In the course of trying to get through the week, I have had some more thoughts about why I have ended up in parts. Briefly, we are born as the most neurologically immature mammals on the planet. (I’m quoting, and I apologize for not remembering the source of the quote.) We cannot even remember to keep breathing, and this is why in Western cultures, where infants routinely do not sleep with their parents, they sometimes forget to breathe and they die.
That is one thought.
The second thought is that we can only really process information when the various functions of our brains that have evolved over many centuries are working smoothly together. We must be able to cogitate in the most recently evolved parts of our brain and we must be able to coordinate our cogitation with the emotions in our less recently developed mammal brains. When we can’t coordinate the three evolutionary levels of our brain, we cannot really know or understand anything. Smooth coordination only happens when we are in a moderate state of arousal. When we are too aroused, the whole system breaks down.
The third thought is that we learn how to do this by being close to our parents and other supportive people. We get out of control emotionally, we seek out those supportive people, and being close to them reminds us how to calm down. They aren’t necessarily teaching us. It’s just they aren’t upset, and our body mimics theirs. Like remembering to breathe, we learn how to calm down. And eventually we can do this a lot of the time at least without seeking out supportive people. Not all of the time, but a broken toy stops being the spark for a totally dysregulated state.
And some parents cannot do this for their children. They cannot help them learn how to regulate themselves. Meanwhile, people who can’t help their children regulate usually do not know how to regulate themselves, and their dysregulation takes the form of harming their children in a variety of ways.
So, if you are a child in this kind of family, three problems develop. One, you do not learn how to regulate your emotions enough to process what is happening in your life. Two, you experience highly dysregulating events. Three, you learn all kinds of other strategies for how to cope with being a person who cannot regulate themselves, many of which aren’t really that pleasant.
At the same time, there is this secret being kept in the family about the children’s needs not being met.
Having parts is partly a way of coping with being unable to regulate enough to stay at a level of arousal that allows you to process emotional information. It’s a way of at least communicating internally about an emotion while not also being overwhelmed by the sensation of that emotion or having to cope with the fear of having a feeling that is not allowed, and it is also a way of paring it down to a narrower range of emotions and sensory input. It tends to be a compounding problem, because over time, there is more and more information in every event that has not been fully processed before.
In the mornings, I still have a very hard time. Mornings are a very intense trigger. I know the event I am really processing is the last morning I sat outside and waited for my dad to pick me up from wherever he had gone. Only, that time, I was waiting alone because Natalya was dead. No element of that memory was processed six months ago. I had not processed her existence, my relationship to her, the fact of her death, the other deaths her death reminded me of, or the events that led up to her death. It was about 500 things that single event connected to, all of which were overwhelmingly intense. And I didn’t even know how to calm down. There was something physiological that needed to happen in my body and my brain that I could not do. Now, I can do it and so, bit by bit, I am processing the events that connect to that one event. It is just not fully processed yet, and it still really hurts every day.
You integrate when you can process emotional information as it naturally arises in your life. I can’t do that yet. It is still too much. I think I can calm down now. I think my body has learned how to do that. But there are still too many intense emotions that are brought up by everyday life for me to always do it in real time.