I found the following in an unlikely place within the pages of a slim green book one of my sisters gave to me called, Suburban Adventures of a Naked Gardener by Ian Taylor (2004).  Reading his words made me realize that the deep and abiding sadness many, if not most survivors of very stress-filled and traumatizing infant-childhoods know nearly every second of their (our) lives resonates with Taylor’s simple description.  And yet Taylor is writing about something MORE in this passage, about something he calls “unconditioned” sadness and “unconditioned” fear.  In other words, these are feelings that humans are born with no matter what:

”Harried” or “stressed” is not the same as “sad.”  There are spiritual traditions that regard sadness as a most important part of our being.  If you settle yourself, they say, and center yourself, and quiet your latte-charged mind for a while, and if you do this often enough, and with care, you will find your heart growing soft and tender.  It will soften and open, and you will find that in the center of your heart deep down, at the core is sadness.  A deep, sweet, aching sadness.  The sadness is a good sign.  It signals your humanity.  It’s unbearable; but it makes us what we are.  It’s also a fuel.  From this sadness we can generate compassion, insight, and kindness.

Unconditioned sadness is not often the topic of your typical dinner conversation, and neither is unconditioned fear.  A friend who spent some days alone in the mountains last fall mentioned the fear he felt at a certain point in the evening when, for an instant, he faced the full significance of being by himself, in nature, with night falling.  I realized with some surprise that this is something I have experienced often enough myself in the same circumstances without ever naming it, and certainly without speaking of it.  It might not be by accident that we haven’t spoken of it again.”  (page 103)

Thinking about Taylor’s words while I consider my own survivorship from severe infant-child abuse makes me notice inside myself something I think is a core difference between how my abusive Borderline mother was in the world and how I am.  For some (various) reasons my mother’s body-brain grew in her infancy and childhood in her environment of trauma in ways that EXCLUDED from her the ability to truly feel the exact same feelings that Taylor writes about.

I, in turn, grew and body-brain within the environment of trauma and abuse I experienced to INCLUDE these feelings.  Many write that the main super highway in the human body that directly moderates, modulates and allows for the experience of genuine, authentic, (and consciously deliberated and MORE than superficial) human tenderness, humility, kindness, consideration, cooperation, empathy, altruism and compassion is built around the vagus nerve in our autonomic nervous system.  When trauma changes human infant and very young child development in ways that prevent these feelings from operating normally, people we call ‘those without a conscience’ are the end result.

After reading Taylor’s simple words I am more grateful for the fact that I was able to bear the pain, fear and sadness of my formative first 18 years INTACT in my ability to tolerate the force and weight of these emotional states, because if I had NOT been able to bear them – and if my developing body-brain had instead blocked my capacity to feel them – I would have lost the essence of my humanity as my mother – and as my father – did.

So when I feel sadness, when I feel fear – when these feelings are genuinely being communicated to me by my body through my brain, I can APPRECIATE and VALUE the fact that I CAN feel them.  The alterative of NOT feeling them would be more than I could bear.



  1. Its a mystery to me why some trauma surviviors have that ability (like u and I) and others do not .( my brother, our mothers). When My dad passed away my brother got upset at me for crying so much as I was dealing my grief. He did not understand what he felt . He began to act VERY strange and then even delusional. This never happened before. He ended up being hospitalised. What triggered this? His inability to process AND FEEL SADNESS!!!!

    • I can’t, of course, answer you emphatically, so this is only my guess.

      There are forces of life and death that are in constant interplay with each other for us both individually and as a species (extending onward to include the universe in time and space).

      Nature, I believe, continually seeks to achieve a point of balanced equilibrium — or peace.

      This interplay involves give and take. On the personal level, when what threatens life or feels as if it threatens life — threatens a state of balanced equilibrium that sustains ongoing life. If this unbalance goes far enough it will end in death. Life fights death.

      The key word as I understand it is OVERWHELMED. When all the ‘go’ systems that promote life experience TOO MUCH threat, too much imbalance, the BODY ITSELF will take every step it possibly can to promote life — even if that means something VERY IMPORTANT to well-being has to be sacrificed and eliminated in the process.

      In my mother’s case whatever threatened her during her earliest formative developmental stages REQUIRED that certain genetic combination-potentials in her body become activated. I believe this is true for nearly every so-called ‘mental illness’ we might name.

      My mother was YES left with the ability to survive what threatened to OVERWHELM her long enough to reach her childbearing years.

      When earliest environments are MOST challenging to ongoing preservation of life this can be ALL that nature can manage to accomplish.

      These early trauma-inspired physiological developmental changes DO NOT allow for an easy lifetime of well-being. They ONLY allow for survival to childbearing years.

      As I say so often, in our culture we preserve life LONGER than what nature has prepared these trauma-changed infant-children for. Therefore MANY further experiences of BEING OVERWHELMED can overtake these people — at the SAME TIME their body has been robbed of the capacity to MANAGE their way smoothly through all the changes and transitions that an extended lifetime will produce.

      Death, loss and grief, being intimately tied with some aspect of DEATH are also directly tied to the state of being OVERWHELMED and to the state of being threatened with being OVERWHELMED. It is sad beyond words to understand that some people are absolutely without ANY passive or active coping-skill ability to fight back.

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