Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Options for coping with Bipolar Disorder

Neurofeedback and BioFeedback are Effective Bipolar Disorder Treatment Neurofeedback has been used effectively in the treatment of ADHD, bipolar disorder, OCD, and other mental health disorders. Utilize neurofeedback with a licensed practicioner. It helps you develop powers of self-control and concentration. It strengthens your mind, contributing to recovery. Neurofeedback gives you needed support from professionals,…

via Bipolar Disorder Self Help — Sad N Blue

If you or someone you know has bipolar disorder and is open to new options, please read and share.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: When two worlds collide

Pip is retired.  She wants to stay retired and find a way to integrate with everyone else.  i.e. participate in co-conscious awareness with our host and everyone else in the real world.

Angora enjoys working and taking classes online.  She’s starting to get more comfortable talking with people in the outside world too.  But not interested in being a host full time.

Some of the younger alters are growing up.  They’re trying to decide if they want to maintain separate identities or merge with others and fade away.

The teen alters are growing up and making changes too.

What we all thought was the worst possible decision now seems like a possible option if we all want to live in the same present reality together.

I hoped moving across the country would stop the evening jaunts to potentially dangerous experiences.  Pip was so excited about finally having down time and a safe place to heal all of our physical injuries.  Angora looked forward to dancing and listening to music again.  Everyone else couldn’t wait to create a real home.

And yet, that past followed us here.  Only now has Pip shared that she had to come out of retirement during our first year in the new city.  The ones who recognized us from before and their friends here tried to cause trouble.  They tested and challenged us until we proved that retirement didn’t mean vulnerable.  That none of us had any interest in resuming the other work here.

Then, in our new building, both Pip and Angora along with a few of the males came out to protect our neighbors and our building.  This time was more and less than people from the past.  It was people who witnessed what happened the first year and caused trouble as neighbors.  It was local homeless people and addicts making noise at night and disturbing us.  It was neighbors with young children worried about the impact of these night disturbances.

So one last time, Pip came out to try and make it stop.  None of the neighbors got hurt.  Not in our building or the others nearby.  None of the innocent or uninvolved got hurt either.  But now the building doesn’t smell like pot.  The homeless people and partiers make less noise at night.

Maybe this time they’ll all believe in our communal retirement.  And understand that retirement DOES NOT equal going soft or being unable to protect ourselves.

But at least it explains how so many of the younger people in this neighborhood recognize me and look at me with mixed expressions of dislike, hate, disdain, horror, fear, or anxiety. And why the host doesn’t always recognize or remember them.  On the plus side: defending ourselves, protecting neighbors and the building without harming them, finally earned some trust.  Now the neighbors are respectful and polite, sometimes nice too.

And the amnesia that comes with a switch happens less often.  We’re looking forward to a day when all of us can work and move together as a united person in mind, body, and spirit.  When our body becomes fully adult instead of going back and forth between pre- and post-adolescence, it will go through normal female stuff instead of stopping or changing under stress.

Until that happens, the moments of fear and confusion when speaking with people will continue.  Maybe, though, this time around people will accept that part of us instead of shunning us.  And maybe we can stop feeling shame about not recognizing and remembering people who greet us.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: Happy Mother’s Day to my guests

Mother’s day brings up a lot of flashbacks and bad memories for me.  I can’t celebrate it, and even have a difficult time thinking of or remembering positive mother figures in my life.  And I can’t think of anything special or interesting to write for this post.

Instead, I’m going to change it up this year.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL OF THE GUESTS WHO ARE MOTHERS AND MOTHER FIGURES!!!

Thanks for reading.

Quotes & Affirmations: Louise Hay & Boundaries

IMG_0445

I don’t know about you but boundaries keep me and everyone around me safe.

For me, the some of the scariest words I hear in conversations are “I don’t have any boundaries.”  Followed by, “I’m easy-going.  It’s really hard to offend me.”

The quote above has a lot of meaning for me.  My boundaries didn’t exist until I started therapy.  Soon after therapy (I was a quick study), I started losing friends.  Family members started getting angry with me more often.  And I earned more respect from people at work for saying “no” and setting limits on my time to ensure high quality work and deadlines were met early or on time.

The same boundaries that had me losing friends also kept the narcissists and users away while bringing positive and supportive people into my life.

When the quote popped up on my Facebook stream, I immediately saved it to share here.

Maybe this quote will help you create and maintain healthy boundaries to stay safe too.

Thanks for reading!

Anniversaries: Remembering but not remembering

Anniversaries & Holidays (no special order)

  • Rape begets an unwanted pregnancy
  • Parents find out about pregnancy
  • Live somewhere else for a few months
  • School??? memory blank
  • Hair grows back / body starts changing; new/different sensations
  • Women’s History month
  • Good Friday
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Passover
  • Daylight Savings change
  • Spring Equinox

Normally, I spend February through beginning of May in a state of partial dissociation.  I am functional, but not aware of anything long term.

This year is different.

Yesterday was hard.

Felt like the world tumbled down on me and time stood still.

I can’t remember what happened.  I think I worked.  I am pretty sure I ate something.  Beyond that, no idea.

It happens.  And I am grateful that the lost time occurs less often every year.

One day is better than one week.  One week better than one month.  And so on.

This month is the month I found out I was pregnant 20 years ago.  Not the month I conceived, but the month I discovered I was pregnant.  The month my parents discovered the pregnancy too.

Something else happened.  Something that affected my sinuses and ear-nose-throat area.

How do I know?

The Body Memories are active in 2 specific areas this time of year

  • My face/neck/throat area
  • My abdominal area

Makes sleeping and moving interesting for sure.  The nightmares keep me awake.  My body relives the sensations from being pregnant along with whatever else happened then.

I am stuck living in 2 time periods with the urge to sleep all day and stay up all night.

I am homebound when the disorientation gets really bad…I get lost in my own apartment building.

On the good side…

I’ve only lost one day so far.

The pain has gone down from 10+ to about 3.5 on an average day.

And, in spite of the memories confusing me, I can go out for short periods of time without getting disoriented.

Coping Strategies

The usual tool box exists.  My ability to access said toolbox depends on how disoriented I am on the inside.

What seems to help the most right now:

  • Children’s movies
  • murder mysteries
  • Fantasy and Science fiction books
  • Aromatherapy diffuser with Eucalyptus Globulus essential oil
  • Gratitude practice
  • Eating more nuts and fruit, less animal products
  • Letting myself relax instead of sleep

How do you cope with something that feels new and different while still being grounded in the present?

Thanks for reading

Resources: About Narcissistic Mothers from Courage Coaching

Categories make my head hurt.  I’ve tried to forgive and move on from the toxic experiences with my mother with some success.  What exactly she did to me, the words she spoke, fits into multiple abuse categories.  So many that I stopped trying to fit her into any one category.

Words like “Narcissism” and “Narcissist” are triggering for me because they hold a wealth of emotion, memory, and experience – all related to females more than males.

This post is helpful because the author understands Narcissistic abuse and often provides valuable resources to help others cope with the effects of such abuse.  It’s not a topic I’ve covered in therapy, but maybe it’s something I will soon bring up.

The author shares definitions of different types of Narcissistic Mother figures from Michelle Piper.  My own mom is a combination of about 6 or 7 of these types, not exactly, but close enough.  Some other family members and relatives are combinations of the other types.

Maybe this explains why I seem to always find or attract Narcissistic women more than men into my life and end up repeating patterns.  Sometimes I wonder if the sign on my forehead (you know the one) that says “Vulnerable to Narcissists!  Come and Get Me!” will be there forever?

Then I remember how much progress I’ve made and the amazing, supportive people in my life now.  And I realize that the sign is fading.  Very, very slowly.  But fading.

Either way, I hope these definitions help you as much as they help me.  If not for a mother in your life, maybe a mother figure or mentor instead.

Thanks for reading.

Awhile back, I wrote a blog post on my other site about the effects of narcissistic abuse and the different narcissistic mother types out there, according to respected psychotherapist Michelle Piper. You can find this blog post here: https://mychildwithin.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/narcissistic-mother-types/ After reading through Michelle’s website, I wanted to share the information she provides with my subscribers […]

via Narcissistic mother types — Courage Coaching

Quotes & Affirmations: Choosing Love as a form of vengeance

 

This week, the OCD is really strong.  I am struggling with compulsions to be self-destructive, let shame take over, and push people away because I don’t deserve to be around good people.  Instead of being self-destructive, I chose to watch crime dramas, procedurals, and super hero shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  When TV & movies didn’t work, I re-read one of my favorite books about overcoming obstacles.

Here is the quote from Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

“I’ll find my vengeance in living a life overflowing with happiness,” Mahiya vowed, “In drowning myself in love, not hatred.”

This quote reminds me that I have choices.  And so does anyone whose survived trauma and abuse.

Mahiya survived over 300 years living with a narcissistic father who hated the sight of her and blamed her for the fact that his wife wouldn’t forgive him for cheating on her with her twin sister.  Mahiya’s aunt was the ruler of the territory she lived in.  The aunt used her as a tool for vengeance and tortured her for fun as long as she was useful.  Then Mahiya’s father dies, and the aunt no longer has a reason to keep her alive.

If Mahiya can survive living in that kind of situation for 300 plus years, I can get through one or more nights of flashbacks & nightmares that trigger OCD.

So can anyone else as determined and courageous and resilient as Mahiya.  Because survival is one thing.  But living a life of joy & love in spite of past trauma is something else.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Illness, Bullies, Harassment & Triggers

Sick

I don’t know about you, but bullying and harassment are big triggers for my child parts.  Being sick with a cold, then the flu, then a cold during the bullying period didn’t help.  Any kind of physical illness scares all of my alters because it makes us vulnerable and brings flashbacks to life.

My child alters started crying.  My teen alters got mad.  My adult alters were busy trying to keep our body warm, work, and survive.  None of us could really address the triggers that turned into intrusive voices, negative self-talk, flashbacks, and really awful cold chills that went bone-deep.

First attempt at conflict resolution

Maybe the tenant above tried to talk to us while we were sick.  Maybe not.  I know my alters did try to talk to the tenant above, but that only escalated the problem.  Seems that the tenant took my visit as a personal success, so increased the noise, etc.  With everything scattered from feeling sick and not wanting to take a sick day, we all agreed to try ignoring the individual’s bullying and harassment.

What did the individual do?

  • Walk heavily or stomp around upstairs.
  • Jump around; hit furniture, drop things onto the floor
  • Play with the heat so that my apartment and the other apartment got cold
  • Open and close dresser/closet doors, etc.
  • All day and all evening long for about 1.5 weeks

At first, I wasn’t sure this was deliberate.  But then I noticed the noise only happening at certain times: when all of my lights were out because I went to bed early (I didn’t have blackout curtains on every window then); when I opened the vents more to get rid of the chill in my apartment; after the noise from my climbing up to my loft bed stopped.

Now what?

So what to do when someone is doing this and none of the neighbors want to get involved?  When this individual will not talk to you directly and the last time you tried ended an escalation in negative behavior?

You know the owner of the building will not believe you because the situation is already tense from other stuff?

And all you want to do is sleep and stay warm because you’re sick with a fever, coughing, and vomiting?

When All the Alters Make a Plan…

This time, the child and adolescent alters solved the problem.  They went back and confronted the flashbacks these people brought up.  Observed how the bullies from our past treated us.  Observed what got them to stop.  Decided on a plan of action.  Cried a lot.  Hid under the covers a lot.  And executed a plan.

They decided that the tenant above was a covert bully whose actions needed to be brought into the open.  Otherwise nothing would get resolved.

Step 1: Ignore the tenant’s activity upstairs and try to stay warm.

Since everyone was sick, they focused on helping the rest of the system with work and self care until our weekly doctor appointment.  That also meant we could hang out in a warm, safe place with a public restroom for a while and then start to feel healthy again.  Feeling healthy meant everyone integrating once more and some mental clarity.

Step 2: Laughter is the best medicine

With the mental clarity came the realization that none of us really cared what the tenant upstairs was doing.  The noise didn’t bother or annoy us anymore because we were feeling so much better.  Plus we were able to use our sleep headphones and enjoy music again.  So the next time the tenant’s musical started, we laughed and listened to our own music as we fell asleep.

Results: step 1 and step 2 worked – the tenant’s negative behavior escalated to the point where others were getting disturbed.  They asked the tenant to stop more than once.  The tenant stopped temporarily, but continued to escalate at different times during the day instead.

Step 3: Play the game until the tenant is forced to stop

This was now six days into the harassment.  I felt great.  My alters felt great.  But we all worried about next steps if this didn’t stop.  By now, the upstairs tenant was getting very violent with temper every time I changed my heat settings or the other upstairs tenant changed heat settings.  The violence wasn’t to another individual, but to objects in the tenant’s apartment.  And the resulting noise was loud enough to bother the tenant’s neighbors.  Plus the third floor tenant wasn’t getting any heat; something I felt bad about but couldn’t do anything to resolve at the time.

A Mediator Steps in

Eventually, with the heat vents completely open on my and the upstairs tenant’s floor because otherwise no heat at all came into my apartment, another tenant got involved as mediator.  I agreed to keep my vent 1/4 open and mostly covered on two conditions: 1) the second floor tenant stopped with the noise and playing with the heat; 2) both of them also kept their vents 1/4 open and mostly covered too.  The third floor tenant agreed with one caveat: if I did go to the owner with a complaint, I kept all other neighbors out of it.  I agreed as long as the second floor tenant stopped with the bullying and harassment.

Step 4: Cover my ass even if it means being on the owner’s bad side for a while

I already knew the owner wasn’t going to do anything about the problem.  For one thing, the tenants in this building are very much the I-don’t-want-to-get-involved types.  They also try to go for the easiest solution with the least conflict.  But I wanted insurance and a record in case something happened that required me to contact legal services.  So the same evening as the mediator event, the upstairs tenant started up with the noise again around midnight.  In turn, each alter who was awakened sent an email to the owner recording the type of noise and heat changes.

Then Angora who is usually the most level headed and Shea who is a fierce protector of our child parts got pissed.  They had just finished reviewing everything the others did over the past few weeks to cope with the bully – self care, affirmations, gratitude prayers, grounding exercises, safe spaces – and were so proud of the strategy they came up with all on their own.  At the same time, we all felt angry  that our parts had to cope with that on their own.

So they broke the rules and texted the owner in the middle of the night.  That woke  the owner up, so none of us got much sleep going in to the next day.  The owner reacted as expected and wrote an email basically telling us that we were liars and to stop complaining because no one wants to hear it.  I wrote back a respectful and polite thank you with a promise not to cross any more boundaries.

Step 5 (final): If the bullying and harassment doesn’t stop, call the tenants association and get the law involved.

Luckily I live in a state with a lot of tenant rights.  And if this continues, I will reach out to those organizations and work with a pro-bono attorney to get this situation fixed.  But only if the issues continue or something else happens to make us break the lease early.

Since I have not broken any laws or terms of the lease, the owner can’t retaliate with a rent increase or eviction.  But we are stuck in a 1 year lease.  And I’m not sure what will happen at the end of it.

Lack of Shame Feelings

Normally, something like this would trigger lots of feelings of shame & guilt that send all or some of us into a backlash spiral.  In fact, that’s what we all expected.  Or at least anxiety because the tenant upstairs and the owner remind us so much of women in our biological family.

But no, that’s not the case.

In fact, ever one of us feels empowered, safe, and confident in our choices so far.  My child parts feel empowered and more confident because they faced a bully and won.  Plus we all supported the child parts and praised them for being thoughtful, respectful, and smart in their problem-solving.  My teen parts feel empowered because they also faced a bully and won.  Instead of getting in trouble for winning, they were supported and praised for working with the child parts and helping them implement the solution.  We adult parts are happy because our child and teen parts feel empowered, happy, confident, and safe instead of scared, angry, or ashamed for standing up for themselves.

Conclusion

In a very real way, these two individuals stood in for many of the female figures who bullied my child and adolescent parts in the past.  The child and adolescent parts faced some very real fears and triggers mostly on their own with everyone being sick.

The experience was not ideal.  And our approach wasn’t perfect or anything we would want to do again.  But it worked with minimal negative backlash to ourselves.  We learned a lot.  My child parts found ways to stay safe, speak out, and cope with past and present colliding.  My adolescent parts did the same.

And now they realize that we adults trust our child and adolescent parts to make good choices and participate as useful members of our system.  They are important and valued and necessary to our healthy functioning as a whole person.  And even though they can’t help with work, they can and do help with everything else.  Plus they can come out and communicate with the outside world too.

So I guess there was a silver lining to all of this.

Thanks for reading.

 

Alter Posts: Living in a Cult or with Abusive Parents

So this is a very personal post with a lot of triggers.  It’s being written freestyle using the stream of consciousness method.  No one is exactly sure what will come out or how long the post will be.  Or what secrets will come out.

All we know is that it’s time to tell you about how we were raised.  So thanks in advance for reading

As with any triggering content, please read with care.  We seriously hope the “Read More” tag works this time.  To be sure though, some extra spaces between this content and everything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More »

Life Changing Moments: Self-Acceptance

A Panic Attack Makes the Difference

After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself.  On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met.  On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with.  Talking feels so frustrating sometimes.  And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing.  But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.

No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again.  I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place.  I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me.  Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time.  Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.

Hence the panic attack.  People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality.  Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not.  When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse.  When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships.  This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.

Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.

I chose to open up and see what would happen.  I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement.  I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.

And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.

So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?

And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?

Why get myself into these traps with people?

  • Because I care.
  • Because those traps are triggering and remind me of  the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
  • Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
  • And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.

Questioning My Beliefs

Arguing always upsets me.  Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days.  But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.

So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one.  I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks.  It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories.  Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not.  And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.

This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging.  I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.

  • If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
  • If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
  • If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.

What happens next?

  • Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
  • Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
  • Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart.  Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending.  If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.

 

AS you can see, I’m not perfect.  I get mad.  I lose my  temper.  I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.

BUT I don’t lash out on purpose.  I don’t hurt people on purpose.  I don’t blame others on purpose.  And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.

In the end, I question whether or not I:

  1. Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
  2. Can make new friends or develop more relationships
  3. Can go back to school or pursue group activities
  4. Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
  5. Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
  6. Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges

ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions.  They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense.  So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.

Self Acceptance

The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.

I put myself out in the world.  I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges.  Sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed.  I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship.  I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends.  I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.

I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears.  These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much.   Instead, I have to be wrong.  And our relationship can’t change.  Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore?  Where does that leave our relationship?

Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know.  And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.

For myself, it gave me choices.  And helped me understand certain realities.

Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before.  That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue.  This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too.  One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am.  Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.

Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore.  Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else.  And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.

So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience.  And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go.  I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.

What happens next is up to  them.  Because I am finished.  Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way.  Finished trying to be something I am not.  Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels.  Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?

I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist.  I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.

Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.

Thanks for reading

Resource: Revolutionary Touch Therapy blog

Some extra posts this weekend…I read this post and thought you might like it too.  Touch therapy is something I am learning about and using to help with startle response and body memories.  Maybe this blogger can help you too.

A mentor once asked me, “Carmen, do you like to be touched?” The answer “No” bubbled up out of my mouth without even a single thought. I was finally getting the opportunity to witness the truth of me and explore why this was so. I had ‘mind-body’ anxiety surrounding being touched due to some […]

via When Being Touched is Stressful — Revolutionary Touch Therapy

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: 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.

Coping Challenge: Regressing into old habits

I have a confession

My mind set has regressed into old patterns again.  I am back to feeling paranoid and unsafe in my own mind sometimes.  I am letting my family treat me like I was before and then stewing over it.  The stewing is triggering flashbacks and switching.  I am feeling less grounded and more like my old self before this blog.  A self that had more inner turmoil and less confidence in her/their ability to cope.

How I know this?

A good friend gave me a much needed kick in the ass today as she called me on my behavior and my thought process as verbalized in our conversations for the past 24 hours (for more on that read “Alter Post: feeling conflicted“)

What Behavior?

  • Switching alters and then talking or behaving different without awareness
    • Alters taking over are triggered and not present; could be victims still or experiencing flashbacks and speaking from that point of view
    • When this happens, the host personalities cannot take control long enough to implement coping strategies or explain that the “individual” talking is not who the other individual believes she is
    • Not being allowed to tell the person I/we are talking to that he or she is talking to the alters instead of the “usual” host personality
  • Talking about myself too much – something I do as a way to annoy other people and turn them away OR when I am switching without awareness and my alters are talking from their points of view
  • Over-apologizing – saying I am sorry for everything because I (or the alter in charge) feel shame for being myself around her
  • Making connections between ideas and experiences that could be coincidence
  • Thinking people are watching me again
  • Using therapy talk styles to understand what the problem is in conversation with my friend and not explaining in advance that what I am sharing with her is NOT how I will approach family members
  • Feeling insecure in my ability to communicate and be okay in my friend’s house so all of the topics I stored to talk with her about flew out of my mind
  • Not being assertive enough during conversations to ask her to stop interrupting me so I don’t lose my train of thought and start repeating myself
  • Allowing interruptions because the other person or persons assume they know what I am saying, but really don’t, and then moving on out of shame
    • The part of me talking knows what is happening, but can’t get the words right to verbalize with clarity and conciseness and feels unable to assert the self in conversations
    • Leads to anger, frustration, shame, and triggers
    • Leads to varying ways to display that irritation & more switching to find an alter who can verbalize what is happening

The advice & my reflections

  • Stop talking like I just left a therapy session or group session; it can annoy and turn other people way
    • Instead reframe the words into a more conversational style that gets the point across without turning the listener away – especially if it’s someone I care about
    • If I need help, call the hotline for assistance or tell the friend I am speaking with in advance what the conversation is about and why; then check in regularly to make sure we are on the same page
  • Remember that I am safe here and am not a child or a victim anymore.
  • Remember I have options to leave if necessary
  • Remember to practice self care even if that means I leave the room for privacy to do what is necessary
  • Remember we are all flawed and struggling to be polite to each other
  • Remember that my being there is as stressful on them as it is on me – we are all walking on eggshells around each other.
  • Use my grounding tools along with my physical armor – aka outfits & tattoos – to help all of us stay grounded in the present instead of switching and letting my alters use the automatic defenses.
  • When I get interrupted, stop tell the person that I have a point to what I might have repeated before and would like to finish all the way rough.
    • Ask the person not to make assumptions about what I intend to say.  Being interrupted makes me lose my train of thought and repeat myself.
  • Find a polite way to talk to my aunts about potential trips to visit me in my hometown.
  • And make sure I get some alone time.  I forgot what it was like living around them with the TV on all the time and someone always talking or playing on a mobile device.

The Honest Truth

I love and respect my aunts, uncle, and grandmother a lot.  I enjoy being here and visiting my friends and co-workers.  But I can’t wait to go back home.

Being here is too stressful and triggering.  Even though I have access to resources, I still struggle to remember to use them along with everything I’ve learned in the past year.  Especially when my alters are in charge.

What next?

Right now, many of the alters are struggling with shame for something that happened this weekend.  They have some individual processing and coping to deal with and then need to discuss what happened with the rest of the system to share support & brainstorm a strategy for future experiences.

The rest are struggling to find balance and a way to express themselves/cope/feel acknowledged around a group of people who don’t know/struggle to understand them and that they exist.  Mental Health issues aside, it’s necessary to utilize more grounding and self-soothing techniques to help us all find our balance instead of splitting off again.

Finally, all 88 of us need to have a discussion about how to explain to friends what is happening, why, and how to address the issue when alters who don’t normally talk to outsiders start taking over and talking over themselves through constant and seamless switching.

thanks for reading