I’ve opened a Pandora’s box of sorts, and I very much want to see how far I can go.
I was trying to find more information about who I am, and other people like me, when I discovered an interesting book, Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney. This book changed my perspective on everything.
First of all, Neurosis and Human Growth was published 70 years ago. I find the age of this information to be incredibly disturbing because of how accurate it describes my thought processes. *MY* thought processes that I thought were incredibly innovating and brilliant are in truth nothing more than a predictable neurotic response to stress I had growing up.
Before I was born, before even my parents were born, there were psychologists who studied personality disorders well enough to accurately predict who I would one day become. They didn’t need to know about computers, or the internet, or any special conditions that might shape a person. All that barely matters in who we become, who I became, and I am extremely and utterly not unique.
Nothing hurts my pride more than that feeling of being like everyone else. At the same time nothing is more liberating. The way Karen Horney presents this information is both brutal and optimistic. When someone who has been dead far longer than you have been alive writes a book that could be an autobiography about you, you have two options to consider: 1. They were time travelers, or 2. You are on a path that many have traveled before. The wonderful realization this brings is I can embrace the highways that lead to known destinations and abandon traveling the overgrown trails searching for lost temples of glory.
I have neurotic tendencies but I need not be a neurotic. I believe I can overcome this. In a sense, all my life I have been looking for something like the honest analysis in Neurosis and Human Growth. I believe that knowledge is 99% of the work. If I know what to do, I will do it. Now I have a clearer idea of the steps I can take. It’s also telling of how broken my thinking process was that I never once considered any of this. First I need to tear down not myself but the process of how I made my decisions for basically all of my life.
What Made Me
My neurotic tendencies almost certainly started in early childhood. I am not sure how early, but I believe I have memories of a time before they consumed me. I can remember afterwards when I became withdrawn and filled with anxiety. I can’t say for certain that anything traumatic actually happened to me, but something about interacting with people made me incredibly anxious at an early age.
Once I had this fear, I needed a way to counteract it, to gain control. I did this through withdrawing from people and simultaneously surrendering myself to them. I became the chameleon, adapting the personalities of people around me because I thought that’s what they wanted. It became difficult to have my own preferences when around other people. This led to more seclusion because it was the only time I felt free to be myself. Even though many people didn’t put any restrictions on me at all, I still felt constrained.
I became divided. I had two views of myself: the idealized one which I wanted to project to people and my true self which I loathed. My idealized self was wonderful and everyone loved him, he was very agreeable so that people would not pass harsh judgement upon me. My real self wasn’t liked by many because being a shy introvert isn’t especially popular. But that never occurred to me. Facing Judgement or criticism from others always generated the same response from my neurotic process: more seclusion, more avoiding, more deferential to others and eliminating my own thoughts and desires.
This circular process continued all of my life. It was driven and reinforced by pride. I took great pride in being an agreeable person, someone that no one ever had any reason to hate. Everything I did was to protect my pride from judgement. The thought that someone really did hate me, or thought that I was wrong or incorrect in how I lived my life was absolutely abhorrent. For this reason I rarely opened up to people. I rarely showed my true self. The mere thought of others overt or covertly picking apart my flaws would shoot up my anxiety. In a conflicting sense I also truly believed I didn’t have any flaws for anyone to judge. As long as no one pointed out these flaws, I didn’t have them. I avoided showing myself to people to avoid them seeing my shortcomings.
This process also created an environment where I became intensely critical of myself. I conjured intricate demands that I followed religiously. I wouldn’t swear because good boys didn’t do that. I wouldn’t bother people because I myself disliked being bothered. I would be completely independent because I did not like when people were dependent on me. The conditions I would place on myself would ebb and flow but they never went away completely. I was always living on the edge of my own demands. I was never as good as the idealized version of myself. Regrets and failures haunted me. Almost all my mental energies were spent replaying past failures, wondering “what ifs” and what I should do. And all of it was meaningless.
Right now, typing this out, I feel like I should be devastated. Admitting everything here isn’t only saying I was wrong. It’s saying most of the decisions I’ve made all my life were made under my own false pretenses. I’ve restricted myself and missed out more than I can possibly imagine. I do feel sad about that. I also feel relieved. Knowing is 99% of the battle and this one has taken over 30 years. I’m ready to move on, I want to move on. I want to be fucking free of this.
Going Home Again
This brings me back to going home. I suspect, but I do not know for certain yet, that this drive inside me to go home is rooted a very very long time ago. This could be a time before or at the beginning when neurotic compulsions took their control of me. I’m driven to return to feeling like I can be myself. Isn’t that what going home feels like for most people? It’s the place where you can let go and do what you want without restrictions. It’s a place where you can be yourself completely. My physical home is gone, but I can find solace in something better: Self-actualization when liberated from my own neurosis.
Still Working out
I was onto something in my last entry. I’ve been seeing some good “noob gains” from lifting. I think being more attractive would be a huge advantage in self-actualization. After all, if all this started as a fear of what others would think of me, I need to get to a place where I am genuinely proud of myself. Working out and getting fit can be a great way to get there. I can desist from living in an imaginary world where I exist without flaws and instead work on the realistic goals I can drive myself to do with my actual self.