Healing Traumatised Parts

Healing is not all sweetness and light; or rather, the road to getting there is can be fraught with tribulations, pain, rawness or anxiety, and injury worst of all -from ourselves. Most people have parts that want help, while other parts want to run away, fight the therapist or deny the issues.

When we look at the legacy of past complex experiences including surviving many different kinds of trauma or neglect, we see all the things we have carried to this point in our lives. Healing is not a simple process. We may need to heal different parts of us that feel anger, hurt, grief, issues related to addiction, relationship or intergenerational unfairness issues, disowning of parts of ourselves including the body, certain emotions or thoughts; faulty beliefs that feel true such as the belief that we do not deserve love or belonging.

Then there are patterns or habits to heal- especially those that make us refuse to accept-or even perceive- the reality of life, or make us  live a life based on fantasy, ideals, perfectionism, or the need to control ourselves or others.  These sorts of patterns also have a sneaky way of making us very self critical and hard on ourselves, or makes it hard to get over even small upsets.

Through many years of working with people who want to heal, I would say that learning to accept and love all the parts of ourselves is central to healing.  Yet often it seems that people surviving trauma have an unspoken agreement with themselves that they will be kinder to themselves and look after themselves better only when and if they are healed. Paradoxically people continue to mistreat or neglect, criticise, drive themselves too hard , exhaust or hurt themselves in other ways, doing the things they have always done, instead of doing the opposite- loving, accepting and honouring themselves.

The truth is, if we want healing, we  need to first address the old patterns of how we relate to different parts inside.  This requires first finding a calm state then learning to be mindful or cultivate a dual awareness of what is going on inside- to unblend with old patterns and procedural ways of being in the world.

Here is a worksheet I used for trauma group sessions a few years ago which participants found useful. It is adapted from the ideas of Babette Rothschild, Peter Levine, Kathy Steele, Janina Fisher and many others.

Finding a good trauma-informed therapist or group to belong to and practice these skills is really important. Usually a safe place or a safe state is needed. Since the trauma was caused by relationships, relationships of a better kind are needed to heal the trauma. Remember. healing trauma is possible.

 

 

 

Compassion as the Core of Healing

What is Compassion?

A simple definition of compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of self or others, and the ability to be with that suffering, with profound acceptance, and without pushing it away, labelling it or judging it.

Here’s another:

According to Pema Chodron (a Buddhist nun), “When we practice compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us”. 

Chodron teaches that we must be honest and forgiving about when and how we shut down. In compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience- our suffering and empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equal parts of ourselves. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity. 

Reflection: To know our own darkness, is to allow ourselves to know the truth that we are human, fragile or imperfect. Yet many people with complex past experiences struggle to be compassionate with themselves. There may be a very harsh inner critic or a persecutory part that is quite relentless. Do you have an inner critic? If so, what are the most common beliefs or statements from this part? Would your best friend agree with what this part is saying?

So how do we learn to be more compassionate? It helps if we break compassion down into a behaviour or an action, so that we can get to know it as an experience, rather than just an idea which we might get around to “some day”.  Think of compassion as an action word. What attitudes and behaviours would go with compassion, what does it look like in action? For example, being compassionate to yourself could mean:

  • listening to your body
  • learning to be present
  • accepting or allowing difficult emotions or pain calmly
  • learning to accept life on life’s terms if this is the best or only option
  • being honest and gentle with vulnerabilities
  • healing old patterns that are problematic
  • finding balance
  • allowing yourself to heal
  • slowing down
  • letting go of excessive shame or guilt
  • being humble and soft instead of arrogant or rigid
  • allowing your voice to be heard
  • putting boundaries on those who dishonour you
  • backing yourself instead of undermining yourself
  • communicating frequently with inner parts to soothe and settle the system
  • giving yourself and others kindness instead of harsh judgements/criticism
  • all of the above
  • other things not listed?

Looking at the list above, which aspects of compassion stand out the most and which ones do you long for ? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on this.

International Trauma Conference in Melbourne, 2016

I haven’t had time to attend the whole thing, but it is amazing to see over 2000 delegates here in Melbourne for the conference this week. As usual Pat Ogden, Stephen Porges, and Allan Schore are here, and inspiring.  This year I have enjoyed Martin Teicher, Dan Siegal and others. Martin shares some wonderful scientific research results on the aftermath of trauma, you can find it on Google, WordPress, by adding his name.

Trauma is still the “elephant in the room” in terms of public health policy, and is still missing from public discussions except in a very limited way. The survivor is still all too often blamed (via the rigid DSM criteria which is not evidence based, if not the Catholic church, the defence forces, etc), for their symptoms. Actually, I believe survivors are incredibly brave, tenacious and valiant to have survived, especially when we review the outcomes from the ACES study in the USA.

This study as reported by Martin shows the significant long term effects of adverse childhood experiences. Basically the higher the number of adverse experiences, the more likely the person is to have not just emotional and cognitive consequences, but also physical consequences including changes right down to the genetic level, heart attacks, addictions etc.

So this week I really feel inspired to acknowledge and thank all the scientists, clinicians and others who have travelled from US, UK and Europe to be here for the Conference. A special nod to Sue Carter re the importance of oxytocin in love and bonding. And to Dan Hughes for bringing such warmth and humour to this difficult topic.

Their long labours  research and experience in working with trauma now give us a legitimate voice to begin a more sophisticated and compassionate public discussion about how we view and treat trauma survivors. The Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse misses the great majority of abuse which occurs at the hands of family.

The science also enables us to confidently say that trauma can be healed. And finally, perhaps, we can now stop judging and blaming victims, and work together to ensure they are honoured and supported throughout the healing process.