I didn’t grow up cool. I was never the popular kid. I orbited around the brighter planets, and was the quintessential sidekick. I cultivated snark and sarcasm, a tough outer shell of self-protection, armor for days. Somewhere along the way, this childhood insecurity grew into adult bad habits. Without realizing it, I developed a dependence on being useful, being wanted, being of value to everyone, even toxic personalities. I measured my worth by how many people relied on me to reflect my star’s light to illuminate their universe.
In short: I started collecting people who needed me. It felt good to be needed. It gave me purpose to be needed. It secured my place to be needed. I became the Pied Piper of the Unsettled, the Insecure, the Narcissistic and every other toxic personality imaginable. And, in doing so, voluntarily handed my most precious resources — my time and my love — to those who (wittingly or not) never reciprocated. I talk a lot about psychic vampires, and I’ve been pretty good about rooting them out. Lately, however, I’ve realized that I’ve let some sneak in. Worse, I’ve even gone out of my way to recruit and cultivate a few to feed my own ego.
There’s an old African proverb: “The lion does not turn around when the small dog barks.”
It’s tempting to assume that the people I collect are these small dogs, barking and distracting me from my most important goals. It’s always easier to point fingers than to look in the mirror, after all. But, actually, they aren’t to blame. The barking is internal, the barking is my need to be needed, the barking is me.
The snarked up, sarcastically-armored, insecure 13-year-old computer sleep-away camper (yes, really) that lives inside of me has formed over time an efficient, even if savagely executed, strategy to drop-kick the vampires once identified: they are Out. Dead to me. Kaput. As soon as they aren’t In, they are Out. There’s never been an In Between.
I don’t like the In Between. The In Between is where the soft underbelly is exposed, where you hand control to others, where disappointment sneaks in. Nope, the In Between is not for me. I give most people huge swaths of acceptance; I am the ultimate idealist about people. I fall in love every single day. I shine the light, I open my network, I hand over my heart. I am all the way In, and I love every second of it. But, one end of the spectrum rarely comes without it’s equally opposite end for balance: Once someone is Out — and it takes a lot to be Out — it’s like a candle has been snuffed out. I can barely bring myself to make eye contact, I tend to husband my words, I lose my appetite, I get sharp-edged, and engaging with any sort of emotional connection feels like the most draining sort of confrontation to an introverted, lone wolf type like me.
And, while this once was the way to shut out the distracting barking, it’s become somewhat of its own cacophony of late. I’m old enough now to know that my “In or Out” strategy, once brilliant self-preservation is now just the tell of an immature heart and an insecure soul; it’s the sound of a million small dogs barking, barking, barking. I wish I were better at not assigning intention to unintentional acts; others’ actions (or lack thereof) always feel so deeply personal because my own investment in others is always so deeply personal. I suppose I could just be less invested, but what is the fun of that? I’d rather be a lover, a dreamer, an optimist of the highest order, and a tilting-at-windmills idealist. Instead, I’m going to endeavor to remember that I can only control my own actions, and my own reactions, and start to explore the grey In Between. And, I’m going to try to do it with something of which I have precious little experience: grace.