the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

On the trap of anxious love

Posted by rigorousm on January 21, 2016

One of social anxiety’s cruelest side effects is how thoroughly and instantly it turns you into a narcissist. A lot of people think you need an excess of self-regard to be self-obsessed, but as any experienced overthinker will tell you, all it really takes to become completely absorbed in your own inner world is the staticky rush of adrenaline that comes of truly fucking up a conversation. In these moments, the full force of your attention swivels inward; everything else in the world dissolves until all you can see is you, your flaws and inadequacies and failures lit up like a marquee.

This kind of anxiety is one part of a more complex trap. You can’t really be alive without wanting to be loved, and you can’t really love someone else without empathy, and you can’t really be empathetic without figuring out some practical way to mediate the messy, overwhelming and completely legitimate fear that maybe no one in the world will ever love you. If you want to connect with other people, you have to learn to drag your attention away from yourself and focus it on someone else — but the sheer force of your desire for that kind of connection, if left unchecked, has the power to swallow your attention and erase your capacity for empathy before you ever get the chance to try.

Often we describe people who don’t know how to hide their desire for love and approval as desperate or pathetic. That revulsion has a lot to do with how close to home it hits to see someone grasping for love with the same desperation we’ve painstakingly learned to conceal.

In terms of pure outcome, being loved for who you are is pretty much the same thing as becoming a whole new person. In both cases you’re allowed, for a moment, some reprieve from the exhausting task of being yourself; in the former because you’re finally safe, and in the latter because you’re finally free.

The only real way to untangle yourself from yourself, to quiet the dull roar of desire and fear and longing in the background of your thoughts and actions, is to broker some truce with your attention that lets you focus it on the people around you instead.

‘Missed Connections: How to Tell if “Nathan For You” Is For You’ by Emma Healey for LARB.


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