April 2008


(picture unavailable – black eye)

This happened a week ago Saturday.  I’ve been called hard-headed before.  I’m not as bad as my father.  He tells a joke about flying over his bicycle handlebars and hitting the sidewalk straight on with his head.  The punch line is “they repaired the sidewalk the next day.”

Anyway, I was shearing goats, and my clipping machine wasn’t cutting hair effectively, so I switched to the more effective shearing machine, which is also louder.  My goat had been a total sweetie and cooperating very well, but he was scared and dived under the deck to hide.  I didn’t let go fast enough and hit my head, hard, on the side of the deck.  Yeah, it hurt a lot.  There was a huge bump on my head.  Nobody said much about that though, until 3 days later when it started draining and started to look like a black eye.  Again, this is not the first time that this has happened to me (different circumstances).  One would think that I might start learning when to let go.

Guess what?  The head injury didn’t hurt nearly as much as another situation where I didn’t know when to let go.  Last week (immediately after the head injury, when I was hurting), I lost the ability to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.  I had been containing it for a long time, and it leaked out and I couldn’t stop it.  I am glad that I stood up for values that are important to me, but the way that I did it was out of control.  I should have let go a long time ago.  I was a member of the community team here, and I couldn’t deal with the split between representing the team, and the team taking actions that I couldn’t support.  I should have resigned rather than repeating my own feelings.  Then, I hope, I would have been freer to express my opinions.  I waited too long to let go (for lots of reasons such as not wanting to lose the close association I had with people I was working with), and it hurt.

How many of our problems in life are related to not letting go when we need to?  Probably more than we think.  Letting go is really hard.  Think about letting go of the past, letting go of our problems, letting go of hard feelings.  Letting go of our excuses for being the way that we are.  I’m not one to lecture.  This is my problem.  I just think that it’s a problem that probably affects a lot of us.  It’s not always easy to see how not letting go hurts us, but it does hurt and limit us.

Just something to think about.

Apparently I can’t upload music here.  There is a song by Michael McLean called Let it Go, that seems to fit perfectly.   *

*postscript* I found that song on Youtube, but it won’t seem to embed either, so here is the URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vMOpFe9nU4

This post is an invitation for those who have something to say and can’t say it elsewhere.  I’ll respond as I can.  This comment section is for you.  I miss the open sharing that I thought we had, and I’d like to try to make some space where we can share and learn from each other again, and hopefully feel safe.

What is it?  Besides the most likely cause of most of our mental health problems.

According to Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, (paraphrased) there are many things, including temperament, that influence development of BPD, but one of the strongest predictors is “poorness of fit” with the environment.  Linehan proposes that invalidating environments are the most likely to facilitate development of BPD.

What does an invalidating environment consist of?

“An invalidating environment is one in which communication of private experiences is met by erratic, inappropriate, and extreme responses.” (Linehan, 1993, p. 49).

Characteristics:

  • expression of private experiences is not validated
  • it is often punished and/or trivialized
  • experience of painful emotions is disregarded
  • interpretations of one’s own behavior, including intents and motivations, are dismissed

The individual is told that she is wrong about her own experiences, including the causes of her emotions, beliefs, and actions.

Her experiences are attributed to socially unacceptable characteristics or personality traits.

Displays of negative affect are generally not tolerated.

“Invalidating members of such environments are often vigorous in promulgating their point of view and actively communicate frustration with an individual’s inability to adhere to a similar point of view.”

What are the consequences of invalidating environments?

  • the child is not taught to label emotions
  • the child doesn’t learn to modulate emotional arousal
  • the problems of the emotionally vulnerable child are not recognized
  • little effort goes into solving those problems
  • the child is told to control her emotions, without being taught how to do that
  • the child does not learn to tolerate distress or to form realistic goals and expectations
  • extreme emotional displays become necessary to provoke a helpful response (and these become reinforced)
  • the child oscillates between emotional inhibition and extreme emotional states (no wonder we lose it and blow up!)
  • the child is taught not to trust her own emotional and cognitive responses as valid interpretations
  • the child learns to invalidate herself and search the environment for cues on how to think, feel, and act.

Does any of this sound a little bit familiar?  I see it all the time in daily life.  I’m always trying to teach my clients’ staff to recognize the client’s feelings as real and valid, and to let them know that they are understood, rather than brushing them off with “I like it better when you’re happy.”  If you’re not happy, you’re not happy.  Sometimes all it takes is for the person you are talking to to understand what you are trying to say and recognize that it is important to you, rather than brushing you off.  When we feel unheard, we tend to keep saying it louder and louder to try to be heard.  It may not be possible to let it go without a clear response that is sensitive to the validity of our feelings and message.

I guess that’s all that I dare to say right here and right now.  I don’t think that I can handle the risk of being shut down again.

was last week.  I love conference weekends, both because I get to stay home and listen and watch on TV, so it’s like a day off (which I hardly ever get these days), and because the messages really are great.

I waited to post about conference until the written transcripts were published.  Anyone interested may find video, audio, and written versions at http://lds.org

I would like to mention in particular a talk by Richard G. Scott about healing the Shattering Consequences of Abuse that may be of particular interest here. 

Here is a brief excerpt:

To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.

If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution. Yet he knows perfectly well that there is. Satan recognizes that healing comes through the unwavering love of Heavenly Father for each of His children. He also understands that the power of healing is inherent in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Therefore, his strategy is to do all possible to separate you from your Father and His Son. Do not let Satan convince you that you are beyond help.

Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.

Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy. Do not be kept from the very source of true healing by the craftiness of the prince of evil and his wicked lies. Recognize that if you have feelings that you are not loved by your Father in Heaven, you are being manipulated by Satan. Even when it may seem very difficult to pray, kneel and ask Father in Heaven to give you the capacity to trust Him and to feel His love for you. Ask to come to know that His Son can heal you through His merciful Atonement.

I have to be real, and I can’t keep stuffing my feelings and pretending that I’m okay when I’m not.  That’s part of “finally coming together.”  Too many times in the past I have pretended, not wanting to offend people or risk having someone mad at me or losing relationships.  But then I sit there and steam inside, and don’t trust anybody because I never know when they are going to hurt me again, and I’ll just take it, and go on pretending.  It’s not working.

I’m reading Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.  None of my therapists has ever wanted to diagnose me with BPD, although I do meet the DSM-IV-TR criteria.  I’m learning a lot about myself from this book.  I hope to learn how to fix some of this.  The author, Marsha Linehan, includes a table of Behavioral Patterns in BPD that she has identified in the women she worked with in developing DBT.  All of the items in the table describe me very accurately:

  1. Emotional vulnerability: A pattern of pervasive difficulties in regulating negative emotions, including high sensitivity to negative emotional stimuli, high emotional intensity, and slow return to emotional baseline, as well as awareness and experience of emotional vulnerability.  May include a tendency to blame the social environment for unrealistic expectations and demands.
  2. Self-invalidation: Tendency to invalidate or fail to recognize one’s own emotional responses, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.  Unrealistically high standards and expectations for self.  May include intense shame, self-hate, and self-directed anger.
  3. Unrelenting crises: Pattern of frequent, stressful, negative environmental events, disruptions, and roadblocks – some caused by the individual’s dysfunctional lifestyle, others by an inadequate social milieu, and many by fate or chance.
  4. Inhibited grieving: Tendency to inhibit and overcontrol negative emotional responses, especially those associated with grief and loss, including sadness, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, and panic.
  5. Active passivity: Tendency to passive interpersonal problem-solving style, involving failure to engage actively in solving of own life problems, often together with active attempts to solicit problem solving from others in the environment; learned helplessness, hopelessness.
  6. Apparent competence: Tendency for the individual to appear deceptively more competent than she actually is; usually due to failure of competencies to generalize across expected moods, situations, and time, and to failure to display adequate nonverbal cues of emotional distress.

Which ones of these am I showing right now?  All of them.  Particularly #6, #1, and #2 for today.  But they are all typical for how I go about life.  Some of them seem contradictory, like the inhibition and overcontrol of emotional responses in grieving; and emotional vulnerability.  But both of them fit.  I wish that I could feel something about losses such as my brother’s suicide a year ago.  I feel like something is missing, but I’m just numb, and pretty much was from the night that I got the news.  And I wish that every little thing didn’t hurt me so much that it feels like I will always hurt, and there is no escape.

Or unrelenting crises and apparent competence.  People who don’t know me well tend to think I’ve got my act together.  I’m pretty good at looking like I can handle just about anything.  But I fall apart so easily.  And I attack myself, and I go passive and try to disappear, dissociate, and be invisible.

I hope that as I continue to read, and also to work on myself in therapy and try to apply it in real life, that I will learn how to change some of these patterns.  Right now it seems hopeless.  But I’m trying not to hide it anymore, and I hope that will be a step in the right direction.  I also hope it doesn’t turn around and bite me.