Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Real You

We tend to regard the self that one shows under provocation, or with a few drinks under the belt, as the "real you" coming out. Yet at the extreme we reject that entirely - what a person does under torture or drugged senseless we don't consider to be their real personality.

If some 80-year-old deacon who always knew he was attracted to children and might become disinhibited with alcohol makes it to his dying day with never the slightest inappropriateness to a child, do we say that his "real" self was a child molester, but it just never came out? I don't think anyone would say so.

Or what if he always knew he had an attraction to other males? I think there are folks who would say he was "really" a gay man.

Decent people wonder if they would be decent in harsh times, or whether they would easily slip into violence and thievery during societal breakdown. We pray we never have to find out. We might pray also that we never have dementia, which would reveal much of what has been on our minds all these years. (I call that "not enough fence to keep the sheep in") Is that, though, the real self?

CS Lewis admonished that we might be giving ourselves credit for cheerful disposition that is largely a result of good digestion, or focused discipline that is due more to our parents' efforts than our own.

We draw a line somewhere, and I don't know how consistent we are. Interesting to contemplate which is the real self among our friends and relatives.


Donna B. said...

Do you really believe that dementia reveals what's been on one's mind all along?

terri said...

I think that if someone has a lifelong, consistent attraction to the same sex, their "real" selves just might be gay.

Or, if they are attracted to children, that their "real" self at least has the potential to be a child molester.

A struggle or inclination like that is something that would shape a person's life in a million ways even if they never act on it. The very fact that they are aware of the attraction and exert effort not to act on it is an acknowledgement of its existence within them.

We are talking about lifelong tendencies, though....not fleeting ideas or phases or weird, freaky dreams. In those cases, I think it's rational for people to push away those thoughts as not really "real" or a part of themselves.

I agree with where Donna's headed about the dementia question. I don;t think that the hostility or frustration or lack of inhibition that those with dementia show is a revealing of what they really think as much as it is parts of their brain dying off and misfiring and mixing things up....not to mention the confusion that elderly patients must feel when the world has changed around them and they don't know where they are or what's going on, or who all these people are that keep bothering them.

I just finished reading Flowers for Algernon which deals with some of these ideas from the standpoint of mental retardation. It follows a man with an IQ of 68 having a and operation which makes him a genius....but only temporarily. As he slips back towards his original state he struggles with trying to decipher who his "real' self is.

The ending made me want to cry.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Donna, not so cleanly as that, no. Dementia doesn't so much strip away what we individually have built up as fences, but what human beings have developed over the centuries. Nonetheless, there are patterns of thought that we install over time, in the context of conscious control. I think those are indeed revealed.

Donna B. said...

"Nonetheless, there are patterns of thought that we install over time, in the context of conscious control. I think those are indeed revealed."

I don't understand... can you give an example?

And if you wouldn't mind, I'd appreciate pointers to reading material on dementia in general. I have always thought that dementia is as terri describes it: "parts of their brain dying off and misfiring and mixing things up..."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

A certain type of person, or a particular topic, may anger us. When dementia is in its early to middle stages, we may be short or rude with them. We may have a technique of raising our voice or even being slightly threatening that becomes more common, or accentuates. We might be miserly and become more so. That sort of thing.

Donna B. said...

Thank you for explaining. That does make sense and fits with what I've observed.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, whenever I appear to be in error, it's just a matter of clarification.

Texan99 said...

""Well, I don't think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error."

I'm reading these posts in reverse order, so I see you're talking here about what I was thinking above.

I'd say a man who was sexually attracted to children all his life and never acted on it is not a pederast but a deeply honorable man who mastered his instincts against powerful odds that the rest of us can scarcely comprehend. In contrast, there's no particular virtue in my avoiding pederasty, any more than there is in my avoiding a gambling habit, because those aren't my Achilles' heels.

The "real you" is only in part about your urges: the greater part is what you do and choose.

terri said...

"I'd say a man who was sexually attracted to children all his life and never acted on it is not a pederast but a deeply honorable man who mastered his instincts against powerful odds that the rest of us can scarcely comprehend."

Yeah...I keep going back and forth on the comment I wrote....partly because of the value judgement with the choices listed. If we didn't believe the choices were "bad" then we wouldn't trouble ourselves with wondering what the particular struggles say about us as people.

I think this is a particular conundrum for christian thought because of the sermon on the mount declaring that our thoughts are as sinful as our actions. So if a man fantasizes about being with children but never acts on it, then he is condemned in some way...and yet that doesn't seem quite right, does it?

I don't there any way to even know what a "real self" is?

What's the "real self" of a mentally disabled person?

What is the real self of sober alcoholic? Even after 20 years sober committed AA members think of themselves as "alcoholics"...but are they?

I think this question of what exactly we mean by "real self" is a mystery to religion and science, both.

Texan99 said...

But is the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount really that our thoughts are as sinful as our actions? Deliberately indulging a sinful fantasy is something I can accept as a sin, but a persistent intrusive temptation, steadfastly resisted, is not. Jesus was tempted, but did not sin.

This is different from acknowledging that one's state of mind or intentions are important in the meaning of one's act.

terri said...

I don't know. ;-)

I have a hard time understanding how a person could "struggle" with same-sex attraction, or being sexually attracted to children without there being an element of indulged fantasy. I mean, if there is no sexual fantasy, then what are we really talking about?

Someone who merely prefers the company of men(or women), with no sexual thoughts in the forefront of that preference, or a man who just really likes children and finds them beautiful in a non-sexual way isn't what we are talking about here.

My personal experience in dealing with "struggles" in my head is that the more importance I give the unwanted thought, the stronger it becomes. Fighting against it can almost make it overwhelmingly powerful as opposed to acknowledging the thought, dismissing it as unwanted and a conjuring of my brain that needn't be listened to or assumed to be a real part of me.

That's worked for me, personally...but I could see how trying to implement an "ignore the bad thoughts" therapy could be downright dangerous for some people and situations.

I think the local psychiatrist should weigh in with answers! ;-)


Isn't this the kind of thing that some your patients must figure out when they are dealing with their mental health issues...what is "them" and what is their "disease/condition/issue"?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Well, I'm not a psychiatrist, and I don't "do therapy" in the way we usually think of it. But I think your general sense of things is correct: doing battle is a way of giving something a place in your life. Consciously not thinking about something is a way of letting it go. The old idea of "dealing" with something always left unanswered the question of what the verb "deal" actually means, beyond "give space in your head to."

As for self-understanding, most things are not cured by understanding them, but are understood only well after the cure.