Replicated trauma : understanding how trauma is carried in the family

The following is part verbatim excerpt from Chapter Three : The Family Mind of It Didn’t Start With You, part is a summary I have made using some of Mark Wolynn’s text.   The earlier part of this chapter addressed interruptions in the mother – child bond.  I will share that in another post.  This one shows different ways traumas can imprint and play out across generations.

The repetition of trauma is not always an exact replica of the original event.  In a family in which someone has committed a crime, for example, someone born in a later generation could atone for that crime without realising that he or she is doing so.  A man named John came to see me shortly after being released from prison.  He had served three years for embezzlement – a crime he claimed he did not commit.  At trial, John had pleaded not guilty, but because of the weight of the evidence against him – a false accusation made by his former business associate – he was advised by his attorney to accept a plea bargain.  The moment he entered my office, John appeared agitated.  His jaw was clenched, and he flung his coat against the back of the chair.  He revealed that he had been framed, and was now obsessed with thoughts of revenge.  As we discussed his family situation, it came to light that a generation back in the 1960s, his father had been accused of murdering his business partner, but had been acquitted at trial on a technicality.  Everyone in the family knew that the father was guilty, but they never spoke about it.  Given my experience with inherited family trauma, it wasnt surprising to learn that John was the same age his father was when he went to trial.  Justice was finally served, but the wrong person paid the price.

Bert Hellinger (a renowned German psychotherapist who developed what is called Family Constellation Therapy) believes that the mechanism behind these repetitions is unconscious loyalty, and views (this) as the cause of much suffering in families.  Unable to identify the source of their symptoms as belonging to an earlier generation, people often assume that the source of their problem is their own life experience, and are left helpless to find a solution.  Hellinger teaches that everyone has the same right to belong in a family system, and that no one can be excluded for any reason.  This includes the alcoholic grandfather who left our grandmother impoverished, the stillborn brother whose death broke our mother’s heart, and even the neighbor child our father accidentally killed as he backed out of the driveway  – they all belong in our family.  The list goes on.

Even people we wouldn’t normally include in your family system must be included.  If someone harmed or murdered or took advantage of a member of our family, that person must be included.  Likewise, if somebody in our family harmed or murdered or took advantage of someone, the victim would also need to be included….

Earlier partners of our parents and grandparents also belong.  By their dying or leaving or having been left, an opening is created that allows for our mother, father, or grandfather to enter the system, and ultimately allows for us to be born.

Hellinger has observed that when someone is rejected or left out of the family system, that person can be represented by a later member of the system.  The later person might share or repeat the earlier person’s fate by behaving similarly or by repeating some aspect of the excluded person’s suffering.  If, for example, your grandfather is rejected in the family because of his drinking, gambling and philandering, it is possible that one or more of these behaviors will be adopted by one of his descendants.  In this way, family suffering continues into subsequent generations.

…Hellinger stresses that we must each carry our own fate, regardless of its severity.  No one can attempt to take on the fate of a parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, or aunt without some type of suffering ensuing.  Hellinger uses the word “entanglement” to describe this kind of suffering.  When entangled, you unconsciously carry the feelings, symptoms, behaviors, or hardships of an earlier member of your family system as if they were your own.

(Wolynn goes on to explain in subsequent paragraphs how each child in the same family can inherit different trauma regardless of similarities in upbringing.  The first born is likely to carry unresolved father wounds, the first born daughter what is unresolved with the mother.  The reverse can also be true.  Later children are likely to carry different traumas, or elements of the grandparent’s traumas.

Eg a woman who is first born marries an emotionally unavailable controlling man – similar to how she sees her father- and so shares the dynamic with her mother.  The second daughter may carry the unexpressed anger of her mother.  The trauma is the same but each carry different aspects of it.  One daughter may reject the father the other does not (this happened in my own family with my great great grandfather younger siblings embraced him despite his addiction and PTSD my own great grandmother got as far away as she could with her daughter, my grandmother.   That separation pattern in my family has continued down 3 generations.)

Later children can carry unresolved traumas of the grandparents.  In the same family, either the third or fourth daughter might never marry, fearing she will be controlled by a man she does not love.

With a break in the mother child bond among siblings, each child might express his or her disconnection in different ways.  One becomes a people pleaser (fearing separation and rejection for making waves) another feeling trying to connect is useless pushes people away.  Another child might isolate and have little contact with the family.

Wolynn writes that he has seem that when several siblings have a break in the mother bond they often express anger or jealousy, or feel disconnected from each other.  The older child resents the younger when seeing them given what they cannot remember they got (early holding and bonding) because they were then too young to remember.  The older may then blame the younger or be mean or abusive or rejecting to them.

Wolynn adds that some children are lucky enough to escape, carrying very little of the trauma of the past.  Some get more of what they need (bonding, attention, affection and love) while others miss out due to different things happening in the family when they are born and being raised and having a different kind of connection with each parent.  There are no hard and fast rules, says Wolynn and explorations needs to take place to uncover what trauma we may be carrying.

One becomes disentangled from such traumas through becoming aware of past family hisotry, by learning to self soothe, and use healing imagery and sentences, gaining insight into wounds, entanglements and blocks and giving back the burden to whom it belongs.    I will share some of these strategies in later posts and share also more of the next chapter which addresses the power of language in addressing trauma.

Third installment : Three generations of Shared Family History : the Family Body : research into inherited stress and trauma responses

Here is the third and final installment from Chapter 2 of Mark Wolynn’s book It Didn’t Start With You which concludes his coverage of genetic research shedding light on how stress and trauma are passed on through at least three generations :

It’s only recently that scientists have begun to understand the biological processes that occur when trauma is inherited.  To learn more, researchers turned to animal studies….Chemical changes in the blood, brain, ova and sperm of mice are now being linked to behavioural patterns, such as anxiety and depression, in later generations.  Studies performed on offspring, for example, have shown that trauma, such as the stress of maternal separation, caused gene expression changes that can be traced for three generations.

In one such study, researchers prevented females from nurturing their pups for up to three hours a day during the first two weeks of life.  Later in life, their offspring exhibited behaviors similar to what we call depression in humans.  The symptoms seemed to worsen as the mice age.  Surprisingly, some of the males did not express the behavior themselves, but appeared to epigenetically transmit the behavioral changes to their female offspring.  The researchers also discovered altered methylation and gene expression changes in the stressed mice.  Among the genes involved was the CRF2 gene, which regulates anxiety in both mice and humans.  The researchers also found that the germs cells – the precursor egg and sperm cells – as well as the brains of the offspring were affected by the stress of being separated from their mothers.  In another experiment….offspring that received low levels of maternal care were more anxious and more reactive to stress in adulthood than were the rats that received high levels of maternal care.  The stress pattern was observed in multiple generations.

It’s common knowledge that infants who have been separated from their mothers can experience challenges as a result.  In studies involving male mice, pups that were separated from their mothers exhibited lifelong increases in stress susceptibility and generated offpsring  that exhibited similar stress patterns over several generations.  (In one study).. conducted at the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich in 2014, researchers subjected male mice to repeated and prolonged periods of increased stress by separating them from their mothers.  Afterward, the traumatised mice exhibited a number of depression like symptoms.  The researchers then had the mice reproduce and discovered that pups in the second and third generation showed the same symptoms of trauma despite never having experienced it themselves.

(Similarly)…. high numbers of microRNA – genetic material that regulate gene expression – (were) present in the sperm, blood and hippocampi of the traumatised mice..(and)…in those of the second generation……Although mice in the third generation expressed the same symptoms of trauma as did their fathers and grandfathers. elevated numbers of microRNA were not detected.

In a later study published in 2016, Mansuy and her colleagues were able to show that trauma symptoms could be reversed in the mice after they lived in a positive, low stress environment as adults.  Not only did the mice’s behaviors improve, they also experienced changes in DNA methylation, which prevented symptoms from being passed to the next generation.  The implications of this study are particularly significant.  In later chapters we’ll learn how to create positive images and enriching experiences that can help reverse stress patterns that may have affected our family for multiple generations.

What makes the mouse research so intriguing is that science can now substantiate how the challenges experienced in one generation can become the legacy transmitted to the next.  In a study involving the offspring of stressed male mice conduucted at Emory University School of Medicine in 2013, researchers discovered that traumatic memories could be passed own to subsequent generations throgh epigentic changes that occur in DNA.  Mice in one generation were trained to fear a cherry blossom-like scent.. Each time they were exposed to the smell they simultaneously received an electric shock.  After a while, the shocked mice had a greater amount of small receptors associated with that particular scent, enabling them to detect it at lower concentrations.  They also had enlarged brain areas devoted to those receptors.  Researchers were also able to identify changes in the mice’s sperm.

The most intriguing aspect of the study is what occured in the next two generations.  Both the pups and the grandpups, when exposed to the blossom odour, became jumpy and avoided it, despite never having experienced it before.  They also exhibited the same brain changes. The mice appeared to inherit not only the sensitivity to the scent, but also the fear response associated with it.

Brian Dias, one of the researchers of the study, suggests that “there’s something in the sperm that is informing or allowing that information to be inherited.” He and his team noted abornmally low DNA methylation in both the sperm of the father mice and the sperm of the offspring.   Although the exact mechanism for how a parent’s traumatic experience gets stored in the DNA is still under investigation.    Dias says, “it behooves ancestors to inform their offspring that a particular environment was a negative environment for them.”

Ths particular study provides compelling evidence for what the researchers term “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance,” the notion that behaviours can pass from one generation to another.  When I work with families in my pratice, I often see recurring patterns of illness, depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, and financial hardship, and always feel compelled to look deeper.  What unexplored event in a previous generation drives the behavior of the man who loses all his money at the racetrack, or the woman who chooses to be intimate only with married men?  How have their genetic inheritances been influences?

…..

Given that a generation in humans is approximately twenty years, the results from human studies spanning multiple generations are still pending.  However, with the research demonstrating that stress can be transmitted through at least three generations of mice, the researchers surmise that children born to human parents who experienced a traumatic or stressful event would also likely pass the pattern down not only to their children, but to their grandchildren as well.  Uncannily the Bible in numbers 14-18, appears to corroborate the claims of modern science – or vice versa – that the sins, iniquities, or consequences of the parents can affect the children up to the third and fourth generations.  Specificially, the New Living translation states : “the LORD is slow to anger and filed with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty.  He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations.”

As new discoveries in epigentics are revealed, new information about how to mitigate the transgenerational effects of trauma could become standard practice.  Researchers are now finding that our thoughts, inner images and daily practices, such as visualisation and meditation can change the way our genes express, an idea we will examine in more detail in the next chapter.

The idea that we relive family traumas may well be at the core of what psychiatrist Norman Doidge alludes to in his breakthrough book  he Brain That Changes Itself when he writes “Psychotherapy is about about turning our ghosts into ancestors.”  By identifying the source of our generationl traumas Dr. Doidge suggests that our ghosts can “go from haunting us to become part of our history.”

To be continued

Voices from inside anxiety and depression

If we struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression its helpful to the ones who KNOW, those souls who also struggled and suffered and found a way out or through the experience.  There are a lot of people and voices outside there who have known the pain, isolation and profound suffering that anxiety and depression can bring.  Matt Haig is one such voice and he published a book in 2015 called Reasons to Stay Alive where he speaks candidly about his experience and of how there is life and hope on the other side of that long dark tunnel of depression.  Matt believes his depression and anxiety came to him as learning experiences leading him on an inward path of self discovery and uncovery.  He doesn’t believe in medication as a long term solution for himself, for in his case it didn’t work but he appreciates that each of us have our own pathway to travel and medication helps others.

For now, I do what I know keeps me just about level. Exercise definately helps me, as does yoga and absorbing myself in something or someone I love, so I keep doing those things.  I suppose, in the absence of universal certainties, we are our own best laboratory.

The following excerpt comes from the chapter Pretty Normal Childhood in which he speaks of death anxieties he had around losing both parents when he was young.  In this chapter he shares how a throw away unkind comment from a girl in school who he liked sent him into a downward spiral and I am sure many of us can relate to this. At that age we don’t have any filters against such comments and we are longing for love and acceptance, so criticism hits hard and can be deeply internalised.

In the final paragraph of that chapter, Matt writes :

I didn’t totally fit in. I kind of disintegrated around people, and became what they wanted me to be.  But paradoxically, I felt an intensity inside me all the time.  I didn’t know what it was, but it kept building, like water behind a dam.  Later, when I was properly depressed and anxious, I saw the illness as an accumulation of all that thwarted intensity.  A kind of breaking through. As though, if you find it hard to let yourself be free, your self breaks in, flooding your mind in an attempt to drown out all those failed half versions of yourself.

A few chapters along he speaks of how more men kill themselves as a result of depression that women, the reason, men are conditioned to see depression as a sign of weakness and ‘are reluctant to seek help’.  The prohibition Boys Dont Cry plays a huge part in this in fostering an untruth that limits and encloses boys and men in a prison.  Matt’s way out, as it is for those of us who suffer, men and women, is to talk and listen and encourage both.  He reminds us that depression doesnt make us outcasts from humanity but just normal humans.  Depression can come to be associated with who we are when really it is a experience which happens to us.

It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience.  I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy.  Where talk exists so does hope.

Finding our voice in depression is a way out, or at least a way of connecting, once we can connect we feel less alone.  There are so many other souls out there who have walked this pathway, we just have to open our minds, hearts and mouths to find them.

In other chapters Matt writes a letter to his depressed self from the self who finally came through the depression, telling that former version of himself he will come through it. This is not what depression, anxiety and panic attacks tell us every day we suffer them.  Instead they tell us the pain will never end and it will destroy us.   I am not naive about depression and know we all have to do our own inner work and find our own ways to come through.  I nevertheless like to recommend voices of those who can be guides or forces of encouragement for other undergoing their own dark night.  Matt Haig is just one of these many voices.

Why self compassion helps us more than ‘self esteem’

Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?

It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion.   She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well.  If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet  outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of  inward security.    We can also become less compassionate.

In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem.  Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.

The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :

  1. Self kindness.   A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental.   Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’.  Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves.  In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain.  Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels.  Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress.  This is really hard right now.  I am with you.   This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass.  It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require.  When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect.   Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
  2. Recognition of our common human experience.  So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care.  This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people.   Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again.   We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern.  Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things.  While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too.  However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows.  On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering.  In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
  3. Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being.  To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful).  “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.”   Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions.  In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them.  For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body,  feeling a desire to lash out.  In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother.  His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother.  With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying.  He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary.  He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard.  Mindfulness was central to this process.  “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)

Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post.  I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately,  I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.

I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem.  Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance.  It helps me understand myself and others better.  It is a practice I am very grateful to have found.  It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.

Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes.  It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect.  It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.

The mother wound we carry

I wanted to share the following excerpt from Mark Wolynn’s excellent book on inherited family trauma : It Didn’t Start With You.   It is one of the most important books I have ever read, just sad I heard about it over 2 years ago and only just bought it.  What he shares of his own experience and understanding with healing multigenerational trauma in both his own life and lives of his clients is nothing short of remarkable.  He also uses the latest research conducted into epigenetics to support his claims showing how early stress and lack of nurture affects our neurological structure even in the womb, as well as how inherited trauma of a grandparent or great grandparent can be carried and communicated even along paternal (as well as maternal) streams of inheritance.  It is changing the way I am thinking about my own mother nurturance wound and the addiction that grew out of it.

To put it simply, we receive aspects of our grandmother’s mothering through our own mother.  The traumas our grandmothers endured, her pains and sorrows, her difficulties in childhood or with our grandfather, the losses of those she loved who died early – these filter, to some degree, into the mothering she gave our mother.  If we look back another generation, the same would likely be true about the mothering our grandmother received.

The particulars of the events that shaped their lives may be obscured from our vision, but nevertheless, the impact of those particulars can be deeply felt.  It’s not only what we inherit from our parents but also how they were parented that influences how we relate to a partner, how we relate to ourselves, and how we nurture our children.  For better or worse, parents tend to pass on the parenting they themselves received.

These patterns appear to be hardwired into the brain, and begin to be formed before we’re even born  How our mother bonds with us in the womb is instrumental in the development of our neural circuitry.  Thomas Verney says, “From the moment of our conception, the experience in the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personaltity, emotional temperament, and the power of higher thought.”  Like a blueprint, these patterns are transmitted more than learned.

The first nine months outside the womb function as a continuation of the neural development that occurs within the womb.  Which neural circuits remain, which are discarded, and how the remaining circuits will be organised depend on how the infant experiences and interacts with the mother or caregiver.  It’s through these early reactions that a child continues to establish a blueprint for managing emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

When a mother (or father) carried inherited trauma, or has experienced a break in the bond with her mother (or father), it can affect the tender bond that’s forming with her infant, and that bond is more likely to be interrupted.  The impact of an early break in the mother – child bond – an extended hospital stay, an ill timed vacation, a long term separation – can be devastating for an infant.  The deep, embodied familiarity of the mother’s smell, feel, touch, sound, and taste – everything the child has come to know and depend on – is suddenly gone.

“Mother and offspring live in a biological state that has much in common with addiction,” says behaviour science writer Winifred Gallagher.  “When they are parted, the infant does not just miss its’ mother, it experiences a physical and psychological withdrawal… not unlike the plight of a heroin addict that goes cold turkey.”  This analogy helps to explain why all newborn mammals, including humans protest with such vigour when they are separated from their mothers.  From an infant’s perspective, a separation from mother can be felt as “life threatening.” says Dr, Raylene Philips, a neonatologist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.   “If separation continues for a prolonged period,” she says, “the… response is despair….  The baby gives up.”

In my early life, I knew that feeling of giving up.  It came from my family.  What my mother didn’t get from her mother affected what she was able to give to me and to my sibling.  Although I could always feel her love shine through, much of her mothering was infused with the traumas in our family history – specifically the fact that her mother, Ida, lost both of her parents when she was two.

Orphaned at two, my grandmother was raised by her elderly grandparents, who earned a living peddling rags from a pushcart in the Hill District in Pittsburgh.  My grandmother adored her grand parents, and often lit up with she shared memories about how much they loved her.  But that was only part of the story – the part she could consciously remember.  A deeper story lay beneath her reach.

Before Ida was a toddler, perhaps even in the womb, she would have absorbed the sensations of her mother’s distress caused by the constant arguing, the tears and disappo8ntmets.  All this would have had a profound effect on the crucial neural development taking place in Ida’s brain.  Then, losing her mother at age two would leave her emotionally shattered.

It’s not only that my mother was raised by an orphan who couldn’t give her the nurturing she never got from her mother, my mother also inherited the visceral trauma of Ida’s separation from her mother at an early age.  Although Ida was present physically in my mother’s life, she was unable to express the depth of emotion that would support my mother’s life.  That missing emotional connection also became part of my mothers’ inheritance.

….

In order to end the cycle of inherited trauma in my family, and ultimately for my own healing, I realised that I needed to heal my relationship with my mother.  I knew I couldn’t change what had happened in the past, but I certainly could change the relationship we had now.

My mother had inherited her mother’s stress patterns, and so did I.  She would often clutch her chest and complain about feelings of agitation in her body.  I realise now that she was unconsciously reliving the fear and loneliness that rippled through our family, the terror of being separated from the one she needed most – her mother.

There is much more to the story of family patterns Mark inherited and finally uncovered and discovered after a long journey of seeking outside for answers to his own psychological anxiety and trauma issues.   Reading his account has made so much sense to me of the symptoms of separation anxiety I experience at exactly the time of day my own grandmother, widowed in her early 30s, left my own mother (aged 8) alone to go and clean offices.  The two times of day were 4 to 8 pm and in the early hours of the am.  These are the times of day I experience my own anxiety/panic issues.  I had a growing sense developing in later months that what I was experiencing at those times was not mine alone, that it didn’t start with me.  And that was the exact time of day I had my head trauma injury in 2005 a year after my husband and I separated as I ran from him and my mother out of fear they would not support me in my own deep grief which I now know relates to a mother separation wound going back 4 generations.

Mark’s evidence and experience of his own and in his clients life (which I will share more remarkable examples of in a following post) backs up my own.  His work with inherited family patterns is so important that I am going to make it focus of my following posts.  This is important knowledge so many of us need to have, in order to heal and end deeply entrenched patterns of emotional blindness, ignorance and blame that keep us separated from a profound psychological understanding.

Broken / insecure attachments and anxiety

I am getting more awareness around my own anxiety issues these days.  I borrowed a book from the library on male borderline personality disorder and reading the section on attachments reminded me how much we can suffer and how insecure we can feel when in childhood early attachments were a source of pain.  If they were non existent or unreliable or if we suffered physical or emotional abandonment when young, then we never got to establish that sense of secure trust and holding that I mentioned in my post on the mother wound yesterday.  And without this it is nearly impossible to establish a secure sense of self.  We may struggle for a lot of our life with anxious feelings around being close, reaching out, establishing intimacy and depending and relying on others.

In a post I wrote a while back on avoidant attachment https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/35898

I addressed how avoidance can be a response to being let down and emotionally abandoned as well and then that pattern is replayed.  Those of us with avoidant attachment may attract those with insecure attachment (really we are both insecure but one of us is invested in NOT showing it).  It can be hard for both parties to see their part and then the relationship can be full of hurt, misunderstanding and frustration.

This week I have managed to organise to have two outings with friends and that is a difficult issue for me.  I am anxious prior to meetings at times and then I am anxious also in initiating contacts too.  As an empath I often fear being overwhelmed.  Developing a sense of trust in new relationships where I am no longer as invalidated as I have been in the past is taking time, but it is happening.

Its important to know what our attachment style or difficulties are in life, especially if we have known past abuse, abandonment or trauma.  This lessens the self blame we can feel for ‘not being like everyone else’.   If we can explore our past as well as the things in childhood or friendships that hurt us or overly trigger our anxiety and core wound we are better placed to find boundaries to deal with it.  I had to let one friendship go last year because each time I organised to meet up with this girlfriend she would be up to half an hour late.  It wasn’t just once that it happened but nearly every single time.  The last straw was when she turned up late to take me to a radiation appointment.  I chose to get myself there and she was upset when I told her I was annoyed.  What she didn’t realise was that every time she ran late without doing me the courtesy of letting me know she was forcing me to carry anxiety.  As a over scheduler who was always doing too much, her relationships got to bear the brunt of her own tendency to have poor boundaries.  I have felt better not spending time with her though I do honestly miss aspects of our friendship but caring for myself meant I had to set my boundary.

Dealing with the ongoing effects of insecure attachment is not easy.  Its not our fault that we suffer from the affects of earlier abandonment or abuse or inconsistency.  It was not until I read a book on attachment styles earlier in the year that I learned that those with anxious attachment do better if they don’t have to deal with those who have an avoidant style.  If we do we are endlessly triggered and that is not good for our stability, ongoing emotional and physical well being or mental health.  If we were not sufficiently held when young we may not be aware of what is healthy and recovering a sense of self means we need to find out what is best for us and not endlessly settle for less or second best.   ‘To gain we have to know we have value and the power to ask for what we want and need or express distress if it is necessary or will help our connections and intimacy with another to grow.

 

When anxious

Ocean.jpg

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

 

 

I was the shyest human ever invented, but I had a lion inside me that wouldn’t shut up. 
- Ingrid Bergman