Now the sun is out the white marks show up more clearly against the tanning skin, a landscape of negative freckles.

I’ve been reading about the psychology of relationships a lot recently because of the dawning realisation that I don’t know how they work. Just as one acquires language as a child so one acquires social, interpersonal and emotional skills. Unfortunately if the available vocabulary of the latter is severely limited then the subsequent ability to communicate in these ways is concomitantly crap.

Research, observation and modelling the behaviour of others helped me immeasurably in the mission to acquire parenting skills which are, after all, a very specific set of relationship abilities. I’m still crap at it, but, thank god, it’s clear that I’m not as crap as my mother was. Mainly I suppose because I’m not as ill as she was. My travels through wikipedia in search of insight brought me to attachment theory, from there to reactive attachment disorder and complex post traumatic stress disorder.

Such a lot of long labels and phrases. Words, words, words. And yet. And yet. It’s deeply, viscerally shocking and upsetting. To be taken back to the obsessive gouging of flesh, pulling at the layer beneath the skin, tearing away as the white vacancy fills with bright red sting and tang of blood. The sight and the smell and the taste (sucking the blood, sucking the blood hard to pull out the venom of badness, one day, one day if I do this enough maybe it will be gone, the invisible stigma, the evil that must lurk, must be exorcised, excised, and then look at the white bloodless flesh and the red seeping in again).

I used to do this every day.

Sometimes I still do.

Apparently a characteristic symptom is “belief that one has been permanently damaged by the trauma”. How can this be merely a belief when the evidence is there, carved indelibly across the surface of my being in marks of tan and white.

3 Replies to “Picking”

  1. (((Rachel)))

    I think there is both the real damage from the trauma and the understandable tendency to over-interpret all sorts of things as symptoms of that damage. Knowing oneself and which is which is a never-ending journey.

    One of the crucial difference between you and your mother is certainly your degree of self-insight. It’s not the behaving badly to your kids on occasion that matters – I think everyone does that. It’s the capacity to acknowledge this to yourself and to them, so they don’t internalise that it’s entirely their fault, that makes the difference.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes to what Jean says. It makes all the difference in the world. The hardest thing for a child is to know something’s wrong and to have all the adults apparently convinced that everything (except the child, of course) is all right. That’s what really brings the darkness.

    I don’t believe for a second you’re crap as a mother at all — for one thing, your love for your kids is palpable, it radiates off these pages, and kids perceive that unerringly.

    Of course we’re all dreadful parents, compared to what we want to be. I know I am, anyway.


    Much depends on what you mean by permanent. It will never go away — that’s true, in the sense that you will never be the person you would have been without the trauma. But you won’t stay stuck. You haven’t stayed stuck. You’re in the middle of transforming it. Your capacity for transmutation is astonishing. You don’t need pretty materials to make beautiful things.

  3. Sigh. Yes, everyone has their story to tell, I heard a woman say very patiently and carefully after listening to a lengthy tale of woe. Nobody’s perfect and we’re all rolled around in various ways like the pebbles on the beach. I just have an annoying tendency to jump up and down and shout about it. As though it could alter the falling of the waves of the past or the shape of those in the future.

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