When identity is unstable life can feel as if you are staring through a mirror wondering what the “other side” means ?
Like Alice who questions the world on the other side of the mirror’s reflection – before stepping through and entering an alternative world; our concept of self is greatly developed from infancy through our interpersonal interactions and mirrored back through society. Suggesting that we have a tendency to understand ourselves through our understanding of how others see and judge us; this is thought to be how we develop and understand our own identity.
As a child we learn how our crying, smiling and silence elicits a response from our caregivers, this forms our first mirroring and understanding of how we are perceived and responded to. This continues throughout our interactions and learning.
“The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”
(The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept introduced by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006). The term “looking glass self” was coined by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902.)
There are three main components that comprise the looking-glass self
(Yeung, et al. 2003).
We imagine how we must appear to others.
We imagine and react to what we feel their judgement of that appearance must be.
We develop our self through the judgements of others.
As a person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – identity is something which has always been an issue for me and so many other sufferers. My entire life seems to have been an identity crisis and it is one of the 9 traits you have to have in order to be diagnosed with BPD.
The specific issues which concern the stability of self in BPD sufferers is exhibited in:
Fragmentation – Which is in no way as dominating or persistent in BPD as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), however it still causes many issues. BPD can make it so you have adaptive personalities depending on who you are with and what scenario you are in – which to some extent most people do. BPD however causes this to be such separate fragmentations of the self that it is disturbing for us – the sufferers, to a degree it damages our personal relationships, careers, idea of self, family life and integration into society. It also affects our memories and association to people and places as our identities can separate what is dear to one “personality/self” over the other.
Boundary confusion – Also known as boundary dissolution is the failure to recognise the psychological distinctiveness of individuals or a confusion of their interpersonal roles. Boundaries are believed to be established in childhood within the family setting, when roles are clarified such as who is the parent and who is the child, with a flexibility to create close bonds and also have a separateness allowing you to build your “self”.
Kenji Kameguchi (1996) likens boundaries to a
“membrane” that surrounds each individual and subsystem in the family. Like the membrane around a cell, boundaries need to be firm enough to ensure the integrity of the cell and yet permeable enough to allow communication between cells. Overly rigid boundaries might constrict family relationships and limit family members’ access to one another (e.g., “children should be seen and not heard”), whereas overly permeable or blurred boundaries might lead to confusion between the generations (e.g., “who is the parent and who is the child?”
Lack of cohesion and continuity of the self across situations and life history – Most individuals who have secure identities do so because they remember themselves as the same individual they have always been. Noticing the changes one experiences with age, experience and gained knowledge, developing their core identity through life’s stages. BPD doesn’t allow for this due to the fragmented self which has been present throughout our lives, causing perceived gaps of identity knowledge and incompatible memories. Timelines become confusing when remembering what past events mean in regards to identity.
“I don’t know who I am”
“I don’t know what I want”
“I don’t know how I should handle this situation”
These questions seem harmless to most – however when you have BPD these questions are so confusing that emotional stability is compromised and becomes dangerous if we are not supported or receiving some kind of treatment. These questions are second nature and the answers come to mind with a certain amount of ease when you do not suffer from psychological identity issues – something taken for granted by most.
When you have BPD you are seen by different people as polar opposites at different points in your life or even at the same time, such as myself; I am seen by many in my life as a self righteous, egocentric, judgemental, scary, aggressive, rude person. However I am also seen by many as an inspiration, kind, loving, empathetic, polite, selfless person. Many people without BPD may encounter this kind of reaction from certain people, contradicting what makes you, you. This doesn’t phase well adjusted stable personalities as they know who they are and realise they are probably a combination of things to different people due to differing interactions and other peoples personalities. With BPD this causes self annihilation, an instability of emotions and further fragmentation and less awareness of the self.
“who do I believe – me or me or you”
In truth – at times I feel as if my identity is a game of guess who; or that this confused dissociated state is in fact a malevolent monster controlling and interchanging me – to torture me.
Friends, family and people who have crossed my path along the way will have no idea to a certain extent that these different identities exist within me or at different times in my life. The ones who remember are those who I have split, those who got to meet the protective identity, the no empathy, unforgiving, hateful identity – who has kept me alive in times of pure distress. These people have gone from being idealised to then being devalued and thrown away. The hardest part is being aware of this, of others being more aware of this – knowing I can rip you off the pedestal in which I created for you at any time just because you reveal to me that you are in fact human and fallible.
Sometimes the mirror reflects back that no one really knows me, so in turn I can’t know myself – which then brings about the depersonalisation and not feeling as if I exist at all.
The looking glass is the perfect metaphor for how this feels – knowing one reflection is in one world and another in the next. Feeling unreal or full of identities fighting to be seen or wanting to hide. Not knowing when in front of the mirror – who will reflect back.
Hiester, M.”Who’s the parent and who’s the child: generational boundary dissolution between mothers and their children.” paper presented at the biennial meeting of the society for research in child development, Indianapolis,1995.
Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration.” Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843–879.
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Signs are like spoken word
pictures form sentences
letters are transferred
meaning is given
or even when blurred
the beginning of us
the metaphor of genesis
or the theatre of the absurd.
When waiting for a sign
one knows what to look for
the mind conjures meaning
without knowing or seeing
which is hard to ignore
constructed from nothing
like an imaginary being
or with warnings
such as folklore.
Stabilise the interpretations
surrounding images with words
can appear as
two lonely song birds
between sight and sound
so that signs
can be undeterred
in our expectations
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whipping eyelids open in panic,
heartbeats pound at my chest,
a frame of mind completely manic,
inside is emptiness,
with nausea rising as if volcanic,
anxieties flood and infest,
the compulsions arise,
a lump in my throat,
memories pushed down,
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Closing my eyes,
seeing emptiness, however endless,
hearing sounds of days already had,
voices of lonely goodbyes.
In cornfields we escaped,
laying in beautiful memories beneath future possibilities,
Time is only relevant to my existence,
numbers, hands, faces – clocks stop.
Pendulous over my metaphorical cliff.
Blue surrounds me,
mist kisses me as tears precipitates,
waves crashing below.
Dreaming takes forever,
passing hours – drifting.
Life tries to wake me with flickers of light,
clasping tightly at the reigns of this delusion.
The breeze carries a scent with it,
brushing my hair against my face,
familiarity sinks into the pit of my stomach,
I know this place.
This residence has no name,
no directions given, or maps written.
Stepping through a cerebral maze,
with the house getting further away.
This world between states,
of mind and power.
My consciousness hesitates,
not wanting to let me go.
Art and Poetry by Charlotte Farhan
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Open Thought Vortex is happy to announce Charlotte Farhan as our Artist-in-Residence for the summer of 2016. Charlotte is internationally recognized as an artistic ally. She runs the non-profit Art Saves Lives International Magazine which seeks out and promotes artists whose work raises awareness for such topics as mental health, domestic violence and survival.
Charlotte works tirelessly to expose the underbelly of the ableist hierarchy both through ASLI and through her own art which chronicles her survival of abuse and assault. Like our previous OTV Artist-in-Residence Aaminah Shakur, Charlotte’s art is expressed through multiple mediums. Her path to wellness is paved with paintings and her writing and art have opened doors for hundreds of others worldwide to speak up about their own survival.
We are very proud to have Charlotte as a member of the OTV team. We look forward to showcasing her talent and collaborating with her on projects that serve the overlapping missions of Open Thought Vortex and Art Saves Lives International.
Chained to my past like a prisoner, with only sorrow to comfort me,
at night the mattress swallows me whole, it becomes pitch black,
let me escape this anguish, this nectarous misery – let me be free,
my torment clenches me tight with gripped arms – holding me back.
Recollection chokes me with the thought of violence,
memories leave me for dead, crying for liberation,
no ability to speak up – I offer silence,
chains are pulled tighter constricting me in my damnation.
Punishment is not a fetish when it is kept unseen,
my head is pulsating, the pressure is mounting in my veins,
steel and blood mixed with sheets I am always unclean,
whose hands are those, the ones holding my chains?
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