Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Not Me, It's You: Advice From the Non-Robotic

A friend of mine recently pointed out that thinking too much, and also thinking too much about oneself is probably more of a hindrance than a help.  This inspired the blurred thoughts below.

Do you have friends who have a knack for transforming dialogue into a monologue?  Are you often stunned at how whatever infinitesimally unique subject you bring up it amazingly is JUST like this one time that they had this one thing happen to them in Guatemala but it was actually their cousin's cousin's fault, not really theirs, even though the Mesoamerican Ambassador has put out a warrant on their heads for 5,000 pesos, and wow it's been two hours already and gosh you're so quiet what were we talking about before I got off on my tangent?

I am one of those people.  Or rather, I am a recovering self-addict.

"It's not you, it's me"

In hindsight, this phrase was at one point a smart way to reject someone kindly by saying you're really the screw-up in the situation (when you know in reality you wouldn't date that person even if the earth was being consumed by an epidemic bacteria and their breath was the only vaccination in existence...)

But, the phrase has become tinted with the reality that we all fear:  some sort of rejection is happening and whether or not it's for the benefit of one or both parties it's still happening and REJECTION IS NEVER GOOD.  At least, that's how it feels.  Culturally, (and I've mentioned this before in The Big Lie) I think Americans are terrible at handling criticism--and we're even worse at constructing criticism that doesn't take a turn into the personal.

But, the reverse of "It's not you, it's me" is never really discussed.  So, today's post is more or less about something I noticed I was doing the other day while out with a friend.

I was having the standard update/catch-up conversation.  But, I noticed that with every bit of information she was giving me about her life I was routinely comparing things she had experienced with mine.  And no, not the normal random-coincidence comparisons ala, "Wow, you ALSO were into recreating historical battles with miniature army men, complete with accurate calvary and infantry battle field layout?  That's so weird.  So was I!"  No, no.  If she said "Father" I was all ready to be like, "YEA!  I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE A FATHER, TOO!"

That's when it got me thinking...

Prime Time

I'm sure this is normal--we all do this.  We all are primed, based off of our individual experiences in life, to have associated words, images, phrases or ideas that pop into our head, given whatever trigger is at hand.

In psychology and linguistics, this word-triggering phenomena is called priming; 'primed' words are words that are immediately brought to the surface of your brain by something external to you, usually another word.  As in, if one thinks of the word "salt" one is likely to be primed to think of "pepper"; you think of Kenny G, you think Tone Deaf.

So, it's no mystery that when the human brain is stimulated by some outer experience, it is then triggered to think of something in response, automatically--humans naturally have a give and take learning system; it's how we survive and it's how we communicate for our survival.  This particular process of data recollection occurs in milliseconds--i.e., one's brain is ready to react with thoughts, ideas, words and images before you can even begin to think to counteract this auto-pilot.

But, there is this sort of mania that comes with needing to voice each and every connection you see with what you're being told by someone else.  And choking them down ain't easy.

Thoughts are like hair-balls:  once they start to come up, it's hard to get them back down.

This interests me because, as I've mentioned previously, I consider myself a recovering self-addict.  I've wasted away many an hour in the past, dedicated to thinking about one and only one thing:  how crappy I am.  Not that there weren't some moments in which this self-evaluation was totally warranted.
Not one of my proudest moments.

But, there comes a sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior out of constant self-analysis and re-evaluation--and the more you think about it, the more you are self-priming to think about it.  Well, at least, that's how it feels.

The trouble is, how do you reconcile the need for self-appreciation day to day?  We're surrounded by all these other human beings that are constantly asking you to look at them, to sympathize with them, to reassure them, to approve them, to disapprove of the person they disapprove of--it's exhausting being human once you start to realize how often we're called upon to emotionally warrant each others' emotions.  Unless you're a robot.

         You're good to go.

I'm not sure what the answer is.  But, I do have some advice on what to do when you can't get "you" off the brain, every time someone else is talking.

DISCLAIMER:  Before I go on I'd like to state my advice doesn't guarantee the BEST LIFE EVER, or millions of dollars, or that one hot-honey (James Franco) swingin' on your arm down that rusty-colored carpet.  (I know you know this, but I like putting disclaimers at the top of paragraphs--it makes me feel powerful, as though I'm coming to a climactic moment.)  I am also not aiming to turn this blog into an Ask Beryl! posting for advice.  On the contrary, I'd much rather write up erroneous graphs and functions that help calculate completely unhelpful information.*  But, I got off on this tangent when I started writing and here we are.

Anyway, my advice to better oneself and decrease the unfortunate level of unhealthy self-addiction?  Think of the It's Not You, It's Me rule in reverse:

When someone is talking about themselves, it's really not about you, it's about them--as hard (and yes, as boring) as it feels, try to keep this in your conversation.  Or at least think it--thinking it is good enough for Year 1.  Granted, this brilliant reversal popped into my head when yet again, I was failing at paying attention to what my friend was saying, and thinking about this instead--but!  It was in the name of preventing future moments of failure at friendship.  See how I'm learning?

I just figure, at least from what someone else already pointed out, if you're really thinking about yourself that often and that much, it's probably not working in your favor--as in, you're becoming more self-conscious and worrying than you need to, and thus causing more unnecessary stress.  Again, you're not a robot.  Sometimes it's really hard to know the difference between what's helpful, mutual conversation and what's just taking advantage.  But, I'd rather question and learn more about how I'm communicating, and thus who I actually am, in a way that's humane--as opposed to well, robotic.


*Next week:  A function that defines how long it takes for a Google image search of any word to get to a naked/awkward sex picture.  I want to know what the likelihood of typing in my favorite childhood book will get tagged for a porn shot before the memories and nostalgia are forever scarred by a search engine, don't you?


  1. Did that 'proudest moment' take place in a certain history class debate? If so, it's not your fault he didn't teach us shit about affirmative action!

  2. Oh yes indeed it did. And it's true he didn't teach us much, but, I also could have researched it myself...rather than spouting off something I overheard from TV. Then again, I never prepared for those debates anyway.