Archive for May, 2013

….to show from where I came

Posted in personal, thoughts with tags , , , on May 31, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I´ve been reading a truly fascinating book over the last three weeks. It was a thorough scientific rebuttal of Freud´s theories, and also it managed to be entertaining in a sophisticated way that appears to die off along with a whole generation of (German) intellectuals. I will miss it, because it combines decisive  intellectual integrity with witty self-awareness, without ever being zealous. It is the style of authors who do not yet fear to be called arrogant.

The book, therefore, was not just fascinating in terms of the facts it told me, but also in the way those facts were presented. What it showed to me, unwittingly, was my own self-denial. I used to have a very negative image of the social class I stem from. My hatred was in part directed towards its values (college education, academic career or job that has to do with culture, literature etc.), but even more towards a certain emotional style: The slight trace of irony, of an inner distance, a slightly skeptical stance towards everything, and especially one´s own emotions and convictions. The instinct to suspend judgment until more information is available. It is this precisely what many people seem to perceive as arrogant.

I will not escape this cultural heritage. I tried to replace it with zeal, mania and emotional self-mutilation, but it won´t go away. And ultimately I will find that those things simply aren´t me. I may be an academics´ child who is remarkably close to people from other backgrounds, who has done remarkably many uncharacteristic things and who is remarkably critical of her own background, but I will always be the child of academics. Also, if I am truly honest to myself, I will always be a snob of some kind. I will always, deep at heart, allow myself luxuries like an intellectual taste, and two generations ago this might still have been something worth nourishing. To enjoy writings not because they are in some respect orthodox (as is typical of a zealous age) or even correct, but purely for the author´s wit and personality. To judge books by their style and not the moral value of their content. To be capricious.

The book itself refuted psychoanalysis on two levels: As a theory and as therapy. The rebuttal of its theories are so extensive that it will take me a long time to mentally adapt. I might write about it step by step, or just select the most important things. I am infinitely grateful, though, that this book was written.







The suppressed truth

Posted in health, mental health, morbid, personal with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I had an emotional implosion last night, that is to say, I sat there feeling so miserable I wanted to punch myself, but I kept it all inside. I had been reading all day in that psychotherapy forum about people saying that they had to learn to accept love, and how emotionally challenging their therapies were, and how much they loved their therapists and at some point I realized that this tense, biting feeling inside of me was neediness, and the anger I felt at the people whose posts I read was at least partially envy.

What came before that realization, though, was the realization that I don´t believing in learning to accept love. If something that is called love doesn´t feel like love, then something about it hurts you, and you don´t have to learn to accept something from others that hurts. During my time with Athena I thought that if only I could accept that she loved me unconditionally, her vivisection of my personality wouldn´t hurt any more. When my father took rough-and-tumble too far I thought that if only I could completely surrender it would start to feel good. Both is psychologically plausible, but seeing this kind of acceptance or surrender as a worthwhile aim legitimizes treating me in a hurtful or even violent way.

There was one time when I experienced the kind of being in love I would have expected to happen in therapy. That was when I had a crush on my professor. And in this relationship, I had to learn to accept doodley-squat. I unequivocally felt that he liked me and that I was safe with him. And I had many daydreams about him doing hurtful things to me which wouldn´t have hurt all too much. In any healthy relationship, the trust and love should come before administering any kind of pain, and not after the fact as an attempt to alleviate the hurting.

If I hadn´t remembered those feelings and if I hadn´t had that realization, I might not have been able to acknowledge my envy. Or maybe not so much my envy as my own neediness. I need that kind of relationship, too, were I can be in the lower position, where I´m the one who´s taken care of, not the one who takes care. I need someone I can look up to for answers, guidance; someone who wants to give something to me. I´m very grateful for the normal relationships I have, where we are on the same level. But although we´re technically on the same level, I feel strongly responsible for those peoples´ feelings and that´s exhausting. I like taking care of others, but sometimes I just need someone to take care of me.

Here´s where accepting love comes into play. The ordinary explanation is that I look at others´ needs too much, and since I wouldn´t do it if it didn´t give me something I have to be an absolute control freak. My inability to voice needs of my own and get them met is just a symptom of me trying to be above everyone else. Actually, I´m not caring, I´m arrogant. The only way to make me feel better is to bring me down a couple of notches so I can accept that others have something to give, too.

What I realized yesterday is that the real explanation is far sadder. Sometimes people simply aren´t interested in meeting my needs. Sometimes people enjoy taking (which is a gift to anyone who loves to give), but don´t enjoy giving at all. Sometimes when I tell them what´s going on in my head and what bugs me they look at me in confusion and I know that they´ll resent me now for making them feel like my thoughts are too difficult for them to comprehend. Sometimes they´ll blindly look up to me and admire me for what I do, such as writing stories, and then I´m the one who has to give again: In order to get something out of the relationship (and admiration can cover up the wound of not being understood and cared for at least for a while) I have to deliver. More stories, more good ideas, until the other person´s admiration runs dry. Sometimes I´ll stay in the background and just let people talk and assume that I have nothing interesting to say anyway because I rarely get positive feedback for my remarks, or any feedback at all. Sometimes I´m just ignored. I´m just the invisible, shy friend. Sometimes people tell me what a stupid look I have on my face if I do as much as raise my eyebrows. Often people flat out tell me that what I say is too complicated for them if I just about open my mouth. Go talk to someone else about that, not me, I´m too stupid and that´s okay, intelligence is overrated. Is it really such a surprise that I stick to listening to others talking about their interests, about their worries, about their conflicts?

I feel like my truth, my own subjective experience is in such conflict with my environment that I have to keep it under wrap, that I cannot even access it myself. It´s like dynamite. If I assume that everything I wrote in the paragraph above is true, then how can I still love anybody? It does make me angry to be treated like this, but I feel like I have to take the blame for it if I want to be able to have satisfying relationships. Which sounds lunatic if I write it down like this. How is a relationship satisfying when you constantly have to take the blame for every blow you are dealt?

The therapeutic answer I hear in my head now is, of course: “But it wouldn´t hurt so much anymore if you could learn to put less emphasis on the intellectual!” But it´s not me who puts all that emphasis on the intellectual! I just say things! It´s not like I want to talk about astrophysics at breakfast, cell biology over lunch and Kafka at dinner! All I want is not to have to censor myself all the time without everybody left and right taking offense at how “complicated” I am!

I´m scared of these truths because they might lead right to abandonment, including terrible accusations about how selfish, arrogant and uncaring I am. Still, putting the truth out there gives me a little bit of self-confidence. Nothing can replace the sense of security that comes from allowing yourself  your own perspective.

But back to the original topic. Accepting love. For me, the idea of learning to accept love was always an exercise in lowering my own self-worth. That sounds crazy, sure, but it makes sense if you look at my history of social conflict. I typically took the role of the giver and at times let people downright exploit me because that was the only way I could relate to them at all. It takes a lot for me to feel exploited, anyway. Sometimes other people told me I was being exploited while I just thought: Well, but I can take it, it doesn´t really matter to me, I don´t feel any loss. I gave to myself, too, what I needed by creating in daydreams the kinds of givers I longed for. Often I completely forgot they weren´t real. By doing so I learned what to give to others, and giving something to them made me feel comforted, too. I´m not per se a martyr, I like to give.

And yet there is a sense of deficit, a yearning for attention, yearning to be seen, yearning to be important enough for someone to selflessly take an interest in shaping me, developing me, challenging me, pushing me to the top of what I can achieve instead of leaving me alone to do just about enough to leave a positive impression on my teachers and otherwise try to save friends who have all kinds of dramatic problems which are all more important than me and my life. This reaches a point where watching movies makes me miserable because I can never identify with being the main character, the one whose struggles are important and who gets all the help. I´m always just the helpful friend who gets on so well that her own life isn´t interesting. Nobody ever feels the need to mentor me.

Then along comes Athena. She goes all the way from wide-eyed admiration to scornful condemnation. She admires me for my self-critical introspection, she gets terrified and in turn angry whenever I´m anything other than self-critical, whenever I dare lash out and be angry and accuse the world of being a pile of shit. She needs me to be a certain kind of person and if I´m anything else I´m on the same level as the people she sees as the villains in her life and our friendship cannot be the same anymore. She´d just be playing a role, she´d be dutifully giving, but she wouldn´t see me as her intellectual and moral equal anymore. Her conflict isn´t so different from mine, it just takes an interesting new edge when she starts to compete with me, and, yes, essentially she started it although she blamed it on me. It was her who thought she suddenly had to learn all the time, study all the time, be the top of her class in order to prove herself. And, yes, that did affect me and I started to learn and study, too, in order to keep up with her. It was my very own realm I was defending, so far I had been the intellectual one, and now she simultaneously wanted to be in my place and wanted me as a mentor.  So at the same time she was competing with me and wanted me as someone to look up to, someone to mentor her. She wanted me to be someone to look up to and yet she forbade me to compete with her, but how would I have kept up with her, then? What happened on an intellectual level also happened on a moral level: She wanted me to make her a better person by criticizing her and pointing out her character flaws, yet at the same time she was so mercilessly dissecting everything I said, did and felt that I didn´t feel competent any more to make any judgments on others. I was longing for kinder standards, less inquisition, but that was impossible to admit, as it was asking for lies, hypocrisy, make-believe. It was betraying our friendship, admitting failure, weakness, it warranted nothing but disdain. I saw her as hopelessly superior, as a punishing force than went down on me with increasing frequency while I was blindly stumbling around trying to get it right. My failure to criticize her, however, was interpreted by her as an attempt to hinder her development so she didn´t rise any higher above me. 

When I looked at the story of Athena and me just a second ago, I thought that all this terror would never have happened if I wasn´t such a competitive person, and I despaired thinking it. Now I suddenly realize that the opposite is true: It wouldn´t have happened if I was a properly competitive person.* Right at the beginning of this studying race, when Athena and I had had the first conflict about me competing with her, my mother said to me: “Well, just keep on studying and don´t talk to her about it!” At the time I thought this advice was typical of her: Antisocial, secretive, hypocritical. She gave me that advice at a time when I thought I came from a very bad family (for the record: other than when I started this blog, at the time being I don´t bother myself with trying to access how good or bad my family is). Now I think it´s the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation if you don´t want to leave straight away. I live in a country whose constitution grants me a right to self-growth. Nobody can reasonably demand that I stifle my own development in order to serve theirs, other than, possibly, my own nonexistent children. Also, I have a right to privacy and to self-protection. A healthily competitive person would have followed my mother´s advice. I, however, would have felt guilty, and so I more or less had to negotiate with Athena how much and what I was allowed to learn.** We had a similar discussion at a later point when it came to weight loss. The premise was always the same: If I was going to compete with her, I was ruining our friendship. The question was, thus: What is more important to me, my ego or our friendship?

What I see today is that no friend should force another friend to make such a decision. No friendship should rely on one person arresting her own development. That is truly antisocial. Competition is a fact of life, and somehow, inexplicably, love manages to exist alongside it in a great many cases.  Maybe we were both too insecure and competitive to have the ultimate, special, radically honest friendship we wanted. She wanted. A certain distance would have been needed, and there would have been some things we couldn´t have talked about. I believe we still could have had fun, felt close to each other, even felt deep affection for one another. There were such moments before the inquisition started, and even afterwards, when for some precious moments we disentangled ourselves from one another, we could just be comfortable alongside each other. I believe feelings of friendship can be honest even if there are things which aren´t talked about. Right now that is so self-evident to me I don´t know how I could ever not know it. Sometimes trusts shows in how much people dare tell each other, sometimes trusts shows in how much they don´t need to know. We tried to dare tell each other more than we should have known, up to the point that I felt like I had to report to her. And yet this is just what ruined all remaining feelings of trust for each other. Even though we appeared to know each other more intimately, we weren´t truly more intimate, and where feelings of intimacy arose in me, they were the result of emotional violence, a false dawn, an internal flowers phase where I anxiously hoped that from now on I´d never do anything wrong anymore, never doubt anymore, that my ego was finally gone. This is what I connect with “learning to accept love”.

Then I enter therapy. I perceive the comments I get from my therapist as shallow and meaningless, if not plain wrong. I´m told in not too tactful words that I´m demanding and arrogant and that I don´t value other people. He´s wrong, but he´s only partially at fault for it. He doesn´t know me outside his office. Outside his office, I´m a giver. He wouldn´t accept that; I´m pretty sure he´d stick to the “arrogant control-freak” explanation. Still, he certainly didn´t get to know the most pleasant side of me because I entered therapy thinking that this was a situation where I was allowed to take, to demand. I think I made it very hard for him to want to give something.

One reason I can now divine is that in ordinary life, I don´t assume people can give me this strange, mysterious thing I´m looking for. Therefore, I don´t really blame them if they don´t, or if I get mad or frustrated, I don´t let it show. I assumed that a therapist, however, can give this to me. I feel bound to him, anxious, because he seems to have so much power, and then when I realize he cannot give this to me at all I respond with scorn. At the same time there´s this fear he´s just withholding it to torment or punish me, and so I cannot resolve the bound, I stick around, angry, looking for proof that he really doesn´t have anything to give.

I still think I was right – he didn´t have what I was looking for, his comments were shallow, he had nothing to give to me. I´d deal with it differently now, though. I´d act the way I acted towards Mrs. I don´t remember it if was D or B. I wouldn´t demand anymore that he tells me all his thoughts and plans, but I wouldn´t reveal everything to him and leave everything open to his judgment, either. I´d either leave straight away if it becomes clear that he is intolerant towards BDSM folks, or I wouldn´t even put him to the test and keep aspect of me secret from him. I´d keep my distance and treat him with the same politeness with which I´d treat an ordinary doctor, but I wouldn´t adopt his view on me, either. I wouldn´t even ask for his judgment, and I´d never see a therapist again without a clear-cut aim and a reasonable expectation that he can help me with it.

So – where is my envy coming from? It would seem that I learned a lot and if the forum users´ experiences in any way resemble my experiences with too close relationships and “learning to accept love”, then there is no reason to envy them. Indeed sometimes I´m just relieved I´m out there. And yet it makes me angry to see how they are validated by other users for what they write. I feel like they might actually experience something which I couldn´t experience. Maybe I´m too difficult, maybe I´m too skeptical, too much of a threat even to my therapists.

Then I remember my professor. He was so blatantly a giver, at least in his role as professor, and he was so selfless in the way he supported me, and for some reason I had no trouble accepting this at all. My only worry was that I would disappoint him and that he would find I´m not worth the trouble. I told him so, and his reply was simple: “You need to be content with what you write, not me!” I could cry just thinking about it. He was the first person I could look up to without feeling like I had to crouch down first. He was so sure of himself that he didn´t feel threatened by me. I could ask him any obscure, complicated question and he never reacted defensively, he just sometimes gently stopped me from getting caught up in a labyrinth. I feel like I´ve ruined everything for me by not sending him my revisions of that essay, I beat myself up over it, but I know exactly why I didn´t do it: 1) I fear I´ll get on his nerves, be excessively demanding. 2) I don´t want to have to deliver something in order to be cared about. I don´t want him to be my intellectual mentor, I want him to be my mentor in life, but again, not completely, not as some kind of authority figure. I want it to be a game we play, like in D/s, something we can stop anytime. And yet that is something I will never get from him. When I read about peoples´ therapies I sometimes fear that this is exactly what they get from their therapists, and the idea that they might have this kind of sadomasochistic relationship I´m thinking of makes me jealous. It also makes me laugh, though, to think how they´d react if I labeled it as such. That´s some comfort after all.

*Then again, I doubt I could have evaded it other than by ending the relationship. I´d have had to pretend I didn´t know the things I knew, and her believing I was getting the grades I got without learning as much as I did would just have fueled her fear of inferiority and she would have studied even more. If I had ever slipped up and revealed I knew something about the subejcts she was studying….well, I can almost hear the deadly coldness in her voice asking me: “How do you know that?” It probably wouldn´t have ended worse, but it would have ended just the same way.

**A typical answer was that she didn´t forbid me to learn anything, she just wanted that I only learned stuff because I was genuinely interested in it, not because I wanted to compete with her. What I was interested in, though, was knowing stuff, not any specific kind of knowledge. The only kind of knowledge I´m genuinely uninterested in is trivia about movie stars and other celebrities. I pursue knowledge because I value knowledge as such, not because I have a passion for math, physics or biology. If I´m really passionate about something, I prefer to think about it myself because I´m jealous of everyone who has ever written something about it.

Knowing things makes me feel self-confident, not knowing things while the people around me know them lowers my self-confidence. I guess that´s fairly natural. In a way, her sudden eagerness to study burdened me because I realized I might have to get to work now, but on the other hand it was a positive push. Healthy competition is something that can help people grow, it can be that extra bit motivation to actually pursue the goals they value. Also, I can turn this around – if she had been studying purely out of passion, then why would she have minded if I had competed with her? I was hardly the only one with an ego to feed, and I don´t see why she would be the only one who had the right to look for food. She actually openly admitted that if I “started” to compete with her, she´d have to compete as well and she didn´t want that because competition ruined friendships. As a matter of fact, I so far had never ruined a friendship by competing with someone! And besides, why was she allowed to recourse to a deterministic self-conception and tell me she would “have to do” something harmful? She told me all the time that I had a free will and the power to decide how I dealt with the character I had, that I could change and that if I didn´t change I simply didn´t want to! How I wish I hadn´t been oblivious to the irony of this back then!




The inner kindergarten growing up

Posted in college, personal with tags , on May 14, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I don´t like the last two entries, but especially not the last one. They are, once again, the opposite of what I wanted to do. They might turn out helpful eventually, but somehow I feel like I got stuck in victim mode again.

I feel like I have completely lost myself, though I probably haven´t. When I say “myself”, I currently mean “state of mind in which I´m motivated to act and in which I feel responsible for my own future”. What I feel, though, is that right now this state of mind is a stick to beat myself with.

Over the last weak I was very anxious what to write, and not to lose the “good” state of mind again. Maybe that was the mistake itself. The angry searching for a continuation of my latest progress. I will never make progress if the price is that I must constantly monitor myself. That´s just too scary. And it also hinders progress. I can either just stick to the insights I had or I can move on further at the risk of going wrong somewhere. There´s no point censoring myself or trying to be especially clear and coherent. Clarity is often the result of making a great deal of a mess repeatedly. Oh my, words of wisdom!

I wonder who I´m trying to impress, internally I mean. On the outside, I´ve done everything right last week. I made some dreaded phone calls, sent an important letter and a job application. I met the minimum requirements. What is really important are this external reality and its demands. I should feel happy with myself having fulfilled them. It´s not like the demands I place on myself in terms of what I want to achieve if I get accepted for the study program I applied for are small. If I reach my goals in external reality, I´ve done a lot. I´ve taken care of that precisely by applying for that study program. I want a certain level of success, I want a shot at greatness, and I strongly doubt I will be able to achieve that by just being me and expressing myself. Not because I´m useless, it´s just that this places even worse demands on me as a personality. If I want to be able to give people something they couldn´t have found in themselves, what kind of person would I have to be in order to do that?

Expressing myself is something I cannot force. I get frustrated far easier then when I´m learning. If I get accepted at college, all I´ll have to do is learn and I´ll get somewhere. It sounds like the triumph of reason, and yet on some level this feels like a defeat. I´m scared to go deeper into this, I don´t want to lose my motivation for this new path. I will hopefully be able to express myself there, too, by doing research on subjects that touch me personally. Maybe it is also a form of psychiatric first aid, maybe I need it in order to bring structure into my personality and my life. Also, it is an adventure and it will hopefully teach me skills which will help me gain self-confidence. It is the best choice I can make from my current point of view.

The defeat – what did I fail at? I failed at being a person who has such rich gifts or who has analyzed herself and the world so thoroughly that she has the answer to everything without having to study anything. Realistically speaking, nobody is that kind of person. It starts with the fact that we all learn things, whether we like it or not. If we didn´t learn how to speak, knowing the answers would be useless because we wouldn´t be able to tell anyone. Also, many questions arise from things we have already learned. The chances of being a person who has many answers increases significantly by assembling knowledge. It helps understanding and judging situations, phenomena, everything.

I guess I did not completely fail and being a person who can give something to others, though I might have been mistaken about where the answers came from. I have been told I´m a good listener, or that something I said helped people. Yet the things I said were largely based on things I read combined with my thoughts about them. So my new study program (if I get accepted) will be about learning more things, and hopefully it will render me capable of giving better advice. I see a strong contrast to my previous sources of knowledge, as it will be about science, not introspection. It´s supposed to work independently of the person who does it. That´s a badge of honor for the method/science, but it makes me feel a little unimportant. Still, if I want to be capable of giving good advice, I should stick to something proven instead of flattering my ego. I sometimes feel like I´m almost being hostile towards myself. Impatient with myself, not very lenient towards my wishful fantasies – and actually less patient with others, too. Being hard on myself doesn´t make me a nicer person.

I wonder where all this hostility is coming from. It´s essentially self-loathing. Like I´ve finally seen that all these years I´ve been running around feeling terribly proud of my introspection and believing that I didn´t need to learn at all because I already had the answers to everything. I think I often felt the wish to learn something, and to learn something from scratch, really dive into something. I couldn´t decide on any one thing, though, and besides, what also stopped me from giving in to this wish was the same sense of self-loathing I feel now. So that self-loathing itself is essentially useless. It stops me, that´s all. Whatever grain of truth it may represent (and it is not all that much truth, as I´ve shown above), I think it can be neglected as long as I do the right things now.

I took up that new path in order to fulfil an old wish. There may be two sides of me, but there is just one coin. My inner conflict is something that can be resolved, those two sides aren´t irreconcilable. I think solving it is a matter of intellectual effort and creativity, and maybe also experience. I guess after a few years among scientist I might find introspection isn´t so useless after all. It´s just a matter of doing both. Damn, I just hope I´ll be accepted!

Language and robbery

Posted in health, mental health, personal, philosophy with tags , , on May 11, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

A lot of things are changing for me and I realize that on the fringes of my consciousness there are thoughts which are still too big for me. It is not a psychological blockade, it is an intellectual one. There are hunches, fragments of sentences, but ultimately I cannot put them into words yet, leave alone into clear statements. Still, every failed attempt at expressing such foggy thoughts acquaints me with them and ultimately helps me to gain clarity.

I´m finding myself thinking about language quite often lately. What I wrote in my last post was written in absolute confusion, but it laid the foundations for a small sense of clarity. And here is what comes to my mind:

I´ve several times read in one form or the other the sentence: “The way we understand ourselves nowadays is determined by psychological concepts.” When I tried to describe how I have lost the ability to freely express myself because I wasn´t sure anymore if my use of words corresponded to psychology´s use of words, I was starting to understand how the statement above applies to me – or what it means at all.

It appears like understanding ourselves depends on our ability to put our inner experience into words. At least this is what talk therapies rely on, and long before they came into existence there were diaries, literature, philosophy and discussions. So the tendency to seek understanding by putting thoughts, feelings, hunches into words seems to be fundamentally human. Feelings and mental processes, however, are abstract entities. We can only guess what is really happening inside of us, what is causing the observable phenomena, and even those phenomena can often just be described in metaphors. “Feeling empty” is a typical example of such figurative language.

Since we are talking about abstract entities who only give evidence of their existence through other things happening, these entities we talk about are mere concepts. The Ego, Id and Super-Ego are no concrete, observable instances somewhere inside of us. They are a model of explanation for observable phenomena.

Back in high school I despaired in my physics class because I didn´t understand the concept of force. I could memorize the formula, but I simply didn´t know what mental image to form of force. What was it, physically? If anybody had told me that “force” is not a known physical entity but something that must exist since the results are visible , and as such can be measured, I might have been much less confused. “Force” was nothing that could be independently observed, it was what the cause caused and what effected the effect. If damage to an object was what could be observed, force was what explained it.

The problem with psychology and putting inner life into words is that the explanandum itself is not directly observable. We cannot talk about it without relying on abstract concepts. The dominant concepts used today are those developed by psychoanalysis and other insight therapies.

Those concepts categorize people according to diagnoses. Laymen are not competent to diagnose others or themselves. Therefore, every self-conception that relies on diagnostical concepts is an act of hubris. This soon extends to symptoms, too. They way in which you describe symptoms determines which diagnosis will be given. If you are familiar with symptoms and diagnoses, you´ll easily feel like you´re being manipulative when describing yourself as “depressed” or as “feeling empty”. Unfortunately, though, those are the words you have learned to use for describing how you feel, precisely because the psychotherapy movement has such a strong influence on how we conceptualize and describe our inner life. We are forced to diagnose ourselves each time we talk about our feelings, but the jargon we´ve gotten used to is also a more or less scientific jargon, and it is a jargon that the psychologist, psychotherapists and doctors in question regard as their jargon, and the use of it as their privilege. Laymen are not allowed to define what depression is, only doctors and therapists are. Therefore, we now need experts to tell us “what we really feel”.

Most laymen today know various ways in which insight therapies categorize and explain our misery. When trying to understand their own mysterious misery they inevitably come back to those explanations, and when describing their feelings they use jargon which doctors and therapists want for themselves exclusively. First, a theory and jargon is imposed on us, then we are declared incompetent to use it. That way, our inner lives and our feelings are disowned. They are something we can no longer expect ourselves to make correct statements about. Parts of what we perceived as ourselves are now something alien, dark, something that has a life of its own which we can neither control nor understand on our own. We need the help of experts for that. Part of our identity is disowned and laid into the hands of mental shamans who might or might not feed it back to us.

Language, concepts, confusion

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on May 10, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I sometimes feel like I have to re-learn things that once came to me naturally. One such thing is rational thinking. Maybe I´m giving myself too much credit when I say I have to re-learn it, maybe I was never as good at it as I thought. What I have to re-learn, though, is the confidence that logical thought leads to correct conclusions, or that logical thought is even possible.

A few years ago everything seemed to dissolve. It´s like I wasn´t sure anymore of the meaning of words. I felt like I couldn´t make any definite statements anymore. Instead of saying “I feel lonely” I would have wondered if what I feel can really be described as loneliness. This would have come with a sense of being an impostor. Did I even have the right to claim such expressions for myself? I felt like if I got it wrong and said something untrue that would be some kind of lie, crime, philosophical sin.

Rationally seen, this is a matter of statistics: Which feelings, sensations and thoughts does the majority of people label as “loneliness”? Maybe you can give this a philosophical edge and ask how much freedom you should have in using language, if you can use words at will and in unusual ways. If you could, if you felt like it, use the word “loneliness” in the way other people use the word “hunger” and still be right in saying you´re lonely when your stomach growls.

Language, for all I know, is a mere convention. We might as well call things by different names. So in a way my question was meaningless. Calling something “loneliness” which other people wouldn´t call loneliness is, from this point of view, not a sin but a simple error – like using a wrong word in a foreign language.

This argument doesn´t take away my deep sense of mystification and confusion, though. I wasn´t concerned with signifiers, but with the signified. I think I tried to explain this some time before: When I thought “I feel lonely” I was wondering if how I felt was how lonely people feel. “Lonely people” were a definite group,  and there were strict rules as to who could be part of it. And that was true for every feeling, every statement about my inner life. Those groups were looming over me like angry judges, and if I tried to become part of a group whose membership I didn´t deserve I was treated as an impostor, a liar, someone who undeservedly wanted to gain the benefits of being part of that group.

I think I had started to think in a psychological way. In order to explore the human mind scientifically you need strict definitions of the words you use to describe it. The words used to describe mental processes, though, are often derived from everyday language. Shame, guilt, fear. When I was younger I could use these words without thinking much about it. Now, though, I constantly have second thoughts: Is what I feel really guilt? Or is it – JUST! – shame?

I think these definitions are not so much derived from actual scientific studies in psychology. They come from books and articles written by psychotherapists, from self-helf materials, from blogs and forum entries by patients. This is a problem in itself, as apparently the only vocabulary I had left signified concepts of mental illness. The idea that my inner life could be described in a different fashion was alien to me.

I don´t think I´ve ever perceived myself as normal. But before I anxiously submitted my use of words to the use suggested in psychotherapeutical and “emotional healing” literature I had no qualms about describing my feelings. I could use words like fear, shame, guilt, self-loathing and depression in an informal way, feeling deeply serious about it and at least I still had the satisfaction of being expressive.

Insight therapies are all about talking. They were not, though, at least in my case, about me just telling my story. I said something, and often I was interrupted in order for me to clarify something, like a word. Or Dr. Stoneface took what I had said and expressed it differently, or, as I thought sometimes, not at all. I sometimes feel like psychotherapy is some kind of word-policing, language-policing, where the way you describe your inner and outer life is corrected until it corresponds to reality as the therapist perceives it. It is less absurd than it sounds, language shapes consciousness and once you´ve learned a certain jargon it´s hard to unlearn. The words in question, after all, all signify complicated, abstract entities. Shame is an abstract entity. Narcissism, the Ego and the Id are even more abstract. They don´t exist anywhere inside of you. They are mere concepts, and yet in therapy they are treated as real. Shame, at least, is something you can feel. Words like narcissism, Ego and Id are purely derived from theory.  Theories you can buy into or not.

I think I lost my ease and also my joy in writing fiction when I lost my innocence in language use. Athena once told me I´m not cut out for science, I´m an artist. It was not very much of a compliment, and I think it isn´t true, either. What was implied, in our complicated private world of meaning, was that I didn´t understand the truths I spoke through my writing, that I was accidentally right, but that understanding these truths would devastate me and make me unable to write. She, of course, was the scientist, braver, more stoical, breathing clarity. Maybe it was this statement which ruined writing for me. I want to know what I´m saying. I´m lost in a labyrinth of confusion, though, and I need to find my way back to clarity. What I need to re-learn, maybe, is not so much the technique of rational thinking, but the definite truths that can be derived from it.