Some more about modes

I think the modes are going to provide me with a nice lens through which to understand what is going on inside.

This was evidently my idea, but I have no memory of that: It was helping me to try to name the feeling I am having as things go on in my head. I don’t know why it helps, but it does. “Oh, this is despair. This is anger.” Whatever the feeling, it seems to help to recognize it. I suppose it puts into some kind of context, so that it’s not bouncing around in my head trying to find one.

I think labeling modes might help me also with a couple of painful, overwhelming states that can happen to me. Or that are sometimes not overwhelming states, but these kind of disembodied voices in my head trying to communicate the overwhelming state I am avoiding feeling.

One of them is worthlessness. First, I started labeling that as shame. Okay, that helps, but it’s still difficult to cope with. Today, I started thinking about what it does. Oh, it keeps me from reaching out, but in a submissive, non-threatening way. I have a tendency to think about instinctive social behaviours in terms of dogs. We have a lot of dogs in the bazaar, and it gives me something simple to compare it to. Shame is tail-between-your-legs-please-don’t-hurt-me-but-maybe-if-I-make-myself-small-enough-they’ll-let-me-stay. C does it admirably. “I’ll go sit in the kitchen quietly for a while and maybe you’ll talk to me again.” It’s a retreat, but not desperate flight.

Then suicidal ideation. That’s overwhelm. Any time I feel overwhelmed, I think I want to kill myself. I’ve begun to reframe that. I’m overwhelmed, and I start thinking how I can make things easier. I’m overwhelmed by the morning routine? Okay, maybe I don’t need to do laundry today. Maybe it can wait until tomorrow. Maybe I can cook something that involves less chopping. Sometimes I can’t change anything. Okay, then focus on calming down. Just soothe.

I think it’s part of what I call dramatic mode, the suicidal thoughts. It’s the sense I desperately need something from someone who is indifferent to my needs and the only way to get them met is to spark some kind of crisis. My mother did this a lot. She would make dramatic gestures, scream, throw things, threaten suicide, start on some kind of suicidal act, and my dad would say in contempt, “Oh, T, just calm down.”

Which didn’t help.

Her behaviour gives me a window on what is going on in my head, because maybe it’s the same thing even if it going on more quietly. I am feeling I desperately need something from someone and no one is listening. There is no way to get my needs met. It’s my relationship with myself triggering it—not anyone else. I am stressed about something. I feel I desperately have some kind of need, and I am not listening. So I listen. I don’t know if it’s helping or not yet, but I hope it will, just labeling it and understanding where it’s coming from. I’m overwhelmed and I need some kind of attention or support, some kind of adjustment, but I am being dramatic (internally) because I think no one will pay attention to me otherwise.

I have an ideas these modes, the way of relating to others (and to the self) are probably all from being under six years old. I worked out some fairly instinctive ways of managing a relationship with crazy people and it resurfaces in times of stress. Vulnerable child mode: state your needs, but be little and small and cute in some way. Sacrifice your dignity a little. The parent might be accessible if you charm her, or if you aren’t threatening and scary. I think of this as the showing your tummy mode, because I think in terms of dogs.

But be prepared. She might turn on you.

Then we get the Detached mode. Withdraw. The caregiver feels threatened by your needs. Pretend you have none. And keep your guard up. Be ready for an attack. Don’t act small or weak. If you do, she might really kill you. It’s a hostile withdrawal.

Abused child: the counterattack. Scare her into withdrawing from you. She’s in a dangerous state right now. Don’t act weak. If you do that, it’s over. You might as well plan your own funeral.

Dramatic mode: I need something. Everyone seems to be in their own worlds. Only a crisis can get me any support.

I think I probably know other ways of dealing with people, and other ways of dealing with myself, but when you are dysregulated, you revert to instincts. You lose track of all the details of the current situation. I don’t have any close attachments other than, it seems, C. I don’t see these in my day-to-day interactions with people. There is no reason to. But they play out in my head sometimes.

I think they play out in other people’s heads. I think they become part of how we manage the relationship with ourselves. We become unsafe attachment figures for ourselves and get more and more dysregulated. I think. Maybe. I am not that sure.

I am more sure what ties most of them together is fear. A person in one of these “modes” is (or was when it all started) a scared person. They might look angry or indifferent or confident, but they are scared. The first step in dealing with a mode is to create a feeling of safety for the self.



One thought on “Some more about modes

  1. Rachel March 8, 2016 / 9:50 pm

    This is so insightful, and helpful to me. I learned a lot just in reading this one post. I completely agree, the overwhelm is a communication from inside that there is a need to be listened to. I like “if I can’t change something, then soothe.” Not easy to do, or even recognize, but even having that awareness goes a long ways to starting to self-soothe and regulate. Just being able to identify “I am becoming dysregulated” seems like a major accomplishment.
    I agree, I do think fear is what ties the modes together. At least that is how it seems to be for me. The modes are coping strategies, albeit out-dated. And why would we need to cope? A threat to the system, and what does a threat do? Evoke that instinct for survival. Sometimes fight, sometimes freeze, sometimes run. And the modes all seem to be one of those (or more than one). Your last insight “the first step in dealing with a mode is to create a feeling of safety for the self” makes so much sense to me. And I suppose if we never had anyone creating that for us as children, it wouldn’t be intuitive for us to know how to do it as adults, or even recognize safety is possible or a need. Thank you for sharing.

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