The modes grow up

The thing about the modes is that I think they are primal, social urges, much like emotions that have either not had a chance to grow up and get finessed or they have been translated into actions as behaviours that impede positive relationships and instead maintain survival in dangerous ones. I can’t make a one-to-one correlation, but there are modes that are about setting boundaries and standing up for ourselves, even acting punitively, which we do sometimes need to do (i.e.—the naughty chair). There are modes that are about expressing warmth and affection and providing support, which everyone needs in a relationship.

But because we were abused, what we learned about relationships is how to survive an abusive relationship. It wasn’t how to have a positive, supportive one, and even if we have great skills, under stress, there is that tendency to flash back to these very early, learned behaviours. The Vulnerable Child expresses and asks for warmth and affection in needy, clingy ways that are not attractive in an adult, but sometimes get a good result coming from a child. As adults, we also express and ask for warmth and affection: this is where buying the girlfriend flowers comes in or putting a cool washcloth on the forehead of your sick child.

The Teenage Part is setting boundaries and establishing her own identity, but it’s usually in a bratty way that probably worked well in 3rd grade on the playground for getting a turn on the handball court or standing up to bullies. It doesn’t work well in an adult relationship, where it cuts the heart or is simply off-putting.

The Abused Child is angry and notices when she has been wronged. She’s that function that tells me, “My rights have been violated.” It’s the precursor to assertiveness. We totally need that. But it doesn’t work so well to present a long list of complaints in a wounded tone, or to yell at people or flip them off.

The Detached Mode shuts off empathy and relationships. Well, sometimes we need that too. Sometimes it is time to distance ourselves from the intensity or the negativity of another person’s state or emotions, and it would be best to let it go.

I am not that familiar with all the modes, but that’s kind of my stab at it. The modes are social instincts, unregulated, and deformed by having a primary, early relationship where people hurt and hurt others.

Then you also get the trauma stuff: the fear of losing the relationship, the shame of exposing oneself to others, the fear of being assaulted verbally or physically by someone you love. And you have to regulate that too. It’s a lot.

I was really aware of C’s fears of being abandoned from the very beginning, and I had an idea that she also had someone in the family who was very unpredictable and that she needed to walk on eggshells around, but I didn’t get all this other stuff. She doesn’t know how to set boundaries. She kind of does—she has successfully before—but she flashes back to trauma stuff in certain moments and comes out with, “Go now.” I am sure she gets paranoid about whether to trust me—I used to get paranoid over whether to trust her. And when that happens, she wants control. One thing I thought before she left was that I can just give her control. Maybe I’m wrong about that, because I am the adult and she is the child. But it began to seem like, “What’s the harm in that?” Just give her back control until she can get a hold on herself again. On Saturday, she said, “From today, don’t come to hostel.” She was angry. She might not have meant that. Her Vulnerable Child might lose it if I comply with that. But I kind of think I will. I had this feeling that I ought not to. There is a sense of it being punitive or vengeful to do that. But it’s what she said. And for four days running, I didn’t fully respect her boundaries. I crossed them again and again, because I was worried about her. She was sending distress signals right and left and I was worried about the Abused Child and the Vulnerable Child, and not listening to the protective functions of the Detached Mode and the Teenage Part, which were saying I am getting dysregulated. I need to regulate myself again.

My other thought is that, although she is just 14, she has a budding Healthy Adult inside who can regulate her. I have seen it. I don’t need to be her source of regulation. When she is in a mode, she can’t regulate anymore, but much of the time she can, and if she is setting a boundary, then she might still be able to find that Healthy Adult inside somewhere and get her to do its job.

The thing is that she is in hostel. No one is beating the crap out of her anymore. She might be getting whacked now and then, but she is not getting absolutely assaulted. No one is verbally tearing her apart everyday. She’s getting a lot more downtime to regulate than she ever has before. There is the Vulnerable Child who misses her own mom, but I think she’s in a much safer place.

I am starting to feel better. I am getting a handle on this.


One thought on “The modes grow up

  1. Rachel March 23, 2016 / 5:32 am

    This is so astute. You are right, she does have a budding healthy adult, whom you can influence by allowing those boundaries. You can influence her healthy adult in the same ways you can influence the vulnerable parts. Because they are all her, just different approaches. Great work.

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