Lots of people who know me through circle dance see me as enthusiastic, creative, competent, etc. When I tell them how awful I feel about myself, they have trouble believing it. This is painful for me, because it means that my pain is invisible, and I often get invalidated by people who can’t believe I’m as vulnerable as I am. They don’t understand that the person they see when I’m “on” — that’s what I call it to myself, and I know I’m being enthusiastic, creative, etc. — even though I can experience myself when I’m “on” it’s like she disappears when I stop being “on.” The truth is, though I’m aware of being her, there’s a dissociative barrier to my being able to integrate those qualities into the self that I experience. This is not about “self-image” which is how I see myself, and always changing, this is about how I experience myself.
The dissociative barrier is not as complete as it is when a person has “multiple personalities” and when she’s in one, she doesn’t know about the others. “Dissociative barriers” can be big or small, complete or non-existent. We all have “sub-personalities,” who appear when circumstances call on them, and there’s not really any dissociative barrier. For example when I teach astronomy, no matter how depressed I may feel going toward the classroom, as soon as I’m there and start speaking, I’m able to be competent, knowledgeable, and able to engage my students. I know I’m a good astronomy teacher, it’s a skill that I have. But as for knowing I’m creative, or kind, or generous — words that people have used to describe me — I feel “who are they talking about?” Which leaves me wondering if that other person can possibly be connected with me.
I have struggled with this issue, trying to understand how to change it. One concept that has helped is the distinction between “implicit” memory and “explicit” memory. Implicit memory is like learning to drive a car. You may not remember exactly when you learned, but now it’s so natural that you can drive a car while thinking about something entirely different. It’s a built-in part of you. Explicit memory is remembering the time when you went to the beach and it was so hot you ran into the water with your clothes on. That’s something you recall, it’s like going to a library and picking one of the books off the shelf. A lot of what we learn in our first three years is implicit memory. We learn how to function as a human being, how to negotiate our way through our environment. A lot of what we learn about ourselves is from “mirroring” — the mother “mirrors” the infant by responding. If she smiles a lot, the infant learns that she is lovable, if mother frowns a lot, or leaves the baby alone a lot, the infant learns that she is not worth attention.
I have struggled with this a lot more since Neskaya was built, and people see me as this amazing person who built this very special place, and infuses it with a spirit of joy, of acceptance, of connection with the sacred. I wonder who she is. I’ve been in therapy my whole life, first trying to fix myself, then trying to unlearn what I learned from alcoholic parents, then trying to heal from PTSD. Recently I’ve been working with a therapist who specializes in attachment and trauma. “Attachment” means the primal relationship with the mother or caregiver. Erica works very differently from my previous therapists. She is constantly mirroring me, giving me feedback about my actions, my tone of voice, the look on my face, what I’m doing with my hands. I’ve never had this kind of feedback before. At first it seemed to fill some empty place inside me, but now it’s getting harder to take in. It’s as though some part of me is resisting this new information about myself. That’s where I am right now in this process.
There is an earlier post with this same title.