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.

Finding connection through disconnection after trauma

Some people just get us.  Some people are an energy of love that you can just feel.   When you are with them your heart opens and you feel your energy lift.  They don’t subtly or so unsubtly invalidate you or put you down.  When you have not known this kind of pure love and open heartedness it can be so easy to distrust.  And we sensitive ones do need to be careful at times who we open up to as a lot of people may blame or shame us.  But still I do think there are also those out there who recognise our high sensitivity.

I often wonder how much less sensitive we may have been in a better or more self protective way if this side of us was seen, acknowledged or valued earlier on.  Traumatic things hit us hard and Peter Levine, the trauma expert makes the point that how we are treated immediately after trauma affects how well we recover.  In my own case I was on the other side of the world so far from family support when my second trauma hit and I escaped there as to be around their energy felt violent emotionally to me.  After the accident I struggled to find a safe space then freaked out and came back home.  It was a night mare.

I retreated alone and then got into a relationship with someone who brutalised me when I showed grief.  I justified how he treated me and kept going back because I did not know I needed more.  I was not kind to myself and had never learned really to value who I was and my capacity to feel.  I put down alcohol and smoking at 31 as I really wanted to live in a kinder way but that was just the beginning of understanding how the energies of others around me affected me and how I was responding.  As I look back over the past six years of being back near family I see I have struggled to maintain my own boundaries and self care with all the other traumas that followed especially the attempted suicide of my other sister.

Not one family member has chose to do any emotional work at all.  I try to point things out but it is often like trying to lead a horse to water.  And I am beginning to see that by myself I suffer in a family at times where feelings and sensitivities have to be so hidden and that is physically so repressed and non demonstrative.  I see how my living sister uses exercise herself to connect in the absence of the love and holding that is really needed.  These days I only see one or two friends who I can really connect with and often I think my body is suffering and crying out for holding care and love.  Maybe it is time for me to start to seek out some kind of touch therapy and holding, I have been considering Reiki.

I have often come to grief with holding therapies.  I had the accident after a session of cranio sacral.  The second time I tried it I freaked out with the therapist and she shamed and invalidated me so much I left, letting someone into your body when you have suffered traumas to it and violations of it is fraught with peril and such big feelings but at the moment I think it may help to release some of what my tissues have had to hold so deep inside over past years.

I am sharing about this today and the synchronicity with astrology is that today Mercury is in the body ruled sign of Virgo which relates to earth mother and is coming up to oppose natal Chiron in the seventh which is all my wounds in relationships from the past and maybe that is healing now as on WordPress I now seem to have made so many good connections with people who truly validate and understand.   It helps me to write about all of this and what others post really prompts and awakens my own healing.  In this way I make connections in all kinds of ways and that is the work of Mercury who travels and links us.  Today I as I was walking I was imagining the entire world as a web of interconnected energies.  Who we meet with and connect with on any day has such a powerful impact on us for good or ill and surely there people out there who we could really gel with but just never get to meet.  In any case here is where I get to share and pour out the way I feel and I am so grateful for that.

Friends with your shadow : on fear

It seems for many of us who undergo pain or difficulty the transformative encounter with our own shadow is an essential part of our awakening journey.  I am called to write about this subject today after picking up a beautiful book by Deepak Chopra called The Deeper Wound : Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering.  And my reflections on fear were also prompted after listening to a radio programme on the subject this morning which reminded me to pick up the book.

I would like to share here three of the 100 meditations that Deepak writes in the middle of the book.  The book was actually written just shortly after the experience of 9/11 in America and was his response to the massive level of fear and suffering that the terrorist attacks awakened.  Astrologers know that at that time a major opposition of two very strong planetary energies Pluto and Saturn was taking place.  Saturn in astrology rules, boundaries, defences and fears, also the ring pass not we often erect to hide from us the deeper Plutonian feelings which can include intense feelings of grief, sadness, powerlessness, obsession, a lust for control or rage often prompted by a deeper wound (thus the title of the book).  Pluto rules what becomes hidden and then persists and exerts a powerful hold – thus its association to the shadow.  But it also deals with transformation in and through facing and making friends with our dark side.

It seems to me that fear is one of the shadow energies in our lives that we need to learn to face and deal with, for often fear is feared and fear of fear means we can and do project it onto others who the split ego judges to be ‘not like me’ and therefore a necessary target for anger, rage or judgement.  We struggle with our fears and don’t often quite know what to do with them and in this situation fear becomes anger and defensiveness or it becomes a paralysing anxiety that is diffuse, generalised and non specific.  And such fear can plague us.

Fear is a large subject but I hope these readings speaks to you, as they did to me today.  When I read something this powerful that really makes me think I like to share it.

I ask my shadow self to emerge 

This is the first step of healing it

.. we are all aware of having dark impulses, which include hatred, fear and aggression.  These impulses arise from our unconscious and our normal response is to keep them there.  We push the dark side out of sight, yet it doesn’t go away.  It seeks expression as all energies will.  Healing isn’t possible when dark energies are kept bottled inside.  To being healing, invite the shadow self back into your awareness.  This isn’t the same as acting out rage or terror or revenge.  You are only sending the message that you are no longer shunning the shadow self : you are acknowledging its right to exist

My shadow self is serving me 

I am grateful for that

This affirmation is about repression.  Your shadow self has gained the energy to frighten you because you are repressed it.  But the shadow doesn’t see itself as the enemy.  It sees itself as your guardian.  It protects you by holding onto those energies that belong to you even though you feel guilty and ashamed of them.  Guilt made you turn to suppression as a solution.  Shame makes you not want to look or listen when these energies call out.  Because the shadow energies got pushed out of sight, they never had a chance to show you their hidden spiritual message.  This message was for your growth, and thanks to the shadow self, who has held these old forgotten experiences, you can revisit them.  As the shadows of fear, rage, terror, and revenge return, you need only see them and understand.  As soon as you do they will deliver their message and then go.  This is the whole process of healing the shadow self.

I ask the dark energies to teach me

This affirmation is about facing fear.  Like the shadow self, your fear doesn’t see itself as harming you.  It, too, believes that it is a safeguard.  Stored in everyone’s memory are past experiences of terror.  By reminding you of those feelings, fear is trying to protect you from repeating the traumas of the past.  As long as you push down your fear, you will nor be able to receive it as an ally.  By the same token, you cannot just act on the basis of fear.  At a soul level you see no need for fear, because you don’t need protecting.  Living in the now poses no threat, and therefore referring to the past serves no purpose.  It is safe to go into your fear and ask it where it came from and what it wants you to know.  Having seen the world from its perspective, reassure yourself that the soul needs no guardian.  Learn from fear, heal it, and ask it to leave.

So often when we keep the door locked on our fear or tell ourselves we shouldn’t have it we are doing ourselves a huge disservice.  If we can really face our fear, know the situations from the past that gave birth to it and make peace with these events we can know that there was at one time a very real threat that caused us terror.   It may be difficult to feel that we are safe now but if we deny our fear we don’t really get that chance or opportunity to give up old defences that no longer serve us and keep us blocked, trapped and driven by fear.

An instrument of awakening

I have some powerful moments of realisation at times.  You know the feeling where a new vista opens up on past issues and you suddenly see things from a new and different perspective?  Often it occurs after a long, long period of suffering and questioning.  You descend to the depths in order to see things at a more profound level, so that in some mysterious way the deeper you go the higher your view.

Today I had the thought about my brother in law, the one who caused so much pain and fracturing for our family, or rather was the instigator of a lot of it, what if he was just an instrument of awakening and what also if he carried some of the family shadow?   My Dad for most of his later life was preoccupied with financial success.  Deep down he was a soft man, but born to harsh conditions in 1920 in Holland.  He was also born in a patriarchal world.

I had a counsellor for a while, who was herself Dutch about 4 years ago and when I explained how my father treated his daughters and displayed little affection physically, she told me that was usual for Dutch fathers of his age.  He also did not believe that women should pursue further education to advance a career.  In my case I was forced to go to secretarial college, which I hated and my older sister who had the stroke became a nurse when she would rather have gone to Uni.

Anyway to cut a long story short, my father was responsible and strove and did well, but my brother in law ended up falling short, getting into debt, absconding with the family then sending some of the boys back when things got too hard after he abandoned my sister.  I don’t know the full story, in the end he hurt my sister deeply but she always forgave because that is the kind of heart that she had.  Perhaps she understood more of how hard she pushed to try and move them forward in a way to which he may not have been suited.

The entire result was devastating in every way.  It has marred so many lives including my own.  But today when I rose a little while ago to see the Sun shining I felt a kind of awakening.  What if all of these trials were for a larger purpose of awakening?  What about if our family had to go through all of this separation and disconnection so that in the end it could come back together in a healthier or different way?  What if we could make gold out of this blackness and see how old patterns were actually trying to be arrested?  And what if love was the answer?  Loving something even though it contained such pain?

I also awoke today thinking a lot about alchemy and containment.  For the purposes of maturing we need to contain our impulses and emotions in a healthy way.  We should not repress what we feel but we do need to make a relationship with feelings, most importantly with our reactions to difficult events.  Things not going our own way is challenging for sure.  Having to face frustration of our needs and impulses is so challenging, deeply painful but also essential and important. In order to be emotionally and physically healthy in our world we need the drive and ability and power to express our spirit in some way, rather than have it blocked.  At the same time it seems to me that containing and working through our frustrations, losses and thwartings and handling the associated feelings involves a kind of alchemy.  We have to digest our experiences often over a long period.

This is where the sign of Virgo comes in that we in now.  Mercury is retrograde in Virgo at the moment. It has been for some weeks.  For me it hit the deepest part of my chart when it stationed backward a few weeks ago.  It hit my Pluto.  We had the lunar and solar eclipses during this time.  Personally I have felt so much going on in my physical and emotional digestive system.  The sign of Virgo is ruled by Mercury and I was thinking today that we actually have two brains in our system.  There is the brain in our head as well as the brain in our gut.  I read in a book by trauma specialist, Peter Levine a few years ago that for every nerve fibre travelling from the brain to the gut we have 10 more travelling in the other direction.

Our deepest emotions live in our gut. This too, is where the inner child lives (in esoteric astrology the sign of Virgo is ruled not only by Mercury but by the Moon which relates to emotions and our inner child).  The gut is where we digest things and experiences and process them to then make sense of them in our brains. What is processed here is also passed onto other organs such as the kidneys and liver.  Add to this that we have a heart too that is ruled by the Sun and fiery Leo where we feel the will to both love and expression.

When that fire goes out our vital spirit feels almost dead. It is hard to eat and even to breathe as our heart connects so closely to the lungs (ruled by Gemini and Mercury too).  We have to process things.  We have to contain them.  We have to chew the raw food of experience over and over in order to gain the right understanding and nutrition, wisdom, intelligence and insight.

And I guess that during this current Mercury retrograde period that is what has been happening for me.  I have began to make sense of the fact that perhaps every thing that happened to my sister via my brother in law was really the working out of something deeper, some thing that had lessons for all of us.

It seems to me that often when we blame circumstances in some way we miss the deeper understandings that can come.  You see it all the time when tragedy strikes, people quickly rush to blame or seek the person or person’s responsible and punish them.  And most certainly people should be held to account.  But what if when tragedy strikes really there is deeper work than this to be done?   If we don’t stop and grieve and allow our pain to go deeper and teach us important things or birth deeper realisations it seems to me that we can often miss the deeper truth or meaning or purpose of the experience.

In my own case I am seeing now how much fear I have carried in my own life.  I was scared of my brother in law in many ways.  I linked that fear to fear of being close to my nephews in some way in therapy yesterday.  I both longed for connection and feared it.  Would they be safe? Would they end up hurting or abandoning me in the way their father did my sister?  Is it any wonder I felt so much fear?  That in the years following my sister’s abandonment and suicide attempt that I had 6 terminations of pregnancy and untold difficulties in getting close to any man in a deeply intimate way?   That I myself, came to fear life and love and risk as well as full embodiment?

The answer is NO its obvious that is how it would have affected most of us!  In the end I would rather this experience never had to befall any of us in my family, but the truth is that it did.  And now our task or my task is to live in the best way with the result and after examining the forces and impact make new choices for happiness or at least gain deeper insight into my fears.

I spoke in an earlier post about the wave I felt pass over me last week and weekend with my nephew’s visit.  I thought a lot yesterday about how much I can actually fear my own feelings and fear having them in relationship.  I intellectualise a lot because I was left alone for most of my life trying to make sense of deeply painful and confusing experiences in the adult world that befell both me and others.   I learned often to take myself off alone.  I learned to knee jerk react and act without containing often as a reaction to over whelming stress and then I hit walls with accidents which pulled me up short, but maybe for a reason, so that I could internalise to then be able to make a more conscious step forward, one that was not so dictated by trauma but informed by it, if that makes sense.

Today that is the realisation and reckoning I am arriving at.  Mercury moves back into the final degrees of Leo in a few days where it slows to station forward.  As it does it hits the degree of the Solar Eclipse of 21-22 August.  That is right on natal Uranus in the first house which is all about individuation, shock, disconnection, severing, enlightenment and awakening.  Oh and freedom!  But its also about turning away at times from the instinctual world of feeling to a realm of intellectual understanding which at times can be a divorced or disconnected from earthly containment and emotional realities.  In the best sense enlightenment brings light to those deeper darker Plutonian experiences and emotions we all go through.  Hopefully in the end deeper understanding when digested helps us and will help me embody more and no longer split.  Maybe it will help me to ground, turn back, embody and make peace with the earthly shackles of a far from perfect or ideal life and experiences which were so often so far beyond my own control.

The painful cost of trauma : understanding abandonment depression

Painful trauma has a way of driving us out of our body.  To have lived with an intolerable reality which we are given no help to process or understand is an agony beyond words.  Not to be held, understood and empathised with in our suffering means our neurobiology cannot be soothed, we become flooded with stress chemicals such as cortisol.  Recent studies show that empathy increased the presence of oxytocin in our neurobiological systems.

I know the relief that has come for me in therapy as  have been able to let my own feelings out.  I know the damage that has occurred when, in trying to express said feelings with unsafe others who are defended, blocked or lacking in empathy they have become, not only trapped within, but other feelings have then occurred in reaction such as pain, disappointment and distress.  It was only last week in reading the chapter on abandonment depression in James Masterton’s book on the real self that I became aware of how complex and multilayered the feelings of that state are.  It is within the abandonment depression that we feel suicidal as it contains what Masterton has labelled the six feelings of the psychic apocalypse, very aptly named.  Guilt, rage, panic, fear are four of these feelings.

In recovery those of us who have undergone trauma or abandonment trauma need help to understand our feelings and the courage and strength to bear with or integrate these feelings. Rage is a huge part of what we feel when we meet again invalidation or similar abuse that triggers our earlier abuse.  There is panic when we face the rage which also comes with a great deal of fear, after all when we were younger and abandoned we experienced fear as we were confronted with overpowering situations of stress and distress which we can go on reliving unconsciously for years and had no help with.

In our recovery we begin to regress to these feelings and since such a huge part of so called borderline trauma involves invalidation or lack of support and empathy, when we meet such triggers again, we can regress and find ourselves once again filled with grief and rage.  Our overt reactions will most likely not be understood by those who have no idea of the complexity of feelings we are left trying to contain, process and express as a result.  This why we need in recovery an enlightened witness who is able to show empathy for what the real self had to suffer in childhood which led to the adoption of a false self as a defence against fully feeling the complex feelings of the abandonment depression.

In his book on Complex PTSD Pete Walker deals with the abandonment depression.  He also explains how the inner critic becomes very active at a certain stage in our recovery, shaming us for daring to recover and try to become well.  The inner critic may be comprised of things said to us when young by others who tried to shame or judge us instead of showing empathy or helping us make sense of difficult feelings.  We can shame ourselves in similar ways for our reactions, which comes often from the so called ‘adult’ part of us that won’t accept or allow the child to be the child, vulnerable, tortured at times and deeply confused.

Empathy is so essential as we begin to deal with our inner critic less we start to shame the child all over again in a bid to protect it or protect against the feared rejection of others that we experienced in the past.  It’s a complex process.  We do need to become aware of when we become triggered or start to act out old pain, but shaming ourselves for it won’t work and help us to heal.  Painful feelings need to be lovingly contained and soothed for true healing and integration to happen.