"Each of those memories is like a ribbon," he said. "The ribbons are attached to a pole. What's the pole? What is the pole you dance around?"
Yes, I somehow ended up in counseling. It's not something I do regularly. Eight or nine sessions in the mid-90s, on CP's recommendation, before I moved to Colorado. Three more when CP (and my love life) crashed a few years ago; I was so devastated.
This time it happened because I asked my pastor - an excellent counselor - about Erik Erikson's theory of human development. He offered to conduct a personal assessment for me using the Erikson-inspired Measures of Psychosocial Development. Before you know it there I am in his office, pouring myself out, tears in my eyes. No money involved, he said: he's a pastor, and I'm part of the church, so I already help pay his salary...
He says I'm basically a healthy person, and functioning quite well - I, uh, "passed" the MPD. But I'm not happy, not satisfied with the way things are. We have some work to do. Though I tend to dread this kind of probing, it's been very helpful.
Looks like one of the poles to which the ribbons of my life - the strongest memories - are attached is the one that says "You don't matter." You should keep quiet, blend in, be good, not make trouble. Because goodness knows we have enough crises to deal with already.
Maybe I heard this from others, maybe I just drew this conclusion on my own, but it went deep. Somehow I came to believe my true self wasn't valuable or accepted, that I'm not lovable and likable as the person I really am. Relationships, work, and society repeated those messages. Don't think too much of yourself. Don't expect too much or think the world's going to be fair to you. Maybe your "contribution" matters; maybe your behavior counts, but what you think or care about or how you feel about things probably doesn't count for much. You're not going to get your way: You have to be the one to give in.
And so I don't see much value in being close to people because my gut tells me they are going to use me, put me into some kind of box, etc. Deep down I have a hard time trusting people or believing that intimate relationships aren't going to cost me more than they are worth.
Yikes, how can I think that - well maybe not think that, but feel that - and what do we do about it?
The world will throw this kind of crap at you. It's not surprising when some of it sticks. And there's enough truth and even appealingness in "you don't matter" that it's hard to dismiss. And after all, isn't being "humble" better than being a narcissist? I've been around narcissistic people and I hate it. But imagine how much better it would be to walk in a sense of being accepted and loved just as you are, just as I am!
Along the same lines, although I've largely broken the power of the performance trap in my life - I recognize and turn away from the "you should do this / you should do that" statements - I am still strongly affected by (and mad about) the "you should be this / you should be that" statements. No wonder I'm angry, no wonder I expect people to hurt me or be hurt by me: I'm carrying around all this pain and rejection.
In journaling about this the other day I realized a lot of my ministry may have roots in this story. Hmmmmm.... The work I do as a journalist and sociologist, the roles I step into as a leader and a writer, all have to do with listening and inclusion, with giving people a chance to be heard. Nothing makes me madder than leaders who are arrogant and trample on other people. Nothing makes me gladder than seeing someone who really sees, cares for, and empowers others. What I want to say to people, especially people who don't have a voice, is: You matter. Your story matters. You may feel like an outsider, but we're inviting you in.
That seems like great fruit from some pretty negative roots. Now how to get to the point where I really believe that message, for myself?