How shame and the inner and outer critic prevent us living wholeheartedly.

It was shame researcher, Brene Brown who a few years back coined the term foreboding joy which is a term to describe the fear we carry into life that can protect us from embracing joy in the moment and living wholeheartedly… We see a small baby and our heart just fills with love but then fears of loss can come too and steal that moment from us..

While driving home I was thinking about a very involved and informative post Trauma Research UK recently shared on shrinking the inner and outer critic.. In fact I read it in therapy today crying at some parts as well as being doubled over with pain in my gut at others.. there is so much in it that resonates with me…

My inner child is speaking very loudly lately about how she felt in our family and how she struggled with very distant and preoccupied parents.. and about how painful it was to be sent to my room when I was legitimately angry, or hurt over some incident. In the post the writer shares that toxic parents do hurtful or neglectful things, but then also shame and silence the child’s legitimate protest, as a result the child has no alternative but to turn those feelings back inside the self and develops a virulent inner and outer critic that shames the child or seeks to protect and avoids other people who have that fear of the hurtful parent projected on to them…

Today in therapy I felt the pain of being sent to my room with all of those feelings I needed help to manage from one of my parents deep in my body while my inner child articulated it.. the feelings felt so so big… .. In fact Dad often laughed as Mum terrorised us with rage, things that hurt then being mocked is just an awful kind of pain for a child. I also remember being laughed at and shamed for being passionate and dramatic and come to think of it not hearing or validating someone’s grief for a lost loved one is a lot like shaming them for passion and deep feelings.

I will share the link to the related post as I believe it is essential reading for people who have endured relational and attachment trauma. What a painful place to find ourselves, cut off from relations in the outer world that could reconnect us all due to the fear of experiencing what we did in the past, or seeing rejection when it isn’t really there?

https://traumaresearchuk.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/the-role-of-the-inner-and-outer-critic/

I have written extensively on the protector/persecutor complex in my blog before.. The persecutor is an inner figure that goes on beating us up well into adulthood.. It may be that we experience a sense of shame and guilt for what was done to us. It was a very powerful relief in therapy today to hear my mother’s voice telling me how proud she was of me to be doing this work and how none of what went down in terms of my own neglect was my fault. In later years I saw her struggling with seeing how it brought about the ending of my marriage while at the same time wanting me to stop any focus on inner work or therapy which, at least initially she did not understand

In later years she actually came to some appointments with me and began to open up to me about her own neglect and I know she wished in some way my living sister could follow this path instead of a purely psychiatric ‘drug relief’one.

I understand my father has having endured neglect too and he ran away from Holland n 1938 leaving his family behind to save his own life.. He worked so hard to put all of that behind him but he just created more problems as neglected children of neglected parents often end up crashing and burning.. This has not applied so much my older brother who has been able to hide neglect behind enormous outer success in the world, especially financially, although his only daughter has borne the brunt of much of this. I was so sad to hear from my sister on the weekend that she had a stroke recently something my brother did not feel safe enough to share with me.. and we tried to get close many years ago (my only niece and I) but this was derailed by the family which made me cry for years…it being just more of the same old same old emotionally distant family pattern.

I notice at times I can attack people in the outer world who want to get close to me.. I am more aware of the pattern lately.. In fact on the weekend I had to own some of this with someone I care for deeply, luckily ours is one of those relationships able to hold the paradoxical feelings of hate and love, longing and fear and he never ever ever shames me.. Something I cry deep tears of gratitude for. As a Complex trauma survivor I need these kind of relationships in my life, as I am still healing and very raw with grief lately.

Much as we say we need to do our own healing work alone, sometimes the Complex PTSD ‘warrior’ defence may work against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linkages’, bonds that we try to establish as adults.. The outer critic can function to try and cut these bonds by seeking that ‘worm in the apple’ I have mentioned that those of us with avoidant attachment so often go looking for in relationships. Also when we split people into all good or all bad we loose the capacity for connection. A good enough relationship is one in which we make mistakes but can express our full range of feelings and be heard.. it comforts me so much when someone says they understand how I feel to me that is a strong healing balm, since as I child I was so often led to believe my feelings were wrong or made no sense at all.

Shame and fear of experiencing joy seem to be interconnected in so many ways in those of us with Complex PTSD, taking the risk to open our hearts again often opens us to old pain but that also has a purpose… so we can grow in awareness of the complex mix of feelings we can so often experience in relationships. Working on listening to all of the inner voices we hear too is ongoing work in order that we can sort out the mix of those that are helpful and life promoting and those that hinder us, keep us trapped in shame or only promote a freezing or disconnection from the heat of engaged interaction and possible attachment. There is a part of us that often seeks to sabotage our healing if we were badly hurt in childhood… those interested in this could look into the work of therapist Donald Kalsched who wrote brilliantly about it in his book The Inner World Of Trauma.

It hurts

Feeling blue

My heart goes out to you

Pain in my chest

Hard to rest

Knowing you feel lost again

There are no longer any ideas here

About what is right or wrong

Because the truth is I do not know

Any more

All I know is that

It hurts

Sometimes I feel we are cursed

By an age old wound

That festered

I try my best

To keep keeping everything

Under control

But deep down inside I know

There is no way to really say

The absolute truth of what it is

My heart feels for you

You struggle so very hard to stay alive

That now to feel you sinking

Hurts me so

And I am really all out of words

Because deep in my heart I know

This pain you carry

Has no resolution

Will never ever ever

Completely

Go away

shed skins

When the past comes calling

Certainty unwinds

My soul is carried back

To where I lost the threads of self

All tangled up inside

There is a storm of feeling

That I have not fully

Explored

Before

And so the rain of tears begins

It nourishes my skin

All of this feeling

Deep within I discover

A young girl

Who never fully got the chance to live

As herself

And became a person lost

Inside that skin

Seeking the way to kin

Dread

A constant visitor

Should naked truth emerge

And she then become the

Scourge

That order sought

Eradicate

Where to show her true face

Then

Falling into hurting

Again

Only to find deep

Within

The deepest pools of loss

A sense of self that

So desperately wants to live

Now she must find a way

To begin

Too long she wandered there

All alone

So far from comfort

Miles from home

Longing with a longing scarcely felt

Until now

Discovering with the pain of her past

A soul so very desperate

To shed old skins

Vibrating with love

Banished desire and purpose

Hungry for

Her kin

Opening through embracing our burdens and emptiness.

When the burdens of the world weight heavily, I must remind myself there is a stillpoint inside where everything can be okay if I allow it to be and affect only the change that is needed.. At times it is so hard to even know what that can be, maybe it is a change of heart or thinking that may help, or a letting go and letting be. Maybe it is an allowing of others to have their own way and opinions even if I don’t agree, and maybe its a trying to see deeper behind the cries that speak of an emptiness, soul longing or longing for love in ourselves and others and holding them tenderly.

Some people have a void in them that may never be filled.. I have read that if we can allow ourselves the void space in time we find something within the emptiness to help us heal… I have experienced this.. I have had some dreadfully low points in my life when I did not think I could go on, there was my father’s cancer diagnosis and my own which was prefigured by a nightmare in which a hand reached deep into my belly and twisted it around…that in a way was how it felt as a child in my family when I was given enemas for a stomach ache that spoke of longing to be with someone who cared.

I was very emotional today and I went out to get lunch and when I came home it was lovely for Jasper to run to greet me and to give him my full attention…I just sat for a while on the floor with my hands on his belly and felt his beautiful puppiness.. even though he is soon 8 years old Jasper still is like a puppy so much of the time in his high energy, curiosity and boundless enthusiasm…I am so grateful for him at times as he reminds me how open and full of love and enthusiasm I was as a child before I found the world to be so inhospitable, cold and strange and witnessed the heartbreak of traumas in my own life and family… Now as an adult that I have found some kind of way to live in the world through embracing my inner world and being truer to me that feeling is still there sometimes but it doesn’t cause me as much pain as long as I know there are others to connect with in love..

I ordered Henri Nouwen’s book on the Beloved and it arrived yesterday and in that he speaks of the need we have to be ‘blessed’, to be made to feel special and needed and beloved by God and others. he speaks of a prayer meeting in which a group of disabled people asked for such a blessing and how he cuddled them. If you don’t know Henri Nouwen suffered a deep depression for many years and wrote extensively about feeling homeless in the world, in his book The Inner Voice Of Love he touches on the heart of all of us who ever felt we didn’t belong in this world that seemingly makes us feel so broken.. A lot of what he writes shows we feel more broken trying to gain affirmation from outside, that said I feel as kids we need this kind of mirroring and are left with holes or psychic tears in its absence.. some of us turn to nature and angels and otherworldly sources and feel held there.

When despair arises its good to have an inner place to go with it.. its good to be able to hold ourselves in the midst of it and reach deep to find that place inside that is okay, that cannot be touched by temporal things. Mystics speak of this place and its hard to describe but many of us know it.. in this place we can bless everything that happens, seeing it all as part of the path and knowing that even when life seems like it will break us somehow we manage to find the way to go on..

Not all of us manage this and it might be naive to think that we do, but I imagine even those who decide to check out find their place of healing too on the other side, for love is unconditional in truth no matter what we have lived, is only humans that believe in retribution rather than soul learning through trial and error. And when the world becomes too painful without the necessary love, understanding, support or self forgiveness some find it too painful to go on. Others of us move through that place over years of inner work and processing, emerging in time to find and embrace new life again. There then comes a time when we realise that somewhere deep inside of us, despite everything outside being at times so far out of control, things really are and always will be okay.

Critical symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Benign neglect is still neglect, it is something therapist Jonice Webb addresses in depth in her book Running on Empty. Many of us could say that we came from loving homes or homes that to all appearances seemed okay or functional from an objective external point of reference and yet something was still missing at the core of such families, a critical sense of warmth, emotional resonance, parental presence, availability and connection which can be hard to articulate. Feelings of emptiness haunt the soul who suffered CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) and the pervasive if unspoken feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’ may dog many of us well into adulthood, it is one of the critical symptoms of CEN. It is not based on any objective truth though, the truth was we never got adequate care and then internalised the belief it was somehow our fault. Our responsibility in the present rests in recognising levels of wounding and trying to find ways to get valid needs met we did not feel allowed to have at the time, rather than internalising self blame.

I shared a lot from Jonice’s book a while back, you will find links to these posts below when I manage to find them back. It took me until I read her book to really get a true handle on what haunted me many years in sobriety when I felt I should be doing a lot better than I was, never the less I was still attracted to dysfunctional emotionally absent relationships and I suffered profoundly mixed feelings of sadness, anger, pain and confusion, I also see now I struggled with critical issues of boundaries and self care.

CEN sufferers often blame themselves when things go wrong or for our suffering and we often don’t know how to take care of ourselves across many levels. For example the child who is left alone a lot may look to comfort from substances like food or drink, seeking the missing love that would come from an emotionally present, warm, available, engaged parent.

I was triggered to break down in tears when watching a programme about latch key children about a month ago. The film showed a little boy going to a fridge to take out some food with a lonely and forlorn look on his face. As I think about this now after just having met up with a close family friend to my mother, an image of her as a child comes to mind. I love the Louise Hay evening meditation in which she asks us to visualise in our mind’s eye both our parents as small children, taking them with love into our hearts. I think of my Mum sitting all alone on the back step after school with no mother at home looking longingly at the neighbourhood kids playing with siblings and longing for a brother and/or sister. I think too of how when she had kids were born too far apart in age to really be able to play like this, something my siblings and I sometimes talk of.

It came up in conversation with my friend earlier how my sister wished not to have a bar of me when I was about 8 to 14. I remember clearly getting my period while Mum and Dad were on a trip away and I had never been told what period was, I went to my sister crying with bloody underpants and got fobbed off in some way. I remember the mix of shame and aloneness and confusion I felt. I don’t remember how it was addressed when Mum and Dad got back home.

Another symptom of CEN is that we feel we must be independent. We learned early on that it was not possible to reach out, open up or rely on anyone. We learn to keep our cards close to our chest, we feel we should manage things that others naturally need help with, the list can go on. I see how this manifests now in the life of my other sister and I see how self contained my brother stays remaining perpetually self focused on work work work and not engaging emotionally AT ANY TIME. The exception was at my older sister’s funeral when he broke down giving the eulogy. He rarely went to visit her in the care home where she lived in the later years with Complex PTSD and acquired brain injury (incorrectly diagnosed bi polar disorder, I feel). His wife told my mother years ago she never wanted her daughter anywhere near my older sister who flipped out and tried to take her life after her husband abandoned her. Guess what? My niece ended up in the psyche ward AT THE EXACT AGE MY OLDER SISTER HAD HER CEREBRAL BLEED AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS.

I think while writing this of my own struggle with addiction, about how silent I used to believe I must be, how I must try never to be ‘too much trouble’ and sadly remember it was because of this my mother eventually had the final fall that ended her life, she drove herself all alone to a doctors appointment then went to do shopping when she was struggling with walking and chronic back pain because she ‘didn’t want to bother me or my sister!’

I just broke down with our family friend. She told me I am a cry baby but this is the real pain and struggle of my entire family with CEN that I am realising now after almost 26 years of active sobriety. My so called defects of character could read like a skit from British comic act Monty Python : fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope (just joshing!!!) But the perfectionism (ruthless efficiency) as well as ruthless self sufficiency defects could be primary ones. That said there are times we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves if we want to truly recover and own our power, but never the less being forced at times to cope on all alone, put on a good front and ask nothing of anyone IS NOT GOOD FOR US. And often it may also come from never having felt truly safe, validated or ‘got’. As a default the sense that if we are to get attention or be considered ‘good enough’ we must always be there for others and never demand too much also sets in making us codependent in an attempt to win the missing love.

Well I am glad I could shed the tears anyway. I know the cure to what ails my sister is not an easy one and I honestly never believed it lay in medication nor in some of the so called ‘strategies’ they are trying to arm her with for about the 8th similar hospitalisation. My sister’s heart is lonely and she may feel there is definitely ‘something wrong with her’, a person who tried all her life to be there for others and not expect or ask too much. But my heart knows the true pain lies deeper and cannot ever be fully addressed by band aids or medications.

Many CEN sufferers do end up ending their lives, like Robin Williams they may have had to put on funny or happy mask but never the less what they were forced to face deep in the lonely privacy of their own hearts and souls may in the end being far far too difficult to come to grips with or digest, inner disparaging voices of self blame also dog many CEN survivors marking us in many places with deeply inarticulate wound which may seem impossible to fully make sense of or bear.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/who-are-we-really-the-lost-feeling-self-and-its-role-in-suicidal-ideation/

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

Depression is necessary when we are healing our childhood wounds.

I have been reading my way back through Pete Walker’s book on Complext PTSD over the past day and finding it really mirrors and reflects my own experience. He talks a lot about abandonment depression which is a legacy of not being ‘met’ emotionally by our parents or caregivers. This leaves a wound within us, we do not get to grow a healthy ego as a director of our feelings and helping us to manage them in response to others and negotiate for our own real needs and feeling in life which are bodily and soul based. We live with those wounds inside and they can rise up.

Walker talks a lot in his book about the 4F reactions to early trauma and I have addressed this in other posts a few years ago (see below) When we get into recovery these are present as anxiety and fear and they drive our reactions and contribute to our state of depression, especially if we have not been able to get angry or grieve for the loss of our true self in childhood. Therefore on the way out of healing from emotional or physical betrayal or abandonment we have to feel what we could not feel as a child, which is painful and something Presence Process advocate Michael Brown addresses at length in his book of the same name. But we also have defences which rise up as the four (4) F responses.

According to Walker four responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze or fawn. You can read about them in more detail in his book which I highly recommend. He also outlines there the cycle of reactivity which involves bodily sensations, inner critic attacks, attempts at running over or away and or attacking others or deflecting and defending (which may be a healthy protest response to invalidation or further emotional abuse).

There is a very enlightening section in Walkers book which talks of a client Mario who arrives at a session with Walker in a heightened state of reactivity. Simmering below the surface of all of Mario’s reactions are the feelings of grief and shame that fuel this feelings and drive his inner critical attacks. All of us who suffer from childhood trauma carry some level of this grief, fear and shame. We continue to shame ourselves as our parents did and this causes us to feel depressed and we get lost all the time in self reinforcing loops of trauma and criticism, fear, flight, fight, fawn or freeze recycing. Until we can fight our way out of the shame not by attacking or defending but by sitting with the very real buried feelings and processing them in order to release them then we do not get far with breaking out of the reactivity cycle.

Dissociation as many of us know is a huge part of childhood trauma. In order to survive we often had to go off somewhere, we became fearful of our bodies which contained the uncomfortable cocktail of emotions buried inside that parents left us with or dumped into us when they offered us no help with managing our feelings. As Walker points out, many of our parents would not let us use our anger and tears to liberate us from the traumatic experiences or protest unfair or abusive treatment. In recovery the internalised critic will often shame or fill us with fear for getting angry or crying. But what is most needed for recovery is to contain and feel in our bodies the feelings of anger and sadness and associated shame. This is why I believe that medicating feelings and resorting to the belief that depression is a result of biochemical imbalance is not very helpful when it comes down to healing childhood trauma.

John Bradshaw often writes that grieving is the healing feeling. Depression can often be a refused call to grief for what we lost the way to. Depression is not just a pathological condition and Walker argues eloquently that it needs to be understood as essential to experience along the path of healing our traumatised inner child and getting into the present with what WE TRUELY FELT AND NEED TO FEEL IN ORDER TO HEAL AND BECOME REAL.

Depression can be healed with mindfulness, rather than reactivity. What is needed to sit in presence with our hurt from the past when it is triggered into awareness in the present making associations back. This can initially be done in therapy with a therapist who can provide us with holding and containment to release our feelings and deal with and challenge inappropriate shame. However ideally it is something adult survivors learn to do with themselves now. We give our hurting child the love needed to heal, we don’t dump it on others, we take responsibility for our pain even though we did not cause it and often did nothing to provoke it.

Deep level recovery from childhood trauma requires a normalising of depression, a renunciation of the habit of reflexively reacting to it. Central to this is the development of a self compassionate mindfulness…. the practice of staying in (our) body.. the practice of staying fully present to all of your internal experience. (as well as) noticing he psyche’s powerful penchant to distract from these uncomfortable sensations.. over time the survivor will need to rescue himself from dissociation and gently bring back his awareness into fully feeling the sensations of his fear. Although sensations of fear sometimes feel unbearable at first, persistent focusing with non reactive attention dissolves and resolves them as if awareness itself is digesting and integrating them.

Pete Walker

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

How trauma fractures the psyche, causes dissociation and creates the persecutor/protector in our psyche.

In response to trauma or emotional abandonment our psyche will splinter or fracture.  Ideally parents help us to mediate as young ones the big feelings we have to deal with and help us to integrate them. But in situations of abuse or neglect this doesn’t happen and we are left to contain unbearable feeling.  Since all feelings occur and are felt in the body if our parents don’t help us to do this we are left with the split off feeling buried or held in tissue or psychic space.  Memories associated with the feelings and accompanying sensory traumatic events then become somatic and walled off, they still affect us we just don’t know why and how.

Jung wrote on how dissociation works and this overview comes from Donald Kalsched’s excellent book The Inner World of Trauma : Archetypal Defences of the Human Spirit.  

individuals who might be described as ‘schizoid’ in the sense they had suffered traumatic experiences in childhood which had overwhelmed their often unusual sensitivities and driven them inward.  Often, the interior worlds into which they retreated were childlike worlds, rich in fantasy but with a very wistful, melancholy cast.  In this museum like “sanctuary of innocence”… (they) clung to a remnant of their childhood experience which had been magical and sustaining at one time, but which did not grow along with the rest of them.  Although they had come to therapy out of a need, they did not really want to grow or change in the ways that would truly satisfy that need.  To be more precise one part of them wanted to change and a strong part of them resisted this change.  THEY WERE DIVIDED IN THEMSELVES.

In most cases these patients were extremely bright, sensitive individuals who had suffered on account of their sensitivity, some acute or cumulative emotional trauma in early life.  All of them had become prematurely self sufficient in their childhoods, cutting off genuine relations with their parents during their developing years and tending to see themselves as victims of others’ aggression and could not mobilize effective self assertion when it was needed to defend themselves or to individuate.  Their outward façade of toughness and self sufficiency often concealed a secret dependency they were ashamed of, so in psychotherapy they found it very difficult to relinquish their own self care protection and allow themselves to depend on a very real person.

Kalsched goes on to point out that such people developed what Elaine Aron has called a virultent persecutor-protector figure in the psyche which jealously cut them off from the outer world, while at the same time mercilessly attacking them with abuse and self criticism from within.   Kalsched believed this figure had a daimonic cast calling on the idea of Jung that energy split off into the psyche can become malevolent and acts as a powerful defence against what Aron calls ‘linking’ with others and with the vulnerable innocent or inner child it has been called in to protect.    The figure may not only be malevolent it may also be angelic or mythical or heavenly in cast.  Together with the inner child/innocent this force formed an active psychic dyad (or duplex) structure which Kalched calls the archetypal self care system. 

Jung showed that under the stress of trauma the childhood psyche with draws energy from the scene of the earlier injury.  If this can’t happen a part of the self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragments or dissociates and it is a natural psychic defence mechanism that must be understood and respected.

Experience becomes discontinuous.  Mental imagery may be split off from effect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge.  Flashbacks of sensation seemingly disconnected from behavioural context occur.  The memory of one’s life has holes in it – a full narrative history cannot be told by the person whose life has been interrupted by trauma.

For a person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defence of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost.  The outer sequalae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect – what Jung called ‘feeling toned complexes’.  These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner beings, and are respresented in dreams as attacking ‘enemies’, vicious animals, etc. (not under the control of the will… autonomous.. .opposed to conscious intentions of the person…. they are tyrannical and pounce upon the dreamer or bearer with ferocious intensity.)

In dissociation the psyche may also splinter into various personalities which may carry rejected aspects of the person.  The mind becomes ‘split apart’ and such defences involve a lot of internal aggression as one part of the psyche tries to attack and protect the other more vulnerable, rejected parts.  The psyche cannot integrate these parts without therapy and active help.

In the course of natural therapy for such people the hostile attacking or protective force that acts to keep the person remote and in lock down will begin to arise in dreams and active imagination.  Elain Aron’s book The Vulnerable Self in Chapter Six “Dealing with Inner Critic and Protector-Persecutor” outlines some of this process as she give more insight into the role the persecutor-protector plays for highly sensitive individuals.  She also gives some examples which will help fellow sufferers to deal with their own dreams or nightmares where such forces arise. After dreaming we can through a practice of active imagination find a way to interact with these forces and help get them working more for us than against us. Aron’s book will help you in this regard too.

Donald Kalsched’s book is also an excellent reference for anyone suffering trauma.  It is more analytical in tone and quiet detailed.   The self care system that works to protect us can end up working against us too, this is the prominent point Kalsched makes in his book.  The inner persecutor-protector will sometimes work to organise a suicide if the psyche feels too much under threat from internal or external forces.  The persecutor-protector needs to really be understood by anyone attempting to free themselves from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

I have a second associated post to post after this with some of the information from Elaines’ book on the persecutor-protector linked to below:

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/understanding-the-protector-persecutor-complex-and-its-link-to-dissociation-and-child-hood-trauma/

On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially.  This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility.  To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within.  As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.

With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues.  This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing.   The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.

We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over.  Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”.  Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body.  It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.

Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds.  We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.

In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame.  If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things.   Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.

That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process.  It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over.  If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it.  We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.

Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame.  As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents.  If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage.  I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships.  Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot.   I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.

It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath.  Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation.   Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life.    I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22.   From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.

I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy.   It is with me every morning when I wake up.  The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.

Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices)  we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament.  It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone,  Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse.   I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.

If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN.  No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever.  If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT.  As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT.  If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person.  Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.