I wrote recently about my adulthood struggle with the effects of emotional neglect in childhood that have brought me in recent times to the point of near mental collapse. Needless to say, this experience—an episode decades in the making—has of late occupied much of my emotional and intellectual life as I attempt to deal with resurfacing trauma and grief1, diverting my attention from working on my poetry collection.
I have, however, reached a point in my recovery where the verses are calling to me once more, and I am excited to return to writing. “To a Swallow III”, the third in what was originally conceived as a trilogy, was to be next in line for development, but having read it today, I see nothing in the sketch that has not already been explored in “Swallows!” (originally “To a Swallow I”) and “To a Swallow” (originally “To a Swallow II”).
I shall, therefore, turn my attention to the next sketch in the queue, its working title “Feather in the Wind”2.
One illuminating byproduct of self-examination has been uncovering the sources of my attraction to sadness. It is an emotion I have felt for as long as I can remember, and I have written in the past about its origins1. Briefly, in my formative years, I experienced the absence of a parental bond, constantly in the care (or rather neglect) of others who had neither the time nor inclination to connect with me emotionally. A highly sensitive2 child—what in the “humours”3 of Greco-Roman medicine could be described as a “melancholic” temperament—I took this to mean that I was unloveable, unwanted and wrong for needing attention; and so I slowly withdrew, emotionally and physically, consoling myself with solitude, reflection, knowledge and beauty—things to which I was naturally drawn that did not require the company of others.
It was with this sense of life4—that existence is tenuous connection, consoling isolation and undeserved joy—that I indulged my desire to create; and what I created, what I admired and took pleasure in, was a manifestation of my inner life. My taste in music illustrates this perfectly: I would enjoy cheerful music but felt that I was “wrong” for doing so, guiltily listening then setting it aside, convinced I am unworthy of happiness. Only sorrowful music felt “right”. When I discovered the ambient, drone and shoegaze genres, it was as if I could hear my sense of life played on instruments: the haze of my experience concretised in reverberations and obfuscated in textures. Unsurprisingly, I embraced those musical styles wholeheartedly. Something similar happened in other art forms: the more melancholy the work, the more appropriate to my sense of life it felt, and the greater its effect on the content and aesthetic of my tastes.
You see it in my choice of project titles—the visions they conjure of separation (Forgotten Fields, Lonely Swallow5); in my music—the sense of longing (for connection) and lamentation (for not attaining it)6; in my poetry—the simple rhymes (evocative of a romanticised childhood); in my aesthetic—the minimalist abstract visuals (reflecting a child seeking warmth in ideas to escape the coldness of his reality); in my theme—nature as a source of solitude, beauty and comfort (requiring only that I exist to receive it); in my subjects—the fleeting moments of the natural world (as insignificant as I felt in childhood: a bird singing in the distance, the wind spilling over the grass, clouds dissolving in the sky). Understanding the origins of these—how my upbringing and temperament conspired to produce them—is deeply affirming.
I have, throughout my adult life, found myself in the grip of a darkness: a persistent sense of dread and sadness caused by emotional neglect in childhood1. Its devastating effect has been the conviction that I am, at the core of my being, shameful and inadequate, leaving me yearning and striving for a perfection that would prove me worthy.
Whilst I have been labouring desperately and diligently under this self-imposed condemnation, I am at last recognising its destructive power and have, over the past few weeks, begun in earnest to dissect the beliefs that constrain me.
To distance oneself from familiar lies and become acquainted with daunting truths is an emotionally taxing exercise, one that only Art can make bearable, wherefore amidst this ordeal, I continue to work on poetry. Writing verses for this collection is a balm of joy beyond comprehension, dispelling my sorrows, giving me the courage to endure.
“General lack of bonding with children, including disregard, dismissiveness, distancing, misattunement, disassociation, heedlessness, carelessness, oversight, inadvertence, inattention, unconcern, inconsideration or indifference. Ignoring or not communicating with children during periods of separation from them.” – “The Impact of Emotionally Neglecting Children”, Recovery Direct