Growing up I often wished I had a tribe. I was alone a lot as a kid and was raised by television. At the time, I deeply wished I had the kind of family who would teach me life skills like: how to be financially independent, coping skills, that I am loved no matter what, and how to make good choices. When I would come home after being bullied, molested, traumatized, or scared, there was no one to talk to and no one to help me. So, without the internet or a loving parental figure to come home to, I was left to my own devices, like so many others.
As I grew older, I noticed having a tribe influenced convictions. I saw how one-way thinking crippled people. As I see many today mining the internet for information to fit their narrative, I feel like a failure for being incapable of helping someone off the ledge of their poor ideals and can see the same in their faces when they try to save me from mine. These barometers of moral elevation are fueled solely on emotion. Looking at these families that force their opinions on their children and spouses, I can see some of their real beliefs trapped deep down inside them. They’re not afraid about being wrong, they’re afraid of being excluded. It’s not about universal best interest, it’s about personal best interest. That, in an odd cult-like fashion, is the legacy that gets passed down. It’s not one of genetics, but the notion of integrity. The earlier this starts, the less likely we’d be alarmed to re-evaluate our views. Cognitive dissonance allows us to become defensive even in convictions we don’t truly believe in.
It did take me we a while to learn strong beliefs are much more than political stances. They are also how we view ourselves. I can think of many instances where the negative words of someone I cared about became a checkmark on a mental data sheet. Each time someone put me down or held me back, I added another check to it. I’d have a sheet for my work failures and another for my personal ones. When I would be depressed, I’d pull out this mental statistical sheet that fit my narrative and it consistently poisoned the view I had of myself. The sheet helped by saving me from the embarrassment of trying, failing, succeeding, or having any self-confidence. It, just like any set of convictions, made me miserable. I was miserable defending it. I was ashamed so I would hide myself. Yet, I was convinced it was right. I would replay each instance on that sheet over and over again, whether I wanted to or not. Each time I would stick up for myself, each time I would try something new, each time I would start a relationship, it was there to remind me how bad of an idea it was. There were too many instances where it was accurate and who was I to argue with facts?
For a long time I thought I was protecting myself by holding onto all this data, but all it did was barricade me. It was an anchor, one that kept me from both moving and from happiness. I had been treading water so long, I didn’t even feel the weight of it anymore. I had developed a sort of Helsinki syndrome. I knew I was defective and no one was going to tell me differently. I didn’t even like the sheet but I was so dedicated to it, I’d be naive to let it go. Instead of being free or accepting, I was stuck.
I would try hard to prove that sheet wrong. I tried so incredibly hard to overcome my hardships but, sadly, I had the luck of a Kennedy. One particular day, I was at an especially low point in my life. I was at the end of my relationship and I was deeply depressed. My boyfriend at the time resented me for having cancer and would put me down because of how I looked while going through it and how inconvenient it became for him. I would sleep in a separate room because I was ashamed and withdrawn. It was such a hard time for me. I was so lonely and destitute. I have never been so vulnerable. I had no job, college degree, or savings. I was also worried I wouldn’t have a future. I was incredibly stressed out. He had entered the room to officially end things and kick me out. He told me I “wasn’t a piece of shit, (I) just wasn’t anything (in life).” It was another checkmark added to the ever growing list and I remember being so destroyed by hearing that, especially at such a vulnerable part of my life. I remember crying so deep and heavy for hours, not because it hurt me that someone I cared for felt that way, but that I thought he was right. Sometime after that fact I re-evaluted my list. Not the failures or abuse itself, but those that gave me the checkmarks to begin with. What kind of people were they to put me down or not support me? Were they people I admired? Were they people I wanted to be like? Did I even respect them? No. In fact, they were nothing like who I wanted to be. Of course, they would put me down, I was different from them in a way they didn’t know how to handle and by not handling their feelings well is an exact example of what I don’t want around me or to end up like.
It had seemed I did belong to a type of tribe, after all. It was created some time ago and one I never thought to evaluate. All my life when someone brought up their beliefs I’d research it. I’d ensure the sources I’d find were unbiased to help me make fair decisions. Yet, when it came to self examination, I clung to it with all of my being and left it completely unchallanged. I had been spending so much time convincing myself of something I didn’t even want to believe in that I created my very own, comfortable, self-damning, paradox. This taught me the value of self-reflection in all of my beliefs and how brittle and brutal convictions make us. I certainly don’t feel we should ignore feedback, no matter how hard it is to hear. I do, however, think we need to constantly evaluate the source. If we don’t, we’ll stay stuck and miss out on having a rich life or, at the very least, we’ll have no chance at overcoming our hardships.
I found I had allowed myself to live with years of self-contempt. I could quickly tell you what was wrong about me and rarely what was good. This shows what happens when you focus on the data sheets instead of what skills or talent you have to overcome those negative attributes. I may not have loving parents to lean on still but, I allow new information to reshape my worldview and personal view not just to be fair and considerate, but to also allow myself to take risks and see things as opportunities and not threats. The question I ask myself today isn’t “what am I believing?,” rather, it’s “what am I ingraining?” These days I refer to my list of accomplishments and goals instead of relying on a tribe for validation. I do have a tremendous group of friends and family members who I love and admire, but, we respect each other enough to not be so entrenched in our beliefs that we lose sight of ourselves. I’ve also replaced that checklist with examples of how I’ve overcome my mental barriers so I can use it as a guide the next time I’m left to my own devices. As a result, I have become successful in life. The human spirit is far more powerful than any self-serving, unstable, defection; no matter the pedigree.