A connection

One of my many daily trigger is going to bed. I don’t always have a hard time with it, but many times I do. It ebbs and flows without ever receding completely. I have had some ideas about this, but they don’t make it go away. Whether it is better or worse seems to do with my general level of stress and not my insight or anything I am doing to cope.

But I did have a thought a few nights ago about it. I have one very traumatic memory of assault as a very young child which I think led to my removal. It crossed my mind that I had been asleep when my father came into the room that night, and also that the assault is intimately connected in my mind to removal rather than significant for its own sake.

In my little child’s brain, the sequence went like this: fell asleep, got hurt, lost my house and all my toys.

For a second, it flashes through my mind that social workers really need an update on what it feels like to be removed from your house. Imagine people are hurting you, so someone comes alone and burns it down with all of your stuff inside, then makes you live with strangers you may not actually like. This is not the same as your house burning down randomly. This is because people were hurting you. It’s like telling a rape victim, since they were raped in their own neighbourhood, you need to move.

I’m not saying anyone should have left me with my parents, but just no one should expect me to have felt rescued.

Anyway, so in my little child’s brain, if you fall asleep, there’s a  chance you could be kidnapped. Which is something a kid might feel scared about anyway, but I had this terrible sequence of events leading up to it and no one really to help me or comfort me because the adults could not grasp how the whole thing felt. I think social workers now understand better that removal is very traumatic, but in 1975, I don’t believe mine did.

The thing is, when I had this thought, the pain in my heart settled down. I felt afraid. It was much easier just to feel afraid.



I thought all of the paperwork was wrapped up and delivered for my contract extension but, alas, no…my principal and I both forgot to sign my evaluation form. Actually, at all…I wouldn’t have known you had to sign on ever page, but I also did not sign where it says, “Employee signature” in plain English. We were rushing, because I’m about to miss the deadline and perhaps that explains it, but I think I was also nervous and I do weird things to other people too. I make them nervous too, and I don’t know that it’s because I am also nervous. I think it may be something else. I don’t know that I cause odd reactions in everyone, but many people.

I make a lot of people cry. My friend back in the US begins to get tears streaming down her streaks without knowing she is crying. She has a friend whose eyes began to water talking to me. I only spoke to him  few times, so I can’t tell you the probability of it happening. C’s nose begins to run, but it stopped eventually and instead she began to look like she wanted to kill someone. The Boy’s sister’s nose runs too. One boy in my class starts to blink his eyes. I suspect it’s the sting of tears he’s feeling. One of our senior teachers who is supposed to do staff development essentially starts to act in what I can only call a confusing way. I don’t think it’s my inability to understand her. I think her ability to communicate falls apart so that we end up in situations where she’s moving my papers around that I am trying to organize and I can’t figure out why.

Art Sir said the principal didn’t do the paperwork properly, because she’s not competent—there was also a letter she didn’t have the office assistant write, which needed to be included. The principal said here in Y-town, we do everything differently from what she is used to and she has worked in 10 different regions of the country. I think I made her nervous.

So towards the end of fifth period, the library assistant came to my classroom and said I should get the papers signed and return them to the education office right away.

I got the signatures from the principal, found someone to cover my sixth period class, and rushed off. I might have asked around for a lift, but a group of teachers were going up after school and I anticipated I would only be told to go with them later. But the sense I got from the library assistant was that the matter was of great urgency.

Also, I find as a carless person that getting a lift often does not save time. Yesterday, I went to the education office with my friend who also needed to go there and spent 40 minutes waiting for him to dicker around. It takes less than that to walk there, although there’s the trip down too….

Anyway, today I walked, left my paperwork in what seemed to be the capable hands of the office assistant and raced down again. I ran into C’s uncle and he gave me a lift to school, which saved my virus-infested body the fatigue of the last little bit of the walk. (I have the third cold of the month.) It also got me back bang on time for seventh period.

I wrapped up a period of teaching, hung out with the teachers until the end prayer (nobody talked to me, nobody said anything I understood, but I was tired of working). Then I came home and thought about killing myself. The thing is I don’t know why this happens. I still don’t particularly know what to do about it. I had a snack and a coffee, listened to some music, and heated dinner I had prepared in the morning, because I decided I wanted to make an early night of this. All with a very strong urge to find heavy objects to hit myself on the head with. I had vivid images of this. I would think I am just insane, except that it doesn’t seem random, even if I don’t know the reason. Something is triggering this.

A weird thing happened, where I felt kind of pouty, allowed myself to be overcome by a very childlike sense of that and felt much better. The “better” didn’t continue, but for while it was like scratching an itch. This happens to my less emotionally stable students—they are overcome by big, pouty lower lips over things that sometimes feel like, “I wanted to please you and I’m not…” It may help me to consider what the urge to pout is all about.

In other words, I still don’t know….


I am still considering what I read: the child whose caretaker offers noncontingent mirroring develops an emotional map with no linkage to his felt states.

I think there is something to this. I think my emotional map is actually wrong. I understand feelings. I have become quite good at talking about them, but I think my felt experience of emotions doesn’t match what I think they are. I don’t think I express the emotions I have when I do try to express them. I don’t think I have a felt recognition of emotions. It’s hard to explain this and I will also need to test it out when I am around other people’s actual emotions–this is a social experience but I am sitting here thinking about it alone.

I am not sure, for example, that I feel sad when I talk about being sad, for example. Or, to say it another way, I think what I think is sadness I assume to involve a different felt state in someone else than what I feel when I feel sad. I think my body language may not match my inner states.

What happens then is there is never a sense of recognition or resonance. I don’t express myself accurately although I believe I am when I am doing it. I don’t have a sense of resonance with other people partly because my emotional map is wrong.

It’s an idea anyway.

I think the lack of resonance creates pain.

I’ll give an example of the emotional mapping that I can think of, although it’s about the past and not the way I process emotions now. I think the shame I feel about proximity-seeking comes from my mother’s shame at not knowing how to take care of me, and that the fear I feel is her fear of being overwhelmed by my distress. It felt to her, I think, that my feelings were inside her–this is how it began to feel for The Boy during midterm, when he began to feel my emotions, but didn’t recognize them as mine. Instead it was like I was this creature shoving horrible feelings inside her.

For me, proximity-seeking is mapped to shame, rather than however wanting to be close might feel otherwise.





I will come back for this idea again. Repetition clarifies.

The first idea is that the difficulties are not only from the past. It’s not just that the sink scares me. It’s from disturbances in how I process the present. Not mainly being wrong about the facts, but being wrong about where a sense of reality comes from.

My presumption is always if I can calm down, reality will become clearer.

That said, I am considering these disturbances and where they came from. They are starting to make sense and I am also starting to recognise pieces of them in other people, especially the students who cause problems.

I don’t know what to about them, but it’s possible I have arrived at some understanding of the whole thing in part because something is being done already.

And that said too…I read that the baby whose parent does not reflect the baby’s feelings will not know what their own feelings are: the parent’s feelings will seem to be the baby’s own. The baby’s emotional understanding will not map to his felt experience. He will end up with an empty sense, because his felt experience is never understood and seems not to be real.

I think I have both of these issues: a parent who “caught” my emotions but could not process them and reflected back to me emotions without a sense that they were mine while also failing to link discomfort with comfort. Pain then seemed to have no solution.

And also a parent wholly consumed by her own world so that I saw emotions as though they were mine that were not mine.

The key

The idea that ego -destroying shame comes from experiencing the badness as reality–from psychic equivalence –explains nearly everything that has really puzzled me in human behaviour in pretty much everyone, including myself.

If you have no emotional skin, then you will go to great lengths to avoid the devastation of such intense shame.

I came home after walking a student home and felt suicidal. Previously, I would have had no real idea what this came from. Nothing is particularly wrong. I came home, had suicidal thoughts, and realised I liked being home, so I felt ashamed.This goes back to proximity-seeking as being shameful as well. I felt ashamed, the stress of it caused regression, I had no emotional skin, shut down the feeling and only had the thought left as a clue.

It’s no longer mysterious. I don’t know what to do about it, but it’s a start.

Thoughts are real

One of the forms of prementalizing–so attempts at making sense of thoughts, feelings and intentions before the child is mature enough to engage in real mentalizing–is psychic equivalence. Adults who are mistreated as children can have fragile mentalizing abilities, so that they regress to prementalizing under stress, or they may remain “stuck” in prementalizing stages because contemplating the thoughts, feelings and intentions of a malignant other is so deveastating.

In psychic equivalance mode, thoughts are felt to be real. If I think it, or if someone else thinks it, then that’s reality. Fonagy posits that because of psychic equivalence, shame is experienced as utterly annihilating. There is no ability to modulate the shame so that it is behaviour-shaping, but tolerable, which is what shame is supposed to be.  Fonagy says it is like having no emotional skin.

He describes it as leading to violence in vulnerable people, because the person sparking the feelings of shame must be destroyed so that I can restore myself, or I must destroy myself because I am bad.

I am not violent, but this is exactly what it feels to me happens under stress. The sense that I am bad and wrong feels so intense and overwhelming, that my whole being seems to be wrong. Something to keep in mind about this is that very young children cannot mentalize. They do not have this protective ability to manipulate their thoughts, feelings and intentions in their minds or to consider other people’s in a way that helps stay at a tolerable level of emotion. What I feel now is what I felt as a toddler.

The reason I mention that is I think it’s important to remember how little me felt when I was abused and why I might have had those feelings. Other toddlers run to their parents when they feel overwhelmed by their feelings, but what if you can’t?

I think many symptoms of personality disorders that we see result from trying to find ways to avoid activating this kind of overwhelming shame when there is not this protective layer of mentalizing to use as a tool.

Let’s go back a step and also consider my working definition for shame, which is a sense or an expectation of loss of connection to others. Shame is frequently confused with guilt. Shame is not being at fault. Shame is expecting no one will understand your story. We frequently tell survivors of various tragedies they aren’t to blame, because we don’t want them to feel ashamed. But that’s not shame. That’s guilt. Survivors feel shame in telling their stories because they expect the listener not to understand their story.

I think I feel shame for things my parents’ narcissism prevented them from understanding me. Spectifically, I think the major trigger I have is proximity-seeking. We seek closeness to others, both physically and psychologically, because the drive to be with others, especially under stress, is innate. It’s the primary function of the attachment system: to create physical or mental closeness with someone who has the power to help you. It’s a biological urge.

What if your drive to be close leads to seek proximity to someone who hurts you or at the very least fails to help? More than that, what if your life is very dangerous and your biological need to seek proximity is activated beyond what is considered normal or acceptable for your age? Then I think you learn to try to control your desire to seek proximity. through other means.

Maybe you play out dire scenarios of what may happen if you seek proximity. Maybe you point out how you are undeserving of proximity. Maybe you, yourself, use shame to dissuade yourself from being close.

I think this happens to me. I have struggled with coming home after work–the whole walk home, my brain just kind of spinning out. Waking up in the morning, when I would normally have looked around for other people, is extremely difficult. This is about proximity-seeking, and having learned it is not safe to do what my biology compels me to do and trying to find ways to suppress that drive.

I don’t think my parents knew why I wanted to be close to them.



I was noticing recently the disconnect between how it feels to be me inside me–so when I am doing things I enjoy, for example. I feel quite good. But when I am in a situation where I am aware of myself–in some way looking at or examining myself–then I don’t feel good at all. This is my imagination of how others see me, only I don’t actually imagine any particular person who sees me in this negative way. It’s just there, as a part of my mind, this image of myself that’s so painful.

I go back to this idea of the incoherence of the abused child’s working models of themselves and others, and it seems to me to be one part of this incoherence. These two sources of information about the self–how it feels to be me and what other people seem to think of me–are discontinuous and seem to bear no relation to one another. I think the malevolence or controlling nature of the parent is why. If the child responded to the parent’s view of herself, she would collapse in permanent despair. All sources of good feeling would be cut off.

What I mean is usually there are enough things we can do that feel good to us that we can lose some of our sources of pleasure when they turn out not to be socially acceptable or to have negative consequences for us later. So, while it might feel good to push my way to the front of the line or to steal some other child’s candy, I can give those things up because I still have so many pleasures available to me. The abused child may have nothing left aside from those things the parent punishes her for doing. She has to learn to defend herself against conscience.

For example, I have been aware from the kids that concentrating on something of interest will very likely lead to interruption or interference, and it is not just that they would like my attention sometimes, but that my state of concentration makes them aware of their loss of my attention. When I am mindlessly going through the motions of life, they wouldn’t notice. This pattern gives me insight into my mother, who would sometimes come to me, express a lot of anger or frustration for seemingly no reason, and then recede again. She especially attacked my writing and sometimes my reading–taking me to the library, but telling me to go outside and play when she saw me actually reading said books.

It wasn’t about not liking my writing or my reading, it was more likely an attempt to manage her own feelings of loss by attacking the trigger. It’s like me fixing the leak in the kitchen sink so that I don’t need to be reminded every day of my mother trying to drown me while washing my hair. Only I am a person. And writing and reading give me pleasure. I can’t give them up the way I could other things.

It may also have been about jealousy. I have seen VP Ma’am, who for sure has disorganized attachment, show flashes of anger as she approached if she sees me talking to someone else. That’s jealousy about attention, but my mother may have also felt a jealousy over pleasure, because she could so rarely feel comfortable or happy.

I think a child in this situation develops a disconnected sense of self, whereby the inside and outside are experienced separately. I can become my raw instincts, or I can behave well. But not both. What this does, I think, is remove modulation.

There are times when The Boy seems to become his appetite. He likes to eat, and so he eats 10 chilis at a time, or an entire bag of pears, or piles up bowls of food and then has stomach aches later if i don’t stop him. While he is doing this, he expresses a socially bizarre degree of pleasure in eating. And I think this is why: he feels he is the pleasure of eating. The shame about overeating, about taking too much and even perhaps taking food he does not deserve (because he is not my own child) have been removed along with that outside view of himself, which is what may allow him to enjoy food at all in the first place.

So I think this has, to some extent, happened to me. And these are the parts. It’s not all about pleasure, but it is about having an internal experience which is painfully incompatible with my view of myself from the outside.

I think children who are abused learn a lot of strategies to avoid seeing themselves at all, so that they are not assaulted by their own negative view of themselves.

I think, in some way, this also removes me from the ability to be able to comfort or modulate feeling states: this human capacity to see myself seems connected to the equally human capacity to provide care. I must see that I need care before providing the care. I cannot merely become the need for care.

A few years ago, when the parts were more active, Ruthie expressed a very intense desire to be “inside mommy.” I can understand this better now, as wanting to be connected to the compassionate view of myself which makes care feel like care. Indulging an impulse that provides relief does not feel like care. It feels like being bad, but I don’t care.

It meshes, in my mind, with what Fonagy says about lack of symbolic control over felt experiences–or having that control collapse under strain, which it does–causing the person to feel as though they have no emotional skin. The loss of  sense of connection to other people who have in the past felt the same thing creates a mental devastation, and it also, I suspect, removes the individual from a connection to experiences in which one might have learned to manage those feelings.

For an abused child, this was at some point adaptive: what the parents did with difficult feelings was hurt the child. In that case, it is best not to be aware of the minds around you trying to cope with the difficulty: You won’t learn anything good from that. But I think the disconnection from other minds also creates its own pain.

What I don’t know still is how to heal that rift within the self.