I was inspired this weekend. When you hear what I was doing, it won’t be surprising. This weekend was my favorite weekend of the year in Richmond, Virginia. We hold a festival which is truly spectacular. The Richmond Folk Festival is not your average folk festival. It doesn’t define folk music in the most traditional American way. It has expanded the understanding of folk music to an international musical experience. And if you know me at all, you know I am all about bringing the world together. So I attend the folk festival every year with no exception. I cancel all plans. Nobody has a chance of scheduling something on this one October weekend. I am busy. End of story.
There have been my own inner obstacles to process along the way. Like many folks with C-PTSD, I am not a huge fan of crowds. If someone is standing directly behind me, my system goes on high alert. And if there happens to be a group of people imbibing a bit too much and getting a little too close to my space, I am not super excited. I do have to watch my stress level for sure. But even with 220,000 people in attendance, the festival is outdoors and spread out across many stages. In some cases, the audience sits on massive hills, so there is always a way to escape those triggers. The claustrophobia that comes with big crowds is more manageable here. And I’ll be honest, the hypervigilance is worth it for me.
So I was inspired this weekend by the amazing variety of incredible artists from all over the world. It was a beautiful experience as always. There was singing, dancing and art from around the world. And I had not heard of most of these artists before it started. While the schedule does list the genre of music, I had almost nothing else to go on when I chose the acts to watch each hour. I would always choose the groups playing salsa music because I could dance (and dance and dance). But otherwise, I would pick musicians based on their names. The weirder, the better. Of course, I had to see Plunky and Oneness of Juju. And they were as amazing as their name. But when I saw a delta blues group called Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks, I knew where I had to be.
I showed up with bells on. And I had expectations. I was sure it would be 4 or 5 of the most awesome African-American male musicians from Mississippi. I have always loved blues music. And that’s what I was used to. But that is not what I got. The lead singer and guitarist met my expectations and he is truly one of the most underrated guitarists I have ever seen. How does everyone NOT know about this guy? But his band was the most shocking. The bass guitarist looked like me (not totally but a little). And the keyboardist looked like someone who could knit the perfect sweater for my kids for Christmas. I know. This is making me look bad. I am supposed to be completely open-minded. And in many ways, I am. But I am taking a moment to be vulnerable about my shortcomings. No lectures please. And honestly, the rest of the audience was just as dumbfounded as me, especially when they heard them play. And I am inviting you to look at your expectations because these women taught me something. What did they teach me?
There is no such thing as “too late”. As I mentioned last week, any restrictions on time are a defense against taking risks. In many cases, time is exactly what we need to prepare for our biggest, “awesomest” performance. Healing isn’t an obstacle to our purpose. It is preparation for it.
Live out loud. I know you want to punch me right now. You are definitely rolling your eyes. But I could not help to think about how many people told these women they would never do what they wanted to do. How many times did they hear they had to tone down their dreams, their personalities, their clothing, their stereotype-breaking plans? They clearly didn’t listen. Thank God!
Stop trying to please everyone. You can’t. You never will. Some people just aren’t going to like it when things and people don’t meet their highly limited expectations. They aren’t going to be inspired. They are going to be confused. They are going to have to tell themselves a story about why they couldn’t do the same. And it is inconvenient. And if they don’t like what you are doing now, they are never going to like what you are doing. So do what you want. Deep down, you know what it is. If you haven’t found it yet, keep processing the trauma. You will reach it.
It is time to get rid of the restrictions. It is time to stop listening to the limits. We are better than what they said. We can do things that we don’t even know we can do. Do it for you. But also do it because it infuriates everyone who is stuck in their limited thinking. Shake things up and make change happen. Your recovery is an act of defiance. Your purpose is an act of defiance. Defy the odds, the expectations, the limits, the restrictions and the stereotypes. And you will be on the leading edge of a major human transformation.
*Here is a video from several years ago of Super Chikan in action.
They say time heals all wounds. I hate that phrase. I hate it because it is a lie and it messes with our heads. It was created by the collective controller to give us false hope that doing nothing but living out the years will somehow miraculously heal us. Nope. It won’t work. Time does one thing for us when we have unhealed trauma. It increases our hopelessness because we can’t escape our patterns. And it hones our defenses against the hopelessness … at least until the defenses start to fail. Eventually, we become isolated and jaded and exhausted from the constant cycle of shit being thrown at us. That’s what time does.
I know that sounded really depressing. You may be thinking I am not in a good place today, but that was more of a soapbox than a reflection of my current state. I am angry that this distorted understanding of time has messed with so many good people who really want to heal. So I am being really blunt about how time is used against us in our recovery and journey towards purpose. We have to allow a new perspective when it comes to time. And we have to question the constant barrage of statements from our defenders who attempt to keep us stuck with their understanding of time.
So I am going to give you some phrases to look out for in your healing journey. If you hear one of these phrases, know that your defenses are committed to stopping you in your tracks. The defenders don’t do this to be mean. They do this to be safe. But in the end, it stops us from the life we are meant to have. Watch out for these phrases.
I am too old for this. Nope. Nope. And nope. Never ever listen to this one. There is no such thing as “too old”. I know you are thinking that is the biggest cliché out there. And it is. But all clichés are based in the truth (somewhere deep down). I don’t care what society says about when you are supposed to get a college degree, start a career, get married, have children or anything else. If your purpose is calling you in a direction and you don’t do it because of your age, it will be the biggest regret of your life. Even if it takes forever or you don’t succeed until you are 85, what else were you going to do with that time? You weren’t going to be at peace because your system would be at war over not taking these steps. So go do it.
Everyone else started before me. First, who is “everyone else”? That phrase immediately signals the presence of inner parts. They love to speak in extremes. If it sounds like a middle schooler in your head, it’s an inner part. Second, even if you go back to school with a bunch of 20-somethings, you are bringing experience that they don’t have. You are going to take this purpose in a direction that only happens with the knowledge you have accumulated and the purposeful skills you were born with. And you will be surprised how fast you can turn something into a success when you are on your path.
This will take too long. “Fast” is in the eye of the beholder. Your inner parts want immediate gratification. They want results right now. They don’t understand that success takes time. If something is quick and not likely to work, they are going to choose it over the thing that will take ten years and actually work. That is why quick fixes are so popular. Parts are looking for that quick miracle to make everything okay. And it doesn’t exist. It will take longer than your parts want to wait. But keep going. You will see results. And in ten years, you will think it was fast. It might even feel a bit too fast.
I have already done this for too long to change now. We often get stuck because it feels too overwhelming to face the time wasted not following our purpose. We don’t want to grieve the time we lost so we keep going in that same direction long after we know it is wrong for us. And we end up wasting even more time. The path of least resistance is almost never our path. Whether you get off that path now or in ten years, you are still starting from the same point. It is time to cut the losses and feel the pain of it so you can get started on something new. You won’t regret it.
When time-based phrases come up in your head, let it be a red flag, a signal that something isn’t quite right. Your grounded adult self is not obsessed with time. Your inner defenders are. If you can recognize this as a defense, you can begin to ask the right questions. Whether you are 24 or 74, it is not too late to take your life to the next level. Time is not your enemy. Time is a tool you can use to heal. Make a new relationship with time. And use it to get to know yourself.
I am processing through some serious shit today. I have an hour until my blog is supposed to be posted. I have spent the entire morning staring at the page only to write 326 words. That’s not even true. I have spent the entire morning staring at the page AND watching clips of the Graham Norton show AND answering emails (but not enough) AND watching my newly acquired Betta fish swim around his tank. I have also been making some impressive lists of things I am supposed to do today. All of these lists are in my head of course. And none of these things are actually happening at this moment.
The problem isn’t the blog. It isn’t the topic. I really like the topic. And I am one of those weird people who loves writing blogs. I love writing in general. I am a total nerd that way. The problem is the futility. It is brutal today. And it is paralyzing me. You may think that is rare in my life considering how much I post. It is rarer than it used to be. But it’s not as rare as I want it to be. I want it to be nonexistent of course. And before you ask if I have written from it (and I know you’re asking), I have written many times but this part isn’t quite ready to budge yet. And not surprisingly, my controller is freaking out. I am running out of time to keep my commitments and they won’t have it. That is unacceptable. But my controller is at a loss.
They have been at a loss for a while now. The contracts I have been releasing are so confusing to my controller and my defenders in general. I have lived my life for these contracts. I have made my life rules based on these contracts. Almost every step I have taken or not taken has come from my need to uphold these contracts. So as I break these contracts, life feels empty. It feels undefined. It feels like there is truly no reason to move forward. What happens now? If I am free to do whatever I want with my life, what does that mean? Has my life so far been for nothing? Has it all been moving down the wrong road? What am I supposed to change? Anything? I just don’t know.
I can feel my parts grasping for anything to take my mind off the empty confusion of having no real direction forward. I see them looking for the next travel experience, another house to move to, more new pets, new hobbies, even something to stress over. But I made a rule a long time ago. When I feel like this, I take no new steps and make no new commitments. I have learned from my mistakes. And my parts are pissed about it. Instead, I will sit in this house and do my work and nurse my aging dog and make sure my kids have the childhood I didn’t. And it will be hard to feel motivated on some days like today. And when the futility fog of ended contracts lifts, I will have new inspiration to do the next thing.
I am sure this is not the last time I will see this place. And I hate it. But when it lifts, I am left with more energy, new ideas and inspiration to live in a new way. I just have to hold on for the ride. And I will because I have this awareness. One day, I will be able to make all my decisions without considering the agreements I made to my family. I will be able to take steps without concern for whether or not my eventual savior will approve of it. I will be able to step out into the world in powerful ways without the fear of punishment that keeps me small. But it is definitely a process.
Freedom from contracts comes at a cost. It comes with confusion we can only end internally. It comes with the anger, futility and grief of recognizing we have lived a life without that freedom. It comes with the emptiness of having to rediscover who we are at the core. It isn’t easy to hold space for this. The defenders will have us convinced it isn’t worth it. But don’t believe what they have to say about it. There is something better than comes on the other side of contracts. And we are meant to get there.
*Join me this month in Survivor’s Guide for Life as we explore Breaking Contracts for an Authentic Life.
I hate today. It’s my mother’s birthday. While I would never ever contact her, it is a reminder that she has made it one more journey around the sun. Why do the biggest monsters seem to live the longest? I thought my grandparents would never croak. They seemed to stick around forever. With all their trauma, you would think they would have died an early death. I mean really. My body started falling apart in my 20’s. If I hadn’t started emotional recovery work, I am sure I would not be able to stand today. So what the hell? Needless to say, September is not my favorite month from an anniversary perspective. There are too many birthday ghosts to contend with. Some years I am not very impacted. But this year, I am processing some contracts. And breaking them has been intense.
When I say intense, I mean futile. My controller HATES futility. You may have noticed I like to be productive. I like doing things. I am an extrovert. I would interact with people all day if I could. Futility stops that. (So does single motherhood but that’s a different story.) Don’t get me wrong, I like quiet time alone, but only when it’s peaceful. Futility is not peaceful. It is an inner war. But as I attempt to embrace my true inner self more, I must release the futility associated with my contracts and that sucks (technical recovery term). This weekend was certainly no different in that regard.
I danced again this weekend. I went to a regional dance competition and I participated in competition heats. Let’s be very clear. I wasn’t trying to win anything. I was trying to stay on my feet and straighten my posture. That’s it. Others were there to win of course. There were dancers who had started dancing in their toddler years (mostly the professionals). They were very inspiring to watch. And there were dancers who were there to inspire me in different ways. There were dancers fighting through chronic physical illness. There were dancers who were in their 80’s. There were dancers who were coming back from back surgery or fighting anxiety or the fear of being visible. And there were dancers who were just hoping the one problem area of the body would hold up for the day. They were great people who made me feel less alone.
There was certainly trauma in the room although nobody admitted it, and I never point it out if people haven’t asked. But my trauma was in full effect in my mind and body. There was self-sabotage from the very beginning. There were triggers before I set foot in the ballroom. And my mind was interpreting everything in the worst possible ways. No matter how much prep I did, the trauma was there. The contracts were there. At one point, I left and went to my room to write. There was plenty of toxic sludge coming forward. It sounded something like this:
“Who do you think you are performing like this? You aren’t good enough for this. You are making a fool of yourself. You look stupid and everyone is better than you. You will never be the best or the prettiest. They are all just tolerating you. They don’t even think you should be here. Just give up.”
My karma kid was speaking, but this was a flashback. It was a flashback of a dance recital from when I was younger than 10. This was my mother’s opinion of my abilities on the stage. And while I have known for a while that my mother was jealous and in charge of destroying my confidence on a daily basis, something else became obvious to me. She was scared. She was scared that my trauma was showing. I was dissociating. I was messing up. I was slouching. I was truly not as good as the others, but not because of raw talent. And my mother was worried people would figure it out. She wanted me to quit before it became obvious. And I did. With that level of discouragement, of course I did.
But I did my best on Saturday with all this whirling around in my system. It wasn’t perfect, but I stayed on my feet. I remembered my routines (sort of). And with enough instructors gently reminding me about my posture, I remembered to push my shoulders back for about half the performances. In general, it was a success despite my inner world. At the end of the day, I had to begrudgingly admit that I had spent the entire experience in a flashback. And that meant there was dissociation. And that sucks. Of course I wanted better. As I sit here today (and yesterday and the day before), I have been hit with futility for a different reason. It isn’t about the contract with my mother to never dance again. It is about recovery.
Clearly I am here to heal. This much I know. But sometimes, I get tired. I get tired of going out of my way to take big chances only to be met with unbroken contracts on the days when I need the most presence. I get tired of the self-sabotage after working so hard to overcome it. I get really tired of the dissociation at the wrong moments. I am just tired. And I can hear this part (controller of course) saying that’s enough. I’ve done enough. I’ve pushed enough. I don’t have to keep putting myself out there in new ways and fighting through all these obstacles. But I also hear the part of me who knows there is more to life than hiding away because things are hard. So for today, I will rest from my intense ventures to free myself from my contracts. And tomorrow or next week or next month, I will take another step because they don’t get to win. And one day, I will dance without the resistance. I know it.
Come join me in Survivor’s Guide for Life this October as we discuss Breaking Contracts to Live Authentically.
It is not surprising that boundaries are the things we struggle with most. It is not shocking because we grew up in a world that told us our boundaries didn’t matter. We lived with people who made irrelevant our opinions and interests. They controlled what we did. They forced our priorities. And in many cases, they make it clear that they owned our bodies. And when we attempted to have boundaries or even to exist in the world at all, we were often met with retaliation, rage and a general withdrawal of “love” and support. As children, these responses were life-threatening. And that was unacceptable. So we had to switch into survival mode. And boundaries do not exist in survival mode.
But in adulthood, a lack of boundaries will not serve us. It creates a huge mess instead. People come from miles around to control us. And we are used to these patterns, so we don’t know how to stop it. We feel immense guilt every time we try. People reject us repeatedly. And deep down inside, we are angry. We are so incredibly angry. So today, I want to give you some tips for setting boundaries in the real world. Some of these tips are practical and some are thoughts you can use as mantras if you like. But these have helped me escape a world of miserable boundary invasions and I want the same for you.
Practice with electronic communication. We live in a world with more virtual reality than reality. That has a ton of downsides. You can read about them all over the internet. But for those of us who need to practice boundaries, it can be very convenient. Use it to your advantage. Practice boundaries by slowing down your responses to electronic requests. Spend some time with your language in response. Write a draft and come back to it. If you aren’t ready to respond strongly to a request face-to-face, ask them to send it in a text or email so you don’t forget. Use this societal obsession to your advantage.
If you aren’t quite ready to use “No!” as a complete sentence, lie. I know this sounds like I am being a bad influence. I am not talking about big lies here. But if you aren’t ready to say no without an excuse, make one up. You are busy doing something (even if that is a night of movie watching by yourself). Or you are not feeling well (which applies to your emotional state too). If you don’t want to do something, but aren’t feeling ready to just say no, you have my permission to stretch that truth.
Schedule things at convenient times. If you have “over-reachers” who always ask for help with something at specific times, schedule self-care appointments during those times. Be busy doing what matters to you. That avoids the lie and will send the message to the boundary invaders that you are done being available to them.
There is no “sorry” in boundaries. You get to say no to others without being apologetic. This is so important. You can list all the excuses you want, but you are not allowed to be sorry for not allowing a boundary invasion.
Watch for patterns. If someone is always invading your boundaries, that’s not going to change. Even if they tell you it is going to change, the chance of that happening is one in a million. They will continue to behave exactly as they have always behaved unless they are taking steps to heal their own trauma in deep, emotionally expressive ways. So, if someone is exhibiting patterns of boundary invasion, put up your most rigid wall. They aren’t changing.
There is nobody important enough to make you miserable. When you were a child, you had to let everyone matter more than you. You had no other way of surviving. But it doesn’t have to be true anymore. There is nobody in your family, no parent, no spouse, no best friend, no adult child who gets to trigger you with patterns of boundary invasion and stick around. Please know this. If you don’t prioritize your own well-being, nobody else ever will.
Face the guilt. If you take action on these tips, you will be inundated with guilt. You will hear all the old messages from childhood. You will feel like you are a horrible, horrible person. It will be hard to live with yourself because of the noise on the inside. And the people who hate your boundaries will only fuel the chorus. But you can help it to dissipate. You can write from it. You can let that inner guilt express without changing your boundaries or caving to the inner pressure. It is old messages that don’t apply to you anymore.
Try some of these tips in your own life. If you are struggling to take back your life, fight the old tendencies and make some changes. You are worth these changes. Your life can get better, but it won’t happen without your willful action. So get out there and set some boundaries. You are a person too. And you deserve boundaries.
Apparently, I sent an unusual email to a client the other day. I was referring to a new understanding about an inner part and how they were impacted by my dad. The client wrote back and said, “There’s a word I don’t ever hear you say: ‘dad’.” I was a little surprised to hear that, but in general, I guess it’s true. I don’t talk about him much. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to give him the time of day. He doesn’t deserve my time or concern or any emotion at all. He has lost the privilege of my time. I replaced him as the fatherly role at a very young age. I put my faith in others (who unfortunately didn’t come through either). But they were better than him and at least I knew that.
There’s another part in there too. There is a part who fears him. He made sure that part was there. He stopped at nothing to ensure I would know he would always control me. He knew he lost my love and faith, but he was never going to lose his power over me. Or so he thought. These past two weeks, I have been thinking about all the strategies he used to gain power and control over me. And I have been gaining some new understandings of his strategies too. As his birthday approaches, I guess it only makes sense that I am letting go of his influence in deeper ways. So I wanted to share this list of how my father maintained control over me in my childhood.
He was sexually abusive. This is not shocking if you know my story. Of course he did. But his methods were psychopathic in nature. He raped with an intention of being in total control. He never tried to pretend that rape was about love. He never acted like this was meant to make us closer or that I was his favorite. Believe me, I experienced that with my stepfather and grandfather. I know it adds a level of confusion to recovery too. But with my father, it wasn’t like that. He was entitled to rape. He was entitled to my body. I belonged to him and there was no reason to attempt to make it look like anything else. No persuasion was necessary. He owned me. End of discussion.
He trafficked me. Trafficking is horrible in all cases. But when a parent traffics you, there is something even more diabolical about it. Any fantasies that the parent might be unusual go out the window. Apparently everyone agrees with them. If all these men were willing to pay my father to rape me then this planet is shit. There is nobody who is worth a damn. That is how my father wanted it. I had to be hopeless. I had to see no escape. I had to give up. And if I didn’t give up, he had to work harder to get me there.
He was physically abusive. This one might be a bit obvious too. But physical abuse isn’t just about physical injury. It isn’t just about scars and wounds that heal (like all those clichés say). It is a message. And that message says, “I will stop at nothing to control you.” And that include death. If death is the only way to silence you, it is not out of the question. Physically abusive people don’t just hurt you where others can’t see it (although they do). They hurt you where it is explainable to others. There were multiple facial and head injuries explained by “kids being kids”. Bike accidents, falling down stairs, falling off woodpiles, trampolines, you name it. According to my dad, I was an accident-prone kid. And in reality, I was. I was so dissociated, I had no coordination. So the story was an easy one. And I came out of childhood knowing he wouldn’t think twice when it came to taking me out.
He had control over others. He wanted to make sure there was no chance I believed that others would help me. And just in case others were considering helping me, he had to maintain control over them too. That control had to be obvious to me. This started with my mother and others in the family, but was not exclusive to them. If they ever dared to stand up to him, they were abused and controlled in front of me. They were intimidated. They were threatened. They were ostracized. It was clear they needed to step back into their place or things would go horribly wrong for them. And the message to me was clear. There is nobody who can help me, even if they wanted to.
He instilled paranoia. He not only wanted to control me, but he had to expand my perception of control beyond reality. He had to make me think he was powerful beyond the average human being, even magical. He had to make me think he could see things he couldn’t. He hired others to intimidate me, watch me, even hurt me. And he took credit for it. He even convinced me that his doctor friend had planted a tracking device in me so I could never escape him. He fueled my karma kid to keep me in line. This is what I call “the insurance policy”. He didn’t want me to get any ideas and start acting up and speaking out in adulthood. Even if I walked away from him, I could never walk away from his control.
And we all know how well this went for him. Clearly it didn’t work. And if anyone is reading this to gain new strategies for controlling others, please know this. This is not a guaranteed plan. Attempting to control another person is stupid. People are not that predictable. And in the end, you will lose. And you will have a bunch of really angry people on your hands (and no true allies). And you will be the one running scared. So find another way to deal with your pain or one day, someone may be writing a blog about how you tried and failed to control them. And you will be just like my dad.
You may or may not have known that I have been away on a trip to Australia and New Zealand. If you didn’t know, you may have thought I dropped off the face of the Earth. In some ways, I guess I did. I had intended to write the occasional blog while I was traveling. But in typical Elisabeth style, I bit off more than I could chew. I was balancing my normal summer parenting, a relatively full call schedule, 3 full-day workshops and a trip to two countries I have always wanted to visit. Needless to say, my parts were pulled in 15 directions. And my system was in chaos.
That said, this was the trip of a lifetime. For more reasons than I can list, this trip was a catalyst for driving my life in new purposeful directions. It exhausted me and fueled my reason for being. I tested the waters on traveling bigger, working globally and balancing parenting with purpose. I let all the restrictions and rules go by the wayside. I said goodbye to the old contracts. And I dismissed the idea that the risks would be too great. The disastrous consequences my defenders foresaw did not come to fruition. But simultaneously, it did not go perfectly. And for these reasons, my system was in a bit of chaos.
I decided to make this first blog about what happens when we take purposeful steps on a new scale. It isn’t what we think, but it is what we think. Understanding how this works can keep us from being stopped in our tracks when we take the chance and try new things. So let’s look at what I learned.
Not everyone will agree with your authentic steps. When we get authentic, it has a tendency to scare people. It scares them because it invites them to look at how they are holding themselves back. And they don’t want to look at that. The most confusing part is that we won’t know they are scared. They will come across as logical with their rules and restrictions about how life works. They will preach about responsibility and money and all the socially acceptable reasons to hold back. And if they don’t do this in blatant form, they may come at us with passive aggressive comments instead. This banter will make us question ourselves. That is inevitable. But we can’t stop.
There will be inner obstacles at every turn. Let’s face it. Our systems have been programmed for survival. Risk-taking is strictly forbidden by the majority of our defenses. When we start to step out, we will hear screaming from inner parts who might have been whispering before. The resistance will get loud. They will scream about our irresponsibility, our inevitable failure, our stupidity, our blatant disregard for the rules and anything else they can think of. And we will consider how crazy it is to take these steps. But we can’t stop.
When things work out, there will be inner turmoil. Our inner parts are wired for trauma. They are wired to handle disasters in the blink of an eye. When the disasters don’t happen, it will send the system into a tailspin. The parts will scramble trying to recreate the rules into something that makes sense with this new information. Confusion will set in. We may feel exhausted and dissociated. And emotions and memories might come up for release. Our biggest wins will potentially come with the biggest inner turmoil. It won’t feel good. But we can’t stop.
Not everything is going to be perfect the first time. That isn’t a fail. That is supposed to happen. Contrary to the controller’s understanding of the world, it does not have to be perfect to be right. As a matter of fact, perfection will never happen the first time. Even our most authentic actions will come with learning curves. But when something doesn’t go perfectly, our defenses will tell us that it isn’t meant to be. They will say we should shut it down and give up. They will tell us we must be on the wrong path. They will try to convince us that others’ purposeful work never came with such difficulty. They will say we must be on the wrong path if it is so difficult. But we can’t stop.
As I return from this purposeful trip, I want you to know what I have learned. I want to arm you with the information that will keep you moving on the hardest journey. I want you to know what to expect. When things get the toughest, you are heading in the right direction. Whether you are taking a trip, becoming more visible in your work or exploring risks in your personal life, please remember this. When the internal and external nay-sayers get the loudest, you are doing the right things. Stop letting the restrictions win. You are not meant to live a life behind the bars of your past. Honor your fears. Let them express. Ignore the “logic” of others. And take the step.
When it comes to how we live our lives, we won’t get very far without feeling our fear. It might be different levels of fear depending on our experiences, but we are all going to have it. And while most people understand this intellectually, it is not really understood. It isn’t understood by the whole self. And that is by design: the trauma’s design. We have a built-in fear response and it does a great job when we are being chased by a bear. We shut down the cognitive mind and operate from our “lizard brain”. We react from adrenaline because we need to. There is no time to think. But when we experience repeated trauma, this gets a bit stuck. It doesn’t mean we don’t think. But almost anything we experience that reminds us of our trauma will be met with this response. And this response isn’t controlled by the mind. The fear kicks in. We respond. That’s it.
Unfortunately, this can cause us to make all of our decisions from fear. Our entire lives can operate from how we can best remain safe. We are living to stay alive. And sometimes, that is all. We will make decisions to spend the least amount of money. We will ensure we have approval instead of speaking our minds. We will refuse to take a step toward our purpose because it might end in failure (or worse). We will struggle to step out of our routine because the familiar, even the bad familiar, is better than what we don’t know. And I’ll be honest. This is no way to live. It is easy (if you don’t take into account the inner pain), but it is not worth it. But to live differently, we have to become aware of our fears, listen to our fears and overcome our fears. We have to stop letting them run our lives. And that may be the hardest work there is. But one of the most powerful steps we can take is to understand the messages behind our fears. These come from childhood and while they can be convincing in the moment, they are not often based on our current adult reality. Let’s discuss some examples.
I need to wait for permission. When we live through trauma as children, we learn not to trust our instincts. We stop listening to our innate wisdom because we are gas-lighted out of believing it. Our emotions are wrong. Our memories are wrong. Our decisions about what to do next are wrong. We learn that our judgment is not just wrong, but dangerous. We begin to rely heavily on others to tell us what is the truth and what isn’t. So when we reach adulthood, we will struggle to make decisions without the approval of other people. In reality, we can move forward on most decisions without the input or approval of one other person. Sometimes, the least approved ideas are the right ones.
I need to wait until I am ready. I used to think that when it was time to do things, I would feel ready. I used to think there would be no fear left when it was time to take that step. But I have come to understand that thinking as a defense created by the fear of taking any risks. Sometimes the only way to reach our inner resistance is to take a small step forward. If we take the time to process the resistance that comes up with each step, we will be able to move forward toward our goals and break through the fear which was often disguised under the surface.
I need to wait until it is easy. There is a popular concept in the self-help world that says we will know our path because it will be easy. It will flow. It will feel like home. While there is some truth to that, it can be highly misinterpreted by our fearful defenders who want to stop taking risks. In reality, there will be more obstacles in the way of our purpose. Our childhood abusers will often target our biggest strengths to make sure we don’t develop the confidence to fight back. So our strengths are hindered under a pile of resistance (fear) and we have to travel through it. That doesn’t mean our purpose isn’t easy. If we are artists, we will find it easy to create. If we are writers, we will find it easy to express verbally. But to take our purpose to the level it is meant to be, there will be obstacles. Don’t let them stop you.
Take some time to understand how you are being ruled by your fear. What does it tell you? How does it convince you this isn’t the time to move forward with your plans? Let it express. But don’t let it be the only voice running the show. Pick a step. Take the step. Do the thing you have been putting off because it was too scary. You will have to push through inner and outer obstacles. It will take longer than you thought. But don’t give up. You deserve to live life on the other side of these fears. You are meant to be more.
You’ve heard the phrases about how failure breeds success. You have suffered the clichés about how much we learn from failure and how it is a blessing in disguise. You know there are lows that come before highs and highs that precede the lows. All of this makes sense in the brain. All of this is logical. Life can’t be about success only. It ebbs and flows. And it happens to the best of us. But when the bad things strike, we don’t respond from a logical place. We respond from a traumatized place. The inner parts come forward and inform you of the total apocalypse about to destroy everything you have ever held dear. And we begin to torture ourselves from the inside out.
The trauma is speaking in these moments. And when we honestly look at how these parts came to understand this world, it makes sense. Our inner parts learned to emphasize the bad. This happened because there was more of it. And we had to use all our energy and hypervigilance to clean up messes and avoid even more horrific situations. We became wired to look for the bad and ignore the good. Our attention could not be divided. Our life became a constant dance to avoid the bad or the consequences of the bad. So when bad things happen, we start spinning. The mind runs through the bad thing over and over and over looking for the best solution. The self-criticism hits hard to ensure we don’t do anything stupid. And the idea that there might be a reasonable solution is completely lost.
In these moments, it is critical that we see what is happening. We are in a flashback. We are drowning in adrenaline and experiencing a fight, flight or freeze response. In these moments, we have to bring ourselves into an aware state that can observe what is happening with our inner parts. Is that easy? No. It might be the hardest thing we will do in our lives. It may only be possible for 60 seconds at a time. But it will feel like the truth when you are in it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you are in this trauma response.
Is my fear justified based on what is happening right now in my adult life? If it is, please stay in this mode because your life is probably in danger. A large scary animal is chasing you. You are being attacked in some way. And you need all your adrenaline to get out of the situation. The mind doesn’t need to be a part of this equation. But there is a good chance you are not in this situation and the level of fear you have is not justified in this moment. That doesn’t mean you will want to invalidate that fear. It is there because you have been in life threatening (or perceived life threatening) situations before. The fear needs to be heard. But it needs to be expressed as your adult self holds space for it. There needs to be some detachment from it.
Am I actually trapped in this situation right now? Our inner parts will often respond to these moments from a state of complete disempowerment. They will not see a way out because their solutions can only repeat what they have experienced in the past. If they perceive they are trapped, they may begin to take drastic steps to escape. They may look for a rescuer. They may drop their authenticity. They may avoid the issue hoping it will go away. They may even break rules you don’t really want to break. These steps aren’t often what will bring the best results in our adult life. When we can approach these situations from a perspective of “Let me list my choices” instead of “I am completely without options”, things start to change.
Is this really a permanent state for my life now? When the low strikes, the inner parts will work hard to convince us that we will never leave this place. Our life is going to stay in this miserable state forever. And to the defenders, there is some intention behind it. They don’t want us to see a way out because it often means growth. There will be emotional expression, memory recovery and changes in how we see things. That is not okay with our defenders, so instead they convince us this is it. But in reality, no state lasts forever, not even the good ones. Knowing that an ebb will end has been one of the most important management tools in my own recovery. So let the parts scream about the permanency of this situation. Hold space for it. But know it is not the truth. Your recovery journey will take you places.
So the next time you experience a failure, an ebb, an emotional low, consider these three questions. Ask them from a grounded place. Allow a different perspective to seep in through a small crack in the trauma response. Hold it for 60 seconds if you can. Your life was a war zone. Your life was unchangeable. You were trapped. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can make new choices now.
In case you haven’t heard, I am planning an amazing trip to Australia and New Zealand. I am very excited to take my children to the other side of the world and cross many things off my bucket list. As a travel addict, my bucket list is not short. But I am willing to give it a try. This trip has a ton of moving parts. There are 8 cities. There are 9 planes, two trains, several rental cars and a ferry. There are tons of AirBnb contacts. There are 3 workshops in 3 cities with 3 different conference rooms. There are 2 12-year-olds in tow. And that is all before we book one tour or excursion. But so far, everything has been working out. Things have been coming together.
Most importantly, I have received approval for work visas in both countries. This is an incredibly complex task. In some ways, it has consumed me. And I am sure it has consumed me more than someone with less or different trauma. I don’t do bureaucracy well. My belief systems don’t align with it. There too many hoops to jump through. There are too many forms to fill out. There are too many uncontrollable elements to the process. And there are too many power-trippy authority figures involved. I can’t force my way through the process. I have to trust. And my controller doesn’t have time for silly things like trust. So when the visas came through, my controller switched their approach. They decided that the problem isn’t on the front-end so it must be on the back-end. We travel all he way there and be ambushed by angry Australian authority figures. Why? I have no idea. Probably just for existing.
I am sure you are not surprised to hear that I have been journaling about this quite a bit. There has been many different attempts by my defenders to keep me safe and small and risk-free. In general, they are not happy about all the balls I am throwing into the air without a fool-proof plan to keep them there. Don’t get me wrong. I have planned. I have lots and lots of plans. My use of Excel spreadsheets should have Microsoft seeking me out as their spokesperson. But when it comes to something like this, there has to be some trust things will work out. And my journaling has not reflected a trusting and peaceful inner response. So I thought I would share some of my inner beliefs with you. Something tells me you might relate.
The universe is stacked against me at all times. With everything that happened to me as a child, there is no way I could make any other conclusion. My family wanted to make sure I knew I was alone with no support. They made it a point to show me the futility of my actions. They squashed those momentary glimpses of hope. Whenever I showed a semblance of confidence, they were there to knock me down. They made it clear that their control was global and inescapable. And they even made it appear that everyone in the world was on their side. That meant I only had one choice. I could conform to my role in the family or fight a losing battle to be free. Both were miserable and exhausting options. But that was all I was given.
Authority figures are meant to punish me. As with every single child in the world, I modeled my image of authority figures after my parents. This is not some enigmatic experience caused by trauma. This is exactly how children think. And it applies to anyone who has power including God. So when someone has more power than me in any situation, I assume they will do bad things with it. And the fear that often shows up in my system can drive my actions in the wrong direction. Authority figures respond to my fear in a way that often proves me right. And this is how my cycles perpetuated themselves until I started waking up and considering the possibility that people might be helpful.
Everything good is a set-up. In my childhood, everything good was temporary. But that’s not really unusual. Everything is temporary. That’s the truth. But it happened differently in my childhood. There were some not-so-random random events which ended most of what mattered to me. If I was excited about something, my family knew they had to find a way to squash it. This included everything from friendships to hobbies. If something built my confidence, it had to go. So I learned not to get too excited when something seemed like it might work out. I kept it all a bit muted on the happiness scale. That way, my family would no longer be able to figure out how to get me. But it also meant I could not dive into anything with the passion I needed to succeed.
These beliefs are detrimental to living a life of purpose, but we can move to the other side of them. We can accept them for what they are, write from them, question their accuracy in our current life and shift them. We will have to come back around to them each time we take the next amazing step, but we can keep taking our lives forward in passionate and purposeful ways. Our families may have planted these detrimental beliefs into our systems, but we can move them out. It is our right to believe anything is possible. It is our right to live purposefully. And we can take that right back.