Critical symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Benign neglect is still neglect, it is something therapist Jonice Webb addresses in depth in her book Running on Empty. Many of us could say that we came from loving homes or homes that to all appearances seemed okay or functional from an objective external point of reference and yet something was still missing at the core of such families, a critical sense of warmth, emotional resonance, parental presence, availability and connection which can be hard to articulate. Feelings of emptiness haunt the soul who suffered CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) and the pervasive if unspoken feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’ may dog many of us well into adulthood, it is one of the critical symptoms of CEN. It is not based on any objective truth though, the truth was we never got adequate care and then internalised the belief it was somehow our fault. Our responsibility in the present rests in recognising levels of wounding and trying to find ways to get valid needs met we did not feel allowed to have at the time, rather than internalising self blame.

I shared a lot from Jonice’s book a while back, you will find links to these posts below when I manage to find them back. It took me until I read her book to really get a true handle on what haunted me many years in sobriety when I felt I should be doing a lot better than I was, never the less I was still attracted to dysfunctional emotionally absent relationships and I suffered profoundly mixed feelings of sadness, anger, pain and confusion, I also see now I struggled with critical issues of boundaries and self care.

CEN sufferers often blame themselves when things go wrong or for our suffering and we often don’t know how to take care of ourselves across many levels. For example the child who is left alone a lot may look to comfort from substances like food or drink, seeking the missing love that would come from an emotionally present, warm, available, engaged parent.

I was triggered to break down in tears when watching a programme about latch key children about a month ago. The film showed a little boy going to a fridge to take out some food with a lonely and forlorn look on his face. As I think about this now after just having met up with a close family friend to my mother, an image of her as a child comes to mind. I love the Louise Hay evening meditation in which she asks us to visualise in our mind’s eye both our parents as small children, taking them with love into our hearts. I think of my Mum sitting all alone on the back step after school with no mother at home looking longingly at the neighbourhood kids playing with siblings and longing for a brother and/or sister. I think too of how when she had kids were born too far apart in age to really be able to play like this, something my siblings and I sometimes talk of.

It came up in conversation with my friend earlier how my sister wished not to have a bar of me when I was about 8 to 14. I remember clearly getting my period while Mum and Dad were on a trip away and I had never been told what period was, I went to my sister crying with bloody underpants and got fobbed off in some way. I remember the mix of shame and aloneness and confusion I felt. I don’t remember how it was addressed when Mum and Dad got back home.

Another symptom of CEN is that we feel we must be independent. We learned early on that it was not possible to reach out, open up or rely on anyone. We learn to keep our cards close to our chest, we feel we should manage things that others naturally need help with, the list can go on. I see how this manifests now in the life of my other sister and I see how self contained my brother stays remaining perpetually self focused on work work work and not engaging emotionally AT ANY TIME. The exception was at my older sister’s funeral when he broke down giving the eulogy. He rarely went to visit her in the care home where she lived in the later years with Complex PTSD and acquired brain injury (incorrectly diagnosed bi polar disorder, I feel). His wife told my mother years ago she never wanted her daughter anywhere near my older sister who flipped out and tried to take her life after her husband abandoned her. Guess what? My niece ended up in the psyche ward AT THE EXACT AGE MY OLDER SISTER HAD HER CEREBRAL BLEED AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS.

I think while writing this of my own struggle with addiction, about how silent I used to believe I must be, how I must try never to be ‘too much trouble’ and sadly remember it was because of this my mother eventually had the final fall that ended her life, she drove herself all alone to a doctors appointment then went to do shopping when she was struggling with walking and chronic back pain because she ‘didn’t want to bother me or my sister!’

I just broke down with our family friend. She told me I am a cry baby but this is the real pain and struggle of my entire family with CEN that I am realising now after almost 26 years of active sobriety. My so called defects of character could read like a skit from British comic act Monty Python : fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope (just joshing!!!) But the perfectionism (ruthless efficiency) as well as ruthless self sufficiency defects could be primary ones. That said there are times we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves if we want to truly recover and own our power, but never the less being forced at times to cope on all alone, put on a good front and ask nothing of anyone IS NOT GOOD FOR US. And often it may also come from never having felt truly safe, validated or ‘got’. As a default the sense that if we are to get attention or be considered ‘good enough’ we must always be there for others and never demand too much also sets in making us codependent in an attempt to win the missing love.

Well I am glad I could shed the tears anyway. I know the cure to what ails my sister is not an easy one and I honestly never believed it lay in medication nor in some of the so called ‘strategies’ they are trying to arm her with for about the 8th similar hospitalisation. My sister’s heart is lonely and she may feel there is definitely ‘something wrong with her’, a person who tried all her life to be there for others and not expect or ask too much. But my heart knows the true pain lies deeper and cannot ever be fully addressed by band aids or medications.

Many CEN sufferers do end up ending their lives, like Robin Williams they may have had to put on funny or happy mask but never the less what they were forced to face deep in the lonely privacy of their own hearts and souls may in the end being far far too difficult to come to grips with or digest, inner disparaging voices of self blame also dog many CEN survivors marking us in many places with deeply inarticulate wound which may seem impossible to fully make sense of or bear.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/who-are-we-really-the-lost-feeling-self-and-its-role-in-suicidal-ideation/

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

On denial

As children, denial is often a necessary survival tool because the truth is often too unbearable for us to live with, and we don’t have the power to change our situation.

Nancy Van Dyken

According to Nancy Van Dyken truth may be painful and is why we learn to deny it especially from childhood on, in addition because we are taught in various ways that following the rules, not displeasing others or making them uncomfortable is more important than knowing and expressing who we truly are and how we really feel as well as what we need is more important, we learn to be untruthful and then we suffer pain as a result. But since denying pain does not lead us to growth the more we deny or numb the less we can release ourselves from the prison of impression management or people pleasing.

In addition because our feelings and wants are not intellectual but deeply body centred denying our truth means on some level escaping the body, pushing ourselves beyond natural limits, taking on too much to appear all together or in touch. One of the most important times of change for me in early recovery for addiction lay in taking time off when I had a period and honouring the way I felt, rather than just solidering on. There was a time too when my ex husband I were in the UK and my trauma started to emerge and my therapist recommended I take time off. I had never ever ever done this before and I remember clearly on that morning my ex husband came into the room and raged at me to ‘get the hell out of bed’.

We may be so often forced to deny the truth of what we need in a society that may teach us more about how to appear than how to be, more about how to keep pushing on regardless, rather than surrendering when necessary to let things fall apart in order to come together in a better more real or integrated way. We may through conditioning learn to deny what we observe and feel to be true about other people. We may believe, incorrectly that the truth is too painful to face. We think if we admit it we may die or go crazy, the truth is we will probably have to make changes.

According to Nancy Van Dyken an important first step in healing from the everyday narcissism pf denial is letting go of the habit of lying – first to yourself, then to others. The next lays in speaking your truth assertively in a loving and respectful way. It also lays in not letting others push you past your boundaries. A simple way of saying no to a request is this : “No, that wont work for me” it is not even necessary to give an explanation as to why if you do not want to.

We can also learn not to agree to requests or favours before checking in with your body and inner self about HOW WE REALLY FEEL ABOUT DOING IT. In this case, just ask for a time out. During this time centre in and find what truly feels right for you. Its also important to notice when we are being less than honest with ourselves and others and check in with our body about how it feels if we do find ourselves lying or agreeing to do something we do not want to do.

Bear in mind that speaking your truth will scare some people. People may try to make you feel that doing so makes you unworthy, unlikeable, unlovable, or undesireable but if so and if you accede to such put downs who will suffer in the end? You! Don’t give up. Co-dependency writer Melody Beattie talks of a phenomena of ‘afterburn’ which can happen as we first start to be true to ourselves and our own wishes and needs, especially if others try to guilt, or shame us or use other manipulative tactics to control us, for example someone telling you, you are selfish or destructive in some way when you are really just honouring your true feelings, values or needs.

Learning to come out of denial may not be easy for us, most especially if others have an investment in us continuing to deny truths, but it can be done. We may have to suffer a lot of discomfort along the way as old patterns change, if we have abandonment anxiety it may feel like a death of a kind if others cut us off for being true, honest or real. Never the less we can learn to be there for our scared self and find in time the courage to be honest, open and up front with our true self no longer succumbing to the prison of denial.

Further travels with my inner persecutor!

I have been reading Donald Kalsched’s book on the Inner World of Trauma again today. A lot of it is about what happens to those of us raised in a situation in which personal assertion and aggression or self defence had to be cut off or revert back inside the self. In this situation when the parent won’t allow the child action, assertion, anger or personal boundaries to be defended the energy reverts within to become an inner archetype or figure that Kalsched Elaine Aron and other analysts refer to as the persecutor/protector. Kalsched explains in his book how when this killing voice becomes really extreme it will often organise the person to take their own life. The anger they should have had to confront an abuser or violator will be turned back in upon the self.

It is an issue also addressed at length by Jungian analyst Sylvia Bretton Perrera in her book on the scapegoat complex. I went to see the PreRaphelite exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra last week an there is a painting in that exhibition which shows the scapegoat sent out to the desert. Its only a small painting. The exile that goes on is not just an exile from others, it is a cutting of from our deepest most personal and genuine self.

As kids we need to hear the loving words of parents, we also need their loving gaze but what happens when we get the eyes of terror or disapproval or distain turned upon us in childhood? This used to happen for me all the time growing up. Feeling safe in our home rested upon keeping it all together, not making a mess, getting all the chores done, not making too much noise, being able amuse ourselves and not express any needs much. Is it any wonder I became an alcoholic? As my first Jungian therapist said when I told her of a dream I had in which I was hitting this figure over the head with a bottle, I used alcohol to shut the voice up. Only then could I relax be real, messy, honest and sexual and have ‘fun’ but the so called fun rapidly deescalated into a black out or nightmare which I would wake up from in horror!

Its very very hard to live with an persecutor voice turned upon you day in day out, you don’t have the freedom just to kick back and relax or goof off. You can only feel comfortable after you’ve done what it told you it needed you to do to feel safe, in control, loved and approved of. Luckily these days I can see more quickly when that voice has taken over control within me. I am learning to affirm myself for pure sake of ‘being’ not just ‘doing’ these days. I have to be very aware of what the persecutor says to me not only about myself but about others too. He may be trying to cut off really good things happening in my life. He may try to suck all the joy out of everything. These days I am trying to do my best to just let him yammer on and say thanks for that Mr A but don’t you think you might feel a little better if you just had a little rest!!!

His constant litany of disaster, doom and gloom needs to be arrested. I need a rest from him, he has been taking over things for far too long. I guess in the end my inner persecutor is what is labelled in the rooms of AA and Al Anon ‘the disease’. It thrives on perfectionism and control. It is fundamentally deeply critical and unloving force that functions against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linking’ : making positive connection both within and outside the self with others. It is in the end both anti life and pro death. I think just for now I really have had a gut full of the inner persecutor.

Anger and fear as a motivators

I love it when new followers connect to a post you wrote and then you get to check out their blog and learn even more from reading about their own journeys.  I just read a wonderful post from a fellow blogger Pearls Of Wisdom in which she shared how she realised at a certain point in her healing that a lot of her choices were coming out of either fear or anger.  Wow!! That comment just hit me full forward throttle as I saw a richochetting of certain past choices that came from this place, in fact nearly all the choices that occurred around the time I split up with my last partner 7 years ago.

It is very hard when you don’t develop into a person with a secure and stable base or foundation of trust and faith in your life and a good grasp and understanding of your emotions and motivators.    It leaves you in many ways falling through space feeling that you desperately need to grab onto anything that will give you a sense of comfort or security and stability, problem being if you always grab onto things from the outside you don’t get to build your own strong, stable, secure foundation from within.

As I see it that is probably the work I have been engaged in most definitely in the 7 years since I came back to my home town.  I remember even in therapy it got to a point where I was trying to grab onto my therapist in order to feel supported and stabilised.  I would call at all kinds of times between sessions and then I actually lashed out at her when she was on the hop at a conference and could not help me during a huge clash with my brother.  She got really upset and set a boundary with me.  No more calls between sessions and this is when it got really hard as about 6 weeks later a lot of drama came to the head in my family and my Mum died and there was a further problem with Kat where I got resentful and I nearly ended therapy because I felt she wasn’t being ’emotionally available’ enough.  Things would have got super tough if I abdicated therapy then and we were able to work it through, because a choice made out of anger at that point would have ended up with me in a far weaker place than I now find myself and these days she allows me to call between sessions occasionally when she knows I am going through a really tough time.

Anyways it was really helpful to read what Mary wrote in her blog today as it helped me to see how I can when responding our of fear or anger without using reasoning to think things through can lead me to make really bad decisions. The capacity to contain, regulate and mediate powerful emotions is not something all of us are helped to develop in our life and if not we have a lot of scaffolding work to do in order to get to the point where we find what my therapist calls ‘our sea legs’.   Anger and fear can be helpful if we contain them and understand more deeply how they are operating in our life.  My therapist often tell me that anger is often a cry for authenticity or self care and may show us an action we need to take.  At other times, however it can decimate things that we need to come to terms with necessitating adjustments we need to make in our thinking, reacting, expectations and grasp of reality.

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when theives broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to underatake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

Happy to live in the present : with a growing awareness of the past.

I just dropped Jasper off at the groomers and I took the way home that leads past where my family and I lived when all the tragedy began to befall us between 1979 and 1985 : the year when my father died.  As usual when I drive along this long street we moved to when I was about 7 I start to feel a blackness and darkness all around me.  I named my blog Emerging From the Dark Night because I guess I began to realise around 2001 about 8 years into my sobriety I had been living out that dark past unconsciously.  Now that I have done the years of therapy and grieving, the long work of coming to terms with things and seeing how it was for the young me I feel a kind of distance from it.  It is no longer affecting me as unconsciously.

I’ve made a friend over the past year who Jasper and I met first at the dog park then later on we both ended up walking our dogs in a big oval not far from where I live.  My friend was in the middle of a thesis when we first met which she has now completed, and its only really in the past few months she has been opening up to me about her own childhood which was a lot like mine.  She also became a family caretaker as her own needs were not met and she said she really struggles with the inner Persecutor too.  We have a lot in common and its good to be able to share honestly with someone who understands how it is to come out of such a stoic emotionally repressive family where issues of perfectionism and emotional overcontrol were writ large.

I know we never totally escape the influences of our past but I do believe once we become aware of the darkness we can begin to live in the light but that means making new choices that are healthier for us and more conscious than the past ones and it does take some time.

I was also thinking today after listening to a radio interview on misfits how lonely it can be if we feel on the outside of society, peers or family.  The point made on the programme was how misfits are able to see things in society that others do not see, due to the distance from involvements and their own, at times painful path, they see below the surface of things.   It was an interesting interview too as the writer interviewed Mandy Sayer was speaking of how as a writer she cannot live with her husband who is a playright. They both live separately and get together in the evenings as both need the days for work.  It struck me as a really good arrangement because one of the things I fear most about a relationship is being swallowed up and having no time to imagine, reflect, create and dream and so for those of us who are creative or introverted in this way it is important to find the right kind of relationship balance for us.

It felt a little strange to come back to my home just a short while ago.  I felt that the trip I took down memory lane a moment ago has shown me how long it took me to be able to feel I could move back to my home town, just over 7 years ago and how important it has been for me to be here for these years.  I got to have those final years with my older sister and my Mum and I feel fully reconciled to the way things were now.  It is very sad because I see how much my older sister suffered and was trapped.  I was thinking last night of how often she was denied things she wanted.  The story line was that due to her ‘mania’ she was an  who needed to be reined in.  I do not think it was really true at all I just think Jude has such creative life energy and somehow she came undone before she could fully manifest it in the world and as a woman born into a patriarchal world in the 1940s she really struggled.  She was so artistic and she didn’t have a nasty bone in her body. She always forgave her husband for abandoning her following her cerebral bleed in 1980 but sadly she was over medicated for most of her life and I am sure at times in the care home she lived, sometimes she was abused and her things got stolen.

I had a long chat with my other sis yesterday.  I am glad now that a lot of the childish resentment I had towards her is healing.  I am see her also as a product of her time, born in the 1950s she had her own struggle to try and find her way and sadly she married perhaps a little too young to someone who carried shadow qualities often denied in our stoic household, were ‘doing the right thing’, keeping up appearances and struggling to become upwardly mobile materially eclipsed to a large degree more underground energies and emotions.  When he left her he was considered the bad guy and it is true he didn’t really treat her as well as he should have due to his own complex background as a adult child of an alcoholic but of course he married into our family which had its own history of addiction hidden in my Mum’s past.

It has been a battle for me to become separate, psychologically as the youngest in a far older family.  There was 17 years between my older brother and I, 16 between Jude and I and 8 between Sue and I.  With these large age gaps it was harder to relate and I often felt like an only child born to at that time (in the 1960s) far older parents whose focus was really not on raising a young daughter but more on the external focus.   In my discussion with my friend yesterday she was talking of the mixed feelings she has around forgiveness with her own parents.  On one hand she says she has empathy for them and knows they acted the way they did and treated her the way that did due to their background and past.  At the same time she said she struggles a lot with issues of anger too.  I could really relate to that.

I told her that my perspective is that in regards to the Inner Child we are still moving out of the medieval dark ages emotionally speaking.  We are also trying to break apart patriarchal values which keep both men and woman as well as boys and girls trapped in limiting roles. I was listening to a programme on this today.  I do feel for men at the moment as their behaviour towards woman is generating a lot of justified anger but I wonder too at the level of compassion that is really shown towards men who are also in many ways just victims of a repressive heroic dominance archetype of the supremacy of masculine (as opposed to male) power.  Women and men both suffer in this climate and I hate to see men being blamed without a deeper insight being given into the causes that generate problematic behaviour towards women.  In truth at a psychic level it is the inner feminine in both men and woman that suffered coming out of the patriarchal dark age.  Men don’t need to be emasculated and boys need help to come to terms with softer emotions and vulnerabilities.  My own family was dominated by excessive masculine values.  Mum always worked and was never emotionally present.  Feelings were not understood nor addressed.   And then my Dad over worked and abused his own body with smoking, one of the reasons I do believe my older sister had her stroke was that she smoke and drank too much while overworking and taking birth control.  It was a recipe for disaster really.

Anyway today I am sad for all of the past, but I am also grateful that in 1993 I finally bit the bullet and found sobriety.  Along the pathway of recovery I have had to give up many things, jobs, relationships, houses and friendships.   Lots had to go into the fire, but a lot has been transforming too.  I feel many times like a witness who stood on the outside of a family watching at a critical time of soul evolution for us all.  I feel blessed for all of the gifts given and I wont say I enjoyed all of the sadness and pain.  At times I have felt like the weight of it would break me in two.  But in the end I guess it was only my unhealthy ego defences that have dissolved or shattered along the way.   My mistaken reactions of resistance and resentment had to go into the fire too so that I could understand the heart of innocence that underlay everything and feel the love and peace and happiness my parents and ancestors missed out on in their awesome and overpowering struggle for survival.

I will not need too much : reflections on my fear of dependency

I don’t know when it was that I started to turn away from needing.  But I know it happened especially in late adolescence when I could not seem to be seen or heard.  I was listening to a programme on radio this morning I which survivors of childhood institutional abuse were speaking as today in Australia our Prime Minister is making a public apology to all such people affected.   The man speaking broke down crying when asked what it had meant to hear just such a public apology from the British Prime Minister, the man in question’s tears where because he had been heard, believed and recognised.  His soul suffering had been affirmed.

In no way have I suffered that kind of abuse.  I did have a roof over my head, my parents never gave me away, neither was I taken from them, but I struggled to be seen and heard a lot.  I was asking Kat today in therapy if a child who throws tantrums is a ‘bad’ child since a few years back my sister told me I should have been ashamed at how selfish I was as a child for ‘always throwing tantrums’.  I had tears in my eyes as I asked this.  Kat just smiled and told me it was about frustrated needs my parents could neither hear nor validate, and quoted a thing she always says to me.  “Anger is the final cry of the True Self.”

Today we were exploring in therapy how I sometimes wont allow others to need me too much and I most certainly won’t allow myself to need anyone else too much, due to the fact in the past such needs were so regularly disappointed that is was challenging and very risky for me to ever hope to have needs met again.

Sometimes also I don’t recognise my own needs either, such as resting when tired, having a break from something tough, trying harder and harder and harder when it would be easier to let go and better for me.  I am not alone as most addicts or those of us in recovery who suffered abuse or neglect also suffer in this way.  In early sobriety I was always told to beware of the HALT’s not to get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

I also think along the way I developed a fighting and defensive persona.   I have a great fear of being controlled but at the same time it would be better for me to surrender and co-operate at times rather than just bloody mindedly push on all alone and make others feel they have to do the same.   Its a side of myself I am seeing more and more lately.

Anyway its not easy taking all of this need on board but with Venus squaring my natal Moon Saturn Mars its timely.   I am trying to keep my heart open lately rather than have knee jerk reactions or go behind defences yet again.   It is a risk to be vulnerable, to show that I am not bullet proof and that I need others.  I see where at times barrelling through and not risking depending has been damaging and wrong and to see this means I feel the pain so I shed a lot of tears in therapy today.  However I am glad to see all of this.   Its a timely wake up call.  Today I have taken yet another risk with being vulnerable and its not easy but I just trust whatever happens will happen.  The fact that I took the risk is good, the outcome is not really all that important in the long run.  For as the Bahagavad Gita says “you have only control over your actions, not the fruit of your actions.”  Risking saying I do need and wish to depend is a big one for me, I may be disappointed in the end, but at least I have opened my heart and soul to try again.

On boundaries

I have been thinking a lot about boundaries today as its become apparent to me that healthy boundaries help me feel happy and protect my life energy from others who may want to lay claim to it.  I can also see how in the past, my own narcissistic wound made me a bit of a vampire or a puller on other’s energy, not in a totally negative way, what I am getting at is that because I did not feel a great sense of inner love or value or self esteem I could so easily feel that my source for these things needed to lie outside of me. I started to think more about it yesterday after watching two You Tube videos I provided links to.  Those of us whose needs were not met in childhood and learned to get attention by pleasing and adapting often suffer from a stunted or collapsed sense of self.  We crave that missing love from outside, the wound of which lay in childhood and can never be healed in adult life by another person, (well only by a person who respects our boundaries as unrecovered narcissist will not do.)

I remember reading in Robert Hand’s book Planets in Youth that those of us with Venus (planet of relationships and self value) square to Neptune often give out of a sense that we do not have value and can only acquire it by giving or doing or being what others demand of us.  When we give into these demands or requests and allow ourselves to be manipulated by conditional love from another unrecovered person we then grieve inwardly. I learned this lesson on Friday after saying No to a request from Scott and being pushed and then told I was not the true love of his life if I didn’t do it, getting scared then collapsing my boundary when after agreeing to do it, I found myself crying and feeling like I could not breathe.  Luckily something intervened which meant I did not end up doing it anyway and I immediately felt better but the feeling of grief I had after collapsing my boundary was a clear sign that what I had done was not healthy and it scared me as in my last relationship my ex was always demanding I do, or be, or feel differently and I would be threatened with the silent treatment often when I would not do it.  And this triggered something my parents would do, withdraw love when I wasn’t living up to their demands.

I am glad that I got the lesson again on Friday.  Scott had promised if I was not comfortable with doing something he would not push but then went on to push.  I stood up to him and was manipulated a bit but now he has apologised and backed down.   But the entire incident has made me do a double take on all the boundary events in my life from the past where I have been in hot water and do some inner reflection which is all spot on cue now that retrograde transiting Venus is moving towards the square with my natal Mars Saturn Moon in the sixth house.

The issue with Scott is complex because what he is asking for is just a temporary thing and in the end I will be repaid.  But there are other boundary issues with us too.  As an empath I am a person who needs a lot of quiet introspective time.   Being on my own allows me to return to my source and my True Self, I can be easily overwhelmed in crowds because my energy body picks things up.  I get exhausted by to much time in purely ‘human’ or man made environments.  I need a daily time of touching base with nature and I don’t know honestly if I will ever be able to live 24/7 with another human being. Scott on the other hand is different in this regard.   He says once we are together he wants to be with me 24/7 and just the idea of it makes me hyperventilate.  Yesterday the inner critic was giving me a serve after listening to a video on withholding and emotional unavailability.  I started to think I am the one who has problems with emotional availability due to the fact I need a lot of quiet time but really today in a clearer space I see it isn’t like that at all.  I really can be there emotionally for others I just have to be very careful with what I take on board when I am with others.

I can depend only to a degree on others in my life.  I know I must in the words of the 12 step fellowships be self supporting, it doesn’t mean that others cannot ever help me nor I them but it does mean that my source of connection is primarily with my own centre and spiritual source.  I know in a deep relationship this separateness is surrendered for moments at a time, say in intense sexual experiences and when we extend our hearts and bodies to feel the suffering of another human being, so at times I do get confused on where I begin and others end and vice versa.  Am I being too rigid in expecting my demands for ‘space’ to be understood.  I am grateful to have a person around me now who says they will accept this.  For so long I have felt I wont ever be able to live with another human being again due to my high sensitivity and empathic nature.  I would be interested to hear if and how others struggle with this issue, so if you feel like it, please leave me a comment in the section below.

Understanding the Protector-Persecutor complex and its link to dissociation and child hood trauma

Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments.  It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book  The Undervalued Self.  In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/how-trauma-factures-the-psyche-causes-dissociation-and-create-the-persecutor-protector-in-our-psyche

The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.

I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.

A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest.  In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else.  Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received.  It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving.  It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.

Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes,  you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before.  Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..

(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.

When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up.  Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is.  Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love.  It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.

The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain.  However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.

Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated.  Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness.  Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events.  You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it.  Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs.  Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes.  You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body.  Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.

As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship.  The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in  a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.

Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair.   This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.

We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives.  Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:

  • When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
  • When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
  • When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
  • When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
  • When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
  • When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
  • When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
  • When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
  • When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.

In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.

  • No intimacy.   Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
  • No arguing.   Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
  • No growth.  Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
  • No dating or marriage.  Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
  • No strong feelings.  Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
  • No sex or enjoyment of it.  Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
  • No believing someone who say he or she cares about you.  Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection.  Don’t believe they are genuine.
  • No asking for help.  Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
  • No honesty.   Just say what you think others want to hear.  Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
  • No hope.   Don`t expect help, joy or good things.  Do not place faith in anyone.
  • No standing up for yourself.  Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
  • No trusting.  Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)

As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.

Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…

Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.