I was walking along with my father and I don’t know what we were talking about but then he asked:
And what’s your long-term plan?
And there it was. A question that I had no good answer for. I didn’t realise it at the time (this happened a week ago) but this question hit me hard and has been chipping away at my mind ever since.
I woke up this morning and I was really out of sorts. I was very distressed and I didn’t know why. Then in the following few seconds, the dream that I had been having came flooding back to me. In my dream, I had been in a war situation. I was being physically attacked in a battle and I was running and hiding and trying to fight back and trying to escape.
Then this afternoon, I had kind of a realisation and I can’t help but see this dream as a metaphor as to why I have not made progress in life from a professional and personal perspective. In the dream there was no clear enemy, all I knew is that I was under attack. But now I believe the enemy was myself.
Deep down, I do not believe I have anything of value to offer anyone. I create distance between myself and everyone else because, underneath it all, is a crippling fear that if I were to be my true, authentic and genuine self with other people, then I would be rejected. Social rejection fires up exactly the same pain receptors in the brain as physical pain so it’s not exactly a feeling that one goes chasing.
When I look at my life, distance is everywhere:
- I live in a city that’s a long way from any family members
- I have a job where I am working alone and not as part of a team
- I do not have a group of friends I see regularly, rather 1 or 2 I see on an individual basis
- I have not had a romantic partner for years
- I avoid situations in which I may be required to collaborate, whether professionally and personally
Some of these may be conscious decisions and some may be subconscious but the bottom line is that when it comes to something important that requires joining forces with someone else, I would rather say no than risk getting close, revealing my true self, and being what I’d term as ‘found out’. I constantly seek to avoid risking disappointing someone and consequently being rejected.
At work, I can hide behind a job title, with friends I’ve hidden behind humour and other things for years, and with new acquaintances I do the same. Put on a mask. Create a facade. So why do I (and we as people) do this? I can only think it’s because we don’t like our true selves, and we reason that if we don’t ourselves, nobody else will.
So to save ourselves from that pain, we engage in a simple self-preservation technique in the form of not getting too close to anyone. Whether it’s a work colleague that may realise you’re incompetent, a partner who may realise you are an idiot, or a friend who may realise you’re boring.
When these feelings of low self-worth are so entrenched and the habits that form around them are so established, it is very difficult to break the mould. Which is unfortunate because it’s clear to me now that these are major obstacles to self-development, growth and, ultimately, fulfilment.