Becoming more sane

I have observed in myself, from time to time, the following two phase phenomenon in my own psyche:

(1) In a stressful situation I will find myself in an unexpected panic, and will act in a way that causes confusion, and sometimes dismay, in the people around me. “Why did he do/say that“, I imagine them thinking. I’m sure you’ve all been there at some point or other.

Of course this sort of thing is worrisome, not to say embarrassing. After such moments I tend to brood, to turn inward for a while, and usually I become more critical of myself. And then, sometimes weeks later, I usually arrive at the next phase:

(2) I remember something that happened years ago, something so traumatic that I had put it completely out of my mind, and which would have prompted my irrational reaction. I’m always surprised when I realized the magnitude of some of the memories I have repressed. In one case it was a teacher in high school who turned out to be a monster (you don’t even want to know). in another, it was the sudden death, over that first Christmas break, of the very first friend I met the year I went away to college.

When such a memory comes flooding back, I realize that my repression of that memory had planted a kind of bomb in my mind, ready to go off later — even many years later.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about this. After all, the thing about a repressed memory is that it is repressed. You are not even consciously aware it is there, let alone what it is. The upside is that once one of these memories has come back, it seems to lose all power to act as an unconscious trigger.

One effect this has had is that I have learned to go easier on myself when I find myself becoming unexpectedly alarmed or upset or panicked. Now I realize it’s not something as simple as a personal failing. Rather, it is real life as a kind of ad hoc therapy, the outward sign of some unconscious trauma from my past working its way up to the surface.

So just remember, the next time somebody you know acts crazy. If they are even a little aware that they just acted crazy, then they have probably just taken a step toward becoming more sane.

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