I want to say Thank You to readers who have donated to Guess What Normal Is this past year. I have been able to put your donations to good use. I will be unveiling the new-and-improved GWNI site...very, very soon!
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Thanks to all of you, dear readers, I have been able to hire Nicole Bateman of The Pixel Boutique to re-envision and re-organize the GWNI blog, and also to make it pretty. With the seven years of posting I've done...I've generated a lot of content (seven years of GWNI content!); my task was to re-create this blog in a way that made all the content easy to find and easy to navigate for all of its readers.
South London, all terraced houses, 24-hour newsagents, and run-down council estates all crushed in cheek by jowl, has, this week, resembled a war zone. As an Adult Child this is not a scenario I'm unfamiliar with. Dysfunction? Home territory. Intensity? Check. Excitement? Oh yes. As I lay awake at night the sound of sirens and police cars drown out the sound of my child’s gentle snoring coming through the baby monitor and it feels like home.
But there is another more distinct dimension to the parallels between London August 2011 and life as an Adult Child … this specific ‘war’ has been started and promulgated by gangs of ‘feral thugs’ from our notorious underclass (think Compton, Bronx, South Boston but with BMX bikes and knives rather than cars and guns) who are, in my book anyway, adult children by any other name. They are straight out of ‘The Wire’ and even borrow from its lexicon, calling the police ‘feds’ and themselves ‘bros’. Invisible, vilified, demonised, ignored and dehumanised. They are society's ultimate nightmare and they won't go away quietly.
"By society's conventional standards, there is nothing I could possibly have in common with the delinquent youngsters now hauled up in front of London's courts for multiple counts of looting, theft, and violent disorder."
Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it should. I wasn’t brought up on a drug-ridden council estate, at the mercy of gangs. I had two parents and neither one was a prostitute or junkie. I'm law-abiding, successful, and solvent. By society's conventional standards, there is nothing I could possibly have in common with the delinquent youngsters now hauled up in front of London's courts for multiple counts of looting, theft, and violent disorder.
Depends on how you look at it.
The un-chosen, poorly-tuned, oblivious life isn't very rewarding, so in that sense the oh-so-hard work is worth it. And, that's life. If you want things (happiness, to be the big boss, a bigger salary, to live in a sun-drenched state), you will need to align yourself with the universe in such a way that you're sending/receiving "I'm ready and willing and open" signals in order for the good fortune to come ('good fortune' as you define it, not necessarily 'fortune,' but a good harvest, so to speak). And in order to align yourself and your wishes with the universe, you have to take risks, change, and say No, thanks. "Thanks for the gown, ring, and ride in your G6, but this isn't feeling right for me."
If you don't say good-bye to an ill-match, how can you be available to say Hello to a glove-like fitting friend, business partner, romantic partner, manager, livelihood, neighborhood, etc.?
(We're all pretending that I've posted recently, right?)
A friend shared this SF Gate columnist's article, "Hello I Find You Perfectly Toxic" with me, and I thought of all of us.
Of beginnings, Morford writes:
You take that person to dinner, loan him or her a copy of "Jitterbug Perfume," you hang out after work, you talk about the thrum and pulse of time, sex, dim sum, the universe. It doesn't really matter.
What matters is what comes next. You exit said person's company and you go home, sit down, take a breath, gaze inward and check the gauges. You ask yourself: How do I feel?
I thought of how far down the line we get in situations (being people who characteristically commit to a course of action, never mind its obvious consequences) and how we commit to situations that we actually find toxic. Our commitment defies reason, but we do it. What I like about Mark Morford's piece is that he neatly parses the inner information we have from the way in which we react to the inner data. It's a two-part deal: there's the data, then our actions. For example, we may very well be able to sense in ourselves that we don't feel terribly good after spending time with someone, but we don't necessarily act on that information.
Ever had trouble saying goodbye, ending a conversation, leaving, or getting people out of your house? Have you ever noticed that at some point during a conversation or visit that you're ready for it to end but that you can't seem to make it end? As if you're...a prisoner of the conversation? That has happened to me. When it has happened, I feel it in my body: I feel a fuzziness in my head, a pressure behind my eyes, and a restlessness in my whole body (forearms, knees and jaw) that builds until I feel like I could jump out of my skin! I feel voiceless. I find myself wondering if the other person has Any Idea that I've shut off or that it's time to go. I'll start to get resentful of the exploitation of my time. I'll secretly wish that something would happen to eject me from the prison-I-mean-conversation I'm in. And I'll think, over and over, why can't I just say Gotta Go, and jump away? But, I'm frozen. And I'm so worked up inside that I start to have doubts about my ability to politely disengage from the conversation.
It's been written that people who grow up in oppressive families suffer from having difficulty ending conversations (Janet Woititz), so you're not alone if you relate to this! The way it played out for me, I grew up so highly attuned to what others wanted and needed from me emotionally (my daily goal throughout my childhood was to not be abandoned again (which of course I thought I had power over) and thatdictated my entire relationship to my family), that I didn't have any experience prioritizing my own needs, wants, and desires. I was Good. And Good meant not having desires. I had no experiencing voicing my wants. Like, to a shocking degree. That was, in a nutshell, basic survivor living. Just getting by--not exactly preparation for adulthood.
Something I learned from my therapist not long ago is that when I have a clear sense of alternatives, of options, that not only do I immediately feel less stuck, saner, but I can also then be moved into action. That is, I perceive that not only do alternatives and options exist in life in general, but also alternatives to the very first option that comes to my mind as well (that first idea, the one that seems best, the one I’m liable to get quickly attached to). There. I cracked a window. Now I can see, and feel, out of what was feeling like an airless, walled room.
Sensing Options. One aspect of having options is sensing that you do. Perceiving options, or having a life approach that allows you to believe options always exist—even if the first option isn’t “ideal,” it’s one you know will lead to a better one. When you’re driving in a car, you probably have the windows up, and you probably have the doors locked, too (especially if you’re car automatically locks). How often would you say that you worry out not being able to get out of the car? How often do you roll down the windows or keep the doors unlocked due to a fear that you won’t be able to escape?
The pain of others, that is.
Who would want to breathe in, inhale, suck up the pain, illness, and damage that's in others? Eww. That was the train of thought that started, reactively, in my mind as I read a really interesting (and life-enhancing) article, "Love & Emptiness," in the magazine Shambhala Sun. (The January 2011 issue, which I bought on a desperate, raw whim while waiting in the checkout line at Whole Foods.) It was written by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and his article stuck with me. Here's the article itself.
Still. Even if it would help someone else to have me inhale their pain or disease, like, what would it do to me? Where would the "material" that I inhale and remove from them go in me? Is "it" contagious? (A consumerist, literalist view, I realize.) I'm used to thinking of that which I inhale or take into my body as becoming part of me, in me, mingling with my chemistry.
This winter I was fortunate enough to have two conversations about post traumatic stress disorder PTSD with trauma specialist Dr. Marylene Cloitre.
The following article is based on our conversations.
Do You Have PTSD from Childhood?
Panic. Anxiety. Fear. Nightmares. Insomnia. Fuzzy-brain feeling. Indecision. Confusion. Out-of-body numbness. Dissociation. Reacting to present-day events from the past’s influence. These are all familiar states of being and feeling to people who grew up in an environment influenced by alcoholism, workaholism, narcissism, depression, or otherwise dysfunctional parenting that involved neglect. If you know these feelings, does that mean you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Marylene and I discussed how PTSD is diagnosed today, as well as historically, and how people with PTSD can get better with therapeutic treatment. (Yes, there’s hope!)
Caroline Casey is one of my true heroes. Enjoy -
" Observe always that everything is the result of a change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and to make new ones like them. "
-Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, iv. 36)
People who grewup in dysfunctional families are an extraordinarily loyal bunch. All the books about dysfunctional families and alcoholic/addict family systems point to the skewed politics of internalizations of loyalty and the fact that no matter how let down we’ve been, we stay loyal. We feel, illogically, that they’re all we’ve got and that we’re all they’ve got. Ick. Dysfunctional behavior flourishes in an environment of loyalty. Why? All the defensiveness, perfectionism, passive-aggressiveness, controlling, and manipulative behaviors go unchallenged (or are challenged by extreme defensiveness) within a belief system that to question the status quo indicates disloyalty; so as a result of that internalized belief system, we’re a loyal crew, and the unease around us flourishes. Loyalty in the face of chaos and dysfunction is one reason it takes us forever and ever to exit relationships that aren’t good for us. Loyalty has defined us. It feels as if it has kept us safe, feeling safe. We’re taught that loyalty is the glue that keeps us together in a world that will never truly understand. I mean, where—or who—would you goddamn be if not for this family? Who else knows you or is really there for you? Who else has sacrificed for you? They don’t know you. We do.
Oh, please. Emotional blackmail, anyone?
How will you know (a) that your family-of-origin is still dysfunctional (because when you begin to grow and heal, you’ll sometimes forget…after all you’re trained to forget), and (b) how will you know that you're really being a champion of your personal perspective, truth, and needs?
Here's a question that a reader just asked me, which I'm answering in a post for everyone: "What recommendations do you have as far as a daily routine, therapy, or books to make the fear of losing control less prominent?" Her question was related to this post about the fear of losing control.
While this may not need to be a daily ritual for long, what worked for me in curing my panic attacks, which stemmed from a fear of losing control (which stemmed from a fear of making the wrong choice) -- was a variety of tools:
* The book "From Panic to Power" by Lucinda Bassett (seriously, this book saved my butt)
* Biofeedback (what panic feels like in my body before it takes hold)
* Action, any sized action (making a decision, taking a walk, calling someone, writing a list)
* Making sure to eat, and trading chocolate, sweets and carbs (caffeine) for proteins and vegetables, eggs and broccoli, namely
(Um, caffeine is in parentheses becasue I drink two cups of coffee in the a.m.)
* Being a home to myself
* Exercise and meditation
I learned what panic feels like bodily for me (the biofeedback part), which was a burning sensation in my chest and tightness in my forearms. Whenever my What If thoughts started to trigger a cortisol release in my body and start to build up to panic, I could shut if off before the fight/flight response truly kicked in. This is something that happens in a matter of seconds -- the onset of thoughts and also my shutting it off. Like, people in the room aren't going to know. It's worth noting that almost always I had eaten crap in the preceding hours. Other times the trigger was that I had not spoken up about what I wanted, and felt trapped. It's worth back-tracking in your mind to get a sense of what set off your particular trigger.
There have been times that the act of sitting down and eating a heaping bowl of steamed organic broccoli has restored my sanity. That is, of course an action, and it is also of course parenting myself. All good stuff.
Reading about Panic and Anxiety (and PTSD)
When reading the book and highlighting and dog-earing the heck of out it, I realized that the antidote to panic attacks was taking action. I saw that, for me, panic was a state of non-doing, of inaction, of fear, and being frozen. And that helped me see that taking action -- just a simple walk around the block to dis-engage from the power of the cortisol to bigger actions like asking for what I needed, or saying what I couldn't do -- was the cure.
This post was written for GWNI by One Angry Daughter, who explains narcissism, and her personal experiences with navigating it, on her blog.
Labels May Come and Labels May Go, but the Toxic Behavior Remains the Same
At the end of 2010, the Adult Children of Narcissists (ACON) support circles were abuzz with the news the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), the standard for diagnosing mental illness, would be removing Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) from its 5th edition. The DSM-4 description of NPD reads like a checklist making it digestible even for a person without professional mental health training. For many of us, the checklist was among the first things we discovered that finally gave clarity to what could be causing hardship in our relationship. Having that description removed from the DSM may seem threatening in that a well-regarded source of validation is changing. However, while the label may be deleted and the diagnosis modified, it should not hinder our path towards choosing healthy behaviors over toxic ones.
For people who grew up like us, it’s so not a no-brainer, it’s a dumbfounder. It’s like, “What do I do? I don’t know. My brain has stopped.” You don’t know how to react to the change in reality, so you try to bend it, wish it away, and think things like, Well, maybe he’s not sick. I mean, is he actually sick, or is it just my imagination? Maybe I’m over-worried and making myself think he’s sick! Yeah, yeah. Maybe he threw up from running too fast, or eating candy. We rationalize the unpleasant change in reality by trying not to ‘give-in’ to it. We think, Well, this is no different than if a babysitter is here versus me, right? He’s not going to be any less sick if I’m not here—what’s a few hours?
Now, I have lots and lots and lots of thoughts on parenting, and especially on parenting despite a ragged emotional inheritance, so please know that this is just the beginning of an unending river of thoughts over time. That's a disclaimer, a promise, and a warning!
When I think about parenting, and specifically parenting as someone who was raised within a dysfunctional, codependent, and emotionally abusive household I think this:
I understand my mission. My mission is to ensure that the sickness stops with me. I want my children to know that they are loved and cherished, to believe wholly in themselves, know that they have a safe home base, be champions of their talents, and allow love and human connections to fill up their hearts and lives.
Sound about right?
Oh, boy, sometimes we see things we don’t want to—like a stain on my pants, one that I’d prefer not to notice till after I’ve left the house. If I notice it before leaving, my conscience won’t let me keep those pants on. I have to change, once I see the truth. It’s a call to action. (A call to board the hero’s journey!) The same is true of taking a second look at the stories from my childhood that I’d accepted as true. For me, the process of examining the past goes hand-in-hand with cross-examining popular, dismissive, and inaccurate phrases like they did the best they could (or that alcoholism is best categorized as a disease). One story is the story of how my father came back to reclaim me from my grandparents’ house when I was five years old. It’s as if my eyes are being drawn to a new sightline by the hands of the healing process itself (no, not by the invisible hands of little elves, but a kind of bio-physical-spiritual action-reaction—like how exercise drives me to naturally crave healthy foods, forget sugar, and desire more exercise the next day).
I expected to be writing a mega-post about PTSD, but today I need to rant on about a well-meaning phrase (in truth, I hope this is much more than a rant—I hope there’s something insightful and helpful by the end). You all know this phrase. It makes me want to scream whenever I hear it, these days at least: They did the best they could.
I just asked my spouse what he thought of the term, what it really means, and he said, “That someone failed, but not for the lack of trying.” (Trying, sure. But, their "best"?!)
To me the phrase suggests, “They didn’t mean to hurt you—not on purpose.”
Your rubber-soled shoes. Your road!
In this post I’m focusing on Practice #3, the practice of taking care of yourself and making changes. Just like Practice #1 and Practice #2, this one is meant to be integrated with the others—particularly the practice of therapeutic work. In therapy you’ll naturally begin to identify the difference between the life you don’t want, the life you do want, and how to get there.
This practice is all about how to get there.
The Four Practices to Raise Yourself Up
#1 The Practice of Learning Who You Are & What Happened
#2 The Practice of Therapeutic Work
#3 The Practice of Taking Care of Yourself & Making Changes
#4 The Practice of Being Present in the Happiness You’re Creating
In this post I’m focusing on Practice #2, the practice of doing therapeutic work. This practice is meant to be integrated with the other steps—ahem, like, started right along with Practice #1 (not after anything is 'perfected' ;)).
The Four Practices to Raise Yourself Up
#1 The Practice of Learning Who You Are & What Happened
#2 The Practice of Therapeutic Work
#3 The Practice of Taking Care of Yourself & Making Changes
#4 The Practice of Being Present in the Happiness You’re Creating
The intensity of feelings that uncovering our past traumas may bring up isn’t for the faint of mind, so you need a trustworthy therapist to help you navigate the terrain. If you do this kind of work on your own, it’s very difficult to sort out the monsters from the angels—that is, it becomes very difficult to know whether or not your actions stem from avoidance or courage. In truth, even the best therapist won’t be able to tell your monsters from your angels, but he or she will be able to give you the time and space within which to get enough perspective that you sure can.
Believe it or not, the act of choosing a therapist is part of the growth process. People raised by childlike parents don’t have the courage of their convictions, we don’t give ourselves permission to be treated well, we don’t feel heard….NOW is the time to take a step toward transformation.
The Four Practices to Raise Yourself Up!
1. The Practice of Learning Who You Are & What Happened
2. The Practice of Therapeutic Work
3. The Practice of Taking Care of Yourself & Making Changes
4. The Practice of Being Present in the Happiness You’re Creating
When you’re in emotional pain, you want to know—is there a cure? Am I a puppet of my family or an independent agent with choice? Will I ever feel better—like, happy? Will I ever stop crying? Will I grow out of this and, promise me, not repeat the past?
Not repeating the past is really, really important to people like us who were raised by parents who were too childlike to raise us properly—whether alcoholic, depressive, abusive, or too deeply codependent to raise emotionally healthy kids. We. Do. Not. Want. To. Repeat. The. Past. At any and all costs. We have seen not just our parents but their parents, and theirs, and we suspect even the great-great grandparents, too, are a part of our emotional inheritance. We want it to stop. We want freedom from all this.
(Just making sure.) So, let’s get down to adult child basics. Some simple stretches. OK?
First, a disclaimer: I make a point not to endorse twelve-step groups as part of GWNI (just as twelve-step groups take care not to become affiliated with other groups!) This isn’t because I’m against twelve-step groups.
Frankly, they have done a lot of good for a lot of people. I’ve attended ACA meetings. Twelve-step programs are not, however, the end-all be-all or Golden Ticket to happiness or even a sane life. But, they can certainly be an important part of it.
Today I'm presenting The Problem, which is part of the literature provided by the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization.
Cold and dark don’t exactly inspire a good mood. The same goes for a family that loves unconditionally (warm, open, loving and feels like basking in sunlight) versus a household with rigid rules (cold, limiting, sharp, and feels like a dark night)—one is associated with a “happy” childhood, and the other one is, well, why we’re here.
But, wait, there's more to learn! Following is One Angry Daughter's recommended reading list to learn more about narcissistic personality disorder. These link to Amazon.com pages, where about a gagillion other books on the topic of narcissism await you. (While narcissists may have a lot to say, experts have way more to say about them!)
"Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Back Your Life When Someone You Care About has Borderline Personality Disorder" by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger *Even though it is not focused on NPD, the same tactics apply.
"Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Back Your Life When Someone You Care About has Borderline Personality Disorder" by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger *Even though it is not focused on NPD, the same tactics apply.
This one's available online for free: "The Narcississt: A User's Guide" by Lori Hoeck and Betsy Wuebker (there are some errors on the book download page right now, but let's hope they resolve them soon.)
And be sure to check out OAD's blog.
Here's a link to the Four-Part Series about How to Break Free from a Parent's Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body" - Sir Richard Steele
This is the final post in a four-part series by One Angry Daughter, who shares her experience and resources for Adult Children of Narcissists on her blog, One Angry Daughter
Still Striving for Acceptance
My journey has come full circle when it comes to acceptance. In the beginning I was still a child seeking the impossible acceptance of a mother who was unable to grant it. Now, I feel much more like an adult who is seeking her own acceptance of a new, genuine reality.
I now focus on defining my individuality, rejoicing my unique spirit and continuously finding my own voice as the other more critical voices are silenced.
Once I let go of the idea that there was something I could do on my own to make my family dynamic better, I was able to let go of a tremendous amount of guilt and responsibility. There were four adults that make up my birth family (me, my parents and my sister), all of us one fourth of the dysfunction dynamic. In my reality I could see that we needed to change in order to have healthier, more enjoyable interactions. In their reality, there was nothing to change and I was being out of line. Unless all four of us want to move in the same direction, we are at an impasse.
This is the third post in a four-part series by One Angry Daughter, who shares her experience and resources for Adult Children of Narcissists on her blog, One Angry Daughter
Due to all the strong emotions attached to the NPD-inflicted loved one, the first instinct is to try to save the relationship.
A person involved with a narcissist must realize there is not a healthy relationship to save. There is a reason that narcissists are described as “emotional vampires” – they literally feed off of your empathy because they are devoid of any themselves. Taking action to protect your emotional well being from their harsh attacks, means they can not victimize you any longer.
This is the second post in a four-part series by One Angry Daughter, who shares her experience and resources for Adult Children of Narcissists on her blog, One Angry Daughter
After I was done explaining the situation with my family and my mom in particular, the therapist declared that “less is more with your family.” I was not expecting this. I had entered therapy with the hopes of fixing a problem so that I could be closer with my birth family. The therapist told me that my mother sounded like she had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She sent me home with a title of a book and a reminder card for our next appointment.
This is the first of a four-part series by One Angry Daughter, who shares her experience and resources for Adult Children of Narcissists on her blog, One Angry Daughter
I was weeks shy from the birth of my first child, when I found myself in the office of a therapist. On the eve of motherhood, I was a daughter looking for a way to repair a degenerating relationship with my own mother.
I’ll never forget the way I started explaining my mom to her. It was with an excuse – “Mom, well, Mom has had it so hard recently, well really even longer than that. I don’t set out to upset her so much and I really think I am making the best choices. I don’t understand why she thinks everything I do is so wrong.”
AllTreatment.com just featured an interview with me on their site today!
Check out the interview here.
Here's a quick excerpt and a link to AllTreatment.com:
AllTreatment: How are you coping with recovery today?
Amy: I'm still discovering the impact of growing up with alcoholic parents! When I think back on my twenties, I see that I was isolated-without even knowing it. I might have gone out, done things, met people, dated, etc., but my spirit was caged. So when I look back on that period I think, "God, I wish I hadn't been so hesitant." That's a word that comes up a lot when I think about the past and impact of my childhood-hesitation has played a big role. Something happens when we hesitate; we lose momentum and we open the door wide for fear, excuses, and sluggishness. I can recognize a trustworthy person, but it's hard to convince the little girl in me that it's safe to let down my guard; so I do trust people, but am extremely guarded about it. It's like-I'll sit in a restaurant and enjoy the people and the meal, but I'm going to sit at the back of the restaurant facing out (mafia position)! A lot of people think this kind of childhood creates control freaks, and I joke that I am one, but I have opinions about how accurate that assessment is, which I've written about on my blog. I think it's less that we're control freaks and more that we're afraid of things spinning out of control. I don't trust reality, so I double-check that things are what they seem to be-not in an OCD way, but in an investigative reporter-type way. I grew up with people who rarely delivered on promises, so I'm very comforted when I can be around people who do what they say they'll do or at least can communicate about why they're not.
Last week I interviewed Lisa Brookes Kift, licensed psychotherapist (MFT) and author, about Family of Origin work. Lisa is a licensed psychotherapist (MFT), based in Marin, California, with a former career in movie production (The Toolbox at Lisa Kift Therapy). She is the author of the Therapy-at-Home Workbooks, and writer for PsychCentral.com, HitchedMag.com, Examiner.com, MoreMarin.com, and more.
Lisa and I discussed a simple self-work tool that you can use to kick-start your own investigation into the unhelpful beliefs stuck on you like slugs from your childhood.
WHAT'S FAMILY OF ORIGIN WORK?
Family of Origin work isn't a separate type of therapeutic method taught to therapists, rather, it's one of a variety of tools, or approaches, to overall healing. It's a way of focusing our work in therapy. It's a means for making an investigation into our roots with the specific purpose of better understanding ourselves, our ways of thinking, and our beliefs. (Well, maybe not our beliefs--our inherited beliefs.)
It turns out it’s not so simple to distinguish between depression and plain old adult child of alcoholics syndrome. (Throw in anxiety disorder, and the differentiation is even murkier.) If you’re trying to diagnose yourself this dark, cold, depressive season, as I know a lot of us are, there’s a lot to consider. And once you’ve considered it all, you may just need a brain vacation, not medication!
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF ADULT CHILDREN
Adult Children share these characteristics with one another, or symptoms, caused by the chaotic, anti-nurture environment in which we grew up (I say ‘grew up’ not ‘raised,’ because raised implies someone else did something, it implies participation and forethought. Growing up just happens.):
Here's the longer, "standard" list of characteristics.
Check out this great list too, by Dr. Tian Dayton, whom I just discovered this week and has written wonderfully insightful—and accessible—posts about ACs.
There's also my list of the good qualities of ACs.
Oops. I missed Anti-Depression Month, which was October. Happy belated Anti-Depression Month! (Which should really be called Pro-Joy Month!) Was it because I'm feeling out of touch, dull, tired, going to bed early but not staying asleep after 5 a.m., but wanting to sleep, sleep, sleep, out of it, distracted, indecisive....that is, that I'm chronically depressed? According to my therapist, it's possible that I may suffer from Dysthymia. I think it's possible that I've suffered from it, on and off, for a long time.
So I've begun reading up on the subject!
Chronic Depression, or Dysthymia, is a type of depression that's not as obvious as the kind of depression I've always thought of when I think of depression -- which is Major Depressive Disorder (or MDD), which is so dangerous to spirit, mind, and sometimes also to yourself and others. I wrote about MDD last fall. That's the one where you and everyone else knows you're depressed: you're visibly listless, and practically unable or truly unable to carry on with a typical day in your life.
This fall I'm writing about Chronic Depression (Dysthymia), which is a common enough type of depression. As measured here in the United States, 10.9 million people suffer from chronic depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And, for whatever unfair reason, more women than men have it. Since depression tends to run in families, it's important to include your family history in your thinking about where you're at with regard to your mental health.
I'm excited to share this book excerpt from Life Lessons for the Adult Child: Transforming A Challenging Childhood with you all. Judy was kind enough to show me her rough manuscript of this book before it was published -- and now the book exists...in print!...for all to read.
You may remember reading my interview with Judy, who so inspires me in this work to improve and grow, and to help others do the same.
Since it's just been released, you can only buy it via South African sites, but it'll soon be on Amazon.com -- and I'll post an update when that happens.
You can buy overseas from KALAHARI, an online bookseller in SA (they ship internationally).
* * *
Now, here's a taste of Life Lessons for the Adult Child: Transforming A Challenging Childhood, by Judy Klipin:
Judy Klipin on Relationships -
Adult children sometimes love too much or not at all – or swing between these two extremes. Not allowing themselves to love at all manifests in a continued emotional detachment, an ability to never quite reach a level of intimacy and trust with another person that would put them in emotional danger. There may be a sustained thought that they may in fact be better off on their own. In this way they are entirely in control of their emotions and never have to worry about being vulnerable or abandoned. If they do get involved in a relationship, they may be the first to withdraw as soon as they start to feel invested and the fear of being rejected raises its head.
Thank you, dear readers, for all of your support. Your emails and your kind and generous donations are incredibly encouraging for me (and an important part of keeping this blog running and improving, too!) I've felt honored and deeply touched by so many of your emails--I'm thankful for the solidarity. I can't see who's on the other side of this blog, but I sure feel you're there. Thank you!
It's never too late to be a loving parent to yourself, to your children--no matter how darn old you are or might feel. Got it? That means: invest in yourself now, you're worth it. (That's my Assertive Care parenting voice (well, it's meant to be) which I learned from the book.)
I found out about Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children (though it's certainly been around) a couple of weeks ago through one of my Google Alerts. The book addresses so many of the questions a lot of you have (and I've sure had) who're raising children. Immediately I thought, "The book I've been looking for."
And, it was.
Once we've gobbled up all the 'self-help' and dysfunctional families and codependency books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, we have every reason to head over to the Parenting category and begin again there for further insights and healing. (This book is categorized as "parenting," rather than dysfunctional family issues, which is probably why I hadn't discovered it earlier.) Through new parenting (newas my son's only twenty months old) I've gained so many insights into the pain I acquired in childhood through observing my heart as I parent him--and by reading about child brain development and what a stressful childhood home can do to childrens' development (I wrote about the harmful effects of chaos on children here).
You know how it works when people parachute? They're harnessed to a device that facilitates their chute -- their gentle drift down, down, down? (Chute is French for "fall.")
A quick linguistics course: the prefix Para- is attached to words we've taken from Greek (mostly, but there are some French ones too) and it means "at the side of" or "side by side" (as in paralell), or "beyond or past" (as in paradox - beyond belief or reason), and more recently para- is used for "support role" (as in paramedic or paralegal).
So you can imagine what para-alcoholic means. Those who grew up "at the side of" an alcoholic.
As you grow, and gain joy in your healing and growing-up-in-adulthood process, it's just as important to embrace dark moments in your growth as it is to bounce and leap into the joy-filled ones. The expression two steps forward and one step back is diminished by its age and use, but is a remarkably wise expression. Remember it. Go easy on yourself, curb that little puppy that's known as perfectionism, and observe the darkness when it slides in. You're bigger than it.
THE (INHERITED) BULLY WITHIN
When you have a Sad day--or just a Sad morning--it's not fun, but it's normal, even if your recovery is going great (occasional sadness isn't a sign of failure!) For us, a Sad day isn't just annoyance at the coffee grounds exploding all over the kitchen floor or our jackets getting ripped on some invisible nail sticking out, it's a dizzying, punishing, inescapable feeling of worthlessness. It seems to come out of nowhere. And it laughs at us like the biggest, nastiest bully you ever met. It mocks our progress, our confidence: "Ra ho ha ha ha--look at you, smug, thinking you're all 'normal,' great, and joining the rest of the good people, feeling on top of the world, huh? Think again. You're still you. You're still the crap you started out as. Get real, honey! Step off the sidewalk, into the gutter where you know you'll be more comfortable."
Sometimes, the most infuriating fact of interacting with a narcissistic family member is, well, something that's impossible to avoid: talking with them--having "conversation." I can't help put conversation in quotes because conversations with narcissists just don't live up to my definition of what a conversation actually is--a verbal exchange of ideas or information between two people.
"Conversations" with narcissists can be infuriating for two reasons; one, most of what the narcissist says functions as a conversation flow-stopper, and two, most of what they talk about is them.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent means that you were likely robbed of being truly understood and valued for who you are. It's a similar experience to being raised by an alcoholic (and alcoholics are most often also narcissists) in that your independent, separate self was ignored, attacked, or mocked.
You ever notice how when you go at your partner with strong emotions, it pushes him or her away? Isn't that weird? Ever wonder how that works, exactly? How could your important, strong, emotions become a big cow plow, ramming the person you care about most out of your path? I mean, you just want them close, right? Your only (secret, inner) wish is that they would perceive your misery behind the emotional storm and thunderbolts you're throwing--hug you, hold you, save you from yourself.
But they just see the storm. And who wouldn't?
When I'm in the heat of an emotional snafu, I don't get what's obvious. Not at all. Later, when I've cooled to a normal, human temperature, it's all too obvious: Duh, my partner can't "hear" me (well, he can sure hear me, but not hear the issue), not when I'm in a flurry and talking (in circles, scratching an emotional itch) about what sounds a lot like...blame.
A wide variety of different kinds of issues, dynamics, and arguments exist between couples--as many as there are reasons for them. Here, I'm talking about one particular kind of behavior that goes on inside us, that causes us to blame rather than own--that causes our attempts to "share" how we're feeling, or "open up a discussion" about the relationship, etc., to totally backfire.
For normal people, lying is about deceiving others. Manipulaiton. Control. Sneakiness. For us, people raised by alcoholic or otherwise addicted, narcissistic, or depressive parents--lying is rooted in fear.
Our lying is based in a deep sense of uncertainty about what's acceptible, and our unconscious need to prevent abandonment (the abandonment of our earlier, child-age self). We lie because we think it will keep us safe or at least safer-feeling, if only for a fleeting moment.
Of course, our greatest injustice in lying is the injustice to ourselves -- we suffer each time we bury our true, authentic selves, which occurs each time we lie. You can feel it happening when you do it--the layers of sand piling up on your eager, shiny true-self soul: there's that little pinch in your gut, and a tiny but perceptible drop in your energy level, plus the unsteadiness of the calm from the moment before. We become distracted when we lie, we pop out of the present moment. And when that happens, we're experiencing a moment a lot like those from childhood--where we're curled inside our shield, numb, waiting for the storm to blow over so that we can go back to daydreaming, magical thinking, and escaping reality again. But that's no way to live now, as new adults.
We think we're keeping the boat even-keel, controlling the wake, by lying. But, are we? Are we really that powerful?
Just now an author told me that he quotes this when he's angry at his publisher!
While Kipling writes, "You'll be a man" at the end, today I think we'd say, "You'll be a whole & balanced person." Anyway, I thought of us, and I hope you like the poem.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!
--Rudyard Kipling, 1910
About Rudyard Kipling
You probably didn't know that you had control issues until you began to take stock of who you really are, your behaviors and motivations, and/or began therapy--because you'd assumed that control freaks were that highly-recognizable type person who is...well, the annoying, uptight, nosey person who always has to be right, who questions you, tells you what to do every step of the way, and wants input into everything that goes on. Often, that's the person 'in charge' -- the self-elected leader of the group, the once who decides what movie and what restaurant (here's a short, apt description of one. (Not that you need a blueprint.) Now, I'm not talking about that kind of control freak. I'm talking about people--us--who have a very differently motivated relationship with control.
When it comes to control, we fear what has historically filled the space of its absence.
We're not obsessed with being in control and leading people or armies. Rather, the control we crave is a sense of control. A sense that the ground is hard, with no sinkhole beneath us. Why? We live in a state of fear that things will fall apart. Why? Because we didn't know stability, consistency, and calm in our childhoods. We knew chaos, and we've had cortisol and adrenalin coursing through our bloodstreams ever since. Our efforts to control the elements of our lives--from lining-up the toothbrushes and other obsessive-compulsive behavior to making sure everyone's all right and also not mad at us (not that we have given them reason to be).
I referenced post-trauma stress disorder in this post about the urge to flee, running (not running scared, but running anxious) away from our relationships, jobs, friends, homes, children, pets, and stuff. That kind of running instinct is a form of self-sabotage, a subconscious, knee-jerk urge to recreate the chaos of our childhood environment simply because it's comfortable--it's not "good" or "bad" in these scenarios, it's just simply what we know.
And running scared has everything to do with post-trauma stress disorder. (As does sitting still, when it's an anxiety-induced paralysis.)
There are two key ingredients to an environment that is ripe for PTSD: Unpredictability and Uncontrollability. Familiar, right? Those are also key characteristics of the alcoholic household, or any household run by an addict, narcissistic, or otherwise childlike adult.
A few months ago, I went with my fiance to a herbal healing shop called Rosemary's Garden up in Sebastopol, Ca. He'd done some reading about herbs that can be helpful for foot and joint pain (such as arnica, which lessened my pelvic bone pain post-childbirth), and Rosemary's Garden turns out to be a local mecca for healing herbs, tonics, teas, and tinctures.
I looked around while he scooped herbs out of jars, and I discovered a collection of flower essences--Bach's Remedies. Then I noticed the cute, purse-size flower essence sprays near the cash register from FES (Flower Essence Services) --labeled with promising names like Fear-Less, Grace, Grief-Relief, Magenta Self-Healer, Grounding Green, Mind-Full, Post-Trauma, Sacred Heart, Illumine, and Flora-Sleep. Oh my God, I thought, I've hit on the mother-load! Every aspect of my being is going to be cured!
I mean, maybe.
You can't worry and smile at the same time. Try it. First, smile. Now, think of one of the typical worrysome or anxiety-provoking thoughts that messes with your self-esteem and sense of everything being all right. For me, today, it's, "What was I thinking when I signed my toddler up for swimming lessons--I should have known his nap time would inevitably be a conflict."
(Taking. A lot of. Effort. To feel that. Anxious thought. And smile. I'm not succeeding. My smile melts into a grimace when I get close.)
But, I'm not talking about that kind of smiling. I'm talking about a teeny-tiny, personal, private smile called the Inner Smile. It's as effective--no, to be honest, I suspect it's more effective than an outright grin. I think the Inner Smile is more authentic.
"In ancient China, the Taoists taught that a constant inner smile, a smile to oneself, insured health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself."
- Mantak Chia
Nobody is losing weight by reading blogs about losing weight. (Not me, at least.) Action is required of us. You can't read a self-improvement blog and improve yourself by reading alone. Action is required.
Thank you for reading my blog! I am fulfilled by knowing that my posts have helped people sort out how to get happy. But, I wonder, can I make you even happier with Guess What Normal Is?
I'd love it if you'd post your feedback on the following questions as a comment to share and discuss with other readers, or send to me in a private email at email@example.com
Here we go:
1. What is the single most valuable aspect to you personally about Guess What Normal Is?
2. What post is your favorite, or helped you the most?
3. Have you ever printed a post and actually referred to it more than once later? If so, which one?
4. Are my posts too long?
5. Is there a topic I have not yet covered, that you want covered? Or that you want covered more deeply?
Any additional comments, criticisms, or suggests are welcome!
I put up a Donate button a couple months ago, but never commented on why.
I plan to use money donated to Guess What Normal Is for running the blog, which includes paying the monthly rent, imagery, answering email, as well as the future development of audio and video posts--something I am very excited about potentially getting off the ground, and which involves the expense of a video camera, big external hard drive (video takes up lots and lots of space), software, and some how-to books...and, of course, time. Lots and lots of time.
My purpose in developing this blog was to help people trade armor for courage. I want to inspire others to make changes in their lives in order to get happier and function better. I think it's essential to try to get what you secretly want out of this life. And, to get there, you need to grow. To grow, it's necessary to conduct a personal investigation, one which includes looking at the reactive, defensive, isolating, and safety-seeking behaviors that all of us as adult children of alcoholic, addict, or otherwise narcissistic and child-like parents have always utilized, simply as learned habits and survival mechanisms.
We can do better. We can do great.
I truly appreciate any donations made to this self-improvement blog!
RESENTMENT IS LIKE TAKING POISON AND WAITING FOR THE OTHER PERSON TO DIE.
I laughed out loud upon reading that. How true it is. How absurd resentment is. Resentment has everything to do with us, with our unexpressed needs and wants, and not much to do with the other person. It sometimes feels as if our resentment is so big, so bitter, so sharply painful that it has the power to be felt by our partners. But, in fact, they rarely know that we're harboring such resentment. Rather, they're just wondering why we're being moody (or passive-aggressive, overly sarcastic, or quiet).
Have you ever felt powerless over your reaction to someone, got defensive, and behaved like a child for no other reason than you were somehow triggered by the other person's tone of voice or posture?
(We all have.)
And were you aggravated with yourself because you let the other person get under your skin or behaved childishly?
And did you wonder if the problem was mostly your problem?
If you're like me, you had a hunch that if you hadn't gotten defensive, if you had let the evocative aspects of the question roll right past you, the conversation would have gone much better, simpler, quicker.
Yes. Yes, you absolutely can. (You already are, just by reading this.) Growing up as an adult child requires 3 steps: Each of these three aspects will deliver you into your own version of true adulthood. I've reviewed Wayne Kritsberg's book "The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome" before, here. Now I'm circling back to Chapter 8 of his book, where he discusses the Recovery Process.
Yes. Yes, you absolutely can. (You already are, just by reading this.)
Growing up as an adult child requires 3 steps:
Each of these three aspects will deliver you into your own version of true adulthood.
I've reviewed Wayne Kritsberg's book "The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome" before, here. Now I'm circling back to Chapter 8 of his book, where he discusses the Recovery Process.
It's obvious (I hope!) that I believe deeply that it's absolutely possible to grow up and grow out of being the child of alcoholics. I also believe deeply that humans are designed, as any animal or plant is, to regenerate new limbs when other limbs have been severed (and heal bruised hearts). None of us are likely to become perfect, pain-free people who have relationships that don't require maintenance (part of our healing, in fact, is to let go of perfectionism). Learning how to deal with our emotional inheritance is key to our freedom from that same inheritance. Growing out of our childhoods, and growing up from here--we are worth doing that.