I really do believe the most powerful force in the universe is love. This week I have had some powerful moments of feeling love break through to me, most especially when the defences around my heart have melted and I have felt such enormous grief. At these times I have been hearing an inner voice that says:
Only love is real.
I am not meaning to imply here that the painful things that happen to us didn’t happen, that they are not real but that the real force that opens us to the truth of what happened to us is actually love. For without it there are only defences, protections and minimisations all of which block the true flow of love. And it is the absence of true unconditional love the ends up damaging us as children.
C-PTSD is a syndrome of the dearth of unconditional love or what the great therapist Carl Rogers, called “unconditional positive regard”. C-PTSD can occur when unconditional love is shut off in an all-or-nothing way in early childhood.
Without the unconditional love of a parent (which includes the discipline to help the child set boundaries at the appropriate age related time) we simply cannot thrive emotionally and we are left with deficits. These can be repaired later in life if we can find a source of unconditional love from at least one person. Alice Miller has given the name “enlightened witness” to this source. The presence of just one person who can be there to help the child know and mirror its true reality including painful responses to the trauma of loss of love will make all the difference for healing.
As Peter Walker points out and so many of us in recovery know we often carry this desire for unconditional love and positive regard into all of our relationships in later life. In fact the sheer longing for it will bear testament to the lack we feel. Healing and growing in awareness will confront us with the painful reality that very few people will be able to provide this for us later in life. There is no one out there who can heal our childhood longing and hurt. When we transfer it onto ordinary human relationships we ask too much and often we attract to us the vary partners who are most unsuited to give us this love.
Such a heavy demand can exact a huge toll on later relationships and part of healing requires understanding at a deeper level where our deep feelings of emptiness and longing come from and finding ways to meet them in different relationships and activities that nurture us and fill us with a feeling of peace. It also requires that we turn around and give to ourselves the unconditional love we longed for in childhood when we experience emotional distress and pain.
Although Michael Brown doesn’t ever use the term Complex PTSD in his book on presence, he does talk of unintegrated emotional charges which cause us pain that relate back to our childhood. His method for working with them is outlined in his book. Often we turn to others when we are distressed hoping they may give us this unconditional positive regard, some people will be able to do it but there will often be times they are not available. In that case we need to turn back towards ourselves. Sitting still with ourselves. Focusing on our breath. Speaking loving and soothing words towards our inner child, even opening up to ask him or her how she is feeling or what reminder from the past is being triggered for us will help.
Yesterday while sitting through a very long Catholic funeral service I started to feel distressed and agitated, Part of me wanted to get the hell out of the room into the fresh air or far far away. But for the moment I concentrated on my breath. “What does this remind you of?” I asked my inner child. She was telling me how much she hated having to sit through benediction services every Wednesday, how restricting and confining she found the space and the smell of the incense, how emotionally shut down and full of guilt and shame she found the service with its emphasis on the judgement of god for sins. I was able to hear all of this and my distress soon ended. I didn’t actually have to get away from the service, I could watch it as a witness and see how it and why it was affecting me more deeply inside. There was some freedom in that. By simply being present with myself I learned something and not all things about the service were ‘bad’, I was able to see some of the good things without running away. I shared about it later with my therapist. Of how often I can get this urge to run and get away from heavy things but how lately I don’t have to react as quickly to do so if I check in. It was a good observation to make. I felt apart from but not lost somewhere deep inside. The presence process had really helped me deepen my understanding.