Counterpolarity a.k.a. the wall between me and the world?

I realized there is something I have been ashamed of all my life, and it is also something which I always felt made me different: I feel I have a very hard time being polite. Social gestures of appreciation, whether I merely have to reciprocate them or initiate them myself, come hard to me. It was a long time until I learned to say “thank you” and “please” and to not react to the shop assistant´s “have a nice day” with a blank stare. When someone asks me how I´m doing, I reply “fine” and forget to ask how they are doing.

Like with my behavior towards Lola, I had plenty of psychological explanations for this. None of them improved my behavior, but at least they served to either add to the shame or take some away. An explanation of the first kind would be: “You only think about yourself, you don´t care about other people, you think it´s natural that they care about how you do, but you don´t care about what they do. You are narcissistic, and that´s probably because your parents spoiled you and didn´t teach you any manners.” An explanation of the second kind would be: “You must have severe social phobia and that´s why you don´t dare say anything to anyone. You think you are so worthless that nobody cares to let you know how they are doing anyway, because they don´t expect any help from you! That phobia must come from experiencing bad things when you were little, like your father´s yelling!”

Fact is, however, I don´t know why I act the way I do. I do feel anxiety in social situations, but that´s more the stress of knowing I will have to use all those difficult, unnatural-feeling social gestures again. I feel like everyone will immediately notice the awkwardness of it, see how unnatural it is for me, see right away that this is a put-on on my part. What, though, am I trying to conceal? That I´m ego-centric and demanding?

 

Huh. How do you know if you´re ego-centric and demanding? Maybe if you don´t feel like asking others how they do but get angry when they don´t ask how you are doing? And do I get angry when others fail to ask me how I´m doing? Nope. Not one bit. I actually hate that question. It just makes me feel awkward and guilty and the answer is always going to be “fine” anyway and I´ll feel uncreative on top of that. If I have a really good day I might improvise a sentence or two about the weather along with it.

Where are those massive asocial traits coming from? Like I said, psychological explanations are failing me. They are a burden rather than being helpful. A few months ago I wrote about the empathy tests I took. I wrote that I feel a general lack of connectedness towards society and its norms. I tried on several subcultures, but they wouldn´t fit, either. I don´t fit in anywhere, and trying to has bad effects on me. When I look at others I only ever come up with negations: “That´s not me, that´s not me, that´s not me, either, and this group of people would downright hate me!” I can only feel like a positively defined being (“positively” as in: “This is me, this is me…”) when I look at myself and myself alone. I´m never in sync with others.

I recently read something interesting on a fellow blog: The author described how she reacted to other people being angry. She didn´t not empathize with their anger, but felt like the target. That is something I can very much relate to. And maybe that is part of why I always feel for the villains, and why this is so personal. The hero is full of self-righteous anger? I feel like I´m under attack, and from this develops sympathy for the villain. I get this in real life, too, when my colleague rants about another colleague or her kids or just anyone. I immediately feel like the target and I start to identify with whatever behavior is being criticized. Ironically, however, when faced with the ones whose behavior is criticized I couldn´t empathize with them, either. I cannot feel the villain´s need to get back at his ex, or the kid´s need to come home late. Which, of course, makes me believe I´m inconsequential and inconsistent. So maybe I actually do lack empathy. I´m just starting to wonder if this is such a terrible thing. Maybe it´s just a different way to see the world. Feeling the contrary feeling instead of emotional contagion is simply a different way to react. It does give you information about the world after all; you do have access to a spectrum of possible emotional reactions. It just makes it hard to be helpful towards the person who is trying to vent to you. To some you will appear indifferent, arrogant and cold. Others will regard you as impartial and unimpressionable.

When I say “I feel like the target”, I both feel like I am the target and I feel like I believe the target must feel. This is why I always believed to have a lot of empathy. Maybe it is some kind of reverse empathy, or empathy from a distance. What remains, though, is the fact that I feel an emotional distance towards the person I am facing, while feeling “empathetic” towards a hypothetical third person. What I perceive is this thing-that-is-apparently-not-empathy, what others perceive is that I don´t empathize with them. Then again, I don´t just perceive vicariously the possible feelings of the third party, I also perceive my own distance and sometimes indifference towards the person who vents to me. Maybe it is because of this that I´m never sure how to answer questions that try to assess my empathy and emotional sensitivity towards others. Maybe that´s why my self-perception wavers between hypersensitive and sociopath.

I´ve just been wondering if I only have this with regards to anger or also with regards to other feelings. I definitely have trouble sharing the feelings of others. I might be at a party, a concert, in a pub; everyone is having the time of their lives and suddenly I find myself stuck somewhere between melancholy and discontent. There is, again, that distance between me and others, the wall between me and the world. I cannot share the general euphoria. I always thought I was suffering from depression and therefore I was unable to have fun, but this inability to merge emotionally with others is as old as time. Besides, I also have the tendency to calm down when everbody else freaks out or to suddenly feel strong when everybody else gives up, and that´s got nothing to do with depression. It´s like I´m counterpolar.

I used to think I was just being contrary. This put me into a fix. On the one hand I thought that I probably had all the reason because the world sucked, on the other hand I thought I was being immature and unempathetic towards a world that was simply complex. Maybe, though, this counterpolarity is not a result of how I perceive the world, but the way I perceive the world is a result of the counterpolarity. What if these contrary reactions are wired into me, and what if “I react this way because the world sucks / I suck” are just helpless attempts at an explanation? Maybe those emotional reactions simply aren´t determined by my thoughts and attitudes, but my thoughts and attitudes are influenced by my emotional wiring. If so, then this would also explain why I feel for sure that I cannot change. You can change attitudes and thoughts, but not the emotional hardwiring. If I have such fundamentally different responses to social clues, or a general aberrance of empathetic feelings in the broadest sense, then this is more than what psychology can account for or work on. It would be a case of “the material I´ll have to work with”. There would be no explanation that could be cathartic or inspire change.

What I can take away from this is the following: I do have emotional reactions to other peoples´ emotions. They follow a pattern that is beyond psychology. I don´t need to worry about my feelings towards those persons, or about being antisocial.

There is more food for thought. How do BDSM encounters work for me, since they seem to be one rare occasion when I can easily feel connected to others? And does my inability to show feelings in some situations have to do with this whole phenomenon?

I´ll need to look at these questions at another time.

 

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