We all have our demons that hold us back. Sometimes we wrestle with them. Sometimes, we just cuddle. I’m familiar enough to know mine pretty well and how they affect me. My biggest one is my insecurity. It’s a deeply ingrained character flaw that was installed by a series of challenging life events in my childhood. My parents separated when I was young and I was generally under-parented through a contentious divorce. I went through a period when my skin was so messed up with acne that I had to take medication. I went to boarding school for high school to avoid switching between two houses every week, then left the first one I went to because I “didn’t like the students there,” then got kicked out of the next boarding school I went to. Then ended up as the only white student to have EVER attended the now defunct Native American Preparatory School where I was in the perfect position to hide my issues under “the experience of being a minority.” All of this insecurity lead me to commit the most dangerous, destructive, and evil thing that I have ever done: enlist in the US Marines in order to kill for politicians. Not only did this lead to a whole other host of personal challenges with “authority,” but also a PTSD-inducing 7 months in Fallujah.
So what this all adds up to is a tendency that I see is very common today. Maybe putting “insecurity” in the title of this post is a bit misleading. Insecurity could be said to be the motivator, and I think we all have some, but I want to focus on the thought pattern that this insecurity has produced in me, because I think that would be far more helpful than getting to know my demons. Self-awareness is useless without the commitment to apply it and examine how that self-knowledge can improve your life. So I leave that part to you and highly encourage you to get to know your demons enough to dispel their power. Similar to the talk therapy approach I would advocate for fellow combat veterans dealing with PTSD, “The process of taking things that are rattling around in your subconscious mind and putting them front and center in conscious mind through talking about them, writing about them, or making art inspired by them, – whatever your mechanism is – empowers you to control them, instead of them controlling you.” Let us not be prisoners of our past!
Regardless of your personal demons, what I see in our community that I’d like to address is a thought pattern that leads us to always err on the side of, “they probably don’t like me.” For some this is driven by insecurity, for others, by a fear of hurting someone else. For me, it’s both. It’s like having a hyperactive conscience that convicts you without a trial. When something goes wrong, we consider ourselves guilty until proven innocent by others. Not only does this reinforce an unnecessarily negative mindset and create unnecessary mental anguish, it wreaks havoc on our relationships and robs us of our potential connectedness.
In my experience, this has manifested particularly painfully around social media and other digital communication. You didn’t reply to my text? It couldn’t possibly be because you were busy and somehow replying to me slipped down your to do list just underneath getting in a car accident, losing your job, or having your house burn down. You must be ignoring me! You didn’t write back to my simple email request? It couldn’t possible be because you’re overwhelmed with email like nearly everyone else. It must be because you think you’re better than me and my emails aren’t worth responding to! You didn’t call me back after I left you that heartfelt message? It couldn’t possibly be because it’s under a pile of voicemails as high as Willie Nelson or that the NSA intercepted it. It must be because you’re ignoring me!
So I’ve learned to identify this thought pattern and there are a few things that I’ve started doing myself that have helped. The first is to … SUCK IT UP AND DON’T BE SO DAMN SENSITIVE, YOU NANCY BOY! Wait, that was my drill instructors answer … and I guess that’s sort of part of it. But to put it in more practical terms:
- Have faith in yourself. If this pattern is coming from insecurity, examine and address that. Are you not feeling good about yourself because you haven’t been working out? Eating well? Taking your alone time? Are you feeling down about some recent life event or situation? Sometimes basic self-care failures can lead to an ego deficiency and sometimes you just need to take care of your ego to maintain a positive self-image. If it’s a hyperactive conscience that drives this pattern for you, examine what irrational fears are driving it and what experiences have conditioned you to blame yourself so eagerly. Oftentimes, the way we are taught by parents to respond to accusations has a lot to do with this. Parents that induce cowering in children will raise cowering adults, even if that cowering is better hidden in adulthood.
- Empathize with others. When you remain sensitive to the emotional state of those around you, it makes you much more understanding of what they’re going through. This will resolve the issue half the time when you realize, “Oh! They’re just having a bad day and projecting on me! Maybe I can help them!” This will help you recognize when it’s really their problem, not your problem. So you can stop worrying, and decide whether or not to help without your judgment clouded by your own emotional reaction.
- Never act on assumptions based on someone else’s internal state. Ask them! This is part of empathy applied to relationship strategy. We’re all going to make assumptions, so that’s unavoidable. The problem is when we sit on assumptions and hem and haw about what to about them and waste so much energy when just directly asking someone how they feel would save you all that trouble. You can (almost) never go wrong by asking someone how they’re feeling.
- Reach out directly! Most of the petty conflicts that I see online would be completely avoided with private messages. I, for one, am extremely accessible, mainly because I want everyone to feel like they can bring issues directly to me when they need to. I don’t get to respond to every email or message I get, but I can still see almost all of them most days and most activists in the movement have my cell phone number. In fact, I’m so accessible, my number was just “doxed” on Facebook and 4chan. This is also important for settling issues while doing the least harm. If two people in a dispute have to tear each other apart publicly before settling things privately, they’ve just suffered more needlessly. And yet somehow, I regularly hear people tell me, “I was going to mention that, but I was afraid to bother you or piss you off.” And somehow, the answer is usually, “I would be a lot less bothered and pissed off if you had brought this up sooner!” Don’t let your negative assumptions stop you from clearing the air, otherwise you’ll always be sitting on some kind of resentment or unease.
- Never forget that your true self is awesome and everyone would love you if they got to know your authentic self, so be that, and enjoy the love! Don’t let your false negative self-image or self-doubt or negative assumptions stop you from getting or giving every drop of love possible in this short life.
In writing this post, I have many motivations. Of course I always want to help and empower my readers. I want to affirm for myself something that I’ve identified but not yet mastered in order to get myself closer to mastery. I want my fellow freedom activists to be more effective. And most importantly: Can’t we all just get along?! I hope that this small dose of self-awareness can help shift society towards greater peace, harmony, cooperation, and understanding, which inevitably … lead to FREEDOM!