Peter Fonagy writes about mentalization and personality disorders. He talks about mentalization occurring (or not occurring) within systems. In other words, whether we have a habit of considering others as thinking, feeling beings or not is sustained by others in the group we live in.
There are several points he makes which resonate very strongly with me. One of them is that, when a child is raised by a parent unable to imagine accurately their mental sates, they internalize an inaccurate, “alien” self. To function, the child who grows up with an alien self must externalize or in some other way disconnect from a self which feels painful, evil, lacking, shameful and wrong. Sometimes the externalization is maintained via projection: someone else is seen in this way.
Fonagy claims this alien self is the parent. I think it may be the way I imagined my parent imagined me. It certainly feels resonant. The times I feel really bad are washes of memory of experiences of being seen as this person, and then not knowing whether it is the truth of who I really am underneath a fragile layer of pretense and trying to be good (in whatever sense that may be). I suspect I hide for fear that this “alien” self will be discovered. When there is not enough of an anchoring within a social setting, I don’t think you know what your “true” self is. Self is a social construction. In other words, there is no coherent “true” self to squarely challenge a sense of “alien” self.
He also writes about what he calls epistemic trust: a trust in what is known and can be passed along culturally, so not trust about intent or behaviour, but trusting that someone has knowledge worth adopting. Trauma destroys epistemic trust and makes parents and other adults or authority figures unreliable purveyors of knowledge–either the knowledge is incorrect or irrelevant to oneself. He says at the same time, the need to receive knowledge is so strong in us, that without epistemic trust, we become starved for it. I can relate to this very strongly, wishing so badly that someone knew what I ought to do about my problems and yet feeling they don’t know or don’t understand well enough to tell me. I don’t usually doubt intention. I doubt knowing. And then I believe people who don’t know anything, because I want so badly for someone to know.
He also talks about pre-mentalizing states and non-mentalizing as well as the systems which sustain them. Pre-mentalizing states include pretend mode (disconnected from reality), psychic reality (thoughts are reality), and teleological (only concrete and easily understandable behaviour can be trusted to communicate intentions).
I’ll describe about about what he says about each system, but I recognize them. C lives in a teleological world. Her family understands gifts, food and money as communicating intention. In times of stress, that is what C demands: signs of care that she can understand
I think I have often been encouraged to live in a non-mentalizing world, because the inner states of others seemed to be so unfathomable and toxic.
Dinner time–more later.