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.

Understanding the Protector-Persecutor complex and its link to dissociation and child hood trauma

Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments.  It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book  The Undervalued Self.  In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/how-trauma-factures-the-psyche-causes-dissociation-and-create-the-persecutor-protector-in-our-psyche

The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.

I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.

A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest.  In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else.  Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received.  It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving.  It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.

Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes,  you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before.  Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..

(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.

When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up.  Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is.  Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love.  It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.

The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain.  However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.

Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated.  Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness.  Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events.  You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it.  Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs.  Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes.  You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body.  Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.

As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship.  The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in  a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.

Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair.   This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.

We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives.  Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:

  • When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
  • When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
  • When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
  • When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
  • When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
  • When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
  • When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
  • When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
  • When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.

In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.

  • No intimacy.   Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
  • No arguing.   Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
  • No growth.  Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
  • No dating or marriage.  Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
  • No strong feelings.  Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
  • No sex or enjoyment of it.  Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
  • No believing someone who say he or she cares about you.  Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection.  Don’t believe they are genuine.
  • No asking for help.  Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
  • No honesty.   Just say what you think others want to hear.  Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
  • No hope.   Don`t expect help, joy or good things.  Do not place faith in anyone.
  • No standing up for yourself.  Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
  • No trusting.  Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)

As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.

Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…

Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.

 

 

Why anxiety and logic don’t mix : relationships and insecure attachment

Reading the book I recommended yesterday Anxious in Love is putting into perspective for me why things can hurt and go so wrong for us who suffer PTSD, Complex PTSD or anxious and insecure attachment in relationships.  As the authors point out in Part 2 :  Connecting With the One You Love different parts of the brain are operating for us and our partners who don’t see what all the fuss is about when we respond with anxiety to certain events or triggers.  I am being taken back with every word to my last relationship where I would get an hour long lecture on how wrong I had things to be responding in the way I did with little empathy shown.

In anxiety our forebrain (or rational brain) is emotionally hijacked by the lower brains (hind brain and mid brain) where centres such as the amygdala lie.  Being responded to with logic as most of us know is tantamount to having a red flag waved in front of the face of a raging bull!!!!  But we also need to understand our partner may be coping with the situation in the best way they know how while lacking a more complete understanding of how rationality has flown out the proverbial window.

In this situation what is called for is developing the ability to intentionally respond rather then becoming reactive.  The solution is for each partner to understand and have an attitude of curiosity about what is happening for the other.  It’s something an old therapist of mine would bring up a lot about by ex saying “its just sad he cannot have an attitude of curiosity about what is occurring for you”.  To be told you are bad or wrong for responding as you do is just terrible and I think its a key to so called Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer’s struggle.  Perceived abandonment when triggered can send us into a cascade or spiral that takes is into the darkest place for days and if we are left alone in it too long for some the feelings (what therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange) can lead to suicide, addiction and other self destructive mechanisms of coping.

What Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum, authors of Anxious in Love offer instead is a way of each partner entering the other’s reality for a time to validate it, both the non anxious partner and the one who suffers anxiety.   As sufferers of insecure attachment we can learn to understand our partner’s reactions and can learn to voice our needs in relationship in a less angry, attacking or accusative way.  Often non sufferers who operate from the higher brain just do not understand the severity or intensity of our responses to triggers.

Lack of emotional flexibility is one of the hardest legacies of anxiety reactions in relationship, it shuts down emotional attunement between partners and makes an open dialogue impossible.  Being able to set a time out when we know we are being triggered and our brain is going into hijack mode is useful, and hopefully our partner will accept it if we let them know what is going on with us.  The alternative is they respond with emotional distance/withdrawal themselves, judgement and anger (being triggered themselves), misunderstanding or protest which can be very difficult.  The more we can talk through these reactions and responses in our relationships the better change we have of resolving conflict and growing empathy and attunement.    The more we can step into their shoes and understand what is happening the more we can make an “appeal to reason” while explaining what underlies our reaction.

Some partners may be even triggered by us saying what has triggered us, though. They may respond by telling us “that’s all in the past” but in that case they need to work to understand how emotional hijacking works and show empathy in any case.  A person who is not willing to do this for those of us with insecure or anxious attachment may not, in the long run, be the best partner for us.

More detailed techniques for reconnecting are given in the book in later chapters of Part Two but today I thought I would just share what I have learned from the book so far for those not in the position to purchase a copy at this point in time.  The book is building on my knowledge of many years of trying to deal with anxious attachment and its destructive effect on some of my relationships.

Because the experience of attunement with a significant other is powerful, ruptures in attuned connection bring about a sense of absence, loss, and even distress.  Yet those ruptures in attunement are inevitable in all relationships, no matter how solid.  There are times when you just fall out of sync with one another.  It’s important, therefore, that you both have the ability to repair ruptures when they occur.   Just as quickly as you fall out of sync, with some flexibility you can repair the disconnect and engage one another in attunement again.

Anxious In Love, p. 98

Facing the reality : learning to live consciously.

Facing the reality of our own life and feelings is not alway easy, at times I find it downright difficult and painful and on Sundays like today I can often feel a great loneliness in my soul when I face deeper realities of our feeling wounded society that seems in so many ways to be split off and increasingly divorced from nature and authenticity.  My heart breaks at these kind of times.

This morning I was literally down on my knees in the bathroom crying gut wrenching tears as images of the final week of my Mum’s life rolled by inside my inner vision.  I was triggered this morning by two people I contacted yesterday leaving me hanging.   The first one was a friend I contacted to get together with yesterday as I thought she had suggested, only to not hear back for 24 hours, she was out with another friend and I had got the Saturday wrong… the point driven home with 3 exclamation points???  I am sure I did not hear it incorrectly but this sent me into the deepest darkest space which was a sign I was  back in intense flashback mode and I was reduced to gut wrenching sobs and feeling about 2 years old.  For those who dont know I had an older sister like a surrogate Mum that left me when I was 3, in my teens I had a ‘friend’ who would abandon me like this to go play with other friends without notice and the stole my first boyfriend at 17.  It was hard things to go through, I have had so much abandonment as my parents left me alone all the time in favour of work and then I was treated at a bit of a ‘strange one’ for needing attention and being ‘dramatic’.  Mmmmm I wonder why?

These kinds of wounds stay lodged in deep and they dont really go away and I need to be mindful of that, also that currently I dont really have a close friend who really hears me heart to heart and soul to soul apart from this friend who treated me this way.  I was tempted to fire a text back (She didnt even bother to phone me) but I am aware she does not have my abandonment history and would not fully understand if I asked what’s with all the exclamation points?  (???) So I just sat with myself and made the attempt to follow it through inwardly by tuning into why I was wanting to react in that way.  My abandoment depression had been triggered and it hurts – a lot.

The other non returned contact was from a relative who had reached out to me a while ago about abuse in her family, these are relatives of my older sister who died i 2014 and went away when I was 3.  I noticed on Facebook it was the older son’s birthday the day before yesterday and felt so sad and ashamed I had not realised.  I had not sent him a card or the younger son either and I recieved cards from them for my birthday.   My thoughts were full of fear for not being a ‘good enough relative’, but lately after losing my Mum there has been a lot to contend with and there was the abuse issue which made me so scared for the boys but also partly wanting not to be too triggered either. Anyway its probably only natural that all of this would have made me feel sad today and I have to be realistic as my therapist said the other day that it is not rational the way I take on blame for things that are not my responsibility.  Its a deep default mechanism which comes out of my own emotional abandonment and neglect and I project that and then can as a recovery codependent reach out to help when really its I who need the support and help and this is an issue I was exploring in Pete Walker’s book on Complext PTSD yesterday and have written a post to share about soon.

As a codependent with emotional neglect I can react without being fully conscious or realistic, instead I am driven by all kinds of deeply hidden fears and fanatasies.   I tend to over extend myself the minute I see someone in need when its not always good for me.

Anyway today I really sat with my inner child when I was feeling so regressed and asked her what was going on deep inside for her.   She told me she was upset when I betray her needs and sensitiivty to be with others who dont have the same degree of care or sensitivity.  She said she would rather we be alone than subjected to that.   She wants me to care for me because really I am the only one who can do it.

Anyway for what its worth that is what came out of today when I sat with a painful reality.  I know as someone who was emotionally neglected my feelings are not always conscious and dont always make sense.  I am feeling and instinct injured two things I want to feature in other posts I am working on lately.  But my true feelings are guides adn they do make sense, healing for me is learning how to use them as guides to how to live and care for myself well, so I can live more consciously.

I know that part of growing up is learning to live more fully from an adult self rather than a fearful anxious wounded inner child.  After reading this back I see how often that part of me can be triggered.  I know if I act out of that part it wont be good for me.   This abandonment/trauma history I carry is about the past and not now.  My friend I am sure had best intentions and I get very mixed up as to how much I can call upon or rely on others at times.  I also find rainy cold Sundays harder.  I miss my morning walk and then the inner life exerts such a poweful hold, but there is a truth in that that needs to be faced and deep grief there that does need to be acknowledged for what my history of emotional neglect has denied me and others.

When you are trapped in a flashback, you are reliving the worst emotional times of your childhood.  Everything feels overwhelming and confusing, especially because there are rarely any visual components to a Cptsd flashback…. This is because… amygdala hijackings are intense reactions in the emotional memory part of the brain that override the rational brain.  These reactions occur in the brains of people who have been triggered into a 4F (flee, fight, freeze or fawn) reaction so often, that minor events can now trigger them into a panicky state.

Pete Walker

Letting go of numb

The following extract comes from Tara Brach’s book True Refuge : Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.  Interestingly it concerns a woman who Tara was working with in therapy who as a young child had her long hair cut off by her mother as it was too much bother. I was sharing in a post a few days ago how this also happened to me and the trauma of it was felt when I went to the hairdresser late last week following my Mum’s death.   The woman in question, Jane, had also had her mother die a few years before the time she was seeing Tara.  In therapy she was sharing how the pain of this event had awakened in her heart through intense feelings of fear, felt as a claw “pulling and tearing at my heart”.  What followed was an outburst of anger towards her mother for subjecting Jane to this ordeal.

The anger soon turned into deep sadness as Tara worked with Jane encouraging her to feel the pain and grief deeply in her body, and in time it transformed into peace.  Jane had reached some deeply powerful realisations as a result.

Brach writes the following in her book :

Carl Jung wrote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.”  The outer domain of our unlived life includes all the places where we’ve held back from pursuing and manifesting our potential – in education and career, in relationships and creativity.  But it is the inner domain of our unlived life that sets this suffering in motion.  Here we find raw sensations, the longings and hurts, the passions and fears that we have not allowed ourselves to feel. When we pull away from the energetic basis of our experience, we turn away from the truth of what is.  We make a terrible bargain.  When we separate from the felt sense of our pain, we also separate from the visceral experience of love that allows for true intimacy with others.  We cut ourselves off from the sensory aliveness that connects us with the natural world.  When there is unlived life, we can’t take good care of ourselves, our children, our world.

The feelings you are trying to ignore are like a screaming child who has been sent to her room.  You can put earplugs in and barricade yourself in the farthest end of the house, but the body and the unconscious mind don’t forget.  Maybe you feel tension or guilt.  Maybe…. you are baffled by intimacy or haunted by a sense of meaninglessness. Maybe you fixate on all the things you need to get done.  You can’t live in a spontaneous way because your body and mind are still reacting to the presence of your distressed child.  Everythingy ou do to ignore her, including becoming numb, only strengthens your link with her.  Your very felt sense of who you are …is fused with the experience of pushing away a central part of your life or running from it.

In shutting down the passion, hurt and pain she had experienced as a young girl whose precious hair was butchered, Jane had locked herself into a numb and anxious fragment of who she was.  Yet something in her was calling her to live more fully.  By beginning to contact her body’s experience, by touching ground, she was opening the door to what she had been running from.

Traumas of this kind may seem inconsequential, but really they are not.  Something was done to us we didn’t want or need and had no power over and feelings do remain.   The true self in Jane probably loved her long hair,  it wasn’t all just about ego and looking a certain way, hair does hold our power and is connected to our heads which are such a vital part of our being. To be subjected to something that upset us and then to be laughed at for reacting (as Jane was) leaves a scar and a powerful subliminal message.  Going numb to it does not mean the feelings go away, they need to be dealt with, with compassion and sensitivity.

On ambivalence and facing my wounds

I kind of love the word ambivalence.  I break it down into its two roots ambi and valence.  I know valence is a kind of frequency or charge, I guess we could call it an energy or pull, this by-way pulling of contradictory inner charges of though and feeling is something I go through a lot in my relationship with the outer world and my family most especially.

I seem to be torn at times between forgiving my Mum and family for past neglect and feeling great disappointment, resentment and anger about them.   I long to connect and then feeling thwarted and hurt want to get as far away as I can.   The resentment has changed for me in recent months with the realisation that it can, if buried and the true feelings not dealt with cause disease on many levels.  I do feel this together with the many experiences of wounding and emotional abandonment I experienced together with difficulty forming healthy nurturing relationships contributed to my breast cancer last year.

I know acceptance on some level provides relief.  I can accept something occurred or is occurring although I may not like it, I just realise I am powerless over other people and realise expecting change is doomed.  Only the adult part of me is capable of that since my wounded enmeshed child wants to hold on and not accept the truth at any cost.  When I don`t accept or choose to see the reality I can make excuses for bad behaviour or just keep hoping ‘this time it will be different’ and just stay stuck in anger as a defence against grieving, mourning, accepting and moving on in a rational way.

I just watched a second video from Courage Coaching on how narcissistic parents can infantalise a child and it sent some shivers through me.  I have struggled with feeling a sense of competence and independence in my life due to being over involved and enmeshed with my Mum for some years and this difficult situation was made harder by my father’s death when I was 23.  I feel shame and guilt at times when I see how I acted my own fear and pain and feelings of being not worthy enough or inadequate in relationships sometimes through anger and think gosh I really was strongly on the narcissistic spectrum. But I also know that true narcissists try to avoid any possible introspection and that is not me.   I am overly introspective at times and often make things my fault that are not.  As I now understand it, the home I was raised in and influences around me were out of my control then, I was for a time powerless over the unconscious effects. Pain and difficult emotions such as anger and resentment come as teachers to guide me to a healthier pathway and in recovery I need to contain and work through them so I make healthier choices that don’t lead to more of the same.

I never had my painful feelings mediated or learned how to deal with them growing up.  I saw my own family using alcohol a lot and that is what I learned to do, silencing and drowning the complex mixed up feelings of my child within.  I had, even for years into my sobriety, trapped childhood feelings all mixed up inside.  Therapy is helping as is understanding how a regressed brain and wounded inner child forms in such an environment. This child needs help to understand his or her feelings and grow up.  It`s a long and difficult process for many of us.   That painful relationship we got involved in was just a trigger for us to do our own healing and that now is OUR responsibility no matter what wounds we carry.   If we stay stuck in blame and angry with the abuser or abandoner as a defence against a deeper acceptance we are in trouble.  Anger over what was done to us is an essential stage we must pass through to engage and moblise our push to heal and change and form better boundaries.  We cannot by pass it on the road to healing but staying stuck in it recycling over and over is just not healthy.  We deserve a happy life free of that kind of angst and pain after all we have been through.  When we form better boundaries and learn to self soothe and self care we are less likely to be as angry in my experience.  Our inner child needs our inner adults tenderness, discipline and strength.

Suffering = Pain x Resistance

One of the most healing balms we can apply in life is acceptance.  Its so hard to hear at times that we need to accept painful things that have happened, most especially abuse or the failure to be protected by those we thought ‘should have’.  However what has happened to us has happened and for some of us, perhaps, left deep scars or even a festering wound really as these kind of wounds have not yet formed scar tissues until a way along the journey.

I think at times we can compare our pain to an open wound.  We so suffer unconsciously from what happened to us that is not yet fully known yet leaves its bloody foot prints upon us.  This is where applying unconditional loving presence towards our hurting, painful or contracted places can help.

Christine Neff talks alot about the equation that heads this blog in her book on Self Compassion in the chapter on resilience.  What she says, and what many Buddhist teachers teach, is that it is really our resistance to our pain or things we wish did not nor did not want to happen that causes us even more suffering in the long run.  I know for myself when things don’t go well or I hit a brick wall my immediate response is to try to find a way to more through it or react, that is when I need to pause and bring my energy back deep within in order to move it in a more helpful non resistant direction.   I do this a lot on the road when driving and getting stuck behind a very slow moving car.  I pull back and slow myself even more in this situation.   But I can also see situations in which I did not do this in my personal life and my not accepting and fighting against the certain thing I didn’t like I made things far harder for myself.  That said there is a time to fight for things that are within our power to change when it would be for our own or another person’s good.

We are in the long run human and our reptilian brain does cause us to react.  Christine explains in her book how we are hard wired to escape pain and predators as mammals, those defensive reactions served us well in the past but if we are reacting to being retriggered in the present all the time such responses become counter productive.  In PTSD and Complex PTSD we can get frozen in those responses.

Key to understanding how and why we resist and react is the concept of experiencing emotional flashbacks or what John Lee has called age or emotional regresssion.  I am the midst of writing a post on this concept.   When we age regresss or flash back we are no longer in present time and we often do not recognise it.  We can say things that were better not said, we can get frozen in time.  We can start to try to fix or give unwarranted advice.

I am just reading a book which deals with the concept of being hijacked by what the author calls our ‘toddler brain’ this occurs when we are age regressed and triggered by some kind of cue, perhaps the harsh tone of somone’s voice or undeserved criticism.

When we are in age regression or hijacked by the toddler brain we cannot respond well and with empathy.  We may not see the truth of a situation.  We may lash out.  We may sever friendships.   Getting ourselves back in adult brain takes work for those of us who had difficult or traumatising childhoods that left us with deep attachment wounds.

When we can open to a difficult reaction in the present moment with our full awareness (one of the skills we learn when practicing mindfulness); we can be less reactive.  We can practice self soothing.  The adult part of us can turn toward the inner child and comfort him or her, we can take ourselves into time out in order to have that inner dialogue.  We can also set boundaries with our wounded self in order to take care of him or her and not react.

Christine makes the point in her book that we are more hardwired to remember negative experiences than positive ones.  I guess this is one of the ‘pinning’ aspects of trauma I spoke of in a recent post.  When we are pinned to the negative sticking place we see only threat, we may be flooded emotionally or physically with a panic attack.  In my own case when this happens now I remember to work to take a few deep breaths into my belly because when I pay attention to my body I realise what has happened is that I have frozen my body or stopped breathing something I had to do when trapped in the car waiting to be cut out all those years ago, something I also used to do a lot when my Mum’s energy was upsetting or troubling me.   I have then learned to shift my focus and my attention to something beautiful in the surrounding environment.  I will have to deal it time with things that call me stress and anguish but being mindful in the present moment means I don’t have to ‘blow them up.’

Stopping the running of negative dialogues and scripts is also a part of this process. Often when stressed or panicking if I pay attention to my inner dialogue its all about resistance, saying things to myself like “this is all too hard, all too much. shouldnt be happening” or feeling and telling myself I cannot cope.  Sometimes in order to feel better all I have to do is place my attention on a task in hand that is right before me and start with that one little step instead of looking at the big picture and totally freaking out.

Doing something loving for our body is another way we can draw attention away from pain when we pinned in place and increase the flow of good chemicals such as oxytocin inside.  For example when I woke this morning and push pull symptoms of PTSD began I reached for some hand cream beside the bed and gently applied it to my arms and hands.  This soothing action took me into a gentle, loving, peaceful place.

Decreasing our resistance and lessening our suffering is also about opening to body sensations that may have come from our compulsive need to resist that formed over long years if we were not taught as children to engage in a positive way with challenging emotions.  Burying them inside us is not helpul.  For myself I know how my body has suffered from the chronic tightening that goes with repressed or denied anger I was not allowed or helped to express.  Today I sometimes deliberately tighten my muscles or limbs as an excercise to help them release stress and relax and I find this exercise helps me., but this exercise is totally different to a lifetime in which we had to bite down hard on difficult emotions and experiences.

All in all there are many things we can do to deal mindfully with our pain so that it doesn’t have to turn into deeper suffering.  Self compassion, mindfulness and learning to work with painful sensations, thoughts and emotions are all ways we can apply the soothing, healing balm to our wounded, contracted, hurting or fearful places.

 

When anger is denied

Afer sharing a reblog of Twinkletoes post on Anger Turned Inward yesterday I have been thinking a fair bit about the subject.   Anger turned inward ties into issues of feeling unsafe expressing strong feelings, feeling powerless, frustrated, neglected and ignored when we really needed help and validation.  There is a deep despair and grief that we are left with when we are not responded to with empathy or helped to be effective with expressing our wants, needs and frustrations as children.  If we have no where to go with these feelings we often repress them or they fall to the level of our body.

If we were raised in a far older family we may have been left alone or ignored all the time. We may have been on the receiving end of bullying which is projected shame and may be due to the frustration of older siblings who were left alone to take care of us in the absence of parents or carried their own pain due to lack of emotional receptivity and nurture, we are then on the end of the projection of that siblings pain as well that gets dumped into us, and if we can’t express that to anyone its a set up for a host of later painful feelings of emotional isolation and depression

Some of us like my fellow blogger and I were sent to our rooms when angry.   I wasn’t locked in mine but I still felt alone there with my ‘big’ feelings I didnt quite know how to manage.  But I also know my Mum had those big feelings too and Dad didnt know how to cope so would go awol, laughing and joking about it (which on one level was better than exploding) however that was a set up for me for a passive aggressive emotional style.

In the passive agressive style we don’t feel safe enough to set boundaries or say no or even allow for the fact we have needs which may differ from others.  We may equate self assertion with abandonment, if we were on the receving end of a lot of aggression when young we may come to fear self assertion believing it can only happen in a way that hurts and we may either fear hurting others or losing their approval.  If we have known the deep pain of feeling abandoned we fear being the one who abandons others and so we can end up putting other’s needs first.

In my own family I didnt see healthy self assertion modelled a lot and being left alone I learned to try to be needless and wantless, after all there was no one there so I was better to lock it all away or deny it.  I think at a young age I learned to escape into books and TV.  I can still do this at times.  I remember in a past relationship if my ex called and a show was on I liked often I would not take his call.  That may or may not be okay, I am not sure but surely connection to a human should be more important than a show.

I have learned a lot through reading. I sometimes think readers of my blog may get a bit frustrated though as I am always blogging about something I have read.  Escape is not always a bad thing, only when it diverts us from dealing with life and complexities.  That said some complexities we may wish to side step, if we are an empathic intuitive.  We don’t always have to be emotionally available.

Anyway there are some good books out there to help with understanding the role anger plays in our lives and whether or not we have learned to express it in healthy way and listen to what it is telling us in functional ways or repress and deny it leading to depression and auto immune problems.  I have written blogs on the subject in the past but often they get buried way back due to the way my blog is set up and the fact that now, 4 years on I have a lot of posts.

For information of those who would like it though, some of the books on anger I have found especially helpful follow:

John Lee, The Anger Solution : The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Long Lasting Relationships.

This book is great as he explains very clearly the concept of age regression which is similar to an experience of an emotional flashback that can intensify the way we responde to incidents which trigger old experiences of pain, neglect or abuse.  He gives techniques for unpacking the past triggers.  Just understanding when we are age regressed helps us a lot in our emotional recovery.

Beverley Engel, Honour Your Anger : How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life.

Dr Les Carter, The Anger Trap : Free Yourself from the Frustrations That Sabotage Your Life.

And for those whose passive aggressive anger style may come from a fear of abandonment due to displeasing others a very helpful book on learning to self assert honestly is :

Harriet B Braiker, The Disease To Please : Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome.

I am sure there are many other wonderful books out there.  There is no substitute for good therapy to work with the roots of anger and self assertion as these are such important issues when we are dealing with depression.   I hope some of this information may be of help to others.

Sorting out the mixed up world of repressed and shame bound feelings

Bradshaw

When we are young and go through deep feelings of being abandoned, being left alone or are traumatised by big feelings of others or left without sufficient mirroring and empathy for our feelings we develop a deficit in our capacity to make sense of these feelings as well as express them.  Our feelings are still held deep inside and stored in our bodies but at the same time we form defences against feeling them and the pain or liberation that may bring.

We also live in a shame bound society and feeling wounded culture that so often fails to identify and acknowledge certain feelings, most especially painful ones such as sadness, anger, shame and fear.  Therefore the shame component of repressed, invalidated feelings grows huge for many of us.  John Bradshaw in his excellent book Healing the Shame That Binds You explained in great detail how and why feelings we are taught to repress or meet with difficulty in being expressed or felt in dysfunctional families get shame bound.  This means that as we evolve we develop an arrested feeling self.  In this state of shame biding even the threat or whiff off feeling a certain feeling brings up the most intense shame or inward self criticism.

We cover this shame over or react to the emergence of shame bound feelings with defences in our mind, most of which form the inner critic who then attacks the feelings as well as us for having them, telling us all kinds of lies and untruths about what a bad or damaged person we are when the deeper truth is that we are really out of relationship with a most vital and alive part of ourselves.

Bradshaw 3

When we being the difficult emotional uncovery work of feeling our feelings in therapy, recovery, sobriety or healing this is when the inner critic will step in and try to protect us from feeling them in some way.  To the inner critic who formed to keep us safe in unsafe family or social environments the emergence of repressed feeling is cause for major panic and alarm, all the critic can see is that we are breaking out of a safe holding space.

The critic often forms in childhood to keep us safe from the parent or a world we have come to believe would be hostile to our true expression of feeling.  Add to this that if we haven’t matured psychologically through being able to process, understand and feel our past traumatic feelings and imprints when they do emerge in us as adults they can feel unmanageable in their ferocity.  Suddenly we find we have age regressed to feel about 2 years old in some cases and to the critic that is another cause for attack, aren’t we supposed to an adult now?  Someone who is in control and shouldn’t have to ride this huge roller coaster?  But this intense period of hyper feeling is actually a good thing if we can stop the shame spiral, pause and spend time connecting with what is being triggered. Here is where group wound and individual therapy or 12 step recovery work can help.

A large part of our healing process is coming to understand when we have age regressed to an earlier time of trauma which was very painful for us.  I wrote about age regression some time last year in a number of posts which I will include at the bottom of this one.  Age regression or reversion to an earlier experience of trauma or deep feeling which will emerge when we are triggered, most especially in therapy, group work or relationships is a God given opportunity for us to grow in awareness of feelings and needs we may have repressed and learned to bind in shame.

Feeling the shame associated to the feeling, sharing about it, bringing it out of hiding with affirmative and validating others is most essential to our healing process and will help us grow in awareness.  While others cannot feel our feelings for us (though they may do this through the healing power of empathy) doing so will not take our feelings away but if they have gone through their own healing process or are qualified therapeutically, help to hold the space for us while we have our process and feelings this kind of holding can help us begin to make a relationship with what we formerly could not feel and may dull the voice of our inner critic.

We need this kind of support, being designed and wired as humans to be connected and to form attachments, attachments we may have failed to form with emotionally unavailable or inconsistent parents in childhood we do need, at some point, to have our feelings in relationship.  Thus the need at certain stages of recovery to have some who can consistently mirror us while helping us to develop our own capacity to hold and process feelings.

Bradshaw 2

Being left alone with our feelings is difficult, when we cannot make sense of them, feel ashamed or feel they are mixed up, intense and overwhelming.  We need to feel them for ourselves in order to liberate them and reach understandings of why we blocked them in the first place.  Doing so was a survival mechanism we learned at that time to keep us safe, but it may take a lot of time and help if our feelings have been repressed or shamed.  Not being able to have and feel and understand our true feelings in the present, judging them, over intensifying them due to shame, keeps us imprisoned in a false self and leaves our true feelings buried under layers of defences.  Developing deeper insight into the nature of such defences and compassion for ourselves in the midst of them is such important work as we go through the process of learning to liberate, understand and feel our true feelings.   As we do we will be restored to our true selves.

At the same time we must do work on what Pete Walker calls Shrinking The Inner Critic.  We can turn the criticism on ourselves or outwards on others, in either case we are not really acknowledging the truth depth of our plight and such criticism in keeping us locked in shame may deeply hamper both our progress and our healing process.

Facing the truth we buried or locked away

Child 4

It takes courage

To face and feel the pain

To leave denial behind

The thoughts and wishes that protected us

From the full onslaught of the harm

We learned to run or take distance from

When there was no witness there

And if others turned the killer energy on us

And our emotional reality

If they tried to punish or silence us

For trying to express the truth

They may force all these feelings to go mute

Or be locked so deep inside the body

We turn upon ourselves

And try to kill off our inner child

Or silence her screams of hunger, pain and hurt

We may have locked the child away

Behind a closed door

Or sent her far away

Consigning her to the bottom of an abyss

From within which she cries

But somehow with help

We must find the courage to face the pain

To give a voice to the hurt

To name the traumas

To feel and honour what was suffered

We must turn back within

Or make the long descent

To reach that abandoned little one within us

Who so sorely needs our love, belief, witness and attention

We must bring her into our heart

Hold her close to our breast

And help her to know

That she is loved