On denial

As children, denial is often a necessary survival tool because the truth is often too unbearable for us to live with, and we don’t have the power to change our situation.

Nancy Van Dyken

According to Nancy Van Dyken truth may be painful and is why we learn to deny it especially from childhood on, in addition because we are taught in various ways that following the rules, not displeasing others or making them uncomfortable is more important than knowing and expressing who we truly are and how we really feel as well as what we need is more important, we learn to be untruthful and then we suffer pain as a result. But since denying pain does not lead us to growth the more we deny or numb the less we can release ourselves from the prison of impression management or people pleasing.

In addition because our feelings and wants are not intellectual but deeply body centred denying our truth means on some level escaping the body, pushing ourselves beyond natural limits, taking on too much to appear all together or in touch. One of the most important times of change for me in early recovery for addiction lay in taking time off when I had a period and honouring the way I felt, rather than just solidering on. There was a time too when my ex husband I were in the UK and my trauma started to emerge and my therapist recommended I take time off. I had never ever ever done this before and I remember clearly on that morning my ex husband came into the room and raged at me to ‘get the hell out of bed’.

We may be so often forced to deny the truth of what we need in a society that may teach us more about how to appear than how to be, more about how to keep pushing on regardless, rather than surrendering when necessary to let things fall apart in order to come together in a better more real or integrated way. We may through conditioning learn to deny what we observe and feel to be true about other people. We may believe, incorrectly that the truth is too painful to face. We think if we admit it we may die or go crazy, the truth is we will probably have to make changes.

According to Nancy Van Dyken an important first step in healing from the everyday narcissism pf denial is letting go of the habit of lying – first to yourself, then to others. The next lays in speaking your truth assertively in a loving and respectful way. It also lays in not letting others push you past your boundaries. A simple way of saying no to a request is this : “No, that wont work for me” it is not even necessary to give an explanation as to why if you do not want to.

We can also learn not to agree to requests or favours before checking in with your body and inner self about HOW WE REALLY FEEL ABOUT DOING IT. In this case, just ask for a time out. During this time centre in and find what truly feels right for you. Its also important to notice when we are being less than honest with ourselves and others and check in with our body about how it feels if we do find ourselves lying or agreeing to do something we do not want to do.

Bear in mind that speaking your truth will scare some people. People may try to make you feel that doing so makes you unworthy, unlikeable, unlovable, or undesireable but if so and if you accede to such put downs who will suffer in the end? You! Don’t give up. Co-dependency writer Melody Beattie talks of a phenomena of ‘afterburn’ which can happen as we first start to be true to ourselves and our own wishes and needs, especially if others try to guilt, or shame us or use other manipulative tactics to control us, for example someone telling you, you are selfish or destructive in some way when you are really just honouring your true feelings, values or needs.

Learning to come out of denial may not be easy for us, most especially if others have an investment in us continuing to deny truths, but it can be done. We may have to suffer a lot of discomfort along the way as old patterns change, if we have abandonment anxiety it may feel like a death of a kind if others cut us off for being true, honest or real. Never the less we can learn to be there for our scared self and find in time the courage to be honest, open and up front with our true self no longer succumbing to the prison of denial.

Have you ever? : reflections on the scapegoat and buried emotional trauma

Have you ever been scapegoated by family members? Have you ever had the finger pointed at you telling you you are the problem? There is a saying I heard in the 12 step rooms many years back… “when you point the finger at someone you have three fingers pointing back the other way towards you” (yes folks try it right now and you will see it is true.)

Many many years ago led by his unconscious and dream images psychiatrist Carl Jung had a dream that showed a psychic inner structure that he came to call the shadow. This shadow he came to believe contained all the characteristics of us we are not on friendly terms with or that our family or culture was no on friendly terms with (ie. there is both a personal and collective shadow).

Some people have a lot of darker emotions hidden in the shadow, fear, sadness, rage or anger and some others of us have a lot of gold in the shadow and we may have been the ones others in family or culture tried to project darker things upon. There is also a concept in family therapy that talks of the concept of the ‘identified patient’. This is the family member who develops an addiction or breaks down in some way or has to have treatment. This is the family member that struggles in the family to be the whole of themselves and express truths or secrets others would prefer remain hidden (eg. emotional or sexual abuse). This is the family member that may be more likely to be led on the individuation pathway, a path of trying to uncover and rediscover the entirety of the soul in them that got loss or buried.

I am mentioning this today as lately I am seeing this process play out in my older sister’s (now deceased) family. And it is interesting that this is happening very close to the anniversary of her death. As I see it in the alcoholic or traumatised family there is a lot of pain but rather than every member carry their portion of the pain, each struggles in their own way and often they will target someone else in the family and tag or dump them with things. They may even exile the person just as in mythology the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness with the so called ‘sins’ (or wounds) of the collective heaped upon its back.

Alcoholics are most usually likely to be the ‘family scapegoat’. They may struggle with emotions that were not permitted a place in the family and come to think of it in a feeling wounded culture there are feelings such as anger and sadness which are harder to express and which people are more rigidly defended against. These emotions are often not allowed expression and so they get dumped into a kind of collective psychic waste bin that is then passed on from generation to generation. Pain then accumulates and one person gives expression to it most overtly.

People who struggle with shadow projection may find it hard to ‘get their lives together’ in a culture that venerates this. That is not to say that there are no healthy ways to get our lives on track but mostly they should involve us being able to be real and struggle, to fall down sometimes, to make mistakes, to need help and support and just possibly not do as well on financially or externally on some level as others. Does that necessarily mean such people are actually failures? Does this actually mean such people are not worthy of help? Does this actually mean that such people have less value?

Today in therapy Kat and I were discussing how and why this process of scapegoating and shame dumping in family has been affecting me so bodily over the past few days. I got to therapy today in a lot of physically based emotional pain. I pretty much started crying as soon as I got in the car and the cascade of trauma flashbacks then began taking me back to a trauma (which come to think of it now took place around this same time of year in 1990) when I had to spend hours in casualty after driving myself with severe abdominal pain in the middle of the night. Turned out I was pregnant at the time and that the sac containing the tiny embryo had ruptured. I ended up having to have a termination of pregnancy (my fourth) and it coincided with having to leave the group house I was living in and with my them boyfriend lying to his family and pretending I had had an operation for kidney stones.

After the termination he broke things off with me and I got drunk and ended up at his parent’s place crying and yelling, of course they thought I was demented and out of control and they never found out the truth as he broke things off with me again fairly rapidly (after a brief reunion) and in the aftermath the next 2 years saw some of the lowest points of my addiction spanning the years to December 1993 when I finally got sober.

Well today in the car I was back here in St Vincent’s casualty lying alone for hours and hours as they ran tests. I think too this trauma was triggered over the weekend because calls were not returned by family, Scott was AWOL and my nephew then rang telling me I needed not to give help to my other nephew who is struggling financially in the aftermath of his relationship ending. Being left all alone and waiting and missing a therapy appointment which was delayed due to Easter Monday meant that issue of having to wait all alone was retriggered for me and then the shadow projection onto my lovely nephew triggered how I was treated over the next year by a so called ‘friend’ who kept confronting me about my addiction which was nothing less than self medication in the face of ongoing trauma spanning the years 1979 to 1992.

The truth is addicts often say their addiction saved their life. We use the self medication until it no longer keeps working for us. Recovery then involves a huge and long drawn our journey of unpeeling or unravelling down to the true causes of which addiction was only obscuring or a symptom of.

For me the original trauma is about attachment traumas, wounds and emotional neglect vacancies or ‘black holes”. I now know this without a doubt. After years and years of blaming myself (as most emotional neglect survivors do) today in therapy I finally wept for my true self who so often gets beaten up by a self compassion lacking inner critic who is echoed by the outer critic lately being turned on my nephew. Only another addict in recovery may fully understand that fact unless the person had been trained in empathic attunement. Attachment traumas and wounds so often become gravitational force fields for others, in the well known process of so called ‘repetition compulsion’ what we fail to call up to consciousness will repeat until it is addressed or felt and this must happen IN THE BODY. THE CELLS CONTAIN EVERYTHING.. THE MIND CAN BE USED TO MAKE SENSE OF IT WHEN ATTUNED TO THE BODY. JUDGEMENTS WILL NOT SHOW US THE UNDERLYING PSYCHIC REALITY WHICH MUST BE FACED IN TIME AND DEEPLY FELT IN ORDER TO BE RELEASED AND MADE SENSE OF (BROUGHT OUT OF DISSOCIATION INTO ASSOCIATION OR RE-MEMBERING!)

Scapegoating the sufferer is cruel. It is lacking in both insight and empathy. It concentrates on the ugliness of the symptoms while NOT FULLY SEEING OR UNDERSTANDING THE FEELINGS OF PAIN DISTRESS AND UNWORTHINESS WHICH UNDERLIE IT. Scapegoating serves no other purpose but to bolster up the defended ego and keep in place the ignorance of the Scapegoatees. In traumatised and addicted families or families with multi-generational trauma everyone struggles, but the one who struggles a little more with hidden emotions needs support and encouragement. They need to be brought back out of the cold place of exile and embraced in their full humanity but sadly this will be almost impossible unless the Scapegoatees also face what they are blocking, projecting or defending against or finding it hard to open up to or face. Blaming and targeting others in such a way never really ends well and it blocks connected healing and embracing of the actual trauma that sorely needs recognition.

Further travels with my inner persecutor!

I have been reading Donald Kalsched’s book on the Inner World of Trauma again today. A lot of it is about what happens to those of us raised in a situation in which personal assertion and aggression or self defence had to be cut off or revert back inside the self. In this situation when the parent won’t allow the child action, assertion, anger or personal boundaries to be defended the energy reverts within to become an inner archetype or figure that Kalsched Elaine Aron and other analysts refer to as the persecutor/protector. Kalsched explains in his book how when this killing voice becomes really extreme it will often organise the person to take their own life. The anger they should have had to confront an abuser or violator will be turned back in upon the self.

It is an issue also addressed at length by Jungian analyst Sylvia Bretton Perrera in her book on the scapegoat complex. I went to see the PreRaphelite exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra last week an there is a painting in that exhibition which shows the scapegoat sent out to the desert. Its only a small painting. The exile that goes on is not just an exile from others, it is a cutting of from our deepest most personal and genuine self.

As kids we need to hear the loving words of parents, we also need their loving gaze but what happens when we get the eyes of terror or disapproval or distain turned upon us in childhood? This used to happen for me all the time growing up. Feeling safe in our home rested upon keeping it all together, not making a mess, getting all the chores done, not making too much noise, being able amuse ourselves and not express any needs much. Is it any wonder I became an alcoholic? As my first Jungian therapist said when I told her of a dream I had in which I was hitting this figure over the head with a bottle, I used alcohol to shut the voice up. Only then could I relax be real, messy, honest and sexual and have ‘fun’ but the so called fun rapidly deescalated into a black out or nightmare which I would wake up from in horror!

Its very very hard to live with an persecutor voice turned upon you day in day out, you don’t have the freedom just to kick back and relax or goof off. You can only feel comfortable after you’ve done what it told you it needed you to do to feel safe, in control, loved and approved of. Luckily these days I can see more quickly when that voice has taken over control within me. I am learning to affirm myself for pure sake of ‘being’ not just ‘doing’ these days. I have to be very aware of what the persecutor says to me not only about myself but about others too. He may be trying to cut off really good things happening in my life. He may try to suck all the joy out of everything. These days I am trying to do my best to just let him yammer on and say thanks for that Mr A but don’t you think you might feel a little better if you just had a little rest!!!

His constant litany of disaster, doom and gloom needs to be arrested. I need a rest from him, he has been taking over things for far too long. I guess in the end my inner persecutor is what is labelled in the rooms of AA and Al Anon ‘the disease’. It thrives on perfectionism and control. It is fundamentally deeply critical and unloving force that functions against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linking’ : making positive connection both within and outside the self with others. It is in the end both anti life and pro death. I think just for now I really have had a gut full of the inner persecutor.

A vial containing our tears : reflections on grief and grieving

There is a beautiful psalm or bible passage that I cannot remember the reference to which says that God counts and collects each one of our tears.  In a culture which so often denigrates grief it is important for us to know that our sorrow is not unimportant or in vain.  The implication is so often that we need to ‘be over it’, not carry it forward or just make sure we don’t make others too uncomfortable around us, because it can be hard for those who have not dealt with or are familiar to a grieving process to understand how essential the shedding of tears is.

I watched a movie a few weeks ago about a painful loss called The Shack and in it Sam Worthington plays an adult child of an alcoholic and abusive Dad who ends up losing his youngest daughter to a violent crime.   The movie is about his quest to come to terms with the anger, pain, sadness and resentment he holds towards a God who he feels ‘has forsaken him’ in allowing such a terrible thing to happen.  He ends up being transported to a cottage where he lives for a time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and in one scene the Asian singer/actress who plays the later part holds up a vial that is full of his tears.   

This image speaks to me of ‘holding’ and containment which are two things we can really struggle with if we are not surrounded by those who assist us and support us to grieve.   I know in my own life that after my father died and my partner abandoned me I went overseas with much unresolved grief.  I acted it out over the next 8 years of my active addiction and my recovery was a journey to find my way back to it in order to understand, feel and release it.  (I am not going to say to ‘heal’ it because in a sense I think its a central mistake of our culture that grief is an illness that need to be cured or fixed somehow.)  Its a sad indictment of our modern society that in past years there has been a move to have grief included as a mental illness in the bible of psychiatry The DSM.   

Grief that is unresolved can indeed make us mentally and emotionally unwell.  To my mind it can be the huge unspoken ‘monster’ that lives at the basis of addictions and anger and the rage of acting out of terrorism and other means of reclaiming a sense of power and control within situations where we are actually overpowered.  Grief itself is feared by many because it is like a tidal wave in a way.  We can try to run from it or defend against it, but in my experience it always then finds some kind of way to knock us over sideways.  Far better not to see it as a monster but as a rejected energy that wants us to turn towards, surrender and acknowledge it.  

Being able to accept that grief is there and that we are powerless to a degree is the first step.  We can use different forms of containment.  For me dancing and writing and walking help to move the grief through my body, the freeze state of some traumas and traumatic injuries can be all about frozen grief that brings a critical event to us which externalises its intense charge in some form and then leaves us knocked over, frozen paralysed or powerless. 

And if we look to the ancestral epigenetic component we can see how this stored charge of grief and anxiety can be passed on from generation to generation.  When I start to get into compulsive cleaning I am aware of how much grief and a sense of powerlessness fuelled my Mum’s own manic cleaning binges.  And I got badly injured myself when she was in the midst of some of them.   I have injured myself so many times or broken things either gardening or cleaning that these days I am much more mindful in the midst of such activities, stopping and breathing and centring myself as much as I can.

I do believe that like most emotions grief is a kind of visitor to us, as in the poem by Rumi.  If we welcome the visitation of grief and take some steps to give it a place, then just possibly we will not be as compulsively ‘run’ over by it (or over run by it) and in time we as we integrate it, it will deepen and enrich us in the process.  

And what is most important is to know that grief has a purpose and its presence in our lives or heart is a sign that something had great value to and was cherished deeply by us or longed for.  It has come time to understand that value or experience or let that something or someone go and so there will be a shedding if we are to move forward.  Such losses and griefs will always be with us and remain forever a vital part of our soul on our ongoing journey through life.

Taking good care

Child 4.jpg

To take good care of ourselves, we must go back and take care

of the wounded child inside of us.

You have to practice going back to your wounded child every day.

You have to embrace him or her tenderly,

like a big brother or a big sister.

You have to talk to him, talk to her.

And you can write a letter to the Little child in you,

of two or three pages,

so that you recognize his or her presence,

and will do everything you can to heal his or her wounds.”

 

Thich Nhat Hanh,
Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Anger and fear as a motivators

I love it when new followers connect to a post you wrote and then you get to check out their blog and learn even more from reading about their own journeys.  I just read a wonderful post from a fellow blogger Pearls Of Wisdom in which she shared how she realised at a certain point in her healing that a lot of her choices were coming out of either fear or anger.  Wow!! That comment just hit me full forward throttle as I saw a richochetting of certain past choices that came from this place, in fact nearly all the choices that occurred around the time I split up with my last partner 7 years ago.

It is very hard when you don’t develop into a person with a secure and stable base or foundation of trust and faith in your life and a good grasp and understanding of your emotions and motivators.    It leaves you in many ways falling through space feeling that you desperately need to grab onto anything that will give you a sense of comfort or security and stability, problem being if you always grab onto things from the outside you don’t get to build your own strong, stable, secure foundation from within.

As I see it that is probably the work I have been engaged in most definitely in the 7 years since I came back to my home town.  I remember even in therapy it got to a point where I was trying to grab onto my therapist in order to feel supported and stabilised.  I would call at all kinds of times between sessions and then I actually lashed out at her when she was on the hop at a conference and could not help me during a huge clash with my brother.  She got really upset and set a boundary with me.  No more calls between sessions and this is when it got really hard as about 6 weeks later a lot of drama came to the head in my family and my Mum died and there was a further problem with Kat where I got resentful and I nearly ended therapy because I felt she wasn’t being ’emotionally available’ enough.  Things would have got super tough if I abdicated therapy then and we were able to work it through, because a choice made out of anger at that point would have ended up with me in a far weaker place than I now find myself and these days she allows me to call between sessions occasionally when she knows I am going through a really tough time.

Anyways it was really helpful to read what Mary wrote in her blog today as it helped me to see how I can when responding our of fear or anger without using reasoning to think things through can lead me to make really bad decisions. The capacity to contain, regulate and mediate powerful emotions is not something all of us are helped to develop in our life and if not we have a lot of scaffolding work to do in order to get to the point where we find what my therapist calls ‘our sea legs’.   Anger and fear can be helpful if we contain them and understand more deeply how they are operating in our life.  My therapist often tell me that anger is often a cry for authenticity or self care and may show us an action we need to take.  At other times, however it can decimate things that we need to come to terms with necessitating adjustments we need to make in our thinking, reacting, expectations and grasp of reality.

It’s okay to relax

Let go

 

It is okay

If I just remember to breathe

And also that I am not in charge of it all

The world will go on

Happily turning

Whether I stress or not

Doing cartwheels in my mind

And maybe its for the best

If I just remember to be kind

To life and hope

And who knows in any case

Just what the plan of God is

Or how things will eventually unfold

Maybe over time

I am learning just a little

To let go

To open to trust

And to understand

That when it comes to the family dis ease

Those essential truths

I didn’t cause it

Cannot really control

Nor cure it either

Though sometimes I forget

I am not God

Just one of the tiny cogs in a wheel that goes on turning

With or without me

Surely such a stance

Seems to return everything

To just the right size and place

It resolves me of unearned guilt

And helps me realise

Its okay just to relax

And nurture my heart

For isn’t it only through surrender

That anything of true value is really ever achieved?

The soul in silence : reflections on solitude, trauma, wounding and healing

All the beautiful responses to my recent post/poem Trust in Silence have really got me thinking today of how important silence is to being able to be with and connected to depths of our soul.  When we are struggling or suffering often we can be abused by being told we need to ‘get out of our own heads’, “get off our pity pot!’, (yes readers I have heard this one many times in 12 step meetings) or that we are ‘isolating’ and at times there can be some truth to that, sometimes when we need the loving touch or support of others or look for the gifts or message in a painful experience,  but in world that find it hard to stomach or fathom certain truths, is it any wonder we learn to turn more and more towards the silence if we can, deep in that silence, find an inner source of soothing, calm and healing?

I know for myself the healing to be found in the warm of the sun, in sitting in a shady spot with doors open, Jasper at my feet just feeling the sense of connection with the moment that is awesome, magical, healing and mysterious and beyond words to fully describe (though I make stumbling attempts in poems).  Then there are the times when the silence is more like a deep dark indigo ocean that almost squashes me, I feel myself subsumed or I feel the cresting of a wave of anger or grief or sorrow that wants to rise up and sweep through me, possibly even sweep away some debris from inside, memories or feelings I buried long ago, and if I just allow myself to surrender than I can expand rather than contract in response to that and feel the beauty of having touched base with my soul.

And lets face it, for many of us who have endured depths of loss and trauma others do not, have not and could never know the depths of we are not going to find that recognition or acceptance and allowing of our process from most people and my personal feeling is that therapists also don’t always know the territory themselves.  I was told by astrologer Melanie Reinhardt 13 years ago after my last major accident which was a repeat of my near death one at age 17 that most therapists would not be able to fully understand the deeper spiritual dimensions of the wound of nearly losing my life as well as all the deeply Plutonian experiences that followed over the next 30 or so years for me.  She directed me towards the work of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron and said a soulful meditative practice would be the best therapy for me.  Sadly I got into another relationship two years later with someone who saw my need for solitude as pathological.  According to him I had agrophobia!!!!  Anyway don’t really want to go back into the relationship today, it was a learning curve for me and I got some good things out of it and deeper understanding due to all the pain we both acted out on each other.

Lately I am learning to accept and validate more my need for soulful solitude.  It is where I create from.   It is where my deepest healing happens.  I don’t feel that level of connection in may relationships in the world, in some I do.  I feel it here because I feel here other trauma survivors and people in recovery are on the same page.  Just connecting with you brings me SO MUCH HEALING.  I was blown away yesterday by the love shown to me on a really tough day, coming out of a painful and challenging week.

I wanted actually to post another Thank You blog too as I was so grateful yesterday and today to open my page and see all the comments and love on here.  As well as responses to other comments of mine where I am trying to support others going through trauma and meeting misunderstanding and woefully inadequate response to their Complex Trauma.  I really see my life purpose to be as a Wounded Healer and it is what Melanie Reinhardt teaches about in her work on Chiron.  Its really only us who have navigated the depths of trauma that fully understand and since all traumas are also different in some ways we wont understand everything as we all have our own unique journeys, but in time I want to set up some kind of site to offer help.   If my journey and suffering and losses and gains can be used to help others that is what really makes me happy, it gives me a peace and feeling of wholeness that really lays so far beyond words.

But as I read this back I am mindful too that the healing for all of us lies both in connections with others, but more paramountly through the healing that comes from connection to our deepest soul.  I feel collectively we are trying too, to heal a deep split from nature and instinct and the divine feminine.   It is hard to articulate this in a post but there is a source of power that to me is Goddess like,  I don’t find the concept of a male God as personally healing in my own journey unless I think of the Frank Lloyd Wright quote in which he says he believes in God but his God is nature.   We are part of this mystery and so is our deepest soul and many of us are on a journey now to connect more to that source both within and without in order to find peace and love after years of separation, fear or trauma.  And to recognise more deeply our essential kinship with all living beings as well as the deep silence.

 

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.