Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The importance of trauma informed care

If you knew that there was one root cause that is the foundation of most mental and physical illnesses, wouldn’t you want to know what it is? Wouldn’t you do almost anything to find out what it is, so you could finally get to the bottom of any chronic issue that is plaguing you or someone you love? Wouldn’t you wonder why anyone who is a health professional would not know what it is?

I sometimes think that I must be living in a bubble of people who know what the root cause is, because it is only when I enter the mainstream by say, going to a doctor, that I realise that many people don’t know and don’t even know that they don’t know. It always surprises me and leaves me quite frustrated. Or maybe, they’re not interested in finding and treating the root cause, because going down the road of symptoms is much more profitable because it’s a merry-go-round that you (the client or patient) can never get off and which, very often, if not always, leads to retraumatisation and a worsening of symptoms. I’d rather not believe the last scenario to be true, but unfortunately the evidence speaks for itself.

What is at the root of many mental and physical illnesses? The answer is: unresolved trauma. This might not be new to some of you and others might be saying that it couldn’t be so simple and others might be saying that I’m talking sh*t. But mountains of growing research and anecdotal evidence shows that unresolved trauma, particularly early in life, is the cause of a massive stress overload on our nervous systems leading to chronic health issues. A dysregulated nervous system results in a dysregulated body and mind.

Therefore, the crucial importance of any health professional being trauma-informed cannot be overstated. Too many doctors are handing out prescriptions for symptoms, with direct effects, not side effects, and sometimes those effects lead to death, or, at best, an extremely poor quality of life. There are too many diagnoses, many of them supposedly co-morbid, when the root cause is completely neglected. This is nowhere near good enough, too many are suffering, too many are at the end of their tether, too many are at breaking point, or have already broken down. We need to do a lot lot better, because unresolved trauma is the most important health issue facing our world today.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I shouldn't be feeling this way

There’s no surer way for an emotion or physical sensation to get stuck than us thinking we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. It could be that we believe that we ‘should be’ over it, or else the 4 biggies are getting in the way of us feeling the emotion or sensation. And they are:
  • It feels awful
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Disloyalty

Try the following set up statements to help you dissolve whatever blocks you might have when you ‘should’ on yourself.

Even though I shouldn’t be feeling this way, I’m a bad person for feeling this way, I am open to accepting this emotion

Even though I believe that this emotion is bad because … I accept that’s the way I feel right now

Even though this sensation feels awful, it’s not possible to feel it without … I accept how I feel

Even though I feel disloyal for feeling this way towards … I accept that I don’t want to hurt anyone

Even though I might be hurting myself by not feeling this feeling, I am open to feeling some of this feeling

Even though I should be over this by now (your belief or others?), I'm moving at a pace that feels ...

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Even though I'm afraid to go inside ...

Whenever an experience is too much for us, we have the ability to store it away inside our bodies and minds until we can feel it later. This is an absolutely brilliant coping mechanism that gets us through some tough times. Because storing it away has seemingly been so successful, we think we can do it forever, but we can’t. Our system becomes too full and starts overflowing with anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, thyroid disorders and so on. I’m not suggesting that trauma is 100% responsible for every condition or symptom, but research shows that it plays a huge role in many dis-eases when it is unresolved and frozen for a long time.


Going inside our bodies can be absolutely terrifying, so we avoid it at all costs which is totally understandable. What we need to do is titrate, that is, go slowly, bit by bit, until the stored pain and hurt can be felt and released. This isn’t always what we want to hear when we’re suffering, we want it gone yesterday, but it doesn’t work like that. It has usually taken years for pain to accumulate and it will take time to sift through it, otherwise we risk extreme overwhelm which is counterproductive and can set us back and make us even more afraid of our pain. Try the following statements to help you find the courage to go inside at a pace that feels safe and comfortable for you. Repeat whatever feels right on the points, diagram here.

Even though I’m afraid to go inside, I accept how I feel

Even though I get overwhelmed by all the stuff stored inside, I don’t know where to start, I’ll do it at my own pace and I’ll do it with help

Even though a part of me doesn’t want to feel what’s inside, another part knows I have to feel it, or it will keep showing up in ways I don’t like, I accept this conflict and how both parts of me feel

Even though I’m scared of this mountain of hurt, it’s too big for me, I accept that it’s absolutely ok to be afraid

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The pain of disconnection

When something painful happens to us, we not only disconnect from the pain because it’s so painful, we also disconnect from ourselves; because the pain lives in us in some shape or form. This division within our self is called dissociation and it’s really important that we normalise dissociation as we all dissociate to a greater or lesser degree. Kathy Steele calls this fleeing from self, Mindflight, the opposite of what Daniel Siegel calls Mindsight.

When we don’t feel connected to our self and others, we feel pain on top of any other pain we’ve suffered like being unloved, unwanted, abused or neglected. Being and feeling connected is an essential biological, emotional and spiritual need throughout our life. Feeling connected is not optional, babies die without it, and adults develop all sorts of dis-eases, both mental and physical. It goes against everything we are as humans not to be and feel connected.


The nature of life is movement, not stagnation. Things will out, they’ll bubble up and create enormous pressure on us in the form of various symptoms and conditions, in order for us to connect with the part(s) who feel pain. Connecting with our pain is not the same as trying to fix the pain, that’s a relentless, exhausting and futile hunt which always eludes us.

Our pain doesn’t define us but it does become part of us in some way. It changes us, and if we feel it instead of acting it out, or in, it can bring out who we always were deep down while also transforming us.

Try the following set up statements and tap on all the points with whatever reminder phrase feels right.

Even though it’s too painful to connect with this pain, I honour my feelings

Even though this pain has remained frozen for so long, maybe it’s time to let it melt drop by drop

Even though I feel disconnected from … I am open to reconnecting

Even though a part(s) of me is afraid to reconnect with this pain because … I completely accept my fear, it’s ok to be afraid

Even though I don’t know whether I’ll be able to handle my pain, I am open to asking for help and support to get through this

Even though I wish it would all go away so I didn’t have to deal with it, I accept that need and desire

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Half in half out

That feeling of urgency or desperation when you’re at the end of your tether and sick to death of whatever it is, is a sign for you to stop running around like a headless chicken trying to find the magic tool or technique to fix yourself. At the end of this post, I’ll share a tapping script which you can customise, about feeling safe enough to stop fleeing, fighting and freezing when an issue comes up.

Trauma can cause chronic issues, and chronic issues, in turn, can cause trauma; or retraumatisation to be more precise. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break to save our sanity and health. Unresolved chronic issues can leave us feeling helpless, hopeless and full of fear and despair that things will never change. An awful place to be. The fear that nothing will ever change and you’ll be stuck like this forever is very frightening and of course feeds our urgency and desperation to be rid of the issue.


When things come up over and over again, or something hasn’t been resolved, it can often be a part of us wanting/needing to complete something that was left uncompleted or fulfill a need that remained/remains unmet; another sort of incomplete action. The incompleteness is like emotional, mental and physical indigestion, we can’t fully take whatever is hard to digest in and we can’t eliminate it either. So, we get stuck, it’s half in, half out and this gives rise to the symptoms of undischarged traumatic stress, of which there are many. This is why psychiatrist Ivor Browne calls trauma: unexperienced experience. (Not to be confused with a traumatic experience, which may or may not cause trauma, depending on whether we have the resources and support to cope with whatever has overwhelmed our coping mechanisms).


Here is a selection of set up statements that you can try and insert your own words where you like. You can find the tapping diagram here.

Even though it’s not safe to stop (trying … etc), I completely accept how I feel

Even though stopping feels like giving up, I completely accept how I feel about this

Even though giving up feels ... I accept how I feel

Even though I can’t allow this … to be here, it might stay forever if I allowed it even 10 minutes and that would make me feel … I completely accept those feelings

Even though I feel desperate to be rid of this … I completely accept my desperation

Even though I’m at my wits end and can’t stop fighting (fleeing from, freezing/shutting down from) this … I accept how I feel

Even though I’m afraid of this issue, I completely accept my fear

Even though this issue makes me feel helpless, I accept myself anyway

Even though this … feels like a … (monster, black hole etc), I am okay

Top of head: This desperation
Eyebrow: About …
Side of eye: It reminds me of …
Under eye: That feels …
Under nose: It’s not safe to stop fighting
Under chin: I have to fight this (run away from, shut down etc) …
Collar bone: Or else …
Under the arm: This issue has me on my knees

Top of the head: I feel such an urgency to be rid of it
Eyebrow: I’m going to keep on trying to get rid of it
Side of eye: I’ve no other choice
Under eye: Because …
Under nose: And that feels …
Under chin: Maybe there’s another way
Collar bone: A kinder gentler way
Under the arm: For me

Top of the head: Something less exhausting
Eyebrow: That gives me hope
Side of eye: I need a sign
Under eye: I need guidance
Under the nose: That I’m on the right track
Under chin: How will I recognise it?
Collar bone: I’ll know
Under the arm: I always know when it comes down to it

Top of head: I sometimes don’t trust that knowing
Eyebrow: And that has hurt me
Side of eye: So I’ll trust myself
Under eye: And the parts that are showing up
Under the nose: With symptoms
Under the chin: To be heard
Collar bone: And held
Under the arm: That feels …

Top of head: When I see it like that
Eyebrow: It’s easier to have compassion
Side of eye: I can contemplate laying down my arms
Under eye: I can come closer
Under nose: To my pain
Under chin: And feel (some of it etc)
Collar bone: I can take it slowly and gently
Under the arm: There’s no urgency any more

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chronic health issues and trauma

Chronic health issues are directly correlated with adverse childhood experiences, if not directly caused by them in many cases. Many people don’t think of chronic health issues, particularly physical conditions such as heart disease, as even being related to traumatic stress. The common belief is that you can only be traumatised by dramatic events such as wars.

However, psychologist Robert Rhoton dispels that myth with the following example: If a soldier produces a cup of cortisol in response to a dramatic experience, a child experiencing twenty supposedly small events a day can produce the same amount, a teaspoon at a time. They both produce a cup of cortisol, yet very often her experience will be minimised and even ridiculed if anyone dares suggest that she is going through something traumatic. Their biology, however, tells the same story and our biology doesn’t lie. In addition, trauma could be ongoing in the child’s case, day in, day out with no end in sight, especially if her caregivers are the source of the trauma. That is a perfect recipe for trauma: fear, helplessness and being/feeling trapped. As Pierre Janet said back in 1909: traumas produce their disintegrating effects in proportion to their intensity, duration and repetition.


Because of the distinction between small t and big T trauma (terms I don't agree with), many people minimise their experiences, saying that they don’t have much to complain about or that’s the way children were raised when they were young. But our body often tells a different story as psychologist Alice Miller wrote in her book The Body Never Lies. When we have accumulated unresolved stress it builds up in the body and the mind and causes various dis-eases and we need to take this very very seriously.

Exercises and techniques that help us regulate our nervous systems are invaluable in helping us to release any stress from our bodies. It is crucial that we seek out what works for us, so stress doesn’t build up. One of my favourite exercises to release stress is from Peter Levine, called pendulation. I also like to tap, but I find sometimes that I’m tapping with the intention of getting rid of something, so EFT won’t work well for me in that case. That’s when I use pendulation because it allows me to hold the opposites of how I’m feeling (tense, afraid, ashamed in some parts of my body and relaxed, calm or neutral in other parts) together, without needing the difficult emotions or sensations to go away.

Over time, pendulation and other self regulation exercises, help enlarge our container and capacity for difficult emotions and physical sensations which is very empowering and calming. Very often our biggest stressor can be the fear and overwhelm that we can’t handle what’s going on or what we fear could happen in the future. Knowing you have the tools (along with social support) that can help you through whatever it is, is priceless.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Why bypassing the body doesn't work

There’s a joke that when we go to a practitioner’s office who practises talk therapy, our body is left at the door and only our head enters the office because that’s the only important ‘bit’. But we don’t have to go to talk therapy for us to leave our bodies behind, most of us have learned to vacate our bodies out of necessity for various reasons.

Our bodies are where we sense and feel pain, so it makes sense that we don’t want to inhabit them sometimes. But life won’t let us get away with this long term. Things always have a way of coming up and out sooner or later.

Most of us from the age of 35 onwards start to accumulate too much baggage because we haven’t been emptying our barrels often enough. It often takes a crisis to make us look at our lives and take stock of what isn’t working any longer.


This is why one the most important skills we can ever learn is to regulate our nervous system. That is, to release and discharge tension and stress from our bodies, our minds will usually follow suit if we do this. If we are not in our bodies, we can't release the tension they hold. That is why being embodied is so important, it is one of the most practical things we can do to improve our mental and physical health.

There are many ways we can release stress and we don’t have to go at it with a sledgehammer 24/7, find the way that feels right for you, at any given moment in time. Take it easy, rest as often as you can, have fun and stop trying to fix yourself all the time.

Excerpted from the book, Forward Facing Trauma Therapy: Healing the Moral Wound by Eric Gentry:

Soft palate relaxation
Here, your goal is to locate and then relax the muscles of your soft palate.
1. Sit down comfortably and shift your focus to the muscles along the roof of your mouth.
2. Release all the tension in this area.
3. Now expand your focus to include the muscles in your face and  jaw.
4. Release the tension in these muscles too.
5. Next, with all of these muscles relaxed, silently say the letter “R” to yourself and try to gently maintain the subtle arch this creates in the roof of your mouth for five seconds.
6. Repeat this exercise five times.
7. Notice the relaxation in your body.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Islands of safety

Peter Levine calls the places we can go to in our body when processing trauma; islands of safety. In the stormy waters of trauma, it is easy to feel like you’re drowning in awful and frightening sensations when you start reconnecting with your body, which is why you need these islands of safety. Not only do they give you some respite from feeling dreadful, they also help you to discharge any trauma as they enable you to stay with it, bit by bit (called titration) so you can release it. See my previous post explaining the steps of pendulation in more detail.


In other words, these islands are your internal resources and this feels very empowering as they will continue to grow the more you learn to locate them and, as any traumas release, these islands will become larger and join up so your body will feel like a safer place to inhabit. If you can’t locate a place of relaxation, calmness or neutrality inside your body, use your external resources instead. This could be the presence of a kind friend, the warmth of a hand on your arm (or your own hand), music, a pet, a sunset, whatever allows you to pendulate between your pain and that resource. This will enable you to connect internally as you begin to feel stronger.

Sometimes when we’re tapping, we can tap with the intention of wanting to get rid of something. Now there’s nothing wrong with that and before you tap on any issue itself, you’re better off tapping on wanting to get rid of it first. Being totally and utterly honest always works better with EFT and you will see results much faster. Using exercises like pendulation along with tapping through any difficulties/frustrations you experience can work wonders in my experience.