Category Archives: Life Coaching – Recovery from Abuse & Trauma

Your Name Is Not Hurricane: How to Help Your Children Cope with the Experience.

Hurricanes Are Horrible but You Aren’t.woman and child

I was not in the hurricane zone. I watched it on television. I have experienced my own severe trauma. And spent countless hours with children who experienced a variety of traumas.

With all the drama on television regarding the current storms, it’s easy for people to assume that you, your family, and your children will be damaged forever by this experience. That’s not true.

Admittedly, it’s awful to be in a situation where you fear for your life. And terrible to be displaced, depending upon others for your basic needs. Everything people have experienced in these current hurricanes is horrific, but doesn’t have to forever damage them and ruin their lives.

You Can Become Resilient and Help You Child Do the Same.

Resilience means you bounce back, adapt or adjust to whatever comes. You can nurture resilience in your child.

Many people say something like “I can’t do that! I’m not strong enough.” They think people who overcome the worst tragedies are somehow different from them. But that’s not true.

Family Together Child Two Parent Father SunsetIt’s a myth that overcomers have special qualities. They’re not special. And they don’t have unique qualities.

They are just like you or I.

Resilient Behaviors

What they do is also ordinary. You see these behaviors every day. People create social support systems that meet their basic emotional and physical needs. Resilient people develop habits that allow them to roll with the punches and come out on top. Children become resilient when they connect to adults who care for them, listen to them, teach them to manage difficult feelings, and love them.

A Hurricane Doesn’t Have to Cause PTSD

People assume that because you’ve had a horrific experience, the trauma damages you. They believe you are tainted, or forever marked by the experience. I wrote about adult trauma in my article, Trauma Wellness

Your child doesn’t have to be damaged either. It’s a big experience. And it requires a great deal out of everyone. But it doesn’t have to ruin the rest of your life or the life of your child.

Yes, This Is Difficult and Painful for You.

Parents who tend to their children in a trauma or tragedy do double and maybe even quadruple duty. You have so many pressing life problems to solve. Then you have to tend to your own painful feelings. You turn around and see your child’s feelings. Their feelings make you more aware of your own. Your child needs your help.

Try to accept that it’s natural for your child’s feelings to be uncomfortable to you. Know that your children’s play may upset you. It can and probably will remind you of your experiences in the hurricane.

Your child may lose newly developed skills. For example, if your toddler was toilet trained, they might need diapers again. This needs patience. Those skills will come back.

One of the most difficult things to do is to allow your child the space to explore their own resilienceunique return to normal. To try new or old behavior and experiences. Try to offer support without overprotection or restriction.

Children Express Themselves Through Art and Play.

It is normal for a child to create games, pictures and stories about a hurricane. Be prepared to talk to your child about the hurricane. There are inexpensive books you can read to them, games you can play, and art work you can do together. If you have no books or electricity, you can make up stories. Just make sure that the endings of each story carry a positive message of everyone survives and thrives. Try to include feelings they have and how they managed those feelings. Also consider stories that show how children solved the hurricane problems.

It might take creativity to discover art materials. They are all around you. Some people work their art with “found materials.” Found materials include anything in the world around you. Leaves, rocks, grass, sticks, beads, and even water can be a vehicle for art.

The art doesn’t have to be permanent. You don’t need glue, paper or pencils. Found objects can create a story on the floor of a shelter for you and your child to talk about. Then your child can keep the objects or throw them away.

All these activities will help you communicate with your child.

Children Need to Feel Safe in the World Again.

This, too, can be difficult for you. A hurricane seems to take away your safety. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. Here, too, you are doing double duty. You will need to seek a way to think about how to feel safe again yourself. You’ll find your own solution to this as your work out your feelings.

Your child will be working on the same issues. They could become clingy, refuse to let you out of their sight, or have trouble sleeping. They might cry a lot.

One way to help your child is to reassure them you’re still present. You are still you. You love them every bit as much as you always did. Point out all the things that are going right in your lives. You might have to stretch yourself to do this. But everyone has some good things at any point in time.

Children Need Emotion Skills.

You can help them learn to soothe themselves when agitated, angry or afraid. Ongoing conversations with your child about the hurricane and all the life problems can help them learn from you. Use the language of emotion. Naming your emotions and theirs teaches your child the words they need for themselves.

By your actions, you can teach self-soothing, problem solving, and coping strategies. With interaction, you can teach your child the names of their feelings and all of the skills they need to master the hurricane experience. This gives them a greater sense of control over those out-of-control feelings and their lives.

Within the chaos of hurricane aftermath, create a specific time and space to communicate about the hurricane and their feelings. Talk to them about the hurricane and make sure you hear them. This leaves a child more grounded and centered. It’s the same for adults. Everyone needs to be heard. It’s one of the greatest needs humans have.

Find a way for your child to express their feelings that fits the circumstances around them. Help them learn to cope with those feelings. Lead them in solving the problems that bring out those feelings.

Books and books have been written on subjects like this. This is a short article summarizing a few ideas.

You can view the references I used to write this here.

If you would like coaching on how to help your child, contact me.

email: agentledrlaura@mail.com
Telephone: (615) 464-3791

CCECredential BCC Logo72dpi

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

 

 

Pearls in My Soul

 

256px-Laad_Bazaar_Pearls1

Photo attribution at bottom

A few moments ago I answered the phone. I was writing this posting on positive thought and stopped. Oh, yuk, that was unpleasant! Not what I wanted to hear. Not at all. My mood evaporated, and I brooded. A full on stomp my feet, yell and express my unhappiness tantrum. It’s tempting to roll around in negativity. It’s difficult to shift into an affirmative frame of mind.

I closed the program and shut my computer off. It took a few minutes for me to find my inspiration again. It was an uphill battle against falling mud thoughts decorated with negative rocks of ugly, painful feelings.

My experience today sheds real light on positive thinking.

Life spits on all of us to greater and lesser degrees. Things happen. Abuse, crime, poverty, discrimination, and much ugliness. People die, others get sick. Cancer. Oh, cancer sucks!

We don’t get the job we wanted or the partner we lusted after. We stub our toes, fall down and have automobile accidents. On and on, I could fill this page with the anguish inducing events in life.

I don’t want to live inside the painful events of my life. I’m kind of a big baby. I want pleasure in my life, not pain. And what I focus upon is what I experience. My most important environment is inside my heart and head. What I concentrate on is where I dwell. I can view pain or pleasure.

I cherish the spiritual power of positive thought. I’ve been working on this skill for the past 43 years. I believe our lives conform to what we hold in our minds. If we can change our insides at a deep enough level, we can also influence our outside experience. An ongoing dedication to this process makes a huge difference. I trust this.

I have confidence in the psychological power of positive thought. We can make or break our days in our thoughts. It’s an effort sometimes. Like today. I had to put some mental elbow grease into my mental processes. After that telephone call, I was tempted to watch television, read a book, or something mindless. After all, I deserve it! Because, because, well, just because. There is the pull of whining and “it’s so awful!”

I wanted to write about my experience of yesterday’s (8/21/17) total eclipse. I was joyful in my ability to sit and write in spite of chronic illness and my history of abuse. Yet, I almost let one telephone call derail me.

So, here, this is me. Deciding once again to take the positive path. Maybe even the “road less traveled” (Frost, Robert, The Road Not Taken, 1916).

I collect memories. I think of them as lustrous and finely colored pearls. My memories are gems of great value. Large pearls, small pearls, fresh water pearls, deep from the ocean pearls, black pearls, perfect ones and misshapen gems. Each memory added to a strand residing in the center of my being. I look at them often.

Memories of delight, pleasure, triumph, happiness, rebellion, and freedom. I pull them up and review them at will. Rejoicing in a long ago event. Pearl memories inside me that cheer me up, make me smile and enrich my life day-to-day. With friends. Laughter on the telephone with other friends. Intimate sharing conversations with people I like and love.

That sunny day I mastered the high diving board at the swimming pool. Climbing the ladder, walking to the final third of that board, striding the board and launching. Flying in the air for that few seconds before I hit the water.

My defiant friends in high school. Smoking on the corner, slouching with great attitude. Hours on the telephone. Walking and walking all over town, talking and thinking of mischief.

My first day at college, feeling free and grown up, walking across the campus of Kentucky blue grass. It’s not an authentic blue, but a beautiful blue-green in the summer.

The births of my sons, holding them in my arms first the first time. Different boys, different years, and different experiences, each one a memory pearl that adds to my inner necklace of warmth and happiness.

My small weddings, surrounded by loving people and simple dresses.

The day my husband, Keith, got on his knees to propose. We’d already agreed to marry and I still smile as I remember him asking again with the ring.

The day I walked across the stage for my Ph.D. diploma, hearing my son yell in the crowd, “There’s my mom!”

Or the one year we celebrated Christmas twice. So like children, we were, opening our presents too early until there were none. We decided to do it again.

The eclipse on August 21, 2017, is one of those pearls. We planned and prepared. I couldn’t explain the sense of need and urgency I had about this. I wanted, needed. I live with somewhat debilitating chronic illness, so we had to plan and prepare.

My sense of awe and raw pleasure sitting on our front porch, surrounded by an all around sunset. Then totality. The full eclipse. Our one country street light went on. The earth dimmed. The universe lowered the lights an increment at a time. I watched birds fly west in a group. A few birds flew back east as the lights came back a little at a time. Words fail me to describe this memory and the feelings it produced inside me.

A once in a lifetime experience. A pearl in my soul. A new memory on my smiling necklace of happiness.

Today is my 72nd birthday. I’m writing, cheered at the freedom to sit here and share my thoughts. Keith came home with smiling flowers. Sunflowers, red carnations and something yellow. Another smile, one more pearl.

Now I’m finishing my medical treatment. A once weekly infusion of immunoglobulin to build up my failing immune system. The disease is called Common Variable Immunodeficiency. The treatment is an elixir full of gems, energy, and bullets aimed at bacteria and other beasties. This, too, is a pearl.

I can sit in my chair, sometimes almost unable to move and pull out that necklace. My memory necklace is long. Pearls too long to lift if the necklace was manifest in this world. Inside me, it’s just the right size.

Contact me if you’d like to create your own set of inside pearls.

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

*By Abhinaba Basu (Flickr: Laad Bazaar Pearls, Charminar) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma

I was madly in love with my late husband for the 27 years we were together. He was an outrageous person, yet he taught me most of what I know about helping people with their relationships.

Loving relationships for adults who were abused as children require a greater degree of personal responsibility. Today’s article in this series uses my experiences to show you how to apply these ideas to your relationships.

This third article in this Relationship Skills Series shows you how to put up one boundary between your relationship and your history. Then you and your loved one can discuss the issues that are bothering you.

People who have experienced abuse or traumas often have pain inside them that can destroy important loving relationships. Read an article that describes what you can do about it

Everyone who has experienced a trauma has flashbacks. Read an article that explains what flashbacks are and how they affect your relationships.

You deserve to be loved and to love others! Today’s article is designed to help you put a real barrier between your old experiences and your current loving experiences.

Is your passion the result of true love or are you in an addictive relationship? Read the differences to help you assess your relationship.

Sometimes, we often unknowingly hurt the person we love the most. This is frequently true for people who have experienced abuse or trauma. In this article, I explain this process and show you how to stop it.

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Save Your Best Behavior for The One You Love

victorian-coupleThis is the final posting in my series on relationship skills for people who experienced abuse or trauma in their lives. The table of contents for the series can be found here: Relationship Skills for Survivors of Abuse and Trauma

One night, many years ago, David (my late husband) and I were fighting about something. I don’t even remember what it was. I can still see the living room, and easily remember how full of rage and frustration I felt.

He carefully told me that he couldn’t talk about this subject right now, and walked away from me. Well, that did it! I followed him around the house harping on him. I told him plainly how unfair it was that he would be the person to decide what and when we talked about things.

Sounds reasonable, right?

I was so angry. This reminded me of all the unbalanced relationships I had experienced in my life. And if we only look at this from my point of view, well, I’d be RIGHT.

He may have told me several times how unable to dialogue he was. I didn’t hear him. In my rageful state, I didn’t care to hear him. Finally, he stopped, turned around and shook me.

You might be fooled into thinking that this is an article about his abusive behavior. It is not. It is about my abusive behavior.

How can this be? After all, he is the one who shook me!

In the wonderful world of our fantasies, all people would have grown up loved and nourished, in safety and without abuse. At the very least, our imagination leads us to believe that everyone but us grew up without these problems. That, of course, is not the case.

David was like me. He was severely abused in childhood. Also, he was the man I loved. He deserved the same care and concern I expected for myself.

I watched this repeatedly in relationship coaching sessions with clients. They’d be thoughtful, considerate, giving and emotionally generous with strangers, co-workers, bosses and others.

Then they would come home and completely let go of their self control. Indulge in thoughtless actions. Ignore their partner. Disregard their partner’s needs entirely. Make plans without consulting the one they loved. Speak rudely to them.

It was as if they believed they were supposed to be able to completely let go around their partner. It’s not true.

It is difficult to balance an article like this with the reality of authentic abusive relationships. What makes my story and my marriage to David NOT an abusive relationship? I think the difference may come from what happened next.

At the time, I was so upset. Sure that I had married an abusive man; I began to think rapidly of where I could go. I heard echoes of all the books and talks I had heard on the topic of abuse in a family. Instead, I went into the other room and cried.

Later, I do not remember how much later, we talked about this. He heard me out, all my upset and listened carefully to what I had to say. And here is what he told me.

“Laura, I walked away from you because I felt violent,” David said. (Remember I followed him, battering him with my words and making sure he heard what I had to say.)

Then he continued with a deeper understanding of how his violent childhood and early childhood living had affected him.

He was struggling, he told me, to live a normal life with me. But he didn’t have many skills. Where he grew up, all arguments were solved by the biggest, baddest, and strongest individual. All confrontations were solved with violence.

Then he explained that when he said, “I can’t talk about this right now,” that is exactly what he meant.

He didn’t mean what I heard which was, “I hold all the control, and decide when you get to talk.”

He didn’t mean, “I don’t care about your feelings. I’ll talk to you in my own good time.”

Or any of the other stories I made up in my head in my rage.

Then he asked me to never, ever push him past his point of self-control like that. And he made a commitment to let me know when he was again able to dialogue. Then we would talk about the issues.

I did. He did. And we did. For the rest of our marriage, that is how we solved problems. Sometimes, it was me who needed time to get clarity. Other times, it was David. Over the years, the time it took us to calm down, think clearly and be able to talk shortened radically.

I thought deeply about what he told me. I felt ashamed that in my selfish need to talk right now, I had violated him. I had considered my needs, wants and wishes above his. And I had totally forgotten that he was as hurt inside as I was.

I had never, ever thought of myself as abusive. After all, I am a NICE person! I am the victim, the fragile one. However, the reaction I often had against my sense of self as victim led me to behave abusively. This does not excuse David from his bad behavior. Not one bit.

It is simply that if we were ever going to be able to live together successfully, we both would have to grow and change.

I was terribly sorry I had injured him. When I looked at it, I had injured him every bit as badly with my thoughtlessness as he had when he shook me. We forgave each other. And it was equal. This is the way loving people treat each other.

Actions like mine are common in people who were abused or traumatized. Instead, it is critically important for you to make the one you love the most precious person in your life. They deserve your care and concern, good manners, thoughtful actions and love.

We forget that the other person is as real as we are. We know we hurt, we are sure they don’t. It is almost as if they don’t exist. In our need to stop our upset, we treat the one we love as if they were cardboard cutouts. Our behavior is subtle, and so it is not obvious to us that we are part of the problem.

Before you get completely irate with me, this does not mean that you become phony, or a doormat. It simply means that if you love someone, you treat them like you do. You treat the person you love like they are someone you love. Not like you’d treat strangers.

If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please share in the comments below.

I’d love to hear what you are thinking.

Contact me to learn how to treat the one you love like you really love them.

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Or use the form on the Contact Mee page.

©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

 

 

Dream Your Life

If you can dream it.png

Contact me if you want to live your dreams:

Email: agentledrlaura@mail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

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

Intimate Relationships: What Just Happened?

This is part five 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.

Flashbacks, misunderstandings, and your history

There was an Ann Lander’s newspaper column I used to hand out in my classes on this subject. Ann printed a dream someone sent her, then she asked her readers to respond with their explanations. Wow, what happened sure was fascinating!

Some people wrote her with painfully judgmental comments. Mean-spirited. I guess there was trolling even before the Internet. Other replies reeked of sexual innuendo. Some responses that were just off the wall!

None of them had any relationship to reality. Instead of interpreting a dream, people were telling the readers of that column about themselves. In their letters, thinking they were describing someone else, they told us how they thought and what their motives were. They unknowingly expressed their personal and deeply held emotional issues.

It’s a defense mechanism discussed by Anna Freud and is known as projection.

This happens all the time in relationships. It doesn’t matter if it’s a close and intimate encounter or a brief nothing brush of two people simply in the same physical or Internet space for a moment.

In the absence of information, people fill in the blanks with what is in their very own personal histories. I think this makes a lot of sense. We interpret our lives based upon what we know. In my thinking, this is a minor and subtle form of a flashback.

As a flashback, it seems easier to see and understand than the more vivid ones that are shown in television movies.

Flashbacks can take a variety of forms.

People who have experienced painful life events have both subtle and severe flashbacks. Those of us with histories of child abuse and horrid traumas re-live our traumas all the time. This is not a deliberate or willful action. It happens out of our conscious awareness. We don’t know that we are doing this.

I believe that this is your mind’s attempt to heal itself. Your being is attempting to expel an experience that is hurtful to you.

We think about what happened. We dream (nightmares) of what happened. We live our lives as if these terrible experiences are happening right now. Again, this can be subtle or very dramatic. Some people react to conversations in ways that are just a little bit off responding to meanings that were not intended. You might see your memories as a photograph in your mind. Then there are the physical reactions where you feel as though your trauma is currently happening this very moment.

Anything that even vaguely resembles your original painful life event(s) can trigger a flashback episode. A time of year, song on the radio, driving down a certain street, or someone’s tone of voice are all examples of the sort of thing that can trigger a flashback.

Flashbacks and Loving Relationships

Understanding flashbacks is vital to being able to see how they affect your loving relationships. The very acts of loving and being loved can and do trigger flashbacks. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. After all, if you were abused by your parents, guardians or family members, love is a trigger for you. If you were sexually assaulted, battered in relationship or betrayed by someone you love, again-love itself becomes a trigger for you.

Now you are out of the harmful situation. You are grown. It’s a year or more after the assault. Or you left the person who hurt you deeply.

You have met someone delightful and fallen in love. Wonderfully, they love you in return. This situation is enough to trigger both subtle and not so subtle flashback episodes.

It seems out of the blue, but now you feel abused and unsafe. You become absolutely convinced that your partner is abusive. They resemble your parents. Or your other family members. Or your out of family perpetrator. You are on edge and wait to be betrayed or assaulted. You react to a lot of what they say and are often angry or frightened.

At that moment, you really do not know if your partner is dangerous to you or not. You cannot tell whether or not they are abusive. You wonder if they hurt you on purpose. And you are utterly convinced they did. And pretty sure they enjoyed it!

Some people run away from all relationships because of this. Other people strike back, becoming too well defended. Then others just withdraw from all intimacy. No matter what you do you are in danger of ruining the vital nurturing intimacy you are building with the one you love.

No matter how you take care of yourself, you can ruin your relationship. That’s healthy if the relationship is dangerous or abusive. But it harms you if it’s not.

What do you do? How do you prevent your history from depriving you of a loving relationship? How do you find out the difference? Sort the dangerous from the safe?

What to Do?

I am going to give you a place to start here. Learning how to get relatively unstuck from your past is much more involved than I can write in one article. At this point, I just want you to know that your flashbacks can color how you look at and interpret the actions of your partner. That’s the beginning. To realize that you might be reacting from your past.

Thus, the first step is to take ownership of your feelings and reactions. You start the long process of learning when your reactions are from your past, and when they are from your present. This doesn’t mean blame. You are not at fault for this. Flashbacks stem from a natural process that happens to all people who have been traumatized.

This often seems too simple. And from one perspective, it is. From another perspective, taking ownership requires a great deal of effort.

Then there is the emotional pain. Learning to live in your own skin, feeling your own feelings and personal history is painful. This requires determination and a desire to live within loving relationships.

The second step is to get acquainted with what it feels like to be you in a flashback. For me, it feels as though I am slightly like a robot. Physically, my body feels heavy and my muscles are tight. Emotionally, I feel compulsive and like I absolutely must take action this very moment. I often feel very young because I’m living my past in my present.

To gain this knowledge I had to practice what is now called mindfulness. First I imagined I placed a little piece of myself on my shoulder and began to observe my behavior. For this purpose behavior included my thoughts, feelings and my actions.

I journaled. A lot. All the time. I kept pen and paper [this was before computers] near me at all times. And I wrote what I saw myself think, what I imagined my feelings were, and what I did. When examining my actions, I tried to be objective like a scientist or “Joe Friday” in Dragnet, an old television show: “Just the facts, Ma’am!”

The moment you recognize you are reacting from your past, you come back to the present. You are able to react to the present event. Over time, you become acquainted with yourself and your flashbacks. You can recognize potentially triggering conversations and interactions. You will be able to plan solutions to them. Knowing more about yourself in this way will allow you to talk about them with your partner(s). This is the beginning of taking charge of them.

Then, if you wish, you can process the painful feelings from your traumas. I journaled more because I had the idea that I wanted to clean the entire events out of my being. I allowed myself to cry. Often and much. Then, I would do a history of every time I felt similar feelings. I saw these series of events as if they were beads on a chain. What those beads did is show me my patterns of reacting to people and events.

Slowly I became in charge of my behavior. I wasn’t as controlled by the events and people of my past.

I count that as a win. I hope you win too.

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

What to Do About the Pain of Intimacy

This is part four 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.

Intimacy Pain

Samantha and Paul loved each other but managed to argued constantly. They attended sessions regularly to learn new communication skills. They wanted to find new and constructive ways of relating to each other. Yet, in every session, they fought like cats and dogs, snarling and arguing about anything and everything. And nothing.

Each week we would talk and they would eventually get to a place where they were communicating. As soon as they hit that point of intimacy, either Paul or Samantha would bring up some old insignificant issue that would trigger an argument. They were off and running again.

This is common. People do that. They regularly defeat the intimacy they fiercely want. Sometimes this is the result of intimacy pain.

Intimacy

Intimacy is the connectedness of two people who are separate individuals. Intimacy between two people who love each other is a wondrous and exhilarating event. Intimacy is one way of being fully alive. When we connect with other people, we are completely ourselves in the present moment.

If I was physically in front of you, I’d hold my hands out with them parallel to one another. Close but not touching. That’s intimacy. Too far apart, that’s distance and no intimacy. Too far apart, there is nothing happening between the people involved. Too close together, and that’s known as being enmeshed. People become intertwined, entangled with each other and lose their identities.

The goal with intimacy is just close enough to make contact and connection but still hold on to your identity. When you reach that, conversations become satisfying and fulfilling. The relationship will grow. When you cannot, your relationships are stunted and unsatisfying.

At the same time, feeling alive in this way also means you are more fully in touch with yourself. You feel your feelings. You feel love, sometimes ecstasy. But you also feel all your other feelings too Unfortunately, you get the beauty with the unpleasant. The bliss and the agony.

Inner Pain

Some, maybe many people carry pain inside themselves. Possibly there was a destructive relationship early in life. Perhaps there was abuse. Some parents have addictions and create all manner of chaotic problems for their children. Then there is bullying. Other people experienced dramatic events that hurt them in their core. I can create a long list for us, but that’s not the purpose of this writing. Not all the horrid things that happen to people are abuse. Some are tragedies. Awful life events happen. Sometimes they happen when we are too young to make sense out of them.

People then grow up with a raw wound in the center of their being. Such that when you connect with another person, one feeling you feel is that hurt place in your core. In this case, intimacy hurts.

Remember when you were a kid and skinned your knee? This is one current metaphor for the pain we carry inside as a result of our personal histories. It exists. It is not our fault. The effect intimacy has upon the pain people carry is similar to the act of putting on your blue jeans over that recently skinned knee. As a kid, you wanted to go out and play anyway, so you got dressed again. And you put up with that icky pain the jeans created in your knee. That icky pain is similar to what I label `intimacy pain’.

Destructive Coping Strategies

Many people confuse these difficulties with abuse. They feel pain and think their partner is deliberately doing something to them. Maybe. Sometimes that does happen. But maybe not. Sometimes just being close to another person hurts and requires some growing. Other people confuse their reactions with flashbacks, a return of their history into the present. Instead, they are unmet needs you have in the present that resulted from your past. A flashback is a reliving of a prior trauma…it is not based in your current life.

Lana thought all her pain was her husband, Ernest, was the cause of all her problems. Every time they were together, she found herself hurting inside. Her solution was to become very abusive herself, attempting to control his every word and action. I was unable to convince her that he wasn’t doing ‘it’ to her. They eventually divorced. Lana tried to become enmeshed with her husband, insisting that he feel and think like she did. That was her solution to intimacy pain.

Samantha and Paul mentioned above created distance for themselves by fighting all the time. That was their solution to pain.

Some people just give up on relationships. They say, simply, It hurts too much! One unconscious coping strategy is to wall yourself off a little. You become difficult to connect with, and your partner often doesn’t understand what is going on with you. You, on the other hand, have no clue as to why he or she is hurt or angry with you!

There are countless creative defenses people use to avoid their own pain. Really, there are as many of these as there are people in the world. These are all avoidance techniques, and avoidance is rarely positive. People start arguments, become distant and unavailable, seek out unavailable partners, lie, cheat and have affairs, take drugs, become workaholics, gamble, focus on their homes, cars, looks, diets, and so on and so on and so on.

Solutions

The answer to this dilemma is to name it and claim it. The issues of personal responsibility have become fighting words for some people, but this is important here. The pain you carry is your own and it can run your life or not. This is one area of your life, however much it hurts, that requires you to be responsible for your own pain. You cannot achieve intimacy if you don’t.

You are not at fault for this difficulty. But you are responsible for how you deal with it. If you assume that the pain you feel is yours and not the other person’s fault, you can examine it. It’s safe to do this. If you examine your own feelings, you can see the other person more clearly. Then if they are in actuality harming you, it will be much easier for you to see. And you won’t be like Lana, pushing her husband away or controlling all the events and people in her life. Nor will you be like Paul, arguing about anything and nothing.

Here are some things you can do for yourself. They all take time, self-discipline and effort. Look inside yourself and ask yourself questions. Use a journal and write them out or mentally self-examine. You will cry and that will be good for you. Healing cries dissolve the pain.

  • What am I doing?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How is this related to my issues, as I know them?

If loving relationships are important to you, you will have to know that you carry some inner pain that does not belong to your partner. Then you can work on this pain so it doesn’t cause you to defeat the intimacy you seek.

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

A Water on Rock Approach to Life

Ovid-quoteDoctor’s visits can be cool
and calm
rinsing myself in thermal springs
of mineral waters cleansing
me of toxins and sickness.
Or they can become challenging experiences
plunging over dangerous waterfalls
into precarious rapids
finally dashing my being into rocks.

This one was a warm pool
of healing waters full of minerals.
I listened to my husband
talk about my water on rock
approach to life
as I climbed on a stair
first holding on to the examining table
then slowly turning around
finally pushing myself up
into a sitting position.
“That’s what no one
seems to know about her.
She’s like the water
that formed the Grand Canyon.
She never quits until she succeeds,”
he told my doctor.

Here I sit thinking about water
my approach to life
and my current path to personal growth.
Poisoned toxic water
had dripped into my being
carving a canyon deep sense of desolation
and hopelessness.
Sickness is merciless
simply demanding until you give in.
Slowly illness wrestled one life’s activity at a time
away from me.
I coped badly
mistakenly immersing myself
into frothy nasty words
“It’s not important”
I told myself
each and every time
I gave up something else.

Today, I must rinse those thoughts
the toxic words out of my being.
Some days I imagine I AM water
flowing out into pools
streams
rivers
oceans
merging into all the waters of the world
liquefying sickness
diluting negativity
just washing it all way
in the biggest most powerful
pools of water.
Instead I’m left with small water drops
hollowing out the negativity
and replacing the poisons with love.

And so I do.
Water is everywhere in my day
cleansing
sanitizing
fulfilling
nurturing.
I go through the day
performing those tasks
that are healing me
adding loving words to myself,
saying instead, “I am important”
as I wash my hands making sure
I don’t give myself an infection.
Drip, Drop, “I have value”
putting the needles into my belly
for my treatment.
Burble, bubble, “You are loved,”
as I do my daily exercise.
plip – plip – ploop – plip – plip – plip – plip – ploop
“I deserve to be taken care of”
as I eat my mandated food on time
every two hours
and drink my eight glasses of water.

That, friends, is my water on rock
approach to life’s problems.
Each little task
no matter how small
builds upon the next task
until I can move mountains
carve out the Grand Canyon
or even find my way back
to health
or at least a richer life
filled with the joys
of the day.

Day One of Writing: Intro to Poetry
Word prompt is Water

If you would like to talk with someone about your chronic illness or explore your own version of a water on rock approach to your life problems, contact me to make an appointment.

email: agentledrlaura@gmail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Picture is an NPS Postcard of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Frank J Haynes; words added by me.

Learning to Love Myself. Again and Again and Again…

One_LoveTW: Mentions of abuse
Exercises of self love and self care
intertwine within a tall stately pyramid.
My growth a series of concentric circles
getting smaller and smaller
composed of increasingly difficult life lessons.
I completed the largest circle of
easy baby step type learnings
and worked my up to backbreaking activities
where I create the skill out of air
and imagination.
Most days I accept my task in life.
Some days I have a temper tantrum
and paint curse words all over
the walls of my mind.

Today is one of those days.
God, I hate once again
to revisit this old and over told story.
I began my journey
resented as a child
needing massive healing from
abuse of all kinds
seriously harmed
hating myself
thinking I was ugly
deformed
deserving of all that abuse.

I’ve spent most of my adult life
learning mental and emotional self care
even teaching others.
This is not an easy skill to learn
nor is it simple to teach.
Can I stop for a minute?
Stomp my feet.
Just a little tantrum.
I’ll be good in a moment.

It feels ironic to need more
and more and more again.
Each and every time I have to grow
I also have to look inside
remember my history.
Oh, yuck, I don’t want to.
I’ve graduated to needing
extreme self care.

Like extreme sports,
Extreme self care involves
more of everything
new and improved self care muscles
enhanced mental stamina
increasingly dangerous life experiences
higher level skills
back breaking practice
and most of all an attitude
of gentle love for myself
till I earn my black belt in self care.

My increasingly dangerous life experiences
include living with multiple chronic illness
a series of revolving doors
that lead nowhere and back again.
leaving my health care team blind
me frustrated, sad, angry
and determined to fight my battle once again.
I stand firm fighting this invisible enemy
I fight with all I’ve got
I fight dirty
and I fight to win.

As I fight, I face my self care/self love pyramid
and find I need some stairs to climb
and enter this day’s seemingly too small circle
only to bump into Mother memories again
seeing the absence of care inside myself
where my mother’s love would be.
I need new and intense lessons
created out of imagination
telling myself what I might tell you
and you and you
or what I’d do and did for the people I loved.
Now I must do those things
say those things
all over in my mind just for me.

I’ve built a life with a gazillion resources
people in my life who love me greatly.
Keith, my lover, my husband
can encourage me
love me
say nice things to me
and mean them.
Then there are friends who speak honestly
with me about the same struggles
we help each other.

Resource I can use are everywhere.
Books
hard bound, paper back and ebooks
google search and I find
cds and mp3s
hypnosis and relaxation recordings
affirmations
positive thinking
self care
chronic illness
exercise
and more.

But, oh, wait, stop…
let me catch my breath…
this fucking shit is so very difficult.
I have to read those books
take their suggestions
apply the ideas to my own insides
and worst of all
I have to experience the feelings
walk through once again
the feelings of not being loved
as I graduate to a higher level of loving myself
once again.

I choose to grow
it’s my nature to fight for my life
I think it’s my karma
my life task.
I just sometimes need to complain
gripe and express myself
in order to do the very difficult work
of facing myself
facing my past
and facing life’s ever present challenges.

And so, for today,
I am determined to love myself
in every single minute action.
I will mentally talk to myself
in all the loving ways
I do for other people.
Whatever I do for myself
the necessary tasks of living
or the fun activities I desire
I determine to do them
as I would if I were my very own loving mother
thus putting in place
what should have been there all along.
Black belt extreme self care
I can do that for me
I deserve it.
And really, you do too.

If you’d like to talk with me about your pyramid of self love and self care, contact me to make an appointment.

email: agentledrlaura@gmail.com

Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Photo by Queren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/es/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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