Free to feel sorrow

I am a big fan of embracing and accepting my emotions these days.  I consider them tides now that rise and fall and are like waves that would like us to ride them into what every shore they are breaking.  And even though it can feel exhausting to be hollowed our or broken open by grief like I was yesterday, I am so grateful now for my body’s ability to surrender to that tide rather than resist it’s natural flow.

I was thinking today of how braced my body became over years.  One of the consequences of not opening up to our feelings is that we hold our breath. We may have been taught to do this by a parent or other social conditioning, we may have been threatened if we were angry or felt sad with a punishment and so we had to freeze, or suck it up, or we may have tried to fight or fly away and been stopped, like when my Mum pulled my arm out of my socket when I was only three as I was trying to get away from her.

Yesterday at the crematorium as they played the song You’ll Never Walk Alone I really felt my abandonment wound triggered.   Gerry was far from alone in his cancer journey, Carmel listed in her eulogy all the things done for them.   I thought of my own breast cancer surgery where I had little in the way of support, a mere skeleton, but that is far from the only time I walked alone in my own life, especially after my father’s death in 1985.  This is not meant to be a post about self pity, only an attempt to say I had it really tough for so many years and validating that and feeling it is painful.  It is admitting to a truth.  I was not part of a close knit loving family like Carmel and Jerry and it’s been very hard.

Anyway surrendering to my feelings felt good yesterday even if quite uncomfortable at times.  It is not easy for many of us if we were never validated in the past.  But I truly do believe the fastest way to freedom is to feel our feelings and make sense of them, emotions are nothing less than energy in motion and energy wants to move out and through, having to bury it all inside has terrible consequences for us.  Embracing and feeling our grief is not automatic and complicated grief that is buried can be left undealt with for years with the result losses pile upon losses.  This is what I experienced as my sobriety unfolded with each funeral of a male friend or father of a friend, which would tap into all the pain over the loss of my Dad and his hurtful treatment of me over years as well as his stumbling attempts at kindness.  All these feelings were was buried for so many years in my addiction and probably my fear around males generated difficult reactions too the threatened intimacy between us.  These feelings can be a a potent cocktail when associated losses are being triggered in us from the unconscious.

When we grieve I believe we have to deal with feelings of powerlessness.  When someone we love dies or something is taken it shows we are not in control.  If we fight against the process we can end up blocked in my experience, far better to let ourselves surrender to what needs to move through us, reshape and change us.

Birthed from love

Trust your sadness

Don’t let it harden to defensiveness and anger

Let your heart be gently soft

As you count the enormous cost

Of all you wished for but could not gain

Of all that was longed for but lost

Trust the process enough to know

That somewhere even in the darkest shadows

Light is still shining somewhere

Even if covered over by frost and snow

For as the ice melts

Light will come again

As all that was illusion is dissolved

Through this process of transformation

Truly I tell you

That the sun will come again

After this all this grief

 For how could sadness be birthed

From anything else

But love?

Opening my heart to love again

I am finding it challenging to open my heart to someone loving me again.  All Scott seems to do in every single message to me is offer to love me, to support me, to be the one who stands by me and often what he gets in return are a host of doubts and arguments.  Then there are times like today when something he starts to offer me triggers painful memories of past relationship bruises and cuts where I was not offered these things and actually suffered abuse due to my past two partners in ability to accept the symptoms of my PTSD condition.   I have been very open with Scott about everything, including the challenges he will face in trying to love someone like me.  He is frankly pretty horrified when he hears about some of the callous treatment I suffered at the hands of both my ex and my ex husband.

I know its time for me to open my heart and trust again but today I have been feeling so very sad and he texts me with a brief window of time between waking up and training which is now an hour and a half earlier to tell me how much he loves and misses me and when I say I have been feeling sad he asks me why and then tells me he only wants me to be happy.  Well this TRIGGERS THE BEJESUS OUT OF ME for its one of the reasons two ex partners chose to leave, they could not handle my sensitivity or sadness and I used to get red the riot act in the last relationship including being given the silent treatment when I cried too much at the death of my ex partner’s father all those years ago.  Due to my addiction I really didn’t start truly grieving anything until about 12 years of sobriety and then things would come out in an avalanche especially around any funeral of a father of a friend which would trigger earlier grief I had not permitted myself or been permitted to fully feel.

Don’t get me wrong I have a lot more happy days lately but this time of year is fraught with painful anniversaries and lot of self blame has been running around in my head this past week due to the way my ex husband and I separated years ago and in a week or so it will be our wedding anniversary.  I know ‘I should be over it’, in many ways I am but things of shame and guilt that I wish I could have done or handled better tend to come up all the time and I am getting lot of flashbacks lately.   I have been praying today that I can come to peace and find self forgiveness because this opportunity with Scott is a new chance to leave the past in the past (if that is actually a realistic objective??)  It is just that when he offers me love it tends to open up a lot of fear from the past and a backlog of the deepest sadness, I just find myself crying and crying mostly with feelings of gratitude (but also disbelief!).

I have been reading up on the Twin Flame relationship lately and everything I have listened to and read says that once we are on a healing path we may attract a partner to offer us unconditional love and that it will open up all the blocks inside our own heart towards unconditionally loving ourselves, for actually this the only way we can heal and make it work in a new relationship.  Often one partner can tend to run and the other pursues in this situation if the fear is too great.  Whether or not you believe in this split apart soul concept of Twin Flames it does seem that self love needs to proceed love of others, for if we cant love or accept ourselves fully, past omissions, mistakes and all, how can we offer this love to anyone else and these feelings may block us or be projected in fear or distrust or misbelief.   I am terrified too as an empath of being overwhelmed in relationships and this is something I have had to talk to him about.  We already had an argument last week when he got upset that I needed distance as he felt my feelings had changed, when actually as an introverted personality type this is the way I recharge, by needing alone time.  I know in this relationship I can negotiate for my boundaries and be accepted.  Its just I have so much sadness in coming to believe that happiness may actually be possible this time, if I truly open my heart and am vulnerable about my fears and feelings.

We have feelings for a reason

In many ways the rational enlightenment, which was a critical turning point in human history together with the ascendency of patriarchal forms of social control put paid to so called ‘irrational’ feelings.  At the same time both forces created an enormous split between mind and body, a split we are working hard to understand and heal, a split that leaves us many of us lost, disconnected and disempowered.

I love how synchronicity works, most especially where my blog is concerned as this evening I was re reading a very important section in a book I have referenced before by Andrea Mathews, Letting Go of Good and that section, titled Understanding Your Inner World : Your Internal Messaging System addresses the issue of repressed feeling.  Shortly after reading it I came across a link to another post that had been reblogged by a follower on the work of author and therapist Mama Gena (aka Regina Thomashauer) and in the words of the author of that blog

She discusses how our patriarchal society trains us to control and stifle our emotions, which causes them to fester. She writes “our patriarchal society doesn’t honor grief. (Or rage. Or longing. Or jealousy. Or frustration–just to name a few).”

According to Mathews, following the rational enlightenment

Emotional people, or people who are in touch with internal message, such as intuition, came to be thought of as unstable.  This was because emotions and other internal stimuli could not be trusted or relied upon at the time.  They are here one minute and gone the next.  They make us do things we later regret. They drive us insane or to a proximity of insanity.  They make us worry, ruminate, and do all kinds of other things with our thoughts that are not at all rational.  No.  We need to turn off emotions and other internal stimuli in favour of thought.  Thought is always rational.  But, of course, this is not true.

What we have done in the name of reason is repress.  We have repressed emotions, intuition, discernment, and other internal stimuli, as well as awareness of actions, words, thoughts and anything else we consider to be unacceptable.  We have, in fact, repressed awareness of our own inner world.  And of course, any time we repress awareness of our own inner world our thoughts are not going to be very reasonable – or rational – because they cannot now come from wholeness but from only one segment of who we are.  Thought that exists without a direct connection to emotion, intuition, or other internal messages, or which exists relative to a bunch of connections to repressed material is not going to be reasonable  Indeed repression make us more unstable – not less.

.. most of us don’t want to know what goes on in our inner world… we suspect that we will find badness and all kinds of pain, betrayal, secret darkness and angst that we just don’t want to have to wade through… there is also a large contingent of spiritual leadership… that teaches that our so called “negative” thoughts and emotions are dangerous to our well being.   According to these teachers, our thoughts are always supposed to be positive and our emotions are always supposed to be set on bliss, and when they are not, that is evidence that bad old ego has stepped up and taken hold of us. …. Much like the old traditional ideas about the devil, these ideas about ego set us up for a battle between various aspects of the identity.  They do NOT facilitate an awakening to the authentic Self.  They simply have people struggling and striving to rid themselves of an essential part of their being, in much the same way that the Age of Reason did.

..These teachings and those that remain from the Age of Reason have a very similar result – self-betrayal….(but) our emotions, our desires, our intuitions, and our discernment are essential to understanding both the identity we have and the authentic Self.  We will not come to understand either, nor will we heal any brokenness until we have come to understand the inner world.

And those emotions which are most helpful to us are very much a part of our inner world and exist for a reason.  In the following chapters of that section of her book Letting Go of Good Mathews deals with the emotions which she sees as critical to our internal messaging system along with intuition, discernment and desire.  We literally cannot survive nor thrive well until we have learned what these emotions have to teach us.  In an earlier post I already shared a post taken from that book on fear as one of the internal messengers that come as protector and teacher.

The other three emotions explored by Mathews are as follows :

  1. Resentment
  2. Anger
  3. Sadness/Sorrow

I am sure many of us out there have been educated at one time or another to believe that one or other of these four emotion is bad or negative in some way but really, as Mathews explores in chapters devoted to each, each has a message for us, a message that we ignore or dismiss at our peril.

Resentment comes to teach us when we are overstepping our boundaries and not sufficiently honouring ourselves. When we have been hurt or shamed or our anger invalidated.   Resentment makes us feel something over and over again until we pay attention to that something and deal with it.   If it is something we cannot change we need to walk away or at least put up boundaries.

Anger comes as a cry of authenticity from our true sense of self to let us know if we have been diminished or treated unjustly in some way,  “when we forget (anger), it comes up to remind us that we exist, that we are real, that we are here in the room with others by whom we wish to be seen and heard, and that we matter.  We have a primal need to exist, to be real, to be here, and to matter to ourselves.”  Anger will let us know when something that is not okay is happening to us.  Abusers or drainers may try to convince us anger is a selfish emotion but anger always exists in tandem with assertion so we can take action to self protect and self care, so “anger is an energy that must be heard and authenticated”, most importantly by us.  Buried anger will make itself known in psycho somatic ways if we don’t listen to it and take heed.   Anger cannot be denied without difficult consequences.

Sorrow or sadness is an “admission that we are not in control…(letting us know) there has been a searing loss…. Sorrow knows that what we wanted is gone.”  According to Mathews the purpose of sorrow is to get us to acceptance, the more we accept sadness and allow ourselves to grieve, rather than block, defend and deny our grief, the more transformation can happen in our lives, or opening to deeper spiritual truths.  Good sorrow (well grieved) can cleanse us, clear away fog and toxins, ground us and make us more human and authentic, as well as emotionally available.

Mathews worked with addicts in recovery and in every case she saw how those who resorted to addiction had denied or somehow negated their true sorrow over a loss.  Many blamed themselves in some way and she tells the story of Jared in her book a man whose mother was murdered when he went out one night to a friends place and never spoke about the torment he carried inside, until it emerged in group therapy.  Through grieving and finally externalising the blame he had held silently within and drank over for years he moved towards a new acceptance and understanding of loss.  Love of his self which had been so absent before grew out of this experience, as it will for all of us when we finally have compassion and understanding shown to us which will help us to show to ourselves the same by and through honouring our true feelings.

Mathews concludes with these words.

When we make time to be with our emotions, listening to their wise messages, they often leave us with powerful and transformative shifts towards healing.

When we deny ourselves this process, when we continue to engage with the lie so widespread in a toxic and rapidly deconstructing patriarchal split mind-set, we cut ourselves off from the true source of our healing, which always lies deep within our selves and within the emotions that so often hide deep within buried under our thoughts about them.

Stormy, stormy, stormy skies and a forest fire

If you want

Well this post has been kicking around in my drafts folder for well over a  year now.  I was unsure whether to post it.  I am having a clearing out of these old banked up post at the moment (with Saturn and Jupiter now both retrograde), this one was a reflection on sadness and anger using the metaphors of stormy skies and forest fires:

We’ve had a week of storms and it never fails to impress me how often weather mirrors my mood.  Is it that nature is echoing the deep internal space I find myself in?  Is it that my inner life is resonating with the elements and nature?  It pleases me to think so and to realise that both may be true.

I love these lovely dark afternoons after the storm has passed.  You hear the distant thunder roll and rumble as it passes on for its next destination leaving behind a deepening green that is fecund and full of positive ions leeched into the surrounding vegetation.  What a harsh summer had made so dried out, dusty and barren has been transformed into something soft and plumped out.  This can be how it feels for the soul once it breaks open to the sadnesses held inside for so long that then falls down like rain making the soul that was once parched, full and hydrated, no longer so desiccated.

There is a completeness, filling up and satisfaction that comes as you realise that truths that you hid from have been revealed in a way which would not have been possible before the onset of the tears.  It may have been years that you held the truth of these things inside your heart but with the tears they are made apparent.

Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her myth of the Handless Maiden the tears soften the soul and keep the predator at bay.  When the Devil comes to take the daughter of a miller for his own he cannot take her due to the fact she cries.  I think of people I know who have allowed their souls to be hardened in resentment, who had put up defences against hurt and healing, who never would wish to be made vulnerable by tears.  But I also think of the times that tears for me have hidden anger within them and then the shedding of the tears bought no relief as the real revelation had not yet been made.

Deepening the metaphor of the storm and thinking how I am still witnessing the outplaying chorus of thunder around me this afternoon of the thunderous moods of my mother that would come upon her.  We knew to brace and lock down in preparation for the fury of a cleaning session which would be undertaken with a lazer beam intensity that could not be interfered with and would brook rage if it was.

I think of my own thundering around the house at times when anger that has rumbled around inside me for days and rattled the cages of my being and then burst out upon the dog.  Poor little Jasper scarpering outside to the refuge of the garage, looking at me with real pain in his deep brown spaniel eyes and my tears and regret that follow as I see an old pattern repeating.  Poor little darling is having to weather the storm that the landscape of my porous soul absorbed only to replay later.  Jasper is now me and I have become my mother and only realise it later after he fury and the storm has passed.

Anger that is channelled in a constructive direction can enliven what was once unenergised and barren but should it become a roaring forest fire that decimates everything, much is lost and its true value was obscured while old historic anger lay claim to our soul.  We may live to regret deeply words and actions that cut away good with the bad or we may awake freed from a parasitic attachment that did not serve us well if what needed to be cut away from was part of a necessary shedding.

These for me are some reflections on the metaphor of storms and feelings.

Softening

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

Bessel van der Kolk

Pain and abuse or trauma can make us harden and contract.  Some of us erect steely defences, we fight or we may take flight.  Others of us just collapse in a big heap with our insides spewing out all over the metaphorical floor.  In any case pain, abuse or trauma can and does change us and fosters in us certain reactions.

I had the thought as I awoke early today to a soft morning after gentle rain had fallen (which was like nature mirroring my inner world as last night when I wrote about tears as the gentle rain, the skies were clear. But isn’t our grief just like this?  It comes in shower, storm or a wave and washes us through.)   The thought I had was that my soul is often in grieving for my false or fighting self that had to push through all the pain and trauma alone.  My therapist and I were talking about how the inner critic forms yesterday in the vacuum left by a parent’s lack of availability or as a way to please and how it then becomes unconsciously melded to us, until we do the inner work of uncovery and recovery.  We wouldn’t survive without this push to bring us through.  Many collapse in depression or inward turned anger and take their lives or end up with such a compromised auto immune system that all kinds of diseases can result.  Last night I was reading a post of someone who endured two terrible losses and ended up with fibromyalgia due to the complex feelings she struggled to express, process and understand.

I have always been a great believer in the soul which I see as a kind of deeply authentic internal witness that knows all about us.  I was drawn to the work of Carl Jung and Jungian therapists such as Thomas Moore, Robert Johnson, James Hillman and Marion Woodman in my early sobriety because they spoke of the importance of this soul and how its symptoms are cries for healing that may sometimes fall on the deaf ears of our false self who had to turn away or compromise.

I remember a few months back when I was beginning to open up to a lot of grief in therapy, Kat my therapist, said to me so wisely : “these are the tears of your true self.”  At the age of 54 trauma and my own defences have stolen from me so many life opportunities .  As I look back at past relationships I also see how I blame myself for wounds I was not conscious of.  My emotional hunger made me bond with inappropriate people far too early.  My emotional neglect meant I did not have strategies of self care.  And when I was in rampant addiction there was really no real me to show up to protect or be truely intimate even though my soul longed for this deep intimacy.

What I have realised is that for me to ever find such a form of intimacy, it is going to need to come from my own soul first.  After years of validation I needed my current therapist so desperately but I cannot tell you the amount of times my inner saboteur, critic and nay sayer has tried to get me to abort this last therapy.  I wonder why a part of me would fight something that helps me so much.

Anyway this morning I woke up soft.  I woke up just before dawn.  I made sure not to contract my muscles and to try to breathe deep into my belly as part of my pattern of trauma involves unconsciously holding my breathe.   I was trapped in the car in 1979 for a long time and had to be cut out.  I had a collapsed lung so it was hard to breathe and they were behind me trying to put on a mask.   I held my breathe in my family to put my own needs back and try to revolve around Mum to be seen.  I tried so hard to do everythign right.  Yesterday as I was crying with Kat in therapy I heard a deep inner voice say : “you better get everything right and perfect, or there will be hell to pay.”  Part of my own defence and ancestral defence is to try to make order out of chaos.  I know often in adult children of alcoholics meetings I would hear how this reaction was a response to the chaos of a parent’s addiction.  In our family the addiction was my great great grandfather’s,  My grandmother and mother carried both the trauma imprints and reactive imprints.  With my Neptune in Scorpio in the third house I know it is my fate to bring awareness to all of this so I can free myself but first I have to see it and realise that maybe such deep rooted patterns are not always easy to change.  I need to have patience with myself and practice self compassion while still trying to set limits and boundaries of self care so I am not driven all the time by the emptiness of my childhood neglect.  Only self care will help in this situation.  A false self develops as a survival strategy and it takes time to release it.  I am engaged on this process.

I have a lovely book on the soul by Deepak Chopra that he wrote as a response to the 9/11 attacks called The Deeper Wound : Recovering The Soul From Fear and Suffering that I rediscovered earlier this year.  In it there are 100 poweruful meditations with a core saying to help us get in touch with our souls, that soft wise inner part of us that just sees and knows beyond all the fears, insecurities and strategies of the false self or wounded ego.

I am making a practice of letting these meditations soak in as a kind of healing balm when I am forced to push or fight something it may be better to open up and surrender to.  I don’t doubt my soul knows what is required to embrace my fractures.  I just have to trust and stay open and soft enough to let that healing in while staying strong and setting boundaries for good self care.

Rocking

My heart broke this afternoon to arrive to see my Mum in her chair in the hospital arms wrapped around her shrinking body rocking with her head down.   I wrapped my arms around her and cried.  She spoke of her anxiety attacks and how finally one of the doctors had asked her about her emotional history.  Thank God they finally began to make some connections between what she has gone through emotionally and the physical ailments that are besieging her.  I wish my Mum had found somewhere to pour out her pain years ago when she struggled to deal with the abandonment issues that led her first daughter to collapse.   I think now it is a case of not enough and too late.

I emotionally connect to my Mum only when we are alone.  When my sister is there or there are other visitors Mum stays silent about her pain.   It may be good that the focus is off of her pain for a while but at the same time there is so much I feel she needs to share.  I am under no illusions that I am my Mum’s saviour but I know how painful grief and isolation are.  I look back with sadness at the time I needed to ask for or lean on my Mum’s support but could not due to an old pattern. I got angry or fearful and ran.   I can not have those lost years back, over 13 years now that saw the end of my marriage which also hurt my Mum so deeply and led me to a deeply isolated place from which I am only now beginning to emerge.

I know I didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ but choosing the actions I did led me to more isolation, at the time I was in recovery for addiction so my emotional awareness had not yet begun to open up.  I did not know how I would deal with what was below the surface if I reached towards those who were struggling with their own pain and so several times I took myself off alone.   Its confusing as I probably could have healed on my own at a safe distance years ago, but now I don’t feel that either me or my mother can.  Our healing or coming to peace involves our need to connect and come out of the prison of emotional isolation that seems to have dogged us like a curse along the multi generational line.

It was so hard to leave the hospital just over an hour ago, but I knew I had to come home to take care of my dog Jasper and myself too.  Without self care there is nothing for me to give to anyone else.  I am so sad that I cannot connect with anyone else in my family at this level at the moment.  My nephew who I thought I was close to has not returned my calls.  The sad fact is that fear keeps many members of my family emotionally distant and disconnected from each other, that and a stoic kind of self sufficiency and concern with material worldly things that ultimately, to my mind, seem unimportant at the level of heart.

Sad as the situation is though, I must accept it.  I can only give the love I feel and I can pour out my disappointment about my family’s lack of emotional availability with my therapist, Kat who understands.  Modern life seems so busy and superficial at times.   People shake their heads when someone chooses to end their life as if its a great mystery as to what made them do it.  “Why didn’t they reach out?” they bemoan.  But when did that actually pick up the phone to say “How are you, and how are you feeling?”  How many people end up suiciding because for years they were never truly seen at an emotional level?   Of course if we feel desperate we can and should open up emotionally but what I feel is more of a problem for our society is how deaf we have become to essential matters of the heart with our rampant preoccupation with the cult of materialism and individualism.   Its a deep dark truth and its one we need to change.

 

Sadly, we don’t always trust our emotions

Allow.jpg

In Western culture we have a history of treating emotions with suspicion and contempt, as somethign alien, other, separate from us.  From Plato onwards the ‘passions’ have be viewed as our ‘lower nature.’  Regarding the source of the passions, as Freud did, as an ‘it’ (id), ‘a primitive chaos, a cauldron of seething excitement’, makes it hard to develop a friendly relationship with emotions or accept them as part of ourselves.  This view of emotion as primitive and alien is a classic form of dualistic Western thinking.

As a result of regarding emotions as other, we feel the need to rid ourselves of these alien forces invading our system, either by acting them out or suppressing them.  Yet this fear of our emotions indicates how alienated we are from ourselves.  First we are alienated from our own energy, making it other and judging it negatively.  Then we start to imagine these emotions are demonic, that we have monsters in side us. The irony is that in judging and controlling our emotions, we become further overwhelmed by them, which leads to explosive eruptions that leave us all the more alienated from ourselves.  In treating emotions as other, we grant them dominion over us.  Suppressing emotions and acting them out are both alienated, afflicted strategies that prevent us from experiencing emotions as they are, face to face.

John Welwood : Toward a Psychology of Awakening

An alternative way of regarding our emotions is to understand them as part of us, an intrinsic part of our raw and vital aliveness, expressions of basic life energy moving through us.  The saddest part of suppressing our emotions is that we lose access to this liveliness and depression is often a result.  We become split and divided from our essential engine of soul/spirit in body that guides us and keeps us in touch with life through our emotions and our felt sense of being.

Gendlin addressed the concept of felt sense in his book Focusing.   A particular feeling such as sadness may actually have different layers of feeling associated with it and there are ways we can use to get in touch with the felt sense of a particular feeling in order to come in touch with the more essential part of our being and vital aliveness underlying certain emotions.

At first the felt sense that lies beneath an emotion may not be very clear to us, most especially if we are conditioned to run from or over express certain emotions in such a way, rather than be in touch with them, instead we then tend to become over powered.  This is because often an emotion is a more intense form of feeling.  For example sadness can build into grief, irritation may erupt into rage, a feeling of fear may turn into panic.  When feelings become intensified in such a way they do tend to  overtake us and we need a strong sense of attention to be able to contain and feel and hold the feeling and observe how it may build into something more intense and wisdom to see what lies under it and may be motivating us.

In his book Toward A Psychology of Awakening, therapist John Welwood describes such a situation as ’emotional entanglement.  He explains how a feeling of sadness can be amplified by the way in which we choose to respond to it.  Whether we resist or judge ourselves for it thinking or seeing it as a sign of something wrong, annoying or unwanted.  This can happen when a feeling threatens our self image and then we can start to tell ourselves stories about the feeling we are having most of which tend to magnify it or make it far harder to engage with in a productive way.

reacting against feelings – fearing fear, being outraged about anger, becoming depressed about sadness – is much worse than the primary feelings themselves, for it turns us against ourselves and causes us to go around in emotional circles.  As we spin around in the cycle of feelings – giving rise to highly charged thoughts, our perception becomes cloudy, and we often say or do things we later regret.

Cutting through this tendency to get lost in emotionally driven thoughts and stories requires a certain discipline, which psychotherapy and meditation provide in different ways.

Working in a therapeutic way with our psyche involves unpacking the deeper felt sense underlying emotions and stories we tell, it is a way of tapping more deeply into underlying meanings and responses beneath emotions.  In fact certain emotions may be pointing towards a need we must address.  For example sadness may be a reason to look at the ways in which we are missing happiness, joy and connection in our lives, or an indicator of loss we need to work through.   Anger may be a message that we need to express certain feelings and needs to someone who is hurting us or a sign we need to treat our frustration and discomfort gently by setting a boundary or sharing a truth.  Fear may be a sign that something isn’t safe for us or we may need to take care.

Without access to our feelings we either split them off and denigrate ourselves or let feelings build and build intensifying with the punishing stories we can tell.   If instead we can open our minds and hearts to our bodies and the feelings that may have valuable messages for us, if we can welcome them in and pay mindful attention we may learn a valuable lesson in self care and find a sense of calm, connection, contentment and rest that does not come if we are continually fearing them and pushing them away

The importance of empathy in healing past hurt and anger.

I love it when I get guidance to go somewhere, often to a bookshop or a library and the book I just need to read turns up for me.  It happened last week that I got that message on a brief window of time before my Thursday therapy appointment and came across Arthur C. Ciaramicoli’s book, The Stress Solution : Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.   Personally I have never been a huge fan of CBT as I believed it encouraged sufferers to over-ride injury or deep issues of hurt with mental directions to reframe thinking that may be justified and bypassed the deeper feeling work that needs to accompany true healing.  This book provides the missing link in helping to show how old hurt that cannot be felt, understood, empathised with, expressed and resolved then warps our ability to think, interpret and trust clearly exiling us to a wasteland of anger, resentment and depression as a result.

I posted a poem yesterday on the sorry that my own mother has never really been able to say to me.  I have shared that my mother showed empathy for her own mother’s situation to the point she could never ‘blame’ her for hitting my mother and driving her so hard as a child.  This failure on her part to say sorry and to act wounded and upset when I try to point old hurts out had been a sticking place for me in the past and I have needed outside validation of therapy to help me face and address the painful state my own unresolved hurt, sadness and pain has left me in for years.   But now that I am facing having to have my front tooth removed tomorrow my mother is in an acute state of distress.  She sees how I have suffered and all the onslaughts my body has been through as a result of my childhood and the trauma of those years of accident, illness and loss and she feels bad.  But is still not able to say sorry about her part in it, only that she is sorry I have suffered.

A comment from a reader today made me think about how important sorry and empathy really are to healing our hurt, anger and distress and its the exact point that Ciaramicoli makes in his book.  Anger which goes around and around affects our neurochemistry and then can lead to all sorts of body issues later in life, including heart attacks and strokes.  I also believe it can be behind the development of many auto immune diseases.

If we were hurt in childhood we need to understand the nature of those hurts and not carry the anger on where it can poison other later relationships with fear, insecurity and mistrust, but our hurt needs to be expressed with someone who can validate it for us.   I made this point in a blog last week.  I mentioned how trauma expert Peter Levine has showed that if, when faced with a traumatic situation we have one person who can calm us and show empathy we are less likely to develop long term Post Traumatic Stress.  Empathy is the key that can then help us to rewire the mental negative thought forms of mistrust that accompany a childhood of loss, trauma, pain, invalidation or hurt blocking us from love and empathy in the present and future.

I highly recommend the Ciaramacoli’s book and below is an extract from it that I found extremely helpful to my own emerging understanding.  I am sharing it in the hope it will help others too:

When hurts accumulate without a positive resolution, we often lose ourselves in self absorption and resentment.  This kind of preoccupation is a tremendous drain on mental energy, leaving us with little capacity for interest in others.  Anger can turn to tolerance, however, when our perceptions change from fear to truth.   When we stop seeing others through the hurts of the past, when generalisations cease and we begin to perceive more objectively, we become more hopeful and optimistic.  We feel closer to people in our lives as we recover trust.   Trust is often correlated with happiness in communities or individuals.  When we trust others, we feel safe and calm.  We can then perceive more accurately and thoughtfully.  What we feel inside determines what we feel outside.

Once a person….harbours unresolved hurts, her anger and sense of helplessness can dramatically change the way (they) think and behave…. even a trauma survivor can return to a state of calm through meaningful contact with an empathic, understanding individual.  Such relationships make us more reflective and enable us to embark on a journey to learn what has troubled us, how to resolve our hurts, and how to move on.

Sadness is often seen as synonymous with depression.  Depression is often, in fact, an attempt to avoid the sadness.  Sadness is the body’s cue to stop, think, and work through what is troubling us.  People who don’t head this cue avoid examining their troubles, and the stress caused by avoidance becomes a way of life.  In essence, depression is often an avoidance of using the information sadness can provide.

We cannot resolve our thoughts alone.  Without input from others, we repeat our thought patterns over and over again and remain stuck in the mire of our own negativity.  This is a formula for continual stress.  By releasing ourselves from the mistaken beliefs that support our uneasiness with people, however, we reawaken our basic goodness and allow love and compassion to break through.  Our empathic breakthrough then removes the obstacles to seeing our world and ourselves clearly.  If (we) allow (ourselves) to be open and vulnerable, to share (our) hurts with others and accept empathic feedback – a courageous step for sure – (we) might ….(be) able to recover the spirit for living (we) once possessed…..holding onto anger and resentment ties us to the past and the story we created when emotionally distraught.

I would like to say here though, something he does not address and that is, it is no point sharing our feelings or vulnerability with those who will not validate them.  It is essential to this process that we choose someone who can validate that our pain and hurt at the time was real.   If we don’t get help to see how we were affected in a negative way we cannot fully address the sense of injury that occurred when we had to face such difficult and ultimately alienating experiences of abandonment or trauma alone, feeling our hurt, grieving for it and then allowing the outflow of that feeling to be shed and released is so important and we need validation and lots of loving affirmative support with this.

And then there comes a point where we have to make the conscious choice to open our heart and let the pain out, rather than close it tight shut again, locking it all back inside, running the endless negative, repeat, feedback button over and over and over again, which only ends up hurting us.   If we suffered abuse in the past we can let our anger be an informative guide of what may not be safe for us, ie, person’s lacking in empathy who lack the capacity through emotional insight to help us release and validate our pain.  For it is these people who trigger our stress response.  Recognising this requires we show empathy for ourselves and our healthy emotional boundaries and honour them.