I reread an article about callous, unemotional children—fledgling psychopaths. It is helping me to understand some things. It says there is a genetic component to it, that not all children who score low in factors related to empathy become psychopathic but some do. I guess my thought is that callous people may not always be psychopathic, but many remain callous. They don’t have a normal emotional landscape. It is depleted and barren.

And I’m thinking what it is like to have a parent or two parents who are callous, who have these depleted internal landscapes, when you are not like that. Your rich internal landscape doesn’t seem rich in that case. It seems wrong, like a defect. I mean, it is like having six extra arms. What am I supposed to do with all of these complex emotions? People around me have maybe two emotions. Possibly as many as four. Not more than that. They have anger and, with it, the desire to punish. They have humiliation, which bleeds into anger and the same desire to punish. They have desire and maybe a sense of excitement. They have probably positive self-regard. And maybe not much else.

Of course, it is worse, because their callousness is hurting you. You have all of these extra, intense, negative feelings because of what they are doing or because of what they are not doing and these feelings feel like assaults, they are so strong. Meanwhile, no one helps you figure out how to manage them or even what to do about them.

That’s me. I was this child with a complex internal landscape and not the faintest idea what to do about while those most close around me seemed not to have them. I was the child who thought she had six extra arms and the arms were sort of doing their own thing because I thought, well, I will just try to hide the arms. I’ll just pretend they are not there. Meanwhile, the arms were moving around. They were hard to control. They seemed to have agendas of their own, because I didn’t know what to do about them myself.

One thing I have come to understand through this process is that the extra arms are very often not negative things. I am not concealing anger or jealousy or desires for things I can’t have or shouldn’t have. Those things are the two arms I know I have, that callous people–that my parents—seemed to have. I am concealing attachment and loss and fear and vulnerability. And I am also concealing the desire to help. That’s the arm I am not supposed to have. Most of all, the wish to protect and nurture and to connect with others is the arm I don’t know what to do with.

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