Resources: An article about Positive Self-Talk and Body Image

Background

I don’t often share information that can be linked directly back to the rest of my life.  As much as I enjoy blogging here and sharing resources on the website, I am compulsive about maintaining my safety and privacy too.  But some incidents happened in one of the private Facebook groups I belong to that had a rippling negative effect the rest of us are still recovering from.

The group owner/moderator wrote the following article in response to one member’s negative, bullying, and abusive comments towards others via the groups, email, and private messages.  It’s an amazing and beautiful article about how the messages we tell ourselves and internalize have an impact in how we treat others too.  And while this message is written about style from a female perspective, the contents apply to males struggling with self-esteem and body image issues too.

Personal Style as a Positive Coping Strategy for Body Image and Self Esteem

That said, I want to share an article from one of my favorite role models and bloggers whose style programs and free information have helped me learn to love and embrace my unique body through positive self talk and personal style.

This is the link: How Your Language Impacts Profoundly On Your Style

This is her blog: Inside Out Style Blog

I joined her programs a little over a year ago when I decided to stop hiding / being invisible.  She introduced me to a new way of thinking about myself, my body, my appearance, my sense of self and how all of this is represented in the clothes and accessories I wear through Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style.  Both programs also introduced me to groups of amazing women and female role models who have become friends and part of a world-wide support network.

Conclusion

Through the kind words and examples in blog articles and comments on posts, I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and others.  Positive self talk is more than encouraging statements and affirmations that one might not believe when feeling negative.

Positive self talk is as simple as saying: I am doing the best I can right now, and that’s ok.

I hope you all click on the link and give this article a chance.  The author is a survivor like us and speaks from a perspective of compassion and strength.

Thank you for reading.

 

Coping Strategy: Meditation Conflicts & Confusion

A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation

I started meditating as a child in Taekwondo classes.  We had 5-15 minutes of meditation every class 2-3 times a week.  The purpose of that meditation was to practice focus and calmness – we focused on breathing in and out, sitting quietly, not moving.  As we got older, the focus transitioned to clearing our minds and letting thoughts flow in and out while focusing on our breath.  It was a sitting meditation with our eyes closed, posture straight.

As I got older and went to college, I learned about yoga and moving meditation too.  This was more like mindfulness meditation where the focus was on being present and acknowledging the sensations brought on by moving slow (yoga) or by the environment (walking meditation).  We let our feelings and thoughts flow in and out, acknowledging each bit while focusing on the deliberate, slow movement our bodies made with each position.

Then I started learning about Buddhism and meditation to clear my mind or free myself from the clutter of incessant thoughts and feelings.  This meditation was the most difficult for me as an adult because every time I started to clear my mind, my past memories (blocked by amnesia) would surface and cause flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  That kind of ruined the whole clear-my-mind and look into the emptiness goal.  Visualization worked better for me because I got to “paint a picture” with my imagination; less scary than looking into clear water or dark nothing.

Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes

The meditation taught in most therapy groups, sessions, and programs is mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness can help keep an individual grounded in the present while also teaching how to slow down and be more aware of self/surroundings.  Mindfulness teaches individuals how to be more aware of one’s internal landscape and offer tools to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Focused meditation is about learning mental and emotional self control by letting go of feelings and staying calm.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps build clarity of thought, compassion, and resilience depending on the goal of each session.  The hardest part about focused meditation is clearing one’s mind of stray thoughts and focusing on breathing or emptiness.

When I was in the partial programs, many of the moderators skipped meditation and dismissed it as too hard and not useful because of their failures to achieve positive mediation practice.  I felt angry when I heard this repeated; it made me rethink everything they taught.  Meditation helped me get to where I am and was my frame of reference so I could understand their emotion regulation concepts.

I use focused meditation to help with my shame and compassion work more than any other type.  It helps all of us (my alters and I) get in touch with the scary feelings from a safe and grounded place inside of ourselves.  The mindfulness meditation helps with the severe physical pain that comes from anxiety and body memories; we use this most often during panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia.  And the moving meditation helps us cope with too much energy or compulsion to over exercise.  It offers a stretch and tone without a lot of exertion.

Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice

  • Meditation is hard
  • Meditation takes practice, persistence, and patience to learn
  • Trying to practice a focused meditation with DID and many alters is scary, confusing, and frustrating because the thoughts and feelings of other alters enter and flow through the same consciousness as the one trying to meditate.
  • Maintaining a level of physical stillness for some meditation practices with DID might be a big challenge
    • So far I have not found a way to stop my eyes from moving (sign of switching alters) when I practice a focused standing or sitting meditation with my eyes open.
  • Remember that meditation practice can be fluid and flexible to a degree
    • Try to accommodate personal quirks like alters or injuries in ways that still allow for beneficial practice
  • Clearing one’s mind is not exactly the goal – calming one’s mind is a better option
  • Calming one’s mind is scary for everyone because once you calm down, you can see everything you’ve been hiding from or ignoring or denying about yourself
  • The goal is not to attain emptiness or numbness, but to be able to  observe and acknowledge your internal feelings and sensations without having them take over your life.
  • The goal is to feel and let feelings/thoughts/sensations inform you and help make choices in every day life
  • Meditation helps me pause and step back when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or stressed out so that I can calm down and make choice based on emotion and logic instead of only emotion or only logic

Conclusion

Meditation is a skill worth learning.  There are many ways to learn, but I think that in-person lessons with an experienced practitioner are the best option for anyone with doubts and questions.  Instructors have experienced many of the barriers that frustrate people on all levels and can help students work through them one-on-one.

As with any strategy discussed here, practice, patience, and persistence make the difference between a useful and a not-helpful tool in the tool box.  Please take your time and go into each experiment with an open mind if you try out any of these options.  Then, if the strategy still doesn’t feel right, please move on or tweak the strategy in ways to make it useful to you.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversary: Family Reunions, Birthdays & Shame

Background

End of July and most of August are typically the time of year when out-of-town relatives stay at my aunts’ houses and visit for a long family reunion that ends with the maternal grandmother’s birthday.  Some used to stay with my parents, but that changed sometime when I was in college.  This is speculation because no one ever told me anything, but I guess my relatives couldn’t face the truth of who was acting out against (aka abusing and scaring) their young children.  It’s easier for them to blame the scapegoat than to face a reality they refuse to acknowledge.

Why this anniversary is so scarring

But back to family reunions.  As scapegoat, I was mostly ignored or bullied by everyone.  And made to be the de facto babysitter as a young teen to keep me separated from the rest of my age-mate cousins and younger brother.  I didn’t mind because that gave me something to do with my time.  As I got older, though, so did the kids.  And the next generation of young children came from my older cousins – people who didn’t trust or like or respect me – and other relatives by marriage who didn’t want my help.  So I suddenly had nothing to keep the anxiety away.

And that generation of children were raised to treat me the same way as the adults.  And they did it with relish.  No one scolded them for being mean or indulging in bad habits around me, so they constantly made up ways to antagonize me.  And then with the silent treatment and shunning from the adults, I basically had no place to hide at family reunions.  No one to offer empathy, compassion, friendly conversation, etc.  And no place to go and cope with my anxiety or triggers.  I was on a stage with bright lights pointed at me all the time; they used every word, every gesture to humiliate and condemn me.

Typical Response

Dissociate, not leave the house, feel hyper-vigilant and scared all the time, stop sleeping, have nightmares, miss time from work, have panic attacks, severe body pain and memories, get sick, pass out, not eat, etc. for days or even weeks.  Lose time, lose memories, switch and practice self harm.

Response in new environment

Some disturbed sleeping, lots of anxiety, some flashbacks, lots of shame and tears, problems with my digestion and visit the bathroom a lot, increased body memories and body pain but not so much that I stay home and am incapacitated.  Some switching and reckless behavior – but that is more due to mistakes and learning a new environment that the shame capitalizes on than anything deliberate.

I am:

  • still working 5 days a week
  • going out with friends
  • active on the blog and website
  • going shopping/cooking/to restaurants
  • exercising
  • decorating my apartment
  • keeping in touch with safe family and friends (another post)
  • Utilizing my coping strategies (especially the hotline) while I try to find a provider here
  • making and keeping appointments for graduate school, scholarship research, etc.

Conclusion

The 2 months of anniversaries are tough.  Remembering how I was treated brings back lots of negative feelings that are hard to accept and cope with.

But being here in my new place, I truly feel safe and able to move beyond the typical fear.  Yes, it hurts.  yes I cry a lot.  Yes my body loses control sometimes.  Yes I feel aggression rise to the point where I scare myself of what could happen.

But it all goes away much faster.  I can let myself cry and experience all of these sensations instead of blocking them out.  And because of that, the pain and fear and anxiety lessen each time.  And each experience takes less out of me too.

So yeah, I’m still in rough shape.  The shame overwhelms me and causes me to apologize and over explain and feel terrible about good decisions.  It is constantly messing with my mind.  But I can get help from the hotline and my friends; they listen and help me find self-compassion through validation and reality testing.

I need my quiet evenings and 1 day a week of staying inside.  But I can spend that time being productive and happy (either doing something or doing nothing) instead of out of my mind with fear and disorientation.

Thanks for reading

DID Post: Different Parts; Different Symptoms to Address

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.

DID Post: Clarification about POV for DID posts in general and the “DID Post: What does my internal system look like” post in particular

It has come to my attention that the tone and perspective of the posts written in the DID Posts category may be mistaken or misunderstood by guests and readers.

Many of the posts about DID are written by one or more alternate personalities who prefer to use a “locked vault” system of writing.  That means I (the one in charge of dealing with the outside world most of the time) am not directly involved in  the creation and editing of all of them.  Nor am I always the one to post the articles, re-read, edit, or check for potential miscommunications in tense, tone, or point of view (POV).  And the authors do not always realize how their words and writing styles could be interpreted by our guests on  the blog; especially the younger ones.

For this, we all want to apologize for any miscommunications or accidental insinuations that came from the post 2 weeks ago entitled: “DID Post: What does my internal system look like“.  This post was written from the perspective of 2 alters between 10 and 12 years old with help from some of the other adults who related better to them.  One alter is female; the other is male.  They want everyone here to know that the post is written from the perspective of how they used the tools our therapist gave them and the process they used to get around, through, and away from many triggers that caused failure, frustration, anger, and grudging acceptance.  The post is not at all about the approach or method that our therapist uses.  In fact, it is the OPPOSITE of her approach in many ways.

The girl alter and the boy alter explain a bit about why they wrote what they did in that post at the end.

This will happen often with DID posts because writing a post about the DID experience is full of conflicting feelings, perceptions, attitudes, thoughts, and reactions.  For many posts, there will be a “process” or “method” type post written from the perspective of the alter or alters sharing their story that focuses less on introspective feelings and thoughts and more on the steps, strategies, and tools involved.  Later on, after the alters have had some down time to reflect on any changes between then and now, they might write about a similar experience with the introspective feelings and thoughts that show more of the therapist’s approach in offering strategies or homework; what their reaction was to that approach; and why they used that process.  We write our posts this way because trying to incorporate process and feelings into the same post gets too messy and complicated – not to mention LONG.

IT IN NO WAY REFLECTS THE THERAPIST’S ATTITUDE, APPROACH TO WORKING WITH CLIENTS, OR POINT OF VIEW ABOUT THERAPEUTIC METHODOLOGIES.

As a reminder, I will say once again that these posts are written from my or my alters’ point of view and perception of how any one or all of us used the tools.  It in no way reflects/assumes/insinuates/intimates the approach, attitude, therapeutic process, feelings, or intentions of any of the therapists written about here unless specifically noted within the article.

GIRL ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I spent too many years having to nag or repeatedly ask questions or do my own investigations to get answers from any female adults.  The answers they gave me were evasions at best and lies at worst.  Any creativity or intelligence/outside-the-box-thinking I showed got everyone in our system punished with verbal attacks, public humiliation, private beatings, bullying or increased sexual duties on top of doing my homework, by brother’s homework, laundry, housekeeping, and covering for my mom when she went into one of her moods.  So yeah, I was angry and upset.  I didn’t want to do the mapping exercise, but I wanted to know the rest of my family.  I tried and failed so many times.  I got lost in the dark.  I got eaten by the monsters.  I got trapped, stuck in mud holes up to my neck, dumped on, and had to relive every single punishment that came from being creative each time I tried to participate in the mapping exercise.  It wasn’t until one of the other alters was passing by and stopped to help me rescue myself from the flashbacks that I understood what the mapping and communication meant to all of us.  So yeah, I was pissed, angry, upset and confused.  I knew there were more like me inside, but I’d never really “met” them; only hear our therapist and didn’t understand why she never talked directly to me before until I met that alter.

BOY ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I hated being trapped in a weak girl’s body.  I was full of anger and resentment and confused about why I couldn’t be in charge all the time.  I was a boy, much stronger than anyone else (not that I believed anyone else existed at the time) and exactly what mom and dad wanted.  They wanted their first born to be a son not a daughter.  It wasn’t a big deal until the body turned 10 years old; that’s when weird things started to happen.  Instead of the penis appearing like it was supposed to according to mom, the body grew breasts and hips.  And our stomach started feeling weird sometimes.  I heard the therapist in session and always liked listening to her; she didn’t judge or push or force programs and lesson plans on me.  She didn’t pretend I was invisible either when I talked to her.  But I was in charge when I was out.  And I didn’t want to give that up.  I was the oldest, strongest, best and wanted everything to stay that way.  The mapping exercise made the monsters come out more often and gave them ore power over me.  I didn’t want or need help from the other imaginary people in here.  Or that is what I thought until I got kidnapped and forced into reliving the secret rituals again.  The alters who came and rescued me made time to teach me how to escape and protect myself first.  That’s when I learned I wasn’t the only one there.  They let me help rescue the others too; we all made it out safely.  And that’s how I became part of the map.  Grudgingly, with a chip on my shoulder.  So yeah, that attitude was all me, not our therapist.