After re-blogging an older post yesterday on closeness and distance and reading some more of James Masteron’s book The Search For The Real Self in which he discusses how people with borderline defences (anxiety around closeness, fear of intimacy due to intense abandonment fears or defences) have problems with being close due to intense anxieties being triggered I have been a bit perplexed and questioning.
At the moment I am in the midst of reading Judith Orloff’s book on surviving as an empath and in it she explains how due to sensitivities, empaths often have a difficulty spend a lot of time around others due to being drained. Which made me question the difference between being someone with innate empathic sensitivity and someone with anxiety around intimacy due to fear of abandonment and/or engulfment (anxious/avoidant attachment)
Recently I have been involved in an online discussion on the Awakened Empaths page on Facebook about the connection between so called Borderline Personality Disorder and high empathy. It is known now that those who tend to be diagnosed with BPD have a high degree of emotion and sensitivity which then combined with invalidation abuse often leads to traumatic injury and then difficulties with feeling safe to expressing the true self and sustain healthy intimacy in close personal relationships.
In addition the person with BDP is likely often to have suffered trauma or abuse at the hands of someone in childhood (though not always) or had problems with being attuned to and mirrored adequately in childhood. It is also understood that intense emotions of anger or a need to be separate may have been actively shamed or disallowed by the parent or not managed very well, leaving a lingering confusion and dysregulation as well as hair trigger defences (all transferred onto new triggers – often inappropriately but understandably!!)
Not having a loving space to have our emotions held and mirrored, nor receiving help to regulate them and make sense of them in childhood leads to problems with relationships and in many cases our parents may not have been able to help us with all of this due to suffering themselves. This can leave a very deep wound and intense feelings of anxiety, coupled with rage that need to be understood as we heal and separate from, as well as try to individuate ourselves from past traumas and psychic injuries
I was reading back on a post I wrote last year on the abandonment depression this morning which quotes from the work of James Masterson, (the herapist mentioned above) who helps those with anxieties around self expression and separation, as well as intimacy issues in relationship.
Ideally in a relationship we allow others to be different to us, we accept that our partners or family or friends will have their own unique temperaments and in damaged families we cannot always expect to get the nurturing we need, nor in all relationships will our feelings be empathised with or understood. We do not have to make others into bad or evil people just because they do not validate us. We do not split others into angels or demons, gods or monsters.
According to Melanie Klein the ability to hold the complex dualism of good and bad in one person requires a period of depression in which valid needs or feelings are at times thwarted while growing up, but I do believe that if a parent has the ability to lovingly contain us through this – rejecting inappropriate behaviours while never shaming or rejecting our true self and valid feelings we learn we don’t have to split ourselves in two in order to be accepted or loved and then developing complex lingering anxiety around living and expressing our true self in relationships. Being shamed I would imagine leaves us with a huge reservior of anxiety in being honest and true to ourselves. If we cannot learn it is safe to be honest and real and say No without being exiled, invalidated or rejected how are we going to feel safe as we start to try to get close to others in later life?
In the portions of Masterton’s book that I shared from in my post on the Abandonment Depression he talks of how in recovery for those of us disallowed our true self expression, great anxiety attends the arising of our legimate self and needs in therapy, life and relationships
Rage and fear (then) lead to panic.. Panic feeds on the fear that we cannot express our anger over abandonment. It can be a claustrophobic strangling of energies, a tightening up of options : either we express our anger and risk losing the love of others or we deny the anger in order to remain in the helpless state of dependency and hold onto others. As the panic grows, patients report that it feels like facing death or actually being killed. Often this anxiety will be channelled into psychosomatic disorders such as asthma and peptic ulcers, each being a perfect metaphor for the underlying fear… A person with a peptic ulcer is often hungering for emotional supplies that were lost in childhood or that were never sufficient to nourish the real self. As an adult, she is unable to find sources to supply the needed emotional support or to get through life without it.
I have experienced this lately with a partner in terms of being fearful of abandonment if I expressed my true feelings which in a previous relationship meant I was rejected. It seems that all anxiety that we experience around getting close is not pathological at all but a sign that repressed life energy is indeed being liberated from the unconscious as we do the hard work to be authentic and heal the internal split between our true and false selves.
And all anger is also not pathological in recovery either when we meet triggers or rejection, indeed as my therapist so often tells me it is in fact a sign of the emergence of the true self. I was interested to read on the site BPD Transformation recently that the reason so many inadequate therapists reject working with so called ‘borderlines’ is that they cannot handle the anger that needs to be held and expressed during the therapeutic transference requires for patients to uncover, discover and integrate their true feelings and self expression. Anger for so called ‘borderlines’ is often legitimate. The hurt they experienced was real (but it causes problems when projected onto new/present triggers). It needs to be understood in the context of earlier relationships.
I just watched the trailer for the movie Boy Erased in which a young gay may is made to undergo conversion therapy by his father and the anger he feels needs to be expressed but he is being demonised for it and told that he hates his father, when really he just HATES WHAT HIS FATHER IS DOING TO HIM : I.E. DENYING HIM THE EXPRESSION AND VALIDATION OF HIS REAL SELF.
As so called ‘borderlines’ or others with Complex relational trauma will know negotiating relationships and intimacy later in life with the wounds we carry is not easy. Not everyone out there is going to be like our rejecting invalidating parents but if we were not validated or recognised for our True Self growing up we may be more likely to attract those who do not see or get us and that is when we have to learn to trust our gut. A distancing defence may be necessary at first as we get to know the other person. It will be a protective defence, not only a sign of pathology.
Reading what Masterson has written today about defences against intimacy and closeness and attendant anxiety has helped me to make much more sense of the anxiety I feel at times when the promise of connection seems to be there, especially in one on one romantic or sexual partnerships. I have had many instances of rejection and abandonment in my own life. This time of year is a sensitive time for me because it corresponds to earlier as well as later traumas of abandonment.
However, I do question if high empathy really precludes me from love relationships altogether or means I am always doomed to live alone. I know as an introvert and creative person alone line is how I recharge and reconnect inwardly to my soul. As a sensitive person with an exquisite radar I often see more and have more anxieties around protecting and caring for others feelings. Having known hurt I hate to inflict it but there are times in life that we need to be separate and express conflicting viewpoints. Maturity means we understand this, we can agree to differ and accept others have needs and feelings that differ from our own without having to make them bad or wrong or evil.
Of course alone time is often more important from some than others. It is the way empaths and introverts recharge, while extroverts are often scared of it or may misunderstand. But sustaining nurturing relationships are also very important, most especially for those of us wounded in childhood or never recognised for being who we really are, overcoming and facing our anxiety may be a very, very necessary part of our healing.
The following article may be helpful for those who also struggle with fear of abandonment.