Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Case of the Nightmare Person

Today I bring you, with all due fanfare, another casualty of the therapy culture. I am not saying that the woman who is writing to our least favorite advice columnist Ask Polly is undergoing therapy. I am remarking that she is a true believer, someone who has absorbed therapy culture values, to the point where she moons over each and every Ask Polly column.

Her adoring adulation of Polly has turned her into what she calls a nightmare. Others would call her a train wreck. It is difficult to judge because she offers very little information about her real life.  Apparently, he was brought up by a single mother who worked a graveyard shift at the post office. She was married and divorced her husband. She left him, but that is all that she is willing to share. She is in her thirties. We do not know what she does for a living. We do not know about her relations with her mother, assuming that she has no other family. We do not know where she lives or who comprises her circle of friends.

But, she has adopted Polly’s usual nostrum: she feels he feelings. She is so thoroughly involved with her feelings that she does not know how to interact with other people. She wants to be more vulnerable because thinks that this will cause other people to flock to her, to love her. She does not realize that this might make them feel sorry for her... and thus to avoid. She has no sense whatever of what constitutes normal social interactions, so we imagine that she does not have any normal social interactions. She is wrapped up in herself, full of herself, wallowing in her feelings and imagining, because Polly told her, that she needs merely to be more vulnerable.

It’s a pathetic story, but sadly it offers a good picture of what happens to people who take the culture’s psychobabble seriously.

Here is the letter:

There’s this part of me that is pretty convinced I’m a nightmare person. Actually, I mostly like myself — a lot more now than I used to. But I’m terrified of vulnerability. I have this friend who is really good at just expressing her desires, and she’s so open with people and authentic and cool. I wish I could be more open like that. For example, I often try to give people the impression that I don’t need them, because admitting I do feels extremely uncomfortable.

I also left my husband when I was 28, and it was incredibly sad. I have some shame about that. We’re still friends, and I think we both feel incredibly lucky to still have each other as we navigate this bizarre new single life in our 30s. He’s a good guy. It’s a long story.

I have been asking the universe lately to just open my heart wider and wider, and some days it does feel like that’s happening. But I’m always comparing myself to others — seeking to be as cool as them, or part of a special community in some way (that’s a remnant from an isolated upbringing with a single mom who worked the graveyard shift at the post office).

I want to be okay taking up space and asking for help, while also being grounded in myself. What if I’m the type of person who doesn’t appreciate others and always wants more? That’s terrifying.

Also, I tell white lies often. They’re usually not premeditated and I tell them in circumstances when I want the other person to think that I am very interesting, happy, and sociable, with lots of friends, and that I don’t need anything from them personally. 

Sometimes I genuinely feel like I’m all these things and other times I feel like I’m isolating myself out of fear of being rejected if I’m just me, or fear of making other people uncomfortable with my needs. I think I’m okay at feeling my feelings, but I still feel like I’m doing something totally wrong.

I’m sorry this was so long. I think I’m hoping you can help me understand how to be more vulnerable, and also whether I should be harder or easier on myself? I don’t know.

I love your writing and I often print out the letters and your responses and read them at night. Thanks for everything you do.

Why Is Vulnerability So Goddamn Hard?

The last thing she needs is more vulnerability. Polly is going to tell her to try to figure out why she feels ashamed. Polly will also tell her that she is suffering because she cannot feel love. It's pretty much what Polly tells all those who write to her. 

We find it curious that this woman is asking the universe to open her heart wider. She would do better to attend religious services and to ask God.

Since the letter writer, by Polly's lights, cannot feel love, she cannot feel the love that anyone is offering to her. This is mental drool. Polly closes this thought with an explanation for why the woman left her husband. If you read the letter you will see that no reason is given.

You’ve been tricked into taking your own shame too seriously. So every time you ask for something, you’re immediately sure that you’re an asshole who’s overstepping her rights. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that you have, in fact, acted exactly like an asshole who’s overstepping her rights in the past. Why? Because you couldn’t feel love. You didn’t love yourself, so it was impossible to value the love you had or the people who gave it to you. You left your husband because you didn’t value yourself or him. You couldn’t feel any of it.

Yes, but the letter writer says that she feels her feelings, and that she is doing just what Polly recommends to all the letter writers who are dumb enough to ask her for advice.

Obviously, this woman should stop reading Polly’s columns and should stop thinking that vulnerability will make her more loving. As for Polly’s advice, here’s a bit more of it:

When you grow up isolated from others, it’s very hard not to spend your life craving connection to the point where it makes you anxious and depressed. But you also seem to believe (as I did) that this need for connection makes you unattractive and unlovable. So you try to hide your needs and hide your genuine self. Hiding makes it much harder to connect with other people. You also have trouble trusting people who aren’t hiding at all. You can admire them and sometimes even lean on them — like with your friend and your ex-husband — but you still crave a love that’s “better” than the love they have to offer. You crave love from people who don’t want to give you love at all. Somehow, people who don’t care enough about you are the ultimate prize. They are the least full of shit people, in your estimation, because they’re “strong” enough to hide their emotions. (You can consciously admire people who are open and still subconsciously privilege those who aren’t.) You imagine that if you ever win love from a “strong” withholding person like this (by lying and hiding your weaknesses, of course), it will at least feel real. It will feel like love from an isolated, overworked mother who only loves you conditionally — when you’re good, when you’re quiet, when you don’t ask too much. It will feel like love from someone with high standards — someone who sees through the full-of-shit natives and their cheerful, loving exteriors. Someone who sees through you (a nightmare person).

Obviously, the solution is not that she cannot express her feelings. The solution lies in the fact that she seems not to know how to function in society, how to conduct relationships, how to follow social codes. One suspects that she has landed in a game that she does not understand. She does not know how it is played. She does not know her role. She does not know the rules. So, she retreats into her shell and thinks that if she can speak a universal language, the language of feeling, that all will be well.

In truth, she should learn how to socialize. She should take up a hobby, like going on hikes in the woods. She should learn better manners. She should practice propriety and engage in more formal gestures of caring. If she wants other people to like her, she should show that she likes them, by making simple and gracious gestures. 

As the old Biblical saying goes, she should do unto others as she would have others do unto her. Admittedly the saying can be interpreted in many ways, but, for today, it means that when you are scared to interact with other people you should show your good feelings by doing a kind deed, not by whining in your soup about why you are not lovable.


trigger warning said...

So sad. I hope "the universe" responds to her.

Webutante said...

It just did respond, TW, right here at Stuart's site. Too bad she may never see it.

Sam L. said...

She's NOT "grounded"; she's short-circuited.

Anonymous said...

Ubu will overcome social anxiety by wielding his Viking axe and delivering Krava magoo kicks to the enemy's groin.

Anonymous said...

It depends on what It Is.

UbuMaccabee said...

She needs time at the gym, it might counteract that logorrhea that has turned her brain to mush, but all she would do is spend a bunch of money she doesn’t have on yoga gear and sit around worrying that other women are more fit than she is (they are). She’ll take a selfie on the treadmill, not get enough likes, and quit in despair.

I’m not big on the groin; I do not consider it effective, and I think Imi was wrong about that. I’m more of a trachea, eyes, and ankles guy. And I’m not kicking until they are on the ground with a broken ankle, and I’m not after the testicles, I’m after the liver, the kidneys, and the ribs.

Only Vikings should own a Viking axe, and yes, it’s application does resolve social anxiety. Not for American Jews though, they’d only cut their fingers off; Sephardic Israelis have a nice variant of the Viking axe, and they benefit from it equally well. The problem with axes is they get ‘stuck’ unless you get clean through, and it takes a lot of power to get through (hence the need for the gym). BTW, we sold this women to the Berbers ages ago. Not sure how she escaped. We’ll round her up again soon and sell her to the Chinese.

Ubu the Barbarian

Sam L. said...

Ubu, I have taken the advice of W.C.Fields, in his movie "Mississippi", to heart. He was a riverboat captain in that movie, and was hosting a number of women in the wheelhouse, and told them this: "I was boarded by a horde of savages, so pulled out my Bowie knife and cut my way thru a wall of human flesh." Some of the women fainted.
"Was it something I said?" he asked. Long knives are good... Handy, too.