A few things have happened in my mind in the last few days that I think are significant. I want to write about them, but I don’t seem to have time. I am not really sure what I am doing. Hours just kind of disappear sometimes. I don’t actually know what I did. Physically, nothing. Mentally, I can’t quite remember. It doesn’t leave time for writing.
I am trying to unpack the worthless feelings. It’s hard. I had that realization that I have to go through this. I have to feel it. It is part of a memory of a certain type of pervasive childhood experience, and I need to integrate that. Not purge it, and not avoid it, but integrate it. I have to do this, as unpleasant as it is to deal with. Other parts of me have different opinions about it. Some parts of me allow it to feed a defectiveness schema. I have to feel all of this pain as an adult because I am so bad. Yippee. That’s a great one.
Other parts of me still feel I am “doing it wrong.” This healing thing. I am supposed to do it some other way, and not have to entertain unpleasant feelings like being worthless. I ought to be able to recognize they aren’t true and let them go.
And yet it seems to me this is what I have learned. The other way was the “the wrong way of doing it.” This is the right way. Basically, accepting things is the right way. So it’s painful, and I also have all this resistance. I also have to control the distortions and concentrate on the emotion, rather than the thought. Whatever worthlessness is, it’s a feeling. It needs to be felt. I don’t need to decide to end my life when I am in the midst of it, or wonder what the point of feeling so much pain is. It is not actually necessary for me to think at all. I don’t need to derive fantastic insights in this process or decide anything. I don’t really know what I have to do, but it is less thought-driven than that.
I did manage to get into it a little bit, and what I got out of it was how scary it is. It is really, really scary to feel worthless. I think I have mentioned that before, but it comes up again each time I let myself dip a toe into the worthlessness. It really is like there is this connection in my head: I am being devalued or about to be devalued, and someone is now going to assault me, and it’s so scary. I am sure that is how it felt. I made a mistake of some kind, did not please my parent in some way, and I was devalued and then assaulted. I was told in some way or other how useless and worthless I am, and then bashed about the head and shoulders. And that happened when I was three or four years old, and being bashed about the head and shoulders felt quite literally life-threatening.
When I got to be more adult-sized and less physically fragile, it stopped, partly because I insisted it stop. I stood up for myself and made it stop, but it happened when I was very tiny and physically very, very vulnerable. I wasn’t actually imagining that my parents’ assaults could kill me. They might have. My mother might not have meant to kill me at any point—I am not very sure about that—but it could have happened accidentally.
It’s hard to conceive of it, really. It’s scary for a child to be physically disciplined in any form, but I am imagining (and remembering) assault by a parent who was literally out of her mind. It wasn’t a slap or a spanking, although it sometimes was. This was an impulsive, uninhibited assault. They were blows that might easily have missed their marks, thrown objects that might have severed an artery quite by accident or broken a bone. I don’t know that you know the difference when you are a toddler, but I think you might. I think I might have known my parent is completely out of control.
In my head, I think there is an algorithm. Mistake → devaluing → assault. Other things could come first, aside from making a mistake. Having a need, being authentic, those could prelude devaluing. It’s many things. But I am attentive to them. I am attentive to things that might lead to being devalued, because those things lead to physical and verbal assault.
It makes perfect sense, actually, that I would be attentive to any indication that I might be devalued in some way. Rejection, abandonment, imperfection of some kind, misattunement. These are all indications that assault might be in my immediate future. I have this confirmation of it happening, because of VP Ma’am. She likes to talk about “these worthless people.” Whenever she is angry, kids are worthless. Then she punishes them via verbal assault. In the classroom, it might be physical assault. I have no doubt my mother devalued me, then she punished me via physical and verbal assault. I am keeping an eye out for it, so that I can stay alive, only that feeling of worthlessness and of being discarded by the person closest to you is not value neutral. It is not like seeing a snake and feeling scared. It is, in itself, an emotion. I would guess that feeling is shame. So the actual early warning signal is itself very painful and overwhelming.
I think as a child, my need for physical proximity to my parent increased when she devalued me. I was scared, and a child’s instinct is to run towards an attachment figure for protection. I think I did that sometimes, or as an infant, I cried. I became more dysregulated and reached for support and comfort and protection, and my mother became more dysregulated and felt more threatened and she responded to me as though I were actually attacking her. I can imagine that happening, and I can imagining developing a phobia about abandonment because I would instinctively respond to abandonment by seeking protection and support and what would follow would be assault. I wouldn’t be able to control my instinct to cry or to signal I needed support, and what would happen instead of getting support would be assault. I would try to stay close enough to my parent that my instinctive need for physical proximity would not become activated, so that I wouldn’t instinctively seek support. Being too far from my parent would feel very dangerous to me, because I might cry, and then my parent would assault me. I needed to be able to stay close enough that I wouldn’t cry.
I have a very vivid sense about C that she is caught in a kind of ring around her attachment figures. It is dangerous to be far away—partly because her parents depend on her to meet their attachment needs, but maybe for the same reasons that I am outlining here. At the same time, it is also dangerous to be close, because she will be rejected and assaulted for seeking closeness. It seems to me that I was caught in the same kind of ring, even though I don’t remember it. I don’t remember wanting my parents to be home, but I also did not want to leave my house much. My sister loved to be away at her friends’ houses, and I really liked to stay home. I still do. I don’t like to leave Y-town, and I don’t even really like to leave my house that much. I really like to be here, in Y-town, in my own house.
That ring of safety around my mentally ill parent might be the reason. Inside my house was close enough. I could know she was there, so that I didn’t have my attachment needs activated and I didn’t cry for her to come closer, but I was also out of striking distance.
I don’t know if this is really going to help anything. Sometimes I have these wonderful insights, but actually nothing much changes inside. I still have to cope with the sadness or the depression or the shame, or whatever it is, and I have to keep doing it repeatedly. It might be the case with this. It does make it seem less scary though, and that helps. I understand now I am attentive to being devalued because it is the early warning signal for physical and verbal assault. There is a reason I keep getting flooded by this emotion. I am not just a glutton for punishment and I don’t just have low self-esteem. My emotions are trying to warn me, in a sense, to duck. Flying objects might be part of the next scene in my life. I think it might make it easier to respond to. I know why it is there. I know why I feel worthless: I am trying to prepare myself for the danger ahead. So I have hope about handling it more easily.
And I also just feel a lot better, like it is safe to be inside my head. There isn’t just madness up there. The crazy shit actually kind of makes sense.