A psychoanalysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens very much contains themes of trauma, therapy, and the transformation of healing that can bring about changes.

The story almost takes the same process of self-discovery that takes places in the therapeutic process, and it has a person-centred approach to it with the client being Ebenezer Scrooge. One could say that it is based on the person-centred belief that people are inherently good and creative. They become destructive only when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process.

Carl Rogers (founder of person-centred approach) also believed that humans have one basic motive; that is the tendency to self-actualise, i.e. fulfil one’s potential and achieve the highest level of ‘human-beingness’ we can. This could be said to be true if we take the transformation of a mean, greedy, unempathetic man who changes to be altruistic, generous, regretful, merry, and charitable for the rest of his life, and by doing so fulfilling his purpose in life and his potential as a human being.

Although the Christmas spirit is temporary, the change within Scrooge goes beyond Christmas and is maintained throughout his remaining life. It’s the hope that change and transformation are possible but that it has to come from within. Nothing or nobody was able to change Scrooge but himself; his choice. It is often when the fear of things staying or being the same is greater than any fear that change will come about. Scrooge started to fear the life and consequences should he remain the same, and this propelled him to make a permanent change.

It can be said that, just like a therapist, the role of the ghosts was to be the torch shining the light on the dark parts to enable self-awareness, rediscovery, and resolution. Therapy is about making changes, learning painful things, looking deep within ourselves, and to be true about aspects of ourselves we may not like or that are not serving us well. It’s about having the courage to make the changes for healthier behaviours and to learn to become our authentic selves.

In psychology, Carl Jung stated that our shadow is an unknown part of our personality (negative or positive). In this case, the ghosts are reflecting back to Scrooge the darker aspects of his personality, so that the damage he is causing to self and others through it is consciously brought to the surface where he must confront it. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which perceived personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.

We could say this is the case if we analyse how Scrooge hates the poor, with him stating “Are there no prisons or work-houses for the poor and homeless?”. When the man who asked him for a donation says, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die”, Scrooge comments back “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population”.

The past ghost works with memory and takes what seems like a psychodynamic approach that looks at our childhood stages of life; our unconscious wounds that may have been created and carried on in later adulthood as a result. We all know that childhood adversity can have a great impact on our psyche, especially if no support or secure attachment was to be found in difficult or traumatic events we may have experienced in childhood.

This brings us to the attachment theory which explains how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development. John Bowlby (psychoanalyst), who is known for the attachment theory, suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others because this will help them to survive.

When the ghost of the past brought Scrooge back to his childhood days, we learn that Scrooge had a lonely childhood with themes of abandonment and rejection felt. He was left at a boarding school, and it could be speculated that some form of abuse could have occurred, as many incur negative experiences such as bullying or severe punishments in boarding schools. Generally, they are not known for many happy times by those who have experienced them. The only secure attachment Scrooge seems to have is with his sister who he later loses in death. Scrooge has suppressed this additional trauma, as he says to the ghost “sometimes I forget Fred (nephew) is her son”.

We can see the unresolved pain that still lingers for Scrooge, as he is unable to look at his past for long. He states “Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!”. Also, the book quotes “In the struggle… Scrooge observed that his light was burning high and bright; and dimply connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head”.

Scrooge could be said to be struggling with what he sees, just like clients can feel overwhelmed by the sudden rush of emotions that find them when it comes to feeling and seeing through emotional eyes; painful events that have long taken place that they may have repressed for a reason and which is still a raw wound when awakened.

The person-centred approach can also be seen by the seven stages of Rogerian functioning. It could perhaps be said that like a client may move towards these (seven) stages, during the process with every ghost Scrooge too was taking this journey. We could suggest that with the ghost of the Christmas past, he was at stages one, two, and three.

  • Stage one – The client is very defensive and extremely resistant to change.
  • Stage two – The client becomes slightly less rigid and will talk about external events or other people.
  • Stage three – The client talks about themselves but as an object and avoids discussion of present events.

It is clear that at this stage, Scrooge is by no means looking for, aspiring to, or thinking about change or the possibility and concept of it. However, he connects to his younger self. He has just relived the events of his boyhood when he was left alone at school over Christmas because his father turned against him when his mother died and wanted nothing more to do with his son.

He experiences the sad and lonely feelings he has long repressed, and we can speculate that this hurtful and traumatic event was the reason he may have later developed an antagonistic view of Christmas. He may have not yet come to peace with the event that must have felt like his enemy, bringing him further pain. This could have commenced the pivotal moment when Christmas ceased to represent anything to do with warmth, family, joy, or meeting needs, for his own childhood needs were not met and this could, as we have stated, affected the sentimental aspect of Christmas. Just as with trauma, we make associations to it. It was the Christmas day when all his peers returned home for reunions, gifts, and celebrations that Scrooge was abandoned for as if he was unimportant and had no value.

It can be argued that Scrooge’s unresolved wounds led him to become a cruel, indifferent man. Pain can indeed change us. Throughout this point in his life, we see a younger Scrooge who still possesses the ability to love; a person who is still in touch with his fellow human beings. He wasn’t always the person he became, and he doesn’t have to continue to be the person he is now. It is clear that his hurt turned into bitterness, and his trauma created a fear that turned into an aspiration for money to avoid poverty.

So great was the fear of poverty and the need for money that he neglected his fiancée, who left him for this very reason. One of Scrooge’s moments of connection is when he hears Belle (his former fiancée) describe the man he has become. We see Scrooge affected by this, and he asks the ghost to remove him from the house. Also, at this point, the narrator describes Scrooge’s regret as he sees the daughter of Belle, making him realise that he has missed out on having his own family.

Generosity is a reminder for Scrooge when the ghost (past) takes him to a Christmas party held by his former and first boss – Mr Fezziwig. The event reminds Scrooge how much he loved working for Fezziwig. He describes what made Mr Fezziwig an excellent boss and insists that money wasn’t the source of his employees’ fulfilment. Mr Fezziwig showed generosity of manner in exercising his authority over his employees with kindness.

The present ghost represents clarity and empathy. This is the stage when, in therapy, things are becoming clearer, due to greater self-awareness for the client, and self-compassion is developing and starting to be found.

We can argue that perhaps it was the fear of poverty that negatively led Scrooge to take on the destructive qualities of greed and selfishness very much encouraged by the world around him. The childhood trauma that created this fear is almost symbolic in the representation of the two emancipated children (under the robe of the ghost), named ignorance and want (entitlement), which lead to the destruction of humanity and the world. The lesson here is that society should and must take care of the problems of ignorance and want, for the good of everyone.

Scrooge connects to his humanity when the ghost tells him that Tiny Tim will die unless the course of events changes. The counselling skill of reflection is also used here by the ghost, who reflects back to Scrooge his own words regarding Tiny Tim – he “better do it (die) and decrease the surplus population”. This powerful tool of reflection makes Scrooge see how heartless, inaccurate, ignorant, and abusive that statement was.

Scrooge is now progressing to stages four and five.

  • Stage four – The client begins to talk about deep feelings and develops a relationship with the therapist.
  • Stage five – The client can express present emotions, is beginning to rely more on their decision-making abilities, and increasingly accepts more responsibility for their actions.

Scrooge is in the process of slowly coming to an understanding that his actions will need to change and is seeing the consequences of this not happening. He is more willing to talk to the ghost of Christmas present than he was with the ghost of Christmas past.

The future ghost represents fears; the fears that are keeping us stuck but also the fear that leads to change, which is the fear of the death of self (emotionally and psychologically) or our death (physically) if we continue on the same path.

It’s when the fear of this happening is greater than the fear of anything else that change can be prompted. It’s also the death of parts of us we held on too, such as surviving mechanisms that served us but no longer do. It’s a rebirth and transformation, just like the phoenix.

This fear can be seen when Scrooge sees everyone rejoicing and showing no emotion for his death. He sobs at this point, pleading for change. He has come to fear the prospect of being the very person he became, the fact that he became the very person he hated. We could say that it speaks of the courage to acknowledge parts of ourselves that are painful to acknowledge; the part of us that we may be ashamed off or that is not pretty; the courage to change, as this can be scary, and the courage to make better choices and break generational trauma patterns.

By the end of the process, we see stages six and seven starting to take place.

  • Stage six – The client shows rapid growth toward congruence and begins to develop unconditional positive regard for others. This stage signals the end for the need for formal therapy (Scrooge is no longer in need of the ghosts).
  • Stage seven – The client is a fully functioning, self-actualised individual who is empathic and shows unconditional positive regard for others. This individual can relate their previous therapy to present day real-life situations (Scrooge has self-actualised, reaching his full potential as a person and putting into place all that he has learned about himself and all that he has become aware off).

To summarise, during the process, Scrooge was able to reconnect to not only his feelings that had been suppressed and repressed for many years but also to connect with an authentic self and others. Trauma causes disconnection, and it is through the healing process that we learn to reconnect.

By resolving old wounds Scrooge has freed himself from his chains. This is symbolic of how we can become our own worst enemies and how those chains (inability to change) can hold us down. Jacob Marley’s ghost (Scrooge’s mean employer) warns Scrooge that this will be his fate if change doesn’t occur. It is also a lesson that we can learn from other mistakes to reach our full potential.

Scrooge’s relationship with his father is one that reflects the author Charles Dickins’ conflicting feelings towards his father in real life. The theme of the father is also carried out with the fact that Scrooge becomes a second father to Tiny Tim, and this is also almost symbolising the parenting to his inner child. Furthermore, Mr Fezziwig (Scrooge’s first employer) treated him as a father.

The key element in the story is empathy; people are often ignorant of actual suffering, not trauma-informed, and are unable to comprehend the suffering of others unless they walk in their shoes or see life as the other person. To have empathy for others, we must also come to have empathy for our pain, as Scrooge did before he was able to give it to others. At the end of the story, Scrooge was fulfilled by changing his attitude and becoming a kind person. Also, he learned that making others happy is a reward in itself, beginning with the anonymous gesture of purchasing the largest turkey for the Cratchit family.

To conclude, the story also highlights how Christmas can be a difficult and challenging time for those financially struggling, lonely, or suffering due to their pain, and calls out for us to consider this and make sure that we do not forget those less fortunate.

In our world today, this is still very relevant. Let us remember the homeless, the elderly who are forgotten about without family, the orphaned children, those who have fled domestic violence, the ones who are in unloving and abusive homes with no way out, the ones fighting depression, the terminally ill celebrating what could be their last Christmas with loved ones, the soldiers unable to return back home, the immigrant trying to survive war and make it alive when crossing over borders, those that have lost loved ones, a pet or a child…

The message for the need to help those who are in need is as strong as it was then. The message that we are still living in a traumatised world, with traumatised people, and that greed and ignorance are still some of the things leading to this.

No, to couples counselling when domestic violence/abuse is the issue

I’m writing this after having presented a presentation on domestic violence/abuse for the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) in 2018, and having brought this important point to the table, on this very event.

I was distressed to learn that people in the field of counselling and psychotherapy and working with survivors still challenged this and disagreed, regardless they hear from survivors and victims themselves why this is dangerous, when many other voices have spoken and research carried out  raising awareness of the dangers.

I was told that they were in the domestic abuse field, for twenty years and thought they were clever to challenge a survivor and professional myself who had experience of how it is from a survivors point of view. (Having my own personal experience of domestic violence and abuse). It really concerned me they would still believe this dangerous myth, after so many years in practice an after so many years where we should know better.  I was also concerned at how they were not prepared to grow and learn but to continue to put others at risk.

This is a profession where we strive to better ourselves professionally and personally, where professional development and personal development is a part of our work and where it is our responsibility to keep our clients safe and feeling safe as much as we can and in our control. I explained my reason and stuck to my guns and I will be explaining my reasons here in the hope that others may learn and take from this.

Couples counselling is for problems and issues that occur in a ‘romantic’ relationship but if a partner is being abusive and domestic abuse is present, then this isn’t about a couple’s problem, this is about an abuse problem. This isn’t something to work out together, this only puts the blame on the victim and takes away the responsibility from who should be held accountable; the abuser.

Abuse is an abuse problem, it is not a relationship problem. 

The victim isn’t doing anything to cause it, abusers cause it with their mental attitudes and beliefs based on abuse and their desire for power and control.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and will seduce professionals and make themselves out to be the victim. Professionals themselves can be manipulated and deceived and especially if they are not aware to recognise these tactics. A victim of abuse will still be under the control and fear the abuser in the same room with them and will say all is okay and fine to point the counsellor or therapist may believe this and that all has been successful. The victim cannot feel safe and cannot speak candidly or without restrictions. It can also place them at greater risk, because abusers punish their victims for speaking out or defying them. Another example, is that it could create a false sense of safety and security for the victim, who feels able to disclose things having the therapist present feeling safe, but once out of the counselling room the abuser will take back their power and control by punishing them for that disclosure.

Couple counselling takes away the focus on the problem which is abuse, and suggests that the victim somehow contributes to this, many victims already blame themselves and the abuser brainwashes them into believing that it is them and their fault and so the therapist or counsellor meaning to or not, encourages this and gives the abuser an added reason to use as evidence. The abuser may turn to their victim and say: ‘See! Even the therapist thinks and says you’re the blame.’ This not only takes the attention away from the abuser but helps keep them in a state of denial of their own abusive behaviours.

It enables abuse and keeps victims stuck in their abuse and further feeling unsafe and that nobody understands and that nobody will help. Why are we forcing anyone to have to stay and work things out when their lives depend on it, their well-being depends on it? This is like asking rape victims to marry their rapists.

It can also be hard for therapists or counsellors to feel comfortable challenging the abuse or if seduced they may see the perpetrator as the victim, such failure then to directly confront abuse or the abuses will only contribute to minimisation and denial.

Counselling must be done separately, the victim should be supported and offered this not to be blamed, but to have her pain validated, to help her gain back her sense of worth and self esteem that has been effected, to help her explore her feelings and help her to gain back self compassion and recognise the tactics abusers use, support them with boundaries and to let them know that in no way did they cause the abuse or are at fault.

Abusive partners who want to change (it is rare that they do, due to the privileges they derive for it, but change is possible, however, it must come from them wanting it not because we want them too), have access to programs themselves.

These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although they can be referred to by other names. They focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

A culture of gaslightening people into staying with toxic family members

We live in a culture that places family before anything and whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is wrong when other realities are not considered and denied and when this is valued above an individual’s well-being and their right to cut off or distance themselves from a family member(s) that is toxic.

In my work, I have come across many children that have grown into adults injured by a parent, both or another family member and who already carry guilt and shame that isn’t theirs to bare. I have witnessed the injuries first hand and listened to the challenges and struggles it brings.

Before we begin to explore this further, we need to first understand, what is gas lightening? We need to understand this, because when we silence victims, with, but it’s family! You can’t walk away from family! How can you do that to your family? You must forgiven them…(fill in the blank), what we are doing is gas lightening.

Wikipedia describes it as:  “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem”.

Cognitive dissonance is a term to describe, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. An example of this is knowing something is bad for us but still wanting it. Example, knowing smoking is bad for us (cognitive) and then still taking the action to do so (dissonance). Due to the fact certain truths can lead to a feeling of mental discomfort we alternate our thoughts, behaviours, attitudes or beliefs in order to reduce this discomfort and restore balance. Therefore, it is when inconsistency can be found within us and a mental conflict is occurring.

Gaslightening not only as victims question their own judgement and reality but then also has people stuck in the cycle of cognitive dissonance and serve to keep others in their mental prison. To have pain invalidated is a form of violence.

So let’s go on to see what we mean by family, because words such match their meanings and family is more than just the word itself. Words need to be used accurately to have meaning.

What is family?

Family is more than just DNA, blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family. Family doesn’t mean others owe us, we are not bad if we walk away or cut contact with toxic family members even if this is a parent/caregiver or parents/caregivers. We are nobodies possessions and we are not objects.

One needs to earn trust and respect it is not given because someone is simply a parent to us. Relationships are not one sided and love is not being ‘loved’ by what we do rather than who we are. Love isn’t control, family shouldn’t be about being controlled. People don’t get a right to mistreat us and a free pass to do this and get out of jail card because they are ‘family’. Titles need to be earned and people need to represent the meaning of such titles or else it means nothing, blood isn’t always thicker than water. It doesn’t automatically give them a licence to kill. Emotional abuse can and does kill, not being seen, heard kills, isolation which is what this leads too kills, being silenced kills and we need to stop silencing and shaming people.

It takes immense courage and intelligence to break generational patterns and unhealthy cycles. Individuals should be empowered and encouraged to have these rights, they are modelling boundaries and healthy behaviours and self care and taking action to put these in place and have these in place and that’s never wrong. It’s not an easy choice to separate form what is meant to be the people that are our first love object(s). It is excruciatingly painful to accept that we were never loved, protected, wanted, respected by those closest to us, by who was meant to be our everything and who where the blueprint to how we would then see the world, others and ourselves.

Whilst family is important and whilst a  parent and child bond especially with mothers are seen as being unbreakable and strong, the truth is, this is not always the case. Mothers can be toxic and cause harm and destruction to their child/ren with their behaviours. It doesn’t automatically mean a person is good or great because they have given birth. I am not talking about mothers who love their child/ren but suffer from post-natal depression and find it hard to bond with their child and connect, I am not talking about women who have the right not to want a child/ren or like children much but that respect and cause no harm. I am talking about individuals who purposely manipulate and have caused suffering to their child/ren.

Where victims of this, have to grieve a loss of childhood, a loss of a parent(s) they will never have, a loss of their choices, loss of self esteem, loss of self worth, loss of their authentic selves and identity, loss of security and safety.

Where family sees them as the black sheep when they assert their rights for respect, boundaries, to be treated with dignity and where constantly they are forced into conforming and living in fear of judgement or punishment. Where society and people keeps them stuck because they are seen as the bad one for family is everything. Family isn’t disrespect, abuse, manipulation, betrayal, or abandonment (abandonment meaning emotionally not just physically).

I hate how society shames children into staying, loving, forgiving parents that have failed them in ways that were in their control and how this allows that parent(s) to feel like they have done no wrong and never be held accountable and how other family members may support the toxic parent. When said parent(s) fail their own children, and don’t care about the damage they inflict or have. Aspects such as disrespect, lack of support, attention, and protection are silent killers that often accompany victims in their adult lives as wounds and scars. Even with a sad and pathetic sorry, when sorry is said and actions never change, those wounds don’t heal easily and go deep.

Just because you may have had loving parent’s who have died and this is valid pain and heartbreaking no doubts about it, but don’t emotionally blackmail those of us who need to break away from toxic parents by guilting us to forgive or say how lucky we are to still have a parent(s), we never did, and old or not, we don’t owe to protect them because of their age when they didn’t protect us when we were of a vulnerable age or even adults that were not taught to protect ourselves and never were offered protection.

This only fuels self-gaslightening for survivors and only serves to keep them stuck and feeling helpless trapped into this labyrinth of dysfunctional patterns. Survivors should not be expected to tolerate this, to go along with this and enable this, society should not make it so this is being enabled and people who care about us should not ask us to betrayal and sacrifice ourselves and well-being in the name of so called “family”.

The only people we need to love, protect and rescue is ourselves not our toxic parent(s).

This is not to say that everyone must break all ties, this decision is an individual one and each person and situation will be different. Only that person knows what is best for them and can make that decision and they have a right to decide whatever suits them best.

But it does mean that boundaries need to be put in place and if someone’s behaviour isn’t changing or has, then partial or complete separation needs to be placed. If patterns don’t change and are repeated, it is no longer a mistake but part of someone’s chosen behaviour. Nobody can love someone into changing abusive behaviour, because the problem isn’t you. This may mean seeing someone less, having contact in ways that feel safer and total separation if this is needed.

Your psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical well-being is imperative and remember that emotional abuse is just as destructive on it’s own and causes physical damage because there is a direct link with emotions and our bodies and stress and trauma all happen there in our nervous system that is then interlinked to all other systems in our body.

Love doesn’t require us to set ourselves on fire in order to keep who is hurting us warm. Attachment doesn’t equal connection, trauma bonds don’t equal love.

We need to prioritise victims, not shame them, not enable family to continue to be dysfunctional and destructive and not allow them the means to do this and the privilege all because of DNA and the relationship this creates. Nobody chooses their family, but they can chose who is family and who deserves to be in their life or not. Abuse cannot be justified.

Beauty in imperfection

Many times, perfectionism can arise from conditions of worth. It’s perfectly normal to want to do something to our best abilities, to have standards and believe in quality. This is healthy, what isn’t healthy is when we give ourselves the task to achieve the unrealistic expectations we may hold, to chase perfection when there is no such thing and to use punitive or critical judgements on ourselves if we fall short of this.

So, what are conditions of worth and how are they formed? Carl Rogers (the founder of person centred approach), describes conditions of worth as the conditions we think we need to meet in order for us to be accepted by others, these develop in childhood when we may learn that certain things we do please our parents, caregivers or other adults.

An example is, schools shame us from an early age by not taking into account child development stages or being trauma informed and from a very flawed and archaic system. It judges us and grades us, and we are defined by this.

As Albert Einstein says, “You can’t judge a fish by how well it climbs a tree”.

Parents and caregivers may praise children when they ‘succeed’, this approval may be addictive, if approval lacks in other areas, the child may feel they have worth only as long as they ‘achieve’ academically.

Society and its messages especially in the media or to sell, work on conditions of worth. Girls in particular from a young age are conditioned to base their worth on their appearance and later on in life on how well they can attract or please men. Our worth is seen to lie on how wealthy we are, as this is seen as what is means to be successful and what is desirable.

Perfectionism tends to stem form the wound that is caused by shame and the belief that we are never enough. The void of emptiness that we feel we must fill in order to be worthy. The problem is that it can get addictive and like addictions we need a ‘fix’ a fix that is short lived and then the downward spiral and cycle starts again, because ‘success’ is short lived and until that emptiness isn’t filled by ourselves and within rather than by chasing external things to validate us, we will never be free.

Bullying is another life experience that can cause this, especially if our appearance is mocked. Plastic surgery and beauty products all condition us to believe that we are never beautiful enough, we are not okay as we are. The truth is, someone will always be smarter, younger, more beautiful but that doesn’t mean we have any less value or that beauty is not within us. We are all beautiful, worthy and unique in our own way. We can embrace our flaws and see the beauty that can be found in imperfection. Being human, real and authentic is not something to be ashamed us, it is natural raw beauty.

Let’s explore how imperfections can be seen for the beautiful things that they can represent.

Many times, when people have suffered great emotional pain such as trauma or a break down, they may develop the erroneous belief that they are ‘broken’. People are often seen as needing ‘fixing’. People are neither broken or need fixing but when we may feel less then, try to think of the Japanese art of Kintsugi (golden joinery) or Kinsukuroi (golden repair) which is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with gold. The philosophy is that the broken pottery is seen as being valuable and its history is not something to be ashamed off, therefore by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. These so-called flaws or imperfections do not mean we have less value, we can find beauty even in the ‘broken’.

Persian rugs, Turkish carpets (and Navajo weaving customs) are weaved with a mistake, this mistake is done deliberately, and the imperfection is embraced to create the beautiful rugs and carpets that are created. They are not any less beautiful or valuable. It’s important that we don’t attach our worth on external things and that we cultivate our own self-love where we can learn to love and accept ourselves for who we are and how we look like, this doesn’t mean we have to like everything, it doesn’t mean we will, but it does mean that we can still see our beauty and value regardless.

Many people are perfectionisms because they may feel that they are lowering their standards if not striving for perfectionism, but perfectionism and striving for excellence are not to be confused. One is a based on quality and realistic and the other does not exist and even hinders the flow and beauty of our creativity. In addition, as we can have seen there is beauty in mistakes, think of inventions that were the results of mistakes. Without those mistakes they would not be discovered. Enjoy and trust in the process.

As for who we are, we are only loved when we are accepted and loved for us not for who someone else wants us to be. That is control not love and transactional ‘love’, you are ‘loved’ on the bases of who someone what’s you to be or for what you do. Nobody is perfect nor should we ever be expected to be. We can be lovable as we are.

Only when we strip ourselves of conditions of worth and find self-acceptance can we be free from the shackles of perfectionism

Emotional wounds also bleed

Abandonment for a child can feel like the threat of a horrid death or death sentence. Abandonment isn’t limited to parents leaving us as babies, it’s also not being heard or seen by caregivers, its caregivers being emotionally absent and emotionally neglectful which results in us being starved of our emotional needs which are just as important as food and shelter and physical things we need growing up. It can be when we are abused as children for any form of abuse is a form of abandonment. It can be the death of a loved one, the absence of a parent or caregiver, divorce. It can be feeling rejected and experiencing rejection.

In fact, rejection hurts just as much as physical pain because the same area of the brain that reacts to physical pain also reacts to emotional pain and particularly with serious and devastating forms of feeling rejected but also ‘minor’ rejections. The level of the pain is not perceived by the event but how it affects and is interpreted by the receiver, what could feel like a ‘minor’ rejection for one person can be devastating for another. All cause pain and injury. This is why being ignored can cause one of the most painful of feelings.

If negative experiences in childhood from caregivers are experienced and then rejection or betrayals continue from friends and relationships in later life, the wound and injuries only become bigger and bigger and the pain harder to control as it gets more overwhelming and paralysing.

This affects trust, trust in ourselves, the world and others. Once trust is shattered it is hard to give, because even if we want to trust and offer this, we don’t have it, especially if so many people have hurt us and even more if by those closest to us that we were meant to trust and be safe with.

When we are bullied or ignored or ostracised by others or don’t ‘fit’ in, this affects our sense of belonging. It may feel like the whole world is rejecting us. Our self-esteem and worth then gets eroded and we can become punitive and critical of ourselves or find it hard to let love in because we have come to see ourselves as unlovable, unworthy and even defective. We may have been compared to others and if so,  we may have come to believe we are not enough. So now we either shut people out or become people pleasers to gain others approval.

If not treated those wounds stay open and get infected, if we have had to stitch them up ourselves, the stitches might not have been tight enough and so when someone injuries us again the wound rips open and gets infected all over again. This can spread to other areas of our lives and endanger them.

It can result in feelings of inferiority complex where you feel threatened by making yourself vulnerable or of feeling inferior to others especially if this is all one may have ever felt or known. It all stems from not being or feeling safe and if we have never felt safe, how can we know how to feel safe even when we are in a safe situation? We must learn new ways that start with connecting to our bodies for our gut instinct is found in our bodies and this is the radar that keeps us safe and alerts us. Trauma and stress is stored in our bodies and emotions are felt in our bodies so connecting to our bodies is key. Mind, body and soul are interconnected not separate.

Many times, life and people seem to hurt us in the same area, weakening us. A stab wound cannot heal if we keep getting stabbed in the same place.

Our responses can seem like over exaggerations to others, we can be perceived as too sensitive or of having odd reactions but an odd reaction is an old reaction. We are simply being triggered but because emotional injuries are invisible to the human eye and especially in a world that does everything to conceal it and ignore it, including ourselves, it goes unnoticed that someone can be profoundly bleeding (emotionally) whilst looking ‘normal’.

Think of a person who has been physically abused, if someone even gets angry as an innocent response or raises a hand even to say hi, these can trigger a survival response and seen as threats, the person who has been hurt in the past, is programmed to detect danger, they will get ready to defend themselves from the anger, they will see the innocent gesture of a raised hand as one that is about to strike them. Emotional injuries work in the same way and people can react to emotional flashbacks, which means when they emotionally feel a feeling related to having been hurt or abused, they react in the same way as if that threat were immediate and real. These responses are as natural as when we burn ourselves and we immediately retrieve our hand away from what is causing us the threat and pain.

In trauma the part of our brain that detects dangers becomes faulty and is overactive, meaning it will go off like a smoke alarm does, when toast is burned or the house on fire. It will not stop to think as thinking can get us killed, it will just act on what is seen as a threat. Emotionally this can also be what may threaten our ego, such as when in a relationship we may become jealous of our partner’s past lovers. even when we are loved.

Dr. Mario Martinez (also a Biocognition,) states that we can be wounded in three ways: Shame, Abandonment, and Betrayal.

He goes on to say, when your wound is shame, you feel fear, pain, and embarrassment. When your wound is abandonment, you feel fear, pain, and isolation.  When you wound is betrayal, you feel fear, pain, and anger. The healing field for Shame is Honour. The healing field for Abandonment is Commitment. The healing field for Betrayal is Loyalty.

Shame can become toxic and it’s a very powerful emotion to heal from. Shame is when we believe we are defective, shame says: I am bad, I am wrong. Many times, toxic shame is given to us just like low self-esteem is, nobody is born with a poor sense of self or shame. Many times, we have been made to feel this way and we can then take these false beliefs to mean they are the truth and they can then become part of us and in turn we can carry the legacy of abuse of rejection by abandoning and betraying ourselves. Especially in abuse we are programmed to betray ourselves we are made to do this.

Many self defence mechanisms develop for our survival, they served us at some point but later in life no longer do and threaten our very being and relationship with self and others or see us on a path of self-destruction and self-sabotage.

In the book: Healing the scars of Emotional abuse by Gregory L. Jantz PH.D. he perfectly articulates the damaging effects of emotional abuse.

“When you view life as unstable, anxiety, tension and fear result. When you are constantly vigilant to the behaviour of others, hypersensitivity and hostility result. When you learn to second-guess yourself, confusion and feelings of disconnection result. When nothing you do ever seems to be right, insecurity, guilt and shame result. When others tell you that you are always wrong, indecision and inaction result. When you stop having the energy to fight it all, apathy and depression result. When you have finally had it, rage results. When you never seem to receive fairness, justice is all you think about. When you have been hurt by those you love, love is viewed as a risk. When living is painful, addictions are acceptable because they numb the pain. When the mind is a jumble of emotional chaos, the body and its systems break down. When your inner turmoil produces outer stress, your current relationships are endangered. When you can’t control your negative emotions, you become the very person you hate. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that emotional abuse isn’t damaging”.

Emotional pain can be the hardest to heal from. It is felt at the core of our being. We must grieve, we must feel that pain, we must allow ourself this grieving process, let the tears out, let the screams of pain out and facing such soul destroying pain can feel like a threat itself; it can feel like going to war.

Trauma shatters us from within, like the shattering of a glass, sometimes we can glue pieces back or like melted gold we can make something else that is beautiful out of the loss. Either way trauma is a loss and we are changed but that doesn’t mean that we cannot create ourselves again, that we lose our worth or that we are destroyed to the point of no return. It requires us to be born again, like birth it can come with complications and it can feel painful even excruciatingly unbearable but the moment we are born again we can be filled with love for our new selves. During our transformation we have to treat ourselves with the same self-care and love as if we were a pregnant woman. We must be patient and love the new being that is growing within us. We can fall in love with the new us that is given life again and we can treat ourselves with the same love, care, devotion as we would a  new-born child because we are just as valuable, just as worthy for existing and because we can never get back what we lost or the life we should have had, but we can start from now and we can emerge from the ashes. Nobody says it’s easy, but it is possible.

 

Poem: Trauma

Trauma is a wound,
An injury to the mind, soul, body and heart,
Distributed memories scattered apart.
Fragmentation occurs, like an explosion blowing everything to pieces, not knowing if reality or dreams are the reasons to feelings.
Doubt and confusion occur, feelings of going mad, not knowing where you stand, sometimes nobody there to reach out a hand.
Dissociation follows, stalking the mind, trying to find an escape, surviving the experiences that were too painful, the mind for this rest is grateful.
Overwhelming emotions too much to bare, flashbacks follow as a way of the mind trying itself to repair, yet with it comes great despair.
Nothing is clear at first, it makes no sense, or we are suddenly brought back in the torturous cell.
Trauma is a wound or more, inflected upon many aspects of our being, one of the hardest journey’s of healing.
If the wound is left to bleed, we are in danger of no longer being here, it brings a lot of fear.
If stitched with feeble thread, its vulnerable to be ripped apart, again causing a bleeding heart.
If left open to fester, it will get infected and the hurt will spread, it absorbs dreaded germs, this can happen when our voices and pain are not heard.
When the trauma is minimised or dismissed when failing to notice how deep the wound is, goes amiss.
Coping strategies develop, self medication develops to silence sensations, addictions are born; they like our abusers are our saviours and tormenters, the wound gets even more tender.
Trapped in a labyrinth of suffering and pain, reliving things over and over again.
Shutting off and repressing it all, trying to slam that door.
Trauma is a war that’s why we get post traumatic stress, to come out alive at the other end is more than a success. It is a miracle of the human soul, the commitment to keep up the fight, even when many times we fall apart, when the bleeding continues in every part.
Psychomatic reactions are felt, the memories stored in the body, and to explain the reason there is nobody.
Trauma is a wound on the human spirit, it has an amazing ability to heal, we need to support those who are hurt. They have many layers of pain to be cleansed, like an onion those layers need to be one by one peeled and much support is needed if trauma victims are ever to heal. They are survivors of life, the injury the greatest to be inflicted, their abusers should be convicted.
©Antonella Sofia Zottola

The shadow

A dark shadow hoovered above me, at first I thought it was my shadow, it kept following me everywhere, and then it occurred  to me that a shadow disappears in the dark but even in the dark I could still make out its presence. It would take me down, it grew stronger in time and always pinned me down. It grew and became more powerful and nobody ever knew what I had to do to make it through every day, with this shadow hoovering over me all day. They were oblivious and ignorant, too blind to see, I became a skilled actor wearing a smile as my prop, playing the so called normal human who never could be touched by pain and sorrow. This isolation allowed the shadow to engulf me, I was dependent on it, it became my companion, my misery. It was getting harder for me to make it leave.

One day it spoke to me, told me that it was called depression, it also went by names as having the blues, the black dog…it said that its aim was to break me down, to make me feel in despair, that for friendship with me it didn’t care. It threatened me that the world would not understand, that it would ostracise me and label me crazy, lazy, a freak and weak.

That my suicidal despair would be classified as attention seeking, selfish, off my rocket and mad. That it had me where it wanted and if I told, others would see me as this, I would lose my dignity and their respect, they wouldn’t see the human suffering that I felt. That nobody cared and I’d be punished that death was better than being humiliated.

I started to see that society didn’t see my shadow but it engaged in victim blaming. It made me feel more despair, it wounded me with its stigma and preconceptions, it made me worse with its lack of empathy and understanding.

Then one day I grew angry, who was society and others to judge and inflict more pain? To feed the shadow and reassure and strengthen its stay?

I started to speak out and fight and challenge all this with all my might.

I grew stronger when I learned to ditch the fear, it was time that I got over being scared of the dark, the dark this world leaves others in and realised that empathy and compassion can drive out the dark, that when now sunnier days are out the shadow might still be there, but it doesn’t cause harm no more, defeating depression happens when we learn to reach out to those in pain, and never make them feel alone again. We all want to be saved, stigmatising us will bring no change.

© Antonella Zottola

Poem: Domestic Violence

Fear of abandonment, low self worth, wanting the cure to kill loneliness and more. Dependent on anyone to ease the pain, an emotional painkiller that can’t be found, in agony your soul drowns.
Wanting to feel loved, for approval and acceptance, burning with the pain, someone is going to play a horrid game. The water and tides get high you are reaching out for anything to keep you afloat, even if it’s not what and who you’d want. You grab manure if it keeps you afloat, drink polluted water if it keeps you from the thirst, eat the mouldy food if it stops you dying from hunger, emotional needs are just as strong.
Predator smells the fear, the vulnerability and sees the sadness and the un-shed tears. A perfect target they see, to be found, to control at will, manipulating love and needs to justify what they do, you have been caught and once fed, led to the slaughter house to be tortured and eventually killed, psychologically if not physically.
Smiles your way and enters the opened door, seeks out those vulnerabilities to cause extra injuries and more. Holds you hostage without a gun; with manipulation, hatred, and in making you weaker and weaker finds jubilation.
Feeding on your needs, your hunger for belonging in a world unsafe, you are alone in this isolated cave. Abuse starts so gradually and slow, confusion and entrapment, caught in the quick sand of abuse, swallowing you whole, your escape isn’t easy, trapped in a situation so complex and dangerous, sink, rise or die, remain calm and survive.
Learn their every move, to defeat the enemy or else you lose. Everybody judges, you’re in the wrong, bad boys is what you want, you’re crazy, a liar, attention seeking, too sensitive and a whore, you made your bed now lie in it, nobody has compassion or sees your value, the message is break the silence no more you are not worthy or have the right to be safe, you’re the one that made the mistake. You deserve it, you’re bad, you need to be perfect and even then there is wrong in that. Extra lies from more toxic people unable to hear your story and pain, unable to help you set yourself free, they keep you trapped and then ask why didn’t you just leave?
It echo’s the messages of the abuser;” you did this, you asked for this, you deserve it, nobody will believe you, you’re crazy, you stupid bitch….” No win situation is what you’re in.
Everything you do to survive will go against you and scrutinised, you might as well be dead. In loneliness and pain in this dungeon you stay, every day it gets harder to escape, traumatic bonding are the new chains that hold you down, no key is to be found.
Screaming doesn’t help; you’re all alone with the devil in hell. You no longer know who you are, the identity you had is long gone, your worth is dead, and there is nothing left but an empty shell. So hungry you eat and enjoy the crumbs, for they give you relief for a while, at time compliance and submission frees you from further pain, better days and ‘kindness’ make you forget reality for a while, maybe it will end is what you have to keep telling yourself to survive, sacrifices you endlessly make.
But behold a new fear emerges, that of dying all alone, killed by their very hands, like the assassination of your soul, staying will get you dead, a fear that has you being brave like never before, you head straight for that door. No looking back as you run and keep on running, bleeding from within, escaping the horrors that you were locked in.
Alas, you’re free, but this is just the beginning, as reality sinks in, the horrors that now become intense and deep. Building a life and recovery takes time, no longer can you hide behind denial, you are faced with the horrific truth, abuse is traumatic and fatal; you feel burning shame and to blame, nobody understands the complexity, the dynamics at play, they point the finger and the blame.
How more isolated can you feel? Abuse is fatal and it’s real.
Education is needed, awareness the key, without it and action we can’t be free.
© Antonella Zottla
For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

Revolution

Walking dead infected by the deadly virus of patriarchy, oppression, slavery, exploitation, prisoners of societal control, conditioning and expectations, decaying in this controlled system begging for liberation. Rats in a cage, society the experimental lab, turning the world mad. In this cage we age, losing track of the days. Stuck in useless education, jobs that exploit us throughout the nation. Manipulated into the system, threatened with the power others have, the hierarchy  of capitalism and corruption, leaders with no conscious or emotions. Domination, where selfish greed and sociopathic tendencies are cause of celebration. Manipulated puppets on a string, our egos stroked is what we need, victims of the mental games, living one big useless game. Busy lifestyles no room to live, slaves to the system is for what we live. Misogyny keeping women second best, violence on them it sheds, hatred spreading and the world is consumed by the deadly plague spreading. Infecting humanity with its deadly poison, infecting minds that are going through corrosion. Terrorism, wars, crimes of hate, waking up to life when it’s too late.
Bleeding souls, empty souls, infected souls, screaming souls, to this disease we sell our souls.
Watching life pass us by, too late, we are not ready to say goodbye. Lives stolen one way or another, people betraying themselves, stolen lives, the disease either steals your soul or makes you kill your body or identity, society is the host that invades it with it’s destructive notions, it makes people feel inadequate and incomplete, creating struggles to accept who we are within. Taking away choices it tries, vulnerabilities rise, time is taken from our lives in many ways it claims our souls before we die.
Homes that can’t be brought, poverty and even with jobs being broke. A desolate world, starving its people of food, love, water, self acceptance, freedom and justice. Living for others and not ourselves, ruled by oppression this world isn’t fair. In our sweat we soak, in our blood we sit, robots to society unable to function or sleep. Survival every day, on us society preys.
We need a revolution, to find our voices and take power back, humanity is what society lacks. We need to challenge what it lacks, know that what we are taught are lessons that have lacked. We need to break the shackles to set us free, to reclaim back our life, a revolution is what we need in life. Standing together we are strong, we can mend the wrongs.
Fighting for our souls, let’s be the antidote to the disease, no longer the walking dead, with brains that rot, lets take back the life that society wants to be forgot. Let’s rebel against the system for better change, let’s be the change ourselves, for the revolution starts within, change starts with us, revolutionise our ways we must.
The battle starts within, to combat the attacks of this virus all around, let’s unite all around. Let’s break free from this oppressive society and live in freedom and peace and humanity.
Let’s spread our wings and fly, no longer absorbing all the lies. Manipulated to do another’s will, when will this power be killed? When will we control our fate? Let’s not hesitate to act before it’s too late. We only get one life; to be controlled is not a life. For our human rights let us now stand.

© Antonella Zottola

The Nature of Codependency

My analogy of co-dependency which is people pleasing is being like X-Men character Mystique. In the sense not that one takes or can take the physical shape and appearance of another but in the sense that as co-dependents we shift ourselves to accommodate others, we base our identities on mirroring others, on being who they want us to be or we think they want us to be.

We create and live through a false self because we allow others to define us, we shift ourselves for approval. If I’m who someone wants me to be or like them, I don’t risk rejection and abandonment. I can be loved; I will be seen as enough. I can only be seen this way; I can only be heard if I don’t speak my truth but agree with others. I can only be accepted if I’m everything but me.

Codependency is the reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. The need to be perfect and defined by others. It’s a loss of control and giving away our power. It’s a loss of our authenticity, our potential, our values, our morals, our boundaries… In fact, the absence of boundaries plays a pivotal role and the fear of setting them, this is why co-dependent people later in life are at risk of ending up being taken advantage off and further abused, not because it’s their fault but because others chose to abuse them by exploiting these very vulnerabilities. In addition, co-dependents fear that having boundaries make them bad or selfish because many times as children they were shamed for having their needs or denied their rights.

Gabor Mate said children need two things; authenticity and attachment.

What happens in codependency is that authenticity is sacrificed for attachment.

In the fear of being abandoned by others, the result is that we sacrifice our own needs and self-love and abandon ourselves.

Co-dependent people don’t have a solid sense of who they are, because co-dependency is a natural reaction to trauma that develops in the formative years and childhood and is due to having experienced developmental trauma. Trauma or abuse robs us of our sense of self amongst other things. Many times it wasn’t okay to be ourselves, to be a child with needs and curiosity and test boundaries and be dependent and needing of nurture, the messages we received were; you are not okay as you are, you are too much, you are not enough, you cannot be accepted or loved for being you, you are not valuable, you’re not lovable…these messages can be subtle and don’t even need to be verbally made. When a child fears these things, they feel rejected and fear being abandoned. For a child abandonment is like murder. Co-dependency develops as a survival strategy, because children are dependent on survival by the adults. These patterns don’t just automatically vanish when someone turns of age. Being an adult is more than just about age.

These patterns follow us into adult relationships, many times seeing us end up in abusive relationships. The trauma response that co-dependency falls into is the fawn response.

The ‘please‘ or ‘fawn‘ response is an often overlooked survival mechanism to a traumatic situation, experience or circumstance. As any survival response; like flight, fight or freeze, a please or fawn response is to manage a state of danger or potential danger.

We may have learned that if as children we utilised the fight response and challenged our parents or protested their mistreatment of us, it only led us to being or feeling punished. This robs us of our assertive skills and silences us into subservience and submission. It also does one of the most destructive things ever that others utilise later in life to hurt us and that’s it deletes our ability to say no, to the point the word no loses all existence. This is why it’s hard for co-dependents to say no, to set boundaries and why they fear doing so will occur a negative action or response. Flight really isn’t much of an option since children depend on the adults in their lives and can’t just easily run away and some go into the freeze response where they dissociate from their toxic environment or people around them.

Many co-dependents were parentified in childhood. Parentification is also linked to childhood trauma and often made invisible just like the child may feel. It occurs when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, where the child has to step up as the caretaker, mediator, or protector of the family. It is a form of mental abuse and boundary violation.  Again, we see that a codependent has grown up in a dysfunctional family setting where lack of boundaries were to be found. 

This sense of becoming a carer was damaging yet made the child feel they were needed and had a purpose and that if they gave of themselves, they could finally be accepted and loved.

‘Love’ very often came with conditions of worth. Conditions of worth were coined by Carl Rogers, the founder of the Person-Centred approach which is a way of being not doing. Rogers said that conditions of worth are what we develop when we take on board other people’s values and ideas about how we should be. When we are children, we learn what pleases those around us (parents, relatives…) and what gains us approval. This is what sets the stage later to people pleasing and why I mentioned at the start of the article why we become like chameleons or Mystique in X-men.

We also learn what gains us disapproval, for some this can be as simple as making mistakes and the reason why perfectionism is also linked to co-dependency and the child becoming the ‘perfect’ child who is always obedient and polite. Co-dependents are extremely loyal to those that are toxic and can allow mistreatment without seeing it as this because of their past history and conditioning.

It is a need for any child to feel wanted, enough, loved, seen, heard, accepted and to feel they belong and nurtured and it is as much of a requirement as food, shelter, water…Because as children we rely on these for survival we end up doing what is needed to get them (please).

What can add to not feeling enough or unwanted and linked with conditions of worth in later life is also society and how in order to feel like we belong, we are expected and told to be a certain way or act a certain way.

Boys and men don’t cry. Girls and women are not ladylike if they do certain things, gender stereotypes are good at this, advertisements that label certain aspects as flaws in order to make business and work on our self-esteem or create and generate this lack of low self-esteem. Women need to look a certain way to be attractive to men, men need to be macho and have a six pack, success is seen as wealth…This can open the original wound and create added layers making one never feel accepted, wanted, loved or enough as they are or it can create codependency from adolescents and adulthood only. The danger of placing value on these things and believing these conditioned lies, is that if we don’t have these things (if we are not ‘perfect’) then our worth can feel challenged.

 Pete walker defines trauma-based co-dependency as:

‘a syndrome of self-abandonment and self-abnegation’.

He also explains the implicit code of the fawn type is that it is:

  • To listen rather than talk
  • To agree than to dissent
  • To offer care than to ask for help
  • To elicit the other than to express self
  • To leave choices to the other rather than express preferences.

It is only with learning how to apply and carry out boundaries, when we find our voice, are able to offer ourselves our own love and acceptance can we break free of co-dependency and start to become our authentic selves and learn who we truly are or set free the person we always were but that was prisoned.