When discussing how I think or feel about something, I am often told by my listener that other people feel the same way or think the same things. I am frequently surprised by this. It’s not that I think I am special (although I can see how it might come across that way to someone who doesn’t know me), but rather that my thoughts and feelings seem so disconnected from everything else (including my memories), that it doesn’t occur to me that they might be shared by others. Some might say that if I interacted with and spoke to more people I would find out more about their thoughts and feelings and develop more of an appreciation of a shared perspective, but I disagree.
This feels like a product of my biology. Why? Because I can’t even relate to myself across time. It’s like if I’m not thinking and feeling it right now, then I have never thought it and never felt it. I look back at old diaries, emails, things I have written to myself or other people, and I have that same sense of surprise, that I myself have thought or felt that way before. I think, “wow, I haven’t changed at all!” Whereas normally if asked whether I think I’ve changed a lot since I was younger, I would tell you that I have changed loads, learned a lot about myself, and will continue to do so – when I really haven’t. I would put money on me making the same choices (mistakes?) again as in the past, were I presented with the same options now. To be honest, I avoid reading things I have written in the past because this mismatch with expectation makes me slightly uncomfortable. Without wishing to be flippant, it is a little like Clive Wearing, waking up each day and writing to himself over and over, “Now I am really, completely awake.” Then, waking up and doing the same again.
I think this is related to, and an extension of, my difficulties in taking the perspective of others. If I can’t even take my own perspective, and I constantly experience my own thoughts and feelings (ish – I have difficulty identifying my feelings), then what hope do I have of understandings others’? Rather than there being a robust, functioning, ‘whole’ version of me, which is constant across contexts, my sense of self seems to be so completely linked to my current experiences, that I can’t connect with myself further back than about a few weeks. How can the me from the past, in a different situation, be like the me now, in this current situation? How can I trust the choices made by this other me?
Therefore this causes difficulties – inability to make decisions about things I have not directly and recently experienced, doubting my own decisions after I have made them despite them being very carefully weighed up at the time, repeating the same mistakes because this time I know what I’m doing, not appreciating that I might feel differently in the future or have felt differently in the past. And equally, I have difficulty relating to other people who have lived in the past, for example how can someone from 50 years ago have the same sorts of thoughts and feelings, or face the same issues, as me living in a modern world. I don’t enjoy period drama or fiction because of this conflict, which makes it impossible to believe the story.
I don’t know if there’s an answer to this, I suspect not. When I have doubts, I try to actively remind myself that I have always made considered decisions, so I would have done so at the time. But it’s no substitute for remembering how I felt, and it’s one of those situations where knowing comes from feeling rather than thinking. What would I advise others who might experience the same? Keep a diary, and re-read it. Ask someone who knows you to help you remember how you felt at a particular time if it becomes important. When making critical decisions, write yourself a letter (for your eyes only) about what you are doing and why, so that you can revisit the decision-making process and tap back into ‘past you’.
Even if I never learn to reconnect the different versions of me across time, I have to learn to trust myself. I owe it to ‘future me’.
© Catastraspie, 2012.