If you've followed this blog you'll see that since discovering I had a false self I've been diligently searching for the cause, the Great Question of "Why I am as I am?" During that search I healed enough to get married to a fantastic lady, picked up a bunch of great kids, and slowly discover myself. But lingering was the feeling I wasn't whole, wasn't enjoying life as I should. I still feel broken.

As I look at my past, found no big-T-Traumas, and still felt broken.

I found my core beliefs, and still felt broken.

I identified my secret attachments, and still feel broken.

I integrated the 5-year-old child-self I suppressed when I was a kid, the thing that resulted in my false self, and still feel broken.

I started therapy, did some EMDR to sort through the small-t-traumas, and still feel broken.

I found I was always highly sensitive, but still feel broken.

How am I still broken? I ran across a list in a book, Running on Empty, by Jonice Webb, with what is the most accurate list of what is wrong with me I've ever seen:

  1. Feelings of emptiness
  2. Counter-dependence (where my lack of trust in others makes me want to appear completely independent, needing no emotional care)
  3. Unrealistic self-appraisal
  4. No compassion for self, plenty for others
  5. Guilt and shame; What's wrong with me?
  6. Self-directed anger, Self-blame
  7. The fatal flaw ("If people know me, they can't like me.")
  8. Difficulty nurturing self and others
  9. Poor self-discipline
  10. Alexithymia: poor awareness and understanding of emotions

It is very strange to see yourself completely defined in a list, but that's what this list is: a summary of who I was, and in many ways still am.

The cause: Childhood Emotional Neglect. This doesn't mean I was abused or anything like it. It just means that when those moments came where I needed emotional guidance, it wasn't there. I was always looking for an event which caused my false self. Turn out it was probably a long series of things that could have happened, but didn't. And being highly sensitive, I probably needed a lot more emotional understanding than my siblings. Maybe they got enough. I didn't. For me as a kid, emotions were sufficiently confusing, and without help to understand them, I did the best thing I could: I suppressed them. I suppressed emotions so well that I suppressed my true self in the process. Because unmet needs gave me emotions I didn't know how to handle, I suppressed the needs, too. I forgot that there was ever a part of me that had needs. I developed complete counter-dependence, not needing anyone to help me, and trusting no one to do so. Complete independence.

But vastly empty inside. That was the cost. Living without emotion isn't living, and that's how I knew I was broken. And all the problems listed above showed up. 

I don't know where this will go. I hope it leads to healing. 

Caveat emptor

Just a reminder that everything here is my experience, not yours. Don't borrow or take on loan; it can do you no good living that part of my life I chose to talk about or you choose to borrow.

Integration feels strange...

It's a very strange thing, bringing a child true self back into life. Precociously intelligent, knowledgeable and hard working, but missing experiences of childhood and youth. Add all the personality of a false self to unlearn, and I'm left with the difficult job sorting my feelings. None of the feelings are new, but what I can do with them is changing. Anger, for example.

I used to suppress anger entirely, thinking (as I did as a child) it too dangerous to express except when alone. Now I can express anger, but I have no idea where it will go, or how much damage I'll do, or even a good way to express it. It's still a fear, destroying a relationship over something small. You see, I have no experience with being angry and having someone still love me. Maybe it happened when I was a very small child, but by the time I was in first grade I was wary of becoming angry and was swallowing emotion already.

I can express love, and I'm very grateful for that. But the "bad" emotions, anger, lust, power, self, the emotions I suppressed to become the low-maintenance child, I need to learn.

How I think

I always thought in a difficult way: Whatever I'd heard would need to be considered, processed, categorized, then I'd remember it, integrate it into my thinking.

After I heard about arborescent thinking, it was pretty clear to me. My brain is like a huge beautiful tree. This tree has many tall branches, each very wide, with many diverging limbs. On these limbs are leaves. Each leaf is an idea. Around the base of the tree are all there thoughts, ideas, things, impressions, and feelings I've seen or felt. Each leaf represents in individual thing, and has a very proper place on the tree. Finding that place takes consideration. I need to consider what is there, and the interactions. 

Once I know where the leaf belongs, it goes there and stays there. Each leaf is visible from the ground, and by all other leaves.

It's an analogy that works for me to understand my thinking.

Arborescent Thinkers = Highly Sensitive People?

Back in 1980 two French education psychologists, Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, observed children learning, and saw two groups: one group learned quickly but the learning was in context; when the context was removed the kids had a harder time recalling the information. The other group learned with difficulty (or at least slower) but what they learned could more easily be applied to other contexts. They used the term "rhizomal" for the first group, referring to the way ivy grows by extending tendrils which then set down roots and spread from there. The second group they called "arborescent" referring to the branching of a tree, where information was organized in roughly binary branches, and one branch is "visible" to another. 

In 1996 a psychologist named Elaine Aron in The Highly Sensitive Person identified the traits of the 15-20% of the population who are natively more sensitive to physical stimuli. A consequence of this sensitivity is the need to process information more deeply, to make sense of it. Deep processing means it takes more time to understand what is taught, but once understood, it has a wide breadth of application. 

I think both theories are describing the same phenomenon.

Integration and Healing

A few years ago I had an unusual experience: I saw in my mind, sitting in a chair in my room, a four- or five-year-old version of me. He was sitting very still, very patient, aware. It was incredibly sad for me to realize that it was me, or a portion of me, I'd been protecting all my life from emotional pain. Keeping him safe was why my false self developed (I think).

Last week Becky and I started doing a thing called Sensate Focus Excercises (see below). While Becky was touching me (stage 1) I thought of that little guy, and realized this was exactly the thing he always wanted: loving non-sexual touch that goes on and on. So I sort of invited him to be present and enjoy the moment.

While he was with me I though I'd explore what it was that scared him so much that he wanted to withdraw and let my superego take care of him. The event that came to mind was one I'd remembered all my life, but I think I had depersonalized it. It happened when I was about 5 or maybe 6. Mom had bought hamburgers from Ripples for the family, a rare event as money always seemed tight. Dad wasn't there. I was sitting on the end of the bench against the wall, with Lee and Ross next to me. Kathy was on the far end. I was taking my time eating my burger when Kathy dropped hers on the floor. This misfortune made her cry, so mom reached over and cut away half of my burger and gave it to Kathy. I took this as a huge indignity and protested loudly: why must I make the sacrifice just because I am a slow eater? The other kids left, just me and mom at the table, She was still eating her burger and I demanded it. repeatedly. She slapped it on my plate and said, with as much venom as I'd ever heard from her before or since, "Here. I hope you choke." I was initially pleased, then I processed what it was she said. My mouth went dry, heart started beating furiously, and I tried to eat. You can't eat with no saliva, but she was so mad I tried anyway, and couldn't hardly choke down a mouthful. That's when I realized I probably would choke to death, as mom wanted. That was the trauma. 

After that I ate fast. But mostly I realized I had to keep mom happy. It's a scary thing discovering your mom wants to kill you if you take her food, so I worked hard to keep her happy. It's also a tragic thing when a kid thinks he needs to be attentive to his mom's emotions and feel responsible for them.

Over the next few weeks I guess I decided to protect the real part of me, the alive part, and use the conscious me to stay alive by keeping mom happy. I couldn't take this to my parents because dad was so emotionally distant, and of course I could never again take any problem to mom, or cause her discomfort. There were some scary times early on when I forgot, and unknowingly disappoint her, but she had a belt she'd spank us with to remind us who was most important. And I think she secretly loved the idea of being the queen bee and having the workers serve her.

I guess in the wider world what happened to me is considered a small-t trauma, but it was enough for me to develop a false self to deal with her and to hide my real self so deep that he remained forever a little kid, sitting quietly and patiently for life to happen around him. I forgot he was there for most of my life. It takes a lot of effort to live with a false self.

During our sensate session I comforted him, let him know he had me and Becky watching out for him, and that he could handle anything that came along. I calmed his fear of dying for sticking up for himself. After our sensate session with Becky, which I enjoyed so much, we talked about my experience. I expected the next morning for him to be back in the chair, but he wasn't. He stayed with me. He's still with me.

It's a bit frightening having him here with me, where I can for the first time in my life act on my own. Before I didn't act without considering what effect my actions had on others, because that's all I had to go on. Now I'm independent. I can get angry. I can love. I might have some anger built up at you for all the crap you gave me in the past, which I dutifully accepted. Not any more.

As for mom and dad, I figure they got more devotion out of my false self than any kid owes his parents over a lifetime. We are evened up. I'd give anything now for parents who had some clue that I was in emotional trouble. All I can do now is be that parent to my kids. It sucks to have a mom who keeps saying, "I love you" when you go to school and know she's lying. When I tell my kids I love them, I want to have built up so much trust and sacrifice and honesty and awareness that they know it's true. Because it is. I'm still working on it.

I love you, kids. I love you, Becky.

I haven't worked out yet if the secret attachments to rejection and deprivation are still there. My false self isn't. Gonna be an interesting week.


Sensate Focus Exercises

Sensate focus exercises were developed by sex therapists Masters & Johnson. They can be used by any couple seeking to explore a new kind of intimacy.

These exercises are typically done in steps or stages over a period of several weeks. One person starts as the “giver” or “toucher” and the other is the “receiver.” Partners then switch roles until they reach stage 3, when there is mutual touching. If you do the exercises in the morning, you can enjoy other sexual activity in the afternoon or evening, or whatever timing works for you. The key is to not mix exercises with your normal sexual activities.

Stage 1 Touching, stroking, or kissing can occur anywhere on the body, except the breasts and genital areas. Use the hand that you don’t normally write with (so if you’re right-handed, use your left hand). If you are the giver, start with your partner’s face. Take your time and explore every area of your loved one’s body. You can also explore different types of touch, such as rubbing, squeezing, or tickling. The goal is to experience the sensation of touching, not to try to sexually arouse your partner. Even if your loved one gets aroused, do not try to have an orgasm. After 2030 minutes (or longer, if you like), switch roles. Practice this exercise 2-3 times a week for 1-2 weeks.

Stage 2 Start with stage 1 touching. Then you can begin to explore the breast and genital areas, but do not attempt intercourse, or touching that leads to orgasm. After 20-30 minutes, switch roles. Practice this exercise 2-3 times a week for 1-2 weeks before moving to stage 3.

Stage 3 During this stage, you will engage in mutual touching, beginning with stage 1 touching, and then progressing to stage 2 touching. Even if you both become sexually aroused, do not engage in touching that might lead to orgasm. Practice this exercise 2-3 times a week for 1-2 weeks before moving to stage 4. Start with touching exercises from stages 1-3. Then get into position, as if you are going to have intercourse (but do not have intercourse). Move your bodies so that both partners’ genitals can rub against each other. After one or two sessions, you can then progress to partial or full intercourse or touching or oral sex that may lead to orgasm. It may help to have a lubricant nearby so you don’t need to interrupt the action to locate lube.

Touch, but don’t talk Do not talk during your sessions, as it can be distracting. Decide ahead of time what physical cues you can give each other to indicate when certain touching feels good (perhaps the receiver caresses the giver’s hand), or if you want more pressure (the receiver can press down on the giver’s hand). If you don’t like the touching, gently pull your loved one’s hand away. After each session is over, you can discuss what worked—or what didn’t.

To order an instructional DVD, visit www.hsab.org

New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness www.njsexualwellness.com

The roots of core beliefs

I have become a Freudian.

There is a way of explaining core beliefs which makes sense to me, and it comes form an interpretation fo Freud by Peter Michaelson (just as Carl Jung's best interpreter is Donald Winnicott).

This is how your brain works:

You are born. Your brain operates according to the pleasure principle, which early on means to get food, get comfortable in the diaper area, and get affection. The infant is a pure megalomaniac, believing that he is the universe and everything which happens is because of his will. And parents do a proper job of reinforcing that idea. When the baby cries, they respond. 

At some point before the baby is 18 month old (in Freud's oral stage of psychosexual development), this can go bad. The baby will cry, and nothing will happen. It gets hungry, cried more, and nothing happens. What is the baby to make fo this? It's a full-blown megalomaniac and something bad just happened. Either the baby realizes that it isn't megalomaniac and that parents are different from itself, or it concludes that it willed a bad thing to happen. The second option, believing that it wanted a bad thing to happen to it, is the first root of bad core beliefs.

Your belief as an infant that you willed something bad to happen creates what Michaelson calls a Secret Attachment to deprivation. The secret attachment exists in the unconscious (Freud's id) and begins to influence almost every aspect of your self. I'll talk about a secret attachment to deprivation in a later post.

When the child is in the phallic stage of development (3-5 yrs), and is interacting almost exclusively with parents, something else can go bad. Parents can show attention elsewhere, which the child experiences as rejection. If it occurs enough times, rejection becomes another secret attachment.

If a child experiences a great amount to control from parents or others, a third secret attraction can develop, one of being controlled.

Secret Attractions all exist in the unconscious. We are never aware of them, but they have a profound influence on our behaviors, how we see others in the world, and even the thoughts running through our heads.

I'll give an example from my own life. I have secret attractions to rejection and deprivation. Once, when I was a teen on a family vacation, I didn't want to go in to the museum or whatever the stop was. I stayed in the car and read. Nearby were some other teens my age playing frisbee. The girls were cute, and I really wanted to join them. A couple came over to the car and asked me to join them, and I said, "no." Why? I didn't know why I said no to the thing I wanted. I thought maybe I was insane, or stupid, but I felt awful about it. I still remember how bad I felt about saying no, but looking back I felt I should say no, it was the right thing to say, and that saying yes wasn't really an option. It was my secret attachment to deprivation telling me what to do. I had become convinced as a baby that it is my will to experience the feeling of deprivation, that I should experience deprivation, and that it's right for me to feel deprived. Again, this is unconscious. It never occurred to my conscious thought that I should feel deprived, but the unconscious is specacularly strong.

Freud said the mind had three parts: 

  • id: unconscious, first formed part of the mind, acts to seek pleasure (food, sex, comfort)
  • ego: mostly unconscious, seeks to balance the id and the superego to create happiness and contentment
  • superego: last formed, punitive and controlling. Ideas come largely from same-sex parent. Partly conscious

A perfectly healthy person has all three aspects of the mind active, with the ego providing some pleasure under the constraints of the superego.

The ego solves conflicts between the id and the superego with defense mechanisms. I'll talk about these in a future post.

In summary, we could have one or more secret attachments to deprivation, control and rejection, which are suppressed with defenses created by the ego. Exposing them is painful but freeing, and conquering them may take time but is easy and I'm finding to be a lot of fun.

My notes on Secret Attachments by Peter Michaelson

From Secret Attachments: Exposing the Roots of Addictions & Compulsions, by Peter Michaelson, Prospect Books, 1993

Addiction is a metaphor for the addict's deeper problems, emotional addictions to certain negative states that are left-over or unresolved from childhood.

There are three categories:

  • Deprivation. The individual focuses on, and indulges in, feeling of being deprived, denied, refused, drained, not getting, missing out, short-changed, ripped off, never satisfied, and loss.
  • Control. Foscuses on and indulges in feeling controlled, dominated, forced to go along with the agenda of others, feeling helpless, at the mercy of others or forces beyond his control. Perhaps, in a minor way.
  • Rejection. Focuses on and indulges in feeling rejected, betrayed, criticised, feeling dissapproved, being seen in a negative light, condemned, excluded, and abandoned. Feelings of being caught, shamed, then abandoned.

The addictions to these feelings are unconscious, and are secret addictions. They are the result of unresolved feelings and experiences with one's parents leftover from childhood, then transfered to the people around us. We recycle these old childhood expectations of being denied, deprived, criticised, rejected, and forced to submit in the context of present relationships. Since they have not worked through these feelings, they have secret attachments to them which cause these individuals to repeatedly entangle in experiences that produce these old feelings. These feelings of deprivation, refusal, control, rejection, and so on are like emotional addictions. Most addictive personalities are in complete denial of their emotional addictions, through clever operation of their defense mechanisms.

The Cure:

  • I have free will, and can take care of life's distressing circumstances.
  • I can understand my negative emotions and reactions, and define the deeper feelings which prompted the netative emotions.
  • My present emotional reactions are based on unresolved childhood hurts with parents and siblings, which I am unconsciously tranferring to my wife and kids.
  • The child part of my phyche is controlling my emotions, and while innocent and sweet, he is also self-centered, egotistical, and convinced that others do not have my self-interest at heart. My inner child has misunderstood and misinterpreted my parent's intentions, beliefs and actions. I will learn to tell when I am in child-mode, and when this happens, question why I am in child mode.
  • I am not helpless nor powerless over my addictive behavior once I learn to transfer my past into the present, and to define my feelings toward others, and have gained insight into my self-defeating emotional reactions.
  • I want to change my self-defeating emotional reactions and transcend my addictive identity.
  • Addictive Specialists: Negative influences of parents are responsible for creating addictive personalities. A child is sweet and innocent who is then corrupted by abuse and ignorance, parental domination, undue excercise of power and control, repression of feelings, and violations of a childs sense of self. The last two apply to me.

But this method misses more objective research which reveals that children are completely self-centered, predisposed to misinterpret the actions and intentions of the parent. Children are encumbered by the weaknesses of the parent, and the misinterpretation of the parent's actions and attitudes towards himself. Children personalize their experiences with their parents and siblings, misinterpret them into thinking that others are antagonistic. These emotions and perceptions can linger throughout life.

At the core are the three categories of secret attachments, Deprivation, Control, and Rejection. These are largely unconscious to us. To hide them we have many defences and reactions, which make up part of our personality. Outside of those are the self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors which plague us.

A method for accessing hidden feelings:

  • Think back to a situation that provoked negative feelings. Write down how the situation made me feel. go beneath anger, sadness, etc., to describewhat was done, and how it felt. Try to describe lthe victim feel I experienced.
  • Take this feeling back to the past and describe a childhood situation where I felt the same. If you can't find one, use an adult situation. Is this a common feeling for me?
  • Watch for repeats of this feeling. Do I look of it even when it isn't there? Do I anticipate the feeling? Do I use the situation to wallow in the feeling? Learn to recognize this feeling when it arrives and acknowledge how much it is part of my life.
  • Recollect how I may have perpetuated this feeling with others. How many times have I done this to others? Have I egged soeone on to producing this feeling in me?
  • Describe how I do this to myself. How do I ignore myself and shut myself out?
    Try to sense my attachment to this feeling.

For me, the negative feeling I feel most often is having someone who is supposed to love me turn away, stop caring, and leve me alone. I anticipate it in many ways with Becky, and with the kids, and sometimes expect it when I think I'm vulnerable and all they need to do is be honest and realize I'm not likable.

Earliest core beliefs

I learned something very important this week. Sometimes we can have beliefs about how the world works and about people work and never realize there is anything wrong about them. We have them because we were one or two years old when they formed, and we stopped questioning them by the age of four. These can be all kinds of beliefs. Most hang on through life, though they are modified by later experience and learning, especially in relationships. But a few wrong ones can hang on because they are deep and personal beliefs about how the child relates to the world.

The core belief I had was a simple one: don't trust anyone. I had no faith in anyone. I had no faith that they would do what they said they would do, or that they even meant what they said. I have no idea how this belief was established, nor how early it was there, but it's always been there and has been a very bad influence on my life. I just knew that no one cared enough about me to be reliable. 

Not trusting anyone changes every interaction with others. Think about integrity. We all like to live by the principle of integrity: we do what we say. So what happens to integrity if you don't trust anyone? Mostly you don't care beyond keeping things moving smoothly along. A parent would say, "I love you," but it meant nothing to me because I didn't believe them. A girlfriend would say it, and I'd say it back, mostly because I knew I should, not because I believed that she loved me or felt that I loved her.

Finding these is a tough job. The core of my brain heard it, but since that's what I have always heard it's just the background noise of my thoughts. I knew it was there, but since it's all I ever knew, thought that was normal and that everyone had the same experience. Clearly everyone didn't have the same experience, which is why they were behaving so differently than I was. That was my first and loudest clue, by the way, seeing everyone else behave differently than I did, then concluding that I was the only sane person I knew.

I wasn't. It wasn't until I was in a good and nurturing relationship (Thanks, Becky!) that I could explore those deep crevices of my brain. I'm glad I did. It's made life mean so much more than it used to. Solved a lot of odd behaviors as I tried to mimic emotional honesty without trusting anyone.

Our moral: listen to the noise; it's telling you something important!