Friday, October 14, 2016

PTSD and Narcissists

This summer, I had a class where we learned an interesting take on MacBeth. The producer of last year's movie version of MacBeth approached the character of MacBeth as one who had PTSD. MacBeth had served in wars, and his seemingly murderous character, who develops a lack of remorse for his deeds and keeps repeating them, could have been merely following his training as a soldier.
Soldiers who come back from war and struggle with PTSD also struggle with the fact that when they were in the military, they had a constant brotherhood that worked together against an enemy. They had the thrill of the fight and miss that feeling. Some have categorized that feeling as addictive. The strength of camaraderie and fighting together against an enemy will even cause soldiers to say, "that is the time in my life I felt most alive."
They sacrifice their natural human social structure to join a warrior's social structure. Coming back to "civilian" society is and can be very difficult, especially with all the complexities of PTSD.
In a recent article I read about a narcissist during divorce, his ex-wife asked him to just stop: the lies, the abuses, the attacks in court.
The narcissist said, "I can't stop."
The narcissist has found a way to wage emotional, financial, and intellectual war. Narcissists often have a "brotherhood", whether in friends, family, or work. They convince their "brotherhood" of an enemy, one they've created out of a need to fight. They use their black-and-white thinking to make that enemy all bad, while they are all good. They then use this information to justify their bad behavior towards someone who was never really an enemy.
When violence does not result in murder, it is still violence. Any time another's choice is taken away, any time their humanity is denied, any time a dominance structure of oppression is set up and  in it, the creation of inequality, there is violence. Violence can be an exploitation of someone, especially someone of lesser means. Violence can be adapted to this culture, especially in the black-and-white milieu of court. Look how our "justice" system has been used to enact blatant racism. The violence is not straightforward, but manipulative and underhanded and somehow socially acceptable.
Abuse of any kind is NOT acceptable. We don't always understand this kind of violence. We don't see that using weapons of entitlement, ALL the weapons of entitlement,  is hurtful too. We do not readily accept stories of people who abuse covertly.
Yet it is there. And no matter how many times a sufferer cries out, it falls on deaf ears. To a warrior, the sounds of crying and pain coming from someone deemed an enemy is SWEET. It is SATISFYING to see the contrived enemy suffer. It means he is a good warrior.
It doesn't matter that his war is a lie, or that he is hurting innocent people. He doesn't care how his battles affect women and children. Those women could be his mother and sister, those children his, but the war is larger than he is, the battlefield one of skewed logic and imagined threats. He lives in a fearful place, since he cannot overcome his inner environment through culture or vocation, he must do it through contrivances of war.
He cannot overcome his impulses, training, or his limbic drives, and this automatically makes him abusive.
Like soldiers with PTSD, the narcissist only feels alive when in this war.
And those he targets? Somehow their own limbic drives led them there....and this is for another post.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


 "To all who mourn in the arms of patriarchy,
I will give a crown of beauty for ashes
a joyous blessing instead of mourning
festive praise instead of despair
they will be like great woman-oaks
bearing the glory of the Mother"
Isaiah 61:3, completely shined up to reflect the Divine Feminine

I read in another article how isolation does not heal emotional dysregulation, but increases it.
There are different types of isolation, and healing from abuse and trauma is very much an inner movement. For me, I have, over the years, numbed myself so completely and learned how to not feel that when my awakening came it was painful, and pain was the conduit for waking up. I'd spent my whole life trying to avoid seeing or knowing, yet could not control the fact that the pain still seeped out. The awakening  created great, disruptive waves as I wrestled with waking up and owning up.
The movement was a downward spiral, a necessary downward spiral.  Along this way of healing I've hit several bottoms, as I've realized what I do not know, as I've faced the hard reality of a situation, as I've searched and searched for truth.
Anger and intense grief, self-righteousness, education, mobilization, giving up, busyness...these are all feelings and activities the parts of me have carried on the spiral down. The spiral down involves stripping away what you knew before, and in still dealing with any enemy-makers, I've stripped away some of my humanity too. I've had to in order to survive and take away the oppressor's power. I've let go of some of my basic human rights. I've lived the story of being unwanted.
This in and of itself is isolating. In my situation, I'm not being hit, I've simply got someone presenting themselves as flawless compared to sick, pathetic, rebellious me. The violence is more covert but it is violence nonetheless.
It makes me sick to my stomach, all the minor Trumps. Violence is  financial bullying, contempt,  words, attitudes, intentions to make me less than a person. This abuse is so subtle it places me squarely in some ass-crack of society, isolated and snugly tucked away where no one would believe me, which is what those makers of violence want.
It took me some time to realize I am in a chronic bullying situation. I worry I become a burden to my community. I am embarrassed that I chose so wrongly.

I know I am not the only one.
At the bottom of the spiral, where one is completely stripped of one's humanity, where all your well-worn parts that have so diligently protected you are awake and active, where you find your Self in the context of nothing, where you are completely alone and isolated...there is where you find the Divine. There is where you are stripped down, bared, nothing. Then you lean, and find you are held.
I cried when reading an article about the "still, small voice". The author called the voice "her". I had never thought of the "still, small voice" as a woman's, much less my own, but in being stripped away, I realized that voice is valid too, and all those messages about being an unwanted girl came flooding back. Of course my still, small voice is a SHE and has every right to be. God is found in all things feminine, too.
I could not find that voice without setting myself apart. I get lost in the noise of being forced from situations that have no promise of health anyway, the violence of rejection: a shining, alluring dart, a familiar.
The spiral out begins. That's where I am, although I touch the bottom more frequently than I would like sometimes, and just by virtue of my situation I am learning how to spiral upward. I have to. Because in the spiral upward, I find spirit: grace, joy, gratitude, and the practice of making something incredibly beautiful of this sordid mess. I find the health of transformation, with God by my side. I reject any stories of me as demon or enemy, for I am a warrior for truth. I shake off the ugliness of enemy-makers, I clothe myself in beauty. I become Spirit.
This is the healing. The plans of the divine are so much more than we imagine, they are in the beauty among ashes . Isolation is not just about being separated from the other. I have had so many others on my spiral path who have reached out their hands to lift me up, so I am never far from a generous kindred or a shoulder to cry on.  It is about being separated from God, and from Her still, small voice.
I spiral out, singing loudly, joyously proclaiming Her arrival.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Path to Peace

"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

"For we must come to see that peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, it is the presence of a positive force. True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but it is the presence of justice and brotherhood. " -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think this says it all for our world, and wish it would trickle down into families and relationships.
Often "peace" is misconstrued as being "compliance." Peace is something won after a conflict...and in order to have a conflict, one party must not put themselves above another, but must acknowledge the humanity and equality and validity of the other. They must not hide behind choosing to believe in their own victimhood for not getting their way. See: racism. They must embrace their part, wholeheartedly.
We live in a world, in a country, that every day seeks to invalidate someone or a put them in their scapegoat them in every way. People who contribute to these instances are a dime a dozen.
It's easy to fabricate an enemy. It's a soothing anesthetic, a reassurance that the existence of your contrived evil means you are above reproach. It's a safe place to hide, a nice distraction from growing yourself. Or seeing this world outside that needs more love. It's so easy to be entitled. It's nice and cushy.
A negative peace is a shallow, superficial peace. It is like putting up pretty wallpaper over moldy walls. It reflects no inner work, no brotherhood, no equality, and certainly no justice. It often serves the oppressor, since it does not require any personal responsibility from them or acknowledgement of harm. And certainly no acknowledgement that their target's viewpoint is valid.
It's the easy way out, a total cop-out.
Positive peace is hard-won after a truthful, direct conflict. Positive peace involves the oppressor being pressured to acknowledge the humanity of the one(s) they scapegoat and rejecting any previous aversion to conflict. It is the harder way, but it is the loving way, and it is the more truthful way.
Oppressors rarely realize the benefits of raising someone up. They don't realize that increasing integrity has to do with personal responsibility and good will towards others. It means no longer having the need to make an enemy out of someone to avoid yourself. It means having grown, secure, and confident enough to take personal responsibility for your actions, which involves receiving input from others about the negative impact you've had. This increases your sense of self-worth and connection to others. Entering into a conflict where the goal is positive peace gives the oppressed the chance to be heard, and the oppressor the chance to do good in the world by empowering others. The benefits of empowering others are well-documented.
Justice and all starts with our mindsets around self, family, and friends. If we can model how to work out our personal conflicts through repair and positive peace, we can certainly change the world.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Carving crochet hooks

Oh my gosh, I nearly forgot....I'm an ARTIST. Ok, so I take a lot of classes on social justice. Spalding University is the first designated compassionate university. They offer classes on Jim Crow and the Drug War. I swear my education is shaping me to be a feminist, compassionate, tolerant, social-justice-activist, educated, writing woman. I mean, come on, neoliberalism is patriarchy. Same thing,
But anyway, I've been carving crochet hooks. I do make my own things. I'm refurbishing two treadle sewing machines. I'm planning art and writing projects. I'm cooking and loving up my kids. This is the secret life of a social justice warrior...the work of my hands is my meditation, my art, my strength, and my rebellion....the love I muster up is my life testimony.

Perhaps beauty is anarchy.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Dogs and dragons

-in this writing I use the scenario of abused woman/abusive man, because that is most statistically prevalent. But I do know this can be gender-reversed.-
One thing that has been controversial in my healing, at least for other people, is the notion of labels. The popular argument against labels is that they do not allow for people to be responsive and they are pigeonholed. I think it is much more nuanced than that. For instance, labels like "depression" and "cancer" can be life-saving as one can then bring to light exactly what is wrong. It is  truth that in this day and age, we use labels to hurt each other, but those labels are as simple as "woman" or "African-American". It doesn't take much to elicit hatred and bias in people.
The labels  become very important to a person who has been abused. One little-talked about phase of healing from an abusive relationship is the learning phase, where a person will greedily drink down everything they can learn about narcissism or psychopathy. It does become somewhat all-encompassing, since the only thing that can combat years of gaslighting is fact, especially psychological fact. And one learns there is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis to anything. One simply needs to take and acknowledge the aspects that apply to one's own situation.
But for those who disparage the labels, there are several things to keep in mind. Firstly, we live in a culture that loves to blame victims. We live in a culture where the only acceptable narrative of abuse is that he hit her, and even then, we don't properly respond and still have underlying attitudes that blame her. And finally, many have the attitude that when a woman uses labels to speak out against abuse, she is somehow being cruel. Lundy Bancroft calls this "taking the abuser's perspective."
Beyond that, the labels are important for healing. Sometimes a person will be discouraged from using a label as a way of invalidating that person and telling them, "don't think, hide the truth, don't acknowledge reality."
A person needs to know if they are dealing with a dog or a dragon. A dog will mess up the room when the master leaves, chew up the toilet paper in play, eat all the cat food, run out the door, and otherwise wreak havoc when they're not supposed to. But they will return with their tail between their legs, eager to learn how to please you, wanting to always be near you. A dog can be taught how to be in rightful relationship, simply by holding to the rules, "no, you may not chew up my leather coat. no, you may not use the bathroom on the must go outside. no, you may not beg at the dinner table."  And they will learn, with a happy grin on their faces and a wagging tail.
A dragon is trickier. A dragon will simply go and ravage the village for sport. A dragon's nature is to destroy and retreat. A dragon cannot be reasoned with, negotiated with, or asked to stop. A dragon needs to be carefully studied and automatically incites fear. Many times, the dragon is not as big as you think, and certainly lacks courage and heart. And sometimes, the dragon is wiley. Principles of operant conditioning do not work on a dragon. A dragon will blame the villagers for his behavior. A dragon will make himself out to be the poor, innocent victim. A dragon will say he is trustworthy and benevolent even while he is planning destruction. Dragons have been so anthropomorphized in modrrn culture. But the dragons that are akin to cluster B personalities have no hope of gaining human traits. A human can be asked to have a stop hurting someone listen to look at the ravaged village and consider the weight of their actions. A human being has the capacity for remorse, recovery, making restitution, grace, gratitude, awareness of their actions, and repair. A dog will say they are sorry with their demeanor, A human will repair a relationship more directly. But a dragon never will. A dragon is often depicted with a cold, black heart; cold on the outside with its reptilian scales. Reptilian skin, twinkling, charming eye, intelligent head, firey breath, reptilian heart. No hope of repair.
Dealing  with a dragon requires a different approach than dealing with a dog. There is hope for a dog, but not a dragon. It's important to know the difference so one can protect one's self. The dog that constantly bites and won't back down is not the dog you keep, but it's less dangerous than a dragon. The dragon who constantly seeks to ravage is to be fled from so you can be safe.
Healing from each scenario takes different tools, resources, and approaches. One has more hope, the other has none. Know the labels so you can wield your sword in protection or take out your dog treats and positive reinforcement.
In this election, there have been so many moments of needing to call the dragon a dragon. So many abused women are identifying strongly with Donald Trump's gaslighting, lies, and avoidance of responsibility, even to the point of being triggered.
Keep your dogs, lose your dragons, know the difference.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fighting Dragons

This is a very well-known sculpture in the world of Anthroposophy, by Rudolf Steiner.
 It is the Christ gesture of man, where his left arm holds the forces that represent Lucifer at bay, and where his right arm holds the forces that represent Ahriman at bay. Briefly, luciferic forces are overly chaotic, overly idealistic, and selfishly disregarding others. Ahriman has a darker, more evil overtone; being overly controlled, overly sparse, letter-of-the-law, and void of empathy or emotion.  These are the extremes: hot/cold, male/female, love/hate, etc. This duality of our nature is recognized plenty among different religions and in culture.
In the middle of the sculpture though, Steiner depicts the Christ gesture of embodying balancing these two forces. We need a little warmth of chaos, and we need a little order and lawfulness...just not too much. Even the Buddha spoke to his followers in a sermon of Buddhism's middle way: "Monks, these two extremes should not be followed   by   one   who   has   gone   forth as a   wanderer.  What   two?   Devotion   to the  pleasures  of  sense . . .  [and]  devotion  of self-mortification,  which  is  painful, unworthy and unprofitable . . . . By avoiding these two extremes the [Buddha] has gained knowledge of the middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, enlightenment [nirvana]. "
Fall 2013 Copyright © The Esoteric Quarterly  39
In the context of today, though, in the light of what is happening in the world, I believe these dualities in every way represent our innate fight or flight response to trauma.
One phrase I frequently quote on this blog is from Bessel VanDer Kolk's The Body Keeps the Score.  He points out that trauma "inevitably involves not being seen, not being heard, and not being taken into account." When one considers all the marginalized groups, and the scapegoating either through blatant sexism and racism, or exploitation, it makes sense that we have a culture of traumatized people. And some argue that neoliberalism in culture is traumatizing.
Tomorrow is Michaelmas...the festival of finding our inner light. For me, it is about finding the middle way. It is about acknowledging my own inner dragons attached to fight or flight behaviors, and the outer dragons I am forced to fight.
My dragons of flight involve giving up, avoiding, putting my head in the sand, not wanting to see, molding silence, cultivating apathy, taking on a stance of "let's all be happy", hiding behind all sorts of distractions, betraying myself to the core, complete submission, martyrdom. Dragons of fight are less familiar to me and include hot anger, retaliation, denial, self-justification, contempt, judgement, intention to harm, pleasure in bringing about the suffering of another human being, cold indifference, and enacting revenge.
Trauma, fight or flight, not being seen or heard- inevitably involves an oppressor/oppressed situation. That's what neoliberalism creates and tucks into so many pockets of our country's Big Daddy overcoat. But before even tackling the situation of being oppressed, and hopefully an oppressor or two would give up their cushy position to join the ranks of the less entitled, before that is even thought about, one must find deep courage. In order to do that, one must go through the forces of fight and fight, to acknowledge the value of one's own humanity.
There is a middle way, beyond dragons of sloth and chaos, there is a balance to be held within in order to deal with the larger dragons of the world in which we live. In bringing into balance our own dragons, we gain the courage and strength to bring to the world at large and really tackle larger issues.
Walter Wink, in Engaging the Powers, writes about  "Jesus's Third Way":
Jesus's Third Way
-seize the moral initiative
-find a creative alternative to violence
-assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
-meet force with ridicule or humor
-break the cycle of humiliation
-refuse to submit or accept the inferior position
-expose the injustice of the system
-take control of the power dynamic
-shame the oppressor into repentance
-stand your ground
-make the Powers make decisions for which they are not prepared
-recognize your own power
-be willing to suffer rather than retaliate
-force the oppressor to see you in a new light
-deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
-be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
-die to fear of the old order and its rules
-seek the oppressor's transformation
Flight: submission, passivity, withdrawal, surrender
Fight: armed revolt, violent rebellion, direct retaliation, revenge

Gandhi insisted that no one join him who was not willing to take up arms and fight for independence. They could not freely renounce what they had not entertained. One cannot pass directly from "flight" to "Jesus's Third Way". One needs to pass through the "fight" stage, if only to discover one's own inner strength and capacity for violence. One need not actually become violent, but one does need to own one's fury at injustice and care enough to be willing to fight, and if necessary, die for its eradication. Only then can a person freely renounce violence and embrace active nonviolence."

Martin Luther King said there can be no justice without equality. There can be no justice where there is a bully. There can be no justice when there is an oppressor. Justice comes when people join as equals. And justice comes when one finds the heat of courage, the flaming truth, the heart arching forward towards inner freedom.
It then becomes about more than inner freedom. It becomes focused on your power to enact the freedom of another. It becomes courage in do the right thing even when it seems impossible. To really look at one's own dark step say what needs to be dragon was ever conquered without having courageous souls muster up their duty to protect and stop stop oppression of any kind.
"Seek the oppressor's transformation." Oh, I do, I prayerfully do.
Here's to a courageous Michaelmas. The divine is found when we clearly live without oppressing, and where we speak up against oppression, even our own.  May we all find our middle way. May we all honor each other's humanity.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Savvy Dating

So, online dating. I love to bitch about online dating. I love to write funny, irreverent, and sometimes very strange profiles just to see how people react and what kind of person is out there. I don't know why it strikes me as funny, and maybe it just indicates my own fears and quirks. But I think it's funny and that's that.
No one reads your profile anyway. How do I know? Because when I created a fake profile with a picture of my hamster looking for a woman, at least until it violated the dating site's rules and they removed my cute picture, I received a few messages like these:

"Wow! You spark up my entire thinking faculty. I am ready to stop searching, and who knows, the rose in my heart could be yours (lol). I'm J, I'm new on here, write a note and I'll reply back instantly.Just you may wish to email on my mind."

"I was searching through and i saw your profile ,and  am quite fascinated by your picture, smile and happy face..i will sure love to meet a cute woman like you, i'm a man with joyful character, optimistic, respectful, sensual.i will like to chat if you don't mind... "

"Good day Dear, Am sorry for interrupting your evening with my message. How is work with you this week and I hope you had a stress free time at work and your family is doing good? Am d. I am new here and am so glad to have come across your profile. I didnt just click on you by coincidence, I believe everybody has that place in their heart that requires that special warmth feeling and nursing. Its my pleasure to appreciate your beauty and personality cause I know its something you hear everyday but I have got to say it again and I hope it gets to your heart. I think the personality and the soul is what makes a person beautiful, not only physical appearance. I am interested in you and would like to know more about you, pls feel free to ask questions and you can text me (---)as I will like to be your friend. You have an awesome smile and I love your hair, pls feel free to ask questions. I really want to know you more"

"Hello gorgeous lady, I'm so sorry for infringe into your privacy but a word say that a picture is worth of a thousands words you're stunning and charming lady, I will like to know you better if you don't?.."​

So naturally, I am amused. I am amused and also hopeful when I hear of people actually having good luck on those sites.
When I've had my real picture up, in more playful moods, I lied about my age and made myself 41. That was fun because then I suddenly had the 25-year-old-set-seeking-novel-older-woman-experiences. Those conversations went like this:
him: Do you mind dating younger?
me: Dude, you're my daughter's age
him: we can make her jealous
me. ummmmm
him: I'm a nudist
me: silence

And my favorite one: "Wow, there's no way you're 41" -pause to say I almost fell off my chair laughing...that's right, I passed 41 7 years ago.- "you look way younger" Ha.

So there's the fun part of that. It really is funny and a poll of girlfriends on dating sites reveals many more funny stories.
But now I'm going to switch to the "savvy" part, because, honestly, I've primarily met some really kind, genuine, beautiful men online. So I'm not really saying it's all bad. As one person told me, it's all what you make of it.
And what I've made of it is a learning, healing, and growing experience.
The biggest learning has been about attachment styles. It's important to know because divorce can be traumatizing, childhood can be traumatizing and help you bring patterns into the present that sabotage your relationships. It's just smart so you can pinpoint your own patterns, and know if you are going to be with someone with similar emotional compatibility. It's good to have a language to use around it, and in deepening your learning, you develop compassion. Everyone's trying to muck their way through fear and longing and the past at the same time.
The three styles are anxious/ambivalent, avoidant, and secure. Secure people are those who have a high comfort level with feelings and intimacy, and they are pretty scarce in online dating, due to the fact that they are likely to end up partnered, most likely with another secure. Anxious/ambivalent styles are more frequent in occurrence and are most often women. This style manifests in clinging, pursuing behavior when intimacy wounds are triggered. Avoidants populate the online dating pool in greater numbers and tend to be men. Avoidants shut down emotionally and run when intimacy wounds are triggered. Often these styles find each other and start the great pursuer-distance dance.
Underlying both of these styles is a deep-seated fear of abandonment, or, perhaps, as Terry Real says that for men, it's fear of subjugation.
It's all trauma, and the strange thing, your attachment style is activated as a fight or flight response to intimacy, because closeness is unconsciously perceived as a threat. It's a fearful way of being, and so hard to figure out how to find your way to love once faced with your past wounds.
Avoidants will say things like, "my ex always had to be in a relationship" or that women of their past were overly emotional or clingy. To be fair, sometimes that is true. Still, avoidance in men is an extreme that many women have experienced and there is even this cultural expectation that women are not supposed to need a man, that that somehow makes you weak or dependent or needy. But we are ALL hard-wired to be relational beings. It's how the human race has survived. One of my friends was saying how she felt it was not ok to need a man. I reassured her that yes, it is ok and GOOD to need a man. Why beat up on yourself for your very valid needs and desires? I need a man. Being lonely is no fun. Sometimes you just want someone else to kill the bug in the bathroom, to call the plumber, to tell your news to, to give a hug to. What's wrong with that? Avoidants hold on to the extreme belief that it is somehow a bad thing to be in relationship, yet they feel lonely and will still seek out relationships for themselves.
That's where therapy helps me keep my head on straight: that I want someone who is ultimately supportive, present, and a partner in every way. And, that I want to continue taking charge of my own healing so I have resources to bring to the table. Lots of it is needs management, and that just requires trust, openness, a willingness to be transparent and vulnerable, and total compassionate acceptance of yourself and your beloved. And the ability to be freely yourself while allowing someone else that luxury too. By now, I've learned how to walk past abuse or extreme unavailability and can open my heart to learning to enjoy the good stuff. Like the basics: respect, encouragement, friendship, sexiness, trust, engagement.
I'm not online right now on any sites, as I explore other options and continue my inner work. But if I ever need to practice my avoidant-detecting skills, have a laugh, or just remind myself that kind men do still exist, it's always there.
It's all good.