“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” -C. S. Lewis
Being forthright, this is definitely a behavior I can participate in. Being the type of person who really wears his heart on his sleeve, I can find it difficult sometimes not to project my emotions for people. I’ve learned enough in my life to try and avoid subjecting others to when they are negative but it can be a challenge, and can be done unintentionally.
What I can say is that there are times where it feels wickedly satisfying to demonstrate this side of yourself. It’s as if your ego gets a real boost out of the fact that you can define the terms of how you are perceived by others, even if it is negatively. As I expounded on more in my writing about control, we can often seek endlessly to avoid our vulnerabilities. Even if we are destructive, even if we are damaging something that took us potentially our entire lives to accumulate, even if we know remorse, regret, and animosity are to follow, we can still do hurtful things. We prefer to define the terms of our environment, and destruction is quite possibly our easiest and surest avenue to accomplish that.
This isn’t to say you go around trying to dampen everyone’s day, or necessarily do it on purpose. But there is no doubt that when you are feeling, shall we say, punchy, that it brings a measure of satisfaction to you bringing somebody else down to where you are. Sometimes the thing you loathe the most is happiness, and even happiness in the joy of others. If I ever feel this way I try my best to conceal it knowing it will pass, that I truly want those around me to find joy. Still, sometimes the temptation to demonstrate my discontent can be too much. The old cliché “misery loves company” is a cliché for a reason, and a very good one.
It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing for me to write about because I know how revealing it is, especially for myself. I’m sure there are people close to me that can pick up on it or have just gotten used to it. I go through periodic phases where I just stool in self-hatred and show contempt for any measure of encouragement, sympathy, empathy, and consolation thrown my way. It really is that I want to feel this way for at the time but it inevitably wears off. Could be a day, could be 3 weeks. The reasons for this sudden dip are numerous and sometimes I can even have a hard time grasping what it’s all about. The saddest part is in not searching for or having any interest in finding the solutions.
There’s no denying that much of it resides in the fact that I pursue humility and internalize it in myself harshly, and with little compromise. The grandest of hypocrisies is in how I love complimenting people, showing sincerity, generosity, attention, and kindness. All of these things I refuse in myself, and often go out of my way to avoid or extinguish. Very few things satisfy me more than to know that I’ve done something that meant a great deal to somebody else, yet I refuse this feeling to others. It’s an incredibly selfish and isolating behavior. When my acts of kindness are rejected, it too can be hurtful.
Modesty isn’t the only reason. For years there are things in life that I’ve deprived myself of, and deprived myself of them on purpose. Obviously the feelings of what I didn’t deserve coupled with my resistance to vulnerability only served to enhance my cynicism and embrace the reality of my misfortunes. Each person reacts differently to tumultuous events in their life. To me, it seems being dragged through the dirt has immediate, far-reaching effects. It feels easier to accept it that way, but that does little to solve anything.
The reason I used the C.S. Lewis quote from the beginning is because it’s not always the exact circumstances which lead to our desolation that disturb us. It’s in feeling sorry for ourselves, being victims of a grand injustice. Misery is also the perpetual understanding that your misery will endure. While we have no control over our calamities, we do control our perceptions of them. Some pick themselves up, some fall apart. The most difficult thing is to convince yourself things will improve when you don’t see how they can. In dark times, hope can be a calming sentiment. It can also knowingly be nothing more than placebo. This, unfortunately, is when we purposefully feed our agony.
Some years ago I auditioned for a band based out of LA called Peech. They had a song I needed to learn named “Misery” and I remember the lyrics sticking with me the first time I paid any attention to them, especially the chorus:
“This pain is digging into my throat, inviting it with open arms;
My misery serves me well;
I’ve tried taking control of my life and found myself asking why;
Why can’t I be free from this misery?
I’m not the only one to use this addiction of self-destruction in their lives;
I’m not the only one to use misery as a drug.”
It was profoundly philosophical to me because it really seemed to nail, uncompromisingly, exactly what I could do. Don’t get me wrong in all of this deep, dark writing about emotional sadism and masochism, I genuinely try to be a happy and good person. This by no means is to say I’m always good at it. Any change is hard, is resisted by your ego, and can take a long time. To understand these attitudes aids in changing them, but that is not to say they still don’t exist, that your whole life of programming can simply be switched off. It can’t. It won’t. It’s the grueling reality of growth as a human being, and is resisted seemingly with your every pore at times.
Forcing my ego out of trained reactions and behaviors is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with. The very reason so many people don’t change, or perhaps refuse to is simply because of how hard it is. It is much easier just to accept the way you are and pretend that there is nothing you can do about it. Well, I contest that wholeheartedly, you just have to want it bad enough. It requires you to have brute and inconvenient honesty with yourself, and that is not easy to do.
Some people resist any change, saying they don’t care what anybody else thinks. While I’m not here to say that they’re wrong, I don’t personally believe in that for a second. Treating other people with courtesy and respect is in it’s very essence the acknowledgement of how they feel. And what’s wrong with that? It’s a beautiful thing to recognize. To be thoughtful of others is to also not hinder their happiness, be it intentional or not. Chances are you know the difference, just as I have learned.