I am 65 years old.
In the not too distant past I would have been retiring at this age.
Actually, it feels like my career is just taking off!
With thousands of hours of psychological and spiritual work under my belt, I’m still neurotic in a lot of ways – I call it my immovable block of pathology – but I have also made some significant progress.
I would like to share one piece of that progress right now and its implications for Self-Esteem.
8 years ago I got hearing aids for the first time.
It took me months to decide to get them because I didn’t want people perceive me as old.
This is what I would call an image/identity issue.
I eventually did get the hearing aids and they certainly helped me to hear better, but what I noticed was that I didn’t want other people to see that I had them. They’re quite small and most people don’t notice that I’m wearing them – just look for them in the pic above! I know this because when the issue of hearing and my ‘aids’ comes up, people are often surprised and say that they never noticed them.
And here’s the kicker, I wanted to keep this part of my identity secret.
As long as you have some secret about yourself, there is going to be inner tension and the ways this tension manifested for me, were really amusing.
I’d be sitting with a client and the battery in one of the aids would pack up and so I couldn’t hear very well and I would resist wanting to take it out of my ear to replace the battery in front of them, revealing my perceived, aged vulnerability.
A couple of years ago this changed and I started to do it without any anxiety.
What inspired this blog is that I spontaneously took this a step further last week.
I was attending a meeting with some colleagues whom I don’t know very well and before the meeting started, while standing talking to two of them whom I’d never met before, I simply said, “Do either of you have a pin or a needle, I need to clean the wax out of one of my hearing aids which has stopped working?”
Within seconds they were both offering me their earrings which would serve the purpose perfectly. What was so wonderful was how relaxed I felt about doing this as opposed to anxious and self-conscious.
They looked entirely comfortable with the entire process and in fact there was some amusement as I finished the job and commented that I needed to clean the wax off the aid as it would be rather unsavoury to give them back a ‘waxy earing’.
What’s really weird about this is that my parents never said to me, “Don’t borrow someone’s earing and get wax on it!” What they did do was give me the sense that I absolutely daren’t do the ‘wrong’ thing and it was left up to me to interpret this in a thousand ways that simply tied my psyche up in a 100,000 knots.
This issue is all about identity
When we are small we learn that we have a name, that we have parents, that we have a home at a particular address that we are a boy or a girl, that we own a toothbrush that belongs to us, as does our bed and our toys and our clothes and so on.
We very soon learn that we have particular attributes that are positive or negative as well.
Self-Esteem is born.
I’m a good person or a bad person a kind person, a cruel person a selfish person or a giving person, unlovable or not.
More importantly we think of ourselves as: “I’m young and attractive or old and decrepit,” or “I’m young and not attractive” or “I’m young but not attractive” or “I’m old and attractive” or “I’m old but attractive.”
The ‘buts’ are italicized and in bold because the ‘but’ part reflects a rejection of self, despite the favourable element.
There are many positive aspects to this sense of identity, but at deep psychological level it’s really the end of the road for us because the identity that we develop creates the most immense vulnerability when we are criticized and attacked or simply fear these two monsters.
The mind really boggles at the ways in which most people are defending their identities.
If your predilection is for left wing philosophies you are going to suppress and hide anything that might make you look right wing and superficial. Eg watching junk on television or having secret sexual aberrations or fantasizing about being ravished by a macho male or having rape fantasies – and by that I mean being raped or being the rapist.
If you are right wing orientated you will suppress and hide your vulnerability, your fears and inadequacies. Gun toting NRA advocates have deeply suppressed fear. Their identity is locked into macho ideologies and behaviours. By the way, this applies to women too – just check out any Youtube videos of Dana Loesch an NRA spokeperson.
But it can be much more subtle than this.
Hidden Sources Of Identity
One of the really fascinating things about this issue of identity is that very often we are defending aspects of it that we aren’t even aware of.
Most people are really terrified of looking stupid, so the identity is locked into looking clever. Just notice how often you pretend to know something when you really don’t.
Beneath this is a deep seated need to protect an identity that says, “I know stuff, I’m smart, I’m well informed.”
Many years ago a business associate looked at me with utter scorn when I said I didn’t know what Hogwarts was – It’s the school Harry Potter went to, in case, like me, you don’t know.
People love to manipulate each other by suggesting we are stupid. You’re toast if you buy into the manipulation.
Another monumental one is, don’t challenge authority – especially your boss. I see that at executive levels in big corporations.
The identity that is being protected is, “I’m a good person – and promotable – because I won’t threaten you or rock the boat.”
Another big one in business is, “All of my decisions have to make me look good. I’m successful, not a failure.”
Big corporates are often terrified of divesting themselves of divisions that aren’t doing well.
Divestment looks like failure, “We’re getting smaller – gulp!”
So the identity issue is, “We have to look big and important and successful.
I read a fabulous book some years ago called Egonomics. I can only remember one thing from it.
2/3rds of failed business decisions come from ego!
Which means that the need to look important, special, better than…drives our sense of identity.
It’s fake…which is why my email address is email@example.com.
I’m trying to be less fake.
Still a work in progress.
I’ve always been a stickler for appropriateness. The insane belief, created in me by my parents, was that if I’m appropriate in my dealings with people then I’m a good person, if not, then I’m a bad person.
This is an insane and very painful place to live.
Trying desperately to be appropriate, to get it right, to say it right, to present oneself as ‘right’ is so painful because we are trying to manipulate the world to get the best outcomes from our interactions with others and to do this we have to second guess, control what is going to happen next.
That’s not living a life, it’s standing outside of it, trying to manipulate it, trying manufacture a life that is just that – manufactured, false, fake, contrived, stilted, tense, anxiety filled.
I just loved the reported comment by Stephen Hawking that if he was given the option of meeting with Sir Isaac Newton or Marilyn Monroe, he would choose the sex bomb!
So politically incorrect, so honest.
Living A Filtered Life
Essentially we live a filtered life.
Life lived through our artificially constructed identities.
We do things and say things that are fake. They are not an expression of what’s in our hearts. We do this to create an identity to make ourselves feel better. Ironically, it destroys our Self-Esteem.
I’m A Good Parent
How much are you addicted to your identity of wanting the world to think you have fabulous kidz and that you are an amazing parent?
Oh my word, the desperation of it.
I wrote a blog some time back about how I was caught cheating as a 13 year old at school. My mother scolded me in front of the teacher saying, “We weren’t lax with you Mark.”
She was actually addressing the teacher, saying indirectly, “Please don’t think I’m a bad mother.”
Very few parents, when anxious about their kidz, are interested in their kidz, they’re interested in their identity as parents, who want to manipulate others to make them – the parents – look good and so to do this they need to control the lives of their kidz.
No love there.
This rigid identity we create for ourselves is quite simply a rejection of our negative traits. We think we shouldn’t be manipulative, cold, anxious, selfish etc. The last of these is really interesting. I have seldom heard anyone say that their selfishness is a good thing.
Let me illustrate why it is.
In essence we have time, money, ‘things’ and energy to give away. If we do this 100%, we will be bankrupt, exhausted, depleted and own nothing. You can really only possibly survive with the final item and then you’d have to be living in a monastery, living by the goodwill of others.
Selfishness is necessary for survival. Without it, we are finished.
Is This Killing You?
I met a Yogi one time who said that our deepest state of relaxation was hysteria, compared to a God-Realised Yogi.
I know he is right.
Our defence of our identity is deeply, deeply, deeply debilitating and creates extraordinary states of arousal, but because we’ve lived with it and inside of it since we were about 18 months old, we have no idea of the extent to which this is so.
Arousal is the opposite of relaxation, hence…we are hysterical.
“Is today going to work out, will I get what I want, will you like me, approve of me, love me, what trouble is waiting around the corner, how will this meeting, this conflict work out, will someone catch me with my ‘pants’ down – expose me?”
All of these ruminations reflect a need to protect an identity we have evolved to feel good and we do…sort of…but beneath it all we are living lives of not so quiet desperation.