Monday, July 13, 2020

Lost Friendship

Showery day, which hadn’t been forecast.  Pretty cool outside for July 1.  I’m tempted to let today be a total day off, and not take the walk I’d taken for granted I would.  Maybe not even do yoga.  I’ll see Shannon, of course, even though I kind of wish I didn’t have to do that on my day off.  I kind of preferred having my day off on a different day than a Shannon Day.  I’ve been trying to adjust.  Before shutdown I’d go and walk in the Tabor neighborhood ahead of our appointment—since it got light enough to, anyway.  It was nice getting a break last week.

So, some thoughts did occur to me, where some more meaning stood out to me from the basic facts than what had presented themselves to me before.  It had to do with the nature of how I considered my friendship with Martha, which I had presumed was mutually cherished.  Of course that’s what the whole thing revealed, was that she disowned my claim on her.  Yesterday was a poignant day, not just for the anniversary of the loss of my sister, but the 1st anniversary of Martha and my last breakfast together.

It simply offended her deeply that I called her attention to something she was doing to ask her to stop.  She felt shame, and to reduce the causticity of that shame transferred it to me as anger: begging a question that the greater transgression is to mention a transgression.  As if there was some sort of sacred agreement that it is ok for one party to demand that the other allow them to take and ask nothing in return.  And I was in violation of such an agreement, and thus worthy of all scorn and censure.  She simply refused to consider that this is a very one-sided agreement that benefits her only, and surely no one in their right mind would agree to such a thing.  Of course, that’s to accuse her of being so reprehensible as to be someone who demands that another consider her, but herself feels no in-kind compulsion to also consider “another”.

It’s weird just how many people there have been in my life who seem to think just this way—that they don’t owe others what they expect from them.

So anyway, I wasn’t interested in breakfasts any more with Martha, because I’d seen her disown the relationship I’d taken for granted we had, and she didn’t retract that disowning.  That’s kind of the bottomline truth, and I have no desire to have a relationship with her that’s not the one I’d thought we had.  There’s no going backward toward an “acquaintances”-level in my heart, once I’ve gone beyond that into close-intimate.  Whatever it was she had with me was not enough to keep her from behaving the way she did, and then apologizing for without resentment.  Our relationship was not precious enough to her to weigh more in her decision of what to do.

It’s just a fact to face.  It probably makes sense that we actually ARE too different; she’s right about that.  We differ in that I believe in telling the truth about relationships, and I believe that relationships can deepen when the parties are sincere, love their relationships, and proceed with the best of intentions.  She believes that the highest expression of relationship is to never be informed that her behavior hasn’t been right.  She’s blind to the inconsistency that she feels entitled to tell others when their behavior hasn’t been right, but gets offended if they bring something up to her about her own.  She truly believes that she has been maliciously harmed by another who holds up a mirror.  I suppose that’s because the shame she feels at being caught in a misbehavior is so sharp that she can only blast it at the person who is most closely associated with it.  Completely missing that she’s expecting something of me that she doesn’t expect of herself --to her it is logical that I am to blame for the strong emotions surrounding this.  I feel kind of helpless about this, because it’s clear that anything in my tool box would be considered offensive by her.  So I helplessly am aware that to her it really does seem as if it is my stubbornness, hypersensitivity that have caused this, and she is the victim.

Truly, what happened is that she began to lash out.  At first it was rare enough that I overlooked it, but then it started happening more frequently.  When I felt I couldn’t overlook it any more I asked her to change her behavior.

Thus, this is the first time I’ve exercised this belief, that one should tell the truth, about something adverse about her, to her.  All these years, and this is the most directly I have faced her with something that has bothered her all along about me—that I believe in being authentic.  All along she’s disliked this trait in me, and having it finally appear directly between her and me focused her dislike to a point where it seemed reasonable to sunder the friendship. 

Well, they were good years.  I’d sure looked forward to nestling into that friendship, and the wider cocoon with Teri (and the wider circle including Kat and Wanda, too) for the rest of my life.  It was a place where I felt completely myself, and completely accepted for myself.  In the deepest, most satisfying way.

I suppose the part about feeling fear about ‘losing’ Teri (losing the friendship) is about a hint that Teri may be sensitive to any winds from Martha that would find it disloyal for Teri to continue a relationship with me.  Which could express as a sort of belief that she and I "just don’t have as much in common", something like that.  Rather than seeing it as moving away from me out of a sense of loyalty to the friendship with Martha, she might see it as something I’m doing wrong, or a ‘perception’ that we’ve grown apart somehow.

I’ve also been aware of this all my life, I guess.  That people might be prone to see me in a way that enables them to value themselves over their value of me.  That people don’t really see me, and they don’t see that their own defense mechanisms in part are why.  Their own defense mechanisms, their own fears, wounds, reflexive allegiances.  I guess I’ve just been around so many wounded people, who then wounded me.

But, I guess that’s the whole nature of mental health healing, is dealing with the effects of caustic decisions and contexts on our psyches.  My parents were hurt themselves, and their hurts caused them to make decisions about their worth that bent their worlds into a shape where their own coherence and worth as people was predicated on their children’s behavior.  Their own coherence and worth were more important than the mental health of their children, and so they asked more from their children than could be reasonably expected, ever and children’s efforts to comply result in a weird patchwork of beliefs and compensating behaviors, that in turn wounds others who come after.

I just realized that it’s actually time to begin 2020.3, vol 131.  The second quarter ended yesterday, June 30, on the same day that my sister’s life ended in 1988, on the same day my friendship with Martha ended.  When Martha made it clear that it was unacceptable that I had told her that she was hurting me with the way she was treating me.  THAT’s what’s the irreparable difference between us, the unbridgeable gap.  It had just been waiting 40 years for it to be exposed.  I would never expected that she would choose her belief that she's entitled to expect me to shore up her illusion that she’s infallible to the sweetness of a friendship that was a source of joy.

I guess I’ll close with that here, and begin vol 131 with it there.

I wonder if I needed to see it, in this way, in order to realize again, what a big realization it was, and how I needed to protect myself from it, that my parents loved a version of me that I did not match.  Furthermore, they expected me, and expect me, to present to them a facsimile of that version of me that I don’t match.  The me that doesn’t match the version they have of me knows that she isn’t acceptable to them.  So I spent my life assuming I was at fault, and assuming my feelings were deeply wrong, because that was where the seat of my disagreement with the others was.  So I spent my life trying to fix my feelings.  Because in order to tolerate Martha’s treatment of me, I would have to be a person that doesn’t get hurt by them.  In order to have stayed married to Gary I would have had to be able to accept the shit he threw at me (without him realizing it was him throwing shit).  In order to have stayed in relationship with Mark I would have had to be someone who wouldn’t hurt when he did little (and big) disloyalties to our relationship.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

People of the Container

My counselor and her partner have written a book:  The Treasure Within--An Archetypal Unfolding To Your Infinite Potential

On page 78 in a discussion of ‘individuation’, they write “In the past, society’s general moral code, collective values, rules, and law held us in a ‘stable container’ that allowed the ego to stabilize and strengthen, keeping us from being overwhelmed by our unconscious and of acting out unconscious tendencies.  Yet, to individuate is to discover and assimilate our own aggressive and negative tendencies, taking us beyond using our introjection of an external of an external moral standard of conventional values and rules (which were taught to us from outside ourselves) to gaining our own inner moral code, not based on the conscious mind alone, but coming internally from our total psychic structure and experience of the Self.  It is the vital difference between a plant grown in water and a plant grown in the earth.”

Well, that already is a good summary of the struggle I’ve had with my parents, at least as a teenager.  That accounts for the experience  that led me to characterize in earlier journal entries the attempts to escape their gravitational field.  I know I’ve put it that way before; the sense that their gravity pulled heavily upon me and my attempts to escape it were freighted with guilt and a sense that there must be something wrong with me for my very desire to escape.

And now I understand their perplexity, and alarm, which manifested in attempts to place an even heavier tractor beam on me.  They were people who had never moved beyond the “container” of societal values.  Thus any hint that I may be straying outside that container to them could only seem to be rebellion (which eventually it became) and a moral lapse—a relaxation of prohibition of my ‘sinful nature’ in order to gratify a baser self.  To them it would seem I was attempting to disregard what to them was vital foundations of morality.  And how I doubted myself:  Maybe I was only seeking license to gratify my baser tendencies.  This perspective makes sense about my father implying criticism of a practice of being honest with someone who is stepping out of line.  It’s clear from his anxiety about people being authentic about how someone else makes them feel that he learned viscerally that that is a dangerous practice.  This lesson would be a part of the container of social values and religion for him, and to advocate for something different would seem to him to threaten a pillar of decency.

I think his upbringing had him concluding that part of the pillar of decency is the understanding that males are entitled to unquestioning obedience and veneration.  So for a wife to challenge her husband when he is outside of bounds was to my father reflexively reacted to as some some sort of threat to something sacred.

I think another way the underlying principle manifests is the theme of People of Color being vilified for demanding their place in We the People of the United States (when they shouldn’t have to ‘ask’).  It threatens something in the structure of the “container”.  Of course that’s a kind of idolatry, to worship the container that is meant to protect us as we mature into beings that can regulate ourselves, and then differentiate from that container.  I now realize that many people never move beyond the container.  It becomes the signpost that is worshipped, rather than what the signpost points to.  My family of origin is made up of people who worship the container, and see any movement beyond it as transgressive.  When one is moving beyond the container, it is indeed a very daunting operation.  If this is happening when a Soul is very young, it is very susceptible to the accusation that in transcendence there is some kind of sin.  It is very easy for a vulnerable consciousness to conclude that the drive to break free must be evidence of Evil in the spirit (confirmed by religious instruction), and thus to align with that drive is to intentionally transgress.  That’s basically where I was hung up for years—swinging between my innate drive to differentiate, and my loyalty to the container which was all I’d ever known.  (Question comes to me as I write this—are my sons spared this conundrum since I attempted to base my treatment of them on seeing them—not what some pre-determined standard told me I was "seeing"?  Connor's confiding in me about his own self-criticism and anxiety is evidence that maybe they aren’t.  Spared.)  (But what I CAN say with a kind of certainty, is that the sense of vitality in the relationship I have with each of them, is FAR more satisfying than the level of relationship I remember having with my parents when I was my sons' ages.  present
age!>  present age, let alone, how satisfying it was when I was in my early 20’s, mid-to-late teens>  For that I feel grateful.  I don’t sense that they are giving me dutiful ‘love’--satisfying an idea of what love is, vs the reality of connection). 

It’s interesting to think that the root of my troubled emotional connection with my parents is that easily explained:  They never outgrew the container—and they believe that ‘outgrowing’ it is immoral.  The conflict came from their attempts to keep me contained, when I was growing beyond a superstitious belief in it.  Their relationship with it is as supplicants to the god it represents—and they really believe that that is The Only God--who demands servile obedience.  So they got nervous when I started moving close to the boundaries that felt safe to them.  And while I respect those boundaries, I see that they are also barriers to what it would take for me to feel genuinely close to them.  They keep me from being Known by them; they keep ME from knowing THEM.  So there’s the discomfort of my life with them.  They don’t want to be reminded of how far outside of the container I am.  They want me to give them reason to believe I’m still in it.  With them.

Certain behaviors are required by the Container in order to be perceived as ‘belonging’.  It’s as if being in alignment with 50’s norms of white American society is required to belong.  In that sense, it feels morally coherent to People of the Container to on one hand say that skin color should have nothing to do with how a person is treated, but on the other to take umbrage when Black people marched for their right to be “The People” (with all the rights and privileges thereof).  The amazing thing is to behold how the internal contradiction is completely overlooked.

In Shannon and Dianne’s words, my parents never went beyond “our introjection of an external moral standard of conventional values and rules (which were taught to us from outside ourselves) to gaining our own inner moral code, not based on the conscious mind alone, but coming internally from our total psychic structure and experience of the Self.”  My parents' moral coherency sprung from a conviction that humans being innately sinful.  So, one’s standing as a ‘good’ person therefore sprung from one’s ability to push negative feelings and desires deep into the unconscious and keep them there.  I suppose a consequence would be that life would feel shallow, which would either spur someone to double down and devote their will power to embracing religion, or spin off, possibly into something self-destructive.  That was the world I lived in, and it felt very thin to me.  So, my feelings that that world felt thin to me were evidence that I was failing to keep those feelings buried in my unconscious, too.

However, whether by design or not, the result was that I could only conclude that to be a good person meant everyone else thinking I was a good person, which meant appeasing them, often.  Even while at the same time society was telling me that I should be an Independent Actor (as long as it aligned with what pleased them).  I’ve known this for a long time, but haven’t quite understood this as clearly before.

So, seeing that mismatch, in these terms (they being people of the container and me also being of the container but naturally growing beyond, and being prohibited from doing so) would explain a great deal of my experience of my younger years.  That kind of mismatch would not bode well for the person who has no power in the situation.  The person with no power would have to come up with a solution all on his or her own, and in my case it was to believe that if someone was displeased that I had displeased them (in a lot of ways it’s because they believed that I had displeased them, too).  And the way to not-displeasing lay in becoming very vigilant and anticipatory about what might displease them, and to monitor myself to see if I might be about to do something that would cause me to be punished in some way.  In that way, attempting to predict what would cause them to be displeased became me seeing myself the way I thought they saw me.

Confusion ensued.

I’m less confused now.

Part of it may have been the talk with Shannon on Wednesday.  I shared with her my fear that I have reached the line in terms of therapy, meaning that I have reached the limits of my capacity to better myself, and my alignments or whatever within so I can attract a life that has joy and warmth, warm pleasure consistently, as a consequence.  I read my journal entry about fearing that there was “no there there” in therapy, and that being a cause of some sadness—along with the kind of sadness that’s around when I feel overextended.  Shannon reminded me that in the prior visit (2 weeks ago, since we didn’t meet the day after Christmas) I had surmised that maybe what I was interpreting as sadness wasn’t really sadness.  I remember that conversation with her, where I’d gotten a sense of understanding that what felt like sadness might be really be “the breadcrumb trail” “back” to my Natural Self.  She said she thought that was an important insight, a stride forward.

The book has over 400 pages, including the appendices.  And all of this thought was inspired by a single line on page 78.  That's promising.