me. Does everyone have this voice lurking inside? I wouldn’t be surprised.
This voice has been particularly active for me lately, starting (I believe) from the emotions post I wrote a few weeks ago. I haven’t exactly been mired in self-consciousness and anxiety, but there has been a sensation of shifting sands, of unease and remapping of territory. I think the main difficulty is I realize it’s actually hopeless to remap the territory: there is no way to pin down other people’s reactions to me, or my reactions to them, and anyway nothing has changed except my own perceptions. It’s kind of terrifying, honestly, but I’m not overcome by it — which is its own kind of edgy-scary.
The feeling is, however, familiar. Over the past few years I have noticed that every time I’ve like this — scared and uncertain — it’s been a sign of growth. So I’ve been reminding myself of this, and that helps. I realized yesterday that if my goal is to be internally motivated (which means ignoring what anyone else thinks), then I should be prepared to expose the traits I’m most sensitive about; I should know I’m setting myself up to be annoying to some, silly to some, disliked by some. So there is a grim satisfaction in thinking: “If people secretly hate me, I must be doing something right.” And I really don’t think, intellectually, that they do hate me; I’m just over-sensitive about this right now.
So it’s reassuring to think that I’m doing it right, and it’s also reassuring that — alongside the part of me that just cries when people don’t like me — there’s a part of me that truly doesn’t care what anyone thinks (or at least knows and believes that I shouldn’t care!). It used to be that when someone pointed out one of these traits, I’d start beating myself up about it, and then try my best to squash or conceal the offending trait. In other words, I’d be mortified at my imperfection (as I wrote last week). But now I think that’s just pointless. I have many good traits, and I shouldn’t expect to have no bad ones! Anyone who really loves and/or respects me will accept both… and I must include myself as one of these people who really loves and respects me. I have to accept myself for myself, and that’s a territory that I can map out.
This painting, at the top of this post — that’s what it’s about. It’s my first figure painting of myself, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to draw myself in multiple representations at once. There’s also an element of still life in it, as the items on the desk at left are the “oranges” from yesterday’s post. 😉 This effort was quite sketchy (though I really like it); I’m looking forward to trying a more careful version at a later date.