November 29th, 2010

mind, synapse, only connect

Your Brain on ...

Your brain on books. Learning to read changes your brain.

So does being bullied. And not in a good way.

And then there's your brain on learned helplessness. Somewhat simplistic, but a useful look at a painful, destructive phenomenon.

And in good news, your brain on self-affirmation of your core values.

People need communities that support and validate them. One of the powerful roles that religion plays in many lives is the weekly, daily affirmation of identity and values. That's why it can be so devastating if every week you're being told that who you are, what you want, who you love is wrong and disgusting and unnatural. For me, that included fiction, feminism, other women, and BDSM. No wonder I grew up believing myself to be a monster. And church was the positive, supportive environment for me, when home was violent and emotionally abusive and school was a minefield because I was socially inept at an epic level.

These days my community, friendships, chosen family, religion, and partners all affirm my values.

So what's your brain on lately? And how do you remember who you are even in the most disorienting circumstances?

Punishment and Helplessness

After posting the link about learned helplessness, I took the trash out. The Bearcat was outside, frisky and excited to see me. I reached down to pet him, and he reared up like a circus horse to rub his head against my hand -- one of his more endearing habits. I'd take a few steps and he would romp along with me, pausing every few feet for more petting. Then as I withdrew my hand he sank his teeth and claws into my forearm, deep enough to draw blood -- one of his less endearing habits. He's just trying to get more love, but in a way guaranteed to instantly end the petting session.

I found myself in tears -- not so much from the pain, although it was considerable, but from the feeling, familiar from childhood, that I was being punished although I hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, I was being virtuous in taking out the trash, and kind in petting Bear.

Learned helplessness has been a factor in my life from the very beginning. I managed to escape through stories, but I still react very badly to situations in which I feel helpless or am punished no matter what I do. If the situation involves an impersonal force or an authority that's clearly inimical to me, it's relatively easy for me to keep fighting. After all, I have nothing left to lose. (Defiance R me.) However, if I'm put into a double bind by someone close to me, I can react with deep, even suicidal despair.

And this explains a great deal about my currently triggered state, The rug has been pulled out from under me -- my life has changed suddenly and painfully, I've been put into a difficult and polarizing situation that could easily cut me off frorm people I care about. And I cannot fix it, change it, influence it, end it. All I can do is endure while other people choose, react, and decide. For a control freak like me, that helplessness, that sense of being swept up in someone else's actions, is utterly wretched.

The feeling of helplessness is compounded by my injured hand. That definitely limits my options. I'm doing what I can to reclaim my agency: I've been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for NaNoWriMo, which is how I've managed to "write" so many words (and such a rough rough draft). I've also listed 100 goals to achieve in 100 days and am happily managing an Excel spreadsheet of goals ranging from the minor to the huge.

I will not let this defeat me.