Learner therapist (5)…Quiet violences
August 15, 2011
Following are some patient experiences of their persistent, consistent and seemingly untouchable disregard by those closest to them. They are the solid foundations of the anxiety / depression in their presently distorted relationship worlds. These feelings are both typical and totally particular at once. They easily elicit a self-denying doubt - "I've had everything I could expect. What have I got to complain about?" – compared to imagined others' terrible childhoods.
These patients are medicated, and/or in long term dynamic or interpersonal therapy with histories of short-term CBT inefficacy, and/or with associated relationship struggles at work, home and play. They usually have two or three anxiety/depression symptoms at once, with one or another more prominent depending on total stress and injury salient stress in varying measures. Their disorders have been traceably with them for decades. The complete family social systems which supported the incidents / perceptions below are alive and well to this day, continuing to carry and sustain the psychological bugs which infect these people.
The speech reported is a close paraphrasing of their actual words. So, for example:
She said: All I want is when I call up mum that she listen to my concerns of the moment; what happens is I call and she suddenly gives me over to Dad who doesn't engage about anything… (this has gone on for her whole remembered life).
He said: When I told my parents at age 6 my grandmother had introduced me to a man in her house who sexually abused me a number of times, they 'took care of it' and it never happened again…nor was it ever spoken of, even to this day (32 years later).
She (39, alcoholic, twice married, 2 own children, four other of second partner) said: They (her parents) never say 'I love you' to me (breaking out in her quiet version of wracked with tears late in the first session) and brush off my efforts to reduce drinking.
He said: For the last few years, living in our house has always been seeing the others but never doing anything with them – we even eat separately. Otherwise, Dad is always away and Mum's always cleaning noisily and intrusively…
She said, starting to cry uncontrollably: I remember being sent away for two months to summer camp aged 5 so my returned run-away 12 year old sister could "have space" as recommended by a social worker returning her…with the understanding for years after that I should "behave" or get into rouble from father for I knew not what; the reason for the runaway was never discussed…so the boundaries of expected behaviour were never clear, just implicit.
He said: (shaking with inner turmoil) I just remembered myself going down the hall of the hospital 30 years ago to see the back specialist in terror about the outcome (I was put in a body brace for 6 months) and mother (who was with me) not asking how I felt, and me feeling I couldn't say because she and father were unable to run the family themselves and I - aged just 14 at the time, eldest child - was carrying the load, down to doing the shopping, cooking and so on.
These are quiet violences of the family intimacy sort*, which often provide foundations for self-harm and suicidal thinking and action, mitigated by alcohol or binge drugs of delightful escape. To a person, those above say at one time or another: what have I got to complain about (compared to people in physically or socially violent lives, or the poor in Calcutta, etc.)? I don't want to blame anyone for my shortcomings - the litany of over-responsibility for lives which has also allowed them to be among the successful (that is the surviving, "high functioning" jobholding, family rearing sorts). Though anyway, I'm worthless, not good enough, can't get it right, hopeless….which makes me try harder to be perfect (a very useful inspiration for many kinds of public life success (jobs, etc.)).
These are not the violences we normally think of when talking PTSD. Their effects may appear in forms like OCD, social phobia, panic…and self-harming, with and without thoughts, or unsuccessful acts, of suicide. They are the kind from which arise baseless fantasies of being "annihilated" by the absence of others, by nothingness…a good starting point for re-visiting the Existentialists. No Exit comes to mind.
And, too, they are sources of apparently baseless, barely perceptible, angers, small outbursts of rage with no accessible origins – the very rages we find at the social level on the road, in the retail, at the home. Their power lies in the presence of the past in the present. People's current lives repeat in degrees and domains, the damages of childhoods sustained in the present relationships which produced them in the first place.
Even if the family members have changed, the parents have lost their power, the truth of the damaging histories cannot be validated because they are on the family's undiscussables list. So the struggle of the past reappears as sibling differences on what's discussable. Talk about resilience! And about systemic maintenance of contexts for paranoid processes! Enough to make one think themselves crazy, just a bit.
* "The WRCH also presents a typology of violence that, while not uniformly accepted, can be a useful way to understand the contexts in which violence occurs and the interactions between types of violence. This typology distinguishes four modes in which violence may be inflicted: physical; sexual; and psychological attack; and deprivation. It further divides the general definition of violence into three sub-types according to the victim-perpetrator relationship.
- Self-directed violence refers to violence in which the perpetrator and the victim are the same individual and is subdivided into self-abuse and suicide.
- Interpersonal violence refers to violence between individuals, and is subdivided into family and intimate partner violence and community violence. The former category includes child maltreatment; intimate partner violence; and elder abuse, while the latter is broken down into acquaintance and stranger violence and includes youth violence; assault by strangers; violence related to property crimes; and violence in workplaces and other institutions.
- Collective violence refers to violence committed by larger groups of individuals and can be subdivided into social, political and economic violence."