Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Source

When I was in elementary school I had a pretty rough time of it.  My family life was really good, but at school things were nearly always awful.  I lived with pretty much constant low level physical and emotional abuse from my classmates, and had a few truly awful incidents where I was surrounded by a group of more than 10 people while they took turns beating the hell out of me while I was on the ground.  I think the day to day suffering was a lot worse than the more serious beatings - never knowing when I was going to get hit from behind and always assuming any interaction with my classmates was going to be full of insults and casual hatred was the worst part.

I was an easy target because I just didn't want to hurt anyone.  I wasn't a fighter, that is certain, but more than that I just didn't want to hurt people's feelings.  I could think of horrible things to say to people when I was being taunted, but I never had that killer instinct to want to make them feel awful.  I really just wanted them to leave me alone; striking back to punish them wasn't in my nature.

This had a really powerful effect on me.  I despised the people that did these things (which, to be fair, wasn't all of my classmates, probably more like half of them) and I wanted to be nothing like them.  One of the overwhelming desires in my life was to never be those people, to be the opposite of my tormentors.

That desire to not be like those people and to shape my personality into something at the extreme other end had profound effects.  The things that characterized them were things like drinking, smoking, and having sex.  In grade 6, mind you!  I decided that I simply would not do those things, that premarital sex was a mistake, and that no amount of alcohol or drugs was right.  I spent many years having an unhealthy aversion to alcohol and in fact nearly all substances that people use to alter their minds.  It wasn't until I was 20 that I began to unravel those prejudices and accept that alcohol, used reasonably, could be a perfectly acceptable thing.  It took another decade after that for my attitude towards smoking to shift.  While I still think cigarettes are a terrible idea, I have at least gotten past the tendency to demonize those who use them.

It wasn't just substance use that I pushed away though.  I also distanced myself from ways of thinking and acting that I saw in my classmates.  Those who made my life so difficult thought about the moment, not the future.  When I first saw my high school course list I drew up a complete plan for all classes throughout high school and didn't even wait to actually see the high school to do it.  My enemies though never seemed to think about anything beyond a day in advance.  They enjoyed violent competition, revelled in lust, and didn't worry about doing the right thing.  Doing whatever was most fun in the moment, no matter the consequences, was more their speed.

So I took all of those things and refused to allow those things to manifest in my life.  I pushed those parts of me down deep and far away.  I dissociated myself from them, making them something else.  Not that any of those characteristics was a big part of my personality at that point, but I took it to an extreme degree, purging my mind, putting all those things in a tiny box in the corner.

I would NOT be those people, or anything like them.

The problem of course is that while you can plan too little, you can also plan too much.  You can be too physical, too violent, too confrontational, but you can also swing too far the other way.  I didn't just react; I overreacted, and not by a small margin.

This whole series of events is where the dramatic split in my mind between Passion and Director originated, I think.  Director is cold, withdrawn, calculating.  Always thinking of tomorrow rather than today, he is desperate to avoid hurting people, paranoid of doing the wrong thing.  He wants to remain in the cerebral realm, and finds harsh physical exertion and lust strange and foreign.  He is, in fact, the paragon of the virtues that I selected for myself back in my school days.  Passion is his antithesis, a hot blooded lust filled beast who lives for the moment and regrets nothing.  Passion lacks that concern about doing the wrong thing and upsetting people - he just wants what he wants and would like everyone to stay out of the way.  Passion wants to deliver bone crushing tackles in football, have intense, aggressive sex with people he barely knows, and stand in a torrential downpour screaming at the sky to bring it on.  Passion, quite simply, is all the things the 12 year old version of me desperately wanted to avoid being.

I don't know for certain that my dichotomy between Passion and Director comes from my time at school.  Maybe there is another explanation, and it is long enough ago that my memories are not terribly reliable.  But it all fits so nicely with how dissociative identities generally work - trauma and inappropriate responses to it are par for the course, a useful defensive mechanism gone overboard.

I suspect that knowing these things and thinking about these things is going to be useful for me going forward.  It isn't just a pointless exercise, or an act of mental masturbation.  Understanding why I think they way I think and how I can best work with what I have is critical to living better.  Being able to draw on both sides of my personality at all times would be helpful as it would allow me to better navigate situations where I switch to avoid making it quite so sudden and jarring for me, even though most of the time other people can't see the transition point.  In general though I think that Director being able to know when to let go and that it is a healthy thing for Passion to be in charge some of the time could keep my anxiety much lower.  Knowing when to relax and give up control is key.

In theory someday I might be able to integrate my two personalities, to merge them into a complete whole.  Perhaps I can become the sort of person I would have become had I not had the troubles I had when I was young.  Integration is a thing some people achieve, so I know it is possible, but it certainly doesn't always work.  Even if I can't achieve integration I am sure I can find a more positive working relationship between Passion and Director through practice and awareness.

Looking at it in this way can be so strange.  I knew I had gone through a lot of bad things, but now I can actually say that all the stuff I endured in those years actually broke my brain.  It shattered me, and now, 25 years later, I am finally realizing the extent of that shattering and trying to figure out how I can put the pieces of me back together.


  1. Oh, hey, those hugs were from me - Chris

  2. Sheesh. Where were your parents during that time and why didn't they take you for councelling? It isn't too late now....

    1. I don't know that counselling would have helped at the time. Maybe? For now I don't see any need for it. I just can't see myself getting value out of therapy. It isn't as though I have all kinds of issues stemming from this that need dealing with, and directly going after integration is something that therapy is really pretty terrible at. (Heck, it isn't as though people that knew me even had an inkling of this prior to me talking about it directly.)

    2. That you suppressed it so successfully for so long could be considered a point in favour of therapy?

  3. "I don't know for certain that my dichotomy between Passion and Director comes from my time at school. Maybe there is another explanation, and it is long enough ago that my memories are not terribly reliable."

    I appreciate you including your critical nature here. By the way you describe it I can tell that you really want to believe the conclusion that you've come to. Can I suggest not letting your desire for a neat narrative become too compelling? It carries a similar feel for me to pseudo-scientific medical thinking that you see all over the place (although your lens is clearly much better at BS detecting that most).

    Because this is clearly important to you (and pretty damn interesting I might add) could you put your money demon in a box and spring for some time with a clinical psychologist to explore this? I suspect that someone with the professional experience to understand these things deeply will give you more unbiased insight than a personal literature review.

    Basically I'm saying "What do the people who actually know what they are talking about think?" If they agree with you then you know that you've got a strong research-based footing. If not, then you'll have to take a harder look at this. Seems worth it.

  4. For Mom and Dad and any others who are reading:)...

    A few years ago I was supply teaching for a pretty rough grade 10 science class. Right at the end of the period a small scuffle broke out between a two kids, one saying "I'm gonna kick your ass as soon as you leave school". I could tell that there were other kids who were riling up the situation, picking on this one kid. I booted the bully out the door and paged admin to go round him up and kept the bullied kid in the room. I could tell that there were several in the class that were having a daily go at him whenever they could get a chance (and the insidious ones riling up the dumber ones to fight him whenever possible). I was really worried about him so I went to talk to the social worker in the school. She told me that, although they were aware that that student was having a difficult time at school, that he had a really good home life with supportive, caring parents and community. Like you wrote Sky, even if things are difficult or traumatic in some parts of life the importance of having a safe home and a place to belong can't be overstated.

  5. Mom and Dad, for the educators in the crowd, I think that we'd be interested to hear about the actions that administration at the school took, if any.
    This post spurred a great talk with Mike and Barb the other day about bullying, how school practices have changed, and how they might get better in the future. Mike and Barb both made some great points about the importance of not just targeting bullies, but teaching kids how to speak up and get help when they are the targets of abuse. Things that we would never tolerate as adults are called ok because 'kids will be kids'. How can we create a new norm where kids don't suffer in silence?