I think I have a handle on something. It isn’t everything, but it’s one thing I have been wondering about. It has to do with the sadness children seem to feel with me sometimes–mysterious kinds of sadness that happens to me too.
My thought today may not be all of it, but I think it is an important part of it.
To get on with it, I think it has to do with the image of the self developed because a parent is not processing social information well, and the child’s emotions are not reflected with marked mirroring. What is presented to the child is the parent’s emotions, but babies don’t know these are about the parent’s inner state. We learn about our own state from other people.
Because the parent has unprocessed trauma and few internal or external resources to cope with stress, the parent is frequently overwhelmed by their own states and cannot adequately take in or think about the child’s state. This isn’t to excuse abusive behaviour, which is part of it. Being an asshole is one way to have few social supports. But it is to say that abuse need not be part of it. Indeed, we see that: children whose parents don’t abuse them have disorganized attachment too. The link is unresolved trauma.
Abuse in this environment just adds to it and creates struggles for children who have no stable parent to turn to for support.
So the parent is frightened by the child’s demands, because the parent has very few internal resources to cope with ordinary stresses, and what the child sees is fear. Thus, the child internalizes an image of himself as being a frightening person. The parent feels ashamed at their poor parenting or for any number of reasons and the child internalizes that shame as their own shamefulness.
Other things happen too, in these kinds of families, but this is an early, core piece that sets the stage…I think so, at this point, at least.
In situations when these children become aware of themselves, they are confronted with this reflection later, even if the other person displays something else, because we see ourselves as we imagine they see us. We imagine they see us as it seemed other people saw us in the past
The sadness is about this image of the self as being frightened or frightening or shameful. There is this craving to be seen and known and felt, to be real through someone else’s eyes, and yet the image of the self invariably feels bad, so that the child grows up learning to avoid knowing that they have been seen.