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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Give in

Born.jpg

Give in to your grief

Allow the full force of your tears

To flow unimpeded like a river

Don’t freeze up

Or lock it all inside

Don’t believe those who tell you

Its better to put on a smile

If really the smile is not yet the result

Of allowing yourself to be real

Honest and true

To all that lives inside of you

I speak as one who knows

Who was taught to hide

To fear self expression

And lock the way I really felt inside

I learned to fear that anger and grief

Would come with a tide

Of disapproval from others

But in denying me my feelings

They denied me true life

And forced the truth into addictions

And much as I tried to blame them

They were not at fault

Just teaching what they learned

But now I know

That freedom only comes

When we give in to what we feel

And allow it to drop us to our knees

And find the real

For only through doing so

Through this kind of surrender

Can we find the way through

And allow life to carry us forward again

Find the strength and courage

To rise again

And live a fully embodied life

A brilliant resource for anxious attachment

Anxious.jpg

If like me you suffer from anxiety or anxious or insecure attachment issues you may find the above resource very helpful.  I have not read the entire book yet but its already given me so many tools not only to manage my anxieties in relationship but just anxiety in general.  There are a number of practical exercises you can do and the authors explain the way to recognise triggers, ask in a caring way for a time out without triggering your partner’s own issues, self soothe then find a way to reconnect from a calmer space where you can speak from your heart rather than from your trauma or defences.

Those of us with anxious attachment and Complex PTSD can really struggle to hold onto loving relationships and relate in a loving way.  This is a resource that actually gives strategies that are useful and will help you to understand more about how anxious attachment affects your relationships.   I highly recommend it.

Combust / errupt /apologise

There is a pattern that I go through inside when I have a massive reaction to something or am pushed or push myself too far. Due to the way anger was expressed or not expressed in my family I have never been good at it, nor at self assertion.   I think it goes back to both parents not having advocates when they were young both having lost their Dads before adolescence.  At home Mum would storm around and errupt and Dad would just laugh or seek distance.  It is something I have shared about in other posts.

Today when I felt this anger just rumbling away and then unleashed it on someone I thought of my father particularly.  I thought of all he put up with from my mother and older brother and then I thought of how he ended up with stomach cancer from an ulcer.  I get gut problems myself when I feel stressed.  I thought of his Chiron Venus Pluto wound and of the legacy he may have bequeathed me by never asserting a boundary with my Mum nor apologising to her when he needed to.   I know I am getting a powerful message too from my inner self.

My pattern is to hold onto my anger and upset for a long time.  I try my best to manage it alone and to please others by trying hard to be there and be responsible and be noticed, redoubling my efforts when I fear a connection may be broken, but at times the problem is I think I can be too responsible and getting noticed by doing something is not always the best thing.  Anyway today I blew it off in a text message and felt immediately better as I was aware I had over stretched myself over past weeks and was starting to feel resentful about it but swallowing that resentment. Problem is now I feel that I need to apologise for blowing off when really I know my therapist would tell me that I don’t.  I dont need to apologise for expressing resentment that my own needs aren’t getting met but I do get into an argument with myself telling myself it is my responsibility to care for me and set my boundaries rather than blame others.  So on it goes.  The bottom line is surely that my anger is a message for me rather than for anyone else!

I just got myself out for a little while after a very intense morning and am about to have lunch but I also thought the best thing may be to write a post about it to get some feedback from others who may go through a similar pattern.  So I am asking, when you get angry do you feel guilty in some way. Do you feel like you need to apologise?

I know at times I DO need to apologise and at others good friends will understand I reacted in the way I did for a legitimate reason because at that time I was pushed to my absolute limit after a long time of trying to just push through and grin and bear it.   At these times when Mars in on my case (and over the next few weeks it squares natal Neptune in my third house which is a transit in which we often feel we are forced to swim through mud) I need to keep a handle on it.  I don’t want to sever good relationships but neither do I want to collapse again because asserting myself and my needs at times feels so goddamn scary.  Feedback much appreciated.

Who ARE we really? The lost feeling self and it’s role in suicidal ideation.

Just re reading through key chapters in Jonice Webb’s book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, Running on Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect  is reminding me of this question and how hard it can be to answer fully and honestly if we were not fully allowed to express ourselves or unfold ourselves and our feelings in our family of origin.

In the chapter Cognitive Secrets : The Special Problem of Suicidal Feelings, Jonice outlines the story of Robyn who becomes suicidal after what seems to be a ‘fun’ night with friends.  What is not seen by her friends though or expressed by Robyn is her real and true self.  As Jonice describes Robyn’s childhood she describes a loving family who did not allow any displays of so called ‘negative’ emotions  :

Robyn’s parents seldom argued and they had very low tolerance for negativity of any kind  When a conflict would break out between the children, as they do with all siblings, the parents would crack down by sending all parties to their rooms immediately (no matter what the fight was about).. their motto was “Zero Tolerance”. They also applied this role to complaining or any expression of unhappiness, sadness or frustration.   The result was a quiet household.  The children learned early on that if they had something negative on their minds, they had better keep it to themselves.  Mom and Dad refused to be burdened by nonsense.. they didn’t have the time or energy to put into solving crises, assuaging tears and soothing frustrations  The Zero Tolerance policy allowed them to stay in charge of the household and they felt, keep a positive outlook on life.

Outside the house the siblings did fight and argue, however.  The older siblings could work with this conflict, contain the emotions and felt freed by it, but Robyn who was a sensitive child did not.  She was labelled a ‘Frequent Crier ‘ by the family, due to her tendency to burst into tears and was of course teased about being like this and if the tears continued too long she was,( of course), sent to her room (alone!).  Great solution, Mum and Dad!!!

Throughout all of this Robyn learned a powerful lesson.  She learned that negative emotion was bad and would not be tolerated.  She learned that any feelings she had that were not upbeat, fun or positive must be kept to herself and carefully hidden.  She felt ashamed that she had such feelings, and silently vowed never to let them be seen.  (to such an extent that she even hid them from herself!)

Robyn learned to withdraw, to stay busy and diverted, watch too much television or over work and to fight off any ‘negative’ feelings.

Robyn didn’t just fight this battle.  She lived it.  Her life was organised around making sure that she did not reveal, see, know or feel anything negative from herself.  It took a tremendous amount of energy.  She was bent on hiding the negative shameful part of herself (Robyn’s version of the Fatal Flaw most neglected kid hide deep inside)…..she couldn’t let anyone get to know her too well.

Robyn learned to live alone, to not invite friends around.  She hid even her intense loneliness about this from herself and struggled because she knew her parents loved her, so why would she be struggling so much if she was not fatally flawed?

Since adolescence, Robyn had an outside looking in feeling. At age 13, she had started wondering what was wrong with her.  She’d had a great childhood, so there was no explanation for how flawed she felt.  There was something missing something sick inside of her, a secret void.  The only way she could soothe herself was to imagine being dead.  Being dead would be such a relief  She did not have any intention to kill herself, but she reserved the possibility as a safety net…..Robyn used fantasies of being dead and her secret knowledge of her safety net as her chief method of soothing herself from age 13, all through her adulthood, but she had not breathed a word of it to a single soul.

Jonice goes on to describe how this fantasy and desire was, however, triggered after the night in question Robyn had shared with friends…. how feelings of numbness, emptiness and gloom suddenly began to over take and consume Robyn…As her desperation increased after failed attempts to distract herself with television comedy failed, Robyn reached for the bottle of pills and swallowed them compulsively.

Robyn’s suicide attempt and feelings would most likely make so sense to anyone who knew her because as Jonice explains “the Robyn that everyone else knew and loved was not the real Robyn… She was essentially a time bomb, set to explode periodically”.

Robyn was luckily found by her sister who happened to drop by that day…but many who feel and suffer the way that Robyn did are not so lucky….”they don’t get to share or understand their pain, and they don’t get to explain their final moments to anyone.”  They also never really get to know, love or understand their real feelings or true self.

When I first read this chapter in Webb’s book last year I identified with it so strongly.  I have not ever committed suicide though often I had cherished that fantasy too.  Luckily I got a sense years into sobriety that more was going on underneath my addiction that just ‘defects of character’.  Soul sadness, soul loneliness as therapist Tara Brach points out in her book True Refuge are primary feelings that drive us when we come to mistakenly believe “there is something wrong with me”, the fatal flaw which is symptom seven in Jonice Webb’s list of effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

So many of us who suffer urgently need to understand it’s roots if we really are ever to recover our true sense of self which contains all kinds of feelings in response to a life which we didn’t choose and is so often influenced by all kinds of toxic, negating and restrictive influences beyond our control.

(For a full list of all 10 symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect please see the following post or read Jonice Webb’s book.)

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

Why self compassion helps us more than ‘self esteem’

Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?

It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion.   She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well.  If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet  outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of  inward security.    We can also become less compassionate.

In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem.  Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.

The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :

  1. Self kindness.   A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental.   Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’.  Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves.  In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain.  Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels.  Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress.  This is really hard right now.  I am with you.   This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass.  It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require.  When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect.   Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
  2. Recognition of our common human experience.  So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care.  This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people.   Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again.   We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern.  Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things.  While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too.  However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows.  On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering.  In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
  3. Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being.  To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful).  “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.”   Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions.  In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them.  For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body,  feeling a desire to lash out.  In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother.  His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother.  With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying.  He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary.  He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard.  Mindfulness was central to this process.  “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)

Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post.  I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately,  I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.

I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem.  Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance.  It helps me understand myself and others better.  It is a practice I am very grateful to have found.  It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.

Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes.  It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect.  It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.

Triggered by exercise, joy, power, happiness!

I wondered how many of you get triggered when you start to exercise?   If you were in fearful situations a lot as a child or if like me you suffered a few life threatening events where you pulse was raised, I have read that exercise can trigger panic as the body/mind registers the raising of the heart beat as fear.  This thought is also triggered by a response to a comment I read on another post about self harm where the commenter recommended the gym as a diversion from pain and anxiety.  The person replied about how the gym triggers them.  Ideally we feel our pain and don’t try to escape it but one of the long term impacts of paralysis, freeze or collapse which is such a big part of both Post Traumatic Stress and Complex PTS is that we don’t exercise or even move enough but get locked in self protective patterns which may include ingestion addictions to calm feelings.  That is okay if we turn to healthy food but if we turn instead to wheat or sugar laden snacks it can be a problem for some and as survivor of breast cancer I have had to watch that I don’t turn to those kind of snacks when my anxiety gets triggered in the now.

I was also prompted to write this post as Jasper and I just returned from a good long walk.  I then did some stretching at the bench in the field I sometime sit on to read my book mid walk.  When we drove home I felt such a surge of happiness, joy, power and wellbeing but as soon as I got inside to make a late lunch my thoughts started to race and I felt my heart beating fast and happiness turned to panic and fear.

I then though of all the times when I was attending AA that I was warned to not get too high or happy and when I share this with my therapist she is shocked.  I get triggered by happiness or assertive energy anyway because often as a young child in a much older family I was helpless at the power used over me not always in very nice ways, especially not by my older sister but the second one who used to pass off her own frustration about no one being home with us and having to care for me, onto me.   Also in later years when this sister was supposedly ‘manic’ (to a degree this was true but in some cases she was being pathologised) I began to feel a lot of fear.

Anyway today I was glad to be able to make the association to the way I was feeling.  I know that often my anxiety is manifesting without me consciously registering it as anxiety.  I just have all these strange flooding or drowning sensations in my body and I don’t always recognise feelings as such, at first they appear as somatised body symptoms.  When I spoke to my Mum this morning she was expressing something very similar.  I thought it might be good feedback for a post.  Last week with Kat in therapy I was sharing how I felt my feelings about past mistreatment as a few wild horses in my breast champing at the bit to get out.  My teeth were aching where my denture attached to that two top back teeth and that reminded me of being in bridle head gear every night for over a year when I was 16 and had braces.  I am SO ANGRY I had to go through that :  it was fucking torture for a highly sensitive person and I just had to grin and bear it and swallow it down.

There are some of the things I need to externalise and share here, when I share them at 12 step meetings people get triggered and get in trouble for saying how it really was, which also makes me angry.  But if I don’t speak about it I will get sick and my cancer may even return.

Trauma and silence

The following is partly verbatim extract from the video of Diane Langberg’s talk on trauma I reblogged earlier, and partly some of my own thoughts interspersed.  We so badly need to speak about our trauma and be understood, heard and validated.  The paradox is that so much of trauma is hard to articulate at first, our body carries a hidden burden that often is so difficult to give form and substance to, but it is so important that we try.

Trauma silences human beings partly because there are no words to really describe what that was a like.  It brings emotional darkness, isolation because you feel like nobody cares or even if they did they wouldn’t understand,  it makes time stand still because we get so lost in what happened we cannot see ahead we have lost hope

Trauma heals through : talking :  tears:  time.

When somebody does not talk when all of that is shut down they are broken emotionally (and deeply wounded in a wordless space).  People often will not talk because the pain is so great they cannot find the words. Or they talk over and over again not touching the real deep place.  To remain silent is to fail to honour the event, the memory.  (It is so hard to find the words…. words are often so inadequate when it comes to trauma. After a major trauma in the beginning often there are no words.  (Can we ever really explain what trauma is as it goes into the body?  The body knows!)   Dance it! Draw it!

To recover from trauma we must find a way to live in the truth and not pretend.  Minimising trauma, saying it didn’t hurt, should not hurt or leave lasting effects is wrong.  That is silencing.

Talking says I am here I am alive and for people with trauma that is a huge step.  Most of all letting someone talk or being there for them shows you have ‘care for their broken heart’.

Most especially sometimes what really helps is to sit in silence with the person.  Join with them in the darkness.  Let them know by your presence they are not alone in it.

Most important is gaining power over trauma by learning to tell the story. At first trauma will come out in fragments that slowly have to be pieced together.  Telling and being listened to restores the interpersonal bridge broken in and through trauma.  It CONNNECTS us to others and to our trauma.  When we are believed our trauma is validated.

Thank you so much Broken Blue Sky for sharing Diane’s video with me.  She speaks of things I did with my sister who died and never got free of her deepest traumas, but how could she.  I often just sat with her and held her hand.  How often I have wished someone was there to do that with me.  🙂

 

You are worthy

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I really should be getting my act together to walk my dog but I feel compelled to write this after spooling through my reader to read other follower’s blogs I follow.  It makes me so sad to read of the self rejection and even self hatred people can have for themselves in their lives when they are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress or any other kind of heavy emotional burden.  I personally know how much it crushes your soul (to say nothing of the effect is had on your spirit) when you try to express painful truths others don’t want to hear and try to silence in you.  Narcissists by their very nature will never own the fact that anything they did ended up wounding you.  In fact they get the shits that you dare to say they hurt you and in fact can’t you see how much you are hurting them by daring to even bring the subject up? How could you do this to me! Yawn.

My advice. Get the hell away from that shit.  Your pain needs to heard, it is real, you aren’t making it up.  You are not a malingerer for suffering from trauma.  You are not worth less or worthless. Your soul and body have been injured and scarred. That said are you going to beat yourself up all over again and treat yourself unkindly?  Please DONT DO IT!  Tell the inner and outer critics to take a hike and get off of your case.  In fact though in the end you find yourself letting go because when you argue you realise you are already off the side of self compassion and radical acceptance.  What do you have to prove??  Don’t keep beating your head against that brick wall.  It doesn’t know much about love!

You are not unworthy for suffering trauma.  You didn’t bring it on yourself.  You may however caused yourself more trauma by running in the wrong direction or seeking healing in the wrong places and that in itself is to my mind a sad symptom of emotional neglect, betrayal, abandonment and abuse.  And is the single agony fact behind why and how we get so stuck and some people never escape.  They end up going mad or killing themselves if they cannot get the truth out there or feel the feelings that others find too problematic due to being shut down themselves! Or else invested, for their own reasons in the can of worms being kept shut!

I do often wonder, much as the internet is criticised how so many of us would have survived as well if we did not have this medium and platform for self expression. Sadly it is a bit of a remote medium in that we don’t get to physically touch each other when we share and being touched, held, received, welcomed in our entire being and body is SO IMPORTANT in healing from trauma.  However we do get to voice it and that is a huge thing.  We get validation.  We get to know our pain is real. We get to express and not repress or depress it any more.

The only draw back may be that at times we go over and over and over the old wounds which may have the effect of making them deeper if we don’t at the same time have some love poured into those wounds. You know how a wound often smarts and stings just after it is fresh after you put some antiseptic on it.  It is singing out its pain as cells move into do the healing and ignite the inflammatory response.  Trauma is a super sonic kind of inflammation and one that can burn and burn and burn, but the burning in hurting is also a big part of the healing.  We are in the healing crisis of toxic repair.  We have to go through some pain and then we have to let the wound alone for a time so forces can work under the cover of darkness to repair.  Yes in the end we have a scar that bears a testament to what occurred and what we suffered. We then become what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls ‘members of the scar clan’.  We bear our wounds and we can become the wound or we can decide that the wound is something we suffered and now bear the memory and evidence of but does not totally divine the deeper spirit in us which bears testament to it.  And its a fine line and in the end involves a conscious or unconscious decision about how we respond to the injuries.  No one outside of you can determine that outcome which is the result of a unique blend of factors that make you, you.

In my own case I would now rather say I have these wounds but there is more to me than them.  I would rather not keep running the wound over and over and over again.   I personally see where it takes me when that happens and its not into a good place and yet I still accept that to run the wound over and over is also a valid response to trauma. Part of the healing process involves going over and over what happened and experiencing the associated emotions and reactions until they transform or alchemise.

Whatever the case though, this is something I now know so deeply and powerfully that I must shout it out.  Whoever you are, whatever you have suffered, no matter what wounds, you are worthy, you deserve love.  You have a right to exist and be seen, and by God show yourself the respect and love you deserve by not allowing negative voices to take the power of this truth away from you.  For you are a beloved by life and to deny that love is to believe in a lie.