On fear : befriending and working with it

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

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

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

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

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

The following questions might help you frame your fear affirmations.

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

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

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

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

What did you learn?

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

Following this, try the following sentence completions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem of self calming : some reflections on activation and calming

Recently my sister and I were discussing our childhood. Her words were this when talking about my mother : “she was like a tornado”.. to be honest it was hard to relax around my Mum.. I got my foot burned on one caravanning holiday when she left a bucket of boiling water underneath the table I was drawing on while cleaning the floor and I stepped into it and got 3rd degree burns.. now another more attentive child, perhaps not so ‘lost’ in her own world or passion of the moment may have seen it and averted disaster.

I learned in time to try to use substances to calm me down or take the edge off.. my parents used alcohol for this purpose at the end of each working day and we were encouraged to do the same.. for me it ended in addiction and I am happy I got to put alcohol, drugs and cigarettes down in 1993 but I still find looking for comfort in food just comes naturally…

I had a discussion with a friend over the past week in which she said that being told to ‘be calm’ or ‘calm down’ is a sure trigger for becoming less calm….it might be like telling a person with really bad insect bites not to scratch without some other kind of soothing being offered such as balm for the soreness. Balm for the uncalm might be words like “I am sorry its so uncomfortable right now” or “that must have been very distressing” validation, empathy causes the increase of oxytocin and the reduction of cortisol.

I don’t know what would have calmed my mother during one of her frenzies or OCD rampages…its taking me years to know I don’t have to clear up and wash all the dishes immediately I stop eating or cooking.. one of my ways of being seen was to run around after Mum cleaning up after she got home from her job at her dress shop every day around 6 pm. Later in my recovery I had a dream in which the dream young me was all wired up through the shoulder with a wire coat hanger.. What a powerful metaphor for how entwined I was body, mind and psyche with family energy patterns of looking good and over drive…

Calming for me now comes with writing in which I tap into and release the stored vibrational charge of feeling; in writing poetry, in listening to music, it comes in nature (as I share ad infinitum here); with my dog; with calm loving friends who are emotionally present and honest with true open hearts..

Triggers for me are : criticism, the disapproving stare (flared nostrils and hard dark stare often proceeded one of my Mum’s rages.) I can forgive my Mum in a way now as I know she never got lovingly contained or mirrored and she carried so much from the maternal generational legacy of buried built up stress and repressed emotions…that was impossible to contain. I can forgive my Dad for not knowing how to cope with it, and so checking out… and I can understand the deep roots of my anxious avoidant attachment style which at other times can be disordered..

Calm is only coming slowly but it is coming… I am still activated but only by the old triggers and stepping down from them is becoming quicker and easier as learn where my wound and necessary boundaries and self soothing strategies lay.

Anger and fear as a motivators

I love it when new followers connect to a post you wrote and then you get to check out their blog and learn even more from reading about their own journeys.  I just read a wonderful post from a fellow blogger Pearls Of Wisdom in which she shared how she realised at a certain point in her healing that a lot of her choices were coming out of either fear or anger.  Wow!! That comment just hit me full forward throttle as I saw a richochetting of certain past choices that came from this place, in fact nearly all the choices that occurred around the time I split up with my last partner 7 years ago.

It is very hard when you don’t develop into a person with a secure and stable base or foundation of trust and faith in your life and a good grasp and understanding of your emotions and motivators.    It leaves you in many ways falling through space feeling that you desperately need to grab onto anything that will give you a sense of comfort or security and stability, problem being if you always grab onto things from the outside you don’t get to build your own strong, stable, secure foundation from within.

As I see it that is probably the work I have been engaged in most definitely in the 7 years since I came back to my home town.  I remember even in therapy it got to a point where I was trying to grab onto my therapist in order to feel supported and stabilised.  I would call at all kinds of times between sessions and then I actually lashed out at her when she was on the hop at a conference and could not help me during a huge clash with my brother.  She got really upset and set a boundary with me.  No more calls between sessions and this is when it got really hard as about 6 weeks later a lot of drama came to the head in my family and my Mum died and there was a further problem with Kat where I got resentful and I nearly ended therapy because I felt she wasn’t being ’emotionally available’ enough.  Things would have got super tough if I abdicated therapy then and we were able to work it through, because a choice made out of anger at that point would have ended up with me in a far weaker place than I now find myself and these days she allows me to call between sessions occasionally when she knows I am going through a really tough time.

Anyways it was really helpful to read what Mary wrote in her blog today as it helped me to see how I can when responding our of fear or anger without using reasoning to think things through can lead me to make really bad decisions. The capacity to contain, regulate and mediate powerful emotions is not something all of us are helped to develop in our life and if not we have a lot of scaffolding work to do in order to get to the point where we find what my therapist calls ‘our sea legs’.   Anger and fear can be helpful if we contain them and understand more deeply how they are operating in our life.  My therapist often tell me that anger is often a cry for authenticity or self care and may show us an action we need to take.  At other times, however it can decimate things that we need to come to terms with necessitating adjustments we need to make in our thinking, reacting, expectations and grasp of reality.

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

A soft heart : reflections on attachment, grief and inherited ancestral trauma

I am realising after the past few months of Mars retrograde how often I feel attacked or respond out of a sense of attack when abandonment wounds or fears are triggered.  Instead of staying in my soft heart I tend to go on the attack and be quite defensive and this ends up actually pushing away the very love and understanding I need at times.  I harden my heart and can feel an accumulated backlog of frustration and anger from past unresolved needs.  However as I learn to listen to and comfort my inner child more its easier to enter a more adult mind set offering that little one or sore spot inside me love but not letting her act it out on others too violently.   After this I find it is easier to go and speak to others about how I felt, what they did and what I needed and luckily with my new friend, Scott he understands through using emotional intelligence how I felt inside and doesn’t shame me for reacting the way I did and so I am feeling more healing.

As I shared over past days I did react and things I said, I noticed have made him withdraw a little bit.  Its understandable.  He was contacting me less because he said he was scared or hurting me or waking me at night, but when I told him that isn’t want I needed or even asked for, what I really need is to be connected with it was easier for him to understand.  This latest tussle has  helped me to see before how other friendships suffered when I had a strong outburst and others were not willing to fully empathise or understand.  Some friends just backed off and then have another go which I really appreciate since they understood I was reacting that way for a very good reason.

Today I cried a lot at the softness and tenderness that is opening up between Scott and I and inside my own heart towards my own past pain.  I had a good inner dialogue with my inner child this morning and what I learned form it was that as a child I never really learned how to get along with, communicate my needs to or interact with others.   My parents were always busy with work and too tired to give any emotional support whatever.  I was left alone most days after school with no one after my second sister left home and even before that she resented taking care of her baby sis after a certain point and I was on the receiving end of a lot of bullying and harshness.  Then at 13 I went into the family business where I had to perform and be serious.  It wasn’t much of a childhood or adolescence.  It was a real Saturn Moon childhood where I learned to depress my feelings emotions and needs.

In addition home was not a relaxed environment due to Mars conjunct Moon.  Mum carried a lot of inherited adult grand child of alcoholic survival behaviours and was never cuddled or nurtured.  By an act of ancestral synchronicity she was sent to work at 13 to into domestic service to live with a family in another suburb of our home town which she hated.  Her and my father were kind to each other but Mum was a non stop dynamo who never really could relax.  She had OCD as far as the home was concerned.  We were not allowed to play until all chores where done and we had taken care of all of our responsibilities. Sadly too my Dad died before he and Mum never got to have the play time they anticipated ‘one day’ when they had achieved financial stability, security and success.  Things began to fall apart due to this driven schedule from 1979 on wards starting with my near death NDA and my sister’s cerebral aneurysm.

I have been shedding a lot of tears this morning.  I am sitting here wearing one of my mother’s tops and thinking of our complex relationship which has taken me years of sobriety and emotional recovery to navigate.  Its just over 8 months now since she died and the old wound of her being more involved in her work is replaying with Scott who is caught up in a very dangerous and hectic life over seas at the moment.   This morning after my breakfast and bath I just cried, hopefully he may be out of there in a few weeks, if not its going to be around March next year and I fear for his life every single day, though he always tells me my prayers are keeping him safe.  Still its interesting to me that this is the man I attracted and that I had lessons of love to learn here with him in terms of the way I react and what is triggered from my past.  I am just grateful I have so many more tools now at my disposal.

Speaking of which I just bought another wonderful book by Stan Tatkin, PsyD on attachments and relationships  Wired for Love : How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Hep You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship. 
A book.jpg

He explains how we are wired to react from the primitive parts of our brain which are geared for survival but how other parts of our higher brain functions (which he calls The Ambassadors) can be engaged when we observe this happening and notice our reactions in the context of close one on one relationships.  Putting the needs of connection and relationship first instead of just trying to blow thing off by blaming our partners for ‘being selfish’ or not caring about us or our needs is part of the process and is something that’s not so popular in this day and age with singles with their lists of requirements prospective partners need to fulfil in order to be considered as worthy.

Anyway I always like to share new books or resources I find here in my blog but today it was good to be able to feel the softening in my heart towards Scott and let myself and my body just relax to a degree.  I am usually fending off spasmodic symptoms of one variety or another in the mornings and today after Scott and I talked things through I did manage to sleep but I still woke up startled trying to integrate all that has been happening between us in terms of boundaries and connection in past weeks.  I feel Mars slowing down now and it is on 28 degrees of Capricorn for two weeks.   My own Mars is at 1 degree Aquarius so this is what is called a Mars Return which happens every two years but would usually just pass by once.  Due to Mars retrograde it will have hit my chart three times by the time it finally passes around the 18th of September.  So I am getting a really good long look at the ways I react to emotionally laden events that hark back not only to my own mothering but to the inherited mothering wound on my Mum’s side of the family.  I have tracked unresolved grief and separations/divorces going back four generations so far to the original wound which was the loss of my great great grandfather’s mother at age 12, a wound he never got to address and I believe led to his addiction and eventual abandonment.

I shared with a good friend yesterday that I feel I have carried the grief of the ancestors for most of my life but I don’t want to carry this wound on.  I really would like to be able to have a loving relationship with a partner where we can both take care of each other’s hearts.  I don’t want past pain or anger and grief that didn’t begin with me to spoil a new change at living a personal life no longer so affected by an unconscious collective psychic inheritance.

We are vulnerable

To be human and to be alive is probably to be vulnerable.  Its a thought that I had today after re reading a prayer I wrote earlier asking for help to overcome fear.  I wondered after reading it if I had been asking for something that is only possible for moments rather than as an ongoing state of being a world so often fraught with insecurity and peril.  My question Isn’t a bit too much of an ask for us to have it together all the time and not struggle with the inherent insecurities in our lives?

That said a lot of what we expect to experience is based on past experience, so if in the past things didn’t go well or we were hurt this becomes our point of view or expectation and we do need boundaries and self care and some protection, just not so much that we limit our ability to live and love and forward move and grow in this life.

I became a fan of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron a few months after my last serious accident in 2005.  I was recommended to read her book When Things Fall Apart by a friend who had also nearly lost her life and the central message of her teaching involves not erecting defences against what she calls ‘the soft tender sore spot’ in one’s heart.  Pema claims that it is part of our human nature to always be struggling to get some solid ground under our feet but paradoxically the more we strive for this the more we can become attached to things being a certain way and then we just end up suffering more. The more defences we erect against pain too, the less we become connected to our pain as it is a central tenant of Buddhism that we look to our mutuality and inter dependence with other human’s and all living things and all living beings are vulnerable and suffer.  The Buddhists recognise a seamless web of interconnection between every living thing that we only split and divide and pay a price for so doing in neurosis.  Its only in embracing this inherent insecurity that we have a chance of finding some inner security and happiness.  The Buddhists also recognise that it is through opening to our pain and suffering instead of defending against it that we experience our interconnection with others, so opening our hearts is actually a powerful practice not only to heal but also to reconnect to our essential oneness not only with humans but also with nature and cycles of birth, growth, loss, death, change and transformation that are involve in all of creation.

With these thoughts in mind I am sharing tonight an excerpt from The Pocket Pema Chodron.  

No Happy Ending

In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, “I don’t know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get it all together.”   I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head, but I’ve always remembered it.  There isn’t going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up.  Even thought it was shocking to me, it rang true.  One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the level of mental peace.

Learning to bear the storm, to find a centre in the middle of the storm or change, that is what an opening up practice is about. Its not always easy to stop defending our selves or reacting from primitive parts of our brain to find less reactivity in the middle of chaos or change, but its definitely worth a try, as is, in our moments of darkness and pain the recognition that despite the aloneness we may feel so many other suffers and struggle just like us and experience loss and feelings of insecurity in failing to get it all together too.

Remaining Steady

Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception – a sight, sound, thought – which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort.  This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked.  Energetically there is a perceptible pull; its like wanting to scratch an itch.  We don’t have to be advanced meditators to catch this.

The initial tug of “for” or “against” is the first place we can remain steady as a log.  Just experience the tug and relax into the restlessness of the energy, without fanning this ember with thoughts.  If we can stay present with the rawness of our direct experience, emotional energy can move through us without getting stuck.  Of course, this isn’t easy and takes practice.

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

What do I see, when I see ‘you’?

I wrote this piece after working through the conflict with my therapist in session on Monday.  It just a stream of consciousness piece that flowed out of what I experienced in session, before and after:

Do I see you clearly, or only my perception/projection?  How much of my hope is real? For surely you are not me.  At times we may meet and our souls join and then we are bathed in sweet harmony.  At other times we clash and you become to me the rejecting mother that one who never saw me and never felt my pain at all.  Then my pain is globalised because inner child’s wound opens and is bleeding, but at these times I need to remember that my wounded self is not the whole of me and beneath it lies a deeper sanity, I may not yet have tapped if I have not learned to trust or too many times met the rod of iron laid hard against my back with no hope of surrender.

The demon face I see in my mind dissolves as we greet each other and you look on me with love.  I am so glad I did not let past fears block me.   I see that when there has been great pain, it can be so hard to see realistically.  I am so glad for this moment of trust when I was able to fall apart with the recognition you gave and find the wound again but this time, in feeling work towards tending and healing it.  When you love and accept me in that place you remind me it is not the whole of me, only what happened to me and something my soul can be free of in time.

The mother wound we carry

I wanted to share the following excerpt from Mark Wolynn’s excellent book on inherited family trauma : It Didn’t Start With You.   It is one of the most important books I have ever read, just sad I heard about it over 2 years ago and only just bought it.  What he shares of his own experience and understanding with healing multigenerational trauma in both his own life and lives of his clients is nothing short of remarkable.  He also uses the latest research conducted into epigenetics to support his claims showing how early stress and lack of nurture affects our neurological structure even in the womb, as well as how inherited trauma of a grandparent or great grandparent can be carried and communicated even along paternal (as well as maternal) streams of inheritance.  It is changing the way I am thinking about my own mother nurturance wound and the addiction that grew out of it.

To put it simply, we receive aspects of our grandmother’s mothering through our own mother.  The traumas our grandmothers endured, her pains and sorrows, her difficulties in childhood or with our grandfather, the losses of those she loved who died early – these filter, to some degree, into the mothering she gave our mother.  If we look back another generation, the same would likely be true about the mothering our grandmother received.

The particulars of the events that shaped their lives may be obscured from our vision, but nevertheless, the impact of those particulars can be deeply felt.  It’s not only what we inherit from our parents but also how they were parented that influences how we relate to a partner, how we relate to ourselves, and how we nurture our children.  For better or worse, parents tend to pass on the parenting they themselves received.

These patterns appear to be hardwired into the brain, and begin to be formed before we’re even born  How our mother bonds with us in the womb is instrumental in the development of our neural circuitry.  Thomas Verney says, “From the moment of our conception, the experience in the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personaltity, emotional temperament, and the power of higher thought.”  Like a blueprint, these patterns are transmitted more than learned.

The first nine months outside the womb function as a continuation of the neural development that occurs within the womb.  Which neural circuits remain, which are discarded, and how the remaining circuits will be organised depend on how the infant experiences and interacts with the mother or caregiver.  It’s through these early reactions that a child continues to establish a blueprint for managing emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

When a mother (or father) carried inherited trauma, or has experienced a break in the bond with her mother (or father), it can affect the tender bond that’s forming with her infant, and that bond is more likely to be interrupted.  The impact of an early break in the mother – child bond – an extended hospital stay, an ill timed vacation, a long term separation – can be devastating for an infant.  The deep, embodied familiarity of the mother’s smell, feel, touch, sound, and taste – everything the child has come to know and depend on – is suddenly gone.

“Mother and offspring live in a biological state that has much in common with addiction,” says behaviour science writer Winifred Gallagher.  “When they are parted, the infant does not just miss its’ mother, it experiences a physical and psychological withdrawal… not unlike the plight of a heroin addict that goes cold turkey.”  This analogy helps to explain why all newborn mammals, including humans protest with such vigour when they are separated from their mothers.  From an infant’s perspective, a separation from mother can be felt as “life threatening.” says Dr, Raylene Philips, a neonatologist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.   “If separation continues for a prolonged period,” she says, “the… response is despair….  The baby gives up.”

In my early life, I knew that feeling of giving up.  It came from my family.  What my mother didn’t get from her mother affected what she was able to give to me and to my sibling.  Although I could always feel her love shine through, much of her mothering was infused with the traumas in our family history – specifically the fact that her mother, Ida, lost both of her parents when she was two.

Orphaned at two, my grandmother was raised by her elderly grandparents, who earned a living peddling rags from a pushcart in the Hill District in Pittsburgh.  My grandmother adored her grand parents, and often lit up with she shared memories about how much they loved her.  But that was only part of the story – the part she could consciously remember.  A deeper story lay beneath her reach.

Before Ida was a toddler, perhaps even in the womb, she would have absorbed the sensations of her mother’s distress caused by the constant arguing, the tears and disappo8ntmets.  All this would have had a profound effect on the crucial neural development taking place in Ida’s brain.  Then, losing her mother at age two would leave her emotionally shattered.

It’s not only that my mother was raised by an orphan who couldn’t give her the nurturing she never got from her mother, my mother also inherited the visceral trauma of Ida’s separation from her mother at an early age.  Although Ida was present physically in my mother’s life, she was unable to express the depth of emotion that would support my mother’s life.  That missing emotional connection also became part of my mothers’ inheritance.

….

In order to end the cycle of inherited trauma in my family, and ultimately for my own healing, I realised that I needed to heal my relationship with my mother.  I knew I couldn’t change what had happened in the past, but I certainly could change the relationship we had now.

My mother had inherited her mother’s stress patterns, and so did I.  She would often clutch her chest and complain about feelings of agitation in her body.  I realise now that she was unconsciously reliving the fear and loneliness that rippled through our family, the terror of being separated from the one she needed most – her mother.

There is much more to the story of family patterns Mark inherited and finally uncovered and discovered after a long journey of seeking outside for answers to his own psychological anxiety and trauma issues.   Reading his account has made so much sense to me of the symptoms of separation anxiety I experience at exactly the time of day my own grandmother, widowed in her early 30s, left my own mother (aged 8) alone to go and clean offices.  The two times of day were 4 to 8 pm and in the early hours of the am.  These are the times of day I experience my own anxiety/panic issues.  I had a growing sense developing in later months that what I was experiencing at those times was not mine alone, that it didn’t start with me.  And that was the exact time of day I had my head trauma injury in 2005 a year after my husband and I separated as I ran from him and my mother out of fear they would not support me in my own deep grief which I now know relates to a mother separation wound going back 4 generations.

Mark’s evidence and experience of his own and in his clients life (which I will share more remarkable examples of in a following post) backs up my own.  His work with inherited family patterns is so important that I am going to make it focus of my following posts.  This is important knowledge so many of us need to have, in order to heal and end deeply entrenched patterns of emotional blindness, ignorance and blame that keep us separated from a profound psychological understanding.

Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

Reading my current book on men who suffer from borderline personality disorder Hard To Love I am being reminded of how early attachment or abandonment wounds leave us with a thin skin covering over a sore raw spot that can often be triggered by perceived threat of abandonment.  At these times if we suffer from borderline wounds we may fly into a reactive rage rather than feel the soft,  vulnerable spot that is being triggered deep inside.

Acting out rage is a reaction to the hurt, pain and fear that lives inside.  We may not be fully conscious that we fear rejection because someone around us saw a part of us that may not be well formed or is a source of shame, youngness, pain, or fear for us.  Often such reactive anger or rage is a response to having early abandonment experiences triggered or feeling we are not being valued or validated.  When others only see the angry or raging response and don’t dig deeper to realise the wounds that led to it, true understanding, connection and repair is not possible.  When we have been triggered in this way it takes some age regression work to become aware of the wounds and earlier incidents of abandonment we carry and experience that are being triggered by such criticism in the present moment.

I am posting this today as a bit of a response to an earlier post on the negative side of the inner critic.  Criticism from others when it triggers our own inner critic can tend to make us defended or angry if we have these kind of wounds and most especially if we have a powerful inner critic inside and lots of earlier hurt.  If we want relationships to survive we need to find ways to express our vulnerability with others.  We need the capacity to take the little one inside us onto our knee and get at the root of what is going on.  For the abandonment actually happens when outer criticism triggers our feeling of not being good enough inside and as much as we needed someone in childhood to let us know we are good enough, as adults we really do not need this approval of our selves.   Later on we may then be able to have an honest conversation with the person in question and say  “when you did X I started to feel scared and abandoned and criticised.”   We may be able to communicate needs that we have that were never fully met growing up.

It is very painful to have these unresolved and often unrecognised needs inside of us.  In my post on the antidote to the inner critic yesterday I brought attention to the issue of childhood emotional neglect, and pointed out how suffering from such neglect which is not fully even conscious for many of us leads to certain deficiencies within and in the way we relate to our selves in terms of empathy and feeling a sense of inner value.  Educating ourselves about the areas of neglect is an important step forward, for how can we get needs met or change behaviours we don’t fully accept or even understand?

In my past relationship often my ex partner would feel triggered by a little criticism comments like :  “the griller door needs to be open when you grilling”.  He took that as some kind of slight on his intelligence.  And my abandonment wound could be similarly triggered at times when I started to feel left out or ignored.  It was then hard to find the words to express how I was really feeling because I lacked the necessary insight and language.   When I was finally able to speak up for my needs I was told that they did not matter has his needs came first, always.  At that stage self care would have seen me make a re-evaluation of the relationship if I had been in a healthier place.

That said not all criticism is valid and some people use put downs or other subtle or not so subtle means to put us down.  In this case we can stand up for ourselves against the criticism in a firm and loving way.

Borderline wounds are very real, they come from key experiences in the past of feeling alone and abandoned which are so often deeply hidden from view and even conscious memory.  They make us vulnerable in the present.  They put the locus of control and reaction outside of ourselves, at least before we begin to get a handle on them.  Understanding how and why we react as we do is important, just as important as others around us taking the time and caring enough to want to know why it is happening rather than blame or shame.

In my last relationship neither of us had sufficient insight to cope with the self soothing and other centred understanding that was needed for a healthier relationship to survive when we both carried our own version of abandonment wounding.   So many things can happen to us is childhood that we are powerless over and end up leaving deep scars.   There scars can mark our relationships but they are also signs, pointers or signals of a damage that when understood and worked with consciously can help us to move through to more committed, honest and understanding relationships with others.