What's stopping you?
Some of my current arc words are “don't make yourself smaller”.
I spent a lot of time doing this. I don't want to say it was always a mistake. Sometimes it's necessary for survival. But in aggregate, it was very much a mistake.
There are various things that I can point to from when I started turning things around, but one of them was realising that I wasn’t fooling anyone with my masking, and everyone realised that I was much weirder than I was trying to present at being, and the people who actually stuck around didn’t care or liked it, so what was the point in trying to pass as normal?1
It felt like having room to move for the first time in years.
I think a lot of problems are like this - trying to fit yourself into a box that isn’t really there any more and hasn’t been for some time. Keeping yourself small and cramped because of what might happen if you permitted yourself to be large.
I keep running into things like this.
I used to be better at pursuing my own interests. I’d go off on weird tangents, pursuing them as far as I found interesting, and eventually would find the bit that I thought was most important that nobody else cared about. The problem was that then I was super interested in something that nobody else cared about, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it who could do more than smile and nod tolerantly while I enthused, and this made me sad and lonely and I dropped the interest.
One of my more annoying problems that I struggle to crack is that I’m very bad at thinking about the future.2 I noticed recently that part of this is that when I do allow myself to think about the future I tend to get carried away, overfocus on one particular possibility, and then am inevitably crushingly disappointed when that doesn’t happen. So at some point I implicitly decided that I wasn’t allowed to do that, because it only lead to pain.
This is of course where the boxes come from - punishment, by other people, by yourself, by coming face to face with the oft-inflexible nature of reality. You learn that a behaviour will get you hurt, so you cringe away from it.
A lot of these punishments really do exist. Getting carried away with fantasies about the future is a real thing I actually do. Not having people to talk to about your niche interests is a real thing that actually happens - it’s sortof the definition of an interest being niche - and people absolutely will punish you for being weird. These are not fake or imagined problems.
But they do present you with a choice: Do you want to have this problem, or do you want to become less of a person?
I spent quite a lot of time choosing the second one and then being confused why I seemed to be getting progressively more tired and miserable each year. Can’t recommend.
The thing about most of these punishments is that you don’t just have to flinch away from them. You can just get good at the thing or, worst case, endure them. Pain may not be the unit of effort, but treating the avoidance of pain as paramount is a fast path to failure. If every time you are punished you learn to avoid doing the thing that lead to punishment, you can’t stay with the activity long enough to get good at it.
If you can’t do this, you have no direction to get but smaller, as you keep learning new things that can hurt and starting to avoid them.
The good thing about this pattern is that once you start noticing it you can reverse it. All you have to is find something you used to do and now don’t and ask yourself what’s stopping you from doing it, then do it anyway and face what comes up.
This requires courage, but what doesn’t?
I want to blame this one on school, but honestly I don’t think I can. Trying to pass as less weird and more socially acceptable seems to have been a habit I learned in my late 20s and early 30s, although I imagine the foundation of social anxiety laid in school didn’t help.
I’m inconveniently also bad at thinking about the past, but I think that’s a separate issue. Yes I know “living in the moment” is what you’re supposed to do, but it’s not the good version I’m afraid.