About mental coherence & social relationships
“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).
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.
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 their “jamais 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.