Fundamental Needs #3: Massive Ink

Fundamental Needs #3: Massive Ink

Lucky Diamond Rich is most tattooed man in the world. He has tattoos across 100% of his body, including the insides of his eye lids and foreskin. When his whole body was filled, he began tattooing over the black ink with white ink, and various other colors. As if not risking enough infection, he also has large, subdermal implants variously placed on his body.

I’ve personally never wanted tattoos—or bumper stickers for that matter. Why?

Significance is a fundamental human need. We all want to feel special, different, and important in some way. We want other people to notice us, appreciate us, and think about us. The lengths we go to stand out depend on how independent we are, how secure we are in ourselves, how deeply we need to belong. But we all display our positive characteristics, achievements, and associations somehow and to some degree.

Do you honestly think your COEXIST bumper sticker convinces anyone to be more tolerant than they are already prone to being? So why do you have it on your car? It’s a signal that you’re a tolerant person, which in some sense makes you special. It’s branding. It’s a broadcast to the world that you’re significant, and a symbol of the special way that you are significant.

It’s why punks have mohawks, and hipsters have handlebar mustaches, and why Lucky Diamond Rich has more ink in him than Office Max.

(If they are trying to stand out, why do they all look the same? That’s the next essay, keep your pants on.)

But maybe Lucky is just a normal guy who wants to express himself artistically, and I’m projecting something onto him that’s not really present. Maybe he leads a normal life other than his body modifications. Let’s examine his other jobs and pass times: fire eating, sword swallowing, chainsaw juggling, and unicycling. Yeah.

This is a man who has designed his life and appearance from the bottom up to draw attention to himself, and to separate himself from “normal” people. Something about the way Lucky grew up made significance a top priority for him.

I don’t know Lucky, but many people for whom significance is top priority are narcissists.

Extremes

Narcissism doesn’t mean what you think it means. A narcissist actually lacks self esteem, but not in the sense of having low self esteem. They lack self esteem in the sense of not having the necessary psychological development to have or understand “self esteem” in the way a healthy person does. They are missing the mechanism that let’s them see who they are at their core.

Instead, they simulate self esteem by projecting a persona into their social environment and using the “reflections” to decide whether they are worthy or not. So they might project high achievement or intelligence, regardless of whether they’ve achieved or are intelligent, and when they get validation by people reacting to them as though they have achieved or are intelligent, then they feel good.

So most of what a narcissist does is a projection of significance, meant to reflect back at them and tell them they are special and worthy people. I don’t know if Lucky is narcissistic, but he sure spends a lot of time signalling to everyone that he’s different and weird and special and unique.

But let’s stop picking on narcissists for a moment and realize that everyone needs to feel significant, and that the pathological cases are just a few degrees more wound up than we are with our high-minded bumper stickers and “Mom” tattoos.

I’ve personally never wanted tattoos—or bumper stickers for that matter. Why?

We are largely shaped as adults by the experiences we have as children. I spent many years wishing to God that I could slip into the crowd unnoticed. I was painfully reminded throughout my childhood that I was different, special, unique, and horrible. Through no special talent or skill of my own, I had an early overdose of significance, and it took me my teens and early adulthood to recalibrate from that. Now I don’t need a tattoo or bumper sticker, I feel just special enough.

But I’m a case in point. The problem with being weird and special, with having tattoos from god is that you become alienated and isolated from everyone around you.

When it’s party time
like 1999
I’ll party by myself
because I’m such a special guy.

Get Real

The skill is being aware of what you do to gain significance (I’m tolerant! I play guitar!), and make sure it’s

  1. Congruent,
  2. and In balance with your competing need for love and connection.

I’ll talk about love and connection in the next one, but congruence is important. It’s fine to talk a talk if you walk the accompanying walk, but empty projection alienates you not only from other people (because trust me, they all know you’re full of shit) but also from yourself. You can spend so much time projecting a false image that you forget what the real one looks like. Teenagers get a free pass to try on identities and see how they feel, in adulthood that’s called narcissism.

By all means, signal. Signal to everyone, as much as you feel comfortable, all the ways you’re special and different and unique. Stand up and be noticed. But make sure those signals are consistent with the reality of who you are at your core. If you want something to be true, first make it true, then signal it. And realize that the more special and unique you are, the less connection you have with the people around you. Why? I’ll talk about that in the essay number four.

Responses

  1. Masha Bennett ()

    Pete, I virtually never read anyone’s blogs as there are too many other things to do in life, but thought I’d mention that your articles are refreshing, thought-provoking and inspiring! (Reply)

  2. Todd ()

    Interesting thoughts regarding branding with integrity.

    I’d quibble that preaching to others really is more than branding, though. We do internallize societal norms, and these are shaped in part by what we’re exposed to and what we think other people believe. It’s probably a minor consideration however that doesn’t seem central to your point, and somewhat mitigated by various biasing of norms. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Well, the other thing to remember is that signalling like this is not only an outward facing process, but also an inward facing process. You are signalling to yourself that you’re this type of person.

      So yeah, it’s both the result of having these norms and identities ingrained, and a cause of having these norms and identities ingrained.

      Good to see you here, Todd 8) (Reply)

  3. Jake ()

    Pete i dont really have much to say except thanks for another fantastic post, glad to see you back mate. (Reply)

Reply