Hard lesson to swallow. It was hard for me, but I think I have accepted it, and so I try and teach this to others. There are all essences of denial that everyone has. Some can't face their own fears, and this leads to all kinds of interesting side effects you'd never even dream of. Just keep that thought in the back of your mind for a moment while I explain the reality part.
I hear a lot of people complain about someone else "not facing reality." Some even become incensed that the OBVIOUS truth, right in front of them, is ignored. I usually hear this about things that are so subjective, it may not even be an issue of denial, but let's take this to the extreme and work our way back. Let's say you have a friend, Bill, who does not believe in the existence of trees.
"Ha ha!" you might think at first, "trees are a real, you see them every day!" But Bill says that you only THINK you see them. They are illusions caused by ... say the sun hitting you eyes at the wrong angle. You may get mad at Bill, pointing out that you climbed them as a kid, watched them grow, and even have a few in the yard. You can see them, touch them, smell them ... even hear the wind whooshing through the limbs. But Bill says it's all in your head. Let's assume for the moment that Bill is NOT being patronizing, arrogant, or mean. But let's say that Bill is humoring you because, in his heart, trees are a phenomenon of misplaced faith, like how some see UFO Abductions. He just thinks you're misinformed, like so many people he meets.
"I will prove it!" you claim, and take Bill outside. Bill claims to see none of the trees you point out to him. Let's say Bill runs into a tree rather hard, causing a nosebleed. How could he deny that? "Don't assume my spontaneous nosebleeds are a result of your so called 'trees.' That happens from time to time, I get blinding headaches followed by nosebleeds. It is a migraine-related issue, and in the future, I'd rather you not use my medical problems to support your faulty, however well-meaning, theories."
Doooooh! I bet you'd be furious, wouldn't you? Don't. It's the essence of all wars. That's my point. You won't be able to do anything to convince Bill, because you do not control his perceptions.
I spent years of free time trying to define reality. Why? Well, because I was told it couldn't be done easily. "Philosophers have spent years debating this... yatta yatta yatta..." So I set to define it. Of course, in truth (or my truth), I only set MY definition of it. And this is it:
Reality is a response to perceived stimuli.
Let's break that down. A response is how an organism reacts. Perceived means it's a personal experience. Stimuli is what interacts with the organism in the first place. So something happens, the organism's senses pick it up, translate it according to experience, and reacts to it. I have an essay of this on my site, but it's rather old and outdated, so I won't link to it. My point is this: to a paranoid person, people are out to get him. You will never prove it otherwise. Reality is such a personal experience, it's impossible to change it in someone else.
But yet we try. I mean, every time we communicate, we're creating a stimulus. But that's all we can control, we can't control how someone reacts to it. Now, we can, based on our experience of the person, control their reactions. Like I know if I hit a guy, he'll probably be mad. But I can't control what he does next, but I am assuming I personally would only hit a guy if I wanted them to stop doing something. I am taking a gamble on their reaction. But he may hit me back, which is why I haven't hit a person since I was a teen. But taking this down a few levels, I know if I say "Do you think your wife is sleeping with anyone?" will more than likely cause a paranoid person a level of instability. Some people excel at this level. They know "what buttons to push," so to speak. Sometimes only in a few special people (like their kids), sometimes more people, and some people are experts at manipulating stranger because they exploit other's fears and rules. Magicians know this, and use them to force people to do something that SEEMS random, but in reality, actually isn't. Like they know if most people are told to choose a number in their head from 1-4, they will usually choose 3.
Most of us are not that good. And this is what I try and tell my friends who are upset that another friend they care about is destroying themselves. It's not easy. It took me YEARS to get to this point, and I am still not wholly practicing this. It's not that I don't care so-and-so is addicted to marijuana, it's that I now know trying to get someone off that drug is a waste of time. I have to focus on where I *can* help, like driving them to the detox center when they call me up at 3am, saying they are sick of it, and want professional help. I can't force my friend who has a bad choice in dating men to stop picking jerks who abuse her. I can't force her not to go back to the jerk, no matter how many times she complains about how he treats her, leaves him, and then goes back to him with the same lies that "he's changed this time." All I can do is be there for her when she needs a place to stay for a little while.
Remember when I said to keep in the back of your head that some people's fears make them do odd things? Keep this in mind if you have a friend acting strangely. Here's an example:
You: I saw a blimp yesterday. It had "Fuji Film" written on it.
Them: So what?
You: So what? Well, it was pretty cool and everything.
Them: Is that all you can talk about?
You: No... I have only said this once, just now.
Them: Yes, I heard you! Now can we please drop it?
You: Why are you so uptight about a blimp?
Them: Again with the blimp! Maybe some people don't care about blimps!
You: I just said--
Them: Un-bel-IEV-able! You won't let it drop, will you? Shut the hell up!
You: Okay, okay! Whatever!
Them: Yeah, whatever.
Seems pretty stupid they got upset at a random comment, didn't they? What you didn't know is that your friend was fat in elementary school, and "Blimp" was his nickname. He hasn't been fat since he was 13 (you met him when he was 30), but he still bears the scars, and fears the word "blimp." You may think, "How stupid!" or "Jesus H. Christ, that was 20 years ago!" But to your friend, that one deep fear, that sore point still hurts, and you may never know why he flipped out because you mentioned a blimp. That's his reality, you have to find a way around it, but if you don't know the root cause, it may take a lot of trial and error. After a few years, you just learn that your friend doesn't like to talk about blimps, turkeys, lard, or wearing shorts. Some may be even less obvious, like if her best friend in grade school was killed at a carnival, that's why she fears the Ferris Wheel (not because, as many assume, she is scared of heights, but fears the exposed gears of the machinery).
So, when you are trying to help someone who may be acting irrationally, don't focus on what you can't change in them, but focus on what you can change FOR them to make life a little more bearable until they weather through whatever they are facing. THAT is what friends are for.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000213.html