I’m exhausted. I got, I think, a pretty good night’s sleep, woke up early (because I do during the week), and went back to sleep for an hour-long nap around nine. And I am still tired.
I know it’s because a lot of things are clicking in. Connections are being made. My brain is doing a lot of good work.
There are added stresses, for sure, but I am making connections because of them. It’s not just the stress that is making me tired.
I am getting a real sense of how it felt to me to be abused–not merely a sense of how it looks to me as adult thinking about a child being abused, but how it really felt. How lonely it was, how frightened I felt, and how confusing it is when someone who must also care for you at times intentionally and deliberately wants to cause you pain. How much despair you feel to be in the care of people who provide very little real warmth or connection and when they do provide warmth, they aren’t trustworthy enough to take it in.
I am starting to understand the shame I felt in moments of abuse was there because they did that intentionally to hurt me. That is the nature of emotional abuse. You use your power to purposefully dysregulate someone else in order to hurt them when you are angry. You can frighten them–that is one possibility–but you can also shame them.
We do these things unconsciously in order to shape the behaviour of people around us, especially children, but an abusive parent does it to the point of torture, and does it with the intention not of sparking more considerate behaviour or greater self-control, but just to hurt the child–vindictively, for misdeeds the child cannot really understand.
After I put down the phone with the parent, I really began to think. The child is not doing well in my class because she isn’t doing her homework. She has been doing well on tests and quizzes, which means she is understanding the material I teach her, I would guess. But the piece that is missing is what needs to happen at home.
The parent is angry over her own failings as a parent, and lashing out at me. It’s pretty transparent that she is shifting her feelings of shame over her child’s poor performance onto me. Or trying to. She is dysregulated, and she is trying to dysregulate me as a punishment.
When you are three and your parent lashes out at you this way, you can’t connect those dots. It might not help much if you could. You don’t think, “My parent is trying to hurt me by making me feel ashamed because they are mad over things I can’t really understand and that might also have nothing to do with me.”
You feel ashamed and angry and confused, but you don’t know why.
It’s very grounding to be able to feel those things with the dots connected, and it’s also grounding to feel them with a sense of having some kind of internal anchor of worthiness. It doesn’t come and go depending on circumstance or the person I am interacting with at that moment. I had an awareness while talking to the difficult parent that this is easier for me to cope with because I have a sense of worth that comes from C.
It has been very humbling recently to realize that we are social beings, and it’s very difficult to construct an identity independently of other human beings. Our identities are group projects everyone around us contributes to. The more important someone is to us, the more they contribute. We have a lot of say in it too. But I can’t just hide in a cave and think good thoughts about myself–even mentally. I need relationships to have a self. If I want a stable self, I need to cultivate stable relationships.
I don’t need anyone to do my work for me, but I need positive regard. What has helped–among many things, but this is one of them–is that I do have C’s positive regard. Somehow, I know it is there. She has become a stable enough object in my mind that I know I have it. I know that when there are bumps and hiccups and miscommunications in our relationship, the positive regard remains.
I got there, not by trying to force positive regard out of her, which I think is something I have done in the past in adult relationships, but by working at being a good person to have a relationship with.
I think some of the idea that we should not depend on other people to give us a sense of worthiness comes from an unstated hopelessness about every being found worthy. How can I depend on someone to give me something I think is impossible? Or, conversely, I should insist on it. I should enter situations with the assumption that I will be found worthy and then be indignant if I happen not to be treated that way.
My idea is you do the best you can and allow people to choose whether to find you worthy or not. That’s trust–to be vulnerable in that way. When they don’t find you worthy, that’s going to hurt, and you need to just cope with that. You need to be nice to yourself, understand it hurts, and move forward. It turns out the burden of always protecting yourself from pain is worse.
That’s what I think anyway.