I was brought up not simply to reject, but to actively disdain the pursuit of self-knowledge. This seems odd, now. What could be wrong with having a little awareness? However, in our house, it was associated with a sort of pseudo-scientific mysticism that preyed on the gullible and weak. It was sentimental quackery and encouraged a risible, self-obsessed flakiness.
I guess there was an apprehension in our attitude: It didn’t pay to investigate yourself. Who knew what might rise to the surface, like Tennyson’s Kraken? (O let me not be mad. Not mad, sweet Heaven!) The idea of False Memories, a hotly debated topic in my youth, was not only deeply alarming, but extremely useful in maintaining this mind-set. It proved that therapy was worse than useless: it actively messed you up. It betrayed you into embarrassing yourself.
There may have been a political dimension, also. Therapeutic disciplines were associated with the fanciful naivety of the Left. My dad read The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, both of which prided themselves on their astute socio-political pragmatism. And I grew up in The Republic of Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. Liberal and progressive it was not.
This scepticism has combined with my need to hide the inner self from scrutiny. Over the years, I’ve compiled a whole dossier of shameful experiences to squirrel away. There’s enough for a complete, unspoken history of how rubbish I’ve been: stupid, self-obsessed, venal, insensitive, narrow-minded, attention-seeking, inappropriate. It must never be revealed to others, or even confronted by me. The teeming landscapes of my interior sustain a whole community of thought-in-denial, a post-war Germany, a post-colonial Britain, of the mind. (And, yes, the cringeful impropriety of the comparisons is the point: I have a tendency to over-react.)