Civilisation v Aaron

April 18, 2008

What I’d really like is to break out of the hold civilisation has over me. It’s a hold put there in my childhood by the school system. Unfortunately for me my father was a school principal in that system so I got ‘schooled’ at home as well.

Dad always gets a raw deal in these pages so in the interests of fairness I should mention the strong likelihood that he is also behind my ability to stray from mainstream thinking. He always used the term ‘different’ as a compliment when describing other people and he also never sat back and let life push him around which made for a good role-model for taking charge of my life.

But back to the topic. Through whatever means available (exactly what they are doesn’t matter – only the result does) I was thoroughly domesticated. Adults always commented what a quiet and good little boy I was. My teachers always liked me and believed me to be mature because I always did what they asked. I lived for those moments of praise, which I became so good at getting and I very rarely got into trouble, so good was I at reading the minds of my teachers.

The irony is that I forgot how to read my own mind (and body).

To do something like this takes a lot of self control and I can see and sense it still in my body where it is now a near permanent feature. My shoulders are always held up high and my whole upper body is kind of rigid. I’m don’t stand out because most guys are like this but try watching one of us dance – almost nothing is happening with the upper body and only the legs are moving.

The intercostal muscles (between my ribs) are permanently stressed. Until a chiropractor friend showed me what was happening I used to get these muscle freak-outs where every time I tried to take a breath one particular intercostal muscle would give me a lot of pain – this would only last a few seconds or maybe minutes but basically I couldn’t take a proper breath until it had passed. Now I know just to rub the muscle and it relaxes.

So I don’t have to worry about that but still have the problem that if I get too tired or stressed I find it hard to get a full breath. If I focus on breathing deeply into my stomach I can sometimes get it back to normal. Unfortunately with a busy family life I often have to wait for the weekend before I can properly relax. I think what happens to me is that when the going gets tough I ignore everything else, hold on tight and just focus on the issue at hand until it is complete – and it’s the holding on tight so that other issues don’t crowd into my mental space that does it.

This is the physical issue that bugs me the most. Although there are a few others, the other problem with this is that having muscles that are permanently held tight steals a lot of my energy. I have, I think, three friends about my age who were never properly broken in as children and they are very high energy people, they have a great deal of charisma and are usually at the centre of any social activity. Perhaps not all of us are meant to be like this but I think quite a lot more are (certainly more than 3 of the people I know) and I suspect I am supposed to be this way too – I have shown the odd sign of it in the past but only when my energy levels are high and also when my confidence is up.

Speaking of confidence, the effect of being a good hunter/gatherer of praise when you’re a child is that you have no inner confidence because your self-belief comes entirely from the outside. You guys know all this of course but it has always meant that social situations are always potentially stressful for me (unless I’m with old friends). Because I’m naturally gregarious I like to be in social situations but once I’m there each interaction becomes crucial to my self-esteem. (This is less of a problem now that I’m a bit older but I suspect it’s come as a result of my rise through the social hierarchy meaning I don’t have to value the opinions of as many people any more).

Because my self esteem was always on the line I would always be second guessing myself in social situations and rarely at ease. I was of course hopeless around girls and frankly it’s a minor miracle that Karen and I ever got together. I’m even surprised she was interested. Maybe because I was 26 and getting good at my job I must have been finally starting to build a degree of internal confidence and wouldn’t have been exuding the usual desperate and dateless thing I had going back then.

The other place where the need for external validation was a problem was at work where I was totally at the mercy of my employers. In fact any situation where I was in awe of someone or they had even the slightest element of control over my life and I would become nervous and defensive. With one boss in particular I remember feeling worried whenever he was in the building (which was incredibly stressful). The scary thing about this is that although that was seven years ago and I’ve started a family and a business since then I’ve found now that I’m in a job again the problem has re-emerged – and this despite the fact that the job is way easy and the boss is a good friend of mine.

And those are just the side effects!

The actual point of me being like this is that I’m supposed to be a good servant of civilisation. Otherwise known as being a good professional. I’m supposed to be good at sacrificing everything that’s important to me as a person so that I can serve the machine better – and I’m supposed to do it without trying to rebel. Here again my father’s influence; even though I was often cautious in social situations I didn’t lack the thoughtfulness to question my role in society or the courage to leave it so I guess I wasn’t properly broken in either – they broke me at the emotional and body level but they didn’t get my mind.

The weird thing, which I just realised today, is that I make these decisions in my mind and then set about implementing them like a good professional, which is to say with total disregard for my own needs. It’s very confusing for the kids I’m sure, I give and give and then all of a sudden when I’ve got no energy left I suddenly flip over into being a grumpy old man.

I imagine some of you think this sounds completely appalling and others are thinking ‘actually that’s just like me and nearly everyone I know’ and it’s quite normal.

I guess it’s both.



  1. I feel the urge to comment, even though I don’t really have anything to say. I’ve noticed that not many of your posts seem to have comments. I trust that many people do read your site, though…

    I for one can say that quite often your posts are very timely and seem to reflect some of the roiling thoughts that circle around inside my head. I’ve always seemed to have had trouble articulating my thoughts & emotions – probably comes with being an INFP, if you’re into that… Your insights, along with Ran’s, Kevin’s and Dan’s quite often seem to do a good job of doing it for me, anyway.

    Just wanted you to know that someone reads your stuff!

  2. Thanks Ian, I think my lack of regular posting has a lot to do with it. Back when I used to post a couple of times a week (a long time ago now) there was more commenting. I can’t remember the last 3 letters of my personality type but the first one is defintely an E so I do enjoy hearing from people.

    And as an aside, soon after I wrote this piece I got a wicked pain in my chest, which is still there a little bit. One of my intercostal muscles really kicked up a fuss. I’ve no idea whether this is coincidence or not.

  3. Aaron-

    I have read your posts from time to time, and I believe this to be my first comment.

    I am 24 years old, and still coming to terms with the realization that my approval addiction is just that, a weakness and not a strength– though authority figures in the past have labeled the results of my addiction as virtuous.

    “Slowly all the roles we act out
    become our identity
    and in the end
    we are what we pretend to be”
    excerpted from the song “Give it a name” off of Jerry Cantrell’s 2002 album Degradation Trip.

    I find that the grieving process of realizing my lack of past self identity, helps me lay the foundations of a genuine one. E.G. well this belief was blown to smitherenes before, so I better not use it again. It is hard though, for my tendency is to use new manifestions of old mind habits and not be aware of how they are related…

    I also think that the majority of human beings, past and present, base their identity to varying degrees on what others think of them — more accurately, how they percieve what others think of them, hence guys like me “living in their heads” all the time, and poorly at that!

    On the physical level, my energy levels and digestive furnace seem to be based on large part on how confident I feel psychologically (which I don’t distinguish from emotionally/spiritually).

    Psychosomatic maladies are the ultimate feedback loop.

    Well, if you ever happen to pass by my whereabouts
    Rochester, MN, occupied territory, USA
    let me know and I maybe can give you a tour, a place to crash, or at least some kombucha (a hobby as of late)

    And thank you for providing the forum for me to post on!

  4. hey – the specifics of your physical descriptions made this sensible. will pass it on.

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