Friday, December 08, 2017

What is neuroception?

I’m going to give a real life example of how neuroception* actually works from my own life. I was mugged once, I wasn’t hurt physically, but psychologically, it left its marks.

I was walking along the quays in Dublin at about 7.30pm, it was November, so it was dark. An older man asked me for the time; there was also a teenager walking a little bit behind him. Immediately, I sensed very strongly that something wasn’t right. Something (neuroception) was telling me to run, get out of there as fast as I could. But I rationalised it away by calling myself silly/paranoid, there was no need to worry.
The teenager walked passed me and then all of a sudden ran up from behind and ripped my bag off my shoulder. I froze (for which I judged myself later). I didn’t even think of putting up a fight and knowing what I know now, I didn’t have any conscious choice in the matter. My body sensed danger (which I ignored/rationalised away) and then froze to keep me out of more danger (it was very likely that the teenager would have become violent to get my bag/money if I had fought him).

Our bodies are amazing. Even before the brain in our head can react, our oldest brain (our gut, the enteric nervous system), is able to sense danger, or safety, in the environment and lets us know immediately whether we are safe or under threat**. ‘All’ we need to do is listen and trust this ancient source of knowledge. But too often we ignore, deride, override, shame, chastise and berate our own body because it’s not doing what we want it to do, or what we think it should do.

Our body is the repository of every single experience we’ve ever had since conception and even beforehand, taking the studies on intergenerational experience and trauma into account. We put out the rubbish every day/week to be collected, but how often do we empty our body of stuff it no longer needs or wants? How much stuff is your body carrying right now? (Try and answer that and you can tap on your answers).

Just as we might work on various different parts of ourselves, we can work on our body as a part with its own intelligence, feelings and perceptions. This is not segregating the body from us, it is giving its experience its own credence and weight.

I can give you an example of working with the body this way. I woke up at 1a.m. recently with a sense of dread and fear and didn’t know where it was coming from. Rather than play Sherlock Holmes in the middle of the night, it struck me that it might be my body sensing danger/threat. I tapped on my body not feeling safe (in my imagination, very handy for nighttime when you’re tired), acknowledging, not fighting, how my body felt which calmed me/my body down. I was able to go back to sleep after about 10 minutes of tapping and get a few more hours sleep before I had to wake up at 6.30am.

*Another word we could use for neuroception is intuition or gut instinct.

** Fear is a necessary and valuable emotion when there is immediate and present danger that requires us to act now. However, our nervous systems can get permanently 'switched on' after repeated trauma and detect threat where there is none which leaves us exhausted and hyper vigilant.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Allowing

We hear a lot about allowing. And in this post we’re going to talk about allowing things within ourselves, not the outside environment or others. That’s another discussion for another day.

For me, allowing means to allow my internal experiences as much as I possibly can. This essentially means that I’m not resisting them, which keeps me stuck.

It means allowing every single emotion, thought and body sensation I have in response to anything and to feel it as best as I can.


This is a process. It doesn’t happen over night and it’s not always possible because we’ll slip into old patterns and sometimes we’ll just be too tired or upset and that’s ok.

When you develop the habit of allowing yourself to feel, think and sense the way you do, you start to process things. You begin to experience what has been unexperienced. You don’t feel stuck anymore, maybe things still aren’t easy, but you start to notice little changes which give you hope and spur you on and later you see bigger changes, in you.

You really download into your cells that the only person you can control is you, not others and not the outside environment. Funnily enough though, people and circumstances often change in our life for the better when we change!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The mindbody split

The mindbody split is nowhere more obvious than in the medical model approach to health. There is an unfounded assumption that mental health has only a psychological cause and a physical health issue has only a physiological cause. But we are not disconnected bits and pieces, every single part of us is interlinked and interdependent. The health of the whole depends on the health of its parts.

When it comes to mental health, I think we’re often frightened of the power of the mind and the devastation that can ensue when things go awry. We feel we don’t have as much control over the mind as we do the body, hence the heavy emphasis on medication as the main treatment by psychiatry to keep people in check. Short term, this is often necessary, however problems arise when this is the long term approach and treatment. Medication does not get to the root of the issue, symptoms are just suppressed and the long term effects of medication on the body and mind of the person suffering are horrendous and often cause an early death. Sadly, society in general doesn’t seem to care as long as ‘these people’ are out of sight or kept quiet.

When mental health professionals speak of dissociation, they often don’t differentiate between psychological and somatic dissociation. I think some of them aren’t even aware of somatic dissociation as a phenomenon. This mirrors the mindbody split that is evident in most of the world. It is also because of the major emphasis on psychological processes in psychology and psychiatry. However, there is some dissonance here because of the current emphasis on biologic psychiatry and many somatic symptoms being included in psychiatric diagnoses. The truth is, there is no coherent theory of mental illness in mainstream psychiatry and there never has been.

Why am I speaking of dissociation in particular? Because of its inherent link with trauma. Trauma is one of the biggest unresolved issues in our world and is responsible for many of the problems that we see; addiction, violence, wars, abuse, neglect, homelessness etc. Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne, defines trauma as unexperienced experience and I believe the mechanism by which an experience remains unexperienced, is dissociation, both psychological and somatic dissociation.


We’ve all been traumatised, or hurt. It’s just a matter of to what degree. Judging by all the problems in the world today, it is safe to say that many of us remain traumatised. Which also means that we’re all dissociated and again it is a matter of to what degree. There is nothing to be frightened of here, it is normal and human to want/need to avoid pain, the more pain we feel or is inflicted upon us, the more we will dissociate. I think it is crucial to normalise trauma and dissociation so we lessen any stigma and shame attached to these phenomena. Problems arise when we act our trauma out, individually and collectively, which is why it is so important that it be taken seriously and effective approaches to resolving it are widely used.

I’d like to see the day when the treatment of any health issue is truly integrative and proper weight is given to both somatic and psychological issues. As regards dissociation, screenings such as the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) and Somatoform Dissociation Questionnaire (SDQ ) could be combined, because where does the mind begin and the body end? There is no clear delineation, they are interlinked and interdependent and we need to assess the health of both.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

This will never end

“This will never end”, is a really common belief that keeps us well and truly stuck. It engenders a sense of helplessness, powerlessness and hopelessness which feels absolutely horrible. This belief and all it entails, is often worse than anything that came before it because we fear that how we feel will go on forever without any respite.


One of the main reasons we stay in this unbroken loop is because we keep avoiding unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions (assuming any traumatic experiences are over). It is natural and normal for certain emotions to arise depending on what we’re experiencing, it shows that we’re human. How these emotions were received by others early on in our life is usually when the problems start.

You might have learned that it is unacceptable to be angry, especially if you’re a girl or that you’re weak for being afraid if you’re a boy. We then start to believe that we are unacceptable, weak and bad for having these emotions, because the adults in our lives couldn’t handle us displaying certain emotions that they had an issue with (most likely learned from their parents and so it goes).

We learn self-regulation (how to handle our emotions and resulting body sensations) from being co-regulated, that is; soothed, reassured, accepted, understood and loved. Self regulation is a skill that can be learned like any other and even if we didn’t have a relational home when we were younger, we can give it to ourselves and get it from others.

Try tapping on:

Even though I have this belief that this will never end and that makes me feel … I accept how I feel

Even though this belief brings up unbearable sensations in my body that I feel I have to avoid or else … I accept how I feel

Even though it feels hopeless (or I feel hopeless) and the first time I remember feeling this way was … I accept how I feel

Even though it feels like this will never change, I can choose to make some changes that I have control over and that feels …

Then tap on whatever feels right through the points until you find some relief and hope to give you the strength to make the changes you need and want to make.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Acceptance

Acceptance is oh so hard to do, especially when there is something going on, or went on in your life that you can’t accept. We can’t accept things for various reasons, but the biggest one I think is that something is causing/caused us pain. We think that if we accept it, it’ll stay (or go as the case may be) and that is unacceptable.


Write down the two sentences below and fill in the blank. Work on one issue at a time. Rate the percentage of what you can’t or can accept. Say for example, you write down 80% for ‘can’t accept’ and 10% for ‘can accept’ on the same issue, there’s a mismatch. Can accept ‘should be’ 20%, so by writing it out this way, you can really see the truth of how you feel and what you can truly accept right now.

1. I can’t accept …
2. I can accept …

Accept what you can’t accept for the moment. You are doing the best you can for now and you will increase your acceptance of something when you are ready. If you have judgements or criticisms about what you can/can’t accept, why, any urgency etc., you can tap on them. Remember being aware and acknowledging something is there can be really helpful, even if we can’t accept it right now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The frozen response

When we're trauma informed, we realise that how we respond to overwhelming experiences is a natural, normal part of our evolution as human beings. Freezing or immobility is extremely common when our flight and fight responses have been thwarted for whatever reason. Freezing helps us to survive and it is an involuntary response, that is, our autonomic nervous system takes over for us in times of severe stress.

Judgements and appraisals from ourself and society such as I "didn't put up a fight", or I "just lay there and didn't scream", are just plain wrong and can make you more predisposed to developing trauma because you feel so ashamed of your responses, among other strong emotions and sensations that you may have. Society often blames the victim instead of focusing on the perpetrator. The victim is burdened with the responsibility of how they responded to threat with little to no understanding of how our bodies and minds work under threat. This is why education is so important, particularly for first responders, the police and the judicial system. It is crucial that we normalise how we respond to traumatic experiences so the likelihood of us developing trauma (and all its many manifestations) is reduced.

Try tapping on the words in this script, of course it is generic so please customise it for you and how you feel, leave out what doesn't fit and insert your own words, feelings and body sensations, which will make it much more effective.

Even though I froze, I accept myself anyway

Even though I’ve no explicit memory of freezing (common in utero and early childhood, the memory will be implicit), my body remembers

Even though my body remembers and that feels … I am trying to accept how I feel about that

Even though I couldn’t call out or move and that made me feel … I am willing to accept how I responded

Even though I now believe … about myself, I am willing to heal that belief

Top of the head: This frozenness
Eyebrow: In my (gut, legs etc) …
Side of eye: I can’t feel …
Under the eye: And that makes me feel …
Under the nose: I can feel … (twists/knots in your gut, stiffness in your legs etc)
Under the chin: My consciousness floated away
Collar bone: And my body stored …
Under the arm: When I couldn’t move or do anything

Top of the head: I was trapped (physically, psychologically etc)
Eyebrow: I was able to escape by …
Side of eye: And that makes me feel ...
Under the eye: I’m stuck
Under the nose: Something is stuck in my body and mind
Under the chin: And it’s causing me stress (list whatever else fits here)
Collar bone: The shame
Under the arm: Of …

Top of the head: The helplessness …
Eyebrow: The horror …
Side of eye: The fear …
Under the eye: The rage …
Under the nose: This helpless anger
Under the chin: I can feel some of it
Collar bone: And lessen the load on my body and mind
Under the arm: Holding all this stuff until I was ready

Top of the head: I’m grateful to my body sometimes
Eyebrow: And sometimes I think it has betrayed me
Side of eye: By not being strong enough
Under the eye: To fight back
Under the nose: Or flee
Under the chin: What else could my body and mind do?
Collar bone: They froze to help me survive
Under the arm: The response was instantaneous

Top of the head: I couldn’t control it
Eyebrow: And that makes me feel …
Side of eye: My mind floated away
Under the eye: And my body tried not to feel …
Under the nose: But it’s all coming up now
Under the chin: And it can be overwhelming
Collar bone: So I need to take it slow
Under the arm: But a part of me wants to go fast

Top of the head: Because I’m in pain
Eyebrow: I accept how all parts of me feel
Side of eye: I want to fight some parts of me
Under the eye: But they freeze
Under the nose: To protect me
Under the chin: Fighting doesn’t always work
Collar bone: There are other ways
Under the arm: To survive and thrive

Top of the head: It is possible to heal from this
Eyebrow: No matter how badly I feel right now
Side of eye: It’s simpler than I think
Under the eye: And maybe even easier than I think
Under the nose: I’ve been trying too hard
Under the chin: Because I feel so bad
Collar bone: I’m open to solutions
Under arm: That I might not have thought of


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Divided attention

Divided attention is really common when we’re stressed. Our attention is split into lots of different threads haphazardly focused in too many areas, which makes us feel really scattered and overwhelmed. It is really important to try and do one thing at a time, as slowly as you can, if possible.

The more stressed we feel, the more stuff we think we need to do to alleviate the stress; we become desperate, urgent and even panicky. But the opposite is in fact true. Know how your system reacts to threat, any threat, no matter how small you think the threat is (or whether you even recognise it as threat), and when you first notice the signs of stress, start doing what you know works or find something that you feel might work and start practising it daily.


You know from experience that minimising or comparing your stress levels and experiences with anyone else doesn’t help, it keeps you stuck, usually in shame, so take your own experience seriously. The only real measurement of stress is how we feel and if you feel bad enough, that’s good enough to do something about it regardless of what anyone else think or feels.

Keep it simple, do only a few things at most and do them daily. You should start to see results, hopefully immediately, but certainly in a few days. But remember, our nervous system takes time to rewire. If you have been steeping in stress hormones for a long time, your system needs time to reorient itself to a new way of being in the world. So as you’re dealing with your stress levels, be as kind to yourself as you can possibly be.

The moments of soothing ourselves, that is, learning to regulate ourselves, hopefully with the help of co-regulation, will join up and become minutes, hours, then days and after a while the days stretch into weeks and so on.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sympathetic nervous system dominance

Try this script for when you feel stuck in flight or fight (sympathetic nervous system dominance), make sure to customise the script using your words. My next post will be on the freeze response and how it gets stuck. You can find the tapping diagram and procedure for the EFT short cut and basic recipe here. An excellent book on how to use various 'bodyways' for healing is Discovering the Body's Wisdom by Mirka Knaster.

Even though I have this trapped energy in my nervous system and it feels … I completely accept how I feel

Even though this shakiness/nervousness/humming/anxiety feels … and it’s hard to accept how I feel because …

Even though I’m easily overwhelmed and that makes me feel … I acknowledge how I feel

Top of the head: This stress
Eyebrow: Feels ...
Side of the eye: The sensations are …
Under the eye: And they feel …
Under the nose: Can I feel them?
Under the chin: Or do I want to run or fight?
Collar bone: I feel it most … (where do you feel it the strongest in your body?)
Under the arm: I feel it the least … (where does it feel calm, neutral, good? consider doing the pendulation exercise between these two places in your body)

Top of the head: This trapped energy
Eyebrow: In my …
Side of eye: It makes me want to …
Under the eye: And that feels ...
Under the nose: Can I be with 10% of this feeling?
Under the chin: I don’t have to feel 100% of it right now
Collar bone: Can I fully feel 10% of this?
Under the arm: Yes I can

Top of the head: No I can’t
Eyebrow: Maybe I can (consider getting a cushion/pillow and moving your legs on it as if you’re running in order to complete the flight response, or if you feel like fighting, get a cushion/pillow and give it a good bashing, and scream, wail, growl, clench your jaws, whatever feels right)
Side of the eye: This energy
Under the eye: Now feels … (has it changed since you started tapping? If it hasn’t, or it has increased - this is totally normal by the way - tap on how that makes you feel)
Under the nose: Does that feel ok to me?
Under the chin: Can I handle how it makes me feel?
Collar bone: I need to release this trapped energy
Under the arm: And that feels (stand up and shake out your body, or do something else that appeals to you to help you discharge some of the tension in your body, try some of these exercises here and here).

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

16 exercises to soothe anxiety

The 15 exercises below are also available as a pdf download from my website: http://energyandintention.com/exercisestosootheanxiety.pdf

1. 4-7-8 breathing exercise by Dr Andrew Weil.
2. With your thumb or index finger, close your right nostril and breathe through your left nostril, working up to 3 minutes. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system which helps calm you.
3. Keeping your head straight, look up with just your eyes, you can do a circle of 8 or look from left to right in whatever pattern you like, until you feel more calm.
4. Tapping your thymus and/or collarbone continuously, become aware of your exhale, and as you breathe out, purse your lips, which naturally elongates the exhale and activates your parasympathetic nervous system.
5. Put one palm across your forehead, and the other palm on the back of your head, near the base of your neck. Stay in this pose for one or two minutes, then switch hands and continue for another 2 minutes or so. It is easier to do this lying down, your hands and arms don't get as tired. Continue switching hand positions until you find a sense of calm/relief.
6. This exercise is from Linda Graham. When you feel anxious, let your body find the 'opposite' posture. Say for example, you curl up and feel tight and contracted when you're anxious, what would be the `antidote' to that body posture for you? Try moving your body into that position and if it feels right, you can also move in that pose/posture.
7. The collar bone point (kidney and adrenal gland meridian), is a great point to tap when you're feeling anxious. Try tapping on it continuously, you can always combine it with some of the breath exercises above if you like. Ask yourself while you're tapping, what are you fighting? Your feelings, a situation, a person, your anxiety?.
8. Soft palate relaxation from Forward Facing Trauma Therapy by Eric Gentry. Your goal is to locate and then relax the muscles of your soft palate.

  • Sit down comfortably and shift your focus to the muscles along the roof of your mouth. 
  • Release all the tension in this area. 
  • Now expand your focus to include the muscles in your face and jaw. 
  • Release the tension in these muscles too. 
  • Next, with all of these muscles relaxed, silently say the letter ``R'' to yourself and try to gently maintain the subtle arch this creates in the roof of your mouth for five seconds. 
  • Repeat this exercise five times. 
  • Notice the relaxation in your body.

9. Stephen Porges believes tapping on the face (starts at 3mins 32secs) points (eyebrow, side of eye etc.) activates the ventral vagal/social engagement system which calms sympathetic/dorsal dominance.
10. Exercise from Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra.

  • Lie down before you go to sleep at night. 
  • Assume a position flat on your back without a pillow; spread your arms and legs at your side.
  • Draw in a deep, slow breath, then release it through your mouth in a sigh, as freely and naturally as your body wants. Some sighs may be quick, almost like a gasp; others may be as deep as a sob. 
  • You may feel a sense of relief, sadness, grief, elation, or any other emotion. Be aware of the emotions as they arise; you are not just releasing physical tension; you are accessing bodily memories at the same time. 
  • The natural discharge of tension bundles thoughts, feelings, and sensations together, so let them all go at once. 
  • Do this exercise for no more than ten minutes, because it can be intense; allow yourself to fall asleep if your body wants to. That is also part of the discharge process.

11. From Thriving in Chaos by Sandy Dow. Catch yourself when you are saying ``I am anxious''. Reframe it to ``There is a part of me that is anxious''. When you feel a grip of fear, anger, or sadness, be open to accepting a scared and confused part of yourself. Add a message ``Even though a part of me is having a touch time, I accept that part of me''*. This will have a way of separating from the anxiety rather than having it take you over. *You can use this phrase in your tapping.
12. If the anxiety feels just too overwhelming and appears to be in all of your body, try using the pendulation exercise by Peter Levine. This exercise is empowering and hopeful, it is a tangible felt experience of areas in your body which feel neutral, calm and even good, while also being aware of the areas that feel bad and contracted. Pendulating between the two allows you to release traumatic stress
13. From Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele & Onno van der Hart.

  1. Notice 3 objects that you see in the room and pay close attention to their details (shape, colour, texture, size, etc.). Make sure you do not hurry through this part of the exercise. Let your eyes linger over each object. Name three characteristics of the object out loud to yourself, for example, ``It's blue. It is big. It is round''.
  2. Notice 3 sounds that you hear in the present (inside or outside of the room). Listen to their quality. Are they loud or soft, constant or intermittent, pleasant or unpleasant? Again, name 3 characteristics of the sound out loud to yourself, for example, ``It is loud, grating and definitely unpleasant''.
  3. Now touch 3 objects close to you and describe out loud to yourself how they feel, for example, rough, smooth, cold, warm, hard or soft, and so forth.
  4. Return to the 3 objects that you have chosen to observe with your eyes. As you notice them, concentrate on the fact that you are here and now with these objects in the present, in this room. Next, notice the sounds and concentrate on the fact that you are here in this room with those sounds. Finally, do the same with the objects you have touched. You can expand this exercise by repeating it several times, 3 items for each sense, then 2 for each sense, then one, and then build up again to 3. You can also add new items to keep your practice fresh.

14. Take a walk, dance, read a book, write down how you feel, have a bath, go to the cinema in the middle of the day, listen to music. Do what brings you a sense of calm, hope and joy.
15. Slow way down. When we're feeling anxious we tend to do everything fast, by slowing everything you do down, from walking to making a cup of tea, to your breath; you will engage your parasympathetic system. Know that it can take 20 to 30 minutes for stress hormones to completely leave your body but you will feel some of the effects of slowing down immediately, like your breath becoming deeper and slower as you put your attention on it.
16. Don't be afraid to do nothing, we often feel a desperate urge to get rid of our anxiety which often makes it worse. Be as kind to yourself as possible.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Parts of the whole

We assume we are a unified, integrated self but the truth is all of us have parts. It is more the exception than the rule that all parts of us will feel the same on any given issue. Most of us have some conflicting parts which is often why we can’t move ahead on a particular issue, but we might not realise that this is the reason why. For example, a part of you wants to give up smoking and another part needs to smoke because it helps with anxiety. It’s not scary when you think of having parts, or subpersonalities, like that, is it?

Like many things in mental health, normal processes are often pathologised, which creates a lot of shame and secrecy. We hear stories of people with multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder or DID) and we think “That’s not me” and we go out of our way to prove how normal we are and to distance ourself from any of that weird stuff.

People with DID can have parts who do not remember what one part did, called dissociative amnesia, and it can cause havoc in their life. However, rather than being afraid of this, if we know what’s going on (psychoeducation), we can have understanding and compassion instead. One of the most common reasons for the lack of integration in DID, is the trauma that various parts hold. People with DID have often suffered horrific trauma, particularly early in their life, and dissociation is often the only means of escape from horrible situations. This creates not just spaces but chasms between parts in order to survive the unbearable.


Every single one of us is on the dissociation spectrum, it is just a matter of to what degree. It is really important to normalise dissociation, especially when we are going through traumatic experiences, as it is often the only coping mechanism we have. Problems arise when the divisions that persistent, long term dissociation creates, cause problems for the person and the people around them.

We often think of dissociation as a purely mental or psychological process, but dissociation is also a somatic process, which means it also affects the body. People who have suffered sexual abuse for example, can have parts of their body that they just don’t feel. A more common occurrence for all of us, are difficult sensations arising in our body that overwhelm our capacity to feel them, so we dissociate from them. Short term, this can be a great solution, but long term it causes all sorts of health problems, both physical and psychological.

A good place to start if you want to learn more about parts is Internal Family Systems, developed by psychologist, Richard Schwartz.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shame

There’s a big difference between believing you did something wrong/bad or that you are wrong/bad. I think healthy shame arises from within, toxic shame comes from outside and we can internalise it, thinking and feeling it defines who we are. Our organism knows how to ‘do’ emotions, they’re hardwired, so why is there such a clamour and rush to get children to know about shame in particular? Do we not trust that they’ll learn what’s right or wrong as they grow?

Toxic shame comes in many forms; the shame of being abused, the shame of being neglected, the shame of not being loved, the shame of not having enough to eat, the shame of not always being able to hide from others finding out … Toxic shame is compounded when it is a family member who does these things to us. If your own parent doesn’t love you or take care of you, what worth do you have? What’s more shaming than that? Many times children are shamed as being from a ‘bad’ family and who wants the shame of belonging to a bad family? This sets up a terrible conflict between a desperate and natural need to belong and the shame of belonging to the ‘wrong’ family.


A so-called harmless and extremely common way of shaming is using shame to discipline a child. Why? Because it works, like a toxic treat. Is there anything more effective than making someone believe that what they did is wrong and that they are wrong for doing it? Toxic shaming is the laziest form of discipline at best and at worst leaves a lasting imprint that makes a person collapse into a diminished, smaller and more compliant form of who they truly are.

One possible outcome of persistent toxic shaming is not being able to be wrong. Being wrong, or taking responsibility for doing/saying something wrong, is just not an option because you feel as if you’re being annihilated if you admit to any wrongdoing. This causes havoc in your life and particularly your relationships, because it’s impossible to be in a relationship with someone who can’t be wrong and doesn't take responsibility.

Shame, like all emotions, is felt in the body and its sensations can be extremely uncomfortable. It is felt as heat, constriction, collapse, diminishment, smallness, badness, wrongness and many more. Try tapping on how shame shows up for you and get in touch with any negative core beliefs about yourself around shame and tap until they don’t resonate with you anymore.

Resources:
Listening to shame by Brené Brown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0
Healing the shame that binds you by John Bradshaw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q2tZa1gp8Q

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why trauma is much more than a PTSD diagnosis

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is synonymous with trauma, however, many people who are traumatised might not receive a PTSD diagnosis.

There are two main reasons as to why:
1. Criterion A in the PTSD diagnostic criteria
2. There are many other signs of trauma besides the stipulated criteria in a PTSD diagnosis



Let’s discuss the importance of criterion A first. There used to be two parts to this criterion, A1 and A2, but A2 was deleted from the DSM-5, the most recent edition of the DSM, because it had no “utility”. A2 stated that: The person's response (to criterion A) involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Why A2 was deleted is beyond me, because without having a response to an event, it is impossible to be traumatised.

If the the American Psychiatric Association's (APA), “scientific” model of PTSD/trauma were replicable, an A1 event would always result in trauma. It doesn’t. Some people experience these events and don’t develop PTSD, or other signs of trauma. Why? In addition, many other experiences not listed in criterion A do result in trauma. Why? Because of the person’s response and experience of the event. This needs to be taken seriously as too many people who are suffering and desperate as a result, are not getting the help they need.

By deleting and not expanding on A2, the APA has undermined the importance of the subjective experience, deeming it non-scientific, which is just ridiculous. The implication is that criterion A is an objective measurement of trauma, which it is not. A huge contradiction in deleting A2 and calling it useless, is that the rest of the PTSD criteria, namely; B, C, D, E and G* only measure the person’s response. Crucially however, if criterion A is not nominated, the other criteria won’t even be considered. 

Conventional methods either ignore or overly focus on symptoms, instead of seeing them as a bread crumb trail to the causes. For example, if your blood test results fall within normal parameters (forget optimal), albeit at the cusp of the lower or upper end, your symptoms will be ignored and the dots won't be connected, you might even be passed off as a hypochondriac and if you're a woman you'll often be given a prescription for either anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Whereas,  if you can tick criterion A, the symptoms become all important in the sense of either squashing them with medication, which doesn't work long term, or using methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy which only 'talks' to the prefrontal cortex, which is often offline when traumatised. Things are changing, but too slowly for those who are suffering, this is why the importance of trauma-informed care cannot be overemphasised.

Trauma should be listed as an etiological factor for nearly every diagnosis in the DSM, along with any other root causes. Just imagine how the treatment of certain conditions would change if unresolved traumatic stress, giving rise to many symptoms, if not all symptoms in some cases, was addressed? Why not treat the cause(s) instead of the symptoms which very often puts us on an expensive, helpless and hopeless merry-go-round with seemingly no way of getting off? We need to ask who benefits from the system as it is currently set up, it certainly isn’t the tens of thousands, if not millions, suffering needlessly from unresolved traumatic stress in all its many manifestations.

*View the other criteria here: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Just imagine ...

That we acknowledge and address the effects of unresolved trauma in all its overt and covert forms.
Everyone having access to shelter, food, health and education as the absolute minimum.
People’s needs being met.
Chronic health issues being taken seriously.
Mental health stigma doesn’t exist.
Compassion is shown to anyone who has a dis-ease, mental or physical.
Having access to a menu of all available care options, even if we don’t have any financial means.
Children are cherished, loved, hugged, kissed, protected, respected, taken seriously and allowed to be who they truly are.
That children can just be children.
That we value emotional intelligence as much as we do academic intelligence.
We are taught to be present to whatever is going on with us, and when we can’t, we could get the help and support that we need.
That symptoms didn’t rule and root cause(s) were valued and sought.
Israel not re-enacting its collective unresolved trauma and persecuting Palestinians the way Jewish people have been persecuted.
Imperialism and colonialism didn’t exist.
No one having to flee their countries out of necessity but because of choice.
No corruption.
Honest and accountable politicians.
Rehabilitating people who have committed crimes rather than punishing them and hardening them even further.
We cared about what happens to others the way we would if it were happening to us.
Men not being called sissies or cry babies when they are vulnerable and show emotion.
That it’s ok for men to be afraid and for women to be angry.
That women aren’t called bitches for being strong nor punished/bullied for speaking up and saying no.
Female genital mutilation didn’t exist.
Women aren’t punished for having sex and enjoying it.
Women could wear what they wanted without facing any consequences dictated and enforced by men.
Women had agency over their own bodies and lives.
Old age was valued.
There is no hierarchy of racism according to the shade of our skin.
People realising that white skin is a loss of melanin in northern climates so the body can produce enough vitamin D to survive and is not a sign of the ridiculous notion of supremacy.
People questioning themselves when they feel superior rather than acting it out.
Questioning the trillions spent on war when millions don’t even have any clean water to drink.
Not profiting from war or sickness.
Valuing people more than profits.
We are as kind to Mother Nature as she is to us.
Addiction is perceived as ritualised comfort seeking.
Not pathologising any manifestations of traumatic stress.
Religion didn’t exist.
We didn’t classify people, or their worth, according to their financial status.
Realising that violence is often (always?) the re-enactment of trauma.
We realise that we are collectively responsible.
We realise that we are all connected.
We feel we belong and have inherent value just because we exist.



Friday, August 25, 2017

Bracing against


Try tapping on the following script, making sure to customise it for you, diagram here.

Even though I brace when … I completely accept my need to brace

Even though I didn’t realise that bracing against … is what is keeping it in place, I’m open to learning how to release this …

Even though I don’t always have to work on this … I can take breaks when I need to and that feels …

Top of head: I have to brace against …
Eyebrow: Or it will swamp me
Side of eye: It’s too frightening to feel …
Under the eye: I don’t have to feel … all the time
Under nose: I can take breaks
Under chin: That part or parts need reassurance I’ll come back
Collar bone: I only seem to take notice
Under the arm: When I feel bad

Top of head: When they feel bad
Eyebrow: Otherwise I ignore them
Side of eye: So they have to get my attention
Under the eye: Any way they can
Under nose: I need to show them that I’ll
Under chin: Be there for them
Collar bone: For the good
Under the arm: And the bad

Top of head: They need to know
Eyebrow: I won’t abandon them
Side of eye: I don’t have to feel … all the time
Under the eye: I can soothe … instead
Under nose: I don’t have to fix this
Under mouth: I just have to be there
Collar bone: And be kind
Under the arm: To all parts of me and how they feel

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The importance of trauma informed care

If you knew that there was one root cause that is the foundation of most mental and physical illnesses, wouldn’t you want to know what it is? Wouldn’t you do almost anything to find out what it is, so you could finally get to the bottom of any chronic issue that is plaguing you or someone you love? Wouldn’t you wonder why anyone who is a health professional would not know what it is?

I sometimes think that I must be living in a bubble of people who know what the root cause is, because it is only when I enter the mainstream by say, going to a doctor, that I realise that many people don’t know and don’t even know that they don’t know. It always surprises me and leaves me quite frustrated. Or maybe, they’re not interested in finding and treating the root cause, because going down the road of symptoms is much more profitable because it’s a merry-go-round that you (the client or patient) can never get off and which, very often, if not always, leads to retraumatisation and a worsening of symptoms. I’d rather not believe the last scenario to be true, but unfortunately the evidence speaks for itself.

What is at the root of many mental and physical illnesses? The answer is: unresolved trauma. This might not be new to some of you and others might be saying that it couldn’t be so simple and others might be saying that I’m talking sh*t. But mountains of growing research and anecdotal evidence shows that unresolved trauma, particularly early in life, is the cause of a massive stress overload on our nervous systems leading to chronic health issues. A dysregulated nervous system results in a dysregulated body and mind.

Therefore, the crucial importance of any health professional being trauma-informed cannot be overstated. Too many doctors are handing out prescriptions for symptoms, with direct effects, not side effects, and sometimes those effects lead to death, or, at best, an extremely poor quality of life. There are too many diagnoses, many of them supposedly co-morbid, when the root cause is completely neglected. This is nowhere near good enough, too many are suffering, too many are at the end of their tether, too many are at breaking point, or have already broken down. We need to do a lot lot better, because unresolved trauma is the most important health issue facing our world today.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I shouldn't be feeling this way

There’s no surer way for an emotion or physical sensation to get stuck than us thinking we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. It could be that we believe that we ‘should be’ over it, or else the 4 biggies are getting in the way of us feeling the emotion or sensation. And they are:
  • It feels awful
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Disloyalty

Try the following set up statements to help you dissolve whatever blocks you might have when you ‘should’ on yourself.

Even though I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I’m a bad person for feeling this way, I am open to accepting this emotion

Even though I believe that this emotion is bad because … I accept that’s the way I feel right now

Even though this sensation feels awful, it’s not possible to feel it without … I accept how I feel

Even though I feel disloyal for feeling this way towards … I accept that I don’t want to hurt anyone

Even though I might be hurting myself by not feeling this feeling, I am open to feeling some of this feeling

Even though I should be over this by now (your belief or others?), I'm moving at a pace that feels ...

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Even though I'm afraid to go inside ...

Whenever an experience is too much for us, we have the ability to store it away inside our bodies and minds until we can feel it later. This is an absolutely brilliant coping mechanism that gets us through some tough times. Because storing it away has seemingly been so successful, we think we can do it forever, but we can’t. Our system becomes too full and starts overflowing with anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, thyroid disorders and so on. I’m not suggesting that trauma is 100% responsible for every condition or symptom, but research shows that it plays a huge role in many dis-eases when it is unresolved and frozen for a long time.


Going inside our bodies can be absolutely terrifying, so we avoid it at all costs which is totally understandable. What we need to do is titrate, that is, go slowly, bit by bit, until the stored pain and hurt can be felt and released. This isn’t always what we want to hear when we’re suffering, we want it gone yesterday, but it doesn’t work like that. It has usually taken years for pain to accumulate and it will take time to sift through it, otherwise we risk extreme overwhelm which is counterproductive and can set us back and make us even more afraid of our pain. Try the following statements to help you find the courage to go inside at a pace that feels safe and comfortable for you. Repeat whatever feels right on the points, diagram here.

Even though I’m afraid to go inside, I accept how I feel

Even though I get overwhelmed by all the stuff stored inside, I don’t know where to start, I’ll do it at my own pace and I’ll do it with help

Even though a part of me doesn’t want to feel what’s inside, another part knows I have to feel it, or it will keep showing up in ways I don’t like, I accept this conflict and how both parts of me feel

Even though I’m scared of this mountain of hurt, it’s too big for me, I accept that it’s absolutely ok to be afraid

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The pain of disconnection

When something painful happens to us, we not only disconnect from the pain because it’s so painful, we also disconnect from ourselves; because the pain lives in us in some shape or form. This division within our self is called dissociation and it’s really important that we normalise dissociation as we all dissociate to a greater or lesser degree. Kathy Steele calls this fleeing from self, Mindflight, the opposite of what Daniel Siegel calls Mindsight.

When we don’t feel connected to our self and others, we feel pain on top of any other pain we’ve suffered like being unloved, unwanted, abused or neglected. Being and feeling connected is an essential biological, emotional and spiritual need throughout our life. Feeling connected is not optional, babies die without it, and adults develop all sorts of dis-eases, both mental and physical. It goes against everything we are as humans not to be and feel connected.


The nature of life is movement, not stagnation. Things will out, they’ll bubble up and create enormous pressure on us in the form of various symptoms and conditions, in order for us to connect with the part(s) who feel pain. Connecting with our pain is not the same as trying to fix the pain, that’s a relentless, exhausting and futile hunt which always eludes us.

Our pain doesn’t define us but it does become part of us in some way. It changes us, and if we feel it instead of acting it out, or in, it can bring out who we always were deep down while also transforming us.

Try the following set up statements and tap on all the points with whatever reminder phrase feels right.

Even though it’s too painful to connect with this pain, I honour my feelings

Even though this pain has remained frozen for so long, maybe it’s time to let it melt drop by drop

Even though I feel disconnected from … I am open to reconnecting

Even though a part(s) of me is afraid to reconnect with this pain because … I completely accept my fear, it’s ok to be afraid

Even though I don’t know whether I’ll be able to handle my pain, I am open to asking for help and support to get through this

Even though I wish it would all go away so I didn’t have to deal with it, I accept that need and desire

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Half in half out

That feeling of urgency or desperation when you’re at the end of your tether and sick to death of whatever it is, is a sign for you to stop running around like a headless chicken trying to find the magic tool or technique to fix yourself. At the end of this post, I’ll share a tapping script which you can customise, about feeling safe enough to stop fleeing, fighting and freezing when an issue comes up.

Trauma can cause chronic issues, and chronic issues, in turn, can cause trauma; or retraumatisation to be more precise. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break to save our sanity and health. Unresolved chronic issues can leave us feeling helpless, hopeless and full of fear and despair that things will never change. An awful place to be. The fear that nothing will ever change and you’ll be stuck like this forever is very frightening and of course feeds our urgency and desperation to be rid of the issue.


When things come up over and over again, or something hasn’t been resolved, it can often be a part of us wanting/needing to complete something that was left uncompleted or fulfill a need that remained/remains unmet; another sort of incomplete action. The incompleteness is like emotional, mental and physical indigestion, we can’t fully take whatever is hard to digest in and we can’t eliminate it either. So, we get stuck, it’s half in, half out and this gives rise to the symptoms of undischarged traumatic stress, of which there are many. This is why psychiatrist Ivor Browne calls trauma: unexperienced experience. (Not to be confused with a traumatic experience, which may or may not cause trauma, depending on whether we have the resources and support to cope with whatever has overwhelmed our coping mechanisms).


Here is a selection of set up statements that you can try and insert your own words where you like. You can find the tapping diagram here.

Even though it’s not safe to stop (trying … etc), I completely accept how I feel

Even though stopping feels like giving up, I completely accept how I feel about this

Even though giving up feels ... I accept how I feel

Even though I can’t allow this … to be here, it might stay forever if I allowed it even 10 minutes and that would make me feel … I completely accept those feelings

Even though I feel desperate to be rid of this … I completely accept my desperation

Even though I’m at my wits end and can’t stop fighting (fleeing from, freezing/shutting down from) this … I accept how I feel

Even though I’m afraid of this issue, I completely accept my fear

Even though this issue makes me feel helpless, I accept myself anyway

Even though this … feels like a … (monster, black hole etc), I am okay

Top of head: This desperation
Eyebrow: About …
Side of eye: It reminds me of …
Under eye: That feels …
Under nose: It’s not safe to stop fighting
Under chin: I have to fight this (run away from, shut down etc) …
Collar bone: Or else …
Under the arm: This issue has me on my knees

Top of the head: I feel such an urgency to be rid of it
Eyebrow: I’m going to keep on trying to get rid of it
Side of eye: I’ve no other choice
Under eye: Because …
Under nose: And that feels …
Under chin: Maybe there’s another way
Collar bone: A kinder gentler way
Under the arm: For me

Top of the head: Something less exhausting
Eyebrow: That gives me hope
Side of eye: I need a sign
Under eye: I need guidance
Under the nose: That I’m on the right track
Under chin: How will I recognise it?
Collar bone: I’ll know
Under the arm: I always know when it comes down to it

Top of head: I sometimes don’t trust that knowing
Eyebrow: And that has hurt me
Side of eye: So I’ll trust myself
Under eye: And the parts that are showing up
Under the nose: With symptoms
Under the chin: To be heard
Collar bone: And held
Under the arm: That feels …

Top of head: When I see it like that
Eyebrow: It’s easier to have compassion
Side of eye: I can contemplate laying down my arms
Under eye: I can come closer
Under nose: To my pain
Under chin: And feel (some of it etc)
Collar bone: I can take it slowly and gently
Under the arm: There’s no urgency any more

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chronic health issues and trauma

Chronic health issues are directly correlated with adverse childhood experiences, if not directly caused by them in many cases. Many people don’t think of chronic health issues, particularly physical conditions such as heart disease, as even being related to traumatic stress. The common belief is that you can only be traumatised by dramatic events such as wars.

However, psychologist Robert Rhoton dispels that myth with the following example: If a soldier produces a cup of cortisol in response to a dramatic experience, a child experiencing twenty supposedly small events a day can produce the same amount, a teaspoon at a time. They both produce a cup of cortisol, yet very often her experience will be minimised and even ridiculed if anyone dares suggest that she is going through something traumatic. Their biology, however, tells the same story and our biology doesn’t lie. In addition, trauma could be ongoing in the child’s case, day in, day out with no end in sight, especially if her caregivers are the source of the trauma. That is a perfect recipe for trauma: fear, helplessness and being/feeling trapped. As Pierre Janet said back in 1909: traumas produce their disintegrating effects in proportion to their intensity, duration and repetition.


Because of the distinction between small t and big T trauma (terms I don't agree with), many people minimise their experiences, saying that they don’t have much to complain about or that’s the way children were raised when they were young. But our body often tells a different story as psychologist Alice Miller wrote in her book The Body Never Lies. When we have accumulated unresolved stress it builds up in the body and the mind and causes various dis-eases and we need to take this very very seriously.

Exercises and techniques that help us regulate our nervous systems are invaluable in helping us to release any stress from our bodies. It is crucial that we seek out what works for us, so stress doesn’t build up. One of my favourite exercises to release stress is from Peter Levine, called pendulation. I also like to tap, but I find sometimes that I’m tapping with the intention of getting rid of something, so EFT won’t work well for me in that case. That’s when I use pendulation because it allows me to hold the opposites of how I’m feeling (tense, afraid, ashamed in some parts of my body and relaxed, calm or neutral in other parts) together, without needing the difficult emotions or sensations to go away.

Over time, pendulation and other self regulation exercises, help enlarge our container and capacity for difficult emotions and physical sensations which is very empowering and calming. Very often our biggest stressor can be the fear and overwhelm that we can’t handle what’s going on or what we fear could happen in the future. Knowing you have the tools (along with social support) that can help you through whatever it is, is priceless.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Why bypassing the body doesn't work

There’s a joke that when we go to a practitioner’s office who practises talk therapy, our body is left at the door and only our head enters the office because that’s the only important ‘bit’. But we don’t have to go to talk therapy for us to leave our bodies behind, most of us have learned to vacate our bodies out of necessity for various reasons.

Our bodies are where we sense and feel pain, so it makes sense that we don’t want to inhabit them sometimes. But life won’t let us get away with this long term. Things always have a way of coming up and out sooner or later.

Most of us from the age of 35 onwards start to accumulate too much baggage because we haven’t been emptying our barrels often enough. It often takes a crisis to make us look at our lives and take stock of what isn’t working any longer.


This is why one the most important skills we can ever learn is to regulate our nervous system. That is, to release and discharge tension and stress from our bodies, our minds will usually follow suit if we do this. If we are not in our bodies, we can't release the tension they hold. That is why being embodied is so important, it is one of the most practical things we can do to improve our mental and physical health.

There are many ways we can release stress and we don’t have to go at it with a sledgehammer 24/7, find the way that feels right for you, at any given moment in time. Take it easy, rest as often as you can, have fun and stop trying to fix yourself all the time.

Excerpted from the book, Forward Facing Trauma Therapy: Healing the Moral Wound by Eric Gentry:

Soft palate relaxation
Here, your goal is to locate and then relax the muscles of your soft palate.
1. Sit down comfortably and shift your focus to the muscles along the roof of your mouth.
2. Release all the tension in this area.
3. Now expand your focus to include the muscles in your face and  jaw.
4. Release the tension in these muscles too.
5. Next, with all of these muscles relaxed, silently say the letter “R” to yourself and try to gently maintain the subtle arch this creates in the roof of your mouth for five seconds.
6. Repeat this exercise five times.
7. Notice the relaxation in your body.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Islands of safety

Peter Levine calls the places we can go to in our body when processing trauma; islands of safety. In the stormy waters of trauma, it is easy to feel like you’re drowning in awful and frightening sensations when you start reconnecting with your body, which is why you need these islands of safety. Not only do they give you some respite from feeling dreadful, they also help you to discharge any trauma as they enable you to stay with it, bit by bit (called titration) so you can release it. See my previous post explaining the steps of pendulation in more detail.


In other words, these islands are your internal resources and this feels very empowering as they will continue to grow the more you learn to locate them and, as any traumas release, these islands will become larger and join up so your body will feel like a safer place to inhabit. If you can’t locate a place of relaxation, calmness or neutrality inside your body, use your external resources instead. This could be the presence of a kind friend, the warmth of a hand on your arm (or your own hand), music, a pet, a sunset, whatever allows you to pendulate between your pain and that resource. This will enable you to connect internally as you begin to feel stronger.

Sometimes when we’re tapping, we can tap with the intention of wanting to get rid of something. Now there’s nothing wrong with that and before you tap on any issue itself, you’re better off tapping on wanting to get rid of it first. Being totally and utterly honest always works better with EFT and you will see results much faster. Using exercises like pendulation along with tapping through any difficulties/frustrations you experience can work wonders in my experience.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Breaking things down into small chunks

When we’re feeling overwhelmed it’s really useful to be able to break the overwhelm down into small chunks. The smaller chunks are more manageable and allow us to approach our pain with less fear that it will completely swamp us.

The natural response to pain is to avoid and move away from it. But if we keep doing this, we end up with mountains of pain that can flood us just thinking about them. As the old saying goes, feeling is healing, so that’s what we need to do in small manageable doses.


An exercise that I have found really helpful for this is pendulation, which is taken from Peter Levine’s book, In an Unspoken Voice. Any exercise works better when you’re really tuned in or triggered, but first you need to have had some practice with any exercise to even think of doing it when you’re feeling upset.

Pendulation exercise:

1. Locate a sensation or emotion in your body that doesn’t feel good. 
2. Locate another place in your body that feels good, relaxed or neutral. This can be an elbow, a little toe etc.
3. Put your attention on the sensation/emotion that feels upsetting.
4. When it starts to get too much, switch your attention to the relaxed/neutral place and stay there for as long as you need to.
5. Go back to the difficult sensation/feeling when you’re ready and see how it feels.
6. Keep swinging your attention back and forth like this between the two places in your body.
7. Notice any signs of nervous system release like yawns, sighs, burps, stomach gurgling, slower breathing and so on.
8. Do this exercise for as long as feels comfortable, don’t push through it and if you find yourself feeling urgent or desperate, tap on it.

Peter Levine calls breaking things down into small chunks, titration. Smaller doses of pain are more manageable to process than big mountains that have accumulated throughout our lifetime.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The world of personality disorders

There’s an area where very few want to go in mental health and that’s the world of personality disorders.  As with everything in this life, there’s a spectrum and we’re all on it in some shape or form. Stress can be defined in many ways, but one of my favourites is that stress is caused by unmet needs. And one of our most important needs is for our caregiver(s) to be present with us. This translates to someone being attuned to us and our needs, we then conclude that our needs and therefore we, matter.

There’s some research that shows that some people who have personality disorders were born that way. They didn’t suffer any childhood trauma that would explain why they are the way they are. But that’s assuming that any trauma was measured properly, based on experience not just events. Besides the more obvious physical and sexual abuse, more insidious and hidden forms of trauma often go undetected or minimised, like neglect. And let’s not forget about accidents and medical procedures. There is also the often overlooked area of trauma in utero which research has shown explains a lot of subsequent “unexplained” behaviour. We’d like to believe that all babies are born a blank slate but that is not the case at all, unfortunately.  And then there is the field of epigenetics which helps to explain the phenomenon of intergenerational trauma which is hypothesised to last for at least 7 generations. So even if we haven’t suffered any trauma in this life, which is extremely rare, our life in the womb and the life of our ancestors can explain a lot about our current behaviours.

In his book, Born for Love, Bruce Perry writes about interviewing a teenage boy called Ryan who had raped a 15 year old developmentally disabled girl and showed no remorse, in fact he said “I don’t know what the problem is really, she never would have gotten laid by anyone as good as us”. Perry said he was as cold, perhaps even colder, than any sociopath he had ever interviewed, including some killers. It turned out that by the time Ryan had turned 3, he had had 18 nannies. He would scream if his mother (who spent at most one hour a day with him) picked him up but at age 3, this had stopped. Perry says this is consistent with children who have disrupted attachments, they stop crying and give up trying to get their emotional needs met. He believed that Ryan had attached to 18 different “moms” and each one abandoned him in his eyes, in fact it was his mother who thought the nannies were getting too close to her son who then fired them. Before he started school, the relational part of his brain had become stunted and functioned abnormally according to Perry.

In a course on family trauma I did by Robert Rhoton, he lists a series of behaviours of sympathetic (angry, aggressive, reactive, hostile, self-centred, coercive, bossy, tantrums, impulsive) and parasympathetic (reactive, emotional and psychological distancing, self-centred) dominance (branches of the nervous system), that are consistent with many of the behaviours that we see in personality disorders. When a person is healthy, these two branches are switched on as needed, neither one is permanently on. A dysregulated nervous system is the basis for a lot of our ills, both mental and physical. One of the most defining and despised characteristics of anyone with a personality disorder is that of being self-centred, the extreme end being a complete lack of empathy for others. It’s like their mantra is “what about me?” and I say that as an observation, not a criticism.


I remember hearing Sebern Fisher saying of people with Borderline Personality Disorder that “they don’t have much sense of themselves beyond those feeling states”. Just imagine how that might feel? You’re stuck in sympathetic or parasympathetic dominance, or alternating between the two, and that’s basically your only sense of self. It must be hell on earth. We hear all the time that we should separate the behaviour from the person, especially when it comes to children. But we have very little compassion for that same child who, as an adult, has a mental health problem for whatever reason. How do we ever hope to help anyone rehabilitate if we don’t show them some compassion and understanding for what’s really going on with them?

There are many strong opinions on people with personality disorders, some believing that they are essentially unhelpable. I don’t believe that they are unhelpable or unreachable, maybe some are unreachable because they just can’t, or won’t, open themselves up to any outside input, it’s just too dangerous and risky. I can’t remember who said that children who have suffered developmental trauma usually become either overly responsible or under responsible and in my experience that is very true. I think many who fit into the category of personality disorders are usually under responsible. Very little is their responsibility, it’s like as if they feel they will be annihilated if they own up to anything. As adults, we need to take responsibility for the direction our life is taking, particularly if we don’t like where it’s going. Not taking responsibility is the bane of most people’s lives and the lives of those they touch.

We can’t make others be willing to take responsibility. Our responsibility to ourself is to take care of us first. We do no one any favours by rewarding bad behaviour, least of all ourself. We have a choice as adults to stay or go if we are being abused, though it’s not always an easy choice, but children don’t have any choice. That’s why developmental trauma at the hands of caregivers in particular, is so detrimental. The betrayal and wounds run deep and it takes time and care to repair them, but they can be repaired. As Peter Levine says, trauma is a fact of life but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Learned helplessness

Trauma often leaves us helpless and powerless and while our response comes from the autonomic nervous system, as in we have no voluntary control over it, there is such a thing as ‘learned helplessness’. We then learn to default to this conditioned state when we perceive threat, even though actual danger/threat might not be present.

Because of learned helplessness, we can cede our power over to people, particularly those that society calls experts, or those we feel have more authority than us. But there are no experts, there are only people with expertise*, the difference between the two in my opinion, is that experts think they know everything there is to know and in that arrogance, try to set everyone straight. People with expertise on the other hand realise that just like everyone, they’re always learning. With an expert you’ll feel less than, with a person who has expertise, you’ll feel equal to. We need guidance, but what we don’t need is to be told what to do or what it is we need, we know that already on some level and a good practitioner will guide us back to that knowing, if we’ve lost trust in it.

St Declan's cliff walk, Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Ireland
Trauma informed care is important. What it means in reality is that someone has been trained to work with trauma or someone has been trained to recognise the signs of trauma and refer on. Many things help us on our journeys through trauma, if it has helped you, it counts, whether it’s yoga, walking, meditation, painting, swimming, reading etc. By utilising whatever it is, you are not saying it is the panacea, you are saying that it is making your life that bit easier and more pleasant. It really can be the ‘small’ things that can add up to the big things in life.

Maybe we’d like aha/breakthrough moments more often, or even just once ;-) and maybe even a magic wand wouldn’t hurt once in a while. Or maybe we do have aha moments and go forward 10 steps only to take 3 steps back. None of our journeys are linear, they look more like the back of a tapestry; a bit of a mess. But we forget that on the front of our tapestry, we’re creating our own unique picture.

We need to remember to count the good in our lives so we get to actually view the real picture every now and then, this will help us through the difficult times by inspiring us and giving us much needed hope and a bit of a break from trying to fix ourselves all the time. This is not a false or forced positivity but a genuine acknowledgement of the good in us and our lives. I think without this balance, we can easily despair and feel hopeless.

* I first heard of the distinction between expertise and experts from a lecturer I had in university.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The bladder meridian

Inflammation, the language of stress, can show up in lots of different ways and in different organs and in this week’s blog post, I’m going to discuss the bladder meridian (bladder 2), the eyebrow point in EFT. The bladder meridian is paired with the kidney meridian, which governs fear. The bladder meridian is the guardian of peace and the longest and most complex meridian in the body.


We can get quite overwhelmed when we think of everything that can go wrong, or that has gone wrong, with our health, but if we keep it simple and think in terms of relieving our stress whenever we can, we can really make some big improvements.

Where dis-ease shows up in our body and mind can be symbolic and tapping on the symptoms can be a doorway in to the root cause (which is nearly always a dysregulated nervous system due to undischarged traumatic stress). For example, imbalances in the bladder meridian can show up as excessive urination, interstitial cystitis, pain in the eyes, colds, blurred vision, nasal congestion, abdominal distension and so on. The key is to listen and follow the golden thread that leads us to resolution.

Monday, May 08, 2017

I am worthy just for existing

So many of us value ourselves and are valued by others for what we do, not who we are. This drives us to push, force and struggle but we never feel we’re enough or have done enough.

Try saying “I’m enough” out loud, how true does it feel on scale of 0 to 10? 10 being true and 0 being not true at all. Or if you find it difficult to rate how you feel by numbers, what does it feel like in your body when you say these words? How do you know it’s true, not true, or half true etc?


Or try saying it the opposite way “I’m not enough”. Do you have “evidence” to back this belief up? Try tapping on the following and change it to suit you and how you feel. You can download the EFT shortcut in the menu on the right hand side of this page.

Even though I feel that my worth is what I do, not who I am, I accept myself anyway

Even though I don’t feel enough because … I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t feel worthy (of …) I am open to that changing

TH: I’m not enough
Eyebrow: Because … (what memories/people pop up?)
Side of eye: Who I am isn’t enough
Under eye: And that feels …
Under nose: So I have to keep doing …
Under chin: To feel worthy
Collar bone: But it’s never enough
Under arm: I never get “there”

TH: Where is there?
Eyebrow: Love from others?
Side of eye: Love for myself?
Under eye: Acceptance?
Under nose: Validation?
Under chin: How would that feel?
Collar bone: That I’m enough?
Under arm: It would feel …

TH: When did I first feel I wasn’t enough? (Guess, if you don’t know)
Eyebrow: Just as I am
Side of eye: How would it feel
Under eye: Not to have to do anything
Under nose:  To be worthy (of …)
Under chin: I could do it because I wanted to
Collar bone: Not because I feel I have to
Under arm: And that would feel …

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dissociation as a root cause

As Karla Mc Laren says in her book, Language of Emotions, emotions nearly always arise in clusters. It’s rare that neat well-behaved emotions come up one at a time, patiently waiting their turn to be felt. No, life is messier than that and of course when emotions such as anger, fear and sadness come up together, we can easily become flooded, especially the younger we are, and so we leave the premises as Tara Brach says. The premises being our body and mind.

Leaving the premises is another way of saying dissociation. Currently, there are distinctions between psychic and somatic dissociation which reflects the current mind/body split. But where does psychological dissociation begin and where does somatic dissociation end? I think it’s impossible to say this person has 48% psychic dissociation and is 52% somatically dissociated, that is, if anyone is ever 100% dissociated. All we can really look at is how dissociation, in any form, adversely impacts the life of someone and help them accordingly.

Paul Dell, for example, calls psychological dissociation, ‘clinical' dissociation and somatic dissociation, ‘animal defenses’, at least from my understandings of his writings. Dell argues that clinical/psychological dissociation is 'abnormal' whereas animal defenses are 'normal' and part of our evolution. I think both phenomena mirror the evolutionary development of our brains, bodies and minds and are normal and adaptive when we are faced with threat. Issues arise when dissociation, both psychological and somatic, becomes chronic and persistent. The mind, brain and body are linked in an interconnected system, when they are treated separately, disaster can result, especially for the person suffering.

Humans are animals the last I checked. These distinctions illustrate just how far removed we’ve become from our animal nature, body and instincts, which has done our nervous systems no favours whatsoever. If a wild animal does not discharge the freeze response (tonic immobility), if they survive being eaten by a predator, they remain in a startled and hypervigilant state which makes their chance of survival very poor. Remaining hypervigilant, they perceive threat where there is none and become less sensitised to real and present threat. This hyperaroused state also creates exhaustion, so when they do need to act, they don’t have the energy or stamina to outrun the predator. The exact same thing happens to what we call ‘civilised’ humans who have been traumatised. Too many of us have lost our knowledge and ability to shake vigorously after receiving a shock, to howl, cry and scream when we’ve lost a loved one and so on. Many of us have had to learn to keep it all in to survive and not rock the boat.

This mind/body split is also mirrored in current measurement scales for psychic and somatic dissociation. There is the well known Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) which measures psychological dissociation. Out of 28 questions, there is one nod to the body, question 13. Then there is the Tonic Immobility Scale* and the Somatoform Dissociation Questionnaire (SDQ20), which both measure somatic dissociation. There have been some steps forward in the field, a recent paper by Nijenhuis (2017) recommended that conversion disorders be recategorised as dissociative sensorimotor disorders in DSM-5. (He uses the terms cognitive-emotional and sensorimotor dissociation in this paper in place of psychic or somatic dissociation).

*Click on image to see larger view of Tonic Immobility Scale

I know there is debate over whether dissociation is a process or a state, I think it can be both. I haven’t yet heard a term that better describes leaving our bodies and minds and the resulting split, or splits, that can result (what Nijenhuis and van der Hart (2011) refer to as structural dissociation of the personality). I believe that anxiety arises when we’re overwhelmed by years worth of stuff, it’s a compounded state consisting of unfelt emotions (and physical sensations etc), that we’ve dissociated from, consciously and unconsciously.

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So many ‘disorders’ stem from dissociation and trauma, which is why I believe it is so important to normalise the terms themselves and the experience of them. They are the root cause for so many so-called different ‘disorders’. All of us are somewhere on the dissociation continuum, as we are on any continuum. Who among us hasn’t been hurt (traumatised) or wanted/needed to avoid (dissociate from) pain?  Isn’t it about time that we started looking for and healing the root cause instead of being blinded by symptoms? Isn’t that what science is supposed to do? Concepts like dissociation can really frighten people, but with education and normalisation they don’t have to.

So, where do you start on your healing journey, wherever you find yourself? You start slowly, taking one step at a time. As Martin Luther King Jnr says: A journey of a thousand miles, begins with one step. You start by being as kind as possible to yourself as you go inside to reconnect with what remains unexperienced so you can experience it as slowly and as gently as you need to. Don’t forget to resource and support yourself wherever and whenever you can. This isn’t about pushing through and going fast, in fact the more urgent you feel, I think the more slowly you should take things or you risk being overwhelmed and even retraumatising yourself.

References
Bernstein, E. M. and Putnam, F. W. (1986). Development, reliability, and validity of a dissociation scale, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 174(12): 727-735.
Fuse, T., Forsyth, J. P., Marx, B., Gallup, G. G. and Weaver, S. (2007). Factor structure of the Tonic Immobility Scale in female sexual assault survivors: An exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, Journal of Anxiety Disorders 21(3): 265-283.
Nijenhuis, E.R.S., Spinhoven, P., Van Dyck, R., Van der Hart, O., & Vanderlinden, J. (1996). The development and the psychometric characteristics of the Somatoform Dissociation Questionnaire (SDQ-20), Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 184, 688-694.
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.
Nijenhuis, E. R. S. (2017). Ten reasons for conceiving and classifying posttraumatic stress disorder as a dissociative disorder, European Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 1: 47-61.