Sometimes I wish I could undo certain experiences and relationships so that I could have my old self back, so that I could have the same innocence and openness towards people and situations. I find myself very obviously cutting out a pathway for myself that, in my subconscious opinion, prevents me from any assumed harm or pain or discomfort. I have always been deeply reflective and analytical of my own behavior and the patterns that emerge, so I often find that subconscious intentions are often brought to the conscious forefront of my mind. Sometimes I feel like I'm two different people - the person doing, and then the person thinking about the doing. I always find myself questioning my own actions as if there is something that my subconscious mind is desperately trying to keep hidden from me. There are ghosts from my past that still quietly haunt me and frighten me into this almost submissive, helpless behavior of playing it safe, of convincing myself that my fears are unquestionably right.
Perhaps the oldest of these ghosts is the fear of ugliness. This has a lot to do with compounded experiences and societal pressures bleeding into the way that people interact and communicate with each other. The construct of conventional beauty is so pervasive that anything outside of that is deemed to be not only ugly, but broken or worthless or evil. As if being different is such a terrible, malicious and destructive thing. This first came up for me in primary school when I was bullied and teased about everything from my weight, to my hair, to the size of my nose, to my voice, to my eczema, to the tiny birthmark on my left hand. And when I say bullying, my experiences were in no way as bad as what other people have gone through or are going through yet it still actively affects me today.
Thinking back on it now as an adult, I am able to separate myself from the comments that were made. I can identify them now as unimportant. But now, it's too late. I don't remember a lot about primary school and that has always been a worry of mine - the fact that from the age of about 8 or 9 I began to shut out a part of my life where I began to look at myself as ugly. At first glance, I look like I turned out fine. If you asked me, I would say that I turned out fine perhaps even better for it. However if I told you that and then went home to actually think about how it affected me, it would be a totally different answer. I mean, I am better for it in the sense that I gained a lot of patience, resilience and compassion from those encounters, but that also means that as a very young person I had to deal with a lot of pain, feelings of betrayal, self-doubt, low self-esteem, etc. I'm grateful for the ability that I have to help others now because of what I have experienced, but that doesn't mean I'm happy it happened. I certainly wouldn't wish it upon any young person to feel broken and humiliated and disgusting no matter how "okay" you are at the end of it all.
That ghost still haunts me on a level that can be so superficial that it infuriates me. I don't want to have to care about how people perceive my appearance. I don't want to be so caught up in how I look that it takes me almost two hours to get ready to leave my apartment (on a regular work day, no crazy glam or outfits required). The thing that really gets to me though is that it made the younger version of me so unspeakably unhappy. I remember feeling so small and insignificant, but then so huge and inconvenient to other people at the same time. That too big/too small feeling went on to influence my relationship with my body, with eating and with exercise in ways that were not healthy. I'm still dealing with a lot of residual behaviors as a result of the fear of ugliness, and I am so grateful to the people who have helped me through it even when they haven't realized it. Kindness can do so much. Understanding that we have been conditioned to perceive beauty and worthiness in a certain way and unlearning the toxic thinking that comes from that? That can do even more.
Next, is the fear of failure. This one has been at my side since high school. I would say it's just barely a ghost because it feels as though it is still to pervasive and active in my life and in my mind. I'm not entirely sure why or how this overwhelming sense of terror came to be when it comes to the idea of failing. The bottom line for 99% of motivational speakers on success is that we shouldn't fear failure, that we should embrace it and that it is more than necessary for us to fail before we reach success. I've had that rhetoric drummed into my head since primary school and through high school and university. Perhaps the fear of failure was something that was always there - working on the down low and minding its own business - when suddenly I started being told to embrace failure and my fear decided to rear its ugly head out of its own fear of being forgotten. Make sense? The more people kept telling me to let go of fear, the more the fear sunk its claws into me and tried its best to override this instruction.
Even working on this blog post, I can feel the inner self doubt working so heavily on me. It's telling me to give up on writing this because people will think that I'm stupid and that it won't be well-received, etc. In fact, I started writing this a week ago and stop as soon as I started writing the section about the fear of failure - as if by talking about it, I summoned it into action. I'm desperately working against it right now because the fear of failure has already taken enough away from me. I have found myself in so many situations where I was given an opportunity to learn or try something new, and I stepped away from it for fear of failing. I find myself reflecting on those situations, thinking about the worst thing that could have happened if I had taken any of those opportunities. Yes, the worst thing that could have happened was failing, but failing in itself is not the bad. It's easy to reflect on a situation and think that failing would not have been that bad to experience, but when I am in that situation and faced with the possibility of failure, I immediately recoil.
I've done my best to dissect this ghost and I've found that it comes down to a series of sub-fears that are associated with failure as I define it. There is the fear of humiliation which is also related to my fear of ugliness. I have an idea in my head of how people see me and how I want people to see me and for some reason maintaining that imaginary reputation is of utmost importance to me. So if a situation could lead to be being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people, I consider it to be failure. For example, if I am given the opportunity to go ice-skating with friends, I will say no due to my lack of ability when it comes to ice-skating. I would rather forego the opportunity to learn something new and spend time with friends because the idea of falling on the ice or being burdensome to my ice-skating-proficient friends is absolutely mortifying. Next is the fear of disappointment. Every time I've ever heard my Mom or Dad or a respected teacher or friend say that they're disappointed in me, I can't detail the pain, guilt and remorse that that brings me. Even thinking about the idea of disappointing the people I love and care about makes me emotional (tears have been streaming down my face since typing 'Dad'). There's nothing I want than to make people happy and to make them proud, so naturally any sadness and disappointment that I bring them is classed as failure. Then, there is the fear of mediocrity. This one is easy to explain because of how clear my behavior is when faced with any high stakes opportunity. I can't stand poor quality work especially from myself which has led me to develop some perfectionist tendencies (I know real perfectionists, and while we are similar I would not go as far as to consider myself one). I would rather not do something than (even potentially) produce mediocre work. I tend to lump these three sub-fears together because they almost always overlap and are ultimately make up my fear of failure.
Finally, the most recent of the three, my fear of intimacy. Let me start this one by talking a bit about love languages. Love languages are the way that we feel loved and give love. My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. Physical touch is perhaps my primary love language as I feel most loved when I am in a relationship or friendship where I am open to giving and receiving physical touch. Because of how important I consider physical touch and words of affirmation, emotional and physical intimacy are not given out freely or flippantly. Every interaction I have with people is very carefully calculated so as to not give to much or make myself too vulnerable. I am very easily won over by people who are charming and affectionate, and my sensitivity to touch and affirmation makes it very for me to get caught up in someone who may not feel as deeply as I do and that person ends up having a ridiculous amount of control over me regardless of whether they are aware of it or not.
I have had a few (but still too many) experiences where I have become completely obsessed with other people. The termination of those relationships tore me apart because of how invested I was in them just due to the way that I am wired to love people. As a result I have become a very close off and guarded person. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like a fear of intimacy as much as it does an angry and adamant refusal thereof. Although it is something I know I need in order to give love and feel love, I forego intimacy for the sake of maintaining my sanity. The extent to which this has grown in such a short period of time makes me fearful that I will never be able to be in a place where I feel safe enough to be at all intimate with another human being ever again. Of all the ghosts I have, this is the one that I feel most physically. Its not even pain at this point, it is an overwhelming numbness that has taken over me - the last person I loved so deeply and shared with so intimately being the face of this ghost. I see their face everywhere - telling me not to make the same mistake ever again, telling me that I've had enough love and intimacy for a lifetime, telling me that if I am emotionally or physically intimate ever again I might not survive this time. It is the ghost that feels the closest to death.
Recognizing my ghosts and heading down on a path of reconciliation with myself is the only way I feel I will ever be happy and emotionally healthy again. I have been in my own head for far too long, convincing myself that my ghosts are right and that I have no right to be happy, successful and fulfilled. I am done believing that I am destined to be empty and perpetually scared. I hope that in reading this you start to become aware of your own ghosts and start having more honest conversations with yourself about what can be done to overcome them. Thank you for being here, for being patient with me and for learning more about me.