Several months ago I was listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast while commuting. I really enjoy spending my drive time listening to them. My mind has all kinds of new fodder when I spend the time listening instead of numbingly staring at tail lights.
I don’t remember which episode I was listening to. I wish I could figure it out. A comment was made that was somewhat tangential to the actual topic, but struck me as very profound. One of the guests said something regarding strong independence being a result of low self-esteem. I have been mulling over this thought for awhile now.
I’ve always had low self-esteem. In my always anxious state I spend a lot of time thinking about my faults and what I could do better. Whether its things I can control like exercising more or being more altruistic, or whether it’s things I can’t control like being prettier or being smarter. As a result of always looking for the worst case, the way in which I’m going to fail, I actually often come off as prepared and quick to respond. It’s easier to respond when you’ve already weighed out the 12 ways something can go badly and evaluated how and what you’d do in each case. As part of this severe inner critic I battle feelings of not being worthy. Of not being worthy of love, success, happiness. One of my responses to this is self-sabotage. If I sabotage my efforts, then others aren’t given the opportunity to prove my low self-worth. It also, ironically, serves to reinforce my insecurities, because clearly I failed.
On the surface my fierce independence appears to be a positive and successful trait, but part of my truth is that I depend only on myself because I believe others will reject me or disappoint me anyway. I’m sure that several exes could attest that one of my default reactions in an emotional argument is I-don’t-need-you, and I’ve created a life where it is true. If I need you, then I am weak, vulnerable, and exposed. You might prove that the voices in my head are correct and I don’t deserve to be loved or happy.
I have always viewed my independence as a strength, as a conquering of my weaknesses. While in general I think independence is good I can clearly see that I’m afraid of being vulnerable and my independence is my wall. It’s not a means of standing on my own, it’s a way of keeping people out. Understanding this about myself doesn’t make it any easier, but I’m trying to become more aware of when I’m building walls out of irrational fears. Walls can be very damaging.
This realization gives me a new perspective on myself, but also makes me reconsider how I view other successfully independent people. How many others are hiding their vulnerability and insecurities behind a wall of independence?