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.

YOU ARE NOT THE SHAME YOU EXPERIENCE

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

 

Related link:  Freeing yourself and understanding self blame

http://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=2572

 

(Image credit : Pinterest)

Why intimacy with self and others rests on vulnerability.

According to Brene Brown the biggest thing that unravells or prevents connection and intimacy is shame.  She categorises shame as the fear of disconnection, the fear that if we really exposed who we truly were to others, and made ourselves vulnerable we would be found to be unworthy.

In her research into shame, Brene found that only those who had the courage to be honest, wholehearted and admit their imperfection and vulnerabilty were truly able to achieve a sense of connection and belonging.  An acceptance that they were worthy just because of who thet were warts and all meant they were more able to reach for and sustain relationships.

If you think about it what could disarm your own shame more than see others admit freely and unreservedly to their humanity and imperfections? Such a person would help you relax into your own self better and release with a big sigh the fear and shame that dogs you.

According to Brene another key characteristic of these people was that rather than being viewed as a source of shame their vulnerability was seen as an aspect of their complexity and beauty.  They were authentic, not trying to be someone other than who they really were.

In her talk The Power of Vulnerability, Brene speaks of how endemic to our culture is the numbing of vulnerabilty.   Collectively many of us are constantly running away from a deep confrontation with vulnerability and using processes or substances which block our experience of vulnerable feelings (this includes grief btw).

We cannot numb so called difficult or painful feelings with out numbing the positive ones too.  If our capacity to be vulnerable goes out the window, so too does the fruit of living naked, exposed and wholeheartedly.  When we block the experience of vulnerability we block our capacity for happiness and joy too. We limit our ability to wholeheartedly connect and we tend to remain locked in cycles of blame and shame either projecting them outwards with the Outer Critic or inward with tbe Inner Critic.

What would happen if we accepted ourselves and others unconditionally? Certainly the twin punishers of blame and shame would find no place.  This week when pain has forced blame inwards upon myself I have been answering back with love.  I feel lucky to be supported by both a therapist and a chiropractor who are teaching me to engage deeply with split off parts of myself that were not loved or accepted growing up.  I am learning that the unloved parts are those that need most attention and care.  Do I really have to be perfect to be lovable?

After listening to this talk the other day while having a coffee a man walked by with a huge dark birthmark covering half of his face.  I thought how individual and beautiful it made him.  I want to love my own birthmarks.  I want to stop trying to live up to some ideal image.  I want to feel peace and belonging in my own skin.  It appears that the talk of Brene’s was brought to my attention at the right time.  I am sure most people are aware of it. But it struck me as a powerful subject for a blog at a time where I feel the need to nurture my emotional self and am working to accept all parts of myself light and shadowy.

This week some strong feelings of sadness and disconnection have been summoned up for me, but a positive experience has come out of facing some of the ways my own hurt and feelings of vulnerability have at times blocked love and healing, seems ths new Cancer Moon and yesterdays connection of Sun and Mercury in Cancer has raised what are deep issues for me.

I just read a lovely blog on the Cancer New Moon which spoke of the fruits it offers, an opportunity for us in examinung old wounds to find and embrace a way of living that enables self care and self nurture, for only when we can achieve these do we have anything real to give to the world.  Self love rests in the power to be vulneranle most of all with ourselves.

 

 

 

 

The awful power of the inner critic

When parents do not provide a safe enough bonding and positive feedback, the child founders in anxiety and fear.  Many children appear to be hard wired to adapt to this endangering abandonment with perfectionism.

A prevailing climate of danger forces the child’s superego to over cultivate the various programs of perfectionism and endangerment listed below.  Once again, the superego is the part of the psyche that learns parental rules in order to gain their acceptance.

The inner critic is the superego gone bad.  The inner critic is the superego in overdrive desperately trying to win your parents’ approval.  When perfectionistic striving fails to win welcoming from your parent, the inner critic becomes increasingly hostile and caustic.  It festers into a virulent inner voice that increasingly manifests self hate, self disgust and self abandonment.  The inner critic blames you incessantly for your shortcomings that it imagines to be the cause of your parent’s rejection.  It is incapable of understanding that the real cause lies in your parents shortcomings.

As a traumatised child, your over-aroused sympathetic nervous system also drives you to become increasingly hyper-vigilant.  Hyper-vigilance is a fixation on looking for danger that comes from excessive exposure to real danger.  In an effort to recognise, prevent and avoid danger, hyper-vigilance is ingrained into your approach to being in the world. Hyper-vigilance narrows your attention into an incessant, on guard scanning of the people around you.  It also frequently projects you into the future, imagining danger in upcoming social events. Moreover, hyper-vigilance typically devolses into intense performance anxiety on every leve of self-expression.

Pete Walker, Shrinking the Inner Critic, in Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

In this particular excerpt, Pete Walker goes onto explain how in childhood if we are traumatised or neglected a healthy ego gets no chance to form.  We don’t get to develop a realistic sense of our true gifts and limits, in addition we tend to develop a chronic unconscious feeling of Toxic Shame.which unconsciously drives our behaviour in many ways.  In toxic shame we develop the unreal belief that we are fundamentally flawed.  We escape from the true reality of how we were painfully abandoned, often we are not allowed to know this was true.  In addition we may be shamed for healthy assertions of anger or protest and so our anger becomes bound in shame.  Indeed we can be shamed for all of our deep feelings, sadness, anger, joy, excitement.

At the same time we develop a relentless internalised critic that runs an ongoing campaign against our True Self.  It also induces in us emotional flashbacks,  where difficult and painful incidents of our past flood our present time awareness when triggered by thoughts about something we have done (for example spilling a glass of water) and launches into an all out attack upon us.  When we have been emotionally abandoned or neglected we are far more likely to set up relentless standards of perfection as a defence against feeling how painful it was not to have been loved unconditionally.

In his book Pete Walker outlines the 14 common ways the inner critic attacks us and tries to convince of immanent disaster accompanying any acts of empowerment or self assertion.  (Please note there is a much more comprehensive listing associated with each of the 14 types which you will find in the book).

Recovery involves understanding when we are being assailed by the inner critic or what psychologist Robert Firestone has called Destructive Thought Processes.

  1. Perfectionism (inner self persecution).
  2. All or None & Black and White Thinking (eg. your NEVER get it right)
  3. Self Hate, Self Disgust & Toxic Shame
  4. Micromanaging/Worrying/Obsessing/Looping/Over Futurizing
  5. Unfair/Devaluing Comparisons to others or to your own most perfect moments.
  6. Guilt
  7. “Shoulding”
  8. Over productivity/Workaholism/Busyholism
  9. Harsh Judgments of Self & Others/Name Calling
  10. Drasticisizing/Catastrophizing/Hypochondriasising
  11. Negative Focus
  12. Time Urgency’
  13. Distablising Performance Anxiety
  14. Perservating (projecting the idea of).. Being Attacked.

It took some years into my own recovery to become aware of the power of the destructive inner critic within myself.  When I had reached the point of most complete isolation I  experienced countless lashings from my own inner critic.  And then I got into a relationship a narcissist and was on the receiving end of critical attacks from him which it has taken me many years to become aware were actually harsh projections and devaluing attacks which came out of his own rigid Inner Critic projected onto me.  (This was a familiar experience from my own childhood btw)

I had read about the power of Toxic Shame in the early years of my own recovery from addiction but not really aware of the connection between toxic shame and the awful power of the inner critic.  How I wish I had read Pete Walker’s book years ago.

The truth is we cannot thrive as individuals and as our True Self in a climate of perfectionism and shame.  When we are bound by Toxic Shame and punished by the Inner Critic we don’t get to develop a relationship with the Inner Child within us who was abandoned and is in dire need of our compassion, sensitivity to its true needs and empathy. We most certainly don’t get to experience our true feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, abandonment and pain, as often we will shame ourselves for any display of these emotions until we come to understand how valid they were as responses to what happened to us in childhood.  And I do believe that it not only the parents to blame for this development of the Inner Critic but damaging forces around us such as hostile siblings, peers and teachers.

Pete Walker’s advice for shrinking the inner critic is to use the full force of our anger and outrage at its abuse against the inner critic within us.  It is only through such an active self directed “stopping” of the relentlessly harsh, fixed, judgements of the perfectionist critic within that we get to heal and to reparent our lost Inner Child in the way that child most needed to be parented in childhood, but wasn’t.

This takes work, and it is work in which we need powerful allies in the outer world who have developed a healthier relationship with their True Self and Child Within.  I personally have experienced being toxically shamed by the Outer Critic of at least four therapists in the past (the Outer Critic is an issue for a separate blog).  I even experienced an incident of this last year with my current therapist.

When we have had a traumatising childhood we have often been emotionally abandoned. To survive we erected real defences against ever feeling this primitive level of abandonment, the four ‘F’ responses that I have outlined in recent blogs.  Healing means dismantling these to meet the child within in its deepest most profound feelings of distress, anger, sadness and pain and finding ways to hold, and feel this pain so we can know the truth of what we experienced as well as all we may have lost along the way from never developing a healthy relationship to our True inner self.

The awful cost of being held hostage by the Toxic Shame of the Inner Critic perhaps for years, even into our own recovery is massive in terms of loss of our power to practice self-love, self-understanding and self-compassion.  It also exerts a massive cost on our relationships and when we project our own inner critic onto others.  It seems to me that understanding the power of the Inner Critic is essential to ongoing mental and emotional health.

By all means we need to grow and acknowledged ways in which we need to change.  However, this will be much more possible when we are not held hostage by the Inner Critic but can instead show love for ourselves and others, empathy and compassion for the way in which the True Self can be wounded and its development arrested by a toxic Inner Critic.

I Held Up a Mirror and I saw You

I am going through my drafts as this is the last day of 2015 and posting some incomplete blogs I found there.  This is the first:

This is a bit of a stream of consciousness inspired by a couple of blogs posted on An Upturned Soul’s site over the past week on attraction.  The astrologically minded may be aware that we are in the midst of a retrograde transit of the planet Mercury in the sign ruled by Venus, Libra which deals with aspects of relationship and attractions, the opposing of different qualities which seem opposed but often have shadow associations to each other such as dark/light, extravert/introvert, happy/sad, positive/negative.

My attention was drawn to the fact that at an astrological tutorial I attended on Venus retrograde given by the astrologer Melaine Reinhardt in London in 2002 she called attention to the fact that the symbol for Venus is like a hand mirror.  Venus relates to relationships but also to the idea of relationship as a mirror in which we are reflected or our image is refracted by the projections of the other holding it.

While writing that last line I had a image of a hand mirror with two faces superimposed on each other.  They may have been my face and the face of ex partner with whom I had all kinds of experiences and conflicts and who still haunts me (but not as negatively as he did when we first broke up).

What he saw when he saw me, was at first someone admirable in that I had been in recovery for addiction. That later became a source of conflict and angst while around his drinking buddies who thought getting trashed and hurting oneself was a source of great amusement.  Sorry to seem like a wet blanket but that idea horrified me, having lived the all too painful reality of it first hand and I was honest about my feelings which I was then told were wrong and just a source of difficulty for him as so many of my feelings and thoughts were.

Where am I going with this?  Well I guess its about how quickly that which was initially viewed as positive could become so negative for him and how the image in the mirror over time could morph from one of attraction to one of repulsion, had I changed?  No.  The image projected on me had changed.

Love and hate. Two sides of one coin?  Some people cant see it.  Carl Jung once wrote the opposite of love is not hate it is indifference.  The hatred and antipathy we feel towards something has to come out a feeling of desire to it be a certain way, to be in relationship with it in a particular way which is then frustrated and we have a hard time loving that thing or person once it seems to change and no longer fulfil our need.

I’m thinking about this a bit at the moment as I am writing a little about adequate holding environments in childhood and later in life, those relationships in which it is safe to experience a myriad of reactions and emotions both so called “positive” and “negative”.  It seems how we react to a particularly strong emotion has less to say about that emotion and the other person expressing it as it does about us and vice versa.

For a long time my family would never fail to upset me by reacting to my sadness or anger with fear and revulsion.  I have written many blogs about it over the past two or so years most especially while the planet Saturn was moving through the Pluto ruled sign Scorpio (which has to do with powerful emotions and resentment).  It took me some time to realise how they reacted was less about me that it was about them.  I did not realise that they were actually scared by my emotions, in just the same way their own emotions scared them.

Once I understood I was dealing with fear it was easier for me to accept their reactions. This occurred in the process of Saturn squaring my natal Uranus in the first house and I have another blog to write about this which highlights how my expectations of them were unrealistic and I had much to resolve about how emotions, needs, confrontations, emotionally honesty and feelings were dealt with in my family.  Note that Saturn was also at the time square to my natal Chiron in the seventh house which has to do with difficulties in expressing and dealing with conflict.

What I have learned as a result of this is about the importance of protest and its expression in the early childhood years in helping us to develop a better relationship with more primal emotions of frustration, disappointment and anger.  An adequate holding environment enables us to express what may be painful for others to hear without being shut down or judged for being bad which lead to a binding of all too human emotions in shame.  In his book Healing the Shame That Binds You, recovering alcoholic John Bradshaw shows the critical role shame bound emotions play in addiction and how important healing our shame is in healing from addiction.

Often the shame we feel about our emotions isn’t really ours in the first place.  It never was.  On some level we know this but its a truth we hold deep inside that many of us can’t know we know until a long way down the track.   Learning about fear and shame especially when it is projected upon us seems to me a most essential lesson as we go along the path of healing especially for those of us who were raised in low nurturance and low empathetic house holds.

How could parents who could not understand or express their own repressed emotions understand our or help us to express them?  In the end the work is ours and the relationships we meet and the reactions too can teach us a lot about our past, about where we are and are not seen, where we trapped in old patterns that we need to heal and let go of.

The losses we can’t feel, the grief we can’t heal.

Until we can allow ourselves to feel the pain over all that we lost the difficult consequences that the multi generational legacy of addiction has brought to us, the love we lost, the connections that got broken or could not properly form because of our own stinted capacity to relate that was a curse of a childhood in which we never got to truly trust and connect how can we heal?

It seems to me often that there is an investment in only looking on the surface of things.  We don’t help people to look down to the roots of what gave rise to a plant that was stinted in its ability to grow. If we didn’t get the right food, light, warmth, comfort and nurture, this leaves a legacy and yet there is a place deep within us that can know that this was the reason we suffered and in feeling for our pain, in allowing our souls to admit it to consciousness we can heal.

I believe there is something in the soul that needs to open to the truth of our suffering and only by taking that course do we effect both an understanding and a deepening as well as some kind of resolution.  Without this capacity to open to our own suffering, how can we open to the suffering of others?

If we have to shut the door on all pain and use our different defences of judgement or rage to keep the bars of that defence in place how can we ever truly enter the chambers of the heart that contain the healing balm and elixir of love?

These thoughts were in my mind and heart as I read today’s daily mediation from Tian Dayton in my daily recovery reader.

 Necessary Losses.

There are many losses that I go through because of this disease (alcoholism) which need grieving.

She then goes onto to articulate some of these losses.

All of these losses are real and need to be grieved so that I can move through them, learn, grow and embrace the life that is now becoming more real and more my own each day.

Tian ends the reading the following quote from David Hare:

It’s hard enough to grieve, but when you don’t know the truth, everything freezes and you can’t move on.

Sometimes we don’t want to know the truth, we may erect defences or even lie to ourselves or others.  We then go into the deep freezing taking along with us feelings that when thawed by the light of consciousness would become a living river which carry us on to healing.

If we have lived long enough and come to be honest about the course of our lives, we may see many difficult choices we make which led to suffering, for ourselves and for others.   The pain of these when brought to awareness in honesty becomes in Kahlil Gibrain’s words “the bitter potion through which the physician within you heals your sick self.”

Lately I have been thinking about how blame can be a defence against feeling the suffering and pain we may have within us that needs to be felt. Release from self pity or unnecessary or inappropriate guilt and shame is essential in this life because it is human to err. Along the way in this life we will make mistakes but that too is part of the journey. It is only when we don’t learn from them and make the necessary changes that we stay stuck. So the pain we feel in opening to the learning, may be the price of our liberation.

Most certainly I know within my own soul how good it feels to finally be able to open the door that has been barred shut by blame, shame, denial or guilt and allow the torrent of pent up feeling beneath these to be released in a healthy way.

My shame keeps me in prison by not allowing me to see that I am human and make mistakes and that I am not God and do not have unlimited power. Neither does anyone else. Blame keeps me in prison by keeping the focus outside of myself rather than on myself so that I can see the necessary steps that need to be taken to move away from what hinders, wounds or hurts.

In the past few weeks I have been allowing myself to feel both the grief and anger that are part of the lack of affirmation I had in my own life that led me to a pit of addiction over years. I have not lived within that black place for many years now. While in the addiction all was hidden from me. The path out involved a prolonged sojourn in some very dark woods, especially at age 40 when I went into the place of deep aloneness and undoing.

Over the past 13 years so much has been unravelling, trying to make its way out, to be acknowledged and felt. At times in ignorance I turned to places and people who could not, would not validate it. I also went through the inner argument which was a consequence of a painful path whose truths could not always be felt or articulated.

Today I am feeling deep grief and pain, for my sister smashed up in hospital, falling as a consequence of being placed on medication which has now allowed her feelings a place to come out. I have had two mornings of searing anxiety which has been expressed in deep electrical body pain, that was only released as I opened the barred door and cried with and for my sister and acknowledged deeply my own powerless over her.

That admission of powerlessness in some way floods me with strength, peace and power. It liberates me from the strangle hold of anxiety that comes when I don’t realise that I have no power over others, only over my own choices and that I can make the choice to love even those who in their ignorance hurt due to their own unconsciousness and so end up suffering. And I can see too how that applies to the way I treat myself, at times.

In feeling my own pain and grief over these things I am liberated and the empty spaces and places deep within my own heart are filled with healing.  I can cry deeply and release the grief that was buried under anger, I can see where unjustified anger has caused me even deeper pain and release that too. I can see where my demand for consciousness within a situation and with others where such demands were not realistic ends up wounding me more and leads to more imprisonment and suffering. I can also see where anger was a necessary feeling that needed to be embraced and understood and how the feeling of it would allow me to take action and set appropriate boundaries against what hurt.

As I reflect on the astrological significance of these things I recognise that the Venus square to Pluto is in effect.  I am being taken to some depths of healing today and I am sure even deeper recognitions will come over the next few days.  For today it feels good to feel once more freedom from anxiety and peace deep within.

Connecting through the healing power of blogging

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I’d like to think I am impervious to the approval of others, but I must admit my heart skipped a few beats and I did an inward dance of joy when four likes came through on three separate posts I wrote over the last few days. I’m not even sure it’s the approval I am looking for, more it is the indication that something I wrote has touched someone, resonated with someone, and that on some level I have connected.

I remember the first time I really felt I could be me, naked and honest, express some dark truths in my heart and be met, not with condemnation and blank stares, but with acceptance and understanding. It was in an AA meeting, nearly 21 years ago.   Other people had stood up and shared things I felt inside and this gave me the freedom and incentive to be able to expose myself.   It was really scary at the time, but one of the best things I have ever done.

At the same time, I see now that I could easily have embraced an identity of shame rather than understand it as a symptom of things that happened to me in trying to express myself coming out of emotional dysfunction. I was really just human, with very real wounds, weaknesses and strengths.

I shared in an earlier post on shame, about how riddled with shame I was by the time I was an adolescent. And also how being from a Catholic background I had the sinking feeling I wasn’t living up to certain standards. I had fairly emotionally barren childhood, and the one person who I really connected with was my eldest sister who died this year. Due to the age difference she was a surrogate mother to me for the most early formative years.  My Mum was working at that time and not emotionally available.  My sister understood me in a way my own mother did not, but sadly she married and left the country when I was three. In later years her influence was not a healthy one, she had her own struggles with shame and addiction and ended up permanently disabled.  My sister had a very strong spirit and for a girl growing up in the fifties and sixties.  It wasn’t easy for her to live her full light and power, so it got subverted. However, even in her later life, long after her health had failed, when she was in the care home, I still felt I had a place of refuge and being seen with her, but still only to a point.  She too had been wounded emotionally and suffered a kind of exile in our family.

It was always challenging when I cried, especially being an empath and feeling or resonating with her pain,  My sister was a pretty tough Capricorn with the Sun and Moon there and her Mars in Cancer which was the deep feeling side was squashed by Saturn, so tears were not always welcome.  Sometimes tears were acceptable, but at other times I got a slap on the wrist. My sister struggled with bi polar illness, psychotic episodes followed a brain injury but the brain injury was a result of alcohol abuse and over work.  In a way the light and fire and passion of her spirit met with many difficulties and losses – these cause her to feel trapped and in pain and powerless, all Saturn Mars issues.  Her own struggle with accepting and expressing feelings projected onto me, was her struggle, not really personal to me.

My sister lives in my heart every day, and it may sound strange to say that while I miss her, I am not truly sad that she has gone as I feel her living on and that the painful journey she had to travel has just reached a different stage. I also feel it was necessary for her to go as her spirit was too confined in the life she had, with little way out.

I am very aware of her spirit and of my dead father’s too, at the moment. I recently read a story of a woman, Anita Moorjani, who had a near death experience following a battle with lymphoma.  In passing to the other side she met with a great source of unconditional love and acceptance and met her dead relatives. She had the choice to return and understand all the conditions that led to her developing cancer. Basically the truth she realised was that due to the condition of an Indian culture she never felt acceptable and loved as a woman and developed the belief that she had to try so hard to win approval in order to be loved. Her passing to a point of great awareness also enabled her to see the imprisoning and damaging effect of beliefs, not only in her own life but in our collective lives.

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Listening to her story on audio helped me to come to so much peace about my sister’s death. Maybe the same spirit born into a later time or culture or family would not have suffered as much.  As an astrologer I see there is a place where the personal interconnects with the collective impersonal energies around us to affect lives and personal journeys in so many different ways. I am very conscious of this at present as on Saturday my mother turns 90 and a lot of us are gathering to celebrate. I am conscious of the ancestral component of my Mum’s life, of the time she was born into, of her limitations and strengths and of how her journey lived on in her children of which I am the youngest and of how we, too, were impacted by the beliefs of Catholicism and the effects of two world wars.  It strikes me now in editing this that there is a strong Plutonian theme to this and we are in the Pluto ruled Scorpio time of year, but Saturn the planet of shame is also related.  Mum has Saturn in Scorpio.

My mother lost her father at age 7 and that impact had a huge effect, not only on her life, but on ours too. After writing a blog about shame the other day, I have been considering the impact of shame in my mother’s own life. As a single parent in the depression left alone with no war pension my grandmother had to work and leave my mother alone to fend for herself for long periods.  She drove my mother hard too, in terms of making her clean and keep things together. Mum once said to me that I was a later developer, the truth was she had to grow up too young and shoulder adult responsibilities as a child. My mother was not nurtured, she never learned to nurture and expressions of need fell on deaf ears.

The shaming my mother experienced at the hands of abusive nuns, their lack of empathetic treatment of a child who had lost her father and so didn’t do her homework and played hooky from school has had an impact on her to this day. Sometimes I forget my Mum didn’t grow up with the advantages I had but her emotional lack of nurturing and shame was passed onto me my two sisters in different ways.

I was thinking last night when I got into bed how shame and perfectionism are inter connected.   Perfectionism is the antidote we try to apply to deal with our shame, but it ends up creating more shame for we can’t live up to ideals as a defence against shame without creating more misery for ourselves. At some level I feel these issues are endemic to our culture. Where one religion or group feel they have the rule book on what is right and wrong and others are damned it makes it possible to see others not as humans but as objects. Those who are not good or perfect enough, who don’t live by the right ideals, just deserve the worst hardship that can befall them. Certain people then, can act in shameless ways, without ever allowing their heart to be touched by the heart of another who exists beyond the artificial divide their beliefs set up.

The song Belief by John Mayer expresses these truths:

Belief is a beautiful armour,

But makes for heaviest sword,

Like punching under water,

You never can see who you’re trying for.

Some need the exhibition

And some have to know they’ve tried

It’s the chemical weapon

For the war that’s raging on inside

The Sufi poet Rumi says : out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field, I will meet you there. I want to live in that field. I can see in my own life where I have set up divides against right and wrong and have felt that those I saw to be doing wrong deserved some kind of punishment, so John Mayer’s words have applied to me too.  I wonder if some of this comes from my Catholic upbringing, or its just a human trait – that we tend to split and polarise.

At the same time I feel that to be able to own anger at boundary violations of others, is an important step in reclaiming esteem and personal power and energy that is lost in shame, especially where we are shamed by the shameless or those who just don’t have any insight into deeper emotional realities. Having been on the receiving end of this in my life I know how it stings. One is then exiled and doesn’t really have much of a place to go. Addiction is such a place as substances such as alcohol and drugs can, for a time, numb the emotional pain of a wound that one is not permitted to feel. It’s a painful dilemma. We then wind up in recovery and can share with others about the shame, but we must be very aware that in exposing our vulnerable underbelly we are not shamed yet again, for I think as addicts we can easily take on the shadow projections of others.

The truth is we did what we needed to try and survive hostility and in environments, which lacking empathy taught us to unconsciously turn against ourselves and retreat smarting. According to Kim Saeed who helps people deal with the damage of co-dependence that leads us to painful relationships:

The problem arises in where co-dependency can often be expressed through the relationships they develop with other people because they are hypersensitive to hostility and prefer to avoid conflict. Their natural ability to want to keep the peace and make their partners pleased can easily be manipulated by those who are prone toward anger and aggression.

Until we find the loving place of wisdom and acceptance deep within, we are doomed to wander lost.  Lacking the boundaries and courage to stand up against what hurts we allow ourselves to be wounded again. So we do need to believe in ourselves and our power to be stronger than shame.

I shared yesterday about my dog Jasper getting hurt on Sunday.   I think it was a bull ant sting. He yelped in pain (a natural response to pain), then limped home, retreated to the garage licked his paw and then went to sleep, a few hours later he was fine (regardless of my worrying, I was able to leave him and give him some alone time to rest and heal).

I love the fact that animals just know what to do instinctively. I think about this on a metaphorical level having spent years in retreat licking wounds and stings and trying to find a way to come back to healing and the centre of myself.  Many times a period of retreat and rest is needed when we are undergoing radical change and addressing our wounds.  . Not only that, I know why this injury hit me so deeply on Sunday,  having suffered really bad injuries myself, seeing others injured or hurt really triggers my own imprints of pain.

I feel in some way even this blog has been a way for me of licking invisible wounds, of sharing and then coming back to centre.  As I move towards its first anniversary in a few month’s time I am so grateful for the chain of experience that led me to WordPress, for me it is an avenue for expression and a beautiful resource of sharing and resonance in which I have found such comfort from other souls. For today I will let this gratitude flow over me as I move out into the windy day.

It gave me such a warm feeling to receive those four likes on my posts, and I think that makes me human. Truth is, my heart is warmed when I am connected, having gone through many years of disconnection, that warmth is a lovely feeling. So thank you to those who have read, shared, liked and followed.

Reflections on Shame

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I’d like to share here some things I have been reading and discovering about the role of shame in co-dependency, addiction and recovery.

Discovering the role of shame in my own life and its relationship to my addiction was a turning point for me. This discovery came several years into recovery and sobriety when I read John Bradshaw’s book : Healing the Shame that Binds You.  In that book John gave words to the feeling that had dogged me, especially during adolescence, that I was somehow defective as a person, not quite able to measure up.  This perspective led me to feel insecure and quite unsure of myself, it led me to hide and it also led me to my addictions, although I was not fully conscious of this at the time.

Shame was particularly associated with my Catholic upbringing. I learned to be ashamed of my body and my sexuality. It didn’t help being tall, I was often called names for being tall, skinny and gangly with did nothing to enhance my self esteem. Was I aware of this at the tender age of 18 when I started my first intimate relationship with my first boyfriend? No way. Hiding is a key aspect in shame and my shame and other feelings were repressed. I just wasn’t aware of the way they were driving me unconsciously.

There is a difference between guilt and shame but both can be used by parents and other caregivers who may want to induce in us, certain behaviours.  I recently read the following which explains something of how this happens:

These same useful (if painful) mechanisms can be turned against us by others who know (usually unconsciously) how to exploit them, and serve to drain off our own energy for their use. Guilt can be, then, inauthentic, like a computer virus, which hijacks our own circuitry for its purposes. Or shame becomes triggered not when we are doing something inherently anti-social, but rather when we are doing something that runs against the particular needs of an individual/group/family to have us hew to its rules, in order to have us accessible as an energy resource. In other words, the shame is not signaling that our behavior is anti-social (against social connectedness and cohesiveness), but rather is a chain that’s being yanked to keep us in line with another’s needs.

Source:  http://www.psychedinsanfrancisco.com/energy-theft

Guilt figured greatly in the creation of the inherent feeling of myself to be shameful. It was a huge part of what I was taught in my childhood.  I remember being guilted and shamed for taking initiative in my class one day, going to the cupboard and opening a new box of tissues for the class.  I had disobeyed (apparently??) some rule of which I was unconscious and got a roasting for it.

Reading John’s book I learned how, in childhood, we can be shamed for our very real and natural feelings. Anger is one feeling that is often shamed. Sadness too can be shamed, but so can excitement and joy. Once feelings become bound in shame we no longer feel safe enough to feel them and to be ourselves, thus the generation of narcissistic disturbances and the splitting off and hiding of the true self with a false mask.

It is recognised that shame plays a huge part in narcissism because to be human is to be vulnerable, but due to humiliation and shame narcissists no longer feel safe in being vulnerable, imperfect and human. Thus they can act shamelessly and they often put on a mask. To own their very real shame would make them human and open to being intimate and vulnerable.

With most narcissists their vulnerability can be projected and they can reject their very humanness and imperfection, if they were taught in childhood that they only way they could win love was to deny very human feelings.   Luckily when I got into AA at the age of 31 I could share about my shame, in rooms with others who did so too. I just had to be careful about not taking it on as an identity.

I no longer believe in original sin, but that is one of the tenants of Catholicism that I was taught. It’s a horrible and damaging idea, that our very instinctual childlikeness is something to be ashamed of. For as a child we have not yet developed a relationships with and insight into our feelings, these come with the help of healthy mirroring and empathy which teach us about boundaries and help us to come to terms with our feelings. I don’t believe we are born “evil”. I believe a lot of what is judged to be evil is a projection and yet there are people out there who act with no sense of healthy shame and they can be perhaps capable of evil things, in the way they hurt others.

I have just been rereading Terry Kellog’s book on co-dependency: Broken Toy Broken Dreams, Understanding and Healing Boundaries, Co-dependence, Compulsion and Family Relationships. When I read really insightful stuff I have the impulse to share it on line. So I am including here some of the very perceptive things he writes about shame.

In the meandering of a lost childhood, one can remain on the path of perpetual suffering and victimization or be motivated into a path of abusive and using destructiveness. The journeys both begin with the child’s loss of childness, with the internalizing of the natural response to abuse, which is to feel bad about oneself, ashamed. One child continues to receive and internalize: another learns to project and offend. One identifies with victimization and postures of the victim, the other with the aggression and postures of the aggressor. Some of us may shift back and forth between the two roles. Those who do the hurting in our culture are the siblings of those who get hurt – both began life without the protecting and affirmation needed for sensitivity and gentleness to self and others.

The path from the pain and destruction is to embrace, feel and share the sense of shame, to feel it, not repress it; to share it, not hide it, to embrace it, not get rid of it.   In the shame lies our vulnerability and in our vulnerability lies our path to intimacy. In our shame is the gate to our humanity, honour, guardianship, spirituality.

Shame is not the problem – it is a key part of the solution. We need our shame just as we need our anger, fear, sadness, guilt and joy. Our feelings are interwoven and to be rid of our feelings spells personal disaster. To not deal with each feeling affects our ability to deal with the others. It would be a strange child that would not feel shame when a parent hurts the child. It isn’t the hurt, the abuse or the shame that creates the lifelong problem. It is the denial of the hurt, the abuse, the repression of the shame.

When the shame is expressed, the child finds vulnerability, healthy dependency and healing. In expressing and sharing the shame and how bad we feel about ourselves, we are learning to depend on people. By expressing and embracing the shame, the child learns to act responsibly with a sense of shame, a sense of honour and a sense of guardianship.

You cannot have honour without shame. The larger problem in our culture is with shamelessness which may come from hidden repressed shame, but it is a denial of the shame and an inability to use it as a sense of guardianships.

Shame is the felt sense of capacity to do harm to others, to our planet, and to ourselves. Co-dependency is not shame and shame is not co-dependency. Shame is a feeling that most of us have a difficult time embracing or dealing with so we repress, ignore or detract from it. Some of us self judge through shame and others will act shamelessly and roll over others. The more power a person or group has in our culture, the more shameless they tend to be, the more likely they are to abuse other people or the planet.

Shame accesses our spirituality because it is a felt sense of our incompleteness, that we are not perfect. This felt sense of incompleteness creates a craving. When the shame is repressed, the craving becomes a need for a fix through addiction. In the embracing and sharing of our shame, the craving becomes a need for completeness through spirituality, through a sense of higher power, through meaning and the integration of our path in the process of creation.

One of the reasons I do believe groups such as AA offer healing is that they allow us to unmask our shame and deal with it. When we take the steps to heal in the 12 step programme a central part of the healing tasks centres around steps four and five, where we investigate the nature of our shame and share it with someone else who allows us not to be judged, but to learn from it. In the course of this step we separate out our healthy and unhealthy shame. In this way we learn that a lot of what we did in our active using or addiction was the outgrowth of having learned difficult and painful ways of getting our needs met, needs we may have been ashamed of. Taking the steps, reaching a place of insight and awareness, enables us to embrace our defects and celebrate our gifts.

I guess I am sharing about this at the moment, as over the past few days I have been experiencing some shame around certain things in my life. Voices of the last narcissist that made me bad and wrong still reverberate through my brain. At times I can separate from these voices but the inner critical shamer still gets some air time.

With the hindsight of 21 years of recovery I can see where I fell short of being a person who took steps to take care of herself, and that indeed this lack of self care, placed a burden on others, it also placed great expectations outside of myself. At the same time I realise that I really did need someone to depend upon in childhood and that person was not there.   I got to feel wrong for needing to depend and the need to depend got repressed and kept me stuck in an old pattern of looking in adulthood for what I didn’t get in childhood.  In the end the journey was to become aware of all of this.

Feeling the sense of shame and lack is okay, it shows me I am human. I certainly know I am far from perfect. I have been aware that I can react with anger when my shame gets triggered. I have also been on the receiving end of projected shame and guilt from certain people in my life over the past year. In sorting out my boundaries around this I guess I have learned a lot about others. I am more aware than I was a year ago and so I am growing. Most importantly I am glad that I have, over the past 21 years been able to unmask myself in a way that was not possible before. Certain people have seen this as a kind of weakness, this willingness to be vulnerable and open my feelings. Most importantly I have no longer had to participate in self shaming quite as much.

As I have shared in earlier blogs at times I have been shamed most especially for feeling sad. But I do agree with Terry Kellog when he says that our sadness and willingness to feel it is a form of self intimacy. That sadness enables us to do our grieving and move through our losses.

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Just this morning I felt really sad in response to something a relative had done in response to the wash up of my sister’s will and belongings. I expressed great sadness to my Mum who told me not to feel that way. This is not new for me. Later in the day we talked and she had exactly the same response to the issue last night when she had learned of the problem via my nephew. Mum couldn’t show compassion for me at that time but was distressed I was in pain.  Later in the day she called over to the house to see that I was okay..  I have to be careful where I go with this.  In the past my own distress sometimes does not allow me to see the blockages she has with feeling and accepting emotions.  This time I was not angry with her for not responding in the way I felt I needed. After all she is human, with her own limitations and defences. I brought the conversation to an end.

I know as a child and adolescent I was shamed for feelings, for being me, for being “too sensitive”. I no longer swallow that shame, just as I try to no longer swallow my feelings.

I know shame has been central to my journey and my ancestor’s journey.  My eldest sister who passed away earlier this year was crippled with shame, sadly.   I have the Saturn Moon legacy but I am beginning to see it is only a one part of who I am. These days I am a little more able to feel separate from the shame. It is no longer my central identity, masked through addiction and co-dependence. In being able to embrace true shame and less comfortable with acting shamelessly when I hurt others through my anger at this wound I have carried that has made life difficult, I can understand that often others can’t express their true feelings well, either. We are all human, we all carry wounds. In the end its about having manageable boundaries around feelings.

Often we learn to identify with the wounded self as being who we are, but this I believe is a mistake and core legacy of not having unmasked our true feelings and reaching an understanding around how these wounds which are the result of our past, re-enact, especially in relationships with others with narcissistic injuries. It took deeply painful relationships for me to reach these understandings. In the end the antidote was in the core of the wound, in allowing myself to feel it and in knowing that it was its own gift with lessons to teach me.

Understanding and healing the Scapegoat within

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The family scapegoat receives the shadow projections of the family. They are the one that carries and tries to express qualities, needs, reactions and expressions which may not have had a chance to live in the family.  Often if we review the family history we will be able to see a pattern or something the scapegoat is trying to live for the family that could not be expressed, or struggled to be expressed over generations. They may be the carrier of hidden sadness or pain.

There is also collective element to the scapegoat which means certain qualities in any particular culture are accepted and are seen as valuable to express where as others may be demonised. Religious beliefs create the scapegoat by dictating what is “holy” and what is “demonic” and so create splits. The pervasive spread of the Catholic zeitgeist, for example, reveres qualities of self sacrifice, meekness, chastity and in many ways a repression of essential elements of what it means to be a human animal struggling to express oneself in the word as a self who can feel a sense of balanced empowerment and know it is okay to have legtimate wants and needs and life in an organic feeling body.

The scapegoat in the family is particularly created by the narcissistic parent who, as a child, could not live the wholeness of who they were due to parental neglect, abandonment, hostility, stress or other kinds of splits. John Bradshaw in his book on shame, Healing the Shame that Binds You, and and other writers have shown how in families affected by toxic shame, the scapegoat is a role that is taken on often, though not only, by the second child.

In fact the issue of shame is central to narcissistic disorders and the creation of the scapegoat. If we are truly able to develop and live, free to express the totality of who we are without shame, the shadow may not be created, thus no need for scapegoats.

Shame is central to narcissism of the unhealthy variety in that the narcissistic individual never believes him or herself to be just a person amongst persons, an inherent feeling of unconscious shame, instead leads them to identify themselves as more highly evolved and deserving of envy, as inherently superior inside. The unconscious sense of deep inferiority created by episodes of shame, humiliation, abandonment or emotional rejections in childhood gets covered over and defended against with unconscious protections and projections.

What the narcissist cannot make a relationship with inside, he projects out. The need for constant mirroring that exists in the form of needing narcissist supply from outside the self results due to the lack or mirroring or flawed and skewed mirroring in childhood. What has been rejected becomes projected.

The narcissist will attract to him or herself those with the missing qualities.   Those of us set up for this kind of attraction from the other side, due to problems with nurturing, validation, mirroring and acceptance in childhood, are attracted to the narcissist like iron filings to a magnet. We have our own narcissistic issues which during the course of the eventual conflicts that develop in the relationship will come to light, often with us being rejected by the narcissist. The pain generated by this rejection forces us, or at the very least, gives us an opportunity to bring to consciousness our own wounds from childhood and understand the deficiencies that we have lived with. An opportunity comes to find self healing, since we are no longer children, we can recognise that deep inside our inner child of the past still lives and has wounds that need to be understood and tended from within.

Through this process we can begin to identify healthy behaviours and relationships from unhealthy ones and come to understand some of the false beliefs generated by lack of emotional nurturing and attunement in childhood, as well as the hostility of the parent who could not accept expression of our shadow qualities (which often replays as a powerful theme in all of our relationships).

In the course of our journey to self awareness, particularly for those of us who may have taken on a scapegoat function,  healing comes when we can begin to identify the introjects (internalised projections) of negative voices and beliefs that may have embedded within us from parental and cultural/collective conditioning. Parental projections or carrying of their trauma may mean we battle with negative voices, depression, addiction or pervasive suicidal feelings. Through hearing and becoming conscious of these we can gain a sense of detachment in time and find new more positive, loving, affirming voices from within which can help us to grow and heal.

For the scapegoat there is an essential task to be learned. The scapegoat will often be the one in the family that ends up in treatment or with an addiction. They may be the one who blows the whistle and begins to deal with the family skeletons.  Addictive tendencies of other members of the family may be well hidden, but on some level the scapegoat fails. This is a necessary failure for the purpose of coming to know and love the entire self that could not live and find wholeness from within the family. Often family scapegoats when seeking to bring attention to deficiencies in the family will be rejected or ostracised: this parallels what happens in cultures where the scapegoat is sent away into the desert or exile with the sins of the collective on its head. Such an exile may be necessary it may be metaphoric rather than literal.

The scapegoat suffers the pain of never finding true acceptance, of feeling on the outside, exiled in some way. Healing can only come for the scapegoat when they realise the role and function they play in the family and the collective culture. The scapegoat has a supreme value and this is why they are rejected.

The Jungian analyst and teller of fairytales, Clarissa Pinkola Estes addresses this issue of wandering and banishment that internalises in her examination of the Ugly Duckling fairytale. The ugly duckling must go through rejection and a profound search to find a place of belonging and recognise the beauty of the self.

On a personal note, as one of the scapegoats in my own family, I became the identified addict. I was blamed by a mother (who valued my new found sobriety supposedly on one hand while dealing out invalidating backhanders on the other) could never own her part in the creation of this. On one level she was only a player in a far bigger drama working out across generations.

When I got into recovery feeling myself to be a scapegoat was not conscious but I was strongly affected.  In healing groups with other scapegoats I was able to begin to dis-identify from the projection of badness, especially when displaying self assertion and anger. At times I played the scapegoat role in groups.  It hurt a lot at the time, but eventually I grew in understanding when the pattern would play out  My critical leaning was, that I must not scapegoat myself, though exile was and is necessary for the scapegoat.  Alone time gives us time to  introspect, detach from unhealthy and invalidating relationships and to heal.  My struggle in the family to gain freedom and awareness has gone on over many years. It is taking a long time and many heartbreaking conflicts to realise what pattern was playing as well as the particular parts various family members were playing.

In her analysis of the scapegoat identified individual,Syliva Perrera makes the point that split off assertion and desire is a huge part of what creates the scapegoat. Many of us who develop addictions as a mean of coping use the substances to numb and anaesthetise our feelings around not being able to express and assert ourselves fully. Addictive relationships function in similar ways, especially when the longing and hunger we feel has complex and deep roots in earlier invalidating relationships. We enter them hoping the broken hearted child will heal. Instead that child meets her own woundedness and is sent on a journey so that she or he can heal.

Healing involves finding ways which allow the wholeness of ourselves to express and find acceptance, mirroring and love in relationships, families, collectives and a culture which often do not allow certain feelings a place.

Women too, can take on the role of the scapegoat. We are scapegoated for being too angry (what a ‘bitch’), needy, dramatic or vulnerable.

The playing out of the mass genocide of the Jews during the Second World War was another example of the scapegoat complex playing out collectively, generated by the toxic shame of an individual (Hitler) who was able to mobilise the rage and hurt of many in a nation that had been humiliated. That humiliation and the identification with roles of power and supremacy saw the split off qualities being projected and “killer” energy emerge.  It is interesting to note that Joseph Stalin’s father was a alcoholic and Stalin too was a victim of toxic shame.

The scapegoat is no stranger to murder and killing, their soul is the victim of a psychic murder. We scapegoatees must learn during the course of our healing and enlightenment to find freedom from the killer that can migrate to live inside of us in order that we can live free of the killer voices that block our self expression and inner feelings of love and self worth. The entirely of ourselves has a value and through embracing and becoming more conscious of the ways in which we participate in and perpetrate our own wounding we can heal and grow and make new choices that lead us down happier paths than we experienced in the past. 

We can begin to understand the scapegoater that lives inside, for we are not immune either, at times, to scapegoating others.   The qualities that we may have been rejected for sensitivity, fireyness, vulnerability, messiness, passionate conviction, sensuality and sexuality are unique threads of human self expression which woven together have formed the unique and precious tapestry that make us raw and real, messy and ultimately human, a person amongst people with certain gifts of perception and depth that may have in some way threatened or frightened those who are more defended, less attuned.

Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster

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Re reading a great book by Alexander Lowen on narcissism I’ve been really thinking deeply about the problems our society seems to have with feelings… He makes the point which I mentioned in my last blog that a huge part of narcissism is the fear around the expression of feelings and the equation of deep feeling with insanity or madness.   I’ve seen two of my sister’s diagnosed as bi-polar in response to situations of deep stress where they were trying to live up to an image or ideal that was out of line with what their bodies and souls could contain or manage, as a result their emotions swung out of control..  But as I watched I didn’t really see two people who were insane, just two souls struggling to break free of an insane situations… with deep issues around repression, perfection and control……

One of my favourite writers who shows a great deal of insight into the healing process of recovery is a lady called Tian Dayton. She had an alcoholic father and learned a lot from this relationship.  She is a therapist herself and has written some wonderful books, including Trauma and Addiction, Emotional Sobriety and Daily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving on.  One of the meditations in that last book is titled Accepting Mood Swings.  I love it so much I am including it in this post.

Today I will not be down on myself if I seem to swing in my moods through my recovery process.  Mood swings have been scary to me, so I use them as a way to judge (or misjudge) my health.  I force myself to be in a stable good mood and then I feel I’m okay.  As I re-experience old, repressed feelings, it is possible that I will feel deeply disoriented, angry, rageful or depressed and then two hours later almost high.  This is not just because I can’t control my moods – I am opening myself to all that is going on within me – I am no longer denying parts of myself so that I will fit into a designated constellation of rules.  I am allowing what is happening within me to happen.

I understand that my moods might swing in this life changing process.

As Goethe wrote.

Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

How often don’t we trust ourselves.  How often are we told we are bad or that there is something wrong with having feelings.  I’ll never forget following the end of my marriage.  I was in such deep grief as the loss of my husband and our life together triggered so much past pain over earlier losses that I had repressed for so many years due to my use of substances.  At the time I was staying with my mother for a time and one morning my older brother made one of his visits. As soon as he entered the house I heard him ask Mum.  “Where is she?”. I felt the fear in his voice.

I came out of the bedroom and the minute he hugged me the flood gates just opened up. I felt his body stiffen and pull away. “Come on”, he said, “pull yourself together”.   So much is incapsulated in that moment about my struggle and his in our family.  A family where it has been so hard to express feelings.

I wonder how things might have been different for both of us and for my sister’s too if we could have collapsed into that grief and pain and allowed the flood to take us home to reality.  It was not to be and I watched my second oldest sister struggle with two hospitalisations including shock therapy and a suicide attempt in the absence of therapy or any form of emotional recovery.  My eldest sister is bedridden now, her deep pain locked in a body which now needs ongoing care, subject to the constant drugging that is part of a care home environment.

For myself I feel blessed that even though I’ve had a struggle with emotional expression, over the past 10 years due to my involvement in an ongoing recovery programme, the tears I’ve needed to shed have been able to fall, adn the anger I’ve needed to feel, I’ve been able to express.  I’ve been given a hard time about it but I’ve had the courage not to let attempts to shame me, strangle my self expression.  It hasn’t been easy and its been lonely at times as it has meant the end of two relationships.  But I do know that I am blessed to believe that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad or angry. I don’t have to label this mix of feelings depression, or settle for a diagnosis. I can feel the reality of my situation and express it.

I’ve been able to ride the emotional rollercoaster throughout the many ups and downs and now I don’t judge others who are riding it either, because to the extent that I have allowed these ups and downs, when I give myself permission to feel my feelings, eventually they pass and level out.

John Stuart Mill writes:

There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realised until personal experience has brought it home.

Our experience is ours and we need the courage to feel it and express it, to open our hearts to it fully, not to shut down and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Because this is what makes us truly human and in the absence of such feeling and experience we become deadened on some level and perhaps narcissistic or vulnerable to narcissists.

Deadening of our feelings may, however, be a legacy of a childhood where feeling becomes intolerable due to the rage or abuse of a parent or their insensitivity to our feelings.

Lowen writes that our human emotional life is more intense than that of animals.

“We are capable of a greater love and a fuller hate, a higher joyfulness and a deeper sadness, a stronger fear and a more intense anger.  And human beings can also ‘control’ their feelings through their egos.  We can limit the degree of feeling, and we can act as if we had feeling.  But there is a problem in doing this.  Emotions are total bodily responses.  For that reason, one cannot supress or deny fear, for instance, without at the same time suppressing the feeling of anger”, he writes on page 63.

Lowen explains that the narcissistic individual can express anger but it is sadness that the narcissist has problems expressing.  In the absence of feeling sadness the narcissist will express anger instead and, he claims, there is no healing of the narcissistic character without the person being able to express and experience their sadness, for the anger is a defence against feeling it.   Anger takes the place of sadness for the narcissist as it leaves the narcissist feeling less vulnerable. It is this vulnerability which is so difficult for the narcissist to experience without fear, due to a childhood in which it was not possible for the narcissist to experience his vulnerability without humiliation or shame. John Bradshaw in his book Healing The Shame That Binds You has addressed this issues showing how in narcissistic families feelings such as anger and sadness become bound in shame.

It is interesting as the experience I had with my last partner who had narcissistic traits was that he would become angry when I was sad.  The sadness was an imposition on his freedom and threatening to his ego defences and thus too challenging for him.

My own experience with the emotional rollercoaster has shown that often that while anger is necessary to come in touch with our self and essential when figuring how and when we need to set a boundary, there are times when sadness underlies anger.  The sadness is over all the longing and need that had to be repressed in a family where it could not find expression.  Having the courage to feel this sadness, leads the way home to the true self, for the true self is located in the body and in the true and deep feelings, that for so long had to be repressed in order to please the parent who found such feelings intolerable, or had to split them off herself.

That is why in order to heal we need to remove the prohibition against expression of our true feelings.  If this means riding the emotional rollercoaster for a time so be  it, for the other option could be a deadness to what is real and without access to what is real, there is no way we will find our way home to the true self, to love, to joy, to wholeness and to peace which are the gifts of our healing quest.