Last week I read a letter in Dear Abby about a person who had set high education goals. She was very proud of her accomplishments. She wondered why others seemed intimidated by her credentials. Coworkers were standoffish, and friends treated her with mild contempt. Why didn’t she fit in?
Can you relate to this or another situation in life where you do not, for whatever reason, fit in? Me, too. “Is there something wrong with them or with me?”
Here are the lessons I learned.
I knew that supervisors groaned to see my name on the work roster. Conversations stopped when I walked by. Coworkers resented my credentials. Social alienation and other negative factors contributed to their insecurities – it was not my problem, it was theirs.
My aggressive and often brazen demeanor was just a “this-is-who-I-am-so-get-over-it” bravado. It fooled me and others for many years. This was my perceived reality when actually I had created a distorted universe.
But feelings buried alive never die. Physical manifestations eventually overtook my body, including acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, shingles, panic attacks triggering atrial fibrillation and many trips to cardiac care units. I was in distress with no lifeboat and no one to save me. What happened to the “me” I used to know and love?
Rude Awakening 101: I was wrong. Can a perfectionist be wrong? Make a mistake? Not get the proverbial picture?
The paranoia and anxiety, subsequent depression and self-sabotaging tendencies were tough for ‘someone-who-can-do-no-wrong’ to comprehend. I tried to address these issues myself – unexpressed and deeply suppressed feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, inadequacy, frustration and narcissistic perfectionism – but realized I needed help.
The hardest part of change is recognizing there is a problem. Vigilant awareness and cognitive behavioral training were needed for me to recognize that ruminating, awfulizing and the continuous tickertape of thoughts running through my head had to be changed. Living every minute of every day haunted by my past behavior had to go. I finally met it all head-on with the truth that it is me and not them with the problem.
Dear Abby’s response was to seek counseling immediately. Counseling is the key to survival and fosters a rebirth of self.
But how to start . . . psychiatric appointments can be hard to get and I needed one right now.
My journey to normalcy started with a lifesaving book, Feeling Good, by Dr. David Burns. In the first few pages, I knew he wrote this book especially for me. The book nailed my existence – I was living within a distorted perception of self – manifested by narcissism, perfectionism, borderline personality disorder, severe depression and plenty of angst. I was a mess with no self-esteem.
I thought I had bunches of self-esteem. I was shocked to learn the hard truth of who I really was and awed to realize I needed help.
All these years flaunting my accomplishments – my college degrees, a retired military officer, etc. – was that not self-esteem? Wow. All my accomplishments in life were not self-esteem, but rather pseudo self-esteem.
No way. I was at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid – self-actualization. I thought I had arrived, and you’re telling me it was all pseudo-stuff?
The person I loved (me) was a Captain, USAF, retired, with a PhD. Tear down the bravado, peel back the outer skins of the proverbial onion and seek personal truth; and to my amazement, I realized I was an insecure, narcissistic, over-educated, eccentric, aggressive, unhappy and depressed 55-year-old child. Without my accomplishments, I was a nobody – just a scared puppy dog craving attention. Ouch.
After continuous self-exploration, guided by qualified psychological, medical, holistic and spiritual therapists, I came to understand how I became this way.
Baby steps were necessary to grow into the person I really wanted to be, but due to my child-hood was never allowed to be. My hypnotherapist helped me face my deep-seated needs for recognition, approval and security. I realized I was satisfying my insecurities with food and men, desperately seeking acceptance and love.
I am ecstatic to begin life again at the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, working my way up through safety and security, self-esteem and social needs. My quest to incorporate realistic and holistic outlooks continues. The phoenix within me is rising from the ashes – though sometimes, in all her glory, she looks around and retreats back into the ashes.
My healing continues to progress. I incorporated a Twelve Step program into recovering my unique self. I take a deep breath and rise a little further above the ashes.
As I learn how life really works, spiritual paths open in front of me. My recovery and rebirth involve healing through kinesiology, reflexology, iridology, lymphosizing and massage. I also manage my stress through yoga, quilting and swimming. I learn to release physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, psychological blocks and cumulative stressors. My physical symptoms lessen or disappear.
The integration of my mind and body into who I am today took a lot of work. I accept it, feel it, choose it, own it and love it. I am happy with it.
The discovery of the spiritual and metaphysical worlds adds incredible joy and love to every day. For many years I was at odds with the concept of church. Spiritualist philosophies brought me back into the fold through their teachings on guided meditation, awareness of the “now,” and past-life regression. I’ve found spiritual support from ministers and friends, and acceptance by the congregation.
Feeling is a strange experience after decades of suppression. The challenge and fun for my future is staying and living in the present, recognizing old habits, immediately processing them into healthy cognitive behaviors and continuing self-discovery through following my intuition.
I now know God as my Higher Power – instead of my EGO (Edging God Out) controlling the direction of my life. Learning to “Let go and let God” takes persistent work, but the results are rewarding.
My all-encompassing craving for recognition has been neutralized. I know and choose who I am. I love me. The concrete wall built into my psyche to protect me from hurt and pain is gone. What emerges now is my creative, artistic, freely-expressive self. In helping others, I realize there is another side to my addictions. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Daily I meet and greet the sunrise with upbeat affirmations. I constantly do a “feelings check” to stay in the now and express whatever
feeling is now. I give thanks to my spirit guides and to God for life and life’s love. Each day I ask my God what is on the day’s agenda.
What a glorious rebirth of self.
Copyright 2013 Kellogg Patton