“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”– Jim Rohn
I have no idea who Jim Rohn is1, though variations of this quote run rife in the personal development community. It’s an overly simplistic way of saying that we tend to manage our behaviour in relation to other people, that we should be around people who lift us up, and run a mile from people who drag us down. You know, the regurgitated advice from every self-help guru.2
We’re about 11 months into an on-again-off-again lockdown, so if we are being responsible adult, then we are not being around many other people in a meaningful way. We may
be trapped with have the company of family, friends, or flatmates, we could find ourselves living with just one person, or we could find ourselves living alone. What does this mean for us if we are the average of the people we spend time with?
I bring this up because of something I am personally experiencing.
I have been diagnosed with Emotional Intensity Disorder3, twice. It basically means my emotions go up to 11, but you can look at the diagnostic criteria for the ins and outs of it all (it is very complex, and there are many different combinations of symptoms). The one criterion I want to look at it is this:
Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
I have very little sense of self. I have a habit of modelling the ideas and opinions of the people I am around. I can come across as a bit of a cranky and overly-opinionated little shit online, but in person I think I am overly-amiable and conflict avoidant. I want people to like me, but who am I? Well, I’m whoever I think you want me to be. It sounds really creepy when I write it out, but it’s true. I can’t pin my identity to anything other than others. I am a ghost of a person, and I only exist in relation to other people. When I am alone, and try to figure out who, what and why I am (remember, I am addicted to personal development) there is nothing to pin myself to.
So what then am I, and people like me to do when we aren’t around other people? How do we continue to exist?
I am struggling with who I am, and I can’t be the only one.
Are any of you fans of Nickelodeon’s Fairly Odd Parents4? There’s an episode where Timmy Turner wishes to be alone with his crush, Trixie Tang. Trixie needs constant admiration from the boys, and with them gone Timmy has to provide it all. Watch it.
That is a vibe. And it’s kind of my vibe right now.
I don’t need the constant admiration of people, but my partner alone can’t provide me with a strong anchor point for my identity. He shouldn’t have to. That’s too big a responsibility for anyone, and he is unable to really consent to that5. It’s a toxic behaviour that I am struggling to manage.
Being among people doesn’t give me a stable identity, but it allows me to flex and explore identity without overly burdening people. However, I will not be able to be around people in any meaningful way for a long time, possibly next year. A year of being a ghost.
Of course the real solution is to have my own stable sense-of-self, but I’m fucked if I know how to do that.
What am I the average of?
You can’t drink from an empty cup, but what if that cup can never be filled?
1He’s an entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker. All the worst sorts of people, lol.
2I snark, but I am addicted to this stuff.
3Or Borderline Personality Disorder, but that label is so shallow and easily misunderstood.
4It’s problematic. Shut up. All your favourites are problematic too.
5How on earth would consent work in this situation?