On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially.  This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility.  To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within.  As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.

With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues.  This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing.   The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.

We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over.  Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”.  Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body.  It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.

Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds.  We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.

In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame.  If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things.   Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.

That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process.  It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over.  If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it.  We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.

Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame.  As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents.  If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage.  I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships.  Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot.   I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.

It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath.  Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation.   Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life.    I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22.   From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.

I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy.   It is with me every morning when I wake up.  The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.

Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices)  we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament.  It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone,  Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse.   I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.

If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN.  No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever.  If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT.  As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT.  If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person.  Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.

 

 

 

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

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In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

Mark Epstein on ego and primitive feelings (The Trauma of Everyday Life)

The problem with the ego, according to Mr. Epstein, is that it wants so badly to know.

“The ego comes into being when we’re two or three or four years old,” he said, “just feeling our own separateness and how difficult it is to navigate the external pressures from parents and teachers, and the internal pressures of one’s biology, one’s drives and so on. The ego wants security and stability and coherence. It’s rooted in the intellect, so it tells stories. It fastens on to the first stories that start to make sense, both positive and negative.”

We then incessantly repeat these stories to ourselves “under our breath,” as Mr. Epstein writes in (his)

new book. The classic stubborn story dealt with in therapy, he said, can be summarized in four words:

“The problem is me.”

And the low self-esteem reinforced by such stories “is as much ego as the puffed-up, ‘I’m the best,’ competitive, American way we ordinarily think of the ego.”

(Mark Epstien is a American based psychiatrist, therapist and author in practice in New York who draws on Buddhist philosophy his three books which I highly recommend are Open To Desire, The Trauma of Everyday Life and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart as well as many others).

Dialogues with my inner critic

I have been trying to use active imagination with the force of the inner critic inside me lately.  For those who dont know active imagination is a way we can dialogue with an inner psychic force inside us, Robert Johnson Jungian therapist addresses it in his book Inner Work but my talks with the critic were also inspiresed by another book called Freedom from your Inner Critic : A Self Therapy Approcach.  

One of the things my inner critic does is drive me hard.  As a child growing up we were not allowed to play or have fun until all our chores were done.  A friend in later years said it was like coming to a military operation in our home.  We had to iron our own school uniforms, polish our shoes and clean our rooms I also learned to run around after my mother who would get herself in a state of apoplexy at any sign of mess.  In later years when my older sister was in the care home for acquired brain injury she would laugh uproarously about an incident at a farm when Mum got chicken shit on her shoe.

It was a bit mean come to think of it for as an emotionally neglected child my mother had no one at all there for her.  Her father died when she was 7, her own mother had no war pension and had to work afternoons, evenings and mornings just the times she should have been home for her daughter.  Mum got her own dinner, she made own breakfast, got herself ready for school (where she was abused and punished and used to clean the Nun’s chapel or stood in the corner for not doing home work COME ON!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!)  Those were harsh times during the 1930’s coming out of the depression years and First World War into the intense climate of the Second during which she met my Dad.

Dad was the oldest of a fatherless family too, fleeing Holland just prior to German occupation in 1938.  He was hell bent on becoming a millionaire.  My godfather, his best friend told me this when I got into addiction recovery in 1993-1996.  We had many chats because my father died when I was 22 and I never knew his history over which he remained quite silent like many of his generation.

Anyway back to my inner critic who I call Mr A and my therapist calls The Annihilator.  He often wont let me rest and the other morning when he was off on a rant I just gave him a hug in my active imagination then I put an ice pack on his head.  It was a while until he calmed down but I got a good insight into what lay beneath just as when one time I stopped my Mum mid flight in an OCD cleaning spree to hug her and she also burst into tears!!!

I have been grieving a lot more since this incident.  The self punishing voices are still there but I am able to bring them out and ‘unblend’ from them (a term used in the second bood mentioned above.)  My child inner often gets tormented by Mr A he blames her for everything, including a host of things that never in a million years could be her fault.  But of course this is what happens to those of us emotionally neglected in childhood.  But we can take back control over these inner forces if our desire to love and seek the truth is stronger than our possession by them, if we are willing to do the inner work to make them more conscious.

As Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss point out in the second book our Critic is so often hostile to our Inner Child but we can learn to change this by self compassion and in the process our compassion for the wounds of those who abused us also grows.  We know they were hurting and did the best they knew, even if it was in no way good enough, we are on an evolutionary trajectory in regards to that carried or inherited trauma.

Enough

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?

The power of a kind word

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I love it when the Dalai Lama says if he has a religion, it is kindness.  I know the power of a kind word to uplift me, as well as others  when we are going through a hard time.  Just think of the power of negative words and nastiness, the power they have to destroy lives, like the life of Dolly Everett who took her life a while ago due to bullying?  She is one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were destroyed not only by the unkind words of others but through the lack of power of her own positive inner voice of love to sustain her enough to make her want her to keep living.

That said I do feel that if you are a sensitive individual witnessing or being subject to a lot of violence or emotional violence can have the most devastating of impacts and looking at the state of a world or a school yard or a work place where darker forces of unkindness and cruelty exist, even if subtly hidden can become far too much…… That is why I would never ever say someone is selfish for taking their own life.  How can we really know what goes on deep inside another person’s, mind, heart and body really? How can we know what they have witnessed or lived through?  How do we know what self torturing reality they may have to live with inside their own mind on any day?  How do we know how they were spoken to or treated when open and vulnerable?

As a sensitive person I was subjected to a lot of teasing in my family.. Some teasing can be an attempt at fun but some teasing can involve subtle puts downs as well as the annihilation of another person’s being and reality….Just such a case was something demonstrated on my recent post on rejected feelings and suicidal ideation in the life of Robyn, a fragile young woman therapist Jonice Webb treated for childhood emotional neglect.

The meaning of the word ‘sarcasm’ comes from the Latin ‘to tear flesh’ this is how it feels to be subjected to verbal or emotional abuse, literally as if you have no skin or the one you have is being torn off of you.   The looks of disgust you receive when you react to such abuse emotionally brings even more shame and humiliation down upon you, to the point you feel you have no right to exist or to respond in a genuine way.  Its like tearing claws off a young lion cub.

Later in life we can work to become aware of the impact of unkind or invalidating reactions or things said to us in childhood or adolescence, but we will have to work hard if we have become a scapegoat identified person.. because in some families this is what may happen to the one who tries to point out truths or has valid reactions to the inherent unfairness or unkindness of an abusive family system.  You will need to do a lot of work with your own inner voices as well as the cultural ones so as to not absorb them or keep them rooted down deep inside.

This blog is also a plea for consciousness around the power of the way we use words.  Are we using them to hurt or heal?  Are we using them to dismiss or build up and self soothe, self nourish and protect? Are we using them to assert a boundary in a kind and loving way with others?     A simple “it is not okay to talk to me like that” can suffice.   Or “I am not going to stay here while you put me down.”

And let us also remember the power of a kind word to sustain and nurture others.  By all means we don’t want to use this in a false or sucking up way, but when we can speak with the voice of love and kindness, not only to others but also to ourselves we will be in a much stronger position to deflect those unkind words that when laying claim to a wounded soul can cause much further corrosion and damage.

The antidote to our inner critic

The inner critic in some of us is such a powerful force, some call it the negative super ego.  My feeling also is that the more we have been hurt by others or life in the past, the stronger our inner critic becomes as really when you understand its function it is trying to protect you.  I learned this while reading the book Freedom From Your Inner Critic earlier in the year.

In my own case I was raised in a house with an OCD mother who had perfection as a defence.  So I equate needing to be perfect and in control with being loved and I know when I got sober I came to understand the huge part toxic shame had played in my own journey.   I could be messy in my addiction and so called ‘out of control’ which was really about part of my repressive self and shadow wanting to break free  but not in any kind of balanced way.

Of course shame and vulnerability are so closely linked and I  also learned to hide and fear in my young years in the absence of care. I was not protected in any way in the course of growing up and was also left alone a lot.  That is what one therapist I saw called benign neglect and I understood a lot more about that too when I read another book Running on Empty : Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect in which the author Jonice Webb outlines so clearly the consequences of such neglect which include :

  1. Feelings of emptiness
  2. Counter dependence
  3. Unrealistic Self Appraisal
  4. No Compassion for Self, Plenty for Others
  5. Guilt and Shame : What is Wrong With Me
  6. Self directed anger : Self Blame
  7. The Fatal Flaw (If People Really Know Me They Won’t Like Me)
  8. Difficulty Nurturing Self and Others
  9. Poor Self Discipline
  10. Alexithymia : Poor Awareness and Understanding of Emotions

As I view this list again is obvious how for each of the 10 points the inner critic can come in to blame and shame us.  For example if we have no compassion for self, we tend to criticise ourselves all the time and with no true compassion for self or understanding of our emotions we give ourselves a hard time for feeling or acting as we do and also for our wounds which were not really our fault in the first place but now have at responsibility to understand feel and heal.

The antidote to the inner critic is to become more realistic in our self appraisal.  To understand the nature of our wounds while not using them as an excuse to blame ourselves or stop us from growing in positive self discipline.  Permissive parenting combined with emotional neglect means we tend to become addictive and don’t know how to nurture ourselves by setting healthy limits on say food or alcohol or drugs as well as using them to mask our pain.  We may be the ‘spoilt’ child who really was so damaged and longing for love, attention and care that was needed but just never available in the emotionally necessary way.

I just opened my daily reader to the following reading and it was with the purpose of sharing it that I opened up this page to write.  I felt that it was a powerful antidote for the hard time I so often give myself on the tough days, those days when I am not even conscious of the inner critic working away inside to reduce me to a pile of ash.  I just felt the need to share it. None of us deserves blame or shame from others or from ourselves on this healing pathway.  God knows its hard enough.  So lets work to learn how to be more honest, fair and loving to ourselves as we do the hard work of emotional recovery.

Learning from Life

There are no ‘buts’ today.  I am where I am, others are where they are, life is what it is.  I will not parenthesize my life growth with a ‘but’, or hold back my forward moving spirit with second guesses.  For today, I am living with things as they are.  I am exactly where I am meant to be, learning what I need to learn.  All I need to do is move through situations with willingness to learn and openness to feel.  When feelings are brought up, I can accept them as what is happening within me – no need to resist and analyse them.  Transformation will happen in the moving through and acceptance of what’s happening right now.  I trust that my life is unfolding in such a way that what I need to become aware of, will reveal itself to me.  I am willing to learn.

I see meaning in my day to day life

The meaning is there even as we become aware of ways we are limited or have fallen short.   Some things the critic has to say may be helpful to help us move forward but we have to be careful when the inner critic is running a perfectionistic monologue that is not helping us to embrace our vulnerable humanity.