My sister gave me some valuable and insightful feedback last night in a telephone conversation about my writing and about this blog. She spends far more time than I do reading other people’s blog writing – on far different topics that what I write about. But what she told me fits in with something I have been thinking about a lot recently: What do humans show to one another and what do they hide?
I have mentioned recently how much I am enjoying the Netflix gift subscription my children have given to me as I stream the Australian television series, “McLeod’s Daughters” and watch some of it daily. Perhaps I so thoroughly enjoy watching this series because it portrays very confident and capable women ranchers, perhaps because it portrays country living, perhaps because it is about a culture that is certainly ‘western’ in that everyone speaks English and shares a background similar enough to mind that I don’t have to stretch very far to imagine the story but does not come from an American-Hollywood perspective.
But ultimately what I am most enjoying about this series is that it offers me the opportunity to watch ‘ordinary’ people interacting with one another. It’s the same reason I love the movie, “The Secret Garden.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched this movie because from it I can glimpse a little bit of what it might be like to be a child.
The truth is, I don’t have any more personal information about what being a child is/was like than I do about what being an adult is REALLY like. I missed that show when it came to town. I was too busy surviving being tortured, tormented, terrified, overwhelmed, traumatized and isolated as an infant-child and then trying to make my way through my adulthood as a confused survivor.
What this has to do with ‘writing a book’ and the conversation I had with my sister last night is that I will never be able to write a single word that comes from a so-called ‘ordinary’ point of view. I have often written about ‘the spectrum of abuse’, but today I am not feeling that as a linear concept. I am feeling it as a circle.
Those of my readers here who suffered from parental abuse that happened within a context of true madness will always be most qualified to understand what I say and the way that I say it. I cannot, however, offer anything to anyone if I don’t get to a place of knowing and accepting that I (and the readers I mention) are in a narrow percentage range having to do with surviving ‘the worst possible childhoods.’
I don’t want to be in some vague exclusive group. I never wanted that from the moment I was born to my mad, mean mother. But it happened, and I AM there.
My sister was describing to me aspects of my blog writing that she sees as being ‘different from others’. I am not sure that I exactly understand what she said to me, but I think it had something to do with TRANSPARENCY. In watching the actions and interactions of people on “McLeod’s Daughters” I am learning something about the reality of the social species I belong to. I can do it far more safely than is possible when I am in interaction with REAL people because I am not expected to say or do anything as I watch.
The concept of TRANSPARENCY in my writing has to do with how much I disclose in my writing versus how much I ‘hide’ from public view. It has to do with my inability to participate in any ordinary way in social interactions.
I have written far more about the early developing EMOTIONAL right limbic brain through very early infant-caregiver interactions than I have about THIS SAME BRAIN REGION as it governs SOCIAL interactions. In fact, emotional cannot physiologically be split off and separated from social.
When I say “I cannot read or respond normally to social cues,” I mean it. That inability cannot help but show itself in my writing. I simply have no concept of ‘filters’ or ‘screening’ of information that evidently ordinary-built people do normally.
I see this filtering all the time on “McLeod’s Daughters” as the characters are shown to have inner thoughts, feelings, motivations, intentions and ‘blockages’ that the watcher is privy to but that the individual characters do not know about one another.
This has to do with the early developing emotional-social brain (and all its corresponding nervous system connections) that are involved in the development of what is called Theory of Mind. To be extremely blunt about this topic, mammal Theory of Mind is just as real as ‘human’ Theory of Mind. My mother’s abuse of me interfered with my developing even as rudimentary a Theory of Mind as a dog or a monkey might have.
And this will always show in my writing just as surely as having an altered brain-mind development is a sure sign of the presence of an Autistic-spectrum person’s relationship with self and others.
So when I say today that suddenly I feel the ‘abuse spectrum’ exists in a circle rather than ‘on a line’, I am saying that ALL Theory of Mind processes, ALL human interactions happen through ‘social-emotional’ brain processes that were built into it from the start of our life by social interactions with caregivers. All these social interactions happen within social-societal environments.
If you follow any circle around far enough from the point of origin we will come back to the beginning. Those of us in the far extreme away from normal-ordinary early caregiver interactions are simply closer to the starting point of the RANGE of what is humanly possible.
What is normal-ordinary is socially defined. At the same time I can say that I am extremely limited in my ability to interact socially in normal-ordinary ways with other people (or with myself), and therefore am dis-abled to fit into mainstream human society, I can also say that I am en-abled to operate in a very different way that so-called normal and ordinary people cannot begin to imagine.
As I watch the Australian dramas unfold on “McLeod’s Daughters” what I am ACTUALLY WATCHING is the keeping and sharing of SECRETS. What I see is that evidently adults not only keep secrets from other people, they keep them from their own self. This, to me, quite simply means that the ‘legal tender’ of normal-ordinary human social interactions on ALL levels is about the TRUTH.
Who has the truth? Who knows the truth? When will the truth be revealed? How will the truth finally appear? Will the truth ever be discovered? What is the truth, anyway? What happens when the truth finally pops out – one way or the other? What power does the truth have to change people’s lives? What power does keeping the truth secret have on people’s lives?
Is all truth equal? Are all secrets equal? When does the truth appear accidentally? When does it appear intentionally and why? Who knows what about whom? And on and on and on social interactions seem to go.
Theory of Mind then becomes about this whole connected circle that exists between having secrets, keeping secrets, revealing secrets, hiding the truth, knowing the truth — or not. It seems people have a variety of techniques for keeping this circle broken, for keeping the truth a secret – or not. It seems that their are an infinite number of ways that these patterns of truth-secret interactions play themselves out.
My transparency comes from my having experienced so much abuse, trauma and isolation that none of these physiological circuits ever developed within me in the first place. When ‘self help’ writers talk about survivors of ‘dysfunctional childhoods’ having no clue what ‘normal’ is – so they have to ‘guess what normal is’ – I cringe now.
The most important truth here has not been revealed by these writers. Some of us were formed in environments that were so far from being socially normal-ordinary that we never received the social-emotional information during our development that would have put these normal-ordinary social circuits into play. So – they aren’t there and they never will be. We are a different sort of human. I am a different sort of human.
I am on the far extreme of the social-game interaction circle. I did not develop WITHIN that arena. I was always on the outside, I AM on the outside, and I will ALWAYS be on the outside. I can ‘watch and learn’ about how humans interact about as effectively as a high-functioning Autistic person can. I watch and try to learn about social interactions around REAL humans equally as I do with television and movie people.
But I have no more illusions or delusions that anything I will ever be able to do will let me BE on the inside of that circle. As a consequence of being a survivor of early abuse on the far end of the abuse-spectrum, I simply will never have the same in-formation that less abuse or non abused people have built into them.
It is here that my ability becomes my disability, right where the whole circle of what is socially possible for my species connects itself: I can both know what I am NOT SUPPOSED to know about others at the same time I don’t know what I am SUPPOSED to know.
According to developmental-attachment experts, I am in the small percentage of people who have a ‘disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder’. Looking at myself from this ‘whole circle’ perspective, I can say that of course having the experience of operating with a completely different social-emotional brain puts me at a disadvantage when and if I find I need to interact with people who are, themselves, different than I am.
But because the social mainstream was built ordinarily, they set the rules. What is normal for them is NOT normal for me and vice verso. Because of what I now know about this whole subject, I can OFTEN watch people who interact with me express their confusion and disarray as they try to understand my reactions and interactions. We speak a different language – and most of the time, unless I am interacting with people who care about me greatly, there is simply not enough time or opportunity for the TRANSLATION to occur.
Communication between species members is most efficient and effective when the arena is a shared one, when the ground rules are known and understood, and when everyone participating is on equal (shared-learned-understood) ground.
The topic gets really complicated at this point. It seems that human interactions are meant to negotiate power, competence, status and connectedness. This all happens within a shared Theory of Mind arena that allows patterns of truth-revelation and secret-keeping to operate. These patterns, it seems to me, help to define who is who, who is a self, how they are a self, what self they are with whom. These patterns define the individual self, the group self, the connections of the self to others as members of a social species.
Being as TRANSPARENT as I am sets me apart from all of these patterns of interactions. Am I sitting at the table with other people playing cards with no cards in my hand? With a hand full of wild cards? Trump cards? Crap cards? Am I playing with the same number of cards as others have? Are all my cards showing to others? Are all their cards showing to me?
What am I supposed to pretend? What am I supposed to know, or not know? What am I supposed to hide? What am I supposed to reveal? To whom, when, under what conditions? How am I supposed to KNOW?
By connecting the trauma/abuse spectrum ends together into a full circle range of human social interactional patterns together, I would guess that if everyone was raised the way I was, everyone would be about as transparent as I am. How would power and the boundaries of selfhood and connection-disconnection with others be negotiated then?