Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future

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bluepalm

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I'm currently trying to understand and, I hope, bring some change to my sense that the future won't come. I mentioned to a trauma therapist some years ago that I am always surprised when a new year comes around. I don't expect the future to happen and so I don't plan or dream for, or anticipate, having a future.  I was surprised when she told me there's a word for that: 'foreshortening'. It was a help to realise that my experience was not mine alone - that the experience has a name.

This has now become an urgent issue for me as I realise the full extent of the loss involved in a lifetime spent without any sense that the future will come. I wish it could be different and I raised it with my therapist this week to try to understand it. I think it comes from being utterly focused on surviving the present - there's no energy left to imagine a future. I'm not worried about something happening to me, it's that I don't feel there's any forward path of movement in my life; there's just 'managing' now. It sounds as if this would be a good thing.That I am living in the moment mindfully. But it doesn't feel good, it feels sometimes as if I'm alone spinning through space, going no-where with no-one. It is frightening. And it has practical consequences in life.

I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has similar issues with the sense of having a foreshortened future.

I've recently discovered an article written by three philosophers which others may also find interesting. It's a discussion of whether the trauma of being tortured can leave someone with a different relationship to time.  The authors acknowledge that they are discussing a situation where a previously non-traumatised person is tortured and that there are people who have never known any period of non-trauma because of childhood experiences, but the discussion also applies to such people.

I found the article really helpful as a way to analyse my problem. It also helped me to understand that the experiences I had in my FOO (and marriage) fit the definition of torture. For example, this extract from the article:

"What makes interpersonal trauma distinctive is the subversion of interpersonal trust that it involves. The other person recognizes one’s vulnerability and responds to it not with care but by deliberately inflicting harm. The aim of torture has been described as the complete psychological destruction of a person: “the torturer attempts to destroy a victim’s sense of being grounded in a family and society as a human being with dreams, hopes and aspirations for the future” (Istanbul Protocol, 1999, p. 45). It is a “calculated assault on human dignity,” more so than an attempt to extract information (Amnesty International, 1986, p. 172)


See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166378/

Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 1026.
Published online 2014 Sep 17.
What is a “sense of foreshortened future?” A phenomenological study of trauma, trust, and time
Matthew Ratcliffe, Mark Ruddell and Benedict Smith

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saylor

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I think I can relate somewhat. I have tended to assume I’m not going to live very long. In my case, I think it has to do a lot with wishfully thinking that I won’t live long, because life is not appealing to me. I have never thought of it in terms of how my early, chronic traumatic stress forced me to live in the NOW all the time (although that makes a lot of sense, and probably applies). I think it was more of a mindset that if things get too unbearable one day, I’ll have to check out (since life already often seems unbearable).
It has prevented me from investing in friendships, marriage, investing in certain ways financially....
The weird thing is that it doesn’t actually cause me to “live in the moment” much, as I have a strong tendency to ruminate over the past and dread the future. So I feel I really haven’t gotten any benefit from it (although, you’re right, it sounds like it would be good).
Thanks for bringing this up and giving me some interesting stuff to think about

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MoonBeam

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Thanks for this bluepalm.  A few months back, in one of our earlier sessions, my T asked me what my hopes and plans were for the future. I was kind of taken back, as I realized I didn't have any. It hadn't occurred to me to think much about it. I never held much hope for a future. I remember answering that I didn't have any. Then I said, how can I have a future when I have no past? In a way it's like i didn't exist then, so I won't exist in the future. There's just the 'getting through the now.'
I have kids and I think about their future, especially as they're a teen and young adult now. But it ends there. I wonder where I have been in my thoughts of their future.  I wonder if as I find the me underneath all the trauma of the past, I will begin to exist in a way that would warrant or inspire hopes or thoughts of my future.
Good food for thought.

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bluepalm

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Then I said, how can I have a future when I have no past? In a way it's like i didn't exist then, so I won't exist in the future. There's just the 'getting through the now.'

MoonBeam what you say here has clarified for me how much having no dreams for the future is the flip side of having no memories of the past. You've helped me realise that, as I was telling my T about this sense of foreshortening in my last session with her, I was also telling her how embarrassing it is not to remember my past, not to recognise people, not to be able to place people I meet who know me somewhere in my past (did I work with them? When? Where?).

So thank you for your comment. It's helped my understanding.

Indeed, as I write this, I can feel a lessening of my self-blame for my poor memory and my failure to anticipate a future. It's not my fault that my sense of being in this world was narrowed drastically to surviving the present. Those who failed to give me love and protection and a chance for human comfort, those who led me to believe I had no right to be alive, those who inflicted constant assaults on my dignity and  human integrity for so many formative years of my life and beyond - they are the reason I struggle here this morning with these issues. But I'm alive and I'm still gaining insights and that's good.  Thank you again Moonbeam.

P.S. I love your name - I named one of my cats Moonbeam. She was pure white and curled up in a ball like the moon when I first saw her as a kitten. She's no longer with me but I gave her a good life for 16 years - I gave her the protection and safety and love she needed to relax into life. I wish that had been given to me....

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Encontrada

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Thank you for posting this.
And this quote I really liked.

"What makes interpersonal trauma distinctive is the subversion of interpersonal trust that it involves. The other person recognizes one’s vulnerability and responds to it not with care but by deliberately inflicting harm. The aim of torture has been described as the complete psychological destruction of a person: “the torturer attempts to destroy a victim’s sense of being grounded in a family and society as a human being with dreams, hopes and aspirations for the future” (Istanbul Protocol, 1999, p. 45)

I had never thought about foreshortened.. didn't know it was a word. As long as I can remember I always felt I would die early and even today at almost 40 I'm so immersed in living day to day and the short term that things like retirement planning don't even enter the realm of possibility.

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Regret

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Thank you for posting this and thanks to everyone who already replied.

I’ve often wondered why I choose to read a topic here, like this one after waking up at 1 am and deciding to read something until I get tired.

I can only give a great big “me to” to everything that has been said. No thought of the future, even the next day, for over 60 years, no memory of the past other than significant traumatic events and not being able to remember anyone’s name a minute after it was told to me.

Plan for the future “they” told me, something easy to say but not possible for me to do, and no interest to do so. Why, since I never expected to live that long anyway. Life in the “moment to moment” lane for over 6 decades really is a life stolen by exposure to daily childhood traumatic events.

Now, thanks to all written above, I know why I can’t do a budget and could never answer, always drew a blank when faced with the one question asked in every job interview I’ve ever had: “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

I always thought there was something wrong with me but now know what and that I have, unfortunately for a lot of us, company in the world of foreshortened, stolen lives.


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bluepalm

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Thank you so very much to all those who have responded to my original post. Sharing your thoughts and experiences as you have done is so valuable to me. I feel I've travelled a good distance in understanding and even changing somewhat my sense of having no future, just in the past two weeks, and your responses have been central to that.  :grouphug:
   

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Rainagain

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I recognise this in myself.

It reminds me of a motorcycle accident I had as a youth.

Time slowed and I can remember those few seconds clearly 40 years later.

Maybe whatever causes time to slow (adrenaline?) Can get switched on for months and years due to trauma leaving no way to consider the future.

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MoonBeam

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Blue Palm, thanks again for posting this and sharing your insight. I came back to it several times wanting to reply and each time I felt such anxiety and sadness, I simply couldn't. So interesting to me, considering until I read your post I hadn't even thought about the implications of  a foreshortened future.

Quoting you: "Indeed, as I write this, I can feel a lessening of my self-blame for my poor memory and my failure to anticipate a future. It's not my fault that my sense of being in this world was narrowed drastically to surviving the present. Those who failed to give me love and protection and a chance for human comfort, those who led me to believe I had no right to be alive, those who inflicted constant assaults on my dignity and  human integrity for so many formative years of my life and beyond - they are the reason I struggle here this morning with these issues. But I'm alive and I'm still gaining insights and that's good."

This really brought it home for me. You stated it so perfectly and accurately. I feel that my past, my childhood, was stolen. That it was so corrupted, so damaged that it wasn't viable. I'm struggling with this now and I realize the sense of hopelessness I often carry drastically impedes my ability to feel inspired for a future, which in turn feeds hopelessness, and round and round. It's really a feeling of a loss of self for me. There's so much more I wish I could say regarding, but I don't have words yet.

Thank you for sharing your understanding and I'm hopeful to learn more about how this resonates with me and my journey. It feels important. And thank you so much for saying such kind things about my name. It makes me happy to think it was shared with a sweet furry friend, who was loved and cared for.

MoonBeam

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bluepalm

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MoonBeam, I've woken at 3:15am, there's a full moon outside in the night sky, and my laptop opened at your posting, which I had read before falling asleep. Thank you for your thoughts. All I can say right now is how precious it is to feel a connection with you and the others with whom my experience of this foreshortening, this stolen childhood, this stolen right to feel fully alive on this earth, with hopes and dreams for the future, has resonated.

How sad it is that our potential to feel the full miracle of being alive on this earth, under the moon, hurtling through space, has been so damaged. Thank you to you, and all who have posted here, for giving me the precious gift of feeling understood.

And I'm grateful to OOTS for giving us the chance to articulate our thoughts and feelings. It is a tribute to all of us that we are openly wrestling with these painful issues in our search for healing.  :grouphug:
Bluepalm

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Feral Child

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Re: Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2019, 12:19:17 AM »
Thank you to all of you for posting on this topic.  I was unaware anyone else felt this way and to now have this phenomenon explained is quite reassuring.  I'm 64 now but throughout my life have always believed my life would be cut short.  What a way to spend your childhood.   :stars:
Glad I was able to do a little planning for retirement but it was never because I thought I would make it there.  Just that it was the right thing to do for any survivors I might have!
The link to the article was so helpful.
 :hug:

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Yipeee

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Re: Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2019, 08:26:53 PM »
Bluepalm and others, I'd like to share my sympathies and understanding with you in suffering with this also. The effects of foreshortening, 'narrowing', memory loss, and ones development all ring true. It is devastating.

The feeling of loss  upsets me the most, and loss maybe encompassing all the above. I feel and think about this more as I get older and, as my reality comes into focus the longer I have been in therapy. I suppose a lot of losses have been as a result of both the abuse and missing emotional connections, and also having dissociated most of my life. The self then really is existing on unsteady ground, memory is really problematic, and as moonbeam wrote 'how can I have a future when I have no past?' Ah this if it helps really resonates!

I have found creativity (art making) over the years has really helped. In terms of bringing my self into the present through working with materials. It has helped somewhat to develop a sense of a vision and imagination beyond ruminating,. Although it is a struggle still, as my NPD parents although encouraged me strangely, they would then confusingly pollute the outcome!  :stars: So the sense of  hopelessness over time I can relate to as this was all encompassing unfortunately.  :fallingbricks:

The quote is really validating! Thank you for sharing!  :cheer:


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bluepalm

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Re: Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2019, 10:01:52 PM »
Yipeee thank you for your thoughts. I've also found, unfortunately only in very recent years, that drawing and painting, working with art materials, is an effective way to focus my attention on the present and cease ruminating. It also helps me in my struggle to sense a future (albeit a fairly short term future) because, while working on a painting, I have a vision of what I want to create and it gives me something to think about and to work towards. It helps me sense my life as a journey which should continue. (I first wrote 'will continue' and realised that felt wrong to me; it felt uncomfortably strong.) And once a drawing or painting that satisfies me has come into being, I have something that is part of 'me' that I can see as lasting into the future. I didn't know this would happen, but drawing and painting is helping to bring me a sense of the future even as it anchors me in the present. Art has become a central source of healing for me. 

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Yipeee

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Re: Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2019, 10:21:34 PM »
Hi Bluepalm

You welcome!

Its wonderful hearing you talk about how drawing and painting has in recent years has become a central part of your healing journey! Giving you the space to be in the present, you with the materials, where you can come out of the ruminating type thinking. I understand where you talk about

'And once a drawing or painting that satisfies me has come into being, I have something that is part of 'me' that I can see as lasting into the future.

It's wonderful creating something! What kind of things do you draw and paint can I ask!?... I am intrigued!


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bluepalm

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Re: Trying to understand and change a sense of a 'foreshortened' future
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2019, 10:45:25 PM »
Thanks for your response Yipeee. I've found my primary urge is to paint human faces, portraits, both of myself and others. Which, in a way, I find strange because I often have difficulty recognising faces, putting names to faces when I meet people. Realising where I know a face from.

I've wondered whether this strong urge to draw and paint faces comes from my having experienced an absence of my mother's face (and my father's face)  to 'hold onto' when I was first born. I'm now drawn to bringing faces into my vision through my pencil and brush.

My mother said that when she held me out to my father to hold when he visited her in hospital after my birth, he turned his back and walked away and at that moment she 'knew she had failed him'. My mother also said she would leave me alone all day while she went out shopping and would forget she even had a baby and be surprised when she came home in the evening and I was still there in the cot. Or she would put me in the pram in the garden for hours and I'd lie there or sit there, still and silent.

Currently I'm painting myself as a baby and toddler in an attempt to allow me to feel I was really alive then, that I was three dimensional flesh and blood, a normal pretty baby born into this world, through no fault of my own, with normal needs.

Being in the natural world, feeling the earth under my feet, holding onto tree trunks, has been a primary comfort for me all my life and I also paint landscapes and gardens. I have no interest in painting the built, industrial world or in painting fantastical scenes. I need to feel grounded in what I make.