I am thinking a lot about vulnerability today. I just watched a video on Avoidant Personality Disorder which spoke of the connection between childhood emotional neglect and avoidance.
The subject of vulnerability and fear came up in therapy yesterday. The chance meeting with the boy next door from my childhood on Saturday sparked memories of little things I did as a kid that showed me how scared I was and how I must have been shamed for things in childhood. I know that as a youngster I developed this coping strategy – I learned to hide my vulnerability, shame or fear from others and that indicates to me that on one level I was terrified. I see how I have carried this fear on and how it has limited my life in so many ways.
I was lucky enough not to have a contraption connected to the mattress to give me an electric shock when I was wetting the bed, like my neighbour did. But I still think I must have felt so alone and vulnerable in childhood and that it was not safe enough to turn to others for protection and care. In both my mother and father’s childhood they had no one much to turn to either, so its a carried pattern.
I think of all the hiding I did later in life. The sixth and most painful termination of pregnancy which happened late in my addiction was one that I went through all alone and hid from my flatmate at the time. When it happened we were both studying Naturopathy and we had the beginnings of a very close relationship, but I feared so much opening up to her about what had happened that I lied and in the end she moved out of the place I owned and the darkest and most painfully alone year of my active addiction began.
When I think about it now I am so grateful that I finally found my sobriety one year later, but by that stage I was in so much pain over all that had happened that on one level I was trying to obliterate awareness of with my drinking that it would take me years to really come to terms with it. And it has taken me a lot of work over the past 18 months to stop seeing myself as ‘the bad one’ when really I just had developed very dysfunctional behaviours and coping strategies in my life due to emotional neglect.
I get pretty angry when addicts or alcoholics get demonised by others. I think the judgement often comes from ignorance. I am a huge fan of Canadian doctor Gabor Mate who comes out in defence of addicts and tries to draw attention to the early trauma so many addicts suffer which leads them to become addicts in the first place. If you are damaged in early life and your ability to trust and depend is broken where are you going to turn and what are you going to do with the pain if no one around you is mirroring the truth of the situation for you? The self condemnation or lack of compassion and empathy is something we can suffer for long years even into sobriety most often turning deep inside, leading many to suicide.
I am so grateful that lately my self talk has been becoming that much more loving and supportive. I am so happy that I am able now to recognise and champion the vulnerable self in me that lay hidden under so many of my dysfunctional coping behaviours. I was sharing with Katina yesterday my growing realisation of how I use avoidance out of fear. Once I can admit to myself the fear or vulnerability then I can step in with the loving supportive adult presence to talk to that little one in me who is so scared and help her to take more positive, healthy, nurturing steps in my life.
Sadly as I grew up I absorbed a self shaming voice that was taken in from my parents and the nuns at my school. I never learned about self compassion. I really feel so strongly that self compassion is something we should teach children from a very young age. At that early stage we need help to deal with our feelings, vulnerabilities and fears. We do not need to be shamed for self assertion or sticking up for ourselves either. We should not be taught to fear our vulnerability but to embrace it and learn ways to encourage ourselves from within in the midst of it. In the absence of this we look to others to do it for us and if we are unhealed or wounded in this area we often attract those who project the shadow of their own vulnerable self onto us and then reject or shame us for it.
Part of our healing in therapy and most particularly if we come out of a narcissistically wounded family involves recognising we are not to blame but that in adult hood we do have a responsibility to change patterns and often we can only do this with good help if our wounds are serious.
Yesterday Katina said to me kindly “you did the best you could at the time”. Lying in bed this morning and thinking about that I thought what a relaxing and accepting thing that is to say in many situations. People who hurt us do the best they can. It may be the very worst for us and only we can break away from that kind of hurt and we must not continue to lie to ourselves about the damage such ignorance caused, well meaning as they may claim it was. Come to think of it just re-editing this now my mother often uses excuses when I try to bring up certain painful things with her, she cannot bear to admit her own vulnerability at times.
At the same time as accepting our vulnerability we need to keep reaching for the best we can at the time and accept when our worst is all we could have done at that point with all we knew at the time. This to me is showing mercy, it relaxes our muscles and it lets ourselves off the hook so that we can search for healthier kinder and more positive ways to self nurture and grow beyond old formerly unrecognised vulnerabilities and fears. It may be the most valuable tool we have in our arsenal for dealing with depression which often is created by the unloving things we tell ourselves over and over about our selves or wounded and wounding others.