Helen Mirren on miserable self obsession



Much of this site is about how self-awareness impacts our creativity and personal development. But self-exploration can also get obsessive, or we may not find the right people to help, as Helen Mirren notes in her memoir. Here is an excerpt:

Part of my job as an actress is to do interviews, but while I find it easy to talk about the work, I tend to frustrate interviewers by avoiding talking about myself. For the same reason I have never been to a shrink.

Actually, I lie; I did go to a shrink once. When I was about twenty-three I was very unhappy and, yes, self-obsessed and insecure.

It seems to me that the years between eighteen and twenty-eight are the hardest, psychologically. It’s then you realize this is make or break, you no longer have the excuse of youth, and it is time to become an adult – but you are not ready.

I just could not believe that anything I desired would happen, and the responsibility of making my own way, economically, artistically and emotionally, was terrifying. So I went to a psychologist.

Now I don’t know whether he did this on purpose, realising that all I needed to do was grow up, but after I had poured out my unhappiness to him, the psychologist very, very quietly, in a strong Scottish accent, began to explain to me the root cause and solution to my misery.

I could not understand a word.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind repeating it. He did, and I still couldn’t understand a word.

The fourth time of asking I gave up, and realised that an analyst was not going to work for me.

My next stop on this journey of self-discovery was to visit a hand reader. Though I’ve never been a believer in astrology or the art of reading palms, I was pretty desperate and he came highly recommended.

So I made my way to a nondescript house in a back street of Golders Green and went into the dingy, very ordinary living room where he did his readings. He was an Indian man, more like an accountant than a mystic. I liked him. He handed me cheap paper and a pencil, saying, ‘I will study your hand and then I will speak very fast.

You will not remember what I will say, so write it down as fast as you can.’ And that was exactly what happened. He spent about ten minutes intensely studying my hand, I can’t remember which one, and then he began to speak. I had to write so fast I could not take stock of what he was saying.

After about twenty minutes, I was a fiver poorer and back on the street with my whole future life spelt out in scrawling script on a massive heap of paper. It was quite true, I could not remember any of it. Well, there is one thing I remember. He said, ‘You will be successful in life, but you will see your greatest success later, after the age of forty-five.’

Not something you want to hear at the age of twenty-three, but it turned out he was right.

At least it brought to an end my period of desperate introspection and miserable self obsession.

As I looked at those scrawled pages, I realised that I did not want to know what the future held. I wanted my life to be an adventure. Whatever pleasure or pains, successes or failures, disasters or triumphs were waiting for me, I wanted them to come as a surprise.

I took the pages and stuffed them into the first rubbish bin I could find, then stepped out into the rest of my life.

From In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, by Helen Mirren.

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Originally posted 2008-04-20 21:06:26.

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