The Advice We Really Need When We’re This Messed Up
It takes having a deep-seated psychological flaw to understand the value of shortcuts.
Take me, for example. I’m an introvert. I can masquerade as a severe extrovert for periods of time as long as a weekend, but it completely drains my batteries. At the end of that period, I’m ridiculously sensitive, taking any slight with the sensitivity of a knife to the chest. If you mock me laughingly during those no-battery periods, I may react with furious anger, or I may stop speaking you entirely for a couple of days while I learn to get over myself. Neither’s a particularly good reaction.
Yet I know if I went to the internet to say, “Hey, how should I deal with people when someone injures me during my recovery stage?”, the advice would be, “Well, don’t get injured! Stop feeling that way! Why don’t you fix that shit?”
On one level, that’s wonderful advice. Lordy, if I was less tender during these recharge periods, my life would be less drama-filled. And certainly I’ve spent the better part of twenty-five years learning to be less angsty, mapping my psyche to figure out whether this is a joke or a legitimate insult, and doing all the things I can to minimize the turbulence of emotions I feel during this time period.
But it’s been twenty-five years, man, and though it’s better it’s not going away.
Like many, I’ve come to realize that after long periods of socializing, I’m going to be in a place where I’m hypersensitive, no matter how I fight it. Yet a lot of so-called advice centers on the idea that no matter how deeply-rooted your problem is, you can get rid of it entirely with a dash of effort! So go do that! Now! What’s wrong with you that you didn’t think of that?
Sadly, no. I know some people who’ve spent forty years working on getting rid of their social anxiety, and it’s still there. There are folks who’ve spent decades working on anger issues, and that fury still burns. Depression, co-dependency, fear of intimacy… All those things can often be reduced, but they’re never there.
What we need are shortcuts.
We can’t excise these issues, so what we’re seeking is workarounds. If we’re depressed, then how do we still get to our jobs? If we’re terrified of going to a party, what spurs will get us out the door? If I start screaming in the middle of an argument, how do I apologize properly to get back to rationality and kindness?
Yet the Internet is full of people who give kind, well-meaning advice that boils down to, “Hey, just stop being fucked up and then this whole thing goes away.” Which would be lovely. But though you should try, not every weak point can be built up to a strength.
Because hey. Used to be, I couldn’t even talk to people. I’d shrink at parties. But I spent years learning how to listen to people and tell stories, applying a lot of effort in discovering the mechanisms of how to make friends and influence people… And now I can be a party-holder, gathering friends about me.
That’s lovely. That’s the story you want.
But I’ve put the exact same effort into fighting my lack of self-esteem, and though I’ve gone from “Cripplingly dysfunctional” to “working most months,” I think I could live to be 160 and it would never be considered a strong point. Some weak points just remain weak, no matter how much effort you pour into them.
And so when you ask for help, saying, “How do I get around this?” what you’re often looking for is the very kind assumption that yes, you’ve worked on this, you will continue to work on this, but given that despite all the effort you’re sinking into it, it’s unlikely to go away… so what do you do now?
That’s what we need. Advice that assumes this is still a problem, and we need handholds to try to drag ourselves around this gaping hole in our psyche. Those shortcuts are what hold us together when we’re flying apart, and only those who know the truth of this internal error can hand us the keys.
Sometimes, the best advice acknowledges that the central problem isn’t going away, and tells you what you can do regardless.