January 05, 2004

Nurtured Nature

Us at 10.jpg
A bit of personal history: when I was in fifth grade, in England, I was spending an afternoon alone in the flat with no one but my father around. For some reason I don�t recall, I remember him appearing at the playroom door, his normally ruddy face apoplectically florid with rage. I must have done something wrong, but what I cannot for the life of me remember. All I know is that he soon had me by one arm, and was swinging with his free hand to swat my behind, and I was swerving to avoid the blows, so that we lumbered around in circles like some misshapen two-headed elephant. I was screaming and crying, more in fear and rage than pain, since he couldn�t get enough leverage to really hurt me, when it hit me like sticking my finger in an electrical socket that he wanted to get a rise out of me, that that was his single purpose. He would only be satisfied when he heard me scream loud enough. At that moment, I realized I didn�t need to give him what he wanted, and I ceased at once both my protests and my seeking to avoid his paddling. I simply relaxed in his grasp, and the surprise of my lack of resistance made him almost supportive as he sought to keep me upright even as he continued to try to spank me. But now I gave no satisfying howls, made no squirming to get away.

And this was so dispiriting to him that to my intense amazement, almost at once he stopped hitting me. He let me go, leaving us breathless the two of us. But he wasn�t through with me, not yet. He still wanted to get to me, to hurt me. Only if he hurt me, could his own rage and impotence be relieved�That�s what I saw so clearly, so terribly clearly. So when he thundered across the room to our precious tin-sheathed cardboard dollhouse and began systematically dismantling it and throwing the pieces in the waste basket, I felt immediately that I had no choice but to join him. And not only that, but to laugh uproariously, even while we both trashed my single most favorite plaything, on which I had lavished both hours of my time and all my pocket money. Well, this did the trick. Seeing as he couldn�t obviously hurt me, in the sense that he couldn�t provoke me to tears or outrage, but only encouraged me to laugh merrily, he abruptly stopped what he was doing, glared at me with murderous rage in his red eyes, and then, clearly fearful of what he might just be capable of if he didn�t leave me right then and there, he pounded out of the room and left me to my triumph. I fully admit I cheered, and jeered. I felt more victorious than if I had beaten my brother to a pulp! I had won, and he could do NOTHING against me; he could not hurt me, no matter how hard he tried, not physically, not emotionally. He had tried and failed, and therefore I was the winner, and I gloated in my victory over the tyrant of 839A Finchley Road.

But what was the price I paid? And why did I automatically resort to such an emotionally self-destructive behavior, rather than submitting to the less damaging effects of a spanking? Was I programmed by my genes to respond this way? It certainly felt innate, not learned, not conditioned. No one had ever taught me to react this way to abuse before. I just happened upon it, and understood that it was the only way to successfully beat him at his own game.

I suspect that something innate in me leads me to see the world in black and white, in terms of absolute good and evil instead of shades of grey. I have never not been prone to such a division of labor, even when I myself am partitioned off into the all-bad category, as I usually am. Why do some people see the gradations in things, in events and people, and others, like me, see only the stark contrasts, and find it so difficult to accommodate to the idea of in-betweens and relativeness? Have I merely learned to be this way, or is it, as it feels, a natural native response that I must constantly keep in check?

I saw no other option that day but to destroy my dollhouse with my father. I could have sobbed or objected, or simply mutely watched as he went about his murderous business. But no, I felt obliged to join in, to destroy my own things myself, and to actually feel cheerful doing so, albeit somewhat hysterically so. And to this day I often choose to hurt myself if I perceive that someone else wants to hurt me. I�ll do it first, I reason, so I can control it and it won�t hurt so much. No one can hurt me as much as I hurt myself, I know that. NO ONE would dream of burning me with multiple cigarettes over large patches of skin. No one would slash my wrists or cut at my face just to get back at me. Yet, with or without the help of accompanying command hallucinations, I do so, and do so frequently. Or at least have done so many many times, each time without even considering other options, or simply waiting for the feeling to pass. It never occurs to me to think about what the scars will look like, not even on my face. I just lash out, and obey both the voices and my own self-poisoning hatred.

This continues, and feels right, even as, objectively speaking, as a phenomenon, it continues to puzzle me why I engage in such obviously unproductive and harmful (if non-painful) behavior.

Here endeth my 7th blog entry.

Posted by pamwagg at January 5, 2004 08:37 PM


My darling Pam,
I thought I knew so much about you, yet you never shared this chilling memory with me. You humble me once more.
Remember, however, that I too share your "either black or white-nothing else will do" mindset. There is no grey in my world either, and just as you interpret this, my feeling is that that is how I have always viewed the world. It did not simply begin at some time; it always was. There is no need to reason with it or overcome it or make a judgement about it.
Do you remember telling me that when most people see a forest, I see each individual leaf?
Black, white, trees, leaves are neutral, nonthreatening variations on a theme.
You,my brilliant friend of the heart, are a theme unto yourself.
With love and
Pesky, Unperked

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at January 29, 2004 05:36 AM

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