I was reading something yesterday I can’t find again. I’m sorry about this.
It mentioned that a mind alone actually has to work harder than someone surrounded by other people. Groups of people work as a system, everyone trying to keep the group’s emotions regulated to a level that suits the needs of the group. Many hands make lighter work.
So, if I am having intense and difficult emotions, that increases the regulatory burden on other people around me, as my emotions are in a sense shared out among the people around me. I’m starting to understand this without judgment, mainly because I am really starting to see for myself how difficult my emotions are to manage–so it makes more sense to me that other people would find them difficult also. They are fucking hard.
I had this simple idea once–many months ago–that people could be understood as bad abusers who hurt me and good innocents who would help me. I am not excusing abuse, and I have had some new thoughts on that too. But we are all just trying to regulate, and I am starting to grasp that my difficult emotions aren’t just difficult for me. I didn’t create them or ask for them, but that doesn’t make anything easier on anyone.
There are times when people would like for me to just stop introducing my difficult emotions into their mental worlds. People with difficulty managing their own emotions or for whom my difficult emotions prompts connections for them to their own difficult experiences are maybe the most likely to feel that way.
That increases the mental burden on me, though. If I am trying to regulate my emotions while also trying to conceal them from other people, it’s a lot of work.
If I am trying to regulate very difficult and intense emotions while also regulating feelings of loneliness or fear of attack for having emotions no one around me understands or can relate to, then it’s terribly difficult.
It’s just a lot of work.
Some of regulation has to do with kind of knowing what the prompt for it is in the real world–trigger has this very dense and negative connotation. I am using a more neutral word purposely. If you are hypervigilant and constantly responding as though things are threats that other people don’t see as threats–aren’t threats and they have no idea why you would see them as threats–then there is no connection to ease the sense of threat.
I have a student like that. He’s really reactive to every little thing. Loud noises. He’s constantly communicating a sense of being threatened–jumping around, a lot of sudden movements. I think if I respond to, “What was that?” in a calm and soothing way (“That was a helicopter. It’s okay.”) that does something different for him than if I communicate I can’t figure out why he’s so reactive (“It’s just a helicopter. Calm down.”) I know why a loud noise could be very startling to someone who is hyper-alert to threat. He doesn’t lose connection to me in revealing his startled state, and he gets help with regulation instead of added stress.
I was chatting with C this morning. It was unclear for a while who I was chatting with–she was using her sister’s account. It sounded like C. I assumed it was. Then after the chat was over, I saw her sister had posted a selfie during the chat which I hadn’t noticed.
The chat-er–whoever it was–wanted 2 shirts and a pair of shoes. When I noticed the selfie, I began to wonder who I had promised them to. They live on different sides of the country and don’t wear the same size clothes.
It seemed a quandary.
Later, I chatted with whoever was using C’s sister’s account. The conversation veered towards this idea of being seen. I suppose I veered it there. We talked about how it felt for C that I mostly listen. She chatters to her friends, and I listen. Even when I don’t understand, I still listen, and even when I have no idea what the topic is, I have an idea of the emotional content–who is happy, who is sad.
When I do this, people frequently think I am bored. C’s peers might tell C to talk to me. She’s ignoring me, and I must feel bad. But that isn’t the way I feel. I am entering into C’s world, and it’s interesting. We talked about this feeling good for C, that I sit there and listen and imagine how she is feeling, and that experience of having someone imagine your feelings feels good. You feel supported and you also feel real, that you exist and you matter.
I started to think what I have actually done for C that mattered–that was a lot of it. It’s hard to do from a distance, but maybe the memory of it helps.
She ended up telling me she feels really alone. I said when she feels that way she can send me a message or write a letter and give it to my friend to mail to me. I thought if you can imagine someone entering into your world even when that person is not there, you also imagine their regulation strategies. You start to have more ways to regulate yourself, because you have added someone else’s tools to your toolbox. That’s what eventually happens for us as we grow up, I think. Our parents’ regulatory strategies become permanently a part of us, because they have entered into our imaginations. We learn them, and our parents become a part of us.
I think I have been doing that. I have had two genuinely caring people in my life: Nata and my foster mother. A few years ago, I began to really lean on their memories to comfort myself in times of stress. What was hard about this was also confronting the loss. I am imagining them because they aren’t here anymore. I think the grieving was worth it.