Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Emotional Trauma and The Absurdity of How We Respond

Emotional Trauma and the Absurdity of How We Respond

There is nothing absurd about trauma. Do not treat someone who has gone through trauma as if their reactions are too much or absurd! Do not belittle them or rush them in how they deal with it. Impatience only adds to the difficulty they experience. Be a REAL support! 

Emotional trauma happens, we do not want it to but it happens in life. Everyone is a separate individual. Everyone has different thoughts, feelings, drives, desires and aversions. Everyone experiences life events from a different perspective.

One of the first critical lessons we learned in my graduate courses regarding trauma was mind bending. One of the biggest, most traumatic source of conflict comes from the aftermath of trauma. People living in the same house experience different relationships with one another. Two siblings can have opposite experiences. Neighbors and friends of the family may see only the 'public' face and not bear witness to the words that aren't posted on the Facebook feed. Different people have completely different experiences of the SAME event! Your parent may have complimented you and bought you wonderful gifts, but turned around and guilt tripped your sibling, embarrassing them and buying them cheap unwanted baubles.

People assume that their friends and relatives feel and act the same whether they are in public or not. They assume that they would make decisions the same way that they do. They put words in their mouths. They hear the words and judge the feelings to be there. They do this with no idea of what really went on, no idea of how what they are saying could be harmful as they were not there. They were not a fly on the wall watching abuse or neglect. They only have the glib words and public face, the persona adopted by someone to be successful outside of their house.

We always want to help. Especially when the holidays come around. Family is part of the holiday theme, so is togetherness. There is a black and white movie appeal at bringing estranged family together again. Stop! Do you know that the holidays are a time of stress for those who have trauma in their past? Many have found balance or peace, they turn their faces forward and appreciate the good in life while you reach out and shake their shoulders and spin them around saying "They LOVE you, I know!" The worst injustice, the cruelest act of kindness that you could ever do. Never assume. Assuming in someone else's relations is absurd. You are not them, if you respect their ability to make decisions then accept that they have good reasons for making the choices they have.

You are wonderful for wanting to help them heal! You are caring, you mean well! Let me give you a better suggestion.

Listen to them. Ask them open ended questions. Never use words that indicate that you know someone else's feelings or thoughts. Validate their emotions and experiences. Offer them support. Do not try to reconnect people. Do not take word of one to the other. To someone who had trauma in their past, words put in the mouths of the people who scarred their hearts are like sharp knives. They can easily slice open old wounds.

Look at the people who cry out about how wonderful they are and how tragic it is that someone in their family or an ex will not respond to their attempts to connect. I don't mean look on the surface. I mean how honest are they? Do they work hard to always have the right appearance? Do they manipulate others into viewing them the way they choose? Are they manipulative? Do they have mood swings? What do they say and how do they sound when they lose their temper? Do they misuse substances? Do they have trauma in their past, that they may or may not have dealt with?

Keep your thoughts to yourself but you may see the edges of their carefully created fabrication if you really look. They REALLY do want you to approve of them. They REALLY do want you to believe that they care. In a warped way, they probably do. Abusers and people who are neglectful dislike it when others realize they are flawed. They do not like being called out. They will claim that what is said is lies, while rewriting the past in their minds. They change their history, they believe the new words. "I fell down the stairs, the dog ran off, he loves me." See eventually, the abused learns to believe them too.

It becomes a cycle. It passes from one generation to the next. The cycle can be broken. You can support someone who is struggling. Encourage them to be honest to themselves. Validate their experiences. Hug them. Laugh with them. Keep their eyes focused forward. When they get frustrated or stressed, encourage them to use their skills to face the challenges. Never put someone else's words in your mouth. Even if you are a parent, a lover, a sister, a brother- even if you are loving, not everyone else is the same as you. Many pay lip service to saying they are but often behind closed doors are not.

Some people get mired in trauma. They dwell in it every day. Help them get passed it by encouraging them to seek professional help. If they are already doing that but still playing the drama card, it is self esteem they lack.

Self esteem takes work to build, especially when it was destroyed when a child was growing up. Self esteem has no relation to how smart you are, how nice you are, how talented you are. Self esteem is about how you feel about yourself in relation to the world. Do you value yourself? Do you value what you have to offer the world? 

It is absurd how many people in this country struggle with self esteem issues, and yet we do not teach how to enhance it in school! We haphazardly cobble together treatments for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, social disorders… These can be caused by other issues BUT often self esteem plays the largest role. We do nothing to stop the perpetual cycle of self esteem destruction in the next generation. We do nothing to empower them. We enable them. We teach them to take tests. We give them technology that they can use to learn languages and other cultures-instead they use it for video games and gossip. Who taught them that? 

When I worked substance abuse treatment I taught anger management. I have taught thousands of veterans anger management. Vets came from other states to the treatment program I worked at, just to take my classes. We did not use the cookie cutter book. We talked about real, valid emotions. We waded through the ugly emotions and addressed the thoughts as well. We went over the body's response to stimuli that we perceive as causing anger. We discussed ways to manage anger not just count to ten and skip away. Funny it is in every book, but when someone has REAL anger-they admit they use the ten count to aim!

The vets I worked with stayed after the group one day. A room full of guys sat waiting. I asked what everyone was hanging back for. They looked at each other. The bravest one spoke. He said they had talked. They all knew that what they really needed was self esteem. They had no idea how to learn it. They had talked about who could teach them. They knew that their anger, their substance abuse, their interpersonal conflicts arose from their self esteem issues. They chose me to teach them. I sat down. Self esteem is a tough topic. It comes from perception based on emotions. When it is negative or defunct, you are going to face all that in helping someone heal it. I have gone through it myself.

People can recognize when someone has. The vets knew. They asked me to create the groups. I went to my boss and obtained permission. I gave it a lot of thought. I did research on what was out there. There was a curious lack of resources. Just Pollyanna Sunshine butterflies and rainbow pictures saying "believe in yourself." If it were that simple, no one would struggle at all. No one chooses to have low self esteem. I went to a coworker I respected. Chaplain Jerry, he taught another group with me and in had told me how he dealt with low self esteem in his own life in the past. I asked Jerry to help me create the groups. I showed him what I had, he and I created a series of groups that would span eight weeks with two-one hour sessions a week. After that, individuals could stay in an advanced group meeting weekly to work on projects.

We watched the movie "Pay It Forward." The vets in the group identified events in their past as well as how they handled them that affected their self esteem. The events that had a negative impact more often than not related to someone else's statements or judgement of them! The things that were destroying them were the words of someone else!

How do you build self esteem? Accomplish what is in your heart, be active in doing the things you love. Building confidence. Building successes, setting goals and working toward them. Achievements. Exercise and good diet. Mostly, learning to listen to the little voice in your heart. Learning that what it says is valid. Choosing to do what is in your heart; whether it is to stand up and say "no more" or to go to a soup kitchen and volunteer--these things can build a self esteem that has been beat into the ground.

For the holidays, instead of dishing out words from someone else's mouth, give support. Help build up the people you love. Keep other people's words out of your mouth!

I am working on a book on Healing Trauma and Guided Meditations. I will address this more in the book.