When I was in my early twenties, I remember seeing an ad in the Metro newspaper on a train, which I never forgot. It showed something which stuck in my head, like it had some unconscious cosmic significance.
Or maybe it just scared the shit out of me.
I can’t remember if the ad was for social services recruitment, or even the Samaritans.
It showed a lifecycle beginning with a teenager, going through his busy twenties, becoming successful and popular, a suit and nice car, then somehow losing everything. I can’t remember exactly but I think the final picture was of the same guy but homeless – something surprising and counter-intuitive based on how happy and fulfilled he seemed.
It told a story which was depressing as hell, and despite it being surprising I felt deep down like I perfectly understood it.
Even though I had yet to get my life going, I could sense the trap that the ad was referring to.
Life seems designed to really mess your head up in your early thirties:
In your teenage years you absorb a whole bunch of shaming behaviours, pressures, anxieties and insecurities.
Freedom in your twenties is suddenly a welcome relief – you can bury your issues with education, employment and relationships. There’s no time to think – you just have to get on with it.
Then in your thirties, once you (hopefully) know what you’re doing a bit more, you don’t have to spend as much time “searching” for things. You start to reflect more…
…and discover that some issues never really left, they were just buried under distraction.
Someone who felt they never really deserved to be loved might start to throw their relationship away, if they haven’t already a bunch of times before.
Someone who doesn’t feel they really deserve happiness might start unconsciously setting themselves up to fail, to be fired, to be imprisoned even.
I remember reading a chapter in a book about the “ticking time bomb” of poor self-worth, and how certain negative expectations catch up with you. It said that time never really heals certain limiting beliefs.
Those unconscious expectations and goals will always find a way of becoming reality, no matter how long it takes.
Once the distraction of conscious effort and desire dies down and fades, the true trajectory is ready and waiting to be followed.
Feelings of shame don’t just go away with a bunch of distractions. Even gaining as much approval or recognition as you think you need will never fill that hole and be “enough” to conquer the shame.
Actually, it only makes it worse.
The fear of not being good enough, of being “found out” is actually much greater, because there is now more pressure on it.
All of the effects of shame have continued to make the person less self-aware, more in denial, more disconnected from meaningful relationships.
Its only through genuine connection that feelings of shame have a chance of being healed.
Unfortunately, most people living lives of desperate distraction only cultivate the kind of the meaningless, superficial relationships that don’t provide any kind of empathic connection at all.
We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hold in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.
So we run around like conscientious little bugs, scared rabbits, dancing attendance on our machines, our slaves, and making them our masters. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves. . . (Kreeft).