Life Changing Moments: Voices, Triggers, Anxiety, Compassion, Reflection

This is a long, complicated, and potentially triggering post.  Please read with care

Introduction

In August, I hear many voices in my head.  My alters also hear voices – female/male, old/young, always condescending, always mean, always tearing down something – in our head.  Sometimes we hear the same voices; sometimes we hear different ones.  I guess it depends on the triggers each of us experience and how we react to them.

The most difficult and prevalent triggers feel like pain in the middle of our chest – like our heart and lungs hurt.  These triggers bring out feelings of shame, incompetence, guilt, and embarrassment.  The accompanying voices try to make us question our beliefs, choices, opinions, processes, and sense of self.  They remind us of past experiences where one or more alters or host personalities spoke or behaved in such a way that the criticism from a friend or an acquaintance or family member spirals into flashbacks, backlash, and extreme reactions.

What Kind of Reactions?

Reactions like Rebellion, Anger, Lashing Out, Withdrawal, Lecturing, Over-Apologizing, and Falling Back into Old Patterns.

Reflection, Perspective, Self-Compassion, Compassion for Others

When one or all of us do get perspective back, we reflect and feel shame that all of this spiraled out of control and got to us.  And we try to have compassion for ourselves as we learn from these reactions and experiences.

Processing/Reflection

Part one of working through the voices is a combination of processing and reflection.  Processing happens in two ways for us:

  • Working with a therapist or counselor to understand an experience
  • Working amongst ourselves to understand an experience.

With our regular person away, we’ve been using option two with help from the crisis hotline on sticky situations.  This time around, we shared our perspectives of recent conversations and experiences that bring out feelings of shame, rebellion, anger, and hurt.  All of us wanted to understand WHY we reacted a certain way every time – and not just to people, but music, movies, tv episodes, etc.

Then we decided to get thoughts from close friends and learn more about how and why we react the way we do – highly sensitive persons, extroversion/introversion, empathy & empaths, life philosophy – Eleanor Roosevelt.  Some of this processing and reflection was shared on the blog along with coping strategies for working with overwhelming feelings/energy levels.

Which brings us to Perspective.

Perspective = Knowledge + Understanding + Accepting/Sharing/Rejecting Responsibility

My cousin and his new wife actually provided this insight during our dinner together.  Seeing people interact as an adult or learning background information about an experience fills in blanks and can add perspective – teaching us something new and helping understand people/past/motivations with compassion and insight.

The biggest piece of information I learned is that I tend to take on and reflect (i.e. act like, verbalize, express) feelings, thoughts, opinions & behaviors of the people I spend time around when I feel anxious or triggered.  This happens without conscious knowledge.

  • Part of me says it’s a survival instinct because burying my true self and conforming on the outside kept me safe.
  • Part of me says it’s an automatic defense mechanism and maybe rebellious behavior because I can’t verbalize my true opinions to the individual or group.
  • Part of me says it’s because I am empathic and do not have proper defensive shields to protect and separate myself from other people.
  • Part of me says I will deliberately seek out people who draw these kinds of reactions from me to punish myself when I give in to the self-harm obsessions and compulsions

All of me agrees that the opinions above are true.

All of me agrees that these opinions and beliefs are NOT excuses or rationalizations for negative or bad reactions.  They are NOT about abdicating self-responsibility or blaming others.  They are truths about myself and my alters and can be used for positive, neutral, or negative purposes.

But these personal characteristics make it easy for me to believe when other people tell me I am being selfish, self-centered, arrogant, etc.  Or that I talk too much about myself or am not being very tactful in respecting my elders or other people’s opinions or being rude in my speech or a bad listener or making excuses or not taking responsibility for myself and my actions.

Because, somewhere in my murky past when I didn’t have any choice except to conform and behave a certain way, I was all of those things.  I didn’t choose to be that way.  But I spoke and acted that way to protect myself.  And while I did get punished and reviled by outsiders, I stayed safe where it mattered.

These days, behaviors like that only come out for three reasons:

  1. Conscious defense mechanism against negativity – I act like the people around me to fit in and shield myself.  It means that I get criticized and shamed for acting a certain way, but that’s okay since acting like myself brings out even more negative reactions in those situations and withdrawal is not an option
  2. Unconscious defense mechanism against triggers – like in the experience staying with my friend while on vacation, part of me realized she was not safe anymore and acted to protect us from her by mirroring her words and behaviors.  She admits to being a bad listener with her own traumatic past.  So when I didn’t react the way she wanted and expected me to react to her conversational tidbits, she lashed out.  And then tried to “correct” my behavior by shaming me.  Only with perspective from my old therapist did I realize what I was doing, why her barbs hit so strong, and why I felt shame doing what I did.
  3. Self-harm – It’s not often that I feel backlash strong enough to make me seek out toxic people on purpose or put myself in situations where I will encounter known toxic people.  But when I do this on purpose, it’s because I or some part of me has given in to the compulsion to self-harm.  Emotional self-harm was an effective distraction that caused all of us to FEEL something and provided an excuse to punish ourselves.

As you can see, this automatic defense is not something any of us in the system want to stay automatic.  In almost every situation outlined above, the inner and outer reactions to it are mostly neutral or negative.  And how we cope with the aftermath can be shaky.

Which brings us to Compassion – self & other

Self-Compassion

The best coping strategy we’ve found for working through this kind of trigger situation is Compassion.

Self-Compassion = being kind to ourselves + forgiving ourselves for making a mistake + separating responsibility from blame + learning from the experience

The shame is an automatic response for taking care of and defending ourselves.  It is not something inherent, but taught over many years by many adults, educators, and peers.  If this automatic defense mechanism was negative and harmful, none of us would feel shame after using it.  Nor would we question whether or not what the other person said of us is true or false.

The guilt come from standing up for our beliefs in spite of hurting the other person.  Instead of being flexible and giving in like we were taught, we did the opposite in a quiet,  assertive, but obvious way.  If we had given in, no one would feel guilt.

The blame vs responsibility is trickier to explain.  Therapy taught us how to give back responsibility that did not belong to us and only accept responsibility or our part in an experience.  Therapy also taught us the difference between blame and responsibility.  If we accepted the blame for everything and held ourselves responsible, we wouldn’t feel any backlash.  That is in line with what the abusers taught us.  But this trigger does the opposite.  Perspective helps us realize NO ONE IS TO BLAME and that WE ARE ONLY RESPONSIBLE FOR OURSELVES in any experience.

As long as we accepted responsibility for our actions and reactions, learned from our mistakes, and understood why this situation was trigging/brought out defense mechanisms, we did our best and are okay.  Nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.

Compassion for Others

Since we have no control over others, the environment, etc., we can let go of that sense of responsibility and accept that other people are who they are without blame.  We can understand that they will act and react based on their internal values, beliefs, and triggers.  It has nothing to do with us.

Here we can feel compassion for the other people by understanding that they have their own personal struggles to work through and cope with.  That those struggles may cause them to lash out and exert control by hurting us and others around us – either on purpose or without conscious knowledge of their motivations.  By remembering and applying this knowledge, we can choose to react with sensitivity, respect, and assertiveness as we share our opinions instead of lashing out and making things worse.

Or we can choose to not share opinions and still respond with sensitivity, respect, and assertiveness of boundaries.  Then decide for ourselves how much contact we want to have with this person who is potentially unsafe or toxic or wants to change us in some way.

Acceptance of Truths

In August, I remember how my family treated me just before I walked away.  I remember thinking and believing on some level that I deserved to be treated this way for not conforming to my mother’s wishes and my fathers expectations.  That my brother should hate me because I was successful and independent with friends and a community outside of where we grew up.

The flashbacks and voices in my head only show one perspective; the one that reinforces negative beliefs about myself.

But then I think about the present time.  I think about the wonderful people in my life.  I think about how this website and blog helps me help other people.  I think about the blessings and opportunities that come from my job and my support network.  And those negative beliefs start to lose substance.

  • While I may feel shame or confusion about what I did to make my mother, father, brother, or relatives/acquaintances hate/dislike/feel ashamed of me, I realize too that I might not have said or done anything specific.
    • Either way, it’s out of my control and not my responsibility to make them feel good or happy.
  • I can let go of feeling ashamed or guilty for choosing myself instead of them.
  • I can let go of the anger and hurt that these people can’t love, accept, respect, or care about me as I am.
  • I can accept that I will always love, accept, and care about these people as they are even if I personally dislike and cannot trust who they are as individuals.
  • I can finally start to believe I deserve having a nest egg and can save money without having to spend it once I reach a certain level of savings
  • I can accept that my family and I will never have much in common or be able to spend time together without conflict, but that we can support and love each other from a distance

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: Sleep, Food, Shower, Meditation ;) – an Empath’s POV

Survival Mode

All parts of me still feel drained and off center right now.  Some unexpected challenges and expenditures for my new apartment combined with scheduling appointments around work and the owner’s schedule made this week rather interesting.

Home

general spaces:
I love the energy in this building.  In spite of the old windows that stick and have a hard time opening, quirky sliding doors, and electrical outlets that are not always grounded or placed in ideal locations, this studio apartment really does feel like home.  My neighbors are friendly, respectful, and quiet.  The owner and her management team are respectful, responsible, and responsive too.

Unexpected challenges

  • Changing home decorating and budget plans
  • Multiple panic attacks because I am changing my budget plans
  • Learning more about myself and my unique (but unacknowledged) skills
  • Understanding why strategies that worked before are not so helpful this time

The Coping Strategies for Self Care

After a session with my intern Chinese medicine/acupuncture practitioner this week, I decided to try and learn more about empaths and empathy.  She physically felt some of the problems I was experiencing during treatment and shared that information with me with calm acceptance.

It was the first time anyone had ever acknowledged and used extrasensory skills in a professional setting around me.  And it brought me back to face some facts about myself. I am an empath too.  What kind, I’m not sure exactly.  I don’t always or often experience physical symptoms of other people in my own body.  But I can and do experience energy changes, emotions, and other information about people and living beings through my senses.

All of this led me to a psychiatrist and self-proclaimed empath named Judith Orloff.  I’ve been listening to her book called The Empath’s Survival Guide and learning about my extrasensory skills.  This includes coping strategies and skills like – sleep, meditation, water, and food.

While I don’t subscribe to everything she’s talked about so far, her unique perspective helped me understand why these four strategies are always part of my “Back to Basics” plan.

Sleep
Before reading this book, I knew that sleep was essential – my body would knock me out if I overextended myself – but didn’t understand how or why it was so much more effective than taking a pill or using an energy drink to recalibrate like everyone else.  Now I understand that sleep is a time for reconnecting with all parts of myself and allowing those parts to relax and replenish energy levels while also healing themselves.

Food
Anorexia and almost a decade of severe food allergies/sensitivities taught me to be mindful of what I eat, how much I consume, and when I eat (frequency of meals) to stay healthy, energetic, and balanced.  While following these personal guidelines helped me maintain a healthy weight and feel strong, they sometimes frustrated me too.  After reading about how physical sensitivities are part of being an empath and why, I am practicing more self-acceptance and less shame about my unique eating habits & dietary needs.

Showers – aka baths, water, etc. (swimming not so much)
I love water.  I love being near water, smelling water in the air, drinking water, taking warm/hot baths & showers, and surrounding myself with the colors of water.  Swimming – not so much.  Being in the ocean, a river, or a pool – not so much.  Being on the water in a boat – absolutely fine.  But I’m also ashamed of this love for water.  The why is still unclear, but it exists.  The book offers an explanation about why I (as an empath) love water so much.  I am skeptical and keeping an open mind.  Some experimentation is required.  But I always feel amazing after a warm/hot shower with my favorite soap.

Meditation
I’ve practiced different types of meditation since I was 6 years old.  Maybe even earlier than that as the martial arts some of my relatives practiced fascinated me.  Our relationship has been rocky at times, but meditation never failed me when I needed help.  Now meditation helps me sleep better and wake up grounded in the present instead of stuck between the present and the past.  On public transportation or in crowds, a simple mediation practice helps me breathe easier and cope until I am alone again.  Throughout the day, meditation sometimes replaces my need for a nap or helps me get some physical activity (mindful walk or mindful washing dishes).

Conclusion

The next steps on my healing journey are to explore, grow with, and accept my empathic abilities and how they are influencing my current recovery practices.  I don’t know a lot about being an empath or an intuitive; what skills one might have; how to use  the skills without draining myself; or how to protect myself from sensory overload.  Before now, I couldn’t even acknowledge that my mind, spirit, body self even had these skills.

My parts and I chalked it up to having great instincts.  And suffered the mood swings, outbursts, and energy drains from certain people in shamed silence.

Now, it’s time to step out of the closet and learn.  Knowledge is power.  Power offers protection, insight, and opportunities.  Plus, maybe this will help us all integrate and align ourselves better.  And we can move forward with our goal for a second career sooner instead of later.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Family Time

Another mobile post…please excuse the poor formatting.

I don’t write a lot of detail about my current family situation often out of respect for their privacy.  Some posts will contain coping challenges in general terms or about past experiences.  But often the tone and feelings are mixed.

This post comes from the perspective of being safe and loved by my father’s side of the family.

For the last ten days, I have spent a lot of time with my father’s side of the family.  Grandmother (100+), 3 aunts (seniors), and one uncle (senior) – they welcomed me into their lives, let me stay with them, spoiled me, and showed me through actions that I am safe and loved here.  In return, I tried to be a polite and respectful house guest and show them the same love.

I am not going to lie.  The adjustment was rough on all of us. It still is.  Most of their time is spent taking care of grandma; it’s stressful and difficult sometimes.   Whatever time is left, each one lives her or his own life too.

My biggest fears sort of came true. But others did not.  We walked on eggshells around each other and tried to be sensitive to the point of frustrating each other sometimes.  Other times, we fell back into old patterns without even realizing it.

Then something amazing happened.  Instead of holding grudges or getting angry, we were able to move past it and forgive or let go of the negativity.  When I got stressed and anxious into a flashback, they would help me calm down.  When one of them felt a certain way, I tried to help them.

And they all tried to get along with each other for my sake.  Something I greatly appreciate because of the strain it takes on all of them.  For my part, I tried to spend quality time with each relative one-on-one or in groups in the way that suited us both best.

In the past, we all wore masks and stayed “on” around each other.  This time, we acted like ourselves.  And got along better that way.

Communication is still iffy sometimes.  I tend to be more direct and open about my feelings. They are not.  Certain things can be said one-on-one, but are taboo in front of each other.  I screw that up a lot.

The most important part of this family visit was spending quality time with my grandma.  At 101, our time together is limited.  Instead of talking or going places, I sat with her and my relatives in her living room and occupied myself with activities while she watched game shows or slept.  Sometimes I talked with my relatives.  Mostly we did our own thing, and I tried to stay out of their way when they took care of grandma.

So while we struggle sometimes, we are doing okay.  My love of silence and solitude come naturally.  Best quiet times are when we sit together in the same room doing our own thing.  Sometimes we talk; sometimes we don’t.  Best active times are when I walked & shopped with different aunts.  Or when an aunt taught me how to hem my pants.

So I love my family.  And now I know that I am safe with them too.  So I will come back to visit when possible.  But I will not be staying with them.  Seeing me when I have to use certain coping strategies hurts them.  And they are not in a place where I can explain what they observe happening.

They accept all of it 100%, but seeing me like that reminds them what their brother/son did to me.  And their best coping strategies are denial and silence.  So it’s better to limit time with them next visit.  At least until we all can come to a place where talking about that stuff doesn’t stress them out.

thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Remembering can be empowering

Have you ever been triggered so badly that the feelings overwhelmed and broke through internal barriers?

That happened about 2 weeks ago.  

I lay down to sleep one night and flashed back to 1998.  The flashback lasted for hours.  It covered many years between 1998 and 2012.

And each memory was of a fight – a physical fight between my younger self and one or more other people.  Then I started to remember names and places.  And suddenly even living on the other side of the country didn’t feel safe.  I felt scared and out of control.

The experiences got distorted by feelings and body pain.  What feelings?  What pain?

The feelings: anger, shame, fear, confusion, grief

The pain: head, face, neck, abdomen, low back, hips

I felt so angry for days.  It built and built inside me.  Nothing I tried, nothing my alters tried, none of the typical and atypical strategies helped.  So I followed the plan my counselor and I put together in session.  I called the hotline first.  Then texted her with updates.  She called me; we talked.

The goal: focus on feelings first; then process the memories & thoughts.

One week ago:

The memories came back as dreams and nightmares.  I probably annoyed my neighbors by talking in my sleep and yelling/screaming/thumping the walls – explains why I avoid them right now.  It’s why I prefer not to have close neighbors, but that’s impossible in this apartment.

I started to realize the anger combined with body pain (treatments have been working to address chronic sinus, digestion, etc. issues) opened up a gate for the memories to get through.  The physical pain got worse and kind of triggering.  I kept getting confused about past and present.

But I also had to go out and take care of errands.  It helped that people I’m friendly with were on the route.

The feelings: numb, hurt, sad, shame, confusion, then numb again

The body pain: moved from head to back to abdomen to private areas to back again

The goal: get through one more week while counselor is away

This week:

My counselor is back; we had our session on Saturday.  Easter was Sunday.  The numbness wore off, and I realized that the back pain was masking something else.  My body was experiencing mild versions of panic attack symptoms.  The nausea was back.  And I lost my appetite between Thursday and Sunday.

The feelings: relief, happiness, empowered, anger, shame, grief

The body pain: sinuses, eyes, ears, scalp, back of the head, neck.

The goal: minimize the face pain, cope with the body memories around my legs/hips/abdomen, accept and embrace the inner monster that is not a monster.

What is the empowering part?

My inner monster is not a monster.

She is the part of me trained in martial arts and other forms of hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, etc.

He is the part of me who learned acrobatics and submissions in order to take down grown people high or drunk or better armed and much stronger with an adolescent girl’s body.

They are the plant parts who processed the drugs and alcohol so fast through a child’s and adolescent’s body that she got sick instead of addicted.

They are my alter personalities – the parts of me who kept the secrets; learned how to read people; taught themselves to lie; pretended to be a fly on the wall; created vaults for the secret life experiences to hide in; protected classmates, cousins, and others close in age from being sucked in; and used physical force to protect the self from monsters and bullies.

Conclusion

Before these memories came back, I thought I was an out-of-control monster who physically hurt others for no reason.  I thought my temper and rage took over and were unjustified.  And I backed away from everyone – to the point of avoiding all physical contact with living beings – so ensure my safety and the safety of everyone around me.

Now, I know that I’m not a monster.  That those fragmented nightmare/dream stories of me fighting gang members, women, men, teen bullies, my sibling, my parents, and so many others were real.  That all of those seeming impossible take downs, submissions, and movie-like fight scenes in my head really did happen.  We did that with our body up until the year before moving.

And then those parts of me faded back inside to safety bringing the memories with them and leaving me feeling out of control again.

Now, I hope these parts will continue to share those memories and realize they are accepted, respected, cherished members of our system.  They belong in the present with the rest of us.  They deserve to heal and make choices with us and feel proud of their accomplishments too.  Most important, I hope they stop feeling ashamed of the things they said and did to protect and help everyone survive.

With their permission, I will be sharing more about self-defense, martial arts, and fighting for protection as healthy forms of exercise, self-esteem building, etc.

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: When Emotional Self-Harm stops working…

Introduction

This past month has been busy with a lot of changes.  When not writing a post, working, or going to necessary appointments, I’ve been sleeping and trying to practice self care.

Coping Strategies

Thankfully, where I live offers grocery delivery service and food delivery options.  This kept me fed no matter how tired I felt.  But every once in a while I did try to go out and walk.  I did try to talk with friends and acquaintances.  Or at least act friendly when we ran into each other; this includes dogs and other friendly animals.  I also tried to do some cleaning and trash removal.

The Trigger

But I also felt some shame about not keeping in touch, especially with people and dogs in my building.  That shame mixed with my usual March depression created this compulsion to put myself in an emotionally compromising situation yesterday.  It was the first day in a couple of weeks where I felt good in the morning, dressed in a cute outfit for myself, and was focused on enjoying the day instead of the discomfort from feeling sick.

I don’t know what possessed me to do this (maybe missing my neighbor’s dog?), but I opened the door when I heard my neighbor’s dog bark.  His bark is distinctive, but I wasn’t sure if I missed him or not.  Well, I didn’t miss him.  We spent some quality time cuddling together, and then I brought him back to his human.

And this is where the emotional self-harm kicks in.  

 

Upon seeing her again, (I brought the dog downstairs to her while she was chatting with a potential renter) I suddenly felt the need to apologize for not being in touch over the last few weeks.  My mind got cloudy, and I started to feel really far away (desensitization) even though we stood less than 3 feet apart.  I didn’t want to say a lot or stay long, so I apologized and told her I’d been busy; she replied by saying we should catch up some time.  I agreed, then left.

Then I went upstairs and wrote her an email.  In the email I was more honest and explained in more detail what happened the past few weeks.  Who would want to be around people when they feel sick?

Then I sent the email, not expecting a response.

And I didn’t get one.  I won’t get one.

But I also didn’t feel upset or ashamed of myself for not getting a response.  I didn’t feel good or bad about myself.  The negative self talk did not arrive.  The trigger is still there.  The past memories and experiences tried and continue to try to shame me by bringing up memories of high school and college that used to unleash floods of shame and embarrassment.

Instead, the anxiety I feel now is because the expected response to this unsafe situation I put myself in did not occur.

As both my therapists would say: this is a sign of significant internal change.  And the anxiety over the different response – normal.

How did I cope?

  • I watched some episodes of Glee on Netflix and got in touch with the preteen and teen parts who were feeling the grief and shame.
  • Then I packed and put the accumulated recycling in the outdoor bins.
  • Before I treated myself with an amazing chocolate dessert, I brought the return packages to the mailbox.

Conclusion

My mind tried to trick me into feeling awful with past memories.  It used someone I consider a friend, but feel wary around now because of some semi-recent experiences that were part projection (triggers) and part reality.

I had not consciously put myself in an emotionally unsafe situation in over a year before now.  For two years, I was careful and chose to avoid people who seemed emotionally unsafe – i.e. they reminded me of my parents or others from the past with their words and actions.

And now I realize that I really have changed.  What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Thanks for reading.