I am the person I think I am. Or, at least, I am closer to the person I see of myself than I am to the person my dad thought I was.
I’ve been getting these really horrible memories of abuse by my dad. I feel suicidal and I have pictures in my head of what I had to do. They seem to go together. And they are terribly difficult to sit with. They keep sliding away again—just leaving me with the horrible feelings—and I keep trying to drag them back by replaying the pictures.
Eventually, I realize this isn’t working. The pictures in my head make me more scared. The more scared I am, the harder it is to do anything productive or useful with the memories. What I ought to do is cuddle in the blankets, play some nice music, maybe smell soap. The memories are in my head already. I will be able to tolerate an awareness of them if I can take in some comfort. So I do that, and I am able to sit with the memories a bit better.
One element I get out of them is the fear. The terror of it is really intense. And it is not just terror of what I have to do, but terror of what will happen if I don’t do it right—the things that will happen to me if I don’t perform properly seem more dangerous, more life-threatening, more violent than what I have to do to my dad. That’s new to me. I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t just want to please my dad because he was my dad. I wanted him to not come close to killing me.
The other emotion that comes with it—it feels like an emotion—is a need to be strong, to keep control of myself.
A line of reasoning emerges from that. I have to perform properly, I have to get through it because then I can see Nata again. If my dad decides to punish me by tying me up in the garage for a weekend or even just overnight—which he did sometimes—then I won’t get to see Nata. If he kills me, I’ll never see Nata again. So it’s important I don’t make him angry. It’s important he doesn’t kill me. And it’s important I don’t get so overwhelmed with despair that I kill myself. Because I want to see Nata again.
These are pieces of the abuse I hadn’t realized before. I knew other pieces, but not those two. I didn’t know that Nata was keeping me going through it, or that I was as compliant as I was because I had my own goals. I didn’t know how afraid I was not to please him.
Something else comes with it too, and it has to do with a psychopathic perspective. A psychopath is missing parts of what it takes to really be human. There is something wrong with them at an emotional level, and it makes it hard for them to understand what it’s like for other people. We all take our own internal worlds as a kind of template for understanding the views of other people. We take a perspective first by putting ourselves in the other’s place. When psychopaths do that, they take the perspective of someone with the emotional equivalent of six extra arms. They find our extra arms creepy, I think, in the same way their flattened affect feels creepy to us. And they tend to despise us for it. They are grandiose by nature anyway—it’s part of the definition of psychopathy. But they look at our rich, internal landscapes and think we are merely pathetic.
I think my dad felt a real contempt for me. Not all the time, but when my six extra arms made an appearance, he did. I don’t think he treated me with contempt just to destroy my self-esteem. I don’t think he was always so well thought-out—although he sometimes was. I think he quite genuinely despised me at times.
Psychopaths look at us differently than we look at ourselves and differently than other people see us and they basically conclude they are smarter than everyone else: their view is the “correct” view. They see things in a way other people don’t see them and, because they are grandiose, they assume they are smarter than everyone else. They are like the psychotic who thinks everyone else is stupid for not hearing the voices that aren’t real.
It made me confused about myself. Who am I really? Am I the person my dad sees? Is he seeing through a mask I’ve created for the world into the “real” me? It’s hard to know.
In some cases, it seems like psychopaths have a diminished capacity to feel fear, so my fear of my dad was hard for him to grasp. It seemed ridiculous to him. What it means for me—in my mind—is my dad could never really be brave. He didn’t feel the kind of terror I felt and then have to control it. He didn’t have that much fear of anything. He wasn’t capable of feeling that much fear. There was nothing much for him to control. I was brave. I felt fear and had to control it. He never was.
I think he was imagining his own fear, a vague, slight kind of fear, coupled with a weaker ability to control it. He couldn’t imagine an overwhelming fear and an immense ability to control it. He couldn’t imagine what that was like. So he could see the fear—he had a view of it being terribly pathetic. He couldn’t see courage.
He couldn’t feel a desire to help, either. He might have felt that weakly. He didn’t understand it as being something that arises spontaneously in people as just an instinct, just a kind of emotion—that wish to help. He couldn’t fathom it in anyone else, and so I think he assumed there was a kind of deception involved. He could see it as something you did in order to follow a rule, perhaps, or to look good in front of other people. He could understand the desire to protect one’s image in front of others. He felt that too. He couldn’t understand what it was like for me. He saw me squirm when I had to hurt something or someone. He saw my anguish. But he couldn’t understand what was causing it. He saw maybe only lack of self-control—not a stronger emotion, but less control over that emotion.
When he tried to help, he had a motive: he was always acting out of self-interest: If he said he wasn’t, he was lying. He assumed everyone else was lying too, that they were all acting out of self-interest all the time, and there was no such thing as genuine altruism. We were all just lying, and he was the only one smart enough to see through it.
So it has left me confused as an adult: those are just some examples of how he saw me. It’s really a whole package, a whole self that he saw differently. And it’s left me unable to understand who I am. Do I have the feelings I think I have? Do I have the motives that seem to run through my head? Am I really a selfish person or a weak person or some other very despicable person and I am just trying to conceal it? Is there someone wretched and dreadful inside me that is the real me that I have managed to conceal from myself and from other people?
No. He is a psychopath, and who he is makes him see others differently. He is having auditory hallucinations, and feeling very clever for hearing voices that other people can’t hear.
I have my faults—as we all do. I have the burden of trauma to contend with. It’s true I am a long way from perfect. But I was brave. That’s the truth. The fear I felt was the fear anyone would feel—it was not anything different or remarkable. I was brave though. That was remarkable.
And when I feel like helping someone, I really do. It is not about my own narcissism or a desire to look good or to feel better about myself or anything else. I just have a feeling inside and I am responding to it. Because altruism is normal. Some of us have it more than others, but it’s not some kind of clever lie.
The person my dad saw when he looked at me is not more authentic or real or genuine than what other people see. It’s just his own view, and it’s different because he is different. It’s not a person I can expect to catch sight of, a real me waiting just out of view. I am the person that I see and the person other people see. Or at least something close to that.