Being controlled

I was completely under her thumb. I had no thought of my own. She decided everything, as if I were hollowed out and her idea of what I should be poured in to fill the gap.

I am sorry if I have brought you here on false pretenses. This is not a sexual fantasy, but reality, just how it was. It was trauma: Trauma is the experience of being powerless to establish a boundary between our self and that which is about to inflict, or is already inflicting, serious harm or even death. It is one of the most acute forms of suffering that a human being can know. It is the experience of imminent annihilation, writes James Finley.

So now I have lost my confidence, completely. Something bad will happen that I will not understand, or be able to predict, or avoid. I will face- the employer, the monster, the person with power, and I will die. That I know this conviction is totally irrational does not take away any of its power.

My mother was completely controlling. She had me because that was the conventional thing, not because she wanted me. It was very hard for her, but convention was important. I recognise that she did her absolute best for me, as parents do.

I had some control over what I ate, but only to refuse. So almost every night I ate rissoles beans and chips (not always chips) separately from what my Mum, Dad and sister ate. These things are negotiated. I have no memory of how this came to be, but remember that when I was about fourteen my Mum went off to look after my grandfather, my Dad ate my diet while she was away (my sister was away at school) and said how dry and horrible it was. When I went to University I quickly came to eat anything, and now I say I would eat anything any culture would offer honoured guests.

Clothes: Of course parents get clothes for children, and living so far from shops it was difficult, but my mother made shorts for me until I went to secondary school. The other boys were in long trousers in winter of course. When I said it showed I could stand the cold my sister was derisive: “So you’re the wee toughie, are you?” I wore shirts and ties at weekends.

I had the sense of us being apart from the community, with my parents. My sister was part of it (the school was comprehensive, boarding, the nearest that had a fifth and sixth year of secondary). My father, a teacher, allowed me to sit in the classroom and read rather than go outside during breaks. Normally, children get their accent from their peers, but I got mine from my English mother.

Attitudes, beliefs, understandings, ways of being: all from my parents. In my thirties I decided it was time to rebel against my parents, and I have been doing teenage ever since, that is, thinking for myself, or at least absorbing ideas from other sources than ones they approved.

My mother was distressed when I was very small, when I did not respond well to all her hard work. The trauma began then for me, her inner critic creating my own. What I remember is the outworking of the control, not its initiation. And it came because she so rigidly controlled herself, as she had been controlled, the sins of the fathers visited on the children.

I watched The Cry on BBC1. Episode 3 is a compelling portrait of coercive control: every line counts. I could hardly bear to watch it, feeling all the horror. Perhaps because of that, I am able, now, to state that I bear that trauma: the inner critic saying what I say is simply ridiculous, no-one would possibly believe it, is quieter, or perhaps I believe it less. And, adult experiences have damaged my confidence; but it is that small-child reaction, the terror of imminent death, that prevents me acting.

Confidence II

Confidence is knowing how to get what you want, says Helen. No; confidence is thinking of things going right, with reasonable belief, rather than of things going wrong, and the things that you fear happening are never the things going wrong that actually happen. Confidence is imagining What people will think as approving admiring accepting rather than criticising or opposing. Confidence and motivation intertwine: when I cannot see any point, or chance of success, I cannot bring myself to start. At a worse stage, I don’t know what I want because it seems so impossible that I can’t admit to myself I want it. I suppress it.

Each of us here is reeling or prostrate from some blow or other.

What do you do when you feel fear? Take alcohol, says a man. Touch my face or hair, bow my head, says a woman. I may withdraw, or go into anger and confrontation. Ideally I can be conscious of the fear, feel it and allow it, not make an outward sign of it because I can admit and accept it, perhaps imagine a homunculus within, pacing and freaking while I stay still.

“Homunculus. I like that word,” says Helen. I repeat it. Next day she says it again.
-You learned that word quickly.
-I am a languages teacher.

“The only time I am confident is with a horse,” says a woman. She is in a situation she knows well, knows what to do and what might happen. You need to show confidence with horses or they may take advantage. And with people.

Helen is frightened of motorbikes. Twice on the pillion with different riders she did not lean the correct way, and got shouted at.

Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with a feeling of helplessness, she quotes. However this does not tell us how.

Communication. You need to say what you want. I am elliptical, then peeved when I am misunderstood.

We are at the jobcentre, and getting us into work is the thing. Have you ever said to yourself it would be nice to swim with dolphins, but not done anything about that. I have another rare word for this, “velleity”. Mine is hang-gliding. Dev has done several parachute jumps. But then, getting a job is important and you have to do that, whether or not you take the steps to swim with dolphins. Goals must be SMART, Specific, Memorable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. At all this sensible stuff, I am switched off. Write your goals down, she says. Stick to your plan. My priority is my own mental health, not quite the same as equanimity.

How would I feel if I had achieved all my goals? She has pictures showing delight and satisfaction. I imagine feeling relief, disbelief, and misery as I contemplate the next thing I have to do. I would feel no better. I realise mine is a depressive reaction, minimising the good, accentuating the bad.

Find your happy. I find her suggestions, of countryside beauty, unimaginative, as if only rest can make me happy. Fifteen things to give up- no, to replace. I cannot give something up until I realise what it does for me, and what else might do that better.

I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it, said Maya Angelou. I have been reduced by what happened to me, whether the most resilient person in the world would have been ground down by it or the least resilient would have brushed it off. Can I bounce back?

Everybody has difficulties. Stop putting yourself down.

Unfortunately my propensity to put myself down is one of the things I criticise myself about. It does not make me feel better. How can I imagine what I may realistically achieve?

I have not been put down as drastically as one woman, whose partner said she was fat and ugly and no-one else would look at her. “Prostitutes wear knee-high boots,” he said. I like boots too. I have heard of men choosing a woman because they don’t think she would ever leave them. I felt anger at that moment. How dare he.

Harlan, who went to school after physical punishment was banned, said “I would have taken the cane off him and shoved it up his arse”. An older person said There’s no discipline nowadays.

“Nobody is thick or stupid, it’s about the opportunities you were given.”

Just coping can leach your confidence. You are always stressed, and the stress gets too much. Helen says we should give ourselves a pat on the back for coping- ie, look on the positive. We are here. We are survivors. Mark said he wants not to cope, but own the situation. He had to leave home and move to a new town aged 18, and feels he has never grown up. He is completely irresponsible.

“I did everything on my own but then something happened which knocked my confidence.”

At the end of all this, we have not been told how, just that we should get back up and keep going, somehow. However. It has been quite fun, meeting people, talking.

Confidence

By the end of the week, he had a tin on the table in front of him, openly: it had a picture of a cannabis leaf, and the words “EnviroMENTALLY FRIENDLY”. That’s confidence, I suppose, happy to be who he is, without hiding, though the law still disapproves. I wonder if there was anything in that tin. Even as a symbol of his rule-breaking, it made me nervous.

Helen asked us to remember a moment when we had felt confident. I told of one- I don’t know why I felt that way, I just did. I walked to the queue of Promenaders at the Royal Albert Hall, passing a technician’s van and cracking a joke at the technician, who grinned. Possibly I skipped the queue a bit, my memory is hazy on that one. The queue advanced into the hall, and when I got to the front of it the door was closed as fire regulations would permit no more people. So I suggested to the woman next to me that we go for a drink, and we went out together for two months. And another evening we went over the railings into Hyde Park, and held hands.

-You were smiling as you told that story.

I was. Perhaps it is good to remember such things. Good things happen.

Icebreaker, say something no-one would guess of you. I was on Channel 4 news. I tell the story: I got a doctor sacked for lying, and for a level of arrogance remarkable even in a doctor. And we got one of my clients on the news. That was back in the day when the “story” journalists told was sometimes doctors wrongly finding disabled people not entitled, rather than shirkers working the system

(Helen passes me a tissue).

I wanted to be the expert talking head, but as a consolation prize I performed as a doctor, coming up to a door in a terrace and knocking on it. My back in my black coat and my briefcase were visible for a few seconds as the journalist described the doctors over doomy synth music.

I got him sacked. As the word of a benefit claimant would never be believed over a professional man’s, I got seventeen of them, all saying the same thing. I have done these things. I have striven and achieved. And now I can’t see the point and would rather hide away.

-You can confront others.
-It does not do any good.
-How do you feel?
-Rueful, ridiculous, despairing, empty.

I am still doing some worthwhile things.

At another time I recited my affirmation! How could I, with these people? I closed my eyes as I did, not wanting to be aware of their responses. I forgot the words “truth and courage”. I did not like the all-purpose affirmation offered, it was not authentic for me. Remind yourself daily that you are amazing. That you can do anything. That you are unstoppable. That you are a great person. That you are of value to the world. That you have the power to do anything you want to do and you can be anyone you want to be. Do this every day to tap into your true potential and live an amazing life. I don’t know what I want to do. I find what I want when I see what I do. I imagine I want something and do nothing towards achieving it. I would say that and think of times it was proved wrong. Looking at it again I see it is not all bad. I am of value to the world. Charlotte who was in sales likes all of it.

Someone says you don’t have the power to do anything, or the time. You could be at a professional level trailbiking, says the man with the tin, but still need sponsors and money.

Helen encourages us in self-talk: not “I am weak”, but “I am strong”. I don’t even like that. I am enough may be true and affirming.

Feeling good II

I moved her to tears. Happy tears, or those tears you cry when you had a burden, and it is lifted, and you are enabled to see the full pain of it.

That confidence building course built my confidence. But I have had to think about it, helped by this logic puzzle by Alex Bellos in the Guardian. I am fairly sure I have got the puzzle right, by squeezing every bit of information I can infer from the information given. As I write, the answer had not been published.

I made her cry by sharing my understanding of the inner critic, which I got from others, and my response to it, which is my own. The inner critic is a frightened child part of me, and of you, and I will not bully it because I will show love to all of me. That means listening, but not accepting its view, which is unduly pessimistic. So I imagined it as a little girl, and dressed her in a white velvet dress. Her options are to sit on the naughty step, or to dance and sing. Or, perhaps, to accept my reassurance. I am safe enough, good enough, capable enough. There is worry, and it need not overwhelm me.

Zoe wrote it down, as she wanted to remember it. This is always a lovely experience. At a community building event I recited a poem I had written, and someone asked me to write it out for her. The next day she recited it to me from memory. I feel warmed and valued. She treats me with respect, but she truly respects what I say.

Charlotte cried a little. No, she is not laughing, and concealing it by pretending. She values what I say. Another exercise Helen gave was to say three words about another person here. We have opened up a little, though at the jobcentre we don’t trust. I have opened up a fair bit as I will, even when I do not trust. Charlotte was given me, and called me “calm, inspiring, thoughtful, kind, unique”. Five words rather than three.

Inspiring.

That’s a good word. That’s not just picking a word for the sake of it. She has been bitterly attacked by her inner critic, and my words hold the prospect of relief. Those were tears of relief.

I felt a little low on Saturday. No, I felt low- do not minimise my feelings. I felt low. I thought, yesterday I did something worthwhile, I touched those women deeply, they valued it, they valued me. I did not find it difficult, saying a piece of wisdom I read and elaborated years ago, but not everyone could. That made me feel valuable. I have so few such experiences, so little opportunity for that! And now, squeezing every bit of joy from Charlotte’s tears, I decide that it need not be a transitory moment- Oh! I did something worthwhile!- but can be a memory to create joy. I was reminded of that NLP technique, at another time in the course: think of a joyous memory, associate a gesture with it, then use the gesture to evoke that joy and confidence. Years ago I picked on my nieces and nephew crying excitedly “It’s Uncle John!” as I went up their path, which was less joyous after I transitioned, and Susan stopped me seeing them.

So possibly those other two might value my company. I am not merely interesting as a specimen.

I am sailing close to the wind here, but- you have not hurt me. If you tell me something, and I know it is wrong, it need not hurt me. If we are distant, now, if you let me down then, that is all you were capable of at those times, but you appear capable of more sometimes- I have seen it. I want to be open to you, and show my darkness as well as light, for

the night is as bright as the day
darkness and light to You are both alike

My darkness is beautiful. You will see that in time. I have faith in you, though you have let me down (and I you, though I do my best)

No. I am quite certain I have that puzzle right, though as I write the answer is not yet published.

Against confidence

I do not want to be confident. When I feel confident, I make mistakes.

Russell Crowe, every time he came on set, required a round of applause. He can produce wonderful performances out of a place of deep insecurity. The applause might be an affirmation of his power rather than of others’ respect for him; but remembering it is not enough, he needed the symbol of it each time.

I am doing an “Improving confidence” course, and seeing how I interact with people new to me. I am unlikely to meet any of these people again, and in one case at least I am glad of that. I am also hearing useful stuff. You need to be confident approaching a horse: they can read you, and take advantage of a nervous person.

I feel they, and I, are dancing around a central truth which is hard to put in words, and their words are very different from mine. I faced difficult challenges until I could not any more. Helen, the tutor, says Mindfulness practice, or “chill-out time”, is good for health. Yes, when I could not come down from the last stressor before being stressed anew it became too much. I am completely turned off when she quotes from “Feel the fear and do it anyway”:

Squash that doubt. Squash it down!

Well, no. It is me, and I will not be cruel to myself. Perhaps I should coax myself reassuringly- yes, this is important to me, I will give my all to it– and possibly I should listen to the doubt, and get myself away from the situation. I forced myself, and then I gave up, and while neither forcing or giving up has made me happy they may be the best I can do. I am not sure what middle way is available. I can think of words for it- reasonable, ordinary courage; know your limits- but don’t know what that would look like in practice. It is a judgment in each case, and I can make mistakes both ways.

Helen tells us Richard Branson is afraid of public speaking, Whoopi Goldberg of flying, Oprah Winfrey of people chewing gum (after continual bad experiences of her grandmother sticking it to her own furniture) and Jodie Foster of other people’s opinions. As she is the youngest of the four, aged 55, and our age range is from sixties down to twenties, including people who do not recognise her, I feel they should get different examples to show respect to us. What is Taylor Swift frightened of?

It was all too much for me, and I don’t feel this course is going to help me at all with that. “Once more into the Breach!” they shout encouragingly, and I just get more worried.

What words describe confident people, class? Self-assured? Yes, possibly. Or, merely acting it. Georgia O’Keefe was absolutely terrified all the time: effectiveness is the goal, not confidence per se. Smug, suggests C. Her former boss in sales had loadsamoney. Knowing what you want and going for it. I feel telling me being goal-oriented is good is no use to me, if I cannot find goals within myself. Or I can, such as keeping my benefits and keeping out of others’ attention, and they are not the goals I am supposed to follow.

Rather than being “Confident”, I want to be open to possibilities. I imagine the meekness which would inherit the Earth- no sense of entitlement, observant and aware, no assumptions, open to possibilities and pursuing them when seen. I feel confidence is a product of success, which in part is luck, in part is social and community support, so cannot be given by a course. But I am here, and trying to get all I can from it. T performs a drag act, and shows his photographs. I show some of mine, too. We are capable people, and we are in the jobcentre.

Threats and benefits

Fran: large groups of people seem to feel strangely insecure, as if they have to conform with each other in order to exist, and the only way to do that is to require everyone to be superficially the same. Very odd, for where is the threat?

Good question, which trans folk are uniquely well placed to answer, often conforming until we stop, and become our real selves.

The threat is to my identity. When I put on an identity I invested a great deal in it. It has overcome many impulses and feelings which I suppressed out of consciousness, because they terrified me. I still have that fear- “The monster will get me”- it is an existential threat, because I feared the withdrawal of my mother’s love at the moment I could not survive without it. That fear is hard to grow out of, even though I am now adult. So the identity, as a “man”, was me, safe and protected, and losing it would be becoming naked and vulnerable. This is terrifying.

For others, the threat might come from their age group, growing up. If you like X you are no longer one of the in crowd.

Then there is the difficulty of admitting you were wrong. So much of your life has been wasted. This is terribly difficult. When we assert something our self-respect and self-belief become involved.

You might be rescued by others who do not conform. You realise that there is no point in conformity after all, and you have tortured yourself into conformity for nothing. It is painful to realise you have wasted so much of your life and potential, so you may just snap back into denial. Yet if you can accept that lesson you can become free.

This is a slow process. I looked at myself in the mirror as I cleansed and moisturised, and thought, I like myself. I frustrate myself a bit. No, I frustrate myself a lot, but I grow to like myself. This is taking me years. I am frustrated with my slow progress, and pleased with my progress.

For trans folk, the difference between the conforming, adopted false self and the underlying real self is so great that we cannot continue with the process of denial.

The benefit is becoming integrated, becoming one. Rather than the competing demands of real self and false identity pulling me in opposite directions, I pull in just one. My feelings can overwhelm me, but I am not so much spending energy on suppressing them, and they do not so much nag at the corner of my consciousness until they can be acknowledged. I feel the feeling.

I know what I need. I work to get it. Increasingly, I flow towards it, the integrated self doing what is needed without all this analysis.

Power poses

File:WonderWomanV5.jpgAnother TED talk. Fake it to make it, she says: if you adopt confident poses, you become confident, but first you appear confident to others. Just two minutes in a power pose creates an effect lasting an hour after.

OK, try it. I sit up straight, with my spine curved forwards in a healthy position. My feet are flat on the floor, my forearms resting on the arms of the chair. My head is up. I am relaxed and comfortable, taking my space in the room. And a few moments later, I am curled up, shoulders hunched, face to the wall, hand on my neck. Touching the neck is a passive and submissive pose. For a long time I had the habit of nodding my head forward and scratching the back of my neck. I am alone. Why is this submissive pose the position I adopt? It feels better- why?

Next morning (16th) at Meeting I feel assailed by the holiness of the room. I walk into the meeting room, and it feels different from the hallway. In the dojo, I would bow on entering, and in an Anglican church I would curtsey to the communion table, and here I have no gesture I can make to acknowledge Spirit, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/69/Wonder_Woman_New_52_Jim_Lee.jpgno ritual to make everything alright. Instead I sit, marvelling that I may be in such a place. I say that in Ministry, though with my cold I find myself speaking quietly and huskily.

First I sit with my spine erect, hands folded on my lap, and then think again of the power poses. I rest my right arm on the arm rest. This is a more expanded position, and hands on knees (slightly apart under my calf-length skirt) is stronger than hands folded. I take up this position, and in a moment find myself, legs and arms crossed, hunched over as if protecting myself, my hand on my neck.File:Wonder Woman in Diana Prince attire volume 3.jpg

I could label this. Our species has a pecking order, and this is Dalit pose- is it “innate”? Is it adopted- when? I am not a confident person: which came first, the pose or the confidence-level? Fake it to make it, says Amy Cuddy, you can produce an immediate transient effect by two minutes, and a permanent effect by continuing practice. But when I find myself touching my neck, it feels as if I am “really” stretching it, or it has an itch needing scratched, or even that I enjoy the sensation of my fingers touching my mouth. Do I really want to be submissive? There is no-one to submit to, at the moment.

All I can say is, it is. There is a resistance in me to standing like Wonder Woman. If I try it I find myself in my most submissive poses as soon as I relax my conscious attention.