Saturday, March 31, 2012

Slapping and Braces

The first time my NM ever slapped my face was when I had a mouthful of metal in adolescence. We had been in her bedroom, I had been complaining about a teacher who had some kind of problem with me in junior high (a.k.a middle school). Usually my NM is very protective against outside forces, you see, so I think I wanted her to do something, try and get me into a different class or something. Pull her impressive PTA clout with the principle or something. I don't know how the situation deteriorated. I don't know how I ended up getting slapped or what I did that she felt merited slapping my face.

There's nothing repressed or forgotten. It's just not there. The memory was never processed and encoded. I assume this was because the process was interrupted by the unexpected blow she struck.

What I remember next is being slapped, but we weren't in the bedroom anymore, we were in the hallway. I don't know how we ended up there. I went down on my knees, face numb. I didn't taste the blood yet.

NM freaked out and raged. Oh she had never wanted to hit me, to be like her mother (she'd been slapped a few times for the things that came out of her mouth growing up), I had "made her" do it. She started hitting the wall, crying and ranting. She might have started banging her head against it, too. Mostly I just remember the noise and being terrified. Then I realized my mouth was cut up inside from my metal braces and that I was bleeding. I said nothing.

She didn't ask if I was okay, didn't apologize. She went to get her purse and go run errands, demanding I come with her. I didn't move from where I had dropped. I was swallowing my own blood because of that woman. I sure as hell wasn't going to get in a car with her and go places I didn't even need to go to just so she could have me trapped with her and lay into me more. I can think of no other reason for having wanted to drag me along other than so she could punish me further.

She persisted, angrily. Finally E-Sis stepped in. I don't know what she said, but NM left. I went into the bathroom to examine the damage. It was never spoken of again for years. She never asked if I was okay when she got home, she never apologized. Or if she did, I don't remember her apologizing. Knowing her though, it's not likely she did. It wasn't until much later I told her about the injury. I don't think she offered a real apology then, either.

PROTIP: Don't slap your children. Especially if they have any orthodontic work in their mouths.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rage, Yelling, and Tears

If we had lived in an apartment, or if the houses on our street weren't so well insulated and spaced apart, I suspect the police would have been called out to our home more than once. If not for the screaming fights NM had with my father when I was a child, for the yelling and slamming things NM did when she raged at E-sis and me.

It was as if every mess, every act of non-compliance, even a dirty spoon not put in the dishwasher, was a personal attack against her by us. Her rages over the dishes were the most terrifying and that drama merits its own series of posts later. In general, NM had two types of rages - the angry lecture and the pure rage. Sometimes one would lead to the other and the words were often the same for both, it was just a matter of what level of volume she spoke them at.

"How could you do this to me?"
"Do you like me when I'm angry?"
"Do you like making me angry?"
"Don't cry! I should be the one crying!"
"You made me angry!"
"Why can't you behave?"
"Why can't you do what I tell you?"
"I'm angry!"
"If you would just behave this wouldn't happen!"
"Why did you do X!?"
"Why would you do that!?"
"It's your own fault!"
"I'll give you a reason to cry!"

The list could go on and on. The specifics don't matter and I can't even recall them. It was all the same in the end, we were bad and we were responsible for her emotions. Heaven forbid I start to cry, as I often did, that just incited her more. Sometimes she would cry while she raged at us, because we had apparently hurt her so much by simply being children! Being around her was aversive and so whatever it was she wanted us to do was aversive by association. We just tried to avoid it and her and keep our heads down. But of course she would yell at us for not doing it then, yell at us for something bad we did, and so on. We would sit there or stand there, forbid from speaking, forbidden from fleeing while she lashed out at us. There was no escape, and when one cannot fight or flee, one freezes. That is when trauma typically occurs.

When people around me raise their voices, even if my friends are just debating a movie, I flashback emotionally. I become silent. I try to make myself physically smaller. For example, if I am sitting on the sofa next to DH, I curl my legs up and under my body, and press against him and hide my face. I feel unhappy and scared. I have returned to the way I felt in childhood, small and powerless, hoping it will stop soon and unable to leave the room, unable to speak up. Having learned this about myself though, I have started to get up and go to another room to do breathing exercises when I feel the flashback starting. I'm an adult now, I can leave an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation. It's slow, but I'm making progress.

In spite of my attempts, I (thankfully) never learned how to stop myself from crying, how to control it. As an adult I frequently apologize when I cry. though Not if I cry over a movie or something like that, that's okay. But if I'm sad or angry and cry I apologize, because I was not allowed to be sad or angry and cry unless NM thought I had something to be that way about, which she never did. She might make a token effort to console me, but when it failed she would become irritated or mad. Over sensitive is probably her favorite description of me. Anyway, it's taken many years with DH to not feel like a bad person, an inconvenience to others, for crying.

In closing, it seems NM has a desperate need to yell and rage. She couldn't yell at us so much once we were adults in college as we weren't home much and usually did our chores, and by then my father had learned to avoid setting her off. So NM yells at politicians, pundits, and other idiots on the news. It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. Certainly I talk back to them myself sometimes, but I never yell. It's not like the people on the TV can hear me anyway.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Validating Experience

So, it says in my FAQ that only by DH and best friend know the full story about my family. Recently I opened up to two other close female friends about everything. I censored nothing. These two ladies have been my friend for many, many years, and also have met and interacted with my mother. One of them is also studied in the field of psychology like I me and always knew something must have happened to me in my childhood. The other comes from a much more overtly abusive mother than mine, however her mother's craziness comes from a treatable condition and there relationship is improving since her mother started complying with the treatment.

Anyway, it was simply wonderful. I was worried people might think I was over dramatic with the whole C-PTSD thing, but my friends were so supportive and validating. I'm so glad I had the chance to open up to them. I haven't been able to before because E-Sis is usually around since they are mutual friends and I don't discuss NM around E-Sis. They were a little blown away because that isn't how they know NM, but they said it gave them a whole new perspective and didn't trivialize anything I said. Once I started talking it just all came out and they let me keep talking as much as I needed.

I really do have some great friends. The weight feels so much lighter now that I've opened up to them about my journey. It really helped remind me I am not alone. I'm not a child anymore and I have wonderful people around me who I can talk to when I'm happy or when I'm hurting.

I love my dear, dear friends.

Monday, March 19, 2012

You're Grounded!

My NM gave out groundings like candy on Halloween, beginning probably around the time I was eight or nine. If I were to try and add up durations of all the grounding sentences E-Sis and I ever received, we would probably have still been grounded in our early 20s. The reason for this is simple: NM oscillated between authoritarian parenting style and a neglectful one. In her authoritarian rages she would hand down grounding sentences ranging from four months, to six months, even up to year long for various offenses ranging from making a mess in the bathroom to a dish coming out of the dishwasher dirty. Honestly I don't even remember what all the offenses were, but I'm fairly certain they usually had to do with messes/cleaning, and later "talking back" to her.

There was never a clear contract made of "If you don't do X or if you do Y, you will be grounded from Z". It was more of a "I'm mad you didn't do X! You can no longer do Y and Z!" a lack of an agreement makes that kind of punishment arbitrary and causes resentment because one had absolutely no way of knowing the consequences ahead of time. However, NM was too neglectful too actually keep track of all the groundings she gave out, what they were for, or how long they were supposed to last. And if for some reason she wanted me out of the house and my best friend had invited me somewhere, she would send me off. This of course made groundings a rather meaningless punishment and it wasn't like there was a reinforcement for actually doing something she wanted done. Remember, not being punished is not a reinforcement/reward. NM never actually tried to teach the behaviors she wanted us to do, only punished unwanted behaviors or  the absence of desired ones, as if she expected we could somehow magically learn them on our own with no help from her.

Also for this type of punishment to work, it requires taking away something that actually matters to the person. There was almost nothing that mattered that much to me that she could take away. I had one best friend and my sister, so there wasn't much socialization to take away. In fact, E-Sis and I became close out necessity back then because often she and I only had each other to spend time with due to the groundings and our we were relative inept at making friends. As for my best friend, I would see her at school, or NM would want me gone and let me go spend time with her, or if her parents needed somebody to watch her they would ask NM because our parents had become friends (and vice versa). It was certainly an inconvenience to lose access to the computer for creative writing (my handwriting is terrible), but losing access to the television, telephones (not that I ever called anyone regularly anyway), video games, not being allowed to play outside, etc, wasn't really a big deal. And it wasn't like I couldn't get into or do most of those things without her knowledge once we were old enough to be left unsupervised for a few hours. As you can see by the list of things I had available to lose, my physical/material needs were always well met, possibly even indulged in an attempt to avoid having to deal with any emotional needs.

E-Sis and I could always do things at home together when we were grounded, and I also had my own room full of stuff to do whenever I was sent to my room or didn't want to spend time with E-Sis. It would be too much work to prevent E-Sis and me from interacting for months, just like it would be too much work to take all my toys away, all my books away, prevent me from checking out books at school, and to take all my pen/pencils and paper to keep me from my creative writing. It would be too much work to try and stand over both of us to make sure we didn't do any of those things, either together or by ourselves. Even if NM had ever decided to put that much effort into her punishments, I could simply work on whatever story I was writing in my head like I would do when I (often) couldn't sleep but was of course forbidden from getting up to do anything because I "wasn't allowed" to stay up, regardless of whether or not I could actually sleep. But I digress. In sum, I had no problems sitting in my room quietly playing by myself, reading, writing, or even seemingly doing nothing. I had something she could never take away from me: a magnificent imagination.

NM's punishments, while often inappropriate and/or poorly executed, were never what was so bad about her, though. It was always the rages that accompanied them, whether it was a barely restrained lecture or full on yelling/screaming/crying, that made her so terrifying. More on that next time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spanking and Learned Helplessness

Today's crash course in psychology is learned helplessness. You'll see how this relates to my story of being spanked in a moment, just bear with me. Phase one: let's say I take a rat and put it in a cage with a metal plate, and following a warning buzzer, the rat receives an electric shock. At first the rat will try to do all kinds of things to try and prevent the shock once it learns the buzzer indicates it's coming, but none of these work. Eventually, the rat stops trying. It has learned that their is no relationship/contingency between what it does and receiving the shock. Phase two: I then put the rat on a metal plate in a new cage. On the other side of the cage is a safe, insulated plate. Cue buzzing followed by the electric shock. Shockingly (pun intended) the rat will not even try moving to the insulated plate. It will sit there and take the abuse. The rat has learned to be helpless! It's a very unhealthy state both physically and psychologically, but I digress.

Spanking seemed to be a logical follow up to my last post, Punishment & Reinforcement. For some reason, I hadn't mentioned spanking be a part of my early memories, but it was and deserves a post all to itself. To clarify, I consider spanking to be swatting a child's behind only with your hand, and not to the point they are bruised or can't sit comfortably. NM's mother only ever used her hand I heard, although she could make you "not sit for a week" and NM frequently reminded us how she wasn't being as harsh as my grandmother was to her, as if we were supposed to be grateful. There were also threats of spanking us like Grandma used to do it back in the day. (Yes, I say us a lot because E-Sis and I experienced these things together).

Now, don't get me wrong. I actually thinking spanking as I have described it has a time and place. I think anything that goes beyond what I described crosses over into physical abuse. When do I think spanking as I have defined it is all right? When, after exhausting all other options, a young child continues to attempt behavior that could maim and/or kill them. Do they keep prying the safety plugs out of the electrical outlets and trying to stick things in them? Do they keep squirming away and trying to run into traffic? Are they constantly finding ways to unlock the door and trying to climb on the balcony railing? When all other methods have failed, I see no reason not to give them a few swats on the butt with the palm of your hand. It's better than them getting hit by car! Much like vaccinations, it hurts but you aren't doing it to specifically hurt them.You aren't doing it angry and you should never punish in anger. You are honestly doing it to help protect them. So when used sparingly and for appropriate reasons, the relationship/contingency between the child's behavior and the punishment is clear to the child and shouldn't scar them for life.

This was not how my NM used spanking. Spanking probably continued until around age eight, and I think at least once she followed through with doing it "like Grandma used to do". This began at an extremely young age for various infractions such as fighting or making or mess, and so on. The most common of course being not picking up our rooms. The fact of the matter though is at the age all this began, it was ridiculous to expect us to be able to, without help, supervision, or even any motivating reward, pick up our rooms. I shouldn't have to say this, but to be clear, not being punished is not a reward! We were developmentally incapable of doing this on our own when she began demanding it and we were too young to possibly do so out of intrinsic motivation. It was completely wrong of her to expect this from us without providing support to accomplish the task. Sadly, many parents punish children for failing to do things that they literally cannot do at their age.

Now because we would be spanked for a variety of reasons, we could not see clear relationship/contingency between our behavior and the outcome. For example, times when we did manage to pick up our rooms, but were spanked later for something else (or the other way around), it contributed to obscuring the relationship/contingency. We didn't understand that different behaviors that elicited the same punishment weren't actually related to each other because we were too young to for that kind of reasoning. So what did we learn? We learned helplessness, basically, and we carried that forward as we got older. We learned that our behavior could not change or prevent NM from spanking us. This made us even less motivated or interested in doing what she wanted, because in our minds we were just going to spanked regardless. Due to these early experiences, messy room problems became an ongoing theme of our struggles with NM. Anyway, instead of doing what she wanted we did things like trying to hide from NM or padding our underwear with tissue! Of course she would always start counting down, and we knew if she got to "three" before we came out (or if she found our padding) there would be hell to pay.

So NM would spank us, we would cry, and she would feel better. Her anger was assuaged. Still no help or supervision would be offered afterwards to get our rooms picked up, and they would remain as they were until the next round. Eventually we stopped caring and stopped crying. When she realized spanking no longer caused us to react (never mind it have never taught us the behavior she desired, either) she switched to grounding us. But that is a tale for next time!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Punishment & Reinforcement

I was reading Upsi's latest post on Discipline and it reminded me of my learning theory course in undergraduate school. Since I've kept all my college notebooks, I pulled out the one for that course and looked at my old operant conditioning grid. I've made a graphic of it for this post. I think it will help explain one of the main theories of behavior modification.

So these are the four contingencies of operant conditioning. In order for them to work however, this requires the person or animal to be able to see the contingency (relationship) between their behavior and the reinforcement/punishment/etc. If they can't see this, they can't learn, and you can't change their behavior with these methods. However, these methods have their own problems and pitfalls.

Positive Reinforcement: If the reward isn't meaningful to the person, then it won't work. It also best delivered as soon as possible for young children who don't yet understand the idea of delayed gratification. One should also be careful not to accidentally reward behavior unknowingly. By yelling at a child who acts out a parent may think they are punishing the child, but if the child is seeking attention, any attention, even bad attention, can be reinforcing!

Extinction: If you take away a pleasant stimulus, you are not likely to extinguish the target behavior unless you are also teaching a desired, alternative behavior. This technique can also prompt aggression and typically there is a spike in the undesired behavior before extinction begins.

Punishment: Type I punishment, aka positive punishment, may prompt aggression or avoidance toward the punishing person. It also does not teach the behavior you DO want. Many parents punish but fail to reinforce desired behaviors or teach desired alternative behaviors. Furthermore, it does not extinguish the behavior, it simply suppresses it in the presence of the punishing person. Punishment should never be an outlet for anger and should never been done in anger, which is another mistake parents, like my NM, make. It's far too easy for an angry parent go beyond mere punishment and into physical abuse!

Type II punishment, aka response cost, is also often used in anger, without a contract set ahead of time between the parent and the child. Without a clear agreement being made between the two parties, there is no clear contingency. When the relationship between the behavior and punishment is not clear, learning is difficult or impossible. Type II punishment shares all of the other pitfalls that Type I has. My NM liked to use this one, too, especially as I got older. It also requires taking away something that is meaningful to the person. If losing the privilege/object doesn't hurt, then the punishment is ineffective.

Negative Reinforcement: Difficult to use outside laboratory as it requires presenting an aversive stimulus for constant periods until the desired behavior occurs. My old textbook gives an example of a man wearing a device that beeps a warning and that makes an irritating noise when he slouches. It shuts off when he straightens his posture and helps him learn to sit up straight all the time, lessening his back pain.

This is of course just a brief overview. It's important to note some people use different terms for the things I have described and these are merely the ones I was taught. I think others use the term "response cost" differently than my professor did. But in sum, it is far better to use techniques that don't require the use of aversive stimuli. Not only are they more effective, they don't inflict harm on anyone.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Early Years

My earliest memories of my father consist of playing with him when he would get home from work and going to the park with him on weekends. Only he ever took us to the park. My earliest memories of my mother consist of her reading to E-Sis and I at bedtime and her yelling at us. I also remember my parents yelling and fighting a lot with each other; NM places the blame for the fighting entirely on my father. They rarely fight now, mostly they just get irritated with each other, but when they do NM still attributes all the fault to my father. He is her favorite scapegoat (SG). It is worth noting he has confided him me he goes out of his way to avoid setting her off.

Since I have no memory of my infancy, I must speculate how NM treated me based upon how I have developed. For most of my life I am certain I did not have a secure attachment style, but rather a fearful-avoidant style as an adult. It has only become more secure in recent years through much work, growth, and also help from DH. Anyway, if a baby's needs are met well enough, secure attachment should develop. I suspect based on this and her behavior when I was a child that she was rather ignoring of me and my needs. As a narcissist her needs must have been and will always be more important than others' needs, even an infant's. My physical needs were met well enough, or I probably wouldn't have made it to adulthood, but my emotional and psychological needs were neglected.

As an example of ignoring behavior, I have almost no memories of her playing with me as a small child, aside from our bedtime routines like reading, even though I can remember playing with my father and E-sis from that time period. I can remember clearly coloring in coloring books with the housekeeper when we had one, but not with NM. I think there is a vague memory or two of doing so with her, but the fact I remember doing so clearly with the housekeeper more than once speaks volumes to me. I don't think she liked interacting with me more than she felt was necessary and playing together probably wasn't much of a necessity for her, even though it is for a small child. I remember NM making us clean and leaving us alone in our bathroom to do so with cleaning chemicals you don't typically leave unattended small children with. I remember she decided to let my hair grow out because it grew too fast for her to hassle with keeping it trimmed short. Once she made a new dish for dinner that I tried and hated; it wasn't one of those "I don't want to eat my vegetable" type of of things either. To me it tasted like vomit and I said as much. But she wouldn't let me leave the table and forced me to keep eating it. To this day cannot eat that dish, even when it is made without some particular ingredients that I have narrowed down as the causes of the vomit taste. I remember being hungry and trying to open a snack, but I couldn't and asked for help. She brushed me off to keep looking at whatever she was looking at, then she raged when I went to my room and slammed the door. These are all examples of ignoring behavior, in all cases her needs were more important than whatever I needed. Keep in mind that these are my early memories, from approximately ages three to five.

Oh, certainly there are good memories, especially her reading to me, but there are just so many bad ones. I don't mean to present a one sided account, but the bad far out weigh the good and this blog is not about the good. I don't need to write about the good memories to try and understand and process them. But I need to write about the bad ones. This mixture of these memories and later ones only demonstrates the inconsistency of NM's responses to me. Her responses to my needs swung between appropriate and neglectful depending on her moods/needs of the moment. My memories combined with my previous adult attachment style leads me to believe my attachment style as an infant would probably have been assessed as being insecure anxious-resistant, also known as ambivalent/resistant, and that I would have sub-classified as passive.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It Began Before I Was Born

Dysfunctional (i.e., abusive) patterns of relating are often passed down from generation to generation. The pattern may be the same as the parent experienced from their parents, or it may swing in the opposite direction. For example, a child who was smothered and not allowed room to separate and be independent may repeat the behavior with their own children, or they may push their child toward separation and independence before the child is developmentally ready. They may make strides toward somewhat healthier, albeit still dysfunctional patterns. It is of course also possible for them to overcome their upbringing and engage in healthy patterns of relating with their children. However, such change usually does not occur without some kind of intervention (such as therapy) or serious insight into the self.

So as the title of the post implies, my journey began before I was born. The starting point was set by the mothers and daughters who came before me. I know far enough back in my family history to know it at least began with my great, great grandmother. She had slaves to order around and do her bidding without daring to talk back. Of course that all fell through with Civil War. So her children and her grandchildren became the next best thing. It was perfectly acceptable back then treat youngsters in such dysfunctional ways.

My grandmother was nowhere near as domineering and terrible as her grandmother was, or at least that's my understanding of things. But to be honest, there is a lot I do not know about my grandmother or her and NM's relationship. I know there was cleaning, sewing, cooking, and other such things expected of NM and her sisters. I know my grandmother spanked her children. I know NM got slapped or had her mouth washed out with soap for some of the things she said. I know my grandmother pointed out and criticized certain things about NM. I know she was very controlling of children's appearance. I know there was conflict between them. I know NM moved out of the house when she was a teenager.

Yet I would hear NM praising my grandmother, to me and when she was on the phone with her. NM admired/idealized her in what seemed a strange way to me. Thanking her for putting up with the things she did, claiming to appreciate things my grandmother did now that she was older/wiser, and so on. It's hard to convey what made the way she did this strange and unusual. I think it was total admiration/idealization NM displayed toward her mother, contrasted severely with the things NM did tell me about her youth and my grandmother. Perhaps denial is part of how NM deals with her own unmet childhood needs and trauma.

I will never know the whole story, or even other sides of it; my grandmother passed away when I was a teenager and NM estranged herself (and me) from her sisters and brother. Ironically, she is able to see their pathological behaviors but not her own. I've have had many discussions with her about her siblings and I am repeatedly amazed at how she can see in them the very things I see in her, while seeming to be completely unaware she possesses the same or similar problems. Never the less, I have enough information to convince me that NM experienced a dysfunctional pattern of relating. And I know from my own experiences she had and continues to have a dysfunctional pattern of relating with me.