So the thing about Ruthie is that she is little. Very little ones don’t have age as a core part of their identity. It’s not like being three, where you know you are three and being three feels like part of who you are and if someone asks how old you are, you can hold up three fingers and say, “Three!” I don’t know how old Ruthie is, or what age I was when she became a more fixed part of my internal, emotional landscape.
But she is very little. She is maybe nine months old or a year and a half. Somewhere in there. And babies at that age have no ability to regulate themselves emotionally. It was not long ago that they learned how to regulate themselves physically: I mean, when they were three months or even six months old, they could not always even remember to breathe. At that age, they are using the bodies of the people around them to regulate themselves. They do not know how to do it themselves.
There is this idea that if you just insist little children regulate themselves that they somehow magically will, but they don’t. We put infants in a room alone and then ignore their crying until they fall asleep. We think they are learning to calm themselves down. In a way, they are, but not in the way we think they are. They are just becoming depressed. They stop crying—they stop asking for help—because they become hopeless. No one is going to come. No one is going to help them. So they stop asking, and they enter this state of being somewhat immobilized and low energy and this leads to sleep.
If you were trying to be a good parent 20 or 30 years ago or maybe even 10 years ago, and you read all the books about how to raise your kids, you probably did this. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. You didn’t know any better and you did your very best. But Dr. Spock was wrong.
Anyway, that’s not really my point. My point is that Ruthie is totally dysregulated. She’s not unhappy. She’s just on “high.” That is her natural state. That is what makes Ruthie feel like Ruthie. And now she wants to integrate, and I want her to do integrate too and so this morning, I get a taste of what that means, because what the experience I have as I go about the morning chores is exactly that. It’s life on “high.” For an adult, it’s totally uncomfortable. It is something close to torture, especially since a part of what is on high is having bits of flashbacks.
Until now, I have been regulating Ruthie’s internal state from the outside. I have pushed back some of her feelings and her energy and soothed it without having complete awareness of what that feeling was. Now I’m trying to regulate the state without suppressing my awareness of what that state is like.
And I’ll tell you, it’s 7 am and I’m already totally exhausted. I’m going to need to go down for a ten o’clock nap.