One of my close friends, I call her Marge, telephoned me this morning with news she is leaving town to head out to the Seattle area next Tuesday for a week to attend a funeral. Marge’s sister’s 29 year old son is dead from an overdose.
Marge has been estranged from her only sister for 15 years, and from her only brother for over 35, not because Marge carries any animosity toward either one of these family members, but because on the other end of her relationships, her siblings do.
I headed over to online Webster’s after my conversation with Marge and looked up the word Marge used, ‘estranged‘. I find it rings with meanings related to two other words I explored last week: wrong and pariah (outcast). Both of these words relate to ‘what is the same’ and what is ‘not the same’. I find that ‘estranged’ really shares the stage with these words because of its origins with the word ‘strange’.
Origin of STRANGE
Middle English, from Anglo-French estrange, from Latin extraneus, literally, external, from extra outside — more at extra-
First Known Use: 13th century
Origin of EXTRA
probably short for extraordinary
First Known Use: 1757
Origin of EXTRAORDINARY
Middle English extraordinarie, from Latin extraordinarius, from extra ordinem out of course, from extra + ordinem, accusative of ordin-, ordo order
Date: 15th century
1 a : going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary <extraordinary powers>
b : exceptional to a very marked extent <extraordinary beauty>
c of a financial transaction : nonrecurring
2 : employed for or sent on a special function or service <an ambassador extraordinary>
In my previous post I talked about the relationship between trauma and chaos. Chaos by its nature lacks any kind of order that can be understood in ordinary ways.
To find a connection in word roots between ‘estranged’, ‘strange’, ‘extra’ and ‘extraordinary’ led me right back to this link between trauma and chaos, or lack of order because of the direct connection in English between the root of ‘extraordinary’ in the concept of order:
Origin of ORDER
Middle English, from Anglo-French ordre, from Medieval Latin & Latin; Medieval Latin ordin-, ordo ecclesiastical order, from Latin, arrangement, group, class; akin to Latin ordiri to lay the warp, begin
First Known Use: 14th century
The idea of being ‘wrong’ is connected to the idea of ‘same versus different’, and in its origins to ‘homos‘. We are here again, when considering ‘extraordinary’ discovering that word’s connection also the idea of ‘same versus different’ related to order. What order does this or that fit into?
I know that the idea of ‘extraordinary’ is intimately tied into the experience of trauma. Traumas ARE traumas because they are events that are outside the range of ordinary experience — they are EXTRAORDINARY.
Trauma’s connection to chaos and to a lack of order signal us to the fact that experiences of trauma are difficult to classify, categorize, or place into any usual pattern, or ‘order’. Traumas are in a class all of their own — except for one thing: Traumas fit into the class of trauma along with any other experience that is ‘extraordinary’ and does not fit into the ‘class’ or ‘order’ of the usual, normal or ordinary.
Therefore when estrangement happens between people it does so because underneath whatever specific ’cause’ of the breach (rupture without repair) there ALWAYS lies something STRANGE and outside the range of ordinary experience: Trauma = chaos = lack of order = extraordinary = strange.
In other words, down in the roots of English being estranged comes from making a determination on some level and a distinction between experiences that lets us know that trauma DOES NOT BELONG. It is ALIEN. It is STRANGE. It is NOT THE SAME as what benefits us, helps us thrive, or to what promotes our well-being.
WE KNOW THIS, even if unconsciously, and WE CAN MAKE THESE DISTINCTIONS.
I believe this ability to know what is good for us and what is not good for us comes to us along with our DNA coding. This lets me know that any time we CANNOT MAKE THIS DISTINCTION it is because ongoing trauma of some kind has — itself — tampered with our ability to know the difference.
There are certainly many places where ongoing trauma and threat of trauma so infiltrates people’s lives that a LACK OF TRAUMA would be outside the range of ordinary — not the other way around. We can all think of many conditions where this reverse of ‘ordinary’ is true — including what goes on in abusive homes.
Trauma is a close partner and ally with malevolent and an enemy to benevolent and benign. Where there is one the other is mostly or completely absent.
When the experience of being ‘estranged’ from members of our family, or even from members of our society is closely scrutinized, we will ALWAYS find both trauma — and trauma drama. At the same time we will always find that some level of distinction has been made. The question becomes, “From which side of the trauma-malevolent versus non-trauma-benevolent side of the line was the distinction made from?”
If the decision to ‘estrange’ ourselves came from the trauma drama side of the line, the estrangement is not about eliminating trauma so much as it is about maintaining and continuing it.
If the decision to ‘estrange’ ourselves came from the non-trauma-benevolent side of the line, the accompanying decision has been made to lessen the presence and impact of ongoing trauma in our lives.
HOW DO WE KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?
Many of us who come from abusive-trauma drama-malevolent backgrounds spend out entire life teetering along the line that separates what promotes our well-being from what does not at the same time we are continually trying to define which is which.
Had we come from safe and secure benevolent, benign backgrounds I don’t believe we would have been forced to spend so much effort trying to distinguish between the two. We SHOULD have been able to know clearly and distinctively which was which. The ability is in our DNA.
But this ability has been tampered with by overwhelming experiences with extraordinary trauma exposure.
So on we trauma drama participants and survivors go, continually teetering, teetering, teetering along the line between what promotes our own well-being and what does not. AND between WHO promotes our own well-being and WHO does not.
My family of origin was riddled with ‘estrangements’. My mother’s divorced mother hated her ex. She was estranged from him. She contaminated my mother and her brother with her hatred so that they were estranged from their father.
My mother hated my father’s family and together they arranged that my father DISOWN his entire family so that all their offspring were estranged from our paternal relatives. My mother became estranged from her brother. I eventually disowned my mother and became estranged from her (and “Good Riddance” — that was finally, at age 34, my very good idea).
Now coming down the line my parent’s offspring are estranged from my mother’s brother’s side of the family, including from our uncle and both of his children. After nearly 60 years of living, even the relationships between the six of my parents’ offspring are teetering dangerously close in some cases to estrangement, as well.
Now, talking to my good friend this morning I hear similar stories from her side of the line. In both of our families alcoholism ran rampant — and still does. Along with alcoholism (and all other addictions) runs the SYMPTOM of resentments. If there is one clear indicator of the presence of intergenerational trauma drama it is RIGHT THERE: RESENTMENTS.
With one critically important distinction! When it comes to determining which side of the trauma line an estrangement originates from, the presence or absence of LIVE resentments seems to be the key we can use to determine whether the estrangement is coming from the malevolent “Keep the trauma drama fires burning!” side or the “Damn it! Let’s live a better life!” side.
Without resentments, choices to distance ourselves from certain people and situations can be an act of freedom. With resentments, choices to distance ourselves from certain people and situations is a further step into chaos, disorder, and trauma.
NONE of the estrangement decisions that my family of origin made were free of resentments. Some of them, like my siblings’ disconnection with our cousins just happened as a result of decisions that were made earlier by the people in power in our lives. We have hence lived with that status quo.
But what about NOW?
Few of us would willingly choose to stick our hand blindly into a hat that contained both a check for a billion dollars and a venomous snake whose bite would guarantee us instant death while we simply HOPED for the good outcome and not the bad one.
Yet the complexities of human relationships very often contain degrees of life-promotion of relationships along with degrees of life-destruction of relationships. We make decisions for our actions on a constant basis as we go on through life sharing our life with other people.
And sometimes the transition points between promoting these relationships in better ways versus destroying them happens while we are blind about what really matters.
My friend, Marge said something interesting this morning as she talked about how she is preparing herself to go spend a week in Seattle with her estranged sister who is in grief and crisis. “I am pro proactive.”
She is pre preparing her own self to be as ready as she can be to glide her own self as benignly as possible through what might be traumatic and troubled waters.
And in this process she is instinctively examining where the resentments lie, and as she does so she is clarifying for herself where the ‘strangeness’ actually lies. As she walks as much as possible on the side of non-trauma, she at the same time looks within herself and finds that she is NOT the one holding resentments or making any decisions that are powered by this fuel.
That means to me that she is on the side of both freedom and increasing well-being.
When we come from trauma-drama abusive backgrounds it can be hard for us to figure out what is actually true and what isn’t, what is relevant and what is not. That is part of what my last post about Grice’s Maxims describes.
Resentments exist because information that is not true, not backed up by accurate information, are held to BE the absolute truth.
Resentments exist because what is ACTUALLY true and important is being ignored and denied. People are “painting their bathroom wall while their house is burning down.”
Trauma drama thrives where resentments are present. Resentments thrive where trauma drama is present. Find one, you find the other.
Lessening trauma drama lessens resentments, and also here the other happens at the same time. Less trauma, less trauma drama, fewer resentments.
As we begin to turn (I don’t say return for those of us who have never lived without trauma drama since our birth) away from the line that separates what promotes our well-being (and others’) toward what DOES promote well-being, the trauma drama and the resentments begin to fade away.
And in this process what is happening is that ORDER and REASON-ABLE-NESS are replacing disorder and the madness of the chaos of trauma. Trauma and the disorder of chaos do not promote well-being.
Finding what is ACTUALLY true for us means that we are finding what is ACTUALLY relevant. We begin to operate with FACTS (even the subjective ones of what we are truthfully feeling) rather than with illusions, delusions, fantasies and lies that exist in the topsy turvy disordered chaotic universe that trauma and its drama create.
And how do we find our own center point from which we can begin to more accurately make this critical distinctions? At the one place that severe infant-child abuse survivors are least likely to possess because our trauma altered development deprived us of it in the first place.
That point, that unequivocally accurate place within us is — A CENTER POINT OF PEACE AND CALM.
If we didn’t get to have this state of peace and calmness built into our center, right into our physiology, into our nervous system and brain, we have to LEARN what it is, what if feels like, how to begin to establish it — and how to keep it.
Once we begin to make this move toward peace and calmness, we begin to recognize both trauma drama and the resentments that so feed it — along with the inaccuracies regarding true facts that are relevant to what is REALLY going on.
Sooner or later, as we begin to alter our own patterns of living, our actual body — our physiology itself — will begin to change. Our BODY will begin this turn around which means that we are stepping ever more willingly away from the line that separates malevolent trauma drama from benevolent peace and calm that promotes well-being.
Here again I will say that we ALL, no matter how abused we have been, no matter to what degree and in what way our actual physiological development was altered as we grew up in terrible trauma — have one asset that NOBODY can remove from us if we are willing to access it.
Deep within the center of our DNA we KNOW the difference. We KNOW what peace and calm is, and we know what it is not.
Way down deep, under all the quivering, quaking, rocking and rolling that trauma drama has created in our life and in our body, we PHYSIOLOGICALLY KNOW what promotes well-being — peace and calm — and what does not — because our body feels it and will tell us if we pay attention to its signals.
And on this level I firmly believe that no matter how difficult it might be for any of us to ACTUALLY begin to listen to our body for its signals about what peace and calmness ACTUALLY feels like — ALL OF US ARE FREE.
When I make this statement I most of all test my idea against all that I have learned about my mother. In spite of all her meanness and madness, I DO BELIEVE absolutely that if she had known what to look for, and had exercised her FREEDOM to CHOOSE to increase the feeling of peace and calmness in her BODY, it would have increased within her life at the same time.
ALL OF US MUST KNOW THAT WE ARE FREE TO MAKE THIS CHOICE. NO MATTER WHAT OUR PRESENT PHYSIOLOGICAL CONDITION. And I make this statement knowing absolutely that so-called mental illness is nearly always connected to trauma-altered early developmental changes of some kind, at some level, that tampered with our ability to have peace and calmness established at the center equilibrium balance point of our existence.
Having peace and calm NATURALLY built into our body HAS to happen under early conditions of safe and secure early caregiver attachment in a benevolent environment.
But no matter what, we can locate that feeling inside of us today and begin to make as many choices as we can manage to notice so that we — and our body — can move in this life-promoting direction.
Resentments DO NOT include a center point of peace and calm. They thrive on the opposite. Once we are willing to recognize the truth of this, and begin to make choices toward peace and calm, the resentments we carry will have nothing left to life on. We will deprive them of our attention and our life force and resentments will literally starve themselves to death.
So we are NOT blindly reaching into a hat containing good and bad choices if we pay attention to our body’s peace and calm signals. We will not blindly choose to estrange ourselves from people in our lives if we have the peace and calm at our center information. We will be using our DNA birthright that guarantees that as long as we are alive our body knows the difference not in the intellectual battle between right versus wrong, or good versus bad, but rather knows the difference between what promotes peace and calm and our center (well-being) and what is a move toward the opposite.
And briefly I will mention that I do not rely on the 12-step word ‘serenity’ here because ‘serenity’ to me invokes an intellectual concept and not the physiological reality that peace and calm actually are. The ability to experience peaceful calmness is our physiological birthright.
Peaceful calmness is the place where order begins. It is the antidote to trauma.
Being serene is the end result of the entire process I am describing here. Being serene is a state of being that does not exist without the presence of peaceful calmness in the body – first!
Origin of SERENE
Middle English, from Latin serenus clear, cloudless, untroubled
First Known Use: 15th century
Life is not often ‘clear, cloudless, untroubled’, yet as we learn to feel peace and calmness in our body, and as we become clear about what we need to KEEP that feeling in our body, and as we decide to pay attention and to value what it takes to feel this way, and as we begin to make choices and to take actions to increase this state of well-being, we will naturally know more states of serenity that we have known before no matter WHAT else is happening around us.
I believe the 12-step emphasis on serenity as a goal provides the counterweight to the power that resentments have to destroy the lives of alcoholics and addicts. The effort to improve one’s state of serenity happens along with the effort to release resentments. Like fire and water — resentments and serenity do not mix.
Yet what I am talking about is more on the “How do I get there from here?” level for trauma drama participants and trauma drama (abuse) survivors.
Peace and calm, though they be but mere words and therefore are by definition ‘intellectual concepts’, are actual feelings in the BODY that are physiologically based. Our BODY (including of course our nervous system-brain) was SUPPOSED to be formed, as I have described, with peace and calm at its physiological center point of balance from which ALL other feelings originate.
Survivors don’t have it there, so we have to learn to identify both the feelings and the life actions that PUT THEM THERE at our center. THEN we can begin to manipulate all our actions so that they foster serenity, well-being and a depletion of trauma drama in our lives. I believe that it is a natural body-based fact — and therefore a truth — that the more well-being we feel in our life (and the less trauma drama), the more we will crave it. As a species, we evolved that way, and ALL of us can benefit from that fact.
And as we follow this life promoting pathway trauma drama will begin to feel increasingly strange, foreign and unpleasant to us. We will learn how to take steps to avoid it like the quicksand it is.