I hate being forced to examine important shit in my own personality that is less than awesome.
But here we are.
Over the course of the past year I’ve been confronted with the fact that sometimes, when there are adverse experiences in one’s lifespan, a person will cut off the neediest parts of themselves like a tumor and pretend that those parts of themselves don’t exist at all. And never did. Because needing other people is dangerous business.
At the time, it is protective. It’s an adaptive solution to an unsolvable problem. I’m reminded of an example of the same phenomenon in literature, although for completely malignant purposes:
In order to stay alive he placed parts of himself in different places, ensuring that if one part was destroyed he could still maintain his existence – in various degrees of potency – by drawing from the various, disparate, remaining parts.
I mean, Voldemort was fucking evil, but.
Same basic idea.
A kid who needs to stop needing people has to grow the fuck up right quick, and put the childish parts of herself aside. Hide them away. Tuck them deep into the woods, maybe, and just occasionally bring them water and bread, but otherwise exile them, for their own protection, because allowing them to be in the open is too dangerous.
At a certain point, though, continuing to neglect those parts of ourselves stops being protective and adaptive and it starts being overprotective and maladaptive.
I hate this so much.
This whole concept reminds me of Silent Hill. The movie, not the video game. Although I highly prefer the video game, the early-2000s feature film provides a more coherent narrative that really, really easily sums up what people do when they need to fracture themselves to be strong.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when the no-longer-threatened person continues to avoid the parts she got really good at keeping hidden:
It’s a bad deal. Angry kids who don’t get hugs turn into entire towns full of mutant killing machines. It’s unpleasant. It needs to be dealt with.
I hear the occasional criticism that I focus too much on fictional universes and not enough on real life, but the fact is that I find it quite easy to find meaning in what feels like the otherwise random chaos that is life by subjecting it to a compare/contrast analysis, measuring the randomness of life events against examples from art, both popular and classical.
Yes, I intellectualize to create distance.
It’s a strength. You shut right up.
What I love the most about Silent Hill is that it lends itself easily and readily to the same method of examining literature as the “House as a Symbol of Self” approach. And there’s a bridge between literary criticism and psychology as well. Carl Jung spent nearly three decades constructing his Bollingen Tower, which he often wrote was an extension of his inner life – starting with the unconscious material that sprung up and refused to boil away, rather painfully, after his split with Freud in 1913.
What I love about Silent Hill is that the nature of reality and time seems analogous to my experience of longitudinal trauma. I think it’s the same for anyone whose been through recurrent adverse events throughout the course of development: at any given time the memories of these events can be triggered and, like the air raid siren in the fictional universe, the entire cognitive landscape can become dark, dangerous, and fraught with anxiety over when and how the cloud of uncomfortable memory or re-activation will disperse.
I have been consumed recently with concern over whether I am (a) a normal person having a normal reaction to an abnormal amount of bullshit over the course of the last 30 years or (b) a person with a personality disorder who creates her own problems and complicates her life unnecessarily.
After a significant amount of research, and nausea, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the former. And that I did what Alessa did when I was too young to know any better.
I know that it’s neither hopeful nor unbiased, and I also recognize that my bleak assessment of it comes from adverse experiences of profound mental illness during childhood, but I feel like Borderline Personality Disorder is what happens when you can’t get out of Silent Hill.
Complex PTSD, for me, is more recognizable and relatable. It changes you, but you get out of the game, eventually. Whether or not you ever get through the veil, back to a world you can recognize, for me remains to be seen. But I remain hopeful.
In any case, that separation between people who have been to their own Silent Hill and those who haven’t is as clearly represented in the phone call of static and missed communication as in any other metaphor I’ve ever seen.
This movie – and the game that spawned it – are such a great example of how story carries meaning. And the ability of story to help make difficult experiences livable, and to keep those stuck in them hopeful, against all apparent reason at times.