Eyes Wide Open, or Eyes Wide Shut?

“Sometimes you need to stop seeing the good in people, and start seeing what they show you.”

Isn’t this hard. Especially if you’re kind of person who is kind and forgiving, and is always prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt, or to always give them one more chance.

It feels like it is asking us to change who we are, and to turn into a person we don’t really want to be. Someone who’s cold-hearted and, perhaps, more cynical.

But that’s not really what is going on here.

What’s really going on is that you’re learning to distance yourself from people who would deliberately mistreat you, abuse you in some way, or deliberately take advantage of you.

People who aren’t good for you. People who aren’t good for anyone!

So it’s making the decision to take care of yourself. And to be wise and discerning. And have boundaries in place. Healthy, appropriate boundaries.

That’s what you’re doing. That’s who you’re being.

Because you’ve learned there are people who are simply not like you.

And, sadly, that is something that you really need to face.

Because it is the right … the life-giving … thing to do.

And because you’re slowly learning that you must respect yourself

And be there for yourself

And take care of yourself.   

What is the Fawn Trauma Response?

“Unlearning trauma also means unlearning the behaviours you adopted and inherited as survival tactics.”

Most of us have heard of fight, flight and freeze as typical responses to experiencing a trauma.

However, there’s a fourth response which is much less discussed, despite the fact that it’s also very common. This is what’s known as the fawn trauma response. Essentially, it’s a people-pleasing response, and one that’s been described in the following way[1]:

Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”

Symptoms of this fawn, or people-pleasing, trauma response are:

– Desperately trying to figure how you should “be” in order to fit in, or please a person who’s significant to you. What is the Fawn Trauma Response?

– Feeling afraid to be yourself (as the cost could be the loss of the relationship).

– Feeling you can’t be honest and state your true feelings, wants, needs, preferences and desires.

– Not being able to talk about yourself because the other person “needs” you to focus on them.

– Always prioritizing the other person’s needs, feelings, perspectives, wants and demands (and often to your own detriment.)

– Being quick to flatter and appease other people.

– Feeling used and unseen.

– Feeling unappreciated; feeling as if you’re unimportant and disposable.

– Never bringing up how the other person hurts, disappoints, or affects you negatively.

– Constantly battling low self-esteem

– Avoiding conflict at all costs.

This is a self-protective trauma response. It’s an unconscious way of keeping ourselves safe when we feel under threat, or we fear we are at risk of losing something that matters to us. And this could be an intimate relationship.

If this is something you relate to then a key part of your healing will be learning to listen to your own wants and needs, and to establish and assert healthy boundaries with others.

As you set off on this journey some things to bear in mind include:

– Your wishes, wants, needs and perspective are as important as the next person’s wishes, wants, needs and perspectives.

– You have right to be seen and heard.

– You have the right to take up space in the world.

– Your thoughts, feelings, memories, opinions, perspective and boundaries all matter – and deserve to be respected.

– You are already enough. You do not need to change, “improve yourself”, or do anything at all, in order to be accepted, and acceptable. You are absolutely fine just as you are. Period.

[1] http://pete-walker.com/fourFs_TraumaTypologyComplexPTSD.htm

On Grief

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ― Jamie Anderson

Grief is just love with no place to go.

Because that individual’s not around anymore.

They can’t hear your words.

They can’t respond to your words.

You can’t express your love in any way that’s meaningful.

All that love that is inside you, in its pure intensity …

All the feelings that you have, and want to open up and share …

None of that is possible

There’s only silence now.

There’s no-one there to listen.

There’s only emptiness.

Attachment Bonds

“You are worthy of love.”

Attachment theory describes the dynamics of the close relationships we form with other people, and which are rooted in our early life experiences.

When Hazan & Shaver (1987)[1] researched these bonds in adults they were able to identify four different styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant.

These can be summarized as follows:

  1. Securely attached: These adult partners will generally be trusting, trustworthy, available to their partner, and have a healthy self-esteem. They do not fear abandonment, rejection, or being on their own. In addition, they will tend to view themselves, their partner and their relationship in an optimistic way. Thus, they are able to balance the need for independence with their need for intimacy.
  2. Anxious-preoccupied: These adult partners worry that their partners will abandon and reject them, or won’t love them with the same intensity as they, themselves, love. They expect their partners to be highly responsive; they continually push for intimacy; and they feel they need approval and acceptance from their partners. Thus, they tend to be more anxious and to trust their partner less.
  3. Dismissive-avoidant: These adult partners will tend to pull back from being close and vulnerable in intimate relationships. They desire independence and may avoid closeness and attachment altogether. They view themselves as being completely self-sufficient, and avoid (or even mock) those who form close relationships. As a rule, they are likely to suppress their feelings, and to deal with conflict through distancing.
  4. Fearful-avoidant: These adult partners have mixed feelings about emotional closeness in their intimate relationships. They tend to mistrust and pull back from their partners. Thus, they suppress their feelings and avoid getting close – even though, on some level, it is something they desire.

It has been suggested that dismissive-avoidant partners are most likely to engage in affairs and casual sex.

It has also been suggested that those who’ve been betrayed are more likely to become anxious-preoccupied or fearful avoidant. (This is generally true even if they had formed secure attachments to their primary caregivers.)

The reason for this? The serious loss of trust makes it hard to trust again.

If you’d like to learn more about your attachment style, then check out this link, and complete the questionnaire: http://www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl

[1] http://adultattachmentlab.human.cornell.edu/HazanShaver1987.pdf

Getting Unstuck

There are a lot of reasons why we end up feeling stuck. And one possible reason is experiencing a trauma. Clearly, this is something that we need to address or we’ll live with its effects for the rest of our lives.

But assuming that you’re doing this, and yet you still feel stuck, are there any strategies that can help to move you forwards? Here are some suggestions to experiment with:

1. Start with a time of self-reflection. Some questions to think about, and answer, could include:

– How would I describe my life at the moment?

– What did I expect to be like?

– How am I different – because of what has happened?

– Are there parts of my old self that I wish I could recapture?

– If I could realistically change one aspect of my life, what would it be?

Remember: For now, we aren’t focusing on problem-solving. We’re simply try to create an image of how you would like your life to look like.

2. What do you feel is your purpose in life? Purpose is what drives us; it gets us out of bed. It gives meaning to our life. It inspires and motivates us. But in the aftermath of trauma people lose touch with their purpose. They feel disconnected, like they’re moving in a fog. Some questions to think about, and answer, here might be:

-What did I view as being my purpose in the past – before the traumatic experience or event?

– Does that still resonate with me today?

– Whose life would I like to make a difference in?

– Are there any ways that I could still do that?

3. What would my ideal future look like? Try to think ahead, and take a peek into the future. What might life be like in 5 or 10 years for now. This is your chance to think outside the box, and to try out different options, opportunities and endings. Let your imagination run free for a while … and then try to answer the following questions:

– Is there anything here that inspires or motivates you?  

– 5 or 10 years from now … What could I be doing? Who would I be spending with energy and time with? What would I be proud of? What had made me happy?

– Who would I be if I could be my best self?

4. Try something new and different. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what needs to change, and we simply can’t imagine what a could change could look like. Here are some suggestions to help you with this:

– Maybe thing about saying “yes” an invitation, or some opportunity, that comes across your path. You never know what it might show or teach you.

– Or, change something up in your current routine. Sometimes a small thing has a massive effect, and is able to spark our creative powers again.

– Try reading a new book, or listening to some different podcasts, or going to events you’d never normally consider. Again, that can jostle our creative juices and can be a vehicle to help us get unstuck.

Understanding Betrayal Trauma

Jennifer Freyd was one of the first people to formally identify betrayal trauma. She defined it in the following way:

“Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.”

The effects of this are severe and long-lasting. In fact, the associated symptoms are similar to those associated with PTSD. They include:

– Repeatedly experiencing intrusive thoughts and memories related to the traumatic event. These memories and thoughts can occur spontaneously, as well being triggered by environmental cues.

– Experiencing intense and prolonged distress when the person is exposed to any stimulus that reminds them of the traumatic event (or which resembles the traumatic experience).

– Being unable to fall, or to stay, asleep. Having recurring dreams where content or feelings are related to the trauma in some way.

– Experiencing flashbacks or dissociative reactions where the person feels – and then reacts – as if they were experiencing the trauma again.

– Being hyper-suspicious and hypervigilant. Having an exaggerated startle response.

– Being driven by a powerful, persistent desire to avoid anything that could stir up memories, and cause the person to feel distressed again.

– Being unable to remember details and related to the traumatic event.

– Having exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself, other people, and the world. These are global, extreme and are very hard to change. Examples are:

“You can’t trust anyone; no-one at all.”

“The world is a scary and dangerous place.”

“I am a completely worthless person. I am unlovable; there’s something wrong with me.”

– Battling with feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, low confidence, and poor self-esteem.

– Living with entrenched and persistent feelings of terror, horror, anguish, guilt and shame.

– Feeling detached from relationships and life. Feeling estranged from the people in your world.

– Feeling stuck where you are. Being unable to dream, or to imagine a future, or to think about goals.

– Finding it impossible to concentrate on work, or to even focus on mundane tasks and chores.

– Being unable to access any positive emotions.

– Feeling tired, impatient and irritable. Reacting with aggression to the slightest provocation (which is out of character for them).

– Engaging in reckless and self-destructive behaviours.

How to Recover from Betrayal Trauma

This is not going to be easy; and for many people, it’s a life long battle, and an arduous one. However, the following can make a difference, and help the person heal:

1. Reach out for help. Seek out a therapist or counsellor who understands trauma, and betrayal trauma.

2. Seek out support in the community. This might be an online community. It’s very important you don’t isolate yourself. There are other people who have gone through this too, and who understand your feelings, and who’ll be there for you.

3. Be on a quest to find out all you can about betrayal trauma, and recovering from this. This is one area where knowledge is power. Learn all you can about what is normal, and what to expect, and different things that you can do.   

4. Prioritize self-care. This is an absolute necessity. You matter … and it’s crucial that you show yourself you matter!

“Take all the time you need to heal. Moving on doesn’t take a day. It takes a lot of little steps to break free of the past, and heal your broken self.”

Quote of the Day

More long walks. More good books. More music. More sunsets. More holding hands. More cuddles. More road trips. More honouring your heart. More being nice to yourself. More laughter. More fun in the moment. More beach. More forest. More memories. More of what brings peace to your life. More of what brings inspiration. More of what makes you feel loved and not alone. Focus on that today.”   

– butterfliesandpebbles

The Characteristics of Good Mental Health

What does it mean to function well in life? What does it mean to have good mental health? It means we exhibit the following traits:

  1. Feeling good about ourselves; accepting that we have both strengths and weaknesses. Understanding that change takes time, and being patient with ourselves. 
  2. Being able to effectively manage our emotions so we’re not controlled or overwhelmed by them (Feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, rage, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, and so on).
  3. Being able to form and enjoy stable, healthy, boundaried and meaningful relationships.
  4. Feeling at ease in the company of others.
  5. Not taking life too seriously; being able to laugh at ourselves.
  6. Respecting ourself, our values, beliefs, attitudes, choices and decisions. Also, respecting others and their right to think, choose, decide and act for themselves.
  7. Being able to accept, and to cope with, disappointment. This includes being able to adapt and compromise when this is healthy and appropriate.
  8. Being able to cope with life’s pressures and demands, and managing the problems we encounter in life.
  9. Being able to think, and decide, for ourselves. Not allowing others to define who we are.  
  10. Being able to influence our world for good, and leaving behind a strong legacy.

These are qualities and traits which develop gradually. They come from experiencing both good and bad in life, and learning what’s important, and what’s a waste of time. They speak of small decisions to press on and persevere, to forgive ourselves and others, to be more compassionate, and to overlook the small stuff, and to focus on the good. 

An Interview with Seema – Plot Twist

In the snippet below, Seema talks about her personal experience of betrayal, and how she felt about having to end her marriage.

I didn’t want it to be true. Not just because it was terrible. Unbelievable. Shocking.

I didn’t want it to be true because I actually loved the life I had.

You see, we didn’t everything together. We had the same interests and hobbies. We shared many of the same friends. Many of them couples we had known for years.

We had a good life. A fun life. A life that, until that point, I was perfectly happy with.

So I didn’t want to give it all up. To end everything. To have to walk away from a life that was familiar. A life that I wanted to keep on living.

I think this is something people don’t understand.

They expect you to be so appalled and horrified that you want nothing more than to end it all. To have nothing more to do with this man you now hate.

But I didn’t it want to end.

I simply didn’t want it to be true.

I wanted to put my fingers in my ears, and close my eyes. I wanted to go to bed and, when I wakened up again, for it all to have been a bad dream.

I didn’t want it to be reality.

You lose so much when your husband is unfaithful. When you learn he has been living a double life. When you learn he’s been seeing someone else for years, when he’s been away on business trips.

You are forced to think straight. To do the right thing. To do what you know is in your best interests. Even though it doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t feel good.

Yes, I knew I was going to have to end the marriage. After all, he was a liar through and through. I had to prioritise keeping myself safe – because I already had an STD that he’d picked up from the other woman.

But I still wished that I didn’t have to throw it all away. I had enjoyed being with him (I know that’s hard to believe but he’d treated me well when he was home with me.)

In so many ways, he felt like my best friend. We’d been together for three decades. Our lives were intertwined.

And I really didn’t want to have to sell my home. To break my family apart, and start all over again.

Because, until I learned the truth, I’d really loved the life I had. And now I was being forced to say goodbye to that life. I couldn’t have imagined ever being in this place.

And, yes, it was the right – it was the only – thing to do.   

But I wish I didn’t have to give up everything I loved …