There is no single emotion that drives our world today, but if I had to choose the most impactful, I would choose fear. Fear is the most prevalent emotion on this planet and most of our decision making is driven by it. But we don’t know this is happening. We don’t know we are driven by our fear because it doesn’t look like fear. Our fear disguises itself in other behaviors from our defenders. Fear doesn’t sound like, “I’m scared.” Fear sounds like “I am always right. You are stupid. I know the only truth. I have the only story that matters.” It builds a wall around itself and won’t let anything in. Other people, perspectives and possibilities are strictly forbidden to challenge it.
Unfortunately, when we don’t see our fears, we can’t see the patterns they are creating or how to get out of them. This can be devastating to our lives. And our fear will be further encouraged by those in our circle, who hold similar fears. Instead of being pushed to consider new ideas, we will become further entrenched in our fear-based decisions. The two primary parts who hold this fear are the controller and karma kid. They are the two most powerful defenders, so without awareness and separation from people encouraging our fears, we will not break free of this. In reality, it is a struggle no matter what.
But there are truths about these fears that we can learn. Those truths can help us to break free over time. Let’s walk through some of them now.
Our fears come from childhood. Even our most adult fears come from childhood in some way. The events that initially caused those fears might be a bit symbolic. But let’s face it, they are often unmistakable. If we fear connection, our relationships in childhood were not safe for us. If we fear vulnerability, it was not safe to express vulnerability as children. If we fear we will never be successful as an adult, we were told this in childhood. We may have been “shown” this with impossible, age-inappropriate tasks. And these fears are evidence-based. They are full of examples from childhood and adulthood because these fears are self-fulfilling. This is why the patterns are so hard to break. If we don’t poke holes in the stories behind the fears first, it is hard to manifest anything new.
Our fears are held by children. Our parts are children. There are people who will argue with me about whether or not parts can be adults. But parts do a great job of acting like adults. And adulthood starts between 25 and 27. So parts can be older. But they were never allowed to develop to a full adult perspective. We only have one adult in our system. That is our grounded adult self who we are trying to reach. Children will often hold fears that come from the disempowered life of a child. They respond to life as if they have no choice in the events of it. And this is what we can help change within our system.
Our fears show up in unusual ways. As I mentioned earlier, fears don’t always look like fears. They can look like anxiety. They appear highly logical and rational. They can look like condescension toward other people. They can show up as an unyielding opinion or story about self or life. They have reasons and those reasons make sense to our mind, the mind who is creating them. Of course, there are more obvious signs of fear including paranoia and panic. And it is important we do not dismiss them as over-reactions or drama. They are based in our past realities and we must allow them to express.
Some of our fears are true, but they don’t have to stop us. Here’s the hardest part. While some fears are no longer accurate when we live in our empowered adult self, some fears can never be fully dismissed. The people we grew up with may have made empty threats. But they may have made very real threats. In many cases, we can dismiss those threats as wimpy adults attempting to control children to make themselves feel better. In other cases, those that threatened us are dead or in jail. That helps. But sometimes, we can’t deny the very real possibility that threats could become a reality. We cannot allay the fears of our parts completely, nor should we try to lie about it. But over time, we can come to understand that life is not about succumbing to the fears for survival purposes only. Life is about living while we still can. And the more empowered we are, the less those nasty people want to mess with us. After all, they act like they do because of their own fear. This understanding takes time to cultivate, but we can get there.
So don’t run from your fears. Don’t invalidate them or ignore them or justify the behaviors meant to hide them. Let them express. Let your body shake. Let your vulnerability come forward if only to yourself for now. Allow enough self-compassion for you to be human because you are. Let your parts share their very real evidence. And you will find yourself taking small steps in new directions. Will it feel scary? Yes. But for the first time, you won’t feel paralyzed to do it. The empowerment that comes from acknowledging your fears is life changing. Give yourself this amazing gift.
I’ve been working with some intense battles in my system lately. I have a tendency to focus on my defenders when I am feeling blocked and I often discuss them in my writing. To be fair, the defender fears of recovery and change are not the only inner obstacles we face as we bring our lives to the next level. Our freedom fighters are usually fans of recovery. But there are times when their years of seeking freedom fuel an intense futility stopping us in our tracks. One of the primary freedom fighters is the isolator. In many instances, they are the first freedom fighter we meet. Their goal is authenticity through isolation.
The problem is that the isolator is not short on evidence to support their perspective. When we have suffered through complex trauma, we likley experienced betrayals and manipulation from the majority of people in our childhood. And that would have continued into adulthood with patterns stemming from our unhealed relational trauma. All relationships would have been questioned and all behaviors would have been searched for signs of control. And if someone was too nice, truthful or authentic, they would have been rejected as “not real”. The isolator can keep us distant, inconsistent and aloof in relationships. And as you might imagine, this doesn’t help us form the kinds of relationships that are healing.
The isolator’s tactics are not all bad. They are good at countering the distractions created by the controller and love seeker during recovery. They will put barriers up against the people who keep us triggered and spinning and distracted from our inner world. I often refer to the isolator as the “path clearer” because of this tendency. And they will push you to cut ties with toxic people despite the resistance from the controller, love seeker and karma kid. All these actions will facilitate recovery. And that is a good thing.
But lately, I have been noticing that my isolator is holding me back a bit. They have done a great job of removing the people who needed removing. And they have kept my loneliness at bay during some of my hardest moments in recovery. But they have some detrimental beliefs that will keep me from finding the next level of my purposeful work and the social life I would like to have. So I am going to break down a few beliefs that can stop us in our tracks when the isolator steps forward.
I will lose myself in that person. This is one of the biggest fears of the isolator. It is one of their primary motivators into action. They wholeheartedly believe that we cannot keep the love seeker at bay in relationship. To be honest, they may be right. Until we begin to shift our love addicted parts who will erase self in relationship, the isolator will always be on standby. And that may be best. The love-addicted parts will overlook red flags of abusive behaviors which look similar to childhood relationships. They will potentially put us in danger in the process. The isolator can come in and protect us from abuse. But they can also act when the relationship is not abusive, leaving us isolated from everyone.
That person only wants to control me. I need to avoid them. The isolator truly believes that control is at the foundation of most relationships. Who can blame them? It is most of what they have witnessed. They will look for hints that another person is controlling us. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are over-reacting to a statement that might be triggering. Either way, when they believe someone is not good for us, it is difficult to convince them of anything else. This belief can be problematic in therapeutic or boss relationships where suggestions are common and there is an unavoidable power dynamic. So we have to watch and ground when we feel controlled and are moving toward cutting someone off.
Nobody can be trusted. Let’s face it. The overall perspective of the isolator is that nobody can be trusted. They start every relationship already believing that something will go wrong. Unfortunately, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy because the desperate love seeker loses self while trying to prove the isolator wrong. And this ultimately makes the isolator necessary. As you can imagine, this further entrenches the isolator in their beliefs and makes the next relational experience even more likely to fail. Eventually, we isolate in extreme ways to avoid any more damage.
It is possible to come out of these patterns by recognizing these parts at work and expressing from them. As the unconscious thoughts of these parts are moved to the conscious mind, we can start looking for evidence that our patterns aren’t always true. I call this the “trust re-wire”. As we find small bits of evidence that go against our isolator’s impression of the world, we can allow ourselves to set boundaries instead of putting up walls. As we consider other possibilities, we can allow more relationships which will decrease our desperation and our need for self-erasure. As we prove to our isolator that we will no longer lose our power in relationships, we will see the wall start to come down and life will change for the better. There is no shortcut to a more grounded isolator, but if you put in the work, you will find peace in the most challenging area of post-traumatic life: relationships.
Depression is a global problem and it is affecting many more people than we think. And it is powerful in its impact on us. It stops us in our tracks. It keeps us from our purpose and goals in life. It changes the way we see the world. It disconnects us from the people we would love to love. And it is incredibly hard to overcome when it hits. But the biggest problem with depression is not its existence. Based on the world we live in, it is an inevitable manifestation. The problem is that we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know what is triggering it. We don’t know how to resolve the problem it is creating. And the problems are big. When we can make sense of depression, we can change how it impacts us.
You may be wondering what I am talking about here. Depression doesn’t make sense to most people. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. It shows up whenever it wants and it seems completely vague in it’s nature. But what if I told you there was a message in our depression? What if I told you there are patterns that trigger our depression? And if we can spot them, if we can bring our awareness to them, we can begin to make sense out of our depression. We can use it as a way of getting to know ourselves on a deeper level. It’s not easy. It might even be the hardest thing we do. But it is possible.
Contrary to popular belief, depression is not sadness. Depression is a hopelessness, a futility that makes us feel like there is no action worth taking. It is a siren song that says, “Don’t bother. Don’t waste your energy. It isn’t worth it. Nothing will change.” And it is very convincing. It is triggered by patterns that can be very hard to see. But it is also triggered by patterns that are easy to see. Depression might show up after a rejection or abandonment in relationship. That one might be clear. It might say , “I told you so. Nobody will ever love you.” But depression can also show up when we are about to take steps toward what we want. It might say, “Don’t try anything too bold or visible. You will get hurt again.” It might show up after a business failure and say, “You will never be able to have what you want.”
These messages are based on evidence and that evidence has been proving itself since childhood as one self-fulfilling prophecy after another. That may sound like the meanest thing you could do to yourself. And in some ways, it is. But it’s not on purpose. It is meant to protect you from the pain of the losses that live underneath it. It is meant to protect you from taking any more chances and risks only to be crushed by them. It shuts things down before they get out of hand. In other words, it shuts you down before you can shift your patterns and get a new kind of evidence. But there is a way out. Here are four steps I have used to work with my very prolific futility in my own life. It is also what I teach my clients.
Write from it. I know you are not surprised to hear this from me. But the most important thing we can do is get the message from the futility behind depression. At first, it will sound like it is about now. Nothing is okay now. And maybe nothing it okay now. But the message started in your childhood. You felt the futility when you didn’t have the ability to change your circumstances in childhood. You didn’t have power then. You do now. But you haven’t found it yet.
Question it. When we start writing from futility, every word of it will sound true. The body will be intensely impacted. We might even struggle to hold ourselves up right. This is where we will feel the biggest struggle to stay alive. So we are not going to be able to argue with it very much. But maybe we can throw out a question or two. We don’t have to believe the question. It is okay if it sounds stupid. I prefer to use “what-if” questions. We might ask ourselves, “What if it won’t fail this time? What if things can get better?” We don’t have to believe them, but when we ask them and inevitably get a raging response from the futility (inner part), something new starts.
Detach from it. This is the new thing that starts. When we begin to have a conversation with our futility, this tells us something very important. There is something there that is not the futility. There is something having the conversation with the futility. What is that something? It is an aspect of self that is not futile. It is the grounded adult self who can see past the futility. This self can see that the futility is an emotion, a flashback, a story and most of all, temporary. This self can hold space for the inner part with futility without becoming completely engulfed in it. This detachment takes time to build, but as it builds, your ability to process out of depression grows.
Answer it. Once you build this detachment, you can gain more awareness about the pattern that started it. You can see how the present is looking like that past (sometimes in spooky ways). You can make sense of the message that the depression is bringing. And you can stop seeing the pattern as inevitable. You can start to see the way to end it for good. It won’t be easy to break the first time. It will feel like moving a mountain. Your entire inner system will scream about the impossibility of what you are doing. You will be inundated with evidence in the form of emotion and memories. Write from all of it. But you can answer it from that grounded adult self who has the power to make change happen. You can tell it:
Not this time!
It’s resolution time, but I’m not a big fan of resolutions. The idea of resolutions was most certainly created by a controller-enmeshed society who wants to constantly chase goals. It is a great distraction from our inner pain. It keeps us running and fighting and pushing. It keeps us striving for that top-notch version of self. In theory, these aren’t bad things. We should always be considering our next step in self-development. But the problem is the lack of balance that almost always accompanies the pressure to make resolutions and stick to them. And the other problem is the inevitable failure of those boundaries because we aren’t looking at what stands in our way internally. And with that failure comes another ding to self-worth. If you are like me, that is the last thing you need. So this year, I would like to bring you some other possibilities for embracing the new year.
Try a new way of setting intentions. Intention setting has become a popular way of creating change in our lives. But when our inner resistance to our intentions is too strong, the intentions will not be productive. And once again, we will be left wondering if something is wrong with us. Instead of setting intentions and repeating them incessantly, try setting intentions to connect with your resistance to what you want. When we set intentions, we can often sense a “no” in our system. If we write from this “no”, it can reveal how we have been set up by others to believe we aren’t worthy or won’t be supported in our desires. If you process and write from this resistance, you will have much less sabotage when you attempt to make change happen.
Try a new form of self-compassion. Self-compassion is often discussed in self development circles, but it can feel like a foreign language to those of us with complex trauma. It can be difficult to grasp or figure out what it means. We will often start by accepting the parts of us we have always accepted and it’s a good place to start. But try looking at what you don’t accept about yourself. Can you give yourself compassion for the mistakes you make? Can you validate the tough emotions you wish weren’t there? Can you allow yourself to rest when you feel tired? This type of self-compassion brings us closer to the balance we really need.
Try a new method of self-care. Self-care is touted as critical to recharge our batteries so we can keep running. But maybe we can look at self-care in a new way. What if self-care was meant to teach us how to find balance? Maybe self-care was meant to be a bit messy. It isn’t always about a day at the spa. Self-care is about what we need in the moment. Sometimes what we need is to be heard … by our own self. When we take time to listen to self, when we allow our emotions and stories to come forward, we bring our system back into balance and alignment. We care for self in ways that are bigger than almost anything else.
Make it an inner year instead of an outer year. There is a lot of focus on external goals this time of year. We bring our attention to the body, living spaces, jobs and financial status. But if we can turn that focus around and reconnect with self, we would connect with a much clearer understanding of how to attain those external goals. So try putting those external goals on hold and focus on what your inner parts have to say about their own experiences and beliefs. This will bring you closer to your external goals than any forced and desperate behavioral shift could.
I spent years forcing my life to happen and I accomplished quite a bit this way. I met all the milestones, at least for a while. And did well enough with having lots of things and even experiences. But on the inside, I was in pain and empty simultaneously. I had no idea what really mattered to me and was in a total panic about how I could possibly keep up the façade I felt obligated to build. It wasn’t until I turned my focus around that I found a way to live a balanced life with a sense of direction. So this year, don’t let the external world push you toward another set of impossible goals. Sit with self. Look at the yucky shadow stuff you have been running from. The real answer to the new year already lives within. It is waiting for you to see it. Go on an inner expedition. You will find it.
I’m tired today. I don’t know if it’s lack-of-sleep tired or soul-is-sick-of-everything tired or dissociated tired. Honestly, it would be easy to figure out if it is the latter. All I would have to do is ground, but my controller doesn’t want to. So that’s probably my answer. I guess I am dissociated tired. But that doesn’t rule out the first two. My system is battling. Sometimes the battles aren’t too hard to figure out. I have learned a lot over the years. But sometimes they are complicated. Sometimes there are contracts that are mutually exclusive and yet, I hold them simultaneously. How can a system survive that way? There is constant chaos in that situation. And chaos is exhausting. So I’m tired.
Today I will process in my blog because figuring new things out feels hard at the moment. To be honest, I am always processing in my blog. But today, it might be a bit more raw, more obvious, more unedited. My hope is that you might be able to relate to some of it. But my hope is also that you won’t be able to relate to any of it. Why? It’s hard. It’s hard to deal with the battle of the contracts. But you probably will relate. So here goes.
Karma Kid. I can’t. I can’t break free. There is no freedom for me. They told me that. They told me there was no hope. They told me I would never ever escape. They said they would come after me. They said they would come after the ones I love. They are out there right now. They are following me. They are watching me. And the minute I decide to be free, they will come and get me. They know everything. And I am not free. I cannot be free. I want to be free, but that is not my life. That is not what this life has for me. That is for other people. Other people get to have special lives and freedom and love and friends and abundance. But that’s not my life. I can’t have that. And I can never be free from this contract. I don’t have that luxury. I just need to get through this life and forget about any hope I might be considering. That’s not real. That is not for me.
Inner Rebel. Are you fucking serious with this shit? I am tired of spending my days worrying about these losers from my past. I don’t have any more time to give to these people. I don’t have one more damn second or ounce of energy to expend on these losers. What the hell are we doing here? Why am I still talking about this? Why am I still stuck in this messed-up world that is my past? Leave these losers alone and let them live their miserable fucking lives. I don’t give a shit about any of them. I don’t owe them a thing. They owe me for all these wasted years. They owe me for all the time I sat around waiting for them to do the right thing so I could be free. I am tired of this discussion. I am moving on. I am done. I am going to do what I want and I don’t care about them or anyone else. I won’t be held back for one more day.
Controller. I think it is so important that I give this some thought. I can’t just run around willy-nilly and do whatever I want. I need a plan. I need to cover my bases. I can’t just do whatever I want. The world doesn’t work like that. I am burning every bridge I have ever had. What if these people come through? What if they finally do the right thing? If I burn these bridges now, I’ll never know. And walking away from these contracts is a huge risk. They could come after me. They could do damage to my life and reputation. They could discredit me. They could lie to others and ruin everything I have built. Nobody will accept me after that happens. And I can’t build a life if everyone hates me. I have to be more careful. I have to watch myself and make sure this doesn’t end in disaster. These people promised they would take me down and I can’t ignore that.
Mean Kid. Shut the fuck up controller! I am tired of your shit! I am tired of being suppressed by all the overwhelming caution about every damn thing. Good grief. At this rate, I am going to be sitting around until I die. But that’s the plan, isn’t it? Well, I am done letting them get away with their horrible actions. They deserve the worst of the worst. And the best revenge is living well. And the best life is making change happen. So screw all this caution crap! Stop letting them win! I am done with them winning the fight. What is the price of letting that fear rule all the decisions? It’s too big for me. I am done.
Love Seeker. They are finally going to do the right thing. They are finally going to be here for me. I just know it. They will finally show how much they love me. I just have to hold on a little longer. I don’t want to let go yet.
Isolator. I need to stay alone. I need to stay isolated. It is a bad idea to open myself up to new people and experiences because there will be more boundaries invaded, more abuse. I want to break these contracts because the people from my past are horrible. But if I open up to life, I know it will lead to more trouble from new people. People just can’t be trusted. That won’t ever change.
I hear it often from my clients. “I’m quiet.” “I’ve always been an introvert.” “I just don’t have much to say.” “I used to talk too much but I matured, and I don’t do that anymore.” There seems to be a general acceptance among survivors of trauma that their tendency not to express is coming from their inherent personality. Or at least, they believe it is a choice they are making. But I have trouble believing that. I have an introverted daughter and she is never short on words. Sure, she recharges with her alone time (with cats of course), but I’m an extrovert, and I do that too. Sure, she likes to think about things before she speaks. But when she speaks, it is prolific. She can even give a pretty awesome middle school presentation when she has no other choice. So I think we have been told a big fat lie. And I think I know why.
There is nothing that scares an oppressor more than a “talker”. And they are on the lookout for them. They are born with a certain something. I can see it when I meet a very young child who has not been oppressed yet. They have so much to say. They are curious beyond measure. They are creative. They don’t care how the world has always done it. They don’t know what it means to conform. And for an abusive person, they are a tough nut to crack. They are a danger to a family who needs to keep a huge secret. And to be honest, there is jealousy. There may be something in this child that others have lost in their own traumatic experiences. I can see the intolerance in people. They say, “Wow. She’s going to be trouble. You are going to struggle to contain this one.”
And that’s just it. The problem isn’t with this child. The problem is with the containment. Why the hell are we attempt to contain them? Well, I knew the answer to that one before I asked it. So what do abusive families need to do with children like this? They need to program them, brainwash them, gaslight them and confuse them. And they need to do it with more fervor and consistency than with other children. They may even need to do it well into adulthood (but often in subtler ways). So they start to build a story about who the child is. And this can go in two directions.
First, they may choose to gaslight the child to believe they are entirely different than they are. They will constantly shut down their expression with invalidation and aggression. Then they will tell them they are a quiet child. They will say they are introverted. They will keep reiterating how they really don’t say much. They use this often with outsiders to try to explain the oppression happening beneath the surface. Eventually, the child will come to see themselves this way even if it doesn’t make any sense. They lose the ability to express and stand up for themselves. But they excuse it as a personality trait. Deep down, they will know the truth. And they hate themselves for it.
Second, the family may go in the opposite direction. They will acknowledge the tendency to talk, but never in a positive way. Strong emotions will be labeled as volatile and unstable, even demonic. If the child stands up for themselves, they will be labeled as difficult and less “good” than other children. They will be compared to other children in negative ways. “Why can’t you be more like this other child who is quiet and conforming?” If the child talks often, they will be labeled as talkative and unruly and difficult to tolerate. Abusers will tell others how the child talks nonsense too. “They can’t be believed. They are not credible.” In the end, they will be shamed repeatedly because of who they are. While the child still may acknowledge their outgoing nature, they will acknowledge it with shame and humiliation. And they hate themselves for it.
That’s how they want it. They want to take the biggest threats and destroy their self worth. They want the outgoing, the optimistic, and the world-changers to feel shameful and hopeless. This has nothing to do with extroversion or introversion. It is about children who refuse to accept the lies. If they are full of shame and hopelessness about who they are, they will never rise up. They will never say, “Enough is enough!” They will never tell others about what is happening to them. If the world stays the same, the oppressors stay in charge.
One of the biggest questions survivors ask is “Why did this happen to me?” And I get it. We have to ask the question even though there is no real answer to it. There is nothing we can know with absolute assuredness. We can discuss the generational trauma. We can talk about what that does to mental health. We can discuss how it is not our fault. It definitely isn’t. But what would happen if we turned the story upside down? What if we could respond to our intense shame with a different question? For a long time we have asked, “What is wrong with me?” But take a minute to consider another perspective, a more empowering question.
“What intimidates them about me?”
“How do I scare them?”
There is nothing more confusing than parenting after trauma. Our complex trauma teaches us to erase ourselves. It teaches us to ignore our most basic understanding of how the world works. It tells us that our emotions are not valid. And it instills generational messages of unworthiness and mistrust. We lose our inherent intuition and instincts. And with that, we lose our understanding of how to relate to our children naturally. This makes parenting so challenging for us. We know what we want to do, but we just can’t seem to get there. When we can see what is happening, we can start to shift back to who we were meant to be. So in honor of my twins turning 13 a few days ago, I thought I would devote this blog to the habits that tend to plague us as parents with trauma.
We will project. Projection is a word that is overused and underexplained in the psychology world. But the overuse is justified because projection is everywhere. So I will explain it a bit more. In parenting, projection happens when we are taught to suppress our own behaviors. We put these behaviors away and label them as bad or unsafe. When our external children exhibit the same behaviors we are suppressing within ourselves, we use our suppression tactics on them. Projection leads to a generational impact because the only way to stop it is to deeply heal the trauma at the source of it. And unfortunately, it is unconscious and hard to reach without practicing daily awareness building.
We won’t know what to do with their emotions. Suppression can apply to many things, but it almost always applies to emotions. Children are emotional beings. And adults with complex trauma have learned that emotions are unacceptable. At the least, we view them as inconvenient and unlikely to attract positive attention. But at the worst, we see them as dangerous. While projection is a part of our suppression of emotion, there may also be the feeling that our children’s emotions will also get them in trouble with others. The fear of these emotions can make us suppress them in children for their safety and our own.
We live with guilt and regret. There are no parents who get it right all the time. That is impossible in parenting. But when we have been through complex trauma, we have been loaded down with shame. We have been taught that we are unworthy. We have been projected upon until we believe that we are just as bad as our abusers (which isn’t true by the way). We will liken our small mistakes with our children to the traumatic abuse we experienced. And we will spin and spin in our minds about how awful we are. But there is another side to this tendency. If we can keep our focus on our guilt and regret, we can stop ourselves from feeling anger at our abusers which often feels dangerous to our defenses.
We will feel jealousy toward our kids. This might sound awful, but it happens. We have inner children who wanted the life we are trying to provide for our external children. And it is normal for them to feel jealousy. It is normal for them to be angry at the lack of gratitude from our external children. It makes sense that we want to tell them, “You have no idea how good you have it.” And that’s a tribute to how hard we have worked. Don’t forget that. We have worked hard to make change happen and now we are seeing the results. Take that in.
So how do we deal with these challenges in parenting? It is so important to allow our real feelings and not to squelch them like we were forced to do in childhood. If we feel fear about our children’s behavior or emotion, we can allow that fear and express from it. If we shame at our mistakes, let that shame speak up in writing. If we are angry with our children, we can find healthy ways to express that anger and get to the real target (hint: it’s not our children). Let that expression come forward. Accept the struggles that come with being a human dealing with generational trauma. You are allowed to feel how you feel. The more compassion and care you can provide to yourself about this, the more compassion you will be able to find for your external children. And that will create a huge break in the generational cycle of trauma.
There is so much loss in this world. Human existence is wrought with change and loss around every corner. But when we have experienced complex trauma in childhood, the loss takes a new level. Instead of losing parents because they pass away, we lose parents while they are still alive. Instead of losing love through death or divorce, we lose love before we ever have a chance to have it. Instead of losing trust in a person who hurts us, we lose trust in the entire world. Trauma is loss on steroids. And our trauma responses are a combined effort to keep ourselves from feeling those overwhelming losses. But there are reminders everywhere. So we spend a lifetime running from ourselves.
There is no time when those losses become more apparent than at the holidays. Everything we try to run from comes back full force. It can be incredibly hard to wear our mask during these times. It can feel like we are wearing Teflon to restrain a ticking time bomb while hoping we can keep it from exploding. It is an extremely painful time with the reminders of our losses everywhere we look. We see the reminders of unconditional love, extended families, generational traditions and community with people. The hole within us grows deeper and deeper as we race to get through the season.
What if I told you we can exist during the holidays without all that pain? What if there was a way to feel better at the holidays without relying on others to make everything okay? What if we could exist without all the torment during this season? It’s not easy. It’s not a quick fix. But when we acknowledge our pain with compassion and acceptance, we can start to move out of the torture of the holidays a little bit at a time. To do this, we must gain a new perspective about who we are and how we have been affected by our trauma. Here are some steps to bring relief this time of year.
We can move out of the distraction of the holidays. It is not a coincidence that the darkest time of year became the busiest time of year. We live in a world that refuses to slow down. This is a result of the collective attempts by humanity to distract from pain. A time of year that was meant for slowing down and acknowledging our inner world was transformed into a three-ring circus of distracted (and frankly useless) activities. When we take a step back from all this running, we can reconnect with ourselves and the pain that keeps tormenting us during the holiday season. Make it a point to do less this year.
We can acknowledge our anger despite how it is portrayed. If this season is infuriating, that’s okay. We are allowed to be angry with the distracted, masky, perfectionism and all its pressures. We can be angry at the constant reminders to be joyous. The more we embrace our anger, the more we will break free of its hold on us. Ignoring it won’t work. It never has. Accept your anger and take the most powerful step toward your best life.
We can stop invalidating the deep pain about our losses. Our invalidation comes from our fear of the pain that lives underneath the surface. But that invalidation escalates the pain in our system as it retraumatizes us repeatedly. Invalidation can take more forms than we can discuss, but it often claims we are overreacting, need to get over it, should put it behind us or just be grateful. The minute we consider showing ourselves some compassion, this abusive banter enters the picture and takes us down another road of goal-oriented distraction that will never make us feel like it promises. So let the invalidation go and allow the pain of loss that is so real.
We can lower our expectations, especially of the wrong people. Expectations are driven by our desire to resolve our losses with new behaviors from the same old people (or people just like them). They are created from a desire to resolve our pain without feeling it. And they perpetuate that pain indefinitely. Why? We cannot create change by doing the same thing. We will repeatedly have our hearts broken by carrying expectations of others and their behaviors at any time of the year, including the holidays. So let go of those expectations and come back to the original pain of your losses. This is where you can make real change happen.
This holiday season take a new approach. Move your focus inward and heal the pain of your losses through awareness and self-compassion. Watch yourself transform as you accept yourself as you are. And watch the season shift from a nightmare to a new experience you can tolerate, even enjoy. You deserve what others cannot give you. Give yourself the most important gift of the holiday season. Give yourself healing and transformation.
In Survivor’s Guide for Life during December, join us as we come together for support, healing and learning with the Holiday Toolkit for Trauma Survivors.
I have written before about how dissociation is everywhere. And honestly, considering the vastness of the human population, the response to it has been lackluster. Even people who acknowledge their own dissociation aren’t always ready to admit the prevalence of it in the world today. And that makes sense. One of the primary abusive strategies is to make us feel isolated and different. So our very dissociation is set up to make us feel it isn’t common. But as I have awakened to my own dissociation, I see it almost everywhere in almost everyone. I know you are thinking that is obvious because I work with clients who dissociate. But I see it throughout my daily life too.
Dissociation is a primary coping mechanism for children living in a scary world. It isn’t something that has to be taught. It is a natural response to a threatening environment. And to children, it is quite common for something to feel threatening. The event doesn’t have to be newsworthy to trigger a dissociative response. And the dissociation doesn’t have to be debilitating and obvious for it to be dissociation. Dissociation can be as simple as leaving the keys in the refrigerator or driving to work without really knowing how we got there (lost in thought). This is how it works and we are all dealing with it. So why is nobody talking about it? It is important that we understand what is happening here.
We have relied on dissociation since the day we were born. Actually, we have relied on dissociation since before we were born with the previous generations. The emotional pain that runs through humanity feels too big to conquer. It feels beyond our capacity to dig our way out of the collective muck that has accumulated through the generations of trauma before us. So we suppress it. We shove it deep into the crevices of our systems hoping to never see it again. And when a new hopeful generation is born, we do the same thing to them. We project our denial onto them. “Don’t feel. You don’t need to feel. Just get on with life. You’ll be fine.” But there’s an important understanding about dissociation. We cannot use it if we consciously know it’s there. It only exists in the shadows. So we can’t talk about it.
The prevalence of trauma and dissociation in the world feels too big. If we acknowledge our own dissociation, we will see it in others. And we will be faced with the global nature of trauma and dissociation. And I’ll be honest, it can be overwhelming to see the world in this way. But the overwhelm is outweighed by the relief of understanding why the world is in so much trouble. When we can see the parts and their survival strategies, the fear that people are operating from, and the systematic defense of our pain, things make more sense. And honestly, this may be one of the only places we can find real hope. Change can happen as we heal.
It is one big purposeful cover-up. Now you may read this and think I am going all conspiracy theory on you. But think about it for a minute. Dissociation is not just a survival mechanism. It is a powerful way that people can control others, especially children. If someone tells your conscious mind to do something, you have a choice. You might say yes or you might say no. But if someone traumatizes you enough to dissociate you and they tell you to do something, you don’t have much of a choice. You now have an unconscious inner part who is programmed to do what they want. And until you discover it, they can get you to do it anytime by activating that part. People are purposefully using this concept in abusive families, cults, organizations and even governments. And they certainly don’t want you to know about it. So dissociative amnesia will be continually discredited, not because it’s fake, but because it is being used for horrible reasons. People will lose power if it is known by the mainstream population. Before you write this off as extreme, think about it. Why are you writing if off? And where did you learn that?
Waking up to dissociation isn’t just a suggestion or option. It is a significant contributing factor to solving the problems that plague humanity today. As we heal our dissociation, we will understand how to take new action to solve problems we never thought were solvable. Waking up to dissociation is the most important action we can take to change the world in a positive way. So wake up to this sleeping world. Take time to process the fear that keeps you from connecting with your unconscious. Defy the old controlling ways and learn to live with awareness. Change your life and you will be changing the world.
Over the past 12 years, I have developed compassion that I never thought I would have the capacity to hold. It was never modeled to me. I received not even one ounce of compassion. There was none available in my family because everyone was trying to stay alive. They were in survival mode and my pain was of no interest to them. In some ways, my pain made them feel better about their pain. But since it was never modeled to me and I have somehow developed it, I have come to understand compassion as an innately human characteristic. We are all born with it. We all have the capacity for it. And as we heal our trauma, no matter how horrific it was, that compassion rises up from the depths where we hid our true self. It is innate. And that gives me hope.
But lately, I have been struggling with how broken everything seems to be. The world is broken. The collective human psyche is broken. Our priorities are broken. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see “broken” as a permanent state. But if we don’t want it to be a permanent state, we have to start waking up. We have to see the brainwashing we are all living under. I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was always there. But for thousands of years and so many generations, we have been perpetuating a brainwashing that is supposed to keep us alive. The by-product of that survival-mode is a mess. Survival-mode stops us from living our best life. It stops us from helping others to live their best lives. It keeps us driving toward some kind of fake power instead of developing compassion for others. And it destroys the world.
From an inner parts perspective, the collective brainwashing is something we store with our controllers and karma kids. It exists in every person on this planet no matter what their trauma story is. In fact, the people who are the most adamant that they don’t have it are likely to have more of it. So what does the collective brainwashing tell us? Here are what I have found through my own work and helping others.
The brainwashing says we aren’t innately worthy. That’s one of the biggest lies there is. We are born worthy. And we are born knowing that. We prioritize human connection and self-expression above all the worldly crap that doesn’t matter. But then the world asks us what we have done. They ask what we have achieved. They ask about milestones, intelligence, points in the game, grades in school, chair in the orchestra, extra-curricular activities. Nobody ever says, “I’m glad you are you.”
The brainwashing says we cannot trust others. We talk about trust all day long, but in the end, we don’t trust. We learned that people are imperfect and that is a reasonable truth to hold. But the more our needs aren’t met, the more others seem to prioritize their own self-interest, the more we learn to cover ourselves from the pain. We put up our walls. And a lack of trust brings a life full of untrustworthy people proving us right.
The brainwashing says we deserve the pain we feel. It is such a horrible feeling to believe we are deserving of our pain. We are taught that we deserve horrible things because if we believe that, the people doing horrible things are off the hook. So we don’t seek real ways to end our pain because we believe we must have it. We believe it is ours. We might even believe our identity is based in it, that there is no “us” without it. And we hold onto it.
The brainwashing says our humanness is the problem. This problem might come in the form of emotional expression or intuitive drive toward purpose. But it is inevitable when we are children. Our innate humanity will come forward. And the world around us says that’s a problem. Robotic conformity is considered acceptable. In fact, this is the number one problem in the world today.
The good news about compassion is it doesn’t look the way our love seekers think it does. It isn’t draining. It isn’t all-consuming. Compassion is a boundaried love for humanity. It isn’t self-sacrificial. There is no guilt that drives true compassion. In fact, compassion is sometimes about doing exactly what another person doesn’t want us to do. But there is a problem with developing compassion in a non-compassionate world. It makes the heart ache. It drives a longing for a collective pain release. It is the knowledge that things could be so much better if everyone could recognize what was driving their pain. And it is hard to hold that some days. But I know this. It is so much better to hold compassion than the pain of the brainwashing.