An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

Reality Slap.png

Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

How to validate our emotions

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

Calming the Emotional Storm

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

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

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

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

Levels of validation 

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

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

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

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

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

Happy to live in the present : with a growing awareness of the past.

I just dropped Jasper off at the groomers and I took the way home that leads past where my family and I lived when all the tragedy began to befall us between 1979 and 1985 : the year when my father died.  As usual when I drive along this long street we moved to when I was about 7 I start to feel a blackness and darkness all around me.  I named my blog Emerging From the Dark Night because I guess I began to realise around 2001 about 8 years into my sobriety I had been living out that dark past unconsciously.  Now that I have done the years of therapy and grieving, the long work of coming to terms with things and seeing how it was for the young me I feel a kind of distance from it.  It is no longer affecting me as unconsciously.

I’ve made a friend over the past year who Jasper and I met first at the dog park then later on we both ended up walking our dogs in a big oval not far from where I live.  My friend was in the middle of a thesis when we first met which she has now completed, and its only really in the past few months she has been opening up to me about her own childhood which was a lot like mine.  She also became a family caretaker as her own needs were not met and she said she really struggles with the inner Persecutor too.  We have a lot in common and its good to be able to share honestly with someone who understands how it is to come out of such a stoic emotionally repressive family where issues of perfectionism and emotional overcontrol were writ large.

I know we never totally escape the influences of our past but I do believe once we become aware of the darkness we can begin to live in the light but that means making new choices that are healthier for us and more conscious than the past ones and it does take some time.

I was also thinking today after listening to a radio interview on misfits how lonely it can be if we feel on the outside of society, peers or family.  The point made on the programme was how misfits are able to see things in society that others do not see, due to the distance from involvements and their own, at times painful path, they see below the surface of things.   It was an interesting interview too as the writer interviewed Mandy Sayer was speaking of how as a writer she cannot live with her husband who is a playright. They both live separately and get together in the evenings as both need the days for work.  It struck me as a really good arrangement because one of the things I fear most about a relationship is being swallowed up and having no time to imagine, reflect, create and dream and so for those of us who are creative or introverted in this way it is important to find the right kind of relationship balance for us.

It felt a little strange to come back to my home just a short while ago.  I felt that the trip I took down memory lane a moment ago has shown me how long it took me to be able to feel I could move back to my home town, just over 7 years ago and how important it has been for me to be here for these years.  I got to have those final years with my older sister and my Mum and I feel fully reconciled to the way things were now.  It is very sad because I see how much my older sister suffered and was trapped.  I was thinking last night of how often she was denied things she wanted.  The story line was that due to her ‘mania’ she was an  who needed to be reined in.  I do not think it was really true at all I just think Jude has such creative life energy and somehow she came undone before she could fully manifest it in the world and as a woman born into a patriarchal world in the 1940s she really struggled.  She was so artistic and she didn’t have a nasty bone in her body. She always forgave her husband for abandoning her following her cerebral bleed in 1980 but sadly she was over medicated for most of her life and I am sure at times in the care home she lived, sometimes she was abused and her things got stolen.

I had a long chat with my other sis yesterday.  I am glad now that a lot of the childish resentment I had towards her is healing.  I am see her also as a product of her time, born in the 1950s she had her own struggle to try and find her way and sadly she married perhaps a little too young to someone who carried shadow qualities often denied in our stoic household, were ‘doing the right thing’, keeping up appearances and struggling to become upwardly mobile materially eclipsed to a large degree more underground energies and emotions.  When he left her he was considered the bad guy and it is true he didn’t really treat her as well as he should have due to his own complex background as a adult child of an alcoholic but of course he married into our family which had its own history of addiction hidden in my Mum’s past.

It has been a battle for me to become separate, psychologically as the youngest in a far older family.  There was 17 years between my older brother and I, 16 between Jude and I and 8 between Sue and I.  With these large age gaps it was harder to relate and I often felt like an only child born to at that time (in the 1960s) far older parents whose focus was really not on raising a young daughter but more on the external focus.   In my discussion with my friend yesterday she was talking of the mixed feelings she has around forgiveness with her own parents.  On one hand she says she has empathy for them and knows they acted the way they did and treated her the way that did due to their background and past.  At the same time she said she struggles a lot with issues of anger too.  I could really relate to that.

I told her that my perspective is that in regards to the Inner Child we are still moving out of the medieval dark ages emotionally speaking.  We are also trying to break apart patriarchal values which keep both men and woman as well as boys and girls trapped in limiting roles. I was listening to a programme on this today.  I do feel for men at the moment as their behaviour towards woman is generating a lot of justified anger but I wonder too at the level of compassion that is really shown towards men who are also in many ways just victims of a repressive heroic dominance archetype of the supremacy of masculine (as opposed to male) power.  Women and men both suffer in this climate and I hate to see men being blamed without a deeper insight being given into the causes that generate problematic behaviour towards women.  In truth at a psychic level it is the inner feminine in both men and woman that suffered coming out of the patriarchal dark age.  Men don’t need to be emasculated and boys need help to come to terms with softer emotions and vulnerabilities.  My own family was dominated by excessive masculine values.  Mum always worked and was never emotionally present.  Feelings were not understood nor addressed.   And then my Dad over worked and abused his own body with smoking, one of the reasons I do believe my older sister had her stroke was that she smoke and drank too much while overworking and taking birth control.  It was a recipe for disaster really.

Anyway today I am sad for all of the past, but I am also grateful that in 1993 I finally bit the bullet and found sobriety.  Along the pathway of recovery I have had to give up many things, jobs, relationships, houses and friendships.   Lots had to go into the fire, but a lot has been transforming too.  I feel many times like a witness who stood on the outside of a family watching at a critical time of soul evolution for us all.  I feel blessed for all of the gifts given and I wont say I enjoyed all of the sadness and pain.  At times I have felt like the weight of it would break me in two.  But in the end I guess it was only my unhealthy ego defences that have dissolved or shattered along the way.   My mistaken reactions of resistance and resentment had to go into the fire too so that I could understand the heart of innocence that underlay everything and feel the love and peace and happiness my parents and ancestors missed out on in their awesome and overpowering struggle for survival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How trauma fractures the psyche, causes dissociation and creates the persecutor/protector in our psyche.

In response to trauma or emotional abandonment our psyche will splinter or fracture.  Ideally parents help us to mediate as young ones the big feelings we have to deal with and help us to integrate them. But in situations of abuse or neglect this doesn’t happen and we are left to contain unbearable feeling.  Since all feelings occur and are felt in the body if our parents don’t help us to do this we are left with the split off feeling buried or held in tissue or psychic space.  Memories associated with the feelings and accompanying sensory traumatic events then become somatic and walled off, they still affect us we just don’t know why and how.

Jung wrote on how dissociation works and this overview comes from Donald Kalsched’s excellent book The Inner World of Trauma : Archetypal Defences of the Human Spirit.  

individuals who might be described as ‘schizoid’ in the sense they had suffered traumatic experiences in childhood which had overwhelmed their often unusual sensitivities and driven them inward.  Often, the interior worlds into which they retreated were childlike worlds, rich in fantasy but with a very wistful, melancholy cast.  In this museum like “sanctuary of innocence”… (they) clung to a remnant of their childhood experience which had been magical and sustaining at one time, but which did not grow along with the rest of them.  Although they had come to therapy out of a need, they did not really want to grow or change in the ways that would truly satisfy that need.  To be more precise one part of them wanted to change and a strong part of them resisted this change.  THEY WERE DIVIDED IN THEMSELVES.

In most cases these patients were extremely bright, sensitive individuals who had suffered on account of their sensitivity, some acute or cumulative emotional trauma in early life.  All of them had become prematurely self sufficient in their childhoods, cutting off genuine relations with their parents during their developing years and tending to see themselves as victims of others’ aggression and could not mobilize effective self assertion when it was needed to defend themselves or to individuate.  Their outward façade of toughness and self sufficiency often concealed a secret dependency they were ashamed of, so in psychotherapy they found it very difficult to relinquish their own self care protection and allow themselves to depend on a very real person.

Kalsched goes on to point out that such people developed what Elaine Aron has called a virultent persecutor-protector figure in the psyche which jealously cut them off from the outer world, while at the same time mercilessly attacking them with abuse and self criticism from within.   Kalsched believed this figure had a daimonic cast calling on the idea of Jung that energy split off into the psyche can become malevolent and acts as a powerful defence against what Aron calls ‘linking’ with others and with the vulnerable innocent or inner child it has been called in to protect.    The figure may not only be malevolent it may also be angelic or mythical or heavenly in cast.  Together with the inner child/innocent this force formed an active psychic dyad (or duplex) structure which Kalched calls the archetypal self care system. 

Jung showed that under the stress of trauma the childhood psyche with draws energy from the scene of the earlier injury.  If this can’t happen a part of the self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragments or dissociates and it is a natural psychic defence mechanism that must be understood and respected.

Experience becomes discontinuous.  Mental imagery may be split off from effect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge.  Flashbacks of sensation seemingly disconnected from behavioural context occur.  The memory of one’s life has holes in it – a full narrative history cannot be told by the person whose life has been interrupted by trauma.

For a person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defence of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost.  The outer sequalae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect – what Jung called ‘feeling toned complexes’.  These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner beings, and are respresented in dreams as attacking ‘enemies’, vicious animals, etc. (not under the control of the will… autonomous.. .opposed to conscious intentions of the person…. they are tyrannical and pounce upon the dreamer or bearer with ferocious intensity.)

In dissociation the psyche may also splinter into various personalities which may carry rejected aspects of the person.  The mind becomes ‘split apart’ and such defences involve a lot of internal aggression as one part of the psyche tries to attack and protect the other more vulnerable, rejected parts.  The psyche cannot integrate these parts without therapy and active help.

In the course of natural therapy for such people the hostile attacking or protective force that acts to keep the person remote and in lock down will begin to arise in dreams and active imagination.  Elain Aron’s book The Vulnerable Self in Chapter Six “Dealing with Inner Critic and Protector-Persecutor” outlines some of this process as she give more insight into the role the persecutor-protector plays for highly sensitive individuals.  She also gives some examples which will help fellow sufferers to deal with their own dreams or nightmares where such forces arise. After dreaming we can through a practice of active imagination find a way to interact with these forces and help get them working more for us than against us. Aron’s book will help you in this regard too.

Donald Kalsched’s book is also an excellent reference for anyone suffering trauma.  It is more analytical in tone and quiet detailed.   The self care system that works to protect us can end up working against us too, this is the prominent point Kalsched makes in his book.  The inner persecutor-protector will sometimes work to organise a suicide if the psyche feels too much under threat from internal or external forces.  The persecutor-protector needs to really be understood by anyone attempting to free themselves from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

I have a second associated post to post after this with some of the information from Elaines’ book on the persecutor-protector.  I will post it and link it to this post later on.

Working not be trapped in my panic/anxiety symptoms : where do I put my focus : reflections.

I have shared much on here about my anxiety/panic attacks.  They can occur several times a day.  I struggle on waking to get moving.  I scan my body as I lie there checking if I am releasing or holding my breath, at times I wake up with what feel to be like 1,000 volts of electric fire coursing my system.  I then often struggle after I eat food as I feel my body pulled this way and that.  The other critical times for attack are in the afternoon after returning from time out and around that critical time between 5 and 7 pm which is the time of day I was born and the time of day I had my accident in 2005 after a cranio-sacral session.

But what I also remember from the day of the accident was I had spent a lot of the day in bed in the room in my lodgings (at that time with a family in Cambridge).  I was only about 12 months out of my separation with my husband and I had made a friend at the Psychological Astrology Course in London called Lucy.  Lucy and I connected for a long time but this day on the phone she was rattling pots and pans and my anger got triggered and I got upset with her and accused her of not listening and hung up.  We haven’t ever spoken again and I had my accident later that afternoon after my cranio session where I relived the trauma of my smash up in 1979.

I am thinking about all of this this week because I am reading the book Calming The Emotional Storm and in it they talk of how our interpretations of an event can drive and amp up our feelings.  For example I assumed Lucy wasn’t listening to me when she probably was, my own abandonment wound was triggered too as a deep part of my own mother wound was Mum was always too busy to be there for me and often I was left in the car while the whole family went into the club to have drink and pay the poker machines.  Oh and sometimes Mum would just ‘forget’ to pick me up after school and I would be standing there waiting feeling a mix of painful emotions, sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration and loss.  Later in life I learned to turn to booze or drugs or food to cope with these feelings which is probably why, when I eat now, I can get an attack.  (Just really made the connection while writing.)

The other day I subverted one of these attacks by trying as hard as I could to get the focus ‘off’ of my body symptoms.  I actually managed to eat and bath and get out for a walk with Jasper all without having one panic attack.  I felt so empowered by that as these attacks when bad have often left me feeling suicidal and could keep me paralysed or debilitated for days on end.

I read in the book The Power of Panic that it is the perfectionists among us who suffer most from panic attacks.  We can drive our own anxiety by setting impossible or unrealistic standards and that is part of my problem and my sister’s too as I see it as we were raised in a spotless house where no fun was to be had until chores were all done.  We had to polish our own shoes, iron our own school uniforms and we lived in fear if things weren’t perfectly in control as my Mum could fly into a rage if so and she had this way of flaring her nostrils like a wild horse and that was a trigger sign we better run for cover.  I remember being hit by a flying hair brush once, having my bottom pierced by the bristles of a brush when she laid into me one day when I didn’t stand still while she tried to brush my hair.  And oh she had my long hair cut off because it was too much work to have to take care of long hair.

I once got in trouble with an AA member for getting upset when a hair dresser took too much off my hair and making a complaint.  I was told by this older sober member that I was ‘off the programme’ and that she didn’t want to speak to me any more.  At that stage of my life I was living in almost complete isolation at the family coast house and she was my one contact with the world, apart from a wonderful therapist in Sydney, Brian Hunt who first started to try to help me deal with my buried childhood trauma in 1992, just a year before I got sober.  When I had asked this person if I could move back to Sydney to be closer to her, she said it was too much to ask (fair enough but gosh it hurt then.)

Anyway I eventually got into a disastrous relationship with an Adult Child of a violent alcoholic who didn’t have any interest in recovery and more pain and panic rained down on me.  And it was frustrating for him too that I could not manage to get my focus off of my symptoms long enough at times to be fully emotionally present.  I don’t blame him any more but I do know his empathy muscle was wasted down to zilch due to his own unaddressed trauma.

Today I use my wise mind to get off my painful absorbing symptoms as much as I can.   I am not always successful.  I am also trying to get a better handle on when I drive more emotional reactions with thoughts and interpretations which may or may not be valid.  I wish to God I bought that first book I mentioned a few years ago when I first read about it.  Its such an invaluable resource as it has a chapter which explains what each emotion is and how it feels to experience it in the body.  It also helps us to name those emotions so we don’t need to be so overpowered by them.  I will share more of it in time as I like to help others here too who may not be able afford these resources.   Today I am having anxiety and panic but I am addressing it.  I am not sure it will ever leave me, the best I can do is try my very best to understand and manage it.

Opening my heart to love again

I am finding it challenging to open my heart to someone loving me again.  All Scott seems to do in every single message to me is offer to love me, to support me, to be the one who stands by me and often what he gets in return are a host of doubts and arguments.  Then there are times like today when something he starts to offer me triggers painful memories of past relationship bruises and cuts where I was not offered these things and actually suffered abuse due to my past two partners in ability to accept the symptoms of my PTSD condition.   I have been very open with Scott about everything, including the challenges he will face in trying to love someone like me.  He is frankly pretty horrified when he hears about some of the callous treatment I suffered at the hands of both my ex and my ex husband.

I know its time for me to open my heart and trust again but today I have been feeling so very sad and he texts me with a brief window of time between waking up and training which is now an hour and a half earlier to tell me how much he loves and misses me and when I say I have been feeling sad he asks me why and then tells me he only wants me to be happy.  Well this TRIGGERS THE BEJESUS OUT OF ME for its one of the reasons two ex partners chose to leave, they could not handle my sensitivity or sadness and I used to get red the riot act in the last relationship including being given the silent treatment when I cried too much at the death of my ex partner’s father all those years ago.  Due to my addiction I really didn’t start truly grieving anything until about 12 years of sobriety and then things would come out in an avalanche especially around any funeral of a father of a friend which would trigger earlier grief I had not permitted myself or been permitted to fully feel.

Don’t get me wrong I have a lot more happy days lately but this time of year is fraught with painful anniversaries and lot of self blame has been running around in my head this past week due to the way my ex husband and I separated years ago and in a week or so it will be our wedding anniversary.  I know ‘I should be over it’, in many ways I am but things of shame and guilt that I wish I could have done or handled better tend to come up all the time and I am getting lot of flashbacks lately.   I have been praying today that I can come to peace and find self forgiveness because this opportunity with Scott is a new chance to leave the past in the past (if that is actually a realistic objective??)  It is just that when he offers me love it tends to open up a lot of fear from the past and a backlog of the deepest sadness, I just find myself crying and crying mostly with feelings of gratitude (but also disbelief!).

I have been reading up on the Twin Flame relationship lately and everything I have listened to and read says that once we are on a healing path we may attract a partner to offer us unconditional love and that it will open up all the blocks inside our own heart towards unconditionally loving ourselves, for actually this the only way we can heal and make it work in a new relationship.  Often one partner can tend to run and the other pursues in this situation if the fear is too great.  Whether or not you believe in this split apart soul concept of Twin Flames it does seem that self love needs to proceed love of others, for if we cant love or accept ourselves fully, past omissions, mistakes and all, how can we offer this love to anyone else and these feelings may block us or be projected in fear or distrust or misbelief.   I am terrified too as an empath of being overwhelmed in relationships and this is something I have had to talk to him about.  We already had an argument last week when he got upset that I needed distance as he felt my feelings had changed, when actually as an introverted personality type this is the way I recharge, by needing alone time.  I know in this relationship I can negotiate for my boundaries and be accepted.  Its just I have so much sadness in coming to believe that happiness may actually be possible this time, if I truly open my heart and am vulnerable about my fears and feelings.

On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Fear of Insanity Narcissism and Denial of Feeling : more insights from Alexander Lowen

the experience of horror (in childhood) makes one question one’s sanity.  What one is experiencing does not make sense, it doesn’t accord with one’s image of reality which even a baby has on a biological level.  To avoid the resulting mental confusion, one must dissociate and deny all feelings.  As long as one sticks to logic, one is safe.  But feelings are life, and one cannot fully avoid emotional experiences no matter how coolly one plays it.  The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defence of denial break down.  This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality.  This fear reinforces the denial of feeling creating a vicious cycle.

Reading the above paragraph again in Lowen’s book today gave me more insight into my brother, who threatened to walk out on me last October when I got angry with him.  It reminded me of terrifying incidents he faced in childhood and of how my father did pretty harsh things to him as a boy as his own childhood had been similarly harsh.  I was in tears again last week after yet another conversation with my brother where we was working as hard as he could to split off all expression of emotion.  I usually leave every interaction with him crying or disturbed in some way.  Now instead of feeling angry I  just feel really sad for him as I don’t ever think he will look at the roots of his own workaholism.  Once again I shed heaps of tears after I got off the phone on Thursday.  It is not that he is an unkind person either, all time the conversation revolved around helping my sister and I to get the best interest possible on the money Mum has left us.

It is now never the less a great comfort to me to be able to say I now know I am not crazy and I know why his side of the family have sidelined me before as well as other members of my family, looking upon us with such distain and disapproval due to our emotions.  That said I am also aware of the charge of anger that I have carried which I know I inherited from my mother’s side of the family.

Collapsing into a state of helplessness may be one response to such terror or violence in childhood.  Flight or fight may be two other  responses but both the later would often be blocked by an abusive parents.  Escaping or fighting back may be shamed or made  impossible as was the case of Bill whose story Lowen covers in Chapter 7 of this book.

Bill did not feel any anger.  He denied his anger, just as he denied his fear.  Instead, he adopted an attitude of submission and attempted to understand the irrational behaviour of his father, and others,  His submission to his father may have had a lifesaving value, but almost cost him his life.  (Bill was later on nearly killed by a hitchhiker he and a friend picked up on the side of the road who began to attack them.)

Lowen explains how Bill then came to fear his own anger.

(he).. believed that if he lost his head he might kill someone.  But to lose your head is equivalent to going crazy. Bill was terrified of the potential craziness in himself as he was of the craziness of others.  When I made this interpretation to him he remarked, “Now I know why I became a psychiatrist.”

Not everyone will be able to contain their rage from such incidents, others will act it out.  Lowen tells the story of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”, serial killer who murdered 6 and wounded 7 others.

What then are the dynamics that precipitate a seemingly sane person into insane action? … there must be some subconscious force.. This force is the denied feeling of anger.  Because the anger is denied, it is not experienced, which would give he person some control over it.

Many narcissists develop an ego unconscious split in these circumstance which means at times such subconscious forces can erupt and cause havoc or be projected on others.  Such and effect is called flooding…. an overwhelming feeling or excitation which ..”(temporarily drowns us)…in the torrent of sensation.  Imagine a river overflowing its banks and sweeping across the surrounding country side.  In a similar way the gush of feeling wipes out normal boundaries of the self, making it difficult for the person to distinguish between inner and outer reality.  Reality becomes confused and nebulous….. (there is a sense of) nothing solid to cling on to.  The person feels ‘at sea,’ estranged.

Such estrangement is not dissimilar to dissociation although Lowen compares it to disorientation.   The flooding of something we held down can make us dizzy, it may erase normal consciousness for a time.  It may well be what we experience in a panic attack (repressed or split off lively life energy or anger).  We can also be overwhelmed by pleasant sensations and if our sense of happiness or joy was also supressed or shamed in childhood we can begin to get fearful of insanity when we start to feel energised or even happy.

In the bioenergetic therapy Lowen used feelings which have been repressed or shut down are helped to liberate by the therapist who assists in the process so flooding and disorientation is not as intense as it would be if we were misunderstood or unsupported in the process.

The problem is that those damaged in childhood continue to carry split off emotions such as anger and sadness into adulthood, we may even attract relationships with others who act them out for us or vice versa, one partner can then pretend they are okay, it’s just their partner that is the problem.

Lowen points out in his book Narcissism : Denial of the True Self the connection between being called ‘mad’ (as in insane) when one is actually angry.

To say a person is mad may mean that person is either crazy or angry.  What this tells us is that anger is not an acceptable emotion.  Children are taught very early on to curb their anger; often they are punished if, in the course of an angry reaction, they hurt someone.  Disputes, they are admonished should be settled amicably and with words.  The ideal is to have reason prevail over action.

But conflicts can not always be settled amicably, with reasoning.   Tempers may flare.  I don’t mean one has to resort to physical violence to express an angry feeling.  Anger can be expressed in a look or by the tone of one;s voice.  Once can assert with feeling.  “I am angry with you.”  Some situations do call for the physical expression of anger.  If violence is used on you it may be appropriate to fight back.  Without the right to strike when one is hit, one feels powerless and humiliated.  We have seen what that can do to the personality.

I strongly believe that if children were allowed to voice their anger at their parent’s whenever they felt they had a legitimate grievance, we would see far fewer narcissistic personalities.  Giving a child this right would allow a real respect for the child’s feelings.

Lowen goes on to site an experience of watching a Japanese woman being hit by her daughter in anger.  He explains how in Japan a child is never disciplined before the age of 6 because they are regarded to be innocent  and such children don’t end up disrespectful or misbehaving.  However when the right of angry expression is denied a child it has an adverse impact and then there are the parents who cannot express their own anger with a child in a healthy way and use punishment instead.  Lowen doesn’t negate the need for discipline, only the use of power and control in the face of a child the parent does not have a healthy way of relating to and helping to develop emotionally.

Such repression of anger in a person in childhood means anger stays present in the person’s system much later in life.  In his bioenergetic therapy Lowen helps patient to discharge repressed anger so that it does not stay trapped inside.  However as he points out, the fear of ones anger and belief it will prove one is insane is a difficulty that many narcissistically injured person’s face on the path to healing.

For narcissists to know themselves, they have to acknowledge their fear of insanity and to sense the murderous rage inside that they identify with insanity.  But they can only do this if the therapist is aware of those elements and is not afraid of them.  I find it helpful to point out to my patients that what they believe is insane – namely, their anger – is in fact sense if they can accept it.  In contrast, their behaviour without feeling, which they regard as sane,is really crazy.

The behaviour without feeling that Lowen mentions here in fact leads to the growing or development of what he calls a thick skin, a protective defensive layer which will allow no real feeling for self or others in those with a narcissistic defence,

such denial is achieved by deadening the surface to stimuli, its effect is to rigidify the ego.  … the result is a diminishing of the ego’s capacity to respond emotionally to reality or to change reality in line with one’s feelings.. the ego’s safety lies in a deadened body, with little emotion.  Yet this very deadening creates a hunger for sensation, leading to the hedonism typical of a narcissistic culture.

But true feeling is then increasingly hidden behind a façade and the building charge of need and hidden feeling is defended against.  Thus addictions come to play a role in diverting attention from the truth.

By contrast those who develop a borderline defence to such negation actually become excessively thin skinned, unable to throw off hurts lodged deep inside from the past often from unfeeling narcissists.  Their work is to understand the source of pain and not project it onto the present, understanding how deeply its roots lie hidden in an often unconscious past.