My dad

I hadn’t mentioned that later in the afternoon, I began to recognize that the heavy feeling I had was sadness.

There is a feeling I have which I had thought was sadness, and the heaviness is different from it. It turns out, after some consideration, that the other feeling is separation distress–which in normal usage we might call homesickness or loneliness. It is a sharper feeling, more in the chest. That’s my idea, anyway.

But it occurred to me that if you aren’t really experiencing your emotions in your body at times when you are conscious and aware of yourself (as opposed to in a trauma state, with your prefrontal cortex shut down) and you also have learned not to display your true feelings in your expression, you don’t really know what’s what when it comes to feelings. You know, perhaps, what feeling to call someone else’s feelings, because it is in their face, but what about your own?

You might not feel especially happy when you smile, and you might try to act tough and angry when deep down you mostly feel scared. It gets confusing.

So I started to realize that I might not have a very accurate vocabulary for talking about my feelings and communicate about them, but I have my own personal lexicon based on my own experiences.

I have started to think, based partly on this, that when I have the urge to harm myself, I probably feel guilty. I am not experiencing the emotion of this, because that doesn’t feel safe yet, but I can open the door on that by giving it a name and offering that some acceptance. It is helpful in this regard to have the attitude which I have started to have about feelings, which is to be curious about them rather than judgmental. No one is going to shame me for having the wrong feelings when my feelings are painful.

And I think it would make sense if someone with my history developed a way of recognizing feelings which involved intense events–like seeing my mother attempt suicide. If as a young child I saw my mother seem to be overcome by feelings of guilt and then hurt herself, it would make sense that I would think of this emotion in terms of what I had seen happen when someone did that.

I don’t need to be alarmed by it.

Over the last few weeks, I have continued to watch SuperNanny. Now, it’s reality TV. It’s massaged. But I have noticed that the parents who struggle the most with parenting just really have few skills. Frustration is rife and aggression has become the norm in the family, because that is pretty much all anyone has. They can’t communicate in order to get their needs met, they can’t modulate the emotions in the family so that things don’t get out of control, and what you see instead is everyone trying to get their way through various forms of coercion.

That’s been one theme on my mind: my parents really did not have the skills to be parents or even to deal with life, and there was a lot of frustration in the family, a lot of screaming until everyone else gave you what you wanted just to get you to shut up. In various ways. There were various kinds of screaming people did–not all of it literal.

I was thinking, based on the video in my earlier post about complex trauma as well as my assumption that complex trauma has been passed down, that if you believe at your very core that you are bad and if you also do not have the skills to be successful in relationships, you will end up cultivating a belief that the only way to get your needs met is to force people to meet them–no one would choose to. At the same time, you end up with a distrust of other people’s motives, since you are using people as objects to survive, they must be as well. It’s cyclical.

It gives me this insight about my dad. Here is a man unable to really understand why he feels the way he does or even identify what he is feeling–he didn’t get the childhood experiences that would allow him to make those connections. He doesn’t know why he has the urges he does. He also does not believe anyone would genuinely care about him or choose to meet his needs, because he is so inherently bad. He exploits people, because the only way to get his needs met is to snatch from people who don’t have the power to escape him.

He believes everyone is secretly like him, because he cannot grapple with his sense of defectiveness long enough to see that he might be damaged

At the same time, he is deeply and chronically afraid. His fear is so great that the only way for him to feel normal is to position himself as God, someone who makes all the rules. His assumption of the malignancy of others–based on the malignancy of his psychotic mother who did not always understand the person she was dealing with was her own son–is so great the only way to calm his fear of other is to defy the most cherished rules of society. He thumbed his nose at decency in order to thumb his nose at his mother.

Explaining is not the same thing as excusing. I want to be clear about that.

I think I get him now. I think it might take a while to sink in. But it does resonate for me that marrying a vulnerable, emotionally fragile woman and then exploiting and abusing his helpless daughters was the only way my dad knew to make himself feel safe.


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