C sent a text last night as though she were someone else. I couldn’t really tell whether it was C or not at the time. For a second, I felt angry.

“Madam can you put voucher.”

Well, I hate when she talks to me that way. It’s very rejecting, and I think it’s also scary. I really felt I was talking to someone else. It felt so much like I was talking to someone else, that I did not know whether I was talking to someone else or not.

And then I thought how scared she must be feeling if she felt she needed to pretend to be someone else, and how unsafe it must feel to be herself. My eyes just welled with tears, thinking what she is going through right now.

There are all these people in my life who have the same kind of trauma. VP Ma’am has it. There is this little girl—Lonely Girl—in my class 3, who has begun to cry in assembly the way C used to do. How did that happen? There is an instinctive shame about it, because normally people with trauma behave badly. They can keep it together and then, like VP Ma’am, they randomly attack you. So there is this connection between abuse and mistreatment in adult life and childhood abuse. That happens for lots of reasons, but I see it still happening now, even as I function better, even as I am more clear-headed and can make decisions better. I know that little girl in class 3 is crying at assembly because of me, she feels drawn to me. She has a very caring class teacher, and she is not crying about him.

It’s because I get it. I have trauma and I get it, and from time to time I meet the needs of other people with trauma, because I get what those needs are. I recognize them from struggling to meet my own needs, and sometimes I can meet other people’s trauma-oriented needs just as I can sometimes meet my own trauma-oriented needs. I looked at Lonely Child for about three weeks, and I thought, “Why is she playing in class all the time?” I was annoyed by it. And I reflected and reflected and reflected and finally realized she is lonely. And I began to meet her need for attention and connection. I started giving her my stuff. She had no ruler, so I gave her my ruler. She had no pencil, so I gave her my pencil. I gave her transitional objects so that she would not feel alone. I went to her desk and looked at her work. I made sure she could keep up in class. I noticed her. She was lonely, and I saw she needed attention, and I gave it to her. I understood her perspective and what it was like to be her, because I remember it, and I accommodated her. It was not difficult to do—rulers are about 10 cents. And I did it. But someone without trauma, doesn’t have that inside to draw on as a way to understand people who have been traumatized.

With C last night, as I wondered who I was really texting, I could feel that. I knew the kind of melty brain I get, and how it feels so terrifying even to exist, and I thought she might be feeling that. Instead of reacting from that place of rejection, I acted from a place of gentleness. I acted from a place of thinking this is a child who wants to reach for comfort and feels so much terror and shame about being herself, that she can only reach for that comfort by pretending that she is not her. I might not have handled the situation entirely skillfully—this morning, I feel certain I was texting her, but last night I didn’t know, and I asked which friend I was talking to. (She said it was a friend.) I gave a particular name. She never answered that, and I kind of concluded that it wasn’t her. I told the person she made me really worried, and C asked why. I said because C would call me madam if she was really upset. That voice of concern was probably a good thing. The tone of gentleness was probably a good thing. I might have been more directly soothing if I had felt certain it was her.

But I think how I might have reacted had I not understood at some level how terrified C might actually be, and I would have thought, “Who is this person who won’t even tell me her name and is asking for money from me?” I would have been annoyed. I would not have responded kindly or gently. C would not have gotten her need for that little bit of comfort and contact met, and she would have had no way to get it met. My response would have further dysregulated her, as it has in the past when I did not understand her as well and was not so well attuned to her. The attunement comes from understanding the trauma mind. Without that understanding, I would not be able to do anything to help her.

It also makes me think about how we end up with parts, and it’s that terror of being oneself and of feeling that one’s own needs and feelings—all of them, not just feelings connected to trauma—are immensely dangerous to have. That’s why you make up little parts to be, who have these needs that feel terrifying to have. It is the only way to start learning to meet those needs until life starts to feel safer. That’s why it works to think in terms of parts and modes, even when you did not invent that coping strategies yourself. Thinking in terms of parts is not a bad habit. It’s not a denial that needs to broken through. It’s a way to start learning to regulate your emotions when it still does not feel safe to have emotions at all.

I was thinking something else. I was thinking how I could not meet my parents expectations of me. Kids want to do that. They want to please their parents. They want that feeling of connection pleasing their parents gives them. I could not do it, because my parents did not have realistic expectations of me. They expected me to meet their needs as though I were the parent and not the child, and they were also flooded with emotions they did not understand, and it made their expectations unpredictable. They expected behaviours from me that were not developmentally possible, and their expectations changed by the second. There was no way for me to connect with them.

We were playing with a balloon at the workshop, as a teambuilding activity. It involved holding hands while keeping the balloon in the air. So we had to respond to each other’s bodies, much like dancing. We had to be able to sense—this person is going to do this, I ought to do that, and they had to be able to do the same thing. That’s where the feeling of connection comes from. It comes from anticipating each other in that way, and adjusting to accommodate one another in a mutual way. I could not do that with my parents. I couldn’t figure out what they wanted, and what they wanted was beyond me to do. I failed.

That thought I have sometimes that I have failed, I am a failure, that’s what it is. It is the recognition that I have fallen short in something. As an adult, this is okay. It’s okay to fall short, but I remember it in the way that I do and it comes back to me in an intrusive, flooding, overwhelming way, because when that happened I completely lost my right to exist. I crossed the line over into the other side where my parents treated me like I wasn’t even human anymore. It is really hard to grasp the full extent of that, and how terrifying that was for me. At any moment, I am going to fail to meet their expectations, and when that happens they will treat me like a piece of wood they would like to vent their frustrations upon.

You know this kind of thing, but you don’t know it. I didn’t know it for a long time. When there is crazy shit in my brain, it’s a precise memory of what happened. I went to look for my usual messenger this morning to give a note to C, so that she gets at least a little reassurance that I am still here and still love her, and couldn’t find her. The lady at the shop downstairs said she wasn’t there and some other stuff I didn’t quite catch, and I walked back to my house feeling very exposed and ashamed and then terrified. And then I thought, “Oh, yes, that’s what happened. That’s what would happen.” I was just rejected. I didn’t get what I wanted. I wanted C’s friend KT and she wasn’t there and I don’t know where she is. If my mom rejected me, she would rip me a new one. She would thoroughly shame me and then do something terrifying.

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