It seems to me that C has begun to show off. Maybe she isn’t, but it is beginning to seem that way.

After school, I was waiting for my friends so that we could walk home together. One of them had some work to finish up, and we were waiting for her, but I had been proctoring an exam all morning. I was tired of being inside. So I came outside and waited alone.

C was leaving with a group of her friends—I had just seen them. They had been sitting near the exam room I was in, and one of her friends helped me lock the door because the latch was hung wrong and didn’t quite close. Anyway, they were walking by—they were at a distance—and some of them called to me and waved goodbye and C smiled beautifully at me and began pushing her friends. She did this two or three times as they were walking: smiled beautifully at me and shoved her friends.

It made me think of yesterday, and her performance in deliberately provoking the boy into being angry at her, the way she flew down the steps and laughed and then looked at me. And it had seemed to me yesterday that it might have been done for someone’s benefit, but I happened to be there. But between the two events, it began to feel she was showing off in front of me.

They disappeared behind the buildings then, and my friends came out and we walked home together.

It highlights for me how I can’t process things. Because of the trauma of the past that ends up connected to everything, I end up being unable to really understand the present either, because I can’t manage all the emotions of it. The emotions are a part of how you know things. They are part of what you know and a part of how you know, and without them thinking becomes this terribly effortful, difficult task that you often can’t successfully finish.

C showing off was a small thing, but I couldn’t really make sense of it. Why would she do that? It’s a small thing—a tiny thing—but I couldn’t understand it.

It upset the parts, but I didn’t really know that. When I did realize it, I didn’t know why.

It upset them because it made them think, rather tangentially, of sex. Sometimes, young people show off because they feel attracted to that person and don’t know how to respond to that. I don’t know that C is doing that, but it is the thought that got triggered somewhere inside, and this was totally terrifying. It was so terrifying I couldn’t think anymore.

There are young parts of me who have no idea why people have sexual feelings and have no other frame for it except that it is the desire to hurt someone, and what it does it create this view of the world as being enormously malignant. Everyone just wants to hurt other people and I am left standing alone as someone who minds being hurt and minds hurting others.

And it was totally alarming to see C as someone wanting to do that, because C is good. If you faint in assembly, C is the one who will come running and pick you up. If you cut your foot, C will bandage you up and then make sure no one steps on you. We have all seen this, and everyone inside knows that C is trustworthy. But she is showing off, and maybe that means she wants sex, so then she is also malignant. It made the whole world seem impossibly dark, like something you tolerate being in the best you can until death rescues you, because even someone clearly good wants to hurt people.

Anyway, I ended up hiding under the bed for a while. It was a fairly awful evening. I could have left the whole thing alone, but I need to be able to make sense of my life, even when the things I need to make sense of are small things, and to make sense of things I need to explore things like this.

Understanding people’s motives in everyday life is enormously important to me in feeling safe in the world. I need to know why C is showing off in front of me. I generally need to know—with quite a lot of precision—why people do what they do, because I need to see they are not psychopaths. I know what it feels like inside to be a psychopath. I have spent a lot of time with them. I need to know what it feels like inside to be someone who isn’t, so that I can understand when and who to trust.

I grew up having to hurt people. Every one of my friends I had to perform sex acts in films with and I had to physically hurt them and I had to hurt them at an emotional level. You might assume that guilt would be the defining emotion of these experiences. It is not. The defining emotion is anguish, because it hurts to hurt them. It hurts more to want to protect them and not be able to. I had to control the anguish and the desire to protect them. Otherwise, the consequences for one or both of us would be brutal, and that made it all the more painful. So when the young parts imagine sex, that is what they think of: anguish at having to harm someone. Yuri didn’t feel that anguish. My dad didn’t either. They are psychopaths, and they don’t feel anguish when they hurt someone.

So that is what got triggered, that anguish and the fear that everyone is a psychopath and I am alone in feeling this anguish at harming others.

In the end, I got the young, scared part—Dariush—out of his spiral of his terror. I explained how C might be feeling, that she is a complete emotional tangle inside. She feels things and doesn’t really know what they are or what is causing them, and it’s possible that sexual feelings are involved in this, but she would be sad if she hurt us. In normal people, there are these checks and balances inside. You want things, but hurting other people or damaging your relationships with them makes you sad, so you don’t always do things just because you want to do them. In psychopaths, there are no checks and balances inside and that’s why they hurt people. They want what they want, as we all do, and there are none of the emotions inside that normally act to inhibit behaviour. They are not usually very afraid of consequences: fear does not inhibit them. They don’t feel sad when they displease important people: disapproval does not inhibit them. They don’t have a conscience: guilt does not inhibit them. They don’t feel sad when someone else is hurt: empathic distress does not inhibit them. They sometimes learn to adapt to reality—they might realize that they won’t get what they want if they go about it in a certain way—but that’s the only check on their behaviour. And most people aren’t like that. C is not like. If she hurt us, she would feel very, very sad, and the sadness would inhibit her behaviour. So I explained that, and it helped.

After that, I could start to make sense of my present, and I could start to understand why C appears to be showing off. C is a very serious captain—she’s very stern and strict and makes the other children behave—and she’s also, I think, a fairly good student (she was disappointed at scoring 78 on a computer exam), and she is also extremely polite, but she also likes to joke and she likes to play. She’s fairly active and boisterous. I have seen her run across campus, leap off steps, and then yell, which isn’t something the other girls would dream of doing. I like that about her. She is so beautifully alive.

I think she is starting to realize this. She sees me and it is starting to understand this is someone who likes me for who I am, who likes me for the qualities in me that other teachers and my parents disapprove of, and that is why I’m seeing more of these qualities. That is why she plays and then looks at me like she just jumped off the high dive. She feels accepted, and it is wonderful for her.

I hadn’t realized I was doing this. I like all my students for who they are. I try to get them to learn some restraint sometimes, so that they can learn and they can be kind to each other, but I don’t want any of them to get personality transplants. I don’t want a class of robots all diligently working and doing exactly as they are told. I want the students I have. So all of them get this. They all get an acceptance of who they are when I am their teacher. They all get to feel liked.

C is not in my class. She was not in my class last year. She is only getting this from me this now, and it is wonderful for her.

I am doing something right.

And it makes it sink in. I no longer have to hurt people. I don’t have to hurt young people who are deep in the midst of sorting out who they are and how they feel and are terribly vulnerable from a developmental standpoint. I can help them. I can help them just by being glad each of them is alive and their own unique selves. I do this without even thinking about it. It is one of the best things I do as a teacher, and I did not even realize it, because I could not see it. I could not see it, because it was connected to so many things that hurt too much to think about.

I am safe. I do not have to hurt anyone anymore.