The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

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In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

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.

A dark day

It was a dark day today.  We had our first real taste of winter approaching with steely skies and showers that didnt amount to much, no its not April yet but the weather had this feeling.  I seemed to just cry a lot today, I don’t really know the deepest reason.  I tried to share about the pain of emotional disconnection I felt today from a friend and family with young sons who I love, but I always try to look deeper too, so as not to blame but to see its just triggering a deeper wound.

It’s painful but not impossible to feel this longing from my soul that makes me conscious of a very deep emptiness and aloneness.  I sat with it for a while tiday and also put a lot of my energy into writing posts on trauma recovery I really hope help new followers so as not to just be mired in the sadness I cant seem to do much about but feel.   I don’t know if you all know how the one thing that lifts my heart is to see your beautiful faces that come through on gravatar images that appear when you like one of my posts.  Its not so much for the acclaim as for the sense it may have touched you or helped you for if I think of what my values are then my values are to reach out and connect when and where I can with others who go through similar experiences.

Staying with feelings of deep abandonment is never easy.  Therapist Pete Walker whose work on Complext PTSD I have been sharing a lot about lately calls this painful soup or vortext the abandonment melange.   I know I should not feed it with negative thoughts and ideas or stories but just need to feel it as an energy in my body, it affects my heart and my gut.

Anyway later this afternoon I took myself off to our shopping centre for a coffee and to get some groceries and took my daily meditation reader with me.  Often when I pick it up I pray for guidance for it to open to a reading that has a message for me and lo and behold this is the page that opened this afternoon.

My Feelings of Abandonment

Today I am willing to feel my feelings of abandonment, rather than run away from them.  When my abandonment feelings get triggered, I am thrown into deep anxiety and I hold onto anything around me as if for dear life.  I want the feelings to go away, and I mistakenly think that if I keep all the people, places and things I need exactly as I want them, everything will work out.  But life is change and people change.  There is no way to keep anything where I want it all of the time. My anchor needs to be with myself.  If I allow myself to experience my deep feelings of abandonment rather than run from them, I have a chance of working through them.

I can tolerate feeling alone

Reading this made me realise that today I didn’t totally run away.  When I was tempted to react I just sat with the pain and felt it.   I cannot say I felt a lot better but at least my body was feeling is and I didn’t get my usual spins.  Taking myself out felt more like good self care than running away.  I got a nice piece of steak for dinner and an afternoon snack.  I felt a bit guilty I hadn’t walked Jasper today but everyone needs a lay day.  I dont know why my niece in law is not returning my calls, it makes me feel really lonely and sad as I thought we had developed a connection.   But I also know I have to accept whatever is going on without trying to change it.  I have to feel these feelings and they are not new.   They are the feelings I drank over in my addiction.  I also realise the past and all I have gone through will never be gone from me totally.  I dont have a lot of friends I hear from here in Canberra, everyone is very detached.  I think there is a great deal of loneliness out there in society but not a lot of people have the courage to engage with it.  Maybe my view is skewed, I dont know.   Today was a dark day but I dont feel suicidal or hopeless as I have on other dark days.  I know winter is harder than summer feelings wise, but I also know I can treat myself with love and compassion on the tough days and hope in time these abandonment feelings do pass.

If I don`t hold you : the fraught dynamic of trying to connect with my Mum

I am so used to holding others feelings that I get upset when others won`t help me hold mine.  I know its up to us to relate to our own feelings but sometimes just having a human body or soul with you as you undergo feelings helps on all kinds of levels.  The best help is when they dont say much but stay present with you and you feel, felt.   And then its easier to access what is inside, if you were caught up in your head before.  That said there are also times we access those emotional depths best alone, and cannot share them or have them understood.

I am thinking of this as I just called to see how my Mum was, she asked me `what did I WANT` I then immediately wanted to get off the phone.  I only rang to see how you are I asked.   I let her go and just burst into tears.   I know I said enough is enough I still worry and yes (obsess) over my Mum.  Today she is pushing herself beyond her boundaries to be with her mahjong group, its okay she has the will and energy to be with them but not with my nephew.  I can understand there has been so much pain with my nephew`s mother (my now dead sister) I believe Mum will do anything not to go there with her grief.  Its why she married as quickly as she did after my father died and then ended up hurting the guy who really loved her, where as for her he was an escape.    After they separated he used to ring me and cry over my mother, how much she had done for him, how well she had looked after him, how much he loved her.   Mum would old say `he was a nice man, but I never loved him`.  Its not up to me to judge my Mum but she sure doesnt go deep at times.

I just need to be with what my sadness was telling me.  At the moment Mum is trying to get to be with the friends she loves who give her comfort in the way our family does not.  I had the thought over past days that Mum would have been better off not having children or at least me.  I was an accident, I know that much and later an accident nearly took my life.  The body always knows and the soul knows when it was really wanted.

Now its up to me to mother me.  My therapist is not going to do it, fair enough.  She will help me to do the work as I undergo this painful time of emotionally separating with my Mum.   The connection to our mother is one of the most important ones in our life.  It becomes the connection to our own body.   I need to nurture mine at the moment.   The only real home I have is this body and I need to take care of it.  I can`t look to others to do it, though some of my connections here and in the world help me in ways they could never know, just by implicitly understanding.

I must exercise gratitude for the places I am received and try to steer clear of the places I am not if I want my body to feel better.  This is something I am coming to realise.   And maybe my Mum should no longer have to mother any more.  Maybe now she just needs time alone to get ready to die.   I keep trying to reach out but maybe the universe is trying to get me to wake up to reality. I keep trying to mother my mother but maybe I should not and maybe I should stop trying to hold or give a voice to feelings she would rather not face or be with alone.

Understanding the truth beyond suicidal urges

This is a deeply enlightening video which I found a while back after reading Jeff Foster’s wonderful book The Way of Rest and deals in depth with the existential feeling of homelessness we can feel which so often leads people to feel suicidal.   What is it that we really wish to kill when we feel suicidal?  And how can we really help someone in this place?   He answers these questions in a deeply spiritual way.

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.

Your pain : my pain : our pain

I have felt some understanding and realisations deepening over past weeks with all the reading and contemplating I have been engaged with it is that it is through our pain that we are all connected and that through our pain we connect to a deeper spiritual place.  Our joy can connect us too, and there can be a kind of mysterious joy in allowing our pain just to be what it is, so hard to describe in words but felt so deeply in the cells of our body and the marrow of our bones.

I am a strong believer in archetypes and astrology.  Its not purely a head knowledge I feel the energies as planetary energies shift and powerful archetypes are energised and I have watched these forces move through my own life and the deeper understandings I gained help me contain things.  I was discussing archetypes with my therapist yesterday and asking her about them.  They represent universal, collective human experiences that we all undergo and this mirrors what Buddhist teachers say that pain and loss and change are all a part of our human experience, and that it is through developing the capacities of compassion and openness that we build a bridge to each other and to our own hearts. It is something that Christine Neff focuses on in her book on Self Compassion as one of the three aspects of that state.  When we find compassion and depth through our suffering we can extend that to others and recognise our common humanity.

With all the struggle and strife in the world and with the big earth changes going on at present one thing I am noticing is this.  That a rebirth of love is trying to take place on this planet.  We all have our little part to play in being honest and opening up to express our truth and work towards not negating our darker shadowy sides but rather embracing them to bring them to light.  When we find a way to express even our darkest thoughts they have a way of being in the world and no longer are held so much under that cover of darkness and then those who also feel covered in the very human darknesses we can all know at one time or another feel less alone.

My experience is that the dark night of the soul is a very powerful experience.  Many, many of us undergo it.  I am thinking about it again after sharing a lot from Robert Romanyshyn’s book on grief in which he shares of his own dark night of sadness and grief following the sudden death of his wife.  In the beautiful chapter on Mourning that I quoted a little from yesterday he shares about two things that touched me deeply.  The first is how he lived through a deep experience and encounter with the Orphan archetype.  In this experience he felt not only his personal but also a deeply cosmic aloneness,   but mysteriously it was through this that he connected to nature and to other primal energies.

The second thing that touched me so deeply yesterday and moved me to tears was how he shared that in and through his grief and mourning process he connected so deeply and was comforted by animals.  He visited a zoo one day where he engaged deeply with the eyes and consciousness of a silver back gorilla.  During their encouner Robert threw the gorilla an orange on a whim and instead of taking it to eat in the corner, the gorilla threw it back over the fence to him.  Robert threw the orange back to the gorilla and so it went on for several rounds until a harsh voice cried out “don’t feed the animals”.  This broke their magical connection and the gorilla retreated with the orange to the end of his cage.  What Robert writes towards the end of sharing all this moved me so deeply :

I left the zoo and walked out into the city.  The cold, dark, winter afternoon did little to cheer the sadness I felt at having left the gorilla inside.  I was different, changed by that encounter and even more lonely in the midst of the crowded city.  The gorilla had suspended his appetite for a moment.  For the sake of an encounter, he had bridged the immense gap between our worlds.  In his gesture of tossing the orange back to me, he had reached out his hand across an emptiness so vast as to be beyond measure.  Together we had built a tremulous bridge of gestures, and for a brief time we stood on opposite sides of that bridge, connected in a way that seemed to acknowledge in each other a lost kinship.  Even to this day, I know that I will I know thatI will never forget the eyes of my winter companion on that day of long ago.  He had greeted me, and as strange as it might sound, I felt so grateful for that recongition.  But I also felt how far I had come, and howI knew with a deep feeling of sadness that we would remain forever more on opposite side of this bridge, and that at the best moments of my life, I would be able only to stop and linger and turn around to see, once again, what was left behind.  I knew that, and I knew too, that what I saw before the spell was broken was his sadness for me.

For some reason those final words undo me.  So much of our pain of grief or during the dark night can lie in a failure of the human world’s sensitivity to the deep level of our pain and distress we feel so unseen and unknown and often rejected when others find our pain ‘too much’.  I have felt recognised in very similar ways my own dog, Jasper when his deep limpid pools of eyes look at me with the same deep sadness and recognition at times and also undone by the way when I am really struggling or sad with repressed pain or sadness he will come and sit patiently by my side, just to be with me while I cry.  That simple gesture of care and concern undoes me in a way I cannot fully explain.  It fills an empty vacancy in both my heart and soul when I feel so very far from human aid and care.  At these times I am in the orphaned state, it is a kind of deep spiritual orphanness that I am feeling, and I cannot help but feel that Jasper understands just like the gorilla did.  Do animals feel compassion for us humans who can be so lost sometimes, driven so far from nature and deeper connection?  I believe they do.

I want to share more about the Orphan later as I work through Romanyshn’s book.  I am only half way through that chapter because I feel that Orphans do connect with other Orphans.  We recognise each other implicitly, those of us who have known that deep soul abandonment or betrayal of the world connect and we know the profound emptiness that can come from pain, many of us also resonate deeply with and connect with the profoundly spiritual in nature and animals.

It is through sharing about this with each other that we can and do connect and in a small way bridge that deeper disconnection that hounds us.   In this way I feel that for all our suffering in some way we are far richer than those who at this time in the world would rather turn a blind eye towards deeper truths, pains, losses and abandonments.

The zookeeper put paid to the beautiful exchange between Robert R and the gorilla on that afternoon with a few words, putting the focus on human ‘rules’ and it was sad for both of them.  We do have the gift of both animals and nature to help us in our abandonment, orphanhood and the deep isolation we undergo after losses or during the dark night.  We can use these gifts to deepen our isolation into a richer soulful solitude through which we can connect both to the heart and soul of our inner worlds, of the universe and of each other.

Finding happiness and support inside the grief and pain

Happiness and contentment has more of a chance to grow when we are responded to with empathy.  Realistically in a world which contains all kinds of people we cannot expect such empathy as a given.  I was thinking earlier of a reading from one of the daily recovery readers I own which speaks of expectations as a premediated resentment.  What the quote is getting at is that when we unrealistically expect empathy or some response from someone incapable of giving it, that failure to accept (the painful) reality can lead to resentment.

I have a brother who is incapable of emotional responses to suffering.  He also NEVER turns up on time.   He will call my Mum really early in the morning and she will crack the whip on herself to get ready only to be left waiting for up to an hour. One day (Mother`s Day many years ago) he actually failed to turn up.  I had to hand it to my sister the last time he called us all together.  She arrived an hour later than the time he said he would be there, she just pleased herself.  That was sensible behaviour where my brother is concerned as expecting him to be on time is just not realistic.

I don`t want this to turn into a criticism blog about my brother but what I am trying to get at is that its painful to set ourselves up to be hurt by others failure to respect us or show empathy.  We may need to be on the receiving end of hurt many times before we finally get the lesson that what we need from this person is never going to be forthcoming.  We can respect that they are only human and doing their best.  In the end we all have different thresholds of tolerance for this kind of thing.  If we have been neglected or kept waiting or wounded by others misattention or misattunement, such things can trigger us to age regress back to an earlier time of hurt that we then feel with full force.  We then have to process this.

I had just such an incident with my gardener the other day.   I got up early waiting for him to show at the allocated time, a while later, no gardener.  This kind of being kept waiting scenario is a big trigger for me.  I noticed my anxiety level rising and my head searching for reasons he was late.  I then did the sensible thing.  I called him to find out what was happening.  Turns out his children were playing up and he had a school commitment they hadnt told him about so he was running last but neglected to call.  I nippped things in the bud, prevented myself regressing into anxiety then got on with another task until he arrived.   I recognised my abandonment schema had been triggered too, so I practicee self soothing. Later we talked in through and I explained my trigger to him.

A year ago I decided to stop meeting a friend who always kept me waiting.  The final straw was when she cancelled just after she had sent a text to say she was leaving home to be here for a morning tea I went to a lot of effort to make.   It retriggered a lot of pain but also anger at myself too because throughout the past three years she had been consistently late to each and every meeting we had agreed to.   I hadn’t set a boundaries until a big upset when she was late to take me to an oncology appointment.  She was defensive and upset then and the behaviour didn’t change.  I do miss elements of our friendship and I didn`t throw her out entirely.  I just chose to limit contact as each meeting would amp up my anxiety.    I still keep in touch though our communciation has lessened in the last six months.

I seem to have got a little diverted off topic in the course of writing this post.   What initiated it was the idea I wanted to communicate that when we are responded to in grief or any other emotional difficulty with empathy and consistent loving support, the chance for happiness to grow increases.

It is shown by recent research that being met with empathy actually increases the production of positive neurotransmitters such as oxytocin (the love hormone) while being hurt, invalidated, or criticised lights up a different site in the brain and leads to higher levels of cortisol.  I just started to read Christine Neff`s book on Self Compassion this week and in it she quotes this reasearch that had been referred to in other books I have read recently.

The bad news is that insecurely attached people who learned they could never consistently rely on others or were shown abuse, neglect or lack of empathy are more likely not to be able to show themselves self compassion and attract those who won`t either.  Positive effects can come for them later in life though if they can find a therapist or friend who will listen with empathy and validate their experiences.  Most certainly we don`t always need to be surrounded by yes people, but if we have had attachment issues or difficulties in the past it is essential we find those who can respond to us in empathy with consistency in order that our neurotransmitters can be altered.  In the long run this kind of support helps us more than any drug will.  We can also learn to show ourselves this kind of care.

I believe that some kind of inner peace and happiness can grow out of our grief or other wounds if we are shown empathy in the midst of them and helped to process and understand them.

If you have significant grief, abandonment or trauma in your life or inconsistent attachments it is essential you find one person you can unburden yourself with, a person who is consistent and reliable.    On line support groups and some blogs can most definately help in ths way if you are isolated but ideally its good to be able to connect face to face as our bodies respond to each other when present through mirror neurons.   We who have been wounded, damaged or traumatised so badly need this kind of support to find some happiness inside the sadnesses that can beseige us from that painful past of neglect, loss or trauma.

Not alone : solitude and inner presence

Dreamer

When we are not alone,

when we are on our own,

then we have achieved solitude.

 

The person who achieves solitude

is alone

in his or her unique experience of the journey,

yet such a person

is conscious of an inner presence

with which to dialogue.

 

One may only become an individual

by ascent to this dialogue,

by conscious and constant valuing

of the autonomy and teleology

of one’s soul.

James Hollis

 

Suicide Prevention Month :

I was 20 years old when my older sister made an attempt on her life.  To be honest there was so much trauma going on the memories of finding her body were obliterated by my psyche and later I took to addiction due to the distress caused that I could not share with anyone.  That was in 1982.  My other sister attempted suicide in 2013 and at the hospital she was blown up like a balloon from the effects of the drugs which was so distressing to witness.  I was asked to take a bag of her things home from hospital and it had about three medications including anti psychotics and anti anxiety meds and when I googled them some of the side effects were anxiety and suicidal thoughts.  I was fucking angry.

Later at the hospital I was asked by the doctor “do you know why your sister is on anti convulsive meds”  I hit the roof and nearly screamed the place down.  “You want to know why because they have been overmedicating her ever since she had a hysterectomy a few years ago and playing Russian Roulette with her meds.”  I then told her of my family history of addiction and how I was in AA.  I thought the men in white coats would come for me but a few nurses took me to another room while I cried and they really listened.  Later the doctor came in and said “we have taken her off that medication.”  It was still a long way back for my sister and for my mother who found her it was terrible.   My other sister who had attempted suicide years before was at that stage in a care home and she died never knowing about the attempt my sister took on her own life.

It pays to remember that witnesses to suicide are also traumatised for the rest of their life and may struggle to understand.  They need a lot of support afterwards and may be similarly forgotten.  Of course there were complex issues as to why my sister wanted to end her life and I fully understand them having witnessed a lot of the difficult treatment she received in the family from those who could not relate to her emotionally and had their own defences.

I am writing this to raise awareness.  I have suffered from strong feelings of wishing to end my own life, most especially after my last relationship which was quite emotionally damaging left me with profound feelings of low self worth.  I have always tried to reach out when I feel that way in past years and be honest about how I feel.   But this is just not possible for many.  We need to be aware that modern life is full of stress, dissociation, dislocation and emotional isolation.  We are urged to put on a front a lot of the time and can feel scared and afraid when we cannot cope in ways others seem to be able to.

Reasons people choose suicide are complex so let us stay open and not believe we have the answers for those who are feeling confusion and profound despair.  Let us be present for what people are really feeling and be present and open our hearts and really listen when we can.  We just don’t know how much a caring ear or smile or work of kindness may help someone who is silently contemplating if it may not just be better to end it all.  I recently had a call on a day I was in such a state and the man really listened.  He said to me his father had tried to take his life and if I ever needed to talk I should give him a call.  His kindness to me on that day meant a lot to me.  Life is full of inner struggle so let us show as much compassion and sensitivity to others as we can.