I love what you mean to me: On Disco Elysium, Romance and Codependency

Content warning: The following post discusses trauma, BPD, CPTSD and codependency from the POV of lived experience. It also contains *spoilers* throughout, and may not make much sense unless you have experienced the game prior to reading.

“I’m so fucking normal right now.”

Disco Elysium

Play whilst reading.

Our bodies remember what our conscious minds try to forget. Memories, the specifics, can be erased, but emotions cannot. They are immutable. They become woven into the very fibre of our beings and influence our behaviour in ways we don’t understand. There is no erasure – the best-case scenario is rehabilitation; the worst is the pale.

This, in academia, is what we call ‘a big mood’.

Raphaël Ambrosius Costeau Tequila Sunset Harrier Du Bois drinks to forget, but in the process loses himself.  His memories are gone, but the emotions remain – formless, contextless. Harry is a man deeply shaped by trauma, and his relationship with his ‘ex-something (?)’ became a casualty of this trauma, a casualty that was one too many.

The game is punctuated by dreams and vague recollections, in which Harry’s faculties battle to repress his memories. Towards the end of the game, the repression fails, and Harry is finally allowed to remember – to connect the emotions he has been feeling, to his memories of what caused them.

Is there ever an appropriate outfit to get dumped in?

In the final dream of the game, Harry confronts his ‘ex’, Dolores Dei – an innocence, or “a sacred human being”. But, of course, this isn’t Harry’s ex. This is an overdetermined image amalgamating the divine Dolores Dei, with Dora Ingerlund – his ex-fiancée. Harry’s idealisation may have reached pathological extremes, but idealisation is fairly common in romantic relationships, which may start with infatuation based on what we assume we know about a person, before a connection based on mutual understanding deepens over time and, if nurtured, matures into something we might call ‘love’. 

Harry and Dora met when Dora was young. He was her first love, and he feels like she will be his last. From what we can deduce, it was a long-term relationship fraught with turbulence, partially due to Harry’s trauma-induced mental health problems. Harry was repeatedly traumatised by the violent and intense nature of his work, but the way that it consumes him suggests that his sense of self was fragile to begin with. Many people who have experienced trauma, and have BPD or CPTSD, cope by trying to find a sense of self external to them: in their work, for example. But to find oneself in something, is to make oneself contingent upon that external thing, which can further increase one’s susceptibility to re-traumatisation when those things go away.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter which options we pick.

In a moment of reflexivity, the game acknowledges that Harry has been defined by his role as a detective and has lost the ability to communicate in a private, interpersonal setting. His speech patterns are subsumed by questions and lists which have become his second nature: effective for a detective, but not a sensitive way to navigate intimacy. These lists remind me of a tendency I have to overthink every social interaction – the desire to exhaust all options to obtain the best possible outcome and avoid the negative consequences I’ve experienced for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. These dialogue trees literalise a form of control taken by people who have, at one point, had all control taken away from them. We may not speak in lists, but many of us think in them.

We do not know whether it was the work that traumatized Harry, or if he was more susceptible to re-traumatisation due to a personal history of mental illness and/or pre-existing trauma. What we do know, is that Dora spent much of her time witnessing his decline, tending to his feelings, and deteriorating as a result. Their relationship became co-dependent: for a while, neither felt like they could live without the other.

Did Harry and Dora love each other?

I have heard this, in other words.

As far as we know, Dora loved Harry in the best way she could. Harry loved what Dora meant to him – he loved Dolores Dei. What Dolores Dei signifies is a transcendent experience: the promise of salvation that does not exist. Harry sought to lose himself in the prestige of his job, in music, in substance abuse and in his relationship. Oxytocin is a hell of a drug, but love is not a transcendent experience. Love is human, messy, imperfect and full of pain – as are the people we share it with.

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Co-dependence can look like love, and feel like love, but it’s not love.  

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When we idealise people, it is in the hope that we can love in a way that transcends our past experiences. We want to become someone new. We make new selves, contingent on our entanglement with another. We ask too much, we invest too much, and then when the relationship dies, it feels like a part of us dies with it. We mourn people who are still alive and treat them like ghosts so we can try and move on. It is because we never truly knew them; we loved an ideal, and that is what is dead.

At the end of the interaction, Dora tells Harry about her new life and the wonderful things and people who are a part of it. Harry, who has finally remembered that which he was striving to forget, is left at a crossroads. Either he will confront and process the memory and finally move on, or repress the dream and be doomed to repeat it night after night.

We do not know if Harry experiences the dream again: will Harry’s shrine to the immortal and perfect Dolores Dei forever reside within his heart, preventing him from loving in a functional way? Or, will he acknowledge Dora as a human being? In doing so, perhaps he would finally be able to process the memory of a relationship that was important, but one that was flawed enough to allow him the space to let go.

Perhaps there is hope. What we must remember is that we never truly met Dora, only Harry’s version of her. In this version of Harry’s dream, Dora is happy and moves on. She also tells him that he, will indeed, be happy again. This is reassuring when we remember that when Harry speaks to Dolores Dei, he’s never really speaking with Dora… he is, and always has been, in conversation with himself.

Other cool Disco Elysium Content:

A Brief Etymology of Disco Elysium by Francis Butterworth-Parr

First Person Podcast Episode 48: Disco Elysium The Final Cut feat. Kacper Szozda, Andrew Bailey, Francis Parr, and Patrick Dolan

The Tinker Bell Complex: On Love, Labels and Trauma

Love is a label.

Content warning: BPD, PTSD, Splitting, Abuse

“Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”

― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I can’t recall when I started compartmentalising myself. We all do it to some extent. We have different roles to fill and parts to play, for different people and contexts. It’s functional for both business and pleasure: in any kind of relationship, people usually like to know what to expect from us. We tell stories about ourselves to each other, and by amplifying some narratives, we obfuscate others to be who we need to be at the time. It’s convenient.

We strive for narrative continuity, but human experience is non-canonical: perhaps the only trait we share is that our selfhoods are constantly in flux, subject to the ever-changing balance of nature and nurture. So, is there really such a thing as a sense of self?

When I talk about my struggles with identity, people tell me to worry less and vibe more. They say that no one knows who they are or what they’re doing. My generous interpretation of these responses would be to assume that the speaker has been through similar struggles with selfhood and emerged on the other side, but it’s perhaps more likely that they’re lucky enough to have never needed to worry about it.

I know there is such a thing as a sense of self, because I recognise its absence.

A self exists in boundaries – the separation between the self and the other. The absence, or violation, of boundaries negates selfhood. Without a sense of self, we can’t protect ourselves, or make decisions in our best interests. Love without boundaries is annihilation.

Who am I, alone, in an empty room? Will I be the same person when someone enters it?

Boundaries are how we negotiate our desires. But, what if we don’t know what we want? What about when what we want change? It is impossible to account for, and define, our multiplicity. But we try.

What do I mean to you? Who are we to each other?

We compartmentalise ourselves to simplify things, then attempt to articulate it in language, reducing ourselves to a label. A label is a social contract. A promise. Promises are safe, promises are terrifying. Promises can be broken. Broken promises break hearts.

How can I believe you love me when I don’t know who me is?

It’s best not to think about it. I wish I didn’t have to think about it.

*****

I have been in a process of rebuilding a self that trauma destroyed, or cultivating a self that trauma didn’t allow to grow. I, like many of us who are affected by BPD/PTSD, am in a constant process of stitching together parts of me that look like they might fit, until one day, maybe I’ll feel whole. Whenever I find out something new about myself, I feel robbed of all the years I’ve lost to negation. The worst part is that it feels like I did it to myself, because it’s something my mind did to cope.

Splitting is something that people who have BPD, and function in neurodiverse ways, do as an unconscious survival instinct. In relation to other people, it looks like idealising a person, then devaluing them.

This is summarised poorly in articles about BPD by the phrase: “I hate you – please don’t leave me.”

Splitting makes love complicated: the object of your affection can be the best person in the world one day, then your enemy the next: a stranger at best, a malicious antagonist at worst. But, if they are your favourite person, the connection remains constant. Some survivors learned to do this when loved ones broke that trust in an irredeemable way. We split the person in two, so that we can keep the best half of that person, and the memories of them, untainted by abuse. Our minds tell us that it was not the one we loved who betrayed our trust, it was that other person, that bad person we don’t know. These feelings don’t go away, but we try and forget them. We hold the pain inside us to preserve the idea of a love we wish we had – the kind of love that we deserved. This painful, ambivalent ‘love’ informs that which comes after it.

Literature on ‘splitting’ is easily found, and the way I’ve described it above is both my experience and commonly theorised. What I’ve seen less of, however, is how ‘splitting’ can impact the self.

I have been splitting myself for as long as I can remember. There was the survivor: capable and resilient. This person did not have needs, nor articulate emotions. I was not the kind of person who ‘bad things’ had happened to, or someone who needed anyone. As I started to remember my trauma, and began to heal, I realised there was a different self beneath the mask. Someone intensely vulnerable, incredibly angry, lonely and longing for connection. As I got to know this person, I realised that I had made a stranger of myself. I hated that person, and I wanted to hurt them. Then I stopped hurting them and started to listen to them instead.

It wasn’t/isn’t easy. When parts of me started to awaken, they did not get on with each other.

Tinker Bell screenshots, images and pictures - Comic Vine

I tell people I have a ‘Tinker bell complex’: I lack emotional nuance. I feel things so strongly, that, without a lot of emotional regulation work, I can only feel one thing very hard all at once, which makes it difficult to know who I am and what I want from one day to the next.

If I don’t know who I am, how can I ever get what I want? Will I ever be happy?

As someone who is genderfluid (Non-binary? Femme presenting trans masc?) and bisexual (Pansexual? Gay? Demisexual?) and poly? or monogamous? I have a lot of different things to feel. Things I haven’t figured out yet. All of these different aspects of myself awakening felt like a problem, not because they existed, but because I had erased them for so long. Each aspect of myself cried out for attention one at a time and VERY LOUDLY. I had compartmentalised myself so much, that I didn’t (and don’t) know how all the parts function together.

How can I promise to love you if I don’t know who I am, or how I love?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to solve the problem ‘dick-first’. I tried dating and dating apps, assigning each of my compartmentalised selves a label. But labels are not shortcuts to understanding – people fixate on the label they’re most interested in, and treat you in relation to the stereotype that they associate with it. Dating apps, like me, lack emotional nuance.

I tried to solve a problem of identity by experimenting with my sexuality. I assigned myself labels in an attempt to define myself in a way that would make me palatable. Labels that should have been empowering turned into another way to objectify myself. At first the labels were for me – to fill in the blanks that trauma had erased. Then, they became more about who I am to other people. What I’ve begun to realise is that I’m not responsible for people’s perceptions or desire of me. I exist independently of that.

My sexuality has always defined me; I use it to (unsuccessfully) connect with people, but sex should not be conflated with love or platonic intimacy. As a survivor, I’ve always found it hard to tell the difference between them – to feel seen and valued as a person, rather than a fuck toy, and to treat other people the way they deserve to be treated too.

Sex is complicated and makes things complicated for me. It feels dangerous and vulnerable and nuanced in a way that it never has before. Managing those emotions is too overwhelming. I’m not equipped to manage my own, let alone anyone else’s feelings.

Sex was the story of my life, now it’s just a footnote. 

I’m shedding most of the labels I’ve accumulated and replacing them with ‘queer’. The community and connection that comes from the mutual understanding I have with my queer friends is enough acknowledgement of my identity. I am who I am, not who I do.  I would rather be a friend, than a sex object.

And as for love…

I want a love that transcends labels. I want a love that acknowledges and desires every fractured piece of me.

I want a love that isn’t annihilation.

I want our love to be a promise, a promise that we’ll change – together.

Digital Fantastic: Kindness as Praxis

On managing grief, mental illness and orienting oneself towards kind research practices.

Trigger warnings: this blog contains themes including mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation and death. Please engage with this content responsibly and although I appreciate kind thoughts, please do not @ me with ‘you ok hon’. This post may display incorrectly on mobile devices.
W. H. Auden, The More Loving One

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that my grandfather died. That’s the objective truth. The emotional truth is that my father died: he was the one man in the world I could always rely on, the one man who loved me unconditionally, who supported me without expecting anything in return. The one man in the world that gave me hope that kind men exist.

May be an image of 3 people

It was the 11th of July at approximately 2am when he passed away whilst my grandmother and I slept at his bedside. I like to think he waited for me to make the long journey from Glasgow to Essex to reach him. If only I’d been a few days sooner, I might have got there whilst he was still awake. I held my grandmother and told her that it was OK to cry, that it’s a perfectly normal and healthy response to grief. Even as I held her close, I felt nothing.

It must be the shock.

Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. Perhaps it’s such a colossal loss that I haven’t yet begun to comprehend it. It’s only recent, it makes sense that I’m still processing it – at least that’s what everyone tells me. I try to listen to them; it would be easy to dismiss this disconnect as a response to grief, but I can’t because it’s not an irregularity, it’s normality. My life is a series of extreme highs and lows punctuated by nothingness, the loud silence: the void.

The day my grandfather died, I performed the role of a dutiful and caring daughter. I did everything I could to raise people’s spirits: I encouraged them to tell stories and played our favourite songs. I asked how everyone was feeling. No one asked me; everyone thinks I’m strong and that I’m putting on a brave face – smiling through the sadness. What they don’t realise is that there’s no sadness to smile through. I passed through the arms of my family like a ghost, performing love and care without feeling it. I do this most days, with most people: I repeat patterns of social behaviour not because it’s what I feel, but it’s what I’ve learned is expected from me. I feel like I’m standing outside of myself, controlling my body like a meat puppet that is slowly rotting from the inside out. I jokingly compare myself to a corpse, but no one realises how serious I am. We laugh it off, say that I have cold hands because I have a cold heart, but the truth is that I feel like I died a long time ago. If only – lol jk (but not really tho).

When I’m in the void, it feels like forever, but it’s not. For there to be a noticeable absence, there had to have been something there.

F e e l i n g s.

But feeling is vulnerability and in a world like ours, vulnerability invites heartache.  Far better then, to retreat into apathy and anesthetise myself. But even when I’m numb, there’s a part of me that remembers that the numbness is where love should be. Even when I don’t feel love, I act as if I do in the hope that it will come.

And sometimes it does. On a good day I get an ecstatic high, I pet the dogs, I smile at babies, I ask people about their days and care about their answers. I say ‘I love you’ and actually mean it. I want to teach, I want to take part, to make love instead of fuck. I want to be kind and trust that others are kind too, even when I’ve been so consistently proven wrong. The high can be just as dangerous as the low that follows. I deal with my feelings by negating them with alcohol, binge eating and isolating myself, or heightening them by indulging in intense emotional connections, sex with strangers, starvation and self-harm. I zigzag between extremes in fits of emotional vertigo.  I’m always dizzy, always trying to catch my breath and sometimes I fall. Each time I get up it becomes a little bit harder. The more I neglect myself, the more I resent spending time with people. I isolate myself, try and reduce the emotional burnout I feel, tell myself that I’m happy alone, but it never lasts. I can’t help but love, care and take care of people.

But caretaking isn’t valued, nor recognised for the skill it is. Some of our worst paid professions are the caring ones: crafting human happiness is just not productive. You can’t quantify a smile. Kindness is viewed as something that people just are and do, rather than something which should be learned and practiced. During my PGCE we all joked about the Teachers’ Standards (Department of Education, 2020), which is an outline of the kinds of qualities a teacher should embody in order to be considered a professional. It includes points about upholding public trust, treating pupils with dignity, and behaving in a professional way. We took great pains to gather evidence to meet the standards and joked about how pedantic it was.

“Surely some of this about NOT being a dick, right? Just common sense?” (Giles, 2018)

If only.

Maybe we need a set of standards across the board to recognise that kindness isn’t innate: it’s a skill that must be encouraged and developed.

As I went about the day-to-day of bereavement admin and looked after my family with numb compassion, I realised that I had been so isolated (during lockdown and before) that I had almost forgotten how to nurture. Even at the best of times researchers often feel so disconnected from everything and everyone that it’s easy to forget how to be kind, especially when there is no perceived benefit. Taking time out of our packed schedules to make someone else happy can feel like an unnecessary distraction. But what if kindness was a standard that we were encouraged to aspire to? Is there a way to orient our research practices towards kindness so that when we don’t feel like being kind, we have a theory to fall back on?

I was recently listening to a Psychology of Video Games (Madigan, 2019) podcast for my research and ended up learning something about myself (because making EVERYTHING ABOUT ME is one of my greatest talents).  In that podcast, Kelli Dunlap PsyD, outlines a model of empathy which is used to inform game design. Dunlap divides empathy into two types: affective (or emotional) empathy and cognitive empathy (12:11 onwards).

Dunlap describes cognitive empathy as “the mental ability to project yourself into the experience of somebody else and to understand what’s going on and why they might be thinking or feeling what they’re thinking and feeling”. Put simply, cognitive empathy helps us to “walk a mile in [others’] shoes and see the world through their eyes”. On the other hand, “emotional empathy are the feels”. If we see someone else experience strong emotion, we may feel these emotions mirrored in ourselves and this “gives us the motivation to care or to act, because it’s uncomfortable for us and we’re trying to decrease our discomfort”.

Dunlap explains that empathy works optimally when the two aspects are integrated:

“-because if you’re all cognitive empathy and zero emotional empathy, you’re basically Hannibal Lecter where you understand what everyone is going through, but you don’t care … and if you’re all emotional empathy, you’re a weepy mess and you have no idea why”.

Let’s break it down with some simple examples:

Acts of emotional empathy
(action compelled by feeling)
Acts of cognitive empathy
(action guided by perception of others’ needs)
Acting emotionally during an argument.
Stepping back from an argument to manage the situation.
Physical or verbal affection driven by feelings of connection, desire or to comfort.Phatic exchanges, etiquette and hugging people (if you’re not a hugger).
Cleaning up after yourself because someone made you feel bad about your mess. Cleaning up after yourself because you know not doing so will cause someone inconvenience.  
Apologising because someone made you feel bad about your actions and you want to feel better.Apologising because you understand why your actions may be hurtful, then acting to rectify the problem.
Improving social situations because you feel awkward.Defending someone verbally, even when they aren’t present.
Romantic spontaneity.Thinking of gifts/dates.
Initiating text conversations because you miss someone.Checking on loved ones when you’re busy/not craving their company.
Wearing a face covering because you’ve seen the effects of COVID on a loved-one, or refusing to wear one because of your personal feelings.
Wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID because you know its potential effect on others, or not wearing one because you believe bullshit conspiracy theories.
Doing an activity someone you love likes because it makes them happy, which makes you feel happy.Doing an activity someone you love likes because you want them to percieve you as a suitable partner.
Sending emails in the heat of the moment.Crafting communications in advance.
Expressing your emotions to share them with others and help you understand each other.

Modelling emotional processing by simulating and/or talking about feelings, even if/when you don’t feel them.

Extremes of emotional empathy may include:
– Oversharing
– Lack of boundaries
– Being a ‘mood sponge’
– Negating or minimising others’ pain to reduce your own discomfort.
– Acting without consideration of others’ circumstances.

Extremes of cognitive empathy may include:
– Policing others’ boundaries
– Attempting to control others’ perceptions of you using social tactics.
– Gaslighting.
– Faking emotional empathy to help others feel better, or to manipulate their perception of you.
– Assuming someone’s feelings and acting based on those assumptions.

Though I’ve separated them out, the same action can be motivated by a combination of both cognitive and emotional empathy. I will emphasise however, that being motivated by combined factors isn’t the same as faking emotional empathy – one skilled enough at cognitive empathy may not feel emotion at the time, but can use their understanding of others to perform emotion either in the service of others (altruistically) or themselves. This has can be termed “feeling with your head” (Thomson, 2020).

Dunlap’s explanation of cognitive empathy resonated with me. I realised that I often default to cognitive empathy in an attempt to control people’s perceptions of me, or focus on their needs to nuture them whilst neglecting my own. I experience a strange kind of amnesia that makes me forget who I am, what I value and why it’s important. I negate my personhood and allow myself to be defined in relation to others. But, because I do have feelings (ew), repressing them takes up a lot of energy, which results in emotional burnout and self-neglect. When it gets too much, I end up feeling all those feels all at once, to an almost unbearable extent.

But how can one avoid this? How can we go about integrating cognitive and emotional empathy after a life of swinging between extremes?

What if I was to treat myself like I’m someone I care about? Is it possible to use my cognitive empathy to take care of my emotions?

I know ‘self-care’ is a staple millennial cliché, but I’m late to the trend and I’m still figuring out how to turn my nurturing side inwards. The whole thing feels counter-intuitive; it seems so ridiculous to be doing so many things that will increase my lifespan when I spend so much of my time wanting to die, but I have to do it for the days when I remember how much I want to live.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years and never managed to get suitable help, so I’ve done what I do best: paperwork. I’ve made a diagram to refer to when times get rough, to try and keep track of how I’m feeling, what behaviours I want to avoid and which I want to encourage myself to aspire towards. Although it might not always be possible, the aim is to use my cognitive empathy in the service of my emotions and to treat myself how I would treat someone else in distress. The creation of the diagram is itself an act of self-directed cognitive empathy.

Whilst this specific exercise is perhaps only relevant to me, is demonstrative of one of the ways that we as researchers can put our capabilities to use in a way that benefits us as people, not just as professionals. I propose that we practice kindness as praxis. Use our creativity, apply the analytical and critical thinking skills we’ve developed; take the best we’ve learned about humanity and APPLY it to our lives. But, how?

Here are a few simple things we can do to enact kindness as praxis:

  • Establish self-care habits and routines to provide yourself with structure during more challenging times.
  • Monitor your mood and check-in with yourself as if you were a friend in order to better understand how your emotions may impact your workload.
  • Use your understanding of others to present your research in a way which is engaging to your audience, rather than one which serves your ego.
  • Think about how those outside of academia may perceive you as a researcher. Is there a way that you can make impact in a way that genuinely serves the wider community, rather than as part of a box-ticking exercise?
  • Consider how you interact with others in a professional setting and use cognitive empathy to temper your emotions in order to treat people kindly.
  • Use cognitive empathy to consider if there are any social/emotional/moral lessons to be taken from your research and think about how to implement them.

Of course, we’re not perfect. We’ve probably all fucked-up and are going to again, but using cognitive empathy to learn from our mistakes can help us course-correct and be better people, as well as more effective researchers. Be kind with your head, even if you don’t feel it in your heart. Use your skills to make someone smile – there’s a little impact for you.

I’m sure I must be feeling the loss of my grandfather. I’m sure that that one day the realisation will hit me. The loss. Until then all I can do is look after myself so that I can best support others. I just hope that when the emotions hit, I’ll be better equipped to manage them.

Maybe I can’t diagram my way out of grief, but I have tried to deal with everything as well as I can.

I am trying.

I promise.

References

Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk. 2020. Teachers’ Standards. [online] Available at: <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/665522/Teachers_standard_information.pdf&gt; [Accessed 28 July 2020].

Dunlap, K and Madigan, J., 2019. Empathy In Video Games. [podcast] The Psychology of Video Games. Available at: <https://www.psychologyofgames.com/2019/07/podcast-50-empathy-in-video-games/&gt; [Accessed 28 July 2020].

Giles, D. 2018. The Teachers’ Standards: a rant.

Thomson, R. 2020. Armchair Psychology for Dummies

Armchair Psychologist in session: a prescription for waifus

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

Dear armchair psychologist,

I’m struggling to move on from my ex, not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health, but because I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often and i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating because I can see that they are not right for me, but I haven’t been attracted to anyone since so I am finding myself thinking about them a lot. It isn’t healthy, I know. I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again. Long shot but do you have anything that might ease my concerns?

*****

Dear anon,

Thank you for your question.

First of all:

YOU CUPCAKE, HONEYBUNCH, SUGAR PLUM, PUMPY-UMPY-UMPKIN

AWESOME HUMAN YOU

This was me trying to tell you (in the most patronising way possible – sorry) that I am so happy for you. I’m so pleased that you’re not in this toxic relationship any more. One way, or another, you are out of it. The situation may be painful, but being free of this relationship, and recognising how shitty it was for you, may be one of the best things that has ever happened to you.

So again, my congratulations! 

Boku no Hero Academia

…I realise however, that knowing this doesn’t make things any easier.

‘not because i don’t recognise that the relationship was dreadful for my mental health… It is upsetting and frustrating … It isn’t healthy…’

It sounds like you consider your feelings irrational, and you’re giving yourself a hard time about that. Thing is, emotions aren’t rational and you can’t logic them away.

WE CAN TRY THO.

Let’s ACTIVATE armchair psychology mode and start making some assumptions…

armchair-psychologist

‘I don’t find myself physically attracted to people very often…’

If you don’t find yourself attracted to others very often, let’s assume that you might not have felt emotions like the ones you’re experiencing much before. We won’t assume that you haven’t had relationships, because romantic relationships ≠ attraction, but you might not have experienced this particular type of relationship before.

Like anything, feeling things and processing emotion takes practise. Your unconscious mind may not be used to handling things like this, so what you’re feeling could be a result of its imperfect way of dealing with things. You might want to consider engaging in some kind of therapy, or getting a therapy workbook to complete as this will help these emotions become conscious and perhaps enable you to practise processing them more efficiently. However, I’m NOT a therapist and this is a pretty boring answer, so it’s not something we’ll go into in detail about – it’s just something benign you might want to check out. If you’re not into therapy, at least forgive yourself for having feelings. Emotions are shitty and it’s not your fault that you feel them. Hopefully, in time, you’ll get used to it – or when the singularity comes we’ll all shed our human meat-cases and become flawless virtual presences living immortal lives w/o having to deal will this bullshit. Until then, we’ll always have emo.

‘I’m struggling to move on from my ex… i am still very attracted to this ex… I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

This again, is very normal. Even Freud wrote about it. We may not agree with all of Freud’s shit, but I find that his work functions nicely as a metaphorical framework that makes emotions easier to understand. So, let’s cherry-pick some of his theories, take them out of context and use them in the most simplistic way possible BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT US ARMCHAIR PSYCHOLOGISTS LIVE FOR.

Freud, Sigmund

First, let’s talk about cathexis, a term created by Freud’s translators from the German  ‘besetzung’ which means investment (Rycroft 1995: 19). This is basically a representation of the process of putting energy into a relationship, and has become synonymous with the modern term ’emotional investment’. By having relationships with people, you are effectively giving them a part of yourself – I’m not talking about spitting in their food or secretly feeding them your fingernails, but sharing things like your time, your energy, your body and perhaps even your love. Gifts such as these are more impactful than anything material, yet they are much harder to quantify. If you bought someone an expensive box of doughnuts you’d see the effect on your bank balance, but when you give your emotional energy to someone else, the effect is intangible. Yet, it’s something you can feel – especially if you don’t receive an equal of amount of doughnuts emotional investment in return.

Undertale Heart, Toby Fox

When you break-up with someone, you may feel like you have given them your dignity. It can feel like you made a poor decision – you invested in stock which crashed. Instead of dealing with material consequences (though, that’s a possibility too) you have to deal with the social and emotional consequences of this decision and find a way to recoup your losses. It may not be your fault that this happened – all relationships are a gamble – but the losses are real and so are the feelings that come with them. The process of withdrawing your emotional energy (decathexis) is bound to vary depending on both the intensity of your emotions and how efficient your unconscious is at processing them.

‘i am still very attracted to this ex. It is upsetting and frustrating’

It seems like you have contradictory emotions which can make it difficult to understand them. It’s even more challenging because a lot of what you feel is probably unconscious – the feelings have been repressed because they’re difficult and confusing. Unconscious emotions are a little like mice living in your wall: you probably don’t know they’re there until they start making weird noises, and you might not even realise where the noises are coming from until the mice start leaving enough little shit pellets for you to notice them. These manifestations of your unconscious shit pellets can come in various forms: they could be neurotic symptoms, or obsessive thoughts.

In your case, it looks like the shit pellets you’re finding are evidence of ambivalence, a term coined by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 (OH YES LOOK HOW UP TO DATE MY RESEARCH IS *SO NOW* AND NOT OUTDATED AT ALL).  Basically, ambivalence is different to having mixed feelings for a person – which is normal because people  can be wonderful, shitty, sexy and horrific all at once (Rycroft 1995: 6) – it’s about having contradictory emotions which are so extreme that they’re confusing.

Perhaps when you became attracted to this person, you put them up on a pedestal to bask in their sexiness because you weren’t used to experiencing the kinds of thing they made you feel.

Surely a person who could make you FEEL things like that must be GREAT – right?

But, they’re just a person after all. They’re not David Hasselhoff.

David Hasslehoff, pants, underwear

When you realised that they are imperfect, it hurt even more because you let yourself be attracted to them, and maybe they weren’t worthy in the first place. Maybe it made you hate them just a little bit. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

‘I am finding myself thinking about them a lot’

Anyway, the shit pellets can take the form of obsessive thoughts which may be the result of your unconscious trying to balance out the extremes of what you’re feeling (Rycroft 1995: 6). It’s such hard work that you don’t have enough energy left to repress your emotions, so they keep surfacing. Maybe you feel guilty because your unconscious is doing a shitty job and it knows it. So it’s time to stop trying to repress things. Stop ignoring the shit pellets. You need to clean them up and give the mice in your wall some cheese and some goddamn attention. Maybe then they’ll stop squeaking so fjucking loudly.

Be kind to the mice to be kind to yourself.

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There’s a lot more that we can’t go into here, but I’d recommend checking out Mourning and Melancholia  – reading the terms in context situates them within a more sophisticated framework of meaning than I can provide here.

Rick and Morty

Now we have a slightly better understanding of your feelings (well, the flimsy construction of your feelings we’ve made up)

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and we should think about a possible solution to what you consider to be your current problem.

‘I haven’t been attracted to anyone since… I am nervous that I will never be physically attracted to anyone ever again.’

Before we get into this, I want to mention that when it comes to attraction, everyone is different – not being attracted to people isn’t a problem unless you consider it a problem. I’m making suggestions in the hope they will alleviate some of your discomfort, rather than change who you essentially are.

OK SO.

The stereotypical advice would be to TAKE SOME TIME FOR YOURSELF. FIND YOURSELF BEFORE YOU FIND A PARTNER. LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF. DO SOME YOGA. RUB SOME COCONUT OIL ON IT.

yoga fail.gif

Of course, as an armchair psychologist I’m going to give you this shitty advice.

BUT BEAR WITH

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We’re going to mix things up a bit.

My advice is essentially to take some time for yourself and to date yourself  (candles, chocolates and all) but

BY FINDING A HUSBANDO/WAIFU !!! ❤

Translation: have a romance with a fictional heart-throb.

Mystic Messenger, Visual Novel, Android

For some people (especially late bloomers), letting oneself feel attraction can take practise. One of the ways we can practise is by engaging in fantasy. Perhaps crushing on a fictional character might help reignite the spark you felt when you met your ex, or at least get you back in ‘the mood’…

FOR LOVE

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE YOU PERVERT

Jeeeze

this is a WHOLESOME blog, I’ll have you know

blushing

(until someone asks me cosmo-style question – I’d be fine with that)

Anyway, having a fictional romance can help you feel emotions again without all of the bother of dealing with someone’s imperfections. Some activities you could try include:

  • Playing visual novels (find one with pretty people and a good story – I won’t recommend any because idk what you like)
  • Playing a dating sim (Mystic Messenger is GREAT because it’s on your phone and is designed to feel like a real relationship – it also lasts a long time and has a lot of different paths to choose from which make it great distraction – sadly it’s just husbandos though).
  • Write a story/fanfic for the sole purpose of creating someone you can ‘fall in love’ with.
  • You could even read a book  (IKR – CRAZY) but it might not give you the same feeling of agency.

Taking part in imaginative exercises could help you feel accustomed to the idea of being attracted to someone again. You were hurt the last time you felt physical attraction, so it’s natural that you might feel reluctant (even unconsciously) to feel that way again. Getting a waifu is a much safer way of accessing your romantic side until you’re ready to share it.  Just remember that the deep backstories of fictional husbandos/waifus you spend time with are likely more glamorous than a real person’s baggage: try and be aware of that when you begin to make the transition to feeling something for a real person again.

HAPPY HUSBANDO HUNTING

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist

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Aftercare: Would you ever engage in a fictional romance or do you think the idea is kinda creepy?

Let me know in the comments!

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