Monday, June 27, 2011

Compassionate presence

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals ~ Pema Chödrön

When we know what it is to feel our pain, we can feel compassion for another feeling their pain. We can't create a safe container for our self, or others, when we're afraid of pain. I once heard Jennifer McLean saying that “our body is the safest place to be”. When we're in emotional pain, our body can feel like the least safe place to be, because our emotions and sensations are felt and processed in the body. That's if we're associated with our body, feeling puts us in touch with our body and emotions which can feel unbearable, so we may dissociate and subsequently think and believe that feeling is an enemy to our peace of mind. So we avoid feeling.

Our willingness to feel our pain keeps us emotionally (and physically when there is no other cause) healthy. What we don't feel, we will act out. If we fear the emotions of others we know we have some work (i.e. feeling) to do with our own emotions.

What compassion translates to in a very practical way is being present with someone's feelings, all of their feelings. It isn't a multiple choice test where we get to tick off for others what the “good” or “bad” emotions they are feeling are. A vital ingredient of compassion is acceptance, so any discomfort we might feel about what someone else is feeling, shows us where we need healing. We might not have the same experience in common with someone, but we all have feelings in common. Most of us know what it's like to feel rage, frustration, sadness or delight. Nothing is more human than feeling our emotions and yet it can be so painful to do just that. We may need another person to create enough safety for us to be able to feel deep pain, someone who is present, willing to go there with us, doesn't try to fix it or reframe our feelings or situation too quickly before we feel heard.

For "full" emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced by that of the other ~ Daniel Siegel

Monday, June 20, 2011

What is trauma?

Trauma is often defined in terms of little t trauma and big T trauma, or soft and hard trauma. This definition of trauma is event dependent. It is looking from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. In my experience it is not the event itself that is significant in terms of defining what is traumatic, but how we experienced and resolved the event or events. Trauma is an individual experience and how we respond and resolve it, is unique to us, our situation, our age and available resources. Any experience that remains unresolved or unexperienced can lead to trauma.

Trauma is in the nervous system, not the event ~ Peter Levine

There are many ways an experience can remain unresolved. If we have ever felt helpless, powerless or like our survival was at stake, then the experience, whatever it was, was potentially traumatic for us. We can be deeply hurt and wounded (the word trauma comes from Greek and literally means wound), physically, sexually and psychologically, by something or someone and if we can't process the hurt, trauma can result. If we freeze and are unable, for whatever reason, to discharge the freeze response this also creates trauma in our system. The traumatic experience can then be triggered or re-enacted over and over again until resolution is found. If subsequent freeze responses are not discharged and compounded pain is not resolved, an enormous strain is put on our system and our resilience becomes severely depleted.

One of the most devastating and insidious traumas is the ongoing experience of feeling unloved and unwanted, which usually starts in the womb. When a baby feels unloved and unwanted, it can be experienced as a real threat to their survival and can result in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The wounds of feeling unloved go very deep and often remain unexperienced or frozen just because they are so unbearably painful. The imprint of these wounds will be played out and re-enacted in all sorts of different ways in order to resolve them. We're always looking for resolution, we need resolution.

If the essential need for love is not met, babies learn to mistrust and deny all of their needs, because if they are not worthy of being loved, they are not worthy of having their needs met. When traumatic imprints are laid down as early as our time in the womb, freezing can often become the habitual response when we feel threatened later in life because of lowered resilience. Our threshold to assimilate life's stresses is affected by unresolved trauma, we become hyper vigilant, feel unsafe, we dissociate, feel anxious and depressed, we do whatever helps us to sedate and keep our pain repressed.

Trauma: unexperienced experience ~ Ivor Browne

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trauma imprints in the body

Acceptance can be difficult. That's an understatement if ever there was one. When we reject or resist feeling our feelings, we can't experience them and the experience remains undigested or unexperienced. Psychiatrist Ivor Browne calls unexperienced experience trauma. This is one of the ways trauma imprints in our bodies. What we don't feel and experience our body takes on.

Chronic indigestion, or undischarged trauma, can show up in our life in all sorts of ways; IBS, acid reflux, bloating, chronic inflammation, anxiety, stress, depression, chronic fatigue and so on. Finding a way to digest the indigestible is important for our health. Ask your self what has been the hardest for you to digest or accept in your life?

I believe it's nigh on impossible to let go of something that we haven't digested or even acknowledged is there. And that's where the frustration and overwhelm come in, we try and struggle in vain to let go of something that hasn't been acknowledged, accepted or felt. The overwhelm goes beyond frustration, it very often, if not always, leads to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. The helplessness is also felt because of not consciously knowing due to repressed or unconscious pain, a pain so painful that it is deeply buried. But our body lets us know in the form of symptoms, as it is the container for all our pain.

The first physical signs of indigestion can be low stomach acid, we don't digest our food as well and feel off and bloated. If left unchecked this can become chronic and can lead to issues such as IBS and many others. Emotional signs of undischarged trauma are feeling overwhelmed, flying off the handle at the 'slightest' thing, being called 'too' sensitive and feeling like it's all 'too much'.

One of the reasons we won't allow our self to experience anything traumatic is we fear we'll never be able to exit from the feeling or experience and it will be unbearable. Which is usually how we felt when it first happened and we don't want to return there. We're terrified it will stay with us forever and swallow us up in its pain so we resist feeling it with all our might. The strategy of avoiding pain in the short term (the freeze response) works really well and can be life saving, but in the long run we pay a huge price for suppressing what's crying out for acceptance from us. Tapping diagram and procedure.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Back pain

Our need for others has its roots in our earliest experiences and is bound up with our deepest feelings. This may be obvious, and yet a hundred years of otherwise creditable psychological thinking took it for granted that we begin life as individuals, who somehow at some later stage get in relationships with each other ~ Josephine Klein, Our Need for Others and its Roots in Infancy

10 years ago I injured my tail bone while cycling. Ever since then I have had lower back issues and once in 2004 I was in bed for 3 weeks with severe pain and sciatica. I am still healing this injury, which goes far deeper than the physical one I sustained that day on my bike.

Whenever I feel unsupported, or try to push through, my back lets me know. I have this habit or pattern of not listening to myself, not taking my feelings seriously, and being far too concerned with how others feel and taking responsibility for that, it's no wonder I don't feel supported sometimes. So when I'm not listening and paying attention to how I feel, my back lets me know.

The first chakra is all about stability, safety, support, having strong roots and feeling grounded, so it's not surprising that back issues tend to show up in people who have issues in these areas. Try this tapping script for back pain:

Even though I feel unsupported, I accept how I feel (if a memory pops up, tap on that)

Even though my back feels like …(it's going to pop, give way etc), I accept my back and all its messages

Even though all these feelings are stored in my back, I accept them all

Top of the head: I don't feel supported
Eyebrow: I have to do it all alone
Side of eye: And that makes me feel …
Under the eye: Lonely
Under the nose: Weighed down
Under the chin: On shaky ground
Collar Bone: I don't feel safe
Under the arm: I'd like to be looked after for once

Top of the head: This pain
Eyebrow: It feels ...(be as descriptive as you can)
Side of the eye: I feel it when …
Under the eye: And that makes me feel …
Under the nose: I accept how I feel
Under the chin: I choose to take my feelings and experiences seriously
Collar bone: I choose to support myself
Under the arm: That feels …

Top of the head: What's the bigger message here?
Eyebrow: What's stored in my back?
Side of the eye: The mechanical injury isn't healing because …
Under the eye: My feelings need to be taken seriously
Under the nose: I need to take myself seriously
Under the chin: And stop trying to be brave
Collar bone: And trying to do it all alone
Under the arm: I can reach out …

Tap on anything that this script brings up and make sure to customise it to how you feel. Suggested reading:
1. The Body Bears the Burden by Robert Scaer 
2. Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
3. Your Body Doesn't Lie by John Diamond

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Don't turn away

Turn towards your self. Turn towards your feelings. Turn towards your experience. Don't push through, pay attention, listen. Tap for the courage and the strength to feel and experience whatever it is. EFT short cut diagram and procedure