Lessons in regret and self forgiveness

Ever noticed how many different perspectives there are to take on certain feelings, issues and events?  This morning I was listening to a radio programme which was dealing with the subject of regret:  those things we do and say that we wish, with the perspective of hindsight we never said or did, but are left with the at times all so painful truth that we can never undo or redo.  We often struggle with the knowledge that they had certain consequences which at the time we could never know (although we may be in denial about this if we are being too hard on ourselves).

At the time we did what we needed to, or at the time we may have had an intuition that the said thing would hurt ourselves or others, but we went ahead never the less.  In this case the regret can be even more powerful, because somewhere we sensed that it wasn’t the right thing to do and we struggle with that knowledge.

The talk back programme today involved psychologists, an interviewer who had recently spoken to two people on her radio programme The Spirit of Things who had lived lives, made choices or done things which caused heartbreak for themselves and others. One of the people was the radio interviewer who made a prank call to the hospital in London where Princess Kate was being cared for following the birth of baby George. The outcome of this call was that one of the nurses ended up committing suicide. The person being interviewed on Sunday night struggled for a long time with feelings of guilt and depression over her actions which had unintended consequences which she had to work really hard to overcome. The second interviewee was a woman who through her addiction to heroin became a prostitute to support her habit.  This path took her down a very dark road which eventually led to sobriety and recovery and a complete transformation.   (On an astrological note its interesting to note that the planet of transformation though such dark experiences is currently slowing to station forward after five month retrograde).

Both people ended up being able to use the pain of the regretful experience to turn their lives around and the key to transformation in both cases led through introspection and pain to self compassion and self forgiveness at the end of a long road.

How often do we beat ourselves up for that thing we did which ended in painful consequences for ourselves or others that we could have in no way foretold? Or we may have been committing actions we were not fully conscious of due to certain beliefs which were false. In both cases the committing of the regretful action was necessary to growth and growth could never have been achieved without the insight of self awareness and forgiveness, also compassion for the self, who at that time was not fully aware of so many things.

I took great comfort from the programme today and the lesson I took away was that it was the perceptual filter through which we are able to view these experiences was what made all the difference in whether regret became a destructive inward implosion into self abuse and castigation, or a transformative experience which led to deeper understanding of and compassion for self and others.  In the end it is all a matter of perspective and a journey along the road of coming to peace with the very human condition of imperfection, vulnerability, ignorance and mistakes.

Early into my own recovery from addiction I was lucky enough to come across the writing of Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman who has written a wonderful book called Addiction to Perfection. In it she explores the lives of her analysands who were raised by an ethos of unrealistic perfection, many of them learned to bury and deny their own humanity and imperfections in a quest for control of the uncontrollable.   One of the loveliest questions in this book that stays with me so many years later is inspired by a poem by W H Auden : “Can I learn to love my crooked neighbour with my own crooked heart.” (and perhaps more importantly can I learn to love my own crooked heart and accept it as it is?)

Not all of us get the opportunity to grow straight, tall and true. We may have learned to bend ourselves out of shame (that was a typo but I will leave it here, I meant to write shape… mmm)..to get the love which in the end we need to find within in. In the face of much external criticism we learn to criticise ourselves with the same perfectionistic, unreal standards.   No one has struggled with this more than me.

For a long time I struggled with the inner accuser who I internalised from school and home and this voice could lay me to waste. I attracted it in many of my relationships and absorbed its painful judgements wholesale. It is only in the last six months or so that I have been able to challenge this voice with a voice of compassion and love.

Many listeners of the programme on Radio National this morning expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear the perspectives of others on the programme. One person spoke about the painful consequences that follow when we keep our regrets buried or hidden inside and struggle with them silently.

In my twelve step programme there is a way to make peace with these kind of regrets, through sharing with someone else and through making amends if that is necessary, either to ourselves or others. What a lovely awareness that we don’t need to struggle alone, that we can open up and reveal our very human vulnerability and be loved anyway.   A very precious gift.

I took a great sense of peace into my day today after listening to so many callers on this programme sharing their experience, insight and hope.  It inspired me to share it here too.  So I hope it touches someone’s heart.

You cannot heal something you cannot accept.

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Life can pitch us some very raw deals.  When we have been hurt or are hurting it can seem to be a cruel suggestion that we need to accept something we don’t like or that hurts us.  And yet accepting something does not mean that we say something that happened is okay.  Most of the time it is not okay.  But the main point I have found is that until I can accept something I cannot find freedom from it nor fully extract the necessary lessons.

I have just been reading a comment on a reply I left on the blog of Let Me Reach, devoted to the healing of people coming out of a relationship with a Narcissist.  I was sharing how difficult a journey it was to find freedom from all the nasty things my ex narcissistic partner would say to me. Mostly what riled him was my ability to be and express my vulnerability.   I was just doing a google search on the relationship between narcissisism and bi polar disorder. The distinction made was that the narcissistic personalities very early in life had to erect a powerful psychological defence against any feelings of vulnerability.  In order to survive they had to deny that vulnerability and pretend to be a person who was strong and impermeable to vulnerability which they came to equate with weakness.  They then use a process of projective identification to locate that vulnerability out there in another person who they, in putting down shame and discard in just the same way they shame and discard their true (hidden) selves for being vulnerable and human.    I don’t think narcissistic personalities are alone in this, for our modern society tends to have many narcissistic tendencies, teaching us to deny our vulnerability and equate it with weakness, while at the same time shaming people who fall short of certain ideal images.   But the truth is that our vulnerability is a very powerful asset which teaches us that we are human, imperfect and that we have limits.

It took me many years of struggle to understand this of my ex partner.  Even one year out of the relationship I was still trying to convince him I was worthwhile.  The sad thing was that he was not the person I needed to convince, it was, instead myself who needed to believe positive things about myself while learning to develop self compassion for any mistakes, which were, in fact, learning experiences.

In the 12 step group of which I am a part we have a saying : we work on achieving progress rather than perfection.   I was not aware for so many years that I was often a very subtle perfectionist.  I was raised in a home where I was conditioned to have high standards, to hide when I felt inadequate.  I never learned how to say, I don’t know, or can you please help me, I actually don’t understand how to do that.  Such attitudes were in my case a breeding ground for addiction, subtle escapism and hiding.   I now realise that making mistakes is actually all a part of learning.  The way to heal my difficulties is not to deny that they exist, but to front up and face them.  In the words of my 12 step group we practice to heal in this way via.  Awareness, Acceptance and Action.  Awareness means I shine a spot light on the dark places.  That in the place of hiding and silence I learn to speak about and open up to what is happening.

I just came across the following quote on the Psyche Central Website

In the end we are all hurt by silence, as you cannot heal what you cannot acknowledge.

Awareness and acceptance are related to acknowledging what it is that exists, even if it is a painful harsh truth.  In my case I may have had to revert back to denial or disbelief many times on the journey of healing in that last relationship, in order to learn to face the truth and let go.  It took a lot of pain and heartache and tears but in time I reached that place.  I learned in that process to come home to me.  Getting my puppy Jasper also helped for me to transfer my affections to a being that knew a lot more about unconditional love.  My ex partner would scoff at the ideal of unconditional love, equating it was an impossible concept.  I guess he had no experience of it.

In the end I would wish for anyone coming out such a co-dependent relationship to find that freedom for searching for an impossible dream, that of love from someone who was not, in the end, capable of it.  But in the end it takes what it takes for us to finally find freedom and no one else can take that journey but us.  And until we finally accept the painful reality we cannot truly let go of what is hurting us.

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Its taking a while for the fog to clear

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In my part of the world we are heading towards the shortest day of the year, and also the coldest time of the year.  Each morning of the week we have been having real pea souper fogs and on one of my early morning awakenings, that time when all kinds of thoughts are flowing through my brain, I got to thinking of how metaphorical this image of deep fog was for my own life and journey.

In the world of recovery from addiction and healing of narcissism and  narcissistic issues, the acronym of FOG on some sites stands for the concepts of Fear Obligation and Guilt which can beleaguer so many of us on this journey of healing from the wounds of  emotional scarring, loss of care and love for self all of which are part of co-dependency.  There is the shame and fear of feeling not good enough which can lead us into some very painful patterns.  In the work of my own recovery from addiction the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have played a huge part.  The Fourth Step speaks of a searching and fearless moral inventory, one in which we get down and honest with the prime drivers that propel us emotionally in order to understand who we are and how we are motivated to take certain actions, to manage difficult feelings.  Feelings which motivate  may not even be conscious for those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families with parents who found it hard to express their own feelings effectively, let alone mirror and help us understand our own.  The legacy of this is that it is can be very hard to identify our feelings, to understand and make sense of them, and yet this is the work that we engage in when we take the 12 step journey.  In this part of the work we begin to explore what may be our primary coping strategies, what are termed so called “defects of character”.  I have never really liked that term but I guess it is one way of trying to describe patterns that trip us up.

As I explored my own inventory it seemed to me that fear and shame played a huge part in what was driving me.  It did not even occur to me that before entering recovery that it was okay to admit to fear, that in admitting to it and accepting it would be the best way through.  Most especially when I was engaged in a relationship with someone not in recovery and with narcissistic tendencies, the mere mention of fear was a huge no no.  Fears were to be banished since they made you an inferior person, they were not embraced and understood or held in the healing attention of awareness.  Luckily in my Al Anon  support group I was to learn about the three A’s which are necessary to deal with every single defect or difficulty.  They are

Awareness

Acceptance

Action

In order to understand a thing and to grow I need to have an awareness of what it actually is that I am dealing with.  For most of my life I have been told exactly the opposite.  Don’t worry about that, I’m sure it won’t be a problem, just act as if its not a problem, ignore it, discount it or dismiss it and it will go away.  Sorry to offend you now but that is not actually for me a recipe for emotional growth and self understanding.  Certainly it is not helpful for me to be possessed and controlled by fear but until I actually have that awareness and can accept what is occurring I am not actually in a position to do anything about it.

Part of growing up in a dysfunctional way is that we are told not to trust the evidence of our own instincts, feelings, intuitions and senses.  Sure enough, at times we can, due to fear, see and imagine things that just aren’t there, but at times those things we see, feel, intuit and sense are right on the money and we need to be affirmed in understanding that we got it right and that we do have the power to seel, feel, intuit and understand in the way that is right for us.

I am coming to understand that for the Obligation and Guilt aspects of Fog to work we need, especially for the narcissists purposes, to be possessed by fear.  To be manipulated we also to have a disordered or back to front understanding of our own rights and responsibilities, at least when it comes to our relationships with others.

At the moment I have a sister suffering with depression.  As I see it at base her depression is a symptom of her disempowerment or her deep disconnection from her own sense of value and needs.  It is  also symptom of her disordered relationship to her own feelings and sense of responsibility, to her personal power.  My own fears for her often cloud this clearer vision, I sense it in my gut, but am powerless over it too.   When our collective family fears coalesce and solutions are force out of fear I find myself easily co-opted into the caretaking or rescuing role by these fears.  Then I suffer from  deeply unconscious feelings of anger and frustration that have no other avenue but through my own twisted body.  Fear Obligation and Guilt keep me stuck in trying to make better something that is outside of my own hands, my sister’s well being and happiness.   But Fear Oblligation and Guilt have kept me stuck in a fog for some time.

I was so thankful today to be referred to the following link by Ursula of Unupturned Soul today:  http://www.angriesout.com/grow20.htm.  It is an extremely detailed article on the roles we play in the family and most especially the triangulaged roles of Perpetrator, Rescuer and Victim.  In my own case I would say I most identify with the last two roles.  For those of you who are astrologically minded I have a very strong natal Neptune which is configured with the personal planets of relationship, communication, self expression and need, Venus, Mercury, Sun and Moon.  Tie that in with the nodal axis and the planet Jupiter which magnifies it to an extreme and I am set up for both of these patterns, but most especially the rescuer

I am having to watch my tendency to get into this rescuer pattern in my family at the moment.  In our particular family the roles of victim and rescuer seem to alternate depending on how much running from feelings is being done at any one time.  We are all set up for it by fear of loss, since we have all suffered a huge amount of loss over the years.

I must confess it is with the victim role, too that I have had to do a lot of work over the past few years.  Victim keeps me in a disempowered place where it is not possible to find solutions, in which personal unhappiness is passed off onto others, making then responsible for what they are not.  Its taken me some years to get it.  When the fog clears and the Sun starts to shine out the key truth it illumines is that I am responsible for taking the actions which lead to my own personal happiness.  In short others can support and love me, but ultimately they have little power or control over my own happiness or unhappiness, unless I give that to them.  And the truth is the longer I stay stuck in FOG the less likely am I to find and embrace my own happiness.

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Guess what?  The sun is now shining out on the day here in Canberra, Australia.  The sky has turned from foggy grey to the clearest blue.  A few wispy clouds are about being pushed by the breeze and as I sit in what was a cold room there is now light and heat, energy and warmth that was not here before.  I am no longer needing to cuddle little Jasper to keep warm.

It never ceases to amaze me lately how the weather seems to mirror inner conditions and circumstances.  Is this coming out of the Sun a reminder for me of the strength and energy that comes when I take action to dispel the forces of FOG in my own life?  I seem to think so.  I have a strong Saturn so shame and guilt have been huge motivating factors in my life, all the more so in all the years they were so unconscious.   At I see it this fear shame guilt dynamic is not just personal but deeply a result of our collective conditioning too.  Don’t such forces underlie what is an deeply narcissistic culture?  The only freedom I find from them is in having the awareness and acceptance around their role in my life.

Acceptance does not mean I need to love a thing but only with it can I take action to change what I can, and only with that awareness and acceptance will action will be likely since so much energy is no longer being put into denial of what is.  Understanding the forces of guilt and shame as well as other aspects of FOG, being around others who are writing about it and dealing with it too. That is where I find my healing.

The following quote comes from the above link and it really spoke to me:

Start with yourself to accept that you are a person with strong feelings that were born of trauma and injustice that call out now for transformation.

I don’t have any control over the incidents that led me to develop a powerful load of shame and guilt, but I do feel that a powerful shift for transformation is being triggered as transiting Chiron stations to turn retrograde in opposition to natal Pluto.  Pluto in the first house gives me the desire to transform the dark corners of my soul and dig deep to excavate my own identity outside of roles and relationships.  Pluto too, brings a fire to pierce the fog of Neptune illusion and bring clarity and light.   I am drawing great warmth from lighting fires as we head towards the depths of winter here in the Southern Hemisphere.

Armed with that understanding I’m off to enjoy some sunshine. 🙂