“You are my friend; you are special. You are my friend; you’re special to me. There’s no one else who is like you; like you, my friend, I like you.” Fred Rogers
Once in a lunar cycle, I am visited by a rather gloomy faerie who insists on blowing her pixie dust into my brain. It settles into folds of gray cells and blooms into spores that cause self-doubt and self-pity. I begin to feel fragile and overwhelmed and retreat into my cave to fight the infection. An outbreak of insecurities spreads like a rash across my self-esteem, starting with the Redundancy Insecurity. I remember that I am daughter number four: the youngest, the last in the parade, the one who will always straggle behind. Not only am I superfluous, I will never catch up to the others; I am not strong enough or smart enough or skilled enough to do what they can do. If there’s anything you want in a little girl, one of the others will be a better choice. Unless, of course, what you want is small and blonde and cute. I figured I won that category. Now that I’m over 50, though, that’s a remote psychological win. I am still convinced of being not good enough to this day, but I am no longer convinced of being smallest/blondest/cutest.
The next bump in the rash is the Unfavored Insecurity. We all know that sibling order can easily be trumped by favoritism. That story comes to us from the Bible itself. So the burning question of self-assessment is, “Am I the Favorite?” Your siblings will, of course, tell you that Mom always liked them best. Your parents will tell you that they don’t have a favorite. You will tell yourself in oscillating fashion that you might be, or might not be, the favorite. You will perhaps try to be the favorite by being compliant and charming and dutiful. Then one day, you will wonder if you have a personality at all and come face to face with the Invisible Insecurity. Yearbook pages flip by your memory, and you can’t recall yourself. There are hardly any photos of you in the family album. (Rationally, couldn’t that be because you were taking these pictures? At a pity party, rationality isn’t invited.) Other people seem to look right through you or past you. Your phone doesn’t ring for weeks at a time. You feel forgotten, insignificant, unloved.
A fine basis for becoming a writer. I will write so that others will notice me. I will be appreciated. I will be esteemed. I will be SPECIAL. I will have readers who wait to get my next installment, who are curious about my thoughts on every subject, who want only to bask in my presence and demand nothing from me save that which I deign to pen. I will not have to research or refine my essays. I will simply share as much or as little as I like.
I am delusional. I am neurotic. I keep writing. Could I perhaps be refreshingly candid and honest? Could I perhaps be sincere? Would that make me special?
What a game I’m playing. I look hard at myself, quivering in this crazy cave. I listen to myself. Compassion arises. I am myself. No one else is. Here I am, being. Being me. I’m the only one who gets this job. I want to do my best at it, no matter what that looks like. Sometimes it looks pretty pitiful. And that’s me doing my best at being me in this mood. The “I’m not special” mood.
I’m not looking for someone to contradict me or rescue me. I’m just looking at me and daring myself to love me or at least befriend me and for heaven’s sake, stop beating up on me.
That is all.
© 2014 essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
I never had the experience of growing up in a large family. I only knew the loneliness of being an only child. I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have had brothers or sisters.
I wonder what it would have been like to be an only.
I guess there is something to be said, for and against both situations.
Vive la difference!
As the youngest of five girls (and 6th out of 7 kids) I recognized many of your thoughts, which, by the way, you expressed quite eloquently. It is very hard to get over those messages we either heard or projected upon ourselves as children–especially younger siblings.
I had to smile when you mentioned that most mothers deny they have a favorite, because my mother always did too. In our family, we backed away from direct competition, which is probably why we all followed such different pursuits. Deb the archaeologist, followed by Con the artist, then Miriam the scientist, and I chose puppetry, storytelling, and writing, in part because I had no wish to compete with my older sister academically, and also just because I loved it. We all took this upon ourselves, and not because my mother had high expectations. She enjoyed living vicariously through all of our various travels and adventures. My Dad, however, was very critical, and had high expectations that were nearly impossible to live up to, but which we all tried to live up to long after he had died. My mom would just smile and say, “Seven children, and not ONE of them in jail!”
🙂 I like your mom’s attitude! My father was also very demanding, and my sisters and I did try to veer away from competition to some extent. We took different languages and studied different musical instruments and carved out some kind of niche even though there was much overlap. I was the entertainer, acting and singing and generally mugging around for attention to cover up for not knowing as much actual fact!
It’s a life skill that will be much more versatile and serve you better than knowing concrete facts. Just for the record, I think you are a truly talented writer. I think I am probably fighting some of the same demons that stand on my shoulder and whisper into my ear that I’m not good enough. We just can’t listen to them.
My tactic is to listen and say, “I hear you; I know where you come from; you’re afraid; I appreciate the warning, but it’s not helpful now.” It takes too much energy to repress the voice, so I try to let it be and let it go – a Buddhist practice I’m just learning. Thank you for your encouragement about my writing, Naomi. It helps when I’m trying to assess how delusional I am. 😉
I was raised as an only child, though I had a sister. She didn’t live with us and she committed suicide when I was fourteen. Long-and-short, the sibling insecurities are outside my experience, but I would say if we don’t feel insecure about one thing, we’ll find something else. There seems always to be a bit of a struggle. I love your “befriending self” idea and the lilting logical flow of your writing, which I think goes a long way toward helping you to sort it all out. Appreciate that you share it all with us as well. Our demons may have different names, but we all have demons. Recognizing them is big. Well done – the essay and life.
I’m tickled by the “lilting logical” description. It sounds like such an appropriate combination of my parents, musical and mathematical. Inviting demons to the dinner table is one of Steve’s metaphors and helps me get past the stiff-armed rejection of my familiar neuroses.