Confusion

So things have changed a little around here. Last Saturday, a student I know from 2016 called me up and asked if she could stay with me. Her mom was drinking. So the first day, I said no. And the second day I said yes.

It’s a week later. The bender is over, but you feel something after a week–worry, probably.

It means I have three people’s activities in my head, after years of only one person’s and a brief stint with two. Three wake-sleep-eat cycles, three people who need to remember to bring things to school. Three people who need to use the toilet and change their clothes in one toilet and one bedroom. My brain is very busy.

So that’s the change. Meanwhile, C posted on her Facebook site that she plays games. This would be the f-you teenage mode. “I need you so badly, but I am so bad, that I can only get the attention and support I need from you by being bad.”

I suppose. I responded to this in a message, which she read later and didn’t respond to. Who knows what she thought, or whether I said anything helpful or harmful or what.

But I have been thinking about what this all means–specifically about using both A strategies (those which distance the self from danger) and C strategies (those which use artificial or exaggerated emotions to manipulate others).

There is a very low correlation between self-report of attachment style and the results of coded attachment interviews, suggesting that actually people’s behavior does not often match their perceptions of themselves.

The difference, however, between how it actually feels to be in an anxious versus dismissive state is vast. I have begun to realize people automatically assume that everyone else’s mind feels the same way as theirs. People with anxious attachments are aware of their internal states and talk about them quite a bit, so that section of humanity has coloured my view of how things are more. Their minds seem to run circles, zipping between shifting perceptions. I have realized my class sometimes feels this way to me. When the kids are anxious, I feel it, and I dislike it intensely. My mind isn’t like that, because I have used more dismissive strategies and what happens when I am under stress is that I work harder essentially at managing my attention and my mind slows down.

There is something else: So C is using a dismissive strategy to conceal some kind of hurt or rejection (I don’t want to be genuinely cared about anyway.) She doesn’t have much in the way of an ability to mentalize, so she doesn’t know she’s doing that. The desire to reach out and connect has effectively been left out of her awareness, because the desire itself is the source of danger. She doesn’t know why she’s doing this. It seems to actually be her.

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There is no electricity. Electrical power was alright this week, but in other recent weeks, it’s been unreliable. They did some maintenance work somewhere, I guess. There was a fire and a line was knocked over by a tree. I have no idea what today’s power outage was caused by, or when it will end.

My laptop battery isn’t what it used to be and I have only 1 hour left. So I cannot meander from the point or procrastinate, as I often do.

I gave a talk today on phonemic awareness. I think 50% of the teachers were interested and 50% were bored. But I think being the center of attention is difficult for me. Visions of bashing my head in or smashing my hand with a hammer flash through my head. It’s not difficult to think I may feel inside that I have done something very wrong.

The Developmental-Maturational Model helps me in these times, especially when I connect it to the two systems within our brains: System 1 and System 2. I think my mind recognizes attention as a danger point. Danger creates a stronger sorting mechanism in the mind for relevant details. While I pushed gamely on, engaging with people when I was raised not to engage with them, this went quietly on, leaving me vulnerable to seeing indicators of whatever I am doing as being unwelcome or unacceptable.

Someone with a preoccupied style might experience this as thoughts racing. Mine doesn’t. I don’t actually know why I am being slammed with shame. I work really hard at trying to connect my feelings to something so that I can create some order in my mind, but I am starting to see I have had a lot of contact with people who have a preoccupied style and for them this is how the mind works–not just theirs, but everyone’s. How other people have presumed my mind worked is that all of this stuff was frantically swirling around and what I ought to do is make it stop, because that’s unbearable. So their advice has often been to use dismissive strategies–to do things that make the danger seem less immediate and less alarming.

But the danger is within myself. I can’t actually distance myself from it. I am not seeing that the danger might be someone’s disapproval of me or their rejection. I am seeing it as something within me–something I did or felt.

The DMM model says this kind of thinking happens with consistent parenting. Thinking about it that way kind of horrifies me to think about. My mother may have been consistently neglectful. I developed a causality within my mind that drawing attention to myself would not end well. Inconsistent parenting would sometimes reward and sometimes punish the same behavior. Intermittent reward encourages behaviour. The parent might sometimes pick up the screaming infant. Crittendon’s idea makes me think my mother never or almost never picked me up when I cried.

I sometimes have this overwhelming urge to lie down when I am struggling emotionally. I end up wondering if this is actually because that ended up being the most reliable strategy. Lie still, don’t scare mom, she may eventually get lonely and pick me up….Cry and mostly she hits me.

It’s not a nice thought.

 

Last year at this time…

The Boy talking to me about his parts makes me think more about parts and how it feels to have parts. Also, it’s a holiday, and I am thinking about C and the emotional quality of some of our times together. I wonder why they feel the way they do. I think those two things are related.

It feels hard to express though, I think perhaps because it feels unspeakable to be the way that I am. It’s a strange way to be, and I think I have spent a lot of my life being told I didn’t or couldn’t have the experiences that I do.

When I saw C on this particular holiday in 2016, she was very angry at me. I remember I did not sleep most of the night, because I did not understand why she was angry or what she needed. So it’s not a pleasant memory, and yet when I think about that memory I have some sense of closeness. Not a feeling of being unified in any way, since we did not have the same emotions and we also did not understand cognitively what she was experiencing. Something more in the line of feeling that I saw her.

Perhaps it feels that way because she was trying to be seen.

I can’t really pin down why people end up in parts, but I think it has to do with a parent so unable to function emotionally that they distort their experiences with their child, so that the child feels dangerous and threatening to them. What happens for the child is they feel they themselves are dangerous and they must be extinguished or concealed. But C was angry and showing to me how she felt. I know she had ideas about why she was angry, and it had to do with her misunderstanding of my motives. I wasn’t trying to meet my own need for company at the expense of her needs. But her experiences with people were that she kept herself safe via compliance and caretaking. Then the other person liked having her comply and caretake. And in the process, she lost more and more freedom.

I don’t think she had ever met someone who saw that behaviour and thought, “Probably you comply because you are frightened. Probably you need someone to help you feel safer so that you can explore your own interests.”

So when I said, “Would you like me to come and just be there?” This offer made no actual sense. She was protecting herself against exploitation. The strategy that worked with parents she relied on attracted people into her life who behaved in harmful ways.

 

Parts

The Boy has parts. He says sometimes he thinks there are small people inside him. When he is running and his heart pounds very fast or when he is hungry and asks for food, he says he thinks it’s the small people. They get hungry and tired because they are small.

People who use A strategies psychologically place danger at a distance from themselves in order to maintain the way their mind functions. They stay tilted toward the mental system which works slowly and is conscious. They make decisions based on cause-and-effect or based on rules. Feelings have not been reliable sources of information.

When your felt states are themselves sources of danger, that must be kept at a distance in order to function. So he’s doing that. It’s dangerous to be hungry or tired, so that can’t be me. It must be someone else, and it’s a vulnerable feeling, so it must be someone small.

I don’t actually have any idea what to do about parts–his or mine or anyone else’s. I suppose the danger must be addressed in some way, so that eventually the danger of having felt states diminishes, and I suppose you do this a little at a time.

Sinks

I have been reading about attachment–not Bowlby’s, but Crittenden’s. It is more detailed and more resonant than what I have read before.

Crittenden does not cluster attachment into 3 styles for adults, but instead places them along a continuum of relationship strategies acquired throughout one’s younger years. She calls these A and C, with B falling in the middle. A strategies diminish one’s feelings of being in danger by distancing the sense of danger from oneself or controlling what causes the danger. C strategies use coercion or manipulation to force others to respond or provide support. People who use C strategies have more obvious dysfunction and are more likely to seek help: they land in therapist’s offices more commonly. A strategies deny one’s felt experience and rely on cognition more. C strategies rely on feelings to dictate responses–cognition is experienced as unreliable. Some people use both A and C strategies. In childhood “disorganized” attachment, the child attempts to use A strategies but is unable to do so: the instinct to seek help and comfort is too strong.

I have now some theories about myself. I use mostly A strategies. I cope by diminishing my sense of danger so that my ability to reason does not become overwhelmed. Over the years, I have added to these strategies and expanded them so that I now have quite a range of them. Therapy has encouraged me to do this, maybe because therapists are accustomed to treating the other end of the spectrum or maybe because using more profoundly dysfunctional relationship strategies diminished the episodes of being overwhelmed. Or maybe I just kept using the same ones.

Crittenden’s strategies are numbered from 1 to 8, with 1 and 2 allowing for quite normal and successful relationships and 7 and 8 leading towards total dysfunction. I can see I use A5 and A6 quite regularly and have for a long time. I may have moved into A4 as a step forward.

I feel I fall back on C strategies at times, but I cannot identify with the person who does this because I have learned so deeply not to have feelings.

I am working at healing this divide, but I am actually not sure how. I have worked out that the sink is involved with some kind of trauma. I go to the sink and feel worthless and ashamed. A strategies would tell me to ignore those feelings and carry on with my work–they are from the past and are no longer helpful. I am trying to remain with those feelings while I work in case that does something.

I think as a child I could not accurately identify sources of danger, because the dangers were themselves my only hope. I couldn’t know my mother drowned me under the tap. Instead, I became afraid of sinks.

Sinks

I have been reading about attachment–not Bowlby’s, but Crittenden’s. It is more detailed and more resonant than what I have read before.

Crittenden does not cluster attachment into 3 styles for adults, but instead places them along a continuum of relationship strategies acquired throughout one’s younger years. She calls these A and C, with B falling in the middle. A strategies diminish one’s feelings of being in danger by distancing the sense of danger from oneself or controlling what causes the danger. C strategies use coercion or manipulation to force others to respond or provide support. People who use C strategies have more obvious dysfunction and are more likely to seek help: they land in therapist’s offices more commonly. A strategies deny one’s felt experience and rely on cognition more. C strategies rely on feelings to dictate responses–cognition is experienced as unreliable. Some people use both A and C strategies. In childhood “disorganized” attachment, the child attempts to use A strategies but is unable to do so: the instinct to seek help and comfort is too strong.

I have now some theories about myself. I use mostly A strategies. I cope by diminishing my sense of danger so that my ability to reason does not become overwhelmed. Over the years, I have added to these strategies and expanded them so that I now have quite a range of them. Therapy has encouraged me to do this, maybe because therapists are accustomed to treating the other end of the spectrum or maybe because using more profoundly dysfunctional relationship strategies diminished the episodes of being overwhelmed. Or maybe I just kept using the same ones.

Crittenden’s strategies are numbered from 1 to 8, with 1 and 2 allowing for quite normal and successful relationships and 7 and 8 leading towards total dysfunction. I can see I use A5 and A6 quite regularly and have for a long time. I may have moved into A4 as a step forward.

I feel I fall back on C strategies at times, but I cannot identify with the person who does this because I have learned so deeply not to have feelings.

I am working at healing this divide, but I am actually not sure how. I have worked out that the sink is involved with some kind of trauma. I go to the sink and feel worthless and ashamed. A strategies would tell me to ignore those feelings and carry on with my work–they are from the past and are no longer helpful. I am trying to remain with those feelings while I work in case that does something.

I think as a child I could not accurately identify sources of danger, because the dangers were themselves my only hope. I couldn’t know my mother drowned me under the tap. Instead, I became afraid of sinks.

Digging into Attachment Styles

So I have been reading about attachment styles recently and yesterday I dug a little deeper and got a more complete breakdown regarding Crittendon’s attachment strategies, which extend Ainsworth’s infant attachment styles. I was looking at a Routledge handbook online, if you want to see for yourself.

Anyway, it essentially distinguishes between strategies which efface the self (avoidant) and those which control others (preoccupied). The more complex breakdown began to allow me to see myself and to see other relationships in my life. In the past, looking at this has not yielded any resonance for me.

It helped me to understand my mother’s behaviour and its impact on my life now: I have been pondering a sense of being interfered with recently.

My mother interrupted my activities impulsively in order to demand my attention. It came across to me as a sense of forbidden activities, but I think it was more jealousy. In the present, I end up feeling that whatever I am doing is wrong and I ought to be doing something else. I also sometimes delay or avoid starting on tasks and now I think it is this early experience of things not going well.

Maybe it wasn’t jealousy on my mother’s part. It is hard to know what her motives were, but she frequently presented with anger–a preoccupied strategy, which comes from believing only intense emotions will get someone’s attention. Or maybe from feeling anger at the other for prompting what seem to be forbidden attachment feelings and making the individual “bad.”

Who knows….

But I can see how it led me to have difficulty pursuing my own goals, if I expect unconsciously to be prevented from experiencing any success.

And the thing is that people do: I still have preoccupied people in my life who interfere with my pursuits and use coercive tactics to get attention. I was walking home last week after a 2-hour walk home from a nature preserve. I was tired and I also had a plan for later in the day, but my principal happened to be passing by and pressured me into going for a picnic with her in the place I had spent an hour walking away from.

It is not just a remnant of my childhood. It is something people still do.

I am reminded of C’s anger at me for months. I came and I just sat there until she was calm. She has been interfered with too. It was a long time before she began to realize she was allowed to carry on. I was just there. She did not need to stop what she was doing.

It creates a depression–this expectation of interference. Also, you start to do it to yourself. I was thinking about this yesterday, when I began to get bogged down. I realized, as it was a holiday, that I could enjoy whatever I managed to be able to do, but I wasn’t. I kept trying to find reasons it was wrong–anticipating interference.

Unconditional

Maybe because there is only one more session left after the last one, or maybe I am just clearer in my own mind, but some things came out in therapy yesterday.

We talked–briefly, it was brief but revealing–about how we see reality. For my therapist, there is a single reality, and our minds sometimes distort it. For me, each of us is actively constructing our understanding of reality and whatever is in our minds at the moment is merely our best guess about it. Over time, we might revise our guess about reality as we get new information. We may compare our understanding of reality with others and decide we like someone else’s idea about it better than our own. But because we are constructing an understanding of reality rather than holding reality itself within our minds, it’s fluid and shifts over time.

The same is true of our self-views. My view of myself is partly the result of how other people see me. (This is Cooley’s Looking Glass self. It seems to be where psychology and sociology part ways.) If the people around me are fairly similar to one another and tend to be fairly consistent in how they see things, my sense of myself is likely to be stable unless I have some kind of life-changing event (have children, lose my mobility, have a brain injury). If the people around me see things very differently from one another or are themselves unstable, I may see myself differently at different times, because they see me differently. I myself have not changed, but the lens has changed–the lens being the people looking at me.

She does not see things this way. Most therapists don’t. One is not supposed to imagine how other people view one, and yet we ought to know that people do, that this is a part of how one’s sense of self is formed.

This really struck home to me, for two main reasons. One of them is that the way I view the self helps me to understand my childhood. My mother’s problems with regulation caused her to see the world–and me–as very different at different times. I am not stupid and I knew this. As a child forming an identity, it made my very self feel unpredictable and dangerous. It also set me up as an adult to cling frantically to a positive, fragile view of myself. I could not tolerate the normal ups and downs in how we see ourselves as we experience failures and successes in life that I think people normally manage without noticing very much. I think I could not grasp when I don’t have a positive view of myself, I am still me. It felt to me like I had become someone else.

The thing is that I believe we regulate our social selves in the same way we regulate our emotions. If I am not naturally skilled at doing something, I am likely to do less of it, not just because it frustrates me, but because I don’t like the view of myself that I have when I do it. I might avoid a bully or a critical person, because I don’t like how I feel about myself when I am around them.

But children who were emotionally abused have learned they cannot and will not be allowed to regulate their self-esteem. They cannot move away from things or people that cause them to feel they are less competent or valuable or important. They could not move away from a parent who belittled or demeaned them, and so as adults they don’t feel allowed to move away from negative, critical or downright abusive people. They were not allowed to choose activities that made them feel competent or successful or joyful.

My therapist would have me do what I tried unsuccessfully for decades to do, which is to believe in some kind of always-good self that does not change, rather than in a self that is fluid, but always still me–always my responsibility and always of value to me.

I was taking a walk yesterday–I had to wait on something for a couple of hours and I spent some of that time taking a walk–and I thought as I was walking that I would care for myself whether I am a good person or a bad person. This does not sound so great written down, but my care for myself is unconditional. I don’t stop caring for myself when I have failures in virtue or in self esteem. Whatever I think about myself in the moment, I am still willing to help myself. I don’t need to worry about whether that help is deserved or not, because I am willing to give it unconditionally.

For me, this is important because it links back to a parent who cared about me only in very conditional ways, where I needed to be obedient or virtuous or meet her needs in order to get the care that I needed. If I could not keep it together and lost my self-control, the care evaporated and I would no longer be helped.

My therapist has quite the opposite view, which is that I must believe I am always good: the inference is that I only deserve care if I am good. Her view creates rules around what I must believe, and the way we feel when we break rules is shame or guilt, so every time I have self-doubt, I will be aware that my mind broke this rule around what I am allowed to believe about myself, and I will feel more negative emotions on top of whatever I am struggling with in the first place. For someone with regulation challenges, this is not a good strategy.

I imagine my therapist thinks it’s a good strategy, because it builds on the foundation of what someone from an abusive background already believes: love is conditional. People can only be helped if they are good. It doesn’t require a massive overhaul of one’s belief system to think my parents simply did not see my goodness. It’s easier than thinking just as parents care unconditionally for their children, I can care unconditionally for myself. Regardless of my feeling state or my current view of myself, I can still try to help myself.

At the core of my parents’ abuse of me is the idea that I wasn’t cared for because I didn’t deserve care, but parents care for their children because their children need care–not because their children have earned it. Believing that I do not need to be good to care for myself takes the legs out from under my parents’ excuse for abusing me. I wasn’t always good as a child. Sometimes I was terrible. But what I see from some parents now is that they still care for their children even when they are terrible.

I didn’t need to be good to be loved.

 

 

New Year’s Day

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I went down to the Rose Parade today. I had never done that before. Actually, it wouldn’t have occurred to me before, since I didn’t live close by until this year. I didn’t stay very long because I have this flu-ey thing still.

I am leaving for Country X in about 3 weeks. There is one more doctor’s appointment left. My friend had an idea about someone I could hire to help with moving, so that might mean I don’t need to think more about it.

I do need to buy gifts, and I have a list of 5 or 6 things I need to buy for myself. Well, 1 need. Several wants. Because I was sick after Christmas, I suppose I missed all of the sales, which is a shame. One must muddle on though. It’s not that I couldn’t have shuffled out of the house to buy things, but my brain doesn’t work when I don’t feel well. I don’t know what people might have ended up with.

I did start to connect something the last few days. When I make these kinds of connections, I feel in a way they sound stupid–knowing them isn’t the same as recognizing something. I am not connecting anything you couldn’t probably have told me, and I might have agreed that you were probably right. That’s not the same thing as being able to see it or feel it.

I have been thinking–noticing, really–over the last several months that all of us are continually trying to influence the world around us so that things feel more comfortable for us. When we are around people who aren’t comfortable with the same things, there are various ways of pushing to get our way.

I am always talking about having a variety of strategies rather than a few strategies and that’s something I think about here. I think people with childhood trauma have few strategies for negotiating these kinds of subtle conflicts over the emotional space being created around us.

Combine that with being wired to react to threat.

I think my parents had very aggressive strategies for negotiating differences. Obviously, what I really mean is abuse. But it meant for me as a child that in order to try to get things around me to be somewhat the way I liked them, if they didn’t happen to turn out that way because everyone else wanted what I wanted, then I needed to be prepared for all-out battle. You don’t try out a variety of strategies in that case. They aren’t taught to you, and there is no space to discover them through trial and error. Error cannot be risked. In therapy, we mostly talk about using words to get our needs met or our desires voiced, but I don’t think most people use words to get things the way they would like them much of the time.

People get bored and change the subject or go and “freshen a drink.” They feel uncomfortable with a subject and look away. A lot of it is non-verbal and not openly confrontational. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that,” is confrontational and a much bigger social risk. I don’t think we take that kind of tack very often.

I think the skills my parents did have for making things the way they wanted them were what we would think of as abuse. What I am getting at here is I think my parents were, for the most part, purposeful actors trying to do something.

What goes on in my head has for the most part been sort of disconnected. I feel what can seem fairly randomly worthless, and it only recently crossed my mind that this might be because attacking my value as a human being was what my parents knew about how to dissuade someone from doing something they didn’t want that person to do.

I think I might have flashes of worthlessness in situations where my parents might have been expected to verbally or otherwise emotionally assault me. I don’t particularly remember these assaults, but I don’t really doubt they happened. I remember being with my ex, I found myself emotionally withering in situations I could not ever really tease out. It seemed impossible to say why I felt so devastatingly hurt so quickly, and I think it was really because she knew so well what would hurt.

I had no idea she was trying to accomplish something–that she wanted certain subjects avoided, certain emotions or experiences that felt painful not discussed, vulnerabilities safely concealed or shameful urges toward serve-and-return suppressed. I just felt devastated. I did after a while start to think she is doing this on purpose, this pain is intentional, but then I went to therapy and this was dismissed as a distortion. Fifteen years later, it’s finally clicking that she did it on purpose, but not necessarily because she was a sadist. Instead, she saw having things around her not be the way she wanted them to be as an attack and she was getting me back for it, without probably ever consciously realizing the way she did want things to be or that they weren’t like that.

Anyway, I think my parents were somewhat like that: very good at tearing me apart in a way that seemed too fast for me to even see, and all I was aware of was the painful view of myself I had at these moments. What I think it does later is leave you with a sense that you as a person must change, not undesirable behaviours. The problem is not that you failed to empty the dishwasher when asked or that you gave into the temptation to cheat at Sorry, but your very soul. I think that might be what leads to a sense of being broken all the way through later on in adulthood.