Saturday, March 29, 2014

Conditioned eye contact.

Tw:  forced eye contact, restraint & other abusive 'treatment' descriptions

I can remember the last few times I made true eye contact, as clear as a snapshot.

-I was too distressed to make words happen and no one around knew sign. Eyes wildly snapped from person to person, looking for someone who could read my mind.

-I was in the ER getting stitches on my finger, which I had accidentally locked in a car door. I told them to not tell me when they were sticking me with the needles. They told me. Eyes flew to those of the person with me.

-One of those folks who thinks boundaries don't apply to him was getting too close and too cozy on the bus. Again, probing for someone who could recognize my distress.

-Someone was threatening violence in my direction at a thing I used to do, and I was meeting with one of the folks who had authority. His words on the experience are "please stop trying to set me on fire with your mind."

The elements of these scenarios are the same. Something is happening. I do not like it. I do not like it at all, and want it to stop immediately. Yelling and swearing has not worked. I can't hit it or kick it or pretend it doesn't exist. Those strategies have failed or have a 99.9999% chance of failing based on pattern data from years of experiences.

But eye contact makes them stop doing the unpleasant thing.

This doesn't make sense, does it? You've heard that eye contact is about sharing and social referencing and subtle messages and cues being sent among communicative partners. That's not what this is at all! This is the sledgehammer. This is the safeword, if you will, the "this stops now it has to it has to it has to make it stop nownownownownow no matter what".

Where did I get this idea? Therapy. That's where.

When I was a very small little child, the first thing they tried to get me to do was "look at me". Now, if I was a small child now they'd be still coercing looking at them. The new and improved way of forcing eye contact is to hold a desirable item between the adult's eyes and then give it to the small child when they look at it. This is still gross.

Back in my day, however, it was all out war. They would grab your face, they'd hold your hands down, they'd pretty much sit on you. It was a full out wrestling match until you submitted and looked them in the eye. Then, they immediately stopped. They immediately let go of your face or your hands or stopped sitting on your or stopped holding your shoulders so hard that the bones ground or what have you.

I was small. Hitting didn't work (I tried). Kicking was a no. Headbutting only worked once, biting was iffy. Covering my face got my hands dragged into my lap and held there. Dumping the chair and running was only a few seconds reprieve and led to the least comfortable hold ever. They had no compunctions about prying my eyes open when I squeezed them shut as tight as I could. No boundary violations were out of bounds. The only way to make the awful stop was to look in their eyes.

Reality land does not, in fact work that way. Eye contact is not the way to make things stop. People who know me understand that it means "something that is happening needs to not be happening right. now." Most people don't know that. People who only sort of know me can grasp that it's bad (see: "stop trying to set me on fire with your mind") but they don't know what it means. Strangers take eye contact to mean the opposite of what it does.

My brain knows that for most people a straight in the eyes stare is not the signal for "something needs to stop right. now." but it isn't that easy. One of the deepest conditioned things I have is "eye contact is giving in. If you do that, the bad will stop." This is irrational and untrue and the world doesn't work that way. It's deep, though, as the first and most consistent of the wrestling matches I had with adults as a small child.

This isn't what they thought they were teaching me. They claimed to be teaching me all sorts of things about eye contact. They didn't though. They wrestled me to the ground over and over to grind a lie into my head.