I have been reviewing the literature about difficulty in communicating with non-literal speech. Almost everybody I know suggested that this is my case, to the point of comedy and tragedy. Very frequently, this is a sign of some form of autism (the spectrum is wide). Maybe that’s the case, maybe not. I’ve also been praised for being very “true to myself” and having no fear to disclose the darkest of my experiences. Self-disclosure at this level is interpreted as exposure to vulnerability and considered brave. I am making the case here that not necessarily. There are two forms of dealing with trauma through self-disclosure: one, through art, in symbolic form. The other is through detached descriptive narrative. Both protect the individual and make him less, not more, vulnerable. The second point I want to make is that this is healthy. Uncontrolled self-disclosure is not only dangerous, but may be a sign of another out of control condition and a fast path to self-destruction. This latter phenomenon is frequently seen on social media and it often leads to disaster.
I want to start with the bare truth and the real self. Realism, in its naïve form, is not espoused by anyone that I know of. At this point in history, we all agree that reality is always indirectly accessible and we do disagree a lot on how close or what degree of commitment to reality we can achieve. From the “it’s all social construction” relativists to the advocates of absolute neutral language, we distribute ourselves along a spectrum. I think I have parked myself at a comfortable distance from both assuming that yes, facts (including scientific facts) are communicated in a socially constructed manner within a culture, but no, it’s not all social construction; that the degree of reflection that representation bears on reality is another unknown, but there definitely is a strong relation; the by-proxy indicator of that being that we have been successful in developing applications for knowledge (representations of reality) in the form of technology; that all representation is theory or culture-laden but that doesn’t prevent us from having access to reality, however indirectly; that truth is, therefore, always provisional and its expression, culturally contextual (disclaimer: I did not say truth was culturally contextual, but the way it is expressed is); that, for this reason, science is the coolest form of communicating stuff because it offers a universal language for doing it.
That said, “the bare truth” doesn’t really exist, which sucks. Being realistic means also accepting that realism is not possible and representation, as it is, is the best we have to handle reality and produce truth. Are there parameters to guarantee that at least we are following some type of honest procedure to communicate truth? Absolutely. And dishonesty is easily identifiable. Still no bare truth.
The bare truth conundrum is analogous to the “true self” one. My background is in epistemology, not in psychology, so I tread with caution here. The analogy is obvious to me, though: there are too many layers of personal expression (and even existence) for us to hope to express our true selves. Everybody agrees, though, that even attempting to access and express the true self mean facing pain and sometimes shame. Where do both come from? Usually from some damaging, shattering or scary experience from the past, which generates trauma. Sometimes the trauma is so horrible that it literally shatters the psyche and there is no way back. That person is lost from himself forever. But there are degrees of horror and degrees of self-alienation associated to them. Self-awareness at some levels may be impossible because it means reliving things that are just too damaging and dangerous. Self-preservation will prevent this more than it will prevent a suicide.
Here comes a blunt self-disclosure of horrific episodes – nothing new, I talked about them in interviews since 2011. I have been raped, tortured in brain washing procedures inside organizations that adopted these methods, had a forced abortion and also attempted suicide, from which I just accidentally survived. But, wait: the rape, sexual abuse, forced abortion and brain washing happened over 30 years ago. I had 30 years to dump this into some dark corner of my mind, not speak about it, just to have it emerge in 2005 in a desert dirt road, when I slashed my throat. But, wait: it took me another 6 years to talk about the suicide. When I talk about these things, they really don’t feel completely real. It does allow me to understand a little too well what people with PTSD and suicidal ideation (and attempts) feel. I can help them the way I was never able to help the younger version of myself. The years of silence allowed me to build a powerful defense mechanism against the kickback self-disclosure could cause. So powerful that, today, it doesn’t even hurt that much.
I tried my hand at fiction and symbolic writing. I failed: it hurt too much. I stick to science popularization and universalizing my own damage in the form of tools to others. Not out of goodness, but out of need.
So, you see, I’m not brave for disclosing these horrific episodes of which I was the protagonist. There is a safe distance and detachment that allows me to speak of them almost as if they happened to someone else, or as case studies. Maybe it’s not even that healthy, since you can always see dissociation there. It is not psychotic dissociation, but there is definitely a split. Those who express their pain in symbolic form possibly expose much more of the bare truth, although it is encrypted (maybe even from themselves). As I usually say, though, this is as good as it gets. There is a price to everything, and the one I (and people like me) pay is that “the bare truth” comes to haunt me in my drug induced sleep, in nightmares. I have no idea what this bare truth is, but it is terrifying. The other price is an inevitable alienation from the “true self”. I have no idea what my true self looks like. Not deliberately hiding it doesn’t mean I even know what it is.
I walk around bumping into things and people. Neurologists have a hard time understanding how is it possible that I can be at the same time skilled in motor tasks that require precision (lifting, fencing, micro-pipetting fluids in experiments, running macromolecule electrophoresis, etc) and show borderline pathological levels of lack of motor coordination. It took a very smart man to point out that spatial awareness deficiency was probably related to self-awareness deficiency. Finally, that maybe, just maybe, that it also correlates to mind theory deficiency and too-literal speech.
Therefore, self-disclosure may be an honest attempt at being honest and sincere, or “truthful”. It doesn’t mean it is successful, though. The permanent clash between defense mechanisms and the mature, twisted form of the long-silenced horrors don’t allow it. The only time they do silence is under a loaded bar. Then maybe, just maybe, that is when I can be my true self. There is no space, no time and no words there.
So, I’m sorry, I’m unable to tell what my true self looks like. But I think I feel it.