I woke up in the night. I can’t remember the reason–if there was one. C’s class teacher has been promising to send me her grade, and it makes me restless at night, waiting. He came on randomly Thursday and said he would send them Friday. He ignored me after that and last night finally said he would send them Monday.
He’s an odd man.
Anyway, when I woke up C was online. I said something to her. She said something like sorry I didn’t tell you I reached mom sorry miss you bye.
Then she blocked me.
I was sad. I also somewhat bewailed my fate, thinking why is there stress in multiple avenues of my life at once? Only I have started to accept that this happens. I am probably contributing to it. I am stressed. It makes the people around me more stressed. Then we all cope a little less well with what’s on our plates.
I talked to my friend Math’s Ma’am about it. She was reassuring, as she usually is, and said IT Ma’am would talk to C. Great. Then I chatted with IT Ma’am, who was maddeningly clueless about why I might be worried. It took a long time to get through to her, and meanwhile her response of being invalidating and minimizing my concerns pushed me into a state of near-irrationality I then had to fight against. She was mostly worried that C would get mad at her.
It’s frustrating to me. I don’t feel we ought to be insensitive oafs, but I find myself maddened at the idea that someone makes choices based on someone else’s uncomfortable feelings.
She felt as long as C didn’t get knocked up, there should be no problem.
I chatted with C’s aunt about it, and she got very angry in the middle of the chat and vindictively declared she would tell C’s mother and put an end to the relationship.
She was worried that C would get used and left. This boy isn’t that type.
It put some things into perspective though. This is what people have telling C: don’t get dumped, because that’s humiliating, and don’t get pregnant because that will shame your family. The idea that I might not like her to be in an abusive relationship with someone who squeezes the life out of her has not been on anyone’s radar. No wonder she’s so confused and can’t figure out whether to trust me or how much.
And the personality type I am warning about is probably her step-dad’s. What I am warning her about is a misery no one in the family can talk about or name or describe. It’s unspeakable.
I have all kinds of thoughts about this. One of them is that because these issues are so painful and so overwhelming and the individual has so few tools to deal with them, and because they can’t be spoken about, then you also can’t work out an effective response to them. The past is our primary way of understanding the present. If we can’t talk about the past, we can’t understand it either. And it deprives us of the opportunity to compare notes with people who have a variety of different perspectives. It becomes something you weren’t born knowing how to respond to effectively, and you never learn because you can’t draw on the wisdom of others.
As an example, yesterday I felt discarded by my friend. She was done playing saviour to me and off I needed to go. If I can’t engage with how it felt to be discarded by my dad after being sexually exploited, how do I learn how to respond to feeling discarded?
Without an ability to address the past, there is really no way to make sense of the present either. It’s not exactly that the past repeats itself, but that people tend to fall into recognizable patterns of behaviour.
What I’ve done in the past is to revert into denial: it’s too painful to approach those feelings because of the pain from my father, so I am going to decide that I am not being discarded. I am not going to think critically about it, because my brain shuts down and I can’t. I am not going to weigh the options and consider different approaches. And I can’t talk to my friends about it, because they are like me, and have the same lack of resources and similar kinds of pains that feel unspeakable and use the same methods of turning away from difficult experiences.
My 9-year emotionally abusive relationship explained in one easy step: it was unspeakable. I couldn’t speak about it. And so I could never figure out what to do. I mean, I did speak about it, and came up with nothing comprehensible.
I don’t know what to do about my friend or the feeling of being discarded, but at least I can engage with it. At least I can get as far as thinking I don’t know what this says about my friend or my friendship, but I know I need to work at being grounded. I know I need to go on behaving like a decent human being.
This is what people talk about as being in the present, I think. It doesn’t feel like the present to me exactly. Just connected to myself, and connected to my belief that people make their own decisions and I need to live with their decisions, just as I need to live with my own decisions.
Getting back to C’s blocking me: it communicated to me a deep distress. I want you so badly, but I feel so afraid to be near you. The hard part for me is how deeply this connects to my feeling of needing to be near someone who was in distress. This is what is so unspeakable to me that needs to be understood within the narrative of my life. I think this happened in several different traumatic experiences, but this impulse to run to someone because somehow I think standing there next to them might solve everything is part of a traumatic memory–or several. Until I can integrate that memory, feeling someone is in distress will be difficult for me to make sense of. I won’t be able to think through how much distress that person really is in or what might actually work. I will just go into lizard brain and feel like running.
So that’s part of my homework these days.
The other thought I have about all of this is how much forcing is going on: C’s aunt trying to force C into breaking up with boyfriend, my friend trying to force her daughter to live with her. That’s C’s world, I think. One without trust or acceptance of painful realities or really personal responsibility for one’s own emotional state.
I realized how hard it must be for C to trust me. Other people demand her surrender. I believe there need to be limits and boundaries, but not more than necessary.
I asked her cousin to drop a message to C about loving her unconditionally–because I began to think the trigger might be about marks–and reminded her of a talk we had last year, where I praised improvement I saw and said about her low marks that they were mistakes but she was not a mistake.
So C unblocked me.
But it made me think someone might say something like that to C simply to alleviate the distress of being blocked. I knew I wanted to say that, because I thought it might help C cope with the distress that naturally comes with grades–her sister, who has a much easier time of it academically, says she feels afraid of getting low marks, because of their parents, and she has never gotten the kinds of marks C gets. I knew I could say that, and C might continue to block me. It might be ungrateful of her to do that, but I am inclined to believe that’s her right to do. I am not really her parent, and Country X does not have a culture of parents who monitor their children’s online behaviour the way we do.
My final thought has to do with conscience. What is damaged in the course of child abuse is the child’s developing conscience–along with the child’s developing sense of self. It impairs the child’s ability to accept or cope with boundaries or to set boundaries with other people.
The shame shower I feel is sometimes–this person did not like what I did. Since having my parents not like what I did led to life-or-death situations, I am not in a position to easily think that perhaps I violated that person’s rights. Or perhaps they are simply being fussy and intrusive and want their own.
The emotions that are most overwhelming–shame, guilt, sadness–these are the underpinnings of remorse. Remorse leads to reconnection and repair of relationships. All of this has been distorted in the child who has been abused.
It leads to problems adapting to rules and making compromises with other people, because feelings that accompany it–suffocation when the child is being intruded upon and shame when the child has overstepped a boundary–cannot be thought about or understood.