On shame and trauma : the antidote is unconditional love

It was not my fault.jpg

Shame runs very deep for most traumatised people.  Profound self loathing (seeing yourself as disgusting, unlovable, worthless, useless, incompetent and hopeless) can even help you make meaning of traumatic life events and still survive in the world.  In experiencing shame you are incorporating the violations of your body, spirit and mind as if these acts provide indisputable evidence that you are inherently not good enough.  In other words, in feeling shame you become what was done to you.  You conduct your life with intense disgust directed at yourself.  Such inadvertent attempts to annihilate your essence can lead to suicide.  In shame, you only know yourself as the excrutiating pain and the complete aloneness.  Shame is the ultimate re-enactment of trauma.

The truth is that your essence is untouchable.  Your essence is beautiful, lovable, pure and precious… no matter what!!!

Learning to treat yourself with unconditional love, compassion and respect will take courage, tenacity and determination.  There is not a painless way to form new beliefs about yourself.  It takes heroism to learn and practice self – supporting skills in personal, social and vocational circumstances.  Ironically, you will probably feel very uncomfortable with being loving to yourself: you might well have a need to feel uncomfortable.

Your core theories involving shame are formed by traumatic circumstances, and these foundations need to be slowly and surely dismantled within the container of unconditional love and compassion for yourself.  Your discomfort can be observed, accepted, soothed and survived with the active and loving presence of your wise self.

You can learn to establish and maintain eye contact, to be present in the moment, to listen attentively to other people and respond accordingly.  You can be curious about everything and seek out wonderful experiences.


Excerpt from Evolve with Trauma : Become Your Own Safe, Compassionate and Wise Friend.


Related link:  Freeing yourself and understanding self blame



(Image credit : Pinterest)

It really is okay : speak up! Finding meaning in and through expressing trauma.

I felt there was a healing today.  Mum and I went out to lunch and we were able to talk through a lot of the issues surrounding her concerns with how my sister and I will fare when she is no longer here.  Turns out she has decided giving us a big amount of money is not the best thing to do, and I must say I am very relieved about this.

Often the way we react around money isn’t to do with money at all and in my case the money in my family represents the loss of emotional connection and other important values, like time for being able to be together without a lot of stress from business issues and pressures.

I felt very sad for my Mum today.  I began to see that she was trying to help us according to her idea of what may be helpful for us, but it wasn’t really what we needed.  In my own case I would be happier just to have some time to spend together with my family, especially at this time of year when painful reminders of how we lost my Dad when he was still quiet young are all around.

When traumas hit there is absolutely no way you can be prepared.  That is the nature of shock and trauma.  It just comes upon you out of left field.  If like me you have about three very major traumatic events within a short period of time the trauma is compounded.  If then you don’t get any help following the trauma but are sent away or struggle by taking yourself away in a knee jerk fashion, things rebound and get even worse.  Trauma on trauma piles up and compounds.

From the age of 17 to 23 when my Dad died I could list you about 10 major traumas that I went through.  Its fine to say now that is all over and so long ago in the past but the fact is trauma upon trauma compounded in my own life, led to addiction which caused even more trauma and then recovery came but due to the unconscious nature of compounded trauma it was still impacting my life about 20 years later.

Trauma, trauma, trauma, trauma.  What more can I say but now 30 years later I am finally aware of all the traumas (or most of them).  The trauma fragments and splinters are no longer lodged like schrapnel somewhere deep in my body.  16 or more years of therapy has done its  work and many of those deep trauma fragments have worked their way out.  There are still deep scars in the psychic spaces where the schrapnel was lodged, however I know the attempts I have made to express trauma and express trauma imprints even when they have not been well received by others have never the less been essential to my recovery.  The deep pain showed me how essential it was to tend my wounds.  All the rages and anger and dummy spits have been essential, even a lot of the tantrums.  At times they may have rebounded and made me or others ricochet away but their expression has still has been essential to the healing process.

I know that when I do honestly make the attempt to speak up or point things out I may initially get a rebuff.  I can understand that it is upsetting for lots of people, but that doesn’t make it wrong.  My therapist has helped me to see that often people will try to make me feel like I am wrong or bad or selfish for self expressions that seem overly dramatic, but that does not mean I have done anything wrong, it just means others are having a problem receiving it and may not understand the depth of trauma that lies beneath for me.  As long as I am being honest and not really hurting anyone it really is for the best to get it out.

That said, in time many of us raised with wounded instincts and lack of self protective boundaries do learn some of the limitations of trying to share intense memories or experiences in the wrong place and with the wrong people.   We have to keep seeking and try to find those who do understand and that is not always easy for some of us.  We might have many tries and so called ‘fails’ but with each fail if we negotiate it well we do learn something.  There is no way our healing  journey out of trauma can be perfect. We need to go easy on ourselves and also cut others some slack when they fail us in certain ways.

I am breathing a big sigh of relief this afternoon.  Mum and I reached a resolution about the past and we were able to share some grief over my Dad together.  I know how hard both my father and mother worked thinking they were doing the right thing by trying to reach for material success.  I see how in many ways they unconsciously recreated the traumas and loneliness and struggle of their respective childhoods.  I see how much of the pain and loneliness I carried and how as the last one in the line I got impacted far more severely in some ways, but also got a chance to see the wider pattern, at least once I entered recovery and started doing my emotional work as part of emotional sobriety.

I have a strong feeling that many of the tears I have shed over these nearly 23 years of sobriety have not only been personal, but also collective and ancestral.  I hope it doesn’t sound like hubris or arrogance but I really do believe my task has been as a light worker to enter those dark and desolate places, understand the resonances, imprints, echoes and reverberances over time and in feeling them bring them out of darkness into the light.

Just after my marriage ended and I put myself in enforced solitary confinement at the coast house my father and brother built six years before he died, just prior to the time the trauma shit hit the fan for us collectively as a family with my auto accident in 1979 I had a dream. I was on an island alone and over in the distance was the mainland a large strip of inhabited land with lots of houses and lots of lights.

On the mainland I was aware that my family were celebrating (this was true the entire family apart from me had gone north to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday).  I was alone on the island and I entered a field by climbing over a turnstile and entering a gate.  Beyond the gate was a deep black pit.  In my hands I had a silver cup.  I knew my task was to empty the dark sludge out of the deep pit, it seemed like an enormous task.  The dream scene then shifted I was in a taxi about to go on a trip, my cousin was there.  She gave me a silver moon earring.  We cried together,  she said “I know this journey is hard but I am with you in spirit every step of the way,  It is a necessary journey, you need to take it for all of us”.  It was shortly after that I left for the UK and had my second major accident, the one that gave me such bad PTSD I had to return home to Australia after a few months.

Thinking about it today I have a sense that for all of those years the roads were always leading me back home.  The ancestral pattern over the past 4 or so generations has been to migrate away from family to another place or country.  I now know that pattern broke when Chiron passed over my Mars Saturn Moon conjunction 11 years ago in 2005.  I had to return here to put the severed bits together.  In that time my older sister has died, her sons have returned for visits and we have done some grieving.  In that time I have been able to mourn for all the losses and separations that span over 116 years and echoed along the ancestral line to these past three generations.

Mum was telling me today how much my father loved the house at the coast where I lived from 2005 – 2010 the years when my own Dark Night of the Soul really descended.  She was crying as she told me.  Dad said to me “this is our little piece of paradise”.  Sadly in a few years he died and didn’t really get to enjoy it.  Was it any wonder that his ghost called me back there 20 years later?  What was I trying to live and resolve there at that time unconsciously that my father could not?  Was this partly an expression of complicated, unresolved grief? I think so on some level.  But so much happened in those years and in the new relationship which I found there that in the end was dogged by both our emotional losses and wounds.  This relationship could not survive the tearing of our unconscious griefs which in many ways were so similar and ended up pushing us so far apart. I had far deeper work to do and was called upon a journey at the time Chiron returned to its place in my 7th house and that relationship needed to break, breaking my heart open to the deepest, deepest grief.

It seems to me that the healing journey takes us on a circular, spiral journey.  We travel back around to the key imprints and anniversaries in the cycles of the year and each time we pass around we gain a little elevation that enables us to better see the patterns and interconnections that lie beneath and propel us forward.  After many years of travelling over the ground again and again we can gain deeper insights and meaning and are able to make more sense of the wounding losses, pain and trauma patterns that in earlier years entrapped us repeating unconsciously.

Today towards the end of our lunch, Mum said to me.  “I know there has been so much loss, pain and suffering but I truly believe there is a time to rise above it and to enter the present moment, otherwise what is the purpose of all that loss, all that pain?”

I think she is so right.  The loss should show us how precious life and the present moment is.  It should remind us how precious are the ones we love, that there is often not enough time and we realise all too late what is so important.  We realise that we should value those we love and be close to them when we can and be grateful for the gifts that remain.  And we can through the wisdom we gain through loss learn to love, to understand and to heal the very real wounds that cause fissures within which open us on some level to the infinite and timeless nature of love.

I do feel that the lifting my mother spoke of actually comes as the final stage in a journey of mourning abandonment wounds which may take many months or even long years.  Each person’s journey is unique and follows its own trajectory and its pace and process and timing should be honoured and respected.

So if you need to cry, cry.  If you need to rage, rage.  It really is okay.  Just let yourself speak up and shed until the need to speak and shed is done.


Four Questions that can help me be more present and loving with myself

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I believe that almost all our sadnesses

are moments of tension

that we find paralysing

because we no longer hear

our surprised feelings living.


Perhaps it is a legacy of trauma. Perhaps one of the purposes of trauma is to make us more aware of the intimate connection between ourselves and our bodies. I was recently having a discussion with a cranio sacral therapist who helps clients live with trauma, and she mentioned that one of the consequences of trauma can be a split between our heads and our bodies. Due to the unbearable pain and damage we can take flight away from the body.  And, as we do, we loose touch with our soul and become more vulnerable to compulsions.  The healing of trauma involves healing this splitting or dissociation.  It involves finding a way to be with a body and being present to a soul that might be suffering deeply, instead of taking flight and running from it.

With this in mind I would like to share four questions, adapted from Mary O’Malley that she used to work with damage to her body due to lack of presence and compulsions which urged her to take flight.


In the course of her healing she learned to heal her own splitting and dissociation by asking the following questions.

These questions are related to using our symptoms and feelings as “treasure”, as messages from ourselves as to what happened to us, how we suffered, what the child felt, as well as to what might be needed beyond the reactive need to engage in a compulsion. I would encourage anyone interested in a more detailed explanation to read her book. The Gift of Our Compulsions : A Revolutionary Approach to Self Acceptance and Healing.

As I share this information I am called to remember a quote from Rilke’s work  Letters to a Young Poet, where he urges the reader to love the questions, fo enter deeply into them, rather than just seek answers to the questions.  In being present to the questions and to ourselves I do believe we find our way back home to our deepest self.

Question One                         

In this moment, what am I experiencing?

O’Malley reminds us with this question that the healing we long for when we can become curious about what is actually happening now. Not our story about what is happening (which we can note, as part of this practice and label “thinking”), but rather, what we are experiencing in this moment. Cultivating curiosity about ourselves and our inner life is at the heart of this question. A passionate listening to our felt experience.   O’Malley explains “The tight knot in the stomach, the lump in the throat, the anger that feels like it is going to explode are all trying to tell us something.” In this practice we are developing the capacity to be present with life as it is, rather than becoming identified with our story about life. Letting go is a huge part of this recognition. The thinking we engage in can be the resistance to the felt experience, that once touched in this way can be recognised and let go, rather than indentified with magnified.

Question Two                  

For This Moment, Can I Let this Be Here?

Working this question involves creating space and acceptance around whatever we have discovered in asking the first question. O’Malley says “the quickest and most powerful way to dissolve our struggles is to let them be.” When we tighten around our experience we hurt more, when we harden we suffer and struggle, where we bend and let be, things soften, including our hearts. This is not about becoming a passive victim of fate or becoming powerless, for once we can fully accept what is happening, even if we don’t like it, we become empowered to take positive action. In the face of abuse we can leave without being stuck in the reactive mode of being.   Another question might be “For this moment, can I NOT struggle with this?”


In this moment, can I touch this with compassion?

“At the centre of all great spiritual teachings lies the knowledge that everything is healing in the heart.”   What beautiful words. As O’Malley points out, is only with the heart at we find a true understanding. Such understanding involves a softened and compassionate heart. I have heard of a similar practice in other writings : to rephrase “For now can I show myself mercy and tenderness”. We can also use the powerful practice of placing our hand over our hearts and bringing attention to what the heart is trying to say in this moment. For “when our hearts finally open to ourselves, all that we have held in judgement and fear can be transformed”.

Question Four                 

Right now what do I truly need?

The final question asks of us an even deeper listening. It is about tapping into our deeper wise guidance which on some level knows what is needed for us to come back into balance. Many of us have not been taught how to truly listen to ourselves. Often we have been taught to place the emphasis of listening outside of ourselves, or we may have actually been told that what we said we needed was NOT what we truly needed. Listening deeply in this way, may take some practice but I do believe the more time we take centring deeply within, the more open we become to our inner guidance.

The four questions need not be used in any order.   They can be applied throughout our days whenever we can find a quiet time. I believe the four questions about have helped me to come into a greater balance in myself.

Supplementary questions include:

What is asking to be seen?

How can I give space to this?

How can I bring compassion to this?

What is the way through this?

In Letters to A Young Poet, Rilke wrote:

The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be ours, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is, steps forward out o us to others), we shall feel in our innermost selves akin and near to it.

In closing I am drawn to share some wise words from a fellow blogger : An Upturned Soul written in response to a comment I made which echoes the theme of this blog.

I’ve become friends with my pain, it’s an ally rather than an enemy now. Took me a long while to get there, the path was a gradual one, bit by bit I realised that it was showing me where it hurt and how to heal, as well as trying to reveal that pain is something which connects rather than separates, it connects us all in a way that nothing else does, it connects all of life and can be a spur for life.

Amen, Ursula, Amen.