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.
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.