Did Childhood Trauma Damage Your Perception? Here’s How to Get It BACK.

For most of my life, I used to feel panicked when I used to see a hair stylist. The circular thoughts in my head went like this: My hair is about to be ruined.
The haircutter thinks I am white trash. She will think I want an awful, trashy haircut unless I can show her that it’s not who I am. But if I say one word about this, she’ll think I’m a bitch. So my hair is about to be ruined… ”
and so on.

I saw expensive stylists, and paid for super nice services. I brought pictures of what I wanted. I’d explain what I wanted before the services started. And then once the scissors start to snip, my freakout would begin.

It was severe; my hands would go numb, my heart would pound. I’d see my face in the mirror, frozen and grey.  I could barely pull payment from my wallet, I was so disembodied when the whole thing was done.

This is distorted perception at work. Kind of like the way anorectics look in the mirror and see a fat person, I used to see a “trashy” person. It completely vanished when my PTSD was treated, and when I’d cleaned up some behaviors that used to make me feel ashamed and, well, trashy.

I’m sure there are things I’m still not seeing clearly, but I don’t yet know what they are!  My distorted thoughts only become apparent to me just as they disintegrate. Once I see the truth, the thought is no longer distorted. Here are a few of the distorted thoughts/patterns that went away:

  • I used to have a really hard time, in a conflict with someone, determining what was actually my fault, and what was theirs (this is challenging for everyone, but it got WAY easier).
  • I used to think emotionally normal people were either against me or wanted to control me — and that only edgy, troubled people were really alive and capable of understanding me.
  • I used to think the truths revealed when people are intoxicated always represent “true” feelings, and not what they do/say when they’re sober.
  • I used to be fuzzy about the right amount of information to tell about myself to others. Ironic that I should blog about this, I know.
  • I used to think that if I didn’t prove myself to everyone and make my abilities known to them, I’d be invisible and overlooked.
  • I used to have a really difficult time perceiving whether a guy who seemed interested in me was actually interested in me, or just interested in hooking up.

OK, you get the picture — you’ll notice that these problems all involve difficulty recognizing and expressing what is true.

If you too were impacted by trauma in childhood, you may have some similar patterns, and struggles with knowing what is true. The great news is, IT GETS EASIER! And boy, when you can trust yourself to be in reality everything in life starts getting better — relationships, career, money, daily interactions, parenting, the way you solve problems — everything.

It doesn’t happen automatically though — not for me. I work very, very hard to perceive what is true, and to be “real,” and to keep my words and actions truthful. If you’re interested, here’s my advice.

How to Know What is True

  1. Stop (at least for now) using mind altering substances. You might think this is overly severe, because after all, many happy, healthy people have a drink or smoke weed now and then. You may feel that pot and alcohol provide relief from stress, and stress relief is a good thing! But hear me out. If you are just a casual drinker/smoker, consider taking a break for a while, just to give yourself a chance to really focus on an improved capacity to see reality. If you drink or smoke daily, or use other drugs regularly, your perception is likely to be struggling along from day to day; it’s just really, really hard to make life changes when part of your awareness is softened. So again, consider taking a break. If you aren’t able to stop on your own, this is the perfect time to go get help in a 12-Step program or detox facility.
  2. Learn to write inventory and meditate. As you get honest on the paper (and maybe by sharing what you wrote with a trustworthy, understanding friend), you’ll find that a lot of the hamster wheel activity in your mind is, in fact, distorted thinking. With inventory you can get relief from that, and the result is clarity. Meditation builds your capacity to even handle the truth, and creates an opportunity for more truth to make itself clear to you.
  3. Ask three trusted friends if they’d be willing to help you see clearly. You can explain that you are working on improving your perception of reality and trying to make some positive changes. Ask them if they’d tell you, gently but honestly, what they notice about your negative patterns. Is there a mistake they see you making repeatedly? Is there a blind-spot they notice? Is there something you might change in your attitude or actions that (in your friend’s opinion) would make a positive difference in your relationships? Don’t choose the people who are always eager tell you what’s wrong with you anyway. That might not be trustworthy information!

Getting honest input from friends is scary, I know! When I was stuck one time and asked some friends what they saw, they each said pretty much the same thing. Interesting, huh?

They each went out of their way to tell me the positives they saw in me. But the negative they all saw was this: I was sometimes insensitive to the effect I had on others. My words and voice could be harsh, especially when I felt threatened. They had felt at times that I didn’t care about them, or wasn’t hearing them.

This was hard to hear, but I thanked each person, and did not defend myself. I knew the behaviors were leftover from some rough times in my life, but I didn’t make excuses. I took what they said at face value, and made these problems a top priority in my life. I read, I doubled down on my recovery program, I became more honest about it, and I prayed. I don’t think these tendencies will ever be completely gone in me, but there has been continuous improvement, and just knowing my own weaknesses helps me during intense situations. I know to slow down and really pay attention to how others are feeling, and how my words are affecting them. These changes have made a HUGE difference in my connection to other people, even strangers.

Please write to me! Connect! Follow the blog!

I’d LOVE to hear about your quest for clear perception. Please comment below, or write me privately at crappychildhoodfairy@gmail.com.

And remember, you’re invited to click FOLLOW near the top of the page — this will bring fairy posts right to your inbox when they’re published.

Thanks for reading! Until the next time…

Anna

 

 

 

A Huge Proportion of Your Problems Today Are Because of You (And Why That’s GOOD)

OK, so before you get all mad and think I don’t understand, I completely understand that some problems are really not self-created, but caused by other people and circumstances.

A young person who is abused is not responsible for that. An infant who is neglected is not responsible for that. A child who grows up in a neighborhood torn by gang violence is not responsible for that. Such people, like everyone who suffers, may be affected for life in physical and psychological ways. But then what? Can adults who experienced childhood trauma just march forward and never look back? Probably not. But is it possible, no matter what has happened, to be a good person, and live a good and happy life? Yes it is, if we can clean up what I call the “Inside Trauma,” which I first wrote about last year.

“Inside Traumais the term I use for trauma-generated behaviors. They start as an innocent flight away from pain, may reflexive, not always conscious.  But if they persist, they will create more trauma and more life problems. They show up in all kinds of people, but are significantly more common in folks who had a crappy childhood.

It sucks. It’s not fair. You are a beautiful, sweet person who has been through SO much and you’ve worked SO hard. But you got a bad hand of cards, and though you never asked for them, you now you have a heap of problems! It happens very easily with folks like us. No one knows exactly why. It’s partly psychological and partly physiological, even neurological.

But here’s the thing:

No matter how badly you were affected by the past, you have the power to change — at least some things. You may not be able to change other people or every circumstance, but there are hundreds of things you can change — things that would make a tremendous difference in your life — and that could, in turn change your circumstances. This is the best possible news. You can change!

It doesn’t tend to happen out of the blue. Usually you have to take stock of how your own attitudes and behaviors may be, yes, causing problems for you. And then there’s work today. We’ll get to that soon.

But just to get started, here is a list of “Inside Traumas” that sometimes show up in folks who had a crappy childhood. They are trauma-driven behaviors that tend to cause more trauma.  Outside forces caused the first trauma, but these are things you are (perhaps unconsciously) doing to yourself. See if you think any apply to you:

  1. Neglect of body: Shabby clothes, poor hygiene, neglect of physical exercise, avoidance of medical and dental care, self harm.
  2. Black & white thinking: Drawn to extreme views, groups, authority figures, often outraged at the news. Dominating, slandering, or cutting off contact with outsiders. See people as all good or all bad. Think you can’t leave a relationship, or think you can’t get in one.
  3. Addictive use of food: Carb binging, obesity, eating disorders, obsessing about food, weight, nutrition.
  4. Addictive use of media/entertainment: Using TV, internet and games enough to interfere with sleep, meals, daily routine  — causes problem for family responsibilities, work, school, finances.
  5. Dishonesty: Exaggerating, hiding important personal truths or preferences, lying, stealing, infidelity, tax evasion, iillegal activity.
  6. Work problems: Unfulfilling work, under-earning, too-frequent periods of unemployment, chronic adversarial relationships with employers and coworkers, suing or getting sued.
  7. Blame: Difficulty seeing own role in problems, victim thinking,  bitterness, obsessing on the wrongs of others, belief that all problems the result of race, gender, foreigners, political party, certain foods, etc. Conspiracy theories.
  8. Numbing with substances: Relieving stress with alcohol, drugs.
  9. Irritability: Angry without much reason, arguing or often finding self in a conflict. Ranting, rage, mistreating others, violence.
  10. Attraction to troubled partners/friends: Being/staying in abusive relationship, belief one is another’s “only hope” or savior, being controlled, drawn into legal, social, financial trouble. Loss of discernment re; the relative seriousness of another’s behavior.
  11. Unfulfilling romantic life. No dating relationships, staying in bad relationship, or sexless or loveless marriage.
  12. Abuse of Sexuality. Overly sexualized appearance, conduct or having sex that leads to problems for self and others, unwanted pregnancy, use of pornography/fantasy for numbing, prostitution, exploiting others.
  13. Fantasy (romantic, financial) not present, not in touch with reality, failure to take reasonable action. Obsession, stalking,
  14. Avoidance of people, responsibility, participation. Shut-in, “social anorectic,” loner, hermit.
  15. Debting, no savings, living beyond means to pay for home, car, therapy. Growth of debt, gambling, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness.
  16. Repeating traumatic patterns: Seeming inability to detect trouble or step back when trouble appears. Relapse into traumatized state, triggering deepening of depression, rage, collapse, reversion to old behaviors.

ARGH! What a horrible list, right? But think about it… all these Inside Traumas are things you have the potential to change. I could write a book about each one, but a post will have to suffice. That’ll come after I get through all the Tough Love Truths.

If you want to see what comes next, be sure to click on the FOLLOW button on the right, near the top, and you’ll get each new post in your inbox.

Until then!

Anna

 

If You Really Want to Heal from Childhood Trauma, Focus on NOW

Over the years, through friendships and listening to others in various fellowships, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of people who had crappy childhood crap that affected them. Of those who try to get better, I’ve noticed two distinct groups — one that focuses on what happened in the past, and one that focuses on their actions and attitudes right now. 

The first group (the “past” people) sees the exploration of the past as therapeutic. The more they talk about it, the more they remember, and a lot of sadness and anger often fills them at that this point. With faith that excavation will lead eventually to freedom, they seek to grieve, feel their feelings, and take measures to maintain a sense of safety (a few may also seek to confront those who harmed them).

The second group (the “now” people) also explores the past, feels strong emotions, and learns to set some boundaries that weren’t there before. But this group more quickly accepts that the childhood harms have ended. They are aware that their problems today lie within themselves — the choices they make, the way they react to things, and how they treat people.

The “past” people often find a lot of love and support from others dealing with their own childhood crap, and form tight friendships. They are courageous and honest about facing whatever darkness may lie within fuzzy old memories. But in years of observing them, I’ve noticed that they tend to recover slowly, if at all. Many appear to be stuck, with lingering sadness and anger driving them to an excessive self-focus, resulting in spoiled relationships and limited fulfillment in work.

The “now” people, on the other hand, face their own risks. They sometimes seal their hearts in a shell of denial or busy-ness or “look-good-itis.” Their unacknowledged anger can be expressed as health problems or passive aggressive behavior. And God knows, it can be hard to change even when you try your hardest. But in most ways, the “now” people reach a far higher level of recovery, far more quickly, than anyone else.

Everyone wants to feel better, but what sets the “now” people apart is that they accomplish this by doing better. They recognize that feeling one’s feelings is good and part of being alive, but is not an end in itself. They seek to admit their own role in present day troubles, and to change that. Because their present day attitudes and actions — and not the past — is the only thing they can change.

It’s impossible to do anything constructive at all when you’re throttled by childhood PTSD, specifically, a disregulated brain that alters your focus, your emotional balance and ability to perceive reality accurately.

But when you learn to re-regulate your brain (and re-regulate again every time you slip), you can then move on to tackling your “Inside Traumas.” That’s what I call those flaws and habits so common in those of us who had a crappy childhood, that tend to re-traumatize us and bring our lives down. Call it “a broken picker,” an “addictive personality,” a “slow metabolism,” an “Irish temper” or whatever you want: Inside traumas are things like problems with drugs, alcohol, overeating, romance, money, health, parenting, boundaries, authority, responsibility, and connecting with people or acting in our own best interest.

These problems do affect all kinds of people, but they are WAY more prevalent in folks who had a crappy childhood. This sucks, because the path to a happy, meaningful and love-filled life is utterly dependent on healing from these problems. We start at such a disadvantage!

But there’s a way forward. It demands that we are extra-vigilant, extra-committed, and extra-brave in facing what is still holding us back, and making changes. It’s the path of becoming a better person.

It was very early in my recovery that I became deeply, zealously interested in cleaning up my life. I knew the general direction to go but I had no idea about the actual actions to take — the specific, step-by-step means to get from where I was, to where I wanted to be.

I set about on a mission to find out. And it worked! I will be sharing what I learned in the coming posts, which I’ll release once or twice a week, followed by some video-based courses. More about that soon.

If you want to get these posts (and announcements about courses) right in your inbox, be sure to follow this blog. Just hit the “Follow” Button near the beginning of this post.

Thanks for reading!

Anna

 

 

 

What’s The REAL Cause of Depression and Anxiety? (Hint: It’s Rarely a “Chemical Imbalance”)

The last time I was truly depressed was 23 years ago, yet almost every time I see a doctor, they suggest I take antidepressants.  They push them for everything from stress to headaches to foot pain to insomnia to hot flashes, even though I tell them, again and again, that (short of imminent death) I wouldn’t dream of taking them.

I treasure my brain chemistry. After a radical recovery from depression and anxiety in 1994, I know how precious and delicate it really is. It allows me to know things, to have intuition, to sense when I have made a mistake, when I’ve been wronged, and when something good is in front of me. I trust my brain, and I stay busy showing other people how to develop inner trustworthiness as well.

There are many simple, proven strategies to treat depression and anxiety, yet the myth that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” has driven three decades of progressively growing (and not very effective) mass-medication of the population.

More than a quarter of middle-aged women in the U.S. are on antidepressants, and more than one in seven people overall! Even little kids are on pills — more than 10% of them. I am not a scientist, therapist or doctor. And I do know that for some people, medication has been a literal lifesaver. But this many people taking that many drugs cannot be a good thing.

***

The explosion of antidepressants started in the late 80’s when Prozac hit the market, followed by a long series of ever-more-profitable rivals. The new drugs arrived just as health insurance plans began to cut mental health benefits, creating demand for a quicker, cheaper fix than long-term therapy, which had previously been reimbursable to mental health providers, but now, was not.

And, psychoactive meds are not without benefits for many people; it feels good to help to suffering people feel better. So the incentives for liberal prescribing began to pile up for clinicians who might once have been reluctant to suggest mind-altering pills to SO many people.

At first this shift from face-to-face care to pills caused a public outcry, but soon we all embraced this thinking too. We started to see beautiful families in colorful gardens, advertising antidepressants on TV.  First we all laughed at the machine gun dislclaimers at the end of each ad, warning us of diarrhea, tremors, dry mouth and sudden death. But soon, we tuned it out. We just accepted the idea that millions of us just needed “a little tweak” to be “our best self.” It sounds so right, so plausible, so normal.

But here’s the thing. We’re talking about drugs with less-then-great effectiveness and serious known side effects (suicidal thoughts/attempts, loss of libido, and rapid weight gain, for example), and a slew of possible correlations with things like mass-shootings, road-rage, relationship failure and a contaminated water table.

Again, I want to acknowledge that some people really do have serious depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, and that medication is life-changing and life-saving. I know many such people, what with living in Berkeley, which is something of a Mecca for the mentally ill. All the same, the medication epidemic is having a terrible effect on us overall — specifically on our culture, and on our understanding of how to meet life’s problems, to sense our effect on others, and to develop our own capacity to live meaningful and joyous lives.

It is my experience — in myself and the hundreds of others whom I’ve helped in my non-professional calling as a childhood trauma “fairy” — That most depression and anxiety (and many physical health problems for that matter) stem from guilt, shame, resentment and fear. These spiritual toxins have a physiological expression, and poison our thinking, our behavior, our physical health and yes, our brain chemistry. Whether outside people and events had a hand in damaging us like this, they can’t fix it now. It is we who have the opportunity to face what was done to us as well as what we have done, and how this has affected us, and to beginning cleaning up our lives.

For me, it started with a daily practice to get some calm in my heart and mind. I explain that here. In the coming weeks, I’ll explain more getting free from poison emotions, recognizing self-defeating behaviors that make depression and anxiety worse, and rebuilding your life.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you’d like to get these posts right in your inbox, remember to click “Follow” up above!

Anna

 

 

 

The Unexpected Healing Power of NOT TALKING About Your Trauma

Many years ago, I found a dead body. It was a man I had been dating for a few months, who had turned out to have even more problems than I knew when I met him. He showed up at my house high on something one night and I made him leave. I told him we could talk about it in the morning and locked the door, unplugged the phone, went to sleep. In the morning I stopped by his apartment as promised. The door was unlocked so I went in and found him, face down.

As I write this, my heart is pounding, my hands are going numb and my mental focus is Continue reading “The Unexpected Healing Power of NOT TALKING About Your Trauma”

Tough Love Truth #1: You Can’t Rely on Anyone Else to Fix Your Childhood PTSD

Childhood trauma is trendy right now. Grant money is flowing toward fascinating treatment possibilities involving brain wave alterations and drugs like Ecstasy and specially adapted yoga.  Mental health conferences are making it the topic of the year, and every kind of healing professional is finding a way to tie “trauma informed care” into their services. This is all positive!  In fact I can hardly believe that, at last, the world is beginning to get it about this insidious condition that sucks the life out of millions of people. And there is hope!

However… Continue reading “Tough Love Truth #1: You Can’t Rely on Anyone Else to Fix Your Childhood PTSD”

Stuck in the Effects of Childhood Trauma? Try Some TOUGH LOVE.

Back in my twenties, when I was drowning in life problems and misery and feeling desperately alone, I hired a therapist who promised to meet my demand: We will not talk about my childhood. 

I knew from my first couple attempts at therapy that my childhood trauma stories were very attractive for therapists… alcoholic mom, dead dad, drugs, neglect, poverty and most tantalizing of all… abuse!  For those whose job it is to help folks find a reason for why they’re so screwed up now, these stories are almost irresistible. They seem so promising! So fertile! You could talk about them for years, casting blame on people not present. And oh, yes. I had been doing just that.

Now this was back when there was scant professional knowledge of childhood trauma and how to treat its effects (today it is a little better). I didn’t want another expensive, fruitless year where — just like in my childhood — we’d focus on my mother and her problems all the time (I call this “the campfire in the living room” problem). I’d wait all week for those precious fifty minutes, and then they’d all fly away, full of mom stories and intense emotions, but no insight and no solution. I’d go home feeling more rattled than when I’d arrived.

So I made a deal with the therapist to skip the story and focus on my real question: Why does everyone keep hurting me?

With the new therapist I talked about my current experiences and feelings, and it turned out this also left me more upset than when I’d arrived, which went on for, oh, hundreds of visit. Our premise was that if I talked about my problems, and she listened, then eventually… what? Other people would change? I’d suddenly see what to do? I’d acknowledged how bad I felt, and that once I did that, I’d feel good?

Increasingly, I just felt enraged. It is now known that one of the effects of childhood PTSD can be a kind of collapse during efforts to talk about what happened. It feels like drowning. Emotions become overwhelming, reasoning shuts down, defenses stiffen, spoken expression becomes tangled, and little said can be remembered — not a great state of mind for fact-finding or problem-solving.

And then, thank God, I found a way to get that clear state of awareness. A young woman I’d met took me under her wing and showed me how to unpack my mind with a written daily inventory. When it comes to expressing painful thoughts, writing is WAY better than speaking for people like me, whose speech center in the brain becomes jello when certain unpleasant things are recalled. But the part of the brain that writes can still access access and express them.

So I would write my fears and resentments and read them to her, which calmed me and cleared up my thinking. Then she would tell me things straight. In the beginning, it was my genuine understanding that literally all my problems were caused by circumstances and other people. But she said it the problem was generally my own thinking and actions. I was offended at first that she’s actually suggest I was responsible for my problems. I thought she lacked compassion, that she didn’t understand.

Like what don’t I understand? she asked.

For example, I told her: All my life, I was angry that my mother never listened to me. I wanted her to take responsibility for all her drinking and neglect, but she ignored me to the day she died.

That’s right, my new friend told me. No one wants to hear all your resentful complaints about them. 

Stunned silence. How awful is this friend, I thought. So I gave her another example, My Great Tragedy —  a guy who had only been into me for about three seconds and then married someone else (honestly, I can’t remember why I felt victimized, per se, but it was something like — my whole life went into suspended animation over this, I had done nothing wrong, there was no “closure,” etc.)

That’s easy, she said. Stay away from married men. 

This was so nakedly obvious I could hardly interpret it. I’d spent years discussing it with the therapist, drawing in sand, making pictures, recounting dreams and so on.  It had all been very meaningful and complicated but then, in an instant, it was all very simple.

The self-will likes to blame, she said. This made me feel both relief and terror: If I’m generating the problem then maybe I can stop generating the problem (good). But if I admit fault, it would be obvious what a hateful, sniveling, little loser I was (bad). And if this were true, I would literally have to kill myself. It was sickening to even say the words. I think I just wanted her to protest, to erect a wall of protection, but she didn’t.

Ok, she said.

“OK I should kill myself?

OK, you can do what you want. 

Here, the mess of my resistance and anger and hope that someone would save me fell away. I guess they call this ownership of the problem.  “I don’t actually want to die,” I admitted.

Well good, she said, because when you’re dead you won’t have hands to write what I’m telling you.  (If you want you can see what she showed me here).

*****

My life whole life changed that day, partly because her technique treated my PTSD (though it’d be years before I knew that’s what I had) and partly because I could finally see that other people weren’t doing this to me.

I’ve shown my friend’s technique to hundreds of others. Some didn’t like it. Some found it helpful but then drifted away. Some have continued the technique daily read me their fears and resentments. I have heard more than once that the feedback I give is “tough love,” which I admit sounds like a huge drag.

It’s true I can be kind of intense, but I understand as few others can how self-delusion works, and I know how pervasive and sticky it can be. It takes some power to break through it, and it almost always requires help from other people. So if someone wants this kind of help from me, then as gently as I can I will tell them how I see it.

(For the record, I’m not saying all feelings of persecution are delusional. Some people truly have no choice about their circumstances, but this is relatively rare. Often there is at least some learned helplessness involved which contributes to the problem; in those cases some degree of change may still be possible.)

If you want some tough love, I’ll by writing about my “Tough Love Truths”  over the coming weeks. Often counterintuitive, they are suggestions I share with people who want to wake up from the effects of their crappy childhoods and build a better life. The topics are be roughly these:

  1. Talking about your pain can hurt you (and everyone else)
  2. If your therapy isn’t helping, it’s time for something new
  3. Most depression and anxiety is not a chemical imbalance
  4. It is not important to know or analyze what happened in the past
  5. Most of your problems now are self-created (which is good news)
  6. If you want to see what’s really true, stop consuming anything that dulls your awareness
  7. You will change in proportion to your willingness to be honest with yourself 
  8. Casual sex is the dubious luxury of people with healthy childhoods
  9. It is just plain crazy not to meditate
  10. If you’re having trouble with people, it’s probably your self-centeredness
  11. Change is possible, but most of it is really, really hard
  12. You can’t do this yourself

Thanks for reading. See you soon!

Anna