Sunday, May 4, 2008

The perverse bibliophile is useful.

I have been told that I am an emotionally intelligent person, or something to this effect on more than one occasion. My sister, R. , is fascinated with the way I behave, and think about things. I tend to take this with a smidge of salt, as she is tremendously more intelligent and motivated than me in just about every way. Luckily, we went into different fields. I went the literature route, and she went the hard science route. Seldom do the two meet, although we share fiction tastes. Perhaps this is even the root of the difference: my academic endeavors were focused on the analysis of fictional characters. How they acted, why they said the things they said, and what this all means was my whole focus for several years. R., on the other hand, observes insects.

This was going somewhere. . . ah, yes.

A friend of mine called the other day, looking for my life partner, Paradox. He was not around, and she decided to ask me, instead. What her query boiled down to was weather or not it is dishonest for someone to elicit the admission of emotional vulnerabilities, if they don't really care about either you, or the vulnerabilities.

My answer would have been "No!" regardless, I think. But fresh off of a re-read of Jay Wiseman's SM 101: An Introduction, I had a reasoning and justification on tap. Namely, that it is ethically questionable, if not downright wrong to open a person's armor more than you are willing to help them put it back together.

After all, we all have a layer of armor, or skin, or manner, or something that keeps us from blurting out our troubles to the supermarket clerk when they ask us how we are doing. Intimacy, especially emotional intimacy, is, in my opinion, a reciprocal relationship. One does not offer intimacy without the expectation of intimacy in return. The exception might be in certain professional relationships, such as therapists. Even then, it seems to me, there is a commitment to working through any issues that are raise in therapy.

In Wiseman's book, this is explicated slightly differently. As I recall, his phrasing is along the lines of "Don't do anything to a person which is beyond their ability to self-heal." He, of course, is coming at this from the perspective of both physical and mental harm in the context of consensual power play, where as in this case I was using it to apply to everyday emotional exposure and intimacy.

Nevertheless, it worked. My friend felt that this concept was very helpful to her, and her situation. Then, she praised me for, what was to her, a revelation.

I took the praise as it was intended, graciously. But in the back of my head, I was jumping up and down, saying "I told you all that perverse literature you've been reading was useful! See?"

3 comments:

I. Mazzikin said...

You did not think it was useful after supplying material for your friends at our reading event, or after counseling myslf and others in our relationships? It is quite useful. In afct, I think I shall re-read the book in question now.

penchanter said...

I wonder how often questions about the opposite scenario come up. Sometimes, I feel like breaking down your own armor can be as harmful as breaking down someone else's, especially if you leave the other party holding the bag, as it were: "Look, here I am, open and vulnerable and broken. Fix me." Of course, the same answer you supplied to your friend (not to knock down any walls you don't also plan to mend) is probably still the best one. At the same time, I'm never really sure how to identify the borderline between legitimate need and emotional manipulation.

shadowedge said...

I think the essential diffence is encapsulated in the phrase "I'm broken, now fix me."

I think that is just as unethical as trying to break someone's armour dowm, alibet in the opposite direction.

Emotional dumping is discussed in "The Ethical Slut" by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton. They put a lot of store in owning one's own emotions. I personally find it difficult to do when someone I care for is hurting, but it is a useful concept.

On the other hand, I often find it helpful to bitch about things that are going wrong, or not going right in my life as a prelude to doing something about them. It is often a relief to be able to say that something is bothering one. Not in the expectation of the listener fixing it, but as a release valve.

But, in the end, we have to own our own emotions.