Sunday, October 21, 2018

Feeling States

There are many ways we wriggle free from the confines of patriarchy. We are born and live as tiny figures held under a giant's thumb, lifted just high enough to dance on its palm without being tempted to jump off, learning to clutch for safety the ropes we are given that eventually noose our necks. We find ways to escape it while still in it. We band together. We keep each other's secrets. We stay too long and remain too silent. We protect our spirits this way, hold on to what is left of ourselves, split ourselves into inner and outer beings. We  put aside and avoid our grief so that we can move on in our lives. Sometimes, the pain is too much and we escape or become like them, like the oppressors, we flee; we cut ourselves off from our pain and also our true selves.
I have fiercely maintained that the place to conquer patriarchy is our own homes. In our homes, we can be artists and craft an aesthetic of grace. This is the place aesthetic counts, for we live in a world that worships what is superficial and detached. In our homes, we can create an aesthetic in our words, actions, and spirits that is connected and deep, meaningful and rich. 
Most of the time our sense of communion with each other is marred by dissociation. The more I learn about therapy and therapeutic practices, the more I'm convinced that the circle of rupture and repair of relationships is most effective is when everyone is dealing with their symptoms of dissociation and attachment issues. Dissociation can include being cut off from the feelings of self and others. To the degree that one lacks empathy and sensitivity is the degree one's relationships will be marred.
(A good explanation of dissociation is found here:
"Dissociative symptoms can be relatively mild such as feeling foggy or fuzzy, having a hard time talking about experiences, feeling dizzy, and feeling tired. More intense symptoms include feeling “out of control,” having lapses of memory, or reports of “lost time.”
Complex PTSD and dissociation is maintained by defenses such as denial, repression, idealization, or minimization of the past. Or we use substances or maintain other addictive behaviors to avoid feeling the pain.")
And that makes raising a son the most important job one can do, because patriarchy stubbornly clings to habits of shaming, blaming, and controlling, therefore making its systems and adherents of its system the most cut off and contemptuous of humanity. the antidote to that is to teach altruism and cultivate empathy. Much of the time that involves teaching them how NOT to turn out like their petulant fathers and do better than that. But for a sensitive boy, this can be hard.
I have hope for my child, though. I had a conversation with my boy about feelings. He was in a situation where he felt left out. He has been extremely insightful and surprisingly self-aware. In his life, he has had a large amount of personal safety and agency taken from him, and has been given messages from key figures in his life that he is not good enough. He was able to tell me how he thought about telling his friends he felt left out an that it presented a dilemma for him. We discussed how hard it is to feel left out and what ideas he could come up with to deal with that feeling next time. He said he could just play with them and say things like, "it's my turn," or express interest in what they are playing, or otherwise insinuate himself into the situation and just take care of his feelings rather than expecting others to take care of them for him. However, I also acknowledged the importance of sharing your feelings with others and how and when to do that. This led to a discussion about people who are safe places to share your feelings...people who will truly hear you and acknowledge your thoughts, ideas, and pain. One of the things he said he felt in addition to feeling left out was not heard. Again, he has a key relationship in his life where he is consistently not heard, and no amount of sharing his feelings and using his voice to stand up for himself will change that situation. So he has to practice this with other people, and learn to find people in his life who accept him as he is and receive his feelings with love. We talked about how there are different levels of relationships, and some are more superficial than others.
It made me sad to be aware of how lonely my son is right now. Since his world changed this summer with a change in schools, he feels like he has only one person in his life that is his go-to friend, that truly has his back. My wish for my son is that he finds more kindreds in his life, more friends of the heart, more sensitive boys like himself.
In my enthusiasm to do better for the next generation by being a strong woman, I took for granted that my son, in opening his heart, would also feel the pain of being different...of being a "Have Feelings" in a world of "Have Not Feelings." Good lord, I've been punished a LOT for using my voice and having an opinion. I've channeled Elizabeth Warren, Hillary, and Christine Blasey Ford against the Trumps, McConnells, and Kavanaughs in my life. Because one thing those kind of men forget is how utterly unoriginal they are. They are parrots and cuckolds and basically the same person. How on earth they are able to sell mediocrity and cruelty to the masses is beyond me.
Even my son must find his way to wriggle out of the chains put on him by family, culture, and patriarchy. And the biggest chain is dissociation...and the way out of dissociation is grief.
We joy, we grieve, we find our way out of this mess.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Daughters of Narcissists

Recently, I listened to a presentation by Jayson Gaddis. In this presentation, he was talking about finding connection with people who are disconnected.  He asked the question, "Why do you stay in a dead relationship?"
This is a question I've asked myself over and over, only phrased as, "why do I seek men who do not love me?"
The answer, of course, lies in all the familiar associations of childhood, where love meant distance, pain, neglect, criticism, and overt abuse.
He showed a picture of his daughter on the beach. Clearly, since he was taking the picture, he was behind her. He then asked his audience what would happen to her if he just walked off, drove in his car, and never looked back...completely abandoning her in the process. He explained that once she realized he was gone, she would go into a state of terror and desperately try to find him. If she could not find him, she would go into shock and eventually shut down (completely dissociate from her feelings). Luckily, he explained that this desperation is not neurotic, it's intelligent, because a daughter is not supposed to be left by her father. After awhile, he said she'd adopt some kind of coping strategy to deal with the abandonment: become a shell of a person, reading, getting good grades, pleasing, etc.
I want to explore this metaphor of his daughter on the beach a little further. I think the overt abandonment is clear-cut and obvious. However, there are other ways to abandon a person than driving off and leaving them.
Remember, the three tenets of trauma as presented by Bessel Van Der Kolk are:

                -not being seen
                -not being heard
                -not being taken into account

In Scenario 1, her father leaves her. Scenario Two might go as follows: instead of leaving her, he just starts walking, and keeps walking. She might want to stop and play in the waves, or explore the shoreline, or look for shells, but she soon realizes if she follows her desires or interests, she is going to be left behind. So if she wants to have her father, she'd better put her wishes aside and just keep following him. Scenario Three might go like this: her father walks down the beach as in Scenario Two, only instead of making her simply follow him, he makes it about him. He notices some people watching them and so when she wants to sit and gather shells or play in the waves, he makes her do some cartwheels. After that, they walk on down and he refuses to allow her to follow her interests but sees some other people watching them and so commands her to hold his hand. The only way she can maintain the bond with her father is to do what he wants, when he wants. And from the outside, it looks like she is having a good relationship with her father. Scenario Four could be that her father walks on, and every time she tries to engage him in shell gathering or sand building, he ignores her or makes her do cartwheels or hand holding. Sometimes, he will give her a crumb of attention to what she likes, but is never consistent, and never truly sees her for who she is. Again, her wishes are never heard and are deliberately ignored, keeping the focus on him and his wishes.
He taints the relationship by bringing shame messages. Deliberately ignoring another person's humanity immediately places doubt in their mind, and they start to wonder what is "wrong" with them. This is how subtle abuse works. It is also how power and control work. Shame is a powerful way to control others. Perhaps it is the most powerful way. Nothing can grow in a milieu of shame, and narcissists are so full of shame that they express their rage through control.
In every scenario, she is not seen, not heard, and not taken into account. She may have been abandoned in body in the first situation, but in Scenarios Two, Three, and Four, she is abandoned in spirit. Who she is as a person is never as important as what her dad wants. While outright physical abandonment is, in and of itself, a violence, abandonment of spirit, of self, is an ongoing violence that indeed traumatizes.
The results are the same. She may shut down, dissociate from her true feelings (because that s her teaching from her father), become a pleaser, become a shell of a person, and come up with all kinds of coping strategies in her life to deal with the fact that she has been deliberately snuffed out by her dad.
In adulthood, she learns that it is better to simply exist next to someone, not connecting or being seen, than to risk the force of abandonment again. It IS experienced as a blow to one's existence.
Fathers teach their daughters a lot about themselves, about women. Making sure they hold on to male role dominance by staying in charge and in control is a sure way to abandon who their daughter is, and never get to know her. Narcissistic fathers have already abandoned their daughters if they rejected their mother, because anything that speaks of "mother" must be squashed if the daughter wants to maintain connection with her father. She becomes responsible for their connection.
I've journeyed through this for 50 years. My father has abandoned me in all of these ways. I watch my own daughter with experiencing Scenarios One and Two by a man who also abandoned me.
Men who abandon have lost themselves and great parts of themselves they will likely never wake up to.
After many years of healing, this wound is finally surfacing in a way it can be addressed. I wrote yesterday, "I'd rather expand through the risk of love, than remain small through trying to prevent rejection." My teaching is to work so hard to prevent rejection in relationships. My un-teaching is to speak the truth of my worth. This is what I have to help my daughter with also, even though in so many areas of her life-personal relationships with misogynists and narcissists or simply living in patriarchy- this truth will not be heard. She has to find awakened men to help her heal that and be heard.
And that's for another blog post...to expect as a woman that you will not be taken into account.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Gift of Narcissistic injury



"Narcissists suffer from what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines as narcissistic injury: “vulnerability in self-esteem which makes narcissistic people very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.”" (from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201608/the-destructive-force-narcissistic-injury)

In dealing with a narcissist, you will certainly experience the full force of their narcissistic injury. The  unspoken goal of the narcissist is control, and underneath the control is a deep-seated fear. They stay stuck in limbic impulses.
How does it feel to be the object of someone's control, fear, and aggressive impulses to dominate? How does it feel to be around someone who always feels that they have to manage, direct, and dictate to you what you should be doing? Who places themselves in a worse than parental position and actively seeks to undermine your agency and humanity?
Outside of being fearful that someone whose reasoning is off-line will actually hurt you in body, there is the very real aspect of psychological wounding. Recently I discovered the work of H. Stephen Glenn (Developing Capable Young People) and in his categorization of behaviors as barriers, I find the descriptions are enlightening for someone who has been the target of narcissistic abuse. Because in actuality, when you actively seek to take away the humanity of another person, and through narcissistic injury defend, deny, project, and otherwise excuse yourself from your nastiness, you are abusing that person. In a narcissist, these controlling behaviors are immovable, extreme, and chronic. In other words, they can't change those behaviors, because they lack metacognition, and it is important to understand this.

Here are Glenn's barrier behaviors and notes from his recorded lecture:

Barrier behaviors
1. Being quick to assume. 
            -when you assume, the message you give another person is, "I have no faith in your ability to be more than you are, or more than I think you are."

2. Rescuing from chances to gain from one's own experience 
            -when you try to prevent someone from experiencing natural consequences, you take away their basic right to direct their lives. This happens with the more subtly controlling behavior, and also in narcissistic families where members are routinely incapacitated through enmeshment. This keeps someone right where you want them, which is always adoring you and never leaving you. It encourages dependency on your thinking for them.

3. Directing
            -the underlying message for someone directing is, "I see you as no more capable than a dog but much less obedient." It is probably the most dehumanizing aspect of a narcissist's control/ego injury prevention. Directing establishes them as the expert on their life and everyone else's so they can continue to support their fragile ego. It's the most self-centered and obviously controlling of these behaviors. When you have someone whose demonstrated belief about you is that you are an idiot, you become angry, passive-aggressive, and dependent (if you are their child.) I would say you also feel continually defeated. This is where the post-divorce narcissist who recruits family court to carry out their directing (controlling) really does their damage. 
              It's a demeaning message to give to a capable adult: "I'm in control and you must do what I say." "If I tell you what to do, lecture you, punish you, and criticize you, this is the best way to get you to comply with my ideas of how you should be and do better (as defined by me.)" It only breeds resentment, anger, and unwillingness in the target of such flawed thinking.

4. Unreasonable expectations
             -Glenn describes this as "using potential as a standard and discounting people for not being there already." Because of a narcissist's compulsion to define reality for everyone, you will never meet their expectations. Not only do their expectations keep moving and changing, but expectations like automatic compliance with their wishes, obedience, and total agreement with them are disempowering and do not promote values of equality, cooperation, mutual respect, and collaboration. It's an aggressive, forceful stance. It makes you feel helpless and unable to influence your environment. 
Glenn says, "when you go about judging people for what they're not, you defeat them."  Narcissists judge you for not being them.

5. Adultisms
            -This is any kind of -ism: racism, sexism, etc. It is an intolerance of differences at its root. Narcissists personalize this in their target and make them the "other." They create an enemy by focusing on, or even manufacturing, differences that they can never tolerate or accept. Similar to a person being mistreated for the color of their skin, a narcissist will make up some reason to mistreat you, an the reason is that you are always that you are deficient in some way. Again, the goal is to demonstrate their superiority and their specialness. They forget that we are all deficient in some way, and no one on this planet gets to be someone's personal Jesus or Santa Claus, and certainly can't do it by ostracizing and criticizing them. Their message to you is, "since you don't see things the same way I see them, you are deficient."
And of course, the target of the narcissist's behavior feels completely helpless, starts to doubt their abilities and their reality, and is impotent in key areas of their life.

So what is the gift of being with someone whose goal is to aggrandize themselves by using tools to consistently demean you?
There are indeed forces in this world that echo the goals of the narcissist, and we see that wars, politics, and social systems are based on principles of criticism, judgment, disempowerment, disconnection, and arrogance. It IS abuse. The work of our hearts, when we have been singled out to bear the brunt of someone else's dysfunction, is to deal with pain.
It is just painful to be treated as if you don't matter, as if you are insignificant, incapable, and to have agency over your life be systemically reduced or taken away. When you are in a situation where you have an active bully in your life (i.e., a narcissist who can't let you go and is still angry years after your divorce, and who uses family court to carry out his aggression towards you), you are, in a sense, in a constant war you honestly can't escape. What is the gift of THAT? Shouldn't you just do what the dog in Seligman's studies did and learn that you are helpless?
Of course you are helpless to change the narcissist. You might be able to change the system with a devoted group but it's not going anywhere right now! The only thing you can change is yourself.
And the wrestling becomes one with SHAME as a force in your life. Every single one of those behaviors is a shaming behavior. It is designed to MAKE you feel bad about yourself, and narcissists are notorious for intuiting your tender spots and poking them. 
The antidotes to shame are truth, grief, self-validation, and self-empowerment. It doesn't mean you don't make mistakes, or don't stumble, or don't see the path clearly. It means you free yourself from the lies of the narcissist. All of those barriers are lies. You ARE capable, significant, and powerful to change.
And as a changing, growing person who is not locked into a disorder, you can turn your heart towards Builder behaviors and work on establishing health within yourself and relationships. 
Identifying the lies/barrier behaviors of the narcissist helps you in the moment realize it's not you. You do not have to put on the shaming messages of the narcissist and can curate self-messages, behaviors, and people that allow you to have dignity and respect. It also helps to know that you have the capacity to not match their bad behaviors with bad behaviors of your own. You do have to protect yourself and hold to the truth, but you cannot expect them to have other tools in their toolbox other than tools to beat you over the head with their control and superiority. 
But you do. You have the ability to rise above and become kinder, more compassionate, more free, and stronger than you ever thought possible. All thanks to a narcissist's deep dysfunction. You can thank them for that!
"Thank you, narcissist, for showing me the way out of shame is to be so completely immersed in it I can't stand the pain. Because I so loved you and wanted to please you, I allowed myself to be enveloped by your darkness. This became unbearable at some point, and I had to leave the confining sheath of that pain to find I was living a lie. I didn't know the truth until I lived the lie. I bow in humble gratitude to you for showing me my strength through experiencing the depth of your fear and desire to inflict pain. I am so sorry you remain stuck and I pray you find the same freedom I have. I love you and feel only gratitude to you. You are, in every way, my tor-MENTOR."

And, a song of hope for you:


Sources:

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Enduring Love

Life has a way of stretching and breaking and hiding and opening your heart in frantic waves and cycles. This year has been one such ocean of heart renderings. Young people taking their lives, older people threatening to take their lives, being faced with my own mortality at age 50, stepping into the difficulties of love after trauma. Therapy feels like dreaming into the ancestral hunting grounds of wounds, of remembering child-war, of learning to curate people who tend such wounds and are good at walking through those ancestral hunting grounds with you. The dreamscape of child-war is a haunted place, full of roots. These roots must be found...where did this shame first begin? Where is this trigger learned? Where are you, Fear, and what are you attached to?
This summer, I burned an 82-page motion, one of hundreds I've received over the years since my divorce. Oh, you didn't know that could happen? That someone could hold on to so much bitterness and compulsion to control?
I am sure there is some unwritten rule that I'm supposed to hold on to these, even though my attorney and the courthouse have copies. Like I need to house "The Annals of Interpersonal Torture," or, "Record of Abuse and Trauma Triggers," "Files of Extreme Patriarchy in Action," or, more accurately, "How to Break Your Own Family,  Betray People You Said You Loved, Blame it on Your Ex, and Kick 'Em While They're Down." Why would I want to keep those reminders around? It felt good to watch it go into the fire.
A few weeks ago, my googling resulted in being accidentally led to several quotes about passion. I learned the word "passion" comes from the Latin "pati", which means "to endure" or "to suffer." Earlier in the summer, I had gone to the peach truck with my  man friend. I took some of those peaches to my friend's house, and we ate dinner together. After dinner, she put on Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's "Porgy and Bess" album. As those incredible songs washed over me, I stood over her kitchen sink and bit into the flesh of that peach. Juice dripped everywhere and I stood over the sink thoroughly enjoying my peach, so much that I sucked and licked the remnants off of the pit. To see something through to its end like that surely meant I was having a moment of passion. But to learn that passion originates not from exuberant pleasure, or the driven interlocking of purpose and will, but from suffering, from endurance.
So it is with love. To find love, we must wander through our suffering states, we must endure following what has flowered in our life back to its sordid roots, and determine if what we are growing is indeed healthier than what those around us seeded in us as children. The literal etymology of the word "passion" implies dissatisfaction. If one suffers, one feels deeply the magnitude of change that needs to happen, the touching of one's own suffering to that of others, one will certainly be driven to put those feelings into making changes in the world. It's not a resting into pleasure. It's a recognition of your power to hurt or help.
I thought I was being passionate when I devoured that peach, and passion does indeed carry the connotation of full immersion in something, whether that be pleasure or work or relationship.
Yet passion is suffering, and that suffering is a catalyst for transformation and growth. When you place that within the context of love for our fellow human beings, and how we care for them, it makes sense that we patiently (there's "pati" again!) bear one another's burdens. We manage our own disappointments and grief. Passion is also associated with those who feel so deeply for a human cause that they suffer for it, and this is love.
We love individuals, and to me, this is where passion is heightened. Tolerating abuse is not passion, is not love. It is ok to be dissatisfied with another, and to bring to light their abuses of you or others. As James Baldwin writes, "If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see." People are not peaches. I believe love with passion is an active cycle of dissatisfaction moving into joy and back again, and always engaged, without judgment. Dissatisfaction is a sort of pruning; enduring is the fertile soil. This allows love to die and be reborn many times; a passionate constant.
So I will traverse my dead dreamscapes, looking for the roots that still live, nurturing what was deadened back to life in the light of love. 
This enduring is hard work. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Three-fold Narcissism

In our culture, we have had a view of the brain as "right brain-left brain" which we know now is an outdated model of the brain since different parts of the brain are in communication with each other all the time. Another approach to explaining our brain has been the "triune brain."
I've found this helpful in the context of narcissism. Briefly, the triune brain model states that our brains can be divided into three parts. We have a primitive brain that is responsible for base processes such as breathing and heart rate. It is largely out of our control. The next part houses our amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus...our limbic system. The third part, our neocortex, is home to our prefrontal cortex. Our prefrontal cortex is what gives us our capacities to reason, think in abstraction, and accurately assess threats.
NPD is categorized based on the following criteria in a person:
"Narcissistic personality disorder is indicated by five or more of the following symptoms:
Exaggerates own importance
Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
Requires constant attention and admiration from others
Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes"
(these attributes are from the DSM and can be found anywhere on the net)
If you look at the list of attributes, a theme arises. A person adapts this way to maintain control-control of their environment, including other people and other people's perception of them. But the kicker is lack of empathy. Having no empathy arises from the limbic system. In order to selflessly consider the feelings of others, you need your prefrontal cortex.

From the triune brain article: The amygdala is like an early-warning system, with the motto “safety first”—put that safety plan into effect before consulting the executive brain (the new cortex). Picture yourself jumping out of the way of a snake-like object before closer examination reveals it to be just a hose in the grass.

A person with NPD will manipulate out of their amygdala: safety first, since their world is basically threatening...they must have an enemy. If you are artificially manufacturing an enemy, your prefrontal cortex is offline and nowhere to be seen.
Survivors of a relationship with a person with NPD heal by overcoming their limbic triggers, which are there for ACTUAL safety. The NPD person creates a fake "safety first" system, and stays stuck in their limbic impulses to protect themselves from fake threats. That's why they appear delusional and why gaslighting is as natural as breathing to them. By contrast, survivors are experiencing the narcissist's attacks on their physical, emotional, and financial safety. These blows are real.
If narcissists were able to access their prefrontal cortexes, they would be able to assess information about another person with accuracy and not through the lens of their primal protection. They would be able to forgive, apologize, make amends, see the viewpoint of the other, FEEL remorse for pain they cause another, accurately assess their own weaknesses and work on those, be authentic and honest, and otherwise enter into the human struggle to make sense of our pain. Making sense of our pain is a higher-level, prefrontal cortex activity. It involves developing morality out of an awareness of the pain of others, and commits to addressing that pain without adding to it. It is where our feelings are accepted and processed in a healthful way.
Grown ups are able to admit their mistakes. Grown ups do not see the need to abuse. But someone stuck in their limbic system is a highly protected creature, and will abuse out of that skewed perception of the world. They will make an enemy, literally make up an enemy.
This is why family court is so bad for families. The black and white milieu of the courts is geared towards keeping limbic cycles and amygdala hijacking going. Where there is conflict, there is most certainly an amygdala hijacking going on. Grownups can settle their differences for the sake of their children. Grownups can care when they've hurt someone else. Grownups can come to the middle of any conflict. Grownups can guide their own spiritual growth and apologize. Grownups don't control others with coercion.
This is an important thing for survivors to consider. If you are stuck in trying to reason with someone whose capacity for reasoning is offline in their very brains, you are wasting your time and have to use your own prefrontal cortex to energize and contextualize your healing. Being around people who cannot scare up even the teeniest bit of empathy in order to have a rational conversation makes you crazy. Their whole being is reactive, and because their prefrontal cortex is offline, they cannot perceive themselves or care about the long term effects of their behavior. Metacognition is not a capacity they can actually have, since they are stuck in limbic reactivity. Let that sink in. Their whole existence is reactive and geared towards control of others in order to protect a fake persona. WHY they protect themselves is due to adaptations to dysfunction and it is not your job to fix that.
This will help, too, because in dealing with narcissists, trauma triggers that reside in the limbic system will have to be dealt with. Doing therapy, healing, and making sense of your own pain due to these reactive narcissists is just the path you have to take up. Taking the high road does not mean you support a narcissist's lack of growth, it means you support your own growth and healing. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Homecomings

My love,
I thought of you today when I read Mary Oliver. She wrote, "LISTEN, ARE YOU BREATHING JUST A LITTLE, AND CALLING IT A LIFE? "
I immediately remember gasping as I woke in someone's arms. I had to be two years old. I don't know if I told you all about this, and with time, all of the horrors of my child-war have emerged, leaving me feeling hopeless, helpless to change the stains that remain, ashamed of who I am. I held my breath at the ages of two, three, probably four, just with the quiet wish that I'd go away. I wanted to be out of there and had no other method to escape but my mind and my mind wanted me to cease to exist, to stop breathing. I'd inevitably wake up in someone's arms, surely a fish washed up on a foreign beach, completely disoriented and void of memory. Memory has been an unreliable source of information as to why...what would make a small child want to go away from life....to leave. Somehow I chose purgatory, neither staying nor going but dissociating throughout my life, living as a numb observer. I tried to wake up by going back to the hurt, to see if I could re-know what I knew once by associating with hurtful people, with people who actually enjoyed my pain. I didn't consciously choose to do this.
At some point I came to understand deep within that it didn't matter what had happened, but it mattered that I was so threatened and unsafe that I wanted to go away from life. And I was continually going away from Life by putting myself in same situations, different life eras.
My grief today is strong and welcome. I have been breathing just a little, making myself small again. I live as a rivulet but my heart bears a flood. I place gentle words on my anger but it has no tolerance for that kind of self betrayal. I make myself the smallest whisper but my mind constantly screams. My hands grasp the concept of rhythm but my dance is frenetic and uncoordinated. I am worried  and uncertain of my future. I am disappointed and not angry, just so very sad. I am told my mind is sharp and fast but it works against me. I find myself attracted to the places where I am not loved, or the purgatory places where I float in numbness. My childhood echoes down every hall I tread and I have to listen. No choice in the matter.  I feel utterly alone in those rooms and halls. Not many people in my life have sought to understand, to withhold judgement, to witness my pain.
But you have.
Who else could know these things but you? Who else could I tell it to?
When the world says to me, "you're too intense. You're intimidating. Your words are too quick. You think too much. You feel too much. Why are you with THAT guy? Why don't you do this do that change now?", it is trying to fix something it doesn't understand. It is trying to use its biases and platitudes to change something it is completely ignorant of.
The world-the world of "they"- doesn't know how many times I have died and gasped for breath only to return to a half-assed life, or worse, a harmful one. They don't know anything about that so they should let me stumble my way across the unknown geographies of my grief, they should let me try to wake up and have my lovers who won't love me and my feelings and my love for my children and my heart of compassion and my anger at injustice and my frustration with forced poverty and good Lord, some sense of agency over my own life.  They should let me leave behind all the times I've died and they should not, under any circumstances, ask me to willingly die again. They should let me have the flesh of my own life, and allow me to hungrily devour it and suck the pit and let the sweet juice drip down my chin.
To know such depths of love and pain, sometimes at the same time...I wonder, do others feel this too? Am I the only one? To search for a solid landing place only to become a fly on someone's coldhearted wall....do others see that, too? The parts of me that scream out that I'm not good enough, that believe I'm empty and can't be valuable...I hold my breath...then, I am seen, heard, and welcomed into life....I sigh. You love. You, love. You: Love.
I remember waking up in this way in your arms, feeling so alive I could be a pitcher and pour myself on to the floor and walls if I so willed myself. Or I could be the stars come down to light the room. I fall apart easily in your arms, soft and malleable, utterly safe. I can be the most vulnerable, sad, broken version of myself and you will take me in and love all that pain and hurt and brokenness until I am just me, beloved of you, and you are you, beloved of me.
I wake up again, and again I will gasp for breath, for you to fill my lungs.
for all the homecomings, I thank you, me

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Daughters of Misogyny



source:istockphoto


"One of the more telling aspects of the GOP’s ongoing implosion over Donald Trump’s “pussy tape” is the succession of men (mostly Republican, i.e. white) expressing their outrage solely as it relates to their daughters or wives.


Framing the matter this way treats a woman as a possession. She’s protected because she’s in a family AND because she’s owned by the man in that family.


This attitude implies that only to the extent that she happens to be a man’s wife or daughter does a woman deserve to not be sexually assaulted. Not because she’s, you know, a human being who doesn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted."


(from https://goodmenproject.com/raising-boys/men-misogyny-sons-not-wives-daughters-dg/)


I sat at the dinner table, ten years old, and my newly-single father had made me breakfast. It was unclear in my memory if he was living with his new girlfriend, but I sat at the table with him and my brother. He had decided that I needed to lose weight and so had placed sliced tomato and onion on my breakfast plate. I cried at the coldness of this gesture, at wanting my father's love so desperately, and all he could offer was ways for me to change and improve myself. When I went back to my mother, I was literally starving and I was so happy I got to eat.


The key phrase in what I just wrote is, "He had decided."


My dad was a very vocal opponent of my grandfather, the pedophile. The women in my family protected the younger girls in this strange, intuitive choreography, so I was safe from my grandfather. My dad SHOULD have been outraged at my grandfather.


Yet my dad could never show me how to really be respected and loved by a man. And controlling what I ate so I could become model-thin and pleasing to him objectified me in keeping with the religion of misogyny.


As Danilo Alfaro wrote above, there can be a disconnect between a man posturing to protect his own family, which can include wives, yet have no clue about how to create health in the family. In other words, the absence of a thing, like sexual assault, does not equate to health, and is not synonymous with the absence of misogyny.


The sickness of misogyny is that HE decides. Whatever he happens to be in our lives, he decides for us. This gives the message that men will decide what is abusive to a woman, and which women deserve to be abused. A man is then never required to dig deeper into his own fears, insecurities, and considerable biases.


One other dimension of this thinking affects daughters through their mothers. My dad making the decisions for me was only a small part of what he modeled for me. It wasn't like my dad consistently liked or worshiped me like some misogynistic men do with their daughters. Even in that case, as "For Harriet" writes, "How he treated his daughter didn’t always transfer to how he treated women." And this is the aspect that hurt a lot. I never got to see my own mother being loved and respected by my father. He never modeled for me, by treating my mother well, that a woman deserves to be treated as a human being with equal rights and responsibilities to his. Instead, he modeled that some women were good enough for him and some were not, some women were to wait on him and voluntarily be exploited, and even within our relationship, sometimes I was good enough for him and sometimes I was not.


My own daughter has seen this dynamic as I've replayed the same situation in her life. The fact that she will never see her mother be treated as a human being by her father creates a loss for her, creates a confusion about her value and worth, for if he can turn his love off and on like that, surely she is next. It makes her distrust herself, for again, he decides who and what is worthy for everyone.


I know from experience that watching your mother be dehumanized by someone you love and look up to for modeling is devastating. It's disorganizing in the ripples of mixed messages it creates. It's utterly heartbreaking- watching someone you are deeply attached to be hurt by your other attachment figure. What about that part of daughters that identifies with their mothers? They are taught by their father that the parts of them that identifies with "mother" is less than, is unworthy, is contemptible, is hated by him, and therefore, must be subjugated and controlled. Or worse, snuffed out of his own daughter.


It sets you up for a sense of powerlessness in life, for an unstable sense of your worth and value-you just aren't ever sure that as long as your dad is playing by the rules of misogyny, that you have any value or worth as a woman in this world. It doesn't matter if he's all about supporting #metoo. He hasn't supported his own path out of misogyny and into treating a woman like a human being.


The pain misogyny causes is widespread. Anxiety in adolescent girls is at an all-time high. Fibromyalgia, certain cancers, and other autoimmune disorders have been linked to childhood trauma. Racism is a cause of miscarriages in African-American women.


There are many parts to the pain, one being that at some point, you give up on your loved one. They become hopeless in that they won't change, and they won't ever fully be able to see you as a human being as long as they select their personal elite to be treated as human beings. They will constantly follow the rules of misogyny, which is the same as the rules of traumatizing another: don't see that person, don't hear that person, don't take them into account. Allowing a daughter, especially, to bear constant witness to that is to add to the misogyny culture places on her through advertising, movies, music, and religion.


It literally goes deep into her bones.


My therapist told me that we are here to deal with pain. she said she doesn't know why, but that she trusts God and that there is certainly a higher purpose. When one of your loved ones has a part of him that will always hate and denigrate you for being a woman, and demonstrates that through how he treats your mother, that is painful. It requires a heroine's path to walk away from that toxic confusion and into the light of a woman's worth- your own worth.