Don’t tell me : Say nothing!

Hurting.jpg

Don’t tell me I am to blame

When I did all I could to survive in a wilderness

Don’t tell me this is something I chose

Something you would not wish on your worst enemy

Don’t tell me I need to make it alone

When only relationship and community can sustain me

Don’t tell me it wasn’t intentional

Even so I was hurt

And so were others

And if you really had empathy you would understand this

Don’t tell me I should be over all that by now

For I will never be over it I will only come through it

And telling me or others that only feels dismissive

Don’t tell me it was all for a reason

When really you would just rather not

Engage with this level of pain

Or lack the depth to understand deeper causes

Don’t tell me

It will all come right in the end

For it may not

As much as I try

And you are not God

For the kind of world we live in now

Sometimes shows and sometimes lacks empathy

And good and terrible things happen all the time

And so often kind people die alone

Instead please say

That must have been hard

I hear your pain

Or if you can’t

Please

Just say nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real pain and sadness

I wish that so many people who suffer from depression or bi polar could have it affirmed that their pain is real.   I just read a blog of a fellow sufferer who could not get out of bed on Christmas Day,  I know how that feels.  I always force myself out of bed though.  I am not able to stay in bed all day, just cannot do it, even when I am sick and need to.  But I know that deep binding and paralysing depression that hits as a real response to challenging life events of change, hurt or loss, have undergone it in my own life. There were whole days and weeks and months I never got out of my pyjamas all day, I didn’t shower, found it difficult to stomach food and did not see a single soul.

I look back to those terrible crushing days of extreme physical and emotional as well as spiritual isolation and wonder how I survived them.  The pain was just so intense but on another level I was numb.  Critical killer inner voices besieged all my waking hours.   Love had left my life, my marriage was over, I had no home of my own and no employment.  All I did was write all day.

I am here to say though that today my life is not like that.  Sure I am very sad on some days, but those feelings of  complete inner hopelessness and emptiness are no longer as strong.  I reached out to get help and it took me many therapy attempts but in the end I found that help.  I found a therapist who helped me.  I got this blog started.  I started to write how it really was for me.  People reached out to me. I learned to get in my car and go for a walk or a drive when I was lonely to a place where I could be with people.  5 years ago I got myself a dog and then started going to the public dog park with him every day and making some new friends.  Some days I had to drag myself there in the afternoon.

I joined groups then left groups, told by them I wasnt allowed to have certain feelings or express certain feelings.  I had to let certain relationships go.  I had to believe in myself.  I had to keep reaching for validation of my suffering true feelings and pain.

I am here to say that I believe recovery is possible for those of us who are willing to reach for help and become aware of how past emotional abandonment,abuse or neglect may have dogged our lives, our pain was real, it wasnt a figment of our imagination.  We suffered and we bled.   We were not responsible for the emotional neglect we suffered or the abandonment that happened to us.  It left real deep scars in us.  We don’t have to take the blame even though the harsh truth is that our recovery is our responsiblity.  No one else can do it for us, but us, and we cannot do it alone.

So if you are suffering, trust yourself.  Keep reaching out for love, keeping taking those baby steps forward even if you suffer set backs.  Just keep at it one day at a time, one minute at a time, believe in you.  You are worth it?  You are worthy.  There will be days you wish you were dead,  days you feel the pain is too much, those are the days you are probably all alone with no one to give you a hug.  On those days I reach out here and often I am responded to.  I know it’s not the same as a physical hug but it helps.  It has brought me back from the abyss many times.

Life at times can seen so dark and lonely it really can.   But there are those out there who love and care despite their own pain and despair, so keep reaching until you find that connection, validation and love.   The world really needs you it does, you are meant to be here.

Understanding self absorbed behaviors

Lack of clear perception into our selves often comes from our early environment and deficits in mirroring.  If we consider generational and collective impacts too many of our parents and their parents and parents parents were engaged in a process of survival.  Attention was tied up with outer, rather than inner concerns and losses may have made one parent less emotionally available to them, leaving psychic and emotional deficits and burdens.  The research and work I have quoted from in previous posts from Mark Wolynn on multi generational trauma(It Didn’t Start With You)  addresses these issues in some way and shows how people tend to disconnect from parents in this situation, feeling hurt, betrayed abandoned or let down, often rightly so.  However there may be so much more to their story we never get to know.

Once we become more aware that our emotionally unavailable parents laboured under very real deficits, deficits that they passed down to us we can begin to take steps to address what we carry and hopefully become more aware of when and how we may have become self absorbed ourselves.

According to Nina Brown, author of Children of the Self Absorbed, the first step to reduce self absorbed behaviors is to accept that we may have absorbed some of them from our parents.  She outlines ten key behaviors associated with self absorption we may need to address or work upon as follows :

  • An attitude of entitlement.   Feeling that you deserve preferential treatment. That you can do or say whatever you like to others and that they shoud not be upset.  The idea you deserve special consideration or treatment.  Insensitivity to others.
  • Attention seeking.  Behaviors such as talking loudly when it will disturb others.  Dressing just for attention.  Trying to distract or upstage others.  Starting fights.  Interrupting ongoing conversations.  Dropping hints and teasers.  (All with the intent to gain outside validation that you are significant, important, different to or better than others, or to reassure yourself that you are worthwhile, or to ease chronic self doubt.)
  • Admiration seeking.   Yearning for reassurance you are valued through different means including the attainment of material or ‘status’ symbols.
  • Grandiosity.  Taking over in situations where it is not called for.  Feeling you are inherently superior to others.  Arrogance.  Displaying contempt. Failure to value the opinions of others.  Acting big as a defence against feeling small or shameful inside.
  • An impoverished self.  This is the self that feels deprived, ignored, abandoned or unnurtured or treated unfairly.  And this is all a matter of perception for as Brown points out me may not have a lot of support but still feel we are supported by the Universe.   Focusing on weaknesses or what you do not have instead of what you do.  Lack of ability to take constructive action to fix or address what you can.
  • Lack of Empathy.  Restricted or limited ability to sense what another person is experiencing inwardly in a specific situation without becoming enmeshed in their feeling or experience or reactions or overwhelmed by them.  Being able to hear and sense what lies behind words and actions… the real message behind the words.  (Brown notes we cannot be empathic with everyone all of the time and at times being too open to negative or toxic feelings can be inappropriate.  Brown says “Many adults who were not subject to a parent with a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.. are able to be empahic with many people some of the time. “)
  • Seeing Others As Extensions of Self.  According to Brown “the self absorbed person is only dimly aware of other people in the world as separate and distinct from her (or him), and at the unconscious level thinks others exist to serve her (or him).  The self absorbed person sees everything in terms of self, as if they were the only real person in the world.”  This leads to : lack of respect for other’s possessions and boundaries, making decisons that affect others without consultation, making choices and decisions for others who are able to decide for themselves, touching things that belong to others without permission.  Asking overly personal questions.
  • Needing to be  percieved as unique and special by others. Everyone needs to know they are unique, special and worthy but when self absorbed this is taken to an extreme, or acted upon in a demanding way.  This relates to having an extra high opinion of oneself that is not based in fact.  It can lead to a lack of respect for others needs and rights.  It can result in criticism of others faults and flaws.  Making comparisons that put them up and the other person down.  Blaming others for getting in the way.  Needing to be complimented or praised first.
  • Exploitation of Others  This involves using other to gain benefit, coupled with the conviction that others are not as worthy.  Taking advantage of another person’s kind, generous or caring nature, desire to please or need for approval just to serve the self.  Expecting favours without reciprocation.  Lying, cheating, misleading.  Using “if you loved me or cared about me” to manipulate others
  • Shallow Emotions.  Adults with healthy narcissism can experience and express a wide and deep variety of emotions.  In contrast, self absorbed adults are extremely limited in experiencing and expressing their feelings.  Experiencing for them seems to be mainly limited to fear and anger and while they have the words when expressing other feelings, they don’t have the accompanying emotions.  These people are not genuine in their expression of feelings, except for the variations of fear and anger.   To get an idea of your range and level for experiencing emotions Nina recommends an exercise in which you make a list of each hour in the day and beside each time portion list all the feelings you remember experiencing.  Beside the list of feelings list the names of people you expressed the feelings to.  Review how open you were in either expressing or not expressing them.  Did you have much variablity in what you felt?  Did you primarily express negative feelings?  Did you have an expansive or limited vocabulary for your emotions?
  • Emptiness at the Core of Self.  Arises when children become isolated and lack meaningful connection to others.   When we are not received as kids we don’t develop a strong connection to and faith in the Universe.   The capacity for experiencing and understanding our feelings may be severely limited as a result. If we were not shown compassion we cannot feel it for ourselves.  If we are focused on our emptiness and hurt we are robbed of seeing the beauty and wonder around us.  We feel separate and disconnected and so emptiness grows.   Experiencing ‘holes’ and then reaching to substances or unfulfilling activities to feel ‘full’.

Bear in mind when reading this list that there is a difference between being self absorbed and self reflective.  It’s only natural that when we didnt get want we needed we would dig in and come to mistrust or not understand where others are coming from.  I have written another post to follow this one soon on the distinction between self absorption and self reflection.  People with destructive or malignant narcissism cannot self reflect or introspect, they tend to attack or blame often out of the narrow range of feeling, Brown speaks about in her book.  We are, in healing and becoming more self aware learning to strike a balance, its painstaking work.

 

The final 3 strategies for overcoming the effects of self absorbed or emotionally unavailable parents.

This is the final installment which follows on from two earlier posts on the header subject and contains exerpts that come from Chapter 6 of Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.

Change of Pace

(We can) become so stuck in one or more routines that (we) limit (ourselves) from expanding (our) horizons, meeting new people or challenges, learning and developing (our) resources and talents, and limiting our choices.  Thus, (we) place restraints on (ourselves) and limit (our) personal growth and development in some ways.  An occasional change of pace can energize (us) and (our) thoughts in many ways, enrich (our) inner self, and provide for wonder and beauty in (our) life.

This is not to say that (we) should disrupt (our) life and do away with (our) routines.  Such routines are beneficial.  For example, I do my writing in the morning, shortly after I wake up.  I first read the paper and have a cup of coffee.  After that I pick up my pad and pen and begin to write. You want to maintain your constructive routines.

A change of pace is not a major disruption, it is doing something different on a trial basis to see if it is right for you, energizing in some way, or has other positive outcomes.  It can be almost anything that is different from your usual routine.

Mindfulness

Becoming mindful teaches our valuable concentration that can help you stay focused on what is truly important in your life.  This  can be very helpful to you in interactions with your self absorbed parent, where your heightened emotional state can be distracting, even disabling.  Once you get distracted or lost, you’re left with the same old feelings.

Mindfulness is done with conscious thought and intention.   You expand your awareness in the moment and notice, appreciate, and even sometimes savour what you are experiencing.  This awareness allows you to notice things you didn’t notice before, being something into clearer focus, sort through confusing stimuli and zoom in on important aspects, reduce some anxiety, and help you feel more in control.  For example, lets suppose after by becoming more mindful you notice and experience the following with your self absorbed parent :

  • Your parent is saying the usual hurtful things, but you are not confused about why he is doing this and are able to see the fear your parent has of becoming old and no longer in control.
  • The words used by your parent seem meaningless and inaccurate and, although designed to hurt you, are bouncing off you like ball bearings bouncing off a wall.
  • You are able to discern your parent’s anxiety without taking it on or even feeling that you must fix it.
  • You are becoming aware that a role shift is in process, and that your parent is fighting but is also consciously unaware of it.
  • You leave the interaction less upset and stressed than usual.

Mindfulness allows you both to expand and contract.  You expand your awareness and contract your focus.  Practice the following exercise as many times as you possibly can throughout your day.  It doesn’t take long to do it, but you can do it as long as you wish.

Developing Mindfulness

Procedure:  This excercise can be done sitting, standing, reclining, walking and so on.  However it is best to be alone in a quiet place.

  1. Empty your mind.
  2. Don’t fight intrusive thoughts.
  3. Concentrate on your breathing and how this makes you feel.  Try to slow your breath.
  4. Become aware of your body, its tense spots, and its pleasurable spots.
  5. Focus on what you are experiencing, doing and feeling.  Stay with that and expand your awareness of sensations – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.
  6. Notice colors, shapes, forms, sounds, and how your body feels.
  7. Continue your expansion as long as you wish.

Reduce your Self Absorption

This suggestion is the basis for entire books on narcissism, but we’ll only touch on the subject in his book  The major premise for this suggestion is that sef absorbed behavior and attitudes are not constructive or helpful.  It is important to remember that, just as your self absorbed parent cannot see his (or her) undeveloped narcissism, you are unaware of behaviors and attitudes you have that are reflective of undeveloped narcissism.  Your undeveloped narcissism can do the following:

  • Prevent you from detoxifying yourself.
  • Inhibit you from developing sufficient boundary strength.
  • Keep you in a position where you can be easily wounded.
  • Interfere with developing and maintaining meaningful and satisfying relationships.
  • Get in the way of your reaching out and connecting to others.
  • Keep you in a defensive state all of the time.

Be aware that (reducing self absorption) is a life long endeavour and that you are mostly unaware of your self absorbed behaviors and attitudes, but they do have a significant effect on your self and on your relationships.

End of direct quotes

Facing the fact that we too are self aborbed is difficult.  In one way we need self absorption for a time in order to delve into what is going on inside and understand how and why we are reacting as we do.  However it is now proven by research into mental health and happiness that happiness rests upon being able to sustain healthy mutual life giving, love filled connections with others.  This ability to connect is what is primarily wounded or undeveloped in narcissism and if we were raised with emotional neglect or by self absorbed wounded parents.  Learning to reach out and connect and show empathy and understanding to and of others is a life time work.  But it has great rewards.

Learning how to set boundaries if you came from a non affirming home

If we were raised in a home where it was not possible to know and connect with our True Self, feelings and needs we are going to have problems for the rest of our life in setting boundaries or healthy limits.  If we were dis-empowered in our assertive drive due to the unconscious need of a parent or active thwarting, asserting our own wishes and needs and feelings in a balanced and healthy way will also be problematic.    And in this situation feelings of self esteem and self confidence will falter or be non existant.

The following is from the book The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M Pressman.   It shows some ways of addressing this issue.

Comfort in setting boundaries develops naturally in children who have their feelings respected by their parents. In this context, children are allowed to participate in decisions that affect them, are encouraged to talk about their feelings, and get validation for the appropriate expression of them without needing to resort to shouting and/or tears if the decision does not go their way.  In other words, the children learn to use the “I feel….I want” format. (Which the authors cover in another chapter.)

The children learn not only to tune in to their own and other people’s feelings, but that they can live with the occasional disapproval of others.  This is an important lesson.  It is difficult for most people to elicit disapproval – to say, in effect, “I’d like to be able to meet your needs, but I can’t.  In this case our needs are in conflict, and I have to attend to mine.  I have to say no.”  It is important… to understand that, while it (can be) a difficult skill to acquire, it is vital to our mental healthy and positive self image that we learn to be advocates for ourselves.  Otherwise, we end up meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own.  If we are further unable to communicate our message in a respectful and adult way, people will be able to hear our message, clearly without being threatened or devalued by it. If this is a tall order for a reasonably healthy adult, it is Herculean task for youngster.  It is made immeasurably easier if the child learns the following at home:

  1. Correction, appropriately expressed, is not destructive, hurtful, or shame inducing.
  2. One’s needs cannot always be met by others, but they can always be appropriately articulated to others.
  3. Feelings do not need justification – one always has a right to one’s feelings.
  4. One does not always have the right to act out one’s feelings: all actions have consequences, and these need to be thought about.
  5. Compromise means giving up as well as getting.
  6. Changing one’s mind is not necessarily a bad thing; part of growing up is the ability to react based on new information.
  7. Making mistakes is how we learn.  There is no shame involved.
  8. Being able to “own” our mistakes, apologise if appropriate, and make amends where possible, is how we grow.  “I’m sorry, tell me what I can do to make it up to you” is a statement of strength not an admission of weakness or shame.

If children are fortunate enough to grow up in a home where those eight rules are acted out in the course of daily events, they will probably be healthy, secure adults with positive self images.  They will probably be comfortable with their feelings and have little difficulty with setting reasonable boundaries in their lives.

But what of the children raised in narcissistic families?  What of ..(the ones) with limited confidence in their ability to assess the appropriateness of their actions and decisions?  An essential part of therapy with these individuals involves retraining.  What they did not get as a child from their parents, they can get as an adult from themselves : once they understand how they were mistrained. they can make the decision to retrain.  They can, in adulthood, make a conscious decision to incorporate these eight rules into their lives and act as if they believed them.  When one acts “as if” for long enough, eventually it becomes part of one’s belief system.

Feelings always follow actions.  It is imperative when working with these patients to reinforce this premise continually.  These patients cannot wait to feel more confident in order to act more confidently – to make firm decision, to be advocates for themselves. to set rules and boundaries for themselves and the way they wish to be treated.. they need (to learn to) act “as if” they believe in themselves before they can feel that belief and confidence.   The actions come before the feelings, with time, however, the feelings will follow.

(If you suffer a fear of abandonment in setting your own boundaries that might be a key insight into the fact your needs and feelings or self assertion was not respected nor treated in a validating way by a parent.  Later in life you become a people pleaser and very hypervigilant to abandonment signs.  The truth is though if you dont act on your own feelings and needs in a healthy balanced way you end up self abandoning.  That hurts your inner self as you may try to hide the truth, but your body will send up signals of distress in some way as a result.)

Can you see me?

I wrote this quite a few weeks ago and it concerns how I was treated in my last relationship.  Often my grittier, real posts don’t see the light of day.  I feel guilt for stating a harsh truth, setting a boundary or being legitimately angry over harsh treatment.  My mother taught me she could not survive my anger and so boundaries were hard.  I am posting this today to get it ‘out’.

Can you see me?  Doesn’t really matter now As I see myself You will never live inside my skin and I will never live in yours But sometimes I will meet a fellow traveller on the road They will see my scars or show me theirs and we will In that one brief instant recognise each other There will be no need for fear or hiding There will only be an open embrace Not a defensive stare Or that heart breaking glare Of how dare you  Strange and dangerous creature!

It isn’t my fault that you cannot see me but still it can cut Especially when you misunderstand You label me agoraphobic not knowing I have known trauma And also that as an intuitive empath I absorb more and feel things more deeply being susceptible to energies that fall off your back

You say I am too sensitive not knowing the cuts or hole of misattention that kept my boundaries open or stopped them from forming at all  You can never know that due to never having been shown empathy for struggling in this way its a long process to learn who I really am and what I feel inside and to put up the barrier or stop your misguided perceptions from stealing in and wounding me takes pain suffering learning and time

For so long I hoped that you would see me But really what I now understand is that all along you only saw your projection And when I failed to affirm your limited view of things I was then a threat that had to be amputated or exiled Or an infection you had to take distance from telling me how sick I made you  But then maybe just maybe you were sensitive too and due to the fact I was in so much pain I could not understand

Now do you not see me?  That is okay!  There are those around who see me, know me, get me.  There are those too who actually think I am kind of special and great  They let me be goofy They don’t cast water on my ideas and they don’t try to reign me in due to their own fears of being out of or losing control All in all it really is okay If you don’t see me Just as long as I see myse

 

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.

The grief that never leaves you

I just got extremely triggered reading a post about the prospect of someone loosing their husband.  It opened up a well of grief that is always inside me, just covered over at times.  I had a vision too, as I contemplated how alone I have been for the past 5 years with no special man in my life, of a photograph taken at my brother’s wedding where I was flower girl with my hand in my father’s hand, I look so uncomfortable, out of place, scared and lost.  I showed it to my therapist a year or so ago and she often mentions it.  Although my father was a distant presence and not that emotionally available, there was some kind of connection and reading that post just made me cry.  I don’t know if I will ever be loved again like that by any man and I feel such a lot of sadness that connection with my nephews is often so rare.  The last time I called the nephew I feel closest to he didn’t even bother to return my call.  I could brush it off, but it hurt never the less.

Whenever I mention it to my Mum she tells me not to have hard feelings, that he is busy and struggles.  I don’t dislike him for not calling back, I just feel sad about it.  All kinds of things run through my mind as to why he may not want to have contact.  Add to all  of this that his older brother is visiting in two days with his three boys and wife, this is the nephew who has more to do with my mother and my sister than with me.  The last time we spoke he told me he had been listening to a programme on childhood trauma and he said “I don’t have any memories of when I was young, and that is apparently a sign of trauma”, he was about 10 when his Mum had the cerebral bleed and then got very damaged not only by that but by her husband’s eventual abandonment. I sent him some photos and he never acknowledged them.   This nephew was the one who stayed close to his Dad and was quite angry and aggressive to my sister at times.  I can never really know what went on in those dark days before my sister was sent back with a one way ticket by his father, but I ache over it for her, for our family and for her sons.

I wondered yesterday if some of my anxiety this week is about this visit.  Part of me doesn’t want to have to see my nephew and his family and have old wounds retriggered.  He is the most defensive, at my sister’s funeral I hugged him as the hearse pulled away from the church and a single tear fell from his eye to the pavement below.  I watched it fall, but his body was armoured, it reminded me of how my ex partner would also cry but in a very held back, armoured way.  I know the pain both went through, (no, Deb that is not right, I can only imagine) but its hard to connect from a place of vulnerability for him.

At the same time I have a longing to see his family, but I said to Kat in therapy yesterday I have to be aware I wont get what I hope for.  When my sister died his wife told me I shouldn’t grieve or be sad as my sister would not want me to be.  It was another slap or door shut in my face on the back of other griefs.  I stood up for my pain but I didn’t get comfort, come to think of it most of the tears I have shed I shed alone with no one to hold me.  Reading this back I am aware that how they treat me is just a reflection of how they treat their own vulnerability and feelings, by dismissing them!

Anyway I just let the tears fall again this morning.  It was a comfort to acknowledge the well of grief that I know will never leave me, not so much for what I lost, but more for what I never could have.  It reminds me of the painful emotional reality that so often many of us in our family left behind by partners have had to live in the absence of connection and care.  Its acknowledging a deep reality and feeling it,, knowing its a karma or circumstance I cannot change (or at least not before now).  I share about it here because here I know others will understand.  Its all I have at present this computer page and my therapy.  That and the brief times that sadness opens up with Mum before it is shut down again with things she says to push the pain and grief to the sidelines.

And as I write this I am aware how much harder  it is to let go or get over something we cannot or are not allowed to fully feel or acknowledge the emotional truth of.  There is not one single platitude that can full the vacancy left by honest empathy, acknowledgement and presence.

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.