A narcissistic lens

I have been thinking about narcissism, although not really directly. I have just been thinking about how we interact with each other. People interacting with each other form a system. I imagine how you feel and think and I respond to that. You imagine how I feel and think and you respond to that. We respond to our imaginations of one another. This is felt. I imagine your feelings by briefly reconstructing them in my own body. I look at you feeling successful, for example, and I feel a little bit of your joy at success within myself. That’s empathy. Part of it, anyway.

I think narcissists don’t do this. There are many much more complex ways of explaining why narcissists behave the way they do, but this seems simpler to me. They feel their own feelings. They do not feel these little copies of other people’s. So if someone does well, they just feel inferior. They don’t feel someone else’s joy in success.

It means they respond essentially only to whatever consequences there are to themselves. If there are no consequences, they aren’t motivated to restrain their behaviour in the same way someone else might, because they don’t feel sad at someone else’s sadness. Not even briefly.

It leads to a lack of effort at learning how to get along and how to compromise. They restrain their impulses to avoid consequences to themselves, but that’s it.

One thing I have learned throughout the process of integration is basically the impulse to punish is tied to anger. When someone hurts us, we feel like punishing that person for it. The narcissist restrains this impulse when it seems there will be consequences to themselves.

Otherwise, they will hurt the other person however it seems easiest to do so. I feel like hurting myself when i am reminded of traumatic experiences.

I feel that way because I was imagining the perpetrator’s mental state. And that person wanted to hurt me. My impulse is a piece of that memory.

I was feeling particularly horrible today after school. I didn’t know why. I could point to a lot of ways I have fucked up in my life both recently and in the more distant future. I couldn’t really say it was about that. That’s been my attitude through healing. Okay, it seems to be this, but it might not be. It might be something else. Just an openmindedness to ideas.

I suddenly started to connect that up (a friend sad with me, virtually, while I did that–thanks). I did something or said something or appeared in some way that wasn’t exactly the way my parents wanted, and they responded to, “I don’t like that,” by punishing me. But also, there was no opposing feeling inside them caused by imagining my emotions. They might imagine themselves in my place, but not my feelings. So they didn’t look at me and think, “Okay, I don’t like bubble gum ice cream and when I imagine eating it, I get a kind of grossed-out feeling, but she sure is happy and her happiness makes me happy.” They just verbally and emotionally assaulted me for eating ice cream they didn’t like.

I don’t know how that huge gap in imagining others happened, but it somehow did.

The thing is my parents weren’t like me in so many ways, so nearly everything I did was not to their taste. I was met with disdain, contempt, and disgust nearly all the time for nearly everything.

It created in me a sense of being bad, defective, and wrong that was pervasive. I don’t really think they thought of me at all: I mean, if you asked them, “Do you think Ash is bad, defective and wrong?” I am not sure they would say yes. I have no idea what they would actually say. But their behaviour did communicate that viewpoint.

And i am not stupid and also not lacking the ability to empathize. I did imagine their feelings within me. I felt disgust, contempt and disdain for myself. Basically, because i am not broken. My mind works the way it is supposed to.

The hard part about this (aside from the obvious shittyness of it all) is that without other people to discuss this with and piece this together, it made no sense at all. Just these little fragments of crappy feelings–someone described having parts as being like bubbles of feelings. Yeah, like that. Because I didn’t know how they fit together or how to understand them.

The other thing about it is that my sense of how I appear to others is drawn largely from my parents. So I look at myself, and that kind of “observing ego” acts like a narcissist. It’s not exactly what it wants–I fell short at something, I don’t like something I did, I failed in some major or minor way–and I expect punishment to follow. I did have an attachment to them. I did learn to construct how they saw the world and can imagine their view even in their absence. And it’s totally miserable. I can only look at myself with the same disgust, contempt and disdain they felt for me.

I don’t think I can get rid of that necessarily. But I think I can step away from it. Seeing myself as defective, wrong and bad is one view. Other views are possible. A negative view of myself may not be the most important view or the one I want to linger on the longest.

There is a grief involved in this. It’s how my parents saw me. They will probably always see me like that. They aren’t ever going to like me. To put it another way, I will never have parents who like me or are proud of me or feel joy at my joy. I will never have parents who celebrate my successes or feel wonder at my uniqueness.

And that’s just how it is. The world is round, gravity makes things fall, and my parents don’t like me for the person I am.

A mess

My mind is a little bit of a mess. Anyone surprised? Not particularly? Okay. Yeah, me neither.

My mind is in one of those places where connections seem to almost be made. But not quite. Synapses are being forged, perhaps, but not quite.

It’s been a really hard week. I do think there are anniversaries all through the spring that are hard, and it’s hard to grieve the losses these anniversaries remind me of when I am wired to feel afraid to have feelings or to remember. Difficulties get intertwined.

It’s very hard to go to bed at night and to wake up in the mornings. These seem to be points of very painful triggering. I am having trouble sleeping also, but at the same time it seems like things get done at these times–in my mind, I mean. The sleeplessness and the upset seems at least somewhat productive.

One idea I have had very loudly and clearly has been how very frightened I felt as a child. It’s really only as I feel that fear in my body and start to be able to connect it to myself that I really realize the intensity and the realness of it. It’s hard for me to think as an adult about what it is like to be a child who literally cannot trust or rely on anyone, but when I actually feel what it was like to be that child, I get it profoundly.

I am starting to have some empathy for myself, meaning I can construct mentally my own child’s mind at times in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I have thought of myself as a child in a way that’s almost like an object, and that’s mainly goal-oriented and functional, rather than felt or real.

I have in the past been told and probably myself tried to think in this way: “You were trying your best to survive.” And that seems almost like someone sitting at a desk, mapping out survival strategies to see which ones might work or be most effective. And that’s not at all what happened. I was in the grip of emotions and impulses of various kinds, many of them conflicting. If I didn’t reach out for help as a young child, it is because my mouth and my body felt literally paralyzed. There was no part of me mapping that out in a coherent way. It was felt, not thought out.

It has also been on my mind how much one’s own experiences must–there is no other choice–form the basis of one’s reality. So if I personally have witnessed murder, for example, then that is a part of my personal reality. And it’s not part of someone else’s felt reality who hasn’t experienced murder up close, even if they know intellectually it happens. It is not real for them in their decision-making process in the way it is and was for me.

In the past, I think I have assumed my own reality is faulty. It’s based on my experiences, and my experiences are beyond the pale. It’s like I thought I need to base my decisions on someone else’s life, which is more typical, because that’s going to be more likely to fit reality now.

Yet you can’t. Our brains don’t work that way. I really do need to trip through murder as a possibility on my way to other thoughts, and I absolutely have to be able to regulate whatever emotions come up for me as that happens.

I have also been thinking that typically we use others to help us regulate ourselves. That impulse to make other people see our perspectives so that they can either help us understand it or take some action about it, is normal and healthy. It’s called co-regulation and pretty much everyone I see around me does it.

My perspective is incomprehensible for most people a fair amount of the time. They have no understanding of why I would be feeling or thinking the way that I do in many moments. It’s pretty hard for me to grasp and I live with it every day. I cannot use co-regulation as a strategy very often, because what happens when I try to do that is my perspective is invalidated–either I am interacting with someone who can’t see why I would be feeling that, or I am interacting with someone who might feel the same way under the same circumstances but doesn’t understand any better than I do why it feels that way. I really need to go through a lot alone.

But when I can regulate myself, it starts to be able to connect better to other people. It’s sort of horrible, because I need more support and I get less of it.

That’s just how it is.

I have a third thought, which is about probability. Our automatic mental processes understand probability. If something–like rejection, for example–has happened frequently in the past, your unconscious mental processes will know that, and your emotions will reflect that. My conscious mental processes can modulate that, but I don’t think they can replace it. I am going to go into situations where a certain outcome happened frequently in the past, and my emotions are going to reflect that, even if it’s not likely now. And I have to deal with that. I have to cope with whatever feeling that brings up for me while doing whatever I cognitively understand I need to do.

Another thought has been about how a feeling of connection is achieved. It’s achieved through being understood and responded to as well as being able to understand and respond to someone else in an automatic way. If a lot of stuff inside me is incomprehensible, and if my looney-toons parents make it so that I can’t really figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, that sense of connection will be hard for me to achieve. It will be even harder if I have been more or less programmed to feel ashamed of revealing myself to others–hard for them to respond to me if I can’t reveal anything authentic about myself. Harder still if what I do end up revealing doesn’t make any sense.

So the feeling of starving for connection–that intense longing I sometimes feel–I don’t think it’s entirely about the past. I am starving for connection now, and I am going to get connection only when I can manage my own feelings enough that what I do end up revealing to other people is comprehensible to them.

Last thought: When I do trust someone, as I am starting to, that is going to feel very risky for me. Whenever you begin to trust that you could connect to others, after a life-time of not being able to because you just couldn’t work out how, it’s the first one and the only one. What I mean is, you have to start somewhere, and that first try doesn’t feeling like someone losing one of many. It’s like losing all you’ve got. And when you know what it is to lose the only source of connection and comfort you have–because that has happened to me twice at least–it’s pretty frightening. That loss is overwhelming to risk, just the sheer amount of pain involved. It’s hard to even imagine thinking about going through that again.

So that’s where I am now. There is this nexus between the past and the present, where I am identifying emotions and perceptions I have had that recur in the present and I am just seeing that is the same thing. It’s the same emotion or experience, and this is why I might be having it again. I might be reminded of it because some tangential element is the same, and I just need to process that memory so that things make sense, or it might be because human beings just have only a finite emotional experience and sadness is sadness, fear is fear, and anger is anger. Those emotions tell me about my present too.

In other words, sometimes it’s something like I was shopping for fabric yesterday and I suddenly felt really sad and suddenly I realized the guy behind me seemed to be speaking Farsi on the phone. I don’t entirely know why that connection is there in my brain, but it is. It’s tangential, but I do feel a sense of longing when I hear it. Or it might be that as I continued to shop, I felt that clenching in my heart, that is just terrible sadness and I know that’s about wanting connection. I was shopping for C. I wanted to buy fabric she would like and as it got closer to either finding a fabric that she would like or striking out on the whole thing, I was feeling what it might be like not to be able achieve a sense of connection with someone. That’s not tangential. It’s the same feeling, because it’s the same thing. She’s not my mom, but it’s not just my mom I have failed to be able to understand or please and I don’t always know what C likes, and not being able to connect to her because I can’t imagine her tastes does make me sad.

And it makes me that sad because connection is the emotional life blood of human beings.

 

 

Connection

Well.

I had some thoughts today.

I was thinking (partly) about my family. How did this happen? Where did it start? My father’s mother had a biological illness. Who knows what her own upbringing was like, but she could have had the happiest, most nurturing child possible and still been a completely inadequate mother. But what about my mom? Her mom was (to me) an obvious narcissist. Why?

So I have been thinking that somewhere along the line, someone–a mother–was overburdened physically or emotionally and wasn’t able to adequately nurture her child. It might have been anything: war, famine, long hours at work, a sickness in the family, biologically-based mental illness, overwhelming loss. But the parent did not have enough resources to care for her child either physically or emotionally.

And what would have been missing then was the back-and-forth interaction that allows the child to learn how to accurately imagine herself and of others and then to respond to that mental image in a way that communicates understanding. That is what creates the feeling of being connected in human beings: you can imagine someone else’s mind and you are aware that they are imagining yours, and those imaginings are being communicated between the two of you.

So my grandmother did not learn to imagine the minds of others, and what happens when you struggle to imagine the minds of others, is that you lose that feeling of connection. What can happen in those cases–and frequently does–is that it can seem to the person struggling to imagine the minds of others is that the only way to restore the connection, which is vital to human life, is to force the other person to be someone you can better imagine.

Enter my mom.

So maybe she is hungry. My grandmother is trying to get the laundry done. My mother is crying because she is hungry. She is trying to communicate the urgent feeling she has that she needs to be fed, that something is wrong, and she needs attending to. And my low-empathy grandmother feels that the connection is lost. Can’t she see I am trying to finish up  the laundry right now?

No, my mother is two. She can’t. She just knows she feels like crying. She might not even know why she is crying. Just something is wrong.

My grandmother experiences that loss of connection as catastrophic, because she doesn’t have the skills to restore the connection between herself and her child. She has not been taught those skills. The only way to restore the connection that she knows about is to force her child to present an image of herself as though she does understand my grandmother’s desire to finish up the chores. In other words, get her to stop crying.

If she stops crying, it communicates, “I get it. You’ll finish this up and feed me. I understand.”

Of course, my mother understands no such thing. She understands I have to stop communicating my feelings and needs. My mother wants me to stop crying.

Enter shame. Shame is the emotion that tells us we have crossed a boundary. It isn’t bad. What might not be good is the boundary itself. In this case, it was a boundary not to communicate hunger at inconvenient times. There might be a problem with that, but there isn’t a problem with my mother’s perception of it. She got it. I am not supposed to cry right now, and it’s hard for me to keep to that boundary, so she felt ashamed.

I don’t know where I am going with this. It gets to me, it feels so resonant.

Part of the point for myself is to explain the loneliness: when you cannot imagine the minds of others, because your parents lacked the skills to teach you and because their minds were so confusing, it’s lonely. If they are trying to force you to stop communicating about your own mind and to present a face that allows them not to need to know that your minds have momentarily parted ways, then differences of opinion or perception are dangerous situations, because your parent uses force to restore the sense of connection.

 

A bit of insight

I have been pondering some things this week.

One of them is about the need for control among teenagers with attachment disorders. It came up in that context, but actually that is what everyone does who grew up not feeling safe: the way to be safe is to make oneself safe. If people around you have no interest in your safety and can be presumed to have goals that compromise your safety, then you will only be able to relax if you feel you have control over other people and over your surroundings. This might be especially true if you feel you don’t have control over your internal state. The only way to cope with your inner world, in that case, seems to be to control what your inner world is responding to within the outer world.

There are two parts to that. One of them is that my mom was, a lot of the time, responding to her inner world. She was, most likely, having flashbacks of a neglectful and abusive childhood, just as I am, and trying to manage or prevent those flashbacks by controlling the world outside her. By, for example, pushing me away so that she wasn’t overwhelmed by shame at her inadequacy as a parent, or rejecting my affection so that she could avoid paired experiences regarding being loveable when she was a child. Things like that.

I am not excusing her, but it makes a lot of her behaviour make sense. It makes her lack of empathy for me make sense. She wasn’t thinking about me. She was just thinking about how to get herself through the day in the absence of basically every emotional tool.

The other element of this is that someone like my mother—and probably I have done this, as has C—is that one starts to be able to experience connection only when you are in situations of power or have control, rather than being in relationships of reciprocity. But that isn’t usually going to remain comfortable for the other person. I think this is the real foundation of “codependent relationships.” It’s not about needing to rescue someone to distract from your own problems, nor is it about giving up your autonomy and becoming enmeshed. It’s about settling down in a relationship where there is a kind of illusion about having more power—maybe because the other person is not functioning well, or because there is a real difference in status (like myself and C). The rescuee feels, for the moment, nurtured while the rescuer feels safe enough to attach. Only later, as the relationship starts to develop, does the power struggle develop as both people end up needing to maintain a feeling of having control over the other in order to maintain the ability to feel safe enough to experience intimacy.

I was thinking about this recently because there was a news item, at around the same time as I needed to undergo training about child abuse reporting, about a female teacher who initiated a sexual relationship with a child about C’s age. I couldn’t imagine someone doing that, and yet it happens. I remember how C thought we were having a romantic relationship, and I just can’t fathom how a woman in a position of power over a teenager could forget that there is no way for an adult to have an intimate relationship with a teenager without their being an abuse of that power. There is no way not to betray that young person, not to create confusion within them, or to raise the question within about whether they actually have value or whether they are simply being used as an object.

I can’t imagine how that couldn’t kill an adult’s sexual desire.

So I was thinking about this need for power, and how the illusion of control over someone would cause anyone with an attachment problem to feel safe enough that they might be able to relax enough to form a relationship and to begin to attach.

I think that leads to the cycle of abuse as well: at some point, the person seeking control realizes no matter how much power he or she might have, there are still two full-fledged human beings involved and the other person lies outside their control. I have power over C, but I don’t have control. I learned that fairly quickly—that I needed to let go of any sense that I have control over her, and work at building trust with her instead. I also realized that I needed to work at being aware of my vulnerability with her: not splitting from it out of shame and allowing her to caretake my vulnerability, and not abandoning myself either, but realizing at every moment I was dealing with complete, separate human beings who have rights and feelings I need to be sensitive to and who have within their power the ability to reject me. And just cope with that. Be aware of how it feels within me to be vulnerable in that way—how ashamed and frightened it makes me feel—and also maintain an awareness that the people around me of whatever age are not objects for me to use.

Because that’s one coping strategy: I don’t want to be triggered by all of the feelings I have about vulnerability or the events these relate to, and so I am not going to acknowledge within me that I am vulnerable or that I am asking for help even a child has a right to refuse to give me, or to be uncomfortable giving (in which case, I need to set the boundary for that child on his or her behalf and not ask for the help they don’t feel comfortable in offering). That’s a strategy: just to pretend that the child has no feelings and must do what you tell to do without having any feeling of annoyance or inconvenience.

At a practical level, what this meant is that I needed to say thank you to the kids who brought pancakes and other items up to C. I needed to take note of whether they seemed perhaps annoyed about it and accept that maybe they could be annoyed. I needed to sometimes give that young person some item they might like too, so that they would see that I was grateful for their help and understood they had the right to refuse me. I needed to treat them like human beings with feelings.

The thing about grasping for control is really it allows you to avoid what happens inside you in reaction to feeling vulnerable. It isn’t so much that someone might hurt you, as that you might be reminded of times you were hurt.

The growth for me came from that. I had to be so vulnerable in order to build a relationship with C. I had to let everyone see my affection and warmth for her, because otherwise she would not be able to see it, and I knew she needed it. I had to be brave. I had to ask for help, and deal with how I felt at asking for help, because I knew I couldn’t treat the people who were helping me—mostly other young people—as objects.

Thinking about this is kind of rearranging things in my head, and I feel better. I feel better about myself. I always had my shit to deal with. There was never a time it wasn’t there. It’s good when someone comes into your life and makes you realize you have to do that.

Reaching out

I called C on her friend’s phone. The phone was ringing and I was really conscious while it rang that I felt like hurting myself. It really sunk in that reaching out feels very, very bad to me. It really does feel that I am so bad and I am doing a very, very bad thing.

I am finding it astonishing to see these feelings as they happen, to know that I have this feeling in my body and it is shame, and I have thoughts and impulses that go with them, and really they are mainly there because I was a baby and I looked at my mom and she wasn’t happy to see me. Regardless of whatever abuse and neglect occurred later that I remember in a conscious, narrative way, it started with that. It started with not being wanted as a baby.

It really isn’t what someone tells you or what someone consciously or intentionally disciplines you for that sends a message. It’s how people behave around you that matters when you are a child.

The other thing I have been thinking is that as a child, I had feelings about this. I had feelings there was no space or luxury to process. I had feelings about not being wanted or loved or valued as a child. I had feelings even about having a mom who was depressed a lot of the time and spent a lot of time in bed and not interacting with me or playing with me or even wanting to be around me. As a little child, I wasn’t stupid. I saw other children with their parents, and I knew that other parents don’t do that. Other people are happy to see their children. Other parents have a light come on inside when they see their child, even if things don’t always go smoothly between them. There is still that light that comes on, and that really did not happen with my parents. There was very little warmth.

I was thinking too that for years after I became an adult, life was mostly about getting through things, getting through the day, getting through washes of emotions I didn’t understand and that made functioning difficult. I didn’t bring to therapy my childhood feelings about my deprivation. I didn’t really have time or energy to know they were there, and I didn’t know I could know what my childhood feelings even were. A lot of energy went into getting on with life. I didn’t come to therapy and say, “I felt really sad as a child, because other children are loved and I wasn’t.” I just reacted to sadness and tried to cope with sadness without understanding it or knowing what prompted it. Why I had so little support for processing my past, I don’t know. I don’t know if that was a product of my own assumptions about how I ought to be healing, or if that’s the best therapy I could find. I do know I told a former therapist in an email that I was having a hard time because it was Natalya’s death anniversary and she told me I could take comfort in the fact that this was in the past—entirely missing out on the fact that people remain dead forever. Death is not in the past. Nata keeps being dead every single fucking day.

A lot of losses are permanent. The moment of loss might be temporary—and that’s probably what my former therapist thought about, simply that moment when the loss began, without realizing that the loss is forever and I have to find some way to live with that. Just as Nata will always be dead, my parents will always be incapable of having a loving relationship with me. I am not going to have parents who loved or wanted me as a child, and I am not going to have them now. I can’t make my parents become more capable than they are, nor can I find a substitute for that bond between a parent and child. There is no other relationship like it, and my parents will always be the people they are. I have to find a way to live with that.

But it does start with realizing what the loss is.

Wonder

I’m going through something. It feels good, but it’s also hard to handle.

It’s hard to explain, but I want to reach out and have that connection, so I’ll try.

There is a holiday in Country X and C has gone to her village and she has actually chatted with me. I have been getting a real sense of the fear involved in trying to connect with me. This relates to my understanding of my trauma-based feelings of fear about reaching out. It’s really quite primal, like we were administered electrical shocks. So I started to understand as I was chatting with her that the times when she internally flees, it is not about me. Really and truly, it is not about me. She kind of knows this, but I am still catching on. She wants to reach out to me and feels maybe my grandmother will disapprove or my friends will tease me or everyone will stare or the matron won’t like it or….This is against the rules, but I don’t really know why.

And it really started to sink in. I’m loveable. She loves me. And there is just all of this other stuff.

If the most likely explanation for someone’s behaviour stops being I am worthless or bad, if that’s not the default, then things look really different.

It seems to relate to some idea that I can be me.

C’s stepmom had a baby recently, so we were chatting about that. I told her that her dad misses her. I said at happy times, we miss the person that can’t be with us. She didn’t believe me and I asked in a few different ways why she thought that, because I wanted to know how she feels and what she thinks about things. I didn’t get any real answer. I made a couple of guesses and she kept saying no.

But I thought how it’s like that for me. There are always these ghosts, all these people that feel like should be there and aren’t there, mostly because they are dead.

And the thing is many of them I feel are dead because my dad killed them. I don’t know what to say about that.

There is an important point to this: it has really seemed more real to me that I can be myself. This can be my experience, and it’s okay. I can feel that there are people missing from important events and feel sad about that, and that’s going to be okay. I think I have in the past believed, however unconsciously, that the only way to get on with life was not to experience any impact of the past on the present. I did not believe I could be my unique self with my unique past. The only way to get on with life was to bury what had happened.

That might have come from a lot of places, including infant neglect and trauma, but I think it also came from others who might not feel comfortable knowing what has happened to me or that these things do happen to people, even if they happen rarely.

I am beginning to feel it’s okay. I saw dismembered bodies as a 5-year-old, and life somehow goes on.

However, there is sometimes an expectation that trauma can’t or shouldn’t change you and that the only way to survive being the child of a serial killer is to put those memories in a box and try to be as normal as possible. Or, alternatively, to feel triumphant about having survived that. And there is often nothing to be triumphant about. I struggle with the consequences of my past on me psychologically. I can’t say those struggles aren’t real. Things don’t stay in a box, and no reasonable person can say in good conscience that it all worked out for the best. That’s just insane.

That said, I don’t think there is any way to live through those things and not have horror intensify your search for meaning. I don’t think there is any way just to return one’s attention to ordinary life and become caught up in everyday concerns. I don’t think it’s possible to survive it without developing some kind of sense of deep purpose. There is no way for the meaninglessness of the violence I witnessed not to lead to a stronger sense of meaning.

It’s hard to explain how I have felt a sense of shame about this need for meaning, and I think it comes from just the general human tendency to see difference as defectiveness. I had my own schemas, but I also think many people do just feel an active social life, a decent job, and family relationships ought to be enough. Success is returning to a life you might have led had none of the tragedies in your life happened. I really can’t do that.

I was looking at something yesterday about torture and I realized other people can’t either. It was like I had never noticed that before. Other people sacrifice many aspects of what is taken to be a typical, full life in favour of something that has more meaning for them. It’s not a defect in me. There are many reasons people get involved in helping others, but it also restores one’s sense of meaning following tragedy.

So if I went to the shops today and bought a card for C that says “Only a very special girl who is loved very, very much can open this,” then it’s because I find meaning in addressing her profound deprivation of warmth and affection in infancy and early childhood. It’s not because I am so broken it seems easier to fix someone else or because I am trying to avoid attending to myself, nor is it because I am trying to manipulate a child into addressing my unmet needs. I do see her deprivation because I was deprived as well, and it takes a lot of internal work with myself to connect to that deprivation within me so that I can understand what she is going through.

There is this pressure I feel sometimes to be defended, to reject others and “work on myself,” and I have found, within limits, I can’t work on myself without being in relationships, and I can’t effectively attend to others without attending to myself. I have to be able to cope with myself.

The main thing is there is an emotion about feeling like it’s okay to be me. This realization that I am uniquely myself, it isn’t just a sentence I repeat in the mirror until I believe it. There is a feeling—it’s a difficult one to feel and I think I have to manage a lot of shame to get there. I think the feeling is basically wonder.

Missing

There is a holiday in Y-town again. I think it’s the Regional New Year. I don’t know the reason for this, but there is a Western/Central Country X New Year, which coincides with the Chinese New Year and there is a Regional New Year and I don’t know why.

The kids get 2 days of holiday and are allowed to go home from the hostel. So C’s uncle went to pick her up and he said she would call me. Which she didn’t. I keep getting promised phone calls, which don’t materialize. Then I am awake half the night worrying and wondering what to do, if anything. Frequently I am too upset to think straight and I do nothing, but it would probably be helpful if I called the person who was supposed to set up the phone call.

Anyway, today my eyes are full of sand and I feel like sleeping, but I am awake.

But I had something of an informative bit of processing last night. Two things were going on at the same time: she hadn’t called and I didn’t know where she was.

Not knowing where C is does something to me unlike anything else that triggers me. When I don’t know where she is, I feel like I have to find it. I feel very frantic about this, like it’s crucial I physically know where she is. And I also feel very angry—the anger does not always materialize, but it’s like I am primed for it. If there is any indication that something is actually wrong in real life and not just my mixed up mind, I feel very much like lashing out. I am inclined to lash out at C, because usually she is the reason that something is wrong. There is no one actually hurting her. I am mindful of this, and I know in times when I don’t know where she is I need to watch myself and work harder than normal at staying calm. And this has worked.

But inside I feel very much like a confused mama bear unable to figure out who is attacking my little bear cub.

I think this is related to a particular event. There are a lot of things lately that I am working with that are common to many events or are general patterns that happened in a variety of situations. This one feels like a single incident or like a finite number of incidents.

Anyway, I was really tired and couldn’t stay awake to receive her call. If she called, I would wake up, but I just couldn’t make it. And I woke up hours later with the lights on and realized she hadn’t. Then the usual feeling of franticness set in. I sat with that for a bit, wondering what to do. This is one thing I keep coming back to. Life goes on, despite the trauma reactions in my head and usually I do need to do something at these times. And it somehow needs not to be something insane.

So I just sat there with things, feeling the franticness which I know is a memory. It’s a memory that I don’t really understand. I couldn’t find someone and something terrible happened after that. I don’t really know what the terrible thing was. I no longer speculate about this. I have in the past, and I don’t know if my speculations have been helpful or not.

After a while, I had a sense of inkiness. I think this might have been something like confusion. I think confusion might have felt like an inky blackness in my mind. It may not have been a literal darkness.

And then there was a feeling of needing to put things together.

Fuck.

I know what follows running to find someone. I did find that person—whoever she was. And she was in pieces.

There are moments like these when I realize there’s a good reason I react so strongly to things. For most people, a moment when someone was not where she was expected to be never ended in a dismembered body. That’s not within the realm of possibility. But for me, that’s one of the possible outcomes. That’s something that could happen, because it did happen. People I loved really were murdered.