On naïvety

Like many with anxiety, I sometimes worry that the people I know consider me to be too naïve, and too much so to take seriously. I hear it in the little things, the small judgemental phrases they utter, acerbic, to their friends, about certain behaviours or activities that they find naïve which happen to correlate with things I enjoy doing. I hear it in the absence of my own words as I am talked over for the umpteenth time.

Now I’m going to preface this by saying that the anxiety does, undoubtedly, play a large part in my feelings on this issue. Anyone else who has been deeply anxious will understand me when I say that my paranoia about this does not equate to me actually genuinely thinking people are talking about me. That’s the nature of paranoia; it twists beyond what your rational mind thinks. I think highly of those I call my friends, and I have enough common sense to not put too much stock in something a mere acquaintance might think. But still, the worry comes.

I have a tendency to get excited about things. I have a tendency to overuse exclamations in my speech. I err on the side of kindness. And I’m not very judgemental – I find it hard to make up my mind about something unless I’m fully informed on the issue, and in lieu of further information I tend to choose the option that is most considerate of other people (or indeed, of other living creatures full stop). Somehow all of these things combined make people think I’m somehow less intelligent, less worldly. Or, at least, in my mind it is a likely possibility that they think this way, a paranoia that strikes through to old childhood fears.

If it were true that people were currently thinking this, as others have in the past, it would make me a little sad because it would mean they only see the surface layer. I’m often overly-enthusiastic because I’m actually incredibly cynical. Yep, I’m a pessimist. But if I’m not changing things and making others excited, I’ll be exactly like all those things that made me cynical in the first place.

And further, it makes me worry that people are more concerned about appearing stern and cold than about doing the right thing (whatever the hell that is anyway, it’s all subjective, to an extent). Permeating through society there’s an idea of what makes a person wise and learned, just as there’s an idea of what makes a person naïve and innocent. If it wasn’t for these archetypes, people certainly would never have called me naïve in the past. Because I was talking about peace? Talking about reducing poverty? Stopping bullying? Anything with the suggestion of a silver fucking lining? I didn’t fit their model. Often people would interrupt me to tell me, in a harsher tone, the exact same thing I had been telling them.

Oddly enough, the times where I haven’t had the energy to be positive are the times when people seem to consider me incredibly worldly. This is worrying.

A couple of years ago I was writing a scene in which a character commits suicide. The feelings took me down somewhere burning white with emptiness, not a good place to be. But I was surrounded by friends when I wasn’t writing, and my saving grace from the blank terror was having the kind of bubbly personality that, I have since discovered, people love to take the mick out of. I had fun drinking with friends, and being sciencey types we soon turned the conversation to extinction events and natural disasters. Well, I got rather animated about this subject and was, to my complete surprise, shot down by an acquaintance, who told me I was ‘too happy about everything all the time, and was lucky to not understand what it was like to have suffered.’ It knocked me sideways, and it was no wonder after that that she had blocked out any possibility of me ever becoming close enough to confide in her about the dark things I was writing, or indeed about any real-world problems I was having. Needless to say, the rest of that suicide scene I was writing went fantastically.

I had another friend who also used to think bubbliness equated innocence, and she used to routinely not give any worth to my feelings. After she found my modelling photos, she had this thing she’d always say, which was ‘You’re far too innocent to do anything sexual,’ (and god, we were twenty two at the time). It didn’t really stop after that, and it was a very effective way to belittle me. Anyway, it turns out putting your own assumptions about someone on a higher pedestal than their feelings is not a sustainable way to maintain a relationship.

The bottom line is: it’s not a healthy idea to put so much stock in the idea of naïvety and its significantly cooler-sounding counterpart, hard-assed worldliness. More often than not it won’t match up to reality.

The other bottom line of course is that it’s really none of my concern what other people might think. For anyone with anxiety it seems like the kind of throwaway statement someone without anxiety might say. ‘If only I’d known it was as easy as just telling my brain not to be shit!’ I want to say sarcastically when I hear things like that. It’s incredibly difficult but ultimately I have to keep being ‘optimistic from my pessimism’ and keep on trucking despite the potholes.

And finally, I will say this for the writers: the above discussed is a great way to introduce realistic relationship dynamics between your characters!

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