Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Consider what you project onto your partner. Is your preoccupation with your partner's flaws an avoidance of anxiety about your own imperfections?"

Two questions to go, and we get the hard hitting ones. Though in my case it's less a case of partners as everybody.

I almost feel like I answered this question before I started answering any of these questions. I was running at the time and thus it never got spoken aloud, but what I was thinking about on that run was a forthcoming meeting of minds where I needed help. The thought, a whine, a complaint, collapsed immediately upon itself - I wanted to say 'Rod, do you know of an island somewhere populated by happy secure individuals that I could just move to.'

Because my issues are not other people's issues. My issues are my own. I do get preoccupied with the 'flaws' of other people. And there's almost certainly a part of me arrogant and condescending enough to consider people inherently flawed, while making an exception of myself.

The tricky part is the complexity of these words 'an avoidance of anxiety about your own imperfections' I believe in law circles they'd call this a 'complex question' that is to answer it requires me to accept that I have imperfections (no big deal) then that I feel anxious about them (harder for me to recognize) and lastly that I avoid them. (very hard to catch myself doing).

It's true that I am bullshit at multitasking. I cannot think about my own issues and somebody else's at the same time. I can't be looking at and critiquing the work of others while simultaneously making my own. The best I can say, is that looking at and critiquing the work of others is part of my creative process, in constructing the critique, I am already drawing my own piece, my own take.

In the same manner, the best I can say is that getting preoccupied with other people's problems has in some ways helped illuminate my own decisions. I have no evidence to suggest though, this is more productive than just examining myself in the nearest mirror. There's plenty of evidence to suggest it is much more productive when I just sit down and think about myself. It can even be more productive when I am illuminated by others projecting their anxieties onto me.

So yes, ironically one of the things I project most - is a frustration with people in my life worried about the welfare of others, the addictions and mental illnesses of others, even the welfare of animals or kids in indonesian sweatshops sooner than actually take care of themselves and address their own issues.

Looking back at my psychology sessions, I can see how much time was dedicated to trying to solve the problem of other people. How to effect or adapt in such a way as to bring about desired change in others. When I actually gave up and accepted, things got better quite quickly. I just turned on myself. Turned back to myself.

I see with former partners, a clear trend - I only really ever accepted my partners for who they were when we broke up. It's also the only time generally we communicated as adults to each other.

One of the 'too little too late' gestures I made in one relationship was to read 'Development as Freedom' by Amartya Sen. It was one of the two times I showed an interest in what my partner wanted to dedicate her life to. I only remember parts of that book - namely how cultural identities have always evolved and aren't worth defending or preserving, how famines are caused by pricing mechanisms and rarely by a shortage of actual food but also I think so much value is wrapped up in the title - the only goal, the only purpose of development is freedom. And that applies equally to personal development.

Then something I saw earlier in the week, a gif of a Brad Pitt monologue from 'Killing Me Softly':

"My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words 'All men are created equal', words he clearly didn't believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery."

Even though Chappelle did a bit on this before, this particular phrasing hit me harder, perhaps because of the observation that Jefferson sired children that then lived out their lives as slaves. There's something about that cognitive dissonance, that disingenuity that hits home here when asked about projecting. No matter Jefferson's own moral failings, he did manage to pen a document that has formed a very powerful basis for the winning side of the civil rights movement from the American civil war throguh to what's happening in Fergurson today. But this polymath, this genius was blind to his own imperfection in a manner perhaps more instructive than Isaac Newton's failings at investment.

Of course, Of Course, OF COURSE! I am no exception. I go to therapy and regard myself as 'doing something' and therefore an exception to the rule of having to sort your own shit out first. I did eventually, but this here, this is my shit - the world rejects me, I'm not important enough to take something for my own, or to seize an opportunity that is there. I'm worthy of being ignored or passed over, and it is up to me to take care of myself, solve my own problems and then assume privilege enough that it falls on me to 'help' others as well.

The trouble of course being, that this subconscious program I'm on if you will is scary in its power, and it's easy to avoid looking at it. And the anxiety drives avoiding behavior. When you're successfully avoiding shit, then your blind. It's hard to unravel. I don't think the above paragraph accurately articulates exactly what my subconscious drive is, but it's close. I'm getting closer.

next (and last) question.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Note to self - you can trust your intuition

I had a moment of clarity today that coincided with the clear sky's above. I wrote a post a while back I can't be bothered digging up on a question as to whether I was lying by omission.

I listened to Sam Harris' audio book 'lying' in the past couple of days and found it vague on providing me a definitive answer on whether I had been unethical, even though the question had become moot - which is to say one way or another I have to live with the consequences of my non-disclosure.

All I could really say, in basically dropping the question and not paying it much mind, is that it never once felt wrong. I never once did I feel like I'd missed an opportunity to disclose the truth. My intuition let me sit easy with not saying a phrase aloud to an audience of consequence.

A lie of omission, that would be unethical for example would be to not disclose that I knew definitively of an affair being carried out to that persons partner. I would become complicit in the affair even if I saw other parties as having a greater burden of responsibility to tell the person than I did. Harris' book gives a great an illustrative example of such a case.

It is also a lie of omission for me to not disclose the true degree of uncertainty I feel speaking on a subject for which an audience is heeding my advice. That too would be unethical.

But it took until today to have my conscious brain click as to why I felt no compunction to share information I had in a situation that bothered me. But it clicked quite loudly, and successfully and I feel much lighter because of it.

The information I possessed was irrelevant to the decision being made. If it were of consequence, the information I possessed would actually no longer be true, nor informative, and hence not actual information.

Or perhaps in other words, to beat around the bush, if the decision to be made was actually conditional on the information omitted, then the decision would fundamentally change in nature.


Consider by analogy that somebody you know is producing a movie. They are looking over and over the script wondering if it really has the potential to be a great film. They are looking at the production company and the locations sought and questioning the viability of such an ambitious project. You see your friend stressed and being a billionaire with an actual human-chess set, know you could afford to underwrite the production and protect them financially.

Suddenly the decision this person faces is not 'is this film going to get made?' to 'do I want to make this film?' or to be absolved of evaluating the fundamental downside risk and just consider the upside.

See even if all of the above doesn't make much sense, my intuition get's it. I trust it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"What can you accomplish and control that will help you restore your self-esteem?"

Easy seeming. I already do it. I can control who I spend my time and attention on (including me), controlling that I gain greater control over who and what I think about.

One of the best ways I can esteem myself is bring the focus back to myself. Adapt to my social environment by building self-awareness. With self awareness I generally get actual clarity and make actual progress rather than having my wheels spin.

It is learning to recognise when a situation is the same and when it is different. Then when I understand this I can relate myself to my environment in a way that builds my esteem rather than needlessly putting it at risk and damaging it.

That last part is a harder and slower process to actually do than to describe. But I do it, you see much of it here on this blog.

next question. almost done.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"What did you want for yourself that your tried to give your partner?"

Support, investment, encouragement. Freedom. The clarity of this answer makes this question stunning to me. Namely to draw that fucking line between what I want for others - to myself, my own wants and needs. I never ever made the conscious connection. But it seems too obvious to me now.

I think of the arguments I've had on and off with my parents for the past 5 years. I say arguments, really they are conversations, conversations I find frustrating because it is them drudging up doubts and insecurities on my artistic career choice eg. home ownership, attracting and keeping a partner, having kids, supporting kids, paying rent, foregoing opportunities... etc. doubts and fears that are so obvious, it is actually frustrating to hear the suggestion that they hadn't occured to you.

This creates friction, for me at least and I imagine for most people. Imagine you figure out the next big tech innovation, an interface that will put touch screens in an early grave. You see it, it's risky but you know you want to press ahead. Then you have to push the idea through 20 layers of management approval, and each layer demands you make the same case again and again until you convince them. 18 months later, the top brass sign off and of course the innovation has cropped up elsewhere - in a company that doesn't have all these layers of friction. The project ultimately fails.

To me, an artist I've looked straight in the eye at all the potential downsides of this career path. I decided to press ahead anyway. At the point you decide to do something as hard as succeed as an artist, what you need, all you need is support. Even criticism if it is pertinent to artistic or professional development is support. But having people ask you to reevaluate your decision to embark is not support. It's friction.

That's what I want gone for myself, that I try to provide or compensate for, for others.

Next question.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The next sets of questions relate to self-agency, influencing your own life and taking responsibility. It was here in reading the book I learned the hard lesson of diagnosing oneself from the internet. Originally I read a small excerpt from the book that was a case study that closely reflected my own childhood. Bam! that's what I have, the white knight syndrome.

I then had a relatively brief period of about 6 months where I overcorrected, culminating in my first ever panic attack where I felt honor bound to disengage from anybody that had any kind of problem so as to not let me rescuing tendencies take over me. Like an addict abstaining.

I reached out to several friends, while simultaneously worsening my own crisis as I realised these friends too had their own problems. I wanted to ask the senior most and most seemingly stable of my friends if there was some island somewhere populated by happy secure people that I could move to so my White Knighthood would not be a problem for me.

I never had to ask the question because at that point, I actually read the book. Talking to my friends helped a lot to. I have a problem when I lose my sense of self and shift focus to the extrinsic. When I have my sense of self, and am focused intrinsically - which is actually most of the time, I'm fine. I have some triggers and some issues, but in the end I am not a White Knight, not a dysfunctional sub-type at least.

So much of the remaining questions, about self-agency, personal goals and particularly taking responsibility are not the areas I need to address. When I do these things I do them well, my issues are with ignoring my own esteem needs, and projecting my problems onto others to vicariously rescue myself and recieve some kudos or some shit.

When it comes to the lives of others, it is the same as when I look at other people's art. I am most critical of what is being done when I am doing little myself. When engaged and focused on my own project, I wouldn't say that's when I don't care, it's when I don't over-care. I become happy that others are making progress, and doing their own thing, instead of being disgruntled that they aren't doing what I want them to do.

Anyway, I imagine these question answer sessions have been not great reading. I stuck them here to force myself not to lie to myself, and because writing a blog post is what I do often to procrastinate, so I figured I should actually do the homework and force myself to do it here.

"Think about the relationships you had with family members and how they impacted your self-esteem. What could they have done to help you create optimal self-esteem? Now, find a way to do this for yourself."

So the question is actually the speculative 'What could they have done..." part. I treat the first sentence as pre-amble, and due to the largeness of the number of interactions I had with my 4 immediate family members, I don't want to recap the specific or even the abstract here. The last sentence I treat as a call to action, and will simply keep in mind as I speculate, that what I identify I have to transfer to myself.

The first thing I note, even prior to doing these questions here, is that my self-esteem is pretty healthy, if not optimal. Enough was done, particularly in early childhood for me to avoid the kinds of insecurities I see cripple other people. I am not without insecurities or even evidently my own issues - I just want to put on the record that there's not much more my family could have done. I don't wish to diminish the very real suffering of my friends with debilitating anxieties, depression, addiction etc. by exaggerating my own issues. Nor as I've recently realised, alienate them by pretending that many of the symptoms don't occur to me. For example I do experience anxiety, but it is fleeting, transitional and typically clearly linked to my environment.

So what could have been done? When my parents had their career crisis, it was good that they were honest about it, insofar as we were told that my fathers job was under threat. Furthermore it would have been a better representation of the truth to say that with the new management team, my father no longer enjoyed his work. Beyond that though, what was told to me was for the most part fearful speculation. Bad worry. Anxiety being expressed that brought my mother fleeting relief to her sense of powerlessness, by transferring it to me. When that relief fled, the same fears were shared again.

Furthermore, I was not conscious that I was being told simply for the therapeutic act of telling, I still carry the expectation (and reflex) that when people outlay problems to me, they are looking for advice, relief, solutions to be provided by me. I really have only adjusted this common assumption to the more humble 'What can I do to help?' response, rather than presuming that I should simply leap into action.

So on that front, I appreciate being told honestly the situation. Though it should have come directly from my father, not indirectly. And it should have been limited to what was known to be true. Aside from that, my esteem would have been optimised if I had also been told '...but don't worry, whatever happens we'll look after you, you can finish your schooling, just carry on becoming who you want to become and we'll find a way to make that happen.'

Or something to that effect. To absolve me of responsibility over situations I have no real control. Such that I feel I could look at the suffering of others without inheriting their problems personally.

As regards my self esteem, at the moment my esteem is vulnerable to elemants outside the control of myself. eg. others inability to change, I take personally. I am unable to use my privilege (in all its various forms) to trigger a chemical reaction that leads to the prospering of everyone around me. I get involved in systemic and robust problems until I am simply a part of them.

Breaking the connection between my self esteem and the imperfect world, would seem to be what I need to do for myself.

Next question.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Think about the last time you suffered a slight to your self-esteem either from an external or internal source. What actions did you take to feel better about yourself? Did these actions work?"

To be honest, I have trouble identifying or remembering 'slights to my self-esteem'. Which isn't bravado, my natural inclination is to think of the last time I felt bad, or felt self-doubt. Do these cut it? Or are we talking about damage to the ego? Most memorable is the anxiety attack I had that set off this most recent bout of self-reflection and prompted me to read the book that these questions are drawn from ('The White Knight Syndrome') but that's an anxiety attack. A symptom of low self esteem, not a slight to it.

I can remember the last time somebody attempted to insult me, but I understood that situation, and if anything it built my self-esteem because I won a power exchange. I solicit feedback from people which isn't always pleasant to hear but is ultimately, a gift.

So fuck it, I'll just pick something. It's almost constant but triggers me reliably, to dwell on it. I got this failed friendship, that despite my efforts to accept that failure and move on, and all my conscious efforts to restructure my life to cut my losses. I am bothered by the fact that the failure cost me so much and my friend little-to-nothing-at-all. The very fact that I bear all the downside is a slight to my esteem.

Also how long it took me to notice the assymetry and that this was the natural result of my hubris.

As for the actions I take. I guess expressing anger is one thing I do. And also trying to 'solve' the problem for myself. Those actions don't work.

To feel better about myself generally involves conscious acknowledgement - that I've been triggered, that I'm here in the moment and the hurt is in the past. Then I seek out nurturing company, if I can obtain it it works, and not in a fleeting way. It lasts me a while.

It's a risk though, other people's dysfunction can be a trigger for me as well. That dysfunction is inescapable and I have my own, that despite bringing it into my consciousness, remains a powerful force for me.

Doing exercises like this, and speaking to the right friends helps me regain my center. When I focus on my own agency, I am fine. Fine and dandy. When I get to work and get things done that I want done, I feel better about myself.

I guess in any given moment I have the choice between creating something beautiful, or doing something else. When I choose the former, no matter the application, it works.

"What external sources do you depend on for your self-esteem? Consider what you get from those sources and find a way to provide it for yourself."

Surprisingly interesting question. Failure manifests in me as feeling like a creep, unwanted and untrustworthy, and of course potentially dangerous. I have friends I reliably go to for reassurance. To a lesser extent career wise when I feel like I'm deluding myself, that my act is all bluster. I look to them for objectivity, but basically reassurance that I don't have to change, or to keep changing into whatever it is I am becoming.

Like most I am fairly adiccted to checking my phone for messages, my facebook for notifications and my email for correspondence. Exacerbated by the fact that even given how much time I spend running, going to gigs, commuting by bicycle, writing blog posts and working - I am still spending the majority of my time in front of a computer with constant internet access.

Un-returned mail I notice and weighs on me considerably. I perhaps spend too much time reminding myself that other people don't have the luxury of time I have, or consider writing a letter a chore. I get a massive high when somebody takes the initiative to contact me. It can make my fucking day. I try to give that to other people, people's inability to respond or even acknowledge (which is probably a gift of the smart phone) helps cultivate the impression that everyone else I know is less isolated than I am.

Having said that, the esteem somebody else can give me is very limited and not equal. I definitely recognize domains of expertise. While I value encouragement and dislike discouragement. Depending on who somebody is, their ability to effect my self esteem rises and falls dramatically. Criticism can bother me, generally speaking, but few criticisms result in substantial motivation.

The thing is this, everyone's advice, everyone's support comes through the prism of their own perspective. Anxieties get projected that I may or may not share. Or have previously dealt with. Same happens with compliments.

So I don't know what I depend on. There's something there. Something matters. I have had demonstrated and firmly believe we are drawn to others by what we possess ourselves (and repulsed as well). For me the self-esteem I derive from external sources come from finding common ground, even with long dead sources. Like hearing somebody talk about Lincoln and then relating it to things people have said of me, even though there is a vast gulf between President Lincoln and I in terms of our place in history (and even the present).

So yeah, I mean for me external sources are like a 'hotter-colder' game of trying to find who I want to be.

That's the tricky part, if I provide it for myself, cultivate it in myself, I should see the result in others around me. And then there's just the plain desire for intimacy. I think I'm supposed to, biologically, culturally and just personally find somebody else to provide intimacy and that would have a positive impact on my self esteem.

I see what the question is saying, but 'banging a hot chick' to feel better about myself has never been a misguided source of esteem for myself.

So yeah, I'm not sure I'll have to delve deeper.

next question.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Think about the times you've felt good about yourself. What commonalities do you see?"

Space, I see space. I might feel good when I'm at an exhibition and it's buzzing and there's a lot of people there. But generally when I feel good about myself will be after the event. A couple of days, maybe while running. When shit is quiet and I am alone. That's when I acknowledge myself.

Then there's times when I know I feel good because I lose control of my face. I can recall vividly sinking a basket back in the day which was a rare occurrence (and funnily I can't recall anything else around me but the ball going through the net) and feeling super proud of myself. Just flooded with euphoria.

Between those and the first example, I know I feel good when I'm in my own world. Not pressed, or motivated. In those times, even though generally I fear isolation (though I do so much to exacerbate it, is that really something I can claim?) I actually like myself, when given time to assess.

Exercise is also the common connection, most of my self appreciation seems to happen during exercise. I even enjoy catching my own reflection as I run past shop fronts. (Actually, I enjoy my own reflection wherever it appears)

And generally it follows some achievement, no matter the scale of it. It's where I can forget the opinions of others and validate myself. It goes both ways, there are people I get concerned about if I fail to impress them with my achievements (well, generally speaking - person) and other people whose praise and validation I discount or discard because it is more inflated than my impression of how things are going or how I'm doing.

When I can forget these people, these factors I actually am generally pleased with progress. I feel happy, I feel good.

Next question.