This is a powerful must listen. Comedian/actor Darrell Hammond, Director Michelle Esrick and I talk honestly about the impact of childhood trauma on the Road to Resilience Podcast.
See my patient's amazing video about childhood trauma.Read More
Four stories of sexual assault crash on top of each other, like a four-car pile up.Read More
So, my trauma-recovered patient continues "wondering" around NYC, snapping pictures of its beauty. This particular scene is quite metaphoric. That red emergency rescue ladder is a remnant of a winter just passed, where a fissured frozen pond portends drowning and death. But, this day welcomes the first warm weekend of Spring. And for the first time in his life, he allows himself to soak in its life-renewing promise, holding hands with his expectant wife. His dog deeply wise in her playfulness frolicks ahead. ...We should drape the ladder with garlands of new Spring buds.
, a patient of mine comes out from under the dense fog of childhood traumaRead More
I’ve been thinking a lot about managing difficult conversations recently because of some intense family work I’ve been doing and thought I’d write out my ideas to help me understand them. Please feel free to comment and ask for clarification to help me further my thinking.
So the bulk of what I seem to be doing in therapy nowadays when it comes to conversations is to help people attune to the multiple streams of discourse that are occurring simultaneously in any and all conversations. The most superficial stream is the actual topic and the words spoken. This current is the visible surface of every conversation. Under that is the current of feelings that are still visible from above but still sometimes requires the intentional light of attention to discover. Under that lies a deeper current about beliefs, particularly about the world and one’s values in the world. Here lie beliefs about how the world should work, how others should behave and how others should treat each other. The deepest and most difficult to find current of conversation is about beliefs about the self. What is this conversation implying about who I am as a person and my value as a person? Is this conversation making me look stupid, wrong, mean or smart, right, or otherwise virtuous?
Problems arise when the deeper currents are becoming agitated but the actual topic of conversation doesn’t move to focus on the underlying currents. Conversations about politics or religion are clear examples of when beliefs about the world become primary, but they are generally avoided because they agitate the currents of self-value, whether a person is fundamentally good and moral. Between parents and children, some conversations seem to be about mundane problems or challenges (like getting homework done or setting a curfew), but they suddenly and unexpectedly blow up because the conversation triggers feelings of “I’m a horrible parent” or “They’re treating me like a child and I am not a baby!” The tricky thing to do is to know when certain currents are taking primacy in a conversation and then being able to have conversations from that current.
When trauma is somehow in the picture (either trauma in the child, parent, or both), the waters become even choppier. Trauma has a tendency of hijacking any conversation, especially when there is strife, stress, or intensity. Trauma tends to escalate feelings very quickly too because one’s self-protective alarm response is easily triggered and rapidly mobilizes a fight or flight response. Trauma also gets deeply embedded in the currents of belief: the world is not safe, you are dangerous or scary, I can’t trust anyone, I don’t deserve love, or I deserve to be hurt.
In these situations, it’s even more important for people to watch for how trauma is distorting or impacting the current of conversation. And, when the conversation starts to feel heated, confusing, or frustrating, then I strongly believe that people need to take a pause to figure out what is happening at all currents of the conversation. Sometimes, this can be very hard to figure out, and people may not feel safe enough to share the deeper currents. That’s why a sensitive therapist can help people articulate the currents and do so in a safe way.
It’s still very hard, though; trust me.
Sir Patrick Stewart talks about how he grew up witnessing his father act violently towards his mother. Then, as an adult he learned that his father's violence stemmed from the PTSD his father experienced as a veteran of WWI. It seems to me that the traumas that nations experience seep into the individual lives of its citizens, its families, for generations. I think it is so important to realize that trauma is our adversary, not other human beings. This realization is one of the most difficult, but important ones to make for anyone who has been hurt by another ...and perhaps even more important for anyone who hurts others.
The best part of the clip for me occurs when everyone is focused on applauding Sir Stewart, but he himself stays wonderfully attentive and connected to the woman who asked the question. As a clinician who works with so many people touched by trauma, I can tell you that that caring, mindful awareness of others in the present moment is the hallmark of having healed and turned trauma into growth. For anyone who hasn't attained that growth, set course for that solar system and ...Engage!
I think the most important skill--one which is very difficult to teach--is the ability, willingness, and courage to stand emotionally naked but steady in front of another human being and bear witness to that which is unbearable. To allow oneself to be fully moved by the devastating horror that trauma represents without being overwhelmed by it.Read More