Language, Boundaries and Friction
In my last post, I wrote about the language of dissociation, specifically focusing on the issue of names in dissociative identity disorder. That discussion leads me to the issue of language while maintaining healthy personal and public boundaries.
Many years ago, I decided that therapy and the hospital would be the places where I would trust and talk freely about all of myself using whatever language and techniques worked best for me. I decided, and a lot of this was a decision driven by instinct, that when I write publicly and interact with people in my life—including most family and friends—I would be extremely careful about the language I chose to use.
I try to write and communicate with others in such a way that broadly makes sense. I find one important way to destigmatize trauma recovery is to not use language that makes the issue esoteric or unique. I avoid altogether talking publicly, except here and with family, about dissociation. I find it makes me feel safer and less exposed. I have come to terms with the reality that dissociative identity disorder will probably never be understood or accepted without judgment by significant numbers. It will never be seen like cancer and probably never be seen like depression. It will be so strongly stereotyped because so few have direct contact with it. I have no problem with that.
One of the reasons why I started this blog was that I came out publicly when a child sex abuse scandal in our town came to light. I spoke out in the newspaper and as a parent in the community about the issue and came forward as a survivor myself. I did that in a subtle way to lend some credibility to my argument, saying that we all needed to make sure that we appreciate and attend to the plight of the victims. I am now appreciative of the fact that my coming forward changed my path to healing positively. I was careful about what I said, but it helped me to come out of the darkness and changed the dynamic internally. So it taught me a lesson that I could be effective without telling all the details.
I am mostly comfortable with being able to talk in a public language that sounds mostly "generic," but I do it while knowing inside that the reality is often quite a bit more complicated. Nowadays, I often talk with friends and family about "not being connected" or "feeling depressed." I know it sounds like the stuff of life that everyone has to deal with. Of course, on some level it is. And here, while I do often use a more "technical" language, I still am extremely careful about the words I use and what I share.
But, like everything in life, some people's experiences can be more in the extremes. I find that there are safe and not safe—or appropriate and not appropriate—places to talk about some of my more extreme experiences. I do not find it helpful to try to educate everyone in my life about what it is like to have struggle with massive shifts of self or self-harm because people are so affected by stereotypes. And here I am careful, for example, not to delve into details about traumatic memories. For me, that stance is not invalidating. Rather it is a personal stance aimed at helping me feel safe and having boundaries around what I disclose. Perhaps it can be seen as my playing it safe. But, even though it is totally different kettle of fish, I would also not talk to a public audience about the intricate mathematical details of the Lennard-Jones potential in molecular modeling (which is what I do for work).
So, I have these boundaries in place and one may wonder if I am only creating an irreconcilable conflict by having such acceptance in therapy and being so careful about how I present myself outside of therapy. I could imagine these questions of me: If I am able to keep my "outside life" appear relatively normal, then am I only creating imaginary issues in therapy? If I just cut out all that uncomfortable stuff from therapy will my life just be so much easier? Is therapy creating my problems?
Those are all valid questions, and all are questions I have asked myself, over and over, in different ways for two decades. To be honest, this has often been a source of internal conflict and I have addressed some of these conflicts here and in my comments on others' blogs, even very recently. In September, I wrote The Uncertainty Principle. In that post, I wrote about the pitfalls associated with definitive answers to complicated issues. I wrote about how many psychiatric "authorities" can see the same person and draw very different conclusions. I wrote that we must challenge ourselves to ask tough questions, struggle with doubt, and find a way to live with friction.
In some ways, how I work in therapy and how I conduct myself publicly is a measure of this necessary friction. But, as I have said before, it is how we use friction that is important. We can let it become an insurmountable barrier and lead us down a path of a false set of beliefs that, on the surface, feels more comfortable. But I have never found denial to be a long-term solution.
Like I said in the last post, I believe when I talk in a specific language about parts of myself openly in therapy, in the hospital, and in my private journal, and am careful about what I say publicly, I find that is actually an approach helps me to heal.