I recently re-considered how I interact with the people around me and everyone I meet. I feel like I’ve always played a role or another to meet certain expectations or achieve certain goals. In fact I’ve been doing it so long that I’m not even sure what or who the real me is anymore. What part of me is real and which are fake? It has become natural for me to act, so natural in fact that I think that this might be my first conscious coping mechanism, or rather expressive defensive mechanism. As far back as I can remember – which is about to the age of 6 or 7, everything else is lost in the mists of repression – there has always been this split-second of thought before I reacted to anything or said anything, the moment I take to think about how to act, how to appear, how to sound. Fast forward to my teen years and this instant of thought had become both normal and unnoticed by me. Others called me hesitant or slow and in a way that is correct, I couldn’t make up my mind on how to behave, at least not fast enough. Responses or actions seemed to take too long and thus felt awkward and strained. In the harshly judging environment of high-school this proved devastating to my self-worth which in turn led me to think about actions and responses more instead of less because I wanted to get things right. That only made matters worse so I stopped socializing at precisely the time when others learned how to actually, properly do just that. Causal results of these chains of events can still be felt to this day. In short, I still suck at talking to people and always have.
Over these formative teenage years I have created sets of rules on how to behave and talk; I usually call them masks but you could also call them templates or persona's – though I don’t like the last one because it edges into the province of MPD so let’s go with masks for now. There’s a handful of them and they grew with me – or became refined – over time and as I aged. An interesting facet of this is that these masks are figuratively bound to people or environments and rarely change. When I met new people – be they friends or merely acquaintances (or just neighbours) – a somehow “updated” version of whatever mask I felt was appropriate got put into place and was worn every time I met these people from that day on. By the time I turned twenty I had so many of these masks and slipping in and out of them at a whim had become easy, to me changing mannerisms, speaking patterns and even view-points, morals or philosophies was like changing costumes between acts in a theatrical play, except I never consciously thought about it nor noticed how odd it might seem to an observer.
As you probably can imagine things always got stressful, irritating and confusing when I met people from two different groups or as I put it: from two different masks, at the same time. I couldn’t don either mask without seeming fake or wrong to the other group so I usually didn’t do anything other than trying to get out of such a situation. The logical response to this conundrum was to make sure different groups never met, in a way I began to live multiple lives but not with a deceitful intent, to me this was about surviving my peers’ attention. I never lied about anything important and most of the times even the little details would remain the same or at least similar, the only thing I lied about was who the real I was. After a few years of this happenstance forced me to find a better solution than simply hoping those groups never met because two of them did and merged. I had a minor break-down for a couple of days until I found a neat solution to my very own problem – at least as neat as not-constructive coping mechanisms can get. I broke the two participating masks down into their most modal and basic parts and melded an amalgam together, one I could wear for both groups at once. Over the years this happened again and again and while it never ceased to be stressfull I became somewhat proficient in “updating” elements of my masks as well as reusing parts of one for another.
The downside to all this was that my core personality remained woefully under-developed – not mentally but socially – and in fact, is to this day. For most of my teenage years and well into early adulthood I would simply call whichever me I was wearing at any given moment my core and not think about it in the sense that I never perceived a problem with how I was and who I was at the time, or rather, who I wasn’t. To fully appreciate this I need you to understand that I only realized this a couple of years ago and only after that fully realized how I differ from other people in regards of personality.
I will pick up this train of thought in a future blog-entry with a close description of the anatomy of all the Me’s that are in existence both today and were historically and some speculation about my core. I have retired quite a few of these, most because the people I wore them for left my life, some because I didn’t like them anymore (puts an interesting twist on self-loathing, doesn’t it?). In fact, there are parts of me that simply do not exist in most or all of my current masks which begs the question: am I the sum of my parts?
As always, feedback is both welcome and appreciated.