For most of my life, I have lived with the constant fear that other people will reject me. I have lived so many years with the story that others are more deserving than I of all the good things in life: affection, attention, success, joy, satisfaction, happiness … love.
You wouldn’t necessarily know it to be around me as I manage that fear well. It’s a quiet fear that persistently suggests in the moments between more sane thoughts that other people are somehow better than I am; more whole, intelligent, happy, beautiful, generous, clear, righteous, courageous, strong, together, connected, aware. It insists I’m the only one who is clueless and confused in this world, and therefore I don’t deserve love.
It’s an insane fear, I know. Yet there it has persisted for years, lurking deep inside my thoughts like a poisonous thick mold in the dark vents of an otherwise lovely home.
Although this fear surely has its genesis in many experiences throughout my young life, one particular moment stands out when I began to suspect other people might be more worthy of love than I.
When I was three, my dad came to pick me up at Kinder-Care one day. I clearly remember him, bearded and boisterous, bounding into a playroom full of swarming toddlers like me. Just after he entered, I watched him bend over with a big jubilant smile on his face, arms wide open, and scoop a young boy up into those open arms with great cheer. That young boy wasn’t me, and I didn’t have a brother. I distinctly remember the shock of my three-year old brain seizing up, struggling to process this gross injustice it was witnessing, mortified at what it must mean.
To this day, I don’t know if my dad did that as a joke, if he honestly mistook that other boy for me, or if I’m hallucinating the whole thing. Perhaps that little boy tripped on a skittle and fell into into the arms of my superhero dad who saved him from a bruised noggin.
Whatever actually happened, from the moment I saw that other kid get swept up into my dad’s arms, I immediately began suspecting that other kids were more worthy of love than I. Over the years, I would add countless layers of evidence: dad leaving home for good when I was four; little girls running away from me on the playground; waking up alone in an empty home when I was five and not knowing that mom and sis had simply gone on a short walk; rejected by my best friend in 6th grade who chose the “cool” kids over me; and on and on and on.
Moments when I suddenly felt alone and unwanted were so deeply painful that I developed strategies to minimize the risk of them happening.
I wouldn’t let girls I liked know that I liked them. I often shrank in social situations. I tried to share only the things about me that I hoped would make others like and admire me. I hid the thoughts, behaviors, ideas, curiosities and ignorances that I worried might offend or bore them.
Even as a young child, I experienced all kinds of wild commotion within me that the world around routinely insisted “good people” didn’t experience: strong sexual attractions, anger, racist thoughts, dirty humor, mean, negative judgments and entirely selfish desires. Sure, lots of so-called goodness was happening within me, as well. But witnessing these “darker” experiences within, believing I couldn’t safely share them with anyone lest I risk rejection, only deepened my worry that I wasn’t worthy of love.
However, having now lived on this planet for 40-ish years through all variety of chaos, catastrophe and triumph alike, it is simply time to come out – and stay out – of the closet.
Embrace The Darkness Within
I have discovered I am everything.
I contain every possible aspect of the human experience.
Witty, insightful, arrogant, condescending, brave, mean, kind, loving, passionate, indifferent, courageous, smart, ignorant, cruel … I have been all of these in various moments throughout my life. So much so that I’ve come to realize these varying patterns of behavior are just little ever-changing wavelets atop a vast ocean of being that represents the full truth of who I really am.
By simply observing my inner world throughout my years, I have discovered, to both my joy and despair, that I can find within me every human emotion and behavior imaginable.
I am both heavenly lover and terrifying abuser. I have offered the highest praise to a beloved one day only to verbally torch some unsuspecting person on the next, even if only in my thoughts.
I am both wisdom and utter ignorance. I am steel-faced manly courage and yet also a scared, quivering little boy desperate for someone, anyone, to hold my hand and make the monsters go away.
I can be a brilliant, shining light radiating warmth and love in your presence. Yet when I’m cranky and un-mindful, I can also be a dark shadow waiting to storm havoc all over your lovely picnic.
I’ve experienced every genre of emotion and thought it seems a human being can experience. I am clearly everything. However, since nothing in that everything remains true all the time, I cannot be completely defined by any of it. Neither the admirable qualities nor the depraved ones can ever fully capture me.
I am somehow all of it, and yet none of it at the same time.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
– Walt Whitman