Psychological Knots: Untangling the Harrowing Web of My Past

Often, I post things on Facebook that get me into trouble. Not any sort of tangible trouble, but they generate misinterpreted concern and worry. Not that I lack gratitude that people out there care about my well-being, but nobody wants people to think you’re not alright when you’re perfectly well (or doing great).

In fact, I’ve tried to make a habit out of making it clear when I am not well, and asking for help when I need it. I am awful at asking for help. Beyond that, I feel like I have, in the past, documented my dark days so extensively that I’ve earned some credibility. Basically, I wouldn’t try to cover up the fact that I am not well because when I’m not, I am not ashamed to admit it.

That said, I continue to be misunderstood, which is ok, because Facebook, Twitter, et al, are not good places to be properly understood, they’re drive thru windows that let us peek into a small selection of moments from hundreds to thousands of other people’s lives. So, for sake of clarity, I am going to elaborate on a thought that I posted when I should have been asleep the other night.

 

 

 

 

There’s no doubt that this can be interpreted as a negative or discouraged statement, but to take it that way precludes two points. First, it minimizes the implication that I am nearly beaten down by trying to overcome longstanding problems on my own on a regular basis, yet, and here is the key, I am not, and because it regularly threatens to, that I opt to get up and fight another day — everyday. I would also argue that the other subtle implication is that I am trying to fix my social, psychological, and mental issues on my own, but barely able to. Something, someone, or some others are surely attributed to my ability to keep going, because I surely am not on my own volition.

I know that I didn’t really imply it textually, but I am letting you know that it is implied by the absence of some statements, and the subtle implication of others.

To the more important piece of this, and secondly, psychological knots (sometimes also referred to as sociopsychological knots). These knots or holes that make it hard for me to function like I want are the driving force of what led me to post that status. We’ve all got them. I believe many of us go our entire lives without trying to untangle them. In my case, I’ve found that they’ve just gotten there incidentally rather than by overt environmental settings, and compounded into dangerous webs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about coaches lately. What are coaches for? What do they do? What do the best coaches do? What makes them so great?

In most cases, great players are going to become great players regardless of coaching. A coach can set them on the path to improve mechanics, understand game situations, and learn the X’s and O’s, but great players become great players because they not only have the talent, but they have an unlimited amount of fuel; fuel that propels them to obsess over the sport to the point that they would have developed most of these components on their own; maybe not to the level that they can with a coach to observe, poke, prod, and critique, but definitely to a level that sets them above the rest of the pack.

A coach can do all of these things for us, and does, but good coaches are a voice. To be more specific, they are a voice outside of our own. The one that tells us to take 500 more practice shots before we can go home. The one that gets in our face and pushes us to get it together when we’re falling apart. The one that makes us run when we don’t want to.

So a coach can teach us how to become our improved selves, a good coach is a voice outside of our head that pushes us to become that improvement much more effectively than our internal voice can, but a great coach is much more. A great coach is understanding. A good coach is another voice. A great coach is your voice; your voice freed from the bottomless pit of your own mind.

In sports, you might hit a slump. You can’t hit the ball anymore or you can’t seem to even make an easy shot, or there is just some sort of hesitation that sneaks in you’re just not performing anymore. Any coach will drill those mechanics, the X’s, the O’s, and the opponents scouting report in an effort to help pull you out, but the great coach understands what it is that is causing your performance to suffer.

Understanding. Because of understanding they are able to get to the core of your slump quicker and help you work your way out of it. Sometimes you might be making a small mechanical mistake and they know that they just have to work you extra hard to get it drilled into your muscle memory and let you see that you have no reason to lack confidence. Other times, they know it is something deeper, something in your psyche, or maybe something away from the game, and like a great musician, they find ways to tap into you, play the right notes and affect you.

Coaching. It doesn’t only apply to sports, of course. Why else do you think motivational speakers, business coaches, speech coaches, personal trainers, mentors, and so on are so prominent?

I don’t want to sound like I am devaluing the craft at all, but in many ways, therapists are our mental, social, and psychological coaches. If we are naturally obsessed with one thing, it is ourselves. We are intimate with our flaws and insecurities. In many cases, we are going to know exactly what is wrong with us, why, and who we want to be, but we have no mechanism beyond ourselves to mold us into that. Friends and family have some influence, but they can also be what has us so screwed up to begin with. More importantly, they aren’t in our lives solely to be that understanding voice that makes us do exactly what we need to do.

I’ve got a lot of psychological knots, and much of who I’d like to be is constricted in the tangle of flaws and fears. I was always too shy, softspoken, and afraid of being visible socially as a kid. Growing up, I was always jealous of the other kids who got attention from girls. I often felt like an outcast. I have no memory of receiving any valentines or schoolyard crushes. I spent most of my life believing I was ugly, insignificant, and inferior. The smallest flaw with my physically, mentally, or in appearance erupted into a wildfire of paranoia and insecurity to the point that I’ve taken most of my life to let go of most of them and accept that it simply isn’t true, but a machination of my own perverted, twisted self-view. I’ve always had best friends who were widely heralded as extremely good-looking. Because I was so overshadowed as one of the quiet, soft-spoken kids, I grew up associating any attention with negative feelings, even when it is an impossible connection. Even to this day, if someone compliments me on something such as my abilities as a basketball player, I want to recess into my cave and refuse to believe that I can be good, and likely will struggle with shelling up —  even in the most insignificant pick-up game. Many times, I still can’t accept anything good about myself.

The list goes on and on and on. The point is, all of these things were invisible as problems growing up, and over my short lifetime have compounded to an extreme degree. And because these things have been compounding for so long, when they interconnect they only ever served to make any flaws I know I have monstrously worse. If, for instance, I thought I was unattractive and that no girl could like me, if I got something like a zit on my face, or thought I had any physical flaws, they magnified and intensified with every related effect. If I had to hear about how this girl or that girl or, worse, the girl I have a crush on thinks that my best friend is hot in high school, then not only would I feel more pitiful internally, but those same flaws I felt like I had would gain incredible power over me.

Over time, these knots manifest in greater and greater inability.

I’ve been unwinding as much of the coil my entire life. In the past few years, I’ve made more progress in fixing my screwy wiring than I did in the other twenty-some-odd years.

To that measure, I am beginning to understand that confidence has two faces, at the least. Internal and external. Internal confidence is how secure and assured you feel of yourself to yourself. External confidence is how secured and assured you feel of yourself to other people (in your mind’s eye). These bake and form the entire landscape of your confidence. Internally, I am finally at a point where I feel close to supreme internal confidence. My external confidence still topples over when met with the slightest of force.

I think one of the disconnects I am still suffering from is the idea that allowing an influx of external confidence within me is tantamount to disproving what is ultimately my personal life thesis: that I am no good, unattractive, untalented, not particularly likable, unimportant, forgettable, and uncomfortable for others to be around. I know… I know that these things aren’t true. Within myself, I think I’m awesome, studly, overly-talented, the funniest, most personally magnetic person I know who is good at everything he touches, but to believe that within myself still keeps it a secret. Nobody else has to know it, but me. It is something I inherently knew my entire life, but didn’t believe. I believe it now, but to be externally confident steps beyond belief and enters into the realm of proof.

Getting back to this idea of psychological knots and coaching, I’m at a point where I’ve worked, tirelessly, to ingrain the idea of internal confidence within, but now I am at a rift between two cliffs and the only way to advance is by demonstrating what I believe.

I can achieve flares of external confidence by receiving validation from others. Someone might tell me they think I’m cute or look good, and I’ll feel like I do to the rest of the world (something I believe to myself already). They might tell me that they really like my writing or my creativity, and I’ll feel a little bashful, but also inspired that I can and should continue to not just create, but try to share it with the world around me. But being told I am awesome is just a band-aid that slips off easily. Too much of it, and I’ll find myself suffering from Impostor Syndrome, or counteracting it by dumping off some of my internal confidence out of fear of getting a big head, but the truth is, I still just grapple with these old ideas that formed with me since I was little. I can’t let them be true, because it would invalidate so much of what was my reality.

The problem is that I don’t want it to stop here. I want the confidence to manifest externally, and I want to be able to do the things I should be able to as a result. I think a guy like myself should be able to date around plenty, if that’s what I happen to want to do at the time, or write/record music and share it with other people if that’s the area I’m feeling the greatest creative hunger in. Whatever it is specifically matters not. The crux is that I know what is wrong with all my internal pieces, and I know what I need to do to fix them. I need practice. I need actuality.

Singing is an example. I’ve never been much of a singer. I was too intimidated by my dad and sister as a kid. That was their thing, so I never even tried. Over the years, I realized how much I enjoy it, and the voice is everyone’s unique instrument to the world. I’ve practiced a lot, learned some technique, and continue to develop my voice. Would I ever end up on American Idol? Definitely not, but I like to look at guys like Donald Fagen who don’t have the commonly accepted ‘great voice’, but really develop their singing ability and make it work for them. I am probably somewhere along those lines, but still developing technically (tend to be flat more than I’d like and my range isn’t what I’d like it to be). The point is, I think I am a competent to good singer now, but when people are around me — no matter how well I know them and am comfortable around them — I can’t truly sing. I’ll kind of sing, but I’ll hold back because I don’t want to show what I really have. In singing, you can’t hold back like that and expect to sing well. Yet, I’ll go up to the kitchen when no one is around, but clearly everyone in my house can hear me and really sing, and one of my housemates will tell me they heard me ‘gettin it’ or that I sounded good, and then I will feel sheepish.

In those moments, I am not only being TOLD something that validates my external confidence, but I am being told after demonstrating it. I have proven it, and thus had my deeply ingrained internal self belief invalidated. That’s the weirdest, yet most real struggle I’ve ever had.

It only takes one of these passing moments to send me stuffing my head back in the sand for days or weeks, even though it was an insignificant moment for anyone else involved. This is where untangling my own psychological knots gets really hard. If I had someone coaching me, per se, then I’d have someone pulling my head out and telling me to run 50 more laps until I start to feel that way no more because I start to get properly conditioned.

Like I said, friends and family help, but they are not here just to be our training wheels. Yet, when you’re an adult and suffering from awful, foolish, yet frighteningly real internal problems that should have been ironed out growing up, forcing yourself to learn to ride that bike alone is daunting. Worse yet, progress feels non-existent. Sometimes it’s just slow, sometimes it goes backwards, and sometimes you stall, but you can’t ever be sure which it is.

There are a lot of times I wish I had someone coaching me, or even a proverbial devil on my shoulder; being what, to me, is a bad influence, or really, just getting me to do things that I don’t want to do, but need to do. In such an example, someone would stop and tell me, “hey, what are you singing? Sing it!,” and not accept no for an answer. I liken these moments to jumping into a really cold swimming pool as opposed to just dipping your foot and dreading the microscopically small period of discomfort.

Only sometimes am I able to force myself to jump when I need to (though my ability to is sloooowly improving).

So there it is. These psychological knots of mine threaten to get the better of me everyday because they are so tightly wound. Because I can’t observe myself from the outside in. Because I have no voice outside my own mind. Because a head in the sand sometimes feels safer. Because sometimes I don’t get see the progress I expect. Because sometimes I see the progress I truly want. Because I can’t force myself to work on simple mechanics or X’s and O’s. And because even though I fully know what I should do to improve on them, I can’t understand what I need to do in order to make myself do it.

If I’ve learned anything as a friend or family member from my own internal battles with my past, it is that the most invaluable thing I can offer to another is to understand when they might need an understanding voice outside their own, not to tell them what they want or need to hear, but to tell them to do what they need to do in order to directly earn those things they should hear.

The examples cited in this blog are far from the only ones within me, and like I said, this is not about fishing for compliments because their effect is temporal anyway. Rather, I used them as examples because, yes, they are real, but more so because they are easy to understand and relate to.

As long as I’m looking from proof while also running from it, I’ll continue to crawl my way to becoming who I hope to be. Despite that, I am blessed at how great of a place I am in my life and the progress I’ve made thus far.