Defense Mechanisms: Intellectualization

Ahhhh… my favorite.

I love this defense mechanism because it is by far the sneakiest. It’s considered one of the more advanced forms of defense mechanisms, meaning it needs a little more brain power than your average, everyday one, like denial for example.

With denial, you can just flat out say, “No!” and close your eyes, plug your ears, and sing lalalalalalalalaaaaaah until whatever you’re trying to ignore goes away and you can continue back to your regular way of living. Denial is the most common defense mechanism in addiction and childhood. Like I said, no need for really high brow thinking.

I used intellectualization as my primary defense during my bout with depression. I would spend hours in my room, just thinking things over, coming to bizarre conclusions about why I couldn’t be happy, why life was shit, and why I was a horrible person.

I was reminded of my old crutch yesterday when I was writing the 50 Shades of Grey Case Files and I mentioned that Christian Grey’s primary defense mechanism was intellectualization. I figured for those of you who read this bloggy, you might enjoy a little nugget about intellectualization in greater depth.

The way I conceptualize this mental health issue is first to recognize that very often it is used to gloss over emotion. When we intellectualize, we take emotions out of the equation. This is of course a good thing very often. We don’t want people making life altering decisions when they are depressed or angry because that’s unstable and dangerous. It’s the argument lots of people make for why we shouldn’t have a woman president.

But that’s precisely the point, we’re globalizing a stereotype to make sense of our world. We’re taking what we believe to be “fact” and just smearing it over our lives. It is not a fact that women are too emotional and incapable of making appropriate decisions. Sure, we cry, we get angry, but I have learned not to make life-changing decisions out of extreme emotion. I may have learned it the hard way, but hell, I learned by 25 – that’s saying something.

I’m rambling, but ultimately, intellectualization is a way we rationalize our lives by using “facts” (as we see them) to make sense of our world, instead of taking in the whole experience. For example, a woman president would be awesome for many reasons, including having someone to represent the rights of women, someone who is equally, if not more educated than the men, someone who has proven themselves in politics time and again, regardless of her ’emotional state’. Say what you will about Hillary, but girlfriend does a good job of hanging with the boys. I don’t see her crying every time she’s at a press conference.

When we’re deciding to marry someone, we should use all of the information we have – how we feel and think about a person and our future with them. When we’re deciding what to do with our lives, we evaluate the things that are necessary – pay, job security, health coverage, etc. – but then we really should sit and consider our happiness over the long-term with that decision. If we don’t, we’re not being honest with ourselves. If we ignore how we feel every time we sit in our room and listen to sad music and think too much, then we’re not living the life we want, no matter how much thinking about how to feel better makes sense. Sure, mentally it makes sense, but ignoring the sadness we feel is not intellectual at all. It’s short-sighted.

Which is what a defense mechanism is; ultimately it’s an excuse to ignore the bigger picture because we are trying to avoid emotional pain and reality. I feel that we live in a society that doesn’t value emotions, which is more dangerous than any woman in the White House. Whether we like it or not, emotions are real. They exist, we all have them swirling around in our body with varying intensity, and we should honor how we feel. If we did, we would likely have a workforce that wasn’t so burnt out and disenchanted with their work-life balance. If we did, we would have a political climate based on compassion instead of fear, because we’d actually process how we feel about something completely (emotions + thoughts/facts) rather than just instinctively reacting to one or the other and then writing it on a sign and screaming it at people. If we did, we’d be happier.

The Case Files: Robert Downey, Jr.

Sigh. RDJ. I remember when I fell in love with Robert Downey, Jr. I was walking through my living room getting ready for the day. I used to put on VH1 in the early morning hours as a soundtrack to my routine. I was brushing my teeth and Elton John’s video for “I Want Love” just came on and there was RDJ looking at the camera with the sweetest, most forlorn expression. He had some scruff and big brown eyes and I just loved him in that moment.

I was just breaking into my adulthood and had completely missed the memo about RDJ being such a bad boy for the majority of my life. Just as well, because I happen to find reformed bad boys to be just as interesting.

So, Robert Downey, Jr. is like many of our other Case File alums who found their mental health journeys intertwined with that of their parents’. Much like Lindsay Lohan and Drew Barrymore, RDJ got his start in showbiz through his parents. Much like Lindsay and Drew, Downey, Jr. (man that is annoying to actually write out, darn comma) also started using drugs because of his father. At the age of six, Downey, Sr. introduced young Robbie (I’m calling him that) to marijuana.

Father of the Year, I tell you what.

Since that time, RDJ’s appetites were nourished by his father. He starred in his father’s movies and productions while also enjoying the taste of illegal drugs along with his father’s company and approval.

“When my dad and I would do drugs together, it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how.” — Robert Downey, Jr.

Onward and downward, RDJ’s career continued to grow in spite of his drug use and trouble with the law in connection with what had developed into a full-blown addiction by his early teens. Things really got going from 1996 to 2001, when RDJ was arrested several times related to his drug use and risky behavior, including an arrest for possession of cocaine, heroin, and an unloaded .357 Magnum handgun while speeding down Sunset Boulevard. It just sounds so Hollywood, doesn’t it?

Well, the sneaky hate spiral didn’t stop there. RDJ was already on three years of probation for the previously mentioned incident, had one of his most infamous moments when he stumbled into his neighbor’s house and fell asleep on their child’s bed. That had to be an awkward story to explain to a kid. [insert joke about how you’re only supposed to wake up to strange men in your bed as an adult after several alcoholic beverages]

“It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.” — Robert Downey, Jr.

There are a lot more little nuggets to this story, but it eventually leads up to four years of jail for RDJ. He was released after one year. He immediately joined the cast of Ally MacBeal playing Ally’s love interest. People naturally ate up everything he did and this stint was no exception. Unfortunately, RDJ was still in the throes of addiction and had not yet reached that point of ‘rock-bottom’ well-known in addictions treatment. The average number of relapses until full recovery and sobriety is about 8, which means RDJ was just hitting right down the middle in this case. He relapsed pretty hard (two arrests, one involving walking around aimlessly barefoot and high on cocaine in Culver City) and lost his spot on Ally MacBeal.

“It was my lowest point in terms of addictions. At that stage, I didn’t give a fuck whether I ever acted again.” — Robert Downey, Jr.

There’s been a fair amount of hubbub over RDJ’s mental state in regards to bipolar disorder. His mother was quoted by People magazine saying he had gotten a previous bipolar diagnosis and several celebudoctors of course weighed in on the issue at the time. Now that he is sober, he maintains he is not bipolar. While bipolar disorder is incredibly common among addicts because they use mood-altering substances to control bipolar mood swings, you cannot and should not diagnose anyone until they are sober.

Oh wait, spoiler alert. Robert Downey, Jr. got sober.

You know how I mentioned rock-bottom? Well it might take longer for celebrities, but everyone reaches rock-bottom. It’s an essential part of the recovery process. RDJ hit rock-bottom.

“When someone says, ‘I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?’ Well, uh, you’re a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot.” –Robert Downey, Jr.

He was looking down a long road of jail time or a stint in rehab.

“I finally said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I can continue doing this.’ And I reached out for help, and I ran with it. You can reach out for help in kind of a half-assed way and you’ll get it and you won’t take advantage of it. It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems…what’s hard is to decide to actually do it.” — Robert Downey, Jr.

Guess what his first comeback job was?

His video for Elton John! Another reason why I think I’m a good therapist, I just read this stuff in people. I knew he was ready for my adoration.

So we know the rest of the story. RDJ fully recovered and has been sober since 2001. He’s completely revived his career, becoming Tony Stark/Iron Man (could anyone do it better, really?) and Sherlock Holmes. I just adore him.

The Case File

Surprise, surprise… family matters. The people who care for you and the genetics they give you play heavily into your mental well-being from the way you choose to behave from modeling their behavior to already having the genes predisposing you to becoming an addict. I don’t know much about RDJ’s family other than his notorious father, but I can imagine when you choose to walk the same career path as your parent, you idolize everything about them – not just their ability to perform. The role of fathers in modeling for their children is crucial. Your children become the best and worst parts of you, unless you are paying very close attention to the person who you are becoming.

Also, let’s talk about resilience. Yeah, yeah I know. I talk about it in like every other post. Can you imagine being six years old and being allowed to smoke marijuana, wait scratch that. Not only allowed, but encouraged? RDJ had about 20 years of serious addiction and hardcore maladaptive behaviors under his belt. It takes a very strong and very resourceful person to look inside themselves and say, “I’m ready to change“. Not only that, but he probably had so little self-awareness considering a lot of that time traditionally spent cultivating oneself was spent drowning out the self. He had to likely start from scratch to some extent. That’s courage. If RDJ can come back from that and live a fulfilling, successful, and downright sexy life, then I think the majority of us can get over most of the small first world problems that plague us. What a model for resilience!

Downey attributes his sobriety to his family, therapy, meditation, yoga, and Wing Chun Kung Fu. Proof that staying busy (with things that enrich the person) is an excellent way to stay away from the bad stuff and focus on what is truly worthwhile. Like, more Iron Man movies, perhaps? Yes.



Meh Monday + TBS Thursday

My thyroid is off again. I finally went to a doctor and I’m all sorts of off the charts. This explains why I’ve been in the middle of working out I always feel the spontaneous urge to break out into tears and exclaim, “I’m worthless, this is hard, I’m a loser, everything is horrible!”

Granted, my workouts these days are tough. Jesse and I are on week 7 of Insanity. Let me tell you this… it is insane. I hate it. I hate it so much. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve never been more thankful for this hard work than Thursday night when…

Jesse surprised me with our monthly date to see Taking Back Sunday! It was the Tell All Your Friends 10 year release tour and it was amazing. I mean, it was probably the best show I have ever been to in my life thus far. Jesse and I used our new Insanity muscles to get right up in the front row for all the action. I stood on my tiptoes for about an hour and my chest muscles are sore from flexing my arms and elbows to keep people from over-taking me. Thank you, Insanity.

Plus, looking in the mirror lately is extremely satisfying. Even with the lack of weight change that comes along with hypothyroidism, I’m noticing and feeling muscles I never knew I had.

Oh, P.S. Guess who caught a drumstick? That would be me. Jesse got the set list. Pretty legit. I think we’ll frame it and put it in our office when we live in some place with more than one bedroom. I can’t wait for that day. In a studio apartment, if you make something messy, the whole place is messy. I can’t leave anything in the sink because I can feel the clutter from the living room. It’s terrible. I’m crazy.

Speaking of being crazy, telling yourself that your emotions are completely unhinged because of your thyroid while feeling emotionally unhinged is really difficult. I feel very fragile and it’s difficult to remind myself that it’s not me who is thinking and feeling this way, it’s sick me. It’s thyroid-defunct Jen.