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hale spider*

May 3, 2012

So why am I spending so much time thinking about topics [hierarchies, leadership] that I say I’m not interested in?

The direction I meant to go in yesterday was this: I think I have a vast reservoir of emotional energy that was originally earmarked for me succeeding my mother as family atriarch. Supposedly, people who are hubs of social networks show genetic differences from people who are always at the fringe of a social network. I think I was born to be a hub, but after age 6, found myself at the fringes, with no idea what just happened nor what to do about it.

I remember what my mother was like before my youngest sibling was born; I remember what our family life was like. I’m guessing my two middle siblings do not. When the cataclysm happened that changed everything, my displacement from the top spot opened up unprecedented opportunities for those two siblings. My youngest sibling has a close relationship with each of them, but no relationship with me. And I can see how that makes sense — what benefit could an alliance with me offer? Not only was I deposed, but I’m a pacifist. And whenever I’ve hurt somebody, even accidentally, I feel stricken with remorse about it for years afterwards. So as an opponent, I’m guessing I look like a pushover, and just not worth the bother.

Not only do I hate fighting, but up until a couple of years ago, I thought I hated conflict as well. My father grew up as the youngest of seven children, with four older brothers who would apparently just as soon beat him up as talk to him. So his comfort zone for an argument or so-called debate is quite combative: lots of yelling. But afterwards, like boys or men are wont to do, everyone shakes hands and is friends again. I never got that far. When people yell at me and tell me my arguments are stupid, I shut down emotionally, and often dissociate. If I’m completely overwhelmed, I might cry with frustration. My father hates tears, and he thinks girls or women only use them to gain an unfair advantage. So even if I cried as a child, he would just stop listening, after telling me that he had just lost all respect for me. (Which did not make me feel better.)

‘Respect’ is actually kind of a loaded word for me, because people in my family of origin only mentioned it to me as something that had been extirpated: “I used to respect you, before you did Action X, but now I don’t.” I never saw any signs that they actually had respected me before Action X. Like a good Catholic, I dutifully felt guilty, and vowed to act more worthy of their regard, while they stayed exactly the same, and felt guilty about nothing.


To switch gears a bit, because I was (psychologically) enmeshed with my mother for most of my life, I spent a lot of time observing her interacting with other family members, and other people. And I spent a lot of time thinking about her and her life. As far as I could ever determine, her power struggles with her sister, her parents, her brother, and various other family members, (and somewhat, other situations like trying to help my father get ahead at work) occupied all of her available energy and time.

I was the only person enmeshed with my mother in that particular way, but she was constantly checking in with her sister, her father, nieces and nephews, my siblings, my father, her cousins and aunts and uncles, probably her in-laws. If you wanted to know what was going on with anybody in our extended family, as well as our neighbors, my mother was the perfect person to ask.

She is an extrovert and an SJ, so I bet all of this was very satisfying, and probably energizing. From talking to her, I know that she would tell you this was the most important thing she could be doing.

Both my brother and my sister are also extroverts, and they seem to also enjoy being in constant contact with hordes of relatives, friends, and neighbors.

I’m an introvert. I’m an artist and photographer, I’m a writer, I’m a scientist. I’m a philosopher. I once estimated that I might have read 10,000 books by the time I was 25; in the last three years, I’ve read close to 700 books (I’m keeping track on LibraryThing). I also have friends. The human ones live far away, and I don’t see them often, but we keep in touch by e-mail. The non-human ones I stay in contact with by visiting regularly. Spouse and I do things together, which occasionally include travel. I infrequently attend meetings for organizations I belong to.

When I am with other human beings, I prefer one-on-one, or at most, a handful of people. I don’t enjoy parties (loathe them would be closer). I’m highly sensitive to sensory stimulation, so my nervous system gets overloaded easily.

So if what I’ve thought of as a cataclysm had not happened, I would have put that vast reservoir of my emotional energy to use as being atriarch. But I would have totally sucked at it. So I probably would’ve been deposed anyway, just later in life. And then I really wouldn’t have had any idea what to do with myself. Because everyone in that system thinks that system is all there is, everything that matters.


I’ve been feeling at loose ends for a while, sensing I had some undiscovered issues with leadership and hierarchies, but unsure how to figure out what they were. When you don’t have any data, there’s nothing to think with. So I joined some groups, thinking that maybe I was going to be a ‘late bloomer’ leader. Or I was going to figure out a way to be a ‘follower’ that felt right for me. Neither of those things happened.

I thought I might improve my social skills. Instead, I learned something much more valuable. There are certain social situations where the particular social skills that I have, and my very specific and unusual life experiences, are ideally suited to advancing my own interests. In situations where I have no idea what is expected of me, or where there is no reason to think anybody could expect anything of me (say I’m at a conference where I don’t know anybody), I do whatever feels right in the moment. That often involves improvising, following my curiosity, and learning about whatever captures my interest. I think of this approach as embodying my SP side, also known as ‘meta-juggling’. I’ve made some wonderful connections this way. They rarely lead to more-permanent relationships, but that’s totally okay. I actually think I excel at short-term connections of high-quality. And in certain circumstances (like when ‘sparkle’ is involved), I am apparently rather memorable, in a good way.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t behave like everyone else. I usually don’t know the rules, and when I do know the rules, I don’t like most of them.

When I go to social events with the SP mindset, I don’t experience social anxiety, and I don’t have any real awareness of what either people as individuals or as a group are thinking about my behavior. Nor do I care. If I get what I came for, I’m happy. Period. It’s actually better, in a lot of ways, if nothing persists, because then by definition, that ‘moment’ in time (of whatever duration) was whole and complete. Whatever it was, was enough.


I’m in the process of preparing myself to claim substantial responsibilities that in some sense are my life’s work. I’m getting closer to being able to write about it, and today’s post, as well as the thinking I did before I wrote, are helping me clarify what’s important and why.

[[* anagram of ‘leadership’]]

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