At the moment I am reading a very interesting blog post, with the intention to find out more about my (past) behavior. In this post I will lay these theories against my own experiences. This probably will be one of the most complex things I’ve ever written so far on my blog, so I hope it does make sense. It might help to also read the article.
The therapist wrote: “In my last post, I discussed how children act out certain roles in their family of origin in order to try to emotionally stabilize parents who are emotional unstable. Doing so also has the effect of maintaining dysfunctional relationship patterns so that the family operates in predictable ways (family homeostasis).”
He says: stabilize parents who are emotional unstable. One of the things I remember doing when I was really young was becoming almost invisible, soaking up all the energy of those around me. Parents who would be afraid or explosively upset. So I would be on my best behavior, using all my senses to feel what would be the best thing to do or say, to make my parents feel better. – That was the first phase.
Then when I became a bit older I would use other methods since becoming a silent observer who self sacrefied, by becoming a will-less compliant, didn’t work in every situation.
Eventually I started to use different methods to create situations in which I unconciously knew the parental reaction of. Playing this out all the time on a loop. To make my parents behavior predictable. Whatever is predictable feels safe because it’s what we know, it isn’t new or strange anymore.
So there is this thing with the parents being emotionally unstable and in this way unpredictable. With my dad it was like walking on eggshells. They are going to break anyway and you just knew he would eventually explode about something minor. Just not when.. In this way it is easier to do extreme things that would certainly give that explosive reaction.
Instead of staying on the eggshells and trying to measure every little thing you do or say and hand those on a golden plate and becoming the will-less compliant.. My new method was running on the eggshells, stomping on them, crushing everything so that at least I was sure that he would explode 🙂 because that makes his reaction predictable. Of course underneath that method is also the unconcious anger that the parents where emotionally unavailable when I needed them the most and blaming them on becoming the will-less compliant. Blaming them for feeling unheared.
The other thing that happened because of my parents being emotionally unstable is that they were either over-involved or under-involved. Depending on their unpredictable emotional state. If you are too caught up in your emotions you see the world through these emotions. I know that from my own experience. Your intense emotion colours the way you view the world and based on that view you behave in a certain way trying to manage your emotions and calm down. For example by blowing off steam. The ones closest to you are often the ones to throw at because they are there and.. kids won’t leave or understand what’s happening anyway. Of course that’s unconciously done. The other thing is that when you are so caught up in your own emotions there is no room for others. It’s easy to go over other peoples limits because you are not aware of their needs, feelings etc. You only see through the perspective of your intense emotions.
The other thing that happens is that my parents at times tried to control their emotions by becoming overly involved and controlling. For example by projecting their fear on me and telling me that I cannot do things that scare them. Telling me that I am afraid of something that actually they are afraid of themselves. So, my mom for example was scared of a lot of things. She would keep me from experiencing these things that scared her. I would decide to stay with her when she was scared in an attempt to sort of manager her emotions for her. While my twin sister got to do these things.. that made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to do the same things as my twin sister and eventually made me believe that there was something wrong with me. In the end it just seemed logical to me when I had problems keeping up with kids my age. Besides I was daydreaming a lot, to escape from everything I sensed in people around me. So it’s logical that they thought I was a bit slow, I was daydreaming instead of picking up things to learn from. Also I was really involved in taking care of my parents emotions instead of exploring life and myself and my abilities like the other kids.
There’s also this thing.. when I was home from the hospital after lying in a glass box the first months of my life, I got sick and almost died. The doctors gave me so many antibiotics that I became almost blind. So I think my parents must have worried about me a lot and so it’s only logical that they projected their fears on me. This caused them, or at least my mom, to become extremely over-protecting and over-involved. Sometimes she would take over whole situations for me, sometimes she still does that. It would make me feel dumb, I started to believe there was something wrong with me. In the end it became normal and clear to me that I was different than others and I layed that view of myself over the way I saw the world. So when I had to do an extra year at school, before I could go to the group in which you start to learn writing and stuff.. it was absolutely clear and logical to me that it was because I was dumber and different than kids my age and that I had to do the extra year. This was when I was 6 I think. So when I was 6 I was convinced that I was dumber than those around me. I didn’t complain at all. Also, I started to see experiences like that adding up to this view I had of myself, which grew into a disorder.. including serious insecurity and self hatred. Which is a self-fullfilling prohecy.
The writer wrote about switching between over-involvement and under-involvement. Above I described the over-involvement part and the effect it had on me. On the other hand my parents where at times under-involved as well. Because of their own intense emotions they were unavailable. So I learned how to gain their attention, no matter what kind of mental state they were in. Doing things that no parent can ignore. I didn’t have to at first, my parents gave me attention when they overprotected me. At times smothering me. I was convinced I was dumb so that worked out fine.
What I sensed with my dad mostly was that my sister and I sort of had to do the things right, the things that he wished he had done differently perhaps in the past? That he wanted us to make right the things he ‘did wrong’ himself when he was younger. Which is a lot of pressure. My sister is a real over achiever and perfectionist. Who wished for some credit and my parents to see her but they were focused on soothing their own drama’s through me and in return I would keep them entertained for attention. That must have been horrible for her.
When my parents devorced they were of course completely taken by their own emotions and completely absent. Emotionally or entirely. No matter how much I tried to soothe their emotions, whatever I did, nothing worked. And I gave everything I had to offer to try and make them feel better, while at the same time they stayed emotionally absent. It’s not like an 11 year old can really do anything in such a situation, that is too difficult for a kid to understand.
In my mom’s energy I sensed that everything was wrong, she was in so much pain but she acted to us in a way that made it seem like she was alright. So she was giving mixed signals. My dad lost his mind and would cry and explode, say hurtfull things about my mom etc. Being with him started to now really scare me and I felt unsafe and didn’t want to be in contact with him anymore eventually which would make him feel even more frustrated and enraged. He had pushed everyone away but we as his kids had to go to him anyway. So we were the only people to vent his frustration to.
The only thing left to do was rebel because if I was good they didn’t see me. When they devorced it felt like no one saw the struggles me and my sister were in. It was all about our parents. While they seemed to act towards us that they were there for us but when we needed them they couldn’t handle more than their own emotions. So it was like: “you are always welcome but not right now.” When we would come to them for help or anything they would always look at the situation through the perspective of the emotion they were in. As a kid I never spoke about what went on inside of me because first of all, I could sense their emotions, so why couldn’t they sense mine? They didn’t have to say a thing and I sensed there was something wrong. Also, if I did tell them then they would be so caught up in their own drama’s that they just entirely missed the point. At times my dad would come to me and look into my eyes and in a sort of obtrusive and demanding way he would say that ‘we needed to have a conversations’, which meant I that had to tell him what was going on inside my mind. He would miss the point completely and unconciously say things that would hurt me. Eventually whenever he would tell me to have a conversation or asked me what I was thinking about, my mind immediately got blank as a defense mechanism, to not get hurt. He would ask about my thoughts and feelings and I would say; I don’t know, because I felt empty and couldn’t remember what I was thinking about. My dad would say; how can you not think about anything?! So I ended up making something up to comfort him and to get out of the situation.
As a kid you get stuck in this obsession with pleasing your parent, when their response is completely unpredictable or when what you do is often wrong or not good enough and you don’t understand why. One day what you do is great, the next day it’s not enough. So you become obsessed with gaining their approval. I still try to please my dad when we meet. This made the approval of those around me so damn important to me. I’m really sensitive to the way people think of me, especially when they are close to me. On the other hand it felt like whatever we did nothing was enough, so there’s that rebel coming to the surface again.
I started to keep secrets to find out if my parents would be involved enough to notice it and do something about it. But they didn’t, they didn’t punish me. This way there was no structure. I could do anything, it didn’t matter. Not that I ever had clear punishment. Like your parent telling you; you did this, so you deserve this kind of punishment. The kind of punishment we got depended on their emotional state and wether they were involved at that time or not. Of course I tried out so many things, my behavior becoming extremer.. So I went to therapy, that therapy still didn’t include my parents in it and I just felt like some moron again. Duh of course I need therapy, I’m the problem. No one saw their own side nor took responsibility for it. Just hurt people pointing at each other.
It is very difficult for me now to not become emotionally unavailable myself. This way I don’t feel so emotionally overwhelmed all the time. This way I cannot really connect with anyone or myself. This way people cannot really leave me like the way I’ve been left in the past. I do to those I love what is done to me. And I think that, when I am gone for months, often during the summer.. when I lose myself.. I abandon myself before anyone else can. When I’m not myself then no one can really leave the real me. And also, I don’t sense the emotions, needs, limits etc of those around me. So I don’t feel like I have to be that will-less compliant. On the other hand I do extreme things, probably for attention. But actually I’m starved for connection, not attention, because I do not feel any connection with myself and because of that I cannot connect with others. I’m afraid of showing myself because I’m afraid of being abandomed, so I abandom myself first and if that doesn’t work I abandom others. At the same time it makes me furious that people leave me. Turning agressively against myself because I am that stupid, dumb moron that doesn’t matter. If you hear negative things about yourself often enough you start to believe them and at some point feel like, ok, if that’s who I am then sure I’ll let the darkness take me over believing that it’s me.
The black and white thinking, the splitting, is a coping mechanism that grew out of this unpredictable aspect of my parents. It’s safer to just fill in and push away before they do. To hurt before others hurt me. I see this behavior in my parents too. It’s difficult to trust myself if my mind keeps splitting on people and things and myself and everything. It’s difficult to know what’s real. It’s difficult to have a clear sense of self, it’s difficult to trust anyone etc..
So that’s roughly it, of course there’s more to it and hopefully DBT will help turning this around.