I used to think that life was a series of ups and downs, and it is, in the sense that we experience highs and lows of emotion, but it's recently struck me that life and what happens in it is just a series of events. It's not a case that ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’*, in fact, thinking only ever brings greater uncertainty over the existence of black and white, moral absolutes can be broken down when you factor in different perspectives and rationale. For me, nothing is either good or bad but feeling makes it so. It is our emotional response to situations that dictates whether we think something is good or bad.
This idea is reflected by the events in people’s lives which, on paper, are neither intrinsically good or bad, they are just experiences, and it comes down to what the individual does with those experiences as to whether they had a positive impact, a negative one, or no impact whatsoever. Some experiences can completely change people, others will come out with the same ideas and outlook they had at the beginning, some will leave a lasting damage that the individual will have to work through, but whatever happens it is who you are that will control the legacy of those events.
The major events in my life that have contributed to who I am, while on paper quite often appearing to be either black or white, e.g. fell in love = good, fell out of love= bad, were actually significant events that created vortexes of both good and bad things for me. All experience can be learned from, conflict makes us grow, loss makes us care, and repetition makes us tolerant, but each event brings with it the potential for good and bad experiences to follow on from it. I picture these emotional consequences as tunnels through time. They come into existence once an event has happened, but they travel backwards as well as forwards, changing our perception of what we were and influencing who we will be in the future. The important fact is that once they exist, they never disappear, they just keep adjusting. Sometimes the darkness will be greater and sometimes the light will be, it’s not always easy but you cannot have the highs without the lows, it’s a question of balance.
I’ve been thinking of this idea specifically in relation to our defence mechanisms and how they function. Or malfunction as the case may be. Have you ever said this in an argument? ‘I’m not being defensive, you’re being defensive!’ The irony of this statement never fails to amuse me. Usually in these situations, both parties are being defensive. That’s the point of an argument, isn’t it? You’re defending your point of view. Our real defensiveness is usually hidden from our own sight. I’m talking about those thought processes and behavioural traits that we don’t even recognise as being defence mechanisms at first glance, because we’ve rationalised them into being logical. These are the patterns of behaviour we believe to be based on what we want to do as opposed to being about a fear of what we don’t want to do. The problem is that defence mechanisms are not always easy to spot, because quite often they are not a straightforward response to an experience, although sometimes they can be. I’ll give you an example. If a person has experienced some form of sexual attack or assault, you might expect them to react by covering up their body, or avoiding close personal contact with others, or for them to be wary of strangers. These sorts of defence mechanisms are easy to understand, as the individual is obviously seeking to avoid a repetition of that horrible event by doing what they can not to attract unwanted attention. But what about an individual who seeks out a high level of sexual attention, would you consider this to be another defence mechanism resulting from a similar experience? As odd as it may seem, this is sometimes the case. By putting sex on the table before somebody else does, you are removing the risk element of being coerced into a situation without your consent. By giving consent straight away, you are taking back control of the situation. Of course this can then lead to further unpleasant experiences, so this could be considered a defence mechanism that is counter-productive because it is not actually providing the safety from risk that the individual craves. I’m not trying to imply that everyone who has an active sexy life or dresses conservatively actually does so as a result of such an experience, and I certainly do not mean to cause any offense to anyone who may have suffered that manner, nor make light of it. This is just, to me, a clearly explainable example of how two patterns of behaviour that seem entirely antithetical can actually be derived from a similar experience.
One of my defence mechanisms is to be nice, which derives from a need to be liked. This is quite a common defence mechanism to be fair, although I do now see it to be counter-productive on a couple of levels. One of my skills, or damage, dependant on your point of view, is an ability to love quite easily. This defence mechanism, which is now a staple part of my personality, tries to function in two ways. The first part is based on the idea that if someone likes me, then they won’t hurt me (or this is the logic that my mechanism works on) and the second part is driven by the fact my life experiences are such that whatever you’ve done wrong that drives you to feel bad about yourself, I can pretty much (except for in extreme circumstances) guarantee that it doesn’t even compare to the worst things I’ve seen in life. Not even close. So when you tell me what a dick you’ve been, I can tell you that you’re not as much of a dick as you thought, I understand why you did it and I can forgive it, which I’ve noticed helps people to forgive themselves. You would think that the latter part especially people would perceive as a valuable trait, but my experience tells me that people genuinely don’t. They see it as a weakness, a failing. I’ve been called a soft touch for all of my life. People don’t perceive me as a strong individual, and admittedly I have spent a lot of time (in the pursuit of being liked) giving my power away to people. The reason why I don’t often judge, kick-off, turn away or ultimately seem to take a lot more shit off people than your average bear always comes back to one thing, love. I’m not trying to paint myself as some kind of saint, I am a selfish, foolish arse much of the time also, but I love the people in my life, and that drives my actions quite often. Unfortunately this leads to me being taken advantage of an awful lot. I will give you enough rope to hang yourself with and some extra for good measure. As for people liking you, this does not guarantee that they won’t hurt you, far from it. So quite a faulty mechanism all round then! Now that I understand why I do these things, what do I do with that information? Do I change? Do I want to change? Well, the short answer is no, and I’ll explain why...
It’s part of who I am. It’s part of what makes me, me. I don’t see it as a weakness like other people do; I see it as a positive outcome following a series of events that could have driven me to be a much darker, much nastier person. There is a but here... I have to learn to remember my perspective in the mess of feelings for other people. Despite this, I would always rather be open to falling in love than shut myself away from it, and I think this is evidence of another defence mechanism at work. Regular exposure to loss, either through the haphazard hammer blows of the universe doing its unjust thing or through people choosing to reject me, has contributed to the formation of this defence mechanism. If I can love someone enough, they won’t leave me, they won’t hurt me, they won’t reject me. Of course this is all twaddle and all of those things can happen and will happen regardless. So this mechanism my brain has designed to protect me is actually working very hard at doing the opposite, it’s exposing me to greater amounts of hurt when I do lose those people.
All of this self-analysis I feel to be quite interesting and productive, because it’s not about berating myself for who I am, but rather, recognising why I am the way I am and deciding where I want to go from there. The exciting aspect of it is that, just as with the case with everyone around me, trying to work out who I am is process that will never stop. This is because nobody is a fixed point, we grow and change all of the time. As soon as you start to think you know someone completely, you start to misunderstand them. You can never know anybody completely, especially yourself, but that is what makes relationships work over time. You are always changing, always choosing, always moving forwards.
I've also learnt that I'm perpetually afraid of failure, to the point where I actually won't do things for the fear of them going wrong. I always look at each opportunity as a list of negative outcomes and then resolve not to take action on the basis of those possible negative outcomes. Is this reluctance to take risks another defence mechanism?
I think maybe part of getting older is further developing defence mechanisms and this is an important part of our survival I guess, we need to learn how to live and how to be safe within the context of the world around us. This can lead to us becoming more risk averse. It's safer that way I guess, you find a groove and fit into it and it might not be perfect but it's good enough, and you get your cornflakes in the morning and your world continues to turn on its axis. But my fear is that settling into a groove closes doors, and my ambitions and ideas become closed in a circuit. Not taking risks based on how I feel makes me feel shut in, like I'm in a room on my own shouting, but all the exits and gaps of light are sealed, and nobody outside can hear me.
I understand that there is a balance when other people are involved, you have to factor in their emotions, their perspectives, their priorities. But in doing so to the nth degree I’ve created a situation whereby I don’t make choices due to the possible effects of those choices on other people. If I don't take risks, experience things outside of my small sphere of influence, then I will start to die on the vine, expand and grow or remain and fold back into myself. With nowhere to grow those shoots would turn back in on me, insinuate themselves into places they don't belong, begin to pull apart the fixed places and make me question other parts of my life. Of course growing outwards may change how I feel about those other parts, but that would be a natural progression, rather than a process of deliberately poking holes in my world, looking for something to blame for my mental wanderlust.
I know how privileged I am that my life affords me this introspection. That to be born here and now, not having to worry about not being able to fulfil fundamental needs, and having a voice, is a luxury that most of my ancestors were never afforded. The opportunities of our lives now are greater than they have ever been before, but we make our boxes and we live on them. I'm happy to build and live in my box; I just don't want it to become a prison.
Somewhere along the way with all of the people pleasing and worrying how my actions are affecting others, I forgot to experience my emotions. I got to a point where I could only worry about them and apologise for them. I forgot that it's a process we all need to feel. I know the theory but at some point I forgot I was a part of the world, raw, random, messy and complicated and more than all of that, a real person. That helped me to realise that it’s okay. It’s okay to be whoever I am even if some people don’t like it and that I have right to my own feelings, my own choices, my own mistakes if it comes to it.
There are some big life thingies, whatchamacallit, choices, going on in my world at the moment. What holds me back quite often is a fear of disappointing other people or letting them down, but in trying to please everybody, I never end up doing what I want to do. So, taking the good from my mechanisms and leaving the bad...Loving people, hells yes, keep that one, because I see it as strength even if others don’t, and it makes me happy as much as it makes me sad. Doing what suits other people to keep them happy regardless of how I feel? This one needs to be left behind. Even when it comes to those people who are my very favourites, because unless their priorities and perspective dovetail directly into mine somehow (and really, how often does that happen?!) at some point there will be conflict of interest, and that is the point where I usually, and somewhat worryingly, back down.
I will certainly be giving details of what’s going on in my world soon, and this blog will be an important part of it. Maybe not in its current format, but we’ll see, places to go, people to meet, and a conduit to keep you guys updated on my adventures is all part of the plan, Batman. For now, those of you close to me that do know, remember, it’s not that I don’t love you, because I do. This is about me making a choice based on what I want to do, not just another defence mechanism, not just another another choice made out a fear of losing people. I want to become a person that I would want to spend time with, that I would find interesting, and maybe that’s the key to keeping people in my life, to become a person that I would want to keep. Who knows? I feel it’s going to be very interesting finding out.
*Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2