Why do I feel so bad?

It’s a general question, not the result of an especially bad day. I can manage most of the time, although not always well. I find, despite being an intelligent, fairly focused, reasonably hard-working person, I often struggle to carry out even basic tasks. I seem to be busy all the time, but it’s hard to find time to exercise. Dishes pile up sometimes. Abruptly, I realize I am behind at work. It’s not that I think life ought to carry on with constant smoothness, but other people do what I do and also run marathons. Or write books. (And suddenly it clicks in: they hire people to clean up after them…ah, the simplicity of life with with a cleaning service…)

So let’s leave that and deal with the emotions. I am tired a lot of the time. And even when I am not tired, I am sad. It would be nice if I could just shut out the emotional turmoil inside, but I have realized that’s not the way. It is why I am tired, and maybe why I am sad. Better to be curious and learn to modulate emotions so that I have them and also think about having them at the same time.

I got up from where I was sitting just as I thought this and went into the kitchen to make dinner, aware that I did not feel ok, and I just observed myself doing this. I felt bad.

It crossed my mind suddenly that the cooking strategy I had in mind was to put more water in the “curry” (It’s not curry, but that’s what we call it here), turn on the electric wok, and go lie down again while things got hot. Clever. But the thought I realized I had without knowing it is I’m lazy. It’s a lazy way to get through life.

All these years, I have silenced this grumpy, angry, critical voice, but I don’t need words to know what I think. It just becomes harder to examine. But the assault on my self-image remains the same.

I thought this and pondered the anger for a while. I have a fairly good idea what it stems from. So if you think an event is caused by internal factors, then you feel secondary (or self-conscious emotions): pride, guilt, shame or hubris. If you perceive they are caused by external emotions, you feel primary (or basic) emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happimrss, or surprise.

Dissociating parts of myself means failures are perceived as bring caused by other “mes”. External cause. Therefore, anger. It’s not a huge mystery. And yet it is. What’s the bad thing I feel angry about? Why, in the privacy of my own home, is there always a bad thing to be angry about?

I pondered that too. I thought about the instinct of anger to hurt and it’s relationship to revenge. I thought about the little girl in my class who is so fixated of revenge, she needs two years to learn the material of one year. Hitting people is more important than passing in primary school.

I thought it’s about an instinct to harm wedded to confusion. I have been, I consider further, wounded, but I don’t know why or how, so maybe if I just act angry, someone will figure it out for me.

I have plenty to be angry about, but this seems like my mother’s strategy: every blow a plea to be understood.

I think I have learned it. I think I go on listening to her anger, which was a confused anger, detached by famiky dysfunction and a failure to stay regulated enough to engage in the kind of linear thinking you need to be able to do in order to assess cause and effect.

The constant question: why am I so wounded? How and why have I been hurt translated into purposeless refusals and relentless complaint s.

I sill do it. A time-saving strategy is laziness…everything I do can be played that way: if you look for fault, you can find it.

Why do I feel so bad?

It’s a general question, not the result of an especially bad day. I can manage most of the time, although not always well. I find, despite being an intelligent, fairly focused, reasonably hard-working person, I often struggle to carry out even basic tasks. I seem to be busy all the time, but it’s hard to find time to exercise. Dishes pile up sometimes. Abruptly, I realize I am behind at work. It’s not that I think life ought to carry on with constant smoothness, but other people do what I do and also run marathons. Or write books. (And suddenly it clicks in: they hire people to clean up after them…ah, the simplicity of life with with a cleaning service…)

So let’s leave that and deal with the emotions. I am tired a lot of the time. And even when I am not tired, I am sad. It would be nice if I could just shut out the emotional turmoil inside, but I have realized that’s not the way. It is why I am tired, and maybe why I am sad. Better to be curious and learn to modulate emotions so that I have them and also think about having them at the same time.

I got up from where I was sitting just as I thought this and went into the kitchen to make dinner, aware that I did not feel ok, and I just observed myself doing this. I felt bad.

It crossed my mind suddenly that the cooking strategy I had in mind was to put more water in the “curry” (It’s not curry, but that’s what we call it here), turn on the electric wok, and go lie down again while things got hot. Clever. But the thought I realized I had without knowing it is I’m lazy. It’s a lazy way to get through life.

All these years, I have silenced this grumpy, angry, critical voice, but I don’t need words to know what I think. It just becomes harder to examine. But the assault on my self-image remains the same.

I thought this and pondered the anger for a while. I have a fairly good idea what it stems from. So if you think an event is caused by internal factors, then you feel secondary (or self-conscious emotions): pride, guilt, shame or hubris. If you perceive they are caused by external emotions, you feel primary (or basic) emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happimrss, or surprise.

Dissociating parts of myself means failures are perceived as bring caused by other “mes”. External cause. Therefore, anger. It’s not a huge mystery. And yet it is. What’s the bad thing I feel angry about? Why, in the privacy of my own home, is there always a bad thing to be angry about?

I pondered that too. I thought about the instinct of anger to hurt and it’s relationship to revenge. I thought about the little girl in my class who is so fixated of revenge, she needs two years to learn the material of one year. Hitting people is more important than passing in primary school.

I thought it’s about an instinct to harm wedded to confusion. I have been, I consider further, wounded, but I don’t know why or how, so maybe if I just act angry, someone will figure it out for me.

I have plenty to be angry about, but this seems like my mother’s strategy: every blow a plea to be understood.

I think I have learned it. I think I go on listening to her anger, which was a confused anger, detached by famiky dysfunction and a failure to stay regulated enough to engage in the kind of linear thinking you need to be able to do in order to assess cause and effect.

The constant question: why am I so wounded? How and why have I been hurt translated into purposeless refusals and relentless complaint s.

I sill do it. A time-saving strategy is laziness…everything I do can be played that way: if you look for fault, you can find it.

Shame

I am filling in for a third grade teacher one hour a day. Someone else does the rest of math time. There is a student in the class whom I know. I think I know her mother, but maybe I am mixed up. She tries to do everything perfectly, so she’s really slow to finish her work.

She really, really likes me and tries extremely hard to please me. Today she blurted out, I’m finished.” And her whole face was lit up. I said, “You’re very happy.” And she said yes. I said, “We feel very happy when we finish our work.”

Later, she said her eyes were watering.

Now this happens to me quite a lot. Not just with kids, but with my Friend. And with Friend’s friend. People seem to just get tears streaming down their cheeks without knowing why. They don’t seem to be aware of any accompanying emotion.

I wonder if it’s connected to something I noticed in the morning. I have had a bad cold the last week or so and since then I seem to have become depressed, irritable and hopeless. I wake up and struggle with the usual difficulties I face in the morning, but now combined with a general hopelessness about the day ahead of me.

This morning I noticed the emotion is actually shame. There is a burning quality you it that is definitely shame, and it’s a shame about my whole being. It’s not connected to anything. I feel ashamed of my very being.

It makes a certain amount of sense to me: it’s morning and here I am presenting myself to wakefulness and I am imagining myself.

It’s not a good image of myself.

When your parents abuse you, they aren’t just pretending to blame you. They believe that shit. They aren’t just pretending to believe it’s ok to exploit you or disregard you. They believe it. They may know better, but this is somehow an exception. They have it worked out.

For very young children, this is so corrosive because they cannot hold two different images of the same thing in their minds at the same time. Their working memory is not adequately developed to hold that much information all at once. So they cannot understand that mommy thinks I am worthless, but other people don’t. The parent’s image of the child is the child, and it’s so horrifying to be such a monstrosity, you want to run away from yourself. Child abuse feels like shame.

I think people from abusive households shield themselves from seeing their images from other people’s viewpoints by staying in oceanic modes of unreflective “doing” when possible. You want to be seen, but it might be bad.

I wake up, and it’s bad.

Child abuse doesn’t feel the way an adult mind thinks it ought to. It feels like shame.

Today’s Question

I have been wondering about feelings today–specifically why different emotions seem to be people to me, or at the very least different selves. I know it could be that my development was simply delayed, and young children experience emotional states as so overwhelming that these seem to be their entire selves. And yet it seems to me that I can manage my emotions fairly well once I know what they are. It’s sorting them out that’s so difficult.

I have been wondering if there are other possibilities that might have equal explanatory value.

I considered an idea I read when thinking about the role of the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex in self-processing, which has to do with our past (and future) selves having less emotional resonance than our present self: we treat our past self much like we do someone else.

Tangentially, I wonder if people are overwhelmed by past memories, because they have lost the balanced mode of thinking which allows for both sensory information and an awareness of sequencing and causality to occur, and so there is no distinction between the past and present self. I also wonder if this is the reason for dissociative parts to develop: we aren’t so emotional about the experiences of others as we are about ourselves.

I had this other idea in the morning about the lack of empathy I experienced growing up: I was at the sink, and I wondered if I didn’t understand as a child that I wasn’t the only one who experienced fear or cold. The adults around me didn’t seem to know that being nearly drowned was frightening or that the cold in the freezer was unbearably painful even when it wasn’t deadly, and maybe that’s because they didn’t have those feelings. Their lack of empathy may have led me to believe that they didn’t have the same feelings I did, and that there was therefore something wrong or aberrant about mine.

This doesn’t directly connect to the idea I had about emotions seeming to be different people, but it feels related to me.

I wondered today also whether it was so difficult to grasp my parents’ malignancy that I separated how I felt from what they were doing. I seemed to be worthless, rather than intentionally discouraged or belittled. At best, it seemed to me they were placing this worthless person inside me. I suppose I may have had no way to understand that abuse makes you feel bad. This is why it’s considered abuse. Not that other people must be expected to tiptoe around our delicate feelings all the time, but abuse isn’t wrong just because it breaks certain rules. The rules are there to protect individuals.

It crosses my mind that perhaps this was the reason why couples therapy was a disaster for me: I had no vocabulary for talking about the impact of emotional abuse on me.

I’m not sure this is a very clear post, but this is hitting me rather hard. I may never have entirely taken in that my parents understood they were hurting me, and they hurt me because doing things that hurt me made them feel better–not always in a sadistic way, but in the sense of collateral damage. Making me feel powerless (for example) made them feel powerful. Human beings live according to comparisons, and a disregarded child may be a byproduct of a pampered adult.

Self-processing

I am again in Y-town, after having travelled over the course of 3 days from Son’s village in Far North Territory. It is not actually that far–just complicated. I first caught a lift with a retired teacher to the area’s capital. He is one of two men in his village with a car. This wasn’t free: he has somewhat grudgingly become the informal taxi driver for the village and another family has a member in the hospital whom they needed to visit. So they had already agreed to pay him. Actually, since 3 groups of people were crammed together (some in the cab, some in the back of the vehicle–it was something like a Jeep), it did not make sense to me for only one group to pay. But he said he would discuss it with Son’s parents and they would decide. Of course, this left his parents with the bill, but there was not much I could do.

Between Son’s village and Far North Capital is about a two-hour drive, mainly because it’s a dirt road and you end up bouncing around at 10 miles an hour. It was already around 11 when we left, because the man had been drunk the night before and slept in with a hang over. In the car, he still smelled like a brewery. We got there a little after lunch.

In Far North Capital, we stayed with Son’s cousin’s friend overnight, because we wanted to catch a bus to Big Eastern Town which left at 6:30 or so in the morning. From Big Eastern Town, we caught a ride from Son’s cousins to their village, which is about an hour down another dirt road.

Again, we stayed the night, because there is another bus going from Big Town to a town closer to Y-town, and I could fairly inexpensively take a shared taxi from there the rest of the way. However, this idea didn’t work, because the family there wasn’t inclined to drive out to Big Eastern Town at 6 am for me to catch it. We were discussing this in the morning, and decided that it would be the same expense for me just to take a taxi from Big Eastern Town to the closer town than it would be for me to stay the night in a hotel: Although Son has cousins there, he didn’t feel he could ask them to put me up for the night.

He apologized for this, but I get it: the cousins in Big Eastern Town are the wealthier branch of the family and it places Son in the awkward position of feeling like the poor relation (although he is), and they also have their own lives and obligations to attend to.

So yesterday, his cousins in Big Eastern Town village dropped me in town, and I took a taxi to the closer town: actually to a bridge outside it, and from there I intended to flag down someone passing by–either someone I knew, or a shared taxi already headed to Y-town, which is at the easternmost edge of the country. Instead, I happened across one of the teacher’s husbands who was heading into town to pick her up and bring her back. So I went with them.

And now I am here. Son has gone back to Far North Territory capital to meet a friend who will travel with him to the South: there is a way to travel there by bus via a road through the neighbouring country which is faster and easier than taking the bus through the middle of Country X. He has an aunt there, and after a few days, he will go back to the central part of the country to return to school.

The teachers go back to school tomorrow, and today is probably dedicated to laundry and a return to normal life.

I was writing all of this out and realizing this is the first time in four years here that I have actually seen so much of the country: Son’s village is in the north, and I visited C’s parents in the South. I needed to make the trip to the Capital to get my visa renewed, and that is in the center of the country (although culturally it is considered the west). I don’t like travelling, and I think this is probably because it constantly triggers trauma-based memories of removal and foster care placement. Other people are excited by new people of places, but I have to cope with old, unresolved trauma every time I go somewhere while still trying to behave like a normal person, so it feels like something of an achievement for me that I actually saw some of the country I live in.

But I had another idea after all of this, because I have still been mulling over the article I read before leaving about people with an avoidant style drifting into, essentially, a dissociative state and finding this more comfortable than interaction, and I compared this to the marked desire which Cluster B personalities have for constant attention. Why might this be and do they have anything to do with each other?

I was especially interested in this footnote: ”

“I should mention here that the autoregulatory mode is very similar to attention deficit disorder. Both situations involve ventromedial prefrontal inactivity which is necessary not only for regulation of subcortical processes but also in producing and maintaining a “witness” state of self‐awareness. Without an observing self which is attributed to the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, there is a lack of awareness of time and space. The individual is literally unattended to and neglected and unaware of this impoverished albeit oceanic state.”

I have also been thinking, at the same time, that although someone like my mother’s constant demand for attention seems simply selfish, what if someone like her does that because there is something they actually cannot do? If it’s because of a deficit, what precisely is it?

In the footnote, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is assumed to be responsible for maintaining self-awareness (psychology’s observing ego, and sociology’s self). What if the deficit is in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, whose impaired functioning is compensated for in Cluster B personalities (narcissists and borderlines) by borrowing someone else’s gaze. What if the deficit emerges due a) to neglect and b) because the gaze of the self internalized from the parent is so hostile that is intentionally, albeit unconsciously pulled away from.

What if this is C’s current dilemma? “I want your gaze, but when I begin to imagine that gaze, it is so hostile, I repeatedly retreat from it?” What if this is the core of disorganized attachment?

My father

I think my dad actually hated women and girls, and that he was motivated to exploit me by peculiar fantasies of revenge.

I know very little about my father’s growing up. I know that his mother was schizophrenic. She successfully graduated from college with a nursing degree. She did for some length of time work as a nurse: there were points in her life when she could function. I don’t know at what points she couldn’t or what schizophrenia looks like between episodes of psychosis.

There is an intersection between schizophrenia and narcissism, however. I don’t know the reason for this. I don’t mean to say that schizophrenics are likely to have narcissistic personality disorder, although they are likely to have a personality disorder of some kind during stable periods. However, they have difficulty with social interactions because they lack accurate empathic processing skills.

Maybe that has nothing to do with anything.

My mother told me until my father was five or so his mother dressed him as a girl, because she didn’t want to have a boy. She had wanted a girl. My father was an only child, and my grandmother had wanted a girl so she simply made him into a girl, as though what was in her mind trumped reality.

For my father, I imagine both the degree of rejection this represented–to actually reject the child’s gender and attempt to forcibly change it–as well as the degree of humiliation my father felt in the sexist 1940s. Along with that, I imagine–but don’t know–that my grandmother probably abused him. If you so lack understanding for your child that you think you can make your son into a daughter by putting a dress on him, then I think you are likely to disregard his wellbeing in other ways.

I have very little to go on with my father, but I imagine all of this and I think he held his mother’s delusional “girl” of himself responsible for his mistreatment. The girl she imagined him to be, although not real, may have been in his mind the source of his pain.

At the same time, I also think he found girls and women dangerous and frightening: his mother may have been dangerous and frightening, but it may have also seemed to him that femaleness might be something one could just become, because his mother had believed that about her son. I imagine he may have felt both vengeful and afraid of femininity.

And I think that’s why he did so many of the things I think he did. It’s all tenuous, because very little of what I think I remember seems solidly real to me. I don’t know what was real and what was metaphorical–just me thinking, “Well, it’s like this. It feels like this. It isn’t what’s happening, but the thing happening now is the way I would feel if it did happen.”

That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but much of it is hard to believe. It may not always be like this for me, but these days it means I have to live in a space of not knowing.

I do know my father exploited me. I am fairly certain I was trafficked.

I think my father did it intentionally to humiliate me, and that he really only felt comfortable being sexual with someone he felt such confidence in being able to control that he could persuade them to demean themselves to a point where people generally no longer know what to make of you.

And I think this had to do with an assumption of ill intentions and a feeling about himself in the mind of others that he was so bad other people would want to hurt him should they have the chance. It became, then, very important to show that he was in total control of anyone he might have an intimate relationship with, because these were the people who had the opportunity to hurt him.

In other words, his wife and his children.

My father hurt me intentionally, because he himself was so frightened.

This is very, very difficult to write about–so difficult, that I mentally wandered off in the middle of it and burned up a bunch of data uselessly just to escape watching YouTube. And only after a good three hours or so of mind-numbing escapism could I come back and finish the thought.

My father didn’t abuse me because of who I was: this sense of myself that I developed as being someone who was disposable came later, as an effect of how I was treated and not as the cause of it. He abused me because of who he was.

That’s obvious, but I find the specifics really help. When ideas are merely known and not linked to sensory information or real experiences, they don’t have the same impact–I am not sure they have much impact at all.

This is what I mean by “balanced” thinking: one type allows us to link to emotions and sensations which in my case has to do with remembering my father’s contempt and disregard for us as well as the sensory experience of talking to my mother about my father’s transgender babyhood; the other type allows us to understand sequence and causality and in my case it is the connection to the declarative knowledge of what my mother actually told me about him as well as an understanding of what happened first (I was exploited before I felt dehumanized).

I should tell you also in the middle of that, when I was taking my 3-hour mind-numbing break, I thought about shame quite a lot. I thought this is actually my family I am talking about. I am talking about my father. No matter how independent we might believe ourselves to be, our families make up some part of our identities. My family was and is very, very ill. It’s difficult to talk about it. I feel so ashamed of having such very, very ill relatives.

I thought, too, about the difference between shame and guilt. It’s so much easier to be guilty than to feel ashamed. Guilt is about your behavior: it’s something you did. Things you do can often be fixed. You can make amends. You can change. At the very least, you can be sorry.

Shame is about who you are. It can’t be escaped so easily. The thing is if you lack empathy, if you are trapped in your own mind like my father was, you can easily displace this shame onto someone else. You can say this other person I am close to is shameful, but I am not. He could humiliate me and not feel humiliated himself, because he lived in this completely disconnected way where my feelings or status in society had nothing to do with him. My humiliation provided a safe place to put his shame, because I had nothing to do with him.

But I actually can’t. I feel a degree of connection to him, even though we have had no contact whatsoever for more than two decades. I came from this. His illness has something to do with me, because he was my father. And I can’t consider his illness without feeling something about it.

I don’t know actually what to do with that, but I had to be able to connect to those feelings of shame in order to come to the conclusion that I did: which is that my father exploited me because of who he was, and not because of who I was. I wasn’t born to be a trafficking victim. It wasn’t my destiny or my personality. It wasn’t my father’s destiny either, but it’s the person he became.

 

 

Stuck

So I am waiting for the bus to leave. It happened to snow last night, and although it did not stick to the road here in the Capital City, there is a high mountain pass just outside the city where the road is completely blocked.

He said we might leave around 10 or 11 or even 12. I suspect we may not leave at all today. There is a student with me–she just happened to be going at the same time. I didn’t teach her, but she used to message me last year when I was in the US. We went for a coffee and to get warm and I kept having to go to the bathroom because, helpfully before a 10 hour bus ride, I am getting diarrhoea and my period just started.

Then we came back to check on the status. No real update on this and I can’t even remember what the driver looked like. Departures unsettle me, I can’t understand all of the social exchanges (the guy on top of the bus loading the luggage is not the driver), so I miss out on a lot.

Now I am sitting here know the bus, just waiting. Passivity in Country X works out a lot of times: this is one distinct difference. Not all the time, but often enough I try it. It’s second grade all over again: “my mind wandered…what is everyone else doing?”

Meanwhile, I have time to post. I think the key to integrating parts is to create an experience of safety reliable enough that the mind can be restored to a balanced mode of thinking in which your instinct to act and what you believe consciously to be wise are both accessible.

An experience of having parts, I think, occurs when the indicator (or trigger) of danger is so strong and so unavoidable that the only way to stay in control of your behaviour is to imagine someone else might be hurt.

The personality of the part is built up around associations you have in your personal emotional lexicon about what kind of person this experience might be happening to and to completely turn your attention away from the trigger. This comes from having dangers you could not escape.

I will give an example. It’s a parts experience, so like all parts experiences, it’s disjointed, because in a situation of perceived danger, I lose my ability to make mental connections. In an anxiously attached state, you make too many connections and are overwhelmed by the negative experiences called forth willy-nilly–all at once. In a dismissive state, you make too few: there aren’t enough past experiences to suggest a way forward.

So I don’t make enough comnections and I can’t even remember the circumstances clearly: just my mental state. To get to the point though, I was in the car leaving somewhere–maybe C’s mother’s house. I felt very old. I felt to be in the character of an elderly woman, widowed, with an austere quality. It’s not the first time I have felt this way. I have never thought to give this person a name, but she’s shown up enough I could.

Because I have come to believe there are only so many feelings we can have and that trauma feelings are no different from normal feelings–not necessarily sensations, because states like dissociation do feel different than anything else I can compare it to.

But anger feels like anger. Sadness feels like sadness. There is a difference in intensity, of course.

I began to think I felt sad. Sad and possibly lonely. Well, that makes sense. I was imagining an old person who’s a widow with perhaps no children. No much in the way of human contacts or pleasures left and I imagined this in the person of an elderly widow, because that’s how I imagine someone like that might feel about life. It’s entirely possibly she wouldn’t, but it’s my imagination–not actual reality.

It’s a part, because I am experiencing a sense of loss I am not sure I can handle, and if I am not careful I may reach out for help. In my life, no one has been there to help me cope with difficult situations. And, as a child, neglect was enforced via abuse. As an adult, I can do this. Not just by benefit of getting taller, but because I have worked extremely hard at it.

I think this cannot be emphasised enough. Being fully grown does not mean you can cope nor does it mean you can go it alone and to say that you can cope is shaming.

There is an element of bpd in which people underperform socially in order to ensure people are available when you need them. Why do you feel so anxious about it? Because people have been unreliable and because your ability to cope is unreliable. To feel less anxious, you need to experience more reliability.

To return to my moment of having parts, I thought about circumstances in which I have felt lonely and sad and like I had lost everyone. In foster care and after Nata died. It seemed to mesh with Nata dying.

So I knew what I felt and I also knew why it was so upsetting. In this case, I didn’t need to do anything. I just needed to sit in the car. But being able to consider the connections I was making to past experiences without being overwhelmed lifted the sensation of being a part, because I had mentally removed the shame: shame creates fear because being isolated is the most dangerous state a human being can be in. It might be true that people do perfectly fine alone, but that’s not been our evolutionary path. Life has only been safe enough in the last few hundred of our 200,000 year existence for this true, so it is hardwired in our biology to respond to threats of isolation. We become more inured when we can maintain connection to someone else–reinforcements on the way, so to speak–or our ability to overcome this person who has now become a threat. But relying on dominance strategies is risky: it prompts conflict and also is kind of unlikeable, so it can exacerbate the isolation.

I didn’t directly reconnect to anyone, but this mindset of connecting feelings and facts comes from the blog, and the readers on it which I imagine at least support what I am doing. It could be your therapist.

I may have skipped over the details: I had quite a few other thoughts about my childhood traumatic losses aside from what I shared here. And maybe it seems too simplistic, but I think this is how you heal parts. I don’t think you heal parts by performing integrating rituals or making a conscious decision to not have them. You connect them, but without going into a black hole of pain. The most traumatic moments of my life I am still working at these