Van Morrison had a reputation for being a bully.
I suppose these days you’d call it being a badass but it being 1979 the term hadn’t been coined yet. A badass commands a certain amount of respect whereas a bully just engenders fear.
I am in the lobby of a hotel in Amsterdam where the receptionist is looking at me with glassy eyed indifference. She has in her hand a fax (Millenials, you can PM me and I’ll explain). Like the Ides of March, this scroll of paper announces my impending doom and proves beyond all doubt that I have monumentally fucked up the hotel booking.
I glance over at Van who thinks the five minutes he has been waiting for his key is already four minutes too long. His stare is piercing. I can’t breathe. There is no rational dialogue going on in my head. There are no sentences like “this is your first big job; everyone screws up sometimes; the rooms will be ready in a few hours; it’s no big deal; nobody died.”
In fact there are no words… period. There are just feelings… like intense shame; the desire to run away and hide; the humiliation of being ‘found out’, like a child in her parent’s shoes pretending to be a grown up. I am waiting for Van to start his legendary rage “Who the fuck let a chick do this job?” Meanwhile the receptionist is slowly looking through a lever arch file of room allocations. I am praying, though it feels more like commanding her to turn the pages faster with the force of my will.
I have forgotten how to breathe.
Van is now staring at me like Lee Van Cleef in a shoot out. The rest of the band are wandering around the lobby staying out of the line of fire. I am fighting back tears that are doing needlepoint on my eyes, as I whisper something to the receptionist. I don’t want anyone to hear me beg.
A few tourists do a double take. One stops and reaches into his pocket. Dear God no! He’s going for his camera. I am in a freeze frame between the receptionist and a pot bellied American. All the blood has risen to my cheeks so my feet can’t move. The American pulls out a candy bar. Thank you God. Thank you God.
The receptionist sighs and makes one room available. I grasp the key as if it’s an ancient talisman, hand it to Van and apologise to the rest of the band members who roll their eyes and wander off to find the nearest bar.
Then I walk calmly to the toilet… where I burst into tears. Huge shaking sobs – the kind that come when you’ve hardly drawn breath for the past half hour. And in that moment, like Scarlett O’Hara shouting to the wind, I vow to the porcelain…
“As God is my witness, I will never be humiliated again.”
And this is how it goes for all of us. Pivotal moment… followed by the hard, hard work of people pleasing, perfectionism and control. We are addicted to the validation of others.
But this is crazy.
Sure, other people are allowed their opinion, but that’s all it is – an opinion. It has no bearing on the TRUTH of anything.
It’s story time…
We are on the verge of a new paradigm – a new story. In this story, we wake up and realize that everything we need is inside us. Love, appreciation, approval, validation, ingenuity, compassion, creativity… EVERYTHING.
But in the same way that the GPS in the car only works when we start MOVING, we don’t feel that we have all these things until we start GIVING – contributing to the world.
Like many stories, the story of our evolution contains some boring chapters – rather like the sales literature from a credit card company, in which we have to wait for our gifts to be validated before we can use them. But the validation we require can never come to us. It comes from us.
This old story also contains some pretty tedious characters…
The People Pleaser.
In the new “Energy Age” People Pleasers just don’t feel REAL. This is a nightmare for companies who are trying to create better customer service by training staff to be “nice”. Because we just don’t buy it anymore.
People Pleasers can be productive because they work so damn hard. But they have to draw all their energy from the validation of the outside world, which in the long term, exhausts them and others.
This is the People Pleaser on steroids. Completely self-less. But in the “Energy Age” we want substance, not an empty shell, and we just know there’s simmering rage in there somewhere. Martyrs also have to pull in energy from the outside world through their mechanism of choice – the ability to induce guilt.
Then, on the other side of the coin we have…
On the surface the Narcissist doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s approval. They are often maverick, independent, and charming, and therefore really attractive. Under the surface they feed off the adulation of others. Like the People Pleaser (only more popular) their co-workers can wonder why somebody so fabulous can make them feel so tired all the time.
This is the Narcissist on steroids. They suck the life force out of others with impunity and get away with it by being wildly charismatic. Vampires have perfected some cool magic tricks like shape shifting – into whatever the situation requires. It’s all smoke and mirrors, not the mirror of self-reflection of course. Because if they looked into that one they’d dissolve into vapour!
The context for all these characters is the story-making factory otherwise known as the MEDIA.
The media are in the business of propagating myths – not creating new ones. Telling a new, different story is difficult. It’s much easier to squish everything through a template or a plot line of what people know. People know about lies, betrayal, addiction and greed. We don’t like to admit it, but these behaviours are part of our old survival DNA.
A glance at the news-stand today reveals stories about lies, betrayal, addiction and greed… but on a much grander scale. This makes it easy to have an opinion of others because they’ve been reduced to stereotypes. It also makes it desirable to have an opinion of others, because it’s a short cut to feel better about ourselves.
We may have stolen the office stationary but what about those Bankers who have stolen billions. The horror!
We may have got drunk last weekend but look at Lady Gaga falling out of a taxi with ripped tights and mascara all down her cheeks. The shame!
We may have falsified our expenses but those corporate fat cats actually lied on a Tax Return. The arrogance!
The cellulite!! The weight gain!! The weight loss!! And other exclamation marks!!
Opinions. Endless opinions.
At a time in history when we have unprecedented means to be creative, what are we doing with our energy?
- Having opinions about other people.
- Worrying about what kind of opinions other people are having about us.
Currently the media is obsessed with the Nigella Lawson/Charles Saatchi story. Fifty years ago, the lens through which we judged this story would be “Successful, talented man versus the unreliable witness of a crazy drug-taking woman.”
But we live in the energy age now and we’re not buying it. Nigella was raised to be a People Pleaser. She lives to make people feel happy, nurtured, loved. Charles was raised to be a Narcissist – a brilliant, controlling bully. There’s no right or wrong, there’s just two styles of behavior, two sides of the same coin.
We’re all flawed. But our style of dysfunction comes from the same root – and that root is shame. Either we don’t feel good enough to be loved for who we are, or we feel that if we can control our world we will never have to feel shame again.
We create a mask, and when the mask slips, the truth is revealed – whether that’s exaggerated giving in order to get love and approval, or buying our own books in order to control their chart position.
Most of us don’t feel that we’re enough… because we don’t feel enough.
We don’t believe in our own power… so we rely on the energy of others.
And that leads us into power plays. And no win situations.
Creativity creates its own energy – and unlike adrenaline, it’s a sustainable form of energy.
Perhaps if we were creative enough to write new stories, the media would stop selling the old ones.
Perhaps if we created some new characters, others would start emulating them.
Perhaps Van Morrison could become a nice person. Haha! Just kidding.
But perhaps in truth, his role wasn’t to be nice. I could have interpreted his behavior as a slap in the face… to wake me up from the spell that I’d put myself under. The Kool Aid I had willingly drunk in order to have an excuse to hide from the world, one that allowed me to control things from a distance, from behind the mask.
Anyway as Jeff Allen would say (with intense irony) “the world really doesn’t need any more nice people.”
It’s true. The world needs more creative people, more real people, more connected people.
Let the peace process begin.
It may be topical, but if you want a more seasonal piece, here’s one I made earlier… On happier days, avoiding small talk and getting away for the holidays Enjoy the festive season… wherever you end up!
Whoa!! You’ve just articulated what I’ve been pondering the past 10 years: how to get beyond the drivel of the media’s repetitive use of hardwired, but increasingly dysfunctional use of classical archetypes.
The solution for most things is not the either/or, but the two embedded together. As you point out, the martyr is just the flip side of the narcissist, and the only way out is claiming a self, free of shame, blame, and projection of others. Validation is important and at the same time, taken to the extreme, allows no self. There must be a self within each of us, not too much and not too little. It’s time for everyone to stand up.
In my experience, the only way to do this is through shadow work. Yes, we each have one, inherited through family-of-origin processes then unwittingly passed on to the next generation; the Cat’s in the Cradle effect.
I’m interested in how you managed to make it out of the multi-generational passing of these “gifts” that keep on giving.
Thanks for writing! I got out of the trap, as you point out, by shadow work. Raised to be a people pleaser like so many girls I lived a life of intense effort..if I’m good enough, smart enough, funny enough..will everyone like me. At the se time I was drawn to narcissists – worked with them in rock & roll, advertising, marketing…fell in love with them again, and again and AGAIN. Then one day woke up and thought ‘hang on a minute I’m a goddam narcissist! Most people describe ‘awakening’ as a lovely butterfly filled moment when they realise they are a child of God. In my experience they tend to be more brutal, in which I realised I was also the devil in disguise…as Elvis would say 🙂
Eleanor, so right on about the powerful effects of shame/blame and lack of enoughness that so many feel. The only true path to experiencing enoughness is knowing that WHO YOU ARE is enough because the goodness and validation you seek outside is only found within. keep posting 🙂
Thank you 🙂