I believed that rationality would save me.
What else possibly could?
I was growing up in a house where my mother’s intense internalized trauma of growing up with Aspergers got sprayed over everything and everyone, where every moment threatened another explosion, another erasure, another lashing out in search of a scapegoat who must be the one who stole her normality and happiness.
She had chosen my father at a new year’s eve party when she saw his iron ring, a signature of engineers in Canada. He brought a kind of rationality that didn’t demand the emotional involvement that other men demanded, a kind logical problem solving approach that would enable him to focus on taking care of her with no messy needs of his own.
Between the flailing, pained emotionality of my mother and the withdrawn thinking of my father, I had to find a way out of the challenges that faced me in the family, the home, the neighbourhood.
I believed that rationality would save me.
I could think my way out, moving beyond mess to clear & sharp understanding.
That choice has been my blessing and my curse.
Neel Burton has a new book out, “Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking.” It is a direct response to his last book, “Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception” as he found that there were those in the world who strove to purge themselves of self-deception, learning to think out of the box, and that those people find both benefits and costs from moving beyond convention.
“Both mental disorder and hyper-sanity place us outside society,” Burton wrote in 2016. Both shatter the self-deception that most use to hold themselves together, the shielding and shedding through latent inhibition used to hold onto the conventions of sanity. “By protecting us from fearsome truths, ego defences not only blind us to those truths and so to reality, but also confuse and constrict our thinking. ”
The truth around me, no matter how fearsome, was not manageable by blindness. I didn’t understand how rare my concept forming survival strategies were, though I did understand that most people “didn’t get the joke,” weren’t able to understand and mirror me.
Others, I also knew, weren’t as excited to see the world from another perspective, to go around corners and find new ways of understanding our shared world. Not wanting their beliefs and feelings to be challenged, they tended to cling to the known and comfortable instead of opening up to connections, mental and otherwise. Quick, fluid, deep thinking isn’t easy for those not taught the habits of analysis and understanding. Seeing things as we expect them to be is so much easier and assuring of current comforting correctness, so for many rejection of challenge as “noise” becomes second nature.
It is not sick to be sick of sickness. I knew my choices were limited as a queer/trans person, as a child in my family, as someone who could see clearly. I knew that I had to trust rationality to save me. In a world that values assimilation over sanity, though, that rationality also has the power to destroy me. I know what it is to be seen as a “too person” — too smart, too sharp, too intense, too queer, too overwhelming.
The idea that rationality exists in opposition to feeling, that it mostly serves as a way to impose structure on the world, winning by forcing it into your own framework is held by those who seek control rather than understanding. To me, rationality is a gateway into understanding natural complexity, even the beautiful complexity of my own soul.
Seeking the connections between stories lets me identify deeper patterns, the truth that can often be lost in as we rationalize difference or try to impose arbitrary structures. Living in the chaos made me understand it, and while I tried to control it by manipulating those around me, it was not until I let go of those behaviours that I could finally embrace messy humanity with all the passions, needs, desires and brilliance.
Rationality, though, is one of the most effective ways to identify and challenge rationalizations, those mental mods we build to try and justify our choices and beliefs. This has always made me seem dangerous to those trying desperately to stay in place even while it makes me compelling to those who seek healing. Too many have wanted me to use my rationality to challenge what challenges them without challenging their own assertions, but questioning just doesn’t work like that. It is always our assumptions which have to stand the test first if we really want to get to clear thinking.
To question our rationalizations is to question the fundamentals of our own identity. If we aren’t the notions that we use to inform our choices, then who are we? If the ground we stand on is shifting, what can we trust as a foundation for our claims, our beliefs, our truth?
For me, going deep into connection is the only way to find a bit of bedrock, but the willingness — no, the absolute need — to always be questioning, ready to doubt, makes it very hard to assert ego in the world. I may have found some fundamentals but I know they will be dismissed by anyone who finds them threatening to their identity props and I have no simple conventions to back up my hard earned wisdom, only the way it has helped me understand my surroundings.
I believed that rationality would save me and it has.
I learned early, though, from a mother that gave me the family nickname of “Stupid” that my questions would also isolate me and keep me lonely. This pattern has continued, wearing me down and wasting me out.
Does this make me “hyper-sane?” I’m not quite ready to embrace that moniker; I still have a few questions to work through.
And that, I know after all these decades, makes me me.