I have started to have a different approach to things. I hadn’t realized I was drifting in this direction, and it’s really helping. Rachel’s blog I think has kind of inspired this.
It’s simply to look at what I am doing from the perspective of the likely consequences: the good ones and the bad ones. Instead of judging the behaviour as bad or good, healthy or unhealthy, I am thinking about the pros and cons, and when I am not sure of what the pros and cons are likely to be, I am noticing them as I try things out.
In one way, this is very freeing. I am freed up of judgment about the behaviour, and I am also freed up from this idea—a fear, really—about judging my motivations. That used to be very automatic, to wonder what the underlying motivation was, and to make decisions based on that. I have started to think it doesn’t really matter what my “hidden” intention is. It matters what actually happens. I am not worried about whether I am really trying to sabotage myself or not, or whether I am unconsciously trying to hurt anyone. I think I got this idea in therapy—obviously filtered through that core sense of “badness”—that what was really inside me, my deeper self, was very dangerous and had to be carefully watched and controlled. Which, of course, would make everything worse. It would make it harder to know what I really did think and feel, because it would raise the overall level of fear in me and with it the degree of dissociation. It’s nice to stop seeing myself as something dangerous, and just think about consequences.
I also thought about what the need was, and whether what I was doing was actually meeting that need. For example, I kept looking at my phone, to see if the texts I had sent to C had been delivered and I also called her a few times. I realized I was doing that to get control. I was frightened, and I wanted to get control. But looking at my phone wasn’t giving me control and calling her wasn’t either, because it was switched off.
So, yesterday, when I was getting all melty-brained that I didn’t know where C was, I took that approach with what I was doing. Really, the trigger might have been that I was about to see her, and the approach, the reaching for connection that was about to happen, might have made me very frightened.
I looked at my phone to see if the texts had been read, and I recognized what need I was trying to meet, and I saw that this wasn’t meeting the need. And I saw what it was doing instead was repeatedly re-exposing me to the trigger, so that I couldn’t calm down. I had melty brain, and I kept ratcheting it back up again by re-exposing myself to the trigger. It was like going and firing up power tools just to give myself flashbacks.
I did know that I didn’t need to do anything—actually that I couldn’t do anything. That was kind of the merciful part. If I had really needed to make a decision about how to intervene in the situation, I don’t know how I could have managed to think straight enough to handle anything well or make any kind of good decision. All I needed to do was wait. She would either show up or not show up, and there was very little I could do or needed to do except get through it.
It crosses my mind now, writing about this, that that is how it got started in my head: There was this small indication of a problem—the texts not getting delivered—and I needed to consider that and assess it, and the connection was too triggering to think straight. I think people sometimes get to that point and the distress is so great, they want to immediately rid themselves of that feeling. Either they stop thinking about it altogether and use some selective denial: “Trust the universe,” is one of those. Or they frantically look for some immediate solution. But that isn’t going to be skillful in many cases. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter that much. The problem resolves itself anyway. Or the impulsively selected solution is fine.
I feel I can’t do that with C, because I am responsible for her. I am her guardian, and she also trusts me to be there to help her cope with life’s ordinary problems when they are too much for her. I need to be skillful. That’s probably good for me, to have this really strong motivation to be very skillful and to manage decisions under stress better. Anyway, there wasn’t anything I needed to do at that moment. I got that far anyway. I took a walk and looked around in the bazaar and asked her cousin about her and went back to my house, and it did help a little to get outside and asking her cousin about her probably was what I could do. I found out what time the students needed to report to hostel.
Then I got home and I realized that while finding out about C was just a matter of time, I did need to finish my marking. So I did my best to do that. I tried to keep the idea firmly in my mind that while I didn’t know what the outcome would be about C, I did know what the outcome would be if I didn’t finish my marking, and that would be very bad for me. I did manage to get some things done.
Around 4—reporting time—I sent a text to one of the other girls and asked her if C had come. After a while, she answered, so then I knew. I knew that C was really there. I felt better, and then a while later, began to feel paranoid that maybe she wasn’t there. Maybe there was some conspiracy to spare my feelings and not tell me that C is not here. I recognized that as being likely because I was still scared. I know the phases of the relational trauma now: fear is one of them. So I shifted my attention elsewhere.
I only had to survive two hours of melty brain. It’s nice to know better how my mind works: I can recognize when the relational trauma is at play, and that makes it less scary to me. It isn’t trigger upon trigger, of being scared of my own feelings because I don’t understand where they are coming from. And it helps to think about decisions purely in terms of effectiveness—whether it meets my needs or not—instead of judging it.