Combating Loneliness During Social Distancing

loneliness during social distancing

Humans are social creatures. We need each other. (Even introverts!) So how do we combat loneliness during social distancing? Before I get into that, let’s look at some statistics to see why this is such an important topic.

Statistics Around Loneliness

According to socialpronow:

  • loneliness in the USA is increasing. 52% of people sometimes or always feel alone.
  • Millennials and Gen Zs have the highest rates of loneliness at 65%.
  • 44% of the elder report being lonely
  • Men (63%) are more lonely than women (58%)
  • Loneliness is more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking, drinking, or not exercising.

So in effect, we’re risking our health so that we can preserve our health right now. Fortunately, it’s temporary. Here are some strategies to help you through.

Reframe Aloneness

Many people think that loneliness is about being alone. This can make us avoid being alone. However, we all need alone time. This is time to reflect, plan, relax, restore ourselves, or do self care. When we’re busy interacting with others, we can forget about ourselves. So instead of seeing solitary time as a bad time, take advantage of it to nurture yourself.

Think of it as “me time.” In fact, maybe you want to make your alone time a “to do” item. This tells your unconscious that this is important and desirable. When you’re the best you that you can be, you are more of an asset to yourself and others.

Change Your Thoughts

Loneliness isn’t about being alone. It’s about the subjective sense of connection to people and the universe. You don’t need other people to create this. It’s already within you. All you have to do is change your thoughts.

We all have family and ancestors. We belong to the animal kingdom and universe. The plant kingdom also inhabits the universe. The Earth houses us all. If we cultivate a connection to our village, city, state, or nation, we can connect to that too. We share culture with others too. Some of belong to groups, clubs, schools, or teams. There are so many things we can connect to that can nurture us if we change the way we look at them.

When you ask a gang member or a hate group why they chose to join, they almost always tell you its because of a sense of belonging that they felt there. We already belong to many different things. All we have to do is change the way we think about these relationships. Cultivate them. Nurture them. Let them be a source of strength.

Connect to Nature

Humans are part of Nature. Your natural family is all around you. Can you look up at the night sky and not feel the awe? You are made of stardust! What an awesome creature you are! The mighty trees are quite similar to humans. Even if you can’t be with people, you have these natural relatives all around you. Open your heart. Feel them. Feel your spiritual connection to them. Take comfort in your belonging to this vast, mysterious web of life.

Reach Out Virtually

Thanks to social distancing, many things that weren’t accessible virtually now are. Meetup is encouraging all their hosts to hold virtual meetups, so you can learn to dance, do yoga, or talk about your favorite book with people who like what you like. Anyone can join meetup. Just find a group that you like and you’re in!

Need support? AA and other social support organizations are now offering virtual meetings, too. Your family and friends are still there, too. You can always pick up the phone and call someone.

Social Distancing Isn’t Emotional Distancing

The key to staying connected is to be emotionally available. This means you open up. Show yourself. Share yourself. Be vulnerable, honest, and real while respecting boundaries and considering the comfort level of others. Feel your feelings. Loneliness isn’t about how many people you see in a day. It’s about how connected you feel in their presence. If you want to make that more likely, lead. Be open to nature, yourself, others, and see how your connection increases.

Social distancing doesn’t have to lead to loneliness. If you’ve been lonely already, perhaps this could be the doorway that breaks this cycle. Why not let it?

 

 

Overwhelmed? Read this to Get Going Again

overwhelm

Spring is here. You’ve got time to do all these things you have always talked about. Yet this sense of overwhelm is keeping you from getting started. Maybe you’re vegging out with video games, talking on the phone, or laying around instead of doing even one of the many things you need to do or want to do. It just feels like being in the ocean being hit with giant wave after wave and you just can’t get up. Life still demands that you be “on”, but you can’t get going.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed?

Chill

First, take a chill pill. Relax. Meditate. Breathe. Take a hot bath. Have a cup of coffee or tea for five or ten minutes. Do nothing. This will give your nervous system a chance to down regulate so that you can see clearly and feel more balanced. If you are really keyed up, make it fifteen minutes. Or thirty. You say you don’t have time, but this is a really important step. The effectiveness of everything else you do is impacted by your ability to attain calm for just a few moments first.

Practice Mindfulness

Put on your mindfulness cap. See things as they are, not how they feel they are. It may feel like people are judging you, things have to be done perfectly or right now. It might feel like the world is coming to an end. Is that really true?

Get Clear on What You Need Right Now

While you are here, ask yourself what you need right now. Do you need to fall apart? Fall apart. Do you need to be with someone else while you fall apart? Ask for help. Maybe you just need to admit that things are out of control before you can move on. Or is this about forgiveness? A need to end something? The desire to feel heard? Whatever it is, use this time to do some self care. Only when you’re good (or as good as can be under the circumstances), move ahead.

Make a Mindful List

Now, with your mindfulness cap on, make a list of the things you have to do. Stick to bullets and small chunks like “do the dishes” instead of “clean the kitchen.” Delete any commentary or judgment. Remember, we’re making it a mindful list.

Reduce Distractions

It’s easy to get distracted. Especially if we want to be distracted so that we don’t follow through with what we don’t want to do. Set yourself up for success by reducing distractions. Distractions are one more thing to pay attention to and add to the sense of overwhelm. So turn off your phone. Stop checking social media and text messages. Close your door. Reduce the background noise, and get to work.

Avoid Making New Commitments

People who have a hard time saying no can create huge piles of commitments for themselves that they don’t have time to follow through with. Learning to say no is a form of self care. You matter. Self care matters. Relationships are important too, but for now, “no” is a magic word that will help you dig yourself out of an overwhelming hole. Just say no.

Delegate

If you can give some of the load to someone else, delegate. Great leaders are neither micromanagers nor do-it-all types of people. They work as a team. If delegating is possible and within healthy boundaries, share the load. If it’s all your work, perhaps you can still ask for help. That’s what friends do.

Get Started

It may seem that the most important items on your to do list should be done first. No. When you’re overwhelmed, the most important thing is to get started, so we’re going to do that by targeting the thing that is easiest to accomplish. Maybe it’s even something fun. If you have a list of ten things and you can knock out three very quickly and easily, it will give you a psychological boost to see that you’re a third of the way there. That can give you juice to keep going on the things that take longer or aren’t so enjoyable.

Be Grateful

Gratitude helps us get through everything. Maybe you focus on being grateful to have a job to do. Maybe it’s about being healthy or skilled enough to do something. Be grateful to have the money to do something or the time. Be grateful to have a family or partner to do things for. We’re all abundantly lucky. All we have to do is look around and see it. When we know why we’re doing what we’re doing, it makes it easier.

There may be many steps between you and your goal. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So take that step. And then take another, and another. Slowly you the sense of overwhelm will ease, the scenery will change, and things will look very different. Just keep going.

 

Be Careful of Vicarious Trauma From Movies

vicarious trauma

Be careful of vicarious trauma from movies. I know we watch so much sexual violence and physical brutality that we can glaze over. It can feel like the violence doesn’t have an impact. It does.

I was recently watching Hotel Mumbai. It’s a dramatization of the terrorist attacks in India where ten Pakistani men killed 164 people and injured 300 over four days. The movie was unsentimental and didn’t glamorize or glorify violence. It just reported the events.

When it was over, I was literally shaking. You can’t experience horror without responding to it – even if it’s at the distance of watching it as a movie.

Violence is not “entertaining.” It’s horrifying.

Humans are designed to survive. We do that by going into fight, flight, fleeing or shutting down. If there isn’t some intervention to shut that off, it makes us numb, depressed, and hyper-alert- sometimes all at the same time. Each incident builds upon the previous one, making us less and less alive and functional.

Here is what the research says:

  • Indiana University School of Medicine examined young men who were playing violent video games for one week. There were visible alterations in MRI brain scans. This area of the brain is responsible for anger, aggression, impulsivity, and depression.
  • The Virginia Tech Research Division showed that violent movies can increase hostile behavior. The University of Alabama had a similar study with similar findings. However, Dr Nelly Alia-Klein, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says that this depends on how violent the viewer was to begin with.  The more violent or angry the person is, the bigger the impact. Other studies show that the impact is short lived.
  • The Macquarie University Children and Families Research Centre in Australia found that children who watch violent movies are more likely to view the world as an unsympathetic, malicious and scary place.
  • There are 13 documented cases of people developing full blown PTSD after watching a horror movie.

We can choose our entertainment. A good story can be told without being graphic.

“Vicarious” mean to experience through the eyes of another. So the violence doesn’t have to happen to you to create vicarious trauma. It doesn’t even have to be live or real. Think about what you watch and what you let your children watch. Individual temperament, setting, age, and coping skills all play a part in whether or not long term harm results.

The other thing you can do for yourself is learn how to shake it off. We all need to do this daily as modern life is far more stimulating than the nervous system is capable of handling. Society has evolved faster than the brain can keep up. If you need help with this, contact me. It’s something I teach regularly.

Am I Out of Control?

Am I Out of Control?

I recently posted an article about how to deal with a toxic family over the holidays. But what if you are contributing to the problem? Let’s take a look at how you can reframe the situation so that things stay safe and calm for everyone.

Am I Out of Control?

Few people are truly out of control. Those that I have seen are usually incarcerated or in a psychiatric hospital.

Do you keep it together at work? What about at the gym, grocery store, or other places away from family? If so, you’re not out of control. You may be choosing to lose control at home because you don’t have the same repercussions. It’s safe.

This is not the same thing as “I can’t stop myself.” If you truly could not stop yourself, you’d lack control in all situations. So the good news is, you can learn to use the same control that you exhibit in some situations and generalize it to all situations.

Everyone deserves to have a safe place. Even you. When you lose control, you are negatively impacted too. So let’s look at how to regain that control.

What Do You Really Need?

Sometimes when we blow up at people, what we really need is to feel safe. Things are too tense, so we want some space. We create it by pushing people away with ugliness. If this is what is happening, you could use the direct route and just ask for what you need. Or you can excuse yourself so that you can get that space. It’s okay to ask for what you want.

Sometimes we go for alcohol or drugs when we really just want to relax or feel more social. The alcohol helps, but then we go overboard. We end up doing or saying things we regret. If you want to relax, there are hundreds of effective techniques you can learn that will help with that that don’t have the side effect of leading to hurtful or undesirable behavior. If you want to be more social, you can learn skills that make this easier and more comfortable.

Sometimes being difficult is about needing to release the tension of being overstimulated. It’s hard for some people to deal with the stress of too much noise, too many people, expectations, and traffic that the holidays can bring. So, we meltdown. Instead of melting down, you can cope ahead and make a plan of what to do so that you can pace yourself. Take breaks and go outside. Limit the amount of time you spend at parties or with others. Have a plan for what to do afterward to decompress.

Healing begins with self-awareness. Find out what you need. If it’s something that someone else can give, ask for what you need. If this is something you need to do for yourself, follow through. Perhaps you don’t know what you need or what to do. You can get help to figure it out. Change is possible if you want it.

Limit Vulnerabilities

Coping is easier when you limit vulnerabilities. “Vulnerabilities” are anything that makes the stress worse and the chance for behaving in an undesirable way more likely. Common vulnerabilities are:

  • fatigue and a sleep routine that is not regular or long enough
  • being hungry or eating unhealthy food
  • consuming unhealthy substances like sugar, alcohol, and drugs
  • lack of exercise
  • being inside all day, sitting
  • not having a regular spiritual practice
  • harboring anger
  • loneliness

As you can see, the holidays are a perfect time for vulnerabilities to skyrocket. There are sweets everywhere. Social demands increase so we may skip exercise, meals, and sleep to accommodate others. The days are shorter and cold, so we might not get outside. This leads to resentment that we don’t express. And we can feel more alone in a crowd. This is why it’s even more important during holiday season to stick to your self-care routine.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is the best way to make your life more pleasant for you and everyone around you.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Everyone has power. Even if the problem starts with someone else, you are in control of how you respond. You don’t have to contribute to the problem. You don’t have to respond. If you have the skills, you could even do something to halt it or improve things. When you hold yourself accountable for your part, you gain a sense of contr0l over the situation. Powerlessness is crippling, so this is a great way to regain your footing again.

What About Trauma?

Maybe all this sounds like common sense, but what if it seems supremely hard because of a trauma history? That’s legitimate. Having a trauma history does make it challenging to do simple things like say, “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” It does make it harder to know what’s happening inside of you before you blow up or meltdown.

Fortunately, there has been an explosion of training in mind/body techniques in recent years that makes treatment more accessible, shorter, and more effective. Seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment could be the best thing you do for yourself. Starting now could make next year’s holidays very different.

So, whether things are out of control or you are out of control, there is a way to smooth the path forward. It starts with you. The changes that you make can make all the difference.

 

 

Surviving the Holidays With a Toxic Family

toxic family

I often talk about the importance of family ties. Family is important to one’s sense of self, connection, and happiness. Yet when our family is not healthy, navigating our lives around them is hard. Surviving the holidays with a toxic family can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to help with that.

What Do You Want?

You can start by asking yourself what you want. There are many ways to have a happy holiday. You don’t have to do it any particular way. It doesn’t have to be expensive, grand, include particular people, or anything at all. It can be whatever you want it to be. So let go of expectations and ask yourself, “What do I want?”

If what you want is to not share the holidays with your family, don’t. Do it your way. You can do it alone, at a restaurant, at a resort, with your spouse and children, with friends, or whatever tickles your fancy. You don’t have to cater to tradition, someone else’s fantasy, or other people’s expectations. It’s your holiday too. Make it a happy one.

Stand Your Ground

Share your thoughts and feelings and stand your ground. You don’t have to explain, rationalize, or justify. If you offer excuses for what you want, it invites others to offer solutions or objections. A simple declarative statement will suffice. (Examples: I’m going; I’m not going; Not this year; We have other plans; I’ll be there for an hour. I can come at this time).

Cope Ahead

What calms you? Think about those strategies and have a plan in place for before and after so that you can maintain or regain your equilibrium. Maybe this means you get a night of deep sleep, schedule a massage, or do some yoga. Maybe you plan an outing with friends, turn off your ringer, or do a hike in the woods. Having a self-care plan makes it more likely that you will follow through with it when it’s needed.

Witness But Don’t Engage

If someone is turning up the crazy, witness it but don’t engage. Sometimes people will quiet down if they can’t get a reaction. If not, well it still doesn’t have to be your problem. Remember “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

If the drama is focused on you, this is a lot harder to do. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s just directed at you. You have a choice to engage in your old roles or create a new one. Seeing through the lens of empathy, compassion, and detachment can help you step back and let whatever is directed at you flow past without touching you.

Limit Your Exposure

Even a saint has a hard time in unhealthy environments. If you choose to be in one, it may be a good idea to keep it short. It’s a lot easier to endure stress for two hours than two days. If you can duck out for a few minutes, that’s even better. Does someone need something from the store? You could volunteer. Do the kids want to play a game of football outside? You could join in. The further away from the drama, the better. Perhaps you can even avoid the whole thing this way.

Acceptance

Whatever is happening, accept it. Trying to change it, control it, pretend it’s something else, or complain about it only intensifies the distress. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it. It’s just a way of staying present. Staying present keeps you from being carried away.

Know Your Limits

If your family is not just dysfunctional, but truly toxic, know your limits. Sometimes it’s really better to cut ties. Family is important, but stability is even more important. You can’t have a relationship with anyone if you are crying in a corner somewhere. You can’t heal if you’re being wounded all the time. Do you, and love them from afar.

Two People Can’t Be in a Crisis At the Same Time

When parents lose a child, it often ends in divorce because two people can’t be in crisis at the same time. Each is in a place of need and the other isn’t available to give because they are also in need. This leaves both feeling alone and unsupported. 

Losing a child is a pretty extreme example. Here are some others that show how this can happen in less extreme ways:

  • When someone has an affair, the Betrayer is dealing with the events that led to the affair, the fallout, and potentially the loss of the new lover. The Betrayed is dealing with the betrayal. They are not in an ideal place to help each other because they are the source of a lot of pain. They are also in a space of overwhelm. We can’t help from that place.
  • When each partner in a relationship has a mental health issue, each can escalate and get lost in their own needs. They then become unavailable to help the other because they are overwhelmed. For example, if A needs to feel connected and B needs to get away to feel safe, A can chase. This is the exact opposite of what B needs. B can then blow up to push A away. This often makes things worse as well.
  • If a couple uses the Hero-Victim-Oppressor triangle (codependency), and one of them steps out of their role, it can feel so alien and scary that the other behaves in such a way to make them go back to the dysfunction. This sustains the status quo and prevents them from moving to a more healthy way of being.
  • When there is a new baby, mom can be tired because of the time and attention that the baby demands. Dad’s not sleeping so he’s tired. He’s also frustrated by losing mom’s affection. Neither has anything to give the other so both can feel neglected.
  • Or more simply put, two overwhelmed people can’t help each other. They don’t have any juice to give to the other.

The Giver & Taker

We all have a giving side. Some of us live there. We all also need to receive. Some of us are great at receiving and being taken care of. Others not so much. Often Giver and Taker find each other because this feels like a comfortable fit.

The healthiest way to function is to have healthy Giver and Taker energy within us. We can give and receive from others, but we primarily do this for ourselves. That is what makes us sovereign people. We rely on ourselves for what we need but lean on others for connection and meaning.

What to Do When Crisis Hits

When we’re in crisis, the first priority is getting out of the crisis. You can’t take care of others. You’re in fight or flight. That’s what crisis is. It’s hard to think when we’re overwhelmed. It helps to have a plan beforehand. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a list go to people you can call to talk to. Include hotlines if you don’t have people you can trust.
  • Create a comfort box that contains things that help you be grounded. Some suggestions are tactile squeeze toys, photographs of happy times, coloring books and crayons, music, and hard candy to suck on. It can hold anything that distracts you in a happy, calm way.
  • Create a safe place and go there. This can be a corner of a room, a tree in the park, or your car. Sit there, away from the stimulating thing, until you feel calm again. Breathing helps.
  • Have a mantra or practice that helps you to stay grounded in your body. For example, you can say, “I am safe now” or practice tightening and releasing different parts of your body. So you can squeeze your eyes shut as you inhale, then exhale as you relax the muscles. Do this all over your body.

We want our closest partners to be there for us when the chips are down. Sometimes they can’t. When you’re both in overwhelm, it’s just not a realistic desire. Remember “Two people can’t be in crisis at the same time.” When this time hits, take care of yourself first. Insist on it.

Don’t expect your partner to hear you or even recognize that you have a need when they are overwhelmed too. Maybe he or she can, but it could be at the expense of his or her own health. It’s a lot to ask.

It’s okay to lean on family members or friends who aren’t in crisis. However, if the source of your crisis is your partner, don’t share that part with others. They may take sides and this can make the relationship worse. You don’t need others to agree that your situation is hopeless. You need people who will help you get back on your feet.

Recap

When you and your partner are in crisis:

  • Focus on getting out of the crisis first.
  • Prioritize yourself and meeting your own needs.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Lean on family, friends, a hotline, a therapist, but not someone else who is in crisis. Don’t add to their overwhelm.
  • Stay close and connected to your partner. Witness their struggle, but don’t attempt to help if you don’t have it to give.

This probably doesn’t feel very satisfying. We all want a lot from our partners. It’s really risky rescuing a drowning person because they often take you down with them. It’s the same as getting involved in someone else’s crisis. We can’t help if we’re depleted. Accepting it for what it is helps it to sting less.

How to Have a Healthy Break Up

healthy break up

Relationships are risky. Sometimes they don’t work out. This can be true even if both parties are great people. Maybe there aren’t enough shared interests to keep them connected. Maybe they each want different things. Or perhaps they just make better friends. It happens. Not all relationships are forever. So, it’s good to know how to have a healthy break-up.

Talk It Out

It’s not always easy to talk about cutting ties – especially if this is not your choice. However, if at all possible, communicate openly about your thoughts and feelings. Talk about what was good, what didn’t work for you, and keep it positive. No blaming, complaining or fighting.

Whatever you do, don’t lie. Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t make promises you won’t keep to let someone down easy.

Leaving on a respectful, high note is so much nicer than having a knockdown drag out fight. It gives you both dignity and helps close the door on this chapter of your life so that you can move on.

Set New Boundaries

It’s a good idea if both parties agree on what the new ground rules will be. Does a break up mean no contact? Are you planning on maintaining a friendship? If you were best friends, share mutual friends, like the same hangouts, or have kids, this is an important thing to consider.  Having clear boundaries will keep you from having a long period in limbo.

Respect the Boundaries

It’s tempting to go back to old habits. For you and your ex, it’s better to respect the new boundaries. You’re not a couple anymore. That means things change. Let them change. This is a great time to focus on yourself, not your past or your ex.

Spend Some Time Alone

It’s usually a good idea to have some time and space after a break up to reflect. Relationships can teach us a lot if we pay attention. If we don’t give ourselves this time, we may simply go right back into a new relationship with the same dynamics that we left. So, give yourself space to grow before you connect with someone else.

Having some space can also give you the privacy to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be upset, let down, angry, lonely, or jealous. You feel what you feel. When you’re done feeling that, a new feeling will come along. For now, be here.

Stay Busy

While it’s a good idea to feel your feelings, you don’t want to get bogged down in them. Everything in moderation! Making time for friends, family, engaging in hobbies, or taking that new class can help to heal the pain of a break-up. Staying busy keeps you from going into dark or destructive places too.

Maintain Self Care

It can be tempting to let go of everything and mourn. When we feel this way, it’s most important to maintain self-care. Be sure to eat healthy foods, take care of hygiene needs, exercise, have social time, and make space for your spiritual practices. Don’t overeat, indulge in alcohol or drugs, or use gossip as a way to escape. This will only prolong the pain of the break-up.

Things end. All the time. This is part of life. When we rehearse and participate in healthy endings, they are easier to endure. They just become natural. So if you are experiencing an ending, remember that they are also beginnings.

 

What is “Religious Trauma Syndrome?”

religious trauma syndrome

Most therapists promote spirituality as a coping mechanism. Life is holistic. We need to connect to Spirit in order to feel whole. It helps expand our experience of life. However, even the best things can be corrupted. Religious trauma syndrome is one example. So what it is?

Defining Religious Trauma Syndrome

You won’t find “religious trauma syndrome” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sufferers may experience

  • Confusion, difficulty with decision-making and critical thinking, dissociation, identity confusion
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, anger, grief, guilt, loneliness, lack of meaning
  • Sleep and eating disorders, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, somatization
  • Rupture of family and social network, employment issues, financial stress, problems acculturating into society, interpersonal dysfunction

The symptoms occur because of guilt for leaving the faith, questioning the beliefs, or not being devout enough in their beliefs or practices.

How It Happens

Churches with these characteristics are more likely to result in religious trauma syndrome.

  1. Authoritarian. These churches have a hierarchy with God at the top. The rules are inflexible. Members are not to question the rules or the hierarchy. Usually, men have more power than women. Women have more power than children. Abusive practices can trickle down to the people who are lower on the totem pole. This leaves a lot of people vulnerable and helpless because there is nowhere to turn for help.
  2. Isolationism. Members are discouraged from socializing with outsiders to keep themselves “pure.” This may start from childhood so that kids don’t have a basis of comparison to know the difference between their way of life and how others live. Families may go to school, live, and work only with people from their church.
  3. Fear. Fear is often the weapon of choice for any abusive person or organization. It can be fear of physical punishment, ostracism, eternal damnation or anything in between.

How To Deal With It

“Just leave” isn’t really enough to deal with the problems. Sometimes the symptoms don’t emerge until after the person has left the church. If the church is a mainstream religion, triggers can be all around us. Also since many people belong to these religions, it’s sometimes not easy to find a sympathetic ear. Even when people are not of the same religion, are atheist or agnostic, they may not understand because we still don’t do a good job of talking about trauma in our society. So what do you do?

Talk about it. There are online forums for just about everything nowadays. Finding someone who can understand the fear in situations that don’t sound scary is very validating. When others are further along in the healing process, this can help you find your way out and give you hope.

Get therapy. Many therapists still don’t know about religious trauma syndrome, so you may have to educate them. However, a trauma therapist will understand how trauma happens and how to heal it. Ask for trauma treatment, not just help with the symptoms listed above.

Get educated. The more you know, the better you will be able to advocate for yourself. Do you really need medication? Do you have the right diagnosis? If you know what is going on, you can get the right treatment the first time.

The American Religious Identification Survey reported that 12.7 million people went from religious to “no affiliation” from 1990 to 2008. This is a drastic decline in church membership. Not all of those people suffer from trauma, of course, and most churches are places of refuge and comfort. However, if you are suffering from religious trauma, reach out and ask for help.

 

Overlooked Causes of Trauma

causes of trauma

Most people understand that child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and serving in combat can lead to trauma. Unfortunately, many other things cause trauma that are overlooked. Because they aren’t generally associated with trauma, people can try to live with them. Without treatment, they can cause unnecessary pain for a long time. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Medical Treatment

We think of doctor’s offices, dentist visits, and hospitals as places we go to for help. However, a common element with traumatic incidents is feeling a loss of control. When health care workers treat us like bodies, aren’t compassionate, don’t tell us what’s going on, take on the expert role, and we can’t do anything about it, this can result in trauma. Fear + the unknown + a lack of control can equal trauma. Undergoing medical procedures or even just one bad medical visit can leave deep scars.

Living With an Alcoholic

Let’s look at that “fear + the unknown + a lack of control” equation again. Living in an alcoholic household can create all of those things! When someone is drunk, you don’t know what they might do. You certainly have no control over other people. If it’s violent, embarrassing, or can result in humiliation, fights, or homelessness, that’s scary. It’s not “normal” or healthy to be drunk. Even if this happened long ago, you could still be carrying the scars of it in your body.

Emotional Incest

Emotional incest is often hard to detect as traumatizing or abusive because it can feel as if you had/have a really close bond with your parent. It happens when your parent gives you the role of a friend or confidante. Perhaps he or she talked about how mature you always were. You share everything- even things talk about finances and relationships. Consequently, you don’t get to have a childhood. You don’t get to feel taken care of. This is not the natural order of things, and it’s very damaging to kids.

Car Accidents

I’ve had many clients who have gotten into car accidents who don’t realize that it can be traumatizing. When your car goes out of control, it’s scary! You might have nightmares. Maybe you’re really hurt. If you are replaying it in your mind, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds of the crash, and are scared to get back behind the wheel, you’re not shaking it off. It’s still in your body and you might need some help releasing that. It’s not “nothing.” It’s your body trying to cope with an overwhelming situation.

Death

Death is normal and natural, yet it can still be traumatizing. Especially if it was sudden, you were left out of the dying or funeral process, or no one supported you. There is a whole death and grieving process. If it’s not observed in a healthy way, we can experience trauma. We don’t do death well in the west anyway. It’s not “normal” to have three days to process something that life-changing and then be expected to go back to normal, yet that’s what we do. It’s not always easy to just bounce back.

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents can give the impression of being perfect parents because they are very present and involved in their kids’ lives. However, this is stifling. Kids need space to grow. They need to make their own decisions and have their own experiences. When parents do it all for them, remove all obstacles, and give them everything, kids don’t get to experience a holistic life. Life can not only feel very unsatisfying, but it can also make the kids feel as if they are incapable. They have no control. It’s scary to feel like you are incapable and no one believes in you. Helicopter parenting sends the message “The world is very dangerous. You can’t manage this, so I will do it for you.” What is a person supposed to do when the parents aren’t there?

Overly Controlling Parenting

Whereas helicopter parents are often motivated by love and caring, the overly controlling parent can be motivated by perfectionism and anxiety. This is also stifling. The kids feel straight-jacketed. They also don’t get to experience life. This can result in children who fear making mistakes. Learning comes from mistakes! We don’t grow without mistakes. So this person can develop a fixed mindset, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety. When there are lots of rules and restrictions, this is obvious, but overly controlling parenting can be disguised by withholding approval or using guilt to control.

Strict Religious Upbringing

This is another area that seems like it’s healthy. Having a spiritual life is holistic. However, when we are controlled by obligations, a strict moral code, and are threatened with ostracism or Hell, it can create trauma. Again, there is a fear of making a mistake, not being good enough in the eyes of those you love, and losing the thing that gives you a sense of belonging. If you feel like the values of the church are in conflict with your own (for example racism, homophobia, dietary rules, etc), this can feel like you are having to hide your true self. Going against your values and hiding is incredibly invalidating.

Court

When you go to court, you put your fate into the hands of a stranger. You have no control. If the judge’s decision impacts your freedom, finances, reputation, or relationships, this is a high stakes game. Nobody wants to give anyone else that much control over their lives. While we can all agree that court is stressful, it can also be traumatizing if the person is not particularly resilient, he doesn’t have a lot of support, the case is prolonged, and/or he feels invalidated.

Growing Up with a Sick Parent

When your parent is either mentally or physically ill, this can create terror in a child. He might have thoughts about his own health or death. He may fear what will happen to him if something happens to his parent. We can overlook a child who appears competent and calm, but every child needs love and attention. When the parent is too busy tending to his own problems, the child can feel abandoned. Uncertainty is a huge component of crisis. Living in crisis creates trauma.

These might sound like life issues, not causes of trauma. Trauma is something that happens to your nervous system. It’s a way of coping with stress. When your body is overwhelmed and can’t cope, it creates changes in the stomach and nervous system that increases emotional symptoms, relationship problems, and can create dis-ease. It’s not “nothing.” If you are having problems and don’t really know why one of these things could be the reason why.

I am sure there are many other things that could make this list. If you experienced something that was invalidating, scary, you couldn’t control it, and you didn’t know what to do, your body could be carrying trauma. Check it out to know for sure. This is treatable. The rest of your life doesn’t have to be limited by something in your past.

One Lifestyle Hack That Always Works

wu wei

When you don’t know what to do, there is one lifestyle hack that always works- wu wei. It’s a Daoist practice that means non-doing. It doesn’t mean do nothing. It means to go through life without effort. When things feel easy breezy, you’ve got it.

Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

What’s Wu Wei

In the west, when things get tense, we struggle more. We turn up the heat, stay up later, work harder, sleep less, and try harder. Goals drive our lives. We’ve bought into ideas that we can succeed if we just put in more effort, learn something else, produce more, or work longer hours. Studies have actually shown that students who take relaxation breaks do better on exams and remember more than those who do long cram study sessions. Relaxation helps!

Now let’s take that to another level, and you’ve got wu wei. Wu wei is a lifestyle that removes effort. It’s living in flow. This doesn’t mean you loaf around and avoid living. It is really about doing what is called for rather than being goal or desire directed. So in a way, you can say that it’s about living purposefully and engaging in what is. This doesn’t remove motivation. It works with it. Simple. Elegant. Easy.

How Does It Help

  • Wu wei reduces anxiety and stress because it doesn’t require thinking. Thinking uses a lot of energy. Wu wei moves like water. It flows easily around obstacles and wears even the hardest stone away gentle. It requires no effort, no energy.
  • Wu wei puts us in the alpha or meditative mindset. Here, things are timeless. There is no separation between you and what you are doing, so you’re in a space of oneness. When you’re doing what you love, you experience this. Life feels easier and more enjoyable.
  • Wu wei increases self-awareness. When you are practicing wu wei, you are more focused and notice more in a fully sensory way. Your engagement with life is greater, so you can feel more present and alive. This also increases your sense of other awareness so that you can engage more honestly and thoughtfully.

So the next time you are frazzled and need to really get something done, drop into wu wei. Stop trying. Take a break. Drop into what you’ve practiced. Let Nature take its course. Let me know how it works for you.

Disclaimer: Wu wei works best with what you have already habitually cultivated. It helps to have healthy life skills and awareness first. However, wu wei can also help you get them if you don’t already have them.