I am still really struggling. I am trying hard to cope so that I don’t go into a freeze state over some tiny thing or slide into icky, oozy depression.
I know what set it off was the interview that was almost a week ago now. All that scrutiny, but also having something on the line that is really important to me.
The reality of my parents’ abuse has been hitting home for me–just that it hurt so much. The first layer of my childhood is so much shock, it’s hard to get through to the very deep sadness of it, the loneliness of just not being cared for. The difficulty of grappling with the stuff that is absolutely shocking and horrifying has made it hard to get through to seeing myself as simply a little child in a lot of pain.
Lately, I have noticed, beyond the things that are more like atrocity, are more garden-variety mechanisms of abuse. My parents lacked compassion. I think in many instances they knew the pain they were causing me and they didn’t give a fuck.
There are three elements of empathy: emotional empathy, which is feeling with people; cognitive empathy, so that you can understand why people feel the way they do; and compassionate concern, which is feeling motivated to help.
I think they both had trouble recognizing other people’s feelings or motivations, but they also didn’t care. Which means it doesn’t feel okay for me to care about myself. Compassion doesn’t mean making excuses, which is a common confusion people can have. It doesn’t mean having no limits or boundaries. It just means feeling concern and doing what you can to help.
Today I realized it’s okay for me to have compassion for myself. I can try to help myself: I do, but I can also believe that this is okay.
I have been thinking that our “two brains” are meant to work together. They are not meant to work at cross-purposes. You are meant to unconsciously feel emotions, search through your memory banks for prior experiences that might give guidance to the situation, while also thinking about the things you know and have been told.
They aren’t meant to be things you can’t fit together on the same page.
The hardest part of all this is really not knowing why I feel the way I do in a lot of very intense situations. Why do I feel so sad at night when it is time to sleep? Why do have the urge to harm myself when I can’t actually point to the emotion causing it?
I have been thinking maybe I can get my two brains working together a bit better, because I have a few paradigms that seem like they might fit. My parents lacked the social and emotional skills they needed to care for themselves and their families. What they knew were aggression and coercion. Those were the tools they had. Overwhelm us with emotion and hope that being completely dysregulated was aversive enough that my sister and I would be motivated to figure out how to behave all on our own.
The “consequences” they used were the ones they understood: isolation, shame, humiliation. Sometimes they had other motives, but sometimes they intentionally hurt me, because they lacked actual leadership skills in the family.
The two other mechanisms at play in the family were random attempts to feel better by demeaning other people. They let off little humiliation bombs in a kind of low-intensity warfare within the family.
What that has done for me is made me react to any indication that some little bit of me might be showing with fear or aggression or shame, maybe all three in turns. The other thing that’s related to this is that they also had aggressive responses to shame. They felt bad about something or other and launched a counter-attack. I wouldn’t necessarily know why that something or other might feel shameful to them, and I might not be expecting an attack: those moments seemed as random as attempts to enhance their status by demeaning me. When it’s so random like that, you just try to keep as many potential targets out of site. You don’t give anyone anything to hurt you with.
So keeping those things in mind, it might be possible to get through my reactions a little better without just cutting off my emotions. My slow, conscious mind can say in way, “I know what this is about. This is going to be okay. These are the things I can do to help myself through it. The situation isn’t hopeless. It’s difficult and it’s going to be difficult, but it’s okay for things to be difficult sometimes. I can survive difficulty.”