Don’t keep me down

When i look back to the abuse and nasty things said to me in my last relationship I see how much I was also low in self esteem inside myself.. I have been working so hard on building up my sense of self in these past years.. It has taken a lot of work and grief and anger and lots of other feelings and to be honest a good therapist.. Also sharing here and trying to be as real as I can about my past and foibles, fears and insecurities..

These days I am being much more loving to myself and I am able to face criticism but also to know when it comes out of a not very fair place.. I do not need to shame myself for anything for I am a human and as a human there is stuff I cannot do and do not know, but there are things I do too.. In short, these days I try not to be super human nor to feel that I would be okay if only I had not endured a lot of the trauma I have, it is just that sometimes I do worry that my emotional neglect trauma has made much it harder for me to be and stay connected.

Listening to a lot of Louise Hay is really helping me lately.. Louise helps me to realise that I can leave my trauma in the past, that I do not have to allow it to define me, at the same time I will never be another Deborah who grew up with things I would have loved to have.. a mother who was present and engaged, a father who wanted to know about my day when he came home, a sister who was not hateful and hard at times when I really needed softness.. these are things I cannot change and the lack of emotional availability has left scars and made it hard to trust at times in a brighter tomorrow but still I know there is a chance if I take the actions to bring good things into my life and take the chance to stop doing things that may hurt me or be counter productive instead of sit around complaining about things…life can always improve.. just as long as I do not self sabotage.

This morning i let myself lay in bed for an extra hour and a half.. Its not something I usually do but today we had rain and I had a few rocky nights so I just let myself sink back into sleep again.. but when I woke in the darkness I must confess I did feel the shadows of those lonely years at that empty holiday house at the coast I retreated to in 2002 and 2004.. I saw how I pulled back but also how I was seeking the way home to my lost self.. to the littler girl who did not really know how to live with self confidence.. I see it all far more clearly now all of these years onward and I also see how I could be at risk of repeating old patterns if I do not champion myself and trust those who do reach out and want to be with me…

Sometimes I wonder if I am doomed to go through life without a loving partner.. God knows so many do it and they find the way to a full life of love in other ways, through ministry, friendship or career… but still deep down there is a part of me that longs for my own little family.. while another voice of doubt always seems to whisper “maybe it isn’t meant for me”.. Maybe I am pushing away an opportunity now due to past doubt and fear. I am not entirely sure.. All I know is that I will keep trying every day to grow in self esteem and love.. and to reach out to connect, even if so often there seems to be a voice so deep down inside that tells me not to trust and that I am ‘doomed’to always be alone.

My needs?

I try to understand

I try to be there

I held your hand so often when you screamed

But when I was crying

All you did was tell me

“To get over it!”

Was I truly blind?

To your unkindness

Did I matter so little to you

Was all you ever needed a mirror?

I let it go now

But by God it hurt my heart

It set me so far apart from what I really wanted

Truly needed

And sometimes I just seem to be crying to the silence

Why is it that my needs matter so little?

And then the answer comes

From a still quiet inner voice

Just let them matter

To yourself.

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.

Getting free of my ‘bad’ self (recognising the deeper impact of trauma and childhood emotional neglect.)

I am still only beginning to understand how my own self punishment and attempts to make myself bad and shame myself for what I have endured in my life play out. The last relationship I was in was very damaging from this point of view. I was very isolated when I met him and he never really was ever able to show empathy for my PTSD symptoms which I was trying my best to manage. When the first abuse began I should have perhaps broken contact but I was at that stage very isolated and alone and hungry for connection.

My own ability to practice self care, I see now was severely limited at that stage due to childhood emotional neglect. CEN can be hidden as many of us neglected came from what, at least from the outside, may appear to be affluent ‘together’ homes, but the neglect is there due to emotional unavailability of parents and the claims made that you are loved and cared for which may be true on one level but are not always backed up bpresence and truly engaged physical and emotional support and so sufferers of CEN tend to blame themselves.. it is one of the major symptoms.

It was hard for both my parents because they had to grow up very fast both having lost their fathers, my Mum at 7 and my Dad at 12 years of age. By the time I came along they were working very hard to survive materially and beginning to get a taste of affluence. They were there but they were often missing emotionally and sometimes I was punished when I really needed support.

I was listening to a programme on teenage mental health on radio in Australia this morning and psychologists involved said the worst thing that can happen to teenagers is to be punished when they are acting out, the better thing is for them to be educated and the reason why they are acting out understood. I wasn’t acting out so much as a teenager but due to lack of parental supervision I was smoking and drinking behind their backs and in the absence of someone being present I was trying in some way to raise myself and felt often I had to put on act to show I was feeling okay and coping when the truth was I often felt insecure and confused about how to live and connect.

I still have this fiercely independent streak (or rather anti dependency streak) and I can find it hard to ask for help or know when I need support. I can tend to push back or push away or deny that I would like support, I feel on some level shame for it or that I don’t deserve it. The sad thing is that later in life when I got to begin to uncover some of my buried emotions and past in sobriety I ran again instead of getting the right help and trusting those close to me to care for me. I have only realised this lately and as a result I ended up crashing and burning. I also aborted several therapy attempts and got lost in the last abusive relationship which ended 8 years ago.

Anyway I need to remember lately that I am making good progress and turning around over 50 years of unhelpful patterns takes time. It also takes some time to see where our own defences can be operating. My therapist feels a lot of my survival defences are now melting and I really am finding new levels of compassion for myself and feeling a lot of the grief, frustration and powerlessness that underlay past anger and rage which kept deeper feelings at bay. Blaming myself or blaming others is actually I am beginning to see a way of defending against my feelings and situation instead of feeling them. Accepting that I was powerless over so much has taken some time. And knowing that I do have power to change some things even longer.

I still struggle a lot with panic attacks and overwhelm symptoms at critical times of the day. I notice what triggers them and then takes me into a down ward spiral. Once the spiral or trauma vortex starts to manifest (which on bad days can happen up to 4 or 5 times) it can be very hard to pull myself out of it and get my attention back in the ‘now’. One of the hardest things about Post Traumatic stress is this vortex pull which is centrifugal. I noticed that I had coped better on the days I actually have plans to meet someone and connect which was happening more over the past week. This week I have felt more anxious having more open time. I still need to remember I am managing well though. The tendency to be down on myself and beat myself up can still be very powerful. I wish that I was better than I am at times, but wishful thinking wont get me very far. I do still struggle a lot, maybe with my complex trauma history I always will??

Understanding the Protector-Persecutor complex and its link to dissociation and child hood trauma

Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments.  It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book  The Undervalued Self.  In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/how-trauma-factures-the-psyche-causes-dissociation-and-create-the-persecutor-protector-in-our-psyche

The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.

I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.

A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest.  In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else.  Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received.  It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving.  It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.

Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes,  you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before.  Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..

(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.

When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up.  Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is.  Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love.  It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.

The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain.  However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.

Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated.  Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness.  Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events.  You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it.  Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs.  Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes.  You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body.  Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.

As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship.  The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in  a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.

Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair.   This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.

We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives.  Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:

  • When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
  • When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
  • When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
  • When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
  • When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
  • When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
  • When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
  • When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
  • When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.

In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.

  • No intimacy.   Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
  • No arguing.   Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
  • No growth.  Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
  • No dating or marriage.  Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
  • No strong feelings.  Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
  • No sex or enjoyment of it.  Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
  • No believing someone who say he or she cares about you.  Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection.  Don’t believe they are genuine.
  • No asking for help.  Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
  • No honesty.   Just say what you think others want to hear.  Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
  • No hope.   Don`t expect help, joy or good things.  Do not place faith in anyone.
  • No standing up for yourself.  Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
  • No trusting.  Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)

As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.

Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…

Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.

 

 

How trauma fractures the psyche, causes dissociation and creates the persecutor/protector in our psyche.

In response to trauma or emotional abandonment our psyche will splinter or fracture.  Ideally parents help us to mediate as young ones the big feelings we have to deal with and help us to integrate them. But in situations of abuse or neglect this doesn’t happen and we are left to contain unbearable feeling.  Since all feelings occur and are felt in the body if our parents don’t help us to do this we are left with the split off feeling buried or held in tissue or psychic space.  Memories associated with the feelings and accompanying sensory traumatic events then become somatic and walled off, they still affect us we just don’t know why and how.

Jung wrote on how dissociation works and this overview comes from Donald Kalsched’s excellent book The Inner World of Trauma : Archetypal Defences of the Human Spirit.  

individuals who might be described as ‘schizoid’ in the sense they had suffered traumatic experiences in childhood which had overwhelmed their often unusual sensitivities and driven them inward.  Often, the interior worlds into which they retreated were childlike worlds, rich in fantasy but with a very wistful, melancholy cast.  In this museum like “sanctuary of innocence”… (they) clung to a remnant of their childhood experience which had been magical and sustaining at one time, but which did not grow along with the rest of them.  Although they had come to therapy out of a need, they did not really want to grow or change in the ways that would truly satisfy that need.  To be more precise one part of them wanted to change and a strong part of them resisted this change.  THEY WERE DIVIDED IN THEMSELVES.

In most cases these patients were extremely bright, sensitive individuals who had suffered on account of their sensitivity, some acute or cumulative emotional trauma in early life.  All of them had become prematurely self sufficient in their childhoods, cutting off genuine relations with their parents during their developing years and tending to see themselves as victims of others’ aggression and could not mobilize effective self assertion when it was needed to defend themselves or to individuate.  Their outward façade of toughness and self sufficiency often concealed a secret dependency they were ashamed of, so in psychotherapy they found it very difficult to relinquish their own self care protection and allow themselves to depend on a very real person.

Kalsched goes on to point out that such people developed what Elaine Aron has called a virultent persecutor-protector figure in the psyche which jealously cut them off from the outer world, while at the same time mercilessly attacking them with abuse and self criticism from within.   Kalsched believed this figure had a daimonic cast calling on the idea of Jung that energy split off into the psyche can become malevolent and acts as a powerful defence against what Aron calls ‘linking’ with others and with the vulnerable innocent or inner child it has been called in to protect.    The figure may not only be malevolent it may also be angelic or mythical or heavenly in cast.  Together with the inner child/innocent this force formed an active psychic dyad (or duplex) structure which Kalched calls the archetypal self care system. 

Jung showed that under the stress of trauma the childhood psyche with draws energy from the scene of the earlier injury.  If this can’t happen a part of the self must be withdrawn and ego thus splits into fragments or dissociates and it is a natural psychic defence mechanism that must be understood and respected.

Experience becomes discontinuous.  Mental imagery may be split off from effect, or both affect and image may be dissociated from conscious knowledge.  Flashbacks of sensation seemingly disconnected from behavioural context occur.  The memory of one’s life has holes in it – a full narrative history cannot be told by the person whose life has been interrupted by trauma.

For a person who has experienced unbearable pain, the psychological defence of dissociation allows external life to go on but at a great internal cost.  The outer sequalae of the trauma continue to haunt the inner world, and they do this, Jung discovered, in the form of certain images which cluster around a strong affect – what Jung called ‘feeling toned complexes’.  These complexes tend to behave autonomously as frightening inner beings, and are respresented in dreams as attacking ‘enemies’, vicious animals, etc. (not under the control of the will… autonomous.. .opposed to conscious intentions of the person…. they are tyrannical and pounce upon the dreamer or bearer with ferocious intensity.)

In dissociation the psyche may also splinter into various personalities which may carry rejected aspects of the person.  The mind becomes ‘split apart’ and such defences involve a lot of internal aggression as one part of the psyche tries to attack and protect the other more vulnerable, rejected parts.  The psyche cannot integrate these parts without therapy and active help.

In the course of natural therapy for such people the hostile attacking or protective force that acts to keep the person remote and in lock down will begin to arise in dreams and active imagination.  Elain Aron’s book The Vulnerable Self in Chapter Six “Dealing with Inner Critic and Protector-Persecutor” outlines some of this process as she give more insight into the role the persecutor-protector plays for highly sensitive individuals.  She also gives some examples which will help fellow sufferers to deal with their own dreams or nightmares where such forces arise. After dreaming we can through a practice of active imagination find a way to interact with these forces and help get them working more for us than against us. Aron’s book will help you in this regard too.

Donald Kalsched’s book is also an excellent reference for anyone suffering trauma.  It is more analytical in tone and quiet detailed.   The self care system that works to protect us can end up working against us too, this is the prominent point Kalsched makes in his book.  The inner persecutor-protector will sometimes work to organise a suicide if the psyche feels too much under threat from internal or external forces.  The persecutor-protector needs to really be understood by anyone attempting to free themselves from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

I have a second associated post to post after this with some of the information from Elaines’ book on the persecutor-protector linked to below:

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/19/understanding-the-protector-persecutor-complex-and-its-link-to-dissociation-and-child-hood-trauma/

On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially.  This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility.  To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within.  As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.

With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues.  This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing.   The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.

We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over.  Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”.  Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body.  It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.

Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds.  We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.

In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame.  If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things.   Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.

That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process.  It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over.  If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it.  We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.

Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame.  As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents.  If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage.  I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships.  Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot.   I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.

It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath.  Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation.   Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life.    I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22.   From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.

I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy.   It is with me every morning when I wake up.  The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.

Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices)  we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament.  It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone,  Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse.   I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.

If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN.  No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever.  If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT.  As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT.  If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person.  Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.

 

 

 

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

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In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

Mark Epstein on ego and primitive feelings (The Trauma of Everyday Life)

The problem with the ego, according to Mr. Epstein, is that it wants so badly to know.

“The ego comes into being when we’re two or three or four years old,” he said, “just feeling our own separateness and how difficult it is to navigate the external pressures from parents and teachers, and the internal pressures of one’s biology, one’s drives and so on. The ego wants security and stability and coherence. It’s rooted in the intellect, so it tells stories. It fastens on to the first stories that start to make sense, both positive and negative.”

We then incessantly repeat these stories to ourselves “under our breath,” as Mr. Epstein writes in (his)

new book. The classic stubborn story dealt with in therapy, he said, can be summarized in four words:

“The problem is me.”

And the low self-esteem reinforced by such stories “is as much ego as the puffed-up, ‘I’m the best,’ competitive, American way we ordinarily think of the ego.”

(Mark Epstien is a American based psychiatrist, therapist and author in practice in New York who draws on Buddhist philosophy his three books which I highly recommend are Open To Desire, The Trauma of Everyday Life and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart as well as many others).

Dialogues with my inner critic

I have been trying to use active imagination with the force of the inner critic inside me lately.  For those who dont know active imagination is a way we can dialogue with an inner psychic force inside us, Robert Johnson Jungian therapist addresses it in his book Inner Work but my talks with the critic were also inspiresed by another book called Freedom from your Inner Critic : A Self Therapy Approcach.  

One of the things my inner critic does is drive me hard.  As a child growing up we were not allowed to play or have fun until all our chores were done.  A friend in later years said it was like coming to a military operation in our home.  We had to iron our own school uniforms, polish our shoes and clean our rooms I also learned to run around after my mother who would get herself in a state of apoplexy at any sign of mess.  In later years when my older sister was in the care home for acquired brain injury she would laugh uproarously about an incident at a farm when Mum got chicken shit on her shoe.

It was a bit mean come to think of it for as an emotionally neglected child my mother had no one at all there for her.  Her father died when she was 7, her own mother had no war pension and had to work afternoons, evenings and mornings just the times she should have been home for her daughter.  Mum got her own dinner, she made own breakfast, got herself ready for school (where she was abused and punished and used to clean the Nun’s chapel or stood in the corner for not doing home work COME ON!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!)  Those were harsh times during the 1930’s coming out of the depression years and First World War into the intense climate of the Second during which she met my Dad.

Dad was the oldest of a fatherless family too, fleeing Holland just prior to German occupation in 1938.  He was hell bent on becoming a millionaire.  My godfather, his best friend told me this when I got into addiction recovery in 1993-1996.  We had many chats because my father died when I was 22 and I never knew his history over which he remained quite silent like many of his generation.

Anyway back to my inner critic who I call Mr A and my therapist calls The Annihilator.  He often wont let me rest and the other morning when he was off on a rant I just gave him a hug in my active imagination then I put an ice pack on his head.  It was a while until he calmed down but I got a good insight into what lay beneath just as when one time I stopped my Mum mid flight in an OCD cleaning spree to hug her and she also burst into tears!!!

I have been grieving a lot more since this incident.  The self punishing voices are still there but I am able to bring them out and ‘unblend’ from them (a term used in the second bood mentioned above.)  My child inner often gets tormented by Mr A he blames her for everything, including a host of things that never in a million years could be her fault.  But of course this is what happens to those of us emotionally neglected in childhood.  But we can take back control over these inner forces if our desire to love and seek the truth is stronger than our possession by them, if we are willing to do the inner work to make them more conscious.

As Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss point out in the second book our Critic is so often hostile to our Inner Child but we can learn to change this by self compassion and in the process our compassion for the wounds of those who abused us also grows.  We know they were hurting and did the best they knew, even if it was in no way good enough, we are on an evolutionary trajectory in regards to that carried or inherited trauma.