1. “Your university is abusive toward [you],” said someone who does not know the place, and was just basing this on a few comments I made.
That is why I have difficulty starting to work, why my first instinct is flight (no, not fight), and why no amount of advice on time and task management helps. I just have to steel myself before entering a torture chamber is too dramatic a way to put it, perhaps.
(I am borrowing it from a friend who long ago caught me preparing myself mentally for a family visit and who said in horror, “It is as though you were preparing yourself to enter a torture chamber.”)
What can I do about it now? In part, focus on every person involved who is not a torturer. Look at them, respond to them.
(This, I think, is why the prisoner I try to care for wants me to be there for him to look at when he is executed, and it is a useful principle generally. I am trained to look at the torturer, knowing they are the one I must manage, but the way in which the situation has changed is that while the torturer remains there and holds some cards, the power of the others has grown and can be cultivated further.)
2. Someone else described as “horrifically abusive” a scene which in my family would not have gone as far as this one did, but which I would have considered a family interaction as much to be expected as any other
— i.e. the kind of scene I was always well advised to be braced for, because one never knew when it might be unleashed. In my family, though, it would have been described as a scene in which my mother was suffering and could not control herself, and that we had to submit to because she was suffering; and that we had brought upon ourselves by being who we were, or by not performing well enough the roles she needed us to perform in her presence, or by having desires or interests that diverged in any way from what was valued, or respected, or admired, or not feared or resented.
I have difficulty saying this and even seeing it, because there were certain days and I believe, even seasons and years when it was not this way or not predominantly this way. Also, I may have been the person who bore the brunt of things, so when I was told I was crazy to believe I had experienced what I had, it may have been true that others did not experience the same thing, or were compensated for forgetting it in ways I was not.
3. My analyst says I have two identities, one for safe situations and one for unsafe situations, and I should try to use the one for safe situations in unsafe situations. Where I disagree with this is that it presupposes that unsafe situations are actually safe, and that it is only I who imagine they are not.
What to do about that needs further thought. Just because one cannot make the unsafe, safe is not a reason to be careless — you would not do this on the highway or in a bad neighborhood, for example. Still, holding onto power, and remembering that what one considers reasonable probably is that, are useful rules in bad neighborhoods or on the highway, and perhaps everywhere.