I am really, really struggling the last few days and I don’t really know why. I think good things are also happening inside at the same time. It’s not all bad. But there is seriously crazy shit in my head. I am getting melty brain a lot, and suicide seems like the only reasonable option sometimes.
It’s not fun.
It might be that I am putting together what I think into a coherent whole, in terms of what is going on inside me and what I need to do in order to heal, and it is triggering trauma reactions.
I have been thinking that what is going on inside me has to do with how I came to understand as the approach necessary to get nurturing and protection from my parents. Generally, that feels like the framework in my head. Much of what I think and how I behave stems from what I learned as being required to get that. If I couldn’t do those things, then I had to stop needing nurturing and protection. That’s the lens I have started to apply to things. I am getting hit by what I think of as fossils—intense emotional memories of the past—and I also have these unstated assumptions about what is required in order to have relationships of any kind. Those are my two issues.
This idea I have about my thoughts and behaviour being shaped by what I assume other people will require of me in order to have relationships with me comes from what I know about traumatized children, my observations of C and a few of the kids in my class, and also a little about how adults behave in conditions of extreme dependency (hostage situations and so on).
Basically, since I grew up without adequate protection or nurturing, I needed to figure out how to squeeze out of my parents whatever little they could offer. I had to have some understanding of what their minds were like. Maybe not the whys of it—I didn’t have the knowledge to do that—but at least the pattern. Staying out of striking range was key, but it’s not what is most on my mind today. That is one reason for my fear of closeness and why it feels physically dangerous to me to have other people in the room—like in the staffroom. My mom threw shit at me. Being in the same room with her was dangerous, especially if I were not attentive to her mood. It reminds me of Delhi, and how mostly I have been able to avoid situations of physical, sexual harassment when I am alone, because I am attentive. I am able to maintain that kind of attention on men and stay out of striking distance.
But think what that is like for a small child, who is too frightened to be in the same room as her parents. It isn’t possible for that child to get her attachment needs met that way. She needs physical proximity to her parents. I would have been very caught between a rock and a hard place.
What is on my mind more is this idea of having my own opinions and making my own choices, because my whole work in healing is about the opinions I have formed over the last few years—outside of therapy and without any professional stamp of approval. They stand, in fact, in opposition to what I learned in therapy. What I do every day to heal triggers me, because I know it is based on my own ideas. Not that other people don’t share those ideas, but my past therapists did not.
As a child, I don’t think my mother tolerated differences of opinion. I am thinking here of myself and of what triggers me. I don’t behave in the same way as my mother, but some of what goes on in our heads is the same. We have some of the same trauma. What it makes me think is that she would have felt rejected and abandoned by differences in opinion, and she would have lashed out at me. She would have been hit by these fossils of growing up with a mother who had very little empathy or sensitivity and could not take her perspective and did not really care to, and so rejected her when she happened to have her own ideas or feelings about something.
I would have taken away from that I cannot disagree with someone and get love and care from them. I can disagree and be entirely independent from them, or I can subjugate myself and get some degree of nurturing and protection, but I cannot do both. I think it has meant, at times, I don’t take other peoples’ perspectives. I state my own views, but don’t bother to understand the other person’s, because I am avoiding feeling I have to make that choice. Or I take the other person’s perspectives and never state my own if it is different.
I don’t know how much I have done this, but I think I did it in therapy quite a lot, because that is the place where I was presenting needs and asking for help in meeting them. Outside of situations of dependency, it might not have been as powerfully active as an assumption. I don’t know how to describe this, but I have been thinking that everything I am doing now is more or less counter to what any of them might have advised and I actually don’t know why. I don’t know why they had the perspectives that they did, or why it did not seem to help me. I did not understand their thinking at the time that I saw them, and I don’t understand it now, and I don’t think this was ever explicitly stated or addressed within the context of therapy, because I could not reveal that. I could not reveal that what they were describing to me in their attempt to be empathetic and validating did not match my internal experience. When I did say something about this, I felt very quickly dismissed, and I don’t know why that happened either. I think I tried very hard to comply, because I assumed compliance was necessary to have relationships with people. One could not have relationships or one could comply, and I was trying to have a relationship.
The odd thing is that this compliance sometimes looked like independence, because they wanted me to be more independent. They wanted me to think well of myself and to be assertive about my needs. So I did that in other contexts and reported this to them and in this way won their approval and the right to be nurtured. I remember a therapist once remarking in a very pleased way, “You are individuating!” and I had no idea what she meant. That was the tenor of most of my therapy. I didn’t know what they meant. They seemed unable to decipher what I meant, and I just faked it. I faked understanding them. And I think this happened because I was terrified of holding a different view. One gets punished for that. Severely. I chose not to really know what their view was, so that I did not need to know mine was different and I did not need to feel the terror.
In my mind, I am going with a similar algorithm as I described yesterday: differentiation → devaluing → punishment
So this morning I thought I have to actually understand what these other therapists I have seen thought, and I think the lynchpin of it all is the concept of ego. I think they saw me as having a weak ego, needing the support of others to maintain my ego boundaries, and I have no idea what an ego is. Not that I am uneducated about psychology. It is just impossibly imprecise to me. When people start talking about ego strength, I start to feel like I am discussing Yeti. (Which Country X-ers believe in, I might add. It lives here.) And I probably don’t know what it is because I am thinking about what makes sense according to my set of ideas about the mind, and it doesn’t make any sense whatever. But if I start with trying to imagine it as something someone else believes in, then what flows out of that might make more sense.
That’s differentiation, isn’t it? I have my own mind, and I am going to try to imagine someone else’s mind that is different than mine.
I did that. I imagined this concept of the ego, which I don’t really subscribe to. It is not necessary to what I know about human or animal behavior or really anything, but I imagined it like I am an atheist trying to imagine a Christian viewpoint. And then things started to make sense. I was in this terrible, emotionally abusive relationship for 9 years and it was a lot of those years that I was in therapy and they clearly saw it as codependent and enmeshed, which is another concept I can’t really understand either. But their view and their advice about the relationship suddenly made sense when I began with this assumption that the ego is a concept that is important to them. Enmeshment made sense, which it doesn’t to me.
And suddenly I knew why therapy with them did not really help. It did in some smaller ways: it really helped with my work situation, where I had this difficult employee and I did get specific advice about how to meet her needs better and also contain her so that she engaged in less acting-out behaviour. But we were conceiving of the problem in radically different ways. Their ideas had more to do with how I imagined myself, and they were intent on getting me to imagine myself in more positive ways. That was supposed to do the trick, and it didn’t, because I kept getting flooded by these trauma fossils that I had no idea what to do with (to mix metaphors). It didn’t help me figure out what to do with them, and most of their advice or discussion about what to do with them was not helpful in any way. It didn’t build my skills in regulating intense emotions, which is what I needed to have in order to process the trauma material.
I remember being asked quite a lot to speculate about what the trigger for anxiety might be, and it led to a lot of rabbit-brain, where I ran around in my head looking for awful things to connect it to and flooded myself with all kinds of terrible feelings. There was a point when I started to refuse to do this, because it was so pointless. I usually did not know what the real trigger was—it just assumed my life was known to me and it wasn’t—and it turned up a lot of other difficult material in the process of looking for it.
I am thinking about one specific example, which was the shower. I used to feel very anxious in the shower, very suicidal, in fact. And that was mysterious to me. I speculated a lot about why that might be and basically didn’t turn anything up. Now, it seems fairly clearly. Nata died. I was covered in her blood, and I went to take a shower and all that blood I was covered in went down the drain. It’s a part of a quite horrific memory. But how was I ever going to get there if I couldn’t cope with that level of emotional arousal? I was never going to get there having someone ask me, “What does that remind you of?” The level of trust was never going to develop when I kept getting flooded by stuff I couldn’t understand when the question was asked.
Anyway, I am saying all of this just to relate that I think this has been difficult. I failed at therapy, basically. It’s terribly triggering. In order to move forward with my method, I have to accept that I couldn’t succeed using someone else’s method. And that would be fine, except that it activates this trauma memory of being devalued and brutalized for failing to meet expectations and being unable to comply and for disagreeing.
My memory is telling me what will happen if I do this: my mind and my body are both reminding me. My mind is telling me I am worthless, which is prelude to brutalization, and my body is telling me I need to be terrified because something very bad is about to happen.
It’s hard. It’s hard to move forward with this.