Saturday, September 29, 2018

Taking care of yourself as a sexual trauma survivor during times of cultural denial

Dear sexual trauma survivors,
     This post is in acknowledgement and support of you, as you have been and will continue witnessing sexual trauma survivors discreditation campaign conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and supporters of Judge Kavanaugh. It is very easy to get overwhelmed, disconnected and lost during times like these, when you hear voices doubting credibility of survivors’ stories. I am really sorry that you continue experiencing consequences of cultural denial of sexual trauma, which is not new. Generations of survivors before you have experienced this phenomenon. As a trauma therapist, my hope is that, as society gets more aware and educated about high prevalence of sexual trauma and its severe impact on the lives of survivors, we will be able to develop higher level of cultural sensitivity and, at least, protect survivors from the secondary wounds of not being believed and being blamed for the attacks.
     Today, however, I would like to acknowledge your pain and talk about the ways to soothe it.
When we are triggered by a public discourse of disbelief and denial, it is our younger wounded parts that get confused, ashamed, and hurt. For them, it is really hard to see and understand the issue of sexual trauma denial as a systemic issue that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Young parts tend to believe that it is their fault and that something is wrong with them. They may start flooding you and then you may experience shame, hurt, sadness, anger, confusion, and other negative feelings in your body as your whole self. Response of our younger parts is very understandable and very normal. Here is what we can do to help them and ourselves:
1.     Acknowledge thoughts and feelings of the part(s) no matter how “irrational” they might seem to your adult parts. Just let your wounded parts know that you see and love them no matter what and that you have their back.
2.     Ask triggered part(s) to not flood you and give you a little space so that you can care for them. Explain that when you do not have any separation from them, you cannot really see, hear, and validate them.
3.     Once the part separates, even if only a little, notice how do you feel towards it. If your feeling can be described as one of the following: compassion, curiosity, understanding, appreciation, concern, then proceed to let the part know that you are here and you are listening. If you have any negative feelings towards the wounded part, acknowledge those feelings and ask the parts that carry them to relax back. Look for a place inside where you have a feeling of acceptance or curiosity towards a hurting part, even if it is really tiny. From that place, acknowledge what the part is communicating to you. Validate its thoughts and feelings.
4.     Ask the part what it needs from you in order to feel better, even a little. Acknowledge expressed needs and (here is a crucial piece) do your best to meet them.
When our wounded parts feel that they are important and their thoughts and feelings matter to us, they are willing to collaborate and contain pain and shame that they are releasing into our psyche. When they feel cared for by us, their pain diminishes significantly.
     To illustrate how this might look, here is an example from my own life. I have a number of wounded parts that are struggling and in pain right now due to my personal history. Those are young parts that historically felt that they are not seen by others and that their feelings don’t matter. In the past two weeks, I have been paying special attention to these parts of me, listening to their whispers, asking them how they are feeling. The parts have been letting me know that they are starting to feel invisible again and it is hurtful and confusing. So, I have been consistently reminding my parts that I see them, I love them, and I appreciate them, even when and if no one else does. I have also been speaking on their behalf in several relationships in my life, setting firmer boundaries with people, who are likely to ignore my wishes. In addition, I have heard requests from my parts for more hugs, affectionate touch, physical care. So, I have been taking longer showers with nicer cosmetic products, giving myself self-massage, initiating more hugs in close relationships, doing specific yoga pose that these parts like and sending them compassion and warm wishes. My parts have been responding with feeling happier and calmer. In addition, I have been reminding my parts that they are welcome to go to the internal safe place, when I am reading news and encountering hurtful statements, because they do not need to deal with any of those things. My adult parts can take care of this dysfunctional business as needed.
   I hope that technology I shared above can be helpful to you. Please, remember that no matter what we do inside, with and for our parts, it rarely changes things on the outside. And, at times, we may find taking an action very empowering and helpful as well. For example, joining a women’s or survivors’ movement, speaking out against injustice, donating money to the causes that support survivors and so forth.
     With lots of love, compassion, and light,

Irina Diyankova

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Healing from trauma during the holiday season

  According to my professional and personal experiences, holidays tend to be difficult for many trauma survivors, and the season from Thanksgiving through Christmas is on the top of the blacklist. I remember certain stages in my own recovery, when mentioning of gratitude and forgiveness caused me to sarcastically laugh while experiencing pain and shame. Since then I have encountered multiple people, who felt very similarly.
     My invitation to you is to accept where you are at today. Whether you are cherishing every second or despising every moment or somewhere in between, it is OK to feel exactly the way you are feeling. Remember that your reactions are not fixed in time and they will be changing as you continue your healing journey.
     If this current holiday season is a struggle for you, I have a number of suggestions that could help soothe the pain. First and foremost, give yourself as much compassion as humanely possible and then… some more. Remind yourself and your parts OVER and OVER again that emotional and physical struggles are a normal part of any healing journey. Explain to your parts that even though you cannot take pain away, you can soothe it. Hand on the heart practice (see below) is an excellent compassion balm.
     Second, If you already practice listening to your parts from a compassionate place, then ask them how you can help. Validate what a part is telling you and then follow through on the request if possible. In the case that aforementioned practice is not a part of your repertoire yet, here are some specific suggestions of things to try:
1.     Hand on the heart technique. Put one of your hands on the heart area, focus on the sensation of touch, breathe light into your heart. Repeat soothing affirmations, such as “I know you are struggling right now. Its ok. I love you just the way you are”. If saying “I love you” is impossible in the moment substitute with God, pet, child, etc.

2.     Move your body in a caring way. Gentle yoga practice is ideal for that. For suggestions and videos of specific poses visit my YouTube channel:
Such practices as Humming Bee breath and Forward Fold tend to be really calming for thenervous system. You only need to preform one of the practices 3-4 times a day to start receiving benefits (overall 5-7 min a day)

3.     Set healthy for you boundaries with family and friends. Remember that you can end any unpleasant situation or destructive conversation by a variety of different means, such as excusing yourself to go to the bathroom, shifting to a different topic, explicitly stating that you are not willing to engage in X way, and if nothing else works, simply leaving the situation.

4.     Schedule some personal time daily, when you do ONLY what you want in the moment. Give yourself different tools and options, such as paper and markers, calming music, good book,
                                               a bath with essential oils, etc 

5.  Forgive yourself at least once a day and if needed multiple times a day. Regular forgiveness practice is a must during difficult times. A simple 3 min visualization of love and light that your Higher Self is sending into your heart is a good start.

6. Seek support from the trusted others. Before you leave for the holidays or host family at your home, discuss ways to stay connected via text, email, or phone with one or two close friends. Exchanging even one word or emoji when you feel upset or out of sorts can give you enough resource to do what needs to be done.
7.   Prepare a plan B and if needed a plan C. If you are traveling for the holidays, think of the alternative places to stay, people to see, dates and ways of getting back. Always have an exit out of a potentially unpleasant environment planned. Flying by the seat of your pants, when you are going in the situation that has been dysfunctional in the past is NOT a good plan, even if you think everyone has changed since. Also, just a gentle reminder that when we are going into an environment in which we have felt  traumatized before, it is very easy to freeze and blank out. This is why it is important to have the plan B spelled out, written down in a place that you have access to, and rehearsed a few times with a trusted friend.

Have a joyful and healthy holiday season!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

NERVOUS SYSTEM, BRAIN, and TRAUMA. Part 1: Autonomic Nervous System and trauma

NERVOUS SYSTEM, BRAIN, and TRAUMA series. Introduction
     In this series, I will briefly describe impact of complex trauma on nervous system and brain of a trauma survivor and offer tools for re-wiring survivor’s brain & nervous system. These tools are to be used on the regular basis, meaning several times a day, every day, as you are working on a particular issue that you have identified as your target. Stay on one target for 40+ days to see noticeable and sustainable results. According to Linda Graham, in order to utilize amazing ability of our neurons to rewire, we need to use a particular activity we have chosen for that goal in brief frequent bursts: 30sec-2 min 4-8 x day for 4-6 weeks.
Part 1: Autonomic Nervous System & trauma
     Our autonomic nervous system consists of 2 major branches: sympathetic & parasympathetic. They work together to create an optimal level of arousal so that we can be present in the moment and respond to the ongoing stressors and life events in adequate ways, meaning smart and sensible. When one of the branches is dominating in the moment, our functioning is not optimal.
     Survivors’ autonomic nervous system is often dysregulated with either sympathetic or parasympathetic branch dominating or domination changing from moment to moment. When sympathetic branch is dominating survivors experience HYPERAROUSAL, which may manifest in anxiety, anger, restlessness, insomnia, nightmares, and re-experiencing of trauma. If you are one of those folks, who tend to get stuck in the hyperarousal zone, the following yogic practices can be helpful to you:
·         Humming bee breath - - this is a good technique to practice when you first notice signs of increasing anxiety; can be used at any time during the day, including before bedtime
·         Forward Fold with visualization - - this is a great pose to help with release of worries, obsessive thoughts, and any “mental junk”
·         Legs up the wall – this is an excellent pose for insomnia, for evening fatigue, as well as both anxiety and depression. I suggest that once you get into the pose you use either guided calming visualization or mantra. In yogic tradition, mantra is a word or combination of syllables that is repeated over and over again as a way to focus one’s mind and go deeper into meditative state. For trauma survivors, it is important to focus their mind deliberately on a chosen word to prevent being flooded by negative feelings and memories. Some options for mantras may be: compassion, love, healing, calm, letting go, and so forth. If you would rather focus on something that does not have any meaning to you, try om.
     When survivors’ autonomic nervous system is dysregulated in the opposite direction and an unmylienated branch of the vagus nerve is dominating, then they experience a state of  HYPOAROUSAL. This state might manifest in slowing down of cognitive processes, feeling overwhelmed, being disconnected from one’s own body or feelings, experiencing fatigue, and at its extreme completely shutting down. Being stuck in hypoarousal for a long period of time is often associated with depression. If this is a concern for you, then one of the following yogic practices may be helpful:
·         Dynamic bridge – video is coming soon – this is
an excellent pose for increasing the strength of the
mylienated vagus nerve and regulating thyroid,
both of which are implicated in depression.
Attached picture shows you the final pose that you will be holding for 5-10 breaths. Before you come into that final expression of the bridge pose, you
will move in out of it a few times. Starting on your back with your knees bent and both of your feet on the floor (closish to your sitting bones). As you inhale, bring your navel and your sitting bones up towards the ceiling while at the same time rising your arms over your head and placing them on the floor behind your head. As you exhale, bring your sitting bones and your back to the floor while at the same time moving your arms to your sides. Keep moving with your own breathing pace and complete 5-7 repetitions. After that come into the bridge pose and hold it for 5-10 breaths.
·         Breath of joy – video is coming soon – this is an excellent pose to be performed the first thing in the morning and in the afternoon when you hit a low energy point. Please, do not practice this pose in the evening. Also, proceed with caution if you are prone to high levels of anxiety. Try it in slow motion first and pay attention throughout each practice to any developing signs of agitation or nervousness. If any are noticed, stop this pose and do something else. Starting in the Mountain pose with your feet parallel to each other, spine straight and long, as if you are suspended from the ceiling by the crown of your head, generously bend you knees and bring your torso slightly forward, letting arms freely hang by your sides. You will inhale in 3 parts and exhale in a brief and forceful way. Inhaling 1/3 of your lung capacity, bring your arms in front of you, parallel to each other and straighten your legs a bit. Inhaling another 1/3 of your lung capacity, bring your arms out to the sides creating a T-shape, while straightening your legs and torso a bit more. Inhaling to the full lung capacity, stretch up towards the ceiling with arms up and over your head. Now, exhale in one brief motion of your arms going towards the floor,  your torso bending forward, and your knees bending with a sound “ha” (saying it aloud). Repeat 5-7 times increasing speed of the movement. This pose takes a bit of learning and practicing. But once you get it, you will be able to enjoy full benefits of this powerful pose, which include instantly improved mood and increased level of energy.

Happy practicing! To be continued.