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What If The Body Came With A User’s Manual?

What I’ve been noticing lately is a shift in what I feel and think about consuming sweet things (and other “yummy” things) and maybe about rules and rigidity in general.  The word restriction has been popping up for me.  Re STRICT ion, and also the association between eating disorders and “rules” about food.

We want to avoid being overly strict or rigid in our lives.  So it’s good to be on the lookout for arbitrary restrictions that we place on ourselves, and then get curious about them.  I mean, yeah, if I had concerns (evidence) that I might be growing a tumor, I would maybe want to cut out sugar for a while.  I might want to go on a sugar fast or something.  But the sugars actually do have a place on the pyramid.  The refined ones are up there on the very top, but fresh fruits and root vegetables are a source of important nutrients – at least for me….today.  Grains seem to be less important, but not something I need to cut out completely.  Highly processed foods are at the little bitty point up there on the top of the triangle, where the space they take up is very, very small in comparison to the balance of what I eat.

I know, there are so many rules out there about food and what is actually good for us, but what’s important is for us to take personal responsibility and adopt some kind of structure to help us respond to our unique and changing nutritional needs.  Guidelines help us navigate our lives and make choices from the myriad options we face every day.  But just make sure you don’t let your guidelines become too strict or rigid.

One of the guidelines I’ve been using lately (and not strictly) is based on the pH of the body.  Some foods, when we consume them, make our bodies more acidic, others more alkaline.  Remembering that if I eat four times as many alkaline foods as acidic foods – an excess of acidic foods creates acidity in the body which supports the proliferation of parasites and yeast which I understand to be precursors of many chronic illnesses – my body will function better.  If I fill my diet with mostly acidic foods, my body is going to get out of balance.  So while I don’t need to be constantly measuring or restricting myself, I can keep that idea in the back of my mind, and if I notice that my health is slipping, or my energy levels aren’t what I’d like them to be, or I’m feeling that something is off, I can make some adjustments in the types of foods I’m eating.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that starting a couple weeks ago I was having really strong cravings for something.  It wasn’t sugar, though I did veer toward fried things.  But when I sat with it, and asked my body what it really wanted, it seemed more like it was asking for more high quality proteins.  Also entering my awareness from various articles and conversations I was having was the idea that I was needing to increase my consumption of high quality proteins and fats.  So that is the direction I moved in.

In this phase of temporarily self-imposed monkhood, I realized I had begun to associate high-quality proteins and fats with unwanted expense.  So I picked up a small container of cheap, highly processed peanut butter, and quickly concluded that this wasn’t what my body was asking for.  It just didn’t taste like food.  A couple cans of tuna, some cashews and some queso fresco later, the cravings went away.  I will need to make a trip to the gringo getting-place and pick up some tahini and almond butter, which will set me back some $15 or so.  Not a whole lot in the scheme of things.  I’m on it.

Note to Self: If I notice myself skimping, I may need to re-assess whether I’m associating not having what I need with my worthiness or ability to have what I need.  If I can put some attention there, I can see pretty easily that I am worthy of adequate nutrition (what my body needs to stay healthy).  For me, it is sensible and correct to include healthy proteins and fats along with the wide variety of fresh produce that I can get for next to nothing here in Mexico.  I can also assess whether I have adequate margin in my budget to cover nuts, nut butters, avocados, high quality oils, and high quality meats, and usually I do.  I don’t need to go overboard, but I do have enough.  (These things are up there in the top of the pyramid, just under treats and sweets.)  And yes, they cost a bit, but they are also my medicine, one of my best ways of building and maintaining health.

There is no doubt about it, sweetness is something we all need, and if for some reason you have been prohibiting or limiting sweetness in your life, that’s something I recommend you pay some compassionate attention to.

In summary,
  • There are different kinds of edible sweets available to us in markets and selling establishments everywhere. And there is also sweetness available to us from every direction in the form of connections with nature and other beings.
  • If I build sweetness into my lifestyle, I won’t feel like I need to “steal” it (impulse purchases at the check-out lane, etc.).  Sweetness then becomes a normal, built-in feature of my life.  If I include having a cup of tea with a cookie, or even a few little cookies, every day, I have chosen to make sweetness a regular part of my life.  (I tried this and I noticed that I didn’t put any sugar in my tea in order to make it feel like a special treat.  This way, my treat is one that I’m allowed – whole-heartedly – not one I’m “getting away with,” or sneaking off to consume, hoping nobody notices.)
  • Craving sugars, in the past, has pointed to a lack of the sweetness that I can only get through warm and authentic human connections and communion with nature. Now that I have lots of interesting and satisfying interpersonal connections in my life, I don’t notice as many cravings for sweets anymore.  This shift has required me to really pay attention and make adjustments as I go, based on what tastes good to me, and what feels good in my body after I eat it.  It’s an ongoing process, but a super-important one.
  • We are being bombarded by campaigns crafted by the processed food industry to increase our consumption of their “yummy” products (laden with high quantities of salt, sugar and fat), and what seems “normal” can get skewed pretty quickly if we’re not aware and purposeful about what we purchase and consume.

Add to Body-Owner’s Manual:

Having Cravings?
  • Check to see if you’ve been skimping on the relatively expensive high-quality foods that make you feel grounded and well-cared-for and probably build health and a strong immune system. If you are getting enough of those kinds of food, you’ll be less likely to crave those “kiddy” foods – the foods that the immature self wants – which help us know that at some level we are crying out in response to feeling unmet or unseen or uncared for.
  • Make sure to reach out to others and invest time in mutually nurturing friendships.
  • Connect with nature in some way that feels satisfying or nurturing to you.
Noticing Strictness or Rigidity?
  • Being strict is no substitute for staying as attuned and available as possible to the feedback that your body provides. There are a lot of guidelines out there, and if you find one that resonates for you, great!  Experiment with it and notice how your body reacts.  Notice cravings, energy levels, mood and immune system functioning.
  • Realize that your needs change over time, and the guidelines you use will need to be used with flexibility and openness to adjustment as your needs change.

For more on becoming an ally with your body, check out Toni’s Mid-MO Tour, happening in October 2017.

 

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.

Trauma Therapist Podcast – Interview

I was recently interviewed by Harvard-trained Guy McPherson of the Trauma Therapist Podcast.  I highly recommend his creative endeavor, which you can check out here. He is truly inspired, seeing that people first starting out on the road to being effective therapists can and should draw on the wisdom of others who were once beginners too.

Listen to my interview here.

Abundance Affirmations – Take Two

RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING
(Making adjustments based on what I desire moving forward)

I choose to address my compulsions directly, and I open to guidance about how this is gracefully done.
It is safe to have plenty of time. I can have plenty of time and not get derailed in anything even close to The Devil’s Workshop. (Unless, of course, the devil is a fine playmate.)
True abundance does not always mean a full calendar, or having several things lined up to do.
My compulsions have served to keep me disconnected from my feelings. I now choose to shift my relationship with my feelings so that my natural tendency is to notice and feel them directly.
I have plenty of money and plenty of time simultaneously.
I do not have to have access to endless abundance to have simplicity and peace, though it sure seems like it could help, sometimes.
I am well supported in managing abundance so that it does not detract from the quality of my life.
I can be trusted with free, unstructured time. I am allowed to play and relax. Playing and relaxing help me reach my goals, effortlessly.
I step up and do what is needed to make wise decisions that help me feel better about my future. I own my power. I am in charge of my life.
My values and integrity stay intact as I become a conduit of great financial flow.
I release any connection between busy-ness and righteousness. That is utter nonsense.
As a fully resourced person I make a bigger impact in the world.

I welcome the abundance that is already mine, and I am so grateful!
Thank you! And so it is!

Photo borrowed from Laughing Frog Gardens.  Check it out here.

Self-Imposed Monkhood

I have in the past year been thinking about money – fiscal flow.  It was last year about this time that the dust was beginning to settle, and I realized that the time had come to shift from spending more money than I was bringing in.  Thousands of dollars of credit card debt loomed – the hard-earned badge of taking chances, and the ball and chain that symbolized my vulnerability for stepping up and helping when I am not grounded myself (No regrets.  Just noticing).

My relationship with credit is one of gratitude and respect, having been the recipient of student loans and commercial credit that allowed me to get an education and the credentials needed to support myself in an honorable and dignified way, but my latest plunge into debt is the shadow side of a larger transition, and it brings into stark relief many of my previously unconscious beliefs and attitudes about abundance and money, no doubt passed down to me from my ancestors, and maybe the reverberating echoes of our shocked and traumatized poor and middle class brothers and sisters who move through life more like the living dead than their great, empowered selves.

Since I made that recent, important shift, I have been thinking about how what I’m going through might be similar to the withdrawal symptoms of a heroin addict, or an alcoholic.  But I try not to get too carried away.  What I have realized is that for me, pulling out of our revered middle-class rituals that have served as the “guarantor” of safety and stability, I have stepped into the unknown.  The result has been a self-imposed experience of low financial flow.  AND having a temporary period of self-imposed “monkhood” has helped me get more up close and personal with some of the baggage I have carried with me about money, wealth and abundance.  I’ll share with you here what I’m taking away as I move forward.  This is going to be an excellent year!

Self-imposed monkhood has served me in managing my compulsions:

  • To buying food in excess of what I need.
  • To buying to distract myself from feeling.
  • To buying things for others to get approval/acceptance.
  • To supporting the illusion that I’m responsible or invulnerable.
  • To keeping me rigidly stuck in my old roles of appearing “more capable.”
  • To taking care of the needs of others to my own detriment.

Not having money has forced me to slow down.  It has served me in helping to keep my life a bit simpler.

  • Fewer distractions.
  • More time with myself, my emotional life and my creative process.

Not having money has “served” me in helping me to feel more righteous.

RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING…RECALIBRATING

(Making adjustments based on what I desire moving forward)

I choose to address my compulsions directly, and I open to guidance about how this is gracefully done.
It is safe to have plenty of money.  I can have plenty of money and stay connected to my needs, my personal limits, my essence, my values and my purpose.
I am learning that true abundance does not always mean lots of food in the refrigerator, or cooking in advance so I have plenty of leftovers.
My compulsions have served to keep me disconnected from my feelings.  I now choose to shift my relationship with my feelings and feel my emotions directly.
I can have simplicity in my life and abundant resources and income all at the same time.
I do not have to sacrifice financial abundance to have access to simplicity and peace.
I am well supported in managing abundance so that it does not detract from the quality of my life.
I can be trusted with material and financial abundance.
I will step up and do what is needed to make wise decisions that help me feel better about my financial future.
My values and integrity will stay intact as I become a conduit of great financial flow.
I release any connection between poverty and righteousness.  That is utter nonsense.
As a fully resourced person I can and will make a bigger impact in the world.
I welcome the abundance that is already mine, and I am so grateful!

Thank you!  And so it is!

It’s A Body Thing

There’s something the body does that reflects what the nervous system does – a reflex, in response to a trigger.  I’d like to explore this with you.  When a person encounters a trigger, the body closes.  What I seem to be noticing with myself and my clients is a popular trigger called “ALLOWING A PART OF MYSELF TO BE SEEN THAT I WASN’T SURE I WANTED TO SHARE.”  Since for many of us, opening up emotionally has been so unsafe in the past, it can understandably be really frightening, and before you even know what’s happening, the body reflexively closes.

This is really important because it’s in those moments that we do connect – that we have connected without our defenses up – that the brain is re-wired.  Whenever the body is guarded and only the intellect is open and engaged, no rewiring gets done.  It’s just kind of the same old same old.

And so the thing that just occurred to me now is that when a person tells a story over and over again as if they hadn’t already told it to that person, they are temporarily disconnected from the memory that this actually was a shared telling; this was a valuable, precious shared event, and that the person you are telling it to would actually remember that.  So you are disconnected from the experience of having shared a moment of connection and being heard together.  The wires are down.  It’s almost like the fact that we shared it can “disappear.”  Just like that, our most powerful resources can disappear when we are triggered.  The good thing is that we can learn to reconnect.  Reconnecting involves being aware of and relaxing the body (including the nervous system).  Don’t worry.  It isn’t as hard as you might think.

You have abundant resources.  They’re all around you and they are also right there in your brain.  But, as you have probably seen or experienced, survivors of early relational trauma have learned to disconnect from things they feel and know.  It’s part of what the body does in survival mode.

I came across a really interesting thing in a YouTube video called The Shoe.  Maybe you saw it on Facebook.  If you watch the body language of this kid actor, which the director catches so powerfully, you can see it for yourself.  It’s a visual representation of that shift that happens: from when the boy is snarling in disgust and frustration with the broken shoe at about 1.3 and then he sees the other boy his age with new shoes.  At 1.33-1.37 his body opens and you can see him shift from isolation – his own miserable, impoverished world –  to a place of allowing, where he can see the things around him.  He can see what is happening with other people, and empathize with their experience.  In this case, this ability to empathize ultimately leads to a brand new pair of shoes and this powerful (if brief) exchange with the other boy.  The boy doesn’t have the layers and layers of repeated trauma and loss that an adult can, so the shift happens readily.  This shift is possible for all of us when we learn how to put down our defenses; when we learn to physically relax.  When we can, we automatically reconnect with all the resources available to us in this moment now.

Interpersonal events are amazing things, and there is just so much that is communicated below the level of our conscious minds.  I have been learning that if I can keep my primary focus on my own body, I can make use of the complex wiring systems that have served to make us mammals the wildly successful, sociable creatures we are.  If I instead pay attention to what’s happening to you (what I can see and comprehend with my eyes), I have a much more limited and mind-oriented framework to operate from.

Paying attention to the emotional state of others has been my default, but that – thank goodness – has begun to change in the past several years.  Staying with and tending to my own sensations in the moment give me much more valuable information.  Here is an example.  I work with clients who have triggers, naturally.  And I have had moments with clients where I can see that they are suddenly triggered.  Incidentally, being face to face with someone who disconnects from me emotionally, can be a trigger for me.  But as I learn to manage triggers, there is more of me available to just watch, and not get carried away by the emotion and the story and the personal memory of the trigger.

I am remembering a particular time in which I am face to face with a client who has just been triggered by me, and I notice myself kind of freezing up, and I notice that I’m not able to communicate with a relaxed, open, spontaneous heart anymore.  I notice that what I say or do after that just sort of comes from my head, awkwardly, which neither of us can access with the heart, and my client can’t hear anyway because they’re suddenly all closed up and protected.

In life, and in therapy, it is a good practice to reach for those moments where we are able to feel safe enough to open; those moments when we truly connect.  Maybe we won’t even consciously acknowledge them when we are in them, but we can certainly look back and say, mmhm….I was open then.

This makes me remember a time when I was in grad school when I felt safe enough to open up with a particular professor.  I had reached out to her due to her specialty in domestic violence.  It was in a moment of trusting and hopefulness that I reached out – and from a place of newly identifying as a victim of domestic violence.

It was obvious to everyone that this professor had a great passion for teaching DV.  I had reached out to her in that moment of unguardedness and shared myself, my personal interest in DV and how happy I was that she was teaching this course, and then I drew back.  I hadn’t retreated or closed up consciously.  But looking back, I certainly had closed myself off to further interactions with her.  Maybe it was because I had shared a part of me that I was not accustomed to sharing.  For whatever reason, I pulled way back, and at the end of my school experience, that professor pointed out that I had opened up to her and then closed up again.

That she had noticed it really touched me.  I felt kind of disappointed in myself for closing to a potential mentor/ally/connection, but my pulling back had been a reflex, not a conscious decision; a reflex based on an unexamined trigger.

At that point I probably didn’t have the tools to stay safely connected.  This was also the professor I went to at the late stages of working on my final project and broke down in her office because I needed help and she wasn’t helping me in the way that felt helpful.  I didn’t even know how to ask for the help I needed except to say I had no idea how to finish a particular section of my paper/project.  It was the policy piece in the realm of teen pregnancy prevention.  I had been reading about policy but I had virtually no real-world information or experience from which to draw.  This was my final project and I hadn’t the foggiest idea how to talk about changing legislation or influencing public policy.  I didn’t know enough about government; I was clueless about how to talk about it.  And she couldn’t really help me because what I “needed” was for her to write the damn thing for me.  So I broke down right there in her office, and I was either crying or near tears, and I stumbled out, confused, overwhelmed, disconnected, disappointed.

I pulled through and I patched it together, but it was an excruciating moment and I never did connect again with her about this and in the process I learned something about myself that I am reflecting on now.

All this has to do with a physical reflex.  It’s not something that one does to manipulate or punish another person.  It’s not stubbornness or stupidity (I can’t vouch for everyone out there; people can really only know their own experience and motives).  But as we learn about what is physically happening, we can more readily recover, stay in the present moment and make empowered choices.  When we can do this, we can also begin to understand that vulnerable emotions are fairly universal, though the disabling and alienating impulse to hide them is virtually as universal in our modern, Western culture.

If you can identify with this, it is quite possible that you, too, have experienced such a neurological event.  If you have, you are in the right place to learn more about it.  Begin to notice when it happens without judgment.  Notice that it passes – it always does.  Do what you can to learn about how the nervous system works in trauma and under stress.  Pay attention to your own experience.  Eventually you can learn to recognize when it’s happening so that you are more able to stand back and observe your feelings instead of being overwhelmed or hijacked by them.  One day it will even be natural to share vulnerable emotions with others in responsible, attachment-enhancing ways.  Slow and steady.  Gentleness and curiosity will serve you so much better in this realm than perfectionism or high expectations.  And mentors and teachers are to be had if you know where to look.

The emotional work that you are being invited to do has to do with what Bessel van der Kolk and Steve Porges are talking about.  It’s noticing the moments when we do feel safe enough to open and connect (with ourselves and others); it’s acknowledging those moments – the moments when you let yourself be seen and you feel that you can let your guard down and your body physically relaxes.  That is when life turns around and you can operate from a place of presence, true empathy and compassion.  Reach for more of those moments.

The Shoe  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX3BVdONvZA

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.