Archive for identity

My fundamental error

Posted in personal, philosophy with tags , , on January 26, 2014 by theweirdphilosopher

I feel distraught. I feel a strange mercilessness towards myself; like I will no longer let myself get away with something that was a larger part of my life than I realized.

I think it is all that writing advice that I read. So much about what to keep in mind for the benefit of your audience. I looked over my blog from a distance and I saw how much I ramble and how incoherently I write. And I wondered why it ever occurred to me to publish that. It seems like nothing that belongs in front of an audience. Did I simply lose sight of the fact that there is a difference between a real and an imagined audience? Between a panel of imaginary judges and actual readers?

I think what really makes me qualify as unbalanced is the carelessness with which I put things out in the open that have no business being there. When I started this blog I didn´t want to wait anymore until I had something to say that would benefit an actual audience. I simply longed to be somebody, to have some sort of identity. My model was a fellow blogger with a series of mental disorders who had won several awards for the way she was writing about her life. It actually is an amazing blog. I was just very much mistaken in believing I could create, leave alone be something similar. In trying to do so, however, I merely managed to show just how incredibly fragile my ego is.

Some philosopher said that Homer wouldn´t have written the Iliad if he had been an Achilles. I have often wished to be the character of a novel more than to be the author. A blog seemed to be a fairly easy way to achieve that. Unfortunately, though, even as a blogger I don´t get to decide what history I come with or what dark truth is lurking underneath my confusion. Despite the ease with which people claim identities for themselves nowadays, you don´t become an Achilles by slapping a label on yourself and defining your voice as representative of said label. I cannot resolve my fundamental disdain for myself by treating identities as nothing more than a convenience.

When I was reading to children at a local kindergarten, they often pointed to the pictures in the books, yelling: “That´s me!” – “That´s me!” and, if the desired identity was already taken, they would compromise: “Okay, then that´s me!” Sometimes, of course, they would also quarrel. You got to be the coolest girl in the other book, now it´s my turn! Having to compare myself to five-year-olds is not very flattering, but I did have a similar take on reality for an uncomfortably long stretch of time. On some level I did believe that you could make yourself a certain kind of person just by saying so. And this is also, ultimately, what was behind my ability to believe I had amnesia. It was not my reason for doing so, but it enabled me to do so.

Reality itself still seems incredibly unlikely to me, starting with the idea that I could possibly have erred so much. Yet at the same time I feel that by understanding my error I´m making an experience that transcends the fundamental gap between me and the thinkers I admired most. I always knew I was wrong in some way, and now that I can see my foolishness, I have a lot more respect for myself.

Reality, however, has some far darker truths to offer, and I´m not sure if I will be capable of accomodating my self-image to them, too. Unfortunately, though, I feel like a lot more than just my self-respect depends on that. This reality is the experience and the history life has to offer me, and if I fail to take them, I will forever be a person of no substance.


Reality Checklist

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , on April 27, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

This checklist is personal. It is not intended as advice, not even for me. It is my best shot at what might be a realistic conception of my own psychopathology, whatever its nature might be in clinical terms. At the moment I don´t even want to know anymore. I need to re-define myself on my own.

This checklist is something to come back to when I have another attack of madness in the broadest sense. It could be angry inner dialogues, it could be theories about the origin of my illness. I will look at this list, feel invalidated by it and thrust it aside. But once the acute phase is over, I can go back to the list and re-orient myself. I hope that this way I won´t have to figure all this out time and time again. Like I said before, my (inner) life is subject to constant disruption. Maybe you could say that this list is a lifeline from the sanest perspective I´m capable of. It might help me integrate my latest experiences of madness. I hope to be able to understand where I went wrong, where I strayed from realistic and identity-building thinking.

A short, very simplified theory of madness which might prove helpful to me:

  • It lies in the nature of madness that the symptoms (feelings, attitudes, perceptions…) make no sense. Looking into the past for an explanation that gives a seemingly understandable meaning to them is to deny their nature as expressions of madness. If I get terrified in my own room and conclude that something terrible must have happened there I am denying that my fear is irrational and that I am mad. Fear is not a proof of past or present danger.
  • Madness proceeds in several stages: You start with having symptoms like panic or other emotions which seem out of place in the situation you´re in. This is something that simply happens to you. How you deal with it determines if the madness can proceed to other parts of your psyche or if it is stopped, that is, you stay sane, though ill. If you look for explanations for these symptoms which give meaning to them instead of acknowledging their insane nature, you let madness take over your cognitive capacities as well. Not only do you have false responses to situations, you also start to cognitively distort reality. Hearing voices is a hallucination, a disturbance of the senses. Attributing them to CIA mind control is the beginning of a delusion, a disturbance of cognition.
  • There are two different ways of looking at your history: You can acknowledge that you are mad and look at how being mad has influenced your life and your self-image. And you can look at your symptoms and try to deduce from them what must have happened to you in order for a (as you believe) sane person to develop such symptoms. The first way can be helpful, the second way leads to delusions.
  • Sanity is to be free from delusions, not free of symptoms.
  • By believing that your symptoms are meaningful, you make it harder for you to gain inner distance and freedom from them. If your fears and other problems are rational and make perfect sense, then it would be mad to break free from them and stop being frightened. Thus, delusions prolong and intensify your suffering.

How to obtain a narrative which gives me a sense of identity:

  • You can only gain a workable identity from a narrative that focuses on agency. While, of course, sometimes things happen to you, focusing on these things won´t tell you who the person is to whom they happened. If I view myself as a passive object floating in a cruel sea, I´m victimising myself.
  • The answer is not to simply claim responsibility for everything, and especially not for the actions of other people.
  • When evaluating past situations you feel guilty about or ashamed of, ask the following questions: 1) What situation did I believe to be in? 2) What did I want to achieve or avoid? 3) Which observable actions did I commit? 4) What situation was I really in, seen from a distance? This also includes my level of knowledge at the time. 5) What could I at best have expected to achieve?
  • A perspective of agency does not imply that you brought everything upon yourself. It is a biography focused on your thoughts, actions, motivations and evaluation of situations. It doesn´t really matter if much, little or nothing bad happened to you – you´ll probably always need to develop a perspective of agency in order to move on.
  • Look at what was important to you in past situations, not at what turned out to be important after the fact or at what other people deemed important. In order to judge your behavior you need to know your own perspective.
  • Just because you develop a perspective of agency doesn´t mean that all of a sudden nothing happened to you anymore. Things still happened to you, you are just looking at something different for a change.
  • Identity is fluid and needs to be constructed and reconstructed steadily, especially after (social) defeats, attacks on your self-esteem and current identity, being at fault. If you fail at this, you will fall into an abyss of demoralization. Overcoming this abyss is the implicit aim of everything I do.

With regards to inner tension, angry dialogues, shame:

  • No one is saying anything to me at the moment. It is not real.
  • The people who write things that make me feel any of the above are not talking about me. They don´t even know I exist.
  • Whatever the solution to my problems is, it is never that I should feel this way. A real solution will not feel like this.
  • Imagining humiliating scenarios is simply something I instinctively do in order to try and relieve the tension. It might not be the only way, and even if I needed such things to happen to me in order to relieve the tension, it wouldn´t mean that I deserve them.
  • Just because the voices in my head aren´t real doesn´t mean I was never bullied or verbally attacked. While they certainly use every interpersonal defeat or even conflict against me, though, they are an entitity of their own and they consist of more than things that were actually said to me. The dialogues in my head are no flashbacks of dialogues that have taken place in real life. They are fantasy. They have never happened and they are not really happening right now.
  • I feel angry at people I argue with internally even though those people (real people) have never said the things they say in my head. It´s because of this that I don´t feel sure if they have really given me a reason to be mad at them or if I´m just a vengeful person who cannot cope with herself. This, by the way, sounds like a black-and-white distinction.
  • Just because the dialogues aren´t real doesn´t mean it would be alright to talk to me this way. It´s normal that they make me feel the way they do. It´s just not really happening. Therefore, even by winning discussions with them, I don´t stop any kind of real life evil from happening.

Me and Others:

  • It is okay, even expected of me, not to expose my innermost secrets to everyone.
  • Lying and keeping my feelings to myself are two different things. I can give my honest opinion without having to give away how personal the issue in question is for me.
  • People who meet you for the first time don´t know that you believe you can make yourself invisible. It surprises them when you don´t greet them, look away and fail to display a normal amount of self-confidence.
  • People who meet you for the first time don´t know how you think about yourself. You can actually shape how they think about you.
  • Trying to influence peoples´ view of you is not per se an act of people – pleasing or self-denial. You can use it as an act of self-protection. It is very reasonable to keep your vulnerabilities away from people who have views which might hurt you.
  • It is legitimate to protect yourself. You don´t need to use relationships to other people as a punishment.
  • Nobody can read your mind. Most people probably aren´t even noticing you.
  • You don´t have to agree with others. You don´t have to discuss everything. You have a right to private thoughts and opinions and no one can first demand to hear them and then be upset.
  • Other people aren´t all out to psychologically demolish you. You have experience with this. You´ll recognize it when it happens. Relax.
  • It is okay to postpone discussions and responses because you want time to think.
  • When in doubt, keep your emotions under wrap, politely tell people you need time to think, remove yourself from the situation, sleep over it, rethink it, respond.
  • Other people are not the Holy Inquisition. They have just as many issues as you, and those who act like the Holy Inquisition probably have most.
  • When criticism is mingled with aggression, cruelty, scorn, the way you´ll feel about yourself receiving it does not reflect who you really are, even if the criticism itself is justified.

To be, I am sure, continued.

Agency and Identity

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on April 26, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I think the unsatisfactory thing about many of my narratives (that is: how I tell my story) is that they tend to make me a passive being. Like this, though, they cannot give me a sense of identity. I still don´t know who that person is to whom all of this happened. The way to get a sense of who I am, then, might be to create an active narrative, a narrative in which I am an agent.

Some people – I´ll boldly say misunderstand – this approach. They seem to think it is enough to claim you are responsible for everything that happened. You are not what you did and intended at the time you acted, you are what resulted from your actions. Implicitly or explicitly those people assume everything that happened is something you secretly (consciously or unconsciously) wanted to happen.

I think that is nonsensical. It defies common sense. This kind of thinking is incredibly wide-spread at the moment, but I think it´s a fairly recent trend that will go away again. If I want to believe this, I also have to believe courts judging people on the grounds that they did or didn´t have certain intentions are acting unfairly. With the approach above you don´t have to ask for intentions. The agent has always intended to achieve exactly what happened anyway.

What I want is a narrative that allows me to feel like I´m the end product of my life story and that I can move on to working on my aims now. I want a narrative that enables me to act, and I think the only such narrative can be one that focuses on my own doings. What else can give me a realistic idea of my behavior patterns and my previous and current limits? The key here is, of course, realistic. Blindly taking responsibility for the outcome of everything I was ever part of is useless because it leaves just as much of a void as seeing myself as completely passive.  It is just as impersonal. Absolute victim and absolute perpetrator are both images which disable me from feeling a sense of identity.

I find again and again that it doesn´t really matter what I did in my life, what matters is how I look at it. The moment I can look at it through the lens of agency I feel safe from the judgment of others. I am my own judge then, and I can decide on my own how to deal with myself. I get a sense of self-respect just from that, independently of the actions I´m judging. Consequently, my current shame and lack of self-respect do not so much result from my real life actions, but from the way in which I´ve seen myself and my life. Most of the time, after all, I have adamantly refused any sense of agency. Everything just happened to me.

This, right now, is a mere assessment of reality. If I want self-respect, a sense of identity and to stop fearing the judgment of others I need to take a realistic and ego-syntonic perspective of agency. This is not yet a perspective of agency itself. It is at best a mission statement.

Actually, nothing changes so much. I still need to look at my life, and in order to get a realistic assessment of my own agency I also have to look at the actions of others or how I perceived them. This “sense of agency” revelation is more like an explanation as to why combing through my memories again and again and writing down the same complaints again and again doesn´t set me free. It becomes clear to me what I need, and it becomes clear to me where the source of my shame lies.

Maybe, just maybe, this sense of agency also describes the difference between sanity and madness.

A thought experiment

Posted in health, mental health, personal, philosophy with tags , on January 18, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

There is this theory according to which our identities are something that we construct, and, if our constructs are shaken too badly, we must reconstruct them. Let´s say that´s correct. Of course we will want our worldview and self-conception to be consistent, we want to think of our constructs as plausible, otherwise we will demoralized. This means, though, that very often when a theory or someone else´s worldview threatens our self-conception, we will argue with him. We´ll have very personal motivations, a very personal involvement, and that´s normal. It doesn´t mean we´re just quarrelsome. As long as we are fair, as long as we are honest with ourselves and don´t try to believe something that apparently isn´t true, logical and plausible, we cannot really be judged. It also means that there will always be conflict and arguments. It´s part of how we form our identity. Dr Stoneface once asked me if or why it mattered so much who was right. It matters because it affects my entire identity, my self-conception, the actions I will take. I don´t know if his idea of healthy is that I should take a step back and stop worrying about what is correct (not right in the moral sense). Or about my self-image. I thought it was bad if you care too much about your self-image, but it has to do with identity more than with vanity. Wanting to know who´s right is honest and legit.

Resolving conflicts or threats to your identity requires creativity. It´s really not so much about soul-searching and finding some truth inside, but about creating a third perspective that goes beyond the two conflicting ideas. Making sense of them. It might be about synthesis more than about analysis. It takes creativity to resolve what appears to be paradoxical. It´s like writing a consistent story about a very inconsistent character and trying to give it a plausible happy ending even though he´s a very difficult person.

I think I´ve had my self-conception shaken very badly at a point in my life when identity building should have taken place. My understanding of myself was basically torn apart. It was very much a Truman Show moment, but a very torturous one: It seemed I had to realize that absolutely everything I´d ever believed about myself, and the way I had perceived the world and other people, was dead wrong. And there was no nice real world and some lovely girl waiting for me out there, no. I ended up at the bottom of the psychological food chain. I was crazy and toxic. I´m not sure to what extent questioning oneself during puberty is normal, but this lasted many years (is still not over). There is this thought experiment by Descartes: “What if everything I believe, I perceive is wrong? What if an evil demon has been deceiving me? What if I cannot even trust my own mind?” To me, that wasn´t a thought experiment. I felt it.

In my last few entries (well, bar the very last one) I fleshed out several things from which I can construct an identity that will somehow be consistent with my experiences. A character and a story, if you like. Here are those things summed up:

1) Above-average intellectual capacities

2) Raised with two belief systems that contradict each other

3) Strong sadomasochistic tendencies and being a lesbian

4) Tendency towards grandiosity, with all its ups and downs

and now 5) Been through a lengthy period of having my self-conception torn apart and my identity undermined, very ready to believe in anything that could undermine my identity again, mind blown wide open for anyone to walk over it, very vulnerable to epistemic pitfalls, hopefully about to emerge from this.

What do I want most?

What I want most is to arrive at the point of knowing what I want to do with my life and getting started with doing it. That may sound trivial, but overall, that is my most pressing problem now. It is what´s on my mind most often.

What I´ve realized so far is that my grandiosity is currently hampering me in trying to do so. Nothing, no plan whatsoever can live up to the “greatness” that I envision. The reason for that is simply that this greatness is nothing concrete. I could be the Queen and I´d think that this cannot be all I get from life. How to deal with this I don´t know yet, but knowing where it´s coming from might be of some help.

Oh well.

It makes me so happy that this makeshift identity also contains problematic traits. That makes it more likely that it is an identity that can actually be lived.

Here´s a thought: I think my vulnerability to others´attacks on my self-conception might be caused, to some extent, by my urge to be able to put myself into absolutely everybody´s shoes. To be able to see through every pair of eyes and understand every point of view. It has a lot to do with me wanting to be a writer. Writing seems to allow me to slip on multiple pairs of glasses, and the ability to empathize with so many different viewpoints is what enables me to write stories. I was never comfortable being pinned down on just one identity, that seemed to narrow, it seemed to limit my thoughts. So in a way this whole shaky identity thing is my own doing. More often than not I´m the one undoing myself. Still, though, there has to be a possibility to construct an identity which allows me to have both: a sense of self and the ability to put myself into other peoples´shoes and tell others´ stories. That calls for a post of its own.

All these things I sketched out seem to connect, and that, too, is a good thing. They seem to be melting into each other, overlapping.

Uh…actually I just wanted to scribble down a little thought. Now I might as well post this, because it´s not that bad after all. Quite incoherent, I guess, but never mind.