Don’t Show. Tell.

If a trauma can’t be shared or expressed in words, it demands to be heard in other ways. Sorrow can’t be buried indefinitely.

So, what happens if we have to keep our story to ourselves, and it all becomes a secret that is hidden from the world?

1. We are likely to develop somatic symptoms (racing heart; irregular breathing/ holding your breath; stomach and digestion problems; aching muscles and bones; migraine, fibromyalgia, and so on). Here, your body is sending a strong message to your brain. It wants to remind you that the trauma is still there. It hasn’t been worked through yet. It’s demanding your attention.

What to do about it? It’s important to notice and to name the different symptoms. Ignoring or repressing them won’t work for very long. You can’t just block it out. It isn’t going to go away.

2. We might numb out at times, and find it difficult to feel. This can affect our close relationships. We’ll likely come across as being distant and detached.  We don’t stay connected. There’s a shield around our heart.

What to do about it? Again, we need to notice how hard is to feel, to stay connected, and believe that others care. It’s natural to pull back and to put up a wall if you’ve been betrayed, or experienced deep pain. You need to look at how you have changed, and why it’s so hard to get close.   

3. We might act out feelings of pain and rage – The warning bell for this is extreme reactions to minor, non-threatening or neutral events. This can take us by surprise, and shock us to the core. We can think we’re going crazy, or are losing our mind.

What to do about it? The reason is our brain is protecting us from harm. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to being traumatized. Understanding what is happening is a good starting point. Perhaps you really need to interrogate your pain.

4. Related to this, we might start to act in ways which are extreme or dangerous (High risk sex, using drugs, or turning to a life of crime.)  

What to do about it? Usually, we are trying to blot out all the pain, or the trauma and the memories which are haunting us today. Again, understanding what is happening is a good starting point.

6. We might start to dream our stories in the form of broken sleep, repeated nightmares, sleep walking or in panic attacks.

What to do About it? If our story’s not been shared, our subconscious will replay it. We need our suffering to be witnessed and reflected back to us. Counselling and therapy can be very helpful here (or even having the support of an understanding friend).

10 Things to Remember

1. Small steps are still progress.

2. Feelings go up as well as down. Tomorrow might be better than today.

3. You need to be honest and real to heal.

4. You don’t have to hold it together all the time.

5. Respecting your limits, and enforcing boundaries, are important forms of self-care.

6. You don’t have to explain yourself to others. You don’t need anyone’s acceptance or approval.

7. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t measure yourself by someone else.

8. You are so much stronger and braver than you feel.

9. Self-compassion helps develop your emotional resilience. Notice when you’re suffering and be kind to yourself.

10. You owe it to yourself to believe in yourself. You are the one decides your worth.

The only one who get to decide your worth is you. It doesn’t come from your bank account or the number of friends you have. It doesn’t come from what someone says you’re worth. It is called self worth for a reason. It comes from you. It comes from being yourself and being proud of who you are. It comes from being someone you can count on, and someone that you love. The numbers will change with time – but what won’t change is who you are deep inside: Beautiful, awesome, wonderful, creative, strong and capable. And that is where your worth comes from.”

-Nikki Banas

Closure. Is there Really Such a Thing?

It has been said: ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The scars remain and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

Recently I heard of a woman in her 50s who had two lovely daughters – a school teacher and accountant.

This woman (we’ll call Amy) then added a postscript …

Roughly 20 years ago, she had lost her baby son. An unexpected cot death. No-one knew the reason why.

I remember how he’d he’d curl up at the bottom of his crib. Or how he’d smile and gurgle when he’d just finished a feed.”

Yes, I remember everything, as if it happened yesterday. And yet I lost my baby nearly 20 years ago.”

So shouldn’t I have closure? Do you think that I am crazy? I sometimes start to wonder if there’s something wrong with me.”

What’s Going on?

Amy has been grieving for her son in her own way. And yet she feels uneasy, and is questioning herself. The reason is, she’s heard that grief has certain distinct stages. Hence, Amy feels she really should be over it by now.

Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages Model

This thought of gaining closure (where grief follows a set course, and culminates in finally achieving an acceptance) is based on Kubler-Ross’ famous 5 Stages Model.

But the thing is, this grief model was developed from her work with the terminally ill – and not from working through deep losses.

And, yet, these two experiences are clearly very different (dying, versus processing and integrating loss).

Think About It

For the person who is dying there, indeed, will be an ending.

But there’s not a neat ending with these other types of losses.

Yes – it’s true, the shock wears off, and we may go on with our lives. Perhaps we’ll even feel some joy and happiness again.

But, still, grief ebbs and flows.

I’d say it never truly ends.

The crushed dreams and the memories remain there in our brain.

We can’t erase what happened or rewrite our history.

We had great expectations. This is not what we had planned.

In Conclusion

So, perhaps we’re being unfair when we put pressure on ourselves to never fight or wrestle with what could and should have been.

Perhaps the pain will lessen and the scars will fade away – but maybe ‘total closure’ isn’t something we’ll achieve.

Just a thought.

10 Reminders for Trauma Survivors

1. You deserve to be loved for yourself, and treated with kindness and respect.

2. You are important. How you feel matters. What happened to you matters.

3. You are not fundamentally flawed; you are not worth less than anybody else.

4.  What happened to you was not your fault, and you are not what happened to you.

5. All of your feelings are valid – and you don’t have to justify them or explain them.

6. Your reactions are normal for a trauma survivor. There is no need to doubt your sanity.

7. You are allowed to have terrible days. Healing isn’t linear; you’re on a roller coaster.

8. It’s OK not to know what you need to heal. Trust the process. It will lead you there in time.

9. You are allowed to talk about what happened. You don’t need permission to share your trauma story.

10. You don’t need to bear this burden alone. There are those who understand. You can get the help you need.

It is what it is

It’s OK if you thought you were over it, but then it hits you all over again.

It’s OK if, sometimes, you still fall apart, even if you thought you were starting to heal.

Trauma is like that.

The shock may start to fade –

But the memories still haunt you.

You’re not completely free.

This doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s a battle like no other.

Recovery is messy, and there isn’t a timeline

Ask us – Sexual Betrayal: A Taboo Topic

In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients. Here is today’s question:

Why is experiencing sexual betrayal such an isolating experience? It feels there is no-one who really understands. If I’d been bereaved, or in a car accident, I know that lots of people would offer me support. Why is this so different?

There could be a number of possible answers to this question. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter …

1. Committed intimate relationships are attachment relationships. Apart from the relationship we form with our primary caregivers (usually our parents), these are the closest relationships we form.

When we enter into a committed relationship with someone, we automatically expect that person to be trustworthy, safe, reliable and honest. We expect them to love us, care for us, and be there for us.  We don’t expect them to hurt and cause us harm.

In fact, we simply cannot function, and lead a normal life, if we’re constantly assessing if our partner’s still trustworthy.

Thus, when we learn that a relative or friend has been betrayed (and sexual betrayal is a serious betrayal), it is deeply disturbing and unsettling for us.

We realize we’re no different – so we too could be deceived. This is threatening and scary – so we want to keep our distance.

In a way, this strong reaction is a form of self-protection.

2. Another factor that might play into the way people react, is a fear of the emotions that a trauma can stir up.

People can imagine how they’d feel if it was them. They can picture the strong feelings, and how they might react. Again, this is unsettling to contemplate.

Hence, the safest thing to do, is to simply walk away. This keeps things superficial, and under their control.  

Note: Sometimes our friends would like to help is, but they feel they’re at a loss. They don’t know what to say so they feel inadequate. As a result, they just say nothing, and act like nothing’s changed.

3. A third possibility relates to the fact that many have experienced a trauma in their past. Hence, our pain and trauma symptoms now remind them of their own. And they don’t want to face it. They would rather bury it. Hence, they cope with their discomfort by distancing themselves. That way, they can pretend that everything in life is fine (at least for them).

Understanding and Treating Trauma

Trauma reactions are normal reactions to abnormal events.”

There are no right and wrong ways to respond to a trauma; and your symptoms may include the following:

– Shock, numbness, disbelief, or even denial

– Confusion

– Difficulties with focusing, paying attention, concentrating and remembering

– Powerful unpredictable mood swings

– Anger and rage

– Irritability/ having a short fuse

– Intense fear and anxiety

– Panic attacks and anxiety attacks

– Guilt, shame, and (inappropriate) self-blame

– The desire to isolate yourself

– Sadness, sorrow and regret

– Hopelessness/ an inability to see anything good in the future

– Insomnia, nightmares, and broken sleep

– Hypervigilant/ hyperalert/ agitation/ being on edge

– Racing heart

– Difficulty breathing, and regulating breathing

– Tingling in hands and feet

– Pain and muscle tension.

Some of these symptoms point to PTSD, where your nervous system’s stuck in a state of constant shock. This prevents you from processing the trauma properly.

It is best if you can get professional help to deal with this, so you slowly start to heal (thought it’s going to take time.)

However, there are also some things that you can do as well – some tips to help with your trauma recovery. They include:

1. Get moving. Trauma dysregulates the body’s equilibrium so you’re stuck in a state of high arousal and fear. Often, exercise can help to repair the disruption, and especially if modulates your breathing and heart rate. (Yoga, and activities like walking, running, dancing and swimming are thought to be especially helpful for this.)

2. Fight the tendency to isolate yourself. Connecting with others helps you slowly start to heal (even though you’ll likely feel that you’d much rather withdraw). You don’t have to share your feelings, or to talk about what happened. Just engaging with others helps to normalize your life.

However, you will also need a person who will listen without judgment (a therapist or counsellor, a friend, or family member). This is absolutely crucial. You can’t bear this on your own.   

Also, many people find it helps to join a group for survivors who have shared the same experience and, therefore, understand.

3. Prioritize self-care. This includes doing your best to get some quality sleep (although PTSD often makes this difficult); making sure your diet’s healthy; spending time in nature; and doing things that help you to unwind and relax.

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

“I hope you know the world is a better place because you are in it.”

Read that sentence again. Do you believe it is true?

I know it can be hard to believe that for ourselves. Especially when we’re hurting, and we’re battling despair.

But those words above – they are absolutely true.

– Right now, I want you to think of 5 people who’s lives have been enriched because you’ve been their parent, friend, sister, daughter, colleague, and so on.

– Next, I want you to think of 5 thoughtful things you’ve done to improve the life of someone else.

– Finally, I want you to imagine someone who really knows and cares about you is writing an obituary for you. What would they say? What would they highlight?

Your life matters.

You matter.

The world is a more beautiful place because you are in it.

Ask Us – Feelings of Shame

In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients.

Here’s today’s question …

“Why do I struggle with shame over my partner’s betrayal? He was the one who broke his promises, yet I feel completely worthless and ashamed. Why is that?”

There could be a number of answers to this question. Here are a few possibilities:

1. Think about bullying, or abuse in general. When we’re singled out for some kind of mistreatment, we pick up the message “I am not worth treating well.” (Note: You are worth treating well but this is the faulty message we believe in response to being mistreated.) That message is especially powerful if it comes from someone very close to us – like a parent or spouse.

2. If we think highly of someone, and their attention or approval means something to us, then we treat them with great respect and care. Think of the way royalty, celebrities or CEOS are treated.

In contrast, if we are ignored or treated badly, we feel that we don’t matter. That we’re not important. That we’re not worth respecting or caring about.  

3. We honour our partner by being faithful to them, and treating them as someone who is special to us. After all, we’ve deliberately chosen to enter into a exclusive relationship with them, and them alone.

Hence, when our partner betrays us, it communicates the message “You’re not really that special after all. I don’t just want to have sex with you”. Hence, we feel inadequate, as if we have failed, as if we are faulty, and not worthy of love (and not certainly not exclusivity).

This affects our self-esteem, and our identity. Here’s what Brene Brown has to say about shame:

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling, or experience, of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Note: You could substitute faithfulness for connection, here.

If you have been betrayed by your partner or spouse, then this sense of shame is absolutely not deserved. You need to resist it with all your might.

Don’t let the lies become your own beliefs.

Don’t let that person define your worth.   

“Know your worth. Know what you deserve. Don’t ask for it. State it.”