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

Defeat

Defeat.jpg

It was so hard to hear you yesterday

So defeated my darling

You are usually the one so full of hope

And in the situation you find yourself

Sometimes I wonder how on earth you cope

And manage every day

To keep soldiering on

All you ever think of

Is how to protect me

How to care for me

And when I get angry because things go wrong

And I have not one clue

What is going on

Over there in that hell you inhabit

Then I forget to remember you are doing your best

All I feel is my frustration

At the fact trauma seems to find me

Over and over again

 

So many times it seems I bled

From the wounds of others

I was the one who cared

The one with a bandage

Ready to say there there

Because I knew too for years

How it felt to be traumatised

Or abandoned

Or left for dead

Oh my god the things it does to your head

And so I gave love

As I knew I must

But sometimes the anger well it rages inside

Why oh why God did you give me this life?

 

But then just as the storm seems to have totally consumed

And almost sucked all the air from the room

A bright sun will suddenly burst free from the clouds

And like a dead Jesus pain disappears

Only leaving a shroud

And then I know defeat is not really the end

Just a stepping stone on the way

To a new healing

A new understanding

A new way of living

A new victory

Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

Pain of early separations from our mother can haunt us for a long time and we may not always know what the pain is about. It’s an issue that Mark Wolynn, San Francisco based therapist on multigenerational trauma addresses at length in his book It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  The separation may not have been physical alone, it could be just that our mother was undergoing a depression, grieving a loss or being unseen and unnurtured by her own mother did not know how to be fully present for us.  (According to Wolynn the original problem or disruption often lies a generation or two back and we may be unaware of it).  We feel the loss and absence keenly and such feelings can cause us to actually turn away when our mother tries to connect with us another time.

Wolynn shares just such a story on page 175 about a baby Myrna whose mother leaves for three weeks.  On her return as she waits and longs for her daughter to run to her Mryna’s mother experiences instead a daughter who turns away becoming even more distant.  Rather than understand her daughter’s reactions and look for a way to restore the bond Myrna’s mother instead encourages her independence.  The mother loses sight of her child’s vulnerability, so where did it go for Myrna?  Answer in short.  Into the unconscious.

Of course later when Myrna fell in love, love was experienced as a minefield and its something I can relate to as will anyone with insecure, avoidant or anxious attachment.  Vulnerability of needing another opens up a pit of loss we do not fully understand and we can relate by sabotaging things further should we choose to deny or repress our true need feelings and vulnerability.

Mark Wolynn talks of interruptions to the flow of love and energy between parent and child a lot in his book.  He knows a lot about it as he pursued a path of so called ‘spiritual bypassing’ seeking a healing he could not find in ashrams and through meditation (though he does use visionary meditations with a clients ancestors in order to effect healing of past wounds carried on).  Wolynn did not heal his early trauma with his mother until years later understanding how its roots lay far back in his own mother and grandmother’s history and eventually becoming a therapist himself.

When our early experience with our mother is disrupted by a significant break in the bond, shards of pain and emptiness can shred our well being and disconnect us from the fundamental flow of life.  Where the mother-child relationship remains severed, empty or fraught with indifference, a stream of negative images can lock the child in a pattern of frustration and self doubt.  In extreme cases, when the negative images are continuous and unrelenting, frustration, rage, numbness, and insensitivity to others can emerge.

Psychopathic behaviour can be the result but the key result if often a form of pathological narcissism – an inability to truly connect and take in love.

According to Wolynn the majority of us have experienced some kind of break in the bond with our mothers.  Many though, got enough of what was needed to be able to maintain healthy relationships later in life.  Many of us were not so lucky.  Ideally disruptions to attunement need to be healed in the context of any relationship.  How we deal with them are important as are the beliefs about our inherent lovability.  According to Janet Woititz adult children of addiction and trauma believed they will only be loved if they act in a pleasing happy way.  No relationship can survive like this and neither can we.

Knowing what happened in the bond with our mother and the impact it had on our attachment style as well as inherent negative self beliefs and development of what Wolynn calls ‘core sentences of separation’ is vitally important if we wish to heal.  We can become conscious of these, work to understand how they may be influencing our present and do inner work to change negative core beliefs we may have absorbed unconsciously so they do not continue to play our in our relationships.  I have found so much help myself reading Wolynn’s book which I shared from extensively in my blog last year.  It is well worth a look if you struggle to maintain healthy loving relationships in your own life and are working to understand how the flow of love between you and a parent (not only your mother) is impacting you in later life.

(Examples of core beliefs which negatively impact our capacity to love and be loved are :  I’ll be left:  I’ll be abandoned. I’ll be rejected.  I’ll have nobody.  I’ll lose control.   I’ll be helpless.  I don’t matter.  I’m too much.  I am not enough.  I’ll be annihilated.  I’ll be destroyed.  I will push love away.)

See through my heart

Heart Eye

You often say to me

I wish you could see through my heart

How I feel for you

Oh my love

I will never fully know the total truth of it

Because my heart is not yours

And my eyes are my own

And often they project things

Not always full seeing or realising

The love that is there

But if you only knew

What your heart’s kindness means to me

At this stage in my life

When past failures come calling

And I feel the loneliness

And sadness in my sister’s heart

How can I be so blessed

That someone wants to love me as you do?

And does not retaliate

When my own fear of getting close

Pushes you away

You say

We are meant to be

And

You are perfect for me

But I know the sadness and fear

That is in my heart at times

And the last thing I would ever want to do

Is hurt you with these feelings

And so I am so grateful

When you hold to love

Because your love is a powerful force

That at these moments of insanity

Restores me to truth of my real feelings

And as tears fall

Makes me realise

What the cost would be

Of ever losing you

A brilliant new resource for empaths.

As empaths we need all the resources and knowledge at our disposal to stay healthy and learn about the dynamics of emotions and energy exchange, that is why I was so pleased to come across the new book by medical doctor and empathic wise woman Christine Northrup : Dodging Energy Vampires : An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power.  

Dodging

It is already confirming a lot of things I have experienced and explains well the biological changes in stress hormones that we produce in relationship to being in toxic or draining relationships with others when we are very open to love and care as empaths and most especially those of us who never got a lot of emotional needs met in a healthy way in our families of origin.

I am just going to share a bit of it in this post to help readers.  This extract concerns how empaths in believing they should always work to help, heal or show support to others often stay stuck in detrimental relationships which cause us not only psychic and psychological pain but also increasing ill health or susceptibility to auto immune difficulties, weight gain and/or loss and other diseases.

If you’re in a relationship with an energy vampire, the question is: Why don’t you get out?  Why don’t you speak up and protect yourself?

As I mentioned, many empaths do get out. They see the problems and ditch the vampire pronto.  But for those who don’t there are two main reasons.  First, you are naturally compassionate and caring, so you may simply miss the red flags.  That can happen if you’re not paying full attention to your intuition and the circumstances surrounding you.  And second, your wounds have created in you a powerful desire to be accepted and an overwhelming belief that you shouldn’t hurt other people’s feelings.  And for old soul empaths, there is a third things that keeps us stuck:  We truly believe that our love and caring can heal other people – in this case, the vampire.  And although we may see the red flags, we believe that things will be different with us – that those other people who hurt the vampire just didn’t have the skill and compassion that we have.

While our initial response to the inevitable ill treatment of us in anger, hurt, and disappointment , we quickly squelch these natural feelings and replace them with guilt – something we learned to do in the past, either way far back in another lifetime or in childhood.  Or, more likely, both.

We make the mistake of thinking that energy vampires are as sensitive as we are.  We don’t want to risk hurting their feelings, so in order to protect them and their feelings – and because we are so good at solving problems in all the other areas of our lives – we keep giving them our energy and draining ourselves rather than risk standing up to them, standing up for ourselves, and owning how angry, hurt, and disappointed we really feel.  And then ending the relationship.

….trying to convince them to get help and to change their ways…..is a dead end street.. because they don’t change.  What has to change in every single relationship with an energy vampire is you.

The lack of self worth and need to be accepted and need to be loved that many of us have makes us a perfect target for energy vampires and the darker parts of human nature.  (This what we most need to work to change in order to heal the toxic pattern.)

Christine goes on to explain also how the Buddhist concept of sending love to those who hurt, angered or betrayed us is also not useful for empaths, something that has bothered me in the past when I have read up on Buddism and also when I was in AA.  The appropriate response to these kind of feelings should not be to work harder to forgive those who upset, distress or abuse us or don’t want to change or seek a true spritual or psychological solution or healing.  Really who we should be loving and praying and caring for is ourselves and those other kind, supportive, emotionally healthy people in our life who actually give to us rather than drain our energy or suck away our life’s blood continually.

The dark place of abandonment

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

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

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

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

Anderson.jpg

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

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

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

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

The importance of consistent reliable attachment

I now know a lot of my inner insecurity and fear and descent into addiction from the age of 17 comes from the removal or absence of significant attachments growing up.  The early loss of my sister to a new life far away from us was a wound that went deep but one I could not share with anyone or even fully understand at age 3.

When I look at photos of my sister’s wedding with myself in them I look sad and bewildered, like I don’t know what is going on.  I am the only child in those photographs and my sister and her new husband left on a boat for a different country the following day.  I imagine now the hole that was left by my sister’s absence then and now with the death of my Mum I feel the shadow imprints of that hole, but not as deeply for luckily over these past few years I have managed to reach out more to those I would love to share a friendship or connection with, those who I can say how I really feel and what I am really experiencing inside.

What I noticed over the lead up to my Mum’s funeral following her death was the insecurity and unreliability of many of my familial attachments.  My brother was the only fully physically present figure but he was not operating on an emotional level, so when he wanted to extend his support I found myself brushing it off.  With other family members I noticed they were just not there or were only there in a very inconsistent way.  When they were there I did a sideways dance due to fear and lack of trust

Due to my abandonment history I am not used to either consistency or reliability in attachments or support.  I am used to insecure unreliable attachments and those who try to fob me of or gain distance from me.   This was made clear to me this morning when I read the chapter Just Like A Timepiece in the book Beyond Borderline : True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. 

In this story the sufferer speaks of making her first most significant attachment shortly after her first hospitalisation for the disorder.  The doctor she bonded and attached to then left the programme at the hospital and the sufferer then spiralled into addiction.  I could see as I read the clear connection between that emotional abandonment and the sufferer’s need to medicate her pain.   Luckily seven years later the teller of this story moves to a new town where the doctor who treated her is in practice as a therapist.  Through trust and courage she makes the attempt to connect to her and her therapist makes herself available 24/7 which is what one therapist told me years ago is the only thing that works for those of us with deeply disordered and insecure attachment experiences.

Looking back I see how many therapies broke for me when my therapist took a break.  I am also wondering at the wisdom of what my therapist told me this week, that by leaving me alone to cope she was helping me to build that resource inside or look to others.  Maybe there is a lot of truth in this but a deeper truth is at a time I really needed her 24/7 she refused to be there for me.  She told me this week when I went back to see her she was surprised I had come back, coolly and calmly she explained she thought she would not see me again.   It would have been no problem for her, but it would have been for me.  I would have had to find yet a new therapist, explain my story all over again and I have been with this therapist for 2 years now and that’s a lot of sessions building a knowing and a history.

I felt so sad when I read this story this morning.  Of course I was glad for the writer she was able to find such a consistent reliable attachment with her therapist, Dr. Chase.   She writes :

Dr Chase and I still continue to meet twice a week at the time of this writing.  She is by far the most important person in my life.  She has done more for me than anyone else I have ever known.  There are still moments when I struggle, and she is available to me at any moment, both night and day.  The diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is not an excuse for me.  Its is simply an explanation. I have begun to tentatively form friendships , although many times I still retreat within the safety of myself  The other day I found myself saying “I like myself.”

And I cry now.

I felt upset this morning that my own therapist does not provide that kind of support.  I felt I had no other alternative but to accept her boundaries last week, but that doesn’t mean I think they are right.  I think what she did to me over the time of Mum’s death was hard and unfair but I also know she had the best of intentions and understand her reasoning.  I am used to giving over in this way. Another person’s will and desire was stronger than my own.  She held all the power and control and I accepted it.  I could have left to start again with someone new I guess but what I get most of the time from Kat works.

I am going to find other sources of support next year.  Like the person who told the story I quoted from above I am now building in my own life growing connections with several people in my own life. I know the fears I have of abandonment relate back to very real experiences of being alone and abandoned when I most needed support.  With my Mum’s death around the anniversary of my Dad’s that empty black hole does open up within me some mornings.  But the difference is that now, armed with inner psychological awareness  I know the need I have to reach out, I can also reach inside for the love and understanding, it is where life has always forced me, so why argue with reality?

Yesterday I was brave enough to visit the husband of a good friend who was part of my trauma past in the aftermath of Dad’s death back in 1986 who had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor on Thursday in the hospital where I spent 3 months following my accident at the end of 1979.  I needed a cup of coffee before I got there and he was doing well.  His wife was there and we talked for well over an hour.  I thought then as i drove home of how life and recovery is always trying to bring us full circle.  Recovery is like a spiral dance in which we pass over and re-experience old ground, pain, trauma and issues but with a new elevation or perspective on them.  At times we have to go into the fire and face or front up to those triggers or re-enactments, but armed with the knowledge we gain from our journey we grow in awareness on each revolution around the center of our self and past.

Many of my attachments broke all through out my life.  Some broke in later years due to unconscious fears, but many of them also held firm.  Those who have loved me have watched me battle with my need to connect amidst enormous fear.  They have stayed close but not too close and then there are those who over this most painful time have made real efforts to draw close and be near.   Their consistency in being there for me has made me aware that it is safe to trust in world I so long ago learned to doubt or fear.

Maybe it took my Mum’s death for this to all come full circle.  I don’t know.  I only know I am so grateful all these years later to be living just a little further outside of all of that insecurity and fear that plagued me unconsciously for so many years.  I will perhaps always carry deep insecure attachment and abandonment fears but hopefully with mindfulness they will no longer need to dominate my life so unconsciously and I can learn who is secure/safe for me to trust and place my faith in.

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.

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.

Replicated trauma : understanding how trauma is carried in the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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