I have been aware more of my own mind, as if I am watching it while it thinks. Not literally—I don’t feel as though I am standing back from myself. But I am it is though I am able to see the sleight-of-hand in the magician’s trick. I can see how it works as it works.
Yesterday, as I was feeling particularly shitty, I could see that my mind is being influenced by confirmation bias and it’s being very strongly influenced because I am having a strong emotion or a strong ego state or whatever. I could see that I felt ashamed, so that everything that crossed my mind became a source of shame—like wearing shit-tinted glasses. Well, it works like that. I hadn’t realized. I think I had believed I was discovering my authentic feelings or something, not an emotional state that influences what seems significant to me about my thoughts.
But the thing is I think this is supposed to happen. That is basically mentalization: I feel afraid. What scared me? I feel ashamed. What did I do wrong? The problem is that I don’t know, and I come up with all of this other stuff that seems much more reasonable than the truth. I come up with stuff to feel bad about that other people have told me to feel bad about. Mostly things my therapists have told me or that I have read in self-help books. I don’t know that this is anyone’s fault. If I knew why I felt ashamed, this wouldn’t happen. I would land on it, assess, move on. Maybe. I think so. I think the problem is that I don’t know.
The other half of this is that shame is a mammal, social response. Human beings have very complex ways of discussing morality and thinking about morality, but when you smack your dog on the nose, she feels ashamed. She thinks about patterns the same way we do, and if you always smack her on the nose for peeing in the house she might work out that she shouldn’t pee in the house.
But I don’t know why I feel ashamed. I don’t know what sparked it, or what to make of it. Other people think it’s some other thing, much more reasonable and rational than the truth, and it has made my truth feel unreal to me. If no one sees what you are seeing, you do eventually start to think that you must be hallucinating.
My mother punished me. A lot. Not in an overt, I-am-punishing-you kind of way, but in I am out-of-control and can’t control myself and am now going to lash out kind of way. So I felt ashamed a lot, because that is how social animals feel when they are punished. When there is no dialogue around this, and when the person punishing you actually doesn’t know why they reacted the way that they did, this doesn’t coalesce into a nice, bite-size piece of information you can digest. It’s just this thing. I feel ashamed and I don’t know why. I don’t know what I just did. Someone else tells you, something you did wrong and it’s convenient to latch onto that. But it never comes around to the truth, which is that, and I really like this, parents with disorganized attachment (as mine was), “may react to their kids with fear or other primal emotions within them that surface in moments of stress. At these moments, the parent may act out destructive behavior and not even be fully aware of how they are behaving.”
So my mother lashed out at me because she felt disregarded, or unable to cope, or like an object, and I had no way of knowing that. And throughout my childhood, I pushed her away because she felt dangerous to me, and I triggered her feelings of rejection and of being unwanted.
I felt ashamed when she lashed out, and it’s not a philosophical, moral, these things are right and these other things are wrong kind of thing. It’s my mother was very reactive kind of thing. But punishment and expressions of anger are usually used to modulate behaviour. That’s their purpose—to help us respect each other’s limits and boundaries and to learn to exercise self-control. I feel ashamed for reasons that make absolutely no sense, but the shame is real. I can feel it. I had this idea that basically I needed to fight the shame harder. Indeed no. It doesn’t work. It does help in life to exercise more self-control sometimes, but basically it will always surface in moments of stress. I will always get overwhelmed and feel the shame I am fighting. Better to let it work itself out.
I was thinking that, and letting my shame kind of be there this morning. And I just thought the pattern to me as a child was that every attempt to engage someone with me—which involves revealing the self, doesn’t it?—led to rejection and punishment and abandonment. There really wasn’t a pattern, and so the pattern became reaching out or revealing myself in any way. I am understating this, but basically my mom was just grumpy. But I thought the pattern was me, or was wanting connection.
I do have to deal with shame throughout my day, because it surfaces when I am rejected, but I think this is actually okay. I have been inhibiting my efforts to reach out to people for a long time and, on the one hand, this might mean that I don’t know how to successfully find common ground with people and I will strike out more often. It is also that I am used to suppressing my feelings of shame, so this might feel new to me and more intense, just because it is new. (Also there is that regulation problem, and the trauma memories problem…) We feel shame when our efforts to reach out to others don’t turn out to be successful. (Oh, I annoyed that person instead of entertaining them.) I think that’s okay. We learn from that how to get connection with other people.
The other thing is because the pattern did seem to be that I shouldn’t reach out and so every time I reached out it was like, “Oh, I did that bad thing again. I have to stop doing it.” So loss of connection always felt permanent, because I was supposed to stop doing it. It was like every connection felt like my last drink, because after that I needed to give it up. And that intensifies my feelings of loss. There is never that point when I think, “She is busy right now. She’s in a bad mood.” Or whatever, “But we’ll connect again.” It’s much more like, “Oh, I breathed again. I’ll try harder to stop breathing.”
It does make the loss feel permanent and forever and much worse than it is.
So that was my morning.
Now I’m late.