Trust.

I have trouble trusting people who are too kind to me, because I always assume they will abandon me or turn on me later. So I avoid people who try to get too close.

The irony of this is I have this fantasy of just being held and loved unconditionally (not in a sexual way at all), just for being me, and this can bring me to tears. But in reality, I can’t let this happen and avoid that kind of closeness. It really sucks because I know that’s what I really need more than anything.

Tonight in therapy I was my 8 year old self and even found myself talking in a little girl’s voice. My therapist talked to me in a “daddy” voice. He even called me sweetie, the way you’d call a little girl sweetie. I liked that. It’s gotten a lot easier for me to slip into my child-self and actually become her. I pleaded in a higher pitched voice, “Daddy, please stop confusing me. I wish you could just love me.” Then I started to cry. That surprised me, but I think it was a kind of breakthrough.

My therapist let something slip…

Tonight my therapist let something slip, but I think the slip was actually intentional because he thought I was ready. I was ready. I’m not courageous enough to share what he said right now, even though I really want to and probably will soon. So I’ll just sleep on it for now. What he said explains so much. I’m glad it happened, and when I finally write about it I’ll explain why I think it’s a very good thing. I think now that it’s out of the way, now the real work can begin.

Waking up to the truth. #narcissism #NPD

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Credit: http://healingfromnpd.com/node/19

I am very excited to announce that the owner of the new blog about NPD and ACONs will be writing a guest post for this blog. You may remember I was discussing this blog the other day — she is an ACON (adult child of narcissists) who recently discovered she herself has NPD.

Up to 70% of children of narcissists develop the disorder themselves. I think this blogger is onto something huge, since that condition most of us call “fleas” could actually be low-level narcissism, but given a different name because it’s just too hard to face the truth. I can’t speak for others, but I certainly think that’s the case for me. I just can’t deny the sobering fact that I fit the profile for covert narcissism perfectly. In my heart, I’ve known this for a while (in fact it’s what made me start this blog), but I still keep finding excuses to think of my symptoms as indicating something other than what they actually are.

What is covert narcissism?

http://www1.appstate.edu/~hillrw/Narcissism/shycovertnarcissist.html

The author of the blog linked to in the first paragraph wrote an article that took the 9 DSM-IV criteria of NPD and adapted them to those of us who identify as ACONs with “fleas” and C-PTSD. Could this be a wake up call for many of us?

Only if we take off the horse blinders.

http://healingfromnpd.com/DSM

It was a wake up call for me.
Here are some of my own C-NPD symptoms:

— Constant worrying about what other people think of me.
— Shyness in social situations because of my worry over what others will think.
— “Rehearsing” what I am going to say in advance, while someone else is talking, so I never really hear what they say
— Rehearsing how I will act in social situations, which is very exhausting for me (and made me believe, for over a decade, that I had Aspergers).
–Withdrawing (sometimes with resentment)from situations in which I feel like I’m being ignored or not given the attention I think I deserve.
— Lack of empathy — not so much because I have a hard heart or don’t care about others (I’m not a sociopath!), but because I often don’t hear others because I’m too busy worrying about what I will say next to be seen in the best possible light.
— Feigning empathy
— Over-concern with being seen as a “good” or “smart” person.
— Envious
— While feeling worthless and insecure, I still have this underlying resentment that others are getting the attention and adulation I deserve but have never received.
— I feel like if people “knew the real me” (a “me” I don’t even know) they would hate me, so I put on a show of being much nicer than I really am. (This doesn’t apply to online, where I am more fully “myself” and don’t have to wear that mask — but in the real world, this is very much what I act like)
— Deep down, although I hate myself and think I don’t deserve anything, I also feel like I’m “superior” to others because I’m more “deep” or intelligent than most people, only they can’t see or appreciate this fact.
–Similarly, I often feel “superior” to people who I perceive as shallow or who have conventional interests and beliefs (sometimes this is triggered by secret envy of their greater success or happiness).
— I do not react well to most criticism. I usually brood over it and fall into a depression.
— I tend to devalue those who become too critical (usually by avoiding them in the future).
— Fear of appearing too vulnerable (although I am working hard on accessing my vulnerability — it’s hard work though!)
— When I was less mindful and unaware, I engaged in things like negative gossip and devaluation (usually about people I was jealous of), gaslighting and projection (without knowing I was doing these things).
— When things are going well (and I’m getting more supply), I tend to revert to a more grandiose style –this can involve things like bragging, sometimes exaggerating my achievements, or name-dropping.  (Covert or vulnerable “fragile” narcissism may actually be “failed narcissism”: when a narcissist–even a grandiose one–isn’t getting sufficient supply or they can’t deny they are failing in life, they tend to revert to the covert or vulnerable form, which is a type of “compensatory narcissism.”)
–Finding myself being disliked in many real world situations and not able to understand why (this has been improving as I’ve become more mindful and self aware).  Before, it was always “them” and I was just a misunderstood victim who everyone else refused to (or couldn’t) understand.

I realize most people do some of these things sometimes, but these are things I do all the time (and used to do a lot more of before awareness). Although I try to be mindful and not do them, they are habits that are very hard to break because they’ve been with me so long; these are my default defense mechanisms when I am not paying attention and “watching myself.”

I understand now that my growing impatience with the pervasive negative stigma toward NPD and my need to understand narcissism from an “insiders perspective” was because deep down, I “knew” and was preparing myself to become self aware.

For a victim of childhood narcissistic abuse to get to the point of realizing they may have NPD themselves, it is necessary to let go of the all too common “us versus them,” black and white thinking that holds so many of us captive to our own narcissism and keeps us from looking inside ourselves to see the shocking truth.

But take heart: if you are a self aware narcissist (or suspect you may be one), it’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person and it doesn’t mean you can never change (I make an exception here for malignant or sociopathic narcissists, who probably cannot change and even like what they are even if they’re self aware). “Narcissists can never change” is a myth the Kool-Aid drinkers like to make everyone believe. Your narcissism was something that was done TO you, and you most likely had no control over it. You adopted those defense mechanisms to survive, and according to Pete Walker, narcissism is the “Fight” reaction to narcissistic abuse and is a manifestion of C-PTSD. You CAN change and you can even heal! Being self aware and WILLING to change means you have already taken a huge step toward healing, possibly the most difficult step of all.

Remember, narcissism begets narcissism. But we aren’t hopeless and a cure IS possible!
We can break the generational cycle by looking inside ourselves and working together to stop the stigma NPD has gained.

Just give me the diagnosis already!

I really wish my therapist would just go ahead and give me an NPD diagnosis because that would bring me some much needed closure and make me stop trying to find excuses that it’s really “something else.” It would confirm once and for all what I’ve suspected for over a year. But he probably isn’t going to do that since he hates psychiatric diagnoses and prefers to work with symptoms instead of disorders.

That being said, I know enough about psychology to recognize that many of the techniques he is using with me are those used on people with NPD (also BPD).   I still think he’s a fantastic therapist who is helping me a lot, whether he ever gives me a label or not.  Maybe he has diagnosed me, but just doesn’t want to tell me.

Exploring narcissism: Podcast

This isn’t just your average podcast about NPD and narcissism.   There are tons of those all over the web and almost all of them give a poor prognosis for NPD.

No, this one’s different.   Dick Goldberg, a therapist and radio/TV talk show host, discusses narcissism in this podcast in a new way–he believes that not only can NPD’s recover from their disorder, but they are actually easier to work with than codependents!   I know, shocking, right?

Whether you believe it or not, I think this podcast was worth sharing.   Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

http://www.dickgoldbergradio.com/exploring-narcissism/

What animals can teach us about mindfulness.

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I’ve always believed animals are our greatest teachers. As humans, we tend to dismiss animals, thinking of them as lesser creatures with limited (or no) intelligence. We think that just because they can’t read, don’t speak, don’t wear clothing, and don’t create art, music, or multi-national corporations, that they don’t have anything to teach us. If anything, we try to make animals conform to us, dressing up lapdogs in cute outfits or teaching them tricks to impress our friends.

Animals have much to teach us, and in many ways, if we acted more like them, as a species we humans might be better off — and a lot happier too. Mindfulness is a skill that helps many of us cope with daily life and eases the symptoms of depression, trauma, and many mental disorders — and there is no person more mindful than a cat, dog, or other animal. Even the Buddha was never as mindful as that Labrador retriever who looks at you with such soulful eyes, or that cat that sits peacefully in your window purring his little heart out.

If you have pets, watch them closely. They don’t worry about the future or fret over things that happened in the past. They don’t obsess over themselves or what others are going to think of them. They don’t beat themselves up over past transgressions or worry that they might not be acceptable. They live completely in the moment, reacting only to what they need to in order to survive and be happy. When they are given food, they happily nosh down on it, thinking about nothing except how good it tastes and how nice a newly-full stomach feels. If you ask your dog if he wants to go out for a walk, he doesn’t sit around sulking because he thought your tone was condescending; he happily jumps up and starts to dance around, sometimes even smiling (I am certain dogs can smile). If you scritch your cat under the chin, she will turn her face up to you, squint her eyes so they are almost closed, and begin to purr. She doesn’t worry that you might think she has bad breath.  She doesn’t care!  Watch a group of otters at play. They are like happy children, enjoying the water and the bliss of splashing around and swimming in it, and the joy of being together as a group.

Humans are the only creatures who unfairly judge their own kind, are cruel and unjust for no good reason except to boost their own egos, and seem to look for things to be miserable about, even when things are going well.

Many people think we make ourselves miserable due to our higher intelligence that makes us think about everything way too much, and that could be true. But what exactly is intelligence? How do we know that animals don’t have just as much of it as we do, even if they have a different kind of intelligence? Just because we can read words and earn a paycheck doesn’t mean we’re better or have a superior way of thinking. Case in point: have you ever witnessed some people with Down Syndrome? While their cognitive abilities may be impaired, they are some of the most joyful and affectionate people on earth. I remember one day standing on line at the supermarket. Ahead of me was a young man who clearly had Down Syndrome, and he was happily smiling and waving at everyone who looked his way. People smiled in reaction, not because they were being “polite,” and not because they were laughing at him, but because he was spreading joy. You couldn’t look at this man and not feel a little of his natural happiness. Studies have shown that people with very high IQ’s are more prone to mental illness and depression. People who aren’t as “smart” do seem to be happier. Sometimes I think too much in the way of cognitive intelligence actually gets in our way and keeps us from living in the moment and just enjoying life.  Children at play have a lot to teach us in that department too. We can learn from them.

I’m not comparing the cognitively challenged with with animals and kids to be offensive, but I do think it’s important to point out that all of these groups seem to be more able to live in the moment, and living in the moment is what mindfulness is really all about. Mindfulness and staying in the present leads to joy. So who really is smarter?

Instant joy:

If you’re depressed or feeling bad, just go to Youtube and watch videos of cute, funny and happy animals (or babies, if you prefer).  There are thousands of them.  They are popular for a good reason: they make us feel better and can make us laugh and smile when we’re down.    It always works for me, at least a little.

New blog that shatters NPD stigma.

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When I first started writing about narcissism, shortly after I went No Contact with my own narcissists, like many other Adult Children of Narcissists(ACON) bloggers, I was a hater. I thought all narcs were evil and should be lined up and shot. I didn’t think there was a cure, and drank the Kool-Aid that they were soulless demons who would never change.

Rage and even hatred is a normal reaction when you’re going No Contact, and is probably necessarily in order to free yourself and avoid any further damage. After all, anger is necessary to override the fear and depression of being trapped in a relationship with a narcissist, and it’s true that the things they do can be very damaging and bad for your mental health. But holding onto hatred once the danger has passed is nearly as bad for you as narcissistic abuse itself. In fact, it can turn you into a narcissist.

At some point, I began to grow tired of the endless narc-bashing I saw on almost every blog and website written for victims. In fact, it became pretty clear that a number of the narc-abuse victim bloggers were in fact acting pretty narcissistic themselves, especially after I was cruelly mobbed by a group of such bloggers after I dared to suggest that maybe not all narcissists were evil and maybe some could even be cured of their disorder. To them, this was blasphemy. How dare I put NPD and C-PTSD in the same box, suggesting that they might in fact be closely related and that NPD was itself a result of trauma? It didn’t help when I admitted I had a BPD diagnosis. To some of the haters, being a borderline is almost as bad as being a narcissist. After all, people with BPD, having a Cluster B disorder, are also known to manipulate others and be selfish and abusive (though not every borderline acts out against others — some only hurt themselves).

I began to want to understand NPD instead of hating them. I joined a forum where both narcissists and non-narcissists who have had to deal with them post, and realized that the narcissists suffer too. Many of them even want to heal. I was surprised by how little drama there was on the forum. It just seemed like both groups wanted to understand what made the other one tick. I learned a lot there about the way narcissists think and realized they do have feelings. It was a good experience.

Something else happened too. When I realized not all narcissists are evil and some are even self-aware and really don’t want to hurt others, I was finally able to look at myself with more clarity. It came as a bit of a shock at first that I fit on that spectrum myself. I actually fit the profile for covert narcissism pretty well. This was sobering, in fact devastating, but I dealt with that by starting this blog. I don’t know if I have NPD (my therapist doesn’t think so) but I am definitely on the spectrum and have several N traits. And yes, I have at times even been abusive to others, without realizing I was being abusive. Realizing I had inflicted pain on others was upsetting to me, but ultimately enlightening.

People develop NPD due to childhood trauma or at least a lack of mirroring or unconditional love from their parents, especially the mother. They lack empathy because they were never taught empathy, which is a learned behavior. I won’t get into the mechanics of how NPD develops (I’ve discussed that at length elsewhere and any psychology book about narcissism can explain how that works).

“Research shows nearly 70% of children with an parent have NPD themselves.”

There’s a concept called “fleas” which is well-known in the ACON community. That means that you have picked up narcissistic traits yourself from the narcissists in your life, like a dog picks up a case of fleas. But what if those of us with fleas were honest and admitted we are actually on the spectrum ourselves? That we picked up those traits so we could survive? That we might even be narcissists? All narcissists also had “fleas,” since it is in part a learned behavior. They picked up those traits from their own abusers in order to survive. It was hardly ever a a conscious decision though, as many of the haters believe.

I didn’t write this to make excuses for narcissistic behavior or the abuse they often inflict. Those who aren’t self aware, or those who are high on the spectrum (malignant narcissists) usually have no desire to change, and probably can’t change. They are too far gone. I also believe in No Contact. It’s really the only viable way to “handle” a narcissist who has no desire to change the way they act. You can’t make a narcissist want to change, either. They either do or they don’t. Don’t try to coax a narcissist to change, because it won’t work and you will only frustrate yourself. The desire to do so must come from within.

It’s also a myth that if you’re asking yourself the question, “am I a narcissist?” that automatically means you are not one. It’s a myth that narcissists can’t be self-aware. If you are asking yourself if you’re a narcissist, there is a chance you could be one. There are online tests you can take to find out, or you can get an official diagnosis to rule it out. I read a shocking statistic too: The Everything Guide to Narcissistic Personality Disorder states that two thirds of children who have parents with NPD go on to develop NPD themselves!  I think many (if not most) cases of “fleas” are actually cases of low-level narcissism.  Even Pete Walker, in his book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, believes that narcissism is the “Fight” response to narcissistic abuse (explained in the concept of the “4 F’s”) .   In other words, all people with NPD also have C-PTSD that underlies it.    This isn’t a popular view with abuse victims (which is understandable), but it makes perfect sense.    Yet many ACONs, even those who have read Walker’s book, deny that narcissists can also be victims (and vice versa).   That there’s any overlap or gray areas.   They just assume people with NPD are all evil, soulless monsters incapable of self-awareness or any good intentions and that as victims, they are blameless  and have never hurt a fly.

For awhile now, I have believed that narcissists are just another type of victim of narcissistic abuse.   This has earned me some side-eye (and worse) from some of the narc-abuse bloggers, but I don’t care.  It’s what I have come to believe.   The disorder is unnecessarily stigmatized, but not many people with NPD (unlike those with BPD) are fighting back against the stigma.  Maybe some don’t care (or in the case of malignant narcissists, even like the stigma).   But there are those who hate it and wish there was a more nuanced view of this disorder.   It bothers them that even therapists won’t take them on because of the stigma (maybe this is part of the reason they are rarely in therapy).

A few months ago a diagnosed NPD started commenting on this blog. She was in therapy and trying to change the way she acted.  I’m not sure what happened to this person (she hasn’t commented here in awhile), but I simply could not think of her as evil in any way.  She opened up to me about the trauma she endured and we became Facebook friends.  She just seemed like someone who hurt a lot all the time, and had become a near-recluse due to the shame in having the disorder and being afraid she was going to hurt someone.  I didn’t see much, if any, difference between her and any other victim of narcissistic abuse, despite her NPD diagnosis.

Yesterday I got a new follower on Twitter.   This person just started a blog about what it feels like to have NPD and is in therapy for it and actively trying to change:  please click on this link:

http://www.healingfromnpd.com/

The woman who runs the site practices mindfulness, something many people with BPD and those who blog about having it are familiar with.     I took a look at her website and liked what I saw.   She doesn’t glorify narcissism or act like she’s proud of it.  In fact, her site debunks many of the myths that so many of the narc-abuse bloggers have come to believe about narcissism.   There aren’t too many blogs like hers, in fact hardly any.    There was a time when BPD was almost as stigmatized as NPD (and still is by many people), but now it’s lost much of that stigma due to anti-stigma activism by borderlines who blog about what it’s like to have it and have proved they CAN change.    I think the same thing needs to happen with NPD and this is one blogger who is doing just that.  I highly recommend her site, not only to self-aware low level narcissists who don’t want to be that way anymore, but also to narcissistic abuse victims who think they have “fleas.”    I think sites like hers can help reduce the stigma and give a more nuanced and fair view of narcissism and how it feels “from the other side.”

“I have no childhood memories because my N-mom threw out my ‘garbage’.”

trash_can

Recently I read that looking at photos of our childhoods can help us heal.   It can hurt to see how lost we looked or watch the real body language of yourself and other family members in reaction to you, but it can also shed light on the truth and prove to us that we really weren’t crazy.

I don’t have more than 8 photos of myself as a child and almost all of them are of me by myself.   A large pastel portrait of me at about age 6 my father proudly used to hang over the mantel has been lost for years (I suspect it was thrown away).  I remember sitting for it in Old Town, Chicago, wearing a yellow summer dress, and how proud I was to sit in front of that bohemian street artist.  It was one of my few happy childhood memories and was a special moment with my father.   I remember looking slightly sad in the portrait though, and remember my dad saying he rather liked the sad look in my eyes, even though I don’t recall being sad as I sat for that portrait and emotions that weren’t “positive” were always dismissed or scolded anyway.  I would really love to have that portrait now.  In fact, I long for it. I’ve even been trying to figure out how one would go about placing an ad asking if anyone had seen that painting (I don’t think that would be possible or that anyone would have seen it anyway).

No one seems to know where any of the old family albums that had me in them are, and I doubt they would want to hang onto them, so my guess is they were tossed at some point as trash (my mother always hated clutter).  I guess any memory of me is just clutter as well.  My emotions were not acceptable; I was not acceptable.  Why keep any reminders that I existed?

I have no family, no continuity to any kind of past or any roots.  I feel like an orphan and have felt that way for years.  Sure, some could say that I threw them away (moving far away from them, No Contact, etc.) but I was pushed away emotionally and every other way for years before I decided that any further contact with them, especially my mother, was just too triggering and painful.

Evidently I’m not alone.  There’s a whole thread on Reddit about just this.

Scapegoated adult children find themselves in this position a lot, without even any pictures or tangible objects to help them better remember their childhoods.  This is another way narcissistic parents hobble us — by not even allowing us to access photos and mementos that could bring us clarity into the role we served within our families and the reactions of other family members to us.   Tangible things that give us a sense of having come from somewhere, of having belonged to something, even if it wasn’t a very good something.  Tools to help us heal were denied to us, just like everything else.   It’s as bad as having your face ripped out of every picture your family ever had of you.   As if they were trying to erase you.

Part Two: My HeartSync experience, including The Dream.

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Watching the sunrise off the back porch of the main building.

Part One described how HeartSync works and the theories behind it, so I won’t get into that much in this post, which is more about my personal experience.

This post describes the intense cathartic experience I had on the second full day, so there’s no need to describe that again.  However, that experience–which was both excruciating and awesome–opened me up to some odd and wonderful new discoveries about myself to come in the following few days.

First of all, the place where the HeartSync seminar was being held, at the Aqueduct Conference Center in Chapel Hill, NC, reminded me of a classy sleep-away camp.     It was basically a compound tucked deep in the woods consisting of a large rustic main house  (with all the modern conveniences) where all meals were served and where the bookstore and offices and general recreation areas were located;  and two smaller “cottages” each with a large living room with a fireplace and a kitchenette.  Each cottage (which were quite large) could house up to 16 people.    Gravel walkways connected the buildings to each other and also to the parking lot down at the bottom for easy access.

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There were four full days of training, starting on Monday morning at 9 AM after breakfast and ending at about 5 PM.  Lunch was served at 12:30 and was for an hour.   The food was excellent, much better than camp food (in spite of the camp-like feel of the place).

I was nervous about meeting Kate, the woman I had never heard of until two weeks previously, who first told me about HeartSync and so kindly offered to pay for me to attend.

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Knowing she was more well off than I was made me afraid my feelings of envy or inferiority might be triggered or get the best of me again, but what happened was only some slight envy that nearly disappeared by the last day.  Kate and I got along great and she seemed to like me as much as I liked her, and even told me so.  (That gave me a little more confidence about associating with people who “I perceive” to have more than/be more “successful” socially or financially than I am.)

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Each day was divided into two parts:  Learning, in which we read over the materials, watched audiovisual presentations, and listened to Father Andrew Miller (who developed HeartSync) lecture.    He’s a riveting and lively speaker, who is very good at engaging everyone’s attention.

The material is emotionally intense and can be very triggering (as well as extremely spiritual and often you feel touched or moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit) that it’s easy to get emotional even during the “classroom lecturing.”   Even though I didn’t actually get “HeartSynch’d” (there are separate seminars for those and there are people trained in this who can work with you individually), it’s still extremely powerful stuff and you walk away a changed person with a whole new insight into yourself.

There are exercises you are taught (such as the Immanuel Approach) and other prayer methods that you can do on yourself that help you release trauma and re-synchronize some of your “core parts.”   I was shocked by how well these techniques work, but I think the spiritual aspect and connection with God has a lot to do with that.     You have to be careful though.   A complicated resynchronization or a full self-resynchronization should never be attempted without a trained practitioner present.

Each afternoon after lunch, we’d gather back in the meeting room to watch a live demonstration (for a total of four)– a “guinea pig” was picked out of the group to be given a 2 hour live Heart Sync session by Father Andrew.   They’d both sit up in front in comfortable armchairs, and Father Andrew would start asking them questions.   It was fascinating to watch these; they were just like watching therapy sessions, which of course they were–only Jesus was invited in to intercept between the “client” and the therapist.

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View of the back porch of the main building at sunrise, looking back toward the building.

Two men and two women got to be guinea pigs (I didn’t because I didn’t sign the list to volunteer — I’m nowhere near ready to be given therapy and possibly cry in front of 50 people!).  All four had emotional/cathartic breakdowns (intense crying), followed by a feeling of cleansing/healing/lightness, and even laughter.   Their faces changed from the beginning to the end, seeming to attain a sort of inner glow .  In two cases they appeared years younger.  Certain of their issues were resolved, and their faith in God was strengthened too.

Watching these was both fascinating and emotional.   I found myself becoming extremely empathetic, feeling the emotions of these four people as if they were my own, laughing and crying with them.    That’s never happened to me before.    But that all happened to me after my own emotional meltdown, which is described in the linked post in the second paragraph of this post.

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Sunrise on the last morning, just before leaving to return home.   It was like leaving summer camp.

The last night, which was Thursday, was not followed by dinner as usual, since so many people were going home that night (Kate and I stayed through until Friday morning since I cannot drive at night) but was followed by an outdoor liturgical service held on the large back porch of the main building, in which Communion was given.   Hymns and camp-like worship songs, and a few Christmas carols were sung,  and a lot of people hugged and tears were shed.   By then, I was pretty much out of tears and my eyes remained dry.   But the whole feel of the event reminded me of those poignant last nights of summer camp, when everyone is singing camp songs around a crackling fire, there’s a crisp undertone of fall in the evening air,  and there’s an unspoken knowledge that you may never see any of these people again once they load onto the buses or cars that will come for them first thing in the morning.

These kind of moments–where our paths cross briefly but intimately, like passengers at train stations or airports who confess their most cherished secrets to each other precisely because they are basically strangers who will soon be on opposite sides of the country or even the world and will never meet again — are always so lovely and bittersweet.

Afterwards, Kate, me, and three older attendees (who are all HeartSync practitioners in the Chapel Hill area) went out to a nearby Mexican restaurant in Carrboro.   I didn’t contribute much to the lively conversation; I was too exhausted, and when we returned, I conked out very soon after getting back to our room.

*****

The Dream

I woke up from a dream this morning which did not fade away upon awakening the way my dreams normally do.

It started with me finding myself at my own wedding.  I wasn’t sure who the groom was, and I remember feeling slightly apprehensive about this second marriage (having been married to an abuser in my first one).   I don’t remember if the groom had a face–I couldn’t even identify who he could be — but I was going through with this and was nervous and only slightly excited.

I looked down at my shoes under my white skirts and noticed they were black.  I took them off and put on a pair of white shoes.

Then I met my guests, including a sour-faced school-marmish looking woman who looked me up and down disapprovingly.   She looked like she’d been sucking on Atomic Fire Balls or lemon wedges without sugar.   I didn’t know who she was, but somehow I knew I knew her intimately and she was a very important guest.   Her cooperation meant everything.

I asked her why she looked so disapproving.  She just said she never liked me much or thought I liked her much, and was afraid that this time, we still wouldn’t get along because we hadn’t gotten along the first time.   (I’m not sure what “this time” or “that other time” referred to but I think it means “now” and “before I changed.”)

But she reluctantly agreed to try, and I remember shaking her hand and feeling its papery, cool, callousy skin.   She wasn’t the type you’d hug, but her agreement “to try” meant the world to me and meant I could get on with this wedding.

My Interpretation.

I think the emotional release I experienced on Tuesday prepared me for this dream, which I think involved one of my main Guardians (the disapproving school-marm) agreeing to change their role in my life from one of negative judgment to a more positive one, but who was not able to do this until after a lot of the corresponding childhood trauma behind that Guardian’s creation  (abandonment, feeling inferior, unworthy, and incompetent) was released.   I think this Guardian is the same one I previously called The Judge.

This Guardian’s role in my life had been to defend me against having to take risks that might lead to me feeling the pain of failure or rejection.  She did this by criticizing my competence or just throwing out all the negative reasons why such a thing shouldn’t or couldn’t be done. She was basically an internalization of my mother’s nagging, disapproving voice.  This Guardian was negative, judgmental, punishing, disapproving — an old lady with a pinched, mean face — generally not someone anyone would like much.

When I released all that emotion on Tuesday, it had been triggered by old feelings of worthlessness, incompetence, and the certainty that I would be eventually rejected by everyone, all coming to the surface at once.    The emotional release lessened the charge of the underlying trauma just enough to allow the presentation of this Guardian (in the dream), who had already kindly stepped aside long enough for the underlying trauma to be released.  Now she was finally showing herself to me, and agreed (although reluctantly) to try to cooperate with me in this “new marriage”, which I think represents a merging of one part of myself with another.  (I’m not sure which parts though).

The changing of the black shoes to white ones seems obvious enough – changing from a dark and negative way of thinking to one with more lightness and joy.   Also “being in the shoes of” a person about to merge with someone else for life.  But that other “person”–the one I was marrying– seemed mysterious and unknowable.  But the disapproving Guardian provided a clue:  by deciding to cooperate with me “this time,” this seemed to mean she would try to stop being so critical of me (remember, she had told me we never got along).  This seemed to indicate to me that this Guardian was about to “flip her role” from one of negative judgment to one of wise discernment; that in my new marriage (to myself) she would stop being so critical and making me afraid to take any risks, and instead allow me to proceed forward and take a few smart risks, heeding her wisdom instead of her fear (the wisdom of better choices being made possible by faith in God). So the “other me” that I was marrying is the more competent, functional, confident Me who isn’t afraid to take some calculated risks, which includes reaching out more to others without fearing judgment, derision, or rejection.

Part One: “HeartSync” — a psycho-spiritual treatment for trauma and attachment disorders.

 

heart-in-hands-thumbnail

*****

This article will be in two parts.

This part is a brief overview of HeartSync and how it works. The second part will be about my personal experience in Chapel Hill over the past four days.   I just returned today from a four day intensive spiritual/psychological retreat that addresses childhood trauma and helps you release that trauma to re-connect the various parts of your heart that were separated or dissociated due to trauma.   HeartSync attempts to re-synchronize the various parts of your “heart” (really different parts of the brain), to make you whole again, recognizing that God himself (Jesus) is the only one who can bring a person back together again and rebuild the neural pathways that were broken by a lack of early attachment to the mother.  The therapist is just a facilitator.

The goal is to release “trapped pain,” through emotional catharsis facilitated by “God as primary therapist.” Once the trapped pain is released, the person usually begins to see improvements. Sometimes this can be pretty dramatic (as I will describe later — we got to see four “live demonstrations”).

I can’t give you a exhaustive description of everything I learned, because there was so much information. In a nutshell, HeartSync is a type of trauma and attachment-therapy that merges psychoanalytic and traditional psychological modalities (including brain science) of healing with Christianity and spirituality.

It’s believed that anything can be healed with God/Jesus present in the therapy room guiding the session, but there are certain protocols that must be followed by the therapist, as with any other modality of psychotherapeutic healing.  The patient or client must also be willing and have at least some belief in God or Christianity for it to be effective.

An Overview of HeartSync

HeartSync was developed by Father Andrew Miller, an Anglican minister and licensed therapist (LCSW), using an intriguing combination of his knowledge of brain science, traditional psychology, psychoanalytic techniques, and Christ-centered spirituality used to heal trauma and “mend the brokenhearted.”

It is believed that there is no one with any disorder who cannot be healed–and not only that, healed much faster than using traditional, secular therapy–just by using HeartSync techniques.   Some people whose trauma doesn’t run too deep can be healed in a single session.   Others take longer, but it normally doesn’t take as long as traditional therapy, due to the presence of inviting God/Jesus into the sessions to direct the course of therapy.

Here is their website. 

Unfortunately, it’s under construction right now, so the information on the site right now is minimal and a bit hard to navigate.   I’ve been assured this is being worked on.

The human brain and its “core parts.”

All humans are made up of “core parts,” which make up the “heart” of a person.  These core parts correspond to various areas of the brain.   These “core parts” are:

Emotion (feelings, intuition, creativity, visual — overseen by Right Pre-frontal cortex).

Function (thinking, learning, language, beliefs, verbal — overseen by Left Pre-frontal cortex).

Original Self (The Identity Center; “who am I”? — this is overseen by the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex and regulates Dopamine (the “feel good” chemical.)     In a healthy person , the Original Self can move around freely and is not obscured or buried by Hidden Guardians, or renegade Function or Emotion parts that have overtaken the Original Self in reaction to traumatic events.   A person without access to or who is dissociated from their O.S. will feel an inner emptiness or a “void” they cannot fill.  This “emptiness”  is common in C-PTSD, BPD, NPD, and other personality disorders.  It is also present in DID.

Guardians (precortical — amygdala).  Guardians stand between Function and Emotion but under normal circumstances do not block the interface between them in pathological ways.  These guardians allow the person to have healthy boundaries, not only between themselves and others, but between their various “core parts.”   In a healthy person, there is free communication between all the core parts, but only as needed.     The Original Self (soul–prefrontal cortex), Emotion (right brain–cortical), and Function (left brain–cortical) work together beautifully when they are synchronized and allow God in to guide the person along in their life choices.

The “Attachment Center” is ruled by the thalamus and basal ganglia — these are the most primitive pre-cortical (primitive) brain structures.  Attachment is our most basic need.  If attachment and bonding was not sufficiently formed during infancy, the person will experience problems with all the higher brain function listed above.   A trauma occurring at a lower level/more primitive level of brain function will be much harder to heal than one occurring during later childhood or adolescence, when the cortex was fully formed and cognitive memory and language had kicked in.

But “remembering” an event is not necessary for healing.  Even if a trauma occurred during early infancy or even in the womb,  before myelinization occurred, thus making  cognitive memory possible,  a person can still release emotional or physical trauma, even if they can’t remember what the trauma actually was.

Every human possesses all these core parts.   They should all work together like a symphony.

Unfortunately, with trauma, the core parts get so separated they can no longer communicate with each other, and in severe cases, become so dissociated or blocked the entire personality splits up into alters (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Severe trauma, especially Type A trauma, can lead to a physical altering of the actual brain itself, which cannot normally be healed without the intervention of God through prayer and the willingness of the individual who is to be treated to change.

brain4levels

The lower the level of the brain structure (1 – 4 in the diagram ), the earlier the trauma occurred and the more difficult the treatment will be.

*****

Type A and Type B Trauma

There are two types of trauma:

Type A trauma:  not getting what you need from a caregiver (outside of physical needs like food, shelter, warmth, and fluids): the lack of love, acceptance, positive mirroring, acknowledgement, nurturing, communication.   The Still Face experiment, which I’ve posted about before, shows very graphically the changes that come over an infant denied those important attachment signals from the mom, even if only for a few minutes in a controlled setting like a therapist’s office.     We are wired for attachment, and the lack of it has devastating effects on the personality.

Type B trauma:  any bad thing that happens to you, either in childhood or later on.   This could be physical or overt emotional abuse, sexual abuse, ritual abuse (many DID patients were ritually abused in satanic or other cults),  PTSD caused by trauma in war combat, serious illness, natural disasters, being battered by an abusive spouse, being abandoned, the death of a loved one, the sudden loss of a job, or even loss of a dream.

Type A trauma can be worse than Type B, because it tends to happen during infancy, is pre-verbal, and unlike later trauma (which is stored in Emotion or Function, which are both part of the cerebral cortex of the brain) is stored in the very primitive, subcortical, “reptilian” regions of the brain (the amygdala, basal ganglia, and thalamus).  The victim can’t name or describe the trauma because they have no language for it and it may have happened so early the brain wasn’t myelinized yet and so there is no corresponding cognitive memory of the trauma.

It’s harder for a patient to describe Type A trauma– a “lack” of attachment–or convince others that this is abuse, because most people are more likely to show sympathy when you can “name” the abuse or traumatic event and it was overt (Type B trauma).   People may not be sympathetic when you received all your physical requirements, were physically well cared for, and were not physically abused.  But if there was a failure of maternal/infant bonding, the person will never know learn how to connect meaningfully with others and build a healthy relational capacity until and if they can address the Type A trauma they endured.

Type A trauma is why children who were orphaned or abandoned as infants so often develop severe attachment disorders, which can and do lead to Complex PTSD and the personality disorders (the partial fracturing of the Original Self — in the case of NPD the person sets up an “alter”-like “personality” called the False Self) or even DID (the complete fracturing of a personality into separate “alters”) later in life.

heartsync

The roles of the Guardians.

We all have Guardians.   Guardians are universal core parts situated between Function and Emotion; they are responsible for all our defense mechanisms and decide what Emotions can be felt by the person at a given time and which ones can’t.  They help us maintain good boundaries. Everyone has at least one Guardian (the Primary Guardian).  A person with trauma-or attachment-based disorders such as Complex PTSD, DID or the personality disorders, probably has several or many Guardians (Hidden Guardians), which may appear to the person as different “people.”  Hidden Guardians are all split off from the Primary Guardian at the time of the trauma that created them, so some guardians are still very young children and their particular “job” (defense mechanism) is the only thing they ever knew how to do. There are at least 15 kinds of Hidden Guardians. Most of these are dysfunctional; a few are aggressive and hostile.

All Guardians (including Hidden Guardians) have one primary purpose: to protect the inner child (Original Self) from having to feel or experience further trauma or painful emotion by keeping it locked up in the Emotion part of the brain, not letting it through to Function (or only letting it through when it’s appropriate to do so, if the Guardian is healthy). Guardians are the mind’s Gatekeepers.

In a person with DID, the guardians (as well as the split Emotion/Function core parts) are so disconnected from each other that the person has amnesia for some or most of their alters and there is little to no communication between the various core parts, or hostility/animosity between the core parts, including the Guardians.

When healthy, Guardians enable the person to create healthy boundaries and allow just enough information as the person needs to filter from Emotion to Function, and back again.  When a person begins to heal, Guardians don’t disappear, but they may “flip their role” from a pathological defense mechanism to a healthy defense.

For example, a Guardian, when healed, does not go away. Instead, it can learn to switch from negative judgment of people and situations (that keeps a person trapped in unhealthy and self sabotaging life habits) to a role of wise discernment, or making the best choices (this is where God comes in, who helps the person make those healthier choices).

Levels of trauma.

Here is the continuum from normal brain functioning to the most pathological due to severe abandonment/abuse trauma:

  1. Daydreaming: partial, temporary “dissociation” when uncomfortable feelings (including “boredom”) begin to arise.   Everyone does this.   Type A or B trauma is not necessary at this stage.
  2. Painful Memory: No dissociation, but could comprise traumatic memory and possibly the use of defense mechanisms (this is part of what Guardians are for).    Painful Memory can be experienced by a mentally normal person who has experienced Type B trauma (a bad thing happened to them).  Most humans have experienced Type B trauma and the painful memory may be a trigger for them.
  3. Ego-States:  Includes partial dissociation.  “Ego-states” (more circumscribed than painful memories that may include some separation but not to the degree of DID “alters”)  include the Personality Disorders, Complex PTSD, severe PTSD, and possibly Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and and other serious mental conditions outside the common “neurotic” anxiety states and mild depression that most people experience from time to time.   For people stuck in the ego-states, Type A (and possibly Type B) trauma were present.As an aside, my own theory about NPD in regards to this theory is that it is probably the closest of the personality disorders to DID — due to the development of a distinctive “false self” (a sort of “alter”) that differs from and almost completely obscures the true self (Original Self), which the person may not be consciously aware of. In other PD’s the true/original self is not as well hidden. My feeling is NPD is a takeover by a strong, hostile Guardian or group of hostile Guardians who will not allow any vulnerable Emotion through to Function unless it serves their immediate purpose.
  4. DID and DID caused by Ritual Abuse:  Complete dissociation resulting in a fracturing into separate “alters” who may have amnesia for other alters or the core personality.   Usually both Type A and Type B trauma were present, especially in Ritual Abuse, an especially traumatic type of abuse that may involve the deliberate “programming” of a person to carry out certain actions, even suicide, if a certain “trigger” is activated.     The effects are even worse if this type of abuse has been going on since infancy or early childhood, and the prognosis more grim.

Because there is SO much more information and my goal here isn’t to be a HeartSync instructor (at least not now), I am going to stop this post here.  You can check their website above if you’d like to learn more.

My next post (Part Two) will be about my personal experience  over the past few days.  That will be up tonight. I need to get it here while it’s still fresh in my mind. In some ways, I feel like a completely different person and feel a lot “lighter” mentally and emotionally.

You can read about my first day in this post (that resulted in am intense release in a very large pocket of trapped pain).
Checking in.

Dream tsunami.

tsunami

I just woke from an interesting dream.   I’m going back to sleep after I write this (I had to take a “mental health” day today), but I don’t want to forget it so I’m writing this now.

I’ve often dreamt about tidal waves, tornadoes and tsunamis.   I know these things represent my sometimes overwhelming emotions that seem to want to pulverize me.  Somehow in these dreams, I always survive them — or wake up.

In this dream, I was on a boat — maybe a cruise ship, I’m not sure.   It was very spontaneous.   I hadn’t planned to be on this conveyance, and was excited to going to wherever I was going.    I was talking to some older woman in one of the rooms, who was showing me a lot of old family pictures.  I wasn’t dressed or made up, then I looked out the window and saw people walking by on the beach outside laughing.    Because I was on a boat, I don’t know how that was possible but it was.

I decided to get dressed and go outside and join the fun.   Instead, I wound up in some food court where lunch was being served.    My table mate was none other than President Obama!  We just chatted like old friends — not about politics, just about the weather and other mundane things.  I wasn’t particularly impressed that I was sitting at a table with the president, talking to him; he was just a nice stranger.

At some point I turned around and looked toward the sliding glass doors behind me that led to the deck and couldn’t believe what I saw.    A smooth black wall of water, maybe hundreds of feet high, was headed directly toward us!  Because I was on a boat in open water, there was nowhere to run.   Obama looked too but didn’t seem scared.  He told me to put my head down, which I did.  I tried to relax and took deep breaths, bracing myself for the onslaught and certain death.   I prayed that Jesus would take me to Heaven.   I asked him to forgive me for my sins and lack of faith sometimes.  I kept breathing and trying to relax, but nothing happened.

Cautiously, I looked up and turned around.    The ocean outside was choppy as if after a storm, but otherwise looked normal!

“What happened to the tsunami?” I asked Obama.  He just shrugged.  I went back to eating and making plans for the day.

*****

This dream was different from my other tidal wave dreams for several reasons.

  1.  I didn’t wake up.
  2.  The danger passed without me waking up.
  3. I turned to God for protection.
  4. I didn’t panic.

I think this says a lot about my emotional growth.   The wave represents my emotions, but I have control of them now, and sometimes, things don’t turn out to be nearly as terrible as I expected them to.   Turning to God in moments of crisis can pull me through, as does mindfulness things like deep breathing.

It’s interesting about Obama.  I think he was there because this particular tsunami represents my emotional turmoil in the wake of this election.   Maybe he represents calmness to me.