Well, I have been thinking.
I have been thinking about mentalization. Mentalization is understanding one’s own mind and other people’s. There is one particular therapy designed for borderlines that is focused on mentalization, just thinking about what is going on one’s own mind and in other people’s. Not the “whys.” Not insight. Just “what.” Evidently, it helps.
I think a lot of what I have done is mentalization. What is in my own mind? When I have this emotion, what does it connect to in my environment? What sensory input is it connected to? What are the other events it connects to? What thoughts do I have when I feel it? After doing this pretty hard for the last few years, I think I get my own thinking quite a lot better. I think my head used to be a mystery to me that I didn’t even quite know I ought to wonder about. I used to take that to therapy and they would say, “Why do you think you feel that?” I don’t know. I haven’t the faintest idea. Because the “what” was not clear to me.
Anyway, it’s better. I think I have mentalizing my parents’ minds also, because that’s the other part of the equation. I am often reacting to the imagined minds of my parents. It’s hard to know why I am reacting the way that I am when I don’t know what was in their minds; I just have this implicit reaction to it stored as a jumbled up ball of nothing.
Sometimes, I mentalize about other people in my life. I am reacting the way that I am because of what is in my head and because of what I imagine to be in their heads, but what is in their heads actually? It’s not that easy. It’s possible I am better at it now.
A key bit of mentalizing about myself is recognizing that sometimes what is going on inside of me most powerfully is an implicit memory of how I felt during past trauma.
The thing about having complex trauma, which I suppose I might be assumed to have, is that I don’t experience myself as continuous. This is probably the most painful part of having a high degree of dissociation. I don’t feel coherent, and I can’t really connect to who I was in the past. I have memories, but I often don’t have a felt sense of what it was like to be me in that moment. I don’t have continuity of self, and I don’t have continuity of others.
As things get better inside for me, that’s a major change. I feel more continuous, and things have been happening inside me lately that have kind of bumped that up. I have certain feelings and I think, “That was me. I felt that way. That is a memory of myself and what it was like to be me under other circumstances in the past.”
For example, I was pondering a bit whether I actually got better over the decade or so I spent in therapy and whether I am actually better now. And it suddenly occurred to me that I used to get melty brain quite a lot, and then usually what I did was argue with my partner and have kind of a histrionic break-up of our long-term relationship. I don’t think I brought the arguments on, but they clearly triggered me very quickly, and I think now my ex knew how to trigger me and did it quite purposefully.
That said, I realized C behaves very badly sometimes and VP Ma’am attacks me sometimes, and I do not get melty brain and end our respective relationships. I do not get melty brain at all. I still get melty brain, but not in those contexts. So I have changed.
I realized I remembered that. I remembered how it felt to be so confused and so sad and so angry and actually how rejected and worthless I felt and how hard it was to understand why someone would do that to me on purpose. I remembered what it was like to be me. It’s not noteworthy exactly, but it felt very important inside me. Just to remember what I felt like in a different context more than ten years ago. It was like, “Oh, I existed then. I felt things. I remember those feelings.”
I was thinking today about feeling worthless. Actually, I was once again struggling with that feeling. Just kind of the dogpile on me feeling I have inside. It’s so hard to take. And suddenly I realized that’s me. That is how I felt as a child on a regular basis. I felt so angry about being stuck as this person who could not gain affection or approval or sometimes even tolerance that I really wanted to tear off my own skin. That’s this “punitive parent” mode. It’s a memory of what it felt like to be me. It’s a memory of feeling angry at myself for being me, and being someone my parents could not love.
You might read that sentence and want to console me, but I assure I could not meet my parents’ expectations of me. No child would be able to do that. And it was painful for me. It was really terribly painful to me to be in that situation.
I have told myself through a lot of my adult life that I ought not to feel this way. The way I am looking at it now makes it feel very different to me, and it makes it honestly a lot less threatening and scary to me. It’s a memory. I can’t make myself unfeel it, because it is not the present. I am being reminded of the past by something in the present, but it is not the present. No one around me finds me completely unacceptable and unloveable the way my parents did. This is the past, and the past has already happened. I can’t undo it or make it go away, because it’s the past already and I cannot change the past. I cannot change how I felt in the past or what it was like to be me. I can keep trying to resist remembering that, but it just keeps me in pieces to do that. It makes me unable to integrate it or make sense of my own mind.
This happens in my mind, because it happened and because that was me.
What tends to happen with the punitive parent mode is that it is kept outside of the self, and when we keep our feelings outside of ourselves, they surface as impulses and as a kind of aimless cogitation. (I feel worthless, what in the present can be grabbed onto as a possible source of my worthlessness?)
I have realized this during the last few days. When I exile my desire for connection, it surfaces as this impulse to keep connecting with people. I aimlessly surf the web or read status updates or do other, fairly mindless, unsatisfying things that I don’t need to do. And I keep doing them, because I don’t allow myself to feel the connection even that much could give me. Then it becomes a compulsive act. Did I turn off the stove? Because you can’t remember doing it. Did I get connection? There’s no emotion in me about it, so I don’t remember. I keep trying again. If I allowed myself to feel connection, I wouldn’t keep doing it mindlessly. I would know I got connection. Or that I didn’t get connection and I should try to get connection in some other way.
At any rate, the Punitive Parent Mode does that, I think, at least sometimes. It surfaces as a feeling of intense anger and shame and for most people runs around with critical thoughts. My thoughts don’t really run wild. I mostly get hit with feelings. It might be I have learned to control my thoughts, but the feeling is not pleasant, and the impulses toward self-punishment are not pleasant. But feeling them in an integrated, accepting way—this was me, I felt this—that helps.
It makes my mind seem safer. It’s not just this scary place with horrible things in it that I don’t understand. I know what this mode is. I know why it happens, and it isn’t about my being defective. It happened to me. We remember the things that happened to us from time to time, and if they are very emotionally charged, we might remember them more.
One other detail: My Punitive Parent is not a parent really. She feels about six to me. She feels like a very, very angry six-year-old. She is not needy, like Angry Child. Angry Child might be three. But she is still little. This rage and shame and impulse to punish myself is young. She is a little part. And I can feel compassion for that, instead of fear.