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.

Moving towards our happy

The following quotes from the third story of recovery from BPD in Beyond Borderline : ‘ I Am Not Just a Box in the DSM-5’ really spoke to me.  It’s full of truth and hope for recovery.  Facing our darkness is the way we move towards the light.   It is something I so firmly believe.

Mostly I was hell bent on protecting my own misery, because it was the only dependable companion I had ever known.  Even if I think back to my “happy” high school years, that self critical, loathing voice was my closest companion.

Driving a wedge between my true self and this negative, hate-fuelled version of myself was a truly Herculean effort.  It took years to put enough space between the two selves for me to even begin to reecognize the existence of this voice.  It took months of true ambivlence about life to wake up one morning and look at myself in the mirror and see the utter defeat and sadness that had taken over.  It took another round of treatment in an alcohol facility to grasp some whisp of hope that if I could cut the shit, stop the self destruction, I could have a better life.  My true self deserves better.  The little girl who danced around effortlessly in pink and purple sparkles deserves better.  The girl who talked to strangers, just because, deserves better…..

I honestly dont know how I survived all the torture I put my body through.  I don’t know that I believe in a ‘higher power’.  I don’t believe in fate…. But there has to be some greater purpose to my life that what it has been so far.  And in my darkest of days – of which there have been many – I have always found solace in the small ways of making life better for other people.  So if my story, if my pain, can help save someone else from making the same mistakes I have, then I guess it was worth it.

Today I woke up energetic.  Today I did not plot how I could become invisible.  I can once again look people in the eye.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have my moments of despair. …. But I can look in the mirror and see beyond all the psychiatric and other sorts of labels that people have ascribed to me.  Yes I may be a borderline, raging alcoholic, depressive, former anorexic patient. But I am also a friend.  A daughter.  A sister. A niece. A cousin. A soon to be teacher.  A life long student.  I am becoming dependable.  I am ambitious  I am intelligent.  I am a woman.

My life and path followed a dark, twisted road.  But each wrong turn has made me stronger.  At the end of the day I am who I am today because of what I lived through. Some day I will be able to look at it all and be grateful….When that day comes I may just surprise myself and be happy to be me, in spite of any box the world tries to put me in.

Borderlines are not ‘manipulative, malicious’ creatures.

I’m on the BPD awareness bandwagon today as you can probably tell from a few recent posts.  One of the claims that really triggers me and is mentioned in the fourth story in the book Beyond Borderline is that people with BPD are manipulative and malicious.  This is all pure projection of the helplessness and misunderstanding many mental health care ‘professionals’ exhibit when faced with a client or person with BPD who may be acting out pain due to a percieved or actual abandonment trigger.  Without a deeper compassion and understanding of the vortex of emptiness, frustration and deep need many people who suffer borderline wounds and injuries are left with from childhood and preverbal days there is no way such therapists can help and in fact they end up causing their clients or patients even more damage.  I know this because it happened to me.

I was lucky enough in my pre addiction recovery days to be recommended to a very skilled therapist who I eventually broke with due to my own abandonment wound being triggered when he went into hospital for an operation but had the strength to reconnect with years later when I understood what had triggered my leaving.  He said to me that for people who had suffered the degree of abandonment I had I needed a therapist who was available twenty four/seven.   This was after another therapy broke after my therapist went away for over a month and I got overwhelmed.   I should never have been left with no support at that stage in a therapy for that long when I had just begun to open up my deepest unconscious pain.  It has taken me some years to understand the melt down and retrigger to complete isolation that break caused me.  It took me years to get back to therapy with a consistent therapist.  12 years!

I will say this.  So called ‘borderlines’ are not manipulative.  They are hurting.  They are in emotional pain.  They are beseiged by negative voices that they can’t understand or control.  They are literally drowning at times in emotions they can’t soothe or regulate.  They need support.  They need empathy.  They need consistency.  They need understanding.   If you have ever been labelled as manipulative (and I have) dont take the projection on board.  You may suffer from a host of unmet needs you dont yet fully understand and you should always be treated with respect, most especially by anyone you engage to help you in your recovery.  Dont allow the said therapist’s emotional unavailability, ignorance or defences to cloud you from knowing what you need, which  is loving consistency and emotional availability.

I understand that many therapists could never be available twenty four/seven and in time we need to learn to hold our own pain, but in the early stages of recovery its important to have someone who is there emotionally and doesn’t retrigger your own wound over and over again leaving you hanging with pain you dont yet have the skills to manage.

Combatting the “leprosy of mental illnesses”.

I have never been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a professional.  My current therapist doesn’t use these kind of diagnoses and often tells me we are all on the borderline spectrum somewhere.  However I identify with several of the core symptoms and the difficulty feeling a secure sense of self, as well as being hyper-reactive to triggers of invalidation or abandonment due to the prevalence of these kind of traumas in my young and adolescent life.

I have intense compassion for those bloggers here and anyone who suffers from BPD which means I am always happy when I come across something that sheds light on one of the most stigmatising of mental illnesses and has been called “the leprosy of mental illnesses” by mental health professionals who themselves are often not able to tolerate the full spectrum of behaviours of the disorder if they don`t have strong understanding and therapeutic framework.

Today I found the book Beyond Borderline : True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder  in my local bookshop and was moved to tears well before I reached page 10.

Beyond

The following statistics enlightened me further to its widespread prevalence.

  1. More than 14 million Americans have the disorder making it more common than Bi Polar Disorder and Schizophrenia combined.
  2. 40 percent of people diagnosed as Bi Polar are, in fact Borderline.
  3. There is a inheritability factor of about 67 percent in BPD.
  4. 10 percent of sufferers of the disorder end up taking their lives.

Treatment and recovery from the disorder demands the establishment of a strong bond with a therapist who can help to contain the sufferer`s working through of complex abandonment and trauma issues that can lay hidden for years.   It demands also that the sufferer come to understand perceptual distortions which come to characterise the illness and function to split off pain and may block healing helping them to tolerate and de-escalate painful emotions and emotional triggers.

The book contains 24 personal stories from sufferers and sheds so much light on the illness.   These are people who have gone to the depths of hell, pain and terror that many will never know making us cognisant of the full register of emotional pain that underlies a condition that often functions to keep the sufferer trapped in the most terrilble emotional isolation.

The experiences shared,  show that BPD is a disorder that can be recovered from, if sufferers are willing to do the work and move towards psychological understanding that involves navigation, rather than splitting off of pain.   I highly recommend the book not only to those who suffer but those who seek to understand and in seeking that understanding will help us to address the stigma of a condition that so badly needs our empathy, insight and compassion.

Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

Reading my current book on men who suffer from borderline personality disorder Hard To Love I am being reminded of how early attachment or abandonment wounds leave us with a thin skin covering over a sore raw spot that can often be triggered by perceived threat of abandonment.  At these times if we suffer from borderline wounds we may fly into a reactive rage rather than feel the soft,  vulnerable spot that is being triggered deep inside.

Acting out rage is a reaction to the hurt, pain and fear that lives inside.  We may not be fully conscious that we fear rejection because someone around us saw a part of us that may not be well formed or is a source of shame, youngness, pain, or fear for us.  Often such reactive anger or rage is a response to having early abandonment experiences triggered or feeling we are not being valued or validated.  When others only see the angry or raging response and don’t dig deeper to realise the wounds that led to it, true understanding, connection and repair is not possible.  When we have been triggered in this way it takes some age regression work to become aware of the wounds and earlier incidents of abandonment we carry and experience that are being triggered by such criticism in the present moment.

I am posting this today as a bit of a response to an earlier post on the negative side of the inner critic.  Criticism from others when it triggers our own inner critic can tend to make us defended or angry if we have these kind of wounds and most especially if we have a powerful inner critic inside and lots of earlier hurt.  If we want relationships to survive we need to find ways to express our vulnerability with others.  We need the capacity to take the little one inside us onto our knee and get at the root of what is going on.  For the abandonment actually happens when outer criticism triggers our feeling of not being good enough inside and as much as we needed someone in childhood to let us know we are good enough, as adults we really do not need this approval of our selves.   Later on we may then be able to have an honest conversation with the person in question and say  “when you did X I started to feel scared and abandoned and criticised.”   We may be able to communicate needs that we have that were never fully met growing up.

It is very painful to have these unresolved and often unrecognised needs inside of us.  In my post on the antidote to the inner critic yesterday I brought attention to the issue of childhood emotional neglect, and pointed out how suffering from such neglect which is not fully even conscious for many of us leads to certain deficiencies within and in the way we relate to our selves in terms of empathy and feeling a sense of inner value.  Educating ourselves about the areas of neglect is an important step forward, for how can we get needs met or change behaviours we don’t fully accept or even understand?

In my past relationship often my ex partner would feel triggered by a little criticism comments like :  “the griller door needs to be open when you grilling”.  He took that as some kind of slight on his intelligence.  And my abandonment wound could be similarly triggered at times when I started to feel left out or ignored.  It was then hard to find the words to express how I was really feeling because I lacked the necessary insight and language.   When I was finally able to speak up for my needs I was told that they did not matter has his needs came first, always.  At that stage self care would have seen me make a re-evaluation of the relationship if I had been in a healthier place.

That said not all criticism is valid and some people use put downs or other subtle or not so subtle means to put us down.  In this case we can stand up for ourselves against the criticism in a firm and loving way.

Borderline wounds are very real, they come from key experiences in the past of feeling alone and abandoned which are so often deeply hidden from view and even conscious memory.  They make us vulnerable in the present.  They put the locus of control and reaction outside of ourselves, at least before we begin to get a handle on them.  Understanding how and why we react as we do is important, just as important as others around us taking the time and caring enough to want to know why it is happening rather than blame or shame.

In my last relationship neither of us had sufficient insight to cope with the self soothing and other centred understanding that was needed for a healthier relationship to survive when we both carried our own version of abandonment wounding.   So many things can happen to us is childhood that we are powerless over and end up leaving deep scars.   There scars can mark our relationships but they are also signs, pointers or signals of a damage that when understood and worked with consciously can help us to move through to more committed, honest and understanding relationships with others.

The painful cost of trauma : understanding abandonment depression

Painful trauma has a way of driving us out of our body.  To have lived with an intolerable reality which we are given no help to process or understand is an agony beyond words.  Not to be held, understood and empathised with in our suffering means our neurobiology cannot be soothed, we become flooded with stress chemicals such as cortisol.  Recent studies show that empathy increased the presence of oxytocin in our neurobiological systems.

I know the relief that has come for me in therapy as  have been able to let my own feelings out.  I know the damage that has occurred when, in trying to express said feelings with unsafe others who are defended, blocked or lacking in empathy they have become, not only trapped within, but other feelings have then occurred in reaction such as pain, disappointment and distress.  It was only last week in reading the chapter on abandonment depression in James Masterton’s book on the real self that I became aware of how complex and multilayered the feelings of that state are.  It is within the abandonment depression that we feel suicidal as it contains what Masterton has labelled the six feelings of the psychic apocalypse, very aptly named.  Guilt, rage, panic, fear are four of these feelings.

In recovery those of us who have undergone trauma or abandonment trauma need help to understand our feelings and the courage and strength to bear with or integrate these feelings. Rage is a huge part of what we feel when we meet again invalidation or similar abuse that triggers our earlier abuse.  There is panic when we face the rage which also comes with a great deal of fear, after all when we were younger and abandoned we experienced fear as we were confronted with overpowering situations of stress and distress which we can go on reliving unconsciously for years and had no help with.

In our recovery we begin to regress to these feelings and since such a huge part of so called borderline trauma involves invalidation or lack of support and empathy, when we meet such triggers again, we can regress and find ourselves once again filled with grief and rage.  Our overt reactions will most likely not be understood by those who have no idea of the complexity of feelings we are left trying to contain, process and express as a result.  This why we need in recovery an enlightened witness who is able to show empathy for what the real self had to suffer in childhood which led to the adoption of a false self as a defence against fully feeling the complex feelings of the abandonment depression.

In his book on Complex PTSD Pete Walker deals with the abandonment depression.  He also explains how the inner critic becomes very active at a certain stage in our recovery, shaming us for daring to recover and try to become well.  The inner critic may be comprised of things said to us when young by others who tried to shame or judge us instead of showing empathy or helping us make sense of difficult feelings.  We can shame ourselves in similar ways for our reactions, which comes often from the so called ‘adult’ part of us that won’t accept or allow the child to be the child, vulnerable, tortured at times and deeply confused.

Empathy is so essential as we begin to deal with our inner critic less we start to shame the child all over again in a bid to protect it or protect against the feared rejection of others that we experienced in the past.  It’s a complex process.  We do need to become aware of when we become triggered or start to act out old pain, but shaming ourselves for it won’t work and help us to heal.  Painful feelings need to be lovingly contained and soothed for true healing and integration to happen.

Understanding the wounds underlying borderline reactions

I often struggle when I read that people with so called BPD are struggling with being able to understand that what seem to others to look like ‘over-reactions’ are actually grounded in past experiences of not being met, responded to with empathy or sensitivity or being given what we truly need.  As a result we tend to carry a lot of inward frustration and what I would called ‘historical suffering’ which can get triggered in the present by either perceived abandonment or invalidation which we then project and can tend to respond to in ineffective ways.   Our reactions may seem out of order and beyond context but we do need to understand that they do make sense once our true history is understood.

Core wounds and old pain act in many ways like black holes of suffering that can be triggered in the moment and then suck us down.   Dialectical Behavioural Therapy was developed by Marsha Linehan a sufferer of BPD who found she needed help with thinking about her thinking and responses to current events when old pain was triggered.  From what I understand DBT involves finding ways to reframe our reactions to triggers and soothe distressing painful inner self talk which then promotes us to over react to current situations in which some old wound, pain or sensitivity is then triggered.

I am often wary about the diagnosis Borderline Personality.  Most so called ‘borderline’ individuals started life as highly sensitive beings who were supremely in touch and high wired in terms of respondability to external stimuli.  As babies they required a high level of attunement, mirroring, empathy and sensitivity to their cues, hungers and needs from caregivers and often they find themselves born into environments ill equipped to deal with and respond affectively and effectively to them.  As a result they often are not soothed adequately and also do not manage to internalise the messages of adequate self soothing and self care which would enable them to mother themselves effectively.

When such a conditioning occurs it leaves a deep wound or hunger in the soul.  The borderline or highly  sensitive person is highly attuned and intelligent.  They notice things that others don’t.  They may try to point out things others don’t see or do not understand and they can then be abused or invalidated for such perceptions, seeing or understanding as adults and also when young.  They can then internalise this kind of abuse or misunderstanding coming to believe ‘there is something inherently wrong with me’.

They may then try to adapt to what is expected of or projected onto them, rejecting themselves in the process.  They may also lack the capacity to understand the very real limits and different ways of reacting of the non highly sensitive individuals around them, getting angry or flying off the handle when empathy is not shown to them.   The realistic truth if understood by the borderline/sensitive would show that the less sensitive were only reacting to the highly sensitive individual out of not understanding a depth of feeling, particular perception or way of being which varies greatly with their own, rather than this being a sign of something ‘wrong’ with either person.

Such an understanding for the so called borderline or highly sensitive individual requires a high level of inner work as well as a detailed unpacking of ways in which the nurturing environment failed to respond in empathic ways, leaving key wounds or perceptual distortions kicking around inside the borderline or HSP.  Arming ourselves with such deeper emotional understanding involves work with an empathic person who can help us with this process.  Then and only then can we begin to work effectively with extreme feelings or so called ‘over reactions’ to outside events which are really just triggers.

I have only ever read books on DBT and my understanding of it may be limited but this is my understanding of how it works.   It works by helping us to correct our thinking and as a way of helping us to self sooth and not attack ourselves more with painful thoughts and feelings which in belonging to old events may be re-experienced in the present moment and projected leading to confusion and distress for those around us who do not understand our trauma/disconnection history.  In the end we must understand in a way others who do not suffer could never possibly understand unless they lack that empathic framework.

When I read the blogs of borderlines I see how much self judgement they have.  We self judge because we know how extreme our behaviour can be at times and we can often feel shame.   Unlike narcissists who in many ways are full of a shame they buried long ago and often will not face, Borderlines feel our shame over and over and over and can almost drown in it.  We are often scapegoated and we so often need to break that identification and projection because the original shame was never ours to own,  our responses came out of finding ourselves in consistently disabling or unempathic environments in which we struggled, pure and simple.  Certainly we do not have the right to enact our rage at a lifetime of frustrations, misunderstanding and invalidation on others, we need to understand where these feelings comes from and feel them and transform them rather than act them out.  This I guess is where DBT can help us teaching us ways to talk to ourselves compassionately and with empathy to pour balm on burning wounds that so often can flare up in the present.

Alone in the pain

I just reblogged a post on the impact of the silent treatment in abuse.  I was on the receiving end of the silent treatment a lot in my past relationship.  When something triggered my ex partner’s pain or nastiness or when he felt the need to disempower me or control my valid responses and needs he would just walk out and refuse to speak to me for days.  At the same time I would be slammed with judgement about how wrong, or bad I was, simply for expressing my self and being me.

At the time I met that person I was isolated and alone in a very out of the way place.  I was suffering from the impact of a head injury and a nasty fall.   When this person offered me titbits of attention I became quickly ‘hooked’, I was like a starving animal being fed scraps after a time in solitary confinement, admittedly one I chose myself due to the other abuses that had gone before.

As I look back I don’t know how I didn’t take my own life at that stage.  The only thing that saved me was writing and writing everyday in my journal on the computer and going to weekly Al Anon meetings.  Even there though I was sidelined a lot because I was a ‘dual member’, someone who participated in both AA and Al Anon and those affected by other’s alcoholism did not take well to knowing I was in recovery for addiction myself at times and I was told I needed to stay silent about that too.   I was not in therapy at that times and I was all alone with, (by that time) over 40 years of pain locked up inside me.

I look back now with the benefit of hindsight and many years of researching and reading about narcissistic abuse behind me.  When I read the post shared by Pascale’s Healing Journey and the poem it broke my heart.  It made me realise how important empathy is and how profoundly damaging it is to abuse a child with deed or words and then leave them all alone to stew in their own juices in silence with no comfort or validation or understanding.  If we are very young when this happens our little bodies cannot really cope with all of those powerful feelings of hurt and hatred at unjustified abuse, we literally have nowhere to go with them, so they stay locked or trapped inside and in later life when they are triggered and we have no rational way to articulate or release them in a healthier way, others may judge us as ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’.  Welcome to the genesis of so called ‘borderline personality disorder!’

If we later find no way to solve the dilemma we were left with, we get attracted to the same ‘type’,  narcissists tend to be attracted to the highly emotionally charged or intensely sensitive ‘borderline’ like moths to a flame!  But in some strange way such a painful outcome may hold the genesis of our healing too.  For the pain being retriggered  in the present may show us where old wounds and injuries lay.  However, that said, if we can’t find the right help to understand how such things as the silent treatment work to evoke and block access to our deeper feelings and reactions we may struggle for years.  When my ex used to cut me off at those times, I would frantically try to re-engage with him to prove how he was so wrong, but later I was advised that a narcissist would have had to trigger me and then paint me black due to the dynamic.  As one friend who knew us both said to me a few years after my ex and I separated.  “He used you like a bar of soap to wipe his dirty hands on!”

If you are on the receiving end of this kind of abuse, please do all you can to get some help.  No one deserves the silent treatment as punishment.   Being left all alone with unbearable feelings which prevent and stymie our capacity to self soothe is dangerous on so many levels, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  No one deserves this abuse and if you have suffered in this way it is so important you have someone there who can help you to understand, contain, unpack and work through your feelings which are too much to cope with alone.