Weird Saturday

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.

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A connection

One of my many daily trigger is going to bed. I don’t always have a hard time with it, but many times I do. It ebbs and flows without ever receding completely. I have had some ideas about this, but they don’t make it go away. Whether it is better or worse seems to do with my general level of stress and not my insight or anything I am doing to cope.

But I did have a thought a few nights ago about it. I have one very traumatic memory of assault as a very young child which I think led to my removal. It crossed my mind that I had been asleep when my father came into the room that night, and also that the assault is intimately connected in my mind to removal rather than significant for its own sake.

In my little child’s brain, the sequence went like this: fell asleep, got hurt, lost my house and all my toys.

For a second, it flashes through my mind that social workers really need an update on what it feels like to be removed from your house. Imagine people are hurting you, so someone comes alone and burns it down with all of your stuff inside, then makes you live with strangers you may not actually like. This is not the same as your house burning down randomly. This is because people were hurting you. It’s like telling a rape victim, since they were raped in their own neighbourhood, you need to move.

I’m not saying anyone should have left me with my parents, but just no one should expect me to have felt rescued.

Anyway, so in my little child’s brain, if you fall asleep, there’s a  chance you could be kidnapped. Which is something a kid might feel scared about anyway, but I had this terrible sequence of events leading up to it and no one really to help me or comfort me because the adults could not grasp how the whole thing felt. I think social workers now understand better that removal is very traumatic, but in 1975, I don’t believe mine did.

The thing is, when I had this thought, the pain in my heart settled down. I felt afraid. It was much easier just to feel afraid.

Unfinished

I thought all of the paperwork was wrapped up and delivered for my contract extension but, alas, no…my principal and I both forgot to sign my evaluation form. Actually, at all…I wouldn’t have known you had to sign on ever page, but I also did not sign where it says, “Employee signature” in plain English. We were rushing, because I’m about to miss the deadline and perhaps that explains it, but I think I was also nervous and I do weird things to other people too. I make them nervous too, and I don’t know that it’s because I am also nervous. I think it may be something else. I don’t know that I cause odd reactions in everyone, but many people.

I make a lot of people cry. My friend back in the US begins to get tears streaming down her streaks without knowing she is crying. She has a friend whose eyes began to water talking to me. I only spoke to him  few times, so I can’t tell you the probability of it happening. C’s nose begins to run, but it stopped eventually and instead she began to look like she wanted to kill someone. The Boy’s sister’s nose runs too. One boy in my class starts to blink his eyes. I suspect it’s the sting of tears he’s feeling. One of our senior teachers who is supposed to do staff development essentially starts to act in what I can only call a confusing way. I don’t think it’s my inability to understand her. I think her ability to communicate falls apart so that we end up in situations where she’s moving my papers around that I am trying to organize and I can’t figure out why.

Art Sir said the principal didn’t do the paperwork properly, because she’s not competent—there was also a letter she didn’t have the office assistant write, which needed to be included. The principal said here in Y-town, we do everything differently from what she is used to and she has worked in 10 different regions of the country. I think I made her nervous.

So towards the end of fifth period, the library assistant came to my classroom and said I should get the papers signed and return them to the education office right away.

I got the signatures from the principal, found someone to cover my sixth period class, and rushed off. I might have asked around for a lift, but a group of teachers were going up after school and I anticipated I would only be told to go with them later. But the sense I got from the library assistant was that the matter was of great urgency.

Also, I find as a carless person that getting a lift often does not save time. Yesterday, I went to the education office with my friend who also needed to go there and spent 40 minutes waiting for him to dicker around. It takes less than that to walk there, although there’s the trip down too….

Anyway, today I walked, left my paperwork in what seemed to be the capable hands of the office assistant and raced down again. I ran into C’s uncle and he gave me a lift to school, which saved my virus-infested body the fatigue of the last little bit of the walk. (I have the third cold of the month.) It also got me back bang on time for seventh period.

I wrapped up a period of teaching, hung out with the teachers until the end prayer (nobody talked to me, nobody said anything I understood, but I was tired of working). Then I came home and thought about killing myself. The thing is I don’t know why this happens. I still don’t particularly know what to do about it. I had a snack and a coffee, listened to some music, and heated dinner I had prepared in the morning, because I decided I wanted to make an early night of this. All with a very strong urge to find heavy objects to hit myself on the head with. I had vivid images of this. I would think I am just insane, except that it doesn’t seem random, even if I don’t know the reason. Something is triggering this.

A weird thing happened, where I felt kind of pouty, allowed myself to be overcome by a very childlike sense of that and felt much better. The “better” didn’t continue, but for while it was like scratching an itch. This happens to my less emotionally stable students—they are overcome by big, pouty lower lips over things that sometimes feel like, “I wanted to please you and I’m not…” It may help me to consider what the urge to pout is all about.

In other words, I still don’t know….

Recognition

I am still considering what I read: the child whose caretaker offers noncontingent mirroring develops an emotional map with no linkage to his felt states.

I think there is something to this. I think my emotional map is actually wrong. I understand feelings. I have become quite good at talking about them, but I think my felt experience of emotions doesn’t match what I think they are. I don’t think I express the emotions I have when I do try to express them. I don’t think I have a felt recognition of emotions. It’s hard to explain this and I will also need to test it out when I am around other people’s actual emotions–this is a social experience but I am sitting here thinking about it alone.

I am not sure, for example, that I feel sad when I talk about being sad, for example. Or, to say it another way, I think what I think is sadness I assume to involve a different felt state in someone else than what I feel when I feel sad. I think my body language may not match my inner states.

What happens then is there is never a sense of recognition or resonance. I don’t express myself accurately although I believe I am when I am doing it. I don’t have a sense of resonance with other people partly because my emotional map is wrong.

It’s an idea anyway.

I think the lack of resonance creates pain.

I’ll give an example of the emotional mapping that I can think of, although it’s about the past and not the way I process emotions now. I think the shame I feel about proximity-seeking comes from my mother’s shame at not knowing how to take care of me, and that the fear I feel is her fear of being overwhelmed by my distress. It felt to her, I think, that my feelings were inside her–this is how it began to feel for The Boy during midterm, when he began to feel my emotions, but didn’t recognize them as mine. Instead it was like I was this creature shoving horrible feelings inside her.

For me, proximity-seeking is mapped to shame, rather than however wanting to be close might feel otherwise.

 

 

 

Reprise

I will come back for this idea again. Repetition clarifies.

The first idea is that the difficulties are not only from the past. It’s not just that the sink scares me. It’s from disturbances in how I process the present. Not mainly being wrong about the facts, but being wrong about where a sense of reality comes from.

My presumption is always if I can calm down, reality will become clearer.

That said, I am considering these disturbances and where they came from. They are starting to make sense and I am also starting to recognise pieces of them in other people, especially the students who cause problems.

I don’t know what to about them, but it’s possible I have arrived at some understanding of the whole thing in part because something is being done already.

And that said too…I read that the baby whose parent does not reflect the baby’s feelings will not know what their own feelings are: the parent’s feelings will seem to be the baby’s own. The baby’s emotional understanding will not map to his felt experience. He will end up with an empty sense, because his felt experience is never understood and seems not to be real.

I think I have both of these issues: a parent who “caught” my emotions but could not process them and reflected back to me emotions without a sense that they were mine while also failing to link discomfort with comfort. Pain then seemed to have no solution.

And also a parent wholly consumed by her own world so that I saw emotions as though they were mine that were not mine.

True North

Some ideas have come together for me recently. They seem somewhat coherent, as though they aren’t missing too many pieces. When I have an interesting idea which resonates, but seems to be incomplete, I find I ought not to get too excited about it, as later I won’t buy into it any longer.

I’ll begin with something I read recently, which stuck in my mind: when the baby’s feelings are reflected back, but not marked (exaggerated so as to show the feelings are not one’s own), then feelings seem to be something “out there” rather than existing within the baby’s own body. So if the parent simply has affective empathy–the baby’s distress is felt by the parent, but not as they baby’s–then the baby’s feelings seem “real” but outside of the self.

Put that together with the idea that the parent is impulsive and unpredictable and I think I start to understand myself. If feelings and, indeed, all perceptions seem to be “out there,” then I might have ended up feeling anxious about the very nature of reality. There are times when I feel compulsively anxious about C in a way that I think is frightening for her if she realizes I feel that way, and I have been thinking this is because my working model of close relationships has been activated: “Okay, mom, how do I feel now? What is real now?” More importantly, “Who am I now?” C isn’t my own mother, but that’s the model of relationships I have: I don’t know what reality is–perception is something “out there” and it can change at any second.

When I imagine my childhood, I think this is half how children feel–“Mom, what’s happening? What do I do? How do I understand it?” But not that it can change at any second. That’s my mother’s impulsivity.

This is not flattering to me to talk about, but I think this is what happened. I think this is how my parents’ mental illnesses distorted my understanding of the world and myself.

My other thought has to do with my relationship to good feelings within myself. I am more and more convinced that my mother’s borderline personality, high levels of narcissism and anxious attachment led her to impulsively interfere with my pursuit of nearly all positive feelings–not necessarily because of anything to do with me, but because of her own internal sense-making: her inability to interact with other minds made everything refer to herself. So things like, “She isn’t happy like that when she is with me,” (and subsequent feelings of loss and guilt), led her to want me not to play or enjoy myself. Only, either that was clearly unacceptable or her mind was a soup, and she didn’t know that. She just wanted to find a way to stop me.

I think what normally happens in infancy and early childhood is you learn that yourself is a source of potential pleasure, because there are so many things you can do that feel good. I am amazed at my capacity to make my fingers wiggle and so I feel wonder and this feeling of wonder feels good. Then, later, as we are socialized into being considerate of others, we start to learn that maybe some things that feel good to us can’t be done, because they don’t feel good to other people. So I can’t take the toy out of your hand even though I like it, because then you cry. But I can play with my trucks….

Because of the foundation in infancy of the self being a source of good feelings, the socialization doesn’t result in a sense that one’s whole existence is bad: instead, the patterns are understood as undesirable behaviours. The self can remain “good.”

But if it’s everything or there is not any sense of a pattern to discouraged behaviours (because it depends on the vagaries of my mother’s moods), then the self feels “bad.”

Couple that with a lack of emotional “skin,” because the ability to mentalize has been stalled or regresses to psychic equivalence so that the thought, “I am bad,” seems to be real, and you are well set up for feeling one’s true being is rooted in negative feelings.

More than that, there is no way to independently restore one’s own sense of goodness or self-esteem: self-regulation is not possible, because the roads toward it have been cut off.

It leads to the grandiosity of narcissism: good feelings seem to be located outside of the self–feelings are somewhere “out there” and so good feelings must be gotten from others. One can only feel pleasure if other people have a sense of pleasure about you.

The whole construct helps me to understand C better, and the things about her that hurt or puzzle me: she, like me, is looking for a feeling of goodness outside herself. To be seen is to feel her own “badness,” so being close to someone in an authentic way is to risk having her “true” bad self (which is not true at all) discovered. She comes close and then wants to run away, but she runs toward superficial relationships or relationships with people she feels she can control so that she doesn’t need to risk losing those feelings of goodness.

This is all rather circular, as many things are confused or reversed–“true” and false, inside and outside, good and “bad.” What seems to be real is not real, and what seems unreal or hallucinatory may actually be real, what is outside the self is felt to be inside and the self appears to be outside.

In normal development, the child only sort of knows how other people see him most of the time, but he knows how it feels to do things. It’s only in adolescence that we develop the cognitive capacity to fully experience ourselves as social beings, who feel ourselves doing what we do as well as what other people think about what those behaviours mean or what we think they mean. It’s not something that happens overnight, but it’s not a continuous development either: there is a big jump in the early teen years that makes perspective-taking easier. Freud calls this the “observing” ego, but it’s our imagination of other people and how they see us.

For a child who has a parent with empathy failures, I think the “doing” self is compartmentalized from the “observing” self, so that some positive feelings can be obtained without activating the working model of the self, which is inevitably bad and evil.

I think this is the source of the sense of hunger in the kids: the Boy becomes someone who behaves as a kind of eating machine. He is his hunger, rather than someone who feels hungry. He has become mindless so that he can enjoy being, because the “other” is someone understood as desirous of wanting to steal his good feelings. Getting good feelings actually becomes a kind of contest, in which he has “won” over a malignant world. It’s a very sad and doomed way to be, and I hope it won’t always be like this for him.

I think I am one stepped removed from this, in which I don’t see good feelings as even being possible: I don’t feel a sense of injustice at being blocked from having them. I soldier on without many pleasures: life is very austere for me, and I often feel pleasure in life has quite literally died.

This is, of course, Nata’s and maybe other’s deaths also and my stalled grief. She gave me feelings of goodness and she is no more now. That source of goodness is now blocked and I don’t know how to get back to it. You can imagine someone in their celestial, perhaps angelic state, but it’s not the same as seeing your joy at seeing them reflected back at you as their joy at seeing you.

Grief is not an impulse you can release and cathect yourself out of having to feel again. It’s a process if figuring your life out again, of reshuffling the pieces so that the gaping hole they have left in it is not quite so big.

I don’t actually know where to go from here. The times my thoughts end up at Nata’s death, I often find myself at a mental standstill, as though I am still at the side of her body. Life carries on and yet it seems impossible that it will do so or even that it has for the last 30 odd years. Somehow, I am here. She is not coming back, and yet the sadness at recognizing this is so deep, I cannot fathom living with it. I have lived with it, because i have compartmentalized it. It’s not really a good way to live.

Some of it, I think, is self-centered, frozen from the child I was: my life has come to a standstill, how can it go on for everyone else?