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 cant happen a part of thes self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragements 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 affect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge.  Flashbacks of sensation seeminlgy 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 interruted by trauma.

For a person who has expereinced unbearable pain, teh 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.

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.

 

 

 

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

Elephant.jpg

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

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

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

 

Being kind and patient with ourselves

Sadly in our society so few of us learn to be kind and soft towards ourselves.  We may equate this with an attitude that won’t help us to get far or achieve our goals but if we suffer from a remorseless inner critic that won’t let up (most common to suffers of PTSD and Complex PTSD or childhood trauma), its going to be harder to reach any goals anyway.

Sadly some of us were not encouraged in our childhood, we may have been shamed or blamed.  We may have learned to pretend or to put on masks, we may never have been rewarded for authenticity.  In my own childhood I was stomped on many times, or just left alone and ignored and in adulthood I have learned holding onto resentment about it isn’t going to help and if I don’t change that same internalised attitude of being too critical of myself or others I am not going to get far, in fact my perfectionism will make me too weak to even start.

So it was with a smile I read the following reading from Tian Dayton last night about patience.  Patience may be a disregarded or maligned quality in modern society but if it’s well done patience can get us much further and bring our closer to our dreams.  The following reading is about self love too and today I am sharing it as the Sun starts to move through critical Virgo and we are drawn toward noticing the earthly practical dimensions of our experience and how far we have come or not come, let’s be kind to ourselves.

Patience

Today I will be patient with myself.  When I do not do as well as I wish I would I will not make that a reason to get down on myself.  I will instead recognise that the fastest way to bring myself out of a painful funk is through understanding and being good to myself.  I get caught in my own cycle of shame, resentment and blame.  If a child is upset,  I comfort it because I understand that that is what will make things better.  Calling a child names will increase its hurt and shame.  I will not call myself names either.  Rather, I will show love and patience in every way I can.

I am patient with myself.  

Patience accomplishes its object, while hurry speeds to its ruin.

Sa’di

A soft heart : reflections on attachment, grief and inherited ancestral trauma

I am realising after the past few months of Mars retrograde how often I feel attacked or respond out of a sense of attack when abandonment wounds or fears are triggered.  Instead of staying in my soft heart I tend to go on the attack and be quite defensive and this ends up actually pushing away the very love and understanding I need at times.  I harden my heart and can feel an accumulated backlog of frustration and anger from past unresolved needs.  However as I learn to listen to and comfort my inner child more its easier to enter a more adult mind set offering that little one or sore spot inside me love but not letting her act it out on others too violently.   After this I find it is easier to go and speak to others about how I felt, what they did and what I needed and luckily with my new friend, Scott he understands through using emotional intelligence how I felt inside and doesn’t shame me for reacting the way I did and so I am feeling more healing.

As I shared over past days I did react and things I said, I noticed have made him withdraw a little bit.  Its understandable.  He was contacting me less because he said he was scared or hurting me or waking me at night, but when I told him that isn’t want I needed or even asked for, what I really need is to be connected with it was easier for him to understand.  This latest tussle has  helped me to see before how other friendships suffered when I had a strong outburst and others were not willing to fully empathise or understand.  Some friends just backed off and then have another go which I really appreciate since they understood I was reacting that way for a very good reason.

Today I cried a lot at the softness and tenderness that is opening up between Scott and I and inside my own heart towards my own past pain.  I had a good inner dialogue with my inner child this morning and what I learned form it was that as a child I never really learned how to get along with, communicate my needs to or interact with others.   My parents were always busy with work and too tired to give any emotional support whatever.  I was left alone most days after school with no one after my second sister left home and even before that she resented taking care of her baby sis after a certain point and I was on the receiving end of a lot of bullying and harshness.  Then at 13 I went into the family business where I had to perform and be serious.  It wasn’t much of a childhood or adolescence.  It was a real Saturn Moon childhood where I learned to depress my feelings emotions and needs.

In addition home was not a relaxed environment due to Mars conjunct Moon.  Mum carried a lot of inherited adult grand child of alcoholic survival behaviours and was never cuddled or nurtured.  By an act of ancestral synchronicity she was sent to work at 13 to into domestic service to live with a family in another suburb of our home town which she hated.  Her and my father were kind to each other but Mum was a non stop dynamo who never really could relax.  She had OCD as far as the home was concerned.  We were not allowed to play until all chores where done and we had taken care of all of our responsibilities. Sadly too my Dad died before he and Mum never got to have the play time they anticipated ‘one day’ when they had achieved financial stability, security and success.  Things began to fall apart due to this driven schedule from 1979 on wards starting with my near death NDA and my sister’s cerebral aneurysm.

I have been shedding a lot of tears this morning.  I am sitting here wearing one of my mother’s tops and thinking of our complex relationship which has taken me years of sobriety and emotional recovery to navigate.  Its just over 8 months now since she died and the old wound of her being more involved in her work is replaying with Scott who is caught up in a very dangerous and hectic life over seas at the moment.   This morning after my breakfast and bath I just cried, hopefully he may be out of there in a few weeks, if not its going to be around March next year and I fear for his life every single day, though he always tells me my prayers are keeping him safe.  Still its interesting to me that this is the man I attracted and that I had lessons of love to learn here with him in terms of the way I react and what is triggered from my past.  I am just grateful I have so many more tools now at my disposal.

Speaking of which I just bought another wonderful book by Stan Tatkin, PsyD on attachments and relationships  Wired for Love : How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Hep You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship. 
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He explains how we are wired to react from the primitive parts of our brain which are geared for survival but how other parts of our higher brain functions (which he calls The Ambassadors) can be engaged when we observe this happening and notice our reactions in the context of close one on one relationships.  Putting the needs of connection and relationship first instead of just trying to blow thing off by blaming our partners for ‘being selfish’ or not caring about us or our needs is part of the process and is something that’s not so popular in this day and age with singles with their lists of requirements prospective partners need to fulfil in order to be considered as worthy.

Anyway I always like to share new books or resources I find here in my blog but today it was good to be able to feel the softening in my heart towards Scott and let myself and my body just relax to a degree.  I am usually fending off spasmodic symptoms of one variety or another in the mornings and today after Scott and I talked things through I did manage to sleep but I still woke up startled trying to integrate all that has been happening between us in terms of boundaries and connection in past weeks.  I feel Mars slowing down now and it is on 28 degrees of Capricorn for two weeks.   My own Mars is at 1 degree Aquarius so this is what is called a Mars Return which happens every two years but would usually just pass by once.  Due to Mars retrograde it will have hit my chart three times by the time it finally passes around the 18th of September.  So I am getting a really good long look at the ways I react to emotionally laden events that hark back not only to my own mothering but to the inherited mothering wound on my Mum’s side of the family.  I have tracked unresolved grief and separations/divorces going back four generations so far to the original wound which was the loss of my great great grandfather’s mother at age 12, a wound he never got to address and I believe led to his addiction and eventual abandonment.

I shared with a good friend yesterday that I feel I have carried the grief of the ancestors for most of my life but I don’t want to carry this wound on.  I really would like to be able to have a loving relationship with a partner where we can both take care of each other’s hearts.  I don’t want past pain or anger and grief that didn’t begin with me to spoil a new change at living a personal life no longer so affected by an unconscious collective psychic inheritance.

Why intimacy brings up pain for neglected adult children

If we were never emotionally connected to or nurtured in childhood, in adulthood we are left with the most terrible emptiness and pain.  Therapist Pete Walker calls this ‘the abandonment melange’ and its also called abandonment depression.  Many of us, before we get to therapy or get awareness around our early attachment wounds fly blind with such a wound which in recovery circles is often referred to as ‘the hole in the soul.’  Trouble was when I was in AA I was led to believe I was born with this wound not that I developed it in the context of early relationships, that is an awareness I have had to painstakingly grow and allow to emerge out of great pain and disaster in later relationships including forcing my ex husband to carry some of what I was unconscious of for years, another wounding its taken me some years to realise and forgive myself for.

Now that I am making a heart centred connection with a partner who is emotionally available to me I find at times this wound is being stirred up in me more and more due to the situation he is in where he has to be out of contact for a lot of the time.  I realised yesterday that I acted out some of my disappointment at not being able to connect with him due to mutual cross scheduling  by making some nasty comments about his ex wife.  He took them in his stride and there may have been a bit of truth to what I said but never the less I found myself dismayed with how I had reacted to him leaving for patrol and not being able to speak.

I shot off a few angry texts including one saying how I hated him for being in the situation he is in and putting me through it then waited anxiously and received a very loving reply back about 6.30 last night which soothed my fears.  However I noticed the same reaction starting up this morning when I missed him again and he failed to respond to a text I sent last njght.  I see I am reacting at the moment because I have never really allowed myself to be as vulnerable with a partner as I am being in this relationship and because he is giving me EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED AND NEVER GOT FROM EITHER PARENT.  At times it awakens great grief, anxiety and fear as well as warmer feelings.

Luckily I was reading through another bloggers blog on this subject as well as Foreboding Joy (the term Brene Brown gives to allowing ourselves to gain pleasure from something that is a source of great desire only to thwart it with thoughts of doom)  a short while ago and I came across this paragraph which really shone a light on my current situation.

I told T (her therapist) that it confused me that getting what I have always wanted caused me such a lot of pain (and joy, admittedly) and T explained that having deep, childhood, unmet needs – met was VERY painful.  She said getting what you’ve always wanted can cause awful sadness and pain.  I didn’t understand that.  T said that this was one of the reasons that therapists had to be so careful not to “overdo it”.  She said that them overdoing it could cause us more pain! T said “this is why although I understand you want more reassurance and warmth in my emails, it is important that I am very careful”…

Both of my parents are incapable of emotional closeness with me and I craved that so very much all of my life. It hurts me a lot to really realise that neither of my parents gave me the connection and emotional closeness that they should have – could have.  But understanding it wasn’t me, my fault, that helps to ease some shame.  It makes me so determined to never repeat that pattern with my own children. Also, it makes me determined to never waste time with anyone who isn’t able to tolerate emotional closeness again. I only hurt myself trying to change them. I guess I was trying to “right a wrong”.  Trying to finally “get” an emotionally distant guy.  To change the ending of that childhood story where I never did “get” either mum or dad.

Source:

https://unpackingthesuitcaseblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/neediness-lack-of-warmth-fear-of-annihilation-re-experiencing-pain/#comments

Those two paragraphs could have been written by me.  I realise in this relationship I am given all the things I longed for, love, respect, attention, affection, unconditional positive regard, kindness, empathy and love.  At times I find myself crying when I receive these things from Scott but at times I can find myself wanting to shut it down as well.   It scares me at times to see there is a part of me that may try to sabotage this relationship but reading this particular blog again today nearly a year later big lights came on for me.  Today I told Scott I will be more careful what I say when I feel disappointed or left alone at times, the way I react comes out of a craving for connection and love (and a deeper unconscious grief and anger I am carrying at emotionally unavailable parents)  the last thing I want to do is destroy that.. the best thing that has happened to me in years and years and years.

Undermined reality and fear of intimacy : Insights into loving an Adult Child

There is nothing worse for  a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes.  Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive).   We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath.  For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder.  IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.

There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately.  Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves.  Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection.   The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships.  As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds.  Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.

Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked.  It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.

Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.

  1. Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity.  They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
  2. Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist.  They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
  3. Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
  4. Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
  5. Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos.  High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
  6. Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment.  They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up.  They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
  7. Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families.  This is unrealistic but its very true for them.   So how could you love them when they are so bad?
  8. Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable.  They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault.  They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
  9. Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others.  Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
  10. Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history.  It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”.  Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.

 

Mark Epstein on ego and primitive feelings (The Trauma of Everyday Life)

The problem with the ego, according to Mr. Epstein, is that it wants so badly to know.

“The ego comes into being when we’re two or three or four years old,” he said, “just feeling our own separateness and how difficult it is to navigate the external pressures from parents and teachers, and the internal pressures of one’s biology, one’s drives and so on. The ego wants security and stability and coherence. It’s rooted in the intellect, so it tells stories. It fastens on to the first stories that start to make sense, both positive and negative.”

We then incessantly repeat these stories to ourselves “under our breath,” as Mr. Epstein writes in (his)

new book. The classic stubborn story dealt with in therapy, he said, can be summarized in four words:

“The problem is me.”

And the low self-esteem reinforced by such stories “is as much ego as the puffed-up, ‘I’m the best,’ competitive, American way we ordinarily think of the ego.”

(Mark Epstien is a American based psychiatrist, therapist and author in practice in New York who draws on Buddhist philosophy his three books which I highly recommend are Open To Desire, The Trauma of Everyday Life and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart as well as many others).

Unwelcome : A safe harbour

Aloneness.png

You learned a long time ago

That this world was not a place that welcomed you

That there was no one there

Holding the door open with a smile

Saying : How nice to see you

Come on in

And rest a while

You learned to keep as quiet as you could

About what you felt and thought

While bursting apart at the seams

Denying the body you lived within

Was a simple human body

Needing so very much more than this

Endless corridors with closing doors

And backs turned

The failure to admit all of this to your mind

Meant that it was your aching body

That kept the silent score

Of what you never

Were allowed to know

With your mind

Until your hunger grew too insistent

And set you on a search to find the one who said

I know you

And love you

And accept you totally

Please come in

You are more than welcome

Here

Please take a seat

For here you will find

Acceptance

A safe harbour

A space to be

Seen and loved and known