By M.K. Styllinski
The Wallflower or Attention Seeker?
“The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside — you were a fraud. And the more of a fraud you felt like, the harder you tried to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really were.”
— David Foster Wallace
Reading time: 10-12 mins
Another aspect to consider in this overview of happiness is the introvert/extrovert poles and the mix of both, classed as ambivert. This is a useful starting point from which to guage how imbalance can manifest and impressions start to depart from who we really are, to become camouflage rather an expression of our essential nature. The trick is to become internal auditors of our self-awareness – an introspective quest of self-observation. With the help of others, we begin to employ an objective analysis as best we can, which is where Eurich’s “imaginary therapist” comes in. Equally important is an extrospective quest or external auditors to increase our self-awareness with other people and to discover how they really see us. Once we have both introspective and extrospective quests covered then we are in a good position to start the climb toward greater awareness and a bigger vista from which to make further progress.
Of course, you can excel at one and not the other. That means introverts may be better at seeing what many of us miss, but suffer when it comes to externalising and applying those discoveries. For instance, they might have a harder time establishing that supportive circle of true friendships that can house the creativity for community, although they harbour a greater understanding of the covert psychological strategies at play, mostly due to their bid to remain under the radar and away from the spotlight. Generally, extroverts will have more difficulty with sufficient introspection since they are often more comfortable with an external focus. Such people usually have no problem creating social circles but they will a) likely have friendships that enjoy their charisma and entertainment value but seldom have friends that get close enough to access their real nature outside of that “larger than life” persona, b) the large amount of friends they may have is due to the possibility that these contacts can only stand them in small doses c) imbalanced extroverts tend to suck the energy out of a group or gathering in their bid to be the centre of attention which ultimately leads to friendship fatigue and/or accumulated tension, jealousy and conflict. (Unless of course, their behaviour is due to the Dark Triad which is a whole different ball-game).
For the imbalanced introverts who are immersed in a culture that unfairly values extroversion, such people often feel lonely, anxious and depressed. The imbalanced introvert will likely believe she does not have the courage or the likeability to engage sufficiently with others and will think that people would probably misunderstand her anyway, especially if her social skills have atrophied. Acute shyness seldom recedes if these fears aren’t addressed. Many introverts who are concerned about their personality type (whether such an expesssion is natural or artificial) place too much importance on what others might think of them and are locked into erroneous fears about the impressions they might engender should they have the courage to properly exchange. Social exchange is harder for those naturally preferring solitude, peace and one-to-one relationships but the sensitivity and perspicacity that often goes with introversion is much needed in our culture. Imbalanced introversion can lead to the kind of self-pity which produces the Damsel-in-Distress or Little Boy Lost Syndromes which seeks to ellict attention in manipulative way. Neither ploys evoke long lasting relationships.
The imbalanced extrovert doesn’t place enough importance on the art of exchange and may place great stock in his own perceived value – or at least, his need to operate in such a way that delivers what he needs i.e. required energy through attention – which may or not be in synch with others’ needs. His or her self-concept can be limitless and they can thrive in situations of pressure, risk and responsibility. They can be the life and soul of the party or a heavy jack-boot on true exchange, hogging the conversation and dominating all those in his presence whether at a board meeting or the pub. God help us if he isn’t entertaining and charismatic. Behind all that bravado however, they can be as insecure as the timid introvert, preferring to use a different mechanism to fill up the emotional tank of the ego. Obnoxious behaviour with minimal social skills will gradually deliver the extrovert to the same place as the introvert who is busy wallowing in her own shadow. The only difference is that the imbalanced extrovert will refuse to believe it and attempt to “entertain” amid uncomfortable smiles and polite excuses to catch the last taxi home.
Evaluating where you lie on the personality scale is another starting point in guaging where happiness might be received. Regardless of what your genes and experience have made you, the road to a natural rise in lasting happiness depends on seeing the reading errors in self-concept and perception and having the humility to adjust. Depending how large that gap really is, it’s no easy feat. It can be deeply unpleasant to come face to face with your disgreeble traits in empirical exactitude delivered by those who have only your best interests at heart. Sometimes it’s just too much and the mind-body armour cannot handle such a threat. The silver lining is: the more your family and friends come up with the same evaulations the more you’re onto something. Whether you come to the realisation that you are actually a gigantic wuss, a passive-agressive tool sniping with a smile, or an insufferable bore who loves the sound of her own voice … Once you have been given this painful gift then you can begin the hard work of contemplation regarding its veracity. Then you can either carry on in dysfunctional “bliss” or work with it to adjust, hone and transform.
Facing the fact that you may be fake
The dictionary definition regarding fakery states: to prepare or make something specious, deceptive or fraudulent; to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable etc. usually in order to deceive; to pretend; simulate.
All of the above are transposed to the mask that we create to fit in with the present culture in different degrees. In this sense, we don that ego-mask at the cost of our true nature “to conceal the defects” which ironically comes about by selling our soul to macrosocial fakery and by covering up weaknesses that promote acquiescence in the first place. In time, this is what builds crises of identity. And in our fake identity-driven societies plastering evermore meaningless tribal labels over our neglected issues we become trapped in what author David Foster Wallace called the “fraudulent paradox”. We deceive ourselves and project that deception into the technosphere or we wake up, rage against it (which makes things worse) or… We can gently attempt to create authenticity, adapting to the culture as a strategic measure, without surrendering to it.
One can have such a dramatic schism between who you think you are and how you really are that you effectively live in two realities: one entirely subjective and fabricated by your self-estimation and the other that is externally accurate; the impressions from your interaction with the world which are reflected back to that concept of yourself that has been so far impenetrable. This fake persona is vivified with allsorts of justifications and self-calming assertions which amount to lying to the Self. To various degrees, virtually all of us lie to ourselves about who we think we are and what we do every minute of the day. (And those that claim otherwise are usually the ones that do it most). The ego will do anything to maintain control rather than to be relegated to the servant of something far greater and true. And we are only too willing to believe it’s gentle rationalisations to continue as we are. We can’t get to the next point in the road if we’re determined to believe that it’s all a fault of “the world” and I’m a poor defenceless damsel or an angry little prince. Then you’re buying into the Hissy Fit production line which has so infected the left-liberal mindset. We are walking biochemical robots of rationalisations and microcosms of our culture. So, faking it to fit in is almost a pre-programmed position for most of us.
“Not only will many people happily lie to themselves if given a reason, but they will only look for evidence that confirms their comforting self-deception, and then totally believe in the lies they are telling themselves.”
— Quattrone & Tversky (1984) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Whether overt or covert, acting without any control over our impulses, obsessing about inconsequentials and losing it when things don’t go our way is fodder for Official Culture. Being lost in a sea of personal distractions and trivia is to be the proverbial sheep chewing on indigestible grass provided by the system. But if we want to grow and be happy in the face of trials and challenges – whatever the situation – then a more nourishing source of faith and creativity needs to be found within. Usually however, it takes considerable suffering to reach that point of realisation. Meantime, a transient happiness is achievable by the compartmentalisation and denial of reality; by choosing beliefs and letting them define us. Since most of our beliefs are sent as buffers and crutches to inner freedom and all our judgements and self-righteous reactions erupt from maintaining them, they must be the first to go as we attempt to dig out new foundations. We cannot have certainty in accruing knowledge about ourselves and the world, yet we can learn to be comfortable with that uncertainty. It’s an arduous process, the quality of which is determined by how much we can let go. By that I mean, to what extent we can release desire for an anticipated outcome. It’s then that happinesss may have a small opening for expression in daily life. Letting go of how we think things should work out allows a different kind of strength across all the senses to build.
If we could learn to function in the face of upheaval, disruption and chaos and actively create and maintain a centre of integrity which remains rock-solid come what may…Wouldn’t that be a source of joy that we had to share?
If growing something akin to true individuality and autonomy is a valid alternative rather than a sheeply contentment or a sense of hopelessness regarding change, we can’t simply make our home at the base camp of the mountain and pretend that this will suffice. A deep-rooted happiness of the heart is hard won and can’t be achieved by remaining on safe ground. Which means we must make sure that the inherent risks to self-development must be faced and traversed for the right reasons, away from fear and social conditioning. Yet, when you make that leap into the unknown, such a personal life statement will permeate your mind and body thus potentially everyone you meet in the future, whilst healing echos to the past. If that is not a primary reason for our existence…What is? No longer wishing to be fake, a coward and a procrastinator means taking responsibility for the child and the adult in you and assigning them their proper place within the psyche.
You are the father and mother of your inner family, so lead.
What about those who ostensibly value truth, those now popularly labelled “truth-seekers”? You might see the hypocrisy here: if we call out fakery and corruption in the external world whilst our own lives and inner landscapes are racked with the same, that contradiction will catch up with us sooner or later.
To discover how truth is routinely suppressed and distorted in our world is to embark on a process that can be enlightening and instructive. It can also turn out to be deeply unsettling and disruptive. Perhaps this is a mark of how well we are searching for truth since by its very nature, Truth demands transformation through knowledge. Happiness can be found through observing, understanding and analysing that which is hidden and destructive – of that there is no doubt. One can certainly rack up some discernment regarding how corruption and manipulation operates well away from our own little ploys and subtefuges. Seeing all that darkness and calling it out is valuable, but like any focus, it can also serve to keep self-analysis at a safe distance. If you’re going to shine a light on darkness – whether geopolitical strategies or paedophiles in power – you can be damn sure it will be reflected right back into your Being. That’s evil’s role. It shuns the light of true seeing and thrives in the shadows – our shadows. That’s when the gaps in our awareness and the emotional blockages will be similarly revealed. And we better be ready to acknowledge them because that’s when evil will do it for you by using your lack of awareness to engender chaos.
When that reflected light penetrates your own issues, a bit more darkness from your passionate focus to change the world will slip through those gaps without you knowing. Then you must be ready for a battle with your nemesis and its connections to a veritable black sun. It’s a quid quo pro. You learn to see that negativity and how it operates within you and once seen, you must give that negativity it’s due within yourself. You acknowledge it, integrate it and transmute it.
Otherwise, you will be eaten by the very thing you wish to defeat.
So, seeking truth isn’t a road to happiness, commonly termed. But it might be a path of access to something greater and more meaningful. It depends how much you are willing to sacrifice and – trite as it may sound these days – how much you love truth. Without striving for and respecting the principle of truth in our lives it means that we erode the very basis of our morality and the values which arise from it. Without these anchors that nourish our roots and keep our visions aloft, happiness will have as much relevance as Celebrity Big Brother and as enduring as the daily weather forecast.
Awareness can expand by building your knowledge base but it doesn’t mean your emotions and issues come along for the ride. You can be an intellectual leviathan and an encyclopaedic whizz but still have the emotional capacity of a five year old. Whether you’ve convinced yourself that everyone else is an asshole and you’re going to live in a cabin in the woods and hunt wild-boar, it’s only relevant and justified if you’ve read reality correctly and haven’t fallen into the trap of a wounded ego and its many masks. Most people don’t wish to go there, since reality is rarely a pretty picture – least of all what’s going on inside one’s murky unconscious. The easier scenario is to rationalise the world and its maker as the enemy, so you can give up and continue the more convenient retreat into the little picture world of self-entitled cynicism/angstivism. Or maybe you’re just “too spiritual” for this material plane, too fragile and sensitive that no one understands you….Maybe no one wants to understand you because they pick up on the fact that you are more fake than authentic.
These are the kinds of contemplations I have certainly tossed about throughout my past. When it came to why lasting happiness seemed to give me such a wide berth I was eventually lucky enough to be shown that a big portion of it was down to me; something I was doing was consistently “off.” Maybe that was because of all these detrimental influences in which we are immersed, as discussed at length on this blog. But that’s only half the story. The other half is how we react to our circumstances and challenges and whether we revert to patterns of behaviour we know that at some level, cannot possibly provide us with anything approaching happiness. Yet, we continue to beat that dead horse because that’s who we think we are – that’s how we’ve learned to survive. This is especially true when we are dealing with unconscious trauma and childhood issues which determine so many of our choices. Its easier to stubbornly remain with the devil you know and to expect external reality to change for us rather than do the hard trudgery of looking at ourselves with cold-bloodied exactitude. Change isn’t designed to be easy but the more profound the change the greater the rewards.
If you find yourself contemplating the possibility that the reason for your isolation and misery is because you either make a modest 5 or a big fat 10 on the fake scale, then you are on the road to recovery. You’ve made the first step in seeing the less agreeable parts of your personality which may be on show more than you think. But that doesn’t mean it’s really you, it’s just a mask that you’ve taken as your essence. The process toward a true Self divested of conditioning and negative behaviours brooks no quarter. Absolute honesty is essential in making headway. Cold bloodied examination does not mean we wallow in self-pity or self-loathing, rather, we acknowledge the inflated negatives within our personality which are holding us back from establishing a creative synergy with the world. We need to see them as a launching pad to a different future. (This may mean we need to employ the services of a good psychotherapist and/or body therapist to help you through the initial stages).
Conversely, if all your friends and family love you like a demi-god and cannot find a sneaky shadow in your flawless personality well, I guess you know better. Look over your life and look deeper. Those little devils will be there. (Unless you’re the Second Coming.)
Ultimately, why we remain stuck on the happiness-unhappiness seesaw is because we choose it and are too lazy, too scared or too accustomed to our habitual ways to step off those treadmills. Yet, we have those barriers for good reason, especially the instinct of fear. Stepping into the unknown and addressing one’s “issues” is extremely challenging, even if you have people around that genuinely want the best for you. If you are on your own or have isolated yourself for whatever “noble” reasons, then the opportunity for honest “mirrors” from others who could give you an objective appraisal of the image you project is simply not available. You can’t possibly do that through your own subjective self. You need honest feedback.
“Happiness comes from suspending judgement because certainty of knowledge is impossible.”
Most of us are unfortunately, in various states of psychological dissarray. It takes considerable effort to outgrow society’s idea of who you are and create something REAL. In other words, a personality that is holistically operating at an optimum level based on a conscious choice to serve others which ultimately serves yourself and your highest potential. Meantime, you’ll have to admit that the probability is very high that you are fake and if not the sole creator of your problems then an active participant. This is just a fact of life in this topsy-turvy world which frankly, owes you nothing. It seems what you receive is in direct proportion to what you give. If you spend your life grasping and accmululating all kinds of wealth, be it money or satisfaction you can be sure that such a dynamic eventually leaves you with an emptiness that can never be filled. (As our power-hungry overlords are about to discover some time very soon).
To allow happiness to emerge, you don’t need to love yourself, chant affirmations at the full moon or give the guy on the street with rotten teeth some money. You can do those things but it usually misses the point. Using crutches to simulate the awakening of conscience tends to backfire. You can achieve what Dan Gilbert calls “synthetic happiness” which is effectively a rendering of: “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” In other words, not getting what you want is as important as getting want you want because the short-term outcome can often lead to a greater dividend. This is part of it. But what about achieving a state where you go beyond both? What if you attain a state of FLOW that rides out any storm with your feet firmly anchored to the ground while allowing your creative vision to soar?
You start small and keep it simple. Choose something with which you know you can achieve success, and then slowly work your way forward to more ambitious goals of self-improvement. As with anything worthwhile, it demands deliberate practice with clearly defined goals. Once you begin down this road you may find that your patience for others’ shortcomings begins to increase. You learn to gradually maintain calm in the presence of emotional hooks; you develop compassion without pity and begin to carefully watch what you say. (Words have power). With constancy and a lot of failures, you’ll learn to really see and to listen like you’ve never done before. You will become attuned to the deeper parts of yourself that were drowned out by society’s dictates and other’s expectations. And you will begin to recognise it in the people you meet and to treat others how you’d like to be treated. Gradually you acquire the interpersonal skills that were lacking, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, and acknowledge and accept the world as it is without compromising your integrity or life goals. You act as if this ideal is present without anticipation of outcome. There are many other tools out there which can provide a skeleton overview of where your strengths and weaknesses may lie, some of which will be mentioned in the next post.
If you are able to pair down your life to its essentials and get rid of those externals that drain away precious energy happiness tends to approach like a small animal, hesitant at first, but when you least expect it will run into your arms and never leave your side. It likes simplicity. Sure, it might slip away sometimes and you’ll accept it, because you know it will be back in the same way you know the sun will rise tomorrow. Meantime, you won’t be able to look at future contentment square in the face as though it’s your right. No one deserves to be happy in the same way no necessarily deserves respect. You have to earn it by plugging those gaps in awareness that so often lead to “bad luck” and disasterous fortune. As mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
If we really want to be the hero of our personal movie rather than the guy or gal that get’s knocked off in the first scene and endlessly repeats the same scenario, then we need to pay close attention to who’s directing OUR movie and who’s handing us the same dog-eared script.
Someone is benefiting from that mis-direction, and it isn’t us.