A wall of fire

Walking through trauma and waking up inside a nightmare that has formerly been repressed is so so hard.  I do not think anyone truly understands trauma unless they have lived trauma.  That said some therapists try and have sufficient insight, others don’t in my experience.  I often get stymied trying to explain my complex body symptoms to my psychoanalyst, Kat.   She does not know how my nights are, the struggle I go through daily and nightly as I feel I am drowning and get fixed on past imprints.  I survive as best I can by putting structure in my day and a daily connection with nature is essential to me.

That said reading of how others are also struggling to express to those they love who can sadly not understand brings back key incidents from my own struggle for recognition.  My husband got very jealous of my therapy and sided with my Mum in trying to pull me back in line, that said I know he cared for me and didnt want me to be struggling but as a trauma survivor I was and lack of empathy ended up triggering me to take flight again and smash up on the other side of the world all alone.   My by then ex husband came to the hospital but gave me no support, told me I needed to go home and he would give me no help with residency (which I eventually got alone) even though I supported him with Australian residency when we met as well as setting up his business.  He wanted back “the happy girl I married”, what was the message in that, please put all this sadness behind you if you want us to survive.  Its the same message I got in the next relationship I sadly went into 3 years after my ex husband and I separated.

To be dumped when you are already foundering is killing.  I honestly dont know how I survived.  After the accident overseas I did come home and ended up living alone at the coast for years, no therapy and that was a big mistake but by then my trust was shattered.  Luckily I have now been back in therapy for just over 4 years but only really found my last best therapist 3 years ago.

Walking through trauma is like walking through a wall of fire, it is that painful.  Along the way you will be told all kinds of shit by others who have not a clue of what you live through on a daily basis.  For me a lot of the way I coped was to pretend I was okay and put on as good a front as I could to be accepted but when I finally crashed and burned after coming home I started to get honest and yes, even scream at times, which lost me ‘friends’ but not the people who truly understood and cared.  Being deluged with trauma visions as stuff starts to uncover is fucking hard and you need support, sadly there is no way out but through it and sadly until recently truths about trauma and the body were not fully understood, apart from in shamanic cultures and disciplines and those reactions were only understood to be ‘irrational’ but they are not really irrational when you know what a soul has endured but all a part of a valid response to PTSD or Complex PTSD.  I have said it before in this blog and I will say it again.  You are not abnormal for having a normal response to the overwhelm of trauma.  By its very nature trauma overwhelms us and learning to contain that charge takes a lot of time and has to be done slowly over time with those who can help us to hold it and release it little by little by little, a lot like letting air out of a balloon.   Wounds to the soul, as D H Lawrence reminded us cannot be cured over night and they will always leave us different, marked in ways that others who have not endured trauma can and will never fully understand.

Holding to our boundary?

I guess every victim of emotional neglect or abuse has a struggle knowing what’s what, who is really harmful and better not to be around.  Feeling anxious when we receive a call from one of our ‘triggers’ can be a trigger, but due to our past holes in development we don’t alway feel we have the right not to take the call.  I just read a post on unconditional love and part of me thought, yeah, I am not sure that I believe in that any more.  Giving people the benefit of the doubt or trying to be stronger or a bigger person is what a Good Guy with the feeling we dont have a right to legitimate needs or boundaries is taught to do by conditioning.

When love is absent and real care and empathy, where do we go?  What we experience is a terrible numbness, emptiness or void, a soul pain that often is not understood intellectually but since our body is really the home of our soul, somewhere inside our bodies know and yet for a child in this situation what can we do.  When we cannot leave physically, we choose a form of dissociation, its something I have been thinking a lot about while reading writer Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography.   Many of us escape into books or tv or we start to write from a young age.  Like me Jeanette never had her boundaries respected, her adoptive mother violated them and read her diaries, she threw out and burned all of her books.  Jeanette wrote in the quote I posted yesterday that she learned early on that anything could be taken, and the only thing that could not was her what was inside, her capacity to express and to create.  For some of us, however, if our insides are invalidated and we are told we are bad or selfish it can be hard to hold onto the internal reality, too.

The abuser who wants control over us wants to destroy our reality as well as our understanding of them as a perpetrator so they turn it around on us, we are the ones who are selfish or too vulnerable or too sensitive for just feeling normal feelings that any caring emotionally connected person would.  I had a commenter on one of my blogs yesterday tell me that feelings will get us in trouble, yes if we dont know how to use them as internal messaging systems and I dont think the person really got the jist of the post.   This does not apply to feeling ‘bad’ which is a feeling that may be grown by thoughts that we are incompetent in some way when really that is just a form of depression or an introjected voice talking to us inside our heads.

Dissociation for many of us was a way to survive trauma.  It was a way of preserving the inner self, the problem comes when we turn self protection and externalised fear into global concepts where we feel the entire world is bad and not to be trusted.  As survivors we will always be wary and we need good boundaries.  We need to know what hurt us was valid and not just all in our imagination as we will often be told by gaslighters.  We need to trust our feelings not fear them and then put them to good use.   We may also not ever need to forgive certain abuse and this need to forgive may be something that is forced on us by moralistic people.   Abuse is not okay, its not okay to trammel a sensitive person and lead them to believe their reality is skewed when they are trying to be who they are and express their true and real selves.   I had to leave one Al Anon group when two members told me I was not allowed to express anger over my Mum’s abandonment of me as a child.  While I know my Mum went through something similar she never allowed herself to be angry at her own mother and as a result she never had good emotional awareness or strong boundaries later in life.  The pain meds she was on in the end ruined the last years of her life.

I have watched two siblings struggle with anger and self assertion.  I have seen them cut down when they were trying to break free but also I have seen them become manic with the unresolved fear and anxiety we all absorbed in our family home was not contained or made sense of in therapy only treated medically with a cocktail of drugs.  I’ll be damned if I will shut up about it.  I makes me angry and so, so sad.  My living sister is not able to be emotionally and assertively present in any way these days and she is collapsed as a person.  In the end she could not break out of her feeling wounded prison.   It makes me cry,  especially leading up the anniversary of my older sister’s death which occured on Easter Sunday in 2014.

Knowing who we are.  Holding to our boundary.  Knowing what we feel makes perfect sense these things can only come out of the long hard painstaking work of emotional recovery and these things are not given to us we have to earn our right to boundaries over and over again and we struggle so remorsefully with self doubt as our ego strength was never encouraged.  As children we were not helped to develop a heathy ego or good boundaries, in fact we were conversely actively stymied in our emotional education and so we have work extra hard now.  And we cannot afford to open once again to emotional invalidation from those who would try to convince us our boundaries are wrong or there is something wrong with us for protesting neglect, abuse or betrayal, that it is wrong to have an ego and that we should come to love everyone unconditionally.  Yes hurt people hurt people and we can have compassion but if that means we lose our own passion for rigourous emotional health and self care that kind of over compassion can be dangerous.

How the inner critic hinders grieving (and anger)

Buried

The greatest hindrance to effective grieving is typically the inner critic.  When the critic is especially toxic, grieving may be counter productive and contraindicated in early recovery.  Those who were repeatedly pathologised and punished for emoting in childhood may experience grieving as exacerbating their flashbacks rather than relieving them.

I have worked with numerous survivors whose tears immediately triggered them into toxic shame.  Their own potentially soothing tears elicited terrible self attacks.  “I’m so pathetic! No wonder nobody can stand me!”  “God, I’m so unlovable when I snivel like this!” “I f@ckup then make myself more of a loser by whining about it!”  “What good is crying for yourself – it only makes you weaker!”

This later response is particularly ironic, for once grieving is protected from the critic, nothing can restore a person’s inner strength and coping capacity like a good cry.  I have defused active suicidality on dozens of occasions by simply eliciting the suffering person’s tears.

Angering can also immediately trigger the survivor into toxic shame.   This is often true of instances when there is only an angry thought or fantasy.  Dysfunctional parents, typically reserve their worst punishments for a child’s anger.  This then traps the child’s anger inside.

In the dysfunctional family however, the traumatising parent soon eradicates the child’s capacity to emote.  The child becomes afraid and ashamed of her own tears and anger.  Tears get shut off and anger gets trapped inside and is eventually turned against the self as self attack, self hate, self disgust and self rejection.  Self hate is the most grievous reenactment of parental abandonment…

Over time anger becomes fuel for the critic.. creating an increasingly dangerous internal environment. Anything the survivor says, thinks, feels, imagines or wishes for is subjected to an intimidating inner attack.

When we greet our own tears with self acceptance, crying awakens our developmentally arrested instinct of self compassion.  Once we establish self compassion through consistent and repeated practice, it becomes the cornerstone of an increasing self esteem.  When an attitude of self compassion becomes habitual, it can instantly antidote the self abandonment that so characterises a flashback.

(copywrite) Pete Walker : extracts from : Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

Insights into trauma induced co-dependency, a bill of rights and dealing with the issue of over listening/ receptivity

The following extracts from Pete Walker’s book Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving may help you develop insight if you were led through parental neglect to deny your own needs, wants and desires leading to a state of codependency which Walker names “trauma induced codependency” :

Trauma induced codependency (is) a symptom of self abandonment and self abnegation.  Codependency is a fear based inability to express rights, needs and boundaries in a relationship.  It is a disorder of assertiveness, characterized by a dormant fight response and a susceptibility to being exploited, abused, and/or neglected.

Servitude, ingratiation, and obsequiousness become important survival strategies.  She clearly forfeits all needs that might inconvenience her parents.  She stops having preferences and opinions that might anger them.  Boundaries of every kind are surrendered to molify her parents, who repudiate their duty of caring for her…. All this loss of self begins before the child has many words, and certainly no insight.  For the budding codependent, all hints of danger soon immediately trigger servile behaviours and abdication of rights and needs.

(people influenced by trauma induced codependency) seek safety and acceptance in relationship through listening and eliciting.  They invite the others to talk rather than risk exposing their thoughts, views and feelings.   They ask questions to keep the attention off themselves, because their parents taught then talking was dangerous and that in their world their parents would inevitably prove them guilty of feeling unworthy…. they (feel) its is safer (1) to listen than to talk. (2) to agree than to dissent. (3) to offer care than to ask for help.  (4) to elicit the other than to express yourself and (5) to leave choices to the other rather than to express preferences.  Sadly, the closest that the unrecovered fawn type comes to getting his needs met is vicariously through helping others.  Fawn types generally enhance their recovery by memorizing the following list of rights :

  1. I have the right to be treated with respect.
  2. I have the right to say no.
  3. I have the right to make mistakes
  4. I have the right to reject unsolicited advice or feedback.
  5. I have the right to negotiate for change.
  6. I have the right to change my mind or my plans
  7. I have the right to change my circumstances or course of action.
  8. I have the right to my own feelings, beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc.
  9. I have the right to protest sarcasm, destructive criticism, or unfair treatment.
  10. I have the right to feel angry and to express it non-abusively.
  11. I have the right to refuse to take responsibility for anyone else’s problems.
  12. I have the right to refuse to take responsibility for anyone’s bad behaviour.
  13. I have the right to feel ambivalent and to occasionally be inconsistent.
  14. I have the right to play, waste time and not always be productive.
  15. I have the right to occasionally be childlike and immature.
  16. I have the right to complain about life’s unfairness and injustices.
  17. I have the right to occasionally be irrational in safe ways.
  18. I have the right to seek healthy and mutually supportive relationships.
  19. I have the right to ask friends for a modicum of help and emotional support.
  20. I have the right to complain and verbally ventilate in moderation.
  21. I have a right to grow, evolve and prosper.

The codependent (also) needs to understand how she gives herself away by over listening to others.  Recovery involves shrinking her characteristic listening defense, as well as practising and broadening her verbal and emotional self expression.

I have seen numerous inveterate codependents becomes motivated to work on their assertiveness when they realise that even the thought of saying “no” triggers them into an emotional flashback.  After a  great deal of work, one client was shocked by how intensely he dissociated when he contemplated confronting his boss’s awful behavior.  This shock then morphed into an epiphany of outrage about how dangerous it had been to protest anything in his family.   This in turn aided him greatly in overcoming his resistance to role playing assertiveness in our future work together.

With considerable practice, this client learned to overcome the critic voices that immediately short circuited him from ever asserting himself.  In the process, he remembered how he was repeatedly forced to stifle his individuality in childhood.  Grieving these losses then helped him to work at reclaiming his developmentally arrested self expression.

 

The meaning we make of things : reflections on trauma, choice, recovery and inner power

The meaning we make of things has a huge influence and power over us and then there are the meanings other influences may project or teach, such as the belief in some spiritual, new age philosophies that we ‘chose’ to be here and experience all we are experiencing for some ‘higher purpose”.  I am not as big a fan of this point of view these days although I do believe we are all being presented with evolutionary challenges all the time and that the attitude we take to our trials and tribulations does make huge difference, but this is different to being told we ‘chose’ something painful as a way to learn.  I just don’t believe that any more.

I have had the thought a  lot lately that I did not choose to be born.  My parents conceived me as an unplanned child later in life and I didnt chose to be born into a much older family where a lot was already going down before I arrived on the scene.  Later in my life and through much inner exploration I have been able to be more objective about what was happening subjectively, internally and implicitly for me as a young baby and child born into this much older business oriented family.  I was listening to an excellent programme on Tuesday on the difference between trauma memory and other memoires.  Trauma that happens to us before age of 2 is not consciously remembered as our hippocampus has not been formed yet so is encoded implicitly and is only available through sensation not as thought.  It is known too that trauma that occurs after the hippocampus is formed affects the size and influence of this part of our brain on us.

I am only minimally educated in my understanding but I remember reading in Peter Levine’s books Waking The Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice how inaccesible to thought such trauma is and how sensation focused therapy which helps us to bear with and relate to pscyho-biological symptoms (which can be both intense and frightening) is the best kind of therapy to help us with healing, integrating, self soothing and containment of trauma.  Also since trauma creates fractures in sensation and experience once such body memories are made conscious they can then be integrated into a narrative which helps us to make sense.

The other thing much on my mind this morning was how much self blame is a part of having undergone trauma.   And to be told we ‘chose’ something gives us the illusion of some kind of power or control when really we had neither at the time and often found ourselves totally overwhelmed and disempowered.  This is why Complex PTSD therapist Pete Walker and trauma specialist Judith Herman remind us how important it is that we who have been traumatised deal with the inner and external criticism and blame that can be heaped on us and how important it is that we develop good boundaries and the ability to fight back if part of the way we responded to trauma was to collapse, dissociate or go numb, or fall into a pararlysis (playing dead so as to escape the threat).  Writing the last reation reminds me of how a wounded animal naturally retreats after a wound to try and heal itself by licking the wound, this kind of ‘licking’ for humans may involve repetitive thoughts or rumination which we play over and over again but if too internalised may keep us trapped.  And then to be told we ‘chose” it, just adds insult to injury.

At the same time there is something we trauma survivors do have power and control over, that is the choices me make as to how to respond to being instinct injured or damaged emotionally.  It may take a lot of time to find any form of power or control or free choice if we remain identified as victims.  The truth is we WERE victims at the time of trauma but we do not have to keep allowing ourselves to be revictimised over and over again by telling ourselves things like “I chose it”, or “I deserve it”, or “this was all for my higher good”.  In time as Peter Levine explains trauma does give us a gift of recognising how important the spiritual dimension of experience is.  If we loose touch with the power of our spirit for life, light, joy and hope, we are disempowered, once we gain access to this power we may find an inner strength and wisdom that was lacking before.  Then we can say that trauma had a purpose but not one we chose, still one the world so sorely needs to learn about and from.   We trauma victims who have in some way recovered can then become voices for what lies unspoken in our cells and biology and may even, in some way, been inherited from our ancestors who passed it on when they chose or happened to give birth to us.

Awakening 2.jpg

The link to the programme on trauma and memory can be found here :

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/trauma,-memory,-and-health/9547446

 

 

Sick of blaming myself

“Shame is blame turned against the self.”  Our parents were too big and powerful to blame, so we had to blame ourselves instead.  Now, however we are free of them we can cut off the critic’s shame supply by redirecting unfair self blame back to our parents.

An inner critic that has dominated us since childhood, however, does not give up its rulership of the psyche easily.  It stubbornly refuses to accept the updated information that adulthood now offer the possibility of increasing safety and healthy attachment.  It is as if the critic has worn a flash back inducing groove in the brain the size of the Grand Canyon.  Now any (toxic, critic induced) thinking patterns… can hair trigger an amygdala-hijacking that dumps us into the abandonment melange…

With enouth healthy inner self defence, the survivor gradually learns to reject her unconscious acceptance of self abuse and self abandonment.  Her healthy sense of self protection begins to emerge and over time grows into a fierce willingness to stop unfair criticism – internal or external.

Pete Walker

I haven’t yet had the courage to write the post I have in drafts on internalising a ‘bad’ me yet.   I think I am making progress though because today with a genuine friend when I shared some of my neglect trauma history she was visibly distressed by it.  She made me realise those three serious injuries which happened due to parental neglect were not right by her response and she stated how genuinely hard it must have been to return home to Australia after my father’s death to find my mother had gone into a rebound relationship to get married and run from her pain (Something she admitted to me in later years) and have to move to another town where my God parents tried to step in to be there for me.

Lately I am seeing how my ongoing battle inside myself is waged by an internalised inner critic and when I was listening to the Radio National All in the Mind broadcast on trauma the other day a similar survivor talked about her own internalised ‘Judge’.   I know therapist Pete Walker talks a lot about the inner and outer critic in his excellent book Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving.  

Walker explains the part this judge, jury and executioner plays in flashbacks dominated by fear and worry and how it can either be internalised (turned against the self) or externalised and then projected on others.  The critic also plays a part in trying to undermine our therapy and prevent connecting with good sources of help, health and healing.   This is a point that was dealt with comprehensively by Donald Kalsched in his excellent book The Inner World of Trauma.  He explained how this kind of critic may also be an inner protector who in wanting to keep us safe from all harm won’t even let in those who want to help us, because the risk is we may be abandoned again.

I could feel this sadness about potential abandonment coming up today when my friend who has moved from South Africa recently started talking about how soon she will be returning there, then in several months time, moving with her son and his family to Perth which for those of you who do not know is on the other side of the country from me.  I felt myself tearing up at this point.   This is the one friend who actually calls in terms of wanting to know how I actually am, as opposed just to wanting to meet up for an event.   She is the one I can share with honestly the deep hurt I feel from lack of connnection from both my sister and brother as well as the rest of the family….so of course I am going to be sad about it.

I was glad today I could notice my feelings and not dismiss them.  She has promised to keep in touch and that I can go and visit.  I know it won’t be the same not being able to see her every week…. for so much of my life, though I had to deny my need, I had to pretend such things didnt hurt me, when they did. That said I know I will survive it’s just I know I also need loving emotionally available relationships to thrive these days.  I am no longer blaming myself as much and when the critic is around I am not as swept up by him as I was.  I really did suffer from emotional neglect and so I found it hard to trust and I have been working as hard as I can be become conscious and aware of my feelings and needs, ones that I had to learn to deny for so long.

When it won’t let you go

I wrote this post a while back (August last year) but it remained unpublished.

Letting Go 5

Pain, abuse and neglect are awful experiences to endure.  When you have suffered due to the actions of another person who in healthy circumstances should have loved, protected, nurtured or supported you the pain runs deep.   Your mind struggles to believe how others could be so heartless, shut down, mean or cruel.  You also struggle because in such a situation you are powerless.  Often for a child who finds herself or himself in that powerless situation a solution is sought to make sense of suffering and this solution is to see that we did or didn’t do something to cause the abuse, suffering or neglect.  As children we see everything as being caused by us and if we have parents who reinforce this view or leave us alone with difficult feelings its even harder to undo powerful mistaken thoughts of wrongness, shame or badness that can dog us well into adulthood..

I was listening to an interesting programme on Sunday on the history of pain and the person being interviewed has extensively researched how pain has been dealt with historically in terms of beliefs and propaganda.  In the past, often the belief was that if you suffered misfortune or abuse or pain it was some how a result of your own actions.  It may have been a penance or a test from God, something that fell on you to test your character or improve you in some way.

Alice Miller an expert on child abuse has dealt with the concept of what is called ‘poisonous pedagogy’ in several of her books.  Poisonous pedagogy is the belief that children are born evil and will only be made good by correction, or punishment.    Spare the rod and spoil the child.  I am only doing this for your own good.  We now know that often this is just bullshit and as Miller points on in many of her books is an effort on the part of the abuser to download their own past pain and suffering into and onto another.

The process of healing from our emotional abuse firstly means we have to come out of denial about it being abuse.  Often if you have been abused emotionally and try to deal with it by confronting the perpetrator you will be gaslighted, told you have it wrong, made a mistake,  are being ‘too sensitive’, or that it just didn’t happen that way!  At a certain point such things being said can lead you to doubt the reality of your feelings, perception and experience.  This is where an enlightened witness is so important.  This is someone who can provide a reality check to say that abuse was abuse and there was nothing wrong with you in the first place and nothing you did to deserve it, rather that is what your abuser would have you believe.

Once you have this validation then you are left with a terribly painful experience of understanding and accepting that things others who were supposed to love you did were horribly hurtful and caused you pain and damage. That such abuse may have caused you deep losses, loss of faith, loss of hope, loss of self belief, loss of trust as well as deficiencies in normal development that may have left you impeded or stunted in your life and emotional growth in numerous ways.  There is no easy way out of this conundrum or Gordian knot of tangled up angst, suffering and pain and along the pathway you are likely to feel lost, confused, angry, sad, frustrated, rageful and even murderous at times.  All of those feelings are part of the healing of your core wound and suffering they ABSOLTUELY cannot be by passed on the way to healing.

That said I do believe that there are some people who hold on longer to pain and past hurt for many, many years, while others may let go a little sooner or easily.  There are no hard and fast rules.   But there is one thing that does impact on our ability to let go and that is the ability to accept what occurred and face it head on, rather than deny, argue or debate about it.  It helps so much to read the experience of other ‘survivors’, to anchor into a sense of your own goodness and to reclaim a belief that you are worthy of better, more self love, compassion and belief than your abuser could ever give you.

Forgiveness is a very thorny issue and with abuse it is a process where we free ourselves from the ongoing hurt, rather than condone the hurter, it can only happen as a result of feeling all the feelings and no longer denying them.  That said there comes a time when we learn to let go because we no longer want to suffer in that way. We may still have fear, shame and pain but we love ourselves through these feelings and find ways to no longer allow them to continue to punish us in ways we were when we were less conscious and aware.

“True adulthood (means) no longer denying the truth. It (means) feeling the repressed suffering, consciously acknowledging the story remembered by the body at an emotional level, and integrating that story instead of repressing it. Whether contact with the parents can then in fact be maintained will depend on the given circumstances in each individual case. What is absolutely imperative is the termination of the harmful attachment to the internalized parents of childhood, an attachment that, though we call it love, certainly does not deserve the name. It is made up of different ingredients, such as gratitude, compassion, expectations, denial, illusions, obedience, fear, and the anticipation of punishment. ”

Quote source unknown.

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.

We can run from our demons but we cannot hide

Can we run from our demons” The short answer is Yes! But they have a way of following or haunting us asking to be known.

Tonight a friend inivited me to an author talk with Jimmy Barnes. For those who live outside of Australia and don`t know him, in the early 80s Jimmy was the `bad boy` lead singer of rock band Cold Chisel.  At the height of their career the band sold millions of records.  In the past few years Jimmy has published part one and two of his autobiography Working Class Boy and Working Class Man.  The former tells of a very traumatic childhood growing up as the son and grandson of alcoholics.  Jimmy also suffered maternal abandonment due to his mother`s succession of affairs with partners who abused young Jimmy.  It is a harrowing story of trauma.

The second book, which has just been released, gives an honest account of his rock career as well as his accompanying descent into addiction and self destruction and towards the end of his active addiction a suicide attempt that was unsuccessful but took place while he was in a black out.   Jimmy found sobriety in 2012 which is really only relatively recent.

The author interview was so moving.  I was in tears by half way through.  Jimmy spoke of how he was always running, caught up in the flight and fight responses of complex trauma.  He spoke of how he used screaming to keep his demons at bay, but also of how, no matter how fast he ran, his demons continued to pursue him.    I got a bit triggered through part of the interview. The interviewer didn`t really understand abandonment trauma.   But then if you have not suffered trauma you cannot understand it unless you are a therapist who has experience with it or are another emotionally attuned person with empathy for trauma.   She showed compassion but the interview could have gone deeper.

I would have loved to have been able to say to Jimmy thanks for sharing your recovery story so honestly, but there was a huge line of people waiting for photographs to be taken after the talk, and as the friend who accompanied me to tonight`s event said, ‘I probably would have bust into tears the moment we connected.’   It was still great to hear someone coming clean about the inside world of abandonment trauma and addiction though.  `I thought if people really got to know who I was they would not like me or what to have anything to do with me any more,` Jimmy said at one point in the interview.  That made me choke up because those feelings of his are so far from rare or unique, the complexity for Jimmy though is that as someone, who for over 30 years has been in the public eye, the roles of persona and true self can be split very wide apart and the mask coming down may be all that more challenging.

What I took away from tonight`s talk though was along the lines of what I tried to address in an earlier post on grief.  Our trauma is never really `behind us`.   It follows us until we turn around to look it in the face.  It wants to be known and shared, to be honoured, not hidden.    Jimmy is still only really in relatively early sobriety so he has a way to travel down the path, I felt so for his inner child who from what was shared still seems to be powerfully affected by past traumas that he is working to face.

I couldnt help but hope that his inner child would get some help along the way.  I would have loved to give him a hug but my friend had texted me late this afternoon that the organisers had requested that no one hug or kiss Jimmy.  I could understand why.  People in the public eye receive so many of our projections.   At the same time it would have been nice to have been able to hug the guy and say thanks so much for being so open and honest so people can understand what the consquences of trying to use alcohol and drugs to escape trauma are.

We lost another very famous rock star, Michael Hutchence to suicide in 1997 and only last week a two part television documentary aired on that subject.  Alcohol and prescription drugs were a bit part of that story but there were issues of abandonment and trauma associated too.  Luckily Jimmy has had the support of a loving partner throughout all of his ups and downs.  That also bought tears to my eyes.  I admire those who stand by us in recovery once we commit to do the work. I haven`t experienced it in my own life, but I am glad Jimmy has.   All in all it was an emotional evening.  On the way home I popped in to visit my Mum.  Held her hand while she cried about her stomach pain.  I thought how strong the bonds of pain are that link us to family, they are the demons that pursue us along a long corridor of years but my experience is that it`s better when we turn back to face them and hold their hand, for in the end isn`t a demon just a scared and traumatised child who longs for recognition, empathy, insight and love?

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.