tales from urban dilettantia


Strange Patterns and Rabid Insecurity Raccoons

For the first time in quite a while, I wandered down to Quaker meeting this morning, which was a wise choice as it turned out that the hour of quiet thinking was particularly useful and enlightening.  This post is the outcome of that hour of quiet thinking.

Two of the ideas that have been trending for me recently have been Fear and Shame.  (Why yes, I did have an excellent Catholic education – how did you guess?)  And over the past week, I’ve had a couple of really, really useful conversations about Life, The Universe and Everything which have helped me piece together a pattern I hadn’t noticed.

This is what happens when I do something that scares me:

1. I am scared.
2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway.
3. I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, even if the thing was good.

After thirty-one fine years of obliviousness, I noticed this and realised it was rather strange.   I wasn’t getting anywhere figuring it out intellectually, so I tried something else while I was sitting in meeting today and decided to run it past my inner monsters and see what they thought.  (I’d like to note here that my inner monsters care a whole crapload about my well-being; they just tend to have tunnel vision and can be really inept at implementation.)

So, this is what turns out is actually going on in my head:

1. I am scared.  Often I am scared beyond reason because I have had both a personal and a cultural upbringing where women who do scary things are punished and hurt, and regarded as foolish.  And I am scared beyond reason because my brain – for reasons of upbringing, mental health or other – tends to return a lot of false positives.

2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway, at which point my inner monsters start shouting ‘hey woman, you have all these shiny fear signals that are supposed to be saving you from being hurt or punished – what the hell are you doing ignoring them? This is horrible, self-harming behaviour – how can we trust you to look after yourself when you dismiss everything we flag as scary!’

3. And then, I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, because I have a vague and hard-to-pin-down sense of having chosen to be self-harming, foolish, unwilling or unable to look after myself.

This is such a strange little pattern, and one I haven’t come across before in anyone else’s writing or discussion.  And I can see there are actually two things here to work on, which is what has been making it a bit more difficult – I need to do something about the false positives and the learned fear at (1), and I also need to work out how to negotiate with the inner monsters at (2) and have them know that I really, truly will listen to them and that they can trust me not to engage in acts of self-destruction.

Now what I really want to know is, is this strange little pattern specific to my brain, or do you recognise it too?

Day Two: On should, need to, ought to, guilt and language

Being Day Two of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

In the process of looking at language, communication and mental health, I’ve also come across some of my other ways of speaking (both internal and external) that haven’t been particularly healthy.

By far, the most pervasive of these has been ‘should’ (and other ways of saying should – need to, ought to, and so forth). For a born perfectionist and procrastinator, these phrases are the devil. For me they carry loads of guilt, obligation, resentment, self-blame, pressure and expectation. I’m learning to say ‘I will do x’, ‘I’ve chosen not to do x’ and ‘I would like to do x, but don’t have the capacity right now, so I’m putting it on my ‘maybe-someday’ list’. Do or not do, there is no should!

Is this anything more than semantics? Perhaps not, for some. But for me, the improvement in my quality of life is dramatic when I’m not playing ‘should’ and spending every second moment cringing in indecisive guilt.

Part of this, I think, is to do with the sheer weight of indecision, and part to do with the paralysis of perfectionism, but there’s another part too. It comes from the knowledge that committing is to take a side, to make a decision, and to accept that not everyone will agree with my choices.  It’s about not camping on the fence, and not spending my life chasing an unattainable goal of juggling the happiness of others.


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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.