Posts Tagged ‘defense mechanism’

My own quilt- Summer

My own quilt- Summer

I apologize for my absence; over the last few weeks, I have been experiencing more and more difficulty communicating.

I have started to deal with some deeply painful issues related to my parents and all sorts of defense mechanisms have been kicking in to try to keep me from talking. In session, the most effective one is that I simply cannot talk. First, it’s as if there is gauze between me and my thoughts and emotions and only occasionally can I see a hint of one and start to pull on it to have something to be able to say. But before I can start to speak, the thought has evaporated.

The self censoring filters are set so high that it’s hard to get anything out. “That isn’t worth telling her about. That’s trivial. Why would anyone want to hear about that? Talking about that would just be self centered and selfish. I have to be distorting things.” I was able to say something about this to Mama Bear and her response was that at this point, Anything that comes up in session is worth talking about.”

And then there are the wonderful responses when I do manage to express some of these intense feelings: having the urge to physically damage myself or even better thinking, “I don’t deserve to be alive. I shouldn’t be alive.” I know that it’s an attempt to get me to create some distance from the difficult emotions and while those urges are very unpleasant, I can recognize then for what they are, so they no longer panic me. However, I very much look forward to the day when I can feel such intense emotions in regards to my parents and not react by experiencing self destructive urges.

Sometimes I experience somatic symptoms: I get a sudden, piercing headache or I feel completely nauseated, as if I am about to throw up. In this context, I’m certain that they are at least a reflection of the turmoil that I feel inside over dealing with these parent issues.

There have even been a couple times when out of the blue I started to experience the beginnings of a flashback while dealing with these issues. I am certain that it was my brain trying to put something else between me and those terribly, terribly threatening thoughts and feelings. You know that your brain is desperate when it tries to bring up a flashback in a weird attempt to protect you!

So, why is my brain so desperate? Yes, the feelings are extremely intense, but I’ve dealt with intense emotions before. It’s because I am dealing with thoughts and emotions that I have kept buried for four decades in regards to my parents.

I don’t think that a 5 year old who is being abused consciously thinks to herself, “I can’t deal with this level of emotion and betrayal and keep my mind intact, so I’m going to dissociate those feelings and put them away there.” Or, “If I am angry about what is happening to me, then I’m going to rock the boat and I’m terrified that I will lose my mother and all of these things can’t exist in the same place, so I’m going to dissociate the anger and put it over here.” But I can say that by some mechanism that is essentially what happened for me. As a result, to this day, I have these strong taboos to not touch the deep emotions in regards to my parents. What I have been doing with Mama Bear lately feels life threatening to these protective parts of me that are supposed to keep everything under control that could have gotten me into trouble when I was a child. So, I have trouble talking.

The thing is that I’m in my 40’s, not a young, dependent child. The people I interact with now would rather deal with the whole me, rather than a limping, cut up me. It’s not just OK to be the full me, it’s desirable. I don’t have to fear abandonment if I address these issues. There is no one here who is going to hurt me. I’m not trapped with it being just me and my family any more; there’s a whole world out there, if I’m just willing to step out into it. I have this mental image of having been trapped in a small cave with my family and struggling to deal with this mess, but then realizing that I could take the whole thing out into the open air and have both more space to work on it and a sense of being in the world, not just trapped in dealing with my family.


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Diane Wright

Diane Wright

“Over all, things are going OK for me. I’m getting things done in the house that have needed to be done since we moved in; I’m taking my daughter out to do things; I’m engaging my husband more. But there is a part of me that is so caught up in thoughts that I am bad and should be punished and don’t deserve to be alive. There is a sense of being screaming angry at myself and wanting to tear myself to shreds. However, I do know that it isn’t the now me who feels/thinks these things. Why is this coming up so frequently now?”

This is the bulk of an e-mail that I sent to Mama Bear last week. I was bewildered to observe myself swinging back and forth between behaving more like the functional me and the me that feels terribly self destructive. How could I be so contented most of the time but then suddenly find myself telling myself that I shouldn’t be alive? It felt just crazy!

I could tell that when I was in the more functional/better able to connect with my family mode, I was largely acting from the fuller me, and when I was inundated with self destructive thoughts and urges, those were the experiences of younger parts. Even though the negative emotions were so strong that they were all I could feel at that time, I could differentiate and tell that it was just a subset of me that was immersed in the self hatred, while a larger portion of me was trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. But I still was bewildered by what was going on.

In the past, I have only had thoughts of ending my life when I have gone through periods of deep despair and long stretches where I felt overwhelmed and in terrible pain. It really hasn’t come up very often, so the fact that it has been coming up every two to three weeks over the last couple of months is noteworthy and alarming to me. What in the world am I doing wrong to create this response in myself?!?

Mama Bear has suggested that I’m not doing anything wrong at all. I have been going through a phase over the last several weeks where I have become more activated, both internally and externally. I am taking action on my behalf and contemplating taking long avoided action with my parents. When I was young, I could not afford to do that and my system may have learned to take drastic measures to freeze any impulses to rebel against my parents. Because that’s exactly what these self destructive thoughts tend to do. All of the energy that was going into anything else is diverted to deal these thoughts of self harm and that I don’t deserve to live and the attached emotional distress.

Mama Bear says that during this period I am going to have to be extra alert for when young parts of me become distressed as I start to claim and use for the power that I can have. I need to be prepared that they may show that distress in ways that are very uncomfortable for me and remember that the resulting actions and/or feelings are not really a sign that I have lost all of the ground that I have painfully gained. The more prepared I am to be supportive of these frightened and upset parts, the better I will be able to keep things from getting out of hand.

Great. I can probably look forward to this happening again. But maybe next time I can take a bit of a step back and look at it with a bit more understanding and compassion. “OK, I’ve been doing X and it seems that X has freaked out parts of me. I know that X is safe enough to do, but these parts don’t understand that yet. I need to help hold them with the knowledge that I don’t need to panic, I really am OK, and I am not in danger right now.”

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