The importance of consistent reliable attachment

I now know a lot of my inner insecurity and fear and descent into addiction from the age of 17 comes from the removal or absence of significant attachments growing up.  The early loss of my sister to a new life far away from us was a wound that went deep but one I could not share with anyone or even fully understand at age 3.

When I look at photos of my sister’s wedding with myself in them I look sad and bewildered, like I don’t know what is going on.  I am the only child in those photographs and my sister and her new husband left on a boat for a different country the following day.  I imagine now the hole that was left by my sister’s absence then and now with the death of my Mum I feel the shadow imprints of that hole, but not as deeply for luckily over these past few years I have managed to reach out more to those I would love to share a friendship or connection with, those who I can say how I really feel and what I am really experiencing inside.

What I noticed over the lead up to my Mum’s funeral following her death was the insecurity and unreliability of many of my familial attachments.  My brother was the only fully physically present figure but he was not operating on an emotional level, so when he wanted to extend his support I found myself brushing it off.  With other family members I noticed they were just not there or were only there in a very inconsistent way.  When they were there I did a sideways dance due to fear and lack of trust

Due to my abandonment history I am not used to either consistency or reliability in attachments or support.  I am used to insecure unreliable attachments and those who try to fob me of or gain distance from me.   This was made clear to me this morning when I read the chapter Just Like A Timepiece in the book Beyond Borderline : True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. 

In this story the sufferer speaks of making her first most significant attachment shortly after her first hospitalisation for the disorder.  The doctor she bonded and attached to then left the programme at the hospital and the sufferer then spiralled into addiction.  I could see as I read the clear connection between that emotional abandonment and the sufferer’s need to medicate her pain.   Luckily seven years later the teller of this story moves to a new town where the doctor who treated her is in practice as a therapist.  Through trust and courage she makes the attempt to connect to her and her therapist makes herself available 24/7 which is what one therapist told me years ago is the only thing that works for those of us with deeply disordered and insecure attachment experiences.

Looking back I see how many therapies broke for me when my therapist took a break.  I am also wondering at the wisdom of what my therapist told me this week, that by leaving me alone to cope she was helping me to build that resource inside or look to others.  Maybe there is a lot of truth in this but a deeper truth is at a time I really needed her 24/7 she refused to be there for me.  She told me this week when I went back to see her she was surprised I had come back, coolly and calmly she explained she thought she would not see me again.   It would have been no problem for her, but it would have been for me.  I would have had to find yet a new therapist, explain my story all over again and I have been with this therapist for 2 years now and that’s a lot of sessions building a knowing and a history.

I felt so sad when I read this story this morning.  Of course I was glad for the writer she was able to find such a consistent reliable attachment with her therapist, Dr. Chase.   She writes :

Dr Chase and I still continue to meet twice a week at the time of this writing.  She is by far the most important person in my life.  She has done more for me than anyone else I have ever known.  There are still moments when I struggle, and she is available to me at any moment, both night and day.  The diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is not an excuse for me.  Its is simply an explanation. I have begun to tentatively form friendships , although many times I still retreat within the safety of myself  The other day I found myself saying “I like myself.”

And I cry now.

I felt upset this morning that my own therapist does not provide that kind of support.  I felt I had no other alternative but to accept her boundaries last week, but that doesn’t mean I think they are right.  I think what she did to me over the time of Mum’s death was hard and unfair but I also know she had the best of intentions and understand her reasoning.  I am used to giving over in this way. Another person’s will and desire was stronger than my own.  She held all the power and control and I accepted it.  I could have left to start again with someone new I guess but what I get most of the time from Kat works.

I am going to find other sources of support next year.  Like the person who told the story I quoted from above I am now building in my own life growing connections with several people in my own life. I know the fears I have of abandonment relate back to very real experiences of being alone and abandoned when I most needed support.  With my Mum’s death around the anniversary of my Dad’s that empty black hole does open up within me some mornings.  But the difference is that now, armed with inner psychological awareness  I know the need I have to reach out, I can also reach inside for the love and understanding, it is where life has always forced me, so why argue with reality?

Yesterday I was brave enough to visit the husband of a good friend who was part of my trauma past in the aftermath of Dad’s death back in 1986 who had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor on Thursday in the hospital where I spent 3 months following my accident at the end of 1979.  I needed a cup of coffee before I got there and he was doing well.  His wife was there and we talked for well over an hour.  I thought then as i drove home of how life and recovery is always trying to bring us full circle.  Recovery is like a spiral dance in which we pass over and re-experience old ground, pain, trauma and issues but with a new elevation or perspective on them.  At times we have to go into the fire and face or front up to those triggers or re-enactments, but armed with the knowledge we gain from our journey we grow in awareness on each revolution around the center of our self and past.

Many of my attachments broke all through out my life.  Some broke in later years due to unconscious fears, but many of them also held firm.  Those who have loved me have watched me battle with my need to connect amidst enormous fear.  They have stayed close but not too close and then there are those who over this most painful time have made real efforts to draw close and be near.   Their consistency in being there for me has made me aware that it is safe to trust in world I so long ago learned to doubt or fear.

Maybe it took my Mum’s death for this to all come full circle.  I don’t know.  I only know I am so grateful all these years later to be living just a little further outside of all of that insecurity and fear that plagued me unconsciously for so many years.  I will perhaps always carry deep insecure attachment and abandonment fears but hopefully with mindfulness they will no longer need to dominate my life so unconsciously and I can learn who is secure/safe for me to trust and place my faith in.

Under the weight of sin

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Under the weight of sin

Burdens I carried

Which were not mine

Crushed me

I left my body

Bleeding on the side of the road

Full metal pierced me

And I was nearly gone from this world

I cannot see you through the fog

Your face is blurred

It was never easy to see who you really were

There was just that space in your soul

I wanted to climb inside

And hide

In order to draw comfort

But the way was barred

And all other exits closed

Oh how I hungered

With a frenzied appetite

Nothing could satiate

Now as the skeins all unravel

And once again I loosening from my mooring

Who knows what old patterns from the past

Will come calling

Is this another underworld journey

Into yet another heart of darkness

I will never escape from

Or is it the beginning of a new birth

The breaking open of a shell

That can no longer contain me any more

On compulsive repetition in the life of Rimbaud : Alice Miller

The following quote is taken from Alice Miller’s book The Body Never Lies :  The Lingering Affects of Childhood Trauma in which she addressed the subject of repressed childhood trauma.   Miller has written many books and they include biographical details from the lives of famous adults abused in childhood who then either re-enacted that abuse whole sale (Hilter and Sadam Hussein for example) becoming perpetrators in later life or decended into addiction or repression, many taking their own lives in the process (Virginina Woolf).   In the following extract which I found on Goodreads she addresses the life of the poet Rimbaud whose entire journey was a quest to seek the lost sustenance of a loving emotionally available mother.

“To salvage the genuine love he was deprived of in childhood, Rimbaud turned to the idea of love embodied in Christian charity and in understanding and compassion for others. He set out to give others what he himself had never received. He tried to understand his friend and to help Verlaine understand himself, but the repressed emotions from his childhood repeatedly interfered with this attempt. He sought redemption in Christian charity, but his implacably perspicacious intelligence would allow him no self-deception. Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very early age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. He experienced himself as a monster, his homosexuality as a vice (this was easy to do given Victorian attitudes toward homosexuality), his despair as a sin. But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinately shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her. Rimbaud’s biography is a telling instance of how the body cannot but seek desperately for the early nourishment it has been denied. Rimbaud was driven to assuage a deficiency, a hunger that could never be stilled. His drug addiction, his compulsive travels, and his friendship with Verlaine can be interpreted not merely as attempts to flee from his mother, but also as a quest for the nourishment she had withheld from him. As his internal reality inevitably remained unconscious, Rimbaud’s life was marked by compulsive repetition.”

The following quote also expresses how we may try to compensate for the love and emotional availability we never attained.   Miller explains that it is only when our body knows the emotional truth has been understood that we can find release from what she calls the lingering effects of cruel parenting or emotional neglect.

“In his famous novel Fateless, the Hungarian writer and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész describes his arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was fifteen years old at the time, and he tells us in great detail how he attempted to interpret the many grotesque and appalling things he encountered on his arrival there as something positive and favorable for him. Otherwise he would not have survived his own mortal fear. Probably every child who has suffered abuse must assume an attitude like this in order to survive. These children reinterpret their perceptions in a desperate attempt to see as good and beneficial things that outside observers would immediately classify as crimes. Children have no choice. They must repress their true feelings if they have no “helping witness” to turn to and are helplessly exposed to their persecutors. Later, as adults lucky enough to encounter “enlightened witnesses,” they do have a choice. Then they can admit the truth, their truth; they can stop pitying and “understanding” their persecutors, stop trying to feel their unsustainable, disassociated emotions, and roundly denounce the things that have been done to them. This step brings immense relief for the body. It no longer has to forcibly remind the adult self of the tragic history it went through as a child. Once the adult self has decided to find out the whole truth about itself, the body feels understood, respected, and protected. ”

“But it is one thing to complain about one’s parents deeds and quite another to take the facts of the matter fully and completely seriously. The latter course arouses the infant’s fear of punishment. Accordingly, many prefer to leave their earliest perceptions in a state of repression, to avoid looking the truth in the face, to extenuate their parents’ deeds, and to reconcile themselves with the idea of forgiveness. But this attitude merely serves to perpetuate the futile expectations we have entertained since our childhood. ”

The following extract pertains to the life of Virginia Wolfe who took her life on 28 March, 1941.  Miller addresses in her book the repressed trauma and abuse she suffered and that Miller beleives contributed to her suicide.

“Can we say that she had no courage? No, we can’t; she showed more courage than most people in denouncing lies, but her family could not come to terms with such honesty. This is not surprising. The little girl continued to live in an adult woman’s body, fearing her molesting half-brothers and her beloved parents, who remained silent. Had she been able to listen to her body, the true Virginia would certainly have spoken up. In order to do so, however, she needed someone to say to her: “Open your eyes! They didn’t protect you when you were in danger of losing your health and your mind, and now they refuse to see what has been done to you. How can you love them so much after all that?” No one offered that kind of support. Nor can anyone stand up to that kind of abuse alone, not even Virginia Woolf. ”

Miller consistently makes the point of how essential validation of early abuse is for survivors to get free of suffering and their symptoms.   We need someone who can support us and believes what bodies and souls knew most deeply was true,  without this support and belief so many lose the fight or remain endlessly trapped on the hamster wheel of repetition compulsion.

To be part of a loving family

Having my nephew and his daughter here for these past days (two now) has been so lovely.  Today I cried a lot (silently) about how lonely and hard the disconnection we suffered due to my sister’s trauma and Dad’s death was.  When I hugged my little grand niece this morning and she looked at me with so much love in her soft brown eyes, my heart just swelled.  I remembered how it felt to be so small, open, soft and vulnerable but also strong and wise, yet confused by all the adults around me.   I was aware I did not want to pass any of my sadness onto her as it is my sadness to hold and carry, not hers to feel or heal for me.   I felt how lovely it was last night to share a meal all together in my little cottage with my dog Jasper under the table bathing in the connection and love wagging his tail.   I know in two days they will be leaving and I will miss them so much but I will have these good memories to sustain me.  Today my nephew and I talked of past things and I found out some things I didn’t know.   I will always be so grateful for these moments of reconnection.   There has been so much aloneness and disconnection my life and a lot of fear around reconnecting.  I need to keep remembering the fear is about past loss.   Loss I will never be able to change, but that loss does not need to be the final word.   At least for now.

The truth : rupi kaur

The following is just one stanza from a longer poem by rupi kaur taken from page 71 of the sun and her flowers.  It seemed to articulate something that resonated so deeply for me I felt the need to share it here.

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the truth comes to me suddenly – after years of rain

the truth comes like sunlight

pouring through and open window

it takes a long time to get here

but it all comes full circle

it takes a broken person to come searching

for meaning between my legs

it takes a complete, whole perfectly designed person

to survive it

it takes monsters to steal souls

and fighters to reclaim them

this home is what I came into the world with

was the first home

will be the last home

you can’t take it

there is no space for you

no welcome mat

no extra bedrooms….

If I don`t hold you : the fraught dynamic of trying to connect with my Mum

I am so used to holding others feelings that I get upset when others won`t help me hold mine.  I know its up to us to relate to our own feelings but sometimes just having a human body or soul with you as you undergo feelings helps on all kinds of levels.  The best help is when they dont say much but stay present with you and you feel, felt.   And then its easier to access what is inside, if you were caught up in your head before.  That said there are also times we access those emotional depths best alone, and cannot share them or have them understood.

I am thinking of this as I just called to see how my Mum was, she asked me `what did I WANT` I then immediately wanted to get off the phone.  I only rang to see how you are I asked.   I let her go and just burst into tears.   I know I said enough is enough I still worry and yes (obsess) over my Mum.  Today she is pushing herself beyond her boundaries to be with her mahjong group, its okay she has the will and energy to be with them but not with my nephew.  I can understand there has been so much pain with my nephew`s mother (my now dead sister) I believe Mum will do anything not to go there with her grief.  Its why she married as quickly as she did after my father died and then ended up hurting the guy who really loved her, where as for her he was an escape.    After they separated he used to ring me and cry over my mother, how much she had done for him, how well she had looked after him, how much he loved her.   Mum would old say `he was a nice man, but I never loved him`.  Its not up to me to judge my Mum but she sure doesnt go deep at times.

I just need to be with what my sadness was telling me.  At the moment Mum is trying to get to be with the friends she loves who give her comfort in the way our family does not.  I had the thought over past days that Mum would have been better off not having children or at least me.  I was an accident, I know that much and later an accident nearly took my life.  The body always knows and the soul knows when it was really wanted.

Now its up to me to mother me.  My therapist is not going to do it, fair enough.  She will help me to do the work as I undergo this painful time of emotionally separating with my Mum.   The connection to our mother is one of the most important ones in our life.  It becomes the connection to our own body.   I need to nurture mine at the moment.   The only real home I have is this body and I need to take care of it.  I can`t look to others to do it, though some of my connections here and in the world help me in ways they could never know, just by implicitly understanding.

I must exercise gratitude for the places I am received and try to steer clear of the places I am not if I want my body to feel better.  This is something I am coming to realise.   And maybe my Mum should no longer have to mother any more.  Maybe now she just needs time alone to get ready to die.   I keep trying to reach out but maybe the universe is trying to get me to wake up to reality. I keep trying to mother my mother but maybe I should not and maybe I should stop trying to hold or give a voice to feelings she would rather not face or be with alone.

Why we may be more reactive if emotionally neglected.

If you were raised by narcissistic or self absorbed parents I would highly recommend Nina W. Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Ups Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.  

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When the focus is not on us in childhood or is on us in a negative way (excessive punishment or criticism) we develop certain problematic issues in our life.  Some of these are:

Low self esteem

Feeling you must be perfect to win other’s love.

Feeling you will only get love through ‘doing’ for others.

Looking for approval outside of the self.

Difficulties establishing boundaries.

Trying to ‘mind read’ others.

Hyper-vigilant, overly reactive to triggers.

Feeling the need to perform in order to win attention or approval.

Feeling you are defective or basically flawed in some way. (Excessive shame/low self esteem.)

Covering up such feelings or fear by being or acting : arrogant, superior, aggressive, rationalising, becoming indifferent, isolating and withdrawing, abusing substance to cover up painful feelings.

Believing that others need to take care of you and your feelings and needs.

Believing it is not safe to reveal your true self to others.

Feeling helpless to make changes, collapsing.

Feeling you are less than others.

Believing you cannot get what you want or need.  Feeling helpless or hopeless.

Experiencing a high level of lack of self acceptance.

Absorbing the negative projections of others.

Taking on board other people’s feelings and emotions,  psychological enmeshment.

Each aspect is covered in full detail in Brown’s book.  What she also addresses are the issues of high sensitivity and taking things personally as well as struggling with feelings of irritation and anger which arise in response to present day triggers when you feel hurt, minimised or left out.

Tending to take things personally is a result of feeling that others are criticising you, blaming you or chastising you, or ignoring you or your feelings and needs and may be the outcome of this actually happening when you were young.  In present time we react because that criticism or feeling of being left out is triggering our original narcissistic injury which was the painful wound we were left with from childhood.    As Brown explains it, in this situation :

you are more focused on your hurt and shame than you are on rationality and logic.  Further, when someone tells you to not take it personally, that seems only to add to your distress.

This is one way that you continue to be re-injured, as there always seems to be someone to object to something, things don’t go as planned, or you are the person who receives someone’s displacement or projection.  By taking these in and always personalising them, you contribute to your re-injury.  You have not yet learned or accepted the limits of your personal responsibility, accepted your personal limitations and strengths, or developed sufficient psychological boundary strength.  This tendency also points to some self absorption, where you want control over yourself, others, and events and think that you are the centre of everyone’s attention and expectations. Taking things personally can trigger or increase your feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, and fear.

Feeling Irritated and Ignored

One characteristic you may have that helps prevent you from letting go of negative or distressing feelings is an inability to ignore minor irritations and annoyances.  Staying aware of what you are feeling can be very good for you… knowing when you are irritated or annoyed can permit you to deal with that mild feelings to prevent escalation to a more intense feeling of anger.  However, once you are aware of being irritated or annoyed, you have an opportunity to reflect on your feelings, judge the threat to yourself, and realise that you don’t have to keep feeling that way if you don’t want to.   If you don’t let go at that point, the irritations and annoyances keep building up and festering so they can jump to anger at any time.

Your inability to overlook, ignore, or let go of minor irritations and annoyances can be traced, in part, to what you think the triggering acts are saying about you.  You become irritated or annoyed when you sense a threat to yourself.   This is the first step in becoming actually angry, where the body prepares itself for fight or flight.  However, most irritating and annoying acts present no threat and can be overlooked or ignored.  For instance, your wife or husband folding your clothes in a sloppy way is not a realistic threat to your core self.  Further, holding onto these annoyances can have negative effecs on your health, sense of well being and relationships.

Brown gives an exercise in the book for unpacking the triggering incident by reflecting on it and writing it down.  She then suggests you try to divine what you feel the incident is saying about you.  Some examples are : I am not valued, I am helpless, I am hopeless, I’ll be hurt, betrayed or abandoned, I’m not good enough.

You can then evaluate how real and valid these statements are for you.  If you feel they are valid you can self improve or try your best to work on that issue.   If you feel they are not valid it will be best to let them go.

Feeling excessively vulnerable, irritated and hypersensitive to triggers is a very painful result of a difficult childhood where we absorbed a lot of hurt.  It is however an issue we need to work on if we want to lead more peaceful, happy and stress free lives.

Brown’s book is full of helpful insights, suggestions and information about how we can deal with a parent’s narcissism or excessive self involvement in such a way we are not opened yet again to more hurt, her techniques help us to understand core wounds that need to be addressed if we wish to recover.