Ive watched and read a lot on narcissism in my time of dealing with my own and other’s wounds but this video is the one that most clearly articulates the inherent scars that underlie the disorder and keeps us off the blame spectrum. It also explains to me a lot of what I went through in struggling with repressed feelings and with those in relationships who did not want to deal with theirs. Well worth a view.
How different would our lives be if we only believed we were enough and had enough? As I look around this society and even consider my own life and past I see that a fear of not enoughness can dog so many of us. This fear can cause us to compete or to believe we are not worthy enough, it can prevent us from expressing ourselves, from reaching out to love and be loved and it makes us attack or collapse when that reaching out hits a brick wall or is demonised or rejected by another person who also feels not enough or that we are not enough for them.
I guess this is coming to mind as its interesting I had the clash with the gardener the other day all around the 11th anniversary of getting together with my ex partner back in 2007. At the outset of the relationship he had a long list of why and how others were not enough and of how he had struggled to find enough love, and during the entire relationship he found it so difficult to relax and then began to point out to me all the time how I wasnt enough this or that. I know now that as an adult child of an alcoholic parent he had never had a resting place either and he was driven by a lot of unresolved grief which manifested as rage when things triggered him. He drove one of his sons very hard and would call him mean names if the son refused to do something his father wanted often only because he was tired too and loved to play guitar and needed to rest or just loved being in the ‘now’ as I did.
I thought of this unhealed wound yesterday as I have reached the chapter in Jeanette Wintersons’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (which is what her stepmother said to Jeanette when she found out she was gay) where she has a breakdown after a love relationship dissolves in her adulthood. Reading it reminded me that suicidal feelings often accompany the opening to the realisation of our wounded self that never got to fully birth in dysfunctional homes that could not honour our sacred wholeness. Jeanette expresses very powerfully the forces within herself that she struggled with and that over the period 2007 to 2008 caused her to break down and break open to the self hatred and ‘madness’ inside her which was nothing less than a composite of all the toxic things, behaviours and beliefs her mother had introduced into her life over years as well as associated feelings that for most of her life she was writing over the top of.
Jeanette tried to take her life in 2008 and had what I can only call a spiritual experience in which she understood her old self was dead and she had to be born again on a deeply psychological level, she also began to realise she needed to address and understand the feelings and forces that were driving her from within.
In a very heart wrenching paragraph she writes :
extremes – whether of dullness or fury – successfully prevent feeling. I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies – unconscious strategies – to keep those feelings away. We do a feeling swap where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead. It can work the other way , too – sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate, sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.
It takes courage to feel the feeling – and not trade it on the feelings exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person…..you know how in couples one person is always doing the weeping or the raging while the other one seems so calm and reasonable?
I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.
She then began to hear voices and inside them found : ‘a piece of me…..so damaged that she was prepared to see me dead to find peace…. my violent rages, my destructive behavior, my own need to destroy love and trust, just as love and trust had been destroyed for me…. The fact that I did not value myself” And she also found that ‘the lost furious vicious child’ was the ‘war casualty’ and that was the part of her hated herself and also hated life.
Jeanette began to dialogue with this destructive part of herself which was really a defence against her childhood pain and that is what brought her back home to herself. It also led to the writing of a children’s book The Battle of the Sun which as a person with an astrological interest intrigues me as the Sun in our chart is our spiritual centre, it is the essence of us born to shine before it becomes in many cases covered in tarnish or buried under the force of our inner demons or monsters, or what Jeanette imagines as ‘the Creature’ within. It was this creature which was a representation really of all the lies she had been told about her being a bad self, never good enough, and it’s primary purpose (as for all of us who internalise the critic) was to mock, disparage and tear her apart, but never the less giving this part of herself a voice in the end, as for all of us, helped Jeanette to reclaim her sanity.
Her pen ultimate realisation which she shares at the end of the chapter The Night Sea Journey makes me cry :
A few months later we (the creature and Jeanette) were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little. I said ‘us’ not ‘you’. She held my hand. She had never done that before, mainly she just walked behind shooting her sentences.
We both sat down and cried
I said. “We will learn how to love.”
Learning to love ourselves, to accept our pain, to hold our own hand, to know that we were and will always be ‘enough’ no matter what other forces or voices in the family or culture have told us well really isn’t this our most important challenge? And doesn’t the deepest recognition of this truth mean a lessening of our insane and voracious consumption which drives us in covering over our sense of emptiness and not enoughness to over produce and over consume in ways that close our eyes to the reality of vast magentic gift of enoughness that surrounds us on this living, breathing, fully sentient, spirit infused love infused planet earth? Is it not the trance of our not enoughness either internalised or projected the thing that keeps us hungry and blind, causing us to lash out, over protect or self or other harm? Is not what is needed on this planet an awakening to the sacredness of earth and all life which can only come from a deeply realised sense of preciousness and enoughness?
I spent a lot of years in the rooms of AlcoholicsAnonymous before I decided to concentrate more energy on personal one to one therapy in my recovery and what I witnessed there was that most people who own up to addiction are good people at heart, people who had a lot of challenges or loss or may have turned to addictions to cope with emotional neglect or abuse. And that is why it hurts my heart when those who work so hard at recovery day in day out put themselves down. I know I do it to myself all the time and am so glad I found good therapist who helped me to see beyond this to deeper injuries and lacks which drive this inner self critical perfectionist within me that formed as a defence against loneliness and emotional neglect/abandonment. It just really hits me full force when I witness others doing the same and so I felt the need to write this to affirm what goodness I see in your heart, all people working in recovery to overcome past neglect, abuse, humiliation, betrayal or pain.
I believe there is an essential part of us that is our core and that is whole and good, it is complete and it does not really require anything outside of the self to complete it. I hear echoes of this in the Buddhist idea of bodhichitta which is a name given to that which exists beyond and beneath all the thoughts and actions and mind forms we engage with that is purely wholesome and complete, lacking in nothing. It is really only when we have the time to sit with ourselves and feel deep within in the silence that I feel we most truly touch base with this part of ourselves that knows at heart we are connected to everything. It happens when the voices of criticism and shame are silent and/or when we can answer back with love.
In this place live memories of all those souls we connected to in our lives and even if we had tough experiences with those people underneath there is a part of our soul that knows this experience was given to us for a reason, not one we chose but one that we can and do learn from if we can trust ourselves to be honest and question deeply inside. I wrote a poem about this the other day but a strange thing happened it just vaporised from WordPress. I was at the library typing it and I hit publish and it just disappeared.. very strange, it was called Eternal and was about a spiritual experience I had recently of revisiting painful relationships from my past and feeling them resolved. Oh well its gone now and its a mystery as to why.
I am presently reading Bev Aisbett’s book I Love Me. As a survivor of anxiety and panic attacks herself Beth has worked for nearly 30 years on a path of self discovery to help others, what she sees as lying at the basis of all of these disorders is actually a lack of self love, not self love of the narcissistic kind, but that which lets us know our true worth as souls and persons equal to others. When I read this kind of stuff it fills me with the understanding the self love is really the start of all love, I know it’s a kind of truism we hear a lot about but the more we can work to stay in touch with this pure essence of us which is heart centred and that means taking good care of ourselves across all levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual the more connected we feel, the less anxious and the less alone.
We are wont to condemn self love, but what we really mean to condemn is contrary to self love. It is that mixture of selfishness and self hate that permanently pursues us, that prevents us from loving others and that prohibits us from loving ourselves.
I wish you could see the light in you
I wish that you could know that you are
Worthy of love
Please remember that
Just because you are alone
And struggle on days
That does not mean you are a failure
There is so much
A single soul
Lives through in any life
And so often when we needed someone there
To hold our hand
We found ourselves alone
And we may have been told
That it was something that we did
That made everyone go away
But we also forget
That what is truly for us
Will not go past us
If we open our heart in love
To another loving soul
So don’t let your inner voices
Make you feel small or feel ashamed
Or if you do
Just be tender to that inner self who suffers
Who longs so deeply for the comfort and caress
Of your soothing embrace
Self esteem in later years has been touted as the be all and end all to good mental health and raising healthier children, but is it really, or in our focus on raising self esteem are we really teaching that the true basis of self worth, (which involves acceptance of the fact we cannot always be the biggest or ‘best’ someone) lies in becoming more outer directed and narcissistic rather than inwardly compassionate and empathetic to our own and other’s common humanity which involves a spectrum of all kinds of achievement and non achievement?
It’s a question I have been thinking about, now midway through Christine Neff’s book on self compassion. She explains how self esteem is often about feeling that our worth is based on measurable things or behaviour, rather than intrinsic sense not only of our own worthiness but of our limitations and foibles as well. If we think we need to perform in certain ways in order to raise our self esteem and be considered ‘worthy’, accepted or deserving we end up becoming quiet outwardly oriented, rather than a inwardly focused in sense of inward security. We can also become less compassionate.
In counter balance to this self compassion enables us to embrace the whole of our selves even when we may fail to reach goals or act in certain ways not associated with high self esteem. Self compassion enables us to embrace ourselves in the tough moments and surround ourselves in a blanket of care when we may feel sore or hurting.
The three foundations of self compassion, according to Neff are :
- Self kindness. A sense of being gentle with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgemental. Finding ways to self soothe and tap into what Neff calls ‘the mammalian – system’. Doing this has been proven by research to raise oxytocin levels (the hormone of love and bonding) which also raises feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness while helping us feel warmth and compassion for ourselves. In contrast habits of self-criticism have been shown to trigger the amygdala and raise our blood pressure, adrenaline and production of the stress hormone cortisol, in turn activating our fight flight brain. Self criticism also lights up different areas in our brain increasing our stress levels. Self kindness and self soothing is demonstrated by saying kind soothing things to ourselves in times of stress. This is really hard right now. I am with you. This will hurt for a while but in time the hurt will pass. It involves tuning in with awareness to how you are feeling or being triggered at that moment, what you are observing, what you are needing and what you require. When we are not being kind we ignore or dismiss these things maybe because that is what we learned to do as kids due to emotional abandonment, disconnection or neglect. Working to change inwardly critical self talk is also a huge part of this first component of self compassion.
- Recognition of our common human experience. So often in grief or depression a huge part of our suffering relates to the feeling that we are so deeply alone in this experience and so very far from human aid or care. This may on many levels be the truth of how it was for us as children in homes where there was not much emotional care or presence or if we are trapped in relationships with non empathic, abusive people. Post traumatic stress and complex PTSD can also make us feel so alone and terrified at the same time, terrified to reach out only to be hurt again. We may feel that unlike the rest of the world we are less than or not entitled to care, concern or belonging, when really the truth is that others also struggle with these same feelings as us and we are all worthy of care love and concern. Such feelings of isolation can then go along with the development of globally negative views about humanity and the state of things. While it is true that there is so much suffering in the world, the truth is that there is care and kindness too. However part of a deeply depressive non self compassionate mindset is that we are alone in this, we keep our focus only on the negative as well as those things that hurt, we fail to trust and reach out and understand our interconnectedness and in this state of mind our focus on bad feelings grows. On the other hand when we realise we are part of a wider humanity in which suffering is an intrinsic part of life we develop more radical acceptance and are more likely to take steps to improve things at the same time as being fully aware of the global nature of suffering. In reaching out to share or care we move past our disconnection or deep feelings of not belonging.
- Mindfulness In self compassion practice mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and non-judgemental acceptance of what occurs in the present moment, including our so called ‘negative’ or difficult states of mind and being. To give ourselves compassion we have to notice that we are suffering rather than be reacting to our suffering by distancing and dissociating (all of which we cannot notice when we are not being mindful). “We often fail to recognise feelings of guilt, defectiveness, sadness, loneliness, and so on, as moments of suffering that can be responded to with compassion….When your boss calls you into his office and tells you that your job performance is below par, is your first instinct to comfort yourself?… probably not.” Being conditioned to ignore our pain, according to Neff means that we are physiologically programmed to avoid it. “Because of our tendency to turn away from pain, it can become extremely difficult to turn toward our pain, to hold it, to be with it as it is. ” When we do this we shut ourselves off from our true emotions and we also lose our ability to learn at a deeper level about the deeper nature of our experience and reactions. In mindfulness we develop the ability to turn toward our pain, suffering or other bodily sensations becoming aware of them while not exaggerating them. For example, we can become aware when an emotion such as anger is occurring for us by noticing we are clenching our jaw, feeling heat rise in our body, feeling a desire to lash out. In her book Neff gives the example of a man who endured long term emotional abandonment by his mother. His therapy involved becoming aware of his acceptable anger without lashing out or acting it out in rage on his mother. With the use of mindfulness as well as the loving presence of his therapist he was able to feel and understand the basis of his anger and become attentive to what it was saying. He was also in time able to see how his mother’s abandonment was not necessarily associated with a lack of love for him but was due to her doing what she thought was necessary. He was able to share his real feelings with his mum in such a way that he expressed them, rather than depressed them and they were heard. Mindfulness was central to this process. “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” (Marcel Proust, quoted on P. 118 of Self Compassion)
Mindful ways of working with pain are shared in detail in chapter 5 of Christine Neff’s book, which I highly recommend, she also goes in to more detail about the two other basics of self compassion I have shared in this post. I have been using a lot of the self compassion practices myself lately, I used them today when I went for my yearly breast cancer follow up screen check and I was able to calm myself when the therapist left the room for a long tme leaving me alone after telling me I may have a cyst in my breast.
I do believe that self compassion in my own case is far more important to me than high self esteem. Self compassion gives me a way to be with what is occurring in love and acceptance. It helps me understand myself and others better. It is a practice I am very grateful to have found. It is a practice I want to share more about in upcoming posts.
Self compassion helps us to understand that we are lovable as we are, even if we don’t achieve big things, it teaches us that its okay not to be perfect, to mess up and make mistakes. It isn’t an excuse for bad behaviour but it is a way of allowing ourselves to soften and go more gently not only with ourselves but also with our fellow humans as we recognise how much we all struggle in the earthly sphere of life where there is often suffering and things are far from ideal and perfect. It can also encourage to keep growing and be kind in that process rather than self punishing.
Many of us have core thoughts or beliefs, often fuelled by past pain, losses, trauma or fear which run over and over like an ongoing monologue either at the level or just below the level of consciousness. We may not be fully aware of them. We may not be fully aware of where they come from. Not knowing our parents or grand parents or great grand parent’s history (about which they often remained silent) we may not realise that they actually relate back to something – a loss, trauma, illness or injury that happened in past generations. They may then fuel our lives in painful ways causing much havoc.
This blog is a continuation of earlier ones I wrote last week on the subject of ancestral healing Its something I became aware of in my own life through intuition as I learned more about past traumas on my mothers’s side of the family after I got sober in 1993. I was aware when I began to attend Al Anon after many years in AA that my addiction was a family inheritance, something passed down in some way. It wasn’t until I was given access by chance to information about my great great grandfather’s history of addiction, loss, grief and eventual abandonment that I began to join up some of the dots. That is why I was so excited to finally read Mark Wolynn’s book on ancestral pain and healing It Didn’t Start With You last week.
In an early chapter of his book, Mark tells the story of a young (19 year old man) called Jesse who at that age suddenly began to experience panic attacks which involved his body feeling covered with cold and shaking. On exploring the family history Mark found out that Jesse had an uncle who died at the age of 19 after falling down face first in the snow. Jesse at the same age of his uncle’s trauma was re-experiencing the symptoms and emotional as well as physical pain of his uncle. Once the connection to his ancestor’s pain was acknowledged and healing work was done to make a separation Jesse’s symptoms and panic attacks subsided.
The second story Mark tells of a woman who began to feel suicidal at a certain age. She would be overcome with the worst depression and say to herself “I just want to incinerate myself”. Turns out a host of her relatives had actually been gassed in the gas chambers by the Nazi’s during World War II. The family history was hidden and never spoken of but this woman carried the painful feelings of longing to die which hit around the age some of her relatives were killed.
There are too many other powerful stories of healing in Mark’s book to relate in this one post and I have a limit tonight on what I can transcribe. What I would like to address is that so often pain we carry may not only be ours. It may have roots in childhood but often the childhood relates in some way to the past of a parent or grandparent that was transferred. According to Mark if the there is a murder or other legacy of guilt in a family a later member may be urged to attone for that guilt or murder.
What is required to free ourselves from such unconscious repetition compulsions and carried ancestral trauma bonds is the ability to honour the ancestor’s pain and give the guilt or grief back to whom it belongs. To this end Mark suggests the following ways of handing back and releasing ourselves from ancestral pain so we no longer need to carry on the unhappiness, grief or guilt that didnt start with us.
Visualise the family member or members involved in the (traumatic) event. Tell them : “You are important. I will do something meaningful to honor you. I will make something good come out of this tragedy. I will live my life as fully as I can, knowing that this is what you want for me.”
Construct a personal language or healing sentences to counteract the destructive power of damaging ones. In this language acknowledge the unique connection you share with the person or people.
In addition you can use the following healing sentences :
“Instead of reliving what happened to you, I promise to live my life fully.”
“What happened to you won’t be in vain.”
“I will use what happened as a source of strength.”
“I will honor the life you gave me by doing something good with it.”
“I will do something meaningful and dedicate it to you.”
“I will not leave you out of my heart.”
“I’ll light a candle for you.”
“I’ll live my life in a loving way.”
“I will make something good come out of this tragedy.”
“Now I understand. It helps me to understand.”
Mark give additional practices in the next part of the book which involve keeping a photo and working to return guilt or pain to its original source. Lighting candles to honor the journey of our ancestors, Visualising and creating boundaries and distance between the ancestor’s or parent’s pain and keeping that boundary clear and clean while honoring their loss, pain or trauma.
Additional practices involve connecting with our own bodies to honour our integrity and self as we learn to achieve a psychic wholeness and deepening connection within. I shared one of these in an earlier post today. The involve putting a hand on our body, breathing deeply while saying the following :
“I’ve got you.”
“I’ll hold you.”
“I’ll breathe with you.”
“I’ll comfort you.”
“Whenever you’re feeling scared or overwhelmed, I won’t leave you.”
“I’ll stay with you.”
“I’ll breathe with you until you are calm.”
When we place our hands on our body and direct our words and breath inside, we support the parts of ourselves that feel most vulnerable. In doing so, we have a chance to erase or release what we experience as intolerable. Long standing feelings of discomfort can give way to feelings of expansion and well-being. As the new feelings take root, we can experience ourselves being more supported in our body.
Such ways of being with our selves and supporting our bodies provide for us a holding environment and counter act dissociation or an attempt to move away and self reject or self abandon. We may never have learned this way of coping or self soothing before but now we can. We truly can be present for us and send our own body all the love, support, comfort and healing we need for our journey of separating from old pain we should not have to carry onward.