On vulnerability, feelings and opening up to joy

Daring

I just finished the chapter The Vulnerability Armory in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  It has reminded me how defending and protecting our selves from fear of making a mistake or looking like a mess or just opening our hearts to life and feeling and expressing our full genuine selves really ends up contracting our existence in all kinds of ways.   The main tools in the vulnerability armory according to Brown are : Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing and my intention here is not to go into great detail about them as you can read the book or watch some of her videos on You Tube.

However just to explain a little, foreboding joy is the fear of disaster that we automatically can start to feel as soon as things feel good or seem to be going right.  In this scenario instead of opening fully to those powerful good feelings we tend to block them or divert them with thoughts of all that could go wrong.  Foreboding can close down our passion or longing in many ways and may cause us to sabotage.

Perfectionism is a huge defence which exists due to being raised in a society or family where we were not valued and loved unconditionally but on the condition of looking good, getting it right, or not provoking uncomfortable feelings that others did not really want to deal with.

And numbing, well that is just such a huge part of our culture and we now have a thousand ways or means we can stop feeling what we are feeling or have come to believe is just too much for ourselves or others to cope with.

I was thinking about this thing of defending against true feelings and feeling too much because it comes up all the time for me today and I am at the point in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography which occurs when she seeks her adoptive mother out after a major psychological breakdown/breakthrough in which she begins to understand how much of her own life she has spent running from and defending against her feelings due to the trauma of not only being separated from her true mother at birth but raised by a religious zealot who never accepted Jeanette’s sexuality.

At this stage in her life, which occurs after a ‘breakdown’ she actually begins to fall in love with psychotherapist and author Suzie Orbach and realises how little she actually knows of what it means to truly love another human being, since such unconditional love was never mirrored to her in her childhood.

The following paragraphs really spoke to me when I read them today.

In the economy of the body, the limbic highway takes precedence over the neural pathways.  We were designed and built to feel, and there is no thought, no state of mind, that is not also a feeling state.

Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work at feeling too little.

Feeling is frightening.

Well, I find it so.

I cannot help but wonder where all our fear of feeling really comes from.  It was enlightening to me in my first few years of sobriety to read the view of the Jungian analyst and author, Robert Johnson, that our culture is a ‘feeling wounded’ culture.  Last week I was reading through some comments on another blog on thought disorders where someone was saying they had tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but it hadn’t helped them much,  I left the reply that the wound to feeling cannot be healed by thinking and I still believe that to be true.  Fear of our feelings, being ashamed of them, being taught that there is something wrong with us for ‘feeling so (or too) much’ well its a pretty common thing that people with high sensitivity go through and if we spend a lot of our life trying techniques that don’t take that into account, that teach us to numb, or deny we are in trouble. Until we know what our deep wound are just changing our thinking or reacting patterns may not work or may only heal us superficially,

For myself I never used to know so well when I intellectualized or rationalised feelings away, it was something I was taught to do by family and religion…. it didn’t work as in the end I do believe it made me an alcoholic when I was consistently not dealing with feelings that never got recognised or seen in my family and which I was never helped to deal with.

This is not to say that we should just be acting our feelings out all over the place if we are in a difficult state of mind but even that may be necessary for a time until we get to develop some deeper mindfulness of how and why we feel the way we do.  Early childhood trauma or separations or other painful events not only in our own lives but in the lives of our parents and of their parent’s parents do affect us into the next few generations.  It is something Mark Wolynn covers in the chapter The Core Language  of Relationships in his book on multigenerational trauma It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  

We may be carrying feelings from generations back which is really a subject for another post.  The armour we wear often exists of defences that operate unconsciously and of scripts or core beliefs that have often not originated with us but collectively and familially. The following chapter in Brown’s book asks some questions about what drives our beliefs, reactions and feelings in personal, family and cultural life and then shapes the way we react.

Getting a grip on our vulnerabilities and fears is not easy but our culture is getting a bit better at it now.  People with issues are encouraged to open up, they may not always be well received by every one as there are those who Brown identifies as Vikings who think that to show any vulnerability at all is to become a victim and there is great fear even shown in this approach.  There is a time for us to be warriors and don our armour and we do need to fight back against invalidation abuse or disempowerment, it is an essential step in our healing for many of us.  But there also comes a time to drop the armour and open our hearts to the full force power and vulnerablity of love and joy which may confront us with fears that we have to do some deep work to become fully conscious of.

 

 

Synchronicity

Precious moments

Appear

In those times of synchronicity

When I spy you crossing a crowded street

Jaunty summer hat dipping low

Across your brow

There is an instant when I doubt the recognition

Of you dear friend

But then I call you name and you turn and smile

Bless life and these moments of pure happenstance

That connect us

We talk of so many things

My Mum’s death

The book you just bought

The Camino Way

Jasper lies belly flat

Beneath the table at our feet

And soaks in the peace that surrounds our meeting

This kind of sponatenous joy

Is surely now

What I most live for

Fleeting moments tinged with gold

Evidence that somehow

Somewhere

Those who we are meant to encounter

Often just appear

Out of nowhere

The connections of heart that are there

And life in its awesome wisdom

Often guides us

To the right place

At the right time

When two paths converge

And the union

Conspired by spontaneous meeting

Feeds us joy

To be part of a loving family

Having my nephew and his daughter here for these past days (two now) has been so lovely.  Today I cried a lot (silently) about how lonely and hard the disconnection we suffered due to my sister’s trauma and Dad’s death was.  When I hugged my little grand niece this morning and she looked at me with so much love in her soft brown eyes, my heart just swelled.  I remembered how it felt to be so small, open, soft and vulnerable but also strong and wise, yet confused by all the adults around me.   I was aware I did not want to pass any of my sadness onto her as it is my sadness to hold and carry, not hers to feel or heal for me.   I felt how lovely it was last night to share a meal all together in my little cottage with my dog Jasper under the table bathing in the connection and love wagging his tail.   I know in two days they will be leaving and I will miss them so much but I will have these good memories to sustain me.  Today my nephew and I talked of past things and I found out some things I didn’t know.   I will always be so grateful for these moments of reconnection.   There has been so much aloneness and disconnection my life and a lot of fear around reconnecting.  I need to keep remembering the fear is about past loss.   Loss I will never be able to change, but that loss does not need to be the final word.   At least for now.

To feel our joy

Joy

Reflection of today :

  Is the purpose of pain to show us how essential to our soul a sense of joy is? How much our souls suffer without it?

What brings your soul joy?  What lights you up from the inside?  A sense of joy will be the antidote to pain and suffering.

Can you connect outside of the pain To something that makes you feel good That takes you back into your body and out of the prison of your mind and suffering

The feel of a warm cup of tea in your hands The softness of a carpet or a dog or cat’s fur  The feel of water running over and cleansing your skin Sunshine on your face Wind in your hair

Life and nature are there and longing to bring us joy

It is easier to feel on the sunny days When sun reminds of the fire that moves and gives life to things

On the dull grey cold days it is harder But don’t stop reaching for joy and comfort outside any pain you may feel if you do today.  For joy is what fills us when we are open to embrace life. And joy is what comes after we have faced honestly the depth of pain life has given us and awakened us to.

Joy 2

Judging affects our body

This is another post inspired by Byron Brown’ book Soul Without Shame. Ever since starting to read about it I have been connecting the dots on so many things, on how John Bradshaw years ago connected addiction and disconnection with the inner child to toxic shame, pointing out how often addicts came from religious or other overly controlled and controlling households where certain feelings and expressions meet with hostility, rejection and shame becoming ‘shame bound’.   Shame bound feelings explains a state where you cannot have a feeling such as sadness or anger without also feeling ashamed for the pure fact of having it, you then have a lot of feelings locked up inside that you exist in a deeply problematic relationship with.

Shame becomes internalised in this state of being and feelings can only be had under her cover of night.  If we have a lot of anger over stuff that happened to us we swallow it down since it would be shameful to express it and then we become the super nice do good people pleaser who jumps through hoops by day but becomes on fire at night or when drunk with blind reactions or rages.  We then wake up and feel ashamed about the shadow energies that came alive in us when we took the risk to shut the judge up with some form of numbing.

Recovery opens us to a cacophony of feelings bound in shame that we can no longer suppress, we try extra hard to work on our recovery and ‘become good’ but the fact is that our self judged ‘bad’ isn’t really bad at all, its just repressed life energy now bound in shame and fear and we no longer have the liberation of the ‘numb’ to at least let us blow off some steam.  Now we not only have to feel but we need to feel what is real for us in a body that is slowly waking up or becoming less numb.  How will we allow this when the  judge that is on our case exists inside us an energy of self suppresssion?

I cant clearly articulate any kind of process or formula here of the ‘way out’ as so many of us find our own ways out of toxic shame.  We all have our own unique battle with the forces of judgement and self judgement we have internalised but what may help some of us most particularly on a somatic/emotional level is the recognition of how shame and self rejection of our needs, wants, desire, meaning and feeling may manifest on a bodily level.  We can engage in a process of self monitoring towards what happens in our body when we try to meet certain standards. and react to inner and outer judgements and shame.

Late last week I also began to read the book Power Over Panic in which the author draws attention towards perfectionism, control, the need to impress others or live to certain ideal standards that are not realistic and panic attacks.   Apparently a panic attack can only happen when there is resistance on one level to an emotional truth which we are attempting to suppress or deny.  Such information interested me since I have suffered from a host of weird body symptoms and manifestations of anxiety ever since my marriage ended just under 13 years ago    Slowly while reading this book I was connecting the dots, dots which are becoming even more connected now reading Byron Brown’s book on shame and the inner critic.

The chapter I am currently reading speaks about developing a process in which we become attentive to what goes on in our body as we talk to ourselves in certain ways.  I have noticed in myself that a state of contraction comes with feelings of fear and shame and with inner voices saying things around me are out of control or not perfect enough.  I have noticed too how a deeply compassionate loving attitude in which I put my focus on my heart and the opening healing breath actually allows my being and consciousness to expand and the result may be tears of relief and release following often by feelings of joy, peace and happiness.  I am noticing more and more how my own consciousness can both contract and expand as I judge not only myself but others as well.  It is enlightening to me and so I wanted to share my own insights around how I am noticing judgement impacts and affects my body, for we live in such a judging culture that is externally focused in this day and age, is it therefore any wonder that anxiety conditions are so prevalent.  I am sure it is in no way a new insight, but it is one that I am coming to understand and become aware of more and more lately.

Letting go of fear, obligation and guilt

At times I need to let go of ideas or hopes or dreams I have of how life would be ideal.  I am having to let go of the idea of having permanent fake teeth in my mouth and accept that from here on in I will have 3 teeth on a plate that is then inserted into my mouth.

When I saw the dentist yesterday he was very slow and measured.  He wanted to make sure “I was entirely ready” to have my tooth out and cope with the denture.  I gathered from what he said that so many people could not cope with it very well and he was worried as to how I would react having to see myself every morning with no front teeth when the denture is out.  I must admit that before I went yesterday my inner child or inner self just cried and cried and told me she doesn’t want to have the tooth out and have to go through this hurdle to wear and denture and be a gummy shark with no front teeth!  And while I can hold her and my hand through this I KNOW I have to go through with it and feel the pain.  I had to tell my child and inner self that sometimes I have to go through something I don’t want for a higher reason or for the sake of better physical or emotional health.  It was the same feelings I went through when I had to face breast cancer.  I felt like Jesus in Gethsemane pleading with God to not have to face it, but I did and I survived.

Facing this yesterday and letting myself fully grieve and have all the associated emotions was painful but ultimately good.  I was able to get myself dressed and get to the dentist and I cannot tell you how many times I have cancelled out of dental appointments before.  But it also made me realise that I have also avoided heaps of things that it would be better if I had faced, and that there were times when I needed to let go of much loved or needed attachments that were actually holding me back and I could not.  I wanted to be the nice girl and do the right thing, or at the very least not abandon others who were in pain.  That was a positive motivation but not when it led to the loss of my own inner needs and happiness.

Today we had a heavy fog.  As I write this the first rays of sunlight are only just starting to shine through at 11 am.  And today I was thinking about another kind of FOG which obscures the sunlight for me : Fear, Obligation and Guilt.  I was thinking of how many times these three have stopped my own individual Sun essence from shining forth, from allowing myself to separate and go for the good things especially when others were suffering.  Another thing I noticed this week is how my Mum unconsciously evokes these kind of feelings in me by telling me about how my sister is going through some emotional struggle.  The assumption she makes is that my sister is weak and cannot cope and then I feel drawn in and as though I need to do something to help my sister when really what she is going through is about her and I struggle along silently with my own problems and others in my family rarely reach out to see how I am coping.

I opened the post intending to write about letting go and my insight earlier into FOG while doing yoga stretches is associated.  I need to be much more aware of letting go and realising when fear, a sense of obligation or guilt are motivating my actions or alternatively limiting them.

In the case of fear I have not always been able to recognise that is what has been imprisoning me.  I think the accident I had it 2005 has left me with huge fear/trauma imprints about moving forward or taking any action and subconsciously this fear prompts the panic attacks I have around 5 to 7 pm every evening and to a degree the problem I have with waking up in the morning.

This morning I remembered to be extra conscious of making sure I had my attention on the breath when trauma flood had me pinned.  I was aware of the funny cartoon in Bev Aisbett’s book which portrays the panic attack as funny carton dragon who hovers in the shadows and sends up all kinds of thoughts.  In my own case it isn’t just thoughts that prompt my attacks there is a stored vibrational charge of chemicals in my body that wake up every day in the morning.  I then get extra focused on my body and find it hard to bring my energy into the day.  But thinking too which runs along negative lines can also hold me back.

I read a older post on a site earlier about how one survivor of an eating disorder which spoke of how ED as a voice tries to keep the person thinking along negative lines.  It will see all the things that are wrong.  In this way it keeps us trapped and from seeing what is actually good.  I am noticing more and more these days when my focus is pulled toward the negative so that I can then put my energy on something beautiful, good or positive.  Yes there is a lot of pain and negativity in people and in the world but we don’t have to allow it to capture us all of the time, or at least I am realising that I don’t have to.

I can also let go of the sense of obligation I feel to take care of others in my family and realise that there is a force beyond me that is meant to help them.  I am not put on earth to give all of my energy to others who are suffering.  I can show support and care when I am in a strong place, but otherwise at times my need to help comes out of something else and may even be a projection of a neglected part of myself that in fact needs my own care.  It may even come out of guilt I have or a belief I am not worthy of a happy, free life and that is not fair, for I am worthy of these things, but thinking that I am not does keep me bowed under, or most definitely has in the past.

I think that in some families joy can actually be a quality that is shamed.  We can be shamed for being full of life, or different, or full of energy or happy.  We can be made to feel that if others are suffering we need to suffer too, or at least must not present them with the challenge of a happy, free person for whom things are going right if they are having problems.

I am now identifying this kind of thing in myself.   I am aware of the joy killer that lives within and dampens me down with all kinds of negative heaviness.  I actually am feeling more and more lately I want to let that killer go and get that negative energy out of my head.  I want to let go of fear, obligation and guilt, they were such strong conditioning agents of my Catholic education and come to think of it we have Jewish background on my Mum’s side three generations back and at times I feel that heaviness as a shroud that can be limiting and life denying when it focuses on obligation to family, rules, oughts or shoulds.

And outside my window now sun and blue sky has been revealed as the fog has slowly cleared away and so I want to go out and embrace the day with my dog.  I am so grateful that now I no longer spend days and days and days in immobility and pain.  I am so grateful for the life energy I feel returning when I face up to the tough stuff in stead of running away and find that when I let of certain attachments to ideals and hopes something else can present itself to me, something that may a precious gift hidden within it that I may never have been able to imagine myself or experience if I had not said yes to and embraced the necessary pain involved in the letting go process.

Post script :

After posting this I found the following in Bev Aisbett’s book on panic attacks listing the things which are required of us to recover and it was an interesting read as she touched on what I was writing about above:

In order to effectively make changes for the better you will need to set out to achieve the following goals:

An absolute belief that you deserve to be well, happy and loved

A complete shift of focus from being a loser to being a winner

A conscious awareness of choice

An ability to just BE

A total commitment to wellness not illness.

Just writing this triggers my inner negative voice but I will put it out there, as I feel it speaks to what a new approach to my life may be asking of me.

Some times I forget : counting my blessings

Bad things

I was reminded today when reading back a post I wrote but didn’t post yesterday of the very real reasons I felt suicidal and went through a painful dark night of the soul over at least 10 years.  I was reminded that I didn’t end up in that state for no reason and that without the constant realistic loving presence of a very good therapist that took me so many years to find I would not today be feeling the degree of joy that I am feeling and the sense that I have in some way emerged, even though at times on certain days I can get a pull back into that deep dark space where my mind remembers all the pain and the long time this journey has taken.

I was reminded that I didn’t make it all up and that my loneliness was so bone crushing because it was deeply real.  It wasn’t something I chose but something that happened to me out of unresolved experiences of being so very far away in my consciousness from connection with others who could not understand and due to having been left alone so many times without protection that I had to look to unsafe things and places and spaces for it.  I was also reminded of how all along even when it hasn’t felt like it some force or power has been taking care of me from behind the scenes.

This is most certainly not something I could prove to anyone, but I have had some very challenging things happen over years in terms of danger or loss or confusion and at some stage an angel has stepped in at the eleventh hour to help.  It has happened to me too many times now for me to doubt that I am cared for and loved and that feeling is such a long way from the feelings of deepest aloneness and lack of care that at times have tried inside my mind to lead me to take my life.

When I start to recover my sense of happiness and the feeling that I do have the power to make healthy choices on days which will bring me light and life and joy it can sometimes seem to me that in some way what went before was a kind of aberration, that I have been crazy or stupid to have lost trust in life, other people and love.  But I have to keep reminding myself that those feelings came from somewhere.   I hope never to lose a sense of gratitude that on many days now I simply do not have to live deep down in that dark night space so much now as I used to in the past.  Consciousness is always changing.

Recovery to me doesn’t mean I am suddenly bullet proof or impervious to pain, most especially when those I love are suffering, recovery means I can feel those feelings at great depth but they no longer place such a strangle hold on my consciousness.  On the days such pain visits, that I feel capable of taking some action to express love and care for myself and for others, while knowing realistically that so much of what happens for others is not my fault and outside of my power to control.

And the other miracle now is that I no longer see the world in such black/white terms.  I can see some of the deep human complexity in people who have been ‘bad’ to or hurt me in life.  I can see some of the shadow and insecurity even in those who appear to be so strong and have it all together and I am aware that both positive and negative forces and powers and manners of perception reside inside my own consciousness and can dominate on different days.

There can be days when I am tempted to judge my insides by others outsides, by the happy image they present to the world.  On these days I see myself as so inherently flawed and lacking that a dark cloud comes down but the miracle now is that on those days and in those dark moments a loving voice comes to me and tells me where I am seeing things incorrectly or incompletely.  This voice inside me encourages me to focus on what is good, while not ignoring what hurts, it encourages me to put some good into my day to soothe any pain or hurt or fear or doubting that is trying to lay claim to and imprison my soul in negativity.

And I can understand and accept that others suffer too from all the same fears and doubts and insecurities that I do and that often those people on any day may be fighting a battle I can not fully see or recognise.  When I am tempted to view things from a difficult or more painful perspective I can remind myself to pray to see things more realistically, more lovingly and more meaningfully.  I can pray to be relieved of the bondage of self centred or unrealistic perfectionism that may lay love, a sense of value and a sense of connection to waste.   And at the end of those days on which that force turns my life and day around I can go to bed grateful for all that I have survived, even the most painful of experiences for each and every one has made me who I am.