Monthly Archives: April, 2016

Learning to Love Yourself

woman-954793_640Years ago, when I first began my personal growth process, I believed deep within me I was seriously ugly and deformed both physically and in my total being. It was a ‘crazy’ belief but I felt that I must have big lumps all over my face. When I saw the movie, “Elephant Man”, as an adult I could relate!

The name for that feeling is ‘shame‘. Some people call it toxic shame and it does not co-exist with self-love. I cannot emphasize how strong my early shame was. And maybe I don’t have to. Many of you who are reading this article know already how this feels. It is a feeling of embarrassment for your very essence.

Of course, I felt that way! We learn who we are through our earliest interactions with the people around us. My own history of being abused as a child had included extreme rejection and isolation. Incredible ongoing bullying. Feeling shame as extreme as I did is the natural result of ostracizing a child.

You don’t have to feel such extremes of shame and lack of self-love in order to improve how you treat yourself. You can always use more self-love. And just a note here. Self-love is not the same as narcissism. Self-love is fluid. Self-love includes a wide range of life and other people. Narcissism is rigid, egotistical and based only on feeding the self.

Let’s talk about the growth process. It involves of personal tasks, risks, and self-affirmation. Liking yourself while you grow means that you work on giving yourself the support you might need to succeed. It isn’t easy. You have to learn new ways of looking at yourself and at life. Here are the three principles of liking yourself while you grow.

1. You are not wrong, bad or shameful for how you are.

2. Mistakes are a normal part of growth.

3. You cannot know what you have not yet learned.

There is a deep truth underlying the principles of liking yourself. You are not bad or wrong to have the life problems you have. Whatever they are, they do make sense. What you experience is logical when you consider your life story, current life events, and heredity.

This makes you NORMAL. Your feelings, your troubles, and even your faults are all understandable.

Examine yourself from this point of view. Seriously think about it. What you think, feel and the current struggles you experience make total sense. They are logical, natural, and normal outgrowths of everything that has happened to you up until now.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you want to remain in this space. You might. That is for you to decide.

Nor does this mean you have to remain in this space. It means you can like yourself for the person you are.

Since you are reading this, this means you can like yourself for being a growing person. You are a person who is fighting your person history to grow and experience as much of life as possible. You have one less reason for shaming yourself.

Today, I want to share with you the process I used in order to grow out of shame. You can alter how you treat yourself over time. Probably you are mentally criticizing yourself for some difficulty you have right now. You say mean things to yourself every time you have that difficulty. You make yourself ‘wrong’ for that difficulty.

There are many techniques you can try to alter this thinking behavior. These are just the beginning.

  • Positive self-talk
  • Make an acknowledgment list of your positive activities
  • Spend time with people who like you
  • Limit time with people who criticize you
  • Acknowledge the self-critical feelings you experience
  • Reason with yourself
  • Take contrary action

Positive Self Talk

When I listen to the things I say to myself, I’m astonished at how mean I am. I would never, ever say mean things like that to other people! This skill remains an ongoing process for me. I look around at how I treat others and decide that’s my baseline for how I will treat myself. If I would say, “Good for you!” to someone who just accomplished my most recent task, I’ll deliberately say that to myself.

Make a list of the kind things you say to others. Make another list of the kind things people say to you. Look around you at television, at other people, and even the books or magazines or books you might read. There are examples of people being kind to one another. Nurturing. Loving.

Take note of those things and develop the mental behaviors you need right now. That will be your starting place. Then deliberately do them.

Currently, I’m again participating in physical therapy. It’s difficult. I don’t like where I’m at and the limitations I face. So I deliberately catch myself and stop my thoughts before I tell myself those mean things. Instead, I say words to myself that I’d tell someone else in my shoes. I say, “You can do it.” “It’s okay.” “Just one more.” And “Good job.” Sometimes I say these out loud too.

Self Acknowledgement

Positive self-talk began for me with an activity my friend and mentor called ‘brownie points’. This was perfect for my inner hurt child. She suggested I give myself these ‘brownie points’ for everything I did right.

She said that I should include EVERYTHING: Getting out of bed in the AM, brushing my teeth, showering, and everything I did that day that was positive. So, I did this. It was difficult at first. It was scary. I felt like I was doing something wrong and would somehow be punished.

The phrase my friend used to accurately describe that feeling is: “Lightning will not strike you and the earth will not open and swallow you up!” I kept at this ‘brownie points’ activity.

Praising myself truly helped my own self-esteem. I guess it is such a part of me, I still do it. Noticing everything I do that is good and positive for me. Facing something, writing this article, journaling this morning, completing my paperwork (yuck), even noticing that I am doing these things with my chronic illnesses and fatigue.

Experiment with this activity. It will be slow and awkward at first. See how it works. Make it fit your personal style. Normal experience is that this is a living process.

Positive self-talk is something I probably will need to work on all the rest of my life.

Spend time with people who like you and limit your time with people who criticize you

We develop our self-image through our interactions with others. Some people have written about adults abused as children with the ideas that you cannot get over this. But I know that to be untrue. Anyone, no matter their background, can change their feelings about themselves by being around people who are loving and nurturing to them.

Years ago, when I first entered private practice, I held a meeting for a group of professionals in my office. Every Friday evening, we met to discuss our mutual concerns and help each other with our work.

Every Saturday morning I woke up in shame. “I sounded stupid,” I’d think. Or “I talked too much.” And other such shaming thoughts. Then I’d call my friend, Sarah, and asked her for a reality check. Her voice on the telephone would smile at me as she’d say something like, “I was there, and I didn’t see anything like that.”

Then I’d feel relief and the shame would disappear until the following Saturday morning. Each week I did this, maybe for a year. By the end of the year, I had a much greater sense of who I really am. And the shame feeling regarding my work is gone.

At the same time, all you need is one person to criticize you to bring up feelings of shame. There are some people who just feel like saying mean things to other people. They have their own inner reasons, and the critical statements they make to you don’t have to be true.

It is difficult enough to grow into the life you want. No one needs people who make us feel bad about ourselves. We already examine and criticize our behavior enough. We are trying to undo that tendency.

So, I try to spend my time with people who like me. Then, when I do make a mistake or do something I seriously wish I hadn’t, I can deal with it. I don’t have to also shame myself for it.

Acknowledge the self-critical feelings you experience

It doesn’t work to fight against negativity. It doesn’t work to bury or avoid them either. In fact, our normal responses usually make these feelings stronger.

Rather than shadow boxing with your feelings, name them but don’t claim them. I often feel like a failure because my physical therapy exercises are difficult and hurt way more than I think they should. I recognize the familiar feelings, but I don’t bring them into my being.

It’s natural that I’d feel this way. It’s natural that you’d feel that way. Feeling bad about yourself doesn’t mean that your feelings are the T R U T H. Instead, it’s actually a sign of growth. Every time you start to do something new, you’ll feel some of the old feelings from your history.

So, instead, it’s kind of like, “Hello, old friend. Now good-bye. You’ve overstayed your welcome.”

Reason with yourself

I do talk to myself. I point out my successes. I look at my failures. And I examine where I’m stuck. I cannot do this if I’m busy beating up on myself. So I must talk to me like a friend would. It’s okay to fail. Failing does not make me a failure. It’s okay to be stuck.

Being stuck doesn’t mean I will stay stuck. And then I examine where I’m stuck looking objectively rather than critically. I wonder what will happen if I try this or that. And I reason out what’s keeping me stuck and what to do about it.

Then I go back to positive self-talk and convince myself it’s okay to try and try again. Sometimes I use my reminder of my favorite children’s story: The Little Engine That Could.

Take contrary action

Contrary action is action that is the opposite of what you might normally do. So if you would withdraw in a crowd, you might decide on a task of talking to one person in the next group of people you encounter. You might decide to deliberately choose to attend something where you know a group of people will gather.

This is an example of the kind of risks I meant earlier. To change how we feel about ourselves, we do have to change our actions.

You go back and use all the other tools I mentioned above in order to help yourself take the action. Much like the physical therapy I am doing. It hurts and exhausts me. I don’t like it. It’s contrary to how I feel. But I know it will eventually help me so I will take the action. I do the exercises while using self-talk as encouragement.

This next statement is so important; you cannot hear it too much. Growth takes time, lots of time. No matter how motivated you are, you cannot grow emotionally as fast as you can think.

Experiment with one of the activities. Try one at a time. See how it works. Choose the activities that fit with your personal style. Normal experience is that this is a living process.

If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please feel free to share your comments. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.

Contact me to access coaching for increased self-esteem.

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Phone: (615) 464-3791

How to Argue Lovingly

This is part three of my series on relationship skills for people who have experienced abuse and/or trauma. You can find the rest of this series on my blog.

My first argument with David began as we attempted to make the bed. Really. He liked to make the bed military style and I, with all my physical problems, wanted the sheets free for my constantly cramping “pigeon-toed” feet.

As we argued, several things became real apparent.

  • He was not my ex-husband.
  • I was not his ex-wife.
  • He was not my mother.
  • I was not his mother.
  • He didn’t want to hurt me.
  • I didn’t want to hurt him.
  • He was not any of the people who had hurt me.
  • I was not any of the people who had hurt him.

In the midst of a tumultuous argument, you have uninvited visitors in your home, creating chaos, stirring up trouble, telling stories, and being downright rude. If these were real live people invading your home, you’d call the police! Or at least throw them out.

How do you throw them out? The answer is in my next true story, which is about my first counseling job.

The title was ‘relief evening counselor’. I later figured out that I was the ‘relief’ or substitute because they couldn’t keep anyone in this position!

I worked by myself. No one but the residents were there during my work hours. There were no other staff present, no guards, no emergency phone, and no safety arrangements for anyone. My hours were from 6 PM to 12 Midnight. In all my interesting jobs, this one in a halfway house for women just out of prison was simply incredibly stupid and dangerous. Had I been a little older, I would have known better than to take the job!

I was not yet trained in psychology; and, in fact, had only attended one community class for paraprofessional type counseling. In that class, however, I learned this very profound and essential fact. The greatest need all people have is to be heard and understood.

Regrettably, this does not happen as often as it should. Instead, we act out the ‘triggering response’ from our pasts. Imagine little buttons all over you. Each button is attached to your stored feelings, thoughts, and past hurts from every painful fight you have ever had with anyone. Actually, those buttons also include all the stored feelings and thoughts from every hurt you ever experienced in your life.

Your partner says something, like David did, about “The RIGHT Way to make the bed”. And your buttons get pushed, like mine. His tone of voice, his confidence that he was absolutely right, and his body language pushed my buttons, surprisingly enough, from every doctor’s visit I had ever had. And there I was, no longer in present time, but back as a child in the doctor’s office being misunderstood and pushed around. (Once I was even hit by the nurse for crying.)

Then, I said something totally unrelated to our current dilemma, but out of my past. And I pushed his buttons. And we were off and running. What a mess! It is a wonder people ever get to be in love!

That paraprofessional counseling class taught that the cure for this “triggering response” is listening. They taught a form of active listening, where you listen carefully to what is being said. You don’t argue no matter how outlandish the other person’s statements may seem. You listen and let the other person that you hear them in an authentic manner.

That authenticity is critical. We see parodies of this on television. They are laughable. It’s funny on television, but brutal in real life. “I hear you.” “You said such and such.” The person repeats in a robotic and exacting manner that is actually insulting. It’s important to try and understand what your loved one is saying. And then let them know with some degree of the compassion you have for them. Compassion, because you love them.

This is very hard. In the midst of a real fight, it takes a serious amount of self-control. We were encouraged to practice frequently.

Back to the halfway house where there was a woman out of control. She had scissors in her hand and wanted to kill another woman. She was actually walking rapidly from one part of the house to another as I tried to do something. The only weapon I had was from that class: my understanding of compassionate listening.

I followed her repeating in my own words everything she said. I didn’t argue with her. I just repeated as best I could her feelings. What happened next is a very permanent photographic image in my mind! She stopped in the middle of a hallway. Her entire body language changed. Best of all she told me what was bothering her. And that was the end of the danger.

Much later, it occurred to me that if this would work in the midst of a physically dangerous situation, it would probably work in the midst of an emotionally dangerous situation. This could solve an argument! Only one of us had to stay out of the fight. One of us had to keep those historical people at bay long enough to listen. In the beginning, that person was me.

It always worked, when I had the emotional stamina to refrain from acting out my dramas and listen to what he had to say. Just like the woman in the halfway house, he would stop, his entire body language would change, and he would tell me what was bothering him. Then, and only then, could he hear what was bothering me.

This part is important too. He was completely incapable of hearing me until I heard him first. He was an outrageous man, so we could expect that. But this is also true with my current, much more sane husband. He simply cannot hear me until I hear him first.

Fair or unfair, so what. I love him! This is the way of successful communication. I do what works and listen carefully. Then I tell what is on my mind.

Then we would talk like the loving people we were. I was concerned about his feelings and he was concerned about mine. Finally, we could solve the issue in a way that benefited both of us.

Contact me

For more information or if you’d like to make an appointment.

email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now I Am the Outrageous Person!

This is part two of a series of articles on relationships specifically written for people who have experienced abuse in their lives.

Guy was my fiancé after my second husband, David, died. I wrote about David in my first posting. While it seems that I might be writing about Guy or even David, this article is about how I, as an adult who was abused in childhood, attempt to make certain my relationships are healthy ones.

Guy, who passed away many years ago, was nothing like David. He was calm, and easy to get along with, good with money and not impulsive. His anger evaporated in a second. He was not abused as a child.

Yet, everything I learned about healthy relating from my marriage to David remained valid. I did not get to change Guy, or push him around…even when I knew I was right. This is a very difficult idea to digest.

I live my life with my personal history of child abuse. I also lived my life with Guy with my history of loving and being loved by David. Then there is the fact that I am human, subject to all the faults, difficulties and idiosyncrasies of all human beings. These lead to many potential problems and pitfalls.

Sometimes I misunderstood him. Then I interpreted his actions through eyes of abuse. I sometimes forgot myself and expected Guy to act like David. Sometimes I was selfish, impatient, greedy and thoughtless.

This is a problem for those of us who were abused as children. It’s tough to digest. Abusive behavior is such a horror to us that when we behave badly, we are shocked and repulsed. So, we block out the idea that we are human and can mistakenly hurt the ones we love. This does not, however, make us bad and shameful.

Like most of the people who asked me for help with their relationships, I remain totally unaware when I misbehave. When I am in flashback, grief or `human failings’ mode, I am defensive, angry, hurt and totally convinced I am correct.

This was true for me with Guy. And true when we fought. I interpreted his actions by my feelings. It seemed as if he had just done something to me. Like maybe he attacked me. During these episodes, I was completely capable of unknowingly being abusive to the one I loved. And so are you.

This is true for everyone who has ever come through my office for help. It doesn’t mean we are abusive people. Nor can anything I am writing here be applied to dealing with abusive people or abusive situations. This concept is only about our behavior within a safe and loving relationship.

In the course of a flashback, I see and interpret the world and the behavior of my loved ones as if they are my past perpetrators. Well, if someone is harming me deliberately, I have the right to defend myself. Right???

Right and wrong. Right if we are being attacked. Wrong, if we are in a flashback and the other person is not attacking. Usually, they are not. I was attacked, just not now. Not this year. And not with this person.

Guy had his own temperament. Being easy going, I could hurt him and not even know it. He was mild mannered and not well defended against emotional injury. I had to take responsibility for my history and my current behavior. Think before I spoke. Be aware of his feelings. Actually look at him when we talked. Because he was subtle, I could only see the hurt in his eyes or hear it when he spoke.

This does not mean I was supposed to be a ‘yes’ person. We did argue. I was an equal partner in that relationship. My thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, hopes and dreams were as important as his. And his were as important as mine.

Being responsible in a loving relationship means I have to self-examine. This is so important for all of us. If I am going to be happy in a loving relationship, I must look at myself. And so must you.

Here are examples of the kinds of questions you can ask yourself:

  • What am I thinking?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What just happened?
  • Am I overreacting?
  • Is my past intruding?
  • Did I misunderstand him?
  • Am I acting badly?

If you have responses to this article, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, comment below or email me at agentledrlaura@mail.com

If you’d like to work on this issue in your life, contact me:

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

The Dancer: How to Love an Outrageous Person

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help people who have experienced abuse or trauma build relationship skills. You can find the rest of this series on my blog.

Sometime during the last year of his life, David, my second husband again did one more shocking thing. Six months after he bought it, he decided to return a television antenna that had never worked. When the store manager refused him, David took the metal antenna outside the store. Then he jumped up and down on it until it broke.

He later told me, in his colorful way, that he stomped it to death. While he was busy stomping the antenna and waiting for the police to arrive, he was yelling in his very strong voice about the store’s return policy. People who witnessed this incident laughingly named him the `dancer’.

I tell you this embarrassing story to make several points.

  • One, the person you fall in love with will not be perfect.
  • Two, you cannot control another person.
  • Three, you should not even try to control the people you love.
  • Most of all, you can have a good, happy and loving family even though your loved ones are not perfect and you cannot control them.

My late husband and I were both seriously abused in our childhoods. When he was only eight years old, his family gave him to the State of California. Knowing him as I did, I am sure he was a handful! You and I both know that does not excuse his father’s extreme beatings. And it certainly doesn’t explain his mother’s unspeakable behavior.

In spite of all this and contrary to popular myth, we managed to love one another and create a family without ever abusing each other. We found a way to be ourselves with each other. And we found ways to make room for both of us to grow and develop. We surrounded our very human selves with a love that made room for our faults, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.

Here is a second David story. The day we met, I watched him stand up and insult an entire room full of men and women. To tell on myself, I have to say that I loved him from that moment on. This is important, for I know now what I didn’t know then.

And that is: what you see is what you get! This is very important. You don’t have the privilege of falling in love with an outrageous person and then expecting them to change. You take the good with the bad.

The good was a family life enriched with much love, fun, excitement and silliness. In spite of all the things that happened to us, we led an incredibly interesting life. The good is the tremendous growth I experienced with David.

The good also came sometimes from the bad. His stubbornness and strength would never have allowed me to push him around or try to change him. This is how he taught me what I write about today. He taught me by his very outrageousness that he was entitled to as much dignity and respect as I wanted for myself.

The bad included: The pain of our fights, the nasty way he fought, his bad habits, the suffering I experienced as a direct result of his faults, the pain I felt from his weaknesses, and his stubbornness.

You see, what people usually do is to fall in love with someone like David, and then try to change them. The very painfulness of their dramatic behavior causes you to think that you should be stopping your partner’s behavior and controlling them. You forget that you are the other half of this dynamic equation called love.

Instead, I believe that water seeks its own level. You fall in love with your equal. To stay in love, you have to agree to take responsibility for half of what happens to the two of you. And this is the difficult part. You fall in love, get married, and have normal fights.

It is so easy to forget, with an outrageous person, that you have faults too. Every problem, every difficulty, every fight, has one person that appears to be the guilty party or the dramatic one. However, every problem also has one other person who is more subtly but equally at fault.

So, the next time you fight with the one you love, remember, you chose him or her. You chose him or her for the way he or she is. Good and bad. You are part of this argument, an equal part, equally at fault. One way to solve things is to start to examine your part of the argument.

If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please feel free to share your comments. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.

Contact me

For more information or if you’d like to make an appointment.

email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Is Your Relationship Abusive?

People complain that I don’t give out lists of traits when I teach my “How to Spot a Predator” Class.

But lists are destructive and dangerous. The lists on the Internet of personality traits for abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissistic individuals really mess you up. They are shallow. Pop psychology is shallow. Actual real life relationships are convoluted and deep. Genuine interactions cannot be reduced to a list of 10 or 20 simple lines in a writing.

As I’m working on this writing, I see so far that I probably have at least 9 new writings that need to follow this one in order to truly be helpful. Otherwise, what I’m writing may not be useful to you at all.

In the real world, relationships are not static, simple or in a list. Always, at least two people are involved and interacting. It’s never, not even when you are in an abusive relationship, just one person acting. This means that you are part of the dynamic process between you and other people. And that’s the only element of your relationship you have any control over: YOU.

I usually tell people who come in for relationship coaching that they own 50% of the problem. The math breaks down for me in more complex relationship constellations, but the principle of carrying equal weight for the problem is always present.

There is a simple test with a complicated answer. This test will work in other situations as well: Work, social groups, friendships and so on.

I’m going to tell you the test and then I’m going to list many aspects of why you might mistake a good person for an abusive asshole. Or at least as many as I can think of for this writing. And even my writing is going to end up more shallow that I’d like. This is the subject of multiple books, multiple coaching sessions, multiple variations. As many difference nuances as there are people in relationships.

The Test

Please note that this test is not recommended for relationships where your are being physically hit, beaten or physically assaulted.

Give them the benefit of the doubt. You treat them as if they are not abusive. You don’t fight, argue, yell, defend yourself, or anything else. The absolutely very best thing you can do when someone you are about behaves inappropriately to or with you is to listen. I mean really listen.

It’s counterintuitive, I know. But if they are behaving badly for any number of the reasons I listed below, they will stop. Maybe not quite right away. In the utterly worst argument I have ever experienced, it took 30 minutes. That’s 30 minutes of me listening actively and attempting to let him know I heard whatever crazy stuff he voiced for him to stop. Not arguing, not explaining why he sounded crazy, not defending myself. Just sitting on my own feelings and repeating back as politely as I could what he voiced.

Reasons The Test Works

Abusive people have one goal. They want your hurt. They thrive when you are upset, in pain, off balance and troubled. If you react in a normal manner, they will escalate. That’s right. If you respond to an abusive person without showing they’ve bothered you, they will do more and more and more until it’s obvious what they are doing.

Normal interactions with other people are complex. Love makes fools of us all.

But, most people who are not abusive will not increase their hurtful actions when there is no argument. Abusive people will.

Reasons Good People Might Act Badly in a Relationship

Here is my list of potential topics. Let me know what you all might prefer I write first.

  • Most people have intimacy pain left over from their personal history.
  • Everyone has triggers. When anyone is triggered, they live in their past and are not rational. Couples have nasty, brutal arguments when both people are triggered.
  • People say awful, hurtful and nasty things they don’t mean when they fight. It’s normal that they forget they said them, but remember the awful, hurtful and nasty things you said.
  • Relationships blow up when communication breaks down. Everyone has some troubles expressing their wants, needs, and hurt feelings.
  • Trying to change another person in order to get what you think you need is an argument in the making.
  • Misunderstandings happen. They grow when interpreted through your personal history.
  • We see the bad behavior of our partner and don’t see the awful behavior we engage in.
  • We take in what the other does colored by our feelings, and don’t hear theirs.

If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please feel free to share your comments. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.

Contact me

If you’d like more information or want to make an appointment:

email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Triggers Can Be Empowering: My Approach

Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of being triggered included.

I’ve begun to accept the way things are done these days. That means I now include trigger warnings in my writings. I write a lot about abuse recovery or abuse prevention. Yet, the first time someone wrote ‘trigger warnings’ on my writing, I was offended.

I began my personal growth in 1971. I was 26 years old and a gazillion miles from my abusive family of origin. And I was safe enough to stop using mind altering chemicals to, well, alter my mind.

I began to do something really strange. I began to feel my feelings. And feel. And feel some more. I remember, I had no name for them at the time. I started dreaming. And thinking about things. Remembering events I certainly didn’t want to remember. Noticing the effect of other people on how I felt.

I reached into my shiny new toolbox and used every tool in it. Twelve step meetings. Talking about my feelings with other people. Writing about those feelings/journaling. Reading positive thinking literature. And so on.

Eventually, I stabilized and was comfortable in my own skin a large part of the time. Until I wasn’t. Something happened and I kind of just tilted. Went off balance.

I used my journal to examine this experience and learn from it like I did everything else I experienced. I noticed that when I ’tilted’ [what you call being triggered], my body felt heavy, awkward and kind of mechanical like maybe I was a robot or something. I certainly didn’t feel authentic at that moment. It’s like living in the past silhouetted on the present.

My mind raced with thoughts that did not match the current situation. And I felt compulsive like I need to do something right that moment. Make this telephone call. Write that person. Hit someone. Do something

r i g h t 

n o w

I examined my experiences further and learned things I wouldn’t understand professionally until after I finished graduate school and was in professional practice.

I’m going to mix these ideas up together because they make so much more sense this way.

If you were traumatized and were not surrounded by loving caring ATTENTIVE people who believed you, believed in you and heard you, you most likely developed PTSD.

An official diagnosis of PTSD has 4 sets of symptoms. Two are healthy involving your mind and body trying to heal itself. And two can be crippling dooming you to forever live in your past.

I’ll come back to this in a moment.

What I understood early on was that this experience of what I called fragmenting or tilting or going off balance and you call being triggered is a healthy experience. I saw it as an arrow pointing me to whatever it was I needed to face next in my life to rid myself of the effects of abuse.

Now for my attitude about healing from abuse. The people who abused me or you should all be strung up by their toenails. They are at fault for each and every wrong thing they did. They carry the blame.

On my end, I’d like to psychologically and emotionally wash every last effect of their nastiness from my life. I’m spiteful and feel mean about it. I don’t want to live in any way on the end of their string. I want my freedom and I’ll do pretty much anything I have to do to get it. I’m determined.

From this frame of mind, I’d like to go back and bring up those two sets of trauma experiences that I consider healthy. These involve the experience of physical and psychological re-living your event. These are what you call being triggered.

Anything at all that resembles your trauma in any way can trigger you. It can be a song on the radio, a time of year, a smell, a tone of voice, a color, the sound of someone’s voice, writings on the internet, or anything at all.

These are the nightmares, the feelings of being triggered, the abnormal fears I carried. And the healthier and more functional you get in your life, the more likely and often this happens. These painful experiences all have a gift right smack dab in the middle of them.

How in the world can that be a gift?

Yes, it hurts. But, your being is trying to heal you, purge you of trauma.

And here we come to the two trauma experiences that can be crippling. It’s the need to avoid triggers, intimacy, and the experiences of living. It’s the moodiness and self-blame. The ‘don’t think’, ‘don’t feel’, ‘don’t experience hope’, ‘don’t have intimacy’, and ‘don’t even do anything at all that might make me remember what happened’.

Only what happened is either part of my healing or it’s a poison in my soul. Not facing the pain involved keeps me spinning in the trauma. Instead of growing, I live there all the time.

This is how I view being triggered. It’s a gift. It’s part of my empowerment. What comes up, comes up all by itself at the right time and in the right way IF I am willing to face it.

It’s like having the flu and needing to throw up. Once I vomit, the pain in my belly is gone. And once I face whatever element of my abuse was triggered in the moment, I am one millimeter closer to being free. Free of the people who harmed me. Free of the harm. Free of the damage that was done to me. One more step closer to wholeness.

Contact me if you would like to make an appointment.

Email: agentledrlaura@gmail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.