Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Managing Ignorance and Knowledge in Recovery

Ignorance (lack of knowledge) affects all of us. Recognizing that you lack knowledgeable about something and seeking information or advice shows strength of character as well as wisdom in decision-making. The true problems arise for us when we don't realize that we're ignorant about a matter and to what extent our knowledge reaches. In the discussion of risk, often times, no one has information about uncertainty, but just that knowledge alone can help you make wiser decisions. So while you may feel like you're standing on the edge of a precipice and just might fall in to trouble, the fact that you're aware of your footing and your limitations does provide a great deal of power about what you can do and how to prepare for what you might face.

This post is also another one that looks at hard facts that can be difficult to thin about but will perhaps help us identify pitfalls that affect how we manage acceptance, expectation, and growth in recovery from trauma.  The post which will follow will be more encouraging and pleasant!

Types of Ignorance
Experts in this subject can classify these types differently, but as there are scholarly writings about types and because it's not anything I've had any training in, I am just categorizing by observation!  And some of what I have read contradicts in definition.  I'm sure, though, that we all know people or can recognize people who fit the patterns that I see.

1.)  Awareness of Ignorance

As the introduction hints, if you're aware of your limitations, you have more options open to you as you seek to make better choices. Making good choices proves to be a priority, and that alone helps to limit your risk. There are countless things about which I am ignorant, there are some things that I have some basic knowledge of which I realize is limited, and I'd like to hope that I know my limitations or can see the signs when I begin to reach the limit of my knowledge and competency. That kind of ignorance can be managed.

2.)  Lack of Awareness of Ignorance

This person is ignorant of essential information that would help them greatly, but they are completely unaware and therefore unconcerned about their lot in life. They don't ever think about what they know and what they don't, and they don't seem to learn. From what I've read and my grasp of it, it appears that this correlates more with organic disorders or a very empty sense of a core self.

3.)  In Between the Two?

The person who seems unaware of their ignorance, lacks interest in seeking information that may aid them, and doesn't seem to have awareness that there are resources or people or facts that could help them improve their lot in life seem to risk a good deal of harm also. I see subtypes of people in this category, and I sometimes see myself in it as well – both through fears rational and irrational, and some came through the way I was raised about giving to Christian causes. I don't know if they're varied degrees of hiding one's head in the sand or if it is a true lack of self-awareness.

  • Haplessness.  Some people are hapless and ignorant, but for whatever reason, they seem to make rash, drastic decisions that result in painful and devastating consequences. I think of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Austen's Lydia Bennett as two different types of characters in literature who mean well and desire good things but make many decisions that result in much heartache and hardship. If they'd have been more savvy about their choices and had valued themselves and those around them a bit more, they may not have risked so much. At least in what is written, Tolstoy's Anna comes to realize that she's made some tragic mistakes and faces her regret. Though it's too late to improve her condition much, she takes stock of her choices and notes them in hindsight. Austen's Lydia, however seems to me to remain a simpleton of sorts and someone who doesn't even notice the pain and stress that she's created for her family because of her rash decisions and flights of fancy.
  • A Web of Willful Denial and Avoidance.  I had an encounter with a friend who had been in and out of marriages, and though she felt shame and regret that her marriages didn't last, I worried for her. When last I heard from her, she had bounced into another relationship that seemed to be self-serving with all abandon to relieve her short term stress but seemed shocked that her snap decisions came with a price tag that she had not considered that she would have to pay. She did have a lot of entitlement that really set me ill at ease, and I saw a high level of wishful thinking in her that she billed as faith in God that disturbed me even more. Yet at the same time, she vested her whole sense of self in what I saw as a created framework. It clearly helped her cope when she was younger but became a self-destructive thing when it became a pattern, an ideal which she chose to serve at all costs, and when she kept finding herself near-destitute which only sent her back into the behavior and belief.
  • Confirmation Bias as a Virtue. Some people also willfully embrace their lack of awareness about ignorance in favor of the illusion of fantasy because that's all that they can handle. It does provide them with the idea that they are not responsible for their actions and they become victims of circumstances created by someone else. I don't understand whether these folks had any glimmer of awareness that things might not be what they seem. If they did, they resisted it and seared that awareness so that the no longer found it bothersome. I know that in my experience with a shame based person who I know well, questioning the wisdom of their beliefs hurt them so deeply that they could not function.
    •  I think of how my upbringing conditioned me to do this very thing when it came to giving money to televangelists. If I “gave as unto the Lord,” I was safe from the consequences of what happened because God would make good on what I gave because He would know my heart and good intent. I meant to foster His work, so He counts it as a credit to “my heavenly account balance” or something. Facing this habit and teaching opened up into a very grief-filled phase of my life, for who wants to look back to see that they ignored a part of themselves to do what they believed was right.

Ignorance in Recovery

Because of the developmental and experiential deficits that go along with my religious upbringing in concert with some of my specific personal challenges, I don't take comfort in this subject at all. I fear that there is too much that I don't understand and that I might be too naive to really cope with this kind of ignorance in relationships. But the answer that I hear from my counselor and friends that hold me in honor seem to think that I'm less at risk than I think that I am. We are dynamic, and the human mind's most impressive skill involves the creative ways that it uses to ignore stuff that makes us feel uncomfortable. Some days, I find the idea that I'm in the same boat with those who share my background and my tendency of checking myself so that I'm not out of my depth because I grew up steeped in self-doubt to be a comfort and maybe a plus! And on days when I come face to face with disappointments, especially in relationships, I don't find it all that encouraging.

What does ring in my head is my determination to seek the truth and to be accountable. I had a doctor tell me when I sought his help that the people who have problems with ignorance about being ignorant or are ignorant about their limitations don't ever ask the questions that I did and don't express concerns about those limitations. So I guess that I'm getting more at ease with decision making and concerns about naive ignorance thwarting my progress, but I still have my days! And much of that goes back to how I was raised and how I was taught to discount my needs. Sigh.

The next post will look at more encouraging elements of making safer decisions and ways that you can manage your stress as you work through, learn, and practice the process.

For further reading until the next post: