Monday, May 21, 2018

Repeal the 8th

Most of the time, I have no problem finding a subject to write about, in fact, it can be overwhelming, as sometimes I’ve too much to write about and I don’t feel I pay the subject as much attention as it deserves. This Friday, Ireland will vote on whether to repeal the 8th amendment and I’ve been wanting to write something on it as it is a subject very close to my heart, but it seemed too daunting. But I’m going to scribble something down anyway, as it’s too important not to.

Unlike what many are saying, Friday’s referendum is not an abortion referendum, even though abortion will be permitted in certain situations if the 8th is repealed. The 8th amendment affects all pregnant people, a point that is being missed by many, particularly the no side who want to keep the emotive subject of abortion at the forefront in order to divide and conquer.

As the Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMSI) have stated, the 8th affects women who are 40 weeks pregnant many more times than a woman who is 12 weeks pregnant. Just ask Mother B, aka Geraldine Williams, who the HSE took to the high court in 2016 for forced sedation and caesarean when she was 40 weeks pregnant. All she wanted was a trial of labour on her fourth child, but she wasn’t allowed to exercise that choice because of the 8th. You can hear the spine chilling details of that high court order here (starts at 6:50).


No pregnant woman can legally exercise choice, it is only random luck and a reasonable health care provider that many more women aren’t taken to court for forced procedures. But many are threatened with courts, the gardaĆ­ and social services because of the 8th, when/if they don’t comply with, or question medical advice. And who wouldn’t comply with such threats at such a vulnerable time? Mother A was also taken to court in 2013 for forced sedation and surgery, but before the judge could rule, she agreed to a caesarean. I’m sure under the most extreme duress and stress. When anyone is threatened in this manner, they will go into fight/flight/freeze. When it happens to a pregnant woman, her baby is also affected by the cascade of stress hormones flooding through her body. So much for the “love them both” group’s claims huh?

As it is, many women undergo procedures, not only without their informed consent, but without their knowledge as in the case of Ciara Hamilton.

My personal experience is that if you question anything, you are deemed a trouble maker and the attitude is, who the hell do you think you are? I was actually told I was “famous” in the hospital by one midwife towards the end of my pregnancy, so much for privacy and confidentiality huh? Have we replaced the church with doctors in Ireland? It seems so, in many cases. I didn’t realise doctors were gods that couldn’t be questioned. But the fact is, a doctor secure in their own knowledge and expertise, will actually welcome questions and won’t be phased by them. We need more doctors like that.

We have a put up and shut up culture here in Ireland and nowhere is that more true when it comes to women. There is also a very strong culture of bullying, in fact it’s endemic. Pregnant women are bullied all the time when they ask questions, want to know more, do their own research and when they want to take an active part in their care. It seems the powers that be would much rather we were passive, it makes their job much easier. Unfortunately and disgracefully, the 8th allows for some health care providers to abuse it by bullying women into submission and obedience.

If the 8th is repealed, our human right to bodily autonomy, which is stripped from us the moment we become pregnant, will be returned.

We will then be able to exercise free will and choice, something we can’t currently do under the 8th.

We will have the legal right to informed consent and/or refusal returned to us, another thing that the 8th took away.

We will also have the right to unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks gestation. After 12 weeks, abortion is only permitted in certain circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality and/or serious risk to life and health, so the claims that a foetus can be aborted at 6 months is a downright lie that the no side is propagating. You can find out more about the facts here.

Needless to say, I will be voting with the biggest yes of my life this Friday for every woman that was affected, is affected and could be affected by the 8th amendment in whatever manner. And for every woman who has ever suffered at the hands of the Irish state and church because of their misogyny.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Just like a wild animal

When a wild animal survives being chased and caught by a predator, and then manages to escape being eaten, they will discharge the energy that their nervous system produced to enable them to flee, fight or freeze, by shaking violently for as long as necessary. If the animal doesn’t discharge this energy, they will become hyper vigilant and see threat and danger everywhere, even when none exists. This hypervigilance exhausts their systems and they will not survive for long if this continues.

The same thing happens to humans after experiencing something traumatic. However we’ve forgotten and been socialised away from our wilder nature, deriding it as primitive, savage, reptilian. Have you ever started to shake or tremble when something traumatic happened, but either you or someone else stopped it? Maybe you were even frightened that it was happening? But once upon a time we did shake and know how to discharge trauma, or we wouldn’t have survived as a species.

When humans are faced with threat, our nervous system gears up to flee or fight, if these defences aren’t possible, we freeze (this is called ’tonic immobility’ in the literature). We can freeze psychologically and/or physically, I believe both are types of dissociation that act as protective analgesics.

When we freeze physically, our muscles will stiffen so as to enable us to remain as still as possible, we might not be able to use our voice, even if we want to. Immobilisation comes from our autonomic (automatic) nervous system and is not under our conscious control. It is crucial to understand this so we don’t later blame ourselves for “not putting up a fight”. We also need society to be more trauma informed about immobilisation, especially in cases of rape and incest. Too often freezing is seen as acquiescence which has profound implications for the victim being more prone to developing PTSD and being retraumatised and the perpetrator not being brought to justice.
When we freeze psychologically, we mentally leave our bodies and can watch what is happening to us as if from afar or above. It helps distance what is unbearable or indigestible in the moment so we can process it at a later date. But as we know, this rarely happens, we become afraid of the many experiences that we’ve dissociated from and we develop strategies to contain them as best we can. Until, they start spilling and leaking into our lives and we can’t ignore them anymore. This is when we might be diagnosed with things like; anxiety, depression, PTSD, fibromyalgia and so on.

It is crucial that we get back in touch with our minds and bodies, slowly and gently so they become safe places for us to inhabit.

The interview that the quote above is taken from can be found at: http://www.dailygood.org/story/1901/trauma-in-the-body-an-interview-with-dr-bessel-van-der-kolk-elissa-melaragno/

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fearing fear

Being afraid of fear can be really incapacitating. The capacity to handle any difficult emotion starts when we’re babies. If we’re soothed when we cry and get lots of hugs, kisses and are held close as much as possible, our capacity to feel all of our emotions, without being overwhelmed, grows along with us. Our container or window of tolerance grows, or doesn’t grow, in proportion to the amount of support and love we receive, or don’t receive, throughout our life.

What happens when our caregivers can’t help us build a container within our self, is that we’ll create one for ourselves as best we can. We’ll try and contain any chaos in our environment and ourselves so as not to feel like life is falling down around us. We’ll stuff emotions down into our too small containers so we don’t upset others.


Fear, like all emotions, has its unique sensations in the body. When these sensations feel awful, we have the ability to push them away, for a while, this blocks the energy of that emotion flowing through our bodies and this is where problems start. We’re not talking about pushing emotions away once or twice, we’re talking about dissociating becoming a life time habit and coping strategy.

We all have a tipping point, when our containers become full, they start overflowing. This is when we notice symptoms like depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, unexplained infertility along with many other chronic issues which always have an emotional contributor or cause. Building our capacity or window of tolerance in order to be able to feel painful and difficult emotions cannot be overstated. It is a life changer.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Stop questioning your self

The willingness to look inside and self reflect is not the same as constantly questioning your motives, behaviour and worth. One is taking responsibility, the other is self punishing. Why do you feel you need to be punished?

When you haven’t been able to trust from the start, and haven’t been trusted in turn, you question everything and everyone, but mostly your self. You are unsure of who you are, and as a result you feel ungrounded and scattered. There’s nothing more exhausting than second guessing your self all the time, it creates chaos in your life and in your relationships.

I think the first step in trusting our self is being able to metabolise difficult experiences and people. We can’t metabolise anything that we can’t feel; that we dissociate from; that we can’t accept or that we don’t trust (our feelings for example).


And that takes time and resources. The first step is to learn to trust yourself. Feelings aren’t 100% right 100% of the time, but you know what, in my opinion, mostly they are. So take a risk, if you make a mistake, apologise, either to your self or someone else if you get it wrong.

It is only by using your muscle of trust that you can learn to trust and trust your trusting. You then begin to realise what belongs to you and what doesn’t. This has the effect of lifting burdens that aren’t yours to carry. Natural boundaries form around you because you trust your self and act accordingly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Relentlessly trying to fix yourself

Are you trying to fix yourself all the time? It’s one thing to want to feel better and another to think/believe that you’re broken, damaged, bad, good for nothing or a waste of space.

Who are we trying to fix ourself for? What do we think will happen once we’re ‘fixed’? Why can’t these things happen now, warts and all?

It’s amazing the different ways perfectionism can show up. I believe perfectionism is born from not being accepted and loved for who we are, just because we exist, so we set out on a journey to ‘prove’ we’re lovable and acceptable. Except that rarely happens, what does happen most of the time is that we end up sick and exhausted.


How does the need to be perfect show up for you? You might not even realise that perfectionism is an issue for you, but if you hate to be criticised, feel inadequate in some way, often feel shame when others disagree with you or don’t like you, the need to be perfect might be behind it.

Try tapping on the following phrases and repeat whatever feels right for you on the tapping points.

Even though I have /need to be perfect (because … for … etc), I accept this need to be perfect

Even though I’m trying to fix myself because … and that feels … I accept how I feel at this moment in time

Even though there is a drive in me to be/do better (how much of the time?), what would happen if I relaxed that drive a bit?

Even though it’s not safe to stop trying to be perfect because … I accept that’s one of the ways I’ve protected myself up until now

Even though … could happen if I don’t do things perfectly, how would I feel if that did happen? And what might it remind me of?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Slower is faster

Slower is faster when it comes to healing from trauma and most of us are healing from trauma believe it or not. Trauma is much more common than people think it is. However, when we’re in pain, we don’t want to go slow, we want to get better as fast as we can. There’s often a sense of desperation and urgency in our efforts to find help, which can take us out of ourself.

Of course, being traumatised often leaves us bereft of any internal resources too because living/going inside can be very frightening, as that’s where the scary memories, emotions and sensations live. We often have trust issues too, with ourselves and others. Even so, we always have our guidance system available to us, no matter how weak it may seem. You do know what or who is good for you, you need only heed and trust it. I know from experience that it’s the times I didn’t trust that little voice that got me into trouble, not the other way round.

Trauma contracts and constricts our minds and bodies and that contraction needs to unwind slowly*. Our life force is severely diminished by trauma and the sheer power of feeling it again in one go can be too much. If we don’t go slowly, overwhelm is nearly guaranteed.


In an interview with Peter Levine, who is talking about going slow (he calls it titration), Ruth Buczynski asks him whether going slow is “like a homeopathic approach to trauma? A homeopathic dose level of approaching body experiences?” and he replies “Yes! Yes, that’s it! Yes, that is a really good analogy – and it may be more than just an analogy. You know, we have a number of homeopaths, particularly in the European and South American trainings – and, you know, they get it, they really get it; you know, the idea of the smallest amount of stimulus that get the body engaged in its own self-defense mechanisms”.

The minute you start to see signs of overwhelm, stop. Go for a walk, rest, laugh, listen to music or have a bath. This is not unhealthy distraction, this is being kind to yourself because you know you’re reaching your limits (that is, you’re outside your window of tolerance). Pushing through in desperation is not going to help you. This isn’t a race between you and someone else to see who is “fixed” first.

The fact is, retraumatisation is extremely common and can often feel/be worse than anything that has gone before, because you feel like you’re in this never-ending loop of pain that you can’t escape from. And that feels very powerless and helpless.

*Going slowly is not an excuse for a practitioner to drag out sessions to make more money. Trust your instinct on this one and find someone who you trust.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Vulnerability and Helplessness

We are born vulnerable and helpless and hopefully, not only will no one take advantage of our vulnerability, they will cherish and nurture it and make it safe for us to trust others with our vulnerability.

Because helplessness and vulnerability can feel very similar, if not the same sometimes, we can shy away from being vulnerable because it can also make us feel helpless. Feeling helpless is one of the core ingredients of being traumatised, which can mean that our vulnerability/helplessness was taken advantage of or abused in some way by others. If we’ve been hurt a lot, or early in life, being vulnerable can feel like too big a risk to take.


Not feeling safe enough to be vulnerable takes a toll on our relationships, we don’t let others see who we really are, so our relationships can’t deepen and become as intimate as they could. We can find it hard to express our needs, because our needs are what make us vulnerable. There can be a lot of shame around having needs, especially with early trauma, so our needs will be denied in order to make us more acceptable to others.

Try tapping on the phrases below and repeat whatever feels right on the tapping points:

Even though feeling vulnerable feels … I honour how that feels for me

Even though feeling vulnerable feels … in my body and that feels … I acknowledge how I feel

Even though I deny my needs in order not to feel vulnerable, I wonder is that working for me?

Even though I feel ashamed of my needs, I’m open to examining that shame

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Incomplete action

Trauma can occur when a response/action that you wanted/needed to make could not be completed. Usually because your flight and fight (or fawn/friendly) responses were thwarted by overwhelm, either physical or psychological, and you froze. The degree to which we freeze is proportional to how threatened we feel.

Overwhelm can often feel potentially annihilating, especially depending on our stage of development, and therefore will be avoided at all costs by whatever means possible. This avoidance, or dissociation, continues until we have the resources and support to digest the original experience(s) and how we responded to them.  

So we have two things to digest, the original traumatic experience(s) and how we responded, for which we often have a lot of self blame such as: I was weak, I’m bad, unlovable, I should have put up a fight, I should have said something, I just stood there, I’m ashamed and so on. In fact, these appraisals, can both predispose us to developing trauma and make it more difficult to recover from it. This is why developing a sense of understanding and compassion for ourselves and why we responded the way we did, is vital.


Trauma can occur as single experiences, and it can also be repeated over and over again. If trauma, particularly repeated trauma, happens at an early developmental stage, its effects can be devastating and can be particularly difficult to recover from, though certainly not impossible.

I think a major theme that is not often discussed in trauma is injustice. It’s unfair and unjust that children are robbed of a happy and safe childhood, that there is genocide, wars, that people go hungry and without clean water; there is so much injustice and unfairness in this world that it can be really hard to come to terms with and completely digest. 

Maybe the biggest sense of injustice when we’ve been traumatised is soul loss or susto; the loss of an essential part of yourself, or maybe not even having a sense of who you are to begin with. One of the biggest journeys we undertake when recovering from trauma is to embark on the journey back to our self, or to finding that self that we feel we’ve never known beyond the hurt. That journey is so worthwhile.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Don't distract yourself

I know this is easier said than done. But the more we distract ourselves from painful emotions and experiences, the more residue they leave in our systems. That residue accumulates, one experience after the other, on and on, ad infinitum, until we end up with overflowing systems that generate symptoms.

One of the most powerful things we can do is to learn how to be with difficult emotions and their resulting physical sensations. This is called self-regulation in psychological jargon.

It really is a life changer because it allows us to experience, digest and metabolise painful emotions and experiences without them building up and becoming painful symptoms. Feeling pain frees us from that pain.

They say we teach what we most need to learn and this is certainly true in my case. I needed to learn how to be with painful emotions and experiences without running from them, so I know the value of it in my life.  And I also know the price I pay when I don’t do it.


When you feel really upset about something, try and find a quiet place as soon as you can and feel what you’re feeling. It will calm down after a while, just wait and see. Tap for the courage to help you through this, do not tap to get rid of it, that just won’t work. Though of course you can tap on the feeling of wanting to get rid of it, that’s being honest with yourself, but there’s a subtle difference between the two.

You know that feeling of resistance that builds up inside your body when you approach something painful? It prevents you from feeling the pain yes, but it also prevents resolution of whatever caused the pain. So the pain just gets postponed for another day. It does not go away. Feel your pain, but go slowly and gently.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

In two minds

Another very common reason for being/feeling stuck is to be in two minds about something. That’s when we realise that there’s a conflict, many times, conflicts aren’t in our conscious awareness, but they’re still being played out in our life as our being stuck and/or not wanting or not knowing how to move forward in our life.

We might not even want to admit to conflicting feelings we have about certain people or situations. We think acknowledging or admitting it, is going to somehow make it more real. But it is real because it exists within you and you’re probably suffering the effects of that reality.

I have found that giving yourself the permission to contemplate something, without necessarily having to, or forcing yourself to take action, can be very powerful. We think action has to be taken if we admit to an internal conflict, but we have the choice of whether to act or not.


Try the following script, making sure to customise it for you. Tapping diagram.

Even though I’m in two minds about … I deeply and completely accept myself 

Even though I don’t feel the same about … that I do about … I accept how I feel

Even though I’m conflicted about … I acknowledge that conflict(s)

Even though I don’t even want to admit to … I completely accept myself and how I feel about this

Top of the head: This conflict
Eyebrow: I don’t like how it feels
Side of eye: Can I listen to the two sides? (or more as the case may be)
Under the eye: It’s harder to listen to …
Under the nose: It’s easier to listen to …
Under the chin: Because …
Collar bone: I don’t want … to be true
Under the arm: Because …

Top of the head: Is it ok for me to feel ...
Eyebrow: And feel this other way too?
Side of eye: Can I give myself permission to hold two points of view (or more)
Under the eye: Until I stop fighting …
Under the nose: This conflict will continue
Under the chin: And I won’t be able to move forward
Collar bone: Is there some part of me that wants this?
Under the arm: Because I’m too afraid to move forward?

Top of the head: How does it feel to contemplate that?
Eyebrow: Can I hold this conflict?
Side of eye: Until I’m ready to decide
Under the eye: What feels better
Under the nose: I don’t have to rush anything
Under the chin: I can take my time
Collar bone: And that feels …
Under the arm: Am I okay with that?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stuck

One of the most defining characteristics of being traumatised is feeling/being stuck. The frustration, powerlessness and helplessness that this causes can often retraumatise us, long after any traumatic experiences are over.

Feeling stuck feels awful, it is like being on a merry-go-round that you can’t get off. The harder you try to get off, the more stuck you feel. It’s excruciating.

It might sound counterintuitive, but the way to come unstuck is not to fight the stuckness and try to get rid of it, it’s to find out what has led to us being stuck so we can release those patterns.

In most cases, it’s because we haven’t learned how to process difficult emotions and complete any actions they inspired (if it were even possible). This overwhelms our capacity to cope and this is never more true than in developmental trauma. The developmental stage you are at when you experience something difficult is key to you being able to handle it. Babies in utero are extremely vulnerable to traumatic stress, as are infants and children in their early years.


Developmental trauma is repeated trauma, there’s rarely a let up. It changes how you develop (hence the name), your nervous system becomes wired to avoid even the slightest threat which in the long run exhausts your reserves and puts a massive strain on your health, both mental and physical.

Developmental trauma is quite different to single event traumatic experiences, which thankfully, are mostly one offs. This is not to minimise or maximise anyone’s experience, but if your very foundation is shaky, your resilience is compromised. If you’ve had a solid start, you’ll have more handling capacities for adversity even in really difficult circumstances. The importance of support cannot be overestimated when it comes to resolving trauma.

If you have the support of your caregivers, rather than they being the source of the trauma, traumatic experience might not even develop into trauma. If trauma does develop, your chances of overcoming it are very good.

It’s not that you can’t overcome developmental trauma, because you certainly can, but it’s usually a longer journey because you have to repair and/or build the foundations upon which you can stand and thrive.

Being kind and gentle with ourselves during this process is crucial. Watch out for any signs of desperation or urgency, this is not a sign to try/struggle more until you finally “fix” yourself. It is a sign to relax and take it easy, do nothing, rest, give your nervous system a well deserved break. You’re not broken, you’re learning a different way of being in the world, you’re finding out who you are and how to be true to that self, and that is a life journey, not a destination.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Evolving the flight, fight and freeze response

It doesn’t matter whether a threat is real or perceived, our nervous system will react in the same way. What we can do, is assess whether any danger or threat is immediate; that is, is it happening right now and does it require action on our part? (If we can act that is). This is the beauty of emotions, they are action requiring neurological programmes (from Antonio Damasio).

When we assess threat this way (as adults needless to say, this information does not apply to children), we don’t minimise or shame ourselves for being on high alert, especially when the danger is perceived or we don’t know where the sense of danger/threat is coming from (this usually happens when memories are implicit and from very early on in life).

This interview of the wonderful and exuberant Donna Eden by Tami Simon from Sounds True, gives an exercise that you can practice to evolve your flight, fight and freeze response. Listen in from 49 minutes onward, though the entire interview is worth listening to.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

All emotions have their place

What’s worse? Being in a so-called low vibration state of being sad, suppressing sadness or feeling sad?

What do you think will make you happier and healthier? Shaming yourself or others for being in a low vibratory state? Or pushing things away so you don’t feel them? Though you know from experience that you’ll pay the price later.

Feeling sad is not crime, though you’d never know that in some circles. You don’t need any more shame heaped upon you for feeling the way you do. In the film Inside Out [spoiler alert], Riley is leaving home to go back to Minnesota and it is the sadness when she thinks of her parents that stops her. The message is that all emotions have their role and place, depending on the situation in which we find ourselves. The obsession with being happy at all costs, no matter what is going on in our lives, is a pressure we can all do without.



Emotions are dynamic, they change when we allow them to change by feeling them. It’s when emotions are at their crescendo that we’re most likely to resist feeling them, because they might feel really uncomfortable and overwhelming, but if we can just stick with it for 60 seconds or so to see if it starts ebbing, we’d have the felt experience of bobbing with our emotions instead of crashing against them.

This makes us more resilient by increasing our capacity to feel difficult emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. In psychological jargon, it is called self/emotional regulation, and it is a really valuable skill to have in life. It makes such a difference to our well being to be able to feel difficult emotions so they can be processed instead of becoming stuck in our bodies and minds causing dis-ease and illness.