The Arbitrary Self
Depressive behavior such as bad sleep hygiene, inactivity, social avoidance, over-thinking, etc. Evokes in us a loser personality: The feeling of being a loser. The deeper that feeling, and the more we buy into it, the more we come to see it as a fact. Since only a fool argues with facts, we limit our hopes, minimize risks, and adapt to the dispiriting expectations. Down we go.
Better self-care like exercising, meditating, cleaning up, etc, begins to evoke a can-do sort of personality, who feels at least more like a winner. Again, the more we believe that winner feeling the more factual it seems. This person starts more conversations and makes more ambitious plans for themselves.
Of course, we have core phenotypic personalities from birth but they morph into variations on your theme based on what we “feed” them. Obviously, our actions are catalysts for good or bad outcomes, but the power steering the life that follows is our identification with upbeat or hopeless feelings. The resulting sense of self from either path becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy of a life lived according to the optimism or pessimism flavoring each moment.
So self-talk shapes the future, but self-talk also shapes our beliefs about taking better actions to feel better. There is already a sense of reality, of fact, firmly in place and talking to us about whether there’s any point in trying.
Think of your disappointments. Perhaps you can’t get into shape, can’t find the right person or the right job. If you are already rejecting what I seem to be suggesting, I’d like you to notice the mechanical negative voice in you directing the course of your future life. This voice demonstrably has an executive role in your decisions…which suggests it is the project manager for you getting into shape, finding love, and finding a job. To get anywhere with this you need to understand your relationship to that voice. Who is it? Who put it in charge? Why does it remain in charge despite poor results?
First of all, it isn’t really you, and it isn’t alive…its a mechanism. Next, it doesn’t automatically have your best interests at heart, it’s like the cumulative rejections, real and imagined, absorbed by you as a child. These have compressed into this thing carried inside you like a piece of shrapnel. It isn’t even you, save that you have internalized it. It is the voices of those who made you feel hopeless, alone, and unwanted on loop. Eventually, it sounds so familiar you think it’s your own voice. When something silences the voice you feel strange and exposed, naked in the open. You may feel ashamed and foolish to think positive thoughts about yourself and your future. We don’t recognize ourselves without it yet it is literally the voice of our enemies, crystalized in us as grief and shame. Grief and shame become filters for our hopes.
Some of us are born more vulnerable to criticism and judgment, and some nearly immune. But who we seem to be today is the rather arbitrary result of the coping mechanisms, self-talk, and self-care that took shape in us in the overheated darkness of very early childhood. None of it was inevitable or fated. To deal with the world, we tried things, some worked and we clung to those and built upon their theme. Our style of communication and problem solving, listening, etc. is the result of hundreds of battle strategies formed in struggles with parents, siblings, strangers and ourselves.
We are most oppressed and limited by certain ideas we have complete faith in. That faith may be so strong that we don’t even know it is there because we trust it as we trust our next breath of air. It’s this arbitrariness about who we think we are that must be deconstructed if we want more freedom and choice. Your problems with weight and love and work are created and managed by the same perspective you send in to solve them. That mind doesn’t understand how it creates these problems or why it fails to solve them. Most of the changes we long to see in ourselves depend upon steps that our executive decider automatically rejects out of hand. Our first problem isn’t our weight, love, or work. It is the self we wholeheartedly believe we are.
Two Simple, Useful Techniques
- Meditation of any flavor loosens the ropes and offers many other benefits. But doing positive self-talk meditation makes two things happen, A. You actually start to feel more positive, and B. The negative voices are still there like Goth Mynah birds but by changing the general tone of self-talk for the better you will actually hear the negative voices as distinct, and not really your voice. Then you can look at their simple mechanism and bit by bit shut it down and replace it. This is a conscious process over the long run with gradual improvements. If you feel a lot of resistance at the start of positive self-talk it’s certain that you should try this.
- Go online and take an Enneagram test. These aren’t like Myers-Briggs or Astrology. The enneagram is basically a portrait of arbitrary self, what Gurdjieff called “false personality”. Don’t get hooked on whether the traits are good or not, as people work on themselves they gradually become less clearly any one of the types because their goofy coping strategies aren’t leading them around behaving mechanically.