Character Analysis ft. The Insecurity that Probably Insults My Friends Sometimes

Eight-year-old me was surprised.

I had just found out that my two friends called each other’s moms “Mom,” and that they referred to each other as sisters. They were already super close by the time I entered the picture, painfully shy and fresh out of homeschooling. I remember just standing there, looking up at my friend’s mom, who worked in the cafeteria at the small private Christian school I had entered probably two months before. She was smiling. My friends hugged each other, and I stood by, trying to smile or something—to take part in the moment, pretend I was amused or that my heart was warmed as I sought to ignore the implications of what was taking place here. They didn’t call my mom “Mom.” No one but my sisters had ever called me “sister”, and I got the feeling this nickname was reserved for just the two of them. Something I might never earn because I had been tacked on after the bond between them had already crystallized.

Later that school year, it was twin day. My friends and I decided to be triplets, and we had coordinated what we were going to wear over phone conversations and everything. I don’t remember the whole outfit, but we were going to wear a pink long-sleeved shirt and black pants, and I was so excited because I knew just what I was going to wear. My shirt was a deep magenta, with a few pink jewels around the collar. I was convinced it would be perfect.

But when I showed up to school, my heart sank. My two friends had the same exact shirt. They were perfectly coordinated, and I guess one could tell I was supposed to be a part of the group, but I still didn’t quite fit. I tried to brush this off too. I had simply missed the fact that they had the same shirt (which I didn’t have anyway so it didn’t matter). It was an innocent coincidence and my friends never meant me any harm. But the memory stuck. I still have bits of visual information from that day, but I remember most clearly what I felt enduring the rest of it, playing with them—more like following them around because I was really shy and didn’t talk or engage much—in a non-matching shirt, feeling like the third-wheel—again. And the response deep inside of me was a strange, sort of smothered sensation, like I simultaneously tried to ignore or rationalize my exasperation, and also that I didn’t quite understand that I was feeling hurt.

I didn’t have a large friend group at school (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Most people played “bump” in the gym, or jumped rope. I was more interested in playing exciting pretend games and climbing things. But when my few friends were absent, I was alone. This trend continued throughout grade school.

In junior high, I was highly insecure about being the third wheel, and it caused problems in my friend group. By high school, I had friends, but I was relatively closed off. As far as everything related to the school sphere, academics were all that mattered to me. I was on a different level—or something. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, perhaps I was just perfectionistic and arrogant. Probably a combination of the two. I was very driven, and I considered friends a luxury, not vital to survival.

I didn’t realize much of this until my senior year in high school, when I began to look back and analyze what specific wounds I carried and possibly why. And it seemed all these random little instances of me standing by, feeling left out, looked over, forgotten, had built up and found their mark. Growing up, I never had any huge, catastrophic event that tore my heart open—it was these little thorns. Like constant, dripping water wearing away a hole in my sense of identity and how I related to other people.

Ultimately, it ended up with an intense self-reliance and persistent feelings of unimportance and loneliness, the scars of which I still feel from time to time—not out of any sort of grudge-holding, but just that they’re very deep and perhaps rooted in more than simple circumstance.

My first couple of years at college, I had to tackle these voices head on and force myself to fight them, to shake their hold, and to expose them for what they were. I had to look around me and have the audacity to admit that I have not been left to fade into the background. It was a key turning point in my sense of identity.

I thought this victory was final.

But every now and then, the pain shows up again. The hurt, the self-reliance, the ungrounded feelings of loneliness and of being forgotten. Thirteen years later, I feel like, deep down, I’m still that soft-hearted little girl with a mop of brown hair, a thumb-shaped overbite, and a pink graphic t-shirt, just standing and watching from a distance, being too shy to step forward or say anything. Persistently unpopular and more than a little self-righteous, who never felt she truly fit even when she knew she had people who cared about her.

I think even if I had led a perfect life, I would still carry these insecurities. Because fallenness does not obliterate our capacity to excel in our strengths, but enables the very aspects that drive those strengths to unearth weaknesses on the opposite side. My drive for creativity, connection and communication, for example, is plagued by an underlying terror of mediocrity and unimportance in the lives of those I care about most. My aversion to unnecessary conflict or forcing my own desires on someone else easily results in passivity in group decision making. And the list goes on.

Speculating about factors of my own personal character development fascinates me. I find it therapeutic to pick apart a flaw, insecurity, or disinclination, trace it to its origins, figure out what it’s associated with, and try to extrapolate if or how it might sabotage things if I let it go unchecked.

I do this all the time with fictional characters. I guess it’s only natural to do it with my own personality. With myself, it’s sort of like a systems check, blowing out dust, eradicating bugs, making sure I continue moving forward. It’s ultimately part of my ever ongoing pursuit to understand and accept myself and learn to be a safe place for people to embrace who they are as well.

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.