Meet Giorgio. Giorgio lives in a nice house with a beautiful wife and has a comfortable job in a good firm. Giorgio has bad days like many of us, but he copes with them as best he can. There is nothing heroic in this, because Giorgio’s life is no more challenging and difficult than anybody else’s; he just makes it that way. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that he systematically refuses to take personal responsibility for his attitude, or the actions and decisions he takes that make his life so fraught and stressful. He assesses and labels every single element and event that occurs as having an inherently emotional content from Good to Bad and every shade of approval in between, and refuses absolutely to change his assessment once it is made.
Giorgio is absolutely incapable of seeing himself in an objective or dispassionate way. He can’t assess his orientation and position in the landscape of the world, nor perceive that the root of his problem lies in the conflict between two incompatible world structures. This fault generates all the irritation, anger, and frustration that he experiences. He takes everything personally, as being an affront to him in particular. His is a truly egocentric view of the world. When needs be he calls on divine or moral authority to enforce his claim, but it offers him little comfort. He uses it only as an instrument of empowerment, not as a means of accepting his lot with humility and grace.
It’s not all bad, for he greatly enjoys many agreeable things. This is a deliberate choice of words. Judging the world in this manner gives his experience of that world and his living in it a character and a dimension and a vibrant emotional colour. It also serves to orient him towards that which is safe and positive, and away from that which is dangerous and threatening. This is natural, and not a bad thing, but the worst aspects of it fatally compromise his ability to assess the appropriateness of his discrimination, or the subjectivity of its source. He cannot, in other words, see the clashing discordance of two world structures in opposition, namely that of the world as it is and that of the world as he wishes it to be. This is acceptable and manageable to a certain degree, but only so long as things are going relatively well. They are about not to.
Giorgio is engaged in a heroic struggle to make his unmanageable world manageable, and it is a recalcitrant and untrustworthy world so he seeks manfully to control and direct it. This is an exhausting and disheartening effort, leavened with bouts of self-righteous anger, blind fury, obstinate refusal, and bitter resentment. Sometimes his cure is to wallow in self-pity and despair, or engage in bouts of blubbering drunkenness and wild revelry. Sometimes he attends to his hobbies, which are lying comatose on the sofa watching mind-numbing fare on the television or supporting his local football team at matches. There, he can channel his rage and target his partisan abuse against enemies clearly marked out on the open field by the colour of their shirts. He loves his wife very much but he takes his frustrations out on her, and at work he is an oversensitive and combative fellow even though he likes his job. He judges his level of happiness and satisfaction in terms of how “successful” he has been on any given day.
These two battlefields – home and work, private and professional – are the most strategically important points on the map of his world. Occupying and holding that terrain against his enemies tells him much about what he thinks of as his worth as a man. Beneath his bravado and braggadocio he is an insecure and fearful person, and cripplingly co-dependent. He relies on the approval and acquiescence he receives from others, and success in his conflicts, to feel confident about himself and happy with his life. He is petty and particular, argumentative and opinionated, insensitive and inflexible, and nervous and stressed. But he thinks of himself as a reasonable fellow standing up for his rights and for what is Right. He considers his mannerisms and character to be the traits of a serious, strong-willed, decisive and mature man, but he has no true or truthful perception of himself or how other people see him.
He constantly describes a litany of challenges and obstacles that he has fought to overcome, and bemoans the failings and stupidity of others and the frustrations of society and the idiocy of its bureaucracies. This makes him unpleasant and selfish company, for he shows no real interest in anybody else. He seeks only validation and approval of his actions, but is quick to bristle defensively when his opinion or method are questioned. His attempts to ingratiate himself with his peers are awkward and overbearing and often insincere. Despite wishing to impress, he is neither open-minded nor inquiring, and often ungenerous in conversation and snide in his judgment. He laughs nervously and self-consciously because even in relaxed social company he is precious and calculating of his effect on others.
This is all unfortunate because there is enough to like in him if he would just relax. He is intelligent, educated, quick-witted and gentle. He is a naturally good looking man as well, but spoils it by being vain and fussy about his degenerating appearance. He drinks and smokes too much, sleeps restlessly despite medication, and is overweight. He keenly feels the loss of his youthful good humour and beauty. He would like to exercise regularly but never finds the time in his overburdened and chaotic schedule. He is often surly and irritated, easily offended by the smallest things, and bitterly holds grudges against those who have angered or obstructed him. The ravages of these moods in clearly marked on his face, and is most unwelcoming to those who despite everything would befriend him.
He dreams increasingly fantastical dreams of what he’ll do and where he will live when he is successful in the future. He spends money he can’t afford on a fancy car and superficial things to impress himself and others, and finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate on duties at work, complete tasks around the house, or enjoy his precious leisure time. He can’t remember the last time he felt real joy, and realises that he is desperately unhappy but can find no real cause for it. His life is becoming increasingly erratic yet feels more restricted, increasingly lethargic, and yet more desperate. He has a brief affair but doesn’t know why and gets no pleasure from it, and loses a cherished promotion to a younger and more congenial colleague. Giorgio is 39, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Let me share with you what happens to Giorgio. Within six months his wife, with whom he has become distant and morose, will find out about the affair and leave him. His pleas for her return are strident and demanding, and futile. He will become increasingly isolated from his friends, begin to drink more at home alone, and lose his job at the end of the year when his exasperated manager gets fed up with his complaints, bitterness, and unproductivity.
In the following twelve months he will drift aimlessly through a succession of lower paying jobs, be arrested after a drunken fight in a bar over the result of a football game, and lose his car when it is repossessed for non-payment. He will then have to move into a smaller are more modest apartment to manage his finances after his divorce, spend the first half of the following year unemployed because nothing on offer meets his exacting demands, and alienate most of his remaining friends. Days at a time and late at night he will lie on his sofa in dirty clothes eating take away food and watching television. His physical and mental health will deteriorate. He will pretend to his worried parents that he is happy, and “just considering his options.” He will formulate and describe grandiose plans of starting his own company, writing a book, or going on a long holiday. But he will do nothing, seemingly paralysed by fear and indecision, and fall deeper into despair and impotent desperation.
If an “end” can even be defined as such or identified as occurring at a particular time, it will come in a horrifying moment of absolute and total honesty with himself, when he admits that he has completely and fundamentally lost control of his life. He will not understand why, or how. The effect might be of an almost spiritual and revelatory nature. He may very well have lost all reasonable definition of who he is as an individual, or any clear, sensible idea of what he is doing.
These would be deep and meaningful philosophical questions, worthy subjects of inquiry for any thoughtful adult, but in Giorgio’s crisis they will take on a shocking and terrifying aspect. He will experience the forlorn realisation that he has no other frames of reference or points of orientation with which to understand his life or himself, other than by those means which now so obviously no longer work. This is a fundamental identity crisis, and a horrendous and abject fissure has rent itself open in Giorgio’s basic sense of self, and self-belief. In other, simpler words, he does not believe in himself any more. Without that, he is nothing. Furthermore, he does not know what to do.
© andrew wheeler