On compulsive repetition in the life of Rimbaud : Alice Miller

The following quote is taken from Alice Miller’s book The Body Never Lies :  The Lingering Affects of Childhood Trauma in which she addressed the subject of repressed childhood trauma.   Miller has written many books and they include biographical details from the lives of famous adults abused in childhood who then either re-enacted that abuse whole sale (Hilter and Sadam Hussein for example) becoming perpetrators in later life or decended into addiction or repression, many taking their own lives in the process (Virginina Woolf).   In the following extract which I found on Goodreads she addresses the life of the poet Rimbaud whose entire journey was a quest to seek the lost sustenance of a loving emotionally available mother.

“To salvage the genuine love he was deprived of in childhood, Rimbaud turned to the idea of love embodied in Christian charity and in understanding and compassion for others. He set out to give others what he himself had never received. He tried to understand his friend and to help Verlaine understand himself, but the repressed emotions from his childhood repeatedly interfered with this attempt. He sought redemption in Christian charity, but his implacably perspicacious intelligence would allow him no self-deception. Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very early age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. He experienced himself as a monster, his homosexuality as a vice (this was easy to do given Victorian attitudes toward homosexuality), his despair as a sin. But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinately shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her. Rimbaud’s biography is a telling instance of how the body cannot but seek desperately for the early nourishment it has been denied. Rimbaud was driven to assuage a deficiency, a hunger that could never be stilled. His drug addiction, his compulsive travels, and his friendship with Verlaine can be interpreted not merely as attempts to flee from his mother, but also as a quest for the nourishment she had withheld from him. As his internal reality inevitably remained unconscious, Rimbaud’s life was marked by compulsive repetition.”

The following quote also expresses how we may try to compensate for the love and emotional availability we never attained.   Miller explains that it is only when our body knows the emotional truth has been understood that we can find release from what she calls the lingering effects of cruel parenting or emotional neglect.

“In his famous novel Fateless, the Hungarian writer and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész describes his arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was fifteen years old at the time, and he tells us in great detail how he attempted to interpret the many grotesque and appalling things he encountered on his arrival there as something positive and favorable for him. Otherwise he would not have survived his own mortal fear. Probably every child who has suffered abuse must assume an attitude like this in order to survive. These children reinterpret their perceptions in a desperate attempt to see as good and beneficial things that outside observers would immediately classify as crimes. Children have no choice. They must repress their true feelings if they have no “helping witness” to turn to and are helplessly exposed to their persecutors. Later, as adults lucky enough to encounter “enlightened witnesses,” they do have a choice. Then they can admit the truth, their truth; they can stop pitying and “understanding” their persecutors, stop trying to feel their unsustainable, disassociated emotions, and roundly denounce the things that have been done to them. This step brings immense relief for the body. It no longer has to forcibly remind the adult self of the tragic history it went through as a child. Once the adult self has decided to find out the whole truth about itself, the body feels understood, respected, and protected. ”

“But it is one thing to complain about one’s parents deeds and quite another to take the facts of the matter fully and completely seriously. The latter course arouses the infant’s fear of punishment. Accordingly, many prefer to leave their earliest perceptions in a state of repression, to avoid looking the truth in the face, to extenuate their parents’ deeds, and to reconcile themselves with the idea of forgiveness. But this attitude merely serves to perpetuate the futile expectations we have entertained since our childhood. ”

The following extract pertains to the life of Virginia Wolfe who took her life on 28 March, 1941.  Miller addresses in her book the repressed trauma and abuse she suffered and that Miller beleives contributed to her suicide.

“Can we say that she had no courage? No, we can’t; she showed more courage than most people in denouncing lies, but her family could not come to terms with such honesty. This is not surprising. The little girl continued to live in an adult woman’s body, fearing her molesting half-brothers and her beloved parents, who remained silent. Had she been able to listen to her body, the true Virginia would certainly have spoken up. In order to do so, however, she needed someone to say to her: “Open your eyes! They didn’t protect you when you were in danger of losing your health and your mind, and now they refuse to see what has been done to you. How can you love them so much after all that?” No one offered that kind of support. Nor can anyone stand up to that kind of abuse alone, not even Virginia Woolf. ”

Miller consistently makes the point of how essential validation of early abuse is for survivors to get free of suffering and their symptoms.   We need someone who can support us and believes what bodies and souls knew most deeply was true,  without this support and belief so many lose the fight or remain endlessly trapped on the hamster wheel of repetition compulsion.

Making myself wrong : taking on other’s burdens, some reflections.

I wrote this post late last night after working through some of the events of the past week.

think I tend to take on a lot of responsibility for situations I did not cause.  Someone pointed this out to me in a comment on another post.  That when we care and know pain and can feel it deeply there really is no insulation that we have from other’s pain. The best we can do is make a decision with our minds to detach from it and be realistic about the limits of our involvement.

In this current situation that I have been sharing about over past weeks there is a long history going back to 1980 when critical events took place in my family.   I make sense of a lot through astrological cycles and when I look to current transits I see what is being triggered at the moment but so much of it was way outside of my control, never the less the ricochet effects deeply affected me.   I was at that stage coming out of my own motor vehicle trauma when the trauma befell my sister and I was about to embark on studies that got aborted and then I got no counselling to help me and was very much on my own in the coming years after my father died.

When I got sober in 1993 I had all of this trauma still locked up inside me.  I tried my best to come to terms with it but I was not helped by my partner nor family and at that point I see I would have been best to make a complete break away, but I needed some kind of support.  Today I was clear with my sister that I could not go to the hospital with my Mum in the ambulance and that I could not go to the hospital tonight either.  My three hours there on Monday night set me back big time on Tuesday.   I don’t want to go under again and if I am going to continue to make progress it really is time to start setting some boundaries.

To be honest as much as I loved my nephew’s company, staying up late while he was drinking and smoking a lot was not something thats good for me.  I had a lot of cleaning up to do yesterday and we had torrential rain while they were here.  When he left he hadnt cleaned anything up.  There were his dirty dishes in the sink and outside a dish full to the brim of cigarette buts with rain water in them.  I cleaned it all up yesterday and finally feel that I have my space back.  I am glad to be able to have my sanctuary here back, as its where I recharge myself.   Now I just need to work to keep at bay critical thoughts and keep practicing self care.

On that note I went to the library this afternoon and a book was waiting I ordered in called Finding True Refuge,  I don’t know if any of you have read the author Tara Brach’s earlier book Radical Acceptance, I  read it quite a few years ago and got a lot out of it, in it she talks a lot about shame and how she came face to face with her own on her spiritual path.  In this one she speaks about cultivating a loving kindness meditation practice where we seek refuge within, in the silent interior spaces of our heart.   I already got a lot out of the first 30 pages I read this afternoon.

The idea of seeking and finding a refuge within appeals to me.  It is what I feel in that nourishing, nurturing, alone time of solitude when I touch base with a source of peace that lives beyond all the traumatic events others seem to keep bringing into my life.  I am aware that on an astrological level Saturn and healthy mature adult boundaries and protections are an antidote to all my strong Neptunian tendency to be overly empathic and compassionate.  With Jupiter magnifying Neptune in Scorpio’s influence lately (by transit) I was also warned in another reading/interpretation by astrologer Leah Whitehorse that what people are saying or projecting may not be totally true or based on reality.   I need to keep a mindful watch over my own energy frequency now.   I was starting to feel happiness and contentment and experiencing solid sleep before my nephew’s visit last week.

I got a lot out of the visit but it also made me aware that as an empath I can and do take on other people’ s struggle and suffering at times.  My therapist suggested this week that when I get full to the brim with it, I try to discharge that energy by grounding, putting my feet on the earth and letting it flow down out and away from me.  Last week after each afternoon walk I was taking off first one shoe and then the other to place each bare feet on the ground to earth myself and settle my energy.

Its interesting to me that I got breast cancer just a few months after my older sister was diagnosed.  When I think of the amount of trauma we both went through from 2005 – 2015 when we were both diagnosed it doesnt surprise me.  Tbere is an element of strong enmeshment in our stories.

Anyway I will keep working to have better boundaries and become more aware when I feel the saviour archetype is overpowering me.   I should not make myself responsible for what others have to bear.  At the same time I need to be aware of their boundaries as well.   I notice that so often what I give is not so often reciprocated.   I dont give to get but when you do have a giving heart its so important to keep a balance.  If we give more than we get back it can tend to make us ill or drained.   This is something I need to keep a really close watch on in myself.

To be part of a loving family

Having my nephew and his daughter here for these past days (two now) has been so lovely.  Today I cried a lot (silently) about how lonely and hard the disconnection we suffered due to my sister’s trauma and Dad’s death was.  When I hugged my little grand niece this morning and she looked at me with so much love in her soft brown eyes, my heart just swelled.  I remembered how it felt to be so small, open, soft and vulnerable but also strong and wise, yet confused by all the adults around me.   I was aware I did not want to pass any of my sadness onto her as it is my sadness to hold and carry, not hers to feel or heal for me.   I felt how lovely it was last night to share a meal all together in my little cottage with my dog Jasper under the table bathing in the connection and love wagging his tail.   I know in two days they will be leaving and I will miss them so much but I will have these good memories to sustain me.  Today my nephew and I talked of past things and I found out some things I didn’t know.   I will always be so grateful for these moments of reconnection.   There has been so much aloneness and disconnection my life and a lot of fear around reconnecting.  I need to keep remembering the fear is about past loss.   Loss I will never be able to change, but that loss does not need to be the final word.   At least for now.

A chink of sunlight : witness to the tide

Dawn 2

A chink opened up this morning Between gunmetal gray clouds Shining a ray of sunlight down Upon me Here safe in my little home

I awake slowly Coiling and uncoiling Unravelling

I rise slowly after some hour or so To memories of what you and Mum did give me Dad Over those 3 months in hospital Pinned to the bed You came with food and a little bottle of wine every night I needed a hug though

There was so much unsaid So much that fell through the empty spaces Left by no words

I am freed from that prison after 101 days But less than 3 months later Judy is struck down With a bleed in her head Then psychosis came And so much worry for you

I forget the high seas you were riding How as a man you had to lock it all inside and tell no one much but Mum Your stomach bore the tension but it ate you up And we lost you only a few years later So much loss An ocean to cross

Oh my How close I came to drowning And yet I fell full fathom five and am now slowly resurfacing It has been an ocean storm I have had to learn to breathe through A massive tidal swell that carried and beached me here Long years later

But I feel now with that chink of sun so quickly gone An intimation that very soon I will have Emerged From this dark night Victorious

And yet the grief will always remain Deep in my soul For it occured to me today I was born to be A witness to the tide

Understanding self absorbed behaviors

Lack of clear perception into our selves often comes from our early environment and deficits in mirroring.  If we consider generational and collective impacts too many of our parents and their parents and parents parents were engaged in a process of survival.  Attention was tied up with outer, rather than inner concerns and losses may have made one parent less emotionally available to them, leaving psychic and emotional deficits and burdens.  The research and work I have quoted from in previous posts from Mark Wolynn on multi generational trauma(It Didn’t Start With You)  addresses these issues in some way and shows how people tend to disconnect from parents in this situation, feeling hurt, betrayed abandoned or let down, often rightly so.  However there may be so much more to their story we never get to know.

Once we become more aware that our emotionally unavailable parents laboured under very real deficits, deficits that they passed down to us we can begin to take steps to address what we carry and hopefully become more aware of when and how we may have become self absorbed ourselves.

According to Nina Brown, author of Children of the Self Absorbed, the first step to reduce self absorbed behaviors is to accept that we may have absorbed some of them from our parents.  She outlines ten key behaviors associated with self absorption we may need to address or work upon as follows :

  • An attitude of entitlement.   Feeling that you deserve preferential treatment. That you can do or say whatever you like to others and that they shoud not be upset.  The idea you deserve special consideration or treatment.  Insensitivity to others.
  • Attention seeking.  Behaviors such as talking loudly when it will disturb others.  Dressing just for attention.  Trying to distract or upstage others.  Starting fights.  Interrupting ongoing conversations.  Dropping hints and teasers.  (All with the intent to gain outside validation that you are significant, important, different to or better than others, or to reassure yourself that you are worthwhile, or to ease chronic self doubt.)
  • Admiration seeking.   Yearning for reassurance you are valued through different means including the attainment of material or ‘status’ symbols.
  • Grandiosity.  Taking over in situations where it is not called for.  Feeling you are inherently superior to others.  Arrogance.  Displaying contempt. Failure to value the opinions of others.  Acting big as a defence against feeling small or shameful inside.
  • An impoverished self.  This is the self that feels deprived, ignored, abandoned or unnurtured or treated unfairly.  And this is all a matter of perception for as Brown points out me may not have a lot of support but still feel we are supported by the Universe.   Focusing on weaknesses or what you do not have instead of what you do.  Lack of ability to take constructive action to fix or address what you can.
  • Lack of Empathy.  Restricted or limited ability to sense what another person is experiencing inwardly in a specific situation without becoming enmeshed in their feeling or experience or reactions or overwhelmed by them.  Being able to hear and sense what lies behind words and actions… the real message behind the words.  (Brown notes we cannot be empathic with everyone all of the time and at times being too open to negative or toxic feelings can be inappropriate.  Brown says “Many adults who were not subject to a parent with a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.. are able to be empahic with many people some of the time. “)
  • Seeing Others As Extensions of Self.  According to Brown “the self absorbed person is only dimly aware of other people in the world as separate and distinct from her (or him), and at the unconscious level thinks others exist to serve her (or him).  The self absorbed person sees everything in terms of self, as if they were the only real person in the world.”  This leads to : lack of respect for other’s possessions and boundaries, making decisons that affect others without consultation, making choices and decisions for others who are able to decide for themselves, touching things that belong to others without permission.  Asking overly personal questions.
  • Needing to be  percieved as unique and special by others. Everyone needs to know they are unique, special and worthy but when self absorbed this is taken to an extreme, or acted upon in a demanding way.  This relates to having an extra high opinion of oneself that is not based in fact.  It can lead to a lack of respect for others needs and rights.  It can result in criticism of others faults and flaws.  Making comparisons that put them up and the other person down.  Blaming others for getting in the way.  Needing to be complimented or praised first.
  • Exploitation of Others  This involves using other to gain benefit, coupled with the conviction that others are not as worthy.  Taking advantage of another person’s kind, generous or caring nature, desire to please or need for approval just to serve the self.  Expecting favours without reciprocation.  Lying, cheating, misleading.  Using “if you loved me or cared about me” to manipulate others
  • Shallow Emotions.  Adults with healthy narcissism can experience and express a wide and deep variety of emotions.  In contrast, self absorbed adults are extremely limited in experiencing and expressing their feelings.  Experiencing for them seems to be mainly limited to fear and anger and while they have the words when expressing other feelings, they don’t have the accompanying emotions.  These people are not genuine in their expression of feelings, except for the variations of fear and anger.   To get an idea of your range and level for experiencing emotions Nina recommends an exercise in which you make a list of each hour in the day and beside each time portion list all the feelings you remember experiencing.  Beside the list of feelings list the names of people you expressed the feelings to.  Review how open you were in either expressing or not expressing them.  Did you have much variablity in what you felt?  Did you primarily express negative feelings?  Did you have an expansive or limited vocabulary for your emotions?
  • Emptiness at the Core of Self.  Arises when children become isolated and lack meaningful connection to others.   When we are not received as kids we don’t develop a strong connection to and faith in the Universe.   The capacity for experiencing and understanding our feelings may be severely limited as a result. If we were not shown compassion we cannot feel it for ourselves.  If we are focused on our emptiness and hurt we are robbed of seeing the beauty and wonder around us.  We feel separate and disconnected and so emptiness grows.   Experiencing ‘holes’ and then reaching to substances or unfulfilling activities to feel ‘full’.

Bear in mind when reading this list that there is a difference between being self absorbed and self reflective.  It’s only natural that when we didnt get want we needed we would dig in and come to mistrust or not understand where others are coming from.  I have written another post to follow this one soon on the distinction between self absorption and self reflection.  People with destructive or malignant narcissism cannot self reflect or introspect, they tend to attack or blame often out of the narrow range of feeling, Brown speaks about in her book.  We are, in healing and becoming more self aware learning to strike a balance, its painstaking work.

 

The final 3 strategies for overcoming the effects of self absorbed or emotionally unavailable parents.

This is the final installment which follows on from two earlier posts on the header subject and contains exerpts that come from Chapter 6 of Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.

Change of Pace

(We can) become so stuck in one or more routines that (we) limit (ourselves) from expanding (our) horizons, meeting new people or challenges, learning and developing (our) resources and talents, and limiting our choices.  Thus, (we) place restraints on (ourselves) and limit (our) personal growth and development in some ways.  An occasional change of pace can energize (us) and (our) thoughts in many ways, enrich (our) inner self, and provide for wonder and beauty in (our) life.

This is not to say that (we) should disrupt (our) life and do away with (our) routines.  Such routines are beneficial.  For example, I do my writing in the morning, shortly after I wake up.  I first read the paper and have a cup of coffee.  After that I pick up my pad and pen and begin to write. You want to maintain your constructive routines.

A change of pace is not a major disruption, it is doing something different on a trial basis to see if it is right for you, energizing in some way, or has other positive outcomes.  It can be almost anything that is different from your usual routine.

Mindfulness

Becoming mindful teaches our valuable concentration that can help you stay focused on what is truly important in your life.  This  can be very helpful to you in interactions with your self absorbed parent, where your heightened emotional state can be distracting, even disabling.  Once you get distracted or lost, you’re left with the same old feelings.

Mindfulness is done with conscious thought and intention.   You expand your awareness in the moment and notice, appreciate, and even sometimes savour what you are experiencing.  This awareness allows you to notice things you didn’t notice before, being something into clearer focus, sort through confusing stimuli and zoom in on important aspects, reduce some anxiety, and help you feel more in control.  For example, lets suppose after by becoming more mindful you notice and experience the following with your self absorbed parent :

  • Your parent is saying the usual hurtful things, but you are not confused about why he is doing this and are able to see the fear your parent has of becoming old and no longer in control.
  • The words used by your parent seem meaningless and inaccurate and, although designed to hurt you, are bouncing off you like ball bearings bouncing off a wall.
  • You are able to discern your parent’s anxiety without taking it on or even feeling that you must fix it.
  • You are becoming aware that a role shift is in process, and that your parent is fighting but is also consciously unaware of it.
  • You leave the interaction less upset and stressed than usual.

Mindfulness allows you both to expand and contract.  You expand your awareness and contract your focus.  Practice the following exercise as many times as you possibly can throughout your day.  It doesn’t take long to do it, but you can do it as long as you wish.

Developing Mindfulness

Procedure:  This excercise can be done sitting, standing, reclining, walking and so on.  However it is best to be alone in a quiet place.

  1. Empty your mind.
  2. Don’t fight intrusive thoughts.
  3. Concentrate on your breathing and how this makes you feel.  Try to slow your breath.
  4. Become aware of your body, its tense spots, and its pleasurable spots.
  5. Focus on what you are experiencing, doing and feeling.  Stay with that and expand your awareness of sensations – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.
  6. Notice colors, shapes, forms, sounds, and how your body feels.
  7. Continue your expansion as long as you wish.

Reduce your Self Absorption

This suggestion is the basis for entire books on narcissism, but we’ll only touch on the subject in his book  The major premise for this suggestion is that sef absorbed behavior and attitudes are not constructive or helpful.  It is important to remember that, just as your self absorbed parent cannot see his (or her) undeveloped narcissism, you are unaware of behaviors and attitudes you have that are reflective of undeveloped narcissism.  Your undeveloped narcissism can do the following:

  • Prevent you from detoxifying yourself.
  • Inhibit you from developing sufficient boundary strength.
  • Keep you in a position where you can be easily wounded.
  • Interfere with developing and maintaining meaningful and satisfying relationships.
  • Get in the way of your reaching out and connecting to others.
  • Keep you in a defensive state all of the time.

Be aware that (reducing self absorption) is a life long endeavour and that you are mostly unaware of your self absorbed behaviors and attitudes, but they do have a significant effect on your self and on your relationships.

End of direct quotes

Facing the fact that we too are self aborbed is difficult.  In one way we need self absorption for a time in order to delve into what is going on inside and understand how and why we are reacting as we do.  However it is now proven by research into mental health and happiness that happiness rests upon being able to sustain healthy mutual life giving, love filled connections with others.  This ability to connect is what is primarily wounded or undeveloped in narcissism and if we were raised with emotional neglect or by self absorbed wounded parents.  Learning to reach out and connect and show empathy and understanding to and of others is a life time work.  But it has great rewards.

On boundary setting

Boundaries

 

Today I will set personal boundaries and refuse or limit my time with others who cause me to feel anxious about my Self, life, about making a mistake, about others, about the world, or about circumstances I cannot control.  Because I know that all I can control is my attitude, today I choose to practice an attitude that exudes gratitude for the blessings I do have, because that is what makes me feel peaceful within.

Lisa A Romano