It is not selfish to care for the Self.

I can very much identify as a person who has attempted for most of her life to be a good guy (even though I am a woman), that is why coming across Andrea Mathew’s book Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to find Your Genuine Self was such a helpful ‘find’ to come across in my local library.  I have shared some excerpts from it before and I have a post banked up to share on how I always identified as a ‘bad’ self when I seemed to fall short of ideals promoted by my emotionally repressive family and Catholic education.

I remember a while back when I was in recovery and starting to attempt to be myself and not automatically go along with what my family and sister wanted.  She said to me after being extremely demanding and aggressive “you always were such a selfish child, throwing tantrums”.   I probably did vocally express myself when something triggering was going down that said I could have done with a lot more of an authentic Self growing up.  If I had it I may not have had to mask a lot behind alcohol and drugs for so many years and had such a struggle in later years to take care of myself.

Anyway I was just reading the chapter in Mathews book on how the good guy amongst us have a terror of being called selfish, which is a shame and doesn’t end up serving us well in life.   So when Mathews poses the question ‘What Does It Really Mean to be Selfish?‘ this is her answer.

Actually, the term selfish serves no real purpose other than to manipulate others.  It isn’t selfish to think about the Self – for how else will one become acquainted with the Self if one doesn’t think about it?  Your feelings for and about the Self are not selfish – one of the healthiest things we can do is fall in love with the Self so that we love its company, cherish its essence, and desire to be in its presence all the time.   It isn’t selfish to do things for the Self – the Self needs us to do those things, otherwise we are disconnected from it.  To act purely out of the Self is how we live an authentic life.

So then are those manipulators (those who tell us…. You know I need this!  How can you say you love me if..?  If you don’t help me, I’ll…  You are the ONLY one who cares….. You are the most self centred person I know – said the first time you refuse to enable an addiction or something of like nature, after you have given years of time, energy and love) selfish?  No.  They are trying to survive by using the identity out of which they were taught to live…..

What about narcissists?  Aren’t they selfish?  In a word, No but they sure can put on a good act.  The truth is that true narcissists have a personality disorder.  That doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for them.   But it does mean that they have wrapped their identity up so much in distortion and unreality that they live in that distortion and unreality as if it were the only truth.   The best thing a good guy can do is avoid them.

But good guys have a hard time doing that, because they are not very good at discernment.  Discernment would mean that they would have to see and take responsiblity for their own end of these manipulative encounters. That would mean that they would have to start being more authentic.. taking the risks that are a natural journey to authenticity will finally allow them peace.

According to Mathews, those risks include letting go of a number of myths good guys can live by that end up only hurting them and stealing power.  These include :

  1. Thinking it’s not okay to judge others (despite evidence to the contrary those others may be mean, abusive or damaging).
  2. Thinking fall in love is immediately equated with giving over trust or hoping for trust before evidence that such trust is warranted or earned has been given.
  3. Believing it’s always a good thing to feel guilty when often guilt is unwarranted if we are following our own necessary authentic moral code that may go against social mores which restrict or limit that authenticity.
  4. Believing we are responsible for the way others feel when we are just being ourselves and behaving with authenticity out of no desire to hurt or harm.
  5. Being overly loyal, when such loyalty is not always warranted.
  6. Believing that to be good we must make sacrifices and always do our duty.
  7. Believing in unconditional love when such a belief may be harmful to our Self or other’s Selves (e.g. enabling an addiction when it is clear it is destroying another person)
  8. Believing one must always forgive regardless of how terrible the hurt or how absence the lack of remorse shown by the other party.
  9. Believing one must always smile and ‘be positive’, even when we are not feeling either happy or positive.
  10. Always trying to be the bigger person.  As Mathews explains the person who is always trying to be the bigger person does not actually belong to themselves.

The good guy who is always trying to be the bigger person is very afraid that if he takes ownership of his own life, he will feel terribly guilty.  He will feel guilty because he does not belong to himself, and he is therefore betraying those to whom he belongs.   So  he will hide his deepest essence – which, is the primary gift he has to give the world – because he cannot allow himself to really own it.  When he pretends to be the bigger person, it is to allow his life to be owned yet again by someone other than himself. This is a tragic and empty way to life… it is very possible to take ownership of our lives.

Getting out from under some of these myths can help us who struggle as good guys or emotional caretakers to start pulling back from some internalized proscriptions that do not serve us well.  They can help us begin to dispel the illusion that it is selfish to honour, protect and take care of ourselves.

 

.

 

Sore

Today was a tough day, in the morning.  Last night afer a dinner at Mum’s my nephew opened up to me about the terror he went through after my sister sustained brain damage from her stroke.  I never knew why her husband left her and sent her home,  his family in New Zealand would not help.  He ended up telling the two older boys they must leave and go it alone when they were just teenagers, the two younger ones (including my nephew who is visiting) were taken here and there and the woman my brother in law took up with following my sister’s illness was unkind to he and his brother.   I heard a lot of things last night I wont share here that hurt me so much to hear.   I have no medication to dull the effect.  I got to sleep after an hour or so of twisting and turning after I finally got to bed just before midnight.  I awoke to hear what I thought was my grand-niece having a bad dream.  My nephew is taking a valium before bed so as to get a proper sleep.  I got back to sleep but awoke with so much going around in my head when they did not get up for an hour and a half I started to feel very anxious and unsettled.  Things calmed down but then , when my sister died, I was the one left the task to clear out her room at the care home with Mum and it was such a big task as she kept so much, photos, letters, the children’s drawing, school projects, reports and other nick knacks I have held onto these for over three years now but today I wanted to pass them on.  There was a photo of my sister at about age 24 holding her first born and my nephew said, Mum was so beautiful then.  I just broke down.  It was so hard I was crying so hard I had to leave the room as he was so caught up in looking at the drawings he did as kid that contain similar themes to his later art work (he is now a well recognised artist) and they were images of trauma, I could see that clearly.   I felt the terror he was under when my sister ran after him with a pair of scissors.  I think after the bleed a part of her brain must have been badly damaged.  So hard to hear.

I phoned my other sister as my therapist has told me she won’t answer calls out of session.   I had taken on so much of the pain I had to download it somewhere.  “He shouldn’t be telling you those things,” my sister said to me.  Part of me feels he needs to but I am not his therapist.  I want to be there but I realised when I broke down what was really happening was I was seeing how much I have been trying to compensate for my sister’s damage and loss, when really it is not my responsiblity and yet in one way it is.  I am so confused!!!

Time out in the bedroom helped, as did the call to my sister.   I wondered though if I was the one doing all the feeling,  When my nephew knew I was upset he gave me a huge hug, but thats confusing as he is the one who also went through so much pain and when he gets home he has to have an operation to stop a swelling in his cerebellum from impinging on a nerve at the base of his neck.  I am frightened for him and was worried when over the past two night he continued to drink two thirds of a bottle of wine.  At the same time I dont judge him, I understand its just being in addiction recovery I so wish he did not drink or smoke.

I am aware of my boundaries though.   What he does is up to him.  After all he told me I know how much he feels he needs pain relief.   I think it was such a big thing for him to bring his daughter down here for a few days when he is facing such a huge thing in his life.   I now understand why my own Mum was worried and did not know if it would be okay for him to come.

Anyway we went out for lunch and were able to soothe ourselves.  There has not been a bad word between any of us.   Last night Mum opened up about the circumstances surrounding my father’s death just after Christmas and was able to cry.   My nephew held her hand.  My Mum got a lot of cuddle time with little Lyra and it was such a sweet visit.   It is going to be hard to say goodbye to them tomorrow but at the same time I will be glad also to have some of my space back its so mixed, time with family when there is so much trauma from the past.  My sister was always gentle but a strong willed person, its obvious the brain injury changed her.  At times she scared even me.   I sacrificed so much to stay close to my sister in 2002 and 2005 then again in 2011.  I had to come back to my home town to face all of this.  I could have gone away but it would all have been kicking around inside of me anyway, and still I long for a life outside a life of pain and grief that is really only tangital to me.   I felt such soreness today when the full weight of it all it me.  I was aware that at the moment Mercury is about to stand still and station before moving  backward to cross critical degrees of Sagittarius that were strong in my dead sister’s chart for her own Mercury which on some level rules the brain and spinal cord as well and Neptune was passing over it when the bleed occurred and Neptune rules the cerebral spinal fluid.  (this placement ties into strong placements in my great great grandfather’s chart to which my sister was deeply connected inter cellularly.)   Now my nephew has damage to his brain too.   I am frightened for him.  I want to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him safe.  He is such a beautiful man and I love him so much.   I feel so sad, but will pray that he will be held in loving care.  Last night we both spoke of how we both felt we had been kept safe at key times we drank too much.   He carried similar trauma to me and I am glad now he is in a loving relationship, for many years he was living out in the bush all alone with only his art.  I feel the deepest connection with him.   I love him with all my heart.  Please, if there is a God, keep him safe I beg of you, and help me to contain this suffering which feels like just such a huge ocean of pain and powerlessness today.

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 final 3 strategies for overcoming the effects of self absorbed or emotionally unavailable parents.

This is the final installment which follows on from two earlier posts on the header subject and contains exerpts that come from Chapter 6 of Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.

Change of Pace

(We can) become so stuck in one or more routines that (we) limit (ourselves) from expanding (our) horizons, meeting new people or challenges, learning and developing (our) resources and talents, and limiting our choices.  Thus, (we) place restraints on (ourselves) and limit (our) personal growth and development in some ways.  An occasional change of pace can energize (us) and (our) thoughts in many ways, enrich (our) inner self, and provide for wonder and beauty in (our) life.

This is not to say that (we) should disrupt (our) life and do away with (our) routines.  Such routines are beneficial.  For example, I do my writing in the morning, shortly after I wake up.  I first read the paper and have a cup of coffee.  After that I pick up my pad and pen and begin to write. You want to maintain your constructive routines.

A change of pace is not a major disruption, it is doing something different on a trial basis to see if it is right for you, energizing in some way, or has other positive outcomes.  It can be almost anything that is different from your usual routine.

Mindfulness

Becoming mindful teaches our valuable concentration that can help you stay focused on what is truly important in your life.  This  can be very helpful to you in interactions with your self absorbed parent, where your heightened emotional state can be distracting, even disabling.  Once you get distracted or lost, you’re left with the same old feelings.

Mindfulness is done with conscious thought and intention.   You expand your awareness in the moment and notice, appreciate, and even sometimes savour what you are experiencing.  This awareness allows you to notice things you didn’t notice before, being something into clearer focus, sort through confusing stimuli and zoom in on important aspects, reduce some anxiety, and help you feel more in control.  For example, lets suppose after by becoming more mindful you notice and experience the following with your self absorbed parent :

  • Your parent is saying the usual hurtful things, but you are not confused about why he is doing this and are able to see the fear your parent has of becoming old and no longer in control.
  • The words used by your parent seem meaningless and inaccurate and, although designed to hurt you, are bouncing off you like ball bearings bouncing off a wall.
  • You are able to discern your parent’s anxiety without taking it on or even feeling that you must fix it.
  • You are becoming aware that a role shift is in process, and that your parent is fighting but is also consciously unaware of it.
  • You leave the interaction less upset and stressed than usual.

Mindfulness allows you both to expand and contract.  You expand your awareness and contract your focus.  Practice the following exercise as many times as you possibly can throughout your day.  It doesn’t take long to do it, but you can do it as long as you wish.

Developing Mindfulness

Procedure:  This excercise can be done sitting, standing, reclining, walking and so on.  However it is best to be alone in a quiet place.

  1. Empty your mind.
  2. Don’t fight intrusive thoughts.
  3. Concentrate on your breathing and how this makes you feel.  Try to slow your breath.
  4. Become aware of your body, its tense spots, and its pleasurable spots.
  5. Focus on what you are experiencing, doing and feeling.  Stay with that and expand your awareness of sensations – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.
  6. Notice colors, shapes, forms, sounds, and how your body feels.
  7. Continue your expansion as long as you wish.

Reduce your Self Absorption

This suggestion is the basis for entire books on narcissism, but we’ll only touch on the subject in his book  The major premise for this suggestion is that sef absorbed behavior and attitudes are not constructive or helpful.  It is important to remember that, just as your self absorbed parent cannot see his (or her) undeveloped narcissism, you are unaware of behaviors and attitudes you have that are reflective of undeveloped narcissism.  Your undeveloped narcissism can do the following:

  • Prevent you from detoxifying yourself.
  • Inhibit you from developing sufficient boundary strength.
  • Keep you in a position where you can be easily wounded.
  • Interfere with developing and maintaining meaningful and satisfying relationships.
  • Get in the way of your reaching out and connecting to others.
  • Keep you in a defensive state all of the time.

Be aware that (reducing self absorption) is a life long endeavour and that you are mostly unaware of your self absorbed behaviors and attitudes, but they do have a significant effect on your self and on your relationships.

End of direct quotes

Facing the fact that we too are self aborbed is difficult.  In one way we need self absorption for a time in order to delve into what is going on inside and understand how and why we are reacting as we do.  However it is now proven by research into mental health and happiness that happiness rests upon being able to sustain healthy mutual life giving, love filled connections with others.  This ability to connect is what is primarily wounded or undeveloped in narcissism and if we were raised with emotional neglect or by self absorbed wounded parents.  Learning to reach out and connect and show empathy and understanding to and of others is a life time work.  But it has great rewards.

On mood swings and accepting the flow of healing in recovery

I found the following meditations very helpful and enlightening when I read them a few years ago.  When we are recovering on an emotional level it is likely that we will experience many ups and downs.  I know I have less of the abyss like days than I had two years ago.  When I have one of these days lately I do feel scared that I am regressing.  I have heard it said that recovery is often three steps forward and two steps back, if we are doing work to process past experiences the feelings we can feel can be scary and intense.  In the long run we need to accept them, so we can feel them understand them and let them pass through without keeping them lodged deep inside.  We abort this healing process when our inner critic judges us when we have them or tells us we should not have them or they should not be happening to us.  We need to let them move through us so we can move to a better place but this process takes a while and uses a lot of our emotional energy.

I hope the following mediations help some readers.

Accepting Mood Swings

Today I will not be down on myself if I seem to swing in my moods through my recovery process.  Mood swings have been scary to me, so I use them as a way to judge (or misjudge) my health.   I force myself to be in a stable good mood and then I feel I`m okay.  As I re-experience old, repressed feelings, it is possible that I will feel deeply disoriented, angry, rageful or depressed and then two hours later almost high.  This is not just because I can’t control my moods – I am opening myself to all that is going on with me. – I am not longer denying parts of myself so that I will fit into a designated constellation of roles.  I am allowing what happening with me to happen to me.

I understand that my moods may swing in this life changing process.

Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. 

Goethe

Natural Growth

Today I recognise that my bursts of growth are accompanied by backslides and I accept that as a natural learning pattern.  When children have a learning explosion into talking, walking or whatever, they experience a minor regression.   When I have a learning or growth explosion, I may experience a regression afterward.  New behaviour and awareness stabilise with practice  Today I will not take the regression to mean that growth was not genuine.  I will understand that accompanying a large step forward is a small step backward.  I will allow this to take place,  trusting that my experience of growth will integrate naturally if I allow it to.

Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Ella Fitzgerald

Taken from : Meditations for Forgiving and Moving On, by Tian Dayton

On ambivalence and facing my wounds

I kind of love the word ambivalence.  I break it down into its two roots ambi and valence.  I know valence is a kind of frequency or charge, I guess we could call it an energy or pull, this by-way pulling of contradictory inner charges of though and feeling is something I go through a lot in my relationship with the outer world and my family most especially.

I seem to be torn at times between forgiving my Mum and family for past neglect and feeling great disappointment, resentment and anger about them.   I long to connect and then feeling thwarted and hurt want to get as far away as I can.   The resentment has changed for me in recent months with the realisation that it can, if buried and the true feelings not dealt with cause disease on many levels.  I do feel this together with the many experiences of wounding and emotional abandonment I experienced together with difficulty forming healthy nurturing relationships contributed to my breast cancer last year.

I know acceptance on some level provides relief.  I can accept something occurred or is occurring although I may not like it, I just realise I am powerless over other people and realise expecting change is doomed.  Only the adult part of me is capable of that since my wounded enmeshed child wants to hold on and not accept the truth at any cost.  When I don`t accept or choose to see the reality I can make excuses for bad behaviour or just keep hoping ‘this time it will be different’ and just stay stuck in anger as a defence against grieving, mourning, accepting and moving on in a rational way.

I just watched a second video from Courage Coaching on how narcissistic parents can infantalise a child and it sent some shivers through me.  I have struggled with feeling a sense of competence and independence in my life due to being over involved and enmeshed with my Mum for some years and this difficult situation was made harder by my father’s death when I was 23.  I feel shame and guilt at times when I see how I acted my own fear and pain and feelings of being not worthy enough or inadequate in relationships sometimes through anger and think gosh I really was strongly on the narcissistic spectrum. But I also know that true narcissists try to avoid any possible introspection and that is not me.   I am overly introspective at times and often make things my fault that are not.  As I now understand it, the home I was raised in and influences around me were out of my control then, I was for a time powerless over the unconscious effects. Pain and difficult emotions such as anger and resentment come as teachers to guide me to a healthier pathway and in recovery I need to contain and work through them so I make healthier choices that don’t lead to more of the same.

I never had my painful feelings mediated or learned how to deal with them growing up.  I saw my own family using alcohol a lot and that is what I learned to do, silencing and drowning the complex mixed up feelings of my child within.  I had, even for years into my sobriety, trapped childhood feelings all mixed up inside.  Therapy is helping as is understanding how a regressed brain and wounded inner child forms in such an environment. This child needs help to understand his or her feelings and grow up.  It`s a long and difficult process for many of us.   That painful relationship we got involved in was just a trigger for us to do our own healing and that now is OUR responsibility no matter what wounds we carry.   If we stay stuck in blame and angry with the abuser or abandoner as a defence against a deeper acceptance we are in trouble.  Anger over what was done to us is an essential stage we must pass through to engage and moblise our push to heal and change and form better boundaries.  We cannot by pass it on the road to healing but staying stuck in it recycling over and over is just not healthy.  We deserve a happy life free of that kind of angst and pain after all we have been through.  When we form better boundaries and learn to self soothe and self care we are less likely to be as angry in my experience.  Our inner child needs our inner adults tenderness, discipline and strength.

Loving Kindness

Kindness.jpg

Today when any pain arises

I will notice it gently and touch it lovingly

I won’t feed myself negative stories or thoughts about my pain

Even though it may really be hurting

I will just say, darling today you feel pain

I am sorry

I am here for you

You are not alone

You don’t have to stay silent

I am listening

You can be, for yourself

The loving, kind, patient presence

You long for

And you can look for any beauty

In this quiet peaceful present moment

By opening your heart

By opening your mind

To loving kindness

We can run from our demons but we cannot hide

Can we run from our demons” The short answer is Yes! But they have a way of following or haunting us asking to be known.

Tonight a friend inivited me to an author talk with Jimmy Barnes. For those who live outside of Australia and don`t know him, in the early 80s Jimmy was the `bad boy` lead singer of rock band Cold Chisel.  At the height of their career the band sold millions of records.  In the past few years Jimmy has published part one and two of his autobiography Working Class Boy and Working Class Man.  The former tells of a very traumatic childhood growing up as the son and grandson of alcoholics.  Jimmy also suffered maternal abandonment due to his mother`s succession of affairs with partners who abused young Jimmy.  It is a harrowing story of trauma.

The second book, which has just been released, gives an honest account of his rock career as well as his accompanying descent into addiction and self destruction and towards the end of his active addiction a suicide attempt that was unsuccessful but took place while he was in a black out.   Jimmy found sobriety in 2012 which is really only relatively recent.

The author interview was so moving.  I was in tears by half way through.  Jimmy spoke of how he was always running, caught up in the flight and fight responses of complex trauma.  He spoke of how he used screaming to keep his demons at bay, but also of how, no matter how fast he ran, his demons continued to pursue him.    I got a bit triggered through part of the interview. The interviewer didn`t really understand abandonment trauma.   But then if you have not suffered trauma you cannot understand it unless you are a therapist who has experience with it or are another emotionally attuned person with empathy for trauma.   She showed compassion but the interview could have gone deeper.

I would have loved to have been able to say to Jimmy thanks for sharing your recovery story so honestly, but there was a huge line of people waiting for photographs to be taken after the talk, and as the friend who accompanied me to tonight`s event said, ‘I probably would have bust into tears the moment we connected.’   It was still great to hear someone coming clean about the inside world of abandonment trauma and addiction though.  `I thought if people really got to know who I was they would not like me or what to have anything to do with me any more,` Jimmy said at one point in the interview.  That made me choke up because those feelings of his are so far from rare or unique, the complexity for Jimmy though is that as someone, who for over 30 years has been in the public eye, the roles of persona and true self can be split very wide apart and the mask coming down may be all that more challenging.

What I took away from tonight`s talk though was along the lines of what I tried to address in an earlier post on grief.  Our trauma is never really `behind us`.   It follows us until we turn around to look it in the face.  It wants to be known and shared, to be honoured, not hidden.    Jimmy is still only really in relatively early sobriety so he has a way to travel down the path, I felt so for his inner child who from what was shared still seems to be powerfully affected by past traumas that he is working to face.

I couldnt help but hope that his inner child would get some help along the way.  I would have loved to give him a hug but my friend had texted me late this afternoon that the organisers had requested that no one hug or kiss Jimmy.  I could understand why.  People in the public eye receive so many of our projections.   At the same time it would have been nice to have been able to hug the guy and say thanks so much for being so open and honest so people can understand what the consquences of trying to use alcohol and drugs to escape trauma are.

We lost another very famous rock star, Michael Hutchence to suicide in 1997 and only last week a two part television documentary aired on that subject.  Alcohol and prescription drugs were a bit part of that story but there were issues of abandonment and trauma associated too.  Luckily Jimmy has had the support of a loving partner throughout all of his ups and downs.  That also bought tears to my eyes.  I admire those who stand by us in recovery once we commit to do the work. I haven`t experienced it in my own life, but I am glad Jimmy has.   All in all it was an emotional evening.  On the way home I popped in to visit my Mum.  Held her hand while she cried about her stomach pain.  I thought how strong the bonds of pain are that link us to family, they are the demons that pursue us along a long corridor of years but my experience is that it`s better when we turn back to face them and hold their hand, for in the end isn`t a demon just a scared and traumatised child who longs for recognition, empathy, insight and love?

On Shame and vulnerability

I am half way through Brene Brown`s wonderful book Daring Greatly : How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  It is resonating with me so deeply and making me so much more aware how defences against shame and vulnerability underlie so many of our challenges in life.

When I got sober in 1993 I was introduced to the work of John Bradshaw.  For those of you who dont know John is a recovering alcoholic who was one of the first to address the issue of toxic shame in his book Healing the Shame That Binds You.  Some of the most enlightening points in that book concerned so called religious addiction and poisonous pedagogy​ Inherent to both is the idea that who we are is intrinsically flawed and that the only way we can over come this flawed condition is to seek perfection or correction of the beastly, sinful parts of us.  While it is true that we do develop flaws and vulnerabilities growing up, associating such with toxic shame leaves a lasting legacy and burden it can be hard to get out from under.   Shame concerns the feeling that who we are is flawed.  We loose a sense that who we are is actually good at the core and then we learn to engage in all kinds of behaviours where we learn to try to either deflect the hot shame potato to others or deflect the blows of projected shame coming at as.  Some of us who become scapegoat or shame identified take on the mantle of shameful one and seek to attone in all kinds of ways.

In order to deflect shame Brene explains we respond in one of three ways :

  1. We move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets;
  2. We move toward by seeking to appease and please;
  3. We move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive and by using shame to fight shame…..

According to Brene all of these defences actually move us away from connection both with ourselves and others.  They lead us to disconnect from our deny or bury the true source of shame which lies within.

The alternative (which is not very attractive to some) is to keep our heart open when we may feel the hot shame potato being lobbed at us.  This is what happens with bullies or critics when they seek to attack us or bring us down (often projecting their own shadow onto us).  We need a deeper understanding of the other person`s defences against experiencing and taking on board their own shame.   This takes a of work most especially if as children we were shamed for feeling natural feelings (this leads to what John Bradshaw calls shame bound feelings.)

I know I most certainly entered the rooms of Alcoholic’s Anonymous just under 24 years ago all of my feelings were bound in shame.  I had gone through so much in my life and like Brene learned to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.  I did not know anything about shame.  I did not understand how much it had been a part of my life post particularly having gone through a Catholic education and in this way I fared even better than my two sisters who went to school during the 1950s and 1960s.

As I read Brene`s book I am becoming also very aware of how even years into recovery shame played a huge part in the last dysfunctional relationships I entered.  By that stage I had so much to grieve and had aborted several therapies.   I did not have any form of trust in people and in my family I watched grief being buried or deflected.  I was aware at that point that grief work was a big part of recovery, but I was not aware that the energetic lively self that got buried was also wearing a huge overcoat of shame as I carried a fear if I ever got too happy things would decombust.

Now I see how much shame and fear of vulnerablity ruled my own life, I am also developing a lot more compassion for others, most especially members of my family.  If we get raised never feeling good enough we do begin to adopt some of the armouring defences Brene discusses in Chapter 4 of her book.  We feel scared of risking expressing who we really are and can begin to put on masks.  In my own case from early days on in AA I was committed to taking the mask down.  I heard deeply with my heart as others shared of their own feelings of being exiles and aliens in a strange world and I cried so much at meetings hearing these stories.  Eventually I moved away from meetings to pursue therapy in the UK after my husband and I moved there in my 6th year of sobriety.  Understanding the roots of shame and vulnerability has been a far longer journey.

Today I was listening to the breakfast programme on our national radio station in Australia where the sexual abuse case against producer Harvey Weinstein was being discussed.  The commentators where saying how the revelations of those abused by Weinstein were awakening revelations of abuse for many women and how some of these women were being publically shamed by men on social media.  Oh, I thought, here goes the hot shame potato again.  Why is it so hard for us to have compassion for a person`s vulnerability?   (Often because those people judging and defending have not one clue of what it feels like to be violated in such a way.)  It saddened me while I also realised this is really just human nature, the sad state we find ourselves in collectively at present.

In my own life I am very glad that over time I have been able to open up my vulnerability.  That said opening up my vulnerability to shame bound or defended persons was not only not helpful, but down right damaging.  In that last relationship I was shut out and shamed so often for genuinely expressing my feelings.  It took me so long to understand that the partner I had chosen was so defended because his own pain was so huge and his own fear of vulnerability and his true feelings so powerful.

Today I can be honest most of the time.  I still engage in a lot of perfection seeking behaviours around my home which as so deep rooted I despair sometimes of ever fully overcoming them but I always draw comfort from the AA idea that we seek progress rather than perfection.   Perfection is an ideal perhaps never to be fully realised.  That said I keep striving for wholeness, to take on board my own shadow and defences a d olf fears against opening up and being emotional vulnerability.   It is a work in progress and along the way I am so so grateful for those people such as John Bradshaw and Brene Brown who are engaged in working to unmask and enlighten the powerful role shame and perfectionism play in our lives and world presently.   What a gift to have this knowledge and understanding.

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.