Monday, May 23, 2016

The Cipher

I liked this other passage from Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death regarding another loss of sense of self. This one is interesting to me because I have just recently come to know someone who fits this description. I otherwise would have never believed that this type of person existed, because it seems so odd to react to the uncertainty and risks of life by giving up one's sense of agency and power in exchange for the peaceful burden-free life of victimhood. (Probably because I reacted in the opposite way myself.)

Regarding the despair of weakness:

But the despair is essentially that of weakness, a passive experience; its form is, in despair at not wanting to be oneself.
The despair of weakness is the despair of not wanting to be oneself. This kind of despair is a passivity of the self. It’s frame of reference is the pleasant and the unpleasant. What matter is what happens or does not happen to oneself. 

True despair is to lose the Eternal, but this kind of despair does not occur to the one who despairs in weakness. He is too preoccupied with securing his earthly existence. To lose the earthly is not true despair, yet that is precisely what this person calls despair. He is turned around and what he says must be understood backwards. He stands there pointing to something that is not really despair (a loss of some kind); he is explaining that he is in despair, and yes, sure enough, the despair is going on, but it is behind him and he is unaware of it. If everything suddenly changes and his wishes are fulfilled, then happiness returns to him. When help comes from outside happiness is restored to him and he begins where he left off. Yet he neither was nor becomes a self. He simply carries on living merely on the level of what is immediate and what is happening around him. 

This form of despair consists of not wanting to be a self. Actually, it consists of wanting to be someone else! Such a self refuses to take responsibility. Life is but a game of chance. Hence, in the moment of despair, when no help comes, such a person wants desperately to become someone else. And yet a despairer of this kind, whose only wish is the craziest of all wishes — to be someone else — is in love with a fancy that change can be made as easily as one puts on another coat. Or to put it differently, he knows himself only by his coat. He simply doesn’t know himself! He knows what it is to have a self only in externals. There could hardly be a more absurd confusion, for a self differs precisely, no infinitely, from those externals. It is impossible to draw a picture of him that is not comic.

"What if I were to become another, were to get myself a new self?" 

Yes, but if he did become another, I wonder if he would recognize himself again! It is related of a peasant who came cleanly shaven to the Capital, and had made so much money that he could buy himself a pair of shoes and stockings and still had enough left over to get drunk on -- it is related that as he was trying in his drunken state to find his way home he lay down in the middle of the highway and fell asleep. Then along came a wagon, and the driver shouted to him to move or he would run over his legs. Then the drunken peasant awoke, looked at his legs, and since by reason of the shoes and stockings he didn't recognize them, he said to the driver, "Drive on, they are not my legs." So in the case of the immediate man when he is in despair it is impossible to represent him truly without a touch of the comic.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A girl has no name

What happens to people with personality disorders to make them the way they are? Speaking from personal experience, but also saying something that can easily generalize much more broadly, there is a genetic component but it is also triggered. When you are little, instead of developing a sense of your own identity, you learn to think of yourself as a cipher. You do it because there is no advantage to you in being a particular someone (much less the particular person you are), and every advantage in being whatever the situation calls for, in blending in with the background, in being the strings that pull other people rather than being a person yourself. Kierkegaard speaks of something similar:

For every man is primitively planned to be a self, appointed to become oneself; and while it is true that every self as such is angular, the logical consequence of this merely is that it has to be polished, not that it has to be ground smooth, not that for fear of men it has to give up entirely being itself, nor even that for fear of men it dare not be itself in its essential accidentality (which precisely is what should not be ground away), by which in fine it is itself. 
[But when the sense of self is lost] he may nevertheless (although most commonly it becomes manifest) be perfectly well able to live on, to be a man, as it seems, to occupy himself with temporal things, get married, beget children, win honor and esteem -- and perhaps no one notices that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. About such a thing as that not much fuss is made in the world; for a self is the thing the world is least apt to inquire about, and the thing of all things the most dangerous for a man to let people notice that he has it. The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.
But while one sort of despair plunges wildly into the infinite and loses itself, a second sort permits itself as it were to be defrauded by "the others." By seeing the multitude of men about it, by getting engaged in all sorts of worldly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself, forgets what his name is (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like the others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd.

So a personality disordered person might lose their sense of self, but it can actually be as empowering as it is tragic. Without a self, there isn't the same potential for ego hurt -- we no longer live a life motivated largely by fear. The most vulnerable and valuable part of us has already died. What is left is a cipher, a thing that can take the form and shape of whatever is most convenient in the moment.


So it's with interest that I wonder where Game of Thrones is going with the Arya plot line. The quick summary is that she is a noble born girl hell bent on revenge for the death of her parents. She's become an accomplished killer, but has also gotten caught up in this sort of cult in which she is being asked to become "no one" -- to leave her old identity behind and instead have the capability of wearing any number of masks and appearing like any number of different people, a lethal assassin. Repeatedly she is asked what her name is, and repeatedly she must answer "a girl has no name" as part of her further depersonalization.

In the books, regarding Arya it says "She could feel the hole inside of her where her heart had been" and "She would be no one if that is what it took. No one had no holes inside of her."

This video explains the psychological changes she undergoes, and how she can hardly function like a person because she cannot trust, all she knows is killing and survival.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

BPD + ASPD = perfect match?

This has been mentioned briefly before, but I liked this recent comment for why borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder often go together like peanut butter and jam:

One takes nothing personally, the other takes everything personally.
Psychopathic detachment can diffuse Borderline reactive rage; Borderline extreme emotion can be sufficiently 'loud' to penetrate psychopathic flattened affect; the non-judgmental approach of a psychopath can counter the black/white thinking of a Borderline, in the 'quiet' times when they're receptive to logic. The self-confident psychopath won't care about any Borderline accusations or insults.

Psychopaths [no fear] aren't bothered about the 'walking on eggshells' aspect of Borderline. And Borderlines usually appreciate the optimism and drive of the psychopath.

The only downside is the abandonment issues of the Borderline, since the psychopath....abandons, eventually. Although if the borderline is 'stabilised' by that point - they usually breathe a sigh of relief as they wave goodbye
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