On compulsive repetition in the life of Rimbaud : Alice Miller

The following quote is taken from Alice Miller’s book The Body Never Lies :  The Lingering Affects of Childhood Trauma in which she addressed the subject of repressed childhood trauma.   Miller has written many books and they include biographical details from the lives of famous adults abused in childhood who then either re-enacted that abuse whole sale (Hilter and Sadam Hussein for example) becoming perpetrators in later life or decended into addiction or repression, many taking their own lives in the process (Virginina Woolf).   In the following extract which I found on Goodreads she addresses the life of the poet Rimbaud whose entire journey was a quest to seek the lost sustenance of a loving emotionally available mother.

“To salvage the genuine love he was deprived of in childhood, Rimbaud turned to the idea of love embodied in Christian charity and in understanding and compassion for others. He set out to give others what he himself had never received. He tried to understand his friend and to help Verlaine understand himself, but the repressed emotions from his childhood repeatedly interfered with this attempt. He sought redemption in Christian charity, but his implacably perspicacious intelligence would allow him no self-deception. Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very early age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. He experienced himself as a monster, his homosexuality as a vice (this was easy to do given Victorian attitudes toward homosexuality), his despair as a sin. But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinately shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her. Rimbaud’s biography is a telling instance of how the body cannot but seek desperately for the early nourishment it has been denied. Rimbaud was driven to assuage a deficiency, a hunger that could never be stilled. His drug addiction, his compulsive travels, and his friendship with Verlaine can be interpreted not merely as attempts to flee from his mother, but also as a quest for the nourishment she had withheld from him. As his internal reality inevitably remained unconscious, Rimbaud’s life was marked by compulsive repetition.”

The following quote also expresses how we may try to compensate for the love and emotional availability we never attained.   Miller explains that it is only when our body knows the emotional truth has been understood that we can find release from what she calls the lingering effects of cruel parenting or emotional neglect.

“In his famous novel Fateless, the Hungarian writer and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész describes his arrival at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was fifteen years old at the time, and he tells us in great detail how he attempted to interpret the many grotesque and appalling things he encountered on his arrival there as something positive and favorable for him. Otherwise he would not have survived his own mortal fear. Probably every child who has suffered abuse must assume an attitude like this in order to survive. These children reinterpret their perceptions in a desperate attempt to see as good and beneficial things that outside observers would immediately classify as crimes. Children have no choice. They must repress their true feelings if they have no “helping witness” to turn to and are helplessly exposed to their persecutors. Later, as adults lucky enough to encounter “enlightened witnesses,” they do have a choice. Then they can admit the truth, their truth; they can stop pitying and “understanding” their persecutors, stop trying to feel their unsustainable, disassociated emotions, and roundly denounce the things that have been done to them. This step brings immense relief for the body. It no longer has to forcibly remind the adult self of the tragic history it went through as a child. Once the adult self has decided to find out the whole truth about itself, the body feels understood, respected, and protected. ”

“But it is one thing to complain about one’s parents deeds and quite another to take the facts of the matter fully and completely seriously. The latter course arouses the infant’s fear of punishment. Accordingly, many prefer to leave their earliest perceptions in a state of repression, to avoid looking the truth in the face, to extenuate their parents’ deeds, and to reconcile themselves with the idea of forgiveness. But this attitude merely serves to perpetuate the futile expectations we have entertained since our childhood. ”

The following extract pertains to the life of Virginia Wolfe who took her life on 28 March, 1941.  Miller addresses in her book the repressed trauma and abuse she suffered and that Miller beleives contributed to her suicide.

“Can we say that she had no courage? No, we can’t; she showed more courage than most people in denouncing lies, but her family could not come to terms with such honesty. This is not surprising. The little girl continued to live in an adult woman’s body, fearing her molesting half-brothers and her beloved parents, who remained silent. Had she been able to listen to her body, the true Virginia would certainly have spoken up. In order to do so, however, she needed someone to say to her: “Open your eyes! They didn’t protect you when you were in danger of losing your health and your mind, and now they refuse to see what has been done to you. How can you love them so much after all that?” No one offered that kind of support. Nor can anyone stand up to that kind of abuse alone, not even Virginia Woolf. ”

Miller consistently makes the point of how essential validation of early abuse is for survivors to get free of suffering and their symptoms.   We need someone who can support us and believes what bodies and souls knew most deeply was true,  without this support and belief so many lose the fight or remain endlessly trapped on the hamster wheel of repetition compulsion.

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.

 

The final 3 strategies for overcoming the effects of self absorbed or emotionally unavailable parents.

This is the final installment which follows on from two earlier posts on the header subject and contains exerpts that come from Chapter 6 of Nina Brown’s book Children of the Self Absorbed : A Grown Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents.

Change of Pace

(We can) become so stuck in one or more routines that (we) limit (ourselves) from expanding (our) horizons, meeting new people or challenges, learning and developing (our) resources and talents, and limiting our choices.  Thus, (we) place restraints on (ourselves) and limit (our) personal growth and development in some ways.  An occasional change of pace can energize (us) and (our) thoughts in many ways, enrich (our) inner self, and provide for wonder and beauty in (our) life.

This is not to say that (we) should disrupt (our) life and do away with (our) routines.  Such routines are beneficial.  For example, I do my writing in the morning, shortly after I wake up.  I first read the paper and have a cup of coffee.  After that I pick up my pad and pen and begin to write. You want to maintain your constructive routines.

A change of pace is not a major disruption, it is doing something different on a trial basis to see if it is right for you, energizing in some way, or has other positive outcomes.  It can be almost anything that is different from your usual routine.

Mindfulness

Becoming mindful teaches our valuable concentration that can help you stay focused on what is truly important in your life.  This  can be very helpful to you in interactions with your self absorbed parent, where your heightened emotional state can be distracting, even disabling.  Once you get distracted or lost, you’re left with the same old feelings.

Mindfulness is done with conscious thought and intention.   You expand your awareness in the moment and notice, appreciate, and even sometimes savour what you are experiencing.  This awareness allows you to notice things you didn’t notice before, being something into clearer focus, sort through confusing stimuli and zoom in on important aspects, reduce some anxiety, and help you feel more in control.  For example, lets suppose after by becoming more mindful you notice and experience the following with your self absorbed parent :

  • Your parent is saying the usual hurtful things, but you are not confused about why he is doing this and are able to see the fear your parent has of becoming old and no longer in control.
  • The words used by your parent seem meaningless and inaccurate and, although designed to hurt you, are bouncing off you like ball bearings bouncing off a wall.
  • You are able to discern your parent’s anxiety without taking it on or even feeling that you must fix it.
  • You are becoming aware that a role shift is in process, and that your parent is fighting but is also consciously unaware of it.
  • You leave the interaction less upset and stressed than usual.

Mindfulness allows you both to expand and contract.  You expand your awareness and contract your focus.  Practice the following exercise as many times as you possibly can throughout your day.  It doesn’t take long to do it, but you can do it as long as you wish.

Developing Mindfulness

Procedure:  This excercise can be done sitting, standing, reclining, walking and so on.  However it is best to be alone in a quiet place.

  1. Empty your mind.
  2. Don’t fight intrusive thoughts.
  3. Concentrate on your breathing and how this makes you feel.  Try to slow your breath.
  4. Become aware of your body, its tense spots, and its pleasurable spots.
  5. Focus on what you are experiencing, doing and feeling.  Stay with that and expand your awareness of sensations – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.
  6. Notice colors, shapes, forms, sounds, and how your body feels.
  7. Continue your expansion as long as you wish.

Reduce your Self Absorption

This suggestion is the basis for entire books on narcissism, but we’ll only touch on the subject in his book  The major premise for this suggestion is that sef absorbed behavior and attitudes are not constructive or helpful.  It is important to remember that, just as your self absorbed parent cannot see his (or her) undeveloped narcissism, you are unaware of behaviors and attitudes you have that are reflective of undeveloped narcissism.  Your undeveloped narcissism can do the following:

  • Prevent you from detoxifying yourself.
  • Inhibit you from developing sufficient boundary strength.
  • Keep you in a position where you can be easily wounded.
  • Interfere with developing and maintaining meaningful and satisfying relationships.
  • Get in the way of your reaching out and connecting to others.
  • Keep you in a defensive state all of the time.

Be aware that (reducing self absorption) is a life long endeavour and that you are mostly unaware of your self absorbed behaviors and attitudes, but they do have a significant effect on your self and on your relationships.

End of direct quotes

Facing the fact that we too are self aborbed is difficult.  In one way we need self absorption for a time in order to delve into what is going on inside and understand how and why we are reacting as we do.  However it is now proven by research into mental health and happiness that happiness rests upon being able to sustain healthy mutual life giving, love filled connections with others.  This ability to connect is what is primarily wounded or undeveloped in narcissism and if we were raised with emotional neglect or by self absorbed wounded parents.  Learning to reach out and connect and show empathy and understanding to and of others is a life time work.  But it has great rewards.

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

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

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

Block and Control Your Feelings

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

Blocking your emotions requires the following :

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

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

Use Self Affirmations

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

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

Choose What to Feel 

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

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

Interruput Negative Thoughts and Feelings

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

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

You may also want to remind yourself of the following :

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

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

Remember What’s Real

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

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

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

 

 

 

Learning how to set boundaries if you came from a non affirming home

If we were raised in a home where it was not possible to know and connect with our True Self, feelings and needs we are going to have problems for the rest of our life in setting boundaries or healthy limits.  If we were dis-empowered in our assertive drive due to the unconscious need of a parent or active thwarting, asserting our own wishes and needs and feelings in a balanced and healthy way will also be problematic.    And in this situation feelings of self esteem and self confidence will falter or be non existant.

The following is from the book The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M Pressman.   It shows some ways of addressing this issue.

Comfort in setting boundaries develops naturally in children who have their feelings respected by their parents. In this context, children are allowed to participate in decisions that affect them, are encouraged to talk about their feelings, and get validation for the appropriate expression of them without needing to resort to shouting and/or tears if the decision does not go their way.  In other words, the children learn to use the “I feel….I want” format. (Which the authors cover in another chapter.)

The children learn not only to tune in to their own and other people’s feelings, but that they can live with the occasional disapproval of others.  This is an important lesson.  It is difficult for most people to elicit disapproval – to say, in effect, “I’d like to be able to meet your needs, but I can’t.  In this case our needs are in conflict, and I have to attend to mine.  I have to say no.”  It is important… to understand that, while it (can be) a difficult skill to acquire, it is vital to our mental healthy and positive self image that we learn to be advocates for ourselves.  Otherwise, we end up meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own.  If we are further unable to communicate our message in a respectful and adult way, people will be able to hear our message, clearly without being threatened or devalued by it. If this is a tall order for a reasonably healthy adult, it is Herculean task for youngster.  It is made immeasurably easier if the child learns the following at home:

  1. Correction, appropriately expressed, is not destructive, hurtful, or shame inducing.
  2. One’s needs cannot always be met by others, but they can always be appropriately articulated to others.
  3. Feelings do not need justification – one always has a right to one’s feelings.
  4. One does not always have the right to act out one’s feelings: all actions have consequences, and these need to be thought about.
  5. Compromise means giving up as well as getting.
  6. Changing one’s mind is not necessarily a bad thing; part of growing up is the ability to react based on new information.
  7. Making mistakes is how we learn.  There is no shame involved.
  8. Being able to “own” our mistakes, apologise if appropriate, and make amends where possible, is how we grow.  “I’m sorry, tell me what I can do to make it up to you” is a statement of strength not an admission of weakness or shame.

If children are fortunate enough to grow up in a home where those eight rules are acted out in the course of daily events, they will probably be healthy, secure adults with positive self images.  They will probably be comfortable with their feelings and have little difficulty with setting reasonable boundaries in their lives.

But what of the children raised in narcissistic families?  What of ..(the ones) with limited confidence in their ability to assess the appropriateness of their actions and decisions?  An essential part of therapy with these individuals involves retraining.  What they did not get as a child from their parents, they can get as an adult from themselves : once they understand how they were mistrained. they can make the decision to retrain.  They can, in adulthood, make a conscious decision to incorporate these eight rules into their lives and act as if they believed them.  When one acts “as if” for long enough, eventually it becomes part of one’s belief system.

Feelings always follow actions.  It is imperative when working with these patients to reinforce this premise continually.  These patients cannot wait to feel more confident in order to act more confidently – to make firm decision, to be advocates for themselves. to set rules and boundaries for themselves and the way they wish to be treated.. they need (to learn to) act “as if” they believe in themselves before they can feel that belief and confidence.   The actions come before the feelings, with time, however, the feelings will follow.

(If you suffer a fear of abandonment in setting your own boundaries that might be a key insight into the fact your needs and feelings or self assertion was not respected nor treated in a validating way by a parent.  Later in life you become a people pleaser and very hypervigilant to abandonment signs.  The truth is though if you dont act on your own feelings and needs in a healthy balanced way you end up self abandoning.  That hurts your inner self as you may try to hide the truth, but your body will send up signals of distress in some way as a result.)

A gift from the Gods : reflections on love, loss, grief and melancholy

Sometimes, now, I imagine that there was a moment when the gods and goddesses of creation offered us this : the gift of love, provided we accept the fact of knowing we will die.  Would any of us refuse the offer?  Would we choose to live a life without love to remain ignorant of death?  Even in the early moments of my grief, I never hated the bargain.  Even in the midst of the pain of loss, I welcomed the fact that we had twenty five years of learning to be lovers.

Forever taking leave, always on the verge of departing, we wander the world and along the way, at one time or another, meet others and together for a  brief moment arrange things.  We fall in love, marry, raise a family, start work, become knitted to the fabric of a community .  Yet all the while we see with a deeper, third eye, a subtle erosion of all that we have so patiently and lovingly built.  One by one the things we make slip away.   One by one those whom we love pass on.  And always in the dark silence of the night we know.  Always in that dark  hour of solitude we understand that death will take away the ones we love

But where do they go, those whom we have loved and have died?  We soothe our children with stories of heaven, and even as adults we still continue to cherish this place in our heart, eve if we can no longer believe it with our minds.  Something in us needs these tales.  Something in us needs to imagine that love does endure, perhaps even beyond death.  And yet, these stories can cheat us of the deepest demand which love makes upon us : to love what does not last, to love the rose which in its blooming already fades.  To embrace here with love what will pass away, what is in this very moment passing, while still hoping for a love which lasts beyond the grave!  How can we do that? Again I don`t know, I only know that after the shocks of grief and long, slow winter of mourning, I have found myself experiencing the world through different eyes, as if grief had changed the prescription of my vision.  In these moments, I experience all that is around me with melancholic eyes, with those eyes which can see in the midst of what is present in the moment, an absence which already haunts the moment.  Melancholy, I now believe, is the mood which allows us to love in the midst of our continual dying.  It is the mood which nurses the fact that love is born and rests in the cradle of death.  It is the mood which allows us to bear the mystery of love as the fragile home which the homeless soul builds in the human heart.

Robert Romanyshyn : Mourning and Melancholy : The Orphan and the Angel

Experiences of grief and loss do make our souls feel homeless.  That in which we have taken root, or those with whom we shared linkages and connections, even if haunted with shadows of disconnection are gone, suddenly taken.  We can experience grief over the loss of more than just a person, but when the person we have lost or who has died was so centrally important to our lives a vacancy or lacunae is left and into that void we fall.  Some of us are lucky to have those who will stand by as we are swallowed up, others of us may not be so lucky and may have anxious ones swoop in and try to save us.  Others of us may watch loved ones being swallowed up and feel powerless.  (I most certainly know I experienced a lot of that in my own life witnessing the traumas, losses and abandonment of my two sisters and mother.)  How we respond from this powerless place is very important.

I have personally felt that sometimes medication was being used as a way to stop a necessary descent.  I remember listening to a lecture by poet Robert Bly in which he said this: in depression we suffer a loss and refuse the call to descend, in grief we go willingly down.  Perhaps our various reactions and responses to depression, loss and grief or a dark night of the soul are not so clearly demarked, but the point is during these times the unconscious comes calling and its a testament of our love not only for that or who we have lost but also for ourselves how we respond. Bearing in mind such responses are never fully conscious.  Loss and grief do seem to demand of us an opening out after we fallen for a time and an opening of our heart in love, maybe even if for years we collapse or fall into a closed or folded up state.

When does sadness become self pity?

When I was going to Al Anon meetings sometimes a member would say of another member that they should “get off their pity pot!”   Part of me balked at this, especially if it seemed what someone was sharing involved genuine sadness.   There are times when we do hear others going over and over wounds and pain that seem to have lodged deep within and you can just tell that the sense of outrage at such treatment is so hard for them to get beyond.  Should they have to get ‘beyond’ it?  Are they full of self pity?

I am writing this because over the past few weeks I have felt massive surges of grief move up from deep within me.  Most often they come when I find myself alone in the midst of a big task I am trying to manage, or while talking to or just after having talked to my Mum. I am aware that as an empath and with my natal Neptune (planet of boundless collective feeling) placed on her Sun Mercury Saturn (defences or protections against deep feelings and thoughts that may have found no place) I may be absorbing and expressing something she feels but on some level I know its not only my pain I am feeling.

As I shared about it with my therapist this afternoon I came to the realisation of the pain and grief both Mum and I share.  Its very strong around this time of year as we move towards her birthday and the date of my Dad’s cancer diagnosis many years ago.  My Mum has been telling me every time we speak of how tired she is.  I cannot help feel that this tiredness is a result of depression (and repressed life energy and sadness) as well as the constant pain meds she has been on ever since they discovered multiple fractures in her pelvis around this time last years.  I know that our sacrums, wombs and lower stomaches as well as intestines carry a lot of the emotions we may not have been able to process and kick around inside of us.  Mum was complaining of problems with digesting her food last week and I suffer those kind of digestive attacks often after I eat my main meal at night.

Anyway my feeling is that there is a lot of grief around at this time of year when the Sun goes into the deep feeling sign of Scorpio, add to that that Jupiter moved into Scorpio last week and that coincided with the visit my a family friend which opened up hidden past things around my older sister’s pain, abandonment and suicide attempt.   Jupiter is known as the greater beneficient, although sometimes it can magnify things or make them more excessive.

I am sure what I am feeling is not self pity.   I am not sure if self pity is an accusation that is used by others as a defence at times.  Its just a question that I have.  When do you feel genuine sadness becomes self pity?

When I was sharing and crying with my therapist this afternoon she validated just how much I have to be sad about.  She said these words to me : “Its okay to feel sad and to express that sadness.”  I wish my sadness had been okay years ago.  Complicated grief causes so many painful symptoms and body issues, I think.  We need permission and support to release our genuine feelings.  Its not always possible to do it alone.