Mark Epstein on ego and primitive feelings (The Trauma of Everyday Life)

The problem with the ego, according to Mr. Epstein, is that it wants so badly to know.

“The ego comes into being when we’re two or three or four years old,” he said, “just feeling our own separateness and how difficult it is to navigate the external pressures from parents and teachers, and the internal pressures of one’s biology, one’s drives and so on. The ego wants security and stability and coherence. It’s rooted in the intellect, so it tells stories. It fastens on to the first stories that start to make sense, both positive and negative.”

We then incessantly repeat these stories to ourselves “under our breath,” as Mr. Epstein writes in (his)

new book. The classic stubborn story dealt with in therapy, he said, can be summarized in four words:

“The problem is me.”

And the low self-esteem reinforced by such stories “is as much ego as the puffed-up, ‘I’m the best,’ competitive, American way we ordinarily think of the ego.”

(Mark Epstien is a American based psychiatrist, therapist and author in practice in New York who draws on Buddhist philosophy his three books which I highly recommend are Open To Desire, The Trauma of Everyday Life and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart as well as many others).

Hold me

Longing 3

 

Hold me please hold me

Enfold me in the strength of your loving embrace

Because it seems for years I have been falling through space

Without a place to land or rest

And now when you open up

All of this love and longing

With the willingness you have to show your hand

Everything in me that I have held back before

Rushes forward

And this hunger to be held

Deep inside your heart

Reveals itself

Releasing a river of tears

A torrent of longing

Why anxiety and logic don’t mix : relationships and insecure attachment

Reading the book I recommended yesterday Anxious in Love is putting into perspective for me why things can hurt and go so wrong for us who suffer PTSD, Complex PTSD or anxious and insecure attachment in relationships.  As the authors point out in Part 2 :  Connecting With the One You Love different parts of the brain are operating for us and our partners who don’t see what all the fuss is about when we respond with anxiety to certain events or triggers.  I am being taken back with every word to my last relationship where I would get an hour long lecture on how wrong I had things to be responding in the way I did with little empathy shown.

In anxiety our forebrain (or rational brain) is emotionally hijacked by the lower brains (hind brain and mid brain) where centres such as the amygdala lie.  Being responded to with logic as most of us know is tantamount to having a red flag waved in front of the face of a raging bull!!!!  But we also need to understand our partner may be coping with the situation in the best way they know how while lacking a more complete understanding of how rationality has flown out the proverbial window.

In this situation what is called for is developing the ability to intentionally respond rather then becoming reactive.  The solution is for each partner to understand and have an attitude of curiosity about what is happening for the other.  It’s something an old therapist of mine would bring up a lot about by ex saying “its just sad he cannot have an attitude of curiosity about what is occurring for you”.  To be told you are bad or wrong for responding as you do is just terrible and I think its a key to so called Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer’s struggle.  Perceived abandonment when triggered can send us into a cascade or spiral that takes is into the darkest place for days and if we are left alone in it too long for some the feelings (what therapist Pete Walker calls the abandonment melange) can lead to suicide, addiction and other self destructive mechanisms of coping.

What Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum, authors of Anxious in Love offer instead is a way of each partner entering the other’s reality for a time to validate it, both the non anxious partner and the one who suffers anxiety.   As sufferers of insecure attachment we can learn to understand our partner’s reactions and can learn to voice our needs in relationship in a less angry, attacking or accusative way.  Often non sufferers who operate from the higher brain just do not understand the severity or intensity of our responses to triggers.

Lack of emotional flexibility is one of the hardest legacies of anxiety reactions in relationship, it shuts down emotional attunement between partners and makes an open dialogue impossible.  Being able to set a time out when we know we are being triggered and our brain is going into hijack mode is useful, and hopefully our partner will accept it if we let them know what is going on with us.  The alternative is they respond with emotional distance/withdrawal themselves, judgement and anger (being triggered themselves), misunderstanding or protest which can be very difficult.  The more we can talk through these reactions and responses in our relationships the better change we have of resolving conflict and growing empathy and attunement.    The more we can step into their shoes and understand what is happening the more we can make an “appeal to reason” while explaining what underlies our reaction.

Some partners may be even triggered by us saying what has triggered us, though. They may respond by telling us “that’s all in the past” but in that case they need to work to understand how emotional hijacking works and show empathy in any case.  A person who is not willing to do this for those of us with insecure or anxious attachment may not, in the long run, be the best partner for us.

More detailed techniques for reconnecting are given in the book in later chapters of Part Two but today I thought I would just share what I have learned from the book so far for those not in the position to purchase a copy at this point in time.  The book is building on my knowledge of many years of trying to deal with anxious attachment and its destructive effect on some of my relationships.

Because the experience of attunement with a significant other is powerful, ruptures in attuned connection bring about a sense of absence, loss, and even distress.  Yet those ruptures in attunement are inevitable in all relationships, no matter how solid.  There are times when you just fall out of sync with one another.  It’s important, therefore, that you both have the ability to repair ruptures when they occur.   Just as quickly as you fall out of sync, with some flexibility you can repair the disconnect and engage one another in attunement again.

Anxious In Love, p. 98

Pain of early separation from our mothers and its impact on relationships

Pain of early separations from our mother can haunt us for a long time and we may not always know what the pain is about. It’s an issue that Mark Wolynn, San Francisco based therapist on multigenerational trauma addresses at length in his book It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  The separation may not have been physical alone, it could be just that our mother was undergoing a depression, grieving a loss or being unseen and unnurtured by her own mother did not know how to be fully present for us.  (According to Wolynn the original problem or disruption often lies a generation or two back and we may be unaware of it).  We feel the loss and absence keenly and such feelings can cause us to actually turn away when our mother tries to connect with us another time.

Wolynn shares just such a story on page 175 about a baby Myrna whose mother leaves for three weeks.  On her return as she waits and longs for her daughter to run to her Mryna’s mother experiences instead a daughter who turns away becoming even more distant.  Rather than understand her daughter’s reactions and look for a way to restore the bond Myrna’s mother instead encourages her independence.  The mother loses sight of her child’s vulnerability, so where did it go for Myrna?  Answer in short.  Into the unconscious.

Of course later when Myrna fell in love, love was experienced as a minefield and its something I can relate to as will anyone with insecure, avoidant or anxious attachment.  Vulnerability of needing another opens up a pit of loss we do not fully understand and we can relate by sabotaging things further should we choose to deny or repress our true need feelings and vulnerability.

Mark Wolynn talks of interruptions to the flow of love and energy between parent and child a lot in his book.  He knows a lot about it as he pursued a path of so called ‘spiritual bypassing’ seeking a healing he could not find in ashrams and through meditation (though he does use visionary meditations with a clients ancestors in order to effect healing of past wounds carried on).  Wolynn did not heal his early trauma with his mother until years later understanding how its roots lay far back in his own mother and grandmother’s history and eventually becoming a therapist himself.

When our early experience with our mother is disrupted by a significant break in the bond, shards of pain and emptiness can shred our well being and disconnect us from the fundamental flow of life.  Where the mother-child relationship remains severed, empty or fraught with indifference, a stream of negative images can lock the child in a pattern of frustration and self doubt.  In extreme cases, when the negative images are continuous and unrelenting, frustration, rage, numbness, and insensitivity to others can emerge.

Psychopathic behaviour can be the result but the key result if often a form of pathological narcissism – an inability to truly connect and take in love.

According to Wolynn the majority of us have experienced some kind of break in the bond with our mothers.  Many though, got enough of what was needed to be able to maintain healthy relationships later in life.  Many of us were not so lucky.  Ideally disruptions to attunement need to be healed in the context of any relationship.  How we deal with them are important as are the beliefs about our inherent lovability.  According to Janet Woititz adult children of addiction and trauma believed they will only be loved if they act in a pleasing happy way.  No relationship can survive like this and neither can we.

Knowing what happened in the bond with our mother and the impact it had on our attachment style as well as inherent negative self beliefs and development of what Wolynn calls ‘core sentences of separation’ is vitally important if we wish to heal.  We can become conscious of these, work to understand how they may be influencing our present and do inner work to change negative core beliefs we may have absorbed unconsciously so they do not continue to play our in our relationships.  I have found so much help myself reading Wolynn’s book which I shared from extensively in my blog last year.  It is well worth a look if you struggle to maintain healthy loving relationships in your own life and are working to understand how the flow of love between you and a parent (not only your mother) is impacting you in later life.

(Examples of core beliefs which negatively impact our capacity to love and be loved are :  I’ll be left:  I’ll be abandoned. I’ll be rejected.  I’ll have nobody.  I’ll lose control.   I’ll be helpless.  I don’t matter.  I’m too much.  I am not enough.  I’ll be annihilated.  I’ll be destroyed.  I will push love away.)

On vulnerability, feelings and opening up to joy

Daring

I just finished the chapter The Vulnerability Armory in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  It has reminded me how defending and protecting our selves from fear of making a mistake or looking like a mess or just opening our hearts to life and feeling and expressing our full genuine selves really ends up contracting our existence in all kinds of ways.   The main tools in the vulnerability armory according to Brown are : Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing and my intention here is not to go into great detail about them as you can read the book or watch some of her videos on You Tube.

However just to explain a little, foreboding joy is the fear of disaster that we automatically can start to feel as soon as things feel good or seem to be going right.  In this scenario instead of opening fully to those powerful good feelings we tend to block them or divert them with thoughts of all that could go wrong.  Foreboding can close down our passion or longing in many ways and may cause us to sabotage.

Perfectionism is a huge defence which exists due to being raised in a society or family where we were not valued and loved unconditionally but on the condition of looking good, getting it right, or not provoking uncomfortable feelings that others did not really want to deal with.

And numbing, well that is just such a huge part of our culture and we now have a thousand ways or means we can stop feeling what we are feeling or have come to believe is just too much for ourselves or others to cope with.

I was thinking about this thing of defending against true feelings and feeling too much because it comes up all the time for me today and I am at the point in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography which occurs when she seeks her adoptive mother out after a major psychological breakdown/breakthrough in which she begins to understand how much of her own life she has spent running from and defending against her feelings due to the trauma of not only being separated from her true mother at birth but raised by a religious zealot who never accepted Jeanette’s sexuality.

At this stage in her life, which occurs after a ‘breakdown’ she actually begins to fall in love with psychotherapist and author Suzie Orbach and realises how little she actually knows of what it means to truly love another human being, since such unconditional love was never mirrored to her in her childhood.

The following paragraphs really spoke to me when I read them today.

In the economy of the body, the limbic highway takes precedence over the neural pathways.  We were designed and built to feel, and there is no thought, no state of mind, that is not also a feeling state.

Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work at feeling too little.

Feeling is frightening.

Well, I find it so.

I cannot help but wonder where all our fear of feeling really comes from.  It was enlightening to me in my first few years of sobriety to read the view of the Jungian analyst and author, Robert Johnson, that our culture is a ‘feeling wounded’ culture.  Last week I was reading through some comments on another blog on thought disorders where someone was saying they had tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but it hadn’t helped them much,  I left the reply that the wound to feeling cannot be healed by thinking and I still believe that to be true.  Fear of our feelings, being ashamed of them, being taught that there is something wrong with us for ‘feeling so (or too) much’ well its a pretty common thing that people with high sensitivity go through and if we spend a lot of our life trying techniques that don’t take that into account, that teach us to numb, or deny we are in trouble. Until we know what our deep wound are just changing our thinking or reacting patterns may not work or may only heal us superficially,

For myself I never used to know so well when I intellectualized or rationalised feelings away, it was something I was taught to do by family and religion…. it didn’t work as in the end I do believe it made me an alcoholic when I was consistently not dealing with feelings that never got recognised or seen in my family and which I was never helped to deal with.

This is not to say that we should just be acting our feelings out all over the place if we are in a difficult state of mind but even that may be necessary for a time until we get to develop some deeper mindfulness of how and why we feel the way we do.  Early childhood trauma or separations or other painful events not only in our own lives but in the lives of our parents and of their parent’s parents do affect us into the next few generations.  It is something Mark Wolynn covers in the chapter The Core Language  of Relationships in his book on multigenerational trauma It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.  

We may be carrying feelings from generations back which is really a subject for another post.  The armour we wear often exists of defences that operate unconsciously and of scripts or core beliefs that have often not originated with us but collectively and familially. The following chapter in Brown’s book asks some questions about what drives our beliefs, reactions and feelings in personal, family and cultural life and then shapes the way we react.

Getting a grip on our vulnerabilities and fears is not easy but our culture is getting a bit better at it now.  People with issues are encouraged to open up, they may not always be well received by every one as there are those who Brown identifies as Vikings who think that to show any vulnerability at all is to become a victim and there is great fear even shown in this approach.  There is a time for us to be warriors and don our armour and we do need to fight back against invalidation abuse or disempowerment, it is an essential step in our healing for many of us.  But there also comes a time to drop the armour and open our hearts to the full force power and vulnerablity of love and joy which may confront us with fears that we have to do some deep work to become fully conscious of.

 

 

After you left

Shine

After you left My heart it broke it two But also there was relief As my darling I knew then your spirit had flown free From this place of suffering

My darling sis You were so beautiful and so strong But stubborn too It was not always easy to love you But the love you had in your heart And your kindness to others Well it just shone through

Today I found a card you scrawled in the illegible hand of the brain injured Expressing your love for your caregiver Annette I had a smile As I thought of how strong and positive you were Despite all of your heartbreak and loss

I thought of you too as I watched those later leaves clinging to the branches of the tree Not yet ready to fly free I remembered that last night time vigil by your bed on Easter Saturday As you lay in a coma and I held your hand

Please don’t leave me I cried And then If you must go please go free

In the movie A Monster calls The truth demanded of Colin when his mother is dying Is just this For him to cry out his words of protest and admit his vulnerablity at an inescapable fate rather than defend against the pain with anger

So it is when those we love are torn from us As much as we wish we could hold on Or turn back time In the end all we can do is surrender and open our hearts to the grief that comes As the spirit of the one we love leaves its earthly bond bodily home And finally flies free without us

Enough

How different would our lives be if we only believed we were enough and had enough?  As I look around this society and even consider my own life and past I see that a fear of not enoughness can dog so many of us.  This fear can cause us to compete or to believe we are not worthy enough, it can prevent us from expressing ourselves, from reaching out to love and be loved and it makes us attack or collapse when that reaching out hits a brick wall or is demonised or rejected by another person who also feels not enough or that we are not enough for them.

I guess this is coming to mind as its interesting I had the clash with the gardener the other day all around the 11th anniversary of getting together with my ex partner back in 2007.   At the outset of the relationship he had a long list of why and how others were not enough and of how he had struggled to find enough love, and during the entire relationship he found it so difficult to relax and then began to point out to me all the time how I wasnt enough this or that.    I know now that as an adult child of an alcoholic parent he had never had a resting place either and he was driven by a lot of unresolved grief which manifested as rage when things triggered him.  He drove one of his sons very hard and would call him mean names if the son refused to do something his father wanted often only because he was tired too and loved to play guitar and needed to rest or just loved being in the ‘now’ as I did.

I thought of this unhealed wound yesterday as I have reached the chapter in Jeanette Wintersons’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (which is what her stepmother said to Jeanette when she found out she was gay) where she has a breakdown after a love relationship dissolves in her adulthood.  Reading it reminded me that suicidal feelings often accompany the opening to the realisation of our wounded self that never got to fully birth in dysfunctional homes that could not honour our sacred wholeness.   Jeanette expresses very powerfully the forces within herself that she struggled with and that over the period 2007 to 2008 caused her to break down and break open to the self hatred and ‘madness’ inside her which was nothing less than a composite of all the toxic things, behaviours and beliefs her mother had introduced into her life over years as well as associated feelings that for most of her life she was writing over the top of.

Jeanette tried to take her life in 2008 and had what I can only call a spiritual experience in which she understood her old self was dead and she had to be born again on a deeply psychological level, she also began to realise she needed to address and understand the feelings and forces that were driving her from within.

In a very heart wrenching paragraph she writes :

extremes – whether of dullness or fury – successfully prevent feeling.  I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies – unconscious strategies – to keep those feelings away.  We do a feeling swap where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead.  It can work the other way , too – sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate, sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.

It takes courage to feel the feeling – and not trade it on the feelings exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person…..you know how in couples one person is always doing the weeping  or the raging while the other one seems so calm and reasonable?

I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.

She then began to hear voices and inside them found : ‘a piece of me…..so damaged that she was prepared to see me dead to find peace…. my violent rages, my destructive behavior, my own need to destroy love and trust, just as love and trust had been destroyed for me…. The fact that I did not value myself”  And she also found that ‘the lost furious vicious child’ was the ‘war casualty’ and that was the part of her hated herself and also hated life.

Jeanette began to dialogue with this destructive part of herself which was really a defence against her childhood pain and that is what brought her back home to herself.  It also led to the writing of a children’s book The Battle of the Sun which as a person with an astrological interest intrigues me as the Sun in our chart is our spiritual centre, it is the essence of us born to shine before it becomes in many cases covered in tarnish or buried under the force of our inner demons or monsters, or what Jeanette imagines as ‘the Creature’ within.  It was this creature which was a representation really of all the lies she had been told about her being a bad self, never good enough, and it’s primary purpose (as for all of us who internalise the critic) was to mock, disparage and tear her apart, but never the less giving this part of herself a voice in the end, as for all of us, helped Jeanette to reclaim her sanity.

Her pen ultimate realisation which she shares at the end of the chapter The Night Sea Journey makes me cry :

A few months later we (the creature and Jeanette) were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little.  I said ‘us’ not ‘you’.  She held my hand.  She had never done that before, mainly she just walked behind shooting her sentences.

We both sat down and cried

I said. “We will learn how to love.”

Learning to love ourselves, to accept our pain, to hold our own hand, to know that we were and will always be ‘enough’ no matter what other forces or voices in the family or culture have told us well really isn’t this our most important challenge?  And doesn’t the deepest recognition of this truth mean a lessening of our insane and voracious consumption which drives us in covering over our sense of emptiness and not enoughness to over produce and over consume in ways that close our eyes to the reality of vast magentic gift of enoughness that surrounds us on this living, breathing, fully sentient, spirit infused love infused planet earth?  Is it not the trance of our not enoughness either internalised or projected the thing that keeps us hungry and blind, causing us to lash out, over protect or self or other harm?   Is not what is needed on this planet an awakening to the sacredness of earth and all life which can only come from a deeply realised sense of preciousness and enoughness?

Perfectionism as a symptom of emotional neglect

I just came across an article on 7 signs of emotional neglect and was interested to read the following on perfectionism, it explained my Mum’s history to me, one she bequeathed to my sister and I…

If you are a perfectionist, you could have been neglected emotionally. Think about it this way, if your loved ones neglected you as a child, you could have tried almost anything to get their attention, even striving for perfection to be noticed. As an adult, this perfectionism grew and maybe, by now, you’ve become obsessed with this behavior.

Are you a neat freak, need everything to be organized perfectly, and even require perfectionist friends? You could still be trying to validate your existence. Be careful.

Links to the article can be found here:

https://www.learning-mind.com/childhood-emotional-neglect/

Suicidal

Creepy

Sometimes the world seems so dark and lonely

Its hard to find your way

Somedays the  every mistake you ever made

Every lost opportunity

Every shattered dream

Every broken connection

Feels like a weight that is crushing you

Inside your aching soul

Making it impossible to breathe

You feel the greatest yawning emptiness

Or even worse than that : Numb to it all

There are those thoughts that cripple you

Like

I will never be enough

Everyone I’ve ever loved as left me

Or surely life would be better for every one

If I ceased to exist

At times like these where do you turn?

Can you reach out to another

And say

Please help me

My heart is breaking

I fear might not last another day

I fear I will never be enough

The truth is I have been there

And I know how hard it can be

On those days you feel as though you are

Being crushed and will never again stand up

The only hope I can give is

That though it may sometimes not seem so

There are those out there who care

Sadly they can never live your life

Sadly they can never fully know what you carry inside

Until you share it

Yes there are those who will shun you or make you feel worse or misunderstand

But there are others who won’t

And maybe just maybe if you open the door and share your burden

Maybe maybe just maybe if you let yourself be known

And show rather than hide your vulnerablity deep inside

Something will shift and tomorrow you will

Find the energy and hope and courage and will to live another day

Sadness for the lost child

Child 5.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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