Elizabeth Rossner writes about the legacy of trauma and the labyrinth of memory in this wide-ranging review of her visits to Auschwitz with her father who came through the camps (she has a chapter on why she does not use the word “survivor” here). She also explores the legacy of trauma for the survivors and their children who experienced the killing fields of Cambodia, the retreat from Hanoi, and the massacre in Rwanda.
Traumatized people don’t feel safe, and parents who feel unsafe create households without a feeling safety, raising children do who not feel safe. The traumatized parents express the unresolved trauma in two main ways:
1. Suppressing all emotion in an effort to suppress the unrelenting, wordless fear trapped in the body. Children can’t play with someone who is numb. Children can’t bond well with someone who is numb. Drugs and alcohol often strengthen the numbness and emotional unavailability.
2. Traumatic rage squirting out uncontrollably in overreactions to upsetting everyday events. Children never know when the traumatized parent is going to beat them for a trivial infraction, or embrace them with understanding. The parent is inconsistent, and blind to the inconsistency.
Rossner quotes Dr. Maria Angeles Morcuenda, “The children of people with unresolved trauma have not learned [yet] to feel safe [even when they are] in a safe environment.”
Esther Perel says “home is the place where you feel safe, seen, appreciated, respected, and wanted.” When trauma in the home is denied, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse (betrayal and the like), or sexual abuse, the dependent child may resort to denial in order to preserve the attachment on the damaged parent upon whom she or she relies.
“Trauma denial is an act of self-preservation,” says Perel. “We employ self-delusion when too much is at stake and we have too much to lose. The mind needs coherence, so it disposes of the inconsistencies (lies) that threaten the structure of our lives. This becomes more pronounced when we are betrayed by those we feel closest to.”
Elizabeth Rossner says, “I hope my book invites readers to consider their own relationship to intergenerational transmutations of grief, trauma and resilience.” In her conversations with Dr. Morcuenda, we learn that healing from trauma is all about getting to feel safe. Dr. Morcuenda’s work focuses on “How do we make this baby, this child, resilient to the inevitable trauma life is going to bring? The work is to give each child what he or she needs, and to recognize what interferes with their ability to do that.”
Healing is seen when the trauma survivor can become fully present in the moment. Resilience can develop when we can interact fully in the moment without numbing out or slipping into the past.
Amazon recommended this book when I was browsing for Esther Perel titles. Emily Nagoski is a Ph.D. teaching at Smith College and this book offers the best science wrapped in very accessible language. The concepts of opening up the range of female experience and self-acceptance are wonderful and freeing. On page 332 she says, “I wrote this book because I am done living in a world where women are lied to about their bodies; where women are objects of sexual desire but not subjects of sexual pleasure; where sex is used as a weapon against women; and where women believe their bodies are broken, simply because those bodies are not male. And I am done living in a world where women are trained fro birth to treat their bodies as the enemy. I want to teach women to live with confidence and joy.”
Descriptions on pages 62-64 of the “lemony-freshness” and “little rat jacket” experiments with the first sexual experiences of healthy young male rats raised by competent mothers who licked them enough.
In a rat’s natural environment, outside the lab, he would never need a jacket in order of feel sexy, and the smell of lemons wouldn’t make him ejaculate. The rats learned these things because humans created an environment where those things sere salient features of their sexual environment. But even things you would assume are innate — fertile female rats — must be learned by experience.
Dealing with Unwanted Feelings
How to deal with unwanted feelings (page 119) and the importance of “going through the tunnel” touching neither the brake nor the accelerator.
My technical description of [the] out-of-control experience is “maladaptive behavior to manage negative affect” — which just means trying to cope with uncomfortable emotions (stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage) by doing things that carry a high risk of unwanted consequences. Compulsive sexual behavior is one example. Other examples include:
- using alcohol or other drugs in a risky way
- dysfunctional relationships — for instance, trying to deal with your own feelings by dealing with someone else’s
- escaping into distractions, like movie binge-watching when you have other things you need to be doing
- disordered eating — restricting, binging, or purging
What is the single most effective strategy for completing the stress response cycle? Dr. Nagoski asks, “When you are being chased by a lion, what do you do? You run.” Physical activity recalibrates your central nervous system into a calm state. (p. 122)
She points out on page 118 that stressed people may become more eager for sex but enjoy it less because pleasure is a different component than sexual interest. “To reduct the impace of stresson your sexual pleasure and interest, to have more joyful, pleasurable sex, manage your stress. Yeah, easier said than done.”
Weeding Your Garden, Training Your Brain
Meditation is a sideways strategy for weeding trauma out of your garden. It’s a way of simply noticing a weed and then deciding if you want to water it or not, pull it or not, fertilize it or not. The weed of trauma will gradually disappear as long as at least half of the time you choose not to nurture it. And the more you choose to withdraw your protection from the trauma, the faster it will wither and die. If you change only one thing in your life as a result of reading this book, make it a daily two-minute practice of [following your breath and noticing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back, “mindful” of both your breath and your attention to your breath. You are teaching yourself to be in control of your brain, so that your brain is not in control of you]. This practice will cultivate deep respect for emotions, differentiating their causes from their effects and granting you choice over how you manage them. (p. 130-131)
The regular two-minute practice will will gradually result in peridoc moments throughout the day when you notice what you’re paying attention to and then decide if that’s what you want to pay attention to right now, or if you want to pay attention to something else. What you pay attention to matters less than how you pay attention.
Spontaneous Desire vs. Responsive Desire
“So, what do I do if my desire for sex is only spontaneous in bad relationships?” a student asked Dr. Nagoski. The pervasive standard in our culture is the typical male-default spontaneous desire. The student had been using sex as an attachment behavior in bad relationships (as described in chapter four) and was now perplexed that her desire was behaving differently in a stable, trusting relationship. (p. 297)
Responsive desire arises from the context of feeling safe and loved and lacks the insistent itch of attachment behavior. “Cultivate loving responsive desire. Figure out what contexts give you a fantastic relationship and hot sex. That shift will change your life and is the reason I am writing this book.”
Our meta-emotions — the cultural images described in chapter five — manage how we feel about our feelings. Our judgements about whether something is good or bad. Three questions to develop more positive meta-emotons:
- Is this the right goal for me?
- Am I putting in the right amount of the right kind of effort?
- Are my expectations of how much effort this particular goal requires realistic?
The Map Is Not The Terrain
On page 300 Dr. Nagoski explains that the map is developed through early sexual experiences like “lemony freshness” and “little rat jacket” as well as cultural indoctrination. “The technical term for this process of organizing your experience according to a preexisting template is ‘probabilistic generative model.’ It means that information from your senses goes first to your emotional brain, where prior learning, plus your present brain state (stress, desire) combine to shape the initial decisions your brain makes about whether to move forward or away from that sensory input. Sadly, most people’s sexual maps are unreliable.” Here are the steps to revise the map and create positive meta-emotions.
- Trust the terrain. Recognize the difference between the map-goal and what you’re actually experiencing. Two key points: (a) When the map doesn’t seem to fit the terrain, the map is wrong, (b) Evkeryone’s map and everyone’s terrain are different.
- Let go of the map. Welcoming your sexuality as it is, without judgment or shame, is the hard part for a lot of women. Non-judging is the key. Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.
There are three targets for retraining the meta-emotions: the goal, the amount or kind of effort you invest, and the criterion velocity — your assessment of how effortful it should be to achieve this goal. First, re-evaluate what it is going to take to reach the goal. Second strategy: change the kind of effort. She tells of funny poster in her office of a penguin waddling away from the camera with this caption: Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea of how far you can walk.
Strategy three: change the goal. Option A is no longer available, let’s rock Option B. “Let go of the goal of spontaneous desire and allow yourself to be responsive or context-sensitive opens up the opportunity of seeking out contexts that maximize your desire style.”
When you notice shame or frustration or grief, allow yourself to direct those feelings away from yourself and instead focus the emotions toward the culture that told you the wrong story. Rage not against yourself but against the culture that lied to you. Grieve not for your discrepancy from a fictitious “ideal” that is at best arbitrary and at worst an act of oppression and violence; grieve for the compassionate world you were born deserving… and did not get.
The purpose of allowing yourself to feel those Feels is not to change something out in the world. Feel your Feels so that they can discharge, release, and create space for something new inside you. When you allow that grief to move through you, you are letting go of the sexual person you were told you “should be,” a phantom self that has taken up space in your mind for too long. And letting go of that phantom creates spaces for the sexual person you are. And when we all practice this, the world does change, person by person.
Confidence and joy — that’s the path.
Two videos: one from Brene Brown on how empathy differs from sympathy. The second, a TED talk, on how narcissists lack empathy, and how ordinary narcissism differs from covert narcissism.
How are Covert Narcissists different from the garden-variety kind? According to Spartan Life Coach
You are Told: Narcissists are always brash, loud, assertive, flashy and Confident.
The problem is: Coverts are quiet, insecure and passive.
You are Told: Narcissists will never apologize for things they do.
The problem is: Coverts can learn that a quick and TOTAL apology is a really slick way of getting their target to “go back to sleep” if it looks like they are waking up.
You are told: Narcissists are ambitious, successful, go-getters full of energy and pumped with charismatic charm.
The problem is: Coverts are marked by failed ambition, chronic feelings of emptiness, fragility, low functioning and when depleted can frequently sink into outright depression.
You are told: Narcissists can be detected because they will always tell you how amazing they are and by bragging about their achievements.
The problem is: Coverts are known for presenting themselves as vulnerable victims who can even use that vulnerability as a hook to bait you in!
The article goes on to say that while the overt narcissist believes they are awesome, the world largely agrees with them. On the other hand, the covert narcissist believes they are awesome and the world largely disagrees with them. Narcissistic supply is scarce, forcing them to be more cunning and deceptive than the overt narcissist.
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY offers the Seven Signs of a Covert Narcissist. A key differentiator is passive-aggressiveness.
Some introverted narcissists deal with disagreeable people or circumstances in passive-aggressive ways. Upon receiving a reasonable request from you, they might say ‘okay,’ “yes,” “of course,” or “as you wish,” then either do nothing, or behave however they please. When you inquire why they didn’t follow-through on an arrangement, they may shrug it off with an excuse, or say nonchalantly that their way is better.
Perhaps SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN said it best. “23 signs You a Covert Narcissist Masquerading as Sensitive Introvert”
In a post on The Narcissistic Life, Amanda says in the comments:
Gary, thank you for bringing up the Empath. As a daughter and sister of Narcissists, I do not see myself as an “inverted narcissist.” After a failed marriage of 24 years, I was told my ex was a narcissist. The signs were all there right in front of me, but I couldn’t see them or didn’t want to. Since the divorce I have been in a few relationships and most were narcissistic. The Narcissist is attracted to the Empath so they can gain control, power and they know the Empath will submit. The last relationship lasted for 2 years instead of 24 and he is a sociopathic/narcissist. The signs were there, but I ignored them because the “love bombing” was intoxicating and almost suffocating. I believed every word he said.
When he began to tire of me he started finding ways so I would push him out of my life. I ended up telling him he had 24 hours to get his things. I already knew he had shut me down or “discarded” me..
I can see my part in the desire for being loved from these type of men. Since I couldn’t find that in my dad and brothers, I sought this need through men.
In each relationship, there is a longing to show and express love, but they don’t seem to want this love. Maybe I never was able to attach to my dad because he was not able to love himself. As his daughter, I could sense this and tried over and over I tried to tell him how wonderful he is and how much he is loved.
He has never accepted this from me or accepted this within himself.
Commenter Tmoney goes on to say:
… “the inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent … the child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent’s personality.” is what sets it apart. The Empath is never looking to feel like a masterful provider (someone with power over someone else), Empaths serve because they want to, its natural. Its not a way to control people.
The Inverted Narcissist is ultimately seeking to feel POWERFUL by having a Narcissist depend on them. (Because if they are the supply, they can manipulate the one who needs it.)
The Empath is seeking to feel LOVED by having someone depend on them.
This is why I feel they are separate beings/personality types. I THINK THEY CALL THEM MIRROR NARCISSISTS BECAUSE THEY PUSH AND PULL JUST AS MUCH AS THE NARCISSIST DOES, SO THEY ARE THEIR EQUAL OPPOSITE.
EMPATHS ON THE OTHER HAND ARE NOT PUSHING AND PULLING SO THEY ARE DIRECT OPPOSITES TO NARCISSISTS. THEY ARE THE LACK OF PULL/PUSH TO THE NARCISSIST’S PULL/PUSH. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s the only way I can describe it.
Inverted Narcissists and Narcissists play an equal tug of war. Narcissists invite Empaths to play tug of war and the Empaths drop the rope, which is why the Narcissists find them so interesting.
When I lived in San Francisco, I shared a house with Charlie who had a pet cichlid fish in an aquarium in the kitchen. The fish was as big as my hand.
When Charlie came downstairs in the morning, the fish would squirt him with water and Charlie would laugh and feed the fish.
When I came downstairs in the morning, wearing my silk blouse for a day in television sales, and the fish squirted me, I would shriek, upset that now I would have to find another blouse to wear, iron it, and be late for work. I was furious. I learned to enter the kitchen each morning saying, “Hello, Mr. Fishy. Please don’t squirt me.” Instead, he would do a little dance to greet me.
One time, Charlie and I went on vacation and Charlie had his younger sister come over daily to feed the fish. When we returned, the aquarium was murky with excess food, and the fish was sulking.
Even though Charlie promptly cleaned the tank and went back to his old schedule, the fish would not “speak” to him for a couple of weeks.
The New York Times reported in a front page article that white Americans without a college degree are dying at an accelerated rate due to suicide, fast and slow.
The rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called it “Despair, American Style” in an op-ed piece today.
In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.
About a year ago, two of my brothers drank themselves to death on opposite sides on the country. Dave (on the right in the picture below) died on Oct. 5 in Virginia and Greg died on Nov. 17 in Oregon. Both were in their 50’s, both had retired a few years earlier, neither retirement was completely voluntary, neither had finished college. Neither had a strong plan for retirement, both slipped in to spending a lot of time with their best friend, beer. This photo was taken one year prior, on a vacation in Florida.
In the days following the publication of this alarming data, there was some pushback over methodologies, so Angus Deaton released this drill-down info.
My brothers, who grew up in the 1950’s, rode the post-WWII juggernaut where men were men and drank to prove it. They lived their lives as if everything was going to take care of itself, which was the prevailing assumption in the days of Ozzie & Harriett and Leave It To Beaver. What was different about these two, however, is that they were musicians who became stalled at the “talented amateur” stage. They didn’t pursue enough training to focus their minds or to hone their talent. They never developed a commitment to their art.They never even learned to read music. But their artistic temperaments were difficult to live with, and they numbed themselves. To death.
Sarah Hepola, author of “Blackout: Remembering the things I drank to forget” attributed alcohol addiction to heredity and culture. My brothers did not live in a culture that encouraged thinking in healthy ways. They did not see their father, another talented piano player, take an active part in creating healthier emotions, minimizing emotional suffering and maximizing joy. According to Debbie Joffee Ellis in a letter to the NYTimes, “To create healthy [emotions] requires willingness to think in realistic… ways and to recognize when we are catastrohizing, and then to dispute such thoughts. Don’t worry, think wisely, be healthier and happier.”
The New York Times review of her book says:
Ms. Hepola’s electric prose … has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing.
She may have squandered her early carreer
and now is back in Texas, finally publishing her first novel at age 40. I enjoyed the book and I think she is going to beat the odds in the charts above because she finished college, and knew she was a good writer. She made a living at it while she used alcohol as “the gasoline of all adventure.” Now she has sobered up and found her path. I’m so glad.
There is an interesting and welcome change in self-help and brain biology books these days. “The Social Animal” by David Brooks strings recent scientific discoveries about social behavior on a framework of storyline about several intersecting fictional lives. Kristin Neff interleaves her academic study of self-forgiveness and self-compassion with stories from her own life. The books intersect on the brain studies of Buddhist monks during meditation, but her stories are non-fiction and much more compelling.
Reading examples of how self-compassion works in her life brings it into sharp focus, especially the stories about her autistic son. The best is at the end of the book… a compelling story of the journey to Mongolia with her husband, son, and a film crew to have the revered shaman, reached by horseback in the high steppes, cast out the spirits that were causing the son’s autism. What happened next is amazing and worth the read.
This posting on Facebook exemplifies Dr. Neff’s message of accepting one’s mistakes as part of being human, and of calling up the memory of a loving caregiver who could be counted on to soothe the emotional pain. All the more interesting because the Mom and Dad that she misses are both dead. The mother, of a drug overdose and the father (my first cousin) of chronic alcohol abuse. Yet they continue to be a source of comfort to their young adult daughter.
Dr. Neff’s mantra to remind herself to practice compassion is:
May I be safe
May I be peaceful
May I be kind to myself
May I accept myself as I am
May I accept my life as it is
She recommends distracting oneself from dwelling on the bad feelings by taking a walk or plunging into a physical chore like cleaning or gardening while practicing the mantra and self-compassion. She points out that “Forgiveness does not mean condoning bad behavior or that we need to interact with people who have hurt us.” Other notes:
P. 156. People who invest their self worth in feeling superior and infallible tent to get angry and defensive when their status is threatened. People who compassionately accept their imperfections however, no longer need to engage in such unhealthy behavior to protect their egos.
Not only is High self-esteem is linked to narcissism but, in contrast, high self-compassion is not linked to narcissism.
Love allows us to feel confident and secure (oxytocin) while fear sends our amygdala into overdrive and floods our systems with cortisol.
p. 170 Failure is less likely to damage the self-efficacy beliefs of self-compassionate people.
P. 45 John Bowlby argues that early attachment with parents created the “internal working model” of self in relation to others. Betrayed and abused children become insecurely attaches, tend to feel unworthy and unlovable and that other people cannot be trusted. This creates pervasive feelings of insecurity, long-terms emotional distress and impairs the formation of close, stable relationships. Not surprisingly, they turn out to have low self-compassion. These internal working models can be changed through healthy romantic partnerships and skilled therapy. (also compassion meditation) and consistently giving ourselves nurturance and understanding we come to feel worthy of care and acceptance.
Self-criticism is associated with activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate (error processing and problem solving) Kindness and self-reassurance is associated with the left temporal pole (left pre-frontal cortex) and insula activation.
Physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security and soothes cardiovascular stress. Hug yourself.
p. 119 There are four elements to self-compassion mindfulness.
This is a moment of suffering (mindfulness of emotions)
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment (be in the present)
May I give myself the compassion I need. (set the intention to be self-compassionate)
Christopher Germer (The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion) observes that his client typically go through several distinct stages during therapy. People who feel worthless can experience a backdraft, like when a door is opened on a fire and the rush of fresh air suddenly fuels an oxygen-starved fire causing flames to blast through the newly open door. Through mindfulness, the backdraft may be experienced with compassion. Then, sometimes, infatuation follows and the self-critical person is suddenly tender towards oneself.
p. 225 Rather than relying on your partner to give you exactly what you need, try meeting your own needs first. Identify what you’re craving (validation, care, support, etc.) and see if self-compassion can help give it to you. This will help take the pressure off your partner. As you learn to rely more on self-healing, your would, given the care and attention they need, can heal.
Dr. Neff also refers to John Gottman, famous for identifying the four horseman of divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Her insights into her own failed first marriage in light of her father’s abandonment of her family, and her stresses with her second husband illuminate the academic information. A useful and readable book. I recommend it.