We went to a teacher’s house yesterday afternoon, because his wife was sick. He was my landlord at the beginning of the year—I used to live upstairs from him. Some interesting things happened, mostly with what we will call Lead Teacher. She is new, I think from last year, and I had not known her before I returned this year. The interactions I have with her are usually strange and confusing, and yesterday was no exception.
There was a kind of traditional snack in front of us, which is like very hard cornflakes. People eat it with tea. We were sitting in an L-shaped configuration, and the hard cornflakes were on her side. So she eventually passed the bowl to me, but instead of passing (so that I could offer it to the man sitting on my right), she held onto it. Quite tightly. We were not sitting next to each other.
We were in the midst of a religious ritual and horns were blaring and drums beating. I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. She eventually realized she should in some way tell the man next to me that she was offering it to him also, although he couldn’t comfortably reach it. I had at this point let go of it and given up on trying to give any to him. I took a little—not able to reach it comfortably either—and let her take it back.
It’s the oddest passing of snacks I think I have ever experienced.
Then after a bit, someone gave us some very spicy puffed rice. This was brought out on paper plates—about one paper plate of it for every two or three guests. There was no spoon, and I took it with my hands, which I think was what was expected. She tore off a bit of paper plate to use as a spoon and, seeing this, the lady serving us—I’m sorry that I don’t actually know who she was—saw this and brought out spoons for each of the paper plates. But Lead Teacher persisted in using her bit of paper plate.
I’m pretty sure all of this had to do with wanting a spoon and not being able to ask for it and then once one was brought, needing to reject it so as to avoid feeling guilty for communicating her desire for a spoon however indirectly. But also I think it had to do with wanting to displace a kind of shame: I have a desire you haven’t anticipated (the desire for a spoon), but instead of feeling ashamed that I am the only one uptight enough to want a spoon when everyone else is content to eat with their hands, I am going to make you feel that your way of serving is somehow beneath me or dirty.
Then, when dinner was served, our new IT teacher needed to get by her and she asked Lead Teacher to move. Lead Teacher refused to move in a bizarre show of vindictiveness for past slights.
Altogether, it was the weirdest display of immature behaviour I have ever seen in a single afternoon. Just one strange social behaviour after another.
My speculation was that it all had to do with perceiving the world as hostile. The world is against me, so I need to maintain a position of dominance all the time.
I was watching a video this morning on jealousy and borderline personality disorder, put up by someone in recovery. I felt it described my mom. I want to back up a little. Borderline personality disorder often shows up as the intersection of difficulties in mentalizing and an anxious attachment style. The presenter talks about the anxiety of bpd as coming from low self-esteem. I see it as coming from an assumption of the world as being hostile: feelings of dominance are invoked in order to reduce the sense of hostility.
This is what The Girl did anyway. She was frantically needy, wanted constant attention, seemed to feel endlessly vulnerable (conversations usually centered on either miniscule physical complaints or the wrong-doing of others). She wanted to be “the boss” because the anxiety felt so bad. It comes from the incomprensibility of the parent’s malignancy. Being unable to comprehend the view of the other shuts down the process of learning to think about other’s thoughts and feelings, so that you actually never feel you know what they are. You feel you must watch constantly in order to have some warning about what’s coming. But the malignancy can start up at any time, so you never feel you can relax. You feel constantly frightened. I think so anyway. It’s a loop of fear you don’t actually realize is there.
In the case of my own mother, I couldn’t go close to her because she understood my needs in terms of herself: she was inadequate. I couldn’t engage in my own activities, because it made her feel jealous. I preferred my own activities to her company. It all came back to her. This kind of narcissism has to do with isolation. There are no other explanations for behaviour outside of the self, because others’ thoughts and feelings are not felt to exist. They don’t seem to exist, because the original “other” has thoughts and feelings which are incomprehensibly hostile.
The safest option was a kind of immobilization, which sums up my most difficult times. I’m still living with her.
I realize that my own “neediness” in relationships is not the same. It isn’t constant. I am reacting to specific traumas, although sometimes I don’t identify what they are. I once went to my partner with something I had written, feeling pleased with myself, I suppose. In retrospect, I think I was anxious about writing, not for the normal reasons, but because my mother was jealous of my writing. When I was a child, writing sparked fights. I remember discussing this in couple’s therapy. What came out of it was nothing helpful. We never explored anything—just the invocation, try to be more independent. No thought that my own partner was jealous that I was writing and she wasn’t. Nor that I was insecure about writing because it had led to traumatic experiences when I was a child.
One more thought about this: I read in Crittenden of enmeshment as a confused or indirect style of relating. Motives are misrepresented or lied about. I like this much better than simply being “too close,” especially as “too close” is not absolute. Different cultures require different levels of involvement between individuals in the family. It’s not biological. But it reminds me that my style of presenting my needs was perhaps enmeshed. Rather than seeking reassurance that it was okay to write, which would not have led to anything good, I presented vulnerability. And the thing about vulnerability is that it can make the other person feel very noble. It has the potential to enhance someone else’s desire for dominance. So I think I learned that. I learned the best way to get my needs met was to misrepresent my needs but to present it all under a package of non-threatening submission.