Sunday, 14 September 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 18

These are not straight-forward questions to put answers to for one simple reason - rebellion. What has confused my thinking most over the years has been untangling all the feed-back loops and self-fulfilling prophesies that coil out whenever I try to work out what's going on.

Whenever we're trying to work out how a child is influenced by its parents we have to accept that it might simply take after them or it might go in the opposite direction. One thing I've learned from being a dad is that the best way to get a child to do something is to go on at it to do the opposite. I'm not sure that rebellion or conformity can be predicted so easily (ie as a response to learning by lecture or experience respectively) but it seems plausible. If a child simply grows up with an unquestioned way of doing things it will very likely follow suit. If you have to go on about a thing endlessly trying to put the child right, it will very likely go the other way.

I have a mixture of the two, as we all do. I've taken on especially my dad's belief in social justice, love of nature and abhorrence of waste and bad design. Dad got me into music and books and gardening. He also tried very hard, as I've said, to get me into ball games, engines, clubs and maths. He tried too hard and I simply couldn't do it, and the more he pushed the worse it got and on top of just feeling muddled and anxious about it, I got to the point where I didn't even want to try, partly to avoid the humiliation, but also on principal, because trying became more about making him feel better and I didn't think he deserved that. None of this was conscious of course but I think this is a reasonable verbal description of what was going on in my head.
As time went on, the more I failed to act like a normal boy, the more not only he but other members of my family, in particular my uncles but others too, began to get in on the act. It was not necessarily open or verbal but I had become adept at reading peoples' expressions and tones of voice and I knew what they thought - that I was not a proper boy. I was a bit effeminate, too sensitive, too arty, too soft, too different. I didn't want to join in. They didn't know what to talk to me about. I had weird interests. Sometimes I think they thought I was a bit stupid - being oblivious of what was going on - talking to myself - a bit gormless (breathing through my mouth) and slow - not really paying attention - going off on my own so people had to go looking for me. Other times though they thought I was a bit too clever - precociously coming out with abstruse facts and strange ideas, being a bit too articulate and not really like a child at all. I know some of them thought I was trying to show them up, to be better than them - too clever by half.

Early on I just lived with all this - put up with it or stayed out of the way but by the time I was 12 I was telling them (if it came up - I didn't pursue them over it) my views on marriage, money, work and having children and they didn't like what they heard. They always tried to put me right but it never worked. I was squashed and humiliated but it didn't change my mind. Eventually I came to despise almost everything about the way they lived - their preoccupations with such trivial things - matching crockery and table manners, rigid punctuality and school ties. Later, after I left home, I tried to argue with them but it never worked. My dad would simply lecture me, completely dismissing my ideas as naive or he would simply seem preoccupied and inattentive. Mum would burst into tears and run from the room if challenged on pretty much anything. At some point there came a time when almost everything they did seemed petty and pointless and not worth joining in with. Dad seemed too keen to please the bosses at work and too oppressed by all the things he had to do, and he wouldn't stand up to mum no matter what stupid things she came out with. I lost my respect for him and any wish to take after him in any way, or to take after any of them. Everything they believed - all their common sense convictions about how life should be, seemed riddled with holes and inconsistencies. It was so clear to me - parents don't necessarily know what's best for their children. Uniforms and punctuality say nothing about how good you are at your job. Marriage is a trap that kills love. Tidiness is not something to make yourself miserable about. Worrying doesn't help. Women are at least as capable as men. Who cares if a person is black or white, gay or straight? (To be fair my dad would have agreed whole-heartedly with that one.) The environment and wildlife are important even if they don't make economic sense. Much of what they enjoyed was predictable and uninspired. Money is not a good thing to base your life around. Competition doesn't necessarily tell you anything about how talented a person is. Technology is more of a problem than a solution. Most of all it seemed obvious to me that the life most of them had accepted was not really worth living and there had to be another way. Many of these things I suspect were also things they believed, but would never admit to, and looking at the list, far from having grown out of them, I find I still broadly agree with my younger self. I have not 'grown up'. I have not accepted that 'life's not fair'. I will not give in to 'reality'.

This has become a habit of mind - a reaction to the feeling of very likely being dismissed or ignored by the people I meet - I tend to distance myself from the things that most people enjoy or take for granted. Even when I started going to gigs and clubs and parties, and much as I might love the music, I could not bring myself to get caught up in the collective worship of those on stage, but watched from the side. I could not simply give in to the laddish 'fun' - the idiotic antics and blokey showing off. I didn't want to dress like anyone else - not even the punks and goths and other alternative sub cultures of the early 80s who were supposedly the rebels. It would have felt like subsuming myself under a uniform and I couldn't/wouldn't conform even to that. I wouldn't join the gang. I didn't take drugs. I didn't drink much. At work I couldn't bring myself to jump through the hoops that are expected of employees - making my 'superiors' feel that they were in charge. I couldn't simply regurgitate the expected answers when I came to write essays at uni (something my tutors almost invariably appreciated actually). I wouldn't give into any kind of power play, pulling rank, emotional blackmail, arrogance, manipulation or patronisation. The more a person pushes me to be what they want the less likely they are to get what they want. I just can't/won't do it their way just because they say so. I can get defensive, patronising, arrogant, dismissive, contemptuous or derisive or pointedly silent, just like my parents were to me.

The problem with all this is that hypervigilence I mentioned in the last instalment. I am perfectly willing to admit that I see arrogance, manipulation and patronisation probably more often than they actually exist. People probably often come over as arrogant, manipulative or patronising when they don't mean to be - it is just their manner, or maybe they're having a bad day. And even when it is actually present, as CBT guy said 'Why did you feel the need to say something?' He wasn't arguing that the person I was talking about was not being an arrogant arse (CBT guy's word for him was 'hostile'). He wanted to know what it was that made me need to try to redress the balance. (This is question 2a in the previous entry.) What did I care what he thought? He was just some guy on a web site. On the other hand, surely it's good to stick up for yourself?
In any case, my reaction can turn them against me so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The situation escalates into a positive feedback loop. I can make people distrust me - I can make them wary and sceptical, aggressive or dismissive.

The fact though is that some people genuinely are arrogant, manipulative and/or patronising and when they are they do not make good friends or bosses or colleagues or wives. It is also a fact that some of the time it is right to stick up for yourself. I have to admit that I am hypersensitive to these slights and perhaps too likely to challenge people over them and of course a lot of the time people won't admit there's a problem and often don't want to talk about it at all, which only makes it worse for me, trying to find out what's going on, or if there's anything going on, and this has lost me friends and jobs, or at least, made them too difficult so that eventually I end up leaving to get away from the anxiety.

The simple fact is I just don't know how to tell the difference. In short I would rather lose a friend/job than feel or appear weak and malleable.
My question here is 'Is there a third way?'

So - to attempt to answer the questions in the previous entry.
1. Do I have all these faults? I'm disorganised, or I don't try hard enough to fit in, or I try too hard etc etc...
My intuition is that they are mostly just personality characteristics that can be seen in a positive or negative way. Most people I suspect would just more or less accept that this is how they are. It may be inconvenient or even downright disastrous at times but that, they would say, is how they are. They might even attempt to temper some of the worse parts and bring out some of the better but they wouldn't see their whole personality in such an extreme way. Actually, looking at the list, I quite like most of it and am not sure how much I'd want to change anyway. As I said before I'm actually pretty positive about who I am. The problem comes when who I am comes up against the rest of the world.
My problem is my reaction to my perception of how others view my character, and how they react, or seem to react, or would react if they were there to see me, and how I in turn react to that.
(Interestingly I do also have real faults - things I know I have done wrong and which to be honest, I won't be telling you about here. They feel quite different - I know they are wrong and I deserve judgement for them. In that respect they are unproblematic. I regret them and I will try my hardest not to do them again, but in a paradoxical way they don't make me feel anywhere near as bad as these other 'faults' I've been on about.)

2. Do people have these opinions and reactions or not?
2a. If so should I care? Should I stand up for myself?
2b. Or am I just being hypervigilant (ie over-sensitive)?
I still don't know.

to be continued...

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