Thursday, December 31, 2015

A resolution for emotional health

Many people talk about improving their health at the start of the year. It’s a way of wiping the slate clean and starting afresh. But how many extend that attitude towards improving their emotional health? Our emotional health is just as important and has a huge impact on our physical health. We often underestimate just how important it is, it might not always be the sole cause of physical illness but it is definitely one of the most important contributors to ill health. Whether stress has caused a physical illness, or an illness has led to subsequent stress, looking after our emotional health can significantly decrease our stress levels, which can only spell good fortune for our overall health.

People don’t often think about improving their emotional health until they encounter a crisis.  But we can learn to be more emotionally healthy before we run into serious trouble.  I’ve heard countless “experts” talk about anger, fear, shame, guilt and the like as “negative”, “destructive” and “unhealthy” emotions. I absolutely cringe when I read/hear that because it is just not true. The issue is not the emotions themselves, but in how we handle them. And many of us just don’t handle anger or fear very well. I think people have huge issues with anger and fear in particular. Many people are described as “angry people” or “fearful people”, as if those terms described a person in absolute terms. I believe the people who have the real issues are the ones who label others like this. If we haven’t made friends with our own difficult emotions, we’ll shun and shame them in others.

There are such things as healthy anger, healthy fear and healthy shame. Polarising our emotions into positive and negative does not make us emotionally literate or intelligent, it has the exact opposite effect in fact. When we disown, deny, bury, suppress or repress our emotions, we’re not using them for what they were intended to be used for; action requiring neurological programmes, according to neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio.

Emotions are not meant to remain stagnant, they are meant to move. In human terms that means we need to feel our emotions, they come and they go when we see every one of them as healthy and necessary when the need arises. If your boundaries are being transgressed for example, anger will arise, in order for you to define your boundaries properly so you are protected.  If you’ve been taught that it’s “bad” for you to feel and/or express anger, it will be hard for you to define healthy boundaries, so you’ll often feel picked on or put upon. Ironically the person you’ll feel most angry with in this situation is yourself. You pay a high price for not being who you truly are. Even if the world has tried to change us, or has even succeeded to a certain degree, we’ll always feel the call to be true to ourselves. Living a lie is far worse than losing some people who weren’t ready for who we really are.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Following your breath

There are lots of breathing exercises for helping with anxiety. That’s because focusing on our breath brings us into our body, where our anxiety is. If we’re not in our bodies, we can’t relieve our anxiety. That can be a catch 22 as I’ve spoken about in other posts. We don’t want to be in our bodies because that’s where the anxiety is, but it’s where we need to be to resolve the anxiety. Most of the time we’re in our heads trying to control things with endless thoughts. Sitting comfortably in our bodies doesn’t just relieve anxiety though, it also makes us feel at home, and at peace with ourselves.

I find following my breath to be very effective in relieving anxiety. I don't make my breath do anything, I follow its rhythms and I nearly always find that my breathing naturally becomes deeper and slower. I do pay attention to expanding my rib cage though. Making our breath “do” something can make us even more anxious and sometimes, deep breathing exercises can cause hyperventilation. This is when the constricted breathing technique from EFT can come in very handy.

When we’re stressed our breathing is affected, so doing something about our breathing can help relieve our stress and anxiety, and vice versa. The constricted breathing technique is very good for working on your own with EFT, it can be difficult working on our own issues, we often can’t see the woods for the trees, so going in the physical door, as Gary Craig calls it, is often simpler then trying to figure things out psychologically.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Even more on anxiety

When we’re suffering with extreme anxiety, we nearly always have a fear of going inside our bodies. It is after all where we feel our pain. When we don’t feel our pain because we are frightened of it, our unfelt pain becomes anxiety. The longer this goes on, the worse our anxiety becomes.

So anxiety is also a sign for us to stop avoiding our pain. Avoiding and dissociating work brilliantly in the short term, they are fantastic survival mechanisms, but life requires that we face our pain and our true selves at some stage. Whether we like it or not. Indigestion, whether physical or mental, is unsustainable in the long run. We need to digest what happens in our lives. Anxiety strongly encourages, i.e. forces, us to heal or pain, the more pain we feel the more we want to heal that pain (or make it go away, which again, does not work, it’s just another avoidance tactic). Pain is a fact of life, what we need are more skills to deal with pain so it doesn’t fester and become illness, physical or mental.

Try tapping on some of the following phrases:

Even though my body is humming with this anxiety and it feels … I honour these feelings, they are trying to tell me something

Even though it’s excruciating to listen to anxiety’s messages, I just wish it would go away, I completely accept how I feel

Even though this pain feels like a mountain I can never climb, I’m willing to take a small step, I don’t have to do it all in one go

Even though this pain feels painful, I love and accept myself anyway

Use whatever reminder phrase feels right on the points, or just tap without saying anything, if you’re feeling anxious, you’re already tuned in and EFT works best when you are tuned in. Being tuned in means feeling anxious or being triggered by something. Stop what you’re doing and tap and you’ll feel some, if not all, of your intensity reducing. Resolving anxiety does take some persistence, so don’t give up hope!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What constitutes trauma?

I've seen a few articles recently that state that emotional abuse may be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. It's the use of the word may that bothers me. I think the best person to ask is the person who has been emotionally abused, don't you? In addition to that, every person who is physically and/or sexually abused is also emotionally abused, one cannot happen without the other.

There have also been studies about whether neglect is as bad as abuse. Maybe in some ways it's worse, because if someone is neglecting you, they don't care. Is that the ultimate rejection? But why do we even ask these questions? Comparisons really are odious. If you are showing the signs of trauma, whatever they result from, you are traumatised.

A diagnosis of PTSD is not the only way you can display the symptoms of trauma and if you don't fit all of the criteria (or any) it does not mean you are not suffering from trauma. In fact, if you don't nominate criterion A1*, you won't even be assessed for the other PTSD criteria, that is how much a diagnosis of trauma hinges on an event and not an experience. It is a symptom of the so-called objective world we live in, which many mistakenly believe is more "scientific". But human experiences are not objective, they are subjective and until we take people's experiences seriously, many people will not get the help that they need.

* The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The messages in panic and terror

A book I can't recommend highly enough is Karla McLaren's The Language of Emotions. It helps us learn how to deal with emotions intelligently rather than simplistically categorising them into so-called 'positive' and 'negative' emotions. EFT is great for discharging blocked and trapped emotions, but we need to go further with emotions. We need to unlearn habits/patterns that don't serve us anymore. Every emotion has a message and gift for us and I'd like share an excerpt on panic and terror, two emotions that might very well be labelled as negative, or even worse. Further information can be found on concepts such as grounding and setting our boundaries in her book.

When your terror and panic are activated in response to trauma, they move forward to increase your adrenaline in case you have the chance to fight or flee at any time during your ordeal; to help you freeze; to release heightened amounts of painkilling endorphins so you’ll be more likely to survive any injury; and to help you dissociate if necessary. All this preparation takes a great deal of energy, which panic certainly contains. After the trauma has passed, your panic will retreat, but it won’t disappear completely. Like fear, panic will stay activated in order to give you the energy you need to reintegrate yourself, shake and tremble all over, and replay your trauma in any number of ways. If you don’t take advantage of this cool down period, you’ll remain in a hyper activated state, and your panic will have to remain activated because the trauma won’t truly be over. This hyper activation often cycles you into panic attacks, which also contain a great deal of energy. This energy doesn’t exist to torment you, but to help you navigate through your flashbacks and reintegrate yourself. Panic attacks don’t occur without reason; they arise to help you confront your trauma (“What has been frozen in time?”), move through your replays any number of times, access new and different instincts and responses each time (“What healing action must be taken?”), and activate your body, your mind, your emotions, and your vision in service to your healing. It takes a great deal of energy to do this; panic and terror carry that much energy. 
When panic attacks or flashbacks arise, your psyche is signaling very clearly that it’s time to move to stage three [resolution of trauma], to replay the situation that separated you from the everyday world, to explore the stimuli that brought your terror forward, and to move through your traumatic memories in instinctive and empowering ways. But it’s hard to move at all—let alone move to stage three—when your terror and panic compel you to freeze and dissociate. It’s like being on fire and being trapped in a block of ice at the very same time. This kind of panic fills you with heat and energy, yet it forces you into completely frozen immobility, which doesn’t make any sense intellectually. However, when you can bring your fully resourced awareness to the situation, you can use your skills to honor both sides of panic. You can honor the enforced stillness by focusing yourself and sitting quietly, and you can honor the hyperactivated state by brightening your boundary intensely, grounding yourself strongly, and channeling the panic out of your body and into your vibrant and protected personal space.
Panic and terror bring forward enough energy to help you reintegrate after trauma. If you can stay grounded and shoot the rapids with their assistance, panic and terror will help you renegotiate your trauma, restore your instincts, and come back to life. But make no mistake—it’s an intense process. Panic can feel boiling hot and freezing cold, pains can come and go, screams can bubble up, and you may need to kick and yell or run around the room. When you come back from a deathlike experience and reintegrate yourself, you’ll need to tremble, shake, jerk, swear, kick, and fight—just like the animals in my childhood practice did when they returned to their bodies after being hit by cars or mauled by dogs. But then, when you’re back in one piece, your panic and terror will subside naturally—as they’re meant to—and you’ll have your life back. When you’re integrated, you’ll once again be able to move, think, dream, sleep, feel, laugh, and love—not because you’re perfect and unblemished, nor because you’ve erased all traces of trauma from your soul, but because you’re fully resourced and whole again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy

The balance between associating with a traumatic experience, and thereby resolving it, and being flooded or overwhelmed by it, is so delicate. It needs to be done slowly and safely. Peter Levine uses the mythology of Medusa as an example of how to approach trauma safely. You never look her directly in the eye or she can turn you to stone (i.e. immobilise you), and the same goes for trauma, it does need to be 'faced', but safely. If we don't approach trauma safely, we run the risk of retraumatising ourselves and the proverbial black hole becomes bigger and more frightening.

I'd like to share an excerpt from an excellent article from Peter Payne, Peter Levine and Mardi Crane-Godreau below. As the article says "Yet Simon is correct: the trauma around the accident cannot and should not be avoided indefinitely". If we don't face our trauma, we also run the risk of being constantly triggered (and overwhelmed) which often, if not always, results in retraumatisation. Here is an excerpt of the article:

Despite my attempt to keep things slow, Simon slipped into the “trauma vortex”; the memory of getting into the car triggered an intense recollection of the accident accompanied by strong activation of the ANS and the rest of the CRN, and I had to act quickly to bring him back to the present so that his nervous system could regain its balance. In SE [somatic experiencing] one is walking the tightrope between not enough activation, in which case there is no discharge because there is no activation to discharge; and full-blown reactivation of the trauma memory, in which aspects of the trauma are relived and the person again experiences overwhelm. This can actually be harmful, and can compound the original trauma. Such a “dive” into the black hole, the “vortex of trauma,” involves a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop, in which the proprioceptive and interoceptive feedback (somatic markers Damasio et al., 1991, 1996) from the neurally encoded memory trace (engram), becomes a trigger for further activation (Liu et al., 2012); a runaway loop which can lead to extreme simultaneous activation of both sympathetic and parasympathetic (dorsal vagal) bringing about a dissociated state within seconds; see Figure 6. One of the tasks of SE is to interrupt this destructive loop. To this end, SE uses concurrent evocation of positive interoceptive experiences, which may help alter the valence of the disturbing memories (Quirin et al., 2011); this process has been demonstrated in rats (Redondo, 2014). Other aspects of the mechanism whereby SE prevents the traumatic positive feedback loop are discussed below as “biological completion.” Continue reading the article for free 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The myth of negative emotions

I'd like to share this post from Karla McLaren's blog. I think her work on emotions is crucially important because the more emotionally literate we are, the better the quality of our life and relationships. Being able to feel all of our emotions is true emotional freedom.

The Myth of Negative Emotions is of course related to the Myth of Positive Emotions 
In my work with emotions, I focus on the intelligence, gifts, and skills that every emotion brings to you. I don’t leave any emotions out, and I don’t treat any emotion as better or worse than any other. This unified and ecological approach to emotions treats all emotions as vital, irreplaceable aspects of your neurology, your cognition, your social skills, and your awareness.
I’ve discovered over the last four decades of study, research, and practice that emotions are central to everything we do, everything we think, everything we learn, and everything we are. 
Emotions evolved over millions of years to help us become socially successful primates, and every single one of them is vital to our functioning. We can’t leave any of them out if we want to live whole lives with all of our skills and all of our intelligence intact.
But sadly, leaving some emotions out and focusing too much attention on others is the essence of the emotional education most of us receive. Instead of learning how to work with the genius inside all of our emotions, we’re taught to suppress or run from the allegedly negative ones, and to overemphasize or attempt to imprison the allegedly positive ones. Read on

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Being frozen in time

Being frozen in time is essentially what being traumatised means, regardless of what caused the trauma. It is absolutely useless to say to someone, get over it, the past is the past and all the other clichés that are bandied about which essentially just serve to shame a traumatised person that they haven't been able to 'get over it'. As Bessel van der Kolk says "trauma is not an issue of cognition, it's an issue of disordered biological systems". It is why talk therapy, by itself, just doesn't work as well as body based therapies (which include talking as one of their tools). Any effective trauma therapy needs to include the body, it's just ludicrous to leave the body out of the healing equation and mainstream psychiatry and psychology have done exactly that.

This is also why trauma is a uniquely personal and subjective experience. While there are horrific things that go on in this life, comparisons are odious and only serve to minimise and shame some people's experience if they haven't experienced what is supposedly an objective traumatic event, as defined by criterion A1 in the DSM's PTSD criteria (the only diagnosis for someone who has been traumatised, but a PTSD diagnosis does not go anywhere near covering the entire gamut of symptoms traumatised people experience, read more here).

Unfreezing what is frozen is how we resolve our traumas and there are many modalities that can do that. We just need to find the one that feels right for us, and that can change from time to time.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Held energy

I started reading a book I bought a few years ago but had never finished and it was exactly what I needed to read right now. It's called Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for Your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

I'd like to share a passage that I particularly liked:
Life is renewed only when held energy can leave our bodies, often in the form of discharged emotion such as the tears of grief or the physical shaking of fear. Letting go is initially just this: a physical exhalation of held energy. Bioenergetic psychologist Alexander Lowen defined freedom as the absence of inner restraint to the flow of feeling. Imagine yourself as having an interior zoo effectively shut down by powerful elephants of restraint, and then imagine the enormous relief when that immovable power is finally set free.

Letting go or emptying our bodies of accumulated stress is essential so our barrels don't overflow. As Gordon Dveirin says: "life is a continually self-renewing stream of energy, charging and discharging". However, when energy or stress is not discharged, havoc can ensue. That's why body based therapies, and therapies that include the body, are so practical and effective. As Arthur Ashe said "Analysis is paralysis". We're not going to solve everything with our mind or brain, the body is a huge resource in our healing journeys if we honour and listen to what it is saying.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Are you trying too hard?

Usually, whenever we feel an urgency or desperation about doing something we need to stop doing whatever it is (except when it is a genuine emergency of course).

If you find yourself struggling, trying, trying, trying and getting beyond frustrated, it's time to give yourself a break. Take a walk on a beach, look at the sunset, meditate on your breath. Keep it as simple as you possibly can.

When we're feeling like this it's usually because we're either trying to fix ourselves, another person or a situation. We've lost our faith and trust that things will work out. We feel we have to push harder so that things will work out. If we don't, they'll fall apart. But sometimes things need to fall apart. Sometimes the crisis has to happen and you trying to prevent it only serves to exhaust you even further.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

To fight or not to fight?

How many times have you heard the expressions ‘fight cancer’ or ‘battle depression’? It’s like society gives us a medal if we fight. If you don’t ‘put up a fight’ it’s like you’re giving in or giving up. (Read a previous post that explains more about our societal judgements about supposedly not ‘putting up a fight’).

Mainstream medicine perpetuates the approach of fighting and attacking a dis-ease, as if it were something disgusting inside us that we need to get rid of as soon as possible before we’re contaminated by it. Inherent in this approach is that the dis-ease needs to be battled externally, usually with medication and/or surgery. An integrative approach on the other hand, looks at the entire person, not just at localised symptoms. It seeks to understand dis-ease at a deeper level, thereby empowering the person to be healthier from the inside out. This is not a passive approach, a lot can be done to become healthier without having to fight what is making us unhealthy. And the closer we learn to listen to our body, the more subtle the cues we are able to pick up before things get worse.

As I wrote in last weeks post, we can view symptoms as sign posts from our body to change direction, or we can beat ourselves up for having a disease/disorder. We can also try to beat the disease out of us. We get to choose our response. That’s not to say that we’re always going to be happy about something, it’s crucial to be emotionally honest. Being honest about how we truly feel is also a brilliant stress reliever. We naturally feel better and lighter when we’re not pretending or forcing our feelings.

I’m not saying that we can prevent everything, especially things like environmental toxins, but we can do a lot more than we think we can to get and stay as healthy as possible.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The root cause

How many times are symptoms treated as the underlying disease? Take for example high blood pressure. Is it a disease or a symptom of something else? What happens when you take medication for blood pressure? Does it make it go away? No, it doesn't, it masks the symptoms that could lead you to the cause or causes of your high blood pressure. If you go down that route, you'll have to take the medication for life and it'll have side, or as I like to call them, direct effects. I would never suggest to anyone to stop taking medication, but I think long term, medication just doesn't work and often, if not always, it causes more problems than it solves.

That's what symptoms are good for. They are a bread crumb trail that lead us to the true cause, if we're listening. But what often happens is that we, along with conventional medicine, get bogged down in the symptoms. The obsession with symptoms eventually becomes a maze, out of which there is no exit. And there is nothing as frustrating or more expensive as not getting better, or indeed getting worse.

Symptoms are a sign for us to change direction; to exercise, eat well, reduce our stress, heal our relationships ... They are symbolic and metaphoric of what is going on in our lives. If we heed their messages, they won't have to shout so much. But if we ignore them or try and medicate them into oblivion, they will get worse. Listen to your symptoms, take them seriously but zoom out and see the bigger picture they're painting for you.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The stigma around mental health

There is still a lot of stigma around mental illness. The word stigma is often bandied about like as if it’s not really that damaging and it doesn't ruin people's lives. It reminds me of the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. But names do hurt, a lot. They might not break our bones but they can break our psychological well being which has a direct and negative impact on our physical health too.

I can totally understand why people want to keep the fact that they have a mental health issue private and that is their prerogative.  But the reason why we keep it private is important.  There are places where you can reach out for help safely and confidentially*. Shame is too often the reason why people feel they can’t tell anyone and when you see how society in general reacts to mental illness, can we blame people for not opening up? Having nowhere to turn is a desperately lonely position to be in.

I have a family member with schizophrenia, and not only does she suffer from stigma, my immediate family does too. I’ve seen how people react when I tell them or they find out. Very few people behave in the same way when you tell them a family member has cancer, nor do they think cancer might be contagious. There is often little to no compassion when people hear that others are suffering from mental illness. Instead, too often there is fear, gossip and plenty of ignorant judgements.

My experience is that every single one of us has been affected by mental illness. Whether it’s because we have been diagnosed with a mental health issue or a friend or loved one has, or maybe we haven’t been diagnosed with anything but we know that our mental health could be better.

The husband of Carolyn Spring, who is a counsellor, says she is the one of the sanest people he knows. Carolyn has dissociative identity disorder after suffering the most horrific ritual abuse in her childhood. In my experience the sanest people don’t pretend they have it all together, they’re not perfect and they also know that reaching out for help, to the right people, is one of the most courageous things they can do.

*The caveat to total confidentiality is if you are in danger of hurting others, everyone is obliged to report this. If you are in danger of hurting yourself, an immediate action plan should be put in place to keep you safe.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Towards a comprehensive model of trauma

This article, Towards a comprehensive model of trauma is a synthesis of my MA thesis, hope you enjoy it. Here is an excerpt:

Currently, a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis is the closest thing there is to a trauma diagnosis. However, PTSD criteria do not cover the entire range of trauma-based symptoms and conditions (Dansie et al., 2012; Hall, 2000). The reality is that many people suffering with trauma do not qualify for a PTSD diagnosis, and are instead diagnosed with different disorders based on the symptoms they display, not on their etiology (D’Andrea, Ford, Stolbach, Spinazzola, & van der Kolk, 2012; Haven, 2009; Herman, 1992; McFarlane, 2010; Sledjeski, Speisman, & Dierker, 2008; van der Kolk, 1994). Reducing or containing various symptoms, without first locating and addressing their cause, often results in inaccurate and multiple diagnoses. This prolongs unnecessary suffering, usually leads to retraumatisation, is time consuming and wasteful of scarce resources. Therefore improved classification of disorders according to etiology is very much warranted. Read on 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Normalising innate behaviours

All of us use expressions such as “I was scared stiff” or “I froze”. But how many of us know that the response that these expressions refer to is tonic immobility? (More commonly known as the freeze response). We’re all aware of the famous ‘fight or flight’ term, but few of us have heard of tonic immobility, a response to any threat that we perceive as dangerous, that can overwhelm our coping mechanisms. We can even find experiencing tonic immobility itself overwhelming because it can render us, involuntarily, physically immobile and unable to speak, which leaves us feeling helpless. And on top of that, we often judge ourselves harshly when we respond in a supposedly ‘weak’ or ‘passive’ way. We feel ashamed of not ‘fighting back’ and these appraisals can also overwhelm us and prevent us from resolving any trauma.

Tonic immobility is evolution’s gift to us in order to keep us alive. Sometimes, in the face of threat and danger, it is safer to remain immobile or ‘play dead’, rather than fight or run. Sometimes fleeing or fighting are not even viable options, especially when we’re very young. We don’t make the choice not to move or not to call out for help voluntarily, this innate behavior and instinct is hardwired in us in order to ensure our survival.

As Peter Levine writes in his book In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness:
As traumatised individuals begin to reown their sense of agency and power, they gradually come to a place of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. They achieve the compassionate realisation that both their immobility and their rage are a biologically driven, instinctual imperative and not something to be ashamed of as if it were a character defect. They own their rage as undifferentiated power and agency, a vital life-preserving force to be harnessed and used to benefit oneself. Because of its profound importance to the resolution of trauma, I’ll repeat myself: the fear that fuels immobility can be categorized, broadly, as two separate fears: the fear of entering immobility, which is the fear of paralysis, entrapment, helplessness and death; and the fear of exiting immobility, of the intense energy of the “rage-based” sensations of counterattack. Caught in this two-sided clamp (of entering and exiting), immobility repels its antidote implacably so that it seems impossible to break through it. However, when the skillful therapist assists clients in uncoupling the fear from immobility by restoring “self paced termination of immobility”, the rich reward is the client’s capability to move forward in time. This “forward experiencing” dispels fear, entrapment and helplessness by breaking the endless feedback loop of terror and paralysis.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Using EFT for asthma

Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many physical diseases. What causes the inflammation? Chronic stress, poor eating habits, poor gut health/flora, food allergies and intolerances, not enough good quality sleep, not enough exercise. Chronic inflammation plays a huge role in chronic conditions such as asthma.

We are going to address the emotional contributors (i.e. emotional stress) to chronic asthma in this article by using EFT. Keeping your stress levels to a minimum will really help your body to deal with excess inflammation and hopefully you will see big improvements in your overall health. We often make poor health choices because of emotional stress, so dealing with it first can help us eat better and exercise more. Have a go at answering the following questions. Write them down, you might be pleasantly surprised at the insights that you come up with.

In traditional chinese medicine, lungs are the seat of grief, so any unresolved sadness and grief you have will be worth taking a look at. The lung point is at the side of the thumb, try tapping this point continuously whenever you feel sad, and see if it helps you release the sadness/grief from your body.

What was happening in your life around the time, or just before, you developed asthma?

Have you had asthma since birth? What was your birth like? Were you wanted?

How does having asthma make you feel? For example, smothered, panicky etc?

How does it affect your breathing?

What does it stop you from doing in your life?

Are there any advantages to not having to do certain things because of your asthma?

How easy/comfortable is it for you to receive? This might seem like a strange question, but one of the most basic things we receive from life is the breath. How easy is it for you to take in a deep breath and feel nourished by it? 

Do you feel you deserve to be here? Again, just go with these questions and see what answers come up. You might be surprised and the answers might be well worth tapping on.

Do you want to be here?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The intimate link between trauma and dissociation

I believe that traumatic experience is different from trauma, it does not necessarily lead to what we call trauma. Browne (1990) defines trauma as “unexperienced experience” and I agree with this definition. For an experience to remain unexperienced, or for trauma to occur, dissociation has to be present, as it is the mechanism by which an experience remains unexperienced. This is why chronic or persistent dissociation always results in trauma.

Why does an experience remain unexperienced? Because it has overwhelmed our coping mechanisms, we can’t process or feel it, so, as Browne says “instead of a way of avoiding external danger, it [dissociation] is now utilised to deal with the threat of internal destabilisation; 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”.

An overwhelming experience can be an external (any type of abuse for example) or internal (the way we perceive or appraise an experience) threat. Therefore there is no such thing as an objective stressor, if the symptoms of trauma are present, and there are many, not just the obvious ones like PTSD, we can say that someone is traumatised.

Some have asked whether peritraumatic dissociation can lead to trauma. While it does not necessarily lead to trauma because it is usually a temporary response, the exception seems to be the involuntary tonic immobility response (more commonly known as the freeze response). Tonic immobility is a somatic dissociative response that protects against overwhelming threat that could result in death. If not discharged, this usually temporary response can also become persistent and chronic leading to trauma.

Some researchers have argued that tonic immobility is inherently traumatic (Bovin, 2011), however Levine (2010) disagrees. He believes that it is the coupling of tonic immobility with intense emotions such as fear that renders the response traumatic. In fact, this forms the basis for Levine’s theory of trauma. That said, some trauma sufferers report that the experience of tonic immobility has been very overwhelming for them.

For example not being able to call out for help or being rendered physically immobile can feel very helpless. Then there are the appraisals of these same behaviors, such as “I should have fought back” or “I am so ashamed I just lay there”, which can also be extremely traumatising. Some of the reasons for these responses may be that tonic immobility is not as widely known or understood as the flight or fight responses. So many may be confused and/or shocked when they become immobile and can’t do or say anything. We also seem to have lost or shunned our connection with our evolutionary past and instincts. Therefore, it can be difficult to understand and accept survival behaviours such as tonic immobility.

Culturally, many of us are taught to fight when faced with threat, so there is a lot of criticism for rape survivors for example if they haven’t fought back. In fact, many times the perpetrator might not even be prosecuted because evidence of a struggle was not found. It is any wonder then that this response is so misunderstood? Tonic immobility is also referred to as “passive resistance or avoidance” many times in the psychological literature which I think is a derogatory and superficial evaluation and could in fact give impetus to appraisals such as “I should have fought back” or “I’m weak and to blame”.

Have we simply lost the ability to experience and discharge tonic immobility because of the cultural cage we live in that disowns many, if not all, of our survival instincts, particularly those pertaining to the body? Animals in the wild freely discharge the enormous survival energy that the response generates without feeling fear, helplessness or shame, which also ensures their survival. Maybe we should (re)learn something from them?


Bovin, M.J., & Marx, B.P. (2011). The importance of the peritraumatic experience in defining traumatic stress. Psychological Bulletin, 137(1), 47–67.

Browne, I. (1990). Psychological trauma, or unexperienced experience. ReVision, 12(4), 21–34.

Levine, P.A. (2010). In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fear of conflict tapping script

Have you ever remained quiet when someone said or did something awful and stewed about it afterwards? I have, many times. It actually feels a lot worse than challenging the person about their behaviour at the time it happens. Being a peace lover is not the same as being a peace maker. Making peace involves standing up for yourself and holding the other person accountable for what they have done and said. Whether they choose to take responsibility or not is not under your control, but it is your answer as to whether it is worth your while having this person in your life. Setting and respecting your boundaries creates genuine, authentic peace. It's good for you and ultimately good for the other person, even if they don't realise it at the time, or ever.

What often stops us from challenging another person on their behaviour is our fear of conflict. So we stay quiet. Which often gives implicit permission to the other person to continue with their bad behaviour. They don't seem to mind conflict, in fact they might even thrive on it. But I can guarantee if you challenge them and stand up for yourself, they'll soon get pretty tired of being rude or unkind, if only because they don't want to listen to you challenging their behaviour.

Try tapping on the following sentences and see if they help, as always, make sure to customise the words for your unique situation.

Even though I'm afraid of conflict because (what's the worst that could happen?) I completely accept how I feel about that

Even though I feel this conflict ... (where do you feel it in your body, is it everywhere or in one spot?) I accept these feelings and sensations

Even though these sensations feel ... I am willing to be present with them

Top of the head: This fear
Eyebrow: Of conflict
Side of eye: Of raised voices
Under the eye: Of someone being angry with me
Under the nose: If I stand up for myself
Under the chin: If I speak up
Collar bone: Wait a minute
Under the arm: Why are they angry with me?!

Top of the head: I'm the one who should be angry
Eyebrow: They're causing this conflict, not me
Side of eye: I'm trying to avoid it
Under the eye: Because ...
Under the nose: I'm afraid
Under the chin: Of ...
Collar bone: This fear reminds me of ...
Under the arm: And I'm reacting in the same way as I did then

Top of the head: To protect myself
Eyebrow: But is it working now?
Side of the eye: Is avoiding conflict working?
Under the eye: I'm scared that ...
Under the nose: And I acknowledge this fear
Under the chin: I can feel this fear
Collar bone: And not act on it
Under the arm: I know what's right

Top of the head: I just can't bring myself to do it
Eyebrow: Because of fear
Side of the eye: My fear is freezing me
Under the arm: I can't seem to act
Under the nose: Because I'm frozen
Under the chin: I can melt some of this frozen feeling
Collar bone: By feeling it
Under the arm: And not avoiding it

Top of the head: I can tell that person how I feel
Eyebrow: And if they don't like it
Side of the eye: So what?
Under the eye: But I still feel afraid
Under the nose: And that's ok
Unde the chin: Maybe they even sense my fear
Collar bone: And that's why they dump their crap onto me
Under the arm: But I don't have to take it any more

Top of the head: I have a choice
Eyebrow: Even if sometimes it doesn't feel that way
Side of the eye: I can choose not to take ...
Under the eye: That feels ... (empowering?)
Under the nose: I have a choice
Under the chin: I can make choices that serve me
Collar bone: Which will ultimately serve everyone
Under the arm: That feels ...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Love is all we need

Hopefully we'll have started our journey in this life, wanted and loved. The research on the importance of love just keeps growing, as if we needed any reminding of it. We know full well the importance of being loved, how it feeds and nourishes us in every way possible. As Stephen Porges says in the video below "We are mammals. We cannot regulate ourself in isolation. Everything has to do with co-regulation".

This might be of some comfort to those who feel like "failures" because they just can't seem to get a handle on things by themselves. I don't think we're supposed to be able to do it all ourselves. That's why the relationships we have in our lives are so important. That doesn't mean that we can't be independent to a certain degree, or can't give ourselves some of what we need, but the fact is, as a species, we are interdependent. There's no shame in that whatsoever. In fact, I think embracing that fact, takes a lot of pressure off us. We don't do well when we're lonely or when our relationships are difficult or even non existent.

Love is all we need is a cliché, but it's true. It's absolutely true, none of us thrive without love. (Hopefully, we'll also have the necessities like clean water, food and shelter too though, love doesn't feed an empty stomach or a freezing body). But if you look at children who are on the street with their parents, it's a hell of a lot different to the children who are completely alone and vulnerable.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another ~ Thomas Merton, Love and Living

Monday, February 09, 2015

It's exhausting to lie

When you do EFT on the truth of how you feel, it works wonders. Some people call this tapping on the negative, or affirming the negative, but I call it telling the truth. Telling the truth is a huge relief and relieves a lot of pressure, if not all of it. Lying to yourself or others is absolutely exhausting. As Gary Craig says, it's like trying to hold a huge beach ball under water, it takes a lot of energy.

Tell the truth when you tap, you're not being negative, you're not affirming the negative, the negative won't stay forever, and if you have any of these fears when you go to tap on something, tap on these beliefs first! It will clear the way for you, many beliefs can act as an electric fence around the real issue, and every time we try to touch it (clear it), we get an electric shock. When an issue doesn't clear, we get frustrated and think EFT isn't working for us, but it's often because we have the beliefs that I mentioned above and we aren't as honest as we could be about how we truly feel.

The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off by gloria steinem

Monday, February 02, 2015

Being shamed for your needs

We can be shamed for a lot of things but I think one of the most damaging ways we can be shamed is for having needs when we are children. Having needs make us very vulnerable and we need others to meet those needs, so we're essentially shamed for being helpless which is unbelievably damaging. If the very need for our parents, along with our need for love, comfort and being soothed are shamed we'll question our worth, our belonging, our sense of deserving to even be here.

So we'll try and pretend that we're not vulnerable and that we don't have needs which is absolutely impossible. This is a helpless situation and helplessness is one of the core ingredients of trauma. What often happens later is that vulnerability is associated with helplessness so every time vulnerability (that is, a need comes up) we'll feel ashamed of ourselves for even having the need in the first place, which again leads to a feeling of being helpless.

This is why it's so important to tap on feeling deserving and worthy of your needs, your needs make you human. They encourage (or force!) you to be vulnerable, to reach out, to ask for something, to connect. Whatever way we look at it, we'll always have needs and there will be times when only others can meet those needs. Our needs are a constant opportunity to heal who we think/believe we are.

Try saying the following phrases out loud and see if there are any objections. Rate their truth (0 to 10) and see where you go with them when you start tapping.

I deserve to be here.

I deserve to have my needs met.

It is okay to have needs.

My needs make me ...

I am/feel helpless when ...

It is okay to be/feel vulnerable.

Monday, January 12, 2015

More on anxiety

Anxiety isn't one single emotion, it manifests when we've forgotten how to feel all of our emotions and there's a build up of unfelt emotions all compacted together. Our nervous system hums with these unfelt emotions and we can feel this in our body.

That's exactly why anxiety can feel so awful and that's why we so often avoid it, which only compounds the issue. It might pain you, but you need to go back to the events and themes in your life that hold the most emotional charge and tap on them. Everything that hurt, and still hurts you in others words. This is why Gary Craig's personal peace procedure is so effective. It gives you a practical strategy for releasing what can seem overwhelming and frightening.

Being able to release anxiety involves a new way of being in the world. It means you become more willing to be honest about how you really feel, even if that is just with yourself. This is so you don't bury your true emotions until they become a mountain that you can't ignore or push aside. That's exactly what anxiety can often feel like, a huge insurmountable mountain, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can choose to feel your emotions, especially the difficult ones ... and tapping can really help with that.