Once I decide to write, it’s hard to write.
Everything feels worse. I am more sleepy than before, the ache in my body from having a bit of a cold feels worse, my sinuses throb. All minor inconveniences until I typed the first word. I suddenly feel desperate for a cup of coffee.
I’m back to feeling overwhelmed by shame. I’ve been thinking again how we’re all just trying to regulate. We’re all trying to stay within a bearable range of emotional intensity. That’s why we have emotions—to tell us to do things.
One of our emotional strategies is to get support for ourselves—to have other people see things from our point of view. It makes feel then that help is ready when we need it. Or maybe too, pooling our perspectives, we start to see that there really isn’t any danger.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking I have trouble with regulating my emotions because of childhood abuse. So did my parents. When you have difficulty regulating your emotions, what you do is try to control the things around you which might activate yours. Especially if the people around you have feelings you can’t really enter into within yourself. I was thinking about this on Friday—one of my students came into the classroom really speaking like a fussy baby. I don’t know if you know what I mean, but just whiny. Everything was bothering her. She’s probably 16, but she sounded like someone who needed to be picked up and rocked.
It was really difficult for me to be around. I wanted to get as far away from her as I could. It’s difficult for me to enter that emotional space of fussiness, of not really knowing what’s wrong or how to get it.
I’ve been thinking that has probably happened a lot with me. It’s hard for me to be in my emotional state. It’s hard for other people to be around it. It leads to a lot of rejection. It especially happens that the emotions we find the most troublesome are the hardest for us to tolerate in the people around us.
This is not really anything new. It’s the same thing without the judgment and without any sense that this is a moral issue. It’s just comfort. I’m not bad, but sometimes I am uncomfortable.
To change the topic a little, I’ve been thinking that children in families like this can’t build a coherent sense of other people’s inner worlds. They don’t gain a sense of another person as a consistent object nor do they gain a sense of themselves as someone who remains a consistent object in the minds of others. I think a lot of that is about emotional regulation in the family. Some degree of it is about the parent being inconsistent and confusing, but some of it is about needing to push away their own experience of the parents’ emotions, because those emotions are too intense and difficult to regulate. The parent is terrifyingly hateful—I think it might be mainly about overwhelming displays of aggression which lead to extreme feelings of submission (shame) or fear. The parent, meanwhile, is probably doing the same thing, because the child’s feelings of distress and helplessness are too overwhelming to enter into.
I’m struggling with feeling loved these days. Not struggling with feeling unloved, but feeling loved and being overwhelmed by emotions about it, because I think C loves me. I don’t even really know what I mean by that. But I have a perception and the word that comes to mind about it is love. There is too much emotional interference to pin that down.
I haven’t heard anything from her since last week. We had a chat last Sunday about what would happen if she didn’t qualify for 11th grade. This idea that there is a safety net and things don’t always have to go well for her to be cared for is important to me. We agreed that for her not qualifying feels like failure and she reiterated that she knows I don’t see it the same way. I said some other things after that about loving her at these times when she feels ashamed. I can’t really remember what I said. She read without responding and after a long time said, “Ok mom.”
I haven’t heard anything from her since. She has not been online much. No one’s phone seems to actually work—I guess the girls don’t have an outlet in their rooms the way they did last year, which is probably for the best. They send their phones off with day students to be charged overnight. But there are periods when C seems to find a way around this and is online every night.
When I did see her, I didn’t answer. When this happens, I assume she isn’t indifferent. She is afraid or ashamed. She’s reading because she is interested, but she isn’t responding because no response seems acceptable. So I sometimes just keep writing.
There is this weird thing that happens in my head when I do this. “Why can’t you have a relationship where your needs are met in return?”
Well, maybe they are. She’s reading because what I say is important to her. It’s important enough that, although she feels a lot of fear, she sticks around.
I suppose what I might feel is a sense of engagement.
I’ve been thinking about this concept of the parent at the door—at the idea of feeling separation distress when reunion or connection feels eminent and then feeling afraid when the connection is actually upon me. I’ve been thinking this sense of engagement I feel may help.
I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but the worst thing I can imagine happening, the most terrible outcome of anything, is that the person I love will cease to exist. That triggers the worst separation distress I have. If they continue to exist and have inner worlds and lives of their own that have nothing to do with me, they can come back
I don’t know.