Trying to keep perspective over here. We went to see Shawn at Vela yacht sales to look at selling Fainleog. What a crappy thing to have to do, right up there with prostate exam or getting a crown (although if it’s a woman doctor, the former might not be so bad; it’s these old and hoary army doctors with fingers the size of baguettes that give me nightmares).I’m trying very hard to keep everything I know in mind and not simply gnaw on Tracy. It’s a real issue when you’ve never been happier and you’ve never enjoyed your life so much, to talk about letting it all go and selling your vessel and home.
I read this article in the Globe and Mail the other day and it’s been bothering me a lot. Why? I suppose it’s because while the public’s idea of psychopathology is of a cold, bloodthirsty lunatic who dismembers people with chainsaws, it’s actually an attachment disorder, taken to the extreme.
And what is an attachment disorder? It’s what it says – the failure to create meaningful and nurturing attachment to others. To connect with others of your own species. Unfortunately, disorders of attachment result in the worst of mood and personality problems.
Babies that don’t attach in any way, die. To me that’s amazing and reveals how crucial attention and nurturing is to human survival. People destined to become psychopaths do not suffer from no attachment, but rather a very negative one. Instead of love they attach to poison, because the body says survival at any cost and poison is still adequate to keep one alive. Sort of. It’s difficult to call the result fully human, though.
I find it astounding that they claim they still don’t really understand it. They know that the propensity is somehow heritable, and they know that childhood abuse is required to trigger it, but beyond that they scratch their heads. How can this be? Do they not talk to people or do they just devise creative experiments that cannot be clouded by a subject’s subjective opinion?
I think I know a little about it because at one time I too had an attachment disorder, and all that entails. It’s taken me many, many years of hard work to overcome it, but I will always be incomplete and will always have scars.
The thing is I believe I understand how a psychopath’s mind works, as it’s just further along the road that I once walked. I believe I could have ended up there.
In terms of my own experience, I was parented largely without love, particularly in my earlier years. Physical care, yes. Nurturance, very little. Now I don’t blame my parents for this, as they could not help their limitations; they were young, messed up, and burdened with poverty and three small children.
The problem is at some level I knew I wasn’t important, that I was a burden. The sighs, the impatience, and the lack of warmth told me so. The fought with each other and emotionally abandoned their kids. And there was noting to cling to. It was an abyss.
And being a typical egocentric kid I was enraged at this treatment. I was instinctively terrified for my survival. And I thought it was because I wasn’t loveable.
That’s too much for any two or three year old to cope with so I stuffed it down. I tuned out. I couldn’t possibly deal with such rage and pain so instead I numbed out. I lost touch with my feelings. I looked at the world as strange and dangerous, filled with beings that could mostly only hurt, only occasionally offering solace. People became objects that were both required for and a risk to my survival. And I did not trust them. In secret I lashed out at them, and manipulated them whenever I could.
I did not want it to be this way, but it was what I was offered and it was all I knew. In the few cases when some adult did offer me love I pounced on it, and that’s how predators gained access.
Of course along with this there was a lot of acting out; better negative energy than indifference, as I said above. What this lead to was a lack of feeling masking a tremendous hostility to others. I was enraged at the injustice and cruelty, but had no way to outwardly express it. I believe to create a psychopath all you have to do is increase the individual’s suffering, (coupled with a personality predisposed to both intense sensitivity and narcissism).
In cases of extreme abuse and neglect, feelings would increasingly be shut down in order not to overwhelm the mind, and the person would become divorced even further from what they would see as “dangerous people”. Humanity would become an alien “other” rather than kindred beings.
All this makes so much sense to me; if your suffering threatens your sanity, you shut down all feeling parts; if all you know of people is as a source of terrible pain, you detach from humanity. Or rather you never learned to attach. We have an instinct from birth to form attachments, but there has to be someone there to reciprocate. If not, the connection to your own species will not be made. And so it is for all primates.
That is how a psychopath is made. When we take scans of the brains of psychopaths we find crucial parts diminished, and his makes sense. Form reflects function and it’s not hard to see that the structures responsible for feelings atrophy in individuals who have totally emotionally shut down to survive. You see the result of years of being dead inside.
I suspect that’s why it is so hard to heal these people. Their very brains are damaged akin to the way a child’s is in the womb of an addict mother, and you can’t talk it back in therapy. By the time a psychopath is found out, the belief that people are an alien other will be totally established. And without feelings of loss or loneliness, why should they change that belief? Often it’s only our feelings that push us towards change that is difficult. And given their horrible experience with humanity, it’s not totally illogical to want to be separate from your own species.
Woe to the innocent child doomed to such a terrible fate. I think death would be preferable. In my own case I was saved by my grandmother. I saw her every summer and in those few weeks she showed me love. And so I knew love existed. I knew what I needed. And I knew I was loveable. Her gentleness and compassion made all the difference for me.
In my twenties, I know now that I was one of those rare men who suffer from BPD, Borderline Personality Disorder. Generally it is women who carry this diagnosis, and I see it as less severe than psychopathology. I’ve known a lot of women who suffer from this and each one shows much the same symptoms: volatile temper, fear, mistrust, rage, neediness, emptiness, difficulty in their working lives, inability to maintain relationships.
They are all single. And they go through many boyfriends and lovers. Rarely will a BPD sufferer find a partner.
But they share with me that original experience – neglect, a lack of love, abuse, and parents unable to nurture. People were proven to be dangerous to them. They became enraged at their treatment. They grew into adults desperately needing love but equally fearful of it. And hating themselves even more than those around them. Recovery is a long haul for people who come unloved into the world and there are no miracles awaiting them. But you can learn to love yourself and others. You can learn to trust and you can learn to risk being vulnerable.
I still have a long way to go. I’m still confused by reciprocity. People still scare me. I’m not sure what belonging means. And I know I’ll always be somewhat of a loner yearning to be accepted.
Those who have landed along the attachment disorder continuum will always love with a cane or a wheelchair, but it’s far far better than being closeted away with the emptiness. Just don’t ask a psychopath what he thinks. He’s already lost.
Aging and love. Aging and sex. You would
think that these would be the hottest topics in town given the eruption of grey
taking over the western world, although I haven’t read much. Probably because
the ‘net is my exclusive window into the world and for all the supposedly boomer
engagement in new technology and media, I think most content is provided by
those who see aging as just something suspicious on the horizon, like distant
thunderclouds. Or a plague of locusts.
There’s been a number of movies made showcasing
old men; mostly to demonstrate that no matter how fat, jowly, bespeckled and spider-viened
a man becomes, he can still nail the young intern or outgun a young terrorist.
It’s obvious who those movies are target to.
I will be 50 in a few months, a half
century of life. I suppose to some I’m still a sapling and to others I should
have been turned into fence pickets a long time ago. I’m not sure how I feel
about it; most days I feel much the same way I did 40 years ago. I try to stay
within “me”, which is an ageless, essential aspect that derives as much wonder
and joy from life now as when I was a kid. But there are times when I’m much
less grounded and on those days I can feel quite old and worn down.
The body ages, the heart does not. The
heart learns, it adapts, it gains wisdom. But most of what it really needs to
know it was born with. The rest is just confetti. Ticker tape. Balloons.
I like to think that this is why, for the
most part, my relationship with Tracy is so special: I’m relating to her mostly
from that heart place, not from the 50-year-old dude place. There is so much
banter and teasing and snuggles and tickling. We play a lot and almost never
argue. My heart leaps every time I see her, although we have been married
almost 30 years. I still think she is incredibly beautiful and hot. (Funny thing is that I know it’s mostly
in my head. While she is certainly attractive, I have photographs of her that
startle me in how different she looks in a picture compared to how I see her
when I’m with her. When in her presence she is radiant and exquisite and I’m
lost in her love. When I see a picture of her all I see is her physical form,
with all its midlife imperfections. I have a hard time reconciling the two
Tracys that I see).
I had a friend ask me about the shadows; like
any human relationship, ours is far from perfect and there are certainly
undercurrents that relate to our neurosis, fears, unhealthy behaviours, and
survival strategies. There are
manipulations and power struggles. But these function at the level of the ego,
and that means superficially.
At a deeper level is love, adoration and compassion.
How I approach this has changed a lot as I
have aged. I’ve long seen and resisted some of these dynamics; I’ve always been
more to want change in our relationship than Tracy, but ultimately it comes as
a package and you can only change yourself.
I’m not sure if accepting these dark
bedfellows is a sign of maturity or capitulation. As I get older I look at
people around us and see the state of many people’s relationships and I’m
grateful for what I have. I also don’t want to be newly single at age 50. I
also know that swapping partners simply means swapping issues.
I’ve spent my entire life searching for
something better than what I have but in terms of relationships I don’t think
it exists. There is different, but not better.
One of the thoughts that troubles an aging
man is the notion of doors closing, something I’ve never felt before. I’ve
always known that I could do pretty much anything I put my mind to, and more or
less that’s proven true.
But when it comes to love, that door is
closed. Many years ago I pledged myself to Tracy, but at that age it’s like
rainwater on tissue paper. I believe it is nearly impossible for a young man
that age to be able to honestly make a commitment that can hold for an entire,
changeable life. I am not the same person I was then, and so my pledge has been
renewed. And I renew it again, every day.
And pretty much every day I’m tempted,
albeit most times quite subtly. Most men are, I think. But it’s more than the
desire we might feel for an attractive woman; when we commit to a monogamous
relationship, we give up far more than the pleasure of multiple partners. In
all likelihood I will go to my grave never again knowing the excitement,
giddiness and passion of a new romance. That’s not small stuff. I’m not just
talking about the wonderful feelings of falling in love, but the opportunity to
really come to know the soul of another human being, which to my mind is the
greatest part of loving a woman.
People have an idea that men stray for sex.
While this might be true in some circumstances, perhaps there are times it can
be deeper than that? Every love relationship I’ve known has shown me aspects of
myself that were hidden in the previous one. To love others is to have yourself
revealed, and the more loves we share the more reflections of ourselves we see
and a more complete picture emerges. When we commit to one that part of our
lives, that opportunity for growth is over.
It has to be a very special woman for me to
surrender that. And she is.