Unconsciously at first, petty jealousies stir. I perceive rejection, that I will never be good enough. Others doing things better, in the right way, wearing the right things, adopting the right style, somehow being everything I can’t. They are accepted while I feel pushed out. I feel hurt, disappointed – sometimes disappointed at a possibility that can never be realised – expecting others to act from motives I assume of them, rather than values they actually hold.

I am rejected.

Anger and resentment rise at those I see having what I don’t, who muscle in and are accepted where I am pushed out. Every praise they receive somehow takes away from me. Suddenly I am back in school and my best friend wants to play with someone else, someone better, and I am alone. Worse, I deserve to be alone because I have not been a good friend. I have been selfish and bossy and loud and inappropriate. But mostly, not cool enough.

Woman behind a mask, protecting her self image from rejection

“Why can’t she be friends with you both?”

Of course, rationally, she can. But I have opened myself up too far. She knows the betrayal, one to the other, and so their friendship feels like another rejection, another betrayal. I know it’s not rational. I’m an adult FFS. And yet in those moments, when it’s thrust in my face, I feel like that terrified child, who is about to lose the only true friend she has when the friend discovers she can have other, better friends.

But instead of owning my childish hurt, I filter and project and reframe to make them the bad guys. They are manipulative. They are threatened. They are weak. They value the wrong things, superficial things. They are petty and immature. Not me.

Protecting self-image at all costs.

Praise slips past me and lands on another. I slip into the shadows. I am the Ugly Friend, invisible, passed over, the consolation prize.

Why shouldn’t she shine? She is beautiful. She is talented. Her accomplishment doesn’t take away from me or anyone. Yet… Yet, in those moments, praise — recognition — feels like a precious and finite resource. The more she receives, the less I can ever obtain.

An echo of my father’s voice, bestowing praise upon his daughters, we three kneel with hands out, begging for a single drop. And when that rare droplet comes, only ever given to one at a time, the other two know we have failed. Not simply missed or overlooked but derided in comparison.  

Years on, I take the agony of these early beliefs and filter my reality to make them true. I cast the villains to preserve myself, rinsing my memories and constructing a narrative where all the pieces align with my belief of myself and my belief of others.

I have been fairly quiet on the writing front for a while now. In part because life got away from me, but in part, because this post has been simmering away, full of ugly ghosts and reflections I’d rather not see. It’s much easier to maintain a false self-image when you don’t have to look in the mirror. And writing is my mirror. It’s where I explore those inner corners of my psyche and make sense of my inner world. I suffer when that outlet is silenced. This topic has been edging its way forward. I have been catching glimpses in my periphery, and quickly shoving them away. But I can’t put it off any longer. So, here goes.

Girl looking into a shattered mirror, fearing rejection

I have discovered some very ugly truths about myself. Truths I have been trying to make sense of, collating the pieces of a puzzle. Even now as I try to frame the pieces, turning them this way and that, the picture that forms is painful to see. Pain disproportionate to the objective facts of that image. My throat tightens. Tears well. I wrench them apart again.

So.

How to find a way in? A way I can tolerate seeing for long enough to get it all out.

I guess a good place to begin is with some background, the theories I have collected to explore and make sense of my inner pain.

Perhaps not one post, but many — an exploration of the different pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together. From narrative and memory to cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, the filters we apply to preserve our understanding of the world, our earliest beliefs. Then how those beliefs are formed, the emotional schemas formed in our earliest moments, the archetypes we identify with, and those we reject (the shadow self). And finally, the ego-defences we use to preserve that self of sense: the very core of our identity. All these mechanisms, probably more, coalescing to protect us from ourselves.

Mostly we are unaware of these defence mechanisms and distortions, but every now and then something slips through. We are triggered. Our responses, unconscious, instinctive, bypass all reason, erupting disproportionately to the objective view of the situation. Yet even when we are cognizant of this, we can’t stop the flood of feeling. It is suffocating. We drown or we explode.

And that’s where I have been, grappling with the aftermath of my own explosions, the inappropriate outbursts that happen before I am aware I have been triggered. And between times, struggling to stay afloat in a rising tide of my own psychic pain.

These posts may be self-centred and indulgent, but hopefully useful in their explorations.

Rhonda xx


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