Sometimes I feel as though life is a drawn out and excruciating process of self discovery. The last few days have shown me this in spades. It’s amazing what hard times will do to unclothe and reveal the most basic aspect of our psyche. Until my silent drive home two hours ago, I didn’t know just how foundational this is to my being:
I care deeply about other people and their opinions of me.
To some of you that have known me in person from precious years, you’ll probably scoff at this and think, “clearly Ben has hit his head on a tree (again)”. But hear me out.
I was a very emotional child. My parents would say “sensitive” nowadays, but let’s just call it what it was: rage. I was one of those kids who woke up every day feeling like I wanted to rip the face off of other human beings (or so I thought) at the slightest hint of conflict. I was a watch-it-burn-while-smiling kind of kid on the inside. To make matters worse, I was great with words and logic. As a result, I leaned into confrontation like it was “my thing”. I’d argue with teachers, bosses, little kids, my cat, someone who couldn’t even hear me in another car, you name it. I was never a bully (probably because I had been bullied a bit as a kid) nor I was out to pick a fight with the biggest (physically or proverbially) guy in the room. But I had a penchant for keeping other humans psychologically training-wheeled around me. It’s fine line between rage and intentionally distancing yourself from the world.
So, since I was raised in a household where I should not say anything unless I had something constructive to say…I became the silent one. The one who didn’t go to parties, wore a lot of hats and hoodies, had earphones on at every chance, and generally just avoided people altogether. I my world, getting into a fight, swearing at someone, or showing any lack of self-control was the antithesis of manhood. As much as I love this about my upbringing, it was an amazing recipe inability to deal with emotions. I was ashamed of having an emotional reaction to anything; it made me feel like I wasn’t a man or that I had somehow devalued myself. I simply did not have the language or the communication skills to properly convey what I was feeling, nonetheless explore and understand it, so, the black hoody became me. I was called shy repeatedly, only to correct people repeatedly with “I’m not shy at all, I just don’t like people” or some jackassery of the sort. Public speaking? No problem. Conversing about important topics while my throat constricts tighter every second? Where’s the door!? You spend enough years like this and you devolve into the “humans are all idiots” guy who’s so jaded that he finds joyful toddlers inconvenient, yells at people for driving safely, and feels at home around complete rebel assholes.
So where am I going with all of this? I had intended to have a very difficult conversation today, as I have grown to believe in the value of radical transparency and stunning ethics. (*side note: For a while, my subconscious was trying so hard to put my teenage years behind me that I found myself wearing pink and other flashy colours all the time, saying hi to strangers for no reason, and being waaaaay too nice in scenarios when it was not appropriate. Fortunately that ship has sailed and I have jumped back on track to a mature way of figuring this all out now). Before, maybe even just a year or two ago, I would have walked in to a meeting such as this with a plan of how I wanted it to go, which is just another way of saying that I intended to talk more than listen. The easiest way would have been to make this conversation all about facts, bulldoze the other human in the room, and avoid any real talk. However, when showing up to this conversation today, I couldn’t get to the heart of the thing. My co-conversee confessed that he was feeling down. He’d had a rough few weeks and clearly did not seem like he was in a place to receive any hard news or talk about a difficult situation. Years ago, I would have been impervious to this. Smack him over the head with my asshole version of a reality check. Heck, I could have had this “conversation” with headphones in when I was 25. Talk about the definition of self-indulgent assholery (see my freshly created Venn Diagram). Today, after some updates and small talk, I simply listened for a few minutes, tried to really understand the context and emotions, and then left it at that.
That’s a win, right? Maybe. Comparatively speaking, yes, it is. But, it didn’t feel like a win. I really care about this person. And as I have realized, I really care about a lot of people. So why did this feel, well, gross? Was it that I didn’t feel expressed? No, that’s what this interesting excuse for a blog is for. Let’s take another look a Benn Venn here:
I inherently live in the green circle and the orange circle. Those were my adapted style sheets for most of my life. But here is where it gets interesting for me. I have been trying SO HARD to get used to subconsciously process the fact that I deeply care for people, that I have migrated all of my operating procedures to exist on the cusp between people pleaser and suppressed. (see arrow in new Benn Venn)
When you live at the tip of that arrow, you end up committing the sins of omission in crucial conversations. Rather than tell people what is important to have said, what they need to hear (in love, of course) or choosing your words to be contextually appropriate, you fall flat on your face and feel like something missed the mark. It’s not a swing and a miss, you probably just bunted or didn’t swing at all. You avoid the topic, keep the important stuff inside, and pretend that there is nothing else to talk about. Before you know it, you live somewhere between a people pleaser and a suppressed loner with no real foundation for truly intimate friendships. THIS is just as much a recipe for loneliness as being the guy I was in my teenage years. Before: alone while alone. This way: alone in most of your multiple relationships. You value people highly and yet find yourself with a hundred friends, none of whom you could call if you were really hurting and needed someone. Frankly, I am hoping that I didn’t create a trend of this by following that arrow too hard today.
There is no conclusion to this conversation. Maybe I did the right thing today. I’d like to think so. I think that all of us are likely floating through time with our operating system varying Benn Venn position day by day — bouncing around like a pinball, whacked into uncharacteristic behaviours by the paddles of life and the slope of our relationships.
Since this blog is written to myself and I am into really bad rhymes…go find that Venn Zen, Ben. Go find the sweet spot and study it. Your best self will thank you for it.