Personal space and abstract thinking

I noticed a very odd thing yesterday while playing FarmTown on FaceBook…  My issues with having a large personal space, seem to translate to my online avatars.  In FarmTown, you can go to market to sell your produce and see if someone wants to hire you to harvest their crops or plow their fields.  If you’re waiting to be employed, your avatar can be “standing” with a number of other avatars for a period of time.  There is a certain amount of psychology that goes into the strategies behind being hired – the “spammer”, where you repeatedly ask to be hired; the “dancer”, where you move around or get your avatar to dance on the spot; or the “loner”, where you get your avatar in a spot alone so they’re easily noticed.  I’ve always adopted the “loner” strategy, and have always attributed this to my game strategy.  I now realise there might be something more to it.  I can sometimes cope with another avatar being near or overlapping mine for a short period of time, but never long – even my ugly little avatar must have a large personal space.  For those of you who think I’m being cruel about the relative ugliness of the avatar, you obviously haven’t seen FarmTown graphics – they’re UGLY!

I wonder if this is an indication that I’ve been playing the game too long and are therefore personalising it too much, or whether I have extreme boundary issues.  When Carol (previous therapist) asked me about arranging the room in a way that I felt comfortable, we did an exercise about personal space.  In order for us to feel even mildly comfortable, we had to be in one corner of the room and she had to be in the opposite corner.  We would’ve preferred for her to be outside the room, but that wasn’t feasible.  During therapy with Carol, we’d often end up on the floor tucked around behind a cabinet that she had – this was mainly when the young ones were present.  They often felt a need to hide and create physical barriers between us and Carol.  During sessions with Liz when the young ones are present, there is still a pull to sit on the floor in the corner, but we’re too scared to do it in case it makes us look too odd.

We felt that need to sit in the corner today during our session with Liz, Aimee and SO were strongly present and felt like hiding.  It was a rough session in many ways – the main topics of conversation were denial and self-injury.  It brought up a very odd concept of how to cope with the denial.  We’d tried to construct a basic timeline of events to try and create some order out of the memories, but had found it too difficult to write them down.  We got about four events written, but then the derealisation started.  As this way of coping and “getting the memories out” hadn’t worked, Liz suggested something which is too bizarre for my very literal brain – think the memories or whatever is bothering me onto a piece of paper, fold it up and give it to Liz to keep.  This will mean that we don’t have to worry about those pieces of information again as they are being kept safe and separate from us.  To us this didn’t make sense…  How do you “think” something onto a piece of paper without writing it down?  How does giving Liz that piece of paper signify anything?  It was all too abstract and alternative for our very concrete, narrow way of thinking.

A therapist once told us that our education was lacking because we hadn’t studied any of the Arts.  That’s true, we don’t understand the beauty in art, music or philosophy.  In many ways we deliberately avoid studying them, because if the intellectuals amongst us get hold of the ideas they have this tendency to strip away the magic and enjoyment.  So we take photos because they’re fun… we listen to Beethoven, Foo Fighters, Brooke Fraser or any music because it moves us at the time… But when it comes to having to think through an abstract idea, we need the intellectual ones to come on board with some assistance.  This is fine, unless they get faced with something which they can’t dissect or reason through logically, then it sort of gets lost in their cynicism…


6 thoughts on “Personal space and abstract thinking

  1. That’s an interesting idea that Liz suggested. Do you think there would be any value to trying it, in case it makes sense to a part of yourself who isn’t uppermost when you consider it?

    I think the idea is sort of like writing with invisible ink — whoever holds the memories puts the on paper, but those who might not be ready to accept the information don’t have to see it.

    • I think there is merit to the idea David, but I’m not sure if it’s something we can do. We seem to have a belief that if it isn’t visible, it doesn’t exist. We once did a drawing in therapy that Liz asked us if we wanted to destroy, but we just turned the piece of paper over and it was “gone”. I think the young ones can be quite literal as well.

      I don’t think it’s a problem with the technique as such, more about my inability to grasp onto it in a meaningful way. It could also be helping ones that I’m not aware of, I don’t know.

      Take care,

  2. Well, your description of Farmville, which I see many people play on FB, makes me, well, not want to play. But I do understand the broader point you were making about spaces. All my prior therapists were real sticklers about space: maintaining proper space and not crossing any boundaries.

    Funny because the new therapist (of 1+ years) sits quite close to me (for one thing her office is kind of small, plus unusually cluttered). I find this huge reassuring and comforting. It probably wouldn’t work with someone else, but I totally trust her and so do most all of my young parts.

    It’s also funny because I know that in the past we had the urge to hide in corners. But with the current therapist we don’t. Instead she will hold my hands sometimes and reassure. From this experience, I now don’t understand why all prior therapists had such a hands-off approach. I can understand if someone is triggered. But with me that was not the case. I don’t understand it because most healing professions are about touch and closeness. I mean you don’t go to a medical doctor for a physical and have him/her sit on the opposite side of the room, right?

    I think your experience of derealisation was important and not surprising. I think as you went to write the events down, there was an internal response inside (which was not denial) and it played out in the derealisation. I wouldn’t say it “hadn’t worked”. I find that it’s best to try to keep going. I know that sounds contrarian and a bit like torture.

    One way to look at the derealisation response is that it could be said that this is a response mainly of young parts who aren’t directly involved in the behaviors. In that case, something like putting the memories on paper and then in a box would potentially help them. It wouldn’t help the adult parts of you probably. But her suggestion isn’t for that. One thing that is maybe less abstract is to write down something on the paper, then fold it up, or crunch it up and put it in the box. My therapist has done this with me many times. Obviously, for me I find this infantile. But she asks me to indulge her. She claims, based on conversations she has had with younger parts, that things like this do help them.

    I don’t think you give yourself enough credit with the “arts”. You don’t have to study art to do or appreciate art (or music). Many people come back to arts and music, as you are doing. Because you have intellectual parts of you doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to be in that space.

    Hang in there. I’m so glad you are talking about these important issues, and sorry for the long comment.

    • I always appreciate your comments Paul – you have a tendency to be able to see through the waffle I hide behind and get to the real issue.

      I always knew I had issues regarding personal space, but to see them being played out in my online avatar was interesting.

      You mention that your younger parts feel comfortable with your current therapist and it’s my young ones who feel the need to hide from our therapists, this makes me wonder how much of our issues around touch and personal space are driven by these young ones. I can hug someone when Sophie is present, but not when any of the younger ones are present.

      One time the ex-husband tried to show us self-defense techniques – in this case how to escape from someone gripping your wrist. It was terrifying… there was an immediate switch to a young part who screamed and fought to try to escape. It was very much a young ones reaction to try and pry his fingers away from our wrist. It made me sick that we switched to a young one who was so obviously terrified – why couldn’t an adult part do it? But the trigger was set in place for a young one. I wonder if this is the same sort of triggers for any sort of touch.

      I’m slightly envious of your ability to have a healthy form of touch with your therapist (or anyone). It’s not something that I am capable of at the moment. There is a huge amount of healing that can come from a safe touching, I know this intellectually, but can’t bring myself to do anything in a positive way. I know that this is because I feel so dirty, disgusting and am triggered by the idea of being touched.

      It was a struggle to write the four things. I know what you mean about sometimes pushing through things to see if it can break through to a place of clarity or healing, I have done this before. But in this case it was too much. Maybe the next time I try it I’ll be able to go further and be able to let Liz read what is written, I’m not sure.

      I got so caught up in the adult and intellectual ideas about “worry paper/box” that I couldn’t check in with what the younger ones were feeling about it all. M was very present and wondering about Liz’s sanity. We forget that the young ones still have that magical thinking where a blank piece of paper can represent something big, nasty and incommunicable. It’s difficult for Liz as she’s still learning about us all, she can sometimes identify Sophie, Aimee and myself (B). So this means it’s hard for her to tell when a younger one is present who might need to know about the techniques she described.

      We enjoyed the Keeping Score pieces that you referred to in your entry about Beethoven. This helped us understand the music without the analytical ones kicking into gear. Have you ever seen a child sidelined with a sad look on their face as the adult tackled the task of constructing something that the child was enjoying doing themselves? That’s the sort of reaction we have when the intellectuals step in to analyse the work, they strip the fun away from the item and sideline those that were enjoying the experience for the sake of enjoying it. We’d like to know a little more, but just a little… we don’t want to lose that sense of fun and enjoyment 🙂

      Take care,

  3. I also think Liz’s technique is interesting. My therapist told me early on to “stop carrying that sh*t around with you. Park it with me for a while.” But I was similarly unable to do it or grasp the meaning of it. For me it’s like being told to write down all my memories and then burn them. Like that’s gonna fix everything. Take care out there.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with this… I can’t grasp the concept of leaving something with another person. Maybe it’s like the pensieve from Harry Potter – but without the bowl and the magic wands and all the cool fun imagined stuff 🙂

      Take care,

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