Lately I keep having these flashbacks of past life (as in the lives I’ve lived in this life) experiences, and how I reacted to them when I was that me then. They’ve all been uncomfortable and unpleasant memories of fear, pain, shame, and stuff like that.
The triggers for the flashbacks have been small incidents in the now.
For instance, a week ago, as my partner was pulling out of our driveway onto the road, I saw a speeding car headed straight towards the passenger side where I was located, and for a split second I felt exceedingly vulnerable as I had no control over the situation.
Our house is located next to a busy road. It’s one of those stretches of road where drivers speed along as though on a racetrack. Big trucks thunder by. There’s a blind corner just before the exit from our driveway. Coming from that direction drivers don’t expect there to be a cluster of houses with owners who might want to pull out onto the road.
“Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.”― Eric Hoffer
Usually my partner is careful, but a hedge had had a Spring growth spurt and I hadn’t cut it back (I have now), so his view towards the blind corner which was usually clear was partially blocked.
Nothing happened, but my mind went into flashback to a wounding of sorts which occurred when I was about 5 or 6 years old. Not a car accident or anything like that, but to a sudden intense feeling of vulnerability and a fearful realisation that I couldn’t trust others to keep me safe and not place me in harm’s way.
It was more than that – I couldn’t trust others to keep themselves safe and not put themselves in harm’s way, and therefore if I was with them I was at risk too.
I’m not sure exactly what happened when I was 5 or 6 (there were quite a few incidents during those years – like the ‘kidnapping’ which never happened, where all the adults had a total meltdown, and the uproar, blame games, etc, went on and on even after the misunderstanding was resolved), but I do recall that it had something to do with understanding in a hard-hitting manner (one of those painful aha punches to the gut of the psyche) that my mother was not equipped to care for and protect her child because she couldn’t look after herself.
It was at that point in my life when I decided that I’d have to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible about the world and all the big, medium, small, obvious and subtle dangers in it, and become my own parent, become an adult in a child’s body.
Of course the more you study and learn about the world and all the possible dangers in it, especially the human world where one person might kill another over a penny found on the ground, it increases the sense of vulnerability, powerlessness, and lack of control you have over your own safety.
And when you’re a child who sees just how much adults are not what they say they are, but they believe their own words and will destroy you if you don’t… nowhere is ever truly going to feel or be safe.
It was also at that time that I started to view my mother more and more as a child, my child.
She encouraged this flipping of the parent/child relationship dynamic by calling me ‘Mama’ on a regular basis, and by behaving in ways to support it. She was the cute playful child and I was the boring responsible parent.
Although when it suited her she’d suddenly become the parent – a scolding authoritarian parent.
“Your parents and teachers may have had anxious, tough childhoods, perhaps anxious by nature, with fragile senses of self-worth and unresolved hypersensitivity. Some people’s parents grew up in poverty or under oppressive conditions with people scolding them relentlessly, venting their frustration at their children’s expense. Scolding has its place but is often just a way for someone fragile to act as though they’re strong, confident, and in charge.
People often say what they need to hear. Children are often forced to suffer sermons that their parents wished they had heeded in their youth, a father who wished he had buckled down earlier insisting with uncommon urgency that his children buckle down. It’s more fun for the father to posture like he was a master of that life lesson than to feel like he failed to learn it.”excerpt from Adult Children of Scoldaholics by Jeremy E. Sherman
My goal, purpose and mission in life became – I needed to protect my mother so that I could protect myself.
That became a full time stressful job. She was a rather stupid woman (this term refers to something Lord Peter Wimsey said about a character in The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers, a character which to me was similar to the sort of person my mother was and still is) who thought she was incredibly intelligent.
She was constantly getting herself into situations from which she needed rescuing (and which put my safety at risk too), and it was never her fault – it was usually blamed on others, particularly my father.
If it wasn’t for everyone else (If It Weren’t For You is one of the ‘marital games’ Eric Berne describes in his book – Games People Play) she’d be fine, successful, famous, rich, happy, healthy, etc…
“There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day; we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
― Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms
My father was rarely around, and even when he was around I already knew I couldn’t count on him for protection. He, like my mother, was more of a child than an adult – I viewed him as a sibling, a younger brother.
He could be fun to play with, but I couldn’t rely on him unless it was relying on him to regularly push me under a bus to amuse or protect himself – him leaving me to be looked after mainly by my mother was him protecting himself by sacrificing me.
The story of my life and relationship with my parents is complicated and complex, and I’ve only figured out the structure of it in recent years.
Some bits I’m still in the process of figuring out.
Thus for many years I didn’t understand the real roots of why I was always hypervigilant, on the qui vive, on guard duty, anxious, afraid, and exhausted because of it.
In my most recent SYW post, SYW: Face To Face With Another You, I mentioned a pet peeve – of people not looking things up.
After I posted that, that part of the post, and other bits and pieces I’d said and shared in it, kept popping up in my mind.
As I pondered the pop ups and the peeve, I was reminded of that flashback in the car… and it dawned on me that the pet peeve was connected to that moment, the decision I made at that time and the karma it set in motion.
Karma is a Sanskrit word that means “action.” Sometimes you might see the Pali spelling, kamma, which means the same thing. In Buddhism, karma has a more specific meaning, which is volitional or willful action. Things we choose to do or say or think set karma into motion. The law of karma is therefore a law of cause and effect as defined in Buddhism.excerpt from The Buddhist Understanding of Karma: An Introduction by Barbara O’Brien
My partner not being as careful as he usually is in that instance, that moment of watching the speeding car heading towards me, that feeling of intense vulnerability, lack of control, of powerlessness, being in danger thanks to me trusting someone else to at least not put themselves in danger and being unable to do anything about it…
The flashback to the very distant past when I first had that same feeling overwhelm me…
Memories of all the times in the past when I’ve felt that way even when the oncoming danger about to hit me wasn’t as real as that speeding car…
Remembering how I’d reacted afterwards, how coping mechanisms had been triggered… but they never solved the problem, they actually kept it going, around and around in a circle, here I go again on this merry-go-round, causing more issues along the way.
The solution being more of a problem than the problem which prompted the need for a solution.
After the moment passed, after I was safe again, I felt the fearful angry impulse to scold my partner for being careless and putting us in that kind of danger.
That’s what I would have done before, but this time I pressed pause on my reaction, it wasn’t useful or helpful… and would just make things which were now fine turn into a long drawn out not fine at all for more than just me.
So I just stayed silent as though nothing had happened.
In the silence I chose to explore the feeling, the original wound, rather than escape from the discomfort and unpleasantness of it by reacting outwardly and distracting myself from myself by focusing on my partner.
“Man staggers through life yapped at by his reason, pulled and shoved by his appetites, whispered to by fears, beckoned by hopes. Small wonder that what he craves most is self-forgetting.”
― Eric Hoffer
Choosing to go that way instead of the usual way I used to go is making a new decision which overrides the old decision and in many ways dismisses it.
That kind of change can cause problems within the self. Particularly if an entire identity and sense of ‘I Am’ has been built upon it.
Luckily for me my sense of who I am has never been written in stone – that’s a flip side benefit to never knowing for sure who you are, spending a lifetime having one existential crisis after another.
Both of my parents, and all of the adults around me as a child, believed that having a fixed identity, a guaranteed ‘who I am’ about themselves to tell everyone about, was a vital accessory in life with which to protect yourself against the dangers of living… but it was so often what got them into a dangerous situation and caused others to be at risk too.
They used to get frustrated with me and scold me for not having a fixed I Am identity, and would regularly assign me one or two or three which would often clash, conflict and cause problems for each other – such as my mother deciding that I was her ‘Mama’ but then needing me to not be that when it suited her to be the mother.
I used to cause problems for myself, with accompanying coping mechanism solutions which caused more issues, all due to thinking that I needed to find a fixed identity and who I am for myself, one which would never change… would I finally be safe then?
For a long time my sort of fixed identity became a complementary aspect of my mother’s If It Weren’t For You game. I was an – If It Wasn’t For Me – as in if it wasn’t for me you’d be happy, healthy, successful, free, and so on. That kind of ‘who I am’ can really mess up your sense of self and identity… especially as it relies on others and their identity status.
I had a flashback to that yesterday. A small incident occurred, funnily enough involving driving again. But once again I pressed pause on an old coping mechanism and just explored the flashback and accompanying feeling in silence.
Compassion for Yourself
After all this talk of selflessness, it may seem odd to end with by discussion compassion for oneself. But it’s important not to run away from our own suffering.
Pema Chodron said, “In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.” She writes that in Tibetan Buddhism there is a practice called tonglen which is a kind of meditation practice for helping us connect to our own suffering and the suffering of others.excerpt from The Importance of Compassion by Barbara O’Brien
The recent flashbacks to my past lives and selves, old coping mechanism solutions and problems, and the decisions made then based on the experiences I had then have strangely coincided with certain aspects of a TV drama I’ve been watching.
It’s called – Hyde, Jekyll, Me (2015) – and is a very fanciful depiction of a person with DID. A lot of fans of the genre did not like this show at all. I’ve enjoyed it for the very reasons others disliked it. I liked that it has been very slow, and that it allowed characters to develop based on the experiences they had.
One character, the female lead, went from being feisty, bubbly, lively, to a shell of her former self – it was a logical progression considering everything that happened to her (murder attempts due to being the only witness to a crime, being hypnotised by the ‘baddie’, taken hostage, becoming the love interest of the male lead and his other identity, never getting any time for sleep, rest, recuperation from traumatic events, etc).
I related very much to her exhaustion and listlessness (I felt that way all the time when I interacted with my parents and lived in their version of reality) and wondered if others had viewed her story the way I had…. so I made the mistake of checking out a conversation thread about it, but it wasn’t a mistake really, it was enlightening.
“There would be no society if living together depended upon understanding each other.”― Eric Hoffer
Many people completely ignored this character, as they were mostly caught up in discussing how disappointed they were in the writers, and in themselves for watching as many episodes as they had but they bravely stuck with it because they were either fans of the lead male or the male playing the ‘baddie’.
A few mentioned the female lead character, and remarked on how they’d wished that she would stop being so listless and become feisty, funny, smiley and fine again. They didn’t like this dull version of her, they wanted the other lively version of her.
While I could understand their perspective, especially since this is just a TV show made for entertainment purposes of viewers… their attitude bothered me. There was no compassion for the character and what she had been through – people just wanted that person to be who they wanted her to be for them to enjoy themselves, who cares what she’s been through and is going through. She’s not real anyway.
The theme of someone not being real was part of the DID storyline. I could relate to that too. Throughout my life as me, I’ve often felt as though I was a figment of someone else’s fictional tale, as though others couldn’t see me as a real person – I was simply there to fill a void for them and be whoever they needed me to be for them to be who they needed and wanted to be, and they’d disappear me when it suited them, when who I was for them no longer was necessary.
Its a one-sided relationship contract. The other person is allowed to have personality fluctuations because they’re them, they’re aware of their ups and downs due to life events, but somehow others, those around them, mustn’t have fluctuations, mustn’t be affected by life, must keep being the same person at all times. The fluctuations of others might disturb them, their stable I Am, their identity, their sense of safety in self.
We do that to ourselves too. We decide who we are and expect ourselves to stay that way to keep ourselves safe. We choose an identity for ourselves and scold ourselves when we don’t live up to it.
If we’ve decided that we’re supposed to be the happy one, when we’re unhappy we may see ourselves as letting ourselves down and threatening our status quo. Or if we’re the unhappy one and have a moment of happy… that can’t happen, can it?
“Language makes human life peculiar. With it, we’re more adaptive and maladaptive, flexible and stubborn, visionary and delusional, reliable and fickle, safer and scarier than other organisms. With language, we have more to cope and, as a consolation prize, the ability to cope by engaging in fantasy escapism.”excerpt from How to Handle Self-Affirming Fictions by Jeremy E. Sherman
That’s it from me…
Feel free to share your own thoughts about whatever you would like… they might connect with a flashback of mine and give me an insight.
Over to you!