Painting ourselves as the victim : some thoughts

In childhood we are powerless over a lot of what happens to us.. John Bradshaw makes the point that a three year old child cannot pack his bags and leave home, though many of us try to do this when the frustration of it all gets too much.. Later in life we cannot always know either, what happened to us consciously, though it is my experience that our body remembers EVERYTHING. Later in life somatic memory is reliable if confusing as the messages get distorted.. Add to this the holding in and letting go. (expressing and depressing). I find sometimes I am not even aware I need to go to the toilet and Dad would often make us hold it all it on long trips, sometimes it was agonising.. He also denied when Mum was hurt and sometimes we got in trouble for being hurt for no fault of our own, or I was hurt by parental carelessness in leaving things like fishhooks lying around in sea grass matting, that time it pierced me right through the webbing of my big and second toes it was agony to get out.

A therapist once named this benign neglect. My parents did not have ill intentions though Mum flew into rages and could attack us, and then deny we were hurt… It made much sense to me when struggling in sobriety to see how I was abused when I came across the term Childhood Emotional Neglect coined by therapist Jonice Webb in her helpful book Running On Empty. I identified with all the ten symptoms of that that I have explored in other posts.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

However on my mind today after an outburst of feeling, sorrow and regret over things happening at the end of my marriage and in a second relationship is the way we can stay as a ‘victim’ and trapped in a false sense of helplessness and powerlessness. My ‘mate’ Alex from Evolution of Self often says to me “no one wants to be the villain, only the victim” and that can be true.. Truer is we WERE VICTIMS at one time but if we take that on as an identity later in life its not only toxic but can be lethal. How can we take positive action if we feel powerless all of the time? How can we fight for our right to be if we do not develop healthy self fighting boundaries? And what if all of that was not only punished but shamed? A LOT OF RELIGION DOES THIS.. WE HAVE TO FIND A HEALTHY EGO BEFORE WE CAN SURRENDER IT IN APPROPRIATE WAYS.

In AA we are not returned to our full power all of the time though we are encouraged to do a lot of work with grandiosity or the taking on of burdens not ours.. The truth is co-dependents just naturally take on the suffering of others.. We may be conditioned to do it in childhood. Today I thought driving home from the markets of how drowning in sorrow I have been pretty much since 2001 I also saw it is not the truth of me almost like a split between these two parts of me is now becoming more obvious 27 years into trying to recover WHO MY SPIRIT ORDAINED ME TO BE…

I am not a sad person really, I am happy full of joy and exhuberance and love life.. I don’t truly fear my fellow humans but the child in me learned to fear and then never got to set GOOD BOUNDARIES or develop A HEALTHY FUNCTIONING EGO. something Spartan Life Coach, Richard Grannon deals with in this video posted a few days ago.

That ego building work is still going on for me.. With a very very strong Neptunian influence in my chart the urge to self sacrifice is often stronger.. I can take in the badness or other feelings others dump in me and then I get used to being erased and will often take on the other’s burden.. . It was hard to fight back with a feeling I had no right to. .One of the friends of my past emotionally abusive partner said to me, at the end of our on again off again 7 year relationship.. “Phil used you like a bar of soap to wash his dirty hands clean.”

But you know what? I can understand his frustration, he wanted an adult partner not a baby who was innundated and crying all the time. He liked the vital alive kick arse part of me but not my vulnerability, that said I needed to weld the two parts and everything that happened and I now see that those 7 years with him was meant to be, leading towards the call for me to become more fully embodied. We both carried hidden aspects of each other’s shadows.

I actually felt like calling Phil today.. Its coming up to so many anniversaries.. the anniversary of Mum dying, of Dad getting operated on and quickly dying after it, of Phil and I separating, of Jonathan and I returning from overseas.. and so its no wonder I still cry and cry.. I need those tears to acknowledge my truth though people are more likely to congratulate you on being strong than in falling into the wound but it TAKES COURAGE TO FALL INTO THE WOUND AND GET YOURSELF BACK OUT AGAIN.. SOME PEOPLE (INCLUDING PHIL) FIND THAT TOO HARD TO DO. So they savage others in the vulnerable place instead of acknowledging it to help the other person get back out of it. and yes WE MUST DO THE WORK BUT NOT WITHOUT HELP OR NECESSARY VALIDATION!!!

I might be someone who helps too much. I just do not know. Having given so much to help Scott I do question all of the time what that was really about, on some levels it seems unhealthy and wrong and then on another it makes sense..

The other issue though has been to do with seeing myself as a victim of my mother and sister in those difficult years after Jonathan left. I was crying today because at one time I savaged my sister via email after she tried to trounce all over me at the coast where I was taking refuge in my unintegrated pain and then I ran off overseas only to have a head injury after which in some way I tried to pin it on her treatment of me, instead of how I responded….. by running…

The last thing I want to do is paint myself as a victim, thus this post to try and work through my part in why my sister is still ill.. Does some of the blame belong to me? I am not sure, this may be me taking on something too much and the purpose of what i write here is not so much to gain an audience as it is to use this in therapy with Kat each week, while possibly opening up the inner processing to others using WordPress in this way. I just am trying to own I may have played a part in it by continuing to blame her and my Mum even as they were innocently trying to help, never able to fully take on board the pain of my CEN history.. that is all.. So here goes.. I will be happy to share this all with Kat tomorrow… and get an outside perspective.

How shame and the inner and outer critic prevent us living wholeheartedly.

It was shame researcher, Brene Brown who a few years back coined the term foreboding joy which is a term to describe the fear we carry into life that can protect us from embracing joy in the moment and living wholeheartedly… We see a small baby and our heart just fills with love but then fears of loss can come too and steal that moment from us..

While driving home I was thinking about a very involved and informative post Trauma Research UK recently shared on shrinking the inner and outer critic.. In fact I read it in therapy today crying at some parts as well as being doubled over with pain in my gut at others.. there is so much in it that resonates with me…

My inner child is speaking very loudly lately about how she felt in our family and how she struggled with very distant and preoccupied parents.. and about how painful it was to be sent to my room when I was legitimately angry, or hurt over some incident. In the post the writer shares that toxic parents do hurtful or neglectful things, but then also shame and silence the child’s legitimate protest, as a result the child has no alternative but to turn those feelings back inside the self and develops a virulent inner and outer critic that shames the child or seeks to protect and avoids other people who have that fear of the hurtful parent projected on to them…

Today in therapy I felt the pain of being sent to my room with all of those feelings I needed help to manage from one of my parents deep in my body while my inner child articulated it.. the feelings felt so so big… .. In fact Dad often laughed as Mum terrorised us with rage, things that hurt then being mocked is just an awful kind of pain for a child. I also remember being laughed at and shamed for being passionate and dramatic and come to think of it not hearing or validating someone’s grief for a lost loved one is a lot like shaming them for passion and deep feelings.

I will share the link to the related post as I believe it is essential reading for people who have endured relational and attachment trauma. What a painful place to find ourselves, cut off from relations in the outer world that could reconnect us all due to the fear of experiencing what we did in the past, or seeing rejection when it isn’t really there?

https://traumaresearchuk.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/the-role-of-the-inner-and-outer-critic/

I have written extensively on the protector/persecutor complex in my blog before.. The persecutor is an inner figure that goes on beating us up well into adulthood.. It may be that we experience a sense of shame and guilt for what was done to us. It was a very powerful relief in therapy today to hear my mother’s voice telling me how proud she was of me to be doing this work and how none of what went down in terms of my own neglect was my fault. In later years I saw her struggling with seeing how it brought about the ending of my marriage while at the same time wanting me to stop any focus on inner work or therapy which, at least initially she did not understand

In later years she actually came to some appointments with me and began to open up to me about her own neglect and I know she wished in some way my living sister could follow this path instead of a purely psychiatric ‘drug relief’one.

I understand my father has having endured neglect too and he ran away from Holland n 1938 leaving his family behind to save his own life.. He worked so hard to put all of that behind him but he just created more problems as neglected children of neglected parents often end up crashing and burning.. This has not applied so much my older brother who has been able to hide neglect behind enormous outer success in the world, especially financially, although his only daughter has borne the brunt of much of this. I was so sad to hear from my sister on the weekend that she had a stroke recently something my brother did not feel safe enough to share with me.. and we tried to get close many years ago (my only niece and I) but this was derailed by the family which made me cry for years…it being just more of the same old same old emotionally distant family pattern.

I notice at times I can attack people in the outer world who want to get close to me.. I am more aware of the pattern lately.. In fact on the weekend I had to own some of this with someone I care for deeply, luckily ours is one of those relationships able to hold the paradoxical feelings of hate and love, longing and fear and he never ever ever shames me.. Something I cry deep tears of gratitude for. As a Complex trauma survivor I need these kind of relationships in my life, as I am still healing and very raw with grief lately.

Much as we say we need to do our own healing work alone, sometimes the Complex PTSD ‘warrior’ defence may work against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linkages’, bonds that we try to establish as adults.. The outer critic can function to try and cut these bonds by seeking that ‘worm in the apple’ I have mentioned that those of us with avoidant attachment so often go looking for in relationships. Also when we split people into all good or all bad we loose the capacity for connection. A good enough relationship is one in which we make mistakes but can express our full range of feelings and be heard.. it comforts me so much when someone says they understand how I feel to me that is a strong healing balm, since as I child I was so often led to believe my feelings were wrong or made no sense at all.

Shame and fear of experiencing joy seem to be interconnected in so many ways in those of us with Complex PTSD, taking the risk to open our hearts again often opens us to old pain but that also has a purpose… so we can grow in awareness of the complex mix of feelings we can so often experience in relationships. Working on listening to all of the inner voices we hear too is ongoing work in order that we can sort out the mix of those that are helpful and life promoting and those that hinder us, keep us trapped in shame or only promote a freezing or disconnection from the heat of engaged interaction and possible attachment. There is a part of us that often seeks to sabotage our healing if we were badly hurt in childhood… those interested in this could look into the work of therapist Donald Kalsched who wrote brilliantly about it in his book The Inner World Of Trauma.

The intrinsic connection between grief and love

It seems to me our deepest impulse in terms of the need to be loved underlies so much of our grief.. not only over loving and losing but over never finding that love in the form we needed it when young… We all long to be seen and known, when this doesn’t happen there is a grief that sits under the surface of consciousness and may not be ‘known’ by us for some time.. This ‘hole in the soul’ runs deep and since we first seek that in our family of origin its here where the wounds happen and they need to be addressed in later life if we want to eventually come fully to life in order to live and love as our true selves.

I was thinking a moment ago of the four solutions we resort to that Mark Wolynn talks of when we seek to connect with a parent or source of love in childhood.. one is that we find that source in them and do connect, the second is the parent fails to provide and so we cut off that longing and flow and subvert it.. in another we seek it from a sibling.. this is what I did with my Mum and Dad being unavailable.. it was my older sister who saw me, but she left and then got sick and so that was a double grief for me. Over time I learned to turn within or to substances and in time I lost access to my true feelings over it, it has been these feelings I have had to work with in active sobriety.

I just went and sat down by the lake and finished off a wonderful novel I have been reading but at the end of it my thoughts turned to my sister.. Earlier I read Oscar Cainers daily horoscope for Aquarius that said in an uncertain world its hard to know what to believe or where to turn but that there are five qualities that can sustain us.. : Kindness, Friendship, Generosity, Compassion and Love.. I thought of the nasty inaccurate things my living sister said to me in the year after Jonathan left and how her brutality coming out of emotional ignorance drove me over to the UK where the unprocessed anger and hurt over it lead to a massive head injury.. maybe something about this time that is now erased for her due to all the meds and shock treatment is perculating down inside.. She tried to erase me from the coast house earlier in the year by packing up all of my books and boxes and storing them in the shed.. To her it was probably done out of a desire to help me as I said it was hard to go down there alone to the place I ended up forsaken and abandoned after my husband left. I was so hurt by that back in February but I sucked it up on our trip there.. I just called the removalists and they came to pack it all up. I didn’t have an angry outburst I just cried and cried and cried. I seem to do a lot of crying around my sister when I don’t have anxiety spin outs around her.

Despite all of this I feel for my sister.. lying in bed with the blankets pulled up all around her unable to communicate with visitors… I don’t know what it is going to take to bring her back from the dark side this time.. and despite this I do feel love… but its a confused kind of love.

In the movie 28 Days Sandra Bullock makes friends with her sister who appears to be the more high functioning sibling in the traumatised family.. she recognises that her sister was once a child too in the family system and sought her own role which involved looking down on the ’embarrasing’ active addict who is expressing so much of the family pain…In a similar way my mother always forgave her mother for hitting her as she knew that as an abandoned war widow with no government assistance left to support a young daughter all alone so far from family that her Mum was frustrated.. it was something her best friend’s daughter and I discussed the other day… that generation had to suck it up… and they had to bury so much… trauma and stress just get carried or passed on as epigenetic research by Bruce Lipton and Dr Yehuda demonstrates..

I am a bit off the track writing this right now. It is a processing post… I just thought on the way home of how much, as a young child I longed for my sister’s love but how our family was so geared around externals it was hard to find that… in the end it is something I have had to find for myself as an adult with the help of therapy and my higher power. That said I still grieve for those who left me and could not love me where I was at and this included my ex husband.. He gave me a great gift when he emailed me back in May when he said “I really understand your need for therapy now.” He actively tried to block it along with my Mum but in the end I trusted my path into the dark…

Through it along the way I found the love for myself and even for my wounded family.. how could they give me something they never had, or a sense that I am perfect as I am even with all of my idiosyncrasies? I now see I can only gain that in any authentic way from within and even after years of being almost crippled by a virulent inner critic who was almost demonic at times.. Slowly over time and through much agony I am coming to a deeper understanding of the inner forces that drove me towards addiction and self hatred…I also understand more deeply and have more compassion for the forces that drove that poor inner child of my Mum who had to struggle so hard to be seen and find her own path..

At 14 years of age Mum actively defied a mother who wanted her only to be a domestic servant and found a profession.. She fought to be seen in the fashion industry by top designers.. she was bloody trojan, she just had to be.. I am glad in so many ways for the gifts of strength she bequeathed me as well as the deep deep insecurity… in the end it was for me to make sense of it all and carve my own self out of that inheritance.. today I feel myself becoming stronger while at times more profoundly aware of inner vulnerabilities, fears, weak spots and insecurities…

I am also learning how intimately and intricately longing, grief and love are interconnected along with rage… in the end each of us must work to understand the emotions that drive us as we grapple to find which emotions to express and which are in need of alchemy, each of us has to find ways to contain our wounds and find the healing solution in bearing witness to them for long enough that self love and insight as well as self compassion can arise. Armed with these tools we are less likely to judge others and we become more able to define boundaries as well as see where the impulses to merge or belong create complex challenges for us.

shed skins

When the past comes calling

Certainty unwinds

My soul is carried back

To where I lost the threads of self

All tangled up inside

There is a storm of feeling

That I have not fully

Explored

Before

And so the rain of tears begins

It nourishes my skin

All of this feeling

Deep within I discover

A young girl

Who never fully got the chance to live

As herself

And became a person lost

Inside that skin

Seeking the way to kin

Dread

A constant visitor

Should naked truth emerge

And she then become the

Scourge

That order sought

Eradicate

Where to show her true face

Then

Falling into hurting

Again

Only to find deep

Within

The deepest pools of loss

A sense of self that

So desperately wants to live

Now she must find a way

To begin

Too long she wandered there

All alone

So far from comfort

Miles from home

Longing with a longing scarcely felt

Until now

Discovering with the pain of her past

A soul so very desperate

To shed old skins

Vibrating with love

Banished desire and purpose

Hungry for

Her kin

Longing to be seen in unavailable families : some current insighs

I sometimes wonder if you even stop longing for the wrong people to see you.. Growing up in a narcissistically oriented family its a lot like you don’t exist as a real person.. your soul gets negated or killed off so often, but in such a silent and difficult way, as to make you end up doubting your own reality..

When I started studying naturopathic theory in 1991 I came across the double bind theory of schizophrenia developed by Gregory Bateson. In this theory when a child goes to a parent with their emotional perception the parent denies the truth and doesn’t explain their own behaviour (since, I guess, they aren’t even conscious of it themselves.) This sends a younger child a little crazy and begins to fill their head with second guessing and self doubt, they begin to question “were things really as I perceived them to be? Mum seemed angry but she says she isn’t and that if only I left her alone or did not do or say that, she would be okay.” the child may have to develop an inner dialogue to survive, but it is a confusing and unrestful inner dialogue.. One also begins to question everything.

I have done a few posts on the protector – persecutor archetype which lives deep inside the psyche of those of us with childhood wounding, trauma or neglect…Elaine Aron the founder of the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person addresses this archetype and inner force a great deal in one of her books : “The Undervalued Self.”

If we had to protect ourselves from a wounding parent or compensate for an unavailable one in childhood we may also transfer this dynamic onto new relationships.. we get easily triggered and may see things in others from the past, we also have a lot of work to do so that we don’t continue to attract the exact same invalidation, nor internalise it.

We also have to learn to trust our true feelings and perceptions. Not being seen is very crazy making and it can fill you with profound feelings of helplessness and frustration.. Also having your boundaries over run or being placed in a position where its nearly impossible to delineate and express them is even harder.. Its only lately I am seeing how much I have struggled with boundaries, most especially around family members in later life when their behaviour has been hurtful, invalidating and confusing.

Up til now I have kept an open mind with family knowing that we all came out of a lot of emotional neglect but the wash up over my mother’s inheritance and my brother’s assumption of complete paternal control has been triggering me over the past 24 hours.. He is not willing to release even a portion of what Mum left to us and its making me really distressed and upset my equilibrium entirely over that time…So often with my brother I experience that narcissistic individual’s impenetrable wall…. they cant see you, don’t want to see you, have already decided you are less than and only worthy of their contempt or to be erased psychologically or ignored.. they can erase you so easily even when you are in the same room.. my brother has done it to me so many times now and I could not hide from my fury and rage over it last night..where the fuck does he get off controlling my sister’s and my life in this way? I need to vent about it here as I don’t have therapy until Monday.. When I got the news last night a family friend who has worked in the past for he and my father made it plain she agrees he is not being fair.. I think if my sister and I were both men he would not be treating us in this way…

There is nothing at times that triggers me than not being seen or having boundaries over ridden.. It was hard enough in my family as the youngest by a long way having things pushed on me I didn’t like.. I got in trouble with alcohol too as Dad made us drink at a young age thinking that would help us to be responsible drinkers, the problem he didn’t model how to have healthy emotions and boundaries either and so that made alcohol a hiding place not a stress release especially with low confidence and inverted narcissism.

Today I was tempted to turn everything back on myself again… but then I realised what I was doing, taking the blame for something not my fault.. I have managed to stay sober for over 26 years now so that has to be saying something, but my boundaries have not been good.. I got dragged along in things due to lack of insight and protection, I denied and sucked up things I should have said no to, sometimes due to ignorance, at others just I longed to be or to stay connected at all costs, even to those who did not treat me well…..Today some more of my denial broke down as I saw how I can press the emotional truth down and how painful it was to be treated in a state of emotional melt down as if my feelings made no sense. Its been one hell of a painful and damaging conundrum… and I really had to hold and validate my inner child today.. I had two nights of trying to be there again only to not be related too though there are some small signs of progress…

Today I feel in a strange place, the sun is shining but it still feels like the dark old world of the past is lapping around my ankles like a pitch black ocean… I don’t want to go under again and in some way I can feel my feet on the sand.. but I need to continue to be mindful and not blow off my own instincts, gut feelings and true perceptions.. nor tone down my fight response just because I fear being misunderstood or sidelined.

Critical symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Benign neglect is still neglect, it is something therapist Jonice Webb addresses in depth in her book Running on Empty. Many of us could say that we came from loving homes or homes that to all appearances seemed okay or functional from an objective external point of reference and yet something was still missing at the core of such families, a critical sense of warmth, emotional resonance, parental presence, availability and connection which can be hard to articulate. Feelings of emptiness haunt the soul who suffered CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) and the pervasive if unspoken feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’ may dog many of us well into adulthood, it is one of the critical symptoms of CEN. It is not based on any objective truth though, the truth was we never got adequate care and then internalised the belief it was somehow our fault. Our responsibility in the present rests in recognising levels of wounding and trying to find ways to get valid needs met we did not feel allowed to have at the time, rather than internalising self blame.

I shared a lot from Jonice’s book a while back, you will find links to these posts below when I manage to find them back. It took me until I read her book to really get a true handle on what haunted me many years in sobriety when I felt I should be doing a lot better than I was, never the less I was still attracted to dysfunctional emotionally absent relationships and I suffered profoundly mixed feelings of sadness, anger, pain and confusion, I also see now I struggled with critical issues of boundaries and self care.

CEN sufferers often blame themselves when things go wrong or for our suffering and we often don’t know how to take care of ourselves across many levels. For example the child who is left alone a lot may look to comfort from substances like food or drink, seeking the missing love that would come from an emotionally present, warm, available, engaged parent.

I was triggered to break down in tears when watching a programme about latch key children about a month ago. The film showed a little boy going to a fridge to take out some food with a lonely and forlorn look on his face. As I think about this now after just having met up with a close family friend to my mother, an image of her as a child comes to mind. I love the Louise Hay evening meditation in which she asks us to visualise in our mind’s eye both our parents as small children, taking them with love into our hearts. I think of my Mum sitting all alone on the back step after school with no mother at home looking longingly at the neighbourhood kids playing with siblings and longing for a brother and/or sister. I think too of how when she had kids were born too far apart in age to really be able to play like this, something my siblings and I sometimes talk of.

It came up in conversation with my friend earlier how my sister wished not to have a bar of me when I was about 8 to 14. I remember clearly getting my period while Mum and Dad were on a trip away and I had never been told what period was, I went to my sister crying with bloody underpants and got fobbed off in some way. I remember the mix of shame and aloneness and confusion I felt. I don’t remember how it was addressed when Mum and Dad got back home.

Another symptom of CEN is that we feel we must be independent. We learned early on that it was not possible to reach out, open up or rely on anyone. We learn to keep our cards close to our chest, we feel we should manage things that others naturally need help with, the list can go on. I see how this manifests now in the life of my other sister and I see how self contained my brother stays remaining perpetually self focused on work work work and not engaging emotionally AT ANY TIME. The exception was at my older sister’s funeral when he broke down giving the eulogy. He rarely went to visit her in the care home where she lived in the later years with Complex PTSD and acquired brain injury (incorrectly diagnosed bi polar disorder, I feel). His wife told my mother years ago she never wanted her daughter anywhere near my older sister who flipped out and tried to take her life after her husband abandoned her. Guess what? My niece ended up in the psyche ward AT THE EXACT AGE MY OLDER SISTER HAD HER CEREBRAL BLEED AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS.

I think while writing this of my own struggle with addiction, about how silent I used to believe I must be, how I must try never to be ‘too much trouble’ and sadly remember it was because of this my mother eventually had the final fall that ended her life, she drove herself all alone to a doctors appointment then went to do shopping when she was struggling with walking and chronic back pain because she ‘didn’t want to bother me or my sister!’

I just broke down with our family friend. She told me I am a cry baby but this is the real pain and struggle of my entire family with CEN that I am realising now after almost 26 years of active sobriety. My so called defects of character could read like a skit from British comic act Monty Python : fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope (just joshing!!!) But the perfectionism (ruthless efficiency) as well as ruthless self sufficiency defects could be primary ones. That said there are times we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves if we want to truly recover and own our power, but never the less being forced at times to cope on all alone, put on a good front and ask nothing of anyone IS NOT GOOD FOR US. And often it may also come from never having felt truly safe, validated or ‘got’. As a default the sense that if we are to get attention or be considered ‘good enough’ we must always be there for others and never demand too much also sets in making us codependent in an attempt to win the missing love.

Well I am glad I could shed the tears anyway. I know the cure to what ails my sister is not an easy one and I honestly never believed it lay in medication nor in some of the so called ‘strategies’ they are trying to arm her with for about the 8th similar hospitalisation. My sister’s heart is lonely and she may feel there is definitely ‘something wrong with her’, a person who tried all her life to be there for others and not expect or ask too much. But my heart knows the true pain lies deeper and cannot ever be fully addressed by band aids or medications.

Many CEN sufferers do end up ending their lives, like Robin Williams they may have had to put on funny or happy mask but never the less what they were forced to face deep in the lonely privacy of their own hearts and souls may in the end being far far too difficult to come to grips with or digest, inner disparaging voices of self blame also dog many CEN survivors marking us in many places with deeply inarticulate wound which may seem impossible to fully make sense of or bear.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/who-are-we-really-the-lost-feeling-self-and-its-role-in-suicidal-ideation/

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

Getting free of my ‘bad’ self (recognising the deeper impact of trauma and childhood emotional neglect.)

I am still only beginning to understand how my own self punishment and attempts to make myself bad and shame myself for what I have endured in my life play out. The last relationship I was in was very damaging from this point of view. I was very isolated when I met him and he never really was ever able to show empathy for my PTSD symptoms which I was trying my best to manage. When the first abuse began I should have perhaps broken contact but I was at that stage very isolated and alone and hungry for connection.

My own ability to practice self care, I see now was severely limited at that stage due to childhood emotional neglect. CEN can be hidden as many of us neglected came from what, at least from the outside, may appear to be affluent ‘together’ homes, but the neglect is there due to emotional unavailability of parents and the claims made that you are loved and cared for which may be true on one level but are not always backed up bpresence and truly engaged physical and emotional support and so sufferers of CEN tend to blame themselves.. it is one of the major symptoms.

It was hard for both my parents because they had to grow up very fast both having lost their fathers, my Mum at 7 and my Dad at 12 years of age. By the time I came along they were working very hard to survive materially and beginning to get a taste of affluence. They were there but they were often missing emotionally and sometimes I was punished when I really needed support.

I was listening to a programme on teenage mental health on radio in Australia this morning and psychologists involved said the worst thing that can happen to teenagers is to be punished when they are acting out, the better thing is for them to be educated and the reason why they are acting out understood. I wasn’t acting out so much as a teenager but due to lack of parental supervision I was smoking and drinking behind their backs and in the absence of someone being present I was trying in some way to raise myself and felt often I had to put on act to show I was feeling okay and coping when the truth was I often felt insecure and confused about how to live and connect.

I still have this fiercely independent streak (or rather anti dependency streak) and I can find it hard to ask for help or know when I need support. I can tend to push back or push away or deny that I would like support, I feel on some level shame for it or that I don’t deserve it. The sad thing is that later in life when I got to begin to uncover some of my buried emotions and past in sobriety I ran again instead of getting the right help and trusting those close to me to care for me. I have only realised this lately and as a result I ended up crashing and burning. I also aborted several therapy attempts and got lost in the last abusive relationship which ended 8 years ago.

Anyway I need to remember lately that I am making good progress and turning around over 50 years of unhelpful patterns takes time. It also takes some time to see where our own defences can be operating. My therapist feels a lot of my survival defences are now melting and I really am finding new levels of compassion for myself and feeling a lot of the grief, frustration and powerlessness that underlay past anger and rage which kept deeper feelings at bay. Blaming myself or blaming others is actually I am beginning to see a way of defending against my feelings and situation instead of feeling them. Accepting that I was powerless over so much has taken some time. And knowing that I do have power to change some things even longer.

I still struggle a lot with panic attacks and overwhelm symptoms at critical times of the day. I notice what triggers them and then takes me into a down ward spiral. Once the spiral or trauma vortex starts to manifest (which on bad days can happen up to 4 or 5 times) it can be very hard to pull myself out of it and get my attention back in the ‘now’. One of the hardest things about Post Traumatic stress is this vortex pull which is centrifugal. I noticed that I had coped better on the days I actually have plans to meet someone and connect which was happening more over the past week. This week I have felt more anxious having more open time. I still need to remember I am managing well though. The tendency to be down on myself and beat myself up can still be very powerful. I wish that I was better than I am at times, but wishful thinking wont get me very far. I do still struggle a lot, maybe with my complex trauma history I always will??

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially.  This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility.  To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within.  As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.

With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues.  This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing.   The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.

We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over.  Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”.  Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body.  It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.

Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds.  We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.

In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame.  If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things.   Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.

That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process.  It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over.  If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it.  We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.

Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame.  As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents.  If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage.  I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships.  Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot.   I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.

It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath.  Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation.   Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life.    I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22.   From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.

I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy.   It is with me every morning when I wake up.  The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.

Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices)  we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament.  It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone,  Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse.   I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.

If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN.  No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever.  If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT.  As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT.  If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person.  Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/08/23/why-intimacy-brings-up-pain-for-neglected-adult-children/