Yearning for Sovereignty

sovereignty

The young girl wants to spend time with her friends, choose her own clothes, and make her own career choices. She’s fighting with her parents who want her to do and be something else.

A grown man doesn’t know who he is. When he was growing up, if he said he liked pink, his mom said, “You don’t want that. That’s a girl’s color.” If he said he wanted to be a waiter, his mom said, “No, you want to be a lawyer.” When he cried, his mom said, “You’re okay.” Now he’s unsure how to make a decision without consulting someone else.

A worker hates going into the office because his boss nitpicks. Nothing is done right, on time, at the level of quality that his boss wants. No matter how much unpaid overtime is “donated,” it’s not enough. So being there is soul-stealing and stressful.

A wife says “I don’t know” many times a day because if she goes left her husband tells her she’s wrong. If she goes right, her husband tells her she’s wrong. Little things like how much sauce to put on spaghetti can lead to an explosion. So waits to see what’s okay before she can move.

A girl sits in a mental hospital. She spent her childhood in anxiety over good grades so that she could get into a school her parents approved of. She spent her young adulthood in a program of study that she wasn’t interested in to have the status to fit into her family. And one day she broke.

An elderly man is haunted by the voice of his dead father. He has been gone many years, but he still feels controlled by his judgment and disapproval. He feels he will never be good enough. Now that his father is dead, his chance to win his approval and be set free is gone.

All of these people are yearning for sovereignty. We all need sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the space to be who we are, to do what we want, and to have autonomy. We all have a place in the world that we control. For some, it’s just the bubble around our bodies. For others, it’s huge companies, homes, and large tracts of land. It’s the space that we care for and express our uniqueness. It’s how we say “I am here. This is me.”

Maybe I do it by singing. Maybe you do it by wearing quirky clothes. Most often it’s little things that others can’t even notice like going to bed when we’re tired, feeling our feelings, and thinking our thoughts. Nobody wants to be controlled. Nobody wants to be invalidated. We’re all legitimate.

There are so many things we can’t control in life. The bubble within is our own domain. We can stand up and say, “Hey, this is me! I want this. I don’t like that. These are my feelings! This happened!” That’s living. When we do that, we don’t have to yearn for sovereignty, we can be sovereign.

You’re enough. Be sovereign.

May today be the start of that adventure.

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.

Stop Murdering Our Children

murdering our children

With school shooting being a feature of modern life, you might think that the title of this article refers to that. No, I am talking about parents who kill their children’s spirits. These little people don’t get to grow up to be healthy big people. If I had a dollar for every potential client who tells me a childhood story of how their child self was killed, I’d be a millionaire. We need to stop murdering our children.

Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes. Archetypes are these human energies that exist in all cultures throughout time. We all either experience them directly or indirectly. He said that we all start out life as the Child. This is the light hearted, creative, innocent side of us that needs to stay alive inside of us throughout life so that we maintain connection to our inner divinity. It keeps us curious, open, loving, wise, and free. 

Inevitably, this Child becomes Wounded. It is through this wounding that growth begins. This isn’t a bad thing. We all yearn to grow. However, if the wound deep or is never healed, we can’t be complete people who fulfill our destinies. That childlike innocence is always part of that destiny because it’s part of our wholeness.

Parents, your job is to rear a child to be a healthy adult. This means they can provide for their physiological (shelter, food, clothing, etc), emotional, social, and spiritual needs. It doesn’t just mean that they are survive or that they go to a good school. So, let’s take a look at how we’re murdering our children.

Parentified Child

This child is handed off the responsibilities of being the parent. This usually happens in single parent families where there is just too much responsibility for the sole parent and work is delegated to the oldest child. It can also happen in two parent families where one or both are incapacitated by disease, mental illness, or addiction. 

Children are smart. They perceive when no one is driving the bus. If things seem out of control, they will step up and take control in the only way that they know how. If this means they have to pay bills, get groceries, cook, clean, get on the bus, and take care of their siblings, this is what they will do. It doesn’t mean they are “mature” necessarily. It means that they are savvy enough to survive. Inside they are still children in need of care. 

When the inner child is not given space to express, it dies. This child doesn’t have time to be silly and wonder. He’s too busy taking care of adult responsibilities.

Helpless Child

This parent is the one who does too much. Sometimes it’s because they think doing everything is a sign of love. Sometimes it’s because they are impatient with kids being slow, clumsy, or not perfect the first time. If the child picks out clothes that don’t match or are the wrong season, the parent may dress the child. When the child makes too much noise or mess, the parent restricts play time to things that are quiet and neat. If driving with the learner is scary, the parent either doesn’t let the child drive or perhaps criticizes her driving, thus undermining her confidence.

This child learns “I can’t do this” or “I am a failure.” She learns to not try. When you have an eighteen year old who doesn’t want to get a job or get off the couch, it could be because she has learned to be helpless. 

It’s not rocket science to get a driver’s license, pay a bill, fill out a loan application, follow a recipe, or do a job interview. If you don’t have practice with problem solving and skill building when you are small, these types of things can seem impossible. It takes a lot of little skills to do just one of these things. These skills are learned as children. 

Nothing is done perfectly and quickly the first time. Kids need to be messy and loud at first so that they can refine their skills and gain competence. We need to be okay with doing this over and over or we will never grow. If we don’t allow ourselves to be in that kid space of curiosity and wonder, nothing will ever inspire us enough to live through the “humiliation” of being a beginner.

Serious Child

The serious child is one who is not allowed to play, laugh, have fun, and is just told to “grow up” or “be sensible.” This child is expected to behave. They have the fun disapproved right out of them.

Let me tell you something. When I ask people how they know that their partner is The One, they always say the same thing. This is the person who understands them. This is the one with whom they can be silly. Guess what? We all have that silly kid inside of us who longs to have someone see him and laugh with him. I don’t care how naturally serious you are, you do too. I’ve seen people leave marriages, jobs, and families for this. It’s soul killing to have this little silly monster caged inside.

This doesn’t mean that you go out and laugh like a lunatic necessarily (although maybe sometimes it does). It could just mean that you give yourself permission to be creative or pursue a job that isn’t prestigious or pay a lot so that you can do what you love. Or maybe it means that your clothes aren’t fashionable or mainstream. You listen to quirky music or dance in public. Who knows? Whatever is authentic to you, do that!

Emotional Surrogate Child

The emotional surrogate child is killed by having to bear the burden of the parent’s emotional needs. This parent shares adult worries and joys with their child. It could be talk about finances, problems, or romance. This could feel like a special bond between parent and child, but it’s inappropriate because of the power and maturity difference.

Like the parentified child, this child feels obligated to step up and support the parent- even if they don’t really know how. So their emotional needs never get met. They grow up with boundary issues and can have sexual issues because they can’t draw the line between what is appropriate and what is not.  Since they are the caretakers, they aren’t being cared for. This inner child ends up neglected.

Abandoned Child

The abandoned child is usually not literally abandoned. There is a parent. The parent just isn’t emotionally available. Like with the parentified child, the parent may struggle with addiction, poverty, physical illness, mental illness, or caretaking a parent or special needs child. Sometimes the abandoned child is very responsible and appears to not need care, so the parent has “permission” to continue the neglect. Sometimes the abandoned child is reckless and goes searching for a surrogate family wherever he can find it. Other abandoned children have no idea what to do and isolate. They fall deeper and deeper in depression.

When we speak of child abuse, we often imagine the most worst forms: violence, sexual assault, physical abandonment, and exposing them to harm. There are many ways to kill the soul of the inner child. Children need patience, emotional nurturing, room to explore, be silly, emote, and make mistakes. If you’re parents didn’t give that to you, give it to yourself. Retrieve that lost soul part so that you can be whole again.

Today is a good day to start. How about now?

Numbness, Dissociation, and Feelings

numbness

Do you feel asleep at the wheel? Do you miss subtle cues about what’s true or how people feel that other people seem to “just know?” Are you feeling numb, depressed, or just not here? Maybe it’s because you’re numb or dissociated. You can’t have a full, vibrant life if you are not in your body. You can’t feel if you’re not embodied. How would you know if this is you?

Numbness

Numbness feels like the absence of sensation. You’re in your body, but it’s not really responding to stimulus. Perhaps you’re at your birthday party. All your friends are there. There is great food, music, and company – all the things that would normally make you happy. Yet, you’re not really feeling anything. You’re not even all that interested in being here. That’s what numbness is like.

It could also be that you’ve just shut down. Something has happened that has sucked all the juice out of you. You can’t take any more stimulus. Maybe you’re balled up in bed, sitting in the bath, or hiding out in your parked car. You’ve gone here to retreat and shut out the world. There are no thoughts or feelings.

With numbness, you’re still embodied, but you’re not feeling. This is generally situational and temporary.

Dissociation

Dissociation occurs when there is overwhelming stress. This could feel like you’re living in third person. You know what’s going on, but it’s like it is happening to someone else. Or maybe you know it’s happening to you, but you don’t feel what you think you ought to feel in response. It’s almost like you’re not there. Or rather your thoughts and body are there, but your feeling self is not.

Contact with reality can fluctuate. If it’s mild dissociation, you’re fully present, but detached. If it’s extreme, you could have go into full black outs and have complete amnesia. There is a fuzzy, in between state where you just feel zoned out and far away.

Both of these situations occur to keep you from collapsing. The brain is very useful in that way. It has tricks that help you to survive. The problem is that sometimes the things it classifies as dangerous aren’t harmful at all. Or it could turn on the fight or flight signal and then it doesn’t turn off so we’re on high alert for no reason. It takes a lot of energy to do that! In fact, it can be really exhausting.

All this is normal. We all do it sometimes, but if you do this habitually, it could be  sign that you have suffered from some trauma and may need more than just a good night sleep, a conversation with a friend, or to cry it out. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to just bounce back after trauma. Your brain may be stuck on “on” and could need some help resetting. This is particularly true if the trauma was long lasting or very hurtful.

If you think this could be you, check it out with a trauma specialist. Just any old counselor won’t do because they may not have the knowledge to deal with trauma. Trauma is a specialty that requires bypassing talk to reach the deep limbic system and polyvagus nerves. Once these are released and reset, your functioning generally returns to the pre-trauma state. If the trauma happened when you were a child, you may need Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to give you the skills you didn’t learn so that you can function as a healthy adult.

If I can help with either of these, give me a call.

Are You A Functional Wounded Child?

functional wounded child

What’s a functional wounded child, you say? Well, have you heard of a functional alcoholic? This is a person who is addicted to alcohol but is able to hide it by appearing to be able to do what needs to be done in life. A functional wounded child is much the same. This person may have a job, a relationship, and even be really successful. He just habitually acts from a place of woundedness. This keeps him from being as Effective, connected, or happy as he could be because his lens is clouded by pain. So, you don’t have to be disabled or struggling to be in your Wounded Child energy. You could be a functional Wounded Child.

A Look at the Inner Child

To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at the Inner Child. We all have an Inner Child. It’s an archetype, meaning that it’s energy that belongs to all mankind. All Inner Children experience wounding. It doesn’t matter if you had a great childhood or a challenging one. The wounds can be as minor as not feeling like you got enough attention to full on abuse. It can be intentional or unintentional. Being wounded says nothing about who you are or how you were parented. It just means you are in the flow of life. Life’s not always easy.

This wounding is necessary to grow us to the next phase. When negotiated well, it takes us from weakness to strength, victimhood to empowerment, disconnected to connection, and so on. When we don’t have the knowledge, support, strength, or resources to get through the challenge well, we get stuck there and function from our woundedness.

The Wounded Child cannot be escaped. It is part of the Inner Child. We live in a dualistic universe. All things have two poles: masculine and feminine, positive and negative, yin and yang. This is a way for things to find balance and flexibility. So, the goal is not to escape or annihilate your Wounded Child, but to use the wounding to grow.

Am I Acting from My Wounded Child?

Here are some tell tale signs that you may be acting (or perhaps living) from your Wounded Child energy.

  • You feel chronically depressed.
  • Trust issues keep you socially isolated.
  • You trust everyone then get surprised when someone turns out to be untrustworthy.
  • Your best friends are animals.
  • People seem to have it in for you. You’re always taken advantage of or have the rug pulled out from under you.
  • You like being in Nature better than being with people.
  • Additive behaviors are a problem for you.
  • You never seem to get ahead.
  • Relationships are rocky.
  • You’re never satisfied.
  • You feel like you have been cursed. Nothing works out for you.
  • Your self esteem is in the toilet.
  • Holidays bring out the worst in you.
  • Your parents treat you like a child.
  • People pleasing comes easy to you. You often put others before yourself.
  • Your inner critic is never shuts up.
  • “What’s wrong with me?” is something you often think.
  • Perfectionism and rigidity lead to anxiety and worry.
  • Touch is not easy or comfortable.
  • Emotions are scary. You don’t like showing them or seeing other people’s.
  • Sleep has always been a problem.
  • Conflict is really scary. You avoid it at all costs.
  • It’s easier to take care of someone else than yourself.
  • You’re not sure what you think or what you want.
  • You say you are going to do something to avoid saying no, then you don’t do it.
  • Most of your time is spent doing things you don’t want to do.
  • Going along to get along is a way of life.
  • Fear of abandonment keeps you in unhealthy relationships.
  • Your “family” are not blood relatives.
  • Being alone is worse than being with someone you don’t like or have anything in common with.

It’s a Matter of Degree

It’s normal to have a few of these. Context matters too. If you agree with a lot of these and your whole life is impacted chances are you are acting out of your Wounded Child. This is not great because your Wounded Child is pulling your strings. He doesn’t have the wisdom to choose wisely so you end up feeling hurt over and over again.

If you agree with some of these and your life is relatively under control, you’re probably acting like a Functional Wounded Child. It’s not bad, but it’s not great because you’re not fully aware. This can lead to poor decisions and confusion because you don’t see how you’re creating your own problems.

If your “yeses” are situational, meaning that when X happens, it triggers a wounded response, you’re probably just normal. We all do that! It is still a signal that you have work to do, but the work is around an issue rather than a lifestyle.

So What Do I Do Now?

The bad news is, if you’re acting like a functional Wounded Child, your decisions are not going to be all that Effective because you’re seeing the world through a dirty lens. It’s time to clean the lens.

The good news is, if you are acting like a functional Wounded Child, that means you have some skills and resources and can help yourself. You’ve already come a long way. You just have to keep going. If you’re living in this space, you probably are going to need some help. Knowing the difference is the first step in moving out of this space and into a place of wellness.

So, the next step in dealing with any Shadow is to bring it out of the Shadows! You can’t work with what is hidden. If you’re reading this and saying, “Hey, that’s me!” then we’re already doing that.

And just for some perspective, we all get in this energy sometime. Like I said before, it’s part of being in the Wheel of Life. We get the same lessons over and over again either to have a chance to grow beyond them, or to experience them at a deeper level. There is nothing shameful about being here. In fact, if you normalize it by laughing and saying to yourself. “Oh, that’s just my Inner Child wanting my attention again” it may help you to put it in its proper perspective.

Next is to move into it. Our natural inclination is to put it back in the shadows or run from it because it’s painful. That keeps it unresolved. Another thing we like to do is try to ignore it. That just strengthens it. Instead you might see it as a little you. Then ask your little self, “Hey, Mini Me. What is it that you need right now?” Maybe you need validation, safety, to feel special, to receive, to give, or to have some fun. Give yourself that. When your Mini Me is satisfied, turn to the triggering issue and look at it again. Your fresh eyes may help you to see something new.

The Inner Child’s job is to keep us in a place of wonder where life is a beautiful surprise. In this place, you’re curious. You grow and connect. You explore and expand. When you’re in Shadow, all that shuts down. So give your Mini Me what it needs so that the Inner Child can do all the things it does to make life wonderful. When the Inner Child is scared or not sure what to do, it can’t take you there.

If this is more than you know how to do and you need some skills, hey, that’s what I am here for. You can also check out self help books, programs, or church. This doesn’t have to be a life sentence. We can all grow beyond our present limitations. So, learn how. Life’s messy. It’s hard. And it’s also a lot more fulfilling when you have the ability to navigate through it smoothly.

 

Can’t Get Better? Maybe It’s the Wrong Diagnosis and Wrong Treatment

wrong diagnosis

I’m not a big believer in labels. I think that people live up to their labels. Most labels we give each other and ourselves aren’t very empowering, so I don’t like putting people in negative boxes. But even a stopped watch is right twice a day, and sometimes having a label is a good thing. Like when you’re diagnosing a mental illness. The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong treatment.

One of the most misdiagnosed mental illnesses is borderline personality disorder (BPD). People with BPD tend to be viewed as difficult. So, when I was an intern, I got a lot of the BPD clients because many people don’t want to work with them. Fortunately for me, I like difficult people! Give me a challenge!

Because I’ve worked with BPD a long time, I didn’t realize that other professionals had a hard time diagnosing them until my clients told me! Incredibly, it could take YEARS before they got the right diagnosis. Wrong diagnosis = wrong treatment. This means years of needless struggling. So, let me give you a sketch of what BPD looks like so that you can help yourself or someone else get on the right track.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a condition where the sufferer experiences intense mood swings and has trouble maintaining emotional stability. This can result in unstable relationships, loneliness, feelings of depression and anxiety, isolation, impulsivity, and addiction. People with BPD often engage in self harm and suicidal gestures. The risk of completing a suicide is 8 to 10% higher than in the general population, so you can see, this is a serious disorder. BPD is the only disorder whose diagnostic symptoms includes suicidality.

What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

No one really knows what causes it. As with most conditions, there is probably a genetic link. There is certainly an environmental one. Most people suffering from BPD come from what we call an “invalidating environment.” This generally means that they grew up in a situation of physical or sexual abuse or neglect. It doesn’t have to have been extreme or violent. It could have been due to a parent who had an erratic work schedule so the child never knew when he or she would be gone. Maybe a parent went to prison, there was a sudden divorce, an adoption, or a parent caring for a sick relative so the child didn’t get appropriate attention.

As a result, the child grows up with fear of abandonment. The child is always on high alert for danger, so she’s super sensitive and is more likely to see innocent things as threats. This is a defense mechanism designed to keep her safe, but as you might imagine, it’s pretty exhausting both for the sufferer and those around her. People often say that being around someone with BPD is like walking on eggshells. You never know if you’re going to get the sweet sunny person or the volatile one.

Another feature of BPD is that they can be really black and white. They love you or hate you. They idolize you or think you’re the devil. This can go back and forth really quickly. It’s an “I hate you, don’t leave me” kind of thing because of a fear of abandonment and need for safety.

How Common Is It?

About 6% of the American population has BPD. This is twice as many as people with bipolar and schizophrenia combined.

What Is the Prognosis?

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that some people age out. By the time they reach their 40s or older, they just learn how to deal with the world in ways that makes the mood swings fewer and further between. When stressful situations arise, the old ways of coping can come back. So, unlike some disorders where, once you have them you have them, this may not be forever.

The bad news is that many people kill themselves, so they don’t get a chance to age out. Many people are misdiagnosed, so they don’t get the treatment that they need.

What is the Cure?

BPD has a thinking, behavioral, and biological component. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was designed specifically to treat BPD by a psychologist who had it. It’s incredibly effective at giving people different ways of thinking about things. If you don’t automatically take offense or see a threat in everything that comes your way, you have a lot more flexibility in how to handle things. It also gives people behavioral suggestions for how to deal with overwhelming emotions, distress, and interpersonal interactions.

This can prevent crises as well as de-escalate them. With practice, the person can be more adaptive throughout all aspects of life.

Some find this tremendously helpful, while others find it a white knuckling way to deal with things. My perception is that this is probably because something is left out – the brain.

When any mammal experiences overwhelming stress, the brain releases chemicals to help deal with the threat. The blood moves away from the inner organs to the extremities to prepare the animal to fight, flee, or freeze. When the threat is over, the animal goes into a shut down mode and the body shakes to tell the brain to stop producing these chemicals. The brain does a reset. The blood flow returns. Digestion and heart rate normalizes, and all is well.

Except that not all mammals do this. Animals in captivity (zoos, laboratories, farm animals) and humans don’t do this. Fortunately this can be relearned.

If BPD treatment does not include a treatment to help the brain release the trauma, it may not be successful. BPD is so closely related to trauma that when the treatment manual used by all professionals and insurance companies was revised, they considered making BPD the same diagnosis as post traumatic stress disorder.

I find people with BPD delightful. They are incredibly observant and usually really intelligent. Because of this, they can be really easy to work with if you approach them with sincerity, respect, and kindness. They are used to be seen as prickly, so they tend to come well armed. Disarm them by seeing the tender, sweet inside. You can also learn DBT too so that you have less chance of triggering them. If they are triggered less and you are triggered less, everybody’s happy.

One other thing I’d like to say about this is that there is this movement out there to normalize the level of sensitivity by labeling it as something spiritual. Sensitivity plus reactivity is not spiritual. It’s a sign of dis-ease. Please do not accept and live with this because you think it makes you special. You can be spiritual without suffering. You can also be sensitive without being reactive.

A wrong diagnosis is so not helpful in this case. A person with BPD is not going to get better by taking a drug. That won’t make him feel safe or reset his brain. A healthier diet will improve the baseline, but that won’t take care of the core issue either. Detox, prayer, exercise, and so many thing could help, but it doesn’t deal with the underlying issue. You can’t get there with the wrong diagnosis.

If you’d like help with this, please contact me. I have an online DBT group and expertise in this area. I think people with BPD are wonderful and would love to work with you or your loved one.

Arousal, Orgasm, and Rape

rape

Psst! I have a confession to make that I think everyone needs to hear. I am really embarrassed to admit that I worked as a domestic violence advocate and rape crisis counselor for a while without knowing that a rape survivor could experience arousal and orgasm. Yep! That was shamefully left out of my training. I learned it from a more seasoned colleague.

I am taking the time to tell you this because I am not sure how many other professionals and survivors still don’t know this. When I have a really tough case of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to sexual assault, arousal and/or orgasm is almost always a factor. It’s usually because the victim can’t face the shame of lubricating, feeling aroused or experiencing an orgasm. It can feel like they were betrayed by their body.

So, let me set the record straight. Rape is sex where one of the people does not consent. This could be because of mental or physical incapacitation, such as mental retardation, being underage and lacking the maturity to consent, being substance impaired, passed out, or comatose. The definition does not include gender or age. It does not depend upon whether or not someone was aroused or had an orgasm. It doesn’t require force or violence. All of those things are immaterial. Rape is sex without consent. Period.

The body functions in predictable ways. If you are tickled, you laugh. When you cross your legs and strike below your knee cap, your leg will kick. If I pinch you, you will feel pain. If you hold your breath long enough, you will have an irresistible desire to inhale. That’s how the body was designed to work. The body is also designed to become aroused when stimulated. While under extreme stress, this can be protective.

So, arousal during sex is perfectly natural. When someone experiences this, it’s because the body is healthy and performing as it was designed to. It has nothing to do with consent.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the male rape victim. The common perception is that a man can’t be raped. If he’s not aroused, there can be no penetration, right? Wrong! Male rape is shockingly common. According to a 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey, thirty eight per cent of rape victims are male! Forty-six percent of the perpetrators are women.

Rape is not about gender. It’s not about whether or not your body responds. It is about violence. It’s about power and control. Rape is always wrong. And it’s never the survivor’s fault. If your family, friends, or a professional ever tells you anything different, they are ignorant. Find someone else to talk to until you get someone who understands. Even professionals can be wrong.

Embrace Your Destiny

destiny

Everybody’s got tragedies. Everyone has greatness – some big and some small. Not all of us survive our tragedies as we can live our lives as victims. Not everyone reaches their greatness because we can get stuck in our stories. The way around this is to embrace your destiny.

What’s your destiny? It’s whatever is happening to you.

What?! Isn’t your destiny supposed to be something worthwhile and grand? What if what’s happening right now is mediocrity, being a war refugee, or failed writer? Is that your destiny? Yes, your destiny is whatever is happening to you right now. The only way forward is to accept that.

So let’s say that you never knew your mother. Your father is a raging alcoholic, and because of his absentee parenting, you did a lot of ineffective things in life. How does that destiny make a foundation for something great? It could provide you with opportunities to learn compassion. It may have taught you patience. Your mistakes may have led you to learn forgiveness and perseverance. All of those things are a great foundation for many things: parenthood, customer service, leadership, and entrepreneurship to name a few.

Acceptance is saying, “I chose this” or “This is my path.” It’s not about making you responsible for being poor, raped, forgotten, handicapped, or something else that happened to you. It’s about empowering you to accept your place in the family, community, and universe. Some of us are protectors. Some are healers, teachers, heroes, rebels, explorers, caretakers, or jokers. The world needs all sorts.

Once you accept your destiny, it becomes easier to live the rest of your life. If the things you have lived up to now are painful, cleanse the hurt. Put down the burden. Forgive yourself and others. Put it all in perspective so that it is meaningful, not a curse.

If you are battling your story, you can’t be one with it. Accept that it is what it is. Claim it. Make it your own. When you talk about it, wear it as a badge of honor, don’t shrink from it. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a destiny. When you embrace your destiny, it becomes a powerful force from which your light can shine and you can serve others.

Is PTSD Incurable?

PTSD

I was recently slammed by a war veteran for saying that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be cured. He said I was irresponsible for giving the hope to the hopeless. Apparently someone – or maybe lots of someones – who treat soldiers is telling them that PTSD is incurable. Jeez. What a shame.

I generally do not argue with colleagues. I am not the expert on everything. I don’t know everything. What works for one person may not work for another, and I respect that. When it comes to PTSD though, I have to speak out and say, “Please stop saying that PTSD is incurable!” THAT is damaging and just untrue.

Lack of Progress Probably Means You’ve Got an Ineffective Treatment or Ineffective Provider

If you’re getting treatment for PTSD and are not getting symptom reduction, blame the treatment or the provider. Talk therapy is not going to help. Period. In fact, talking about it often makes things worse by re-traumatizing the client.

PTSD is a brain and body disorder. The area of the brain that is most impacted is pre-verbal so talking doesn’t impact it. If you want to release the charge, you have to either go at it by tackling the brain or the body. (There are also spiritual approaches that work).

Slow Movement is Not The Same As No Movement

Sometimes it take time in order to see results. Everyone is different. Every trauma is different. Slow movement is not the same as no movement.

The speed of treatment may have to do with establishing trust between the provider and the client. If the trauma happened at a young age, it may have impacted the client’s ability to develop health coping strategies. This can mean that learning healthy coping strategies has to be done before removing the trauma so that the client will have something to fall back on instead of the coping strategies that were put in place (like dissociation) by the trauma.

When there are multiple traumas, each one may have to be tackled individually. Sometimes pacing is slower so that you don’t exhaust the client. Coming to therapy week after week and going through a minefield is not a happy prospect. When you give the body a chance to reset and adapt to the changes, the pace feels a lot less jarring.

It May Appear Worse Before It Gets Better

There are two ways that PTSD can manifest. The “classic” type is where the person has nightmares, insomnia, hypervigilance, and flashbacks. Those who seem to be okay can be misdiagnosed. These people are in “freeze” so it’s not that the trauma didn’t impact them. It’s just that the brain has shut down so they don’t feel or demonstrate the impact of the trauma in the same way that the “classic” sufferer does.

As these people come out of PTSD, they move out of freeze and into fight or flight before resetting back into a healthy mode. This can mean that they become symptomatic where they weren’t before. This is actually a sign of healthier brain function even if it doesn’t look that way.

Lots of People Stop Treatment Before The Problem is Completely Resolved

Some people come in for help with one or two symptoms, like sleeplessness and mood swings. Once their chief complaint is resolved, they may stop treatment and just live with the rest. The PTSD isn’t gone. It also doesn’t mean the treatment failed. It just means that the client terminated treatment before all the symptoms were resolved.

If you’re dealing with PTSD and feeling hopeless, please don’t! Don’t listen to those who say that PTSD is incurable. It’s not. There are many effective treatments that can result in symptom reduction and even complete alleviation of the debilitating pain. Please do not give up on yourself or your loved one. It may take time to find a qualified professional who clicks and has the skill set that you need, but breakthroughs in this field happen daily. More and more professionals are getting up to speed with the current science. Don’t give up until you find one!