When I turned the next page after the chapter on laughter in Keltner’s book my first reaction was aversion. This isn’t the aversion of disgust I would feel if someone handed me a white china plate with a serving of dog turds in the center of it. It’s more the aversion I would feel to continuing down a path once I saw a large diamond back rattler stretched across it. It’s like the aversion I would feel should I be asked to step up on stage to join a chorus line of showgirls scantily dressed and overly plumed in Las Vegas, or should I be asked to sing the national anthem from the center of a pro football stadium in front of thousands.
That’s a strong negative reaction to the single word that appears at the top of Dr. Dacher Keltner’s 2009 book’s (Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life) next page as the heading for his next chapter: Teasing.
I am experiencing the ‘freeze, hide and flee’ half of the fight/flight stress reaction. There’s no ‘fight’ for me here except for the fight I am experiencing inside my self about facing my fears by plowing through a topic that obviously makes me feel completely uncomfortable. I am presented with a challenge here to which I respond with feelings of incompetence and un-confidence. I KNOW I am an unequipped gladiator in the arena of normal human teasing.
It is only because of my commitment to reading Keltner’s entire book and to learning about my self as the severe infant-child abuse survivor that I am that I marshal my courage and willingness to pay attention both to the information that Keltner presents and to my own difficulties with it. I know from my experience of aversion to the topic that there is something important here I need to understand. I know from the start both that I am not going to like what I find here, and that what I find will reflect a truth about how the severe abuse I experienced from birth changed me into someone who is different from the person I could have become had this severe abuse not happened to me.
Because my experience of severe infant-child abuse contained very specific, unusual, uncommon and unique patterns, I have found myself falling through nearly every single crack in the ‘psychological’ theories about how child abuse can affect adult survivors. Because my abuse began at birth, I have had to learn that ‘recovery’ of abilities I supposedly ‘used to have’ before severe trauma happened to me is not possible. My journey of healing is mostly about what I can uncover and discover connected to what was done to me rather than to recover anything.
I have to connect-the-dots of the information I uncover and discover about being myself in the world in far different ways than non-early severe infant-child abuse survivors might get to. I cannot take for granted even the most basic facts about what it means to be a member of our social human species. This is mostly true because my mother didn’t just use one massive club of abuse against me from the time I was born. She had a second massive club that she wielded over me equally: extreme social isolation. Being bludgeoned from birth and for the next 18 years by one of these clubs would have all but obliterated me. Being attacked on all fronts by a combination of the two clubs has made me into a person who very nearly fits the description of a nonsocial species of one.
I am left having to uncover and discover more of what is uniquely different about me from others than what is similar or the same. Yet I was born a member of a social species. Everything that is different for me happens according to categories of experience that I share with all others. It’s just that within each of these categories of possibilities about what it means to be human and what it feels like to be human, I experience patterns of being-in-the-world that are different for me than for nearly all others.
As I encountered my aversion to Keltner’s chapter heading on teasing it didn’t take me very long in scanning the next pages to understand that the topic of teasing is about one of these socially-human categories. Although Keltner does not make the obvious connection between teasing and attachment patterns, I do. In fact, the connection is more than glaringly obvious to me.
I suggest that a clear appraisal of our competency of interactions within the arena of teasing activity can show us the kind of social brain we have.. At the same time this appraisal can tell us about the kinds of infant-child interactions we had with our earliest caregivers while the foundation of our emotional-social brain was built from the time of our birth.
At the same time that I now want to turn to Keltner’s actual presentation of information on teasing, I am experiencing one of my own inner reactions I wrote about earlier in the week. I hear that warning: “Do not enter. Past this point all angels fear to tread.” I realize that if I cross this line, move past this point, I am at risk for inviting in The Furies.
At the same time I realize there is a second sign posted beside the first. This one reads, “You cannot get there from here.” I don’t even have time to consider what this second sign means before I notice a third one that reads, “What is true for most others is absolutely not true for you.” Oh! And a fourth sign! “If you choose to follow down this pathway you must understand that none of what you will find here can be taken personally. Whatever you are missing in regard to teasing did not come about through any fault of your own.”
If the presence of all those signs aren’t warning enough that I better consider carefully what I am going to choose to do next, I see a flash of yellow through the trees and underbrush just around a curve of the pathway ahead of me. I walk toward it and see yellow crime scene plastic ribbons strung across the pathway and wound around the bushes on both sides of the pathway into the forest as far as I can see. At the same time I see a gleaming silver pair of giant scissors lying on the ground in the center of the path right in front of the tape.
I am standing here thinking about this carefully. What might the repercussions be for me if I pick up these scissors, snap through that yellow tape and continue forward down this pathway? What might the ramifications be of gaining conscious knowledge about something my body already knows but has no words to describe? Would I rather be skinned alive than uncover what I am going to discover about myself in this body-brain in this lifetime should I carefully read this chapter?
Believe me, readers. This is turning into a really long pause here……. There are more than a few parts of myself I have to consult with before I can make this decision.
One thing I know today from the information Keltner presents in his book on this topic. True teasing in the human social arena is NOT about aggression. If there is aggression present, it is not teasing. There is not supposed to be anything terrible — ‘terror able’ — about teasing. Obviously, for me, there was in my “Something Wicked This Way Comes” version of a childhood.
I should not be surprised, given the continual reign of my mother’s verbal abuse of me (included within her unending repertoire of violence), that her so-called teasing was extremely vicious, hurtful and WRONG — from the time I was born.