therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: development

Why do assertiveness training?

I’m halfway through an assertiveness training course and it’s been a real revelation, as if somehow everything makes sense. I’m very happy with how it’s progressing and wrote about it in detail here:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/assertiveness-training-course-interim-review/

But what brought me to the point where I felt that an assertiveness training course would be beneficial for me? It was something I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but a recent fairly trivial event in my personal life had me thinking ‘I wish I knew what to say here’, whereas in reality I dealt with the situation in my normal manner, namely pretending it didn’t bother me. On the inside I got more and more annoyed and frustrated, sounding off to friends instead of dealing directly with the people involved. The people involved didn’t know how I really felt.

I know you have to pick your battles, but when you spend a lot of your life believing that your feelings are invalid, it clouds your ability to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

Learning the assertive way really helps, because being assertive means listening to yourself and being attentive to your own needs. It means being able to stand up for yourself when it is appropriate to do so. It means recognising what is worth your precious, finite energy, and what isn’t. And the way in which you act is so much more pleasant to others, because they know what they can expect from you. They find themselves feeling relaxed and happy around you, instead of having a general sense of unease but not being able to put their finger on it.

Although I have struggled with being overly aggressive at times in my life, my main problem at the time of taking on this course was acting too passively. Many that know me now wouldn’t think I’m a passive person but that’s largely because I work so hard at hiding my passive tendencies because they have not served me well in the past. Now I have decided I want to let them go once and for all.

These were some of the things I found myself doing, some recently and some not so recently. I started to pick myself up on a few of these things:

  • Agreeing with the general consensus way too often, even though I have opinions to the contrary.
  • Pretending something doesn’t upset me when it does
  • Saying things are fine when they are not to avoid a fuss
  • Avoiding people in order to side-step talking about an issue
  • Bending over backwards to please others
  • Ordering my own life around others, even those who are not close to me and don’t care about my efforts
  • Abandoning my own opinions, values, belief and judgments and being easily swayed by other people whose ideas were contrary to mine
  • Uncertainly about my own mind because I was always so willing to go along with others and let them decide things for me
  • Lack of disclosure about myself to others that I’m never going to get to know on a personal basis, because there seems little point ‘being myself’
  • Being unable to say no if someone wanted to employ me/ go out with me/ select me for something – they would make the decision and I would be powerless to resist
  • The constant nagging feeling that I am inferior to everybody else
  • Conviction that I can’t rely on myself to be consistent in my decision-making
  • Feeling that I can’t trust myself to have control over my own communication
  • Belief that my self-confidence fluctuates like the weather and is therefore not something I can control
  • Inability to say what I really mean in the moment without it turning into either self-pitying or aggressive remarks/behaviour
  • Angry outbursts when communication becomes simply too frustrating
  • Being unfairly judgmental and harsh towards others, but keeping these opinions to myself. Not valuing others as individuals perhaps because I didn’t value myself and our collective rights

That list was longer than I was expecting and makes me sound like I really had it bad and went through life in a depressive, submissive and powerless way. I didn’t – not for the last 2 years anyway. In fact, to the contrary I have better confidence now than at any other period of my life. I have good self-knowledge having spent years already working on myself. I have the best attitude towards the future I’ve ever had, largely because I’ve a lot to be happy about but also because I’ve the developed the skills needed to cope with life, whatever happens.

The passive person spends much of their time lying both to themselves and to others. This is hugely counterproductive and very destructive. Others may feel guilty for taking advantage of the passive person, or superior because their passive behaviour marks them as inferior. Probably others will feel irritation and pity towards the passive person and may cease to respect them. I was very intrigued to learn that others may actually feel awkward around passive people – because they cannot know what the passive person wants or likes. And of course, that makes perfect sense. Being around an assertive person makes them feel great, because they know you’ll always be honest and say what you really think. You’re open. People like that. So, to be a true ‘people pleaser’, if that’s in your nature, be assertive because that way people will feel safe and know what to expect around you.

Self-deprecation seems to be part of the British sense of humour but it can mask a seriously damaging self-image. Putting yourself down, like I do quite a lot, isn’t really a very nice thing to do – after all, if you wouldn’t speak of others in that way, why talk to yourself like that, e.g “I’m so stupid”, “Could I be any more pathetic”? If you’re a passive person, take the time to pay attention to your self-talk because it might be feeding an unhealthy self-image.

Passive people may make few demands of others, but make unrealistically high demands of themselves which they are bound to fail to meet. It is the same low opinion of oneself that makes passive people put others first, belittle their own views, and seek approval from others above all else. Really it comes down to a lack of self-esteem, and a double standard when applied to other people’s rights and opinions as opposed to one’s own. Why should we treat ourselves with any less respect than that which we afford to others? Surely, if we want to be respected we must respect ourselves first?

What I’ve written about here are the slow penny-drops of the passive person. I’m finally starting to face up to the less-than-perfect communication style I have, and problems with self-esteem and self-image. The specific goals I have with learning assertiveness include having more control over my communication; experiencing a better quality of life with overall needs being met; having the tools to deal with uncertain or unpredictable situations; having less anxiety (especially first thing in the morning when I can feel quite daunted by the day ahead); having more respect from strangers and loved ones alike; being better able to command attention; and having improved wellbeing overall as not so much is pent up.

Assertiveness is a communication style that informs all our interactions with others, but it really starts with recognising what is lacking in our own self-opinion. Only when you’ve accepted your own individual rights as the foundation for living life can the assertive way take hold and flourish. Breaking the patterns of the past is no mean feat and certainly change can be very wrenching and even destructive if you’re not prepared for all that it can entail. But when you’re ready to take control of life and to break the bad habits of the past, it can be very, very liberating.

reasons-for-assertiveness-training

Assertiveness training course interim review.

“Forthright, positive, insistence on the recognition of one’s rights” – Oxford English Dictionary

Assertive is a style of communication which contrasts with the passive, aggressive or manipulative styles. It is a way of expressing our needs while at the same time recognising that they are no more important or less important than the needs of others. When we act assertively, we are respectful of others, understanding that both parties are equal and accepting that someone else may say no or disagree with our viewpoint. Assertive people communicate clearly, directly, openly and honestly. And yet the assertive person can recognise in fact when to act assertively and when it may be strategic to lie, to walk away, back down, to be deliberately passive or aggressive.

The training course I’m currently attending at a local branch of Mind (a mental health charity operating across the UK) has been instrumental in helping me to see where my communication falls down and what I’m doing wrong. The reasons why I felt I needed assertiveness training are available in this post:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/why-do-assertiveness-training/

It has challenged me in quite significant ways which have sometimes felt a little uncomfortable but not as uneasy as some of the exercises on my recent psychodynamic counselling course. That’s because the nature of assertiveness training is essentially forward-looking.

With assertiveness being the goal there is the inbuilt premise that change is possible. One has to believe in change in order to achieve an identifiable goal. We spent the first session understanding the cycle of change adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente. Upheaval brings with it pros as well as cons and can be a painful journey, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons it is a risk worth taking. There was a degree of healthy self-examination in the first couple of sessions as we pause to understand the rights we all have as individuals. This is the basis that must be understood if any lasting changes in our interactions with others can be made. What it calls for is an acceptance of certain rights which are:

  1. To state our own needs
  2. To be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  3. To express our feelings
  4. To express our opinions and values
  5. To say “yes” or “no” for ourselves
  6. To make mistakes
  7. To change our minds
  8. To say I do not understand
  9. To ask for what we want
  10. To decline responsibility for other people’s problems
  11. To not be dependent on others for approval
  12. To be unassertive

For many on the course, myself included, this brought a painful realisation of the rights we had denied ourselves over the years, perhaps over entire lifetimes so far. For me the ones I selected as needing the most work were 6. To make mistakes and 7. To change our minds. I was brought up believing that to make mistakes was a sign of weakness – and when I did make a mistake, I certainly didn’t own up to it, because it was so shameful! Similarly with 7, I guess there was an assumption I latched onto as a child that to change your mind was a sign of a weak character. The assumption went unchallenged and was in fact fed by significant others in my life for so many years that reading this Bill of Rights in class made me feel kind of emotional. It was like a great veil had been lifted and finally the unspoken could be said out loud. The great realisation was that I wasn’t weak or stupid if I changed my mind. I am human and it is my right, like it is everyone’s right.

The Bill of Rights is the absolute foundation on which assertiveness is built. If you believe deeply that you are entitled to those fundamentals, then what we call ‘assertiveness’ logically follows.

The first technique learned on the course was the ‘I’ statement. It can be used to ask for what we want or to state when a given situation is not working well for us and we want to change something. We express clearly what we really think and feel. We take responsibility for ourselves. We don’t blame or attack others, and stay calm throughout. We only talk about how something affects us (and what we’d like as an outcome) so there is less to argue about. The ‘I’ statement deals with facts, feelings and expectations.

The format of the ‘I’ statement has three parts to it, namely “I feel”… “When”… “What I would really appreciate is”…. To use it successfully, you must always keep the outcome in mind and be specific and concise about it. Crucially, you do not allow yourself to be dragged in to another discussion. You stick to your own agenda. You simply state your case using repetition if necessary and if that is not getting through, it’s fine to say “I’ve told you what I think, it’s up to you what you do with that.” Body language and tone of voice are key. The assertive way keeps in mind that 70%, or whatever the science says this week, of communication is non-verbal.

When we began to practise ‘I’ statements it soon became apparent that even in the safety of the classroom people found it jarring to say “I feel upset by”. The high value placed on feelings in this mode of communication is somewhat at odds with the culture we live in, in which feelings are not readily talked about. Many environments it’s simply not appropriate to talk of our feelings, such as the workplace or interactions with a stranger. The course leader made a very valid point regarding how we can subtly shift the language we use in accordance with the setting. In our culture at large, feelings are not valued but opinions are king. We reformulate our statement as the opinion, “I think it isn’t fair” instead of emotive language, “I feel upset by”.

After learning about ‘I’ statements we moved on to Saying No. This was something that many in the group struggled with. A cliché abounds of a typically passive, doormat-type person who gets persuaded and manipulated into saying, doing, and buying things they don’t want. A whole industry preys on these kinds of people. Perhaps they ‘don’t’ want to make a fuss’ or their motto is ‘anything for a quiet life’. They feel they will let people down or upset them if they refuse a request. This stereotype has some truth to it.

However we have a right to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean rejecting the person, it simply means refusing the request. When you say no, you must actually use the word ‘no’ – not ‘I’m not sure’, ‘it’s not a good time’, ‘I don’t think so’ ‘I’m too tired’, or any other evasion. The other person will be thinking that your answer is simply a preamble to negotiations.

So, clarity is key when saying no. When you are clear, people are less likely to pressure you because they have already heard your answer. They know where they stand. Also, a convoluted answer full of apologies, justifications and guilt can be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.

It’s really very freeing to know that we do all have the right to say no. Again it comes back to the Bill of Rights that we learned in the first session, and being committed to accepting those rights. If other people feel bad about our refusal of their request or try to make us feel guilty or duty-bound to comply, that’s their problem. Realising this is like a huge weight has been lifted from the shoulders of those whose sense of self comes – strange as it sounds – from compliance with others.

What this course has given me so far is permission to stand up for myself. Yes, we all have the right to state our needs. Yes, we all have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems. Yes, we all have the right to be treated with respect as intelligent, capable and equal human beings.

Being aware of our rights is more empowering than any of the individual techniques and exercises that we have learned so far, although they have been very helpful and eye-opening too. The effect of sitting in a room with other human beings who all now share the knowledge of our rights makes it very real. This has been the real surprise of the course. Undoing our disempowered self-image and replacing it with one in which we are allowed to express ourselves. That is the key to assertiveness.

assertiveness

Into the heartspace.

We’re bored. We’re all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that created this boredom that we see in the world now may well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say no? – Andre, ‘My Dinner With Andre’.

Some time has passed since the last time I wrote on therapy journey. In that time, therapy journey has turned one year old, and a new calendar year has also commenced with haste. It has been a period of readjustment and coming around. It has been a time of cold winds and hot baths; long goodbyes and short days; high hopes and low pressure; a time for shining brightly in the dark. I feel like I’ve been gathering myself up, and expressing what I am in all that I do more clearly than ever before.

I’ve cast out the old. In a literal sense, I’ve got around to a task I’d been putting off for years, namely selling, giving away or throwing out hundreds of old possessions that I no longer need. This has been a difficult operation to get my head around, as many of the things I’m disposing of still fit, are current or have plenty of use left. But I’ve realised I simply have too many of these things – mainly clothes and accessories – and rather than hang on to them while they depreciate (and for it to cost me, in various resources, for the privilege), I made the decision that it would be better for them to find a new home while they still hold some value.

It’s been a shaming but humbling experience. From the spiritual side of my being, I can say with certainty that things don’t matter. But from the point of view of minimising waste, allocating resources efficiently, enabling others, sharing my prosperity and respecting the abundance of the planet, it has been important to me that my unwanted possessions go to homes where they too can find a new lease of life until planned obsolesce kicks in, as it inevitably will. I aim to live not only more frugally but with what I already have, which is perfectly adequate in every way. Items may need to be replaced over time but at a more ambling pace. It is my hope that while adjusting to less, for every new item in my wardrobe I get rid of two already in it.

I wrote on this blog some weeks ago about the awful situation that befell me when I unexpectedly ran out of anti-depressant medication. Recently I wrote a letter to my GP informing him of exactly what my predicament was. I chose the letter format to express this because I didn’t want to miss anything out, and one can be more formal and cogent in writing. It also served to express how cut off I was when I requested his help, as I was rebuffed contact by phone and email, leaving only the medium of fax which has been entirely useless for the past fifteen years. I was jubilant after delivering the letter, if only with the hope that the doctor thinks twice about prescribing this medication without a well-thought out weaning-off method worked out. It was my own fault however, to leave for an extended trip without thinking through how to resupply, but I naively thought it would be easy.

In that letter I was able to express some of my darker moments which while I am not proud of, were important to keep hold of during my recovery. “I had an episode where I became convinced that I would kill myself, not out of depressive thoughts but because I became paranoid that the drug was intended to kill me, control me and rot my mind and I would never be free of it. I phoned a couple of my friends and they talked me round.” I am more grateful to the people (and dogs) that surrounded me and comforted me, than to the medical establishment and its wider structure of red tape and loopholes which let them off the hook.

These matters are behind me now, thankfully. Tonight I took myself off to a local meditation group in its second week. This meditation aims to go deep into the heartspace, using sound and our ability to listen to our own heartbeat to focus on emotion. This is in contrast to breath meditation in which mental thought is channelled or invoked. We allow our inner processes to interact with the outside. But we wore earplugs, so all we heard was within ourselves.

Others reported peacefulness, space around them, seeing flowers and wanting to smell them, being enveloped by a cushion that turned liquid. I have to admit that during the powerful 45 minute meditation, I didn’t feel anything profound, no vital energy bubbling up within, nor visions nor even a clearing of the mind. I felt acutely aware of my body and of time passing. I didn’t “go” anywhere. It was beyond me, a beginner, to give into the fullness of the meditative experience, especially one that wasn’t guided. We are meant to learn about our inner nature but I only learned that my energy is not settled in this place. It is shifting, it is unsettled. No matter what I do to gloss over the fact – and I am not consciously aware of it, but I found out tonight that it is wanting to return to a place that is more home than this one.

Monoculture.

Tuesday 4th November 2014

The monoculture tells the story of the time we are living in. Certain patterns of life emerge, rise to the top and dominate culture until they shape every aspect of our lives and we are unable to see an alternative. The monoculture informs our ideas about how the world works, what we can expect from our lives and from other people. In the seventeenth century, the prevalent monoculture was of science, machines and mathematics. Before this, it was a religious age, ruled by the Church, superstition, angels and demons. Our story today is an economic one. It infects every aspect of our lives from work to relationships with the natural world, community, health, education and creativity.

This is research carried out by F.S. Michaels, author of Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, a penny-dropping, jaw-dropping read that seems to connect the dots which create a picture of all-pervading economic beliefs that shape our beliefs, values and assumptions at every level of our society. We are so entrenched in our monoculture that we forget our other stories and fail to see our culture in its totality never mind question it. The associated beliefs of our time include rationality, the ability to analyse, and efficiency. The best choice is always the most efficient option that is self-interested and the least extravagant, least scenic, fastest and pleases us most. Entrepreneurs, a phrase coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, shift resources from one place to another to create higher productivity and greater yield, increasing profits and adding value.

Being part of the economic monoculture means our appetites are never satisfied. We’re driven by the desire for satisfaction, but because our individual wants are unlimited, resources are scarce. The gods that rule over our world are the markets. The forces of supply and demand set prices and wages. Peak efficiency is reached when both markets and the competition that occurs within them are as widespread as possible throughout the world. Anything can be bought and sold, and unless it can be shown to be ‘uneconomic’, its right to exist, grow and prosper is not called into doubt.

Competition on a personal level is of course a vital component of the story on a personal level. You compete with others for jobs and with other buyers for sellers’ goods, and other sellers for buyers’ dollars. Relationships with others in markets are impersonal and transactional. The quality of the information we possess gives us an advantage with which we can make the most efficient choice. Economic growth, measured by GDP, is an unequivocally good thing and translates to better standard of living, even if citizens are unhappy, feel unsafe, or live in areas rife with crime. Choice continues to grow, giving us the illusion of freedom and prosperity. One story changes everything.

For me personally all of this seems incredibly sad, but true. I struggle with buying new things as am often plagued with guilt by having made purchases, the momentary satisfaction so fleeting. I have fallen into the pitfalls just like anyone else – striving to define myself by what I own, giving into desires to buy a big-ticket item or unfeasibly cheap fashion piece that will make my life complete, and competing with others over promotions at work.

Now, the way we work has changed. Gone are the days of loyalty, commitment and reciprocity between workers and their employers. In the increasingly global marketplace, companies want a flexible workforce consisting of employees who are themselves expendable, like the products they peddle. Job security is no longer to be relied upon, and less training and investment is made than previous generations. The companies play a clever game by institutionalising values and investments in environmental, social and arts projects which bring higher stock valuations, a more motivated workforce and a boost in corporate reputation.

Markets encroach on our home time as well. In a society where women go out to work, domestic work is outsourced. Researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote, “Efficiency has become both a means to an end – more home time – and a way of life, an end in itself”. Efficiency and flexibility are key. Family life in its traditional sense runs counter to this, making people less available to service the needs of the markets. The markets in our monoculture want us to remain individuals without close long-term relationships: thus ready to relocate, work harder and longer and less likely to defect due to personal commitments.

As well as community, work, education, creativity, public life and health (there is an enlightening chapter on the changing obligations of medical professionals, not just here in America but all over the world) being treated as markets, even our spiritual needs are being met in the marketplace. A church is an efficient and eager firm that exists to create, maintain and supply religion It operates according to the laws of supply and demand, with no particular code of morals, except what consumer preference demands. We are customers with requirements that might be strictness or permissiveness, exclusive or inclusive, geared towards older people or children. America’s most successful churches model themselves on businesses, with MBA-staffed management teams, strategy teams, consulting services and thousands of customers.

Isn’t all of this deeply cynical? That’s one way of looking at it, but the evidence speaks for itself. I, like many others, feel there is something wrong with our society. Something is rotten. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but it encompasses overconsumption; fakeness of people and things; single-minded preoccupation with accumulation of wealth; over-competitiveness; disengagement from others; and the expectation to be able to define exactly where we are in our lives, who we are and what we ‘do’. We live in a throwaway society, each of us ruled by markets and self-interest, that much is sure.

“[The] independent life begins with discovering what it means to live alongside the monoculture, given your particular circumstances, in your particular life and time, which will not be duplicated for anyone else. Out of your own struggle to live an independent life, a parallel structure may eventually be birthed. […] The goal is to live many stories, within a wider spectrum of human values. This is what it looks like to live free from the economic monoculture’s manipulation, to live the breadth and depth of all our stories, to live with dignity.” – F. S Michaels, ‘Monoculture’.

our way

How to be a social dynamo. And then some.

Thursday 30th October 2014

As part of my ongoing journey which has encompassed research on academic subjects, therapy for mental healing, and ideas for spiritual wellness, my personal development quest has taken me to the realm of social intelligence, and how I can improve mine. My interest was piqued when I heard about a group called Jaunty here in San Francisco that promises social mastery through use and understanding of social science, psychology, the science of attraction, neuroscience and human behaviour. The organisation calls itself ‘Higher education for social intelligence and people skills’ and is run by Eric Waisman.

It’s a really simple premise and one that is definitely in demand in this city – the class participants numbered over 20 and places were filled up well in advance. A lot of these people were at the top of their games in various fields, and wanted that edge that sets them apart. Social anxiety is an increasing problem for many individuals, and is it any surprise with the varied forms of communication in which we all partake, and the resultant disconnect from actual human beings?

It all starts with our old, reptilian brain which is responsible for our basic survival needs – feeding, fighting, flight and f**king. From that we evolved into our mammalian, ‘middle’ brain where love and bonding come from, with a decreased number of young and a long gestation period. Lastly is the newest part of our brain, the uniquely human logical brain which we use to analyse.

To enhance our social intelligence, we need to understand how all of these parts of the brain fit together, and sometimes overcome the more primitive parts which threaten to overwhelm us. For example a car crash seems to happen in slow motion because one’s senses open up, everything is on high alert, meaning you take in visual and auditory information that you wouldn’t normally. This was how it was for me when I was involved in a minor car crash twelve years ago, I remember each and every moment of it like it was yesterday: the other car not stopping, the sunroof shattering, the airbags inflating, the sound of the crash.

With practice we can avoid falling into the traps of the reptilian brain, which evolved to deal with threats to survival in a hostile world. Social intelligence is the ability to connect with and get others to get along with you. Let’s say we meet someone new. At the bottom of the attraction pyramid, the foundation on which everything else rests, is our status and our health. So we look at a person’s relative position in the social group, confidence, skillset and belief system, as well as external status such as wealth, possessions and power. This relates to the reptilian brain. Next up is the emotional connection which encompasses their intelligence, uniqueness and the uncertainty of what could happen, which we thrive on as humans. Right on top is the logical part in which we can apply our own rational analysis of this person. (Just as a tangent, confidence is defined as ‘getting as close as you can to mastering a skill’.)

Interestingly in the online dating game which I have had some experience of, this pyramid of attraction is inverted, as the first thing we use to make a judgment is our logical brain, then we make an emotional connection and finally when we get to meet them we can judge their status, health and hygiene! This theory of social dynamics is to my mind just one of the many reasons why online dating doesn’t work, except if you get two people of matching desperation.

We were taught seven skills which will hopefully help us to be social dynamos. They only work if they are practised regularly as by exercising the skills, you break the neural connections that the old reptilian brain has forged unhelpfully in response to non-existent threats – which results in social anxiety.

1. Body language
Anxiety is betrayed by the way you hold your body. Defensive stances cover and protect our vital organs. Open body language helps other people feel relaxed as well. Humans are contagious!
2. Conversational agility
Always have good stuff to say. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward! People respond to whatever you present them with. Make a situation seem like the most normal thing in the world! People will be like ‘Oh this is how we’re doing it, cool’.
3. Assertiveness
The ability to express your views, opinions, beliefs and feelings while respecting the other person. There’s aggressive, passive and assertive. If you truly have good, respectful intentions you are simply not responsible for the feelings of others. So just be assertive!
4. A sense of humour
5. Magnetism & charisma
The art of storytelling. The use of touch to create bonds. Sexual presence.
6. The approach & introduction
First impressions matter.
7. Mental pattern shifting
Positive reinforcement. The attitude ‘what’s stopping me?’

One thing I was surprised to learn about is the strength in vulnerability. We say snooty people stick their noses in the air but what they are really doing is exposing the most vulnerable part of their body – their throat. Moving slowly and deliberately helps to create an air of dignity and grace. I’m known by my friends for my jerky and unpredictable movements, which says it all really!

The exercises were awesome and this is where it really took off. Standing in a big circle, we locked eyes with someone across from us for a few seconds, then caught someone else’s eye. There was a lot of tittering. Then we paired off and were asked to look our partner in the eye for five whole minutes. A lot of people expressed difficulty at first, and the awkwardness seemed to come in waves before settling down. We were told to put aggression into our stares, then gratitude. We all really felt it, and my partner reported feeling a twinge when I first turned up the aggression. Regrouping in a circle, we repeated the staring-across-the-group exercise. This time, guess what, it was so much easier and everyone was happy because we’d spent five minutes overcorrecting, and thus crossed the boundary that made it awkward.

The next exercise was in verbal dexterity. It was a game of ‘threading’, or using our partner’s last conversational titbit as a springboard into one of our own stories, opinions or trivia on a totally different subject. We would latch onto one word they had said then turn it around on us, using the phrase ‘speaking of…’.Very simple and we all learned a lot even though some people said it felt a little weird to commandeer the conversation rather than overcoming nerves by asking questions about their partner’s conversational subject matter.

The final exercise was a ‘cold-reading’ and quite revealing. This is something you can do to bolster a person’s ego because you get to complement them! We followed a script which began ‘so what do you enjoy doing?’ they answer the question, and then it’s ‘so what is it about that activity that you like?’ And when they’re answered, your response is ‘It sounds like you’re a really [insert incredibly perceptive adjective here] sort of person.’ Repeat to fade. I got a comment back from someone that I was ‘introspective’, which kind of riled me a little because while pretty close to the bone, wasn’t that complementary. I said she was visionary.

I’m not sure if I’ll remember to put all of this into practice in my day to day living but I will try. The energy and the vitality of the group’s leader, touched us all and inspired us. There was something about the zany start-up culture that was evident in the company’s cool offices, way over-subscribed session and Eric’s infectious humour that I aspired to.

start with yourself

Living with borderlines: anger.

I first started writing this blog in January of this year. The very first thing I ever wrote was in regards to my anger problem:

“I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.”

Back then, I didn’t know how bad things would get. I couldn’t have predicted my ever more violent rages, bouts of drunken grappling and harsh words spoken with the intention of wounding. Nor did I know how much hope I would eventually muster up from within, which would help me to face my demons. Being understood (albeit by a textbook) is a great relief.

I am thinking about anger in relation to borderlines – what makes their anger different, at whom it is aimed, how and whether it can be understood and what can be done to help them, at least as a damage-control measure. Of course, what I’m about to discuss will be a generalisation and for every rule there are a great many exceptions, but the following certainly rings true for me and was originally written about in greater detail by Kreisman & Straus in their book Sometimes I Act Crazy, about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, or surviving a loved one who has it.

What sometimes distinguishes borderline rage is its concealment and its unpredictability. Some borderlines supress anger, believing its expression will lead to what is most feared: abandonment by a significant other. It has also been said that depression is anger turned inward, and in fact BPD has a high rate of comorbidity with depression. However, interestingly there is a trend for anger to be less intense in those borderlines who are depressed, in contrast with other psychiatric patients, studies have shown, in whom high levels of depression are correlated with increased anger and violence. How can this be? Perhaps depression somehow diminishes the experience of anger, or maybe anger is a defence against depression. After all, both are associated with serotonin irregularities and are two sides of the same coin.

Aside from supressing rage, other individuals deflect their rage back on themselves and become self-destructive. For others still, anger is unplanned and startling. There appears to be no observable progression from minor incident to violent eruption. What is clear though is that borderlines feel angry much of the time, even when the anger is not expressed. Frustration and self-reproach can unleash rage which is often directed towards the borderline’s nearest and dearest. A study of male domestic violence perpetrators demonstrated that they had a greater likelihood of exhibiting borderline characteristics than control subjects.

Anger is one of the most enduring characteristics of BPD and intertwines with other criteria that define the condition such as mood instability, destructive and self-harming behaviours, unstable relationships, fear of abandonment and persistent sensations of emptiness. One study found that over a two-year period, intense anger remitted in only 7% of subjects in contrast with suicidal behaviour resolving in 54% of cases over the same timescale.

Anger for borderlines stems from frustration and as a preemptive measure to guard against perceived expectation of disappointment at a later date. This was how it was for me, if you can imagine a person who feels she is utterly empty, that everything is pointless and worthless, so get it over with already. In other cases the anger may be camouflaged by opposite behaviour such as attempting to please everyone, though ironically this fruitless quest only leads to more frustration as the need for reciprocal nurturing isn’t met.

According to the authors of Sometimes I Act Crazy, it is essential to understand that in some situations the borderline needs to be angry. This is quite a difficult subject to write about, much less to do, as it seems counterintuitive to encourage a person experiencing irrational anger to let it out. Rational argument, apparently, doesn’t work – logic goes out the window during a borderline’s debate. He may even switch sides halfway through. So what is the proper response to a temporarily insane person’s uncontrollable rages?

The advice given sounds very simple on paper but must, I fear, by almost impossible for anyone not noted for their Mother Theresa-esque appearance.

1. Understand
Anger usually is the outward expression of fear and pain. It is easier to be angry than scared. Anger can be a way of gaining control over an unmanageable situation. Anger might be used pre-emptively or in a variety of different ways.

2. Prepare
Borderline rage is like no other in its intensity, irrationality and apparent whimsy. But you can prepare for it, and learn to read the signs and the cycles, as you both begin to unpack the triggers of rage.

3. Communicate
Communicating with a furious borderline is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, empathy and self-control are needed. On the other, he must be made aware that his outbursts are unacceptable.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Borderline rage feeds upon itself and off that of others.

5. Don’t tolerate anger.
If you show that rage is acceptable, this will only reinforce this idea in the mind of the borderline

6. Leave
If the borderline refuses to settle, take a brief respite until he calms down. Accept that change takes time.

It sounds a bit like training a dog, and it is just as absurd probably.

Right now I can honestly say that I have never been less angry in my entire life. I was an angry child that grew into an angry adult. I believe I have truly changed for myself as I continue learning how to appreciate what is around me, how not to feel everything is pointless and worthless and ugly. I am in love with nature, I love animals – even insects! I can control my moods far better now, in large part thanks to previous relationship issues being over. I know the beauty of the universe and the beauty that is me.

Living with borderlines: identity disturbance.

“If you can learn to accept disappointment yet maintain commitment, you are establishing an identity – because you are accepting yourself .” – Jerold Kreisman, ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’.

Picking up from where I left off last time, I believe I may have Borderline Personality Disorder though I have not been in a position to seek a psychiatric evaluation yet. I know that just as you shouldn’t try to diagnose your own heart condition, it is not productive to set about finding out what’s wrong with your head. I however feel that I am acting bravely but cautiously, helping myself sort out a prickly issue without being convinced about anything. I could be wrong about it all – time will tell.

Reading the chapter on Identity Disturbance in the Kreisman & Straus book, Sometimes I Act Crazy, was one of the hardest because it sliced painfully close to the bone. ‘I don’t know who I am’ is something I’ve often felt in my heart. It’s even become a recurring theme in my artwork without my realising it. I put together an 80-page portfolio entitled ‘I don’t know what I want’. The diary that details my sexploits is called ‘I didn’t mean it’. And a beautiful Postsecret that I sent in back in 2006 read ‘I’m terrified of people getting too close… they may realise how empty I am’. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just as borderlines’ perception of others whipsaws from glorification to vilification, their own self-image often oscillates between extremes. I have felt at times that I am the greatest artist who has ever lived, and at others, that I am thoroughly, laughably worthless, undeserving even of life.

The DSM-III definition of identity disturbance requires “uncertainty about at least two of the following: self-image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values”. For me, I can honestly say that I currently struggle with all of these matters except sexual orientation. Knowing that I’m not the only one brings huge comfort and relief.

Like the case study in the book, I often feel I am borrowing a self from someone else. The subject in the example realises, due to the unwelcome attentions of others involved, that he unconsciously mimics his boss’s mannerisms, walk, even his accent. It is deeply embarrassing and hard for the borderline to identify, but when he does it only feeds nihilistic feelings of emptiness.

Theorists speculate that identity diffusion, or ‘splitting’ emerges from disruptions in consistent mothering. Healthy attachment to the mother figure from which individual identity develops is disturbed.  Deprived of acceptance from the most important figure in his life, the child perceives the world as unpredictable. The developing borderline, unable to connect past experiences to future occurrences, develops ambivalence and confusion. The security of feeling accepted by others is based solely on the present. To escape this anxiety-producing chaos, the child splits the world into ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I can see this in myself and other close friends who have had difficult early relationships with their mothers. Everyone deals differently with the hand they are dealt, but this kind of early upset can, for some, sow the seeds of various identity disturbances.

This can take various forms. For one grouping, called role absorption, their very identity is defined in terms of a cause. Cult members reflect this pathology. Others experience painful incoherence which leads to a person feeling unreal or describing a false self. This is highly correlated with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Others who experience identity disturbance experience a lack of commitment and constantly change their educational interests, jobs and relationships. It is as if they are constantly seeking to define or discover themselves.

I would like to quote from Sometimes I Act Crazy, this passage on the subtype of inconsistency.

‘The individual transforms into a “chameleon”, whose opinions and values depend on who is in his company at a particular moment, much like the title character in Woody Allen’s Zelig [that I have mentioned before!]. He may assume inconsistent, even contradictory, positions. There may be a strong attraction to a controlling, charismatic figure who offers the hope of consistency.’ – Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Straus

A few days ago I had a second session with H, my current therapist. I talked about my need to have faith in myself and that going to the US represents a massive step for me in trusting my intuition and asserting my own freedom for the first time in my life. After having been in a recent relationship with someone controlling and arrogant, who wanted to mould me into his idea of the perfect woman, my recovery takes the form of embracing who I am, and being sensitive to my desires. After all, I trust and respect myself and I deserve to satisfy my inner needs.

After hearing a little about the nature of my last relationship, and being involved with others in the past who sought to ‘rescue me’, H understood how damaging that was. It really meant a lot to me that she realised for herself what the upcoming trip represents to me.

We talked for a while about Borderline Personality Disorder and she mentioned that these disorders are very new. I wondered whether they are real – as surely everyone experiences such universal emotions and behaviours as anger, depression, impulsivity, changeability etc. H responded that it is the degree to which these behaviours disturb one’s life that makes one a sufferer or not. A very simple but crucial point.

I think the best advice I can give myself after reading this chapter is to talk to others, to step outside my comfort zone, and do things that bring me closer to who I really am. It is there, but it is covered in so much self-doubt, fear, neuroticism, laziness and confusion. I would like to join healthy groups which work toward a worthwhile goal. I would like to be part of a team. I would like to maintain perspective and consistency.  I would like to feel part of my community. As I open up to people – strangers, friends and therapists – I will feel accepted without needing to guard my words. When I realise gradually for myself that others value and cherish me, then this will go a long way towards cementing a firm idea of who I am to myself.

Living with borderlines: unstable relationships.

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about Borderline Personality Disorder – a condition that I might have. I blogged about it here and the more I have read around the subject, the more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place.

The book I am reading currently is ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’ by Jerold K. Kreisman & Hal Straus and it offers a source of guidance for sufferers of BPD and the people that love them. It contains practical advice on how to manage mood swings, develop lasting relationships, keep negative thoughts and destructive impulses at bay, and treat the disorder clinically. For me this would have been invaluable when I was drowning in waves of feelings I didn’t understand. I would experience states that seemed so palpably real at the time, only to dissipate moments or days later.

An individual must exhibit five of these nine symptoms to receive the BPD diagnosis:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  5. Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour
  6. Affective (mood) instability and marked reactivity to environmental situations (e.g. intense episodic depression, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days)
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms (feelings of unreality)

For me, the symptoms of the disease that threaten to undermine and overwhelm me the most are unstable interpersonal relationships, identity disturbance and anger. I want to focus on the first of these facets, but before I do, I just wish to voice what some people may already be thinking: doesn’t everyone go through these states? Isn’t every member of the human race affected by conflict with others, feelings of inadequacy and difficulty finding one’s own self, and feelings of rage? I would have to say that yes, BPD in that respect probably does touch everyone’s psyche in some deeply personal, unique way. It is one of the most common disorders that exist. I have had well-meaning friends saying to me things like this:  ‘there’s no definition of “perfectly fine healthy human being personality” nowhere in psychiatry, hon. Everyone has these personality disorders, more or less pronounced, often more than one at once even, it’s more like traits that form our characters, I think.’ Totally agree and just for the record I personally think I am brave in tackling something that I perceive as real, in the sense it frequently threatens to derail me.

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give Kreisman & Straus’ practical steps for dealing with intense relationships for those who love a borderline. Firstly don’t try to win the ‘no win’. Defer to the borderline. Demonstrate unflagging constancy no matter what. The borderline often feels worthless and expects to be abandoned. Trust is a precious commodity. Much more valuable than what is said is the reassurance that you are going to be there.

Secondly predict the unpredictable. Borderlines live in a confusing, impenetrable world. His reactions may not be foreseen by the borderline himself, but may be easily predicted by those that love him. Tame the chaos. The upshot is, predicting his behaviour and letting him know sensitively, may discourage him from acting in the way you predicted.

Next up, detach occasionally. I would say ‘more than occasionally’. The more time you spend together, the more you end up frustrated and resenting his ‘unwillingness’ to change or to see the errors of his ways. You cannot be everything to him all the time Reassure him of your unconditional commitment to him by reminding him of your need for space – and implicitly, his own need for space, which doesn’t equal a break-up.

Number four is examine your own actions and motivations. Many partners of borderlines adopt a ‘saviour complex’. By trying to become his hero you may only succeed in becoming his goat. Examine your own need to be a hero, which may reflect your needs more than his. You are with this person to love and help him, not to rescue him. Empathy is more helpful than blaming others, blaming the borderline himself, or denying those feelings.

At number five, challenge unrealistic characterisations only when they are negative. The borderline’s closest personal relationships follow cycles of idealisation and devaluation. While unrealistic idealisation oughtn’t be fostered, it needn’t be contradicted. When the inevitable devaluation occurs, proffer reminders that emphasise the difference between the borderline’s feelings and actuality.

The sixth, and in many ways the most difficult, is learn how to communicate effectively with the borderline. There are all kinds of templates and models which offer help as to go about sustainable and mutually beneficial communication, including the SET system which balances all interactions with statements endorsing personal Support and Empathetic acknowledgement of the borderline’s stress with Truthful confrontations of realistic issues.

Hyperreligiosity and mental illness.

“The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance… logic can be happily tossed out the window.” – Stephen King, ‘The Stand’.

Before I launch into a tirade, I’m going to be honest about my vested interest in this subject. My mother is I believe a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental health condition characterised in part by extreme religious impulses and the need, as she sees it, to preach and discuss religious matters at length with all those around her, including those who actively resent it. Her religion dictates how she must do everything, from personal conduct to household chores to the order of her day. I have no doubt that she would die for her religion, as she honestly believes and has told me that nothing in this life is as important as one’s own continued destiny after death, and that the ‘trappings’ of this life such as family, wealth and happiness are but meaningless distractions from the ultimate goal achieved in the afterlife.

R. S. Pearson in his book ‘Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction’ defines the condition as:

‘…when the outward forms and other aspects of religion become life disabling. […] Hyperreligiosity is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s life. It is the disability that can lead to isolation from others because one thinks God is vengeful and punishing. Others who do not practise religion the same way are believed to be contaminating to the hyperreligious person, and this belief fights the drive to what are considered historic descriptions of authentic spirituality. […] Hyperreligiosity does not produce anything of personal or social value and in fact is often dangerous and destructive.’

The name hyperreligiosity is an uneasy one and makes the condition sound like nothing more than overenthusiastic piety. As our understanding of neuroscience and cognitive function grows it seems possible that this condition is in fact part of something more harmful and complicated. An interesting question is whether hyperreligiosity among the mentally ill is itself an illness, or if it is a coping mechanism in response to an underlying pre-existent condition, much like the cases of those who find respite in addiction to harmful substances or damaging behaviours.

In a paper written by an undergraduate student at Tilburg University, a link is drawn between obsessive compulsive disorder and hyperreligiosity. OCD apparently affects under 2% of the world population at any given time (with 3.5% being affected in their lifetimes) – figures I find startlingly low. Carrying out the obsessive behaviour is of course a means for sufferers to allay or reduce anxiety. So hyperreligiosity, if it is valid to term ‘extreme, destructive, narrow minded excessive religiosity’ that, forms a subcategory of OCD. At the risk of drowning in a diagnostic quagmire, another term, ‘scrupulosity’ gets a mention in the DSM-IV-TR (2000) in relation to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. It is indicated by an exaggerated sense of morality, ethics or norms.

‘What is striking about these symptoms is that the focus is not on central aspects of religion, like taking care of others, but on very specific, exaggerated tasks, emotions or perceptions,’ writes the author of The Neurobiological Basis of Hyper-Religiosity’, Daniëlle Bouman. Its domains are the Fear of Sin and the Fear of God. Additionally, hyperreligiosity and scrupulosity are both severe disabling disorders which may cause social and/or occupational dysfunctioning. Another aspect that scrupulosity and hyper-religiosity have in common is the abnormal focus on an aspect of one’s chosen religion, such as excessive ritualistic prayer. These are aspects that hit pretty close to home for me, and it saddened me somehow to read how textbook my mother’s case actually is.

There is undoubtedly a parallel between OCD and hyperreligiosity. Both indicate ritualistic behaviour, fear of what will happen if the itch is not scratched, comfort gained in the familiar, personal cycles of constant repetition. From my experience seeing a fairly normal person morph into one who is terrifyingly overzealous, I think there is an element of psychosis in her psyche, that expresses itself as hyper-religiosity. Psychosis is defined as ‘any of several mental illnesses that can cause delusions, hallucinations, serious defects in judgment and insight, defects in the thinking process, and the inability to objectively evaluate reality’. I am sure that somewhere within, the solution is to help my mother, but just like a person suffering from substance abuse, she must recognise she has a problem first. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen because to her religion is a life and death matter. For her, getting older means getting closer to meeting her maker. The only thing I can do is accept it, which is then part of my journey.

 

Edit Oct 2016: A more thorough list of the traits of those suffering with hyperreligiosity appears on a more recent blog post available here: 

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/toxic-faith-the-traits-of-hyperreligiosity/honest to god

Choosing to trust myself.

I am very excited and happy about so many things in my life at the moment. I feel truly blessed. Soon I will start a new adventure in California, which I am naturally looking forward to. The way I am with myself, I concentrate on where I am at the present moment – in the meantime I have plenty of matters, big and small, to attend to. The ‘work’ I am doing currently is more rewarding and more demanding than any paid job I have ever undertaken. I have high hopes and make copious demands of myself, but somehow I know it’s all worth it.

I met with a new counsellor, H, today who is trained in psychodynamic theory. After listening to my life in a nutshell, she said that I sounded unhappy. I was surprised to hear her say this because it seemed to me that I was very sorted. Gradually it dawned on me though that my ideas flit about and what seems like determination is sometimes stubbornness. I am constantly both making excuses for and blaming myself. I have trouble figuring out why I am going to carry through with one particular course of action; I know only that I must do it.

I will only have another two sessions with H in my home village, before setting off on my little adventure, hopefully not returning to this place for more than a week at a stretch in the future. So if I’m not in it for the long haul, what are my aims with the therapy I’m undertaking and for life in general? What I realised during my session was I would like to be able to trust myself. I mean really and truly. When I am violent, it is a complete disavowal of myself and everything I’ve worked for. In a heartbeat, all the positive energy, good habits, honourable intentions and lofty thoughts are broken. In this way, I can never be sure when the beast might strike. So I have to tame that beast once and for all, so whatever arises in the future, violence will not be part of my response to it.

The way I see it, every moment is a part of my life and I choose to enjoy all of those moments, wherever I am. I am learning to avoid the things I don’t like, and to be OK with that. Just because certain friends enjoy sitting in a field chewing their faces off, doesn’t mean I have to find that entertaining myself. I can just walk away from the activities, culture and lifestyles that don’t do it for me. I don’t live for the future or the past because now is all we have.

I spoke to my new GP last week. In fact, being back here again in my village, it turns out he was a doctor that I already know and trust. When I was 19 and severely depressed, he was the one I turned to for ‘a little bottle of confidence’ as I worded it in my diaries at the time. As it happened, back then he refused me the anti-depressants I thought would be the panacea, and instead referred me for counselling with a youth service. That was eleven years ago, and I am grateful for his interventions. He saw that somewhere within me was a happy and capable individual, a girl capable of digging herself out of her noisy mind’s many layers of muck and detritus.

I spoke to him about my self-medicating with Paroxetine (Seroxat). He asked many probing questions and sought to understand what my dosage was, when it was raised, what problems I sought to treat, any changes I have found with it, and any side effects. I told him that at first I took only 5mg, which he believed was equivalent to not taking it at all, being purely homeopathic. As I upped it though, I didn’t feel increased curtailment of depressive feelings, nor an increase in euphoric or reckless behaviour. I just felt the same, responding to my circumstances which got a whole lot better when my last relationship ended at the end of August. Now, I feel very productive and calmer in my mind but I am loath to put this down to the Paroxetine, as I honestly think I’d be dealing with life exactly the same way if I had never touched it.

The question of whether to continue on this path was a tricky one. My doctor discussed it with the medical student that sat in on the session, and with me. At first they seemed to waver towards weaning me off it, as I hardly need it anymore in truth. And as my doctor admitted, it’s not readily prescribed these days because it has a higher than normal level of addiction. But after understanding a little about my circumstances, it was decided I would stay on Paroxetine for a maximum of six months (starting from when I began taking 20mg). I am undergoing various periods of transition – one as I returned from Spain alone, another when I head over to California and yet another when I settle in a different part of the UK on my return to the UK in the New Year. This dovetails quite neatly with the six month thing, so I should be off it by the end of January, start of February. This shouldn’t be a hard habit to kick as I can’t feel any symptoms of addiction, sometimes I forget to take it without realising. I only don’t want the risk of any upset while my life is so in flux – if this is one thing I can keep in check then so be it.

 

trust

The problem of female violence.

I have been thinking about violence in women and the causes and upsets behind it. The following passage in ‘An Unquiet Mind’ triggered off my research.

‘Violence, especially if you are a woman, is not something spoken about with ease. Being wildly out of control […] is frightening to others and unspeakably terrifying to oneself. […] I remain acutely and painfully aware of how difficult it is to control or understand such behaviors, much less explain them to others. I have, in my psychotic, seizure-like attacks […] pushed to the utter edge people I love, and survived to think I could never recover from the shame. […]

After each of my violent psychotic episodes, I had to try and reconcile my notion of myself as a reasonably quiet-spoken and highly disciplined person, one at least generally sensitive to the moods and feeling of others, with an enraged, utterly insane, and abusive woman who has lost access to all control or reason.’ – Kay Redfield Jamison, ‘An Unquiet Mind’.

The book was written in 1996 but still holds painfully true. According to a study conducted in 2000 by Dr Malcolm George, a lecturer in neuroscience at London University, 50 per cent of those who initiate aggression are women. This isn’t self-defence. This is a woman who consciously decides to cross boundaries, just like her inexcusable male counterparts. One facet of my own violence I sought to understand was whether it was premeditated in some insane way, and I can only conclude that it isn’t. My violence occurs when either I don’t have the words or I’m not being heard and so to hit my partner seems like the only way to get his attention. I can relate to this, written by Nikki Gouldeman of Ravishly:

‘When I resorted to violence, it truly felt like my only recourse at a point of complete powerlessness –like I couldn’t effectively communicate the fury within me unless I resorted to primal, prototypically masculine violent rage. I was also, of course, lacking good sense, drunk as I was on a heady cocktail of confusion, hatred and breathless pain.’ – ‘Why Women Shouldn’t Be Excused for Violence Against Men’, Huffington Post, 27th May 2014

This sort of behaviour was a part of my own personality particularly when I used to drink a lot in my early twenties, and in a similar way, craved attention because of poor communication. It was senseless and self-serving. I would pass it off as funny, but I am sure others found it unacceptable. To be honest, I never saw it as a problem.

This 1997 article by Erin Pizzey, founder of a women’s shelter in Chiswick, describes women who enact disturbances out of proportion with acceptable and appropriate levels of distress. Such individuals Pizzey terms ‘family terrorists’, who quietly manipulate other family members into ‘uproar through guilt, cunning taunts, and barely perceptive provocations’. She writes, ‘Although the terrorist may be consciously aware only of the spouse’s alleged offence, the pain of this offence (real or imagined) is invariably an echo of the past, a mirrored recreation of some painful situation in the terrorist’s childhood’. Residual pain from childhood, whether experiencing it directly or through witnessing it amongst parents or siblings, may create a pathological addiction to physical and emotional violence or pain.

From my own perspective, I would not say my family home was one where domestic violence was prevalent but it certainly was present. With regard to my parents’ relationship with each other, my mother has never been violent physically but, as my father testified very recently, had a way of causing immense hurt with painful insults. My father on the other hand has hit my mother, and as a child I often heard objects used as missiles being hurled across the kitchen and stormy arguments after I had gone upstairs. I never saw injuries except to furniture but I believe their relationship was a tempestuous and sometimes violent one. I was certainly aware of this growing up. It didn’t end when, in 1994 after twenty years together, they divorced, as they remained in one another’s lives. I had not felt that their violence had an effect in making me some sort of emotional terrorist, and have never regarded my compulsions towards violence as an addiction, but I have to admit it has reared its ugly head in more than one relationship.

The further I go on this journey, the more inclined I am to believe that as a sufferer of mental illness and behavioural problems, I must help myself and learn to use the resources inside me. You can find a therapist to provide justification for every sort of wrongdoing. In the article by Pizzey, she details a case in which the ‘terrorist’ started seeing a feminist therapist who staunchly supported the erroneous view that all feelings behaviours are valid. Such reassurances serve only to fortify the terrorist’s already pathological, solipsistic, and eternally self-justifying perspective. I am not looking for excuses. I would like, quietly and without fanfare, to change the patterns in my nature.

‘[Female abusers] are often promiscuous, selfish, and narcissistic. So they use their moods, rages, and impulses to control people around her and she cannot be satisfied until all others come to admire her. Then these women choose deceit, fury, and assault to get their own way and then they revel in the addicting exhilarating emotional unrest that they have created. In doing that, she presents a false image of herself to conceal her true character; she is addicted to her own personality and feeds on the emotions of others, for she is a narcissist who is in love with herself.’ – Edward Steven Nunes, ‘Abusive and Violent Women in Relationships

splintered

There is something wrong with you.

I made a lot of mistakes and the best I can do is to prevent them from happening again. I was violent and a domestic abuser. There is no recourse from this in terms of what’s passed, but I can address the causes of my problem and resolve never, ever to take my anger out on another person physically or mentally. Violence is unacceptable, full stop. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but only I have the power to change my negative patterns. I lost a good man because I couldn’t control my temper. I insulted, criticised, belittled and nobody on this earth deserves that

Oh life. The past sometimes seems to fall away so fast, but my failing has been never to learn from the errors of my ways even when I see them clearly. This is a change I have to make a lasting one. A permanent one.

The Seroxat continues to keep any ill feelings at bay. In Spain, my last week there, I was a bag of nerves. Back home though and two weeks on, I feel strong and positive and quite ridiculously happy. I will make sure I see my GP about the meds I am on. I’m not ready to start a course of therapy yet; I would like the dust to settle first. J voiced a concern to me last time we spoke, on our last meeting together in the house we shared. I have not shaken it out of my head yet. In the same way that some people feel suicidal urges during the first few weeks of taking Seroxat, it is possible that I ended the relationship in the same way that some unfortunates choose to end their lives. The drug gives you a blasé attitude, where you feel able to rise above whatever contingent circumstances you happen to be in, and believe that nothing really matters – there’s always an easy way out. When under the influence of certain anti-depressants difficult problems don’t deserve tackling when you can just eliminate the problem entirely.

I had a painful conversation with my father, in which I chose to be open and honest about the serious matters that had arisen in my relationship. I had never spoken to him before about my violence and all I wanted from the conversation was simply to communicate to him that the problem has caused me and others deep personal pain. I didn’t want him feeling sorry for me or getting the wrong end of the stick as regards who was the victim. I managed to convey to him what happened in a nutshell – and his response showed me that he really understood. He thought and spoke slowly, “physically, mentally, spiritually, there is something wrong with you.” I’ve got a long way to go on this journey of life, but being heard and understood is fundamental and gives me hope and courage. I don’t see what he said as insulting in the slightest.

I am reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s ‘An Unquiet Mind’, after reading her memoir of life with her husband who eventually died of lung cancer, entitled ‘Nothing Was The Same’. In ‘An Unquiet Mind’ there was a passage that struck home. Jamison and her schoolfriends perceive the local loony bin as the world of the mad. Jamison muses,

“Despite the fact I had no obvious reason to believe that I was anything else but passably sane, irrational fears began to poke away at my mind. I had a terrible temper, after all, and though it rarely erupted, when it did it frightened me and anyone near its epicentre. It was the only crack, but a disturbing one, in the otherwise vacuum-sealed casing of my behaviour. God only knew what ran underneath the fierce self-discipline and emotional control that had come with my upbringing. But the cracks were there, I knew it, and they frightened me.”

I wonder what lies underneath my cracks. I’m going to find out, but there’s no rush. It’s OK to be boring. It’s OK to live a quiet life, and to be slow. I enjoy my art work and I’m making again. It’s OK to be happy for every moment. There’s dignity in that. And I love my life.

 

all I see

Untwining the ties.

Tuesday 26th August 2014

I’m in the process of disentangling my life from J’s. This isn’t the place to go into detail, but needless to say, it is draining and traumatic. I returned to the UK two nights ago, full of feeling suddenly. It was like being awakened from stasis. At my first sight of Britain, tears rolled down my cheek and my face kept breaking into a smile. I have never been so relieved to be home. Finally the nightmare is over, I feel OK, I can talk to people, I have an appetite and I see freedom from J’s world.

This brings with it an inordinate amount of sadness. I see him and feel him everywhere. I left him in his town in Spain, having gone there to pick up my things and give my car to him. He was the saddest person I’d ever seen. Watching him weeping next to me, it was as if a little bit of me died. And it has, really. I am grieving. I’ve lost J – truly the best influence on my life, the person I loved above all others.

weight-in-palmA Letter to J

It is breaking my heart but I cannot be in this relationship any longer. I love you but I can’t keep doing this to myself and to you.

I am sorry for all my bad behaviour. I have some serious personal issues that won’t go away by acting good.

You are right, I have cried wolf too many times and I understand that you cannot trust me anymore.

I think you would benefit from ending up with somebody calm, intelligent, creative, mature, patient and kind. I am none of those things. I am erratic, defensive, moody, conventional, stupid, selfish, weak and immature. I seemed to wind you up and upset you, even when I genuinely believe I am being kind and helpful.

I have always believed that I didn’t deserve you and perhaps my behaviour exemplifies this on some subconscious level.

The idea of us being together was so thrilling but the reality is conflict upon conflict.

Both of us are very sensitive to criticism which sometimes made it impossible to have even one normal day, without the drama.

You already know how I feel about you and I stand by it. You are so intelligent, wonderfully kind and patient, loving and forgiving, ambitious, thoughtful and practical, very funny and free-spirited, talented, brave and imaginative, and above all, the most special person in the world to me.

I wish you all the best in everything you do and I will always remember the good times we had with affection. Thank you truly for everything you have shown me, given me and taught me.

Always in my heart.

X

Intermittent Explosive Disorder / Borderline Personality Disorder.

Monday 25th August 2014

In my research on the internet I have unearthed information about a couple of conditions that I might have. I know, I know, I recently thought I might have psychopathic leanings but that was probably brought on by moments of excessive self-doubt and the unhealthy relationship I am (was?) in taking its toll and bringing out my worst sides. The reality of my being a psychopath is far from possible. I don’t lie very much or very convincingly and have a very developed sense of responsibility toward myself and others. Moreover I am too self-aware of own propensities which psychopaths are not.

More likely, it’s possible I have Intermittent Explosive Disorder. It sounds made up but it’s real. At the risk of pinning the tail on a scapegoat, I have been thinking more broadly about my behaviour in relations with friends, partners and my parents over the course of my whole life. I identify with all the risk factors for the condition.

  • Recurrent outbursts that demonstrate an inability to control impulses, including either of the following:
    • Verbal aggression (tantrums, verbal arguments or fights) or physical aggression that occurs twice in a weeklong period for at least three months and does not lead to destruction of property or physical injury (Criterion A1)
    • Three outbursts that involve injury or destruction within a year-long period (Criterion A2)
  • Aggressive behavior is grossly disproportionate to the magnitude of the psychosocial stressors (Criterion B)
  • The outbursts are not premeditated and serve no premeditated purpose (Criterion C)
  • The outbursts cause distress or impairment of functioning, or lead to financial or legal consequences (Criterion D)
  • The individual must be at least six years old (Criterion E)
  • The recurrent outbursts cannot be explained by another mental disorder and are not the result of another medical disorder or substance use (Criterion F)

I have to get used to talking about my violence. It sounds so strange that phrase, ‘my violence’.  Looking at me, quiet as a mouse most of the time, it would seem inconceivable to a stranger that I have done the things I’ve done. Hit an ex in the eye. Rip an ex’s phone in two and destroy it with a hammer. Pull down friends in the street and sit on their backs, squashing their faces into the pavement. Yank J’s fingers back so far that they still hurt when he makes a fist ten months later. Leave red fingernail marks on J’s face. Punched him while he was totally off-guard. That’s not to mention the verbal aggression; I’ve called people, some of them strangers, awful things that express so much hatred. I’ve had the police called on me, been chucked out of a hostel, a student union, pubs and nightclubs.

A commenter on my blog voiced an idea that I might have Borderline Personality Disorder. I have done a little research on this too, including some online personality quizzes. Guess what, I score high on the symptoms on every test. This from Psych Central

Psych Central BPD assessment

Wikipedia says: ‘The most distinguishing symptoms of BPD are marked sensitivity to rejection, and thoughts and fears of possible abandonment. Overall, the features of BPD include unusually intense sensitivity in relationships with others, difficulty regulating emotions and impulsivity. Other symptoms may include feeling unsure of one’s personal identity and values, having paranoid thoughts when feeling stressed and severe dissociation.’

Yup, yup and yup! I’m going to dwell on too much as them as diagnosis requires a psychiatric evaluation. Certainly something to think about. I think I would feel like less of a freak if I could have a label which would go some way to explaining my errant behaviour. All my life I have felt like there’s something wrong, but we’re told to ignore it, be happy and get on with things. I’ve been sweeping this under the rug for too long.

Blame, love & my violence.

Monday 18th August 2014

Exactly one year ago I wrote an entry in my diary, and put a reminder in my calendar for 18th August 2014. Today, I saw ‘J day’ in the calendar and after puzzling about it for a moment, opened up my diary and with a heavy heart had a look what I’d promised to myself twelve long months ago.

Sunday 18th August 2013

The meaninglessness here continues. I can’t find my stride here […] Spain leaves me cold (ironically). […]This isn’t for me somewhere I can thrive and make those important changes in life, because I am so dependent on someone else for the first time in my life. And that’s not a good starting point for a highly personal journey if that relationship isn’t full of support and encouragement and lightness, love and laughter. Which it isn’t. […]

The journey can’t start yet because this isn’t the place where I am to grow and change into the mature, calm and stable person I catch glimpses of from time to time. I remain absolutely sure that J can be my partner on this journey however. He was the one that convinced me I could be a better person.

I think I need to have a date in my mind where if things don’t get better, I get out. Why not a year from today. 18th August 2014, and if things aren’t already on an even keel, then I get out of it. If he hasn’t already dumped me by then, that is. He’s got very very close to dumping me more than once. Of course every relationship has ups and downs but this is ridiculous! We can’t even be ourselves around each other because we just f***ing argue all the f***ing time. […]

I just want J and me to be gentle with each other’s feelings and to be kind and considerate all the time. Not in an intense way, just to have quiet – silent – respect for each other rather than searing rage and contempt. Any small matter will set it off. It’s like a pressure cooker that’s ready to blow and just a little nudge on that valve will release a violent torrent of offensive build-up that rings in your ears and leaves a bad taste in your mouth for days and days and days. And like this, the wound never really gets the chance to heal. If it ever does, who knows, we might find that, after all, we aren’t compatible, or one of us doesn’t want the other one, but until a year’s time, I am going to keep trying, no matter what the emotional cost.

When I wrote that, I could not have comprehended how much worse things would get. I thought that what was happening in August 2013 was as low as we could go. How wrong I was. Back then I was blaming J as much as myself, convinced that if only he’d stop drinking so much or start listening to me more or stop being so oversensitive or if only we were in England, none of it would be happening.

How I’ve changed since then is that I realise the error is with me – it is always with me. I regret what I’ve done to us, making a kind, happy-go-lucky man who had already been through so much, into a monster. I regret having given in to my anger one too many times. Unfortunately it’s become clear over time that I’ve been unable to cope with life with my partner, without the readymade structure and meaning such as through being in employment. Living in a foreign and pretty unwelcoming land was also tough, or perhaps that’s just an excuse. I lashed out in every way I could and brought him down to my level every time. I nitpicked, criticised, provoked and twisted the knife. I carried on doing this until last week when our unexpected separation forced an end to my sick and disgusting behaviour.

Too many times I had been the initiator of violence. At the end of April this year we were in Belgium for a working holiday. I blogged about the aftermath but I never went into the details of what happened because I was just too ashamed. I punched him repeatedly in the face simply for having fallen asleep in the hotel room after a night of drinking when I returned with a kebab for us. I should have walked out there and then. Instead, I apologised profusely and beat myself up for weeks and still do. We moved on somehow, a testament to his caring nature, but I have no right to expect him to forgive me as I overstepped a boundary from which there’s no returning.

I am devastated and confused, I can’t function. I stare at the wall and can’t focus on any task, not that I have anything to do here. I can’t eat, I can’t think. I can’t sleep or concentrate enough even to watch TV. My only task, really, is staying as mentally healthy as I can, trying not to spiral any further into misery.