Archive for June, 2013

Two important insights

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on June 6, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I wanted to review Tiefenschwindel, but it seems more important to me to grab two insights I took away from the books I read lately and assess how much they should change my perspective. The first insight actually is from Tiefenschwindel:

  • Everyone can become an expert at observing their own subjective experience, but human beings in general do not have direct cognitive access to their motives. We can only carefully try to form theories about why we do things. Most people, however, automatically resort to a given set of commonplace theories when asked why they did something and mistake this for introspection.

This passage, a summary of a whole chapter of the book, is dynamite. I realize that I have already integrated this insight somehow, because it doesn´t seem as revolutionary to me anymore and I don´t quite know where to start explaining what it means to me. So I´ll begin somewhere in the middle.

Many times, countless times, Dr. Stoneface has asked me questions starting with:  “Why is it so important to you…” Why is it so important to me to reject everything he says? Why is it so important to me who is right? More often than not, my answer to this was: “I don´t know.” He scolded me for it and regarded it as willful destruction of the therapeutic relationship, but each and every time I was not just being honest, I was right, too.

And there is more. Whenever Athena, bright and brilliant Athena, asked me what my motives for this or that had been – not the aims and wishes I had now, but for, say, not “criticizing” her – she was asking a nonsensical question. And what was even more nonsensical were all her accusations as to me not wanting to face myself (that is: my true motives) or see the truth. I was unable to see my “true motives” because I had as much access to them as anyone: None. It´s not repression, it´s not willful blindness – it´s the brain, and it´s like that for everyone, even for her.

It was a cause of great suffering to me that I felt like I didn´t know my own motives, and possibly an even greater cause of suffering that the only theory available put the blame for that on my alleged cowardice and narcissism. It put people who clearly didn´t deserve it into superior positions. Neither Athena nor Dr. Stoneface can know my motives, but both of them still seemed to believe they could know theirs. They both stuck to a theory of mind which is fundamentally flawed. So did I, at the time, but my self-perception reflected the truth: I perceived myself as simply not knowing. And they used this as a stick to beat me with.

Of course I should know better than stating this as if it was fact. I also know, after all, that memories are reconstructions which vary dependently on our current bias, focus and theories. So what I form here is a theory about my past, an explanation of what it is that happened. It is a narrative, a way to tell my story in a way that makes sense. And it is not entirely silly to look for such a way. Forming a theory that is in line with scientific insights is the best shot I have at getting to the truth of what happened there.

Like I said, it tortured me that all the theories available for my misery and my behavior condemned me. It was a massive breakthrough for me when I realized earlier this year that even though I had a whole lot of theories about my behavior towards Lola and my abuse mania, actually I didn´t have the slightest idea how it all could have happened. I feared it meant I was psychotic, but this realization was actually the first step out of a whole different kind of madness: The infinite, invisible guilt.

I don´t know why it took me so long to admit I simply didn´t have a clue. Maybe because I was desperately fighting to defend one interpretation of events which wasn´t as worthy of condemnation, and if this interpretation was wrong, only the other one could apply. The one that condemned me. And also, there was another aspect: I believed I was the only one who didn´t know her true story. I thought everybody else had direct access to their motives, and I couldn´t bear the idea that I of all people should be excluded from this. And, another “also”, my interpretations, stories, narratives had been doubted so often and I had failed so often at defending them – and it had been so bloody humiliating. Those people simply couldn´t be right.

Since I´m about to fall asleep soon, here´s the second insight, from another book:

  • If we try to change something about ourselves, we tend to get lost in a psychological paradox. Take, for example, the command: “Be spontaneous.” It´s impossible to follow, because whatever you do, it will somehow relate to that comment and therefore it won´t be a spontaneous action.

It took me a while to understand how this is true as well for other commands, too, but then something came to my mind. When Athena told me I could learn anything I wanted as long as I did it out of genuine interest and not in order to be better than her, all my learning suddenly related to that comment. Each time I picked up a book I had to ask myself if I was genuinely interested or if I did it to be better than her. Each time I picked up a book I became aware there was some kind of competition going on between us. Suddenly I was thinking far more about where she stood and where I stood than before she had accused me of competing with her. Each time I picked up a book I had to ask myself if I could bear it if she was better than me and knew more than I. And, quite naturally, each time the answer was no. That, to me, was the sad proof that I was a jealous, antisocial, narcissistic person with no real genuine interests. This haunted me for years, until recently, in fact, because in my mind each activity and interest still related to the question: Genuine or narcissistic? That´s quite sad when you think of it.