Moments that Lack Glue

 

Degri-Glue-300px

 
 
About mental coherence & social relationships

This post is inspired by Be here, now by Aspienaut (AKA Paul C Siebenthal) and especially these words:

“I’m aware that I see my life as a series of individual moments and memories that are boxed up, disconnected and independent of each other. I do not think of my experiences or life as a narrative or experiential arc; rather a series of disconnected random events.”

Be here, now by Aspienaut.

Paul is taking about the lack of coherence in how he perceives his life over time; that moments are like separate worlds rather than a coherent story. (I recommend to go and read the whole post!) I can very much relate, and this is a continuation of my comment on Paul’s post.

I wrote about my own issues with mental coherence in Important types of Coherence, which is a sort of personal essay/brainstorm about mental coherence, and how lack of it causes mental difficulties.

Here I’d like to focus on the impacts on social relationships. I know of no particular research to back up my reflections; it is totally my own subjective introspective thoughts and may apply to only me (but I doubt it).

I wrote in the essay about the impact on social relationships when the coherence across time is weak; such as:

I may perceive persons like they are having different personalities present in different moments rather than one personality spanning many facets if I don’t connect their behaviours and expressions across time (emotionally responding to peoples’ moods as if they were different persons).

Important types of Coherence.

As a young adult, I was never really able to get over the “stranger phase” with people; I always felt like I was meeting them for the first time even if I saw them regularly. If they behaved like they knew me, then I was able to mirror their friendliness and act familiar, but only reflecting their own friendliness back to them in that moment. When the moment was gone, so was the familiarity.

The tendency to “coherence failures” is much milder in my current age (as with many things). My coherence has improved strongly over time, and this is why I can get over the stranger phase and build real relationships. I have learned that relationships can last, and that personalities are consistent over time despite momentary moods and discrepancies. Even when they seem incredible irrational, there is always a some sort of logical system underneath the cacophony; a long story.

It may sound like I’m just stating the obvious, but it is one of those key revelations that years back in time opened up a whole new level of life.

However, there are still many glitches.

 
Jamais vu

I may relate with someone I interact with regularly, but if I haven’t seen them for a while or meet them in a different type of situation, then they may suddenly be like strangers (I recognise them objectively, but not emotionally). They still act like they know me, so in order to not hurt their feelings and damage the relationship, I pretend to know them… a “fake it till you make it” strategy. It is stressful, draining and awkward. Sometimes I “make it” and the connection gets restored after a warm-up period; at other times it doesn’t.

A similar thing used to happen to my husband every time he returned home after an overseas trip; he left as a loved one and came back as a stranger. It usually took from a few days to a few weeks to get to know him again. He was used to it and would just wait it out, which of course made it easier, but it was unsettling and lonely to have this stranger at home who looked like my husband but was unrelated to my memories of him. The relationship I used to take for granted had vanished as if it was never real**.

Nattily has described what sounds like a similar phenomenon; she calls it “Impostors“. Revisiting her post and skimming the comment track, it seems it happens to others too. I can’t know what the causes are of theirjamais vu”* of course, but I’m speculating it could also have to do with glitches in their mental coherence.

 
Memory storage format for remembering what people look like

Nattily mentions in an update that she has mild faceblindness, and suggests that it could have some relation to that. I don’t have faceblindness, but the way I remember what people I know look like, is very crude***. I typically remember people in the form of a few key features – whatever stands out, be it their height, hands, nose, eye brows, hair, gait; and not necessarily assembled. Their faces are often held loosely together in unstable caricatures that gradually evolve in their absence; the memories become more caricature-like over time.

Therefore, even though I recognise familiar people easily, their faces often don’t quite match how I remember them, so they look disturbingly “wrong” when I see them after a while, – until I get used to them again, and my memory gradually calibrates the memory to better resemble the original. Sometimes the calibration happens within ten minutes or less; at other times it takes a long period of time, or never normalises with that particular person.

 
Long term relationships = glue

Relationships never really disappear for me. The weak point is the reality link; to keep their real life connection across changes and gaps in time; to recognise that a relationship is still essentially the same even when it looks different and feels different and has been dislocated into an unexpected situation. A long term relationship is a string through time that incorporates infinite variations, updates and new versions of the same familiar core theme; it weaves a long story out of multitudes of moments.

This was my thoughts about mental coherence & social relationships. (I can think of many more relevant aspects, but that will be for another time).

 
———–
* Thanks for the word, Nattily!

** It still happens, but nowadays in much milder degree that isn’t nearly as obvious; it still feels weird but it doesn’t show much, and it gets back to normal sooner.

** However, it is also possible that the way I remember people is completely normal, and my confusion / alienation is caused by something else. That kind of things are always hard to know for sure, because there doesn’t exist an official standard for Normal cognition.

 

Image source: openclipart.com
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9 thoughts on “Moments that Lack Glue

  1. Shelley

    I really enjoyed this. It’s one thing to be the person on the outside, the person who’s trying to understand how best to interact with people who have Aspergers (or autism). It’s another thing to hear what it’s like from the inside out. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. Anna

      Thank you Shelley:-) I can only speak for myself though… not generally on behalf of everybody with Asperger’s. Although weak central coherence (if that is in fact what I am describing) is supposedly a general autism thing, it is not given that others experience it the same way or experience the same social effects, or even if they superficially seem to do, that they come to the same conclusions about what causes it. I would like to see more reflections about this topic, I think it is very interesting, and it is for me personally a key mind-issue.

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    1. Anna

      You mean a stick figure without adding extra details beyond the stick structure? (because otherwise I guess it wouldn’t be a stick figure anymore?).

      I think a good metaphor for how I remember people, is how a website is saved with Adobe Dreamweaver (not that I am VERY familiar with it). Online, the website looks like a website. Where it is stored locally on the hard drive though, it is just a folder full of different types of files… every element of the website, including e.g. each image, is stored as a separate item. Then imagine the hard drive is glitchy and tends to make small changes to the files on its own (that’s my brain). Also imagine that there doesn’t exist just a handful of browser, but millions of different browsers that may each render the website in a somewhat different way. Then it makes sense that with all the different ways the website can look, although it is possible to tell objectively that it is the same website due to recognising its topic, text context, feature types and basic structure, it will tend to often appear unfamiliar and strange in many situations.

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  2. gavinpandion

    I’ve been reflecting and writing about coherence problems that are traumagenic (dissociation, repression) and this post was a good reminder to me that coherence problems can have other causes too, and that tricks for coping with them are learnable. I have a tendency to relate to people as strangers even after a long acquaintance, to find them unpredictable and to find emotional connectedness tenuous at best, and I like the idea of framing that as a perception problem rather than a state of chronic social isolation. I’ve been working on valuing the connections I already have more highly, so this post was very timely for me. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Anna

      Thank you:-)

      I was trying to read your latest post (had to look up quite a few words as usual;-) but I’m struggling to understand it because it mixes so many different concepts and genres via associative links. But your comment I can understand:-)

      I have a tendency to relate to people as strangers even after a long acquaintance, to find them unpredictable and to find emotional connectedness tenuous at best, and I like the idea of framing that as a perception problem rather than a state of chronic social isolation.

      Alienation… That’s sad, I know that state all too well. I guess it is a state of social/emotional isolation that can be caused by a variety of conditions, hereunder fragmented perception which again can be rooted in neurological or psychological issues, or a combination.

      I’ve been working on valuing the connections I already have more highly, so this post was very timely for me.

      It sounds like a sound strategy:-) It is also closest to my social strategy – to prioritise people (and animals) I already know. It is not really a strategy, it is the consequence of not liking to meet new people combined with being married.

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      1. gavinpandion

        Thanks for muddling through my blog, sorry it’s gotten so self-indulgent and convoluted lately. I think the transition to living alone has been a little hard on me, and part of me is afraid if my writing is clear and accessible that the real me will disappear and the words will just represent work to me, rather than self-expression. A friend of mine at work asked if I had a target audience and I admitted I needed to be more focused in that respect, but it’s like I have a mental block there right now, like I’m being much more obscure than I realize for reasons that are entrenched and irrational. I’m hoping it’s just a phase and that it will pass. 🙂
        I work at a restaurant now and I think my social capabilities get maxed out at work and when I get home I just have no energy left for socializing, but I’m hoping that once I get more used to my colleagues and more familiar with their mannerisms and habits, I’ll find it less draining. Part of me is lonely and bored but some of my interests are getting neglected out of sheer exhaustion.
        Happily, I’m getting a lot of reading time in and I found some good books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m also reading an Australian news magazine called The Conversation regularly, have you heard of it? I like their science and world news coverage a lot.

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        1. Anna

          sorry it’s gotten so self-indulgent and convoluted lately.

          No, it is because there are so many cultural references merged together via associative links; if I’m to understand one of your posts then I would have to read like 150 complex-literature books (and Wikipedia) and see 5 movies (OK that is exaggerated), without knowing in advance if it is something that would interest me, would be worth the effort (and it probably isn’t, because I have a different cultural taste which is much less intellectual… more sensory based and less speculative).

          A friend of mine at work asked if I had a target audience and I admitted I needed to be more focused in that respect, but it’s like I have a mental block there right now, like I’m being much more obscure than I realize for reasons that are entrenched and irrational. I’m hoping it’s just a phase and that it will pass. 🙂

          With obscurity & target audience: it is likely that for someone who is already familiar with the same sources, that it is much easier to grasp the gist of what you’re saying by referring to them. Your target audience would be an intellectual type with a huge literary & film repetoir and somewhat similar cultural tastes, who is also into learning about psychological abuse (or have similar experiences use it as a mirror). Still, cultural repetoir is a track that is unique to any person, so when there are many then it decreases the likelihood that the reader is familiar with all of them.

          (above was just to explain what I meant)

          However, you should of course primarily write in whatever way is meaningful and helpful for you, a blog isn’t a necessarily product that ought to “sell”, it is a personal expression and hobby. I have noticed that you think in an extremely associative way – that’s why there are so many associative links in your posts.

          I’m also very associative. I don’t have your huge cultural repetoir like you though:-) but when I write or say anything, a million associative links pop up to things I’ve read, observed, experienced, thought before et.c. that seem relevant. My draft posts branch out in many directions and most never make it to completion because I lose the overview.

          part of me is afraid if my writing is clear and accessible that the real me will disappear and the words will just represent work to me, rather than self-expression.

          I don’t understand that, but thank you for mentioning it. Do you mean that if you write with a target audience in mind instead of primarily as an outlet, then it will stop being self-expression and just be “a task”? (then I understand it!)

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        2. Anna

          (This is a separate topic, so I thought it appropriate with a separate comment:)

          I work at a restaurant now and I think my social capabilities get maxed out at work and when I get home I just have no energy left for socializing, but I’m hoping that once I get more used to my colleagues and more familiar with their mannerisms and habits, I’ll find it less draining. Part of me is lonely and bored but some of my interests are getting neglected out of sheer exhaustion.

          I’m really glad to hear that! I know it is very hard, but well done! I don’t mean just with the job but with with getting out of the terrible home situation and living independently! What happened seems like a very dramatic story (your mother arrested for arson and all that) which has been just briefly referred to, and I don’t have an overview so please forgive me if I ask questions about something you have already told on your blog, but I’m curious. I don’t want to be nosy so please don’t hesitate to ignore or reject some or all of these questions, but: what are your living circumstances now? Where are the dogs now? How did you get the job? How long time did you have it so far? (et.c…)

          In any case, well done with moving on, and I know (well, I think) it is very hard but well done & good luck with trying.

          Happily, I’m getting a lot of reading time in and I found some good books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m also reading an Australian news magazine called The Conversation regularly, have you heard of it? I like their science and world news coverage a lot.

          Yes, I also read The Conversation… Well, some of the articles. I follow it in my Twitter feeds.

          What I mostly read for the time being is actually this book blog: The Incipient Turvy… I’m working slowly through the archives from earliest to latest and love its humour and literary quality. I’m also very captivated by its personal relevance for me, it mirrors my own story (in a different variation) and describes the author’s CBT-like path from a decade of social isolation to a more social life (hint: no shortcuts!). I also love its “people sketches” and quirky entertainment flashes (such as M’s Encyclopedia) and dialogues with therapists. I’m a great fan. The author is M Kelter who writes Invisible Strings… it is his old blog so it isn’t updated or open for comments etc, but that is irrelevant.

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