I wanted to write something before starting my day.
I feel horrible. I will start with that. I hope this is doing something for me, because I feel just awful.
I’ll tell you some ideas I have about it. My minds a bit untidy, so who knows if it will make sense to someone else.
I have an idea that the feelings I have right now are so intense partly because they aren’t regulated. I learned to shut them down. I did not learn how to modulate them. People spend their whole childhoods learning how to keep their nervous systems running smoothly, and I did not because basically you need to learn that from someone else. It is partly physical and partly social, but in both cases you learn it from someone else. And I had parents who were either indifferent or histrionic, so I learned not to go to them to help me regulate my nervous system. They were worse than useless.
And that means my nervous system doesn’t regulate in the normal way. There’s no dimmer switch. I’m still working on that. I miss C and it’s total agony. No dimmer switch. I have this idea that if I sit with that feeling I’ll find the dimmer switch. Maybe not today, but eventually. Every time I sit with the feeling, my brain is working on the dimmer switch.
Neural pathways work on the concept of use. Frequently used neural pathways become very efficient, very fast and very efficient. I think I do know how to regulate now, but it’s a new neural pathway. It’s slow, clunky, and I have to keep myself from hitting the “off” switch by mistake. Because actually you need these feelings. You need the impulse to reach out. You need to notice someone you like to be around isn’t there and maybe contact should be reinitiated. What I have done is shut down the feeling and it ended up as disembodied impulses, which may or may not have resulted in effective strategies for getting contact.
That’s my other thought: without good regulation, these basic social instincts (reach out, proceed cautiously, retreat, defend yourself) don’t end up as coordinated, effective strategies for managing social relationships. I had a cat for many years and I don’t really know what her kittenhood was like: I was informed she used to be taken to an old age home to do therapy work, but she was a shy, unfriendly cat when I took her home. I can’t imagine her doing anything but hiss at old people who wanted her to sit on their laps and let them pet her.
Anyway, she hid under my dresser for the first few weeks I had her home. In the middle of the night, when all was quiet, she would start to feel safe and her loneliness would overtake the fear and she would come and rub her face on my sleeping body and purr loudly. If I woke up and moved, the fear would kick in and she would run back under the dresser. I didn’t sleep well for those weeks, because my nights were punctuated by this needy, frightened cat who would wait for me to fall asleep before coming to ask for affection and love. It was the absolute embodiment of disorganized attachment. I need you, but I am scared of you, and I am being bounced around between very strong emotional states and impulses that don’t result in a coordinated strategy.
If I can get some good regulation going, maybe I can have more coordinated strategies for my social relationships and I will feel more fulfilled in them. Who knows. Worth a shot, anyway. But that’s why I was sitting here for hours, just missing C. Trying to stay in that. I miss her. Indeed, I do. And that doesn’t need to be fixed or interpreted or corrected. I miss her, and it’s very intense because my brain is still trying to bring that down a few hundred notches. That’s a procedure, and procedures need practice before they become smooth and efficient. I am practicing right now.
I noticed as I tried to just be with the sadness and pain of missing her that I felt a little bit of happiness creep up. It felt so good to see her on Friday. It felt so good to hold her in my arms. And it was as though, when the sadness and pain subside a little, other feelings can surface. The longing drowns everything. I can switch off the longing, and the happiness does sometimes pop up, but it is jagged. That has happened before, where I feel like I am jumping between very different emotional states. Yes, that is what happens when you reach for the “off” switch I have been using all of my life instead of the dimmer switch I am learning to use. Life is very, very jagged and basically makes no sense.
Another thought I have had recently is about my break with psychodynamic concepts. It really did help to read some of the articles on attachment: one writer commented that Bowlby faced a lot of opposition for his ideas and the writer pointed out it was because Bowlby essentially turned everything psychiatrists believed on its head. Previously, psychology was concerned with the mind interacting with itself and Bowlby was maintaining our minds interact with each other.
As an example, a psychodynamic therapist would say I am protecting myself from loss by preventing myself from reaching out. And that’s one way of looking at it. But I don’t see it that way. For me, that leaves pieces of the picture out. If you see me and my mother as a system—not now, but when I was small—and that we were working together to create a regulated, comfortable state for both of us to the best of our ability then that view makes more sense to me. I constrained my impulse to reach out to my mother for the things I needed—attention, comfort, support, stimulation—because reaching out overwhelmed my mother. She yelled at me to constrain myself so that she could more easily manage her own emotions, because she had very poor emotional regulation skills due to her own upbringing.
What that view brings into the picture is my understanding of my mother’s view of me, which is part of my memories. When I don’t constrain my impulse to reach out, I am filled with shame. Frightened and filled with shame, although not at the same time. When I reach out, I can’t stay in equilibrium with her. And I am sorry. The “sorry” impulse is one that creates reconnection and it is instinctive. Seeing us a system makes my shame makes sense.
A psychodynamic therapist would see my shame as an attempt to protect myself from rejection, and that is one way of looking at it. But I just can’t do it. It doesn’t really make sense to me. I just can’t see my very young self as being that purposeful or organized. I can, however, see my young mind as being receptive to social cues.
I have also been thinking that there are these disembodied thoughts I have at various points in this cycle of wanting connection that are representations of my mother’s mind in my mind. We see ourselves as others see us. That is a core sociological concept, and psychology typically disregards sociology for reasons I don’t quite understand. So, I feel worthless, and that is my memory of imagining, based on my experience of others’ behaviour towards me, that I was perceived as an object by those people. As an adult, I can understand that my feelings of worthlessness are a perception. I am perceiving that other people do not value me at this particular moment in time. And it’s okay for me to perceive that. It’s possible that they don’t. I am not a diamond. Not everyone will value me at all times.
A really key thought I have had recently is that minds are different. They don’t see things the same way. This plays out in all kinds of way as I move through my day. It’s possible that someone else—my mother, for example—would not value me in this particular moment, because she wouldn’t like what I am doing (for example). But the person in front of me might value me, and their behaviour towards me has some other reason behind it.
At other times, I am aware of that in effect also. Someone who thought in terms of codependency, for example, might see my behaviour as unhealthy attempts to rescue someone else. Someone who believes in altruism might see that same behaviour as very positive and very pro-social. I can imagine particular therapists from my past and think they would see my behaviour as self-serving. One kid I send pancakes with might be very touched that I care so much for C. Someone else might be annoyed at carrying extra stuff. One child might feel disregarded, as though I am treating them like a packhorse and not a person.
I have a lot of minds in my head with different opinions, because people are different. There isn’t one way of looking at things, or one right way to be. One idea I have had recently is to think about the person I am actually interacting with, and not some generic person. Is this comfortable for both of us? Do we both feel valued and regarded when I do this? Does this show respect for their individuality and autonomy and needs as well as mine, or am I using them as an object to meet my own needs? I don’t need the approval of someone who isn’t there or with whom I have no real relationship. But I do need to be considerate. Am I being considerate? That’s the main thing, but it doesn’t mean that these other views don’t run through my mind, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about those views while they do that.
I never really thought in those terms before: that other people all see things differently, and I would know that. I would have all kinds of views of things in my head. It was like there was always one view, one correct view—frequently, some therapist’s view. And I couldn’t make everything else in my head to make sense.
Maybe that’s enough for one post. More later.