A heart unfortified

I’m not afraid of being vulnerable, nor of people knowing about it. What I am afraid of is losing control. Not relinquishing control – I’m comfortable with that – but losing it, either so slowly I hardly notice it at first or all at once like a blow to the back of the head.

It scares the shit out of me. I’ve come close more than a few times and it’s like having something inside me that just won’t stop fucking screaming and I need to get it out or kill the fucking maniac in order to hear my own thoughts again.

I already have barely a tenuous grasp on my sense of identity; I’m vaguely aware of the something inside me that keeps me connected to what I perceive as my self, but the concept of a ‘self’ isn’t a simple one even without my personal confusion added to the mix. Losing control means losing what little connection I have to the personal identity I don’t fully understand in the first place. I just fall apart without knowing how to pull myself together again.

But I’m not afraid to talk about it. I don’t want to avoid thinking about it. My vulnerability is not a facade, but it isn’t hidden under layers of bravado and denial either. Deep down I am vulnerable, but I’m also pretty fucking strong with it. I’m not afraid of being hurt, even though it occurs frequently and easily, and is sometimes nothing more than a misunderstanding or a product of my imagination.

The thing is, you can’t destroy me that way. You can break my heart, humiliate me, force me into hiding or run me out-of-town, make me question my sense of worth and my sanity… you can even leave me so unable to cope that I end up at the brink of self-destruction. Yet, in spite of all of that, and in spite of the fact that I often find myself unable to fight back, I can take all the punches you throw until you wear yourself out and then I’ll dust myself off and walk away.

My vulnerability is my strength. You can drive me to the brink but I’ll hitch a ride back eventually. Not to be all emo about it, but I know a thing or two about getting hurt and I know it’s going to take more than some soul-crushing heartbreak to ever really beat me. I don’t enjoy the pain, mind you – although it has a weird addictive side to it. There’s something about extremes – any extreme – that makes you feel truly alive. Hurt feelings are just fleeting, flirting with trauma.

This all sounds contradictory. I apologise. I’m still trying to work it all out.

The point is, I’m not scared of being honest about all the shitty stuff because I’ve already lived through it and felt the pain firsthand. You can’t really hurt me by trying to use this against me because I have already lived it. You might as well give me a photocopy of a photograph of a screenshot of a tweet that compares my face to that of a sloth or an ugly flamingo. The attack is too diluted to be effective, much in the same way that trying to rub my past in my face by reminding me of it will never be as distressing as the pain was in the moment itself.

Not everyone is like this. I get that. Some people can’t bear to be perceived as having any kind of weakness. I’ve given up trying to hide my vulnerability because there have been too many instances where I have been unable to conceal it. The worst has already happened, so that vulnerability has become a kind of defence mechanism. There’s no danger of my past being used against me or of someone discovering that I am not who I appear to be. I display it freely, safe in the knowledge that by doing so I am draining it of some of its power.

I wrote before about the theory of boundaries of the mind. These boundaries are part of almost every aspect of the self: we have emotional boundaries, boundaries to do with memories, sexual boundaries, interpersonal boundaries, etc. It’s not boundaries in the sense of ‘this is where I draw the line’, but how thick or thin that ‘line’ is. A person with thick boundaries is said to have very delineated traits – ‘black and white’ thinking, a strong sense of identity, ability to focus and not get lost in thinking about the past or daydreaming. Thin boundaries are, obviously, associated with traits from the other end of the spectrum: difficulty focusing, becoming unstuck in time, problems differentiating between (day)dreams and real life, and blurred emotional and sexual boundaries.

What I find quite interesting is that people with thicker boundaries tend to be more likely to rely on defence mechanisms to protect themselves from emotional distress, such as isolating their feelings in order to keep them separate from their thoughts, or the repression of unwanted memories.

I don’t think I have very thick boundaries. I’ll give someone an ‘accidental’ elbow if they intrude too far into my personal space but I live in my head and my emotions are less isolated and more advertised. My defence mechanism is torturing myself to the point where I can withstand more pain than anyone else is capable of inflicting.

How shit is that?

I can’t even understand how one would go about separating their thoughts from their emotions. If I’m upset and I try not to think about it then I just think about it even more and get even more upset. Suffering through it is much… better? That’s not the right word. But at least by obsessing over it, I’m dealing with it. It’s a useless shitty way of dealing with it, but at least it isn’t going to reappear and surprise me into an unintended meltdown when I least expect it.

But what of repressed memories? What difference is there between walling off painful memories so that they can no longer be accessed, and the inability to recall a traumatic event due to a dissociative episode during the event itself? Both are defence mechanisms, both are ‘designed’ (for want of a better word) to shield the psyche from the pain of recalling an unwanted memory, both ultimately achieve the same result. However, ‘walling off’ and ‘isolating’ sound like deliberate, useful acts, whereas ‘dissociation’ sounds like your brain got the fuck out and abandoned you whilst the traumatic event was taking place. Is that the case? If so, what of the act of recovering those memories? Where are they? How exactly do you get them back in either circumstance?

Of course, dissociation is a ‘disruption’ or – in extreme cases – a ‘disorder’. Perhaps it has nothing to do with boundaries at all. But then why are people with thicker boundaries in relation to memories not considered to be disordered as well? If you are a person with thicker boundaries, doesn’t the fact that you have to bury your memories so deep that they are impossible to connect to not scare the hell out of you? Why are you unable to look at the past and let yourself feel that knot in your stomach and allow the sensations of longing and heartbreak and nostalgia and loss – not to mention any positive emotions you have buried alongside them – wash over you and overwhelm you with emptiness and hopelessness and the feeling that your life is slipping away uncontrollably and you’re probably never going to make sense of any of it?

I’m kidding. I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to do that.

But maybe now you understand why I don’t consider my vulnerability to be a weakness at all. I deliberately force myself to think about the past. I relive my traumas and feel the pain and despair from being broken by the world all over again, going over the broken places that might one day be stronger if only I figure out how to let them heal.

And then I turn it off.
Because I can.
Because the misery that you are unable to bear is the same misery that makes me truly invulnerable.

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