My other thought has been about emotions being regulated and being transmitted.
So, if you’re a kid hobbling along minus an important regulatory too, which is seeking physical proximity to an attachment figure (and you probably can seek physical proximity to that person, but the payoff is just not very great, because the attachment is not very strong, because that person is not reliable), then it’s hard for you to regulate your emotions. And, if you have intense emotions because you are remembering intense material a lot of the time, then you are going to be a kind of drama vortex. Your emotions leak.
I’ve had some opportunities to witness this recently. One girl comes to my 3rd period class, she’s usually mad as hell about something within five minutes, she usually vents her rage onto her other students or onto me. At the very least, she reaches for control in order to feel safe, which means I do not have control over what is going on in the classroom and since her concern isn’t leading the students towards academic success, she very quickly moves into violating the rights of other students.
It does not take long for the whole class to get angry. If other students are equally expressive about this, the whole situation spirals very, very quickly.
Now, I wasn’t this child. I was a mouse hiding in the corner.
It’s just an example.
Emotions spread when people can’t regulate theirs, and sometimes it comes right back on you.
Now, in the case of a parent and a child, the child is depending to a large extent on the parent to help them with emotional regulation. They express, the child sees the emotions, and acts to regulate them.
What if the parent can’t regulate? Then the emotions spread to the parent, who then attacks the child, just like my students tend to attack the distressed child in my class whose anger is leaking onto them. We are social animals. Our emotions spread. The parent normally responds by seeing and imaging the child’s emotions and then acting to calm herself and her child. That’s the container. A parent with poor emotional regulation skills who also cannot form attachments and isn’t calmed by the presence of her child (like I am calmed by C, even if she’s in a bad mood or angry at me) can’t contain her child’s emotions. They just combust.
I was thinking about this more, because my friend is kind of like that. She doesn’t necessarily say very much, but she leaks. I watered some plants today. The way it’s set up, the water runs down the street. I don’t have the faintest idea why this happens. I have not found any way around this. So my friend came home from a walk, clearly alarmed, looked outside at the water (rather than asking me, who had been the only one to be home to turn on the water). I could feel her total terror about the water. She then did ask me about it. I told her the water was off. She explained her plan with the water. Okay, fine. Whatever. None of what she said actually made a lot of sense to me. Perhaps I was meant to take it as a criticism. In my mind, the whole thing was irrelevant as the water was already off. I had turned it on for a pretty brief period of time. Anyway, I couldn’t really understand the situation. She wasn’t angry at me. She was frightened. I don’t really know what she was frightened of. I was very much reminded of VP Ma’am who would follow that up by attacking me.
Imagine a parent like that, who can’t regulate, who frightens her child in situations where there is no overtly comprehensible reason to be afraid or who, when faced with her child’s fears, is unable to calm herself well enough to address the problem.
That’s one thing.
But I was also thinking that people who have difficulty with self-regulation (like me), might avoid having relationships that explode by surrounding themselves with people who don’t “catch” emotions because they lack affective empathy—like narcissists. It’s like building a wall. You aren’t seen are understood, but there isn’t as much blow-back, because unless you start demanding an emotional response, they just don’t give a fuck.
I think I did this in therapy, as well as my ex-wife. If I am with someone who sees my emotions, they feel upset about it, and I end up needing to soothe both of us. Or just shut down so as not to be annoying. Trauma is intense shit. That’s been my other realization: this stuff would upset anyone. I am not uniquely sensitive. It upsets people who have no trauma history, and my upset feels upsetting to other people. Narcissists mostly push you away unless they want something from you (always about self-interest)—as though they are thinking, “You are intruding on my plans for my day by making so much unwanted noise.” Empathic people who can self-regulate may feel overwhelmed. Empathic people with poor regulation skills explode.
I may have spent a long time filling my life with less empathic people so that my emotions were contained. Not seen, but at least not transmitted to others. Maybe not necessarily malicious or malignant people, but avoiders and deniers. People who might stay away from deep emotional connection, because they can’t keep themselves from catching fire.
I have been thinking about this in relation to C also. When I saw her in person, she went through all kinds of emotions, and I saw them. I felt what she was going through. I had concern for her, but I didn’t explode or react. I sometimes moved closer to her if she seemed to feel frightened or vulnerable. If she moved away, usually I moved away. I responded to her like I saw her, but not like she was on fire. She could have her emotions without setting off some kind of emotional bomb, and it let her see herself and her emotions and attend to them, because I saw them. I think that’s a part of the relationship. It’s an important part. I contained her.
The other element to this, I think, is that C had been responding to me for a long time, and I had not fully been aware of it. There was one day, where I did notice. One of the parts spoke up and said there’s a wire between us. She saw something going on with the students and responded to it as though she knew I had not been pleased by it. C has had many caretakers, and what I think that means is that everyone is a potential attachment figure. She is indiscriminate.
This affected me. There is this person who consistently sees my emotional state and responds to it, as though what I am feeling is real to them—and my feelings have not been real to most people. She saw me and responded to me when I did not even realize it at a conscious level—basically just because I was an authority figure.
Later, what helped me contain myself was our attachment. I knew around her I had to dig deep, stay as grounded and centered as I could, be as aware of both of our emotional states as much as possible while being as unreactive as possible. And that physical, automatic calming response helped me to do that. It helped me to contain myself. I am still working at it.
But I think I have been wondering for years, why can’t people just contain me? These are my horrors. Why can’t I just sit with someone who cares while I work through them? Well, because they can’t.