One of the books I’m reading right now — The Undervalued Self by Dr. Elaine Aron — is so good for me, I hate it. I’ve just read the chapter on the 6 self-protection mechanisms we use to protect our undervalued self and I was forced to reflect on how before even picking up the book I had told myself ‘there probably won’t be anything super-useful to me in this book — I’ve got pretty solid self-esteem at this point.’ How ironic.
One the first exercises is to create a list of the people who make you feel good and the people who make you feel bad — well, perhaps ‘make’ is the wrong word, but people around whom you feel good and people around whom you feel bad. The basic premise is that the good feelings are due to ‘linking’ (e.g. bonding, loving, supporting, caring, etc.) and the bad ones, to ‘ranking’ (i.e. feeling judged or a sense of competition, etc.) Then, you’re supposed to think about which relationships actually involve some of both linking and ranking, and which might use ranking in order to link (e.g. a mentor-mentee relationship) or linking in order to rank (e.g. making friends with someone higher up at your company in order to hopefully boost your own real or perceived rank).
Anyway, that was a useful exercise, although it did remind me of several relationships that ended badly and of several more that have more ranking than linking going on … I do recommend the analysis for clarity, though! I have a better of idea of which relationships to cherish more, which to scale back on / eliminate, and which to try to shift from less ranking to more linking. Wish me success.
Now, as for the self-protection mechanisms, get ready for it. Ouch! The list is:
- minimizing: making light of or denying your role in a negative situation or what can be expected of you in a positive one.
- blaming: accusing others of being unfair in order to explain a failure, when in fact there is no unfairness.
- projecting: denying your own flaws (or virtues!) while imagining them in others.
- non-competing: denying any interest in or perhaps even awareness of ranking and striving to link at all costs.
- overachieving: working endlessly to reach a high rank yet never feeling good enough.
- inflating: feeling you are the best or should be seen that way and doing almost anything to keep yourself in the spotlight.
The books includes a great self-assessment with all sorts of cheery statements such as “I believe that everyone is looking out only for herself or himself,” “Most of my life, I’ve been second best,” and “I’m willing to break the rules if it probably won’t hurt anyone else very much.” I think that the idea is that — if we’re being honest — we’d answer true to each and every statement, at least as pertains to some specific time in our lives, if not currently.
I decided to break my life up into ‘childhood’ (0-20), my 20’s (bleakest time in my life & also time of the most shifts & changes), and here & now. Of course, I had a separate column for my ‘false’ answers.
As it turns out, my prime self-protection mechanism as a child was over-achievement (not surprising); in my 20’s, it was blaming (a humbling reminder); now, it seems to be minimizing (depressing); and my ‘not true of me!’ column was populated mostly by the non-competing self-protection mechanism, which probably means that that is my biggest, baddest self-protection mechanism of all — hence why I’ve been blind to it (Gulp).
The way I see it, it’s all about what we do with shame. As a kid (as most kids do), I accepted shame onto myself — if I ‘failed’ at something, it was me — not something I did or didn’t do (e.g. ‘I didn’t work hard enough’), but a flaw in myself. In my 20’s, I appropriately learned to not accept shame onto myself, but instead heaped it on the heads of others — everyone else was wrong, to blame, and thoroughly against me. In the last couple of years that I’ve largely moved away from blaming, I’m now instead denying how much I do actually care about various defeats and failures or even pretending to be superior to all forms of ranking (i.e. doing well at something compared to someone else), which often consists of shrugging shoulders and shifting blame to some form of ‘fate’.
One of the problems with shame is that in the process of trying to rid oneself of it, it’s easy to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater and relinquish all sense of personal responsibility, too.
So, now, this entire morning, I’ve been reviewing the whole of my 31 years of life and wondering did that friend (or that one or that one) really mistreat me or was I wrong to cut her off? was my higher education experience truly pointless or did I make it that way because of how I approached it? I’ve been thinking of all the lofty projects I’ve started, but not seen through; of my tendency to artificially shorten experiences so I can get out before I nosedive them; of how little I really invest myself in anything because I’m terrified of failing (again).
But I have really solid self-esteem, so this book isn’t going to have much to offer me …