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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxious In Love, p. 98

The dark place of abandonment

Being made to believe we are not okay as we are and certainly not deserving of someone’s love and relationship does affect us so very deeply.  I am revisiting the work of abandonment therapist Susan Anderson lately.  I was lucky to be guided towards her book From Abandonment to Healing just over 13 years ago when my marriage ended and I found myself in a very dark place.

This was not the first time as abandonment has been a pretty much constant theme for me starting with my older much loved sister leaving home when I was only 3 to marry and start her own family and live overseas.  My Mum wasn’t emotionally available to me at all, she worked all the time and when she was home we had to duck and weave around her compulsive cleaning, there was never a place to rest and my Dad also vacated through his own addictions (minor ones) when he was around he wasn’t really there.  Later in life after I nearly lost my life at the tender age of 17 in a motor vehicle smash up he was hard line forcing me to go to secretarial college in the painful aftermath of my older sister’s breakdown and cerebral bleed.  Later I saw her abandoned too at her most vulnerable time and was back at home when she tried to take her life in 1982 when I was only 20 years old.

Dad ended up dying when I was only 23 and that was followed by my then partner (who I had two terminations of pregancy to), ringing me at 4 am in the morning just a few days after my father died to tell me not to bother joining him overseas as he didn’t love me any more and had found someone else.  Do you believe that later when our paths crossed in Greece I slept with him only to come home one night and find him in bed with someone else only to be accused of being ‘mad’ when I reacted to it poorly?  Luckily at that time I was with other friends in Greece and the owner of our B and B deplored my ex’s behaviour.  Never the less I internalised the abandonment seeing it as due to a flaw in me.

I won’t go into the pain of three more similar ‘leavings’ of exs over a period of 18 more years, often on the back of being told there was something wrong with me.  What that ‘something’ I now know was terror and fear pure and simple and Susan Andersons’ newer book which I just bought Taming The Outer Child : Overcoming Self Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment explains how very real changes in our neurochemistry involving the amygdala leave us with an over active fear, flight and fight response which is automatically triggered in any new relationship or prospective interaction  (and not only with new potential partners, from my experience).  This reactive pattern she gives the name Outer Child and it can sabotage and lay to waste new connections but not only that leaves us with cumulative Post Traumatic Stress as a result of our abandonment trauma or ‘schemas’.

Anderson.jpg

As I sat with my sister yesterday after she tried on the clothes I bought for her and saw how much of her self love had been decimated I thought it is criminal what people are telling her, I know her fixation on clothes and looking good are symptoms of her abandonment but its not only that, the roulette wheel of psychiatrists and medications has left her depleted, she went down the exercise route but withouth any psycho dynamic therapy and no emotional recovery buddies.  She is not able to express and read as I am and that works against her.   I know new clothes will not fix that deeper wound to her self esteem but I think it doesn’t hurt to be there to try as it’s getting so much colder here and she has no warm jumpers and when people tell her ‘its all in her head as she has lots of clothes’, that to my mind is pretty invalidating and harsh.

I seem to have gone a little off track here but what I am trying to address in this post is how our abandonment at another’s hands can leave us questioning our own use, meaning, value, beauty and goodness and how healing involves not internalising those feelings from someone else.  In her earlier book Anderson uses the acronym S.W.I.R.L. to describe the process of working through a recent abandonment which may trigger far earlier ones.  (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalisation, Rage, Lifting).

The true abandonment as adults is then self abandonment which occurs as we internalise false beliefs about our value and worth and fail to understand or validate reactions to abandonment and its deeper triggers. For sure we may not be perfect and have wounds and scars and reaction patterns we need to understand and work with : the process Anderson outlines in the second book, but we are not worthless because we have been abandoned or gone through loss and all our feelings and reactions make complete sense once we understand their roots and work to understand our own history and self sabotaging behaviours.

From this position we should be showing compassion to those who have suffered emotional abandonment not be taking out a big stick to hit them over the head with.   For healing involves compassion, wisdom and tenderness both to others and to our inner child that bleed from very real wounds in earlier life.

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.

Understanding alexithymia and building emotional depth if you were emotionally neglected.

I have written several detailed posts on Childhood Emotional Neglect.  One of the painful symptoms is alexithymia which is a complex name for a condition in which you are often out of touch with your deepest feelings.  As a result you may often feel confused, irritable or angry for seemingly ‘no’ reason, mystified by the behaviour of others.  You may also feel like something is missing inside of you, have friendships which lack depth and substance, including the ability to share and feel comfortable with expressing feelings.  You may also suffer from suicidal feelings and not really know the where they come from.

This kind of thing dates back to a childhood where you were emotionally neglected, left alone a lot of the time without a lot of support or attention in contrast to being violently or overtly abused or led to believe it was not okay to express difficult emotions such as anger or sadness.  Such scars and deficits left run deep and are invisible and even mystifying to yourself, since you were given next to no help with understanding your feelings, led to believe they don’t make any sense or should be ignored, over-ridden or put to one side.

In her book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, therapist Jonice Webb addresses the issue of trying to heal from this kind of thing through developing emotional intelligence and insight into your feelings but another important skill to learn is sharing how you do feel with others while taking the risk that it just might lead to abandonment.

Taking this kind of risk runs exactly contrary to what those of us who have been emotionally neglected or forced out of touch with our feelings have been forced to do if there was no one there to tell or depend in childhood.  Instead we learn to be super independent, feel we should not ‘bother’ others or be a ‘downer’ or a ‘burden’ to others.  But in an emotionally healthy relationship its okay to express and share feelings as this builds intimacy, connection and emotional depth.

In addition, if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect we may feel that we are all ‘too much’, especially if we learn to substitute larger more dramatic emotions and blows ups for the balanced expression of true semotion which we probably never learned or saw modelled in our family of origins growing up.  Jonice recommends in her book that instead we seek out those who are trustworthy as far as feelings are concerned, are willing to listen, support and understand.  Futhermore, she recommends taking risks to :

tell (others) your problem to see if it does help you to manage your feelings  in order to test out :

if they are used against you,

if the person runs away,

is burdened by it,

accuses you of ruining their day/night

or gives you the feeling that you are ‘weak’ or that there is something wrong with you for feeling that way…

These kind of reactions according to Jonice are signs that this particular person is not really the best kind of friend for us in the circumstances, that they may actually be like an unsupportive parent and therefore not healthy to be around long term if we really wish to build greater depth and emotional rapport which are so essential to those of us who were emotionally neglected in childhood.

Further more, in terms of understanding the symptom of alexithymia versus emotional awareness which we need to develop as we recover, Jonice points out that the following treatment by parents in childhood is often behind our disconnection from feeling and our emotional life.

  1. The parent doesn’t pay attention to the child’s feelings.
  2. The parent doesn’t make an effort to feel what their child is feeling
  3. The parent doesn’t help the child to find and form words for what they are feeling.
  4. The parent doesn’t help the child to draw connections between what has happened to them and how they are feeling in reaction or guilts or shames then for such a reaction.
  5. The parent does not make emotions an important part of nurturing the child.

If this is the way your parents raised you, then it’s no wonder you developed alexithymia as a result.  It will take time and a lot of help in recovery to help you learn not only to differentiate your feelings and make sense of them but trust yourself in expressing then to others.   Without this capacity your emotional life will suffer as a result.

human beings are designed to feel emotion.  When that design is short circuited, first by emotionally neglectful parents and later by the child himself as an adult it throws off the entire system….the human psyche malfunctions when emotions are pushed out of it… emptiness or numbness is worse than pain.  Many people have told me they would prefer feeling anything to (feeling) nothing.  It is very difficult to acknoweldge, makes sense of, or put into words soemthing that is absent.  If you do succed in putting emptiness into words to try to explain it to another person,, it’s very difficult for others to understand it.  Emptiness seems like nothing to most people.  And it is nothing, neither bad or good.  But in the case of a human being’s internal functioning, nothing is definately something.  Emptiness is actually a feeling in and of itself.  And I have discovered that it is a feeling that can be very intense and powerful  In fact, it has the power to drive people to do things to escape it…….

And as Jonice goes onto explain this kind of emptiness leads not only to suicidal feelings but to an attempt to control or hide from the feeling by supresssing the truth of it, denying, avoiding, detaching altogether from human life and relationships.  People with alexithymia suffer in silence, they question the value and meaning of their lives and indulge in escape fantasies and addictions as a result.

To understand emotions better I recommend checking out these past two posts that I wrote a while back taken from the healing work of Dr Jonice Webb.

https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/43134

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/learning-to-express-your-feelings-effectively/

I would also highly recommend getting a hold of her book or checking out her website.  In order to live complete fulfilling lives, it is so important we work to become more aware of our emotions and their messages.

(All quotes taken from Running On Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect)

 

 

The importance of good therapy support

We all need support.   We cannot exist in a vacuum and so many of our wounds come out of early relationships so those wounds can only really be healed and explored in relationship.  This is something that we may get mixed up about, especially if we had to develop an avoidant style to cope.  We can and do on our path of confusion get drawn towards certain spiritual disciplines and then we may be told we have a problem with our ego or need to learn not to ‘attach’.

For a really interesting perspective on this I highly recommend reading Mark Wolynn’s book It Didnt Start With You.  Mark had a traumatic relationship with his mother who carried lots of wounds, he went on a spiritual path and it was when he was caught up in meditation in a monastery or ashram he got the inner message that he was never going to find true relief or healing until he reconnected back with his Mum and learned about her life.   A lot of his book concerns what happens we learn to block the love we give due to love blocked coming to us from a parent for some reason.  Often the root of the blockage or disconnection or even complicated enmeshment which ensues lays several generations back and may be hidden or shrouded in silence.  I have a number of posts which share research from that book to back up this point of view.

I was prompted to write this due to some comments back and forward about how much good therapy helps us and to my mind it has less to do with the type of therapy we engage in and more with the person we chose as well as with how accurately our true self and attachment wounds are  ‘got’ by the therapist and contained.  If you have ever had serious therapy ‘misfits’ or clashes you know how painful these can be.  If you have early attachment wounds and a borderline personality style the important of a consistent reliable, emotionally present person in your life is essential.

I listened to the second of a series of radio programmes on Sunday on BPD and the girl interviewed was told she would never recover by several professionals, but she has and part of her story was a story of maternal separation going several generations back.  The girl in question was aboriginal and her grandmother or mother was one of the ‘stolen generation’ those kids forcibly removed from their mothers or families by white colonisers ‘for their own good’.  As she pointed out in the programme, she carried that wound for the collective and is now healing and addressing it.  She is now helping others to come to terms with and understand the deep roots of a borderline personality diagnosis.  The programme gave me real hope that things can change for those who suffer in this way.  What she mentioned as being most important was the consistent love of a therapist to be available, something I shared about in several posts last year.

In my own life, I know the legacy that inconsistent, unreliable or emotionally neglectful attachments had on me. I was taught by my older sister to bond and seek relief in alcohol and I idolised and idealised her for years.  I know she learned this coping style in my family but it got worse over several generations until it reached critical watershed in me.  I am so grateful not only for the sobriety I attained at 31 years of age but for the family member who in doing ancestral research gave me essential missing pieces of our multigenerational inheritance about 10 years into my recovery.  Up til then I saw myself as the failure, the one who couldn’t cut it, the one who was hopeless or a helpless alcoholic.

All along the way of recovery my higher power helped me try to undo this mistaken belief though.  There was the woman who came to me for an astrology reading in 2003 and told me of the book How AA Failed Me.  Apologies here to active members of 12 step groups. I did get a lot of help in AA but defects of character and some of the strong moralistic tone of the programme did not help but confused me more.  This book which I was never able to find again and which she loaned to me helped me at a critical time not to become what I now called scapegoat identified.  AA was though, like everything, not totally good or totally bad, parts of the programme still sustain me and I use them in my life but other parts didn’t explain to me the important missing human attachment dimension of my own psychic wounds and injuries.

For me therapy has been the healing place, a place to be mirrored effectively in my true self, a place to be given good boundaries of care, a place to be myself, to be nurtured, to grow, to freely express all of me and never, never to be shamed ever as I was at times in other therapies.  I know how set right I am after a good session, how it wasnt an ego problem really but a problem of a healthy emotionally grounded and aware ego that lay at the root of a lot of my difficulties.

Its been a long road to get here but without that help and support I would never have got this far.   And it has helped me to undo the fallacy I was told by certain older sober members that I could only ever look to God for that kind of understanding and care rather than ever fully trust another human being.   Not everyone will fail us, and when we find the right person we can finally heal our deeper attachments wound and learn how to trust the right people, developing a deeper inward discrimination for whom is helpful or harmful to us.   When we understand how that injury underlay so much that came to pass in our lives we can learn also to let go of self blame which can dog so many of us who were never adequately mirrored, held, affirmed or nurtured in childhood.

A head’s up on intuitive empathy.

I just wanted to write this post to help and inform any followers or readers who know or feel they may be empaths (and this often applies to the Highly Sensitive amongst us, although according to Elaine Aron there is a difference between HSP’s and empaths) out there.  I just listened to a very good two CD set by psychiatrist and energy worker, Judith Orloff on positive energy practices for what she calls intuitive empaths.

I truly do believe that we were all born with intuition.  I believe as babies and children we were open and aware to energies out there and felt by osmosis things in the environment which entered us way before we found words to make meaning or sense of them.

If you read some books on borderline personality disorder they make the claim that people who end up with this kind of diagnosis or way of being in the world were actually more highly wired or keyed in emotionally to shadow stuff and then if that kind of sensitivity is coupled with a cold, rejecting or emotionally invalidating or discounting environment the capacity to self soothe and respond in a positive way is lost as well an appreciation of the self and within the self for the degree of sensitivity and attunement we do have.  We can then get wounded or hurt in such ways and more deeply and when these wounds and hurts are not treated with compassion and care.  Without self knowledge and self protective boundaries our behaviour and responses in later life can become problematic.  There can also be a tendency to seek self soothing through the use of addictions or other destructive behaviours as ways of coping with overload.

Being wounded as a highly sensitive person though is not what I started out to address in this post. What I wanted to share is that how as an intuitive and empathic person you are open all of the time to signals in the environment as well as energies that other just may not be.  If you are empathic, your energy naturally goes out in love and care towards others and then you can become subject to energy vampires or those who pull on your energy in ways that may not be healthy for you.  If you are conditioned to over ride the body feelings that let you know you are losing your boundary or absorbing difficult emotions from others it can be counterproductive as well as bad for both your physical and emotional health to be around those who are not taking care of their own energy.

Judith Orloff shares in her work about how as a child she was naturally open to feeling things and seeing things and her mother’s response was to shut her down or tell her she got things wrong or should not feel or see what she was.  Slowly she came to awareness of how such responses actually sent her away from her own gifts.  She now works as a therapist with people who so often struggle and over ride their own intuition and get prayed upon or put down by those who do not really fully appreciate the truth of who they are.

For anyone who may be interested here is the link to Judith Orloff and the mentioned CD.

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As intuitive empaths ecognising when our energy is getting sucked on or when we are carrying other people’s stuff is very important to not only our emotional and psychological health but to our physical health as well.  Having strategies to deal in effective ways is also important and some of these are explored on these 2 CDs by Judith.

 

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.

Why we may be more reactive if emotionally neglected.

If you were raised by narcissistic or self absorbed parents I would highly recommend Nina W. Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Ups Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.  

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When the focus is not on us in childhood or is on us in a negative way (excessive punishment or criticism) we develop certain problematic issues in our life.  Some of these are:

Low self esteem

Feeling you must be perfect to win other’s love.

Feeling you will only get love through ‘doing’ for others.

Looking for approval outside of the self.

Difficulties establishing boundaries.

Trying to ‘mind read’ others.

Hyper-vigilant, overly reactive to triggers.

Feeling the need to perform in order to win attention or approval.

Feeling you are defective or basically flawed in some way. (Excessive shame/low self esteem.)

Covering up such feelings or fear by being or acting : arrogant, superior, aggressive, rationalising, becoming indifferent, isolating and withdrawing, abusing substance to cover up painful feelings.

Believing that others need to take care of you and your feelings and needs.

Believing it is not safe to reveal your true self to others.

Feeling helpless to make changes, collapsing.

Feeling you are less than others.

Believing you cannot get what you want or need.  Feeling helpless or hopeless.

Experiencing a high level of lack of self acceptance.

Absorbing the negative projections of others.

Taking on board other people’s feelings and emotions,  psychological enmeshment.

Each aspect is covered in full detail in Brown’s book.  What she also addresses are the issues of high sensitivity and taking things personally as well as struggling with feelings of irritation and anger which arise in response to present day triggers when you feel hurt, minimised or left out.

Tending to take things personally is a result of feeling that others are criticising you, blaming you or chastising you, or ignoring you or your feelings and needs and may be the outcome of this actually happening when you were young.  In present time we react because that criticism or feeling of being left out is triggering our original narcissistic injury which was the painful wound we were left with from childhood.    As Brown explains it, in this situation :

you are more focused on your hurt and shame than you are on rationality and logic.  Further, when someone tells you to not take it personally, that seems only to add to your distress.

This is one way that you continue to be re-injured, as there always seems to be someone to object to something, things don’t go as planned, or you are the person who receives someone’s displacement or projection.  By taking these in and always personalising them, you contribute to your re-injury.  You have not yet learned or accepted the limits of your personal responsibility, accepted your personal limitations and strengths, or developed sufficient psychological boundary strength.  This tendency also points to some self absorption, where you want control over yourself, others, and events and think that you are the centre of everyone’s attention and expectations. Taking things personally can trigger or increase your feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, and fear.

Feeling Irritated and Ignored

One characteristic you may have that helps prevent you from letting go of negative or distressing feelings is an inability to ignore minor irritations and annoyances.  Staying aware of what you are feeling can be very good for you… knowing when you are irritated or annoyed can permit you to deal with that mild feelings to prevent escalation to a more intense feeling of anger.  However, once you are aware of being irritated or annoyed, you have an opportunity to reflect on your feelings, judge the threat to yourself, and realise that you don’t have to keep feeling that way if you don’t want to.   If you don’t let go at that point, the irritations and annoyances keep building up and festering so they can jump to anger at any time.

Your inability to overlook, ignore, or let go of minor irritations and annoyances can be traced, in part, to what you think the triggering acts are saying about you.  You become irritated or annoyed when you sense a threat to yourself.   This is the first step in becoming actually angry, where the body prepares itself for fight or flight.  However, most irritating and annoying acts present no threat and can be overlooked or ignored.  For instance, your wife or husband folding your clothes in a sloppy way is not a realistic threat to your core self.  Further, holding onto these annoyances can have negative effecs on your health, sense of well being and relationships.

Brown gives an exercise in the book for unpacking the triggering incident by reflecting on it and writing it down.  She then suggests you try to divine what you feel the incident is saying about you.  Some examples are : I am not valued, I am helpless, I am hopeless, I’ll be hurt, betrayed or abandoned, I’m not good enough.

You can then evaluate how real and valid these statements are for you.  If you feel they are valid you can self improve or try your best to work on that issue.   If you feel they are not valid it will be best to let them go.

Feeling excessively vulnerable, irritated and hypersensitive to triggers is a very painful result of a difficult childhood where we absorbed a lot of hurt.  It is however an issue we need to work on if we want to lead more peaceful, happy and stress free lives.

Brown’s book is full of helpful insights, suggestions and information about how we can deal with a parent’s narcissism or excessive self involvement in such a way we are not opened yet again to more hurt, her techniques help us to understand core wounds that need to be addressed if we wish to recover.