Do you ever lie awake at night berating yourself for things you said more than thirty years ago? Sometimes it helps to purge those inner demons by writing it all out.
In sixth and seventh grade, I was kind of a jerk. I don’t think I was a horrible person, but I was extremely full of myself, and I always thought I was the smartest person in the room.
Let’s look at the TV show “Cheers”. If you watch the first episode, it looks like it’s going to be the story of Diane Chambers. She’s framed as the “Only Sane Person” in an environment full of kooks, kind of like Dick Loudon in Newhart. When she got a job at the bar, it was like Dian Fossey doing research by living among the apes. At least, that was my interpretation at the time. It didn’t take the writers long to realize that the audience was identifying more with the lowbrow characters than with the intellectual Diane, who many viewers found annoying. The focus shifted appropriately, and Diane’s intellectualism was treated more like a character flaw than an advantage.
But not for me. I continued to identify with Diane, because that’s how I saw the world. I was the only smart person in a school full of idiots, the only nice person in a school full of jerks, the only refined person in a school full of lowlifes. I would use words like “au contraire” because I thought it made me sound smart, when I actually just came across as pompous. I still remember the first time one of my classmates called me “conceited”, and while I took offense at the time, he was definitely right.
Pop psychology often suggests boosting your child’s ego. “You should constantly tell your children how smart they are, to build their confidence and make them more self-assured.” It sounds like good advice, but the problem is, the kids who need it don’t get it and vice versa. It seems like behind every raging egomaniac, there’s a parent who won’t stop gushing about how smart their child is. My own parents ran hot and cold on me. I can remember specific instances of them bolstering my ego (and sometimes even seeing through it as empty praise), but they (well, my mom) also tore me down a lot too. It’s a wonder I’m as well-adjusted -Cufflinks! Nostrils! –as I am.
I don’t know at what point I grew out of my conceitedness (not that it’s completely gone of course), but I imagine the stresses over the next few years changed me a lot. Not just the migraines and related problems, but I actually started to fail at things for the first time in my life, and it was a huge blow to my ego. Today… well, I’m not good at self-awareness, so I’m not sure how other people see me. Nor do I think I want to know. But internally, my self-confidence is shot. If I say anything egotistical, it’s either a joke or an act of self-preservation, because in my head I’m worthless.
I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed, but I have been accused of being a tool, so at least that’s progress.