I said I’ve had some ideas, but then I didn’t really write about them.

One of them is about how the parent, in a sense, trains the baby’s brain what state to aim for. Of course, there is something inherent–no one likes to be unhappy all the time, no one can stand overwhelming pain. And yet we learn what only seems dangerous and it isn’t, what must be accepted even though we don’t like it. We learn how much stimulation to seek, what level of alertness to maintain. We are born with a temperament, but our parents also modulate it.

In the staff room, I think about it this, because I suspect some of what I don’t like is an attempt to increase the degree of alertness in other people, because some teachers are accustomed to hyper-vigilance. It’s attention-seeking, but then I wonder if there’s a deeper purpose.

We talk about becoming habituated to drama, and yet I also wonder if this happens because, in fact, the trait is passed down because evolution assumes it enhanced your parent’s survival and will enhance yours.

Anyway, it’s a thought to try on for a while.

I had another thought about relationships, and about the kinds of relationships I may be accustomed to. The thing is that over the years I have ended up with maybe fewer harmful relationships, but generally I think they may be of the same type and that something fundamental in how I relate to people has not changed.

I had talked about the baby developing a sense of “badness” as a result of a parent’s trauma or depression. The parent looks at the child and appears to feel pain or fear or anger, and so the child experiences herself as a source of danger and learns to cope by avoiding self-reflection and situations in which she might begin to put herself in someone else’s position and imagine how they see her. Self-monitoring is in some ways impaired as a result. Attention is not split between the self and the other, but compartmentalized. Either I see you and what you intend and desire, or I see what I intend and desire, but a child like this grows up unable to see as clearly how her efforts to communicate her desires and intentions might be experienced by others.

A sense of the self develops in which others are assumed not to want to care for the child. If I am bad, why would someone want to care for me? The mother must be forced, and so the child develops controlling attachments: this is not always the outcome of disorganized attachment, but it often is. Controlling attachments may be punitive/controlling or caretaking/controlling. Punitive/controlling is self-explanatory, I would guess. The child maintains the parent’s attention through punitive means. In controlling/caretaking relationships, the child adopts the role of the parent and keeps the parent’s attention and maintains proximity by attending to the parent’s needs and desires.

I think what’s absent in the parent-child relationship in these cases is a sense of having someone concerned about you (as the child in the dyad). You are forcing the parent: there’s no concern. Why would they feel concern for you if you are bad, anyway?

And, indeed, if your parent is a narcissist, she probably does not feel concern. That’s what narcissists are known for. They can understand your feelings, but they don’t care.

I think a sense of starvation develops. It probably works both ways, because these patterns of relationships are learned. The parent may also worry that the child does not care about parent.

What is substituted instead are displays of power. For an instant, I can believe you care about me, if I force you to do something you don’t really want to do. Sacrifice is demanded, but it’s fleeting, because even sacrifice may not come from concern. At some level, we know this. Sacrifice may result from coercion.

I’ve been thinking about this, because I was doing some research for something I didn’t end up writing about and I read about a serial killer who claimed to “love” his victims. Well, they are dead, so obviously what he felt was not concern. But I don’t doubt he felt affection. They gave him something he wanted, and he had a feeling of fondness as a result, but he didn’t feel concern. There was a distinction between affection and a consideration of consequences.

I am reminded especially of my father, in this regard. He may have felt affection for me at times, but this didn’t mean he felt concern. But concern is the backdrop for trust.

To return to the point, though, it seems to me the outcome of a negative view of yourself is an anxiety about concern. Not just, “are you still available to me?” but “are you concerned for me?” Not merely, “will you hurt me?” but “do you care?” And care is so hard to pin down. I think I recognize it, especially in myself. There are times when I can see that I care about myself, and others when I just want my discomfort or unhappiness to stop. There is some kind of difference.

When a sense of care is gotten by forcing someone into doing things they don’t want to do and extracting compliance or sacrifice, then relationships are going to end up being over-involved (because the sense of care is so fleeting). If you grow up with this, and I suspect I did, then the “normal” sense of how a relationship should be will also be over-involved. You might call this enmeshment, but I think enmeshment doesn’t imply the kind of power dynamic I’m talking about as the root of the over-involvement, nor the sense of malignancy about relationships that it leads to.

In other words, if you have this kind of relationship in which the other person seeks to fulfill an emotional need that can’t be effectively filled in this way by demanding something that’s harmful to you, then your reaction to that person over time is likely to become distrustful. It’s self-reinforcing. It comes from such a deep, negative sense of the self that concern seems impossible and leads to a lack of concern that’s real.

If you constantly interfere with my goals, constantly interrupt me, constantly take things away from that give me pleasure, I’m not likely to feel much compassion for you. Your bids for interaction, in fact, are likely to be met with dread.

In myself, I think I seek to fill my brain up with the involvement my mother led me to expect. Someone ought to constantly demand my attention, even if I no longer trust anyone real to do that demanding. I think this is an unconscious signal to others about my expectations of relationships, and the reason I bring the same kinds of relationships into my life even I don’t actually want them.

The ideas, I can see, still require some hammering out, but it’s a starting place for now.




I had another post in mind, and I’ll get to that still, because those ideas are important for me, but there is something else on my mind today that is making me dizzy with dissociation. If it makes me that scared, it must be important.

Although the two ideas are perhaps connected, so I’ll start with the first one after all.

The primary issue for someone like me is a conditioning regarding seeing the self, which distorts what is seen when you look.

We learn how to feel about a lot of things from other people. This is part of the purpose of empathy, and it allows for very efficient transmission of information via people who may have learned things the hard way. We learn to be disgusted not always because someone tells us it’s gross, but because they wrinkle their nose in a universal expression that says, “Don’t touch that.” Our body imitates their emotional reaction, and I may continue to react that way to the same stimuli later. I have “learned” how to feel about it.

Now what happens to someone like me is my mother (probably my mother) had an emotional reaction to seeing me as a baby.

Maybe she was reminded of her own relationship with her mother or she felt inadequate, but I think probably what happened is she had a very punitive approach to getting what she wanted and she was unconsciously trying to get me to help her. So she was angry. She looked at me and felt angry and as a little baby all I saw was she’s looking at me and feels angry.

So ai learned to feel angry and frightened looking at myself. This has all kinds of implications. One of them is that this was likely passed down from my mother in the first. She felt this way too. She felt angry and frightened looking at herself.

You have to be able to to look at yourself when you face problems of any kind. I get sick and I have to think, “How sick am I? Do I have a fever? Is there a rash? Are there unusual symptoms I don’t recognize?” And so on. Self-examination is necessary to plan a response.

If it’s frightening to look at yourself, that’s difficult to do. One way of coping is to get other people to look at you by behaving dramatically, and they may be able to help you figure it out for you . That may have been my mother’s way of coping and the outcome was that attention couldn’t be on someone else. In other words, not me. That would be competition.

If I couldn’t get attention, and there is already this very early and primal sense of being threatening, then my mind–which seeks coherence–is likely to connect that. I can’t get attention, because I am somehow not good. I am not likely to connect it to my mother’s desire for attention, because I don’t know about it. That’s beyond me. But I know I feel a sense of not being good. It’s easy to connect that.

Well, now I don’t see a connection…

But I have been watching old Russian TV shows for language practice and I’ve started to really enjoy them. I really like police and detective dramas and I ran out of those, so I am now onto spy stories set during World War.

I find the shows so relatable. I feel they explain part of my upbringing, although it’s a much earlier generation.

One piece is that prisoners were sometimes given a choice to serve in the military, so you have companies of soldiers who were previously criminals. I think this practice continued, and Yuri or his friends may have seen combat. The war then would have somewhere else–Afghanistan is likely.

Vory-V-Zakone were not supposed to take this option. They did not bow to any legitimate authority. But the Suki (bitches) did.

Then there is the harshness of Soviet authority. POWs in Soviet territories were not welcomed back, but treated as traitors for surrendering. Many of them ended up in Siberian gulags. I’ve seen lots of men shoot themselves rather than be captured by Germans. It’s only TV, but there is a taste of what society hopes for or expects. I can’t see a Western audience wanting to see that or perceiving it as heroic in any sense.

It reminds me of Yuri. If I imagine those are the kinds of expectations and experiences which shaped him during his early years, he makes total sense to me. And my father would have been drawn to him–my father who was dressed as a girl until the age of five. My father would have seen Yuri and thought, “Now this us a real man.”

Fearful Attachment

There is a dog that comes to school. He belongs to VP Ma’am. Keep in mind, she has mixed feelings about pets and feels sorry for animals and feeds them, but doesn’t really like them. So it’s her dog, but don’t imagine great affection between them.

He comes to school, as  lot of dogs, and it’s probably partly about company and partly about free food, because whatever the kids don’t eat, they just dump on the ground for the dogs. Since parents here are often worried about their kids getting enough to eat (an era of starvation probably remains lodged in their subconscious), our dogs are well fed.

What strikes me about the dog is that, unlike other dogs around here that are kept as pets, he won’t allow anyone to touch him. He does not believe anything good can come of physical contact.

It brings home to me how, in human beings, dysregulated parents too unpredictable to decipher create children who have worked out what distance it is safe to be from other people to stay safe while getting enough of their needs met to survive.

I wrote in a previous post about something I read regarding abused children, especially children taken into care having intrusions during the Strange Situation Procedure in which they approach the stranger for comfort and then, en route, collapse in confusion and fear. They really are caught between two instincts: to seek proximity and to flee.

When I think back on C’s simmering anger, sometimes it was because I had crossed that line of what felt safe or, in some cases, she had crossed that line: she was braced to defend herself. I don’t know how to describe the change in my perspective. Declarative knowledge of how traumatized children experience the world alone lacks sufficient detail to be convincing. You need to know how feelings feel, what it makes faces look like, and the kinds of experiences which lead to those reactions. I had not fully grasped the reality of it.

In college, I had a much older friend enrolled alongside the rest of us emerging adults, and she was caught up in a destructive relationship with one of my classmates. Once, she described the classmate as, “Come here, Now go away.” Traumatized people can rely on exerting inappropriate or excessive forms of control, but I don’t know that giving conflicting messages about closeness was exactly a form of control. Equally likely, she was responding to her own instinctive responses to needing support, but feeling afraid during an approach.

I also think maintaining the distance that kept you safe as a child is likely to be taught to the next generation, however distance is maintained–whether you skate lightly over the surface in conversation, or strive for perfection so as not to have any vulnerability, or avoid in-person or real-time interaction. I think the child who finds the right balance between need and fear grows up to be a parent who teaches this same balance to her children, because memories of parent-child interactions surface when she is with her own child. Fear of her parent colours into fear of her child. It’s also carried into romantic relationships, because these are support-seeking/support-giving (attachment) relationships.

It may look and talk like independence, but it is not. It is fear.

In couples therapy, we once completed an exercise in which we drew our personal space in the carpet with our fingers. Mine was so small, I couldn’t stay inside it. What the therapist missed was my wish that at least my own body might be safe. It’s not that I don’t want any buffer space between me and the rest of the world, but I had never had the right to any space at all.

My partner at the time said that we would both need to leave the room for her to feel safe–not even a bedroom-sized therapy room was enough.

I realize now the default for mentalizing other people’s desires and intentions on her part was so determined by previous, abusive or exploitative experiences that she really could not contemplate what anyone might be trying to do in the present. Which, of course, makes it even more scary and confusing, because if you aren’t trying to harm or exploit her, you become an inscrutable mystery.

One of my realizations a few years ago, which sounds slight, but has massive implications for my social life, is that I am unlikely to be the only one in any group to have been traumatized. It’s not me in the midst of normal people. It’s me with a scattering of people who have psychological issues similar to mine, and I had better get it worked out what’s going on with all of us, because I can’t just excise all of them out of my life.

Even if I don’t want to be close to other people with my issues–and they are the ones most likely to understand what I am going through–I work with them. They sit in my classroom.

It helps a lot to understand why people might be acting on instincts to move forward or flee (or fight) and to be mindful when it’s happening so that I can recognize it and react in a gentler way. It should also be helpful to see when I am caught up in these conflicting instincts myself.

Indignation and lying in bed

We have a few more days of vacation, and the wheels are still turning.

drainI struggle with this sometimes. Many holidays, I start off with all these plans and then it’s like, yeah, but being productive is cutting into the time my mind wanders. I’m never sure whether it’s worth it or not, or even necessary.

I did finish cleaning the drain, although not up to my expectation, because my neighbour could not really bear to watch me work and both helped me and discouraged me from reaching a point that felt like completion to me. (Where does that damn thing go, anyway?)

I do have some interesting ideas kicking around in my head, though. I have been thinking about myself and my behaviour, the little daily struggles and spirals of bad feelings, and seeing it through the lens of intention and perception–mostly intention. Very specifically, “What am I trying to do right now?” So flipping the script away from trying to control my thoughts and impulses, and towards seeing (inner) communication and behaviour as goal-directed, whether that’s working out for me or not.

The backdrop to this is that I have also been thinking about these moments as very likely shaped by attachment styles: even when I am alone, how I relate to myself is probably not different than how I might relate to other people.

dirtOf course, attachment has to do with how you seek care from other people, but I just keep trying on the lens, not expecting it will always fit. Maybe this is an attachment moment. Maybe I am soliciting my own help in something. What is that something?

My main assumptions about attachment are that dismissive attachment involves greater involvement of the cerebral cortext. It relies on cause-and-effect reasoning, sequence, prioritizing, and planning, but it does not move the individual towards getting the support of other people.

Anxious attachment solicits support, but has no plan. It relies on signaling to others that support is needed, but does not move the individual towards other people for support. The cerebral cortex is underinvolved.

I’m reminded of traumatized children who will keep everything inside all day, not ask for help (dismissive attachment) only to get home and tantrum about the problems without being able to articulate what the problems are. If the parent doesn’t get it, they just signal harder (anxious attachment).

I have two ideas about myself that I am just observing to see how they play out. One comes from the idea I wrote about in my last post: the intrusive parent interferes with their children’s development of the skills they need in the world, so these children do not really feel confident about their abilities.

I think their are many reasons behind this: the parent may over-empathize with the child’s vulnerability and be intolerant of the child taking small risks, but it’s equally likely that when the parent sees the child’s engagement and interest in something other than the parent, the parent experiences the child’s independence as a threat to themselves.

As I consider this, I do understand it as a variation on normal. We don’t let our kids touch hot stoves or run out in front of cars. We all restrict children’s independence to what we see as being a reasonable degree of risk.

But I’m talking about an impulsive, almost random interference of the child that seems more about crushing the child’s aliveness. I think of it in these terms, because I remember my ex remarking at the beginning of a couples therapy session after a week when I had been particularly depressed that she had never been happier in our relationship.

I do suspect my childhood was something like this, and just as my partner at the time wanted me to be present without making demands or being involved in my own thing to the extent that I might become unavailable or make her jealous of my fulfillment or in any other upset her delicate balance, I think my mother also wanted me to be present, but emotionally dead.

The consequence of that kind of childhood is what it’s intended to be: a child who easily feels vulnerable and lacks confidence in their abilities, although this may be masked. If your parent is kind of a Whack-A-Mole, it’s really hard to know what you can actually do and not do.

The parent doesn’t want to (or can’t) provide comfort, but they want you close at hand, so that at least some of their attachment needs are met. So I have been thinking that it may be, as I go about my normal day, I may feel more frequently than I would expect that I may not be able to handle a challenge, and some of my negative moments may be about an activated attachment system. I have been thinking this may specifically be intrusions of anxious attachment in my otherwise dismissive day.

The thing about anxious-resistant attachment in children is that the parent is unable to de-activate the child’s attachment system very quickly. Even when comfort is offered, the child keeps on expressing distress, as though the parent could not figure out what was wrong and could not help the child and the child needs to keep the parent’s attention until she can identify what it is.

The other thing is that what is often observed at this point is punishing or rejecting behaviours from the child. Comfort is offered and the child slaps it away. The child is very expressive of anger. I have been thinking that the child is trying to de-activate the attachment system by shifting into the dominance system.

Normally, I speculate, the child shifts into the cooperative system: if you’ve ever changed the diaper of a child who doesn’t want changing, you’ll understand that fairly early on, babies are helping you. They understand you need to lift up their butts, and babies help you with that.

I suspect the child with anxious attachment sees other people as being unwilling to help: cause-and-effect are shaking in anxious attachment, and the effect of not being comforted may be confused with the cause. The anger is about expressing dominance: I’m going to intimidate you or frighten you into helping me.

I think this may show up later as indignation. “People should be helping me. Look how wounded I am?” But exaggerating my feelings of woundedness to myself is really painful for me.

So I’m just tracking this as the day goes.

At the same time, if you have a parent with anxious attachment, who does frequently express anger and hostility and is very rejecting and punitive, then what you will feel in response is submissiveness, which might be: I’ll just go lie down for a while.  Submissiveness is low-energy, despairing. It does not reach outward. It gives up. Fatigue may be an attachment strategy of last resort.

My idea is to notice this and to ferret out what the danger or discomfort is.



With my mother

I have zero contact with my mother and have not had any for decades, so when I think about how our relationship shaped, I have to rely on some degree of imagination. I don’t actually “remember” very much about her.

I do think our relationship is at the core of what happens to me in the mornings when I wake up. As an infant, I woke up, I felt separation anxiety, I cried. And then something upsetting and frightening happened between us.

What was it?

I don’t think it was exclusively acts of physical violence. Violence followed it. That’s my supposition, anyway.

And this is my idea about it.

Because my mother sometimes got it right, sometimes cared for me, and wasn’t entirely rejecting or unresponsive, as an infant I developed an anxious attachment to her. And I think what happens in situations of anxious attachment is that the working model of the self and others revolves around the idea that the caretaker does not want to care for you, but can be forced to do so. There is an underlying assumption of rejection.

The child exaggerates and intensifies signals of distress so that the parent cannot possible overlook the signal, but when comfort is offered, the child appears to reject it, because in fact the presence of the parent triggers feelings of rejection.

The closer the parent comes, the more painful her feelings of rejection are. Given that the parent seems willing to listen to the child, the child’s instinct is again to exaggerate and intensify this feeling: the child wants to communicate to the parent her pain at expecting rejection, and this desire to communicate strengthens the feeling. The child appears to reject the parent and expresses ambivalence about being comforted, because she is trying to regulate the intensity of her rejection pain by trying to get the parent to move away again, so that she is able to lessen this impulse to communicate her pain.

Due to the working model that the parent’s intention is not to offer comfort, and comfort is only being offered under duress, the child is overwhelmed by the pain of rejection. The child’s expectation of rejection is stronger than the reality of the comfort being offered. Anxious attachment emphasizes feelings, and in this mode, feelings strongly shape perceptions of reality. Even if the parent is not rejecting the child, the expectation of rejection is so intense, it will cause the child to perceive rejection even when it is not there.

At a sensory level, my intense expressions of distress overwhelmed my mother. More than that, my apparent ambivalence about accepting her comfort led her to feel incompetent as a parent. I think she saw me and saw failure, saw rejection, saw pain and so she learned to be afraid of me.

This became internalized as my view of myself. In moments when I saw myself, this is who I saw first: someone frightening, monstrous, malignant. Because that’s what my mother saw. I didn’t at that age have an ability to symbolically manipulate images of myself. If my mother saw me as frightening, then I was frightening. Monstrousness seemed to be who I was.

And I think I became frightened of self-awareness.



I’ve been working out gradually what’s going on in my brain and what the problem seems to be.

I’ll start with the quandary that arises when one begins to think something is wrong. You feel something is wrong with you, and this draws your attention to yourself, to try to figure out what it is. But because of the problem itself, the wrongness feels total and overwhelming: “something is wrong,” but “I am wrong.” And then if you had terrible parents, you begin to link this to their perceptions: my parents thought I was wrong, and they were right.”

And at this point you feel so terrible it’s no longer possible to think.

It’s very hard to begin to think there is something wrong with me and, because I care about myself, I want to understand this problem so that it might be possible to lessen the distress it’s causing me. It’s very hard to learn to direct attention to this problem with an attitude of concern.

The first reaction to the problem may in fact be anger and frustration. It may take a long time to understand–if you come from a yelly family like I did that you can’t just yell at the problem. You need strategies other than punitiveness. You can’t be a one-trick pony.

All of that said, I think I’ve gotten a handle on the problem, which I began to describe before. It has to do with imbalance in mental functioning and extreme fluctuations between a more impulsive, instinctive and feeling-oriented mode and a more cognitively-oriented, linear, sequenced mode. În the first, stimulus seems to prompt action. In the second, impulses are managed by turning away from the stimulus so that the outside world cannot jerk you around like a puppet.

The first mode tends toward goal-pursuit. It looks outward. The second mode shows restraint. In real life, you need to coordinate these two modes: rush forward, slow down, stop, reconsider, try again. If you had shitty parents, you probably lacked the social interactions which would allow you to achieve this kind of smooth integration. Disrupted interactions with your parents created difficulties in interacting with other people later. It’s the Matthew principle at work: you started with less and fell further behind because of it.

So there are these mental swings rather than gentle shifts, and this feels a certain way. It feels, to put it mildly, weird. And this has a whole set of experiences that go with it. It’s isolating to feel weird and to feel that what is going on inside you is puzzlingly different than what is going on with other people.

But that’s only one piece of it. The other piece is that because of the imbalance, self-conscious emotions feel extreme and total, as though they are your entire self. The linkages of what embarrassment or pride might be about are lost. And because of the swings in mental processes it feels like a massive intrusion, as though you’ve become another person. No longer “you” feeling embarrassed, but an entirely different and shameful creature.

It’s so intense and overwhelming that it’s more than usually aversive. No one wants to have negative feelings, but you really don’t want to feel you the negative feelings are your entire self. It becomes a powerful bargaining chip in social relationships. In normal life, we face thousands of small conflicts in getting along with other people. If someone wants their way, and you feel shame is total, then shaming you is a powerful way to come out on top.

But perhaps I’ve wandered from the point. I’ve been paying attention to this experience of embarrassment and working at making them less total. In other words, striving for balanced thinking.

Very often, the intrusion of intense negative feelings is prompted by something ordinary and everyday. It’s not a big deal. De-escalating the panic is really helpful.

Other times, the negative feelings–shame, embarrassment, guilt or whatever–comes from violating the norms of behaviours I learned were out-of-bounds at home but are necessary in normal life.

The climax of this, in a sense, is that I looked at myself in the mirror last night by chance and felt overwhelmed by what I saw–not on a good way. The shroud of shame fell over me pretty hard. But I held on just as hard to my cognitive brain.

And I could see I feel bad, because I perceive that I did something wrong. The sense of doing something wrong is affecting how I see what I am looking at, so that the wrongness is being projected onto myself.

The thing I perceive I have done wrong is to look at myself. My mother–mainly–wanted constant attention for various reasons I will go into later. Consequently, I learned that I couldn’t be seen. The perception of myself as all bad is a kind of trick of the mind. It’s not real.


In my previous post, I was describing two mental states: one more impulsive, instinctive, expressive and concerned with the self and the present moment; the other more reasoned, linear, restrained and concerned with what is known rather than simply felt. Children learn from their parents–mostly–how to keep these two systems balanced. Their parents’ integrated minds demonstrate to the child where balance is and how to stay there. Traumatised children don’t have parents who know how to do this and they also don’t have the kinds of interactions with their parents which would teach them. Their minds swing between extremes in functioning. Others live on one extreme much of the time.

The first mode corresponds to anxious attachment, the second to dismissiveness.

I think having parts stems from penduluming between these extremes. In anxious modes, instincts overwhelm what has been learned, that reaching out or being expressive is unlikely to lead to anything good. Imaging impulses as separate people is a last-ditch effort to symbolically manipulate images of the self and maintain some degree of cognitive control, or at least reduce the fear evoked by indulging an instinct likely to lead to negative consequences.

În exyremely anxious states of mind, (anxious in this sense corresponding to anxious attachment, but not to feeling of anxiety), the ability to symbolically manipulate the self is lost. I can’t imagine other courses of actions, or other ways of seeing a situations, because this involves higher cognitive processes which have been overwhelmed. Perceptions and states seem to be real and total. If I perceive that perhaps someone didn’t like something I said or did, I feel washed in sticky shame.

I anticipate that understanding how this lack of mental balance feels is going to help a lot. When I wake up, I often struggle. I am in an anxious state–poised to reach out. Reaching out and connecting is a basic human instinct. In this state, emotions seem overwhelming, things seem to be total. It’s hard to organize my thought. They seem to jump around in an unsatisfying way. There are traumas associated with waking up, but this doesn’t happen to me because I am triggered by them– not mainly. It happens to me because it’s my instinct to reach out, and my mind tilts too far in that direction.

I think it’s going to get easier to deal with these tilts, even it might take a long time to stop tilting so far.