The inner gaslighter

I have an inner gaslighter, rather than an inner critic. It refuses to accept my feelings, saying they are a pretence or an act, or to admit that my motives are ever worthwhile, saying they are cowardice and the most ridiculous short-term self-serving.

Quakers asked me how well I conform to the testimonies, and I could not say. I made a joke of it. I said when I did not. This morning I asserted to an audience of fifty wise souls, and now to you, my utter commitment to peace, equality, simplicity and truth and the absolute authenticity of my feelings. Before that, I suffered a painful- transition, I will call it: a stage when my inner gaslighter berated me, and I asserted my truth against it, feeling all the pain of its denial and my own lack of belief. There I am, talking aloud to my empty room, inarticulately- “I- I- I- I Am Truthful, I Am Truthful, I am Truthful…” both with a need to convince myself and terror and also delight in asserting it.

I said it to those wise souls and they affirmed me. Hurrah for chat:

your words resonate with me.  Thanks for being so open and honest
Missed you so so much xxx much love xxx
I think  you have most beautiful kind generous wise energy

Separately, someone wrote,

More and more I realize that being free from that instance/ need of pleasing everyone and being validated by others is the real deal…the freedom…the liberation…we think that “enlightenment” is exclusive, something that is far away and available only to few …while instead is much closer than we think…if only…we could embrace totally ourselves and look at reality from those healthy lens…..

Then there was the Pendle Hill worship, where I sat, feeling I was in my holiness, my inner light fully conscious and in control, and Friends ministered on giving gifts freely, and paying them forward. In my Friend’s time of greatest vulnerability and need he was supported.

Perhaps the inner critic or gaslighter will return. Those paths through the dendrites are too well-trodden to disappear in a day; and every time I assert my truth, it gets easier. I feel I broke through the barrier that held me back earlier this month.

I need to be affirmed- I am in great vulnerability- and I am affirmed. When I did not see myself my Friend saw me, writing of me, “she is absolutely committed to Truth and spoke … with honesty and courage”. In another meeting this week I moved a Friend to tears, and he wrote, “I think this writing is absolutely beautiful”. I write this here because these are the things I need to take into my heart, these are the things I have locked out for too long, I need to know that they are true. I feel affirmed.

I am Abigail, and I am Love, radiantly open to myself, my world and to all people, giving and receiving Life.

God, constrained and hurting

It is important for people to maintain the common lie: this is what we all believe, we are happy, and everything is alright. Denial is so much easier if you can suppress things below consciousness. I do not like to admit being confused or anxious, so I suppress these feelings below consciousness. On Wednesday morning I paused, centred, and sought to know what I felt. Perplexity. That’s another one I would not normally admit. Feeling that jeopardises the common lie.

“How are you doing today?”

Anticipating this question, I had worked out my answer for it. I am nearly overwhelmed. I do not like my situation and I have no idea how to begin to improve it. Hearing the question, I flicked into smalltalk mode, which is not really appropriate for this interaction. “Oh, I’m well, thank you”.

These automatic responses replace authenticity, and feel like pleasant conversation. Truthfulness is harrowing. The Monster lurks in my unconscious. It stops me from saying or feeling certain things, and when it becomes conscious it is under threat of losing its power. It does not stop other people seeing these feelings in me, so it is “filthy rags” which do not warm, cover or beautify me. It just preserves my own illusions.

Alone, now, I am the only one telling that lie. The Monster is either something that benefits me now, or something taken into myself so strongly that even when it ceases to benefit me it still affects me. Believing the lie would make me feel safe, but I no longer believe the lie.

I think The Monster is breaking down. Twenty years ago it was unconscious. Now it is more and more in consciousness. Being perplexed or anxious is useful information about my surroundings. I want to shatter it, take a great sledgehammer and smash it to smithereens then grind it to dust, though watching it slowly disintegrate would be good enough.

-What are you suppressing now?

I laughed at that. How could I know? I have fewer blind spots than before, but the remaining ones remain blind spots. “What unpalatable truths might you be evading?” That’s always a useful question. The word “nothing” popped into mind, but it is not nothing.

Insofar as The Monster still protects me, it protects me from all my pain, sadness, loss, hurt at bad things happening, all mixed in with how I feel about life now.

The act of liberation is all bound up in one. I will see my circumstances. I will feel my feelings. I will be in The Now. I will let go of The Monster and the Lies. I will be the Inner Light- I will be I Am. These are the constraints on I Am, which I wish to tear away.

Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

How to approach it? Like diving into a deep cess pit, at the bottom of which is Grendel’s mother, and I fear being overwhelmed by the mess before I get to her. Perhaps there is the perfect sentence, which I have not yet formulated, capturing the essence of the situation. I might start screaming and weeping, at All of my Life, but the weeping might change nothing, just make me feel ashamed.

Crying can be a moment of breaking, liberating me to be my real self. Right now it might break me again so I could go deeper, and that feels completely terrifying.

“How can we make that feel safe?”

Well. The soundproofing in this room is fairly good. The neighbours may be out. If we were in the same room, I would ask if you were prepared to hold me. I want to be held.

I go to kneel on the floor in my ritual space, on the rug with the meditation stool. There is space to move here.

“Do you have a big blanket that you could enfold yourself in to give a semblance of being held?” Or swaddled. That’s something to consider. I can caress myself, feel my own touch, my hand on my skin, down the low neck of this t-shirt, under my skirt. Or I could think of Beck with her hand calmly, reassuringly, laid on my back. I am both the cowering me and the caressing, both Ariadne and Theseus, going down into the labyrinth and giving the skein of wool. I have to support myself and I have the strength to support myself and I am quite strong and now hours later I don’t know if that was God or The Lie speaking.

I am very defended against this. Trust is difficult.

The cost of maintaining this self image is too great, imagining myself not ridiculous, yet on the other side of the illusion, entering Reality, I imagine myself dead. Or lying powerless in my own piss shit and vomit. That is what the defences say they protect me from. I have the feeling it is an illusion. I hope Reality means “rise up singing and take the sky”, but that seems impossible.

What would be in between? “Before Enlightenment, hew wood and draw water. After enlightenment, hew wood and draw water.” Or just “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.

Contemplating The Doorway, on the other side of which is humiliating death, transfiguration, or Something Else- ordinary life?- is too much. I need to stop. Just before we met I was in worship with Pendle Hill. Someone ministered on MLK. He had continual death threats, and prayed to God “I can’t go on”. Two days later he was firebombed, and had the strength to call his followers, in the light of the flames, to a non-violent response.

I’ve lost the mood. I will give myself a reasonable mark, I think, for getting that far. I am able to sleep, veg out, or study something else, as necessary. I have got the food in for a few days. In the last nine years I have been working on this, and made progress. I will be subtly changed in three weeks’ time.

All my unsafety comes from preserving my defences. I push people away then complain about being alone. I am terrified, both of going on and not going on. I have set my intention.

Then I tell a story which


how harshly I judge myself.

On the other side of the door is neither death nor transfiguration, but mere reality.

The Monster transfigured

The Monster is not Sulley, a friendly creature. It is angry, and it crushes me repeatedly. And yet- it is part of me, and therefore it is good. “I knit you together in your mother’s womb. God saw what God had made, and it was very good.”

The Monster is a self-protection mechanism. It rails at me, in a rage. It terrifies me. And I took that part of myself and made it my protector. The Monster shouts and screams that everything is fine, that I had a perfectly ordinary childhood, that I would be happy if I could only be manly, and not being manly is disgusting and spineless, weak, so impossibly weak that it must be the pretence of a cowardly malingerer, putting it on, acting, no-one could be that weak…

It was better that I froze, like Woody in Toy Story, who falls to the floor when a human approaches because he does not want a human to know he is conscious, than that I be hurt. Silent, compliant, uncomplaining, not protesting, I might be safe.

The monster is part of me. It might, like Sulley, stop roaring with the intent to terrify and be used for something else. I still freeze.

Sunday morning I do Richard Rohr’s exercise.

Identify the hurt.
Welcome it.
Stop fighting it.

There is the monster.
You are part of me.

He leaves behind the Master’s role
she welcomes him, and I am whole,

I wrote, twenty years ago. I am not there yet. What was I thinking?

The monster is an echo of my mother’s- I don’t know. It felt as frightening as a murderous rage, to a baby unable to walk. Possibly irritation. Possibly an anger all the deeper because it would be suppressed, held within, as she did her duty, possibly denied to herself- I do not know my mother, only glimpses of her that are apparently inconsistent or opposite but in reality different facets of a huge shimmering complex jewel, as complex as any human. She controlled herself as rigorously as she controlled me.

I am that baby feeling that terror. It is better that I freeze, showing no sign of resistance or unhappiness, than that I express my feelings and experience the terror of the external threat, my mother’s displeasure. So I internalise it. It becomes The Monster, seeking whom it may devour. And then it fades into the unconscious.

-What are you frightened of, she asked me, ten years ago.
“The Monster will get me,” I said. And it seemed bizarre, impossibly childish, unimaginable. It was all unconscious.

It is Cerberus, it is capable of such rage. And yet it is mine, in me, part of me, is me. It could be an Alsatian, joyously playful, bounding after a ball, or trotting to heel on a chain yet ready, able to growl at a threat, or even fight it if necessary.

she welcomes him

At least I know it is possible. Rohr’s exercise is different.

Welcome the grief.
Welcome the anger.
Transformation can begin.

I am not sure I am there. I have been weeping with the anguish of it, this Sunday morning. For Rohr it is feeling the pain of all humanity- which each human feels and so no human can escape except by denial. Others have other pain. This is mine. Now, as I write in order to analyse, understand, and possibly lay a trail of breadcrumbs others might follow (well, I do want to sell this story eventually) I feel terribly tired. I must get ready for morning worship.

Transformation can begin. This is my work now. To take that angry part of me to my heart, and transfigure it. It is all Light. It is only Light.

Self-knowledge, accepted or declined

My name is Clare, and I am agoraphobic.

I attend several zoom groups a week where speaking authentically is valued, and wearing a mask is pointless. Making this AA-like declaration- actually I said I am “a functional agoraphobic” but now would drop the adjective- helps me. I admit it to others, and thereby admit it to myself. It is now part of my self-understanding.

Then on Monday I needed to go to Swanston, and sat, and didn’t. I could go on Wednesday, I thought. Aye, right. I would just put it off again. I still could not motivate myself to go. I had a shower, had a cry about getting kicked out of local Quakers in January, and then wanted to write. I wrote my pronouns poem straight out, and changed two words. It got 33 likes, seven hearts, nine cares and one cry.

Then I joined a zoom with a professional musician and an aspiring singer/songwriter, who both loved it. I was in heaven. Profoundly affirmed, I cycled into Swanston.

I would need an enabler to buy groceries, etc, to be a perfect agoraphobic.

A pitfall around spiritual lessons is that I can imagine I have learned them once I acknowledge their truth, and thereby avoid the hard work of taking them into my heart, but also any benefit they might bring. And, it seems to me that admitting I am agoraphobic has dented my agoraphobia. I find agoraphobia shameful, and I dealt with the shame by denial. How else? The pretence, “Of course I could go out if I wanted to,” would not fool anyone else who cared enough to form a view, and it did not really fool me, but accepting the word makes the idea concrete for me. It feels like a positive step.

It is frightening- what can I do about it? All this stuff seems insurmountable! And positive, as I am making progress. “What do I feel, now?” is a good question. I should ask myself that more often. Now I am enjoying the writing and analysis even if it is tiring. I don’t want to excuse agoraphobia. I know the reasons, but what to do about it now is more important.

Do you want to cure it?

Not necessarily. Going out, I would not necessarily be in a more comfortable position. I would like more control of it. How to control it I don’t know. Admitting I do not want to go out mitigates it.

Two years ago I identified fully with the “ego” that needs to cajole the Real Self into action. Now I identify with the Real Self. What might remain in the “ego”? The outdated “what will people think?” I inherited from my mother may have been jettisoned.

All this is in one brain, but it might be worthwhile developing Captain Sensible. The Captain thinks about things like “What will people think?” He knows that people think a lot of different things, most not centred on me, and some things disgust or delight some people. It is my own judgment I want to develop, not what I inherited, or adopted in a panic as a child. I would try to see real people, rather than my inflexible condemning judgment, and the hacks I used to get round it, finding things forgiveable where others might not.

Captain Sensible might consider medium term plans, leaving the Real Self to sing. That part of me which seeks self-improvement is only a bad thing when it starts beating me and screaming at me to Go Faster, however hard I am working. That would be a healthier ego, in balance with the Real Me.

Where’s the monster?

The image that comes to mind is of Sulley from Monsters Inc, an unfrightening monster who much preferred provoking laughter. Sulley becomes friendly and caring in the film. Again, I don’t want to imagine I have done the spiritual work if I haven’t, and The Monster could be biding its time, but right now it feels defanged, like the Woodlouse. The monster’s power resided in an ego it could terrify, that would slam the door on the Real Me and hide me in the dark.

Slamming the door is an extended metaphor. I don’t want to rely on it as a perfect map. “Fightings and fears, within, without” are not so easily overcome. Yet the monster seems less powerful.

It did not want me to be-
it is hard to get the word out. There are inner voices challenging that. I want to notice when I can’t say something, and overcome the refusal. The word is “feminine”. The inner voices say “feminine” is not a coherent concept. It means something to me. Possibly those inner voices still resist that.

Then the monster would be diffused. I would not panic and shut down-

yes. “I”. There is one brain.

I would not panic and shut down, but might still avoid places my old programming finds dangerous, which could be liberating.

And then, there’s the actual experience of other people, like getting bullied at Newport. I have told this story without weeping before. Now I want to get it out in limited time, and remember other details of the chaos of it, and weep. And I can say “I was bullied” without The Evidence, those facts that show it was bullying and not reasonable management of a recalcitrant worker- and I have to tell The Evidence as well.

I have really bad experiences of other people, over and over again, and great distress thinking of them or my situation now.

Now and not-now, Real Self and mask

There is “Being in the Now”. I am aware of sensory input now. I listen to what people say. I see their body language. I am aware of what I feel now, and it flows without overflowing. I speak what I need to say, now. And there is “Being in past and future”, thinking of what I will say rather than hearing the other, being with worries and ruminations, walking and barely seeing where I am because I am treading the old cognitive paths. Continue reading

What is God?

I am an atheist materialist Quaker. I find meeting for worship, the Quaker business method, and the Quaker community work, and if I am right that the God as an independent entity George Fox, or convinced Quakers now, might have believed in does not exist, they would work in an accidental universe. Before, I have said “I am emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”; and now that does not work so well for me, as so many spiritual practices, such as attuning to the Now, seem utterly bound up in being a physical animal.

I don’t object to others’ conceptions of God. The idea of Panentheism, God in everything, is attractive as there is a life force. Life never gives up the struggle to survive, it takes in energy and produces action. The life force started on Earth when life started here and before then there was energy, movement and possibility. This life force produces healing, so that as a wounded body heals so does a wounded psyche. My proper attitude to things outside my skin is wonder and love, because this is the Kingdom of God or the Republic of Heaven, and that is what receiving it like a little child means to me. Spiritual writings which speak to people speak truth in metaphor if they are not literally true.

Working with my psychotherapist I identify a Real Me, where my motivation, desire, delight and creativity reside, and a guard which slams the door on it, as in childhood I learned that spontaneous self-expression was dangerous. That might fit the “ego” in this Richard Rohr meditation. I am unsure about the word “ego” as I associate it with Freud, and the id, that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, and the super-ego, a moral conscience, with Freud’s “ego” mediating between the two. My “Real me” appears strongly pro-social, and that fits my idea of humanity as a social animal. I need my society to survive, let alone thrive. The guard wants to be sensible and safe, to fit in to external requirements, not to be individual.

Then there was the “Reptile brain” where the four Fs reside, feeding, fleeing, fighting and the sexual drive, but I think I read somewhere that reptiles, too, have hindbrain midbrain and forebrain. Neuroanatomy and neuropsychology are moving, and I don’t want to cling to half-remembered, imperfectly understood scientific ideas mediated by journalists, even if I am right to be materialist and all experience depends on neurons and dendrites. Reading that linked article shows Freud’s id and ego to be more complex than my conception of them.

I want to be sensible and safe, but more as well. I want to integrate myself better. It felt as if the guard or ego were a mask, that I moved through the world with the mask welded on, but that speaking without the mask could be scary, so I wanted to have it to hand if required. I can wear a face like the one Eleanor Rigby keeps in a jar by the door, if I know I can take it off, that I can use its attributes, or be playful as I desire, spontaneously.

Is that “Real me” my inner light? It seems to me Good, as Walt Whitman says “every part hearty and clean”, made by God to be “Very good”. I don’t want an inadequate understanding of what is good to hobble me, to deny parts of that self and hide them in Shadow or project them on others. Quakers might do that. New England Yearly Meeting query 6 makes a distinction that is not as rigid as Freud’s superego/id, but appears rigorous: “Do you recognize divinely inspired insight? Can you distinguish between divine leadings and your own needs or desires?”

The distinction, to me, seems to be between a desire which has life and fire in it, which might mean for me flirting with this particular woman now, or organising a Meeting for Worship where people who have not found Friends might be particularly open to trying it, and an idea which appears righteous, but is more going through the motions, and when it does not work we are discouraged. It’s between what is worth trying and what isn’t, not between what is divine and what is selfish.

That could be a fault in Quakerism, so that I should leave. So much of our language- “Inner light”, “That of God”, “Spirit”- could be used to mean what is righteous and pro-social rather than selfish. Or I could define “selfish” out of existence, caging the concept in: pair-bonding is good, so I absolutely should flirt with that woman Now.

That “Real me” contains the four Fs as well as my most pro-social instincts. Then again, if Richard Rohr’s Catholicism is big enough to contain “the unified field of life itself”, or “nondual consciousness”, surely Quakerism is. Perhaps Quakers are peculiarly communal. I know  psychopaths exist, but Quakers’ “own needs or desires” may seek the good of the community. Perhaps that query means the desires of my Guard or the non-Freudian Ego, to be Normal and to fit in, to Seem rather than to Be.

There is another Good that is split from Bad: my friend with a wonderful gift of expression wrote of her friend, who “moves through the world like light bouncing off water” yet can be “still, grounded, centred, warming others like a Summer day.” Beside that, anyone might feel “stuck to the ground, heavy, hopeless, forgotten”. To we who are depressive, our lack of energy can appear morally bad, and that harmful idea gets enough affirmation from society to keep it simmering.

What is God? I am is God.
I make mistakes, and I am is God.
I get hurt and have painful feelings, and I am is God.
I need the world, and society, to support me, and I am is God.
I will die and be a memory, and We are is God.
The words are merely words, and I am, We are.

All this comes from my experience. What comes from yours?

God and The Monster

I faced the Monster, which frightens me more than anything. It did not kill me.

In psychotherapy, I said how I had felt after last week- tired and upset at first, but then really wonderful, loose, delighting in my body, happy, on Sunday after rising at six to go cycling and miss the 30° midday heat. Let us go at it. There is that “joyful, playful child” which I give strongly positive names, such as “Real me,” and which seems to hold almost all of my power of self-motivation, even if it can only resist things my rational self thinks I ought to do. It feels feminine. There is a more masculine protector whose way of protection is to suppress: to get her to be quiet and sensible. I feel that Real me might be useful in life situations. For example in the Employment Tribunal, in cross examination, I feel she could be useful if I found an opening to eviscerate and humiliate someone.

We agree to bring her out to play. I do not play long. She is charming, winsome I think, but that is only her most oft-shown face. There is hurt here. And I lean forward, ready to play, to create, to explore together but can’t say something.

It’s like Emo Philips’ joke. My parents told me never to go near the cellar door, but when I was six I was alone, the door was unlocked, and I opened it. I saw wonderous things! Trees, grass, the sky!

The masculine protector wants to shut the cellar door on the Child. It is the only way to be safe. The masculine protector will be good, obey the rules, and be safe. This is an immature technique I use in adulthood: find out the rules, follow the rules, because it gives me a sense of safety.

In fact it’s like a trapdoor. The Child wants to be charming, I promise I’ll be good, because otherwise the protector will shut the trapdoor which is the only source of light in my cellar, or bottle-dungeon, and just be good, quiet, watchful, himself.

Then comes the judgment.

I had a perfectly ordinary childhood!

What are you making up now?

So I shout it at Linda, quite out of control, enraged. There’s another reason why doing this by video is safer: I can show my full rage.

I pause to write this down. “Judgment- PERfectly ordinary childhood.

Half way through I decide to minimise it. It is the Elephant and the Woodlouse- imagine an elephant carrying a generator and two vast loudspeakers, and the judgment is deafening. Now imagine a woodlouse, with proportionately smaller speakers. It also walks towards me, and I notice this strange high pitched noise. I lean in to hear what it might be, interested. The malice is the same, but it is less powerful.

The malice is directed at myself. How can I be suppressing my true self, when my childhood was caring and nourishing, enabling me to be fully normal? That’s its main idea. Stop whining! Stop pretending! Stop fantasising!

Oh, I would like to terrify people! I would like my anger to be effective, usefully directed outwards, not just inwards at myself. I would like to know that Child was safe to enter the world, and be herself in the world.

I thought a long time ago, whether I have gone through something no human could go through without being crushed, or whether I just stubbed my toe once, I am where I am. It becomes clearer to me that I have gone through traumatic experiences, some while too young to remember them, and the Monster is lying to me. I would like the Child and the masculine protector to reconcile, and even the Monster, to tame Kerberos so he eats out of my hand, and only barks at others when I tell him to.

More than ten years ago I thought The Monster will get me, and I now see the monster more clearly.

There is something in my room, and I write a poem to it.

I hate you as much as I have ever hated anyone.
I want you dead.
Your touch makes my skin crawl.
Your noise is worse than tinnitus.
Your constant motion baffles and immiserates me.
I want you to feed the birds,
yet one of you drives me to distraction.

I surprised myself today (Tuesday). Previously the Real Me has been only sweet and lovely, playful and joyful. Today she showed her teeth. If that is to be my main self, it cannot be without dark emotion.

On Tuesday evening, with Canada Yearly Meeting annual sessions, which I joined by Zoom, I named the Real Self and the protector slamming the trapdoor. This is a childish self-protection mechanism, I said. When I became an adult, I shall put away childish things.

On Wednesday 12th, I was reading Mysticism and Resistance by Dorothee Sölle. The “Resistance” in the title refers to political action; I am only on the second chapter, on mysticism, on stepping out of the ego or petty self into God. I could not read it. Where is God in this scheme, the real me, the masculine protector, the monster? With Pendle Hill worship sharing, the question was, “Are you ready to respond to any concern God may lay upon you, large or small?” How could I respond? No, my hands are full at the moment?

First, I thought, this is my Concern, that I am working on. Then I identified the Real Me as the inner light. The more I speak from God and act from God, the more confident I become in so speaking and acting.

This is the end of my mysticism, to become fully that real me. A Friend wrote, “I hear you opening yourself to let God think through you, and see through you, and also, I sense, feel through you, as you lay your ego aside in worship.”

Wednesday afternoon I joined Canada Yearly Meeting annual sessions, online. I was part of a worship sharing group on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the second question we addressed was, “How has the spirit been with thee since last we met?” I feel abashed. I know the depth of the claim I am making, that I can speak directly from God or Spirit in conversation as well as ministry, and I want to make it. I remember Liz saying a better translation is “I Am is the way, the truth and the life.” The ego, which seeks to guard me and make sure I appear well is like filthy rags which do not cover me or keep me warm, like Isaiah’s dry, cracked cisterns without water. Ego is worthless. God speaks and acts through me, as an atheist materialist.

One says she is Spirit until she stops and distances herself from it. Being nondual, we allow the unfolding and are part of it. We join in the dance.

In therapy

In therapy I experienced a state of complete vulnerability and terror, which I carry around in myself, in a safe setting. If

  • I am affected in my daily life by this terror, though I am unconscious of it
  • I can bring it to consciousness in therapy, and
  • bringing it to consciousness helps reduce its power over me, so that I function better

then therapy has value and I should continue with it. That seems likely. It is possible that bringing it to consciousness will just make me feel tired and wretched, as I do now, without any positive effects, but on that I trust to the psychotherapist to steer me away from-

At this my pitiless judge speaks up, and names it “pointless navel-gazing which only makes me even more useless and incompetent and non-functioning than I am now.” One advantage of having this level of judgment is I can think, well, that really is unlikely.

Another example of the judgment. I think, My femininity must be in my innate real self, as my upbringing valued making me a Man, a Christian gentleman, a good man, a solid and dependable masculine being. And my judgment says,


Rather my parents expected me to be weak and soft, they just wanted me to pretend to be male.

It ascribes to me the meanest motives, not even self-serving in a useful way, and utter worthlessness. It is not true. Yet it has power over me.

Last week, as I spoke from a feminine real self and a masculine protector wanting her not to be so open and truthful- the real self unmasked, and another saying the mask was necessary for safety, and the judgment judging both as completely wrong, both worthless and stupid and self-serving, I got more and more tongue-tied, and at the end I imagined that IB client and his mother. At the end of our interview, I gave my reassuring speech that yes this was worrying but I would be there to help, and she repeated it to him, stripping out all the respect and care. “Mr Languish knows you will be stressed but try not to worry too much” as in don’t make a fuss or be even more useless. A memory may be my unconscious’ way to communicate with my conscious mind what I am feeling.

I wondered if this were transference, and if it would be useful to speak to her as if she were my mother. She wondered if the therapy was useful, and if it were worthwhile continuing after six sessions. I said that I appeared to be functioning better though that could be down to daily worship with Pendle Hill, and there must be some value to six sessions or it would be unethical to offer them and we should try to get the most out of what we had. Though I am unhappy with the length of time I took to express that I am happy with the thoughts expressed. The second one may have come from her, last week: I am suggestible.

How have I benefited from therapy in the past?

Well, I feel I have had certain steps forward. I realised that I was afraid of my fear and anger being visible, so when I felt fear or anger I resisted them and the resistance, like an isometric exercise, made them unbearable. Then in October 2018 I was moved to meditate, and it felt like I was swimming in my pain, aware and not resisting, and it was bearable. Though on Monday with Pendle Hill, I found I was judging the ministry as uninspired, then rebuking myself “Receive spoken ministry in a tender and creative spirit”, then judging the next: setting up a resistance, which stopped me hearing the ministry, rather than noticing the judgment and still hearing the ministry. Resistance is still possible, it just happens less. Permitting all my feelings when they seemed so dangerous is difficult.

And in September 2009 I could have told you a story of my mother, of weeping uncontrollably, and ended it with all the emotion of myself aged nine wailing

She didn’t understand!

And in 2009, I thought, oh right. She didn’t understand. (That is, she was human.) I would have said it was a moment of forgiveness, reconciliation, and understanding- until this morning when it seemed there was unresolved pain from it- unmet expectations of my mother I still thought reasonable, or anger at the World.

Now it seems to me that was about the last of a series of battles of will, and the only one I remember. I am a baby, on my back, utterly vulnerable and terrified, with my mother judging. And so in the past I have had days when I felt a complete lack of trust in myself, my feelings, perceptions and beliefs, I could not even trust them to be reliably wrong, just stopped clocks whose rightness was random. This is a destabilising feeling. In the past it has happened rarely, and the feeling has ebbed over the following days. The last time I had such an extreme attack is over a year ago.

This morning, it seemed- this was the last of a series of battles of will, most of which occurred very early. It was a freak of nature. My will had been subsumed under hers as a toddler, and this aged nine was an assertion of my own judgment which never happened at any other time. For a moment, part of me had protruded out from under her thumb, and was squeezed back. Then in my thirties I thought “It is time to rebel against my parents”- time to become my own person- and I now have my own moral and aesthetic sense, though not clearly my own desires.

Are you safe, she asks again. Yes. I have suffered extremes of distress before, and I live through them. I can be distressed here, and I will survive. In fact I am safer doing this by video, because when it ends I do not face the labour of getting myself home when desperately tired.

I hope this is not pointless and painful navel-gazing, that it creates understanding and resilience.

Kindness to yourself

“Practise ways of being kind to yourself,” she said. He had a way: put your hand on your heart, and make this noise: Awwww. Awwwwww. He meant it entirely sincerely, which is mindblowing: normally no-one would use such a noise to an adult except in cruel and bitter irony, but it can be an act of acceptance and healing.

We are broken to be whole. Yang, the Will, makes and does. Yin receives, hears, and is impacted by the world- it notices what is in the world, and it notices and hears my own feelings and reactions. There is no need to rescue, fix or control such feelings. There is no need to take the Spiritual Journey too seriously: stop striving, and just Be. Every twenty minutes, ask, “What am I feeling?” Often I don’t know. If I am tense, that is against my self-image, which says I should not be tense, I have nothing to be tense about. That makes me tense and stressed most of the time. Be open and curious. Welcome the feelings. This is not a struggle, breaking through, deep work, but kindness and gentleness with the self.

In 2011, I wondered how to keep the sense of being in touch with perception and feelings during action. Sometimes it happens. I feel it now.

Humans are approval addicts, and the Shadow self includes good things like our Shining. So when we are first shamed, a part of us sloughs off, remains at the same level of maturity, and guards the doors against such shame. It’s a child that age desperate to stop me shining, with all the intensity, anger and desperation of that child. If we listen to our own feelings, we can recalibrate and discharge them.

“I am now a human being who is willing to feel and be with my uncomfortable feelings.”

Something upsetting. If it was a training, what was I trying to learn? If it was a reminder to self-care, what self-care is necessary? How is it an invitation to show up more, to be more honest, visible and vulnerable? How does it hurt more because of pain in my past? What are the gifts I can share with others?

My Not Going Out is not a minor thing at all, it is not a “minor thing” at all.

With feelings, find the Heart Mountain. The mountain will not be moved. Be in the heart, and check in with it. There is the trigger, and the explosion- if it is in the mountain, I can feel the explosion, see how big it is, permit the feeling, then Respond. The wise kind part of me feels the feeling, the charge goes down, and I can be a reasonable adult.

This is difficult. My ego is always telling me to be that reasonable adult, so I mimic an idea of a reasonable adult while suppressing the feeling, then my mimicry becomes ridiculous and I break down. Many things trigger me into my protective mask.

What are the primary triggers that most knock you out of your heart? I need to consider that, but I need to practise being in my heart as well.

The self-hatred, the cry that I am Wrong, or not good enough, is all in me. My masculine protector cannot protect me. My feminine self is now safe enough. The main threat to her was that The Monster Will Get Me- my mother, withdrawing love for the child. There is no such monster now, except for my own fears.

My great desire is Safety. I beat myself up over this, quoting the Parable of the Talents to myself: “You wicked and lazy slave!” is the kind of language I use to myself; but I imagine there is a safe and sensible course of action which will produce a predictable result, and even two possible results which I can predict make me seasick.

My needs are in conflict:

The need to survive
The need not to be overwhelmed
The need to be the real me in the real world

The conflict is almost entirely unconscious. I need to bring it into consciousness, into slow thinking, perceive what is going on, work out a response, consciously, and accept all of it. I need to treat it with love or I will be unconscious and unable to see.

Under all that, everyone is lovely and generous.

Jamie Catto’s exercise was to write comic scenes where I am ridiculous because I go into my mask, my pretending self. I did not because my mask uses ridicule to suppress my real self. Don’t be stupid and don’t pretend, or act out a feeling, the mask tells the real self. However, in the mask I lose all my power.

I could not tell a history last week. With my psychotherapist I got as far as saying my parents loved each other very much, and were a strong partnership, and could not say how this damaged me. This week I told a history and noted that I could not merely assert something, I had to prove it, to my own satisfaction, with a story which demonstrated it to me. I could not say “This is how it was/is”. I felt angry with her and expressed it- “I don’t give a fuck what you think”- though in acted quotation marks. Where does the anger come from? It is anger at being judged, and the judgment is in my own head. I told of the FaurĂ© “Song without words” and my love of its beauty.

After, I had a healing cry, over my mother’s death, over my hurt and the waste, which was exhausting. Here is the Sorrow. It is healing. From the Atlantic, I found two quotes which speak to me.

“The nature of their brokenness is incompatible with [what do I want more than to hide?] But as a man of faith I would like to believe there is transcendent grace.” As a rationalist, I might say, human resilience and creativity.

The second was about mass shooters, which fits my self-loathing. “You were owed something, or your life should have been X, but because of”- my upbringing?- “you can’t access them”. Don’t Wallow! I tell myself sternly, which only makes me feel more hurt, incompetent, and exhausted. I beat myself up so hard it makes me too much in pain to do anything. I am not kind to myself. So I may benefit from working on being kind to myself.

Self-acceptance, social feelings, and my own feelings

Self-acceptance is liberation. If you can accept yourself, you are free.

Something put me into a state of complete terror today. It was so frightening that I don’t want to allude to what it is. Then I saw I had made a mistake, and felt relief. I wept like a child. I wanted someone to hear me. I would share about it on social media. Or I would phone the Samaritans, to say this had happened, and I felt terror. Then I realised I did not need to. I could accept the feeling myself. I was terrified, and I understood that I was terrified, accepted that terror was completely the right reaction, and felt the terror. As a result I did not need to tell anyone. I am only telling you now to show how self-acceptance makes feelings so much more bearable and useful, not to process the terror. I don’t know how I would be if my initial impression, which terrified me so, had been correct.

Had I been unable to accept the feeling in myself I would have needed validation from someone else. “Yes,” she would say. “I can see why that might make someone feel like that. I would have been terrified too.” And I would feel validated. This might cause problems if she was bored with validating me, and did not want to, or even worse was controlling me and using intermittent validation as a way of maintaining control. It might have been different if the terror could have been used, in fight or flight, but as so often it could not. I envy my friend, who reports that for her anger is usually an instant thing. She responds to the provocation and the anger ends, its job done.

I am glad to discuss these things. When you agree with me I trust my perception better. It seemed to me that I am not properly alone with my computer. I scroll through social media or news media, and feel the appropriate thing, which society dictates. I read about masks, and I feel resentment of those bad people who refuse to wear them. Or I read about Brexit and feel fear. There are socially acceptable feelings. I am plugged into society, and feel those feelings.

In worship it is completely different. I sit in silence, and whatever comes up comes up. Then I am with my own bespoke feeling, as it is, not some off-the-peg feeling I “ought to feel”. I do not want to be alone with myself. Difficult feelings may come up. I far prefer to plug myself into the television or computer and feel feelings which are safe, because they are prescribed.

It had seemed to me that when fear is not accepted or processed, it remains, and curdles into anxiety. Anxiety is fear from the past, and it makes up horrible things which might happen, but won’t, to explain why I feel fear when I ought to feel safe. (That ought may be introjected.) Then it seemed that sorrow is curdled sadness. What was curdled anger? A conversation with a friend revealed it is Resentment.

anxiety is congealed fear
sorrow is congealed sadness
resentment is congealed anger

With time, courage and acceptance, these ancient feelings may be processed. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin- anger is appropriate when a quick flash of action will correct the problem, sadness when it will not. With practice, perhaps a balance of anger and sadness would help with the conundrum of the serenity prayer- “knowing the difference” is difficult.

As so often, Artemisia takes the standard female subject and makes her a woman with power and agency. Here is St Lucy with the palm of martyrdom and two eyes in a goblet.