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Starting this post was as much a struggle as starting any work of note has been recently. I wonder if as my brain comes to realise the enormity of the task ahead of me it’s seeking escape, as if all my realisations and self-questionings have revealed a truth I quaver in front of.

One of the huge elements of my life, my frustrations, has been with people who don’t understand (me) and selfish people. The unsettling conflict has always been that, hey, I’m human and so, hey, occasionally I don’t understand people, can be selfish, and demand people understand me at all times. So do I have a leg to stand on.

Incredible that I would think this, when so many people in my life crack down with cast-iron certainty on any misstep, on any error of judgement or approach. I’ve pursued a martyr’s life (let he who has no guilty misdemeanours cast the first aspersion of character) while others have had their cake and devoured it.

This is emotionally wriggleworthy, my attention desperately looking for distractions while I just try to get something out of my head and make some progress in building a better me. Yesterday afternoon, the fourth day of a wonderfully relaxing weekend, it seemed as if my entire nervous system was attempting to shut out the world, leaving me stumbling around like a bored toddler and hardly able to put one word in front of another. I felt terrifically petulant, a tantrum brewing.

What is it about selfishness that I hold on to, which puts it out of reproach as a flaw, as an action? The really, true selfish people are slippery fish – their self-interest so deeply bedded that they are wholeheartedly unaware of it, making their selfishness unconcious, and their actions therefore hard to pinpoint, accusations always rebuffed by “I was only…” or “But I thought…”.

And aren’t these people pitiable? Or is this my guilt again preventing me getting angry – because that is my underbelly state, a seething anger I spend all my energy on damping down, on holding back, on spearing myself with the awareness that I have no right to be angry because I am just like them. I can be truly selfish, totally unaware of my actions being inconsiderate because I haven’t thought about them.

I haven’t thought about them from someone else’s point of view. But when it’s my error, when I spell it out like that, it’s all too easy to see the ownership of the action, the responsibility – the fact that I made the decision not to think about it, not to be considerate. That I made the decision unconsciously makes it no less my decision, and if I wanted to make the decision, had I considered that there was a decision to be made, I would have made it consciously.

Selfishness is unconscious, it’s a passive state that I’ve so long excused because it’s not the active state of meanness, nastiness, spiteful or malicious action. It’s unconscious, and so therefore always unstoppable, because being so self-aware to always understand afterwards how unconsciously idiotic I’d been there’s only two ways to address the issue – either I am responsible for making those decisions, those actions, conscious or that they are excusable because they were unconscious.

One rule for me has to apply to everyone – if I let myself get away with being selfish (because it’s unconscious) my own intelligence and understanding can’t let me accuse others of being selfish (by refusing to make a conscious decision) without my own pysche attempting to turn itself inside out in search of a shape it can become whereby I need not take responsibility for my actions, for my malaise. For my laziness.

Only one person I love has ever truly understood this conflict, has ever taken the time to understand this struggle. My wife has both soothed the anger I feel because of this self-made issue while steadfastly refusing me any ground to avoid taking responsibility for my actions and waving away selfishness as ‘unconscious’. She has made me face up to the fact that I am responsible for my actions.

And now I have to begin slicing away those habits I have learned in order to protect other people from facing up to the fact that they are responsible. Responsible is a tricky word – if I say I feel sad and that I think it’s because Person A said something, are they responsible? Arguable. But if Person A has responsibilities for me?

Yes, parents. Again, parents. Again I spend hundreds of words dancing around an issue which cuts to the heart of my problems, my insecurities, my frustrations and anger, the black hole at the centre of me where a defined, adult identity should be found, the exhausting shimmy-of-self I perform to both avoid conflict and to save others having to feel it, swallowing the negativity whole myself, poisoning myself. Parents. The toxicity of parents.

Because I can’t go on protecting them. I can’t continue to save them from the fact that I am depressive, heartbroken, wounded, because I have not been understood and I have not been able to grow. And because I have protected them from my feelings, my honest self, because I explained their shortfalls as ‘unconscious’ or well-meaning, personality traits that were above reproach, which meant that I was responsible. I was responsible for my own flawed and inhibited development, this paradoxical situation leaving my identity twisting itself into a self-consuming, self-perpetuating, self-destructive loop.

I don’t know how much this can ever solve (or salve) the wounds I’ve inflicted upon myself, on top of wounds inflicted by parents who never abused, never destroyed, always protected, but whose lack of understanding, self-awareness and conscious decision-making nonetheless has confined me to a child’s cage, an adult child whose own rabid pursuit of understanding and self-awareness recoiled in horror at the idea that these sacred icons could be in any, any way responsible.

They did the best they could, they did what they could, they gave me all they could. But it wasn’t enough. And I cannot, will not, accept responsibility for being a child who needed more, a child with intelligence and depth that required sincere and self-aware understanding, conscious effort expended to fulfil development, instead of fearful protection and ‘expectation management’ to avoid that idiot spectre which haunts only those who are scared of themselves, the fabricless ghost of disappointment, of sadness.

Disappointment means you are alive, you understand yourself and you want more. Disappointment is a place to begin, a place to launch upwards, an inspiration. If you are disappointed then you expected more than the world could offer you, but that doesn’t mean you were wrong to have those expectations. Without disappointment there is no development, no questions, no solutions, no challenges overcome. Disappointment comes before triumph, is the genesis of greatness, is the driver and the fuel for acheivement, for success. Only the disappointed can ask the questions the satisfied would rather ignore. I am disappointed, in so many people. They have disappointed me. My parents have disappointed me. I will not hide from this any longer. I can not hide this from anyone any longer. I am disappointed. I have the right.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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