It seems like I had some insight last night and again this morning about the importance of self-constancy and object-constancy or whatever it is called. It’s so important and I think also so much a part of the pain.
I was imagining reaching for a parent figure who isn’t reliable, who is suddenly triggered by anger or is overcome by depression or is just not in an empathetic frame of mind. As a child, you are forming your sense of self, and we get that from other people. We see ourselves as we imagine others see us (the mirror self). And the idea you will get from that is that you are not the same all of the time. Sometimes, it seems that the child does not exist to the parent at all. They have kind of disappeared to the parent and it’s going to create a sense of one’s own self as someone who disappears. Other times the child is bad or shameful to the parent, and then it’s like still being there, but being an entirely different person. It’s confusing, but I think it creates an ongoing grief for the child in the heart of the child. The connection to the parent cannot be retained, but the self cannot be held in mind either.
I look back at my childhood, all the terrible, shameful, painful parts of it, and I think, “But I was still me. That happened to me and I was still me. Different things are happening to me now, but I am the same person. I have grown up and learned a lot of things since then and I have a lot more power too, but I am still me. That was me in my memories and I am me now.” There are times when more conventional approaches to trauma seem to deny that and keep the feeling of inconstancy alive.
A sense of connection to the past—to all its good and bad parts—is necessary and important. Those things happened to me. They were very painful, but I was still me. I don’t have to chop off bits of me to survive. I don’t have to shut down certain feelings or deny particular feelings in order to be okay. I can be okay now, like this, with these memories and the feelings I have about those memories and inside the memories.
I am still me.
I guess I was contrasting this with how I imagined it before, which is simply that maybe I never had the experiences that allowed me to form a continuous self. Now, I think of it differently. It was not a failure to develop, but a development in a different direction. In reality, I had experiences that created a discontinuous sense of self. I had a parent who did not behave as if I could be remembered or held in mind as a continuous person, and that is a part of the trauma—these experiences where I seemed to no longer exist to my parent. There was an ongoing loss of connection, self and other, because of my parent’s inability to behave in a consistent and predictable manner towards me. My mother appeared to stop being herself and I seemed to stop being myself to her. Every time that happened, and it probably happened many times a day, I felt grief for the connection, for my mother, and for myself. I had all of these actual deaths to contend with and there was also this. The people who died were the ones who seemed to be able to remember me, who seemed to be able to hold me in their minds as someone who existed through time and remained the same person, and I think that added to things. When they died, there was a loss of the person I was to them, but I persisted. I am still here. Whoever I am.