A reader brought up the idea that some issues are never dealt with because they cannot even be considered. I think that’s right. They can’t be considered because they are too upsetting for the family to manage, and it’s not just the serious stuff that shocks average people. It was too upsetting for me to be hungry, too upsetting for me to be cold, too upsetting for me to need affection, too upsetting for me to need to be rocked or held. And so later situations where these things are happening again can’t be thought about either. No coherent plan can be constructed for handling them, because this cannot be known.
I am reminded of my shitty relationship. My ex would get angry and punish me with various kinds of nastiness that weren’t necessarily obvious. What was never discussed is that this was happening. My therapist would ask me: “So how do you take care of yourself?” Or she would encourage me to set a boundary. What was never discussed was my partner’s anger. Why was she angry? How do punishment and anger relate?
I was listening for what couldn’t be known, and what couldn’t be known were my partner’s emotions and her motives, and I complied. I need to not know why this is happening and how this starts and what it means, because the reason it is happening is that I am too soft, too weak, or too dependent. That’s what all of it means, doesn’t it? I am being hurt because I don’t take responsibility for my own emotions and look for comfort from other people. Or, I am being hurt because I don’t stop them from hurting me.
We never named the feelings being expressed through lashing out or that they were being triggered by issues within my partner that I might not have access to.
As an adult later, I think that continues to be at play. What cannot be known or considered or thought about? What can’t be felt? I haven’t known clearly how to respond to situations because my own feelings that tell me this is x kind of situation cannot be felt.
I got some bad news in the morning. Country X has said that foreign teachers could be hired as lead teachers. Okay, great. I got the criteria for selection for that position and I don’t think any of us who applied to teach in Country X qualify to be lead teachers. It’s okay, in one sense, because they might send me off to the back of beyond where I would have very little access to C anyway, but I had also looked forward to certain elements of that job. At the same time, there is this fear that they have set the criteria to be what they are because they really don’t want foreign teachers in Country X at all. (There is a legitimate youth unemployment problem, but this is partly about the national education system failing to prepare young people for the positions that need to be filled as well as a lack of work ethic.) Anyway, part of me fears with the new government that was voted in last year, there just won’t be any positions available to foreign teachers.
I got through the day, but barely.
I have been thinking that what couldn’t be named or thought about, for me, was how it felt not to be able to return “home.” I remember my therapist asking me what I got out of my shitty relationship, and assuming that there was some pay-off for me. I think she assumed that I had issues of dependency and felt I could not manage alone.
What I remember knowing at the time, but being unable to say, was that it gets to these moments where I start to think I need to leave and I lose my shit. I lose it so severely that I know what is going through my mind at those moments of feeling I need to leave is utterly irrational. So what was really happening for me was that needing to leave could never be approached rationally and thought through in a way that gave me some assurance it was a considered decision.
I have very serious traumas which involve leaving important people. I was removed from my birth family, and as a small child with the worst possible impression of how human beings are likely to behave, that was terrifying. What might happen to me? I was removed from loving foster parents and sent back to what felt like near-death experiences. I had to leave the side of someone important to me who was dead or dying.
None of that could ever be discussed, at any point in my life. It didn’t feel I could talk about later, simply because no one said, “How has it felt in the past in other situations to leave people or places that were important to you?” I don’t know that foster care would have surfaced as a memory at that point, but it might have opened the door on it. No one realized, I think, that I would be listening for what cannot be felt or known or thought, and whatever anyone says to me might be taken in that vein, simply because i grew up with that.
So I got this bad news about a little hiccup in my plan to return to a place and people who are important to me, and this is really the first time I can consider that within the context of other people and places I was not allowed to return to. I feel very sad and very hopeless and very frightened, and it’s the first time I have been able to have any conscious awareness of that sadness and hopeless and fear.
I understand–you might too–my reaction to, “That’s the past.” I am hearing it as your feelings in the present cannot be felt or known or thought about. You cannot talk about it what it is like to try to get through the day with all of that fear and hopelessness and sadness in your body. You can talk about it as though this happened to some “other me” who was small and whose experiences have little bearing on what it is like now to be big, but you can’t talk about it as someone whose life is integrated and who finds herself with feelings in the present that may have some bearing on the past.