Archive for narcissism

A journey to all the dark thoughts

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Recently, I sent to a penpal of mine a description of my current depressive episode. She replied that she could not imagine that a psychotherapist could not immediately conclude a diagnosis from my, as she put it, lucid self-analysis, and devise an effective cure – effective provided the patient cooperates.

She knows that I have a bad history of psychotherapy attempts, and she appeared to try and empathize, telling me she didn´t want to persuade me to see a therapist again. And yet the tiny little qualification she made with regards to effectiveness speaks volumes about how many worlds we are apart. She has swallowed the blame-the-patient approach to therapy failure hook, line and sinker.

Ever since last weekend I´m struggling with what to answer. Part of me wants to be honest and tell her, without rage, in what way exactly I have been hurt and why I cannot believe anymore those were just instances of bad luck or black sheep. I can also predict, however, what is likely going to happen next: With the best intentions and in the solid belief that she is helping me she will tell me in what way she thinks my views are distorted, how she experienced her own (mostly positive) therapy and that I must have gone through some really tough shit in my family of origin if I interpret the well-meaning offers of highly ethical experts in such a self-defeating way. She might ask me if I´m sure that what I read into their words isn´t just my own depression speaking. She will assure me that of course I´m not the kind of person they made me feel like, and therefore I must have gotten them wrong, because it will go beyond her imagination that other peoples´ perception of me might differ from hers (if anything, she will add: “Of course I don´t know how you behaved towards your therapists, but the way I know you…”). And then what? What do I reply to that without at some point starting to sound defensive, paranoid or closed-minded?

When I was younger I admired proponents of the moral minority. I identified with 19th century atheists, early campaigners for women´s rights and those who fought being outcasted because of their sexual orientation. I admired their passion, their spite, their all-encompassing criticism of society and I could the intellectual sharpness of their arguments resonating inside of me, making me feel good, strong and like a pioneer. When I myself got into arguments that dealt with issues which touched upon my own, very personal conflicts with commonplace ideas and demands, I did not feel strong and in the right at all. I felt stupid, childish and impotent. For the longest time I could not win such arguments, and yet my own most personal stakes were too high for me to accept a defeat. If the others were right, I could no longer live with myself.

For some time I thought that the sheer monstrosity of the suffering this caused me was proof enough that the others couldn´t be right. It could not be reasonable that someone should righteously have to experience that amount of psychic destruction. This argument, however, never seemed to impress anyone other than very soft-hearted people. Whenever I encountered yet another stone-cold rejection of my passionate appeals I could feel my mind both turning dull and starting to race with torturing thoughts; and some painful, hollow feeling seemed to be eating itself through my chest, making me want to cut it out. Not to mention the wish to hurt the person who´d caused it in some way or the other.

It makes me doubt myself a great deal that many of those feelings were caused by my defending of beliefs which I now recognize as false. If much of what those “others” said back then was the truth, then my sense of humiliation related to being confronted with reality. And while the reality of ten years ago might not matter to me anymore, it still matters to me that I might have a problem with reality. I don´t want to be the kind of person who cannot bear to live her life based on what is true. So what do I do if all evidence is pointing towards just what I dread most?

There is no way out of this. I can either ignore or explain away the evidence, turning myself into precisely what I don´t want to be; or I can admit that the evidence is accurate, but unfortunately that noble act comes too late to redeem me. The damage the evidence relates to is damage I have done long ago. I´ve already become the person I never wanted to be, and admitting it won´t change it.

Some might think this is stubborn. The past is gone, and everybody deserves a second chance. Unfortunately, past and present are not so dissimilar. I still very much identify with that old sense of humiliation, I´m still having similar experiences and I can not whatsoever guarantee it won´t happen again. The thought alone of second chances scares me, the life of a penant doesn´t seem a life worth living to me. If I don´t even manage to be halfways decent without practicing a stressful amount of self-denial, how am I supposed to be able to be super good?

My thoughts sometimes work in mysterious ways. I was thinking about how much I would want to ask my former professor for his opinion on my life story and everything I had done. I would not so much ask for a moral evaluation, but rather appeal to his creativity, as he is the one person I could imagine off the top of my head who I´d trust to have a happier solution to all this than life-long penance and self-enforced toxic humility. And at some point in our imaginary conversation he, flatteringly and ever observantly, said: “I think it will be very difficult for you to really get rid of your way of torturing yourself, as this is part of what makes you so lovable.”

Imaginary as his view may be, it struck a nerve with me. First of all, I realized it reflected my own opinion of myself. I would not like myself if I wasn´t like that. Paradoxically, I can only agree with myself when I talk about myself in a harsh, critical manner. It is a paradox I tripped over quite often in my life.

Then, however, I actually encountered that view in real life, in someone else. It was Athena who told me that my ability to self-torture was the one thing she had always admired so much about me. She told me this in a very judging fashion, when I had just started to violently try and shake that fatal “ability” off, and this hit me. If my torturing and dissecting and deconstructing myself is indeed what makes me valuable, lovable, worthwhile to others, then what am I supposed to think of those whose love and appreciation I am trying to gain?! What is so different, so severely wrong with me that I have to persistently scourge myself in order to earn what others get for free? Why are others allowed to just accept themselves the way they are and somehow it doesn´t taint their honour? What am I – some kind of example? Something that isn´t likeable but useful, as long as it does what it does best?

What might have been most healing about that imaginary quote was, however, that he kind of called me out on my own neglected infatuation with my self-torture. Not in a confrontative, humiliating way, but by validating me. Since that conversation was but a figment of my imagination, I can say authoritatively that he really meant what he (didn´t) say. He finds me lovable that way, but he told me so in form of a self-critical observation about what he enjoys, not in form of a sourpuss moral demand that holds me to different standards than everyone else.

It did not come across as him telling me that I was bringing my suffering upon myself, but rather it felt like a reminder that my being like that isn´t all bad; it is nothing I have to fight with all I have. I am allowed to be this way, play with it, use it to charm others just a little bit. I don´t have to be all sourpuss myself, either – but liberating as that sounds, it is starting to conflict with my need to genuinely self-torture. Here is where imaginary conversations crash hard against their own limits. I have not really been absolved by anyone. It is something I do myself, and on my own responsiblity. As it is, there is no one out there looking at me that specific way. The conversations feel so real that it is sometimes hard to remember that. Again, I appear to have a problem with reality; and yet the conversation with Athena was real, and isn´t my anger about it somewhat righteous, too?

I feel like I´m, in a way, on to something when I say that there was a certain tendency in people in my life towards reinforcing a specific trait of mine more positively than good for me. This positive feedback created a certain pressure to remain that way, but also, I was held by standards set by my best self-critical behavior and those cannot be met at all times without cutting oneself off from life and emotions. “You can be so mature oftentimes, why can´t you be so mature now?”  My maturity, maturity in general became my nemesis; the very thing that made me feel like a failure in comparison. I was mistaken to believe it was the maturity of others I that pathologically envied and raged at; it was my own former behavior others measured me against that I could no longer live up to. Most of the people who confronted me back then were a lot older than me, and yet I feel like a failure for having been less mature than them – and, essentially, they, too, treated me like one because they were expecting me to act differently. Much of my immature behavior back then, however, did not so much consist in trying to get my way in ordinary teenage matters (going out, allowances etc.), but it was solely about the right to be immature, stupid and unreasonable. Maybe that explains some of the more outrageous things I said back then, things I cannot and couldn´t really agree with but which to defend seemed necessary.

My mother seemed to admire me in many ways, and that can be scary. When I think of her – sometimes almost shy – smiles and looks, I feel both lonely and awful, like I´m a person who intimidates others. It is difficult when you feel that a person really wants you to like her. My mother keeps on saying that I imagine her to be more vulnerable than she really is, and maybe that is true, but that doesn´t change my feeling of uncanny omnipotence. I do have a way of feeling responsible for too many things, too many peoples´ moods, and for believing that my own thoughts and feelings can cause terrible things to happen.

As I think these thoughts, I´m torn between two ideas:

1) I´m not really that important, my mother didn´t really admire me, she was just wisely humouring me because I was a demanding child with a terrible temper. My belief that my thoughts can make things happen shows that on a deeper level I´m narcissistic to the point of delusion.

2) I should have recognized the power I have earlier and used it more wisely, I must have caused so many terrible injuries, and most of all, my helpless, loving mother.

Neither idea does me any favours. They merely offer me the choice between a sense of guilt and a sense of ridicule. Neither idea takes into consideration what I want, or that I even am a being of my own with personal feelings that can just as easily be damaged as anyone else´s.

I´m not sure where all this takes me in terms of my original question. Maybe towards the conclusion that I´ve been so conflicted for so long that I really don´t need to try and resolve my issues now by telling my penpal what psychotherapy does to me. Or that I cannot trust myself at all, so that I should better not ever say anything about anything.

Or, of course, that I have no obligation to always be wiser and more mature than everyone else, although there was a certain pressure to do so that did not originate in myself. I can respond emotionally and take this risk that I make a fool of myself, and it will be no more of a shame if I do it than if anyone else does it. I´m afraid, however, this remains a very theoretical option, as my penpal, too, has an ever so slight tendency towards idealizing me – and that never ends well. When someone idealizes you for being something they value, they will never forgive you for managing to convince them that you are not like that, and their admiration will turn into vitriolic disdain if you try to tell them this is actually okay. In their eyes, it will make you weak – weaker than they themselves think they are for not fulfilling their own ideal.

Some people seem to understand themselves as the helpers of “genuises”. They enjoy the thought that they might be able to understand a genuis better than he understands himself. Instead of climbing all those other social prestige ladders that all too slowly lead up to the “genius” and trying to earn themselves a place of their own, they jump to the top of the invisible hierarchy and merely try to get one up on the person up there. All they need is someone who is clearly bright and creative, but just as clearly suffering and somewhat dysfunctional. What could prove their own, the helpers´ intelligence more convincingly than their ability to understand the mental workings of a misunderstood, outcast genius? It seems to indicate an intelligence that is superior not just to oh-so-ignorant society, but even to that of the object it studies. I feel a certain sense of caution towards people who call me a genius without a trace of sarcasm or hostility in their voice. It seems perfectly natural to me to have a great problem with the idea that someone else might be more intelligent than oneself, so those who have no problem whatsoever with that appear to be unnaturally superior to average people in at least one department: Self-confidence and how to display it. And it seems like a good idea to be just a little bit wary of such people. Clever, convincing displays of self-confidence are, after all, key to social dominance. Maybe it´s the sum of my experience, maybe it is sheer envy of the pure, selfless souls of somehow more mature people – I don´t know. If I dare trust my gut, however, I´ll remain cautious to spill my guts when people assure me one time too often that they think I´m brilliant and wise. I´m quite sure that their respect and adoration don´t go far enough to a) change their minds on things and b) not use everything I said against me should I develop a will of my own.

I think with those last bits I´m being horribly unfair towards my penpal. That was more directed towards a long-time friend who managed to both put me on a pedestal and look down upon me. It is amazing, though, to understand where so much of my paranoia is coming from. I discount many of my thoughts and perceptions as narcissistic and judgemental, but once I try to understand how I reached those conclusions, I find that they were formed based on observations and experiences which are perfectly valid.

I still don´t know what to write my penpal, but I think I´ll have an easier time figuring it out now.

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That one time when I tried to say too many things at once and published a very unstructured post

Posted in personal, rants with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Those how-tos and advice I read…

Quite often they´re designed as a kick-up-the-backside. Tough-love motivational speeches. Depending on my mood, I can read them calmly, feeling unaffected, like it doesn´t apply to me (until I reach the passage that says: “and – YES! – this applies to YOU, too! Specifically to you!”), or I will be cast into a dark prison of rage, hurt, self-loathing and demoralizing internal arguments. Actually, if that doesn´t happen right away, I´ll keep on reading those speeches and lists until it does. That´s typically the point where I skip to the comments section, hoping to find affirmation for my feelings. What I will find, however, is floods of: “OMG, brilliant as ever!” – “Oh god, I´m so guilty of all this! Haha!” – “That´s just what I needed to hear right now. Thank you.”

Those comments demoralize me even more. Because they touch upon something that had me doubt myself ever since I can remember:

How do people manage to respond like that to the emotional equivalent of a full-body-thrashing and why is it so impossible for me to respond in the same way?

I´m torn between two explanations, as always. Either everybody else is simply a whole lot stronger than me character wise (need less ego stroking, not afraid to hear the truth, genuinely eager to improve), or those are some very elaborate defense mechanisms they might not even realize they are using.

I´ll explain the second hypothesis first, because that´s easier: Tough-love speeches put their (willing or unwilling) recipients one-down. Said recipients want to be on equal footing with the author again, but they can´t do that by openly contradicting. It´s nearly impossible to contradict those tough-love speeches without looking like “you´re just too weak for them”. The implicit rule of tough-love speeches is that those who contradict are the once who´d need to hear them most. Therefore, you will need to pretend that 1) you absolutely agree and 2) that you aren´t actually a recipient, you´re a bystander. The recipient is someone else. You might applaud the author for his writing style while not talking about the content. You might keep your positive feedback as vague (and possibly even condescending) as possible. You might want to signal “I learned all those rules a long time ago and I have applied them since, but it´s never wrong to hear them from someone else, so kudos”. At any rate, you will want to make yourself sound like an equal.

This part is something I can understand. I apply those techniques, too, rather often. But then I encounter something like: “I needed to hear this, thank you so much!”, and when I´m done cringing I wonder why the hell someone would respond like this. I simply don´t know how this could be a defense mechanism. Sure, excessive self-abasement can be used as a form of subversion. It can shed light on the true nature of some of those speeches, that is: They´re a form of humiliation. But those responses don´t reek of parody. I can only conclude that they are real. Earnest. Serious. And I don´t get it.

Responses like these make me feel dumb and defective. The feelings that could make me want to say such things are a blind spot both in my imagination and my experience. And there surely must be something wrong with that? Beginning with the fact that other people don´t understand my utter discomfort when faced with such reactions. Or the fact that, when such responses are expected from me, I fail to deliver and instead do things that can only be described as irrational, crazy and incomprehensible?

There is, as always, the special snowflake explanation. Maybe something is terrible wrong with a society based on such put-downs, and hierarchies, and all kinds of humiliations guised as child-rearing – and I´m one of those few people who are sensitive enough to recognize the wrongness of it all. I know what tough-love speeches have to say about that. There are no special snowflakes in tough-love, and even if so, YOU are none of them. (This is meme-worthy. This is so meme-worthy.)

I don´t need to be a special snowflake, though, in order to disagree and be right. Tough-love speeches are good at creating an illusion of all-encompassing consensus. No one contradicts, so everyone agrees. Apart from some really, really pathetic twats. Don´t be one of them. Actually, though, the author can be sure only of the agreement of the 159-ish people who cared to comment. That´s not so terrifically much. So maybe there´s hope for me.

Anyway, maybe that´s part of the reason why I can´t stay away from such speeches even though they make me unhappy and unproductive (actually, that was not supposed to be the topic of this post, but never mind): I cannot accept that there is something I don´t understand. It´s a loose end in my belief system, so I need to tie it up. And that´s why I keep on coming back to this issue.

Anyway. How do people do it? How do they feel doing it? What does it take for you to feel grateful for this kind of treatment?

Somehow, I always tip-toe around this question. I kind of – want to experience that state of mind. And I kind of don´t want to. I imagine myself saying those things. I try to strip that idea of its horror. Of the disgust I feel. I try to be sincere. I try to say it without self-disgust. I try to make it sound plausible, real, like the mistakes I´m accused of are the only right explanation there ever was for all my unhappiness. I even imagine trying to forgive myself for not seeing it earlier.

There´s only ever two outcomes: Either it kicks in a a way that it really shouldn´t, or I feel nauseated, depressed and demoralized. Often, it´s one after the other. What doesn´t happen, though, is that it ever feels like a genuine, positive emotional experience. And that makes me feel broken. Defunct.

If I´m incapable of responding well to lectures and criticism, am I then incapable of personal growth? Does my masochism block my ability to react positively to any attempts at improving me? And if so: Do I have to change my sexual orientation in order to become a mentally healthy person?

Those were questions more or less visibly nagging at me when I started seeing Dr. Stoneface. That´s not why I noted them down here. I did so because they still bug me. Part of me feels like the answer to all those questions must be “no”. Part of me feels like this is wishful thinking. Remember, no special snowflakes. Even if there are people who are right, those people certainly aren´t YOU!

Yes. Totally meme-worthy.

I know that many people are inclined to think that the answer to all those questions posed above is “yes”. Dr. Stoneface certainly was. How people answer those questions, though, is my ultimate test of their trustworthiness. It doesn´t protect me, of course. To many people, those questions aren´t even connected. They might think, for example, any kind of masochism or sexual deviation is ill and crazy. But also people who embrace sexual diversity might reject me, thinking I´m an immature twat who isn´t really into their kind of kink but just one of those nutjobs and eccentrics who creep around on the edges and give the “scene” a bad name. And 99% of all people I deal with have no idea of the inner conflicts and the social anxiety I carry around and they will never know that they just failed a major trust test.

I wish that didn´t matter to me so much. Like: I wish I didn´t care what opinions other people have. Fact is, though – when someone I like or even admire has an opinion that makes me feel bad about myself, I sometimes feel unable to continue talking to them. A friend of my partner I always sort of idolized was visiting and I was talking to her about my failed therapy attempts. Suddenly she said that she really took something from her last therapy because her therapist didn´t let her get away with her usual schemes. I felt physically ill hearing her say that. I felt unable to stay in the same room with her. I felt deeply rejected. And this kind of rejection happens to me very, very often, without anybody noticing.

I´m starting to feel depressed, so I´ll just leave it here for a better day.

 

 

 

 

 

I´d have to re-read this to find an appropriate title and I´m afraid sleep comes first

Posted in morbid, personal with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

There is something I seek time and time again: Advice and how-tos about things which are very personal to me. Such as writing. Or living at all. It´s not so much practical advice as it is advice about which attitudes to have or what to feel. And I really don´t know why I´m doing this to myself because I always end up feeling like shit and rebelling against it. To make things worse, the latter also adds immaturity and arrogance to my list of personal shortcomings.  I´m trapped in that cage of “but why do I have to be such a horrible person where did I go wrong”, running against the same four walls again and again. It is impossible to just accept you are like this. I should know better than to ask those questions, really. I´m too much of a cynic to believe in a great why, and the “how did it happen” question only gets you into more trouble since you will inevitably look for explanations which take the blame off you or make it look like it´s a proof of your character strength that you didn´t turn out worse.

It sounds much more reasonable to identify my strong reaction to this kind of “advice” as the problem. My only problem, maybe. Nobody is perfect, but I have too strong a reaction when faced with my shortcomings. This doesn´t help me, though. It makes me feel like just as much of an arrogant nitwit. Not accepting you have any shortcomings is ignorant, immature and somewhat ridiculous, if not pathetic. It also leaves you extremely vulnerable. And I hate feeling like I´m at anyone´s mercy. So maybe that´s why I keep on going back to such advice even though I´ve noticed plenty of times it does me no good. After every major or minor life change I challenge how solid or important it was by putting myself to the test: “Can I stand this now? Can I take it with a smile? Can I learn from it or do I maybe find I no longer need to? Can I perceive this as helpful and constructive?” So far, I have always failed.

These failures have always demoralized me. It happens so reliably that you can rightly call it “self-sabotage”. But when I go back to those advice pages I´m always bursting with optimism. I´m dimly aware I´m doing something I had, in a moment of better judgement, promised myself to avoid in the future, but I do it anyway because something about it is intoxicating. It is intoxicating in a similar way as is any kind of transgression, just that in this case I get punched in the stomach half-way through.

It is a pattern I´ve shown even as a little kid of maybe five when I insisted on playing rough-and-tumble with my father even though I knew it would end badly. I was always excited for that part when I would start to get afraid because I was hoping that this time – by using fucktons of willpower, self-discipline and attitude adjustment – I could make it feel good. I never could, I always ended up panicked, pleading, and eventually deeply resentful. I complained to him, I might even have complained to my mother, but it didn´t satisfy me when he stopped taking it too far. It is a great life lie of mine that I didn´t want such things to happen to me. I do, and a lot of my anxiety is tied to that. A lot of my self-disdain as well. It´s probably the same guilt-shame-what-kind-of-an-ungrateful-monster-am-I mixture most masochists suffer from at some point in their lives. I´m sure I´d never have tried to believe I had really been abused if it hadn´t been for those toxic feelings. Or, as I´d say in my darker moments: If I wasn´t that kind of monster. That kind of person (let´s not kid ourselves here; “monster” is a form of flattery. It´s so poetic.).

I digress. What I was originally going to ask myself (before I started to ponder the complexities of masochism) is why on earth I´m wasting my time fighting one tiny little vulnerability. Okay, maybe not so tiny. Vulnerabilities are big and serious by definition. And maybe it is kind of relatable that one would try not to be vulnerable. The only reason to stop fighting vulnerabilities is if there is a chance it might make you less vulnerable. Is there?

Let us do a thought experiment. I walk through life and I still feel horribly upset every time I encounter someone who is better at living than me. Shouldn´t be difficult, as I´ve just proven I´m one of those fools who think life is a competition, so absolutely everyone is entitled to lecture me by default. But enough of the snappiness and self-defense. I walk through life and I cannot cope with the fact that I have serious personal shortcomings. Meaning that every time it is somehow pointed out to me I either fly into a fit of rage and angry internal (hopefully!) dialogue or I feel depressed and demoralized and secretly punch myself in the bathroom. Well. The worst thing that can happen is that things remain just the way they are. Which means that I can keep on fighting or I can give up – the outcome will be the same.

The advantage is – as long as I´m fighting, I´m aware of my problem. I am anxious to avoid situations which could expose my vulnerability. The disadvantage is that in order to do that, you pretty much need to avoid life. Any attempts at doing something I will suck at initially – and be it writing the first draft of a novel – are such a punch in the stomach that I avoid them, too. The result is more shame. Not good at anything because my ego is too sensitive to be a beginner. Great. Who doesn´t want to be that kind of person?

The promise that lies in awareness, though, is that it might help me avoid humiliation. I always remember to display so much humility that no one could possibly think of attacking me. I try very hard not to find myself in a situation where I angrily yell at someone who´s just scratched my ego (best of all, at the verge of tears, full of self-pity and over-the-top accusations) just to realize they´re not only right, they´re also going to call me out on my behavior. Of course, awareness is a 100% guarantee this is never going to happen to me again. Until the next family meeting, if I´m lucky.

Family meetings are the worst thing ever. You compare notes with anyone roughly your age, you realize they´re more happy, more successful and better sons and daughters than you are, your sister helps your mom in the kitchen while you´re just surfing the web and by the end of day two you are seething with barely restrained self-loathing that makes you want to start fights and take everyone down to your level. Comparing yourself to the person you believe to be at work or around your friends is to look into the mirror and to find your image chuckling at you with just the right amount of pity in their disdainful voice, saying: “You bloody hypocrite!”, before smashing you straight in the face. No need to mention I approach family meetings the way I approach life advice.

So, essentially my only conclusion can be that fighting my vulnerability doesn´t make me any less vulnerable. It doesn´t make me feel less shame or provide less reason for self-loathing. I will run into my that sword all the same. So why don´t I just stop fighting it?

Excuse me, what? That would require anything about my character has changed. It hasn´t. I´m still dead scared of any kind of humiliation. And the thought that I carry the recipe for my own worst case scenario within the foundations of my personality is nothing I can just shrug off and get over. At best, I can find it tragic and inspiring.

Well, there might be something equally good, or maybe it goes hand in hand with “tragic and inspiring”. If the shame, the rage and the hurt pride are somewhat fateful emotions I´m bound to experience again and again, then maybe I can separate them from whatever currently happens to be their object. I cannot prevent myself from feeling them, but I can deal with them more intelligently. Such as by not assuming I should respond to them with therapy or any other attempts at self-improvement. Fate should not be messed with. Those emotional responses are my individual burden and if they are rooted so deeply in my character as I fear they are then I´ll be damned if I let something so personal be taken away from me.

I think your life can be a whole lot more characteristic of who you are if you devote less time on trying to force yourself to be someone better.  You can get realistic expectations of the kind of experiences your life will likely contain by imagining which conflicts a novel character with your sort of character flaws will encounter in various areas. That story is a whole lot more individual and interesting than the happily-ever-after-I-fix-that-one-unforgivable-flaw fairly tales we tell ourselves. It only works, though, when you have a fundamental and not entirely philanthropic liking for predicaments.

This is not to say that you can never try to conquer your flaws. Even swallow your pride. But you should make sure you have your own consent. Are you doing it in order to reach a self-chosen goal (such as learning a craft even though you hate being a beginner with all your heart and soul), or are you trying to escape the stinging bite of shame and the scornful voices of a bunch of people who don´t even know you exist? Doing what you do on your own free will lends a lot of dignity to actions that would otherwise damage your pride. Actually, that process itself is, like any kind of transgression, kind of intoxicating.

And here we are back to where we started. One of my most intense fantasies at this point in my life is to let someone point out to me everything that tortures me about myself and to let him see exactly how much I mind that. Not just anyone, of course. I do have a specific person in mind, but the main point is that it would have to be someone who wants me to be just that flawed. The intention behind this exercise couldn´t possible be to improve me. If it turned out the person doing this to me does not 100% embrace who I am, that would be an unforgivable breach of trust. I´d feel used and manipulated, just like I always did in therapy. I want love for who I am, not help to become someone else. And if I do need help, I want help for the person I am. Telling me that I wouldn´t have the problems that I have if I wasn´t the person who I am is not help. It is a trivial observation with an overtone of dismissal.

 

 

Revoco

Posted in health, mental health, personal, philosophy with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I´m coming to the conclusion that narcissism has essentially become worthless as a concept and that it should be abolished as a psychiatric term. I´m not saying this to deny the interpersonal misbehavior and the hard-to-trace abuse going on in some families, workplaces and relationships. I just think “narcissism” is a fairly meaningless explanation for those phenomena. To begin with, it is an awfully broad term. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists can´t even agree whether everyone possesses it to a certain degree or not. That´s not a question that can be decided based on empirical testing. It is a question of how you define narcissism, and if there is still any dissent regarding the frequency of narcissism in people, then it´s because there is no clear, agreed-upon definition. Without such a definition, I don´t see why patients should be freaked out by having such a stigmatizing word attached to their self-concepts.

Then, narcissism can mean one thing and it´s exact opposite. Narcissism implies arrogance, selfishness and thinking highly of oneself. It is also claimed, however, that deep down narcissists are even more insecure than everyone else, that they have no self-esteem, and, ironically, people-pleasing is also described as narcissistic behavior. In some accounts I don´t even see the difference between narcissistic and anxious-avoidant PD. If you want to, you can cast every kind of behavior as being narcissistic in nature. The reason why anyone even accepts this twisting of words and the nullification of their meaning is that we are already used to it from one hundred years of psychoanalysis. Apparently, in the murky puddle called “the unconscious”, at its core everything is the same. I just wonder why we chose to call it “narcissism” then.

Another thing I often read is that mentally, narcissists are six years old. This reveals a strange hostility towards children, and it is even stranger when such a hostility comes from people who claim to have been narcissistically abused as children. This hostility, too, however, is far from new. The idea that children are selfish, sulky, aggressive and narcissistic, though, might have given rise to exactly the kind of cruel child-rearing methods so many children of “narcissistic” parents shudder to remember.

On one website I read even more bizarre claims, such as: “Narcissists frequently look surprisingly young, maybe because they don´t mature emotionally.” Or: “Narcissists have strange eating habits, they have an eating disorder called pica!” That disorder indeed can be found in the ICD-10, but I just wonder where the hell such claims are coming from. To me, it sounds like this is merely a mechanism of establishing “narcissists” as a specific group of people among which individual differences don´t matter since they are erased by the overwhelming common traits.

And that is a great mistake. Due to the diversity of conditions, symptoms, feelings, behaviors and character traits that can gain a person the narcissism label, a great variety of people will be labeled as narcissists. And to imagine that all these people might somehow associate with themselves and their own biographies the stories of narcissistic abuse circulating on the Internet…! So that´s what I did to everyone who ever loved me? Without realizing it, maybe even thinking I was in the right?

Here is another strange thing: On the one hand, apparently you can consistently wrong and abuse people without even realizing it. On the other hand, though, you are fully responsible for it and you had evil intentions all along. How does this work? It´s a complete reversal of logic. Again, that´s the theory of the unconscious. A theory which, for all I know now, is wrong.

It makes me sad that I spent so much time trying to pin this concept to my family. Whatever their vices, I was looking for a blanket explanation that made them the villains and absolved me from all the guilt I felt. At the same time, I myself was already struggling with having had this concept attached to my own self-image. It is part of why I needed someone else to be the villain so badly in the first place.

It also makes me a tad angry how long I´ve struggled with this concept. How long I tried to clear my own name. There should have been no need for that. When reading through my blog now I realize just how hypocritical I often was. All my complaints about other people wrapped in “buts”. “Of course I know that…, but…” Never owning my true opinion, always exacerbating my own insecurities, always saying “I feel this, but of course I know the truth is different from that”. Then, last autumn, I was desperate enough about my occupational situation to try to write down what I wanted. I was criticized for it, and there again was that word: “narcissistic”. More than anything else, I felt I was being treated unfairly, and for the first time in years I actually stood up for myself. Without but or apology. It proved to be a turning point.

Shortly afterwards, I managed to come out to myself as who I was without ever leaving my own side. I held that person I was by the hand and stood by her. It is something I never consistently managed to do throughout my blog before. Allowing myself to take my own side had always depended on a certain version of events which made sure that whatever I was, I could definitely not be found guilty of any of the traits associated with narcissism. Those version of events was not in all cases false, but it was incomplete and it could only gain me an incomplete sense of security.

One would believe that taking your own side is easy. In fact, it isn´t. As long as you don´t take your own side, people will forgive you a lot of things on the premise that you judge yourself the way they do. Athena even made that premise explicit. Her respect for me depended on me judging myself and trying to improve. At the same time she spoke of unconditional love. It might not have been a lie, but it is humiliating to be loved without being respected.

Taking your own side can be very similar to siding with a poor football team being beaten five-nil. You force yourself to stand by someone or something you want to turn away from because it embarrasses you. Even something you don´t know how to justify. About a year ago, one of our main players was involved in a scandal that abhorred us all, but the loyalty our club is famous for forbade us to openly distance ourselves from him. That´s taking your own side. It is just that hard. The fact that it is so hard, however, is also a small moral comfort. It is a new kind of courage which can help you overcome some pits of demoralization.

That criticism from a fellow blogger showed me how much my unofficial identity as a child of narcissistic parents limited me. It would in no way allow me to be who I really was or to pursue my dreams. Also, though, it was a reminder how silly I really think the condemnation of what is colloquially called narcissism is. I don´t see the point of condemning peoples´yearnings for fame or attention. I don´t see how such condemnations could ever be anything other than hypocritical and self-righteous. As long as people aren´t harming anyone, and the mere wish to be famous doesn´t, why can´t you just live and let live? Why is  it impossible to just once spare people shame and ridicule?

This touched right upon my core values. Live and let live, don´t judge what does no harm. And those are values I constantly find violated by the way the term narcissism and also other psychiatric diagnoses are flung around both by experts and laymen. It is something that has kept on sickening me even throughout those confusion-ridden last ten years, and I´m grateful for that. It shows I was never gone completely.

It makes me uncomfortable to see the word “narcissism” in so many search requests that lead people to my blog. It comes second only after “maladaptive daydreaming”. I wonder what I wrote back then, what people who come to my blog read, it makes me uneasy that they could think I´m still behind statements and ideas I no longer support. I´d like to put a disclaimer over all entries before last November, but it seems pointless. They were part of the road that led here, and I don´t feel confident to judge if there might have been a shortcut to enlightenment. Actually, I have better things to do with my life, and I consider that good news. I just hope that people out there don´t stumble into the same trap I was caught in, and I wish they didn´t get this image of my family as a bunch of villains. It is hard to decide whether I should delete some posts or not. The thought that I could erase parts of what I did seems undeservedly kind to me. It doesn´t seem as honest as I´d like to be. I don´t want people to have a better opinion of me than I deserve. To think of me as more wise and balanced than I am. Besides, where would I start? What would remain of this blog, and how much sense would it still make? I don´t know. Maybe the greatest disclaimer always lay in the name, anyways.

Possible truths.

No definite judgements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on July 31, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

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.

 

Unorthodox conclusions about self-love

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

What strikes me about my last post is the level of fear it reveals. I write as if displeasing my superiors just the slightest bit could lead to my death. We´re approaching a very sensitive spot here, entangled with both pleasure and self-loathing. The self-loathing whispers to me that I´m just so scared because I fear someone might see my true nature, which is none of this good girl crap. For truly I am lazy, selfish and disinterested in other people. And the pleasure, while feeling pure and right in some hard-to-describe way, makes my behavior seem even more artificial. Which may be why I always feel that I can only join the world of work by giving up who I really am. Because who I really am is something embarrassingly antisocial. Nice twist. You´d think when someone says “but that´s not who I really am” he´s defending something precious.

I don´t know for what fucked-up reason I defend something that feels vile to me, but yes, even while watching movies I´ve always identified with and defended the villains. Even the pathetic ones (especially, maybe). I always recognized myself in behaviors that made me cringe while I saw them. And no, I cannot let anyone pat my head pitifully and ask me in a tone of saddened sympathy why I cannot love myself, be less hard on myself, see myself in a more positive light. Hear the lion of loathing roar behind these cynical, ungrateful lines? Because he is. The idea of “just loving myself” is ridiculous to me. Not because I´m such a particularly bad person, I just don´t know how you even do that. What´s it supposed to look like? With some vague terms like these, I have at least a hunch how it might feel to be able to do what they suggest, but “love yourself” is an empty spot in my imagination. Not because I´m such a severe case of self-loathing, but for some other reason I cannot really grasp.

If I think about it, though, could it be that my associations with self-love are just mistaken? I expect it would be something that would make you feel good, but maybe that´s wrong. Love can make you feel quite bad after all. And what is it other than love if I feel unreasonable rage and pain and get into silly arguments with others over what happens to a movie character I identify with? Who ever said that love was seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses? Sure, a person in love often does, but love without those glasses is just a sad, fucked-up loyalty towards someone you know is useless but unrevokably part of you. Someone you can´t let go. Why wouldn´t I have that same relationship towards the personality I believe to have, given that I angrily defended it throughout any attempts at changing it, such as therapy? Oh the irony, if my resistance is but a firm expression of self-love!

I know that my version of self-love is not how the term is used in the lingo of psychotherapy. They, for example, will tell you that not taking care of yourself properly (that is: eating pizza instead of cooking a proper meal, procrastinating, missing opportunities, spending excessive amounts of money, drinking…) reveals a lack of self-love. In fact, they excuse all your bad habits by saying your parents didn´t love you enough, and therefore you cannot properly love yourself. It sounds nice: becoming a paragon of health and efficiency just by doing something as fluffy-sounding as loving yourself. Win-win. I always felt, though, it is terrible to appropriate something which should be a free, personal and maybe conflict-ridden feeling in order to create more conformism towards a current social ideal of how a person should act and be.

How is my self-love conflicting, though? On the one hand, I do want to thrive, succeed, achieve stuff. That makes me feel frustrated with those character traits that stop me from doing so. Makes me hate myself even. On the other hand, I cannot wish to expel them, I cannot want to change, I cannot let them go because that wouldn´t be true to myself. Because of this loyalty towards my worse half I am never sure I deserve the approval I get for what my better half does. This loyalty, too, is were my guilt is coming from, not the flaws themselves. I am hard on myself not because I cannot live with my faults, I´m hard on myself because I am loyal to them. Refusing to change is dangerous. You can, of course, pretend that you are trying to change, it´s just that….but if you actually don´t want to, if you are loyal to who you are, then you might experience some severe anxiety. The fear that someone might find you out. You try to avoid conflicts in the first place. You are scared anyone might find fault with you. You feel like you´d have to lie to say you will improve (even though you will indeed probably not make the same mistake again), and lying is a sad, alienating business. Maybe that´s the connection between “I might do something to displease people” and “I will be abandoned and lonely”. “I will never be accepted the way I am” is not “I will never be accepted with all my flaws” but “I will never be accepted with my loyalty towards my flaws”. At least for Athena, that´s true. It´s just what stood between us, and I´m scared to make this experience again. In a way, it´s also why I knew therapy would never help me.  It makes me feel hopeless, like I´m destined to either be alone or anxious. And this – hopefully false – dichotomy is dangerous, too, as it might cloud your love for other people. I feel like my anxiety is a curse I have to live with, a direct consequence of my inherent badness, of my allegiance to badness, of my lack of will to be good, to be more like other people want me.

What causes me the greatest anxiety, however, can also result in unreal pleasure. To imagine that someone could break my allegiance to my worse half is probably the most powerful fantasy I have. This plot lies at the core of all my masochistic ideas, and it also justifies them, because a person like me really needs some breaking, right? Bad people need to be turned into good people and the plot revolves around overcoming the resistance this evokes. The real-life repulsion these fantasies cause me, of course, is easily made part of that plot, and I usually jump right to the idea which repulses me most. Consequently I´m much less conflicted already since I accepted those fantasies as fantasies and don´t take them so seriously anymore. As a kid I sometimes realized during daytime what I was thinking about at night and felt some kind of despair given my own self-betrayal. Maybe my inner conflicts are not so different in kind to those of feminist women having rape fantasies. Then again, have things changed so much since I was a kid? It doesn´t fill me with dread anymore that I imagine those things for my personal pleasure, but the very same fantasies I enjoy at certain times intrude on me during daytime and present themselves as plausible and I don´t even notice it! I always thought I had those intentional fantasies as a way to deal with the obsessional belief that I need to be broken, or maybe even as a way to avoid the necessity of it by dragging the idea into the dirt, but this thought itself could be straight out of one of these fantasies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.