On compulsive repetition in the life of Rimbaud : Alice Miller

The following quote is taken from Alice Miller’s book The Body Never Lies :  The Lingering Affects of Childhood Trauma in which she addressed the subject of repressed childhood trauma.   Miller has written many books and they include biographical details from the lives of famous adults abused in childhood who then either re-enacted that abuse whole sale (Hilter and Sadam Hussein for example) becoming perpetrators in later life or decended into addiction or repression, many taking their own lives in the process (Virginina Woolf).   In the following extract which I found on Goodreads she addresses the life of the poet Rimbaud whose entire journey was a quest to seek the lost sustenance of a loving emotionally available mother.

“To salvage the genuine love he was deprived of in childhood, Rimbaud turned to the idea of love embodied in Christian charity and in understanding and compassion for others. He set out to give others what he himself had never received. He tried to understand his friend and to help Verlaine understand himself, but the repressed emotions from his childhood repeatedly interfered with this attempt. He sought redemption in Christian charity, but his implacably perspicacious intelligence would allow him no self-deception. Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very early age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. He experienced himself as a monster, his homosexuality as a vice (this was easy to do given Victorian attitudes toward homosexuality), his despair as a sin. But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinately shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her. Rimbaud’s biography is a telling instance of how the body cannot but seek desperately for the early nourishment it has been denied. Rimbaud was driven to assuage a deficiency, a hunger that could never be stilled. His drug addiction, his compulsive travels, and his friendship with Verlaine can be interpreted not merely as attempts to flee from his mother, but also as a quest for the nourishment she had withheld from him. As his internal reality inevitably remained unconscious, Rimbaud’s life was marked by compulsive repetition.”

The following quote also expresses how we may try to compensate for the love and emotional availability we never attained.   Miller explains that it is only when our body knows the emotional truth has been understood that we can find release from what she calls the lingering effects of cruel parenting or emotional neglect.

“In his famous novel Fateless, the Hungarian writer and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész describes his arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was fifteen years old at the time, and he tells us in great detail how he attempted to interpret the many grotesque and appalling things he encountered on his arrival there as something positive and favorable for him. Otherwise he would not have survived his own mortal fear. Probably every child who has suffered abuse must assume an attitude like this in order to survive. These children reinterpret their perceptions in a desperate attempt to see as good and beneficial things that outside observers would immediately classify as crimes. Children have no choice. They must repress their true feelings if they have no “helping witness” to turn to and are helplessly exposed to their persecutors. Later, as adults lucky enough to encounter “enlightened witnesses,” they do have a choice. Then they can admit the truth, their truth; they can stop pitying and “understanding” their persecutors, stop trying to feel their unsustainable, disassociated emotions, and roundly denounce the things that have been done to them. This step brings immense relief for the body. It no longer has to forcibly remind the adult self of the tragic history it went through as a child. Once the adult self has decided to find out the whole truth about itself, the body feels understood, respected, and protected. ”

“But it is one thing to complain about one’s parents deeds and quite another to take the facts of the matter fully and completely seriously. The latter course arouses the infant’s fear of punishment. Accordingly, many prefer to leave their earliest perceptions in a state of repression, to avoid looking the truth in the face, to extenuate their parents’ deeds, and to reconcile themselves with the idea of forgiveness. But this attitude merely serves to perpetuate the futile expectations we have entertained since our childhood. ”

The following extract pertains to the life of Virginia Wolfe who took her life on 28 March, 1941.  Miller addresses in her book the repressed trauma and abuse she suffered and that Miller beleives contributed to her suicide.

“Can we say that she had no courage? No, we can’t; she showed more courage than most people in denouncing lies, but her family could not come to terms with such honesty. This is not surprising. The little girl continued to live in an adult woman’s body, fearing her molesting half-brothers and her beloved parents, who remained silent. Had she been able to listen to her body, the true Virginia would certainly have spoken up. In order to do so, however, she needed someone to say to her: “Open your eyes! They didn’t protect you when you were in danger of losing your health and your mind, and now they refuse to see what has been done to you. How can you love them so much after all that?” No one offered that kind of support. Nor can anyone stand up to that kind of abuse alone, not even Virginia Woolf. ”

Miller consistently makes the point of how essential validation of early abuse is for survivors to get free of suffering and their symptoms.   We need someone who can support us and believes what bodies and souls knew most deeply was true,  without this support and belief so many lose the fight or remain endlessly trapped on the hamster wheel of repetition compulsion.

The mental confusion of early childhood trauma

When there is not as much going on in my life I want to share information from Tian Dayton’s book Emotional Sobriety on the effects of relational trauma, that is the damage that happens to us when we are affected by early childhood abuse, trauma or lack of mirroring and empathy.  However today one of the key symptoms that is capturing my attention is distorted reasoning.  Tian writes :

Many people experience trauma within their family unit, rather than from an external source  When one’s family unit is spinning out of control, people are prone to adapt all methods of coping mechanisms – whatever they have to do to maintain feelings of connection.  Distorted reasoning – which may take the form of rationalizing and justifying bizarre or unusual forms of behavior and relations – can be immature and can also produce core beliefs about life upon which even more distorted reasoning is based.  For example “he is only hitting me because he loves me.”

I am thinking of this today as my Mum lies so ill and pumped full of chemicals in hospital.  I am thinking of how with no father she had to suffer aloneness and then be pushed to clean and clean.  Down on her kness in the bathroom she was told to ‘polish that floor until it shines’  and then she was hit or forced into domestic service.   With all this unprocessed trauma was it any wonder it was passed on to us all in different ways.  My older sister worked and worked and then drank and drank until the cerebral bleed took her down, my brother in law who eventually abandoned her was the evil one, but he too was scrambling to survive.   Amidst all of the following trauma I was scrambling to make sense of it, seeing my sister in a mythological light or struggling to understand the truth, caught up but not able to see clearly, carrying terror of abandonment into all subsequent relationships.

Lats night as I sat by my mother’s bedside and held her hand in the darkened room, an ocean of peace opened up between us.   I wept to the depths of my being as she told me she loved me.  She is very heavily drugged at the moment and chock full of toxins.  She also knows she hurt me and that we struggled at times, but what I really felt so deeply last night was the love that she tried to express in the only way she knew how.  Her own mother never once tole her she loved her, in later years she would push my mother out of the way in her desire to see my father, who she adored.   I know at times as a patriarchial Dad, my father frustrated all three of his daughers and there were a lot of times he could not give my mother the understanding she needed.   I see how my Mum was as a young person so focused on survival that emotions had to take a back seat.  Now its so sad to witness the years of trauma she has lived through as the result of her earlier emotional neglect richocheting over three generations.  My nephew made a lightening visit to see her yesterday morning driving four hours and weeping so intensely.   My heart goes out to him really, he has been through so much in past weeks all in an effort to fill the gaping mother wound in his heart (Saturn in Cancer).   He is carrying pain of many generations, that much is clear to me, as the very sensitive one.

Two other symptoms of early relational trauma are also somatic disturbances as well as memory disturbances and dissociation.  The continuity of time is warped in trauma, we don’t remember key events but they are held deep in somatic memory, however they are obscured and disjointed and may make so sense.   Due to dissociation we experience reactions to events that mirror earlier ones that may seem out of control or order.  We are then judged or judge ourselves for suffering, not fully understanding the extent of our suffering.  Re-enactment patterns and relationship issues are also a result of relational trauma in early life.   We will try in any way to make the the unconscious conscious in order to feel and heal it, but so often that involves experiencing more pain in order to connect to the original cause that my lay deeply obscured within us.   Maybe triggering traumatic events and disturbances in later relationships are ‘wake up calls’ trying to draw us towards understanding, healing and feeling.   It major work and we need so much help along the way.  We cannot do it alone and we need positive connections to heal but making them is hard when we are often attracted to what is bad for us.

With Mercury planet of mind and communications moving backward through the meaning making sign of Sagittarius this month and back towards a confusing square (or crisis aspect) with the planet of distorting Neptune, issues of mental confusion may be highlighted but the unconscious which Neptune also rules may be trying to get our attention in all kinds of ways.  Who can we trust for validation when our thinking and ability to make sense of our experience may be essentially wounded or thwarted and distorted in some way by past relational trauma or lack of mirroring?   It is so important that we find the right avenues to deepen in understanding and heal our minds as well as our hearts, souls and bodies.

Mars the planet of self assertion is moving into trine Neptune over the next two weeks or so, so a flow of healing may open up in many of our lives, a push to move forward in love and compassion in order to find freedom from past hurt, its what I am feeling very deeply this morning.   We cannot avoid the mental distortions that are a part of trauma but we can, in later life work for more clarity and insight.    Information on how trauma can discombobulate us is essential for our emotional recovery.

Making myself wrong : taking on other’s burdens, some reflections.

I wrote this post late last night after working through some of the events of the past week.

think I tend to take on a lot of responsibility for situations I did not cause.  Someone pointed this out to me in a comment on another post.  That when we care and know pain and can feel it deeply there really is no insulation that we have from other’s pain. The best we can do is make a decision with our minds to detach from it and be realistic about the limits of our involvement.

In this current situation that I have been sharing about over past weeks there is a long history going back to 1980 when critical events took place in my family.   I make sense of a lot through astrological cycles and when I look to current transits I see what is being triggered at the moment but so much of it was way outside of my control, never the less the ricochet effects deeply affected me.   I was at that stage coming out of my own motor vehicle trauma when the trauma befell my sister and I was about to embark on studies that got aborted and then I got no counselling to help me and was very much on my own in the coming years after my father died.

When I got sober in 1993 I had all of this trauma still locked up inside me.  I tried my best to come to terms with it but I was not helped by my partner nor family and at that point I see I would have been best to make a complete break away, but I needed some kind of support.  Today I was clear with my sister that I could not go to the hospital with my Mum in the ambulance and that I could not go to the hospital tonight either.  My three hours there on Monday night set me back big time on Tuesday.   I don’t want to go under again and if I am going to continue to make progress it really is time to start setting some boundaries.

To be honest as much as I loved my nephew’s company, staying up late while he was drinking and smoking a lot was not something thats good for me.  I had a lot of cleaning up to do yesterday and we had torrential rain while they were here.  When he left he hadnt cleaned anything up.  There were his dirty dishes in the sink and outside a dish full to the brim of cigarette buts with rain water in them.  I cleaned it all up yesterday and finally feel that I have my space back.  I am glad to be able to have my sanctuary here back, as its where I recharge myself.   Now I just need to work to keep at bay critical thoughts and keep practicing self care.

On that note I went to the library this afternoon and a book was waiting I ordered in called Finding True Refuge,  I don’t know if any of you have read the author Tara Brach’s earlier book Radical Acceptance, I  read it quite a few years ago and got a lot out of it, in it she talks a lot about shame and how she came face to face with her own on her spiritual path.  In this one she speaks about cultivating a loving kindness meditation practice where we seek refuge within, in the silent interior spaces of our heart.   I already got a lot out of the first 30 pages I read this afternoon.

The idea of seeking and finding a refuge within appeals to me.  It is what I feel in that nourishing, nurturing, alone time of solitude when I touch base with a source of peace that lives beyond all the traumatic events others seem to keep bringing into my life.  I am aware that on an astrological level Saturn and healthy mature adult boundaries and protections are an antidote to all my strong Neptunian tendency to be overly empathic and compassionate.  With Jupiter magnifying Neptune in Scorpio’s influence lately (by transit) I was also warned in another reading/interpretation by astrologer Leah Whitehorse that what people are saying or projecting may not be totally true or based on reality.   I need to keep a mindful watch over my own energy frequency now.   I was starting to feel happiness and contentment and experiencing solid sleep before my nephew’s visit last week.

I got a lot out of the visit but it also made me aware that as an empath I can and do take on other people’ s struggle and suffering at times.  My therapist suggested this week that when I get full to the brim with it, I try to discharge that energy by grounding, putting my feet on the earth and letting it flow down out and away from me.  Last week after each afternoon walk I was taking off first one shoe and then the other to place each bare feet on the ground to earth myself and settle my energy.

Its interesting to me that I got breast cancer just a few months after my older sister was diagnosed.  When I think of the amount of trauma we both went through from 2005 – 2015 when we were both diagnosed it doesnt surprise me.  Tbere is an element of strong enmeshment in our stories.

Anyway I will keep working to have better boundaries and become more aware when I feel the saviour archetype is overpowering me.   I should not make myself responsible for what others have to bear.  At the same time I need to be aware of their boundaries as well.   I notice that so often what I give is not so often reciprocated.   I dont give to get but when you do have a giving heart its so important to keep a balance.  If we give more than we get back it can tend to make us ill or drained.   This is something I need to keep a really close watch on in myself.

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.

Understanding self absorbed behaviors

Lack of clear perception into our selves often comes from our early environment and deficits in mirroring.  If we consider generational and collective impacts too many of our parents and their parents and parents parents were engaged in a process of survival.  Attention was tied up with outer, rather than inner concerns and losses may have made one parent less emotionally available to them, leaving psychic and emotional deficits and burdens.  The research and work I have quoted from in previous posts from Mark Wolynn on multi generational trauma(It Didn’t Start With You)  addresses these issues in some way and shows how people tend to disconnect from parents in this situation, feeling hurt, betrayed abandoned or let down, often rightly so.  However there may be so much more to their story we never get to know.

Once we become more aware that our emotionally unavailable parents laboured under very real deficits, deficits that they passed down to us we can begin to take steps to address what we carry and hopefully become more aware of when and how we may have become self absorbed ourselves.

According to Nina Brown, author of Children of the Self Absorbed, the first step to reduce self absorbed behaviors is to accept that we may have absorbed some of them from our parents.  She outlines ten key behaviors associated with self absorption we may need to address or work upon as follows :

  • An attitude of entitlement.   Feeling that you deserve preferential treatment. That you can do or say whatever you like to others and that they shoud not be upset.  The idea you deserve special consideration or treatment.  Insensitivity to others.
  • Attention seeking.  Behaviors such as talking loudly when it will disturb others.  Dressing just for attention.  Trying to distract or upstage others.  Starting fights.  Interrupting ongoing conversations.  Dropping hints and teasers.  (All with the intent to gain outside validation that you are significant, important, different to or better than others, or to reassure yourself that you are worthwhile, or to ease chronic self doubt.)
  • Admiration seeking.   Yearning for reassurance you are valued through different means including the attainment of material or ‘status’ symbols.
  • Grandiosity.  Taking over in situations where it is not called for.  Feeling you are inherently superior to others.  Arrogance.  Displaying contempt. Failure to value the opinions of others.  Acting big as a defence against feeling small or shameful inside.
  • An impoverished self.  This is the self that feels deprived, ignored, abandoned or unnurtured or treated unfairly.  And this is all a matter of perception for as Brown points out me may not have a lot of support but still feel we are supported by the Universe.   Focusing on weaknesses or what you do not have instead of what you do.  Lack of ability to take constructive action to fix or address what you can.
  • Lack of Empathy.  Restricted or limited ability to sense what another person is experiencing inwardly in a specific situation without becoming enmeshed in their feeling or experience or reactions or overwhelmed by them.  Being able to hear and sense what lies behind words and actions… the real message behind the words.  (Brown notes we cannot be empathic with everyone all of the time and at times being too open to negative or toxic feelings can be inappropriate.  Brown says “Many adults who were not subject to a parent with a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.. are able to be empahic with many people some of the time. “)
  • Seeing Others As Extensions of Self.  According to Brown “the self absorbed person is only dimly aware of other people in the world as separate and distinct from her (or him), and at the unconscious level thinks others exist to serve her (or him).  The self absorbed person sees everything in terms of self, as if they were the only real person in the world.”  This leads to : lack of respect for other’s possessions and boundaries, making decisons that affect others without consultation, making choices and decisions for others who are able to decide for themselves, touching things that belong to others without permission.  Asking overly personal questions.
  • Needing to be  percieved as unique and special by others. Everyone needs to know they are unique, special and worthy but when self absorbed this is taken to an extreme, or acted upon in a demanding way.  This relates to having an extra high opinion of oneself that is not based in fact.  It can lead to a lack of respect for others needs and rights.  It can result in criticism of others faults and flaws.  Making comparisons that put them up and the other person down.  Blaming others for getting in the way.  Needing to be complimented or praised first.
  • Exploitation of Others  This involves using other to gain benefit, coupled with the conviction that others are not as worthy.  Taking advantage of another person’s kind, generous or caring nature, desire to please or need for approval just to serve the self.  Expecting favours without reciprocation.  Lying, cheating, misleading.  Using “if you loved me or cared about me” to manipulate others
  • Shallow Emotions.  Adults with healthy narcissism can experience and express a wide and deep variety of emotions.  In contrast, self absorbed adults are extremely limited in experiencing and expressing their feelings.  Experiencing for them seems to be mainly limited to fear and anger and while they have the words when expressing other feelings, they don’t have the accompanying emotions.  These people are not genuine in their expression of feelings, except for the variations of fear and anger.   To get an idea of your range and level for experiencing emotions Nina recommends an exercise in which you make a list of each hour in the day and beside each time portion list all the feelings you remember experiencing.  Beside the list of feelings list the names of people you expressed the feelings to.  Review how open you were in either expressing or not expressing them.  Did you have much variablity in what you felt?  Did you primarily express negative feelings?  Did you have an expansive or limited vocabulary for your emotions?
  • Emptiness at the Core of Self.  Arises when children become isolated and lack meaningful connection to others.   When we are not received as kids we don’t develop a strong connection to and faith in the Universe.   The capacity for experiencing and understanding our feelings may be severely limited as a result. If we were not shown compassion we cannot feel it for ourselves.  If we are focused on our emptiness and hurt we are robbed of seeing the beauty and wonder around us.  We feel separate and disconnected and so emptiness grows.   Experiencing ‘holes’ and then reaching to substances or unfulfilling activities to feel ‘full’.

Bear in mind when reading this list that there is a difference between being self absorbed and self reflective.  It’s only natural that when we didnt get want we needed we would dig in and come to mistrust or not understand where others are coming from.  I have written another post to follow this one soon on the distinction between self absorption and self reflection.  People with destructive or malignant narcissism cannot self reflect or introspect, they tend to attack or blame often out of the narrow range of feeling, Brown speaks about in her book.  We are, in healing and becoming more self aware learning to strike a balance, its painstaking work.

 

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.

Building and Fortifying the Self : Strategies for dealing with negative thoughts from being raised by self absorbed parents

This is a continuation of recent posts on narcissism, narcissistic injury and boundary building.  It contains information and extracts from Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed.  This part of her book contains suggestions for dealing with the difficulties we face when we never got to develop high self esteem or healthy emotional boundaries.  It give techniques to cope when we may be faced with the difficult parent in order to self protect in a healthy way.

Building your self means that you develop empathy, creativity, inspiration, and relationships or connections.  Doing so will enable you to let go of old grudges and resentments, have sufficient psychological boundary strength to lessen emotional susceptibility and judge what feelings are yours alone, uncontaminated with other’s feelings; and better cope with your triggered feelings that are aroused in interactions with your self absorbed parent.

Block and Control Your Feelings

These are strategies that can allow you to be calm with being blamed or criticised, demeaned, devalued, and the like so that you can think and act more constructively.  The feelings are still there but can become less intense, which then makes them easier to put aside for the moment.

Blocking your emotions requires the following :

  • An awareness of what you are experiencing, including the intensity of the feelings.
  • A desire to avoid revealing or acting on these feelings (never a good idea with the narcissist.)
  • A personal strategy of momentarily dissociating from the feeling.  Complete dissociation is not recommended, as this can produce or increase cutting off or distancing yourself from your feelings in all parts of your life.  What could be helpful is a statement to yourself that you’ll get back to the feelings when you are in a safer place.
  • Using thoughts as expression rather than feelings.  Thoughts are cognitive and easier to handle that are feelings, and you want to be in control for the time being.

..suppose your prent has made a demeaning comment about your appearance, and you feel yourself becoming angry.  Instead of staying with the anger and firing back at the parent or letting the anger move you to shame for disappointing the parent, it is at this point where you can mentally say that you don’t want to act out of anger.  You’re going to choose to push the anger away and not let your parent know that the comment really angered you so you decide to make a noncommittal response, such as “Really?  I’ll need to pay better attention next time.  ” You can also ignore the comment, change the topic or make pleasant comment about the parent’s appearance.  Any of these can defuse the situation.

Use Self Affirmations

Instead of getting caught up in intense negative emotions triggered by your self absorbed parent, you can moderate and counteract these with self affirmations.  It can be important to remember that your triggered feelings are impacted when, on some level, you are buying into your parent’s perception of you and fear that these have some validity.   You may also find yourself in trouble with you are still engaged in the magical fantasy that your parent will change, or when you’re feeling powerless to get your needs met.  Self affirmations remind you of your strengths and positive characteristics so that you don’t get mired in thoughts and feelings about your real or imagined flaws.

On a sheet of paper list 10 to 12 things you consider to be your accomplishments, such as holding a job, overcoming an illness or condition, rearing children etc.  Next to each, list all the personality characteristics associated with it.  Review the list and compile another that incorporates personality characteristics that are repeated two or more times.  On top of an index card write “I am” followed by the list of characteristics.  Read this card once a week until you can effortlessly recall the items when you are experiencing intense negative emotions, such as triggered by your self absorbed parent.

Choose What to Feel 

You may find it difficult to accept, but you do have choices about what to feel  It may appear to you that your feelings just emerge and that you have no control but you do have the ability to decide what to feel, especially when you understand the roots of your feelings and have resolved some of your family of origin issues and past unfinished business.  The negative feelings that you did not choose are triggered because of old parental messages that continue to affect your thoughts about the adequacy and acceptability of yourself, thus setting off guilt and shame.  These messages also impact your perceptions of your competency, efficacy, and lovability; your unconscious fears of abandonment or destruction; and your needs for liking and approval of the parent that are still lacking.

Don’t get the idea that you should experience feelings like shame.  It can be growth enhancing to realise and accept your flaws, as long as there is also resolve and opportunity to address these.  What we’re talking about here is preventing your self absorbed parent from setting your agenda for what you will feel, especially in interactions with him (or her).

Interruput Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Another strategy is to interrupt your negative thoughts yourself.  These can included self criticism and blame, negative feelings such as shame and anger, and unrealistic ideas about yourself, such as the need for perfection.  This strategy works best when you not only interrupt negative thoughts, but also substitute more positive thoughts, feelings and ideas.  When you are able to avoid having these negatives and can insert more positives, you become better able to tolerate interactions with your self absorbed parent and will not be as vulnerable to getting mired in enduring and unpleasant thoughts and feelings about yourself.  Using the self affirmations about your good qualities (shared in an earlier post) can also help.

  • become aware of when you are experiencing negatives (eg feeling inadequate and flawed)
  • practice interruption and substitution
  • notice “should” or “ought” statements   (eg I should not let this get to me) These are unproductive and unhelpful
  • next substitute a positive self affirmation or self statement,

You may also want to remind yourself of the following :

  • Others will not change because I want them to change.
  • I do not have control over others’ feelings, thoughts, and ideas
  • I don’t have to fear being abandoned or destroyed, as I can take care of myself.
  • I am independent, and others are too.
  • When I think, feel, or imagine negatives about my self, that confirm my self absorbed parent’s perceptions.
  • I have flaws and faults, as everyone does, but I am working to correct them.
  • I have many positive attributes.

Practicing these when alone can pay off and slowly they will become more integrated.

Remember What’s Real

Use your self talk to remind yourself of what is real and what is fantasy.  The line between these can become blurred, especially when intense emotions are involved.  Your negative feelings are easier to control when you can introduce some realism and not get caught up in fantasy.  Try answering the following questions to get some idea of how fantasy interferes with reality.

  • Is it realistic to expect your parent to see your hurt and try to make amends?
  • Can your parent admit mistakes or accept his errors?  If not, how realistic is it to point these out or to try to correct his misperceptions?
  • Have you ever experienced empathy from your parent, and why do you expect it now?

All of these thoughts exhibit the yearning you have for the fantasised loving and empathic parent.  Your longings are keeping the fantasy alive, contributing to your distress, and preventing you from mobilising your resources to remain centred and grounded.  These untapped inner resources could prevent you from being hurt any further.