Critical symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Benign neglect is still neglect, it is something therapist Jonice Webb addresses in depth in her book Running on Empty. Many of us could say that we came from loving homes or homes that to all appearances seemed okay or functional from an objective external point of reference and yet something was still missing at the core of such families, a critical sense of warmth, emotional resonance, parental presence, availability and connection which can be hard to articulate. Feelings of emptiness haunt the soul who suffered CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) and the pervasive if unspoken feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’ may dog many of us well into adulthood, it is one of the critical symptoms of CEN. It is not based on any objective truth though, the truth was we never got adequate care and then internalised the belief it was somehow our fault. Our responsibility in the present rests in recognising levels of wounding and trying to find ways to get valid needs met we did not feel allowed to have at the time, rather than internalising self blame.

I shared a lot from Jonice’s book a while back, you will find links to these posts below when I manage to find them back. It took me until I read her book to really get a true handle on what haunted me many years in sobriety when I felt I should be doing a lot better than I was, never the less I was still attracted to dysfunctional emotionally absent relationships and I suffered profoundly mixed feelings of sadness, anger, pain and confusion, I also see now I struggled with critical issues of boundaries and self care.

CEN sufferers often blame themselves when things go wrong or for our suffering and we often don’t know how to take care of ourselves across many levels. For example the child who is left alone a lot may look to comfort from substances like food or drink, seeking the missing love that would come from an emotionally present, warm, available, engaged parent.

I was triggered to break down in tears when watching a programme about latch key children about a month ago. The film showed a little boy going to a fridge to take out some food with a lonely and forlorn look on his face. As I think about this now after just having met up with a close family friend to my mother, an image of her as a child comes to mind. I love the Louise Hay evening meditation in which she asks us to visualise in our mind’s eye both our parents as small children, taking them with love into our hearts. I think of my Mum sitting all alone on the back step after school with no mother at home looking longingly at the neighbourhood kids playing with siblings and longing for a brother and/or sister. I think too of how when she had kids were born too far apart in age to really be able to play like this, something my siblings and I sometimes talk of.

It came up in conversation with my friend earlier how my sister wished not to have a bar of me when I was about 8 to 14. I remember clearly getting my period while Mum and Dad were on a trip away and I had never been told what period was, I went to my sister crying with bloody underpants and got fobbed off in some way. I remember the mix of shame and aloneness and confusion I felt. I don’t remember how it was addressed when Mum and Dad got back home.

Another symptom of CEN is that we feel we must be independent. We learned early on that it was not possible to reach out, open up or rely on anyone. We learn to keep our cards close to our chest, we feel we should manage things that others naturally need help with, the list can go on. I see how this manifests now in the life of my other sister and I see how self contained my brother stays remaining perpetually self focused on work work work and not engaging emotionally AT ANY TIME. The exception was at my older sister’s funeral when he broke down giving the eulogy. He rarely went to visit her in the care home where she lived in the later years with Complex PTSD and acquired brain injury (incorrectly diagnosed bi polar disorder, I feel). His wife told my mother years ago she never wanted her daughter anywhere near my older sister who flipped out and tried to take her life after her husband abandoned her. Guess what? My niece ended up in the psyche ward AT THE EXACT AGE MY OLDER SISTER HAD HER CEREBRAL BLEED AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS.

I think while writing this of my own struggle with addiction, about how silent I used to believe I must be, how I must try never to be ‘too much trouble’ and sadly remember it was because of this my mother eventually had the final fall that ended her life, she drove herself all alone to a doctors appointment then went to do shopping when she was struggling with walking and chronic back pain because she ‘didn’t want to bother me or my sister!’

I just broke down with our family friend. She told me I am a cry baby but this is the real pain and struggle of my entire family with CEN that I am realising now after almost 26 years of active sobriety. My so called defects of character could read like a skit from British comic act Monty Python : fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope (just joshing!!!) But the perfectionism (ruthless efficiency) as well as ruthless self sufficiency defects could be primary ones. That said there are times we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves if we want to truly recover and own our power, but never the less being forced at times to cope on all alone, put on a good front and ask nothing of anyone IS NOT GOOD FOR US. And often it may also come from never having felt truly safe, validated or ‘got’. As a default the sense that if we are to get attention or be considered ‘good enough’ we must always be there for others and never demand too much also sets in making us codependent in an attempt to win the missing love.

Well I am glad I could shed the tears anyway. I know the cure to what ails my sister is not an easy one and I honestly never believed it lay in medication nor in some of the so called ‘strategies’ they are trying to arm her with for about the 8th similar hospitalisation. My sister’s heart is lonely and she may feel there is definitely ‘something wrong with her’, a person who tried all her life to be there for others and not expect or ask too much. But my heart knows the true pain lies deeper and cannot ever be fully addressed by band aids or medications.

Many CEN sufferers do end up ending their lives, like Robin Williams they may have had to put on funny or happy mask but never the less what they were forced to face deep in the lonely privacy of their own hearts and souls may in the end being far far too difficult to come to grips with or digest, inner disparaging voices of self blame also dog many CEN survivors marking us in many places with deeply inarticulate wound which may seem impossible to fully make sense of or bear.

Early separation, disconnection or break of the bond with our mother.

In chapter 11 of his book on multi-generational trauma, It Didn’t Start With You, Mark Wolynn addresses the core wound and core language we often hear inside if in our generation or in previous generations there was a rupture or severing or damage to the bond we experienced with our mother.  Often this kind of trauma occurs and is held at a deeply unconscious level.  For example, say our mother lost a baby just before we were born and never spoke of it, we would have absorbed all she felt that was unspoken.  If that loss were not resolved it may affect our mother’s ability to be available and emotionally present for us.

There are many ways in which our Mum’s can be physically present while disconnected or emotionally unavailable to us.  She may be preoccupied, dealing with an earlier trauma, in an abusive relationship, suffering depression or mental illness, she could just be overwhelme with our other siblings.   How our mother bonds or does not bond with us affects our entire approach to life.  Wolynn expresses it this way :

On many levels, the images we hold of ‘mother’ and ‘life’ are inter-related.  Ideally, a mother nurtures us and makes sure we are safe.  She comforts us and gives us what we need to survive when we are too small to give it to ourselves.  When we are cared for in this way, we begin to trust the feeling that we are safe, and that life will provide us with what we need.  After repeated experiences of getting enough of what we need from our mother, we learn that we can also give ourselves what we need.  In essence, we feel that we are ‘enough’ to give ourselves ‘enough.’  LIfe, in collusion, then seems to bring us what we need.  When the connection with our mother flows freely, good health, money, success and love can seem to flow our way.

When the early bond with our mother is interrupted, however, a dark cloud of fear, scarcity, and distrust can become our default  Whether this break in the bond is permanent, as with an adoption, or whether it’s a temporary break that did not get restored, the gap between mother and child can become a breeding ground for many of life’s struggles.  When this bond remains interrupted, we seem to lose our lifeline.  It’s as though we break into pieces and need our mother to put us back together.

When the break is only temporary, it is important that our mother stay stable, present and welcoming during our return from separation.   The experience of losing her can be so devastating that we can be hesitant or resistant to reconnect with her.   If she is unable to tolerate our hesitation, or if she interprets our reticence as rejection, she might react by defending or distancing, thus leaving the bond between us bruised and broken.  She might never understand why she feels disconnected from us, and dwell in feelings of self doubt, disappointment, and insecurity in her ability to mother us – or worse, irritability and anger towards us.  A rift that doesn’t heal can shake the foundation of our future relationships.

An essential feature of these early experiences is that they aer not retrievable in our memory banks.  During gestation and infancy and early childhood, our brain is not equipped to put our experiences into story form so they can be made into memories.  Without the memories, our unmet longings can play out unconsciously as urges, cravings, and yearnings that we seek to satisfy through our next job, our next holiday, our next glass of wine, and even our next partner.  In a similar vein, the fear and anxiety of an early separation can distort our reality, making our difficult and uncomfortable situations feel catastrophic and life threatening.

Falling in love can unleash intense emotions, as it naturally transports us back to a time of early experiences with our mother.  We tend to have similar feelings toward our partner as we felt toward our mother.  We meet someone special and tell ourselves “Finally, I’ve found someone who will take good care of me, someone who will understand all my desires and give me everything I need. ” Yet these feelings are only the illusion of a child who longs to re experience the closeness he or she felt or wanted to feel with the mother.

An early separation from our mother can undermine our stability in a romantic relationship.

Wolynn goes on to explain how we then fear we may be erased or fear our closeness and connection will slip away.   We may then cling to partners and drive them away.  Our partner may feel trapped and run to get away.  He explains in addition how, in these circumstances we develop a core language within (conscious or unconscious) that governs us.  Such things as :

I’ll be left

I’ll be abandoned

I’ll be rejected

I’ll be all alone

I’ll have nobody

I’ll lose control

I’ll be helpless

They don’t want me.

I am not enough

I am too much

They will leave me

They will hurt me

They will betray me

I will be annihilated

I will be destroyed

I won’t exist

It’s all hopeless.

We may also carry these core sentences from earlier generations.

If we fear such separation then we my reject our mother.  We don’t get to understand why.  We may blame her.  We may keep the distance up.

(To be continued)

Understanding, accepting and trusting your feelings

The following excerpt from Jonice Webb’s book Running on Empty : Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect may help you if you struggle with emotions.  I know in my own life a lot of problems were caused by not understanding nor fully accepting or trusting my own feelings.   An education in a Catholic school taught me certain emotions were really bad, such as anger.  Ideally in childhood we should be helped to understand and identify our emotions so we can use the information they give us and respond wisely, but if we were emotionally neglected we never got to build these skills.    I hope this excerpt may be of help to others who struggle with understanding and accepting their emotions.

If you were emotionally neglected, chances are you have difficulty with accepting and trusting your feelings.  Some emotionally neglected people are completely unaware of the existence of emotions.  Others push their emotions down because they have a deep seated notion that feelings are bad, will burden other people, or can make them a bad person.  Remember the following three rules:

1.  There is no bad emotion

Emotions themselves are not good or bad, right or wrong, moral or amoral.  Every human being has felt rage, jealousy, hate, destructiveness, and superiority, for example, at one time or another.  Most people have even had homicidal feelings  These feelings are not bad, and do not make us a bad person.  It’s what we do with them that matters.  Do not judge yourself for your feelings.  Judge yourself for your actions.

2.  Feelings do not always make rational sense, but they always exist for a good reason.

Emotions do not follow the principles of logic. They can seem inexplicable and unpredictable.  But every emotion can be explained if you try hard enough. With every emotion our body is trying to send us a message, no matter how bizarre that might seem.  As an example, lets go back to David, the forty something businessman who had zero supervision as a child.  David once shared with me that he occasionally felt an unbearable disgust and repulsion when he saw a random person eating at a restaurant.  He was mystified by this feeling, and worried that it might mean he was crazy.  Eventually, through a lot of exploration of his Emotional Neglect, we figured out the reason : David’s limbic system, unbeknownst to him was equating eating, the taking in of food with nurturance.  David himself took no enjoyment from food.  He had great difficulty letting himself enjoy nutritional nurturance as well as emotional nurturance.  Unconsciously, he felt disgusted when he saw someone letting down their guard, and allowing themselves to enjoy taking in nurturance.  This is an example of a feeling that seems on the surface irrational and meaningless, but was actually quite meaningful, and existed for a very good reason.

3.  Emotions can be powerful but they can be managed

Emotions that are hidden tend to have a lot of power over us.  When we are aware of an emotion, we can then take charge of it.  David felt at the mercy of his intense feelings of disgust, and sometimes avoided going to restaurants in order to avoid that feeling.  Once he realised the source of the feeling and didn’t judge himself for having it, he was at a point of full awareness and acceptance.  He started to fight it off, and the feelings of disgust lost its potency.  Eventually it disappeared altogether.

The IAAA Steps

IAAA may sound like a retirement fund but it is not.  IAAA stand for Identify, Accept, Attribute, Act.  These steps are a culmination of the three rules above.  They are the four steps to maximising the value of our emotions, and gaining energy and guidance from them.  First, Identify the feeling, then Accept it.  Do not judge it as bad or good.  Third, try to discern the reason you are having the feeling, or Attribute it to a cause; fourth, identity whether there is an Action that the emotion calls for and, if so, take it appropriately.

Whar are you feeling right now?  Close your eyes and ask yourself that question.  If the answer is ‘overwhelmed” don’t despair.  The process of making friends with your emotions may seem complicated, or even insurmountable, but you can do it.  Yes, it will take time.  But if you keep working at it, you will start to notice small changes in yourself.  The changes may be subtle and may at first seem unimportant.  But each time you have an emotional realisation that’s new to you  its a sign that you are growing and learning.  If you find yourself struggling too much, or on the verge of giving up, look for a therapist to help you.  A skilled therapist will be able to help you to build these skills, so that you can become fully connected, present and alive.

Anger with my therapist leads to deeper reflection

I found myself feeling a lot of anger towards my therapist, Kat yesterday.  The intensity of what my body goes through on any day and any night as a result of having recently had this tooth removed on the back of a traumatic head injury at occurred after a time I so needed family support and was once again denied it at the end of my marriage bites me hugely.  I feel like I have giant incisor like wounds from that bite lodged in my psychic flesh and over the past few nights of the eclipse I have been bang awake between 3 and 5 with all these powerful sensations coursing through my body as my mind has struggled to make sense of the tangled up jigsaw pieces of the past 17 years of struggle to find and make sense of my true feelings and find a centre of self in the messy conglomerate of energies within and without which like wild currents and eddies swirl this way and that, at times setting up huge surge like storms of ‘meness’ and then at other taking me down with the powerful centrifugal undertow of black inky sludge drowning me completely and making it hard to draw a free breath!!!

I am angry that Kat didn’t seem to even remember the piece of writing I actually read to her last Thursday, I had to read it all over again and I was feeling so tired,  she is my fucking therapist why can’t she remember, why doesn’t she take the time to read my blog before I go to a session so she can help me a bit, for fucks sake its only one hour and reading three or four blogs to catch up is exhausting because often when I write the feelings are there simmering away under the surface and only emerge when I read them in session which now that I write it just goes to show if she did read it then that wouldn’t happen so why am I getting so mad?  I still am because I have to work so fucking hard at times and there is so much to get through in session.

I do know why I am angry though.  This is old anger.  I have had fuck all help in my life in the way that really mattered.  I didn’t need money thrown at me, I needed a parent who got me, and was there emotionally not one who consistently abandoned me and then told me I was a late developer when I shared I got into sobriety.  Yeah Mum it was all my fault that I drank in a situation in which so many painful feelings were going down that I didn’t know how to deal with in the absence of support, after a major traumatic injury at 17 that I never got any help to deal with later only to be followed six months later by even less care available due to my sister’s aneurysm occuring with all the complications that followed all at a time I was trying to develop and mature.  Fuck That!!!

Yet even as I write this and consider my last post about the poor fit between a mother and child that leaves the child, lost, confused, split off from her body and feelings and lacking self containment and integrity of being I realise that I must accept my mother went through the same with her mother and so just passed down the wound. The anger is understandable that I feel but it wont help me unless I use it to drive a deeper understanding and also to set boundaries so that I don’t open up and share intimate emotional stuff she is likely to dismiss, deny or be confused about herself.

So its probably not really even my therapist I am really angry with but with the entire sad history of a child who came to not be able to understand, express, or even tolerate her own feelings and then became an addict, only to get sober and be told it was the result of ‘character defects’ which just reinforces the scapegoats idea fixee of being the ‘bad’, ‘wrong’ or damaged one, inherently flawed in some way.

I don’t actually remember in the rooms of AA being given any help to understand my own feelings.  I do remember sitting there in meetings and crying my eyes out as other’s shared from such a damaged split off place, full of self blame and self denigration.  It broke my heart in two.  And then in Al Anon meetings I got the askance looks from those trying to whip alcoholic loved ones into shape with their own self righteousness not getting for a moment the suffering or deeper dilemma the person concerned was going through.   I remember not being hugged after a meeting or reached out to after I shared from a deep well of pain.

I know it probably wasn’t their job but I do feel that once our buried feelings begin to open up in sobriety we need some form of encouragement and affirmation from others to assist us and yet even that hope or demand has hidden deep in the centre of it a hope or demand that is loaded with the sadness and longing of deep needs of long ago for the parent’s unconditional love, understanding, mirroring and acceptance of feelings; needs we never got to fully understand or contain.

In the end, as I was discussing with Kat yesterday, perhaps no one now can give us enough to make up for what we lost or never received in the first place.  Such an empty void or space in the place where we most needed to be met, filled up, affirmed, received  must be acknowledged, deeply understood and grieved.  And then we must meet the challenge of finding ways to fill our lives with the good energy of connection and love, learning how to understand, feel and tolerate all our feelings.   Being or becoming the good loving mother and father to ourselves so that ultimately we don’t end up re-enacting our emptiness, wound or anger on others or keep ourselves lost and trapped inside the deep dark desolate place of that emptiness.

I do wonder now, though, if we end up alone with no life partner and disconnected from so many friends due to the wounds we have carried driving so many away from us in misunderstanding how sweet can life be?  Can we really fill ourselves up from the life font or spring of spirit that was meant to flow within and through us and can that be enough?

Its obvious to me now that the hyper sensitivity that so many of us feel who were not met or received in the needed ways, grew larger in the absence of such love and care.  The burden of our so called ‘over sensitivity’  needs to be understood and we need to make sure that we don’t blame ourselves while at the same time learning to take responsibility for the wound we carry in terms of taking care of ourselves, learning to be open, vulnerable and honest to ask for what we need rather than demand it or get shitty when it doesn’t just come automatically.

We also need an awareness of the real failures of others which came from the limits of their own capacity to be fully embodied themselves, a wound that seems to plague so many in a technologically driven modern society that has grown increasingly removed from the natural and soulful elements in vibrant earthly life.   To begin to feel that love means that we open ourselves body and soul to the soft caress of the sun on skin, to the luxuriant feeling of sea water on flesh, to the sheer love that shines in our dog’s eyes as he runs to great us, to the joy of feeling our free spirit express its bounty through dance, movement and song.

It surely means we open up again to try to find the love and containment we missed from a loving mother’s arms in places and spaces where it does exist.  And it also means that we as ones who have been damaged and know the cause and consequences of such disconnection and damage make a stand in a world where sensitivity and depth is so often not championed.  For the pain our souls have suffered has perhaps highlighted for us how essential such an earthly connection to life, feeling and nature is and to the deeper realisation that the wound to the mother that leads to severing from body and deep feeling is one we end up enacting on the earth and ourselves over and over again if we don’t fully face, feel and speak for the painful and agonising consequences of its loss or absence.

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.

The grief of the mother


I wrote this post ages ago and I couldn’t post it.  In it I was coming to terms with the collective abandonment wound in my family.  I hope it speaks to someone.  I am not sure why I could not post it.

I had a thought today as I was reading a blog about someone’s grief for the mother they never had, that that person did indeed have a mother but she was a mother who could not mother because she, herself had never really been mothered.

I then thought of the earth as our mother, as the mother that gives to us out of her vast creative bounty of the things we need to nourish and live and of how we are now abusing that mother in so many ways.

I had a sense of the devastation of the First World War being the War which was a war against nature, against the mother, a war in which beautiful green fields were decimated and laid to waste by man made weapons that were an outcome of the industrial age whose roots lay in the iron age.

I had a sense of how the mothers suffered as their son’s were slaughtered and traumatised all due to one person’s quest for ownership of land which was only ever given to us as custodians.  I had a sense of the pain and loss that occurred to mothers and to children everywhere as a result of that War that then begot another that led to even more destruction of land, nurture, comfort and beauty, which saw the rise of a monstrous anger that fuelled genocide of massive proportions and more decimation of human endeavour.

When we are grieving and mourning for the mothering we never had do we ever get beyond our individual sad concern with that to see the bigger picture that perhaps our mothers and our fathers too knew some profound devastation that made it so much harder for them to mother or father or turned their interest towards other concerns that left so precious little left for nurturing us?    Do we think of the hunger and emptiness that might have then driven us in unconscious ways to possess more or to numb the pain that lay at the heart the ancestral gene pool of whose roots we are so unaware?

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a family friend about abandonment wounds and mothering.  She told me how even though she has been there for her daughter to the best of her ability her daughter still felt abandoned at times.  I spoke of my own feelings of abandonment around Mum and of how after working through all the anger I now know how unconsciously these were passed down.  I am also more aware now after letting go of some anger of how my father’s wounded desire to overcome the poverty of his own childhood and find for us a material security led to decisions which made relationship and togetherness difficult and led me towards a painful isolation, whose consequences I am only lately beginning to understand.

And I am beginning to see that perhaps all of this has been for the purposes of learning that reality is often harsh, that we and others are subjected to so many forces outside of our control and yet we have some choice in what we make of these, of the lessons they taught and of the resilience they called out of us.

Wisdom through suffering, love gained through our willingness to face and feel the pain and offer to ourselves and others the nurture that no longer perpetuates more damage, abuse or suffering seems to me the only way out of a deep wound to the mothering impulse in all of us that we so urgently need to heal so that our unconscious anger does not destroy the mother earth we live on or turn us against ourselves.  For the longed for lost, loving mother we yearn for, can in the deepest abandonment be found inside, if and when we choose to keep the focus on love, nurture, compassion and choose to embrace the wisdom of a longer range view that considers the impact of wider forces we may not fully have seen or understood.

My body needs love and quiet attention.

Body 2.png

It seems to me that so often in my life I have left my body behind.  I have let my head get carried away with ideas and reactions to things and I have taken certain decisions or just been run, run, run by an inner agenda with who knows what deep conditioning imprints to do, do, do, that at times I have just barrelled on with something and in the depths my heart or body has been crying out to me “please don’t”!  And I wept so deeply today with the realisation of how much this has hurt my body.

My body was also hurt by something I read this week in a spiritual book which said the body is just basically dust and that the soul is the real centre of us.  I don’t know if I really agree with this, I believe our soul lives in our body and expresses so much through our bodies.  I also feel that a lot of modern western culture is geared towards disconnecting us from our bodies and teaching us to split off our heads from our hearts.  In a powerful book based on a Jungian Myth of Ivan and the Baba Yaga I read many years ago there was a symbolic image of this, of how we get pinned through the neck and cut off feeling and thinking at some point in our conditioning.

Healing may require a drawn out dark night of the soul as surreptitiously the body and soul and heart within us deep inside tries to gain the attention of the mind.  I feel that if we switch off or disconnect for too long the cost is illness or chronic pain of some kind, an indication the true message has gone mute and been deeply buried and hidden.

My body reacts all over the place these days.  I am trying to rebuild a stronger connection with it and I am noticing that I get some kind of backlash when I am not listening or my attention is pulled away by oughts or shoulds, things my soul doesn’t really need but that I have been conditioned to think or believe I need when I really don’t.

Today I had one of those miraculous times where I felt my body so deeply.  I was aware of how much my body has gone through in my life.  I must say I was crying deeply and my body was talking to me telling me how much it needs my love and attention these days.

I had a struggle with going to therapy yesterday.  I was happily ensconced at home writing and the last thing I really felt like doing was having to drive over to see my therapist.  I don’t know if part of me was trying to avoid pain as lately so much has been coming up about the past and what I have lost or what I did not get to complete or fully live due to the deep responsibility I felt to be close to my family.  Now I am getting older I am seeing more clearly lost potentials, times when I decided for others rather than for myself.  And yesterday after reading out my poem Goodbye to the Meadows I was grieving again so deeply for all that was lost.  I then had a discussion with Katina how I felt myself to be a coward for not being able to make it over in the UK on two further attempts.  She just looked at me with such love and told me how wrong she thought I was.  She was explaining to me how my past wounds at critical developmental points in my life left me so ill equipped and reminding me of the level of traumas I endured from age 17 to 26.   We went over the critical injuries and wounds of my later addiction too.  There is just a hell of a lot of sadness and pain there and it has taken me quite some years to unpack in therapy.

I wept a lot with what Katina said.  I felt such a deep release.  I felt that loving, wise, unconditional acceptance of someone who REALLY SAW ME and wasn’t forcing me forward with unrealistic expectations or agendas that take zilch account of who I really am, what I have been through and how I have suffered and I saw in a moment of stark clarity how hard I am on myself.

It was then hard to leave session.  Funny the way life is and the part psychic defences play in trying to keep us safe or even keep us from healing or facing things, really.  I noticed when I got home I crammed my self full of snacks, I had this voracious hunger.  I see it as an expression of what comes up after I face all the pain, of the hungry life energy for a happy expressive life that I didn’t get to live and is now kicking around inside me longing to be set free.  I did an energetic dance to the INXS song Devil Inside.  I shared my post about repression and criticism with Katina as well yesterday and that song is really putting a finger up to my repressive Catholic education.

Today my body felt so tired, I slept deeply and it was a slow move to get out of bed this morning.  I usually push myself on but today I just can’t seem to.  Its important for me to write about what went down yesterday.  I need to get it out there in black and white.

I know I am on the midlife journey of laying the old corpses and ghosts of my life to rest.  I love that metaphor which is one that Murray Stein uses in his book on midlife.  There is a protracted grieving that can take place at this time.  I know I hit into all of this the year I turned 40 which was back in 2002.   Jung believed in the second half of life we work to make meaning of what went on in the first and I do think for those of us who have known a lot of trauma this is when the shit really starts to hit the fan, if we have had to repress huge parts of our life and self and energy at this time they return with a vengeance needing to be heard, but by that time our bodies may have taken such a toll due to trauma, we may end up with chronic pain or chronic illness which in a way may be the way our body tries to vocalise deep imprints and distress.

My body showed me today that I need to put it as the priority in my life at present.  I realised in the midst of writing a poem yesterday how powerfully I have been conditioned to look outside of myself for answers and healing but the truth is that if I can get still enough and quite enough and look within and pray and wait for answers they do emerge from deep within my body which is the temple of my soul.  My heart, my arms, my legs, my feet can all talk to me, they may be crying out to be heard.   Please listen was the deepest message I got from my body today, I also had a sense as I did yesterday that all I really need comes from within, not that I wont choose to engage outside in the world, but only that there is a kind of sweet completeness that only comes when I engage from deep within.   There I may hear the call to go outward for no man is an island but if I am not deeply connected to myself I am most certainly not fully available for any other connection or relationship in my life.  I know its probably been said a lot but love must surely start with the self and with this precious body we have been given to house our precious soul


My Mum : wounded body : Ancestral healing

I went shopping with my Mum yesterday.  We were no longer like mother and daughter but two sisters or two little kids out for a fun day.    I helped my Mum to find a lovely pink cable knit jumper, due to her decreasing size it was difficult to find anything to fit and the size that my Mum needed was on display so I helped her to get it off and she tried the jumper on and it looked beautiful.

While I was sitting in the change room I saw how twisted around my Mum’s aging body had become.  I thought of the suffering she witnessed her three daughters go through over years.  I thought of the ways she tried to help in the absence of a loving husband.  I then thought of my Mum’s own unhappy and deeply lonely childhood in which there was no father and no emotionally available mother to help her with anything.   It was such a deeply poignant moment and it did humble me, as I saw far deeper and saw my Mum no longer as person who should be occupying a role in a certain way, but just as a very frail and fallible human who did the very best she could with what she knew.

Feeling all this for my Mum does not minimise any of the hurts from the past, however what I am seeing is how I became conditioned to run or to turn away from her.  In a way this was very good as I needed to look elsewhere for what I could not find at home, but none of that seeking could make any deeper sense until the deeper bedrock of my foundation or lack of nurturing foundation came to realisation and there was a lot of pain before that.

My aloneness does not seem as acute today.   It does grow in spaces and places though when I am too far away from kind bodies and human beings who provide a foundation of energy and life for me to connect with.   Little things mean a lot.  My gentle kind gardener who only comes infrequently but today is helping to pick up leaves.  The rare call from a friend asking me how I am and would I like to go for a coffee.  All of these connections that in the past year have come into my life mean so much to me, a person who before could not really bear to have anyone too close in her world for fear she would be overtaken.

And having seen my Mum’s body yesterday and having sat with my own traumatised body yesterday gently in the sunshine just feeling the breath makes me so aware of how much of our soul’s life our bodies carry for us and how important it is for us to go gently with them.

This kind of soft attention is the complete opposite of the violence and trauma of difficult injuries my body has gone through in my life.  I am going to list them below as each hurt and several of them came out of inattention on the part of my caretakers or just their intense focus on other things :

A burnt foot that suffered 3rd degree burns on a camping holiday due to my Mum cleaning the caravan with a bucket of scalding water on the step near where I was drawing.

A fish hook lodged between the webbing of my big and second toe that had to be pulled out by Dad… he left it in the seagrass matting after sorting his fishing tackle.

A deep gash to my wrist which got 30 stiches which happened when the window broke after I was trying to get into an empty house after school.  I had to run to the neighbours to find someone to take me to hospital.

The arm pulled out of shoulder socket after being pulled around by my Mum.

The smash up of my 1979 accident in which I nearly lost my life, punctured my lung, broke and splintered my femur and ulnar bones, lost three teeth and tore my tongue in half.

Six terminations of pregnancy where my womb was sucked out, which may not seem sever but leaves its pulling, tearing echo imprints deep inside.

Various injuries including a cut foot and face smashed into with a metal frame door while in the later years of my addiction.

The final smash up in 2005 when I was on the run trying to address my tortured past.

These are the things that came out of my unmothering, these are the things that came out of my emotional neglect, these are the tortured body/shocks that I have been working to contain and come to terms with as a result of suffering with Complex Post Traumatic Stress for over 20 years.

Its been a lot to grieve.  It has been so much to understand and heal, it has been so much to contain, but I have and now I need to heal the connections and find the restful place of peace which comes at the end of a long journey to understand it all.  It seems to me that healing compassion can only come for me out of the deeper understanding of how our suffering human wounded body struggles to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in a world that so often does not teach us how to care for and be deeply conscious of our soul in body.

Yesterday shopping with my Mum I felt quiet tired and was so conscious of all I have been asked to carry, however I was also aware of a healing trying to come about, a reconnection between two lost kids who are finally finding in each other a friend.  And my mother is the body my body came out of, her body reflects mine, and my struggle to connect with hers and find mirroring and nurturing there has been so difficult.  Healing for me is only felt in the deeper and acceptance of how much I longed for mirroring and recognition in her body and how much I suffered at times in not finding it, but how that mirroring and recognition was waiting there for me all along in the depths of my own body soul that I had to drag to therapy over so many years in search for the right place where I finally did find a good mirror.

Within that mirror and deep within the mirror of my soul, I have been able to look along the corridor of mirrors of our multigenerational line.  Along this hall of mirrors I have finally found reverberating and reflected across years the struggling lost child with so much grief looking everywhere for a place to lay his or her burden down or have it recognised.  Now I see that burden not as a burden any longer just suffering but also as a tiny new baby that is crying and asking of me mothering at the end of a long road that finally is leading me home.  Along this road I am beginning to find a deeper connection with my ancestors as I work to bring conscious awareness to things as yet unhealed that affected us all so deeply in different ways.  And in this consciousness lies my deepest spiritual work, that and giving it some kind of voice so that it no longer lies unrecognised in the depths of the collective unconscious and to that my mother and her body seems lately to provide my strongest link for body carries soul and life grows out of it as consciously or unconsciously as we allow.

Soft : A Hymn to Body


Soft like a blanket

Insider knowing

You rain realisation down

You, the body/soul that long ago

Became too painful for me to enter

You, body/soul are calling me home

Showing me where sadness is created

Birthed from emptiness of the disconnected kind

When we are not truly touched and embraced

And of how wholeness is felt

When my awareness is returned to you

Feeling I had no place to rest before

Left me with no true home in you body

Endless distancing

A painful repeat of all the times I was sent so far away

I lost contact with you body due to grief and loss

Buried so deep inside

But now I know

Pain asks of me this softening

Soul you demand

That I become pliable as a reed

Capable of moving with the wind

That wants bend me

To a new purpose

Wants to form me

Into a body of substance

Body you are the home I always longed for

You give me the answer to secrets

I could not know in any other way

And when I embrace you

There is love I find beating here

Deep inside my chest

Soft body

No longer brittle, angry, defensive

Imprisoning me within hardness and misunderstanding

Hurting defended against with armour

Soft body you show me there can be a end

To running

To restlessness

To go, go, go

A homecoming found

In mindfulness, attention and soothing

Shining its light

On fearful, tense, contracted, suspicious places

Body how you long

To be covered by a soft blanket

Given shelter from tormenting thoughts

Of not good enough

Done wrong

Illusions all

Body teach me

I am open

You are my temple

Show me how to come home to a space

That in containing it

Has the capacity to transform suffering

And bring me peace

The empty space we are left with : the pain of unmet needs.

I just read a very well expressed post on the legacy of trauma of being left with an empty space of unmet need from childhood posted by Courage Coaching.

It occurred to me how deeply and painfully this empty space affects so many of us well into adulthood.  And it is so hard to recognise what needs you did not get met  until the true ache and emptiness of this begins to make itself felt and for so many of us that does not occur until we are a long way down the road of addiction and possible addiction recovery or deep depression, mental illness or psychosis.

Getting into recovery and being told you have ‘defects of character’ does not help with the self blame that also so often accompanies being a child who suffered emotional neglect or from narcissist parents who were so busy living out of their own wounds they had no time to care about yours.  The defects are really deficiencies of nurturance that we suffer which draw us towards unhealthy behaviours and relationships and we may go a long way down the road in those before we come to truly understand the deep legacy of the empty space we carry around so deep down inside.

For me reading about childhood emotional neglect in the book Running on Empty by Jonice Webb last year was a turning point.  In that book she clearly outlines both the consequences of unmet needs as well as the degree of self blame as a sufferer of this we end up carrying deep within.  In short if we suffered from unmet needs we tend to feel there is something wrong with us and this something is our own fault, when really it relates back to our own emotional trauma history. In addition if our parents didn’t do their own healing work we carry similar wounds but as they pass along the generations they become more severe.  That has most definitely been the case in my own family.

In the course of our recovery we need help in identifying exactly what our unmet needs were.  I know in my own case I learned to dismiss my own unmet needs, telling myself I did not have them and they were not a problem most particularly my need for attention.  I see how my own mother coped with a childhood in which not one person was emotionally present.  She coped by denying her own feelings and needs a lot while at the same time feeling she had to meet them alone.  In a way she was lucky when she met my father as together they got to meet some of their unmet needs but they also passed a lot of unmet ones down, most particularly to their youngest child: me.

Even now I find one thing I really struggle with is allowing myself to have my needs and feel that I deserve to have them met.  I was just reading a post on dissociation before reading Athina’s post mentioned above and in that Annie addressed the problem of how one huge legacy of childhood trauma is dissociating or disconnecting from our deep feelings and needs and of how we can then have a delayed reaction when a trigger occurs that mirrors what we suffered in childhood.  Instead of affirming and validating ourselves for how we felt we tend not to do this.  Instead we may judge ourselves critically for having the impulses or feelings that we do.

Just before going out today I was going to post the following quote as a post of its own.  In it the author addresses how hurtful and unproductive judging ourselves for our negative feelings is.

Judging creates emotion.  In addition, any emotion you feel in response to an external event will be  intensified if you judge yourself for that event.  For example, if you’re getting divorced and you judge yourself as unlovable or as someone who always messes up the pain of divorce will become worse.  If you then judge yourself for being upset, that will add more pain.  Increasing your awareness of your self judgements and better understanding the way you learn to judge yourself in a particular way can help you reduce this behaviour.

If our valid childhood need to have our true emotions and feelings valued and validated is not met we do tend to lack this ability.  We suffer a lot of shaming and inwardly critical self talk that does not lead us to truth or understanding.  Learning what our true needs and feelings are and seeking those who will validate them (such as a therapist or recovery friend) and learning to value and validate them from within is deeply important work.

As Athina points out grieving our unmet needs and losses from childhood is also important, even if deeply painful inner work and if we bypass or skip it by reaching for philosophical or so called ‘spiritual’ platitudes or insights instead we do tend to by pass a most critical stage of our emotional healing.  Recognising and dealing with emotional invalidation is so important.  It is critical to our recovery.  Knowing accurately our needs and feelings enable us to set boundaries and is essential for both emotional and mental health.  There may be much grief work to do for many of us before we begin to be able to do that and recognise how important it is.