Am I Growing?
Hi there, Kevin here!
I’ve been thinking about the idea of growth and living with integrity, and I was thinking about what that means. And I worry that I’ve been neglecting my own growth, but I wasn’t sure how to know that or not. How do I know if I’ve been neglecting my own growth? I mean, it’s got to be more than simply “I wrote 10 pages of journals this week” or some other goal like that, right? Not that that wouldn’t be really helpful, but the standard should include in some capacity a growing awareness of something.
I know almost nothing about nutrition and a buddy of mine who knows a lot better than me about that was telling me about how he really likes this fella on the YouTubes who is a nutritionist and who says that sometimes he’s a vegetarian, other times he’s a paleo diet kind of guy he doesn’t just try and read the backs of the food stuffs he buys, but he tries to listen to what his body says he needs.
I thought that was a really novel idea and I think that’s how self knowledge should work. I know people who’ve journaled a hell of a lot more than I have, and maybe I’m missing something, but I think I could hold my own in a self knowledge competition with them. Whatever that would mean…
I think that the working on myself equivalent of that sort of idea is having a strong sense of self. I heard this term “sense of self” from Alice Miller the psychologist and author and I just love it.
The way she uses it is to describe a sense of what your real thoughts and feelings are. If I’m feeling sad, but am not aware of my own sadness until my friend asks me how I’m doing, that’s something I really want to work on. The thought of me losing my sense of self makes me really anxious if not horrified.
To take an analogy, imagine a guy who has no feeling in his limbs. He could be bleeding out and not even know it until he’s about to pass out from a lack of circulation. He could step on a rusty nail and not notice until it’s too late and get tetanus, or something like that. I don’t know how tetanus works.
I have this concern that if I don’t continue to work on myself, I’m going to lose my sense of self and I’m going to regress. I’m going to become reactive and take out my own insecurities on other people. Or, I’m going to be in a really shitty situation and not even realize it, and as such not even be aware enough to be able to change it.
There are places I’ve been in my past that I can hardly believe I allowed myself to do and be a part of. The idea of enabling the toxic people I used to know, numbing myself with drugs and alcohol just to keep myself from noticing how horrible things were. The idea that I could lose my sense of self enough to slide back into those places, those roles, is a horrifying prospect.
If I could have a strong enough sense of self that I never slide back into that path of least resistance, I want to, at the very least, maintain that for the rest of my life.
So, I was thinking about what that means to have a strong sense of self, what does that look like? And I had some thoughts on it I wanted to share with you guys and see what you think.
The first thought I had was around this thing I’ve experienced a ton of times, where I can’t empathize with myself and where I’ve been.
I grew up with a mother who was criminally neglectful and I hurt myself really badly one day in 7th grade jumping out of a swing and landing on my chest. It hurt like hell and I felt pain in parts of my body I didn’t even know existed, and with the help of some friends I hobbled my way home (which was a couple of miles away). I was really scared that something terrible had happened with the bones in my chest and as soon as I got home, I collapsed on the floor and wept in pain and fear begging my mother to take me to the hospital.
I had never faked being injured or sick growing up, so no one would ever mistake me for crying wolf, but she just went quiet. Some siblings came home and asked my mother why I was writhing on the floor and crying, and she told them to just keep moving.
I never shut up about it, even years later, for one thing because the pain persisted for months, but also because I was so confused as to why no one was helping me with something that was terrifying for me. I had no idea what happened to my body, I could have had bone shards floating around my heart or some other terrible situation. It hurt to sleep on my side!
She took me to a chiropractor years later and I brought up the fact that my sternum now sticks out more on the left side and that I can pop it the same way I pop my knuckles. The chiropractor told me that there was nothing he could do and that the only thing that could have helped is if I had gone to the emergency room right after it happened. That is, that my mother actually listen to me when I begged her to take me to the hospital.
I’ve told people about this in recent years about it and they would tell me how horrible it was, and I would have some sense of that, but it was clear that I wasn’t fully getting the gravity of it.
Whenever I have such a hard time empathizing with something like that, I have to imagine how I would feel if it happened to someone that I cared about. If that happened to my niece, for example, I would feel so much rage that I would want to beat her mother, my sister, up.
But it’s weird to me that I would have to put another person in my own shoes in order to gain access to that rage. Even with all of the work I’ve done on myself, it can still be so hard to connect with things like that. Like, the idea that someone would have a perfect sense of self, that would just be absolutely amazing. I would want to meet that person.
Another thought I had was around a comment I received on my last video which I found really interesting which was that he expressed some frustration with the fact that I was diminishing my own achievements in terms of how I’ve gained access to my mecosystem. And I think that’s really important.
Imagine that if you and I were really close friends and built up trust over a long period of time and one day I said that you were stupid. Well, I’d be a real dick, and it would probably make you feel a lot less open to being vulnerable around me. But I’ve said things like that about myself before: “god, how could I be so stupid!”
But if I feel guilty after telling you my friend that you are stupid, then I should feel similarly guilty for calling myself stupid. I mean, I’m a person just like you, and any considerations I make for you, my friend whom I care about, I should also make for me, who I care about.
I think there’s also another problem on the flipside of that, which is how we’re not allowed to say we’re great. I have a friend in real life, and he really is a great guy. You would be absolutely lucky to know him. But the idea of saying “I’m a great guy, and you would be absolutely lucky to know me” just sounds ridiculous. But why should it?
The idea that I think that people have is that to say that is to be vain, grandiose and a total doofus. But I really do think those things about me, that I am a great guy and that people would be lucky to know me, and it’s got nothing to do with my ego. When I think those things, it’s almost as if I am talking about a close friend.
But for some reason, self talk is this weird thing where standards that apply for everyone else don’t apply to me. I assume that most people are more or less in the same boat there.
The third idea I had around having a strong sense of self is having a really rich emotional vocabulary. Like, I’m starting to treat emotional labels like the 4 primary emotions: happy, sad, angry and fearful as being lazy. I think the cool kids are distinguishing between many different varieties of sadness and anger.
Instead of “feeling angry”, I want to feel annoyed, frustrated, irritated, exasperated, contempt, hatred, livid, etc.
Instead of “feeling sad”, I want to feel melancholic, disappointed, despair, grief, hurt, dejected, etc.
Having a strong sense of self, I think, means knowing the difference between all things emotional states.
But let me know what you think. I want to have as many perspectives as I can that can help me achieve such a degree of a sense of self that it’s practically a superpower. I want to be Self Knowledge Man! Saving the day with his capacity for self reflection!