You know all those thoughts and feelings you have, that you’re not sure are normal?
Here’s the thing.
Everyone else has them too.
It’s just that very few of us are willing to talk about it.
Lots of things run through my head that I don’t share with other people. At least not in everyday conversation. When I was a kid I thought I might be an alien for a while. My brain seems to get hung up in repetitive loops about mundane stuff, like whether all my washing will fit onto the drying rack, or how many rivets the train window is held in by.
Someone on Quora asked an eye-opening question about this, directed at a group of people who are better equipped than most to answer: “What secret sides to human nature do therapists see that non-therapists would be surprised by?”. The most up-voted response went as follows:
What surprised me is how many people question if they are normal. I have been equally surprised how many mental health issues could be avoided if we communicated with each other more openly and found out how normal our thoughts and feelings actually are.
I love this, because it’s a reminder that classifying human thought and behaviour into compartments doesn’t make sense. Something which is oddball to me could be quite everyday to another person, whose own behaviour is in turn equally mundane to someone else. (Until you’ve gone so far left of ‘centre’ that you come out on the other side again).
Hiding from each other in plain sight
Social media makes it easy to construct air-brushed versions of our lives. Susan Sontag calls our addiction to images “aesthetic consumerism”, and whilst she is referring specifically to the realm of photography, I think it can be applied to the consumption of any digital feed — the quest to write the perfect tweet being just as alluring as that to shoot the perfect Instagram image or compose the most like-worthy Facebook update.
We can leave out the ugly bits, the things that go wrong, and anything else we think might taint our (now very) public image. But in leaving out our flaws, we are in danger of denying who we really are.
“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
— Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
Attempting to hide our real identities feels safer, but does it make us more attractive in the long run? During my 30 day writing experiment I posted something anonymously on Reddit about the idea of reverse dating: starting with a confession of your worst habits and character traits, then working backwards from there to a point where the other person could be attracted to you.
Unfortunately the pseudonym I used was so obscure that I can’t remember where I posted the article, else I’d include a link here. There was definitely something about a girl I briefly dated who had a phobia of towels… and something about people who pick their nose when they think you’re not looking.
The problem with hiding the imperfect parts of ourselves is that it ends up making it harder to connect, both with our people, and with our own sense of self:
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
In praise of imperfection
You don’t need to hide your blemishes.
Let’s be misshapes together.
You know… those unevenly coloured, slightly bruised and wonky tomatoes with the amazing flavour. Not the perfectly round and red shrink-wrapped tomatoes which never taste of anything no matter how long you leave them out of the fridge.
We’re all kind of weird and twisted and drowning
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
(And we’re all the more loveable and human for it).
Posted to life in 2015.