Photo by Ronald Cuyan on Unsplash

What It’s like to Feel Responsible for Everything

What was surprising was that the implied self that places itself at the center of the universe is clearly not real. The self was clearly the only thing that definitely was not happening. It’s amazing that the illusion of self seems to persist even though it’s the only thing that is very clearly not happening.

It’s hard to understand and accept what I’m writing because the sense of self is so ingrained into us as individuals and as a society. It’s pure sacrilege to even question its existence. The self is like the emperor’s new clothes that we all reassure each other are really there. That story is such a great analogy that it’s hard for me to believe that it’s not ultimately about the self-illusion.

This morning, while making coffee, I wondered how come what seemed to be happening was centered around a body. Then it became clear that what is happening is, in fact, not even centered around a body; it’s all happening with no separation; there is no inside or outside, no body-threshold which could delineate a self. The sensations that the self construes as occurring inside a body are actually without location. It’s the self-illusion that locates itself vaguely inside the body and experiences outward from there.

What I initially intended to write about today was the Fyre Festival, the organizational cluster-fuck that left hundreds, maybe thousands, of young, wealthy people stranded on a remote island in the Bahamas without food, water, or anywhere dry to sleep. Cindy and I watched the documentary on Netflix a week ago.

The Fyre Festival project was led by a guy called Billy McFarland. He is now serving time for fraud. Billy’s lawyer apparently tried to persuade the judge to be lenient on him by claiming that Billy suffered from bipolar disorder, presumably suggesting that the shit-show was orchestrated while delusional from a manic episode. While I don’t know for sure, it seems to me that it’s more likely that he’s a sociopath. He didn’t seem to have any concern for the wellbeing of the people who he was tricking, nor any remorse for what he had done.

Anyway, the weird thing about it was that at one point I asked Cindy, “Do you feel guilty?” Cindy said no. She told me that it was just stressful to feel empathy for how everyone was affected on both sides (the employees and the festival-goers). In contrast, I actually felt really guilty, like I was responsible for what happened. I found myself trying to understand how I could be guilty and I wondered if I had done something like this in my own life; of course I have not. I didn’t even have any judgements of Billy McFarland. I felt empathy for a lot of the people, but overall just I felt extremely guilty and ashamed.

Over the next few days, I reflected deeply on this, and realized that this is what I do: I hold responsibility when others are not taking responsibility. I was holding all of the responsibility, guilt, and shame that Billy McFarland was disowning. It’s a survival mechanism that I developed when I was a child. I had a step-father who was some form of psychopath or malignant narcissist, a person who was completely out of control and completely irresponsible. The only way that I could feel safe in that environment was to try to hold the responsibility myself. If there was scary shit going on then it must have been my fault. That seemed safer than believing that there was no responsible adult present.

Recently, I seem to have been a magnet for a few people who do not want to take responsibility for their own lives and emotional reactions. They see me sharing my experience vulnerably, and I suspect that they detect that I might hold for them what they are not willing to hold for themselves. In one instance, I was told that I am an “arrogant prick” and that there is something deeply and profoundly wrong with me, something that could not be named by that person. This is clearly projection. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to call anyone an “arrogant prick,” it would be pointless and achieve nothing (and it’s none of my business), it’s clear that “arrogant prick” is actually a pretty accurate description of him; no judgement of course.

Although I have struggled with sociopaths and narcissists, the pattern of not enforcing my boundaries seems to be coming into focus, and I seem to be able to take the necessary action to protect myself. Recently, I have unfriended and blocked a few people on Facebook that I didn’t enjoy interacting with.

What is happening for me seems paradoxical: the more the sense of being a separate self is dissipating, the more effectively I seem to be able to be aware of, and enforce, my personal boundaries.

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives |

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