Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sticks, Stones, and Barnacles

My Dear Reader,

As a person who is continually focused on self-improvement, I really love starting fresh. I love a new year, a new month, even a new week. So this time of the year (even though it's cloudy and cold and distinctively not Christmas) is one of my favorites. I like taking time to take stock and learn more about myself.

One of the things I've been interested in is the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI), a personality test that I find really helpful. According to MBTI, I'm an ENFP, i.e. Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. Really, it's just a way to explain how I see the world, and how I react to things. I find that reading about ENFPs is a good way to learn about myself and figure out how to move forward.

(I'd recommend taking the test yourself, if you're interested. Here's a random link I found.)

I find myself subscribing to blogs that talk about MTBI types, and I like to read about ENFPs and try to figure out if/how that I read applies to me. Just a few days ago, I came across this post about how different MTBI types react to insults. Here's what it said:
ENFP: They will be hurt by the insult but will not let it change what they already believe about themselves (however, if it is something they are self-conscious about already they will be extremely hurt). Wonders whether there was an emotional cause (either something you did or an emotional problem the other person had) that caused the outburst.
And wow, does that really describe the way I've been reacting to some really mean people in my life.

You see, guess I have this tendency to collect mean people? I mean, sometimes they kind of accumulate around me, like parasitic barnacles. At some point, someone will point them out for me. "Um, Cecily," they'll say, "why are you allowing an arthropod attach to you and feed by extending thread-like rhizomes of living cells into your body?"

Wait, no, that's not what they say. They're not in on this metaphor.

"Cecily," they'll say, "why do you let that person hang around you? They're mean to you."

And really, you should probably put distance between yourself and people who are mean to you. That sounds like a sentiment expressed in some kind of after-school special.

It's something I struggle with, because, yeah, it hurts when people try to put me down. And it's not that hard to do to me, really, because I don't actively hide my faults. I've spent so much time trying to identify my weaknesses so I can overcome them, and you know what? I've actually made progress. One of the things I love about a new year is looking back and seeing how far I've come. So, if you spend any time with me at all, I will eventually tell you something that indicates that I'm not perfect, that I make mistakes, and that I'm still working on stuff. (Example: this blog.)

And I've learned that most people are really kind, and sometimes hearing my story makes them feel comfortable with their own faults. I like that. I'd like to live in a world in which people are okay with the fact that we are imperfect people who are (ideally) on a journey to perfection. To me, that's what my faith, and what Christianity in general is all about. I feel like being a true Christian is learning to accept and embrace the possibility of change in yourself and others.

So when I open myself up like that, I'm just trying to do my part to create that world.

But I've also learned that some people don't see it that way. Some people hear you say that one time you had this embarrassing moment, or one time you overcame this problem, and they decide that they've found a weakness. They decide that they want to exploit that weakness by bringing it up as often as possible. Out of context. In private, in public, and behind your back.

And after a while, I figure out that I have to be careful about these people, and I stop being open with them. I figure that I shouldn't hand people a knife if they have a penchant for stabbing.

But, at the same time, I feel like being open about faults isn't a weakness. I feel like taking advantage of it is.

Whenever someone is mean to me, once I get over the initial sting, my first thought is to wonder why they would do such a thing. And the deeper the cut goes, the more data I collect to solve the puzzle. That, in a nutshell, is how and why the barnacles accumulate.

Actually, here's a flowchart I made just for you:

(Click to embiggen)

You see, over the course of my life, I've realized that when people are mean, they usually are acting out of a place of pain. So, the meaner you are to me, the more you are revealing your own personal pain. And the more you expose your personal pain, the more data points I'll collect to narrow down the reason for your pain. Maybe, by now, I've mapped out your worst nightmares.

(Luckily for you, that's not a threat, because I don't enjoy hurting people.)

And you know what? In the end, you can hurt me, but you really can't change me. I'm not going to have an existential crisis because you're trying to put me down. I already know who and why I am, but thanks for playing.

You see, every first of January we can sit down and decide who we are, and who we want to be. But it's not platitudes written on paper that show us who we are. You show who you are by the way you react to me. I show who I am by how I react to you.

So, as I approach a brand new year, I find myself looking at these barnacles and wondering if maybe it's time to scrape some off. Maybe I'm trying to solve too many mysteries.

Or maybe I need to respond to a cry for help, no matter what form it comes in.

I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that my flowchart needs work.

Regards, best wishes, and an insightful new year,

-Cecily Jane

*While I do find that most of what's written about ENPFs is really accurate, I also have to factor in my Clinical Depression™. Sometimes I've been so unstable that I've defined myself by what other people said about me (even if it was mean and baseless). There were times when somebody said I was bad at X, and in my mind, I've become Bad at X Girl. Luckily, these days I've become a lot healthier, and I rarely have those thoughts.

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