There’s a Ghost in My House

End of another week at the Clinic and time for me to reflect upon the work I have been doing internally as well as in the outside world. Life as a therapist is spent in the mirror of other people’s experiences as well as in contemplation of the lessons being presented by the universe (whatever one conceives that to mean). Rarely am I content to simply allow life to be, but I am learning, helped by my own therapy and by the supervision which keeps me grounded, to live with letting life decide when and how to bowl the balls. The better I get at getting out of the way, the more I come to know that life is lived within scripts that are handed down to us as children. Letting go of those scripts means learning to live with the ghosts in my house instead of trying to exorcise them.

Ghosts are present at the birth of every child when, as the mother is crowned with her new mantle and father is born with the child, the learnings and lessons and laughter and tears of the people long gone, are made manifest again. With each new child are reborn the generations long gone. In the rememberings, the songs, the swaddlings and the rocking of the cradle come the ghosts of the past. Within the pregnant body of the mother to be, lies dormant her own experience of being mothered and grandmothered and greatgrandmothered. Within the expectations of the father, lies the learnings passed down from great, to grand, to father. Each ghost leaves its imprint, stronger in some places, weaker in others. When the ghosts in the nursery meet, over the head of the newly born child, an alchemical change occurs as the parents in the here and now grapple with the ghosts and bring them into a new generational line.  When that alchemical change is successful, gold appears. When it fails, disaster strikes and the eruptions from the unconscious life of the most dominant family, brings forth the ghosts and the demons that have lain buried beneath.  Here then, is that place of transgenerational haunting, where the ghosts in the nursery overwhelm the here and now and the child, born at the right time but in the wrong place, becomes co-opted by the ghosts into the script that was written a long time ago.

Families are peculiar institutions. Some are fixed and unbending with rules that divide the people within them and others are diffuse and without boundaries, where everyone blends into one. Life within the four walls of any family is an interesting topic, life within my own family is, for me, something akin to an archeological dig, endlessly  fascinating and always turning up new treasures.  Working in this field  is made all the more fascinating for me because of my long term interest in the psychodynamics of the family. Listening to the words not said is as rich in content as any spoken word and how the family flows and plays together as well as how the family does conflict together or apart, speaks volumes. Excavating the scripts through which a family operates is one of the key ways we understand how alienation in a child occurs. Hearing the voices of the ghosts in the nursery tells us much about how the family navigates conflict and change and where the bodies are buried. In alienation cases, it is incredibly rare to find alienating behaviours only in the horizontal plane of existence (here and now) and very common to find them in the vertical life of the family (the lives of previous generations). Learning to let the ghosts in the house whisper the scripts which are driving the alienation in a child, is a particular skill which I am only really just learning. It comes from being able to get out of the way of my own life scripts for long enough to observe how life flows through families regardless. People in families do not live largely in the conscious world but the unconscious and it is in the unconscious where the ghosts come out to play.  And when they do, repeating patterns, especially in families where the attempt to blend two tribes into a new one fails, come rushing up into the here and now to cause chaos.

In many of the families I work with, generational patterns of estrangement are very apparent. How a family deals with conflict, through cutting someone out and sending them to coventry, through not speaking to someone for decades at a time and through avoiding the reality of the unspoken by ignoring or avoiding it, is passed down through generations. The dominant force in the couple relationship will bring their own ghosts to the party, thus a man whose own family tree contains no estrangements and normal relationships, might marry a woman whose history is full of those things. He then must wrestle with her ghosts and if she is more powerful (and the troubled people usually are), then he must capitulate and live life by her script. The same is true in the reverse when men take control and force women whose lives were previously  untroubled by conflict, to live in a world where conflict and chaos are rife. Children born to such unions will inherit that felt sense of conflict and danger and so goes the march of the next generation.

Which leaves us with what when we consider these families? Well it leaves us with ghosts and with whispers and silences, it leaves us with glances and voices half heard in the stillness (thank you T S Eliot). It leaves us with fragments of truths which surround the children we work with and it leaves us with this.

We cannot remove from the life of the child, those ghosts which are haunting the here and now. We can only learn to work with them.  We cannot evacuate the nursery and start over again with clean sheets and fresh scripts, we can only bring resilience and strength to the children who live there.  We can educate, excavate and illuminate the dark spaces within the family so that the children can see better the ghosts that attempt to seduce them and we can build up the strength of the parent who can better protect them.  But we cannot get rid of those ghosts.  We cannot remove them completely. To do so would be to remove the reality of the life that the child is born into and we are not god.

I was a child when I realised there were ghosts in my house. Now I am middle aged I have learned to live with them.  My work with alienated children increasingly tells me that whatever we do (and we can do much) to help, we can never get rid of the ghosts, but we can turn up the light so their impact is weaker. We cannot silence their voices but we can turn down the volume.

And we can teach children the skills that ensures that when they become mother and father, the alchemical struggle brings gold and not ghosts.

As I learn to live with the ghosts in my house I am learning to help children become ghost busters in theirs.

 

11 Comments

  1. To remove the ghosts is a false dichotomy, as they too present things that are both good and bad. My grandmother was an alienating woman, alienated herself from both her own parents by her grandmother with whom she grew up. She made life very difficult for her children some of whom at times were rejected by her. None of her children ever dared to cross her and contact their grandparents, even when they were adults. My mum’s generation is now slowly disappearing, their mother was always a taboo subject that could not be discussed amongst them, hence continuing to create conflict. Yet my grandmother was also a very caring grandmother who nursed me through many illnesses and taught me many things I still use today. To exercise her ghost from the family would be to get rid of what she did that was good as well as what was bad. It would be not learning from what was bad and hence repeating the same errors over and over again. The patterns of alienation was broken precisely by facing up to them, seeing them for what they were, accepting them and then doing things differently. My mum did that very consciously, though the trauma of her own childhood will be with her always. So keep your ghosts, but look them in the face and don’t fear them.

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    1. It is the work of a lifetime Kat as you point out in your comment, your mum’s childhood will be with her always, some part of us is always the child. If only there were manuals on how to keep a child safe from the intra-psychic unlived world and a way of working out where the ghosts are and how to handle them. To face the ghosts and not fear them, in my experience, requires one to know them and understand the motives and to be able to know the scripts and then stand away from them and let life do its thing. More and more I notice that life does its own thing and if we stand away from the coulds and shoulds and ought to and stop pushing the river, life happens and brings its own messages for us to listen to. Being able to keep the good bits as well as know the bad bits is a goal for us all, if only I could work out a way of teaching children (who are at the mercy of the adults in their lives) the resiliences they need to survive the bad. Perhaps that is my next task!!

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  2. The script from my dad, grandad, great grandad was barely present. What was there was distant, but monolithic on the horizon like thunder at the same time. My great grandad was killed when my grandad was only a boy, and my grandad from a young age had to help his mum raise the younger siblings. My dad was an only child, i know his childhood wasnt a bed of roses and he soon learned not to upset his dad and to keep on the straight and narrow. My dad didnt spend that much time with me as a kid, to be honest it was like i was a burden, interfering with gardening, or recovery from hangovers, we didnt really connect and after i overcame my fear of him i was off. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”(emanating from the 1920’s before the NHS), “if a jobs worth doing its worth doing reyt”……fucking ell, slow down im 2 months old ffs. The ghosts were few, but bloody adamant. LOL

    I think my fathher got pissed everynight to silence the spectral spooks, along with escaping us at home…he was easily frustrated and to be honest he didnt know what to do.

    When J was born i wanted to make sure i was there for him, i knew in my life something had been missing with my dad. Over the past few years i have been aware of a lot of things but they are becoming crystal clear.
    I hadnt many ghosts, if they had turned up giving it what for i would have throttled them…..not with my lad you dont, i would have said. With J, i was going to be there, i swore an oath to him when he was born and i first held him that i would never abandon him and always be there for him, my “little baby nothing” six weeks prem “4lb 7oz” on the special care baby unit….his mum went into labour listening to “design for life” on the radio before it was released as a single or on the album(think that came as a bit of a shock after the bleak stark reality check of the “holy bible”) How could i not be there for him….if i had wanted to scarper i knew the Universe would have trampled all over me, really. It was already kicking my arse. It does that to a select few. Wait till i get upstairs. Im not having it.

    So, i had swore never to abandon him and always be there for him, not wanting the few ghosts to interfere too much….not wanting to raise him the way i was erm, un-raised….so i was pretty much winging it and with the mindset of not being like my own dad…distant, cold, harsh, scathing, mostly. It wasnt going to be like that for my lad

    I hadnt even stopped to consider the ghouls in the background on the otherside…i was having a bloody nightmare dealing with those in the here and now in the shape of his mother, nan and grandad, i was terrified that his mother and grandmother could be as cruel to him as they had been to me or worse, whilst her dad, J’s grandad sat there saying and doing nothing. I had seen how they treat their dog along with what j’s mother had been like with me before and after J was born.

    Had i known more back then, i would have realised the importance of my great grandfather being killed and what that meant to my upbringing and the ghosts surrounding us all on ourside of the drainpipe……and i would have also been able to understand the transgenerational trauma on his mothers side of the drainpipe where her grandad up’ed and left her nan for another woman when her mum was a child and her dad(joshs other grandad) had basically exorcised himself from his family upon marrying joshs nan……he has/had a perfectly healthy respectable normal family that he had nothing to do with at all, j’s mother had a cousin roughly the same age she barely knew, yet extra family relations were kept tight on her mothers side.

    So J is the focal point for a whole lot of transgenerational trauma re-enactments and affects by the lack of presence of some things which should be there but arent because they werent, a sense of security for a start. Then theres me winging it like a timelord added to the mix banging on the bongoes like a chimpanzee. I have been surrounded by bongoes. There all over the bloody place.

    I was going to say that theres no wonder that boy was different class out their on the pitch, but the truth is its an effin miracle, but spelled L.O.V.E.

    x

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    1. J’s mother is the one carrying the transgenerational trauma pattern, sounds like that comes down through her mother and her father became the silent witness who cut himself off from his own family (in order to please his new wife perhaps, it happens often). You were the imperfect partner for J’s mother, you were far too present in his life – in her life script men are seen and not heard – the risk for J is he will marry someone like his mother and be expected to become another silent witness and his unresolved blame projection onto you will prevent him from being able to become a wholly rounded person with access to all of his own hopes and dreams. The splitting that occurs when a young person becomes alienated is difficult to resolve, J risks becoming alienated from his own children too if he cannot resolve it. The more I do this work the more I know that alienation is a childish defence mechanism which is employed by a child to defend against an impossible choice. That however is naturally resolved if the young person is given the chance and the space to seek out the split off parent. If not, the condemnation to the continued splitting off of the parts of the self which are feared and hated by the alienating parent, causes the young person to lose the opportunities that are theirs by right, to build a brain that has perspective and to develop the ability to move outside the primitive world of goodies and baddies to a world in which people’s imperfections are accepted. That is the real world. The world J lives in now is his mother’s fantasy which was likely her mother’s fantasy, which was likely her mother’s fantasy – and so it goes. But it shouldn’t go that way because children are not pawns to be used in the unresolved theatres of the past. Children have the right to their own lives, their own choices and their own freedoms to choose. Right now J has none of those although he may think he has. Sometime soon he will struggle hard in the outside world (he already does internally, all alienated children do). That’s when not taking the high road is the road to travel. He needs you to be there, if you were not there when he realises he would be lost for good. So as his mother drowned him in her intra-psychic terrors, you will pull him free when the time comes. In truth, the shadow men in your family line should have made you a perfect partner for J’s mother but you chose the different path to the shadow men and were there and are still there for J. Teaching him that that is what men do, even as you are not there in his physical world, will protect him from some of the worst she can do. Even as an alienated parent you are still parenting him. Nothing is wasted even though the pain you suffer to be there for him without return is more than any human being should bear. He is lucky though he doesn’t know it, he will, one day.

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      1. I saw a little video of him posted by a workmate of his on his fb wall, they were delivering near RAF Coningsby and they were under the flight path of returning Typhoons(eurofighters). Josh was outside and in front of the lorry he was working on when a typhoon flewby right over their heads on its approach to landing. Only a short video, but enough for me to see that just for a moment at least i will have been in his thoughts as he watched the typoon pass overhead and then turned to get back in the lorry….just for a moment, i was there with him….and then he put me back in his pocket for another time and presumably got on with his job…with his ears buzzing from the typoon…and hopefully an extra beat in his heart…knowing i will always be with him because i was there despite the attempt to crowbar me out of his life. Thank you K. x

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  3. The starting point here seems to be the acceptance of the unconscious realm. But this is rarely part of everyday acceptance – how much resistance do you find…and how do you go about dealing with it?

    I’ve noticed that people can be adamant about the existence of God – and equally refuse the existence of the unconscious.

    I’m hoping to make a short film with my youngest daughter (the one who has largely escaped the alienation) which will introduce the concept of unconscious influence by means of a ball – a ball which (it will turn out) can speak and has a life and will of its own, which it is trying to silently express through the play adventures they have together.

    As can be expected – Mum has not so far been supportive. Although she doesn’t know the script…and hasn’t asked – I bet her unconscious forces will instinctively sense the possibility of some unmasking/releasing potential here!

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    1. I don’t find much resistance to it Woodman, I use the idea of going on an archeological dig to get people I work with into it. Children love the idea of learning about who they are by studying people not here anymore and it is easy from there to help them to think about the messages they hear and the messages that come to them silently. I teach children that they are the most precious people on the planet and that the adults around them have the responsibility to put their needs to be cared for and supported emotionally and psychologically first. Because I am working with alienated children, they at first think that means that they should be in charge and so it is through the relationship with me, as I stand firmly on the line of benign authority, that they begin to learn to accept that they do not need to be in control and can go back to the unconscious work of childhood. All children live in the unconscious world, it is the world of childhood, it is full of play and imagination and creativity. In that world anything can happen and does and they can be super heroes and super footballers and super women. The cruelty of alienation is that it forces upon a child the requirement to be older than their years and it robs children of that unconscious world of safety that they all deserve. I am reading a powerful book at the moment about dissociation and the splitting of the ego in cases of severe sexual abuse and what I realise is that the splitting seen in alienated children, which is a defensive gesture against the horror of being forced to choose between their beloved parents, is akin to the attempted murder of the soul which occurs when a child is sexually abused. That is why it is a child protection issue, it is child abuse and it removes the child’s right to a normal healthy childhood. Your proejct sounds interesting, do tell us how it goes won’t you.

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      1. This has to be a particularly relevant and timely post coming up to Halloween – very powerful.

        I didn’t expect you to have any particular difficulty relaying a working concept of the unconscious to the children – it was the adults I was meaning!

        My 13 year old daughter was expressing some surprise the other day that I was quite happy when I found she was wanting to play with some mud in the back garden – whereas she knew her mum would immediately have been shouting at her. We quickly used it to build a scene into the film and covered up the evidence afterwards so that Mum won’t know – at least until the film is done!

        Isn’t mud such a nice environment for working out and allowing unconscious processes?

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  4. John didn’t know how to start this conversation with George. Last week he had seen him entering MIND, that’s the mental health drop-in centre of national repute. For so long George had been coming to the monthly meetings imparting wise words of encouragement for all the lost souls desperately trying to make sense of their broken lives.

    It never crossed John’s mind that George could still be struggling mentally, not that it was any of his business, he thought.

    George had had a few different jobs in his time, but this latest one was giving him a great deal of pleasure. Working as a support worker in direct contact with the daily lives of the people he was assisting, some with mental health problems, others with mental disabilities, had given him an opportunity to employ a lot of the skills he had learnt through his personal experience of co-parenting.

    However, wherever he went in his career there came a point where he could progress no further, it wasn’t that he lacked in the skills department; he was very much in demand. He would progress so far in the company and then find himself outdone by people who were more forceful, more overtly confident by nature. He would capitulate when challenged. He found himself being offered “supervision” by his bosses when all he really wanted was support and backing. His report said he lacked leadership skills.

    This had created a certain amount of anxiety in George’s mind. He began to fret and to lose sleep. In his more rational moments George would reflect on his own nature. How long ago, his father had shouted at him, his elder brother had tricked and conned him, his mother had protected him.

    Was George feeling and behaving in a similar way to that which he had learnt in his childhood? Was he destined not to be a leader? Did it matter? To whom? Was his effectiveness and power of influence stunted by his past experiences, his early years upbringing?

    There were many posters clinging to the dilapidated walls of the MIND drop-in centre (by the way thankyou what an incredible place). One in particular stood out. The poster was relatively new but the wisdom had been around for thousands of years. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something about …………if you want to affect your future, concentrate on the present. Be aware in any given moment how you feel and what is going on around you. Be attentive; attentive to what your senses are experiencing. Smell, sights, sounds, touch, taste are all significant in the present moment. If you don’t appreciate the present moment it will pass you by without so much as a whisper.

    On the way home George stopped by a tree he had passed many times before. He captured a photo of the rich and varied colours of the leaves in various states of decay; he kicked up the leaves that lay in heaps on the ground; he smelt the glorious aroma of sodden mouldy vegetation. He picked up a pretty shaped leaf then crumbled it in his hand feeling the dust as it was gently taken from his hand by a cool breeze. George was content in the here and the now.

    Kind regards

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