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.”

Prison is my natural home

That’s a Vory-V-Zakone tattoo. Or the meaning of one. Something like that.

One of the ideas that has surfaced for me recently is how different adults in my life have shaped me, whether or not I liked being shaped. We don’t really have a choice but to learn how to live among other people.

Yuri had a hand in my growing up, even if I hate him.

So when I think about who he was, I think about someone who felt prison was his home. Maybe he had that tattoo. Maybe the motto just resonates with me.

But I think of someone comfortable with brutality and capable of surviving unimaginably harsh conditions, because Russian prisons are harsh. There is very little comfort, zero empathy, and unbending obedience–not to guards, but the gang leaders actually running the prison. It falls–very frequently–on the heels of a childhood spent either in the same kind of institution or in a home so chaotic and violent that the structure of jail is a relief.

When part of me says to the rest of me, “Pull your socks on, stop sniveling, and get on with life, because it’s not going to wait for you,” that’s his attitude. I don’t have to deal with very difficult conditions, but the attitude is the same. It has its place.

I happened across a video of an interview with a woman from the Czech Republic who had been kidnapped and raped as a teenager. It struck a chord with me, not because of the events per se, but because of the brutality of her attackers.

American street gangs, from what I can tell, are less organized than Eastern European groups, although our prison gangs may converge on it. I am not by any means an expert.

Violence for Vory-V-Zakone is not random or thrill-seeking. It’s an extra-juducial legal system. Russia has Suki also, but I don’t think Yuri was one.

Yuri was not a sadist. He was a disciplinarian. That’s what I am getting at.

One of my goals for this year has been to address my triggers. I survive them, so I am not trying to make them stop. I’m trying to stay in a balanced frame of mind, so that connections can be made.

One trigger is crouching–washing clothes, taking a bath, mopping the floor all involve this. It’s from more than one kind of trauma, but one them is Nata’s death.

I have started to parse out the feelings I had when Nata was dying. One of them is sadness. The sadness is very, very deep. Another is guilt. So I wonder about the guilt.

Did I think someone had done something wrong or was it just that she died?

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.

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.



Cluster B thinking

I am back in the village today. I came back yesterday and stayed the night. I’ll go tomorrow, if guess. Someone died recently and C says there is a lot of work to do related to the death. Since I am not sure how I do with death anyway, I didn’t press.

So I had some thoughts about what happens in borderline kinds of presentations. I don’t mean clinical diagnosis, but elements of it which can show up in people who aren’t borderline.

First of all, there is the lack of object permanence so that one’s current self seems to be one’s only self and then the sense of thoughts and feelings being real, so that shame and guilt feel insurvivable, rather than difficult.

I don’t know why this happens exactly. One idea is the shutdown of the process of exploring others’ minds, because the other is so malignant. Maybe you never learn to experience feelings as information about social transactions.

The upshot is that negative states are unbearably painful.

My other thought about having a parent who is borderline or has another mental illness is that the child must constantly be aware of the parents’ state and try to manage it, much like you would an infant, so this terrible anxiety develops. I think this is experienced as attachment pain. Not the only time attachment pain is felt, but it’s one of them.

Similarly, there is an intense pressure to take the perspective of your parent so you can manage them, but they seem to think very bad things about you.

Both the borderline and the borderline’s child develop an assumption of malignancy about the world. For the borderline, this is because the negative feelings within seem to be directly placed there by another person. The borderline, I suspect, sees the self as so desperately shameful that she fails to see the self as an interlocutor.

The other element I have been considering is how I become completely self-focused under stress. I lose track of the other person’s mind and the only explanations I find for their behaviour are myself. Now, people do respond to me. It’s not like we live in this world of our imaginations and other people only seem to exist. But I know that state is different.

I began to imagine that if someone has that kind of power to make you feel as though you are the shame itself which you feel and you don’t have a good idea of feelings, the pain of wanting to be close in itself can feel like it’s caused by the other person.

I think that is happening with C: I think she is afraid of the pain which is actually a desire to be close which she doesn’t recognize.

My second unrelated thought as I was writing this is that I had no idea I had this kind of power over my mother or that this was what was going on. Every time she failed to soothe me or meet my needs, I seemed to her to be the person responsible for making her unbearably bad.

Writing this, I should explain I am writing about how things seem and not how they are: the failure to fully grasp false belief is at the crux of this. The more I understand why my mother might have acted the way she did, the less responsible I feel for both her pain and my victimization. I could not have known as a child what I am coming to understand with great effort at 45. I wasn’t responsible for the effects of my behaviour on her.

I think for C three processes may be happening which are essentially not good for her. One of them is the equation of intention and result (there are no errors) and/or a lack of object permanence so that states equal the self, added to that an anxiety about managing the parent’s state. So she’s keeping this ache of a compulsion to be close in check by actually avoiding the parent figure. Then the parent figure triggering the ache seems to intend to cause it. SHE there is actually a presumption of malignancy–the parent must be controlled in order to contain the malignancy.

My Dad

I wrote a post about a month ago perhaps about my dad’s murders, and how I had come to understand them as an attempt at communicating his inner state through his actions. His lack of mentalizing created a dead world inside him, devoid of people or relationships. This lack of development made it seem to him as though only actions could speak, and also that if he controlled the actions of people around him, he could understand their intentions.

His inner wasteland made him crave the relief of connection and intimacy, and so he needed someone small and unthreatening to communicate to, someone he could create an illusion of communication with by controlling their actions.

His stalled mentalizing development occurred because of the malignancy of his first object–his mother, who was schizophrenic. He could not think about her mind or later minds, because it created an untenable loop in his head: she wants to hurt me, but I don’t want to comply and be hurt. And yet I need the support of an alliance.

I feel he was expressing his inner states in other situations as well. I came home tonight and I began to react to coming home, which I seem to be doing lately, and I wanted to reach out and immediately felt a sense of disgust.

I thought, “I am bad.” The thing is I used to be unable to stay with this, because it’s such a horrible way to feel. This is what I mean by “lack of symbolic control.” I was not able to consider my feeling states. I could move past them, but not think about them.

So this time I thought about it, and I thought this is what I expect: I expect if I move closer to someone, they will do something that will make me feel ashamed or disgusted. I thought about one reader’s comment about expecting exploitation. Yes, that would feel shameful and disgusting.

This felt like my dad. There may be “mother” connections to this to0, but it first felt like my dad. I thought there may be many reasons men sexually exploit and abuse their daughters, but I think he was communicating by making me feel what he felt. He was communicating a sense of disgust and evil within himself. This would have come from his own disorganized attachment–I don’t know how what transpired exactly with his mother–I do know his father verbally abused him, but he was very focused on young girls. I think he wanted to tell his mother how bad he felt.

When a caretaker is unable to “mark” their expressions in such a way that the baby understands it is his own emotion being mirrored, rather than his mother’s, then distortions in mentalizing develop in the child. Feelings seem to be like magic, just spreading into other people by virtue of his having them. This is psychic equivalence. Thoughts are real.

If the child is distressed, and this distress appears to magically jump to the parent, rather than being acknowledged and moved on from towards helping, then the baby may form  distorted view of themselves as being capable of inflicting pain on other people via his very existence. He feels both powerful and evil. This will especially be sustained if this is how feeling states seem to the parent–if her own mentalizing ability makes her unable to see her mind as an arbiter of her own experience.

That’s what my dad was communicating to me: a sense of being both evil and all-powerful, but also disgusting and unwanted, which I think probably had to do with his mother’s rejection and contempt for him.

You might think it wouldn’t be helpful for me to consider my dad’s intentions in abusing me, but it makes a difference to me. It puts things to rest in that way you can stop humming the same tune because you finally remember the rest of it. It also makes the “badness” not me, but something I felt. It reduces it from identity to information.

It makes my dad’s actions something like words: I can read words and not have them become me. I can remember the blood all over me, and understand the blood wasn’t me. I won’t ever forget how it felt to have the blood there on me, but it lightens its sense of permanence.

There is something about horror which feels permanent: it is so cognitively overwhelming, so confusing, so emotionally powerful, it feels impossible to move on from. The image of it happening springs up and you feel rooted to the spot in shock all over again. But it does feel slightly lighter now.


This passage reminded me of my father.
In the nonmentalistic teleological mode, behavior of the other is interpreted in terms of its observable consequences, not as being driven by desire. It is only when behavior is construed as intentional, however, that one can conceive of influencing it through changing the other’s state of mind. Talking about it only makes sense if the behavior of the other has been explained in terms of wishes and beliefs. If, on the other hand, it is interpreted solely in terms of its observable consequence, a kind of “mentalistic learned helplessness” sets in. The obvious way to intervene appears to be through physical action. This may include words, which although they sound like an attempt at changing the other person’s intentions, are in fact intimidation: efforts to force the other person into a different course of action. Only a physical endstate is envisioned. This may be represented in terms of the other person’s body; these patients may physically threaten, hit, damage, or even kill; alternatively they may tease, excite, even seduce.
(PDF) Attachment and Borderline Personality…. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12119541_Attachment_and_Borderline_Personality_Disorder [accessed Aug 05 2018].
In a lot of ways, actually.
It is frankly horrifying to consider. I have an image of my father wanting to communicate the sense of deadness inside him–lack of mentalization creates a sense of deadness, because it is the interaction with others and ourselves inside our imaginations which creates a sense of sparkle and aliveness in us as social beings. As a result of the developmental pathway caused by the forestalling in mentalization skills, he could only use psychic equivalence to express this.
What I am getting at is that he wanted an actual corpse to communicate his sense of deadness, as though the corpse retained an ability to understand its own deadness and therefore his. His sense of being fractured inside felt communicated and understood via the dismemberment of the bodies: just as he felt dismembered internally due to his lack of mental coherence, they were literally in pieces. His pathology made him unable to grasp that the dead bodies themselves did not know about their deadness or their dismemberment: he felt understood.
This feeling of being able to communicate was so exciting to him that he felt a sexual attraction to the dead body.
And that’s what I saw.
But I saw other elements to this, and not his sense of being understood–I saw their real deadness and not his mental deadness, although I remember feeling his mental deadness too. When I think of him, I am reminded of a wasteland–a desert empty of life or movement. I didn’t know what it felt like to be inside this wasteland or that the emptiness was something he could feel.
What I felt was a sense of shock that bodies could be dead. If I had seen their death, I think my trauma might have been different–not better, obviously, but different. As it was, I didn’t know how they got to be dead. I didn’t understand the idea of murder. It seemed to be something which might happen spontaneously. Of course, it does happen spontaneously, but then it’s less bloody. Natural deaths may be less peaceful than we imagine them, but it’s still different. I didn’t understand these were not natural deaths and didn’t just happen on their own. I couldn’t imagine how they happened. I didn’t know the ways people could die, or that the things my parents did to me out of anger or sadism could actually lead to the state I saw in front of me. The feeling of shock at their deadness is very deep.
More than that, I think I feel sadness–an urgency and a sadness. Why don’t they wake up? If they don’t wake up then I will really feel sad. It would be unbearably sad if they don’t wake up. Thinking about this, I am able to connect it to other deaths I saw later in other circumstances–the deaths of a bee I found, for example, and put in a flower. Later, the bee was gone. A spider stood in its place.