Generally speaking, one living a recollected life should not stare at anything, should not listen to anything with special diligence, but should see as if without seeing and hear as if in passing, so that the memory and power of attention may be always free, immune to the impressions of the world, apt and ready to recieve the divine impressions.-St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.-Groucho Marx
It’s been a minute. But I’ve had something on my mind the last week or two. Unfortunately, I don’t really feel like there’s anyone in my life I can talk it out with at the moment, so I thought I’d bring it here. Writing can be quite therapeutic, even if I’m the only one who is likely to read it. That said, if you are here, that’s pretty cool: I’m impressed that you’d keep checking in despite how infrequently I post things. We’re going to get pretty personal here, so fair warning.
Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency toward self loathing. I suppose that’s what you’d call it, anyway. I definitely have specific memories of feeling that way as early as elementary school, maybe 3rd grade? I’m not sure if I know the cause of my coming to feel that way, but I think a lot of it had to do with how my peers received me. At least insofar as their perception of me went, I was a dorky kid that often wasn’t really accepted into groups. I remember being a shy kid, but I don’t think I was super shy when I was particularly young. So I’m not sure if my shyness was just sort of innate or if it was something that came about in response to perhaps being seen this way. Also, I can’t really be sure if that is how those other kids really saw me, or if it’s only how I perceived that they saw me. But in either case, that’s where I remember this sort of feeling beginning.
As I got older, I began to feel less shy, sort of through middle school and high school. I still was shy, don’t get me wrong, but I was more able to push through it. That trend continued through college and pretty much the rest of my life. Now, I don’t know what makes most shy people to be shy. But, I’ve often gotten the sense that people see me as an extreme introvert. I don’t really think that’s true. It can sometimes seem true in the way that I act – for instance, I may sit alone at a table if I’m somewhere that I don’t really know anyone. But I at least don’t think that the reason why I would do that could be considered shyness. I’d sit alone essentially because I would believe that if those people were to meet me, they would probably not like me. Sometimes I might continue to assume it even after meeting someone if they are just sort of a casual acquaintance. I mean sure, they tolerate me, but surely they don’t really like me. As you might imagine, having a general assumption that people that you meet will probably not like you is a bit of an obstacle toward forming new relationships.
The trouble is, though, that throughout my life those feelings have, more often than not, been reinforced. In college I remember many times trying to do things with specific people, calling to try to make plans, and nothing ever happening. I came to think of those friendships as “unequal”, by which I meant that I felt I was more “in it” than they were, and I just tried to equalize them in the end. In regard to trying to make plans, I decided on a 3 try rule. If I’ve consciously made an effort to hang out 3 consecutive times with nothing from the other party, then it’s on them to reach out if they want to see me. I still have that rule. Then in the area of romantic relationships I’ve especially always felt that to be the case. Trying to date generally results in me feeling super depressed because I typically struggle to find someone that I have shared interests with and can really see myself with, and then in the event that I do, they never seem to reciprocate. Note that it’s not like I’m really rejecting the people that I am not super interested in, I just sort of don’t reach out and they don’t reach out to me either, for the most part.
Anyway, I really initially had the realization of my self-loathing when I was in CA. One of my favorite musicians, David Bazan, talked in several videos I saw and shows I went to about his own sort of struggle with it – and I thought, yeah, that really sounds like me. I also read a book, which I can’t recall the title of or the author, but it made the connection for me between self-loathing and narcissism, that they are both the result of an excessive focus on one’s self. Not really a big surprise, I’m a super analytical, overthinking kind of a person. If I have a conversation with you and I feel like I said something stupid I’m probably thinking about it 3 days later. If I am going to have an important conversation with you I’ve probably had it in my head 20 times before the actual conversation happens. For me, at least, self criticism comes with the territory. Making the realization is the first step, then you sort of have to work on it. I think I made some progress during that time, but again there was reinforcement of the negative. I felt like many of my friends out there wouldn’t really make time for me. I met up with the Pastor of the church that I was going to at the time out there to have a conversation about exactly this, and outside of that one conversation he never so much as asked me about it again. I remember a specific circumstance there that made me really feel that he didn’t see me as being particularly important. There were many times where various people at the church had parents or other family visit, and I’d see him really spend time talking to those people before and/or after the service. When my parents and sister came out to visit and I brought them to the church that morning, it was basically just a “hello” and off to talk to other people. Then, actually, I went out to visit for 10 days or so, and so I was there for 2 Sundays, after having been gone for at least a year. On neither of those 2 Sundays did any of the Pastoral staff (all 3 of whom I would have considered friends of varying degrees) make any particular effort to really speak to me.
And as I typed that paragraph I’m noticing a lot of that self focus. But I can’t shake that even if I am focused on myself, the thing that I noticed isn’t wrong. I can see that for those people I am not a priority, but if they had come here I’d have done everything in my power to go and have a drink with them. That’s a sucky feeling to know that you’d do that for someone but they wouldn’t do it for you. And so I guess the question I have is why is that? And the answer I’ve given myself is that I must be intrinsically unlikable in some way.
Recently I’ve been trying much harder to remember the names of people that I meet. Historically I’ve been really bad at it, and I always sort of told myself that I was bad at it. Then 3 or 4 months ago I thought: “hey, you know what might make you be not so bad at it? If you actually tried to get better at it.” So now in any circumstance when someone tells me their name I try really hard to make sure that I remember it. Repeating it in my head, ideally saying it out loud to them, those things seem to help – and I suspect also just me telling myself it’s important. A lot of that practice has come at the gym. All those people are really casual acquaintances, but interestingly enough I haven’t really felt like those people don’t like me. Now, if I’m to be fully honest, I’d have to say that I’d have a fear that if I really got to know them, they wouldn’t. But having been getting better at learning names helped also in a more recent situation.
I went to an “adult camp” a couple of weekends ago. Think summer camp, but for people 21 and up. It was fun, I met a lot of people. However, especially on the last night, some of that fun was ruined by that feeling of “do these people even like me?” It’s a feeling I’ve had countless times in the past, at new years eve parties, or really any sort of similar large group event. In addition, earlier in that day some of this stuff had been dredged up in my memory because the speaker had talked about some of this sort of thing, reminding me of how I still hadn’t really dealt with it. His advice was fairly simple: Get out of your own head, focus on serving other people. I can see how it can be good advice, but in that moment, that night, feeling the way I was feeling, I couldn’t really figure out any way that I could be doing service to other people. I think it’s good advice generally though, and I plan to try to do more things that are service oriented generally. I’ve not been super involved in those sorts of things at my church, and so I think that will be where I start.
This last piece I am going to share is a bit more specific to some of what was happening in my headspace at the camp. I had gone specifically to hopefully make real friends with other Orthodox people. Among the people that I met were two women and a guy that are part of the same diocese as me. 100% if anyone was at the camp by the time I’m done writing this, you will know who these people are, but I will not name them, because my point isn’t to call them out, it’s just to vent and to express the way I feel. Anyway, the ladies were among those I talked to the most during camp, and the guy was in the same cabin as me, though we hadn’t hung out much outside of the cabin. I felt like we had a lot of commonalities and some shared interests that could be the basis for a continued friendship. In any case, on the final morning I’ve awoken after the feelings I mentioned I was experiencing that last night, there’s sort of a lot of goodbyes and exchanges of contact information being said after breakfast, from these 2 to a bunch of people I was standing there talking with as well, and for whatever reason, nothing came my way. I was feeling pretty snubbed. Anyway, back in the cabin doing final packing and things like that, I’m talking with my cabinmate about things related to our shared diocese and I can’t recall if I suggested I might come up to visit his parish at some point or if he had suggested it, but in any case he did suggest that I should let him know if I was going to come up and had me text him my number. He also had suggested he’d add me to their Telegram group even though I didn’t quite meet the locality requirements (I don’t know why I’m obfuscating this, if you were trhere, you know who these people are). Then as the 3 of them were leaving together the ladies were outside at the car when he and I came out and we all stood there talking awhile, said Telegram group was mentioned, etc. I left feeling like: Oh, maybe I was wrong. Maybe they weren’t snubbing me. Maybe they do actually like me and I’ll be able to come up and visit and hang out with some new friends at some point.
Now, close to 2 weeks later, I’ve not been invited to any telegram group or heard from any of them in any capacity. So, it seems to be the latest confirmation of my belief that people that I meet probably won’t like me.
I’d like to beat the mindset. Like I said, I intend to try the route of focusing on service. I hope it will help. If you’ve read this far… do you have any suggestions?