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Spare change, guv?

Spare change, guv?

Read this SinFest strip. The relevance to this article will become obvious shortly.

So, can you change yourself?

There are people - often New-Ageist women between 20 and 35 if I'm allowed to use a prejudiced stereotype - who claim that you can. No problem, they'll say, you can be whatever you want, if you only free your mind and have the will.

Cool. Right. I want to change myself; I want a stronger will and self-discipline.

No problem, they'll say, all you need is the will and some self-discipline.

Whoops...

Maybe I should begin this with the wrong way, because that's often seen and recommended in the remake-yourself tips of glossy magazines. The reason for this is that the wrong way works and is much simpler than the right way. Or maybe I chould say that it appears to work...

It goes like this: who you are, the person other people see when they look at you, is shaped by two things. The first is other people's view of you, which is influenced you your looks, your reputation and their interpretations of your words and actions. The second is your habits and behavioural patterns.

Since people generally are conformist, we consciously try to fit the image we percieve other people have of us. Somewhat ironically, this is true to an even larger extent for people who try to be non-conformist, like art students, goths and punks to name but a few, who try so hard to be different that they're strangely predictable.

It's hard to break this pattern, to say and do things people don't excpect, and to, in effect, disappoint them.

The glossy magazines often point out, entirely correct, that it's easiest to present a new image when changing environment and joining a group of people who don't already have a strong image of you. Moving to another town, changing workplace or school, finding a new group of people to hang out with in your leisure time and so on are often listed.

I tried that when I changed schools, at the age of sixteen. During the summer, I designed a new me, someone who wouldn't be a nerd, who could talk to girls, who was confident, sarcastic and cynical. I was still recognisable as me, since these components had been there before, only to a lesser extent. I decided what aspects to enhance and what I wanted to get rid of in my public persona.

It worked really well. Even those who knew me before accepted this transformation, because everybody else did. I became the guy you could talk to about anything, who had all the answers, who you felt able to confide in. The guy who could listen, give advice and other perspectives. Who came up with witty, sarcastic comments that made people laugh, who could compliment girls on their clothes or hair, or give advice on make-up, dress sense and hair styles to both boys and girls without giving up his manliness.

Look, it worked. I changed myself, became another person. Huzzah for me.

Bah!

I changed my habits, my behavioural patterns. And the more people around me got used to who I appeared to be, the easier it became to continue. I had given my environment new expectations of who I was, and those expectations supported me.

They supported the mask.

That's the problem with this method.

You create a mask, a facade you hold up in front of the person behind, who haven't changed at all. And once you've got away with it once, it's very easy to do it again, and again. In the end you stand there with layer upon layer of masks, all showing a false, distorted image.

It's amazing how fast you can get used to holding these masks up.

You get used to it. You've got a habit of doing it.

That's what Emma did, in the Attitude problems article.

The person you show up, the person other people see, that person is just a habit. It's who you are used to be, how you're used to react, used to feel, used to think.

Huh? If it is how you think, react, feel - how can it be a habit? It's who you are, isn't it?

No.

I am not my habitual thoughts, emotions and reactions. I am the one sitting behind them, wondering "Who am I?" From there I can see that the thoughts, emotions and reactions are habits. Habits laying over, and more or less covering older habits. I used to think, feel and react this way, but since then I've changed. Consciously or unconsciously.

The problem is that the earlier habits are still there. The masks don't replace each other, but get stacked on top of each other. The question is how high you can pile them before they become unstable. And can you clear out the ones at the bottom without the whole thing falling over?

Autopsychologic jenga.

But sure, it works. Just like make up, which can change your appearance - enhancing the cheekbones, accentuate the eyes, change the size and shape of the lips - but it is, just like make up, a mask.

If you forget that, if you start believing the mask is true...

Well. Sooner or later you'll get smudges on the pillow.

Okay, so that's the bad way of changing yourself. What's the good way?

"So quit your whining and go find the greatest love of all... inside of you!" as Slick tells Monique.

It's all about seeing your attitudes. About seeing yourself, seeing through all the layers of masks you've put on. Who is there, underneath them all?

What attitudes have created the behavioural patterns that have shaped the masks?

Who are you? Who do you want to be?

Once you have managed to dig down a bit, you can start pruning from underneath. This will give you a better view, which allows you to keep digging. And you will probably have to - masks are very easy to set up and get used to. So you have to be honest to yourself, and ruthless, and have the courage to keep digging even though each layer reveals something you once had reason to hide and forget.

To be honest to yourself... Now that's a scary thought.

But then, so is the thought of all the layers of masks, lies and deceptions piled on top of each other. The lies to others, and to yourself.

As the pile grows, it begins to wobble. A jenga tower of masks, stacked on top of something you've forgotten by now.

How high is your tower? Has it begun to wobble?

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