When Love meets Fear

How comfortable is it for you when someone looks deeply into your eyes? This blog which I wrote a few days ago was prompted by a comment received on a recent blog The Loving Gaze from myblackspotblog. I have often felt uncomfortable when being looked at deeply. I can at times feel the shutters of my soul wanting to close, and a similar feeling was expressed in myblackspot’s comment. This got me to thinking and wondering if, when being looked at, old fear, pain or experiences of being seen into and misunderstood are evoked when we are being looked at, and whether also there is a fear of being invaded or invalidated due to that having happened to us in the past.

Or is it something deeper, something to do with a deeply private interior part of us that is not always so comfortable with being seen and needs to keep a place of separation or sanctity where we can just feel free to be, safe from scrutiny?

I am aware of something within me, that I experience a great fear of being shamed, of not getting something right and perhaps then of being rejected. In my last relationship as we began to connect more deeply, or try to, a lot of painful feelings arose for me, feelings that were not that comfortable for my partner and which he could not validate. This echoed old experiences of difficulties with mirroring.

What occurs for the child who is not mirrored or is told to feel differently or that what they feel is wrong is that we begin to adopt a false self or a mask as we begin to hide who we really are, how we truly feel. For the narcissist, as I understand it, the vulnerable self having been in childhood so rejected and exposed to punishment, invalidation and shame goes so deeply into hiding and his or her pain then becomes inaccessible or buried, often it will be projected on others.

The projected self that had to be discarded and judged as too bad, vulnerable, wrong or painful to face then becomes rejected in the other.  The fully blown narcissist is not aware of any painful or difficult aspects of the self, these all belong to others. It’s a very difficult situation to be on the receiving end of and it is one we need to be very aware of as we begin to heal early childhood trauma and experiences of being shamed, abandoned, punished or humiliated in unloving ways for just being a very human self with very human emotions parents may not have been able to deal with.

I am currently reading a book which deals with experiences in childhood that lead to borderline personality disorder. It speaks of the difficulty certain children face at the time they go through the beginning of the separation/ individuation process with mother. The psychological health of the child is dependent very much upon the mother’s ability to deal with frustration, anger, sadness and other responses which are evoked in the child as a response to steps toward connection and separation, dependency and independence.  A healthy mother can tolerate these powerful emotions without humiliating the child.

This process is very difficult for the mother if she never received containment of painful emotions herself as a child and as a result learned to distance and distrust her own painful emotions. The borderline personality disorder that can develop out of such painful interactions with Mum leads to a difficulty with accepting painful emotions in the self.

With such experiences of early wounding we seek to find ways to numb, suppress, cover over or project the painful feelings we are feeling. Since we have never learned how to be with the difficult feelings and found healthy ways to regulate and self soothe we seek this through less effective ways and often learn to keep our painful emotions under wraps, tending then to explode when the pressure builds too much.

In addition if we were looked on harshly when we were suffering or angry, or scared or sad, or even excited or extremely happy we may begin to feel an internalised shame for feeling such feelings which then become bound in shame. Later in life when we encounter these difficult states and even if we ae being looked on with love, this may feel very threatening to our soul.  We may unconsciously feel deep shame and fear or even terror.

I well remember the first time I had to stand up in front of a crowd at an AA meeting and expose my own true self who lived behind the mask of the false self.  I was both frightened  and ashamed.  Luckily I found the strength to be real. I remember how free I felt after enduring this fear and unmasking.

After posting my recent blog I received a comment from telllingheavysecrets saying how important she has found it to her recovery to look upon herself with the love she sought from others. THS expressed how she realised that for most of her life she had been looking everywhere for that loving gaze.

The truth is we cannot fully heal in isolation, especially if we have developed shame and frozen emotions due to an invalidating and traumatising past.  It is going to take some help from healthy individuals who can gaze on us in love, even when we are in painful and difficult states of mind and emotion if we have learned to despise or distrust these ourselves.

I remember a little way along in my relationship with my last partner who had narcissistic injuries expressing empathy for his kindness in some matter and he hit the roof. I had the audacity to imply that he was human and vulnerable in some way. How dare I? At the time the power of his rage scared me. He took himself off into the backyard and started hammering something ferociously. At that point I had really seen into him, and he did not like it. I got an angry roar. It has taken me some healing myself to understand why.

Today I am glad that for me my ability to take in the loving gaze from someone is increasing. What is even more important for me to learn to look on myself with the eyes of compassion when I am in a trauma invoked state. I take on board very deeply the advice of the Buddhist monk Thich Knat Hahn who advises to treat oneself and one’s pain as tenderly as one would a little child.

The loving parent we needed to look on us with love may have been very absent or non existent for us growing up, but that does not mean we cannot find that force of love within our hearts and minds now. It takes courage too, to open up to the love that may want to come our way from others, when past experiences of being rejected or shamed have led us to feel terrified of being truly seen.

In the case of the borderline a torrent of fear may come our way when we try to truly love, as it did with my ex partner but it may not be so obvious that it is fear that we are truly dealing with.   For myself I know that when I am in a fearful state I most need to understand and accept that feeling. I don’t have to like it, but if I can own it there is just a chance that I may be able to no longer be held as deeply captive by that fear. For a second I can choose love for myself and I have found along the way to be true these very important words from the bible. Perfect love casts out fear.

The loving gaze that meets and finds our fear may help the fear to dissolve if we can in tolerating and accepting the fear develop a relationship with what may have in the past been pushed away.  In looking upon ourselves and others in this way just maybe we can allow the love in that at times our fear and shame tries to keep us separate from.

Permission to grieve

Can you allow yourself to feel your feelings? Most especially do you feel permission within to go deeply into the grief you feel?

I am writing this post is in response to thoughts and feelings triggered after reading a fantastic blog : The Mourner’s Bill of Rights. (I am sorry I cannot provide the link right now, I am having trouble accessing it.)

When my own grief hit following my father’s death in 1985 I was encouraged to go far away from my family alone to the other side of the world. I was already indulging a lot in addiction as there was so much earlier grief over my accident in 1979 and my oldest sister’s cerebral haemoraghe, psychotic break, subsequent abandonment and loss of her family, as well as her suicide attempt.

In the absence of knowing how to grieve, finding a place and permission to grieve I now know I turned to substances such as alcohol and the lighter drugs. What occurred for me was that my grief got buried and transformed into a frantic search for connection, most especially to men. I would open my body and my heart only to have it broken because my behaviour at times could be very much a push pull dynamic of fear, grief, longing and confusion all tied with a lot of mixed up complex feelings of which grief was one.

As result I had by the age of 31, six terminations of pregnancy over which I felt such shame.  At the same time on some level I was conscious that I did not want to bring a child in the world that I knew I was so ill equipped to nurture and support.

At the age of 31 I got into recovery and my drinking and drug taking stopped, but the emergence of my grieving process took a lot longer. Following my first AA meeting a dam burst inside me as I recognised a place I could let go of an old dysfunctional pattern of seeking relief and reach for healing,  a place where I could be honest about my life.  I heard the words “many of us do recover if we develop the capacity to be honest.”

At many meetings in the early days I would just sit and cry my eyes out, listening to other’s stories, empathising with their pain, connected to my own deeply buried pain.

In time I moved away from meetings and got into therapy after my husband and I moved overseas. In 1999 my grief broke open in therapy, I suffered a very deep depression and I needed the support of 3 days a week therapy. My husband got really angry about this.

I remember one day I was in bed at 10 am as I had been urged to take some time off work (something I NEVER did) for depression by my therapist. My husband came in to the room and shouted at me to get out of bed.  He made scathing comments about how my therapist was only after my money and was constantly asking what we were talking about.  I feel so sad about this now.  He had his own grief too, he just didn’t want to explore or feel it too much.  One day he said to me “I want back the happy girl I married.”

In time I started to feel I could not really go through this process of feeling in my relationship. Rather than move away I clung on and made the decision to move back to Australia to my family which was the very last place I was going to get any recognition of my grief process, and admittedly this ended in much more unhappiness for me.

At one level my Mum was trying to offer support but at the other she was telling me I had to move on and get over it. This now I know has to do with my Mum’s difficulty feeling and sharing her own feelings of grief.

At one point my sister asked my mother to choose who she would rather spend time with following the first Christmas in the four months after my separation Mum decided to spend with me. My mother chose my sister as she told me “she isn’t sad all the time like you”.   I was so angry and hurt but rather than express it I began to get headaches.

Following this I made the decision to move back overseas where I moved in with a family to lodge who sadly treated me in the same way. As I have shared before here I went over the handlebars of my bike one day while living with them and hit my head open and was in hospital for a week. They made it clear I needed to make other arrangements for a place to live as they didn’t want anyone sad in the house.  Their daughter had just lost her best friend and my sadness was an all too painful reminder.

I moved to Glastonbury and attempted more therapy, in time it was so difficult financially I made the decision move home again. I then went into almost total isolation at the coast house my Dad had built in the years just before my accident.

There I just wrote and grieved when I could. I had little support. I see that now. In time I attracted another relationship in which when my grief arose I was met with anger and rage. I clung on, sadly for four years to this relationship.

Four years later I moved back to my family and home town again. Was I mad? What was I hoping for after everything? Validation, understanding, support are the answers. Instead I saw my sister’s descent into more acute bi polar disorder as she struggled herself and met with similar invalidation. I struggled to support my Mum following a painful knee reconstruction that ended up in serious clotting and over the next two years through several hospitalisations.  I also struggled to support my sister as she underwent shock therapy, unending medication and four hospitalisations.

Over the past four years I have been learning a lot about invalidation and how people who try to express true grief can be sidelined or exiled or their process numbed out with excessive medication.  I saw my older sister end up bloated from all the drugs she was given the moment a true feeling tried to burst our of her.  It was a sad story of abandonment and emotional invalidation playing out I have had to feel and witness.  I feel  little scared of being judged, but I wanted to stand by and love my family, or was it too painful to move away.

Going through all of this has taught me truths.  One of these truths is that the injuries we go through leave deep scars. The losses we go through which can be many when we come from an emotionally non nurturant or distant, preoccupied family like mine can be subtle and deep. There is also the deeper multigenerational sadness that we may unconsciously carry if we are attuned in this way. The legacy we have been handed to address and heal can be a painful one. I do believe that one person in the family may be the designated carrier for the more deeply painful emotions.

We can see this on an astrological level when there is a connection between our personal planets, Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury and Mars and the planets Saturn, Neptune and Pluto. Strong Pluto aspects most especially show that it is our fate to undergo a descent into loss at some stage in our life, a loss which has a deeply transformative effect on our soul.

But in terms of the Pluto connection we may also encounter deep resistance within ourself or others from going there or even of letting go of the wounding and injuring patterns.

The truth is that we need to give ourself permission to feel and grieve, most especially in a society that may be defended against suffering grief and may exile those who are grieving or present them too much with shadow stuff others do not want to face.

In my own case I am still on the journey to accept and feel my own grief. I am finding more support now in this process after many challenges, stops and starts along the way.

When my oldest sister died last year I was able to grieve a small amount with her sons. There was an attempt at one point by her oldest son to shut the process down and turn the whole event into a “celebration”.  This son in particular struggles so much to accept his own painful feelings of grief and powerlessness over how his father abandoned my sister following her illness all those years ago.

In another case I was told by the second son’s wife that I needed to live my life for Jude now, rather than be pulled down by grief. A few years ago I could not have stood up to this in a kind way and spoke for my need to feel and grieve but this year I was able to.

My purpose in writing this blog is to encourage those out there who are undergoing grief to feel it deeply, to seek out those people who will help you to express it and to avoid those people who try to invalidate you and shut you down.

I do believe that so much of aborted mourning goes into addictions and war. Just look at what happened after 9/11 with the “war on terror”. That was during the last Saturn Pluto opposition in the signs Gemini and Sagittarius 14 years ago. At the moment Saturn has entered Sagittarius and will soon aspect Pluto again. Have we learned anything since then about the powerful reactions to and defences we can mount against fully feeling our grief and the powerlessness we feel when tragedy strikes?

For me I know I have gone a long way along in my grieving process and found ways to tap in, I also know at times my blocked grief and need to assert and express has led to painful body symptoms.  Our minds can lie but our bodies know the truth.

Grieving is not easy, it makes us tired and takes a lot of energy but it is also deeply enriching for in our grief is the love we felt for what we lost and what had value. Grieving allows us to let go eventually into the depths where we can feel most deeply the voice of our own soul.

Grieving itself may be our own dark night.  It is a process and we dont have a lot of control over it, but we can surrender to it, allow it a voice and a channel.  We can also expect to meet misunderstanding and misjudgement from some people.  Never the less trust your grief, give it a voice, don’t let anyone take that precious if painful gift away from you.

Today we laid her to rest

It is now just over fifteen months since my eldest sister died in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning, 2014.  A call came suddenly as I was pulling up in the car close to the park where I walk my dog, Jasper on Good Friday last year.  It was my brother and I hear from him so rarely.  The news was a shock, my eldest sister who had been living out her final 12 years in a care home for those living with acquired brain injury was in hospital on life support following a bout of pneumonia.

“Deb, we need to make a decision as a family whether to take her off life support, I think it is what Judy would have wanted.”

Shock, disbelief, then I bristled at this inwardly.  Old pain surfaced as I thought “how the fuck would you know?  You so rarely visited her.”  On reflection this was my reaction at having to face painful news.  Later that day I made the journey to the hospital to find my sister unconscious and having difficulty breathing.

My sisters four sons live away from here.  The eldest was af that time living overseas in Singapore.  The younger three live up north with their partners, an hour’s plane ride away.  “We’ve called the boys”, my brother said.  Huge heart leap, excitement at seeing them, when I see them so rarely mixed with such painful sadness to know the reason they would have to visit.

When my father died a month before my 23rd birthday I did not get to visit or say goodbye.  I had had vaccinations the day before for an overseas trip and was feeling unwell after the injection.  I received a call at work the next day to say he had passed earlier that morning following the performing of a tracheoctomy to help him breath.  He had recently been operated on for stomach cancer and had experienced complications following the surgery.  A few weeks later he was dead.  No chance to say goodbye as he had been unconscious for a few days due to a reaction to a drug given to calm him down.  I did not see his body.  My brother handled all the details.  That time is blur to me as it was such a shock and his death came hot upon the back of six years of trauma we had endured as a family.

Jude’s passing was different, an opportunity to be with her  (even though she was unconscious), many hours alone sitting holding her hand knowing that soon the decision would be made and it would be time for the final good bye.

I was able to say how much I loved her, to ask her please not to leave, but also say “if it is your time Jude,  its time to let go”..  time to cry (for the first time, to share the grief with my much loved nephews) two of whom stayed for a further week, time to talk over the traumatic years in which she was separated from them while her ex husband conducted an affair, to learn details of her psychosis, to share memories, pain and feelings.

Its a paradox to say this was a special time for me, it was a chance to finally share some grief.  After my father died I left to go overseas and drank over a lot of the pain. I did not begin to truly process my father’s death until I was well in to sobriety and recovery some 12 years later.  Some losses are just too huge to process at the time and we need support to grieve.  This is something I have had to learn over many years of my body holding complicated, unresolved grief.   A new loss triggers the old ones.  My marriage ending also brought a revisitation of the pain felt once the protective masculine influence is gone.

I remember just following my father’s death how a little mouse came to visit and I was the one who had to take the steps to get rid of it.  The same thing happened in the weeks after I had been informed my husband would be leaving me after returning from an overseas trip.  I buried a little mouse body in the rose garden and remembered the weeks after my father’s death.

Luckily today was also an opportunity to share grief.  My mother, my sister and I made our trip to the crematorium and the beautiful memorial garden there.  My sister’s ashes had been sitting in the office for some time.  My other sister was taken into hospital with depression on the day of my older sister’s funeral.  A decision made by her sons (one that upset me deeply but that I now understand).  A second hospitalisation took place this year between January and June, on the anniversaries of both my father’s death and Judith’s cerebral bleed.   As a family the time was not right to lay my sister to rest yet.  And it would be the women in the family doing it, in the absence of the masculine, an echo of both the death of my mother and father’s fathers at a very young age, an association made by all three of us today.

A lovely gentle man met us at the office of the crematorium.  He walked with us to the garden where the plaque was laid for my sister, very close to the plaque for my Nana who died when I was overseas in 1987 two years following my father.  How hard for my Mum.  Three major losses.

I was the one chosen to place the box with Judith’s ashes in the earth.  It felt so heavy and as usual I was the one in the active masculine role, I was the one who drove there, I was the one who thought to bring flowers, I was the one crying all the tears. But I was not necessarily the one grieving most.  I just always seem to be the one expressing the feelings most externally.

Birds sang as I placed the box in the ground, we then placed a handful of earth and some rose petals in the hole which was then filled.  My sister had finally been laid to rest.

As an astrologically minded person I always look at the transits.  Today the transiting Moon was opposite my own Mars Saturn Moon and conjunct my sister’s Pluto in Leo at the time of our ceremony.  It was squaring Mum’s Sun Mercury Saturn conjunction and my sister’s Saturn in Scorpio.  Transiting Venus was conjunct to my second sister’s Pluto in Leo. As I wrote in an earlier blog at present the transiting Sun is close to both Saturn and Mars in my dead sister’s chart.  And most appropriately today Venus is exactly smack bang on my Uranus in Leo in the first house as Saturn in Scorpio squares it.  I am aware of the many powerful eruptive Uranian events that have littered my life and splintered things apart.

Following our little ceremony we drove to our favourite café and had lunch.  We then spoke of many things.  I was asking questions about what occurred all those years ago following my sister’s cerebral bleed.  I was 18 at the time, then 20 when she was sent back with a one way ticket by her husband.  I learned at the time of her death from my nephews of what occurred in New Zealand in 1982 when she was in a psychosis.  Her husband had been carrying on a affair. He had planned to meet the woman he was having an affair with over there and my sister had to be a party to this.  Later, as I shared before, he had her committed to an asylum.

I wont ever know what my sister suffered.  She would not speak of what happened at this time. I do know that my sister was not an easy person.  She had addiction issues, in fact, as an adolescent she encouraged me to drink at a time when it had a bad effect on me.  I have had such a struggle to make sense of it all, being the youngest, I was bonded for many years to my sister due to unresolved trauma.  I understand that now.  At some level I felt responsible for her, especially when I found out more about the multi-generational legacy of addiction in our family on Mum’s side many years after I got sober in 1993.

My sister’s ex husband died a few years ago.  In all that time he never talked to his sons of what occurred in his marriage but I learned today that on his death bed he admitted to his oldest son that he had really betrayed my sister and regretted his actions.

It was good to be able to talk about this with my sister and mother today.  I am so grateful for the softening in my remaining sister who put her arm around me as we laid my other sister to rest.  My sister who died was like a mother to me growing up.  She was 16 when I was born and she would wheel me in the pram around the neighbourhood and received funny looks when it was assumed it was a teenage pregnancy.  With her wicked sense of humour she drew great delight from this.

It is now close to dinner time. I sit typing with the soft glow of lamps around me and the buzzing of a silence that is always present at deeply spiritual times.  I have danced out some of the complex emotions that today has evoked.  Exhausted when I left my family, I am now refreshed by time alone.

Its a great mystery to me, the family we choose.  The question, do we choose?  How fated it it?  What are the common themes that wend their way tendril like throughout the generations?  I see patterns, creating patterns. I see that sometimes we choose, sometimes we are compelled, sometimes magnetised and then we live to reap results we could never had imagined.  Much as we try to control things at times, greater forces work their way out. It seems at times we make fatal choices and mistakes which then we learn from, even though the learning is gut wrenchingly painful at times. If we can bear the consequences we live on.  And sometimes fate forces upon us a hand we wish to lay down or escape.

Today the issue of my father’s grave came up.  Unlike Nana and my sister Dad is exiled to another part of the cemetery, buried in a coffin.  At the time he died the Catholic church did not accept cremation.  Mum cried today as she hates to think of Dad being alone.  We spoke of Dad’s belief that when you are gone you are gone, and yet you are not wholely gone when others remember.  I guess we project our own feelings on the dead.  The memorial is probably mostly for us who remain and need a place to remember.  But the exile of my Dad’s grave, so rarely visited does reflect something of how, in the past our family has not fully dealt with our grief.

It is interesting to me to note that in the week that astrologers have gained their first sighting of Pluto, so recently demoted from the planetary pantheon, that we as a family have begun to bring our own grief out of the shadows.  I like to think this is a collective indication that our society is becoming more prepared to deal with the so called “dark” side of life.  Death has lessons for us and emotions, sometimes very hard to express and resolve.  It takes us into a place of healing, of recognising what was loved and what was of most value to us.  In feeling it through we have a chance to engage with our hearts and with the complexity of our attachments and interconnections.  Important work for our soul.

There attachments and interconnections are deep as our soul is deep.  Even when we seek to avoid or deny them the affect us in many ways.  We are not separate but inter connected.  Death, loss, separation does not end this interconnection just moves it to another plane.  That is my belief.

Reflections on longing and need

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I’ve been reflecting a lot on longing and loneliness lately which may be right on schedule with the strong Scorpio influences around over the past little while. When these two feelings come to mind these days I am much closer to understanding the roots of the hidden emotional hunger I carried into my adolescence and young adult life. It seems to me that it has been a long journey to make friends with the realisation that a lot of what I longed and hungered for from both parents was absent.  It has taken even longer to realise, after replaying that theme in major relationships, that reconnecting with these longings and needs and finding new ways to fulfil them is so important for my emotional happiness and the onus now rests with me.

As the youngest child in a family of much older siblings, having powerful experiences of those who related to me taken away by circumstances and death, I arrived in adolescence with a hidden well of loneliness and emotional hunger hidden deep inside. It is not unusual for, like other children raised in homes where the parent’s needs come first, where there is illness and death or where we experience considerable frustration, negation and/or denial of just plain ignoring of our needs and feelings by caregivers, from an early age I learned that it was better not to want or need too much.

As a child I was easily able to entertain myself and enter my own imaginary world.  As I grew older, being left alone a lot, I just got up to lots of mischief, especially in the absence of parental presence and nurture.  This was a pattern of being alone was inherited from both parents.  Due to the emotional void of empty feeling surrounding me my inner emotional hunger grew, though I was not aware of it. These days I am most comfortable spending the majority of my time alone and I don’t always find it easy to open up and connect.  However I know that this is not because I don’t want to, and long to, it is that I never developed the skill as a child. I learnt to deny what was too painful to admit I needed. In adolescence I used alcohol and drugs for false confidence but they stopped working for me and caused me to get involved in some disastrous situations.  They also did not help me form real, genuine relationships.  Deep wounds ended up getting replayed.

Due to the power of my past I was drawn to connect with those who were not emotionally present, re triggering a old painful patterns from long.  It was also hard for me to expose the dependent self. . Getting into recovery at age 31 made me look at a lot of this and recently I have been re-reading an excellent book on intimacy and most importantly the affect of a trouble or emotionally invalidating or absent childhood on our beliefs in relationships.  When I do come close to people often there is an inner voice that tells me it won’t last or something will go wrong.  This voice isn’t really about today, its about what happened in the past.  Its also about being invalidated and meeting a lack of support and empathy and repeating that pattern.  Apparently this is not unusual either for someone with a Pluto and Saturn theme around my moon or emotions. Pluto bring the knowledge from an early age that good things end and Saturn brings a natural self sufficiency as well as defences and fear around abandonment or rejection.

The truth is for a long time I longed and needed connection perhaps due to the absence of such in my growing up years.  That longing I feel was split off for years, then it came back with a vengeance and now that I am more deeply aware of it I am finding ways to address the issue so it does not have to exert such a powerfully subconscious pull.

Last week I listened to an excellent broadcast on Blog Spot Radio by Kathlyn Rudlin, author of the book Ghost Mothers.  The broadcast is an interview and in it Kathlyn deals with the issue of the emotionally absent or narcissistic mother, most especially the consequences of being raised by a mother who, being so preoccupied with her own needs and unaware of ours, lacks the ability to truly see her child, mirror and meet their feelings and show empathy for them.  Such a background leads to real deficiencies for us.

Those of us raised by such mothers have a hard time being able to differentiate, relate to, know and value our deepest needs and feelings. In later life we get set up for relationships in which we perhaps orient ourselves around others and their needs in a false attempt to find the love that we may not be fully consciously aware we are hungering for. We may also become the kind of partners who, in not being able to be present for ourselves are not able to be present for anyone else either.

Growing up with this sort of unconscious hunger many of us begin to look to substances such as alcohol, drugs, shopping or sugar in an effort either to numb the longing deep inside.  In this way we find a surrogate substance that echoes in a ghostly way the true deep buried need for emotional comfort or excitement. We may attract narcissistic partners to us and in repeating the pattern begin to suffer an emotional breakdown of some point which serve the purpose of bringing up our wounds so we can develop awareness and heal.  Such books as Kathlyn Rudlin’s are an outgrowth of such experiences which help others to recognise similar patterns.

Part of our adaption in being raised by a narcissistic, self involved or emotionally repressed parent is to develop a mask or false self which covers over how we feel inside. This mask self is not real, it is an adapted self. When we lose touch with who we really are deep inside and the feelings we have (that may exist in layers around past difficult experiences which accumulate in the absence of awareness) it is a painful experience. Depression is not uncommon and we probably have a deep well of profound feelings which are all mixed up, anger, frustration, confusion and longing, just to name a few.

If we come from an emotionally repressive place then the repression which existed in our early years often leads us to turn against ourselves. The false, adapted self takes covers over the real, true self that is buried deep inside. In this situation we develop a fairly complex shadow stuffed with all kinds of feelings which we are not even aware we are not permitting ourselves to feel.

Yesterday I was reading an excellent short article by Nathaniel Branden : Taking Back the Disowned Self.  In this article, which appears in the book Meeting the Shadow, Branden explains how we disconnect from our own emotional experience and meaning making ability around feelings in emotionally repressed and religiously based families. Over the course of development true feelings of children raised in these kind of families get disowned. The child is literally no longer feeling those feelings consciously.

When we are young there is no differentiation or separation between feelings and the body, emotions are a psycho somatic experience. As yet we do not have a language around them. The ability to differentiate what we are feeling rests on the care givers ability to contain and mirror the feeling, reflecting it back to us and enabling us to find words around it. In emotionally repressive families, and most especially narcissistic ones this does not happen or it happens in a distorted way. Feelings are not mirrored, they are often not even allowed or acknowledged, they may be mis-translated and morp into something else.

When children cease to acknowledge and recognise feelings (most especially ones that are undesirable to the parent),Braden explains, feelings are deflected from awareness. Body tension occurs on the physical level, a kind of muscular response which causes numbing and partial anaesthesia. It is a process that does not take place by conscious design but at an entirely unconscious level. In numbing oneself in this way the child learns to deny and hide her true feelings, judgements and evaluation. She pushes away her true experience and then learns to disown parts of her personality.  Branden explains:

For the majority of children, the early years of life contain many painful and frightening experiences. Perhaps a child has parents who never responded to his need to be touched, held or caressed, or who constantly scream at him or at each other, or who deliberately invoke fear and guilt in him as means of exercising control; or who swing between over solicitude and callous remoteness or who subject him to the and mockery or who are neglectful and indifferent or who continually criticise and rebuke him; or who overwhelm him with bewildering and contradictory injunctions; or who present him with expectations and demands that take no cognizance of his knowledge, needs or interests; or who subject him to physical violence, or who consistently discourage his efforts at spontenaeity or self assertiveness.

It is also my belief that the neglect we suffer may not even have to be this overt, we may be raised by a parent who just does not see into us and so lacks the ability to relate to us at all. This is the kind of ghost mother that Rudlin talks about in her book and interview quoted before.

The end result for those of us who endure these experiences in a condition of inner barricading or blockage of our emotional truth and needs. And even though we have learned to defend against pain, we also learn to defend against pleasurable feelings too. Such feelings often threaten to overwhelm us when we have had to develop defences against the pain of longing for life, expression and love that were consistently denied, rejected or frustrated. The degree of repression that people encounter in childhood, of course varies. I would state that there is also a generational element to emotional repression and from decade to decade certain emotions become acceptable and non acceptable. However most of us suffer to some degree from emotional repression, due the unfolding of collective evolution and history. Most of our parents had no alternative but to repress due to emotional unavailability or other stresses in their own parents’ life.

In repressing the truth of our experience as children we lose touch with the light and dark feelings, both of which are essential to our human development and experience. Add to this the fact that the need to protect and defend against the true knowledge of our repression, to maintain defences against this knowledge operates at a deeply subconscious level and we find ourselves in later life in a considerable bind. Consistently thrown into situations which evoke or stir up our repressed needs, we find ourselves challenged, not only by others, but by our own internalised emotional defences against the expression, most particularly of so called difficult emotions (anger, fear, guilt, excitement, sadness, joy).

/In his article Branden gives an example of his work with a psychiatrist who attended one of his lectures. This man claimed to have had “an exceptionally happy childhood”.   His parents had been “marvellously responsive” he said.  . Branden had him lie down on the floor imagining he was in a hospital bed and that his life was about to end in a moments time. He asked the psychiatrist to imagine his mother there, to imagine himself looking deep into his mother’s eyes and with so much unsaid between them, for him to feel the presence of all that was unsaid and then to find the words to speak that which was so important for him to express.

When the man spoke it was in a much younger voice

“When I spoke to you,” he said to his imagined mother “Why didn’t you ever listen?”.

Branden did not wish to expose the man further and so he cut short the exercise and was met with a sheepish look of astonishment from the psychiatrist.

Branden goes on to explain that undertaking such an exercise with both parents is a very good way for those of who have suffered difficulties with frustrated need and longing to get in touch with what we may have buried or hidden from awareness. It is a way of giving our inner child a voice. The psychiatrist who attended Branden’s lecture was not in fact lying when he spoke earlier of his childhood. He had just repressed the truth.

“The consequence for him as an adult”, Branden writes “was not only emotional impairment but also a thinking impairment” since his judgements were distorted and so impeded his work, most especially with his patients. I would say this would be fairly common for a number of psychiatrists.

Branden goes on to speak of another emotionally repressed client who found great difficulty expressing his anger towards an abusive and narcissistic parent, along with his anger, this man was also blocked in his capacity to feel sadness and pain for the child he was. When the defences of his client began to break open further along in therapy he cried “I’m afraid of him, I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me! He’ll kill me.” These are not uncommon regressed feelings that can dominate us unconsciously and I can and do relate. The killing energy may not be present even as a physical thing. It may be a certain look that our parent turns upon us when we try to express certain truths which threaten them and hit against their own defences.

In her seminars on emotional defences published in the book Barriers and Boundaries the English astrologer and psychotherapist Liz Greene addresses the issue of repression and defences using the birth charts of the famous together with seminar attendees. Defences she claim serve a powerful function and can be difficult to become conscious of for the very reasons mentioned above. Using various charts and asking the relevant people questions she manages to show how certain psychological traits, needs, impulses and energies can and do get split off or alienated from conscious awareness often due to the fact that a certain elements of the psyche and personality do not fit well with others. Some clash internally, while others clash with externals in the environment, most notably the parents energies, defences and temperamental biases.

Poor temperamental fit does occur often and then we find ourselves experiencing difficulties expressing certain traits : emotional hunger and need (Moon), self expression and assertiveness (Mars), emotional intensity and depth (Pluto). With my own Saturn Mars Moon and Chiron Moon Pluto issues I could relate to some of the examples shared.

My own chart is full of air and very low on water and earth. My mother’s chart is very strong on water and fire and the air in her chart is non existant.   As parent and child we were a very poor fit. Her capacity to relate to, validate and mirror me was strongly impaired. Following my sister’s death a cache of letters my mother had written to my much older sister following her marriage and move to another country revealed to me the way in which not only did she just not “get” me but also her dismissal and disparagement of who I was and how I expressed myself as a person.

When I was drawn to astrology in later life I made a wonderful friend and “astro-buddy” with her own painful childhood. We shared so much and reflected on each other’s experiences personally, intimately, psychologically and astrologically. She was deeply intuitive and one day she said to me “Deborah it is like you are this Stradivarias violin and you are playing a tune to someone (your mother) who is musically illiterate. She just doesn’t get it and she doesn’t appreciate it.” This comment and insight really helped me.  I have struggle over years with my mother, feeling that we often speak two different languages.

Recently I was watching a dating show and one of the contestants was talking about how she realised that the person she was being matched with was not suited to her. “He just didn’t’ get me”, she said. “For a relationship to work I need to be with someone who ‘gets’ me.”.

Wow, I thought. Good on you. How I wish I had that degree of insight in my early twenties. Obviously this woman had parents who were able to mirror her and help her to understand who she really was. In her mid twenties she had a strong enough self esteem and enough self knowledge to recognise, challenge and walk away from what was not suitable.

Being able to separate in this way often is not encouraged in certain families and with certain parents. In my own case a strong Neptunian element means that expression and acceptance of difference was not easily experienced. It has taken a much longer journey for me, at nearly twice that age and lots of pain to begin to recognise that what others have tried to point out is “wrong” with me, is actually a sign of who I am and can only be disowned at great personal cost. For I do believe that it is true that to split off and reject fundamental elements of our personality and self expression is to suffer a loss of energy and a resulting depression. It sets us up to be co-dependent and vulnerable to narcissistic relationships.

Alice Miller addresses just this issue in her wonderful book The Drama of Being a Child. She writes

The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality – the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only happy, beautiful, or good but can reflect the entire range of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair and grief… Our access to the true self is possible only when we no longer have to be afraid of the intense emotional world of childhood. Once we have experienced and become familiar with this world, it is no longer strange and threatening. We no longer need to keep it hidden behind the prison walls of illusion. We know now who and what caused our pain, and it is exactly this knowledge that give us freedom at last from old pain.

To have this and know this means that walking away from the narcissist no longer feels like the worst pain in the world but like a liberation from the depths of a horrible hidden truth that no longer needs to keep us in prison. We need to ‘get’ it, so we can ‘get’ ourselves free from the bind of the compulsion to repeat traumatising patterns in relationship.

Alice Miller quotes in her book just mentioned the experience of Pia, a woman who after a long experience of depression was finally able to find freedom by experiencing a long suppressed rage towards the father who had mistreated her.

The world has not changed. There is so much evil and meanness all around me, and I see it even more clearly than before. Nevertheless, for the first time I find life really worth living. Perhaps it is because for the first time, I have the feeling that I am really living my own life.

Painful as it might be I do believe we reclaim our lives when we can finally acknowledge and own our true needs and reactions to pain and invalidation in the past.  As adults we are no longer the helpless child, armed with knowledge and insight into our true selves we are in a strong position to find happiness and freedom from what hurts us.  We can own the power to walk away and love ourselves through the pain.

Earlier today I was listening to a  song by Sarah McLachlan which was the soundtrack to the final end of my relationship with the last narcissist.  in it she sings the words “hold on to your self this is gonna hurt like hell”.  Admitting to and owning the truth of the pain I was in and finding out I could find no validation or comfort from my mother but just more of the same was a wake up call.  The healing of the hurt was in the feeling of the wound. In the end there was no way around it .    Only through allowing it to burn me clean, with rage and tears could I become free and that has been a process that has been underway for just under five years now.  I am finally sleeping through most nights.  A lot of tears were shed listening to that song this afternoon.  I had not been strong enough to listen to it for some time.  That I was able to do so, means I have a much stronger container now in my body enabling me to express and experience emotional truth.  For what it is worth that for me is a priceless gift beyond measure.  It gives me back me.