The Coronavirus is a catalyst for change. That might be an obvious statement to you. I am sure some components of your life have been turned upside down by this virus. But through my recovery, I have learned how emotions and illnesses are deeply tied together. The lungs are known to represent grief and when we allow grief to express, it changes and rearranges us in so many ways. This global pandemic is here to create global change by encouraging us to acknowledge our losses. This illness could become a healer, but we will have to let it. The losses it is causing are certainly about right now, but they are also deeply linked to our past, even generations before us. Here are some examples of what I am taking about.
Loss of our normal. There is no doubt we are all experiencing changes in our normal routines right now. Those comfortable things we had taken for granted might not be available. And we may be experiencing chaos where we once were sure of predictability. But this is also a reminder. It is a reminder of the normal we always wanted in childhood. It is a reminder of the chaos and unpredictability of a traumatic childhood. It brings us back to a childhood without a normal routine which is one of the most critical needs for a developing child. It is a loss and we need to grieve it.
Loss of safety. Things feel less safe these days. We are under attack from an invisible aggressor and this aggressor is relentless. We aren’t as safe as we were. Part of that prior feeling of safety might have been perception. Part of it might have been reality. But we feel less of it. And it is a reminder of how unsafe we felt in childhood. It is a reminder of our need to stay hypervigilant and watch our environment for signs of trouble. It is a reminder of how exhausting that was. It reminds us of an unsafe childhood. Our lack of safety needs to be grieved.
Loss of connection. Depending on your current lockdown level, you might be experiencing far less connection with others. Most of us are feeling more isolated than before. Although to be fair, some of us were already pretty good at isolating. Whether it is chosen or not, isolation is a reminder. It is a reminder of how it felt to live a lonely childhood without anyone to unconditionally love and support us. As children, we didn’t have the help and support we needed. And forced isolation can bring this back to the surface. Loss of connection needs to be grieved.
Loss of your distractions. The options for distracting ourselves from our pain have been dramatically reduced. Many of the ways we ran ourselves into the ground are off the table. This could be a good thing. The distractions don’t help us heal. But our defenders are freaking out. As children, we counted on our distractions to get us through our awful experiences and avoid utter despair. And when we could not use them, it felt like we were being victimized all over again. This can be a reminder of our powerlessness to maintain our distractions. So even our loss of distractions must be grieved.
Loss of freedom. Human beings are born free. We are meant to be free. We are meant to feel how we feel, express our true authentic selves, and chose the life we want. But we have come up against obstacles stopping that freedom. The more trauma we experienced, the more our freedom was taken. A loss of freedom to go where we want can be a reminder of the loss of all our freedoms. As children with complex trauma, those losses can be immense. A lack of freedom might be such an innate part of our lives that we don’t notice how bad it is and how we are still responding to the old programming from childhood. But we need to become aware so we can grieve this loss.
If you find yourself fighting grief through distractions or blocking grief with anger and hopelessness, you may be experiencing the reminders of your losses. If you find that you are bursting into tears a bit (or a lot) more often than normal, you may be reminded of needs which were never met in childhood. If you find yourself exhausted trying to parse out the difference between the past and today, your childhood losses might be triggered. Allow yourself to sit with your grief. The Coronavirus is here to tell us we need to feel what we haven’t allowed. We don’t have to like it. But humanity could learn a thing or two from it.
Come join us in Survivor’s Guide this month as we discuss healing trauma through difficult times.
In this world in crisis, our trauma responses are running rampant. The approaches we use are as diverse as the human race. We all have our survival strategies and coping mechanism that came from our specific environments. While the methods might be different, there are some similarities in the way we process the present moment after trauma. And I can guarantee that the world has far more trauma than we think. So let’s take a look at what many of us are doing right now to survive this crisis at the expense of any peace we have managed to muster through our adult years.
We are numb. I get this is not new for most trauma survivors. We often spend time in this numb state and a crisis is not needed to put us there. But right now, we might be struggling to feel anything at all. To some, this might feel like progress. If you were used to feeling suicidal or angry all the time, numb could feel like a welcomed change. But believe it or not, feeling our emotions is a step up from numb. I know. I know. I can hear the collective resistance to that statement. Hear me out though. When we are numb, we are invalidating our inner parts who want to share how they feel. We are shutting them down. In the long run, that’s not healthy. But this may be our reality right now.
We are distracted. Distractions are harder to find in isolation, but not impossible. Our defenses can be highly creative. With a vast virtual world and a virus to make the mind spin, we can find so many distractions from how we are feeling. I know that my tendency to peruse social media has jumped through the roof. And I am definitely spending more time in front of the TV watching movies. I am also finding it easier to get caught up in the hysteria about the virus, reading far too many articles than I know I should. The tendency to be distracted right now is very high.
We aren’t sleeping well. Many people are living a different schedule than they were before the crisis. But even if they aren’t, sleep patterns might be shifting and changing. When we sleep, we connect with our unconscious. Our unconscious mind expresses fears in the form of dreams and nightmares. Our triggers show up in our sleep if they are being blocked when we are awake. So we might find ourselves struggling to rest at night even if we are feeling fine during the day.
The mind is telling stories. The mind is made to tell stories. Even in the least traumatized people, the mind is prone to stories that stretch the truth. We created stories to make it through a childhood with a truth that was too devastating to face. And those stories have a tendency to stand the test of time. They become critical to survival. But there is another way we use stories. We use them to explain our past emotions. We create stories for why we feel the way we feel. Our emotions are flashbacks, but we can’t face that truth. So we tell ourselves our emotions are about right now. In this current reality, this is very easy to do. We can relate all our traumatic emotions to this crisis. It has never been easier. And this keeps us in a loop of story-telling that is hard to break.
So please go easy on yourself right now. Show yourself some compassion for your defenses. We are experiencing them on a global level right now. Observe your defenses. Ground as often as you can remember. And allow yourself some space to be less productive, more exhausted and less mindful than normal. There isn’t anything wrong with you. You are reacting to a traumatic experience with a traumatic response you used to survive a traumatic childhood. Despite what you might be reading from others, you are having a normal response. And becoming aware of that normal response is as much a part of our recovery journey as any other step.
Come join us this month in Survivor’s Guide for Life as we explore healing trauma through difficult times.
Over the past two weeks, my productivity has been down. It’s not surprising if you look at what is happening around me right now. My kids are home and I’m supposed to be homeschooling them while I do my job. I am also supposed to be keeping my family virus-free while still figuring out how to get supplies and cook many more meals than I used to. I really am a shameless non-cooking mother. Take-out and dine-in are two of my favorite phrases. And I guess I am supposed to be cleaning more. And I guess I am supposed to be doing more physical activity with my kids since their activities have been cancelled. And I guess I am supposed to get them to wear clothes and brush their teeth and take baths. Sometimes I am doing those things. But I feel so much less productive with my work. Stuff just isn’t getting done. Not surprisingly, my controller is furious and agitated.
But that’s not the only reason my controller is stirred up. Their illusion of control is failing, and they can’t figure out how to put it back together. There is nothing like a catastrophe to highlight the illusion of control. Most of the time, we live in a world that is filled with a fake sense of control. Our controllers keep us calm through their denial that anything can go wrong at any time. And our controllers lose their minds when unexpected things do go wrong. These things have the potential to poke holes in the lie. But when there is a bigger crisis, the illusion of control begins to crumble. And that is overwhelming. It is intense for everyone, but for those with complex trauma, it is retraumatizing. The unpredictable nature of reality brings our trauma front and center. We survived by believing we were in control. And we cannot face the truth without facing our trauma and seeing it for what it really was: uncontrollable.
There’s a reason we have avoided the awareness of just how uncontrollable this life is. When we are stuck in a traumatic childhood, it can bring up despair and hopelessness. It can be life-threatening when we see no way out. So we shove all those horrible feelings under a sense of false control. But each time a new hole is poked in that veil, those emotions show up. And they feel horrible. They terrify the controller who knows they can leave us paralyzed on the couch with no hope of functioning. They can stop us in our tracks. They can inundate us with stories of how hopeless this life is. And unfortunately, they can bring suicidal ideation. Our controllers are so scared of this, they would rather believe in a complete falsehood. They would rather have us running all over town, doing potentially dangerous things to avoid this truth.
But it doesn’t work. The uncontrollable brings futility, despair and hopelessness. It is a flashback. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t currently in a life we can’t control. There are aspects of our experiences we cannot do anything about today. But when we see our only path forward as death, we are back in childhood. When we believe there is absolutely no way out of this, we are back in childhood. When we believe we have no control over ANYTHING, we are back in childhood. When we believe we will be abused like in the past, we are back in childhood. When we believe a lack of control will only bring horrific things, we are back in childhood.
It is important for us to recognize these feelings as a flashback. When we do, we can see that our inner parts are trying to share their triggered emotions about the past. When we can hold space for them without telling ourselves a story about today, we can help them heal and come back to the real story. What’s that story? A pandemic is not something we can control by ourselves. But everyone is in this together and there are things we can do together to help. And for most of us with trauma, we are in less danger in a pandemic than in our childhood homes. That’s sad, but true. So let your inner parts share their futility. Keep poking holes in the illusion of control. And know that together (while physically distanced), we can take reasonable actions to make it through this.
*Note: If you are in physical danger because you are quarantined with an abuser, please know that many DV shelters are staying open. Please call the hotline and get help.
With this global crisis of epic proportions, it is not surprising how much my freedom fighters are triggered right now. My controller keeps trying to take over and spin my mind on every possible problem that could come from this crisis. Not helpful. They are keeping me from my memories at a time when I most need to connect with myself. And the massive display of controller and karma kid behaviors on a societal level is adding to my inner war in what seems to be leading to a perfect storm. So today, I am writing about how I am done. I am done with so many things. And I am hoping this crisis can serve as a wake-up call for how our world lives in a “safety-first” mindset. But we have to see it first.
I am done with panic ruling the world around us. I understand this virus is a threat to survival. But we are not going to survive by focusing on our sole survival as one human being among millions. That isn’t how it’s going to work. If we don’t calm down and stop raiding the toilet paper, we are going to put more people in harm’s way. Panic buying and hoarding is coming from a place of scarcity. There is no faith in this approach to life. And while I know we learned this from very real abuse as children, this approach does not serve us in situations like this. We have to help each other. Our fear is real. But these responses to fear are damaging. And I’m done with this.
I am done with denial. Denial about this crisis is NOT an enlightened view of the situation. It is simply the flip side of the same coin. It is still a safety response learned in childhood. Denying there is a problem is meant to deny the pain inside about the problem. Denying reality is often used against children in an abusive household, but it doesn’t change reality. And talking down to people who are expressing real fear just makes you a part of the problem. It is invalidating and abusive. And I’m done with this.
I am done with hierarchies. I am sick and tired of the hierarchies. Why does an excessive amount of money make someone’s life more valuable? Honestly, it just makes them a hoarder, a hoarder of money. That comes from trauma. They are in survival mode and they hoard money to cover their tremendous fear. Why are they more important? Why are they more deserving of testing? Why are they more deserving of sick leave? They’re not. They never have been. And I’m done with this.
I am done with lies. Everyone is invested in their story. I get it. If they can get everyone to agree with their version of the story, it makes their story right. Or so they think. That’s actually not the case. But everyone wants to try it anyway. The lies aren’t helping anyone. My social media feed is inundated with misinformation and far too much of it is purposefully misleading. Stop it! We must stop sharing this crap! There is no benefit to a bunch of people agreeing with you about something that is wrong. It could even kill people. I am so done with this.
I am not trying to suggest there aren’t amazingly helpful people out there right now. I am not missing the beauty of people doing things for others. People are stepping up in powerful ways. My perspective might be a bit skewed today, but I can see it. It is there. Mr. Rogers said to look for it and we need to look for it. But we also have to get real about fear responses. This crisis is telling us humanity must shift. People need to look at the world through some new lenses. This requires us to look deep inside and see where our behaviors start. What do those fears have to say? Listen to them and make a grounded decision about how to move forward. This is an opportunity to heal on a massive scale. And healing often comes from painful experiences. This is one of those moments. Use it to the fullest. Tell your inner defenders to take a break from their fear frenzy and sit with self in a new way. This is when we learn folks. This is our moment to transform.
The Coronavirus pandemic can be especially triggering for those of us with complex trauma. There will be constant reminders of our trauma as we try to navigate a world in crisis. Those reminders can bring our childhood beliefs back to the surface. These beliefs were often instilled by our original abusers and live in our unconscious with our unhealed trauma. Here are some examples of what might trigger us.
Scarcity of Supplies and Professional Services
Loss of Control over Self or Space
Invalidation of our Emotional Reaction
Denial of our Reality
In a time of crisis, one of the most important yet difficult things is to get honest about how we are feeling. We are going to default into a trauma response. We might numb our responses and move into panic mode, buying all the supplies and watching the news incessantly. Or we might deny there is a problem to keep the panic at bay. Both are unhealthy, but typical. And they will have an impact on our immunological health. Connecting with self can help us find a balance in our responses to crisis. Here are some steps to try:
Slow down and ground. This doesn’t have to be a monumental experience. You don’t need to spend hours each day grounding unless you want to. Take 5 minutes to connect with the body and slow the mind’s racing. Do this often throughout the day to reconnect with self. Bringing awareness to our thoughts is just as important as bringing focus to the body. Both are needed to fully ground. Take a look at my Facebook live stream about the 3 myths of grounding for more information.
Write from the belief that there will not be enough. Scarcity beliefs come from trauma. There wasn’t enough of what you needed in your childhood because you were not prioritized. In a crisis, this trauma can be triggered. Try writing from beliefs like:
“I will run out of what I need.”
“I won’t be able to get what I need.”
“I won’t survive.”
Write from the belief that something horrible will happen to you. You have spent your entire life waiting for the other shoe to drop. And you used hypervigilance to stay alive by avoiding surprises. Right now, this crisis will trigger hypervigilance. Write from beliefs like:
“This is going to take me out.”
“I can’t control my environment like this.”
“I won’t be prepared for everything.”
Write from the belief that you are being punished. In childhood, we were often blamed for things that were not our fault. In adulthood, we could have a tendency to believe we are being punished when things go wrong. Try writing from beliefs like:
“I am being punished because …”
“I should have known better and done something about this sooner.”
“This is happening because I am bad.”
Write from the fear of being alone. Some of us may leave a traumatic environment with a deep desire to be alone. But some of us may believe that being alone is dangerous because there is no protection. Being alone can also make us uncomfortable because our unhealed trauma can rise to the surface when things slow down. Try writing from these beliefs:
“I am not safe when I am alone.”
“I need someone to protect me.”
“I can’t slow down.”
Write from the fear of being trapped. It is common to come out of childhood trauma with a strong fear of being trapped. When we are restricted from moving freely in our lives, we can experience intense trauma responses. Write from beliefs like:
“I can’t get away.”
“I will be stuck here forever.”
“They are trying to control me.”
Write from your anger. It is important to get real about how you feel about this virus. The virus might feel like another abuser. You might have some tough questions about why the bad people seem to live forever while the good people always get clobbered with bad things. You might even have a few hopes about who the virus takes out. Try writing from beliefs like:
“I hate this shit.”
“I hope it takes out (enter abuser’s name here).”
“I am sick of all the bad things.”
Feel your emotions. You probably grew up in an environment which invalidated your emotional response and denied your reality. The same thing is happening here. There are plenty of people ready to call any response to this virus an overreaction. And there are plenty of people ready to call the non-reactors irresponsible. But take time to hear out how you are really feeling. Self-acceptance and compassion will be incredibly powerful for you right now. You do not need external validation for how you feel. Take time to connect with yourself.
On March 15th, I held a live stream on my Facebook page about our internal processing of the Coronavirus pandemic. Go to this link to build your awareness.
Since very early in my life, I have had to live in survival mode. That means, my controller was fully in charge. They made all the decisions in my life and they were all made from a fear-based view of the world. All my decisions were safe decisions. I needed to stay alive and this is what worked. But as I have worked through my memories in recovery, my controller has stepped into a more appropriate and helpful role. And my grounded adult self has come forward to heal my other parts. I am not suggesting I live my entire life in my grounded adult self, but I spend a lot of time there. And I spend a lot of time holding space for the trauma of my inner parts. As you know, the work isn’t fun. But the insight I have gained about my true self has been amazing.
This shift has afforded me new understandings about a group of inner parts I had locked away when I was a child. And for the past several years of my recovery, I have spent time with them. I refer to this group of inner parts as freedom fighters, and they are extremely powerful when they are freed from their inner prison. In their grounded state, they represent a force for authenticity. They bring you back to self and the body, and they end the constant war within. When they are ungrounded, they hold futility, and they will often sabotage the survival strategies of the defenders. This leaves us frustrated and paralyzed in a battle between survival and total defiance. But when we heal the freedom fighters and bring ourselves to a grounded balance, life gets much more tolerable on all fronts.
I have noticed my freedom fighters having a lot of strong reactions to the intense oppression in the world today. My freedom fighters want everyone to be who they were meant to be. And I’ll be honest, they don’t have much tolerance for the inner defenders who are “holding everyone back”. So today, I wanted to give you some advice from my (relatively grounded) freedom fighters so you can move toward your authentic self.
Stop Punishing Yourself. Contrary to what you might think, self-punishment is not very noticeable. It is hard to see it because you have been doing it all your life. Sometimes it comes in the form of expectations that things will go wrong. The controller believes you can only have what you want if you go through hell (again). The karma kid believes you are worthless and anything you really want is out of reach. So you stop yourself from what you really want. You put up barriers to your deepest desires and you don’t even know you are doing it. But you are continuing the very abuse that started in childhood.
Stop Silencing Yourself. How many times per day do you stop yourself from saying what you want to say? Most importantly, what is your reason? You don’t want to upset them. You don’t want to lose their friendship. You don’t want to have to explain yourself. Or maybe, you have just given up. While it is important to use discernment in picking battles, avoiding conflict by silencing yourself can be retraumatizing. You are continuing your abuse by stopping your authentic expression.
Stop Believing the Criticism. This might be internal or external criticism. But the source of all criticism comes from scared people. They might be abusive. They might be living life in fear and wanting to protect you. But when someone tells you that you aren’t good enough or need to tone down your goals in life, that source is not credible. That source is traumatized and fearful about life. They have told you lies and those lies are running your life. And when you believe those lies, you are likely retraumatizing yourself and holding yourself back.
Stop Doing Things the Same Way. I am not trying to be negative, but if the things we have been doing were working, things would be better. The world needs new ways of doing things and it needs them now. If someone (or yourself) is telling you to do it the same way, don’t listen. If someone is using the word “should”, don’t listen. Bring something new. Try something that might change everything. Your defenders will warn you that it will fail. But they don’t really know that. And failure is not nearly as bad as you think. Do it anyway.
Stop Quitting. Your inner defenders were set up to make you quit. It is hard to see because it isn’t consistent. They might be obsessively dedicated to some things. But as soon as you try something new, purposeful or exciting, they will fill your head with all the reasons you should give up. This is a strategy and it works too often. Stick with what you started. Don’t listen to the “just give up” language in your mind (but write from it). It is meant to stop you in your tracks, but you can bring awareness to it and step out of it.
My freedom fighters want to get their message out to the world. There is a way to step out of the fear-based survival strategies you have come to see as normal. You can question them. You can acknowledge they come from our trauma (and other traumatized people). You can detach from them through grounding and expression. And you can take steps to move past them. Watch for how survival is ruling your life. Bring it to your awareness. You are here to do more than survive. Your freedom fighters have another plan for you.
We live in an anger-hating world. This is not surprising. Anger has been labeled as dangerous. It has been labeled as dangerous by angry people. They know deep down inside that their anger drives them to do bad things, to treat people in bad ways. They know they need to block anger so others can’t retaliate. They know their power requires others to stay in fear and suppress their anger. So they label anger as dangerous. And they call other people angry in condescending ways. Instilling the fear of anger in others becomes a stealth act of oppression.
It is hard to argue with these labels. We can see the damage from anger. We can see the abuses. We can see the violence. We can see the war. It is easy to fall for the rhetoric and shame ourselves for the anger we know lives deep within us. But we are missing an important and fundamental truth. There are two types of anger. There is grounded and ungrounded anger. And the anger we have within us can express in either way. There is not an external reason that makes it grounded or ungrounded. The difference is in our acceptance of it.
Yes. I said it. Our anger will be ungrounded as long as we don’t accept it. Why? We will continually shove it down below the surface and ignore it. And as we do this, we will keep it in our unconscious where it will have power over our lives. We will attract angry people and anger-fueled situations which recreate what we have not healed. We will try to shove it under the surface which is akin to simultaneously pushing 100 tennis balls down below the water. It doesn’t work. When the balls get loose, they come up with a vengeance. When this is anger, it is ungrounded and it can definitely be dangerous.
There aren’t very many people accepting their anger in the world. Unfortunately, that means we rarely meet grounded anger in our lives. When we do, we might not recognize it as anger at all. It looks quite different. But if we can allow a channel of expression for our anger, we can ground it over time. And when we do, we can reap the many rewards of having access to our anger in a grounded way. What are those rewards? Here are some beautiful things our grounded anger can bring us.
Anger brings truth. Our anger is hiding behind the stories we told ourselves to get through our trauma. Those stories tell us that it was our fault and we can’t blame anyone else. They tell us we are sensitive and overreacting. As we allow our anger forward, we can embrace the truth about how we were mistreated. We can put the blame where it belongs.
Anger brings self-trust. When we are angry at the right people, we can stop being angry at self. And when we stop being angry at self, we can trust ourselves more and more. Eventually, we can trust ourselves more than the others who have been controlling and lying. This allows our intuition to step forward and from this place, we can live our best lives.
Anger brings boundaries. When we trust ourselves, we can set boundaries with others. We become less concerned with how we are viewed by others and we respect ourselves more. We stop making our decisions based on how others feel and put ourselves back in the driver’s seat of our own lives. This empowers us to live our purpose and help others in more effective ways.
Anger brings relief. When we stop walking the line between the requirements of others, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. If we aren’t answering to everyone around us, life gets simpler and less overwhelming. It gives us more room to consider what we want because we are not constantly spinning about what everyone else thinks.
Anger brings safety. When we allow anger, we set boundaries with the people who need them. We also put up walls when they are necessary. We stop bringing the ungrounded anger into our space too. And our truth helps us connect with our intuition about dangerous situations and people. We are much more likely to find safety by accepting our anger instead of suppressing it.
Anger brings change. From a place of acceptance and safety comes change. We get to say, “Enough is enough.” We become firm in our resolution that we aren’t going to keep living under the thumb of others and we fight for what is right. This is scary change to the oppressors, but it is the change we are here to create.
When we allow and accept our anger, we can process the past new ways. We can trust ourselves on a deep level and come to understand our truth. We can find our boundaries and stop living for the oppressive people who were running our lives before. When we do this, we can make decisions that keep us safer. When we are safe, we can make changes to our lives and the world. This is what the oppressors don’t want. They don’t want change because they are in charge. And they don’t want us to reveal their secrets. So we must embrace and ground our anger. As we do, we will find a new way of living. Our anger will bring us to freedom.
Relationships after trauma can feel like a mine field. There is no telling where the next explosion will come from. And our emotional responses to relationship patterns can be so intense, it feels impossible to unravel. But we keep going back to relationships. That makes sense. We are social beings. We are meant to be in relationship with others. We are meant to love and be loved. Without relationship, we are lonely. And that loneliness builds as life progresses without real connection. The heart breaks through isolation too.
While this may be the most obvious drive toward relationship, it isn’t the only one. There are plenty of ungrounded reasons we move toward relationship before we are healed. First, the healing community pushes us towards relationship. How many times have you heard that we can only heal in relationship? I have heard it often in my journey. With that constant message, our deep desire to heal will keep pushing us into relationship. But there is another reason we continuously move toward relationship. We want someone to take away our pain. The translation to the ungrounded internal and external messages becomes: “When I find the right person, they will heal me.” In the end, this is a recipe for relationship disaster, but we don’t know it.
In reality, relationships aren’t always the right step in our healing path. When we grow up with complex trauma, we grow up with relational trauma. And if we experience enough relational trauma, the unconscious is overflowing with beliefs about relationship. As you might imagine, these beliefs are not the good kind. And they will unfortunately lead us into traumatic relational patterns whether we know it or not. Many times, we don’t know it. With these patterns living outside our awareness, relationships will not help us heal. We will move into our dissociative patterns and act from our unconscious parts. Only when the relationship begins to fall apart will we notice what happened. This could be enough to push us toward healing, but it can push us toward shutting down instead. It comes with a heavy emotional price, and retraumatization is extremely common.
What can we do to bring in better relational patterns? How can we break through the unconscious cycle to begin using relationships to heal? Let’s look at three ways we can bring more discernment to relational healing.
We need to demote others from savior to mirror. After complex trauma, we all have young parts who are looking for a savior. They have been unable to feel their pain because of strong defenses so they need someone to break the cycle for us. They need help and our internal system has made it clear that “self” is not going to provide it. But when we begin to heal our trauma, we can open up to another way of seeing things. We can make “saving” an inside job. And we can start to use others as mirrors. How? We can watch our interactions with others for signs of our patterns and what we need to heal. The more triggered we are, the more the pattern is familiar.
We must bring awareness to our patterns. This is much easier said than done. But as we connect with our unconscious, we will become more informed about how it is manifesting. Once we understand our patterns, we will be able to set boundaries (or put up walls) with the people around us. This will help us to break the patterns and move out of the relational traumas we have been inundated with. If we don’t bring awareness to our patterns, we will repeat them without knowing it. And this is when relationships are less likely to help in our healing.
We need to find balance in how we heal in relationship. As I mentioned earlier, there is a huge difference between a relationship where we dissociate into our old patterns and a relationship where we are aware of patterns but making changes. To get to the latter, we need to heal enough in isolation to be able to listen and trust self when something isn’t right. Traumatic childhoods create blind spots. Those blind spots exist because we learned to tell ourselves a story to cope with our inescapable trauma. Those stories might say it is our fault or it wasn’t that bad. When we heal in isolation before trying out a relationship, we find our blind spots so they won’t catch us off guard. Using isolation and relationship in a balanced way can help us heal on a deep level.
I recently had a relationship pattern play out in my adult life. It was a betrayal and it really stung. It was so blatant that I have even laughed about the ridiculous nature of it. It was NOT subtle. But I guess I was a little obtuse. My little love seeker wanted my patterns to be over. But as I look back at the behaviors, it wasn’t surprising. There were signs. I saw them. I even took some precautions to protect myself more recently. It still sucks though. There is a part of me who is wondering if my relationships will ever be “okay”. Will the patterns ever end? When will the trauma stop impacting me once and for all? But I also know this one didn’t impact me the way they used to. I see so much more than I did. I trust myself more. I listen to myself more. And you better believe there won’t be a second betrayal. So don’t give up. Keep working on that balance. And join us in March in Survivor’s Guide for Life as we explore how to break trauma patterns through relationships.
I watched Troop Zero the other night. At the end, I cried and cried. I cried more than I normally do. I’m not a crier. I never felt safe enough to cry. I did love the story. It was a great movie. The main character was a little girl in a very difficult circumstance. Her mother had died. She had a father who had a big heart but struggled to make money. And she hitched her star to a woman who was going to walk away to attend law school. She was a misfit, a loner, but by the end of the movie, she had found a band of friends who were willing to be vulnerable and consider how life could be different.
It was an amazing movie. But my inner children were screaming. It was the “happy” ending they had always wanted and never found. To some, her poverty and her childhood without a mother would have been heartbreaking. To me, her life would have been everything. Why? Her pain was measurable. Our society has standards for what qualifies as pain and she falls right into our favorite story of pain. There are no secrets in her story. She was poor. She was motherless. That’s awful. We can give her a scholarship and a really nice grief camp and feel better about ourselves. We can watch her make friends with the other “less than perfect” people and feel like she’s found her place. We can tell her story and her “happy” ending because we can feel better.
But what about the rest of us? What about those of us with secrets? What happens when we would give anything to have a dead parent? What happens when we would rather be homeless than spend one more night in our hellish middle-income home? What happens when we can’t talk about the horrific abuse from our parents? We can’t talk about it because our parents are still alive and we should be grateful. We can’t talk about it because our families weren’t destitute and we should be happy for all we had. We can’t talk about it because it is stigmatized and nobody wants to hear about it.
So we suffer in silence. And we hope for any friend who isn’t an animal or an inanimate object. We hope for one person who would be there some of the time. We wouldn’t even care how faulty they were. Instead, we are alone because nobody wants to take the time to figure out how to save us. We are too complicated. We don’t fit the mold. We can’t just be saved. We are the dirty little secrets of the world.
I wish my parents had died. I know that sounds awful, but I do. I wish I could have had those Troop Zero outcasts as my friends. I wish I had a sense that one person cared about me at all. I wish I had one adult look me in the face like they gave a shit what I had to say. But that wasn’t my life. Everyone just looked at my typical life on the outside and ignored the hundreds of red flags because that was convenient for them. I was dissociating. I was exploding. I was bullied by everyone. But it was so much easier to look the other way.
In the movie, the main character was a bed-wetter. She was teased and bullied for it. But she started to wet the bed when her mother died. When I got a hold of my medical records, I found out I was a bed wetter too. When I was three, I was wetting the bed. You may be wondering why I wasn’t wearing a diaper at night when I was three. That’s a good question. I would love an answer to that question. But I also had chronic UTI’s. My mother would tell the nurses they came from my bed wetting. My mother said I got UTI’s from wetting the bed and nobody thought that was strange. Let’s face it! They thought it was strange! But they didn’t care. I had a mother. I had a father. They had some money. I wore a London Fog raincoat. I must have been fine. I didn’t grow up in a trailer. So I was fine. There were no programs for me. There were no social workers knocking on the door (except for that one brief mistake which was finally covered up). Nobody gave a shit. My story doesn’t make the movies. Nobody wants to watch my story on the big screen. Our society only wants the solvable problems. They want the low-hanging fruit.
How many kids have to watch the world feel sorry for the kids with the acceptable problems while drowning in their own complex trauma? I don’t know. But until we wake up and start focusing on the abusive, but very much alive parents, we aren’t going to solve this massive world crisis we are faced with. Dead parents and poverty are huge risk factors for children to face abuse. We have to acknowledge that. But abuse is happening everywhere and the kids who experience it are feeling completely alone. When are we going to do something about it?
When we start our recovery journey, our controllers have big plans. We are going to find the right approach and helper the first time. We are going to find the shortest distance between point A and point B. We are going to work hard because we are good at that. We are going to figure it out. It won’t be messy or emotional. We will travel a linear path in one direction. We will finish recovery as quickly as possible and then our real life will start. That all sounds great. It won’t be much different than a college degree. All we need is a syllabus and we are good to go.
But if you are reading my blog, you know this is not how recovery works. You also know how loud the controller can get when their plans don’t work out. When they realize recovery is a messy struggle through the muck and the yuck of a traumatic past, they will fill our heads with huge resistance. It will probably sound like this:
“It has to be easier than this. l need to find a different way.”
“Other people don’t have to work this hard.”
“It shouldn’t take this long.”
“I’m not doing this right.”
“I must be backsliding. I should feel better by now.”
“There must be something wrong with me to feel this bad.”
It is so easy to believe. In recovery, every day can feel different. One day might feel great and the next day might feel horrible. Our other inner parts will tell tales of punishment and unworthiness, but this is recovery. This is how it works. Recovery is incredibly difficult to interpret. The stages we go through are not easily explained. This is why I love parts work. We can make sense out of almost anything by using parts work as a foundation for our understanding. Let’s take a look at some of the phases of recovery and what is actually happening.
Anxiety. When anxiety or panic hits, we are defending against something trying to come to the surface. This is often triggered by something similar to the past, but it doesn’t have to be. It can come out of nowhere too. But no matter what is happening in the external world, anxiety is an attempt to block an internal response. This response could be fear, anger, futility, shame or grief from an inner part. But anxiety is the interaction with our defenses trying to push it away. When we feel anxiety, it means a part is trying to communicate with us and being blocked. In those moments, try to write from the parts who don’t want you to feel anything.
Depression. When depression comes, we have a part sharing futility with us. Depression will often show up when we have decided to do something new and risky or have just done it. It can also be a response to a life pattern which won’t stop repeating. It can feel like sabotage, but it is also an invitation to release the futility and hopelessness so we can do something new. Try writing from the part who is sharing how hopeless their childhood was and how it will never change.
Manic Behavior. Manic behavior can show up in many ways. It can feel like extreme happiness. It can look like an inability to stop moving or quick shifts in direction or focus. But it is a sign that we are not grounded. It is a sign that the controller is attempting to keep us busy in the mind and the external world to block new information from coming forward. These experiences are invitations to slow down and ground into the body. This might bring anxiety and/or depression forward, but you can write from those to discover what is trying to come forward.
Forgetfulness, Fuzzy Brain and/or Numbness. You may already know what I am going to say here. But these are all signs of dissociation. Dissociation is a process meant to block us from our traumatic reality: the story and the emotions. It is deployed by the controller when things are getting a bit too close to the surface. Dissociation blocks many body manifestations including other defenses. It is a first-line defense. And the only way to battle dissociation is with small, repeating bits of grounding. This will help rewire your tendency to leave the body and let you come back your truth. When you write from dissociation, it will almost always sound like a controller trying to block progress and keep you focused outside of self.
These stages of recovery can come up many times in a day, week, month or lifetime. They can show up in any order at any time. If we can avoid the controller’s language about the “backslide”, we can learn to see them for what they are. They are signs. They are telling us that information lives right under the surface. If we stop and listen and express from our defenses, we might just see the truth that is desperately trying to heal us. Allow them to be your messengers instead of roadblocks. And you will see your recovery process accelerate and deepen. This is how we heal with parts work.