WORKING TOGETHER TO CREATE AN ABUSE-FREE FUTURE
Publisher: Beverly Engel
Thank you everyone who has emailed me to say they liked (and in some
cases loved) my new book, Healing Your Emotional Self. I appreciate your
feedback so much!
I missed writing last month’s e-zine because I was busy
finishing yet another book: The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome: When You or
Someone You Love Seems Like Two Different People (which will be out next
year). I was also busy traveling.
First I went to Dillon, Montana to teach a course in
Emotional Abuse for the University of Montana-Western. I had a wonderful
time there, especially with the Psychology students and other professionals
who took my course. Thank you so much Denise for your efforts to get me
there and your wonderful hospitality.
I was so impressed with the openness of our young people, how willing they
are to share their feelings and to support one another. They especially
liked the experience of meeting in circles and plan on continuing their
circle. Some of the psychology students also plan on going out to the high
schools and offering the information I shared with them on emotional abuse.
I think that is a wonderful idea! Unfortunately, many young women, in
particular, are being emotionally abused by their boyfriends.
I then went on to Helena, Montana where I presented two workshops at the
2006 Annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference. Finally, I went to
Sedona, Arizona for a much-needed vacation.
Since many of you will also be traveling this summer, this month’s article
is on travel—namely how it affects those who have an abusive history.
In the News from Beverly segment
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THE PAIN AND JOY OF TRAVELING
“A good marriage is one in which each partner appoints
the other to be the guardian of his solitude…”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Traveling can be especially difficult for those who had an
abusive or neglectful childhood. At the same time, traveling can often be a
wonderful way to discover and develop one’s true self. Think about your
traveling experiences. Would you say that traveling brings out the best or
the worst in you?
Traveling can be extremely stressful for many people.
Leaving one’s comfortable home environment, the pressure of having to catch
planes or trains on time, being in unfamiliar settings—all these things can
cause us to become anxious, tense, and insecure. For others, traveling can
be more than simply stressful. It can be disorienting and can even cause a
person to become emotionally fragile or explosive. For example, those who
have borderline personality disorder (BPD) or borderline traits often have a
lot of difficulty adjusting to a new environment. Change of any kind can be
stressful since they do not have a strong sense of self—an internal
awareness of who you are and how you fit into the world. In addition, those
with BPD or borderline tendencies (an estimated 6 million people in the
United States alone) tend to walk around with a great deal of anxiety
anyway. Add the stress of packing, leaving home, having to operate on
someone else’s timetable and you have a situation that can be extremely
trying for someone with BPD.
Unfortunately, those with BPD or BPD traits do not tend to
look inside themselves in order to discover why they are feeling so anxious
or uncomfortable. Instead, they tend to look outside themselves and to blame
those who are closest to them for their discomfort. This is often why many
couples fight so much when they are on vacation. One or both people is
feeling anxious and stressed out and they take it out on each other. I
remember that when I was in my early twenties I always fought with
boyfriends whenever we went on vacation together. My tendency to feel
unhappy on vacations and to pick fights with my partners was a clear sign of
my own borderline tendencies at the time.
Do you tend to have arguments with those you are traveling
with, especially in the beginning of the trip, en route to your destination,
and when you first arrive? If so it may be because you are anxious about
being away from home and your usual routine. You may even feel a bit
disoriented since home and routine tend to ground us.
Some who suffer from BPD become depressed when they travel.
I’ve had many clients who consistently find that they feel sad, afraid,
withdrawn and even shut down when they first get to a new environment. For
this reason I recommend that they try to make as few changes of environment
as possible when they travel. Instead of moving around from hotel room to
hotel room they find that they feel much more secure staying in one location
and exploring from there. That way they have fewer changes to adjust to.
Some people find fault in their traveling companion because
they are anxious about spending a concentrated amount of time with someone.
This may involve a fear of engulfment or entrapment. If you find that you
have a pattern of becoming irritable and critical of your partner when you
travel, you may suffer from this unconscious fear. Some pick a fight in an
unconscious attempt to get some distance from their partner, while others
withdraw in silence. Instead of falling into this pattern, recognize your
irritability, withdrawal and tendency to be critical for what they
are—indications that you need time and distance from the relationship. Tell
your partner you need some time to yourself and then take it. Go for a walk
or go into another room and write in your journal. Unless your partner is
terribly insecure or is a control freak, he or she will respect your need
and you will get a chance to regain your sense of self.
It is important that you set aside time when you travel to
connect with yourself. We experience surroundings differently when we are
alone versus when we are sharing the experience with someone else. When we
are with another person we can become distracted by his or her reactions to
the environment, we can get involved in conversation and miss things, or we
can focus so much on our partner that we lose the awareness of our own
reaction. Get up early some morning and take a walk alone when you travel.
Let your walk become a moving meditation, a time to clear your head and
connect with your emotions and your spirit. As you take in the fresh air
allow your mind to clear from all the superfluous chatter and minutiae of
your daily life. Notice the colors and textures, the smells and sounds
If you tend to lose yourself in relationships spending time alone will help
you regain or establish a stronger sense of self. You need time alone to
discover who you really are, to learn to rely on yourself, to learn to like
your own company, and to break your tendency to merge with others. (For more
help on ways to stop losing yourself in your relationships, refer to my
book, Loving Him without Losing You).
Traveling can force people together in ways that can become
uncomfortable. Familiarity can indeed breed contempt if one or both partners
has a tendency to lose themselves in a relationship and then to suffer from
a fear of engulfment. If you suspect that the reason your partner is
irritable, critical or withdrawn is because he or she needs some space from
the relationship, suggest that he or she take a walk or offer to do so
yourself. Instead of participating in an argument that you suspect is merely
a distancing tactic, get away from your partner for a short time until he or
she cools off or gets needed space.
On the other hand, for some people, traveling can be a
prescription for growth and healing. For example, those who were raised by
narcissistic parents find that they benefit greatly from traveling. I have
always found this to be true. As I wrote in Healing Your Emotional Self,
today I am at my best when I travel, especially when I travel alone. I feel
excited and open and independent. My personality takes on a subtle but
profound change. I’m more friendly than I am at home. I am more open to
meeting and talking to strangers. I feel more energy and I take greater
For adult children of narcissistic parents, experiences such
as travel confront what we are taught to believe. Travel teaches us how
people can live in non-narcissistic ways. . As Elan Golomb so eloquently
wrote in her classic book, Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of
Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self: “Children of narcissists benefit
from stepping into the unknown of any type, be it people, reading, growing
things, experimenting, playing instruments. It can be a trip to a place so
far from parental judgment that it makes you feel beyond your parent’s
reach, so far that you can try out different ways of being.”
As you continue to work on yourself you will find that
traveling becomes easier and easier. I was pleasantly surprised at how much
more enjoyable my most recent traveling experiences have been and how much
better I handled even stressful situations. I could really see my growth. In
the past I often felt uncomfortable unless there was a conversation going on
when I had a travel companion. Looking back I think I must have talked way
too much and tired out my partner. In time I learned that silence was not as
frightening as I had imagined. As I developed a stronger sense of self to
fill up the emptiness inside, I found that silence was a welcome opportunity
to connect with myself and my feelings. In the past I also tended to feel
trapped while traveling with a companion. I’d begin to notice their faults
and find that I was growing more and more impatient with the person, causing
me to become more distant (it is a common paradox for those with borderline
tendencies to feel both afraid of abandonment and entrapment, sometimes at
the same time). During my recent trip to Sedonna with a friend I noticed
that I did not experience either fear—I welcomed silence but could also be
patient when my companion needed to talk, even when I could have welcomed
more silence. I took time alone when I needed it and took responsibility for
any anxiety that I felt.
I was also quite proud of myself when I went to India and
Nepal in December of 2004. While many on the tour became irritable with one
another or gossiped about each other I was able to stay connected to myself
enough to manage my own anxiety instead of projecting it onto others. I
flowed naturally between connecting with others and connecting inside
I hope your travels go well this summer. Don’t forget to
take time for yourself and to continue your recovery work, whatever form it
takes. We can’t afford to take a vacation from our work on ourselves.
“How do we find what is important for us? It is not enough for children of
narcissists to follow the marked trail that others lay before them.
Strength develops out of fighting with our handicaps. We evolve from
struggling to cope with our difficulties.”
— Elan Golomb, Trapped in the Mirror
LOOK FOR MY NEW BOOK
your Emotional Self: A POWERFUL
PROGRAM TO HELP YOU RAISE YOUR SELF-ESTEEM, QUIET YOUR INNER
CRITIC AND OVERCOME YOUR SHAME COMING OUT THIS MONTH!
“Emotionally abusive parents are indeed toxic parents, and they cause
significant damage to their children’s self-esteem, self-image, and body
image. In this remarkable book, Beverly Engel shares her powerful Mirror
Therapy program for helping adult survivors to overcome their shame and
self-criticism, become more compassionate and accepting of themselves, and
create a more positive self-image. I strongly recommend it for anyone who
was abused or neglected as a child.”
—Susan Forward, Ph.D., author of Toxic Parents
“In this book, Beverly Engel documents the wide range of psychological
abuses that so many children experience in growing up. Her case examples and
personal accounts are poignant and powerful reminders that as adults, many
of us are still limited by defenses we formed when trying to protect
ourselves in the face of the painful circumstances we found ourselves in as
children. Engel’s insightful questionnaires and exercises provide concrete
help in the healing process, and her writing style in lively and engaging.
This book is destined to positively affect many lives.”
—Joyce Catlett, M.A., coauthor of Fear and Intimacy
WORKSHOPS AND SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS
Our first One-Day Retreat Honoring Women’s Spirituality,
“Gather the Women and Save the World” in San Luis Obispo, CA was a big
success. Feedback on the event was overwhelmingly positive and we were able
to raise about $4000 for the Women’s Press. Because of this success we have
decided to continue to offer workshops on a monthly basis, our first
workshop being one led by myself on “How to Create and Sustain a Women’s
Circle.” For more information and specific dates go to
www.womenspress-slo.org or call
For those professionals reading this e-zine, I highly
recommend The American Psychotherapy Association’s 2006 National Conference
in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 21-23rd. For more information call (800) 205-9165
I hope you enjoyed this issue of Working Together to Create an Abuse-Free
Working Together, copyright,
Beverly Engel. All rights reserved.
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