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.

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 thieves 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 undertake 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.

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.

 

 

Fear of Insanity Narcissism and Denial of Feeling : more insights from Alexander Lowen

the experience of horror (in childhood) makes one question one’s sanity.  What one is experiencing does not make sense, it doesn’t accord with one’s image of reality which even a baby has on a biological level.  To avoid the resulting mental confusion, one must dissociate and deny all feelings.  As long as one sticks to logic, one is safe.  But feelings are life, and one cannot fully avoid emotional experiences no matter how coolly one plays it.  The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defence of denial break down.  This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality.  This fear reinforces the denial of feeling creating a vicious cycle.

Reading the above paragraph again in Lowen’s book today gave me more insight into my brother, who threatened to walk out on me last October when I got angry with him.  It reminded me of terrifying incidents he faced in childhood and of how my father did pretty harsh things to him as a boy as his own childhood had been similarly harsh.  I was in tears again last week after yet another conversation with my brother where we was working as hard as he could to split off all expression of emotion.  I usually leave every interaction with him crying or disturbed in some way.  Now instead of feeling angry I  just feel really sad for him as I don’t ever think he will look at the roots of his own workaholism.  Once again I shed heaps of tears after I got off the phone on Thursday.  It is not that he is an unkind person either, all time the conversation revolved around helping my sister and I to get the best interest possible on the money Mum has left us.

It is now never the less a great comfort to me to be able to say I now know I am not crazy and I know why his side of the family have sidelined me before as well as other members of my family, looking upon us with such distain and disapproval due to our emotions.  That said I am also aware of the charge of anger that I have carried which I know I inherited from my mother’s side of the family.

Collapsing into a state of helplessness may be one response to such terror or violence in childhood.  Flight or fight may be two other  responses but both the later would often be blocked by an abusive parents.  Escaping or fighting back may be shamed or made  impossible as was the case of Bill whose story Lowen covers in Chapter 7 of this book.

Bill did not feel any anger.  He denied his anger, just as he denied his fear.  Instead, he adopted an attitude of submission and attempted to understand the irrational behaviour of his father, and others,  His submission to his father may have had a lifesaving value, but almost cost him his life.  (Bill was later on nearly killed by a hitchhiker he and a friend picked up on the side of the road who began to attack them.)

Lowen explains how Bill then came to fear his own anger.

(he).. believed that if he lost his head he might kill someone.  But to lose your head is equivalent to going crazy. Bill was terrified of the potential craziness in himself as he was of the craziness of others.  When I made this interpretation to him he remarked, “Now I know why I became a psychiatrist.”

Not everyone will be able to contain their rage from such incidents, others will act it out.  Lowen tells the story of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”, serial killer who murdered 6 and wounded 7 others.

What then are the dynamics that precipitate a seemingly sane person into insane action? … there must be some subconscious force.. This force is the denied feeling of anger.  Because the anger is denied, it is not experienced, which would give he person some control over it.

Many narcissists develop an ego unconscious split in these circumstance which means at times such subconscious forces can erupt and cause havoc or be projected on others.  Such and effect is called flooding…. an overwhelming feeling or excitation which ..”(temporarily drowns us)…in the torrent of sensation.  Imagine a river overflowing its banks and sweeping across the surrounding country side.  In a similar way the gush of feeling wipes out normal boundaries of the self, making it difficult for the person to distinguish between inner and outer reality.  Reality becomes confused and nebulous….. (there is a sense of) nothing solid to cling on to.  The person feels ‘at sea,’ estranged.

Such estrangement is not dissimilar to dissociation although Lowen compares it to disorientation.   The flooding of something we held down can make us dizzy, it may erase normal consciousness for a time.  It may well be what we experience in a panic attack (repressed or split off lively life energy or anger).  We can also be overwhelmed by pleasant sensations and if our sense of happiness or joy was also supressed or shamed in childhood we can begin to get fearful of insanity when we start to feel energised or even happy.

In the bioenergetic therapy Lowen used feelings which have been repressed or shut down are helped to liberate by the therapist who assists in the process so flooding and disorientation is not as intense as it would be if we were misunderstood or unsupported in the process.

The problem is that those damaged in childhood continue to carry split off emotions such as anger and sadness into adulthood, we may even attract relationships with others who act them out for us or vice versa, one partner can then pretend they are okay, it’s just their partner that is the problem.

Lowen points out in his book Narcissism : Denial of the True Self the connection between being called ‘mad’ (as in insane) when one is actually angry.

To say a person is mad may mean that person is either crazy or angry.  What this tells us is that anger is not an acceptable emotion.  Children are taught very early on to curb their anger; often they are punished if, in the course of an angry reaction, they hurt someone.  Disputes, they are admonished should be settled amicably and with words.  The ideal is to have reason prevail over action.

But conflicts can not always be settled amicably, with reasoning.   Tempers may flare.  I don’t mean one has to resort to physical violence to express an angry feeling.  Anger can be expressed in a look or by the tone of one;s voice.  Once can assert with feeling.  “I am angry with you.”  Some situations do call for the physical expression of anger.  If violence is used on you it may be appropriate to fight back.  Without the right to strike when one is hit, one feels powerless and humiliated.  We have seen what that can do to the personality.

I strongly believe that if children were allowed to voice their anger at their parent’s whenever they felt they had a legitimate grievance, we would see far fewer narcissistic personalities.  Giving a child this right would allow a real respect for the child’s feelings.

Lowen goes on to site an experience of watching a Japanese woman being hit by her daughter in anger.  He explains how in Japan a child is never disciplined before the age of 6 because they are regarded to be innocent  and such children don’t end up disrespectful or misbehaving.  However when the right of angry expression is denied a child it has an adverse impact and then there are the parents who cannot express their own anger with a child in a healthy way and use punishment instead.  Lowen doesn’t negate the need for discipline, only the use of power and control in the face of a child the parent does not have a healthy way of relating to and helping to develop emotionally.

Such repression of anger in a person in childhood means anger stays present in the person’s system much later in life.  In his bioenergetic therapy Lowen helps patient to discharge repressed anger so that it does not stay trapped inside.  However as he points out, the fear of ones anger and belief it will prove one is insane is a difficulty that many narcissistically injured person’s face on the path to healing.

For narcissists to know themselves, they have to acknowledge their fear of insanity and to sense the murderous rage inside that they identify with insanity.  But they can only do this if the therapist is aware of those elements and is not afraid of them.  I find it helpful to point out to my patients that what they believe is insane – namely, their anger – is in fact sense if they can accept it.  In contrast, their behaviour without feeling, which they regard as sane,is really crazy.

The behaviour without feeling that Lowen mentions here in fact leads to the growing or development of what he calls a thick skin, a protective defensive layer which will allow no real feeling for self or others in those with a narcissistic defence,

such denial is achieved by deadening the surface to stimuli, its effect is to rigidify the ego.  … the result is a diminishing of the ego’s capacity to respond emotionally to reality or to change reality in line with one’s feelings.. the ego’s safety lies in a deadened body, with little emotion.  Yet this very deadening creates a hunger for sensation, leading to the hedonism typical of a narcissistic culture.

But true feeling is then increasingly hidden behind a façade and the building charge of need and hidden feeling is defended against.  Thus addictions come to play a role in diverting attention from the truth.

By contrast those who develop a borderline defence to such negation actually become excessively thin skinned, unable to throw off hurts lodged deep inside from the past often from unfeeling narcissists.  Their work is to understand the source of pain and not project it onto the present, understanding how deeply its roots lie hidden in an often unconscious past.

 

 

 

 

Be there

Lion 7

Be there for me

Hold my hand

Let me know I have the strength to stand

Even if it means to stand alone

Give me strength

Help me believe in the power

I have to take root

Blossom and flower

Let me believe in the life force in me

And that I have the skills and knowledge inside

Things I no longer need to hide out of fear

Or the risk of disapproval

Remind me that

Although this world is often an unsafe place

One where it hurts to risk

There is a deeper price

For failing to expose my true face

Help me to find my right size and shape

And don’t let me listen to those killing voices inside

That want to cut me down to size

Or tell me I do not belong

Help me to be both vulnerable and strong

Stand beside me dear self

Hold my hand

As I risk my life to live

And take a stand

Making no other demand

Than the right to exist

As the very one I am

Bright day : Today’s prayer

Enchanted Garden

Bright day

Lead me into the light

Do not allow my fear and foreboding

To imprison me

Keeping me hostage in my mind

Grant me the courage to extend myself

Beyond my own small world

And limited view

To enter the reality of others

Let me remember that no one

I meet

Is truly a stranger

And when those who do not like to open

Keep their eyes downcast

And walk on by me on this path called life

Only frowning or muttering to themselves

Let me bless them on their way

Let me enjoy the journey

Keep my heart open

And most of all

Grant me and everyone else

Peace

Seeing things differently

In the darkness

My thoughts assume strange shapes

The inner workings of other’s minds

Invisible to me

I imagine filled with attacks on me

I need to find the light of day

On any morning

And pray to God a lot to change my view

From dark to light

Are not there angels around more than demons

In this life?

I do not know why I just assume

Disaster is waiting around every corner

And the boogie man

Is out to get me

It must be just a part

Of the tortured mindscape

I inhabit at times

Too filled with doom and gloom

To allow any room

For a more positive view

So when my guidance says

Read January 17

And I open the page

To see the words :

Seeing A Situation Differently

I open my eyes and mind and heart to the message

I could pray for guidance to see things more

Through Love than Fear

Through hope and trust

Instead of assumed disappointment

All because my soul in some mixed up way

Is trying to keep me safe from harm

Why also shut out the chance of Joy

Of something so different

To what my fearful mind projects

On current circumstance

 

We stand in light In the light this will look different. 

A Course In Miracles

The girl and a lion

Cry lion

Deep inside my inner heart

Opened through a softened portal in my chest

I see a vision of my inner child

Armed with a sword and a shield

By her side a lion

Who is her closest friend

She understands that the shield and sword

Were necessary allies in a fight

Against a world

Too willing

To demonise inner children and lions

And yet meditation and silence

Reveal these truths

It is only the lion hearted

And inner child awakened

Who are truly able to attain this world

And stand free in the midst of the flames

As spiritual shield and sword

Are used

To vanquish the demons

That would put death to

Conscious embodied femininity

Conscious embodied masculinity

In women

And in men

An attack of the ‘bad me’s’

I had a mini attack of what I call ‘the bad mes’ earlier today just after reblogging a post on narcissism and addiction.  I am beginning to see how caught up I still can get in family dysfunction and it is an ongoing challenge to walk a fine line between trying to help family members struggling with symptoms of the disease like low self worth and perfectionism and focus on my own recovery, too.  I ran around a lot for my older sister this week and to be honest I felt a bit ‘insane’ today as I didn’t sleep that well last night as I am also connecting to someone who messages me late at night.  I threw over some appointments which I think was the right thing to do as on one level I know my sister is ravaged at the moment and her self concept is weak and I want to give love but I must also recognise my limits.  And getting overly tired myself won’t help and it is how I felt to day which is  message to reign the help in a little bit.

Luckily her youngest son has decided to visit this weekend for Mother’s day.  It’s the first Mother’s day without my Mum and I haven’t been thinking about it a lot but if I do  I remember the special treats we gave to Mum on Mother’s day in past years so there is no guilt there in knowing I did all I can.  I don’t expect to be included in any family thing this weekend which I am honestly fine with.

I have been connecting with my Mum and Dad in spirit a lot lately and driving home a moment ago after dropping some books off at the library they spoke to me about how I was a part of both their hearts, they were not emotionally present as they did not really know how to be. That is a wound for me.  One that I am working my best to over come.  Is there then, any purpose in an attack of the ‘bad mes’?  Am I narcissistic at times posting and drawing on my wounds for art and poetry?  I dont think so really.  My experience in AA was of some narcissistic types though who did feel they had the answers for me at times and for others, I didn’t always see the greatest awareness in them, though of their own level of emotional neglect.  It is something I have only started to come to terms with in the past two years.

Beating myself up won’t help.  Realising I am open to criticism though and knowing there are always ways I can improve or be more teachable is important but so is knowing my own power, not in a power over others way but in an inner god centred power way is important in recovery.  I need that strong sense of a humble grounded self to maintain balance.  And lately when I feel myself loosing it I am praying more to God or higher power for my thinking to be changed and in the words of a Marianne Williamson prayer, become more full of light and hope and peace instead of criticism, shame or self blame.

On vulnerability, feelings and opening up to joy

Daring

I just finished the chapter The Vulnerability Armory in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  It has reminded me how defending and protecting our selves from fear of making a mistake or looking like a mess or just opening our hearts to life and feeling and expressing our full genuine selves really ends up contracting our existence in all kinds of ways.   The main tools in the vulnerability armory according to Brown are : Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing and my intention here is not to go into great detail about them as you can read the book or watch some of her videos on You Tube.

However just to explain a little, foreboding joy is the fear of disaster that we automatically can start to feel as soon as things feel good or seem to be going right.  In this scenario instead of opening fully to those powerful good feelings we tend to block them or divert them with thoughts of all that could go wrong.  Foreboding can close down our passion or longing in many ways and may cause us to sabotage.

Perfectionism is a huge defence which exists due to being raised in a society or family where we were not valued and loved unconditionally but on the condition of looking good, getting it right, or not provoking uncomfortable feelings that others did not really want to deal with.

And numbing, well that is just such a huge part of our culture and we now have a thousand ways or means we can stop feeling what we are feeling or have come to believe is just too much for ourselves or others to cope with.

I was thinking about this thing of defending against true feelings and feeling too much because it comes up all the time for me today and I am at the point in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography which occurs when she seeks her adoptive mother out after a major psychological breakdown/breakthrough in which she begins to understand how much of her own life she has spent running from and defending against her feelings due to the trauma of not only being separated from her true mother at birth but raised by a religious zealot who never accepted Jeanette’s sexuality.

At this stage in her life, which occurs after a ‘breakdown’ she actually begins to fall in love with psychotherapist and author Suzie Orbach and realises how little she actually knows of what it means to truly love another human being, since such unconditional love was never mirrored to her in her childhood.

The following paragraphs really spoke to me when I read them today.

In the economy of the body, the limbic highway takes precedence over the neural pathways.  We were designed and built to feel, and there is no thought, no state of mind, that is not also a feeling state.

Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work at feeling too little.

Feeling is frightening.

Well, I find it so.

I cannot help but wonder where all our fear of feeling really comes from.  It was enlightening to me in my first few years of sobriety to read the view of the Jungian analyst and author, Robert Johnson, that our culture is a ‘feeling wounded’ culture.  Last week I was reading through some comments on another blog on thought disorders where someone was saying they had tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but it hadn’t helped them much,  I left the reply that the wound to feeling cannot be healed by thinking and I still believe that to be true.  Fear of our feelings, being ashamed of them, being taught that there is something wrong with us for ‘feeling so (or too) much’ well its a pretty common thing that people with high sensitivity go through and if we spend a lot of our life trying techniques that don’t take that into account, that teach us to numb, or deny we are in trouble. Until we know what our deep wound are just changing our thinking or reacting patterns may not work or may only heal us superficially,

For myself I never used to know so well when I intellectualized or rationalised feelings away, it was something I was taught to do by family and religion…. it didn’t work as in the end I do believe it made me an alcoholic when I was consistently not dealing with feelings that never got recognised or seen in my family and which I was never helped to deal with.

This is not to say that we should just be acting our feelings out all over the place if we are in a difficult state of mind but even that may be necessary for a time until we get to develop some deeper mindfulness of how and why we feel the way we do.  Early childhood trauma or separations or other painful events not only in our own lives but in the lives of our parents and of their parent’s parents do affect us into the next few generations.  It is something Mark Wolynn covers in the chapter The Core Language  of Relationships in his book on multigenerational trauma It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  

We may be carrying feelings from generations back which is really a subject for another post.  The armour we wear often exists of defences that operate unconsciously and of scripts or core beliefs that have often not originated with us but collectively and familially. The following chapter in Brown’s book asks some questions about what drives our beliefs, reactions and feelings in personal, family and cultural life and then shapes the way we react.

Getting a grip on our vulnerabilities and fears is not easy but our culture is getting a bit better at it now.  People with issues are encouraged to open up, they may not always be well received by every one as there are those who Brown identifies as Vikings who think that to show any vulnerability at all is to become a victim and there is great fear even shown in this approach.  There is a time for us to be warriors and don our armour and we do need to fight back against invalidation abuse or disempowerment, it is an essential step in our healing for many of us.  But there also comes a time to drop the armour and open our hearts to the full force power and vulnerablity of love and joy which may confront us with fears that we have to do some deep work to become fully conscious of.