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

Wave : becoming

Drown.jpg

I know not where or when the next wave will come from

Deep sadness rising up within my chest

That hold echoes of the past that hurt me

And stole so much

Allowing things in that I was

Powerless to put barriers up against

Now I fear the wave

As I fear that obliteration of self

An undoing and erasing

Of all I have worked so hard to build

Or had to steal surreptitiously

Denying I longed for more

When I am tossed this way and that

Breath disappears or strains to live

Lungs surround

Laboured heart

Struggling to find and beat its own rhythm

Inside my chest

Yet is this breathlessness

Reminding me of what has value

Even while buried under water

Of all that was denied me

On this path of becoming

In a world that never seemed to care too much

About my want

And so I ran

Always fearing that if I stood still

That wave would destroy me

So much that I was exhausted

And stranger to myself

For this I have learned

You cannot outrun trauma

But must summon up the courage to face it

Chest clamped tight I steel my heart

Against the very remembering

That will bring the flood

That will clear the landscape

For a new realisation

Sometimes the wave brings surrender

A dissolution of the truth of how hard I sought

To find unreal meaning

In what truth denied

Wreckage lay waste to dreams

That in being surrendered

Stole all hope

And yet was that death

Or all part of my becoming?

And now

If I seek peace and refuge in calm and silence

It this my hiding place

Or my place of birthing?

Core trauma and core sentences : addressing carried ancestral or parental trauma and pain.

Many of us have core thoughts or beliefs, often fuelled by past pain, losses, trauma or fear which run over and over like an ongoing monologue either at the level or just below the level of consciousness.  We may not be fully aware of them.  We may not be fully aware of where they come from.  Not knowing our parents or grand parents or great grand parent’s history (about which they often remained silent) we may not realise that they actually relate back to something – a loss, trauma, illness or injury that happened in past generations.  They may then fuel our lives in painful ways causing much havoc.

This blog is a continuation of earlier ones I wrote last week on the subject of ancestral healing  Its something I became aware of in my own life through intuition as I learned more about past traumas on my mothers’s side of the family after I got sober in 1993.  I was aware when I began to attend Al Anon after many years in AA that my addiction was a family inheritance, something passed down in some way.  It wasn’t until I was given access by chance to information about my great great grandfather’s history of addiction, loss, grief and eventual abandonment that I began to join up some of the dots.  That is why I was so excited to finally read Mark Wolynn’s book on ancestral pain and healing It Didn’t Start With You last week.  

In an early chapter of his book, Mark tells the story of a young (19 year old man) called Jesse who at that age suddenly began to experience panic attacks which involved his body feeling covered with cold and shaking.  On exploring the family history Mark found out that Jesse had an uncle who died at the age of 19 after falling down face first in the snow.  Jesse at the same age of his uncle’s trauma was re-experiencing the symptoms and emotional as well as physical pain of his uncle. Once the connection to his ancestor’s pain was acknowledged and healing work was done to make a separation Jesse’s symptoms and panic attacks subsided.

The second story Mark tells of a woman who began to feel suicidal at a certain age.  She would be overcome with the worst depression and say to herself “I just want to incinerate myself”.  Turns out a host of her relatives had actually been gassed in the gas chambers by the Nazi’s during World War II.   The family history was hidden and never spoken of but this woman carried the painful feelings of longing to die which hit around the age some of her relatives were killed.

There are too many other powerful stories of healing in Mark’s book to relate in this one post and I have a limit tonight on what I can transcribe.  What I would like to address is that so often pain we carry may not only be ours.   It may have roots in childhood but often the childhood relates in some way to the past of a parent or grandparent that was transferred.  According to Mark if the there is a murder or other legacy of guilt in a family a later member may be urged to attone for that guilt or murder.

What is required to free ourselves from such unconscious repetition compulsions and carried ancestral trauma bonds is the ability to honour the ancestor’s pain and give the guilt or grief back to whom it belongs.   To this end Mark suggests the following ways of handing back and releasing ourselves from ancestral pain so we no longer need to carry on the unhappiness, grief or guilt that didnt start with us.

Visualise the family member or members involved in the (traumatic) event.  Tell them : “You are important.  I will do something meaningful to honor you.  I will make something good come out of this tragedy.  I will live my life as fully as I can, knowing that this is what you want for me.”

Construct a personal language or healing sentences to counteract the destructive power of damaging ones.  In this language acknowledge the unique connection you share with the person or people.

In addition you can use the following healing sentences :

“Instead of reliving what happened to you, I promise to live my life fully.”

“What happened to you won’t be in vain.”

“I will use what happened as a source of strength.”

“I will honor the life you gave me by doing something good with it.”

“I will do something meaningful and dedicate it to you.”

“I will not leave you out of my heart.”

“I’ll light a candle for you.”

“I’ll live my life in a loving way.”

“I will make something good come out of this tragedy.”

“Now I understand.  It helps me to understand.”

Mark give additional practices in the next part of the book which involve keeping a photo and working to return guilt or pain to its original source. Lighting candles to honor the journey of our ancestors,  Visualising and creating boundaries and distance between the ancestor’s or parent’s pain and keeping that boundary clear and clean while honoring their loss, pain or trauma.

Additional practices involve connecting with our own bodies to honour our integrity and self as we learn to achieve a psychic wholeness and deepening connection within.  I shared one of these in an earlier post today.  The involve putting a hand on our body, breathing deeply while saying the following :

“I’ve got you.”

“I’m here.”

“I’ll hold you.”

“I’ll breathe with you.”

“I’ll comfort you.”

“Whenever you’re feeling scared or overwhelmed, I won’t leave you.”

“I’ll stay with you.”

“I’ll breathe with you until you are calm.”

When we place our hands on our body and direct our words and breath inside, we support the parts of ourselves that feel most vulnerable.  In doing so, we have a chance to erase or release what we experience as intolerable.  Long standing feelings of discomfort can give way to feelings of expansion and well-being.  As the new feelings take root, we can experience ourselves being more supported in our body.

Such ways of being with our selves and supporting our bodies provide for us a holding environment and counter act dissociation or an attempt to move away and self reject or self abandon.  We may never have learned this way of coping or self soothing before but now we can.  We truly can be present for us and send our own body all the love, support, comfort and healing we need for our journey of separating from old pain we should not have to carry onward.

Understanding abandonment depression : insights from James Masterson

Abandonment depression appears as a subject in a few of my posts.  I made a leap forward in my own recovery when I first began to become aware of the term just over a year ago following reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD where he deals with the subject in depth.  Abandonment depression is different to basic depression which can be a feeling of depletion or lowered energy following a loss of massive change of some kind in a person’s life.  When dealing with this kind of depression easy solutions of distraction for a time or a taking of pain relief to help when people find them selves in the critical stages will help.  In the case of abandonment depression we are dealing with something that will not be helped by these kind of solutions since it involves a core wound that must be understood, felt, mined and addressed through psychological work.

Here is how James Masterton describes the abandonment depression :

In the throes of the abandonment depression, a person will feel that a part of his very self is lost or cut off from the supplies necessary to sustain life.  Many patients describe this in graphic physical terms, such as losing an arm or leg, being deprived of oxygen, or being drained of blood.  As one patient put it : “I felt as though my legs would not work so I couldn’t possibly leave the house, and when I went to fix lunch I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to swallow.  And if I did I would probably throw it back up.”

At the darkest level of this depression, a person can despair of ever recovering her real self, and thoughts of suicide are not uncommon.  When one is brought low enough repeatedly, or for an extended period of time, it becomes increasingly harder to imagine oneself happy again or able to push through life with the strength and confidence with which the reasonably healthy go about their daily living. At this point a person can teeter on the brink  of despair, give up and consider taking her own life. If the separations they experience in their external lives are painful enough to reinforce the feelings of fear of abandonment, some will commit suicide.

(this is well beyond an acute episode of the ‘blahs’)… The roots of depression push farther into the past than seems apparent.  In time, true sources, eating away inside, make themselves known.  But initially they are well defended by the false self.

It is the nature of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are – vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge.  Nevertheless, when the defences are down and the real self is thrown into situations calling for strong self assertion, situations that trigger the repressed memories of earlier separation anxieties and feelings of abandonment by the mother, the serious nature of the depression is glimpsed and felt.  At this point it is not uncommon for the patient to panic and slide down to the very bottom from which he convinces himself he will never recover.

(Panic hides fear of the rage underneath depression).  Depression and rage ride in tandem.  As depression intensifies, and comes to the surface of awareness, so does anger.  At first (the real reasons cannot be pinpointed)…rage is diffuse and projected onto outside sources (anger at life or the world or just angry in general…..Anger of the abandonment depression is far more intense and complex).  Anger that is part of the abandonment depression. has more damaging consequences.  Its intensity can cause bodily shaking, feelings of helplessness, feeling like a baby (age regression) and it comes from painful childhood experiences that may not be easily recalled because they are so solidly defended against.

Eventually in therapy real causes of the anger begin to become apparent but the anger is still defended against by being projected onto targets that are often stand ins or proxies….this occurs because feeling anger is associated with fear of rejection as well as fear of intimacy since in childhood being close came with difficulties and rejections.

Rage and fear (the) lead to panic.. Panic feeds on the fear that we cannot express our anger over abandonment.  It can be a claustrophobic strangling of energies, a tightening up of options : either we express our anger and risk losing the love of others or we deny the anger in order to remain in the helpless state of dependency and hold onto others.  As the panic grows, patients report that it feels like facing death or actually being killed.  Often this anxiety will be channelled into psychosomatic disorders such as asthma and peptic ulcers, each being a perfect metaphor for the underlying fear… A person with a peptic ulcer is often hungering for emotional supplies that were lost in childhood or that were never sufficient to nourish the real self.  As an adult, she is unable to find sources to supply the needed emotional support or to get through life without it.

The person living with (such a) death threat, or what is perceived as a death threat, hanging over his head necessarily leads a fearful life, in which every move to express hiself, to allow his rea self to emerge, is accompanied by the need to look over his shoulder in fear and panic… panic can escalate as the patient slowly becomes aware of the depression and anger that have been bottled up over the years.  The false self has blocked any expression of these feelings for so long that when they do manage to surface, even in the slightest way, the resulting panic can be paralysing and terrifying.  Fear of letting these feelings out into the open, even in therapy can mushroom into panic proportions.

Guilt is the fifth column behind.. the patient’s frontline of defences.  (This is not normal reasonable guilt but rather)… fed by the guilt we internalise in early childhood from the disapproval expressed by the mother for self actualisation or individuation……Not being able to face up to the internalised guilt about that (healthy) part of themselves, these individuals will suppress making any moves in forbidden direction and resort to old familiar clinging behaviour that they remember made them safe and good years ago.

(Clinging and guilt lead to…) helplessness.  Failure to activate the impaired real self (and) to deal with painful feelings.. which in the abandonment depression is abiding and total…. staying in unhealthy jobs and relationships, fearing moving on from old unhealthy patterns, even denying that we desire to.

James A Masterson, Fear of Abandonment, The Search for the Real Self

The anger against, fear of and panic due to devaluation of our true self internalised by the false self in the course of growing up lives on inside of us and must be faced on the path of healing.   Facing such internalised voices, feelings and fears means we must also confront the inner critic who has become hostile to the real self ever breaking free and asserting its real needs which bring with them the deep seated fear of abandonment by others that had its roots in the past.  Mastering our fear of abandonment and the abandonment depression is the price we pay to discontinue the inner self abandonment we face when we begin to become more conscious and aware of the real roots and aspects of the abandonment depression.

In the absence of love

I just reread one of my poems Girl Behind Glass about how when we seek for love outside from caregivers who will mirror and help us to access our true self and find nothing but emptiness or are ignored how we then have no choice but to turn back within often in sheer desperation.

As I was reading the poem it also occurred to me that in the absence of this real honest to goodness present love we actually use the solution of denial and lying to ourselves about what we did not receive, saying that we really did or if we didn’t it was probably our own fault or else there is something wrong with our perception.  This terrible denial solution leads us to turn against our inner world and to suffer from a profound inner schism.

I have just remembered while writing this the double bind theory of schizophrenia proposed by Gregory Bateson some years ago.  In this theory the child accurately perceives that a parent feels a certain way but when they offer that perception to the parent, the parent denies it which leaves the child questioning his or her own perception.  Its like looking in a distorted mirror and being returned a distorted reflection.  I tried to write a post about this a few years ago on WordPress called the Inverted Mirror.  I was never sure how well expressed my struggle to explain this confusing dilemma of perceptual distortion was though, an ongoing inner conundrum for me with my own self doubt formed by years and years of never being fully validated or learning how to self validate well.

I am thinking a lot about this today because I am seeing how much I also engage in a form of denial or just push aside perceptions and insights I can have into people.  My therapist notices it all of the time.  No sooner do I cut to the heart of something when an inner voice comes into to offer the opposite point of view or point out how ‘here I go again mixing things up”.  It truly is awful.

In the past it had been extremely difficult for me to be consistently able to stand by my own point of view and examining this dilemma I think it comes out of having to make choices to spend time with those who are not real or nurturing or wholey loving and honest due to there just being no one much like that around when I was growing up and even later in life.   It is becoming clearer and clearer to me how deeply alone I was growing up and well into late adolescence and early adulthood when multiple traumas hit.

The deep sense of aloneness and emotional hunger forced me to look in all the wrong places for connection as I grew and then turn increasingly to addiction to numb my true feelings about it.  Even well into sobriety trusting my inner feelings, being able to connect to them, feel, name and honour them without fear or shame has been a huge challenge for me.

It could be a breakthrough at the moment to finally be seeing all of this.  It hurts though to finally have to face the depth of emptiness I have felt rather than run or blame myself for it as I have done while on some level also feeling liberating.   I guess from here on in in my journey of recovery it’s all about taking on board the truth that from now on in if I really want to recover I need to be my own best friend instead of giving myself away or putting my own thoughts, needs, feelings and perceptions down.  I see how I can devalue myself because I don’t feel the same as a lot of other people out there who operate on a more superficial level.  Trying to fit into their world only hurts me as it fails to nourish me at the same time.

One of the symptoms of childhood emotional neglect due to therapist Jonice Webb is poor awareness and understanding of our emotions as well as a tendency to feel much guilt and shame as well as feeling that there is something deeply wrong with us for being ourselves or feeling what we do.  Lack of consistent and honest mirroring in childhood of emotions left as with a deep void inside which we cannot know because our ego (or conscious centre of self) was not able to form well and relate to its inner contents completely or in a healthy nurturing way.  This leave us with two other symptoms : feelings of emptiness as well as suicidal thoughts and feelings at times.

If we lack a reference point to connect to the true self our true self grieves deeply within us and longs for a pain to be known which we sadly see as some sign of our deepest flaw and inadequacy, rather than something we are powerless over when unconscious of it as well as a result of things done or not done to us or for us in childhood.

How we escape from this dilemma is first of all becoming aware of the fact that we suffer in the ways that we do.  The tendency to blame ourselves and feel shame for things that were far beyond our control doesn’t allow us to fully heal until we can embrace and know the underlying causes.  We long and ache and suffer while blaming and shaming ourselves for so doing, until one day enlightenment dawns often after an exceedingly long and drawn out battle.  And on the journey the void within needs both a witness and a container to help us make sense of it.

Facing the abandonment depression alone (our deepest core psychological emptiness or abyss) is challenging in the extreme and is accompanied by what therapist James Masterton has called the Six Horsemen of the Psychic Apocalypse and we need all the help we can on the path of dealing with these : depression, panic, rage, guilt, helplessness (hopelessness) and emptiness.  Its no easy journey to live with the consequences of being unheld, unloved and unmirrored in childhood and the last thing I am seeing we need to do on such a journey is blame ourselves for something over which we were at an earlier time completely powerless over.  If we continue to do so we will just never break free and find our true inner locus of power and perception.