I have had this idea kicking around in my head for a few days now, and only today had time to write it down. It has to do with the expectation of having positive interactions with people and self-worth.
I’ll go back to this moment I had with a girl when I went to a workshop. She was there as a student leader and I guess during the course of the day, they learned lots of things. However, what I saw of her was that she served us. The student leaders from different schools served up food at meal times and poured tea. Certain small problems of ours they could solve.
At the end of our stay at this particular school where everyone had come for the workshop, we had a little ceremony which culminated in having inside/outside circles of handshaking and goodbyes. I got to the kids and I thanked them for helping us and doing such a great job. I didn’t actually know whether they had all done well at their tasks, but it seemed to me they had, because things had gone smoothly. At the same time, I also wanted them to feel appreciated for what they had done, regardless. It makes me feel better to do this. I am not that comfortable with certain parts of the culture which, to me, can feel exploitative of children.
So I was voicing my appreciation and praise to each of the students in turn, pretty much just repeating myself and I got to the boy ahead of her in line. She was very interested in what I said to him and he had a very warm response, and then when I actually got to her, she kind of shut down and it made me feel self-conscious and awkward and she got very little of the connection and warm fuzzies that the boy ahead of her had gotten. I knew neither of them personally. I hadn’t had close interactions with either one of them. The difference in my behaviour with them had nothing to do with what work they had actually done or how deserving they were of praise, and everything to do with their reaction to me in that fleeting moment.
My thought later was that she felt unworthy of praise or warmth and so she got much less of it.
Well, I thought about parents like my mother specifically, who do not see the layer of the mind as intervening between impulse and action. I think for my mother, it really does seem that way, because her level of impulsivity is so high. There literally is no conscious part of herself aware of her intentions or desires at times. I imagine she feels like a puppet, with the outside world pulling the strings. She feels compelled.
Other not-good-enough parents msy avoid vulnerability by not seeing themselves as a part of the equation within social interactions. What I am getting at is that these parents may reject a child not because they have needs of their own, but because it is wrong for the child to ask. Or say that’s the reason.
This makes it difficult for the child to learn patterns of behaviour: there are no contingencies. The problem is the child, and the child cannot escape or stop being herself.
So if you develop this idea that you aren’t getting your emotional or social needs met because you are you, there has to be a nagging sense that all of this is unfair. It’s unfair to be born into the world as someone doomed to unhappiness because you are incapable of doing what is right or expected. There must be a nagging resentment, and a temptation to protest the unfairness of it all–a deep sense of victimization about your doomed state–even if you know people don’t want to hear it.
When you do seek out social interactions, your assumption might be that no one wants you, and so you might avoid thinking about the other person’s perspective at all–because the feeling of being unwanted is so painful. So you are likely to seek out support and interaction in clumsy, inconsiderate ways. You may not, if you have grown up this way, understand the concept of give and take or that people may want you under certain conditions. (I want to play, but only if you will play a game we both like.) You may alternate between surrender and domination, not having a repertoire of cooperative behaviour, and rely too heavily on their ranking systems. Or you may continually give vent to the sense of unfairness about being rejected with someone who has no idea why you are so angry and punitive and finds you unpleasant to be around.
What may happen is that you may spend a lot of either voicing your sense of victimization and forcing yourself upon people who actually don’t want you, because you are not taking their perspective into account in the way you present yourself or the demands you make. And then spice that up with rejecting care when it’s given, because you don’t deserve it and therefore don’t trust it’s real.
You may not understand that it is these behaviours which lead to further rejection. The problem is not, as you have been misled into believing, who you are. It is not inevitable and you are not doomed. You may have to work harder than people with good parents, but your very being is not bad.
I see this as a possible way of thinking among children who alternate between oppressive over-compliance and needy demandingness: how much do I exaggerate my emotions and express my inner state in hopes of being responded to and heard? How much do I consider the other person’s perspective in how I present myself? And is my understanding of their perspected too distorted by my expectation of rejection?
Forage says borderline cannot symbolically manipulate their experiences. This limits their regulatory abilities and even ordinary social difficulties are too painful. It feels like having no emotional skin. I think this isn’t just a matter of not having names for inner states, but not having linked experiences, because the links are all to the self–to one’s existence.
Of course, I wonder is this my problem. (Both the consequences of low self-worth and lack of symbolic control.) I wonder when I feel slighted how much to complain and how much to try to guess where I went wrong.