Void

As my daughter’s second birthday is getting nearer, I keep getting occasional glimpses of my very first memories around her age, fleeting impressions dominated by harshness, and the urge to protect myself against a big, unpredictable and threatening world.

Like most children I was afraid of wolves and of monsters under the bed,Ā  but unlike most children, I was also afraid of people with beards, or deeps voices, of being lost, of anger, of going down the slide by myself, of the sea, of my own emotions… Ok, so you get my drift, I was a sensitive soul, living a pretty normal life which felt like a series of agressions, with some good bits in between.

And then I remember feeling torn, disliking myself for being such a wimp and disappointing my parents, afraid of not being good enough. So I kept pushing through my fears, faking a confidence I didn’t feel, because in a two year old’s mind, not being good enough obviously led to being abandonned by yourself, in the woods, on a moonless night.

As I fly over the Alps and their endless mineral beauty some thirty six years later, I still haven’t been abandonned in the woods but I feel dizzy. Dizzy from a lifetime’s belief that I am not good enough, and that if I stop faking confidence, I will get found out. Crushed by the certainty that the real me is uninteresting, average-looking, average-thinking, bland and boring, and would therefore never elicit permanent attachment.

Now, I am aware that this must sound slightly mental to the people who know me in real life, and have seen me bear two children, pass a PhD shortly after having one of them, pass a very difficult senior civil service entry exam in my second language, build a small business from scratch, a changing table from bits of wood, paraglide, travel half-way around the world, been loved by smart, handsome, talented men, make unrivalled chocolate mousses, grow thriving plants and friendships everywhere I went…

But none of this seems to be enough to fill the void inside a terrified child.

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22 thoughts on “Void

  1. I think that many of us feel like at one time or another… or even most of the time. Your fear of abandonment if you are “found out” is a familiar one to me. I was adopted as a baby and only learned in my late 20’s why I was terrified to show anyone who I really was… that fear is a powerful, irrational, and constant deterrent to authenticity. Your writing of that fake confidence resonates so strongly with me, as does your litany of outward successes… It’s like if you can just distract everyone with your outward achievements, they won’t discover who you really are, and therefore won’t abandon you in the woods by yourself.

    It’s a terrible thing to do to yourself… I have only recently found your blog and, in reading it, am struck by how much more self-aware and real you are than many bloggers. Writing about yourself does not mean you are self-aware; openly and honestly understanding your flaws, your roles, and your contributions does. I have no idea what you are like as a person in your life, but I can see from your writing that you have much value and much to contribute and some amazing gifts. And, just to be clear, I am not impressed by good writing (Hitler was an excellent writer, after all), but by the person behind the words.

    I hope that as you raise your own daughter, you will discover the power and strength to let go of those demons. I suspect that they are in no way an accurate measure of your worth.

    Good luck to you.

    • Dear TPG,
      Many thanks for all your kind words… The disheartening thing I guess is that in spite of all this self-awareness, I still cannot shake the belief that I’m not good enough.
      I guess your own very real abandonment as baby would explain why you felt the way you did. Did your awareness of this eventually help you let go of the demons?
      Take care,
      x

      • Hmmmm…. the awareness went far to helping me understand why I did what I did, and encouraged me to be gentle with myself, but it did not exorcise those demons. I think that fear, whether grounded in something “reasonable” and “explainable” or not, is very real and very powerful for those of us who have wrestled with it.

        It’s funny (in an ironic, not “haha” way) that when I read the comments below (even from SD, who is completely sincere and most certainly correct), I know that, when I am in the “not good enough” mindset, those reassurances ring hollowly to me because the You’re Not Good Enough voice just pipes up and reminds me that, once again, if they *really* knew me, they’d know better….

        I often wonder how many history-makers and super-achievers have that same voice in their head… šŸ™‚ I doubt we are alone.

        Hang in there and keep writing it out. I’ve found that giving those thoughts air takes away much of their power. I have one friend in particular who is my go-to guy when I need to say it. He always manages to help pull me back from the brink of that void.

        Best wishes — TPG

        • TPG (and Lady E),

          I agree with you that when you’re in ‘that mindset’ everything seems bleak. I have not yet blogged about my recent weekend, but found myself thinking that Job had it easy.

          I got to the point of why-bother-it’s-not-going-to-work-anyway. Having older kids around makes a difference. Lady E has little kids that are much less help when she is feeling down. Mine argue with me and require me to ‘prove’ I have the right to be down! The little tikes (none are “little”, but that’s how I see them) force me to be happy — can you believe it?!

          Whether it’s friends, fellow bloggers, family, or others, we all have people around us that help us through the darker days.

          I’m certain that many many “history-makers and super-achievers have that same voice in their head”…it’s precisely what drove so many to over-compensate and take over countries, win international titles, etc.

          • Thank you both.
            TPG, isn’t it absurd how powerful that voice of fear is? I’m fed up with it…
            SD, you’re right, other people do anchor us in life, particularly children, because they force you to live sometimes…But really, the difficult bit is that both reassurance and drive should come from within yourself to make you solid.

            • Reassurance and drive should come from within yourself? Yes, but not all the time.

              We each and every one of us have times when Life has smacked us around. That’s when friends and family and our support network steps in: We’re not islands (to paraphrase the quote). I’ve accepted more help and support this year than any other in my entire adult life. You too, I imagine.

              Don’t worry about standing on your own two feet just yet. Let others help with that and focus on moving forward. Before you know it, you won’t need that support as much.

              • I agree with SD… it is so very easy — especially given where you are right NOW, Lady E — to expect far more than is fair to demand of yourself. I had to relearn to be gentle with myself and allow myself some small failures (like a whole day without a single item crossed off my to-do list or cereal for dinner with my kids) to pass without self-recrimination. A good friend told me to treat myself with the same kindness and gentleness as I’d treat a friend in my situation. I think that’s great advice. šŸ™‚ Tell that voice to stuff it for now and draw yourself a bubble bath. šŸ˜‰

  2. When he was a kid, my younger brother (who is pretty much the opposite of me in almost every respect) had to constantly deal with comparision at school and on the sports field with me. He found ways to compensate. He had an ‘invisible friend’ for some years and told some tall tales about accomplishments.

    But he grew out of that stuff. He left this behind when he became an adult in his own right. His mistakes and flaws and limitations are those of genetics and development, not direct hangovers from a childhood.

    It’s definitely time for you too to let go of the “certainty” you are “uninteresting, average-looking, average-thinking, bland and boring, and would therefore never elicit permanent attachment.”

    I know you better than most of our fellow bloggers and will vouch for every single adjective you’ve used being wrong. Except that it would embarrass you, I’d do a point-by-point rebuttal. šŸ™‚

    Whatever compensations you were making in childhood for your family situation and/or desires to meet your parents’ expectation (assumed or not), this is history. As you just pointed out, you’ve gone to do extraordinary things. Things that clearly negate most of your concerns immediately.

    My earnest belief is that you should focus only a little on avoiding a few of yesterday’s error…and a lot on finding tomorrow’s success story.

    • Dear SD, I think you’ve put your finger exactly on what the issue is. I am aware that I need to let go of the past and concentrate on the future, but contrary to your brother I cannot seem to be able to do that.

      Well, let’s be fair, most of the time I can and do let go of the past, but traumatic events such as being abandonned by T and its myriad of soul-destroying consequences make these deepest insecurities resurface and as Caroline was saying keep me in their cast-iron grip.

      Thanks for your kind words and the threat of a point-by-point rebuttal ;). It all means a lot, and hopefully will help this belief to become mine as well.
      xx

  3. Good morning! Having just spent most of last night running my ‘self-doubt’ figure of eight, I’ve just read your post and nearly all you say resonates with me.

    The almost cast-iron belief that I am unlovable and not very interesting can take hold of me in its own iron-grip and become almost impossible to shake off.

    So I understand.

    Here’s to our successful futures.
    xxx

    • Thanks Caroline. In a bizarre way, it’s always comforting to know there are people out there going through the same crap who understand…

      Let’s hope we soon find the tools to take apart the cast-iron grip of self-doubt.
      Good luck and tell us what you come up with,
      x

  4. All I can say is that whatever sef-doubts you have had you have clocked up a really impressive list of achievements. This is more than compensation. A lot of your doubts must have been missplaced. Most of us leave our childhoods in a slightly wonky state but you have a great deal to be proud of and that is my over riding impression of you

    • Its’ funny isn’t it, that what thatprecariousgait called my outward list of achievements fails to reassure me…
      I consciously know that I have a lot to be proud of, yet my failures seem to be blown out of proportion in my mind until they blot out anything else.
      Still, until the certainty can come from within me, the reassurance I get from the outside helps.
      Thanks for this…x

  5. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to be ‘good enough’. Clearly however you are more than just ‘good enough’. Life, at times, has a horrible way of visiting the heavy cloud of self doubt on us. Sometimes we can achieve the realisation and acceptance that some things and people don’t remain in our lives, not because we are not good enough/clever enough etc. but because THEY were not good enough.

    Jacqueline

    • That’s a really good point Jacqueline. Instead of feeling that I’ve been abandonned because I wasn’t good enough, I should really be turning the tables on T. If I was objective, maybe that’s what I’d see…
      Thanks for your helpful perspective x

  6. The first “argument” I ever had with X was when we were dating. She was indicating that she was falling hard for me.
    I told her that she was only falling for the image of me (I was a “power” figure then)…and the real LFBA actually had flaws, made mistakes and was just a guy.
    She insisted that was untrue.
    Guess she was wrong.
    One of the things that is probably true of me, and why I tend to be a protector…is the sense of duty that calls to me.
    That comes from the expectations placed on me as a youngster.
    I always had the feeling I was more of a status symbol to my mom rather than just a son.
    Even though I know this…the feelings are hard to shake.
    I generally do not lack for confidence, but this process…and being 2nd man in my marriage for apparently a long time, has shakin me and ripped my skin re-exposing the 5 yr old who knows he is not good enough.

    • Hey LFBA,
      I think you’re exactly right, what we are going through rips through us and exposes our inner child, all our insecurities are stirred up. That’s what makes it all so destabilising, so hard to ride the storm…
      What I’ve been sort of advised to do was to “reassure” that child in me by nurturing other people, my kids being obvious first choices.
      I guess in time, it’ll help…
      What’s harder for you right now is that your situation has not stabilised, and you are still being ripped apart on a daily basis by the sound of it.
      At times like this, it’s one day at a time and sheer survival.
      Good luck with it all x

  7. Hi E, I haven’t had a chance to read through the comments already left- am taking time out from a pressing translation that I am both trying to avoid doing and desperate to get done! šŸ˜‰

    All I would say from a quick read of this entry is that it’s classic adult vs. inner child. We all have this internal struggle- the outer adult knowledge of all that is “great” about us and all that we have achieved in our lives vs. the inner child’s view of everything that is ‘wrong’ with us and all the things we were bullied about at school or didn’t quite get right in our youth. I know that the majority of the hang-ups I have about myself stem directly from things I was teased about at school….all the self-doubt seems to come from that time- precisely the time when we are finding out about ourselves, learning about life but which is such a formative time that the feelings and emotions stay so strong and within us. I used to keep a diary for years and years and came across an old box at my parents house a few months back. I dared to read a snippet from my teens and was horrified at how bad I felt about myself and life and how negative I was- so much so that I really cdnt read on – more to the point some of it expressed the way I still feel about certain aspects- how terrible….20 years on and to still have the negative feelings of a teenager- precisely the self-doubt that you describe. The point is as an adult- we can hear the negative voices in our heads and then choose to ignore them-they dont have to define us…We are all a bit mental/mad so don’t feel that you are alone there šŸ˜‰ It comes with having to juggle such busy busy lives and having to be something to everyone…having demands placed upon us constantly…who wdnt go a bit mad!? xxx

  8. Hi Emma,
    Ooh, I know that feeling of trying to avoid an urgent translation… Brings back memories šŸ˜‰ !
    Thanks for your comment which makes a lot of sense: I like that it puts words on what I’ve been confusedly feeling, and basically says that it’s classic stuff, that’s reassuring.
    It’s spooky how reading you reminds me of myself too…I guess the bits I haven’t mastered though are firstly to recognise the “voices in my head” that cause the self-doubt, and then of course to ignore them.
    I’m not always this fragile and insecure though, so hopefully with time, I’ll find some sort of balance and it’ll get easier.
    Hope the translation is over and one and that you got a chance to enjoy your weekend xx

    • In my case I refer to them as my “low ebbs” or “troughs” – I know exactly what it is to sometimes feel super positive and on top of everything but then at others to feel like the world is crashing down around you so I know these feelings you describe come and go. For me I put it down to my ever fluctuating hormones- sometimes I feel all melancholy for no reason and so I just try to observe the negative thoughts but not take them too seriously…It’s like the angel/devil on your shoulder scenario….that’s why I said we are all slightly mad šŸ™‚ I definitely have these voices….the negative voices are like old friends who resurface every so often, I say hello but don’t let what they are saying to me define me…(incidentally I am not actually mad!! ;-)) xx Still working on the translation…..I did pop out with the kids late arvo though and had a busy weekend as it was Zack’s bday…so not all work and no play šŸ™‚ xx

  9. Emma,
    Good on you for being able to ignore the voices and thoughts that bring you down. I have yet to master that skill…I guess like anything else, it probably takes time and practice?
    Good to hear you still got a chance to play last weekend & good luck with the translation of course šŸ™‚ xx

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