Dark and bitter

December 3, 2009

Dark. And oh, so hard-edged and bitter.

That describes a few people I knew well, once upon a time.

I was going to say that life’s dealt them a few hard blows, but I’m not sure that’s really accurate. The dynamic at work here seems to be the imposter theory. It goes like this:

Someone gets into a job for which they aren’t really prepared and don’t feel qualified. They may do ok, or even well. But they feel they don’t belong there. They feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. That they’re faking it.

And secretly, they’re afraid that they’ll be discovered for the “imposter” they are. So they spend an inordinate amount of time positioning to cover up what they consider to be their deficiencies. And in fear of being found out.

They play offense, because, really, it’s the best defense, isn’t it?

The cycle is self-perpetuating. It starts with low self-esteem. After a while, the situation chips away at their self esteem even further. They can present an aggressively defensive front, which, over time, can easily become bitterness.

They don’t take responsibility for their life. Can’t. They become almost professional victims, feeling that they are at the mercy of everyone else. Of outside forces who are doing them in.

That’s the short version.

The people I know with this syndrome are self-centered to the extreme. Each developed painful conditions that are probably stress-related. Each clearly has a psychological disorder. They are unable to work, considered “disabled” and are on a social services assistance program.

It’s interesting that they each have a history of manipulating others into taking care of them, shamelessly, but successfully, at least for a while. A place to live. A car. Vacations. At first, family members, friends and boyfriends step up to help.

But after a while, when nothing’s changed, these well-meaning people burn out. Then,they almost always step out and leave the person to fend for themselves.

At that point, the person feels abandoned. Plays the blame game. And the cycle continues.

I have another acquaintance who had some of these same traits, but with a twist. He came into a small sum of money and was able to leverage himself into a solid job and some financial security. But his extreme self-centeredness has cost him most, if not all, of his friends. Certainly its cost him every one of his long-term friends. He carries on, though.

He hasn’t had a real relationship in the entire time I knew him. It seems obvious to me that he’s fated to be alone. He hasn’t a clue why.

I’ll be back in California soon, near some of these former friends. Human behavior is fascinating and as a social scientist at heart, I’m interested in knowing more. But I fear that I only want to know more in a “specimen in a petrie dish” way.

There’s no real way to connect with these people again. Our lives and our styles are way too different.

I know I can’t help them. And that there’s a lesson there.

The problem is that it’s only a lesson for people who can see it.

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