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Although I don’t always blog about it, I usually talk with Alicen, my SE teacher, about every two weeks on Skype. I never know what is going to happen but something amazing always does. And however we get there, it’s always a surprise! That is the fun and amazement of bottom up work. This past week was no exception.

What I was aware of is how, when I pass the sink in the Ladies Room and it calls to me to wash my hands, if I know my hands are clean, the feeling is ”Leave me alone.” I can’t spell it the way it sounds “Leeme alone!“ This was happening so regularly, that I knew there was something under it. I started to describe the experience to Alicen and then made a gesture with my right hand like batting something away. Alice looked surprised and said, ”That’s a new gesture for you. How is it to do that?” I tuned in to the feeling and, in my mind, I saw my father in the white T-shirt that he always wore, making that same gesture and saying the same thing with a lot of annoyance in his voice. I had forgotten about that. As I tracked the memory, I remembered how it was when my parents argued. My family home was stable in a lot of ways, no alcohol no violence, no feeling that my parents were going to break up, but when they did get into conflict, in the end my father always did just withdraw with great annoyance. I don’t remember his ever “winning” the argument or really my parents ever openly apologizing to each other.

Now I have to say that I have a history of getting uncomfortable when a couple is in conflict. For a long time, whenever, for example one of my sons was in any conflict with his spouse, I would get anxious and try to say something that would ”Help” resolve it. Needless to say, that did not work very well. This became completely a clear couple of years ago when I was visiting Jonah and Susan on CA and they were trying to decide something, I think, about what color to make something on the house I really got to see (shall we say it was pointed out to me) how I was not (!!!) Helping! I was making it worse by adding my anxiety to the mix. And I resolved, from then on, not to do that anymore. But, I confess that this past week, when we were in the car together, I lost it and try to “help.” I caught it immediately, laughed and begged for a redo. So, in the session that started with the Ladies Room sink, when I started to remember how it was when my parents were arguing, I knew it was all related.

As I went back into how it felt in my body when my parents were arguing, at first what I felt was something rising from my belly into my chest and then I felt myself blocking it at my throat. It was a familiar sensation, a rising anxiety that I was trying to manage by saying something that would stop people from arguing now. When I allowed the sensation again, this time without blocking it, it went into my head and it felt like total panic, like the whole world was falling apart. I was shocked and amazed and how intensely dysregulating it was for me for my parents to be arguing.

I also realized that my father could not tolerate emotional distress of any kind. Maybe he felt something very similar to my experience with arguing? I realized that when my mother was upset, he would really get dysregulated. I know that when my sister was crying, he would hit her to try to get her to stop, and I would be standing there saying “But she’s already crying, why are you hitting her?” I can remember how distress would bring out a kind of cruelty in him and cause him to make it worse. I am remembering that my ex-husband was like that too, if the distress involved something he did, although he was great at being there for me if it did not involve him. Just as with my ex, because he attacked rather than trying to “help,” it never occurred to me that actually, my father was scared, just like I was, and did not know what to do.

As we do, in this kind of work, Alicen asked me what kind of repair was needed for that situation. I tried to imagine someone with me and helping me out, someone protecting me from panic, but that did not feel right. As I explored what would be needed, I was aware of my parents to my left, and aware of the awful energy between them. I imagined going over to them and taking that energy and remodeling it. I could see myself smoothing it out, making it flowing and golden. If it was smooth and flowing, then they could openly adore each other and if they could adore each other, then they could adore me. And we would have a loving family! I laughed and said, ”Oh my God, no wonder I am drawn to this work!” Alicen laughed too, she’s also in this game of helping people return to love :-).

For some reason, I never before felt how desperately I wanted to be in a loving family. In reality even, even though my parents were doing their very best to be good parents, there was no real love or at least no real exchange of loving energy. It was just something I lived with, but I knew something was missing. When I said something about animals and love, I remember my mother’s disdain. “They are not capable of love. They just act that way because you feed them.” I prefer Diane Poole Heller’s version “A lot of us got through our childhoods because of one good dog.” There are tears in my eyes as I write this.

As we explored further, Alicen asked me how it was in my body when I made this repair. I saw my parents energies rearranged so they could love me, and I could feel it feel it in my arms and in my torso, an open flowing connection with them but not in my legs. My legs still felt like I had to stand on my own. I always had to do that (no wonder they wore out and I needed hip replacement!). I imagined letting that love into my legs, and in that moment it felt almost like my legs would go into a seizure. It would be too much, and I wouldn’t know what to do with all that energy. It did occur to me to go over to the parents who were adoring each other and ask them to pick me up and be with them. Alicen laughed and said, What a concept!” But I know there’s still more to do with my legs and it did not have to get completed this time.

There’s also more to complete in my eyes, because I can look at the energy between my parents when they are loving each other feel very safe and warm and connected to them, but I cannot look into their eyes yet. And then the hour was up. Alicen said “Be gentle with yourself, you have done a lot of shifting.” I did have some huge autonomic surges. But then, by the next day, I felt something click into place (maybe my neck, I had been at the dentist) and now there is just more of me to enjoy life with, as there always is. More of me is here, less of me is back there:-) Until next time….

My Trapped Bird

Sorry, it has been too long since I posted and there are a lot of stories that I wanted to tell.  I don’t know how many I will get to today, but I will start in reverse order with the most recent which I am titling above.

Last Sunday, I had a visitor, my dear collaborator Tondi.  She was here for a conference and stayed with me an extra day to do some HRV work with me.  I picked her up at her hotel and brought her here.  What I noticed was that once we were at the house, I was completely unable to settle down.  I have been in this space before with a guest, bouncing off the walls energetically, hyper without understanding why.  Ironically I was busy showing her videos about and talking about trauma and attachment repair, but I knew, and found it funny, that I was completely unable to really be with her. 

I was actually thrilled, in a way, because I knew I had a session with Alicen coming up on Wednesday where I could explore what happened with Tondi and I had no idea where it was going to lead.

We started with an image of what I was feeling, which was, not surprisingly considering the title, like a trapped bird bouncing off the walls.  Alicen asked me what the bird needed, and really I was kind of puzzled.  With a real trapped bird, it is clear the bird needs someone to open a door or window so that it can fly free, but the idea of flying out a window did not feel good at all.  I did not actually want to leave.  Finally, as I stayed with the image, I thought of a very large mother bird who could be sitting in the corner of the room.  Having the mother bird around was a relief, but it did not change the trapped bird flying around feeling, just made it safer to be in that room.

I was really baffled.  Did the bird need the mother bird to attune to its energy and fly around with it?  That might have nice and I tried it out, but no, that was not it either.  Nor could I imagine the bird landing and being comforted by the mother bird.  Too much activation there, the energy needed to go somewhere.

Then Alicen asked a brilliant question.  “When did you feel the most settled when you where around Tondi?”  And the answer came immediately, “When I was helping her with her study.  When I knew what she needed from me.”  And then the light of realization came on, and I saw that the trapped bird was my little girl and that she was bouncing off the walls because she had no idea what to do to make her mother happy, that my mother would never make it clear or maybe did not know what she wanted.  And the bird landed then, relieved, because it too had no idea why it was bouncing off the walls.

In my mother’s family, I realize as I write this, there was something vaguely wrong about asking for something, from someone else unless you absolutely could not do it for yourself.  So you asked only in an emergency.  I was surprised to realize how important it is to me for people to ask me for what they want from me.  I love giving them what will make them happy if I can.  It is total joy.  I remembered later, in one of the few personal conversations that I had with my mother, in the last year of her life, I asked her about her relationship with her own mother and she said “She always wanted something from me and I could never give it to her.”

When Tondi, at my house, was being totally accommodating and low maintenance, that was a big trigger.  She was not going to be unhappy no matter what, but I could not settle until I could find out what she wanted.  Luckily, my router stopped working and my car battery died during her visit, so I also got a chance to feel her support and steadiness when things did not go they way we (or I) wanted them to go.  I realize, as I am writing this, that I sometimes put people in the same situation, thinking that if I have no particular choice that will just give them a chance to get what they want and that will make them happy.  I was bent on being accommodating, and until this happened I truly never realized what being on the other end of that accommodation could be like.

I remembered that my mother was only able to tell me what she did not want but never what she did.  She could order me around for sure, but there was never anything I (or anyone else) could do that actually would please her.  When I was 11, I remember coming back from summer camp excited that I finally understood how to fold clothes and stack them so that the stack looked neat.  No one had ever told me that all you have to do is make the folded side visible.  I loved the neat look and I applied my new knowledge to the clothes in my room.  I did not expect any acknowledgment, nor was I actually doing it for my mother.  But, one day after a couple of weeks, for some reason, I did not get around to doing the neat thing.  That night my mother said: “I see you are back to your old ways.”  I remember thinking “I am done trying to please you!”  

So this little trapped bird was really saying “I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to do.”  She was flying around waiting for Tondi to give her clear directions so she would know what to do to have a happy mother.  And now, writing this, I can complete the story with the large mother bird.  I did not need to in that session.  But now the mother bird is there, and in this version she is simply a happy mother bird and now, instead of frantically bouncing off the walls, the little bird has the freedom to come and be with her mother when she wants to or to fly around when she wants to do that.

 

Representative Rogers, it turns out, was not the only person to give the Republican response to the State of the Union address. She was the fourth, carefully placed to showcase the Republican party as woman-friendly. Thankfully, I did not see the rest, or much of the president’s address itself, which I find painful for other reasons. I watched in fascination and horror as this woman with the frozen fact and tight voice essentially made the case that since she, first in her family to go to college, earned her college tuition at the University of Washington by picking apples, and since she had a Down’s syndrome child age 6 now who is reading about grade level and a 8 week old baby who is in no way interfering with her career (I made that up, but not the 8-week old baby part), America is the land of opportunity where anyone can make it by working hard, even women (just keep picking those apples I guess). At the time, I could not believe (in that angry could not believe way) that anyone could buy into this alternative reality and I felt the usual frustration, outrage and helplessness that this could be happening.

The next day, in the free associating state of “driving to work,” I had the clear sense of wanting to slug her. I posted that on Facebook and added that I was really glad that I had a Somatic Experiencing (SE) Skype session coming up with my beloved teacher Alicen Halquist the next day, because I knew that there was a lot more than the person I was now allowing myself to call “This Idiot” involved. I was really curious about where it would go and promised to report back, which I am doing now.

Without attempting to recreate the session, I will say that first, as we do, Alicen and I talked about different things that seemed interesting to us right now. One that had totally stuck with me was a recent video that was shown in a trauma healing webinar that I experienced as “perfect SE.” In it Maggie Phillips who has more of an inner child orientation than some other SE teachers I have seen in videos (although she calls these kids “ego states”) helped a woman in a South African workshop recover and integrate her body memories of nearly drowning at age 4. Aside from the brilliant work of tracking and validating the woman and watching as her body became free to release the story and settle down to being safe, what had struck me most was the healing of what happened on the level of repair. The original story was that she was at a family gathering and some of the family was on one side of a stream and the rest on the other side. This little girl was curious about what was happening on the other side, so she decided to cross the stream on the rocks. She slipped and fell in. Her arm went up as she remembered being rescued by her uncle who pulled her out. When she was pulled out, all of the adults were very angry with her. “They were really scared weren’t they?” Maggie said, very gently. As Maggie helped her see that she had not done anything wrong, I heard the woman say “It’s not wrong to be curious” and I knew she was helping her little girl let go of her belief that it was because of what happened back then. Then Maggie asked what was needed and the woman said “I am taking her back across the stream with me and I am holding her hand. I am keeping her safe.” At this point both in the telling and when I watched it, I was at the edge of tears. Finally, the woman told Maggie that she had asked her little one if she wanted swimming lessons and her little girl was really excited. Maggie asked how she knew and the woman said, with a lot of joy in her face “I can see the gleam in her eyes.”

This was just one of the different things that Alicen and I talked about before I was really ready to face Rep. Rogers. Alicen started by saying “You really feel threatened by her don’t you?” And we were off.

As we do in SE, we started with the impulse, which was very clear. I could see my right arm punching her, or actually smashing her façade that seemed like something brittle that would just shatter if it hit it. It was set up as safe, my fist would not hurt if it did it. But in SE, we do these things very, very slowly, looking for the place where there is a shift and to my amazement, the shift happened just before I imagine my fist actually landing. I stopped right there. From that place, I imagined that I had already smashed her façade and that did not feel safe at all, that I did not know what was under there and it was a huge risk to let it out. So I hung out at that edge and it started to feel like I sometimes do on a bridge, that if I checked out in some way, lost awareness of what I was doing, I could find myself already having jumped off and it would be too late to change my mind. It felt exactly like that, being at the edge, afraid to go further because it would be too late if I did. I think we played with the idea of what would have kept me safe at the edge of the bridge but it shifted to how it was when I was little.

I started to remember how I felt about jumping off things and how scared I was to do that. I think all kids who are around steps practice jumping off steps and trying to see how many they can jump off at once. Some kids could jump off an entire staircase (or may one that has maybe 7 or 8 steps). I could do 1, 2 or even 3, but by 4 I was terrified to jump. I would try to force myself to do it and during the session it felt like I never had, but maybe I did do it a few times. I was so afraid of falling. I did not climb trees or even go up to the top of the jungle gym at the playground. I knew, instinctively that my fear would make my body freeze and then I was even more likely to fall, but I did not know what to do about it. I tripped and skinned my knees many, many times on the pavements of Brooklyn, NY, but falling from a height was terrifying to me.

Then I remembered another SE video (this one has a link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO1XO77sB7k&feature=youtu.be) where at one point children slide down a sort of sliding board are caught by someone holding a big soft child-sized bear. Over and over again, sliding down, being caught, each time a triumph of trust that “someone will catch you” shared by the child and the person catching them. I was, of course, deeply moved by that video at the time I saw it. No, I definitely did not have the feeling that someone would catch me when I jumped off the steps. In fact, I felt like a complete sissy and struggled to overcome that. I know i was mocked for being physically scared, I supposed in the mistaken belief that it would make me brave. We installed an adult, with kneepads so their creaky adult bodies could be comfortable at the foot of the steps and I imagined jumping and looking forward to how good it would feel to land instead of feeling like the best I could do was to not fall and berate myself for being scared. “You weren’t supposed to be able to do this alone,” Alicen said gently and my body enjoyed a new moment of how it would be to have felt safe to jump. We laughed, because really, I keep forgetting that I don’t have to do it alone and no matter how good I am at this stuff, she is there to remind me of that simple truth.

I was honing in on the sense of feeling very threatened and not knowing what to do, a theme that not surprisingly has come up with clients in the past week or two. It was such a big, old feeling of feeling threatened and overwhelmed. Alicen said “You were just little girl, you could not have known what to do” and as she repeated that, I could feel my body relax. There was nothing to do. That lasted a few minutes and then I realized that it could be that I could not have known what to do, but that did not change the threat at all. I was back with how I felt about Rep. Rogers. “How do you feel around her now? “ Alicen asked. Less threatened, but I want to get away from her, to not have anything to do with her but when I imagine doing that, it does not make me feel safe at all. I feel like there is nothing I can do about her and what she represents but knowing that does not feel good either. In my head I know that by doing what I am doing in the world now I am doing something about the trauma that creates what she represents, but that did not cause my system to settle very much. So I was back with the little girl who did not know what do to and the reality that, in this moment, there was nothing she could do, and again I asked what did she need. I did not say this explicitly, but I knew that I was asking what did she need to be able to settle and feel relief. For me, in that moment, it was this. She needed me to just be with her, and maybe to have Alicen there with me too, to acknowledge how much she was carrying, trying so hard to figure out what to do when there was nothing she could have done, and to finally be a safe place to go to put down all of that struggle and responsibility at last, to be safe to cry about how hard it all was. It was definitely what she needed.

I am kind of skipping what my body was doing thru all this, but at the end, my arms had moved into a position that clearly meant something but we did not know what. When I moved them a little either forward or back, I either felt them starting to shake or felt scared. There was no urgency to figure it out. However, again driving to work, afterwards, I knew what it was. It was where my arms were at the moment I fell off a hammock onto my left shoulder when I was 8. I was all alone to deal with the shock. This story is unwinding from my left shoulder and the details would be a distraction, but it was interesting to realize that, many years later (1990), when I feel off a bike and landed on my right shoulder hard enough to break my arm, the experience was completely different and there was no stuck trauma or residual pain. There were people to help me, to be concerned, to call an ambulance. The only thing I did, which I now understand is an SE technique for integrating shock trauma, was to keep imagining that I could turn time back, and go back to when it had not happened yet. I am sure there will be more healing around these falls. But I digress ☺

So in the end the threat that Rep. Rogers triggered was deep and old, and it was that you are supposed to make it on your own with hard work, that hard work, trying hard enough is guaranteed to succeed and if you don’t you are lacking somehow. It took me to being a little girl, trying to become strong enough to jump off the 5th step and never succeeding and never having anyone to tell her that she was not supposed to be able to do it alone. Writing this, I feel deep compassion for the little girl inside Rep. Rogers, but more than that, a deep respect to the little warrior that I once was who kept trying so hard, even though she was so scared and even though she do not know what to do.

Until the series was canceled, I was a regular view of Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer.”    I was thrilled and validated by his insistence that “energy” was more important that what people thought they were saying and projecting.  Today, through new eyes, I watched an old episode, from 2008, that showed up on YouTube.  It was fascinating how much what Cesar does is consisted with what we are learning about healing and at the same time how much I have learned about regulation and dysregulation. 

What struck me first was that Cesar’s job on the show is to deal with dysregulated dogs, dogs whose owners have failed to attune to themselves and to them, to meet their actual needs and who had essentially, just as human parents do with their own children, given the dog the oneway job of taking care of the owners.  Some dogs can probably do that, remaining calm and open when everyone else is totally losing it, but those dog owners do not call Cesar. 

I was also struck by the difference between the situation of these pets and that of the animals in the wild as described by Peter Levine.  An animal in the wild runs from a predator or fights back or even freezes but when the threat is over, it is over.  Their survival responses are appropriate for their situation.  I started to see that what was happening to the dogs shown on The Dog Whisperer is that they were falling into what we would call a trauma vortex, an overcoupled threat response to what should be an ordinary situation (e.g., the mailman) which the owner generally made worse by trying to handle canine dysregulation by either becoming dysregulated themselves (e.g., believing that yelling at the dog will make it better) or by misattunement  (making up a story about what is going on with the dog, e.g., deciding the dog is angry when it is in fact scared, or perhaps giving the dog a treat just like parents give dysregulated children a cookie to try to make them feel better).  Cesar’s role was to find a way to teach the humans to keep the dog from falling into the vortex and making everyone miserable. 

Cesar calls this “instability” and insists that for most dogs, the source of the instability is the owner and that in the presence of a “balanced” pack leader, i.e., a regulated, tuned in owner, the dog, a species that is programmed for attunement with the pack, will generally stabilize.  I remember him prescribing a course in mindfulness meditation for at least one highly anxious dog owner on one of his shows, and he visibly tries to center himself whenever there is a potentially overwhelming situation with a dog. He also makes it clear that pat of balance is meeting the needs of the actual dog, the actual breed, so that for example a high energy sheep dog cannot be expected to be calm and stable in a small apartment without exercise and a dog that is bred to have a job needs a job. 

He also gets that some dogs have several attachment trauma, a failure to get the basic level of attunement from other dogs and perhaps being separated too early from their own mothers, or maybe growing up in a puppy mill.  One of my favorite episodes was the so-called Luna episode, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVyH1xVUGy8  In that episode, a truly beautiful and compassionate man named Abel Delgado adopted a traumatized lab mix puppy from the pound and named her Luna.  Just listening to Abel Delgado speak is a beautiful experience.  He hoped that his love would rescue her, but after 6 months of trying, he realized that she was still terrified and would panic and freeze at the slightest provocation.  For a dog, smell is the primary orienting response and Luna was not even attempting to smell anything when Cesar met her.  Luna’s healing involved explicitly addressing her developmental trauma using doggie somatic work and having her spend time with a pack of balanced dogs, exposing her to scary things while having her run on a treadmill (interesting concept for engaging the flight response in humans maybe), teaching her nervous system what it was like to calm down using acupuncture, and giving her resources to feel safe.  By the time she was brought back to her owner, she was in the healing zone, no longer too terrified to live and in the follow up one year later (a big Dog Whisperer LA dog reunion) Luna had become a normal dog and a bit of a celebrity.

Another piece that resonated with what I have been learning is Cesar’s emphasis on the idea that dogs are not captive of a story like we are and that makes is much easier to uncouple the behavior from the stimulus.  And in well-resourced dogs, that uncoupling can occur almost immediately.  The one with the learning curve who has to let go of the story is the owner. 

Cesar’s goal is a “calm, submissive dog” being cared for by a balanced human pack leader.  The calm part, I relate to on an SE level, the relaxed state of alert vagal activation as opposed to a frozen obedience.  He is totally tuned into the need for orientation.  The pack leader part I have to take on faith, that it reflects the canine equivalent of the safety of knowing where you stand and as having an adult present whom the dog trusts to make good decisions.  Submissive does not compute for me as well, but maybe we can translate this as a kind of trust and an identity as a member of a pack, something we here in the Western world might actually need more of. 

The episode I caught on YouTube was recorded in 2008.  Although Cesar has always joked about his life, about being a kind of wild child who hung out with the dogs when he grew up in Mexico and about how his wife rescued him and taught him how to get along with people, before I started to do somatic experiencing work, I did not pick up how his body and his face reflected truth of what he said.  Since then, Cesar has been severely challenged by the loss of his franchise due to betrayal, his wife divorcing him and most of all the death of his pit bull Daddy, ironically his real source of balance and regulation.   He actually attempted suicide and then, by his account, started to face himself and also got into another relationship.  I have not yet seen any episodes of the new, international series that he is doing and I don’t have a sense of how he is now, but what also struck me about this 2008 episode was how frozen his face was, how uncomfortable he was with the people, especially women (even as he acted like he was okay) and how his system relaxed around the dogs.  Actually, I once heard him say in a live show that when he comes in he makes a show of listening to the owners, but really the dog tells him everything and now with my increased awareness, I could see the truth of that.  He talks about saving the world one dog at a time, knowing that it is dysregulation among humans that is the real threat to our survival. As I watched, I hoped that someone would tell him about Somatic Experiencing.  Maybe someone already has.  Cesar already gets it.  I found myself hoping that the traumatized little boy inside him has gotten a chance to be rescued too.

For somatically-oriented therapists, appreciation of the fundamental physiologic bind that both saying “yes” and saying “no” can be experienced as threats to survival by the primitive brain is vital.   Clients come to us wanting a way out of this bind, help finding some sort of correct action that will make it possible to decide to say “yes” or “no” and still feel safe from threat.  In the present, this threat may be experienced as a backlash from the angry inner judge.  No matter which course is chosen, the judge may well attack, trying to make sense of the feeling of threat.  This self-judgment can take the form of guilt or shame or even become a physical attack like cutting or maybe it will be projected on other people over whom we have no control. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  

Several years ago, I wrote a column entitled: “Offering Your Inner Child a Third Way, Compassion and Love”( http://www.innerbonding.com/show-article/1266/offering-your-inner-child-a-third-way-compassion-and-love.html).  In that column I wrote the following (paraphrased and revised here):

I remember, as a child, feeling like I had two choices. I could give myself up completely to my mother and get to be close to her, or I could refuse to give myself up and be alone. I chose to be alone, but part of me was mad about that. “Why can’t you just go along? It would be so much easier.” But I couldn’t. Neither choice felt right and I felt trapped in a world that had no possibility for real love.“ 

“Now I realize that I have another choice to offer my little girl. I can help her see the really wounded children inside my parents, that this is all happening because they have no idea how to take care of their own inner kids. I can help her not take what they did, their altered reality, their lack of empathy, personally. We can feel compassion and love for them and, incredibly, we do now. This provided my little girl with the third way that she never had, a way to have love in her heart, even around people who are too wounded to really care, without needing them to change or to give herself up.”

That column was about renegotiating this yes/no developmental trauma.  There really was freedom and relief in this essentially top–down realization that I had a third way, a third meaning to give to this experience.  When I reread this column now, I see how I have continued to expand on the same truth, but at the same time, how muted it was at the time. Some of the words that I wrote now jump out at me. I had no idea how much of my energy was caught up in not giving myself up (trying to win the right to say “no” without making things worse).  No idea how much energy was caught up in numbing out and diverting the need, muting the desire to connect (to have the right to say “Yes, I have the right to want” without triggering rejection).  I had no idea how much energy was split off and used to be mad at myself for failing again, instead of at my parents, or how much was being funneled into my head, trying to find a way out and believing that there was one, I just had not found it yet. When I wrote the word “trapped,” I had no idea how deeply true and automatic this was.  I now believe that recognition and acknowledgment of this primal bind is essential for healing.

The fundamental dilemma that all of us faced was that in most cases it was not completely safe to be who we were and yet the same people who made it so unsafe were the people we depended on for our survival.  Being who we were as infants meant being vulnerable and needing exactly what we needed with all of its intensity, wanting it, demanding it, but it also included responding with pleasure and relaxation when our needs were truly met.  Being who we were meant rejecting what felt bad to us, refusing it, spitting it out, squirming away, screaming in protest.  In a simplified way, these were the “yesses” and “nos” of our early existence and our deepest need was to have these needs received, understood and responded to, freedom to say both “yes” and “no” and be heard and appropriately responded to without our caregivers becoming dysregulated, without threatening our bond with them.

For most of us and for our clients, this permission did not happen or did not happen often enough.  Instead, at different ages and to different degrees, both our own “yes” and our own ”no” became frightening choices on the physiologic level, each associated with threat, real threat to our very survival, threat of loss of connection or rejection or physical or emotional abuse, even it this threat was on the energetic level where things looked one way (e.g., we got held) and felt another (it was not the kind of holding we needed).  This experience coalesced into shame, the sense that if I am feeling threatened and cannot find an acceptable narrative to explain it (e.g., Muslims) or sometimes even if I can, my deficiencies must be the cause of the threat, and that who I am and what I really need must be bad or wrong and the reality of that inner and awful backlash no matter what I decide.  

It is easy for therapists (and also for partners and friends) to unwillingly get hooked into this bind by assuming that choice is possible and offering more and more suggestions about actions that might be taken to finally make it all okay, to notice and reject the shame, in essence to make if possible for the person to override their own physiology.  It is easy for the client to succumb to the pressure to give themselves up in order to get well by doing whatever the therapist asks in the session, while both of them ignore the subtle signs that they client’s physiology is going into threat.  It is easy to try to teach a client to yell “No” and still ignore the bind, that we cannot make it physiologically safe to do so that way, we can just override and ignore what is going on at the subtle level.  Certainly there is healing in learning these new behaviors, but it is likely to be incomplete.

It is also heartbreakingly common to blame to client (or partner), saying “You are in resistance” or “You don’t really want to do this work,” or “You have trust issues that are blocking your progress” when in reality the person desperately wants to open up and will if it becomes safe, at this most profound level to do so. 

My point is that this bind is the elephant in the room.  Unacknowledged, this bind is perpetuated.  Acknowledged and honored, the path to freedom appears. So for me one of the primary goals of helping someone heal and also in my own healing is to make it safe to allow the “elephant” to be there.  Indeed to welcome this “elephant”, this beautiful little one whose automatic somatic responses, no matter what they are, are the true guides to what is needed to heal.  This deep honoring of another and of myself cannot be faked. It is a sacred act in the service of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As of a couple of posts ago, I have moved to “acceptance,”  acceptance that my ex-husband, a man with whom I have had no direct contact for a long time and whom I do not spend much time thinking about, may not yet have finished his job of helping me heal.  I guess, we will be done when we are done and it is out of my hands.  Even though I have been “unfriended”on Facebook, we have Facebook contacts in common, and occasionally he posts a comment that shows up in my thread.  The comments are almost always what I experience as “smartass.” They tend to be provocative, trying to be funny but not funny.  They sound like his wounded teenager in action.

I found myself saying to a mutual friend, in the context of one of those posts on her wall (and of interactions with him in the past), that, “I cannot stand (his) wounded teenager.”  Hearing myself say this was kind shocking, because in Inner Bonding sessions with clients, one of the important things that I do is to help people connect with and open to their teenaged selves.  I have a lot of compassion for wounded teenagers.  Why not this one, I wondered?

Immediately, I realize that my ex-husband’s wounded teenager is almost identical to my father’s.  Their mottoes seemed to be that if they could provoke someone into getting upset, they could laugh triumphantly at their distress, because that meant they had won and winning was the most important thing. The more upset the better! Also, they both struck at seemingly random times.  As I see this, almost like cards flashing past, I see scenes from times I was little, with me desperate and humiliated trying to get him to stop it.  Only my mother actually could stop him, so he titrated it to what he thought he could get away with.  I realized that I learned to avoid interacting with him in ways that put me at risk, but he would often search for a weakness, something he could get me upset about, like putting my shrieking parakeet inside his shirt and laughing as I begged him to stop and let her go.  When he was much older, my father really did somehow open his heart and deeply and sincerely apologize for “not being much of a father.”  Oddly, at the time, I was only vaguely connected to what he was apologizing about.

I go back to my little girl inside me, the one who felt like a failure whenever he “got” her again and tell her, for the first time, that this whole situation was wrong.  I tell her that her Daddy could not deal with feeling helpless and vulnerable and that was why he acted that way he did.  I tell her that she did not cause this.  I tell her that I understand now why it never felt safe to show that she was hurt, that he really was cruel and really would take advantage of it.  I tell her that now I am here to protect her.  I tell her that feeling hurt is not a failure, it is not a defeat.  Wow!  It feels like a layer of armor has suddenly fallen away. 

Then I realize, as usual, that it was never about my ex being just like my father at all.  I had thought it was about triggering the memories of his cruelty, but the deeper story, the healing story, is that his wounded teenager was triggering my own wounded self.  It was my wounded self who was telling my little girl that my ex-husband’s posts prove that it is still not safe for her to show her hurt to anyone, that if she does, she still loses.  My wounded self was saying that as long as he acted that way, my little girl could not be safe and since there was nothing anyone could do about him, she was stuck.  That was true when I was growing up but it certainly is not true now. No wonder his posts felt so awful!  They felt awful because I simply did not realize that I was allowing my wounded self to manage this situation. 

So, now, with my loving adult taking care of my little one, I test again.  I imagine reading one of these posts from my ex-husband’s wounded teenager, and instead of feeling threatened, I feel compassion for the frightened abused little boy inside of him.  But as soon as I do, I feel a stab of heartbreak.  Surprisingly, the heartbreak is not about what happened between us in our relationship.  In fact, as usual when he teaches me another lesson, all of that feels completely irrelevant.  Rather, it is the heartbreak that I tried so hard not to feel growing up, that heartbreak that it felt so humiliating to have, but now the heartbreak is clean and true.  There is no shame in it anymore.  It was never about me, and there was nothing I could have done about it except survive as best I could, but thanks to Inner Bonding, I can do something now without changing anything about anyone else. We are smiling now, my little one and I.  I love it when this happens!!!

Lately I have been embracing and enjoying the idea that anything that I dislike in anyone else is a mirror for me of something I have not been recognizing in myself.  Not a novel concept for sure, but actually fun in practice when there is no judgment about what I see.  Everyone is a gift to me.  As anyone who has read my columns has noticed, my ex-husband is the gift that keeps on giving in this arena.  So when, recently, I realized that I was still furious with him and still could not forgive him for something, I could not wait to find out what it was.  It was not, I knew for sure, for leaving me for another woman.   That saved my life.  No, it came down to the thing I said to him at the lawyer’s office the day we signed our separation agreement almost 7 years ago, “I wish only one thing for you … (dramatic pause) that you WAKE UP.”  I realized that was still true somewhere, although my definition for that had changed dramatically.  Fascinating… why am I still so unable to forgive him for pretending to wake up, convincing himself that he was devoted to waking up and yet refusing to actually do it?

The good thing about checking in when you notice something like this is that you don’t have to keep going around and around in circles trying to understand it because the real answer is always inside.  So, okay, I asked my inner little girl, “are you furious with me for something like that?”  And of course the answer was “Yes. You tell me that you are committed to being completely there for me, for loving me, remembering who I really, how incredible I really am, but it is just talk.  You are nice to me.  You keep me comfortable but you are not completely there.”  I know this is true.  It is so easy for me to do for clients during sessions what I so easily forget to do for my own little girl, to stay present with love and compassion.  I wondered what it would take.  Certainly NOT beating myself up to make me different! 

The very next day, I was having a session with my extraordinary craniosacral healer Eileen Kinsella.  She was working on my solar plexus, on releasing what I experienced as a painful metal lid, a disk that I had adopted to protect myself growing up.  As the disk softened and I experimented with how it felt being without it, I became aware of the two choices of the wounded self, having the disk or not having any protection and I knew that there would be a third way.  So I looked under the disk and there was a layer of anger but instead of getting lost in that, I remembered that anger was a cover too and I went down even further.  Under that, at the bottom of the well of my third chakra, I saw a scared little girl.  I reported this to Eileen who asked, “Is there something you want to do about the scared little girl?”  I went back, thinking I would just stay with her or do something Inner Bondingish.  But instead, as soon as I went back, as soon as I turned to her, I was blindsided by a gentle bolt of grace and a single word “Reverence.”  The scared little girl had vanished replace by an amazing sacredness, reverence and awe.

I know that was the next layer of learning to love my myself, not as a job that I do not always remember to do, but as a way to be.  With that bolt of energy, the pathway in my brain between the idea of my little girl, of my essence, got fused with the experience of grace.   I can no longer imagine her without also feeling her sacredness. And it has changed the way I see others too, people I pass at work, when I look at them under the pain and darkness that they carry, I see their sacredness.  And, yes, I am no longer furious with my ex either.  It was never about him anyway, at least until the next gift shows up.