The cat, on the other hand, charms you into playing for its benefit when it wishes to be amused; making you rush about the room with a paper on a string when it feels like exercise, but refusing all your attempts to make it play when it is not in the humour. That is personality and individuality and self-respect — the calm mastery of a being whose life is its own and not yours — and the superior person recognises and appreciates this because he too is a free soul whose position is assured, and whose only law is his own heritage and aesthetic sense.
— H.P Lovecraft
Self-respect. Confidence. With the way people carry on about these two things, you’d think they were the Holy Grails of life, a sword in one hand to fend off monsters and a cup in the other to sip liquid courage from.
Well, I spit on that.
As someone who is creative, I am individualistic. You kind of have to be if you’re a writer who dabbles in surreal and weird fiction. I am not afraid of doing things my own way or taking my own path in life. Nobody under the sun, unless they had a knife pressed against my throat, would be able to coerce me into doing anything that went against my values or who I was.
Yet, despite all this, despite my own self-assurance in regards to my writing career, the books I will publish and the art I will send out into the world, I am not a confident person. Often, the way I act around other people—timid, self-effacing, easily embarrassed, and excruciatingly sensitive—is construed as a manifestation of a lack of self-respect. Because of this, many times in the past, I have been the object of mockery and scorn, which was as painful as a poker pressed to my flesh, and sent me fleeing for the hills.
And maybe I do lack self-respect. Perhaps it’s because my father never loved me or encouraged me as other fathers did, leaving me feeling, in my heart, perpetually abandoned and lacking love. It’s a hole that will never heal. I never was financially secure, not even when my father still lived with me. From a young age I moved from place to place—once, we were even evicted from an apartment, because we could not pay the rent. When the man who was meant to look after you, someone you loved, abandons you without a backward glance, it’s hard not to feel unlovable and develop low self-esteem. When your entire world, since birth, has been based on insecurity, it’s hard not to feel constantly uncertain, hesitant and frightened.
I didn’t grow up with any sign from anyone except myself that I was worthy of anything, of achieving anything, being anyone. I had an aunt hiss to my face as a child that I did not have a way with words as I believed and to stop trying to sound smart all the time. In retrospect a horribly toxic woman to be around, she was jealous of my “looks”, too, under the ridiculous belief that somehow her timid niece would be able to lure away her own husband, who was at least twenty years my senior. Each time her husband spoke to me, gave me gifts, as he gave to all his nieces and nephews, she would get a pinched look on her face as if I were personally offending her, and her disapproval, being sensitive, sunk into my skin like acid. Years ago, she once sweetly told me I was beautiful in front of my mother, then looked at me as though she would have liked to rip the skin off my face and use it to make a mask for herself.
At school, the students avoided me, because I was too quiet, too awkward. I couldn’t help it; it was just the way I was. I’m odd, and I don’t fit in. Old news. What made it worse was the way they hated me for getting the grades I did. If I was sociable, perhaps they would have forgiven me for getting the better of them. Even a teacher once, after I did well on an English exam, downplayed my achievement, and then asked me, very bluntly, what country my parents came from, as though he were surprised that a student from an Asian background–who was, mind you, born in an English-speaking country– could be even capable of doing so well in a subject traditionally considered the domain of white students. No-one sees how little your outsides match your insides. It’s a judgmental stew out there, sick and green and moldy, with lumpy bits of turnip and carrot in it.
Then there’s the fact that I was born with, as I like to call it, a “caterpillar in my head.” Now, my writing skills are ordinary, and still need a lot of work, but what truly keeps me going and believing in myself is my creativity. A little critter in my brain that whispers mad thoughts in my ear, thoughts other people don’t usually receive. I see the world at a slant, and that’s how I can be creative. In the past, at school, when I displayed this creativity, I would have other students treat me awfully for being a show-off. Rather than write them off as people not worth my time, I instead only doubled my efforts in obtaining their approval, not realising that they were the kind of people to truly see and understand me in the first place. I even convinced myself I was in love with a boy, and that he loved me, buoyed by my imagination, just to assuage the loneliness and emptiness within me.
As a result of all my life experiences, I exist in a perpetual state of insecurity, ravenous for approval from whoever I meet, even if it’s someone just walking down the street, minding their own business. This, as I have been told, repels people. Now that I think about it, it’s definitely a contributing factor to my social anxiety, as the condition is based on the fact that you are fearful of how people perceive and judge you—as I certainly am, considering I have not once, in all my eighteen years, been seen and accepted by a single person. Not even my own mother understands me, or truly loves or cares for me, and my siblings don’t understand me, which in turn makes them distance themselves from me. I have spent nights crying from loneliness.
I don’t know what it is about me that makes me so unlovable and unappreciated. I think it’s the role I’m simply designated in life, to be the intelligent but quirky outcast, who creates Art, and lots of it, but is deeply lonely, and loved by none. All I wanted, even from my aunt, was love. Each time I reached out for it, though, for a hug, a kiss, a smile, an eye to look at me and say, through its gaze “I see you”, all I received was a collosal slap to the face. And when you are beaten down one time too many, unconsciously, you begin to beat down yourself.
It’s so incredibly hard to be extremely introverted and sensitive in this world. In order to survive, I have even secluded myself from society entirely. It is the only way I can keep my sanity. To be born excruciatingly sensitive to anything and everything is both a curse and a blessing; a blessing because it is, I believe, the root of my creativity, and a curse, because it nearly almost destines you for a life of loneliness, as a misunderstood outcast.
The funny thing is, often it’s the people who are brutish and insensitive, who don’t possess the least bit imagination, who are the most cocky and confident. It’s strange, is it not, that those who bully and hurt others tend to love themselves a great deal? And I have, during my schooling years, been on the receiving end of many of their emotional batterings. Though I don’t have any friends at the moment, except for online ones, and that is unlikely to change, once, I did try to make friends. But I never fit in with them. It felt so uncomfortable to spend any time around them, but I forced myself to do it, because it was the socially accepted thing to do then and I was unaware of my true nature at the time. For me, to talk to people who don’t understand you make you feel as though all the air was being sucked out of your world. You suffocate. Those same friends took every opportunity to badger and bully me, sometimes even into doing things I didn’t want to, like letting them into my home, once, when my mother specifically told me I was not to have visitors, invading my private bedroom and flipping through my books. I couldn’t refuse them, though, because I wanted them to like me.
I see all these people, both online and in real life, who seem able to do all the ordinary, usual things considered the measure of a competent human in society, hold down a job, buy a house, find someone to marry. Yet to me, some of them– not all–are very banal people, who prattle on about the most dull things, are well-off, given positions of status in society, politicians, bankers, businessmen. It’s all so very dull, that I can barely explain it. It’s not their lives that are dull, but who they are. They have no sense of delight or wonder, no imagination; and it makes me feel as though I’m not even human, half the time, compared to them, like I’m some extraterrestrial creature masquerading as Homo Sapien who can tune into different frequencies vibrating from another realm. It’s almost as if it’s necessary to feel estranged from humanity in order to be an artist. I feel so odd, all the time, to the point where it’s excruciating. I can stare at a rusted pipe for many minutes, entranced, because I love pipes, and I love rust—in fact, I stare at everything intently, utterly fascinated, given the chance, insects, my own veins—yet were I to do that in front of someone they would find me unspeakably weird. I just feel so odd.
Then there’s the recommendation self-help books and certain people give you, which is to fake confidence, fake self-assurance, just like everyone else in the “real world” does. Well, to that, I say to hell with the real world, it’s full of rubbish much of the time. Listen: I can’t fake it. I can’t fake confidence and self-love. It feels like a lie, and lack of authenticity, the mask people seem so accustomed to putting on, burns against my skin when I try to wear it. To preserve my sanity I have to act the way I think and feel; the act of stifling one’s true self, for me, perhaps because my job is all about self-expression, is an impossibility. I choke, I suffocate. It’s a small kind of death, and I’m sick of dying each minute, each second, as I did back when I attended school and tried to mingle amongst people, in the sunlight and the noise.
So, yes, forgive me if, considering the person I am, and the upbringing I had, I lack confidence or self-respect. I’m so sick and tired of this constant standard people want you to achieve before they can respect you, or consider you a “proper” person, and when I stumbled across this quote from H.P Lovecraft, whose work I greatly admire, it was just the last straw. It’s almost as if timid, unsure and fearful people are not actual people, but rats, or mice, to be scorned and whisked away with brooms. Yes, I am a people-pleaser, and I seek approval the way some drug addicts do their next high. Yes, I lack self-respect, because I often care an excessive deal about what others think of me, in order to fill the vacuity within me from a lifetime of neglect and mistreatment. Yes, I’m not a confident person.
I think even if were to become an established writer, renowned and beloved, some part of me would always believe that I was ugly, disgusting and flawed. It’s just a part of who I am. It’s a sentiment commonly expressed by those with Asperger’s, particularly women, but disregarding the mental health label, this is the truth: I am not confident. I am critical of myself to the point of self-flagellation sometimes. I honestly do believe that I have no true personality, and that I am not deserving of love. There’s not a part of my being which has not been placed under the microscope to probed and dissected in excruciating detail, not a part of me untainted by self-hate. My lack of self-respect, my self-hate, my low confidence, is part of who I am, and I will no longer buy into the notion that one has to be confident, and to love oneself, to get ahead in life. I will be able to write whether I love or hate myself; it doesn’t change a thing.
I am sick and tired of this standard the sensitive and meek feel forced to meet, one that, I am sure, many INFPs other than myself has often encountered and had to face, perhaps to lesser degrees, perhaps more. Just because someone salivates for approval and dislikes herself a great deal doesn’t make her any lesser of a person than someone who loves himself. In my experience, it is often the people who are most uncertain and insecure who see things and get at the truth. In this life, you are, at least physically and psychologically, alone. Only you know what you are capable of, your talents and gifts, and other people will try to bring you down regardless of who you are or what you do. Yes, I am insecure, shy, strange, nocturnal, someone who doesn’t fit in, and who has suffered a great deal of pain and loneliness because she doesn’t fit in. Over the course of my life the tears I’ve shed over my own inability to find another human soul to relate to could fill a small pond.
It’s lonely on this side of things, and the only compensation I have is my creativity, my art, the delight I get from pushing my fingers deep into the sludge of fantasy, the strange and the surreal—and you know what? To me, it’s worth it. And one day, all those people who crossed me, who tried to bring me down, who were envious, who hurt me, until my soul cried out in agony, because they hated my silence, my creativity, hated the way I saw into them, will see it, too. We’re all alone, I’m all alone, but I’m an artist, a writer, and I will always have my work to lean back on, my characters to depend upon, to bring me immense joy, even should my life crumble and fall apart, and that’s more than those people can and will ever have. And perhaps one day, when the truth of my soul is bared through my words, I will be able to find people who can properly appreciate the person I am, as I have done so through this personal blog–self-hate and all.