Moving towards our happy

The following quotes from the third story of recovery from BPD in Beyond Borderline : ‘ I Am Not Just a Box in the DSM-5’ really spoke to me.  It’s full of truth and hope for recovery.  Facing our darkness is the way we move towards the light.   It is something I so firmly believe.

Mostly I was hell bent on protecting my own misery, because it was the only dependable companion I had ever known.  Even if I think back to my “happy” high school years, that self critical, loathing voice was my closest companion.

Driving a wedge between my true self and this negative, hate-fuelled version of myself was a truly Herculean effort.  It took years to put enough space between the two selves for me to even begin to reecognize the existence of this voice.  It took months of true ambivlence about life to wake up one morning and look at myself in the mirror and see the utter defeat and sadness that had taken over.  It took another round of treatment in an alcohol facility to grasp some whisp of hope that if I could cut the shit, stop the self destruction, I could have a better life.  My true self deserves better.  The little girl who danced around effortlessly in pink and purple sparkles deserves better.  The girl who talked to strangers, just because, deserves better…..

I honestly dont know how I survived all the torture I put my body through.  I don’t know that I believe in a ‘higher power’.  I don’t believe in fate…. But there has to be some greater purpose to my life that what it has been so far.  And in my darkest of days – of which there have been many – I have always found solace in the small ways of making life better for other people.  So if my story, if my pain, can help save someone else from making the same mistakes I have, then I guess it was worth it.

Today I woke up energetic.  Today I did not plot how I could become invisible.  I can once again look people in the eye.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have my moments of despair. …. But I can look in the mirror and see beyond all the psychiatric and other sorts of labels that people have ascribed to me.  Yes I may be a borderline, raging alcoholic, depressive, former anorexic patient. But I am also a friend.  A daughter.  A sister. A niece. A cousin. A soon to be teacher.  A life long student.  I am becoming dependable.  I am ambitious  I am intelligent.  I am a woman.

My life and path followed a dark, twisted road.  But each wrong turn has made me stronger.  At the end of the day I am who I am today because of what I lived through. Some day I will be able to look at it all and be grateful….When that day comes I may just surprise myself and be happy to be me, in spite of any box the world tries to put me in.

Understanding abandonment depression : insights from James Masterson

Abandonment depression appears as a subject in a few of my posts.  I made a leap forward in my own recovery when I first began to become aware of the term just over a year ago following reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD where he deals with the subject in depth.  Abandonment depression is different to basic depression which can be a feeling of depletion or lowered energy following a loss of massive change of some kind in a person’s life.  When dealing with this kind of depression easy solutions of distraction for a time or a taking of pain relief to help when people find them selves in the critical stages will help.  In the case of abandonment depression we are dealing with something that will not be helped by these kind of solutions since it involves a core wound that must be understood, felt, mined and addressed through psychological work.

Here is how James Masterton describes the abandonment depression :

In the throes of the abandonment depression, a person will feel that a part of his very self is lost or cut off from the supplies necessary to sustain life.  Many patients describe this in graphic physical terms, such as losing an arm or leg, being deprived of oxygen, or being drained of blood.  As one patient put it : “I felt as though my legs would not work so I couldn’t possibly leave the house, and when I went to fix lunch I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to swallow.  And if I did I would probably throw it back up.”

At the darkest level of this depression, a person can despair of ever recovering her real self, and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.  When one is brought low enough repeatedly, or for an extended period of time, it becomes increasingly harder to imagine oneself happy again or able to push through life with the strength and confidence with which the reasonably healthy go about their daily living. At this point a person can teeter on the brink  of despair, give up and consider taking her own life. If the separations they experience in their external lives are painful enough to reinforce the feelings of fear of abandonment, some will commit suicide.

(this is well beyond an acute episode of the ‘blahs’)… The roots of depression push farther into the past than seems apparent.  In time, true sources, eating away inside, make themselves known.  But initially they are well defended by the false self.

It is the nature of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are – vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge.  Nevertheless, when the defences are down and the real self is thrown into situations calling for strong self assertion, situations that trigger the repressed memories of earlier separation anxieties and feelings of abandonment by the mother, the serious nature of the depression is glimpsed and felt.  At this point it is not uncommon for the patient to panic and slide down to the very bottom from which he convinces himself he will never recover.

(Panic hides fear of the rage underneath depression).  Depression and rage ride in tandem.  As depression intensifies, and comes to the surface of awareness, so does anger.  At first (the real reasons cannot be pinpointed)…rage is diffuse and projected onto outside sources (anger at life or the world or just angry in general…..Anger of the abandonment depression is far more intense and complex).  Anger that is part of the abandonment depression. has more damaging consequences.  Its intensity can cause bodily shaking, feelings of helplessness, feeling like a baby (age regression) and it comes from painful childhood experiences that may not be easily recalled because they are so solidly defended against.

Eventually in therapy real causes of the anger begin to become apparent but the anger is still defended against by being projected onto targets that are often stand ins or proxies….this occurs because feeling anger is associated with fear of rejection as well as fear of intimacy since in childhood being close came with difficulties and rejections.

Rage and fear (the) lead to panic.. Panic feeds on the fear that we cannot express our anger over abandonment.  It can be a claustrophobic strangling of energies, a tightening up of options : either we express our anger and risk losing the love of others or we deny the anger in order to remain in the helpless state of dependency and hold onto others.  As the panic grows, patients report that it feels like facing death or actually being killed.  Often this anxiety will be channelled into psychosomatic disorders such as asthma and peptic ulcers, each being a perfect metaphor for the underlying fear… A person with a peptic ulcer is often hungering for emotional supplies that were lost in childhood or that were never sufficient to nourish the real self.  As an adult, she is unable to find sources to supply the needed emotional support or to get through life without it.

The person living with (such a) death threat, or what is perceived as a death threat, hanging over his head necessarily leads a fearful life, in which every move to express hiself, to allow his rea self to emerge, is accompanied by the need to look over his shoulder in fear and panic… panic can escalate as the patient slowly becomes aware of the depression and anger that have been bottled up over the years.  The false self has blocked any expression of these feelings for so long that when they do manage to surface, even in the slightest way, the resulting panic can be paralysing and terrifying.  Fear of letting these feelings out into the open, even in therapy can mushroom into panic proportions.

Guilt is the fifth column behind.. the patient’s frontline of defences.  (This is not normal reasonable guilt but rather)… fed by the guilt we internalise in early childhood from the disapproval expressed by the mother for self actualisation or individuation……Not being able to face up to the internalised guilt about that (healthy) part of themselves, these individuals will suppress making any moves in forbidden direction and resort to old familiar clinging behaviour that they remember made them safe and good years ago.

(Clinging and guilt lead to…) helplessness.  Failure to activate the impaired real self (and) to deal with painful feelings.. which in the abandonment depression is abiding and total…. staying in unhealthy jobs and relationships, fearing moving on from old unhealthy patterns, even denying that we desire to.

James A Masterson, Fear of Abandonment, The Search for the Real Self

The anger against, fear of and panic due to devaluation of our true self internalised by the false self in the course of growing up lives on inside of us and must be faced on the path of healing.   Facing such internalised voices, feelings and fears means we must also confront the inner critic who has become hostile to the real self ever breaking free and asserting its real needs which bring with them the deep seated fear of abandonment by others that had its roots in the past.  Mastering our fear of abandonment and the abandonment depression is the price we pay to discontinue the inner self abandonment we face when we begin to become more conscious and aware of the real roots and aspects of the abandonment depression.

Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

Reading my current book on men who suffer from borderline personality disorder Hard To Love I am being reminded of how early attachment or abandonment wounds leave us with a thin skin covering over a sore raw spot that can often be triggered by perceived threat of abandonment.  At these times if we suffer from borderline wounds we may fly into a reactive rage rather than feel the soft,  vulnerable spot that is being triggered deep inside.

Acting out rage is a reaction to the hurt, pain and fear that lives inside.  We may not be fully conscious that we fear rejection because someone around us saw a part of us that may not be well formed or is a source of shame, youngness, pain, or fear for us.  Often such reactive anger or rage is a response to having early abandonment experiences triggered or feeling we are not being valued or validated.  When others only see the angry or raging response and don’t dig deeper to realise the wounds that led to it, true understanding, connection and repair is not possible.  When we have been triggered in this way it takes some age regression work to become aware of the wounds and earlier incidents of abandonment we carry and experience that are being triggered by such criticism in the present moment.

I am posting this today as a bit of a response to an earlier post on the negative side of the inner critic.  Criticism from others when it triggers our own inner critic can tend to make us defended or angry if we have these kind of wounds and most especially if we have a powerful inner critic inside and lots of earlier hurt.  If we want relationships to survive we need to find ways to express our vulnerability with others.  We need the capacity to take the little one inside us onto our knee and get at the root of what is going on.  For the abandonment actually happens when outer criticism triggers our feeling of not being good enough inside and as much as we needed someone in childhood to let us know we are good enough, as adults we really do not need this approval of our selves.   Later on we may then be able to have an honest conversation with the person in question and say  “when you did X I started to feel scared and abandoned and criticised.”   We may be able to communicate needs that we have that were never fully met growing up.

It is very painful to have these unresolved and often unrecognised needs inside of us.  In my post on the antidote to the inner critic yesterday I brought attention to the issue of childhood emotional neglect, and pointed out how suffering from such neglect which is not fully even conscious for many of us leads to certain deficiencies within and in the way we relate to our selves in terms of empathy and feeling a sense of inner value.  Educating ourselves about the areas of neglect is an important step forward, for how can we get needs met or change behaviours we don’t fully accept or even understand?

In my past relationship often my ex partner would feel triggered by a little criticism comments like :  “the griller door needs to be open when you grilling”.  He took that as some kind of slight on his intelligence.  And my abandonment wound could be similarly triggered at times when I started to feel left out or ignored.  It was then hard to find the words to express how I was really feeling because I lacked the necessary insight and language.   When I was finally able to speak up for my needs I was told that they did not matter has his needs came first, always.  At that stage self care would have seen me make a re-evaluation of the relationship if I had been in a healthier place.

That said not all criticism is valid and some people use put downs or other subtle or not so subtle means to put us down.  In this case we can stand up for ourselves against the criticism in a firm and loving way.

Borderline wounds are very real, they come from key experiences in the past of feeling alone and abandoned which are so often deeply hidden from view and even conscious memory.  They make us vulnerable in the present.  They put the locus of control and reaction outside of ourselves, at least before we begin to get a handle on them.  Understanding how and why we react as we do is important, just as important as others around us taking the time and caring enough to want to know why it is happening rather than blame or shame.

In my last relationship neither of us had sufficient insight to cope with the self soothing and other centred understanding that was needed for a healthier relationship to survive when we both carried our own version of abandonment wounding.   So many things can happen to us is childhood that we are powerless over and end up leaving deep scars.   There scars can mark our relationships but they are also signs, pointers or signals of a damage that when understood and worked with consciously can help us to move through to more committed, honest and understanding relationships with others.

Separating : birthing : integrating

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Its such a tough journey to finally get to the point where we have to let our families go in order to birth the true life and connections that exist outside of its circumscribed limits.  Therapy and emotional healing is a process of both coming to terms with and integrating all of the formative experiences of our past, as well as the deeper hurts and injuries that happened to us in our family of origin.   Many of us battle for a long time against accepting harsh realties most especially if we were wounded or suffered developmental arrests and lost access to our True Self within over many years.  Abandonment gives us no way of accessing the truth of the lost self except through pain which is challenging to feel and integrate, especially in a society where pain is seen as a pathology or illness to be medicated instead of mined for wisdom, growth, connection and meaning.

In my own case a developmental arrest occurred at 17 when I should have been on the brink of opening up and launching.  I was cut down by an accident and then in the 6 years that followed the following traumas occurred : the cerebral bleed, coma and eventual psychosis of my older sister, her eventual abandonment and suicide attempt, two terminations of pregnancy and then my father’s death from cancer.  After my boyfriend broke the relationship off with me just a few weeks after my father died and cancelled our plans to meet abroad, something I had been working and saving towards for over 18 months my mother then decided it was best to push me overseas all alone.

How I was meant to cope with everything I had suffered to that point God only knows. And the truth is its deeper suffering was not even begun to be felt by me for about 14 more years.  I call those the years of unconscious descent, as 7 of them involved active addiction and the next 7 were just spent in AA meetings where it was really not possible to address the extent of my damage.   In 1999 I made my first attempt at therapy and here it is 18 years later and I only feel that I have now done the majority of my conscious descent, which had involved a lot of therapy and broken therapies in order to find the right help.

I only now feel that I am beginning to separate from my family emotionally.  The paradox is that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the suffering fully, in fact I feel it means I feel it at the deepest level as I have chosen not to self medicate as much as possible.  At times I have been very close to suicide, most especially in the past 6 years spent back here in my home town.  I beat myself up all the time about how I didn’t have the courage to move away and deal with it from a distance.  Maybe it was partly the illusion of the inner child pulling me back making me believe that in some way I would get what I wanted emotionally or at least be able to address the pain with family.  That illusion has caused me a lot of emotional suffering and has cost me years and the pain over all that lost life honestly on some days nearly drives me to want to take my life.  It is taking a long time for adult me to emerge and front up, and face the death of those old longings which I see now are not realistic and never were really.  There is a lot of grieving to be done in the shedding and the letting go and fear I am becoming aware does accompany the conscious descent that is asked of us.  In fact I read many years ago that poet Robert Bly spoke of how depression is a refusal on some level often to surrender to deeper grief work.  Only through it do we reunite with the lost child in side who holds so much of our power and inner gold, although often when we find him or her, he or she is most often covered in soot and ashes, this unparented one who is often also a part of our parents’ unconscious.

Anyway I am certainly not alone in facing this kind of pain in midlife.  My journey is made more complex due to two near death traumas which pulled me back when I was on the brink of what should have been a blossoming and emerging or burgeoning time.  My studies suffered in the years following my first accident as I also struggled with the terrible impact of witnessing what my older sister went through.  I was forced by my father at that point into a career I hated and it wasn’t until just before I got sober that I tried to break out of that but addiction wouldn’t let me move too far forward and at that time even more traumas and losses had piled on top of the original ones.

I eventually did manage to do some training in wholistic therapies and managed to secure myself a few jobs in an industry that was more to my liking but I hadn’t yet done my inner work, instead I chose to escape into marriage.   In those years I got sober and started then to really explore my interest in astrology and in 2001 managed to achieve a dream to study at the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London which I aborted when my older sister who was now in a care home hit the wall. I also started serious therapy in 1999 in the UK but mid way through I had a powerful dream that an dark African woman had given birth to a baby who died just after its first birthday.  About a year and a half into therapy I aborted to come back home.  In the dream the deep sad eyes of the woman shone as she told me it was a necessary death.

And so it has been.  Death and more death followed.  The ending of marriage, another accident and then another, another relationship and the failing of that and my eventual return to the roots of my home and then a new start in therapy, the suicide attempt of my other sister, five hospitalisations for her for depression which I tried to give emotional support through and then the death of my older sister in 2014 and reconnection with my nephews her sons who were like my long lost brothers.

Wiser energy comes now on a spring afternoon where shadows begin to fall telling me it was all a part of the journey. Why beat myself up?  Will I ever fully leave my family behind?  They were the womb I was born out of but not the place that I am meant to end up but individuation is a journey and its not an easy birth to go through it all and in so many ways my own life is both a continuation of my ancestors life as well as a working out of issues and burdens and tasks they perhaps never got to complete fully which call to me from deep within intercellular tissue, at least that is how it feels for me. Even the ones I never met call to me and I feel their pain and deeper longing to be known and recognised, no longer so lost, exiled or forgotten, fallen deep down into the collective unconscious ocean like stones.  Possibly all configured by my natal Neptune in the third trine to Chiron in Pisces in the seventh more than I could ever fully express in words here.

So much to navigate and not all of it artificial imagining I am sure.  So I continue on some days weighed down so deep by a burden I never chose, but then on other days rising again with a new energy and power that has come from facing and surrendering myself body and soul to the deepest darkness.  So much is a mystery that is all I know.  So many unseen forces play out for us and we can never fully hope to solve the puzzle with our minds but if we still enough at times we hear the inner voice or call telling us things.  Our personal and ancestral soul trying so hard to make its authentic individual voice and inner purpose known.

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I hurt

I had a very strong experience today of really feeling the amount of hurt my body has carried in the past that I have swallowed down.  I shared a few posts back how my brother’s birthday came and went and I didn’t call as I am so hurt about his refusal to help my dead sister’s son and family which would have allowed them to return to live close to us just before my sister died. I truly believe she died from being exiled and also from a broken heart.  I was aware that his refusal to help bought up the deep pain of being separated from my nephews who were like brothers to me growing up due to being closer in age to me.  It was a wound that really damaged me and one I could not express but covered over for years in addiction. It was a far earlier wound that my inner child was making known.

Anyway last night at dinner the subject of his birthday came up and I was not honest about why I did not call. I have found that speaking my truth in the past lead to being sidelined and I am deeply disappointed in myself to say I was not honest.  My sister asked if I forgot and I just said nothing much.  Later on that night I realised I had not been honest and that was due to fear.  I realised I had let myself down and lost an opportunity to share my hurt and pain.  It may or may not have been validated but really their response is none of my business and this has brought up a big issue with me that I have that I don’t speak my pain out due to not being heard or received before and so my body ends up all twisted up with my gut in knots.  I shared with Kat, my therapist last week how I also feel like I have stampede of wild horses in my chest when real feelings come up and meet the wall of fear over how they will be received.

I wanted to call my Mum and share my honest feelings but I did not want to bring her down and so I swallowed the feelings in and just spent the day at the library and having a cup of coffee.  I could have called my therapist but I did not.

The deeper issue I always struggle with is whether to say anything or remain silent. You may not see this side of me come across in my blog as I present myself as someone who says you must speak up, but we do teach what we most need to learn.  The one good thing is that today I became aware of how much my inner child longs to be heard and how invisible she felt and how little of a voice or a sense of power she had growing up.  This part of me really cried out to me today and I heard her and comforted her.  That was one good thing.

An instrument of awakening

I have some powerful moments of realisation at times.  You know the feeling where a new vista opens up on past issues and you suddenly see things from a new and different perspective?  Often it occurs after a long, long period of suffering and questioning.  You descend to the depths in order to see things at a more profound level, so that in some mysterious way the deeper you go the higher your view.

Today I had the thought about my brother in law, the one who caused so much pain and fracturing for our family, or rather was the instigator of a lot of it, what if he was just an instrument of awakening and what also if he carried some of the family shadow?   My Dad for most of his later life was preoccupied with financial success.  Deep down he was a soft man, but born to harsh conditions in 1920 in Holland.  He was also born in a patriarchal world.

I had a counsellor for a while, who was herself Dutch about 4 years ago and when I explained how my father treated his daughters and displayed little affection physically, she told me that was usual for Dutch fathers of his age.  He also did not believe that women should pursue further education to advance a career.  In my case I was forced to go to secretarial college, which I hated and my older sister who had the stroke became a nurse when she would rather have gone to Uni.

Anyway to cut a long story short, my father was responsible and strove and did well, but my brother in law ended up falling short, getting into debt, absconding with the family then sending some of the boys back when things got too hard after he abandoned my sister.  I don’t know the full story, in the end he hurt my sister deeply but she always forgave because that is the kind of heart that she had.  Perhaps she understood more of how hard she pushed to try and move them forward in a way to which he may not have been suited.

The entire result was devastating in every way.  It has marred so many lives including my own.  But today when I rose a little while ago to see the Sun shining I felt a kind of awakening.  What if all of these trials were for a larger purpose of awakening?  What about if our family had to go through all of this separation and disconnection so that in the end it could come back together in a healthier or different way?  What if we could make gold out of this blackness and see how old patterns were actually trying to be arrested?  And what if love was the answer?  Loving something even though it contained such pain?

I also awoke today thinking a lot about alchemy and containment.  For the purposes of maturing we need to contain our impulses and emotions in a healthy way.  We should not repress what we feel but we do need to make a relationship with feelings, most importantly with our reactions to difficult events.  Things not going our own way is challenging for sure.  Having to face frustration of our needs and impulses is so challenging, deeply painful but also essential and important. In order to be emotionally and physically healthy in our world we need the drive and ability and power to express our spirit in some way, rather than have it blocked.  At the same time it seems to me that containing and working through our frustrations, losses and thwartings and handling the associated feelings involves a kind of alchemy.  We have to digest our experiences often over a long period.

This is where the sign of Virgo comes in that we in now.  Mercury is retrograde in Virgo at the moment. It has been for some weeks.  For me it hit the deepest part of my chart when it stationed backward a few weeks ago.  It hit my Pluto.  We had the lunar and solar eclipses during this time.  Personally I have felt so much going on in my physical and emotional digestive system.  The sign of Virgo is ruled by Mercury and I was thinking today that we actually have two brains in our system.  There is the brain in our head as well as the brain in our gut.  I read in a book by trauma specialist, Peter Levine a few years ago that for every nerve fibre travelling from the brain to the gut we have 10 more travelling in the other direction.

Our deepest emotions live in our gut. This too, is where the inner child lives (in esoteric astrology the sign of Virgo is ruled not only by Mercury but by the Moon which relates to emotions and our inner child).  The gut is where we digest things and experiences and process them to then make sense of them in our brains. What is processed here is also passed onto other organs such as the kidneys and liver.  Add to this that we have a heart too that is ruled by the Sun and fiery Leo where we feel the will to both love and expression.

When that fire goes out our vital spirit feels almost dead. It is hard to eat and even to breathe as our heart connects so closely to the lungs (ruled by Gemini and Mercury too).  We have to process things.  We have to contain them.  We have to chew the raw food of experience over and over in order to gain the right understanding and nutrition, wisdom, intelligence and insight.

And I guess that during this current Mercury retrograde period that is what has been happening for me.  I have began to make sense of the fact that perhaps every thing that happened to my sister via my brother in law was really the working out of something deeper, some thing that had lessons for all of us.

It seems to me that often when we blame circumstances in some way we miss the deeper understandings that can come.  You see it all the time when tragedy strikes, people quickly rush to blame or seek the person or person’s responsible and punish them.  And most certainly people should be held to account.  But what if when tragedy strikes really there is deeper work than this to be done?   If we don’t stop and grieve and allow our pain to go deeper and teach us important things or birth deeper realisations it seems to me that we can often miss the deeper truth or meaning or purpose of the experience.

In my own case I am seeing now how much fear I have carried in my own life.  I was scared of my brother in law in many ways.  I linked that fear to fear of being close to my nephews in some way in therapy yesterday.  I both longed for connection and feared it.  Would they be safe? Would they end up hurting or abandoning me in the way their father did my sister?  Is it any wonder I felt so much fear?  That in the years following my sister’s abandonment and suicide attempt that I had 6 terminations of pregnancy and untold difficulties in getting close to any man in a deeply intimate way?   That I myself, came to fear life and love and risk as well as full embodiment?

The answer is NO its obvious that is how it would have affected most of us!  In the end I would rather this experience never had to befall any of us in my family, but the truth is that it did.  And now our task or my task is to live in the best way with the result and after examining the forces and impact make new choices for happiness or at least gain deeper insight into my fears.

I spoke in an earlier post about the wave I felt pass over me last week and weekend with my nephew’s visit.  I thought a lot yesterday about how much I can actually fear my own feelings and fear having them in relationship.  I intellectualise a lot because I was left alone for most of my life trying to make sense of deeply painful and confusing experiences in the adult world that befell both me and others.   I learned often to take myself off alone.  I learned to knee jerk react and act without containing often as a reaction to over whelming stress and then I hit walls with accidents which pulled me up short, but maybe for a reason, so that I could internalise to then be able to make a more conscious step forward, one that was not so dictated by trauma but informed by it, if that makes sense.

Today that is the realisation and reckoning I am arriving at.  Mercury moves back into the final degrees of Leo in a few days where it slows to station forward.  As it does it hits the degree of the Solar Eclipse of 21-22 August.  That is right on natal Uranus in the first house which is all about individuation, shock, disconnection, severing, enlightenment and awakening.  Oh and freedom!  But its also about turning away at times from the instinctual world of feeling to a realm of intellectual understanding which at times can be a divorced or disconnected from earthly containment and emotional realities.  In the best sense enlightenment brings light to those deeper darker Plutonian experiences and emotions we all go through.  Hopefully in the end deeper understanding when digested helps us and will help me embody more and no longer split.  Maybe it will help me to ground, turn back, embody and make peace with the earthly shackles of a far from perfect or ideal life and experiences which were so often so far beyond my own control.

The painful cost of trauma : understanding abandonment depression

Painful trauma has a way of driving us out of our body.  To have lived with an intolerable reality which we are given no help to process or understand is an agony beyond words.  Not to be held, understood and empathised with in our suffering means our neurobiology cannot be soothed, we become flooded with stress chemicals such as cortisol.  Recent studies show that empathy increased the presence of oxytocin in our neurobiological systems.

I know the relief that has come for me in therapy as  have been able to let my own feelings out.  I know the damage that has occurred when, in trying to express said feelings with unsafe others who are defended, blocked or lacking in empathy they have become, not only trapped within, but other feelings have then occurred in reaction such as pain, disappointment and distress.  It was only last week in reading the chapter on abandonment depression in James Masterton’s book on the real self that I became aware of how complex and multilayered the feelings of that state are.  It is within the abandonment depression that we feel suicidal as it contains what Masterton has labelled the six feelings of the psychic apocalypse, very aptly named.  Guilt, rage, panic, fear are four of these feelings.

In recovery those of us who have undergone trauma or abandonment trauma need help to understand our feelings and the courage and strength to bear with or integrate these feelings. Rage is a huge part of what we feel when we meet again invalidation or similar abuse that triggers our earlier abuse.  There is panic when we face the rage which also comes with a great deal of fear, after all when we were younger and abandoned we experienced fear as we were confronted with overpowering situations of stress and distress which we can go on reliving unconsciously for years and had no help with.

In our recovery we begin to regress to these feelings and since such a huge part of so called borderline trauma involves invalidation or lack of support and empathy, when we meet such triggers again, we can regress and find ourselves once again filled with grief and rage.  Our overt reactions will most likely not be understood by those who have no idea of the complexity of feelings we are left trying to contain, process and express as a result.  This why we need in recovery an enlightened witness who is able to show empathy for what the real self had to suffer in childhood which led to the adoption of a false self as a defence against fully feeling the complex feelings of the abandonment depression.

In his book on Complex PTSD Pete Walker deals with the abandonment depression.  He also explains how the inner critic becomes very active at a certain stage in our recovery, shaming us for daring to recover and try to become well.  The inner critic may be comprised of things said to us when young by others who tried to shame or judge us instead of showing empathy or helping us make sense of difficult feelings.  We can shame ourselves in similar ways for our reactions, which comes often from the so called ‘adult’ part of us that won’t accept or allow the child to be the child, vulnerable, tortured at times and deeply confused.

Empathy is so essential as we begin to deal with our inner critic less we start to shame the child all over again in a bid to protect it or protect against the feared rejection of others that we experienced in the past.  It’s a complex process.  We do need to become aware of when we become triggered or start to act out old pain, but shaming ourselves for it won’t work and help us to heal.  Painful feelings need to be lovingly contained and soothed for true healing and integration to happen.