A wonderful talk by spiritual teacher and therapist Tara Brach on how to move with the tide of change in a world both living and dying, while opening our heart to what is both precious and passing.
There is a beautiful psalm or bible passage that I cannot remember the reference to which says that God counts and collects each one of our tears. In a culture which so often denigrates grief it is important for us to know that our sorrow is not unimportant or in vain. The implication is so often that we need to ‘be over it’, not carry it forward or just make sure we don’t make others too uncomfortable around us, because it can be hard for those who have not dealt with or are familiar to a grieving process to understand how essential the shedding of tears is.
I watched a movie a few weeks ago about a painful loss called The Shack and in it Sam Worthington plays an adult child of an alcoholic and abusive Dad who ends up losing his youngest daughter to a violent crime. The movie is about his quest to come to terms with the anger, pain, sadness and resentment he holds towards a God who he feels ‘has forsaken him’ in allowing such a terrible thing to happen. He ends up being transported to a cottage where he lives for a time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and in one scene the Asian singer/actress who plays the later part holds up a vial that is full of his tears.
This image speaks to me of ‘holding’ and containment which are two things we can really struggle with if we are not surrounded by those who assist us and support us to grieve. I know in my own life that after my father died and my partner abandoned me I went overseas with much unresolved grief. I acted it out over the next 8 years of my active addiction and my recovery was a journey to find my way back to it in order to understand, feel and release it. (I am not going to say to ‘heal’ it because in a sense I think its a central mistake of our culture that grief is an illness that need to be cured or fixed somehow.) Its a sad indictment of our modern society that in past years there has been a move to have grief included as a mental illness in the bible of psychiatry The DSM.
Grief that is unresolved can indeed make us mentally and emotionally unwell. To my mind it can be the huge unspoken ‘monster’ that lives at the basis of addictions and anger and the rage of acting out of terrorism and other means of reclaiming a sense of power and control within situations where we are actually overpowered. Grief itself is feared by many because it is like a tidal wave in a way. We can try to run from it or defend against it, but in my experience it always then finds some kind of way to knock us over sideways. Far better not to see it as a monster but as a rejected energy that wants us to turn towards, surrender and acknowledge it.
Being able to accept that grief is there and that we are powerless to a degree is the first step. We can use different forms of containment. For me dancing and writing and walking help to move the grief through my body, the freeze state of some traumas and traumatic injuries can be all about frozen grief that brings a critical event to us which externalises its intense charge in some form and then leaves us knocked over, frozen paralysed or powerless.
And if we look to the ancestral epigenetic component we can see how this stored charge of grief and anxiety can be passed on from generation to generation. When I start to get into compulsive cleaning I am aware of how much grief and a sense of powerlessness fuelled my Mum’s own manic cleaning binges. And I got badly injured myself when she was in the midst of some of them. I have injured myself so many times or broken things either gardening or cleaning that these days I am much more mindful in the midst of such activities, stopping and breathing and centring myself as much as I can.
I do believe that like most emotions grief is a kind of visitor to us, as in the poem by Rumi. If we welcome the visitation of grief and take some steps to give it a place, then just possibly we will not be as compulsively ‘run’ over by it (or over run by it) and in time we as we integrate it, it will deepen and enrich us in the process.
And what is most important is to know that grief has a purpose and its presence in our lives or heart is a sign that something had great value to and was cherished deeply by us or longed for. It has come time to understand that value or experience or let that something or someone go and so there will be a shedding if we are to move forward. Such losses and griefs will always be with us and remain forever a vital part of our soul on our ongoing journey through life.
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.
- Be Present
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
Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments. It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book The Undervalued Self. In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :
The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.
I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.
A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest. In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else. Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received. It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving. It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.
Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes, you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before. Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..
(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.
When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up. Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is. Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love. It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.
The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain. However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.
Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated. Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness. Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events. You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it. Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs. Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes. You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body. Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.
As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship. The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.
Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair. This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.
We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives. Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:
- When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
- When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
- When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
- When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
- When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
- When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
- When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
- When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
- When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.
In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.
- No intimacy. Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
- No arguing. Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
- No growth. Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
- No dating or marriage. Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
- No strong feelings. Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
- No sex or enjoyment of it. Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
- No believing someone who say he or she cares about you. Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection. Don’t believe they are genuine.
- No asking for help. Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
- No honesty. Just say what you think others want to hear. Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
- No hope. Don`t expect help, joy or good things. Do not place faith in anyone.
- No standing up for yourself. Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
- No trusting. Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)
As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.
Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…
Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.
You are teaching me
What it means to love wholeheartedly
Its some kind of miracle to me
But also strange
To experience a love that takes care of my fear
This is something I have never known
Is that why now
When ever we talk
It feels like I am coming home?
In your presence there is stability and grace
And I’ve never ever seen you show a nasty face
A stream of positivity
Just radiates from you
Shining light into darker wounded places
Deep inside my soul
Revealing then anew
And there are times tonight
I have just cried
As wounds I learned to hide
Awakened from inside
And as I reveal to you the source of all of this
I feel every single wall come down
As my vulnerable side
Reveals itself hiding in the shadows
But there is such strength in this
Calmness and security
Revealing a powerful foundation
Our growing love upon
.. love melts us. When we feel love, our entire being becomes that love and the channels in our bodies begin to open. We have to bring our bodies into our spirituality. The body should not be rejected. Enlightenment, transformation, healing, whatever we are aspiring to, we cannot experience any of them without bringing the body into spirituality. So there is healing in the body, there is enlightenment in the body. When we become that divine love, the body literally begins to melt, the channels, the chakras within it, begin to open, and we feel more love, more courage. When we feel this divine love, the mind begins to melt, and it undoes all the knots inside it. There is a large mass of knots in the mind: our belief systems and the thought patterns that we are so attached to are the knots in our minds. These knots bind, imprison, and torment us. They take freedom and peace away from us. This love that I am speaking about is a pure experience of melting our frozen hearts.
This true love is not the feeling that we are one with the universe. True love embraces everything, it does not reject anything. This love that I am speaking about is something we can cultivate. There are many methodologies to cultivate this love. There are beautiful songs we can sing. There are profound verses we can recite. There are mediations we can practice as a means to cultivate this love. Sooner or later we feel that we become this pure love, this objectless love… the very quintessence of your being is pure love. The nature of the river is this beautiful flow, even though it sometimes freezes. To truly realise that the very quintessence of your being is true love, you may have to have self knowledge, which is this honest and complete understanding of yourself. It is being aware of your divinity as well as your limitations. YOu already know that you have divinity, and you know that you have courage and love. You know that you are generous and open hearted. You also know that sometimes you are able to give of yourself for the well being of everyone else. It won`t be difficult for you to own your own holiness. At the same time you have limitations – fear, insecurity and selfishness. Once you become aware of these limitations, don’t try to demonize or condemn them. If you demonize your imperfections, then you may end up being more and more frozen.
Once you become aware of your coarse neuroses as well as your subtle neuroses, love them. Love all your neuroses. Love all your imperfections. Learn to love your fear and your anger as well. Always be aware of them, and they will dissolve on their own. They will keep dissolving without any effort. As time goes by, you become more and more this melting, living mandala rather than this frozen one. Your heart is filled with more joy and more love. You feel more and more connected to this world as a paradise – an imperfect paradise, not a perfect paradise. In the end, you may love everyone and everything that exists.
I am realising after the past few months of Mars retrograde how often I feel attacked or respond out of a sense of attack when abandonment wounds or fears are triggered. Instead of staying in my soft heart I tend to go on the attack and be quite defensive and this ends up actually pushing away the very love and understanding I need at times. I harden my heart and can feel an accumulated backlog of frustration and anger from past unresolved needs. However as I learn to listen to and comfort my inner child more its easier to enter a more adult mind set offering that little one or sore spot inside me love but not letting her act it out on others too violently. After this I find it is easier to go and speak to others about how I felt, what they did and what I needed and luckily with my new friend, Scott he understands through using emotional intelligence how I felt inside and doesn’t shame me for reacting the way I did and so I am feeling more healing.
As I shared over past days I did react and things I said, I noticed have made him withdraw a little bit. Its understandable. He was contacting me less because he said he was scared or hurting me or waking me at night, but when I told him that isn’t want I needed or even asked for, what I really need is to be connected with it was easier for him to understand. This latest tussle has helped me to see before how other friendships suffered when I had a strong outburst and others were not willing to fully empathise or understand. Some friends just backed off and then have another go which I really appreciate since they understood I was reacting that way for a very good reason.
Today I cried a lot at the softness and tenderness that is opening up between Scott and I and inside my own heart towards my own past pain. I had a good inner dialogue with my inner child this morning and what I learned form it was that as a child I never really learned how to get along with, communicate my needs to or interact with others. My parents were always busy with work and too tired to give any emotional support whatever. I was left alone most days after school with no one after my second sister left home and even before that she resented taking care of her baby sis after a certain point and I was on the receiving end of a lot of bullying and harshness. Then at 13 I went into the family business where I had to perform and be serious. It wasn’t much of a childhood or adolescence. It was a real Saturn Moon childhood where I learned to depress my feelings emotions and needs.
In addition home was not a relaxed environment due to Mars conjunct Moon. Mum carried a lot of inherited adult grand child of alcoholic survival behaviours and was never cuddled or nurtured. By an act of ancestral synchronicity she was sent to work at 13 to into domestic service to live with a family in another suburb of our home town which she hated. Her and my father were kind to each other but Mum was a non stop dynamo who never really could relax. She had OCD as far as the home was concerned. We were not allowed to play until all chores where done and we had taken care of all of our responsibilities. Sadly too my Dad died before he and Mum never got to have the play time they anticipated ‘one day’ when they had achieved financial stability, security and success. Things began to fall apart due to this driven schedule from 1979 on wards starting with my near death NDA and my sister’s cerebral aneurysm.
I have been shedding a lot of tears this morning. I am sitting here wearing one of my mother’s tops and thinking of our complex relationship which has taken me years of sobriety and emotional recovery to navigate. Its just over 8 months now since she died and the old wound of her being more involved in her work is replaying with Scott who is caught up in a very dangerous and hectic life over seas at the moment. This morning after my breakfast and bath I just cried, hopefully he may be out of there in a few weeks, if not its going to be around March next year and I fear for his life every single day, though he always tells me my prayers are keeping him safe. Still its interesting to me that this is the man I attracted and that I had lessons of love to learn here with him in terms of the way I react and what is triggered from my past. I am just grateful I have so many more tools now at my disposal.
Speaking of which I just bought another wonderful book by Stan Tatkin, PsyD on attachments and relationships Wired for Love : How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Hep You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship.
He explains how we are wired to react from the primitive parts of our brain which are geared for survival but how other parts of our higher brain functions (which he calls The Ambassadors) can be engaged when we observe this happening and notice our reactions in the context of close one on one relationships. Putting the needs of connection and relationship first instead of just trying to blow thing off by blaming our partners for ‘being selfish’ or not caring about us or our needs is part of the process and is something that’s not so popular in this day and age with singles with their lists of requirements prospective partners need to fulfil in order to be considered as worthy.
Anyway I always like to share new books or resources I find here in my blog but today it was good to be able to feel the softening in my heart towards Scott and let myself and my body just relax to a degree. I am usually fending off spasmodic symptoms of one variety or another in the mornings and today after Scott and I talked things through I did manage to sleep but I still woke up startled trying to integrate all that has been happening between us in terms of boundaries and connection in past weeks. I feel Mars slowing down now and it is on 28 degrees of Capricorn for two weeks. My own Mars is at 1 degree Aquarius so this is what is called a Mars Return which happens every two years but would usually just pass by once. Due to Mars retrograde it will have hit my chart three times by the time it finally passes around the 18th of September. So I am getting a really good long look at the ways I react to emotionally laden events that hark back not only to my own mothering but to the inherited mothering wound on my Mum’s side of the family. I have tracked unresolved grief and separations/divorces going back four generations so far to the original wound which was the loss of my great great grandfather’s mother at age 12, a wound he never got to address and I believe led to his addiction and eventual abandonment.
I shared with a good friend yesterday that I feel I have carried the grief of the ancestors for most of my life but I don’t want to carry this wound on. I really would like to be able to have a loving relationship with a partner where we can both take care of each other’s hearts. I don’t want past pain or anger and grief that didn’t begin with me to spoil a new change at living a personal life no longer so affected by an unconscious collective psychic inheritance.
To be human and to be alive is probably to be vulnerable. Its a thought that I had today after re reading a prayer I wrote earlier asking for help to overcome fear. I wondered after reading it if I had been asking for something that is only possible for moments rather than as an ongoing state of being a world so often fraught with insecurity and peril. My question Isn’t a bit too much of an ask for us to have it together all the time and not struggle with the inherent insecurities in our lives?
That said a lot of what we expect to experience is based on past experience, so if in the past things didn’t go well or we were hurt this becomes our point of view or expectation and we do need boundaries and self care and some protection, just not so much that we limit our ability to live and love and forward move and grow in this life.
I became a fan of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron a few months after my last serious accident in 2005. I was recommended to read her book When Things Fall Apart by a friend who had also nearly lost her life and the central message of her teaching involves not erecting defences against what she calls ‘the soft tender sore spot’ in one’s heart. Pema claims that it is part of our human nature to always be struggling to get some solid ground under our feet but paradoxically the more we strive for this the more we can become attached to things being a certain way and then we just end up suffering more. The more defences we erect against pain too, the less we become connected to our pain as it is a central tenant of Buddhism that we look to our mutuality and inter dependence with other human’s and all living things and all living beings are vulnerable and suffer. The Buddhists recognise a seamless web of interconnection between every living thing that we only split and divide and pay a price for so doing in neurosis. Its only in embracing this inherent insecurity that we have a chance of finding some inner security and happiness. The Buddhists also recognise that it is through opening to our pain and suffering instead of defending against it that we experience our interconnection with others, so opening our hearts is actually a powerful practice not only to heal but also to reconnect to our essential oneness not only with humans but also with nature and cycles of birth, growth, loss, death, change and transformation that are involve in all of creation.
With these thoughts in mind I am sharing tonight an excerpt from The Pocket Pema Chodron.
No Happy Ending
In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, “I don’t know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get it all together.” I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head, but I’ve always remembered it. There isn’t going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up. Even thought it was shocking to me, it rang true. One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the level of mental peace.
Learning to bear the storm, to find a centre in the middle of the storm or change, that is what an opening up practice is about. Its not always easy to stop defending our selves or reacting from primitive parts of our brain to find less reactivity in the middle of chaos or change, but its definitely worth a try, as is, in our moments of darkness and pain the recognition that despite the aloneness we may feel so many other suffers and struggle just like us and experience loss and feelings of insecurity in failing to get it all together too.
Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception – a sight, sound, thought – which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort. This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked. Energetically there is a perceptible pull; its like wanting to scratch an itch. We don’t have to be advanced meditators to catch this.
The initial tug of “for” or “against” is the first place we can remain steady as a log. Just experience the tug and relax into the restlessness of the energy, without fanning this ember with thoughts. If we can stay present with the rawness of our direct experience, emotional energy can move through us without getting stuck. Of course, this isn’t easy and takes practice.
If we were never emotionally connected to or nurtured in childhood, in adulthood we are left with the most terrible emptiness and pain. Therapist Pete Walker calls this ‘the abandonment melange’ and its also called abandonment depression. Many of us, before we get to therapy or get awareness around our early attachment wounds fly blind with such a wound which in recovery circles is often referred to as ‘the hole in the soul.’ Trouble was when I was in AA I was led to believe I was born with this wound not that I developed it in the context of early relationships, that is an awareness I have had to painstakingly grow and allow to emerge out of great pain and disaster in later relationships including forcing my ex husband to carry some of what I was unconscious of for years, another wounding its taken me some years to realise and forgive myself for.
Now that I am making a heart centred connection with a partner who is emotionally available to me I find at times this wound is being stirred up in me more and more due to the situation he is in where he has to be out of contact for a lot of the time. I realised yesterday that I acted out some of my disappointment at not being able to connect with him due to mutual cross scheduling by making some nasty comments about his ex wife. He took them in his stride and there may have been a bit of truth to what I said but never the less I found myself dismayed with how I had reacted to him leaving for patrol and not being able to speak.
I shot off a few angry texts including one saying how I hated him for being in the situation he is in and putting me through it then waited anxiously and received a very loving reply back about 6.30 last night which soothed my fears. However I noticed the same reaction starting up this morning when I missed him again and he failed to respond to a text I sent last njght. I see I am reacting at the moment because I have never really allowed myself to be as vulnerable with a partner as I am being in this relationship and because he is giving me EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED AND NEVER GOT FROM EITHER PARENT. At times it awakens great grief, anxiety and fear as well as warmer feelings.
Luckily I was reading through another bloggers blog on this subject as well as Foreboding Joy (the term Brene Brown gives to allowing ourselves to gain pleasure from something that is a source of great desire only to thwart it with thoughts of doom) a short while ago and I came across this paragraph which really shone a light on my current situation.
I told T (her therapist) that it confused me that getting what I have always wanted caused me such a lot of pain (and joy, admittedly) and T explained that having deep, childhood, unmet needs – met was VERY painful. She said getting what you’ve always wanted can cause awful sadness and pain. I didn’t understand that. T said that this was one of the reasons that therapists had to be so careful not to “overdo it”. She said that them overdoing it could cause us more pain! T said “this is why although I understand you want more reassurance and warmth in my emails, it is important that I am very careful”…
Both of my parents are incapable of emotional closeness with me and I craved that so very much all of my life. It hurts me a lot to really realise that neither of my parents gave me the connection and emotional closeness that they should have – could have. But understanding it wasn’t me, my fault, that helps to ease some shame. It makes me so determined to never repeat that pattern with my own children. Also, it makes me determined to never waste time with anyone who isn’t able to tolerate emotional closeness again. I only hurt myself trying to change them. I guess I was trying to “right a wrong”. Trying to finally “get” an emotionally distant guy. To change the ending of that childhood story where I never did “get” either mum or dad.
Those two paragraphs could have been written by me. I realise in this relationship I am given all the things I longed for, love, respect, attention, affection, unconditional positive regard, kindness, empathy and love. At times I find myself crying when I receive these things from Scott but at times I can find myself wanting to shut it down as well. It scares me at times to see there is a part of me that may try to sabotage this relationship but reading this particular blog again today nearly a year later big lights came on for me. Today I told Scott I will be more careful what I say when I feel disappointed or left alone at times, the way I react comes out of a craving for connection and love (and a deeper unconscious grief and anger I am carrying at emotionally unavailable parents) the last thing I want to do is destroy that.. the best thing that has happened to me in years and years and years.
There is nothing worse for a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes. Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive). We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath. For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder. IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.
There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately. Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves. Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection. The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships. As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds. Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.
Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked. It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.
Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.
- Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity. They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
- Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist. They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
- Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
- Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
- Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos. High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
- Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment. They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up. They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
- Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families. This is unrealistic but its very true for them. So how could you love them when they are so bad?
- Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable. They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault. They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
- Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others. Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
- Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history. It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”. Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.
Related post :