Some Thoughts on Ongoing Traumatic Reactions

Unlearning trauma also means unlearning the behaviors you adopted and inherited as survival tactics.

Traumatic reactions made absolute sense in the aftermath of something shocking and life-changing. But for many of us there comes a time when being triggered so often starts to feel like a life sentence.

So what can we do when we feel this way?

1. The first thing to do is to acknowledge to ourselves that these were very normal, understandable reactions. In fact, they were necessary at the time. They were your brain and body’s way of taking care of you. They were ways of protecting you from further harm and pain.

2. So, thank your brain and body for taking care for you. For being totally committed to protecting you from harm.  What they offered was a gift. And you appreciate that gift. You were there for yourself when it really, really mattered!

3. But today is a new day. You are different. You are stronger. You already have survived. You are at a different stage. This is a time of rebuilding. It’s a time for moving on. A time for moving forward. For creating a new life.

4. Because you’ve stayed with all the feelings, and experienced them fully, you’re not living in denial. You have fully faced the truth. Now you can give yourself permission to loosen off those bonds (bonds which sometimes feel like friends as they’re known and so familiar).

5. When the feelings start to rise up you can now walk through the process of telling them you’re grateful that they helped you to survive. But today the situation is a very different one. You are watching carefully and you’ve judged that you are safe.

Also, you’re watching carefully so you won’t be harmed again. And you have supports in place. You’re not facing life alone.

So your feelings can subside as for you’re not in danger now. But you’ll be watching for the signs. You won’t be naïve again.  

Three Truths to Live By

“Live authentically. Live your truth.”

In a youtube interview by Lewes Howes, relationship guru Esther Perel was asked a very thought-provoking question:

Imagine, on your death bed you could leave behind 3 truths, 3 life experiences, or 3 lessons to live by, what would those be?”

Here is a summary of Esther’s answers:

1. “The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.”

If you want a life that is rich and meaningful, then you need to invest in your relationships. You need to consciously develop them. You need to faithfully water and nourish them.

2. “Live is such a way that when people remember you, they smile. They should feel that they were touched by you in a way that made them feel cherished.”

We are often left with hurtful, painful memories, and imprints on our lives which were damaging and cruel. And who wants to be remembered for that?

You want to be remembered as somebody who cared. As someone who spread kindness, and lightened other’s loads. As someone who brought joy, and was good to be around.

3. “If you have a burning dream inside (something that is achievable), or there is something to really want to try one day, go ahead and do it.”

Why not give it a try? It’s better to have lived than to be left with regrets, and to be left wondering.

I wonder how you would answer this same question:

What 3 truths to live by would you leave behind?

Living with Grief

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves.

When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float.

You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.

After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.

But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing.

But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.

You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself.

And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side.” – Unknown

And you will come out the other side.

Slowly. Very slowly.

After what seems like an eternity.

But you will come out the other side.

How to Cope with Anxiety after Betrayal

The scars you can’t see are the hardest to heal.”

Human beings are wired to connect, and to feel secure in a close relationship. It’s an innate need. It is natural and healthy.

And when that bond is broken, and our trust has been betrayed, our basic sense of safety is greatly undermined. It is difficult to trust and be vulnerable again.

So what do you do with the anxiety and fear that hits you out of nowhere, and destabilizes you?

1. First, it’s important to understand that this reaction (feeling intensely anxious) is instinctive and automatic. It’s experienced by almost everyone who has been betrayed. It isn’t something to feel guilty or bad about. It’s your brain and body’s way of taking care of you. Just acknowledging this fact, can often help to calm us down.

2. Rather than resisting the anxiety and fear, it is better to embrace it, and accept the way you feel. For it never really helps to deny reality.

3. Sometimes being angry that you have to deal with this can help you to work through the strong feelings that you have. Be furious with your partner for messing up your life. You never asked for this. You didn’t bring it on yourself. And yet you have to deal with all the worry and the fear!

4. Consciously question the anxiety and fear. Ask yourself:

Why do I think I can trust my partner now?

What evidence is there that this is a reasonable conclusion to draw?

What is he or she doing differently today that leads to that conclusion?  

Being as objective as you can be, ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10, where one in not trustworthy and ten is not trustworthy, how trustworthy would you rate your partner as being today (not yesterday or tomorrow)?  

5. Try to deal with the anxiety together as a couple. It can help rebuild the bond, if you both can understand that anxiety is normal, and is part of life – for now.

What really helps is if you can reach the place where you can both say (without judgment): “Yes, we could have predicted this would happen today/ tonight/ in this situation. We know it’s going to happen again and again. And we know it’s really difficult for both of us.”

6. It can also help if the betrayed partner can see that your anxiety reveals how much they really mean to you.  You want to trust again. That’s why you’re seeking reassurance.

7. If you’re the betrayed partner, do your best to figure out what will help you worry less, and will give the reassurance that will help you to feel better. If you can say what you need, then your partner or spouse can do their best to meet this need for you.

The Thing About Abusers

Abusers don’t abuse every day. They have good moments. Days when they do the right things. Moments when they say the correct words. When this happens, the key is to remember that it is just an abuser having a good day, but still an abuser based on all the other days.” – Shannon Thomas

Bear this is in mind.

This is why it’s so hard for a partner to leave an abusive relationship.

It hasn’t always been like this. It wasn’t like this at the start.

For at first, they pursued you, and made you feel desired. You felt you were the most important person in the world.

And there have been some good times. And happy memories, too. It wasn’t always scary. It wasn’t always bad.

But then there’d be that switch … And then their other nature showed.

And the truth is: this part of the relationship as well.

And that reality is something you simply can’t ignore.

And that reality is something you shouldn’t just ignore.

Because statistics indicate that this will likely never change.  

And this could be your life if you don’t grasp what’s going on.

For they will never change … And you are worth much more than this.

Believe me when I tell you: “You are worth much more than this.”

What did You do to Cause the Affair?

What did you do to cause the affair? Nothing. Nothing at all.

It’s simply not true that both people in a couple contribute to one partner having an affair.

Often that relationship was actually quite strong – and yet one of the partners decided they would stray.

They had their own reasons for having an affair.

So what might some of those reasons be?

– He or she used pornography, or online sex, before they ever met their partner or spouse. It was a habit they brought into the relationship. It was something they had used when they were lonely, bored or stressed.

– They were already addicted to pornography or sex (but this was a secret they had kept from everyone). And they believed they had the strength to break free of the addiction, but then they found it was too strong to beat it on their own.

– They began to feel something was missing from their life. Perhaps they had a family and a stable career, and they felt bogged down by responsibilities. Everything felt humdrum; life lacked pizzazz. Thus, they were seduced by the thrill of an illicit affair. It gave them a buzz, and it made them feel alive.

– They were unhappy with themselves, and had low self-esteem. So when someone sought them out, and made them feel desirable, this gave a massive boost to their self-esteem.

– They had a midlife crisis and were starting to feel old. They desperately want to hold onto their youth, and to be seen as someone who was young and passionate. An affair was their attempt to prove this to themselves.

– They experienced the death of someone close to them. Hence, this was a reaction to the brevity of life, and to dealing with a loss which was shocking and profound. They felt that life was short, and that time was running out. And they had to make the most of the time that they had left.

– The betrayer had a sense of entitlement. They wanted what they wanted, and just thought about themselves. Essentially, this partner was a narcissist.

It doesn’t take two to tango. That saying is a lie. And it’s hurtful and unfair to blame a partner who’s been wronged.  That person is victim. He or she’s been traumatized, and they had nothing at all to do with the affair.

“You couldn’t have stopped this happening. There was nothing you could do to prevent it. This had nothing to do with you. It wasn’t your fault, and you didn’t deserve it.”

It Isn’t Over Till It’s Over

Four years ago Kelsey didn’t own a bike. She was good at athletics. She loved a heap of sports. But being a cyclist was far from her mind.

In fact, four years ago she was out of job. So, she took anything to escape poverty. She was working spraying weeds in some ditches in Alberta. Yet, Kelsey believed she was destined for more. She dared to believe she could achieve some lofty goal.   

Kelsey started to train, and to get back in shape. She ran in her lunch breaks to build up her strength. After work, in the evenings, she went to the gym. And then she decided to take a huge brave step.

She chose to sign up for RBC Training Ground, a program that’s designed to scout potential talent out.

And today, Kelsey Mitchell’s an Olympic medallist. She won the gold medal in the track cycling race. It took her four short years (and some commitment, of course). Her whole life’s turned around. She’s a woman to watch!  

When life falls apart, and depression hits us hard, it is hard to believe in what seems improbable.

But our life is not over.

There is still cause for hope.

There are good things to come.

Can you hold onto this?

Will you dare to believe you can still have a good life.

This is not how it ends.

I believe it for you.

Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist.  It is the hope that they won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of the darkness, and into the sunshine.”

Quote of the Day

Her soul is fierce. Her heart is brave. Her mind is strong.”

You have that fierceness, courage and strength.

It is there inside you.

It is part of you.

It’s what moves you forward, and enables you to fight, and beat the challenges life throws at you.

It is always there.

It is part of you.

You have all you need.

You will more than survive.

Why People don’t Talk about their Trauma

There are things that nobody talks about.

There are things that are absolutely taboo.

So when you experience these things yourself, you feel isolated. Completely alone. Judged. Ostracized. Abandoned in your pain.

And that is a terrible place to be.

Here’s how you feel when this happens to you

– You feel as if you’re tarnished even though you’re innocent. You feel like you’re an outcast, that you’ve been stigmatized.

– You feel extremely vulnerable. Your world has been exposed. There’s nothing that’s a secret. You’ve lost your privacy.

– You feel that you’ve been talked about, and you’ve been judged and blamed. Some people will attack you, and call you hurtful names.   

– You feel that other people think you’re worth much less than them. You feel their eyes upon you, and their eyes are harsh and cold.

– You feel you must be silent for no-one wants to hear, and no-one wants to know about the pain you’re going through.

– You feel you can’t say anything for no-one understands. You just get trite advice (which is devoid of empathy).

– You feel you’re going crazy as your life is such a mess. You can’t process the trauma and the feelings you now have.

– You have to wear a mask, and act like everything is fine – regardless of the turmoil and the pain that’s haunting you.

– You act a part in public. You must live a double life. You feel so lost and lonely – but it’s so hard to get help.

Something to think about …

After traumatic events that threaten to rob us of our dignity and spirit, people typically don’t tell others. In fact, many trauma survivors either never speak to anyone about what happened to them or wait a very long time to do so.

The reasons for this are multi-fold and likely include shame, perceived stigma of being a “victim,” past negative disclosure experiences and fears of being blamed or told that the event was somehow their fault …

For some, talking about their trauma is an initial step toward healing. But for others, sharing an experience and then having the response be negative can harm recovery. It can shut them down and lock the psychological vault, if not for forever, then at least for a long time.” – Joan M. Cook

If this resonates with you, please believe you’re not alone. Take comfort in the fact that you are not the only one.

A few easy tips for those who want to be supportive

To be genuinely supportive when someone takes a risk and shares about a trauma, or something that’s taboo:  

– Give that person your full and undivided attention. Do not allow yourself be distracted by anything AT All.

– Pay attention to your body language. You should come across as being still, calm, focused, with an open body posture, and good steady eye contact (but don’t stare!)

–  Say very little. Your job is to listen. Not to comment. Not to give advice. Your only job is to listen to this person.

– Don’t ask extraneous questions. Don’t change the topic. Don’t offer platitudes.

– Allow for brief periods of silence. This is a heavy topic. Don’t rush the speaker. Sit with the silence.  

– Don’t talk about your, or anyone else’s, experience. The focus right now is the speaker’s experience.

– Notice and point out any strengths in the speaker. This sends the powerful message that they’re going to survive.