I initially decided to start this blog after cleaning out our hallway closet. At the bottom in the back corner were old letters, journals and piles of notebooks. The letters presented a series of exchanges with family members and unresolved issues. The journals provided a snippet of me at that a point in time. The notebooks, were my well-laid plane for a blog I hoped to launch. As a therapy student, my curiosity was piqued, so I spent that morning reading through them.
One troubling pattern in all these materials, is a consistent tendency to develop well-laid plans, only to fail in consistent follow-through. Life got in the way, my kids were young, I was busy, there wasn’t enough time. These are my “excuses”. Therefore, I decided, at that moment to make myself a priority, and enact slow and steady action towards my goals. I was already working on completing a masters degree, working full time, and raising a family. However, I felt slow and steady progress is better than standstill. If I just took consistent action, at least there would be progress…
I am now working on losing weight and sustaining an average weekly loss is around 2 pounds. I’ve also worked on this blog. The progress was quite slow at first, since I didn’t know much initially about the technological aspects of blogging. However, I’m glad I took time to set things up as I like. The visual aesthetic is just as I like it. I have created several substantial blog posts. As I review my progress thus far, I note my early posts have been just random brain dumps, of what is going on at that moment. However, I have to admit, while this brain dumping can be “cathartic”, that doesn’t mean it is always the best choice, (at least from the standpoint of personal growth).
My long-term goal is improvement of my overall well-being, and expansion of an adult ego state, as described in this video: (Theramin Trees, 2010). Since this similar to Marsha Linehan’s concept of wise-mindedness, I feel it might help to review both of these concepts below:
Wise-Mindedness – A Guiding Principle
In a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills Group, mindfulness is taught to clients so they can learn tools to improve their ability to regulate emotions (McKay, et al, 2010). It can also help us to make sound judgments and decisions (McKay, et al, 2010). Deeply held valuees are just as important life as the pragmatics of daily life and utilization of basic logic. In order to provide clarity to the notion of mindfulness, three concepts are introduced: reasonable mind, emotional mind, wise mind (McKay, et al, 2010). The emotional mind, is best thought of as a state in which you think with your feelings and not through them. A skewed reality overwhelms us based on our unique experiences, (McKay, et al, 2010). In contrast, the reasonable mind, is ruled by intellect, the principles of logic, and empirical facts (McKay, et al, 2010). While, a comprehensive and logical analysis of facts has occurred the monkey wrench in life which is overlooked are others feelings. You see, acknowledging others emotions means you understand comprehensively the nature of life experiences as reflective of ones perceptions and values. Failing to understand this, means you enforce upon others a pragmatic solution that fails to consider what’s important to them. Finally, the wise-mind sits at the intersection between facts and feelings. “Wise mind is a decision-making process that balances the reasoning of your thoughts with the needs of your emotions….” (McKay, et al, 2010, p75).
In his video, Theramin Trees, (2010) provides another slant on this notion of wise-mindedness. From this theoretical vantagepoint, ego-states can be thought of perceptual mindsets based on early childhood memories, resulting in protypical patterns of behavior. My own favorites appear to be the hurt child & critical parent. The critical parent provides structure and control in an uncertain role, while the hurt child is a perpetual victim. Merging these two, can allow me to function more effectively, in the present. Letting go of past baggage is needed to deal with things in the present in a balanced and holistic manner.
A Goal – Pulling My Head Out…
The problem with old traumas, is when they are triggered, the emotional onslaught can be tough to endure. It happens rarely nowadays, (and usually with family). I work through the emotions and process them in a healthy manner, then re-acclimate my “higher cognitive functioning” to daily life. In the aftermath, I end up frustrated with myself. How is it mountains become molehills, and stuff I’m so “over” are still “not over”??!! In moving forward, I will make use of this blog as a place to vent and purge. However, I feel it is important in a manner that allows a processing of emotions that heightens my well-being. If it strengthens my hurt child and inner critic, I will need to let it go.
With all this in mind, if I bring up a triggery or painful experience, I will make a point of reading it later in “the cold light of day”. My prediction is, when reviewing these old posts , I will discover my reactions don’t match the situation which triggered it. Or sometimes I might just be acting on a misunderstanding and creating problems where they didn’t exist before. In either case, I intend – from here on out – to take time and make use of these blogged experiences by learning from them. What follows is an example of how I will structure this processing. In this example, I will utilize an email my sister sent me after notifying me she had breast cancer. In this email she provides a link to a to an article on how to provide support to those with cancer. I discuss my reactions to this email in the post titled “…and cancer trumps PTSD”
First The Context….
For my own purposes, the first step in processing “triggery” events, will be to acknowledge and describe my my emotions. After finding out my sister has cancer, she updates me in a quick email about the surgeries and treatments in her future. At the bottom of this email was a link to an article titled “How Not To Say The Wrong Thing” by Susan Silk, breast cancer survivor and psychologist. She describes an “Comfort IN and Dump OUT” (Silk & Goldman, 2013) rule for those in the midst of crisis in the following quote:
“Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it put the name of the person at the center of the trauma…Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma…when you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours…the goal is to help…but if you open your mouth ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort. If it isn’t don’t say it.” (Silk & Goldman, 2013).
This quote essentially stresses the importance of providing comfort to those going through a crisis, but avoid dumping your upon them anything you’re dealing with since this only adds more stress in their lives.
Next The Processing….
Describe The Bodily Emotions…
My mind is on fire, and my body tingles with quickly burgeoning panic. This unexpected trigger, reminds me of a time, when I needed my family to be there and they didn’t. Old memories of aloneness, desperation, and hurt enter my mind. Anger sets in, as I remember being blamed, having to apologize and provide comfort, at a time when I needed them. I hug my husband and he holds me as the tears pour out uncontrollably for about thirty minutes. I go to the gym to work out and let go of the pent up energy which drives me crazy.
Identify Your Thought Processes…
The next step in my processing will involve identifying the thought processes that occurred at this time. When overcome with old memories, it is hard to see beyond them. My thought processes are like a snowball that rolls down the hill and gets bigger on its way down. While I’m grateful for my ability to maintain some “metacognitive awareness”, I still struggle. Part of me knows these emotions are related to old memories and not current events. However, despite my best efforts my mind repeatedly floats back to unresolved issues with family and I began to ruminate. The viscious rumination cycle starts when memories intrude my mind. It then causes old feelings of anger and hurt to pop up. I ask why they couldn’t be there? Why can’t they acknowledge they weren’t there? And the cycle continues as memories pop up again.
Examining The Evidence “For and Against”
So what is the evidence? On the one hand, my family wasn’t there. They weren’t there then. Yes, in fact if I were to look at evidence of what happened, this truth can’t be ignored. If my own “hurt child” wishes to hear this, there you go. However, in order to move forward into the adult state, I need to let go of the past. From this perspective it is clear these emotions are byproducts of a “trauma fog” that hits occassionally with family. In thus respect, my perceptions aren’t reflective of what is happening now. Instead, they are responses to a trigger. When I look at what my sister said in her email, this is a clip of her intentions at the time she sent it to me.
I wanted to include a link to an article that I wish I had read a long time ago in ministering to friends/family who are in the midst of a trial. It talks about having circles or rings around the person in the center of the trial and to be mindful of how we speak to those affected by the trial. Very insightful.
It is worth noting, that I respond to this email by putting my foot in my mouth and dumping upon my sister and sharing about how this email is triggery, but thank her for the email. She acknowledges how I feel, but simply “I hope you can get the help that you need.” My mother, chimes in regarding this misunderstanding and makes the following statement:
“I agree. I do not fully understand the pain that you suffered as a child. I also was not there to hold your hand. I am sorry………Mom”
The final step in this process involves identifying and disputing irrational thoughts. What are my irrational thoughts & how do I need to pull my head out? Here is the list:
I AM PLAYING VICTIM – Click this link for 14 signs that indicate you’re playing victim…
I AM REACTING TO PAST EVENTS – What happened was a reaction to a trigger of an old painful memory that set off a chain of events inside me that took a while to resolve themselves.
COGNTIVE DISTORTIONS – the two cognitive distortions standing out to me in this specific instance include overgeneralization and magnification.
HURT CHILD EGO STATE – Eric Brene describes this ego state as an experiential perspective based on unresolved issues from our childhood. Memories of old wounds as a vulnerable child take over and you can’t think beyond them.