“The last time we visited the women in Panevėžys Remand Prison, we spent time on creative writing and how it might help to inner well-being, – recalls Rūta Kaminskaitė, one of the staff involved in the project “Second Chance”, – the last voluntary task we gave them was to write a letter to be passed to the society. One woman finished up very quickly, came up to me and, when handing me a piece of paper, she said I remember you. After she walked away, I looked at the paper where it was written: Life is just a play. All of us are the actors. I felt confused and indeed, with a lot of questions…”
Mind process when hearing the sentence
“Appearing at the court, being locked up… usually a person does not realize how it all happened, – says psychotherapist Ieva Viltrakyte, – and here (s)he finds oneself in the total rejection and negation phase”. According to Ieva, this phase usually contains feeling of total surprise (why am I being punished for something like that?), anger leading to rebellious behaviour as threatening (how can they treat me like that?). “The person is convinced that (s)he is being treated unfairly due to the consciousness that is blocking the reality and does not want to accept what has been done.” The following stage, according to Ieva, is the realization stage. Here, a person shifts to the other extreme: realizes what has been done and starts beating oneself up, blaming for it. Therefore, one can experience suicidal thoughts and depression or start adapting to the situation as is. “We all know this experience. When quarantine was announced, many fell into this denial phase: not wanting to believe it is happening, questioning all those conspiracy theories. Only later people accepted it, started adapting.”
A character behind the bars
Ieva explains, that it is our psychic battling over unpleasant and unacceptable experiences. “In order to keep us down to earth, not to fall into weird states of being and having to deal with tremendous yet hard feelings, our psychic turns on as many defense mechanisms as possible”. To name a few, there are: escaping to the fantasy world, complete negation, excessive enthusiasm. Acceptance of the situation and realization of the reality comes gradually, however, the time of full understanding of what has happened comes depending on personality. “It may happen that a person chooses not to take the challenge to cope with the understanding at all and (s)he stays with the defence mechanism” – explains Ieva. This leads to personality splitting. For example, a person whose defence mechanism is fantasies might create a character to move on with the difficult experiences. “It is like you had an imaginary friend in childhood: everything was easier with him/her. It is similar. Having a character makes it easy to shift all the difficult stuff on it, therefore staying convinced that everything is not happening with you rather than the character”. No one does that consciously – it is an unconscious shift, often taking over one’s reality as a dream.
Many faces of each individual
This splitting process can be also run by the inner structure called super-ego that everyone has. It plays the critical and moralizing role that is based on internalized rules, mainly taught by parents. The super-ego controls our understanding of right, wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in “socially acceptable” ways. Additionally, the structure “The individual blocks or diminishes the exposing of our very humanic, basic and natural instincts that are “not allowed”. “If your parents told you in your early age that you cannot be angry and you end up not showing anger ever, the angry part of you dissociates or splits, but it is never completely gone.” Therefore, when a person becomes suddenly aggressive, or sexual, or cruel, which (s)he never acted like before, it shocks many. “In this case, those are not characters nor sudden personality changes. Those are the reveals of the personality. Only that some had a moment to present them and others did not.” By that Ieva meant that some people appear in the situations that encourage those diminished parts to show up. For example, getting locked up might encourage the overly defensive side of the person to come out. “We are all versatile. We have everything inside of us. It is only the matter if and when we open up”.
When one ACTUALLY (does not) know what happened
Even though the phase of total negation of the reality is a natural part of post-crime experiences, one needs to be careful. Sometimes a person can actually not know what happened. For this reason, a person who committed a crime has to go through a psychiatric expertise which allows the understanding whether one could understand his/her actions and, most importantly, were they under control. “Our psychic can reach such states when one is not able to explain the actions taken in real life. A basic example could be that a person sees a devil in front of him and attacks” – says Ieva. In this case the person is sent to medical treatment rather than being sentenced to prison.
However sometimes people with difficult illnesses as psychopaths or sociopaths know exactly what has been done by them. Usually such personalities feel better than anyone else, with the ability to manipulate and outsmart everyone. Being drawn into the process of law and imprisonment, the person might understand the rules and “his/her place in the equal society”. Therefore, imprisonment is helping such a person to normalize their imagination of being better.
To sum up, Ieva Viltrakytė showed that each person is very complex as it comes to the inner world. Each and everyone is versatile, functioning by the rules of the society and super-ego. Having this in mind, one cannot be sure when the more aggressive side will come out, which makes “the prison gate open to everyone”. How would you fight with that reality?
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