7 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect is both simple in its definition and powerful in its effects. It happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs while they’re raising you. Emotional Neglect is an invisible, unmemorable childhood…

Source: 7 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect

By
15 Jul 2018

Do You…

1. Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends ?

2. Pride yourself on not relying upon others ?

3. Have difficulty asking for help ?

4. Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant ?

5. Feel you have not met your potential in life ?

6. Often just want to be left alone ?

7. Secretly feel that you may be a fraud ?

8. Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations ?

9. Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself ?

10. Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others ?

11. Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking?

12. Find it easier to love animals than people ?

13. Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason?

14. Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling ?

15. Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses?

16. Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in ?

17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit ?

18. Have trouble calming yourself ?

19. Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment?

20. At times feel empty inside ?

21. Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you ?

22. Struggle with self-discipline ?

Look back over your YES answers. These answers give you a window into the areas in which you may have experienced Emotional Neglect as a child. The more questions you answered “Yes”, the more likely CEN has affected your life.

Why does it take so long for someone to reveal that they have been abused as a child?

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

**This article comes with trigger warnings**.  One in four adults has been abused as a child.

Why does it take so long for someone to reveal that they have been abused as a child?  

This is a question that I get asked a lot.  It is the question that every abused adult hates to hear.  There are many reasons why someone does not report childhood abuse. It is a complex and multilayered issue.

In this post, the word ‘abuse’ refers to sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and emotional abuse.  All are horrific, all are damaging and all are the enemies of a fragile developing personality.

The World Health Organization distinguishes four types of child maltreatment: physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional (or psychological) abuse; and neglect.

Myths: Let’s get the myths out of the way.   These myths are all untrue and yet are still upheld by our current society.

1: It is only abuse if it’s violent.

  • Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger.

2:  They are making it up to get attention. 

  • Research shows that it is extremely rare for a child to make up an abuse report.

3:  Children usually tell someone.

  • Most children do not tell anyone. They are often silenced through threats or fear of not being believed.  Some children don’t have the words to speak about what is happening to them.

4:  You can just get over it

  • You can’t just “get over” it.  Survivors need the right care and support to overcome the impacts of abuse, recover and live full and healthy lives.

5:  You can’t forget child abuse

  • For over one hundred years, traumatic amnesia has been documented amongst war veterans, survivors of natural and man-made disasters, and adult survivors of child abuse.

6:  If they were really abused why didn’t they report it or tell someone?

  • The average time for a victim to speak out is 22 years after the last incidence of abuse, but it can be much, much longer.
  • The Australian police used to have a ‘Historical Sexual Crimes’ unit.  It is now called the SOClT Coordination Team because it became obvious that most of the reports of childhood abuse were historical.  SOCIT stands for Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams.

In our society, it seems that people see violent sexual abuse as the top of the totem pole and rarely give value to other forms of crippling abuse.  Along with that thinking comes the value placement of the types of sexual abuse.  This in turns devalues the abuse that a child experiences.  If they have not been raped or experienced full on sexual intercourse, is it really abuse?

  • “Oh he only used to come into my bed and massage my breasts every night, it really wasn’t that bad”.
  • “He didn’t rape me, he only used to rub himself against me whilst he inserted things inside me”.
  • “Mother used to give me enemas every week as a child,  it was very painful, embarrassing and uncomfortable but I guess I was constipated a lot as a child.  She could be quite mean to me and used to call me names like “Her little skunk, and her fat little piggie””.

In my experience, the ‘abuses’ are usually woven together in a complex web of fear.  Children rarely experience one form of abuse at a time. Recent research by McGill University (2015) showed that emotional abuse of a child may be as harmful as physical abuse and neglect, while child sexual abuse often occurs together with other forms of maltreatment.

Emotional abuse is also called psychological abuse (maltreatment). It is the most common form of child abuse. It is also experienced by children witnessing domestic violence. Emotional abuse often occurs together with physical and sexual abuse. Many parents and caregivers  are emotionally abusive without being violent or sexually abusive (source)

Along with the abuse comes verbal conditioning from the abusers – enter psychological and emotional abuse.

  • Normalisation:  if it is a parent or sibling the child grows up thinking that this is just how every family operates.  It is normalised.  They have no world view or perspective.  This is what happens in their family.  How are they supposed to know otherwise?
  • Minimisation:  The abuser often coos sentences like – “I love you,  I don’t want to hurt you”.  “This feels good, doesn’t it?”  “If you love me you will help me”.  The child feels guilty.  It’s not that bad.
  • Fear and threat:  “If you tell anyone I will hurt your baby brother”.  “If you tell anyone about our secret you will be put in jail”.
  • Pain:  Pain is a powerful protector of abusers.  The pain usually causes a child to dissociate.  They repress the pain into another place so that they can function.  Pain partners with abuse and plunges memories into a deep dark place that never sees the light of day.  If this happens often enough it creates a condition called DID.  Dissociation Identity Disorder.  Experienced and serial abusers will purposely harm a child, breaking bones and or causing extreme pain because they know that the child will never tell if the child never remembers.
     
    • Dissociation –  is a protective response to overwhelming stress and a common feature of diverse forms of trauma (Howell & Itzkowitz, 2016: 35).
    • Experience too overwhelming to be processed is dissociated, and becomes inaccessible to consciousness, and may subsequently intrude unexpectedly (be `recovered’)and consciously recalled.
    • You can read more about dissociation here.
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Why does it take so long for someone to reveal that they have been abused as a child?

Let’s unpack this question a little more and look at some of the reasons why an adult who has experience childhood abuse does not report it.

1: He/she does not know they have been abused. 

I suffered neglect and maltreatment as a child.  I was 50 before I realised this.  I had spent the last 10 years unpacking sexual childhood abuse, abandonment and spiritual abuse,  I didn’t realise that neglect and maltreatment were also present at the party.

2:  Shame.  If the child does remember who does she tell.  Who will believe him?

Abuse, by its very nature, is humiliating and dehumanizing. The natural reaction to abuse is a feeling of shame. As a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonour, regret, or disconnection.  So it is no wonder that shame avoidance can lead to withdrawal or to addictions that attempt to mask its impact.

3:  Language.  The child does not have the language or understanding of what is happening to him/her.  Imagine you are 5 years old and someone is sexually and psychologically abusing you.  What words do you have at five or six to make sense of your world? About all you can do is understand that: 1:  It hurts.  2:  It is scary 3:  It feels wrong but you don’t know why.  4:  You don’t want anyone else to get hurt.

4:  Confused reality and abuse of power.   The abuser is still in my life and everyone loves them.  What if the abuser if a very charming and charismatic mother or father.  What if your uncle is beloved by all.  What if your pastor or school teacher is a powerful person that everyone admires?  Who is going to believe your confused memories of what happened to you?  What will be the cost?  More shame.  More confusion. More rejection and anger?   Better to stay quiet.

5:  The need to forgetChildhood trauma – particularly child abuse by primary caregivers – is the most obvious context in which ‘forgetting’ provides survival value.  Because children depend on their caregivers for survival, the need to attach to them is paramount, regardless of how the child is treated by them.  ‘Many studies have demonstrated evidence that it is common to forget, and later remember, parts or all of the serious traumatic events such as child sexual abuse’ (Barlow et al, `Trauma and Memory’). While our brains are wired to remember experiences important to survival, in some circumstances ‘forgetting’ may assist survival (source).

Forgetting abuse preserves the attachment relationship when the victim depends on the abuser. Although there are various ways to remain blind to betrayal, perhaps the most effective way is to forget the event entirely’

(Freyd & Birrell, 2013: 58)

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself, and in any case, it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”
Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

6: Memory

Broadly speaking, there are two types of memory: those that are explicit and those that are implicit, the former being conscious and the latter relatively unconscious.

(Peter Levine, `The Fabric of Memory’ 2015: 15).

`It is crucial to appreciate that emotional memories are experienced in the body as physical sensations’.(Levine, 2015:22)
  • Memory is not a single entity which only relates to conscious recall.  There are different types of memory which stored in different areas of the brain
  • `Explicit’ memory is conscious while `implicit’ memory is largely unconscious
  • Explicit (conscious) memory can generally be expressed verbally while implicit (largely unconscious) memory is not verbalised
  • Implicit memories are elicited by environmental cue/s such as a fragrance, sight or sound, and embodied in activities (e.g. sleeping) which occur without conscious awareness

This analogy helps us to understand the types of memory:

`The kind of memory that enables us to ride the bike is called implicit memory; our ability to recall the day we were taught to ride is explicit memory’.

Traumatic memories are a particularly intense and devastating form of implicit memory.
 
Example: 
 

The pleasant implicit memory of a happy summer’s day – emphasised by the smell of freshly mown grass.

A trigger such as an environmental prompt (in this case the smell of freshly mown grass) can re-traumatise someone who was assaulted in a field in which the grass had just been cut.

Trauma `triggers’ may seem minor to those who do not experience them in that way. But the traumatised person remains vulnerable as long as the trauma remains unresolved.

 

7:  Betrayal Blindness:  Betrayal blindness happens to both children and adults.  The need to survive, to keep the family unit together trumps remembering and exposing the traumatic event.

Another important factor is safety.  It may not be safe to disclose or acknowledge the memories of trauma even years after the initial trauma has occurred. 

  • Depending on the context and conditions, both remembering and`forgetting’ may be healing and/or destructive (Stavropoulos P.A. & Kezelman C.A.)

I hope that this has helped bring some understanding and language around the horror of childhood abuse.  I will be following this up with a post about when and how to report childhood abuse.

An article which I found extremely helpful was The Truth of Memory and The Memory of Truth: Different types of Memory and the Significance for Trauma: Stavropoulos P.A. & Kezelman C.A.  This can be found on the Blue Knot Foundation website.

If this article has triggered a negative response in you –  please seek help.

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 – Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention

You can call 1800RESPECT  which is Confidential information, counselling and support service.  Open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse.

The Blue Knot Foundation – National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma.  

Blue Knot Foundation is Australia’s National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, empowering recovery and building resilience for the five million adult Australians (1 in 4) with a lived experience of childhood trauma (including abuse), their families and communities.

Formed in 1995, Blue Knot Foundation provides a range of services including:

  • specialist trauma counselling, information, support and referrals
  • educational workshops for survivors and their family members, partners and loved ones
  • professional development training for workers, professionals and organisations from diverse sectors
  • group supervision
  • consultancy
  • resources including fact sheets, videos and website information at http://www.blueknot.org.au
  • advocacy
  • research

http://www.blueknot.org.au
Blue Knot Helpline 1300 657 380

Final Quotes:

“Abuse manipulates and twists a child’s natural sense of trust and love. Her innocent feelings are belittled or mocked and she learns to ignore her feelings. She can’t afford to feel the full range of feelings in her body while she’s being abused—pain, outrage, hate, vengeance, confusion, arousal. So she short-circuits them and goes numb. For many children, any expression of feelings, even a single tear, is cause for more severe abuse. Again, the only recourse is to shut down. Feelings go underground.”
Laura Davis, Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Is a Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

“Violators cannot live with the truth: survivors cannot live without it. There are those who still, once again, are poised to invalidate and deny us. If we don’t assert our truth, it may again be relegated to fantasy. But the truth won’t go away. It will keep surfacing until it is recognized. The truth will outlast any campaigns mounted against it, no matter how mighty, clever, or long. It is invincible. It’s only a matter of which generation is willing to face it and, in so doing, protect future generations from ritual abuse.”
Chrystine Oksana, Safe Passage to Healing: A Guide for Survivors of Ritual Abuse

“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault & responsibility of the adult. I was—and am—innocent.” The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis”
Ellen Bass, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been online since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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Understanding Mental Health

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. (WHO)

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Most of us at some time in our life will experience a mental health issue.  In fact one out of  four of us will experience  psychological distress at some stage.

Mental health or mental illness are interchangeable terms.   Mental health is as varied and individual as people themselves.  Some people fully recover after one episode and others can have recurring episodes or long standing mental health issues.  People from any background can experience mental health issues, although those who have experienced trauma or social dislocation are more vulnerable.

If we were to look at a ‘wellbeing’ scale: with 1 being good and 10 being awful, over the course of our lives we will move up and down that scale depending on what we are experiencing.  There is an ebb and flow depending on what is happening in our life.

1: ______________________________________________ 10

If we are in a season where we are struggling it is important that we get a diagnosis because it helps Doctors and Psychologists work out how to help you.

Many people feel that they don’t want to be labelled or defined by their illness.  A way to help you think about diagnosis is the jam jar analogy by Tim Read .

“When you look at the nutrition facts on a jar of jam many ingredients will be listed”

figf

“Diagnosis can be looked at as just one of the ingredients on the list.  The diagnosis is important but is does not represent the whole jar of jam.  It is just one part of it”.

Causes of mental health problems

A number of overlapping factors may increase your risk of developing a mental health problem. These can include:

  • Early life experiences: abuse, neglect, or the loss of someone close to you
  • Individual factors: level of self-esteem, coping skills and thinking styles
  • Current circumstances: stress at school or work, money problems, difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family
  • Biological factors: family history of mental health problems (Headspace)

mind artist

 

Step One:

The first port of call is your local doctor.  Preferably you will make a relationship with a family doctor who knows you and has some understanding of who you are.  A general practitioner will be able to put you onto a mental health plan.  This means that your visits to a psychologist will be substantially subsidised.  When you call to make an appointment please make a double appointment so that you have the time that you need to talk through your issues.

Step Two: Psychologist – Psychiatrist 

Talking therapy  is very valuable to your recovery.  This is a term used when visiting a psychologist.  A psychologist works directly with those experiencing difficulties, such as mental health disorders including anxiety and depression. They help people to overcome relationship problems, eating disorders, learning problems, substance abuse, parenting issues, or to manage the effects of a chronic illness.

A Psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who has obtained additional qualifications to become a specialist in the diagnosis, treatment and can prescribe medications.

First Hand Experience

I had a chat with my friend Tim Read who has experienced ongoing mental health issues and who also runs peer led support groups for mental health and wellness.  Tim explains that for his journey the turning point came when he read a book called “Back from the Brink”by Graeme Cowan

Back from the Brink is a brave book that offers practical advice:

“Centred on interviews with several people from of all walks of life, …Back from the Brink offers people with depression and bipolar disorder real hope and real advice, as well as practical tools for putting what they’ve learned into practice in recovering from their symptoms”(Source).

Tim goes on to say that he needed to restructure the way that he was thinking.  Instead of constantly looking for a cure or a fix,  he needed to look at how to manage his mental illness.  This was the first time that he felt in control and able to manage.

Therapies

There are many therapies that help with mental illness and your psychologist will talk to you about these.

One of them is Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a treatment based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel.

In CBT, you work with a therapist to recognise the patterns of thinking that cause you problems (Mind Health).

  1. First you will work with your therapist to understand what are the most troubling problems for you
  2. Then you work out what your thoughts, emotions and beliefs are about these situations.
  3. You will identify which of these thoughts, emotions and beliefs are negative or inaccurate.
  4. Working with your therapist, you find ways to challenge them. You might ask yourself: is that true? Or you might ask yourself: so what?
  5. Then you can find ways to think and act that are less harmful to you.

Dr Russ Harris, author of the international best-selling self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap’, is an world-renowned trainer of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). Russ’s background is in medicine. As a GP he became increasingly interested in the psychological aspects of health and wellbeing, and increasingly disenchanted with writing prescriptions.

woman meditating

ACT uses Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, focus and openness – which allows you to engage fully in what you are doing at any moment. In a state of mindfulness, difficult thoughts and feelings have much less impact and influence over you – so it is hugely useful for everything from full-blown psychiatric illness to enhancing athletic or business performance (Act Mindfully).

The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. ‘ACT’ is a good abbreviation, because this therapy is about taking effective action guided by our deepest values and in which we are fully present and engaged. It is only through mindful action that we can create a meaningful life.

Moving Forward

There is a lot of progress happening in the arena of mental illness.  Clinicians are increasingly looking at mental health from a holistic perspective.

Dr James Courtney is a Clinical Psychologist, lecturer and Placement Coordinator at the Monash Psychological Centre.  I had a chance to speak with him on this topic recently.

There is a huge push to look into the impact of genetics and DNA on a patient.  They have found for instance that panic attacks are 7 times more likely to have been inherited in your DNA.

‘Following a Biopsychosocial model of treatment, we try to look at a whole lot of influences including genetics and the influences that you had on you as a child.  We try to understand the whole journey”.

It is now possible to have a DNA test and have your medication personally fitted to your specific DNA.  A genetic test will reveal how you will respond to a drug, what suits you and what suits your profile.   This level of accuracy takes away all the pain and frustration of trying many different medications until you find the right one.  Through DNA testing they can custom fit your medication.

Resources and Organisation that can HELP you.

Tim Read facilitates Blur – Blur Support Group is a safe place for people suffering mind health issues, or for anyone who is currently having a hard time. It is a confidential peer led mind health support group that meets fortnightly at a cafe in Warrandyte.  You can find out more by contacting:

Now and Not Yet Cafe 148-150 Yarra St, Warrandyte VIC 3113
(03) 9844 0994

PHAMS:  PHAMS is the Personal Helpers and Mentors Service.  This is a federally funded program which works in an outreach capacity.  They meet with people and look at the issues that they are struggling with and help them to move through them.  They work closely with clinical services.  Its about sitting down with a person and mapping out a plan with them and supplying the services that they need.

PHaMs provides increased opportunities for recovery for people aged 16 years and over whose lives are severely affected by mental illness, by helping them to overcome social isolation and increase their connections to the community.  People are supported through a recovery‑focused and strengths‑based approach that recognises recovery as a personal journey driven by the participant.

White Wreath is a non-denominational, non-profit charitable organisation providing 24-hour, seven days a week help, assistance for those suffering mental trauma or considering suicide.

P: 1300 766 177 or
M: 0410 526 562

You will speak immediately to a human voice.

You can Text via Mobilie 0410 526 562

You can Emailwhite.wreath@bigpond.com

Headspace:  headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to 12-25 year olds, along with assistance in promoting young peoples’ wellbeing. This covers four core areas: mental health, physical health, work and study support and alcohol and other drug services.   You can access headspace HERE.

Beyond Blue:   beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.  You can access beyond blue HERE

 

If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.

Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog.    Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on line since the first of February 2015.  Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity.  For the blog to continue I need your support.  You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more.  Every bit helps.

Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.

Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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The Role of Men in Our Society

Lately, the role of men in society has been a topic that I am being asked about more and more.  Just today I had an interesting discussion with a male friend of mine at our local coffee shop about the new society we live in and men’s place in it. 

This is a little of how the conversation went:

“Lisa, I have a great topic for your blog.  “Men and where we fit’”.  

Where do we fit into this new society?  We can’t and don’t want to just be the arch-typical macho man.  We want to be more in touch with our feelings but society hasn’t changed enough that we feel heard or received when we share that we are struggling or not coping.  We get brushed off and told to toughen up.  

“Men don’t cry. Be a real man. What kind of freak are you for acting that way? Man up. Don’t be a girl. Stop being such a ##**x. Don’t get mad, get even.

It is a concerning trend that some men feel dispossessed and alone in society.  The rate of suicide in men is the highest it has ever been and remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.  Occurring at a rate of 3 times more for men than women.

The degree to which young men feel pressured to adopt traditional ideals of manhood has been revealed in a new study commissioned by Jesuit Social Services.  It was the first nationwide study of what Australians think about manhood, questioning 1,000 young men aged 18 to 30.

It found two-thirds of young men said they had been told a “real man” behaved in a certain way since they were a boy.

“This survey shows us traditional ideals of manhood in Australia are alive and well,” co-author Dr. Michael Flood said (The Men’s Project).

“Young men still see that they’re told by society that men must be tough, men must be stoic, men must respond to challenges with violence.”

My husband and I have six children ages 24 – 33 years old.  Five of our kids are adult men so this topic is very close to our heart. They are great young adults and I am very proud of each them.  

Before I continue let me say that there are many amazing men out there.  

Guys that are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Men that strive to be good fathers, husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.

However, the question must be asked.  If some men feel out of sync with society, why?  Why is there so much loneliness and aggression among young men?  Why do some men seem to be immature and not connected to their emotions?  Why do some young men at 30 still act like they are 17-year-olds? 

As I began to dig into this topic a few thoughts began to bubble up.  These are my thoughts.

1:  As a society, we have lost the valuable social tool of initiation and ritual for our young guys which in the past help them navigate their place in the community as they pass from teenager to adult.

2:  Our society of winning and succeeding at all costs looks down on suffering, vulnerability and emotional work.  If emotional work is not done there is no change.  Men stay emotionally immature. 

3:  Institutions, media, mass communication and political correctness have dampened our ability to ask questions.  The 5 min sound bite has damaged our ability to converse, to question, to learn.

images

The Role of Initiation

We are an uninitiated society.   Except for those who love deeply, pray deeply, or suffer deeply,  society has lost the historical role of initiation and we have forgotten the rites of passage.

In the ancient world the birth of a child, a youth’s coming of age, and the funeral of a respected elder are all events in which an individual undergoes a change of status.

Initiation, or the coming of age of a boy or girl, is a transition frequently marked by ceremony and celebration. The education of youths in preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood is often a long and arduous process sometimes taking  6 – 12 months. Initiation rites usually begin at the onset of puberty.

Boys, and to lesser extent girls, are separated from their families and taken to a secluded area on the outskirts of the community where they undergo a sustained period of instruction.  

 At the conclusion of this mentally and physically rigorous period, they are reintroduced to society as fully initiated adults and given the responsibilities and privileges that accompany their new status (By Dr. Christa Clarke, for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Most anthropologists, citing Arnold van Gennep’s major work, “The Rites of Passage,” will say that rites of passage exist in order to consolidate social ties, establish roles, and give members of a group a sense of purpose and placement.

Rites of passage are an important part of a person’s life because they mark the transition from one stage of life to the next. It was recognised that the future of the community depended upon having healthy men as opposed to overgrown boys.

If a young man between the ages of 13 – 18 is not presented with something that is big and challenging, he doesn’t think his life has any meaning.  On top of this, the fathers/leaders of our society have nothing more to add.  Today we have a lot of old men who really have nothing to say. Worse than that, many young men have no role models that are worth following.  Just look at the rise of aggression, domestic violence, alcoholism and apathy of some men in our society.  

Initiation Examples

The young native American teen sent off into the darkness with nothing but a bow and arrow and expected to return with a wolf pelt or two or three.

Apache trial of womanhood.  Apache girls take part in ancient tests of strength, endurance and character that will make them women and prepare them for the trials of womanhood.  It happens over a week of ceremonies where she moves through the stages of life, child, adolescent, and woman.  She has to live by strict rules and learn to set aside emotions.

In Australia the young aboriginal man goes walkabout – an initiation that induces a  deeply spiritual awakening and self-awareness that happens with solitude, aloneness, exercising survival and instincts, personal growth and other aspects that are fundamental to Walkabout (source).

3932749_orig

The Masaai warrior tasked with stalking and killing a lion in single combat.

The donning of a glove lined with stinging bullet ants to commemorate becoming a man in the Amazon.

Ritualistic tattooing, branding, or mutilation upon reaching a certain age or completing a certain task (source).

If you live your life without suffering anything or without any kind of effort, life will not be worth anything to you (Amazon Tribal Elder).

Every human being needs to feel like they belong to the group. Everyone needs a stake in a tribe, and rites of passage help provide that by establishing and formalizing this (source). 

Look at how initiation works.

  • Initiation is a universal recognised need
  • It is always done in nature
  • It is always done by older men to younger men.  
  • It is done by a same-gender leader who is respected.

We lost initiation in western society because we became successful and powerful in our own eyes and thought that we didn’t need it anymore.  

When the traditional pathways to adulthood broke down through the abandonment of these traditional practices and customs by the suppression of the church and or government authorities, adolescents did not learn how to become social adults (Biersack, 1998). Instead, they became ‘insurgents’(Honwana, 2006; Rosen, 2005) or village bikhets (Leavitt, 1998).

The Emotional Work 

‘Men are hard-wired to block suffering. “The male psyche is, by nature, defended; men have a difficult time allowing events, circumstances, or people to touch or hurt them. Such blocking may have allowed us to survive…the endless wars of history. But it has also restricted the male capacity to change” (Richard Rohr).

Whilst the path of suffering is the quickest path to transformation,  most men don’t change until they have to. Until economic disasters, moral or relationship failure, loss of job or health are forced upon them, the tendency is to project the incoming negative judgment somewhere else. 

“Struggling with our dark side is humiliating, men have been trained to compete and to win. When winning is the only goal, we can’t admit to anything that looks like failure, or even allow basic vulnerability. We have to project weakness and failure onto others, making them the losers. Such dualistic thinking and resistance to change only guarantee more war and conflict” (source). 

Asking the Questions

The word ‘quest originally’ came from the word question.  We have lost the community ritual of quest ‘to search’, along with the ability to ask good questions.  

If you haven’t been on a journey yourself you have nothing to say.  Most young men today have nothing to say because they have not embraced quest: journey, transformation, brokenness, pain.  Western society teaches us to hide our pain, to suck it up, to be a winner.  Not to share it, embrace it or express it.   

True initiation is when you experience who you are apart from everything you identify with.  Your class in society, your gifts, your nice house, your job, your nationality.  Initiation is when you experience who you are beyond all of those titles and categories and you question, what is it all for?  What is it all about? 

Signs of high intelligence include curiosity, openness, and adaptability. Neuro-biologists are now saying that the sign of a high IQ is not people who have answers, but people who ask good questions.

What is the real truth?

A young man does not know how to contribute to society, for him it is all about money, sex, and power.  He does not know how to be a team player, does not know about how to be inclusive, sensitive, compassionate and sacrificial.   An uninitiated young man is a loose cannon.  All ancient cultures understood this.  They understood that a hormonal young man was dangerous to the community.    

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In our society today you see many adults who have never grown up. Adults who remain selfish and self-centered most of their lives.  They still have the emotional IQ of a teenager.  We lost the bridge of initiation from children to adults and in doing so we have a lot of ill-formed adults.

The real truth is that there are stages in one’s life.  The young adult man thinks he is immortal, he is obsessed with the biggest and the fastest.  This macho attitude, however, is reserved for puberty, for challenges, for the quest.  

The real lesson for a man as he gets older is to bring his head down into his heart and to become tender, compassionate and kind.  As maturity comes, a man learns to live in peace and contentment.  He is not fighting for power, he is not fighting for supremacy.  

Psychologist Robert Moore took the concept of Jung’s archetypes and used it to create a framework that explained the development of mature and integral masculinity in men. Moore argued that the problems we see with men today–violence, shiftlessness, aloofness–are a result of modern men not adequately exploring or being in touch with the primal, masculine archetypes that reside within them. 

Like Jung, Moore believed that men and women possess both feminine and masculine archetypal patterns–this is the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine), (The Art of Manliness).  

You can read more about these four male archetypes in the book by Moore and Gillette called ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover’.   In this book, they explore the concept that mature, authentic, and revitalised masculinity is made up of four parts. 

Warrior, lover, wise man and king/father.  If you are only initiated into one of these areas,  you are not a whole man.  It takes your whole life to become a whole man. A journey,  a life long quest.  The father king holds together everything and you don’t make it to father king until over the age of 50.

So the question now becomes – how do we help young men today?

Here in the ‘civilized’ West, we expect our boys to change into men without any assistance and minimum disturbance for the rest of us.

Quite rightly our young people feel something is missing when they reach teenage-hood and beyond, but they don’t know how to fill the void. Unconsciously, blindly and without guidance, many teenagers are now creating ‘anti-social peer initiations’. Testosterone and alcohol-fuelled escapades which can cause pain and suffering for themselves and others.

Nick Clements From the Good Men Project explains his thoughts on the New Rites of Masculinity.  The Good Men Project was founded in 2009 in the United States by Tom Matlack and James Houghton.  This website examines the question, ‘What does it mean to be a good man in today’s society’?

The boy needs to find out what it is to be a man, what characteristics are needed, how he should behave. He needs to learn about humanity. As part of that process, challenge and bravery need to be built into any new rites, taught in ways that show the two different paths open for men:

  • ‘Warrior’: the path of competition, aggression and violence (the old way).
  • ‘Brave’: the path of bravery, courage, vulnerability, and the willingness to collaborate (the new way).

The boy needs to experience both, and be able to decide which path he wants to take because he chooses to, not because he is being forced into being ‘good’. There is good and bad in both.

There needs to be a mentoring and support programmes built around such rites of passage. The boy needs to be helped in his transition from boy to man by older men who are wise and supportive. 

Examples of Modern Initiation

  1. A good example of this is the scheme in the UK which teaches young mechanics how to service and maintain large trucks. Once they are familiar and adept, the truck is filled with rations and provisions, and the young boys are part of a team that drives the trucks from Europe to Africa. Breakdowns, failures and hard times are encountered along the thousands of miles. Eventually, the trucks are delivered to needy communities, and it is the boy’s job to teach and train the villagers to maintain the trucks. That’s a good rite of passage. Those boys come back as men.
  2. Another project enables young people to use advanced film and other technologies on the proviso that they first shared it with older people. For every hour they teach an older person how to use computers they gain an hour on the equipment for themselves. A bi-product is the creation of meaningful relationships between teenagers and pensioners which has radically transformed the local community.
  3. The Pathways Foundation is a National harm prevention charity that
    assists young people to make the fundamental emotional shift from
    being a child to becoming a young adult.  PATHWAYS TO MANHOOD is a contemporary, community based Rite of Passage for boys to Manhood. A 5 day bush camp for boys aged 13-15 years and their fathers or a male mentor.

Since 1996, a group of men and women working with young people recognised they were underachieving, lacking in direction, self harming and initiating themselves into young adulthood through risk taking behaviour to ‘prove’ they were grown up. Understanding the need for young people to take part in conscious safe rites of passage and mark the shift from boy/girl psychology to healthy man/woman psychology was an essential ingredient Pathways developed their award winning contemporary rites of passage programmes.

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‘It would seem that initiation and ritual are not just about celebration, but a deeply spiritual time of life, a time of reflection, a time of gaining confidence in one’s own person and abilities, having a sense of their own spirituality, and realizing and experiencing their connection to the land and nature. It is a part of them as a person, a people — it connects them to the land, a higher purpose, and somehow to a higher plane of existence in some ways, and individually it is part of their identity as a man’ (source).

Where Are the Heroes?

Where Are the Heroes?

The last decade has seen a rapid de-escalation of the publics trust of religious leaders, politicians, educators  and community leaders.  The Royal Commission has exposed unprecedented sexual abuse of minors by the church and other institutions.  Politicians are argumentative, combative and come across as privileged and disconnected from every day life.  Most pastors/religious leaders are out of touch with the post modern world and the institution of the Church in general is no longer trusted, nor is it held in the place of honour it once was in the community.

Issues of safety, gender, equality, privilege, power and the abuse of these trusts has led to a time in society where ‘the persons in leadership’, who once held high the moral compass, are now held in disregard, suspicion and with much cynicism.   As my Nana used to say:  “Oh how the mighty have fallen”.

The community at large is frustrated by inequality, mismanagement and fraudulent behaviour.

Where are our heroes?  The ones we can trust to lead us.  The ones who put the nation and community above their own agendas.

I have compiled a small list of Aussie leaders and their signature quotes which express what they stood and fought for.  As John Howard famously said, “The things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.”  We must remember this.

CHIFLEY, BEN 1885-1951

He strove to better the lot of ordinary people with a combination of public and private enterprise. He said: “We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind … If it were not for that, the labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”

BROWN, BOB 1944-

Born in Oberon, Robert Brown became a doctor and then a conservationist, leading the fight against the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania and spreading environmental consciousness as far as Germany and the Greens Party. Australian of the Year in 1982, he shared in 1990 the US Goldman Foundation’s environment prize, the world’s richest. “Wild places connect us to the universe,” he says. “There are no answers written on stone. But in the stones, the trees, the skies, is fulfilment for humanity.”

DUNLOP, WEARY 1907-1993

His tireless work made him a hero in World War II, along with other doctors, on the Burma-Thailand “death railway”, where he defied Japanese officers to save PoWs. He promoted friendship between Australia and Asian nations and was Australian of the Year in 1977. He said of the prisoners, 50 years after the war: “To this day I feel uplifted and borne up by their unquenchable spirit and patient endurance of suffering.”

MABO, EDDIE 1936-1992

Born on Mer, in the Torres Strait, Eddie Koiki Mabo made up for his lack of education with tenacity and a formidable intellect. Upholding his claim for native title to the Murray Islands, the High Court overturned the doctrine of terra nullius, the legal fiction that Australia was unoccupied before European settlement. Mabo, pronounced Ma’bo with emphasis on the second syllable, died a few months before the judgment. He had said: “My family has occupied the land for hundreds of years before Captain Cook was born.”

STREET, JESSIE 1889-1970

Born in India, Jessie Mary Grey Street graduated from Sydney University in 1910, joined the League of Nations Union and feminist organisations. She joined the Australian delegation to the conference that established the United Nations and successfully lobbied for a charter for women’s rights. She campaigned for the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal rights. She quoted Emerson: “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose … You can never have both.”

WRIGHT, JUDITH 1915-2000

Was one of Australia’s foremost poets. She wrote biography, short stories and children’s books and campaigned for conservation and the Aborigines. She said: “The mateship ingredient in Australian tradition was always and necessarily one-sided; it left out of account the whole relationship with women.”

It is 2019 and across all areas of society women are still under-represented. The Chinese say “they hold up half the sky”, but relatively few made their presence felt in the distribution of power and influence until the last three decades of the 20th century. But change is slowly coming.  So slow that if we continue at this present rate it will take 200 years for women to earn the same amount of wages as men doing the same job.

Where are the heroes?  They are out there I am sure of it.  They look a lot like you and me.  The ones who will stand up and make a difference.  Who are willing to wade upstream against the current and who are able to confront the status quo and make a change.  People do not like change.  They may acknowledge that it is needed but they rarely like it when it comes.

What makes a hero?

 “A hero is someone who can be looked up to for their actions. Bravery is usually the biggest trait of a hero. This person has usually overcome huge obstacles to survive or to rescue others. Heroes come in all sizes. Sick children, grown firefighters, doctors, missionaries, philanthropists are all examples of heroes.”

What makes a true leader?  Lets look at just three core values.

Humility

as demonstrated by a sense of humbleness, dignity and an awareness of one’s own limitations; open to perspectives different from one’s own.

Integrity

as demonstrated by moral courage, ethical strength, and trustworthiness; keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. It still takes honesty and integrity to breed trust and credibility – the cornerstone of strong relationships.

Respect

as demonstrated by self-respect and respecting others regardless of differences; treating others with dignity, empathy and compassion; and the ability to earn the respect of others.

If we had leaders demonstrating just these three values the world would be a better place.  Accompanying these of course is love, wisdom, courage, tenacity and endurance.

If you are a follower of Christ you have the greatest responsibility as a change agent.  Jesus said ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’.  This means that it is here now.  Not in 10 years or 1000 years but now.  The presence of God is within us.  The ability to love, bring peace, truth and justice is within us and is at hand.  It is not a distant reality.  The time that Jesus spoke of when the blind would see and the oppressed would be set free is now.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

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This cartoon could say:  Get Love, Wear Love, Fly…………

Brian Mc Laren says it this way:

‘The time has come today to cancel debts, to forgive, to treat enemies as neighbours, to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to invite the outcasts over for dinner and to confront the oppressor. Not with sharp knives but with unarmed kindness’.

Imagine if followers of Christ actually did what they were supposed to do and followed the way that Jesus loved, freed, healed and included people.   The world would definitely be a better place.  It’s time for the Christian to come out from behind the walls of the church and actually practice the gospel of Jesus to a scared and anxious world.  Stop talking and teaching it and start doing it people.  Be the hero your neighbour and workmate is looking for.  Connect with your neighbours with unarmed kindness and NO AGENDA but love and friendship.

Another Year Bites The Dust

Are you ready, hey, are you ready for this?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, I’m gonna get you, too
Another one bites the dust
Soon after becoming dictator of Rome, Julius Caesar consulted with his leading astronomers about the need to reform the calendar which had become out of sync with the sun. In 45 BC the new calendar came into effect and January the 1st is celebrated for the first time with the giving and receiving of gifts.  A practice which early Christians would move to the 25th of December to mark the birth of Christ.
January is named after the god of gateways and beginnings, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings – ‘Janus’.
Janus is normally depicted with two faces.  One facing forward to greet the future and one looking backward to the past
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Janus frequently symbolised change and transitions such as the progress of past to future, from one condition to another, from one vision to another. He represented time, because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other (source).
Consequently a brief history of why we celebrate the passing of the old year and consider the aspirations of a new one.  We laughingly post our New Years resolutions promising ourselves to lose weight, get fitter, save money, quit smoking etc….. yet only 8% of us will actually achieve those goals (Forbes) .  In fact a staggering 80% of goals will fail by February (source)
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It is an interesting time of year where you feel caught between two worlds.  You lose track of the days and everything is a little bit of a blur.  The glass or two of champagne the night before possibly adds to this.  If nothing else, it is important that we stop for a minute and contemplate the year that has passed.  The triumphs, the failures, the losses and the gifts that have come into our lives.  In this space of mindfulness we consider the things we wish to change as we enter this brand New Year.
Could we be kinder?
Could we show more love and tolerance?
Do we need to work harder at navigating boundaries?
Do we need to build more bridges?
Should we be stronger with toxic friendships and family members?
Should we be less fearful?
How do we become less anxious and more at peace?

These are the questions that are circulating my thoughts this January the 1st 2019.

As 2018 flows into the history books I come to terms with the  death of a father and dear family friend. I look back in amazement and watch my heart expand with ferocious love toward a precious brand new grand-daughter.  I look with admiration at my children who stun me with their kindness,  generosity of spirit, incredible capacity and their ancient wisdom.

It is important to look back, to reflect but we cannot stay in that space.  Many people spend their life looking back at what they deem are their best days.  They spend far to many hours trying to re-create those moments.  It is a futile effort. Looking back helps us to understand life but true living can only happen forwards.  True life only happens in the creation of new moments.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard

I am grateful for my family and friends.  All of whom understand the importance of learning from life’s lessons.  Who help me navigate and unravel the mess of the past.  But more importantly, they help me realise the great value of being present.  Of looking forward to future adventures, new memories and who encourage me to live life forward.

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. Oscar Wilde
Happy New Year everyone.  I hope that you find kindness, peace and tolerance this year like never before.
Love Lisa
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Steve Jobs

Celebrating the Birth of the Homeless, Oppressed and Marginalised

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox;

that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
-G.K. Chesterton –

If we had to paint a picture of the Christ that many of us celebrate at Christmas, what would our portrait look like? If the sound bytes that accost us on social media tell us anything, we may get the idea that Christ is a bit like a Texan Ranger, ready to destroy the ‘enemy’ because obviously, God is on his side. The luxury hummer he drives would proudly display the number plate ‘blessed-to-be-a-blessing,’ and all his tweets would have #blessed at the end of it. He would healthy, wealthy and covered in gold dust, as according to the gospel of some, this is the way we are meant to live.

Welcome to the idea of Christ, painted by a dominant, privileged consumer culture.

The history and backdrop that informs modern Christianity are complex. Over the centuries every generation has wrestled with what it means to follow in the steps of this Jewish rabbi, and every generation had authoritative voices claim they have found the way to absolute ‘truth’. Maybe we lost so much of Christ in the Constantine era? Or in the many ‘holy’ wars fought with great gusto amongst the factional faithful? Or by preferencing the voice of Augustine? Or the Reformers? Or the fiery depictions of Dante’s interpretation of hell?

Today, the misplacing of the Messiah is often evidenced by everything that popular Christianity is against, and fear seems to be the flag flown high from the castles of so many of Christ’s representatives. So perhaps our true depiction of Christ should be this diminutive little person, hiding behind a giant wall in case ‘others’ invade and pollute the tightly held ideas of morality and godliness? Maybe this shrunken little figure sounds more like the shrieking seagulls of ‘Finding Nemo’ – ‘Mine, Mine, Mine, MINE!’

Perhaps if we stop all the noise, engage in some critical deconstruction of current Christian discourse, and spend time reflecting, we come to a sobering recognition – we have ‘sanitised’ Christ into our liking and our image.

This safe, disfigured Icon seems to join us in hating all the people we despise, justifying all our violence, agreeing with all our exclusions, shaming all those we shame … we have made Christ and Christmas into us – like a Christmas bauble that has our face on it. No wonder we lose our shit when people don’t want to say “Merry Christmas,” ultimately their resistance to our precious ideas confronts in us a form of deity-narcissism, carefully disguised in persecution and conspiracy theories.

The figure of Christ that walks through the pages of the Gospels seems very unperturbed about whether people are putting the right messages on cards and coffee cups! That doesn’t seem to rile this Incarnate One. Instead, he seems to get a lot more exasperated at, well, at the sectarian shenanigans that really have not evolved over the centuries. Things like religious institutions that have become money-peddling spaces of greed (John 2:13-17), pious power puffs who have become so inflated with a zealotry messiah-complex that they shut the doors of the kingdom to anyone who is not like them (Matthew 23:13), and the continual microscopic dogma examination whilst neglecting the weightier things of God – like love, mercy and justice (Matthew 23:23).

I don’t think this Christ person was about making any of our enshrined political-religious traditions great again. He seems far more focused on describing a different way to his followers … where the last shall be first, where devotion is not bound up in what we think about hell or heaven, or whether we ‘sense’ God and have goosebumps – but whether we are feeding the hungry, providing for the destitute, welcoming the stranger, identifying with those on the margins, making the world a safer place for minority groups … When I read the gospels it seems this Christ of Christmas has a message for us all and it’s relatively simple: Don’t be an asshole! This cardinal contemplative notion seems to underscore the words we have of Christ that are in print today.

So, dear readers, as Christmas approaches may it be filled with joy and a good dose of uncomfortable reality. As I write this, I feel uncomfortable for I recognise that I am part and parcel of this dominant consumer culture, rejecting it and then falling right back into its traps! I question my pictures of Christ. What have we done to this child in a manger that could find no human shelter, but was welcomed into a shack by God’s fur children? This child that would grow and challenge the powers of his day that oppressed the poor, the homeless, the refugee? The child that would turn his back on kings and kneel in the dirt with the woman who had become the target of patriarchal, misogynistic scape-goating? The child who would be murdered, not because some wrathful ‘god’ needed a sacrifice, but to demonstrate precisely how radical love really is. We seem to have lost so much of this Christ child in the mayhem of our political-religious pontification. I pray this Christmas we consider resurrecting him … because the message he holds makes this season truly ‘jolly’.

Merry Christmas.

What God requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humility – Micah –

Not All Wounds are Visible – Surviving Being Triggered

Not all wounds are visible – Surviving Being Triggered

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The last few months have for me have been quite difficult in regard to my mental health.   One side effect of trauma is silence.  You get verbal vertigo.  You lose your voice.  I have spent the last 19 years walking out of and through trauma.  Learning to find my voice.  However, there are still many times when I trigger.  Sometimes worse than others.  The death of my father set off a cyclone of events and emotions.   In the aftermath I found that once again I had lost my voice.

It wasn’t so much the death of my father.  At 89 he had led a long life.  Grief in itself is inescapable, normal and has a place in our lives.  It was the lead up to his death, the arrangements for the funeral and the conversations that took place afterward that knocked my backward.

Judith Lewis says it this way: “Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.

But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.

She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.” ― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom…a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”

In the last two decades I have learned to build boundaries and cages to protect myself.  I never learned how to build proper boundaries as a child so I have had to do the learning and unlearning as an adult.

Children can be taught at a very young age to build shark cages and this will help them identify as well as keep off predators in life. Some develop strong, impenetrable cages that allow them to live healthy, happy lives. Others are not so fortunate. These unfortunate ones may never build up enough bars to keep them safe from “sharks” or along the way, may lose bars when danger has presented itself (Hettwar).

Think of each bar of the shark cage as a boundary or a basic human right.  It we are taught that its not acceptable for people to shout at us or call us names, that is one bar in the shark cage..if we are taught that its not acceptable for people to hit us, then thats another bar in the shark cage (Ursula Benstead).  (see article on The Shark Cage).

I have learned that it is okay not to put myself in the way of harm.  In the past duty rated higher than safety.   This means that now I know that  I DO NOT have to spend time with toxic family members, friends or institutions.  I do not have to put myself in harms way.   It is difficult to separate yourself from ‘duty’, ‘obligation’, ‘loyalty’, to family members and friends who are not healthy and who trigger you.

If there is one event that is difficult to escape, it is a family funeral.  This means you are thrown ‘into’ harms way.   You can apply the skills that you have learned in therapy.  You can stand up for yourself when you have to.  You can use the voice that you have recently found.  Sometimes though it is all too much and too many memories and harrowing emotions are triggered and the tsunami engulfs you.

“Persons in dysfunctional families characteristically do not feel because they learned from a young age that not feeling is necessary for psychic survival. Family members generally learn it is too painful to feel the hurt or to experience the fear that comes from feelings of rage, abandonment, moments of terror, and memories of horror.”
Kathleen Heide

For me harrowing emotions lead to silence.  Shhh stay small, stay quiet, hide, don’t draw any notice to yourself.  Hide your true self.  Your true self is not applauded anyway so stay small, stay quiet.  Hide on the roof of the house or in the dark musty dirt underneath the house.  You have no voice, do what you are told, go where you are told. If you hide no-one can find you, the chaos cannot find you.

What does it mean to trigger?

A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback (source).  A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic. It may also cause someone to have flashbacks. A flashback is a vivid, often negative memory that may appear without warning. It can cause someone to lose track of their surroundings and “relive” a traumatic event.   Triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk (source).

Published on Jul 30, 2017

There are certain psychological triggers that when activated, are so powerful, that not only does it force someone to ignore other sensory information, it actually also forces them to behave in ways that you would consider totally irrational. Listen to this to get a better understanding of your triggers. #psychology #psychologicaltriggers

 

You can see in this clip how the abused can easily end up in co dependant relationships with the abuser which in turn often disables and destroys other relationships.  Breaking this cycle is incredibly hard.   When I came out of a fundamental religious cult  in 2000, I started attending a large pentecostal church.  This space ‘seemed safe’ but eventually ended up being another instrument of torture.  I did not recognise the danger.  Like the pole cat with the inserted cheeping sound bite.  The danger sounded familiar and safe so I allowed it into my life.   Fed it and nurtured it to the detriment of my own family.

Triggers follow me into deep sleep.  I have recurring lucid dreaming where all sorts of nightmares are played over and over during the night.  This means that I wake tired and triggered before the day has even begun.  This cycle take a long time to break and is very exhausting.  Normal activities become overwhelming.  The demands of  every day life  feel like climbing Mount Everest.  Demands of friends and family drain you and there is little relief.  I would explain it this way.  You have no margins.  There is no extra safe space to absorb the inevitable ups and downs of daily life.  Just answering a phone call can take all the energy you have left.

HOW ARE TRIGGERS FORMED?

‘When a person is in a threatening situation, they may engage in a fight or flight response. The body goes on high alert, prioritizing all its resources to react to the situation. Functions that aren’t necessary for survival, such as digestion, are put on hold.

One of the functions neglected during a fight or flight situation is short-term memory formation. In some cases, a person’s brain may misfile the traumatic event in its memory storage. Rather than being stored as a past event, the situation is labeled as a still-present threat. When a person is reminded of the trauma, their body acts as if the event is happening, returning to fight or flight mode’ (source).

Very few people understand the aftermath of trauma or what it is to live constantly with PTSD.  You look normal, you sound normal so why can’t you be normal?  You are funny, you are entertaining so why can’t you just get over it.   “Let’s just talk about positive things they say”.    I find these types of demands from friends the most draining.  It is in the nature of people to shy away from ugliness and disturbances.  They  may have heard a little about your weird life or you weird family but do you have to keep going on about it?  They have zero comprehension of the effort it takes day after day after day, nor the hailstrom of fire something like a family funeral throw’s at you.

Thank you readers for allowing me to navigate these feelings.  For listening to my voice.  I have found it impossible to write over the last few months.  Maybe I am starting to recover.  Coinciding with this season I am doing a small amount of narrative therapy.  So many other layers of my childhood are being revealed, restored and understood.

Healing is a long and laborious effort but it has great rewards.  I have taken refuge in creativity and beauty and have been blessed to work in an environment where my job partners with my healing. Thank you to my friends and family who do understand and who walk alongside me every step of the way.  Especially my children who sometimes seem to know me better than I know myself.  I am grateful for their love and support and I learn so much from them every single day.

 

 

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