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.
I love the self-help industry. I am not being facetious. I am very serious. When I first started waking up from the mountains of brainwashing I was holding up, it was the self-help books that saved me. I was surrounded by people who were in denial and I need some people to be honest with me. I needed to know that others were struggling too. I wanted the smallest bit of light to be shone on the problem in front of me. And the self-help books did that for me. I explored all kinds of development from all kinds of authors. I read everything from the Louise Hay books to channeled, slightly obscure material without a large following. I read various religious books (including the Bible from cover to cover). I even read non-self-help books from really honest authors which helped me realize I didn’t always have to be perfect. I had an insatiable appetite for information. And I took bits and pieces from all of it.
These books were the start of the journey to my truth. But as I healed, I start to question things. I began to question the books that had kickstarted my journey. In reality, I think that is a good thing. We need to be questioning everything all the time. This is trained out of us in abusive households (and societies in general), but it’s something we must come back to. I thought the concepts were good, but there were some aspects of self-help that weren’t sitting well with me. I understood that peace and positivity were great things. I had felt them and I really wanted to be in that space all the time. But something felt fake. I felt like I was avoiding something. It seemed like another type of mask. And I didn’t want to drop one mask to pick up another. I wanted to be truly free.
So I started to take a closer look at the “current of yuck” that seemed to be running underneath the peacefulness I was working so hard to maintain. As you can imagine, I found some really bad stuff in the process. There was anger, futility, shame, grief and fear. And there were memories. There were so many memories. But most importantly, there were inner parts who were desperately screaming at me to knock it off. They were tired of being invalidated by my controller’s latest and most favorite mask. They wanted me to help them end their pain. They didn’t care if I was fitting in with this or that community. They didn’t care if I was the most enlightened. And they didn’t care about my frickin’ positive thoughts. They needed help.
My defenders were terrified. All the books said to keep it positive. All the books said that acknowledging my “negative” emotions and thoughts would attract all the wrong things. I would bring horrible things into my world if I allowed that stuff to come forward. Even worse, my actions would be influenced if I allowed these emotions. If I allowed anger, I would become a horrible monster. If I allowed grief, I would drown in the tidal wave and never be productive again. If I allowed shame, everyone in my life would see what a horrible person I was. If I allowed fear, all the things I feared would come true. And if I allowed futility, I would be paralyzed forever. I had to stay positive at all costs. I had to keep my mask firmly in place.
And my spiritual friends didn’t like my new plan at all. Their controllers came forward to let me know that I would invite horrible things with my plan to acknowledge this pain. They told me not to write about such things. They said it was best to leave the past in the past. They said the strongest people are able to put it away in a box and stay positive, move on and face the future without looking back. Needless to say, I wasn’t long for that environment. I started to pull away and face my shadow self, my own darkness that was no fault of my own. I started to find an inkling of compassion for myself and how I truly felt. And a world of memories opened up to me. They were horrible, but with each one I acknowledged, a little bit of weight lifted, so I kept going.
After all these years, I have learned the truth. Peace and positively are an organic result of allowing everything that is not peaceful and positive to come forward. If I want to find peace, attract great things and live an amazing life, I have to put my focus on my resistance to it. This is the opposite of what I had learned. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use self-help to help us in our trauma recovery journey. Creating positive affirmations about our future is very powerful if we use them to bring our resistance forward. If you want to bait a defender to speak to you, just state that you are a worthy person. They will come forward to tell you how you are not. I guarantee it. Positive affirmations are an amazing conversation starter. It just might not be the conversation you were hoping to have. So use self-help to bring you closer to your resistance. Let it guide you to what needs attention. And don’t let the existence of “negative” emotions convince you that something is wrong with you. Nothing is wrong with you. You are healing.
Come join us in Survivor’s Guide for Life in July as we find the helpful in self-help.
Dear Inner Parts, We get to make a choice. I know that sounds crazy, but we do. We get to decide between living for others and living for ourselves. It is our choice if we want to do something. We don’t have to wait for permission. We don’t have to avoid visibility. We don’t have to seek approval from others before we do it. We get to live life on our terms for our benefit. We no longer have to live in the jail our abusers locked us in. We have choices. We can do anything we want to do.
Grounded Adult Self
Are you crazy? This world doesn’t work like that. There are rules. There are things that must be done in a certain way and order. You have to pay your dues. People have to approve. You have to climb your way to the top the old-fashioned way. You have to pay your dues and work, work, work. You are talking about cheating. And you are talking about risking it all. Choosing to do something without following the proper protocol will bring failure. You cannot step outside of the box that society has created for you. You must do the right thing. You have to do the right thing. If you do whatever you want, people will be jealous and angry and disapproving. They will cast you out. What will you do when everybody hates you? Live in a real box? Your dream for freedom is nothing but a pipe dream.
You are crazy. You cannot have freedom. You were not born for freedom. You have a role to uphold. You have a responsibility to your family. You don’t get to put yourself first. You don’t get to do what you want. That was established from the beginning. Your family will abandon you and you are nothing without them. And you will be punished by everyone including the universe. You will be put back in your place. The retaliation will be swift and horrific. You will fail because you were meant to fail. You need to play in your space and your space is small. You need to stay out of the spotlight. You need to be as invisible as possible. Know your place. And your place is not freedom.
Don’t listen to these idiots. Do what you want. Live how you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Stay away from all those people out there who think they have the right solution for you. Do your own thing. Break all the rules. When people tell you that you are wrong, you are probably right. Society is screwed up. Your family is screwed up. Everybody is screwed up. Do whatever you want. And don’t worry about the money either. I’m sure that will work out somehow.
Do what you want, but please don’t involve other people. They can’t be trusted. They are only interested in what is good for them. They don’t have your interest at heart. Just do it on your own. You can do it on your own. You have done everything on your own and there haven’t been any problems that way. You might have to make some sacrifices, but it will be worth it. Keep minding your own business and stay away from others. You can be as free as you want, but only if you avoid others.
If we are going to do this, let’s do it with as much passion and authenticity as possible. Go big or go home. Don’t let the controller censor it. Take a risk. It is time for a revolution. It is time for a new approach. And whatever you do, don’t let others call you crazy. They can root for you to fail, but when you succeed, they will be standing in the wings wondering what happened.
F*** the whole world. They are all f***ed anyway. Screw em all.
I only have one question. Will they love me? Will they finally love me?
This past week, I have been inundated with fear. This isn’t the fear from my inner children like you might think. This is a fear coming from my defenders. They are terrified of the repercussions of my latest actions. They believe I am “too big for my britches” (my mother’s favorite phrase). They know I am going to end up with a massive catastrophic failure as a result of my boldness. They sit in a contract with my family and cannot imagine that anything positive will come from breaking it. It is a jail I was never meant to escape. And I will go down.
This is not my first experience with paralyzing fear from my inner parts. It is quite common. It is one of the most prevalent emotions in our system. But it can still get me. There are layers of fear and they can all express in different ways. And the fear can show up in some highly confusing ways. Even the most seasoned recovery journeyers can get caught off guard. So let’s talk about some of the challenges when it comes to fear.
Fear comes in layers. Believe it or not, the most debilitating fear in our systems doesn’t come from the inner children. Even though they experienced horrific things, their fear will flow and shake through the system like an animal who has just been chased. The bigger problem is in the blocks to that fear. The defenders hold fear of the fear. That means the inner child fear pushes up against defender fear. It is like an ocean wave hitting a brick wall instead of slowly melting into the sand. It sends jolts through the system. It can leave us completely paralyzed. And if we don’t see what is happening, we will assume this is all one fear and run far away from it.
The dissociative response to fear is instantaneous. Our defenders deploy the most powerful defenses to keep the fear away. This means that dissociation is intense when our fear is triggered. Not only do we have layers of fear, but we have a layer of dissociation on top of it. This makes it even harder to see the original fear caused by the trigger. And that dissociation will numb out the fear response leaving us numb and confused about what just happened.
The body has confusing reactions. When fear slams into fear and dissociation is strong, the body is left holding the bag. The body responses can take so many forms. Some can look like fear, but most don’t. The stomach can start to hurt as the inner battle wages. We can even get nauseas. We can start to have dissociative responses like dizziness and light-headedness. We can begin experiencing anxiety or depression as a way to quell the fear in the system. And none of these responses point to fear directly. So the confusion mounts.
The mind makes it about now. The worst part about the mind is how it works to divert us from the real issue. The mind is run by the controller and its job is to keep us off the trail to the real story. This often happens by interpreting past emotions as about now. When I have fear from the past, my mind sounds like this. “I will never get everything done. My son is going to fail that class and then everyone will see what a loser I am. I am not feeding my kids enough vegetables. How am I going to get everything done today? There is too much. I am too tired. It isn’t possible. I just want a break. I am procrastinating and I am going to pay for that. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard.” These statements don’t just happen once. They happen fast and repetitively. That is the mind on fear.
Our abusers knew how to use it against us. One of the most powerful tools our abusers had against us was our own fear. They knew how to create a long-lasting fear response through constant fear reinforcement. They made us believe they had magical powers, higher powers and people everywhere backing them up. They did this in countless ways. But in the end, our child minds believed they were more powerful than the weak child abusers they really were. We may have believed they were aware of what we were doing even when they could not have known. Even when we grow up and move away, there may be a lingering feeling they are watching. But this lives in the unconscious with most of what the abusers said. So we don’t know we are living with beliefs from our deep-seated fears until we dig deep.
How do we unravel this maze that is our fear response? We have to take it one layer at a time. We must watch how our system is triggered and what happens. We start by seeing the dissociation and working to counter it with grounding. We work with the defensive fear and how that is manifesting. We write from our defenders who are terrified to let the truth come through. Only then can we get to the core fear from our traumatic experiences. But with each layer, we heal. And with each layer, we start to shift our lives in powerful ways. The fear leaves and we find freedom.
I work with some of the most motivated people in the world. I don’t mean that my clients are jumping and bouncing around the world with joy. In many cases, it is just the opposite. They are crawling through the muck of futility to make a small amount of headway each and every day. And this takes the most motivation in the world. It isn’t the motivation that is stereotyped by the controller-enmeshed world we live in. It doesn’t look like a big muscly dude powering through an obstacle course. It is so much bigger than that. It takes more grit.
I have watched my clients go through countless ups and downs in one day. But they keep pushing. They keep searching. They keep working and seeking out answers even though they want to give up. They want to give up so much. And I am no different. It doesn’t come in the extremes that it used to. But each day, there is some kind of block. There is a reason to give up. There is a contract with my parents that must be upheld. There is unworthiness telling me to give up. There is the paralysis that will steal time away. There are triggers that send me straight to my journal as a traumatic emotion rising through my system.
And yet each morning, we try again. We keep going despite knowing we haven’t seen the last of these struggles. We know it isn’t going to be easy sailing. We know that every step we take will come with resistance. And some of that resistance is going to be hard to notice. It is going to be tricky. It is going to be stealthy. So awareness is going to be critical. We aren’t going to be able to float through life and stay on this path. This is the hardest work there is. We are swimming upstream. But we can take ourselves out of hell if we stick to it. So let’s take a look at how our resistance will fool us. Let’s focus our attention on some of the ways our defenders will keep us stuck with their tricks. What do they tell us?
There are people out there who can do whatever they want without really trying. It is true that trauma runs on a continuum. And if you are reading my blogs on the regular, you aren’t dealing with a minor traumatic impact. There are lots of people who have less trauma than you. I will guarantee that. But to reach our purpose, there will be obstacles for everyone. Even those who have managed to get rich and famous are dealing with their traumatic responses to life. We see it in the media all the time. When we tell ourselves that others have it easy, we are indicating that there is something wrong with us, that we are not worthy of an easy life. In reality, we are showing amazing strength. Some people might be ignoring what they came here to do, but that doesn’t make their lives easy. It just makes their lives numb. Watch for clues that the people who seem successful are actually in pain. It won’t resolve anything specific. But it might help you see how you are not so alone in your own.
Nothing has changed and nothing ever will. While this sounds like a futile statement, it isn’t always coming from that place. Sometimes this is a tricky mind-game from our controller. They make it impossible to see your progress because they want you to quit. They will keep you focused on external milestones to prove you are getting nowhere. The reality is that this inner work creates slow changes in the external world. It is like turning around a gigantic ship in the middle of the ocean except slower. The real impacts can initially be felt in the body and in our tolerance for small things that used to be more difficult. When this message lights up in our system, we won’t be able to see it. The changes get lost in our consciousness. If you are seeing small changes in this work, take a minute to write them down. Refer to this list whenever you feel this way.
Nobody is ever going to get this. I’ll be honest. There’s a ton of truth to this one. Walking out of the zombie life is an isolating venture. Sometimes we feel like we are looking out our window at a world that doesn’t get us. Who am I kidding? It is not always just a feeling. The controller-enmeshed world is not going to get the deep recovery we are working toward. There will be invalidation around every corner. Our confidants will be extremely limited in number. People will leave our lives much faster than they will come into it. But while it might seem like a good reason to stop, it isn’t. It is never a good idea to stay in pain to fit in. While it is incredibly lonely to the love seeker before we have expressed our grief, we can come to a place where we can exist without validation in the same way. We can become so comfortable with who we are, we can stand out in friendships and society without being bothered by it. So pay attention to when you are allowing yourself to be in pain so you can avoid isolation. We don’t have to pick from two extremes.
Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself throwing in the towel on recovery. We will tell ourselves all sorts of things to avoid this work because it’s hard work. We will take breaks at times and there is nothing wrong with that. But don’t let your parts convince you this is not your path. You are strong or you would have never started this journey. The train has left the station and you are on it. And believe it or not, everyone will be better off because you have come along for this ride.
Our search for love is a fallible, desperate and often unproductive venture. We can spend decades looking for some way to end our painful loneliness until we give up and isolate. It is a debilitating swing from one painful way of living to another. And it seems to be completely out of our control. We may make resolutions and goals. We may decide we won’t date any more addicts. We may promise ourselves we won’t ignore any more red flags. We might convince ourselves that we are strong enough to avoid self-erasure the next time. But when the next time rolls around, we are swept away by our dreams of the perfect love. We rush. We don’t set boundaries. We excuse the red flags. And we end up in another painful and futile spot.
So the inevitable happens. We isolate. We sit in our loneliness while feeling there is no hope to have a reasonable relationship with another person. We decide that the world is made of horrible people who we cannot trust. We agree that relationships are not for us. We stay away. We find new hobbies that don’t involve people. We watch lots of movies on Netflix. We scroll through a ton of social media. We work too much. We may even find other addictions to numb ourselves out. And we convince ourselves everything is okay. We are happy enough. The emptiness is tolerable on most days. But then sometimes, it isn’t.
And the cycle continues with painful extremes. There does not appear to be a way out. And honestly, we are all tired of the misery it brings. But it feels so hopeless. There doesn’t seem to be a way out of this excruciating pendulum of searching and giving up. But I am here to tell you that there is hope. I don’t have a quick fix. I don’t have a fix you will like. Your defenses will fight me every step of the way. They may even start distracting you now. But I have a solution. For those who are willing to power through their defenses, there is a way to live life with fulfilling relationships. But first, we must build our awareness of what is actually happening. We have to understand what is driving this process. So here are some secrets to help you make some sense of the process.
Your choice of partner is not random. Have you ever looked back on your history of partners and wondered why they all seemed to have the same triggering characteristics? You may have sworn they didn’t when you were in relationship. But hindsight was 20/20. And you can’t understand how it happened again and again. Well, that was your love seeker in action. They are desperate to resolve their pain about the love they never received. And they will resolve it by recreating childhood relationships until they figure out how to get their love. If they can do it, it will resolve the past pain without the need to grieve. They will have their answer and the pain can finally end. But they keep choosing and attracting the same type of people from childhood. They are the only people who would interest the love seeker. If someone healthy comes along and expresses real love, the love seeker rejects them as boring or a liar. And the pattern continues.
Your loneliness is a flashback. I am not suggesting you aren’t lonely today. Humans are meant to be with other humans. We desire connection. But when you feel the desperate, pained need for another person, you are feeling what it was like to be a child in an abusive family. You are feeling the life or death fear of being neglected and abandoned. You are feeling the desperation that convinced you to leave yourself behind for one or two snippets of appreciation and attention. You are experiencing a flashback. And you are probably experiencing the desperate desire to numb that flashback with any addiction or person available. If you can sit with the flashback and help your love seeker through it, you can stop the cycle. If not, the pattern will continue.
You are never going to find what you are looking for externally. As you may have gathered, there is not an external solution to your internal pain. You can make it stop temporarily. That is the truth of all addictions. They are meant to give you relief for a moment or two. But without the healing on the inside, the same patterns will continue on the outside. The love seeker needs to get their love from you. They need to be heard by you. They need to feel validated through your compassion. The internal re-traumatizing self-hatred has to move out through expression. These internal changes will give you the grounded self-respect necessary to set boundaries and reject those red flags. It is the way to end the pattern for good.
Your love seeker hates that idea. You may be thinking that your love seeker will love the idea of finally being heard. But this is not something the love seeker wants anything to do with. They want their external savior and they want it now. They will not stop until they get it. So even once you get past your defenses, you will have to work with a love seeker who doesn’t want your love … at least for a while. But that’s okay. Stay persistent. Persevere through the blocks. They will change their mind over time. And you will begin to feel peace for the first time in your life. This pattern doesn’t have to be a life sentence. You can change it for good.
Give yourself the gift of awareness when it comes to your love seeking patterns. You don’t have to be a victim to the beliefs your childhood abusers instilled in you. With the right understanding of how your past is driving your present, you can move out of this pain and into a better life … a life with real love. It is possible. Come join me in Survivor’s Guide for Life in June as we explore how to break this cycle.
As I mentioned last week, addiction is everywhere. Some addictions are considered perfectly acceptable by the norms of society. And some addictions are not. But those acceptable forms of addiction are not less devastating to our inner peace. They just happen to be approved by the controller. But there is an addiction above all addictions. Actually, it is the foundation of all addictions really. It is at the basis for everything we do. And this addiction plays out within the norms of society most of the time. That makes it stealthy on an individual and societal level. So awareness is low and the impact is high. And that addiction is the love addiction.
You might be thinking that you can’t be addicted to something you need. But that’s not true. You can be incredibly addicted to something you need. Food is a great example. It isn’t an issue that you want it. It is an issue with how you get it and what you do with it. It is about the approach and not the thing itself. Love addiction is very real. It may be the most pervasive addiction in the world. It is not just reserved for those with complex trauma. It is born from the loss of the love we needed in childhood. Even the best parents failed at this sometimes. It is fueled by the grief of those losses. And we will do almost anything to avoid that grief.
It might not seem like it, but this addiction can destroy our lives. It destroys our lives by keeping us on an endless quest to find an external solution to an internal problem. We jump through hoop after hoop in the desperation to finally end our pain. And it takes our focus far away from where it should be. So let’s look at how a love addiction manifests in our lives. When we know what it looks like on the outside, we have a chance of bringing awareness to the inner pain driving it.
You don’t know who you are without a relationship. After years of abuse, you have lost yourself so thoroughly that you can only define yourself through the mirror that relationship provides. This means that if nobody is there, you are nobody. You are nothing. This makes a relationship absolutely imperative at all times. There is no option but to make something work. An abusive or unfulfilling relationship is better than being alone. But being another person is not sustainable.
You are constantly asking yourself what the other person wants to hear. When you consider answering a question, what is the first thing that goes through your mind? Do you focus on what feels right to you or what you think the other wants to hear? If you often choose the later, you are attempting to meet their needs above your own. But prioritizing another person above your own identity is not going to create a lasting relationship.
You feel unheard, unseen and misunderstood by everyone. When you erase yourself for others, you are training them how to treat you. You are unconsciously informing them that you do not prioritize yourself so they don’t have to either. You are not showing them who you are so they have no chance of actually getting to know who you are. When you want them to know you, they can’t. They have never learned who you are. So unless they can read minds, they cannot possibly understand the real you. And a masked relationship won’t last.
You make excuses for red flags. When you come from relational trauma, you have learned that most behaviors from others are excusable. You may get to the point where you can’t even see the red flags at all. But if you do, you will be quick to provide excuses for those behaviors. This stems from your deep need to be in relationship at all costs and the belief that people who will be in relationship with you are scarce. As the abusive behaviors get bigger, so do the excuses until it implodes. Abusive relationships will never work.
You believe you can change another person. You will likely come into adult relationships with the same mentality as childhood relationships. And in childhood, the only way to fight hopelessness was to believe you were somehow in control. This was likely accomplished through self-blame. If it was your fault, it was fixable. But there was a problem. It wasn’t your fault. And it wasn’t fixable. And with that unresolved problem, you have parts who want to fix it by finally figuring out how to change the next person. But people cannot be changed. So the relationship is not sustainable.
Love addiction leads to constant pain in relationships. So the next time you find yourself mired in desperation and hopelessness about a relationship, ask yourself about its origins. Did it come from a place of mutual love and respect? Or is it an attempt to resolve a deep grief from years of losses? Use these signs to help identify the answer. Next week, I will write about some steps to stop the love addiction cycle. And if you want to dive deeper into the nuances of finding and stopping this cycle, join us on Survivor’s Guide for Life in June as we explore the love addiction together.
I heard another song on the radio today about a break-up. It was also about alcohol. It focused on alcohol being the only hope for coping with the break-up. I can’t count the number of songs about alcohol fixing the broken heart. It is everywhere. Alcohol is glorified as the proper numbing solution for those pesky emotions. It is normalized as a way to get through almost anything: a break-up, a bad day at work, motherhood. We only talk negatively about alcohol when it gets in the way of our manic functioning, our other major numbing tool. Only then is it a problem. Only then do we judge people for their alcohol use because we consider them too weak. There are only societal rewards for those who are able to properly numb out their emotions without letting their crazy daily schedule falter. Everyone else gets the stigma.
Alcohol or no alcohol, our society considers emotional numbing to be a strength. That is the truth. The less we feel, the more normal we are. And it is a massive problem. Running from our emotions causes most of what is wrong with the world today. All addictions are caused by emotional suppression. Most physical illnesses are caused by emotional suppression. Wars, hatred and the general drive for power over others are caused by emotional suppression. The huge discrepancy in lifestyle between the rich and the poor is caused by emotional suppression. The destruction of our planet is caused by emotional suppression. You get the idea. So why can’t we see this? Why can’t we wake up to something that sounds so simple? There’s an easy answer. We are terrified.
We are terrified of the emotions we hold. We are afraid they will kill us. We are afraid we will not be able to handle them in our body. We are afraid these emotions will bring unmanageable change. We are afraid of our vulnerability and what that might make us susceptible to. We are afraid. We learned to be afraid in childhood. Our defenders took on the brainwashing held by the rest of society. What started as a tiny human who was ready to flow with their emotions and body sensations became a rigid, “zombiefied”, floating head. The idea of going back where we came from, of sorting through all that unfelt muck feels like a death sentence. In other words, our defenders have traded our fear of death for a figurative death of not living life and a literal early death from the toll this takes on our bodies.
I know I am being blunt, but I believe it is the only way to get through. Our defenses are walls. They block the messages we need to hear from our internal worlds and our external worlds. So I will get a bit loud and blunt because without emotional expression, we will not heal. We will not heal our inner worlds. And we will not heal our external worlds. It just won’t happen. We can run. We can drink all the alcohol and take all the drugs. We can rise to the top of companies and organizations. We can buy the biggest houses. We can travel the entire world. And we will not heal. Life will not get better for us. We will not find peace. And I don’t want you to go through that kind of fruitless searching. So I will be blunt.
In my experience with healing myself and working with clients, the most difficult emotion for people to reach is grief. I am not referring to crying. Some survivors may find it easy to cry. They might even cry all day. But grieving is different. It is a deep letting go of what we cannot change. It often dances with anger. The more anger we express, the more access we have to grief. And the more grief we express, the more we ground into the anger we need to change our lives. You can’t have one without the other. But it is hard to reach. Our defenses go out of their way to shut it down and numb it out. And until we build awareness of these defenses and how they work, we won’t get past them.
But in my own recovery, it is the grief that has been life changing. And contrary to the defenders’ expectations, it has all been good. We have to let go of what we are holding on to so we must grieve it. We must grieve the lack of unconditional love. We must grieve the lost time we have spent looking for another way to fix the pain. We must grieve those who have come and gone from our lives as we have tried to get our needs met. We must grieve our missing selves as they have lied dormant waiting for us to come back. We must grieve the lost opportunities we could not see because we were not awake to see them. And we must grieve the actual deaths of people and pets, the deaths we could not grieve because we believed it would have opened up a tidal wave of grief we could not handle. We have to let ourselves wail and sob and heave in pain. We must not listen to the defenders who say this lead to annihilation. We must jump into this grief. We owe it to ourselves to do this. It is the ultimate self-care. In doing this, our lives will shift and change in amazing ways. It will seem almost magical although we will know it isn’t. People will ask what changed and we can answer them with one powerful phrase.
I let go.