Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slap or Run

I recently slapped my mother across the face. In my therapist's office.

She wasn't actually there, of course. I mean, I'm not crazy, for God's sake. But the thing is, I had never slapped my mother before--in my mind, or in a dream, or in my journal. I didn't even know I wanted to. I had always thought of her as a very nice woman. But once I slapped her, I realized I was long overdue. I needed that!

Here's how it happened. I have been doing a lot of inner work these days and have come upon some key moments in my childhood that define how I relate to life. I would like to understand them better so that I can stop being unconsciously enslaved by them. In this vein, I was describing to my therapist an incident from when I was around six years old and my mother really flipped her lid after a fight with my dad. She was not even remotely adult in her behavior on the night in question, and I became, for the first time I remember, but probably not the first time, the grownup in the room. At six years old, I took on the responsibility of managing the whole situation, trying to calm her down, trying to get my father to do something other than stare blankly at the television as if nothing were happening, running up and down the stairs between them for hours trying to secure my life as I knew it. Trying to get my mother to stop throwing her clothes into a suitcase. Trying to get my mother to act like my mother.

And this is one reason I slapped her, in my mind, in my therapist's office: it was that old-fashioned approach to putting a stop to hysterical behavior, like Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. "Snap out of it!" But I won't deny that the primary reason was pure rage at how overwhelmed I felt at being put in the position she was putting me in. She was terrifying me.

This is significant because I still feel sudden upsurges of rage and overwhelm and terror when people--like, for example, my daughter--go to pieces emotionally around me. I just want it to stop. I can do a little cajoling, a little comforting, but at a certain point, I start to unravel. I want to run away, screaming, and never come back, because I definitely don't want to slap anybody, and in those moments of total internal panic, those seem to be the only two options. Slap or Run, my version of Fight or Flight. I am pleased to report that so far, I have done neither.

My hope is that, in processing this early childhood experience, I will become conscious enough to stop confusing my mother with my daughter, or any other hysterical person. I won't panic. I'll be calm enough to actually be of use. I'll realize it's okay, because I'm not six years old, and that's not my mother, and I can handle this. And I think it's a valid hope. I'll keep you posted.