Mentalizing

I read some things yesterday and the day before about borderline personality disorder and also about mentalizing which were very explanatory, both about what’s going on with me and what was in my mother’s mind when she interacted with me. Some of it explains C to me.

It’s still kicking around in my head.

The newer idea is that borderlines hypermentalize. They are hypervigilant about social interactions and ascribe motives and feelings to people beyond what’s really observable and most of the time these motives and feelings are very negative, so the borderline lives in a hostile world of their own making. They may even begin to ascribe motives and feelings to objects which do not have motives or feelings.

This is not meant in as critical way as it sounds. They aren’t doing this on purpose. That is just what their brains do. I think there are times when I do this, even when I do not verbalize to myself what I am responding to and do not know. I can tell you it’s not fun.

But you can see that if you start making up ulterior motives with a crying baby, it would not go well. You can also see if my mother did this, the image of the parent that would emerge in my mind would be of a very malignant caretaker, and if it happened enough, I would internalize an image of myself as being malignant, because that is what my mother saw when she saw me.

There is more to say, but it’s six am now. Time to get the kids up and make breakfast.

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I am so tired

I have complaints.

I think the loneliness of my life as well as being abroad is hitting me deeply today.

These are the things I have been holding inside.

Yesterday, I was so tired, and then I got home and finally lay down and two little girls came walking up the steps to my house, math books in hand. The Girl had about 15 minutes of “play time” which is also my only free time, and just then someone decided I ought to give their child free tutoring. I should add these are the children of educated, well-off parents who can afford to hire tutors for their daughters if they felt like it.

I helped them because one of them is about to fail my class. Also, they are nice little girls and I like them. One of their fathers is my friend and maybe this is what you do for your friends.

It’s not that I mind. It’s that I wish people had some idea of my life or that I had some idea of how to intrude on their assumptions. I wish they knew that I am tired.

I had a therapist who believed I needed to set more boundaries to improve my life. I wish there was some way to communicate that I am exhausted just by the energy I spend saying no.

I will tell you what I have inferred people imagine. They imagine that these children help me around the house. They do not imagine that they are so anxious and have so much trouble concentrating that something like folding a blanket requires my supervision to complete successfully. I don’t mean to some standard of perfection. I mean so that they don’t wander off in the middle of it. They don’t imagine that I feel tired from constantly keeping so many things in my mind at one time.

Taking care of traumatized children is exhausting. They need you constantly. They have tantrums, which you need to remain calm through.

What people imagine is that the children remain in a state of frightened compliance forever, and that if they don’t, then what I need to do is frighten them back into that state. They don’t imagine that this may not work, or that it may not result in competent adults.

This may be coming on the tail of the Chief of Police’s exhausting hospitality yesterday. I went to look for The Boy. He had said he was going to play with his friend, the Chief of Police’s son. So, when he didn’t come home, I went there to get him. Now, he wasn’t there. He had already gone. I don’t know how he took so long coming home or what circuitous route he took, but he had left. However, this was the Chief of Police, so when he told me to sit down, I did. When he told his servant to make tea for me, I drank it, and when he told me all about a project he was working on, I listened.

Now, I am starting to understand that in this culture, people feel very honoured when important people choose them to hold forth upon. When some high-ranking official comes an hour late to an event and then talks until the audience is bored beyond comprehension, everyone is very pleased about this. No one actually listens to these officials, but everyone is very pleased they came and spoke.

And the Chief of Police is a very nice man. He just had no idea I wanted to go home and make dinner, or that the children needed me to help them with their homework.

I am just so tired.

A processing problem

I am still contemplating this spiral that seems to go on in my mind. Shame, worthlessness, need and also a kind of loss of reasonableness. It’s especially intense these days, and all I can really do is wonder about it. I don’ t know how to make it go away or even why it is happening.

This morning I had a thought about it which seemed helpful. I thought one attachment strategy is to take the perspective of your caretakers or your group. During abusive moments, my mother was so enraged, she wanted to destroy me.

If I took her perspective at these times, then I would be caught in a loop of contradiction between her malignancy and my need for support: I want to destroy me, please, I need help, someone is trying to destroy me. That loop is playing out in my head, but I was too young to be able to process or understand this when it began.

Switching

The Boy called me last night from the bedroom and I came to him. When I got there, he didn’t seem to realize I had come for any kind of purpose. I hung around for a minute and then left. Sometimes, by the time you get there, the kid has solved their own problem.

He called me back and still had nothing to say when I got there. I brought it up this time. I can’t remember how. “That wasn’t me. That was J. I am not J.” So he had switched.

I asked him what J had wanted. He didn’t know. I said can you ask J what he wanted and see what he says?

J wanted permission to do something trivial–I can’t remember what that was either. It was something I had gotten angry about in the past, but not for the sake of it. It was not okay within a particular circumstance. I wish I could actually remember the details of this.

Anyway, I felt I understood why he had switched in order to ask. The contingency had gotten lost, and he didn’t know whether it would be okay under these circumstances.

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

 

Mindblindness

I was walking back to school from my home, and I chanced across someone I know vaguely. We did the usual, “Where are you going?” which is Country X for “how are you?” I told him I had forgotten my marking at home in the morning and had needed to retrieve it. Now, I had gotten permission from the vice principal to do this, but I know perfectly well we are not free to do this and it should be a rare occurrence.

We exchanged smiles and walked on. After, I had this wash of, “I want to kill myself.”

Huh.

And then I realized the words are telling me I feel embarrassed. That’s embarrassment, when you want to climb into a hole, cover yourself with dirt and die. I don’t actually think forgetting my marking at home is such a big deal, but I am starting to understand I grew up without the support children normally have to manage and make sense of their inner worlds.  This is what I came up with. Shut down the feeling, ignore the impulse, do what needs to be done, but somehow there is still this little voice inside trying to communicate what is going on inside in the vague hope of getting some understanding.

My parents were mind-blind. Not in an autistic way, but a narcissistic way. I don’t know what the difference is, but there is one. I believe–at this point in my life, at least–that they didn’t have object permanence or self-permanence. It makes it really hard to understand other people’s feelings, when your past experiences are disconnected from each other so much. In that case, you can’t use them as spring boards to understand other people or what their motives might be.

It means I got very little understanding or responsiveness from my parents. Then they weren’t effective parents. Then they had very little sense of reward from being around me. Then they did not actually like being with me.

And I got heavy doses of shame: shame being the emotion that accompanies an expectation of losing connection. Ashamed of everything, rather than simply things which we ought not to do as decent citizens in society. Because my parents couldn’t understand even the experiences which we shared.

 

States

I have an idea about what being in parts is actually about.

Crittenden’s attachment theory talks about two basic states, which lie on a continuum. She discusses them as strategies, but a mental state underlies them. In a “preoccupied” state, people use expressions of emotions to get their needs met by other people. What is lost in that state is sequence and cause-and-effect, so that people who use preoccupied strategies can be observed to retrace the same experiences in a kind of loop without seeming to achieve any resolution. They are highly expresssive and talk in a very emotional way (“his eyes were popping out,” rather than “he was very angry.”) It comes across as dramatic, but repetitive.

The other state distances the self from sources of danger in order to cope, rather than attracting attention to oneself to gain support in coping. So dangers are minimized or denied. People in this state tend to lack detail in their stories.

One example she gives is that someone who had been assaulted as a child at night by someone in a red jacket would remember this in a different way depending on their dominant style. A preoccupied person would remember the red jacket–an unimportant detail. A dismissive person may not remember the event at all, or might know it happened but not remember how frightening it was.

I have noticed these states in the people around me. Preoccupied states are very expressive of the self, but not necessarily aware of it. People in these states seem to operate under the assumption that if they emote more forcefully–but not necessarily more clearly or specifically–they will get the cooperation they want. It can come across as being very self-absorbed. It tends not to be a state in which one can maintain an awareness of other people, and it doesn’t allow for thoughtful reflection.

Dismissive states can lose focus on one’s own experiences or inner states, but are aware of others and aware of social mores.

So that’s the background. I think someone in parts uses dismissive strategies most of the time. The learning over childhood is that one’s internal experiences are bad are wrong–likely because a parent lacked empathy or mentalization skills and couldn’t understand the child’s felt states, why the child had them, or what was causing them.

Periodically, one’s dismissive strategies are overwhelmed by intense emotional responses, usually to reminders of trauma. The other state of being very expressive of the self takes over, but then cause-and-effect get lost.

What this means is that the reasons behind the emotion are lost. So in this state I may not know I feel overwhelmed by shame, because someone has, for example, criticized me. I only know I feel like I am “bad.” Because of that, it then seems that this state is only about me, not about a transitory experience happening to me.

These times when one’s dismissive strategies are overwhelmed by the nearness of danger feel both ego-dystonic, because they aren’t one’s usual self, but also as though they are intrusions of authenticity. They feel both like “not-me” and like secret “mes” which are shamefully overwrought, impulsive, and self-absorbed. Because the emotions of being in a preoccupied state are felt more intensely than the numbness of being dismissive, it can feel that these experiences of being in very negative emotional states are what you might discover to be your “true self.” Which can seem pretty dreadful.

In the end, what I have felt over my lifetime is both a sense that my self and my life are fragmented and that I may, in the end, discover I may be concealing from myself an authentic self which is fairly dreadful.

Actually, these experiences of being overwhelmed by emotion are not more real than myself in a dismissive state. Both of them are unbalanced mental states, caused by the perceived nearness of danger. They are, in a sense, illusions.

I think integration involves actually knowing how to be safe. I think it’s common for people from abusive backgrounds to learn coping strategies which actually make the people around them less safe: I see The Boy humiliating The Girl (did I mention I have two children living with me? I may have…) in situations when he feels hurt or sad or ashamed.

There are other reasons, too, which can lead to a life that is actually not safe. Difficulties in being able to mentalize make other people seem unpredictable even when they are, but not knowing how to respond effectively also leads to less predictable or stable interactions.

My thought is just that until life is safe, it’s very difficult to achieve a balanced state of mind which makes a more coherent experience of the self possible.