I used to know my personality, but now I can’t get my head around it

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so.

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so. Problem is, I couldn’t explain why in short sentences. I mentioned it had to do with anxiety and fear, but these feelings are only the result of something deeper.

Introversion

I am an introverted person. I have always been. It’s not the result of dysphoria, depression or any condition I may be in. It’s not a problem either. We can’t state that enough. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, to try to conceal or beat yourself out of it, even if modern western societies are custom-made for extroverted people. It’s just a type of personality, and it’s a spectrum (like everything with personality). You may be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between. As soon as you figure out where you are in the spectrum, it’s easier to know what to look for in your social life.

For my part, I’m super introverted. I won’t say that I have one leg over the edge, but I’m pretty sure I fall outside the standard deviation. It took time for me to realise that, although, to be honest, it was painfully obvious. Socially, it has a huge implications. I can’t maintain a lot of relationships simultaneously, because I need to be deeply invested in the ones I have. If I don’t have deep relationships, I can go into depression. It has been a real struggle when I was living in Vancouver, since it was a real challenge to make any connection, let alone meaningful ones (and thanks Ashley and Bria for being there, you’ve made every moment spent with you worth it).

But one thing really changed since last year. You know it: I started a gender transition, and whereas before transition, I could easily judge how to position myself around people, now I am totally lost. And it was even worse in Vancouver, where people are really good at treating you with some kind of benevolent hypocrisy.

Making relationships through a different gender

It would be a lie to say that by observing how women live and by talking with them for years, I could be prepared to what was going to happen to me. But it is not even relevant, since people don’t behave around me like I’m a woman anyway. Of course, some try, because they want to be respectful, but in the end, they just behave like I am transgender. I know there is a difference because I spent many nights alone at bars and I have yet to get a free drink.

So not only I am not sure how people would react to me if they were seeing me as a woman, but it’s totally impossible to know how anyone would react out of the blue seeing that I am transgender (most people still only see a man with long hair). I don’t know if the person will be open-minded or a heartless bigot. Then, when I find a person who is nice enough to actually want to pursue a conversation, I realise that I don’t even know how I will react.

Neurocognitive studies have showed that mimicry and empathy are innate features helping people connect and share emotions. But I lost both to some extend. I used to be very good at understanding people and adapt to them when needed, but in the past year, I had to force myself to act differently, to erase years of conditioning, which caused interferences when interacting with people. Since I was around 20, I started to reinforce habits to counteract my dysphoric feelings (or however I thought about it back then), which caused me to become a person I really didn’t like. Now I feel stuck with those habits, and although I am working at erasing them from my behaviour, they tend to come back when I start feeling confident or close to someone. And it scares the hell out of me.

Dating with the fear of showing the wrong side of me

I stated above that we have as many sides as we have relationships, because we adapt our behaviour to our interlocutor, but it’s more like tweaking our personality to make our interaction seamless with one another (and we generally have a threshold until which we accept to malleable, after what we have an opposite reaction).

In that regard, I now have two sides of my personality: the shy woman who tries to get by in her new situation, and the douchy man who is getting murdered and left behind in a ditch, but who tends to make himself remembered at the worst moment, when things are getting serious. And my fear is just that. Having G. come in and reclaim the attention. And it happens. Often. If I am with a friend, after some time I go back again to the way I used to talk. If I end up in a party with many people, which happened a few days ago, I will have reactions that I totally hate because it reminds me of the person I used to be (1).

And since I am not stupid, I know it will happen during a date, and I just can’t take the chance.

A quick note on speed-dating

So, take all of that, the introversion, the transitioning, and the morphing personality, shake it thoroughly and splash it all on my face, and you will have an idea of how I will behave if I was thrown into the pit with countless women, as open-minded or inclusive as they may be. I think I would end up with a panic attack/nervous breakdown. I had some for less than that, some of which are even recorded on this website.

In these circumstances, speed dating is really not an option for me right now. It’s doesn’t help that I’m a very casual person, and going to a highly codified type of event is not really for my taste, even just for fun. I am much rather the kind of girl who like to meet up in a cool bar with some finger food and a drink, and have a chill and fun conversation. Maybe I will look very traditional by saying that I am rather looking at developing a friendship that can expand to something bigger, than jumping straight into bed.

I should make a topic about it, but long story short, I need to build a trusting relationship before going any further, and from what you’ve just read about my personality, I am sure you understand by now that I can’t get to trust someone enough in 5 min to think ahead.

That’s it for now, but since you diligently read until here, I will share with you the song I was listening to while I was finishing writing this article:

 


(1) OMG! I even did a quick mansplaning (transplaining?) on someone who is 10 times smarter (at least) than I am. I’m so ashamed of that. When I realised a moment later, I wished life as we know it stopped. Yes, I’m over-dramatic like that.

Empathy, empathy, why do you make me cry!

It looks like a movie review at first, but the real subject actually starts at the second paragraph.

If anyone had told me that I would have like The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I probably would have thrown a sarcastic comment and laughed. But I did like it. It’s not an awesome movie, and it is boring at times (especially the action scenes), but it is far better than the Vol. 1 in my opinion. Well, not every one thinks the same way of course, and every one looks for something different when watching a film, but while the first film was desperately trying to convince me that those pathetic losers could eventually get along and save the galaxy, the second one had a real topic and a real reason to make them fight together (and save the galaxy again). I liked that they tell us that the real family is the people who raised you and put up with your bullshit all along, not the stupid genetic relationship that doesn’t mean crap when you get abandoned. It’s a good conclusion and that convinced me that it was trying to tell something.

Aaaanyway, that was a small review, but now I wanna go into the real topic of the day: empathy. And you ask me, “what does it have to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”? Well, because of this character:

mantis

Empathy is the capacity to recognise and feel emotions in other people. And that’s what Mantis does. When she touches someone, she instantly feels what the subject is feeling, whether she wants it or not. It’s important to note, because in my opinion, that’s the detail that made this character so great. She is the empathy that exists between the crew members, but that they don’t want to accept.

I felt it was so well thought and put onto images in such a beautiful way, that I could relate so much to that feeling. Empathy is something that is crippling if you lack it or have too much of it. If you lack empathy, you end up having a behaviour that is not adapted to living in a society, because, either you don’t recognise what people feel, or it doesn’t affect you. If you have too much empathy, you just end up living on a roller coaster of emotion. Usually, people don’t have the same level of empathy with every one. Some will feel strongly for their family or friend, and not care at all for strangers. But some just don’t have any boundary: everything comes in, whether you want it or not, and most often, you’d rather not.

You would think that you can never have too much empathy, but it becomes a problem when you feel bad even when people are wrong. For example, if someone is sad, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, you get sad too. I want to point out this fact because I feel it’s freaking important: you don’t just recognise the sadness, you actually feel sad. It’s depressive, really. Worse, if they’re angry at you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel bad about it. And if someone is happy about something you did, but you didn’t do it (and you know it), you feel guilty. You feel like lying. There is no way to win. I never lie because of that. I can be a very convincing liar if I want to, but it’s just not emotionally worth it.

So what does one do to protect themselves against this phenomenon? Simply, they shield themselves. They try to avoid other people’s emotion by convincing themselves that they don’t feel them. I won’t go into it because I already explained it in this post.

I hate it when someone is angry at me even thought I haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes, they’ve done me wrong, and I still feel bad about them being angry at me. Sometimes, I just want to apologise for nothing just to let steam go and get back to an almost normal state of living. But it’s not fair. Why would someone who’s being a dick and angry at me get away with me actually apologising for it? I used to respond by being aggressive, but we all know it doesn’t work. It’s just making things worse. To be honest, so far, I haven’t found a better solution to the problem than avoiding the distressing people/stimuli altogether. If someone is pissing me off for no reason, I’ll just ignore them and try to focus on something else, because I don’t see why I should get all the trouble when I didn’t do anything wrong.

Now the movie doesn’t give any answer to that question, because it’s not the point of the film. It’s just trying to tell that they should stick together, and Mantis’ role in all this is to make them recognise that they have feelings for each other and that they’re not just a bunch of low-life criminals randomly put together anymore. But what it does is really well done, and I felt like it was worth mentioning because when I see reviews of this film, I only see people praising the entertainment and the action (seriously, action scenes in this film are pointless and boring, come on), and completely ignore the topic of the film and that kind of details. And that makes me somehow sad.

 

Emotional Wasteland; how to tear down the stronghold defence

I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them.

[…]

I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them. And as I pointed out in my previous post, it becomes problematic when it builds up and I can’t see the threshold being atomised. I should be able to identify the early signs of distress and take preventive action, or at least prepare my defence. But to know why I have so much problems with this now, I have to come back years and years before.

When I was in middle school, I was quick to cry for any stupid thing. And when you grow up as a boy, your peers are quick to shame you for being so emotional. Heck, in the 90’s, even the girls were shaming you for that by calling you… a girl (not sure that changed actually, but I’m not in middle school anymore). After that, high school was a boring hell hole where every one but me was in a group, I started my college years with my first big “romantic” deception, I’ve been mugged a couple times, and by the time I was 20, I was fed up of being emotional and victimised. So, I basically decided to change all of that, trying to be more the person that people want you to be. But it turns out, when people want you to conform, they don’t mean that you should behave like a cold anti-social butthole.

After a few years of being like this, and refusing to feel anything, or to be vulnerable in front of someone, your body gradually accept the changes, and stop giving you any warning signs. You live like nothing can get to you. It’s boring, and lonely, but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds, because your body stopped giving a rat’s ass about your feelings anyway. But, of course, it’s only illusion. If you have as much empathy as I do, you can understand how this wall is just a prank your mind loves to play on you, and all those feelings build up until the illusion crumbles and you as well.

And that’s where the weirdest thing happens. You would think that after a breakdown, you’d get a wake-up call and decide that all this was a terrible way to deal with your problem, and you should start working on it but no, you just go full 2nd amendment on it and you decide that you need more of your stupid idea to protect yourself. Mix it and shake it for a few years, and here you go, you built yourself a gigantic fortress full of cracks and, ironically, you end up an inmate in a prison you designed. And it’s the kind of prison where you can smuggle anything in, but nothing comes out. So you keep feeling, but to other people, you still look like a cold anti-social butthole.

Jump-cut to 2015: Crap! I’m transgender. I knew it already (1), but hey, now it’s messing with my sanity, so I really need to do something about it. My shrink tries to break into my defence, but she does that by finding workarounds. Bad luck, my wall is designed against that kind of evasive action. However I realise it fails in the face of direct action. Who would have known? I’ve always been honest, and somehow I was always waiting for someone to notice and reach out. So ask me a question bluntly, I will answer the same way, try to go around, I can play for hours, and we’ll both waste time.

So I realise that I need to let my guard down, but I have two problems: first I can’t just withdraw everything because, since I’ve now come out as transgender, I shifted in a particularly unsafe category of people, and I need to be careful. And second, I forgot what feelings feel. As I said, my body stopped warning me, so I have no idea what to let through, because I don’t receive relevant emotional inputs. I only know when it’s too late, and that puts me in annoying or embarrassing situations, to say the least.

So now I am trying to dismantle that wall, but it’s really complicated. It’s a piece-by-piece project. I need to really think about what constitutes a feeling and how it is supposed to trigger me. To give a bold example, when I experience something that is supposed to be sad, I have to tell myself that it is sad, and I know that an appropriate response to that feeling is crying. So I may try to force myself to cry. Think it’s messed up? I actually do it for real. I have some cues that gives me the tears right up. It’s kind of a cheap trick, but after learning some basic neuroscience, I realise that it’s a good way to reinforce a behaviour (2).

However it’s a very long process. It’s not a one-off thing. You don’t get it when you do it once. It’s like any other trained behaviour, it only reinforces when you do it enough times that it becomes natural (like driving, or flipping crèpes without folding them). And most often, you forget to do it because you’re too busy already to notice the stimulus. So I’m in for years and years of remediation. Hopefully, I’ll be prepared when Death comes knocking at my door. So when He says “I DON’T HAVE ALL DAY, ARE YOU READY YET?”, I can say proudly “I saw that coming!”

 

 

(1) Actually I knew since I was about 15, without really putting words onto it. But society puts so much pressure on you to conform that it’s really hard to accept it, or to find help. Especially back in the 90’s when Internet wasn’t yet the go-to place to find useful information. And as my friend Bria says: 

 

(2) There are some stimuli that have never failed to make me cry, and I think it’s because of some things I cared for when I was a kid, like the dog my family used to have. Shit, just writing about him gives me tears. And it actually makes me cry every time something sad happens to a pet (and that’s why I have a hard time with animal deaths in movies). So thinking about this when another supposedly sad stimuli comes up helps associate the response to the stimuli. And then it reinforces by itself, since crying when the stimuli happens makes me realise that the stimuli is something sad.