Becoming an Agent of Goodness

I am seldom on Facebook, but, as I was up bright and early this morning, I indulged my urge and took a peek.  This is what I found:

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The person who posted this captioned this sentiment with, “because I know I have God’s love, approval and appreciation, I no longer need it from others.”

My knee-jerk reaction was, “What the fu…”  Was I more shocked by the original “prayer” or with my Facebook friend’s additional commentary? And, why did these words strike a nerve in me?

I must turn back the clock to 2014, when I wrote my most highly viewed blog post “Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage”.  In that post, I described the emotional experiences of my former marriage:

“If I could remove all emotional desire from myself, then I would be able to do this (stay married).  I actually asked God to make me like Spock.  That has to be one of the weirder prayers to ascend.  Like some warped psalm:

“Oh God, make me like Spock.  Purge me of emotion.  Oh my soul, shut the hell up so that only my brain will speak and my heart will sleep a thousand years.”

Oddly these two entreaties, if you will, have a similar tone.  I longed to be purged while Byron Katie desires to be absolved as elucidated by the use of the word “spare” which means “to be released, acquitted, exculpated, or pardoned”.  The end result would be the same–a kind of subjective idealism that could take a person all the way to solipsism.  What does that mean? Allow me to explain.

Firstly, it should be stated that nothing that Byron Katie teaches is new or ground-breaking.  She is combining the Narrative Approach in psychology with certain Buddhist principles to craft a teaching that has been used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for years.  Her Four Questions are well-stated.  She has made solid therapeutic guidance highly accessible to many people.  With Oprah’s stamp of approval, people who have perhaps disregarded therapy as ineffective or stigmatizing will now have a chance to experience what solid therapy is all about.  That being said, her Four Questions are straight out of CBT and Narrative Psychology.

So, what of this philosophy of subjective idealism? Simply stating it, subjective idealism states that your reality and how you perceive it is contingent upon how you experience it; Reality is contingent upon The Knower–to be is to be perceived.  The extreme form of subjective idealism is solipsism which states that “I alone exist”.  British Idealist F.H. Bradley explained solipsism as such:

“I cannot transcend experience, and experience must be my experience. From this it follows that nothing beyond my self exists; for what is experience is its [the self’s] states.” (online source)

Bradley’s explanation almost defines 21st century human interaction.  You stay in your experiential bubble.  I’ll stay in mine.  Nothing beyond my experience exists.  Nothing beyond your experience–if that is valid–exists or is germane to mine.  We are but ships passing in the ether in anonymous, quick interactions either on social media, in consumeristic interactions online or at retail outlets be they malls, indy stores, or cafés big and small.  Disconnection.

This brings me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

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Directly above our two most basic needs in terms of our humanity–Physiological and Safety–lies Love and Belonging.  Putting it as simply as possible, one of the reasons why people require therapeutic interventions and outside help for prolonged periods of their lives is because they have to figure out how to acquire and develop Esteem and Self-Actualization without Love and Belonging.  Or worse, if a person experienced hardships and traumas in which their Physiological and Safety needs were threatened or unmet, then certainly their needs for Love and Belonging would go unmet as well. In that case then, how would one go about developing Esteem and Self-Actualization in a coherent way? How do we build bridges over deficiencies in order to continue maturing until we can increase our capacities for those needs to be met? Is it possible for everyone?

What Katie and my friend are suggesting is that we simply obliterate the need and desire.  We resort to emotional subjective idealism–particularly my friend.  If God is meeting my desire for love, approval, and appreciation, then I no longer need it from humans.  Well, that contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, and I only say this because my friend is a Christian.  So much of the New Testament and the Gospel are concerned with relationships and community and how people are to treat one another.  Why then post something that essentially advocates extricating oneself from reciprocal relational experiences and responsibilities, thusly, retreating into a self-created pseudo-solipsistic model?

This I know all about.  To counteract pain and grief.

Human beings are social creatures.  We are mammals after all.  There is a scene in the film “The Horse Whisperer” in which Robert Redford’s character, Tom, stands in a field for hours near a traumatized stallion, Pilgrim.  Pilgrim, appearing fatigued from standing in the same spot for such a long stretch, finally approaches Tom reluctantly. Tom gently leads him back to the stables.  When asked why the skittish horse allowed Tom to touch him, he answered that horses were social creatures and would eventually have a need to join their herd; or, a herd of some kind.

Humans are no different, but we have very clever ways to convince ourselves otherwise.  We build bridges inside ourselves over the empty and dark crevasses of unmet needs that have morphed into unnamed pain and call it Stoicism, Enlightenment, or Individualism.  We will say that we are absolving ourselves of our needs or desires for love, approval, and appreciation, and it sure does sound like something…worthy.  In my mind, however, it is a form of bargaining in order to avoid grieving that which has been lost or never experienced, and I say this because I used to believe these things, too.

The problem herein is that absolving yourself of your desires to be loved, approved of, and appreciated also pardons you from giving these things, and this is, in a more profound sense, what is causing people to pray for this sort of absolution to begin with.  The world we have today is in no way more evil, chaotic, corrupt, or violent than it was 100 years ago–or 1,000 years ago.  History seems to always repeat itself, and humans still struggle to learn from the past.  What the world continues to lack is goodness in the forms of love, approval, appreciation, generosity, courtesy, and neighborly concern.

What might our cultures look like if more people were appreciated, loved, and approved of? How would you feel day-to-day if you felt truly appreciated by your friends, children, co-workers, and partner? If you felt approved of–truly liked–by the people in your life? Well-developed and self-actualized people do not require other people’s permission to make their life choices or hard decisions, but it is much easier to achieve self-actualization if you have a foundation of Love and Belonging beneath you rather than a foundation of grief for never having had it.

The healthy and ultimately most healing “prayer” that I think one could offer up instead of the aforementioned is:

God, help me grieve the times and experiences in my life wherein I did not receive the love, approval, and appreciation that were meant to develop me for Esteem and Self-Actualization. Introduce me to healthy people who know how to love, approve of, and appreciate me and others properly so that I may become a fully-developed, healthy person who can not only fully internalize and experience the spectrum of loving experiences but also go on to love, approve of, and appreciate others in order to become an agent of Goodness in the world. Amen.

 

 

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Principles of Healing

Hi everyone!

As you all know, I’m in school studying my little heart out to become a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, then you know that I tend to write about what I’m doing in my life, and this blog has seen me through most of my major life events.  I have really wanted to write about what I’ve been learning in my program because TCM integrates with my worldview so well in terms of how humans exist.  We are not a sum of our parts.  We are so much more than that, and TCM accounts for that in its treatment modalities while also acknowledging that there are parts to consider, too.  In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but the parts exist within the whole and exercise great influence on the whole in its unique context.

So, I started another blog wherein I could write about what I’m learning in TCM medical school along with other significant topics that I’ve been asked about related to health and healing; topics that simply don’t fit well on this blog.

If you are interested in that, then you can find me wearing that particular hat in the blogosphere here: Principles of Healing.

And, once again, I thank all of you for reading.  I made it through the last three years, in part, because I could come here and write.  I can’t thank you enough.  I wish all of you every wonderful thing…

Shalom, MJ

Annual Rituals

We celebrated Passover last night with the customary Seder–the ceremonial dinner for the first night or first two nights of Passover.  My house is usually the gathering place.  It is a big job.  Traditionally, the preparation that goes into preparing one’s home, kitchen, dishes, and even inner self for Passover is daunting.  In many observant homes, there is separate dishware that must be used during Passover.  One’s house must be cleaned thoroughly (“kashered”) in order to rid the house of “chametz”, or any kind of leavened bread or leavening.  All uneaten and unopened leavened food products must be donated while opened and partially eaten leavened food products must be disposed of.  The kitchen must be thoroughly cleaned, and there are detailed instructions on how to do this.  I learned just last week that the Israeli army just replaces all their metal kitchen shelving with Passover shelving.  When Passover is over, out comes the non-festival shelving.

I have kashered my house a few times.  The result? My house was clean.  It felt clean, but I was exhausted.  It helped me, however, experience the spectrum of Jewish observance.  Today, I can’t be that observant although there is something about going through all your kitchen shelves and drawers and thoroughly cleaning them that scratches a particular itch. It cannot be about what is “good enough” though.  It is about preparing my mind and heart for what this particular Seder will speak forth.  What does that mean?

Every year, the Seder is different.  For those of you who are still mystified by what I’m saying when I say “seder”, the Seder is essentially a meal directed by a liturgical ritual.   The word “seder” itself means “order”, and we follow the order of this customary Passover meal from a text called the Haggadah.

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Every guest at a Seder usually gets a Haggadah from which to read.

It is the same order every year because the Haggadah tells the same story–the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery.  I like a very meaningful, thoughtful Seder because one of the key elements of the Seder is to read this story as if it were happening to you.  In fact, the Haggadah that we used stated: “In each generation, everyone must think of himself or herself as having personally left Egypt.”  The texts are supposed to be read as if you are living them out.  This is why they remain relevant.  What could be analogous to your life experience in the present? Who are you in the text? Who is your personal Pharaoh? Are you experiencing a metaphorical plague? Do you feel enslaved to something and require help or intervention? Do you feel hopeless?  As our Haggadah said, “Our Seder goal is to relate personally to the Passover story.”

I remember going to a Seder at synagogue a few months before my marriage ended.  I felt on edge, scared, and almost hopelessly uncertain about my future.  My oldest daughter was about to graduate from high school, and I had three other daughters to think about.  I needed surgery for an injury I sustained from my now ex-husband, and I had no idea how I was going to keep going forward.  What did that Seder speak forth at that time? I looked around the table I was sitting at and saw people around me who would help me.  I saw a community.  I slowly began to realize that I would not leave “slavery” alone.  I would go out with a group.  I could try, and I did.  Only two months later.  My life, three years later, has changed dramatically–for the better.

What did last night’s Seder speak forth? At the end of the Haggadah, we read this:

“Redemption requires our participation.  The Midrash says that God did not split the sea until one person, Nachson Ben Aminadav, took the first step into the water.  If we take the first step, God will help us the rest of the way.” (A Family Haggadah)

Whether or not people believe in God’s intervention (or even a Divine) need not detract from the greater meaning of the experience.  There are Jews who do not believe that God intervenes into the affairs of mankind.  What I want to emphasize here is that action is required in order to obtain any sort of freedom from that which creates personal inertia and bondage.  It can be almost terrifying to take first steps particularly when a big life choice is at hand.  Divorce? Marriage? Career change? A confrontation that might drastically change a relationship? Moving to another part of the world? Going to therapy for the first time? Choosing colleges? Dating again after a long-term relationship? You name it.  If it feels daunting and freezes you up in your life, then you’ve got a personal Egypt.  In my experience, taking first steps often creates momentum and opens doors.  I am experiencing this phenomenon right now in my life, but so often we don’t experience a fulfilling or meaningful life because we are stuck.  We feel paralyzed or too fearful to take a first step.  Or, we don’t know what the first step even is.

Engaging in the annual Seder ritual can prepare our hearts and minds for self-examination.  If we have a relationship with God, then the Seder sets aside time for conversations about very specific situations in which we can listen to what God might say to us about our very personal Exodus story.  If we are not theists, the Seder is still of value because the ritual itself provides time to reflect, look back, and then look forward.  Because the Seder is an annual celebration, we experience an opportunity to track the trajectory of our lives, and this is what I find so interesting.  I can look back a few years ago and recall what I took from that particular Seder–what I internalized as a much needed truth and encouragement.  Yesterday, I contemplated where I had been and where I was going in the context of my present circumstances.  I hope everyone who attended our Seder was able to enjoy some contemplation even though a Seder at our house is a little more like a festival celebration at the Goldbergs.

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We are a house full of women who are a little too down to clown most of the time. 

We try to be solemn and honor the sacred, but, in the end, it just ends up like that.  My daughter’s boyfriend joined us.  One man in a room full of loud, opinionated women.  He said very little.  I’ll crochet him a Pokemon yarmulke for next year.  He’ll fit right in.

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Making time–even if it is once a year–to contemplate your path and examine your state of freedom is a part of the Seder experience.  You do not have to be Jewish to make this idea a part of your life.  It is rewarding, useful, mindful, and helpful in terms of crafting a life that not only fulfills you but contributes to the betterment of the world around you.

It is another way to enjoy life so that you can keep going.

A Healing Hypothesis

I’m supposed to be doing homework, but it’s cold and snowy.  I am entirely unmotivated to study the alimentary canal.

A thought occurred to me when I was stuck in traffic a few days ago.  I’ll start with a question.

How many times have you fallen down or gotten hurt? If you really had to answer that question with accuracy, what would you say? I don’t know if I could answer it.  I’ve injured myself a lot.  I’ve eaten it too many times to recall with any accuracy.  Falling off my bike? I fell into a pile of gravel once, and that was a bloody disaster not to mention humiliating.  I almost fell onto exposed rebar once and barely escaped impaling myself.  I sound like I starred in MTV’s “Jackass”.  I’ve almost drowned more times than anyone should just because I overestimated my own swimming abilities in relation to ocean conditions.  I was bitten by a shark once.  It didn’t keep me from going back into the water.  I’ve been mildly electrocuted twice.  These are all ridiculous injuries.  My injuries probably sound tame compared to some people.  You know, the adrenaline junkies? Their tales of thrill seeking are epic.  Compound fractures and missing teeth.  As soon as they can stand upright, they’re clinging to another rock face like Spiderman.

Why do we get back up again after we get hurt and get after it with relative confidence? Why don’t we fall apart? I really thought about this.  Why do little kids fall, skin their knees, cry, and then get up and start running again?

Because they know that they will heal and be okay.  They don’t have faith that it will happen.  They know.  We have evidence that we will heal because our bodies are designed to do that.  We watch our wounds heal.  We feel the itch of the tissue regenerating.

Many of us think that it’s odd when parents coddle their children just for getting scratched up.

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Why? Because scratches heal! Broken bones heal.  We recover from surgeries.  We are tougher than we look and even feel.  So, most of us are not too afraid to take reasonable risks with our bodies in terms of getting in a pool, riding a bike, running fast, rollerblading, rock climbing, etc.

Why are we then afraid to take risks emotionally? This feels like a very legitimate question.  I’ve been pondering the question and wondering what a sound answer might be.  The answer I came up with is that we might believe that we won’t heal.  Or, we don’t know how to heal when we sustain an emotional injury.  Wouldn’t it be easier to take emotional risks if emotional healing occurred in the same way that physical healing did?

I pose the question this way because uncertainty acts as a primary source of anxiety for almost all of us.  We might be willing to try new things if we knew more about the outcome.  In terms of physical risks, we are far more likely to take risks because we know that our bodies heal.  But, our hearts and minds? Well, that’s different.

How familiar is this? “I don’t know if I want to get involved.  I could get hurt, and I just don’t know if I can go through that again…”

If I break my leg, I can go to the ER.  If I break my heart, where do I go? How exactly do you heal a broken heart? How do you heal from major trauma? How do you heal from chronic anxiety? There are too many opinions to give a discrete answer.

And there is another element at play here.  Culture.  If I break my wrist or lacerate my arm, is there anyone who will tell me that it’s not possible to have my injuries treated? Will someone point at me and say, “Good luck with that.  You’re going to suffer for the rest of your life with that broken wrist.”  No.  That’s ludicrous.  Going further, if I slipped on wet pavement after a thunderstorm and fractured my elbow, would anyone tell me, “All concrete sidewalks are bad.  Never trust a sidewalk.  You will always get hurt! From now on, only walk on grass lest you break your elbow again.”

No.  You will not hear that.

Will you hear Broken Elbow songs on the radio? Will you be bombarded with chorus after chorus about the depravity of concrete sidewalks and even roadways and the danger they pose to your vulnerable elbow? How the sidewalk beckoned you, promised it would support you as you walked and its blatant betrayal? How dare it collect water and mislead you permitting you to slip and break your elbow! Those rakish sidewalks! Manipulative elbow-breakers!

Uh…no.  You will not hear that.  But, how many songs do we hear and even love that are all about the broken-hearted? How many movies do we watch repeatedly that are devoted to the heart break experience? You haven’t truly lived until you’ve had your heart torn out, right? There is a collective belief that being heart broken is terrible and almost romantic.  And, for some, impossible to recover from.

I want to challenge this.  I want to start by putting an idea out there that we are capable of healing emotionally and mentally just as we are capable of healing physically.  It makes no sense that our bodies are designed to heal as efficiently and elegantly as they do, but our psycho-emotional selves would not.  I hypothesize this because the ability of our bodies to heal and maintain that ability is so heavily dependent upon the state of our psycho-emotional state.  In other words, if we are unhappy, anxious, scared, and in a state of emotional pain, our immune function is impaired.  When we are happy, at peace, and well, we don’t get sick; we heal better; we fight off cancer; and we thrive.

If this is potentially true, why are so many of us suffering psycho-emotionally?  An idea came to mind as I was turning these questions over in my mind.  I thought of my grandfather.  My grandfather grew up on a farm on an island that was rather remote.  During one winter, he and his brother were sledding, and, during the downhill race, my grandfather hit a tree and broke his tibia.  He sustained a compound fracture.  With no medical help nearby, my grandfather’s family did the best they could to attend to the fracture.  It never healed properly.  For the rest of his life, he suffered with circulation issues and pain in his leg and even ulcers as he aged.  All this because his injury wasn’t properly set and healed improperly.  Note here that his injury healed.  The body did what it does.  It healed.  It just healed improperly because the healing needed an outside intervention to direct the healing.

I suspect that our minds and spirits heal, but, like my grandfather’s leg, without outside intervention to direct a healing process, we heal improperly resulting in improper “blood flow” leaving room for infection and incessant pain.  Had this type of problem presented today, surgery would be done to re-break the tibia, reset it, and induce a proper healing.  Rehabilitation would be done during the healing process in order to direct the body’s healing process.  The body knows what to do.  Sometimes its energies need direction.

Applying this paradigm to our psycho-social selves, what would happen if we believed that we can and do heal? What would happen if we viewed our current psycho-emotional state as a healed state in which perhaps our injuries were not set properly? Our body has the ability to heal.  It healed.  At the time of the original injury it did not receive the appropriate care it needed to heal so that it would return to its pre-injury state?

Was my grandfather’s leg still broken? No.  Did he do the best he could at that time with the resources he had available to him? Yes.  Did anyone blame him for the scars in his leg? No.  If he had undergone a reparative surgery to correct the poorly healed injury, would that have been a shameful thing to do? No.  Would that have been beneficial? Yes.

Therapeutic interventions, nutritional changes, psychiatric supports, various types of exercise, pursuing healthy relationships, making important changes in your life to bring about healthy changes, using different healing modalities, etc. are all reparative changes to “reset” breaks that didn’t heal properly.  Changing our language around our own healing process goes a long way into changing how we view ourselves, and that goes a long way into eradicating shame and fear of uncertainty.

Once you begin to believe that you can and do heal, you may find yourself making changes that you’ve only dreamed of.  It is an idea I’m considering.  It’s got somethin’…

So, as always, keep going.

Further Reading:

The Emotional Immune System

 

 

Pushing Back against Malignant Core Beliefs

I want to talk about negative core beliefs and dissonance–and perhaps a way to challenge them effectively.  Bear with me as I get there.  I have written a lot about my last two years in therapy with a neuroscientist.  I didn’t know initially that he was an official neuroscientist (who taught at the college level) who also happened to be a social worker, but that’s what he was.  He specialized in “difficult cases”.  I didn’t think of myself as a difficult case per se, but I imagined that my history would qualify me for that label once my full case history was trotted out.

 

I’ve written before that my most powerful negative core belief is “I am disposable.  I am expendable.”  It is hardwired.  I have processed almost all of my maladaptive core beliefs at this point, but this one is like the final boss in a video game.  I can take it on over and over again, and over and over again I lose.  It’s not “online” most of the time, but when it’s activated, I fall.  I cannot refute it.  There is no line of thinking that will stand up to it.  No amount of EMDR has defused it.  This is why I agreed to continue therapy after my therapist moved.  To try to get at this particular core belief.

And then…

As I was sharing my frustration and fear about dealing with this with someone close to me, an idea was brought forth.  He commented, “You can’t nullify a person, right? That came up for you early on in therapy.  Your sense of morality doesn’t allow you to do that.  You view all people as significant regardless of past acts.  Is this true?”

Well, yes, I do.  Frankly, it has made dealing with my parents a pain.

He continued, “Philosophically speaking, would you find it immoral to view another human being as disposable?”

Yes.  I would.  Humans are not disposable.

He then asked, “So, would it violate your own sense of morality and personal philosophy to view yourself as disposable? To agree with that?”

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“Well, I…uh…”

Why had I not asked myself this before? How had I not seen it from this perspective? I do not believe that I can have a double standard.  There are not two sets of rules in the universe.  If it is true for others, then it must be true for me.  That is one aspect of integrity.  How I view and treat other people must also apply to myself.  If I view other people as having inherent worth and in no way disposable, then how could I view myself in an opposite way?

This is where the arguments start.  This is what I would like anyone who has a profound struggle with a deeply embedded negative core belief to take note of.  Challenging a core belief doesn’t change it.  You must think of this like a boxing match.  Once you find a statement or a strong sense within yourself that you can hold onto that matches the strength of your negative core belief–that matches its energy, then you can throw the first punch.  Like this:

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Heisenberg: “You are completely expendable.  Disposable.”               Me: “My morality doesn’t let me believe that so I can’t be.  I am not.”

What will happen next? Heisenberg, your profoundly negative, most likely biologically embedded core belief, will get up and come at you with evidence.  That is exactly what mine does.  Heisenberg is cold, mean, and extremely smart.  He uses evidence from my past to prove why I am disposable, and the case is airtight.  And, the more you listen, the worse you feel.  The more monstrous that core belief becomes.  As if it takes on a life of its own until he’s doing this:

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Those feelings that you have at this moment are defined as “dissonance”.  Why? They are the gap between what you are starting to know is true about yourself or situation and what you feel is true about them.  This gap can be shallow or a deep abyss.  This is why emotional dissonance can be so dangerous and hard to manage.  This is where the spin-outs and target behaviors can happen.  I typically freeze and can’t reach out.  Emotional eating, cutting, high-risk behaviors like gambling, high-risk sex, substance abuse and emotional dysregulation are all common manifestations of falling into this gap.

Now, a negative core belief doesn’t sound that bad on paper.  Why would someone react in such an extreme way? It is a matter of what that core belief represents and triggers.  In my case, my negative core belief centering on expendability was literal.  I was trafficked.  I had a literal price tag put on me and was sent to an auction.  Men actually bid on me.  It was the most dehumanizing experience that I could never have imagined as an 18 year-old.  I was put through experience upon experience meant to rob me of a sense of identity so that I would come to experience my own person as an object void of self.  That is the purpose of the “breaking in” process.  Once you are no longer a person, you are compliant.  The problem for me in all of this was that I fought the process in captivity and left that environment with a sense of self albeit a very traumatized, compromised one.  Years later, when there is a trigger, the past becomes present, and I am faced with this old but very effective lie.  It is biologically embedded with the actual trauma.  This is the neurology of trauma and beliefs acquired with trauma.  This is why we suffer so much when we flashback–even with something as seemingly benign as a negative core belief.

Part of battling it out in the therapeutic process is identifying that which you solidly believe to be true with someone who can parse your language.  When someone gets to know you, they can often help you discover your values and truths–the truths that you take for granted.  This can prove to be quite useful when you can’t see what’s true anymore staring up from the bottom of your dissonant abyss.

What is a better strategy? Don’t fall into the abyss.  Well, that’s brilliant.  How do we avoid that? Go back to that moment when Heisenberg is giving you the finger.  In the past, I didn’t have anything that could adequately refute the case he made against me.  I would fold every time and free fall.  Now? I still feel the onset of panic when that profoundly negative belief comes online, but I honestly know that it cannot be true because it does not line up with any of my beliefs about humanity.  How could it be true? Once I sat with that, I let it go further.  If I’m not expendable or disposable but a person treated me as if I were, then who in that situation had acted badly? Me or the other person? Clearly, the other person.  This is an easy conclusion, but it is a very difficult idea to internalize when you grow up under gaslighting conditions or presently experience them:

“We treat you like this because you are bad.”

The truth is this:

“We treat you like this because we are bad.”

Change one word in that statement and the meaning is completely different.  Gaslighting is very common: “You are the problem which is why we hurt you.  You are the problem which is why you were sexually abused.  You are the problem which is why X happened to you.”  What perpetrator is ever going to admit, “I have the problem which is why I hurt you”? Nary a one most likely.

So, there you are staring down Heisenberg.  He’s coming at you with your terrible belief, triggered by something that you can’t control like a phone call from that person, something a person said to you, a feeling you had when something happened that made the past present in an instant.  It could be anything.  When this experience is beginning to crescendo, do not try to change how you feel.  Do not try to change Heisenberg.  He never changes.  Bring in your own strength–your own hitter.  I figured this out because I realized that some of our very malignant core beliefs do not belong to us.  They originated in our trauma and are not natural to our personalities or nature.  We may have held onto them because they helped us navigate extreme and painful circumstances, but they no longer help us.  They hinder us.  This is the definition of ‘maladaptive’.

This is what a solid refute will do to your Heisenberg:

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These malignant core beliefs are designed to paralyze and limit.  Whatever you put in front of them, they will naturally push up against.

Your challenge will become the wall to your Heisenberg.  Heisenberg does not stop showing up when stress shows up.  Your neural connections have created a fantastic pathway for him.  The more you use your challenge against him, however, the more you weaken his pathway until there are potholes in your neural connections.  It will look something like this:

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He still comes for you, but now he trips on the way.

After a few months of challenging Heisenberg with the same new thought that might be one of your beliefs: “I can’t be disposable because it violates my own personal sense of morality,” my personal Heisenberg is starting to do this:

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He leaves before anything serious starts.

In my mind, I thought for years that dealing with negative core beliefs was all about changing them, but then I realized that a negative core belief was a lot like Heisenberg of “Breaking Bad”.  Heisenberg, much like Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde, was an evil alter ego.  A negative core belief is a negative alter ego of a functional, adaptive thought.  It’s a thought gone rogue.  It served a purpose, but its present existence has long outlived its original purpose. Now it just keeps on comin’ because that’s what it does.  Like a cancer.

I can try to kill Heisenberg or strengthen my other thoughts in order to overcome him.  Where is the effort better spent?

So, the key here is finding the right challenge.  That is the most important part of the process in taking down a malignant core belief and arguably the most difficult.  I would assert, however, that the prior work done in therapy, which included EMDR, laid the foundation for present insight.

The other strategy I have used in the past and model in this post is externalizing and naming a toxic feeling in order to separate it from yourself and your identity.  I have identified my most feared maladaptive core belief as “Heisenberg” in order to differentiate every idea associated with it from myself and my identity.  This draws a distinct line between me, my own thoughts, my hopes for my present and future, and what I would like to think about.  This is highly effective for dealing with negative emotions.

For anyone experiencing the abysmal free fall or struggling with repetitive negative thoughts rooted in malignant core beliefs, there are strategic ways to deal with them and eventually defeat them.  It takes time and consistency, but it is possible.

Keep going.

 

 

 

 

Beware the Sugar Train

A new grocery store opened just a few miles from my house, and, let me tell you, it feels like God designed this store just for me.  It has a huge produce section.  HUGE.  I felt rather like this when I stood in the middle of it resisting the urge to extend my arms and twirl around.woman-surrounded-by-fruit.jpg

The choice of non-dairy milks was vast and varied.  The plant-based protein selection was excellent.  There were even vats of locally produced honey on tap to fill my very own honey bear! Whut?! 

And then there was the selection of gluten-free products.  For the celiac vegetarian, this grocery store is the Valhalla of food acquirement.  I was home.  But, that’s not what caused me to squeal like a little girl with sand in her underwear.  It was the gluten-free holiday cookies.  Little Christmas trees with green frosting and honest-to-goodness gingerbread cookies! Soft and chewy gingerbread cookies! I’m a sucker for holiday cookies.  I love them, but no one seems to make them for celiacs–until now.

My daughter and I saw them in the bakery section and stopped.  We stared.  We stared at each other.  We did a double-take.  Were they real? Did they really say ‘gluten-free’? Truly? We bought them.  Okaaaay.  We bought a few.  We finished shopping and ran over to Starbucks which was ever so conveniently across the street.  We ordered almond milk lattes and shamelessly tore into them like ravenous Kindergartners.

What happens to two people who rarely eat sugary desserts when they decide to consume far too much processed sugar in under five seconds?

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Something like this

It feels glorious.  Oh, it tastes like the most wonderful, marvelous, delightful thing you’ve ever come upon.  We were like Augustus Gloop swimming in Willie Wonka’s chocolate river! The butter spread.  The sugar melted.  The flavor rose.  It’s times like that when I usually wonder why I broke up with sugar.  What’s the harm? Thpppppt…how could I disdain such a lovely thing when it makes me feel like flying?

“I’m queen of the world!

And then this happens…

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Suddenly, you don’t feel quite so awesome anymore.  You feel strangely awful.  And, it doesn’t happen all at once.  First, you just feel mildly ill.  Then, it becomes a bit…meaner.

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Out of the blue you’re lying on the floor in bad make-up, disheveled, potentially topless, wondering where the day went.  Or something like that.

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That is exactly why I stopped eating sugar.  I won’t lie though.  The ride down sure tastes good.  Beware though.  They look sweet, but they’re evil…

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Deceptive little bastards

That Which Does Make You Stronger

I had an interesting therapy experience yesterday.  Jack is a very different therapist from my previous therapist.  The gap is growing wider forming a gulf that is coming to represent their differences, and I’m missing my former therapist more and more.  Alas, change is good.  Perhaps I was growing too comfortable.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what kind of work is going to be done with Jack.  I find myself feeling disdainful.  Unusually rigid.  Clinging to my own stubbornness.

He wants to discuss my sex life.  He wants to discuss my “getting out there” and dating.  I’ve got a lot to offer the world of men so he says.

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Uh huuuuuuuuh.  He wanted to emphasize that his office was a space for discussing difficult topics that may feel taboo.  Like sex and all the nuances therein.  Like…men and getting with them (my words not his).  You know that I’m uncomfortable when I increase the sarcasm.

“It might be hard for you to even think of having sex.  With everything that you’ve been through…but, we can talk about it.  I’ve had clients come to me who can’t masturbate or even have sex at all.  That’s okay.  I want you to know that we can talk about that.  I’m here for you.  This is my job.”

I didn’t know how to tell him at that moment, when he was staring at me like I was sexually constipated and frigid, that I have a boyfriend.

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“It’s okay.  You can tell me.  This is a safe space.”

I started trying to imagine walking in one day for a session with the intent to ask him about masturbation or a difficult nuance regarding having sex.  I ended up here in my head.

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I’ll tell you why.  If I want to talk sex, then I either talk to a close girlfriend with whom I’ve been talking sex for years.  Or, I’ll talk to the person with whom I’m having sex! It was a fair question for him to check in with me regarding sexuality particularly now that I’m not married.  He doesn’t know that I’m in a relationship.  I haven’t disclosed that to him, but he also hasn’t asked me if I feel competent sexually.  He made an assumption about me.  No, no, no, Jack.  Never assume anything about your clients.  It isn’t really fair to the one sitting in the Hot Seat.  He assumes that because I have past sexual injuries and traumas that I’m presently fearful, incompetent or deficient.  Whether he knows it or not, he was stereotyping me.

That being said, I will say that it is very important to discuss sex, but you have to do it with someone you like and with whom you have an established rapport.  A person you trust.  Someone who will have good insight.  A good listener.  And, a person who will not view you through the lens of past experiences because, if you’re anything like me, then you’re already doing that to yourself.  You want to share this aspect of yourself with someone who has a healthy view of sexuality and brings something complete and relatively unmarred to the table.  Someone who can see you in the present tense and imagine you in future tense, too.  This encourages you to be open.  Sex is one of the harder topics to discuss because there is so much shame and embarrassment tied up in it mixed with social pressures and judgment along with messages from our families of origin and religious upbringing.  We never have sex without bringing a slew of people with us it seems.  You want to talk to someone who likes themselves and likes sex.  That really matters, too.  And, you really want to talk to someone who wholeheartedly believes that recovery and healing from past trauma is possible for you.  Particularly when you do not.

For roughly two and half years, I wrote a blog about sex.  It wasn’t what one would call a “sex blog”.  It was a blog about sexual development and healing in the context of PTSD and the recovery of one’s own sexual health in a long-term relationship.  I really liked that blog and writing it.  For what it was, it was a successful blog.  It also marked the beginning of the end of my marriage.  My ex-husband used to put me in double-bind situations–no win situations.  He would complain about not having sex enough or my not seeming to enjoy sex.  I took his observations to heart and decided that I was done with allowing past traumatic events determine my sexual health and enjoyment.  I process quite well through the written word.  So, I decided to blog about the experience anticipating that no one would find the blog.  I was wrong.

Everything I learned, tried, failed at, succeeded at, and the effects it was having on my relationship I recorded.  How I felt, how it was affecting me in terms of trauma recovery, whether or not I could be present, how post-modern culture and religion were affecting my experiences of my sexuality, all of it–I wrote about it.  What I discovered was that I started to get better, and my ex-husband no longer wanted me.  He changed his stance.  He then complained that I was too demanding.  I was showing up for sex, and he didn’t like it.  He was angry that he was “required” to have sex with me.  Perhaps we could schedule sex once a month.  By the end of our marriage, we had had sex 18 times in two years, and it was all terrible.  And painful.  And somewhat violent.  I didn’t know if I hated myself or him.  After twenty years of marriage, I had never had one orgasm.  He blamed me for that.  I was tired of blaming anyone.  I just wanted answers.  I just wanted to be happy.  I just wanted something better.  And, I clung to a stubborn belief that I could get better regardless of what I had experienced in terms of sexual trauma–and, believe me, there was a boatload the size of the Titanic.

What I can say now is that all the time and effort I spent churning through resources on women’s health, sexual recovery, erotic intelligence, how-to guides on masturbation, reading the epic tomes of Dr. David Schnarch, and the hours I spent talking to the very few people willing to be open and honest about sexuality with me were not wasted.  I did experience a recovery and healing in a kind of isolation.  A very private and personal integration.  And, it was challenged in every way when I met James, the man in my life.

You don’t know just how solid you are until it goes live.  Will your foundations hold? Will all the work support you? There was a lot of room for self-doubt and fear.  My ex-husband’s voice was in my head, but James was in front of me.  One was real.  The other felt real enough, but was it? I learned that I had to choose.  One small choice after one small choice.  Consistently.  Who would I believe? The past or the present? On paper, it sounds easy.  The present, duh.  In practice though? I can’t tell you how hard it was and continues to be on the bad days.  Yes, there are bad days.  Days when I just want to, as Liz Lemon sang, “work on my night cheese” and hide in a hole.  That’s okay.  The sun rises.  You will always have another day to try again.  And another.  And another.

There is no substitute for the kind patience of a person who really likes you and finds you to be utterly fascinating and beautiful.  When that kindness and admiration–nay attraction–grows into love, you have a foundation for something exhilarating, healing, and, yes, very scary.

And that is one of the secrets to healing from almost anything.  To fully heal you must fully risk again.  And, everything in us reels at that.  That sounds counterintuitive.  Why would we put ourselves into a situation in which we could be decimated…again? Are you familiar with that tired, old cliché “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?” To be frank, I think it’s a stupid thing to say.  There is no comfort in being told that you didn’t die at the hands of some evil thing, thereby, the evil instilling you with strength.  Nope.  I don’t buy it.

I think there is a different meaning here.  I’m going to change it.  “That (good love) which did not kill you makes you stronger.”  Do you see it? “That which didn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Perhaps you survived a terrible reality like domestic violence or a really horrible family involving extremes that are not mentionable in “polite” society.  Maybe you survived a stranger assault, war, tragic car accident, terrible grief, difficult and prolonged illness, mental illness that won’t give way–I could go on.  It’s all trauma in one way or another.  To me, it’s all “bad love”.  Why? Because we end up loathing someone.  Most likely, it’s ourselves that we blame or hate the most.  I’m not making light or being pithy.  Toxic love in all its forms drives some of the worst behaviors known to humankind.  Even war.  Love of country…Love of ideology…Love of God used to exterminate and Otherize.

It is integrous, kind, honest, true, patient, loyal, and consistent love that makes us stronger–“That (good love) which did not kill you will make you stronger.”  A true and honest love only makes us stronger.  And, for better or worse, to experience that, you must risk your heart.  You must make yourself vulnerable to someone.  You must try trusting someone, and if the thought of trusting someone makes your stomach turn, then you aren’t alone.  It is one of the hardest things to do.  I know all about that.  I’ve spent the past two years feeling as if I’m living in a K Drama.  Thrilling? Yes.  Terrifying? Yes.

There are many paths to take should you desire more.  None are fast.  None are easy.  There are no shortcuts, but if you keep going you just never know what’s around the corner.  Your traumatized brain might think, “Something terrible probably,” but if you allow yourself to wonder beyond that for a moment maybe not.  Maybe something better.

So, keep going.