I was noticing recently the disconnect between how it feels to be me inside me–so when I am doing things I enjoy, for example. I feel quite good. But when I am in a situation where I am aware of myself–in some way looking at or examining myself–then I don’t feel good at all. This is my imagination of how others see me, only I don’t actually imagine any particular person who sees me in this negative way. It’s just there, as a part of my mind, this image of myself that’s so painful.
I go back to this idea of the incoherence of the abused child’s working models of themselves and others, and it seems to me to be one part of this incoherence. These two sources of information about the self–how it feels to be me and what other people seem to think of me–are discontinuous and seem to bear no relation to one another. I think the malevolence or controlling nature of the parent is why. If the child responded to the parent’s view of herself, she would collapse in permanent despair. All sources of good feeling would be cut off.
What I mean is usually there are enough things we can do that feel good to us that we can lose some of our sources of pleasure when they turn out not to be socially acceptable or to have negative consequences for us later. So, while it might feel good to push my way to the front of the line or to steal some other child’s candy, I can give those things up because I still have so many pleasures available to me. The abused child may have nothing left aside from those things the parent punishes her for doing. She has to learn to defend herself against conscience.
For example, I have been aware from the kids that concentrating on something of interest will very likely lead to interruption or interference, and it is not just that they would like my attention sometimes, but that my state of concentration makes them aware of their loss of my attention. When I am mindlessly going through the motions of life, they wouldn’t notice. This pattern gives me insight into my mother, who would sometimes come to me, express a lot of anger or frustration for seemingly no reason, and then recede again. She especially attacked my writing and sometimes my reading–taking me to the library, but telling me to go outside and play when she saw me actually reading said books.
It wasn’t about not liking my writing or my reading, it was more likely an attempt to manage her own feelings of loss by attacking the trigger. It’s like me fixing the leak in the kitchen sink so that I don’t need to be reminded every day of my mother trying to drown me while washing my hair. Only I am a person. And writing and reading give me pleasure. I can’t give them up the way I could other things.
It may also have been about jealousy. I have seen VP Ma’am, who for sure has disorganized attachment, show flashes of anger as she approached if she sees me talking to someone else. That’s jealousy about attention, but my mother may have also felt a jealousy over pleasure, because she could so rarely feel comfortable or happy.
I think a child in this situation develops a disconnected sense of self, whereby the inside and outside are experienced separately. I can become my raw instincts, or I can behave well. But not both. What this does, I think, is remove modulation.
There are times when The Boy seems to become his appetite. He likes to eat, and so he eats 10 chilis at a time, or an entire bag of pears, or piles up bowls of food and then has stomach aches later if i don’t stop him. While he is doing this, he expresses a socially bizarre degree of pleasure in eating. And I think this is why: he feels he is the pleasure of eating. The shame about overeating, about taking too much and even perhaps taking food he does not deserve (because he is not my own child) have been removed along with that outside view of himself, which is what may allow him to enjoy food at all in the first place.
So I think this has, to some extent, happened to me. And these are the parts. It’s not all about pleasure, but it is about having an internal experience which is painfully incompatible with my view of myself from the outside.
I think children who are abused learn a lot of strategies to avoid seeing themselves at all, so that they are not assaulted by their own negative view of themselves.
I think, in some way, this also removes me from the ability to be able to comfort or modulate feeling states: this human capacity to see myself seems connected to the equally human capacity to provide care. I must see that I need care before providing the care. I cannot merely become the need for care.
A few years ago, when the parts were more active, Ruthie expressed a very intense desire to be “inside mommy.” I can understand this better now, as wanting to be connected to the compassionate view of myself which makes care feel like care. Indulging an impulse that provides relief does not feel like care. It feels like being bad, but I don’t care.
It meshes, in my mind, with what Fonagy says about lack of symbolic control over felt experiences–or having that control collapse under strain, which it does–causing the person to feel as though they have no emotional skin. The loss of sense of connection to other people who have in the past felt the same thing creates a mental devastation, and it also, I suspect, removes the individual from a connection to experiences in which one might have learned to manage those feelings.
For an abused child, this was at some point adaptive: what the parents did with difficult feelings was hurt the child. In that case, it is best not to be aware of the minds around you trying to cope with the difficulty: You won’t learn anything good from that. But I think the disconnection from other minds also creates its own pain.
What I don’t know still is how to heal that rift within the self.