Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opening up

I often find myself lost in conversation, losing all concept of time. I become immersed in the dynamics of the dialogue. I analyze so much in the other person and in myself, and in how the other person's thoughts and perceptions and attitudes affect my own, and how I might be affecting him or her. When I'm talking to someone interesting, it's like I move to a different plane. Outside of the conversation and the thoughts and memories it evokes, nothing exists, including time. Just mentioning time snaps me back in reality, which is often unsettling.

A recent conversation brought the realization that I'm opening up more, that I'm asserting my own identity, which up until recently I was entirely unaware existed. This may be a bizarre rhetorical question, but really, is this what it's like to have a personality? Because it's foreign to me. I've always just given back what people wanted from me, I've been entirely reactionary in conversation. To go one step further, if I pushed myself to do something it was because of someone else's perceptions of me or my fear of their judgment. I asserted myself as independent and free spirited not because I was, but because that's how it seemed I was best off being perceived. It's what it seemed the right people would admire in an art student. It was all subconscious, I never set out for such dishonesty, but because I absolutely loathed myself I denied my identity and personality the right to influence my behaviors.

A friend of mine wrote a powerful, fantastic poem called Safety. I hope she doesn't mind my excerpting it, I just feel it expresses exactly what I want to say right now.

"... pretending
is the only piece of me
I have left.
So insincere, so empty, so necessary
submissive stilettos staring a thousand miles away
the real me
is seeking and hiding from me
and the world
and for now
I stay on the door step
locked out
without the key..."
I'm going to do an animation around that poem, maybe this spring. I'm still working on how I want it presented, trying to go past the words, to express the images behind them more than the ones in front of them if that makes sense.

Here's a quote from Judith Herman's "Trauma and Recovery" that's obliquely related.
Her desperate longing for nurturance and care makes it difficult to establish safe and appropriate boundaries with others. Her tendency to denigrate herself and to idealize those to whom she becomes attached further clouds her judgment. Her empathic attunement to the wishes of others and her automatic, often unconscious habits of obedience also make her vulnerable to anyone in a position of power or authority. Her dissociative defensive style makes it difficult for her to form conscious and accurate assessments of danger. And her wish to relive the dangerous situation and make it come out right may lead her into reenactments of the abuse.
The key to the whole complex was empathic attunement. It was deeply rooted in my subconscious, impossible to unsurface, but it dictated all my behaviors, all my personalities. I occasionally wondered if I had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities), but I was conscious of the behaviors of all my 'alters'. And I wasn't completely at the whim of whoever I was talking to, just to people I respected. If a person was in a position of authority or otherwise earned my trust and respect they won me, in whatever form they wanted me to be. My identity was fluid. My personality was intangibly malleable, pliant, versatile, adaptable, plastic. I said I liked to keep people on their toes when I surprised them with something seemingly out of character for me, but really, they were just seeing a glimpse of a different personality intruding. I think everyone does this to some degree, but I feel like I achieved a certain appalling, subconscious virtuosity to it.

I was at the bottom rung of the totem pole - I hated myself the most. My self loathing was to such an extreme that my mind felt more at ease having deleted myself from my mind, resulting in a sort of autonomous denial of my identity's existence. I truly felt like I was a series of shells, of personalities, and that some were closer to this idea of a 'core' me, but in reality they just kept getting smaller and smaller to infinity, all of them hollow, with yet another shell inside each.

It's difficult to describe the feelings behind that belief - the intense psychological numbing required for it to happen wipes out all related emotion.

Anyway, what matters is I feel that I'm opening up the bottom shells and they're somewhat less opaque than the others. I can see a solid form in there somewhere, I've just got to break a few more walls down and maybe I'll see it.

Maybe I'm on the congo river, seeking out my Kurtz. But I don't believe in a 'heart of darkness', just like I don't believe in original sin. Nothing inside of me now leads me to believe in any form of inherent evil. I wonder what it would be like to be a true sociopath.


  1. > because I absolutely loathed myself I denied my identity
    > and personality the right to influence my behaviors.

    Ah, but identity and personality are wild, obstreperous things and they influenced them anyway without your permission. ;) You failed your Hide check, lass :D. It's your being you that has us all kicking around nearby hoping you'll come out to play.

    > they just kept getting smaller and smaller to infinity,
    > all of them hollow, with yet another shell inside each.

    Hollow? Only when you pull them apart. They are all you and they're each full of you, which isn't a bad thing at all to be full of, even if you rattle around a bit in there. :)

    > Nothing inside of me now leads me to believe in any form of
    > inherent evil.

    Nope. At the heart of it all, there's light. Keep paddling and wait'll you meet your Kurtz - like that Congo, she's not at all as advertised in the media.

  2. It was just a belief, and it was a wrong one, but I couldn't see or feel things any other way. I was pretty well broken.