I have rats. I have lots of mice and I have a couple of rats in my house these days. Something needs to be done. It’s very clear it’s time to begin murdering all of them, and I know how to make a quite effective death trap for them, but it’s sort of horrific to do and I keep putting it off.
Anyway, I came home today, moved a sack of flour and other grains that I thought might conceivably be in a rodent-proof location and discovered it wasn’t and they have been busily nibbling away at various sacks of things inside the larger sack.
That said, I felt really, really angry. And I sat with that. I just let the anger be there. I have been pondering anger for a while, and the fact that anger prompts a desire to punish and I sat with the anger and the desire to punish myself for leaving a sack in a rodent-accessible location.
And it clicked in.
I am the threat.
Once upon a time, I was a little baby and then after that a little toddler and my mother was trying to take care of me and she had this trauma that affected her reasoning and her responses to me and made her thoughts and emotions distorted, so that when she saw me she didn’t see a little baby, she saw a mini-monster. She saw this thing making lots of loud noises that she couldn’t calm down and couldn’t control and that she felt incompetent to handle her own emotions in the face of, and she also saw a thing that dug up all of her feelings of shame about herself. She saw this thing telling her, “You are a bad mom. You are useless. You are no good.”
She saw a threat.
And I was learning about the world at that point. I was learning what these sensations inside me that are actually emotions mean and I was learning how to categorize them and respond to them, not in a linguistic way, but in a felt way. I was learning about this mostly from my parents.
I wrote about that yesterday. So I had this feeling of distress inside me that instinctively made me cry and sometimes that feeling of distress went away when my mommy changed my diaper. Oh, that’s wet diaper. That distressed feeling is wet. I get it now. Usually by 6 months, or 3 months or something, there is a different sounding cry for that, because the infant has pieced together that this particular feeling of distress gets resolved by changing a diaper and she understands the cause of the distress is a wet sensation. A neural pathway has been formed.
I was learning how to interpret the feelings inside my body based on the reactions of other people. We are social animals. This is how we learn, from other people. And my mother responded to me as though I was a threat. She defended herself against me as though I were a danger to her and punished me as though I had actually hurt her. I learned that I was a threat. The catch there that you might not realize is that as a young child and as a baby, I am thinking about my family in terms of an “us.” My mom responds to me as a threat, and I implicitly I am a threat to me, to everyone. I don’t know that I could be a threat to her and not also be a threat to me. We are, after all, a social unit. We are a pack. I don’t see my mom as other. Not yet, anyway. I assume what threatens her will also threaten me.
At some point, making some kind of error like leaving grains where the rats and mice can eat them got linked up in the same way as wet diaper got linked up. I came to feel like a threat to myself. No wonder this trauma involves feeling “bad.” That’s the “bad” part. My mother saw me as a threat—that’s what child abuse is, isn’t it? It’s responding to a child as though she were a serious threat to the parent and must be violently fought off. So I saw me as a threat. Only I can’t get away from myself. Only when I fight off the threat of myself, it hurts me.
The disorganized attachment is not just with the parent, where one part of the brain says, “Go to mom for protection,” and the other part of the brain says, “Flee from mom for safety.” It’s also my brain telling me to defend against myself. Only I can’t. I’m stuck inside my body, with my feelings, which only get more dysregulated when I defend against those feelings.