Why intimacy brings up pain for neglected adult children

If we were never emotionally connected to or nurtured in childhood, in adulthood we are left with the most terrible emptiness and pain.  Therapist Pete Walker calls this ‘the abandonment melange’ and its also called abandonment depression.  Many of us, before we get to therapy or get awareness around our early attachment wounds fly blind with such a wound which in recovery circles is often referred to as ‘the hole in the soul.’  Trouble was when I was in AA I was led to believe I was born with this wound not that I developed it in the context of early relationships, that is an awareness I have had to painstakingly grow and allow to emerge out of great pain and disaster in later relationships including forcing my ex husband to carry some of what I was unconscious of for years, another wounding its taken me some years to realise and forgive myself for.

Now that I am making a heart centred connection with a partner who is emotionally available to me I find at times this wound is being stirred up in me more and more due to the situation he is in where he has to be out of contact for a lot of the time.  I realised yesterday that I acted out some of my disappointment at not being able to connect with him due to mutual cross scheduling  by making some nasty comments about his ex wife.  He took them in his stride and there may have been a bit of truth to what I said but never the less I found myself dismayed with how I had reacted to him leaving for patrol and not being able to speak.

I shot off a few angry texts including one saying how I hated him for being in the situation he is in and putting me through it then waited anxiously and received a very loving reply back about 6.30 last night which soothed my fears.  However I noticed the same reaction starting up this morning when I missed him again and he failed to respond to a text I sent last njght.  I see I am reacting at the moment because I have never really allowed myself to be as vulnerable with a partner as I am being in this relationship and because he is giving me EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED AND NEVER GOT FROM EITHER PARENT.  At times it awakens great grief, anxiety and fear as well as warmer feelings.

Luckily I was reading through another bloggers blog on this subject as well as Foreboding Joy (the term Brene Brown gives to allowing ourselves to gain pleasure from something that is a source of great desire only to thwart it with thoughts of doom)  a short while ago and I came across this paragraph which really shone a light on my current situation.

I told T (her therapist) that it confused me that getting what I have always wanted caused me such a lot of pain (and joy, admittedly) and T explained that having deep, childhood, unmet needs – met was VERY painful.  She said getting what you’ve always wanted can cause awful sadness and pain.  I didn’t understand that.  T said that this was one of the reasons that therapists had to be so careful not to “overdo it”.  She said that them overdoing it could cause us more pain! T said “this is why although I understand you want more reassurance and warmth in my emails, it is important that I am very careful”…

Both of my parents are incapable of emotional closeness with me and I craved that so very much all of my life. It hurts me a lot to really realise that neither of my parents gave me the connection and emotional closeness that they should have – could have.  But understanding it wasn’t me, my fault, that helps to ease some shame.  It makes me so determined to never repeat that pattern with my own children. Also, it makes me determined to never waste time with anyone who isn’t able to tolerate emotional closeness again. I only hurt myself trying to change them. I guess I was trying to “right a wrong”.  Trying to finally “get” an emotionally distant guy.  To change the ending of that childhood story where I never did “get” either mum or dad.

Source:

https://unpackingthesuitcaseblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/neediness-lack-of-warmth-fear-of-annihilation-re-experiencing-pain/#comments

Those two paragraphs could have been written by me.  I realise in this relationship I am given all the things I longed for, love, respect, attention, affection, unconditional positive regard, kindness, empathy and love.  At times I find myself crying when I receive these things from Scott but at times I can find myself wanting to shut it down as well.   It scares me at times to see there is a part of me that may try to sabotage this relationship but reading this particular blog again today nearly a year later big lights came on for me.  Today I told Scott I will be more careful what I say when I feel disappointed or left alone at times, the way I react comes out of a craving for connection and love (and a deeper unconscious grief and anger I am carrying at emotionally unavailable parents)  the last thing I want to do is destroy that.. the best thing that has happened to me in years and years and years.

Undermined reality and fear of intimacy : Insights into loving an Adult Child

There is nothing worse for  a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes.  Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive).   We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath.  For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder.  IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.

There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately.  Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves.  Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection.   The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships.  As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds.  Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.

Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked.  It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.

Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.

  1. Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity.  They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
  2. Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist.  They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
  3. Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
  4. Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
  5. Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos.  High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
  6. Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment.  They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up.  They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
  7. Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families.  This is unrealistic but its very true for them.   So how could you love them when they are so bad?
  8. Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable.  They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault.  They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
  9. Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others.  Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
  10. Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history.  It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”.  Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.

 

Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

Pain of early separations from our mother can haunt us for a long time and we may not always know what the pain is about. It’s an issue that Mark Wolynn, San Francisco based therapist on multigenerational trauma addresses at length in his book It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  The separation may not have been physical alone, it could be just that our mother was undergoing a depression, grieving a loss or being unseen and unnurtured by her own mother did not know how to be fully present for us.  (According to Wolynn the original problem or disruption often lies a generation or two back and we may be unaware of it).  We feel the loss and absence keenly and such feelings can cause us to actually turn away when our mother tries to connect with us another time.

Wolynn shares just such a story on page 175 about a baby Myrna whose mother leaves for three weeks.  On her return as she waits and longs for her daughter to run to her Mryna’s mother experiences instead a daughter who turns away becoming even more distant.  Rather than understand her daughter’s reactions and look for a way to restore the bond Myrna’s mother instead encourages her independence.  The mother loses sight of her child’s vulnerability, so where did it go for Myrna?  Answer in short.  Into the unconscious.

Of course later when Myrna fell in love, love was experienced as a minefield and its something I can relate to as will anyone with insecure, avoidant or anxious attachment.  Vulnerability of needing another opens up a pit of loss we do not fully understand and we can relate by sabotaging things further should we choose to deny or repress our true need feelings and vulnerability.

Mark Wolynn talks of interruptions to the flow of love and energy between parent and child a lot in his book.  He knows a lot about it as he pursued a path of so called ‘spiritual bypassing’ seeking a healing he could not find in ashrams and through meditation (though he does use visionary meditations with a clients ancestors in order to effect healing of past wounds carried on).  Wolynn did not heal his early trauma with his mother until years later understanding how its roots lay far back in his own mother and grandmother’s history and eventually becoming a therapist himself.

When our early experience with our mother is disrupted by a significant break in the bond, shards of pain and emptiness can shred our well being and disconnect us from the fundamental flow of life.  Where the mother-child relationship remains severed, empty or fraught with indifference, a stream of negative images can lock the child in a pattern of frustration and self doubt.  In extreme cases, when the negative images are continuous and unrelenting, frustration, rage, numbness, and insensitivity to others can emerge.

Psychopathic behaviour can be the result but the key result if often a form of pathological narcissism – an inability to truly connect and take in love.

According to Wolynn the majority of us have experienced some kind of break in the bond with our mothers.  Many though, got enough of what was needed to be able to maintain healthy relationships later in life.  Many of us were not so lucky.  Ideally disruptions to attunement need to be healed in the context of any relationship.  How we deal with them are important as are the beliefs about our inherent lovability.  According to Janet Woititz adult children of addiction and trauma believed they will only be loved if they act in a pleasing happy way.  No relationship can survive like this and neither can we.

Knowing what happened in the bond with our mother and the impact it had on our attachment style as well as inherent negative self beliefs and development of what Wolynn calls ‘core sentences of separation’ is vitally important if we wish to heal.  We can become conscious of these, work to understand how they may be influencing our present and do inner work to change negative core beliefs we may have absorbed unconsciously so they do not continue to play our in our relationships.  I have found so much help myself reading Wolynn’s book which I shared from extensively in my blog last year.  It is well worth a look if you struggle to maintain healthy loving relationships in your own life and are working to understand how the flow of love between you and a parent (not only your mother) is impacting you in later life.

(Examples of core beliefs which negatively impact our capacity to love and be loved are :  I’ll be left:  I’ll be abandoned. I’ll be rejected.  I’ll have nobody.  I’ll lose control.   I’ll be helpless.  I don’t matter.  I’m too much.  I am not enough.  I’ll be annihilated.  I’ll be destroyed.  I will push love away.)

See through my heart

Heart Eye

You often say to me

I wish you could see through my heart

How I feel for you

Oh my love

I will never fully know the total truth of it

Because my heart is not yours

And my eyes are my own

And often they project things

Not always full seeing or realising

The love that is there

But if you only knew

What your heart’s kindness means to me

At this stage in my life

When past failures come calling

And I feel the loneliness

And sadness in my sister’s heart

How can I be so blessed

That someone wants to love me as you do?

And does not retaliate

When my own fear of getting close

Pushes you away

You say

We are meant to be

And

You are perfect for me

But I know the sadness and fear

That is in my heart at times

And the last thing I would ever want to do

Is hurt you with these feelings

And so I am so grateful

When you hold to love

Because your love is a powerful force

That at these moments of insanity

Restores me to truth of my real feelings

And as tears fall

Makes me realise

What the cost would be

Of ever losing you

Left all alone

Left all alone with our wounds where do we go?  When the ones we turned to for help have failed us where do we go?  We can only turn back towards ourselves but we have problems if we cannot trust a mind within that can also turn against us, for those of us who suffer with an inner persecutor and then attract those who are only too happy to persecute us not knowing the true depths of our pain or wounds we are in grave danger there within our own heads filled with voices of others and of society that do not always speak the truth and often may not even see our true self or struggles.

When I witness someone struggling with this dynamic it breaks my heart but it also reminds me of the many times I found myself in exactly this situation.  Some people will oh so eloquently tear us to shreds, telling us how we are failing them and ourselves when the truth is they just do not know what we are fighting or struggling with on any day.  Being led to believe that we are less thank=, that we are not good enough, that we don’t deserve empathy and kindness and care hurts us deeply. It can wound our self protective instinct and the true self always has a protest and has to hide it deep within or else it comes out sideways, in the worst case we turn it agaisnt the self in self harm or possibly even suicide.

My current therapist often quotes British analyst D W Winnicott to me when she says “anger or delinquency is the last cry of the true self”.  Our authentic self needs to live even if that self is subverted and distorted to other forms of expression and it is only us who can stay with our reactions and make sense of them from deep within the self (but only if we have developed sufficient ego strength which is not a given but must be formed as result of healthy development.)  Since dissociation is a huge part of developing ego splits offs of parts of us from conscious awareness others could not bear it is not easy to hold all of this alone, nor hold onto our own reality and sanity or self integrity in the midst of it.  And this is the reason why a lot of us need a lot of help and one of the reasons why when the person we turned to for help fails us we suffer a double extreme dose of pain and hurting and frustration.  That person let us down and often they may have turned it back around on us, blaming us, this may echo what parents or siblings or teachers or other care givers did to us when young and it takes work to get out from under it.

Ideally we would have a loving adult self within as a centre of consciousness that could help the child in us when we were struggling but this part of us is only birthed through the parent’s help and if they could give it we need to look elsewhere for it.   When therapy failed me I looked to certain others such as Margaret Paul who recommended this inner bonding process to me, but it was still necessary to find a better therapist than the ones I had before who had their own limits and hidden dependency issues they transferred and played out in our therapy relationship.

Ideally for those of us with lots of attachment wounds we need to find a very skilled therapist with good boundaries but also one prepared to extend themselves a great deal for us.  I was told this on advice of someone who acts as a teaching therapist and has been a psychotherapist in practice for over 40 years.  We should not be blamed for having a ‘difficult’ reaction to being abandoned once again in therapy or emotionally in other ways.  We should not be led to believe we did something to cause it by being ‘too extreme’  or ‘too sensitive’ (which is an accusation often used on people with BPD).  No matter how old we are the inner child in us deserves empathy.

I don’t think anyone with serious attachment wounds ever lashes out deliberately to hurt others.  They are lashing out due to an empathic failure of some kind occuring.  The accusation may be that in lashing out we are causing harm to the other person and lacking empathy for them, there may be some truth in this, because a wounded inner child cannot see that everyone has limits and differing degrees of depth of psychological understanding.  The most we can understand is that others do their best, just as we do, it can be however that their best is not good enough for us or helpful for us at that point in time and in worst cases it can cause extreme damage.  Then the relationship needs to be let go with no accusation on either side, unless the other is trying to blame us for just being who we are and vice versa.  But we will still be left with a lot of pain and confusion inside that we need positive mirroring to work through.

In therapy my heart is recognised.

It was such a relief to get to therapy this morning.  I cried a lot of the way there listening to my favourite Coldplay song and in the chair it took a long time for any words to come, my therapist just sat there affirming, mirroring my body and nodding while looking at me with eyes of such compassion.  I noticed it was hard to meet her gaze without tearing up and crying very deeply.  I shared my poem on waiting later in the session while crying.  She said it was no wonder I had the reaction I did to a certain ‘friend’s’ text and the lack of reply from my niece in law.   I told her the struggle I went through in my mind how it immediately made me feel (lack of connection) like I had done something wrong, something I needed to apologise for.   But as we examined that rationally it was clear that was not true and I could not really know what was going on.   Still it was such a relief to be fully myself with Kat and to have trusted that her boundaries to keep contact limited to face to face sessions was working.  I had to hold on to that abandonment pain over Sunday and that was a big ask, I felt like I was exploding last night but I did come through after being awake for about an hour or more with extreme PTSD symptoms.

Driving home feeling a lot clearer and affirmed I wondered how I would have coped if I had never found Kat.  I aborted my second attempt at therapy in 2001 after my therapist went away and I have grieved that loss for some years as the second bike accident I had came after my marriage ended when I went back to the UK to try to resume it and opened up my body trauma too early and crashed.  I then was out of therapy for about 8 years, wilderness years when I got involved in a very emotionally wounding and non supportive relationship with a man with his own intense abandonment issues he had no interest in owing or working on.  I was told I was the problem, he told all his relatives and it was only his sister who challenged him about his part in it.   When he broke it off I was shattered and tried to run to another relationship before realising that was never going to be a valid path to healing for me, thank God.

I am in my third year of therapy with Kat now after about a year with a colleague of hers with whom the fit was not as good.  And I nearly broke it around the time Mum died last year when she would not make herself available to me on a weekend.

I read the text I would have liked to send to the friend who shamed me on the weekend.   I ditched that one in favour of a ‘fawn’ text telling her not to feel obligated to me as it wasn’t important that she call.  That was not true, I was hurt by her and I was scared to tell her, in case the relationship fell apart.  I dialogued a lot with my Inner Child on Sunday after I had the huge emotional response to her text and she told me I need to protect myself better from her as she is not always that reliable, that I need to share with her how what she said to me hurt and then by her response I will know if she is a true friend.  That said I now just accept it was a huge trigger for me and the pain I felt was so intense as I have been abandoned at least a dozen times in male and female relationships.

Kat and I also discussed how often I feel it’s all too hard to reach for real relationship and true connection but what I now know is that due to the fact my consciousness is deepening to have true intimacy in my life it will need to be with another conscious person who accepts me in my woundedness.  I am not a damaged person I have just gone through a lot of trauma and that makes me highly sensitive and I also believe I am highly empathic and intuitive too, so I pick up stuff and emotionally defended people immediately trigger me, if they don’t want to own their ‘stuff’ and I end up carrying it, that is toxic for me in the long run and my Inner Child is calling time on it.

I noticed when I looked into further astrology transits yesterday that Venus planet of relationships was approaching an exact square aspect to Pluto from Aries.  That shows an intensity that will be felt in relationships due to them triggering unconscious things in us and the way we relate, attach and are or have been wounded by both as babies or children.  Reaching for outer control or lashing back are counter productive with Venus Pluto, though it’s what people with this natal aspect may subject us to if we relate with them..  I am glad I held my fire yesterday so I could allow the suffering to reveal truths to me I could not have reached intellectually.   Pain does bring awareness and sadness and sorrow speak to me of real needs and values being thwarted.  I am learning to trust my feelings now rather than diminish them with intellectualisations.  For that I am so so grateful and also for a therapist who hears my heart, acknowledges my heart and gets my heart.

The importance of consistent reliable attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I cry now.

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

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

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

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

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

On compulsive repetition in the life of Rimbaud : Alice Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The ways you loved me

Always

The ways you loved me were not always easy for me to see

I could not feel before the ache in your heart for the ways you fell short through no fault of your own with the best intentions

Moving on was the only way you knew to cope And then there are the silent regrets you may never share About things we will never be able to change

So now I pray for acceptance Of all that went before Because the hurting that goes on is not good for me

You don’t really know how to reach out at times Because you were left alone

Now you don’t want us to have to carry a burden we never chose

But somehow we have to make the best of what is left Together For separation avoidance or denial will only bring more pain And sometimes it feels my heart cannot stretch wide enough to contain all these broken threads

Emotions gone mute never totally go away but form the swell under the surface that threatens to rise and fall in those silent quiet moments When my soul draws close to your soul

I will always love you And long for your body Because you are my body and I am yours Let me not forget this

For love is not disembodied but only happens to us in and through a body  awake alive to the vibrancy of soul and longing from ages past surfacing and resurfacing from deep within for healing