Monsters John. Monsters from the Id.
On Friday morning, after feeling a little anxiety rising, I found myself again sitting down to another 50 minute session with my psychologist. We started talking about language and the way I ‘see’ conversations when I’m post-analysing, as a result of use of the word ‘issues’ in the previous session. One of the more interesting parts of that component of the conversation was coming up with an alternate word so that I’m not dealing with the mild cognitive dissonance of my view of ‘issues’ and what he (and likely most people) would see it as. In particular, he visibly balked when I suggested calling them ‘problems’ instead, since he felt that a ‘problem’ had negative connotations. My answer: a problem is something that needs analysis and leads to a solution. And the negativity may not be a bad thing – after all, if I’ve been dealing with these ‘issues’ the wrong way for years, then maybe giving then a more negative label is a good way of encouraging me to deal better with them.
So, problems it is. Problems can be dealt with.
As I suspected with therapy, the real process for me is having a sounding board, completely outside of my ‘loop’, who I can impartially talk to and get that new perspective I need to break out of certain areas. I guess the closest analogy would be that I’m stuck in a maze, but anyone else in the ‘loop’ with me is equally stuck in the maze too, so there’s not much point talking to them. Someone sitting in a chair above the maze though? That’s the person to talk to.
Ironically, having realised I was feeling anxiety, a lot of the puzzle pieces had already started falling into place before I walked into the session. For years I’d labelled my introversion as the reason why I’d sometimes be reluctant to go out – and that’s certainly a contributing factor, but it’s only a peripheral one. As we got onto that topic of comfort levels in social situations, I discussed a typical situation for Darren and I when we go out into any situation where either (a) we’re going somewhere new, (b) we may be or are intending to meet people I don’t know, or (c) we’ll be doing something newish. And in those situations:
- I get grumpy a couple of hours before we go out;
- I mentally have to drag myself out the house – or Darren has to do similar;
- I’ll be stressed the entire time to the destination;
- Once we’re there, I’ll continue to be anxious for a while;
- It’ll reach a crest where I want to just get the hell out of there;
- Someone or something will break the ice;
- I’ll be almost entirely comfortable for the rest of the time.
(Then, to top it off, I’ll frequently get guilty about the fact that I’m getting grumpy, I’ll then get angry with myself for being guilty about being grumpy, I’ll then get guilty with myself for getting angry about being guilty about being grumpy … and so on. But I’ll get to that in a moment.)
Answer? That one’s easy – I have a mild social phobia. It’s not the sort of debilitating one that leads people to be complete hermits, because I recognise the need to get out and frequently want to get out, it’s just I have an anxiety period associated with it until I reach that required comfort level. Solution? Be prepared it will happen, social anxiety is common enough that there’s nothing to really worry about. Relax.
So much of my problems probably spring from years of refusing to relax. I’ll get to that another time.
The anger/guilt cycle though is quite simply neurotic. And it is worse when I get irrationally angry – such as in situations where I’ve been over-managing my anger and it jumps out at an inappropriate time. I know it’s completely irrational to get as mad as I do at the time, so I get guilty about it, so I get angry about having to let it go when I feel like it needs to come out, and again, the cycle happens.
The neurotic behaviour is the one to really focus on, and the way to achieve that (which I’d been looking for) is to short-cut the anger/guilt cycle so I can pull myself out of the anger. The theory behind that solution is amazingly simple, and while I can’t say I look forward to trying it out, I can equally say I’m hopeful it will help, since logically it makes sense.
Rightly or wrongly, that anger when it rises is basic fight-or-flight, but I’m effectively preparing to do both. So that means shallow breaths, it means altering the oxygen/CO2 balance. It means putting the body on edge. Which does explain the slightly altered vision when I’m getting irrationally angry and moving into that cycle.
Which leads to the action. It’s possible to simultaneously be in fight-or-flight and relaxed. Deliberately short-cut by taking deep slow measured diaphragmatic breaths. That helps restore the oxygen balance in the body and brings down the fight-or-flight reaction to the point where logic is no longer as skewed and coherent decisions can be made. Such as, “OK, so I got stupidly angry. I’m not going to get guilty about it, I’m going to move on, rather than trying to hold onto it.”
Growing up, I’d be tormented to the point where I exploded, then I’d be told that I was such a bad sport and told my behaviour was unacceptable. So my anger over-management kicked in. My general cycle has been to refuse to acknowledge the anger, trying to suppress it, until it’s too late and so when it does burst out it’s emotionally harmful to those caught in its wake. And by ‘those caught in its wake’, I invariably mean Darren.
Monsters from the Id, indeed.
Ultimately those different deep emotional parts of us aren’t meant to be suppressed, or excised. They are a real part of us and shunning them doesn’t solve anything. Equally though, letting them into executive control isn’t something that should be done either. Yet, continually trying to suppress means that occasionally they will sneak through into executive control.
I’m surmising as much as anything my depression has been stemming from twin neuroses – first, refusing to acknowledge the validity of some forms of anger, and second, by going into my anger/guilt cycle. Both ultimately lead me to have up/down swings while the internal battle is going on. (The first, in fact, is actually just an apex manifestation of the real core neurosis – I’m incredibly, harshly judgemental of myself.)
I’ve still got a long walk ahead of me – I’m not going to solve this overnight. But at least, I’ve now got a compass to find my way out of the maze.
End note: “Monsters from the Id” is reference to the 1956 Science Fiction movie, “Forbidden Planet“. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you do. It’s one of the best science fiction movies of all time, and totally stands the test of time. “Id” is something that the psychologist didn’t mention – I know to a degree the Freudian notion of Id/Ego/Super Ego have slipped out of fashion, but if you equate Id to the limbic system or reptilian part of the brain, there are worthwhile analogies to be drawn.