That’s the only way you keep your side of the world running — by being rigorous in your self-analysis, by becoming an individual in the fullest sense of the word. That requires actively deciphering yourself across the lifetime. That requires giving your actions a good and thorough look.
I loved this whole article. I’ve been a student of Jung since my teens, but even earlier. My friends thought I was “weird” as a child because I’d stripped all my Barbies, and wrapped them in frothy, transparent white cloth and gold elastic thread from my mother’s sewing things. I then fashioned each doll a toga, creating the Greek Pantheon.
At age 5, I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. I was hooked. (My two older brothers were in college, so I read all their required reading books, much to my mother’s chagrin!)
So, instead of spontaneously “playing Barbies,” I insisted on acting out my favorite myths. My friend, Lara, finally said, “Nope, no more,” when I turned one of my stuffed animals into Zeus, in hot pursuit of a busty, plastic, blonde “Europa.”
I am not joking….Lara and I are still friends, and she’ll tell you to this day, as she told me a few month’s back: “It got weird, Jules. It JUST got WEIRD.”
The point, and in reference to the quoted portion above, rigorous self-analysis is almost impossible without interactions and feedback — both subjective and objective — with and from others.
Who we surround ourselves with gives us invaluable information about who we are, not just from their perceptions of us, but their reactions to us. We choose the people in our lives, as adults and teens, and they serve as mirrors: the foils, shadows, saboteurs, etc. Within those interactions, we cull information they give us (while simultaneously winnowing and parsing out that information in a variety of ways), to then thread it throughout our self-concept to form an agreeable balance with which we can live, and view ourselves.
It’s why those with the most fragile egos seem to surround themselves with sycophants. The payoff for the obsequious cadre is the brutal yo-yo of acceptance/rejection from the one who they are desperate for approval.
So, we can’t ignore how much other people inform how we see and understand ourselves: the negative and positive, and the many nuances in between. Why were some adults drawn to me, while others seemed terrified of me? As a CHILD. It fascinated me. Even then. Even now.
So even as a kid, being seen as weird by my peers had both good and bad aspects. On the other hand, a lot of older kids and adults felt I was “precocious,” and delighted in my ability to carry on seemingly adult, intelligent conversation. However, they were a little daunted, too, because I behaved in ways that were not suited to a typical child of my age-group. I think, when it’s someone else, or someone else’s kid, it’s easier to accept it. I also think they perhaps had a vicarious thrill at watching me run along the edge of a cliff they dared not get close enough to peer over the precipice.
However, more, many more people — my peers and adults alike — were disconcerted by my behavior and personality. Some people were outright repulsed by it. We were in a very close-knit Mormon community, and I was pulled out of the “Primary” age group of Sunday School, and put in “Youn Women’s” early because I was nothing like the girls my age at 11 and 12. Their parents didn’t want them playing with me. As if they could smell it on me.
I didn’t have many friends, not really. And my parents begged me to conform (not outright, simply doing what parents do so I would “fit in”) because they were painfully aware of how cruel the world can be to misfits. One of my favorite says is that my parents didn’t have enough hands to cover my mouth when I spoke. And when they tried to use public disapprobation — attempting to shame me in front of other people as a means to control me — it backfired spectacularly.
I refused to conform. So although I felt like an outcast at times, if I’m to be honest, I also felt powerful. I felt this powerful sense of duality: “weird”=different, but not in a good way. Yet, this sort of winnowed out friends who would reject me later. Because I tried, really tried when I was very young, to conform. But if I tried to playact like I was “like everyone else,” the real me came through eventually, and the rejection was almost too much to bear. It was a role I couldn’t sustain.
Then, “weird”=unique, allowing me to explore things, even as a young child, other children would not… for fear of being called “weird!”
So, being the “wild child” afforded me certain freedoms. When I did or said something outlandish, it was simply who I was, and I learned who could roll with it, who would turn beet-red, and who would laugh outright, a twinkle of recognition and approval in their eyes.
My behavior was rarely for shock value or attention. I remember this clearly. In an odd way, it was establishing at an early time, when conformity was literally THE formula for success in the world of a female Mormon, that I knew I would not be a successful Mormon Woman. A grown Mormon woman.
Family? Homemaker? Children? Ew. No, no, no. I would move away, to the place I belonged, because I was certain I was born to the wrong parents. I was certain (when I got older) I was meant for an intellectual Jewish family in Brooklyn…and I was meant to be male. (Not saying I’ve gender ID issues. I’m simply suggesting I didn’t ever quite understand females, and to this day, I struggle with female friendships. All my best friends are men.)
No, I didn’t act-out for attention. I did it because I could. Now, had Stacy__ or Cynthia__ — the proper, good, Mormon girls in our ward— behaved as I had? SCANDALOUS. Examining it now, as I edit this this a.m., I think I was preparing my parents, in hindsight, for the inevitable.
So yes, that piebald self-concept became my world-view at a very young age. Always looking for contradictions and contraries.
“By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”
Do you know who said that? The founder of the LDS (Mormon) Church, Joseph Smith Jr. and as I grew, I clung to those words.
I needed to see — not God OR the Devil — no. I didn’t want to be like god or the devil. I wanted to be their love-child. And it’s what I sought, and seek, within each human being, which is richer, more complex than the gestalt of humanity itself.
Not that “black sheep” is a unique archetype. But I consistently throttled the labels placed on me, which left everyone in a state of befuddlement at best, fear and aversion at worst. No one likes “unpredictable.” Even if my actions were positive.
The rebellious youngest daughter, excommunicated, no less, with five devout siblings (well, technically four; one brother flew the “Church-nest,” too)…and I was the one who became the sole caregiver to both my aging parents in the last 2-3 years of their lives, with only a little help from my older siblings.
My mother, probably my worst critic because I was such an embarrassment to her, causing such scandal in the neighborhood “ward” community as a kid and teen, was sitting in the passenger seat of my car one afternoon as I drove her to her appt. at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in SLC.
I was an adult by then, 37, with 3 children of my own (and going through my second divorce, mind you. My poor mother!) We sat at a red light, and she grabbed my hand, which was resting on the gearshift, and I looked at her, startled. She had tears in her eyes. I asked, “What’s wrong, Mom? Why are you crying?”
She replied: “I…just never thought it would be you.”
I knew what she meant immediately: of all her children, never did she think *I* was capable of doing the “right thing.” And yes, at the time, I saw it as the highest praise she’d ever given me. It took me years to realize it was not only a backhanded compliment, it also wasn’t, “at last,” an acceptance of who I was, and am, from her. No, what she said belied astonishment that I wasn’t who she thought I was.
It’s still a bittersweet memory, one that causes an ache of grief, loss, profound hurt, yet also pride, love, gratitude…all mingled with this wonderful knowledge that while my family saw her as “The Angel,” (my father, “The Devil,” of course) only I knew about her “shadow.”
I was the only one she knew she could trust with it. The darkness in her. The day she begged me for help in leaving my father, the reasons why, and then, her tearful, pained, beleaguered-yet-still-beautifully-bright blue eyes looking into mine, begging me: “Please. Please…don’t tell ‘the boys.’”
My older brothers, her other devout children…well, they might judge her as harshly as she did me. So only I was privy to her terrible secrets.
That said, I don’t think we can truly examine ourselves and ignore that wonderful variable, the “chemical reaction,” between ourselves and those with whom we collide, bump, brush against, or have life-long entanglements due to blood, obligation, love, even hate. Yes…we are transformed within and without by the other people who, upon the ignition of that unique chemistry, are also irrevocably changed.
We are as we are seen. We are who we are, as we are seen. We are who we want to be, see, act, think, behave, and hope to be. Yet, all the while, we are also who and what we cannot see; we are what we fail to do. We are who we pray we are not. And finally, we are who we refuse — or are unwilling or unable— to see.
The worst versions of ourselves are as prominent as the best, depending on the day, and on the pair of eyes resting on us. And strangely enough, even when those eyes are our own, we transform before our very own inner and outer eyes, based on all the above and more.
At least, all this has been my observation. I’m prepared to be totally wrong. :)
Again, thank you for this fantastic, thought-provoking piece. I’m looking forward to many more. So, so glad I found you…
Cheers — JA