Fear of Insanity Narcissism and Denial of Feeling : more insights from Alexander Lowen

the experience of horror (in childhood) makes one question one’s sanity.  What one is experiencing does not make sense, it doesn’t accord with one’s image of reality which even a baby has on a biological level.  To avoid the resulting mental confusion, one must dissociate and deny all feelings.  As long as one sticks to logic, one is safe.  But feelings are life, and one cannot fully avoid emotional experiences no matter how coolly one plays it.  The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defence of denial break down.  This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality.  This fear reinforces the denial of feeling creating a vicious cycle.

Reading the above paragraph again in Lowen’s book today gave me more insight into my brother, who threatened to walk out on me last October when I got angry with him.  It reminded me of terrifying incidents he faced in childhood and of how my father did pretty harsh things to him as a boy as his own childhood had been similarly harsh.  I was in tears again last week after yet another conversation with my brother where we was working as hard as he could to split off all expression of emotion.  I usually leave every interaction with him crying or disturbed in some way.  Now instead of feeling angry I  just feel really sad for him as I don’t ever think he will look at the roots of his own workaholism.  Once again I shed heaps of tears after I got off the phone on Thursday.  It is not that he is an unkind person either, all time the conversation revolved around helping my sister and I to get the best interest possible on the money Mum has left us.

It is now never the less a great comfort to me to be able to say I now know I am not crazy and I know why his side of the family have sidelined me before as well as other members of my family, looking upon us with such distain and disapproval due to our emotions.  That said I am also aware of the charge of anger that I have carried which I know I inherited from my mother’s side of the family.

Collapsing into a state of helplessness may be one response to such terror or violence in childhood.  Flight or fight may be two other  responses but both the later would often be blocked by an abusive parents.  Escaping or fighting back may be shamed or made  impossible as was the case of Bill whose story Lowen covers in Chapter 7 of this book.

Bill did not feel any anger.  He denied his anger, just as he denied his fear.  Instead, he adopted an attitude of submission and attempted to understand the irrational behaviour of his father, and others,  His submission to his father may have had a lifesaving value, but almost cost him his life.  (Bill was later on nearly killed by a hitchhiker he and a friend picked up on the side of the road who began to attack them.)

Lowen explains how Bill then came to fear his own anger.

(he).. believed that if he lost his head he might kill someone.  But to lose your head is equivalent to going crazy. Bill was terrified of the potential craziness in himself as he was of the craziness of others.  When I made this interpretation to him he remarked, “Now I know why I became a psychiatrist.”

Not everyone will be able to contain their rage from such incidents, others will act it out.  Lowen tells the story of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”, serial killer who murdered 6 and wounded 7 others.

What then are the dynamics that precipitate a seemingly sane person into insane action? … there must be some subconscious force.. This force is the denied feeling of anger.  Because the anger is denied, it is not experienced, which would give he person some control over it.

Many narcissists develop an ego unconscious split in these circumstance which means at times such subconscious forces can erupt and cause havoc or be projected on others.  Such and effect is called flooding…. an overwhelming feeling or excitation which ..”(temporarily drowns us)…in the torrent of sensation.  Imagine a river overflowing its banks and sweeping across the surrounding country side.  In a similar way the gush of feeling wipes out normal boundaries of the self, making it difficult for the person to distinguish between inner and outer reality.  Reality becomes confused and nebulous….. (there is a sense of) nothing solid to cling on to.  The person feels ‘at sea,’ estranged.

Such estrangement is not dissimilar to dissociation although Lowen compares it to disorientation.   The flooding of something we held down can make us dizzy, it may erase normal consciousness for a time.  It may well be what we experience in a panic attack (repressed or split off lively life energy or anger).  We can also be overwhelmed by pleasant sensations and if our sense of happiness or joy was also supressed or shamed in childhood we can begin to get fearful of insanity when we start to feel energised or even happy.

In the bioenergetic therapy Lowen used feelings which have been repressed or shut down are helped to liberate by the therapist who assists in the process so flooding and disorientation is not as intense as it would be if we were misunderstood or unsupported in the process.

The problem is that those damaged in childhood continue to carry split off emotions such as anger and sadness into adulthood, we may even attract relationships with others who act them out for us or vice versa, one partner can then pretend they are okay, it’s just their partner that is the problem.

Lowen points out in his book Narcissism : Denial of the True Self the connection between being called ‘mad’ (as in insane) when one is actually angry.

To say a person is mad may mean that person is either crazy or angry.  What this tells us is that anger is not an acceptable emotion.  Children are taught very early on to curb their anger; often they are punished if, in the course of an angry reaction, they hurt someone.  Disputes, they are admonished should be settled amicably and with words.  The ideal is to have reason prevail over action.

But conflicts can not always be settled amicably, with reasoning.   Tempers may flare.  I don’t mean one has to resort to physical violence to express an angry feeling.  Anger can be expressed in a look or by the tone of one;s voice.  Once can assert with feeling.  “I am angry with you.”  Some situations do call for the physical expression of anger.  If violence is used on you it may be appropriate to fight back.  Without the right to strike when one is hit, one feels powerless and humiliated.  We have seen what that can do to the personality.

I strongly believe that if children were allowed to voice their anger at their parent’s whenever they felt they had a legitimate grievance, we would see far fewer narcissistic personalities.  Giving a child this right would allow a real respect for the child’s feelings.

Lowen goes on to site an experience of watching a Japanese woman being hit by her daughter in anger.  He explains how in Japan a child is never disciplined before the age of 6 because they are regarded to be innocent  and such children don’t end up disrespectful or misbehaving.  However when the right of angry expression is denied a child it has an adverse impact and then there are the parents who cannot express their own anger with a child in a healthy way and use punishment instead.  Lowen doesn’t negate the need for discipline, only the use of power and control in the face of a child the parent does not have a healthy way of relating to and helping to develop emotionally.

Such repression of anger in a person in childhood means anger stays present in the person’s system much later in life.  In his bioenergetic therapy Lowen helps patient to discharge repressed anger so that it does not stay trapped inside.  However as he points out, the fear of ones anger and belief it will prove one is insane is a difficulty that many narcissistically injured person’s face on the path to healing.

For narcissists to know themselves, they have to acknowledge their fear of insanity and to sense the murderous rage inside that they identify with insanity.  But they can only do this if the therapist is aware of those elements and is not afraid of them.  I find it helpful to point out to my patients that what they believe is insane – namely, their anger – is in fact sense if they can accept it.  In contrast, their behaviour without feeling, which they regard as sane,is really crazy.

The behaviour without feeling that Lowen mentions here in fact leads to the growing or development of what he calls a thick skin, a protective defensive layer which will allow no real feeling for self or others in those with a narcissistic defence,

such denial is achieved by deadening the surface to stimuli, its effect is to rigidify the ego.  … the result is a diminishing of the ego’s capacity to respond emotionally to reality or to change reality in line with one’s feelings.. the ego’s safety lies in a deadened body, with little emotion.  Yet this very deadening creates a hunger for sensation, leading to the hedonism typical of a narcissistic culture.

But true feeling is then increasingly hidden behind a façade and the building charge of need and hidden feeling is defended against.  Thus addictions come to play a role in diverting attention from the truth.

By contrast those who develop a borderline defence to such negation actually become excessively thin skinned, unable to throw off hurts lodged deep inside from the past often from unfeeling narcissists.  Their work is to understand the source of pain and not project it onto the present, understanding how deeply its roots lie hidden in an often unconscious past.

 

 

 

 

The meaning we make of things : reflections on trauma, choice, recovery and inner power

The meaning we make of things has a huge influence and power over us and then there are the meanings other influences may project or teach, such as the belief in some spiritual, new age philosophies that we ‘chose’ to be here and experience all we are experiencing for some ‘higher purpose”.  I am not as big a fan of this point of view these days although I do believe we are all being presented with evolutionary challenges all the time and that the attitude we take to our trials and tribulations does make huge difference, but this is different to being told we ‘chose’ something painful as a way to learn.  I just don’t believe that any more.

I have had the thought a  lot lately that I did not choose to be born.  My parents conceived me as an unplanned child later in life and I didnt chose to be born into a much older family where a lot was already going down before I arrived on the scene.  Later in my life and through much inner exploration I have been able to be more objective about what was happening subjectively, internally and implicitly for me as a young baby and child born into this much older business oriented family.  I was listening to an excellent programme on Tuesday on the difference between trauma memory and other memoires.  Trauma that happens to us before age of 2 is not consciously remembered as our hippocampus has not been formed yet so is encoded implicitly and is only available through sensation not as thought.  It is known too that trauma that occurs after the hippocampus is formed affects the size and influence of this part of our brain on us.

I am only minimally educated in my understanding but I remember reading in Peter Levine’s books Waking The Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice how inaccesible to thought such trauma is and how sensation focused therapy which helps us to bear with and relate to pscyho-biological symptoms (which can be both intense and frightening) is the best kind of therapy to help us with healing, integrating, self soothing and containment of trauma.  Also since trauma creates fractures in sensation and experience once such body memories are made conscious they can then be integrated into a narrative which helps us to make sense.

The other thing much on my mind this morning was how much self blame is a part of having undergone trauma.   And to be told we ‘chose’ something gives us the illusion of some kind of power or control when really we had neither at the time and often found ourselves totally overwhelmed and disempowered.  This is why Complex PTSD therapist Pete Walker and trauma specialist Judith Herman remind us how important it is that we who have been traumatised deal with the inner and external criticism and blame that can be heaped on us and how important it is that we develop good boundaries and the ability to fight back if part of the way we responded to trauma was to collapse, dissociate or go numb, or fall into a pararlysis (playing dead so as to escape the threat).  Writing the last reation reminds me of how a wounded animal naturally retreats after a wound to try and heal itself by licking the wound, this kind of ‘licking’ for humans may involve repetitive thoughts or rumination which we play over and over again but if too internalised may keep us trapped.  And then to be told we ‘chose” it, just adds insult to injury.

At the same time there is something we trauma survivors do have power and control over, that is the choices me make as to how to respond to being instinct injured or damaged emotionally.  It may take a lot of time to find any form of power or control or free choice if we remain identified as victims.  The truth is we WERE victims at the time of trauma but we do not have to keep allowing ourselves to be revictimised over and over again by telling ourselves things like “I chose it”, or “I deserve it”, or “this was all for my higher good”.  In time as Peter Levine explains trauma does give us a gift of recognising how important the spiritual dimension of experience is.  If we loose touch with the power of our spirit for life, light, joy and hope, we are disempowered, once we gain access to this power we may find an inner strength and wisdom that was lacking before.  Then we can say that trauma had a purpose but not one we chose, still one the world so sorely needs to learn about and from.   We trauma victims who have in some way recovered can then become voices for what lies unspoken in our cells and biology and may even, in some way, been inherited from our ancestors who passed it on when they chose or happened to give birth to us.

Awakening 2.jpg

The link to the programme on trauma and memory can be found here :

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/trauma,-memory,-and-health/9547446

 

 

Looking for solid land through fog and mist

Many days lately a mist comes down.  It is not clear to me where I am going and maybe it only needs to be clear to me that I am being, that I am breathing, that I am inhabiting this body.  Perhaps for someone like me who has spent a lot of her life hoping to escape from painful conditions in some way this is a big sign of growth that I don’t have to hold my breath and go out into trauma but can feel instead the flesh and tissue inside me as it reverberates with these trapped imprints and feelings I am trying to release.

Over these years of working to understand the impact of numerous traumas in my life I have learned that trauma puts a tear in the fabric of your being.  The present moment and even your bodily wholeness and integrity is impinged upon by an event which cuts into you, that shreds you and breaks up the continuum of what you knew, what you felt you could trust in, rest in, depend upon.  It brings displacement, disorientation, dislocation all of those “dis” words  (is it any accident or a sign of deep synchronicity that my name starts with the initial “D”?)  And most of all a deep sense of distrust.

Need it be like this?The healing comes in knowing that the world and other people will not always traumatise you but maybe its a lesson in a deep truth that things don’t always stay the same, that pain and accidents, illness, death, loss, change all happen.  But this doesn’t really take into account the full throttle impact on your body and central nervous system that takes place in trauma, that fires it up in such a way that when it is trying to let go, there comes always a jolt that disrupts the rest, flinging you this way and that.

Every morning that I awaken this is what I encounter, for the waking itself is also fraught with the deep cellular memory of coming to consciousness after the impact of at least two major traumas that nearly caused death and that whipped and flung my body about and so I twist and turn never sure that I can put my foot down on the ground and trust that it will hold me in the morning, that I will, on this day, be able to move into the day and not be held back by trauma.  Some days I really have to fight to move out into life.

I have tried so many different kinds of body therapies over the past years and this year the closest I have come to any deeper understanding has been through my Body Harmony treatments, but lately I have had major breaks in the continuity of these treatments, its been hard to trust and surrender and over Christmas and New Year I am having to hold it together (or try to) through the most painful time of year for me without much support.  I’ve noticed particularly over the past few days I have been feeling really lost and full of grief and loneliness.

All around seem to be examples of people who are connected to love ones.  This year at Christmas I lived the truth of how fragmented our family is, of the lack of true connection.  This isn’t the truth with all family members.  I have noticed over the past year my sister and mother making attempts to understand me at a deeper level.  This has occurred only as I have had the strength to confront what seemed abusive or lacking in empathy.

Mum has her own deeply buried pain but like many of her 1920’s generation they had to “just get on with it”.  “Just put it all behind you”, she said to me today when I was telling her of some recent disappointments with friends.  I don’t argue with that kind of advice today.  Its what she has tried to do.  It is not like I want to wallow in it 24/7 but I do feel that in healing recognition only comes when we allow people to be where they are and validate that.

Lately I am experiencing deep feelings of pain and sadness over the lack of really deep, affirming connections in my life, but I must also keep positive and say that I now have two or three, its just most of the time I feel like I am surviving on crumbs or scraps of caring and its not nearly enough to sustain me.

To be honest I get more affirmation and support through my blog and from others who live this journey online that out there in daily life which at times I find very isolating.

I have received a lot of messages that aren’t helpful, telling me to try and move out from it, or run away from it, go here, do that, buy this or that, have a holiday etc etc.  But the truth for me is that my pain only transforms when I face it head on and admit the reality of it to myself, no matter how painful.  It means staying with myself and my body and my breath when things get so painful I am tempted to split off.  It means holding myself like a little baby that needs good care on the tough days and saying loving things to myself.  It means not comparing my traumatised self with that of others who have not endured that level of trauma and finding myself wanting.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t take steps to take care of me and give myself good things too, its just these days I am finding trying to run or escape from me just doesn’t work or heal me.

Some days its hard to orient myself and I need to rest. Living alone there is a lot to do to sustain my life and at times I wish I could be taken care of, that I did not have to do it all alone, or that someone would just call to ask “How are you?”.  This morning this prayer was answered, my sister called as she was thinking of me and we had a lovely chat where I really could say what I was feeling, that was such a gift to me, for a time it made the fog disappear.

When I was at the park with Jasper earlier this afternoon I had this thought.  Often after people suicide the people around them say “I wish I knew what he or she was going through” or “they should have reached out”.  This doesn’t take into account whether those around the person had enough empathy to even care or reach deeper or whether they just filled up all the available air time with their self centred life and ignored that person who spent a life time burying their painful feelings.  This isn’t to imply blame but only to say, at times when I tried to talk of my pain others would not listen, or only thought about the impact on them.

That is why it is so important to really listen and to care.  Until we can give this to ourselves however, though, I guess we can’t give it to anyone else and sometimes the suicidal person’s pain is so deep they cannot reach out or speak of it.  For me it is always a healing breakthrough when I can say this is how it is for me no matter how dark the thoughts and feelings and  be heard.  For often trauma takes our voice and without it the fog comes down, disorients us and sweeps us away.

It is true to that on each day I also have to look through the mist and fog for the sunshine things in life, places, activities, food, music and other things that dispel the gloom.  On the dark days it can be hard for these to even reach us but on the greyer days they might just make all of the difference.  In the end its a fine line between honouring how we feel and not being trapped there, feeling so lost and alone.  And maybe just maybe there are some of us who live closer to this lost, alone place.  Having endured what we have we have lived things others never will and we have been changed by that experience.  We cannot erase those memories or the pain, we can only find a way to bear them with dignity and grace, working hard not to dispel a sense of hope and gratitude for this present moment, attendant with the realisation that our present does not need to be a repeat of the past, that in acknowledging our trauma and speaking of it we can find freedom, peace and understanding.

 

 

Being present to the truth

We need to count by touching

Not by adding and subtracting

Mark Nepo

There are thoughts about life and then there is just life, pure and simple as it appears before you in all of its wondrous and at times terrible beauty, as you touch it and taste it, rather than analyse it. What is the story we make of life?  This is a question I am asking myself at present.

Recently when I started my Body Harmony therapy I got a bit offended when the therapist made mention of my being caught up in a story. I guess I thought on some level she was trying to imply that my pain was not real. This week when I just let out the feelings of deep sadness and grief I had trapped inside with very little of the story around it and she placed her hand on me knee and looked into my eyes with true deep empathy and compassion, I got it and I realised my fears that she was yet another person who was going to deny, invalidate and shut me down were unfounded?

My ideas of who people are, are not always right, (sometimes, yes, but not always). I have had two experiences this week with projecting onto two men around me in the park things that were not true when we finally began to talk. These two experiences have left me questioning my view of the world. How much of the story I make up around life and other people is actually real? How much also do I hold back after having decided something upon supposition or past fear will be detrimental to me or difficult or painful

I am not meaning to imply here that the impulse to be protected and safe while we seek healing is wrong, especially if we have been traumatised in the past.  Such damage can create so much fear of reaching out and may block us permanently.

One of the other impacts of trauma is that it captures your attention and takes it to another place where it is no longer so fully present to the sensations of today, instead we are caught up in past sensation or triggered by new ones which echo old and leave us no longer truly and fully present to the external and real in an open, feeling way.

I have tried to express this in an earlier blog about being caught between two worlds. What came up for me this week was how much the illness of my older sister took from me, how much separation came about as a consequence and how much fear of being present to life and love as a result. For some time I have been wanting to go and visit her surviving children, but I have been feeling held back. I know seeing them will bring up pain for me, but also deep joy and a part of me longs to connect while the other fears and holds back.

Another aspect of my past I relived in session this weekwas  the trauma of undergoing my first termination of pregnancy in 1983. It comes as a memory of being laid flat on my back with legs spread wide and pain going up deep inside me and spreading all through my abdomen, a terrible dragging pain which I seem to fight off every morning now when I awaken. When I am feeling all of these painful sensations and then feeling myself so powerfully pulled back to the room I sat in following the procedure with tears falling down my face, the present has faded out of consciousness.

I am being reminded by my therapist to be in present time to bring myself and my focus back to the room while still being aware of the sensation. then rather than thoughts there are deeper body sensations flowing like waves and often tears erupt which evokes a relief of the painful holding on and in. The sense of my heart faltering as tears break through to the surface of consciousness …. I am reminded of how last week when I went to the dentist and they tilted the chair back and then placed a heavy lead coat on me before taking an x-ray I was triggered back to other situations of being laid flat out on my back.

With so many of these deep body memories is it any wonder I struggle each morning to get out of bed? Its interesting to me that the more fully I feel the pain of these experiences, deeply feel it, allow it to move through me and release it, the more joyful desire I now feel to be present and engage deeply with life. My retreat into isolation all those years ago was driven by so much fear. There came a point in my sobriety where I had to begin to feel and engage in the deep pain I had buried. There was a desire to go back somewhere safe, to be in the old environment but also a resistance towards that too. It took me further 10 years to make it back to my home town and it has taken another four to begin to fully engage with the process through a number of stops, starts and replays of separation trauma where intense anger and fear came up for me.

you-cant-expect-to-have-a-deep-relationship-with-a-shallow-person

There is a joy I feel today in feeling real, in having places to go where I am truly seen below the surface by others being real who can see deeply.  Many people don’t touch that depth and they may fear it deeply, I am aware shallow may be a value judgement that doesn’t sit well with me, but I am also aware that in order to heal I need to find places of validation where I am truly seen and can be real in order to touch deeply and engage fully with what lives inside me.

For so many years all of this felt like a deep ocean that would threaten to drown me.  I needed help to navigate and deep sea dive it, it was just too much alone.  What came up too when I shed those tears about my sister and then my Dad’s sudden death was the deep understanding that all those years ago I had no place to express the pain, it got driven deep in my body, I used booze to cope, then there were the painful explosions as others drew close to someone who had a mine field of grief trapped inside her.  I felt true compassion for myself and for everyone else who wanders lost, looking and yet not truly knowing what for until that truth emerges in a difficult to find place which offers support, understanding and recognition.

It can be a long and difficult journey to find the right kind of help.  Having had so many negative experiences I can only say you know when you are in the right place with those who will help you.  it may take some time to trust if you have tried and been hurt before, but don’t stop searching until you find the place where you can be real and present to the deep truth that lives inside you,