A Year of Discovery for Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Come along on the journey to self-knowledge and life-design!

Join me on a 12 month journey of self-knowledge and life design for survivors of child abuse. 

We started with the skill of awareness in November.  Each month I will share skills I practice to create the life I choose, on purpose and not driven by the events of the past.  We continue our exploration of awareness - this time of our emotional body.

Last week I gave you 3 exercises to help you become aware of your thoughts during Thanksgiving.  Did you write in your notebook?  Did you notice your thoughts? (Check out FaceBook Live each week.) We now have entered the holiday season.  It’s a time when emotions run high, when sentiments and memories are relived and reformed, when traditions honored or rejected.  How do you experience emotions?

Awareness vs. Hyper Vigilance.

First, I want to clarify the difference between awareness and hyper-vigilance.  Survivors of trauma tend to be incredibly aware of other people.  As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I was constantly watching for changes in tone of voice, mood, and actions.  It was vital to survival to read a room.  Was my mom going to be angry or distracted or loving?  Was my uncle going to come and sit by me? Was my brother sad?  Was your father going to lash out?  Was your mother drunk or sober?

I used the information I gathered about others as an opportunity to focus on everyone else and get points for being the caretaker.  This took the spotlight off me.  I wanted someone to notice that something was horribly wrong, yet I was mortified and terrified that someone would.  Could they see the shame on my face?  I have an image of my ten-year-old self walking to school.  Only two blocks down the street.  Holding my shame tight, terrified; not one person noticed.  I was hiding in plain sight.  This led me to believe that there were two realities: the hidden one and the external one. 

That was then.  This is not that. 

The awareness I am offering here is awareness of how we think, what we feel inside, and what meaning we have made of our thoughts.  Turning inward instead of outward.  Not blaming, but questioning with curiosity.

Awareness of the body.

Today, let’s explore awareness of our emotions and the sensations that run through our bodies.  Anger, Shame, Dred, Fear, Joy, Love.  As students of ourselves, let’s look at how we experience our emotions and name them.  The thing about emotions is that they are part of the human experience.  They come and they go. 

Here is an outtake of my emotional body:

Anger:  tightening of my body, focusing with my eyes (like I have Superman’s x-ray vision).  Constricting of my throat, mumbling under my breath, holding my breath.

Shame: body falling in on itself, eyes looking down and away, heart beating faster, feeling of heat flushing from my face to by chest.  My throat tightens.  Shrinking.

Dred:  hiding in plain sight, bracing for impact, trembling in my chest, hyper vigilant focusing.  Anticipating shame and fear.

Excitement: face open and smiling, eyes relaxed and engaged, heart beating, vibration in my upper body, anticipating more joy.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor and the 90 second rule.

In her book, My Stroke of Insight (New York Times Bestseller published by Viking in May 2008), Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor says, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop. Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.”

We can all learn that we can take full responsibility for what thoughts we are thinking and what emotional circuitry we are feeling. Knowing this and acting on this can lead us into feeling a wonderful sense of well-being and peacefulness. Whether it is my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry – it is really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90-second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I am thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry that is resulting in me having this physiology over and over again.
— Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

If we can observe our physiology and our thought patterns like a research scientist, perhaps we will not hate feeling our feelings.  We will experience them and still come out alive.  That is how you get a skill.  You start with no skill.  You do it and you have a little skill.  The more you do it, the more skill you develop.

Exercise:  Think of the top three emotions you have most days.  What is the physiology of those emotions?  Do a body scan and see what sensations you have in the different body parts when you hold the emotions.  Write them down. Name them.

Work with me.

I am happy to take each of you individually through this exercise in a 30-minute complimentary mini-session.  I will use this or another exercise to work on one specific problem.  You will be amazed at how transformative this work can be.  I’ll also let you know about my coaching programs.  Interested? Reply to this email, and I’ll send you a link to my calendar. 

December is here.

In the meantime, November melts into December when I will be sharing my practices about connecting and being still.  Stillness amid the holiday madness.  Let’s continue to practice awareness and grow our skill with each try.