Prayer?

Over time it has become increasingly evident that prayer is the single most powerful tool in my toolbox.  For me, there are three aspects to prayer: Gratitude, Asking, and Humility. 

You might not think of the first, initially.  So let’s look at GRATITUDE.  I see gratitude as letting the powers – whatever they are – know that I have noticed and received the abundant gifts all around me.  I accept!  I delight in them; I take them in.  I receive them; they are for me.  I feel loved and grateful.  I notice all manner of things, large and small, obvious and subtle; straightforward and quirky.  These gifts are here, whether I notice them or not.  I attribute them to a benevolent force more powerful than me.  I let my thank yous flow free and abundant.

The second aspect of prayer is ASKING for what I want more of.  Something that is not as easy as it sounds for many of us.  Reaching for what our hearts desired was often shamed out of us as children, and it was not in our repertoire to believe that we were worthy of asking God for what we wanted.  Therefore, we unlearned to naturally reach for what we wanted or put importance on developing a regular or clear sense of what we liked or preferred.  Rather we learned to hope that if we were good enough (not greedy or selfish), God would reward us with all He thought we needed and that was the correct and proper way of it.  Nor were we encouraged to know ourselves to understand what made us uniquely ourselves, and what made our unique hearts sing (beyond merely getting by).  This is what we saw our parents doing too.  I sometimes attribute this trait to my Puritan ancestors.  Make no mistake, it is not normal or healthy; it is a form of intergenerational trauma.  But I digress.

I now understand that for so many years my body was too bound up in defenses and unprocessed emotions to ask for what I wanted.  And there was the issue of the missing skill set.  That is what I am working on now.  And I am making beautiful strides.  This crucial step in growing one’s self up emotionally involves studying oneself and noticing when they like something.  A smile creeps over your face.  You feel lighter.  You sense that your heart has been flung open.  Or there might be a subtle putting down of defenses, a relaxing.  A nod.  And then taking that one step further, taking the risk to admit, I want more of that, please.  Can you help me?  For me, that is the third aspect of prayer: HUMILITY.  

As I dedicate these days to studying myself, caring for myself and slowing way down in the heart of this COVID-19 quarantine, I think of The Serenity Prayer, which tells us to ask for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  This is such an important prayer to be praying at this time.  Being confused about what we do and don’t have control of is something that might also have followed us from emotionally impoverished childhoods.   It was developmentally appropriate at age seven to believe we had control of things we absolutely did not.  Many of us learned that we should try to control things we had no business controlling – other people’s moods, feelings, opinions of us.  And without proper role models or any other way to recognize these errors, we entered into adulthood with the toxic combination of unexamined shame and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others: I am responsible for the bad things that are happening.  I am responsible for your bad mood, etc.  I should be doing something to fix this.  And if I try harder to be what you need me to be, then I might be able to get what I so desperately need.

Wisdom often comes with maturity which comes not just from getting older, but from resolving trauma and releasing hurt from the past.  It is what helps us know whether we should accept a thing or fight to change it.  And whether it is ours to change.

My wish for you is that you learn to cultivate a prayer practice beginning with gratitude.  Pray.  Ask for what you want, even if you’re not sure what to ask for.  Even when you can’t see how your heart’s desires could possibly be granted.  Spend time thinking about what you would rather have.  What you want more of, what would truly delight you.  Go ahead.  Make it detailed, and imagine what it feels, looks, tastes, smells and sounds like when you actually have what you have asked for.  Write those things down because they matter.

You are an infinite being of light; one cell in the organism of humanity.  And that organism needs you and me to be fully who we are, to choose for ourselves what we want.  To reach for what makes us shine, what delights us, to bud and blossom into all of who we are, which necessitates kicking into self-care mode, fearless self-attunement.  I do this now in order to coax out what I had deemed as my shadow before, but which is actually my Great Self. 

Spirit, please let this time be the container I need to study, to know and to nurture my Great Self.  Help me to appreciate and cherish Her.  Help me to value Her above all else.  Guide me so that I can be the person I came here to be, to contribute what the world needs most from me and can only get from me.  Guide me so that I can find my way to my tribe, to feel that I belong.  To share physical warmth, harmony and deep connection in a supportive family environment, to be part of a whole – a thing of great functional beauty.  This family community is the one that gets to usher in a new version of modern life.  A more sustainable one, connected to heart and filled with physical and emotional warmth, balance and beauty.    Thank you, and so it is.  Amen.

Thank you, Spirit, for putting me in a family of visionaries and healers.  Three of the healers and visionaries who are inspiring me during this pandemic, who never cease to amaze me with the way they use their gifts and talents to make the world a better place, and serve as role models for me, also happen to be sisters. If you don’t already know them, allow me to introduce them to you:

Tracy Barnett inspires me endlessly in her tireless ability to see the bigger picture, to be an advocate for the planet, and for people who are on the front lines making strides toward not just environmental and economic sustainability but regenerative living. She has helped me to add flesh to the bones of my vision of what that kind of life might look and feel like, and that is such a priceless gift. She supports so many in telling their stories that would otherwise go untold. With her magnificent heart and her journalistic spirit, she shows us the world, and introduces us to change makers and wisdom holders. I hope you will check out her recent Patreon and learn more about Tracy at Esperanza Project.

I have had the great pleasure to witness the blossoming of Tami Brunk, Shamanic Astrologer, as she literally blossoms these past couple months. Quarantine for her prompted the call for a free Earth Sky Woman Summit, a gathering of enlightened women who shed their light and share gifts to help those of us who want to maximize this time of transition, or a portal into a profoundly changed post-pandemic world. That summit can be viewed here. Tami recently kicked off a brand new podcast which you can check out here. Tami’s knowledge of astrology and her ability to zero in on what is most important right now never fails to knock my socks off.

Trina Brunk continues to inspire me by doing her own sacred and beautiful work, to share on her own Patreon, and to offer SoulPath Sessions, Hypnotherapy, and EFT Support Groups. Not to mention inspiring music, kirtan, poetry and artwork. SoulPath is my favorite of her offerings, which powerfully and consistently help me connect with my spiritual supports, remove blocks to love that I didn’t even know were there, and blast through self-defeating patterns that have flown beneath the radar for so long. She is a wonder, and I don’t know what I would do without her.

I have immeasurable gratitude for these three during this time of great transformation and change. If you need inspiration on your journey of learning to better care for yourself and/or create a better future for yourself and the planet, I encourage you to check out their free offerings or dive deeper and get individualized attention you need to break out into a deeper, richer, more connected reality for yourself and those in your circle.

IDT Workbook – Now Available!

My new workbook is now available on Amazon! I’m so excited. You can get it here.

This course in a workbook will be your guide as you learn to recognize and eliminate internal/self-abuse and become a better, more loving parent to yourself.  It offers a practical, effective, research-supported framework including exercises to reduce the intensity and duration of emotional flashbacks, a symptom of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and unresolved early stress and trauma.

This course is designed to equip you with tools to use when you:

  • Often find yourself stuck in internal conflicts about what you want and where you are going.
  • Are sometimes so harsh and unrelenting with yourself that you cannot relax and enjoy what you have.
  • Find yourself getting triggered often or staying triggered for long periods of time.

Tap into your deepest potential by learning to focus your attention.  Dare to invest the time and commitment that is necessary to replace old, worn-out strategies to avoid feeling vulnerable and replace them with authenticity, integration and health.  Reconnect with your body’s social engagement system by safely directing your compassionate attention inward. 

Get ready.  You are about to learn how to calm your nervous system and experience what it feels like to be held in the safety and stability of the parents you never had.

Get your copy here.

Ode to the Mother

I am willing to remember what it feels like.

Wow.  So many of us are traveling the same path, though not realizing how others are quietly doing their own work that is so very similar to ours, right alongside us.

It was so lovely to see Trina Brunk drawing on her Paneurhythmy roots in her recent post, and this exquisite piece of music with her resonant, moving rendering.  I was listening to it this morning, wrapping my mind around the idea that for the past several decades I have been learning how to put words to how it feels to NOT feel/have this. 

I listened thinking first of the universal feeling of unbounded, uncontaminated mother love – when it does happen – and then I made the Earth Day connection.  (How ironic! Because it was the Earth connection I know – not the infant connection with my biological mother). 

Today it strikes me that increasingly, I have seen the importance of feeling what THIS does feel like, even though it is not strongly in my immediate memory.  And anger and resentment and fear have been blocks to reaching consistently for it (stemming from old feelings of unworthiness?).  Below is an affirmation set I wrote for a friend a week or so ago.  It was inspired somewhat by Trina’s Closer Than You Think system of clearing old trauma, but also by Theta Healing, The Work, and EFT:

  • I now release any feelings of unworthiness from all lifetimes past, present and future.
  • I am willing to release feelings of unworthiness.
  • I can allow myself the time I need to remember what it feels like to be completely worthy.
  • I allow myself to remember what it feels like to be completely worthy.
  • I am completely worthy.

What a glorious musical piece; what a glorious expression of YOU, Trina.  To support us all in feeling loved and worthy of this huge unconditional love.


What is Embodiment, Anyway?

People ask me what I mean when I say embodiment, and it’s a subtle thing, really.  If you are busy all the time, you run the risk of missing it – that is, until you are faced with debilitating pain, chronic aches, or unexplained disorders.  But that is really not what I’ve come here to talk about.  For me it’s much more fun to talk about what I’m experiencing in this process, which is more like watching grass grow than going to a doctor for a prescription and a more sadly standard cure.  My way, of course, is worlds more empowering and fulfilling.  There are so many dimensions to what I want to talk about, so it’s hard to know where to begin, and like I said before, it’s subtle but life changing – winding but profound – when you commit yourself to it as a way of life.

Mammals lick their young.  Watch a mother lion lick its cub.  (skip to minute 4 if you don’t have much time) This activity is nothing like what happens when a stressed-out working mother bathes or otherwise cares for her young.  When a mammal in nature cares for her young she is relaxed herself.  The motion almost a meditation.

When I was on the roof the other morning, just before sunrise, I thought of her in that warm meditative place, as I rolled an empty olive oil bottle around on the knotted and burning fibers of my muscles and ligaments and attachments, along the length of my lower leg.  As the sky had turned from twinkling stars to glimmering-on-the-rim to rosy and then bright, I rested in my quiet place inside.  As the hardness of the green glass met the various places on the leg I adjusted my motion so as to appropriately meet each complaint, each whimper, each outcry of rage for having been neglected and taken for granted for so long with not so much as an ounce of consideration for its never failing loyalty and devotion.  Imagining the mother, adjusting the pressure of her tongue so as to have the desired effect…the seemingly compulsive motion of the tongue designed to work out the knots, soften the stressed and defended places and render the tiny thing completely undefended…never having to ask for warmth, closeness, connection, or attention to its needs.

Since I took up the practice of bringing the bottle with me to the roof, originally for the purpose of rolling my feet, I notice that I walk on cobblestones a lot easier and with a whole lot more grace and agility.  Since I have been working on my quads and lower legs, I have begun to build a relationship with my legs.  They tell me where they hurt, but only if I ask.  They tell me how much pressure to use, but only if I’m present.  They tell me what they want, but only if I’m unhurried.  And, despite some old fear that their needs can never be met and that giving them attention will be a colossal mistake, they soften.  The pain subsides and I discover more about my legs that I never knew before.  No-touch zones turn to touch-with-care zones.  Touch-with-care zones turn to burning-like-fire zones.  Burning-like-fire zones turn to boy-that-feels-good zones, and on and on it goes.

Along with this relationship I’m building with my legs I am making connections about various parts of my body and how they work together.  For example, I had a bodywork session with a German friend (who worked with my shoulder blades, asking me to engage muscles I had no idea I could operate), who left me with an increased ability to – might I say delight in – lowering my shoulder blades, pulling them down against the contracted and chronically tense and indistinguishable muscle mass around my neck and shoulders.  With her help, I made some progress, and with the next bodywork session I expect to reclaim another formerly estranged and exiled body part.

I noticed, the other day, a sweet sensation of delight after pulling up some leg warmers over my leggings.  A sensation I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before.  I wonder in astonishment.  How have I gotten to be this age without knowing how the various parts of my body relate to one another in a kinesthetic way?  I’ve taken the anatomy classes and I’ve memorized a lot of anatomic terms, but it’s the finding of them in my body that’s always alluded me.  It’s the knowing of them sensually that I’ve tragically missed.  And in re-membering each one – slowly, tentatively – I understand why I cut them off in the first place.  There is so much information stored there!

This morning, for example, tending to my leg, and all those burning sensations, I begin to make connections in my mind.  This is about an old story that started when I was 15 or 16.  Wanting to run but can’t run, my inner 16-year-old tells me.  Wanting to run but can’t run wanting to run but can’t run.  My life depends on it, and I can’t run, but needing to run.  It burns.

I have not always had the presence of mind, the inclination, the patience or the curiosity to explore that sensation I called pain and shoved aside with disgust.  I was stronger than that.  No self-respecting person admitted to pain, much less indulged in giving it attention.

But my attention and curiosity turns any pain into an important piece of information I can use to take care of myself.  Pain, as it turns out, is not better ignored.  It is better used to tend to real needs and real wounds, which with a little care and attention, eventually melt into pure consciousness, connectedness and bliss.

Now I am not afraid of becoming a slave to my old wounds and pain.  I stroke and caress.  I tease out the knots.  I soothe the burning muscles into submission.  Now, as I do this, I know that as my body relaxes, as I care for it and become better acquainted with its nooks and crannies, a million tiny connections are made, sending signals to my brain that I am okay, that I am worthy of attention, that I deserve care, that my needs are not too much, and that there is nothing wrong with my body that a little TLC can’t make right.

Photo Shoot – Being In My Body (Estar En Mi Cuerpo)

This is what emotional work can look like!

This past couple days has been so interesting, as I wrestle with my body’s terror about being the center of attention and knee-jerk reactions to staying present in situations where resources are coming from others to me, specifically.  It’s really stretching my mind and my understanding and challenges the wiring of my brain.  Not always fun, and not always comfortable, but always held in love and gentleness and so much kindness and creativity.

Hope you like my photo collection!  Watch for more photos from the shoot which will be appearing on Facebook and other forms of social media over the next couple months.  They will make up the launch for Estar En Mi Cuerpo, but they will be professional photographs by Kitzia, who I am sure you are going to love.  For those of you who don’t know, Estar En Mi Cuerpo is the Spanish title for Being In My Body, What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation, & The Brain.  The other women in the photos are so dear to my heart – my translator, Mariana and her sister, Margarita.

Margarita, setting the tone for Day 1

Mariana, Shoot Director, Translator and Publisher

Kitzia, Photographer

Kitzia, Mariana, Margarita, at Bicycle Snack Station

Bicycle wheel table and reading the coffee grounds

Juice and coffee stop

Kitzia loves this pup

Photograph the photographer – What a love

It just doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

Aren’t I photogenic?

The Crew – Day 2

Toni Rahman Embodied – Mid-MO Tour 2017

After being south of the border for 4 years, Toni will be coming to Mid-MO in October to share two things:

1) Being In My Body: What You Might Not Have Known About Trauma, Dissociation & The Brain

  • Coffee & Conversation at Heart Body & Soul, followed by Book Signing on October 7, 10:30 am
  • Daniel Boone Regional Library – Local Author Fair on October 28, 10:00 am-2:00 pm

2) Pop-Up Clinics – a new way of networking and connecting with yourself and the abundance around you.  Read an article about Pop-Up Clinics in Ajijic Mexico here.

You can hear an interview with Toni on the Trauma Therapist Podcast here.

The Body Keeps The Score – Book Review

One of my favorite things to do is reading good books.  I finished reading Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score some months ago, but it has taken me a while to report on it.  Besides having gleaned 25 pages of quotes, I’m feeling the need to go back and re-read the whole thing.  This was a book of serious ahas.  Van der Kolk is himself a survivor of early relational trauma – a fact of which he was unaware until well into his professional career.  Currently the Medical Director of the Trauma Center in Boston, he is also a Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and serves as the Co-Director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network.  You can read more about him here.

“Trauma,” says van der Kolk, “drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past.”  Its effects are profound and lasting when it occurs before we have language to describe it or even hope to get the help we need.  But, “like a splinter that causes an infection, it is the body’s response to the foreign object that becomes the problem more than the object itself.”

I love this book because Van der Kolk gives me words for things I had no idea how to talk about before.  And he validates suspicions that have nagged at me for decades.  For instance, when I was 24 and had already ditched my first husband and abandoned my three-year-old son, I was puzzled by the lack of pain I felt.  What was wrong with me, anyway?  I had many explanations, some of which had to do with depression, being clueless about what I was going to do with my life, and feeling incapable of caring well for a small child while trying to do all those things that I had been taught that a husband was supposed to do.  Van der Kolk calls this “Numbing.”  In describing what one survivor of developmental trauma experienced, he says, “He desperately wanted to love his family, but he just couldn’t evoke any deep feelings for them.”

Numbing may keep us from suffering in the short-term, but long-term is another matter.  “…though the mind may learn to ignore the messages from the emotional brain, the alarm signals don’t stop.  The emotional brain keeps working, and stress hormones keep sending signals to the muscles to tense for action or immobilize in collapse.  The physical effects on the organs go on unabated until they demand notice when they are expressed as illness.  Medications, drugs, and alcohol can also temporarily dull or obliterate unbearable sensations and feelings.  But the body continues to keep the score.”

“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system.  The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

The seemingly endless path of breadcrumbs leading me back to my own trauma included my status as “stimulus seeker.”  Though I am most likely on the mild end of this spectrum, survivors of trauma don’t feel quite alive if they aren’t in the middle of some kind of chaos.  Says van der Kolk, “Somehow the very event that caused them so much pain had also become their sole source of meaning.  They felt fully alive only when they were revisiting their traumatic past.”

“That is why so many abused and traumatized people feel fully alive in the face of actual danger, while they go numb in situations that are more complex but objectively safe, like birthday parties or family dinners.”

All of this is determined at a very physical level.  “If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love.  For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”

Among van der Kolk’s research-based conclusions (and things to think about as you consider this idea he’s calling developmental trauma):

  • Exposure to stress relieves anxiety.
  • Addiction to trauma may be characterized by the pain of pleasure and the pleasure of pain.
  • Immobilization is at the root of most traumas (your heart slows down, your breathing becomes shallow, and, zombielike, you lose touch with yourself and your surroundings).
  • It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger.
  • All too often, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with distressing physical reactions associated with repressed emotion.

Real healing, he says, has to do with experiential knowledge: “You can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.”  Here, EXPERIENCE, not UNDERSTANDING is what we need.

“…neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention.  When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

Treatment

“Treatment needs to reactivate the capacity to safely mirror, and be mirrored, by others, but also to resist being hijacked by others’ negative emotions.”

“…the great challenge is finding ways to reset their physiology, so that their survival mechanisms stop working against them.  This means helping them to respond appropriately to danger but, even more, to recover the capacity to experience safety, relaxation, and true reciprocity.”

Mindfulness, or the ability to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is one of the primary tools van der Kolk teaches his patients.  This ability allows us to then take our time to respond,” he says, which “allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize, and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain.  This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.”

Increasing “interoception,” or self-awareness, is another important feature of recovery, van der Kolk says.  “Because traumatized people often have trouble sensing what is going on in their bodies, they lack a nuanced response to frustration.  They either react to stress by becoming ‘spaced out’ or with excessive anger.  Whatever their response, they often can’t tell what is upsetting them.  This failure to be in touch with their bodies contributes to their well-documented lack of self-protection and high rates of revictimization.  And also to their remarkable difficulties feeling pleasure, sensuality, and having a sense of meaning.”

Noticing and then describing what they are feeling is a process van der Kolk helps his patients learn.  He begins the process by helping them talk about what is happening in their bodies, “not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on.”  He also works on “identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure…their breath, their gestures and movements.”  He asks them to “pay attention to subtle shifts in their bodies, such as tightness in their chests or gnawing in their bellies, when they talk about negative events that they claim did not bother them.”

“…many programs (that try to help traumatized people) continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking,” van der Kolk says.  He provides some ways to engage this part of the brain in his book.  Among them are:

  • Yoga
  • Theater Programs
  • Breath Exercises (Pranayama)
  • Chanting
  • Martial Arts
  • Qigong
  • Drumming
  • Group Singing
  • Dancing

“Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms.  Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe….Most of our energy is devoted to connecting with others.”

 

A few more nuggets I thought you might appreciate:

  • While you need to be able to stand up for yourself, you also need to recognize that other people have their own agendas. Trauma can make all that hazy and gray.
  • (As infants) our most intimate sense of self is created in our minute-to-minute exchanges with our caregivers.
  • Children’s disturbed behavior is a response to actual life experiences – to neglect, brutality, and separation – rather than the product of infantile sexual fantasies.
  • Our lives consist of finding our place within the community of human beings.
  • Babies can’t regulate their own emotional states, much less the changes in heart rate, hormone levels, and nervous-system activity that accompany emotions.
  • Learning how to manage arousal is a key life skill, and parents must do it for babies before babies can do it for themselves.
  • Securely attached kids learn the difference between situations they can control and situations where they need help.
  • Kids will go to almost any length to feel seen and connected.
  • Traumatized parents, in particular, need help to be attuned to their children’s needs.
  • Dissociation means simultaneously knowing and not knowing.
  • Early attachment patterns create the inner maps that chart our relationships throughout life, not only in terms of what we expect from others, but also in terms of how much comfort and pleasure we can experience in their presence.
  • It’s not important for me to know every detail of a patient’s trauma. What is critical is that the patients themselves learn to tolerate feeling what they feel and knowing what they know.
  • Rage that has nowhere to go is redirected against the self, in the form of depression, self-hatred, and self-destructive actions.
  • Eradicating child abuse in America would reduce the overall rate of depression by more than half, alcoholism by two-thirds, and suicide, IV drug use, and domestic violence by three-quarters.
  • Social support is a biological necessity, not an option, and this reality should be the backbone of all prevention and treatment.
  • As long as people are either hyperaroused or shut down, they cannot learn from experience. Even if they manage to stay in control, they become so uptight that they are inflexible, stubborn, and depressed.  Recovery from trauma involves the restoration of executive functioning and, with it, self-confidence and the capacity for playfulness and creativity.
  • In order to recover, mind, body, and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go. That happens only when you feel safe at a visceral level and allow yourself to connect that sense of safety with memories of past helplessness.
  • Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present.
  • Antipsychotic medications such as Risperdal, Abilify, or Seroquel can significantly dampen the emotional brain and this makes patients less skittish or enraged, but they also may interfere with being able to appreciate subtle signals of pleasure, danger, or satisfaction.
  • As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down.

I highly recommend this book.

Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Timing Is Everything – A Book Review

Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg is one of those books you see on the shelves of people who are serious about effective communication.  Everywhere.  I kept seeing it.  But when I picked it up it didn’t speak to me.  Now I know why.  What broke the ice, I think, was reading the NVC Workbook, by Lucy Leu, which was incomplete by itself but was enough to motivate me to try Marshall’s book again.

I was already mid-epiphany in my personal life – regarding noticing that when I got analytical, critical, judgmental or when I started comparing myself to others I was actually feeling vulnerable underneath – when I came across this passage:

“Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others are needing and not getting.  Thus if my partner wants more affection than I’m giving her, she is ‘needy and dependent.’  But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is ‘aloof and insensitive.’  If my colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is ‘picky and compulsive.’  On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is ‘sloppy and disorganized.’”

That helped me solidify my epiphany and make it a regular part of my mental health maintenance.  Now, when I notice myself judging, comparing, criticizing, or analyzing, I can stop and gently ask myself: What might I be feeling vulnerable about?  Underneath all this chatter, might there be a story that wants to be told?  What, from my past, is this reminding me of?

Marshall Rosenberg is quite a revolutionary, and as it turns out, he’s an excellent writer too.  His book explains how people can communicate with one another more effectively by using a lens of compassion – turning feelings into desires and needs.  Looking back, the reason I could not access his message from the very first time I picked up the book was that I was still very confused about what my needs actually were, I was not clear enough on who I was to be in touch with what I desired, and I was completely cut off from my vulnerable emotions – that is until they built up so much that they overwhelmed me, and I lost control.

When you are at the right developmental stage, this book is a virtual jewel.  I’ve been digesting it since I finished it in March, when I was on the beach with my daughter in Cuba.  Here is another snippet:

“It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs.  They are tragic because, when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance to them among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us.  Or, if they do agree to act in harmony with our values because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame.”

When we are alienated from our needs, like many who experienced early relational trauma, we were not encouraged to have a strong sense of self, or we were shamed when we overtly expressed our desires or unpleasant feelings.  What’s tragic about this is that when we are alienated from our needs, we are deprived of what we most need to grow socially and emotionally: sustained human connection.  As Rosenberg points out, “…the more we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.”

In modern, Western society, women are particularly vulnerable to being socialized to put others first.  As Rosenberg says, “Because women are socialized to view the caretaking of others as their highest duty, they have often learned to ignore their own needs.”

Safe human relationships have been shown to be the most powerful tool for helping people overcome early relational trauma.  These relationships can be built in a therapy setting, but are just as powerful between people who have an adequate level of recovery, adequate attunement with their own feelings and needs, and the language to talk about it.

I’d like to create contexts where people can practice with others this skill of connecting feelings with needs, and communicating in ways that others are likely to have compassion for them, instead of feeling assaulted by their neediness or negativity.  This often happens to people who have unresolved early relational trauma, and when others respond to their judging, complaining, or neediness by defending, retaliating or distancing.  This sadly validates their early programming that people cannot accept them with their vulnerable emotions and backlog of unmet needs.  Validation might feel good, but as they say in Al-Anon, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Nonviolent Communication is a book that offers a framework for blasting through the early programming, and forging authentic connections between people, organizations, and nations.

“All criticism, attack, insults and judgments vanish when we focus attention on hearing the feelings and needs behind a message….behind all those messages we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being.”  Rosenberg believes this applies to everyone.  And his ideas are now being taught in mediation trainings all over the world.

(Former United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold) “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside.”  Rosenberg says that “If we become skilled in giving ourselves empathy, we often experience in just a few seconds a natural release of energy which then enables us to be present with the other person.”

Rosenberg’s Four Steps to Expressing Anger

  1. Stop and do nothing except breathe.
  2. Identify the thoughts that are making us angry.
  3. Connect to the needs behind those thoughts.
  4. Express our feelings and unmet needs.

I highly recommend this book.

 

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion. Encinitas: Puddledancer Press, 2000.

Self Abuse and the Inner Drama Triangle: Learning to Parent Yourself Well

What is the Drama Triangle, and how does it tie in with early relational trauma and embodiment?

When children witness the Drama Triangle being played by their family members in childhood, and it becomes their model for relating, they miss out on opportunities to develop healthy relational skills, and real problem solving skills and this chaotic dynamic becomes the Inner Blueprint for dealing with stress.  The Weinholds say that the Drama Triangle is the primary cause of childhood trauma, and I’m with them.  “For children who experience or watch this dynamic, their brains file situation-specific pictures, words, thoughts and feelings related to Drama Triangle experiences.  This is the core definition of Trauma.”  Plenty of research is also showing that early childhood stress and unmet relational needs are the foundation for trauma in general, but I’ll talk more about that in a later post.

When an individual of any age lives in an environment that the Drama Triangle creates, the nervous system responds by flooding the system with stress hormones which effectively put the body on the ready for fight or flight.  Disconnecting from one’s feelings is commonly a part of this response. And since there is no “end to the crisis” in sight (in the absence of the skills needed to exit the Drama Triangle) the body does not return to its relaxed, post-crisis state, and natural resolution to the crisis does not occur.

It takes willingness, awareness, and commitment to acquire the skills necessary to help the body return to its natural state of equilibrium. And removing the violence and chaos that the Drama Triangle creates are the important first steps.

I am so pleased to announce:

 

This Online Course is based on the Drama Triangle and how it can play out inside us (with the different parts of the triangle represented by different parts of us in our minds: The Victim, The Rescuer & The Persecutor).  This 6-week course will break the Drama Triangle down into simple terms so that it can be more easily understood.  The skills you take away are designed to help stop inner abuse and self sabotage in its tracks.

During the course, participants will learn how to replace the Drama Triangle with its magical counterpart, the Empowerment Dynamic, to help overcome early relational trauma.  They will also gain a framework for better knowing when and how to trust themselves, which naturally impacts knowing when and how to safely trust other people.

Depending on your level of enrollment, you can take the course alone, receive two one-hour Skype sessions to support your work, or purchase the Deluxe Bundle which includes two one-hour personal coaching sessions and e-mail support between sessions.

The class includes a series of lessons, visual diagrams, quizzes, assignments, a sharing forum, and other materials to supplement learning, facilitate growth, heal early relational trauma and remove barriers to the forging of safe and lasting connections.

Now available!

Fill out this brief survey if you’d like to know more.

 

Becoming Attached – Book Review

Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, by Robert Karen, PhD.  Oxford University Press, 1998

Robert Karen’s book, Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, took a while to read, but what a treasure!  It gives an overview and history of attachment theory.  Explains in depth the destructive practices that had been adopted early in the industrial revolution, as parents increasingly were called to work outside the home and nuclear families became the norm.  It connects the dots between early attachment wounds and unmet needs and patterns of relating in adulthood.  Robert Karen locates himself in the material, describing himself this way: “I believe I had an anxious attachment to my mother, which was perhaps mainly ambivalent but had certain avoidant features and looked more and more avoidant as I got older.”

After having read this book, I can better understand some of my odd behaviors as a child and young adult, and my patterns with adult partners and potential partners.  Why did I bite that girl in the bathroom in 4th grade?  I remember chomping down hard, and I felt I could have taken it off.  It wasn’t her I was mad at; I don’t even remember what she had done.  But that was a terrifying, out-of-control rage I couldn’t put into words.  Even as an adult, why did I suddenly feel so infuriated with my sister, Tracy, when I was dependent on her to step in and help; when she was all-out engaged in fixing the situation when my children were being abducted and I was so terrified I’d never see them again? What could explain my identification as “utterly uninterested in affection” and at the same time internally so utterly starved of physical and emotional connection and touch?  Why was my response to my mother “I know,” since at least age 10, and why the unmistakable force behind it?

I can better understand how I had lived so long without a secure base, and how I learned to find comfort most reliably in being alone, since being with loved ones cost me so dearly in terms of emotional and energetic expenditure.  Why I have undermined being given to “in a truly loving way… at every turn; indeed (being given to in this way) feels perversely unacceptable.”

I can better understand my disconnectedness from feelings of loss and vulnerability when it came to “close” others.  Why I have never been able to use a coherent narrative to talk about what my childhood was like, what my day was like, or even about an idea I’d like to share.  How I jump around without finishing my sentences, and am difficult to follow.  How I have difficulty recalling much of my past.  As a person recovering from intimacy disorder, I can look back over my life and notice a suspicious lack of benefitting from the highly-touted idea of companionship and comfort others seemed to be benefitting from around me; the wild vacillating between feelings of superiority to others and feeling too weak, too desperate, and too ashamed to approach anyone for love and support.

I can better understand “what went wrong.”  The origins of unhealthy narcissism, and the thread it weaves into our family and others.  In short, I can better understand to what I might attribute my intimacy problems, when my parents so clearly loved me and provided me with so much.  And among these pages, too, I have access to the scientific data that attempt to identify what children actually need to form secure attachment with their parents, and what that even looks like.

How strange, when I read the words “the usefulness of their anger.” But, as I’ve intellectually known all along, anger has a healthy interpersonal function.  Reading these words help me integrate and process so much.  Included in this book are also how addiction and enmeshment fit into the attachment puzzle, and how we can approach resolution and repair.  For me, there is clearly much to learn and internalize, but this book provides a grounded and comprehensive discussion of the attachment literature.

Below I include some of my very favorite quotes:

“There is another implication here, too, perhaps especially for the ambivalent child, whose hurt and rage and hatred are so volatile and so quickly unmanageable: He never develops the sense that mom is there to contain his overwhelming emotions; that he can have a tantrum; that he can hate her and feel as if he and mom are through, but that she will be soothing and convey the sense that the tantrum will soon pass without causing permanent damage and that even his wish to annihilate her will not have devastating consequences.  In other words, even if his extreme negative feelings are too much for him, they are not too much for her; she can (in Winnicott’s words) “hold” them, and through his relationship with her he will learn to manage them one day himself.” (Pg 222)

And this: “He doesn’t feel he can be openly angry with her, despite the fact that anger, according to Bowlby, is the natural response when a child’s attachment needs are thwarted.  Experience has taught him that his anger will only cause her to become more rejecting.  And so he has learned to turn himself off.  At the slightest hint of pain or disappointment, he shuts down his attachment system and experiences himself as having no need for love.  Unlike the ambivalent child, whose attachment antennae are always up and receiving and who seems to have no defenses to ward off painful emotions, the avoidant child, Main believes, has made himself deaf to attachment related signals, whether they are coming from within himself or from someone else.  He avoids any situation and perhaps any topic that has the potential for activating his attachment needs.”

Even later on, as a child who seems to have accepted life on the edge of human connectedness, who seems to many observers to prefer detachment, the prospect of further rejection is too terrible to risk.  The predominantly avoidant child cannot be warmly affectionate with his mother or go to her when in need. But by keeping his attachment system dampened, he is at least able to stay near her without risking more pain or ruining the connection with his disappointment and anger.  Thus, despite appearances, the strategy of the avoidant child still seems to serve the purpose of preserving proximity.  Psychologically, he is firmly in his mother’s orbit, his thought, feeling, and behavior shaped by the claims of that relationship, but, like Jupiter or Uranus, he abides at a distance that affords him little warmth (Pg 224).

Karen touches on how in our society secure attachment is more the exception than the rule, and how motherhood, as we think of it, is not the best explanation, but rather modern Western society’s growing individualism and the pressures of achievement at the expense of connection.

And as I suspected, he says that there is hope; successfully parenting one’s children, being in partnership with an emotionally healthy adult and effective therapy can all repair anxious attachment and heal attachment wounds.  Read more gleanings from this great book here, or get a copy for yourself at Amazon.com.