C called last night–I had called her a few times and also sent her a text. I am not usually so persistent unless there is really some matter of urgency at hand, but the Boy kept asking me to call her, which he does not usually do. Anyway, she called back and wanted Galay to call her. He told me, after their talk, that she wanted him to come to her mother’s house so they could come together from there.

Yesterday, her mother said we would meet soon, as though she really did intend to come here. The last time she came to Y-town, she did not tell me she was coming or call me or make any attempt to see me, nor did she come at midterm to see her own daughter. She did come to see me in December. I have my doubts about the whole thing.

There was some point in the past when I did not care very much. I wanted to help C, and I was okay with being kind of like broccoli–good for you, but not necessarily wanted. I don’t feel okay with it now.

So in the morning, when I woke up, at the time when I feel sad anyway, I was thinking about this. I was thinking about not seeing her and about my not knowing whether she wants to see me or not and all of the times she was angry at me when I saw her just for being there.

And I thought something like I can force people to do what makes me feel more comfortable, but there is no joy in that for me. Then I have what I want, but I feel sad about it. I thought not everyone feels that. They feel life is a contest and they want to win.

I also thought I don’t know what the reality of the situation actually is, but reflecting like this tells me about my own mind. Reflection doesn’t tell me whether C is coming, or whether she wants to come, but it tells me about my expectation that she won’t and how I feel about that and if I think about it long enough, I might also start to know why I have those expectations and that could be because of her past behaviour or the past behaviour of other people or both.

The idea of mentalizing helps me. I was thinking, as I reflected about all of this, that what I felt was a sense of being unwanted. It seems to me in the past I might have thought feeling unwanted meant I was unwanted, and so the thought was untolerable to me. I had to get rid of the thought to get rid of the experience.

Now, I think instead that at some point in my life I have felt unwanted and I will again at some point in the future. Not everyone will want me or has wanted me. This is part of life, and understanding how it feels and why it feels that way as well as what to do about it can only help me.

That said, it was pretty awful to feel. Later, I thought my young self felt unwanted quite a lot. My mother did not have much of a sense of other minds, and I may have been compelled to overwhelm her with my needs to get her to see them.

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If I hurt you, you do not bleed….

Fonagy talks about individuals reverting to developmentally earlier forms of mentalization or non-mentalization entirely under stress and he also talks about entire systems remaining in non-mentalizing states. He talks about teleological systems, in which only concrete actions can be understood. In this kind of system, individuals become coercive: aggressive means are used to force behaviours which mimic the appearance of care. (I know you care about me, if you do want I want you to do. Hystrionic behaviour can stem from this motivation: if I make you feel uncomfortable enough, then maybe I can make you things I recognize as caring.

Another system he describes is one called psychic equivalence: thoughts are seen as real, and so thoughts must be carefully controlled. Results are equated with intention. There are no accidents.

Finally, he describes pretend systems, and this one strikes a deep chord with me. Only one’s own thoughts and feelings are real. Other people have them, but they are not experienced as “real,” leading to feelings of isolation and emptiness as well as intense selfishness. Lack of sense of reality to feelings “permits interpersonal aggression,” because their emotional impact has no importance.

It also permits acts of self-harm, because psychological existence is seen as being decoupled from physical existence. (I can destroy myself, but only kill off the bad or unwanted part of myself.)

That was also my dad, who could kill animals and people, because their deaths were not felt to be real or to have importance.

They were real to me, and I felt pain and fear when I witnessed his violence towards others. It was decades before I understood this as normal. I grew up seeing only self-interest. I didn’t know I put myself in the place of corpses, because that is actually natural for people to do: not just I could be next, but I tried to understand what it was like to be them, to be dead and to be chopped up into pieces, because actually that is what people do. Imagining the experience of others is natural.

Non-mentalizing systems

Peter Fonagy writes about mentalization and personality disorders. He talks about mentalization occurring (or not occurring) within systems. In other words, whether we have a habit of considering others as thinking, feeling beings or not is sustained by others in the group we live in.

There are several points he makes which resonate very strongly with me. One of them is that, when a child is raised by a parent unable to imagine accurately their mental sates, they internalize an inaccurate, “alien” self. To function, the child who grows up with an alien self must externalize or in some other way disconnect from a self which feels painful, evil, lacking, shameful and wrong. Sometimes the externalization is maintained via projection: someone else is seen in this way.

Fonagy claims this alien self is the parent. I think it may be the way I imagined my parent imagined me. It certainly feels resonant. The times I feel really bad are washes of memory of experiences of being seen as this person, and then not knowing whether it is the truth of who I really am underneath a fragile layer of pretense and trying to be good (in whatever sense that may be). I suspect I hide for fear that this “alien” self will be discovered. When there is not enough of an anchoring within a social setting, I don’t think you know what your “true” self is. Self is a social construction. In other words, there is no coherent “true” self to squarely challenge a sense of “alien” self.

He also writes about what he calls epistemic trust: a trust in what is known and can be passed along culturally, so not trust about intent or behaviour, but trusting that someone has knowledge worth adopting. Trauma destroys epistemic trust and makes parents and other adults or authority figures unreliable purveyors of knowledge–either the knowledge is incorrect or irrelevant to oneself. He says at the same time, the need to receive knowledge is so strong in us, that without epistemic trust, we become starved for it. I can relate to this very strongly, wishing so badly that someone knew what I ought to do about my problems and yet feeling they don’t know or don’t understand well enough to tell me. I don’t usually doubt intention. I doubt knowing. And then I believe people who don’t know anything, because I want so badly for someone to know.

He also talks about pre-mentalizing states and non-mentalizing as well as the systems which sustain them. Pre-mentalizing states include pretend mode (disconnected from reality), psychic reality (thoughts are reality), and teleological (only concrete and easily understandable behaviour can be trusted to communicate intentions).

I’ll describe about about what he says about each system, but I recognize them. C lives in a teleological world. Her family understands gifts, food and money as communicating intention. In times of stress, that is what C demands: signs of care that she can understand

I think I have often been encouraged to live in a non-mentalizing world, because the inner states of others seemed to be so unfathomable and toxic.

Dinner time–more later.

Empathy and mentalization

I have started to be able to recognize affection. I can’t explain to you why I was unable to recognize it before. I think it created so much cognitive dissonance, I didn’t process it. I didn’t realize it was a distinct feeling, with its own facial expression, its own tone of voice, or that it was as evident as happiness or anger.

I am beginning to recognize it because there is one boy in my class who feels it for me and it’s very clear and obvious in his face. I also hear it in C’s dad voice when I talk to him, and sometimes in his older sister’s manner. (She lives in Y-town.)

I was writing last time about mentalization. I read some things that were interesting to me. I am trying to organize them in my mind this morning, because they are lying there in my head in disarray, like loose threads on the verge of tangling.

The first of these threads is that the ability to understand inner states–to make sense of motives and beliefs and feelings–develops over time. Under stress, we tend to lose later-learned abilities.

Our initial ability to mentalize is teleological–in other words, concrete. I know what you are thinking or feeling only from easily recognizable physical actions. If you do things that I understand will bring comfort to me, then I know that you care.

The process of learning to mentalize is disrupted in abused children, because the malignant intentions of the parent are so unfathomable, and it is stalled in neglected children because of loss of opportunity.

Under stress, we are all vulnerable to regressing to this earlier state.

To me, it explains the controlling people I have encountered, as well as C’s tendency to make demands for money or possessions which can feel exploitative to me. If only actions can communicate care, and even then only actions which you have predetermined to be caring actions, then the only way to feel cared about is to control someone’s actions very carefully. It also explains to me why when I first began to work with parts, I needed to find things which were very sensory and physical to help myself calm down. Self-talk had no impact, because I have learned people can lie. I am even capable of lying to myself.

The other strand lying loose in my mind, ready to tangle, has to do with non-mentalizing. Because borderlines hypermentalize (and I think I do too), then trying to make sense of other’s and one’s one mental states can seem impossible or even destructive. I think I ended up in therapy which discouraged mentalization. I and the therapist lived in worlds where attempts to understand motives, especially the motives of others, felt destructive. The only way to stop the spiral of trying to grapple with real or imagined malignancy was to suppress one’s natural attempt to make sense of the world.

My therapy became action-oriented, rather than reflective. “How do you take care of yourself?” stopped me from attempting to make sense of my partner’s motives and encouraged me to stay in a concrete mode, where I could at least act in ways I understood.

The end result of this, however, was to increase my sense of loneliness. Without engaging in the imaginative process of trying to understand other people or find ways to communicate my own inner states to others, the loneliness was unbearable.

In one article I read, it warned clinicians of this: that people form systems, and clinicians can become part of systems along with their clients in which mentalization is no longer engaged in and curiosity about mental states is discouraged.

Thoughts

I have been wondering about my intrusive thoughts. They are extreme and sometimes seem self-centered. I have been thinking that they represent feelings, but I have also been wondering why it is happening like this. What actually is wrong with my brain?

I wondered, tangentially, if I had a personality disorder. Am I a narcissist?

Just exactly now, I thought I use dismissive strategies to cope: so I push away the danger in some way and I rely on rules, sequences and consequences to get through life. My felt experiences are often not processed. If that is mainly what I do, then it would be natural I would have thoughts as memories of abuse rather than a felt experience of abuse. These are my flashbacks.

Whether or not there is something deeply wrong with my personality, I am re-experiencing trauma when I have these kinds of thoughts. I don’t always know what is setting them off, but something is. And when I think, “I don’t count and I don’t matter,” (which is one of them) I am remembering something I felt in moments of abuse.

I have also been thinking about how it feels both to be mindblind and how it feels to be around someone like that, how it feels to be around someone who has this processing problem and imagines your motives based mainly on how it affects them.

There are times, for example, when the children actively interfere with what I am trying to accomplish because they don’t want me to do it. Jealousy figures in. There are other times, when they interfere with my goals because they don’t know what my goal is, or they can’t imagine why I would have that goal or they lack the self-control to pursue it with. If I were my mother, I don’t think I would know that. I would feel my goal interfered with and would interpret this little child with her own goals as a threat.

I read something about

 

The toilet

Some nerves got hit this morning and last night also. I was thinking about this at school. I had quite a bad day yesterday in terms of my relationship with myself–not everything else, but I was overtaxed.

It’s my “adopted” son’s birthday today. (Don’t think of this like a legal adoption, but that’s the word people use here.) I did some shopping yesterday for him and the kids decorated the living room with ribbon. Some girls had given him paper butterflies several days ago. (He’s something of a con artist, and ends up either sweet-talking or bullying people into giving him things. I try to moderate this somewhat, but don’t entirely intrude, because I don’t know what’s going on or how he ends up with other people’s things all the time.) Anyway, we colored these as decorations.

Meanwhile, I had a chat with the shopkeeper that sold the present. (She is my friend but I don’t have time to see her these days.)

It was a bit later than usual when I got dinner finished. Shortly before it was ready, the children decided to come into the kitchen. They wanted to stop studying. (My cooking time is usually their studying time–there’s not much else I can do that can be constantly interrupted, but sometimes it works out badly, as I can’t get any actual cooking done.) I suppose they were hungry, but being traumatized, they didn’t say that. One of them stood very close to the gas stove despite being told she was about to set her shirt on fire twice. Then she had a complaint about her food. She’s quite picky, and regularly has food complaints. The other day she found her green beans undercooked at lunch time and threw them out rather than eat anything. She came home really hungry, and I suggested perhaps these two events might be connected.

The other child did something else annoying, but I can’t remember what. I told them to go back and study and 10 minutes later, when I went to check on them, I found them doing acrobatics in the room instead. I told them their study time wasn’t finished, because they had been turning somersaults instead of studying.

Then they began to read aloud whatever they were meant to read at the top of their lungs.

I hate when they act like this: they are entirely unaware that the goal is to cook dinner and they firmly believe the best thing to do when they feel unsafe is to have my attention on them, rather than for me to take any action to make them safe. I am quite sure they have no idea why they are doing this: they may not know either that they are hungry or that they are being annoying because of this.

I didn’t handle it well. They don’t read at the top of their lungs when they are actually focused on their work. I didn’t feel like having a conversation about this again. As dinner was at a point when it could be left alone to cook for a few minutes, I went out and walked around the block.

I came back quite soon. They were waiting for me outside and asked where I had gone. “I went to get away from all the shouting,” I think I said. They were sorry. Like I said, I hadn’t handled it well. I am sure I frightened them.

In the morning, there was this moment when it was time for me to go take a bath. Just then, The Boy needed to use the toilet. He went. Then the other one was bursting and needed to go after him. No time to wash my hair and try once again to get rid of the lice I have had for three months–mainly because this kind of thing happens, and suddenly my time to comb lice disappears. Children don’t choose when they suddenly need to take a dump. I couldn’t blame them for having zero lice-combing time.

But I was reminded of my ex, who always seemed to head off for the restroom just when I needed to go very badly. In her case, I think it was purposeful. Not to prevent me from going, but to make sure that she didn’t need to tolerate the urge to use the restroom for the five minutes I might be in there.

The level of aggression in abusive families is usually very high. If you want to go to the bathroom, you had better jump on it, before somebody else does. These two experiences aren’t directly related, but I think they are through the expectation of aggression. My kids worked very hard to get my attention, but fear of an aggressive rejection made them unable to articulate their actual need.

I don’t completely understand how this happens: I don’t understand how my parents remained childishly self-focused. I can see how this feeling crops up: I don’t feel considered at times. What goes on in my head is this reminder that I am not supposed to be considered.

Something happened and they couldn’t.

I had a chat with C’s dad this morning. He said he would come to Y-town soon. I said something about it would be nice to see him. He said something like he really missed me. I have trouble with this idea that I might be wanted, and I know this. I know it creates cognitive dissonance which is most easily resolved through feeling distrust. (What do you really want?) It’s not that people never have ulterior motives, but it’s not the best thing.

So he said this and I wondered why he would miss me, when I have only seen a few times. I decided he feels I see something about him–I imagine him well and he feels understood and seen, at least in some contexts and in some ways. When you feel afraid to reveal yourself, you are starved for this kind of reflection.

I thought I may actually be good at this. Despite my faults, I may be able to see people. At least some of them.

 

Appointments

So I think since the last time I posted, I had three dentist appointments and one visit to the gynecologist. So it’s made for an interesting week.

I think it has been more than 10 years since I went to the dentist. I don’t think I have seen a dentist since I became a teacher. I started teaching in 2005. Anyway, you can’t really expect good news from the dentist after that long.

She said I needed “deep cleaning,” which I have had before, because it was a similarly long time before that. I have actually seen a dentist only three times as an adult. I’m scared.

The exam was on Tuesday. I saw the gynec in the morning and the dentist in the afternoon of the same day. Christmas was Monday and the day after, I rode buses around town seeing new medical specialists.

They turned out to be surprisingly kind. Overall, I have seen six different medical types of various kinds over the last few weeks (2 dentists and 2 hygienists, a doctor, and a gynecologist), and they have all been astoundingly nice to me.

It’s something I have been wondering about, because they’ve all been chosen somewhat at random. The doctor and the dentist I chose out of a plan book more or less based on the name and what I thought to be the gender. (Somehow I got it wrong about the doctor.)

The last doctor I had was very good and very kind, but not chosen at random–I asked around for recommendations–and I kept the same doctor for years. Six different people, all very caring and very nice, and all chosen by chance. How did that come to be?

I don’t have an answer to that, but I have been relieved.

The dentist was interesting, because midway through the first session of deep cleaning, I realized I am not so afraid of the pain. I am afraid of the noise. The dental instruments are like having a mini Skil saw in your mouth. It’s terrifying for me to have that go on for an hour or more.

A few times, sitting in the chair, waiting for the dentist to do his work, I just reminded myself that my only job was to try to calm down. Other times, I have to balance some other task in the present, something that needs to get done or a conversation that needs to be managed, but at the dentist, there is nothing I need to do other than try to manage my internal state. That helped somewhat.

It helped, too, that I knew what I was afraid of. It did not make the fear go away, but it gave me an opening with it at least.

Something interesting happened in the midst of this, because I started to have flashbacks of dismemberment sitting there in the chair, and that was more than I could take, so I began to imagine myself as the dentist. Being in his head was much more pleasant than being in my head.

Over the year, something I have realized is that there is something in the present frightening me at these times, and trying to ground myself in the present makes things worse for me. It does not matter that nothing bad is actually going to happen because of what I am frightened of. My mammal brain is simply responding to a stimulus in the way that it has learned to respond, and it’s likely to keep doing that.

So I looked at the dentist and I thought he is looking at my teeth. He is concentrating on what he is seeing there, and he is calmly trying to get it off. I know what calm, concentration feels like and it’s quite a pleasant feeling, so I just borrowed his.

This has something to do with life as a human. We feel things within ourselves as ourselves and we also imagine other people’s experiences and we feel those within ourselves too.

Child abuse interfered with this, because when I entered into my parents’ experiences, it was too terrible. Their inner states were too painful, and their views of me too awful. There is this practice of taking a perspective you are supposed to have, which is what makes other people comprehensible, and I think I stopped doing it or I stopped doing some part of it and a piece of my development as a person did not proceed normally. It was interfered with, and I think this made everyone seem unpredictable and difficult to understand or communicate, and not just my parents who were impulsive enough to feel unpredictable in the best of cases.

Just a thought to chew on for a while.