Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Making sense of your life

Making sense of your life is not about what you’ve been through but how you make sense of it, which I think is a really hopeful message. Even if you had a horrific upbringing, you can still make sense of it and be who you truly are, not what your conditioning taught you to be.

Dr Daniel Siegel calls making sense of your life a ‘coherent narrative’ and uses the Adult Attachment Interview to help his clients figure this out.
You can’t make sense of your life if you haven’t looked at how you’ve lived, what has influenced you, why you do, think and feel the way you do. You can’t make sense of your life if you live in denial and avoidance. You can’t make sense of your life by disowning and dissociating from what’s painful even though it’s totally understandable that you do that.

Life calls you to make sense of your life; to digest, metabolise and experience all of your experiences so they can fall into their right place and you can be the person you are meant to be.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

When you can't accept something

When you can’t accept something, be honest about it. At least you won’t have the pressure of lying about how you feel which is exhausting.

Tapping on the truth of how you feel is what will get you results. You don’t need to dress up how you feel before you tap, just let rip on your honest feelings and watch how things shift. If you think you’re being negative, then tap on that first.

Balos beach, Crete, Greece

I hope the following phrases help you, remember to customise them to suit your feelings and situation.

Even though I think I’m being negative by telling the truth, I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t accept how I feel, I accept the truth of that

Even though I can’t be with this feeling, I accept how I feel

Even though I’m afraid that this will never end because no matter what I do it doesn’t go away, I accept how frustrated I feel

Even though I brace against these body sensations because they feel so awful, I can’t help myself, it’s a knee jerk reaction, maybe I can feel 10 seconds of them

Even though I’m just so exhausted fighting, struggling, trying to get better and it seems the harder I try, the worse I feel, I love and accept myself anyway

Even though I can’t find any compassion and kindness for these feelings and sensations right now, that’s ok

Even though I don’t see any way out of this … I choose to remain open, what have I got to lose?

Even though if I say it out loud or even admit to it silently, I feel it makes it more true, I accept how I feel

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Your comfort levels

As we’re healing from trauma one of the most important things, as Babette Rothschild says, is to improve the quality of our daily life as much as we can.

One way we can do that is by paying attention to how comfortable we feel in the moment: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What do you do if you’re out walking and you get a tiny pebble in your sandal and it doesn’t feel really uncomfortable right there and then but you might feel sorer at the end of your walk if you don’t take it out, but you also think that taking off your sandal to shake the pebble out is too much hassle.

The small things become the big things so take that pebble out, make your walk as comfortable as possible. Listen to what your body is saying to you. Stop overriding its messages. This is how we show ourselves respect and take ourselves seriously. Making yourself as comfortable as you can be in any given moment is really really important.

So drink when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re tired. So many of us have a pattern of pushing through. We don’t trust that things will work out if we don’t struggle or fight for it. We might even think we’ll get some sort of prize for trying as hard as we can. Or maybe we have a belief that says the more we do, the more value we have. When we take it easy we feel lazy, good for nothing. It might even make us anxious to do less, never mind nothing.

Watch out for signs of discomfort and what you do to alleviate that discomfort. It might be easier to make yourself more physically comfortable initially as you usually only have yourself to answer to in this regard. But maybe emotionally you’re not comfortable saying No. Feeling comfortable in this instance in akin to feeling safe, they often go together. Remember by saying Yes when you don’t want to, is equivalent to saying No to yourself. Try saying No on the smaller things with people you feel safer with and see how it feels. Like anything, we get better with practice and dealing with whatever consequences there might be. Because there are consequences either way, it just depends on what consequences we’re comfortable with, or can become comfortable with.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The reenactment of trauma

The reenactment of trauma, or repetition compulsion as Freud called it, is everywhere. In our own individual lives and collectively.

If we don’t know about this phenomenon, we’ll think we’re being persecuted, punished, cursed, because we’re bad, shameful, unlovable or unacceptable. Insert whatever adjective was used to ever deride you and any conclusion that you came to as a result of how others treated you and your experiences.

Being traumatised is like being in a perpetual state of indigestion. It feels awful and we’re often desperate to resolve it once it starts to bubble up from our too full barrels: causing us debilitating symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

We wouldn’t walk around for 40 years with a piece of food stuck in our throats but we walk around with many many undigested experiences because they felt and feel too overwhelming to feel. That’s why we dissociate, dissociation is what creates trauma as defined by psychiatrist Ivor Browne: unexperienced experience. And it’s good (and essential sometimes) that we dissociate, it’s a brilliant survival mechanism until it becomes a noose around our necks.

Sheskinmore, County Donegal, Ireland

I believe trauma repeats so we can resolve it. We don’t often see it that way though, and nor do others. There are many who rush to condemn us when we show signs of unresolved trauma especially when it is acted out, rather than in. Examples of act outs are violence, abuse, bullying and examples of acting in are agoraphobia and chronic illness to name a few. Many see the signs of trauma being reenacted as evidence of disorder and mental illness. I see it as a sign of unresolved trauma or as Freud said*: “an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things”. We literally cannot stand it, or thrive, when things are left incomplete, unexperienced and undigested.

The repetition of trauma gives rise to the most agonising frustration that whatever we’re going through will never end which leads us to feel hopeless and that we can’t escape our situation. It’s like a merry-go-round we can’t get off. But we can get off.

When you see repeating patterns in your life, write them down, write how they make you feel, feel into your answers, even if only for 10 seconds. Try feeling for a bit longer the next time, maybe 15 seconds. The repetition is an opening, an invitation to see the real truth of who you really are before any muck obscured your vision.

*Freud S: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), translated and edited by Strachey J. New York, WW Norton, 1961

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tapping on insomnia

One of the most debilitating symptoms of undischarged traumatic stress is insomnia. When you can’t fall sleep, sleep only a few hours a night or you wake up constantly during the night, you just can’t function properly. Lack of sleep brings us to our knees, literally and metaphorically.

Insomnia is not a symptom you can easily ignore. If it goes on for longer than a few months, sleep becomes an obsession. It’s akin to being afraid of having a panic attack: you become more and more afraid of not sleeping and your entire life starts to revolve around getting as much sleep as you can, however you can. You will try anything to get a few hours sleep so you don’t go through your day like a zombie.

When you’re suffering from insomnia, your nervous system is in sympathetic mode, that is, flight or fight. Insomnia is usually the result of years and years worth of thwarted flight and fight responses that you couldn’t complete because of survival and safety issues. You might have been a good sleeper at one time, and something that might have seemed harmless was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You might also have spent years in freeze mode. Sometimes it feels better to be numb than to feel anything. We can also oscillate between being shutdown and being overwhelmed. However, as time goes by things have a way of melting and erupting, whether we want them to or not. We become triggered more easily because our barrels only have so much space. Something has got to give if nothing is being emptied.

Insomnia is one of those issues you just have to get to the root of. If you don’t, you might sleep well some nights and then go back to either waking through the night or not being able to fall asleep: two steps forward, 6 steps back.

Your quality of sleep is a strong litmus test for your stress levels, so lowering your stress levels on a daily basis is really important. But so is getting to the root of why we’re stressed. Sometimes we don’t have any control over some of our stressors because of circumstances, but start where you are and do the best you can. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step as Martin Luther King said.

Don’t wait until bedtime to relax, take every opportunity during the day to observe your breath, where you might be pushing through, when you’re not listening to your body, when you clench or brace and so on. Learning to sleep well again involves changes in how you live your life. What was once adaptive isn’t serving you anymore so you need to learn a new way of being in the world that is more true to who you really are.

Fill in the blanks to these statements and tap on your answers. Trust what comes up.

When I think of going to bed at night I feel …

Sleeping feels …

Not sleeping feels ...

A part of me doesn’t feel safe to sleep deeply ...

A part of my body feels … which keeps me awake (or does it feel like the whole of your body, be specific about where you feel stress/tightness/constriction) and that feels ...

My thoughts become distorted when I’m stressed and it’s hard not to believe them ...

Not sleeping and how it feels reminds me of ...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pin the tail on the right target

I have just finished reading Kathy Brous’ new book, Don’t Try This Alone: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder. I laughed and I cried throughout, and most of all I felt hopeful after finishing it. Her tenacity and willingness to reach out for help and to keep going is amazing.

One of the gems I got from the book was to pin the tail, or tale, on the right person or situation, or you’ll never get true relief. Now I’ve heard that said a millions times before in different words, but the way she explained it really struck a chord with me. I really really got it. Maybe we need things said a thousand different ways over many years to really download it into our cells.

She would repeat “Move the tale, move the tale” throughout the book when she was recounting incidents/people where she felt triggered. And what she meant by that was to go back to when you first felt that same way. That is, the first person or situation that triggered that feeling or sensation in you.

Oftentimes, it’s our parents or another important figure in our early life who is the initiator but we often find it easier to project our wounds onto others and this is why we don’t find complete relief. Or maybe we’ve forgotten, or suppressed where the real pain came from just because it’s too painful. We pay attention to current woes not linking them to our past when they first happened.

In hypnotherapy, this is called the initiating event and everything else that happens after that is a trigger; an echo or reminder of the original experience. Because we’re so good at dissociating from pain, especially early pain, the initiating experience might not trigger us until we’re in our 20s or at 50 as in Kathy’s case. Dissociation is a brilliant survival mechanism until it becomes chronic and persistent.

In EFT, an important question is “What/Who does that remind you of?”. And I’ve asked this question of myself and others hundred of times, but “Move the tale” really makes the initial pain become laser sharp and crystal clear. When I watched Gabor Maté do a few sessions in Cork with some people, he got to the root straight away by the types of questions he asked and it only took him a few minutes because his focus was where it was supposed to be: the root. You could see the look of relief and hope on people’s faces as they realised where their pain really came from.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

What's the problem with anger, part 2

There’s a lot of shame surrounding the emotion of anger. You are shamed for having it, feeling it and whatever you do, don’t dare express it. This is especially true for women. Is it any wonder anger gets stuck when many of us don’t have a clue what to do with it?

We are told it’s not a real emotion because it’s acting as a cover for other emotions like sadness which is a much more respectable emotion to have, at least in some circles. If I had a cent for every time I’ve seen a meme or quote deriding anger, I’d be a millionaire.

As Karla McLaren reminds us in The Language of Emotions, emotions can arise in clusters. When we allow anger to do its job of protecting us, emotions like sadness may well come up but not because we’ve gotten rid of anger because it’s “bad” and a smokescreen for other, more acceptable emotions; but because we’ve allowed ourself to feel it and its accompanying sensations in the body. There are very few experiences in life that call for just one emotion.

I think another reason anger is so disparaged is because it’s a reminder that we’re animals, we are instinctual and we have a wild side. Anger can feel fierce, scary, out of control and too powerful but that’s only because we haven’t learned how to properly use and feel it. The concept that we have the potential to be wild, instinctual animals doesn’t conform to many people’s idea of what constitutes a “civilised” society. But we’re not doing so great as a civilised society, are we? We’ve a myriad of chronic health problems caused by unresolved trauma, not to mention the violence that we see against people and nature. Unlike what many seem to think, these issues aren’t caused by anger, they are caused by unfelt anger and other emotions. As psychiatrist Ivor Browne says; trauma is unexperienced experience.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What's the problem with anger?

I think anger must be the most misunderstood, maligned and disowned emotion, though fear is a close second.

How many times have you heard someone being described as an “angry person”? The ironic thing is, this label is usually given by somebody who disowns their anger, is afraid of anger and is supposedly never angry which I don’t buy for one minute.

People who pretend, unsuccessfully, that they are never angry because anger is a “bad”, “low vibration” and “negative” emotion, usually act it out in passive aggressive ways, while smugly thinking that it’s not anger.

One of the most important things that I’ve ever heard about anger is from Karla McLaren who says that if we don’t honour our anger and let it do its job (reinstate healthy boundaries, and say a healthy No), fear will have to step in. That’s when things get really messy and complicated. Here is an excerpt from her book, The Language of Emotions:
If you can imagine your healthy anger surrounding you— protecting you, defining you, and constantly monitoring your behaviour—you can easily see that trouble with your anger will degrade your psychological boundaries, your relationships, your personal space, and your self-respect. If your anger is not channelled properly and honourably, you’ll exhibit poor psychological hygiene. In this case, your fear will need to move forward in your psyche, not to increase your intuition and focus, nor to simply help you respond to change or novel stimuli, but just to help you make it from one moment to the next.
Without your boundary, you’ll be unable to monitor your behaviour or identify proper behaviour in others (which means your relationships will consistently unsettle you), you’ll dishonour people or let them dishonour you for no good reason, and you’ll be vulnerable most of the time. When you’re in this sort of turmoil, your relationship with your fear will decay almost immediately. You’ll have no privacy and no sacred space in which to regulate your emotions, and though your fear will move forward to protect you, its intensity may actually destabilise you when your boundary is weak. Fear asks you to focus yourself, but that’s nearly impossible when you don’t know where you begin or end; therefore, your increased focus will most likely turn into anxiety or paranoia.

Do you know what happens when we disown anger? It gets stuck in our bodies because we refuse to acknowledge it, never mind feel it. Paradoxically, we become the very people we don’t want to be, which is an “angry person”. And because we’re so angry but are in denial about being angry, many things become the trigger for our unacknowledged, unfelt anger. We are literally like pressure cookers waiting to explode which lowers our immune systems and creates all sorts of health problems.

Try tapping on the following and repeat whatever feels right on all the points, or just tune in to how you feel and tap without words:

Even though I’ve grown up thinking that anger was bad and I am bad for feeling it, I love and accept myself anyway

Even though my culture tells me that angry people are … and I don’t want to be one of those,I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t know how to feel anger, that’s ok, I can learn

Even though anger feels … in my body and that makes me feel … I completely accept my feelings