I used to and still to a degree do, engage in a lot of delusional thinking. Basically what it means is the inability to accept the reality of your life through creating some parallel nicer version. This nicer version can involve either a picture of yourself which is far flattering than the current state of the art or some other external aspects of your life. And yes, it can also involve convincing yourself that this guy is totally into you or that you are the smartest person in the room although all the evidence confirms the opposite.
The book *Seven pillars of self-esteem* quite accurately points out that one of the signs of a person with high self esteem is the fact that they do not avoid facing reality. This definition is more revealing than it seems at first. It also namely points out why we engage in wishful thinking – because we deem reality too hard to accept.
I am constantly being faced with the reality that most of my friends at this point have families. Family was always something I wanted, albeit for questionable reasons, I admit. Engaging in some made-up relationships made it easier to accept this reality, because…soon I would be in a relationship that was far greater than anything else…
Wishful thinking is a coping mechanism and I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing. In fact I think it has helped me to survive one of the toughest therapy years. Giving it up at this point is in fact as if I was giving up this comfort blanket. It is almost like letting go of a parent as you mature. I think in a way since I never really felt like I had the kind of home I wanted, wishful thinking became my way to experience the kind of reality I desired. So whenever life went bad, I would use the same strategy…I would just imagine that I had a perfect life, like I once imagined I had a perfect family…
The problem is if your wishful thinking also involves some serious denial of reality and unwillingness to improve your situation. For instance do you refuse to engage in real life relationships because you still hold on to this one guy who you never went in a date with? Because maybe a dream of him is much safer and also much grander than this rather flawed guy that actually wants to date you. Or do you still dream of this grand career and paint your current job as a space filler once you finally get the job you truly desire….but you are actually too afraid of doing anything for getting this dream job?
Facing reality is hard and ungrateful job. No one even gives you an award for daring to do this. However if you are lucky you can finally take small steps to improve the actual situation.
I used to find comfort in the idea that there are certain levels of health. That made bearing my therapy at least a bit easier – this notion that I am moving towards some magical higher level of health. Mind me, I still do think people have levels of health, but not really the way a lot of other users in internet seem to refer to them.
If you are a visitor of for instance discussion forums on Myers Briggs you see a lot of people referring to unhealthy ESTP or whatnot. Mostly those using the reference are categorized as other types though. Myers Briggs forums are just one example where I encounter such categorization – healthy and unhealthy. To be honest, I am growing increasingly vary of it. Mostly because I find it is very often used by users as a reference to their own innocence in certain situation. It is like saying – I cannot potentially have done anything wrong, because they are unhealthy. It is even better if it is used to describe other Myers Briggs personality type without sometimes acknowledging that yes people do handle things differently, just because someone has a different way of taking care of things really does not make them unhealthy.
I can give a personal example. I am annoyed with people who make their emotions everyone else’s business. It really rubs me the wrong way if someone is lashing out and expecting other people to calm them down. However, I do realize that there is also my assumption there that this person expects me to calm them down and there is my separation anxiety and my fear of conflicts. I would love to deem this other person unhealthy, indeed it would be much easier….
So, to me the distinction between unhealthy and healthy goes more in lines with, are you able to be in peace with yourself for who you are; do you feel you are moving towards your goals; are your relationships with other people the way you expect them to be? I believe there are many different ways of being and all of these different types probably have a different road to self-actualization. Deeming someone unhealthy just because they handle conflicts differently or are more detached or more emotional than you are, in my eyes refers to the lack of self- and other awareness. Furthermore, I argue that it is even more dangerous as it often translates into criticism towards other people for things which might just be their special way of functioning. If they wanted to, they could produce the same kind of criticism about you from their perspective….
I think one of the signs that you are getting to the final phase of your healing is when you actually start noticing that your early life difficulties have brought you some innate gifts. I am not sure I am completely ready to write about the gifts I have gained through my experiences yet, but let that be my first attempt.
I feel that I can actually see the two worlds. It is difficult to explain this to a person that has not experienced it all. I can see the world of depression, self-hate, anxiety attacks and dysfunctionality. I can relate to all kinds of dysfunctional coping mechanisms starting from alcohol abuse and ending with suicidal thoughts. I can also now after years of therapy experience and see the world on the other side. The lighter being (I am still not finished with my therapy), the feeling of self-love etc.
I think there have been two radical changes of experience during the last year. The first one is moving from feeling incomplete and unlovable into actually feeling whole. This deep feeling of emptiness and sadness and wanting someone to love me so that this sadness would go away (only it never did), it is actually gone. The second change of perspective is moving from being terrified of being alone and being certain that I will never cope alone into being OK with spending time alone. Being OK with living alone and enjoying my evenings in solitude.
Most people that have two aforementioned gifts take it for granted and fail to ever understand other people that suffer from abandonment fear and unlovability. That is how you get stupid advices such as – you should just be yourself or have you thought of exercising more or drinking warm tea. The experience itself is soo alien to the ones that have never gone through it. Not often they also judge and look down on people that lead dysfunctional lives. The compassion is missing and even if it is there, there is a lack of understanding as to what one is compassionate about.
So, I feel I have been given a gift of seeing both worlds. This means that maybe once I have gone through my struggles, I can actually help someone else. I can definitely function as a non judgmental guide already now, but I think I still have a way to go. Not only can I understand and help others that struggle, but I also value the feeling of being complete, the feeling of being able to be alone. I have had to fight so hard for it that it feels nothing but sort of amazing. I doubt that average person gives much meaning to it at all.
Finally, I think that with child abuse and therapy comes a different kind of way of viewing your life. I see my life as a lesson. I am not looking for happiness, I am looking for growth. I am not sure if that is better or worse, it is just different. It is the way I have managed to handle therapy all these years, even when it was very difficult. I just kept comparing myself with myself one year ago and felt proud of my development. I still hold this approach. I think if nothing else, it helps me to make sense of other life difficulties as well. I see a lesson everywhere. I analyze a lot. I think ultimately this is going to make me me. This is who I am going to be and this is maybe how I can be useful for others as well, by helping them to make sense of difficulties as well!
A lot of self-help literature these days stresses on the need to become an individual before you get into a relationship. Furthermore, it tells you to find your own passions and purpose before, advocating that you cannot rely on someone else in order to be happy.
I mean, in principle I agree with that, I do think you need to do your own personal work. However, now I am going to say something a bit controversial – what if your life mission is actually supporting others? I mean, I cannot think of myself as becoming something extraordinary. I think on one hand, I do not have sufficient talents and on the other hand, I also have no wish nor sufficient hunger for achievements. I think, I personally, would be much happier when supporting someone else, while they are achieving great things in the world.
This someone else does not have to be a partner and I am not painting a life of a housewife here. I am rather saying that I think in our current world, we somehow stress too much on our purpose needing to be separate from others around us. What if my purpose is to support my family, what if my purpose is making my friends happy? I do think that this as well should be considered a worthwhile goal.
When it comes to my own purpose, I suspect more and more that rather than becoming someone outstanding myself, I will support someone else in becoming outstanding. From an objective point of view, I can read people, I can read their needs (thanks mum and your anger outbursts) and I truly want those around me to succeed. On the other hand, society tells me that supporting others cannot be a legitimate goal in life. It tells me that I should question my lack of personal goals and perhaps even consider myself codependent because of such ideas. But, should I?