moving too fast : today’s reflections

Somedays it all seems to be moving too fast, life and demands seem enormous.. It is one of the reasons for the past three mornings I have let myself settle back to rest for a hour or more just to slow myself down, constant demands play in my head, fears for my sister, lists of things I need to do to maintain my own life and health and that of Jasper, so today I just stopped the angst and settled my breathing and rolled over and got an extra hour’s rest (did the same on Friday and Saturday too!)

Today the neighbours needed to meet about a new fence they are building as their home is nearing completion over the next few months. I had to get to the fruit and veg markets today as I had spent yesterday afternoon with my sister the round trip can take up to 3 hours depending on how long I stay. Its a constant balancing act but today my own needs came first and Jasper and I managed only a short walk around the block.

I’ll be glad to settle in and rest again at home this afternoon… Commitments to help my sister with clothes will have to wait and even though today is Dad’s birthday I am letting it pass in silence.. no one has reached out and he was in my thoughts a lot this morning… It is interesting visiting a house under construction as it reminds me of being with Mum and Dad when the Mugga Way place was being built. It was a big move for us and we had to live in a very cold house with only concrete floors through a tough, bleak Canberra winter. The number of that house 88 relates both to transformation and death, during the years there I crashed and nearly died, my sister had a stroke and entered a coma for a month later turning psychotic and my Dad became ill and died.

Today I am not crying over Dad I just have acceptance for it all. I am not fighting life or my past today.. Some may say you need to keep expressing the pain and fury or hate or hurt over what happened to you, but what if your soul chose it on some level? I know that angers a lot of people who have been abused or endured a lot of loss. I know for myself, as therapist Alice Miller says, genuine anger cannot be passed by on the road to authentic healing from trauma, abuse or injury….and believe me in no way am I saying we deserve abuse or pain but when we let that pain turn us into a person who only uses it to feed ongoing feelings of hatred, resentment and hurt what is the purpose? And when we use it to amp up the fight/flight response all of the time we just end up triggering more panic and anxiety and disturbance.

Yes there is a time to vent and get that unearned shit or slander or the put downs out of your system. Yes there is a time to rebel, to say no, however surrender and letting go is not always about defeat but about saying some things are just larger than us and so far out of our control.. This realisation is part of the reason I wept so deeply and for so long and so quietly with my sister yesterday.. there were no words to say and she didn’t say much either was just perplexed. But sharing about it on the empath page others said they also cry around certain people and energies and then feel a release as soon as they leave. Who knows what I am clearing for the collective when I cry, who knows if just being with my sister opens up all of our shared pain…. The grief I felt yesterday went so deep into the core and heart and soul of myself, the tears were not only for what got stolen from me in terms of life but for my mother and father and sisters too in dealing with the long term affects of multi-generational traumas our grandparents and great great grandparents endured.

Pulling back from the downward spiral of hurt and angst is never easy for me. Saying “No” to others demands in the past has often been beyond me..but at the moment, I am at my limit and IT MUST BE DONE FOR SANITY AND HEALTH, if only for a few days.

I was grateful to be guided by higher power to a good reading on anger earlier today in the reader Hope For Today. I will share it at the bottom of this post, later.. Recovery shows me with time I have a choice of how to respond to hurts, angers, invalidation or triggers. I do not have to give the power to others over my reactions.. I can go vent to get a grip on what is burning me, share the frustration and pain with a safe person and then quietly go back and speak my truth to the triggerer if that seems right and valid.. If not I can pray to release the charge or externalise it somehow…..

Sometimes in the past I have had to scream NO only to have people look at me like I have leprosy of some kind.. But my experience is that those who know why I had to yell that NO end up sticking around, they get it. I wish my sister was strong enough to say NO to shock treatment but she isn’t.. Being passive serves no one and I am not talking about passivity when I talk about surrender and letting go. I am talking about an active step of sanity and health that shows me where my boundaries lie.. I am not super human I am just not and there is a time to pull the pin and walk away from shit rather than lose energy in a response that will only end up depleting me further.

The reading on handling anger taken from Hope For Today follows.

I was around a lot of anger this weekend. Some of it belonged to the alcoholics in my life, and some of it belonged to me as I came to grips with my powerlessness over people, places and things.

By applying the Serenity Prayer to the various situations that occurred, I was reminded that my anger can be an attempt to change someone or something because I don’t want to change. Being willing to change – to acknowledged my anger, identify its source, look at my part in it, and express it lovingly – is a big part of my Fourth and Tenth steps (inventory and daily inventory).

I gain self worth when I change the things I can and accept responsibility for my reactions rather than blaming or shaming another. I have choices. I can stay in my anger, or I can use it as a signal that I need to change. I trust my Higher Power (or inner sane parent) to show me what I need to do so that I can experience the sense of self that comes from accepting emotional responsibilities and realities.

The how, what, when, and why of expressing my feelings is one major part of life over which I do have control.

How shame and the inner and outer critic prevent us living wholeheartedly.

It was shame researcher, Brene Brown who a few years back coined the term foreboding joy which is a term to describe the fear we carry into life that can protect us from embracing joy in the moment and living wholeheartedly… We see a small baby and our heart just fills with love but then fears of loss can come too and steal that moment from us..

While driving home I was thinking about a very involved and informative post Trauma Research UK recently shared on shrinking the inner and outer critic.. In fact I read it in therapy today crying at some parts as well as being doubled over with pain in my gut at others.. there is so much in it that resonates with me…

My inner child is speaking very loudly lately about how she felt in our family and how she struggled with very distant and preoccupied parents.. and about how painful it was to be sent to my room when I was legitimately angry, or hurt over some incident. In the post the writer shares that toxic parents do hurtful or neglectful things, but then also shame and silence the child’s legitimate protest, as a result the child has no alternative but to turn those feelings back inside the self and develops a virulent inner and outer critic that shames the child or seeks to protect and avoids other people who have that fear of the hurtful parent projected on to them…

Today in therapy I felt the pain of being sent to my room with all of those feelings I needed help to manage from one of my parents deep in my body while my inner child articulated it.. the feelings felt so so big… .. In fact Dad often laughed as Mum terrorised us with rage, things that hurt then being mocked is just an awful kind of pain for a child. I also remember being laughed at and shamed for being passionate and dramatic and come to think of it not hearing or validating someone’s grief for a lost loved one is a lot like shaming them for passion and deep feelings.

I will share the link to the related post as I believe it is essential reading for people who have endured relational and attachment trauma. What a painful place to find ourselves, cut off from relations in the outer world that could reconnect us all due to the fear of experiencing what we did in the past, or seeing rejection when it isn’t really there?

https://traumaresearchuk.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/the-role-of-the-inner-and-outer-critic/

I have written extensively on the protector/persecutor complex in my blog before.. The persecutor is an inner figure that goes on beating us up well into adulthood.. It may be that we experience a sense of shame and guilt for what was done to us. It was a very powerful relief in therapy today to hear my mother’s voice telling me how proud she was of me to be doing this work and how none of what went down in terms of my own neglect was my fault. In later years I saw her struggling with seeing how it brought about the ending of my marriage while at the same time wanting me to stop any focus on inner work or therapy which, at least initially she did not understand

In later years she actually came to some appointments with me and began to open up to me about her own neglect and I know she wished in some way my living sister could follow this path instead of a purely psychiatric ‘drug relief’one.

I understand my father has having endured neglect too and he ran away from Holland n 1938 leaving his family behind to save his own life.. He worked so hard to put all of that behind him but he just created more problems as neglected children of neglected parents often end up crashing and burning.. This has not applied so much my older brother who has been able to hide neglect behind enormous outer success in the world, especially financially, although his only daughter has borne the brunt of much of this. I was so sad to hear from my sister on the weekend that she had a stroke recently something my brother did not feel safe enough to share with me.. and we tried to get close many years ago (my only niece and I) but this was derailed by the family which made me cry for years…it being just more of the same old same old emotionally distant family pattern.

I notice at times I can attack people in the outer world who want to get close to me.. I am more aware of the pattern lately.. In fact on the weekend I had to own some of this with someone I care for deeply, luckily ours is one of those relationships able to hold the paradoxical feelings of hate and love, longing and fear and he never ever ever shames me.. Something I cry deep tears of gratitude for. As a Complex trauma survivor I need these kind of relationships in my life, as I am still healing and very raw with grief lately.

Much as we say we need to do our own healing work alone, sometimes the Complex PTSD ‘warrior’ defence may work against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linkages’, bonds that we try to establish as adults.. The outer critic can function to try and cut these bonds by seeking that ‘worm in the apple’ I have mentioned that those of us with avoidant attachment so often go looking for in relationships. Also when we split people into all good or all bad we loose the capacity for connection. A good enough relationship is one in which we make mistakes but can express our full range of feelings and be heard.. it comforts me so much when someone says they understand how I feel to me that is a strong healing balm, since as I child I was so often led to believe my feelings were wrong or made no sense at all.

Shame and fear of experiencing joy seem to be interconnected in so many ways in those of us with Complex PTSD, taking the risk to open our hearts again often opens us to old pain but that also has a purpose… so we can grow in awareness of the complex mix of feelings we can so often experience in relationships. Working on listening to all of the inner voices we hear too is ongoing work in order that we can sort out the mix of those that are helpful and life promoting and those that hinder us, keep us trapped in shame or only promote a freezing or disconnection from the heat of engaged interaction and possible attachment. There is a part of us that often seeks to sabotage our healing if we were badly hurt in childhood… those interested in this could look into the work of therapist Donald Kalsched who wrote brilliantly about it in his book The Inner World Of Trauma.

shed skins

When the past comes calling

Certainty unwinds

My soul is carried back

To where I lost the threads of self

All tangled up inside

There is a storm of feeling

That I have not fully

Explored

Before

And so the rain of tears begins

It nourishes my skin

All of this feeling

Deep within I discover

A young girl

Who never fully got the chance to live

As herself

And became a person lost

Inside that skin

Seeking the way to kin

Dread

A constant visitor

Should naked truth emerge

And she then become the

Scourge

That order sought

Eradicate

Where to show her true face

Then

Falling into hurting

Again

Only to find deep

Within

The deepest pools of loss

A sense of self that

So desperately wants to live

Now she must find a way

To begin

Too long she wandered there

All alone

So far from comfort

Miles from home

Longing with a longing scarcely felt

Until now

Discovering with the pain of her past

A soul so very desperate

To shed old skins

Vibrating with love

Banished desire and purpose

Hungry for

Her kin

The problem of self calming : some reflections on activation and calming

Recently my sister and I were discussing our childhood. Her words were this when talking about my mother : “she was like a tornado”.. to be honest it was hard to relax around my Mum.. I got my foot burned on one caravanning holiday when she left a bucket of boiling water underneath the table I was drawing on while cleaning the floor and I stepped into it and got 3rd degree burns.. now another more attentive child, perhaps not so ‘lost’ in her own world or passion of the moment may have seen it and averted disaster.

I learned in time to try to use substances to calm me down or take the edge off.. my parents used alcohol for this purpose at the end of each working day and we were encouraged to do the same.. for me it ended in addiction and I am happy I got to put alcohol, drugs and cigarettes down in 1993 but I still find looking for comfort in food just comes naturally…

I had a discussion with a friend over the past week in which she said that being told to ‘be calm’ or ‘calm down’ is a sure trigger for becoming less calm….it might be like telling a person with really bad insect bites not to scratch without some other kind of soothing being offered such as balm for the soreness. Balm for the uncalm might be words like “I am sorry its so uncomfortable right now” or “that must have been very distressing” validation, empathy causes the increase of oxytocin and the reduction of cortisol.

I don’t know what would have calmed my mother during one of her frenzies or OCD rampages…its taking me years to know I don’t have to clear up and wash all the dishes immediately I stop eating or cooking.. one of my ways of being seen was to run around after Mum cleaning up after she got home from her job at her dress shop every day around 6 pm. Later in my recovery I had a dream in which the dream young me was all wired up through the shoulder with a wire coat hanger.. What a powerful metaphor for how entwined I was body, mind and psyche with family energy patterns of looking good and over drive…

Calming for me now comes with writing in which I tap into and release the stored vibrational charge of feeling; in writing poetry, in listening to music, it comes in nature (as I share ad infinitum here); with my dog; with calm loving friends who are emotionally present and honest with true open hearts..

Triggers for me are : criticism, the disapproving stare (flared nostrils and hard dark stare often proceeded one of my Mum’s rages.) I can forgive my Mum in a way now as I know she never got lovingly contained or mirrored and she carried so much from the maternal generational legacy of buried built up stress and repressed emotions…that was impossible to contain. I can forgive my Dad for not knowing how to cope with it, and so checking out… and I can understand the deep roots of my anxious avoidant attachment style which at other times can be disordered..

Calm is only coming slowly but it is coming… I am still activated but only by the old triggers and stepping down from them is becoming quicker and easier as learn where my wound and necessary boundaries and self soothing strategies lay.

Carrying the dark night

Wow, my eyes are full of tears right now, good tears.. I just got a beautiful comment on a poem I wrote this week that really spoke to me : ’emerging but carrying the weight of the dark night as a valuable treasure..’ That comment was so affirming and it made me realise how much value there is in the dark night journey as well as in honesty…

Last night as I was lying in bed crying over the past and the emotional black hole in my family and someone who messages me from overseas said to me ‘don’t cry, It’s a waste of time.’ I just said this : ‘actually I find supreme value in tears, to me they speak of an emotional truth”. There is also something that analyst and story teller Clarissa Pinkoles Estes talks about in the myth of The Handless Maiden, in that chapter of her book Women Who Run With the Wolves she says “tears soften the soul and keep away the predator.”

Have you ever noticed that there is something calcified and almost demonic about people who cannot cry deeply nor acknowledge you when you do, or even worse, treat you as if there is something wrong with you for having an emotional reaction or crying?” To me, tears come from the soul, in fact I just opened up a book in which I sometime jot down poems to find these written down from somewhere : ‘tears, the soul’s rain shower!’

I do believe that tears come from the soul and from love as well as the hollow pit of utter emptiness from which the soul cries out trying to make its need for love known in it echoing absence as well as bear testament to an emotional truth.. I wish we would mine our tears more to be honest.. I wish there was a literacy around tears, permission to have them.. To me tears act as a release.. A beautiful follower of mine, Mark always says “I feel so much better after a good cry ; snotty nose!” I am not saying that we should all sit around crying all of the time, and there is a time to look for the blessings in things going wrong, emotional pain and challenges or things getting stolen or lost. There is also time to take ourselves by the hand after we have been feeling sad and find ways to lighten up and bring some fun and joy into our lives but we can also find the gifts present in the darker times…

I think of all of the beautiful songs and poems that come out of sadness, heartbreak and sorrow, I also think of those songs that have the power to uplift us spiritually and speak to our soul in the depths.. Listening to the blues or someone like Eva Cassidy helps me to move through sadder feelings or come to terms with things not working out…there is a time just to let the soul ache and release the heartbreak so that we can use it to move on through and power our next phase of the journey…

I am back in a deep dip at the moment to be honest.. This time of year corresponds with a very painful and dark time for me when I fell pregnant and had to have the baby terminated due to a health issue…it also coincided with a break up and a time of betrayal at the hands of the person I was involved with then.. That said I was also bringing darkness on me by drinking too much and taking drugs and it would only be three years later that the final years of my active drinking and drugging would occur… I still had so many years left to work through my pain… I can never not forget that time on a deeply unconscious bodily level as the air turns heavier and darker with the slow approach of winter…I feel the great darkness of the years 1980 to 2011 when I finally moved home and began the necessary inner psychological work to make it conscious.

I have known great darkness and it will always be a part of me.. but as that reader acknowledged my blog must show that I do carry it now more as a gift than a curse….I can not ever live completely on the light side of life. In astrological terms I am far too Plutonian for that with the planet of the Underworld in my first house of soul identity and connected to my Moon Saturn Mars and Chiron. I got sober in 1993 when that configuration was triggered by a Pluto transit.. Mars is hitting it now and will be for the next few weeks…. so in some way I have to go with Underworld pull when its summons me leaving part of myself above ground as an observer, available to throw my soul a life line should I need it to come back up to the light, daylight world should things get too heavy..

Before this time the Underworld used to claim my soul completely. As a Persephone woman I identify with the dark themes of loss, pain, grief and feelings of being overpowered by stronger more willful souls. Yes I know the Underworld.. I just sometimes don’t feel that comfortable with the pull, especially in a world that sees the Underworld sojourner as a bit of a threat or danger… Robert Hand says of first house Pluto people.. people love you deeply or are scared to death of you, seeing you as a threat….its not an easy energy to carry at times, but if we want to manage in life we have to find some kind of way to carry that energy in a positive way.. encouraging others to not feel so strange or exiled or alone if they do too.

It helps me a bit to articulate these energies when they become strong.. It makes me feel less alone at those times I feel pulled on by things that hurt or remind me of the burden of the past… I will be grateful too, for a therapy call this afternoon… dark things and feelings needs to be given air time and I will always be grateful to those willing to listen and extend an open heart and hand when I go through one of my dark phases.

Longing to be seen in unavailable families : some current insighs

I sometimes wonder if you even stop longing for the wrong people to see you.. Growing up in a narcissistically oriented family its a lot like you don’t exist as a real person.. your soul gets negated or killed off so often, but in such a silent and difficult way, as to make you end up doubting your own reality..

When I started studying naturopathic theory in 1991 I came across the double bind theory of schizophrenia developed by Gregory Bateson. In this theory when a child goes to a parent with their emotional perception the parent denies the truth and doesn’t explain their own behaviour (since, I guess, they aren’t even conscious of it themselves.) This sends a younger child a little crazy and begins to fill their head with second guessing and self doubt, they begin to question “were things really as I perceived them to be? Mum seemed angry but she says she isn’t and that if only I left her alone or did not do or say that, she would be okay.” the child may have to develop an inner dialogue to survive, but it is a confusing and unrestful inner dialogue.. One also begins to question everything.

I have done a few posts on the protector – persecutor archetype which lives deep inside the psyche of those of us with childhood wounding, trauma or neglect…Elaine Aron the founder of the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person addresses this archetype and inner force a great deal in one of her books : “The Undervalued Self.”

If we had to protect ourselves from a wounding parent or compensate for an unavailable one in childhood we may also transfer this dynamic onto new relationships.. we get easily triggered and may see things in others from the past, we also have a lot of work to do so that we don’t continue to attract the exact same invalidation, nor internalise it.

We also have to learn to trust our true feelings and perceptions. Not being seen is very crazy making and it can fill you with profound feelings of helplessness and frustration.. Also having your boundaries over run or being placed in a position where its nearly impossible to delineate and express them is even harder.. Its only lately I am seeing how much I have struggled with boundaries, most especially around family members in later life when their behaviour has been hurtful, invalidating and confusing.

Up til now I have kept an open mind with family knowing that we all came out of a lot of emotional neglect but the wash up over my mother’s inheritance and my brother’s assumption of complete paternal control has been triggering me over the past 24 hours.. He is not willing to release even a portion of what Mum left to us and its making me really distressed and upset my equilibrium entirely over that time…So often with my brother I experience that narcissistic individual’s impenetrable wall…. they cant see you, don’t want to see you, have already decided you are less than and only worthy of their contempt or to be erased psychologically or ignored.. they can erase you so easily even when you are in the same room.. my brother has done it to me so many times now and I could not hide from my fury and rage over it last night..where the fuck does he get off controlling my sister’s and my life in this way? I need to vent about it here as I don’t have therapy until Monday.. When I got the news last night a family friend who has worked in the past for he and my father made it plain she agrees he is not being fair.. I think if my sister and I were both men he would not be treating us in this way…

There is nothing at times that triggers me than not being seen or having boundaries over ridden.. It was hard enough in my family as the youngest by a long way having things pushed on me I didn’t like.. I got in trouble with alcohol too as Dad made us drink at a young age thinking that would help us to be responsible drinkers, the problem he didn’t model how to have healthy emotions and boundaries either and so that made alcohol a hiding place not a stress release especially with low confidence and inverted narcissism.

Today I was tempted to turn everything back on myself again… but then I realised what I was doing, taking the blame for something not my fault.. I have managed to stay sober for over 26 years now so that has to be saying something, but my boundaries have not been good.. I got dragged along in things due to lack of insight and protection, I denied and sucked up things I should have said no to, sometimes due to ignorance, at others just I longed to be or to stay connected at all costs, even to those who did not treat me well…..Today some more of my denial broke down as I saw how I can press the emotional truth down and how painful it was to be treated in a state of emotional melt down as if my feelings made no sense. Its been one hell of a painful and damaging conundrum… and I really had to hold and validate my inner child today.. I had two nights of trying to be there again only to not be related too though there are some small signs of progress…

Today I feel in a strange place, the sun is shining but it still feels like the dark old world of the past is lapping around my ankles like a pitch black ocean… I don’t want to go under again and in some way I can feel my feet on the sand.. but I need to continue to be mindful and not blow off my own instincts, gut feelings and true perceptions.. nor tone down my fight response just because I fear being misunderstood or sidelined.

To value life

Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.

Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.

Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.

I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.

Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.

Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.

Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.

I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.

Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.

My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.

That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.

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.

Getting free of my ‘bad’ self (recognising the deeper impact of trauma and childhood emotional neglect.)

I am still only beginning to understand how my own self punishment and attempts to make myself bad and shame myself for what I have endured in my life play out. The last relationship I was in was very damaging from this point of view. I was very isolated when I met him and he never really was ever able to show empathy for my PTSD symptoms which I was trying my best to manage. When the first abuse began I should have perhaps broken contact but I was at that stage very isolated and alone and hungry for connection.

My own ability to practice self care, I see now was severely limited at that stage due to childhood emotional neglect. CEN can be hidden as many of us neglected came from what, at least from the outside, may appear to be affluent ‘together’ homes, but the neglect is there due to emotional unavailability of parents and the claims made that you are loved and cared for which may be true on one level but are not always backed up bpresence and truly engaged physical and emotional support and so sufferers of CEN tend to blame themselves.. it is one of the major symptoms.

It was hard for both my parents because they had to grow up very fast both having lost their fathers, my Mum at 7 and my Dad at 12 years of age. By the time I came along they were working very hard to survive materially and beginning to get a taste of affluence. They were there but they were often missing emotionally and sometimes I was punished when I really needed support.

I was listening to a programme on teenage mental health on radio in Australia this morning and psychologists involved said the worst thing that can happen to teenagers is to be punished when they are acting out, the better thing is for them to be educated and the reason why they are acting out understood. I wasn’t acting out so much as a teenager but due to lack of parental supervision I was smoking and drinking behind their backs and in the absence of someone being present I was trying in some way to raise myself and felt often I had to put on act to show I was feeling okay and coping when the truth was I often felt insecure and confused about how to live and connect.

I still have this fiercely independent streak (or rather anti dependency streak) and I can find it hard to ask for help or know when I need support. I can tend to push back or push away or deny that I would like support, I feel on some level shame for it or that I don’t deserve it. The sad thing is that later in life when I got to begin to uncover some of my buried emotions and past in sobriety I ran again instead of getting the right help and trusting those close to me to care for me. I have only realised this lately and as a result I ended up crashing and burning. I also aborted several therapy attempts and got lost in the last abusive relationship which ended 8 years ago.

Anyway I need to remember lately that I am making good progress and turning around over 50 years of unhelpful patterns takes time. It also takes some time to see where our own defences can be operating. My therapist feels a lot of my survival defences are now melting and I really am finding new levels of compassion for myself and feeling a lot of the grief, frustration and powerlessness that underlay past anger and rage which kept deeper feelings at bay. Blaming myself or blaming others is actually I am beginning to see a way of defending against my feelings and situation instead of feeling them. Accepting that I was powerless over so much has taken some time. And knowing that I do have power to change some things even longer.

I still struggle a lot with panic attacks and overwhelm symptoms at critical times of the day. I notice what triggers them and then takes me into a down ward spiral. Once the spiral or trauma vortex starts to manifest (which on bad days can happen up to 4 or 5 times) it can be very hard to pull myself out of it and get my attention back in the ‘now’. One of the hardest things about Post Traumatic stress is this vortex pull which is centrifugal. I noticed that I had coped better on the days I actually have plans to meet someone and connect which was happening more over the past week. This week I have felt more anxious having more open time. I still need to remember I am managing well though. The tendency to be down on myself and beat myself up can still be very powerful. I wish that I was better than I am at times, but wishful thinking wont get me very far. I do still struggle a lot, maybe with my complex trauma history I always will??