The adventure of self-discovery.

treasure

A few people have asked me how I remain so motivated to stay in therapy and so determined to become whole one day, in spite of the many setbacks I’ve faced and the inevitable triggers I’ve willingly confronted (as well having a stigmatizing cluster B diagnosis that many therapists don’t want to deal with). Even my therapist has said I’m one of the most motivated clients he’s come across. People wonder if I’m just a sucker for punishment and even have masochistic tendencies.  Why on earth would I want to voluntarily embrace so much psychic pain instead of opting to remain emotionally numb the way I used to be?

I think the number one motivator for me is that I’ve learned to think of the road to wellness as an adventure of the mind and soul, not unlike climbing Mount Everest or exploring the ocean depths.    The only difference is that it doesn’t involve bodily risk. Staying as emotionally dead as I used to be seems as boring as staring at a wall all day.  Now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what I can attain, I never want to go back.  Knowing what I know now about myself, remaining in that particular hell would drive me insane.  So these days, I’d rather face the unpleasant challenges and do battle with them.   None are too big for me to conquer, even though at times they can seem to be.

By nature, I’m not a huge risk taker, but I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind.  My own mind is like a labyrinth right before my eyes, but within its dark tunnels and crevices I never know when I’ll find some treasure.

Being in therapy for anyone who suffered severe trauma and abuse can be extremely triggering and at times very painful.    I’ve left some sessions and fallen into vast yawning depressions afterward, feeling lost within the emptiness that I always knew was there even before I knew what was really wrong with me.

Faith that a higher power (or God, if you prefer) will show me the way to the treasure chest I know lies deep within is a huge motivator for me, but even now, without knowing exactly where it lies, occasionally I stumble across evidence that I’m getting closer.   A diamond here, an emerald over there, a small vein of gold embedded in the unforgiving granite.   It gives me hope and motivation to keep going.    I no longer doubt that it’s there….somewhere.   All I need is to keep going.   Therapy provides me with a compass to know which direction to go and the assurance that I won’t die trying to find it.   The journey may appear dangerous at times, but I know it never really is.   Staying mindful helps me conquer any fear that I’ve gone too far or too deep.

Discovering things about yourself that you never knew can be really sobering, even upsetting, but it’s also enlightening.   Awareness and insight about your own motivations is the key to healing from anything that plagues the mind and soul.   Self discovery is always fascinating and full of the unexpected.    It may seem like hard work, and it is, but I know the reward will be worth all the pain, and there are enough pleasant surprises along the way to keep me trudging along the rugged trail.   I can do this!    You can too, if you want it badly enough.

What animals can teach us about mindfulness.

happy_pets

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.

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

 

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*****

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.

The Inheritance (message by Graham Cooke)

I was going to write about my “savior/rescuer” complex–and I still intend to (that will be my next post, which will probably be up tomorrow), but I wanted to post this first. This video was just sent to me by a friend and I’m BLOWN AWAY.

I’m a Christian. I’m not a fundamentalist or a strict Biblical Christian by any means, but I still believe in the Trinity. I know many readers of this blog don’t believe in God, and I don’t think that this is the right place or time for me to try to convert anyone, since my own faith is still so shaky. But still–this deserves to be seen, even if you don’t believe in God.

The singer is Jonathan Helser.

A little background, if you’re interested, can be read about in the following post. I’m going to be attending a 4 day Christian healing program that has been effective for people suffering from trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, DID, and even personality disorders. I’m a little scared but very excited. The reason I’m not posting the entire article here is because I don’t write about my religious or spiritual views on this blog–or at least I try to avoid it as much as possible. This is a blog about trauma, therapy and healing, but not spirituality or religion. That being said, I’ve come to believe that spirituality must be very much a part of recovery for the most effective results–and certain disorders–Cluster B disorders especially–must have some kind of spiritual element for treatment to work at all (even if that just means being prayed for). Here is the article I wrote on my other blog, if you’re interested in reading it.

So excited!

There is still so much that triggers me.

triggers

Even after a year in intensive psychodynamic therapy, various (and some kind of crazy) self-therapies before that, spirituality, and blogging for two years, there are times when I feel like I’ve made no progress at all.

So many things still upset and trigger me.   I’m still hypervigilant, even to the point of paranoia at times; hypersensitive to criticism, don’t have a very good handle on my crippling anxiety and depression; and am envious.  I’m still socially awkward and avoidant; and terrified of rejection, abandonment, and disapproval.    I don’t handle other people’s anger very well, and often find myself automatically jumping on the defensive, even when there’s no reason to.  I still apologize for things that weren’t my fault, and take things too personally.   I still fret about what other people think of me.   I still have very low self esteem and feel like a complete loser much of the time.   I still do and say things that tend to self-sabotage and keep me from moving forward.

At least I know now where all this comes from, and at least I’m aware these feelings are just feelings and not facts.  They were part of my programming in my toxic family.  But knowing this doesn’t stop me from being triggered easily and resorting to primitive and self-sabotaging defense mechanisms.

But some things really have changed.    While I still have difficulty regulating my emotions sometimes, I don’t feel emotionally “dead” as often as I used to and I do regulate my emotions better than I did before I acquired that thin protective narcissistic defense layer (which I think accounted for the “dead” feeling).   I also don’t have as many (or really, any) scary and disorienting dissociative episodes anymore (those disappeared along with the emotional numbness, which is interesting).  I’m less angry than I used to be and I don’t act out against others the way I used to.  I don’t drink too much, do drugs, eat junk food compulsively, or otherwise try to “self-medicate” the way I tended to years ago.   While I can still be envious, it’s not as painful or crippling as it used to be–it’s something I can handle now.  I have more motivation and feel like my life might actually be leading somewhere.   I feel like I’m not completely useless and don’t think of myself as a “bad person” or a “useless person” anymore.

I’m also seeing the good qualities I’ve always had that I either couldn’t see before or didn’t think were good qualities.   After losing the thin protective narcissistic layer (“fleas,” I guess) that disconnected me from my own emotions, I realized I actually have a great deal of empathy.   That surprised me.   I never thought of myself as particularly empathetic before.  Part of the problem was also that I was always so focused in on myself and my turbulent and constantly changing emotions that there was simply no room left for me to care about anyone else.    I have a great sense of humor, which fortunately is something I never really lost and the ability to laugh at things might have kept me from going completely insane.   Now my sense of humor has gotten even better and is less bitter and cynical.   I’m open-minded and don’t think I’m very judgmental at all.     I’m also coming to realize that my innate sensitivity– which I used to be so ashamed of–is really a great thing once you know how to use it.

I’ve come to accept that I may never be completely healed (after all, it took my whole life to get that way), but I think I can live with that.  No one is perfect.  So I’ll just keep working at getting better and try to be the best I can be.  That’s all I can do.  That’s all anyone can do.

 

Being vulnerable requires the courage of 1,000 strong men.

brene_brown_birthplace

 

The above meme pretty much explains the entirety of what this post is about and I could easily leave it at that.   But I am just itching right now to talk about this, because I feel like I just accomplished something pretty great–all because I was finally willing to take a big risk, one I normally wouldn’t take:  I let go of my fear of rejection long enough to tell someone I’ve grown to care about and like very much (as a friend) the truth about the way I felt about them, instead of skirting around my real feelings and avoiding the subject (but secretly going nuts).

I’ve always assumed (because of my internal programming) that I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved, and used to even push away people I liked through either becoming too needy and demanding (stepping over their boundaries), or too avoidant and aloof (building up too many boundaries for protection).  There was no in between for me–it was always one or the other.   I had no ability to regulate my reactions to others or defenses against them.

I also believed that I wasn’t loveable or even likeable, due to my internal programming.  My NM (narcissist mother)  taught me that I was not (though she never said she didn’t love me, I just knew because her actions and behaviors told me she did not).   I believed that if anyone ever got to know “the real me,” whatever THAT was, that they would grow to hate me.  And, because I was always sabotaging myself, sometimes I (unconsciously) made sure that would actually happen — by demanding too much, being too needy or high maintenance, or sometimes, rejecting THEM when I feared they might be getting ready to reject ME (pre-emptive rejection).    I did a lot of projecting too.  Assuming people were angry at me when actually I was the one who was angry at them.  Assuming they felt sorry for me when I actually just felt sorry for myself.  And assuming they would leave when actually it was really me who wanted to leave.   In those cases,  I could beg them to stay and be able to tell myself I did nothing wrong when they finally DID leave me.  Yes, I could be a manipulative little bitch!  (But I had no idea what I was doing).

All this borderline crap was so painful, that over time, I built a thin covert-narcissistic defense over these unstable and unpredictable  behaviors.  (By the way, my therapist finally agrees with me that this is exactly what happened).  I stopped trying to reach out to anyone; I kept to myself, became a near recluse.  I avoided people when they would approach me, or made excuses why I was too busy.  I’d tell myself I didn’t like people–only animals (who would never judge or shame me and would always appreciate me).   I’d tell myself I was too good for other people anyway so I didn’t have to feel that shame of feeling left out of things (which I’d really set myself up for by sabotaging any incipient friendships when they seemed to be getting too close).

Even online, where I generally feel safer connecting with people and making friends, I’d still hold other people at arm’s length and let them tell me a lot more about themselves than I’d ever tell them (except in my blog posts).   I still felt like if I revealed too much, even online, I’d be dismissed as the “weak loser” my inner judge (really my mother’s nagging voice) always told me I was.   I cared about the friends I met online and could allow myself a little more emotional vulnerability (and could allow myself to empathize with them) than I could with others in real life, but still stopped myself at a point just short of a true emotional connection.  Eventually most of these friends moved on to more fertile waters, where there’d be more emotional give and take.

A few months ago, I met a new friend, one who I felt I could very much relate to in many ways, although some circumstances are different.   We had similar childhoods and reacted to our cold, abusive, more outgoing and garrulous  mothers  in similar ways.  Neither of us dared outshine our sparkling, charming, narcissistic mothers so we became shadows of what we could have been, never taking risks, never reaching out in healthy, authentic ways.   We walled ourselves off from others to avoid further rejection.   We are both broken people,  in therapy for early childhood trauma, but we are also both beginning to heal as we learn to navigate the many strange new feelings that are now finally becoming accessible to us.   We are not at the same stage of our journeys, but we have met at a kind of crossroads where both our journeys have met.    I believe this woman is a teacher to me, who came at a time when it was needed.   I may be a teacher to her as well, though I don’t want to assume that.

Although I value and care about all my online friends, I felt a kind of special kinship with this particular woman.  I had a strong feeling she had something very important to teach me that no one else could.  We began a tentative friendship, sometimes talking about the “deep stuff,” but mostly skirting around the real issues out of fear of revealing too much or making ourselves too vulnerable.     Over time, my affection and caring for this woman deepened (not romantic feelings, just a desire for deeper and more meaningful friendship) but I began to worry that if I told her how I really felt, that I would be rejected.  Again, that was me projecting my own insecurity onto her.   But on the other hand, this person is shy and avoidant, and it seemed logical that I might easily scare her away if I revealed too much, just as I can be so easily scared by too much emotional intensity from others.

And yet I long for emotional intensity, in spite of my fear of it.    I know that you can’t feel truly alive until you can be vulnerable and open your heart to another person, even though there’s a risk of being hurt.   But I’m lonely and isolated and tired of living behind walls of my own making.

I talked to my therapist about this at length.  I told him I wanted to reach out to this friend and tell her my feelings, even though I was scared to death.    He encouraged me to do so, saying it would be good practice for me and that even if I was rejected, it would still be a big step for me just for having tried.   He asked me to think about whether I was ready.    I did, and realized I was.

vulnerability_courage

This morning I finally did it.  I was a nervous wreck, imagining the worst and trying to brace myself for her inevitable escape!  I never trusted myself to know when I’d breached someone else’s boundaries because I never learned how to keep good boundaries or know how to navigate those of others.   I was taking a huge chance!

But I’ve had practice now, and in therapy have learned a lot about being able to tell without asking when it’s okay to remove boundaries or when it’s best to step away or build reinforcements.   So my friend and I finally talked on Facebook. We talked for over an hour.   I told her how protective and maternal I felt toward her, so much so that the thought of anyone hurting this incredibly strong but vulnerable woman (who is younger than me) makes me feel so enraged I would want to beat them to a pulp (and I’m not a violent type of person at all).  Maybe I have a “rescuer complex,” I don’t know, but why analyze it?    Once I started talking, things got easier.   I spilled out my need to explore my own vulnerability with her and start to navigate these “dangerous” waters of meaningful emotional connection and real friendship.

It turned out that she was grateful  that I brought my feelings up, because she had been worrying she might have told me too much before (she hadn’t).  But after my admission, she realized I was someone she could trust and she could feel safe opening up even more.    We both got pretty emotional, and if we were physically in front of each other, this would have been the moment we embraced and the swelling movie-music would have started up.

A few minutes later she sent me a heartbreaking post (in PDF) she had written a few days before about her cold, narcissistic mother and how helpless she had always felt in front of her.  It was so raw and  vulnerable and beautifully written (and I could relate to it so much) that it brought me to tears.  My friend said it also had made her feel so vulnerable and triggered after she wrote it that she decided to take her whole blog down (a blog which she had never made public).    I think that at some point she will probably want to share that post with the world, because I think it would help so many people and it touched me so much.   But I understand if she’s not ready for that yet.  It’s a big step, one that might be too overwhelming for her at the moment.   I’m just so grateful and moved that she trusted me enough to share it with me.

I know I need to respect her boundaries and not be too pushy about that or anything else.    I’ve realized that learning to connect with another person, and learning when boundaries should be removed or stay in place, is like an intricate dance — knowing when it’s your turn, when it’s the other person’s turn, being careful to not to step on the toes of the other, but still remain courageous enough to reveal your heart when it feels right and sometimes learn to let go and let your partner spin you around.   And also, always be willing to risk the possibility you may fall and get hurt.

Relationships are kept in balance and become healthy through empathic understanding of and respect for each other’s need for either more space or deeper connection, and this type of empathy is, fortunately, something we both possess, but just were never trained to use — and never had the confidence to try.

I feel like I made progress today, and I can’t wait to tell my therapist.  I know he will be proud of me, but mostly I’m proud of myself for taking a risk and finding that instead of the rejection I’d so feared,  that I helped someone else open their heart to me even more.   As my friend said to me later, we are helping each other learn, and this is a valuable and wonderful experience for both of us which can help us grow even more, as long as we’re both mindful about it.   Everyone you meet in life has the potential to become a teacher, and my friend has taught me today that vulnerability is the greatest kind of strength and the only thing that can lead us out of the darkness.

 

 

Listening to Shame — Brene Brown

I have found Brene Brown’s videos incredibly helpful.  Anyone who has struggled with trauma, shame, and fear of vulnerability would do well to watch her videos.    I’ve already posted “The Power of Vulnerability,” and have watched it dozens of times.   Here’s another one I just watched called “Listening to Shame.”   Brene is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever seen. Follow her on Youtube!

Envy and replacing shame with acceptance.

shame_jung

For as long as I can remember, envy was always a huge problem for me. This is one of the reasons I think I probably have covert narcissism. Envy isn’t something usually associated with BPD (borderlines are much more likely to become codependent to those they see as “superior”). Of course, it’s possible to be both.

Envy is associated with a sense of entitlement. For a covert narcissist, the emotion of envy is a lot more complicated than it is for an grandiose narcissist. A grandiose narcissist, believing they are better than others (but only the false self actually believes this), feels entitled to be treated accordingly. They are filled with anger and resentment when they see someone else who has something they want and if they are malignant, they may try to sabotage the other person’s good fortune. They don’t try to hide behind a facade of deference to others.

Covert narcissists also have problems with entitlement, but it’s a lot more hidden. They normally do not think of themselves as superior, at least not in the overt, in your face way a grandiose narcissist does. They may even consciously suffer from low self esteem and feel worthless. Being a victim often becomes a way to obtain supply, in the form of sympathy or attention. Not all covert narcissists are like this, but many of them are. But at the same time they feel worthless, they also feel a sense of superiority or entitlement.

The dynamics of how this works are complicated, but try to stay with me here.

Emotions at war.

Covert narcissists, as opposed to grandiose narcissists, tend to be low functioning (though not always).   If, let’s say, a covert narcissist is the outcast in a group or ignored (and they are often introverted and sometimes socially awkward too, though not always), they feel victimized or unappreciated. To resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by wanting to feel superior to others but their reality indicating anything but, they take on a kind of “sour grapes” attitude. So, for example, they might pretend (or even convince themselves) their introversion or social awkwardness makes them somehow “better” than others who are more extroverted or popular.  They tell themselves the reason they’re ignored, rejected, or unappreciated is because they are actually more intelligent, more insightful, or have more “depth” than the extroverted or more popular “peons” who are ignoring or rejecting them. They tell themselves others just don’t appreciate their superior mind (or whatever) because they are too stupid (or shallow, or whatever). They believe they deserve better and resent others for treating them like they’re less. They might even go so far as to tell themselves others are jealous of them! This is actually projection, because the reality is, no one is jealous of them–they are actually deeply envious of others. Of course they will never tell you they think they’re better than you, because that would make them grandiose. They keep the feelings of superiority and entitlement to themselves and it’s still mixed with feelings of worthlessness and self hatred.

Unfortunately, as ugly (and confusing) as this description is, I can identify all too well with it, because I’ve been this way since adolescence. Telling myself I was really better than others made the fact I was usually an outcast (or deliberately isolated myself, assuming I would be cast out) more bearable. But the truth was never far away, and the truth was: I felt absolutely worthless and hated myself.

Life as a zero-sum game.

Until very recently, it was hard for me to feel any joy when something good happened to someone else (unless there was something in it for me) because somehow another’s good fortune made me feel diminished. It was as if I regarded life as a zero-sum game. If you win, that means I must lose. I’ve been aware of this trait for many years. I always hated this about myself and tried not to be this way, but it was nearly impossible to drum up any joy for others. It was so difficult to fake being happy for someone that I compensated by changing the subject or ignoring the good news of someone else. Or sometimes, even throwing subtle barbs into a compliment or congratulations. Yes, it was very narcissistic and I’m ashamed of that.

cartoon_antidepressant

It got so bad that when I was married, when my husband got a promotion (even though the extra money we’d have DID affect me positively), I was overcome with envy and all I could do was change the subject because I found myself unable to even fake happiness. I remember thinking, “why don’t I ever get promoted? I deserve to be recognized for my hard work too.” Somehow his achievement made me feel like a failure in comparison, and I felt bitter and miserable for days after that. I tried to hide these feelings because I knew they were wrong and filled me with shame. But I couldn’t make my emotions obey my mind (which told me his promotion–or anyone else’s good news–had nothing to do with me). Because this isn’t a BPD trait, I think I developed a thin sheet of narcissism on top of my BPD.

Fortunately, this awful trait never extended to my kids. Even when I was at my worst, I always felt happy when my kids succeeded in something or were happy. I always felt sad when they were sad or hurt. I had a lot of empathy for my kids, even when that didn’t really extend to anyone else.

Learning to love your real self.

I’m happy to say that this is changing, and my empathy is starting to extend way beyond my children. I’m no longer so envious of others (though I can’t say it’s completely gone–I do have relapses, especially when triggered). I don’t always feel diminished or resentful when someone tells me their good news. More and more often, I’m actually able to feel happy for others when they tell me something good happened to them–even when there’s nothing in it for me. It sure is a lot nicer to feel happy for someone than to resent them!

I’ve written about this recently, but lately I’ve been feeling a kind of softening inside, more tender and loving emotions, like something inside me has shifted. I think this is because in therapy (and because of my faith too), I’m learning how to accept my inner child (true self). This basically means replacing shame and dislike with love and empathy for that child. When you begin to stop feeling ashamed of who you really are, and begin to see the gifts your inner child was born with but you were blind to because shame was always in the way, you begin to stop rejecting that child and allow your real self to come out more often and shine (and in so doing, you no longer have a need for a fake, false self as a shoddy replacement).

In my case, I always tried to hide my inner child’s positive traits — high sensitivity, emotionality, desire for connection, appreciation of beauty, and wanting to love and be loved — because I was programmed at an early age to believe all these traits were “weak” and that emotional vulnerability and everything that goes with it was something to be ashamed of. It was the narrative I lived that my parents (and later, bullies at school) drummed into me at a very early age. I tried to cover that over with a tough exterior for awhile, but when that didn’t work (grandiose narcissism was a very bad fit for my temperament!), I turned inward and began to isolate myself and at the same time, resent everyone else. I wouldn’t let anyone get to know the real me, and isolating myself was the easiest way for me to hide.

little_girl

Fortunately I never developed full-blown NPD (just a lot of N traits as a way to protect myself from the emotional ravages of BPD–I call this my “aluminum foil” false self because it’s so thin and easily torn), so it may be taking less time for me to be able to access my real self, and begin to replace shame with acceptance and real self-love. I’ve only been in therapy for 10 months and I can’t believe how far I’ve come already. Of course it also helps to have a therapist who is highly empathetic and skilled in getting someone like me to be able to see themselves from a different vantage point and teach me how to empathize with my inner child (and in so doing, learn to re-parent myself). I also had a head start because I was blogging about my mental and emotional state for about a year before I started therapy, and that helped me gain a high degree of insight into myself (and temperamentally, I’ve always been analytical). Prayer and meditation have helped enormously too.

I’m also highly motivated. I don’t like these traits in myself at all. I hate them so much that if I were offered a choice between being rid of them for good and a million dollars, I would choose to forgo the money but be emotionally free.  I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I really am going to win this fight.

Sometimes I wonder.

Sometimes I wonder,

“Why the fuck am I doing this?  Why in the name of all that is holy am I paying good money that could be spent on something enjoyable or at least useful (and that I can barely afford) on a process intended to cause me to face my shame and fears and submit myself to deep, dark wells of pain and hurt, a process that has never been proven to work and will probably take months or years to have any real effect, a process where there is no guarantee of healing at all?   Have I gone mad?”

And the answer always comes:

“There is no way in the universe you would not be doing this.   Before this, you had no hope.  You weren’t living life; you were existing. Ignorance was not your friend; knowledge and awareness is.  And it’s conscious awareness about what happened to you and what it did to your mind and soul that will make healing not only possible, but likely.   This is an adventure –not always fun, sometimes scary, sometimes devastating–but often very beautiful too.  Look!  You’ve already changed and are making tentative attempts at real connection without the defenses.  It’s scary and exciting and beautiful.  Keep going. Don’t ever give up or become complacent.”

What is real?

velveteen-rabbit-1

I noticed I’ve been posting more on this blog lately, because so much is going on with me right now, and it’s the sort of stuff I prefer to not to post on Lucky Otter’s Haven due to its extremely personal nature.   This blog feels more private to me than my other one.

I just got home from my therapy session.   Today I still had that feeling of something in me having shifted.  I feel quite vulnerable, fragile and emotional, but not in a bad way at all.  I just feel sort of…raw.  It’s a melting kind of feeling, like my usual defenses are not working properly.  But it’s okay.

I talked about this with my therapist. I told him I think something happened to me when I was sitting alone in the warm waters of the Gulf two weeks ago, feeling the water gently rocking me as I sunk into the soft silt-like sand beneath me, and little fish swam around me as if protecting me from something.   I said it felt like I’d been reborn.

We talked about a lot of other things, but mostly about my childhood.  I told him about the way my malignant narcissist mother used to scare me with nothing more than a hard, cold stare or one of her famous silences.  I could see through her mask when I was as young as 4 or 5.  She used to scare me so much and I felt so powerless and small in her presence that the only way I knew how to escape from her was to turn inward, becoming lost in my own mind.   I call this “going inside.”

When I’d “go inside,” no one could get me to come out until I was ready.  I didn’t respond to my environment normally and didn’t seem to hear people when they spoke to me.  I imagine it appeared to others that I might be autistic (I actually thought I was an Aspie for a long time), but I know this was actually an early form of dissociation, the only way I knew how to escape the harsh reality I faced at home.

Whenever I’d “go inside,” my mother became enraged, because it was the only place where she couldn’t get to me.  And she knew it.   She ordered me to stop acting “spooky.” But I couldn’t help it; these dissociative trances weren’t something I willfully decided to do; they just happened whenever I felt threatened.   I had no control over them.  She used to scream at me and punish me for acting “spooky,” sometimes slapping me hard across the face.  Sometimes her fingernails scratched me and once or twice even drew blood.   There was no longer any escape from her cruelty, because I knew whenever I “went inside,” I’d be punished or slapped for it.

“That must have felt so horrible,” my therapist said. “She should have sat you down and asked you if anything was bothering you, and then listened to what you said.”

“I know,” I whispered.   I bit my lip.  I was close to crying.  All my emotions have been so much closer to the surface the past couple of weeks.

“I’m so sorry she couldn’t appreciate you,” he said, pulling his chair up closer, from about 3 feet away to only about 2 feet away.  He was watching me closely.   Maybe he expected me to cry.  I really wanted to.  But if I didn’t, would I disappoint him?  And if I did, would it be genuine or would it be a performance because it’s what he seemed to expect?  I really didn’t even know.

“Why was she so mean?” I wailed. “Why  couldn’t she have been a normal mother? Why did she have to be different?” God, I sounded like a whiny 5 year old.

velveteen_rabbit

“Your mother had an illness, but that doesn’t mean what she did was right.   Not allowing you to feel or express your feelings and then getting angry at you for doing the only thing you knew how to do–go inside yourself–was wrong.  Belittling your feelings and calling you spooky was wrong.  So wrong.  I am so sorry.”  He looked like HE was going to cry!

Tears welled up and I buried my face in my hands.

“I’m so sorry.  I really am. You deserved better.”  He leaned forward.

Okay, it was happening. I was crying and it wasn’t a performance.  This was real.  It felt good because it felt real.

“It was terrible,” I sobbed.  “She was terrible.  People like her shouldn’t have children.  All she cared about was the way I made her look.  And I always made her look bad.”

“But only because you didn’t mirror what she wanted you to reflect in her.  It wasn’t your responsibility to do that.  You were just a child.  There was nothing wrong with you.”

I wiped my face and looked up.  “But you know, my dad wasn’t really that bad.  I know he really did love me, even though he drank all the time and hit me sometimes.   He loved that portrait of me, that one that no one knows what happened to.  He was so proud of that and it hung on the mantel for years.”

“I just noticed something.”

I looked up.

“I hear you, and we’ll talk about your dad too, but I also think you just attempted to change the subject so you wouldn’t have to feel the pain of your mother’s rejection of you.”

I thought about it.  He was right.  It’s true I felt somewhat victorious that I was able to shed tears in front of him, but crying also made me feel so self conscious and vulnerable that I unconsciously changed the subject to something “happier” or at least less traumatic.  I realized that I do this all the time.  I always unconsciously change the  subject or get “distracted” or make a joke whenever I start becoming too emotional or things start getting too painful or uncomfortable.   I never was aware I did this before.

“You know, you’re right.  I really do want to stay with this emotion, I want to feel this pain.  I know I have to.  It’s real, and that’s what I want. I want things to be real.  But it’s hard, you know.  I can get there, but I can’t keep it going.”

“Reality is difficult.”

“But that’s what I want.”

“Do you feel like you need more direction, to stay on track, and not go off on tangents when things start to feel too real?”

“Yes.  Please.   Direct me.  That’s your job.”

We talked about some other feelings I’m having.   I talked to him about the way I project onto others, like my step mother and her “hatred” of me, and this  feeling of something shifting inside.  I started getting emotional again.

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t know!  But I feel real again and I want more of that.”

“You’re already real.  You always have been.  Your defenses aren’t blinding you to what’s real as much as they did.  I can see incredible progress. But our time’s up for this week.”

As I was leaving, I blurted out something I couldn’t believe I heard myself say.   “I feel like running over there right now and giving you a hug,” is what I said.

Mortified by my outburst and feeling like I’d completely lost control of myself, I quickly turned around and started to open the door to leave.

“Wait,” he called.  I turned back around and saw him standing there with his arms open.  I stood there staring stupidly for a second, and then ran gratefully into them.  He patted me on the back during the embrace.   I pulled away first.    It’s the first time there was ever any physical contact between us, but there was nothing at all sexual about it and under the circumstances, I think it was perfectly ethical.    I trust his judgment in these matters.  And that hug felt real.