I have a question mostly for people who have been having DPDR for a long time without tremendous anxiety. One therapist I am seeing told me about a possible link between DPDR and some of my personality traits. Those personality traits were talked about in a book he gave me, talking about different cognitive schemas, but whatever. I know they are not perfect and don’t have the answers to every problem, but what they talk about really speaks to me. The book itself is not about DPDR, but somehow the link really seems to make sense for me.
So I am wondering if other long-time people might share similar personality traits, just to see whether or not there is a good chance the two could be correlated.
Those different personality traits revolve around the theme of being kind of submissive and making other people’s needs come before mine or being too compliant, or having difficulty making decisions truely for myself. It’s easier for me to give specific examples, but the details of each one of them is not so important, I am mostly interested to know if you identify with the bigger picture. If I found a few people who relate with this, it might make me more interested to pursue in this direction. I would like to put several examples to really explain what I mean, so it is going to be quite long, I have added some titles after writing it so that you can skip more easily if you want to do that:
A kind of submissiveness
So I often do what others want from me, and it is so automatic for me that sometimes I don't even know what I want for myself. Like at work, when I am offered an opportunity to choose a field that I am interested in and will get specialized in, I can't find my way and I can only think of what others would think if I did this or that. Even though I know it is not what I should focus on, my opinion for myself is often blank.
My ex was upset at me sometimes because I did not say what I prefered to do. I genuinely had no preference especially when I was with her and I didn't care, so I sometimes made something up to pretend I prefered something. I know it is something very frequent, but sometimes I have this a lot. Or I worry too much that I will be impolite with people, or when my "narcissistic" mother starts one of her rants I tend to forgive her too much by seeing things from her point of view instead of accepting that if she is not respecting me a single bit I don't have to owe her anything. I am the kind of guy who almost always says "yes" when I am asked something at work, and worry only about looking like I am efficient and motivated, instead of accepting sometimes that I don't have time, and that if I don't finish things on time it's sometimes because I accept too many requests. When my girlfriend broke up with me last year, I listened to everything she blamed me for, and attempted to take them into account to learn about myself, but I never said something about her, like I mostly behave like I am the adjusting parameter, adjusting to the world and not stating what I want, what are my needs, where I stand (edit: as if this was going to make me a good person). Also I think I tend to spend the day doing things I don't really want but that I do out of "duty", and then feel I had no life for all the day and spend the evening procrastinating on the internet to make up for that with some "free time".
One other aspect of that is that this kind of submissiveness is putting a lot of pressure on me, and I tend to get passive aggressive about it. Some people don't respect me, and it's very hard for me to set my boundaries, so I tend to bitch about them to myself when they are gone, or I get very angry and still say nothing and act a bit passive aggressive. I keep a lot of anger inside, so much so that it took me a long time to acknowledge that apparent submissiveness because I feel I react strongly when people wrong me. But actually that reaction stays mostly inside, or in the virtual world. I am particularly triggered by people who act like they know better than me what I should do, like "strong advice" givers, or maybe also when I feel someone thinks they know me better than I know myself, and I feel it might be a reaction to that kind of submissiveness that I have. It's like I am fed up that people cross my boundaries, but actually I am mostly fed up because very often in my life I don't stand my ground and do what I should to make them respect my boundaries, and don’t say no to people when I should.
All these points make me feel a bit like I am too much an empty shell, and part of me is keeping my inner needs silent when I am with others.
A thinking pattern
Something else, but it might be a detail, is that I tend to think for myself as a form of conversation with an imaginary person. Like when I have an idea, I see that I automatically repeat it in my head as if I was saying it to someone (usually an existing person I know, but who is not present at the moment). It’s like it is hard to just think for myself and be my own only audience, but I need to imagine another person listening to them to make them exist. It’s like I define myself too much with respect to what others think of me, even down to single thoughts.
Fear of being an adult
In that book they explain that among people having this kind of personality, there are more people than average who suffer from the fear of leaving their house for example. They explain it by saying that going outside can represent the vast adult world, and the world of decision making and responsibilities. I have never had that fear, but I have had fears connected to driving that seem very similar in their causes. I remember having nightmares about driving as a child. Like I am in a car on the back seat, and there is no one in the driver’s seat and the car starts moving on its own. And later in my life I had troubles learning to drive when there was an instructor next to me, because somehow my cognition got totally messed up, and I really didn’t feel at my place and thought I didn’t know what to do. For me it really felt like I couldn’t be an adult, and this was the best way I could say it at the time. And interestingly I feel that agoraphobia is well represented in the past posts of the forum, where some people shared they were unable to leave their houses. There are other fears like fear of being sick, or fear of fainting, or fear of vomiting, that are more about fear of losing control, I guess, but they don’t seem to be as present here on the forum.
Two years ago I have bought my first apartment (!), and when I had to make a decision on what to choose, which is a quite big (adult) decision, I was constantly thinking of what other people would think of me if I lived in such or such a house. So although I consciously knew only my opinion mattered, my so called opinion felt completely silent.
To me, in general it feels like my inner self has run away from the situation and I am left being an empty shell, and who I am is more or less defined by others, even if they don’t clearly express anything. Like, I imagine they would think such or such a thing even if they don’t really push anything on me. But by empty shell, I mean I still have opinions about many things, and I can rant for hours and defend some arguments (usually on theoretical matters, by the way), but somehow some part of me disappears in front of others, or get numb, perhaps when I have to make people respect my needs more than my beliefs, but not sure.
Working on it
I am working on that problem independant of DPDR, and so far it had little effect on my symptoms although I did feel some changes. Lately, I have had opportunities to make important decisions, state my needs, put limits to some people. It was quite hard, but I worked consciously on finding out what I truly want, and defending my own interest. And usually it was quite liberating, so I am going to continue in this way. One exercise that therapist gave me was the exercise of writing surrogate letters. Which means writing a letter where I tell a parent (here my Mom) everything I always wanted to tell them. But not necessarily with the objective of sending them the letter. There are some more specifics to this exercise, but it has been surprisingly helpful in making me focus a bit more on myself and my own needs. And I found it interesting, because it reminded me of that story of Harris Harrington, who says that such letters are one of the most important things that helped him recover from DPDR.
I am hosting a few refugees in my house right now, and the mother was really being disrespectful lately, and it was so hard for me to do anything serious about it. In general I tend to try to be patient because I believe then that it is a better solution than getting angry. Or I explain her reaction away because of potential cultural differences. I find her excuses. I feel like I am making the situation easier like this, like I am smoothing the edges, like it’s good in general to be patient and anger doesn’t solve anything. But the true reason I don’t tell her things directly is because it is hard for me to respect myself, and my needs tend to fade away in front of others (it’s not always like this but it is a trend). She really pushed me, and this time I managed to say stuff. I am kind of kicking her out of my place now. Also I did not follow my pattern of trying to explain her all my point of view (that she clearly won’t understand anyway). Usually I do that because I feel like if someone doesn’t understand me, it’s like my point of view doesn’t really exist. So this time I didn’t care and managed to just respect myself and kick her out, irrespective of what she does or doesn’t understand. I can’t live with her in my house and at some point I have to respect myself and act accordingly. So it is this kind of stuff.
Finding what I want
A couple weeks ago, I was at a friend’s house for the holidays, and she was often asking me what I preferred to do or what I wanted, and I made a conscious exercise to really try to find out what my preference was, and try to read it naturally in myself. I even explained to her that I was doing this these days for DPDR. And somehow it seemed to instantly make my inner feelings more apparent and make the usual numbness recede a little. I have tried it later on to keep asking myself what my needs were, but I am afraid I was turning it into yet another OCD DPDR technique. Still I think that this direction seems to help me a little. I also find that when I ask myself that question “what do I really want”, and listen to the right places in myself, it also makes it a little easier to not fall in my addictions (internet, and videos right now mostly). Like perhaps falling into my addictions could sometimes be because I don’t find what I really want for myself, and I resort to the default stimulation that works every time. But sometimes, after 3h of youtube, when I ask myself this question, what do I really want right now inside myself, I find that I actually don’t want to watch videos, and I am starting to feel dizzy because of it, but I didn’t even realize it before. And when I realize I don’t want it, I stop naturally without much willpower. So following that “voice” has felt a bit like filling that “empty shell”, kind of, or perhaps rather seeing that it isn’t empty, and make the voices there a little louder by paying more attention.
That empty shell thing also feels similar to what I have been doing for a long time with my DPDR symptoms. First I have been naturally focusing mostly on my symptoms, and I have tried to cure myself with some OCD tricks, like many people do. Like trying to find the right exercise, the right habit, the right thought, and to use it to directly tweak my perceptions like I have that power. It feels a bit similar to that empty shell thing, because perceptions or the way I perceive things are more the result of something that happens within me. Perceptions are a result and not really something I do, they are not an action. So I have been focusing more on the happening than the doing. Just like I have been focusing on other people’s opinions rather than what I actually do or want to do, which is where I can act. So here too, I feel I have been focusing on the outer shell of stuff rather than on the inner stuff and what my actions are, if they come from my needs and my values. When I don’t think of which apartment I need or want, but think of what others could think of me if I lived there, it’s again like I focus on others at the expense of everything within me. In such a situation I do consider myself as an empty shell because what I want matters so little that I would almost be ready to live in a place that isn’t the one I want just to get the right result in others. The outside is again more important than the inside. But the opposite of that is to just be what I want and do it. Not consider this or that, but wanting and acting as myself. (Ultimately I did buy a nice place and I love it now). Not that again I should try to tweak my state of mind to try to get in the right one, which is again trying to change the result rather than changing the action, but rather that even if I have that empty shell thing now, well this is who I am right now and I have the right to be who I am, because this is what I want.
And perhaps this is what many people mean when they say they accepted their DPDR. It’s perhaps more that if “fighting” my DPDR (with my usual strategy) means I am focusing on results rather than actions, then again I am constantly trying to be someone who I am not, trying to deny the existence of a part of myself, trying to tweak my state of mind and my perceptions, which is turning myself into an empty shell. So perhaps, they mean “accepting” in the sense of really wanting to be myself now.
Not necessarily anxiety
I think it is interesting because such personality traits, submissiveness, sometimes being empty, neglecting one's needs, can very well cause anxiety and worrying, but not necessarily either. I know I can live like this for a long time too without having tremendous anxiety, it’s quite ok in the long run. I understand how anxiety alone could put someone in that kind of empty shell mode temporarily, but at the same time I feel that this empty shell mode can also simply be caused by past trauma, or simply an “education style”, which seems to be more my case. Like my mother was often considering herself the center of everything at home, and got angry when others showed negative emotions (even really normal ones), like she was the only one who had the right to do that. She considered her children kind of like her belongings and I understand now that she was (and still is) upset when we are more independent on some level. She had poor boundaries around sexuality, and often just blatantly didn’t respect others or their choices, and she was manipulative. Deep down, she believes people around her are mostly there to serve her and should not have their own existence, and as a child I naturally had to adjust to that. There is much more than that but I could talk about it for hours. So anyway for me it naturally feels connected to this kind of stuff. And it resonates with me because I always felt my DPDR could not have been caused by anxiety alone because I really don’t think I have that much.
Do you relate?
So, with this long post, I would be interested to know if some people relate to this, if yes or no this could be frequent among DPDR sufferers.