Coping Strategy: Self-Aware = Self Empowered

Coping Strategy: Recognize, Identify, Separate my (feelings, beliefs...) from others' (feelings, beliefs)...

Self Aware = Self Empowered

Today’s Photo

This week I’ve experienced symptoms that have not occurred in 3-5 years, maybe longer.

It felt scary on many levels because I couldn’t remember what strategies and techniques I used to cope with these symptoms in the past. Plus my current tools did not help or offer much relief.

Or…the coping strategies and techniques I did remember are not ones I wanted to use in the present.

This mean many phone calls to the BARCC hotline – one of my bridge strategies – and conversations with volunteers who talk me through my mental blocks  to remember/discover/find other strategies and techniques hidden in the maze that is  my mind.

One recurring theme came up in each of the many (7?) conversations this past week: being self-aware helps me get perspective and understand when I need to reach out for help.

aka empowers me to recognize I have a problem or am struggling and ask for outside help to get through the moment

Self Awareness – like compassion, empathy, perspective, resilience, and other topics I’ve written about in the past – whether directed at the self or others is difficult to learn and apply to one’s own life.

After 15 years in counseling and therapy…that is 15 years into my recovery and healing journey…I still struggle to learn the lessons and apply them in all aspects of my life. I probably will struggle with  this strategy or concept for the rest of my life because I am human and not perfect.

And like those other topics I mentioned above, Self Awareness is an herb that adds spice to the recipe of my life. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, yet always beneficial when looking back on my life experiences.

But, like I said at the beginning, this is not easy to learn and apply to life…especially for people with a trauma history.

*If you decide to try incorporating Self-Awareness into your life, please be careful and make sure you have safety plans, coping strategies in your tool box, safety nets and a support network in place for when the triggers and symptoms visit*

because the triggers and symptoms will visit

May Anniversaries

Today is Mother’s Day. This past week and into next week, my family is celebrating about 5 birthdays…maybe more or less?

For the first time in many years, I sent out Mother’s Day and birthday cards.

Why? When I might not get acknowledgement for sending them?

3 reasons:

  1. Intuition supported my feeling of wanting to acknowledge family special days to create positive memories that replace negative ones
  2. I send cards and gifts to people because I like giving gifts to people I care about – nothing is expected in return
  3. It’s part of this year’s gratitude practice to open myself up to giving, receiving, and letting go all that the universe has to offer (positive, neutral, and negative) with an open heart, mind, and spirit

To all fate mom’s who visit here:
I WISH YOU HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY FILLED WIH JOY AND LAUGHTER

 

sheep-family-in-winter-2-picjumbo-com
Family togetherness (sheep) from picjumbo.com

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: Intrusive/negative thoughts & feeling sick

I am over the worst of the cold that turned into the flu and back to a cold.

While I was sick, the intrusive and negative voices lurking in my mind staged a takeover attempt.  They got really loud and started whispering about all kind of bad things that would happen next.  My body temperature dropped, and I couldn’t eat, so the voices talked about the ills of starvation and anorexia and how all of us deserved the relapse.  And then all of the angry thoughts about personal situations (past & present) became topics of negativity too.

This brought out all of our fears about being sick & vulnerable; made thinking hard; caused so much noise; and made confronting a bully escalate instead of de-escalate.  More on that in another post.

How did I cope?

First and foremost, I practiced as muc self care as possible – eat when I could; sleep or est as much as possible; ignore the noise from the bully as much as possible; stay as warm as I could; stay clean

Second, acknowledge the negative thoughts; let them be heard; let them go;

Third, use affirmations and mantras; remind myself I am safe, my body is safe; my mind is safe; my spirit is safe; all parts of me are safe

Not sure if this works for people without alters, but you are welcome to try it: share the burden of fear/shame/triggers with eachh other; let all thoughts, impressions, images, feelings pass through for everyone to work on together and then let them go

Finally (and I couldn’t use this one until Sunday after my  Chinese medicine treatment) LAUGHTER really is the best medicine for nefsrivity, evil, bullying or anything like it.  Remember times that make you laugh and laugh out loud.  Watch or listen to something funny and laugh.  Visualize yourself someplace so happy you burst into laughter and laugh.

Laughing releases endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Just be careful not to laugh too much or too hard if you’re coughing.  I dis fhat by accident and put myself through a few coughing/dry heaves fits.  But the laughter was so worth it.

I hope you are all healty and staying that way.  Will tey to get back to a regular posting schedule, but not sure of anything until the cold goes away.

thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: Gratitude Prayer

What is a Gratitude Prayer?

It’s a way of expressing gratitude or thankfulness to the Universe, a higher power, God, or religious deities for the blessings, miracles, good things in life.  It’s also a way to show appreciation for direction, support, help etc. while also asking for the same information. By asking the Universe for help, I am demonstrating my faith in a higher power and the value of its guidance in my life.

When do you practice?

I practice every evening before bed and every morning upon waking up to help me relax, feel safe, and be grounded in the present during that in-between time of waking and sleeping.

You can practice as often as you like.  No rules.  Just practice.

What do you say? / How do you do this?

My gratitude prayer is a silent offering of thanks to the Universe and/or a request for assistance or answers or direction about specific topics/ideas/people/places/goals.

Yours can be an offering of thanks to your religious deities, spiritual practices, nature gods, mentors, a higher being…you get the picture right?

And the thanks can be for or to anyone and anything on your mind.

Why Practice this?

Because practicing gratitude reminds me of the joy I feel in being alive; reinforces the value of being alive; shows appreciation for the blessings and positive influences in my life; and helps me be kind to myself in others no matter the situation or the experience.

By practicing gratitude I stay focused on the positive, life-affirming influences instead of the other ones.  I can forgive, feel compassion, empathize, and let go of my past easier.  Shame is also healed through gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Does it have to be a prayer?

  • No, you can call this whatever you like
  • Gratitude Practice
  • Gratitude Meditation
  • Compassion Meditation
  • Forgiveness Meditation
  • Substitute Practice for Meditation, Affirmation, Poem, whatever feels safe and right to YOU.

How long do I have to practice before I see any changes?

I honestly don’t know how long a practice takes before changes take place.  I can tell you that changes are not immediate.  Persistence and consistency are the key to getting the most out of this kind of strategy.

If you only practice once a week for 7 weeks, you might see changes, but not right away.  Same if you practice multiple times a day every day for a month.  Mostly success and change opened on the individual and her or his commitment to the practice.

Here is my favorite Gratitude Prayer

Dear Universe,

Thank you for my life.

Thank you for the blessings in my life

For helping me find safety and stay safe

For my independence and my internal gifts

Thank you for the amazing people who share this life with me

Thank you for your protection and guidance as I travel on this journey.

Please help me stay safe.

Please protect my apartment, the property & its caretakers, my neighbors, and my neighborhood.

Please Help my loved ones and protect all living beings, but especially the vulnerable.

Please guide me to resources so I can follow my path, make good choices, and achieve my goals.

Thank you for always bing here with unconditional love, support, and acceptance.

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

Coping Strategy: Art and Affirmations

For anyone who survived trauma, abuse, neglect, shame or similar atrocities at any age

this applies to you too.

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An Unexpected Find

I found this piece of artwork on my second or third day in the new city.  The store was closing soon, and all of my parts were tired from a long day walking and jet lag.  But this book store (New Renaissance Bookshop) is dedicated to helping people recover (emotional, physical, and spiritual health) through compassion and spirituality combined with alternative paths to medicine or healing.

As soon as I read the words, I knew it was mine.  But this was the last copy.  And I didn’t want one more item to carry home.  So I asked for it to be held until the next day.  The storekeeper allowed me to put it on hold, and I walked out feeling happy, yet ashamed of myself.  The nasty words and criticisms started up in my head…so quietly at first I didn’t even notice.

Blessings from a Higher Power

The next morning, I headed straight to the store for extra browsing time.  Each part of the store was dedicated to a different topic.  Along with books, the store sold healing crystals, hand crafted dream catchers, singing bowls, jewelry, meditation accessories, music, art, yoga supplies, tea, and more.  One might call it my version of heaven on earth 🙂

As I browsed through the store, something else caught my eye.  It was a book about shame:

It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion by Beverly Engel

But not the typical book that discusses shame in general terms and explains how to overcome or live without shame.  This book is dedicated to understanding trauma-induced shame and how that kind of shame negatively affects adult survivors (or former victims) of childhood abuse and neglect.

Adults, teens, and any other survivor who struggles with shame will find this book helpful relevant to their recovery as well.  And loved ones, friends, and connections of survivors will definitely benefit from reading this book.  The first part discusses in detail (without being dramatic or overly gory) the connections between childhood abuse/neglect, shame, how layers of shame can be induced by different experiences, the negative affects of shame in one’s life, and how shame is different from guilt.

Normally, I do not like to follow books that offer cures and programs.  They tend to lack flexibility needed to accommodate differences unique to each reader.  But this one is different.  I skimmed Chapter 1 because many of the case studies were similar to case studies in other books.  But I read Chapters 2 and 3 a few times; had to skip over some parts and go back because of triggers.

What Ms. Engel writes about shame answers many of the questions I’ve posed in other posts about shame in such a way that I feel validated for not settling by believing the current misconceptions about compassion, empathy, slow recovery, and bringing the secrets to light by talking about taboo topics.  And yes, I do talk about them in other places too.

I’ve just started Chapter 4 and will share what I learn in other posts.  But I encourage anyone who’s hit a wall in recovery or wonders how to work through the feelings of shame stopping them from moving forward or causing them to act out in ways they regret later (me) or self-harm through neglect, recklessness, injury, etc. (that is/was me too) to explore the book in the link above.  Amazon is great for reading samples and looking at reviews before making a purchase.

Making the connection

The next few days, I struggled with reading, not reading, following through on my plans vs. lying in bed and hiding, and ignoring the louder and louder critical voices in my head that exacerbated my physical pain.  The book came with me to bed.  It got carried down the ladder from my loft to the ground floor and stayed on a box.  It went into the bathroom and came out again.

Finally, I opened the book and started reading.  My head started hurting.  I had to put it down.  Later, I decided to start in another section of the book and go back and forth, re-reading parts as necessary.  And that’s when I made the connection:

The voices started because I felt happy and proud of myself.  For the first time ever, I bought a piece of art and displayed it in my apartment with pride and joy.  I walked around and talked to people on the street.  I took buses to different neighborhoods.  Rude people didn’t trigger panic attacks.  And buying a book about shame didn’t make me feel nauseous or panicky.  I shopped for home; spent money eating at different restaurants; drank beer with pleasure; got a library card; decorated my space; put together furniture; didn’t get triggered into a panic attack when people were rude or stared at me and  then ignored me.

The pain came because I exercised, walked, danced, and played so much that I was too tired to let the anxiety and adrenaline keep me awake in spite of jet lag.  I slept without nightmares, waking only because of time zone differences and the need to use the facilities.  Not until last night/this morning did I wake up in the middle of the night scared and unable to go back to sleep for hours.  A call to the hotline helped.  And making phone calls to follow up on packages, etc. did too.

But what helped the most was listening to the person on the phone as he listened to me, validated my feelings, saw my pain and offered compassion that I couldn’t give myself.  Eventually, I started to relax and believe that.  When the sun started to rise, I felt sleepy again and slept for a few hours.

Today I started Chapter 4 in Part 2 – the beginning of the program and exercises.  Reading these passages helped me realize that I hold myself back, stop myself from doing what I want, neglect personal care and house cleaning out of feelings of shame that stem from my abuse.  Moving helped.  But this will help more.  And maybe I’ll be able to clean house and stay organized like I wish.  Or go to the dentist and be able to take proper care of my mouth/teeth like I want.

Conclusion

Before this book, especially the questionnaires in each chapter, I never really knew how embedded shame is in my life.  It continues to stop me from living and being the best I can be in so many insidious ways.  Self-compassion is such a struggle, yet so beneficial.  Maybe this book will offer resources and strategies that bridge the disconnect between mainstream books and survivors’ or victims’ perspectives.

Thanks for reading