Writing as introspection

Blogging has always been in some form or another a kind of introspection for me.  I never wrote for an audience, I wrote for myself.  It was all about finding a way to understand and explain myself to me, dig into my life, my feelings deeper.

More recently, I’ve found interesting parallels in my fiction writing.  By interesting I mean borderline scary.

Several months ago I went to see a therapist for the first time.  It’s something that I’d wanted to do for a while, I hoped that it would be like an interactive form of writing…  me finding ways to explain things to someone else (like writing) but then having that person ask questions that might give me another perspective in a safe environment.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I take my anonymity, my secrets, quite seriously.  The only way I could really talk to someone about anything, everything honestly was in a situation where I could trust their discretion.

Well, therapy was almost a waste of time.  The biggest reason I’d hesitated so long before finding a therapist was because I’m a smart, well read, intellectual individual (humble too) and I knew I’d need someone smarter than me to really get anywhere.  I know all that sounds strange but I’m really good at reading people, at finding patterns, at predicting and analyzing behavior.  If I was better at analyzing the therapist than they were at analyzing me it’d be like going to a financial adviser who was broke.  They might have an odd tip that helps but overall it would mostly be a waste of time.  I hope that explanation makes sense.

Anyway, this therapist was the type that I’d been so worried about, I didn’t see her for very long.    She was a ditz, everything about her was awkward, I could read her like an open book and easily anticipate where she was taking the conversation and why.  She didn’t ask the right questions, she didn’t push me in any way shape or form.

The reason I said it was almost a waste of time was that she introduced a new perspective to a subject that I hadn’t considered.  She asked about the novel I was writing.

As soon as she asked the question I understood where she was going.  She wanted to see what my writing would tell her about my mind, what I was thinking and feeling.  If you look at a novel like a psychologist might, it can tell you a lot about the writer.  Maybe not the specific story line or plot, but the recurring themes, the mood, the interactions between the characters, etc.

I’d analyzed writers like that often, though usually through blog posts or emails rather than novels, but as soon as my therapist asked that question it clicked.  I’d analyzed other writers through their work but never looked at my own in the same way.  All she had to do was ask and it was like the floodgates opened up in my head, all the little connections started being made.

I started reading my novel like I knew she would and what I found was scary.  There were all sorts of things in the novels and stories I’d been writing that reflected my own life, my mind, in ways that I’d never realized or intended.  My subconscious reaching through to tweak the words.  In that particular novel the main character was intensely lonely, isolated, but trying to play it off as though nothing was wrong.  He felt like a monster and that keeping himself away from the people he cared about was the only way to protect them.  That wasn’t something I’d planned to include in the story when it started but the more I wrote the more it came through.  All things that I hadn’t realized until I looked the story the way she might and saw how many reflections there were and how accurate at the time.

As someone who values his privacy, almost obsesses over it actually, my control over information and how people perceive me (anonymous blog, anyone?), it bothered me how much of myself went into some of the things I’d been writing without even knowing it.  But then, to some degree or another, isn’t that was every writer does?

Now, I read everything I write more carefully, fiction or non, not to censor it but to better understand myself and where my head is at.

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11 thoughts on “Writing as introspection

  1. Johnny, I’m sorry that your experience in therapy was a (near) bust, but remember that one (or a few bad experiences) with therapy, do not a bad profession make. I find therapy to be an intensely gratifying experience and an amazing way to learn more about yourself, the programming you’ve inherited and how to break free.

    You wrote: “the main character was intensely lonely, isolated, but trying to play it off as though nothing was wrong. He felt like a monster and that keeping himself away from the people he cared about was the only way to protect them.” This resonated with me. I absolutely feel this way in intimate relationships. What is this feeling? Why do we feel it? Where does it come from?

    • I don’t have a problem with the idea of therapy, as far as I’m concerned it’s along the same lines as a counselor, a priest, or even just a good friend. Talking things out, especially with someone who has some training can definitely be a good thing. I just know myself well enough that I could see the many potential pitfalls of seeing one myself, it didn’t surprise me at all that it didn’t work out with the first one I tried. If I had the patience (and time and energy) to keep looking I’m sure I could find the right one for me. Unfortunately that isn’t the case.

      As far as the quote, I’m sure most of us feel that way at some point in our lives. If I was going to go all analytical (which I often do), I would say that it’s probably based in the most primal part of our brain. Studies have shown that emotional/mental pain is routed through our brains in almost the exact same way that physical pain is. So, someone in mental anguish can react much like an injured animal. They tend to want to be alone, lick their wounds, they don’t want to be touched, and often lash out at those trying to help them. Ie. feeling like a monster and pushing people away to protect them. That means to me that when we feel that way we probably have some pain going on that needs to be addressed, not ignored, before we can move on. My .02. 🙂

      • Yikes! That is a meaty response. This is absolutely what I do. Glad to know I am still operating from the reptilian part of my brain. Fuck me to hell…will I ever NOT be in pain? Jesus Christ….

      • A meaty response, yes. This is one of the subjects that fascinates and intrigues me, the way our brain works and the how/why of our behavior. So many people just kind of wander through life without ever wondering why they do the things they do.

        Two things come to mind when I read your comment, Buddhism and Maslow.

        Have you ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a fascinating theory that, to me, makes a lot of sense when applied to most of our behaviors (it was originally to explain motivation but I think it applies far more widely). Essentially, we have layers of needs from the most basic to the most lofty. The needs HAVE to be met from the bottom to the top. Most of the time that I see people frustrated for long periods of time, they keep trying to achieve the higher goals and happiness but are failing because there is some deficiency lower on the pyramid that they haven’t addressed or are trying to ignore (bottle up). Until that deficiency is addressed progress can’t be made.

        Buddhism applies at this point because we often can’t see our own deficiencies or issues. We often blame our problems on outside sources, but honestly those are the easiest to move past because we can’t change them. It’s the things we can affect but don’t that really trip us up, whether or not we realize that’s what’s happening. Reading the books by the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism’s quest to find the deepest truth in every situation, really helped me identify the things that I didn’t realize I was doing. It gave me a different perspective that really helped (the same reason that talking to a therapist helps so many people).

      • My questions to you would be are you sure it’s in safety? What part of safety? How are you sure? What is it that scares you?

        I have no shortage of deficiencies. most of which fall into the belonging category.

      • I believe it is in safety because it is the precursor to belonging. I do not feel like I belong because I do not feel safe where I am. Maybe if I felt safe I could be more vulnerable in my relationships?

      • Okay, so what is it that undermines your sense of safety? What is it that makes the ground under your feet feel shaky?

        I think that’s probably true, if you felt safe you probably could be comfortable enough to open up in your relationships.

      • This lack of safety has only manifested itself in my marriage. It is rooted in my difficulty with speaking up (rooted in the way this was handled in my childhood home). When I have pushed past my fear of speaking up, my feelings have been dismissed and my weaknesses manipulated to achieve the desired response. I am learning that I am in control, that I can give myself the safety that I need, but I have to be willing and strong enough to set firm boundaries. It is incredibly difficult and an ongoing process. It’s hard to trust someone who has caused so much hurt, and by that I mean myself. I abandoned my own needs. Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself?

      • Okay, I let all this roll around in my head a bit before trying to come up with a response. It got a lot more convoluted and complicated than I thought it would, so with your permission I’d like to do a whole post sometime in the next couple days. 🙂

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