I was thinking today about the Looking-Glass Self—that we see ourselves as we imagine others see us, and the way they see us is largely communicated through behaviour. It isn’t through words most of the time.
I was thinking about what got communicated to me through my parents: it wasn’t all the same thing. My parents didn’t behave in the same way towards me. My father was a sociopath. My mother was very emotionally reactive. There were points of intersection.
One view I internalized from them came from being a kind of impediment to their goals, so I felt very bad and shameful and like I was hurting them. My needs and desires conflicted with theirs most of the time, and they responded accordingly. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but it was like being the kid who won’t ever sit and do their homework or won’t clear their plate from the table, but their expectations of me weren’t reasonable. They were too many and didn’t take into account my needs, even my need to be calm and stable. I couldn’t do it, and I think I also felt very angry, that I was expected to do so much that I couldn’t do. So my anger played out at other times also, and that felt shameful.
Another view was that I was an object: I was very much an object to my dad. There was no real attachment to me or responsiveness, just what could he get me to do for him. So I have a picture of myself as being very disposable from him.
A third view is that I am sort of not real, or I don’t know what is real. It has to do with my internal state being ignored and reality to some extent being ignored. I was thinking about it last night: the thought crossed my mind suddenly that something could happen to me. I realized the source of it: they consistently treated me like unbreakable dinnerware, like nothing could happen to me. Meanwhile, I felt terrified. What was real? Was my vulnerability real or were they right that I was unbreakable? I did not seem to be unbreakable. That was added onto just by the fact that they did not respond to me or my feelings,
My internal world just did not seem to be real to them, and so then it because a question of what is real? Are my feelings real? Are my perceptions real? Am I real? We develop a sense of what reality is by comparing it with other people’s. When it’s consistently different, we end up feeling that there must be something wrong with our minds. I think this is where a ghost-like feeling comes from for me: I just kind of didn’t exist for my parents.
My mother often see me and my intentions in a distorted way: she had very intense schema activation a lot of the time, and she saw me as attacking her at times when I wasn’t, so I also have a view of myself as a very angry, very evil, very intentionally harmful, toxic person. I have had my moments, but I don’t really think I was regularly my Punishing Parent self. I think that has mostly been kept under wraps, and I haven’t intentionally, punitively tried to hurt people very often. That is from my mom.
None of this is really new to me. What is new was grasping that my parents were important people to me. They were my “us,” and so it makes sense that I would internalize their view of me. It wasn’t some kind of failure on my part that I did that: it does feel like a failure, to be sure, like they were the enemy and I ought to have resisted harder. But to my child self, they were not the enemy. They were my family. I was attached to them, no matter how disordered that attachment was. We internalize the views of important people more than people we have no attachment to, and I wasn’t exposed to them only a few minutes a week. This was how they regularly treated me, even when they were not overtly abusing me.
The other part that is new for me is thinking that it makes sense I would have an unstable identity from that. Those self-views are untenable. You can’t live your life thinking of yourself in those terms. The stable identity I would have developed from my family would have been negative in the extreme.