The Culture and Importance of "I"
The more you say the words “I” or “me,” the more you may struggle with interpersonal relationships, showcasing your insecurity. Those who talk about themselves also appear more self-centered and narcissistic. On the other hand, using words like we and us open the discussion up to others, allowing conversation to be more open and less single-sided.
Or this is what I was told, anyway, growing up. Who knows exactly how old I was, but it was young. My parents had heard something on the radio about this concept, and were discussing it absentmindedly. They not only agreed, but had internalized it. Young enough not to partake in this discussion but old enough to absorb this information, I began to avoid these words. Starting in elementary school, I began to count how often I referred to myself in conversation. Associating the idea of talking about myself with negativity, ultimately the idea of anyone talking about me became something to be avoided.
Now, a good part of this mindset also comes from both of my American- midwestern parents. They were both raised to “just deal with it,” no matter the problem. In the Midwest, many lifestyles revolve around working alone as farmers and so forth, and encourage individuals to find solutions on their own. So even after coming to the more community-oriented California, both of my parents encouraged independence and responsibility from a young age. And while these traits are good things for a child to know, they also pushed me away from my peers. My family jeered at the idea of children sitting around, sharing their feelings. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to cry or emote at all, it just wasn’t encouraged.
As a child, the mind is inherently self-centered. This is a survival tactic, a way to ensure that the adults around take note and care of you. Psychologically speaking, kids tend to develop in relation to themselves; young kids don’t follow the rules because they know what is good or bad, but instead to avoid personal punishment. Kids are naturally selfish.
Once told not to talk about myself, I began to push away my thoughts and feelings. As a child, my instincts told me to talk and tell. Yet as a midwestern-minded youth, my mind told me to bottle it up. I found myself simultaneously craving and despising attention. Wanting to stand out, praise and love were sought out. Yet I also knew I shouldn’t, and believed it was burdening others by forcing them to think about me. I began to wear clothing to fit in, despite hating every article of clothing owned.
My brain has developed with the belief that I should not talk about myself (ironic, isn’t it, that I became interested in writing and putting all my thoughts down on paper). With this came the idea that I am not important, that my feelings and thoughts are to be kept to me. Ultimately, my unconscious came to the conclusion that no one really wanted to hear about me, and that talking about myself was an unnecessary burden to put on others. My chronic depression was something I should deal with on my own, and not tell anyone about. I continued to count how often I mentioned myself in conversation; ultimately this led me to talk about other things that I liked, but not in relation to myself.
I wish I could say there was a single event that changed it all, but there wasn’t. Time, moving away from my childhood home, and simply growing up allowed me to figure it out on my own. Even now, after one year of college, with hundreds of thousands of New York experiences under my belt, all I’ll say is that college is “fun.” My brain believes that people don’t actually want to know. With every sentence written or spoken, I count the number of times “I” or “me” is said, and try very hard to limit their uses. And that’s okay; I’m not a big sharer, but I’ve learned to tell people when help is needed. I have caring, reliable friends who want to listen, even despite my brain telling me that they don’t. Oftentimes it takes them to reach out and ask about me before I share, but I know I can trust them. One of my personal goals is to push myself to share more often.
It’s easy to see where the ideas behind my opposing mindsets originated from, and understand the reasoning behind them. In the midwest you keep to yourself, but when you find yourself a community, you should share the spotlight and check in with your neighbors who may need help. In California, there’s a larger focus on the self, and making sure that each individual receives love and attention. Listening to others and sharing the conversation makes you a great friend and a caring human being, but it’s equally important to look out for your own wellbeing, and ask for help.