Forgiveness, like rain

Set free.jpg

Forgiveness tender falling down like rain

With these tears I shed

The shackles of my braced soul

Loosen

And I feel my heart to be

Not the centre of my body

But rather

The entirety of my consciousness

When we spoke

I felt the distance between us

We will never fully breach

All the times our words flung us so far apart

And yet in your heart

There was a longing

I feel in some way I fell short

I was never the one you could recognise

In the end that was my task

To undertake elsewhere

To find that recognition

Through others and deep within

Now I ask for your support

I wonder what old need I am replaying

Surely I am an adult now

It is time to make my own way in the world

I lingered a long time

Looking for something in the emptiness

And only found deeper darker space

And yet love was there too

Birthed within the deeper recognition

Of that emptiness

Which was, in some strange way

A place of birth

In the recognition

Of all you could not give

I see how much you lacked

And so tenderly

Forgiveness falls down like rain

Washing all my wounded places clean

We live, we suffer

richo

It may be difficult to remember

Suffering is part of life

We all go through suffering

And some of us go through so much suffering

Our suffering from the past

Can leave pain, deep, deep inside

When things echo of the past

We go back and find reminders of all the ways we were hurt

Often through ignorance

And we find ourselves once again

In the burning ground

We thought we had left behind

Stay a while with the suffering

Stay a while with the hurt

But hold it lightly, darling

Don’t close your hand or heart or body too tight

Make a fist if you must

Bu then let the fist go

Remember to breathe

And open the door to pain

So it can enter and move through you

No one escapes suffering

No one escapes pain

But you can bear it if

You just hold it tenderly

And treat yourself and others with compassion

The problem of judgement for emotional sensitives

what-is-love

I found the following information extremely enlightening.  It concerns how judgement affects those of us who are emotionally sensitive, the wound it creates and how to step outside of self imposed black/white, wrong/right judgements to ease our emotional intensity.

If you’re emotionally sensitive, it may be that ever since you were a child, people have said or implied there’s something wrong with the way you feel or think.  Comments such as these, as well as the mere thought that people are judging you in this way, have probably been such a source of pain for so many years that you’re hypersensitive to any hint of criticism.  Although no one likes to be judged negatively, for the emotionally sensitive its agonising.  Negative judgements, both actual and imagined, may often lead you to feel shame, and to experience hopeless thoughts as well as to fear rejection.

Even positive judgements, such as saying something is ‘good’, can be problematic, because if one thing is good then a different thing might be ‘bad’.  In this way, positive judgements maintain your potential for negative judgements.  They strengthen your tendency to make comparisons and see things in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities.  Although, for the most part, you may assume that when I talk about judging…I meant making negative judgements, keep in mind that making positive judgements can also contribute to the issue in almost every case.

Letting go of self judgements, other’s judgements of you, and your judgement of others, whether positive or negative, is one way of keeping your emotions at a lower intensity.  The point isn’t to have a more positive view of everything, but to stop thinking so much in terms of good versus bad (or any other duality) and just accept that things are what they are.  When you replace judgements with facts, you’ll react less to misinterpretations, assumptions, and distortions about events and people.

Self Judgement

Judging creates emotion.  In addition, any emotion you feel in response to an external event will be  intensified if you judge yourself for that event.  For example, if you’re getting divorced and you judge yourself as unlovavble or as someone who always messes up the pain of divorce will become worse.  If you then judge yourself for being upset, that will add more pain.  Increasing your awarenss of your self judgements and better understanding the way you learnd to judge yourself in a particular way can help you reduce this behaviour.

If you were an emotionally sensitive child, maybe you were told you were too dramatic, emotional, needy, weak, manipulative, or attention seeking.  You might have been told to stop “being a baby” or “making a big deal out of nothing”.  Maybe you were ignored or were considered a burden.  Being judged by others when you were a chid can lead you judge yourself in the same way as an adult.

You may blame yourself for all sorts of flaws.  For example, you might believe that if you weren’t so lazy you’d have gotten a job by now, even though you put in five applications a day for the past two weeks.  But even if you haven’t submitted any applications that doesn’t mean you’re lazy.  If you look more closely at the facts, you may realise that your fear of being judged negatively, not laziness, has kept you applying for jobs.

Self judgement and fear of being judged will keep you trapped.  Instead of living your life the way you want, you’ll try to live safely, doing what others deem acceptable.  You may try to fit into molds that aren’t right for you. There’s no winning in this scenario.

Source : Chapter 6  Letting Go of Judgements in The Emotionally Sensitive Person : Finding Peace When Your Emotions Overwhelm You.

In the rest of the chapter  Karyn Hall outlines more specifically how our tendency to judge as emotional sensitives makes our life lonelier and harder.

  1. Emotions cloud our rational brain and contribute to emotional distress.  Eg someone doesn’t call us back and we make up all kinds of reasons why and then get angry and refuse to talk to them ever again.
  2. Judging often hides the primary feeling we were having.  For example often anger is a reaction to fear, fear of being hurt, fear of losing something or someone important to you, fear of being rejected.  Focusing on the secondary emotion becomes problematic when we react from here.  Our anger may be telling us something that isn’t true in masking our vulnerability.
  3. Judging often adds to loneliness by creating separation between us and other people, putting a distance between us, blocking out love if someone makes a mistake, causing a cut off that love and understanding and mercy could heal.
  4. Judging in addition narrows our view. We judge something as bad, react from there often without all the facts, fail to see the positive things in the situation and so damage a relationship.

Keeping an eye on our thinking and reactions as emotional sensitives is very important work.  Seeing how and when and where judgements of self and others can block love and relationship will help us feel less emotional intensity and feel more connected and soothed.

The blocks in my heart that stop the wheel from turning well

There are blocks in my heart that prevent me loving.  That keep me trapped, that keep me locked up.  Impatient and tired of these blocks I am now seeing I want to remove them.  Love can hurt, feeling our hearts awake and alive at times can hurt.  There are times when we will give our hearts only to have them broken but what I am seeing is that even at these times we can choose to open our hearts in love even if the love we answer to and is asked for comes from our own heart and is challenging for us to give.

I am also beginning to see that my own deep blocks come from resistance.  Resistance to painful truths, anger that things are this way, well the anger maybe appropriate but why be angry about something I cannot change?  Let me face the fact that anger is showing me I may need to let go and move on, that nothing is coming from trying to hold on so tightly to what is hurting me and that the worst pain comes from resisting and fighting against the painful truth.  Once I can open to the painful truth I can stop the resistance, I can stop the fight, I can stop trying to change the things that just are the way they are and choose instead to love them and myself by moving on.

Accepting painful truths does not mean I have to like them. It does not mean that I will not be hurt by them but it does mean that I will begin to take some steps to care for me in the midst of them and take the right action to stop the hurting.  Only I can do this.  I cannot ask or demand it of any other person.  Only I can fully care for me.

It is so lovely when others hear and validate my pain, when my deep pain is held and recognised, I have the feeling that a lot of so called mental illness comes from our deepest truths and pain not being fully validated.  When others are mean to us, when they invalidate us, when they try to control us they are not coming from a place of love and yet we still have to answer with love, answer with love for ourselves, answer with compassion for them but not at the expense of boundaries. We have to see the fear and pain underneath their control.  We need deeper eyes to see the fear and insecurity that is driving them.  We don’t have to take on board the projection.  We can let the arrow pass.

In closing this post I want to share a meditation I read yesterday in my daily reader which spoke to me deeply.

If one considers oneself or one’s life as a wheel within which

there are spokes and there is a central hub,

then in the life without the divine, the ego is that hub,

and all the spokes, the relationships and events that happen

are important or unimportant in so far as they affect the ego. 

We’re hurt, we’re angry, we act.  If one lives in the divine presence

and displaces at the hub his ego for God or for the Divine,

then what happens to him is then related to that hub.

Rabbi Samuel Drexel

Burn clean

The good thing about just being able to get your mess out there on the blank open page is that you get to see the convoluted workings of your own mind, emotions and insides.  That is how I am feeling today on the back of an inner conflict which sparked a lot of old trauma imprints.  I saw what it stirred up and then when that was out there I could look a little deeper to expectations that I see I have been carrying and are perhaps not at all realistic and the part others played in reaction to things I was doing and choices I was making and living out of unconsciously.  I then got to feel a bit ashamed about some stuff I posted.  But I am going to be an adult and just cop the feelings and keep it out there.  Others can see quite clearly that by no means have I got it together in any significant way.  That like everyone out there I really struggle on a daily basis with just being human, and keeping an open heart and mind.

I am still in many ways working my way out of the slimy sludge of my family of origin which was a family of great trauma too.  Its taken me some years to understand this.  In later years all of the female side of our family have struggled with physical, mental and emotional health issues due to faulty mothering.  I had a very deep insight and vision the other day in therapy when I was sharing a poem about my body and longing with my therapist about the wounding replayed in my last relationships.  As I was reading it I had a vision of a deep vortex spiralling down beneath my feet and swirling around inside the flow of the vortex were my mother and my ex partner’s mother and lower down their mothers and then their mother’s mothers and so on an on and on.  I was sharing with my therapist how I believe this vision was about both the vortex of trauma that Peter Levine speaks of as well as the spiral cadeaucus of the DNA helix that we all carry.

I feel we have all been collectively for some time living out this deep mother wound.  By some kind of coincidence yesterday I turned the television on to see a documentary about a woman aboriginal artist who was speaking about her sculptures of the Black Madonna which is a healing figure showing up in a lot of dreams collectively at the moment and is dealt with by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman in many of her books which centre around her work with those who have had deep mothering wounds..

Marion has worked with many people with addictions and eating disorders.  Her work focuses on the w0unding of childhood abandonment and other mother issues that is manifesting globally.  She speaks a lot about conscious femininity and also about the wounding of the patriachal age that we are coming out of and suffering the consequences of. It is very much evident in how our addictions run us, how woman are mistreated and how the soft feminine side in men also struggles to express and live.  It is also reflected in the way we as the human race abuse the planet and fall out of relationship with our own inner cycles. Could we be collectively struggling with the outworking of a deep wound of collective PTSD which is asking us to heal and become more conscious of the forces of love and hate that manifest in and through our conflicts, bodies, cells and lives?  This is Marion’s idea and it resonates with me.

I have just been reading a book called The Inner Voice of Love it is an interesting book which speaks of how wounds can run us and of how healing happens through our wounds being tended to lovingly and recognised. In one chapter the author, Paul Ferrini says its pointless to say positive affirmations, it is far more powerful to acknowledge where our negativity runs us and in fully feeling and consciously acknowledging it, release it.  He speaks of how we can run everywhere with our wounds looking for love, stuck in victim consciousness and forgetting that only being love, feeling love for ourselves in all our dark and light brings us back to love.  When I read this book which I have had for over 12 years I feel set straight and deeply refreshed in some way, sometimes I feel close to tears or tears well up in deep recognition which seem to wash my hurting soul clean.

Its funny that I named this blog at the outset Burn Clean and along the week of writing and rewriting I have come down to this idea of a soul being washed clean by deeper recognitions that come out of lovingly tending wounds.  Burning and burning something only ends in a pile of ash.  Maybe the water put on those ashes of spent anger turn the ash to clay and make them somehow workable.  These are metaphors I have used in a poem a while back which I will link to in this blog a little later.  I get anxious to post my posts often and later like to refine them.

Today I am feeling a little lonely and sad. My Mum was hospitalised today for the second time in emergency due to a problem with infections in her legs. Today it was my sister who stayed with her, the other day my Mum asked me to leave the hospital and get on with my own life.  I cried a lot.   “Please don’t push me away.”  I said.  It is coming up to the time of year I was pushed away over seas after my father died.  She expressed pain that her wounds are affecting me.  “But isn’t that love?’  I asked.  I did end up going and it may have been for the best as I had therapy that afternoon.  In the end Mum got a taxi home.

Today my sister stayed with my Mum. I need to remember my sister got more support from my mother than I ever did, from the earliest time I was pushed away and maybe that is my fate.  Maybe I should stop fighting it.  Being pushed away, left alone led me to addiction. I am now 23 years out of that.  Painful mother wounds linger.  My male female relationships have all ended, the last around this time of year too.  But when I feel the impact and the loneliness, you know what?  In some way the pain burns clean. When I cry I recognise the wound that goes back over many generation and did not just happen to me but to my ancestors too.

Maybe this fate is one I must carry and who knows if the future holds another love, another chance at connection for me and another chance to heal the wounds with someone where our defences against hurt don’t end up pushing us both away.

One thing I do know, though, as long as I connect to my own deep soul I am truly never alone. I am truly connected and I know I matter, to life, to love, to me and as much as I long to matter to someone else I know it is something I cannot demand but must flow naturally if it is meant to be.

On Healing through Grief Work

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The text below on grief and grief work is taken from David Richo’s book When the Past is Present : Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage our Relationships.  I have found it helped to clarify for me the complex emotions tied up in grief and it seems to outline very eloquently the nature of what it means to grieve in a healthy way that leads to resolution:

Grief is irreversible.  We cannot cancel or change it, and yet we try.  This is not unhealthy, since we are actually thereby respecting our own capacity for grief.  We have to let it come through in its own way and time.  This may mean that we avoid it for a while, let it in little by little, or even attempt to deny it.  We have to be kind to ourselves in our grief, letting it take the lead, not forcing ourselves into a programme meant to release it as soon as possible.

In this practice we look at our feelings and then at the inner shifts that help us let go and go on.  As you read through the following reflections on grief and grief work, see what connections you can make with your own life.

Grief is composed of three feelings.

  1. Sadness, that something was lost
  2. Anger, that it was taken away
  3. Fear, that it will never be replaced

These three feelings can be experienced simultaneously or in any order.  Grieving about our unfulfilled needs in childhood means expressing the same three feelings.  Sadness that our needs were neglected or unfulfilled, anger at those who did not fulfil them, fear that we might never find a partner who can fulfil us.

The three feelings that comprise grief are like technologies built into us so we can deal with the implacable truths of impermanence, loss, betrayal and suffering. We have the capacity to be sad because of the given of losses, changes and endings; we have the capacity to be angry because of the given of betrayal and injustice; we have the capacity to be afraid because it is given that threat and danger sometime besets us.

Grief work grants us access to our deepest feelings and to our healthy vulnerability, something so necessary to intimacy.  Vulnerability is healthy when it is combined with stability.  We feel weak, but our powerlessness does not throw us off course.  We are vulnerable, but not as victims.

We are glad rather than ashamed that we are susceptible to human pain without seeking more of it.  We open the door to the pangs of love and longing, but we are not doormats.  Our hearts are open, but not ripped apart.  Our brow  is “bloody but unbowed”, as the poet William Ernest Henley writes.

Healthy vulnerability is show in the same ways as grief

  1. I am sad that I was hurt
  2. I am angry that I was insulted
  3. I am afraid that I will not be able to get over it

Such fear is understandable since there is a feature of grief which is inconsolable.  ..

Vulnerability is unhealthy when we restrict the natural flow of our feelings.  When we show only sadness, we may feel we are victims. When we show only anger, we are on the defensive and not comfortable with the vulnerability that could make us more lovable.  When we show only fear, we seem to be expecting only more mistreatment and we run from relating.   The challenge is to experience all three feelings of grief without blame, grudge or grievance.  The three healthy feelings in grief help us in the following ways:

Sadness that is free of blame can help us contact our tender vulnerability as something to be appreciated, as a positive sign of our capacity for love and openness. The negative unhealthy vulnerability brings the sense of being victimised.

Anger becomes useful when it prompts us to become strong enough to break through our fear or when it helps us gain distance from an abuser.  It counterbalances the sadness so that we can speak up to abuse or hurt.

Fear can be used positively as a warning sign of danger rather than as an inhibiting or compelling force.  Notice that the fear that what we missed will never be replaced also gives us a clue: We may have entered a relationship with expectation that a partner will provide proper and full replacement of what we long for or lost, even though he is not aware of what that may be.

As we express our feelings and let go, we gradually forgive ourselves and others and can get on with life.  This happens because our opening to grief, paradoxically leads to self comforting.  That stabilises us and we can finally say yes to a world that is bound to deal us gains and losses.  We can say to ourselves.  “Living through the challenges of life in relationship I learn to self soothe.  Now my regrets about losses or failures become the building blocks of my sense of personal completeness.”

This completeness/wholeness results from the automatic shifts that follow our release of feelings.  We notice that we can let go of the charge surrounding what we grieved.  Secondly, we let go of blame, grudge, grievance and the need for revenge -that is we forgive.  Grief and compassion are not meant to be simultaneous but sequential.  We cannot easily forgive while we are angry. But once we work through our grief, forgiveness and compassion follow as graces.

Then we notice we can get on with our lives and more personally grounded, no longer so much at the mercy of transferences that gather around unmet needs, regrets, disappointments and the grief they carry in their wake.  Now we are more able to take care of ourselves and more open to and ready for healthy relationships.

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I have hurt others, reflections on trauma and love

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I have been coming to some fairly intense realisations about myself over the past few weeks. Last night I awoke in the night conscious of the ways I have at times let others down, due to my fear of trusting in them.   Its a huge part of coming out of trauma which occurs for us in personal relationships, that we learn to become hyper-vigilant and have a hard time trusting.  Others may also be on the receiving end at times of a torrent of anger that has very little to do with them.  They may have done something to us that triggers old wounds and old pain.

If we are not fully aware of what those wounds are, what our triggers are we can and will lash out.  Its part of self protection and survival.  We may feel bad at times for lashing out if our parents didn’t allow us to be real and have anger and express it in ways which helped us to assert our true needs and feelings.  But recovery may mean that we get really, really angry for a time.

In her book on recovering from narcissistic wounding in childhood The Drama of the Gifted Child, therapist Alice Miller makes the point that it is when we can finally feel and get angry over our true needs not being met, nor our true feelings understood that we are well on the way to recovery.  Ideally if we recognised our problem we get to a therapist or others who can take this anger and help us to process it.  It is our legitimate protest and without it we are essentially fucked!

The alternative scenario is that we get angry with someone or something and are then told we are flawed or bad or damaged in some way. This occurs when true empathy is not being shown to the inner child of the past that is being triggered or if others are not deeply sensitive and capable of showing empathy.  It has happened to me enough times to know how painful that is, and sadly at times I have done it to others.

And this is part of the guilt that I woke up with this morning,  coming up to Christmas I am aware of the times I was pulled backwards and forward to my family in the hope of some recognition happening about the pain of the past, the trauma I carried silently and drank down for years.  And then at times I also left a partner alone who had his own trauma and then was more preoccupied with my own trauma than really understanding his.  It really pains me to see this now but I hurt another person who I claimed to love.  And I so badly want to call that person and say how sorry I am.  But the truth is that person also had narcissistic injuries and wasn’t always kind, nor did he show empathy to my wounded child because he was so caught in his own wounds.  So in a way we attracted each other for the purpose of learning.  And in the past I did try to apologise and he used that apology as a cat o nine tails to lash me with.

Its a harsh truth to swallow that due to the emotional unavailability or emotional neglect or the emotional inconsistency of our childhood we also turn into people who cannot be consistently emotionally available for others.  But how could we actually give something we did not receive, at least before we became fully conscious of our wounds and grieve them?  And so now seeing this enables me to grieve and feel so sorry, but also in some way to begin to see myself as less of a victim at least of that person, more as a victim of a painful past I had so little conscious control over before now.

A very wise person in I met in AA used to say to me “Deb, if they knew better, they would do better”.  Its a little similar to Christ on the cross, saying “forgive them father for they know not what they do”.  Our parents carried deep wounds and deficiencies, many of them were struggling to survive, many of them had harsh, lonely or painful childhoods themselves.   I am not excusing in any way very, very harsh abuse that deeply scars or had scarred children around the world, all I am trying to say is that there needs to be a way we can free ourselves from the painful prison of the past where we replay over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again the pain of the past.

Its a fine line between knowing how deeply it hurt, and using that knowing to protect us and not permanently remaining trapped in a endless repetitive feedback loop of trauma feelings, reactions and memories playing over and over and over and over again.

What helps?  Soothing ourselves in the midst of our distress.   Being affirmed by others with comments like “that was so deeply painful for you”.  “I am sorry you were hurt so deeply”, “that must have made you feel you could never trust anyone again”.   What hurts and drives the wound deeper.  Comments like “isn’t it time you got over it”, “I am sure they didn’t mean to hurt you”, “well life is harsh, pick yourself up and get on with your life!”

You know something when its time to move on we will know that inside.  When its time for our defences to come down and for us to trust ourselves and others again, that will happen. It may take years and lots of broken relationships for this to happen.  It may take many dips and dives into deep depressions as a reaction to when we replay old patterns.  This I believe to be true.  The true soul within us has hidden within it its own hidden healing agenda.  And it may be a hard thing to hear but I do believe that what happened to us does have a purpose.

On the way home I was anxious to start this blog after reading how one blogger has decided to take a retreat from openness to comments.  I deeply respect this decision. AT the time I had not read her entire post but I had seen the title referring to a black tar baby.  I believe the post was so powerful and expression of what trauma feels like I just had to post it here. But inside my mind these words were going through my mind.  Trauma robs us of our present but maybe it has a purpose.  That is what I truly believe.

We are at a critical time in our collective history as humans where we have the ability to rise in consciousness of how wounding, hurt, hatred, abuse of the feminine and ignorance repeats.  We the wounded ones have to do the deep work to bind up our wounds and allow them places and spaces to heal.  If that means a retreat or a disabling of comments, so be it.  And it just might be that before we have to take on board a really painful truth of how we can unconsciously repeat our own trauma history we pull back from a full knowledge and recognition of the part we play in keeping it all going.  But if we just trust, keep the faith and keep loving ourselves and others through it, I truly do believe that in time healing will come and so will the real rebirth of love that I believe to be the deepest resolution that we as humans are capable of in our most noble moments.

Could that be the purpose of our trauma.  Could many of us together with the earth be undergoing a collective dark night of the soul or Kali Yuga as eastern mystics have foretold?  Its an interesting question and we need to know the part we play in making choices which dictate how this will end up for all of us. What will win?  Fear or Love?  This I believe is a most interesting question.

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Some things can’t always be forgiven

Some injuries and abuse are so bad, I believe it is both cruel and unrealistic to even suggest they be forgiven and forgotten totally.  Some pain caused us by evil unconscious people is so deep, it can take years to come terms with.  We live in a quick fix superficial society that espouses the idea that we always move onwards and upwards, but what if healing actually requires we move backwards and downwards, later to rise or emerge with more of our soul in tact for having embraced the depths, gaining resilience from our attempts to fully own, embrace and embody our legitimate anger, fear and pain without denying or minimising it in the face of someone’s invalidation and platitudes?

I moved away from A A meetings many years ago after being told anger was one of the seven deadly sins.  This just didn’t sit well with me, for anger is really a cry from deep within that something unjust, cruel or diminishing has been done to us.  A hallmark of a dysfunctional childhood is not being allowed our true feeling instinctual responses, nor our legitimate protest, and being shamed for them.  The result is the development of what John Bradshaw and others have called ‘shame bound feelings’.  Shame bound feeling become difficult to embrace or accept and we often turn them within creating real problems later in life.  Without legitimate anger we cannot know our boundaries nor self protect when needed.  We lose power, become sad or depressed and disempowered, we may legitimise or minimise abuse.

To be told we can only fully move on or heal when we forgive is just not true.  In some cases we have to firmly and resolutely shut the door on damage.  We will never come to a time or place where the hurt is fully gone but in time with work and courage to face our true responses I do believe many hurts lessen and we become strong in the formerly broken places.  Our hurt contains a message for us we just must listen to.

There are times in healing we find ourselves back in hell.  Times when we feel so heavy we do not know if we can face another day, days when ending it all seems the only solution to ease the pain, but my firm experience is if we just stay with these dark days and fully bear the weight and truth in time we can and do emerge again with more of our soul available.  We can and do emerge from the fire of felt anger burned clean.  We do emerge from feelings of sadness cleansed.  We can emerge from the painful yet liberating dark night experience of this process with more of our light and spirit available to us.

We may then and only then be ready to let go of certain things, if that is what our soul requires for further healing and growth.

Five stages in recovering from a narcissistic family.

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The central issue of being raised by a narcissistic family is that your needs could not be met.  The family may have been disorganised or chaotic, or it could have been ordered and looked good from the outside, your parents may even have loved you, but they were not able to put your needs (the needs of the child) first and so foster in you a sense that it is okay for you to be yourself, to have and express and learn about all your needs and feelings.  In this sense the most painful legacy of being raised in such a family is that you were never really helped to know and truly express who you really are.

In reality, these individuals are not raised to know themselves.  They are raised to know others, to be able to predict what others expect from them, and to meet (or fail to meet) that explicit or implicit need.

The Narcissistic Family, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman & Robert M. Pressman

Children from this kind of family suffer later in life in the following ways.

  1. Feeling bad or as if there is something wrong with you (though not knowing really what it is).
  2. Holding unrealistic expectations of self.
  3. Issues with trust, fear of trusting or being dependent.
  4. Being over concerned with the needs of others before yourself in a way that isn’t balanced.
  5. Difficulties communicating or talking with others or even relating to them.
  6. Problems with self assertion due to parents being threatened by your expression of needs and feelings or an inability to deal with them.
  7. Difficulties with boundary setting and discriminating your boundaries.

According to Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman, therapists and authors of the book The Narcissistic Family, Diagnosis and Treatment, healing from such a childhood involves 5 critical stages which are outlined below paraphrased and with direct quotes where relevant.

Stage One Revisiting the reality of our childhood

This stage involves giving up fantasies and false beliefs the family has created in you.  It involves accepting things were not ideal, that you had no control as a child, that the family lied about how good things were.  This stage involves giving up the hope you can recreate an ideal family, arresting attempts to correct the past or get it right (and this  includes giving up self blame as compensation.)  Realising as a child you never had power and as an adult, until you heal, you still lack power.

According to the Pressmans at this stage we meet lots of resistance.  It is essential that the focus stay on how the past affected you, not on any other cause or condition, including the pain of your parent’s own childhoods.  It involves taking responsibility for our own healing and stopping the blame game.

At this stage of healing we often swing back and forward between some powerful ideas : “it was all my parent’s fault” and “I cant blame my parents”, “it’s all a cop out” and “I am just defective/deficient/pond scum”.  Feelings must be validated in this stage of healing, experiences reframed and skills relearned.

To this end the therapists recommend the use of a picture in healing.  To find a picture of yourself as a child between the ages of 3 and 7.  This pictures serves as a potent reminded of your smallness and vulnerability, helps you to see yourself as you really were back then.  They recommend the picture be placed in a frame and prominently displayed and later in therapy they recommend that we say positive messages to our child picture/self, potent words we would have longed to hear at that age e.g. : “I love you just as you are”, “You deserve love”, “You tried so hard to please”, etc.   This helps to overcome the tendency we have to blame ourselves for what happened. Later on we can bring presents to the child in the picture, things they loved or show our care of and love for them.

When the adult can learn to accept and love the child in the picture, she is a long way toward being able to accept and love the adult version of that child.  She (or he) is more able to assess realistically conditions of responsibility and control. 

Further examples of healing techniques can be found in the text for this first stage of healing.

Stage  Two : Mourning the Loss of the Fantasy

We encounter deep pain and fear at this stage of healing but the mourning stage cannot be skipped as it is essential that we ‘get’ and accept at a deep level that the family can never be healed, we can’t go back and redo things, and ultimately what happened to us was larger than us and far beyond our control.

Much sadness is encountered here but this sadness drives the point home that we need to re-invest our energy elsewhere than in our wounded family of origin.

Adults raised in narcissistic homes cling to the fantasy that they can somehow manipulate or control their parent/family of origin system to get the recognition and approval they require (that is, to get their needs met.)  They had this fantasy as children, and they maintain it as adults.  The reality, though, is that they had little control over their parent system as children and have little control over it now. 

Concentrating energy on that fantasy is destructive for several reasons.

1. It presupposes that the patient is somehow wrong, or defective; if she could just do better, be different, find the key, then she could get her needs met.  In short, it blames the victim.

2. It keeps the patient involved with the family of origin system, which may preclude creating or adequately maintaining her own family or relationships of choice.  It is a waste of time.

3. It keeps the patient fixed on a goal that she can never achieve; getting her needs met …it is a set up for failure.

4. It sets up a situation where opportunities for good interaction with the parent system (or family) – if they ever occur  will probably be missed because the constant underlying unrealistic expectations and resultant anger will make any kind of relaxed interaction impossible.  It creates a pattern of missed opportunities. 

The resolution of this stages drives home we will never change the family, but hope does come to be able to change ourselves and our responses and improve the quality of our lives.  It also opens up the ability to have a more realistic relationship with our family of origin.  I would add that this is a stage and resolution that may take years.

Stage Three :  Recognition

This stage helps us recognise the affects and impacts of being raised in such a home, the ability to look at certain pattern and behaviours and say “I know where that comes from.”  Here we see how the past is reflected in the present.

Essential to this stage is the recognition that behaviour traits we developed although dysfunctional or hurtful to ourselves and/or others now were essential to our survival back then.    They enabled us to function.  Now the situation has changed and our coping mechanisms need to change.

It is vital in the formation of a positive self image, however, for the patient to be encouraged to have respect for the child he was, and for that child’s ability to survive.  He (0r she) is, after all, essentially a bigger, older version of that child : he deserved respect then, and he deserves it now.

The essential nature of this is that being raised in an emotionally neglectful or invalidating environment leads to an overly critical self, problems with and fear of criticism and rejection, fears of abandonment, a tendency towards people pleasing in an effort to win love.

The major issue to become aware of here is the ‘going back to the empty well’ phenomena.  We may still entertain powerful fantasises that we can rescue the family or get what we needed again.  Such fantasies set us up for failure and pain.

Stage Four : Evaluation

This is a very painful stage.  Its where a lot of us get stuck in thought such as “I’ve screwed up my entire life”, “my parent’s weren’t that bad”.  Here we encounter a lot of undeserved guilt.  And here we must do the hard work of figuring out what behaviours and roles we need to let go of and those we need to keep or develop. Here we also need a lot of help to see that we did the best we could with limited skills, information and insight.

Stage Four : Responsibility for Change

Here we begin to work on changing those personality traits that although functional in childhood no longer serve us well or keep us stuck in bad patterns.  We often need very good therapeutic or outside help with this stage as we don’t have a lot of models for healthy behaviours, nor a well developed and realistic sense of self.

Issues we may face here are.  An inability to set and maintain boundaries, feeling unentitled to do so.  Feelings of unworthiness. A tendency to be overly responsible for others.  Issues with trust.  Difficulties with intimacy.  Difficulties differentiating and owning our own true feelings.  Problems with people pleasing.  Difficulties communicating and being honest about our true self and feelings as well as our true needs.  Difficulties with finding emotional balance and regulating feelings.  Problems with all or none thinking.  Difficulties in striking a balance between depending in a healthy way and being independent.  Problems with delaying instant gratification.  Overcoming an enormous unrequited need for external validation.

A final aspect of this stage of healing involves two issues.

Firstly the need to confront.  Confrontation of and with our family of origin or parents is dicey at best.  We are not able to do this before we have established a secure base within ourselves, in my experience.  We need to be able to be strong enough to hold onto our own reality in the face of minimisation or invalidation abuse and wise enough to discriminate parental defences and projections.

Confrontation helps us though by giving us the strength to speak for our own truth without attacking or disparaging others, but we need to go into such a confrontation with no expectations.  We are merely there to express what we experienced and felt.  We have no power over the response we will receive from dysfunctional parents and families.

The second thorny issue concerns forgiveness and I have written about my own personal take on this in another blog.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/on-the-thorny-subject-of-forgiveness/

The issue whether or not to forgive in my mind very much depends upon our abusers degree of genuine contrition or apology.  We need to be realistic that often our attempts at confrontation will meet a stone wall and the kind of reaction we meet when trying to address past issues will or should dictate our future degree of personal investment and involvement.

The Pressman’s take on this is issue, is:

When confronted with the issue of forgiving the perpetrator(s), our belief is that the issue is more in the spiritual domain than in the psychological.  Although the issue of forgiveness has been dealt with at length… we do not pursue it.  In our experience, the self imposed pressure to forgive the perpetrator often gets in the way of genuine recovery, as it can act to shut off the patient’s necessary expression of anger and self validation of feelings.  When patients ask about the subject, we usually respond by telling them that in our experience forgiveness is a feeling or condition of being more than an act.  As such, it can not be legislated or decided upon, if it happens, it happens on its own.  Within this model forgiveness is no more necessary than blame.  The patient is asked for a reflection of reality, not a judgement call.

In their book and work with clients undergoing recovery from narcissist families the Pressmans show the critical role acceptance of reality plays in recovery, the ending of what Robert Firestone has called fantasy bonded relationships in which we are enmeshed from childhood on.  We cannot miss this crucial encounter with the acceptance of a reality that in being very painful is the price we pay for liberation of our true self from the wreckage and entanglement in narcissistic injury and wounding that keeps us trapped in depression and self blame.

Moving beyond the repetitive negative feedback loop of trauma

I am sure many of my followers listened to what Bessel van der Kolk spoke about in talk on The Body Keeps the Score sharing his understanding of trauma, abuse and its impact that I posted yesterday.

One of the things that really interested me (and its been on my mind a lot recently) is how trauma often keeps us stuck or frozen in traumatic world view.    In an attempt to keep ourselves safe we can freeze up on a bodily or emotional level and replay our traumatised reality over and over.  Most certainly trauma needs to be spoken about and understood to be released and some of us may need to do this many times.  However I do feel as trauma survivor healing means that we reach for positive things in our lives which give us a feeling of affirmation, power, happiness and release.

Healing from trauma becomes problematic if we stay trapped forever in a victimised mindset.  This is perhaps why validation of trauma is so necessary for the traumatised person.  One impact of suffering abuse, trauma or emotional neglect is that we often end up with a harsh inner or outer critic, and we often attract criticism because the nature of living with traumatic injury is that we act out many of our painful feelings on those who do not understand completely how trauma has affected us.  When our feelings and reality are understood and validated by others it is easier to let go.  Being invalidated leaves us with a double injury and drives the wound deeper within.

However I also feel as trauma survivors we need to be realistic about human beings and understand the part fear and ignorance play in the way we can be treated by others who are ignorant, unaware of unconscious of the effects of trauma, PTSD and Complex PTSD.  They may not necessarily be bad people, just unaware.  We can learn to speak up once we understand how, why and when invalidation occurs and most especially if we have been mindfucked as children and our inner reality denied we need to learn how to validate our true self and feelings in such a way that we can use them as tools for wellness and allow ourselves the necessary time, space, resources, self care and compassion to soothe those deep, old, past wounds.

Going over and over the trauma may also not necessarily mean that we deal with the deeper feelings and learn ways to relax and let go of the pain that has become a friend on some level.  One of the points that Bessel makes in his talk is that once trauma is known and its impact understood it is actually not a good idea to keep revisiting the trauma and the traumatised place. In truth we are no longer living there, but the sad nature of trauma is that it sets up a magnetic field which we, as trauma survivors, can navigate towards and be drawn back to.  We can then get stuck in what medical intuitive Carolyn Myss calls woundology

I would explain this as getting stuck in a place where we replay our own trauma over and over.  We may gravitate towards other traumatised individuals (and this is helpful as we seek and need a place of understanding and soothing when we have been badly affected by trauma or abuse) but it isn’t helpful if we are not moving towards a happier place together, a place where the pain can be felt, expressed and released rather than gone over again and again and again while we stay trapped in a victim reality, blaming others for not ‘getting us’.

One of the impacts of suffering trauma or abuse is that our nervous systems become hire wired.  We don’t have as high levels of the soothing chemicals we need such as oxytocin and dopamine.  Often our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems become dysregulated, thus we have symptoms such as startled awakening on the point of relaxing or falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or relaxing, problems getting back to sleep and problems waking up. When our current world is bleak and littered with loneliness or trauma residues the prospect of another day on earth is not that inviting, hence our reluctance to get out of bed.

That is why it is so important than rather staying stuck in a frozen place, on each day we make some attempt to reach out for soothing of some kind and a place beyond the hell of the endless repetitive feedback loop of trauma.

Some things that have really helped me with my own trauma have been the following:

  • Having a pet, especially in my case a dog.  This has meant that I have a being around who pulls me into the present moment.  Dogs and animals know how to relax and just be, so they are a good antidote for our endlessly wound up state in trauma.  My dog also provides a social engagement for me on a daily basis.  I can take him to the dog park and meet other owners in a relaxed setting away from trauma.
  • Having at least one person you can talk to on a daily basis who can help you to feel good about yourself.  It is important as trauma survivors that we have someone who understands our inner reality and is willing to listen to us non judgementally and unconditionally.
  • Self soothing activities such as bathing, walking, yoga, meditation and relaxation.
  • Contact with nature or natural settings.
  • Listening to music.
  • Developing a good relationship with my inner child, both the wounded, lonely inner child from the past who so often needs my attention, soothing, protection, listening and care, as well as my wonder child who keeps me open to all the joy, love, hope, spiritual connection and possibility I feel in the essence of me, that part of me that was wounded but always understood that it was wounded and not at fault.

This is only a small list. I am sure that there are others of you out there who have more recommendations about what works for you.  If so I would love to share then and integrate them into this blog.

As I look back of the past 14 years of my life I have began to see how for all of those years my body and brain was caught up in a traumatised reality that had played out over the previous 40 years of my life.  At age 40 the urge for understanding and liberation was felt but to start on that journey I was drawn into complete retreat which was actually a very powerful collective ancestral imprint from my family.

This kind of retreat is what occurs for trauma victims who are struggling to be heard and understood.  Bessel van der Kolk makes this point in the video I posted yesterday when he explains how traumatised people tend to become more alienated.  Their trauma brings a sense of mistrust, a feeling of something being wrong with us, an increased sense of alienation and in the end often an exile from all warmth and human connection, most especially once we begin to become more aware of our trauma and see how invested others are in getting us to move on from it.  The fact is that traumatised people make others uncomfortable as our society as not been that comfortable with talking about trauma, but this what we need to do in order to educate people and stop the negative feedback loop of repetitive trauma which keeps victims trapped in a sense of victimisation and isolation.

My own isolated reality consisted of all the unfelt wounds and traumas of my past that I had not yet fully felt my way through and integrated.  Therapy has provided a healing antidote, in that it has given me a place to express the truth and be understood.  Journaling and blogging too have been tools which have helped me get things out that when trapped inside were making me ill.

What I am beginning to understand now is that when these tools work they actually begin to free trapped energy from the magnetised gravitational field of trauma which tends to suck our vital energy inwards and downwards.  I can still feel this kind of energy when I go to some support groups full of other traumatised individuals all at different stages of awareness about their trauma.  In this kind of space I need to work hard to hold onto a reality of hope and love that for me was found through being able to navigate the dark stuck places over long years and bring healing light to them.

For me love was and is birthed out of pain, by my willingness to witness it and not remain stuck there, by my willingness to stay open, even in places of very powerful rage towards those who misunderstood and hurt me more, by my willingness in time to forgive and rise above my own, as yet incomplete view, by my willingness to reach out beyond that place of deep agonising personal, ancestral and collective pain to a place of peace where love, wisdom and joy live even in the midst of great darkness.