The lights in our brains
1. I used to have this big, bright yellow SUV. My friends who knew I drove that car would tell me, “I never noticed them before, but now – every time I see a yellow car, I think of you."
2. In one episode of Bob’s Burgers, the restaurant receives a harsh review from a food critic who describes their burgers as “overdone and dry.” After the review comes out, Teddy, who eats at Bob’s every day and had never once expressed dissatisfaction, says:
“I don’t know Bobby, it just tastes a little… overdone and dry or something."
Bob: “Overdone and dry, Teddy?? You’re just quoting the review!”
“No, I know, it’s just – now I have words to put to my tastes.”
3. There are some emotions that entire populations of people straight up DO NOT FEEL because their language does not have a word for it.
4. I once stopped being attracted to a crush after my friends pointed out his "crazy eyes.” Because gosh dangit, they weren’t wrong – from a certain angle, he looked like an axe murderer. I couldn’t unsee it; they ruined him for me…
As we are
"We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
You know how our eyes can only see some ridiculously small part of what we're looking at, and our brain basically fills in the rest of the frame using context and history and blah blah? That's not just true for vision – that's how we construct our entire realities.
We're born with our DNA, but it's everything else – everything we see, experience, every person we meet, every failure we suffer, every pain we endure, every joy we celebrate – that molds the contours of our brains and primes it for future perception.
The world I see is not the world you see; we've both designed our own versions of it according to the unique blueprints of our pasts.
And those 4 stories are micro-manifestations of this: How thoughts, feelings, observations, experiences, and interactions operate on what are, more or less, our personal projections.
If I hadn't lit that light in my friends' brains, then maybe they'd have gone through life never noticing big yellow cars...
The price of who we are
Here’s another story. This one’s a kicker.
5. In this episode of Invisibilia, we dive into the story of a truck driver named Tommy. Tommy is driving along his usual route. Coming from the opposite direction in their Grand Prix is a husband, his wife, and their little daughter Makayla.
It starts raining. The husband loses control of the wheel. The family's car spins, skids, and crashes into Tommy.
Makayla dies in the crash.
The truck driver suffers no physical damage, but experiences severe PTSD from being so closely involved in the death of a child. He cannot return to work for months and can barely function.
So, he sues the parents who just lost their daughter... for his emotional distress...
and wins the case.
As He Was
Tommy wasn't somebody who could feel his aching heart and consider it a natural response to a traumatic event. No, no – he had a different set of lights in his brain. From childhood, Tommy was taught that "men are supposed to be in control of their feelings," and that no amount of trauma should shake a him.
But of course he was shook.
His grief surrounding Makayla's death went on to compete, intensely, with his way of being – the reality he grew up with – the only truth he knew... That he was supposed to be a man! Men don't cry! Men don't show emotion! Men shouldn't...
"How I should be" to "How I am" ...The bigger that gap, the more unbearable the torture. And for Tommy, it was so big that – well, that it warranted a lawsuit.
Trauma VS. Triggerer
I thought this case was insane. But it forces you to wonder: Who's really at fault for the damage? The one with the sore spot? Or the one who (without intent) hits it?
I was once in a relationship that brought up all my past trauma. Every single one.
And they weren't out of the ordinary insecurities, either. I fear: being cheated on, lied to, abandoned, used. You know, the uje.
But every time I voiced how his words or actions would trigger something in me...
Rather than a healthy negotiation of, "Oh wow, I'm sorry – how can I not hurt you?"
His response was, "Maybe you should work on getting less hurt."
He put other women before me and said
I should go to therapy for my insecurities.
He'd leave and ignore me
and bought me self-help books to deal with the anxiety
that I got...
from being left and ignored.
He re-lit all of the parts in my brain that I never wanted to light again. Then he shamed me for having those parts at all. Shamed me, essentially, for being who I am.
"The things we fear most have already happened to us."
I think it's ridiculous for somebody to throw daggers at you (or, what you perceive as daggers) and then blame you for bleeding.
But to his point – there is plenty of benefit to strengthening yourself to rise above your weaknesses. Maybe I am too fuckin' sensitive. (But maybe he was insensitive, too.)
So both people in the equation (really, all people in the world) have a dual responsibility of being mindful of others + being self-actualized enough to not be so affected by every negative stimulus.
Makayla's family (to put it plainly), got pretty unlucky with whom they got in an accident with. If Tommy was somebody who'd learned to process his emotions, they probably wouldn't have gotten sued. But they didn't have any control over the situation – not the accident, nor the deeper makings of Tommy's identity/reality.
But unlike this tragic incident, the great thing about relationships (not just romantic ones) is that you can choose who to be with/around and how to navigate them.
Attraction between two people is only the first funnel.
A few funnels after that – the harder ones to go through, are the ones that tell you if this person is going to work with your fears.
Can they see / understand what hurts you?
If they don't at first (that's okay, we're all different people), are they willing to try to see / understand?
Are you both willing to communicate to help them see / understand?
Are you both able to compromise for their reality, without feeling like you're jeopardizing your identity or principles?
We all get an innate sense of who feels good. In our gut. We can also recognize who can hurt us, who can brings our insecurities to life.
The trick is to not let your fear of the latter hold you back from experiencing good things.
And to keep your blind trust in the former from getting you jaded again.
Because no one is trying to hurt you. And you're not trying to hurt anyone.
But they will. And you will, too.
The fact that we're different people in our own worlds requires communication and patience.
That's the only way we'd be able to see – eye to eye with someone else,
and not just as we are.