...and the people who feed him... For years, I have struggled with enormous bouts of self-doubt. I think many or most people suffer from the same affliction. You know? That little voice in your head that says, "You don't deserve this." "Everyone is going to call you out for the idiot you are." "You are so much plainer than all of the other girls here." I remember sitting around with a group of grad students years ago, commiserating around this topic. Even though this group of brilliant Ph.D.'s felt the same nagging doubts and we all felt temporarily better that we weren't alone, all of us returned to the outside world with the same self-loathing.
I don't think it is the fear of failure that plagues most of us and holds us back from taking the kinds of risks we need to in order to achieve our goals, I truly think it is the fear of success that is our biggest stumbling block.
Watching the movie The Two Towers the other night, I watched the character Gollum wrestle out loud with this same phenomenon. One half of him was positive, trusting the relationships around him, the other half was negative, abusing the positive half. By the end of that chapter, the negative half convinced the positive half that he was wrong, that a single slip up on the part of Frodo meant that his friendship meant nothing. That he wasn't trustworthy. In that character, I recognized that same phenomenon that happens when, after hundreds of positive comments, a single negative word can throw me into throes of self-doubt again. And I'm not alone.
So, in order to combat it, I've spent years working on silencing my inner Gollum. I've beaten him down. Ignored him. Yelled at him. Battled him. Hidden from him. Everything I can do to vanquish him from my life. But something in that negative handling of that side of me just serves to strengthen the hold he has over me. And today, I said to a friend, "I wish I just had a pill to make him go away."
She reflected on this and asked, "Have you ever tried to make peace with him?"
Peace? Gah. He's AWFUL. He's mean and spiteful and hurts me. Peace? No...I just want him gone.
But then I reflected on it.
What a novel idea.
Back in my Women's Studies classes, we spent entire semesters unraveling our racism, homophobia and other negative (fear of 'the other') feelings we had. We were asked to unpack them in safe spaces and put them out without judgment to our peers, then we would gently 'talk' to those feelings and figure out where they came from, where they were going, why they were angry or defensive or sad. All of a sudden, all of these awful things that flash through one's mind that you stifle in total shame (fear of a group of black youths? discomfort with two men holding hands or kissing? see Crash for an interesting insight) - and we all have them, even those who are at the receiving end of discrimination (internalized homophobia and racism etc. are common) - all of a sudden, you've put those knee jerk reactions and images in front of you to look deeply into. I can't tell you what a freeing exercise that was! No more 'white middleclass' shame (not a helpful feeling), it's a continuously healthy unpacking (helpful)...
I hadn't even thought of applying that same exercise to my own inner loathing. My fear of myself.
My exercise started today:
Inner Gollum: "You don't deserve to be speaking."
Unpack. Reflect. Cringe. Swallow. Unpack some more. Pause.
Me: "Why would you think that? I'm curious. Many people have enjoyed and told me they've gotten much out of what I've said."
"Don't you remember that guy who called you a waste of time? Who said that everyone he talked to thought you were a train wreck?"
"Yes, I do. And he was partially right. I know that I wasn't as prepared for that talk as I should have been. I also recognize that he already had a bias. I don't think he would have liked me if I had said everything right. I learnt a great deal from that day and have grown alot from it."
"You didn't deserve to be up there."
"Maybe not. But I was. And there were even some people who came up to me afterwards who were excited to talk more, which was hopeful. My talk a week and a half later went extremely well because of what I learnt that day. I was able to recognize what I needed to do to deliver a much better presentation that I can be proud of."
And so on...(it dragged on for hours, really)
There is something to be learnt from that inner Gollum, of course. That's another reason why stomping him down isn't useful. For me, Gollum has been what pushes me to do better work, to think deeper, to understand my motivations. However, letting Gollum take over can lead to serious self-loathing, depression, paralysis of creativity, defensiveness, shame and overall unhelpful places.
Connecting with my inner Gollum is bound to be a long term project. He's awfully angry and scared. He's mostly just afraid of not being needed anymore. I have to remind him that he's always needed. He's what keeps me grounded. My yang. (Or is that yin?)