I was born with very poor eyesight. The world for me was a collection of vague masses of ill-defined colours. I could see no clear borders, and I only could perceive details in sounds, smells, and other senses. I used my fingers, nose, ears, and even my tongue to navigate the world, and my senses became quite acute.
With such poor vision, the world outside the house was a big hazy place. I couldn’t see anything clearly, near or far. So it was very easy for me to get lost, and I often did. Over time I learned to memorize the layout and landmarks of places so I knew how to navigate, by creating quite complex spatial maps in my brain. Although I was very nervous about going to a place I hadn’t been before, if I had been there once I could get back easily. But I still got lost if my reference points were moved.
I couldn’t see anyone’s face so I couldn’t tell one person from another. Often, when I went out with my parents to a store, I would lose them, even if they were right beside me. So over time, I learned to recognize people from the way they walked, their body language, and from the sound of their voices. I became very good at this.
My family was very dysfunctional. My father was an extremely critical rage-aholic. My mother would try to match his rage as much as possible. As my sister was seven years my elder, to survive she adopted the fighting skills of my parents. There were other problems. Over my childhood years, I suffered verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse. Although, outside of the house my family was amazing, always helping people, smiling and laughing, with everybody loving them. inside the house was a battle zone and a very dangerous place.
With extremely poor eyesight, in my early years I could not see anyone’s face to tell if they were angry, or happy – a necessary tool in an abusive family. I needed an early warning system to be able to prepare myself to either be hugged or thrown at a wall across the room. Somehow, I became sensitive enough to track second by second the shifting tides of the multitude of emotions in those around me. I could tell at a distance if someone was safe or dangerous, about to explode in anger or about to smile. I could perceive not only what they were expressing at the moment but also what was beneath the surface, emotions that they had not even begun to feel yet. I learned that although their voice may be smiling and they were happy on the surface, they could be very close to rage just a level underneath. This allowed me to know if I should be on guard or relaxed.
I also learned to track the effects of my words and actions on people I talked with. I started to talk directly to the shifting emotions I saw inside of people, rather to their exterior self. This behaviour, although automatic when young, I had to learn to turn off and on as I became older. It often unnerved people and alienated me from most of my peers. People told me that they felt uneasy around me, and it seemed like I could see right through them. In a sense, they were right.
Over the years I have learned to use this way of seeing to help others to understand their emotions and deeper traumas. I used it in my clinical practice as well as with friends and those in need. However, i still feel an element of alienation, as I am observing the world in a way that I have seldom been able to openly share.
© R. Raine-Reusch 2014