How could therapy not be my favourite thing? Since finding a therapist that works harmoniously with my many isms and conversational style, things have been flowing marvellously. In its essence, the sessions have become a combination of my favourite topic (me. Be honest, who isn’t their own favourite topic?), a puzzle (me) and how the two of us can best examine how the puzzle pieces fit together based on any evidence I can dredge up. I’m in a good place right now in terms of body confidence and self-assuredness, which she said is the best time to bring up difficult issues of self. If you’re feeling low, there’s a higher chance that wading into those dark waters can pull you down into the murky depths. If you’re buoyant and don your scuba gear, it’s considerably easier to float back up to the top. So we both pool our knowledge and come up with the best explanations of how to fit what we know into a reasonable order. She’s astute and skilled at finding hints of connections, drawing inferences between clues. This helps me recall other ways in which I act that support or dismiss her ideas. Sometimes she’ll say something and it’ll jog a memory hidden deep or link to a previously unconnected thought pattern. We’ll flick through ideas and bring them all together, giving a greater understanding of how I tick. It’s magic being there, but it’s hard to put into words. Let’s try.
We were talking about my understandings of value, self-worth and how I apply them to myself when I get pulled into a spiral. I’d given her a piece of writing I wrote after a panic attack and this part stuck out for her:
“In the moment of my birth, my mother only saw love. She saw a symbol of the time, patience and hard work that brought me into existence. She saw her love for my father, the children she already had. She wanted a life for me where I was safe to follow my bliss, to grow up and spread love. To find everything she had spent so long cultivating, everything that made her life and the time, patience and hard work worth it. She loved me unconditionally and only wanted everything for me that I ever desired. When I’m in that state, I don’t feel like I can give my mother all she ever wanted for me. Consequently I don’t feel worthy.
In that dark emotional state, I don’t feel worthy of my mother’s love.”
Do you not believe in unconditional love? I replied that I’d always had a remote fear that if for some reason I bred a monster, I wouldn’t know what to do. Say I’d tried my hardest, tried to pass on good values, instill love and compassion into that child. Try to lead by example, to care and give all that I could. How would I feel if the kid was consistently terrible. Like, what would happen if this kid became Josef Fritzl II? What would it take for me to give up on the kid? If I kept trying to help and nothing would take? What would my line be? At some point would I stop loving this human that came from my genetic material? If I was a terrible person, I wouldn’t expect to have people around me. If your actions don’t give back to the people in your life, why would they love you? You don’t just get love for existing, you have to be someone worth loving for people to want to love you.
Many people would disagree. But why would people owe you love? You have to do something in order to earn it. If I passed a random stranger walking down the street would they owe me love of any kind? Love is something that builds over time in minuscule increments. You say things, do things, act in ways which cumulatively prove your value. You connect, communicate, form friendships, relationships. Nothing comes to you “just cause”, the world doesn’t owe you shit just because you’re in it. You have no right to anything purely for existing. You earn the life around you. It sucks that some people start from debilitating conditions and I wish that wasn’t a thing, but things don’t go your way just because you breathe. I don’t have a right to a roof over my head and food in my belly. I’d never expect the world to give me those things. Love is no different. You can’t have love just because you want it without giving anything back. Relationships don’t just start and continue ad infinitum. You need to continue to work on them and justify your value, even in infinitesimal increments.
So where is your stability? It sounds like you’re constantly on shaky foundations. If this is how you feel, when would you ever let yourself turn off? I paused. I guess that’s why I don’t. I don’t feel comfortable stopping, because there are always things to tend to. Everything I do is a transaction of some kind. Take a relationship, a friendship. Everyone has some kind of value, push and pull, and we’re all constantly auditing. Let’s use currency as an example, because quantities are easy to grasp. Say I’ve got annoying habits. I might chew with my mouth open or something. That has negative value. It might cost me 1c, 2c, 10c. It could increase or multiply with frequency. My value decreases. Then say I said something nice. Or I listened and offered considerate insightful feedback. I did something kind without being asked. Maybe that would add $10 to my value, $1000, $10,000. Everything you do has value and it’s constant subliminal accounting. Relationships, work, health, socialising, consumption.
The imagery that’s playing out in my head is a nigh infinite vertical column, almost like a bar graph. Each row has a different element of your life, but in place of a bar would be tug of war. Left/right would be positive/negative respectively. Like a tug of war, ground is gained when you’ve got momentum. If one side gets close to the centre, it’s really tough for the other side to get back into the black. If I’m attaching value onto these rows, then say one of them is body image. My body image gets into the red and it’s hard to pull myself back into the black. Then that starts pulling on the bar, it warps the other rows and inhibits my ability to keep things balanced. So say my body image slides all the way into the red, that’ll most likely drag my self-worth with it. That’ll pull on rows pertaining to my perceptions of my relationships. Hence how negative body image can eventually make me question what I’m worth to others.
If we zip back to the example of unconditional love and this hypothetical terrible child, what would beating up another kid do to their value in my eyes? What about murder? Rape? If my kid became a total sociopath, at what point would the rope go so far over the line it was irretrievable? Surely though there would be a multitude of factors leading to this? A child doesn’t just become a monster in isolation. You’re right. Of course you’re right and I agree completely. Glancing over, the clock read 2.56pm. But there’s no way we’re gonna solve nature vs nurture in 4 minutes.
… Wait, am I paying someone $170 an hour just to facilitate my ranting?