Permitted activities


The speaker in the video I posted reminded the listener that people with childhood trauma have difficulty regulating their emotions. They don’t know how. No one taught them.

I am also thinking no one really allowed them to explore the world and discover the strategies that help them regulate themselves. Abusive parents don’t feel safe, and they regulate their feelings of fear by being controlling and by asserting superiority over others.

I was thinking about this because when my friend is around, I generally expect that anything I might choose to do or want to do she will probably try to prevent me from doing if she is around.

If I am washing up, I can expect to be told not to wash them so carefully or to stop. I used to sweep the back porch area and driveway and was told I was using the wrong broom.

She actually came down shortly before leaving and told me all the things I shouldn’t eat.

It takes a lot of the joy out of life, because I can expect that whatever might cause me joy will be met with something that destroys that joy. So, if there is something I want to do, and she’s going to witness it, I sort of grit my teeth and wait for the obstacle course between me and the pursuit of my goal to present itself.

She’s not always like this. I think it’s worse during times of stress.

It’s a very unpleasant quality.

It’s not actually intentional. She just doesn’t see the impact it has, and to be honest, I don’t know why she has the reactions she has. It’s quite puzzling.

But it does make me think my childhood was like this. My mother just interfered with whatever I wanted to do for reasons that were not discernible to me. Maybe mostly she felt vulnerable and frightened, and control seemed like the appropriate way to deal with that.

The upshot is all those years of childhood when you normally learn all the things that might lift your mood and give you pleasure and satisfaction, you don’t have the opportunity to learn. Or what you learn instead of how they might help you find pleasure and satisfaction in your life, is that someone will appear and dump frustration and hopelessness on your head.

Not only is your body continually on high alert and you don’t really know how to calm it down and there is also no one really around to help you calm it down, but the range of activities normally at someone’s disposal for calming stress and lifting mood are not at your fingertips.

This is something I had not ever realized.

There are hardly any activities that feel safe.

The one thing my friend never interferes with is if I am doing some kind of academic or teaching related work. Her father was a professor and she is a professor, so mental work is sacrosanct.

The speaker in the video mentions that for a narcissistic parent, there will be a few things about the child that maybe enhance the parent’s status or otherwise give the parent pleasure and those things are encouraged. If it makes the parent feel good or makes her look good, then that is okay to do.

I suspect that is why mental work is sacrosanct. The narcissist in my friend’s case, I think was probably her father mostly. Her mother is somewhat self-absorbed, but her father seemed to be the one who was perpetually controlling. Her academic work was the outlet permitted to her.

I was thinking about this, and it seems to me what would have been permitted in my family were mostly things I wasn’t good at.

My mother and grandmother did lots of sewing, embroidery, that kind of thing. With age, I have gotten better at this kind of thing, and there was a while when I got some satisfaction out of making quilts. But as a child, I really did not have the patience for it. I wasn’t successful in what would have been the permitted tasks. My mother thought you should be physically active and extroverted. I was not–partly because most of what I needed to be doing was to calm down.

I think the outcome of that is that nothing really feels okay to do. The things I might enjoy are associated with shame and humiliation. I have to armour myself up against attack to do them.

What I have realized is that this is how things are. I am not going to wake up, discover my untouched inner self, and feel pure joy. That might happen in fits and starts, but what is much more likely is that I might feel a bit of joy and be washed in shame, and what I need to be prepared to do is to cope with the shame.

It helps to have a sense of purpose about this, so that it isn’t just a slog through negative feelings. I am trying to unlearn what I learned as a child. You don’t, it turns out, unlearn things by doing something you hadn’t previously been permitted to do. You do it, feel lots of really unpleasant things, and soften those things for yourself. They don’t soften all on their own.


4 thoughts on “Permitted activities

  1. Alexandra Roth July 25, 2017 / 12:35 am

    One thing that occurs to me about this is the question of whether somehow because of your upbringing, people, such as your friend, feel a permission, a liberty, to tell you things like “don’t do that,” and as you continue to grow and improve, that permission that you are unaware of giving will evaporate.

    I say this because of two experiences I have had. One is that when I was younger, there were often boundary-crossings from others that felt bad but that I didn’t know how to deal with. As I got stronger, people stopped doing it, although I never had any particular “how to defend your boundaries” moment. I think what happened was that as I knew where my boundaries were and that I had a right to defend them, people sensed it and held them.

    The second thing, and I know this shows me in a bad light, is that I have found in myself a willingness to mistreat or to take liberties with some people but not others. And it’s made me wonder why – why do I offer unrequested advice to Ellie but not to Kay? Why would I never think of asking Emerson certain personal questions, but I will ask Ellie? I think it is because there is an unspoken permission given by the other person to cross their boundaries. I don’t like myself for being this way, but I also suspect that other people are this way as well.

    • Ashana M July 25, 2017 / 1:56 am

      Oh, I don’t think that’s it, but there is this schema that pulls one towards the idea: because of my past, I am in some way broken and it’s because of my brokenness people behave badly around me. My friend is reacting to something within herself that I don’t frankly understand. C does a similar kind of fussing sometimes: Sit here, go there, go with them. She gets really distressed when I am disobedient. I think there is some kind of processing around attachment going on: this person is special to me, and that makes me feel vulnerable, so I have to control them to make sure they are safe. But people don’t like being controlled. So….I’m going to have cope with my vulnerable feelings some other way? (I hope.)

      Just staying present with someone through their difficult moments allows them to see their own behaviour better. My friend said, as she left to go upstairs to her study, “I feel like I came down here and just told you what to eat.” I said, “Yes, you mostly did.” She didn’t really say anything out of line. What was hard for me was the massive anxiety she seemed to be feeling over food. It was hard to be in that anxiety with her, and yet I also think food in her family is enormously anxiety provoking. It does make a kind of sense that she would want to connect and all of this food anxiety would come leaping out instead.

  2. This.shaking July 25, 2017 / 4:39 am

    Oh, this is good, Ash!

    ” I am trying to unlearn what I learned as a child. You don’t, it turns out, unlearn things by doing something you hadn’t previously been permitted to do. You do it, feel lots of really unpleasant things, and soften those things for yourself. They don’t soften all on their own.”

    So, twice in July, I have had a few a moments of feeling SAFE with my T. This has sent me into a terrible Tizzy. Feeling SAFE is DANGEROUS. My very young baby parts are screaming this. My whole body gets ice cold (we are in a heatwave and i don’t even have a fan on.) When I cried, as an infant, my mother would put me into the icebox. A relief when she took me out – but maybe she would give me some milk or maybe she would tie me up.

    So, can I possibly learn to feel safe feeling safe with my T???? TS

    • Ashana M July 25, 2017 / 4:51 am

      I think all you can do is keep trying to help your body calm down, which for me is mostly i breathe. Probably distraction has its place too.

      The thing you cried for was to feel safe, so it would feel dangerous to be given this thing you were punished for seeking.

      I had no idea there were other parents who thought up placing their child in the freezer.

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