Please, tell me I’m good?

As a follow up to my “Chastised Kid Syndrome”, I was asked to think about why I do the things I do, what I look for, what is my motivation when approaching them. The answer was surprisingly simple to get at: I approach everything with the mindset that I need proof that I’m good, I want that activity or thing to tell me I’m good (Intelligent, Loved, Creative, Interesting, Skilled, Valuable etc). I work well in a school environment because grades tell me I’m good, and I play videogames a lot more than I should also because many are designed to make you feel good, to reward you for your in-game achievements. (Incidentally, as soon as I realized it, I started playing a bit less; still way more than I should, but a bit less… It’s probably why I’m writing here again, too)

There are two main problems with this approach: the first one is that “Am I good?” is not the right question to ask of many activities, or in some instances it should only be one question of many. Reading a book, or listening to music do not provide very satisfying answers to that question. More appropriate questions would be: Is this a valuable part of my life? Does it make me feel better? Do I enjoy it? Does it relax me? Does it make me grow as a person? Does it expose me to new ideas? Does it inspire me, or motivate me? Does it bring something to my life that I would be worse off not having?

(I’m listening to Tori Amos while writing this, and it definitely doesn’t make me feel smarter, but it’s making me more relaxed, I’m enjoying the music, and I’m relating to it on an emotional level, and there are a number of other positive reactions going on that I can’t quite define: I definitely don’t value these things enough, I don’t give them enough space)

With other things, like playing the guitar, worrying about one’s skill is a legitimate question, but it shouldn’t be the only one, and not even the main one, actually. I myself admire musicians that aren’t extremely skilled from a purely technical point of view. Again, there are several different questions to ask that are not necessarily about me being good: Do I enjoy playing? Does it allow me to express myself creatively? Do I gain or experience anything positive while playing? Does playing allow me to vent my emotions? Can it make me feel better about myself without everything being about skill, about tests, about being the best in the world at everything, in every aspect? Can it help me learn to value myself in my uniqueness, instead of judging myself according to more objective but ultimately shallow, insignificant standards? Moreover, learning to acknowledge and value all these things may actually make it easier for me to become more skilled, as I become more passionate for the right reasons and consequently train more often and more willingly.

Even in my friendships, although they are not quite as one-dimensional as they may sound, I tend to ask for a lot of positive feedback about myself, I tend to set up certain circumstances in order to force the other person to repeatedly show me that I’m wanted and loved. Obviously this is not healthy for my relationships, and I’ve actually lost or risked losing a lot of them because of it; not to mention the near-paranoid state I sometimes find myself in, when I don’t receive exactly the right signs, and I obsess over nothing for days.

The other major problem that stems from this attitude is related to my insecurity and my inability to actually absorb positive feedback. Negative feedback, on the other hand, crushes me, even as it motivates me to do better. Since primary school, I have been better than other kids at a lot of things, and yet it was the few things that I couldn’t do well that haunted me. Now things have changed a little, but asking this question about my self-worth, all the time, means that one minor mistake can turn into the merciless judge of my entire existence, who condemns me to being “bad” (Stupid, ignorant, unskilled, mediocre, insignificant, unloved) for the rest of my life.

Positive feedback isn’t actually positive for me, it’s a +0, it’s not about moving up, it’s simply about barely keeping afloat, escaping the curse, delaying its inevitable onset for just one moment. I want to be told that I’m good, but I never truly believe it when I hear it.

Chastised Kid Syndrome

Thanks to one kind commenter, who did honestly try his best to help me, I’ve been making a couple of experiments on myself, to see if I could change a few things about my attitude and my mentality. It didn’t go well, through no one’s fault really, and I did have to spend a few weeks effectively recovering, picking myself up and getting back to where I was before, for, even if it wasn’t the best place, it’s certainly a better baseline than the misery and hopelessness my experiment left me with.

Still, it wasn’t a purely negative experience. I learned a lot from it, as well as from the stimulating conversation I had with him. And perhaps the most important thing I learned concerns why I behave the way I do. I like to call it “Chastised Kid Syndrome”.

An example of what it is: Dark Souls 2 came out a few weeks ago, I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and it’s one of the very few games I’m willing to buy on launch at full price. Not only I enjoy it in its mechanics, but I strongly relate to it on a thematic, emotional level. When it came out, I asked my father if I could buy it, and he said that I absolutely could. 10 minutes later, I asked him again. And 30 minutes after that, I asked him again, again.

Eventually I did buy it, but the whole time, even though I got permission, I didn’t feel like I actually had permission. The way I behave, the way I feel, is like a child who has been punished by an authoritative figure, and was never forgiven, never pardoned, nor I ever earned my way back into “normality”, into a state of psychological independence and control. In a way, into adulthood.

And so it is that, if I’m not worthy, if I’m not important, then everything that stems from myself equally doesn’t matter. My desires, hopes, fears, preoccupations, my thoughts and my emotions, my creativity and my uniqueness don’t deserve to be taken into consideration, nor they can function as meaningful motivations to act. I don’t deserve to be cared for and loved, I don’t deserve enjoyment, I don’t deserve to play, I should only fulfil my obligations, be a good child, behave and maybe one day I will have done enough to be set free, to be the “master of my fate, and the captain of my soul”.

This explains so much. It explains why I work so well in a school environment (the authority imposes on me), why, during the last few years, I was only able to write when someone was very close to me (almost as if I was doing it for them, instead of myself), perhaps it explains why I can’t really progress with my transition (after all, like writing, I can only do it for myself). Obviously it affects my confidence, my sense of self-worth, the way I use my money and my time, and the fact that external praise never gets to me.

I believe it’s also one of the factors why I’m so disconnected on an emotional level. I’ve been reading Cara Ellison’s blog, her writing is always very powerful, very touching, and it reminds me of how I tried to write, but these days it’s as if I couldn’t quite remember what it feels like anymore. Not on my own, at least. My writing, like myself, tends to be clinical, cold, detached, instead of intimate, warm, I want to say, feminine. I’ve been quite upset since I noticed how I can’t seem to write more like I used to, more emotionally involved. It’s as if my brain was here, but my soul was a bit too scared to come out.

If it did, I’d finally be able to cry.