One of Fonagy’s points is that when the parent is unable to provide marked, contingent mirroring, the infant’s sense of emotions is not linked to felt, internal states. It lacks an underlying structure. The emotional map may become linked to other emotions, based on the parent’s emotions about the child. The lack of contingency creates inaccuracy. Lack of marking removes the link to internal states. Feelings are out there rather than in here.
This makes a lot of sense to me. I think it has gotten worse over time for me, as other people have misidentified my feelings. I recall a therapist remarking on my “flat affect.” It didn’t occur to her that the expression on my face may not easily display my feelings inside or that looking “flat” may not mean I felt flat. It might mean I felt scared.
A narcissist parent doesn’t brook interruptions to their views of the world. It’s wise, in situations of uncertainty, to become a blank slate which can easily be projected upon. It’s not that I am unfamiliar with feelings, but I don’t know how they link up inside.
I have been connecting felt sensations to experiences. Part of this is understanding that feelings are not reality itself. It is a perception of reality, but not reality itself. In the past, I might have been unable to contemplate my feelings, because assuming thoughts were real (psychic equivalence) made the experiences crushing. It’s not that my feelings are distorted, but they are brought down to the proper level of being feelings.
One of these connections is the sense of being unwanted. A narcissistic parent really sees the child’s needs and desires as an impediment to their agenda, because only their own mind is felt to be real or important. The child becomes like a fly buzzing. The child feels more and more needy, and the parent becomes more and more intent on their own agenda. This probably happens in any family: there are always moments when the parent is overwhelmed and just praying the child won’t have a need until some necessary task is done. In a family like mine, I think it was constant, and so it became a part of my understanding of myself, only you can’t live like that, feeling you are a fly buzzing around the important things in life. You have no choice but to maintain an incoherence.
It helps to identify these experiences. It resurfaces, and I know what it is.
The other thing is that I think one of the triggers in life for someone like me is being in the presence of someone who appears to lack object constancy. There are triggers which remind me of the circumstances of abuse and there are people. I am not of the opinion that we can label some people as “toxic” and from then on avoid them. For one, they would devolve into total collapse if everyone did that: their behaviours would become worse rather than better. More importantly, we don’t usually have a choice. They are our bosses ad coworkers or even the cashier at our favourite shop. We need to make it work.
If I want to help C or any other child with trauma, I need to be able to work together with her wildly dysfunctional family to support her and I need to do this without alienating them. I cannot come in as the expert (especially since I am not) and tell them what to do. It might seem simple to order people around, but it turns out almost no one responds well to that.
So I can expect feeling like a fly buzzing around someone else’s complete focus on themselves will happen again, and I can expect it to feel like unworthiness or lack of importance. But now I understand this as having to do with other people and my relationship to them in the moment, rather than an enduring truth about myself. The intensity of its painfulness comes from the lack of an understanding of it as part of a social exchange rather than a self.
I feel this is all very promising. I write it, and it sounds very elemental and simple, but that’s because I can’t actually describe something in myself going on inside or the fact that the linkage between thought and feeling is really important. I am writing about the thoughts and I could have written before about the feelings that go with them, and they wouldn’t have matched up with the felt states which go along with the feeling words. A blank is filled in and there is no adequate way to describe it.