Where can you stand if your foundations are broken?
One of the things I have been asked to do recently is to try and identify what emotions accompany the emotional storms. Some of you may ask what is an emotional storm, if so don’t worry I suspect this blog post isn’t for you.
I found the task surprisingly difficult, In the throws of the storm it is almost impossible to actually identify the dominant emotion and put a name to it, or it is at least for me. The storm feels just like a super enhanced version of how I normally feel so trying to identify an emotion driving the storm is a bit like trying to find a needle that’s 10 times the normal size in a haystack that is also 10 x the normal size. The needle might be ten times as long and ten times as wide but so is the haystack so its actually 100 times a big! I was simply swamped with the size of the emotion that even a needle ten times the size was way too small to ever find.
But eventually, but repeatedly letting my self go to the edge, to the place where I stop being me, A few episodes of self-harm to bring myself back again, I think I found the key emotion. Fear
It isn’t an adult fear, it isn’t an irrational fear, a phobia, it isn’t even a normal child’s fear. It is rather an existential dread of all that the world Is will being taken away from you.
As children we build a sort of map in our minds of what the world is. Some bits we learn from our parents, some through play and yet others through interactions with friends. As we grow we learn new things and that map changes, slowly and imperceptible the world we live in changes.
Some of the things that featured large in our early infant’s map, warm milk delivered by a bottle or mothers breast for example, make way for the new experience of eating from a spoon. Other things however can be reinforced becoming ever more an integral and important part of the map of the world we build.
Then one of two things can happen, sometimes an event or series of events can pose such a threat to a fundamental part of that map, trusting adults in a position of authority for example as happens with many cases of abuse, that the whole foundations of the child map is fractured.
The second, and this is sometimes the case where the abuse is familial, a parent being the abuser, that the very foundations are built damaged right from the start.
Either way, this can lead to the person having difficulties in emotional regulation, the fact that the foundations of our understanding of the world is either fractured or damaged from the start means that when a base emotion hits, such as fear, we simply do not have the foundations. The mental map of the world to handle it. We have difficulty in ‘grounding’ ourselves because in our minds the very world that grounding techniques are supposed to bring us back to is in way the very source of the emotional storm in the first place.
Its in this place that some survivors of childhood abuse find themselves, and one of the consequences of it is that having no firm foundation to stand on, no mental map of the world that includes a place where the emotion, the fear, doesn’t rule, there is no way back to what others see as the real world. For us it is that world of overwhelming fear that is the real world.