Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after me! I’ve said that countless times in my life, and I continue to feel that paranoia at times even if I don’t express it.
Most often, I’m paranoid that people are talking about me – not actually behind my back, but in my presence with enough vagueness that, although my name is not mentioned, it feels directed at or about me. And it’s always when I hear something negative, or else it would be shared with me.
My self-esteem gets confused when this happens. One part of my brain tells me that I’m crazy to think that I’m so important that people are even bothering to talk about me at all. Another part tells me that I’ve yet erred in some way to make someone need to express something negative about me that he/she doesn’t want me to know.
My previous nail salon was owned by a Vietnamese couple (they are US citizens!). Vietnamese is their native language, and so they always speak to each other in it. They could be talking about absolutely anything, but I’m certain in my head that they are talking about how ugly and calloused my feet are during my pedicure or that, although I think I tip more than adequately, they think I don’t tip enough for the amount of work they do in my manicure/pedicure.
I’m so paranoid that people are talking about me that I’ll often jest, “I’m here, stop talking about me now” when I enter a small group of people. Again, logic tells me that I’m most likely NOT the topic of conversation, but I can’t stop the fear that maybe they really are all huddled together saying negative things about me.
I think some of this stems from my childhood. In my family-of-origin, if you had to say anything with the slightest twinge of negativity in it, it was said in a whisper. My grandfather had stomach and throat cancer, and died while I was in high school. These days, the word “cancer” is a common word, but I remember, back then, that when they talked about it, the word “cancer” was always said as a whisper. I later came to understand that there was a theory – misled as it was – that if you didn’t say something out loud, you could pretend it wasn’t true. That’s why psychotherapy was frowned upon at that time, I guess – if you talked about your feelings and thoughts aloud to another person, you could no longer pretend they weren’t true.
I hate that I still have these issues of paranoia. I hate that my sense of self gets so muddled up in all of my imperfections that I assume they are a topic of conversation. It’s probably why I have such difficulty accepting a compliment, or why I question at times why anyone would want me to be their friend. It might even be, perhaps, part of why I’m so generous – subconsciously, I have to wonder if I do things and give things to other people as a way to pay for the fact that they are willing to like me?
That thought stirs up even more negativity in me! I recognize that I’m generous from a true choice to help people, but is that only part of the reason? My saving grace from that is reminding myself that I give to strangers as well as loved ones, and I certainly have no expectations from those strangers. Donations to the food bank, for example, are done to help humanity as a whole, with no personal reward to my relationships with the recipients. Donations of gently used items to non-profit thrift stores are the same way.
Still, I cannot seem to quiet the voices in my head that immediately assume I am the central topic in conversations that could be about me, even if they’re not! And once again, I go back into that cycle of asking myself why I think I’m so damned important that, of all of the people in the world, they choose to talk about me?
The only answer I have is this: Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t really talking about me!