Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

The Prior and Present Self

My LJ tends to be relatively surface-oriented -- I'm a bit private, and not entirely comfortable with public introspection. But there are times that one must talk "out loud"; silent musings just don't have the same psychological effect. So the following is some unrepentant navel-gazing; consider yourself warned. It's long, and quite probably incredibly dull, but I need to muse a bit.

No one reading this journal knew me in high school, which is probably for the best. I didn't have a great time -- no surprise, many of us didn't. What's less obvious, I believe, is just how different my outward personality was at the time.

It always surprises me how bemused people are when I say that I'm shy. That's because they didn't know me when I was fifteen. At the time, I was much more my mother's son: the true introvert nerd. I wasn't even the loudmouth geek who people disliked -- rather, I was the quiet SF reader who no one noticed in the slightest. I had a modest number of friends, but none were close; I had essentially no social life outside of school. The defining moment of my high school career was at the very end, with the senior beach party: I found out about this after the fact, simply because it didn't occur to anyone to invite me.

By my junior year, it was already clear that this situation couldn't continue: I'd simply go insane. But there was no real way to change things at the time. Expectations are a powerful force, and once people have known you for several years it's rather difficult to change their image of you, especially when you are none too confident of what you're trying to change it to. So college marked a clean break for me -- not just a break with the people who I'd been interacting with, but a substantial break with myself.

As I understand it, the INTJ personality type has one distinct characteristic: a tendency to more or less coolly examine and evaluate everything, all the time, oneself included. By the time I started college, I'd been examining myself for years, and concluded that I didn't much like myself. More precisely, I didn't respect myself much. I had some abilities, but was too shy to express any ambitions for them. And my complete lack of friends had left me fairly miserable: the combination of my mother's introversion with my father's need for socialization was proving to be downright unhealthy.

So I decided to try to be someone else. I swallowed my rather intense fears, and simply forced myself to be outgoing. That worked decently well, especially once I found the SCA. I forced myself to actually do things, ranging from autocratting to teaching dance; bit by bit, I convinced myself, intellectually at least, that I really could accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

Over time, I rather consciously built myself into the person I had decided I wanted to be. Some of you may have noticed that I actively prefer the name "Justin" to "Mark". That's not entirely accidental -- the two names have very different connotations for me. Mark is still a lot shyer than Justin is. That's not quite as schizophrenic as it sounds: they just reflect different aspects of me, which come to the fore in different moods.

The odd thing, though, is that somewhere over the past five years, they seem to have begun merging. The gregariousness isn't as much of an act as it once was, and the idea of taking on projects doesn't scare me much any more. Indeed, most of the things that used to terrify me don't any more. And that's the rub.

The funny thing about turning yourself into something is that you then have to live with the results, and the Law of Unintended Consequences holds as true for this as for anything. I've been finding that, while Justin is overall a more interesting person than Mark, he has his own unfortunate traits, which I'm finding myself having to wrestle with. All of them are inter-related, but they've all become much more noticeable to me over the past year.

First, I've become a lot more arrogant. That's not entirely negative -- it's just the downside of self-confidence -- but it seems to have gone overboard. I'm altogether too sure of myself these days, and have sometimes run rather roughshod over the ideas of others. That's not very evident in my SCA dealings, but it's been happening a lot at work lately. I suspect it's masking some amount of inner insecurity: there's a need to be right that I don't much like.

Second, I've become lazy and unfocused. I've been noticing that for several years now: after keeping so many balls in the air for so many years, I've begun to drop them far too frequently of late. That's part of why I've been backing off from taking on new responsibilities: I need to start proving to myself once more that I can get things done. It's still definitely a problem, but of the lot, this is probably the most tractable.

Third -- and this is the one that really prompted this bout of introspection -- I've become a lot angrier than I used to be. Again, this is less evident at play than at work: I've become rather verbally harsh to a couple of specific people whose skills I've lost respect for. On the one hand, the disrespect has been somewhat deserved; still, I've been finding myself with a genuine hair-trigger temper under some circumstances.

This really bothers me profoundly. While I've sought a measure of strength, I've always prided myself on being a basically gentle person under the hood. Indeed, the main reason I was such a complete failure at SCA armored combat was a deep-seated fear of hurting somebody, which always caused me to pull my punches. Somehow, that gentility has gotten itself buried under a layer of ambient anger that's masking it, and possibly eroding it. I have a nasty feeling that the ongoing political tensions I've been through in the past ten years (both in the real world and in my clubs) have a lot to do with this: I don't recall often getting these kinds of temper swings before dealing with The SCA Membership Crisis, my unpleasant year as Master of my Masonic Lodge, and perhaps most crucially, the Hell Year of chairing Intercon 15. Too many years of swallowing too much bile may have given me a psychic ulcer. (Ooh, now there's an entirely unpleasant metaphor.)

What set off this round of introspection is my dreams; in particular, this one. On the surface, it's fairly ordinary, but the outburst of anger at the end left me deeply shaken for hours. I've never lifted a hand in anger in my life, and I pride myself on that; seeing that principle violated, even in a dream, is blackly disturbing. And I can't even claim that it's a complete aberration: about once a month lately I've found myself waking out of a dream in which I had entirely lost my temper and was yelling at someone over something wholly idiotic.

I'm not sure why this is coming to the fore now. I think it's been building for the past decade or so, but the past year has actually been pretty decent -- in particular, once I began to distance myself from Intercon and the raw wounds left from old politics there, it's been a pretty calm year. And yet I've found the anger just bubbling over, as if I've gotten so used to being angry at one thing or another all the time that it's just seeking new outlets.

I'm really not certain of what's going on here. Some of it may simply be exhaustion: despite the fact that I've been sleeping adequately lately (which for me is an improvement), I've been finding myself horribly tired all the time. That makes me stupid (a feeling I despise more than almost any other) and just plain grouchy. But I don't think that's all of it; as far as I can tell, some of it is simply part of who I've wound up as.

So it seems to be time to give some more thought to who I am, and who I want to be. I've managed to instill in myself the confidence I once lacked, but at the cost of different insecurities -- because I really think the anger stems from insecurity at some level. It's funny, because almost all of my surface fear has just gone away somewhere. Even when I find myself in no-pants dreams (or didn't-study dreams, which hit more or less the same buttons), they just don't scare me any more: in my dreams, I simply talk my way out of any crisis. But I can feel raw fear nibbling around the edges of the anger. I'm not sure what it's fear of, but the emotion seems to be lurking there nonetheless.

Once upon a time, I set out to remake myself as someone with the strength to be happy, and I largely succeeded. Twenty years on, it's time to pull out the mental tools again, with a different goal: to find the self-understanding to be content. There's a project to keep me busy for a while...
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