Grateful to be alive

Even though some days living can feel crushing I am still grateful to be alive, especially on Saturdays.. In the letter Mum sent to me in 2001 that I found and read in therapy this week, she mentioned how painful the effect of my accident was on her and Dad but she said she could not have ever imagined how hard it was for me.. I think it also must have had an effect on my sister who has gone through so much, especially considering the fact that our other sister almost died, less than 6 months later and hovered for a long time in a state of suspension in a coma.. So the period of September to late February is fraught with a lot of past resonances that in terms of the spiral vortex of hidden inner life can still manage to have an impact.

There has been no word at all from my nephew about my sister.. I have not called either. I have just pulled back.. I know this may not be good but I just don’t want to do or say the ‘wrong’ thing and it is so hard to know what the ‘right’ thing is anyway and even writing those two words is pretty dualistic and black and white which is the way it can go when I get caught up on the mental level.. Maybe the truer statement is that, at this time I need all my own love and care to keep my own mental and physical health on an even keep. That is why lately just getting into my body and out of my head and negative or worrying thoughts seems essential and when trauma imprints call I just have to notice and anchor into the ‘Now’. Success with that today… I managed to stay upright after both breakfast and lunch today when the head neck lower back trauma cascade hit.. I am doing some of the vagal nerve exercises too that I found on line and that is helping me too…

My therapist thinks part of me.. a huge part did dissociate after that 1979 trauma and in 1981 I took myself away but got emotionally overwhelmed and in a difficult relationship. That is why, in 1982, when I pleaded with Dad to let me go back to my teaching degree it hit extra hard when he blocked that avenue alienating me from a lot of my good friends I had at the Canberra College of Education.. Possibly this kind of severing was a huge part of the reason why I later in life found it hard to feel like I ‘belonged’ and often took myself away or kept up a great distance from old connections. Luckily since coming back to my home town in 2011 I have been able to restores some of these..

As I see it any way so much goes silent in trauma and then gets displaced onto relationships or projections or appears as myriad mysterious bodily symptoms as well as profound push pull dynamics in attachment.. Lately I see how, as soon as I long to attach, I can fear and pull back and not being ‘got’ or seen can be a big trigger. What I began to realize only very recently is that it is not how the other person is reacting so much that is the problem but what that echoes for me of a past in terms of a flashback., when I can get a handle on that I can bring myself into present time and feel more grounded and ‘safe.’

Today maybe I felt safer in my body.. I was more self supportive and self loving when the shit hit the fan with Scott last night and this next demand for money.. I did not get that huge abandonment cascade of anxiety, I held myself and told myself I am safe.. I can cope alone and that I do not have to give away myself to be related to anyone.. I used to do that a lot. (give my self away or bury my painful feelings just to stay related). Then you get those who shame dump you or try to say you are being selfish for not doing things they need, that also can be a difficult issue to figure out for some of us with high levels of emotional confusion, alexithymia or poor ego boundaries..

Being able to manage these things does make it easier too, to want to live and feel gratitude for a life that comes with a deeper inner intuitive connection to our authentic self not so grounded or fed on toxic shame…. When we know somewhere deep down inside we are not getting what we need and are settling in order to keep the peace that can be damaging for both parties especially if we use various philosophies to deny the truth.. there seems to be a lot of that in our society.. platitudes people spout calling on some text or other that actually can derail us. What really is needed instead is for us to become even stronger in our own inner knowing as well as our connection to what others have called the higher self or loving inner parents, when those are no longer attacking us from within as much it becomes far more likely we will begin to feel more of the positive feelings in life that come with knowing our own heart, mind body and soul well and trusting that we really can and do have the answers to what helps and hurts us more under conscious control or encompassed by conscious present time awareness.

Painting ourselves as the victim : some thoughts

In childhood we are powerless over a lot of what happens to us.. John Bradshaw makes the point that a three year old child cannot pack his bags and leave home, though many of us try to do this when the frustration of it all gets too much.. Later in life we cannot always know either, what happened to us consciously, though it is my experience that our body remembers EVERYTHING. Later in life somatic memory is reliable if confusing as the messages get distorted.. Add to this the holding in and letting go. (expressing and depressing). I find sometimes I am not even aware I need to go to the toilet and Dad would often make us hold it all it on long trips, sometimes it was agonising.. He also denied when Mum was hurt and sometimes we got in trouble for being hurt for no fault of our own, or I was hurt by parental carelessness in leaving things like fishhooks lying around in sea grass matting, that time it pierced me right through the webbing of my big and second toes it was agony to get out.

A therapist once named this benign neglect. My parents did not have ill intentions though Mum flew into rages and could attack us, and then deny we were hurt… It made much sense to me when struggling in sobriety to see how I was abused when I came across the term Childhood Emotional Neglect coined by therapist Jonice Webb in her helpful book Running On Empty. I identified with all the ten symptoms of that that I have explored in other posts.

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

However on my mind today after an outburst of feeling, sorrow and regret over things happening at the end of my marriage and in a second relationship is the way we can stay as a ‘victim’ and trapped in a false sense of helplessness and powerlessness. My ‘mate’ Alex from Evolution of Self often says to me “no one wants to be the villain, only the victim” and that can be true.. Truer is we WERE VICTIMS at one time but if we take that on as an identity later in life its not only toxic but can be lethal. How can we take positive action if we feel powerless all of the time? How can we fight for our right to be if we do not develop healthy self fighting boundaries? And what if all of that was not only punished but shamed? A LOT OF RELIGION DOES THIS.. WE HAVE TO FIND A HEALTHY EGO BEFORE WE CAN SURRENDER IT IN APPROPRIATE WAYS.

In AA we are not returned to our full power all of the time though we are encouraged to do a lot of work with grandiosity or the taking on of burdens not ours.. The truth is co-dependents just naturally take on the suffering of others.. We may be conditioned to do it in childhood. Today I thought driving home from the markets of how drowning in sorrow I have been pretty much since 2001 I also saw it is not the truth of me almost like a split between these two parts of me is now becoming more obvious 27 years into trying to recover WHO MY SPIRIT ORDAINED ME TO BE…

I am not a sad person really, I am happy full of joy and exhuberance and love life.. I don’t truly fear my fellow humans but the child in me learned to fear and then never got to set GOOD BOUNDARIES or develop A HEALTHY FUNCTIONING EGO. something Spartan Life Coach, Richard Grannon deals with in this video posted a few days ago.

That ego building work is still going on for me.. With a very very strong Neptunian influence in my chart the urge to self sacrifice is often stronger.. I can take in the badness or other feelings others dump in me and then I get used to being erased and will often take on the other’s burden.. . It was hard to fight back with a feeling I had no right to. .One of the friends of my past emotionally abusive partner said to me, at the end of our on again off again 7 year relationship.. “Phil used you like a bar of soap to wash his dirty hands clean.”

But you know what? I can understand his frustration, he wanted an adult partner not a baby who was innundated and crying all the time. He liked the vital alive kick arse part of me but not my vulnerability, that said I needed to weld the two parts and everything that happened and I now see that those 7 years with him was meant to be, leading towards the call for me to become more fully embodied. We both carried hidden aspects of each other’s shadows.

I actually felt like calling Phil today.. Its coming up to so many anniversaries.. the anniversary of Mum dying, of Dad getting operated on and quickly dying after it, of Phil and I separating, of Jonathan and I returning from overseas.. and so its no wonder I still cry and cry.. I need those tears to acknowledge my truth though people are more likely to congratulate you on being strong than in falling into the wound but it TAKES COURAGE TO FALL INTO THE WOUND AND GET YOURSELF BACK OUT AGAIN.. SOME PEOPLE (INCLUDING PHIL) FIND THAT TOO HARD TO DO. So they savage others in the vulnerable place instead of acknowledging it to help the other person get back out of it. and yes WE MUST DO THE WORK BUT NOT WITHOUT HELP OR NECESSARY VALIDATION!!!

I might be someone who helps too much. I just do not know. Having given so much to help Scott I do question all of the time what that was really about, on some levels it seems unhealthy and wrong and then on another it makes sense..

The other issue though has been to do with seeing myself as a victim of my mother and sister in those difficult years after Jonathan left. I was crying today because at one time I savaged my sister via email after she tried to trounce all over me at the coast where I was taking refuge in my unintegrated pain and then I ran off overseas only to have a head injury after which in some way I tried to pin it on her treatment of me, instead of how I responded….. by running…

The last thing I want to do is paint myself as a victim, thus this post to try and work through my part in why my sister is still ill.. Does some of the blame belong to me? I am not sure, this may be me taking on something too much and the purpose of what i write here is not so much to gain an audience as it is to use this in therapy with Kat each week, while possibly opening up the inner processing to others using WordPress in this way. I just am trying to own I may have played a part in it by continuing to blame her and my Mum even as they were innocently trying to help, never able to fully take on board the pain of my CEN history.. that is all.. So here goes.. I will be happy to share this all with Kat tomorrow… and get an outside perspective.

Knowing our own value

It is so important in this life to know our own value, and it seems to me that some of us allow others to define what our value is, especially if who we are was invalidated in childhood. Highly Sensitive Person write Elaine Aron actually wrote a book called The Undervalued Self, it is about how those of us who are sensitive with high empathy are not always valued as children and go on not to value our true selves. Many of us learn to adopt a false self or persona without even realising that is what we are doing unconsciously. Finding who we really are for some of us suffering soul loss can be a long journey of reclamation.

When we allow other people to ‘make us up’ or define us, we get erased. There is an entire book written on this called Controlling People, written by Beverly Engel. Such people tell you how you feel or what you should think, do or feel, they blame you for things that are not your fault and in this way as Engel explains they are making you into a pretend person. To be on the receiving end of this hurts and is very painful and its like being shut in a cage with no key while iron filings of shrapnel are fired at your soul. Then if you get angry about it the person will mock or shame or ridicule you further offering you no reprieve and no way out. Sometimes even driving you crazy.

For those of us with deep emotional abandonment who never found a solid place of self value we may just buckle under to the confinement. We suffer Stockholm Syndrome. We need someone from outside to name the game and we have to shut the door to incorrect valuations. Losing the way to the power of our soul and authenticity hurts and we wont find peace or energy or power until we find the way back. That rests on us knowing our true self and value and fighting for it. It rests in deflecting the inaccurate criticisms and attacks of others and finding our true reference point of value within.

Getting free of my ‘bad’ self (recognising the deeper impact of trauma and childhood emotional neglect.)

I am still only beginning to understand how my own self punishment and attempts to make myself bad and shame myself for what I have endured in my life play out. The last relationship I was in was very damaging from this point of view. I was very isolated when I met him and he never really was ever able to show empathy for my PTSD symptoms which I was trying my best to manage. When the first abuse began I should have perhaps broken contact but I was at that stage very isolated and alone and hungry for connection.

My own ability to practice self care, I see now was severely limited at that stage due to childhood emotional neglect. CEN can be hidden as many of us neglected came from what, at least from the outside, may appear to be affluent ‘together’ homes, but the neglect is there due to emotional unavailability of parents and the claims made that you are loved and cared for which may be true on one level but are not always backed up bpresence and truly engaged physical and emotional support and so sufferers of CEN tend to blame themselves.. it is one of the major symptoms.

It was hard for both my parents because they had to grow up very fast both having lost their fathers, my Mum at 7 and my Dad at 12 years of age. By the time I came along they were working very hard to survive materially and beginning to get a taste of affluence. They were there but they were often missing emotionally and sometimes I was punished when I really needed support.

I was listening to a programme on teenage mental health on radio in Australia this morning and psychologists involved said the worst thing that can happen to teenagers is to be punished when they are acting out, the better thing is for them to be educated and the reason why they are acting out understood. I wasn’t acting out so much as a teenager but due to lack of parental supervision I was smoking and drinking behind their backs and in the absence of someone being present I was trying in some way to raise myself and felt often I had to put on act to show I was feeling okay and coping when the truth was I often felt insecure and confused about how to live and connect.

I still have this fiercely independent streak (or rather anti dependency streak) and I can find it hard to ask for help or know when I need support. I can tend to push back or push away or deny that I would like support, I feel on some level shame for it or that I don’t deserve it. The sad thing is that later in life when I got to begin to uncover some of my buried emotions and past in sobriety I ran again instead of getting the right help and trusting those close to me to care for me. I have only realised this lately and as a result I ended up crashing and burning. I also aborted several therapy attempts and got lost in the last abusive relationship which ended 8 years ago.

Anyway I need to remember lately that I am making good progress and turning around over 50 years of unhelpful patterns takes time. It also takes some time to see where our own defences can be operating. My therapist feels a lot of my survival defences are now melting and I really am finding new levels of compassion for myself and feeling a lot of the grief, frustration and powerlessness that underlay past anger and rage which kept deeper feelings at bay. Blaming myself or blaming others is actually I am beginning to see a way of defending against my feelings and situation instead of feeling them. Accepting that I was powerless over so much has taken some time. And knowing that I do have power to change some things even longer.

I still struggle a lot with panic attacks and overwhelm symptoms at critical times of the day. I notice what triggers them and then takes me into a down ward spiral. Once the spiral or trauma vortex starts to manifest (which on bad days can happen up to 4 or 5 times) it can be very hard to pull myself out of it and get my attention back in the ‘now’. One of the hardest things about Post Traumatic stress is this vortex pull which is centrifugal. I noticed that I had coped better on the days I actually have plans to meet someone and connect which was happening more over the past week. This week I have felt more anxious having more open time. I still need to remember I am managing well though. The tendency to be down on myself and beat myself up can still be very powerful. I wish that I was better than I am at times, but wishful thinking wont get me very far. I do still struggle a lot, maybe with my complex trauma history I always will??

An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

Reality Slap.png

Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

The soul in silence : reflections on solitude, trauma, wounding and healing

All the beautiful responses to my recent post/poem Trust in Silence have really got me thinking today of how important silence is to being able to be with and connected to depths of our soul.  When we are struggling or suffering often we can be abused by being told we need to ‘get out of our own heads’, “get off our pity pot!’, (yes readers I have heard this one many times in 12 step meetings) or that we are ‘isolating’ and at times there can be some truth to that, sometimes when we need the loving touch or support of others or look for the gifts or message in a painful experience,  but in world that find it hard to stomach or fathom certain truths, is it any wonder we learn to turn more and more towards the silence if we can, deep in that silence, find an inner source of soothing, calm and healing?

I know for myself the healing to be found in the warm of the sun, in sitting in a shady spot with doors open, Jasper at my feet just feeling the sense of connection with the moment that is awesome, magical, healing and mysterious and beyond words to fully describe (though I make stumbling attempts in poems).  Then there are the times when the silence is more like a deep dark indigo ocean that almost squashes me, I feel myself subsumed or I feel the cresting of a wave of anger or grief or sorrow that wants to rise up and sweep through me, possibly even sweep away some debris from inside, memories or feelings I buried long ago, and if I just allow myself to surrender than I can expand rather than contract in response to that and feel the beauty of having touched base with my soul.

And lets face it, for many of us who have endured depths of loss and trauma others do not, have not and could never know the depths of we are not going to find that recognition or acceptance and allowing of our process from most people and my personal feeling is that therapists also don’t always know the territory themselves.  I was told by astrologer Melanie Reinhardt 13 years ago after my last major accident which was a repeat of my near death one at age 17 that most therapists would not be able to fully understand the deeper spiritual dimensions of the wound of nearly losing my life as well as all the deeply Plutonian experiences that followed over the next 30 or so years for me.  She directed me towards the work of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron and said a soulful meditative practice would be the best therapy for me.  Sadly I got into another relationship two years later with someone who saw my need for solitude as pathological.  According to him I had agrophobia!!!!  Anyway don’t really want to go back into the relationship today, it was a learning curve for me and I got some good things out of it and deeper understanding due to all the pain we both acted out on each other.

Lately I am learning to accept and validate more my need for soulful solitude.  It is where I create from.   It is where my deepest healing happens.  I don’t feel that level of connection in may relationships in the world, in some I do.  I feel it here because I feel here other trauma survivors and people in recovery are on the same page.  Just connecting with you brings me SO MUCH HEALING.  I was blown away yesterday by the love shown to me on a really tough day, coming out of a painful and challenging week.

I wanted actually to post another Thank You blog too as I was so grateful yesterday and today to open my page and see all the comments and love on here.  As well as responses to other comments of mine where I am trying to support others going through trauma and meeting misunderstanding and woefully inadequate response to their Complex Trauma.  I really see my life purpose to be as a Wounded Healer and it is what Melanie Reinhardt teaches about in her work on Chiron.  Its really only us who have navigated the depths of trauma that fully understand and since all traumas are also different in some ways we wont understand everything as we all have our own unique journeys, but in time I want to set up some kind of site to offer help.   If my journey and suffering and losses and gains can be used to help others that is what really makes me happy, it gives me a peace and feeling of wholeness that really lays so far beyond words.

But as I read this back I am mindful too that the healing for all of us lies both in connections with others, but more paramountly through the healing that comes from connection to our deepest soul.  I feel collectively we are trying too, to heal a deep split from nature and instinct and the divine feminine.   It is hard to articulate this in a post but there is a source of power that to me is Goddess like,  I don’t find the concept of a male God as personally healing in my own journey unless I think of the Frank Lloyd Wright quote in which he says he believes in God but his God is nature.   We are part of this mystery and so is our deepest soul and many of us are on a journey now to connect more to that source both within and without in order to find peace and love after years of separation, fear or trauma.  And to recognise more deeply our essential kinship with all living beings as well as the deep silence.

 

On Immaturity and showing empathy to the Inner Child of self and others

I am getting more insight into when my inner child with her host of unresolved hopes and fears and pain is running the show lately.  My abandonment wound has been triggered a lot in the past few days and it was easier to give away my power or alternatively become the ‘bad’ one again who is ‘withholding’ than to recognise that due to discomfort I am scrambling again for attention and love when contact is cut due to someone being upset with me because I am justifiably struggling with something.

I just know when I act from my inner adult I feel a greater sense of strength and solidity within myself and that requires recognising the far younger more vulnerable part that lies hidden or covered by defences.  It can be painful when abandonment anxiety and depression strike as both create in my body and psyche so often a potent chemical cocktail that at times pushes me to the brink of available resources to contain.

Pete Walker addresses the issue of the ‘abandonment depression’  a lot in his own work and book on Complex PTSD.  Much as all as it can feel hard to be left ‘all alone’, I have heard it said that in adulthood we cannot be abandoned by someone, only left.  That said I do think there are times our emotions need to be empathised with and understood by friends, family and partners otherwise if we are judged for certain things and not empathised with, on one level we are abandoned on an emotional level.

It’s an issue Alain de Botton addresses in his wonderful book The Course of Love which tells the story of a mythical couple Rabih and Kirsten in which he delves into the host of insecurities and psychological defences that can plague a couple’s intimate relationships as it develops over a course of years.  In the book the tale of the relationship iw told in normal type face is interspersed with sections in italics in which de Botton highlights the underground issues affecting the couple.  I particularly enjoyed the following paragraphs.

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury.  We would recognise the touching paradox.  The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive : ‘Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent.  I need you to correctly guess what is ailing me, as people did (or rather failed to do) when I was a baby, when my ideas of love first formed.

We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favour when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant.  We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronising to be thought of as younger than we are, we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with – and forgive – the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know how to be a bit less clumsy, scared and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback.  The concept of education within a relationship would then lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations.  We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects, teaching and being taught (in love), calling attention to another’s faults and letting ourselves be critiqued – might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.

There is something about love and vulnerability and hidden need that can cause us to age regress and be taken back to that painful time we stood all alone longing for the attention and love that was not available due to the absence, withdrawal or inattention of others, so much needed for us to feel hold, loved, contained and seen.   Learning to hold ourselves in this state takes some considerable time for those of us with anxious and/or avoidant attachment issues.   Its a work in progress being honest with ourselves, learning to extend ourselves in empathy into another hidden world and letting the unhealed child that so longs for attention or consideration been seen, held, accepted, nurtured and loved.

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

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.

 

 

 

Fear of Insanity Narcissism and Denial of Feeling : more insights from Alexander Lowen

the experience of horror (in childhood) makes one question one’s sanity.  What one is experiencing does not make sense, it doesn’t accord with one’s image of reality which even a baby has on a biological level.  To avoid the resulting mental confusion, one must dissociate and deny all feelings.  As long as one sticks to logic, one is safe.  But feelings are life, and one cannot fully avoid emotional experiences no matter how coolly one plays it.  The narcissist faces the risk of being overwhelmed by feelings and going wild, crazy, or mad, should his defence of denial break down.  This is especially true of anger. Every narcissist is afraid of going crazy, because the potential for insanity is in his personality.  This fear reinforces the denial of feeling creating a vicious cycle.

Reading the above paragraph again in Lowen’s book today gave me more insight into my brother, who threatened to walk out on me last October when I got angry with him.  It reminded me of terrifying incidents he faced in childhood and of how my father did pretty harsh things to him as a boy as his own childhood had been similarly harsh.  I was in tears again last week after yet another conversation with my brother where we was working as hard as he could to split off all expression of emotion.  I usually leave every interaction with him crying or disturbed in some way.  Now instead of feeling angry I  just feel really sad for him as I don’t ever think he will look at the roots of his own workaholism.  Once again I shed heaps of tears after I got off the phone on Thursday.  It is not that he is an unkind person either, all time the conversation revolved around helping my sister and I to get the best interest possible on the money Mum has left us.

It is now never the less a great comfort to me to be able to say I now know I am not crazy and I know why his side of the family have sidelined me before as well as other members of my family, looking upon us with such distain and disapproval due to our emotions.  That said I am also aware of the charge of anger that I have carried which I know I inherited from my mother’s side of the family.

Collapsing into a state of helplessness may be one response to such terror or violence in childhood.  Flight or fight may be two other  responses but both the later would often be blocked by an abusive parents.  Escaping or fighting back may be shamed or made  impossible as was the case of Bill whose story Lowen covers in Chapter 7 of this book.

Bill did not feel any anger.  He denied his anger, just as he denied his fear.  Instead, he adopted an attitude of submission and attempted to understand the irrational behaviour of his father, and others,  His submission to his father may have had a lifesaving value, but almost cost him his life.  (Bill was later on nearly killed by a hitchhiker he and a friend picked up on the side of the road who began to attack them.)

Lowen explains how Bill then came to fear his own anger.

(he).. believed that if he lost his head he might kill someone.  But to lose your head is equivalent to going crazy. Bill was terrified of the potential craziness in himself as he was of the craziness of others.  When I made this interpretation to him he remarked, “Now I know why I became a psychiatrist.”

Not everyone will be able to contain their rage from such incidents, others will act it out.  Lowen tells the story of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”, serial killer who murdered 6 and wounded 7 others.

What then are the dynamics that precipitate a seemingly sane person into insane action? … there must be some subconscious force.. This force is the denied feeling of anger.  Because the anger is denied, it is not experienced, which would give he person some control over it.

Many narcissists develop an ego unconscious split in these circumstance which means at times such subconscious forces can erupt and cause havoc or be projected on others.  Such and effect is called flooding…. an overwhelming feeling or excitation which ..”(temporarily drowns us)…in the torrent of sensation.  Imagine a river overflowing its banks and sweeping across the surrounding country side.  In a similar way the gush of feeling wipes out normal boundaries of the self, making it difficult for the person to distinguish between inner and outer reality.  Reality becomes confused and nebulous….. (there is a sense of) nothing solid to cling on to.  The person feels ‘at sea,’ estranged.

Such estrangement is not dissimilar to dissociation although Lowen compares it to disorientation.   The flooding of something we held down can make us dizzy, it may erase normal consciousness for a time.  It may well be what we experience in a panic attack (repressed or split off lively life energy or anger).  We can also be overwhelmed by pleasant sensations and if our sense of happiness or joy was also supressed or shamed in childhood we can begin to get fearful of insanity when we start to feel energised or even happy.

In the bioenergetic therapy Lowen used feelings which have been repressed or shut down are helped to liberate by the therapist who assists in the process so flooding and disorientation is not as intense as it would be if we were misunderstood or unsupported in the process.

The problem is that those damaged in childhood continue to carry split off emotions such as anger and sadness into adulthood, we may even attract relationships with others who act them out for us or vice versa, one partner can then pretend they are okay, it’s just their partner that is the problem.

Lowen points out in his book Narcissism : Denial of the True Self the connection between being called ‘mad’ (as in insane) when one is actually angry.

To say a person is mad may mean that person is either crazy or angry.  What this tells us is that anger is not an acceptable emotion.  Children are taught very early on to curb their anger; often they are punished if, in the course of an angry reaction, they hurt someone.  Disputes, they are admonished should be settled amicably and with words.  The ideal is to have reason prevail over action.

But conflicts can not always be settled amicably, with reasoning.   Tempers may flare.  I don’t mean one has to resort to physical violence to express an angry feeling.  Anger can be expressed in a look or by the tone of one;s voice.  Once can assert with feeling.  “I am angry with you.”  Some situations do call for the physical expression of anger.  If violence is used on you it may be appropriate to fight back.  Without the right to strike when one is hit, one feels powerless and humiliated.  We have seen what that can do to the personality.

I strongly believe that if children were allowed to voice their anger at their parent’s whenever they felt they had a legitimate grievance, we would see far fewer narcissistic personalities.  Giving a child this right would allow a real respect for the child’s feelings.

Lowen goes on to site an experience of watching a Japanese woman being hit by her daughter in anger.  He explains how in Japan a child is never disciplined before the age of 6 because they are regarded to be innocent  and such children don’t end up disrespectful or misbehaving.  However when the right of angry expression is denied a child it has an adverse impact and then there are the parents who cannot express their own anger with a child in a healthy way and use punishment instead.  Lowen doesn’t negate the need for discipline, only the use of power and control in the face of a child the parent does not have a healthy way of relating to and helping to develop emotionally.

Such repression of anger in a person in childhood means anger stays present in the person’s system much later in life.  In his bioenergetic therapy Lowen helps patient to discharge repressed anger so that it does not stay trapped inside.  However as he points out, the fear of ones anger and belief it will prove one is insane is a difficulty that many narcissistically injured person’s face on the path to healing.

For narcissists to know themselves, they have to acknowledge their fear of insanity and to sense the murderous rage inside that they identify with insanity.  But they can only do this if the therapist is aware of those elements and is not afraid of them.  I find it helpful to point out to my patients that what they believe is insane – namely, their anger – is in fact sense if they can accept it.  In contrast, their behaviour without feeling, which they regard as sane,is really crazy.

The behaviour without feeling that Lowen mentions here in fact leads to the growing or development of what he calls a thick skin, a protective defensive layer which will allow no real feeling for self or others in those with a narcissistic defence,

such denial is achieved by deadening the surface to stimuli, its effect is to rigidify the ego.  … the result is a diminishing of the ego’s capacity to respond emotionally to reality or to change reality in line with one’s feelings.. the ego’s safety lies in a deadened body, with little emotion.  Yet this very deadening creates a hunger for sensation, leading to the hedonism typical of a narcissistic culture.

But true feeling is then increasingly hidden behind a façade and the building charge of need and hidden feeling is defended against.  Thus addictions come to play a role in diverting attention from the truth.

By contrast those who develop a borderline defence to such negation actually become excessively thin skinned, unable to throw off hurts lodged deep inside from the past often from unfeeling narcissists.  Their work is to understand the source of pain and not project it onto the present, understanding how deeply its roots lie hidden in an often unconscious past.