Invalidation can be Devastating

(Written in January 2010)
I’ve decided to post this entire story, hoping it will help people understand how to really be helpful to a challenged friend.  It illustrates the danger of well-meaning people who have their own agenda, and aren’t really paying attention to the person they are trying to help.  At the time this happened, the idea that I was getting too much nurturing and not being challenged, was unbelievably ridiculous.  I was emotionally and psychologically an infant who had been badly hurt.  I was totally challenged just surviving the day. The danger of suicide was real.  Notice that it took two therapists and two knowledgeable friends to help me out of it.

Dear Guides and Guardian Spirits, I’m feeling pretty bummed out.  I asked Paula for help — I really need to do some grief work — but she took it upon herself to tell me that I should get out of this house that’s full of depression energy, and go see people, etc etc.  When I tried to tell her what I needed she kept making me wrong.  At the moment I just want to die.  I just can’t do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.  Please help me.
    Dear Jenny, it’s really unfortunate that Paula chose to do that.  You were right about needing to do grief work and she was not helpful at all.  That’s very painful when you are still having to work at reaching out for help.  Of course an experience like that will make you feel like not trying again.  But the truth is that you need more help than you currently have.  And you do need to keep reaching out.  Call Beverly Decker and invite yourself for lunch.  Make some choices.

next day:
Woke up feeling bummed out.  I had asked Paula to help me by listening to me read.  But she arrived with an agenda — she’d decided I was getting too much nurturing and not being challenged.  So she started in saying why did I stay in this depressed house and not get out & be with people.  Well, that might make sense if I’d been in the house for a month, but I had been out quite a bit, twice to Neskaya recently.  When I tried to explain what I needed and what worked for me, she made everything I said wrong.  Her attacks were actually quite stupid, sort of generic, didn’t really address what I had just said, or perhaps intentionally misunderstood, because she’d also shift the ground.  I got angry and she was delighted, but in fact it wasn’t the kind of anger that helps.  I wish I’d thought to ask her if she’d be willing to tell me what she heard me say.  I’m not going to play that game again.  I realize I was vulnerable because there was a recent time when she did listen to me read from Resource and validated what I said and I came out feeling much better.
Fortunately I had a telephone appointment with Karen.  I told her what had happened, and she validated my side of it.  Then I read some pieces out of resource and cried and she validated me.  Later I called Beverly and had a similar conversation.  I think Karen and Beverly helped me from going way down into the pit, but the rest of the day was tough.  The thought “I really don’t want to live much longer” went through my head a number of times.

third day:
Woke scared.  What Paula did really devastated me.  I’ve been wanting to die a lot.

I had a good talk with Elizabeth.  Can’t remember now what we talked about.  I did tell her about Paula and she validated my distress, and I read her the passage from my journal about the work with Ingrid.  She said my voice changed, got fuller.  It was fun to get in touch with that anger.
The session with Caryn was very painful.  I was feeling frustrated and discouraged.  I cried a lot, and wanted to smash things, I hit my leg with my fist, I wanted to smash my head against the wall and feel the bone break.  Caryn kept telling me to slow down, to titrate the energy.  She stayed with me and kept a hand on me so I’d know I wasn’t alone. At one point, when I was still angry, I wanted to kill Paula.  Caryn said that my “whole being” had resisted Paula’s invalidation.  That’s when I could feel that “whole being” reconstituting itself.  She said just as we build the resource incrementally, so we rebuild the structure of the self after such devastation. I finally wanted to hide so I curled up on the floor and held the cushion in front of me.  Then I was finally able to relax, and everything shifted.  My body got softer.   I spent the last half hour on the table.  I could feel a shift in my feet and Caryn said the whole body expands and contracts.
This very painful session with Caryn at least turned it around.  I was feeling better when I left, but by the time I got home I was wanting to die again.
Fortunately, Lynelle came in late in the evening to tell me why what Paula did was so damaging.  She said because of that time when Paula stayed here and cooked for me, she was very much in a mothering role, so she has a mother’s power in my psyche.  So when she invalidates me like that, the result is devastating.  No wonder I was wanting to die.  Lynelle pointing this out helped enormously.  I stopped wanting to die and have shifted to an adult comforting a frightened — actually traumatized — baby.

There is a book called “How to be a Help Instead of a Nuisance” by Karen Kissel Wegela, which I highly recommend.  It talks about the importance of really being aware of what’s going on for you. In a nutshell: “We want to remove suffering when we see it, but our desire to remove suffering is mixed up with our desire to be comfortable and not bothered by someone else’s pain.” p80  This is exactly what was happening for Paula when she was trying to help me.  It just got too uncomfortable being around my pain, she needed me to get better faster, so she made me wrong for being in pain.  Because I was in a baby state, I had no adult resources to deal with what was happening, my only resource was to want to cease to exist.

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