How comfortable is it for you when someone looks deeply into your eyes? This blog which I wrote a few days ago was prompted by a comment received on a recent blog The Loving Gaze from myblackspotblog. I have often felt uncomfortable when being looked at deeply. I can at times feel the shutters of my soul wanting to close, and a similar feeling was expressed in myblackspot’s comment. This got me to thinking and wondering if, when being looked at, old fear, pain or experiences of being seen into and misunderstood are evoked when we are being looked at, and whether also there is a fear of being invaded or invalidated due to that having happened to us in the past.
Or is it something deeper, something to do with a deeply private interior part of us that is not always so comfortable with being seen and needs to keep a place of separation or sanctity where we can just feel free to be, safe from scrutiny?
I am aware of something within me, that I experience a great fear of being shamed, of not getting something right and perhaps then of being rejected. In my last relationship as we began to connect more deeply, or try to, a lot of painful feelings arose for me, feelings that were not that comfortable for my partner and which he could not validate. This echoed old experiences of difficulties with mirroring.
What occurs for the child who is not mirrored or is told to feel differently or that what they feel is wrong is that we begin to adopt a false self or a mask as we begin to hide who we really are, how we truly feel. For the narcissist, as I understand it, the vulnerable self having been in childhood so rejected and exposed to punishment, invalidation and shame goes so deeply into hiding and his or her pain then becomes inaccessible or buried, often it will be projected on others.
The projected self that had to be discarded and judged as too bad, vulnerable, wrong or painful to face then becomes rejected in the other. The fully blown narcissist is not aware of any painful or difficult aspects of the self, these all belong to others. It’s a very difficult situation to be on the receiving end of and it is one we need to be very aware of as we begin to heal early childhood trauma and experiences of being shamed, abandoned, punished or humiliated in unloving ways for just being a very human self with very human emotions parents may not have been able to deal with.
I am currently reading a book which deals with experiences in childhood that lead to borderline personality disorder. It speaks of the difficulty certain children face at the time they go through the beginning of the separation/ individuation process with mother. The psychological health of the child is dependent very much upon the mother’s ability to deal with frustration, anger, sadness and other responses which are evoked in the child as a response to steps toward connection and separation, dependency and independence. A healthy mother can tolerate these powerful emotions without humiliating the child.
This process is very difficult for the mother if she never received containment of painful emotions herself as a child and as a result learned to distance and distrust her own painful emotions. The borderline personality disorder that can develop out of such painful interactions with Mum leads to a difficulty with accepting painful emotions in the self.
With such experiences of early wounding we seek to find ways to numb, suppress, cover over or project the painful feelings we are feeling. Since we have never learned how to be with the difficult feelings and found healthy ways to regulate and self soothe we seek this through less effective ways and often learn to keep our painful emotions under wraps, tending then to explode when the pressure builds too much.
In addition if we were looked on harshly when we were suffering or angry, or scared or sad, or even excited or extremely happy we may begin to feel an internalised shame for feeling such feelings which then become bound in shame. Later in life when we encounter these difficult states and even if we ae being looked on with love, this may feel very threatening to our soul. We may unconsciously feel deep shame and fear or even terror.
I well remember the first time I had to stand up in front of a crowd at an AA meeting and expose my own true self who lived behind the mask of the false self. I was both frightened and ashamed. Luckily I found the strength to be real. I remember how free I felt after enduring this fear and unmasking.
After posting my recent blog I received a comment from telllingheavysecrets saying how important she has found it to her recovery to look upon herself with the love she sought from others. THS expressed how she realised that for most of her life she had been looking everywhere for that loving gaze.
The truth is we cannot fully heal in isolation, especially if we have developed shame and frozen emotions due to an invalidating and traumatising past. It is going to take some help from healthy individuals who can gaze on us in love, even when we are in painful and difficult states of mind and emotion if we have learned to despise or distrust these ourselves.
I remember a little way along in my relationship with my last partner who had narcissistic injuries expressing empathy for his kindness in some matter and he hit the roof. I had the audacity to imply that he was human and vulnerable in some way. How dare I? At the time the power of his rage scared me. He took himself off into the backyard and started hammering something ferociously. At that point I had really seen into him, and he did not like it. I got an angry roar. It has taken me some healing myself to understand why.
Today I am glad that for me my ability to take in the loving gaze from someone is increasing. What is even more important for me to learn to look on myself with the eyes of compassion when I am in a trauma invoked state. I take on board very deeply the advice of the Buddhist monk Thich Knat Hahn who advises to treat oneself and one’s pain as tenderly as one would a little child.
The loving parent we needed to look on us with love may have been very absent or non existent for us growing up, but that does not mean we cannot find that force of love within our hearts and minds now. It takes courage too, to open up to the love that may want to come our way from others, when past experiences of being rejected or shamed have led us to feel terrified of being truly seen.
In the case of the borderline a torrent of fear may come our way when we try to truly love, as it did with my ex partner but it may not be so obvious that it is fear that we are truly dealing with. For myself I know that when I am in a fearful state I most need to understand and accept that feeling. I don’t have to like it, but if I can own it there is just a chance that I may be able to no longer be held as deeply captive by that fear. For a second I can choose love for myself and I have found along the way to be true these very important words from the bible. Perfect love casts out fear.
The loving gaze that meets and finds our fear may help the fear to dissolve if we can in tolerating and accepting the fear develop a relationship with what may have in the past been pushed away. In looking upon ourselves and others in this way just maybe we can allow the love in that at times our fear and shame tries to keep us separate from.