The Girl

I was at a conference (you might call it) for 5 days, which is why I haven’t posted. All of the teachers in our area, which is equivalent to a state, I suppose, gathered at a boarding school before the students returned and needed their beds. The men stayed in the classrooms, which were (luxuriously) equipped with mattresses that must have been collected from other boarding schools…There were 302 teachers and only about 180 boarding students at the school.

We had running water in the girl’s restroom 4 days out of 5, which was wonderful, and toilet paper in the restroom in the school’s multi-purpose hall where the various panels and lectures were held. They fed us three square meals a day, and if you were first in line you got a spoon to eat them with plus tea with snacks, and there was–amazingly–even soap for washing your dishes with afterward. So we were quite well taken care of.

Our head of schools has discovered exercise in recent years. Consequently, he had some ideas for us–aerobics and then what I later discovered is called raja yoga starting at 5:10 am.

Mornings are hard for me, as I have mentioned more than a few times on here, and normally I wake up early so that I can deal with some of that before the demands of life really begin. But being in a hostel situation (joke not really intended there) with not a lot of control over when I could get to sleep, and having to wake up at a fairly early hour, I had to make a hard (rather than a soft) start to the day.

This in itself was an experience for me, but there was one piece of it I wanted to focus on here.

I am not very good at aerobics, I ended up in a position where I could not see the instructor, and I was struggling to control all kinds of emotions. Because of that, I was not very good at the steps, but I made the deal with myself just to go through the motions and I told myself that was good enough.

There was a student–student leaders from various schools came and were put to work–not far from me and she seemed to already know the steps. Maybe they had been taught beforehand or maybe she was just good at this kind of thing. At any rate, I copied her.

We did all of this for three of the five days. The other two were devoted to traveling, because two busses needed to shuttle teachers from quite a few different schools. After a day or two of watching this girl, I began to feel something for her. I don’t know if everyone in that situation would, but I did. I began to feel an interest in this girl, to wonder what kind of person she was and what her life was like. I knew nothing about her, and I did not have any contact with her the rest of the day. There were kids serving us tea and breakfast, but she wasn’t in my group.

The third day, she moved away from me and I wondered if that had anything to do with me. I thought it possible: if someone has been staring at you for two days, you might start to feel weird if you don’t realize it’s because you have been turned unwittingly into a replacement aerobics instructor and nothing creepier than that.

At the end of the three days, in the morning that we were leaving, there was a farewell ceremony–Country Xers are big on ceremony and on greetings and farewells. There were some speeches, which I didn’t understand, and we shook hands in a kind of moving half-circle, so that most people had the chance to shake hands with everyone else.

I got to the students, and I wanted to thank them for helping us, because really they had worked hard and done a lot for the teachers. I said similar things to most of them, some more at length than others. When I got to the boy next to her, I could see she was very interested in what I had to say. But then when it was her turn, her attitude somehow changed. She didn’t make eye contact and she seemed somehow a bit hard. It affected me, and I what I said to her came out more mumbly-fumbly and less sincere.

I have been thinking how, when we feel we don’t deserve something, we push it away to avoid the pain of grappling with that. I wondered if she was doing that. If she pushed it away and, in consequence actually got less, although she had not done any less well.

When C was in my house, I realized that she didn’t ask for any attention. The other two kids relentlessly demand attention: so, although I tried, they got it and she didn’t. Not because she didn’t deserve it, but because she didn’t ask for it.

I just wondered about it.

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Childhood Traumatic Grief

Childhood traumatic grief happens when the traumatic nature of a death prevents a child from successfully navigating the normal grief process. The death can be obviously traumatic or the child may have witnessed some part of the loved one’s death that was frightening to the child, but not especially noticeable to the adults.

Every memory of the person links back to the traumatic way in which they died. This resonates for me, and the child learns to avoid thinking about the person at all in order to avoid the traumatic memories. When I think of Nata, I can’t really avoid thinking about her in a pool of blood. It makes it hard to think about her at all, and the normal process of grief has been disrupted.

My parents were very ill, and one of the byproducts of this was that I needed to turn to others to meet my basic needs, but these attachment figures did not have the power–legal or otherwise–that parents normally do, and I lost them in various ways. I think this happens to children with terrible parents quite frequently.

The other half of this is that your parents aren’t functional enough to support you through these losses. Without support, children can’t grieve.

My childhood was overshadowed by unbearable losses, but I don’t think I knew that. I think it just felt that the sadness would never end. I don’t think I knew it was possible to gain the resources to cope with the traumatic nature of my losses and successfully grieve so that I did not need to be so sad anymore. For children, time is different. But I think this sense that the sadness would never end made it feel a part of my identity, rather than a process–it became a part of my sense of defectiveness.

There are three types of reminders of loss, which children may learn to avoid: trauma reminders (reminders of the death itself), loss reminders (reminders of the person), and change reminders (reminders of the changes that took place because of the loved one’s death). In many cases, these reminders are omnipresent an unavoidable. The only way to deal with them is to become less aware of emotion or to detach from the present moment.

Incidentally, I learned something new recently, which is that there is this other thing called absorption, which is a form of altered state of consciousness in which the attention is focused intently on what is in the mind. It is not just not being here, but being elsewhere. So that’s one way of dealing with unbearable reminders of trauma: mentally change the subject.

I suspect the inescapability of these reminders creates a sense of a hostile or callous world. (Other people keep doing things or expecting me to do things that make me unbearably sad, but they provide no understanding or comfort for my sadness.)

I also suspect this may be a part of the fear C seems to show towards me: my motherlike qualities reminds her of other losses. (She was with her mother as a baby and lived with her mother’s twin sister until two or three, and then her grandmother until she was six or seven. She lived with her mother from about seven to eight and then after after 11 years old.) She wants to be with me, but I make her sad. It’s hard to know what to do when someone both wants to comfort you and seems to hurt you.

It consolidates some of my more vague thoughts about what I am doing: there is the impact of my parents’ mental illness on me and there is also this need to resolve grief. I have been chipping away at the grief for a while, but I think I began to believe perhaps it wasn’t that significant or wasn’t real or didn’t need to be done. It’s still quite significant as a task. It’s still important and necessary.

Disorganized attachment and attachment strategies

I went to C’s village for 3 days. I hadn’t intended to stay for so long, but I think C wanted me to stay until the day we had agreed I would come when we first made a plan about it. I brought The Boy with me, but not The Girl. She was with her parents and they fight so much it’s unpleasant for everyone–maybe mostly me, but I think it makes C feel very unsafe. The Boy complained he was lonely most of the time.

jamkhar viewIt was hard for me to understand this. It probably ought to be easier, but I recall similar summers with my own grandmother. Lots of old people, no one around my age. You may not to get to run around with senior citizens, but there are plenty of interesting ways to interact with the people around you, even if you have little in common on the surface.

I don’t know that I always have realistic expectations of kids. I wasn’t normal, and so my perspective is sometimes skewed. It’s not always easy for me to work around the gap this creates.

Most of the time, C sat in the cowshed and watched for monkeys who sneak into the farms and eat corn. I went with her a lot of the time, and she retreated into her phone. I wondered what to make of this, whether I ought to try to alter this arrangement of being together without interacting, and never came to any clear decision, but the end result is that I had lots of time to think.

One of my trains of thought has to do with disorganized attachment and what is actually going on in adults and older children who are no longer necessarily doing things like walking backwards towards their parents.

I wrote, I think, how children with disorganized attachment as infants become children whose attachment behaviour can be classified in three ways: controlling/punitive, controlling/caretaking, and non-controlling (which is marked by several behaviours including difficulty addressing parents and preferring strangers to parents).

So I began to think maybe these develop because they work. On the one hand, I speculated that the parent becomes someone unknowable, because their malignancy cannot be comprehended. It interrupts learning social information processing, and the child remains (and the parent probably is as well) stuck in stages of prementalization: psychic equivalence, pretend mode, and non-mentalizing modes. You don’t have the tools to communicate your needs, because the parent cannot be trusted to care about your needs. You need to find ways to force your parents to take care of you by getting them to need to do what you need them to do.

This may make the baby or developing child sound like a scheming rat-bastard, but the thing is that the parent may be modeling this behaviour to the child. It’s imitation and trial-and-error, not psychopathy.

I think what is likely to happen in that cases is that the child comes to behave in ways that frighten the parent, just as the parent is frightening the child. This activates the parent’s own attachment needs, which may then meet the child’s instinctive need for proximity.

There is another piece to this: in infancy avoidant behaviour gets the attention of a disengaged parent without risking their wrath; preoccupied behaviour gets the attention of an inconsistent parent at least sometimes–often enough to do the job.

I think disorganization may be alternating between hyperactivating and de-activating strategies meant to increase anxiety in the parent, so that the parent stays close in order to meet their own attachment needs–not the baby’s. The thing is because this see-saw between extremes is learned very early on, it feels like impulses rather than plans or thoughts. You don’t necessarily know why you are doing it or even that it’s supposed to do anything. You just feel–both emotion and an accompanying urge to act. This feels awful.

My last thought is that people with more extreme strategeies, which disorganized strategies are, have difficulty learning from errors. Preoccupied people have difficulty accessing the mental structures which allow you to establish cause and effect, so they are likely to make misattributions that prevent them from seeing their role in negative outcomes. Dismissive people move past experiences too quickly or neglect to pay attention to the experience itself while they are in it so much that although they can establish cause and effect, they don’t gather enough information about the experience to do that.

Rather than self-sabotage because one wishes to lose out on life, traumatized people sometimes can’t refine their responses well enough to succeed.

 

Vera

I have a part who likes black, has some degree of fashion sense (other aspects of myself do not), is fairly adolescent or adultish and does well in situations which call for confidence and finesse (like job interviews). She seemed quite involved in the conversations I had years ago about keeping C in boarding school near me. I don’t know this part in depth, but I recognize her. I suspect she’s active when an attitude along the lines of “Let’s do this” is called for.

So yesterday C posted some angry-looking photos wearing lip-stick (which she does not normally wear) warning haters she would persist in remaining herself.

I thought, “She has a Vera.” That kind of rage is very Vera-esque, the despair (no one will like me anyway), the attempt to present an air of independence and competence (which for her is older). That’s all part of the state I recognize (why it works for me in work settings, I have no idea).

I told C it’s okay to be angry and to protect herself. I don’t know if she took this in or not.

In the evening, I asked whether I should come back to her Village. She said, rather archly, there is no need. Why do you need to come.

I said, “You are my daughter and I love you.” I said, “I think that’s a good reason.”

She told me to come the day before she was leaving and to leave in the afternoon. I was fine with that. Whatever was convenient for her family. I have no idea what their plans are for the next week whatsoever. She seemed okay with this too.

The thing is that since then she has sounded angry when I speak to her on the phone. She did not sound angry before. Of course, I am calling at inconvenient times–I am not doing this purposely. They just seemed to have no routine. I called at 10 am today and she was eating lunch.

I have been thinking about mentalization for a while and how stress can throw you back into earlier forms of mentalization or strengthen mentalizing errors created via mirroring lapses in childhood. Psychic equivalence–which is this assumption that thoughts are reality and therefore the only way to control one’s inner state is to control reality or, conversely, thoughts must be carefully controlled or they will become reality–is supposed to result from unmarked expressions.

What is meant by that is when we are listening to someone and we are responding empathetically, we mark our expression in such a way that it looks different from when we have that feeling. The purpose behind it is to show we are “getting” the other person’s feeling, but it’s not our feeling. We aren’t the one going through the difficult divorce or having health problems. So this is important with babies: it teaches the baby about themselves, to have contingent, marked mirroring–and not just someone who feels the same way as the baby.

I was thinking about this in regard to my “Unhappiness” post, when I felt that basically everyone steals my happiness. I think there is some element of truth to that. The kids, for example, do not like my attention to be on myself. They want my attention on them, but I can’t pay attention to someone else all the time. I don’t think anyone can. And they also fight for control, because control means you don’t have to wonder what someone’s motives or intentions are. If they are doing what you want them to, you can assume it’s for the reasons you want them to have.

That’s psychic equivalence for you.

But getting back to my paranoia about my happiness being trampled, I also assume some of that has to do with assigning motives to what comes down to non-sentient forces (chance, for example). It feels intrusive, therefore it was intended to intrude. Not so, actually, but the fear induced during stressful times might cause me to fall back onto assumptions of malignancy.

I look at these assumptions as fossils at times. I don’t remember interacting with my mother very much. It was all a very long time ago, and I interacted with her less and less as I got older. But I think the assumptions I have in the present may come from things that were true at one time. I may have had an anxious mother who, at some times, wanted continual reassurance of her existence via my interaction with her, because her understanding of herself was frozen at some very young age because of a malignancy that was passed down: you can avoid the inescapable terror of knowing your caretakers want to hurt you if you never think about why they do the things they do. But that may mean that you never understand yourself as existing across time. You may not be able to maintain an image of yourself that is good or decent or at least acceptable when the image of yourself that appears to be reflected in your parent’s mind of you is bad. Even though reaching out risks rejection or conflict, you may do it because the risk is worth it.

I don’t know, but it’s possible.

Alone

Everyone is gone. I am at home alone. The Boy went home yesterday. He said at first he would go for the afternoon and come home in the evening. Then later he said he would stay for three or four days. The Girl went as soon as we returned from the Village. She said she wanted to return, but her mom was going to be away today and she needed to feed the chickens and look after the cows.

It’s not that I like them gone, but I so badly need some kind of break. It’s harder because of this assumption other people have that they keep me company or help me with my work. They hide under blankets for mysterious reasons. They throw books across the room, because they don’t want to do what I tell them. They continually ask what happened when nothing remarkable has happened because they are hypervigilant and I have to struggle to think what micro-expression I might have had and why.

I am not especially worried that they are gone. The Girl’s mother was not drunk yesterday when I saw her. The last time I saw her, she was. She seemed to be functioning, unless the fact that I did not take a meal with her set her off. People here are so weird about food.

The Boy seems less in a state than he used to be. It’s possible that I am just used to it, but his anxiety about coming and going seems slightly less frantic, like maybe he won’t be so dissociated by leaving that he makes life-threateningly poor decisions.

So I’m a bit free.

Probably only another introvert would understand how good it feels to be alone.

Reflection

I am coming back to a place that feels somewhat more normal. Not entirely, but somewhat.

Yesterday, I learned something interesting. I learned some other interesting things today. One of the interesting things I came across was that children with disorganized attachment have a primary attachment style that corresponds to Bowlby’s. (Crittenden does not recognize disorganized attachment–instead arguing that disorganized attachment is the use of alternating strategies.) Disorganized behaviours may be seen only briefly, and outside of those moments the child uses organized and coherent attachment strategies. This makes sense to me, as The Girl seems frequently disorganized, but is the rest of the time anxious and preoccupied. C seems dismissive most of the time and has intrusions of great anxiety, but is only sometimes disorganized. The Boy is avoidant and only occasionally disorganized.

So I was watching a YouTube video on dismissive attachment and it mentioned that the problem with dismissive attachment is that social learning is impaired, because the dismissive person does not pay attention during stressful moments: they are trying to mentally escape them in order to cope. Later, it becomes impossible to take anything from that situation for use in other, similar stressful situations, because there isn’t enough data.

This really hit home for me. I miss out on a lot of things in life because I am avoiding reminders of pain, but it also felt explanatory in terms of repeating patterns. You cannot modify your behaviour with much subtlety if you aren’t gathering information about what works and what doesn’t in a robust way. The temptation, I suppose, is just to tackle those painful situations head-on instead of avoiding them, but this doesn’t actually lead to resolution.

The other thing I have been reflecting on is how some parents actually do express a lot of anger at their babies and young children. C’s uncle is very close to his youngest child who is around 2 or 3, I think. The child wants to be with him all the time, but hurts him. The uncle is unable to see that he also hurts the child–that he sometimes plays too rough, that instead of attempting to set boundaries around displaying aggression (“When you bite daddy, it hurts,””No hitting. Daddy doesn’t like when you hit him.”), he hides his revenge in painful play. They both feel affection and anger toward each other, and some of it comes from a lack of finesse–just not seeing that the play has become overstimulating and it’s time to be quieter and gentler. Some of it is more intentional, but stemming from this history of hurting the baby.

I don’t think I have ever seen this kind of painful interaction with a young child before. I imagined abuse to look like whaling on your kid.

These are the behaviours in a parent that have been linked to disorganization in babies.

As described by Lyons-Ruth and Jacobvitz
(2008), these behaviors include: “(a) negative-intrusive behavior
(e.g., mocking or teasing the infant); (b) role confusion (e.g.,
seeking reassurance from the infant); (c) withdrawal (e.g., silent
interaction with the infant); (d) affective communication errors
(e.g., eliciting approach from the infant, then withdrawing from
him or her); and (e) disorientation (e.g., unusual changes in intonation
when interacting with the infant).”

The other thing I read (in the same article) that was interesting to me was that disorganized children have been subdivided into three types: two of them controlling, and one of them not controlling.

Disorganized/controlling
strategies can involve one of two controlling types: (a)
punitive, where the child is hostile to the parent and seeks to
punish, challenge, or humiliate him or her; and (b) caregiving,
where the child takes on the role of the parent and engages in
soothing behaviors or takes charge of interactions, even to the
extent of subjugating his or her own desires.

The third type is not considered controlling and displays these characteristics:

manifestations of fear in the presence of
the parent, lack of consistent strategy for interacting with the
parent, confused behavior after conflict with the parent, behavior
that invades parental intimacy, difficulties in addressing the parent,
a negative self with possible self-injuring behaviors, markers for
dissociation, and preferences for strangers over attachment figures.

(Crittenden considers compulsive care-giving a dismissive strategy.)

I have other thoughts about this, but they are still not very coherent.

Unhappiness

I am not really recovered from coming back from C’s village. Transitions can be hard for me. Losses can be hard. I am not particularly surprised that I don’t feel okay, but I am surprised maybe that it’s going on for so long. I can’t seem to return to a balanced place.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how much being around other people destroys my enjoyment of life. I don’t know why this should be. It may be a misperception, but it seems to me that whenever I begin to enter into a calm place or I begin to feel some enjoyment of life, someone comes along and makes it impossible to continue to do it. This is not only children–who might be expected to push boundaries. It is also sometimes adults. My general experience of human beings is that I can expect continual conflict, and that being around people means a total loss of pleasure in life.

Yesterday, I was reading something particularly interesting and it was an online article, so Facebook was open mainly because I still have this habit of being available to C although she no longer turns to me in times of stress. So an acquaintance who runs the post office around here wanted me to tell my female friend to accept his friend request. He met her briefly, they exchanged pleasantries. I don’t think she probably much remembers him.

Well, I wasn’t going to do that. It’s up to her who she accepts and who she doesn’t, and I suspect he cheats on his wife. I said she is rarely online, which is true, and she may not have noticed his request. I suggested he may want to wait until she is less busy–she’s teaching in a reading program right now.

Then he asked how I contact her. I said by phone and messenger, but that we don’t have a lot of contact, which is also true. So he wanted her phone number. I suggested she might feel angry if I gave out her phone number. He said she shouldn’t. I said most people do feel angry if someone gives out their phone number without permission.

By this point I had completely lost my concentration on my reading and my mood as well. I had provided him with all of these opportunities to bow out of his request gracefully, but it was as if he couldn’t hear “no” until it came in this fairly direct way.

Why do people do this? The answer, I am sure, is that they don’t realize a polite refusal is nonetheless a refusal. Other people in their experience must acquiesce in order to maintain the politeness. But I find many people are like this. You set a boundary, and you have to keep setting it. Nothing changes, except you find them unpleasant to be around.

Some of this is also the kids, I know. They don’t know how to have relationships. They struggle with self-control. They haven’t matured developmentally enough to consider other people. It’s not their fault, but sometimes I feel such despair.

In the village, I went for a walk with the Girl. I couldn’t leave her out, but I sort of knew if the Girl is with me, this will be a joyless walk. She complained about how hot it was (then why did you come?). She commented in an alarmed way at some skin peeling off the ends of her fingers. Now, I don’t have any idea why this happens. It does happen, but I don’t know why or what to do about it. When it happens to me, time passes and it goes away. I just agreed with her: indeed, the skin on your fingers is peeling.

I find it hard to relate to her constant distress. I can’t really keep my attention on it. Country Xers seem capable of commenting on the heat several dozen times a day, but I can’t really maintain an interest in weather.

I know this has to do with how I cope with distress–just move on. No one can change the heat, so maybe we should o something pleasant which distracts us from it. (Of course, it’s also difficult for me to relate to, as it is considerably cooler here than Los Angeles in the summertime.)

Anyway, I wondered why the Girl didn’t realize that while she finds her anxiety fascinating, other people do not. If she wants to have people around, she needs to find some kind of common ground with them. But people don’t.