Tag Archives: abuse

… the value of inner conflict …

Democracy starts inside us. One way to explore our inner crowd is through allowing the different aspects of our personality to have a voice, including ones we dislike or suppress, like parts burdened with shame, self-loathing and self-hate. Together with their inner persecutors and defenders, they tend to pop up involuntarily with strong emotional force during stress, or an experience that all too often had its first traumatic installment way back in childhood.

During a 1980s training with the Psychosynthesis Institute in London, we gave names to what we called our sub-personalities. The concept encapsulated what I had sensed for a long while, that I host various distinct entities inside me that can spring to live with their unique voices, interests, sensitivities and defenses in response to circumstances.

Take a dwelling that houses a family of all ages. From day to day there are debates, intimidation, fights, making up, tenderness, fun, humour, but always reoccurring conflicts, like an angered sibling can easily spark a massive row. Then ask who is in charge? A family with conflicting needs lives inside each of us.

As baby, toddler, teen, young adult and so on, we succeed or fail in overcoming obstructions. We learn, or unlearn. Ideally we mature and the understanding of ourselves deepens. Some memories we cherish, others we bury. Yet each time a traumatic condensed experience re-occurs, dormant anxieties may explode and cause us to overreact to situations out of all proportions.

The needy child seeking attention is easily recognised. Where early hope for safety and acknowledgement was frustrated, the inner child in the adult draws on an arsenal of acquired strategies, be it nagging, crying, pleading, pleasing, withdrawal, or, equally, rage. Stonewalling and sarcasm can serve as defense. The little person in us may have been confused by contradictory demands, manipulated by a toxic parent or severely damaged through abuse, yet still struggles for acceptance and love.

Another well-worn sub-personality opts for control, a no nonsense character, who detests, let’s say, hesitation and vulnerability. So when a firm response to a present situation is required, this despot may simply order the child to pipe down and shut up. End of story. You get the drift.

Internal conflicts can be harsh. Without awareness of the warring cast in us, we tend to blame others for our upsets. Alternatively we punish ourselves. Identifying and befriending judgmental players is vital before we can reach the vulnerable and fearful part that has become numb and possibly unconscious, or discover the creative dreamer that was ridiculed. Or, indeed, lift a dis-empowered warrior, who must learn to say ‘No!’

Without a mentor, this awareness journey is a daunting task.

Unable to afford Jungian analysis, my spiritual search become an escape from what I saw as our revengeful, destructive and corrupt world.

Meeting a remarkable, brilliantly creative Sufi teacher, who embraced psychology as a basis for the spiritual quest, was my turning point in the mid 1970s.  Grounding and digging started with a workshop called ‘Earthing.’

I had had a wild life up to then, a path I don’t regret. My empathy and patient listening lacked skill, but attracted interesting and eccentric people into my life. However, I needed to accept my limits, and better understand myself, others, and the absurd world we are born into, with the inherited traumas from our parents’ and generation before them.

World objects from my sand tray

A welcome to my inner journey was imaginative play, giving voice to the different parts of myself through monologues, imagery, objects, drama, art, sculpting, painting and writing, etc., all effective in daring to acknowledge conflicting needs. Due to choices enforced by my early environment, I host a philosopher and poet at odds with each other, as well as a cynic and a romantic. Their conflicts are as creative as they are intimidating.

In the digital realm people have come to make up aliases based on their ambivalent shadow aspects, like appearing in different disguises on Twitter, sometimes for the sole fun of contradicting each other. As a writer one might contemplate publishing trash genre that sells well, under pseudonyms, though it seems crass, like a soloist hijacking the performance of a symphony.

Stepping aside from internal conflict, invites my unbiased mediator. My quick route to self-remembrance is saying ‘hello’ to my body, whose every cell holds a record of old wounds. The body (the earth by implication) has endured horrendous exploitation, and to call it into awareness, with all its scars, is a huge challenge for some people.

‘You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves … ‘
from Wild Geese by Marie Oliver  

In the present global turmoil, my inner child craves empathy and compassion to endure the pain of the world, including pain I feel observing how some public figures ignorantly out-ward their inner stress through creating enemies – divide and conquer – a steely defense, and a betrayal of the heart. Then again, truth to  the face rarely convinces, it lacks depth, and blunts out the whispers from the dark.

Many brilliant books facilitate psychological understanding, but when it comes to moving through a dark tunnel (also called the Night Sea Journey) it is best to seek a skilled companion as guide. In my therapy practice I came upon heart-breaking stories of abuse, especially sexual abuse. The last few decades have shown the full horror of such deeply intrusive and traumatising incidents, and how widespread they are, across all social settings.

‘You’re not alone’ … is the message by Tim Ferris, in a recent very moving and powerful podcast he conducted with Debbie Millman.

PRESS HERE for his Healing Journey after Childhood Abuse (including an extensive resource list)

He ends with a beautiful re-framing of suffering … The obstacles are the path.

This attitude brings meaning to our mysterious existence, to our individual and collective journeys. Obstacles force us to question rules, habits and behaviour. Suffering through adversity, hardship, ignorance, injustice and violence teaches us empathy for each other, and expands consciousness towards our interdependence and essential wholeness.

I could add a list of books here, but if the above concepts speak to you, click on the Tim Ferris link, even if you choose not to listen to his podcast, scroll down his page and find a list of books and resources.

To end this post, despite all grounding over the years, I’m still at heart a space cadet, exploring time travelling in ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’

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… lap of fate … part five

This is the fifth and final part of a short story inspired during a recent visit to Spain. If you enjoyed the read, and are so inspired, please leave me some much needed feedback in the comment section. I’m happy to return the favour, and will soon do reviews again. If you have come here for the first time, you might want to scroll down the home page to get to ‘part one’ of the short story, posted on April 30th. Thanks you dear readers who followed the evolving narrative, and those of you who left comments and/or pressed the ‘like’ button.

I’m still learning how to operate this site, but this is post no 80 since I started this blog last April … hurrah! And I have another reason to celebrate. A dear friend helped me today clean up the first three chapters of my novel, Course of Mirrors, a final leap towards sending out queries. No more excuses.

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Here then the final instalment of … Lap of Fate

… The weight of my revelation receded like a wave sucked back into the sea. Confused by the señora’s flat response, I latched onto the distraction of soft paws resounding from the spiral stairs. Abu, the dog, poked his head through the opening to sample the mood. Neck tilted, he sneaked towards me and pushed his wet snout into my lap. Touched by his show of affection, I stroked his pelt, at which he burst into a whirling dance, trying to catch his own tail. Abu’s antics dispersed the static air around my chest. I cried and laughed in one.

The senora’s worried face softened to a smile. ‘What a pretty dog.’

Straightening her back, she regarded me as if seeing me for the first time. ‘My dear child,’ she said. ‘You released a ghost I created. Antonio may or may not have believed my story. The truth is, I miscarried at four months, there was no Juanita, but I had so strongly wanted her to exist in the world, like a fresh and blameless me, I made her up.’

I flinched, recalling my own painful miscarriage, when a river of hormones came to a drastic halt and left a dark hole in my body, like a consuming abyss. I had other children, who thrived. Though my past held secrets, it never detained me from living, unlike the señora, whose child was held captive in the tabernacle of this studio.

‘Antonio cherished me. He was intuitive. He sought to restore my creative spirit by painting me expectant.’ Her shoulders dropped. ‘He died. I was desolate and clung to my old story, imagining Juanita out there in the world having a better chance at life. I must have dreamed you into being.’

The synchronicity of our longing astounded. ‘When I learned of my adoption, I started daydreaming too, convinced my birthmother was out there somewhere regretting her decision to abandon me. I imagined her looking for me, wanting me back.’

Her eyes shone as she took my hands. ‘Does it matter – mi angel?’ she said. ‘All children, born from mind or body, are wanted by life. They deserve to be loved.’

A car horn sounded.

‘Oh dear, we must apologise to the agent,’ she said.

I begged her to stay on, offering a lift to her hotel later in the day. The senora accepted, which freed the agent to drive back to town. His wide grin showed he was happy my break-in had been absolved, and I had made friends with his client.

Alma was her name. Alma Ruiz Gonzales. First, we opened all shutters of the studio to let the sun in and more – a peculiar hint from heaven. Light coming from a far window hit a round mirror standing at an angle on the wall. The reflection in the glass rebounded to cast a circular sunspot on one of the paintings, framing the cardinal with the girl sitting on his lap.

Alma shrieked – with excitement, struck by a sudden idea. With her dazzling crown of hair she looked like a crazed woman as she rummaged in a toolbox. In triumph, she held up a Stanley knife. I thought for a moment she was going to lash out and slash the painting. Instead she found a sharp pen, marked the lit area on the canvas, cautiously inserted the knife, and began to cut with small sawing movements round the curved line. It may have been poor eyesight, but it seemed as if  she put her ear to the cleaving sound of the blade. Her lean and leathery hands nudged along with amazing precision, until the severed circular shape could be lifted from the canvas. Her dedication was riveting. Moving on to the second painting, of the cardinal with the snake in his lap, she cleanly sliced out another circle. Both canvases now had a hole large enough to crawl through, edged only by the backdrop of lavish chandeliers, a facet of the cardinal’s scarlet skull-cap and his polished shoes.

‘Why waste good frames?’ she said.

I shook with laughter, bringing Alma to the edge of hysterics. She slumped on a chair to clutch her belly. Our unrestrained mirth thoroughly cleared the air of any lingering ghosts.

I suggested we eat something. Alma opened the backdoor to an enclosed courtyard adjoining the semi. She wiped clean a bench and table, while I fed Abu more of my chocolate and prepared a snack for Alma and me. We had our meal in the yard and chatted about mundane things, like the weather, and neighbours.

I poured us some Merlot. During an isle of silence, the chime bells in a nearby branch moved to a breeze. The melodious ring unsealed more tragedy. Alma shared she had given birth to an actual child, from Antonio, a son, who was stillborn.

‘It’s odd, but at the time I thought of the cardinal’s fixation on me,’ she said, ‘it could have been him … trying to return. Maybe his soul feared I would make his life a misery.’

Mother, Son and a not-so Holy Ghost, I thought. There is no end to the novel ways we make sense of what happens to us. And until we mourn our losses and move on, the meaning we give to what life throws at us could be right, or wrong.

After our meal we went to work. During sunset, the art world was impiously deprived.  The cut-out centrepieces of two magnificent paintings, depicting a cardinal’s obsession, were released into the ether. The fire was moderate, and held in check by a bed of stones. Leaning on her cane, Alma watched the flames lick at the snake and gnaw at the flawed beatitude of her abuser. ‘May his soul find peace,’ she said.

The historic aura of the paintings mingled with the cooling air in the hills of Granada and rearranged the past. Brilliant purple, white and scarlet paint simmered and charred, turning canvas into a crumbly leaden tablet with white markings that looked very much like a snake eating its own tail.

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