coming home

When I was at the Boarding Concern conference I went to a workshop for the wives and partners of boarding school survivors. It was pretty gruelling stuff. Lots of talk of ‘staying with the feeling’. Lots of talk of people who needed to ‘come home’. Women who had waited thirty-nine years for their husbands to show them a bit of emotion or affection. My marriage, by comparison, was very young, and really not that bad. Most of the time.

Yesterday my little boy was ill. at tea time I performed the fish and chip test, and he failed it so I called the doctors. I described how he was and the doctor asked me to bring him to the surgery in ten minutes before closing. At which point the small child had a sudden burst of form, refused to put his coat on, and hid behind the sofa. And my husband and I turned into giant exaggerated caricatures of our various psychological problems. I have massive anxiety problems to do with all things medical, and something which approaches a phobia of being late. So the illness, short deadline, child-behind-sofa interface was a very uncomfortable one for me and a certain amount of hysteria ensued. My husband, it might be suggested, has been conditioned to repress his emotions. He has also been taught since the age of eight, that any acknowledgement of a frightening or upsetting situation is at best undesirable or at worst, dangerous. Confronted with the extreme emotions of others he can be a rabbit in the headlights, or just plain stubborn, or something else i do not understand, but whatever it is it is aways interpreted by me in the heat of the moment as not giving a shit. My own anxiety then increases exponentially, as if there is a certain amount of stressing which needs to be done in any given situation, so if he sits slowly and calmly munching the rest of his fish supper, then I need to be almost nauseous with panic. Moreover, while I may understand rationally and logically the reasons for the way he is I still, when i am sad or frightened, feel it as an abandonment, that he just doesn’t care about me, doesn’t love me. And many unhealthy parts of me what him to fix it, to be my knight in shining armour, inside I am screaming ‘just man up will you, just strap on a pair and put that bloody child’s coat on’.

This was one of the challenges of the ‘wives and partners workshop’, to think about why we had chosen these men, that we had been so desperate to fix some broken man, and then over time assumed the role of the lazy, stupid, useless child who needed to be fixed. I can think of many reasons why I might have done it, but yesterday really hammered home to me just how much I have done it. especially as I walked out the door with my coatless child wrapped up in a blanket and found myself shouting I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person, I’ve messed everything up. And meaning every word.

But I ‘m not sure that I want someone to rescue me,on the whole, I just want to stop being asked to do impossible things. “Give this child this medicine three times a day and this inhaler every four hours”. But he spits it out, or squirts it all over the house and he has the strength of ten tigers and I do not have the correct number of limbs to hold him down, hold an inhaler to his face, and release the spray. I cannot phone the doctor or the health visitor to ask for advice because they will say “don’t you have any family or friends or neighbours who can help? ” and I will have to say no and that will make me want to top myself. Because my family live far away, my friends are nice but funnily enough not available to pop by every four hours and help me assault a toddler, and who has neighbours that help them any more what sodding planet are you on? And maybe I should just accept that this is impossible and stay in my dressing gown and say fine, don’t have your medicine and feel rubbish, you will either get better without it or get worse and i will be able to overpower you and make you take it. But its easier to need a hero, because then our hero can let us down. No doctor, my family live far away, my friends are busy, my neighbours are mentalists and my husband is an arsehole. Safe. Because if there is one thing more frightening than being unloved its being loved.

The part of the workshop that really made me cry was at the end when the wonderful woman leading the group described some wonderful day in the future, when one day you just look into your partner’s face and see the person you love, and it made me think of that beautiful poem by Yeats or whoever it is that always makes me cry, when he talks about someone who ‘loved the pilgrim soul in you’. Said wonderful woman saw me crying and asked ‘what just happened Sally’, and I burbled something about how that sounded nice, how it was all so tiring and how i had had so many babies and everything, and how really I knew that it was me who pushed my husband away. And everyone agreed that yes it was very tiring and goodness yes that is quite a lot of babies and the woman asked And who are you? Who is Sally? A mother. A wife. Someone with something to say. A woman who wants to come home.

4 thoughts on “coming home

  1. Hi sally,

    You are most definitely a woman with something to say – and a huge talent for saying it! I just love your style and keen observations. Keep it coming; we need to hear your voice.

    I would like to add something to the issue of why we fall in love with a boarding school survivor: I believe it is for the same reasons that everybody falls in love. And we project our disowned parts onto each other like all couples do. These projections of course fail us all eventually as no other person can ever truly provide for us what we need to re-discover within ourselves. This is a normal if complex aspect of all intimate relationships.

    However, with a BSS partner this process is loaded with added complications. For most of us it is difficult enough to reclaim our disowned aspects, but with a boarding school upbringing – and a backdrop of a family ethos that supports sending little children away to school – psychic survival depends on a disconnection from body and feelings and a tendency to rely on thinking to feel, thus intellectualising feelings, ‘thinking your feelings’ rather than feeling them. This enforced disconnection from self in turn demands a disconnection from the feelings of others so as not to threaten the survivor personality. The inevitable outcome is a difficulty with feeling true empathy as an adult. This inability however, mainly shows up within intimate relationships, such as with an intimate partner and children: The most important and therefore most threatening people.

    This habitual disassociation is unconscious. But in an intimate relationship each partner unconsciously affects the emotions of the other – .Disowned parts and reclaiming of projections are all par for the course between committed lovers. But where trauma is involved – and being sent away to school is an unrecognised trauma masquerading as privilege – the psyche splits to protect the integrity of the self. These split aspects only come into consciousness through the process of projective identification, literally using the other to express and experience feelings unconsciously deemed too overwhelming to survive.

    Hence when a partner of a boarding school survivor ends up feeling and/or acting stupid, messy, incompetent or overly dependent, these feelings may have little or nothing to do with her disowned parts and everything to do with the disowned feelings of her boarding school survivor partner – his split off feelings a cuckoo in her emotionally available nest, leaving not much room for her own feelings.

    Allowed only to recognise and express competence, success, and some mixture of teenage rebelliousness and fatherly rationality, her BSS partner may listen and respond to the content when she comes to him for support for herself, but rarely will he be able to listen to her feelings or respond with feeling. And while she is later tearing her hair out in despair at not being met, he is perplexed at his emotional partner and at a loss to understand why she is angry yet again……….He does not see how he sends her away time and time again, just like his feeling and relational self was sent away. He can’t afford to see it because then the trance is broken and the truths of it all being lies is revealed…….

    Don’t ever let go of your healthy female instincts of caring, loving and nurturing – and keep that lipstick for the sensual and fun loving woman in you. Love your husband, and love yourself even more. Remember, no amount of your love will make up for the love that was missing from your husband’s upbringing. Only he can bring home his scared and lost little boy to his heart. Until then, even your love can be experienced as a painful reminder of what he had to learn to do without and as such evoke both unbearable longing and destructive rage – feelings that cannot be consciously acknowledged by the survivor personality and therefore may be ‘exported’ into you…….

    Encourage him to seek support to stop surviving and start living. He can’t do it alone and you can’t do it for him.
    And continue to stalk your disowned parts, which may have something to do with intelligence, creatively, confidence, competence, authority…??

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement and insights Helena. So much to think about. I am excited about stalking my disowned parts, could be quite an adventure 🙂

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