December 2017
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trauma response to not 'getting it' quickly enough / worth in performance / assume I'm doing my best


The other day I had an argument with a friend in which they got upset with me for not understanding what they were trying to say after they tried to explain a few times, and unfriended me. I realize now this is a place of old trauma, because I started weeping, and when Topaz asked, I realized it was because I felt punished for not thinking right/fast enough, when I was trying my best. This felt like a flashback, but I have no memory of being punished for thinking too slowly or not understanding. Maybe it was watching others be punished for that which taught me this fear. Whatever the cause, when people get impatient and angry towards those who are trying to understand, it makes me feel like a helpless child, and when it is me they are upset with I get just incapable of functioning, desperate for forgiveness, and cry with fear and hopelessness. If I am engaging at all, I'm always trying to understand: I am never being lazy or deliberately obtuse, and never ever ignoring what someone is saying. Luckily I'm good at it and most of the time people don't punish me for not getting it, but when I fail, its terrifying. It feels the same as when I am trying my best to be kind and I make a mistake and the person gets angry with me. I literally had no way to avoid my mistake, and I feel trapped and hopelessly not good enough. This is where my patience comes from, I think: doing my best to never make someone who is trying their best feel as though they will be punished for it.

It feels very tied to my sense of worth. As a child I was only valued for my "smarts" and I knew that this was conditional. My greatest fear was brain injury because I felt completely sure that I would no longer be valued by anyone. Later I think this morphed into a kind of emotional/intuitional "smarts" where I felt people valued me because I was good at making them feel safe and supported and understood, and if I fucked up at that, I would no longer be valued. This was affirmed by being abandoned at my first failure (that I was made aware of) several times. I think it was also compounded by living for 8 months with someone who expected me to read their mind and do what they wanted without them telling me, and when I failed I was treated with hostility and ostracized from all human contact (they had this power because my only friend was hours away). And then I was in a relationship for many years with someone who would radiate their stress and anger at me unless I figured out the source and helped them feel better about it somehow.

When I cannot understand, cannot show support in a way the person wants, or cannot give safe space, I feel that I am on the verge of true worthlessness, and my entire life depends on them forgiving me for fucking up and trusting my history of success enough to let me try again. It's not a logical thought progression but it feels unbearably real. When it happens with someone I like, it hurts for a little while: when it happens with someone I love, I can think of nothing else until I am forgiven or am certain that I have no chance of forgiveness.

With people I choose to have in my life, I always assume that they are doing their best, unless/until they tell me they do not want to try. I can't bear the idea of not affirming someone's best efforts. I can't bear the idea of someone offering up their best, and someone else not giving honor to that. I can't stand 'art critique' for this reason. The only person who can know if the artist didn't do their best is the artist themselves! And the only way for art to be bad is for the artist to not give full effort. It cannot be judged from the outside.

If I call you a friend, please always assume I am doing my best to offer understanding, support, and safety. If you doubt, ask if it is my best. If I could do better, tell me how. If you cannot start with the base assumption that I am doing my best with what I have, do not be friends with me. I need that assumption in all my friendships.

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Comments
darkestgarden ══╣╠══
I relate to this so, so much.
slinkslowdown ══╣[[Other]] Half and half╠══
The only thing I've ever really been great at is school.

I'd never have homework because I could do that all so quickly in class time. I never studied, but still did amazingly. Hell, I had 98% in grade 12 biology despite not spending a single moment studying. Information just went in and was forever in my brain after just seeing/hearing/reading it a single time.

But now that I'm on Gabapentin, my memory is horrible and it terrifies me. I feel useless at times.

The drug has made my memory so bad that I have no memory of the fact that one of my best friends didn't speak to me for a year. I only know that happened because I went back through old LJ posts one day and read about it.

It's... unsettling.
keiwontia ══╣╠══
Sympathies.
meri_sielu ══╣magpie/crow friends╠══
I know massively how this feels *hugs*
delicatexflower ══╣ever after; drew -- "destiny"╠══

YES. this feeling. i cannot even begin to say how much i know how you feel. i never doubted you always had understanding, support and safety for me. i hope you know i do have the same for you, too.
contrabandits ══╣╠══

You're a very special writer and, I'd say, person in general. Everything you post that I have read speaks straight into my own heart. I'm sorry that you've been conditioned in really hurtful ways but your empathy and compassion for others enough to share what you've learned along the way is commendable to say the least. Be good to yourself :)

kiwi ══╣Flower╠══
Whatever the cause, when people get impatient and angry towards those who are trying to understand, it makes me feel like a helpless child, and when it is me they are upset with I get just incapable of functioning...

Guh. This. This was me for so very long. Medicine, for better or for worse, pushed me to develop a thicker professional skin but I know that in my personal life when this happens...oy.

HUGS to you. So much.
siduri ══╣╠══
You are truly a caring and compassionate person. I wish there were more people like you.
volamonster ══╣mushroom's dragon╠══
This made me feel very strongly. I have so many experiences of doing my very best, and that not being good enough, and being told that I am being mean and awful even when I was doing my best to be kind and supportive. What you described here sounds so painful. I will assume you are always doing your best.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.