Who ARE we really? The lost feeling self and it’s role in suicidal ideation.

Just re reading through key chapters in Jonice Webb’s book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, Running on Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect  is reminding me of this question and how hard it can be to answer fully and honestly if we were not fully allowed to express ourselves or unfold ourselves and our feelings in our family of origin.

In the chapter Cognitive Secrets : The Special Problem of Suicidal Feelings, Jonice outlines the story of Robyn who becomes suicidal after what seems to be a ‘fun’ night with friends.  What is not seen by her friends though or expressed by Robyn is her real and true self.  As Jonice describes Robyn’s childhood she describes a loving family who did not allow any displays of so called ‘negative’ emotions  :

Robyn’s parents seldom argued and they had very low tolerance for negativity of any kind  When a conflict would break out between the children, as they do with all siblings, the parents would crack down by sending all parties to their rooms immediately (no matter what the fight was about).. their motto was “Zero Tolerance”. They also applied this role to complaining or any expression of unhappiness, sadness or frustration.   The result was a quiet household.  The children learned early on that if they had something negative on their minds, they had better keep it to themselves.  Mom and Dad refused to be burdened by nonsense.. they didn’t have the time or energy to put into solving crises, assuaging tears and soothing frustrations  The Zero Tolerance policy allowed them to stay in charge of the household and they felt, keep a positive outlook on life.

Outside the house the siblings did fight and argue, however.  The older siblings could work with this conflict, contain the emotions and felt freed by it, but Robyn who was a sensitive child did not.  She was labelled a ‘Frequent Crier ‘ by the family, due to her tendency to burst into tears and was of course teased about being like this and if the tears continued too long she was,( of course), sent to her room (alone!).  Great solution, Mum and Dad!!!

Throughout all of this Robyn learned a powerful lesson.  She learned that negative emotion was bad and would not be tolerated.  She learned that any feelings she had that were not upbeat, fun or positive must be kept to herself and carefully hidden.  She felt ashamed that she had such feelings, and silently vowed never to let them be seen.  (to such an extent that she even hid them from herself!)

Robyn learned to withdraw, to stay busy and diverted, watch too much television or over work and to fight off any ‘negative’ feelings.

Robyn didn’t just fight this battle.  She lived it.  Her life was organised around making sure that she did not reveal, see, know or feel anything negative from herself.  It took a tremendous amount of energy.  She was bent on hiding the negative shameful part of herself (Robyn’s version of the Fatal Flaw most neglected kid hide deep inside)…..she couldn’t let anyone get to know her too well.

Robyn learned to live alone, to not invite friends around.  She hid even her intense loneliness about this from herself and struggled because she knew her parents loved her, so why would she be struggling so much if she was not fatally flawed?

Since adolescence, Robyn had an outside looking in feeling. At age 13, she had started wondering what was wrong with her.  She’d had a great childhood, so there was no explanation for how flawed she felt.  There was something missing something sick inside of her, a secret void.  The only way she could soothe herself was to imagine being dead.  Being dead would be such a relief  She did not have any intention to kill herself, but she reserved the possibility as a safety net…..Robyn used fantasies of being dead and her secret knowledge of her safety net as her chief method of soothing herself from age 13, all through her adulthood, but she had not breathed a word of it to a single soul.

Jonice goes on to describe how this fantasy and desire was, however, triggered after the night in question Robyn had shared with friends…. how feelings of numbness, emptiness and gloom suddenly began to over take and consume Robyn…As her desperation increased after failed attempts to distract herself with television comedy failed, Robyn reached for the bottle of pills and swallowed them compulsively.

Robyn’s suicide attempt and feelings would most likely make so sense to anyone who knew her because as Jonice explains “the Robyn that everyone else knew and loved was not the real Robyn… She was essentially a time bomb, set to explode periodically”.

Robyn was luckily found by her sister who happened to drop by that day…but many who feel and suffer the way that Robyn did are not so lucky….”they don’t get to share or understand their pain, and they don’t get to explain their final moments to anyone.”  They also never really get to know, love or understand their real feelings or true self.

When I first read this chapter in Webb’s book last year I identified with it so strongly.  I have not ever committed suicide though often I had cherished that fantasy too.  Luckily I got a sense years into sobriety that more was going on underneath my addiction that just ‘defects of character’.  Soul sadness, soul loneliness as therapist Tara Brach points out in her book True Refuge are primary feelings that drive us when we come to mistakenly believe “there is something wrong with me”, the fatal flaw which is symptom seven in Jonice Webb’s list of effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

So many of us who suffer urgently need to understand it’s roots if we really are ever to recover our true sense of self which contains all kinds of feelings in response to a life which we didn’t choose and is so often influenced by all kinds of toxic, negating and restrictive influences beyond our control.

(For a full list of all 10 symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect please see the following post or read Jonice Webb’s book.)

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

Understanding alexithymia and building emotional depth if you were emotionally neglected.

I have written several detailed posts on Childhood Emotional Neglect.  One of the painful symptoms is alexithymia which is a complex name for a condition in which you are often out of touch with your deepest feelings.  As a result you may often feel confused, irritable or angry for seemingly ‘no’ reason, mystified by the behaviour of others.  You may also feel like something is missing inside of you, have friendships which lack depth and substance, including the ability to share and feel comfortable with expressing feelings.  You may also suffer from suicidal feelings and not really know the where they come from.

This kind of thing dates back to a childhood where you were emotionally neglected, left alone a lot of the time without a lot of support or attention in contrast to being violently or overtly abused or led to believe it was not okay to express difficult emotions such as anger or sadness.  Such scars and deficits left run deep and are invisible and even mystifying to yourself, since you were given next to no help with understanding your feelings, led to believe they don’t make any sense or should be ignored, over-ridden or put to one side.

In her book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, therapist Jonice Webb addresses the issue of trying to heal from this kind of thing through developing emotional intelligence and insight into your feelings but another important skill to learn is sharing how you do feel with others while taking the risk that it just might lead to abandonment.

Taking this kind of risk runs exactly contrary to what those of us who have been emotionally neglected or forced out of touch with our feelings have been forced to do if there was no one there to tell or depend in childhood.  Instead we learn to be super independent, feel we should not ‘bother’ others or be a ‘downer’ or a ‘burden’ to others.  But in an emotionally healthy relationship its okay to express and share feelings as this builds intimacy, connection and emotional depth.

In addition, if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect we may feel that we are all ‘too much’, especially if we learn to substitute larger more dramatic emotions and blows ups for the balanced expression of true semotion which we probably never learned or saw modelled in our family of origins growing up.  Jonice recommends in her book that instead we seek out those who are trustworthy as far as feelings are concerned, are willing to listen, support and understand.  Futhermore, she recommends taking risks to :

tell (others) your problem to see if it does help you to manage your feelings  in order to test out :

if they are used against you,

if the person runs away,

is burdened by it,

accuses you of ruining their day/night

or gives you the feeling that you are ‘weak’ or that there is something wrong with you for feeling that way…

These kind of reactions according to Jonice are signs that this particular person is not really the best kind of friend for us in the circumstances, that they may actually be like an unsupportive parent and therefore not healthy to be around long term if we really wish to build greater depth and emotional rapport which are so essential to those of us who were emotionally neglected in childhood.

Further more, in terms of understanding the symptom of alexithymia versus emotional awareness which we need to develop as we recover, Jonice points out that the following treatment by parents in childhood is often behind our disconnection from feeling and our emotional life.

  1. The parent doesn’t pay attention to the child’s feelings.
  2. The parent doesn’t make an effort to feel what their child is feeling
  3. The parent doesn’t help the child to find and form words for what they are feeling.
  4. The parent doesn’t help the child to draw connections between what has happened to them and how they are feeling in reaction or guilts or shames then for such a reaction.
  5. The parent does not make emotions an important part of nurturing the child.

If this is the way your parents raised you, then it’s no wonder you developed alexithymia as a result.  It will take time and a lot of help in recovery to help you learn not only to differentiate your feelings and make sense of them but trust yourself in expressing then to others.   Without this capacity your emotional life will suffer as a result.

human beings are designed to feel emotion.  When that design is short circuited, first by emotionally neglectful parents and later by the child himself as an adult it throws off the entire system….the human psyche malfunctions when emotions are pushed out of it… emptiness or numbness is worse than pain.  Many people have told me they would prefer feeling anything to (feeling) nothing.  It is very difficult to acknoweldge, makes sense of, or put into words soemthing that is absent.  If you do succed in putting emptiness into words to try to explain it to another person,, it’s very difficult for others to understand it.  Emptiness seems like nothing to most people.  And it is nothing, neither bad or good.  But in the case of a human being’s internal functioning, nothing is definately something.  Emptiness is actually a feeling in and of itself.  And I have discovered that it is a feeling that can be very intense and powerful  In fact, it has the power to drive people to do things to escape it…….

And as Jonice goes onto explain this kind of emptiness leads not only to suicidal feelings but to an attempt to control or hide from the feeling by supresssing the truth of it, denying, avoiding, detaching altogether from human life and relationships.  People with alexithymia suffer in silence, they question the value and meaning of their lives and indulge in escape fantasies and addictions as a result.

To understand emotions better I recommend checking out these past two posts that I wrote a while back taken from the healing work of Dr Jonice Webb.

https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/43134

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/learning-to-express-your-feelings-effectively/

I would also highly recommend getting a hold of her book or checking out her website.  In order to live complete fulfilling lives, it is so important we work to become more aware of our emotions and their messages.

(All quotes taken from Running On Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect)

 

 

Heaven on earth

Kundalini.jpg

This power that lives in your spine

It is a serpent and it will rise

Do not believe the ancient myth

That says he was the evil one

Instead remember him as bringer of truth and power

So long exiled

By the patriarchial world

Running half crazed

In fear of the feminine

The viper inside

That rises

When innocence is transgressed

Will be the freedom fighter

Who comes with the sword

To liberate you from your prison of

Bad Don’t Ought and Should

He will not let you be a slave

To domination

By the captor

Who demands the price of your soul

Through acquiesence

The reptilian brain was always given to us to trust

And serve

It brings a sword that must marry with mind

And use to cut away

From those who would ensnare our souls

In their paralysing traps

This power is the bringer of a light

That cannot be denied

That can inform the human side

Which turns dark and cold and heavy

When light and love and power are lost

True instinct

You are the force that takes us home

And that has the strength to realise

Full embodiment of our spirit in flesh

Heaven on Earth

Understanding self absorbed behaviors

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

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

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

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

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

 

Little seed

Little seed

Little seed

It looks like you are nothing

But you are a powerhouse of energy

All wrapped up inside the coating of containment

Planted in uncertain ground

What is it that you will receive

To help you unlock potentials you hold deep inside?

Will you find the right soil

The necessary nutriments and sunshine?

Will you be gazed upon with eyes of love

Or eyes of disintrest or fear?

Little seed in nature

You never become other than who you are

In potentia

Let us remember we too were once seeds

And even now we can decide

Which seeds to nurture

Which seeds to water

We can trust that in time

And with the right conditions

Our souls too will bloom

Out of what seems like barren ground

Tender shoots will burst forth

And grow

If we can just discover and express

Our authenticity

And even if the essence of our tears

Is what is called for

To make new life blossom

Don’t be afraid to let them flow

This all a part of how we

Heal, nurture and grow

To bloom as the precious beings

That we really are

Deep inside

Softening

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

Bessel van der Kolk

Pain and abuse or trauma can make us harden and contract.  Some of us erect steely defences, we fight or we may take flight.  Others of us just collapse in a big heap with our insides spewing out all over the metaphorical floor.  In any case pain, abuse or trauma can and does change us and fosters in us certain reactions.

I had the thought as I awoke early today to a soft morning after gentle rain had fallen (which was like nature mirroring my inner world as last night when I wrote about tears as the gentle rain, the skies were clear. But isn’t our grief just like this?  It comes in shower, storm or a wave and washes us through.)   The thought I had was that my soul is often in grieving for my false or fighting self that had to push through all the pain and trauma alone.  My therapist and I were talking about how the inner critic forms yesterday in the vacuum left by a parent’s lack of availability or as a way to please and how it then becomes unconsciously melded to us, until we do the inner work of uncovery and recovery.  We wouldn’t survive without this push to bring us through.  Many collapse in depression or inward turned anger and take their lives or end up with such a compromised auto immune system that all kinds of diseases can result.  Last night I was reading a post of someone who endured two terrible losses and ended up with fibromyalgia due to the complex feelings she struggled to express, process and understand.

I have always been a great believer in the soul which I see as a kind of deeply authentic internal witness that knows all about us.  I was drawn to the work of Carl Jung and Jungian therapists such as Thomas Moore, Robert Johnson, James Hillman and Marion Woodman in my early sobriety because they spoke of the importance of this soul and how its symptoms are cries for healing that may sometimes fall on the deaf ears of our false self who had to turn away or compromise.

I remember a few months back when I was beginning to open up to a lot of grief in therapy, Kat my therapist, said to me so wisely : “these are the tears of your true self.”  At the age of 54 trauma and my own defences have stolen from me so many life opportunities .  As I look back at past relationships I also see how I blame myself for wounds I was not conscious of.  My emotional hunger made me bond with inappropriate people far too early.  My emotional neglect meant I did not have strategies of self care.  And when I was in rampant addiction there was really no real me to show up to protect or be truely intimate even though my soul longed for this deep intimacy.

What I have realised is that for me to ever find such a form of intimacy, it is going to need to come from my own soul first.  After years of validation I needed my current therapist so desperately but I cannot tell you the amount of times my inner saboteur, critic and nay sayer has tried to get me to abort this last therapy.  I wonder why a part of me would fight something that helps me so much.

Anyway this morning I woke up soft.  I woke up just before dawn.  I made sure not to contract my muscles and to try to breathe deep into my belly as part of my pattern of trauma involves unconsciously holding my breathe.   I was trapped in the car in 1979 for a long time and had to be cut out.  I had a collapsed lung so it was hard to breathe and they were behind me trying to put on a mask.   I held my breathe in my family to put my own needs back and try to revolve around Mum to be seen.  I tried so hard to do everythign right.  Yesterday as I was crying with Kat in therapy I heard a deep inner voice say : “you better get everything right and perfect, or there will be hell to pay.”  Part of my own defence and ancestral defence is to try to make order out of chaos.  I know often in adult children of alcoholics meetings I would hear how this reaction was a response to the chaos of a parent’s addiction.  In our family the addiction was my great great grandfather’s,  My grandmother and mother carried both the trauma imprints and reactive imprints.  With my Neptune in Scorpio in the third house I know it is my fate to bring awareness to all of this so I can free myself but first I have to see it and realise that maybe such deep rooted patterns are not always easy to change.  I need to have patience with myself and practice self compassion while still trying to set limits and boundaries of self care so I am not driven all the time by the emptiness of my childhood neglect.  Only self care will help in this situation.  A false self develops as a survival strategy and it takes time to release it.  I am engaged on this process.

I have a lovely book on the soul by Deepak Chopra that he wrote as a response to the 9/11 attacks called The Deeper Wound : Recovering The Soul From Fear and Suffering that I rediscovered earlier this year.  In it there are 100 poweruful meditations with a core saying to help us get in touch with our souls, that soft wise inner part of us that just sees and knows beyond all the fears, insecurities and strategies of the false self or wounded ego.

I am making a practice of letting these meditations soak in as a kind of healing balm when I am forced to push or fight something it may be better to open up and surrender to.  I don’t doubt my soul knows what is required to embrace my fractures.  I just have to trust and stay open and soft enough to let that healing in while staying strong and setting boundaries for good self care.

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.

Separating : birthing : integrating

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Its such a tough journey to finally get to the point where we have to let our families go in order to birth the true life and connections that exist outside of its circumscribed limits.  Therapy and emotional healing is a process of both coming to terms with and integrating all of the formative experiences of our past, as well as the deeper hurts and injuries that happened to us in our family of origin.   Many of us battle for a long time against accepting harsh realties most especially if we were wounded or suffered developmental arrests and lost access to our True Self within over many years.  Abandonment gives us no way of accessing the truth of the lost self except through pain which is challenging to feel and integrate, especially in a society where pain is seen as a pathology or illness to be medicated instead of mined for wisdom, growth, connection and meaning.

In my own case a developmental arrest occurred at 17 when I should have been on the brink of opening up and launching.  I was cut down by an accident and then in the 6 years that followed the following traumas occurred : the cerebral bleed, coma and eventual psychosis of my older sister, her eventual abandonment and suicide attempt, two terminations of pregnancy and then my father’s death from cancer.  After my boyfriend broke the relationship off with me just a few weeks after my father died and cancelled our plans to meet abroad, something I had been working and saving towards for over 18 months my mother then decided it was best to push me overseas all alone.

How I was meant to cope with everything I had suffered to that point God only knows. And the truth is its deeper suffering was not even begun to be felt by me for about 14 more years.  I call those the years of unconscious descent, as 7 of them involved active addiction and the next 7 were just spent in AA meetings where it was really not possible to address the extent of my damage.   In 1999 I made my first attempt at therapy and here it is 18 years later and I only feel that I have now done the majority of my conscious descent, which had involved a lot of therapy and broken therapies in order to find the right help.

I only now feel that I am beginning to separate from my family emotionally.  The paradox is that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the suffering fully, in fact I feel it means I feel it at the deepest level as I have chosen not to self medicate as much as possible.  At times I have been very close to suicide, most especially in the past 6 years spent back here in my home town.  I beat myself up all the time about how I didn’t have the courage to move away and deal with it from a distance.  Maybe it was partly the illusion of the inner child pulling me back making me believe that in some way I would get what I wanted emotionally or at least be able to address the pain with family.  That illusion has caused me a lot of emotional suffering and has cost me years and the pain over all that lost life honestly on some days nearly drives me to want to take my life.  It is taking a long time for adult me to emerge and front up, and face the death of those old longings which I see now are not realistic and never were really.  There is a lot of grieving to be done in the shedding and the letting go and fear I am becoming aware does accompany the conscious descent that is asked of us.  In fact I read many years ago that poet Robert Bly spoke of how depression is a refusal on some level often to surrender to deeper grief work.  Only through it do we reunite with the lost child in side who holds so much of our power and inner gold, although often when we find him or her, he or she is most often covered in soot and ashes, this unparented one who is often also a part of our parents’ unconscious.

Anyway I am certainly not alone in facing this kind of pain in midlife.  My journey is made more complex due to two near death traumas which pulled me back when I was on the brink of what should have been a blossoming and emerging or burgeoning time.  My studies suffered in the years following my first accident as I also struggled with the terrible impact of witnessing what my older sister went through.  I was forced by my father at that point into a career I hated and it wasn’t until just before I got sober that I tried to break out of that but addiction wouldn’t let me move too far forward and at that time even more traumas and losses had piled on top of the original ones.

I eventually did manage to do some training in wholistic therapies and managed to secure myself a few jobs in an industry that was more to my liking but I hadn’t yet done my inner work, instead I chose to escape into marriage.   In those years I got sober and started then to really explore my interest in astrology and in 2001 managed to achieve a dream to study at the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London which I aborted when my older sister who was now in a care home hit the wall. I also started serious therapy in 1999 in the UK but mid way through I had a powerful dream that an dark African woman had given birth to a baby who died just after its first birthday.  About a year and a half into therapy I aborted to come back home.  In the dream the deep sad eyes of the woman shone as she told me it was a necessary death.

And so it has been.  Death and more death followed.  The ending of marriage, another accident and then another, another relationship and the failing of that and my eventual return to the roots of my home and then a new start in therapy, the suicide attempt of my other sister, five hospitalisations for her for depression which I tried to give emotional support through and then the death of my older sister in 2014 and reconnection with my nephews her sons who were like my long lost brothers.

Wiser energy comes now on a spring afternoon where shadows begin to fall telling me it was all a part of the journey. Why beat myself up?  Will I ever fully leave my family behind?  They were the womb I was born out of but not the place that I am meant to end up but individuation is a journey and its not an easy birth to go through it all and in so many ways my own life is both a continuation of my ancestors life as well as a working out of issues and burdens and tasks they perhaps never got to complete fully which call to me from deep within intercellular tissue, at least that is how it feels for me. Even the ones I never met call to me and I feel their pain and deeper longing to be known and recognised, no longer so lost, exiled or forgotten, fallen deep down into the collective unconscious ocean like stones.  Possibly all configured by my natal Neptune in the third trine to Chiron in Pisces in the seventh more than I could ever fully express in words here.

So much to navigate and not all of it artificial imagining I am sure.  So I continue on some days weighed down so deep by a burden I never chose, but then on other days rising again with a new energy and power that has come from facing and surrendering myself body and soul to the deepest darkness.  So much is a mystery that is all I know.  So many unseen forces play out for us and we can never fully hope to solve the puzzle with our minds but if we still enough at times we hear the inner voice or call telling us things.  Our personal and ancestral soul trying so hard to make its authentic individual voice and inner purpose known.

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Yes – we have an epidemic of depression

Yes, we have an epidemic of depression in our society today.  But truthfully, how could anyone today on some level not be sad?  The gap between how beautiful life can be and the way it too often is is heartbreaking. Anyone who is not on some level grieving the state of the world today is perhaps not looking very deeply.

We are depressed today because life is off. We’re depressed because too often we have no sense of our place in the universe, our relationship to the source of existence, a deeper sense of purpose in our relationships with other human beings, or any sense of reverence toward any aspect of life.  Our entire civilisation is ruled more by fear than by love.

Marianne Williamson

From Tears to Truimph

I am sharing this quote because so often in our society being depressed can be looked on as a moral failing or weakness but the deeper truth that I experience is that so often those who are depressed are those who can have a vision that is more closely in touch with the depths of a soul that suffered.  Pathologising people for depression is such a serious issue and we need to change it.

Undergoing abuse or despair or loss or abandonment leaves real scars on the soul and these are trying to make their expression heard in depression, so we need to listen with empathy to people’s real heartbreak and support them with feeling and expressing it.

I know I go on about this issue a lot on my blog but I feel very strongly about it and today I was triggered again to write this as a family member shared with me a horrific abuse she went through which she shared with her parents only not to be believed years ago.  I cannot share what it was on my blog as it is a private issue for her but I was so outraged when I heard what she had suffered and she has had a number of hospitalisations as a result.  If she had been supported, believed and empathised with at the time and her trauma dealt with she would never have had to be diagnosed with a  so called ‘mental illness’.

Turns out now certain teachers at her school are now trying to imply her son should be diagnosed with a speech impediment or with Asperger’s, she has also been told that he is ‘too caring’.  What the fucking hell is happening in our society?  Anyone who does not meet the mainstream, anyone who is sensitive or carrying certain different ways of being or processing information is then wacked with a diagnosis?  It is just pure craziness and makes me feel ill, it really truly does.

I felt so angry with my brother yesterday after finding out what he put my niece through all of those years ago.  I felt so ashamed that he is my brother but it now makes a lot of sense of how numbed out he is and apparently he has not one memory of his childhood.  It makes clear to me that we can only have empathy if we are connected to our own emotional reality and have a connection to our heart, feelings, pain, joy and happiness.   Of course we all live in separate skins and our experiences vary so often we cannot see things from another perspective, but to imply then that someone is lying or making something up, due to the fact it may rock our own view on things without making the effort to reach out and extend our minds and hearts in openness to me seems wrong.

This morning I have been thinking about what it comes to mean and how it affects us if we are not truly seen in childhood.  I opened my Hope for Today reader and read this reading a few moments ago :

Before Al Anon I had a false sense of self.  Because of their diseases my alcoholic father and mother who grew up in an alcoholic home couldn’t see themselves clearly.  They weren’t able to help me either.  As I grew up I sensed that my parents couldn’t see me at all.  I felt invisible and voiceless  I had no idea of my likes and dislikes, let alone what I would or would not accept in a relationship.  I felt empty inside.  When there did seem to be something inside me it felt like someone else’s experience.

The reading goes onto explain how slowly the person began to recover a sense of themselves by working through the steps of and learning about who they truly were inside.  About how doing so enabled them to throw off the criticism of their father and the feeling they were given by their mother that they were nothing but a burden.  By seeing themselves no longer through someone else’s eyes but through their own they slowly began to reclaim a sense of self.

It seems to me that the most important work of recovery lies in the inward journey of becoming more conscious of who we are and what we really feel independent of outside influence of what parents, education or society tries to tell us we are or should be.    Keeping our focus on our own heart is so important, as is recognising the value and meaning of our instinctive reactions to things, lest we be hoodwinked or bamboozled by others who in being damaged themselves try to force us away from certain responses or reactions.  The integrity of our soul when compromised in this way causes us so much confusion and unrest.

Luckily for my niece she understands her parents damage, not having essential needs met though has caused deep loneliness and suffering for her.  Through out it all, over years she has learned to rely on herself, but that self reliance at times has left her so alone.  Our lives have similar themes.   Her own suffering has made her wise.   Wise enough now not to take on the advice of psychologists recommending she have her son tested so to be diagnosed and labelled.  In this increasingly insane society it seems to me we need to keep our wits about us lest we fall for much of the clap trap that is being espoused.  We have to be strong and rely on the guidance of our deepest souls so as not to be bamboozled or led astray and if we were not seen and validated in childhood we need to address and heal that wound so that we no longer surrender ourselves to false outside definitions which keep us in locked in prison.

Desperately Sore

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Today my throat is desperately sore and raw, not from cold, not from flu, but from the pain buried deep, deep down inside that’s coming to the surface with having to have my tooth out but that is just the iceberg, the cold hard thing that has buried underneath it countless blackness and desperately sad memories of painful times and it doesn’t help to wake to a freezing house which is impossible to really warm on the minus 3 mornings.  I am reminded I had an option to move somewhere warm but that would have involved losses of things I loved here, so I’m not going to beat myself up and say I made the wrong decision.

This morning instead I have been working to honour the deep sadness and pain I have deep inside and really listen to my true self when she tells me how hard it was, because as I write this and before while I stayed in bed late keep warm I was aware of how often I have been dismissed and my pain minimised.  How often I may have been told it is not real.  Realising this I can decide to treat myself differently today, in gentle loving soothing way.  There is always something loving and positive I can do for myself.  I don’t have to follow on with words of inner condemnation and shame.

Today my therapist is away too and that is hard as I finally need to see the dentist who will take my tooth out, possibly next week.  A part of me is struggling and doesn’t want it out, its another bloody procedure but I have to face up and get through it.  It isn’t the end of the world but its also another loss so I have to walk a fine line between self compassion and self care which means doing what I have to do to take care of my health.

An empty house full of stuff in the mornings triggers negative thoughts for me right away however I got a little book out of the library on panic attacks yesterday written by a psychologist who recovered from her own panic attacks.  It is written in cartoon form and gives some really positive suggestions about how not to let critical inner voices win.   In the mornings alone on the dark grey days I am more susceptible to being captured by the negative voices.  As the writer Bev Aisbett describes this inner force it really is a downer that wants to paint everything black and heavy and I need to keep being conscious of what it is up to, so as not to be captured!

I also realised there is an other trigger for tomorrow as friends have asked me over for dinner but I have painful memories associated with the times we had most to do with each other in the years after my father died when I was in a bad way inwardly and drinking too much.   Tomorrow night I need to come clean and talk some things through with them, as I know they have changed and matured more now and they are aware I really struggled at that time, everyone in that immediate circle was abusing alcohol or drugs at the time and they don’t do that now.

Despite the fact I know I feel a lot better when I get up and get myself moving about, today I stayed in bed until just before 10 am.   I am aware its okay not to have rules and regulations my inner critic uses to keep me stuck or locked up inside, at times I need more rest and this week has been busier with getting my car fixed, but I also know the happiness that comes for me when I can embrace a day when I connect with someone or something outside of myself.

I don’t have a lot that is really positive at the moment to offer in my blog.   I am finding that my poetry has dried up somewhat.   I look on others blogs and see that mine has just puttered along, followers come and go and the precious few who stay over time mean so much to me, but I will probably never achieve the kind of popularity I see on other blogs and that is okay.   Do I really have to be popular?    In I just need to be myself  and express as honestly as I can.  I don’t have a lot of great life achievements to share in my blog, I just live a quiet life with my dog and try to look for the positive but can at times get very consumed with the negative and with the old ghosts that try to haunt me.

When winter comes and I see how over the years instead of reaching outwards I have so often isolated myself it gets painful on some days.  And then I feel that on the contrary side the inner life is really what is most important and cannot always be shared with others.  We never really know who others truly are and how they suffer inside.  One of the good things about blogging is that fellow writers share from that place which makes real honest connection all the more possible.

Writing takes me out of myself and it has worked this morning. I will do what I can to bring some love into my day.  I need to keep reaching to build a better life while keeping the connection of self compassion strong to myself deep inside so that I can comfort myself on the tough days and build myself up rather than let my inner critic tear me down.  When I show myself that softness and love the harshness melts within me as I realise how hard on myself I have been in the past and realise I can work to change that if I stay awake and aware.

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