Sunday, November 03, 2019

When the threat is inside

The internal threat that a lot of us face is the unfelt pain and hurt we are carrying. When our response to overwhelming experiences was too much for us to bear, especially when we were infants and children, we stored it away. The definition of overwhelm in this context is anything that short circuited our nervous system, and this is very much dependent on our developmental stage.

Psychiatrist Ivor Browne says: instead of a way of avoiding external danger, it [dissociation] is now utilised to deal with the threat of internal stabilisation; whenever we are faced with an overwhelming experience that we sense as potentially disintegrating, we have the ability to suspend it and "freeze" it in an unassimilated, inchoate form and maintain it in that state indefinitely, or for as long as necessary.
I believe these unassimilated experiences are what cause anxiety. They mount up because we're too afraid of feeling them. When a threat is internal, it can seem as if there is no escape. But there is, the way out is to befriend and feel our difficult emotions and sometimes dreadful physical sensations. It is simple, but not easy.

There are many different ways to help us do this, safely and gently. What is key, as Bruce Perry says, is a bottom up approach, in line with our neuroanatomy. In order to change a neural network he says, you have to activate that neural network. So in order to change our stress response, we have to activate it through somatosensory routes, i.e., running, breathing, walking, chanting, visuals, rhythm and so on. As Peter Levine says, this is like walking a tightrope, too little activation and nothing changes, too much and overwhelm results (which keeps the trauma loop going), just enough activation is the goal so we can make much needed changes.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Do we get or give love?

Do we get or give love? Maybe neither. Maybe we are love, but when we first arrive in this life as newborns, we need as clear a mirror as possible to show us just how good, lovable and valuable we are. This mirror doesn't have to be perfect because perfection doesn't exist. It just has to be good enough.
This is why attachment is so important, we cling to our 'rock' like barnacles, but that doesn't make us clingy. It makes us human with valid needs. Without our rock, we're like rudderless ships, at least for a while until find other rocks to remind us of who we really are. Can we ever know we are love/loved/lovable without others? I don't think so.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Synchronicity

Lately I've been noticing more synchronicity in my life. Or maybe I'm just seeing the signs more clearly and I'm actually following them rather than questioning and rubbishing them as unimportant or insignificant.

What I have found is that exactly what I need at the time shows up in these signs/coincidences/synchronicities.

A recent example of this synchronicity is a couple of years ago I heard Meggan Watterson being interviewed by Tami Simon of Sounds True and I found it interesting but thought no more of it until I got an email from the bookbub.com with a daily list of the special offers. I saw Meggan's book, Mary Magdalene Revealed for €1.99 and bought it on a whim.

I grew up catholic in Ireland but I am no longer catholic, if I ever was catholic in the true sense of the word (deliberate use of small case letters). I don't belong to any religion, but I do believe in God and I admire the person that Jesus was.

It's all the paraphernalia around the catholic church that I don't like, particularly the shocking misogyny, abuse, slave labour and child trafficking that went on in Ireland for years and years, with collusion from the state. I'm ashamed of it, even though I'm not responsible for it.

There's a quote that really resonates with me, but I'm often afraid and ashamed to share it in case people think I'm religious or God forbid, catholic. It's from the gospel of Thomas, in the Gnostic gospels. I even have an issue with the term gospel as it reminds me so much of being preached to and the hypocrisy of the catholic church on so many issues. But the quote feels very true to my experience.


I've learned from Meggan that the gnostic gospels are the mystical side of Christianity. That I can get on board with. Just as I can get on board with Rumi as a Sufi but not agree with a lot of the teachings in Islam, particularly about women. That is my issue with all religions actually, the way they treat women; one half of the human race.

One day I was reading about Meggan being in mom-mode and "cleaning up as if I had seven arms and calling out directives at my son as if we were suddenly under some sort of deadline to get everything organized in his room", and her son sang the line "I want to know what love is" because he was feeling ordered around and it immediately disarmed her. She says, "He has skillful means at such a young age. With one lyric, he snaps me out of the trance of who I don’t have to be".

I want to know what love is, is a song by Foreigner from the 80s and one I've always thought was cheesy and a bit soppy. Meggan talks about hearing that very song later that day in her yoga class, but this time it was sung by Krishna Das. I then looked up this song out of sheer curiosity to hear it sung as a chant and I was moved to tears. It made me hear the song and its lyrics in a whole new way. I was meant to hear that song and to learn about Krishna Das. It was exactly what I needed in so many ways and it will reverberate in my life for a long time to come. It was an answer to what Joan Borysenko calls "a simple prayer of the heart: help".

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tapping on grief

If going through grief weren't bad enough, we often find that the people in our lives just can't handle it. Many of us just weren't taught how to feel difficult emotions, so it is hard to be with ourselves and others when we or they are going through something difficult.

This can make grief not just heart breaking, but very isolating. It's important to reach out to others who can just listen and be with you. Watch this video by Megan Devine on this very subject.


It's tempting to rush towards a reframe or something "positive" when tapping, but when you're grieving, you need to stay where you are and move through it slowly. Karla McLaren has a lovely piece on grief in her book, The Language of Emotions and has talked about the importance of grief rituals. Megan Devine's book, It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand is an excellent read too.

Try tapping on the phrases below, customise them to suit you:

Even though this grief feels like it's going to swallow me whole, I accept how difficult this is for me right now

Even though I just can't feel this grief, it's just too much, I completely accept how I feel right now

Even though I don't think I'll ever be able to move through this grief, I love and accept myself anyway

Top of head: This grief
Eyebrow: It's too much
Side of eye: I can't feel it
Under eye: It's going to swallow me whole
Under nose: It's so difficult right now
Under chin: This grief feels …
Collar bone: I've no choice but to go slowly
Under the arm: And that's more than ok

Top of head: No one understands
Eyebrow: And that feels … (lonely, frightening, frustrating, isolating etc)
Side of eye: I could do with some support
Under eye: I didn't know how difficult it would be
Under nose: I feel alone in my grief
Under chin: I just want someone to sit with me
Collar bone; They don't have to change or fix anything
Under arm: I want the comfort of having someone understand

Top of head: And not try and talk me out of how I'm feeling
Eyebrow: Or try and make me feel better because they can't handle my grief
Side of eye: My grief is too much for others too
Under eye: I need to be as kind to myself as I can possibly be
Under nose: I need to take this moment by moment
Under chin: I can't think any further than that
Collar bone: And that's ok
Under arm: It'll have to be because it's how I truly feel

Continue to tap for as long as you need to, there is no time limit for grief.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Resistance or Protection?

You hear the word resistance a lot in therapy and it always refers to the client, not the therapist. For me, it has a negative connotation, even if we don't verbalise it. This is particularly the case if we label a client as resistant, rather than saying some resistance is present. We send a negative message to the client about themselves if we call/think of them resistant, we don't even have to voice it, the client picks up all our communication, as Paul Wachtel writes in his book Therapeutic Communication. What he calls the meta message, I like to call the true message.  We're constantly sending and receiving information, most of it non verbal.

Who do you think most clients will trust? The therapist, a so-called expert, or themselves? That's why it's so important that we, as practitioners, own our stuff and don't project/transfer it, and if we do, we don't beat ourselves up but we do take responsibility for working on it. And we make it crystal clear to the client that it is not about them.

Resistance is almost always, in my experience, a protective part that doesn't feel safe moving forward, having things change or doesn't feel safe accessing a hurt inner child (called an exile in Internal Family Systems). These are some of the most common reasons but there can be many. The label 'resistant' is too easy. We need to look under the hood and find out what's really going on.

We can't fake feeling safe, well we can, but we'll pay for it. It's much easier and less exhausting to be honest about how we truly feel. Lack of safety is almost always the reason for 'resistance'.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Are you clingy or needy?

Are there any more damning terms than being ‘clingy’ or ‘needy’? It says so much about us that these terms even exist in our lexicon.

We are born totally dependent and vulnerable and how our needs are met is crucially important for our development. We will always have needs until the day we die, we don’t grow out of needs and nor should we. So why do so many have such a problem with needs? Why are so many shamed for having needs? Why do we deny our needs?

I remember Carrie Bradshaw saying in Sex in the City that, “Once a need is met, you don’t need it anymore”. What I think this means is that we’re not hungry anymore when our needs are met. Our hunger is not just for food, but for love, warmth, safety, support, attunement, comfort, play and so on. We need these things, they are not optional and we can spend lifetimes looking for these valid needs to be met.

Talking about this reminds me of the term that Gabor Maté coined, “Hungry Ghosts” in the book of the same name. So many of us are hungry for what we didn’t get and this does not make us needy or clingy, it makes us human and innately vulnerable and interdependent.

What do you feel hungry for? Say, out loud, if you can: It’s ok for me to need … (fill in the blank) and listen out for any objections/tailenders and tap on them. If none arise, see how this sentence feels in your body, does it feel true? Do you feel worthy and deserving of having your needs met?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The ultimate prayer

Holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan shared a lovely video of Joan Borysenko a few weeks ago and Joan said something really beautiful. She said there is a very simple prayer of the heart and it's called: Help.

Ask for help and notice all the various ways it shows up, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. It really works, please try it.



Tuesday, August 06, 2019

You are what you digest, assimilate and eliminate

You probably know the saying ‘You are what you eat”. But lately I’ve been hearing “You are what you digest” from functional medicine practitioners. This is true for food, relationships, and everything in our environment. If we can’t digest it, it accumulates and stagnates in our system causing all sorts of health problems.

It’s not just what we digest though, it’s also what we assimilate and eliminate. What goes in, must go through and come out. If if doesn’t, we aren’t nourished by the things that are good for us and we can’t therefore eliminate what is no longer good for us.

If we don’t feel, we can’t experience. But feeling seems far too simple a solution for it to work. We think we need something more complicated and fancy, especially when our issues are complex.

So much has been written on this subject, but because it doesn’t seem quick and painless, it doesn’t get as much airtime as other so-called easier solutions, but the fact is that it works. The ability to handle difficult emotions increases our capacity and resilience and makes us more of who we really are. Who wouldn't want that?

Collectively, our emotional intelligence isn’t great. We aren’t very good at dealing with difficult emotions, people or experiences. Is it because we don’t place as much value on our emotional and social intelligence as we do academic intelligence? Watch/listen to this excellent podcast with Dr Joan Rosenberg talking about how our life changes for the better when we learn to feel and experience difficult emotions.