Archive for Psychotherapy

The compulsion to entertain false beliefs

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by theweirdphilosopher

If I have any aim in my personal development (which is far from linear), it is achieving what I would call one possible definition of sanity: The absence of any internal psychological compulsion to believe something radically false.

In my view, such a compulsion would not so much stem from genuinely unconscious motives, memories and impulses, but rather from cognitive dissonance. I have had my fair share of experience with false beliefs and delusions based on cognitive dissonance, and maybe even more than my fair share. While someone who clings to an obviously deluded opinion which is completely out of line with his original ideas and his very own interests might not technically be psychotic, his reality testing is obviously impaired. Not by any traceable illness, but, as it seems, by his foolish attempts at avoiding an injury to his self-esteem. And that, for anyone with intellectual standards, is a humiliating place to be in.

It is a situation that shows me my personal limits like no other. Right from the start, there have always been times when I tried to believe the opposite of beliefs I knew to be false, and yet as soon as I stopped intentionally agonizing over how wrong I was, the false beliefs would slip back in place. Not completely, more in the sense of double bookkeeping. My previous realization that specific beliefs of mine were false would remain without consequence. I would, for example, acknowledge that my family was not actually abusive, and yet still perceive and treat them as hostile. When noticing my behavior, I would seek rationalizations for it which relied on very sinister interpretations of events that, other than my original stories, had actually taken place, thus making my explanations seemingly conform to reality as I knew it while still having the necessary exonerating effect.

From what I´ve gathered, some studies on cognitive dissonance show that people who are faced with contrary arguments or even evidence tend to cling to their opinions even more fiercely. If that is the case, then telling myself how wrong I am and agonizing over my foolishness and the embarrassment of it is actually going to predispose me for another relapse! And yet this is precisely the “cure” I´ve been administering whenever I came close enough to even seeing in which way I was ill.

The motive behind that line of action was my idea that in order to cleanse or rid myself of the past, I had to suffer for it. I still sort of sympathize with this view, but I might be overlooking the price I already payed. Fact is, most of the things I agonize over happened 10+ years ago, so my whole occupation with them doesn´t seem quite adequate in the first place. But that aside, those are 10 years which could have been productive. Productive, happy, adventurous. They were so to some extent, and I wouldn´t want to miss most of them, but there was always an element of gloom and self-loathing which wouldn´t have needed to be there.

I do need to sort out my belief system. But I´m doing myself and my connection to reality a great disservice if I try to make it intentionally painful. It is my good days, not my bad days that brought me to the point of even recognizing my errors. I said before that depression is an enemy of the truth. You have a much greater chance of looking at things objectively if you decrease the need to interpret everything in your favour. Depression, however, only makes you more sensitive towards anything that could be seen as failure.

I fear that I cannot muster up the mental strength to reality-test my beliefs. Some people in my past have hurt me a great deal with what they said, and I don´t know if I could stand coming to the conclusion that they were justified in doing so. The thought evokes a sense of despair, like: Was I right in absolutely nothing? Can´t I even rely on the notion that what hurts me cannot be alright? Unfortunately, that is pretty much what going crazy does to you.

Already we are back in the realm of self-punishment. Torturing myself with such ideas gives me a certain sense of satisfaction, at least as long as I can stand them even though I initially thought I couldn´t. It might actually be useful of sorts, but, like I said: Only if I can stand it. If I realize I can´t and stop, I have renewed the cognitive dissonance and in turn my need to entertain false beliefs.

Maybe this phenomenon can be compared to exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorder. It is only effective if the patient makes the experience that he can stand the situation he was scared of. If he ends it prematurely, he makes the opposite experience. Today anxiety patients frequently receive drug treatment, too, so they have to work through less fear during the exposure in the first place, rendering success more likely. Similarly, if I was less depressed, I would probably be more tolerant towards the idea that I was wrong and that others were right telling me so and reacting negatively to it even though it was torture for me at the time. By accepting this idea, I could free myself from the need for it to not be true, which would open up the possibility of looking at the whole thing with fresh eyes.

There are still some therapists, however, who believe that drug treatment takes away from the effectiveness of exposure therapy because the patient isn´t forced to confront the real extent of his anxiety. Likewise, some have the idea that those who take antidepressants don´t want to face themselves. I´m inclined to believe, though, that a stable mood actually facilitates this task.

 

When I blog instead of sleeping

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on November 7, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

There is a lot on this blog I no longer identify with, a lot I no longer want to be part of. Such as scrutinizing my parents´ behavior, or blaming them for my troubles. Or maybe not so much this, as everyone makes mistakes or does unfortunate things and I´m sure so did my parents. What I have recognized as fundamentally wrong now, though, is the idea that they had deep-seated hostile intentions towards me. I´m sure there were negative feelings at times, but what I had in my head was some kind of conspiracy theory.

What those years have left in me is the feeling that just by trying to tell the story of my life, I can bring huge guilt upon me. I could tell it wrong. I could say something that isn´t true, and all of a sudden I have compromised innocent people. I frame them just by internally writing my autobiography. I always feel like I should be more wary of what I say than I am right now. I feel like, with each assertation I make, with each entry I write, I´m doing something bad – for purely selfish reasons. For entertainment. For having something to say. So many everyday life actions are associated with feelings of guilt for me.

The fear that I cannot speak without telling a lie lead me towards being unable to get out a straight sentence. Large parts of my former diaries are essentially incomprehensible. And to this day, what is incomprehensible to me is how I could be in mental treatment at the time and yet my therapist did not notice what was going on. I must have appeared more collected than I felt, or maybe the fact that my confusion itself disabled me from communicating the extent of it got in the way. Or maybe he was just an incompetent twat, but that belongs elsewhere.

I don´t know if anything I write now sounds clear and easy to comprehend. Often my blog sounds like to me like the ramblings of a lunatic. I forget most of the time that my readers cannot feel the sense of wrongness I feel when I post here, making statements about myself as if I was sure of them. Reading this must feel quite different from writing this.

 

Restrictions

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

I have enforced a strict mental diet upon myself. In particular, I´ve stopped reading psychotherapy forums. I want to reduce my anger.

It´s not a whole lot of fun. Zimmer was right when he said that the constant drama in self-help and psychoanalytical groups can be addictive – addictive even to the point of self-destruction. It is very, very easy to become addicted to drama, especially when you´re still hoping to find your own views confirmed. The first step out there is to understand that this is not going to happen. The next step is to understand that you are not going to win arguments with people who apply circular reasoning, make claims without providing evidence, snub science and live in a world of relentless subjectivism and relativism. The best thing, however, is to understand that even winning an argument or two would accomplish nothing, which also means that losing them doesn´t matter. Actually, everything those people say doesn´t matter. Why am I even listening to them? What is the virtue in listening to everyone, even if you know they neither know the facts nor care about them? It is a virtue of the same relativism and subjectivism I´m trying to escape.

Being in such forums for too long turns a dissenter into a hypocrite. It is very hard for any civilized, well-mannered person to tell another person (even via Internet) that she doesn´t respect their opinion, especially when it comes to touchy, personal subjects such as psychotherapy and mental illness. I don´t even know how well-mannered I consider myself, maybe it is my lack of manners that forces me to be hypocritical where I don´t want to be downright offensive. But I´m tired of hearing myself weaken my own points and sugar-coating my opinions to avoid the level of clarity that would create a backlash; and also I´m tired of listening to me telling myself that I do, in fact, respect the other person´s opinion, it´s just that….

It isn´t. I don´t. I believe that everyone has the right to state their opinion. But I also believe it is inhumane to demand that we should have respect for everything. No. Sometimes we just think something is bullshit. Hilarious, even. Some opinions, some lines of reasoning make us laugh incredulously. There will always be people we consider stupid. If we wanted to avoid this, we´d have to switch off our brains. We make such judgements even if we try to suppress them, reprimand ourselves, try to humble ourselves. Actually, those exercises are missing the point anyway. Even if you were able to put yourself down to the point of not considering yourself worthy of criticizing anyone or anything – it would change nothing about the fact that you´d believe in a hierarchy of character and intellect.

Maybe it is inevitable that such hierarchies exists in peoples´minds.  The ideal of not judging is merely another way to create a hierarchy: Who´s most non-judgemental? While many people will notice this ideal is paradoxical, they will merely consider this evidence for its esoteric truth. It doesn´t matter that you cannot obey a paradoxical order. At least trying to gives you something to do for the rest of your life. Anyone who has ever been bored and dissatisfied for a longer period of time will understand the allure of this. Besides, the idea you might be able to make sense out of nonsense is a promise of future superiority. Another thing that is very hard to resist, especially when you aren´t happy with what you have achieved.

I´m staying away from psychotherapy forums because I want to get all this false thinking out of my head. Arguments and lines of reasoning become an automatic thing if you´re exposed to them long enough. I know from experience, though, that they can go away again if only you stay away. It doesn´t mean I will no longer deal with why they are wrong. Doing so is absolutely vital. I will not, however, knowingly expose myself to lines of reasoning and styles of debate that cloud my judgement and lead nowhere.

By staying away from the drama I´ve been following, I´m ensuring my mood doesn´t depend on whether I get confirmation or food for doubts. I´m trying to make this irrelevant to me. I guess to be absolutely sure I´d have to stay away forever. Of course the key to that is having something else to do, something that is more worthwhile. Such things aren´t always easy to find. I´m bored a lot lately. I feel caged in.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The suppressed truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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