Saturday, April 14, 2007

Learning to disconnect from thoughts, feelings and behavior

Behavior doesn't come out of a vacuum. Underneath the surface, there are deep roots from which that behaviour has grown.

When babies are born, as part of the imprinting process, a baby experiences their parents' emotions as if they were his/her own. It's an emotional merger, wherein the parent and child are meant to "attune" to one another's experience.

Ideally, the environment would be stable and safe.
Ideally, the growing child will be given words to describe his/her emotions.

In this ideal situation, a child would be secure and ensured of protection and love. This child would learn to identify feelings when experiencing them, and think about how to respond to that emotion.

But what if a child's safety and well-being are seriously threatened?
What is there is an external threat that seems frightening and insurmountable?
What if the first relationships of a child's life are broken?

Foster care creates repeated trauma. Children learn to disconnect with thoughts and feelings in order to survive.

Trauma can also create a disconnection with personal behavior: If you, or someone that you know, are involved in self-destructive behavior, over and over, examine their pasts for imprints of relationship patterns in which that type of behavior was born.

Consider a child who was sexually molested -- and ends up exploiting his/herself through unhealthy relationships or becoming a stripper or prostitute. In a sense, what this person is doing is reenacting the abuse from their past in order to make sense of it.

Numbing out: Victims of trauma often try to escape their emotional pain. They try to numb out by sexualizing events, eating emotions, drinking to dull the event, smoking to feel the buzz of nicotine or using drugs to make the situation temporarily 'disappear.'

These are survival techniques. In the face of danger, memories become fragmented, mental processes shut down and the only focus is on survival.

But emotions are basic to survival. When a person's outer life and inner life are disconnected, that person cannot heal.

It takes courage to seek help.
It takes courage to stop running and look yourself in the eye.
Even after the healing process has begun, there will be moments of uncertainty.

In post-traumatic stress disorder, fear from the past raises its ugly head and causes the body to react with fight-or-flight or freeze responses. This experience can be very unpredictable and confusing.

Here are the stages of healing, according to Dr. McGraw:

1.) Attunement to self: Take time to be aware of your emotions, including physical symptoms such as increased heart-rate. Journal about the emotions and bodily sensations that you are experiencing, as well as the thoughts and memories that emerge.

You need this time to remind yourself that your physical state and emotions are important.

Learn what your 'triggers' are... To be triggered is to reexperience an event from the past in the present. You will experience the bodily sensations and emotions of a terrifying event that happened long ago.

2.) Strengthening and stabilization: Create safe and stable life circumstances for yourself. Inasmuch as it is in your power, keep your everyday life free of crisis and chaos. Do not participate in behaviors that you have been using to avoid or act out traumatic experiences.

You need this time to give yourself a base of happier memories and safe experiences.

3.) Working through traumatic experiences: After having a base of happier memories, adults find that they are better able to deal with the past.

-This stage should not be rushed. Rushing this process can be damaging and counterproductive.

-Simply talking about a problem will not heal it. The actual events are less important than their emotional impact.

-Pace yourself. Take baby steps. If a conversation becomes too painful, end it. Revisit the problem later, when the emotional intensity has subsided.

Shocking, surprising or overwhelming yourself with emotional experiences that you are not prepared to handle will not help you heal.

4.) Acceptance and service: This is characterized by:

-No longer hiding from yourself, your past or your true feelings. See yourself within your own story with compassion and empathy. Be the hero of your own story.

-Being aware of your triggers and not letting your emotions take you hostage. Creating a strategy for coping and recovering when triggers occur.

-Building the capacity to develop warm, loving relationships with others. Avoid or discard harmful relationships. Seek to build new, positive connections.

-Establish a goal and direction for your life. What unique abilities do you have to offer the world?

McGraw, Patricia. It's not your fault: How healing relationships change your brain and can help you overcome a painful past. IL: Bahaii Publishing, 2004.


Blogger Lisa said...

7:58 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Wish Joe had a link to comment or email him on his blog... Reading his online confessional makes me want to help.

Here is his entry. I would like to contact him:

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Drunk childhood
I had my first drink when I was only six. My parents liked to party a lot but after to much to drink they needed a bar tender and of course they asked me. I could not say no. In my home no was a non existent word.

I wanted to see what it had tasted like, thinking that if it made this much fun then maybe it tastes good so I tried. I loved it. Every time I made the drinks I needed the taste of it like I needed nothing more.

At the age of eleven my parents decided that I had to do my homework and did everything my parents told me to do.

After my parents decided to ruin my life (I think so) I found so called friends and they gave me everything I needed. At 13 drugs and sex were introduced into my new life.

Then life definitely couldn't get better, my parents couldn't stand me around, my school work suffered I started to lie cheat steal anything it took to get any fixes I needed.

At the age of 15 I got kicked out of school and home and went to the foster care system and of course that is not the best place for a kid to be with the difficulties any kid was having if anything thing it went from bad to worse.

The drug of choice changed the liquor intake increased and sex well I don't need to go further with that...

And then I came to my first suicide attempt...

That is how my childhood looked like. I'll be back soon and go on.

-Posted by Joe at 4:54 AM

8:01 PM  
Blogger Megan Bayliss said...

Lisa this is an excellent post. Would you consider submitting it to the next Carnival Against Child Abuse?
Megan in Australia

7:15 PM  

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