I paused writing about therapy because I wasn’t sure where to start. I wish I could have filmed one session. It was that good. Alas, I will start where I stopped–core beliefs.
Between the breath work and the core beliefs work, recovery is moving very quickly. I am sprinting to keep up. I can tell that there is a change because my mind is quiet. I don’t feel anxious and afraid all the time anymore. The PTSD symptoms are calming down. My pre-fontal cortex is back online which is allowing my executive function to reboot. I can make decisions under pressure and remember them! This is all the neuroscience behind what happens to your brain during a PTSD flare. It’s fascinating.
How does this recovery manifest in real time? For me, as the healing quickens, the blind spots are revealed. What do I mean? Here is an example:
My daughters and I joke around with each other a lot. My youngest daughter is very irreverent, and sometimes she can take a joke a little too far. She is on the autism spectrum, however, and that’s not unusual. She’s learning social skills like everyone else. Well, we were out at one of my other daughter’s choir concerts, and my daughter very saucily joked, “Don’t make that face! Never make that face!” She then pulled a rather ugly face and guffawed. I suddenly felt sucker punched. It came out of nowhere. I almost burst into tears. In the previous moment, I was sound. In the next, I was about to weep.
What happened? A blind spot was discovered. A core belief rooted in trauma, and I had no idea it was there. As I sat in the concert working quickly to contain myself, I heard this thought pass through my head, “What if they’re right?”
“Oh my gosh, I know what this is about,” I heard myself think.
I’ve already explained that my father and his wife were cruel people. When I was young, my father used to videotape me without my knowledge. Then, when friends or my stepmother’s family came to their house, he would put the videotapes on for their viewing, and his wife would announce with sadistic glee, “Everyone, let’s watch these videotapes of MJ!” I was forced to sit in front of everyone while my stepmother in particular made fun of me. She mocked my walk, my posture, my face, my teeth, my body, my hair, and everything she could find to scrutinize. It was an exercise in humiliation and shame. I developed social anxiety to the point of near agoraphobia when I was younger because of this.
My mother did similar things except without the video camera. She just got off on criticism. When she was bored, she would stare at me and begin pointing out my “flaws” be it my haircut, hair color, clothing, skin, nails, my laugh, my accent, handwriting, mood. You name it. My mother would find it and use it against me in some way. Her point? Complete and utter decimation. By the time I was 18, my self-esteem was obliterated.
In college, when I received the letter inviting me to join the competition for the Rhodes Scholarship, I recall thinking, “This must be a mistake. Aren’t I too stupid for this?” It did not matter how well I did. It did not matter how many dates I went on. It did not matter who complimented me or how sincere they were. In my mind, my parents were probably right. I had grown up hearing that I was worthless in every sense of the word.
Well, I don’t believe that any of this is true now, but some tiny, hidden part of me fears that it might be; and, that’s what my daughter’s joke landed on.
So, I told my therapist about my intense reaction. How surprised I was. I didn’t want to talk about it which surprised me even more because I will usually want to talk about everything. He leaned forward as he always does when he’s onto something:
“This is very interesting. Do you see how this core belief is constructed? You have a double distortion here.”
A double distortion? Tell me more please!
“The first distortion is: ‘I have to pretend to be perfect,’ or ‘I have to hide my flaws behind trying harder,’ and that is a lie because you are not inherently flawed.”
I am not inherently flawed. YOU are not inherently flawed.
“The second distortion is: ‘What if they are right about me?’ This double construction depends on the existence of both distorted core beliefs. Take one down, you take them both down. If you do not believe that you are inherently flawed, then there is nothing left to fear in terms of these people being right about you. They are, in every way, wrong and were always wrong.”
Wow. What a gift. I left his office feeling lighter. I thought I really understood the core belief dynamic, but there is so much to it. Some of our core beliefs are predicated or dependent upon something foundational much like an “If…, then…” statement.
“If I am fundamentally flawed, then…”
But, if you are not fundamentally flawed (or fill in the blank with something else), then what might be true? What might the possibilities truly be?
It’s a very positive line of thinking as we close out 2016. Doors open when we ask big questions. Shalom…
The Door by Adrienne Rich
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.