I’ve always learned from non-example. Ever since I was a child, I would observe people, watching for flaws. When I would spot a flaw in another person, I wouldn’t call them out or judge them openly. I wouldn’t even consciously decide that I didn’t like that person. Instead, I used it to shape my personality. I would scan my own behaviors for the same flaw and choose not to display it. I’ve done this hundreds, if not thousands of times. I always likened it to carving my personality out of stone.
I had always assumed that personality was mostly determined by conditioning and other environmental factors. So, I saw no harm in doing this. It was my goal to refine and perfect my personality. And with my perfected personality, I would be more admirable and lovable than others. I wanted to be the most interesting, humble, intelligent, open-minded, skilled person ever!!! THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGHLANDER!!!! (pounds chest)
By the time I was 16 years old I had a “perfectly” sculpted personality. I had kept only the traits that I considered to be the most interesting and beneficial for my environment. I had kept an interesting blend of edgy rebellious traits and intellectual ambitious traits. I was dark but creative. I was street smart but schoolish. I was eccentric but level-headed. I was spontaneous yet deliberate. The list goes on. I sought to make myself as the most dualistic, ironic work of art that there was. All the while, I felt a semi-conscious sense of superiority over others because of my uniqueness.
Now, choosing to highlight certain traits and create myself wasn’t all bad. In fact, having a really solid self-concept helped me develop high self-esteem and self-efficacy as a teenager which lead me to a lot of positive places in life. However, my compulsive carving away and refining of my personality lead to many repressions and a retraction of consciousness in general.
Even though my self-concept was calm, collected, stoic, and strong, all of the traits I had carved away at lingered in my shadow. I developed major blind spots to all parts of myself that didn’t fit with the personality that I had created. This included emotional expression.
So, I often felt very disconnected with my body. In fact, as I was walking, it didn’t even feel like my feet were truly making contact with the ground. I often felt like my awareness was so insignificant that it could be popped like a soap bubble without my even noticing. I was only a little bit there. Reality didn’t feel very real to me. If I became conscious of this, so much anxiety came up that even my rejection of it couldn’t stop it. I would have panic attacks around groups of my friends, feeling like I was dying, but I would sit there still pretending to be calm and collected. Certain phobias popped up seemingly out of nowhere. I was afraid of insignificance.
Because I wanted significance, the process snowballed into a cycle. I want significance, so I will perfect my personality. To perfect my personality I will repress my traits. If I repress my traits, I feel insignificant. So to gain significance I will perfect my personality.
I became aware of this cycle during an episode of radical decentering that I experienced when I was 20. I realized that all this striving was causing suffering, disconnection, and ungroundedness.
So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I repressed my drive for significance and sought to destroy the ironic art piece that I thought of as Emerald Wilkins. I thought surely this would be a way to find happiness. So, I disidentified with all the traits that I had used to create my self-concept.
I lost interest in the type of music that I liked, the hobbies and activities that I enjoyed, and even some foods that I like to eat. It was like I had shaken the etch-a-sketch that was my ego.
However, when a trait is repressed, it doesn’t go away. It expresses itself unconsciously from the shadow.
I still felt insignificant and wanted significance, only I sought it in different ways… less healthy ways. Instead of wanting significance through means of achievement, creativity, or my interesting persona, I sought significance by making myself sexually attractive to men.
(To be continued…)