My Umbrella of Dysfunction

This past weekend I did a book talk. In thinking about my presentation, I wanted to create an image that would allow my audience to better understand the discoveries I made during my therapy. What follows is where my thinking took me.

My Umbrella of Dysfunction
May 2019

In thinking about my process, I realized there was something I did over and over again. With every issue I dealt with, I first had to recognize it, then I had to own it, and after those two things were accomplished, I could overcome it.


There is an interesting backwards loop to this equation. It goes like this: You can’t own what you don’t recognize, and you can’t overcome what you don’t own.

The recognition part of the equation is the intellectual part. I had to recognize that I had a fear of abandonment and understand what that fear was before I could own it. I had to bring it into my conscious mind and intellectually understand its hold over me.

Intellectually, I came to understand that I get very needy when I fear abandonment; I will put myself in compromising, sometimes dangerous, situations when I fear abandonment; and, my ability to over analyze goes off the charts when my fear of abandonment kicks in.

Understanding this in my head is one thing, owning what I do when I become wracked by my fear is another thing. Shame stands strong between me and my ability to own my neediness, or that I have driven someone crazy by asking them the same question ten different ways in order to make sure I have interpreted everything correctly. I don’t feel so good when I look in the mirror at that person.

But, without looking in the mirror at that person, and bringing everything about her to my conscious mind, I cannot fully own my fear of abandonment. Until I can fully own it, I cannot overcome it.

Instead of making a chart of the issues I had to address in therapy, I put them in the panels of an umbrella. While there were some other, more minor, issues that I dealt with, the big 5 are on the umbrella.

Fear of Abandonment. My emotional age vs. my chronological age. Anger. Living in survival/crisis mode. Separating my past from my present.

With each of these, I had to first pull the issue up to my consciousness and recognize it, then I had to go deep inside myself (traveling below my neck) and move into the area of my feelings. I had to own everything from the fact that I was angry, for example, to what I did to tell myself I wasn’t angry, to how I displaced that anger onto others, to how I created situations that allowed me to be justifiably angry (generally, justifiable in my mind only), to what was happening to me internally as a result of denying my anger, before I could overcome it.

It is important to know that it took me a full year to own my anger after recognizing the fact that I was angry.

Anytime I backslid in my therapy, it was due to my deep desire to avoid ownership of who I was, and my refusal to claim all the baggage I carried with me.

Back to the umbrella. Self-Abandonment is written across the top of the umbrella, because it is the one thing that ties everything together. In order to keep my fear of abandonment heightened, to keep from realizing I emotionally responded to difficult situations like a 6 year-old, to deny my anger, to allow myself to continue to function in survival mode where I was just getting by day to day, and to not see that my present was different from my past, I had to abandon myself. So, no longer was it my father who was abandoning me, but rather, every time I responded to the world around me in the dysfunctional way he and my parents’ relationship had taught me to respond, I abandoned myself.

Truth is the pole, the core of the umbrella. Truth is what keeps us tethered whether we know it or not. It is always with us. And, until we look at the truth, we cannot fully look at ourselves.

If we close our umbrella of dysfunction, all the panels are hidden. No one can see what is written on them. And, this is what I did with my truth before therapy. I closed up, and I told myself those panels didn’t exist. But, luckily, I chose one day, to open my umbrella.

Truth is a stunning, stunning thing. Truth is impartial. It is neither good nor bad. It just is.

If there is one thing I could give to people that could set them free of their shame, and allow them to walk open-hearted into facing their issues and struggles, it is this: There is no truth that is darker or uglier than the things we do to ourselves and others in our attempts to avoid that truth.

There is a reason why truth liberates us. Once in the open, we are free from its hold. We are no longer suffocating our ability to live by spending all of our energy with the panels of our umbrella closed in order to protect the truth.

Do you have an Umbrella of Dysfunction? What’s on your panels? I hope you have the courage to open it and find out.

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