We see what we project

I was moved to write a poem yesterday on darkness gathering which I didn’t post then.   It was prompted by reading the post of someone who was struggling with seeing how much hatred, violence and suffering there seems to be in the world. If we are a sensitive person and most especially if we have been abused or neglected seeing so many painful things going on hurts and is a reminder of how challenging human nature can be.  I still think it is important though for us to maintain a sense of hope and a remembering that there is a lot of goodness and heart out there in the world.  When very painful experiences and things happen to us they can absorb all our energy and pin us in the most difficult place where it is difficult to see more than darkness.  Those experiences obscure the light of love and joy and simplicity, all the beauty there is in the world which we no longer see if our focus is always on darkness.

I am midway through the biography of Eva Schloss, the step sister of Anne Frank this week, After Auschwitz.  As a Vienesse Jew, Eva and her mother had to leave their home in Austria when war broke out and the Nazi’s began their campaign of hatred over the Jewish people.  They escaped to Holland and were hidden there by two families but the second family betrayed them to the Nazis and on her 15th birthday Eva and her mother were taken to Auschwitz.

In a remarkable story of survival they managed to live, due to a set of coincidences which saw them both very close to death on several occasions.  Only part of the book concentrates on their time in Auschwitz but most of it is devoted to the issue of how one survives seeing such unspeakable suffering and hatred and lives in the traumatic aftermath without being totally defeated by anger, hatred and resentment.  In the end it is only by actively choosing to embrace the attitude of a survivor rather than a victim that Eva rises above the pain that in the end killed countless others.   It really is a great read for those of us who suffer with resentment and issues of forgiveness.

I tried to write a post yesterday about Nazism as a symbol of the narcissistic negative killing ego gone horribly wrong.  The entire story of Hitler and his attitude to the Jews is related to issues deeply imbedded in humanity in relation to the scapegoating of others and shadow projection.   Jews were resented at a time where many were poor and suffering following the end of the First World War when Germany and the German people were highly penalised for their involvement in that war by the Treat of Versailles.  The hatred shown towards them meant that people could download their own painful feelings onto a scapegoat people and send them to extermination and exile.  Its a repeating theme in history with archetypal and mythical themes : the way darkness is projected and how pain and suffering then end up breading more pain and suffering in an endless feedback loop that then recycles over and over without end.  And it seems that the only way out in the end is through forgiveness, empathy and understanding.

I titled this post ‘we see what we project’ to address this issue but I guess in a way a better title may have been we see what we have experienced and we act out of that experience and often unconsciously react out of those experience at least until we become more conscious of the seeds we learned to sow as a result of what we went through.  There comes a time when we get to see what the cost of our projections and colouring of the world is and what plants grow out of those seeds.  Then we get to see that there comes a time when there may be another way or looking or projecting.  We then get to see that in the end we do have a choice in how we choose to react and respond out of our suffering.  We never fully escape suffering and some of us have a huge dose of it, but those of us who do often birth deep wisdom out of such suffering.

Along with the Buddha I do not believe there will ever come a time when painful things no longer happen.  Hatred, violence and destruction will always be a part of our human experience, but the degree of our suffering does in some way depend on where and how strongly we place our focus on destruction or creation, on love or fear.  That is not to imply that we ever get beyond pain but we can learn to embrace that pain and those who cause it tenderly and gently, without unnecessary harsh defences which only end up causing us more pain.

In the end much also depends on where we place our focus, on fear or on love, on hatred and holding on or on letting go and surrender of hate in time.  The choice is up to us.  We may never be able to turn blind eye to our own or another’s suffering and we should do all in our power to change it if we can, but if not let us place our focus on what love we can give to ourselves, to others and to a hurting world that so badly needs our wisdom, sensitivity and care.

A Lion’s Roar

We are human but we are instinctual animals.  We feel wounds in a heart that suffers and when injustice strikes us we can roar and rage and burn.   Mars planet of assertion and action has moved into Leo ruled by the element of fire over the past few days and today I have been really feeling it.  I have been feeling the impact of all the assaults on my animal body from a very young age and the deeper fury of now having no front teeth.  Eating with my denture is painful and the roof of my mouth is sore.  So today I have been raging at home and then at the oval Jasper and I made a new friend we were able to share about our challenges and difficulties. I told her how angry I was today and how Jasper looked a bit scared at first when I was screaming and roaring around at home but when I told him the anger had nothing to do with him and gave him pat he was fine and soon calmed down.  She then felt safe enough to open up about their own issues.  It was another of those special moments of grace.

My rage seems to have abated now.  I did visit Mum today at the hospital and she held my hand in hers while I cried about the pain of the denture.  She opened up to me about how she never felt her mother gave her a sense of being worthwhile.  In fact she never told Mum that she loved her once in her life.  She was crying as she said this.  I felt so sad for her and for my family that has suffered deep wounds of lack of nurture.  We spoke about the impact of the First World War that took her father from her and then we shared some sadness over the emotional distance in our family.  It was painful and sad but I also felt a deep sense of peace because we were really sharing openly from our hearts.

“All of my life I have tried to do the right thing by others.” she said.  “Now I am so tired I really don’t want to be here any more!”  Oh Mum, my heart ached and I saw how I also have been a compassionate caretaker at times in the absence of really knowing any other way to be.  It was half an hour of raw honesty between us, during which I fully accepted the painful karmic consequences of my maternal ancestral history.

Today I have no answers to the sadness of what we have lived in our family.  But perhaps accepting the truth will provide a kind of liberation.  Getting into a rage over what is passed will not help me for very long, in some way I need to find ways to live outside all of that lovelessness, disconnection and unhappiness to find happiness and connection again.  It is going to take me some time to get used to my new denture.

I am also glad I no longer feel the need to keep distance between me and my Mum, sadly she passed down very real wounds to me and over those I am powerless.  The only real power I have now is over the choices in my life and whether they are based in peace and serenity or anger and disturbance.  The later doesn’t really lead me to any place of calm and self soothing. I need to let go of what can cause hurt or pain so that I no longer live in a place of hurt and pain recycling over and over again.  Taking some time out on Sunday made me able to be there yesterday in a way which didn’t deplete me, but rather filled me up with peace.   And today I felt was a day of real healing.

Reflections on empathy, forgiveness and narcissism

I am prompted to write this after some comments on a post a wrote about forgiveness for our mothers.  I am aware that forgiving someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge hurtful things they do and has no interest in changing is the most unhealthy option for our own physical, emotional and spiritual health at certain points in our healing and recovery journey.  I think that when those who hurt us show no remorse or deliberately choose to remain unconscious its in our own health not to keep going back to have the rug pulled out from underneath us again and forgiving such behaviour is damaging for us.

When I attended AA and studied the Big Book which outlines a course of healing others have found and worked through via the 12 steps the way in which we were advised to handle this kind of thing was to be aware that the person concerned was spiritually and emotionally unwell themselves. We were advised to hand over our hurt so that it didn’t rebound on us and to pray for the person.  We were encouraged to recognise that we need not take on the hurt they were unconsciously enacting upon us.  That said it is not always an easy thing to do, brushing off hurt most particularly when that person may have been a parent, the very one that as a youngster we most needed to rely upon for empathy, guidance, validation and support.

Just think about that word validation for a moment.  It concerns the implicit idea that who we are and what we feel has value and meaning for us.  If we are repeatedly told that what we feel, say, think or do has no value, if we are acting purely out of our own sense of self that is authentic, that is a deep spiritual wound and it is damaging.  It can leave us with lasting scars that may or may not be conscious or unconscious.

But if you think about it more deeply, how people react to, treat and respond to us often has little to do with us but more do to with their own relationship to their inner world.  If a person was taught that feelings have no value, how are they going to honour yours?  If they haven an investment in you being, doing or acting in a different way, a way that doesn’t evoke their own wounds, black spots or scars how will they value what you do and who you really are when you are just trying to express yourself from an authentic place?

Can we forgive when we realise the other person is just a wounded, disconnected person who perhaps never had the benefit of inner sight or consciousness.  To my mind when we do this it shows we are showing empathy for them.   We are recognising that not everyone has access to all parts of themselves and not everyone is interested in self inquiry or self questioning.

As someone who never really got to develop a totally secure sense of self, it is also apparent to me that many of us, wounded in childhood go the other way.  Lacking a secure sense of self which involves being connected to feelings, needs and emotions in a healthy way we lack necessary spiritual muscles and an inner voice of self affirmation and so we tend to question, second guess or criticise ourselves all the time.

If someone acts badly towards us, instead of getting upset we may question if we did something to cause that hurt and if we look back to childhood we may have been accused of hurting others when really what we did had no malicious intent and was necessary for self care or self protection.

It is a common fact that people who suffer from an unhealthy narcissism never tend to look too deeply inside to question if what they did impacted on others in a hurtful way.  The narcissistically wounded would prefer to blame outside events, rather than look to any contributing cause that lies within themselves.  They may get easily offended if others question or criticise them in any way.  They find it hard to keep an open mind and also lack necessary empathic skills that would help them to know that other’s reality at times differs from their own.  They lack the capacity to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

So often my own therapist reminds me when I go to her in a fit of remorse over some way I may have acted that lacked insight, saying “Oh God, I am just sure I am a narcissist”, she will remind me that we are all somewhere on that spectrum and that my own need to question my behaviour shows I don’t really have NPD.

Knowing that what we feel and need has value is important to our ongoing health as individuals.  Being able to stand up for these thing in a way that doesn’t ride roughshod over others is a huge part of becoming a mature adult who is able to live and relate in a world where opinions, feelings and needs of everyone vary widely.  Being able to hold onto our own reality when other’s reality varies is at times important.  Being able to open up to and encompass new points of view which take us beyond previously limited ones is important too.

At the outset of writing this particular post I actually titled it “If I had been allowed to feel and know and need what I really felt, knew and needed”, because having had my tooth out today has brought up so many previous experiences of feeling I was acted on by powerful others whose domination eclipsed my own view.  Perhaps due to the fact that the last time I the former dental bridge reconstruct I was emotionally abused by my ex for expressing the pain and so disturbing his sleep.  I had taken myself off into the toilet so as not to wake him up and had woke him up and so I got a ‘serve’.   I was not conscious that this memory was about but over the past few days abusive incidents I suffered at his hands are coming to consciousness.

In my life trying to play small so as to avoid abuse has not served me well.  Learning to swallow down or override what I truly feel, need and want has caused me so much pain.  Not being able to be with safe others who let me express my feelings has caused me so much damage and it made me SO ANGRY for a time, but then I was in trouble for being offensive for expressing that.  NO WONDER I WAS PISSED OFF.  Now I know that how I felt was real.  For a lot of my life I suffered invalidation abuse.  I was not allowed to feel and know what I felt and knew.  But the pain of that was what led me to here.  It formed the genesis of this blog in many ways.

Today I took a Panadol for the pain I am in.  I decided not to suffer more. Choosing to remove ourselves from harsh, unloving environments is similar.   Recovery means we recognise the damage that was done and call it damage.  But recovery also means we put a stop to further damage through self care, validating who we are, what we know and how we feel and showing wisdom as to who will and wont do the same.  Forgiveness for the abusers may not be necessary, but holding onto the pain can hurt.  Perhaps what I should be talking about in my blog is letting go, rather than forgiveness, letting go of the pain so that we can embrace peace, healing and recovery for ourselves.

 

Long gone

Forgive

I went through days

living with the reckoning

that you are gone from me

gone gone, long gone

down a corridor of years

that echoes with longing

and bittersweet memories

of times

our souls and bodies touched

only then to be flung apart

by forces we knew not

now left here

festering in this slowly beating breast

are memories

shards of recollection

that throw silvery shadows

across time

reminding me of an empty longing place

once filled

sometimes by tenderness

often by agony

which made my soul

swell and ache

oh breaking heart

help me to let go

what must be left behind

so that now

what is gone gone gone

along a corridor of years

can disappear

releasing

old pain

that steals

precious

present

peace

The importance of empathy in healing past hurt and anger.

I love it when I get guidance to go somewhere, often to a bookshop or a library and the book I just need to read turns up for me.  It happened last week that I got that message on a brief window of time before my Thursday therapy appointment and came across Arthur C. Ciaramicoli’s book, The Stress Solution : Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.   Personally I have never been a huge fan of CBT as I believed it encouraged sufferers to over-ride injury or deep issues of hurt with mental directions to reframe thinking that may be justified and bypassed the deeper feeling work that needs to accompany true healing.  This book provides the missing link in helping to show how old hurt that cannot be felt, understood, empathised with, expressed and resolved then warps our ability to think, interpret and trust clearly exiling us to a wasteland of anger, resentment and depression as a result.

I posted a poem yesterday on the sorry that my own mother has never really been able to say to me.  I have shared that my mother showed empathy for her own mother’s situation to the point she could never ‘blame’ her for hitting my mother and driving her so hard as a child.  This failure on her part to say sorry and to act wounded and upset when I try to point old hurts out had been a sticking place for me in the past and I have needed outside validation of therapy to help me face and address the painful state my own unresolved hurt, sadness and pain has left me in for years.   But now that I am facing having to have my front tooth removed tomorrow my mother is in an acute state of distress.  She sees how I have suffered and all the onslaughts my body has been through as a result of my childhood and the trauma of those years of accident, illness and loss and she feels bad.  But is still not able to say sorry about her part in it, only that she is sorry I have suffered.

A comment from a reader today made me think about how important sorry and empathy really are to healing our hurt, anger and distress and its the exact point that Ciaramicoli makes in his book.  Anger which goes around and around affects our neurochemistry and then can lead to all sorts of body issues later in life, including heart attacks and strokes.  I also believe it can be behind the development of many auto immune diseases.

If we were hurt in childhood we need to understand the nature of those hurts and not carry the anger on where it can poison other later relationships with fear, insecurity and mistrust, but our hurt needs to be expressed with someone who can validate it for us.   I made this point in a blog last week.  I mentioned how trauma expert Peter Levine has showed that if, when faced with a traumatic situation we have one person who can calm us and show empathy we are less likely to develop long term Post Traumatic Stress.  Empathy is the key that can then help us to rewire the mental negative thought forms of mistrust that accompany a childhood of loss, trauma, pain, invalidation or hurt blocking us from love and empathy in the present and future.

I highly recommend the Ciaramacoli’s book and below is an extract from it that I found extremely helpful to my own emerging understanding.  I am sharing it in the hope it will help others too:

When hurts accumulate without a positive resolution, we often lose ourselves in self absorption and resentment.  This kind of preoccupation is a tremendous drain on mental energy, leaving us with little capacity for interest in others.  Anger can turn to tolerance, however, when our perceptions change from fear to truth.   When we stop seeing others through the hurts of the past, when generalisations cease and we begin to perceive more objectively, we become more hopeful and optimistic.  We feel closer to people in our lives as we recover trust.   Trust is often correlated with happiness in communities or individuals.  When we trust others, we feel safe and calm.  We can then perceive more accurately and thoughtfully.  What we feel inside determines what we feel outside.

Once a person….harbours unresolved hurts, her anger and sense of helplessness can dramatically change the way (they) think and behave…. even a trauma survivor can return to a state of calm through meaningful contact with an empathic, understanding individual.  Such relationships make us more reflective and enable us to embark on a journey to learn what has troubled us, how to resolve our hurts, and how to move on.

Sadness is often seen as synonymous with depression.  Depression is often, in fact, an attempt to avoid the sadness.  Sadness is the body’s cue to stop, think, and work through what is troubling us.  People who don’t head this cue avoid examining their troubles, and the stress caused by avoidance becomes a way of life.  In essence, depression is often an avoidance of using the information sadness can provide.

We cannot resolve our thoughts alone.  Without input from others, we repeat our thought patterns over and over again and remain stuck in the mire of our own negativity.  This is a formula for continual stress.  By releasing ourselves from the mistaken beliefs that support our uneasiness with people, however, we reawaken our basic goodness and allow love and compassion to break through.  Our empathic breakthrough then removes the obstacles to seeing our world and ourselves clearly.  If (we) allow (ourselves) to be open and vulnerable, to share (our) hurts with others and accept empathic feedback – a courageous step for sure – (we) might ….(be) able to recover the spirit for living (we) once possessed…..holding onto anger and resentment ties us to the past and the story we created when emotionally distraught.

I would like to say here though, something he does not address and that is, it is no point sharing our feelings or vulnerability with those who will not validate them.  It is essential to this process that we choose someone who can validate that our pain and hurt at the time was real.   If we don’t get help to see how we were affected in a negative way we cannot fully address the sense of injury that occurred when we had to face such difficult and ultimately alienating experiences of abandonment or trauma alone, feeling our hurt, grieving for it and then allowing the outflow of that feeling to be shed and released is so important and we need validation and lots of loving affirmative support with this.

And then there comes a point where we have to make the conscious choice to open our heart and let the pain out, rather than close it tight shut again, locking it all back inside, running the endless negative, repeat, feedback button over and over and over again, which only ends up hurting us.   If we suffered abuse in the past we can let our anger be an informative guide of what may not be safe for us, ie, person’s lacking in empathy who lack the capacity through emotional insight to help us release and validate our pain.  For it is these people who trigger our stress response.  Recognising this requires we show empathy for ourselves and our healthy emotional boundaries and honour them.

Glass shards

Glass

This pain you hold on to

Too long

Becomes

Glass shards in your hands

Bleeding you deep with cuts

That came

Not only

From the original wound

But from how you dealt with it

Holding onto it too tight

Until it cut you to ribbons

Why keep on bleeding

Let your hands open

Let go

Of the monsters in your head

Of the cutting pain

That hurts too much

Leave the mirror

That cracked from side to side

Behind you

Surrender the curse

Open your hands

Surrender the pain

Go free

 

 

Finding peace

Beyond

I went through the most intense rage a few weeks ago over the prospect of realising that I need to have my front tooth extracted, to be promised an appointment in July only later to be told they would not take be able to take the tooth out for 3 months.  On Monday the dentist called and they are going to take my tooth out in three weeks time.  I was grateful that I wont have to wait so long.  I can get the tooth out, get my denture and no longer have the prospect hanging over my head with all the attendant anger about the way things have turned out in my life.   If I continue to dwell on all of that pain I could go mad, but the point I am beginning to accept is I can not change one single thing from my past and so I now need to accept what my life and story has been so far.  All of that said feeling the rage was a very important part of the entire process.

As I consider this it occurs to me that often people struggle for they feel they should not have the story or life they have.  With our chronic self improvement culture, it seems to me that we are often trying to be or do or get somewhere else than where we are.  Many of us don’t seem to truly love and accept who we are, how we feel or even what we need.  We seem to be hell bent on changing things, improving things,  upgrading things and for sure some kind of improvement or progress can be a good thing, but to self reject all of the time, to believe that we are defective in some way and can only be loved if we change, well where is the love, healing and acceptance in that?  This is the question I have been asking myself more and more lately.

I have a close family member in my life who is struggling with a huge issue at present.  In fact this struggle and issue has been going on for years and years and years.  My relative cannot accept the situation she is in.  The truth is that if she accepts the truth of the situation she has to feel pain and thwarting of her will.  She has tried so many ways to fix the problem, but no fix is coming.  When she shares about it with me I want to honestly say ‘let it go, you are hurting yourself more by your lack of acceptance”  but I don’t feel its my place to point out a truth that may hurt her and one she has to arrive at by herself in her own time.   So I have just told her I feel for her and hope that in time she won’t cause herself more angst by struggling so hard to have what it is she wants but cannot have.

At the moment I am so glad I have a 12 step recovery programme which teaches me to seek the serenity that comes when I can accept what cannot be fixed, cured or changed.  I am so grateful I have a higher self or higher power I can turn to when I struggle in similar ways to ask for help and get my own will out of the way. For sometimes in life our will is just not meant to be, what we want is not what the universe thinks we need and how we handle this critical issue can be the thing that makes or breaks us.

Acceptance does not mean we like a thing, or love a person.  It is just a saying of an unconditional ‘yes’ to the will of life which may act at cross purposes to our will.  It is an ability to say I will let go of my need for you to be different.  I may not be able to let go of my want and my hope, but at some stage in order to find peace I need to let go into the reality.  I may need to let the person go if they infuriate or consistently hurt me enough.  My letting go in that case is a sign of sanity to my mind.

I guess that place of peace and sanity is where I am finding myself living more and more lately.  It was definitely a stormy, stormy journey to get there.  A journey on which I got lashed almost to shreds on psychological rocks of pain and anxiety.  But today I can see more clearly where those rocks may lay.  When I find things are getting stormy I can take cover in a place where I am not as exposed to the elements, or I can decide to toughen up and weather the storm, letting it tear away what wants or needs to be released.  I can look for something beautiful or joyous to fill my day and uplift my spirit.  Once I am aware of my pain I can treat myself in a tender self soothing way and not make things harder by beating myself or others up.   I can stop in pray or meditation and ask for help or guidance when I am struggling with issues of anger or grief.

And I am finding that I can open my heart to life more fully even on the cold dull grey days like today, for I live in a world with other humans who also struggle just like me on those days.  When I reach out, get myself to a group meeting or just make the effort to connect I can find that I am less alone and that there is someone out there struggling even more than me.  Together we can share the burden so that we know we are not alone.  We can speak out our pain, we can recover from that deep aloneness which comes from being imprisoned inside wrong ideas of self rejection, or unfulfilled and sadly unrealistic expectations.  Often these form a prison that keeps us trapped in angst, preventing us from accepting the grace we find when we turn towards ourselves, life and others in openness, acceptance, surrender, trust and love.

There are no wrong turnings.

Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.

Guy Gavriel Kay