Posts Tagged ‘emotions’


My vacation reminded me that not only is going out and living good for its own sake, but it can even help with healing. On the drive to the airport for the trip back home, I realized something that astonished me and made me start to cry in gratitude, because unexpectedly I had been given exactly what I need right now.

You see, before I left, I was one stressed out puppy. I was experiencing a “perfect storm” of dealing with very distressing material in regards to my dad, being convinced that I am on the brink of losing my mother, the pressures of the holiday season, the stress of needing to travel when I really didn’t want to travel, the fact that I was traveling to about 20 miles away from where I lived between the ages of 6 months and 6 years, alarming migraine symptoms that resulted in my having an MRI, and finally I was experiencing brief periods of loss of time, which is very unusual for me and no one knew if they were neurological or dissociative due to all of the stress.

As a result, I was in a bit of a mess when I flew out to the West Coast to visit with my husband’s family. One of the things that I was really worried about was my mother in law asking awkward questions that I just didn’t have the resources to deal with, but right before we left, my husband let her know what topics were out of bounds on this trip. That made all of the difference. I was able to relax and we did eventually talk about about some of those same topics, but it was on my terms, so it was my choice to share. As a result, I experienced her attention as caring, rather than being intrusive. While I have always known that it was meant as caring, her questions in the past have only made me want to run, so this shift was a relief for me.

In fact, given the proper boundaries, being with my husband’s family turned out to be a healing experience, rather than the stressful experience that I had anticipated. What a delightful surprise! One of the things that we did differently this time was to break up the time that we spent with people, and we traveled up the coast, staying with different family members. We spent a lot of time hanging out, doing low key activities, like going to the beach, taking walks, and tide pooling together. New Years Day was spent entirely outdoors with my sister in law, enjoying her company, my husband and daughter, the fantastic weather, and the amazing sea life. Days like that help to heal my soul and they provide a calming, wholesome memory for me to come back to in times of distress.

I loved watching my daughter play with her cousins and aunts and make those connections that I so dearly wish that I had with my own family. It was healing for me to watch her settle into feeling secure and loved in the arms of her extended family. Families don’t have to be like the family that I grew up in. My husband’s family is not perfect, but it is loving and supportive and several family members have made an effort to improve upon what they were raised with, so it isn’t stagnant and stuck in dysfunction. It’s reality. My little family with my husband and daughter isn’t perfect, but hopefully we can provide a good enough environment for my daughter to take what we give to her and improve upon it for the next generation.

We spent a couple of days with the other young family in his extended family- their children are 7, 4, and 4 months. That time probably was the highlight of the trip for me. I saw another family where both of the parents came from backgrounds where they had been badly hurt at some point, and yet they have worked hard to heal that hurt, grow, overcome their limitations, and continually strive to learn to be better partners for each other, parents, and fuller people. Once again, they aren’t perfect, but they are kindred spirits in understanding what it means to struggle over and over, fail, pick yourself up and keep on going. They also manage to have faith that while things are hard, they will find a way to make everything work in the end and they remember to have joy in each day. Such a good reminder to find the joy, no matter how small, even in the midst of the struggle.

Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t without bumps. I received a call on New Years Day from my Dad’s phone and even though I didn’t answer it, I was triggered and ended up in a very bad state the next day. I tried my hardest to get myself out of it, but finally conceded that I couldn’t do it on my own and called on Mama Bear for help. At another point, I had to deal with something intrusive in regards to my dad, but at least I was able to put that away by myself. On the other hand, I learned that the trip didn’t have to be problem free in order to be a good thing for me.

The time that I spent connecting with the various people in my husband’s family was far more important to me than I realized while I was doing it. Reflecting on it, I think that I may have let them in more than I have dared to in the past. Somewhere along the way over the last couple of years, I really have learned how to start to open my heart more.

So what was this realization that I had in that predawn car ride to the airport? That I was leaving feeling like I had been loved by my husband’s family. Really feeling that there are people out there who love me, beyond just the few that I have regular contact with here was profound for me. I am someone who is worth loving. Someone who naturally loves and is loved in return. I don’t have to hide behind walls. It is safe for me to exist. I am not going to be rejected for being me. No matter what happens with my parents, I still have people around me who will love me. I’m not going to end up all alone, if I find and tell my truth.

This current realization doesn’t solve everything, of course, but some greater chunk of me is shifting. Tiny bits of me had been taking it in before, but now this larger part of me has experienced being loved, even in the face of starting to deal with what I most don’t want to deal with. I’m interested to see how it plays out both in my everyday relationships and in therapy.

Read Full Post »

Susan Stein Cascade

Susan Stein

The session today was, well, intense. It probably involved more tears than any other than I can remember. They just kept on dripping down my face. Usually when I cry in session, I’m curled up in a ball and it’s as if the sobs are being torn out of me. Today I just sat there and let the tears drip, sopping them up occasionally with a tissue.

I went into the session knowing that I needed to talk with Mama Bear about something and while we tried to talk about something else first, it went nowhere pretty quickly. I found myself so tangled up in feelings of grief and anger that I couldn’t think straight enough to answer Mama Bear’s question. After struggling to focus on the other topic and beating myself up about it a bit, I realized that I should accept the wisdom of my pre-session instinct and just go with what was presenting itself.

When I stopped fighting them, the emotions grew stronger and Mama Bear remarked, “You are obviously quite upset about something.”

I opened my mouth to try to tell her what I was thinking and feeling and I just burst into tears. I cried and I cried. I cried more freely than I can remember crying before. Eventually the crying would calm and I would try again to speak, however just thinking the words that I would speak stirred up the grief anew and I would dissolve into tears once more. She sat with me silently and let me cry and was always there to meet my eyes when I looked at her for contact and support. I don’t know how many times this happened, but we were more than half way through the session before I could finally gather myself enough to really look at Mama Bear and say, “You aren’t going to let me get away with not telling you what that was about, are you?”

“Do you mean, am I going to not talk, so you need to talk?”

“No.” I struggled to get out, “You aren’t going to let me pretend-” I stopped gasping in pain, because I realized what dynamic I was describing, and then continued,”-that nothing happened and just ignore it, are you?”

She shook her head. “No. I’m not. That’s like what happened when you were a child.”

I nodded in agreement and tried to breathe with the pain of that acknowledgement.

Then Mama Bear said something completely unexpected, “I’m still here. I’m still listening.” And with that, I started to cry even harder than I had been before. You see, she accidentally directly touched on what I was so upset about. I realized a day or two ago that I am angry and grief stricken about the fact that I don’t get to have a permanent relationship with Mama Bear. I have always been aware of the boundaries around the therapeutic relationship and the very good reasons that those boundaries exist, so I was surprised when I was hit by this upset. I felt like such a cliched client. But I also knew that the feelings were intense, they weren’t going to resolve without addressing them with her, and it didn’t really matter that I didn’t approve of them.

It was terribly embarrassing to admit this to Mama Bear, although I have learned that if I am embarrassed or ashamed about something, it helps for me to name it, rather than just struggling with the feelings. She asked me, “What do you mean by “A permanent relationship?” I sighed and said, “I don’t even know the answer to that!” “OK, so it’s just kind of a general thing then?” I agreed and then she asked me, “Do you know if anything triggered this in you? Did anything come up since I last saw you?”

I first answered, “No, I don’t think so.” But then something tickled at my mind. Over the last several days, my mind has been dipping into memories of a particular type of abuse and I have been slowly accepting the reality of the physical components of that type of abuse. It has been intense at times, sometimes to the point of actually feeling physically painful. I had to deal with what physically happened to me all by myself when I was a child. I can remember thinking last night, “I don’t want to be left all alone with this again!!!”

I told Mama Bear what I had remembered. We talked a bit about it and then she said, “I’m going to ask you a really crazy question. Do you think that there is any chance that the fear of losing me could keep you from getting better?”

I thought about it a bit and said, “I hope not.”

“I hope not, too. But there was some incredibly intense grief there.”

I don’t think that it is getting in the way right now. Things are changing so rapidly inside of me, I often feel as though I don’t know which way is up. I keep on expecting myself to have a difficulty with something because I always do, but it suddenly doesn’t seem to be an issue. I don’t trust these changes because they have been so swift and I keep on expecting to take 2 steps back, but at this point it would need to be about 30 steps back and I haven’t had a major reversal yet. On the other hand, I know that I felt like I was going in circles last Spring and I wonder if fearing losing Mama Bear was a dynamic at the time. Obviously, I don’t know how I will react in the future. I anticipate that a part of me will want to hold on to her, the question is whether the rest of me will be able to manage it well enough to keep it from becoming a problem. I think so, but I don’t know…

You might think that I have just caused problems for myself by allowing myself to create such a close bond with Mama Bear- I considered that myself earlier today- but I think that while there will be a cost of painful loss when we stop working with each other, the benefits to me are more than worth the cost. I will write about this more in my next post.

Read Full Post »

Diana Wright

Diana Wright

Lately, I have become increasingly aware of a set of rules that I lived by as a child and which my insides still turn to when I am feeling threatened: I can’t get angry. I can’t be critical. I can’t ask for help; I can only hint. I can’t cause problems/ do anything wrong. I have to do everything right and try my best to make everything right all of the time.

I’m not sure how many of those rules were taught to me by the people around me and how many I developed myself, in an attempt to keep things under control inside, but the result was that I had very little freedom to simply be. It’s like I wasn’t allowed to be a real living, breathing child. I can’t say that my needs didn’t matter, because at the core, I followed those rules in an attempt to keep myself as safe as possible. My most basic needs ruled my actions.

I lived in a situation where my dad treated me in a way that didn’t feel safe and I simply wanted to do whatever was necessary to keep things as OK as possible between the two of us. I am pretty sure that I believed that he did not want me there, which, given that he kept on going off alone with my mother and leaving me with my grandparents, was a reasonable conclusion. I can’t remember ever feeling wanted by him or secure with him, although I do remember him being proud of my accomplishments. So I followed the rules and tried to keep my position in the family as secure as possible.

The rules served a different purpose with my mom, though. As far back as I can remember, I believed that I needed to protect my mother and I have recently come to understand that the rules helped me to protect her- from myself. I was in a terrible bind. My parents regularly sent me over to my dad’s parents’ house from a fairly young age. I believe that part of the reasoning was that they were poor and they needed free baby sitting while my mother worked and my dad did his college course work, but they also sent me there over night just so they could regularly have time together alone. Young parents need time together, but not by sending their young child to stay with grandparents who were at the very least physically and emotionally abusive to one of the parents.

I was also left with my mother’s older brother and mom, both of whom had been abusive to her, particularly her brother. Frankly, I don’t really know when the abuse started or with whom. I’m certain about my grandfather and I believe that my uncle probably abused me when I was quite young- at the very least he terrorized me.

The upshot was that from an early age I knew that I was surrounded by family members who were not safe for me and my mother was the only person with whom I felt any safety at all. I felt loved by her and there were times when I felt nurtured. But, I seem to have learned early on that I couldn’t tell my mother what was happening to me. I believe that I tried to tell my mother that something was wrong and I was being hurt, but she couldn’t hear me. As near as I can piece together, her own childhood so traumatized her that she just couldn’t deal with a lot of interpersonal stress. On the other hand, looking back, I think that if what was happening to me had been clearly placed in front of her, her conscience wouldn’t have allowed her to avoid dealing with it, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was a child; how could I understand the complexities of my mother’s psychology? The best that I could do was to try to manage by living by the rules.

Don’t get angry. From the depths of rage that I am discovering now, it must have taken so much energy for me to bury the anger that I felt at my mother for not protecting me. It was her responsibility to protect me. Period. No matter how hard it was for her to deal with protecting me, it still was her responsibility. Too much of me tried to take on responsibility for my own care and protection, but part of me always knew that she failed me miserably by not keeping me safe from people she knew treated others cruelly.

Don’t be critical. Even implying that my mother did something wrong was a big no-no, because it might make her feel badly about herself. How fragile was her self concept if she couldn’t even tolerate her child saying that she did something wrong? But even now it is hard for me to even think that my mother should have done things differently- I want to make excuses and “see her side of things,” and this rule is a significant stumbling block when I think about talking to my mother about what happened and how it affected me. The fact is that she messed up big time and she should have done a lot of things differently. Somehow I need to find it in myself to treat her like an adult and expect for her to be able to deal with the reality that her actions (and inactions) resulted in my being harmed.

Don’t ask for help. I couldn’t directly ask my mother for help, because she might not be able to give it to me. It might be too hard or too painful for her or otherwise impossible. But I could hint. I seem to remember telling my mother that I hurt and holding my lower abdomen and her response was, “Oh, you have a tummy ache?” I then felt that I was being told that all I was allowed to have was a “tummy ache.” Whether or not this exchange exactly happened, I think that it was the general pattern. I could sort of tell her that something was wrong, but if she didn’t want to really look at me and see that something was really wrong, then she didn’t actually need to. Her own hurts seem to have kept her from ever looking closely at what was happening to me, even when I was clearly in distress. Twenty one years ago, when all of the abuse material started to break through the barriers and I was being flooded, I was desperate. I tried to tell my mother that things were bad and I hinted as hard as I could that I needed her help- I needed for her to fly across country and give me support because I was becoming increasingly suicidal. It seems that she didn’t understand me and she didn’t come. After I checked myself into the hospital, then she offered to fly out to support me. But at that point I was behind locked doors. I still can’t ask my mother directly for help and I have a terribly difficult time asking anyone for help.

Don’t cause problems/do anything wrong. I pretty much was the epitome of a ‘good girl.’ In some ways it has been helpful over the years, because it probably helped to keep me from making some bad mistakes, but it also meant that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. I needed to be the model daughter.

Do everything right. I guess that this is another variation on don’t cause problems… But there was a constant obligation to figure out what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. What was going to make my mother happy? What was the ‘right’ thing to do?

Always, but always keep on trying as hard as possible. This rule feels somewhat different and I believe that it started out purely as a survival drive on my part. It isn’t about protecting my mother, but is all about getting me through some very hard times. I think that it keeps me from completely giving up, even when I start to despair, feel trapped, and can’t see my way out of a painful place. I just keep on trying. But I have also realized that even though this rule is helpful, it still leaves me with little room to maneuver. Other than a few short breaks, I have always been trying as hard as I can. It might not look like much from the outside, but it still is pretty much everything that I have to give. It was a matter of life and death for awhile, but it isn’t now. Thinking about it, I see that I can take some of the pressure off of myself now. In fact, I should take some of the pressure off of myself.

So many rules. So little room to breathe. So little room to live. I may have needed the rules in the past, but they are only getting in the way now. I need to learn how to become a rule breaker.

Read Full Post »

Olga Norris- Ponder

Olga Norris- Ponder

Over the past several weeks, I have been working very intensively around my parents, particularly in regards to my father. That focus was called for because I have had this pattern of getting myself into a crisis in regards to my dad and as a responsible therapist, Mama Bear pointed out that I was harming myself. In “What am I going to do with my dad?”, I wrote about agreeing with Mama Bear that I need to decide how I am going to deal with my dad in the now, based on the information that I have now.

It has been an intense and incredibly painful struggle that has left me wiped out and feeling cut off from the world. I spent a lot of time sitting in my rocking chair, just crying so intensely. It was clear to me that while some of the pain and grief was present based, most of it was past based. That is why I would fear that the intensity of the pain would kill me and I would feel completely alone, utterly helpless, and unable to do anything to console myself. I was dealing with memories of pain and grief from when I was a child. I wish that I could say that I was done with the process, but I know that I’m not. There is a lot of hurt and loss to go.

In the midst of all of this, I lost my voice. I believe that to some extent that was because I was dealing with the emotional memories of very young states and so the vocabulary simply wasn’t there to be able to describe what I was experiencing. Really, I feel as though for the past couple of weeks I have gone around half way in one of these child states. To some extent, I was dealing with controls put into place as a child that were designed to keep me out of trouble. (Defense mechanisms and silence)

But the end of yesterday’s post marked a turning point for me. I realized that while I have felt trapped in a tiny space with my parents I can choose to emerge into the “open” and deal with it there. There is so much more to me and my life than my parents in the here and now. Even if the worst should happen and there should be a complete break with my mother, it would be terribly painful, but my life would go on and it would be a very good life.

Coming to this realization seems to have given me my voice back and it has helped me to focus on the fact that my understanding of my relationship with my father is only important to me in regards to my mother. I have no desire to see him or have contact. I do not fully understand why there is such a deep lack of trust and a need to shield myself from him, but that’s the way that things are. One painful truth that I continue to have trouble fully accepting is that my father hurt me. I’m not talking about in the horrific cruel way that my grandfather did. Maybe there was real cruelty there, but it’s all very complicated and figuring out that part isn’t actually important right now. What’s important is accepting that being my father’s daughter hurt me. It is a source of pain in the now and was a source of great pain as a child, for whatever reason. My father was not the father that my mother needs to believe that he was. As hard as it may be, I have to be solid in my acceptance of the fact that I hold a truth that is in opposition to my mother’s beliefs, so I can hold on to my truth, despite the desire that I most likely will have to make things easy on my mother whenever I engage with her again.

I suspect that there will be some form of engagement in the not too distant future. You see, I’ve realized that I have tentatively tried to get an appropriate response from my mom, but in all of the time that I have been working on dealing with the abuse, I haven’t ever flat out said from her, “This is what I need from you.” I have hinted. I have obliquely asked. I have tentatively started to introduce the subject of dealing with the abuse and given up when she repeatedly changed the topic. But I haven’t ever clearly said, “You have asked how you can help, because you know that I’ve been struggling, this is what I need from you.” I have been too afraid of how much it would hurt to have her refuse and lose the hope that one day things might be better with her. But this can’t continue indefinitely. She is getting older and I don’t want for time to run out. If I don’t give something clear and direct a good try with her, I will always wonder what would have happened if I had tried. I don’t want to live with that question over my head. So I have to find the courage to break several basic family rules at the same time: don’t talk about something that upsets my mom; don’t ask for something that she might not be willing to give to me; don’t talk clearly and directly about any problems of any type; keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong.

It’s a tall order and it’s intimidating to consider. But helps when I take a step back and remind myself that those were the rules of my childhood. I couldn’t do anything but follow them then, but now that I am an adult, they only apply to me if I allow them to apply to me. That is something that my fuller, outer self can appreciate, but I also know that I will be dealing with the memories of child states and in those states, I will fully believe that I have to follow the old rules. Hopefully, over the next weeks and months, I can bring the two close enough together, so that I can hold both beliefs at the same time. It is in that state of dual awareness that deep change can take place. The more that I can help all of me understand that I don’t need to live by the old family rules, the easier it will be to manage some sort of contact with my mother.

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »