I thought of something this morning. Had a rough morning. I was running really late. I don’t teach first period, but I don’t come just as the bell rings most of the time. For teachers, there is usually some point before then that’s expected (and sometimes written explicitly into the contract). I don’t know when that is at my school—I’m just supposed to perform all of the duties of a “regular classroom teacher.” Anyway, I figure I’m expected to get there somewhat before the bell at 8:14. But I don’t always make it.

Today I think I got there at 8:30. Worst arrival time yet. Anyway, I didn’t get to school feeling especially proud of myself. I suppose that was bumping around in the back of my mind.

I was on the train. Suddenly I had a thought that children only know the feelings inside them. They don’t have a larger picture.

Let me back up.

So, emotional intensity affects your thinking. I haven’t read studies on this, but I can see it happening in my own mind. Emotional regulation affects cognitive errors, like confirmation bias. The more intensely I feel something, the more eagerly my brain will assemble confirming details and discard disconfirming ones. If I’m in a good shame-spiral, the number of examples of my wretchedness will be many and effortlessly accessed.

The parent is, typically, more regulated, their thinking is less affected by emotion, and able to hold in mind a larger picture. They remember, for example, the naughty little child did something cute an hour ago. The naughty little child won’t remember that. It doesn’t confirm the child’s momentary bias. It will be discarded.

In addition to helping the child to regulate, the parent has his larger picture of the child in mind, and this gives the child access to the picture—because the child’s mind is connected to the parent’s. But what if your parent is equally dysregulated? Well, then there is no larger picture—for either the parent or the child. It means in moments I felt shame as a child, the feeling of being a bad child was all I knew. I didn’t have that sense of a larger picture, that I feel bad at the moment, but that’s not all I am. I think that’s part of what is so painful about going back and processing memories of abuse. In the memories, whatever I felt was all I was. I don’t have access to a parent’s mind, assuring me that this is a momentary experience and the feeling is only part of me, only an experience I am visiting.

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