The problem of self calming : some reflections on activation and calming

Recently my sister and I were discussing our childhood. Her words were this when talking about my mother : “she was like a tornado”.. to be honest it was hard to relax around my Mum.. I got my foot burned on one caravanning holiday when she left a bucket of boiling water underneath the table I was drawing on while cleaning the floor and I stepped into it and got 3rd degree burns.. now another more attentive child, perhaps not so ‘lost’ in her own world or passion of the moment may have seen it and averted disaster.

I learned in time to try to use substances to calm me down or take the edge off.. my parents used alcohol for this purpose at the end of each working day and we were encouraged to do the same.. for me it ended in addiction and I am happy I got to put alcohol, drugs and cigarettes down in 1993 but I still find looking for comfort in food just comes naturally…

I had a discussion with a friend over the past week in which she said that being told to ‘be calm’ or ‘calm down’ is a sure trigger for becoming less calm….it might be like telling a person with really bad insect bites not to scratch without some other kind of soothing being offered such as balm for the soreness. Balm for the uncalm might be words like “I am sorry its so uncomfortable right now” or “that must have been very distressing” validation, empathy causes the increase of oxytocin and the reduction of cortisol.

I don’t know what would have calmed my mother during one of her frenzies or OCD rampages…its taking me years to know I don’t have to clear up and wash all the dishes immediately I stop eating or cooking.. one of my ways of being seen was to run around after Mum cleaning up after she got home from her job at her dress shop every day around 6 pm. Later in my recovery I had a dream in which the dream young me was all wired up through the shoulder with a wire coat hanger.. What a powerful metaphor for how entwined I was body, mind and psyche with family energy patterns of looking good and over drive…

Calming for me now comes with writing in which I tap into and release the stored vibrational charge of feeling; in writing poetry, in listening to music, it comes in nature (as I share ad infinitum here); with my dog; with calm loving friends who are emotionally present and honest with true open hearts..

Triggers for me are : criticism, the disapproving stare (flared nostrils and hard dark stare often proceeded one of my Mum’s rages.) I can forgive my Mum in a way now as I know she never got lovingly contained or mirrored and she carried so much from the maternal generational legacy of buried built up stress and repressed emotions…that was impossible to contain. I can forgive my Dad for not knowing how to cope with it, and so checking out… and I can understand the deep roots of my anxious avoidant attachment style which at other times can be disordered..

Calm is only coming slowly but it is coming… I am still activated but only by the old triggers and stepping down from them is becoming quicker and easier as learn where my wound and necessary boundaries and self soothing strategies lay.

Longing to be seen in unavailable families : some current insighs

I sometimes wonder if you even stop longing for the wrong people to see you.. Growing up in a narcissistically oriented family its a lot like you don’t exist as a real person.. your soul gets negated or killed off so often, but in such a silent and difficult way, as to make you end up doubting your own reality..

When I started studying naturopathic theory in 1991 I came across the double bind theory of schizophrenia developed by Gregory Bateson. In this theory when a child goes to a parent with their emotional perception the parent denies the truth and doesn’t explain their own behaviour (since, I guess, they aren’t even conscious of it themselves.) This sends a younger child a little crazy and begins to fill their head with second guessing and self doubt, they begin to question “were things really as I perceived them to be? Mum seemed angry but she says she isn’t and that if only I left her alone or did not do or say that, she would be okay.” the child may have to develop an inner dialogue to survive, but it is a confusing and unrestful inner dialogue.. One also begins to question everything.

I have done a few posts on the protector – persecutor archetype which lives deep inside the psyche of those of us with childhood wounding, trauma or neglect…Elaine Aron the founder of the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person addresses this archetype and inner force a great deal in one of her books : “The Undervalued Self.”

If we had to protect ourselves from a wounding parent or compensate for an unavailable one in childhood we may also transfer this dynamic onto new relationships.. we get easily triggered and may see things in others from the past, we also have a lot of work to do so that we don’t continue to attract the exact same invalidation, nor internalise it.

We also have to learn to trust our true feelings and perceptions. Not being seen is very crazy making and it can fill you with profound feelings of helplessness and frustration.. Also having your boundaries over run or being placed in a position where its nearly impossible to delineate and express them is even harder.. Its only lately I am seeing how much I have struggled with boundaries, most especially around family members in later life when their behaviour has been hurtful, invalidating and confusing.

Up til now I have kept an open mind with family knowing that we all came out of a lot of emotional neglect but the wash up over my mother’s inheritance and my brother’s assumption of complete paternal control has been triggering me over the past 24 hours.. He is not willing to release even a portion of what Mum left to us and its making me really distressed and upset my equilibrium entirely over that time…So often with my brother I experience that narcissistic individual’s impenetrable wall…. they cant see you, don’t want to see you, have already decided you are less than and only worthy of their contempt or to be erased psychologically or ignored.. they can erase you so easily even when you are in the same room.. my brother has done it to me so many times now and I could not hide from my fury and rage over it last night..where the fuck does he get off controlling my sister’s and my life in this way? I need to vent about it here as I don’t have therapy until Monday.. When I got the news last night a family friend who has worked in the past for he and my father made it plain she agrees he is not being fair.. I think if my sister and I were both men he would not be treating us in this way…

There is nothing at times that triggers me than not being seen or having boundaries over ridden.. It was hard enough in my family as the youngest by a long way having things pushed on me I didn’t like.. I got in trouble with alcohol too as Dad made us drink at a young age thinking that would help us to be responsible drinkers, the problem he didn’t model how to have healthy emotions and boundaries either and so that made alcohol a hiding place not a stress release especially with low confidence and inverted narcissism.

Today I was tempted to turn everything back on myself again… but then I realised what I was doing, taking the blame for something not my fault.. I have managed to stay sober for over 26 years now so that has to be saying something, but my boundaries have not been good.. I got dragged along in things due to lack of insight and protection, I denied and sucked up things I should have said no to, sometimes due to ignorance, at others just I longed to be or to stay connected at all costs, even to those who did not treat me well…..Today some more of my denial broke down as I saw how I can press the emotional truth down and how painful it was to be treated in a state of emotional melt down as if my feelings made no sense. Its been one hell of a painful and damaging conundrum… and I really had to hold and validate my inner child today.. I had two nights of trying to be there again only to not be related too though there are some small signs of progress…

Today I feel in a strange place, the sun is shining but it still feels like the dark old world of the past is lapping around my ankles like a pitch black ocean… I don’t want to go under again and in some way I can feel my feet on the sand.. but I need to continue to be mindful and not blow off my own instincts, gut feelings and true perceptions.. nor tone down my fight response just because I fear being misunderstood or sidelined.

Fear of Insanity Narcissism and Denial of Feeling : more insights from Alexander Lowen

the experience of horror (in childhood) makes one question one’s sanity.  What one is experiencing does not make sense, it doesn’t accord with one’s image of reality which even a baby has on a biological level.  To avoid the resulting mental confusion, one must dissociate and deny all feelings.  As long as one sticks to logic, one is safe.  But feelings are life, and one cannot fully avoid emotional experiences no matter how coolly one plays it.  The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defence of denial break down.  This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality.  This fear reinforces the denial of feeling creating a vicious cycle.

Reading the above paragraph again in Lowen’s book today gave me more insight into my brother, who threatened to walk out on me last October when I got angry with him.  It reminded me of terrifying incidents he faced in childhood and of how my father did pretty harsh things to him as a boy as his own childhood had been similarly harsh.  I was in tears again last week after yet another conversation with my brother where we was working as hard as he could to split off all expression of emotion.  I usually leave every interaction with him crying or disturbed in some way.  Now instead of feeling angry I  just feel really sad for him as I don’t ever think he will look at the roots of his own workaholism.  Once again I shed heaps of tears after I got off the phone on Thursday.  It is not that he is an unkind person either, all time the conversation revolved around helping my sister and I to get the best interest possible on the money Mum has left us.

It is now never the less a great comfort to me to be able to say I now know I am not crazy and I know why his side of the family have sidelined me before as well as other members of my family, looking upon us with such distain and disapproval due to our emotions.  That said I am also aware of the charge of anger that I have carried which I know I inherited from my mother’s side of the family.

Collapsing into a state of helplessness may be one response to such terror or violence in childhood.  Flight or fight may be two other  responses but both the later would often be blocked by an abusive parents.  Escaping or fighting back may be shamed or made  impossible as was the case of Bill whose story Lowen covers in Chapter 7 of this book.

Bill did not feel any anger.  He denied his anger, just as he denied his fear.  Instead, he adopted an attitude of submission and attempted to understand the irrational behaviour of his father, and others,  His submission to his father may have had a lifesaving value, but almost cost him his life.  (Bill was later on nearly killed by a hitchhiker he and a friend picked up on the side of the road who began to attack them.)

Lowen explains how Bill then came to fear his own anger.

(he).. believed that if he lost his head he might kill someone.  But to lose your head is equivalent to going crazy. Bill was terrified of the potential craziness in himself as he was of the craziness of others.  When I made this interpretation to him he remarked, “Now I know why I became a psychiatrist.”

Not everyone will be able to contain their rage from such incidents, others will act it out.  Lowen tells the story of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”, serial killer who murdered 6 and wounded 7 others.

What then are the dynamics that precipitate a seemingly sane person into insane action? … there must be some subconscious force.. This force is the denied feeling of anger.  Because the anger is denied, it is not experienced, which would give he person some control over it.

Many narcissists develop an ego unconscious split in these circumstance which means at times such subconscious forces can erupt and cause havoc or be projected on others.  Such and effect is called flooding…. an overwhelming feeling or excitation which ..”(temporarily drowns us)…in the torrent of sensation.  Imagine a river overflowing its banks and sweeping across the surrounding country side.  In a similar way the gush of feeling wipes out normal boundaries of the self, making it difficult for the person to distinguish between inner and outer reality.  Reality becomes confused and nebulous….. (there is a sense of) nothing solid to cling on to.  The person feels ‘at sea,’ estranged.

Such estrangement is not dissimilar to dissociation although Lowen compares it to disorientation.   The flooding of something we held down can make us dizzy, it may erase normal consciousness for a time.  It may well be what we experience in a panic attack (repressed or split off lively life energy or anger).  We can also be overwhelmed by pleasant sensations and if our sense of happiness or joy was also supressed or shamed in childhood we can begin to get fearful of insanity when we start to feel energised or even happy.

In the bioenergetic therapy Lowen used feelings which have been repressed or shut down are helped to liberate by the therapist who assists in the process so flooding and disorientation is not as intense as it would be if we were misunderstood or unsupported in the process.

The problem is that those damaged in childhood continue to carry split off emotions such as anger and sadness into adulthood, we may even attract relationships with others who act them out for us or vice versa, one partner can then pretend they are okay, it’s just their partner that is the problem.

Lowen points out in his book Narcissism : Denial of the True Self the connection between being called ‘mad’ (as in insane) when one is actually angry.

To say a person is mad may mean that person is either crazy or angry.  What this tells us is that anger is not an acceptable emotion.  Children are taught very early on to curb their anger; often they are punished if, in the course of an angry reaction, they hurt someone.  Disputes, they are admonished should be settled amicably and with words.  The ideal is to have reason prevail over action.

But conflicts can not always be settled amicably, with reasoning.   Tempers may flare.  I don’t mean one has to resort to physical violence to express an angry feeling.  Anger can be expressed in a look or by the tone of one;s voice.  Once can assert with feeling.  “I am angry with you.”  Some situations do call for the physical expression of anger.  If violence is used on you it may be appropriate to fight back.  Without the right to strike when one is hit, one feels powerless and humiliated.  We have seen what that can do to the personality.

I strongly believe that if children were allowed to voice their anger at their parent’s whenever they felt they had a legitimate grievance, we would see far fewer narcissistic personalities.  Giving a child this right would allow a real respect for the child’s feelings.

Lowen goes on to site an experience of watching a Japanese woman being hit by her daughter in anger.  He explains how in Japan a child is never disciplined before the age of 6 because they are regarded to be innocent  and such children don’t end up disrespectful or misbehaving.  However when the right of angry expression is denied a child it has an adverse impact and then there are the parents who cannot express their own anger with a child in a healthy way and use punishment instead.  Lowen doesn’t negate the need for discipline, only the use of power and control in the face of a child the parent does not have a healthy way of relating to and helping to develop emotionally.

Such repression of anger in a person in childhood means anger stays present in the person’s system much later in life.  In his bioenergetic therapy Lowen helps patient to discharge repressed anger so that it does not stay trapped inside.  However as he points out, the fear of ones anger and belief it will prove one is insane is a difficulty that many narcissistically injured person’s face on the path to healing.

For narcissists to know themselves, they have to acknowledge their fear of insanity and to sense the murderous rage inside that they identify with insanity.  But they can only do this if the therapist is aware of those elements and is not afraid of them.  I find it helpful to point out to my patients that what they believe is insane – namely, their anger – is in fact sense if they can accept it.  In contrast, their behaviour without feeling, which they regard as sane,is really crazy.

The behaviour without feeling that Lowen mentions here in fact leads to the growing or development of what he calls a thick skin, a protective defensive layer which will allow no real feeling for self or others in those with a narcissistic defence,

such denial is achieved by deadening the surface to stimuli, its effect is to rigidify the ego.  … the result is a diminishing of the ego’s capacity to respond emotionally to reality or to change reality in line with one’s feelings.. the ego’s safety lies in a deadened body, with little emotion.  Yet this very deadening creates a hunger for sensation, leading to the hedonism typical of a narcissistic culture.

But true feeling is then increasingly hidden behind a façade and the building charge of need and hidden feeling is defended against.  Thus addictions come to play a role in diverting attention from the truth.

By contrast those who develop a borderline defence to such negation actually become excessively thin skinned, unable to throw off hurts lodged deep inside from the past often from unfeeling narcissists.  Their work is to understand the source of pain and not project it onto the present, understanding how deeply its roots lie hidden in an often unconscious past.

 

 

 

 

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.

Building and Fortifying the Self : Strategies for dealing with negative thoughts from being raised by self absorbed parents

This is a continuation of recent posts on narcissism, narcissistic injury and boundary building.  It contains information and extracts from Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed.  This part of her book contains suggestions for dealing with the difficulties we face when we never got to develop high self esteem or healthy emotional boundaries.  It give techniques to cope when we may be faced with the difficult parent in order to self protect in a healthy way.

Building your self means that you develop empathy, creativity, inspiration, and relationships or connections.  Doing so will enable you to let go of old grudges and resentments, have sufficient psychological boundary strength to lessen emotional susceptibility and judge what feelings are yours alone, uncontaminated with other’s feelings; and better cope with your triggered feelings that are aroused in interactions with your self absorbed parent.

Block and Control Your Feelings

These are strategies that can allow you to be calm with being blamed or criticised, demeaned, devalued, and the like so that you can think and act more constructively.  The feelings are still there but can become less intense, which then makes them easier to put aside for the moment.

Blocking your emotions requires the following :

  • An awareness of what you are experiencing, including the intensity of the feelings.
  • A desire to avoid revealing or acting on these feelings (never a good idea with the narcissist.)
  • A personal strategy of momentarily dissociating from the feeling.  Complete dissociation is not recommended, as this can produce or increase cutting off or distancing yourself from your feelings in all parts of your life.  What could be helpful is a statement to yourself that you’ll get back to the feelings when you are in a safer place.
  • Using thoughts as expression rather than feelings.  Thoughts are cognitive and easier to handle that are feelings, and you want to be in control for the time being.

..suppose your prent has made a demeaning comment about your appearance, and you feel yourself becoming angry.  Instead of staying with the anger and firing back at the parent or letting the anger move you to shame for disappointing the parent, it is at this point where you can mentally say that you don’t want to act out of anger.  You’re going to choose to push the anger away and not let your parent know that the comment really angered you so you decide to make a noncommittal response, such as “Really?  I’ll need to pay better attention next time.  ” You can also ignore the comment, change the topic or make pleasant comment about the parent’s appearance.  Any of these can defuse the situation.

Use Self Affirmations

Instead of getting caught up in intense negative emotions triggered by your self absorbed parent, you can moderate and counteract these with self affirmations.  It can be important to remember that your triggered feelings are impacted when, on some level, you are buying into your parent’s perception of you and fear that these have some validity.   You may also find yourself in trouble with you are still engaged in the magical fantasy that your parent will change, or when you’re feeling powerless to get your needs met.  Self affirmations remind you of your strengths and positive characteristics so that you don’t get mired in thoughts and feelings about your real or imagined flaws.

On a sheet of paper list 10 to 12 things you consider to be your accomplishments, such as holding a job, overcoming an illness or condition, rearing children etc.  Next to each, list all the personality characteristics associated with it.  Review the list and compile another that incorporates personality characteristics that are repeated two or more times.  On top of an index card write “I am” followed by the list of characteristics.  Read this card once a week until you can effortlessly recall the items when you are experiencing intense negative emotions, such as triggered by your self absorbed parent.

Choose What to Feel 

You may find it difficult to accept, but you do have choices about what to feel  It may appear to you that your feelings just emerge and that you have no control but you do have the ability to decide what to feel, especially when you understand the roots of your feelings and have resolved some of your family of origin issues and past unfinished business.  The negative feelings that you did not choose are triggered because of old parental messages that continue to affect your thoughts about the adequacy and acceptability of yourself, thus setting off guilt and shame.  These messages also impact your perceptions of your competency, efficacy, and lovability; your unconscious fears of abandonment or destruction; and your needs for liking and approval of the parent that are still lacking.

Don’t get the idea that you should experience feelings like shame.  It can be growth enhancing to realise and accept your flaws, as long as there is also resolve and opportunity to address these.  What we’re talking about here is preventing your self absorbed parent from setting your agenda for what you will feel, especially in interactions with him (or her).

Interruput Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Another strategy is to interrupt your negative thoughts yourself.  These can included self criticism and blame, negative feelings such as shame and anger, and unrealistic ideas about yourself, such as the need for perfection.  This strategy works best when you not only interrupt negative thoughts, but also substitute more positive thoughts, feelings and ideas.  When you are able to avoid having these negatives and can insert more positives, you become better able to tolerate interactions with your self absorbed parent and will not be as vulnerable to getting mired in enduring and unpleasant thoughts and feelings about yourself.  Using the self affirmations about your good qualities (shared in an earlier post) can also help.

  • become aware of when you are experiencing negatives (eg feeling inadequate and flawed)
  • practice interruption and substitution
  • notice “should” or “ought” statements   (eg I should not let this get to me) These are unproductive and unhelpful
  • next substitute a positive self affirmation or self statement,

You may also want to remind yourself of the following :

  • Others will not change because I want them to change.
  • I do not have control over others’ feelings, thoughts, and ideas
  • I don’t have to fear being abandoned or destroyed, as I can take care of myself.
  • I am independent, and others are too.
  • When I think, feel, or imagine negatives about my self, that confirm my self absorbed parent’s perceptions.
  • I have flaws and faults, as everyone does, but I am working to correct them.
  • I have many positive attributes.

Practicing these when alone can pay off and slowly they will become more integrated.

Remember What’s Real

Use your self talk to remind yourself of what is real and what is fantasy.  The line between these can become blurred, especially when intense emotions are involved.  Your negative feelings are easier to control when you can introduce some realism and not get caught up in fantasy.  Try answering the following questions to get some idea of how fantasy interferes with reality.

  • Is it realistic to expect your parent to see your hurt and try to make amends?
  • Can your parent admit mistakes or accept his errors?  If not, how realistic is it to point these out or to try to correct his misperceptions?
  • Have you ever experienced empathy from your parent, and why do you expect it now?

All of these thoughts exhibit the yearning you have for the fantasised loving and empathic parent.  Your longings are keeping the fantasy alive, contributing to your distress, and preventing you from mobilising your resources to remain centred and grounded.  These untapped inner resources could prevent you from being hurt any further.

 

 

 

Why we may be more reactive if emotionally neglected.

If you were raised by narcissistic or self absorbed parents I would highly recommend Nina W. Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Ups Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.  

CSA.jpg

When the focus is not on us in childhood or is on us in a negative way (excessive punishment or criticism) we develop certain problematic issues in our life.  Some of these are:

Low self esteem

Feeling you must be perfect to win other’s love.

Feeling you will only get love through ‘doing’ for others.

Looking for approval outside of the self.

Difficulties establishing boundaries.

Trying to ‘mind read’ others.

Hyper-vigilant, overly reactive to triggers.

Feeling the need to perform in order to win attention or approval.

Feeling you are defective or basically flawed in some way. (Excessive shame/low self esteem.)

Covering up such feelings or fear by being or acting : arrogant, superior, aggressive, rationalising, becoming indifferent, isolating and withdrawing, abusing substance to cover up painful feelings.

Believing that others need to take care of you and your feelings and needs.

Believing it is not safe to reveal your true self to others.

Feeling helpless to make changes, collapsing.

Feeling you are less than others.

Believing you cannot get what you want or need.  Feeling helpless or hopeless.

Experiencing a high level of lack of self acceptance.

Absorbing the negative projections of others.

Taking on board other people’s feelings and emotions,  psychological enmeshment.

Each aspect is covered in full detail in Brown’s book.  What she also addresses are the issues of high sensitivity and taking things personally as well as struggling with feelings of irritation and anger which arise in response to present day triggers when you feel hurt, minimised or left out.

Tending to take things personally is a result of feeling that others are criticising you, blaming you or chastising you, or ignoring you or your feelings and needs and may be the outcome of this actually happening when you were young.  In present time we react because that criticism or feeling of being left out is triggering our original narcissistic injury which was the painful wound we were left with from childhood.    As Brown explains it, in this situation :

you are more focused on your hurt and shame than you are on rationality and logic.  Further, when someone tells you to not take it personally, that seems only to add to your distress.

This is one way that you continue to be re-injured, as there always seems to be someone to object to something, things don’t go as planned, or you are the person who receives someone’s displacement or projection.  By taking these in and always personalising them, you contribute to your re-injury.  You have not yet learned or accepted the limits of your personal responsibility, accepted your personal limitations and strengths, or developed sufficient psychological boundary strength.  This tendency also points to some self absorption, where you want control over yourself, others, and events and think that you are the centre of everyone’s attention and expectations. Taking things personally can trigger or increase your feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, and fear.

Feeling Irritated and Ignored

One characteristic you may have that helps prevent you from letting go of negative or distressing feelings is an inability to ignore minor irritations and annoyances.  Staying aware of what you are feeling can be very good for you… knowing when you are irritated or annoyed can permit you to deal with that mild feelings to prevent escalation to a more intense feeling of anger.  However, once you are aware of being irritated or annoyed, you have an opportunity to reflect on your feelings, judge the threat to yourself, and realise that you don’t have to keep feeling that way if you don’t want to.   If you don’t let go at that point, the irritations and annoyances keep building up and festering so they can jump to anger at any time.

Your inability to overlook, ignore, or let go of minor irritations and annoyances can be traced, in part, to what you think the triggering acts are saying about you.  You become irritated or annoyed when you sense a threat to yourself.   This is the first step in becoming actually angry, where the body prepares itself for fight or flight.  However, most irritating and annoying acts present no threat and can be overlooked or ignored.  For instance, your wife or husband folding your clothes in a sloppy way is not a realistic threat to your core self.  Further, holding onto these annoyances can have negative effecs on your health, sense of well being and relationships.

Brown gives an exercise in the book for unpacking the triggering incident by reflecting on it and writing it down.  She then suggests you try to divine what you feel the incident is saying about you.  Some examples are : I am not valued, I am helpless, I am hopeless, I’ll be hurt, betrayed or abandoned, I’m not good enough.

You can then evaluate how real and valid these statements are for you.  If you feel they are valid you can self improve or try your best to work on that issue.   If you feel they are not valid it will be best to let them go.

Feeling excessively vulnerable, irritated and hypersensitive to triggers is a very painful result of a difficult childhood where we absorbed a lot of hurt.  It is however an issue we need to work on if we want to lead more peaceful, happy and stress free lives.

Brown’s book is full of helpful insights, suggestions and information about how we can deal with a parent’s narcissism or excessive self involvement in such a way we are not opened yet again to more hurt, her techniques help us to understand core wounds that need to be addressed if we wish to recover.

Understanding the wounds underlying borderline reactions

I often struggle when I read that people with so called BPD are struggling with being able to understand that what seem to others to look like ‘over-reactions’ are actually grounded in past experiences of not being met, responded to with empathy or sensitivity or being given what we truly need.  As a result we tend to carry a lot of inward frustration and what I would called ‘historical suffering’ which can get triggered in the present by either perceived abandonment or invalidation which we then project and can tend to respond to in ineffective ways.   Our reactions may seem out of order and beyond context but we do need to understand that they do make sense once our true history is understood.

Core wounds and old pain act in many ways like black holes of suffering that can be triggered in the moment and then suck us down.   Dialectical Behavioural Therapy was developed by Marsha Linehan a sufferer of BPD who found she needed help with thinking about her thinking and responses to current events when old pain was triggered.  From what I understand DBT involves finding ways to reframe our reactions to triggers and soothe distressing painful inner self talk which then promotes us to over react to current situations in which some old wound, pain or sensitivity is then triggered.

I am often wary about the diagnosis Borderline Personality.  Most so called ‘borderline’ individuals started life as highly sensitive beings who were supremely in touch and high wired in terms of respondability to external stimuli.  As babies they required a high level of attunement, mirroring, empathy and sensitivity to their cues, hungers and needs from caregivers and often they find themselves born into environments ill equipped to deal with and respond affectively and effectively to them.  As a result they often are not soothed adequately and also do not manage to internalise the messages of adequate self soothing and self care which would enable them to mother themselves effectively.

When such a conditioning occurs it leaves a deep wound or hunger in the soul.  The borderline or highly  sensitive person is highly attuned and intelligent.  They notice things that others don’t.  They may try to point out things others don’t see or do not understand and they can then be abused or invalidated for such perceptions, seeing or understanding as adults and also when young.  They can then internalise this kind of abuse or misunderstanding coming to believe ‘there is something inherently wrong with me’.

They may then try to adapt to what is expected of or projected onto them, rejecting themselves in the process.  They may also lack the capacity to understand the very real limits and different ways of reacting of the non highly sensitive individuals around them, getting angry or flying off the handle when empathy is not shown to them.   The realistic truth if understood by the borderline/sensitive would show that the less sensitive were only reacting to the highly sensitive individual out of not understanding a depth of feeling, particular perception or way of being which varies greatly with their own, rather than this being a sign of something ‘wrong’ with either person.

Such an understanding for the so called borderline or highly sensitive individual requires a high level of inner work as well as a detailed unpacking of ways in which the nurturing environment failed to respond in empathic ways, leaving key wounds or perceptual distortions kicking around inside the borderline or HSP.  Arming ourselves with such deeper emotional understanding involves work with an empathic person who can help us with this process.  Then and only then can we begin to work effectively with extreme feelings or so called ‘over reactions’ to outside events which are really just triggers.

I have only ever read books on DBT and my understanding of it may be limited but this is my understanding of how it works.   It works by helping us to correct our thinking and as a way of helping us to self sooth and not attack ourselves more with painful thoughts and feelings which in belonging to old events may be re-experienced in the present moment and projected leading to confusion and distress for those around us who do not understand our trauma/disconnection history.  In the end we must understand in a way others who do not suffer could never possibly understand unless they lack that empathic framework.

When I read the blogs of borderlines I see how much self judgement they have.  We self judge because we know how extreme our behaviour can be at times and we can often feel shame.   Unlike narcissists who in many ways are full of a shame they buried long ago and often will not face, Borderlines feel our shame over and over and over and can almost drown in it.  We are often scapegoated and we so often need to break that identification and projection because the original shame was never ours to own,  our responses came out of finding ourselves in consistently disabling or unempathic environments in which we struggled, pure and simple.  Certainly we do not have the right to enact our rage at a lifetime of frustrations, misunderstanding and invalidation on others, we need to understand where these feelings comes from and feel them and transform them rather than act them out.  This I guess is where DBT can help us teaching us ways to talk to ourselves compassionately and with empathy to pour balm on burning wounds that so often can flare up in the present.

Yes – we have an epidemic of depression

Yes, we have an epidemic of depression in our society today.  But truthfully, how could anyone today on some level not be sad?  The gap between how beautiful life can be and the way it too often is is heartbreaking. Anyone who is not on some level grieving the state of the world today is perhaps not looking very deeply.

We are depressed today because life is off. We’re depressed because too often we have no sense of our place in the universe, our relationship to the source of existence, a deeper sense of purpose in our relationships with other human beings, or any sense of reverence toward any aspect of life.  Our entire civilisation is ruled more by fear than by love.

Marianne Williamson

From Tears to Truimph

I am sharing this quote because so often in our society being depressed can be looked on as a moral failing or weakness but the deeper truth that I experience is that so often those who are depressed are those who can have a vision that is more closely in touch with the depths of a soul that suffered.  Pathologising people for depression is such a serious issue and we need to change it.

Undergoing abuse or despair or loss or abandonment leaves real scars on the soul and these are trying to make their expression heard in depression, so we need to listen with empathy to people’s real heartbreak and support them with feeling and expressing it.

I know I go on about this issue a lot on my blog but I feel very strongly about it and today I was triggered again to write this as a family member shared with me a horrific abuse she went through which she shared with her parents only not to be believed years ago.  I cannot share what it was on my blog as it is a private issue for her but I was so outraged when I heard what she had suffered and she has had a number of hospitalisations as a result.  If she had been supported, believed and empathised with at the time and her trauma dealt with she would never have had to be diagnosed with a  so called ‘mental illness’.

Turns out now certain teachers at her school are now trying to imply her son should be diagnosed with a speech impediment or with Asperger’s, she has also been told that he is ‘too caring’.  What the fucking hell is happening in our society?  Anyone who does not meet the mainstream, anyone who is sensitive or carrying certain different ways of being or processing information is then wacked with a diagnosis?  It is just pure craziness and makes me feel ill, it really truly does.

I felt so angry with my brother yesterday after finding out what he put my niece through all of those years ago.  I felt so ashamed that he is my brother but it now makes a lot of sense of how numbed out he is and apparently he has not one memory of his childhood.  It makes clear to me that we can only have empathy if we are connected to our own emotional reality and have a connection to our heart, feelings, pain, joy and happiness.   Of course we all live in separate skins and our experiences vary so often we cannot see things from another perspective, but to imply then that someone is lying or making something up, due to the fact it may rock our own view on things without making the effort to reach out and extend our minds and hearts in openness to me seems wrong.

This morning I have been thinking about what it comes to mean and how it affects us if we are not truly seen in childhood.  I opened my Hope for Today reader and read this reading a few moments ago :

Before Al Anon I had a false sense of self.  Because of their diseases my alcoholic father and mother who grew up in an alcoholic home couldn’t see themselves clearly.  They weren’t able to help me either.  As I grew up I sensed that my parents couldn’t see me at all.  I felt invisible and voiceless  I had no idea of my likes and dislikes, let alone what I would or would not accept in a relationship.  I felt empty inside.  When there did seem to be something inside me it felt like someone else’s experience.

The reading goes onto explain how slowly the person began to recover a sense of themselves by working through the steps of and learning about who they truly were inside.  About how doing so enabled them to throw off the criticism of their father and the feeling they were given by their mother that they were nothing but a burden.  By seeing themselves no longer through someone else’s eyes but through their own they slowly began to reclaim a sense of self.

It seems to me that the most important work of recovery lies in the inward journey of becoming more conscious of who we are and what we really feel independent of outside influence of what parents, education or society tries to tell us we are or should be.    Keeping our focus on our own heart is so important, as is recognising the value and meaning of our instinctive reactions to things, lest we be hoodwinked or bamboozled by others who in being damaged themselves try to force us away from certain responses or reactions.  The integrity of our soul when compromised in this way causes us so much confusion and unrest.

Luckily for my niece she understands her parents damage, not having essential needs met though has caused deep loneliness and suffering for her.  Through out it all, over years she has learned to rely on herself, but that self reliance at times has left her so alone.  Our lives have similar themes.   Her own suffering has made her wise.   Wise enough now not to take on the advice of psychologists recommending she have her son tested so to be diagnosed and labelled.  In this increasingly insane society it seems to me we need to keep our wits about us lest we fall for much of the clap trap that is being espoused.  We have to be strong and rely on the guidance of our deepest souls so as not to be bamboozled or led astray and if we were not seen and validated in childhood we need to address and heal that wound so that we no longer surrender ourselves to false outside definitions which keep us in locked in prison.

Another tough day with the inner critic

Hole

I am getting much more aware of my inner critic’s tendency to put the focus on the negative.  The little negative thing can easily become a huge negative thing if I allow the inner critic to have his way, today it was moth holes in my jumper.  I live in an older property and ever since I moved in I have a moth problem.  Moths tend to like to take a chunk out of my favourite sweaters and they never munch on the back but on the front most obvious piece of my jumper.  Today I despaired when I found a jumper I washed last week and believed was all in one piece with four holes in it.  Following this discovery the litany of the inner critic became remorseless.  “Isn’t that just like you, everything you touch decays, you knew there was a moth problem a while back, why haven’t you been more proactive, everything around you usually falls to pieces.”

Today I let the critic yammer on and just took a needle and thread to my jumper and fixed it, Jasper and I had to delay our visit to the park by 20 minutes and then at the park I just thought of the Leonard Cohen lyric “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in!”  I thought, your jumper is just letting in the light and no moths died.  The thought kind of comforted me for a short while and I had a little smile to myself.  Jasper and I went about our day, we walked by the lake, threw the Frisbee and went to the park,  I then dropped him home, had a sandwich at the bakery went to the market did my food shopping and came home to make chicken soup.   Was the day a disaster due to a few holes in my sweater, I think not?   But the negative talk didn’t stop there.

While having my toasted sandwich I read a very good reblog of a post on blog of Twinkle Toes : Therapy Diaries and here is the link : https://unpackingthesuitcaseblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/the-curse-of-the-invisible-wound-narc-abuse/

Reading the following paragraphs

Like I’ve often joked, my wounds were so invisible, I couldn’t even see them. Many of our narcissistic wounds were not cleaned out at seven,  twelve,  sixteen, or even twenty-three due to the fact that they were invisible. That’s a long time to leave a wound festering, but it’s pretty darn hard to clean out a wound you can’t even see. This is why so many people need support–both to find their wounds and to clean them. There is no instant cure and no one-size- vaccination for all.

Personality also has a part to play in whether we brush these wounds off or tenderly care for them. As a seven on the Enneagram, for decades I did my best to remain fun loving and optimistic and push all that yucky stuff out of my mind—except it doesn’t actually work that way. Narcissistic Abuse is like lead poisoning, once it’s in your body, you’ve been contaminated for life. You can try to push it out of your mind, but the body will still remembers what the mind forgets.

made me think of the post I wrote the other day on Chiron and wounding and the poison that goes into our system from these narcissistic wounds. I made the connection but then the critic had a field day.  “How can you be sure you aren’t a narcissist, you are always going on and on about all the ways you were wounded, how can you be sure you aren’t just stuck in festering wound replaying it over and over and over and over again, alternately boring and alienating followers in the process?”   I started to get a bit of heart pain after this and my mood went down hill for a while before I got myself in gear to go to the markets and put some positive action into my day.

I am sharing about this internal process this evening to externalise some of it and get it out there in black and white.  I know that a lot of what the critic says is based on inhuman perfectionistic standards he imposes on me.  That is not to say that sometimes the things I do could be improved or I could take more care of things, but at the same time I need to remember that I struggle with a PTSD condition and do so much work to keep my life healthy.   I just don’t think I really deserve all this ongoing criticism.

Last weekend I was deep in my wound, really feeling the poison and pain burning me up, I could only post some of what I wrote last weekend today and I chose to do it in order to externalise and put the finger up to the critic.   This week I shared with my therapist Katina that I told the critic to fuck off for the very first time.  But I am also aware that the fact that the critic can trigger me shows that deep down inside somewhere I don’t feel good enough, otherwise criticism would just fall off my back.  I am not sure what the solution is beyond sharing about it here.   I wish I could find the loving soothing voice today but its been a bit buried and who know I may need to make some changes for I have noticed that often I am feeling overextended lately.  I am doing too much and taking on board a lot when I really need to pare things down, but at the same time I am aware of the saboteur within me that wants to pounce on me when I am doing well and lay it all to waste.  I don’t know where this energy comes from.  I only know a lot of recovering alcoholics and addicts suffer from it.  Today I have been praying for help from my higher power as I deserve to feel happy, good enough and at peace after so long and so much work in recovery.  I really, really do.  I wish the ‘f’ing critic would take a hike!