One day you wake up, look in the mirror and think, “Huh. I guess I’m stuck with myself. If I haven’t become my ideal person by now, I never will.” Being on the cusp of turning the big FOUR-O seems as good a time as any to admit that.
Now I’m not saying we can’t change, improve and learn, but there are certain organic, basic, ingrained-at-the-mollecular-level personal traits that will never change…even if we’re not particularly keen on them. The sooner we accept that, the happier we’ll be.
What inspired this article? Well, for one thing, being a Project Child raised by a perfectionistic narcissistic father who set out to prove something via his child-rearing techniques. Being raised this way makes you feel like a Lego project. Apparently, pieces can be added or removed from you as the narcissist’s opinion of perfection shifts and changes.
In my teens and twenties, I felt that Dad thought of me as his endless, fascinating project, infinitely changeable to his whim, maleable to the Nth degree. He kept coming up with new ideas and applying them to me.
We went through so many phases. For awhile, everything was about self-defense. I can still remember all the moves for chopping and twisting to escape the grasp of an attacker.
Then it was memorization. We had to memorize the names of all the books of the Bible in order using mnemonic devices.
Then it was mental math. When Dad discovered mental math tricks, he shoehorned that topic into my bulging homeschool curriculum along with electronics, drafting, Greek, Hebrew, logic, etc.. Interesting topics. Marginally useful in adult life. Alas I remember none of the mental math.
Then he decided to reform how I walked.
Then he decided to “break” me of my OCD by confiscating my cover makeup, etc.
Then he decided to “help” me develop perfect pitch.
So is it any wonder that I began to feel like a piece of clay. Eternally malleable, changeable, improvable. Never okay. Never “finished.”
That hurts. Y’know that? It hurts. Unconditional love is replaced by infinite refinements and changes, on a whim. Or as my friend, Missy, commented: “Were they trying to torture you!?!”.
What Was It All About?
Sometimes, in my quieter moments, I sit around and wonder what it was all about. What great thing was I supposed to accomplish with my life? What was all the hardcore, ninja parenting about anyways? What was I supposed to do? What great person was I supposed to become? That part was omitted. All that awaited me was living with my parents, working a job, not a career, until Mr. Right took over controlling me from my father. That was the only life proposed for me. So old-fashioned! So misogynistic!
Part of me continued on this program. I’m always looking for the next Good Thing I should aspire to. On a constant quest to become better, better, better. I’m a collector of “bars”…as in, “raise the bar.” The higher the bar, the better I like it…although I never quite manage to hurdle over any of them. Being a “failure” is comfortable for me, I’ve been one for so long.
Because, you see, I never feel that I’m done. I’m never okay. Never arrived. Never quite acceptable. Always loved “anyways”…in spite of myself. Just like my Dad’s hugs. Just like his child-rearing. It never ends. It’s never done. Ergo I’m never done. Never okay. Maybe that’s why I’m constantly changing my hairstyle.
It’s a mindset I absorbed and, just lately, realized I’m still carrying on to this day. Enough!!! If I haven’t reached his ideal, whatever that was, by the big FOUR-O, then I never will. Screw it! It’s free-ing to finally accept myself As-Is instead of continuing to follow the narcissists’ pattern. Maybe their obsession with me was merely a ploy to avoid facing their own deficiencies, their narcissism and avoiding having to improve themselves. How’s about them apples!
But middle-age has brought the realization that no! I’m not eternally changeable to what is better, better, best! I’m just me. Take it or leave it. Love me “as is” or buzz off.
I may have always dreamed of growing up to be tall, willowy, thin, blonde and extroverted but that dream will never come true. I’m stuck with me — shortish, widish, Hobbitish, graying and extremely introverted. That’s me. If it hasn’t changed in forty years, it certainly won’t now. I’m stuck. Stuck with me!
And I’m okay with that and Michael, bless his heart, is more than okay with it. 😉
Nonetheless, there are some things I may not exactly like about myself, but like my inability to keep my makeup box neat and tidy, they show no sign of going away. At least I know my patterns. What are yours?
Please tell me I’m not alone in this. Looking back, I realize I get obsessive about things, usually things I can’t have. As a child, I longed to be a farm girl. Thanks, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Caddie Woodlawn. Then I was obsessed with the Frances Hodgson Burnett books and wanted to be The Little Princess. Then it was Paddington. Then I desperately wanted a china doll. Whatever interested me at the time, I threw myself into it headlong.
Luckily, I usually didn’t pursue my obsession-of-the-moment. That’s saved a lot of money! 😀
Now, as an adult, I’m still a bit obsessive. Take cheese now. Last Spring, I was just obsessed with how we could afford to order cheese. European cheese. French cheese. The stinkier…the better! We never did get any and the obsession waned but I still want to try proper European cheese, at least once, before I die.
Now I’m obsessed with 1940s and 50s style. It keeps the old gray matter busy. What was the old clichè? It “keeps me off the streets and out of the pool rooms.” But even if I had unlimited funds to satisfy all my obsessions, I know that they’ll fall flat because…
Your CQ Will Always Be Higher Than my CQ
Cool Quotient. That’s “CQ.” I may have exactly the same thing as you, but your thing will always be cooler. That’s just how it works. Perhaps it’s some in-born protection against narcissism that God gives us cause I’m guessing we’re all wired the same way.
Advertising works on this principle: ads whet your appetite to buy the cool thing on TV so you can be the cool person who owns the cool thing and has their shit together. But after the first thrill of ownership is over, we go back to being the same old person, just a little poorer, a little deeper in debt.
If I do something, it’ll be much less cool than you doing exactly the same thing. If I have something, the exact same item in your possession will be much cooler. That’s how CQ works! I wrote about this earlier in my article titled The Invalid Person: Low Self-Esteem on Steroids (Pt. 1 & 2)
Of course, to misquote Winnie the Pooh, part of it is that a Thing from the inside is much less Thingish than it looks from the outside. Take fiddling, for example. Looks cool, doesn’t it? It was my lifelong dream to become a fiddler since the day that, as a shy, wide-eyed seven year old, I saw my first jam session at the Homestead Pickin’ Parlor.
Almost twenty years later, I realized my dream and became that fiddler in the jam session at the Homestead Pickin’ Parlor. But it’s not nearly as cool from the inside. Fiddling is hard work and you must have nerves of steel to carry a melody for ten or so repetitions with all those eyes upon you. Then there’s the physical pain in hands, wrists and shoulders and fiddling takes massive amounts of energy. The CQ is much higher from the outside, believe me!
Same goes for ballet. Painting. Exercising. Traveling.
Sometimes it seems a pity to realize the farce of the whole CQ thing. For example, I love, love, love the 1940s style of burlesque artist, Dita von Teese (pictured above). Gazing on her perfect 1940s hair, makeup, manicure and wardrobe make me feel a certain way: peaceful and beautiful. But I’m mature enough to know that the woman who inspires that feeling in me by her style doesn’t feel that way about herself. Dita always seems terribly lonely and sad in interviews.
My grandmother certainly didn’t feel “peaceful and beautiful” when she lived during the 1940s. She describes it as a time of severe dieting, the drudgery of setting her hair in pincurls every night, no hairspray, uncomfortable shoes, exorbitant dry cleaning bills and rushing home after work to rip off her girdle!
So even though I too may eventually realize my long, long held dream of looking like I’ve stepped from the pages of a 1940s magazine (well, at least from the neck up!), I know the CQ won’t be there for me. I won’t feel peaceful and I won’t feel beautiful. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
And that’s okay.
Contrary and Recalcitrant
Maybe everyone is like this, but I’ve always been a bit contrary. If I should be washing the dishes, I suddenly want to vacuum. Don’t ask me why! I used this contrariness to great effect before my hypothyroidism was diagnosed and treated. By using the energy of my contrariness, I was able to get all my work done…just at all the “wrong” times. Hey! Whatever works!
I’m not proud of being contrary, but if it hasn’t abated by now, I doubt it ever will.
Mental “Blocks”: Hate Cooking, Love Cleaning
Well, “love” is a strong word. But as much as I aspire to be Betty-Crocker-meets-Julia-Child, I’d much rather clean than cook. I tried. I really tried to be the perfectly perfect Suzie Homemaker but I’ve got this recurring mental “block” that keeps me from baking and canning like I tried to do to fit the ideal pushed by my so-so-superior (ex) Amish friends.
I tried, I really tried. Part of my reason for selling my homemade bread from my roadside stand was to force myself to break my “Cooking Block” by hand-kneading eighteen loaves of bread each week.
Did it work?
Maybe that’s another reason I foster my foodie fascination. If it becomes a creative, intellectual endeavor, I don’t mind cooking quite as much.
But darn! I just don’t like cooking…and I never will!
All things considered, I may dislike several of my attributes, but in general, I’m richly blessed and very grateful for my health and my life. The older I get, the happier I am. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to turning the big FOUR-O and getting on with the rest of my life, just as I am, warts and all.