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.