Workshops are the easiest form of therapy to participate in. As long as they don’t demand personal revelation, they’re like training days at work. Without the mini Danishes, obviously. (That would be an error!) I switch to my “Terribly-Helpful-Making-It-Happen” setting, hoping to keep the conversation going on sage, but vague, generalities.
It’s entirely selfish. I want to be a valued part of the discussion, but I’m far more concerned to perform well than to speak the truth. It’s a way of getting the attention I crave without actually having to reveal myself, without being pinned down and exposed. In other circumstances, I might use clowning, humour, ignorant-yet-opinionated political ranting, anything that might gain an effect, provoke a reaction, entertain or interest, but I wouldn’t use the revelation of personal truth. Because that would be tiresome. Or appalling. Or both.
I try to ration my comments. I want to limit myself to supportive nodding and judicious interjections that encourage others to contribute, but the desire to be recognised and valued for not needing to be recognised and valued is self-defeating, or it pulls you in two directions at once, anyway. Inevitably, I break my own rules, performance spills over into compulsive over-contribution, and this makes me feel weak and spineless, impulsive, lacking in restraint. Often I add my tedious tuppence-worth in agreement to something that has already been said by others and fully worked through, (as if they needed my endorsement!) just to hear my own voice.
I contribute with assertiveness and confidence. That’s the manner I’ve developed to compensate for the hollow ignorance of everything I say. I’m blagging, and you don’t want to do that tentatively, but I disdain my own opinions. I should shut the fuck up and give others the time to contribute and develop their ideas. I’m over-sharing and being unfairly over-bearing, forcing my profitless voice, words and opinions on everyone else. Presumably they are barely tolerating me as a prolix, self-important arsehole.
I use the words “attention seeking” a lot. It’s a mumbled mantra in my brain any time I’m speaking: Attention-seeking-Attention-seeking-Attention-seeking. Like all mantras, the repetition leaches the sounds of their meaning. Am I just criminalising sociability? Everybody needs to be acknowledged, right? It feels like an epithet I’ve brought with me out of my childhood.
A better description would be “fraudulent”.
I’m massively over-think something very simple, aren’t I? My desire to be useful and recognised is at war with my general sense of shame, vulnerability and exposure when I’m with other people.
But, in Ascot House, looking around the anguished faces of my fellow patients, their nervous tics and hand-wringing, their tendency to apologise profusely after every utterance, I suspected I wasn’t the only one.
Meanwhile, other patients, exhausted by starvation and insomniac hysteria, would be nodding off…