Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A resourcing exercise

I learned this resourcing exercise last month from Jess Angland, who is an excellent facilitator. Write down all your external resources on different pieces of paper and include 3 or 4 things about why that particular thing/person resources you. Your resources can be anything at all. For example, you might pick nature and say it resources you because it's calm, beautiful, you can be yourself, it energises you and so on.

* click on image for bigger size

Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look ~ Marcus Aurelius

Then write down what your internal resources are. It doesn't matter how many resources you come up with, what matters are the resources you have now and drawing on them when you need them. Sit on a chair and put the pieces of paper you have written on all around you and see how this exercise makes you feel. Usually you will feel more resourced than you think, but of course it can also bring up what we really want and what we don't have and that's ok too. You can tap on anything that this exercise brings up for you.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The container exercise

I’ll say right up front, I don’t like the container exercise and have never used it with clients. If you don’t know it, it’s where you put things that are upsetting you (supposedly temporarily) so you can go back and deal with them later/at a more appropriate time. The container can be any receptacle that you can imagine, any size, colour etc. This tool is used, in my opinion, for the therapist, not the client.

If only our minds and bodies were as neat and tidy as keeping things in a container until we’re ready to deal with them. There are two main issues I have with this exercise and they are 1. triggers and 2. the inability or unwillingness of a practitioner to wade into the swamp with us. Just because something is in a container and we’ve put it on planet Mars, doesn’t mean we’re not going to be triggered by what’s inside it between sessions or at any time for that matter. What we really need are self regulating skills in order to help calm and soothe our nervous system not more tools to help us dissociate and avoid (which it says it’s not for, but that’s what too often happens), many of us are already excellent at doing that. We also need what Robert Stolorow calls; a relational home, so don’t settle for anything less in therapy.

The real reason I’m writing this post though is because this tool was used with me this year and I informed the practitioner of my opinions about it. I was willing to give it one more go just in case it worked this time (against my better judgement) and also because he wasn’t listening to me nor was he taking my concerns seriously, so I fell into the trap of people pleasing. It’s obviously a tool he uses a lot and he did not seem open to not using it or using something else instead.
The issues inside my container kept ‘leaking’ of course, because they need and want to be heard and this was not taken to kindly by the practitioner. He got frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t behaving, i.e. leaving things inside my container so he could get on with the resource work. Only trouble is I didn’t feel resourced and he just wasn’t able to handle this fact. Seems he missed the memo that I was supposed to be the one being resourced and the very basics of any therapy; listening, was missing. This is called countertransference in therapy and it is not a case of if but when it will come up, so all practitioners need to be willing to deal with it.

Clients can often become a performing monkey in order to massage a practitioner’s ego, instead of being true to themselves and being firm about what works and what doesn’t. I stayed firm in my knowing that this particular tool just doesn’t work for me. I had given it the umpteenth chance in order to prove I wasn’t “stubborn” or “difficult” (a covert form of people pleasing). Always, always, trust your instincts/gut, you’ll be so glad you did. I think the person we're most often angry with is our self when we don't listen to that voice.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Fear has a valuable place in our lives. There are times when fear is absolutely necessary to alert us to danger, so we can take action. There is no way we can get rid of or release our fear forever, and why would we want to? I think the real issue here is the fear of a real threat and the fear of a perceived threat.

What happens when we’re traumatised is that an external threat becomes internalised. And the internalised threat is not the actual event that occurred, it is the experience(s) of emotions such as fear, shame, grief and difficult physical sensations such as dread, collapse and tight guts that are encoded in our bodies and brains at the time of the event. These are the threats we don’t want to feel and avoid like the plague. And, as a result, we remain in hyper or hypoaroused states without returning to homeostasis. This is why psychiatrist Ivor Browne calls trauma; unexperienced experience.
But we need to learn to face these difficult emotions and physical sensations so they lose their threatening sting. We can do it gently, safely and slowly, but do it we must in order to switch off the alert/danger button inside our bodies. If there were true danger, we’d be getting ready to act, if we could. With perceived danger or threat, we have a lot more power than we think to disarm it. I have found somatic experiencing, EFT, mindfulness, and other body based techniques that combine the latest neuroscientific research very good.

I was listening to a seminar recently on compassion fatigue by Eric Gentry and he said another name for his seminar could be “The Owner’s Manual for Regulating your Autonomic Nervous System”. Being able to regulate our nervous system, i.e. calm and soothe ourselves, is the most valuable skill that we can all learn and have. It is priceless in terms of creating good physical and mental health.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Bill of Rights

1. I have the right to be me.

2. I have the right to put myself first.

3. I have the right to be safe.

4. I have the right to love and be loved.

5. I have the right to be treated with respect.

6. I have the right to be - NOT PERFECT.

7. I have the right to be angry and protest if I am treated unfairly or abusively by anyone.

8. I have the right to my own privacy.

9. I have the right to have my own opinions, to express them, and to be taken seriously.

10. I have the right to earn and control my own money.

11. I have the right to ask questions about anything that affects my life.

12. I have the right to make decisions that affect me.

13. I have the right to grow and change (and that includes changing my mind). 

14. I have the right to say NO.

15. I have the right to make mistakes.

16. I have the right to NOT be responsible for other adults' problems.

17 I have the right not to be liked by everyone.


Thanks to Jess Angland for giving me this. You can tap on anything that reading these rights brings up for you.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pacing yourself

It is really important to pace the rate at which we (re)connect with our body. Our body is the repository of all the experiences we’ve ever had. Many of those experiences have not been fully processed or felt because they were too overwhelming and we just weren’t, and maybe still aren’t, ready to face them. So, it takes time to wade back in, we need to go very gently so we don’t get overwhelmed.

There has been some criticism of mindfulness for this very reason. However, I don’t believe that mindfulness is the issue, the speed at which we reconnect to ourself is. Reconnection is the only viable option for us because remaining disconnected takes a huge toll on our physical and mental health. There are various tools and techniques that you can use to reconnect with yourself, it’s about finding what fits for you at any moment in time. I’ve found the work of Peter Levine to be great, his book In an Unspoken Voice has some excellent exercises for releasing traumatic stress. Tara Brach’s work is also very good and both she and Levine talk about the importance of going at a safe pace and pendulating between places that feel safe and unsafe in the body.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Inhabiting our bodies with presence

This is a really lovely talk from Tara Brach about how we dissociate, or leave the premises, as she puts it. We leave our body in all sorts of different ways and we ultimately pay a huge price, because we don't just dissociate from what's painful, but also what is joyful. We live a half life. Learning to stay in our body is crucial to our overall health.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. 
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, 
the more joy you can contain ~ Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tapping on shame

We’re going to be tapping on toxic shame, not healthy shame. Healthy shame is something we feel when we stop ourselves from doing/saying something that we would not want done/said to us. Read an article about the gifts of shame here. All emotions have their role and value, there really is no such thing as a “negative” emotion, but we can find certain emotions difficult to process and feel and for each of us those emotions will be different.

People can be shamed for lots of different things, but one of the most detrimental is being shamed by parents for merely existing and having needs. This is when a child starts trying to compensate the parent for just being alive and having needs and this can start very very early. As Dr Phil says, it changes who they are. They don’t have the luxury of becoming who they are because they are too busy trying to make life easier for their parents.

One of the things I have found that people are insidiously shamed for, is having parents who didn’t love them, however not being loved showed up. Now, don’t start telling me that all parents love their children, because that’s just not true. It’s also not true that we can’t give what we never had. Many parents who weren’t loved, go on to love their children.

You also usually hear people do the best they can. But do we always do the best we can? No, we don’t. And the important thing is to be honest about it. When we’re honest we can face the situation and rectify it but keeping our heads buried in the sand allows us to continue living unhealthy patterns and denying how we truly feel. If we don’t speak up, our bodies will do it for us, in the form of symptoms. EFT diagrams.

Even though I feel ashamed of … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I am ashamed of … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I was shamed by … (because … etc), I acknowledge how that makes me feel

Even though I feel shame … (when, where in your body, what sensation(s) come up), I accept myself anyway even if no one else does

Top of the head: I feel ashamed
Eyebrow: Of …
Side of eye: It feels …
Under the eye: I feel it in my chest (where do you feel it right now in your body?)
Under the nose: This is my shame
Under the chin: It’s mine because …
Collar bone: If something weren’t wrong with me, I wouldn’t feel this way
Under the arm: This shame is mine

Top of the head: Or maybe it’s not
Eyebrow: Yes, it is
Side of eye: No, it’s not
Under the eye: I’ve felt ashamed for a long time
Under the nose: I feel ashamed about ...
Under the chin: I’ve been shamed about … (Do you see this difference between these two sentences?)
Collar bone: I took that shame on as my own
Under the arm: But is it mine?

Top of the head: The shame of being ...
Eyebrow: The shame of feeling …
Side of eye: The shame of having …
Under the eye: The shame of …
Under the nose: This feeling of shame in my body
Under the chin: It’s not who I am
Collar bone: It’s how I feel
Under the arm: There’s a difference

Top of the head: I’ve tried to compensate by …
Eyebrow: And that feels
Side of eye: It’s ok to be honest about how I’m feeling, I need to be honest about how I feel
Under the eye: Maybe I’m ready to release some of this shame
Under the nose: Maybe the burden isn’t mine to bear
Under the chin: I can let go of 10% (put in the amount that feels right to you) of this shame
Collar Bone: And that feels …
Under the arm: I acknowledge and accept how I feel about this

Top of the head: It feels good to release some of this toxic shame
Eyebrow: I feel lighter
Side of eye: More myself
Under the eye: How others treat me says nothing about me
Under the nose: And everything about them
Under the chin: I can start recovering who I really am
Collar bone: And that feels ...
Under the arm: I'm connecting more and more to my true myself

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wild geese

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees.
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tapping without words

Tapping without words is especially useful when you're tapping by yourself and you don't know what to say, or what you want to say ends up confusing you and you can't see the woods for the trees.

Tap both the sides of your hands together (the karate chop points) and keep going until you yawn, sigh, burp, whatever signs that you get that let you know things are shifting and moving. (Do this on every point). The karate chop point (small intestine meridian where we assimilate food, experiences etc) corrects psychological reversal, which is any block you may have to releasing the issue/feeling/body sensation. It sets your system up for tapping and makes tapping much more effective.

Then start tapping down through the points, you can do the shortcut or the basic recipe for EFT. Start with the basic recipe as the 9 gamut can often shift trapped/frozen/blocked emotions/issues/body sensations. Also, as you tap down through the points, try tapping alternately on the bilateral points. The bilateral points are the eyebrows, sides of eye, under eyes, collar bone, and under the arm points. This is similar to the bilateral stimulation of the brain and body that you find in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy), which is most likely why the 9 gamut sequence works so well. I find tapping alternately on the points helps to relieve stress levels quite quickly. Keep going until you feel a shift/movement or until you feel like you are "done" so to speak. Repeat as necessary :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flight, fight and freeze

Have you ever felt that you have spent the better part of your life in these states? Try tapping on this script and make sure to customise it for you and your unique experiences.

Even though I fight when/if (whatever else fits)... I completely accept my response

Even though I flee when/if ... this response used to/does help me in a bad situation but sometimes it makes things worse

Even though I freeze (shut down/numb etc) when/if ... I can become aware of my various different responses to stress, they're all trying to help me survive

Top of the head: It feels ... when I fight (take note of where you feel it in your body if you can)
Eyebrow: This tightness in stomach (for example, insert how fighting shows up for you)
Side of eye: This tension in my jaw
Under the eye: I want to punch something/someone (find something soft to punch to help you discharge the fight response)
Under the nose: I feel like screaming
Under the chin: I'm tired of having to fight
Collarbone: Why aren't things just ok?
Under the arm: I don't know how else to protect myself from harm

Top of the head: It feels ... when I flee (or feel the need to but can't)
Eyebrow: When I can go I feel ...
Side of eye: When I'm stuck and can't move that feels ...
Under the eye: When I'm too afraid to flee that feels ...
Under the nose: I'm noticing where this need to flee shows up in my body (my emotions, my mind)
Under the chin: And that feels ...
Collarbone: I'll notice as much as I can
Under the arm: I don't have to do this all at once

Top of the head: It feels ... when I freeze
Eyebrow: Freezing/shutting down/numbing helps me when ...
Side of eye: What is happening to my breath right now as I'm tapping on this?
Under the eye: I don't have to change my breath, I can just follow it and see where it goes
Under the nose: What do I see right in front me?
Under the chin: Can I describe it to myself out loud?
Collarbone: What do I hear? Can I describe the sounds out loud?
Under the arm: What can I feel/touch?

Top of the head: Becoming aware is the first step to changing
Eyebrow: I can take it as slowly as I need to in order to feel safe
Side of eye: I'm noticing my body's sensations more and more and that feels ...
Under the nose: I don't need to fight these sensations (It's ok if you feel you do need to fight/flee or freeze, tap on exactly how you feel, the truth really does set your system free)
Under the chin: These responses can be adaptive to stress
Collarbone: And sometimes, they're not, sometime they're caught in a feedback loop that goes nowhere
Under the arm: And that feels ...

Top of the head: I'm going to notice when I fight, flee or freeze
Eyebrow: And how they show up
Side of the eye: I'm going to breathe through how they show up as best as I can
Under the eye: And notice what's in front of me
Under the nose: Notice if my feet are flat on the ground and how I'm breathing
Under the chin: My instincts have saved my life
Collarbone: And I'm learning to appreciate them for that
Under the arm: And that makes me feel ...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Trauma: one of the biggest health problems in the world?

I believe trauma is one of the biggest public health problems in the world, if not the biggest. One of the most famous studies linking trauma to physical and mental health issues is the ACE study. Ischemic heart disease, cancer, liver disease, severe obesity, drug abuse and depression are just a few of the conditions linked to adverse childhood experiences (ACE), depending on how high an individual scores on a 10 item questionnaire. Questionnaires are not always accurate though, especially if you only have to tick yes or no or circle a number on a likert scale. So if a person only ticks one item, that doesn't mean that they're not traumatised. More in depth interviews are also needed to give an accurate diagnosis of trauma. Trauma is much more widespread than previously thought, a diagnosis of PTSD is not the only way trauma can manifest.

This comes as no surprise to many of us. So instead of getting bogged down and only treating symptoms, which is a never ending, but extremely profitable, merry-go-round, we should be looking for and treating the root cause of physical and mental dis-eases. And it’s obvious to a lot of us that the root cause in the vast majority of cases is trauma.

There is a mountain of research showing the ill effects of unresolved trauma. It’s important to note that we can go through something traumatic and not develop trauma. Trauma occurs when our coping mechanisms are overwhelmed and we dissociate. Dissociation is an ingenious survival mechanism that allows us to freeze any experience(s) we find unbearable. We do this on both a psychological and somatic level. And we all dissociate to a greater or lesser degree, we are all somewhere on the dissociation continuum.

Not surprisingly, dissociation happens more often with babies and children (in utero and beyond), as their capacity to process difficult experiences is limited and very much dependent on the attachment and support they have from their caregivers. If their caregivers are the harbingers of trauma, deep betrayal occurs. How can a baby or young child process that? They can’t. They need their caregivers for their very survival, so they’ll do whatever they can do to survive the situation. And that usually means dissociating from the pain and the fact that their parents are the abusers so that they can go on.

But dissociation has a high price. While it’s a brilliant short term solution, long term it can cause havoc. Seemingly unexplained symptoms start to show up in our lives from about the age of 30 onwards, of course, sometimes that can happen a lot earlier. We might wonder what’s happening and go on a long and difficult journey of trying to find out what’s wrong which can lead to frustration and which is very often retraumatising. When trauma is the root cause of our ill health, it is our dysregulated nervous systems that need attention and treatment.

This is why I believe that talk therapy is not effective on its own, we need to include the body in trauma therapy. It is almost criminal not to in my opinion as it is leaving out a crucial part of the healing equation. Whatever therapy you choose though, make sure you find a responsive and attuned practitioner with whom you feel safe. In my experience, these are the most important ingredients to get right. If our nervous system doesn’t feel safe, we will remain frozen. Our bodies can’t and won’t lie, they are a fantastic guidance system when we (re)learn to trust and feel safe in them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The importance of ethics

Sometimes common sense isn’t so common and despite all the talk about ethics, it isn’t as common as it should be either.

I’ve been to see 4 practitioners in the last 18 months or so who have messed me around. One practitioner gave me a different treatment than the one I had booked. After the treatment, I asked them for the treatment I had booked and they told me that my “energy would be all over the place” and it therefore wasn’t possible. I concluded that they had obviously done this on purpose to at least guarantee I’d be back for one more session so they’d make more money. (This dragging out of sessions and prolonging intakes goes on far too often for my liking). As one practitioner said to me when I mentioned this, your energy should be in a more coherent state after a treatment and therefore the treatment that I had requested would give a more accurate reading. I emailed this person stating that I felt totally disrespected and not listened to and not surprisingly didn’t hear anything back. What good is any tool/technique/therapy if there aren’t the basics of safety, respect and trust? Needless to say, I didn’t go back so their unethical and unprofessional behaviour didn’t guarantee them what they thought it would: a returning paying customer.

Another practitioner was obviously triggered by me or by issues that I was bringing up, this is called countertransference in psychotherapy. And again, they abdicated themselves of all responsibility. From my point of view they had zero insight into their own behaviour. That’s worrying, we all have blind spots, but we’re supposed to discuss cases with peers or supervisors so that we can see things more clearly and act accordingly. That certainly did not happen in this case. I am being ethical by not mentioning any identifying details about these practitioners, because there are, or ought to be, the proper channels to deal with these matters. I’m not going to drag anyone’s name through the mud as that would be unethical and unprofessional of me.

You can be the best marketer in the world but if you don’t deliver what you promise, what does it matter? We’re drenched in marketing and we fall for it time and time again but how many times does it actually deliver even 50% of what it promises? There has to be something in any relationship to the benefit of both (or more) parties. I’m always of wary of practitioners who talk about their success rates. The success rate of any treatment doesn’t depend solely on the practitioner, it also depends on the readiness and willingness of the client. It is a two way street and I’d be wary of any practitioner that promises anything. Any progress and healing is down to both partners working together and for that you need the absolute basics of any good therapeutic relationship: safety, trust and respect.

It takes a lot to reach out and ask for help, there are many vulnerable people who might even be suicidal and I don’t think that enough practitioners are taking their responsibilities seriously enough. And this is true for seasoned therapists belonging to professional organisations being supervised. Too many people just don't get the help that they need. There are guidelines you can follow in choosing someone, but also trust your gut and if you do meet some duds, don’t blame yourself. That’s the thing that really gets me, clients nearly always think it’s their fault and practitioners, by being defensive and maybe even fearful of legal liability, are loathe to own their shit as Elizabeth Gilbert would say.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Avoiding your pain only prolongs it

In my experience avoiding my pain only prolongs it. The simple, but certainly not easy, act of feeling pain helps you through it. But the problem is we often fear that if we felt our pain, it would never end and/or it might swallow us up, and so we run. We run in many different ways and in many different directions. But the ways and the directions don’t matter, they only serve as a smokescreen as to what’s really going on.

Self-regulation is the ability to handle all of our emotions. But self regulation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, we need to have been taught and shown how to regulate our emotions, particularly difficult emotions, or what might be termed negative emotions. Our care givers are our most important and influential teachers in this regard. They show us how they handle their emotions and we learn from them. If they can handle their emotions, they can then provide a safe container for us to feel our emotions, that is, they co-regulate us. We learn self regulation from co-regulation.

Of course this is the ideal situation and many of us didn’t have that, not only for reasons of abuse and neglect but also because very few of our parents were taught how to self regulate by their parents. We’re mostly living in an emotionally illiterate world where we divide emotions into positive and negative and so most of us are emotionally constipated, our barrels are full of unprocessed stuff which makes us feel like crap.

The important thing is that you find a way through, not under, over or any other way except through. The way for each of us will be different, find what path feels true and right for you.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

I don't want this feeling

The great thing about EFT is, we start where we are. If you want to get rid of any feeling, that's where you start tapping.

Even though I want to get rid of this feeling because ... I completely accept how I feel

Even though this feeling feels unbearable and I just can't feel it without getting overwhelmed, I love and accept myself anyway

Even though I just can't be with this feeling, it's too scary, I completely accept how I feel

Tap on these phrases, change and customise them for your unique situation and repeat whatever words feel true for you on the points. An excellent exercise to help us feel the unbearable, safely and gently, is pendulation, developed by the creator of Somatic Experiencing, Peter Levine.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

When it's hard to take

There are some things in this life which are just hard to take. A really simple way to tap on this is to say as you go through the pointsI find it hard to take this … in” or use whatever words feel right for you. Living a healthy life is all about good digestion both physically and psychologically. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s why I like Ivor Browne’s definition of trauma: unexperienced experience. It’s not frightening, stigmatising, complicated or marginalising. It’s just beautifully simple and inclusive because I’d bet we can ALL identify with it. It also defines trauma as an experience, not an event. A crucially important distinction that gives weight and credibility to the individual’s experience.

Developmental trauma can be especially difficult to overcome. We are social animals and we suffer tremendously when we don’t have at least one person on whom we can depend. Love is not optional, it is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing at every stage of our life, but particularly so when we are infants. Babies who are securely attached have a solid foundation and if they are traumatised later in life, can usually get through it with the help of family and friends. They have learned that they are fundamentally okay, lovable and acceptable and that anything that happens is not because they’re innately bad or unworthy.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Here but not present

You might wonder what dissociation has to do with trauma. Both terms can seem scary and stigmatising until we learn what they mean and how many of us have experienced them (all of us?). One of the simplest definitions of trauma is ‘unexperienced experience’, by Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne. What I really like about this definition, besides its simplicity, is it explains how trauma comes about.

It is dissociation, both psychological and somatic, which prevents an experience from being experienced, and consequently, integrated. Dissociation is a mental and physical process that results in a lack of connection and integration between thoughts, emotions, memories and our sense of identity.  We can experience a traumatic event and not develop trauma. Trauma only develops when we persistently dissociate. And while dissociation is a brilliant short term defence strategy for survival, long term, it can cause havoc with our mental and physical health.

Nijenhuis, E. R. S. and van der Hart, O. (2011). Dissociation in trauma: A new definition and comparison with previous formulations, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 12(4): 416-445.

Sometimes we dissociate just before or during an upsetting experience (peritraumatic dissociation), but afterwards we find the resources; e.g. solid childhood foundation, supportive network of family and friends etc, to help us digest and move through the difficult experience. When we’re continually overwhelmed however, it can be very difficult to process painful experiences and this is particularly true of children. If a child suffers from continuous abuse and neglect and has no one to turn to on top of the abuse—what is termed betrayal trauma—they are very prone to dissociating because it really is the only relief they can find in horrible circumstances. A good example of this is author Carolyn Spring who developed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) after suffering horrific continuous ritual abuse during her childhood.

The degree to which we dissociate is the degree to which we have been hurt and that is subjective. Trauma cannot be defined objectively. Of course there are horrific experiences that some people go through, but when it comes to trauma, or more precisely showing the signs of being traumatised, comparisons are odious. All they do is minimise or maximise someone’s pain instead of taking each individual’s experience seriously.

Most people know that amnesia, derealisation and depersonalisation are examples of dissociative behaviour but did you know that flashbacks and intrusive emotions and sensations etc., are also dissociative behaviours? The former are termed negative symptoms as they denote a loss of some kind (hypoarousal) and the latter are called positive as they intermittently intrude on the self and other parts (hyperarousal).

We tend to think of dissociation as something that remains hidden, in the shadows, and therefore something to be feared. We also tend to think of it as a purely psychological or mental process, however, the freeze response (or tonic immobility) is an example of physical or somatic dissociation. It is the reason that rape victims often can’t move or call out for help. They are physically paralysed with fright and shock. This is often mistakenly perceived as being compliant, or not putting up a fight and as a result, many perpetrators are not bought to justice.

In Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions, she talks of panic and terror as being signs that we’re ready to move into phase three of trauma healing (the final phase). Could flashbacks and intrusions, that often go along with terror, be an attempt of the dissociated parts to integrate and to experience what hasn’t been fully experienced? is this why they're termed positive dissociative symptoms? I think knowledge is power and when we know what’s happening to us has a reason, it brings some relief, or even a lot of relief. I think unresolved trauma is one of the greatest health issues that we all face, as stress is responsible for over 80% of physical diseases.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Stress becomes anxiety

Stress becomes anxiety when we don’t release it. Anxiety is compacted built up stress, sometimes decades of years old, that usually manifests itself as excruciatingly uncomfortable physical sensations and of course anxious thoughts that can spiral out of control.

The thing with anxiety is to keep it as simple as possible so you don’t become even more overwhelmed. Pare back what you expose yourself to and give yourself as much of a break as you possibly can.

A book that I have found extremely helpful is The Dare Response (I have no affiliation to the author). The information in it is not new, as the author Barry McDonagh states, but the way he presents it is. It is beautifully simple and extremely practical which is exactly what someone suffering from anxiety needs. I cannot recommend the book highly enough.

Being human beings we try and move towards pleasure and away from pain but with anxiety, this doesn’t work. In fact, it makes it much worse. The old cliche of what you resist persists. If the truth be told, when I have felt anxious, I have often tapped to get rid of it just because it feels so awful. But EFT never works when our intention is to get rid of something, which of course frustrates us even more until we realise what’s going on. Tapping to help us through a difficult experience is completely different and does work, and tapping works wonderfully well when putting the steps in this book into practise.

As McDonagh explains in his book, you need to stop resisting your anxiety so your nervous system can discharge it. It is only by doing this that it can be discharged by your nervous system, By not resisting your anxiety (which he explains how to do in simple practical details), you are teaching your system to recognise imminent threat. If there were an impending threat, you would have to deal with it there and then as best as you could. With anxiety, the threat feels ever present, even when you are safe (being safe and feeling safe are not the same). This is because your nervous system has not discharged the flight/fight response, or responses (there are many many undischarged experiences with chronic anxiety), so it is on hyper alert all the time. 

One of the things I have found with anxiety is the feeling of being on a merry-go-round or living groundhog day over and over again. The trauma loop in other words. Living with anxiety often becomes more traumatising than the original traumatic experiences that weren’t resolved. But you can really can learn to heal anxiety. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The tightrope of being activated just enough

Gary Craig, the creator of EFT, famously said that EFT works best when people are tuned in. Being tuned in means being triggered, feeling upset, feeling stressed, angry, frightened and so on. The key to working through our experiences is just enough activation so we can discharge it and not too much in case we are overwhelmed (what some might call an abreaction).

Very few of us were taught how to regulate our emotions. So what often happens is we either shut down or get overwhelmed by strong emotions and body sensations. But we can learn to contain and discharge frightening emotions and sensations by titrating. We need to titrate difficult experiences, so they're activated just enough so they can be discharged; what Peter Levine calls the tightrope of walking between too little activation and too much activation.

This is why social support and safety are key to walking through our experiences so we can integrate them. All you have to remember is how you felt when someone held your hand or spoke a kind word to you when you needed it, it makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Your window of tolerance

Your window of tolerance will tell you everything you need to know about your emotional world. The bigger your window, the more you'll be able to cope with life's ups and downs. That's not to say you'll never be hurt or experience trauma, but with the right social support and your resilience, you'll probably bounce back quicker than someone with a smaller window of tolerance.

Our tolerance for what are called positive and negative emotions, has everything to do with how we grew up. If we had secure attachment, that is, if we felt loved for who we were and our needs were mostly met, we'll have quite a large window of tolerance. We won't be overwhelmed or shutdown easily. That's because our parents, or whoever our primary caregiver was, would have soothed us, been there for us and our needs, and from that, we learn resilience and safety. We learn that we're fundamentally ok. We have the time and the resources to concentrate on our growth and development because we're not fighting (fleeing or freezing) for our very survival like so many children who experience repetitive abuse, whether emotional, physical and sexual.

Of course, we can learn how to expand our window of tolerance through different methods, tools and techniques, but it's always easier when we start with being and feeling loved. I liken it to a child either being on the top of a mountain, ready to fly off into their lives, or a child trudging up the mountain with a huge weight on their backs and sometimes stumbling and falling back down. With the right help, we can all be on top of the mountain which gives us a view of the bigger picture of our lives.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pay attention to the button instead

I read this quote back in 2011 and saw it the other day on Facebook in my memories. I must have needed reminding ;-) Isn't it amazing all the good stuff we read but forget to put into practice?

What I think is important about this quote is that it focuses us on the real issue. Not that the person who pressed our button isn't important, especially if they are a loved one or a good friend, but the button is in us, not them. If we don't look at the button, we are at the mercy of others' behaviour and we can also get confused as to what's what.  Their behaviour can switch us on or off. So, if we look at them as the trigger, instead of the button they've pushed in us, we are dependent on how they behave. And we have no control over another's behaviour, no matter who they are. I'm not saying for one minute that we're islands living in a vacuum and other people shouldn't affect us, I think that's unrealistic. But when we've neutralised at least some of our triggers, especially the big ones, we'll be happier and more at peace which is a huge plus. We'll also have more clarity and more defined boundaries. All of which makes us healthier and happier.

Make a trigger list, list anything that triggers you, you might find making the list triggers you and that's ok, tap immediately if that happens. Your triggers are being activated by others all the time anyway, so why not take some of your power back, look at them in black and white, and you can then decide which triggers to tap on first.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trauma, an event or an experience?

My firm belief and experience tells me that you absolutely cannot determine whether someone is traumatised by listing out events. In addition, many events, or the experience of those events, cannot be remembered explicitly and put into a narrative because they happened in utero or very early in life. Instead, those same experiences are remembered implicitly, as body memories.

The key to developing trauma is experiencing an event as life threatening in some way, rendering us helpless. If we feel, or are, trapped on top of that, we have the recipe for trauma down to a tee.

We do not understand 'trauma' as an event but as a psychobiological 'wound' evolved in relation to a variety of coupled psychological, biological, social, and other environmental factors (Nijenhuis and van der Hart, 2011).

van der Hart, O., Nijenhuis, E. R. S. and Steele, K. (2005). Dissociation: An ins ufficiently recognized major feature of complex post traumatic stress disorder, Journal of Traumatic Stress 18(5): 413-423.

Nijenhuis, E. R. S. and van der Hart, O. (2011). Dissociation in trauma: A new definition and comparison with previous formulations, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 12(4): 416-445.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


When you keep hearing about something, you have a fairly simple choice, listen or ignore it. I've chosen to listen to what I've been hearing about triggers lately because I've been hearing about them everywhere! And what I've heard makes a lot of sense as well as being really helpful to me right now.

Triggers are one way of knowing what needs to be digested. When something is stuck in our life, it hasn't been digested, we're metaphorically choking on it, and until it's assimilated, it will continue to cause us pain. However triggers are not the source of our pain, they only point us to our pain. A trigger can be anything, a smell, a noise, a look, a touch and if we're really serious about being at ease with ourselves, we'll take our triggers very very seriously and tap on them.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Connecting to the parts of yourself that are in pain

It can be really difficult to connect to the parts of us that are in pain. I first heard the term relational home by Robert Stolorow is his book, Trauma and Human Existence. Gabor Maté uses this term a lot too when he talks about the importance of connection. Connecting to others is vital, but it's also vital to be able to connect to ourself, especially the parts that are in pain. We need those parts held by others but we also need to be able to hold and connect to those parts ourselves so they can finally feel safe, loved and at home.

In his book The Good Psychologist, Noam Schpancer talks about the importance of stressing that a part of you feels a certain way, rather than the whole of you feeling that way. This empowers the part(s) that don't feel that way to be able to help the part(s) that do, what Internal Family Systems might refer to as the Self.

Try the following script and please customise it for your unique situation.

Even though I'm terrified of this pain, I accept how I feel (or a part of me is terrified -- what age is this part?)

Even though I just can't feel this pain, it scares me too much, that's ok (or it scares a part of me, what age is the part that is scared -- what age is the part that feels the pain?)

Even though this pain just won't go away and that makes me feel ... I accept how I feel about that (or that makes a part of me feel ... is this feeling familiar?)

Top of the head: This pain
Eyebrow: Will it ever go away?
Side of eye: I'm beyond sick of this pain
Under the eye: But it makes no difference
Under the nose: It's still here
Under the chin: And that feels ...
Collarbone: It's hard to connect with this pain
Under the arm: It's hard to listen to this pain when all I wish is for it to go away

Top of the head: I've tried listening to this pain but it hasn't worked
Eyebrow: It's still here
Side of eye: Nothing I'm doing is working to get rid of this pain
Under the eye: It just won't go away
Under the nose: Maybe this pain represents a part of me
Under the chin: Can I feel differently towards this pain realising that?
Collarbone: Can I be there for this pain/part like I would want someone to be there for me?
Under the arm: Can I give this pain/part a home? (watch out for any tailenders/objections and tap on them)

Top of the head: Can I answer the needs of this pain/part?
Eyebrow: Can I can be with this pain/part fully without wanting it to go away?
Side of eye: It's ok if I can't
Under the eye: No, it's not
Under the nose: Yes, it is
Under the chin: It's really really hard
Collarbone: I acknowledge how difficult it is to hold this pain/part
Under the arm: I accept how hard it is to connect fully with this pain/part

Top of the head: I know avoiding/distracting/dissociating from this pain/part is not working
Eyebrow: It only makes it scream louder
Side of eye: I know I need to connect with this pain/part
Under the eye: To heal it
Under the nose: This unfelt pain is creating havoc in my life
Under the chin: It's ok to connect to 10% of this pain/part
Collarbone: I don't have to do it all at once
Under the arm: I know this pain/part needs and wants to be heard like we all do

The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain ~ Gabor Maté

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The abuse of pregnant women in Ireland with the 8th amendment

If there is a way to nearly guarantee trauma, if there is a recipe that you could follow, it is to entrap someone, either physically or psychologically, render them helpless and put the fear of God into them. The Irish state does this to pregnant women with the 8th amendment. Bullying, threatening, coercing and forcing are regular occurrences in Irish maternity services and the 8th only backs this up and makes it easy to justify.

Article 40.3.3 (the 8th) was amended to the Irish constitution back in 1983. It gives the foetus equal rights to the mother. The 8th was explicitly added to the National “Consent” Guidelines for pregnant women in 2013 by the Irish health services, 30 years after it became law. If I were cynical, I’d say that this move is not for the safety of the baby, and certainly not for the mother’s safety, but to reduce the obstetric bill of the State Claim’s Agency. Section 7.7.1 states that:
7.7.1 Refusal of treatment in pregnancy
The consent of a pregnant woman is required for all health and social care interventions. However, because of the constitutional provisions on the right to life of the “unborn”, there is significant legal uncertainty regarding the extent of a pregnant woman's right to refuse treatment in circumstances in which the refusal would put the life of a viable foetus at serious risk. In such circumstances, legal advice should be sought as to whether an application to the High Court is necessary. 
In reality, the foetus has more rights than its mother, as the death of Savita Halappanavar showed so damningly. It is crucial to repeal the 8th amendment, as currently, women do not have any legal rights over their own bodies while pregnant. Many think that the 8th only affects women who seek an abortion, but it affects every woman who is pregnant. There was a disgraceful and mysogynistic precedent set in the case that Ciara Hamilton took against the Irish health service. The judge stated that:
“it was reasonable for the midwife involved to seek reassurance with an artificial rupture of the membranes. The midwife was the person entitled, authorised and qualified to make the decision, the judge said.” 
So, women are not entitled, authorised or qualified to make decisions regarding and affecting their own bodies? Please tell me what century we're living in? I am ashamed to be living in a country with rulings like this. Was Ciara Hamilton in the financial position to appeal this decision after having the state's costs awarded against her? You can be sure she wasn't and the judge certainly made sure of that in order to teach her, and all women, a lesson: don't dare stand up for yourself or you'll be punished. The clear message is be obedient, don't rock the boat and do as you're told, as any woman should do in a patriarchal world.

Not only are pregnant women not allowed to refuse a treatment, they also don’t have the right to be informed that a procedure on their body will take place, if it is for the safety of the baby. Now, that last sentence by the judge could be used to justify anything really couldn’t it? It can justify the police going to a pregnant woman's home, unbeknownst to her, in order to force her to go to hospital for a forced procedure. Are we seriously living in a world that thinks this is okay?

The desperately sad cases of Miss Y and a woman who was kept on life support against her family's wishes because her 15 week old baby still had a heartbeat, only serve to prove the point that health is not just about being alive, it is also about quality of life. If the 8th amendment didn't exist, these atrocities wouldn't be able to happen because, legally, women could not be forced into any procedure. It is important to note that if the 8th were repealed outright, the law currently regulating abortion, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 – one of the strictest such laws in the world – would remain in force according to Eoin Daly, lecturer in constitutional law at the School of Law, NUI Galway. Therefore the argument that there will be abortion on demand if the 8th is repealed is nonsense.

These cases fly in the face of all research ever conducted on psychological trauma impacting adults, children and prenates. The Irish health services cannot claim to be practising evidence based medicine by ignoring and even sneering at psychological research and its impact on physical and mental health. How does the Irish state think that a pregnant woman might respond in a situation where she is threatened with the police, solicitors and social workers? Oftentimes for no valid reasons. With calm and lots of oxytocin, or with helplessness and lots of cortisol that affects not only her, but her unborn, who supposedly, the Irish state is trying to protect.

I am extremely passionate about this subject, having had a horrific experience during the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy. I will never step foot in the hospital where I gave birth as a pregnant woman, because, as Aja Teehan says, she knew what the Irish state was capable of, and she could very well find herself in the position of “Mother A”. I nearly found myself in Mother A's position too. University Hospital Waterford sought a high court order in order to force Mother A to undergo a caesarean in March 2013 because she was 13 days overdue and had had a previous caesarean. Funnily enough, it was shortly after, in May 2013, that the new “consent” guidelines were published.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma ~ Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Friday, February 05, 2016

A recipe for trauma

Most of the literature defines trauma as an event, just look at Criterion A1* in a PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) diagnosis.

However, I believe trauma is the experience of an event, not the event itself. You cannot be traumatised without having had a response to an event, it is therefore the response which is important. If fear, (or any intense emotion that overwhelms our resources to cope with it), helplessness and feeling/being trapped are present and an external threat is internalised, there is a good chance of a person being traumatised.  And that includes many so-called "disorders", not just PTSD.

This is especially true in the case of children where a threat can be either real or perceived. For example, a child might live with the fear of being abandoned, they might never be abandoned, at least not physically, and that constant threat depletes their resilience and exhausts their nervous system as they are on continuous high alert. They will adapt their behaviour to not be abandoned and so their true self is lost in the (usually) futile search for acceptance and love. They certainly will not feel safe, another crucial element in the process of being traumatised and healing from trauma.

By not including emotional abuse and neglect, any criteria for comprehensively assessing trauma are incomplete and as a consequence many people don't get the help they need because their bruises aren't as visible as those from physical and sexual abuse.

Comparisons deplete the actuality of the things compared ~ William S. Wilson

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Feeling connected

Even if we’re loved, we might not feel connected to the person who says they love us. Love is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s not enough to say you love someone, you have to show it. There is a difference in being loved and feeling loved.

I really loved this blog post by Leonard Jacobson a few years ago. He talks about the importance of being present. When we’re present, we’re connected, we're paying attention to ourselves and whoever is before us. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s real. Paying attention, or being present, makes us and others feel heard, seen, acknowledged, validated and connected.

This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention ~ Mary Oliver

I think a lot of us are literally starving for the nourishment that connection can give. Try tapping on the word 'connection' and 'feeling connected or disconnected' and anything and everything that this brings up for you.

Monday, January 11, 2016


The word closure drives me nuts. Or more to the point, it’s what it means when others say it that annoys me. When I hear the word closure, what I really think I’m hearing is “Are you not over that yet?” or “I don’t really want to listen to your problems” or “Can’t you keep your real feelings to yourself and pretend like the rest of us?”. When we don’t have closure it seems to make others a lot more uncomfortable than it makes us.

I think what we really want around something or someone that has been painful is peace. Some things in life can only be carried, not forgotten about, as this article says so well.

We want to be able to get on with our lives, without whatever it is incapacitating us. This is called integration, not closure. I don’t think things finish as neatly in life as the term closure suggests. When things are incomplete, unfinished and undigested, they can really disturb us, which is why Ivor Browne calls trauma “unexperienced experience”. When we get to digest whatever it is, we get to have peace around it. We might not get closure, but we’re more than ok with that. Because whatever it is/was doesn’t have the same power over our peace of mind anymore. We can live peacefully alongside its remnants, if there are any.