By Aaron Anderson
My Girlfriend Was Raped. What I Wish I Would Have Said to Her.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Improving Communication, Healing, and Intimacy
Imagine you are forced upon your stomach and someone is forcing you to do things you never ever wanted to do.
Your power, your will, your autonomy completely stripped from you. If you were powerless to prevent someone from exerting their will upon you, how would you feel? Knowing that the only power you have in this situation is the control of your thoughts, yet your thoughts are scattered and oscillate from moments of the quiet serenity of the smell of your mom’s homemade biscuits and the person who is violently forcing pain upon in spite of your pleas for mercy.
Unfortunately, for far too many women in America, this is a reality.
Sexual assault is a scourge in our society, and as men we have to take a more proactive stance to help those who suffer in this silent hell find peace and healing. It is not the responsibility of the victim of sexual assault to make their partner feel comfortable about their past assault. It is the responsibility of the man to be mindful and engaged in the life of his loved one to help them feel comfortable with sharing their feelings of this living nightmare. There are right ways and wrong ways to talk to your girlfriend about their past sexual assault.
Here is a common example of an ineffective approach…
What NOT to say to your girlfriend about being a victim of this heinous crime
“I had had enough! I had been dating my girlfriend for three months now, and every time I attempted to do something with her sexually she would pull away and have an excuse as to why we could not be intimate. That night something snapped inside and me, and I screamed at her, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you let me touch you?!” She immediately began sobbing and told me to leave. I left dumbfounded and angry. The next day we met and she told me that the reason that she has problems with sexual intimacy is that five years ago she was raped by a former boyfriend. That really floored me. I was not expecting that at all. We broke up soon after this, and all I could think about was I wish I would have handled that situation differently.”
That story comes from a client I that I used to work with. He was devastated because a relationship he was really invested in ended because of his insensitivity. This is a prime example of the classic male handicap: looking for the seen and concocting solutions rather than listening and seeking the unseen. Yes, I know that there is no way he could’ve read his girlfriend’s mind to know of her past sexual assault, but in this day and age guys have to be aware of the epidemic of rape and sexual assault that pervades this planet. One in five women in the United States will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives. Any male looking to find a life mate to care for in a committed relationship has to be aware of this fact because one in five is an astronomical number. It means that of every five women that you know, at least one of them have been sexually assaulted. So that means that there are more victims of sexual assault in America than there are Beyoncé fans! Fellas, that should be a wakeup call to all of us, and it speaks to the fact that it is imperative that men are aware of the signs that show that your girlfriend might have been sexually assaulted so that you can prevent the disaster that happened to the man at the beginning of this article. There is no definitive list of signs that someone has been sexually assaulted because everyone processes trauma in different ways; however, there are a few signs that manifest often in victims of sexual assault.
Three Signs That Your Girlfriend Might Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Women who have been sexually assaulted regularly show a strong aversion toward sexual intimacy with partners. If you have been in a relationship with someone and they avoid sexual contact, you might try to address it in a polite way to see what is causing that. It could be anything from being taught that sex is dirty to having been sexually assaulted. Communication leads to understanding, and understanding leads to intimacy. Most people think that intimacy means sexual intercourse. That assumption is far from the truth. The prerequisite to intercourse is communication and a sense of safety.
SOLUTION: Gentlemen, before you try to be intimate with your girlfriend, focus on communicating with her in a way that fosters open discourse and understanding. Ask gentle questions like:
The important thing is to use “I” statements and to not make it seem like it’s her fault, because it absolutely isn’t.
If your girlfriend has a problem letting people get close to her or has a problem trusting people, this could also be a sign of being sexually assaulted in the past. Clearly, this type of trauma has a devastating effect on the psyche and can turn the most trusting individual into someone who cannot believe a word anyone tells them. There is a saying that goes “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” Keep in mind that the victims of sexual assault were innocent and often trusted someone they felt close to. That creates a deep emotional chasm that is hard to cross.
SOLUTION: If your significant other shows signs of mistrust such as always questioning you or not believing the things you tell them, you should talk to her about it. Try asking questions like:
Women who have experienced this type of trauma usually have a problem trusting men from that point on. If your girl is always complaining about how bad men are, you should take note. You could one day in a normal everyday conversation talk about how you understand why women don’t trust guys because of infidelity, sexual assault, etc. Let it be an organic conversation though; you don’t want to force this.
SOLUTION: For example, maybe you two are watching a movie or TV show with a rape scene or a guy being violent toward a woman, and you say something like:
Remember, a victim of sexual assault is very apprehensive about talking about their past trauma so make sure you are cultivating a relationship built on respect, trust, and love so that your partner will feel secure to talk to you openly about their assault and their life in general.
Sexual assault affects the human brain in deep and profound ways. As a boyfriend, you should strive to build an environment where your girlfriend feels protected so that she can openly share with you and so that you can say things that will spurn her on toward healing so that your relationship can continue to flourish rather than fizzle out. What you say to your girlfriend who has been sexually assaulted can make or break your relationship.
What is the difference between a good boyfriend and a true gentleman (the type of man that every woman pines for)? A good boyfriend shows care and concern for his mate; a true gentleman is an advocate for his lover. He does not seek to avenge the wrong done to his lover. He does not dismiss her thoughts or pain. Rather, he partners with her to be a champion for her to help her heal from the despicable crime of sexual assault.
Gentlemen, I challenge you to be emotional gladiators for your girlfriends and show them that you are there to help them heal so that we can normalize conversations about sexual assault and the victims have an output to step out of the dark into the light.
About the author: Aaron resides in Virginia Beach, VA with his wife and two sons. He is an Army Veteran who specialized in Human Resources and continued his education to obtain a master’s degree in Professional Counseling. Currently, he is working to help break the cycle of violence by counseling juvenile sex offenders and at-risk youth.
Author: Trisha Miller
Even long after emotional or physical abuse has ended, the effects will remain. A single bout of abuse can change a person’s mental state forever. However, redetermining the course of your life, who you are as a person, and how to maintain healthy relationships is a gift that every person deserves to receive. Still, the most “emotionally strong” individual cannot always see the ways that abuse can and will affect their life. We are not our abuse and we do not have to live as such.
Subtle Signs of Abuse
Emotional or physical abuse can affect children in a myriad of ways. Something subdued like reclusiveness or unwillingness to participate in social activities can become present. On the other hand, it very well may manifest itself is a much louder way, such as severe mood swings, anxiety, depression, anger etc.
All of these signs can grow into much larger mental health problems down the line. As an example, a child may grow into a teen who hurts themselves in order to try to work through their pain. Another common example is experimentation with drugs in order to numb the pain they may feel each day.
Unfortunately, we are not all equipped with the mental tools we need at birth. There is not a switch that can be turned on to make things right and good. No amount of love and caring or drugs and pain can heal these types of wounds. We must mentally condition ourselves regularly to properly process abuse. The brain is a muscle and it must be worked out in order to make connections we may not have seen previously.
Someone who suffered from an abusive relationship often feels that they have a weight on their shoulders or a dark past following them everywhere they go. Keeping something like that inside is never a choice that leads to happiness and fulfillment. Of course, no one should be forced to tell their story before they are ready, but constantly pushing down the symptoms of abuse is just not a way to live.
Those who seek professional help often feel a release of responsibility from their abuse. They are no longer attached to an event that does not define their character or the course of their life. Someone who has been defined by their abuse their entire life now has the delightful opportunity to decide what kind of person they would like to be and pursue that to their full capability.
Sadly, those who feel that they do not need help may not be able to experience life to its fullest extent. Those who truly live a happy and fulfilled life are able to make sound decisions for themselves and their loved ones. They maintain long, happy, and balanced relationships. They are able to proactively handle stress, anxiety, and sadness. And they are endowed with confidence and self-worth. If you feel that as a direct result of your abuse you are not able to achieve these things, then you can benefit from professional help.
If you or someone you know was a victim of abuse, it is never too late to seek professional help. Having the satisfaction of knowing your life is entirely your own and that you are not controlled by your abuse, is beautifully priceless. Although it may be difficult, showing someone the way towards mental health by asking them to get help is a step in the right direction. Show someone you care by surrounding them with love and support. This is the best possible way to ensure their safety and happiness.
Dear Little Ones
Dissociative Identity Disorder for Young Alters
By Jade Miller
This is a beautiful little book with a powerful message; easy to read and understand with soft, non-threatening illustrations.
The gentle words come from a caring ‘big sister’ perspective, trying to help little ones understand what’s going on for them within their team. It reinforces that the things that happened were not their fault and that they are safe now. Jade goes on to explain about the others inside, encourages team work and shares how each one is valuable with their own purpose. The notion is introduced that the little ones get to choose what will happen next, that their voice is important. Jade offers them suggestions on how to deal with those unmanageable big feelings and a reassurance that things will get better.
Equally valuable to share with a partner or friend, as a way of trying to help them understand what life is like for those living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
This book is available to purchase on Amazon & Kindle
When I was active on isurvive from 2003 through~ 2007, forgiveness was the LAST topic I wanted to think about. The abuse was too terrible and the aftereffects too pervasive for me even to CONSIDER forgiveness. After all, my abusers did not DESERVE to be forgiven. They deserved to suffer just as badly as they had forced me to suffer.
The problem was that without forgiveness, my abusers continued to hold power over me. I would think about them, and I would feel the anger, shame, and pain wash over me again. I grew angry as realized just how frequently I was thinking about my abusers. They already took away my childhood. Why should they take away my adulthood as well?
I made a life decision to stop feeding the bitterness. I had absolutely no interest in forgiveness, but I recognized that I no longer wanted my thoughts to focus on my childhood pain. So, each time my abusers would come to my mind, I would make conscious choice not to think about them (much less relive the abuse) and, instead, focus my thoughts on something else. I learned through an isurvive member that the term for this is shlemut. She said it was a Jewish term meaning that I was not choosing forgiveness or reconciliation, but I was choosing to stop fueling the bitterness so I could heal myself. The Christian term that is most similar is forbearance.
I stayed in a place of forbearance for several years (from ~ 2005 through 2014). I made a conscious choice not to dwell on my abusers or relive the past in my head. As new memories surfaced, I worked through those, but after I processed each one, I chose not to let them suck me back into nursing the bitterness toward my abusers, no matter how tempting it was.
In 2013, my faith grew enormously as I made the life decision to start my day each morning in quiet time with my Maker. I explored what unconditional love means … not the warped, selfish misrepresentations of love that I saw in childhood but real unconditional love. As I grew to realize how fully and completely loved I am by my Maker, my emotional wounds healed, and as I filled with unconditional love, it began to overflow to those in my life around me.
In the Fall of 2014, I felt led to begin praying over my abusers every morning. Let me tell you, this was hard. Even though I had spent many years choosing not to continue fueling the bitterness, I also did not feel “loving” toward them. However, I made the decision to do this … day after day, week after week, and month after month. And then, one day, I realized that I had forgiven my abusers!
How do you know when you have forgiven them? They no longer hold emotional power over you. If they come to mind, there is no twisting of the stomach or tension in your body. You no longer see them as monsters. Instead, you pity them because you recognize how emotionally wounded they must have been to do what they did to an innocent child.
I just had lunch with one of my abusers a couple of days ago … at my invitation. While I don’t feel “loving” toward her or want a relationship with her, dining with her did not hurt. I was no longer the helpless victim fearful of the person in front of me. Instead, I was an empowered woman offering grace to someone who does not deserve it, and I felt good about shining some kindness into the life of someone who had not been kind to me.
Does she deserve this kindness? Absolutely not. Nobody ever deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace that we give out of the overflow out of our own healing. Enough pain has taken place in my life. I now want no interactions with anyone else that are not healing. I have not forgotten the many terrible acts she did to me, but those memories no longer hurt. My choice to eat lunch with her is not about her – it is about me being true to who **I** am and extending grace to someone who does not deserve it because my Maker has extended grace to me that I did not deserve. I am paying forward what has been given to me, and I feel so richly blessed to continue extended grace through sharing my story with you.
If you are not ready to forgive, that’s OK. This process took me over a decade to complete, and it might take you even longer. All I can tell you is that I know what it feels like to live angry, and I know what it feels like to live free. I choose freedom.
By Pete Walker, M.A., MFT (Therapy for and recovery from childhood trauma, abuse and/or neglect)
I believe the foundation of my recovery work is in all the time and energy I have put into reawakening my instincts of self-compassion and self-protection. I have a fierce commitment to being loyal to myself – to being like a kind mother and a protective father to myself no matter what.
As my own recovery deepens, I notice that whenever it needs a boost, I frequently find myself invoking my inner child visually as sitting on my lap, and I tell him much I love him. I often feel myself wishing I could go back into the past in a time machine and rescue him – and bring him back to live with me in the present. I tell him there’s always a place in my heart for him, and that whenever he is suffering or struggling with some difficult aspect of an emotional flashback, I love him even more and feel a huge desire to go back in time and protect him from the outrageous unfairness he experienced.
By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC
Featured on GoodTherapy.org, May 14, 2007
This article is not bang up to date, but the information is sound. It was created using ideas from the members of GoodTherapy.org and goes on to outline 14 points to consider when choosing a counselor/ therapist who is the ‘right fit’ for you.
Rubenstein goes on to provide further detail in the full article, but here are those 14 questions well worth considering;
For the article in full, please select the following link;
When a child growing up is traumatized, often she has to hide the trauma and “act normal.” The wounded part gets split off and the pain or shame becomes a secret, even to the child herself. Sometimes actual memories, as of abuse, are suppressed or lost, while for other people it’s more like the feelings get lost somewhere. A part of the growing person gets stuck in a young place. Later, events that remind us of what happened to the suppressed part can trigger reactions that feel disproportionate to the circumstances—a good clue that young feelings are involved.
Getting in touch with our wounded inner children can be scary when it lets out feelings of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. The feelings seem huge because they’ve been bottled up like genies for all those years. But listening to the child-parts allows us to integrate more parts of ourselves over time.
In addition, we need to re-frame and re-order our worldview. While we were growing up, we had to accept our family’s view, more or less, including all the denial and distortion. Listening to the inner child and re-orienting our reality to include the knowledge of abuse is a huge, life-changing task.
I’ve also found that the joyful and free parts of my child-self got lost in the split. Those parts came back slowly when they saw it could be safe.
Getting in touch with our inner children is not always easy. Sometimes my inner child was afraid to speak up and she kind of hid from me. Also, at first it seemed that she just wanted to cry and cry. That’s natural. The parts of us that were split off at a young age had to go away for good reasons—abuse, fear, neglect, misunderstanding. These young parts were not allowed to express their overwhelming feelings, so they took the feelings away with them.
How do we soothe the inner child? When we invite these lost inner children back into our lives, we have to be ready for them to express a lot of distress. But what do we do then?
First of all, it’s a process and it won’t get done all at once. You need to learn how to parent your own particular inner children. They will teach you what they need as time goes on. You will have to be just as patient as if you had adopted a real child with a troubled background.
Second, you need to take those feelings extremely seriously. “Soothing” the child does not mean saying, “There, there, dear. It’s OK. Stop crying.” You may have heard voices like that in your past, but your job is to be a different kind of parent, one who really listens to the child’s feelings. So the first part of soothing is to hear the feelings. The child might not be able to tell you why she or he feels sad or angry or scared. Your job is to pay attention to the feelings.
If you can, find a safe a quiet place where you can literally sit down and listen. Let the feelings emerge. Accept all of them, even though it is painful. If you can’t bear all of it at once, tell the child that you will listen for ten minutes, or five, or two minutes. Then promise the child to make another time later to listen some more.
As the feelings emerge, focus on loving the child who is entrusting you with these valuable and vulnerable emotions. Tell the child that you are proud of her or him for coming forth. Sometimes you may feel completely overwhelmed and inside the feelings, like you are being the child. That’s OK. If you stay in that place, just notice what’s happening. See if you can detect any shift where you might feel a little more like a grownup holding the child. Ultimately, you need to be an adult, so you can care for the inner child.
Here are some ways to work with soothing the distressed inner child:
Value all those difficult child-feelings and validate them.
Let your body express the love you have for this child by holding a pillow or stuffed animal, rocking, humming, stroking, doing anything you’d do to comfort an actual child.
Trust your instincts on this. Let the child tell you what feels good to her or him.
Don’t let any critical voices tell you that it’s silly to rock and hum a lullaby. It’s not silly–it is valuable practice in loving yourself.
Remember, you will need to do this practice over and over as your inner child gradually learns to trust you.
Over time you will learn to be the caring parent that this child never had. You will share your future with the wonderful, free, and loving spirit that is your original inner child.
By Jane Rowan
By Jenise Harmon, LISW-S
Featured at GoodTherapy.org, February 23, 2015
Depression is a real illness with very real symptoms. It’s not something a person can ‘snap out of’. It’s a fine balance knowing how to help or in finding the right words to say. Communication can be difficult and feel awkward but a non-judgemental ear is priceless.
This article offers solid suggestions on how to communicate with those we care for who are suffering the effects of depression.
Harmon offers the following recommendations;
For the article in full, please select the following link;
I must confess that for part of my healing journey – no, wait, let’s be honest, pretty much all of it so far – I have been somewhat of an unwilling participant. I have been in and out of therapy more times than I can count over the past decade and each time, I go in with the idea that “I’ll just sort out this one abuse-related issue that’s been bothering me and then I’ll get back to my real life”. I just want the pain to be over with already. I’m like the kid in the backseat of a car on a long road trip, endlessly asking “are we there yet?”
The first time I went to see a therapist, I told her a summary of the problems I was experiencing, and she told me she didn’t expect I’d be seeing her for longer than ten months to a year. “Great!” I thought. “If I have to do it, then I’m gonna kick this healing crap’s ass. I’ll go at it like a maniac, and at the end of the year I’ll be a completely different, much happier person. My life = sorted.”
So, for a year, I went at it like I was building Noah’s ark and the flood was due in three months. (Which is probably quite an accurate analogy; now I come to think about it.) I went to three-hour therapy sessions every two weeks. I cried. I screamed. I wrote unsent letters and burnt them ceremoniously. I bought a punching bag and beat the crap out of it on a regular basis. I journalled. I meditated. I lit candles. I drew. I fell asleep to relaxation CDs. I bought and devoured every book on healing and self-development I could get my hands on. I pretty much LIVED therapy. The only other things I was doing (somewhat sporadically) were a) going to work, b) eating and c) sleeping.
Ten months to a year came and went. I was still in therapy.
Two years came and went. I was STILL in therapy. What the?!
Three years came and went.
It seemed that neither I, nor my therapist at the time, had accurately guessed how deep the rabbit hole went. I was still uncovering buried memories of trauma, and what’s more, they seemed to be getting worse and worse as I became more skilled in dealing with them. It was almost like I was levelling up in some horrific computer game I didn’t recall purchasing but was now stuck playing against my will.
And I was getting tired. I finally thought, “Sod this, I’ve had enough therapy”. I quit, moved interstate, and took a job that allowed me to be close to nature. Externally, life was better for a short while. Internally, though, I didn’t feel much better.
As it happened, the game was far from over.
That summer I had my first flashback. Then I had my first panic attack. I realised in one horrifying instant the truth I had known all along but had previously been unable to face: that my father had sexually abused me. My father, whom I had always idealised and placed on a pedestal from a young age. I thought he was so smart, kind, wise and caring. No. I didn’t want to believe what my body was telling me. No. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true.
Therapy was supposed to improve my life. Not blow it up.
But in the end, that’s what it did.
All of the stories I believed about my happy childhood, where I was loved and had a normal, healthy family, were false. I had made them all up. They were a fiction I told myself so that part of me could remain innocent and survive.
I felt like I had taken the red pill and woken up on the other side of the Matrix.
This was NOT what was supposed to happen.
Damn therapy. I wanted a refund.
Four years came and went.
Now therapy was different. Now I had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was getting flashbacks all the time, and learning in therapy how to deal with them; grounding techniques, comforting myself, imagining figures protecting my child self from harm. All the while I was thinking, this is nuts. None of this actually happened. What the hell is wrong with me?! Reading literature on PTSD, trying to convince myself I wasn’t actually going crazy even though that’s what it felt like. Coping with that weird involuntary trembling and body shaking that occurs after a flashback. “There was a study done on deer who have been traumatised. They shake and tremble in order to recover,” my therapist told me. “Your body is just doing the same thing.”
But I didn’t want to be a traumatised deer. I wanted to be a completely normal happy average human being, who could get by just fine without therapy, thank you very much. I didn’t want any of this to be happening.
Five years came and went.
The denial lifted, and I finally began to believe what the flashbacks were telling me. I cut both my parents out of my life, and felt a huge sense of inner relief and peace. I decided to quit therapy, again, as the flashbacks were settling, and in any case, I now knew how to deal with them when they arose. By that time I had an army of self-nurturing tools at my disposal from journalling, drawing, posting on isurvive, to calling friends, etc. I had a lot of support around me. I had lost two abusive parents but somehow, amazingly, managed to escape the cycle of abuse and heal. I felt incredibly lucky.
I took a couple of years off from therapy and tried to just get on with my life. For the first time ever, I felt young and happy and free. For the most part. Memories of the abuse would crop up from time to time, but I would deal with them as they arose. I started to believe I had “made it”, I had reached the mythical end to healing that I had hoped for so long ago. Life was better. I felt a deep sense of peace at having finally accepted and believed the truth.
Which brings me to the present.
Now, there is a new memory knocking at my door. Frick. Just when I thought I was done.
It has been coming back in bits and pieces over the past year.
Now, the Game is back on. And boy oh boy have I levelled up now. It is a new and improved sequel with dramatically better special effects, surround sound and more vibrant 3D characters. This memory is far worse than any of the previous ones, and they were terrifying enough to start with. This one is more violent, more horrific, and just plain bizarre to boot. I can’t get it out of my head, and like some kind of debt collector from the past it won’t leave me alone. It keeps sending me letters with big red writing on the front and increasing the interest I owe on my payment. If I don’t deal with it soon it’s gonna come knocking at my door, empty my bank account and cart me away to the law enforcement agencies.
And so begins the sixth year.
But I feel better now. To be honest; by now I feel like a warrior. I have been through a lot the past nine years, and I’ve learned a lot as well. I know that, no matter how painful they are, feelings eventually always pass. I am, finally, learning the importance of nurturing and being kind to myself. I know that I have people I can call and the support of those at isurvive to help me get through the dark places. I know that my mind will not show me anything before I am ready to deal with it. And I know that whatever trauma I’m about to face, I’ve already lived through it, survived and am safe in the present.
I still don’t know when, or if, this healing process ever ends. I don’t know how much more pain I’ve repressed and buried in my unconscious that still needs to come out. If there is a “there”, I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m a lot further along in my journey. I’ve reclaimed so much of myself during this process. I feel a million times better and more whole than I did when I first started therapy all those years ago.
It didn’t feel okay to start with. It felt scary and I just wanted to run away. I feel just as scared now, going into my sixth year. But I think maybe therapy always feels that way in the beginning. Maybe that’s how you know you’re learning, growing, changing, getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. Maybe anything meaningful or worthwhile is scary at first. Maybe life itself is more about growing, changing, and learning how to love ourselves, than it is about racing through or avoiding pain to get to a happier place faster. Maybe there is no mythical happy “there”. Maybe I can just try to be the best me possible while I’m “here”, instead.
by Christine Cissy White
“If I was dissociating, I wouldn’t feel so anxious,” she said.
“Or you might – but you just wouldn’t know it,” I replied.
We laughed the PTSD laugh.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever said that out loud,” she said.
“But I know exactly what you mean,” I said.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have shorthand with someone recovering from developmental trauma.
We were going to meet to talk writing and life but a panic attack took precedence. She called to cancel, apologized as though her panic was an insult to me. It wasn’t.
I was impressed that she didn’t make up a lie. I’m not sure if I would have been so honest. Coping well and seeming calm during tornadoes can be a trademark, a personality trait I dangle like long earrings. It’s difficult to give up because the perks for being accomplished, productive and together pay off big. However, it’s impossible to be a robot and an emotionally healthy human.
In order to be emotionally available and responsive to others, it turns out I have to be emotionally present and responsive to myself.
This is not good news. I recoil a little inside. The spilling of actual emotions is as appealing as snot from the nose or pus from a cut. My own habit is to greet my own feelings with the same, “What do you want?” that I got in childhood.
When I’m post-traumatically stressed out, my self-hate is high and self-acceptance low. In this state, I’m surprised my feelings are defiant enough to show up when I thought they were shamed out of existence. Nope, they had just waited for me to get centered.
This is not the reward I had in mind when I started mindfulness practice. Healing and emotional health require staying present at least some of the time. Staying present is a challenge for a seasoned yogi staring at sunsets and sunflowers.sunflower 4 For those who were helpless as a child, staying present with violence and violation at the hands of relatives during the development of the nervous system, is a hard sell.
As a child, I learned to air lift out of my body and hover at the brain, play dead or pretend to become one with the table, ceiling or door. This didn’t feel like a spiritual shedding of form, a healthy detaching of ego or a glimpse into knowing we are all one.
It felt like a terrifying denial of experience. And now, when I sit to be present in the present, all of those old sensations are stored in the stillness. Doesn’t that seem mean?
I am learning to accept this part of healing. Not the suffering needlessly. I don’t want to do that. But the part where I struggle to figure out how to let the guards down and risk letting others in.
It would be a lie to say I approach my path with openhearted equanimity.
Often, I look for a back-up plan.
When triggered, I do battle with thoughts such as these: Can’t someone do this for me? How old I will be when I can do this with more grace and ease, less forgetting and effort? Can I have a better love life without exploring Daddy issues again?
Inside, I rage and war.
Clearly, my life would be easier if X wasn’t a jerk, if Y was more helpful and Z never happened in the first place.
No, this is a fantasy of the supportive extended family or the perfect lover. Those are the illusions you cling to and others have their favorites.
Don’t minimize abuse and violence. That keeps people from making change. Social change doesn’t happen because people get a crisis of conscience.
It’s called breaking the system because it requires work and effort. It’s not supposed to be easy.
It goes on and on and on.
I’m beyond sick of it – I’m sick of being sick of the process.
I’ve been an adult longer than I was a child. Can’t I circle new drains or upgrade the scenery on this old track? So far, guided imagery before bed is the only thing I can do to stop rumination, dwelling and obsessing. I recommend it.
However, some practices require regular exercise to keep off the emotional pounds even though I want to do it once and be done?
Complex PTSD or developmental trauma isn’t only about calming the nervous system, it’s about undoing the damage of what was learned in toxic family dynamics. Healing is about discovering how to nurture ourselves when violence, neglect and confusion were slathered on us as children.
I have resentment and resistance.
In fact, feeling burdened, exhausted and martyred can be the itchy wool coat of memory. I say it’s uncomfortable, yet, like an old photo album I keep picking it up. It’s how I learned how to be, a default setting I return to when stressed. I say I would love to feel the cool air lift my arm hairs yet I don’t disrobe.
Seeing a pattern does not mean knowing how to change. Knowing action needs to be taken doesn’t mean there are no false starts.
What I have learned recently, is how much better I feel in community. One of the best ways to create an internal shift comes from connecting with others. Yesterday, it was in the laughter shared with a woman with a panic attack talking about how hard it can be to notice, feel and respond to our own emotions. When she shared missing the competent feeling that accompanies numbness I understood and related even though we know the excruciating agony of being emotionally blunted makes it worth the effort. 010
We may have joked about bringing back numbness but we wouldn’t really go back in time. The relief came in understanding one another.
The process of healing, waking up and breaking the cycle is slow and sometimes agonizing. I hesitate to write that for survivors early in the process because so much improves and it’s not always grueling. However, people wouldn’t smoke, drink, stay in unhappy relationships and repeat the cycle if change was easy.
Luckily, we can sustain one another and learn to care for ourselves. Talking, which is all I did with one woman yesterday, made me feel as though I could breathe more easily though not one thing was removed from my to do list. Sharing openly and honestly was medicinal. It was free, didn’t require an expert or an appointment. Yet, I was transformed.
Before we spoke, I was mad at myself for not achieving more. I was a magnifying glass glued to the negative. My brain was a sink full of dirty dishes.
“The only abuser left in your life,” a yoga teacher said to me in a private session, “is you.” You need to parent yourself the way you wish you had been parenting. Criticism, judgment and neglect are not nurturing is what she implied.
Ouch, is what I thought and I worried a bit about who would keep me in line if I got all soft and slouchy.
Now, at midlife, when I see someone being honest about their needs, I’m envious not judgmental. People have symptoms. They can linger for a long time. So what? Who cares? That’s just how it is. I don’t think any less of them. Not at all.
Can I be this way with myself?
With another survivor, I could speak about how exhausting it is to keep getting on the hamster wheel and how hard to get off. We could appreciate our extreme efforts and point out how no new ground is being covered.
It she had not risked being authentic and vulnerable, letting down walls and defenses, I might have never made it to my yoga mat later in the day. Her bravery supported my practice! My relating made her feel less anxious. For those of us who never experienced healthy interdependence this is transforming. We get to practice, however clumsily, with one another and healing happens at lightning speed.
Most days, survivors of childhood abuse are high-functioning warriors building and rebuilding lives and selves. On those days, there is no shortage of people to talk with, relate to and bond with. On those days, it’s easy to be with ourselves.
It is the day we feel tipped over inside by trauma that we need one another most. We need people who get it, who can say, about the same orange, “It’s juicy, tangy, messy and sweet.” It’s a sensory, tactile knowing as opposed to some abstract, “Life can be hard,” comment which doesn’t help.
In yoga, during balance poses, teachers suggest finding a focal point to hold the gaze. Doing so, helps us steady ourselves. Action and rushing in to prevent tumbling aren’t necessary. Rescue won’t help someone learn to get more balanced. Being still and providing focus can.
This is the work of adult survivors. This is the unglamorous healing of developmental trauma. We do not obsess on the cause of our wounds but focus on ways to more fully inhabit the present.
We offer one another acts of caring. We validate, bear witness and can admit how clumsy we feel with the business of being human.
We can allow each other the safety we didn’t have as children to explore and experiment with our developing sense of self. We didn’t have this experience as children.
But we aren’t children any more.
These must be the gifts of practice and healing. More and more, for entire seconds or moments, I remember more, forget less and stay present.
Christine Cissy White lives with her daughter on the coast of Massachussets in the USA.