I was watching this brilliant video.

Empathy, not sympathy

It made me think my life has been defined by people who lack empathy, because they cannot reach inside themselves and connect with their pain in order to understand mine. And that goes for really hellacious acts of violence in my childhood and small acts of pushing my pain away.

I really think that’s true. My mom left me to cry alone as an infant, because her mother left her alone to cry, and my mother lacked the resources to connect to those memories of being left alone.

I think more and more that for the most part child abuse begins with events that are no one’s fault which leave parents preoccupied or overworked or otherwise too overwhelmed to attend to their children. It begins with neglect that is circumstantial or biologically based. Maybe the parent is overwhelmed with a sickness in the family or war or simply a very difficult struggle for survival, and the children in that family simply don’t get the nurturing they need in order to develop self-control, empathy, and other social skills they need to have positive, supportive relationships later in life. And you end up in the next generation with parents with very painful childhood memories that are triggered by experiences in the present with their children, few skills to maintain social support for themselves, and a weakened ability to manage behaviour or strong emotions.

In my dad’s case, there was a history of schizophrenia in the family. His mother was psychotic. Her father was psychotic. Schizophrenia is a biologically-based illness. It is no one’s fault.

I wouldn’t know what to do about my parents–no idea what might help them or might have helped them when they were younger, or if there was ever any point when they might have been salvaged.

But I am starting to get why I feel C has been galvanizing for my healing: I know in order to help her, I have to be able to connect to the pain inside myself that mirrors her pain. Otherwise, I really don’t know what she is going through or how to support her. I also have to model how to relate to that pain. It’s not so much about words as it is about something in my body. I think she can feel this. I think she can feel me entering into her emotional state and then calming myself–without pushing away her emotional state.

Not that I have been perfect at it, but I am guessing that I am the only one in her life who has even tried.

My other thought is that most of the people I know are somewhat like me: a lot of pain they lack the skills to cope with. And they most often have coped by pushing that pain away. It’s one reason reaching out for support always seems to go badly. They cope with my pain the same way they cope with their own pain: by avoiding it.

Their words set boundaries around what is allowed to be seen or felt or talked about in all kinds of ways.

“You can take comfort from the fact that those events are in the past.” (My former therapist)

Setting a boundary that I cannot see the impact of those events on the present. This was said in the context of Natalya’s murder. Well, it’s not really in the past. She’s still dead.

“I am sure she’s fine.”

Setting a boundary that I cannot acknowledge or feel uncertainty and anxiety, because the fear of not knowing is assumed to be overwhelming.

I could go on, but I won’t. These boundaries are important, because sometimes they live on in my head, and I feel disallowed later from having my authentic experience of life, and it’s my authenticity that allows me to respond to myself and feel safe internally.

I think  I ought to formulate responses to these subtle attempts to distance from emotions, so that I am setting my own boundaries: you might not want to connect to anxiety for example, but I do. You may not be able to connect to the grief of permanent losses, such as a death, but I do. Pain can be survived, but lacking a full experience of life can’t.