Protect me from what I want
This is, admittedly, a weird thing to be blogging about. It may even be counter-productive (you’ll see why presently), so I just have to hope that the benefits of organizing my thoughts and sharing them will outweigh any reinforcement of negative habits that this also entails.
One of the things that my brain likes to do is be busy. There’s this pathological (thanks to ADHD) need to be doing something at all times. It’s not just the diagnosable bit, though. I’m coming to realize that there’s a big part of my self-image that’s wrapped up in the idea of not being bored, which I equate with being boring.
I look around me and I see people with things that interest them. People blog, people talk on Discord about what they’re up to, that kind of thing. And I’m constantly thinking that I wish that were me. This, despite my having those things. For whatever reason there’s still a need that isn’t being met, and it remains to be seen whether this is the result of external or internal factors. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the latter, since it seems unlikely that after all these years I’ve not stumbled upon the magic “it” that satisfies me.
Blogs are especially dangerous for me. This wasn’t why I left social media (e.g. Facebook), although there’s a similar problem there. Blogs allow us to present our best selves, give a picture of ourselves and our lives that has maybe middling bearing on reality. We don’t see the author’s failures except as instances of overcoming and growth, and so ultimately positive. We never get to see with each other’s mistakes. Meanwhile I’m just here, desperate for a sense of identity that doesn’t involve my country of origin or what sports team I follow.
Like the (different) song says,
But you’re terrified you have nothing to offer this world
Nothing to say and no way to say it
But you can say it in three languages
So I can’t help but ask myself: is blogging to help figure this out also just reinforcing some negative habits? As I’ve said before, writing is almost a compulsion, and I can’t avoid wondering how much of that stems from the fears I’ve described here.
Perhaps then I should take a page from the blogger’s playbook and see if I can’t make this something to overcome. Of course, there’s fear there too: if I want to be someone who does X, and getting over all this means I no longer want to do X, my mind equates that with not being able to do X (nevermind that it wouldn’t actually be a loss).
I keep coming back to a book that I’ve referenced previously, Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism. He discusses worsening individual narcissism and how it manifests in ways that seem only too prescient now (he was writing in the 1970s). He is skeptical of the overall breakdown in group identity and values, and suggests that it’s ultimately harmful to our well-being. Lasch holds psychologists in low regard, but his criticism is more about what they try to normalize than about the profession itself. He writes:
Even when therapists speak of the need for “meaning” and “love,” they define love and meaning simply as the fulfillment of the patient’s emotional requirements. It hardly occurs to them — nor is there any reason why it should, given the nature of the therapeutic enterprise — to encourage the subject to subordinate his needs and interests to those of others, to someone or some cause or tradition outside himself. “Love” as self-sacrifice or self-abasement, “meaning” as submission to a higher loyalty — these sublimations strike the therapeutic sensibility as intolerably oppressive, offensive to common sense and injurious to personal health and well-being.
He would be equally skeptical about blogging:
The popularity of the confessional mode [of writing] testifies, of course, to the new narcissism…but the best work in this vein attempts, precisely through self-disclosure, to achieve a critical distance from the self and to gain insight into the historical forces…that have made the very concept of selfhood increasingly problematic. […] Even the best of the confessional writers walk a fine line between self-analysis and self-indulgence.
It’s hard to embrace insignificance, something Lasch recognizes (he describes it as “not merely a disappointment” but “a shattering blow to [one’s] sense of selfhood”). A common coping strategy is to live through others’ reflected glory, although these relationships prove to be “fleeting and insubstantial.” This could be any parasocial relationship, whether it’s the bloggers I admire or the YouTubers I watch.
Lasch goes on to argue that we now seek not fame, but that the kind of approval we’re looking for is focused on attributes rather than actions. “Success in our society has to be ratified by publicity,” which isn’t about what you’ve done so much as the broader sense that you’ve “made it” (cf. influencer culture). I find my mind often drifting to thoughts of having an audience of some kind, to having strangers care what I think. Like so many of us, I’m constantly seeking validation from the outside.
The workforce is little different. I work in a job that is ostensibly beneficial to society, but not without a whole bunch of asterisks if you pay close enough attention. Meanwhile, as things become easier and easier to do (requiring fewer and fewer skills), our personalities have become what we offer. How often do you read about how employers are looking for, above all, fit? And what happens if you don’t quite fit? Just expressing emotion becomes a calculation — what will this expression’s effect be on others? And as things become more and more unsatisfying, we respond with greater and greater detachment via cynicism, mockery, and the like. But what if we don’t want to force ourselves into the appropriate socket, and instead want to be allowed to be us?
I’ve also mentioned before that I’m not particularly interested in politics, and it’s largely for the same reason. I would gladly be loyal to someone who was interested in making things better for me, but the best I can find is someone who can make me better off financially (at the cost of others’ financial situation). I’m not going to sit here and tell you that money doesn’t matter, it’s more that my own situation is unlikely to change appreciably regardless of who’s in charge. It’s not that my financial security is unimportant or has no bearing on my emotional state, but it’s clearly not everything. Even drugs haven’t been able to totally fill in the gaps, even if they too help.
So we come back to the problem I started with: the need to always be doing something without a clear sense of what that means. I’ve had to start asking myself some difficult questions, the foremost of which is what it means that I don’t like being alone with myself. It’s not self-hatred, it’s more fear that I’m not doing enough. But how can I ever do enough if I don’t have any standard by which to judge it? In other words, what would be enough?
As I become increasingly aware of how blurry my self-image is, I’m also seeing how far-reaching this fact can be. How do I have goals for myself when I’m not even clear on what a best version of myself would be? How do I know if I’m moving forward or backwards when there’s nothing by which to judge motion? My greater fear, though, is stagnation — of being the same person in six months or ten years that I am right now. If I don’t know where I’m starting, how can I tell if I’ve actually changed?
What you're writing really resonates with me. I felt the same feeling you describe, although I did not manage to express it as clearly as you do.
I think this is one of the main drawback of Internet as a mean of communication. And as you said it's not a matter of social networks, it's the whole web (and gemini too^^). This does not happen with TV or paper magazine because their audience is less focus, it is meant for a large social group, not a "tribe"(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribe_(internet) ), so you don't always have that "oh this person is doing this awesome thing, I should do it too!" feeling.
For me the solution is to be more offline:
- Writing a journal only for myself, not a blog
- Deleting my rss feeds, mailing lists, etc. Buy and read paper newspaper/magazines.
- Doing something that "embodies me" (could be sport, yoga, meditation...). It helps taking a step back from the online activity.
I like this pub because of discussions like this.
Totally agreed here. I love writing for myself, knowing nobody else will read it besides whatever I am in 5 years or so. Likewise, magazines and newspapers are fantastic instead of doomscrolling on the internet, especially because you can "finish" a magazine. You reach the last page, and that's it. You did it. It's over. You get a nice sense of completeness and it doesn't feel like you're missing out on more.
Thanks for the thoughts.
I agree with what you describe in terms of solutions, but haven't yet found one that works for me. Whether that's my fault or the solutions' remains to be seen.