Tue, 7 February 2017
Cass Midgley and Dr. Bob Pondillo interview Steve Dicus. This is our Redneck Comedy Tour episode because Steve is born and bred in backwoods Tennessee, because he’s funny and witty and truly an amazing thinker. He’s live in the studio and I do mean LIVE! At age 10 he deconstructed the Noah’s Ark story. This was the first of many cracks in the dam that led to his loss of faith. And to add to interesting facts about Steve, this big burly redneck’s vocation is a pediatric nurse.
Visiting with our guest, Steve, I was reminded of my little home town in Newkirk, OK, and all the insecurities that come to mind when I think of my childhood and teen years. In contrast to our guest, who seems extremely comfortable in his own skin, my teen years were racked with insecurities. I felt deeply that I was a disappointment to my father, who died of cancer when I was 17. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get more and more comfortable with what it means to be me. To say yes to what is.
Regarding human insecurity, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote in an article for Psychology Today titled “Why We Feel Insecure, and How We Can Stop:
"Everyone feels insecure from time to time, perhaps particularly in certain situations. You may feel that you’re not as attractive, intelligent, or well-situated in life as you could be. Comparing yourself to the people around you can make you feel even worse. Some people compensate for in securities by trying to elevate themselves at other’s expense. They might see people who seem to have the confidence they crave and envy them. They can even resent them and look for ways to bring them down. The psychologist Alfred Adler, who coined the term “inferiority complex,” referred to this tendency as “striving for superiority.” In the worst case scenario, striving for superiority means that you’re stepping on the feelings of those around you. The only way you can make yourself feel bigger is by making them feel smaller. There are times when insecurities are well-justified, however, and admitting those feelings is psychologically healthy. If you’ve been belittled by a person striving for superiority, it’s normal to question your self-worth. However, recognizing that you’ve been manipulated into feeling this way can help you shake aside that negative self-assessment. You can also be made to feel insecure by actual events in your life: Your romantic partner threatens to leave you or expresses concern about the future of your relationship. Your teenaged daughter shouts in your face that you’re a terrible parent. Or, your parents can make you feel inadequate by pointing out all your failings and missed opportunities. In all of these cases, you wonder what you’ve done wrong. Feeling better in those situations involves separating your contribution to the problem from the other person’s [contribution]. If you’re feeling insecure…this will negatively affect you the most when you believe you won’t be fairly treated, that the weakness your feeling will cause people to dismiss you or ignore, further amplifying your negative self-image. People can handle insecurity as long as they believe someone is watching out for their well-being. Having faith in the friends around you or your partner can help you get through those waves of insecurity that may overcome you from time to time.”
I was with Dr. Whitbourne throughout this article until that last paragraph. I understand that when you are drowning in self-shame or regret, that friends are a great source of comfort and reinforcement of positive image. But I wish she had gone on to say that once you get on your feet, you will need to find your power within yourself, so that you won’t be toppled every time someone with an inferiority complex insults. By ending the article this way, she seems to be saying, “you can handle your insecurity as long as you know someone who believes in you.” But what if that person dies? Or they turn against you or stop believing in you? If you’re ex-Christian, God may have been that person who knew you best and yet loved you. Where do you find the strength to love yourself now? Where now will you source your confidence?
While I can attest that Dr. Whitbourne’s prescription works—that knowing your mother believes in you is a good start for children, but you will need to grow up someday and believe in yourself. The same is true with the support you feel from friends, or your partner, or your God. Looking to others to prop you up can create a sense of false confidence and power, but it’s not the most authentic, powerful source. It is borrowed from another. It’s still looking outward for identity and validation. For those of us who adopted the Christian perspective on the human condition being one of total depravity, we have additional work to do to restore a healthy self-image. Even seeing ourselves as good can take some time. But over time we discover that we’re larger, stronger, and better than we thought; we can even be surprised to discover that we held so much goodness. And staying umbilicly connected to surrogate sources of self-acceptance creates blind-spots in one’s psyche where self-hatred can hide and abide.
Since leaving Christianity entirely around 2008, I have spent countless hours in therapy, read a lot of books, listened to tons of podcasts and youtubes, and journaled regularly. I reached a plateau of self-acceptance and personal happiness that was unprecedented in my entire life. Only to discover a pocket of my psyche where I was still looking outward for validation. I still had work to do.
I’m learning to find my power within myself entirely, not in the affirmation of others. Now before you think I’m the guy in Paul Simon’s “I Am a Rock,” I think this work is best done in the context of an intimate, hand-picked community. Consider the power of being with honest, mature friends (who are also on their path to greater self-love and respect) walking out life along side you. And imagine you’ve created a safe atmosphere for honest feedback and praise. This is the best of both worlds—namely, your inner self, where you pursue an understanding of one’s self, extend compassion toward one’s self, and access the courage to be one’s self out and proud, and secondly, you are simultaneously surrounded by an intimate community that can keep you honest about your self-image and the experience your presence creates in others. One without the other creates a lopsided development and can be unhealthy. A self-empowered person can can strong and super-confident, while being obvlious to the experience they’re creating (Trump). A weak, insecure person can be surrounded by friends who seem to love them and yet remain self-loathing.
Amy Cuddy, author of “Presence,” writes: “Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves.” “Power… transforms individual psychology such that the powerful think and act in ways that lead to the retention and acquisition of power. True confidence stems from real love and leads to long-term commitment to growth. False confidence comes from desperate passion and leads to dysfunctional relationships, disappointment, and frustration.”
I also think it is worth noting that insecurity will also be with us. Erich From wrote, “The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
John Lennon was so resigned to his insecurity that he prescribed staying busy to subdue it. “Work is life, you know, and without it, there's nothing but fear and insecurity.”
Insecurity is universal. And religion actually augments it. Take the Garden of Eden story; before the Fall, they were naked and unashamed. Feeling watched and judged by an all-seeing, judgmental God is extremely damaging to us being able to say yes to ourselves. I’ve found that the naturalist and scientific view of life gives me a lot of “grace” to borrow a Christian word, for being human. Atheism acknowledges that there is no shame in being alive and conscious. On the contrary, it is a beautiful thing. Albert Einstein agreed, saying, “It stands to the everlasting credit of science that by acting on the human mind it has overcome man's insecurity before himself and before nature.” The facts show that we just are what we are, with no judgment.
A monologue would not be complete without a reference to Nietzsche. He zeroed in on a phenomena that happens to insecure people. He called Ressentiment, or as we know it, resentment. He said, “resentment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one's own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be "blamed" for one's own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external "evil."
According to Nietzsche, the more a person is active, strong-willed, and dynamic, the less place and time is left for self-pity and resentment of others one envies. In summary, shut up and get busy being you. The world awaits your beautiful, powerful self.
Listen for this level of confidence in our guest, Steve Dicus. You’ll hear how, at a young age, he learned to trust his own intellect, listen to his own heart, and thus be present as his true self. You won’t hear arrogance, in fact, you’ll hear humility, but you simultaneously experience a person very comfortable in his skin. Not that he’s void of insecurities, but has seemingly learned well how to manage them and say to what is.
We taped this conversation on January 14th, 2017. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Our show is available on most podcast platforms. Also, you can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge one dollar per episode through Patreon; that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com. The smallest contribution is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for listening and be a yes-sayer to what is.