Making myself wrong : taking on other’s burdens, some reflections.

I wrote this post late last night after working through some of the events of the past week.

think I tend to take on a lot of responsibility for situations I did not cause.  Someone pointed this out to me in a comment on another post.  That when we care and know pain and can feel it deeply there really is no insulation that we have from other’s pain. The best we can do is make a decision with our minds to detach from it and be realistic about the limits of our involvement.

In this current situation that I have been sharing about over past weeks there is a long history going back to 1980 when critical events took place in my family.   I make sense of a lot through astrological cycles and when I look to current transits I see what is being triggered at the moment but so much of it was way outside of my control, never the less the ricochet effects deeply affected me.   I was at that stage coming out of my own motor vehicle trauma when the trauma befell my sister and I was about to embark on studies that got aborted and then I got no counselling to help me and was very much on my own in the coming years after my father died.

When I got sober in 1993 I had all of this trauma still locked up inside me.  I tried my best to come to terms with it but I was not helped by my partner nor family and at that point I see I would have been best to make a complete break away, but I needed some kind of support.  Today I was clear with my sister that I could not go to the hospital with my Mum in the ambulance and that I could not go to the hospital tonight either.  My three hours there on Monday night set me back big time on Tuesday.   I don’t want to go under again and if I am going to continue to make progress it really is time to start setting some boundaries.

To be honest as much as I loved my nephew’s company, staying up late while he was drinking and smoking a lot was not something thats good for me.  I had a lot of cleaning up to do yesterday and we had torrential rain while they were here.  When he left he hadnt cleaned anything up.  There were his dirty dishes in the sink and outside a dish full to the brim of cigarette buts with rain water in them.  I cleaned it all up yesterday and finally feel that I have my space back.  I am glad to be able to have my sanctuary here back, as its where I recharge myself.   Now I just need to work to keep at bay critical thoughts and keep practicing self care.

On that note I went to the library this afternoon and a book was waiting I ordered in called Finding True Refuge,  I don’t know if any of you have read the author Tara Brach’s earlier book Radical Acceptance, I  read it quite a few years ago and got a lot out of it, in it she talks a lot about shame and how she came face to face with her own on her spiritual path.  In this one she speaks about cultivating a loving kindness meditation practice where we seek refuge within, in the silent interior spaces of our heart.   I already got a lot out of the first 30 pages I read this afternoon.

The idea of seeking and finding a refuge within appeals to me.  It is what I feel in that nourishing, nurturing, alone time of solitude when I touch base with a source of peace that lives beyond all the traumatic events others seem to keep bringing into my life.  I am aware that on an astrological level Saturn and healthy mature adult boundaries and protections are an antidote to all my strong Neptunian tendency to be overly empathic and compassionate.  With Jupiter magnifying Neptune in Scorpio’s influence lately (by transit) I was also warned in another reading/interpretation by astrologer Leah Whitehorse that what people are saying or projecting may not be totally true or based on reality.   I need to keep a mindful watch over my own energy frequency now.   I was starting to feel happiness and contentment and experiencing solid sleep before my nephew’s visit last week.

I got a lot out of the visit but it also made me aware that as an empath I can and do take on other people’ s struggle and suffering at times.  My therapist suggested this week that when I get full to the brim with it, I try to discharge that energy by grounding, putting my feet on the earth and letting it flow down out and away from me.  Last week after each afternoon walk I was taking off first one shoe and then the other to place each bare feet on the ground to earth myself and settle my energy.

Its interesting to me that I got breast cancer just a few months after my older sister was diagnosed.  When I think of the amount of trauma we both went through from 2005 – 2015 when we were both diagnosed it doesnt surprise me.  Tbere is an element of strong enmeshment in our stories.

Anyway I will keep working to have better boundaries and become more aware when I feel the saviour archetype is overpowering me.   I should not make myself responsible for what others have to bear.  At the same time I need to be aware of their boundaries as well.   I notice that so often what I give is not so often reciprocated.   I dont give to get but when you do have a giving heart its so important to keep a balance.  If we give more than we get back it can tend to make us ill or drained.   This is something I need to keep a really close watch on in myself.

Their tears fall in silence

Crying.png

Their tears fall in silence

Or stay silted up behind eyes that cannot cry

Griefs they buried long ago

Lead to a hijacked brain

And the pain and confusion of that

Can on some days be so overwhelming

How can we help them begin to break the silence?

To reach out from deep inside

A wounded or broken soul

Healing only begins with the telling and feeling

The difficult uncovery of such painful lost truth

And even though the deepest wounds may never be fully repaired

Always and forever leaving a scar

Just maybe in being spoken

They can be opened and cleased

And some of the poison driven out

The ones who weep in silence

Well please remember

To send them a prayer

For we know

We too were once the ones who wept in silence

And so it is our responsibility

To speak, to share, to encourage and to care

Why self compassion helps us more than ‘self esteem’

Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?

It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion.   She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well.  If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet  outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of  inward security.    We can also become less compassionate.

In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem.  Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.

The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :

  1. Self kindness.   A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental.   Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’.  Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves.  In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain.  Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels.  Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress.  This is really hard right now.  I am with you.   This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass.  It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require.  When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect.   Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
  2. Recognition of our common human experience.  So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care.  This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people.   Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again.   We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern.  Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things.  While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too.  However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows.  On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering.  In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
  3. Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being.  To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful).  “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.”   Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions.  In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them.  For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body,  feeling a desire to lash out.  In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother.  His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother.  With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying.  He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary.  He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard.  Mindfulness was central to this process.  “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)

Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post.  I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately,  I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.

I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem.  Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance.  It helps me understand myself and others better.  It is a practice I am very grateful to have found.  It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.

Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes.  It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect.  It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.

Loving Kindness

Kindness.jpg

Today when any pain arises

I will notice it gently and touch it lovingly

I won’t feed myself negative stories or thoughts about my pain

Even though it may really be hurting

I will just say, darling today you feel pain

I am sorry

I am here for you

You are not alone

You don’t have to stay silent

I am listening

You can be, for yourself

The loving, kind, patient presence

You long for

And you can look for any beauty

In this quiet peaceful present moment

By opening your heart

By opening your mind

To loving kindness

Softening

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

Bessel van der Kolk

Pain and abuse or trauma can make us harden and contract.  Some of us erect steely defences, we fight or we may take flight.  Others of us just collapse in a big heap with our insides spewing out all over the metaphorical floor.  In any case pain, abuse or trauma can and does change us and fosters in us certain reactions.

I had the thought as I awoke early today to a soft morning after gentle rain had fallen (which was like nature mirroring my inner world as last night when I wrote about tears as the gentle rain, the skies were clear. But isn’t our grief just like this?  It comes in shower, storm or a wave and washes us through.)   The thought I had was that my soul is often in grieving for my false or fighting self that had to push through all the pain and trauma alone.  My therapist and I were talking about how the inner critic forms yesterday in the vacuum left by a parent’s lack of availability or as a way to please and how it then becomes unconsciously melded to us, until we do the inner work of uncovery and recovery.  We wouldn’t survive without this push to bring us through.  Many collapse in depression or inward turned anger and take their lives or end up with such a compromised auto immune system that all kinds of diseases can result.  Last night I was reading a post of someone who endured two terrible losses and ended up with fibromyalgia due to the complex feelings she struggled to express, process and understand.

I have always been a great believer in the soul which I see as a kind of deeply authentic internal witness that knows all about us.  I was drawn to the work of Carl Jung and Jungian therapists such as Thomas Moore, Robert Johnson, James Hillman and Marion Woodman in my early sobriety because they spoke of the importance of this soul and how its symptoms are cries for healing that may sometimes fall on the deaf ears of our false self who had to turn away or compromise.

I remember a few months back when I was beginning to open up to a lot of grief in therapy, Kat my therapist, said to me so wisely : “these are the tears of your true self.”  At the age of 54 trauma and my own defences have stolen from me so many life opportunities .  As I look back at past relationships I also see how I blame myself for wounds I was not conscious of.  My emotional hunger made me bond with inappropriate people far too early.  My emotional neglect meant I did not have strategies of self care.  And when I was in rampant addiction there was really no real me to show up to protect or be truely intimate even though my soul longed for this deep intimacy.

What I have realised is that for me to ever find such a form of intimacy, it is going to need to come from my own soul first.  After years of validation I needed my current therapist so desperately but I cannot tell you the amount of times my inner saboteur, critic and nay sayer has tried to get me to abort this last therapy.  I wonder why a part of me would fight something that helps me so much.

Anyway this morning I woke up soft.  I woke up just before dawn.  I made sure not to contract my muscles and to try to breathe deep into my belly as part of my pattern of trauma involves unconsciously holding my breathe.   I was trapped in the car in 1979 for a long time and had to be cut out.  I had a collapsed lung so it was hard to breathe and they were behind me trying to put on a mask.   I held my breathe in my family to put my own needs back and try to revolve around Mum to be seen.  I tried so hard to do everythign right.  Yesterday as I was crying with Kat in therapy I heard a deep inner voice say : “you better get everything right and perfect, or there will be hell to pay.”  Part of my own defence and ancestral defence is to try to make order out of chaos.  I know often in adult children of alcoholics meetings I would hear how this reaction was a response to the chaos of a parent’s addiction.  In our family the addiction was my great great grandfather’s,  My grandmother and mother carried both the trauma imprints and reactive imprints.  With my Neptune in Scorpio in the third house I know it is my fate to bring awareness to all of this so I can free myself but first I have to see it and realise that maybe such deep rooted patterns are not always easy to change.  I need to have patience with myself and practice self compassion while still trying to set limits and boundaries of self care so I am not driven all the time by the emptiness of my childhood neglect.  Only self care will help in this situation.  A false self develops as a survival strategy and it takes time to release it.  I am engaged on this process.

I have a lovely book on the soul by Deepak Chopra that he wrote as a response to the 9/11 attacks called The Deeper Wound : Recovering The Soul From Fear and Suffering that I rediscovered earlier this year.  In it there are 100 poweruful meditations with a core saying to help us get in touch with our souls, that soft wise inner part of us that just sees and knows beyond all the fears, insecurities and strategies of the false self or wounded ego.

I am making a practice of letting these meditations soak in as a kind of healing balm when I am forced to push or fight something it may be better to open up and surrender to.  I don’t doubt my soul knows what is required to embrace my fractures.  I just have to trust and stay open and soft enough to let that healing in while staying strong and setting boundaries for good self care.

Cultivating peace

Focus

It is occurring to me lately that cultivating peace on any day is something I can choose to do.  I would rather feel the soft cool balm of peace washing over my troubled soul at those times when it may be hurting or aching.  I would rather answer that cry of regret or feelings of not good enough or criticism with a soothing caring word from self that lets me know that having it all together is not the answer to peace and happiness for me in the present moment, rather that answer lies in peace and at oneness, acceptance of the fact that life can at times be full of pain and far from easy.

Past years have shown me beyond any doubt how hard I can be on myself inside my head.  I didn’t hear voices of self compassion growing up.  I was alone a lot with my thoughts and I felt an emptiness from my parent’s emotional distance which I now know went back to disconnection from their own parents and having to mature at a time of great emotional turmoil in both their worlds affected by traumas beseiging their families due to war and other difficulties.

What I did develop in this environment was a sense of being alone and not knowing where to turn but to substances.  I also became very critical inside my head.  Because I did not know how to manage, nor who to ask I just took myself off and diverted or buried feelings.  Even in my sobriety as trauma began to emerge I started to feel and hear a very destructive inner voice telling me to take my life.

I will post a post after this which comes from a recovery story in the book Beyond Borderline in which a sufferer speaks of how she struggled with her own inner critic. Those of us recovering from Complex PTSD which is a wider less stigmatising diagnosis that could be an umbrella under which others such as Bi Polar and Borderline could fall have deep work to do with the inner critic in recovery.  The inner critic doesn’t accept anything, it judges which is different from discriminating between helpful and unhelpful responses to trauma.  It runs an ongoing monologue of all the ways we have failed, fallen short and not measured up without considering that we lacked certain skills or support.

The antidote to the inner critic is a wise mind loving compassionate voice which is more realistic and understands how we have suffered.  It understands that we have only fallen short of arbitrary standards that are not necessarily realistic nor kind.  It allow for us to progress rather than demanding us to be perfect.  This is the voice that gives us peace, that helps us to cultivate peace.  This is the voice we need to listen to keep our lives in love and balance, rather than full of pain, fear and destabilisation.

I do believe what we choose to focus on grows in our life.  My work with a trauma body therapist involves putting the focus on goodness or pleasant feelings and sensations or things in the environment, not purely as a distraction to pain but as a reminder of what good still lives on outside a traumatised reality.  In many instances the trauma or pain we carry is not even ours, it belongs to the ones who passed it on or the ones that passed it onto them.  We can learn to give this pain back where it belongs and I will write about this soon in a post which shares the work therapist Mark Wolynn does with recognising core trauma and fears we take on from the past.   We are not meant to live a life of constant fear, pain and insecurity but this is what we will find if we keep our focus on it.

Combatting the “leprosy of mental illnesses”.

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

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

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

Beyond

The following statistics enlightened me further to its widespread prevalence.

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

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

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

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