Are the children in your life (whether in your family or your professional world) seeming to constantly misbehave? Do you know adults who seem to have missed some important steps in growing up? Maybe that adult is you. Have you heard of the ACE studies? ACE is an acronym that stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences and is the title of a growing body of research that is shedding new light on how childhood trauma impact a person’s social, psychological, intellectual, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Cindy sat in my office, seeking relief from the intense psychological anguish that she had been experiencing for the several months since having survived a fatal head on collision with an SUV. The driver of the other vehicle was intoxicated, swerved into Cindy’s lane of traffic and impacted her vehicle head on. That driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Since that time, Cindy had been experiencing insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and difficulty functioning – classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
From a neurological stand point, her brain was essentially “stuck” in a primitive survival mechanism known as “fight or flight” – a protective measure that is designed to identify a dangerous situation and put the entire system on the defense at warp speed, all in an effort to ward off any threat to survival. Fight or flight is a mode of defense that operates on a “better safe than sorry” mentality. In Cindy’s case, even though the threat to her safety had ended months ago, her system was still stuck in that defensive posture “just in case” the threat, or anything like unto it, resurfaced. Although Cindy understood on a rational level that the threat had long since passed, her neurology was reluctant to let it’s guard down in the event that there was a mistake and the danger had not really passed. Scenes from the event were relived again and again in her mind because literally that memory had been loaded into her neurological network in a manner that caused the rewind button to be continuously pushed by anything in her environment that even slightly resembled the near fatal accident – riding in a moving vehicle, the sound of a car’s engine, sirens in the distance, flashing lights, etc….
I was moved to tears today when I read the heartfelt and inspiring letter penned by Kayla Mueller, the American hostage whose murder by the terror group ISIS was confirmed in the media on February 10, 2015. Kayla was kidnapped while volunteering for the humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders, in Syria in August 2013 and was held captive until her death in early 2015. The letter that former cell mates delivered to her family subsequent to their release reveals a beautiful, courageous young woman with a remarkably resilient spirit. In part the letter reads:
“Everyone, if you are receiving this letter, it means I am still detained but my cell mates have been released…..I wanted to write you a well thought out letter, but I could only write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.
“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one thing you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no one else…..and by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.
“Boundaries can be understood as processes of contact and exchange,
moments of knowing, and movement, and growth.” Judith V. Jordan
Knowing how to set healthy boundaries is an important part of living a life where you feel honest with yourself because you are able to interact honestly with others. This isn’t a skill that comes with all of us into life. This isn’t a skill we learn in our formative years either.
We learn it, oftentimes, through experiences of pain and trauma, both emotional and physical. Because of our experiences, we learn to have boundaries. Because of our experiences, we also gain the tough challenge of doing 3 life-altering things:
Learning to value ourselves;
Actively creating our identity;
Balancing the ways we share our personal space.
Often times we are expected to share our personal space without regard to personal needs because of our roles in life – such as our families, our friends, our occupations or hobbies, our roles as as parents, siblings, spouses, or relatives.
Bethany Johnson*, a 25 year old young woman, sat in my office. Presenting symptoms: near debilitating insomnia, hyper vigilance, hyper arousal, irritation, nightmares and flashbacks. This was classic PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Surprisingly perhaps, Bethany wasn’t a soldier who had recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather had been teaching English as a second language in the Philippines – and she happened to be working at a school that was right in the eye of Hayian, the category 5 typhoon that struck the Philippine Islands in November 2013 and according to a CNN report “was probably the strongest tropical cyclone to hit land anywhere in the world in recorded history.”
Children look to their parents to provide unconditional love and acceptance in infancy and early childhood. When children are subjected to trauma or neglect or when parental support is lacking, the child is left feeling unloved and sadly, unlovable. These feelings remain with us into our adult lives and can have a profound influence on our current relationships, often without us realizing the connection to our early childhood experiences.
Fortunately, there is much that can be done to “rewrite” these memories and to move into the future rather than feeling “stuck” in the past. For most people this requires professional help from a trained therapist.
A revolutionary new therapy called Lifespan Integration is now available and being used worldwide to successfully help people of all ages heal recent and past trauma and build a more solid core self.
I hate myself and I don’t know why. How do I learn to love myself? Even though I believe I’m a daughter of God, I feel like believing and knowing is different than feeling. I don’t FEEL like that. I have urges to cut myself and sometimes give in, and I make myself throw up off and on. I hate being like this. I was sexually abused by a family friend for about six years. Even though he stopped when I got older, I never said anything to anyone. I feel like this might contribute to my feelings of hatred toward myself. Sometimes, I even think that my life has no purpose and that the world would be better off without me. I hate myself for doing things like spending money on a nice haircut. Every time I treat myself nice, even if it’s something like a bubble bath or chewing a stick of gum, I feel guilty. I treat other people well. I give people more energy than I have and it’s not fair to them or me. I know that if I treat myself better, I’ll have more energy to not only give to myself, but to others too. However, every time I try to do this, I end up cutting or throwing up because the urge to do so is overwhelming. How do I learn to treat myself well? What is your advice? Is there something I can do without therapy? I don’t have a lot of money and am out of a job.
A: Thank you for writing in and trusting me with your story. I want to suggest to you that you look into the mental health resources at your college and so you can start on a path to healing. Many schools offer free or reduced fee counseling for students. I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You have suffered years of sexual abuse. I’ve worked with many young adults who’ve been sexually abused and who’ve expressed similar feelings of self-loathing, cutting, eating issues, and emptiness. Watch the video for more suggestions on how to start healing from your trauma.
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Q: I’m 23 years old and in the military. Recently I was raped while on duty, I haven’t been handling it well it brought up a lot of childhood stuff. I started seeing a psychologist, but I’m having a really difficult time opening up. She’s nice and I like her, but I don’t want to tell her too much, hurt my career and depend on her to keep my confidences when she can’t. I don’t know how to tell her about the purging or even if I should, she’s asked about the cutting but I don’t know what to say. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD but I don’t want to tell her that when I have a nightmare when I wake up I can still see and feel what was happening in the dream. How do you open up and not come off as crazy? Please help me I could really use the guidance.
One of the most common questions I get as a child therapist is, “What books do you recommend for (fill in the blank)? Here are some of my favorite books for specific issues. If you want to learn more about the books or order a book here is an Amazon list http://www.amazon.com/lm/R36QCME4OWNS7Y/ref=cm_pdp_lm_all_itms
Divorce/ Grief/ Trauma
When Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (Illustrator)
When Dinosaurs Die by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (Illustrator)
Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert , Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills
A Terrible Thing Happened- A Story For Children Who Have Witnessed Violence or Trauma by Margaret M. Holmes
The “I’m Not Worthy Syndrome” was popularized by the Saturday Night Live recurring skit “Wayne’s World” performed by comedians Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the late 80’s. As a teenager at the time, I remember laughing with friends as we mimicked the phrase “I’m not worthy!” repeatedly to one another in social situations relevant to the coined phrase. However, the I’m Not Worthy Syndrome is no laughing matter! The sad reality is many people struggle with feelings of unworthiness that sap their self-esteem and rob them from the richness and joy to be experienced in daily living.
Q: What is the I’m Not Worthy Syndrome?
A: “I’m Not Worthy Syndrome” is a colloquial term rather than an identified mental health disorder referring to the tendency to believe ourselves unworthy of the endless positive experiences life has to offer. We may believe we are unworthy of love, healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, financial success, our goals and dreams, physical health, peace of mind—the list is endless and can induce withholding ourselves from such fundamental needs as feeling safe, feeling joy, and feeling purpose in living.