Understanding self absorbed behaviors

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

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

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

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

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

 

When anger is denied

Afer sharing a reblog of Twinkletoes post on Anger Turned Inward yesterday I have been thinking a fair bit about the subject.   Anger turned inward ties into issues of feeling unsafe expressing strong feelings, feeling powerless, frustrated, neglected and ignored when we really needed help and validation.  There is a deep despair and grief that we are left with when we are not responded to with empathy or helped to be effective with expressing our wants, needs and frustrations as children.  If we have no where to go with these feelings we often repress them or they fall to the level of our body.

If we were raised in a far older family we may have been left alone or ignored all the time. We may have been on the receiving end of bullying which is projected shame and may be due to the frustration of older siblings who were left alone to take care of us in the absence of parents or carried their own pain due to lack of emotional receptivity and nurture, we are then on the end of the projection of that siblings pain as well that gets dumped into us, and if we can’t express that to anyone its a set up for a host of later painful feelings of emotional isolation and depression

Some of us like my fellow blogger and I were sent to our rooms when angry.   I wasn’t locked in mine but I still felt alone there with my ‘big’ feelings I didnt quite know how to manage.  But I also know my Mum had those big feelings too and Dad didnt know how to cope so would go awol, laughing and joking about it (which on one level was better than exploding) however that was a set up for me for a passive aggressive emotional style.

In the passive agressive style we don’t feel safe enough to set boundaries or say no or even allow for the fact we have needs which may differ from others.  We may equate self assertion with abandonment, if we were on the receving end of a lot of aggression when young we may come to fear self assertion believing it can only happen in a way that hurts and we may either fear hurting others or losing their approval.  If we have known the deep pain of feeling abandoned we fear being the one who abandons others and so we can end up putting other’s needs first.

In my own family I didnt see healthy self assertion modelled a lot and being left alone I learned to try to be needless and wantless, after all there was no one there so I was better to lock it all away or deny it.  I think at a young age I learned to escape into books and TV.  I can still do this at times.  I remember in a past relationship if my ex called and a show was on I liked often I would not take his call.  That may or may not be okay, I am not sure but surely connection to a human should be more important than a show.

I have learned a lot through reading. I sometimes think readers of my blog may get a bit frustrated though as I am always blogging about something I have read.  Escape is not always a bad thing, only when it diverts us from dealing with life and complexities.  That said some complexities we may wish to side step, if we are an empathic intuitive.  We don’t always have to be emotionally available.

Anyway there are some good books out there to help with understanding the role anger plays in our lives and whether or not we have learned to express it in healthy way and listen to what it is telling us in functional ways or repress and deny it leading to depression and auto immune problems.  I have written blogs on the subject in the past but often they get buried way back due to the way my blog is set up and the fact that now, 4 years on I have a lot of posts.

For information of those who would like it though, some of the books on anger I have found especially helpful follow:

John Lee, The Anger Solution : The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Long Lasting Relationships.

This book is great as he explains very clearly the concept of age regression which is similar to an experience of an emotional flashback that can intensify the way we responde to incidents which trigger old experiences of pain, neglect or abuse.  He gives techniques for unpacking the past triggers.  Just understanding when we are age regressed helps us a lot in our emotional recovery.

Beverley Engel, Honour Your Anger : How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life.

Dr Les Carter, The Anger Trap : Free Yourself from the Frustrations That Sabotage Your Life.

And for those whose passive aggressive anger style may come from a fear of abandonment due to displeasing others a very helpful book on learning to self assert honestly is :

Harriet B Braiker, The Disease To Please : Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome.

I am sure there are many other wonderful books out there.  There is no substitute for good therapy to work with the roots of anger and self assertion as these are such important issues when we are dealing with depression.   I hope some of this information may be of help to others.

Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

Reading my current book on men who suffer from borderline personality disorder Hard To Love I am being reminded of how early attachment or abandonment wounds leave us with a thin skin covering over a sore raw spot that can often be triggered by perceived threat of abandonment.  At these times if we suffer from borderline wounds we may fly into a reactive rage rather than feel the soft,  vulnerable spot that is being triggered deep inside.

Acting out rage is a reaction to the hurt, pain and fear that lives inside.  We may not be fully conscious that we fear rejection because someone around us saw a part of us that may not be well formed or is a source of shame, youngness, pain, or fear for us.  Often such reactive anger or rage is a response to having early abandonment experiences triggered or feeling we are not being valued or validated.  When others only see the angry or raging response and don’t dig deeper to realise the wounds that led to it, true understanding, connection and repair is not possible.  When we have been triggered in this way it takes some age regression work to become aware of the wounds and earlier incidents of abandonment we carry and experience that are being triggered by such criticism in the present moment.

I am posting this today as a bit of a response to an earlier post on the negative side of the inner critic.  Criticism from others when it triggers our own inner critic can tend to make us defended or angry if we have these kind of wounds and most especially if we have a powerful inner critic inside and lots of earlier hurt.  If we want relationships to survive we need to find ways to express our vulnerability with others.  We need the capacity to take the little one inside us onto our knee and get at the root of what is going on.  For the abandonment actually happens when outer criticism triggers our feeling of not being good enough inside and as much as we needed someone in childhood to let us know we are good enough, as adults we really do not need this approval of our selves.   Later on we may then be able to have an honest conversation with the person in question and say  “when you did X I started to feel scared and abandoned and criticised.”   We may be able to communicate needs that we have that were never fully met growing up.

It is very painful to have these unresolved and often unrecognised needs inside of us.  In my post on the antidote to the inner critic yesterday I brought attention to the issue of childhood emotional neglect, and pointed out how suffering from such neglect which is not fully even conscious for many of us leads to certain deficiencies within and in the way we relate to our selves in terms of empathy and feeling a sense of inner value.  Educating ourselves about the areas of neglect is an important step forward, for how can we get needs met or change behaviours we don’t fully accept or even understand?

In my past relationship often my ex partner would feel triggered by a little criticism comments like :  “the griller door needs to be open when you grilling”.  He took that as some kind of slight on his intelligence.  And my abandonment wound could be similarly triggered at times when I started to feel left out or ignored.  It was then hard to find the words to express how I was really feeling because I lacked the necessary insight and language.   When I was finally able to speak up for my needs I was told that they did not matter has his needs came first, always.  At that stage self care would have seen me make a re-evaluation of the relationship if I had been in a healthier place.

That said not all criticism is valid and some people use put downs or other subtle or not so subtle means to put us down.  In this case we can stand up for ourselves against the criticism in a firm and loving way.

Borderline wounds are very real, they come from key experiences in the past of feeling alone and abandoned which are so often deeply hidden from view and even conscious memory.  They make us vulnerable in the present.  They put the locus of control and reaction outside of ourselves, at least before we begin to get a handle on them.  Understanding how and why we react as we do is important, just as important as others around us taking the time and caring enough to want to know why it is happening rather than blame or shame.

In my last relationship neither of us had sufficient insight to cope with the self soothing and other centred understanding that was needed for a healthier relationship to survive when we both carried our own version of abandonment wounding.   So many things can happen to us is childhood that we are powerless over and end up leaving deep scars.   There scars can mark our relationships but they are also signs, pointers or signals of a damage that when understood and worked with consciously can help us to move through to more committed, honest and understanding relationships with others.

Triggered by exercise, joy, power, happiness!

I wondered how many of you get triggered when you start to exercise?   If you were in fearful situations a lot as a child or if like me you suffered a few life threatening events where you pulse was raised, I have read that exercise can trigger panic as the body/mind registers the raising of the heart beat as fear.  This thought is also triggered by a response to a comment I read on another post about self harm where the commenter recommended the gym as a diversion from pain and anxiety.  The person replied about how the gym triggers them.  Ideally we feel our pain and don’t try to escape it but one of the long term impacts of paralysis, freeze or collapse which is such a big part of both Post Traumatic Stress and Complex PTS is that we don’t exercise or even move enough but get locked in self protective patterns which may include ingestion addictions to calm feelings.  That is okay if we turn to healthy food but if we turn instead to wheat or sugar laden snacks it can be a problem for some and as survivor of breast cancer I have had to watch that I don’t turn to those kind of snacks when my anxiety gets triggered in the now.

I was also prompted to write this post as Jasper and I just returned from a good long walk.  I then did some stretching at the bench in the field I sometime sit on to read my book mid walk.  When we drove home I felt such a surge of happiness, joy, power and wellbeing but as soon as I got inside to make a late lunch my thoughts started to race and I felt my heart beating fast and happiness turned to panic and fear.

I then though of all the times when I was attending AA that I was warned to not get too high or happy and when I share this with my therapist she is shocked.  I get triggered by happiness or assertive energy anyway because often as a young child in a much older family I was helpless at the power used over me not always in very nice ways, especially not by my older sister but the second one who used to pass off her own frustration about no one being home with us and having to care for me, onto me.   Also in later years when this sister was supposedly ‘manic’ (to a degree this was true but in some cases she was being pathologised) I began to feel a lot of fear.

Anyway today I was glad to be able to make the association to the way I was feeling.  I know that often my anxiety is manifesting without me consciously registering it as anxiety.  I just have all these strange flooding or drowning sensations in my body and I don’t always recognise feelings as such, at first they appear as somatised body symptoms.  When I spoke to my Mum this morning she was expressing something very similar.  I thought it might be good feedback for a post.  Last week with Kat in therapy I was sharing how I felt my feelings about past mistreatment as a few wild horses in my breast champing at the bit to get out.  My teeth were aching where my denture attached to that two top back teeth and that reminded me of being in bridle head gear every night for over a year when I was 16 and had braces.  I am SO ANGRY I had to go through that :  it was fucking torture for a highly sensitive person and I just had to grin and bear it and swallow it down.

There are some of the things I need to externalise and share here, when I share them at 12 step meetings people get triggered and get in trouble for saying how it really was, which also makes me angry.  But if I don’t speak about it I will get sick and my cancer may even return.

Bright light

A

Bright light

Let your soul shine

Undimmed by fears or limits

Of those

Who would see it extinguished

For want of knowing how to recognise

Joy Happiness Enthusiasm Passion

These are not the disease

They led you to believe

And just because you at times

Fly high

And journey low

Does not mean that you are sick

Sicker is a society

Conditioned to deny the soul of a bright bird

Who gains joy in flight

Or is conditioned to deny

The dark indigo of deep sorrowing and grieving

Felt by those who sadly endured loss

So let your light shine

Allow your wings to fly

Let the highs and lows carry you along on this journey

And follow the flow of your heart

As it beats and floods in your chest

A rare bird following a raging river

Through brightest day

And darkest night

Trauma and silence

The following is partly verbatim extract from the video of Diane Langberg’s talk on trauma I reblogged earlier, and partly some of my own thoughts interspersed.  We so badly need to speak about our trauma and be understood, heard and validated.  The paradox is that so much of trauma is hard to articulate at first, our body carries a hidden burden that often is so difficult to give form and substance to, but it is so important that we try.

Trauma silences human beings partly because there are no words to really describe what that was a like.  It brings emotional darkness, isolation because you feel like nobody cares or even if they did they wouldn’t understand,  it makes time stand still because we get so lost in what happened we cannot see ahead we have lost hope

Trauma heals through : talking :  tears:  time.

When somebody does not talk when all of that is shut down they are broken emotionally (and deeply wounded in a wordless space).  People often will not talk because the pain is so great they cannot find the words. Or they talk over and over again not touching the real deep place.  To remain silent is to fail to honour the event, the memory.  (It is so hard to find the words…. words are often so inadequate when it comes to trauma. After a major trauma in the beginning often there are no words.  (Can we ever really explain what trauma is as it goes into the body?  The body knows!)   Dance it! Draw it!

To recover from trauma we must find a way to live in the truth and not pretend.  Minimising trauma, saying it didn’t hurt, should not hurt or leave lasting effects is wrong.  That is silencing.

Talking says I am here I am alive and for people with trauma that is a huge step.  Most of all letting someone talk or being there for them shows you have ‘care for their broken heart’.

Most especially sometimes what really helps is to sit in silence with the person.  Join with them in the darkness.  Let them know by your presence they are not alone in it.

Most important is gaining power over trauma by learning to tell the story. At first trauma will come out in fragments that slowly have to be pieced together.  Telling and being listened to restores the interpersonal bridge broken in and through trauma.  It CONNNECTS us to others and to our trauma.  When we are believed our trauma is validated.

Thank you so much Broken Blue Sky for sharing Diane’s video with me.  She speaks of things I did with my sister who died and never got free of her deepest traumas, but how could she.  I often just sat with her and held her hand.  How often I have wished someone was there to do that with me.  🙂

 

Writing from the body and our past to tap in : some insights from John Lee

If I could give you a dollar for every time I have been told that I should just ‘get over it’ or ‘stop looking at the past’ you would be wealthy.   As a species we are only slowly coming around to the realisation that our past stays trapped and encoded in the cells of our bodies and our neuro and biochemistry.  When I first got sober a few years in I came across the work of medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, a wonderful book and set of tapes I was lucky to be given by the bookshop where I was then working called Energy Anatomy.  Carolyn was asked to work in tandem with a doctor to get information about certain patients he was treating about their past and what she had to say co-related with the illness they were going through with astonishing accuracy.  Carolyn had no other information, she did not meet the people, the specialist in question would just phone her with brief information about the patient.  From this Carolyn ‘read’ certain information such as ‘her mother died when she was two, she had a termination of pregnancy when she was 18’ and so on.   The doctor was blown away by her readings and Carolyn wrote this line in her book : “biography becomes biology”.

I am thinking about this a lot today as I am just reading the book Writing From the Body : For Writers and Artists, and Dreamers who Long to Free their Voice.   It is written by recovering alcoholic, John Lee who in recovery has become a therapist and works with people working to both free themselves from repressions of the past as well and express what may have been trapped, locked or encoded in muscle, tissue and organ.  The first few chapters tell of his own process to unblock his voice and find access through writing to essential blockages and experiences of the past which he believes to stay trapped in the body waiting to be heard or freed.  I am so inspired by what I have read so far that I really wanted to share it here, since on WordPress there are so many writers who are working in this way.  To be inspired to me is to be filled with spirit, to be able to breathe.  In fact in the chapter Inspiration : The Breath and the Word he deals with the importance of breathing as we write to gain inspiration and to access our depth.  I am not sharing content from the chapter here but the previous one Descending into the Body.  It is my own belief that body is soul and what soul’s suffer stayed trapped here longing to be freed.  When we tap in we release on some level past experiences and metabolise them.  I am sharing it here as I just feel a burning need to do so.  I hope it speaks to you, dear reader.

To embrace our body’s truth is to embrace our past.  There is no other way.  The body is home to all that has happened to us, and it remembers.  Fortunately, if we engage in the process of remembering (re – membering like Osiris did gathering up our torn fragments) with full vigor, great riches emerge.  In his breakthrough book, The Poetics of Reverie, Gaston Bachelard writes:

In waking life… when reverie works on our history, the childhood within us brings its benefits.  One needs……to live with the child he has been.  From such living he achieves a consciousness of roots, and the entire tree of his being takes comfort from it. 

Not everything we discover in ourselves will be comfortable.  But we need to know he truth of our roots if we are to write from that depth.  Our roots don’t have to be pleasant to be comforting.  Just the act of claiming our own history, of pledging ourself to its truth, provides peace of mind.  It also feeds our writing – we must know our whole story before we can tell it.

Lee goes on to talk about how he was raised in the South of the United States to barely literate parents.  How early on he came to believe that he ‘wasn’t that bright’, how he came to be ashamed of his origins and also came to believe he had to be from somewhere else to be intelligent or gifted enough to write.  Over the course of his healing journey though he came to see that such beliefs were untrue.  He speaks of how he had to both own them and dispel them or at least engage with them and work to answer them back.  He continues:

That’s part of my story.  You have your own.  You have your own messages.  What were they?  Who spoke them? What did you feel like when you heard them? How do you feel about these messages, and the messengers now?

As I am typing this a poem I wrote a while back addressed to my father comes to mind.  I will try to find it later but it was about how he devalued the artistic and humanitarian in favour of utilitarianism and commerce.  How he forced me away from my literate artistic side.  It was a deep wound in me and one I have only begun to really address since starting this blog.  Truth is, from a young age I was writing and so probably were many of you.  I still struggle with the Inner Critic.  How I get around it in my blog these days is to let it speak so readers can see.  I then try to act against what is says.

As the chapter concludes Lee gives this advice to budding writers :

Now write a story, a poem, or a one act play, or a letter.  Write how you feel about these destructive messages.  Tell the whole truth at last.  If fears arise, name them and you will dissipate their power.  We don’t have to go on fighting our fear, telling ourselves “everything’s fine.”  As we write from the body, we touch the centre of ourselves.  In doing so we discover to our surprise that everything truly is fine, and that a part of us remains safe regardless of what happens to us in the world.

My truth is this :  I wasn’t disabled.  But I did become tense and scared when unreasonable demands were placed on me.

Write your own truth boldly, loudly.  Stay close to the body’s sounds, to its rhythms of breath and bone, they will tell you want to write.

I am sure so many of you have found such comfort through your writing.  The beauty of WordPress is that it gives so many of us a platform to express and free from ourselves what became trapped, locked, buried or impacted deep inside. When other’s read, like and comment we feel the joy of resonance and know nothing we ever suffer really separates us, only that which we fail to free or speak.   I will end this with a luminous quote from Lee’s book on writing :

Be strong then, and enter your own body:

there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Do not go off somewhere else!

just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.

Kabir