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.

 

 

 

Being kind and patient with ourselves

Sadly in our society so few of us learn to be kind and soft towards ourselves.  We may equate this with an attitude that won’t help us to get far or achieve our goals but if we suffer from a remorseless inner critic that won’t let up (most common to suffers of PTSD and Complex PTSD or childhood trauma), its going to be harder to reach any goals anyway.

Sadly some of us were not encouraged in our childhood, we may have been shamed or blamed.  We may have learned to pretend or to put on masks, we may never have been rewarded for authenticity.  In my own childhood I was stomped on many times, or just left alone and ignored and in adulthood I have learned holding onto resentment about it isn’t going to help and if I don’t change that same internalised attitude of being too critical of myself or others I am not going to get far, in fact my perfectionism will make me too weak to even start.

So it was with a smile I read the following reading from Tian Dayton last night about patience.  Patience may be a disregarded or maligned quality in modern society but if it’s well done patience can get us much further and bring our closer to our dreams.  The following reading is about self love too and today I am sharing it as the Sun starts to move through critical Virgo and we are drawn toward noticing the earthly practical dimensions of our experience and how far we have come or not come, let’s be kind to ourselves.

Patience

Today I will be patient with myself.  When I do not do as well as I wish I would I will not make that a reason to get down on myself.  I will instead recognise that the fastest way to bring myself out of a painful funk is through understanding and being good to myself.  I get caught in my own cycle of shame, resentment and blame.  If a child is upset,  I comfort it because I understand that that is what will make things better.  Calling a child names will increase its hurt and shame.  I will not call myself names either.  Rather, I will show love and patience in every way I can.

I am patient with myself.  

Patience accomplishes its object, while hurry speeds to its ruin.

Sa’di

Undermined reality and fear of intimacy : Insights into loving an Adult Child

There is nothing worse for  a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes.  Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive).   We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath.  For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder.  IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.

There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately.  Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves.  Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection.   The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships.  As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds.  Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.

Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked.  It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.

Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.

  1. Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity.  They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
  2. Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist.  They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
  3. Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
  4. Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
  5. Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos.  High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
  6. Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment.  They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up.  They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
  7. Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families.  This is unrealistic but its very true for them.   So how could you love them when they are so bad?
  8. Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable.  They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault.  They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
  9. Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others.  Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
  10. Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history.  It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”.  Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.

 

How the inner critic hinders grieving (and anger)

Buried

The greatest hindrance to effective grieving is typically the inner critic.  When the critic is especially toxic, grieving may be counter productive and contraindicated in early recovery.  Those who were repeatedly pathologised and punished for emoting in childhood may experience grieving as exacerbating their flashbacks rather than relieving them.

I have worked with numerous survivors whose tears immediately triggered them into toxic shame.  Their own potentially soothing tears elicited terrible self attacks.  “I’m so pathetic! No wonder nobody can stand me!”  “God, I’m so unlovable when I snivel like this!” “I f@ckup then make myself more of a loser by whining about it!”  “What good is crying for yourself – it only makes you weaker!”

This later response is particularly ironic, for once grieving is protected from the critic, nothing can restore a person’s inner strength and coping capacity like a good cry.  I have defused active suicidality on dozens of occasions by simply eliciting the suffering person’s tears.

Angering can also immediately trigger the survivor into toxic shame.   This is often true of instances when there is only an angry thought or fantasy.  Dysfunctional parents, typically reserve their worst punishments for a child’s anger.  This then traps the child’s anger inside.

In the dysfunctional family however, the traumatising parent soon eradicates the child’s capacity to emote.  The child becomes afraid and ashamed of her own tears and anger.  Tears get shut off and anger gets trapped inside and is eventually turned against the self as self attack, self hate, self disgust and self rejection.  Self hate is the most grievous reenactment of parental abandonment…

Over time anger becomes fuel for the critic.. creating an increasingly dangerous internal environment. Anything the survivor says, thinks, feels, imagines or wishes for is subjected to an intimidating inner attack.

When we greet our own tears with self acceptance, crying awakens our developmentally arrested instinct of self compassion.  Once we establish self compassion through consistent and repeated practice, it becomes the cornerstone of an increasing self esteem.  When an attitude of self compassion becomes habitual, it can instantly antidote the self abandonment that so characterises a flashback.

(copywrite) Pete Walker : extracts from : Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

The power of a kind word

KInd word.jpg

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.

National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence

Tomorrow, March 16th has been designated a national day of action against bullying and violence here in Australia.  Young people subjected to bullying often find it difficult to speak up and awareness is being raised as featured on tonight’s episode of The Project, here in Australia to encourage young people to find their voice and come forward to report bullying and find support as soon as it happens.

Tonight several famous Australian personalities came out to advocate about speaking up against all bullying despite fear, despite embarrassment, despite shame.  Featured was heartbreaking footage of the parents and sister of young Dolly Everett who took her life by suicide recently after being bullied.  Before dying she sketched the following drawing :

speak

Dolly’s parents are asking for support… They wish to raise funds by creating a foundation Dolly’s Dream….. the links to their Facebook page can be found via the Anti-Bullying Foundation website link below.

https://www.antibullyingcrusader.com/campaigns/dollys-dream-foundation

No young person should have to struggle with this alone.   Beautiful young souls are dying.  We must do all we can to raise awareness and make sure this stops.   Please help where you can to support this important cause and let young people know they are not alone and can speak up.

Dolly

Sadness for the lost child

Child 5.jpg

I think it is a real sign of growth when we can weep for the child in us who never got to fully live, who often had to be buried or hidden deep inside or who was forced to don a disguise of coats of shame or soot and ashes to survive the invalidating, unfacilitating environment of childhood.  Images of this soot covered slave or servant child appear in the book Leaving My Father’s House by therapist Marion Woodman.  In it, along side stories from several of her client’s lives and psychological recovery stories, she shares a psychological interpretation of the fairy tale of Allerleirauh a young girl who running in flight from her family becomes a servant girl to the King, cooking in his kitchen a number of different soups.

In time in the course of this fairytale she attracts the King’s attention and dons three different dresses, the final one being made of Stars.  This is an allusion to how in the course of our psychological work to recover the child covered in soot and ashes we also reclaim and begin to fully live and express our inner radiance and being, that sense of true self that just could not live in our family of origin, was buried, covered in neglect or shame or nearly destroyed over time by internalised, killing voices.

I know that when I feel and shed tears for the years of living covered in soot and ash I have expereince ever since I was a young adolsecence at times I have felt like I could not possibly cry to the depths of it.  However, over time, the undeniable emotional truth becomes very apparent and real – all that we lost, all the ways in which we suffered and were dismisse, all the anger we felt but were not allowed to express.  With the tears shed in grieving we are, in some way, washing away the soot and emerging clearer and cleaner.   We cannot make up for those lost years, ever. But we can emerge into our true radiance if we just trust that we have depths of goldenness and star stuff inside just longing to burst forth, to ‘be’, to express in this life.

When we can fully feel it all through, and that includes our terror, rage, sadness, shame and anger, we will feel buried inside all of those feelings the truth of our spirit which longed over all those years for our recognition, realisation and championing.  We must feel all of these feelings most fully in a body that may have been neglected or filled with shame, for are these not also feelings which will lead us to realise the inner love that our body and soul longs for: a feeling of the fully conscious feminine deep inside of us both man and woman, girl and boy.   The suffering we buried in our body is felt and released as we nurture the spirit, soul child we know ourselves to be most fully from within.

Conscious femininity is living the redeemed body of Eve, regardless of the gender of the human being.  This body is conscious of itself as an intelligent instrument, a living system that actively participates in the divine unfoldment of planetary life.  While finding the harmony of its own natural laws of being, it is at the same time finding the harmony with all forms of life on Earth… Conscious flesh knows that its function (when fully awakened) is the consciousness of this Earth.

We are not separate from the Earth and our inner child knows this, as does our vital lived spirit.  We must do all we can to fully express this truest part of our being.

(Quote taken from : Redeeming Eve’s Body by Mary Hamilton : in Leaving My Father’s House : A Journey Toward Conscious Femininity, by Marion Woodman)

Building and Fortifying the Self : Strategies for dealing with negative thoughts from being raised by self absorbed parents

This is a continuation of recent posts on narcissism, narcissistic injury and boundary building.  It contains information and extracts from Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed.  This part of her book contains suggestions for dealing with the difficulties we face when we never got to develop high self esteem or healthy emotional boundaries.  It give techniques to cope when we may be faced with the difficult parent in order to self protect in a healthy way.

Building your self means that you develop empathy, creativity, inspiration, and relationships or connections.  Doing so will enable you to let go of old grudges and resentments, have sufficient psychological boundary strength to lessen emotional susceptibility and judge what feelings are yours alone, uncontaminated with other’s feelings; and better cope with your triggered feelings that are aroused in interactions with your self absorbed parent.

Block and Control Your Feelings

These are strategies that can allow you to be calm with being blamed or criticised, demeaned, devalued, and the like so that you can think and act more constructively.  The feelings are still there but can become less intense, which then makes them easier to put aside for the moment.

Blocking your emotions requires the following :

  • An awareness of what you are experiencing, including the intensity of the feelings.
  • A desire to avoid revealing or acting on these feelings (never a good idea with the narcissist.)
  • A personal strategy of momentarily dissociating from the feeling.  Complete dissociation is not recommended, as this can produce or increase cutting off or distancing yourself from your feelings in all parts of your life.  What could be helpful is a statement to yourself that you’ll get back to the feelings when you are in a safer place.
  • Using thoughts as expression rather than feelings.  Thoughts are cognitive and easier to handle that are feelings, and you want to be in control for the time being.

..suppose your prent has made a demeaning comment about your appearance, and you feel yourself becoming angry.  Instead of staying with the anger and firing back at the parent or letting the anger move you to shame for disappointing the parent, it is at this point where you can mentally say that you don’t want to act out of anger.  You’re going to choose to push the anger away and not let your parent know that the comment really angered you so you decide to make a noncommittal response, such as “Really?  I’ll need to pay better attention next time.  ” You can also ignore the comment, change the topic or make pleasant comment about the parent’s appearance.  Any of these can defuse the situation.

Use Self Affirmations

Instead of getting caught up in intense negative emotions triggered by your self absorbed parent, you can moderate and counteract these with self affirmations.  It can be important to remember that your triggered feelings are impacted when, on some level, you are buying into your parent’s perception of you and fear that these have some validity.   You may also find yourself in trouble with you are still engaged in the magical fantasy that your parent will change, or when you’re feeling powerless to get your needs met.  Self affirmations remind you of your strengths and positive characteristics so that you don’t get mired in thoughts and feelings about your real or imagined flaws.

On a sheet of paper list 10 to 12 things you consider to be your accomplishments, such as holding a job, overcoming an illness or condition, rearing children etc.  Next to each, list all the personality characteristics associated with it.  Review the list and compile another that incorporates personality characteristics that are repeated two or more times.  On top of an index card write “I am” followed by the list of characteristics.  Read this card once a week until you can effortlessly recall the items when you are experiencing intense negative emotions, such as triggered by your self absorbed parent.

Choose What to Feel 

You may find it difficult to accept, but you do have choices about what to feel  It may appear to you that your feelings just emerge and that you have no control but you do have the ability to decide what to feel, especially when you understand the roots of your feelings and have resolved some of your family of origin issues and past unfinished business.  The negative feelings that you did not choose are triggered because of old parental messages that continue to affect your thoughts about the adequacy and acceptability of yourself, thus setting off guilt and shame.  These messages also impact your perceptions of your competency, efficacy, and lovability; your unconscious fears of abandonment or destruction; and your needs for liking and approval of the parent that are still lacking.

Don’t get the idea that you should experience feelings like shame.  It can be growth enhancing to realise and accept your flaws, as long as there is also resolve and opportunity to address these.  What we’re talking about here is preventing your self absorbed parent from setting your agenda for what you will feel, especially in interactions with him (or her).

Interruput Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Another strategy is to interrupt your negative thoughts yourself.  These can included self criticism and blame, negative feelings such as shame and anger, and unrealistic ideas about yourself, such as the need for perfection.  This strategy works best when you not only interrupt negative thoughts, but also substitute more positive thoughts, feelings and ideas.  When you are able to avoid having these negatives and can insert more positives, you become better able to tolerate interactions with your self absorbed parent and will not be as vulnerable to getting mired in enduring and unpleasant thoughts and feelings about yourself.  Using the self affirmations about your good qualities (shared in an earlier post) can also help.

  • become aware of when you are experiencing negatives (eg feeling inadequate and flawed)
  • practice interruption and substitution
  • notice “should” or “ought” statements   (eg I should not let this get to me) These are unproductive and unhelpful
  • next substitute a positive self affirmation or self statement,

You may also want to remind yourself of the following :

  • Others will not change because I want them to change.
  • I do not have control over others’ feelings, thoughts, and ideas
  • I don’t have to fear being abandoned or destroyed, as I can take care of myself.
  • I am independent, and others are too.
  • When I think, feel, or imagine negatives about my self, that confirm my self absorbed parent’s perceptions.
  • I have flaws and faults, as everyone does, but I am working to correct them.
  • I have many positive attributes.

Practicing these when alone can pay off and slowly they will become more integrated.

Remember What’s Real

Use your self talk to remind yourself of what is real and what is fantasy.  The line between these can become blurred, especially when intense emotions are involved.  Your negative feelings are easier to control when you can introduce some realism and not get caught up in fantasy.  Try answering the following questions to get some idea of how fantasy interferes with reality.

  • Is it realistic to expect your parent to see your hurt and try to make amends?
  • Can your parent admit mistakes or accept his errors?  If not, how realistic is it to point these out or to try to correct his misperceptions?
  • Have you ever experienced empathy from your parent, and why do you expect it now?

All of these thoughts exhibit the yearning you have for the fantasised loving and empathic parent.  Your longings are keeping the fantasy alive, contributing to your distress, and preventing you from mobilising your resources to remain centred and grounded.  These untapped inner resources could prevent you from being hurt any further.

 

 

 

On Shame and vulnerability

I am half way through Brene Brown`s wonderful book Daring Greatly : How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  It is resonating with me so deeply and making me so much more aware how defences against shame and vulnerability underlie so many of our challenges in life.

When I got sober in 1993 I was introduced to the work of John Bradshaw.  For those of you who dont know John is a recovering alcoholic who was one of the first to address the issue of toxic shame in his book Healing the Shame That Binds You.  Some of the most enlightening points in that book concerned so called religious addiction and poisonous pedagogy​ Inherent to both is the idea that who we are is intrinsically flawed and that the only way we can over come this flawed condition is to seek perfection or correction of the beastly, sinful parts of us.  While it is true that we do develop flaws and vulnerabilities growing up, associating such with toxic shame leaves a lasting legacy and burden it can be hard to get out from under.   Shame concerns the feeling that who we are is flawed.  We loose a sense that who we are is actually good at the core and then we learn to engage in all kinds of behaviours where we learn to try to either deflect the hot shame potato to others or deflect the blows of projected shame coming at as.  Some of us who become scapegoat or shame identified take on the mantle of shameful one and seek to attone in all kinds of ways.

In order to deflect shame Brene explains we respond in one of three ways :

  1. We move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets;
  2. We move toward by seeking to appease and please;
  3. We move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive and by using shame to fight shame…..

According to Brene all of these defences actually move us away from connection both with ourselves and others.  They lead us to disconnect from our deny or bury the true source of shame which lies within.

The alternative (which is not very attractive to some) is to keep our heart open when we may feel the hot shame potato being lobbed at us.  This is what happens with bullies or critics when they seek to attack us or bring us down (often projecting their own shadow onto us).  We need a deeper understanding of the other person`s defences against experiencing and taking on board their own shame.   This takes a of work most especially if as children we were shamed for feeling natural feelings (this leads to what John Bradshaw calls shame bound feelings.)

I know I most certainly entered the rooms of Alcoholic’s Anonymous just under 24 years ago all of my feelings were bound in shame.  I had gone through so much in my life and like Brene learned to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.  I did not know anything about shame.  I did not understand how much it had been a part of my life post particularly having gone through a Catholic education and in this way I fared even better than my two sisters who went to school during the 1950s and 1960s.

As I read Brene`s book I am becoming also very aware of how even years into recovery shame played a huge part in the last dysfunctional relationships I entered.  By that stage I had so much to grieve and had aborted several therapies.   I did not have any form of trust in people and in my family I watched grief being buried or deflected.  I was aware at that point that grief work was a big part of recovery, but I was not aware that the energetic lively self that got buried was also wearing a huge overcoat of shame as I carried a fear if I ever got too happy things would decombust.

Now I see how much shame and fear of vulnerablity ruled my own life, I am also developing a lot more compassion for others, most especially members of my family.  If we get raised never feeling good enough we do begin to adopt some of the armouring defences Brene discusses in Chapter 4 of her book.  We feel scared of risking expressing who we really are and can begin to put on masks.  In my own case from early days on in AA I was committed to taking the mask down.  I heard deeply with my heart as others shared of their own feelings of being exiles and aliens in a strange world and I cried so much at meetings hearing these stories.  Eventually I moved away from meetings to pursue therapy in the UK after my husband and I moved there in my 6th year of sobriety.  Understanding the roots of shame and vulnerability has been a far longer journey.

Today I was listening to the breakfast programme on our national radio station in Australia where the sexual abuse case against producer Harvey Weinstein was being discussed.  The commentators where saying how the revelations of those abused by Weinstein were awakening revelations of abuse for many women and how some of these women were being publically shamed by men on social media.  Oh, I thought, here goes the hot shame potato again.  Why is it so hard for us to have compassion for a person`s vulnerability?   (Often because those people judging and defending have not one clue of what it feels like to be violated in such a way.)  It saddened me while I also realised this is really just human nature, the sad state we find ourselves in collectively at present.

In my own life I am very glad that over time I have been able to open up my vulnerability.  That said opening up my vulnerability to shame bound or defended persons was not only not helpful, but down right damaging.  In that last relationship I was shut out and shamed so often for genuinely expressing my feelings.  It took me so long to understand that the partner I had chosen was so defended because his own pain was so huge and his own fear of vulnerability and his true feelings so powerful.

Today I can be honest most of the time.  I still engage in a lot of perfection seeking behaviours around my home which as so deep rooted I despair sometimes of ever fully overcoming them but I always draw comfort from the AA idea that we seek progress rather than perfection.   Perfection is an ideal perhaps never to be fully realised.  That said I keep striving for wholeness, to take on board my own shadow and defences a d olf fears against opening up and being emotional vulnerability.   It is a work in progress and along the way I am so so grateful for those people such as John Bradshaw and Brene Brown who are engaged in working to unmask and enlighten the powerful role shame and perfectionism play in our lives and world presently.   What a gift to have this knowledge and understanding.

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.