Silenced Inner Critic

January 5, 2007 at 3:12 am 3 comments

When I try to think about feelings or emotions I get stuck on the meaning of the words I’m trying to use. Since my inner critic faded into angry silence, I don’t have the benefit of his advice. The inner critic no longer rants about what a horrible, worthless person I am. I can comfortably think that I’m a good, kind, sympathetic person who genuinely helps others when I can, and there’s no screaming child contradicting me. It’s true. It’s true to me. And it doesn’t matter. Because even though I intellectually know that I don’t deserve to be hurt and punished, even though I don’t cut myself as retribution for my failures, I still behave as if I do. Just because there’s nobody telling me what a worthless loser I am, not even myself, doesn’t mean I’m not.

Losing my inner critic and his lies doesn’t mean I’m better, it just means I don’t know why the fuck I’m feeling bad. When I cut, I cut because that’s the only thing that makes sense for me at that moment. I buy razorblades, checking two different supermarkets for them, without ever adding them to my shopping list. It’s not a conscious decision. I don’t want to die because I hate myself, I want to die so that I can escape the wreck that the self-hating, self-pitying, currently-mute bastard inside me has made my life.

It’s not quite alexithymia, but sometimes it’s close.

I’m perfectly capable of recognising emotions. I can talk about my feelings. What I can’t do is explain the causes of them. The inner dialogue, as fucked up as it was, no longer informs me. But it’s still there. Occasionally I catch it whispering; like when I’m looking in a mirror, and suddenly, randomly, I’m scowling at my reflection, hissing “dumb fucking cunt” and trying not to punch the glass. It doesn’t happen every time I look in a mirror. It doesn’t even happen often.

And so I get confused and tripped up by the meaning of words. Do I feel guilty? Well no, I seem to have behaved in a way that shows integrity and principles. Then why are you quietly saying “I’m sorry” over and over? I don’t know. Do I deserve to be hurt? No, I’ve not done anything bad that would merit punishment. Then why haven’t you ever felt any anger towards the stranger who attacked you on New Year’s Eve a few years back? I don’t know.

It gets complicated. I feel lost in the feelings that I don’t seem to have. Feelings are hard enough to understand when they make sense. And I wonder, when I was a teenager, did I come to rely on the inner critic too much? Did I forget how to construct my own narrative to explain my feelings? Did I get too good at constantly hiding the emotions that were ripping me apart?


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sisiphus  |  January 5, 2007 at 5:21 am

    You mentioned in a previous post that you didn’t think that psychotherapy was helpful for you…I seem to remember, but correct me if I am wrong. Here in this post you say that at times you liken your inability to describe how you feel to alexithymia. I don’t think that there is much evidence from your posts so far (and bear in mind that I only know you from your posts) that you have alexithymia. I hope for your sake, that you don’t, but those who suffer from severe depression and certain other disorders certainly frequently feel numb enough that they cannot express their feelings. If your current emotional situation is caused by a severe and chronic depression, then I hope that you are given the appropriate treatment for it quickly. This would likely include medication. I say likely, because there is another treatment for severe depression and there are other treatments that help as adjuncts, but I’m not going to go into those here – that is for your mental health workers to discuss.
    If you are having so much difficulty expressing the emotions you feel you should have had or currently have, then psychotherapy, in paticular cognitive behavioural or dialectical behaviour therapy would be of some use. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it based on a previous experience that was perhaps an unfortunate one. The latter, DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) has been pioneered by Linehan and has good results when used by a skilled therapist in patients who have Borderline Personality Disorder. These latter group of people are also unable to express their emotions in the “normal” way that most people take for granted, and they also frequently find that self-injury such as cutting, is a way of dealing with their emotions. But the use of DBT is not limited to Borderline Personality Disorder. It has other uses as well, such as for people with alexithymia and difficulty expressing emotions. The problem is that there are not that many skilled therapists who are also skilled (or even knowledgeable) in DBT. CBT is the next best thing, then, but just as you get good and bad nurses, doctors and any other health care professional, you can also get good and bad psychotherapists. (Not forgetting the middle ground that all mentioned can occupy).
    It is interesting that there are mood swings, often rapid and frequent in people with borderline personality disorder. Mood swings also occur in cyclothymia, another category in personality ‘disorders’. The former is often tagged with prejudice, whilst the latter is not. I mention this, because you have also spoken of your mood swinging suddenly, in your past posts. If you have a borderline personality disorder, then the good news is that there is growing body of evidence to suggest that it is a disorder that is ameliorated with time, despite any therapy given in the meanwhile.It is also possible to have not one, but two or more diagnoses going on at the same time. Those with borderline personalities can also suffer from severe depression.
    I suppose what I am trying to say is that there are a number of reasons for why you might be experiencing the problems you speak of, and that only your professional health workers can decide what is best for you and why you might be experiencing these difficulties. However, don’t be too quick to dismiss a “talking” therapy. If one therapist doesn’t help you can always ask to see a different one or ask about some of the alternative therapies, like DBT.
    I really hope that you find the help that you need to overcome your difficulties and pain. I sincerely hope that it does not take a long time under the NHS. You’ve done well to continue as you have done until now. You come across as being intelligent and determined and it would be a great pity if you could not live your life to the fullest of your abilities because of a lack of help from what used to be the pride of the UK, the NHS. I hope that my attempts to help in my replies to your posts, are helpful and that I am not a cause for further distress. It is difficult to give my opinion (for that is only what it is) when I have not met you and your posts and my replies are limited by the internet.
    Should you feel that this reply isn’t helpful or appears to miss your point, then feel free to delete it. I will not take offence. Incidentally, I am curious about your choice of blog name. Was there a reason for calling yourself ‘Mischeivous Chimp’?

    Take care,

  • 2. sisiphus  |  January 5, 2007 at 5:27 am

    Sorry, I meant Experimental Chimp! I am tired and am prey to human fallibility. Forgive the slip.

  • 3. experimental chimp  |  January 5, 2007 at 6:41 am

    Sisiphus – your replies are always helpful and interesting. I’m not taking them as medical advice, so don’t worry about being limited by this internet thing. But since you do have lots of experience and knowledge that I don’t, it’s useful as a pointer to things I haven’t considered and where I should do more research, and also to help me clarify my own thoughts. And it’s nice to know that someone’s reading and cares enough to be supportive. So, thank you.

    I think one of the reasons I don’t think talking therapies would be helpful for me is that I’m quite a self-contained person. I’ve never found that talking about my problems with other people has helped. It’s not something that I seek out.

    The counselling I had before (a total of three sessions) was completely useless. I’m fairly sure that counselling isn’t going to help me. I’m not still hung up on the things that seemed important when I was a teenager. I’ve dealt with them on my own. I deeply hated my father for years. I still don’t particularly like the man, but we can hold a civil conversation without descending into a bitter argument.

    I don’t have much confidence that things like DBT would help, but I’m much more willing to try them than the ‘talking things through’ style of counselling I’ve had before. I’ve read quite a lot about cognitive therapy and, although I don’t think it would help me, if a psychiatrist or equivalent recommended it, then I’d give it a try.

    I think, rather than alexithymia, what I was trying to describe is affective flattening. I don’t often display emotion, even to myself. I’m capable of recognising it when it happens and have no problems talking about the emotions that I do feel. It’s just that there’s not many of them. After a few years of being absolutely consumed with emotion, it’s weird to be so empty and emotionally numb. The behaviours that I exhibited when I was full of emotion are pretty much the same as the behaviours that I exhibit now.

    I guess, before I was able to say:

    (behaviour) I am cutting myself because
    (caused by emotion) I feel uncontrollably angry at myself
    (caused by thoughts) because I am such a loser.

    I’m now only able to say

    (behaviour) I am cutting myself because
    (justification) I need to cut.

    I’m sure the emotions are still there somewhere. I don’t have access to the inner dialogue that tells me why I’m experiencing the physical sensations of anxiety or guilt. I don’t automatically say “this is guilt” or “this is anxiety”, so I don’t have a narrative of my emotions (eg. this must be guilt because thinking about betraying person x makes me feel bad), but could name the emotion if I had to.

    But I might just be overthinking this.

    As for ‘experimental chimp’… this whole getting help thing is pretty much an experiment for me and when I started this blog, I was feeling a bit like one of those chimpanzees used in medical testing. I have another ‘net alias that I’ve been using for years, but I didn’t want this to be easy to find by people who know me, so I came up with ‘experimental chimp’ as a spur-of-the-moment alternative.

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?


Self-righteous note about smoking

As of 12th September 2008 it has been forty five weeks since I quit smoking. So in another seven weeks it'll have been a whole year.

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