[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]
In our healing journey, trying to recover from C-PTSD as a result of narcissistic, emotional abuse, we may make some progress, but then backslide into our old ways. That is, we at first are growing calmer, more at peace, and more patient in dealing with life’s irritations; then, pleased with our progress, we get complacent and lazy, skipping our planned meditations and other forms of self-care. Finally, those inevitable, difficult situations arise again, and we react in our former, emotionally dysregulated way…then the shaming inner critic comes back!
What can we do? We want to get back on track, we have to get back on track, but discouragement daunts us, and tempts us to give up.
We must remember that progress in healing is neither a steady ascent to a clearly visible mountain peak, nor is it a case of jumping out of a black square of complex trauma and into a white square of blissful mental health. We, of course, know this on an intellectual level, but emotionally speaking, this sobering truth is easy to forget.
Instead, we should regard our healing process as being more like the waves of the ocean: up, down, up, down, up…Instead of absolute black and white, we should see light reflected on the crests of the waves, and shadow on the troughs. Finally, the progress of our healing state is always in motion, like those waves; it isn’t a permanent, static state of either permanent neurosis or everlasting health.
Again, we know these truths in our brains, but our hearts forget, especially when we’re upset.
We must remember the dialectical nature of all of reality, that all opposites, all contradictions, phase in and out of each other in a wave-like unity. Such yin and yang-like opposites include the dialectic of illness and health. We encounter the problem, the thesis of C-PTSD and all of its attendant symptoms; we visualize the negation of our trauma, which is the peace and happiness we crave; then we work out the sublation of the contradiction of illness and health, the long and winding road to wellness.
This sublation, however, isn’t the end of the story, for it becomes a new thesis to be negated and sublated, and that new sublation gets negated and sublated, again and again, in endless cycles. We’re talking about an ongoing process, not a one-way trek to a clearly defined, permanent destination of ideal emotional health.
I’ve used the ouroboros as a symbol for this dialectical, cyclical process. It can be applied to any pair of contradictions: political ones between the rich and poor, as well as philosophical issues between the self and other, and psychological issues of complex trauma vs. healing.
The serpent’s bitten tail is the thesis, our original proposition. The biting head is the negation of that thesis, and the length of the serpent’s body, representing a continuum coiled into a circle, is the sublation, a working-through, or resolving, of the contradiction of the thesis and negation, where the serpent’s head bites its tail.
One more thing should be noted before we move on to my proposed solution to the problem of backsliding. On the body of the ouroboros, where the bitten tail of trauma meets the biting head of health, there is a constant, if slow (to the point of being almost imperceptible), sliding in the clockwise direction from health to ill health. This is the backsliding we must be constantly aware of, which leads me to my discussion of the solution to our problem–vigilance, alertness, awareness…mindfulness.
I’m no Buddhist, but Right Mindfulness–part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path from Samsara to Nirvana, the cessation of suffering–is worthy of discussion here. In my discussion of meditations in previous posts, I’ve covered another part of the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration (or Meditation). Dr. Kristin Neff‘s writing on self-compassion incorporates elements of Buddhism that are useful for survivors of emotional abuse, including recognizing the universality of suffering, as well as mindfulness.
[Now, by ‘mindfulness,’ I don’t necessarily mean the idea of mindfully focusing, in a non-judgemental way, on such things as the traumatic moments in life, which–though effective for some–can be counterproductive or even harmful to other victims of trauma, such as those with C-PTSD. I just mean that we should never forget the goal of carrying on with the healing work until we are, by any reasonable measure, finished with it. At the same time, ‘vigilance’ doesn’t mean never taking needed rests from the therapy, either.]
Recall in previous posts how I wrote up meditations/self-hypnoses on cultivating positive inner objects, an imagined new family, residing in your mind like friendly spirits, to replace the bad family you were originally stuck with. I also described meditations you can do on exorcizing the demon inner critic, and on how to focus on the present as your real life, putting away your painful past, and rejecting it as irrelevant to your NOW.
We must practice being mindful of these new, good imagos, and mindful of the rejection of bad imagos. We must get in the habit of constantly reminding ourselves of this needed replacement of the bad with the good. If we don’t, the bad internal objects will return.
Get into the habit, at any and every free moment you have during the day, of reviving those good feelings in your mind (i.e., the feelings you got from meditating on the good internal objects I mentioned above and in those meditations I described in previous posts [links above]).
With my imagined new family, I hear–in my mind’s ear–Father’s soothing words, “It’s OK, you’re going to be OK, don’t be afraid.” Also, I’ll replay in my mind a ‘video,’ if you will, of Mother looking at me with kind eyes and a loving smile, saying, “We’re right here with you. Don’t worry. We love you, and we’re going to help you.” These two weren’t my biological parents, of course, but I consider these two new parents to be more real than the original two could have ever been, because they are what all real parents should be.
So, to sum up, in addition to your usual therapy–regular meditations and auto-hypnoses on replacing bad inner objects with good ones, replacing bad self-talk with kind self-talk, doing all your inner child work, your therapeutic writing and other forms of self-care–always be mindful of your goal, replacing the inner critic with an inner friend.
Find brief but effective ways to remind yourself of what your healthy thoughts need to be (“It’s OK, don’t be afraid, we [your new, inner parental system] are right here with you, right behind you all the way,” etc.). Exercise this mindfulness especially when you’re about to face a stressful situation (driving, dealing with difficult people at work, etc.).
Remember: don’t let yourself slide clockwise along the body of the ouroboros from the head of health back to the tail of trauma. That clockwise tendency is ever-present, and you must work against it by using mindfulness.
If you’ll indulge me in another metaphor: when a train is racing towards a cliff where the bridge to the other side is out, just sitting at your seat is madness; you must race in the opposite direction to the back and jump out.
Finally, don’t worry about finding ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ emotional health. What is ‘perfect,’ after all? Wherever you are on the body of the ouroboros, health and ill health are all relative, anyway. What matters is that you’re making significant progress towards better and better health, and maintaining that progress through mindfulness.