It’s not about us : raising our perspective on emotional neglect and carried trauma

For those of us who had wounded or emotionally unavailable parents it takes a lot of time to realise that the original problem was in our parents, upbringing and conditioning, not us.   Because of the hurt we can experience due to this, it can be hard to think about what the parent may have suffered.  I am not saying that gives the parent the right to be hurtful or abusive, but there is a saying that is used a lot in AA : ‘accepting life on life’s terms’ and when those terms are harsh and cruel and hard and unfair this can be hard to do.   Nevertheless the world is deeply imperfect, flawed and at times wounding.   We can suffer in all kinds of ways as sensitive souls and modern society is not geared towards acknowledging this suffering some of which is perpetrated anyway by the purely survival based evolution and dog eat dog nature of a society evolving out of medieval times.

In modern times it is hard for many of us to realise how our ancestors suffered or how hard their experiences may have been.   In my great great grandfather’s case he lost his mother when he was about 12 and then he didn’t get along with his step mother.  He then struggled to find the right kind of work and support an ever growing family when the bottom fell out of the tin mining industry in which he was involved.  He then made the tough decision to emigrate a long way away from his home in the UK.

Following the sea journey that took three months, he and his wife, my Great Great Grandmother, Eliza Solomon lost two baby girls, one following the sea crossing and one a few years later.  My great grandmother bore the same name as those two lost baby girls, Eliza Jane.  Eventually (and I don`t know all the circumstances) he began to drink enough for his wife to leave him and his daughter (my great grandmother) finally broke contact emmigrating from New Zealand to Victoria Australia.  She married and gave birth to three children, including my grandmother but when war broke out my grandfather left and eventually the marriage ended.

My grandmother ended up marrying to a man who was a victim of war injuries sustained in the First World War and when they had to move to find work in another town all alone with their small daughter, my Mother, they again fell on hard times.  My grandfather died when my Mum was only 7 leaving my Nana and mother alone with no war pension and no income.  My grandmother would leave my mother alone every morning and every evening go to work.  My mother was eventually sent into domestic service where she remained for several months before rebelling and getting a job as an apprentice seamstress with a local tailor.

Eventually my mother met my father when he arrived in Australia to collect B52 bombers with the Dutch East Indies Airforce in 1940 during the Second World War.  They married and struggled to survive, starting a succession of businesses.   At every point my mother and father worked exceptionally hard, too hard really.   To the degree that by the time I came along everything was geared around business, looking good and achieving, rather than emotionally nuturing their children or themselves.   Anyway as readers of my blog know I ended up suffering from addiction problems myself between the ages of 14 and 31 as well as exceptionally low self esteem.

When a succesion of personal and family traumas hit from 1979 to 1985 I was not given the necessary support or guidance as my sister was critically ill and ended up after a serious brain trauma suffering psychotic episodes.  After her husband absconded taking her four boys to New Zealand as well as my sister then sending her back with a one way ticket she tried to take her life and my parents were left not really knowing what to do in the painful aftermath.

For myself I know my parents did the best they could but their attention was diverted and going through such a time of trauma sufferers need support, problem was in my family there was not enough to go around so I ended up taking myself off, as my therapist often says it was like being a person shot out of a cannon with no protection around me at all.

What I have learned in my own 24 years of emotional recovery is that many of us can come from homes that look good to outsiders but are emotionally vacant within.  A therapist I started to see 7 years ago described what I endured once as ‘benign neglect’.  Believe me its hard to suffer from this as in a way if you have been hit or emotionally abandoned or neglected in an obvious way people may at least see visible scars, and give sympathy or support.  However, if the neglect is benign (as in not intended but just a painful outcome of lack of energy and attention geared towards your developmental requirements and needs), in my experience it will not be easily recognised outside of therapy and sufferers tend to blame themselves saying they were the ‘bad’ child.

Indeed when I got involve in AA in 1993 I was led to believe I a sick individual with numerous ‘defects of character’.  Apparently if I prayed to God and admitted them then they would be slowly removed, what was not mentioned was how actually developmental arrests or trauma are actually psychic injuries not defects as such.  Many of us who resort to addictions in the absence of other support often do so because we don’t have any or know anywhere else to turn.   We never learned the skills to relate emotionally to our own insides, or self regulate emotions, we never learned to self nurture, or practice self care and often we blame ourselves or are told that in some way it is our fault. We also suffer ongoing attachment wounds that needs understanding and healing.

Many of us lack boundaries and are scapegoat identified.   We may have experienced a kind of energetic or psychic exile not only in families but in peer groups or at school.

My Mum once said to me after I informed her I was going to AA ‘well you always were a late developer!’  WTF Mum….. how can a teenager who is floundering unrecognised in an emotionally neglectful family develop early or even on time????

In my own life it has taken me the past 18 years mostly outside the rooms of AA meetings to understand the nature of my own traumas as well as the multigenerational traumas extending backwards of which they were a natural outrising.  Along the journey I have had to do a lot of reading, study, investigating, therapy, suffer more traumas and sidelining at 12 step groups as well at times in order to understand that the addiction that manifested in my life as well as my sense of deeper soul alienation actually had nothing to do with me being a ‘defective character’.  This is what society and even some members of 12 step groups have tried to tell me at times, such as when I was dealing with carried trauma and anger issues with my Mum several years back.

I now understand psychic wounds and injuries I carried were the result of far larger forces.  I understand that in fact I was in some way chosen (as many of us currently are) to be a circuit breaker or at least to become more conscious of a multigenerational legacy that has not only personal but also deeply collective ramifications.

We find ourselves at time in life where we would be hard pressed to find a person who is not suffering or touched by trauma and psychic suffering in some way, whether it be serious or more benign surely it is time that we stopped pathologising those who are carrying the impacts of pain and the legacy of emotional abandonment carried and communicated by proxy to them by parents who themselves were subject to all kinds of traumas and abandonments as well.

Our trauma does not just arise as a personal issue, there is always a deeply inter personal or collective interface of some kind.  Trauma does not happen alone (unless as a result of an individual accident), most often it arises in an interpersonal context as a result of inter association, projection, and projective identification.  An identified patient presenting from an emotionally vacant family may be carrying on their back the wounds of a sick system which will only be discovered once the situation they were involve in and grew up within is treated as a whole.

Much as they are carrying wounds, injuries and emptiness that emptiness is not actually saying anything about them, except that their pure soul sought as a baby or in childhood to find a place of visibility and connection that was in fact psychically absent.  All alone they struggle often with self blame, often being shamed and blamed by others or society at large, a society and host of others who lack the capacity to even ask the serious questions or know the truer causes that may so often lay hidden under an appealing exteriour.

The worst thing that can happen in this situation is that we blame ourselves or even anyone else, but we must recognise that certain causes and conditions led to these experiences of soul suffering which stretch back, perhaps a much longer way than we realise.   We must not personalise the suffering because then we become wedded to it, and it all too easily becomes a self fulfilling prophecy which is impossible to escape  And yet, until we can see that what happened was not about who we are but about what happened to us and how we learned to deal or not deal with it we won’t make much progess and we will not in D H Lawrence’s words attain a

realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind has chosen to sanctify.”

Or realise that in fact it was not a mistake but an evolutionary trajectory which in causing us pain and suffering was working all the time to awaken us and help us heal and evolve in new directions as human beings and a soul collective.

4 thoughts on “It’s not about us : raising our perspective on emotional neglect and carried trauma

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