Grateful to be alive

Even though some days living can feel crushing I am still grateful to be alive, especially on Saturdays.. In the letter Mum sent to me in 2001 that I found and read in therapy this week, she mentioned how painful the effect of my accident was on her and Dad but she said she could not have ever imagined how hard it was for me.. I think it also must have had an effect on my sister who has gone through so much, especially considering the fact that our other sister almost died, less than 6 months later and hovered for a long time in a state of suspension in a coma.. So the period of September to late February is fraught with a lot of past resonances that in terms of the spiral vortex of hidden inner life can still manage to have an impact.

There has been no word at all from my nephew about my sister.. I have not called either. I have just pulled back.. I know this may not be good but I just don’t want to do or say the ‘wrong’ thing and it is so hard to know what the ‘right’ thing is anyway and even writing those two words is pretty dualistic and black and white which is the way it can go when I get caught up on the mental level.. Maybe the truer statement is that, at this time I need all my own love and care to keep my own mental and physical health on an even keep. That is why lately just getting into my body and out of my head and negative or worrying thoughts seems essential and when trauma imprints call I just have to notice and anchor into the ‘Now’. Success with that today… I managed to stay upright after both breakfast and lunch today when the head neck lower back trauma cascade hit.. I am doing some of the vagal nerve exercises too that I found on line and that is helping me too…

My therapist thinks part of me.. a huge part did dissociate after that 1979 trauma and in 1981 I took myself away but got emotionally overwhelmed and in a difficult relationship. That is why, in 1982, when I pleaded with Dad to let me go back to my teaching degree it hit extra hard when he blocked that avenue alienating me from a lot of my good friends I had at the Canberra College of Education.. Possibly this kind of severing was a huge part of the reason why I later in life found it hard to feel like I ‘belonged’ and often took myself away or kept up a great distance from old connections. Luckily since coming back to my home town in 2011 I have been able to restores some of these..

As I see it any way so much goes silent in trauma and then gets displaced onto relationships or projections or appears as myriad mysterious bodily symptoms as well as profound push pull dynamics in attachment.. Lately I see how, as soon as I long to attach, I can fear and pull back and not being ‘got’ or seen can be a big trigger. What I began to realize only very recently is that it is not how the other person is reacting so much that is the problem but what that echoes for me of a past in terms of a flashback., when I can get a handle on that I can bring myself into present time and feel more grounded and ‘safe.’

Today maybe I felt safer in my body.. I was more self supportive and self loving when the shit hit the fan with Scott last night and this next demand for money.. I did not get that huge abandonment cascade of anxiety, I held myself and told myself I am safe.. I can cope alone and that I do not have to give away myself to be related to anyone.. I used to do that a lot. (give my self away or bury my painful feelings just to stay related). Then you get those who shame dump you or try to say you are being selfish for not doing things they need, that also can be a difficult issue to figure out for some of us with high levels of emotional confusion, alexithymia or poor ego boundaries..

Being able to manage these things does make it easier too, to want to live and feel gratitude for a life that comes with a deeper inner intuitive connection to our authentic self not so grounded or fed on toxic shame…. When we know somewhere deep down inside we are not getting what we need and are settling in order to keep the peace that can be damaging for both parties especially if we use various philosophies to deny the truth.. there seems to be a lot of that in our society.. platitudes people spout calling on some text or other that actually can derail us. What really is needed instead is for us to become even stronger in our own inner knowing as well as our connection to what others have called the higher self or loving inner parents, when those are no longer attacking us from within as much it becomes far more likely we will begin to feel more of the positive feelings in life that come with knowing our own heart, mind body and soul well and trusting that we really can and do have the answers to what helps and hurts us more under conscious control or encompassed by conscious present time awareness.

Keeping moving and reminding myself “I am safe!”

We just got back from a later walk, at times its a push to get moving but when I do I am grateful. I was sharing with a friend with Complex PTSD earlier about how it was to be crushed and trapped in that car, with so much cut and bleeding and my lungs filling up with fluid from the rib puncture. He went through other forms of overpowering and immobilization, and it occurs to me that Peter Levine, trauma specialist and founder of somatic experiencing says that kids pinned down in any way or immobilized as result of traumatic procedures or abuse suffer more.. There is no way to run away in such cases and they get flooded and feel trapped.. Peter helps them later to complete the necessary running movement because he learned from animals those that are allowed to move and discharge through shaking or trembling to throw off trauma fare better than those who cannot and the legacy of anger left in a child may be too ‘hot’ for a parent to handle so they may block or punish a child for it not understanding and so doom them to a host of later problems.

My friend told me today that he was sent to an institution and sent into a bubble room, I didn’t like to ask too much about that but I know his fighting off the entrapment and burst of rage were healthy, even if he got in trouble for them. That said later in life engaging in some fear fight flight reactions can get us in more trouble.

I felt better for my walk this afternoon, even discussing all of this with a good friend stirs me up. We were saying how many dud therapists we have encountered in our time and how useless we know the medication pathway is for many.. This not a popular thing and each to their own in trauma, I can only share what works for me and I never used meds, have seen the toxic results on two sister of prescriptions for many things including lithium, though another friend claims it helped her.. But that is not the purpose of this post.. It is to say how movement is so important but also releasing and discharging with someone who understands and is safe, as with ignorant or unsafe others we may be traumatised again..

That said it is a belief of mine that our body organically knows what it needs to heal and what works, as Levine notes when we over-ride those instinctive movements we lose our way. A large part of dissociation can be about being scared of memories or symptoms that are in reality not dangerous any more, that is why more and more lately when mine come up I just remind myself I am safe and being held in love.. To think the other way arks up anxiety and reactivity… it speeds me up instead of slowing me down and often my body needs me to connect to it, rather than split off as so many of us have no other alternative but to when faced with certain triggers or re-enactments of trauma.

On fear : befriending and working with it

The following insights on making friends with fear are taken from Chapter 7 of Miriam Greenspan’s wonderful book Healing Through the Dark Emotions : TheWisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair.

Befriending fear in a fear negating culture is essential if we want to use this emotion wisely. To do this, we have to be aware of our negative, limiting beliefs about fear, and to reconstruct and affirm a new set of beliefs.

We cannot be warriors of vulnerability, if we think fear is a shameful, debilitating emotion… Think of fear, not as a weakness, but as information, a signal of unsafety, a usable energy, a way of knowing… What fear tells us is that we are human. We are vulnerable. You are interconnected with others in the fabric of life. You can let yourself feel fear, breathe through it, and use its energy. You don’t have to let fear become panic by avoiding it. You can feel it and let it be, and doing so can open the gates to joy.

These affirming statements about fear may seem dubious. Honouring fear and treating it like a legitimate emotion can be uncomfortable, and feel ‘wrong’. Affirming the value of fear requires a kind of revolution within, to transform the fear negating culture we have internalised.

Try this : Write a list of fear affirming statements and pin them on your bedroom or bathroom mirror or some other place you look often. Changing what you believe about what you feel is one of the most impotant ways to shift an old emotional pattern. Psychologists call this “reframing” and its one of the important skills in the alchemy of the dark emotions.

The following questions might help you frame your fear affirmations.

What fears have you faced? What did you gain from facing them?

If your answer to that question is “none’, ask yourself Why not? What got in the way of facing your fears?

Think of a time when you felt paralysed by fear. What kept you from moving through it? What, if anything, helped?

Think of a time when you acted in spite of fear or acted with fear. What happened?

What did you learn?

What fear(s) are you holding in now? What fears are you avoiding? Aht do you think would happen if you let yourself feel them.

Following this, try the following sentence completions:

If fear didn’t scare me, I would use it to……

The resources and strenghth I now have to face my fears creatively are…

When I view fear as a teacher, I learn…..

Something productive I can do with my fear is…..

Changing your shaming beliefs about fear creates an opening, a place in the heart where fear can live without wrecking your self esteem and composure. The open heart can befriend fear and is ready for alchemy.

Getting it touch with fear in your body and soothing it is the next step….hang in and use mindfulness of what it feels like and stay with the discomfort without acting it out (unless you are in real danger) Consciously experience it and talk to it in a soothing way and to find out what it has to say..

The third step is to find the context of fear.. Say you have a fear of heights, in that situation you question exactly what it is you are afraid of : falling and dying, being out of control, fear of uncertainty. Try to find the peace inside that fear, if you cannot control the time of your death what can you control?… fear of death may underline much of our anxiety.. The antidote is to recognise it is inevitable but not always likely… what might it mean to live well, with a fear of death? And if the fear is in response to a real threat what can you do to minimise the threat, what action can you take or changes can you make? What is one simple thing you could do to make things a little better?

The fourth step : mindfullness of fear is related to feeling it in the body….and relates to tolerating fear as a part of life while using a meditation practice to be with it and breathe it in, instead of push it away or avoid it.. taking fear into our heart we may even find a part of us so scared just in need of some love and kind words. Tonglen, a spiritual practice shared by Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron asks us to breathe in fear and breathe out joy. This practice gives an antidote to the ‘spiritual bypass’ of many New Age practices and involves alchemising the dark and primal. If we avoid painful feelings we only end up creating more pain and suffering.. When we react or lash out, out of fear things never improve, we just get trapped in a further cycle of suffering.

The fifth step is related to taking action in the context of fear. Finding out the things that fear or upset us may promote us to take positive action to make a change.

The sixthe step involves the path of surrender, it comes after looking fear in the face and seeing it for what it is.. Prayer may be a part of the path of surrender, this is the practice of handing over what seems too much for us to a higher power or place of faith. Here are some helpful prayers.

May I accept my fear. May my fear guide me to do the right thing.

Help me when I am afraid, not to be afraid of my fear. Help me allow it to move me to an action in service of life.

When all else fails find some comic diversion.. taking a break from fear to laugh and experience joy provides an antidote to the suffocation and heaviness of spirit fear can bring about in our lives…..

To value life

Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.

Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.

Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.

I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.

Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.

Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.

Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.

I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.

Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.

My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.

That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.

Working not be trapped in my panic/anxiety symptoms : where do I put my focus : reflections.

I have shared much on here about my anxiety/panic attacks.  They can occur several times a day.  I struggle on waking to get moving.  I scan my body as I lie there checking if I am releasing or holding my breath, at times I wake up with what feel to be like 1,000 volts of electric fire coursing my system.  I then often struggle after I eat food as I feel my body pulled this way and that.  The other critical times for attack are in the afternoon after returning from time out and around that critical time between 5 and 7 pm which is the time of day I was born and the time of day I had my accident in 2005 after a cranio-sacral session.

But what I also remember from the day of the accident was I had spent a lot of the day in bed in the room in my lodgings (at that time with a family in Cambridge).  I was only about 12 months out of my separation with my husband and I had made a friend at the Psychological Astrology Course in London called Lucy.  Lucy and I connected for a long time but this day on the phone she was rattling pots and pans and my anger got triggered and I got upset with her and accused her of not listening and hung up.  We haven’t ever spoken again and I had my accident later that afternoon after my cranio session where I relived the trauma of my smash up in 1979.

I am thinking about all of this this week because I am reading the book Calming The Emotional Storm and in it they talk of how our interpretations of an event can drive and amp up our feelings.  For example I assumed Lucy wasn’t listening to me when she probably was, my own abandonment wound was triggered too as a deep part of my own mother wound was Mum was always too busy to be there for me and often I was left in the car while the whole family went into the club to have drink and pay the poker machines.  Oh and sometimes Mum would just ‘forget’ to pick me up after school and I would be standing there waiting feeling a mix of painful emotions, sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration and loss.  Later in life I learned to turn to booze or drugs or food to cope with these feelings which is probably why, when I eat now, I can get an attack.  (Just really made the connection while writing.)

The other day I subverted one of these attacks by trying as hard as I could to get the focus ‘off’ of my body symptoms.  I actually managed to eat and bath and get out for a walk with Jasper all without having one panic attack.  I felt so empowered by that as these attacks when bad have often left me feeling suicidal and could keep me paralysed or debilitated for days on end.

I read in the book The Power of Panic that it is the perfectionists among us who suffer most from panic attacks.  We can drive our own anxiety by setting impossible or unrealistic standards and that is part of my problem and my sister’s too as I see it as we were raised in a spotless house where no fun was to be had until chores were all done.  We had to polish our own shoes, iron our own school uniforms and we lived in fear if things weren’t perfectly in control as my Mum could fly into a rage if so and she had this way of flaring her nostrils like a wild horse and that was a trigger sign we better run for cover.  I remember being hit by a flying hair brush once, having my bottom pierced by the bristles of a brush when she laid into me one day when I didn’t stand still while she tried to brush my hair.  And oh she had my long hair cut off because it was too much work to have to take care of long hair.

I once got in trouble with an AA member for getting upset when a hair dresser took too much off my hair and making a complaint.  I was told by this older sober member that I was ‘off the programme’ and that she didn’t want to speak to me any more.  At that stage of my life I was living in almost complete isolation at the family coast house and she was my one contact with the world, apart from a wonderful therapist in Sydney, Brian Hunt who first started to try to help me deal with my buried childhood trauma in 1992, just a year before I got sober.  When I had asked this person if I could move back to Sydney to be closer to her, she said it was too much to ask (fair enough but gosh it hurt then.)

Anyway I eventually got into a disastrous relationship with an Adult Child of a violent alcoholic who didn’t have any interest in recovery and more pain and panic rained down on me.  And it was frustrating for him too that I could not manage to get my focus off of my symptoms long enough at times to be fully emotionally present.  I don’t blame him any more but I do know his empathy muscle was wasted down to zilch due to his own unaddressed trauma.

Today I use my wise mind to get off my painful absorbing symptoms as much as I can.   I am not always successful.  I am also trying to get a better handle on when I drive more emotional reactions with thoughts and interpretations which may or may not be valid.  I wish to God I bought that first book I mentioned a few years ago when I first read about it.  Its such an invaluable resource as it has a chapter which explains what each emotion is and how it feels to experience it in the body.  It also helps us to name those emotions so we don’t need to be so overpowered by them.  I will share more of it in time as I like to help others here too who may not be able afford these resources.   Today I am having anxiety and panic but I am addressing it.  I am not sure it will ever leave me, the best I can do is try my very best to understand and manage it.

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.

 

 

 

 

Why anxiety and logic don’t mix : relationships and insecure attachment

Reading the book I recommended yesterday Anxious in Love is putting into perspective for me why things can hurt and go so wrong for us who suffer PTSD, Complex PTSD or anxious and insecure attachment in relationships.  As the authors point out in Part 2 :  Connecting With the One You Love different parts of the brain are operating for us and our partners who don’t see what all the fuss is about when we respond with anxiety to certain events or triggers.  I am being taken back with every word to my last relationship where I would get an hour long lecture on how wrong I had things to be responding in the way I did with little empathy shown.

In anxiety our forebrain (or rational brain) is emotionally hijacked by the lower brains (hind brain and mid brain) where centres such as the amygdala lie.  Being responded to with logic as most of us know is tantamount to having a red flag waved in front of the face of a raging bull!!!!  But we also need to understand our partner may be coping with the situation in the best way they know how while lacking a more complete understanding of how rationality has flown out the proverbial window.

In this situation what is called for is developing the ability to intentionally respond rather then becoming reactive.  The solution is for each partner to understand and have an attitude of curiosity about what is happening for the other.  It’s something an old therapist of mine would bring up a lot about by ex saying “its just sad he cannot have an attitude of curiosity about what is occurring for you”.  To be told you are bad or wrong for responding as you do is just terrible and I think its a key to so called Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer’s struggle.  Perceived abandonment when triggered can send us into a cascade or spiral that takes is into the darkest place for days and if we are left alone in it too long for some the feelings (what therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange) can lead to suicide, addiction and other self destructive mechanisms of coping.

What Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum, authors of Anxious in Love offer instead is a way of each partner entering the other’s reality for a time to validate it, both the non anxious partner and the one who suffers anxiety.   As sufferers of insecure attachment we can learn to understand our partner’s reactions and can learn to voice our needs in relationship in a less angry, attacking or accusative way.  Often non sufferers who operate from the higher brain just do not understand the severity or intensity of our responses to triggers.

Lack of emotional flexibility is one of the hardest legacies of anxiety reactions in relationship, it shuts down emotional attunement between partners and makes an open dialogue impossible.  Being able to set a time out when we know we are being triggered and our brain is going into hijack mode is useful, and hopefully our partner will accept it if we let them know what is going on with us.  The alternative is they respond with emotional distance/withdrawal themselves, judgement and anger (being triggered themselves), misunderstanding or protest which can be very difficult.  The more we can talk through these reactions and responses in our relationships the better change we have of resolving conflict and growing empathy and attunement.    The more we can step into their shoes and understand what is happening the more we can make an “appeal to reason” while explaining what underlies our reaction.

Some partners may be even triggered by us saying what has triggered us, though. They may respond by telling us “that’s all in the past” but in that case they need to work to understand how emotional hijacking works and show empathy in any case.  A person who is not willing to do this for those of us with insecure or anxious attachment may not, in the long run, be the best partner for us.

More detailed techniques for reconnecting are given in the book in later chapters of Part Two but today I thought I would just share what I have learned from the book so far for those not in the position to purchase a copy at this point in time.  The book is building on my knowledge of many years of trying to deal with anxious attachment and its destructive effect on some of my relationships.

Because the experience of attunement with a significant other is powerful, ruptures in attuned connection bring about a sense of absence, loss, and even distress.  Yet those ruptures in attunement are inevitable in all relationships, no matter how solid.  There are times when you just fall out of sync with one another.  It’s important, therefore, that you both have the ability to repair ruptures when they occur.   Just as quickly as you fall out of sync, with some flexibility you can repair the disconnect and engage one another in attunement again.

Anxious In Love, p. 98

How the inner critic hinders grieving (and anger)

Buried

The greatest hindrance to effective grieving is typically the inner critic.  When the critic is especially toxic, grieving may be counter productive and contraindicated in early recovery.  Those who were repeatedly pathologised and punished for emoting in childhood may experience grieving as exacerbating their flashbacks rather than relieving them.

I have worked with numerous survivors whose tears immediately triggered them into toxic shame.  Their own potentially soothing tears elicited terrible self attacks.  “I’m so pathetic! No wonder nobody can stand me!”  “God, I’m so unlovable when I snivel like this!” “I f@ckup then make myself more of a loser by whining about it!”  “What good is crying for yourself – it only makes you weaker!”

This later response is particularly ironic, for once grieving is protected from the critic, nothing can restore a person’s inner strength and coping capacity like a good cry.  I have defused active suicidality on dozens of occasions by simply eliciting the suffering person’s tears.

Angering can also immediately trigger the survivor into toxic shame.   This is often true of instances when there is only an angry thought or fantasy.  Dysfunctional parents, typically reserve their worst punishments for a child’s anger.  This then traps the child’s anger inside.

In the dysfunctional family however, the traumatising parent soon eradicates the child’s capacity to emote.  The child becomes afraid and ashamed of her own tears and anger.  Tears get shut off and anger gets trapped inside and is eventually turned against the self as self attack, self hate, self disgust and self rejection.  Self hate is the most grievous reenactment of parental abandonment…

Over time anger becomes fuel for the critic.. creating an increasingly dangerous internal environment. Anything the survivor says, thinks, feels, imagines or wishes for is subjected to an intimidating inner attack.

When we greet our own tears with self acceptance, crying awakens our developmentally arrested instinct of self compassion.  Once we establish self compassion through consistent and repeated practice, it becomes the cornerstone of an increasing self esteem.  When an attitude of self compassion becomes habitual, it can instantly antidote the self abandonment that so characterises a flashback.

(copywrite) Pete Walker : extracts from : Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

Force of Magic

Is there a force of magic in this world that we can draw upon, even if it is as simple as the magical turn we can find to change a despairing way of thinking into something full of life, light, joy and hope?   I am writing this after reading a comment on another blog in which the writer was exploring the idea that there may be another way of re-visioning the painful trajectory of her past life.

I do not know the life circumstances of the commenter in question,  but I got a sense of light and hope after reading it.  I had just endured one of those early afternoon attacks that come after I have been out in the world then came home and busied myself with tidying up the ‘mess’ I see about me which was really just some leaves torn to pieces by yesterday’s wild winds after a day of unseasonable heat in which the skies were stained a strange colour and there was an ominous tinge in the air (something my therapist commented on as I was leaving therapy this morning.) and bird shit stains on the outside decking as well a dirty smeared panes of glass on the little segments which make up my balcony doors leading onto the deck outside!

I can not really explain these attacks.  They are probably like a panic attack and there seems to be a digestive element involved and I just got home from town after my visit to therapy where I bought a book on the connection between the brain in our gut and the type of food and thoughts we feed ourselves on as to how they affect or drain our brain leading to anxiety.. I know what a penchant I have for some sweet and have noticed too a poor tolerance in my body for certain carbohydrates after I suffered from breast cancer and had radio therapy back in 2016.   And yes, I seem to have diverged. But if I can reimagine my diet then I can also re-imagine the types of thoughts I feed and fuel myself with.   I had the attack after a wave of busyness trying to clean up which is a constant theme not only in my life but in my therapy, too.

This morning when I dropped some face scrub in the bath this thought came to me…”you dont have to clean up every mess that you see”.  My recent poem Blood Stains on White spoke of this need I have which comes out of a home in which compulsive cleanliness played a huge role.  There may be a tantrum or an outburst of anxiety provoked energy from my Mum if something got into a mess.   I have stopped my Mum in the past mid manic cleaning spree to give her a hug only to have her dissolve in tears on me and today I was thinking of how at a very difficult point I put her through a lot when I was breaking up with my last partner and there was a huge grief component buried underneath that I was in many ways in flight from and still had not processed in therapy.  Today it was good to be able to read this poem in therapy and cry as I do often when I read some post to my therapist which touches on emotional neglect which scarred me in such a deep way as to not be fully conscious until at least very recently.

Anyway perhaps this past of mine cannot be reimagined, although, if like the commenter mentioned above I did reimagine my past as a fairy tale I perhaps may have resonated with the fairy tale Cinderella in some way.  I am always trying to clean up messes, longed for the missed attention and affection of far older siblings, and the only fairy god mother who has turned up is perhaps my therapist, Kat who I value more than words can say.  I dont know how long it is going to take me to become free of this intensely deeply embedded inner critic, perfectionist task master who I choose to call Mr A, (the annihilator), who seems to drive my panic attacks, but at least I have more awareness around this inner psychic force.  It seems to appear on the back of a cleaning spree and perhaps I find myself in flashback mode when I am engaged in this way….. often having been locked out of the house when Mum wanted me away to focus on getting everything spick and span.   I hope there will come a time when I realise I dont have to be spick and span to be lovable enough, that its okay at times for things to be a mess and that a lot of the inner punishment and accusing isnt really mine, just something I internalised so many years ago.

And today after I spend time introspecting on it all I can find the light that lives inside me when I am not back entrapped in that powerful flashback mode, then I settle into myself and my body in a way that is comfortable for me……I am no longer in the contractive state of flashback but a more open expansive state of present moment awareness free of past triggers….It comes and goes this space.  I know enough to know that no flashback lasts and although I pray for a day I will be free of them.  Perhaps for now its more realistic to know that I can trust they will come and go, that I will know moments of peace and harmony despite all the terrors and torments of a past that I am working my utmost best to become more conscious of..

Alone in the alone : daily reflections

Alone in the alone Tears fall As I feel at times the helplessness That comes in As the inner tide rises claiming my soul Dis-allowing my will Power over a body awash in so much unspoken feeling that then breaks open like a wave surprising me (have just endured over 2 hours of panic attacks this morning!)

Thoughts of how I failed to live my dreams Come haunting me And I lay to wreckage the idea that I have any purpose in my life.   Alone in the alone All I can do is seek inner comfort Not to deny what is arising but welcome it in Open the door to my own heart

I think of later demands and upset with others not being there and wonder how much of that pain is about my past I know only this Love has to be freely given And we cannot bring a love to us that is absent Out there everyone is getting on with their own lives And that is their responsibility  None amongst us is responsible for another’s happiness But if we love someone we want that for them : happiness And when we have time we naturally want to share it

Today a wave of regret over my past came and claimed me again  It hit me full force The inner critic was back Saying I lacked courage when I know it was not the full truth  I did feel fear launching out on an attempt to live in another country at a time I was still in deep grief for the loss of a love   I just need to remember to go easy and not give myself a hard time.  Just when I think that pattern is done It comes back and rears its head in my life  I can do nothing about the past I must live in this day  Regret will only steal my energy from present time.  I can welcome regret in I don’t need to push it away but I also don’t need it to take up residence here permanantly and allow it to adversely affect my day   The cost of doing that is too large

I enjoyed the end part of Richard Grannons’ video yesterday where he talked of his need to stay in reality and watch his impulse to act as well as the thoughts that might be driving such reactions within him.  Psychological awareness and maturity probably means we react less out of our past and are more aware of triggers and motivations It takes some work  Today I can recognise I struggle as I tend to do a lot on Saturdays  Then I can put some good things in place to help myself be calmer And part of this is just looking around the room and acknowledging simple things of beauty here, the way the sunlight falls on the carpet, the tumult of heavy winds blowing about branches outside, the simple quiet comfort of relaxing and being free from punishing thoughts and feelings once the panic attacks have subsided  I know the attacks dont last They are wave like in their quality  Its just such a relief once they have passed