Hurricanes Are Horrible but You Aren’t.
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.
It’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.
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 unique 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.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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.
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
I spent years researching the actions of perpetrators to understand enough to help my clients answer the “WHY” question. Anyone who has ever been victimized by a perpetrator of violence asks the “Why” question: “Why did they do that to me?”
The tragic but freeing answer is that it wasn’t really done to you. It wasn’t personal. There were really no traits in you that caused this violence to be done to you. You, as victim, could have been any available person. There really are no personality, physical or behavioral traits specific to you that caused you to be a victim. You were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and crossed the path of someone who needed to hurt you.
As I researched these subjects, I decided that there is a continuum of violence addiction. You can visualize this as knots in a long string that stretches across the room. Smaller knots are on the south side of our room and represent things like assault and battery. These knots grow larger as we walk across the room: rape, child abuse, serial battery, murder, serial rape, and serial murder.
While not technically physical violence, I always added con artists and burglars to my list as they are such personal crimes…leaving an emotional violence on their victims. I can imagine con artists getting the same kind of high from their crimes as the murderer does. Depending upon the extent of their robbery, the con artist and burglar are nearer to the middle of this continuum.
Like all other addicts, the violence addict grew up with relatives in their extended family tree who had varying addictions. This leads to physical heredity, not emotional behavior. There is a common myth that most perpetrators were victims themselves when they were children. Notice I said myth. And research does show that most people who are violent did come from terribly abusive homes. However, in my opinion, when we look more deeply at the information, the experience of child abuse is not the cause of future abusive behavior.
Instead, I think it is much more productive to look at the same disease model used to explain all other addictive behaviors. A violence addict finds early in life that he or she feels smarter, more powerful and actually invincible when they throw their emotions at another being. While it may sound strange, this is the allergy.
Normal people do, at times, loose their tempers, speak rudely and behave badly to others. However, most people react to this personal loss of control with feelings of weakness, shame and distress. Contrary to a normal person, the violence addict experiences this initial loss of control with feelings of power, aliveness, and vitality. At some point in a violence addict’s early life, they find that harming another FEELS GOOD to them.
As children, they harm small living creatures like bugs. As they grow, they begin harming bigger creatures like neighborhood pets. This is the beginning of tolerance. Tolerance continues to mean that the substance or behavior that leads you to feeling high stops working. Most addicts increase their substance or behavior. Violence addicts increase the size of their victims, the intensity of their actions and the riskiness of their behavior. At this point, some violence addicts add rituals to their actions to increase the likelihood that they will experience their high.
All addictions progress in the following areas: Tolerance and consequences. There are social, employment, family, legal, and personality consequences for violence addiction . As the addict increases their addictive behavior, they change. You cannot continually and compulsively harm others without changing inside yourself. Eventually, an addict, any addict, will step outside the confines of a normal life and remove themselves from all human assistance.
Like all addictions, the violence addict has his or her own defensive system. I think that it must be quite difficult for a person to be harming others and deny to themselves that they are doing anything different from the norm. So, a violence addict must somehow mentally distort reality to make it okay for them to take actions that are obviously against normal moral code. They justify their feelings and behaviors. In my readings, it seems that they fantasize, devalue others, ascribe omnipotence to themselves, and develop grandiose fantasies.
There are no self help groups for violence addicts. To my knowledge, there are no effective treatments for violence addicts. In fact, so far, the best we can, as a society, do for a violence addict is to lock them up and protect ourselves.
I have written other articles on the topic of identifying violence addicts, con artists and people who lie to you online. See the list here.
If you have responses to my writings, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, you may post them in the box below. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.
If you want to shake off the impact of a violence addict from your life, change your relationship pattern or achieve your relationship dreams, contact me.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
People who do not approve of sex and free sexual expression often confuse a wide range of sexual pleasures with addiction. This is especially true for behaviors that might be a little exotic.
It is not so. This is not addiction. Instead, sexual addiction is a compulsive behavior that leaves the addict in a state of total degradation and absolutely no satisfaction.
If this group of addictive behaviors did not include despicable behaviors targeting unwilling victims, these afflicted would be sad. I’d feel bad for them. But it does involve harming others.
I, in no way, shape, or form, condone sexual crime. My experience and work have always been with and for the victims of sex crimes. I studied the behaviors of sex addicts to gain information for my clients.
In this article, we will not be discussing sex. We will be discussing addiction. Remember that in the disease model of addiction, first, we have heredity. A sex addict can look at the history of his or her family and see quite a few relatives with one or more addictive diseases.
This leaves the future sex addict with a high vulnerability to any addictive disease. Personal history and unique biology lead the sex addict to experience sex in a manner that is different from most people.
This is very important to grasp. For the potential sex addict, sex acts of varying sorts, initially leave him or her feeling dynamic, powerful, important, free of life’s problems, and infinitely capable. In this addiction, sex and the behaviors around sex function like a drug. This is the allergy to the chemical or chemicals produced by sexual behaviors.
Some people worry that the good feelings they get from sex, intimacy, and touch ARE an addiction. They can be. But they also can be just plain fun. Addiction has more to it than fun and your body’s reactions to sex, affection, and touch.
As with all addictive behaviors and diseases, you have the issue of tolerance. It is here that problems begin and you get into serious trouble, eventually as perpetrators with the legal system.
Tolerance means that acts and behaviors that gave you your original high stop working. You lose those blissful feelings that they achieved in the past. You develop a tolerance to your behavior of choice. It takes more and different to achieve the high you seek.
You can visualize tolerance from the following image. Fifty years ago, in one of my college psychology classes, the professor was showing us how rats are trained to press a certain bar to obtain food. The rats learn repeatedly that they will be fed their ration of food by pressing that bar. When the food is withdrawn, the rat doesn’t get it. In this analogy, tolerance is equal to no food for the rat and no high for the addict.
So, the rats press the bar over and over again. Then this poor rat presses the bar faster and faster and faster in a true personification of compulsive behavior.
This is today’s metaphor for the fact of progression. Once any addict reaches the point of tolerance, it takes more and more of his or her drug of choice to reach the same high. More and more compulsive behavior. Like all addicts, sex addicts increase their acts or the riskiness of these acts until you leave the relative safety of legal behavior and their own moral code.
Then you face personal consequences that increase over time. Social, family, relationship, employment, spiritual and legal consequences all increase as their disease progresses.
As with all addiction, sex addiction comes with a built-in defensive system designed to keep you imprisoned in your own destruction. Sex addicts daydream grandiose fantasies of success, baldly deny reality, treat the other people around them very badly, blame others for their behavior, joke about their situation, intellectualize, and rationalize both their behavior and their life situation.
Sex Addicts Anonymous says that a sex addict experiences the following:
- “Powerlessness over addictive sexual behavior.”
- “Resulting unmanageability of his/her life.”
- “Feelings of shame, pain, and self-loathing.”
- “Failed promises and attempts to stop acting out.”
- “Preoccupation with sex leading to ritual.”
- “Progressive worsening of negative consequences”
Once, early in my counseling practice, my local police department invited me to sign a contract to treat child victims of sex crimes in our city. As part of this contract, one specific police officer demanded that I have at least two sessions with a perpetrator of sex crimes. This grandfather, a multigenerational perpetrator, insisted that he was the victim and wished to only talk about his childhood. He was in complete denial of his situation and the impact of his behaviors on his daughter and granddaughter.
Personally, I felt like I was in need of a long shower after that conversation. There was nothing sexy, appealing, desirable, admirable, or compassionate in his behavior.
This was an article discussing sexual addiction. If you are questioning your sexual behaviors, there are several twelve step recovery programs. Sex Addicts Anonymous has a website where you can read more and find out about meetings.
If you have been in a relationship with a sex addict, life coaching can help you change your relationship pattern. That way you can experience love, touch, intimacy, and sex without being harmed.
Like all addictions, life coaching can only help sex addicts AFTER they have ceased sexual acting out and worked a 12-step program. This means that they have a sponsor, are actively involved in meetings, worked steps and live a life incompatible with addiction.
Contact me to change your relationship patterns:
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
This 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.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
Or use the form on the Contact Mee page.
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
I cannot decide what I’ll title this one. Or even if I should post it. I’m angry.
I have tried to stop reading the news and stay off the internet except for a brief touch in with my friends. I’m not writing as much because I’m currently in school earning my life coaching board certification. I am spending my time studying. Or having a session with my new coaching clients who have volunteered to allow me to practice on them.
I have lots of opinions on current events. I wish I had put myself in a bubble long enough not to see what is happening now. Because I have to add my $.02 to the drama. I’ll not write about what each person is doing or saying because, well, because that would really be self-destructive of me. I have my opinion. You have yours. They all have theirs.
Everyone has their own agenda.
Recently I got it inside me that what happened to me when I was young was incredibly bad. I don’t need to go into this. Other people have written their stories, books, and articles. Sexual abuse of children is horrific. Verbal abuse of children is awful. Physical abuse of children is bad, wrong, and so on.
Instead, I’ll write about how sexual assault advocates often make me feel.
I’ve spent my lifetime gathering my dignity. Taking back my personal power. Just being in the world and allowing the beauty of life impact me. Finding my way into relationships with trustworthy and beautiful people. Accepting success. Removing as much of the impact of what has happened to me as possible from my being.
I am not a victim. I am me. Vital. Alive. Creative. Courageous. Determined me.
The problem with advocacy is that it can and often becomes abusive in and of itself. It doesn’t matter how important your advocacy is. Or how well meaning and sincere you are. You turn the people you are advocating for into objects. For your advocacy to succeed, you have to show how damaged people like me are. We become, for you, objects of pity. Objects now instead of people. De-humanizing us every bit as well as our perpetrators did.
Once upon a time, decades ago, in my therapy practice, I offered my services to survivors of childhood abuse. I learned that the media and public perceptions surrounding abuse can become extremely destructive. People expressed to me their worry about ever being able to heal and have a life. Other people worried they’d become abusive themselves. I’d spend my time helping them see those ideas were not valid for them. Convincing them they, too, could heal and have a decent life. That being abused does not turn you into an abusive person.
In your zeal to make an impact on abuse of all sorts, you have to demonize it. You have to show how bad, wrong and evil it is. [I’ll admit my perpetrators were bad, wrong and evil. Yes, they were.] But in order to make your point, you end up shouting about people like me. How damaged I am. Sad. Tragic. With a dead-end life. And on an on, until there is not one iota of hope left in your scenario.
I know that most of you who passionately believe your cause is just will ignore me. We’ve communicated before.
I’m as much, if not more, against abuse, discrimination, social injustice as you are. My life experience tells me it’s bad, harmful and ugly. In a religious moment [only a moment], I’ll call it a sin.
But I’m not tainted. None of us, who chose not to be, are.
I used to use the analogy of a broken arm. Or a punch in the core of your being. It’s something awful that happened, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life. A broken arm gets treatment and heals. Damage to your internal organs needs more care, but that too gets treated and heals. Sometimes the healing isn’t quite right and there are reminders. Residuals that linger. But you, yourself, who you are is still shining brightly. If you want.
It takes work. A lot of work. Determination. Tears.
But I insist. I’m not tragic. You are not my advocate. You do not have my permission to de-humanize me all over again. Just to make your point. For your personal gain. Or the gain of your movement. That’s abuse in other clothing. Wearing a mask to hide your behavior.
True advocacy respects the people being advocated for.
I’m a life coach. Contact me if you’d like to make an appointment.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Photo at top by Atsme [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I had many concerns about my endeavor. I worried that I would not like life coaching. That I’d feel it was second best. That I’d been a psychotherapist so long that I couldn’t get behind a new way of thinking. I worried that the people I used to see in my counseling practice couldn’t use life coaching. I was wrong on all counts.
As a therapist, I treated people with PTSD. People who had the horror of child abuse in their background. People who were raped. And people who experienced as many varieties of trauma as there are painful life experiences.
I really liked everyone I treated. I loved the work. Each time someone took charge of their growth and moved diligently forward, my heart sang.
Last week I had several important realizations. One, a lot of what I did as a therapist fit right in with life coaching. Sometimes what I’d think about working with patients took an interesting twist when I began to apply it to working with clients. Other times I realized I’d see something but needed to turn my actions upside down. The flip side of what I used to do.
Two, trauma survivors have dreams too. And three, trauma survivors can and do reach for the wishes deep in their hearts. Our first coaching practice case involved an adult survivor of child abuse. This person had gone to therapy some years before and now wanted to reach for their life’s goals. I celebrate that fact.
Coaching is a very positive endeavor. The skills involved in being a life coach include understanding other people as personally powerful. It’s a profession that honors others as healthy and capable. We assume the client is innately resourceful and has their own answers within them.
I always worked from a place of personal empowerment. This is an issue of power. I have never wanted to hold more power or status than my clients. Power is an important issue of mine. I don’t like feeling less than or more than. I want to be your equal. So, as a therapist, I worked very hard to keep that equality present. Life coaching starts from that premise.
I won’t have to work as diligently to keep a power balance in life coaching. The very core of life coaching is that the client is whole, healthy and the authority on their life. Many survivors of any kind of trauma think and/or feel as if their power has been taken from them. Life coaching is a practice that honors your power.
I’m now working to become, as they’ve repeatedly said in class, the authority on life coaching. And life coaching only. Not an authority on your life.
I’ve always believed that there is a beautiful light within each of us. That everyone is born with a mission that can contribute to the betterment of the world. I think that life happens. People hurt us. Put us down, criticize, and do what people do to compete in the world. Life hurts us. Sometimes we believe the negatives thrown at us and it separates us from that light that shines inside. Life coaching is a practice that can help you reconnect with your inner light.
I think that light nudges us with our deepest heart’s desires. Those dreams, hopes, and wishes everyone feels are right, proper and just. Most people dream a dream, have a wish, and hope for their future. But they let the negatives they have experienced in their lives to trample on their dreams. But really, your dreams are calling you. Life coaching can help you answer them.
I realized this week that it is reasonable for someone who has experienced a trauma to have a goal of reclaiming their life. Of owning their dreams. And of the desire to take charge and reach for their light. Of developing the life skills involved in moving past their trauma.
Life coaches ask questions to help you hear your dream. We ask powerful questions within a conversation as a partner to our client. Powerful open-ended questions that are designed to expand a client’s awareness of the solutions they carry within them.
We ask questions with every intention of listening fully. I’ve written about listening before. Listening is good. This week we talked a bit about curiosity. Being curious about what the client says in service of their personal mission. To help you hear yourself, see your dream and honor that dream.
In the process of honoring your dream, you will sometimes run into barriers. Occasionally old mental tapes and scripts can temporarily wear you down, seductively whispering failure thoughts. A life coach can help you find the skills and strategies to shut them down.
Maybe you’ll find that you are missing some skills necessary to achieving your dream. Life coaching can help you figure out what those are and how to develop them.
Once in a while, people find that the dream they think they want isn’t really their dream. It could have been giving to you by someone important in your life. Or it’s a life goal you think you should have. Life coaching can help you decide what your very own dream really is. And then encourage you to develop the strategies, skills, and plan to achieve it.
Now and then people fail. For a time, people forget that failure is a stepping stone on the path to success. That there are gems in the midst of failure. Lessons. Growth. New skills. Different outlook. A new and improved plan.
All of this and more is involved in life coaching. I’m excited about working toward my dream.
For more information and if you want to make an appointment.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Years ago, I was stalked at work by a very intelligent sociopath. She was on the same team as me. What she did was go to each person who worked with us and told them a clever lie about me. Each lie was different and created to appeal to the prejudices of that person.
This was gaslighting. Gaslighting involves a mental and emotional attack on your ability to see yourself and the people around you accurately. You stop being able to assess what is actually true or false. You don’t know who you can trust and who is dangerous to your well-being. You feel off balance and wounded inside you. Worse, you cannot tell where to go or what to do to help yourself.
It can be a direct attack where your adversary is speaking directly to you telling you lies about you, others in your life, or your existence itself. They can do things and create situations for you that keep you off balance. Or gaslighting can involve an indirect assault involving gossip and creating rumors about you out of whole cloth.
What I write might work a little bit if you live with them. But really, it will only help you get away from them with a lot of effort on your part. The reason is that as you work on yourself, they will only increase their efforts to harm you emotionally.
Somehow the gossip gets back to you and you hear it in little ongoing pieces. Drip, drip, drip of a poison in your world. I think your gaslighter makes sure you know what is happening. It feels like a runaway train is coming down the track at you. And you think you cannot escape it.
On that job, people began to say awful things to me. Whisper about me in groups. If I walked past a group of people, everyone stopped talking. Others would yell at me. It was a mob of hate.
Needless to say, going to work every single day was a nightmare. I began to doubt myself and question my ability to do my job. I began to critique myself in relationship to other people. I’d ask myself what I was doing to cause these people to actively hate me. Until I learned, by accident, what was happening.
I tried every conceivable different type of reaction to put out the fires of rage at me at work. I was nice and reasonable. I was firm. I tried aggression and confrontation. The more I tried to stop how they were treating me, the crazier I looked. So, my behavior fed her machinations. I gave this woman all my personal power. For a while.
- In gaslighting, you cannot stop the other person.
This is the hard fact about abuse. It’s actually a hard fact about life. You really and truly cannot control other people. Unless you are willing to end up in prison for murder, what bad people do is out of your hands. This truth used to make me furious. Then one day, I realized I could take my power back from abusive people.
- How you act in response to abuse tells the world who you are.
When someone gaslights you, it hurts like mad. And because you hurt, you react. You show your insides to the world. You reveal the hurt. If the gaslighter is very good at it, your hurt insides will look crazy.
Everyone has a bit of crazy inside them. I mean everyone. We’re human with histories made up of good and bad. Hit us hard enough in our hurt places, and we bleed crazy. They get their desired result which is to make you look irrational and out of control. Usually in public view.
No matter how awful, outrageous and ugly the other person acts, how you respond takes the attention off of them and puts it right smack dab on you. As wrong as the other person is, what you do shows people who you are. Unfortunately, the worse they have hurt you, the more you will look like the person they are telling the world that you are.
If you cannot control, stop or change what the other person is doing, what the hell can you do? Here is the answer. You gain control over your own actions. It is a slow and painful process, but it works every single time.
- Deliberately turn your attention away from the chaos.
The desire to stop those involved in what is happening often feels like a compulsion. A compulsion in my own voice. You need something to drown out your own voice and the compulsion to look at what he is doing or saying. In my own life, I imagine it’s similar to what I had to do when I quit smoking. One day at a time. Ignoring the smell of smoke when others continued to smoke. Altering my habits and eliminating those places where there was a lot of smoking. And I simply didn’t buy a new pack of cigarettes or go into a store that sold them.
I see this image in my mind of turning my back on the actions of that person.
Forcing my body and attention to go elsewhere. Shut up. Close your mouth. Put down your pen. Stop looking at them or their friends on the Internet. Give your gaslighter no new information about you to work with. At first, this is very difficult. It requires self-discipline and effort.
I use personal affirmations and self-talk.
Here is an example of an affirmation for this: I fully and freely release you. I completely loose you and let you go. So far as I am concerned you have served your purpose in my life and I no longer need you. All things are over between us. it is done. It is finished forever. I am free.
And I say that over and over and over in my mind. It helps me not give in to the impulse to go back and look, talk about it to others, ask questions and so on.
I also use massive self-care.
When someone gaslights me, they are trying to steal my joy. Instead, I walk in the opposite direction toward the things and people in my life who feed me. This is called self-care.
If you dance, find a dance class. If you paint, pick up your brush. Call people you know who love you AND do not talk about the gaslighting. Talk instead about things that make your heart sing. If you write, write upbeat stuff. Every writer has lists of projects. Pick one that makes you happy. Go places that feed your spirit. Places that don’t involve the one who is gaslighting you. Do the things you usually love even if you are absolutely not in the mood.
Look at pretty things. Listen to music you love that does not remind you of them, but instead of happier times. Read upbeat books and novels with happy endings, preferably not romance novels if this person was a lover. Smells are good too. I bought a comforting scented shower gel to add to my good feelings.
Lastly, there are tasks you can perform in your life that bring you a sense of order. Small cleaning or sorting tasks can be very calming. You pick something small that needs to be organized, like your sock drawer. Or some small area of your home that needs cleaning like one window. And do that. These kinds of tasks take your mind off what’s bothering you and give you a sense or order in your life.
Gaslighters, like all abusers, don’t let go easily. They will continue to send out lures to draw you back in.
When you see the new temptation, name it as soon as possible. Everyone gets tricked once in a while. Once you know, stop responding. Go back to the beginning. Turn your back on the new trickery. Step up your self-care. Increase the things you do to feed yourself so you can continue their invisibility. This is hard to do.
- Dignity wins. It kicks ass.
When you keep your behavior in check, you send out several messages to the world and the gaslighter. One, they are insignificant and do not matter. Two, you are not at all the person they say you are.
This makes them angry and the often escalate their actions. If you hold on to your dignity, they make themselves look bad. Then their actions tell the world who they are.
Dedicated to my friend, you know who you are.
I monitor posts for trolling.
If you would like to work on practical strategies to handle gaslighting or eliminate abuse from your experience, please contact me to make an appointment.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Years 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.
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.
Phone: (615) 464-3791
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.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.