Silence. Daily word prompt. 28/5/19
My life has been lived in relative silence, She and I are old friends. Below is a paper I wrote for an intercultural communication assignment I was set this past term at university; and the best way I can think of to explain my affinity with the word Silence.
Who am I?
The question: ‘Who Am I?’ Has been asked throughout the ages and is one philosophers grapple with to this day. This report aims to identify and explore a selection of the factors that have shape my linguistic, social and ethnic identity and answer that same question; by self-analysis and the examination of the literature available on the subjects involved.
A person’s identity can be viewed from various angles.
‘Personal identity is the concept you develop about yourself that evolves over the course of your life. This may include aspects of your life that you have no control over, such as where you grew up or the colour of your skin, as well as choices you make in life, such as how you spend your time and what you believe.’ Study.com (2019) However;
‘According to social identity theory, people classify themselves and others as belonging to specific groups. People regard groups more like themselves more positively, identifying themselves as members of such groups in contrast to others. For example, preferring certain values, one might identify oneself as a conservative as opposed to a liberal.’ Chegg Study (2019) Also
‘In forming a cultural identity, people come to identify with and attach themselves to … a particular set of ideas that are characteristic of their larger family and tribal or national identity. This may include an identification with a particular religious group, … ethnic or racial group, … country, … language and dialect, a particular set of foods that are thought to be good to eat, a … set of holidays, etc.’ Dombeck, M. (2019)
An individual’s development of their own views on their personal, social or cultural identity is vital in the creation of a stable sense of self.
‘A sense of self is defined as one’s perception of oneself. Each person’s sense of self is directly related to how they feel about themselves, their levels of self-esteem, and confidence or lack thereof. Each person’s overall perception of self is critical because it lays the foundation for all other aspects and elements in our lives.’ Kirkpatrick, N. (2018)
The combination of strong self-identity and stable sense of self is central to a persons emotional and mental health wellbeing. Lack of development or damage to either can lead to emotional and mental health challenges in later life; as could be inferred in my case.
I was born in Hedon Road Hospital, Hull in 1981 to a nineteen-year-old woman; recently married to a man who wasn’t my father. My family consists of my Mother, Brother and Sister, who have all chosen their own paths and left my life for one reason or another. I have no aunts, uncles or grandparents and no father; nor do my siblings. I have a total of eight children. Four that are mine by birth and four I have through marriage. They are my world and the only family I have left.
I suffer from a wide range of physical, emotional, behavioural and mental health challenges throughout my daily life and am unable to quantify the entirety within the constraints of this report. I have endeavoured to select points for discussion that I feel give the broadest scope for understanding the complexities of my persona. These will focus on how my language and interpersonal skills have developed and the challenges I have faced in understanding my own identity.
3.0 Family Tree
4.0 How do I define my linguistic, intercultural and ethnic identities?
The development of linguistic identity starts at birth, with the development of language skills taught to us by our parents. Babies babble and imitate their parents and siblings in order to stimulate the motor functions and brain development needed to eventually form speech. If this process is not present, be it through physical issues such as deafness or social issues created by an unstable environment, then linguistic identity may be retarded in its formation; as is true in my case.
I was born with Audio Processing Disorder (APD), a condition that makes it difficult for me to process sounds correctly, particularly speech. NHS (2017) People with APD usually have normal hearing but struggle to understand complex speech. They can have issues in noisy environments and can often miss-understand what is being said. They have difficulties with sound localization, selective attention, and often perceive sounds wrong. Journal of Otology (2017) An example of this from my perspective is my inability to distinguish similar sounding consonants in words, such as; Floor, Door or Moor. These all sound the same to me the majority of the time.
It is suggested that when a child is born into a stable environment, it is exposed to sounds and language at manageable levels in order to grow and develop normally. However, when a child is born into a chaotic household (such as my upbringing was,) where there was little quality language and sound to assimilate, then the child will not develop as it should and thus could be an implementing factor in the cause of APD. Attitude (2010) Other things such as brain injury can also be a factor; something that I suffered at aged four when I fractured my skull falling from a shopping trolley.
Geoff Dixon argues, in his article title; 9 surprising consequences of Auditory Processing Disorder, Gemm Learning (2015) that people with ADP struggle in a variety of ways because of the condition. Classroom humiliation, issues making friends, spelling, math issues and homework stress all being problems I suffered from throughout my childhood and still do to this day. As I grew up people began to think I was ignorant and aloof. I wouldn’t answer when I were spoken to and would ‘ignore’ teachers requests in the classroom. This led me to be known as the obstinate child, the one who would ignore you and do her own thing, meaning the majority of my school years were spent in isolation, having been removed from the classroom for perceived poor behaviours.
In contrast to others with APD, I do not struggle with reading and writing and have always done so with confidence. My ability to take in information is compromised however, and I do find that I have to read and re-read in order to fully understand a concept. Similarly, with written work, I find that I have to read and re-read what I have written after each part typed. This is a particular challenge at my current level of study, simply because of the immense volume of information processing required for assignments.
In my early teens, I began to develop Otosclerosis. This affects the bones of the ear, causing them to grow unnaturally and thicken, NHS (2016); meaning I have degenerative hearing loss as well as the processing dysfunction I was born with.
Studies have shown links between hearing loss in children and the development of emotional and psychological issues but there has been little research into these cases beyond what is reported to physicians by the patients themselves, as argued by Carmen and Uram in their article; Hearing loss and anxiety in adults. The Hearing Journal (2002). The article goes on to discuss how hearing loss can trigger anxiety-provoking situations and, over time, how these can form patterns of behaviour that develop into anxiety disorders, something I can indeed relate to since the diagnosis of my mental health disorder. In my case, the hearing problems, combined with the chaotic and abusive formative years I endured, have indeed led to emotional and psychological issues in my later life and a recent diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), sometimes referred to as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) NHS (2016).
Because of these issues I have always struggled with verbal communication. The combination of physical hearing loss combined with the auditory processing dysfunction and my mental health issues, mean that I am unable to fully take part in group discussions. This is due to the overload that I feel trying to process everything; and the difficulty I have in hearing what is being said. This has meant that I have often been left out of groups and friendships; partly because I have struggled to manage the situations, and partly due to the frustration others have in communicating with me.
The EUPD diagnosis and knowledge of the condition is pivotal in understanding how I would answer the question of my linguistic, intercultural and ethnic identity. ‘One of the defining factors in EUPD is an unstable sense of self… Many … struggle with identity issues – one of the core symptoms of BPD. Plenty of people without BPD struggle with identity issues too. But people with BPD often have a very profound lack of sense of self.’ Salters-Pedneault, (2019).
With this diagnosis in mind, I would define my linguistic, intercultural and ethnic identities by fact alone.
I am white, because both of my parents were. I am British, because that is where I was born. I speak English, because this is the language of those that I grew up around and the only one I have been able to learn. I am a product of my upbringing. I am ambivalent towards the labels I have, as I am simply unsure what they mean to me. I am simply me.
5.0 What have been my ethical influences and value systems? What theories and morals have shaped the person I am today?
Growing up I had very little guidance from my mother. She allowed my brother, sister and I to fend for ourselves throughout the day when we were not at school. We made up our own rules and followed our own path due to the lack of any adult supervision, which is great from a child’s perspective but causes many issues developmentally. Throughout my childhood I was put into some very adult and morally questionable situations by my mother and other adults, leaving me open to unsafe influences and values that have challenged me continually. Mum left the raising of her children to the school system, the church, her own mother, anyone who would take the job; for as long as she could manage to get them too. This meant that there was little continuity to our behaviours and attitudes growing up and this has left each one of her children with lasting emotional and behavioural challenges.
Domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, loss, death, trauma, bullying, illness, eating disorders, sexuality and mental health themes were all present throughout my childhood but I had to deal with them alone and manage behind closed doors, in secret, without any guidance; because they were subjects that were simply ignored. Research suggests that children who grow up in these environments often struggle later in life, with emotional and psychological issues being commonplace amongst those who have had difficult upbringings.
The article titled; Childhood emotional abuse and neglect as predictors of psychological and physical symptoms in women presenting to a primary care practice, argues that ‘A history of emotional abuse and neglect was associated with increased anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress and physical symptoms, as well as lifetime trauma exposure. Physical and sexual abuse and lifetime trauma were also significant predictors of physical and psychological symptoms. Hierarchical multiple regressions demonstrated that emotional abuse and neglect predicted symptomatology in these women even when controlling for other types of abuse and lifetime trauma exposure.’ Childhood abuse and neglect, The International Journal. (2003) It concludes that women who experience these challenges in early life are at a higher risk of developing emotional and psychological issues later in life.
The one continuous support I had throughout my early years was my Grandmother, Shirley. She was a proud, clever woman who had a love for words and language, always setting me straight if I spoke incorrectly or with slang. I spent a lot of my time with Grandma and when I did, I knew how to behave. The rules were very clear and the consequences for misbehaviour clearly defined but fair. She gave me stability where none existed, and I thrived in her presence. Unfortunately, she died very suddenly when I was fourteen and the loss of her threw my world into chaos. Within a year of Grandma dying, I had become pregnant and had a daughter but due to my own inabilities and inexperience, she was taken away from my care at just nine months old and I spiralled into years of self-harm and drug abuse.
The European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Journal article entitled; Mental health of adolescents before and after the death of a parent or sibling. (2015) conducted a study on the effects of familial loss on children and stated in their report that most adolescents develop issues with behaviour and mood after a bereavement but between 20 to 25% of the children they tested went on to develop a mental health issue in the long term. The common factor for the ones not going on to develop mental health issues appears to be them having enough of a support network in order to manage the emotions and move on from them; this being lacking in those who develop further issues and severely lacking in my case.
In my life, there has only been one continuous value system and ethical influence that I can really attribute to any one thing; Star Trek. It has been my one continuous guidance framework since the earliest depths of my memory, right up to this very day.
It has been documented that escapism is a form of self-protection and self-healing from the traumas of the past. In my case, Star Trek started out as an escape from what I was going through at the time, later evolving into something that has guided my moral judgement throughout my life.
Jeong and Cha (2018) discuss this in their article; Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. Like the subjects of their report, I too am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. Unlike the subjects they talk about, I didn’t receive any of the support systems they suggest a survivor should have and so I used escapism as my sole means of coping. In the early years of my Trek history, I fell in love with the idea that ‘All men are created equal.’ Originally coined by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, a theme that held prevalence throughout the shows. Also, the idea that society can be built on mutual understanding and compassion. That all groups of people, no matter who they are or what their beliefs may be, can unite to work together for the greater good. It was my fantasy, the absolute opposite of what I felt my life was. I fantasised that I could live in a world where poverty, greed, hatred and money didn’t exist, and everyone worked for the betterment of everyone else. ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ As Spock (Leonard Nimoy) so eloquently quoted in The Wrath of Khan, (1982) was the hope for my vision of mankind’s future whilst I was growing up.
Star Trek in my early years was an escape from the reality I was living. I didn’t understand many of the nuances the show held, many of the morals and ethical issues the show highlighted were beyond my understanding at the time; I was just there for the fantasy of it all, for the escape. As my understanding of the world grew with my age, so did my understanding of the show’s concepts and I started to take on board the ethics that it taught. Over the years I have found many answers to moral dilemmas unfold within the scenes of an episode. As my thinking grew so did my understanding, and even now, I find influence in the way the writers carry Gene Roddenberry’s original ethos throughout the entire franchise. Roddenberry’s idea of a humanist, utopian society still shapes my thinking today and I attribute my compassion and understanding to the way the show subtly shaped my viewpoint, episode by episode.
Many academics have studied the effects television and mass media has on young minds. Enikolopov, Makarin, Polishchuk & Petrova (2017) and Bleakley & Ellisthorpe (2016) both focus their reports on the negative impacts that viewings can have on a child, but there is little literature that focusses on the positive aspects; such as the ones I gained from my own viewing experiences.
6.0 My metaphor?
How do I define myself when I have no idea who or what I am?
Do I define myself as a mother? A student? An artist? Am I defined by my appearance, my abilities, my disabilities? What aspects of my life have helped define the person I am today and what will shape the person I become tomorrow? How do I answer these things beyond stating the facts and history as I have above?
I am many things and I change by the minute. I change depending on who I am with and what I am doing. I change depending on mood, time of day and time of the month. I am different things to different people, and I don’t know that two would ever describe me the same.
As today is my birthday, I have now spent exactly 38 years fighting to understand myself and learning to survive and revise the way I think and feel about the world. I am still discovering who I am, and I learn new things each day.
I cannot tell you what my metaphor is; because I haven’t yet finished developing the person I would like to be.
Armstrong, A. (2019) Spock’s Illogic: “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”. The Objective Standard. Available online: https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2013/09/spocks-illogic-the-needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few/ [Accessed 5/1 2019].
Bleakley, A. & Ellithorpe, M. (2016) How are Adolescents Affected by What They Watch on TV? Annenberg School for Communication. Available online: https://www.asc.upenn.edu/news-events/news/how-are-adolescents-affected-what-they-watch-tv%5BAccessed 5/1 2019].
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Figure 1. Family structure – Direct influences on my personal identity – 1981 to present, Cook, L. (2019)