This is our truth, tell us yours
This splendid article by Richard Bentall speaks volumes to me.
Here’s why. There is a personality trait I have which is at times my greatest strength, my greatest weakness, and which is absolutely rooted in my history. Bentall’s article is entirely congruent with my experiences.
One of my strengths at work is my ability to understand risk, to understand motives and the trends that shape the corporate weather. Sometimes I’m referred to by my office family as ‘Radar’; sometimes, in honour of a shared office appreciation for The Musketeers, the campest warriors ever to grace our TV screns, I’m referred to as the Cardinal.
I grew up as a bisexual youth, abused by men who I did not turn away, seeking out experiences and places that had to remain a secret. Understanding the motives of the people around me, understanding the truths that could be spoken and which must be concealed, was central to my life experience.
Of course, not all of that was about me. I’ve written about my family history and its culture of secrets and lies before. If I was perpetually scanning the horizon for hidden meanings, for causes and effects I had good teachers in my parents.
The problem is, as the fable of Achilles tries to tell us, that strengths come with built-in weaknesses. Horizon scanning depends on clear visions and good data. In a family environment that’susually the case, so you don’t have to learn how to turn the radar off, to learn how to operate when the screens are dark.
Have you worked out what my weakness is yet? Paranoia. Shut down my sources of data, conceal the key players from my view, and my brain starts to try to fill the gaps, to interpolate between the known knowns and the unknown unknowns. It’s exhausting and depressing. I become anxious, tired, and irascible. Chemical explanations of my anxity, which can reach clinical levels on tests like GAD7, don’t help, and neither do chemical cures.
In an ideal world I would develop a plan B, a way of working in the absence of data, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Of course, that kind of re-programming takes time, and needs support and help; it takes time to go from being a one trick pony to being an all round performer. Would a medical model help me? I’m not sure. A listening model does.
The key point however is seeing my anxiety as being as much a part of me as being out of breath if I try to run upstairs ten times in five minutes. If I want to be as good as I can be at reading the runes, I have to accept the downside, while working on ways of managing it.
Key to all this for me, for all my understanding of who and what I am, is I accept that all of, my strengths and my weaknesses, are products of my history.