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Polyamory and the fear of abandonment May 12, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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There is an idea which has always simultaneously fascinated and terrified me. It is an idea so simple and powerful, and so obviously true, that calling attention to it, at least for me, feels akin to perpetually indicating the nose on your face.

We are all alone.

David ray Griffin (Thanks, grad school!)

David ray Griffin (Thanks, grad school!)

We are “thrown into the world” (as Jean-Paul Sartre put it), alone, terrified, and essentially forced to figure out what the hell is going on.  The beginning of our lives is a sort of slow adjustment to the reality that there is more to the world than us.  We have to learn that the world is not a mere extension of ourselves, and that many of the other things in the world have a similar subjectivity as we do.  We have to discover other people! And, after doing so, while we slowly become individuals with our own identities, preferences, and personalities, we are then capable of having relationships with those other people (as David Ray Griffin put it, other people are indeed objects, just not “mere objects”).

However, sometimes something goes wrong along the way and our sense of self does not develop in the healthiest of ways.  Whether through neglect, abuse, or some type of suffocation, some of us do not create an ideal sense of who we are and thus don’t have the tools to create healthy and proportional relationships with others. One aspect of this, especially for people within some personality disorders, specifically Borderline Personality disorder (in my case), is the fear of being abandoned, rejected, or in general not validated.

Being alone can sometimes feel overwhelmingly lonely and depressing for most of us, but for some this experience takes on another dimension.  As the book I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me put it, borderlines often perceive “temporary aloneness as perpetual isolation.” Thus, many borderlines will flee from being alone, often in dramatic and destructive ways, and often repeatedly.  There is a sense, for many people who suffer from this experience, that we become defined and meaningful through other people rather than through our own actions.

The resulting shifts in mood, potential impulsive (and often destructive) behavior comes from a place of deep insecurity, fear, and lack of clear identity.  These feelings can be transient, chronic, or they can come and go (especially as other diagnoses, such as bipolarity, depression, and anxiety come into play). Whether feelings of emptiness, sadness, or rage emerge, it is clear that there is a significant problem to be addressed here.

IHYDLMAnd the issue becomes a question concerning to what extent others can help, and in what specific ways they should help.  One potential outcome to these feelings, for many borderlines, is a kind of co-dependence (I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me mentions how narcissists and borderlines can fall into this trap), a relationship of manipulation, or one of out-right abuse.  There are, of course, ways out of these traps.  And navigating these issues becomes an important concern for anybody who has relationships with those who are subject to such fears of abandonment, neglect, etc.

And, naturally, someone who is polyamorous has a related set of concerns, which may differ from the general concerns of people in more traditional and culturally acceptable form of monogamy/monoamory.

So, the obvious questions; is the maintenance of multiple relationships merely an attempt, for a person who might suffer from these symptoms consistent with Borderline Personality disorder, to stave off abandonment, loneliness, etc by hedging their bets? After all, if you have 2 partners, one leaving will not be as bad when you have the other, right? Is polyamory not just another form of the oft-discussed (within borderline literature) issue of transient, unstable, and problematic relationships, where parallel is used in place of serial relationships? Whereas non-poly people might utilize “shingling” (overlapping serial relationships), polyamorous people might do the same thing when they add a new relationship if another is experiencing problems.

I believe that this is at least true for some people, but to what extent this is a motivation for polyamorous people I cannot judge.  It is up to each of us to examine our own motivations, fears, and strengths in order to figure out whether we are doing what we are doing for mostly good or bad reasons.  All of us are capable of selfishness, lack of empathy, as well as loving attention to varying degrees.  If we can figure out where we are not behaving ideally and fix those spots, while simultaneously figure out where we are being good partners and emphasize those traits, I think we will slowly improve as partners as well as individuals.  If we are to improve ourselves, we should do it for others but we should also do it for ourselves.

I could talk all day about how, ideally, we should be free to pursue the people we love in the ways that we love them, without undue deference to social expectations and traditional relationship structures.  If I love 2, 3 or more people, I should be able to honestly, freely, and ethically pursue those relationships.  But there will inevitably be some part of each of us which will self-justify and rationalize a deeper set of feelings and thoughts which derive from a place of fear and need for interpersonal validation.  These feelings are essential factors within all of us, but they have more significance for people with some personality disorders, including BPD.

The lesson is that anyone who has such deep feelings and vulnerabilities should make sure that they are not dominated by them, and to make sure that they try to cultivate the good and minimize the bad.  For people like me, diagnosed with a disorder, this becomes more important.

 

Polyamory as hedging our bets?

This leaves ammunition for critics to argue that people who are polyamorous are merely seeking validation through multiple relationships, overcompensating for insecurities, or possibly that they are incapable of true (monogamous) intimacy, so they seek multiple shallow intimacies to make up for that inability.  And, I’ll admit, these charges hit me deep inside, in a place where I am not especially comfortable excavating late at night, when sleep will not come.  I admit that this argument has an emotional potency which terrifies me, deep down.  This criticism pokes at the very weakness within me, and so when the idea comes to mind, I feel like recoiling into myself and hiding.

But isn’t that just like a borderline? I, having a skewed sense of identity and self fueled by fear of rejection, abandonment, and even “impostor syndrome.” I have a fear that I might merely be doing all this having of multiple partners, and advocating for it, as a rationalization for being afraid of being alone.  I think, in those moments which torment the soul (metaphorically speaking, of course), that I might just be the kind of person who only is with the people I love because I’m trying to make up for a set of fears, rather than because I genuinely appreciate and care about some people.

"splitting" as a cultural trope.

“splitting” as a cultural trope.

And then, as I allow my mind to calm down and think about this (that is,  allow the fight/flight physiological response to wane), I realize that while these feelings might be potentially problematic in general, they are, at best, merely part of the tapestry which is me.  I am neither the idealized guru of polyamory, contemplating sage-like inspirational maxims about love, living a life of relaxed, reasonable, loving harmony nor am I a manipulative, selfish, and fearful parasite.  This cognitive phenomenon of “splitting“, which is so common for borderlines (as well as other personality disorders), prevents me (often, but not always) from seeing myself and others as nuanced, complicated, and often contradictory people.

It also doesn’t help when people, angry with me, offer me fuel to think of myself as the latter monster.  Having written and said mean, injurious, and abusive things to other people while angry, I understand such outbursts, but they still hurt and get internalized, often.

And whereas the person within the cultural milieu of monogamy might find themselves afraid to leave someone who is not good for them until they have a potential replacement (because the times between relationships is so hard for many people), a polyamorous person still has to deal with loss of a relationship, no matter how many other people they have in their lives.  Losing someone you love, especially if it’s because of the very thing which causes you the anxiety about abandonment, is always hard even if other people love you. Having other partners does not make it much easier to leave or to lose a partner.

Which is not to say it doesn’t help, at least a little, to have loving support around you when things go badly.  Ultimately, however, it is a pain that a person has to handle alone, especially in the middle of the night when we torment and punish ourselves for our mistakes.  But a person who cares and who will listen and give you emotional support does help, even if it doesn’t stick.

Just like in the beginning of life and at the end of life, when we all will face death, the middle is full of moments of being alone.  And while this is a universal human experience, those of us who have a broken sense of self or  experiences with neglect or rejection feel this pain in a different way.  Abandonment will kick us all in the stomach from time to time.  Sometimes it will be our fault, sometimes it will be theirs, but more likely the fault will be distributed around.  And whether we are monogamous (serially or stably) or non-monogamous, that kick hurts.

I am still working out the solution to all this (I may never do so), but for the moment I’m trying to keep in mind that so long as I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, am not allowing my fears to dominate my behaviors, and accepting what is my responsibility, I will be less likely to have my fear of abandonment become a repeated self-fulfilling prophesy.

The tension between my yearning for intimacy, my fear of intimacy, my predilection to hide from the world in solitude, and my fear of that same solitude can only be healed by maintaining healthy, emotionally validating relationships with people who not only treat me well, but who understand that I’m struggling very hard to not push people away or to control, have power over, or to manipulate them.  And while the responsibility for the behavior that does push people away or make people feel manipulated by or abused by me, falls on me alone, it is also true that a healthy cultural and social environment is the responsibility of the individuals which make it up. Everything from micro-aggressions, invalidating communication, to down right lack of consideration and abuse will exacerbate the issues within us all, rather than create a safe and emotionally healthy space.

I will continue to do better on that front, and I will try and seek people who will be trying to do the same, from now on.

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Borderline Personality Disorder and Polyamory: An overview May 12, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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In reading about borderline personality disorder, talking about my symptoms and finding solutions to the problems they cause, and in evaluating the mistakes I have made both recently and in the more distant past in terms of my relationships, I have come to worry about a few things that pertain to being polyamorous.  Over the unpredictable number of coming weeks while I will be writing about this issue, I want to tease apart some complicated, troubling, and ultimately interesting questions (at least to me) about how some personality disorders affect relationships, how relationships can best work for us regardless of such disorders, and what these things can tell us about how we should re-think the expectations of relationships as individuals and as a culture.

I want to deal with these issues in short bursts, rather than one large analysis (you’re welcome, readers).  Today, I want to paint a very tentative overview of the terrain I plan on covering in the next several posts.

There are 9 criteria for diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder.  While many of them may seem disparate in many ways, they are linked in complicated and often distressing ways, especially in my mind.  There are 5 of these criteria which I believe have immediate effects on relationships whether they are  sexual, romantic, or platonic in nature.  I want to deal with each of these criteria one at a time, but here I just want to summarize them.  I’ll qualify that not all of these criteria are especially strong or problematic for me personally, even if they have some relevance for me.  I cannot speak for any other people who have symptoms consistent with this diagnosis, so the experiences and opinions of others may differ from mine.

(edit: I will add links to posts as they appear)

 

Fear of abandonment

For many borderlines, although not so much me (being an introvert), temporarily being alone can be perceived as part of a perpetual isolation.  The feelings which arise at times like this can include depression, but also rage at the world in general (depending on the specifics)  There are times, whether late at night, at a party with people who are not trusted or close, or merely between social visits where the feeling of being alone feels heavy and infinite.

I yearn for intimacy, companionship, and love.  When alone, I often feel empty (we’ll get to that next).  I want someone to help make that loneliness go away.  But I’m also too afraid, much of the time, to break the silence by actually reaching out, because deep down I’m afraid that they are over there because they don’t want to be around me.

Chronic emptiness

This is related, closely, with the above fear of abandonment. The overwhelming sense of being alone, rather than being able to simply enjoy the relaxing and uninterrupted freedom of that time, is sometimes potent.

Personally, I am able to enjoy some time alone, but sometimes I cannot do so happily.  Sometimes I can enjoy the time alone until expect someone to be with me.  Waiting for a date, a friend, or just Ginny to come home after I expected them home is among the hardest things I ever deal with day-to-day.  If I expect to be alone the next 4 hours, but then am alone for 6, the last 2 hours are often excruciating. If I have a date at 6, but they show up (especially without letting me know they’re running late) at 7, that last hour is often filled with anxiety, sadness, and feelings of lack of validation. What is usually a case of unforeseen delays or merely differing values of timeliness feel like lack of consideration and lack of care, which are huge triggers for me.

When someone is late in seeing me, the feeling I have is that they don’t care enough about me to be on time.  This, of course, is a perception, and not reality (most of the time).  It is a constant struggle for me, and I try to maintain perspective that someone being a little late is not really a big deal.

Unstable relationships

This, for obvious reasons, will be the most pregnant of issues in relation to polyamory, but because I want to keep this post short I will gloss over much of it today.

Essentially, there is a tension between the desire for intimacy and the fear of engulfment.  There is a dynamic of alternating between being clingy (or merely intimate) and avoidance (or merely distant).  One day I may be wanting all your time, thoughts, and affection, and the next I may be absorbed in a game, book, or other project and barely speak to you.  This is often hard for partners to understand, and has been a source of conflict and hurt feelings for people I care about.

Also here is behavior within relationships which looks manipulative (and sometimes is, but not always).  There is a kind of emotional amnesia that happens within the scope of BPD, related to a lack of object permanence (this may be a result of a problem with the separation-individuation stage of development), which makes borderlines behave in a somewhat self-absorbed and not-completely-empathetic way (I am certainly guilty of this, at my worst) which comes across as manipulative (for me, this is never intentional, although I can recognize it after the fact).

This criteria is where Borderline Personality Disorder is close to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a related disorder, in many ways.  One of the major differences is that with BPD, the subject is more likely to accept fault and responsibility, whereas the narcissist often shrugs off, rationalizes, or completely deny said responsibility or fault.

The result, with both disorders is often repeated mistakes, which for me is among the more frustrating parts of myself which I want to change. I very much want all of my relationships to be healthy, and sometimes I need more than I can give back.  As I progress towards potential remission of these symptoms, I hope to achieve this more than anything else.

Impulsiveness

This criterion, of the 9, is one which is less powerful for myself personally.  For many borderlines, this takes the form of addiction, including extreme sexual promiscuity (which is why I’m including it in a discussion of polyamory, because some people’s eyebrows will raise at the seemingly obvious relationship there), and other behaviors which ultimately seek to overcome the emptiness and lack of strong identity within the borderline.

Seeking that moment of excitement (NRE-junkies, anyone?) to break up the monogamy…I mean monotony…of life is a means to distract ourselves rather than solve a problem (assuming there is a solution).

Radical mood shifts

Anyone who knows me well knows I have struggled with this all of my life. One moment, I can be happy, fulfilled, and contentedly working on whatever I’m doing.  A trigger can change that quite suddenly, and the shift is almost unbelievable in quickness and scope, although this severity has softened very much since I was diagnosed.  What those triggers are, how they relate to being polyamorous, and how to deal with them are issues I have been struggling with very strongly over the last few years.

If you were to go back and chart many of the posts I have written about problems, conflicts, and fears of mine, many of them would be rooted in this arena of mood instability.  But the question I will want to tackle, when I get there eventually, will have more to do with how we might be better off shifting our expectations, defaults, and ideals about how different people can fill roles for us in our life.

If I have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is that no matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you want to be with them, some people are just not any good at certain roles in your life, and so you need to nourish your relationship with them in ways that are mutually beneficial for both of you, if that’s possible, rather than try to have all of your partners be everything to you. Intimacy does not have to cross all thresholds for all relationships. Each relationship needs its own type of intimacy.

Unlike monogamy, polyamory does not create a pressure for your partner to be helpful or great at everything you need.  Some people (for example) can handle wild mood swings, and others cannot.  And while the ultimate goal, for me, is to find ways to minimize those swings, the people who can help me get there will have to do so within their strengths, which may mean that some of the people in my life may not be able to help with all of that struggle, even if I very much would like them to.  Some people can’t be there for some of what I’m struggling with, that has to be OK.

So, that’s the road map.  This is barely a sketch, and I’m sure that I am missing many parts still and more of it will be filled in as I think more about these issues.  For now, I need to get over this insomnia (a result of feeling empty, anxious, and isolated as everyone around me sleeps) and try to get some sleep.

[I’ll be scheduling this post to go live for the morning, but as I finish this, it’s about 4:30 AM]

Intersectionality: Polyamory and Borderline Personality Disorder May 6, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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This is not a real post. This is more of an overture to future posts about the intersection of being polyamorous and having Borderline Personality Disorder.

Ginny pointed out to me today that I have a fair amount of experience being polyamorous, and while I was diagnosed about 4 years ago, all of my adult relationships have existed within the milieu of having the symptoms consistent with BPD.  I have had relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, seriousness, and spans of time.  I can say that I’ve honestly failed as a partner, been failed as a partner, been very good to partners, and had partners be very good to me.

The more I read and think about my disorder, the more I think about how the factors which play into making relationships more difficult for me are actually quite central to a borderline diagnosis.  And this makes me want to delve into, chart, and analyze these waters where polyamory and BPD meet, not only for my own sake (of understanding myself better), but to possibly make some observations about the relationship between intimacy, fear, communication, and the nature of relationships in our culture.

I have already said much about how our culture views relationships in general, commenting on the expectations of monogamy and the perceived “perversion” of sex-positivity and non-monogamy.  And while I agree with much of that cultural criticism still (I’m sure I could find many of my previous  posts which I would disagree with now), I think there is more to be said about those issues.

I think the direction for me to go, in the future, is to take a closer look at the “emotional” and “dramatic” personality disorders, specifically Borderline but also Narcissistic, Antisocial, and Histrionic as well (which all have similarities), and take a look at how the symptoms which affect relationships might tell us more about mental health, social expectations, and relationship structures.

For now, I don’t want to say too much more.  Instead, I might want to go back and take some notes about how the literature documents how BPD (and the others, perhaps) affects relationship health, and take a look at some of the things that polyamory might have to help, hinder, or perhaps be neutral concerning those struggles.  I have certainly been able to understand (usually after the fact, unfortunately) how the symptoms of BPD were triggered, not communicated well enough, and were significant causes of the problems in a number of relationships (even the ones that didn’t end badly).  I have a feeling that charting such things might tease out some patterns, and I might be able to tentatively conclude some philosophical and social implications of non-monogamy on some of the personality disorders as well as vice-versa.

I’ll admit that this is a challenging and terrifying project, and I hope not to get blown away by the potential scope of it.  I know that each day I don’t succeed in brilliantly mapping out and explaining everything, perfectly, deep inside I will try to punish myself for this failure.

Because that’s part of being a borderline.

But I hope that I am able to work through those feelings and help myself (and hopefully some of you) understand a little more about the world.  I’ll try and remain optimistic.

May May 2, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Edit:

I forgot to mention that May is Borderline Personality disorder awareness month.  As a result of this, along with the reading I’m doing about BPD, I may be writing more about the issue this month than usual.

 

The Spring and Summer are easily my favorite times of year.  Earlier this year, as March came around and it was still cold, I would periodically ask those close to me, often to the point of annoyance (hopefully in an endearing and lovable way), if it was May yet.  I was yearning for warm days, sunshine, walks in the city, and hopefully a reprieve from what was a depressing Winter.

Winter is always hard on me.  It is probably at least partially SAD, as certainly the lack of light, sufficient exercise (I like being outside for such things), and other factors play into the changes in my mood, irritability, and thus will make my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) more pronounced.  It’s a hard time for people around me, and I will act in ways, more often, which can be problematic.

So yesterday, the first day of May of 2014, it was sunny, warm, and I got to sit with a couple of drinks with an old friend before taking a walk and then having another drink with my beautiful wife and my very close friend, who also happens to be the fiance of my girlfriend.

Because sometimes just getting drinks can be described as “it’s complicated.”

It was a beautiful day, perfect weather and a chance to put behind me all of the Winter that was made of suck.

But life is never that easy.  Because then, last night, the nightmares came.  Again.

In recent months, I have had trouble sleeping.  The very cold nights a couple of months ago were not helping, but most of it is due to what I have become increasingly aware of as symptoms consistent with PTSD, which in combination with BPD can be happy funtimes.  Or not.  I have some helpful resources to help with all of that these days, but at night, left to the mechanisms of my brain, those resources feel far away.  It’s becoming more manageable.  But it’s all still there always, lurking in the background.

In a cleaner, more sane, and possibly intelligently designed universe, a beautiful day would make everything better (and every day would be beautiful, or something).  Because while I did have a fine day talking with people and such, the anxiety, fear, and trauma was sitting in the background the entire time.  While I was never overtly thinking about it, I was aware of it.

Because I’m always aware of it.

It’s better these days.  I’m in a healthier environment, I have friends, family, and partners who are emotionally supportive, and I am starting a new job next week which will provide stability and structure for me.  All of these things will contribute to moving forward with optimism, and I hope that in time the fear, hurt, and painful memories will be more distant.

What will stick with me, more than the pain caused to me, is the pain I have caused others.  That always sticks with me.  Because I know that the pain caused to me I will eventually forgive and it will not affect me as much.  I don’t stay mad at people very long, even if they have severely hurt me.  But the pain I cause never leaves me.  Anyone who knows me knows that at the end of the day it’s the hurt I cause which keeps me awake at night, much more than the pain I feel.  I forgive others much sooner than I forgive myself.  The problem these days is that I’m having trouble forgiving myself.

I am my harshest critic.  And in those times when people I know will say mean, cruel, abusive things to me or about me, it hurts because in my most dark moments I think the same about myself.  It hurts because at my worst I am prone to believe those things are true.  In times of darkness, the mind goes deep into places of self-hurt.  And when we are there, we can lash out at the world in ways we otherwise never would.  Depression lies, and the lies it tells us can make us believe the worst about ourselves.

And anger.  Anger and hurt are two things I know well.  I have become aware of how much anger and hurt can skew things, make us disproportionately reactive, dismissive, and blind.  I have seen it happen in my own mind (usually retroactively) and I have seen it in others.  Anger and/or hurt repressed, whether over years, weeks, or even hours, can magnify the hurt we feel and the scope of a problem.  These days, I’m doing my best to not allow my anger or hurt to win over my compassion and my ability to understand.  Because empathy and understanding can allow us to comprehend how someone has hurt us, and why.  Those who hurt us are not that different from us, in the end (most of the time).

I’m doing my best to understand the people who have hurt me, as well as to do the work to make it less likely I’ll hurt other people.  Because while I will always make mistakes, I want those mistakes to be few and minor.  We all have the capability to hurt those we love.  We can only hope to do it rarely, and when we do so to hope that self-justification (on both sides) does not amplify and escalate that hurt into anger and damage to relationships.

We all have the capability to commit ourselves to a course, and then have that course carve out a narrative for us which fits the decisions we made (often in anger and pain) towards that vector.  We are all capable of justifying, after the fact, the directions we go, and forgetting that there are other perspectives which could inform us.  And the longer we stay on such paths, the more we are blind to alternative narratives.  This is what causes rifts, wars, and losses of friendships.  We are all prone to self-justification, and we all ignore the hurt that others feel. The key is to not get caught up in that narrative and believe it to the detriment of the truth.

Including me.  I’m trying.  I fail often, but I’m aware that I’m doing so.

But it’s May now.  The weather is nicer, the days are longer, and on paper everything is going well for me.  But I cannot afford to ignore the dark places within me, or to take for granted what I have and what could be better.  It’s May now, but at some point soon, the Winter will return.  When things are easier, I have to take the time to prepare for the dark Winter of my soul which will eventually pull me in and hide me away.  And I will not forget that it’s not only depression that lies.  It’s also optimism which lies to us.  I will not remain pulled towards the narratives which I prefer in life, and I must remember that I have responsibility for the hurt I cause, and to learn to understand those that hurt me.

We cannot afford to lose sight of the alternative paths we could have taken.  The more they diverge, the less likely we are to understand why we could have taken the other paths just as easily, and that a path only feels like home because we are on it.

 

 

 

Shock absorption: evolving thoughts on anger and social justice April 24, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society.
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Over the last couple of years, I’ve been circling back repeatedly to the questions around the intersections of anger, marginalization, oppression, and social justice. I came to it with a knee-jerk, “Of course it’s better to restrain your anger and express yourself calmly and civilly no matter the provocation” stance, born out of my own Stoic Peacekeeper personality and the cultural values I picked up from my white educated middle-class environment. I did a lot of listening to the arguments that challenge that stance, and because this is the way I develop my understanding of knotty ethical problems, I threw myself as completely as possible into the “an oppressed person should get to express themselves however they feel like, even if it sounds unreasonably hostile and aggressive to others” viewpoint. I argued that side to others and put myself into communities where it was the rule, to see what the outcomes of having that rule are.

Based primarily on those experiences, I’ve pulled back a little and am working on settling myself somewhere in the territory between those two stances. I’m still working on where, exactly, that will be. But it’s distressing to me that the majority of the conversation I hear about the issue is pretty much either “How dare you say hostile things you mean meanyface!” or “How dare you silence someone’s expression of anger, whatever [verbal] form it took!” So I loved this post by Aoife over at Consider the Tea Cosy, which had a practical and nuanced view, affirming the right of marginalized people to express anger, allowing that the anger is not always going to be contained to the immediate oppressors, and exhorting people on all sides to be aware of how much they don’t know about the people who are in the immediate vicinity.

Bits I particularly appreciated:

 When the status quo is oppressive (it is), then staying neutral just keeps things as they are.

The status quo needs shaking up. Anger- even messy outbursts of I CAN’T FUCKING DEAL WITH THIS SHIT ANYMORE WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING- shakes things up. Anger is a sign that someone’s been stressed to a breaking point. Anger reminds us that something is rotten. It knocks away a little of our complacency.

It has taken me a long time to really grasp that staying calm and absorbing emotional strain doesn’t always help situations. Sometimes it just allows really bad situations to linger far longer than they needed to. I will likely continue to struggle with this — stoic peacekeeper, over here. But I’ve been in enough situations where just quietly coping turned out to be a maladaptive strategy, and some anger, even messy and poorly-targeted anger, would have driven us much more quickly toward solutions.

While as oppressed people it’s often a good idea to focus our anger at appropriate targets when we can, when we are privileged it’s our responsibility to.. deal with it. Take some breaths. If we need to stew and simmer (we’re only human!), be careful about where we direct that hurt. Understand that whatever anger we’re receiving is magnified many times by the other crap the person has had to deal with. Accept that it’s not fair. It’s not fair for anyone involved.

I really like that she handles both sides of the coin here. The hurt I, as a privileged person (in a hypothetical scenario) feel from being lashed out at unfairly, is real. It counts. It’s not nothing. But it’s also (in this same hypothetical scenario) way less than the person doing the lashing-out has had to deal with, so it’s my responsibility to suck it up and cope in a way that doesn’t create more hurt for that person.

And then there’s the cases where maybe the hurt I feel isn’t way less, because of whatever shit I’ve got going on:

 If the world were divided neatly into privileged and oppressed, we could all portion out how much anger we can take (and from who) and how much venting we get to do. It’s not, though. It’s messy- messier than our anger, messier than the hurt that leads to that anger or that results from it.

As people who are hurt and angry, intersectionality, I think, reminds us that other people could be dealing with things as opaque to us as our experiences are to them. There’s no such thing as the Last Acceptable Prejudice. All prejudices are the Last Acceptable Prejudices. While they all hurt us in different ways, the fact of that harm is always there. Vent if we need to, but understand that not-in-my-group doesn’t equal never-hurt, that not all things are visible to bystanders, and that this person might have a load of microaggressions of their own tipping them over an edge you never knew existed.

This is the piece of things that had me tearing my hair out when I was active in a heavily social-justice-oriented community. Situations would arise where one person’s hurt and anger and oppression redounded on another person in a way that aggravated that person’s hurt and anger and oppression, and trying to adjudicate those situations was frankly more than I was able to cope with, especially when I was one of the people being hurt.

Read the whole piece, it’s great.

Shock absorption: a model for looking at hurt and response

There are two different ways I’ve seen people look at anger, hurt, and response. The first is what I’ll call the “conflagration” model. People who love and trust each other, and have the right temperament for it, can get into screaming fights, yelling all over each other and maybe even breaking a dinner plate or two, and then once they’ve expressed themselves as loudly and fully as possible the anger dies down and they can hug and laugh and be close again. As far as I can tell (and I really don’t know, because this is an alien dynamic to me) the things each person said get filed away under “things I say when I’m angry” and both people know that they weren’t really meant, and don’t have a lasting hurtful impact. Maybe both people just grok that those are feelings expressed but not endorsed? The point is, in that model both people’s anger and hurt flares up like a bonfire, feeding on itself and growing for a while, and then naturally burning itself out and leaving very little residue to deal with.

Then there is what I’ll call the “shock absorption” model. In this one, hurtful things that were said and done while angry (or irritated or sleep-deprived or distracted) don’t go away… they react and rebound like shock waves. Jo, coming home from a shitty day at work, says something carelessly hurtful to Sal, who then has to do something with that hurt. Ze can bounce it right back to Jo, snapping back at hir, or ze can take it out on someone else, or ze can hold onto it and let it stew and fester, where it will likely gain momentum and fly out later at Jo or someone else with even more force. Any of these actions are going to cause an echoing effect, where the person who got hit by the rebound will then bounce it back to someone else, and on it goes. (If it’s just Jo and Sal volleying back and forth, hey presto! you have a fight.)

Sal can also do some conscious shock absorption, where ze thinks, “I know Jo is having a terrible time at work. I know Jo loves me and didn’t want to hurt me. I’m going to let that slide, and maybe bring it up later when Jo is in a better place to have a conversation about it.” This kind of shock absorption — reacting to hurt with understanding and patience — is what stops the endless cycle of hurt and anger rebounding all over the place. In the shock absorption model (which I think applies to any relationship where love, trust, and/or conflict-friendly temperaments are not firmly established, including nearly all the interactions social justice is concerned with) somebody, somewhere, has to do this before things will calm down. Often multiple people need to, as everybody takes deep breaths and works to get to a place of understanding and kindness.

A person’s ability to act as a shock absorber in this way is limited: by their temperament, by their maturity, and by the level of stress they’re currently under, including how much shock-absorption they’ve already been doing in the recent past. Once your shock pads are worn down, you’re back to Sal’s original choices in response to hurt: lash out (at the person who hurt you or someone else) or let it fester inside you, where it will only get worse and eventually emerge to do more damage. I didn’t mention it above, but sometimes if you go the “let it fester” route, the damage it does is to yourself and your own self-esteem. Taking on a lot of hurt and never dealing with or expressing it can eventually have you believing that you deserve to be treated badly, that you can’t expect any different in relationships, that this is just how things are.

When we’re talking about anger and social justice, asking a more privileged person to suck it up and deal with the occasional misdirected outburst is essentially saying, “The person who lashed out at you is likely near the end of their shock-absorption capacity. You have plenty left, so use it.” It’s saying, “One of the hazards of dealing with constant micro-aggressions is internalizing that sense of inferiority, starting to believe that you don’t deserve better. The person who lashed out at you is protecting themselves against that outcome; let them.” As long as you have some shock-absorption capacity left, it’s best to use it in those situations.

This is complicated by the fact that the apparently privileged person might also be at the end of their shock-absorption capacity, for any of a number of reasons (including having some invisible sources of marginalization.) This is what the third quote I pulled from Aoife’s post touches on. Saying, “you have to be the shock absorber here because you haven’t been hurt the way the other person has” is really, really upsetting — not to mention sometimes impossible to grant — when you’re staggering under the weight of your own stress and hurt.

And on the flip side, a lot of people who have the capacity to absorb hurt choose to rebound it instead. Absorption takes work, lashing back is easy. This is one reason I’m wary of the extreme “marginalized people get to express themselves however they want!” position. In some cases, I think it can turn into an abdication of any responsibility for acting as a shock absorber when you do have the capacity. This especially happens with people who are somewhere in the middle of the privilege ladder (assuming such a thing is a sensical concept, which it’s not, but it’ll do for the moment.) It is impossible to know what’s going on from outside: whether the person lashing out is doing so because their shocks are worn too thin, or just because they feel entitled to lash out. But I will say, that of the many and varied outbursts I’ve seen, statistically some of them are almost certainly being perpetrated by people who could have healthily chosen to absorb the hurt instead, and that just increases the strain on the system for everyone.

It’s even further complicated by the fact that, if you’re an internalizer, it can be hard to tell the difference between internalizing the hurt so that it festers, and absorbing it so that it dissipates. Impossible to tell the difference from the outside, and not always easy from the inside. If you’ve gone through most of your life acting as a shock absorber for other people, you can slide from “productively exercising patience and understanding” to “self-destructively internalizing hurt” without even noticing it. Another dynamic I’ve seen play out in social justice circles is that a bunch of people who tend to externalize are loudly rebounding hurt all over the place, while the people who tend to internalize are just getting quieter and quieter and eventually slip away from the circle, when they realize they’ve crossed that line and participation is becoming self-destructive. The people who externalize hurt are not always the ones most deeply hurt, but this tends not to get recognized in the conversations about anger and social justice.

Sometimes a situation is so tense that there’s just not enough shock absorption capacity to handle the level of hurt that’s bouncing around. When things get to this point, there’s nothing to be done except back away; any interaction is going to cause more damage, whether it’s internalized or externalized. If the connection is valuable enough, and the parties involved are able to replenish themselves elsewhere, they may be able to regroup and try again. But maybe not. I’m convinced that the main reason many relationships and communities fall apart is that the total shock absorption capacity of the group is worn too thin to handle the next wave of stressors.

Implications of the shock absorption model

What does this mean, both for social justice circles and for relationships? The guidelines I’m tentatively staking out are these:

  1. In most situations, if you can be a shock absorber, do. If you can react to being hurt with patience, understanding, and kindness, and do so without damaging your own sense of self-worth, do that, because there are likely plenty of people in the situation whose capacity is lower than yours.
  2. Recognize that for some people in some circumstances, letting hurt rebound so that it strikes someone else is the healthiest option. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, per se, but it’s the best way to deal with a bad situation. It also doesn’t mean that you personally deserve the attack that was sent your way. Draw a line between, “this person needed to vent their hurt toward me” and “I deserved what they said/did.” You don’t have to draw it publicly, in fact you shouldn’t. Just note that it’s true, and go seek reassurance and comfort somewhere else if you need to.
  3. Work on being self-aware about when you absorb and when you don’t. If you’re an internalizer, get smart about the signs that you’re unhealthily internalizing rather than productively absorbing, and find ways to express your anger when you’ve hit the limit of your absorption capacity. If you’re an externalizer, don’t take “I get to express anger however I want” as carte blanche to throw your hurt around. Again, if you can be a shock absorber, do, because the fewer shock absorbers there are in a situation the more likely the whole group is to reach critical dissolution point.
  4. Be wary of making judgements about how much absorption capacity the people around you have. The less you know them, the less clue you have about what’s going on with them and how thick their shock pads are at the moment. What matters (to you) is your hurt and how much you can take. You get to draw boundaries to protect yourself whether someone is willfully and carelessly throwing hurt around, or reacting in the only way possible to them.
  5. When everybody’s shocks are wearing thin, the best thing to do is back away. Let everybody go off and replenish their emotional reserves. Sometimes, getting a situation resolved right now is not going to happen, and continued attempts are just going to wear everybody down even further. One of the sucky things about certain kinds of oppression is that it becomes very hard to find a retreat space where you’re not constantly being worn down by new stressors and microaggressions. This is part of why “safe spaces” are so important, and why people shouldn’t complain about being excluded from them. Having a space to vent and express and restore makes it easier for someone to come back and have a conversation that will be productive and healthy on both sides.
  6. And my overall, foundational principle for these kinds of discussions: Be excellent to each other. We’re all hurting, in various ways and at various times. Wherever it’s possible, let’s do what we can to make less hurt, not more.

 

 

 

Anger, hurt, and (unintentional?) bullying February 14, 2014

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About four years ago, when my therapist first suggested Borderline Personality Disorder as a description of the emotional volatility I’ve experienced throughout my life, he also said something that has stuck with me ever since. I had been describing how angry I was, talking about what I thought the causes were, what it felt like, and what I thought about it.  After listening for a while, he simply said “it sounds like you are describing being hurt, more than anger” (or something like that).  As I thought about it, it became clear that he was right.  I had been angry, but the anger was the hanger-on, the after effect of a tremendous amount of hurt I was feeling.  It was the result of hurt not being addressed.

Being the nerd I am, I also immediately thought of this:

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” Yoda says to a young Anakin Skywalker who was simply asked if he was afraid (to which he became defensive…foreshadowing much?). There are reasons why both Anakin and Luke Skywalker are significant characters for me, personally.  I understand them both natively, and find them to be interesting characters (especially in comparison to each-other), despite the often bad dialog of George Lucas.

And while Yoda’s prophesy was true for Anakin (as well as for me, in some contexts), sometimes in my case it simply starts with my being hurt, which leads to anger, resentment, and hate (which does, in fact, lead to suffering).  That is, there are times when people in my life act as a walking emotional trigger for me, and it causes a spiral of behavior which almost never ends well.

I’ve had a few people in my life whom, for various reasons, have hurt me both repeatedly and singularly.  I don’t think that they (most of them) did it on purpose or without reason, I simply think that our flaws make us hurt each other, whether due to fear or some other emotional conflict which creates tension and stress.  I’ve been bullied, when younger and also quite recently, by people who I understand to be insecure and largely unaware of the effects of their actions and their own emotional nuances.  Managing my reactions to such behavior, and the hurt which results from it, is especially difficult for me (being a borderline), and that stress tends to come out against the people I love.

That is, the hurt I receive all too often turns into the hurt I redirect to others.  It’s one of the hardest things for me to manage, but I am (increasingly) aware of it these days.  The side effect is that those people, whom I hurt, become angry with me.

The biggest fear that I have is my emotional fragility and volatility chasing people I love away.  I’m afraid of that because it has happened, because I never want it to happen, and because when it does happen all I can do it occasionally be left alone with the suffering that is the remembering of how I did it and not being able to change it.  When I lose someone because of my emotional instability, I then will reflect and dwell on how it happened and why. Later, when the hows and whys starts to become clear, all I can do is feel awful for having behaved so.  I didn’t intend to do it, I would have stopped if I understood, and I would do almost anything to take it back.  Guilt and loss are my suffering, because I was hurt and afraid, and I didn’t deal with those feelings well enough when they were happening.

I could try and rationalize the blame to other people.  ‘I was being hurt over here, by this person, and I have a disorder so I can’t help being mean sometimes when I’m suffering from that hurt,’ I could try to say.  But that would be not taking responsibility for my feelings.  Yes, people hurt me.  Yes, dealing with it every day in a hostile environment is hard, but that is not an excuse to redirect that hurt to someone else.  There are other options, ones I will work on for the future.

But most importantly, I cannot allow what is primarily hurt (or fear) to become anger.  I need to learn to express that I’m being hurt or are afraid, and ask for help rather than allow it to fester into resentment, anger, and suffering.  It’s hard to manage and respond to such sources of pain, especially when the person doing it feels like a bully to me, but that is a problem I once learned years ago and have apparently forgotten.  It’s been a long time since I was hurt consistently by another person in that way, and I forgot that bullies are afraid too.  I forgot that bullies create bullying behavior.

I will do my best to not make the same mistake again.

The clarity of being away from a stressful, unhealthy, and ultimately unsafe (for me) environment has been both enlightening and revealing.  What is being revealed is that much of the last year has been emotionally traumatic for me, and that trauma resulted in behavior (of mine) which led to the ending of a relationship which was immensely important to me. As a result of this clarity, I’m starting to understand what I should be learning from all of this transition and pain I’ve been going through in the last couple of weeks.

I need to avoid environments and people who treat me poorly or who trigger my emotional instability.  And when I can’t avoid it, I need to confront it directly.  Bullies don’t always intend to bully, but that’s what they do so I need to avoid them when I can and stand up to them when I can’t.  And that might mean that relationships with people close to such triggers might be unwise for me to pursue because perpetual, ongoing stress is bad for me.

That makes me profoundly sad right now, mostly because it’s not a problem I can solve.  So, I keep moving forward.

Learning and growing December 9, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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Sometimes shit gets real.  We all make mistakes, we have people hurt us, and we become emotional and life gets hard.  Welcome to Earth.  Hopefully, we have people close to us who we trust and who trust us despite the fact that mistakes will be made.  Because mistakes will be made.  But what do we do about it?

First, don’t be defensive and don’t beat yourself more than is proportionate.

Start with the assumption that you did something wrong to cause the situation you are currently debugging.  Also, start with the assumption that your super powers for mayhem are not so vast that other people don’t have any responsibility for the circumstances before you, and that you are not completely to blame.  There are some people out there who blame themselves first, and some who blame others first.  In both cases, intelligent people can rationalize their tendency, and we all need to be aware of that.  Otherwise, some people take too much blame, while others will deny theirs (or, more likely, forget about it later).  The truth is important, and we sometimes need to force ourselves to adopt a more objective perspective in order to see around our own biases and faults.

Other people can help us do that, so listen to them.  That leads me to the next piece of advice.

Actively listen.  I don’t mean to merely stop talking, but actively listen rather than defensively react.  I mean shut off your defensive rationalization powers for a little while and accept that what people say might be worth trying to internalize.  The people that know you, love you, and are willing to talk to you when shit gets real are not trying to fuck with your head.  If they are saying that it’s not all your fault, it probably isn’t all your fault (or all your responsibility).  If they are saying you are at fault,  figure out why and what you are going to do about it (insofar as it is your responsibility).

When we are emotional, we are not ideally rational.  We sometimes think we are rational in such cases, especially if we are repressing some tough emotions, but that is a lie our brain tells us when it’s in defense mode.  Insecurity and fear create firewalls and other mechanisms to protect your operating system of a mind in order to (in effect) maintain the part of you that is fucking up.  Our intelligence can too easily be used to conserve the things about us we would ideally like to change.  Realize that, and then keep it in mind for when you plan on upgrading your software.

In other words, don’t let yourself slip back into your standard behavior, since that is likely part of the cause.  When the battle or war is over, we don’t necessarily go home and keep on keeping on, because that might have been part of what started the fighting.  You absolutely must realize that our normal, every-day behavior is probably the cause of some future tension, because it is bothering or hurting someone else.  And if you don’t think or care about this, then your fault compounds the longer you ignore this.  This leads me to another piece of advice.

Try and identify the cause of the mistake.  All too often, we address the symptoms of the problem, rather that honestly deal with the underlying cause.  All too often, the cause is fear, insecurity, and related daemons.  And when the smoke clears, and those feelings are not banging on the door, we forget that they still exist, quietly, under the surface.  If, like me, you spent years learning to meditate and to be always aware of the daemons running under most of your daily noise (as much as possible, anyway), you will know that those daemons are always nearby and are just waiting to be called into action by circumstances; triggers.  If you have not done that work, you may be completely oblivious to your own daemons.  But I guarantee you that other people close to you are aware of them, and probably know some of your triggers (to avoid them, mostly to keep you from freaking out and making shit get get).

Triggers can be just about anything.  They can be a tone of voice, a smell, a word, a type of social interaction, etc.  For me, it is things like lack of consideration of my time and space (especially by people close to me).  It is also being restrained for no reason.  What do you mean I can’t be critical of religion? Fuck you and your gods! What do you mean I can’t love more than one person and manage a relationship with them? Fuck you and your monogamy! What do you mean I can’t rob that bank? Fuck you and your laws!

OK, maybe not so much that last one.  Morality, after all, is superior to even my own personal desire for bank-robbing.  For me, the rank of considerations are: 1) Morality 2) interpersonal considerations (things like consent, preferences of people around me as well as my own) and 3) law.  And really, I only care about the law insofar as it is a legislation of morality.  The reason I don’t go through red lights has much more to do with concerns for efficiency and considerations for safety than it has to do with the fact that it’s a moving violation.  If there were no fine, I would still not do it in the vast majority of cases.

 

Our emotions, whether marinated in fear or whatever else, are responsible for more of our behavior than even the most intelligent and rational of us realize.  We are never fully (or perhaps even mostly) free from emotional influence.  In my case (having Borderline Personality Disorder), the effects are more severe and worrisome, but that only means that I deal with it all the time rather than only occasionally.  Most of us have the capability of losing our shit and making (and often rationalizing) bad decisions.

What is important is not merely sliding by and going back to normal after things calm down.  We need to remember that the daemon is still running under everything, and it’s only a matter of time before it launches an attack on our executive functions again.  So, after you have dealt with the symptoms, go back and dig deep into yourself and figure out the nature of the cause.  Be willing to give up your habits of behavior, even your deepest preferences, because they might be the causes.  You might have to change drastically, especially if you don’t want to.

I am not the same man I was 10 years ago.  I have made mistakes which have alienated me from people I loved in the past, and I spent the time to make huge changes in my ability to communicate, deal with difficult feelings, etc.  And there is still much more for me to do.  I will never stop evolving and changing based on what I learn, especially from my mistakes.  But I had to first learn that it was possible that everything I believed was wrong.  I had to start, like a skeptic, to question even my own deepest values.  I had to be willing to, as Nietzsche called it, be an archaeologist of my own soul, and dig out artifacts that were not mine so much as they were influencing the culture of my own mind in ways I didn’t like or fully understand.

It would have been much easier to remain the selfish, manipulative, and rationalizing person I sometimes was while younger (not always, mind you).  I could have kept moving down another path of growth (or lack of growth) and subsequently turned into a man I would not have been happy being, but who also would have been more acceptable to our culture (because I would have been ‘monogamous’ and otherwise mainstream).  In our culture, it is easier to be a manipulative cheater than responsibly polyamorous.  It is more acceptable to be defensive and “respectful” of religion, rationalizing the cognitive dissonances so many people carry, than to be an honest critic.

It is easier to not grow, than to do the real work of growth.  Because not doing real personal work towards growing is so common in our culture that it often looks like it is a value of our culture, rather than a plague.    Because we are so good at pretending to grow and change while only doing enough to pass, that we end up stagnating.  For real growth, we need to sometimes dig deeper than we are comfortable doing, and challenge every aspect of our behavior and beliefs.  We can’t hide behind excuses.  We have to do it openly, and make ourselves vulnerable.

All too often we don’t do this–myself included!–all because of fear and insecurity.  We call it protecting ourselves or something like that, but it’s just an excuse, a rationalization, because it’s scary.  No shit it’s scary.

So, let’s be scared together, rather than be scared separately.

 

We are not all swimming in the same river October 26, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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When I was younger, I really wanted to be wise.  I had a vision of me being the kind of person that when I became old, other people would respect me and come to for life advice.  I was fascinated by books such as the Dao de Jing, by the historical character of Confucius, by Socrates, and many other figures who are considered wise.  I tried to cultivate a cultured and educated manner.  I tried to be intellectual. It was not all pretense; in fact, it was mostly genuine, if not sophomoric and (as Gina would say) “full of shit.”

Over the last few years, I have begun to understand this drive from a different point of view.  I have come to realize that this motive comes from a combination of the desire to be loved, respected, and to not become the kind of person that people avoid, rather than come to.  In short, it was a reaction that people often had to me, and for good reason.  There are people who are no longer friends of mine and who want little to do with me, and in many cases the fault is mostly mine.

When I was introduced to the concept of Borderline Personality Disorder by a therapist a few years back, it led to a set of realizations.  When I was younger, back when I wanted to be wise, I was struggling with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt about my erratic behavior.  Other people didn’t fly off the handle, yelling and throwing things, when they got angry.  Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.  I wanted to be the opposite of out of control, so I wanted to be a symbol of control.  I didn’t want to be seen for what I was (a violent and unpredictable boy with a tendency to be moody and sullen), I wanted to be seen for what I valued (intelligent, rational, calm, and likable).   So why was it so hard for me to do so, when it seemed so easy for so many other people?

Because I am swimming in a different river.

And as I started to reflect on this over the last few years, another angle of this became clear.  It was struggling just for normal, acceptable, behavior.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be some wise guru, living on a mountain (perhaps next door to Zarathustra) who everyone respected, it was that I was struggling against a current that other people didn’t experience.  I was simply trying to appear normal while struggling frequently.

But before I started to understand this, I had built up so much resentment, anger, and frustration at seeing other people so easily deal with emotionally trying circumstances (compared to what I often did, anyway).  I didn’t understand that they weren’t actually succeeding in struggling against the an overwhelming current of virulent emotions like  I was.  I didn’t understand that such a current of emotions was rare for them, rather than constant and overpowering.  But I was so angry, ostensibly at them but really at myself, about it that it has led to many deep wounds and scars that I still have work to understand.  There is still work to do.

See, for so long I thought that at some moral fault, rather than simply dealing with a shitty situation.  I thought that when I got angry and made a scene, I was the only one in the room who had not succeeded in stifling the urges.  I thought everyone else around me was struggling with these feelings, and doing it better than I.  And so I strove for that power to restrain and repress it, to appear calm while hurricanes blew in my head, and to appear calm.  And so I built invisible armor for myself, holding in the feelings i assumed everyone else was having and restraining as well.

And I did this for years, until it became habit.  I did it for a long time, with periodic explosions as the armor shattered against the pressure.

Anyone who meets me for the first time will probably assume I’m relatively non-emotional.  I’ve been told this by many people, including some ex-girlfriends (before i started to become comfortable with my emotions, which is still a struggle) even up until quite recently.  I appear robotic, hyper-rational, and even cold sometimes.  It is a defense mechanism that I have built over many years, and deconstructing that wall is not easy.  It may take the rest of my life to do so, assuming I ever can.

(I hope I can)

But now I understand that most people aren’t walking around with a chaotic storm within them.  Most people don’t have frighteningly violent thoughts several times a day, aimed at people who are guilty for minor annoyances.  Most people aren’t swimming against a current that sometimes takes all of their mental fortitude to not be pushed back by or drowned in (because depression is a thing).

And yes, there is another side to this.  There is the overwhelming feeling of love and intimacy that I am capable of as well.  Of course, the problem is that especially in the beginning of a relationship, it is terrifying to show this.  I’m afraid that, much like the potential harm I am capable of, the level of intimacy I can show would be too much for someone, especially when things are new.  I’m afraid of pushing people away.  i was, in some past selves, the guy who was too into that girl after one date.

But you know what is even more terrifying, to me than all of that? Intimacy with other men.  And, I know, this is common in our culture.  I also know that part of this is due to my relationship with my own father, who is a sort of foil for me (the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker, as I sometimes think of it).  Men are hard because they reflect myself too much.  I see the same fear in them that I show, and I hate it because I hate that part of myself.  I hate that we keep doing it, and that I don’t know how to fix it.

It’s easier with women, because the sexual and romantic feelings open the door to other kinds of intimacy.  Perhaps it would be easier if I were bisexual.  Perhaps not.  But either way, this lack of intimacy can lead to the problem of relying too heavily on sexual and romantic desires becoming too prominent when befriending women, but for the most part I have been fairly good at mitigating this.  But with other men?

Terrifying.

I have no interest in the machismo game of our culture.  I don’t want to play dominance games, and usually simply avoid them for the sake of peace and not escalating into a situation where I will very likely lose control of my temper (which, to macho men, probably seems like weakness.  But man is it hard sometimes…).  I am a little amused by such games, but I feel more sadness at it.  I feel sad because it is so often the source of the barriers that men put up between each other, this machismo and dominance games.  Sometimes I’ll walk away with a smirk, feeling superior for not playing, and other times I walk away feeling angry, for ‘letting them win.’  Neither are the right attitude, I don’t think.

I think the right attitude is to come away from such things feeling sad that another path could not have been taken.  I think that in such games, nobody really wins.  I don’t win by being emotionally superior, and they don’t win for having me back down.  There simply is no winning there, only loss on both sides.

So, have I become wise? Will I ever be wise? I don’t know.  At this point, I find the whole question to be a rationalization for a conceit.  That isn’t to say that I no longer care about being wise, but that this caring is fading over time.

I hope, one day, that I can stop trying to be wise, so that perhaps I can just be content whether I’m wise or not.

ah, just more conceit….

The Privilege of Passion June 19, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I was out watching the Chicago Blackhawks win game 4 (in overtime) of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at a local bar I like (because they have a great selection of beer), when I saw that I still had about half a beer to drink once the game was over.  I had brought with me (because I’m totes a nerd, even while drinking beer at a bar with a hockey shirt on) a copy of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science which I started reading again recently.  It’s great because it’s a collection of loosely related aphorisms, so it’s perfect for reading when you don’t have a lot of time, and because it’s just an awesome book.

After reading a section about Nicholas Chamfort (which reminds me that I should read some of his work in the future), I got to section 96, which reads as follows:

Two Speakers.– Of these two speakers, one can show the full rationality of his cause only when he abandons himself to passion: this alone pumps enough blood and heat into his brain to force his high spirituality to reveal itself.  The other one may try the same now and then–to present his cause sonorously, vehemently, and to sweep his audience off their feet with the help of passion–but usually with little success.  Soon he speaks obscurely and confusedly; he exaggerates; he omits things; and he arouses mistrust about the rationality of his cause.  Actually he himself comes to feel mistrust, and that explains sudden leaps into the coldest and most repugnant tones that lead his audience to doubt whether his passion was genuine.  In his case, passion always inundates the spirit, perhaps because it is stronger than in the first speaker.  But he is at the height of his powers when he resists the flood of his emotions and virtually derides it; only then does his spirit emerge fully from its hiding place–a logical, mocking, playful, and yet awesome spirit.

This spoke to me in a powerful way.

I have read this particular book a few times already.  But the last time I read it was a few years ago.  Books like this one reveal how we grow, sort of like how when you read Catcher in the Rye every few years to see how you react to the protagonist.  This little paperback is marked up, annotated (I have a system), and is now starting to fall apart a little.  Yet this section was not marked much.  It had slipped past me the first few times I read it, but not this time.  I have sections so inked up, noted, etc that you can barely read the text, but this one was hardly marked at all.  But today when I read it is jumped out at me.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between argumentation and emotion.  For many years, my writing, perspective, etc was tied up in powerful and partially irrational emotions.  A few years ago, after a pretty awful part of my life, I was told by a therapist that I should read about Borderline Personality Disorder.  Upon doing research, I discovered that there was a name for the particular brain crap that I had been battling for as long as I can remember.  And reading this section of Nietzsche, it makes me wonder it, perhaps, Nietzsche understood something about what it’s like to be me.  I generally think that Nietzsche had insights into humanity that the vast majority of people do not (and perhaps cannot); the fact that I read this book a few times and missed this one makes me wonder what other aphorisms he wrote, which have so far left me cold, have to offer.

There is a part of me that wants to reach out more, emotionally, to people.  But the fact is that when I allow my emotions to lead, more likely than not I will speak poorly, get caught up in anxieties, or simply lose my place in the conversation.  Arguments, especially in person, make me lose my rationality to some degree because I become enveloped in a shroud of emotions; fear, uncertainty, sadness, etc.  I enjoy conversations, but I have come to accept that there are certain types of tones of voice, body language, etc which trigger feelings that I cannot control.  I can guide them, but I cannot harness them.*

I have this ideal view of me becoming a person who iss patient, kind, and attentive person in discussion.  I listen, understand, and respond without emotion clouding my judgment, or without becoming paralyzed by uncertainty.  I desire to be able to listen dispassionately and allow my intellect to efficiently solve the problem, or at least to understand it.  The problem is that I cannot maintain that calm in actual conversation most of the time.  I may appear calm and collected (and you likely have NO idea how much effort it requires just to maintain that appearance), but the fact is that I’m not.  I’m filled with potential outbursts which are inappropriate, destructive, and (for me as well) terrifying.

So, when I read the section quoted above, I felt like I had at least one person who understood.  There is a strength in me, an intelligence and a perspective  capable of awesomeness, that is hard for me to maintain.  But it is there.  Those emotions which rise up when I become anxious are indeed tempting; it’s much easier to allow those emotions to control my behavior than to remain rational and calm, but I cannot simply remain calm.  I cannot allow my passion to step forward because it’s too much for me (or most others) to handle.  That, and what it causes me to say and do have little to do with what my intellect would say.

Others, who have passion but are not overwhelmed by it, can allow the full force of that passion to flow freely.  It comes across as authentic and meaningful, because they don’t have to restrain it.  That is their privilege.  In my case, since I cannot simply let my passions to freely compel my words and actions, the act of restraining it makes it appear forced–ironically because I am not forcing it out, but forcing some of it in.

So, I cannot allow my passion to flow freely, most of the time.**  There is too much of it, most of the time.  So I will continue to practice resisting the flood, perhaps even to deride it.

But no, I shall not speak ill of emotions and passion.  They are both beautiful and powerful, and wonderful tools for those who can wield them well.  But for me they are often too dangerous and destructive to myself and those near to me, and so I will keep striving to develop the ability to speak with passion put aside, knowing that even in doing this it is passion which is the cause of my speaking, ultimately.  The idea, I think, is to allow passion to fuel my words, not to compose them.

[BTW, I was very tempted to title this piece The Passion of the Anti-Christ, but was not sure how many people would appreciate that reference, even though I’ve already mentions Nietzsche here.]

*If you are thinking, right now, that this is something that I can learn to do, then you are in a place of neuro-typical privilege.   This is one of the key parts of my disorder, and the danger is that I think I can control it, but I cannot.  The best I can do to explain is taht the very process of attempting to control the overwhelming emotion simply feeds it, and before I know it it has taken over.

**There are times when I can.  Those times are sometimes late at night, either by myself (struggling to remain sane, rational, and calm while battling some fear or another) or with Ginny or Gina who try to do anything to help me not hurt so much.

On Depression and Reticence April 2, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I periodically go through bouts of depression.  It isn’t usually serious, but it has real-life effects on me.  I become less social,  I am much more cynical than usual, and I write a lot less.  It’s why I have not been writing recently, and the shift out of feeling depressed is why I am writing today.

One of the other things it does is causes behavior which causes stress to my relationships.  I become less affectionate, responsive, and it can lead to arguments which would otherwise not happen (because my depression leads to non-ideal behavior).  When I’m feeling depressed, I’m not much fun to be around, especially for my partners.

Another side effect can be a lack of pursuit of my desires.  I’m less likely to ask for what I want, to speak up for myself when I disagree, or to be assertive in any way.  And because live with a few extroverts (although Ginny is certainly an introvert), that can often mean I feel intimidated and shrugged off.  There is no competition, from the depressed introvert’s point of view, with confident extroverts around you, and so I don’t try to participate as much.  Not that anyone is trying to shrug me off or intimidate me ( I don’t think), but that I just feel that way and so I sort of disappear and don’t pursue what I want, and so I don’t get it.

I have thoughts, desires, and feelings during such times, it’s just that in times like the last few days I was not voicing them except where I was compelled to.  And today, feeling more energetic and happy, I am able to reflect on this periodic depression and think what I can do better next time, while still thinking that this is fruitless.  See, I am feeling somewhat confident now; right now I believe that I can continue to grow and improve as a person.  Two days ago, I did not believe that.  All I could bring myself to believe then was that I’m not really worth much, and I’d be doing the world a favor by just shutting up and going away.

And so I was not writing.

It’s anxiety-causing to admit this publicly  but it is also part of the healing process.  I know that sometime in the future I will feel crappy again, and while I’m feeling crappy I will be intellectually aware that I will feel better again soon, but while I feel crappy I am reticent–I am reluctant to speak out, up, or about much at all, and it affects those close to me.  I don’t know what to do about that.

Now that it is Spring (although it’s still too goddamn cold!), I will be starting to get outside more, get more exercise, and this will result in another cause for less writing; enjoying life.  But don’t worry, I’ll still be around disrespecting faith and finding monogamy quaint.  Ain’t much going to stop that completely, just periodically.