I have some more thoughts about the grief for the bond now.
The thing about people who are mentally ill, have intense trauma, or are addicted to substances is that their challenges affect their ability to form a bond. There are two parts to this: the bond motivates us to take the perspective of the other. When we feel no relationship to another person, we don’t care that much how they feel or what their experiences are like. I think it’s a really core part of racism. In a society where one group has more power than another, this tendency to not care how other people feel because you have no bond to them—not even a shared group identity—has an enormous societal impact. The feeling of alliance to another person makes you interested in imagining life from their perspective.
If, from childhood, your ability to bond to other people is impaired in some way, you don’t get as many experiences with imagining someone else’s mind, and empathy is both cognitive (based on what you know about how other people feel and think) and emotional. There is less to draw on when you get to imagining the next mind you want to imagine. It’s kind of a Matthew problem. You have less motivation, then you have less ability, then you are less motivated. The lack of bonding makes you less able to bond, because the bond leads to a better ability to empathize. That’s what I think anyway.
So my parents did not have an ability to bond, and they were not able to empathize with me. They were not able to empathize and they did not have the bond that would have motivated them to. At the same time, the bond is a source of pain—at least it was for my mother. The bond in the present, for what it is, keeps triggering memories of a painful bond in the past, and so my mother kept attacking the bond. She was not really attacking me, it seems. She was attacking the bond between us. She was attacking my ability to trust her or depend on her. I see C doing this. She attacks the bond. She says don’t come and see me, she doesn’t answer phone calls or reply to texts, she lies and erodes my ability to trust her. She attacks the bond between us. The bond is what seems to be hurting her, and she attacks it.
I think about my parents, and I think they also attacked the bond between us. They made it impossible for me to trust them, they made it difficult for me to even tolerate their physical presence. What was most at stake was the bond. It’s not all of what happened, but it’s a big part of it, and it’s the part I haven’t worked through yet. They weakened the bond, and yet I could not survive without that bond. I needed them to bond to me and to care enough to keep me at least slightly safe. I had to keep trying to repair the bond. What I am remembering is my need to repair the bond, the fear of reaching out to repair it, and the devastation I felt when the bond was weakened again. It was an ongoing experience of creating and losing a bond. I am remembering chronic grief. That is the largest part of what is inside me.
I have heard that having a mentally ill family memory usually does involve chronic grief, and I think that is the main reason for it. The person is there, but they cannot maintain a bond with you. When they are functioning well, they might be able to do this. They might be able to bond. You are constantly mourning something that can be felt only briefly and then is lost again, and yet you need it. It is not possible to come to terms with its absence.
The other side of this is that anyone highly dependent on someone else is usually very motivated to try to get the other person to care—to bond with them so that there is a reason to take care of the dependent person. So an abused child sometimes tries very hard to take on the perspective of the person they perceive themselves to be dependent on. They need to create a sense of alliance with the abuser, so that the abuser cares enough to restrain their abusive behaviour. The child is motivated to take on the harmful beliefs of the abuser, because shared beliefs create this alliance.
I think that is some of what happens when I feel worthless. I think it is a memory of trying frantically to take on the perspective of my abusers, so that I could form enough of a bond to them that maybe they wouldn’t hurt me so much. When I do that, I feel a grief for myself and also for my future. The worthlessness forecloses the possibility of being myself or feeling any joy at being myself, and it also forecloses the possibility of bonding to anyone aside from my parents, because I have no worth. It’s not really wonder that worthlessness inevitably leads to hopelessness.
In childhood, shame and feelings of worthlessness meant I withdrew from other people and specifically withdrew from my parents, and that preserved the bond between us. They didn’t want to be troubled by me, and it meant I could fulfill their desire not to be troubled with a child’s needs, but it also did this other thing, where I lost my own feeling of myself as a person who has a future or potential. There are these two intense sources of loss: the loss of the bond to the parent, because it keeps getting attacked, and the loss of a feeling of value or potential about the self. This is how I survived my childhood, is by going back and forth between these two intense sources of loss: the loss of the bond to my parents and the loss of my belief in my potential or value. It’s devastating to consider. Really, really devastating.
To continue, however, I think this underlies a lot of the difficulty in feeling and the dissociation that people like me have. The fear is that the feeling will threaten the bond with the parent, or whomever might be taking on that role of the close person: your parent is your first model for what other people want and expect from you. There are two choices: to distance yourself from other people so that preserving a bond doesn’t matter or you erase yourself in order to maintain the bond. Much has been made of this, but I have never heard exactly that this is done due to an implicit memory of creating a bond being the source of survival nor that taking on someone else’s perspective is a part of creating the sense of alliance that creates a bond.
But I think that is in my head a lot: this thought or this feeling or this behaviour is going to threaten the bond with my parents, whom I no longer need to the same extent.
It explains the degree of fear I feel: this is going to threaten the bond with my parents, which is going to threaten my survival, because I need them in order to survive. I need for them to want to take care of me and to not want to kill me, and having a bond with them does that. Except they have no desire to do anything to bond with me. They have no desire to take on my perspective or imagine what life is like for me. Everything is on my shoulders. I have to try to take on theirs.