Understanding the Protector-Persecutor complex and its link to dissociation and child hood trauma

Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments.  It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book  The Undervalued Self.  In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/how-trauma-factures-the-psyche-causes-dissociation-and-create-the-persecutor-protector-in-our-psyche

The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.

I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.

A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest.  In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else.  Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received.  It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving.  It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.

Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes,  you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before.  Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..

(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.

When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up.  Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is.  Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love.  It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.

The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain.  However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.

Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated.  Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness.  Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events.  You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it.  Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs.  Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes.  You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body.  Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.

As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship.  The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in  a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.

Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair.   This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.

We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives.  Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:

  • When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
  • When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
  • When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
  • When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
  • When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
  • When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
  • When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
  • When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
  • When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.

In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.

  • No intimacy.   Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
  • No arguing.   Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
  • No growth.  Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
  • No dating or marriage.  Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
  • No strong feelings.  Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
  • No sex or enjoyment of it.  Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
  • No believing someone who say he or she cares about you.  Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection.  Don’t believe they are genuine.
  • No asking for help.  Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
  • No honesty.   Just say what you think others want to hear.  Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
  • No hope.   Don`t expect help, joy or good things.  Do not place faith in anyone.
  • No standing up for yourself.  Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
  • No trusting.  Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)

As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.

Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…

Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.

 

 

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

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In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxious In Love, p. 98

Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

Pain of early separations from our mother can haunt us for a long time and we may not always know what the pain is about. It’s an issue that Mark Wolynn, San Francisco based therapist on multigenerational trauma addresses at length in his book It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  The separation may not have been physical alone, it could be just that our mother was undergoing a depression, grieving a loss or being unseen and unnurtured by her own mother did not know how to be fully present for us.  (According to Wolynn the original problem or disruption often lies a generation or two back and we may be unaware of it).  We feel the loss and absence keenly and such feelings can cause us to actually turn away when our mother tries to connect with us another time.

Wolynn shares just such a story on page 175 about a baby Myrna whose mother leaves for three weeks.  On her return as she waits and longs for her daughter to run to her Mryna’s mother experiences instead a daughter who turns away becoming even more distant.  Rather than understand her daughter’s reactions and look for a way to restore the bond Myrna’s mother instead encourages her independence.  The mother loses sight of her child’s vulnerability, so where did it go for Myrna?  Answer in short.  Into the unconscious.

Of course later when Myrna fell in love, love was experienced as a minefield and its something I can relate to as will anyone with insecure, avoidant or anxious attachment.  Vulnerability of needing another opens up a pit of loss we do not fully understand and we can relate by sabotaging things further should we choose to deny or repress our true need feelings and vulnerability.

Mark Wolynn talks of interruptions to the flow of love and energy between parent and child a lot in his book.  He knows a lot about it as he pursued a path of so called ‘spiritual bypassing’ seeking a healing he could not find in ashrams and through meditation (though he does use visionary meditations with a clients ancestors in order to effect healing of past wounds carried on).  Wolynn did not heal his early trauma with his mother until years later understanding how its roots lay far back in his own mother and grandmother’s history and eventually becoming a therapist himself.

When our early experience with our mother is disrupted by a significant break in the bond, shards of pain and emptiness can shred our well being and disconnect us from the fundamental flow of life.  Where the mother-child relationship remains severed, empty or fraught with indifference, a stream of negative images can lock the child in a pattern of frustration and self doubt.  In extreme cases, when the negative images are continuous and unrelenting, frustration, rage, numbness, and insensitivity to others can emerge.

Psychopathic behaviour can be the result but the key result if often a form of pathological narcissism – an inability to truly connect and take in love.

According to Wolynn the majority of us have experienced some kind of break in the bond with our mothers.  Many though, got enough of what was needed to be able to maintain healthy relationships later in life.  Many of us were not so lucky.  Ideally disruptions to attunement need to be healed in the context of any relationship.  How we deal with them are important as are the beliefs about our inherent lovability.  According to Janet Woititz adult children of addiction and trauma believed they will only be loved if they act in a pleasing happy way.  No relationship can survive like this and neither can we.

Knowing what happened in the bond with our mother and the impact it had on our attachment style as well as inherent negative self beliefs and development of what Wolynn calls ‘core sentences of separation’ is vitally important if we wish to heal.  We can become conscious of these, work to understand how they may be influencing our present and do inner work to change negative core beliefs we may have absorbed unconsciously so they do not continue to play our in our relationships.  I have found so much help myself reading Wolynn’s book which I shared from extensively in my blog last year.  It is well worth a look if you struggle to maintain healthy loving relationships in your own life and are working to understand how the flow of love between you and a parent (not only your mother) is impacting you in later life.

(Examples of core beliefs which negatively impact our capacity to love and be loved are :  I’ll be left:  I’ll be abandoned. I’ll be rejected.  I’ll have nobody.  I’ll lose control.   I’ll be helpless.  I don’t matter.  I’m too much.  I am not enough.  I’ll be annihilated.  I’ll be destroyed.  I will push love away.)

Silence

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Silence will leave you guessing

May fill you with an emptiness

That is an echo of those times separation distance or silence was used

To prevent you expressing something

Others did not understand or want to hear

But silence can also be such a soothing balm

It can provide a healing place for a tired or damaged soul

Emptied out and made weary by the cacophany of this world

And its at times soul scalding profanities

Its all in what you bring to silence

That determines whether it is blessing or a curse

A hiding

Or a finding place

Where you are finally free

To open your being and feel your soul speak to you

Truths you always needed to know

That so often others

Could not accept

Or fully understand

Hidden deep in your body

Under a heavy blanket of silence

The power of a kind word

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I love it when the Dalai Lama says if he has a religion, it is kindness.  I know the power of a kind word to uplift me, as well as others  when we are going through a hard time.  Just think of the power of negative words and nastiness, the power they have to destroy lives, like the life of Dolly Everett who took her life a while ago due to bullying?  She is one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were destroyed not only by the unkind words of others but through the lack of power of her own positive inner voice of love to sustain her enough to make her want her to keep living.

That said I do feel that if you are a sensitive individual witnessing or being subject to a lot of violence or emotional violence can have the most devastating of impacts and looking at the state of a world or a school yard or a work place where darker forces of unkindness and cruelty exist, even if subtly hidden can become far too much…… That is why I would never ever say someone is selfish for taking their own life.  How can we really know what goes on deep inside another person’s, mind, heart and body really? How can we know what they have witnessed or lived through?  How do we know what self torturing reality they may have to live with inside their own mind on any day?  How do we know how they were spoken to or treated when open and vulnerable?

As a sensitive person I was subjected to a lot of teasing in my family.. Some teasing can be an attempt at fun but some teasing can involve subtle puts downs as well as the annihilation of another person’s being and reality….Just such a case was something demonstrated on my recent post on rejected feelings and suicidal ideation in the life of Robyn, a fragile young woman therapist Jonice Webb treated for childhood emotional neglect.

The meaning of the word ‘sarcasm’ comes from the Latin ‘to tear flesh’ this is how it feels to be subjected to verbal or emotional abuse, literally as if you have no skin or the one you have is being torn off of you.   The looks of disgust you receive when you react to such abuse emotionally brings even more shame and humiliation down upon you, to the point you feel you have no right to exist or to respond in a genuine way.  Its like tearing claws off a young lion cub.

Later in life we can work to become aware of the impact of unkind or invalidating reactions or things said to us in childhood or adolescence, but we will have to work hard if we have become a scapegoat identified person.. because in some families this is what may happen to the one who tries to point out truths or has valid reactions to the inherent unfairness or unkindness of an abusive family system.  You will need to do a lot of work with your own inner voices as well as the cultural ones so as to not absorb them or keep them rooted down deep inside.

This blog is also a plea for consciousness around the power of the way we use words.  Are we using them to hurt or heal?  Are we using them to dismiss or build up and self soothe, self nourish and protect? Are we using them to assert a boundary in a kind and loving way with others?     A simple “it is not okay to talk to me like that” can suffice.   Or “I am not going to stay here while you put me down.”

And let us also remember the power of a kind word to sustain and nurture others.  By all means we don’t want to use this in a false or sucking up way, but when we can speak with the voice of love and kindness, not only to others but also to ourselves we will be in a much stronger position to deflect those unkind words that when laying claim to a wounded soul can cause much further corrosion and damage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

if they are used against you,

if the person runs away,

is burdened by it,

accuses you of ruining their day/night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Voices from inside anxiety and depression

If we struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression its helpful to the ones who KNOW, those souls who also struggled and suffered and found a way out or through the experience.  There are a lot of people and voices outside there who have known the pain, isolation and profound suffering that anxiety and depression can bring.  Matt Haig is one such voice and he published a book in 2015 called Reasons to Stay Alive where he speaks candidly about his experience and of how there is life and hope on the other side of that long dark tunnel of depression.  Matt believes his depression and anxiety came to him as learning experiences leading him on an inward path of self discovery and uncovery.  He doesn’t believe in medication as a long term solution for himself, for in his case it didn’t work but he appreciates that each of us have our own pathway to travel and medication helps others.

For now, I do what I know keeps me just about level. Exercise definately helps me, as does yoga and absorbing myself in something or someone I love, so I keep doing those things.  I suppose, in the absence of universal certainties, we are our own best laboratory.

The following excerpt comes from the chapter Pretty Normal Childhood in which he speaks of death anxieties he had around losing both parents when he was young.  In this chapter he shares how a throw away unkind comment from a girl in school who he liked sent him into a downward spiral and I am sure many of us can relate to this. At that age we don’t have any filters against such comments and we are longing for love and acceptance, so criticism hits hard and can be deeply internalised.

In the final paragraph of that chapter, Matt writes :

I didn’t totally fit in. I kind of disintegrated around people, and became what they wanted me to be.  But paradoxically, I felt an intensity inside me all the time.  I didn’t know what it was, but it kept building, like water behind a dam.  Later, when I was properly depressed and anxious, I saw the illness as an accumulation of all that thwarted intensity.  A kind of breaking through. As though, if you find it hard to let yourself be free, your self breaks in, flooding your mind in an attempt to drown out all those failed half versions of yourself.

A few chapters along he speaks of how more men kill themselves as a result of depression that women, the reason, men are conditioned to see depression as a sign of weakness and ‘are reluctant to seek help’.  The prohibition Boys Dont Cry plays a huge part in this in fostering an untruth that limits and encloses boys and men in a prison.  Matt’s way out, as it is for those of us who suffer, men and women, is to talk and listen and encourage both.  He reminds us that depression doesnt make us outcasts from humanity but just normal humans.  Depression can come to be associated with who we are when really it is a experience which happens to us.

It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience.  I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy.  Where talk exists so does hope.

Finding our voice in depression is a way out, or at least a way of connecting, once we can connect we feel less alone.  There are so many other souls out there who have walked this pathway, we just have to open our minds, hearts and mouths to find them.

In other chapters Matt writes a letter to his depressed self from the self who finally came through the depression, telling that former version of himself he will come through it. This is not what depression, anxiety and panic attacks tell us every day we suffer them.  Instead they tell us the pain will never end and it will destroy us.   I am not naive about depression and know we all have to do our own inner work and find our own ways to come through.  I nevertheless like to recommend voices of those who can be guides or forces of encouragement for other undergoing their own dark night.  Matt Haig is just one of these many voices.

When anger is denied

Afer sharing a reblog of Twinkletoes post on Anger Turned Inward yesterday I have been thinking a fair bit about the subject.   Anger turned inward ties into issues of feeling unsafe expressing strong feelings, feeling powerless, frustrated, neglected and ignored when we really needed help and validation.  There is a deep despair and grief that we are left with when we are not responded to with empathy or helped to be effective with expressing our wants, needs and frustrations as children.  If we have no where to go with these feelings we often repress them or they fall to the level of our body.

If we were raised in a far older family we may have been left alone or ignored all the time. We may have been on the receiving end of bullying which is projected shame and may be due to the frustration of older siblings who were left alone to take care of us in the absence of parents or carried their own pain due to lack of emotional receptivity and nurture, we are then on the end of the projection of that siblings pain as well that gets dumped into us, and if we can’t express that to anyone its a set up for a host of later painful feelings of emotional isolation and depression

Some of us like my fellow blogger and I were sent to our rooms when angry.   I wasn’t locked in mine but I still felt alone there with my ‘big’ feelings I didnt quite know how to manage.  But I also know my Mum had those big feelings too and Dad didnt know how to cope so would go awol, laughing and joking about it (which on one level was better than exploding) however that was a set up for me for a passive aggressive emotional style.

In the passive agressive style we don’t feel safe enough to set boundaries or say no or even allow for the fact we have needs which may differ from others.  We may equate self assertion with abandonment, if we were on the receving end of a lot of aggression when young we may come to fear self assertion believing it can only happen in a way that hurts and we may either fear hurting others or losing their approval.  If we have known the deep pain of feeling abandoned we fear being the one who abandons others and so we can end up putting other’s needs first.

In my own family I didnt see healthy self assertion modelled a lot and being left alone I learned to try to be needless and wantless, after all there was no one there so I was better to lock it all away or deny it.  I think at a young age I learned to escape into books and TV.  I can still do this at times.  I remember in a past relationship if my ex called and a show was on I liked often I would not take his call.  That may or may not be okay, I am not sure but surely connection to a human should be more important than a show.

I have learned a lot through reading. I sometimes think readers of my blog may get a bit frustrated though as I am always blogging about something I have read.  Escape is not always a bad thing, only when it diverts us from dealing with life and complexities.  That said some complexities we may wish to side step, if we are an empathic intuitive.  We don’t always have to be emotionally available.

Anyway there are some good books out there to help with understanding the role anger plays in our lives and whether or not we have learned to express it in healthy way and listen to what it is telling us in functional ways or repress and deny it leading to depression and auto immune problems.  I have written blogs on the subject in the past but often they get buried way back due to the way my blog is set up and the fact that now, 4 years on I have a lot of posts.

For information of those who would like it though, some of the books on anger I have found especially helpful follow:

John Lee, The Anger Solution : The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Long Lasting Relationships.

This book is great as he explains very clearly the concept of age regression which is similar to an experience of an emotional flashback that can intensify the way we responde to incidents which trigger old experiences of pain, neglect or abuse.  He gives techniques for unpacking the past triggers.  Just understanding when we are age regressed helps us a lot in our emotional recovery.

Beverley Engel, Honour Your Anger : How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life.

Dr Les Carter, The Anger Trap : Free Yourself from the Frustrations That Sabotage Your Life.

And for those whose passive aggressive anger style may come from a fear of abandonment due to displeasing others a very helpful book on learning to self assert honestly is :

Harriet B Braiker, The Disease To Please : Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome.

I am sure there are many other wonderful books out there.  There is no substitute for good therapy to work with the roots of anger and self assertion as these are such important issues when we are dealing with depression.   I hope some of this information may be of help to others.

Writing from the body and our past to tap in : some insights from John Lee

If I could give you a dollar for every time I have been told that I should just ‘get over it’ or ‘stop looking at the past’ you would be wealthy.   As a species we are only slowly coming around to the realisation that our past stays trapped and encoded in the cells of our bodies and our neuro and biochemistry.  When I first got sober a few years in I came across the work of medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, a wonderful book and set of tapes I was lucky to be given by the bookshop where I was then working called Energy Anatomy.  Carolyn was asked to work in tandem with a doctor to get information about certain patients he was treating about their past and what she had to say co-related with the illness they were going through with astonishing accuracy.  Carolyn had no other information, she did not meet the people, the specialist in question would just phone her with brief information about the patient.  From this Carolyn ‘read’ certain information such as ‘her mother died when she was two, she had a termination of pregnancy when she was 18’ and so on.   The doctor was blown away by her readings and Carolyn wrote this line in her book : “biography becomes biology”.

I am thinking about this a lot today as I am just reading the book Writing From the Body : For Writers and Artists, and Dreamers who Long to Free their Voice.   It is written by recovering alcoholic, John Lee who in recovery has become a therapist and works with people working to both free themselves from repressions of the past as well and express what may have been trapped, locked or encoded in muscle, tissue and organ.  The first few chapters tell of his own process to unblock his voice and find access through writing to essential blockages and experiences of the past which he believes to stay trapped in the body waiting to be heard or freed.  I am so inspired by what I have read so far that I really wanted to share it here, since on WordPress there are so many writers who are working in this way.  To be inspired to me is to be filled with spirit, to be able to breathe.  In fact in the chapter Inspiration : The Breath and the Word he deals with the importance of breathing as we write to gain inspiration and to access our depth.  I am not sharing content from the chapter here but the previous one Descending into the Body.  It is my own belief that body is soul and what soul’s suffer stayed trapped here longing to be freed.  When we tap in we release on some level past experiences and metabolise them.  I am sharing it here as I just feel a burning need to do so.  I hope it speaks to you, dear reader.

To embrace our body’s truth is to embrace our past.  There is no other way.  The body is home to all that has happened to us, and it remembers.  Fortunately, if we engage in the process of remembering (re – membering like Osiris did gathering up our torn fragments) with full vigor, great riches emerge.  In his breakthrough book, The Poetics of Reverie, Gaston Bachelard writes:

In waking life… when reverie works on our history, the childhood within us brings its benefits.  One needs……to live with the child he has been.  From such living he achieves a consciousness of roots, and the entire tree of his being takes comfort from it. 

Not everything we discover in ourselves will be comfortable.  But we need to know he truth of our roots if we are to write from that depth.  Our roots don’t have to be pleasant to be comforting.  Just the act of claiming our own history, of pledging ourself to its truth, provides peace of mind.  It also feeds our writing – we must know our whole story before we can tell it.

Lee goes on to talk about how he was raised in the South of the United States to barely literate parents.  How early on he came to believe that he ‘wasn’t that bright’, how he came to be ashamed of his origins and also came to believe he had to be from somewhere else to be intelligent or gifted enough to write.  Over the course of his healing journey though he came to see that such beliefs were untrue.  He speaks of how he had to both own them and dispel them or at least engage with them and work to answer them back.  He continues:

That’s part of my story.  You have your own.  You have your own messages.  What were they?  Who spoke them? What did you feel like when you heard them? How do you feel about these messages, and the messengers now?

As I am typing this a poem I wrote a while back addressed to my father comes to mind.  I will try to find it later but it was about how he devalued the artistic and humanitarian in favour of utilitarianism and commerce.  How he forced me away from my literate artistic side.  It was a deep wound in me and one I have only begun to really address since starting this blog.  Truth is, from a young age I was writing and so probably were many of you.  I still struggle with the Inner Critic.  How I get around it in my blog these days is to let it speak so readers can see.  I then try to act against what is says.

As the chapter concludes Lee gives this advice to budding writers :

Now write a story, a poem, or a one act play, or a letter.  Write how you feel about these destructive messages.  Tell the whole truth at last.  If fears arise, name them and you will dissipate their power.  We don’t have to go on fighting our fear, telling ourselves “everything’s fine.”  As we write from the body, we touch the centre of ourselves.  In doing so we discover to our surprise that everything truly is fine, and that a part of us remains safe regardless of what happens to us in the world.

My truth is this :  I wasn’t disabled.  But I did become tense and scared when unreasonable demands were placed on me.

Write your own truth boldly, loudly.  Stay close to the body’s sounds, to its rhythms of breath and bone, they will tell you want to write.

I am sure so many of you have found such comfort through your writing.  The beauty of WordPress is that it gives so many of us a platform to express and free from ourselves what became trapped, locked, buried or impacted deep inside. When other’s read, like and comment we feel the joy of resonance and know nothing we ever suffer really separates us, only that which we fail to free or speak.   I will end this with a luminous quote from Lee’s book on writing :

Be strong then, and enter your own body:

there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Do not go off somewhere else!

just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.

Kabir