Sunday, July 15, 2018

Your inherent ability to grow

Crabs shed their shell so they can grow, but before they can grow a new and bigger shell, they are soft and vulnerable.  And, as Gabor Maté says, there is no growth without vulnerability. The risk of being vulnerable feels terrifying to someone who has been hurt by the people entrusted with protecting them. They have suffered early and betrayal trauma which impacts their development enormously.

Your shell protects you but it also keeps you small. It is safe but it is also constricting. It is comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. It is your house but it is not your true home.


To grow we need to move and that means change, and change can feel very frightening when our foundations are shaky. We hold on for dear life, even if we’re miserable. Notwithstanding all of that, we have an inherent ability and desire to grow, otherwise it wouldn’t feel so painful being confined in our shells.

When our development is stunted, at any age, we suffer. Life is all about moving, growing, changing, developing and evolving. It is against our nature to become stagnant, things will out eventually. The dam that we’ve built to protect us from a river of unwanted emotions and sensations won’t last forever. Some of us wait until the dam bursts and then we’re forced to face our pain but we can choose to feel it before that happens.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Gabor Maté

I went to see Gabor Maté last weekend in Cork for a workshop. It was really excellent. He is so down to earth, he’s just himself with no pretences.

Most of the information I already knew as I’ve followed his work for a long time, but I also learned a lot of new things because he has a way of using language that makes you look at something you knew in a completely new light which is a real gift. He’s a poet at heart. He also recommended EFT as a modality for healing trauma which was great to hear.


Some of the gems that I took with me from his workshop were:
  • Growth happens when we are able to be soft and vulnerable. Gabor used the analogy of a crab having to shed their shell in order to be able to grow. Of course the price of this is that he’s soft and vulnerable while growing and could be hurt as he’s more defenceless. But there’s no other way to grow.
  • What I understand from this is that trauma is like a too tight and constricting shell that we can’t seem to shed, however hard we try. It keeps us small and safe but at a huge price. But trying and struggling too hard to shed the shell just doesn’t work. We need to be gentle with that shell that has protected us when we needed it, and when the time is right, and we feel safe enough to be soft and vulnerable again (or for the first time), the shell will come off.
  • Peer attachment and orientation does our children no favours. Children are supposed to attach to (hopefully) wise adults who can provide them with unconditional love and a safe place to grow, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without being shamed and ridiculed.
  • The coping mechanisms that we learned in early childhood to survive become our personality. But they are not who we truly are. I really believe that healing trauma is the journey back to our true self. As Gabor said, it’s why we call it recovery, we are recovering our true self when we heal trauma.
  • When we fail to fully individuate from our parents/caregivers (an extremely common phenomenon), we feel more pressure from our peers. This is because we’re not sure of who we are, we don’t love and accept ourself, maybe we even feel we are bad people. This is not to say we’ll never feel pressure from our peers, but if we’re true to our real self and feel fundamentally ok about that self, it won’t incapacitate us as it can so often do.
  • We often have to choose between attachment and authenticity, especially as children. Attachment is a biological imperative, we need it and sometimes we have to give up who we truly are to get love, even though what we get can be very far from real love. As adults, we can make another choice and choose our authentic selves.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Are you from a bad or a good family?

Isn’t the concept of good and bad families just the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard of?

When some people talk of ‘good’ families, they’re not referring to members of that family treating each other, and others, with kindness and empathy. They’re referring to living in the ‘right’ neighbourhood, being white, having money, having a formal education; though if you have enough money, they might make allowances for you about the education part.

Being from a ‘bad’ family means living in a financially poor area in the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood, where most people who aren’t white live, and there is usually addiction, violence and abuse in the home. Rather than these things being seen as signs of unresolved trauma, they are viewed as badness, laziness, good for nothingness and maybe most of all, a sense of they being inferior to 'good' families.

How many times have you heard someone, usually a man having committed a sexual crime, getting off scot free for being from a ‘good family’ and being a so-called upstanding member of society? Are we joking? Why on earth is that taken into account in a court of law? He has committed a crime and as the saying goes, he must do the time. Actions have consequences, it isn’t about punishing someone, because as we know, that doesn’t work. No one can be rehabilitated if they or we don’t hold them accountable for their actions.


If you’re sexually abused by your father and your mother is complicit in that abuse and therefore it continues, you are utterly and totally betrayed. Your childhood is gone. To add insult to injury, much of society judges you for having a father and mother who not only didn’t love you, but abused you. But your parents’ actions and behaviour say absolutely nothing about the person you are. Talk about isolation. When you grow up, maybe you have to make the choice to cut contact with your parents for your own sanity and maybe even not see your extended family because there is collusion and secrecy. A double whammy if ever there was one. We, as a society can do so much better by people who have been hurt so terribly.

As Oprah said recently when she reported on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, we should be asking “What happened to you?”, not, “What’s wrong with you?”. The awful thing is, most people don’t even have the courage to ask “What’s wrong with you?” straight to your face, they’ll act it out in the most unkind ways instead.

The truth is, people who have been traumatised at the hands of their caregivers are often shamed for the very abuse they have had to suffer. They already feel bad because a child will never ever blame their parent because they need them to survive. Children already feel at fault and responsible for the abuse, and society, instead of showing compassion and understanding, heaps more shame upon them by saying that they came from a ‘bad’ family, not a traumatised family.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Acknowledge

I don’t think we realise just how important and transformative acknowledging how we feel is. We don’t have to like what we’re feeling. We don’t even have to like our self for feeling what we’re feeling. We just need to acknowledge the feeling is there for whatever reason and tapping can help us enormously with this.

There is something really powerful about admitting exactly how you feel and tapping on it. One of the biggest core beliefs that blocks the feeling of so-called negative emotions is feeling like we’re a bad person for feeling a certain way.


Typically, this will be anger for women and fear for men. But remember, you can tap on anything, for example:

Even though I’m feeling angry at … and it makes me feel like a bad person/disloyal/guilty/ashamed, I deeply and completely accept myself anyway.
Even though I feel jealous of … and I shouldn’t feel this way because … I completely accept how I feel about this and myself
Even though I’m afraid of … and I’m weak for feeling this way because … I completely accept myself anyway

You’ll find you’ll start to shift in your attitude towards “negative” emotions and how you feel about yourself when you tap. You could also ask yourself where you picked up these messages about certain emotions and tap on that too.

There really is no such thing as a negative emotion, just emotions that are difficult to feel. Once you start to acknowledge how you feel and allow yourself to feel it, the emotion will have done its job and won’t get stuck in your body or mind as dis-ease. What we don’t feel, we act out or in. Feeling is one of the most important things we can do to improve our life and health.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Healing presence

Unresolved trauma dysregulates your nervous system. Every organ in your body is affected by your nervous system, therefore a dysregulated nervous system can cause dis-ease in any part of your body, including your brain.

As the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) shows, unresolved trauma, especially early or developmental trauma, can cause many chronic health issues later on in life, both mental and physical. This is the reason why psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk says that unresolved trauma is one of the biggest public health problems in the world. Just look around you to see the evidence of that statement.



The key word here is: unresolved. We humans have lost touch with the many ways we have resolved trauma in our past. We would never have survived or evolved to this point, had we not been able to resolve most of our traumas.


Everyone is different, there isn’t any one technique, exercise or tool that works on its own, it’s a unique combination of what works for you at different times. There is one thing that is non negotiable though, and that is the support/connection/love/presence of our self and others. It is the one ingredient that is transformative.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The value of rest

In the last year I’ve come to know and appreciate the value of resting. I used to have a pattern of pushing through things, as so many of us do, getting my value from what I did, rather than who I was. If I didn’t feel I did enough during the day, it got to the point where I felt I didn’t deserve a good night’s sleep.

As Gabor Maté says in When the Body Says No, when we don’t learn to say No, our body will do it for us. Self care is not optional, it’s essential. We can only pour from a full cup. What’s in the cup is for us and what overflows is for others as Iyanla Vanzant says.

Something that I have found very helpful for helping me to rest deeply are yoga nidra meditations. I’m listening to Daring to Rest by Karen Brody at the moment and it’s really good. We need to take some time out every day where we can have some silence and down time. It can really help soothe our frazzled nerves in the hectic, information overload world that we live in. Tapping can also help, but we can often slide into ‘getting rid of’ it mode and we end up trying too hard/struggling/pushing through to fix/heal ourself. Try resting alongside whatever methods work for you and don’t forget to practice being human, give yourself a rest from doing.


Try tapping on:

Even though I need to struggle because … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t know how to stop … I accept myself anyway

Even though my self worth is wrapped up in what I do, achieve, and others, that’s ok, I’m doing the best I can

Top of the head: Maybe I can contemplate doing a little less
Eyebrow: How does that feel?
Side of eye: It feels …
Under the eye: It’s exhausting doing, doing, doing
Under the nose: I can’t keep this pace up
Under the chin: I need to rest
Collar bone: How does that feel?
Under the arm: It feels …

Top of the head: Pushing through things has become a pattern
Eyebrow: Keeping busy helps me …
Side of eye: If I sat still I’d feel …
Under the eye: And that makes me feel …
Under the nose: Maybe I can contemplate resting more
Under the chin: The benefits would be enormous
Collar bone: I need this
Under the arm: And I want to rest more

Keep tapping on whatever feels right for you.

I'd like to mention a book that has also helped me which is The Way of Rest by Jeff Foster.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Repeal the 8th

Most of the time, I have no problem finding a subject to write about, in fact, it can be overwhelming, as sometimes I’ve too much to write about and I don’t feel I pay the subject as much attention as it deserves. This Friday, Ireland will vote on whether to repeal the 8th amendment and I’ve been wanting to write something on it as it is a subject very close to my heart, but it seemed too daunting. But I’m going to scribble something down anyway, as it’s too important not to.

Unlike what many are saying, Friday’s referendum is not an abortion referendum, even though abortion will be permitted in certain situations if the 8th is repealed. The 8th amendment affects all pregnant people, a point that is being missed by many, particularly the no side who want to keep the emotive subject of abortion at the forefront in order to divide and conquer.

As the Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMSI) have stated, the 8th affects women who are 40 weeks pregnant many more times than a woman who is 12 weeks pregnant. Just ask Mother B, aka Geraldine Williams, who the HSE took to the high court in 2016 for forced sedation and caesarean when she was 40 weeks pregnant. All she wanted was a trial of labour on her fourth child, but she wasn’t allowed to exercise that choice because of the 8th. You can hear the spine chilling details of that high court order here (starts at 6:50).


No pregnant woman can legally exercise choice, it is only random luck and a reasonable health care provider that many more women aren’t taken to court for forced procedures. But many are threatened with courts, the gardaí and social services because of the 8th, when/if they don’t comply with, or question medical advice. And who wouldn’t comply with such threats at such a vulnerable time? Mother A was also taken to court in 2013 for forced sedation and surgery, but before the judge could rule, she agreed to a caesarean. I’m sure under the most extreme duress and stress. When anyone is threatened in this manner, they will go into fight/flight/freeze. When it happens to a pregnant woman, her baby is also affected by the cascade of stress hormones flooding through her body. So much for the “love them both” group’s claims huh?

As it is, many women undergo procedures, not only without their informed consent, but without their knowledge as in the case of Ciara Hamilton.

My personal experience is that if you question anything, you are deemed a trouble maker and the attitude is, who the hell do you think you are? I was actually told I was “famous” in the hospital by one midwife towards the end of my pregnancy, so much for privacy and confidentiality huh? Have we replaced the church with doctors in Ireland? It seems so, in many cases. I didn’t realise doctors were gods that couldn’t be questioned. But the fact is, a doctor secure in their own knowledge and expertise, will actually welcome questions and won’t be phased by them. We need more doctors like that.

We have a put up and shut up culture here in Ireland and nowhere is that more true when it comes to women. There is also a very strong culture of bullying, in fact it’s endemic. Pregnant women are bullied all the time when they ask questions, want to know more, do their own research and when they want to take an active part in their care. It seems the powers that be would much rather we were passive, it makes their job much easier. Unfortunately and disgracefully, the 8th allows for some health care providers to abuse it by bullying women into submission and obedience.

If the 8th is repealed, our human right to bodily autonomy, which is stripped from us the moment we become pregnant, will be returned.

We will then be able to exercise free will and choice, something we can’t currently do under the 8th.

We will have the legal right to informed consent and/or refusal returned to us, another thing that the 8th took away.

We will also have the right to unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks gestation. After 12 weeks, abortion is only permitted in certain circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality and/or serious risk to life and health, so the claims that a foetus can be aborted at 6 months is a downright lie that the no side is propagating. You can find out more about the facts here.

Needless to say, I will be voting with the biggest yes of my life this Friday for every woman that was affected, is affected and could be affected by the 8th amendment in whatever manner. And for every woman who has ever suffered at the hands of the Irish state and church because of their misogyny.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Just like a wild animal

When a wild animal survives being chased and caught by a predator, and then manages to escape being eaten, they will discharge the energy that their nervous system produced to enable them to flee, fight or freeze, by shaking violently for as long as necessary. If the animal doesn’t discharge this energy, they will become hyper vigilant and see threat and danger everywhere, even when none exists. This hypervigilance exhausts their systems and they will not survive for long if this continues.

The same thing happens to humans after experiencing something traumatic. However we’ve forgotten and been socialised away from our wilder nature, deriding it as primitive, savage, reptilian. Have you ever started to shake or tremble when something traumatic happened, but either you or someone else stopped it? Maybe you were even frightened that it was happening? But once upon a time we did shake and know how to discharge trauma, or we wouldn’t have survived as a species.

When humans are faced with threat, our nervous system gears up to flee or fight, if these defences aren’t possible, we freeze (this is called ’tonic immobility’ in the literature). We can freeze psychologically and/or physically, I believe both are types of dissociation that act as protective analgesics.

When we freeze physically, our muscles will stiffen so as to enable us to remain as still as possible, we might not be able to use our voice, even if we want to. Immobilisation comes from our autonomic (automatic) nervous system and is not under our conscious control. It is crucial to understand this so we don’t later blame ourselves for “not putting up a fight”. We also need society to be more trauma informed about immobilisation, especially in cases of rape and incest. Too often freezing is seen as acquiescence which has profound implications for the victim being more prone to developing PTSD and being retraumatised and the perpetrator not being brought to justice.
When we freeze psychologically, we mentally leave our bodies and can watch what is happening to us as if from afar or above. It helps distance what is unbearable or indigestible in the moment so we can process it at a later date. But as we know, this rarely happens, we become afraid of the many experiences that we’ve dissociated from and we develop strategies to contain them as best we can. Until, they start spilling and leaking into our lives and we can’t ignore them anymore. This is when we might be diagnosed with things like; anxiety, depression, PTSD, fibromyalgia and so on.

It is crucial that we get back in touch with our minds and bodies, slowly and gently so they become safe places for us to inhabit.

The interview that the quote above is taken from can be found at: http://www.dailygood.org/story/1901/trauma-in-the-body-an-interview-with-dr-bessel-van-der-kolk-elissa-melaragno/