The mental confusion of early childhood trauma

When there is not as much going on in my life I want to share information from Tian Dayton’s book Emotional Sobriety on the effects of relational trauma, that is the damage that happens to us when we are affected by early childhood abuse, trauma or lack of mirroring and empathy.  However today one of the key symptoms that is capturing my attention is distorted reasoning.  Tian writes :

Many people experience trauma within their family unit, rather than from an external source  When one’s family unit is spinning out of control, people are prone to adapt all methods of coping mechanisms – whatever they have to do to maintain feelings of connection.  Distorted reasoning – which may take the form of rationalizing and justifying bizarre or unusual forms of behavior and relations – can be immature and can also produce core beliefs about life upon which even more distorted reasoning is based.  For example “he is only hitting me because he loves me.”

I am thinking of this today as my Mum lies so ill and pumped full of chemicals in hospital.  I am thinking of how with no father she had to suffer aloneness and then be pushed to clean and clean.  Down on her kness in the bathroom she was told to ‘polish that floor until it shines’  and then she was hit or forced into domestic service.   With all this unprocessed trauma was it any wonder it was passed on to us all in different ways.  My older sister worked and worked and then drank and drank until the cerebral bleed took her down, my brother in law who eventually abandoned her was the evil one, but he too was scrambling to survive.   Amidst all of the following trauma I was scrambling to make sense of it, seeing my sister in a mythological light or struggling to understand the truth, caught up but not able to see clearly, carrying terror of abandonment into all subsequent relationships.

Lats night as I sat by my mother’s bedside and held her hand in the darkened room, an ocean of peace opened up between us.   I wept to the depths of my being as she told me she loved me.  She is very heavily drugged at the moment and chock full of toxins.  She also knows she hurt me and that we struggled at times, but what I really felt so deeply last night was the love that she tried to express in the only way she knew how.  Her own mother never once tole her she loved her, in later years she would push my mother out of the way in her desire to see my father, who she adored.   I know at times as a patriarchial Dad, my father frustrated all three of his daughers and there were a lot of times he could not give my mother the understanding she needed.   I see how my Mum was as a young person so focused on survival that emotions had to take a back seat.  Now its so sad to witness the years of trauma she has lived through as the result of her earlier emotional neglect richocheting over three generations.  My nephew made a lightening visit to see her yesterday morning driving four hours and weeping so intensely.   My heart goes out to him really, he has been through so much in past weeks all in an effort to fill the gaping mother wound in his heart (Saturn in Cancer).   He is carrying pain of many generations, that much is clear to me, as the very sensitive one.

Two other symptoms of early relational trauma are also somatic disturbances as well as memory disturbances and dissociation.  The continuity of time is warped in trauma, we don’t remember key events but they are held deep in somatic memory, however they are obscured and disjointed and may make so sense.   Due to dissociation we experience reactions to events that mirror earlier ones that may seem out of control or order.  We are then judged or judge ourselves for suffering, not fully understanding the extent of our suffering.  Re-enactment patterns and relationship issues are also a result of relational trauma in early life.   We will try in any way to make the the unconscious conscious in order to feel and heal it, but so often that involves experiencing more pain in order to connect to the original cause that my lay deeply obscured within us.   Maybe triggering traumatic events and disturbances in later relationships are ‘wake up calls’ trying to draw us towards understanding, healing and feeling.   It major work and we need so much help along the way.  We cannot do it alone and we need positive connections to heal but making them is hard when we are often attracted to what is bad for us.

With Mercury planet of mind and communications moving backward through the meaning making sign of Sagittarius this month and back towards a confusing square (or crisis aspect) with the planet of distorting Neptune, issues of mental confusion may be highlighted but the unconscious which Neptune also rules may be trying to get our attention in all kinds of ways.  Who can we trust for validation when our thinking and ability to make sense of our experience may be essentially wounded or thwarted and distorted in some way by past relational trauma or lack of mirroring?   It is so important that we find the right avenues to deepen in understanding and heal our minds as well as our hearts, souls and bodies.

Mars the planet of self assertion is moving into trine Neptune over the next two weeks or so, so a flow of healing may open up in many of our lives, a push to move forward in love and compassion in order to find freedom from past hurt, its what I am feeling very deeply this morning.   We cannot avoid the mental distortions that are a part of trauma but we can, in later life work for more clarity and insight.    Information on how trauma can discombobulate us is essential for our emotional recovery.

To be part of a loving family

Having my nephew and his daughter here for these past days (two now) has been so lovely.  Today I cried a lot (silently) about how lonely and hard the disconnection we suffered due to my sister’s trauma and Dad’s death was.  When I hugged my little grand niece this morning and she looked at me with so much love in her soft brown eyes, my heart just swelled.  I remembered how it felt to be so small, open, soft and vulnerable but also strong and wise, yet confused by all the adults around me.   I was aware I did not want to pass any of my sadness onto her as it is my sadness to hold and carry, not hers to feel or heal for me.   I felt how lovely it was last night to share a meal all together in my little cottage with my dog Jasper under the table bathing in the connection and love wagging his tail.   I know in two days they will be leaving and I will miss them so much but I will have these good memories to sustain me.  Today my nephew and I talked of past things and I found out some things I didn’t know.   I will always be so grateful for these moments of reconnection.   There has been so much aloneness and disconnection my life and a lot of fear around reconnecting.  I need to keep remembering the fear is about past loss.   Loss I will never be able to change, but that loss does not need to be the final word.   At least for now.

Experiencing flow with our parents

How well our own life and energy flows depends on the flow of connection we experienced with both our parents, and if we examine the issue more deeply our own parents ability to connect both with themselves and us has a great deal to do with how strongly they were connected with or disconnected from their own parents.  As children we have very strong radars, we can feel a parent’s disconnection or suffering.  There are often no words for this at first as according to Mark Wolynn

“early interuptions in general can be difficult to discern, because the brain is not equipped to retrieve our expriences in those first few years of life.  The hippocampus, the part of the brain asssociated with forming, organizing, and storing memories, has not fully developed its connection to the prefrontal cortex (the part of that brain that helps us interpret our experiences) until some time after the age of two.  As a result, the trauma of an early separation would be stored as fragments of physical sensations, images, and emotions, rather than as clear memories that can be pieced into a story.  Without the story, the emotions and sensations can be difficult to understand.

If a parent was difficult to connect with it may also have been a result of some earlier trauma in their own life which affects them in unconscious ways.  As we try to bond we may either feel we long to merge with their pain and heal it, we may feel the need to reject them due to feeling we were rejected, our bond may be interrupted with them or we may attempt to bond with someone else in the family system.  According to Wolynn these are the four attempts we can make unconsciously to deal with the innate need we all have to connect, bond and attach to others and what happens to us as our attempts are frustrated does leave powerful imprints.

According to Mark Wolynn we can work with the broken connection and come to a deeper understanding of the four unconscious solutions we reached for to deal with disconnection.  We can do this by using a visualisation to help us feel if we welcome a parent’s energy or shut it out.  If we sense them as welcoming us.  Sensing how we experience the energy of both mother and father differently.   How relaxed or tight our body feels when visualising the flow of energy from them and to us, also by sensing how much of the flow of energy is getting through from them to us and vice versa in a percentage.

In the next post I will share a powerful visualisation that appears on page 70 of Mark’s book to work with your mother’s energy and her history.  When I did it just a while ago I had such a powerful emotional reaction and release which filled me with the deepest compassion for and understanding of my mothers own pain.  I truly felt it to be transformative.

On some level I always knew I had unconsciously merged with much of my mother’s past and present suffering, most especially after my father died.  Taking on a parent’s pain in this way is not healthy as it reverses the order of life which is that the parent gives life to the child so they can grow and move forward in life and yet life is never perfect and so often full of all kinds of trauma disconnection, unconscious reactions and interruptions.  I hope to be able soon to be able to live with this understanding without it affecting my life as deeply and constantly keeping me full of fear that when I spend time around my Mum I will be overpowered by her grief or suffering.   I so long to feel free enough to move forward from past pain and trauma over what I didnt get so I can embrace a life that is full of true connection with others, no longer shadowed and dogged by past interruptions to the flow of both opening and and giving.

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.

Finding connection through disconnection after trauma

Some people just get us.  Some people are an energy of love that you can just feel.   When you are with them your heart opens and you feel your energy lift.  They don’t subtly or so unsubtly invalidate you or put you down.  When you have not known this kind of pure love and open heartedness it can be so easy to distrust.  And we sensitive ones do need to be careful at times who we open up to as a lot of people may blame or shame us.  But still I do think there are also those out there who recognise our high sensitivity.

I often wonder how much less sensitive we may have been in a better or more self protective way if this side of us was seen, acknowledged or valued earlier on.  Traumatic things hit us hard and Peter Levine, the trauma expert makes the point that how we are treated immediately after trauma affects how well we recover.  In my own case I was on the other side of the world so far from family support when my second trauma hit and I escaped there as to be around their energy felt violent emotionally to me.  After the accident I struggled to find a safe space then freaked out and came back home.  It was a night mare.

I retreated alone and then got into a relationship with someone who brutalised me when I showed grief.  I justified how he treated me and kept going back because I did not know I needed more.  I was not kind to myself and had never learned really to value who I was and my capacity to feel.  I put down alcohol and smoking at 31 as I really wanted to live in a kinder way but that was just the beginning of understanding how the energies of others around me affected me and how I was responding.  As I look back over the past six years of being back near family I see I have struggled to maintain my own boundaries and self care with all the other traumas that followed especially the attempted suicide of my other sister.

Not one family member has chose to do any emotional work at all.  I try to point things out but it is often like trying to lead a horse to water.  And I am beginning to see that by myself I suffer in a family at times where feelings and sensitivities have to be so hidden and that is physically so repressed and non demonstrative.  I see how my living sister uses exercise herself to connect in the absence of the love and holding that is really needed.  These days I only see one or two friends who I can really connect with and often I think my body is suffering and crying out for holding care and love.  Maybe it is time for me to start to seek out some kind of touch therapy and holding, I have been considering Reiki.

I have often come to grief with holding therapies.  I had the accident after a session of cranio sacral.  The second time I tried it I freaked out with the therapist and she shamed and invalidated me so much I left, letting someone into your body when you have suffered traumas to it and violations of it is fraught with peril and such big feelings but at the moment I think it may help to release some of what my tissues have had to hold so deep inside over past years.

I am sharing about this today and the synchronicity with astrology is that today Mercury is in the body ruled sign of Virgo which relates to earth mother and is coming up to oppose natal Chiron in the seventh which is all my wounds in relationships from the past and maybe that is healing now as on WordPress I now seem to have made so many good connections with people who truly validate and understand.   It helps me to write about all of this and what others post really prompts and awakens my own healing.  In this way I make connections in all kinds of ways and that is the work of Mercury who travels and links us.  Today I as I was walking I was imagining the entire world as a web of interconnected energies.  Who we meet with and connect with on any day has such a powerful impact on us for good or ill and surely there people out there who we could really gel with but just never get to meet.  In any case here is where I get to share and pour out the way I feel and I am so grateful for that.

Anger with my therapist leads to deeper reflection

I found myself feeling a lot of anger towards my therapist, Kat yesterday.  The intensity of what my body goes through on any day and any night as a result of having recently had this tooth removed on the back of a traumatic head injury at occurred after a time I so needed family support and was once again denied it at the end of my marriage bites me hugely.  I feel like I have giant incisor like wounds from that bite lodged in my psychic flesh and over the past few nights of the eclipse I have been bang awake between 3 and 5 with all these powerful sensations coursing through my body as my mind has struggled to make sense of the tangled up jigsaw pieces of the past 17 years of struggle to find and make sense of my true feelings and find a centre of self in the messy conglomerate of energies within and without which like wild currents and eddies swirl this way and that, at times setting up huge surge like storms of ‘meness’ and then at other taking me down with the powerful centrifugal undertow of black inky sludge drowning me completely and making it hard to draw a free breath!!!

I am angry that Kat didn’t seem to even remember the piece of writing I actually read to her last Thursday, I had to read it all over again and I was feeling so tired,  she is my fucking therapist why can’t she remember, why doesn’t she take the time to read my blog before I go to a session so she can help me a bit, for fucks sake its only one hour and reading three or four blogs to catch up is exhausting because often when I write the feelings are there simmering away under the surface and only emerge when I read them in session which now that I write it just goes to show if she did read it then that wouldn’t happen so why am I getting so mad?  I still am because I have to work so fucking hard at times and there is so much to get through in session.

I do know why I am angry though.  This is old anger.  I have had fuck all help in my life in the way that really mattered.  I didn’t need money thrown at me, I needed a parent who got me, and was there emotionally not one who consistently abandoned me and then told me I was a late developer when I shared I got into sobriety.  Yeah Mum it was all my fault that I drank in a situation in which so many painful feelings were going down that I didn’t know how to deal with in the absence of support, after a major traumatic injury at 17 that I never got any help to deal with later only to be followed six months later by even less care available due to my sister’s aneurysm occuring with all the complications that followed all at a time I was trying to develop and mature.  Fuck That!!!

Yet even as I write this and consider my last post about the poor fit between a mother and child that leaves the child, lost, confused, split off from her body and feelings and lacking self containment and integrity of being I realise that I must accept my mother went through the same with her mother and so just passed down the wound. The anger is understandable that I feel but it wont help me unless I use it to drive a deeper understanding and also to set boundaries so that I don’t open up and share intimate emotional stuff she is likely to dismiss, deny or be confused about herself.

So its probably not really even my therapist I am really angry with but with the entire sad history of a child who came to not be able to understand, express, or even tolerate her own feelings and then became an addict, only to get sober and be told it was the result of ‘character defects’ which just reinforces the scapegoats idea fixee of being the ‘bad’, ‘wrong’ or damaged one, inherently flawed in some way.

I don’t actually remember in the rooms of AA being given any help to understand my own feelings.  I do remember sitting there in meetings and crying my eyes out as other’s shared from such a damaged split off place, full of self blame and self denigration.  It broke my heart in two.  And then in Al Anon meetings I got the askance looks from those trying to whip alcoholic loved ones into shape with their own self righteousness not getting for a moment the suffering or deeper dilemma the person concerned was going through.   I remember not being hugged after a meeting or reached out to after I shared from a deep well of pain.

I know it probably wasn’t their job but I do feel that once our buried feelings begin to open up in sobriety we need some form of encouragement and affirmation from others to assist us and yet even that hope or demand has hidden deep in the centre of it a hope or demand that is loaded with the sadness and longing of deep needs of long ago for the parent’s unconditional love, understanding, mirroring and acceptance of feelings; needs we never got to fully understand or contain.

In the end, as I was discussing with Kat yesterday, perhaps no one now can give us enough to make up for what we lost or never received in the first place.  Such an empty void or space in the place where we most needed to be met, filled up, affirmed, received  must be acknowledged, deeply understood and grieved.  And then we must meet the challenge of finding ways to fill our lives with the good energy of connection and love, learning how to understand, feel and tolerate all our feelings.   Being or becoming the good loving mother and father to ourselves so that ultimately we don’t end up re-enacting our emptiness, wound or anger on others or keep ourselves lost and trapped inside the deep dark desolate place of that emptiness.

I do wonder now, though, if we end up alone with no life partner and disconnected from so many friends due to the wounds we have carried driving so many away from us in misunderstanding how sweet can life be?  Can we really fill ourselves up from the life font or spring of spirit that was meant to flow within and through us and can that be enough?

Its obvious to me now that the hyper sensitivity that so many of us feel who were not met or received in the needed ways, grew larger in the absence of such love and care.  The burden of our so called ‘over sensitivity’  needs to be understood and we need to make sure that we don’t blame ourselves while at the same time learning to take responsibility for the wound we carry in terms of taking care of ourselves, learning to be open, vulnerable and honest to ask for what we need rather than demand it or get shitty when it doesn’t just come automatically.

We also need an awareness of the real failures of others which came from the limits of their own capacity to be fully embodied themselves, a wound that seems to plague so many in a technologically driven modern society that has grown increasingly removed from the natural and soulful elements in vibrant earthly life.   To begin to feel that love means that we open ourselves body and soul to the soft caress of the sun on skin, to the luxuriant feeling of sea water on flesh, to the sheer love that shines in our dog’s eyes as he runs to great us, to the joy of feeling our free spirit express its bounty through dance, movement and song.

It surely means we open up again to try to find the love and containment we missed from a loving mother’s arms in places and spaces where it does exist.  And it also means that we as ones who have been damaged and know the cause and consequences of such disconnection and damage make a stand in a world where sensitivity and depth is so often not championed.  For the pain our souls have suffered has perhaps highlighted for us how essential such an earthly connection to life, feeling and nature is and to the deeper realisation that the wound to the mother that leads to severing from body and deep feeling is one we end up enacting on the earth and ourselves over and over again if we don’t fully face, feel and speak for the painful and agonising consequences of its loss or absence.

Burn clean

The good thing about just being able to get your mess out there on the blank open page is that you get to see the convoluted workings of your own mind, emotions and insides.  That is how I am feeling today on the back of an inner conflict which sparked a lot of old trauma imprints.  I saw what it stirred up and then when that was out there I could look a little deeper to expectations that I see I have been carrying and are perhaps not at all realistic and the part others played in reaction to things I was doing and choices I was making and living out of unconsciously.  I then got to feel a bit ashamed about some stuff I posted.  But I am going to be an adult and just cop the feelings and keep it out there.  Others can see quite clearly that by no means have I got it together in any significant way.  That like everyone out there I really struggle on a daily basis with just being human, and keeping an open heart and mind.

I am still in many ways working my way out of the slimy sludge of my family of origin which was a family of great trauma too.  Its taken me some years to understand this.  In later years all of the female side of our family have struggled with physical, mental and emotional health issues due to faulty mothering.  I had a very deep insight and vision the other day in therapy when I was sharing a poem about my body and longing with my therapist about the wounding replayed in my last relationships.  As I was reading it I had a vision of a deep vortex spiralling down beneath my feet and swirling around inside the flow of the vortex were my mother and my ex partner’s mother and lower down their mothers and then their mother’s mothers and so on an on and on.  I was sharing with my therapist how I believe this vision was about both the vortex of trauma that Peter Levine speaks of as well as the spiral cadeaucus of the DNA helix that we all carry.

I feel we have all been collectively for some time living out this deep mother wound.  By some kind of coincidence yesterday I turned the television on to see a documentary about a woman aboriginal artist who was speaking about her sculptures of the Black Madonna which is a healing figure showing up in a lot of dreams collectively at the moment and is dealt with by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman in many of her books which centre around her work with those who have had deep mothering wounds..

Marion has worked with many people with addictions and eating disorders.  Her work focuses on the w0unding of childhood abandonment and other mother issues that is manifesting globally.  She speaks a lot about conscious femininity and also about the wounding of the patriachal age that we are coming out of and suffering the consequences of. It is very much evident in how our addictions run us, how woman are mistreated and how the soft feminine side in men also struggles to express and live.  It is also reflected in the way we as the human race abuse the planet and fall out of relationship with our own inner cycles. Could we be collectively struggling with the outworking of a deep wound of collective PTSD which is asking us to heal and become more conscious of the forces of love and hate that manifest in and through our conflicts, bodies, cells and lives?  This is Marion’s idea and it resonates with me.

I have just been reading a book called The Inner Voice of Love it is an interesting book which speaks of how wounds can run us and of how healing happens through our wounds being tended to lovingly and recognised. In one chapter the author, Paul Ferrini says its pointless to say positive affirmations, it is far more powerful to acknowledge where our negativity runs us and in fully feeling and consciously acknowledging it, release it.  He speaks of how we can run everywhere with our wounds looking for love, stuck in victim consciousness and forgetting that only being love, feeling love for ourselves in all our dark and light brings us back to love.  When I read this book which I have had for over 12 years I feel set straight and deeply refreshed in some way, sometimes I feel close to tears or tears well up in deep recognition which seem to wash my hurting soul clean.

Its funny that I named this blog at the outset Burn Clean and along the week of writing and rewriting I have come down to this idea of a soul being washed clean by deeper recognitions that come out of lovingly tending wounds.  Burning and burning something only ends in a pile of ash.  Maybe the water put on those ashes of spent anger turn the ash to clay and make them somehow workable.  These are metaphors I have used in a poem a while back which I will link to in this blog a little later.  I get anxious to post my posts often and later like to refine them.

Today I am feeling a little lonely and sad. My Mum was hospitalised today for the second time in emergency due to a problem with infections in her legs. Today it was my sister who stayed with her, the other day my Mum asked me to leave the hospital and get on with my own life.  I cried a lot.   “Please don’t push me away.”  I said.  It is coming up to the time of year I was pushed away over seas after my father died.  She expressed pain that her wounds are affecting me.  “But isn’t that love?’  I asked.  I did end up going and it may have been for the best as I had therapy that afternoon.  In the end Mum got a taxi home.

Today my sister stayed with my Mum. I need to remember my sister got more support from my mother than I ever did, from the earliest time I was pushed away and maybe that is my fate.  Maybe I should stop fighting it.  Being pushed away, left alone led me to addiction. I am now 23 years out of that.  Painful mother wounds linger.  My male female relationships have all ended, the last around this time of year too.  But when I feel the impact and the loneliness, you know what?  In some way the pain burns clean. When I cry I recognise the wound that goes back over many generation and did not just happen to me but to my ancestors too.

Maybe this fate is one I must carry and who knows if the future holds another love, another chance at connection for me and another chance to heal the wounds with someone where our defences against hurt don’t end up pushing us both away.

One thing I do know, though, as long as I connect to my own deep soul I am truly never alone. I am truly connected and I know I matter, to life, to love, to me and as much as I long to matter to someone else I know it is something I cannot demand but must flow naturally if it is meant to be.

On getting lost

I tend to get lost without realising I have become lost.  I might not make any sense to some.  It can take a while for me to see that I am slowly loosing a boundary, beginning to empathise deeply with others but then moving deeply and projecting myself into their world, perhaps seeking attention, recognition or affection.  I am noticing lately that a part of me rushes forward energetically with a desire to get connected to that person very quickly.  This is when problems can start for me as I tend to invest them with a lot of power and put myself behind the eight ball.  It is a very subtle dynamic and it must be a sign of my emotional growth and recovery that I am beginning to notice that this is what I do.

I am beginning to realise it all stems back to my primary relationship with Mum and Dad and my early bonding experiences which were unstable and subject to lots of changes and chaos.  I also have an experience of being very small and alone and looking around for someone and finding no one.  Accidents would then happen, or I would get bored and get up to mischief.  I would also get very confused.

One other deeply primal imprint I think concerns my older sister’s romance and marriage which took her away overseas when I was only 3, she was the one person who spent consistent time with me, and later, as as teenager, when she returned she took me for holidays.  Mum and Dad always worked and never took any time off apart from 2 weeks at Christmas, but even then everyone was older and I was left in the car alone for hours while they went into the golf club for drinks.

When Judy returned we had lovely holidays together but only for a week or so and as she lived in another town I had to go home then, I remember being so sad and wishing something would happen so I could stay with her and her family.  Later she drank a lot and was encouraging me to drink too, from my early teens onward, it wasn’t a very healthy dynamic.

Anyway I am now becoming more and more aware on a bodily level of a deep void and hunger within me from these times and from the fact my way of coping was to look to addictions as a substitute.  I see I carried that hunger most especially into my last relationship and my pain over parental disconnecting and emotional abandonment was played out within it.

A lot of grief is around and within me over the current period.  I am becoming aware of father hunger, which has been raised by making a tentative connection with someone at a group meeting on the weekend.  I had asked for the person’s number and he had given it to me.  I wanted to call but I was very aware of not connecting from a place of hunger and emptiness, especially at a painful time of year connected with my Dad’s illness and sudden death, as well as with my sobriety birthday.

Yesterday I found myself on You Tube listening to old songs from the 70s, the time of my adolescence when Dad and I did connect sometimes and crying and crying and crying. And I cried a lot today after receiving a text from my new friend telling me of meetings he is going to over the next few days.  I felt so raw.  I felt so scared to connect.  What if I cry?  What if I break down?  In my mind are all the memories of being abused by my narcissistic ex when I broke down then, it hurts so much to think of how mean he could be.

Funny how the Higher Power works though.  Yesterday just after listening to 7 or 8 of my favourite 70s songs, my sister’s youngest son rang me.  We had the most honest and connected conversation.  I was able to tell him what I was going through about Dad and even cried about my ex’s treatment of me. I told him how much I have been beating myself up lately too.  He just listened and understood.  It was so healing to talk to him.

I feel sure all of this grief is perfectly natural. In a way it is a big blessing to be able to feel it.  Last night I watched a documentary made by UK rapper Professor Green on his father’s suicide.  Prof G. was looking for reasons his father, who was an inconsistent presence in his life, may have taken his life.  What he found was so sad and moving.  What came out of this doco for me though was, that in the end he just needed to cry, all the seeking for answers and reasons of course was necessary but not the essential work of healing.  The need to feel his feelings around it was more important.  He finally managed to tap into them with a therapist toward the end of the programme.

When I feel into my own grief, I feel my soul entering me more fully, or me entering more fully my soul.  I guess I know I wont lose myself any more if I can just stay present and recognise what the prospect of getting close to someone can trigger for me.  I hope I wont get lost again, but that for as long as I need to I can get lost in grief, at least for as long as it takes to heal.

The terrible impact of low nurturance

There is a book that I ordered from Amazon quiet a while back and it was recommended to me by a therapist.  Born for Love :  Why empathy is essential and endangered.  I haven’t read it all yet but I am very interested in the chapter No Mercy where authors Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry lay out the case of a teenage junior prom guy who invited a disabled girl to his party in order to rape her and make fun of her in front of her friends.  Perry is trying to get to the bottom of how such a horrendous lack of feeling and empathy for someone could develop in a person raised in what seemed to be a ‘good home’.

It is clear that Ryan, the guy in question, is a sociopath and Szalavitz and Perry go into his background in detail.  Raised by two affluent and successful parents, his mother’s idea of nurturing her baby and child was spending one hour a day with Ryan.  The rest of the time Ryan’ care was farmed out to a succession of nannies, 18 in all over the first 3 years of his life.  By 3 Ryan had become a ‘good’ child, he no longer cried or showed any distress.  He was clearly the victim of disrupted attachment and so had learned from a very early age that if he wanted to survive he must repress all need for attachments.  Why not? As soon as he got close to a nanny she left, his way of coping was to learn to ‘be good’ and need no one and to look to things for comfort.  Later in life he developed a bullying style.

Before he even started kindergarten the emotional part of his brain had become stunted and began to function abnormally…his capacity for empathy was underdeveloped and immature (he was selfish), it was disorganised (he got no pleasure or soothing from reciprocal relationships), and ultimately it was non functional (he was incapable of being empathetic).

Lack of consistent care and nurturing in the first few years of our life strongly affects both the development of our brain and our emotions as well as the development of empathy within us.  These actions actually affect the presence of neurotransmitters in the brain such as oxytocin and dopamine, both essential to mood regulation, bonding and our capacity to self soothe.

Being subject to a number of broken bonds or severed attachments in Ryan’s case was extreme, the many broken attachments set up a stressful environment in Ryan’s brain that had a clear impact on his later life, together with other environmental factors concerned with his parent’s disconnected emotional style which placed value only on externals.

Perry and Szalavitz outline research undertaken by a colleague of Michael Meaney, director for the Programme for the Study of Behaviour, Genes and Environment at McGill University in the United States which shows how early life events affected stress responses in rats.

Meany’s research focused on mother rat’s nurturing style and found that those rat mothers who showed greater affection and soothing towards their offspring actually decreased the stress response within their offspring’s brains.  To make sure it was not just a case of genetic transmission, Meany used a trial group of rats born to low affection/nurturance rat mothers and fostered them to high affection/nurturane mothers.  The trial group’s brain chemistry and behaviour was positively affected by the nurturing behaviour in a way the non trial group’s were not.  The results as outlined in the book show clearly that the way in which we are or are not nurtured does affect our brain chemistry and development and in addition it causes changes in our DNA.

Outlined in the book are the other factors that contributed to Ryan developing such a ‘cold’ personality.  The affluence of his family environment, coupled with the a string of consecutive broken attachments, the sense of entitlement passed down by his parents, together with the idea that money, status, physical and intellectual prowess, and power placed him far above others were other contributing factors, meant he developed into a person who was financially rich but emotionally impoverished.  In addition his parents also failed Ryan, excusing his bullying behaviour when it was bought to their attention, failing to teach him that others, no matter what their status and intelligence level deserve respect, love, care and empathy.

Does Ryan deserve our empathy?  I will have to leave the answer with you.  Certainly his behaviour was inexcusable and he was punished for it, but by showing the very real forces in his background Perry and Szalavitz make a number of interesting points and conclusions while deepening our insight into the factors within which lead to a lack of empathy.

They conclude:

We ignore the emotional needs of our children at our peril.  Mix child illiteracy with an individualistic culture that promotes competition instead of collaboration, add a melange of electronic media that can be isolating and violent and can reduce time spent socialising, and you create a world where empathy is threatened…. a society where everyone is just bit less connected to each other, where we all find nurturing one another just a bit less rewarding.

 

Unhooking from the Narcissist : Our journey in the Wilderness

I am not as preoccupied with narcissists and narcissism recently as I was for all of those confusing, painful years when I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on with my last romantic partner and my families responses to my own grief and emotional pain over years.

Learning about my own emotional neglect from childhood which I have shared about in other posts helped me to see how I was set up for this kind of relationship by an unmet and unfulfilled pit of emotional hunger and need.  Finally finding myself a completely emotionally available therapist who is capable of 100 percent empathy has helped me enormously and without this I may still have been left alone starving in a lonely cold wilderness of confusion, repressed anger, thwarted longing and self blame, which is where a lot of us carrying these kinds of wounds end up.

In the past  I have thought of this situation as being like a hungry dog starving for scraps and yesterday I read just such a description of the same thing on another blog.  Reading about other people’s struggles to unhook, the utter pain and desolation of finally recognising that we are powerless to effect any change or get much in the way of recognition from those whose love, attention and respect we longed for I am filled with compassion, but a part of me also is anxious for them to unhook, knowing the back lash that comes when we try repeatedly to engage and point out what is happening to them.  In the long run frustration and the bitter pain of repeated disappointment and outrage is the bitter medicine we must swallow in order to learn how essential it is for our emotional health and sanity to unhook.

In this quest it helps enormously to have somewhere we can go to vent the pain.  The narcissists in our life won’t hear us, and in fact we will be blamed or made to feel ashamed for trying to point out how their lack of empathy is wounding us.  This does not mean that we should not express how we feel to them.  Their response to our attempts to do this may make some change, in some cases. In other cases we will be hurt again and our quest to be heard will fall on deaf ears.  Painful as this is it will show us who and what we are really dealing with and help us in the boundary creating process which is our first line of defence against investing in further painful relationships where old patterns are repeated.

In her book on emotional neglect  Running on Empty, therapist Jonice Webb helps us to learn to develop the skills of  connecting with and learning to express our emotions.  Tapping into our feelings is the most important tool we have to deal with the painful consequences of being raised in families and by people where true emotional expression of all the feelings of our true self were not permitted or blocked in some way.

Jonice recommends that when we have any painful emotional encounter we need to speak about it with someone and unpack the feelings.  This is where I do believe sites and blogs which give us air time are so important, most especially if we are struggling in the wilderness alone and without close friends or a good therapist.  We need someone as we cannot heal totally in isolation and there is a saying in recovery circles “we are only as sick as our secrets”.

I was helped in my own recovery online at a very critical time of pain when I found an wonderful blog by an adult child of narcissistic parents late in 2013 who was a long way along in her own healing process.  She kindly published a poem I had written about the past most recent painful relationship with a narcissist on her own site and then recommended I start blogging myself.

I was deeply unsure how my writing would be received but I made a tentative beginning and when my oldest sister died I was so grateful to have a place I could pour out all of the grief.  At that stage I was struggling to find a good consistent therapist.  I was carrying a huge bag of unresolved trauma and rage, much of it turned in upon myself for feeling I had failed in not recognising how stuck I had been in unhealthy relationships and how poor my own inter personal boundaries were.  I had a lot of work to do to learn to love and forgive myself for wounds that were compounded and were never my own fault in the beginning.

I feel so blessed now to know I am a long way along the road of healing.  I can now recognise red flags.  I am able to set boundaries.  I have made several attempts to express and process my pain with family members.  The first reactions were typical of narcissists but in the end when I held my boundaries my experience has been that there have been some changes.  My only remaining sister actually apologised to me a year or so ago.  Other attempts to address pain have not gone so well and I have been blamed, but by holding firm and refusing to engage in their ‘change back’ tactics I have been able to unhook.  I can now even laugh at things that would have sent me into a rage just over a year ago. In short I feel I have reclaimed my life and my energy through the tough process of mourning, raging, being confused, spun about then reconnected at a deep level with my own emotional truth.

I am very proud of the fact that I have managed just over a month’s break now from my therapist.  She has been sending me a little email every week, which is what I asked for when she left.  I am getting very excited as we will be meeting tomorrow afternoon and there is so much to share with her.

I think this break has been important as I have had so much loss, there have been so many times others have walked away from me and there has been no way to process that pain or resolve things.  Katina’s return after this break will be a reminder to my soul that leavings don’t always necessarily result in endings.  Thought I know in time my therapy will end, I will always have the good Katina inside me, that fully loving consistent presence that my mother could not be due to her own wounds and history.  I cannot fully express how this relationship has helped me.  It is easier to unhook from what is unhealthy when we have a healthy place to go, that is what I have learned.

Family scapegoats who carry the rejected feelings get sent out into the wilderness, or we have to escape there to find some kind of safety and connection, even if it is only with ourselves and the terrible pain of our w0unded and torn about insides.  In that wilderness a lot of healing can happen for us if we seek it in the right places (and we may have to go to a lot of wrong places on that journey too).

In that wilderness many of us come home to the starving child or ravenous hungry dog inside of us that needs so much succour, nurturing, feeding, empathy, self soothing and healing.  And hopefully in that wilderness we find other scapegoats too, those who understand and mirror our wounds, those who help the wounded scapegoat to recognise they we not ugly ducklings but a beautiful swans still seeking that true family and place of belonging which is the true home of our soul and can only be found deep within and in fecund rather than desolate places.