What happens to someone when they are not allowed to feel what they feel, when they are having an intense reaction to something and that reaction is then judged as ‘mad’ and steps are taken to shut them down and invalidate the person’s reality? Really the person was deeply outraged and angry about something that was legitimately hurtful and abusive (perhaps having triggered a complex web of other feelings, issues complexes reaching deep down and far back), but their reaction is judged (often by the abuser, but often also others the abuser has co-opted in to validate their own rejected and repressed betrayal, for example). Those people bring in a psychiatrist and a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder is made, it is recommended the person is placed on something “to calm them down”.
This type of scenario is unwinding in a novel I am reading at present. The themes explored in the novel are cutting to the heart of similar issues in my own family. The central character in this book is called Grace. When the book opens she has been in a relationship with a narcissist where she walked on eggshells for many years always fearing when the next outburst or angry tirade will be expressed.
As her history is explored in the first half of the book it is revealed that she was raised by a mother who was not only emotionally unavailable to Grace for long periods but prone herself to rash outbursts of anger and strange behaviour that were frightening for her daughter. It is not made clear in the novel what happened to the mother that caused her behaviour but eventually she is diagnosed with “bi-polar” disorder.
The shadow imprints of this painful relationship rears its head when Grace hits midlife. Its nature shows why Grace would have been attracted to a narcissist. Her own emotional needs were never met. She learns to bury her needs and soothe or avoid her husband. Eventually the stress of trying to appease her husband’s endless needs leads Grace to hire an assistant who subtly begins to undermine Grace.
Grace’s behaviour starts to change in response to the mixed messages in the environment, (the not at this stage overt deception going on). She becomes prone to sleeplessness and then bursts of energy which are nothing more than reactions to stress and buried feelings she has not really been able to articulate over years. Her husband starts to question her behaviour and label it erratic (a huge irony here in that his own behaviour has been even more outlandish). He convinces Grace to see a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with a mild form of bi polar disorder. The diagnosis sits badly with Grace, and yet she questions herself. This guy has a degree from a famous university, he has written chapters in the DSM her own mother was bi polar, has she inherited the bi polar curse? Who is she to question anyway?
Grace reluctantly takes the drugs prescribed which make her hungry, lethargic, sleep 12 hours or more a day and even more depressed. She gains weight and her self esteem plummets. When her closest friend find out what has happened she is outraged. She sees no evidence for the diagnosis. Grace struggles on, being undermined at times by both husband and his new assistant.
Then one day she finds them together having sex, as any normal person would do she flies into a rage attacking the woman who in partnership with her husband then arrange to have her taken to a psychiatric facility. At this part in the story I was hyperventilating. It was so similar to my oldest sister’s story, of which the full details have never been clear, only that her own husband had an affair with a women they were both involved with in and through the business my sister started, either before or after my sister had a cerebral haemorraghe in 1980.
A year later her husband took them and their four children away to New Zealand (the mistress had gone forward a short while before). I believe on Jude’s arrival in New Zealand she may then have had to witness her husband and his mistress together. She had a series of so called “psychotic” breaks and was admitted to an asylum. She was then sent home home to us with a one way ticket. with one suitcase of clothes, she then tried to take her life.
In the novel Grace is luckier than my sister. She has manages to escape from the influence of the psychiatrist who was loading her with a number of different medications which basically numbed her so that she was only a zombie, less than even a shadow of her former self. My sister was never that lucky. When she came home and tried to cry her eyes out she was stopped from going there. Dumbed down with more meds, as with Grace with the numbing came a loss of all her creative ability, her joy, her zest, her sadness all palled under the greyness of a lifeless “blah” induced by the medications she was fed.
Her authentic liveliness and joy was squashed and little help was given, until later years to help her work through the painful mix of feelings. In the end there were only screaming rages with long crying spells, many of which I sat through in the course of her last years, holding her hand.
I am still in the middle of processing all the feelings that have been coming up for me in reading Grace’s story. I am reminded of the difficult journey we have on earth in coming to terms with our feelings, with their impact on others, with the impact of other’s feelings on us and even of our own feelings impact on us, of the long search to find a place where our feelings can be expressed in a way in which it is helpful and we can move forward rather than be paralysed or trapped by them.
I guess in the end it all has a lot to do with fear. There is a wonderful book out there on this subject it is called When Love Meets Fear and is written by David Richo I read a quote recently from it which I can now not find but said something like this : many people will be frightened by expression of your lively energy especially if it rocks their boat or confronts them with a part of themselves they would rather not see, your life task is to be and express this lively energy even in the face of others fear of all the tactics and machinations they use to try and undermine your true authentic expression.
I had a big “ah ha” moment when I read that paragraph. How often as a child was I shamed by the Nuns or even my parents when I expressed something they did not want me to express. This also happened to my older sister mentioned above who it said in later life “was just a little too big for her boots”, a bit too open, too lively, too “over the top”, a “naughty” girl. Witness the jaw drop as she speaks an outlandish truth to someone confronting them with something they are ashamed about or trying to hide. It’s just “not nice”! More outraged expressions and pursed lips.
I am not implying that we should have no restraint, no empathy for or sensitivity towards others feelings but we do need to have the courage to express what is true for us even if at times it makes us seem like an inconvenience for others who would rather we shut it up or dumbed it down a bit.
Interesting that just last month the Sun in Libra faced off with/opposed Uranus in Aries. Uranus has been passing through my eighth house of shadow energies over the past few years. My own Mars is conjunct Saturn which lends a fair bit of repression, duty boundness and doing the right thing to Mars lively assertive joy in self expression and movement. I have struggled with bound up/caged Mars energy for most of my life late childhood onwards. Luckily I haven’t been medicated through any of the lows which were often descents in which feelings had to be negotiated, painful as they were and interspersed with periods of debilitating depression.
Lately I am getting lots of hints about where repression due to displaced and projected fears occurs for myself and others and I am grateful for a therapist who allows me to express my own genuine feelings without being scared by them or having any controlling reaction. Being able to get my intense feelings out in a place where I can makes sense of them is what has helped me most. Being able to own the fact I feel scared and acknowledge while holding my own hand and figuring out ways to act despite the fear has also helped.
There is a powerful line in a song I have been listening to lately by Sarah McLaughlin :
“ If I feel a rage I won’t deny it, I won’t fear love.”
There are people who are going to tell us that our rage makes us madwoman but it doesn’t. My rage shows me where love and respect for me isn’t being shown and life and love for myself and others asks me to see and own that rage and takes steps to empower a self that in being repressed or denied for too long is now rattling the cage from which I must liberate myself in order to express and fight for what I most need to live, to love, to express, to breathe, to survive and to thrive in my deepest authenticity.
Those who love me will validate my feelings, they will see the sense in them, they will not make me bad or wrong for having them. And it is the adult in me who must help me to hold those feelings, to process them, to make sense of them and then express them in ways which help me to become empowered and strong. When I feel a rage I won’t deny it. I won’t fear love. For in feeling the rage, in allowing it to move me to authentic assertive (rather than aggressive) action I demonstrate love, power and authenticity for myself, for you, for my sister and for the journey which in, at times, leading us to the darkest depths and deepest night eventually brings light and the dawning of a new day filled with understanding, compassion and hope.