Complex

One of the activities in yesterday’s group therapy was to create a Johari Window.

Each person chose six of the 57 adjectives listed to describe themselves, and then chose six for each other person.

It was so easy for me to choose adjectives to describe everyone in group. But when it came to choosing my own, I became frustrated. The adjectives on the list were mostly positive – too positive for my own liking. I struggled just to pick three. Intelligent. Nervous. Tense. Those words were definitely accurate for me. I could never deny my intelligence, even though I oftentimes wish I had less of it. Nervous and tense are words I associate with anxiety, and anxiety is my normal.

Well after everyone else was finished, I was still struggling to finish my own six adjectives. I quickly scanned the sheet again and choose three more: Knowledgeable, quiet, shy. I think knowledgeable pairs with intelligence. I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, probably more knowledge than I need. Quiet describes me sometimes, depending on the day, the amount of coffee I’ve had to drink, and how present I am. Shy, for sure. People scare me.

Then I received seven lists, each with six adjectives the others in group used to describe me. I went through the lists and wrote down each adjective in the appropriate window.


Not surprisingly, most people chose intelligent. At least I was right about something about me. I couldn’t argue with that.

Then I came across the words brave, bold, and independent. Everyone put brave. Me. Brave. Clearly they don’t know me, I said to myself. Brave would have been standing up for myself. Brave would have been fighting my mother and telling her to stop hurting me. Brave would have been hitting my father back after he beat me. Brave would have been running home at age 15, not at age 29. Bravery, no. Weakness, maybe.

Bold, I am not. Being bold is being fearless. Bold people don’t hide in the closet when someone knocks on the door. Bold people don’t get scared to check the mail, afraid a letter from home will appear. That is not being bold. Clearly these people don’t know me.

Independent, not me. I can barely decide what to eat for dinner. I can’t make my own decisions, or live my own life. I need other people to make decisions for me. I never had the ability to be independent. I spent more than 29 years in forced dependence on my mother, and now even though I am free, I feel lost without anyone here to make decisions for me.

Then I came across a word that set off a bit of internal rage. Complex. The second list I read through, and someone had circled complex. I blew it off, until the next list had complex circled as well, and then another list, and another. By then, I was just angry. At who, I am not sure. How could these people call me complex? I’m not complex. They don’t even know me.

As I sat with my own thoughts and slight inner rage, I realized the negative associations I had formed with that word. This wasn’t the first time I was told I was complex. I’ve heard it several times before, and never in a positive way. I heard it from therapists as their reasoning for not being able to help me. You’re too complex. Shit, I didn’t know therapists only worked with certain difficulty levels. I’m sorry.

Complex meant I was too complicated, too broken, too difficult to be helped. That word hurt me, multiple times. And here it was, coming up again and hurting me still.

I decided to share my difficulties with that word with the rest of the group. In response, some people explained what that word meant for them, and why they chose it. It wasn’t at all for reasons I had associated complex to be in my head. I was complex because there was more to me to get to know, more than what you see on the outside. I was complex because I was interesting. I was complex, as one of my therapists put it, because the gap between what I think and believe I can do and what I actually do is so large. I don’t believe I can do anything right, or even do much of anything at all. Yet I continually do these great things, and accomplish so much, despite the fact that it all goes against everything I believe about myself. I guess that it complex.

I guess, when I really think about it, I’m definitely not simple – the opposite of complex. Nothing in my life has ever been simple. I admit, at times, I desire simplicity. I crave ignorance. I want life to be uncomplicated. But that’s not going to happen, it didn’t then, it’s not now, and it won’t be in the future. And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s not so horrible to be complex.

Perhaps those people in my past were just too simple to deal with my complexity.

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