I thought this brief snippet was on target. Diane Langberg speaks from a Christian perspective that I don’t always understand and I kind of have to skip over it, because it doesn’t make any real sense to me, but I think she overall has some very helpful things to say.
I feel very sad and mournful today.
I chatted for a long time with C and she came out and said things more than Ya than usual. She was quite angry during a lot of it, and sometimes said things deliberately to wound me.
It was helpful to think this is what she knows. It’s the only way she knows how to communicate anger, because that is what she learned at home about how you communicate anger. No one has taught her about I-statements or non-violent communication in any form. She knows coercion, and her anger right now is expressing to me her awareness that she feels she has been violated in some way and needs to set a boundary, and she has no idea how to understand her feelings of violation or how to effectively set a boundary.
There was one time I just stated what was happening: that was said to hurt me. It does hurt. She apologized and we moved on.
Towards the end of the chat, she very aggressively pushed me away. We were talking about her family situation, because she asked why I had adopted her and kept her in Y-town and not her siblings. So I told her the things I knew about her situation at the time and what motivated me then. She said, “I know better than you. Now leave me.”
I heard this as, “This does not feel safe and I need to get this person away from me.”
And I thought about the clip above, how much it hurts to be alone with the trauma inside you and how desperate you feel to be helped with the pain of it, and at the same time how very frightening it is to even approach the edges of that, and I also thought about Diane Langberg’s advice that work with people with complex trauma needs to be the opposite of the trauma. The trauma victim was alone, was not seen or understood as themselves and was helpless in the situation. And I acknowledged these things are painful to talk about and told her she is not bad and that I love her. She said, “I know. Now don’t chat with me.”
I said we could stop talking about things when they are too difficult, and we could change the topic or not chat at all. She did not say anything after that, and she kept reading. In my mind, she is really free not to click on the chat. Maybe I am assuming too much, but it seemed to me that she might be angry at feeling overwhelmed rather than really wanting me to leave.
I talked to her a little about strategies for self-soothing, without naming them that way. I asked if she was listening to music and encouraged her to listen to music she liked. I asked how the blankets felt and whether the house felt peaceful. I told her she was safe in her grandmother’s house and all was well.
There was this moment in my class last year with Wild Boy when I had set a boundary about throwing things in the classroom and he really was feeling the urge to do it. I could see it in his body language. He said suddenly, “I feel like you are in my head controlling me and I don’t like it.” So my opinion of throwing things was something he felt. He felt an urge to comply with my wishes, and that felt to him like having me in his head.
I think when we are abused by our parents, that person in our head whose opinion we always feel at least somewhat aware of seeks to destroy and we can try to silence the thoughts that go along with that and ignore the feelings it brings up for us, but that malignant attachment figure is there in our minds and we need to contend with it.
There needs to be a benign figure in our head, someone who seems to be watching us–the other–who instead encourages regulation, and that means seeing us, seeing how we feel and encourages us to be responsive to that. This is a person who needs to not ever feel that she has gone away. She cannot abandon us for bad behaviour, because then what that signals is it’s okay or even desirable to spiral into dysregulation.
I felt this very acutely the last few nights, having these difficult chats with C over her escapade with her boyfriend and also with her boyfriend who seems to be operating at the level of a tired 3-year-old.
My brain has to keep telling me, “Okay, this is the limit. Things got out of hand just now and it’s time to reel the upset in.” I need someone who sees the boundaries of what I can take emotionally–not so much outside, as inside–and is a cheerleader for staying grounded and calm during difficult times. And I need that person to never say, “You are worthless and hopeless. Torture yourself with distortions and out-of-control emotions, and for an added bonus, threaten yourself with abandonment by hacking away at the foundations of your relationships.”
This is the Parent Voice, right? Everyone needs one. So that was my thinking. I am just bumbling along, hoping I am not doing more harm than good
The chats were intense, because the subject matter was, and C also spoke up more than she often does–I content myself with a lot of Ohs and Yas. I realized during parts of our chats that this was very pleasurable. It was very pleasurable to hear her opinion and it felt good for it to seem like she might be interested in mine. I found myself at various points wanting to ask permission to speak. I thought at those points that there are times when I need to stop and ask if the conversation is okay with her, but I need to disentangle that with my wish to be able to speak with an assurance that she will like what I am saying. I can’t save myself from the discomfort of having to sit with uncertainty around her responses by asking for assurance she will want to hear what I have to say. That deprives her of choices. It says she is not free to respond authentically to me. She has to either like what I am saying or be silent, and that is not fair.
Fully half of my problems are with regulation and the way I have needed or wanted the world to help me with regulation because I did not have enough skills on my own. Only half is about memory. For certain, my parents’ unpredictability gave me more reasons to fear how people might react to me, but it’s also that I want other people to help me avoid the discomfort of uncertainty–for example.
Anyway, I feel mournful now, and maybe it’s just because the pleasure of that conversation is over, as difficult as it was. The thing is I am realizing being able to communicate is the real pleasure I was deprived of. That is the greatest pain for me: not being able to comprehend other people, their motives or their states–especially their motives–and being able to communicate about mine.
I don’t think when I was in a long-term relationship, I ever realized this. There is a need to be heard and understand and also to be able to hear and understand. It is not just that you have needs to have someone do something in particular. It is not necessarily that you need nurturing, for example, but you need to have someone understand you need nurturing and then have a comprehensible response to that. Silence or disorder leaves you starving. When someone meets your need, you feel they must have understood it, but they can understand you need nurturing and be busy, be anything and there are ways to communicate that your need can be seen and you can be seen.
On another note, I was hit by really severe shame after the chat tapered off and I told her to sleep well and it seemed then that she had gone to sleep. And I just wondered to myself is this because I am experiencing the loss of the connection as a response to exposing myself, or is this because I am now alone and free to reflect on having exposed myself? I suspect mainly the latter. It has been on my mind that shame or guilt is most likely to result from signs of my existence, these lingering indications that my existence could not be destroyed by my parents’ malevolence, and these feelings will get better not if I respond to them as my parents responded to my feelings, which was to silence them, but instead to try to calm them. Just dial them down.