How shame and the inner and outer critic prevent us living wholeheartedly.

It was shame researcher, Brene Brown who a few years back coined the term foreboding joy which is a term to describe the fear we carry into life that can protect us from embracing joy in the moment and living wholeheartedly… We see a small baby and our heart just fills with love but then fears of loss can come too and steal that moment from us..

While driving home I was thinking about a very involved and informative post Trauma Research UK recently shared on shrinking the inner and outer critic.. In fact I read it in therapy today crying at some parts as well as being doubled over with pain in my gut at others.. there is so much in it that resonates with me…

My inner child is speaking very loudly lately about how she felt in our family and how she struggled with very distant and preoccupied parents.. and about how painful it was to be sent to my room when I was legitimately angry, or hurt over some incident. In the post the writer shares that toxic parents do hurtful or neglectful things, but then also shame and silence the child’s legitimate protest, as a result the child has no alternative but to turn those feelings back inside the self and develops a virulent inner and outer critic that shames the child or seeks to protect and avoids other people who have that fear of the hurtful parent projected on to them…

Today in therapy I felt the pain of being sent to my room with all of those feelings I needed help to manage from one of my parents deep in my body while my inner child articulated it.. the feelings felt so so big… .. In fact Dad often laughed as Mum terrorised us with rage, things that hurt then being mocked is just an awful kind of pain for a child. I also remember being laughed at and shamed for being passionate and dramatic and come to think of it not hearing or validating someone’s grief for a lost loved one is a lot like shaming them for passion and deep feelings.

I will share the link to the related post as I believe it is essential reading for people who have endured relational and attachment trauma. What a painful place to find ourselves, cut off from relations in the outer world that could reconnect us all due to the fear of experiencing what we did in the past, or seeing rejection when it isn’t really there?

https://traumaresearchuk.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/the-role-of-the-inner-and-outer-critic/

I have written extensively on the protector/persecutor complex in my blog before.. The persecutor is an inner figure that goes on beating us up well into adulthood.. It may be that we experience a sense of shame and guilt for what was done to us. It was a very powerful relief in therapy today to hear my mother’s voice telling me how proud she was of me to be doing this work and how none of what went down in terms of my own neglect was my fault. In later years I saw her struggling with seeing how it brought about the ending of my marriage while at the same time wanting me to stop any focus on inner work or therapy which, at least initially she did not understand

In later years she actually came to some appointments with me and began to open up to me about her own neglect and I know she wished in some way my living sister could follow this path instead of a purely psychiatric ‘drug relief’one.

I understand my father has having endured neglect too and he ran away from Holland n 1938 leaving his family behind to save his own life.. He worked so hard to put all of that behind him but he just created more problems as neglected children of neglected parents often end up crashing and burning.. This has not applied so much my older brother who has been able to hide neglect behind enormous outer success in the world, especially financially, although his only daughter has borne the brunt of much of this. I was so sad to hear from my sister on the weekend that she had a stroke recently something my brother did not feel safe enough to share with me.. and we tried to get close many years ago (my only niece and I) but this was derailed by the family which made me cry for years…it being just more of the same old same old emotionally distant family pattern.

I notice at times I can attack people in the outer world who want to get close to me.. I am more aware of the pattern lately.. In fact on the weekend I had to own some of this with someone I care for deeply, luckily ours is one of those relationships able to hold the paradoxical feelings of hate and love, longing and fear and he never ever ever shames me.. Something I cry deep tears of gratitude for. As a Complex trauma survivor I need these kind of relationships in my life, as I am still healing and very raw with grief lately.

Much as we say we need to do our own healing work alone, sometimes the Complex PTSD ‘warrior’ defence may work against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linkages’, bonds that we try to establish as adults.. The outer critic can function to try and cut these bonds by seeking that ‘worm in the apple’ I have mentioned that those of us with avoidant attachment so often go looking for in relationships. Also when we split people into all good or all bad we loose the capacity for connection. A good enough relationship is one in which we make mistakes but can express our full range of feelings and be heard.. it comforts me so much when someone says they understand how I feel to me that is a strong healing balm, since as I child I was so often led to believe my feelings were wrong or made no sense at all.

Shame and fear of experiencing joy seem to be interconnected in so many ways in those of us with Complex PTSD, taking the risk to open our hearts again often opens us to old pain but that also has a purpose… so we can grow in awareness of the complex mix of feelings we can so often experience in relationships. Working on listening to all of the inner voices we hear too is ongoing work in order that we can sort out the mix of those that are helpful and life promoting and those that hinder us, keep us trapped in shame or only promote a freezing or disconnection from the heat of engaged interaction and possible attachment. There is a part of us that often seeks to sabotage our healing if we were badly hurt in childhood… those interested in this could look into the work of therapist Donald Kalsched who wrote brilliantly about it in his book The Inner World Of Trauma.

On fear : befriending and working with it

The following insights on making friends with fear are taken from Chapter 7 of Miriam Greenspan’s wonderful book Healing Through the Dark Emotions : TheWisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair.

Befriending fear in a fear negating culture is essential if we want to use this emotion wisely. To do this, we have to be aware of our negative, limiting beliefs about fear, and to reconstruct and affirm a new set of beliefs.

We cannot be warriors of vulnerability, if we think fear is a shameful, debilitating emotion… Think of fear, not as a weakness, but as information, a signal of unsafety, a usable energy, a way of knowing… What fear tells us is that we are human. We are vulnerable. You are interconnected with others in the fabric of life. You can let yourself feel fear, breathe through it, and use its energy. You don’t have to let fear become panic by avoiding it. You can feel it and let it be, and doing so can open the gates to joy.

These affirming statements about fear may seem dubious. Honouring fear and treating it like a legitimate emotion can be uncomfortable, and feel ‘wrong’. Affirming the value of fear requires a kind of revolution within, to transform the fear negating culture we have internalised.

Try this : Write a list of fear affirming statements and pin them on your bedroom or bathroom mirror or some other place you look often. Changing what you believe about what you feel is one of the most impotant ways to shift an old emotional pattern. Psychologists call this “reframing” and its one of the important skills in the alchemy of the dark emotions.

The following questions might help you frame your fear affirmations.

What fears have you faced? What did you gain from facing them?

If your answer to that question is “none’, ask yourself Why not? What got in the way of facing your fears?

Think of a time when you felt paralysed by fear. What kept you from moving through it? What, if anything, helped?

Think of a time when you acted in spite of fear or acted with fear. What happened?

What did you learn?

What fear(s) are you holding in now? What fears are you avoiding? Aht do you think would happen if you let yourself feel them.

Following this, try the following sentence completions:

If fear didn’t scare me, I would use it to……

The resources and strenghth I now have to face my fears creatively are…

When I view fear as a teacher, I learn…..

Something productive I can do with my fear is…..

Changing your shaming beliefs about fear creates an opening, a place in the heart where fear can live without wrecking your self esteem and composure. The open heart can befriend fear and is ready for alchemy.

Getting it touch with fear in your body and soothing it is the next step….hang in and use mindfulness of what it feels like and stay with the discomfort without acting it out (unless you are in real danger) Consciously experience it and talk to it in a soothing way and to find out what it has to say..

The third step is to find the context of fear.. Say you have a fear of heights, in that situation you question exactly what it is you are afraid of : falling and dying, being out of control, fear of uncertainty. Try to find the peace inside that fear, if you cannot control the time of your death what can you control?… fear of death may underline much of our anxiety.. The antidote is to recognise it is inevitable but not always likely… what might it mean to live well, with a fear of death? And if the fear is in response to a real threat what can you do to minimise the threat, what action can you take or changes can you make? What is one simple thing you could do to make things a little better?

The fourth step : mindfullness of fear is related to feeling it in the body….and relates to tolerating fear as a part of life while using a meditation practice to be with it and breathe it in, instead of push it away or avoid it.. taking fear into our heart we may even find a part of us so scared just in need of some love and kind words. Tonglen, a spiritual practice shared by Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron asks us to breathe in fear and breathe out joy. This practice gives an antidote to the ‘spiritual bypass’ of many New Age practices and involves alchemising the dark and primal. If we avoid painful feelings we only end up creating more pain and suffering.. When we react or lash out, out of fear things never improve, we just get trapped in a further cycle of suffering.

The fifth step is related to taking action in the context of fear. Finding out the things that fear or upset us may promote us to take positive action to make a change.

The sixthe step involves the path of surrender, it comes after looking fear in the face and seeing it for what it is.. Prayer may be a part of the path of surrender, this is the practice of handing over what seems too much for us to a higher power or place of faith. Here are some helpful prayers.

May I accept my fear. May my fear guide me to do the right thing.

Help me when I am afraid, not to be afraid of my fear. Help me allow it to move me to an action in service of life.

When all else fails find some comic diversion.. taking a break from fear to laugh and experience joy provides an antidote to the suffocation and heaviness of spirit fear can bring about in our lives…..

Opening through embracing our burdens and emptiness.

When the burdens of the world weight heavily, I must remind myself there is a stillpoint inside where everything can be okay if I allow it to be and affect only the change that is needed.. At times it is so hard to even know what that can be, maybe it is a change of heart or thinking that may help, or a letting go and letting be. Maybe it is an allowing of others to have their own way and opinions even if I don’t agree, and maybe its a trying to see deeper behind the cries that speak of an emptiness, soul longing or longing for love in ourselves and others and holding them tenderly.

Some people have a void in them that may never be filled.. I have read that if we can allow ourselves the void space in time we find something within the emptiness to help us heal… I have experienced this.. I have had some dreadfully low points in my life when I did not think I could go on, there was my father’s cancer diagnosis and my own which was prefigured by a nightmare in which a hand reached deep into my belly and twisted it around…that in a way was how it felt as a child in my family when I was given enemas for a stomach ache that spoke of longing to be with someone who cared.

I was very emotional today and I went out to get lunch and when I came home it was lovely for Jasper to run to greet me and to give him my full attention…I just sat for a while on the floor with my hands on his belly and felt his beautiful puppiness.. even though he is soon 8 years old Jasper still is like a puppy so much of the time in his high energy, curiosity and boundless enthusiasm…I am so grateful for him at times as he reminds me how open and full of love and enthusiasm I was as a child before I found the world to be so inhospitable, cold and strange and witnessed the heartbreak of traumas in my own life and family… Now as an adult that I have found some kind of way to live in the world through embracing my inner world and being truer to me that feeling is still there sometimes but it doesn’t cause me as much pain as long as I know there are others to connect with in love..

I ordered Henri Nouwen’s book on the Beloved and it arrived yesterday and in that he speaks of the need we have to be ‘blessed’, to be made to feel special and needed and beloved by God and others. he speaks of a prayer meeting in which a group of disabled people asked for such a blessing and how he cuddled them. If you don’t know Henri Nouwen suffered a deep depression for many years and wrote extensively about feeling homeless in the world, in his book The Inner Voice Of Love he touches on the heart of all of us who ever felt we didn’t belong in this world that seemingly makes us feel so broken.. A lot of what he writes shows we feel more broken trying to gain affirmation from outside, that said I feel as kids we need this kind of mirroring and are left with holes or psychic tears in its absence.. some of us turn to nature and angels and otherworldly sources and feel held there.

When despair arises its good to have an inner place to go with it.. its good to be able to hold ourselves in the midst of it and reach deep to find that place inside that is okay, that cannot be touched by temporal things. Mystics speak of this place and its hard to describe but many of us know it.. in this place we can bless everything that happens, seeing it all as part of the path and knowing that even when life seems like it will break us somehow we manage to find the way to go on..

Not all of us manage this and it might be naive to think that we do, but I imagine even those who decide to check out find their place of healing too on the other side, for love is unconditional in truth no matter what we have lived, is only humans that believe in retribution rather than soul learning through trial and error. And when the world becomes too painful without the necessary love, understanding, support or self forgiveness some find it too painful to go on. Others of us move through that place over years of inner work and processing, emerging in time to find and embrace new life again. There then comes a time when we realise that somewhere deep inside of us, despite everything outside being at times so far out of control, things really are and always will be okay.

The peace I am seeking

I am learning that the peace I am seeking has to come from within. So many idols seem to be being smashed with me right now. I am beginning to see how I looked to my relationships for love and unconditional acceptance and how often that failed. Now I am feeling more and more that I must rely on myself and prayer. I am not even really feeling like socialising any more. I see the world going through so much darkness. Where I find light and tenderness is basically with my dog and nature and poetry and some writing or music. I am thinking more and more of Jesus lately and what he endured and how he was misrepresented and put to death. It seems that the true gnostic teaching that we have to find the way to God within got lost in much of Christianity.

Drawing close to peace and serenity for me now is all I wish for in my life. I see that the things of this world do not bring true lasting happiness, only peace and love in our hearts and minds and spirits and souls does that. It is something that cannot be bought and is conditional upon a spiritual experience of every day praying for love to overcome fear and petty selfish small mindedness. I am wanting to simplify my life more and more and I am sure 2020 will be the year to do it. I am also going to draw close to the silence more. Its where I find my recharge. Plugging into my own peace and happiness is my responsibility. No one else can give it to me.

Be Yourself : (To Thine Own Self Be True.)

I love it when an authentic, honest writer who has made friends with his or her true self posts a post that says it like it is for them. For me there is something about words of truth that resonate deep within and for those of us brought up on a solid diet of lies, such as : be someone else, think different thoughts, don’t be so : sensitive, shy, over the top, happy, sad, its so refreshing to just be loved and accepted for being our true selves. But most truly that acceptance is an inside job.

I picked up Charles Whitfield’s workbook companion to Healing Your Inner Child yesterday and in it speaks of PTSD being a result of trauma to the true self that occurs in so called ‘normal’ families in childhood. He points out that in modern times ‘normal’ is dysfunctional as normal applies to the statistical average. He then goes on to catalogue all of the ways we can get lost and alienated in a family, or society or institutions that don’t encourage our spiritual growth : i.e. the truth growth of our spirit as we were meant to be. This loss of our True Self comes with progressive alienation from our inner or ‘divine’ child the part of us that was from a young age in touch with the miracle of life, the universe and everything or at least open and curious about it. Just think for a moment all the things you may have been ‘told’ in the course of growing up when you asked important questions. Think too of Parsifal who stumbled upon the Grail Kingdom but only watched it disappear when he failed to ask the right questions because as a child his mother told him it was impolite to do so.

This train of thought leads me to think about what Alice Miller has written about at length in several of her books concerning poisonous pedagogy and the commandment “thou shalt not be aware”. In the garden of Eden Eve dared to try and sup with the serpent and gain knowledge of the ways of life, and apparently this was a crime. For asking the question or daring to want to be curious both Adam and Eve were expelled and forced to a life of suffering. Admittedly suffering can be educative but to be denied the right to question?

Sometimes it seems easier to look to others for our truth and if we were raised without spiritual support, emotional attunement and engagement is it any wonder many of us fall into a very deep spiritual void and get lost? Parsifal was engaged upon such a quest when he stumbled across the Wounded King in the Grail Kingdom. Apparently this is some type of parable for where we now find ourselves, the earth is ailing because of our alienation from the feminine principle and demonising of natural forces and the very natural human desire to just be able be free, vitally alive and unbridled. I am not preaching wanton destruction here, just trying to say that limitations imposed upon us are so often prisons and they encourage a kind of siege or hostage mentality.

The post I just shared before this one from Benny K of The Written Addiction really resonated for me today. I remember coming out of an AA meeting one day and someone took me aside. I believe I had been sharing about my struggles with my family and probably about how I didn’t belong and they just quoted the phrase from Shakespeare “To Thine Own Self Be True.” But what happens when we learned that Self was wrong, bad or shameful in some way? What happens when we were taught the price of not agreeing was alienation? As adults it may not be so bad but as kids we are pretty vulnerable.

For me I guess I am beginning to see that recovery concerns re finding the path back to personal truth and connection with those who can truly love us for who we are. I was sharing in an AA meeting the other day that the spiritual awakening spoken of in Step 12 seems to me to be about our True Self coming alive outside of the negation of falseness, fear (especially of being alone or abandoned), repression and untruth. It appears to me then, that I had a massive amount of undoing to do along the way back home to myself when I learned over years was just not okay to be me. And it also appears to me that there will be no true peace, joy or freedom until I gain the courage to stand alone if necessary or at least find my own tribe of belonging. Not that I want to alienate anyone, but there is also a time to be real.

Happily I often find that family of common loving, attuned souls here on WordPress. It’s something that I am grateful for today. Out there in the real world I may easily become alienated but here I feel at home. And feeling alienated does not necessarily mean I did anything ‘wrong’ though very often certain others will have an investment in saying so.

An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

Reality Slap.png

Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

Second chances

Boy with butterflies.jpg

In the silence

I hear you call my name

From so far away

So how can it be

That you are still here with me

In the lacunae spaces that open

After long wind swept walks

Lead me home to silence

Queen of my domain

There is here

Only music, breath of wind and these voices

Carried on the breeze

And my heart beating still

After so much tragedy

Memories come

Lingering with a haunting refrain

Reminding me of

So many mistaken choices that seemed so right

When I was held ransom by pain

But now I see

All the lost opportunities

(When one door closes?)

But if youth is wasted on the young

Then maybe I can dare to reach again

Using all the wisdom

Error brings

Opening my lungs

Breathing a new breath

Aware of second chances

Left within the wide open spaces

Of so many goodbyes

Of so much unlived life

That seemed to pass me by

Now revealed to be a lie

For isn’t it true

I am still alive?