The unavailable parent leaves their child alone emotionally. By not noticing or validating the child’s true feelings the parent denies the child an experience of his or her reality. By shaming or invalidating legitimate responses of anger or sadness, the parent disables the child’s self assertion and leaves the child with a sense, often subconscious, of longing, hunger, powerlessness and grief, as well as deeply repressed anger and sadness. Such repression lowers the person’s energy level in life and abandonment depression results.
In response to this situation the child learns to dissociate, turning away from intimacy, engaging in destructive self soothing behaviours to numb and deny pain. The person becomes vulnerable to addictions as an attempt is made to feed a hole in the soul within which should have been filled with love, compassion, empathy and understanding. Often the person has no idea what the feelings of emptiness are truly about until well into to recovery.Or some who find their needs, emotions and impulses are consistently ignored, shamed, invalidated or dismissed learn to turn themselves inside out to become of help to the unavailable parent (projected onto new associations), subverting hidden emotions and needs.
In this situation, their true emotions of sadness and anger get deeply buried and valid needs ignored or neglected (by their adult self.) Victims are set up later in life for relationships with narcissists, people who care little about their needs and invalidate their feelings. Their unconscious fear of experiencing their hidden abandonment depression will drive them to accept this situation and absorb any negative projections from others.
Healing from this defensive pattern of co-dependence often (or as Self Love Deficit Disorder – a newer term coined by therapist Ross Rosenberg) involves repeating it until awareness emerges and help or understanding is sought. The disabled self assertive or fight response which in healthy development acts to champion and promote the person’s needs, desires and interests will need to be excavated or reclaimed, brought back from exile.
Ideally in childhood we need a parent who helps us develop emotional intelligence into our feelings, emotions, reactions and responses, but this is only possible if we are raised by parents who are able to understand, mirror and help us express them in healthy ways. If instead out parents are emotionally blind, too focused on themselves, emotionally absent or have exiled their own true feelings, or are carrying deeply submerged feelings from the past which block this ability, they cannot help us and may disable our healthy fight or self assertive response and discourage or invalidate our expression of emotions. We will internalise their shame, criticism and misunderstanding of our feelings, reactions and responses. In response we develop an introjected inner critic which berates us when feelings arise.
Inner voices which block healthy expression of self will need to be confronted on the path of healing. An ally will be necessary in this work, someone who has trodden or knows the path to recovery and reclamation who will help to champion this process. Reading literature which helps us to understand how our self and will becomes negatively disabled will also help us to identify abuse and invalidation and the role they play in self suppression.
When I got into addiction recovery I began to hear a lot about ‘self will run riot’, as if self will were the problem. Something in it didn’t ring true for me, I began through therapy to see that the true problem in addiction was that the sufferer’s true self and will was subverted into other channels which were unhealthy or controlling of oneself or other’s true emotions and actually hid deeper feelings that could not be recognised. For example angry self will may hide deep fear, guilt, sadness and shame which has been projected onto someone or absorbed via the parents unconscious patterns. It is often the soul’s legitimate cry of upset when old pain is triggered in the present.
In her book Breaking the Cycle of Abuse, Bevely Engel shows how important it is to our recovery that we learn to identify our true emotions. She writes:
if you were neglected or abused in childhood you will tend to be overwhelmed and controlled by your emotions. Many become so overwhelmed by their emotions that their emotions become their enemies. Dysfunctional behaviors, including abusive or victim like patterns, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors are often attempts to cope with intolerably painful emotions. Many try to regulate their emotions by trying to make themselves not feel whatever it is that they do feel. This style can be the result of the emotionally invalidating environment you were raised in – one which mandated that people should smile when they are unhappy, be nice and not rock the boat when they are angry, and confess or beg for forgiveness when they have done nothing wrong.
Because of this you may feel sideswiped by your emotions, or overwhelmed when your emotions build up. This in turn may cause you to project your emotions onto others. What is referred to as psychic numbing (stuck or frozen feelings) is another frequent result of abuse in childhood. Children shut off their feelings or dissociate in response to a traumatic situation. Learning to re-experience frozen feelings takes time. But once these deadened feelings are liberated they can help you by providing helpful information so you can make rational decisions and take appropriate action in your life. Reconnecting with feelings can provide you strength, courage and joy.
Learning to identify and name our true feelings is such an important factor in recovery from co-dependence and addiction, learning to understand when we are reacting due to fear or shame from the past and learning to dis-identify this present pain from past pain is extremely important to our reclaiming of our true self. Learning to assert ourselves, feelings, needs thoughts and desires in a healthy way and not allowing narcissists to shame, discount, minimise or shut us down in the only way we will eventually get our souls’ out of jail.
Letting go of controlling our own or other’s feelings will most likely make us feel extremely vulnerable at first. We are re-experiencing the child of the past in an adult’s body which can be very painful. (This experience has been named age regression by John Lee and flashback experience by Pete Walker).
In the midst of age regression or flashback we may feel very small, vulnerable, fearful and ashamed but our path of healing involves staying with, experiencing and connecting these feelings to incidents in the past.
Finding others who can support us in experiencing, identifying and working through these feelings, will help us to uncouple the fear or shame from our true feelings. It will help us to grow an inner adult who recognizes and takes seriously the inner child’s feelings from a damaging or traumatising past.
For many of us who have disconnected from feelings we may experience confusion as to what feeling we are feeling at any given time. In her book Beverly Engel gives tips for identifying feelings. Our body is where we experience our emotions as feelings and sensations, for example grief may be felt as a tightness in the chest or a feeling of pressure around the heart. Anger may be felt as a tightening of the jaw or muscles in various parts of the body, often the gut.
Certainly learning to re-experience our feelings will not be easy for many of us, but we can find resources to help with this process and as we do our level of peace and ability to take action will improve. We can reactivate out ability to move through emotions and reclaim our will for positive expression and inner and outer connection one we develop a capacity to own, name, sort out and act for our own positive wellness on these formerly misunderstood or out of touch emotions and feelings.