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.

On disengagement, indifference and insecure attachment

I heard a programme on radio today that really got me thinking. Its a great weekly segment in the show Life Matters that airs on Radio National in Austrailia, called Three Men and A Feeling in it two therapists discuss a feeling with the presenter Michael McKenzie and provide insights into its ramifications.  Today indifference was discussed most particularly from the point of view of how often it manifests in insecurely attached inviduals or those who have known hurt or pain as a ‘giving up’ defence and reaction to those hurts and pains.

I would love to be able to quote some of what was said, because it really spoke to me about the emotionally disengaged state I ended up in a few years into sobriety when my marriage fell apart.  The interviewees were saying that often when we are not securely attached we dont know how to show interest in anything outside of ourselves and we can become very self obsessed while at the same time being competely incapable of showing ourself self care.  To me this would equate with what I have read about consequences of emotional neglect.  Early or consistent disappointments with caregivers or other significant relationships can also land us in this place where the cost of caring and connecting just seems too great.  We may have learned the cost of caring is an emptiness that comes when nothing comes back to us.  When  lack of connection, nuture and emotional unavailibity is what we find when reaching out we also learn to treat ourselves in similar ways.  We may learn the price of interest and caring is a brick wall and so we give up.

This is shown in the early attachment experiments which show a child left alone to cry who finally gives up and resorts to a depressed state.  That child has no way of knowing what he or she went through if all of this occurs before the age in which language for feelings is gained, and it leaves us with a devestating emotional cost.

In my own life I learned to turn to substances and possessions to find my connection.  Lately I am really feeling the emptiness and sadness of this kind of coping.  After my father died Mum often gave me big sums of money and I so I would go shopping,  After my father died and I was sent overseas all alone I learned to entertain myself by going to the movies, going to galleries and going to the big department stores.  God knows what I would have done had I not had those avenues, detached as they were.   I look back and wish I could have got into a 12 step group then as I may not have had to endure all the years of disconnection that I did,

And of course up until the age of 31 I also fell into addictions.  Sadly the end of my marrige which occured when I was 11 years sober saw me fall back into complete isolation.  I made an attempt to go overseas and find work but I got triggered and fear voices dissuading me from actively engaging put all that to death and then I had my second accident and a major head injury.   I am still finding my way back from that.  After it I came home and retreated to the coast fobbing off attempts to get me back into life and relationship.

The path of recovery has led me into therapy where I can engage with a therapist in order to explore and heal those early attachment wounds in me as well as the guilt and pain I struggle with due to the coping strategies I used which cost me a lot.  I am managing to shop less on the lonely days and spend time in my own company listening to my own heart and feelings, as well as trying to reach out to others more.  Writing my blog definately also helps me feel more engaged and interested and connected.

Today Jasper, my dog, didnt want to go walking so I went to the shopping centre, not to shop but to have a coffee and go to the library but also because my mobile phone which is bottom of the line has been breaking down and I genuinely needed a new one.  The part of me that is no fan of technology was beating myself up after I settled on a mid range phone and paid for it.  Its a bit of a process as I had to get a new sim card sent in order to set up the new phone.  I managed to do this after all the inner critic attacks against buying the new phone subsided.  I got the car with my phone and then Mum called on the old phone   I got very emotional the moment we started talking and by the time I got home was still drying my tears.   Something deep was being triggered. All weeekend long I was hard at work in the garden trying to clear up some of the jungle of vines that has overtaken the backyard over the last few months as I was not well.   I was going to have a moment of self pity about how alone I had been with it all, but the sadness was very real and very deep and I probably wont even try to reach for explanations here.

Maybe I was having a kind of wake up call as to the reality of how far away my own insecure/ambivalent attachment style has taken me over years from active engaged connection with life and relationship, but at the same time I do respect that my genuine ability to shed those tears today shows my inner connection to real me is growing.   I have to beware of beating up the part of me that in the past tried ways to cope with wounds that only ended up leaving me more disengaged and drowning in ‘stuff’.  It takes time to grown in awareness of our patterns and defences and we are not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ for using certain ways of coping with our emptiness that we do.  For me self compassion is the solution and was what the therapists in the progamme spoke a lot about, that and reaching out to get good help and therapy.  I am doing both so I dont need to beat myself up today.  I can feel genuine sadness for a past I didn’t wholey choose while realising that life is not over yet and I have been blessed even while struggling.  Looking on it all with eyes of love, rather than with eyes of judgement or rejection is a better solution for me in the long run.

Swirling seas : more reflections on trauma

Maybe there are oceans inside of us. Perhaps everything is not as solid as it seems.  I have experienced so powerfully since my 5 weeks of radiation for breast cancer last year how fluid the energy in my body is. When I was reading parts of Peter Levine’s book on trauma earlier this week he explained that part of his work involves getting us back in touch with this sense of the body as vibration and to feel our way into how it sings or pulls or tears or hurts or vibrates as a living energy that is not fixed and can oscillate and change.  Also to notice how pain is often a contraction and if we do not resist that contraction and stay with it mindfully in time contraction can change to expansion and release/letting go.

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It is coming up both to my Dad’ birthday anniversary as well as the anniversary of my accident when I was only 17 in about 12 days.  I am aware of how my body still carries this shock trauma energy of expansion and contraction deep inside.  I had a repeat of the accident when I was 41 after a session of cranio sacral where I went back ‘in’  I watched things from outside of my body and saw the grief my parents went through. Dad only got to the hospital after I was taken by the ambulance but Mum came to the scene of it.  When they wheeled me past Dad he didn’t recognise me, I was so lacerated and cut up.  I was also screaming ‘let me die’ which was a pretty extreme reaction. He was so upset and I grieved in that session not only for what I went through but what my parents went through. The dramatic way I cried out also showed two things 1) I was resisting what was happening to me and 2) at that stage I felt very alone and didn’t really want to be alive (a lot was going down for me prior to the crash!).

Anyway the whole thing repeated in 2005 with me over the other side of the world. In many ways I wish I didn’t have the session then.  An astrologer who specialises in near death and trauma said to me that often its difficult to work with these old events in certain ways as they can be retriggered, sometimes, she said, we are best to leave the wound alone and mindfully send it love.  I am older and wiser now, however in 2005 the whole thing just opened up for me again and I got badly hurt.  In many ways I am still coming back from the trauma of that time that still lives in my body, as well as the grief I have that such a choice led to more damage and pain.

Peter Levine’s work with helping the traumatised to unpack it involves inner work to try to tolerate the strong sensations trauma leaves in the body without dissociating (which is what we usually do in trauma!)   It involves putting the focus on those sensations for a time which hurt or repel or are painful and then swinging or what he calls ‘pendulating’ awareness onto something positive and warm and life affirming.  This is to counterbalance the extreme fixing, pinning or magnetising affect trauma can have on our body/mind and psyche.

Lately I am aware of how much I have dwelt in and on my trauma over the past 20 years.  I have literally allowed it to ‘pin’ me and breaking out of that repetitive feedback loop of focus on body symptoms and negative thoughts or thoughts of doom that can recycle is taking me time.  Lately I am fed up with the way trauma has limited my life.  I am seeing things about the way I have dealt with it which have not always helped me.  I am also seeing how I spend a lot of time ‘running’ on an energy level instead of settling.  This the amped up sense I carry inside that death and danger is close and its urgent that I keep things rolling.  In fact I was listening to the lyrics of an old song by Foreigner last week that goes “urgent, urgent, urgent, emergency” several times in the chorus and thinking how often that speaks to how I can run my energy.

At the same time I am aware that movement towards positive behaviours, such as forcing my body out into the sunshine or wooded fields for a walk with Jasper, or making effort to pick up the phone and call that caring friend instead of ruminating in fear about how it would be better to keep up a distance and stay safe is essential for me.

One of the most damaging things about trauma is that it can lead us to freeze and get immobilised.  Peter Levine addresses this issue at depth in his first book Waking the Tiger.   Animals can play dead but then they get a burst of energy to get up and escape from the predator that wants to eat them.  If our trauma comes from abuse we need to be able to take action to move rather than become passive, or develop what Peter Walker calls ‘a fawn defence’.  Staying powerless and passive will not help us much and may lead to chronic illnesses.

Anyway it takes time to realise all of these things about trauma.  It takes time to be able to consciously shift our focus in such a way, not to deny the impact of painful effects but to release the powerful hold they can have over our thinking, energy and perception.  It takes time to begin to find the goodness again, to discover the things that we can focus on that don’t amp up our pain, but rather soothe it, that don’t keep it running over and over again on a repetitive feedback loop.  It also takes time to find those who understand just what a huge impact trauma has, for if we are lucky enough to find someone willing to be with our traumatised body in full presence we are more likely to be able to unravel from the painful effects of trauma and soothe them, than if we are treated callously or with a lack of empathy.

Peter Levine himself had a serious accident when he was young.  He sites the fact that he didn’t develop full blown PTSD to the fact that a woman was there by the side of the road when he had the accident and she sat with him, held his hand and helped to soothe his distress.  The last thing anyone with trauma needs to be told is that it doesn’t hurt, or that we should be over it.  But that is just what happens to us when confronted with our trauma others freak out or feel too confronted or threatened  It can take us some time to realise in this situation that this is a failure on the behalf of others, as trauma survivors we are more than likely to be hard on ourselves and blame ourselves which only makes living as a trauma survivor 1,000 times worse.

In my own case I think the reason I have struggled to heal over 12 years from that second accident in 2005 is that over that time I was rejected for trauma symptoms or misunderstood.    That made healing myself extra hard.  I was emotionally abused in the last relationship I had for my trauma symptoms and I can still side with my abuser in seeing how difficult it was for him.  It was a failure of empathy on one level, but I can still understand how challenging it is for other to see trauma survivors fixed to dark places when the impact of trauma or abuse still possesses us so completely at times.

Last week my therapist said something interesting to me.  It was this. “It is important that you know both how to be in the underworld but also how to get out of it.”  That made a lot of sense to me.  Those of us who have undergone dark things can get so overpowered by those dark experiences as well as the feelings of powerlessness they can leave that we can almost be consumed by our own personal hell and underworld at times.  When we are down in the dark and lightless, loveless place it is hard to believe there still is a sun shining above ground and a meadow full of flowers we can skip through.  What brings the faith back in that goodness must surely involve someone who can empathise with us and hold our hands in the dark but also not buy in too strongly to our thoughts of doom.  That person themselves needs to have a goodness and active energy around them that can embrace both polarities of dark and light.   For really they are just two sides of life and those of us who have known the dark may have had to visit it in order to know just how valuable and essential light, empathy and love are   Hopefully our own lessons in the dark mean we can be there for others to hold a light up when despair seems to become so overpowering.   I certainly hope so.

Trust, truth and depth of connection : reflections on the consequences of avoidant attachment

Trust is so important to feeling safe enough to be true and real. And sometimes we have to take the risk to trust, but if trust has been precarious or ended in abandonment a lot before and in our young early lives it makes it harder for us to ask for support, allow ourselves to feel it is safe enough to be real and true or honest.  We may then need to move into denial, self negation and avoidance as a defence.  We may come to believe that we have to survive alone, keep our real self and true feelings thoughts and perceptions hidden.   We may learn that we cannot depend and therefore we won’t realise or accept that others need support at times.  We may come to feel that expressing needs is a sign of weakness, we may then develop a false self who is strong and invulnerable when really that is not the truth of what we feel inside.   We may unknowing construct elaborate defences to keep opening, connecting or trusting at bay.  Welcome to avoidant attachment!

I am currently reading the chapter Keeping Love At Arm’s Length in the book I mentioned in an earlier post, Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and its been a bit of disheartening experience for me, as I recognise not only elements of my last partner’s way of reacting but also my own and it now appears to me that for most of my life I have switched between anxious and avoidant attachment defences both of which come out of the challenges of a childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in which I learned I really couldn’t trust, lean on or depend on others consistently.   In fact I can look back now at times real help has been offered to me in later years and it was difficult for me to accept it and I am coming to think that even running off to the UK following the end of my marriage all came out of desperation and avoidance and fear, fear, fear and it led to that major head injury.

My only salvation is knowing I am absolutely powerless over the way I responded due to a traumatic history in the past.  I was doing the best I knew at the time.  I see how as much as others affected me in my youth, now as an adult I have a responsibility to see how my own reactions may have led to pain or caused pain for others.  Most especially in my last relationship I found it hard to trust, at the same time I attracted someone who would not allow me to have needs and genuine feelings, even anxious ones, possibly my feeling these evoked his own defences and so we came to blows.

Anxious people often attract avoidants which is the genesis of the distance/pursuer pattern in relationships.  A secure person will soothe the anxious person’s fears, the avoidant will just shame them or accuse them of acting crazy.  The saddest thing too is that in a relationship with or as an avoidant, just as you start to collapse your defences and get close something happens with a pull back on either side and closeness is thwarted.

For the avoidant they learn to look at the person they are in relationship with from a glass half empty perspective.  In one way this happens just as real feelings of desire for connection and intimacy arise. the avoidant person then looks for the flaws in that person to justify why they should withdraw or pull back.  This pattern elates to the  work of Robert Firestone I touched on in an earlier post which relates to why and how destructive, critical inner voices  develop which start to tear the other person apart or list a myriad of reasons why we should not connect or reach out in love.  Hidden deep inside this pattern are unconscious fears of not being safe or being hurt or rejected.

The avoidant may demand perfection of a partner rather than be willing to accept a real and true authentic warm human who may have some flaws but also has good qualities.  Research has shown avoidants rate people less favourably even when they acting in a supportive, caring or loving way. due to their own dismissive attitude towards connectedness.   They start to see the glass half empty or the worm in the apple, rather than the apple itself.

At the beginning of my last relationship I had a very powerful dream in which inner feminine figures told me I was going to be used by the person.   I am not sure now if these were the protector figures of my own inner psyche which I also read about in Donald Kalsched’s book The Inner World of Trauma, to explain why at critical points in therapy the person will get inner messages telling them it isn’t safe to trust or open up to the therapist for fear of being hurt or misunderstood as we were in the past.  He also claims that often these inner protector figures will function to arrange someone’s suicide.  Its all a protection mechanism driven by the depth of pain and loneliness of the person’s past.  Who knows?  It could have been a warning dream as in the end he did abandon me but most of our difficulties came out of not being able to trust open up and get beyond our old childhood defences, which is sadly what I now realise and I also see the part my own need to avoid at times played dovetailing with his.

In addition avoidant people since their emotions, feelings and needs were not taken seriously or responded to with empathy in childhood will not be able to read the emotions and cues of others a lot of the time.   They may reject need and feelings in others. This was my experience with my past partner.  He once told me that I was not allowed to have needs of my own and if I did he would not put them first, since his own always came first.  People looked at me aghast when I told them in my recovery group and asked me why I stayed.  Because that was what I was used to childhood, a childhood in which I was conditioned not to need or hope for too much.

I now look back with sadness about how at time in my marriage I was also not able to read the needs and feelings of my husband.  There were times I left him alone and then told him he wasn’t allowed to have his feelings about it.  At the time I was trying to work on my own therapy, a therapy he tried to tear down due to his own insecurities.  If I had more emotional maturity at that time I would have see his anxiety and insecurity as a call for empathy and soothing this but at the time I could not.  I was still very early in my own emotional recovery at that stage.

If you do have an avoidant style it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  The purpose of  Levine and Heller’s book is to provide strategies for avoidant people to react in different ways to expression of need in relationship, how to identify when unrealistic expectations are beginning to poison promising relationships and help with understanding why and how defences of the avoidant style operate if you wish to grow and change.  Change of old attachment and unconscious reaction patterns is possible if we have the capacity to be honest and engage in self reflection in order to improve both inner and outer connections but we have to be willing to engage with our fears and own them while having the courage to open up, let go and find a new way forward.

Blown Apart

1-1

When I was on the formative brink

So much got blown apart

Schrapnel wounds lodged in my soul

Where connection and relationship

Were designed to live

Leaving a schism

A huge divide

That I could not navigate across

Alone here in the approaches

Demons and depression dogged my waking life

Was I awake or asleep?

Consciousness cast over with a fog

Long years alone in a wilderness

Or existing behind opaque glass

While all along true life carried on

So far from me

I was paralysed

By so much fear

That was unconscious but known to body

 That now I cry with the realisation

My entire being an ocean

Liquid

Rain

Wisdom knowing

Birthed from pain

Rising up in me like a torrent

Thank you God, though

For this freedom to finally feel

The fullness of it

We lost so much

But now

I feel my heart

Opening like a flower

Because life is not yet over

I surrender and let go

What is gone forever

And remember how precious is was

To taste that sweetness for a time

And realise that such sweetness

Lives on in this precious moment

When I chose

Both life and love

If I knew then, homecoming

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If I knew then what I knew now it would not be then and we would not have been who we were, two lost souls clamouring for connection against great obstacles of the past.  Today when I think of you I realise we were not meant to travel the whole journey together as there was so much to learn through break up and separation, firstly of my own fears and insecurities which laid projections on the present from the past, but for you also who threw your own projections of past lovers and mothers onto me.

I became then for you someone who I was not and you could not see me clearly for it was a part of your shadow you projected on me, as I grappled with my own repressed shadow expressed by you.

Now I am older and there are years that have passed in between, years in which I travelled down into such bitter memories of utter emptiness, the drug driven days in which I was a phantom and stranger to myself cast into a wilderness I could not understand living so many meters beside myself, outside of my body.  How could you love a disembodied self when you were so full of life, but then that is the affect of trauma.

It forces our soul out and away a long distance and it will be real work to call our soul back home.  We have to be strong enough to feel and enter the void that was left when the soul exited and travelled so far, yet remained attached as an umbilicus that called us home reminding us of its deep exile with every empty echo and heart beat.

No we were not meant to travel that far together and our separation was so necessary to effect the deeper work.  I had so far to travel back to my body and remember my dismembered soul, scattered like breadcrumbs along a pathway of years.

Now I arrive on the doorstep of a dwelling that no longer appears as dark, inside I sense the light shining from an inner fire that was stoked with each moment in which I remembered what became split off and did the work of healing and homecoming, re-championing the lost child, finding out where and why she exited a body that then became barren and hungry.

With this homecoming I cross the threshold, re-entering the deep dwelling of myself and find myself surrounded by a healing slipstream of comfort and love in which the soul re-embodied is finally restored to its chosen temple.

Golden flame

Golden

Darling you were never born for the dark

with that light that shone

like golden sunlight in your smile

don’t you see why they wanted to kill it

or cut you down to a size

that would fit the small box they lived in

you thought it scary and strange

but where is there for you to go but out

out of this body,

out of this life,

in to drugs and booze

the refuge where you can turn

all burning and hurting inside

drinking wildfire down

 taking it into your stomach

acid rain

so much pain

for years and years and years

and then deep into the wilderness you travelled

wandering with cut off hands

you found the prince to rescue you

he took you to the land he knew

and you grieved there deeply

for other lives and pain

you only knew unconsciously

through deeper cells

now you stand beyond it

on an open plain

a place

where all the darkness suddenly reveals

the truth

loss of a consciousness

that could only be birthed in a later generation

through your own complete exile from love

you travelled alone

so deep down into the dark

and found there after all the weeping

a buried light

a small hidden flickering flame

a tiny ember of life

guarding it you sought and sought

the den of the wise woman

here you nurture it together

until everything is aflame

and you finally know your own truth

and finally is revealed

your golden hidden self

that shines with a radiance

nothing can diminish

Allowing ourselves to know truths we could not know as children.

Confused

At times I feel that I don’t really allow myself to know the truth of how I feel so deeply inside.  I can be dismissive of myself and my own deeper feelings at times, I can deny that things hurt or that I feel lonely.  I feel the solitary nature of my childhood in which emotionally I was not connected to much left me with a legacy of loneliness and shyness that didn’t make it that easy to connect and living in the Australian culture I feel a bit lonelier too as people can sometimes be loud and brash and a trifle insensitive. glossing over deeper realities in an effort to appear ‘laid back’.

And I am beginning to recognise that if I cannot recognise how I am truly feeling how can I really be that connected to my True Self?  Instead aren’t I living in a state of emotional disconnection or dissociation a fair amount of the time?.  I discussed it with my therapist, Katina the other day and she gets excited when I start to recognise these kinds of things   With her I never feel invalidated or dismissed which I now recognise was huge part of my childhood and adolescence.

And I have shared before how these feelings become very strong for me around home from school time in the afternoons between 4 and 7, that was a really lonely time in my past where I had to let myself into an empty house and find ways to entertain myself.  And come to think of it my mother used to go through exactly the same thing and when we talk at times I sense that loneliness of hers deep down inside too.

Yesterday I just sat quietly with my dog Jasper as I felt those old feelings for a time and there were quite a lot of tears as I remembered how it REALLY felt.   I talked to my inner child about how it was and she told me a lot of things.  I see now that there is a pattern which I can perpetrate keeping myself away from company full of fear of what may happen if I do try to connect.  I have a deep down fear of being dismissed or negated.   This fear is very real, I carry the sense of having that done to me.  Come to think of it I have a deep pool of unmet need around emotional connection which I so easily bring to new situations and my pain and longing from the past has made me hypersensitive, old grief can be triggered by newer experiences which contain resonate memories and then I am feeling the entire force of these.  I am aware lately that these feelings are not as intense as they used to be in the past as I am becoming more and more aware of what I have carried in the unconscious.

As I read this post to my therapist this afternoon she was reminding me how children aren’t actually able to know how they feel when they are going through neglect and abandonment at the time.  They don’t have a concept that something is wrong on an intellectual level but the experience is  fully ‘known’ at a bodily and sensate level.  I think that is why depression is often such a mystery to those of us who suffer.  We are so often triggered while not knowing we are being triggered to feel really deep old pain and feelings of hunger, longing, hurt, shame, disappointment, anger or frustration from the past.  It takes a lot of work to bring awareness and understanding to this level of our experience.  Its a big job and may take some years of therapy or inner work.  If we try to share the process with others they often wont understand or may dismiss us too.

I think its such a good awareness to have that we need to take our own feelings seriously and see how they connect to the past, learning to connect present feelings with older associations.  Awareness is the first step before we can accept the past pain as a natural outcome of lacks and deficiencies in the past especially of adequate holding and nurture While we are undergoing this process its also very tiring, we need a lot of quiet time and rest and socialising is problematic, something others who don’t understand the process may not accept or validate.  My personal understanding is that the body registers everything and if we don’t bring it to consciousness it will manifest in some way, often in some kind of chronic pain or illness.

We are so often so hard on ourselves just for being human and having needs and natural feelings and there are so few places that really help us to make sense of our past in my experience. Being dismissed is such a natural part of our society but I hope that it is changing as more people realise and speak about the pain they suffered as a result of emotional insensitivity, invalidation, abuse or neglect.  We need to learn ways to  encourage and love ourselves through these kind of difficulties with grace.  When we take our own heart seriously we are being kind to ourselves and when we recognise our self judgements as responses that came out of lack of empathy shown we are a long way along the road to healing.    When we let go of self blame we feel happier and more positive because we are really listening to instead of dismissing ourselves and then we can turn a listening ear inside to our inner self instead of blotting out its voice all of the time with distractions or philosophies or other kinds of negating beat ups.  To me that seems to be the best kind of self parenting and we can never get too much of it while we undergo the process of coming to know all we could not know as children.

 

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Ego in the Buddhist sense : or how negative ego keeps us separate

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Ego, in the Buddhist sense then,

is the ongoing activity of holding oneself separate,

making oneself into something solid and definite,

and identifying with this split off fragment of the experiential field.

Continually maintaining this identity project

perpetuates a division between self and other

that prevents us from recognising ourselves

seamlessly woven into the larger field of reality.

And the more we hold ourselves apart from the world,

from our experience,

and from the naked power of life itself,

regarding these as other,

the more we fall prey to inner struggle,

dissatisfaction, anxiety and alienation.

John Welwood

Some thoughts on disconnection, abandonment depression and healing.

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I am beginning to see that my downward spirals into pain and depression often come on the back of feeling disconnected.  I find the weekends particularly hard in this way as I seem to not have as many connections with others unless I plan to put something in place to connect.  My aloneness becomes more visible to me.   I find myself reaching for coffee and sweets to give me the sweet feeling that would be better coming from some connection with others.  It also occurs to me I could look for better ways to take care of myself, say getting a massage or listening to music, or even connecting through going to a meeting.

Its not always possible to connect anyway with people ‘out there’ in common life on the deeper level many of us really need to, soul to soul.  One of the consequences of having undergone trauma is that it takes us to a very deep place of aloneness, we can encounter extreme and deep existential feelings of aloneness, sadness, anger, confusion and paralysis that have a spiritual dimension.  Also if we were left alone emotionally and physically as babies and small children, not responded to with loving touch and attention we feel and experience this energetically as a very deep void or emptiness which remains lodged in our cells and tissues and may be reawakened when we are alone  even much, much later in life.

Also because such experiences actually bring more of the same towards us as we go forward we collect a pool of such experiences within which can affect us deeply.  Some writers such as Pete Walker refer to this reseviour of deep depression as the abandonment depression.  Its a deep dark pit of loneliness and suffering and I am beginning to think also (as current research is showing) that such feelings can be actually inherited from our ancestors via ancestral cellular memory which may go into what Carl Jung calls the collective unconscious and could be combined with more recent experiences in our own unconscious and contribute to the experiencing of very deep and painful feelings.

There is a certain amount of the abandonment depression that we do need to feel and unpack.  It is a fine line between experiencing and becoming aware of what has affected us and allowing it to re-traumatise and keep us stuck in an endless cycle of abandonment.  Becoming aware of how we can run from it in negative ways and abandon ourselves over and over again is also a key part of our healing.   But there is also a time we will have to enter it and let it burn through us again as we bring it to consciousness and begin to throw it off.  In this process we do need to find those who will validate what is occurring for us and in our superficial society that lacks a lot of depths at times finding this person or persons will be a journey fraught with complications, at least in my experience.

There is a quote that I heard many years ago “the way out is through, why will no one use the method?”  I am not sure who said it and I am sure many do use that method but its important to remind ourselves that we aren’t just making things up and that healing is a process that takes time and may involve a degree of pain as we undergo the stages of releasing and realising what our bodies and souls have endured as we undergo that healing process.  It’s not a sign of anything ‘wrong’ with us, but a sign of how much we really suffered and had to bury in silence.

Then we need to reach for the soothing that will be the salve for our wounds in the midst of this.  We must learn what we really need at a soul level to feel connected again.   We may need to speak or shout it out.  We may need to get into bed and cry and hug our inner child.  We may need to sit swaddled in blankets listening to a song that has resonance for us, we may find a movie that we relate to or a piece of poetry.  We may just need to let ourselves collapse and surrender for a time.  Or we may need someone to hold us lovingly and provide a container in which we can make the descent to our inner true self and all its feelings.

My feeling is that we must be able to name the abandonment depression.  We need to take it seriously because otherwise I think it possesses us unconsciously and if not fully recognised will lead to illness in the body and profound psychic disturbance.  What we most need is to answer the abandonment depression with love.  We need to acknowledge it and find places where that acknowledgement is validated.   For in it lies the key to our healing and to our re-membering of the broken shards and fragments of trauma that got split off in the course of our lives.