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

The dark place of abandonment

Being made to believe we are not okay as we are and certainly not deserving of someone’s love and relationship does affect us so very deeply.  I am revisiting the work of abandonment therapist Susan Anderson lately.  I was lucky to be guided towards her book From Abandonment to Healing just over 13 years ago when my marriage ended and I found myself in a very dark place.

This was not the first time as abandonment has been a pretty much constant theme for me starting with my older much loved sister leaving home when I was only 3 to marry and start her own family and live overseas.  My Mum wasn’t emotionally available to me at all, she worked all the time and when she was home we had to duck and weave around her compulsive cleaning, there was never a place to rest and my Dad also vacated through his own addictions (minor ones) when he was around he wasn’t really there.  Later in life after I nearly lost my life at the tender age of 17 in a motor vehicle smash up he was hard line forcing me to go to secretarial college in the painful aftermath of my older sister’s breakdown and cerebral bleed.  Later I saw her abandoned too at her most vulnerable time and was back at home when she tried to take her life in 1982 when I was only 20 years old.

Dad ended up dying when I was only 23 and that was followed by my then partner (who I had two terminations of pregancy to), ringing me at 4 am in the morning just a few days after my father died to tell me not to bother joining him overseas as he didn’t love me any more and had found someone else.  Do you believe that later when our paths crossed in Greece I slept with him only to come home one night and find him in bed with someone else only to be accused of being ‘mad’ when I reacted to it poorly?  Luckily at that time I was with other friends in Greece and the owner of our B and B deplored my ex’s behaviour.  Never the less I internalised the abandonment seeing it as due to a flaw in me.

I won’t go into the pain of three more similar ‘leavings’ of exs over a period of 18 more years, often on the back of being told there was something wrong with me.  What that ‘something’ I now know was terror and fear pure and simple and Susan Andersons’ newer book which I just bought Taming The Outer Child : Overcoming Self Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment explains how very real changes in our neurochemistry involving the amygdala leave us with an over active fear, flight and fight response which is automatically triggered in any new relationship or prospective interaction  (and not only with new potential partners, from my experience).  This reactive pattern she gives the name Outer Child and it can sabotage and lay to waste new connections but not only that leaves us with cumulative Post Traumatic Stress as a result of our abandonment trauma or ‘schemas’.

Anderson.jpg

As I sat with my sister yesterday after she tried on the clothes I bought for her and saw how much of her self love had been decimated I thought it is criminal what people are telling her, I know her fixation on clothes and looking good are symptoms of her abandonment but its not only that, the roulette wheel of psychiatrists and medications has left her depleted, she went down the exercise route but withouth any psycho dynamic therapy and no emotional recovery buddies.  She is not able to express and read as I am and that works against her.   I know new clothes will not fix that deeper wound to her self esteem but I think it doesn’t hurt to be there to try as it’s getting so much colder here and she has no warm jumpers and when people tell her ‘its all in her head as she has lots of clothes’, that to my mind is pretty invalidating and harsh.

I seem to have gone a little off track here but what I am trying to address in this post is how our abandonment at another’s hands can leave us questioning our own use, meaning, value, beauty and goodness and how healing involves not internalising those feelings from someone else.  In her earlier book Anderson uses the acronym S.W.I.R.L. to describe the process of working through a recent abandonment which may trigger far earlier ones.  (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalisation, Rage, Lifting).

The true abandonment as adults is then self abandonment which occurs as we internalise false beliefs about our value and worth and fail to understand or validate reactions to abandonment and its deeper triggers. For sure we may not be perfect and have wounds and scars and reaction patterns we need to understand and work with : the process Anderson outlines in the second book, but we are not worthless because we have been abandoned or gone through loss and all our feelings and reactions make complete sense once we understand their roots and work to understand our own history and self sabotaging behaviours.

From this position we should be showing compassion to those who have suffered emotional abandonment not be taking out a big stick to hit them over the head with.   For healing involves compassion, wisdom and tenderness both to others and to our inner child that bleed from very real wounds in earlier life.

I took the risk

My brother called this morning.  My sister’s anxiety is so bad that they are putting her in hospital and he wanted to come over to discuss it with me in half an hour.  Her psychiatrist just ‘retired’ leaving her with no one, she then got another referral and has to wait 4 months to see anyone.  I was so angry to hear this.  My sister never opens up to me but maybe I should have asked what the situation is but since my sister chooses to do no therapy I find its a bit of a no go zone discussing psychiatrists.  My sister has been struggling and I think I have failed her by not noticing how hard it was for her lately and concentrating on how I am struggling and not getting enough from her.  I feel some guilt over it.  I think I may have been self centred.  That said I have never found it easy to trust her as she has hurt me before I know she must be missing Mum a great deal and feeling guilt over the stress she caused by trying to take her own life while living with Mum back in 2013.

I then opened up to my brother about things from the past that happened after Dad died and before, he let me cry but then said to me “you need to find a way to put these things behind you because that all happened years agon and is in the past” which shows I was not wrong in being wary of opening up to him.   He did hold my hand as I cried and told me to ‘let it out’ but then his comment felt like being shut down again.  I tried to tell him how trauma such as I have had with things of metal going deep inside by body is just not a ‘head’ thing that can conciously be let go but affects neurobiology, but he quickly said he had to go when it got too intense for him.  Most PTSD survivors will be familiar with this kind of reaction.  Maybe he was just protecting himself.

I have to remember that my brother’s relationship with his own body is not good and he never was one to be able to relate and open up emotionally, my sister also never opens up and I told my brother I see this as a large part of anxiety because of the inner shame and constant inner critical voices that I know my sister does endure because she has shared about them with me.

I called my nephew to share my hurt over what my brother did, I wasn’t angry but I noticed I was shaking after he left and feeling so anxious my heart was beating wildly with the real life energy coming up seeking a container with him and the container broke aparts and it all flooded back on me.  I was also conscious of that body anxiety coming up as I discussed it all with my nephew until tears fell again and I expressed my vulnerablity to him.  He said I am not responsible for my sister, that her sons need to step up but I know the older son is not good with feelings either.

Anyway I did take the risk of opening up with my brother.  I learned why I so often don’t trust opening up and fear I will be dropped or negated.  I know what he said is not fully true wounds we go through do leave scars and much depends upon how we tend them, we don’t need to fixate on them, just respect that they are there and hurt more when soothing empathy is not shown and physical and emotional trauma does leave lasting effect no matter what those who do not suffer from it say to us.

Our total health rests on who we surround ourselves with and how well they receive us, until we can hold the charge for us in relationshp and after they left and recognise what went down in exchanges.  Today some things were confirmed but I have still been crying for my sis I wish she had real help that helped her to deal with her feelings and anxiety.  I hope she gets it in the hospital, but I am scared as I don’t trust they really know the full story or what they are doing.

A safe calm space

As a trauma survivor also raised in a high anxiety home its important for me to find and relax into safe calm spaces where and when I can find them.  I find there is a moment of decision in which I must take the opportunity just to ‘be’, to let myself and my awareness keep a focus on sounds and then quietly on my breath.  At times my body chemicals over-ride this, particularly at the time of my two major physical traumas at others like today on my walk with Jasper this didnt happen.  We had a lovely moment sitting under the shedding acorn trees in the child’s play part where I was just in the peace of the present moment.

It’s unseasonally hot here today, but under the tree it was cool and while sitting there and enjoying the surrounds I also focused on closing my eyes and hearing the layering of sounds around us which included birds singing, a dog barking, the low hum of traffic as well as the soft sound and feel of the breeze.  I was aware of my body but for a miraculous moment there was no pain in my body and I was able to breathe a full breath which seems impossible when a trauma cascade hits me as it can up to two or three times a day.  It was so beautiful just to revel in the pleasant sounds and sensations around me, to be aware of the absence of thought apart from the soothing one. “this feels lovely” and to feel myself let go and expand in to it.

This experience of peace had come just after reading and replying to some comments on my last post about trauma, addressing where we put our focus, the experience of being in and out of it and sharing some of what I understand from trauma specialist, Peter Levine’s work on trauma about pendulation in working with traumatic events.

It also came after a period of doubt about my current therapy which is extremely affirming but at times brings up very very painful sensation when I have to re share traumatic events or experiences and reactions from the past or the past week.  For a while a while ago I was seeing a body harmony therapist who was very quick to pull me out of my thoughts about sensations especially when they were in triggering parts of my body that have undergone trauma.  Due to the numerous physical traumas there are not a lot of parts of my body that trauma has not touched but Robyn during our sessions would try to keep me entering then leaving and then shifting the focus on to something pleasant  in the room or by getting me to look into her eyes when I was in overwhelm or flashback which is what Peter Levine encourages his own clients to do.  And often an outpouring of grief would occur at these times which she would mirror and affirm.

This work is not easy because trauma can be so very magnetic and as I understand it there is also something called the trauma vortex, which I experience in my spine as a kind of spinning sensation and it can spin at times clockwise and at other times counter clockwise, hard to explain here but I sense this spin at different times of the day and when awakening at night which is accompanied by the sensation of cells in my body being fluid or silted or inundated with fluid.  (In my original near death trauma my lungs were punctured by a broken rip and the fluid poured in through the pierced pleura.) At times it is so hard to get my attention pulled away from this magentic focus which is also telling me something deeper not always accessible in words.

Today I also had the awareness of how my own reactivity contributed to the second trauma which was a bike accident triggered after doing a cranio sacral session on the original crash around the first anniversary of my husband leaving me.   I would not have had that second accident if I was not on the run from family and I would not have had it if I had not retriggered the trauma of the earlier crash in that session.  The most important insight I came away from that session with was seeing my accident from outside and how it had traumatised my father at the time who was not, like my Mum called to the scene of the crash and I think had to see me cut out of the car after a long period of being trapped.

Writing all of this today is actually retriggering me too.  My family heard about my second crash but no one bothered to come over to be with me and so I was pretty much alone and then in trouble with the family I boarded with for making their lives harder by having had it.  And so I took myself away on retreat to Glastonbury to an ashram and was not able to really get all the help and support I needed despite the fact I had made a good friend from my Dad’s home town in Holland when I was in the UK and ready to come out of hospital.   I ran from her too as I felt my trauma was really not understandable and if I think about it I also feared abandonment, so I ran back to family.  That is a hell of a lot of running.  And yet I did the best I could at the time.

All of this is behind me now, but the thought lives on when I think of connecting with my sister over Easter on the fourth anniversary of our older sister’s death.   Should I really be blaming her for a lack of empathy shown after  my ex husband left and she accused me of being a selfish little girl?  What of the fact she has undergone her own trauma since and is kinder now? What of the times she did try to help me but was not really sure how to?  How much contact to have and how come I still feel so responsible for her and long so much to connect?  Yet even as I read this back, of course I long for this sister’s love but she never treated me as kindly as my older sister did. And even that relationship had toxic elements.

I know this is a lot of questions and I dont know all the answers.  I imagine readers getting impatient with me.  But then I think of a comment from a follower last night which said to try and see the situation from outside myself and to consider how I would treat this person (me) who had been through so much?  Wouldnt I just advise her to take care of herself first, no matter how ‘selfish’ that makes me seem and keep limited contact?

What I am understanding today though is, how much that is good is really around me at the moment when I take those steps to find that safe calm space in the day in the present moment away from past trauma triggers and residues.  Trauma lies in my past, not my present and yet at times it seems to dominate my present.  I get those mixed up thoughts of love for my sister and mother while seeing things they did that also hurt me.   I think of how my sister is now very alone and isolated in her own life but I am aware too of the fact that she too is responsible for herself and maybe she finds her own quiet calm space better being on her own, than around me.  And I know a lot of the time being around my sister quiet frankly triggers me and makes me feel more anxious as memories of that horrible time at the coast where she asked my mother to choose her favourite person to be with out of her and me ended with Mum saying she would rather be with my sister who was happy not sad. Part of me feels betrayed but part of me understands, but then I was always left alone in my grief anyway just as I was left alone as a child and the end of my marriage in 2004 just opened up all of those other losses starting with my father’s death in 1985.  Those losses too are all in the past and yet they have marked me.  They have, at times, led to faulty beliefs that I didn’t deserve any better or somehow caused it all.  In the calm quiet space I can just observe these thoughts come and go.

Today I am grateful for that lovely moment I had earlier in the day.  I am grateful for the lovely lunch of quiche and home made salad I just ate while writing this, I am glad for my therapist Kat and I am glad for the ability to be able to write about all of this and to be heard, read, reached out to by others and understood.  That’s a hell of a lot to be grateful for and heading into easter, although it will always be tinged with the trauma of losing my older sister in 2014 after 34 years of witnessing her also go through trauma and abandonment I am aware that out of the crucifixion of all of our most painful experiences does come a time of entombment and then resurrection.  We go into the fire in trauma, part of us get burned up as we walk across ‘the burning ground’ but we also emerge in time, transformed in some way, deepened in some way, enriched in some way and also made more full of compassion in some way.   It’s a painful territory but one that also makes us aware of blessings as well as the depth of love which is always present in grief and in our longing and which we should pray never to fully forsake due to the pain and agony of trauma.

The mental confusion of early childhood trauma

When there is not as much going on in my life I want to share information from Tian Dayton’s book Emotional Sobriety on the effects of relational trauma, that is the damage that happens to us when we are affected by early childhood abuse, trauma or lack of mirroring and empathy.  However today one of the key symptoms that is capturing my attention is distorted reasoning.  Tian writes :

Many people experience trauma within their family unit, rather than from an external source  When one’s family unit is spinning out of control, people are prone to adapt all methods of coping mechanisms – whatever they have to do to maintain feelings of connection.  Distorted reasoning – which may take the form of rationalizing and justifying bizarre or unusual forms of behavior and relations – can be immature and can also produce core beliefs about life upon which even more distorted reasoning is based.  For example “he is only hitting me because he loves me.”

I am thinking of this today as my Mum lies so ill and pumped full of chemicals in hospital.  I am thinking of how with no father she had to suffer aloneness and then be pushed to clean and clean.  Down on her kness in the bathroom she was told to ‘polish that floor until it shines’  and then she was hit or forced into domestic service.   With all this unprocessed trauma was it any wonder it was passed on to us all in different ways.  My older sister worked and worked and then drank and drank until the cerebral bleed took her down, my brother in law who eventually abandoned her was the evil one, but he too was scrambling to survive.   Amidst all of the following trauma I was scrambling to make sense of it, seeing my sister in a mythological light or struggling to understand the truth, caught up but not able to see clearly, carrying terror of abandonment into all subsequent relationships.

Lats night as I sat by my mother’s bedside and held her hand in the darkened room, an ocean of peace opened up between us.   I wept to the depths of my being as she told me she loved me.  She is very heavily drugged at the moment and chock full of toxins.  She also knows she hurt me and that we struggled at times, but what I really felt so deeply last night was the love that she tried to express in the only way she knew how.  Her own mother never once tole her she loved her, in later years she would push my mother out of the way in her desire to see my father, who she adored.   I know at times as a patriarchial Dad, my father frustrated all three of his daughers and there were a lot of times he could not give my mother the understanding she needed.   I see how my Mum was as a young person so focused on survival that emotions had to take a back seat.  Now its so sad to witness the years of trauma she has lived through as the result of her earlier emotional neglect richocheting over three generations.  My nephew made a lightening visit to see her yesterday morning driving four hours and weeping so intensely.   My heart goes out to him really, he has been through so much in past weeks all in an effort to fill the gaping mother wound in his heart (Saturn in Cancer).   He is carrying pain of many generations, that much is clear to me, as the very sensitive one.

Two other symptoms of early relational trauma are also somatic disturbances as well as memory disturbances and dissociation.  The continuity of time is warped in trauma, we don’t remember key events but they are held deep in somatic memory, however they are obscured and disjointed and may make so sense.   Due to dissociation we experience reactions to events that mirror earlier ones that may seem out of control or order.  We are then judged or judge ourselves for suffering, not fully understanding the extent of our suffering.  Re-enactment patterns and relationship issues are also a result of relational trauma in early life.   We will try in any way to make the the unconscious conscious in order to feel and heal it, but so often that involves experiencing more pain in order to connect to the original cause that my lay deeply obscured within us.   Maybe triggering traumatic events and disturbances in later relationships are ‘wake up calls’ trying to draw us towards understanding, healing and feeling.   It major work and we need so much help along the way.  We cannot do it alone and we need positive connections to heal but making them is hard when we are often attracted to what is bad for us.

With Mercury planet of mind and communications moving backward through the meaning making sign of Sagittarius this month and back towards a confusing square (or crisis aspect) with the planet of distorting Neptune, issues of mental confusion may be highlighted but the unconscious which Neptune also rules may be trying to get our attention in all kinds of ways.  Who can we trust for validation when our thinking and ability to make sense of our experience may be essentially wounded or thwarted and distorted in some way by past relational trauma or lack of mirroring?   It is so important that we find the right avenues to deepen in understanding and heal our minds as well as our hearts, souls and bodies.

Mars the planet of self assertion is moving into trine Neptune over the next two weeks or so, so a flow of healing may open up in many of our lives, a push to move forward in love and compassion in order to find freedom from past hurt, its what I am feeling very deeply this morning.   We cannot avoid the mental distortions that are a part of trauma but we can, in later life work for more clarity and insight.    Information on how trauma can discombobulate us is essential for our emotional recovery.

Some thoughts on disconnection and connection.

Connection

Well back here we are my sister, Mum and me, alone again after all the trauma with little Lyra hit, worrying and wondering and feeling how it is to have no loving family apart from each other close.  I called my nephew this morning he only texted back everyone is excited and elated, Lyra is now smiling and out of sedation, call you later the text said.  I breathed such a huge sigh of relief but today all three of us are feeling the trauma and the void more deeply than ever.  I am sure he has a lot going on as his wife’s extended family were flying in to join them all this morning.  I am glad Lyra and Gerrard have all of that loving support.  But it does drive home how isolated we can be at times.

I do believe separations are a part of life.  With Mercury planet of communications very close the astrological heavy weight Saturn (planet of being alone and separate) now with Mercury moving backwards its driving home to me how deeply Saturnian our family is.  Those who managed to break away have close bonds, my nephews all have loving partners and families.  My brother has a very close bonded family.   The rest of us, well our relationships dissolved for one reason and another.

As I look back I see how hard it was for me to understand emotional connection and closeness growing up.  Trauma has the affect of fragmenting us anyway and relational trauma is the worst.  If you have a trauma and those around you pull close to you and surround you with love you do a lot better.  The loved ones may not understand the deeply traumatised person but they may try.   In the case of my older sister and I (and my dead sister, too) when trauma hit us and emotions were challenging there was not one partner who stayed around.   I hate to say I am a little envious of Lyra being surrounded by all of that love, but I am.    With my Saturn Moon I have to carry that burden of solitude and aloneness and realise I will only connect for a time to anyone.  Trauma from my own past made my hypervigilant and gun shy, very fearful of being betrayed and abandoned again in any relationship.  I see how I have held back due to fear and then became a lone wolf but hungering for love never the less.  All the love I give to my own inner child and inner self is important but it doesnt always make up for a hug from others.

Today I am worried for my mother who is alone now after witnessing that trauma with Lyra the other day.  Having people close who then go through trauma or leave has been a constant in our family which seems to have been dogged by separations, leavings, emotional absence and loss.   I need to find a way to bear all of this with good grace.

I don’t feel disconnected from myself today and I am thankfully not inside that trauma space.  I am so very grateful to the caring souls on WordPress who yesterday reached out to me with so much love, thank you Laina, Grizzly Man, 1 Wise Woman, Alexis, and Twinkle Toes.  You made getting through yesterday just the little bit easier for me.  I am so lucky to have a connection with you and value your support a lot.  I was telling my sister today how much being able to write about what is going on and be connected to here and through my blog helps me.  I hope to do the same with others, for there are all times we need a hand to hold in the midst of difficulites.

Relational trauma interrupts the bonds that connect us to others, to our heart and to our feelings as well as to ourselves.   Trauma creates a schism that can keep us so alone.   Trauma fractures our identity and if we are not held it feels as though we are falling through space.

Last night I googled ‘Trauma Vortex’ as its something Peter Levine talks about in his book Waking The Tiger .   I found an excellent article by someone who works with the body in trauma.  I will post the link to it below.

http://owenmarcus.com/deep-change/insights-on-healing-the-trauma-body/

If we never experience being held in love or connected to when we are in trauma it’s enough to tear our hearts so deeply apart that we may not even survive.   I was also thinking today that those of us who are born with fine radar and are highly sensitive are far more likely to struggle in this life.   We become more vulnerable to energies around us, we pick up a lot and we may struggle or suffer if we do not recognise this.  I could not help but think a lot about this a lot last night as it affected my grand niece.  I think it was far too big a trip for her for four days, she was not eating the same as she may have at home.   We were at cafes for lunch on several days.  Her tummy was a little sore on Sunday night due to this.   Little children need us to stay connected to and in tune with them.  On Friday I was careful to take her away and spend some time playing and exploring when it got all a bit too boring with the adults sitting around and discussing adult things.  I noticed the frown on her face when she didnt like some of the food and was told to eat it up.  At that age its so important that our tastes are respected and I know kids need boundaries but they need to be fair ones.  I remember being taken out to dinners with Mum and Dad a being fed alcohol when I was only still very young and then wishing I could go home and go to bed but having to wait around.  We learn a lot about about how to care for our bodies and souls in childhood by the way others treat us and knowing that we have a right to what we like and need is so important.

Today I am in a much better place than I was yesterday, the sadness at feeling disconnected is very strong anyway as we head towards Christmas, I know its a very common sadness for so many of us.  At this time if we don’t come from a happy family its hard to watch those who do, having times together and being connected, however at this time of year no matter how disconnected we do feel we can always reach out to others for connection, to know that someone cares and is there for us is so important.  We are relational beings.  Even if we are empathic introverts we still have a need to be connected in ways that are not compromising or overpowering for us.   Feeling invaded in the past may make us feel gun shy, but there are those out there who will love and respect who we are.   Pain of the past can make us self absorbed, especially if we feel others would not understand us.   But in the end, at times we have to let it begin with us, when it comes to reaching out.   Those of us who can end up faring better than those who can’t.

The truth : rupi kaur

The following is just one stanza from a longer poem by rupi kaur taken from page 71 of the sun and her flowers.  It seemed to articulate something that resonated so deeply for me I felt the need to share it here.

Kaur.png

the truth comes to me suddenly – after years of rain

the truth comes like sunlight

pouring through and open window

it takes a long time to get here

but it all comes full circle

it takes a broken person to come searching

for meaning between my legs

it takes a complete, whole perfectly designed person

to survive it

it takes monsters to steal souls

and fighters to reclaim them

this home is what I came into the world with

was the first home

will be the last home

you can’t take it

there is no space for you

no welcome mat

no extra bedrooms….

Replicated trauma : understanding how trauma is carried in the family

The following is part verbatim excerpt from Chapter Three : The Family Mind of It Didn’t Start With You, part is a summary I have made using some of Mark Wolynn’s text.   The earlier part of this chapter addressed interruptions in the mother – child bond.  I will share that in another post.  This one shows different ways traumas can imprint and play out across generations.

The repetition of trauma is not always an exact replica of the original event.  In a family in which someone has committed a crime, for example, someone born in a later generation could atone for that crime without realising that he or she is doing so.  A man named John came to see me shortly after being released from prison.  He had served three years for embezzlement – a crime he claimed he did not commit.  At trial, John had pleaded not guilty, but because of the weight of the evidence against him – a false accusation made by his former business associate – he was advised by his attorney to accept a plea bargain.  The moment he entered my office, John appeared agitated.  His jaw was clenched, and he flung his coat against the back of the chair.  He revealed that he had been framed, and was now obsessed with thoughts of revenge.  As we discussed his family situation, it came to light that a generation back in the 1960s, his father had been accused of murdering his business partner, but had been acquitted at trial on a technicality.  Everyone in the family knew that the father was guilty, but they never spoke about it.  Given my experience with inherited family trauma, it wasnt surprising to learn that John was the same age his father was when he went to trial.  Justice was finally served, but the wrong person paid the price.

Bert Hellinger (a renowned German psychotherapist who developed what is called Family Constellation Therapy) believes that the mechanism behind these repetitions is unconscious loyalty, and views (this) as the cause of much suffering in families.  Unable to identify the source of their symptoms as belonging to an earlier generation, people often assume that the source of their problem is their own life experience, and are left helpless to find a solution.  Hellinger teaches that everyone has the same right to belong in a family system, and that no one can be excluded for any reason.  This includes the alcoholic grandfather who left our grandmother impoverished, the stillborn brother whose death broke our mother’s heart, and even the neighbor child our father accidentally killed as he backed out of the driveway  – they all belong in our family.  The list goes on.

Even people we wouldn’t normally include in your family system must be included.  If someone harmed or murdered or took advantage of a member of our family, that person must be included.  Likewise, if somebody in our family harmed or murdered or took advantage of someone, the victim would also need to be included….

Earlier partners of our parents and grandparents also belong.  By their dying or leaving or having been left, an opening is created that allows for our mother, father, or grandfather to enter the system, and ultimately allows for us to be born.

Hellinger has observed that when someone is rejected or left out of the family system, that person can be represented by a later member of the system.  The later person might share or repeat the earlier person’s fate by behaving similarly or by repeating some aspect of the excluded person’s suffering.  If, for example, your grandfather is rejected in the family because of his drinking, gambling and philandering, it is possible that one or more of these behaviors will be adopted by one of his descendants.  In this way, family suffering continues into subsequent generations.

…Hellinger stresses that we must each carry our own fate, regardless of its severity.  No one can attempt to take on the fate of a parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, or aunt without some type of suffering ensuing.  Hellinger uses the word “entanglement” to describe this kind of suffering.  When entangled, you unconsciously carry the feelings, symptoms, behaviors, or hardships of an earlier member of your family system as if they were your own.

(Wolynn goes on to explain in subsequent paragraphs how each child in the same family can inherit different trauma regardless of similarities in upbringing.  The first born is likely to carry unresolved father wounds, the first born daughter what is unresolved with the mother.  The reverse can also be true.  Later children are likely to carry different traumas, or elements of the grandparent’s traumas.

Eg a woman who is first born marries an emotionally unavailable controlling man – similar to how she sees her father- and so shares the dynamic with her mother.  The second daughter may carry the unexpressed anger of her mother.  The trauma is the same but each carry different aspects of it.  One daughter may reject the father the other does not (this happened in my own family with my great great grandfather younger siblings embraced him despite his addiction and PTSD my own great grandmother got as far away as she could with her daughter, my grandmother.   That separation pattern in my family has continued down 3 generations.)

Later children can carry unresolved traumas of the grandparents.  In the same family, either the third or fourth daughter might never marry, fearing she will be controlled by a man she does not love.

With a break in the mother child bond among siblings, each child might express his or her disconnection in different ways.  One becomes a people pleaser (fearing separation and rejection for making waves) another feeling trying to connect is useless pushes people away.  Another child might isolate and have little contact with the family.

Wolynn writes that he has seem that when several siblings have a break in the mother bond they often express anger or jealousy, or feel disconnected from each other.  The older child resents the younger when seeing them given what they cannot remember they got (early holding and bonding) because they were then too young to remember.  The older may then blame the younger or be mean or abusive or rejecting to them.

Wolynn adds that some children are lucky enough to escape, carrying very little of the trauma of the past.  Some get more of what they need (bonding, attention, affection and love) while others miss out due to different things happening in the family when they are born and being raised and having a different kind of connection with each parent.  There are no hard and fast rules, says Wolynn and explorations needs to take place to uncover what trauma we may be carrying.

One becomes disentangled from such traumas through becoming aware of past family hisotry, by learning to self soothe, and use healing imagery and sentences, gaining insight into wounds, entanglements and blocks and giving back the burden to whom it belongs.    I will share some of these strategies in later posts and share also more of the next chapter which addresses the power of language in addressing trauma.

Why self compassion helps us more than ‘self esteem’

Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?

It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion.   She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well.  If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet  outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of  inward security.    We can also become less compassionate.

In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem.  Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.

The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :

  1. Self kindness.   A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental.   Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’.  Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves.  In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain.  Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels.  Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress.  This is really hard right now.  I am with you.   This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass.  It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require.  When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect.   Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
  2. Recognition of our common human experience.  So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care.  This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people.   Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again.   We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern.  Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things.  While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too.  However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows.  On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering.  In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
  3. Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being.  To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful).  “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.”   Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions.  In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them.  For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body,  feeling a desire to lash out.  In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother.  His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother.  With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying.  He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary.  He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard.  Mindfulness was central to this process.  “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”  (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)

Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post.  I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately,  I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.

I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem.  Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance.  It helps me understand myself and others better.  It is a practice I am very grateful to have found.  It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.

Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes.  It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect.  It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.

Separating : birthing : integrating

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Its such a tough journey to finally get to the point where we have to let our families go in order to birth the true life and connections that exist outside of its circumscribed limits.  Therapy and emotional healing is a process of both coming to terms with and integrating all of the formative experiences of our past, as well as the deeper hurts and injuries that happened to us in our family of origin.   Many of us battle for a long time against accepting harsh realties most especially if we were wounded or suffered developmental arrests and lost access to our True Self within over many years.  Abandonment gives us no way of accessing the truth of the lost self except through pain which is challenging to feel and integrate, especially in a society where pain is seen as a pathology or illness to be medicated instead of mined for wisdom, growth, connection and meaning.

In my own case a developmental arrest occurred at 17 when I should have been on the brink of opening up and launching.  I was cut down by an accident and then in the 6 years that followed the following traumas occurred : the cerebral bleed, coma and eventual psychosis of my older sister, her eventual abandonment and suicide attempt, two terminations of pregnancy and then my father’s death from cancer.  After my boyfriend broke the relationship off with me just a few weeks after my father died and cancelled our plans to meet abroad, something I had been working and saving towards for over 18 months my mother then decided it was best to push me overseas all alone.

How I was meant to cope with everything I had suffered to that point God only knows. And the truth is its deeper suffering was not even begun to be felt by me for about 14 more years.  I call those the years of unconscious descent, as 7 of them involved active addiction and the next 7 were just spent in AA meetings where it was really not possible to address the extent of my damage.   In 1999 I made my first attempt at therapy and here it is 18 years later and I only feel that I have now done the majority of my conscious descent, which had involved a lot of therapy and broken therapies in order to find the right help.

I only now feel that I am beginning to separate from my family emotionally.  The paradox is that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the suffering fully, in fact I feel it means I feel it at the deepest level as I have chosen not to self medicate as much as possible.  At times I have been very close to suicide, most especially in the past 6 years spent back here in my home town.  I beat myself up all the time about how I didn’t have the courage to move away and deal with it from a distance.  Maybe it was partly the illusion of the inner child pulling me back making me believe that in some way I would get what I wanted emotionally or at least be able to address the pain with family.  That illusion has caused me a lot of emotional suffering and has cost me years and the pain over all that lost life honestly on some days nearly drives me to want to take my life.  It is taking a long time for adult me to emerge and front up, and face the death of those old longings which I see now are not realistic and never were really.  There is a lot of grieving to be done in the shedding and the letting go and fear I am becoming aware does accompany the conscious descent that is asked of us.  In fact I read many years ago that poet Robert Bly spoke of how depression is a refusal on some level often to surrender to deeper grief work.  Only through it do we reunite with the lost child in side who holds so much of our power and inner gold, although often when we find him or her, he or she is most often covered in soot and ashes, this unparented one who is often also a part of our parents’ unconscious.

Anyway I am certainly not alone in facing this kind of pain in midlife.  My journey is made more complex due to two near death traumas which pulled me back when I was on the brink of what should have been a blossoming and emerging or burgeoning time.  My studies suffered in the years following my first accident as I also struggled with the terrible impact of witnessing what my older sister went through.  I was forced by my father at that point into a career I hated and it wasn’t until just before I got sober that I tried to break out of that but addiction wouldn’t let me move too far forward and at that time even more traumas and losses had piled on top of the original ones.

I eventually did manage to do some training in wholistic therapies and managed to secure myself a few jobs in an industry that was more to my liking but I hadn’t yet done my inner work, instead I chose to escape into marriage.   In those years I got sober and started then to really explore my interest in astrology and in 2001 managed to achieve a dream to study at the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London which I aborted when my older sister who was now in a care home hit the wall. I also started serious therapy in 1999 in the UK but mid way through I had a powerful dream that an dark African woman had given birth to a baby who died just after its first birthday.  About a year and a half into therapy I aborted to come back home.  In the dream the deep sad eyes of the woman shone as she told me it was a necessary death.

And so it has been.  Death and more death followed.  The ending of marriage, another accident and then another, another relationship and the failing of that and my eventual return to the roots of my home and then a new start in therapy, the suicide attempt of my other sister, five hospitalisations for her for depression which I tried to give emotional support through and then the death of my older sister in 2014 and reconnection with my nephews her sons who were like my long lost brothers.

Wiser energy comes now on a spring afternoon where shadows begin to fall telling me it was all a part of the journey. Why beat myself up?  Will I ever fully leave my family behind?  They were the womb I was born out of but not the place that I am meant to end up but individuation is a journey and its not an easy birth to go through it all and in so many ways my own life is both a continuation of my ancestors life as well as a working out of issues and burdens and tasks they perhaps never got to complete fully which call to me from deep within intercellular tissue, at least that is how it feels for me. Even the ones I never met call to me and I feel their pain and deeper longing to be known and recognised, no longer so lost, exiled or forgotten, fallen deep down into the collective unconscious ocean like stones.  Possibly all configured by my natal Neptune in the third trine to Chiron in Pisces in the seventh more than I could ever fully express in words here.

So much to navigate and not all of it artificial imagining I am sure.  So I continue on some days weighed down so deep by a burden I never chose, but then on other days rising again with a new energy and power that has come from facing and surrendering myself body and soul to the deepest darkness.  So much is a mystery that is all I know.  So many unseen forces play out for us and we can never fully hope to solve the puzzle with our minds but if we still enough at times we hear the inner voice or call telling us things.  Our personal and ancestral soul trying so hard to make its authentic individual voice and inner purpose known.

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