Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm Not Undisciplined, I'm just Terrified

I'm sure this will come to a surprise to...absolutely no one, but when I was younger I was an complete perfectionist.  Perfectionism, I've found, takes many forms.  Some people become ultra-competitive, deciding they have to be THE BEST, at everything, in every situation.  And it can make them mean.  They like to play mind games, psych others out, make them afraid.
I was not one of them.  I hated competition. I quaked (and still quake) in my boots at the thought of confrontation.  I dreaded gym class, unless it was a group activity like an obstacle course. (Have I mentioned swinging on a rope and landing on a gigantic mat?  FUN!!!!) I constantly deferred my opinion to others who were much louder and more obnoxious than I was. And, yes, I was often a target for bullies, because they knew I wouldn't fight back. (My main weapon against them?  Kindness.  Not out of the goodness of my heart, but because I found it to be an effective deterrent.  They never saw it coming, and were surprised by it, lol!)
I COULD make this an entry about the bullying going on in our culture today. Not only in schools, which, I don't care what the experts say, IS a huge problem and NOT just "kids being kids," but by so-called adults; on the internet, in government and, especially, on TV.  People who call themselves G-d-fearing, but act in a way that is, to paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams, almost, but not quite, entirely unlike G-d. And, in the process, give a bad name to the people who really are trying to act in a way they believe to be real and genuine and G-dly.
But that's a different post. 
Today I want to write and think about perfectionism and what it does to a person. While it causes some to lash out against others, it causes the most damage to the perfectionist her/himself.  I think we all know that people who strike out at others do so out of fear, most of the time.  And insecurity. 
For those of us who didn't torment others, we turned ALL that fear, pain, doubt and hatred inward.  In my case, I gave myself stomachaches, and, ultimately, an ED.  I also lived in a state of constant fear, and would, eventually, lash out at people who tried to help.
I was also called a few names; undisciplined, a person who played it safe, a coward, too sensitive, not sensitive enough, selfish, it went on and on.
I wasn't any of these things, really.  I WAS terrified and angry, cynical and sad, lonely, depressed...
And no wonder!  Studies have shown that our thoughts shape our neural pathways.  When you are bombarded by negative thoughts, you start to follow that same pathway over and over again. You also create blocks, over which things like seratonin and other "feel-good" chemicals cannot pass.  The same with positive thoughts, although the good stuff can pass easily.  It's like digging a trail in a mountain; will that trail be a smooth, gentle ascent, or will it be rocky, steep, and full of brambles? 
Mine was the latter.  I truly believed that if I couldn't do something perfectly on the first try, it wasn't worth the effort. And yet...I stuck with certain things.  Like performing.  Rehearsals were hell, because every note I got from the director was a failure on my part, according to the Book of Alyssa. You can imagine what classes were like!  But I still kept with them, through 4 years of college, 3 years of grad school, and various studies here and there.
Because it was the devil I knew.  Classes were horrid and uncomfortable, but it was a horridness I was familiar with.  Going out into the world was a whole NEW kind of hell, so I put it off for as long as possible.
And then a funny thing happened; I was eventually pushed out into the world and it was...NOT horrible!  I was no longer the wee student who had to be taken by the hand and guided every step of the way.  I was a professional, expected to find my own way and treated like, well, an adult!
As a student, my every step was watched over and critiqued.  As a professional, no one gave a hoot how I got where I needed to be, as long as I got there.  This was, like, freedom!!!!! I was working with people who had been my teachers in the past, but were now my colleagues.  They were no longer judging and critiquing me, they didn't have time!  They had their own stuff to worry about!
I will admit it took me a while to realize this.  Of course, when you spend your entire life being self-conscious, self-judgmental and, yes, constantly judged by others, it is difficult to wrap your head around the fact that the entire universe is NOT watching you and finding you lacking.
(This is what we need to realize about celebrities; they act so weird because they are SOOOOOOO insecure! Even, especially,  the uber-successful ones. Because, in their heart of hearts, they don't believe they deserve their success.  And they believe people love them only for certain things, like how they look.  It is NOT a healthy way to live!)
I also started to learn a VERY IMPORTANT LESSON;  just because someone says (or writes) something, DOESN'T MEAN IT IS TRUE!!!!!!!!!
I first learned this with my first college acting teacher (the one who hated me on sight).  She was wrong when she said I had no talent, no potential, and would have no career.  She could not have been MORE wrong!
But I also realized this more and more as I got closer to 40.  For example, just because someone believes I'm mothering the "wrong" way doesn't mean I am.  Or if someone thinks I'm too sensitive, well, tough shit.  Their problem, not mine.  They don't have to talk to me.  I'm  too fat?  Don't look at me! (On another blog, a woman wrote "If the sight of my fat offends you, I will happily assist you in gouging your eyes out with a fork." I love that woman!)
(Going back to Hollywood for a moment; one of the BIG power plays there is to tell an actress she's too fat.  Pretty much THE WORST thing you can say to her.  And, because these power players are insecure themselves, they like to be bullies and treat others in ways that would get them sued in any other industry. Because they have the "power" to give and take jobs away, most people just take the abuse.  But, in reality, if you stand up to them, they not only back down, they'll fall all over themselves to make you happy.  It is a sick, twisted industry, in so many ways!)
OK, so this entry has been kind of all over the place, but that's OK.  My main point is that, once again, I see how much fear has ruled my life.  It makes me sad, for all the things lost, but it also gives me hope, because I don't have to live like that anymore.  And, G-d willing, I'll have plenty of years to live, if not ENTIRELY free of fear, at least knowing what it worthy of fear and what simply is not.
Yup. Freedom.

No comments: