Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: How to Respond to Judgment

Have you ever been unfairly labeled by someone? Called out unexpected? Told you needed to change? As we explore these topics for today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, I will be using a series of questions which can serve as a quick reference for evaluating situations in which you feel triggered by someone’s interaction with you. I will be returning to this topic in a future post as well to investigate how to engage in self-care for ourselves when we experience failure and setbacks.

Processing Judgment from Others

Judgment as I will be discussing it here refers to verbal and non-verbal communication from others expressing disagreement directed at self, criticism, disapproval or negative feedback. Judgment can be a direct conduit to shame, especially if we are not rock-solid in our inner relationship with Self.  In order to best approach the nuances of judgment in a way that caretakes the vulnerable pieces of who we are, I believe we do well to study the nature of the communication, as well as its intention and true target.

To What Extent Was the Judgment Invited?

It is vital to have at least one person in your life with whom you feel safe enough to have an honest and open relationship. This includes, to me, knowing that you can ask the person to give you feedback, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to hear, and trusting that they will tell you their opinion as directly as possible. We can be lured into a false sense of security by “yes” people in our lives—those who concern themselves solely with ingratiating themselves to us by flattering us no matter our actions. If we allow these types of relationships and behaviors to flourish, the hard truths still tend to make themselves known, but it can become much more difficult for us to accept them. I’d rather get a sense from a loving and caring friend that maybe something has more flaws than I’m seeing rather than to only discover the defects after a lot has been invested and after there is much I stand to lose. All this to say, I think it is good to invite constructive criticism into our lives, and to open to it as one data point, one person’s opinion, when it is shared.

It can be an entirely different affair to receive unsolicited advice or criticism. When this occurs, I believe we do well to consider the questions below such as the person’s intention. We can also take our own boundaries into account. Did we in any way indicate that critical advice-giving, especially if it is repeated or intense, is unwelcome? If not, perhaps all that is needed to let the person know how we feel. One of the most useful questions I’ve ever been asked and have asked of others is “How can I best be here for you in this?” By doing so, I am prohibiting myself from seeing advice-giving or “tough love” as necessary or welcome when a person is relating a struggle unless I am explicitly told such. It is also important to consider the extent to which we feel safe in the relationship. Can we tell the person that what they said didn’t sit well with us and have that be received, or will it trigger a defense reaction? If the other person gives harsh advice often, fails to heed boundaries or requests to stop, and is unreceptive to feedback, I am very likely to curtail the extent to which I express vulnerability with that person and/or to have a go-to response such as “oh, I may look into that” if they continue their behavior in a setting in which I cannot fully disengage.

What Is the Intention Is Behind the Judgment?

Is the person being spiteful/jealous, or, are they trying, in their own way, to give constructive criticism? I believe we owe it to the parts of ourselves who are vulnerable and fragile to stand unyielding against judgment that is coming from an unhealthy place. Even if it is in relation to an area on which we know we need to work, we do not need to be led there by our noses by someone who wishes us ill. It can of course be very difficult to discern someone’s intention, as many times the person offering feedback from a less-than-supportive mindset will go out of their way to act as though what they are saying is in fact a kindess. Here, I think our gut is our best reference point; I think most of us have relatively accurate radar for sniffing out communication which, at its heart, strives to undermine us in order to elevate the one giving it.

A shade of intention to me is also the framework in which the information is couched. Is the person sharing it as “hey, this is what I think” or is it “hey, this is how it is, full stop?” I make very little room in my head for people who think they know the Truth about anything, and especially about intimate aspects of who I am as a person. In addition, when we assess a thought, feeling or behavior that another individual is having as right/wrong and fail to link our belief to a social norm, we are basically playing God/dess in our evaluation of ourselves and others. I often stop when someone makes this type of all-knowing remark and reply in a way that redirects their focus back to themselves and to the fact that they are the one who is holding a norm or belief. With the obvious exception of the legal system, we get to decide if any particular passage from another’s Book of Things Everyone Should and Shouldn’t Do is interesting, relevant or important to us as an individual. If I determine I’m being judged by a moral system to which I do not ascribe and with which I disagree, I state such as plainly as I can—“I know this matters to you because you believe in X, but I don’t follow this religion/philosophy/generally restrictive way of living, so I don’t see it the same way. Here’s how I conceptualize it..” I do this more for my own benefit than the other person—it is actually a way of drawing a line in the sand and refusing to internalize someone else’s system of belief. The other person will likely walk away thinking I am unworthy or doomed, but I am left with my dignity intact.

To Whom or What Does the Judgment Really Refer?

When we feel judged by someone, it is up to us to first determine if we want to look at the issue in question based on factors such as the person’s intention. If we decide it is worth pursuing, I believe it is also incumbent on us to sit with the judgment and find the nugget of truth it contains. To a large extent, someone’s critique of us reveals more about them than it does about us, as it shows us what preferences they have and the assumptions they make about others. They may be projecting their needs and desires that hide in their shadow onto us. If, after processing the information, we find there is a behavior in which we’ve engaged that is worth addressing, we also have freedom in terms of the extent to which we allow the person who shared the judgment into our journey of “fixing” the issue. The more I’ve stewed on this, the more I’ve realized I hit on a truth I wish I’d known a long time ago—even if someone sees something in us we’d dislike or struggle to own, we don’t owe them our story or our process. We may learn from our experience with them without their knowledge.

It is also worth considering whether what we perceive as a judgment is in fact a boundary violation. By this, I am referencing whether the behavior in question is our own to address, or whether we have in fact overstepped our welcome. If what feels stifling from another is their “no,” we need to stop ourselves and discern whether we proceeded without an invitation or in another way broke trust. I am very sensitive to people’s boundaries, so it doesn’t tend to go well for me if someone hints that I’ve crossed them, but I’m learning to sit with my discomfort and press through it to learn how to more fully navigate close relationships. It is easy to experience a boundary being established as a rejection of the entirety of who we are, but I view it (in my best moments) as the person honoring both their own needs and my needs by letting me know how close is comfortable for them.

Self-Care for Sensitive Wounds

When we are in a situation where we’ve felt criticized, I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to explore the self and relationship dynamics involved. Solely focusing on making ourselves feel better may leave many pages unwritten in our life story. At the same time, we do not need to analyze the situation ad nauseum or deny our little selves feelings of comfort, understanding and protection. In the immediate aftermath of a difficult interaction, the following behaviors may be helpful:

  • Express your thoughts and feelings before you focus on the behavioral aspect (confession: I skip this way too much!). This may take the form of artwork, poetry, dance—any kind of creative action that is less focused on fixing and more focused on being. It could also include a conversation with a trusted friend. What would it feel like to talk about the way the feelings you are having are sitting in your body, instead of how unfair it was when she said…?
  • Seek and be present with nature. Engaging in mindfulness in a natural setting, without an expectation of immediate change, may help to release the tension you are feeling.
  • Care for your physical being. This includes exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene and adequate sleep, all of which can be especially challenging if you are dealing with other physical ailments or mental health concerns. To whatever extent it is within our power to control, I think showing care to our physical bodies is a form of self-respect, which may be particularly important if we feel disrespected in another arena of life.

Very few people revel in hearing about what they are not doing well at and how they should do better. As a result, we are wise to be discreet and selective in our constructive criticism that we offer each other. Deep, trusting relationships allow for a healthy exchange of concerns as well as boundary-setting in a manner that does not reek of blaming and shaming. With time, practice and dedication, this type of relationship can be achieved, and we can learn to allow unsolicited, harsh, ill-intentioned projections to fall at our feet, un-sniffed and un-absorbed.

Magic & Phrase

Generosity

Be generosity to the weeds embedded in the edge of my heart.

Nurturance and tenderness to their prickly stalks and tiny flowers.

 

Not all memories held within are solid or kind.

 

Unicorn pastels roses lace teacups encircled neatly in the clearing.

Now.

Sharp thorns of musty basement arm shoved down choking shame blindness from fear poke through.

 

Garden gate swings inward.

Here ruins and pretense in sculpted and cultivated ornamental lawns lie.

 

Entrust me my wildness and tangled thickets.

Remain the weak, the poisonous and the brambles of pain.

Spare also the daisies.

 

Devour in earth time all of me.

Now.

No more vines plucking out. No more saving the pretty from the dirty.

 

Heartside welcomes the full shape of my past spiky and curved.

Showers of calm and breezes of affection settle in.

 

Weeds and flowers together run riot in the growth of my remembrances and I belong to all of it.

Embodied Heart

Self-Nurturance as an Antidote to Shame

I was poisoned early and often with shameful encounters through the abuse I suffered as a child. The most devastating experience, the one that completely shattered my sense of self as an individual, was when both of my parents simultaneously sexually abused me. To the best of my recollection, this type of traumatic event involving both of them as active participants only happened one time, but it was enough to set in motion a coping strategy that has brought ruin to many of my personal relationships. If any aspect of the experience is sufficiently recreated, the sole solution to the internal distress I feel is to end the relationship immediately. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will reflect on how this experience affected me as well as how caring for myself can potentially help to heal me.

The involvement of my mother in this event feels almost like a twisted form of ceremony, one in which her necessity to see me as a physical extension of her being met its completion. I believe that at least some part of her thought she fully and totally “owned” me as a result of her actions. I was branded psychically with the message “you’re mine and you exist only when and how I see fit for you to do so.” It has taken every ounce of spiritual and mental strength I have to resist the shame and guilt that her treatment of me instilled in me whenever I take autonomous action or stand up for myself.

Shame separates me from others. It leads me directly to thoughts of suicide, whispering in my ear that I don’t deserve to live and that the only way to make bad things not happen to me is to end it all. Shame silences me, my tongue paralyzed by visions of horror and the underlying script of “it’s your fault this happened” and “this didn’t happen and it’s your fault for thinking it did.” Shame traps me in a seemingly never-ending cycle of enactment of the same scenes, unconsciously and desperately searching for a solution to the impossible paradoxes of the memory.

Knowing that I am my own person—that no one owns me—feels like a starting place in putting the memory where it belongs, which is in the past as a lived experience, rather than in the present as a maze from which there is no exit. I’m left, though, if all I have is myself, with a feeling of broken and jagged pieces which are uncoordinated towards life experiences that are not threatening or dangerous. I have almost no idea how to react to sweet libations of warmth, tenderness, care and affection. In those moments, I’m forever awaiting the bitter draught at the bottom of the glass, certain that the story of what happened to me is doomed to repeat itself.

To move beyond existing, I know I need to nurture myself. I need to give myself refreshment and comfort, holding space for the parts of me who want to resist it as well as the parts of me who are too scared to hope it could exist. The venom of the memory courses through me at times because I give it power and strength through acts of self-neglect or self-abuse. Only through consistent and careful attention towards my own needs can I provide an environment where every trace of the residue of undeserved shame can be drawn out and burned in the fire of my righteous anger or drown in the well of my necessary grief.

To this end, I am committing myself to three concrete actions of self-nurturance:

  • Checking in with myself on a daily basis to see what parts of me may need as well as to work to resolve any internal conflicts.
  • Keeping a regular record of things for which I am grateful.
  • Developing a mantra of self-nurturance, creating a visual expression of the mantra (a painting, drawing, etc.) and displaying it in order to remind myself of it.

What effects does the experience of shame have on your life? To what extent does the practice of self-nurturance assist you in caring for parts of you that hold shame? What concrete actions can you take to engage in self-nurturance?

Embodied Heart, Inner Work

Inner Workings: Dissociative Identity Disorder and Childhood Trauma

In today’s #InnerWork/#EmbodiedHeart post, I want to detail the fragmentation that my childhood traumatic experiences caused in my inner world. I have previously explored some aspects of dissociation, but I would like to look in more depth as to how the abusive situations I’ve endured have affected my personality structure. I will then reflect on some of the inner spiritual work which I have personally found to be supportive.

Choose Wisely: Life as an Artificial Appendage or an Object

As I’ve listened to and read about the experience of others who have endured childhood trauma, one theme that has resonated with me is that of there being “no safe place.” This was certainly my experience growing up. My father sexually abused me for several years during my childhood, and my mother, blatantly ignoring the abuse, sought to corrupt my sense of self until I was nothing more than a servile and loyal companion, there to meet her every need. In addition to completely denying both the abuse and her own behavior, she acted as though I should be grateful that she tolerated my presence and allowed me to exist. To her, I was just another body part, completely dependent on her, incapable of my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For my father, I was nothing more than a disposable item to be used as he saw fit and discarded when my value was drained. Neither saw me as a person in my own right; truthfully, neither really saw me at all. For whatever it is worth, my view of my parents has been consistent ever since I removed myself from their presence over a decade ago. Whether that is a failure of imagination on my part or a stark snapshot of the realities of my childhood is debatable, perhaps both views hold truth.

What I came to learn about myself within days of breaking contact with them, and what I have not fully elaborated on through this blog until now, is the level of internal disconnection which their behavior caused me. And, I supposed, which I “chose” to engage in, as much as a child of four or five can choose such things. The various behavior states their actions induced, such as the shame-filled being who thinks she is worse than them, or the depressed state who believes all hope is lost, coalesced into shards of selves, entities who are distinct in terms of memory, habit, emotions, cognitive processes and embodied physiology. In other words, I have dissociative identity disorder. I am nervous about sharing this diagnosis, as I have had people close to me react with fear, disbelief, anger and other assorted emotions when I fully elaborate my inner experience. Very few have responded in a way that has left me feeling supported or understood.

I am high-functioning in terms of my professional life and my ability to manage most aspects of my well-being. I have not been institutionalized or required psychotropic medication for my condition (also, there isn’t really medication that directly deals with it anyway). Where I hit a brick wall is in two areas: a. my ability to manage my emotions when faced with significant triggers and b. close interpersonal relationships.

I wrote recently about my issues with my house situation and my hyperacusis. I cannot abide loud noises; they prevent me from being able to fully access my higher-level thinking skills and send me straight into flight or fight, with parts at the helm over whom I can exert only minimal control. In some instances, I can literally feel “myself”—the part whom I view as representing the most “adult” version of who I am—slowly creeping back into my mental horizon the further I drive away from my house if my neighbors are being obnoxious.

In regards to relationships, I’ve come to accept that certain parts of me will have already decided I’m finished interacting with someone months before the rest of me catches wind of the plan. These parts have a trademark; they often share a hand-made gift with the other person. I get nervous whenever I become suddenly “crafty” as I know it is likely portends to a relationship change, even if I have nothing intentionally determined. Shortly before I began to dissolve my contact with my parents, I gave my siblings a personalized gift which I think initiated this behavioral pattern.

In order for an individual’s personality structure to fail to integrate during childhood, psychologists suggest a specific set of criteria must typically be met. First, dissociative identity disorder is specifically linked with trauma during early or perhaps middle childhood, because by the time we become adolescents, our personalities have usually achieved at least a proto-form and, although still highly malleable compared to later in adulthood, they have enough structure that they are unlikely to completely disintegrate into separate “selves.” Secondly, it is typically abuse within the family system that leads to structural dissociation because it is offensive acts coupled with the lack of someone who can assist us in dealing with the trauma that turns the stress level up to “toxic.” Lastly, some people are more able to dissociate than others; it typically requires some amount of creativity, imagination, intelligence and self-induced trancing skill. It is possible that the behavior is or needs to be modeled; I am certain looking back that my mother dissociated on a regular basis.

Dissociative identity disorder as a diagnosis is not without controversy. The irony of coming to awareness regarding having this diagnosis while in graduate school related to psychology, as well as experiencing professionals discount anyone who has it as a farce in front of me, without knowing I had it, is not lost on me. I can present myself as “normal” because I have dissociative identity disorder, not despite it. It is my belief that if someone’s internal system is resilient and skillful, it can choose to reveal itself when the coast is clear, rather than requiring a professional to disassemble it for the person. I will discuss the therapeutic approaches which I found to be the best fit for me in future writing, but, for now, I want to turn to a discussion of spirituality within a context of internal discord and separation.

Spiritual Concepts and Practices to Affirm Fragmented Selves

Individuals without significant dissociation can experience ego states or situations where they may identify what seems like a “part of self.” Some may be able to conceptualize, for instance, an inner child or an angry self. In this way, the beliefs and practices I describe below are potentially accessible to anyone and are not limited to people who have structural dissociation.

If you do in fact have dissociative parts and/or a significant trauma history, I would strongly encourage you to discuss anything below that interests you with your support system/professional therapist before trying to implement it. Our systems have unique ways of reacting to new ideas and experiences which can sometimes be quelled or soothed through carefully examining a concept or practice before we try it on. I once completely lost the ability to feel or inhabit the lower half of my body in a yoga class meditation. There was something in the instructions about imagining a blue light and “leaving behind” that part of the corporal state; I fled the room before my neck and head were “taken!” I say that to urge extreme caution in “forcing” your system into anything it resists; open-door invitations tend to be much more powerful than shoves.

Inner Goddess

I have shared the edges of this topic previously, but here I want to dig into why it matters to me from a dissociative framework. I hold that each of us has an Inner Being, both individually and as a collective entity, who is a rock of stability amidst a bed of shifting sands. We can turn to this Inner Being whenever we are experiencing internal conflict and can take solace in Her ability to emanate wisdom. I use the word emanate because She is not another fragmented part, instead she is the Self of Internal Family Systems Therapy and the Divine Feminine in Goddess thealogy, thus, She does not necessarily speak in an isolated voice but instead infuses all parts of self, through loving attention, with a righted knowing of what the next step will be or what is required in terms of action. My system is still getting used to returning to Her instead of fighting amongst ourselves; some of my most transformative experiences have come through this centering. I use the feminine here because that is my inner working, but I would expect Her to take on whatever form best fits each individual’s needs.

It’s In the Cards

I have found tarot and oracle cards to be a technology through which I can better understand parts of myself and through which I can encourage parts who may be more isolated or stuck to try on a new way of thinking. I often ask a specific question and see what guidance the cards provide. I do not take the answers as black or white decrees. Instead, I listen internally to see what the various selves have to say about their meaning. Sometimes I am able to achieve consensus and sometimes I am still left with disagreements. I have slowly come to accept that internal answers of yes/no, uttered in the same breath, represent a polarization which my system believes is necessary to protect a self of whom I may or may not be aware. Some parts of who I am are highly aesthetically-oriented—even if our artistic skill as a being falls short—so the images that come with the cards have been powerful and can sometimes reach parts of selves in spots where mere words may fail.

Embodied Ritual

A specific challenge that I face as someone who dissociates is that some parts of who I am collectively really like “pretty things.” When I first got in touch with having dissociative identity disorder, and some parts started to move from feeling trapped in rigid roles to increasing places of self-expression, I spent a significant amount of money for which I’ve never been fully able to account. Even now, I will find items I purchased or obtained and which I have no or limited memory of acquiring. Luckily I have another part who loves to purge things, so I cycle through items instead of hording. As I’ve obtained increased internal awareness and cooperation, I’ve attempted to achieve balance with my spending and purging. Ritual which involves breathing exercises, yoga poses, mindfulness meditation and other actions which are free of cost has been particularly useful in achieving this goal. In addition, I refresh my altar and other items seasonally, four times a year, instead of on a whim. Consistently attending to both the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of my body has allowed me to have something against which I can pattern my behavior that is cyclical and undulating, instead of erratic and sharp in its contrasts.

To conclude, this post feels like the first of many related to these topics. I’ve certainly touched on some of my spiritual practices before, but I have not previously given them the full context in terms of how they relate to my inner structure and situation. I have a long way to go to achieve full internal awareness, transparency and cooperation, but I am and will continue to be grateful for the ability of my small self to devise a way of being through which I could endure and eventually escape my upbringing, and for the presence of Goddess in providing me with a renewed connection to spiritualty which affirms and supports my healing. I look forward to learning about any pieces of my story with which you connect and any spiritual concepts or practices that you have found to be beneficial in healing from childhood trauma.

Surviving & Thriving

Vulnerability and Trauma

It has been difficult for me to get myself to write lately. I’ve felt like my walls are up. This experience has occurred in concert with working very hard in therapy to dig into my childhood trauma on a deeper level. I feel as though I can only muster so much vulnerability as an individual, and increasing it in one area has unfortunately decreased it in my writing. As I contemplated my experience for today’s #SurvivinggnThriving Tuesday, I pondered the discomfort I’ve had with the word vulnerability, and saw that it is because I associate it with threat. To be vulnerable means to open myself up to possible attack and harm.

What are we afraid will happen to us if we are vulnerable? By and large, I think one “attack” that we might fear is being invalidated. In terms of traumatic experiences, we might be discounted and told that we are remembering things incorrectly. If our memories are factual, we are exaggerating them. If things are really as bad as we say they were, we must have brought it on ourselves. If we were in fact innocent victims, we need to show signs of “healing” like forgiveness and love in order to have our experiences “count.”

While many factors influence the reasons that traumatic experiences—especially those of a sexual nature—tend to get discounted, one aspect that I think stands strong is the fact humans are exquisitely tuned in to each other as social animals. We may be expected to preserve the “tribe” at any and all personal costs. The pressure to conform to the idea that people get what they deserve and to believe that everyone is trying their best can outweigh our willingness to grapple with evil and with the nuance in the nature of human relationships. We may feel a need to trust in authorities such as political leaders, clergy and parents, even when some of the individuals in these places of authority betray their charge.

How can this focus on our place as highly social beings help us in being willing to risk vulnerability, especially when our trauma has come at the hands of other people? As hard as this truth is for me to accept, relationships are a major healing force, perhaps the major healing force from trauma. All of the evidence-based treatments of trauma include an aspect of witnessing, listening, processing, talking, displaying, feeling or in some way being with our past experience of trauma in the presence of a safe and caring individual. A refusal to be vulnerable is likely to serve as an impediment to healing in therapeutic relationships that are “good enough.”

Being vulnerable presents other risks. We may be rejected, judged, criticized, betrayed or humiliated. I’ve shared previously about strategies through which we might discern if another individual or group is worthy of risking vulnerability. There is no gain in allowing ourselves to be mistreated, even if we may sometimes think we can undo the original trauma by defeating it in an adult form. Nothing feels more like failure to me than realizing I’ve been “sucked in” to an adult relationship that mimics an aspect of my childhood trauma, having mistaken the familiar for the safe.

What, though, can we do if we know deep down that we are in a safe relational space, but our walls are still up? I’m still terrified of having unpleasant reactions to my blogs, but honestly thus far *knocks on wood* I’ve had really kind and supportive readers. In parallel, in many offline areas of my life where I’ve taken risks, I’ve expected to be attacked and instead found acceptance. I believe it takes a significantly greater number of experiences of trust to undo a hurt than it takes hurts to break trust. All I can do or any of us can do is to keep trying, knowing this reality. And I believe empathy is vital—for those who have managed to have a lot of safe and loving people in their lives, know that you are indeed privileged and consider offering support instead of incredulity to those of us who may shrink at the first sign of relational conflict.

How have you navigated the terrain of vulnerability? What behaviors do others do that allow you to lower your defenses? How do you find the motivation to open up again after a relational wound?