I watched a documentary last night on Youtube. It took a lot of balance from my data card and it was well worth it. It was about a mother with post-natal depression who was having trouble bonding with her baby. If mentally you combine it with the still face experiment, then I think you have a very clear picture of what happened between me and my mom when I was small that caused me so much pain later.
There was all of this very violent, very overt, very perverted abuse in my family and my mother was clearly mentally ill—both of my parents were and probably still are. So a lot of what I have to sort through and process and remember is very dramatic. But there is this other thing that I think had a greater impact on me and that is what happened to me when I was a baby, and it didn’t have to include any obvious violence or abuse for it to harm me. I think my mother did abuse me as a baby, but I think our relationship would have harmed me even if that had not happened. I think it’s really the stuff I am grappling with just now.
When I was born, my mother didn’t have normal feelings of warmth and care for me. Something happened and she wasn’t able to bond. I don’t know why this happened. It might be I was born and I had the same hair colour as her mother, and it might be my appearance brought up her own difficult relationship with her narcissistic mother. It might be that I was a sensitive child and it was hard to soothe me, and my difficulties in calming down made her feel like a failure as a mother. It might be she became depressed after I was born because something else got set off at that point and she was vulnerable to depression anyway.
I will never know. But I watched this documentary about a mother trying to get help for her inability to bond with her baby, and I know that happened for me. What that baby feels in the documentary when her mother is not responsive to her is what I felt and what I feel now when I have these emotional flashbacks. It meant I couldn’t develop a normal relationship with my mother. There wasn’t a connection between us, and that meant I couldn’t trust her. I couldn’t trust her in the sense that I couldn’t use the cues from her body to tell my body to calm down when I was upset.
Other things happened because of that. I wasn’t easy to soothe, because the relationship wasn’t there to tell me to take in the soothing. I cried and cried and cried. And my mother felt very ashamed that she couldn’t soothe me. She felt she couldn’t be a good mother. She already had a deep wound of shame inside her from her own childhood, and my inability to be soothed triggered it. She felt like an utter failure as a parent, because she couldn’t soothe me. She reacted to this. She gave up and left the room and I felt entirely abandoned. Or she hit me out of frustration, trying to get this thing that was triggering so much painful shame to stop.
I think something else happened too. My mother has her own trauma issues. She’s kind of obviously borderline (I think) and has disorganized attachment of her own, and there were many times when she became as distressed as I was, and what got communicated to me was that she was not competent to manage my distress and my difficulties. She didn’t feel competent and her feelings of lack got communicated, so there wasn’t trust. Trust is about both intention and competence. There were times when she might have had the intention of helping me with my baby problems, but didn’t feel competent to do it and that got communicated to me through her behaviour. It’s very scary for a baby when there is no one competent to care for them. Worse, she might have communicated to me her feelings of vulnerability about taking care of me. I was a second child. She wasn’t a new mother, but I think my older sister had a different infancy than I did. Our later childhoods were similar—violently abusive, full of my mother’s rages and my dad’s insanity. However, I think our infancies might have been different. Either my sister had a different temperament than I did, or circumstances were different, and I think my mother and sister were able to form a bond that my mother couldn’t form with me. And probably my mother felt she didn’t know how to take care of me and felt fearful about not knowing what to do and not having support for her vulnerabilities. That’s scary for a child. When your parent needs you to take care of them, you feel very vulnerable as a consequence, because you are not competent to take care of your parent or competent to take care of yourself. If you can only get the support you need from your parent if you can meet your parent’s needs first, then you are in a very difficult position of having to do something that is really beyond your capacity to do.
What I am describing matches what I feel inside me. The fear of reaching for closeness, because being rejected will be intolerable—it was intolerable to me when I was a baby. Rejection now is not that intense, but the conditioning makes it intense. I remember in my body how intolerable it was for me as a baby to not get any connection back from my mother, and to get anger or abandonment instead. It matches the difficulty in getting settled again after my emotions get stirred up and my distress levels get too high. We learn to comfort ourselves the way our parents comforted us. But what if your parent didn’t know how to comfort you? What if, instead of comforting, they resorted to creating a fight-flight-freeze situation in you, because that at least got the situation under control again. That made you too scared to express your distress. Then that is what you do as an adult. Stir yourself up more. Catastrophize. Blame. Punish. Scold. Shame. Because when you were a child that at least got you to shut up and not make the distressing noises that activated (in my case) my mother’s shame at not knowing how to parent me.