I’ve been building a kind of picture in my mind of what it is like to be me, to be in my family, to be dissociated and in parts and also what it has been like to have had my particular life with the events that have been in it.
I see a lot of coming down to lack of nurture in early childhood–whatever facet you want to approach that from, however you want to say it. And it resulted in problems with regulation. One aspect of that is being unable to cope with one’s inner world and it leads to all kinds of efforts to control one’s external world so as to keep one’s inner world under control. Of course, we all do that. I’m not saying it’s a sin. Most of us do try to keep our lives under some kind of control. But I mean maybe as a parent, I severely limit my child’s expression of emotions so that I don’t get drawn into their upset. Maybe I reject my child at her times of greatest emotional need because I don’t have a handle on myself.
There’s also an element of power and control that permeates my family and families like it that comes from needing to avoid all reminders of vulnerability. So that maybe I criticize someone in order to maintain a sense of superiority, because I feel if I am vulnerable, I won’t be safe.
And maybe I use force–emotional or physical–to get my needs met so that I never need to risk vulnerability. Maybe I use other people’s fears of abandonment and loss to manipulate them by threatening to leave, maybe I harm myself, maybe I am physically violent. Maybe I intentionally overwhelm other people with my emotions so that I don’t ever have to live with the real risks of being told no by someone who can choose freely.
I see my friend doing this in small ways in moments–I see her reaching for small bits of superiority. I think it’s just learned. It’s a reflex. And what happens for me is I feel suffocated. In these moments where she is critical of me, I feel controlled. Because it is controlling. I am going to tell you who to be or I am going to imply my way of doing things is better and in that way feel powerful so that I avoid recognizing my own vulnerabilities, because experiencing vulnerability frightens me and I can’t cope with that fear.
So there is that feeling of suffocation that comes from people reaching for power because they never feel safe or supported. They feel like, if they are vulnerable, someone will just reach in for that easy sucker punch.
The thing is, that isn’t imagined. If you are playing that game of needing to reach for power so that no one can hurt you, they will.
It means a childhood full of suffocation.
I have started to recognize that feeling whenever someone reaches for control over me. I remember it from VP Ma’am and her interruption of my work, or impeding my progress towards class, or insisting I sit down when I want to stand. It’s reaching for control so that she can avoid feeling vulnerable. It surfaces at times when my friend is vulnerable: I have started to recognize this. If she needs help and feels afraid to ask for it, I can sense that. The next step will be some form of control.
When I know what’s going on, and when I am not helpless and when it is not intolerably vicious, I can deal with it better. I can step into that space of understanding what it’s like to reach for control because you are afraid someone will hurt you for being helpless–I have been afraid like that too, and I am still working hard at not doing that. And I don’t feel so hurt by it.
But in my childhood, I needed things I don’t necessarily need now, and I needed them from the people who most frequently reached for control over me.
I am also aware now that this pattern exists in the mind of anyone from that type of family–whatever you might call that type. When I display my vulnerability and I show my fear of being vulnerable to C, she knows what comes next. She knows that’s a dangerous moment, and while it might be instinct to respond to my vulnerability with a mirrored sense of letting down her guard, an attack is likely. That’s not a pattern from me, but I should know that it is there. I should know in moments of intimacy, when we feel close, we are both likely to feel fearful and we might have the instinct to fight back over an attack that hasn’t actually come. We might want to run away. We might feel like doing both at the same time. And I am the adult. I am the one with more experience and skills. I need to help both of us with those moments.