Soft words to come back together

When we fight, we push each other away. It can often feel like there is a massive gap between us, and neither of us knows how to reach across that gap.

We are both stuck, staring at each other across the void, kept apart by hurt, resentment, anger, and fear that anything we do might push us further apart.

This is the time for soft words. The purpose of these words is not to fix anything, not to try to figure out the fight or come to any resolution, but simply to reach across the gap and say, “Hey, I’m still here.” The message of these words are hope and regret. They are not apologies, promises, explanations, and they don’t need to be explained or expanded on. They stand alone. They are words to simply be heard by the other. Here are a few suggestions of some soft words you can share:

“I wish that fight didn’t happen.”

“I hate it when we hurt each other like that.”

“I hope we can get back to being close soon.”

“I miss the us when we are in a good space.”

Words like those are invitations to heal the hurt. They are a great place to start the to journey across the gap to each other.

Ka kite anō

“That man is suffering from memories!”

Sigmund Freud is attributed with stating that well over a hundred years ago. Our memories of the past are wide and diverse, the proverbial “another country”. Some are beautiful places we like to visit and rest and rejuvenate ourselves in, moments of happiness, pride, joy. Others are darker, shabbier places that we go with with shame, regret, sadness or loneliness.

for some of us there are worse places in our mind…places of raw terror. Memories so painful that even a glimpse of them over the horizon is enough to have us trembling.

Often, in our present we stumble across a landscape that is familiar and, unconsciously, we believe that we know know where we are going….that we have been there before and it is familiar. I struck this with a client recently. He realised that in some of his interactions with his wife, he felt trapped and powerless. I asked him how old he felt when he was in these difficult times and he reported feeling like a teenager. When we explored these a bit deeper he realised that they resembled a difficult time of his childhood when his mother was “dumping” on him and he felt trapped and powerless. He experienced a “resonance”…echos of a difficult emotional time. He was drawn back to being a powerless teenager.

There is a very helpful book titled, “The body keeps the score” by Bessel van der Kolk. This book dives into the somatic experience of things. Somatics are the sensations we feel, as distinct from emotions. Often when we are triggered by something happening now, into a painful or traumatic memory, our body reacts and floods us with adrenaline and cortisol and we feel anxious….and we react out of that anxiety, shutting down, flaring up or running from the situation. Sometimes the way out fo this triggering is simply to notice and acknowledge that somatic reaction, and put it in the past where it belongs…however, “simply” can take a bit of training and work.

This says it all

I was recently at a workshop and the tutor read this poem by Jeff Foster which, I think, says a lot that many of us can identify with.

HOW I BECAME A WARRIOR

Once, I ran from fear 
so fear controlled me.
Until I learned to hold fear like a newborn.
Listen to it, but not give in.
Honour it, but not worship it.
Fear could not stop me anymore.
I walked with courage into the storm.
I still have fear, 
but it does not have me.

Once, I was ashamed of who I was.
I invited shame into my heart.
I let it burn. 
It told me, “I am only trying
to protect your vulnerability”.
I thanked shame dearly, 
and stepped into life anyway,
unashamed, with shame as a lover.

Once, I had great sadness 
buried deep inside.
I invited it to come out and play. 
I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry.
And I found joy right there.
Right at the core of my sorrow.
It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.

Once, I had anxiety.
A mind that wouldn’t stop.
Thoughts that wouldn’t be silent.
So I stopped trying to silence them.
And I dropped out of the mind, 
and into the Earth.
Into the mud.
Where I was held strong 
like a tree, unshakeable, safe.

Once, anger burned in the depths.
I called anger into the light of myself.
I felt its shocking power. 
I let my heart pound and my blood boil.
Listened to it, finally.
And it screamed, “Respect yourself fiercely now!”.
“Speak your truth with passion!”.
“Say no when you mean no!”.
“Walk your path with courage!”.
“Let no one speak for you!”
Anger became an honest friend.
A truthful guide. 
A beautiful wild child.

Once, loneliness cut deep.
I tried to distract and numb myself. 
Ran to people and places and things.
Even pretended I was “happy”. 
But soon I could not run anymore.
And I tumbled into the heart of loneliness.
And I died and was reborn
into an exquisite solitude and stillness.
That connected me to all things.
So I was not lonely, but alone with All Life.
My heart One with all other hearts.

Once, I ran from difficult feelings.
Now, they are my advisors, confidants, friends,
and they all have a home in me, 
and they all belong and have dignity.
I am sensitive, soft, fragile, 
my arms wrapped around all my inner children.
And in my sensitivity, power.
In my fragility, an unshakeable Presence.

In the depths of my wounds, 
in what I had named “darkness”,
I found a blazing Light
that guides me now in battle.

I became a warrior
when I turned towards myself.

And started listening.

– Jeff Foster

“She’s asking for it!”

I work with women (and men) who have experienced sexual abuse. One of the things that leave them confused and with a deep sense of worthlessness is the inevitable question, “What did I do wrong to deserve this?”. Victims of abuse frequently blame themselves…they suspect that they did something to attract the assault so somehow the assault it was their fault.

Sadly, as a society, for a long time we have endorsed this thinking, particularly with women. That we allow lawyers to ask questions like, “what were you wearing?”, “How much had you had to drink?”, and to probe a woman’s sexual history, as if that somehow made the assault justifiable, locks into our social thinking that women are responsible for being raped.

The list of things women shouldn’t do is endless. What they shouldn’t wear, how they shouldn’t behave, where they shouldn’t go, what they shouldn’t say, how they shouldn’t look at a man. These notions underpin the thinking that, “she was asking for it”.

If we want a just society we need to unequivocally endorse all women’s right to be safe and this starts with upholding the statement that there is nothing a woman can do to “ask for it”. Judges need to stop lawyers from asking any question that suggests the victim was responsible for the crime.

While this is a deadly serious point, these guys have taken a fun look at where that thinking might go, if we took it in the other direction.

A point of clarification – at the outset I said I see both men and women who have been sexually assault. While there are similarities in the trauma of being assaulted the societal meanings differ. Men face their own, distinct challenges of identity around sexual assault which lead to a similar sense of worthlessness. Sexual assault destroys lives. It’s something that many people don’t recover from and struggle to deal with. The time to tolerate or justify it has long past.

Ka kite anõ

Trauma, a game changer

Trauma occurs when something intensely terrifying and/or painful happens and the person has no ability to control the situation. Combat soldiers who are bombed or pinned down, those who experience a sexual or phsical assault, being involved in a car crash, or seeing something horrific can often lead to trauma.

When this happens, your brain gets injured. The difference between physical injuries and mental ones is that the physical ones are obvious, and since we can see them we can treat them. The mental ones are not so obvious and we tend to think the person will “just get over them”, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. If you break a leg and don’t get it set and cast, you will limp and experience pain forever. the same can happen with a trauma.

When you experience a trauma, the most common injury is that a part of your brain called the amygdala stops functioning properly. The amygdala is the “smoke alarm” – it warns you of danger. For most people it sits pretty inactive until they sense something very dangerous then it fires up and our body gets that horrible feeling of tension and on alert. For those who have experienced a trauma, it is almost always firing….they go through life with the physical sensation of danger everywhere. Their life is one of constant stress.

When this happens their lives begin to shut down. They find leaving the house difficult, going certain places that resemble the site of the trauma impossible and situations overwhelming. It may be difficult for the person or others to understand the connection between the sense of danger and the trauma. Why do combat vets get anxious in supermarket carparks? Why can a woman who has been raped not get on a bus? The connections become clear when the trauma is explored.

Sadly a lot of trauma sufferers find their own therapy to get rid of that constant feeling of danger. They drink, take drugs, engage in risky behaviours and lash out at those around them. Those who have experienced a trauma use these to give themselves relief from the constant misery and fear that the trauma has left them with. If someone broke a leg and didn’t get it fixed and walked with constant pain and a limp, we would empathise with them using drugs or alcohol to escape that constant pain. We struggle to do that with trauma because the injury is not visible, but it is just as real. One of the problems of the debate on drugs and alcohol abuse is that we see those as a “problem” and a “crime”. In a great many cases it is a “symptom” of trauma and if we could see it that way we would have a much better approach for dealing with it.

Working with trauma sufferers is the work I most enjoy, because it is so wonderful to see people begin to live a life of freedom, ambition and hope that trauma stole from them. It is slow, because it has to be. Trauma sufferers have to feel completely safe to talk about their trauma and that might not happen until they have been meeting with a therapist for many months.

If you have had a trauma, I would urge you to see a therapist who is experienced in trauma to get it resolved. It is probably affecting you and those around you more than you realise. If it has come about through a sexual assault it is covered by ACC. Find out more at tautokomai.co.nz

Nga mihi

Steve

Beware! – week 3 is on us!

Hi all,

I thought the article below is worth sharing.  Certainly something to think about. It comes to me from Robert Jenkinson, a respected counsellor.  I’m not sure who the author of the article is but they deserve our thanks for sharing something absolutely worth listening to.

As you read it think of some of the things you might need to do, or discuss with whoever you are locked down with to get through this week in particular…I’ve made some suggestions after this article.

“Back in NZ when I was a Probation Officer, I was a Home Detention specialist – managing offenders ‘tagged’ to stay at home, (up to 12 months) who would otherwise have received a prison sentence. I managed a wide variety of people, but they all went through distinct stages of their sentence, that I monitored closely.

Since we are all now effectively on Home Detention – I thought it worth sharing these stages so you are aware of the very real impact this sort of confinement will have – I know I’m feeling it & have a genuine appreciation for what my ‘offenders’ went through.

  • First two weeks – bit of a novelty, settling in & doing lots of odd jobs round the house – becoming aware of the domestic relationship dynamic (at least other household members were able to come & go) – getting used to the ‘territory’ restrictions – some were accepting – others really resisted & argued & pounded the ‘fence line’.
  • Week Three (this is key! & happened pretty much like clockwork) – a real malaise hit ( acute confinement depression) – this was the week I really had to watch as people would all cope with it differently- a real despair & feeling like a loss of their entire world – defeat would set in.
  • Week Four onwards (this is also very key!) Adapting – The penny would drop about all the new opportunities that presented themselves from this new way of living – I saw creative minds start mapping out a more productive future- studying – business ideas – self improvement- relationship challenges – finally addressing the internal issues that got them where they were etc etc. This was when the ‘good work started’ – & their nearest & dearest really started to notice significant change.

The planet has been given a ‘wake up call’ – we’ve all got the opportunity to dig deep & examine the issues that got us here & how we can expand more as individuals- lets all make it count.

Just watch out for Week Three people, & look after & support one another.”

Things you can do for yourself.

Practice appreciation.  When you get up, when you go to bed, and maybe at a point in the middle of the day, appreciate what you have…a roof over your head, a warm bed, good (hopefully) health, food, a toothbrush, a friend or two, family…maybe.  Appreciation might help offset some of the negative or hopeless thoughts that one up in this time.

Mindfullness.  If you find negative thoughts cycling, bring your awareness to your body…maybe to your breathing…do something mindful, like make a cup of tea or coffee and focus intensely on all the sounds, sights, smells and physical feelings (the way your muscles are moving and the sensation of the fabric on your skin) as you do this…. One little mindful exercise I do is to hold my hand in front of my face and move my fingers, feeling all the muscles and tendons in my arms working as I do this.

Reach out.  Now we have all been sent to our rooms we can utilise technology to connect.  Maybe use this time to talk to family who are overseas or reconnect with someone you have lost touch with.  I struggle to do this myself as I always feel like I am disturbing the other so I send a text…”free for a Skype chat” and we are off.  There are many electronic platforms that allow us to connect with others.

Keep busy.  Dedicate some time each day to focusing on something purposeful that requires you to concentrate  Read a book, do a puzzle, clean the windows.  Avoid binge watching…it simply drains you.  You might be better off selecting several series’ and watching one episode of each per night…so you have something to look forward to tomorrow.

Exercise.  The connection between physical and emotional wellness is well documented.  At this time this may be really hard to do.  If you are struggling, maybe you can rope in some assistance…take a child or partner with you on a walk.

Living with others.  This is a week where things might go wrong…niggles might flare into fights.

Talk about what is going on for yourself with the other.  It’s not about blaming them…it’s about acknowledging and sharing your feelings…”I’m feeling angry about…”, “ I’m feeling hopeless right now.”, “I just can’t be bothered…”. It’s not about changing anything…it’s about being heard.

Try to sort out the small stuff, and hear what it is like for the other.  Leaving teabags in the sink, socks on the floor, half drunk cups around the place may be points of tension.  If you were to ask the others for some thing (not a list) you could do for each other that might lower tension and focus on getting that done, tensions might reduce.  If the other person doesn’t get their thing 100% right every time, try to let it go…appreciate their attempts and successes, not their failures.

Hope this helps and week 3 goes smoothly for you.

Nga mihi

Steve

To binge or not to binge

steve_goreI’m loving all the humour going around the internet about the virus…one of them states that the last time we had a worldwide crisis we were asked to go and fight for our country…this time we only are being asked to sit on the couch.

My partner and I are watching a truly appalling Netflix series…I’m too embarrassed to even share it’s title.  Before the crisis we watch two or three episode most evenings.  With the lockdown we’ve decided to limit it to one episode a day.  The reasoning is simple.  This lockdown is a marathon, not a sprint.  If we limit our viewing we give ourselves something to look forward to every day.

If you want to do a lot of watching, get a bunch of series you want to watch and interweave them.  Making yourself wait is a good discipline…and self discipline is very important at this time… and the anticipation makes the viewing more enjoyable when you do watch it.

Give it some thought.

Covid 19 – do and don’t!

steve_goreI was recently out with a friend who is desperately worried about Covid 19 (and yes, we probably shouldn’t have met).  Her concerns are entirely reasonable but it was apparent to me that her worrying was changing nothing positively but it was compromising her health.  Stress lowers our resistance and makes us vulnerable to any sickness.

I suspect one of the problems is our habit of either/or thinking.  Either I take this virus serious and worry like mad, or I think it is a storm-in-a-teacup and ignore the “new rules” and laugh at those who are worrying.  Maybe we connect worrying with taking it seriously, and not worrying with not taking the pandemic seriously.

I advocate doing both – in my previous blogs I have advocated both/and thinking rather than either/or thinking.

To do this we do take it seriously and we don’t worry.  We follow the guidelines for keeping everyone (not just me) safe, and while doing that we also we look for humour, we connect with our spiritual self by walking on the beach,  going fishing, gardening, playing our musical instruments, meditating, stretching, practicing diaphragmatic breathing and so forth.  We share the funny posts on social media.  My favourite is this one.  We can use time in isolation to reconnected…call  or, better still, Skype someone you haven’t spoken to in months or years.

By doing this, and keeping ourself balanced and happy, we actually keep ourselves safer and come out the other side of this thing a better version of ourselves.

On that note – have a great pandemic!

Ooops! I forgot my body

There is an aspect of therapy called, “somatics”.  It relates to our body’s reaction to something – the sensations we feel.  We often forget or ignore what is going on in our bodies and only pay attention to what is going on in our head.

If we have had a traumatic experience, such as witnessed our child have a nasty accident, we may find ourselves reluctant to let our child out of our sight, or do things like climb trees, visit friends or all the other normal childhood things.

While we might think that we are acting out of fear or reason, there’s a strong chance that most of the time what is driving that reluctance is us trying to avoid that horrible sensation our body experienced when the trauma occurred from recurring.  That sensation is our amygdala, the smoke alarm centre of our brain (the part that triggers a “fight or flight” response), firing off signals that there is danger around.

How we respond to that unpleasant sensation can make things worse, or can make things better for us.  If we don’t actively notice that sensation and automatically follow what it tells us (to not let our child out of our sight) then we train ourselves to find more and more danger…and we begin to shut our lives down.  If we pay attention to that sensation, we listen, evaluate, and make an active choice to ignore that sensation and simply ride through the unpleasant wave of stress, we teach ourselves that our brain got it wrong and, over time and repeating slightly stressful things, we begin to calm our amygdala down and our lives open up with opportunities we can embrace, rather than run from.

The thing to hold in mind, when you encounter these situations, is to pay careful attention to what sensations you feel.  “My chest feels tight”, my heart is racing”, “my stomach feels heavy” and connect this with that thought that is occurring, which is likely to be something like, “this feels dangerous, I’ve got to get out of here”.  If you can hold that thought – look around and appreciate that you are safe, you can allow yourself to ride that unpleasant wave of stress until it fades away…which it will.  When you stay in the situation and ride that wave, you teach yourself that you are safe.  If you allow that physical sensation to drive you away, the stress passes quickly and the lesson you accidentally learn is that you were right to run, so there must have been danger….so you unintentionally teach yourself that safe places and situations are dangerous, because your body told you they were.

If this connects with your life it might be worth coming in and getting some skills to help overcome this and allow you to live a freer life.