Being raised by crazy people causes problems.
I know that’s obvious, but sometimes pointing out the obvious is helpful.
One of these problems is that you learn how to interact with crazy people better than average people. Then you leave your family and your parents behind and are faced with huge numbers of average people that you need to be able to deal with. It’s like being first socialized by wolves only to spend your life among chickens. Not surprisingly, many people find themselves back among wolves again.
But much has already been written about that subject, so I’ll focus on the second problem: you learn how to cope and function as a crazy person rather than as an average person. You might even learn how to be crazy.
I’m still working out some of the ways I have learned to be crazy: I was raised to believe a lot of things that simply aren’t true. Some of these were easier to spot than others. I do not, for example, need to wear my hair in a bun and wear clothes that are 30 years out of fashion. That was a no-brainer, but there are some trickier ones I’m working on now.
I was raised with some really distorted ideas of how reality works: the most important of these has to do with the relationship between what is in my head and what is going on in the real world. It’s a little of a chicken and egg conundrum: which comes first–reality or perceptions? Because of course our perceptions influence our real behavior, and that impacts what happens next.
It’s more about degree. I was raised, I realize, to believe that the influence of my perceptions on reality is much stronger and more causal than it really is. To some extent, this has led to a habit of emotional reasoning, as well as an assumption that what I think and feel is more significant than it is.
On the more benign end of things, I might believe it will be a good day because I feel hopeful about the day. This is, of course, not true. I’ve had plenty of wonderful days that began very inauspiciously, and terrible days that started off all sunshine and hope.
It’s not that our perceptions come from nowhere: if things seem to be looking good, they probably are good. It’s just that things change. And it’s also that our information about the world at any moment is always limited and in constant need of revision. What we know later about a situation may be very different than how it seems in the beginning. Our choice of actions can alter things also.
There are two problems for me in being confused about this. One of them is that it has led to some irrational fears. For example, the Paper Cup self–where I see myself as someone disposable and as being without value–is a part of my memories of being abused. That is how the perpetrators saw me at the time. It’s a completely accurate and very important part of those experiences. It’s as much a part of why those experiences were so horrific and so frightening as what anyone actually did.
If nothing else, knowing that there are some men that see little girls that way makes my hair stand on end.
But I couldn’t approach that part of the memory very well when I felt afraid that seeing myself as a paper cup meant I was a paper cup. Self-views, like other things that drift through our heads, are not fixed or permanent. We all have self-views that come and go, just as we have thoughts and feelings that come and go.
If I spill an entire cup of hot coffee on myself before an important meeting, I might see myself as a clumsy idiot for a second. If I don’t regularly spill coffee all over myself, I’ll probably then start thinking of all the reasonable explanations for why it is either not my fault or not important that there is now a dark brown stain all over my clothes. And the self-view disappears. No big deal, right?
But if you assume that what’s in your head impacts reality, then I will instead believe that because I saw myself as a clumsy idiot for two seconds, I have now become a clumsy idiot and will remain one indefinitely. And I’ll become really upset about having a clumsy idiot self-view in my head and turn all of my energy toward trying to make it go away.
Try not to think about white bears.
I don’t know about you, but I just did. They were cute.
Anyway, the clumsy idiot self–like any other thought–works the same way. The more we try to extinguish a thought, the worse it gets. And before you know it, I’m in the midst of an emotional tailspin about being a clumsy idiot just because I spilled coffee on myself, which really could happen to anyone. And is not a big deal. And does not make me a clumsy idiot. Also, clumsy idiots can be wonderful, darling people who enrich the lives of others.
So, again, not a big deal. You just give them plastic cups when they visit.
I’m pretty sure that’s how my mother worked. If a negative self-view popped into her head for a second, she thought she was that view–permanently–and tried desperately hard to make it go away. Which made it worse. And before you knew it, she was chasing small children around the house with knives. In other words, total melt-down.
Fortunately, I handled it a little differently, but it still has not worked out well for me. My response has been mostly to try to dampen my awareness of self-views at all. Because, you know, I might have a bad one. Better just not to notice. But I’ve missed out on a lot of positive self-views that way.
More importantly, at least at the moment, this habit of not noticing has made it hard for me to integrate memories of abuse where negative self-views have been an important part of my internal experience–and the trauma.
I’m working on that. Wish me luck.