The other day you realized that every time you look in the mirror, you make the same subtle facial expression. It isn’t an expression of traditional masculinity/ femininity or vanity or your idea of beauty (how your idea of these concepts might translate into a facial expression you likewise have the vaguest of ideas), but more of a variation on the MySpace duckface. You find this extremely troubling. Making more extreme your distress re: this realization is the fact that despite your active knowledge of your new circumstances you continue to make this face when looking at the mirror if you aren’t actively ‘holding it back.’ In other words you are not in control. Your interpretation begins to spiral wildly. We can see ourselves in other’s reactions to ourselves. In this way, people are mirrors. Am I uncontrollably making weird facial expressions to people? and What the hell does this face mean? Where did I learn it? Why is it this specific face? HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?
The most effective way to make sense of the above sequence of events and to mitigate obsessive self-shaming and pervasive feelings of humiliation are:
a) Ignore it. Life’s too short to be worried about that shit. Stop being a narcissistic social neurotic. You have a girlfriend. You have vegetables. You have air conditioning. You have clean water. You are okay. Just chill.
b) With a vague but very real sense of entitlement disregard “a)” as the context in such a way that it is in fact an afterthought. The context is a given; questioning the premise is futile. You are working to better your situation within your context. Context has, unfortunately, not become good enough. This is why single people desire salaries above minimum wage. This is why lonely people desire an attractive mate. This is why we eat organic. Understand this but continue to remain baffled about the duckface issue.
c) Interpret your feelings of lack of control and not-having-your-shit-together as “the need to get away from it all and find yourself.” This is traditional behavior and so you know it will not be met with anything but sympathetic/ empathetic nods and perhaps an occasional privvy secret assumption that you don’t have your shit together and are using it as an excuse to go somewhere where you’ll feel equally fucked up and weird and hurt and uncomfortable. Buy a plane ticket to Sevilla or hitchhike to Oaxaca. Return four months later.
d) View the duckface humorously. From a distance it’s comical. Take yourself less seriously; explore the duckface earnestly but with emotional detachment. Allow confusion to roam — recognize that it’s there. Confusion is okay. Identify that you don’t have an explanation for this — this is also okay. Allow the various parts of your emotional self to exist without judgment or governance. Recognize them. They are there.
e) All of the above, in the order in which they are here presented.
For some reason or other there was a completely ordinary event in your very recent past that brought to light just how pervasive, elusive, and subconsciously manipulative passivity can be. As such, you decided, tentatively, to eradicate passivity from your life. No more saying one thing and meaning another. No more allowing his contradictions to pass unnoticed. No more asking questions to lead your girlfriend to your (unhelpful) point. No more dressing up your language so that it veils true meaning. No more holding back controversial opinions. No more avoiding conflict.
But such a system proves to be unrealistic. Why?
a) You’re a pussy.
b) Avoiding passivity, you find, is nearly impossible in real life. Perhaps it is achievable on the internet, where emails can be labored over, chats can be deleted and edited and considered, where physical immediacy is not a relevant dimension. But overall you find the truth to be that passivity has been simply hard-wired into you — that it’s physically difficult to, for example, tell someone you hardly know that they are wrong and completely off the mark without first dressing it up with a number of mitigating qualifiers.
c) Complying with passivity represents you bending to accommodate social convention.
d) You’re thinking about the ‘solution’ wrong. That there is a ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ may be a false premise. Discarding that notion, though, you can’t just expect to transform deeply-rooted behaviors so quickly. Also: get over yourself.
Your knee-jerk response to unencumbered displays of enthusiasm is to cringe, smile awkwardly while attempting to emanate chill vibes that communicate friendliness and acceptance (the vibes themselves are intended to manipulate the enthusiastic offender into believing, on a pre-language level, that it’s acceptable to not meet her level of unencumbered enthusiasm with a response greater than or equal to her own), or, in your darker/ more shameful moments, actually avoid eye contact and look baffled. Obviously this response is deeply rooted in your upbringing, or something. It prevents you from dancing while sober, being loud, ‘letting go,’ and most sadly, smiling uncontrollably into the faces of those you love. It’s an endless source from which to draw despair and shame. Girlfriends have indeed come to hate you for this quality; a common, shame-inducing complaint is one of feeling “trapped” and “unable to be one’s true self” around you. There have been accusations of being like a robot, excessively inhibited, too under control. And despite the fact that you’re well-aware of (what you think is) the entire problem, as well as how it affects you, your relationships, and your Measure Of Success, you feel unable to do anything about it. You’re nervous this is what’s stopping you from being Truly Happy, but find yourself, in moments of truth, unable to ‘let go.’
Why? (Choose the answer that attempts to avoid cliche and cultural narratives.)
a) This is just your personality. It’s set in stone. It’s who you are. You’re destined to be this way.
b) There’s something holding you back.
c) Displays of unencumbered enthusiasm represent the absence of a shame governor. In other words, people who aren’t controlled by their shame may or may not highly offend your Puritan soul. Of course this is all speculative. But it seems to make sense, at first glance.
d) Who knows? This question was tiresome. Maybe such an analysis of the problem is a bit overboard. Believing that there’s an ‘answer’ to this ‘problem’ may again be an entirely false premise. And at this point the whole shit becomes really hard to think about.