Saturday, December 22, 2018

If holiday family gatherings are dysfunctional …

Then there is a high potential for re-wounding and re-traumatization, especially if healing on individual and/or family levels has not been completed yet. Does it mean that we need to spend holidays alone or with a tight circle of close and trusted friends? Not necessarily.       
     But what it means is that we need to tend to our vulnerable young parts before, during, and after the family visit. Here are some ideas of how you can protect and care for your parts during the dysfunctional family gathering (or in any emotionally unfriendly environment):
·       Before the visit:
o   Have an internal conversation with any parts of you that are worried about seeing the family. Ask them what they need during the visit and discuss what you can provide.
o   Follow through on what you promised. It is really important for the  maintenance of internal harmony and trust to follow through on your promises and commitments, just like it is important to actually do what you promised in interpersonal relationships.
o   If there is a part or several that do not want to participate in a family visit or a specific activity, you can accommodate such a request through a creation of an internal safe place (see below for specific instructions on how to do it). Once a part has a safe place to go to, just remind it before the visit or an activity that it is time to go to a safe place and then let the part know when it is safe to come out. This technique may feel strange and even uncomfortable at first; however, when done consistently, parts often come to appreciate such an option for safety. Please, be aware that it is not a magic wand though and your parts may still get triggered by things happening around you. This technique just reduces probability and intensity of such triggering.
o   Create a plan of how to leave dysfunctional interactions, as well as overall exit plan. It is good to be prepared. Ideas for graciously leaving unwanted conversations: excusing yourself to go to the bathroom, changing a topic to something fun (have ideas ready), inviting a safe(r) person nearby to join your group. When you are asked a question that you are not comfortable responding to, remember that you don’t have to. You can always say that you would rather not talk about it or that it is a topic for a different time and different place. If things at the gathering develop in a negative direction for you, remember that you can always excuse yourself and leave. It is good to have a plan prepared beforehand for such a possibility, which includes having an independent means of transportation and a place to stay. For transportation, if you don’t have your own car at hand, you can always rent a car, call a cab (have a local number on hand) or use a Lyft (have an app downloaded and ready to go beforehand). In regards to the place to stay, have an alternative arrangement researched and ready to go, such as a friend, who is willing to host you if needed or information about nearby hotels and their rates/availability.
·       During the visit:
o   Remember your rights and exercise them as needed during the visit, such as: a) to say ”NO” to anything you are not comfortable with; b) to set the boundaries that are healthy for you; c) to leave the situation that makes you feel hurt, violated, or overwhelmed; d) to care for yourself and your parts.
o   Set, Re-set, and Maintain boundaries. Very often our family members have to be reminded in gentle and firm ways about our boundaries. For example, my mother tends to forget that I do not like being asked questions like “Are you happy?”. So, when she does it again, I say something like: “Mom, remember we talked about it before? I do not like questions like that and I do not answer them. So, can I tell you about this really fun movie I watched last week instead?” When your boundaries have been violated more than once, remind the “offender” what your consequences are. This is an important part of teaching people to respect your boundaries. Consequences often center around disruption of connection and maybe things like not talking for certain period of time, leaving the situation for a short period of time, or leaving the gathering all together. So, when you re-set the boundaries with a person, who you know is likely to disrespect them, let that person know what will happen if they cross your boundary again. For example: “Uncle Bob, I told you multiple times that I do not appreciate hugs from you. If you attempt to hug me again, I am going to turn around a walk away and I am not going to talk to you for the next half an hour”.
·       After the visit:
o   Spend time with your parts, especially the ones that were triggered during the visit. Once you are in your own space and alone, spend at least 15-30 min with your parts, asking them about their experiences during this latest visit with the family and listening to them from the place of compassion and care. Journal. Care for them in the  ways that they ask to be cared for.
o   If a part was hurt, ask it to tell you both about the present hurt and about the past hurts that she was reminded of and perhaps relived as a result. Be gentle. Ask the part how you can help it heal the hurt. Do what the part requests. Ask for forgiveness, if you were not able to properly protect the part from being re-wounded.
o   If a part hurt someone else, ask the part what it was trying to protect you from. Listen and acknowledge parts reasons for acting the way it did. When the part feels heard and understood by you, ask it if it know how its behavior affected other people. If the part does not know, tell it. Discuss with the part ways to remedy the situation and repair with those that were hurt. Forgive the part, it had a positive intention of protecting your system.
How to create a safe place to contain and protect the part that is likely to get hurt?

     When we visit with our family of origin, very often the parts that are at most risk, are the wounded young parts. So, when we talk with them about the upcoming visit, it is important to hear their concerns and to assess whether they are healed enough to participate 100% in the family visit. If in the process of talking to the part we determine and the part agrees that protection is important. Then we can offer the part an idea of an internal virtual safe place.
     If the part is open to the idea, ask it to show you an image of a real, imaginary, or combination place, where part would feel protected and relaxed. Ask the part to not choose a place that has any negative memories attached to it. Once the part shows you the image or gives you the description, see how safe and protected this place seems to you. If you have doubts about the place, voice them and discuss with the part. If it appears to be a good enough place, proceed telling the part that it can have anything it needs to make her stay at that spot enjoyable, for example, comfortable furniture, blankets, toys, books, pets, food, etc. Encourage the part to make that imaginary place as safe and comfortable as possible. Inform the part that No One is allowed into that place without the part’s permission. Once the place is ready, in your mind’s eye invite the part go to that place and give it some time to stay there and see how it feels. If the part feels good and comfortable, the place is ready for the future use. If the part feels uncomfortable ask the part what needs to be changed or added in order to increase safety and continue working with the part on modifying the place until part feels good about it.

I am wishing you healthy holidays that are supportive of your healing journey!

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!