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.