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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Character Factor

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 8, 2016

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While it’s easy to change our outsides—a new haircut here, a gastric bypass there—changing who we are inside can be next to impossible. If you don’t just want to be a better person, but have a different personality altogether, then trying to change yourself can just makes things worse. There are ways, however, to respect yourself even if your personality and personal abilities fall far short of your ideal. You might not be able to change who you are, but you can change your view of who you are and be proud of being a good person, despite your less-than-good nature.

-Dr. Lastname

Briefly, I’m a middle-aged guy, have a decent job in marketing, live with my girlfriend, and try to be a good person. I grew up without a father, and maybe having no male role model has made it hard for me to feel like a grown-up. I’m directionless, single, never married, no children. I haven’t really committed to a career, and I’ve spent a lot of time either unemployed or underemployed and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So far so good, but here’s where it gets weird. Every time I see a movie with a strong male lead, I find myself starting to imitate the fictional character. I observe their mannerisms, and begin to emulate them for days, weeks, or even months. I even check out the way they dress—the various accessories like clothes, shoes, and hats that they wear—and then I start to accumulate those things as well. As you might imagine, this can get pretty comical when I start walking around looking like Indiana Jones complete with fedora and leather jacket (no whip, I have my limits). Sometimes I’ll watch a TV show in the morning, emulate that character, then see a movie in the evening and want to be that character. The problem is that I don’t know who I am or what to do (as far as making plans, goals, etc.) when I’m not playing a role, wearing a costume, or planning my next purchase. When I’ve tried not to shop or emulate a character (for a few weeks) I feel anxious and directionless. By contrast, when I do shop or have a character in mind I feel full of purpose, even a little manic. The fictional imaginative character acts like scaffolding for my own personality. But buying accessories has gotten to the point of compulsion, where I don’t feel I cannot not have the item and still be okay. My goal is to be myself and start living a real life, but I’m not sure who the hell that is anymore.


Most people want to feel like their life has a direction; after all, if you don’t have a direction, then you don’t have a goal, and an aimless life and a meaningless life often seem like the same thing. But after living half of a life that’s never been considered driven, let alone normal, you shouldn’t expect to change direction now. In other words, if you’re middle-aged and have had this problem all your life, it isn’t going away, and there’s no “cure.”

You might think that you could fix these problems if you could find the source, but considering they have more to do with the brain you have than the father you don’t, it’s probably not possible. Besides, it might just get you to define yourself by your deficiencies or find places to lay blame, and that holds you back more than it helps you move forward. The more you hate your compulsive behavior, the more you’ll hate yourself when you do it.

Instead, accept the fact that, whether through nature or nurture, you have a brain that makes it very hard to settle down and some strange behaviors that are hard to control but are harmless, as long as you don’t spend too much money on them or let them interfere with work or relationships.

And it seems like they don’t, since you mention that you have a job, a girlfriend, and a set of values that you try to live by. In addition, your sensitivity to being impressed by fictional heroes may give you a talent for acting and an ability to put yourself in others’ shoes that will help you in your work. Given the power your compulsions and imagination have over your life, that’s a list of impressive accomplishments. And they’re the kind of things that give anyone’s life, normal or not, meaning.

Without trying to be a different person, give thought to the ticking of your biological clock and ask yourself what, if anything, you wish to add to your life before you die, e.g., whether you desire a steady partnership, kids, or the security of a bigger bank account. Don’t discount the possibility that your current relationship and work are adequate (or at least better than the alternative), and that your pleasurable compulsions may pose no dangers.

If there’s something you really wish to change, however, talk about it with your girlfriend and find a shrink/coach to help you restructure your life and develop new behaviors while managing, not attempting to eradicate, the old ones. You may wish to try several medications that sometimes reduce compulsions. You probably won’t change your urges or impulses and, in the short run, change may well make you feel worse. In the long run, however, you will be proud of yourself if you’re able to make meaningful improvements.

If you want a film hero’s confidence and sense of purpose, you may always feel like a loser, but if you keep plugging away at preventing your compulsive worries and behaviors from interfering with being a good, responsible, independent person and friend, you’re truly fighting the good fight. You may change your costume and affectations frequently, but you do have a worthwhile, if atypical, character of your own.


“I hate being such an uncertain, aimless, impressionable non-hero, but I’m proud of living an independent life, doing useful work, and having relationships that matter. I will not blame myself for traits that can’t be helped and I will not let compulsive behaviors prevent me from taking good care of myself.”

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