Individuals in recovery have generally spent a lot of time avoiding their painful, shameful or fearful reality. Using chemicals, relationships, busyness, spending, eating, not eating, fantasy, gambling, sex, etc. to escape reality.

What is your reality anyway?

As a baby, your brain was in a receptive mode and you downloaded and duplicated everything around you. As you grew up, you kept imprinting within you, all of the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and things that happened and you became you.

From Pia Mellody’s Model of Developmental Immaturity, we learn that this programming creates a belief system. You interpret everything that you perceive through your own belief system, particularly as you interact with others. That’s why people frequently disagree about a shared experience. For example, let’s say that Jason had a disagreement with his sister while they were at a social event and shared about it with several friends. Sara identifies with Jason’s sister, feels empathy, and defends her. Jennifer is reminded of being embarrassed by her mother in public and feels pain and shame. Mark feels annoyed about the very topic of conversation and thinks about something else. Everyone has his or her own reality.

In emotional recovery work, it is extremely helpful to understand your reality and how to work with it. First, your reality is your experience in the present moment and includes your body, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Think of a recent time when you felt reactive in an interaction with someone and experienced some strong feelings come up. Now, breathe, take a moment, and fully experience the sensations in your body. Those sensations inform you about your feelings. Identify what the feelings are. Is it pain, hurt or sadness, or is it fear or anger? If you are not used to identifying your feelings, it can take some practice. Truthfully, your feelings are generated by the thought you had. When you are reactive, it’s hard to think straight and it can take some time to identify what the actual thought was, or where in your history it originated.

The most helpful way to think about this is with curiosity and owning it rather than judging yourself or blaming someone else. You are in a disempowered victim mode when you blame someone else for your reaction and that keeps you stuck. When you own that your reaction came from your own programming, then you are empowered to understand yourself better and can change.

So how do we do that? How do we change our reactivity, our thoughts, and feelings, and why go through the trouble?

Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is staying in REALITY at all costs.” You’ve had those experiences when you are fully present, connected with yourself, aware of your senses, and feeling alive. Joy, passion, love, and the sense of connection with yourself are present moment experiences. You miss out on life when you are not present. Everyone checks/spaces-out at times; it is the human condition. However, the more present you are, the happier and healthier you will be.

Here are the steps to working with your reality when you are triggered or become reactive:

  • Take slow deep breaths and be curious about what you are experiencing and why it is coming up.
  • Notice and describe to yourself the sensations you are feeling in your body and identify the emotional feeling word or words that fit. (Hurt, fear, anger, irritation, shame, guilt, for example.)
  • Stay present and curious about the feelings or issues that are underneath the surface feelings. It could be abandonment, feeling threatened or unsafe, used or manipulated, blamed, shame, guilt, or a memory of an incident from your past. You could discuss this with a therapist.
  • When appropriate, you can own your own experience in the present moment and share it with that person you were reactive to by using your talking boundary. For example, in the previous story, Jennifer becomes very quiet and moody. She might share with Jason, “When I heard you say that your sister made a scene at the family dinner, what came up for me was a time when my mother was embarrassingly loud and rude in public and I’m feeling some shame and pain.” In sharing her reality in this manner, Jennifer’s friends will understand her better and she will likely have a sense of relief from the pain and shame.

Only do this when you feel like a functional adult. Listen to the other person’s reality. Be open to getting to know them and to learn about yourself.

Practicing this will likely bring insight as to how the programming in your brain hijacked the situation and gave you a distorted reality. That insight creates a new reality, even a new neuropathway in your brain. This practice begins to create a new, healthier, happier reality, which makes it easier for you to be present. So who needs reality? We all do.

By Nancy Minister, MA, Workshop Facilitator for Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

Our capacity for empathy and closeness is formed and strengthened through the quality of our childhood relationships. From conception onwards, we resonate in tune or out of tune with those who bring us into this world. Our nervous systems are fashioned by nature to resonate with the nervous systems of others to achieve a sense of balance and connection (Schore, 1999) and these early interactions become the neurological templates upon which later interactions are built. Did we feel safe and held in our parents’ arms? How did we experience their touch? Were they interested and able to read our little signals and our attempts to communicate with them and did they respond in an attuned and caring manner? Or did we feel dismissed or even as if we were a burden or somehow a disappointment? A combination of both? Could we put a smile on their faces just by being part of their lives? These early experiences knit themselves into the very fabric of our mind/body system and pattern our capacity for intimacy.

We fall back on our more primitive systems of defense-such as a

Childhood

fight, flight, or freeze-only when we fail to find a sense of resonance and safety in these early connections. (Porges, 2007). We have built into us our personal security system that assesses, in the blink of an eye, whether or not the situations that we’re encountering are safe or in some way threatening  (Porges, 2004). Neuroception, a term coined by Stephen Porges,  former Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, refers to a perceptual mind/body system that has evolved over time to enable humans and mammals to establish mutually nourishing bonds and/or to tell us when we might need to prepare for danger. It involves our innate ability to use intricate, meaning-laden, barely perceptible mind-body signals to establish bonds and communicate our needs and intentions. While many of these communications are conscious, still more occur beneath the level of our awareness in that part of us that is our animal self (Porges, 2007) and these interactions, both conscious and unconscious, form a foundation upon which further intimate interactions grow.

According to Porges (2004), our neuroception tells us if we can relax and be ourselves or if we need to self-protect. If the signals that we’re picking up from others are cold, dismissive, or threatening, that neuroceptive system, which is part of how we process-relational trauma, sets off an inner alarm that is followed by a cascade of mind-body responses honed by eons of evolution to keep us from being harmed.   In trauma engendering interactions, “people are not able to use their interactions to regulate their physiological states in the relationship . . . they are not getting anything back from the other person that can help them to remain calm and regulated. Quite the opposite, the other person’s behavior is making them go into a scared, braced-for-danger state. Their physiology is being up-regulated into a fight/flight mode,” says Porges.  This kind of failure to successfully engage and create a sense of safety and cooperation can be experienced as traumatic by a helpless and vulnerable child.

Relational trauma can occur at very subtle levels of engagement or a lack thereof, as well as in its more obvious forms of living with abuse, neglect, illness, or addiction.  And this mind-body system sets off the same kinds of alerts whether we’re facing the proverbial sabor-toothed tiger in the pine forest or a “sabor-toothed” parent, older sibling or spouse in our living room or bedroom.

Trauma in the home and in our early experiences has a lasting impact. When those we rely on for our basic needs of trust, empathy, and dependency become abusive or neglectful, it constitutes a double whammy. Not only are we being hurt or dismissed, but the very people we’d go to in order to restore our sense of calm and connectional the ones causing it. Our neuroceptive system is up-regulating and bracing for danger with the very people we wish to run to for safety. “Trauma impels people both to withdraw from close relationships and to seek them desperately (Herman, 1997). The profound disruption in basic trust, the common feelings of shame, guilt, and inferiority, and the need to avoid reminders of the trauma that might be found in social life, all foster withdrawal from close relationships. But the terror of the traumatic event intensifies the need for protective attachments; therefore, the traumatized person frequently alternates between isolation and anxious clinging to others”, says Judith Lewis Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery.

Later as adults when we partner and parent, we important our attachment styles from early family relationships into our new adult families, we tend to repeat and recreate in other words, what we experienced as children or, in one of those psychological conundrums exactly the opposite.

Clients who have been traumatized in their intimate relationships can find it difficult to simply be in comfortable connection with others. The dependency and vulnerability that is so much a part of both adult and childhood intimacy can trigger a person who has been traumatized in their early interactions into the defensive behaviors that they relied on as children to stay safe and to feel whole rather than splintered. To heal this form of relational trauma, we need to understand what defensive strategies we used to stay safe as kids and then shift these behaviors to be more engaged and nourishing both within our relationships and ourselves as adults. After all, if we constantly brace for danger and rejection, then we are likely to create it. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How did I experience the arms, gaze, and connection of my mother, father and other primary caregivers (animals may also have been experienced as primary attachment figures)?
  2. How am I recreating these experiences both of a sense of safety and “braced for danger” in my intimate relationships today?
  3. Which styles are undermining closeness?
  4. What can I do to foster change first within myself and within my relationship?

When emotional pain remains split off, it becomes somehow invisible to the naked eye, but it does not disappear. When we enter committed relationships in adulthood, our powerful urge to attach, triggers our early experiences of attachment and we tend to do what we know, we recreate our attachment patterns from a childhood of yesteryear, relationships in our adult relationships of today. We need to repair childhood hurt in some way, and if the repair doesn’t happen at or near to the moment of the pain, it will need to happen later. Being in loving and committed relationships and raising children is nature’s second chance at repairing our own childhood wounds.  But without understanding the dynamics of how early pain can become an unconscious driver for recreating the same kinds of dysfunctional patterns that we grew up with, we may easily and rather seamlessly bring the most painful parts of our past into our relationships today. And we won’t even recognize what we’re doing.

References

Herman, J. L.  1992.  Trauma and Recovery.  New York: Basic Books, a Division of Harper Collins Publishers.

Porges SW. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biological Psychology 74:116-143.

Schore, A.N. (1999). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Mahwah, NJ

Written by:

Tian Dayton PhD

Advocacy Message by Sis Wenger CEO of NACoA

https://www.tiandayton.com

Addiction encourages trauma and trauma can encourage addiction. This process becomes a vicious circle or negative feedback loop, with trauma contributing to addiction, which in turn fuels more trauma, which encourages still more addiction, and so on and so on. The Claudia Black Young Adult Center treats substance and process addictions, recognizing them to be primary disorders which reinforce each other and are often fueled by traumatic experiences. Here are some examples of how this process plays out:

Brent

Brent grows up with a highly critical father. Nothing Brent does is ever good enough. His father routinely compares Brent to his two older brothers, who are both excellent athletes and consistently get high grades (TRAUMA). In contrast, Brent struggles in school, and his father repeatedly accuses him of being stupid and lazy (TRAUMA). (Later, in his twenties, Brent discovers he has a learning disability.) Brent’s mom, a professional singer who is on the road most of the time, is distant, busy, and preoccupied (TRAUMA). She leaves most of the child-rearing to her husband. In high school, Brent becomes part of a group who spend much of their time partying together. Collectively, they find solace in drinking and smoking weed (USING DRUGS TO SELF-MEDICATE). By the time Brent is twenty-five, he is addicted to alcohol and pills (ADDICTION). One night, driving home drunk from a party with his buddy Gary, the car hits a patch of ice, spins out, and crashes into a deep culvert. Gary breaks both legs (TRAUMA); Brent suffers a serious brain injury (TRAUMA). He is prescribed pain pills, which only further fuels his out-of-control drug use (ADDICTION).

Kim

Kim grows up with a severely alcoholic father and a hypercritical mother (TRAUMA). From the time Kim is in kindergarten, her mother is preoccupied with Kim’s body and weight. Soon after Kim turns nine, her dad goes into rehab and stops drinking. A month after that, her mom reveals that she has had a

long-time boyfriend and runs off with him (THE TRAUMA OF ABANDONMENT). For the next eight months, Kim’s parents fight over her in an angry and acrimonious divorce (TRAUMA).

At fourteen, Kim is exercising excessively to keep herself thin. She binges on junk food, then sticks her finger down her throat and vomits it up (BULIMIA NERVOSA). She also begins to party—drinking excessively and taking large amounts of opiates. One night, when drunk, she passes out and is raped by several guys at a party (TRAUMA). One of them posts a video of the rape on social media (TRAUMA).

Kim’s humiliation, shame, and inability to reach out to her parents continue as does the partying, binging, bulimia, drinking, drug use, and the sexual assaults (TRAUMA). By age twenty-four, Kim uses heroin and alcohol addictively (ADDICTION). By age thirty-one, she has attempted suicide three times.

Julie, Leo, and Bryce

In late 1998, Julie fell while riding a horse (TRAUMA). Her pelvis was seriously injured, and her doctor prescribed oxycodone during her recovery. In the process, she became addicted to pain pills (ADDICTION). Three years later, Julie’s husband, a firefighter, was one of the first responders to the 9/11 attacks. He was in one of the towers when it collapsed; his body was never found (TRAUMA). Suddenly widowed, with traumatized boys ages seven and nine, Julie began to drink herself to sleep each night (ADDICTION). As the months and years passed, Julie’s drinking and pill usage kept her in bed longer and longer (ADDICTION). She became moody and unpredictable. The boys became more self-sufficient, asking less and less of her. This enabled Julie to take even more pills and alcohol (ADDICTION). By the time Leo, the oldest child turned fifteen, Julie was profoundly depressed, sometimes nearly manic, occasionally overly reactive, and at times disengaged from everything. She provided little structure or support for the boys other than meals, clothing, and an occasional hug (THE TRAUMA OF ABANDONMENT). In response, Leo threw himself into school and school-related activities. The younger boy, Bryce, stayed in his room, compulsively surfing the internet and playing video games, becoming steadily more isolated from everyone and everything. Eventually, through an intervention led by her physician, Julie was able to stop using and get into recovery. She woke up to an older son in community college who was quite responsible, and a younger son who was showing signs of gaming and porn addiction (ADDICTION).

The Bottom Line

Trauma and addiction routinely cause, encourage, and reinforce each other. Because they so often interact, they need to be treated together and not as two separate, unrelated conditions.

As a therapist, whenever I see one, I’ve learned to always look for the other. Even when trauma and addiction are quite serious, it is possible to recover from both.

Written by Claudia Black, Ph. D. Clinical Architect of the Claudia Black Young Adult Center at The Meadows

https://www.claudiablack.com/

Author: Unspoken Legacy: Addressing the Impact of Trauma and Addiction Within the Family

My therapist prescribed me to drink more alcohol. I had described symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet once again, the diagnosis was completely missed. Even worse, this uniformed therapist suggested that I drink wine “medicinally,” beginning in the morning, to help cope with what he said was high anxiety. What makes this horrible advice even more dangerous is the fact that upward of fifty percent of those with PTSD also battle substance use disorder.

PTSD is often missed, and trauma is frequently dismissed. It is no wonder that so many of us who struggle don’t know it. Many of us already think “what happened to me wasn’t that bad,” so PTSD is nowhere on our radar. Using specific language like the words “trauma” and “PTSD” isn’t about labeling but rather about serving as a compass for help. This PTSD Awareness Month, let’s work to get the truth out about posttraumatic stress disorder, thus, getting more help to more people:

1. Trauma can be viewed as anything less than nurturing that alters your view of yourself and how you relate to the world. Mike Gurr, Executive Director of The Meadows Ranch, tells patients, “If it’s important to you, it’s important.” 

2. Traumas not deemed PTSD-worthy, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), can lead to PTSD symptoms just as severe as traumas that do qualify.

3. Among those who experience trauma, up to 20 percent will go on to develop PTSD.

4. Those who develop PTSD are not weak. In fact, PTSD has a lot to do with genetics and biology. As one example, based on hormone levels, researchers can predict—prior to deployment—which soldiers will develop PTSD in the war zone.

5. Sexual assault, more than combat or any other type of trauma, is most likely to result in PTSD.

6. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

7.  Some individuals who don’t meet the rather strict diagnostic criteria for PTSD in DSM-5 experience just as much impairment as those with full-blown PTSD. Researchers call this partial PTSD; it deserves help.

8. One reaction during a trauma—lesser known than fight or flight—is freeze. Think deer in the headlights. Without seeking professional help, people who freeze during trauma might ask themselves for the rest of their lives, “Why didn’t I do anything?”

9. People who develop PTSD did do something during their trauma. They survived. Fighting, fleeing, and freezing are all biologically appropriate responses to a trauma.

10. The average lapse in time between the onset of PTSD symptoms and a diagnosis is twelve years!

11. PTSD is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety.

12. Known as delayed expression PTSD (or delayed onset), symptoms can surface years after the trauma happened.

14. Although not included in DSM-5, clinicians and researchers widely agree that “complex PTSD” is a separate and unique form of the illness, one derived from exposure to multiple traumas, particularly in childhood.

15. People with PTSD are not crazy. PTSD is actually a normal reaction to an abnormal experience—a trauma.

16. PTSD can be passed on through DNA from parent to child, known as intergenerational trauma. Children of Holocaust survivors might struggle with PTSD symptoms even though they have never experienced a trauma directly themselves.

17. One of the greatest protectors against developing PTSD is social support.

18. People with PTSD are not dangerous. Many don’t even experience anger as a symptom.

19. PTSD looks different in everyone. Analyzing the various ways that the hallmark symptoms can manifest, there are 636,120 possible presentations of PTSD!

20. PTSD is no longer categorized as an anxiety disorder. Some with PTSD experience the disorder more as shame or grief-based and less as anxiety or fear.

21. Alongside PTSD often comes problems like eating disorders, substance use, depression, and insomnia.

22. Trauma can be stored in the body as chronic pain.

23. People with PTSD can’t just “get over it” any more than someone can just get over a broken leg. PTSD is a brain injury, one that needs treatment.

24. When people with PTSD are triggered, they have essentially lost access to their prefrontal cortex, the rational, decision-making part of the brain. This isn’t their fault, yet they can learn to take steps in accountability by seeking support.

25. Longtime “gold standard” evidence-based treatments for adults with PTSD include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Prolonged Exposure, and Cognitive Processing Therapy, all of which involve exposure to the trauma memory.

26. Avoiding trauma-related thoughts, feelings, situations, and things can be a central maintaining factor of PTSD. (e.g., If someone avoids driving after a car accident, the likelihood of developing PTSD increases.)

27. To heal, living an exposure-based life can be key. We need to approach thoughts, feelings, situations, and things that scare us. (e.g., In the previous example, with support, get out on the highway and drive.)

28. A newer, promising exposure-based treatment called Writing Exposure Therapy can be completed in as little as five sessions.

29. Somatic Experiencing® (SE), a body-oriented trauma treatment with a growing body of evidence, does not require a person to directly revisit trauma memories.

29. PTSD is not a life sentence. While the trauma can’t go away (it’s history), with treatment, PTSD symptoms can and do.

30. Posttraumatic growth describes the positive transformation that can grow out of adversity, out of trauma and PTSD.

I stopped seeing the therapist who encouraged me to drink wine for breakfast. Ultimately, I connected with excellent treatment providers, and I recovered from PTSD, albeit slowly. With help, research shows and personal experience proves, we can take our lives back from the treacherous illness. No one chooses to have PTSD, but people can and do choose to get better.

A Senior Fellow with The Meadows and advocate for its specialty eating disorders program, The Meadows Ranch, Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and sought-after speaker. For more information: www.JenniSchaefer.com

References: American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013).
D.M. Sloan, B.P. Marx, and D.L. Lee, “A Brief Exposure-based Treatment vs. Cognitive Processing Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Noninferiority Clinical Trial,” JAMA Psychiatry, 75(3) (2018): 233-239.E.C. Berenz and S.F. Coffey, “Treatment of Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders,” Current Psychiatry Reports 14(5) (2012): 469–477.J. A. Gordon, “Update from the NIMH” (presentation given at the Anxiety and Depression Conference, Washington, DC, April 5-8, 2018).
M.J. Friedman, T.M., Keane, P.A. Resick, Handbook of PTSD, Second Edition: Science and Practice (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2015).
National Center for PTSD (2016, October 3). How Common is PTSD? Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov
P. S. Wang, P. Berglund, M. Olfson, H.A. Pincus, K.B. Wells, and R.C. Kessler, “Failure and Delay in Initial Treatment Contact After First Onset of Mental Disorders,” National Comorbidity Survey Replication, 62 (2005).
R. A. Josephs, A.R. Cobb, C.L. Lancaster, H. Lee, and M.J. Telch, “Dual-hormone Stress Reactivity Predicts Downstream War-zone Stress-evoked PTSD,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 78. (2017): 76-84.
R. Yehuda, N.P. Daskalakis, L.M. Bierer, H.N. Bader, T. Klengel, F. Holsboer,  E.B. Binder, “Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects on FKBP5 Methylation,” Biological Psychiatry, 80(5). (2016): 372-80.
S. E. Back, A. E. Waldrop, & K. T. Brady, “Treatment Challenges Associated with Comorbid Substance Use and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Clinicians’ Perspectives,” American Journal of Addiction, 18. (2009): 15-20.

Feeling creative or like playing around with your mood? Collage it online with this mood collage tool from Tian Dayton Ph. D. and Senior Fellow at the Meadows.

Once you have the collage you like, take a screenshot of it and journal about these questions:

  1. Has my mood changed at all through collaging it and if so, in what ways?
  2. Does collaging my mood make it lighter or more conscious and if so what would you say about that?
  3. What parts of my collage pop out to me and why?
  4. What parts do I want to carry forward into my day?
  5. What parts do I want to change?
  6. What is the most positive light in which I can see my collage?

Hope you had fun…pass it along….

Mood collage online tool: http://www.tiandayton.com/emotionexplorer/mood-collage

Click here for the Mood Collage

When you think of management of your mental health, what comes to mind? Maybe you meditate or take yoga, perhaps you participate in group activities to stay connected to others, or maybe you focus on getting enough sleep. Do you ever think of the role food plays in all of this? You should. That’s because studies show that the foods you choose to consume play a big role in your mental health status. Here’s what to choose, and what to lose.

What to Choose:

 A Mediterranean Diet Pattern

Several studies show a connection between consumption of a Mediterranean diet and positive mood. Perhaps this is because the diet has such an impact on overall brain health. One study found that people that ate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains had lower rates of depression over time. These are just three of the main components of the diet, in addition to fish and skinless poultry, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts.

 Omega 3 Fatty Acids

An animal study out of the Indiana School of Medicine found that omega 3 supplementation could have a potential “therapeutic benefit” for both anxiety and alcohol abuse. Another demonstrated the impressive anti-inflammatory impact of regular consumption of fatty fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Inflammation is the base of the majority of diseases worldwide and plays a role in depression. Other sources of omega 3 fatty acids include chia, hemp, and flax seeds, walnuts, and lake trout.

 Vitamin D

Several studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies to increases in depression. While vitamin D is poorly absorbed through food sources, it is well absorbed through the rays of the sun and supplementation with D3. Since spending too much time in the sun can increase the risk for melanoma, it is advised to have your vitamin D levels checked and then supplement with a D3 option. If you are taking a fish oil pill, you should pair the two together. Doing so will enhance the absorption of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin.

 Fermented Foods

Getting more fermented foods in the diet (such as tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, and pickles) can enhance gut health. I’ll be focusing on the gut-mind connection in my next column but for now, consider adding some of these foods to your diet at least three times a week, or beginning a probiotic supplementation plan.

 What to Ditch:

You now know which foods you should add to your diet, now let’s focus on the ones to take out. Sugar, fast, fried, and ultra-processed foods and trans fats should all be decreased in the quest for better mental health. That’s because these foods have been found in studies to be a bad mix for good mood. Additionally, sugar holds addictive properties and has been proven to increase the risk of several chronic conditions.

The Meadows Behavioral Healthcare family of programs realize that food choices affect the overall success of treatment. Many nutrients have connections with depression, anxiety, and addiction. Few treatment programs realize this connection and I am proud to be associated as a Senior Fellow of this organization.

Next month, I’ll be focusing on getting the best foods for a better gut!

Written By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, Senior Fellow of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare

https://www.kristinkirkpatrick.com/

“You cannot ‘not’ communicate.”

In the world of communication theory, this is a common adage. Simply stated, it means that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to refrain from communicating to those around you. Since the majority of communication occurs through non-verbal cues that are transmitted both consciously and subconsciously, we are communicating whether we want to or not. Even silence is communicating something. So when couples or family members say, “Our problem is that we don’t communicate with one another,” they are misinformed. They are communicating a great deal. It’s more likely that they aren’t communicating very effectively and they often don’t like the messages that are being exchanged.

In the world of communication theory, this is a common adage. Simply stated, it means that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to refrain from communicating to those around you. Since the majority of communication occurs through non-verbal cues that are transmitted both consciously and subconsciously, we are communicating whether we want to or not. Even silence is communicating something. So when couples or family members say, “Our problem is that we don’t communicate with one another,” they are misinformed. They are communicating a great deal.  It’s more likely that they aren’t communicating very effectively and they often don’t like the messages that are being exchanged.

As human beings, we have the ability to transmit and detect very subtle cues from one another. It could be compared to an emotional Wi-Fi system that each of us possesses, sending out signals to the people in our proximity. Those people, in turn, have a corresponding Wi-Fi system that automatically receives and interprets those signals. This is happening whether we want it to or not. Unfortunately, these signals are subject to a great deal of misinterpretation.

So where do these Wi-Fi signals come from and how are they transmitted?  Well, it’s a complex process that happens faster than our conscious mind can keep up with and more subtle than we can perceive. Most of these signals are made up of different body gestures called micro-expressions; tiny movements that are almost imperceptible to the naked eye, especially if you’re not paying attention to them. They consist of small adjustments of the facial muscles, constriction or dilation of the pupils, movements of the limbs and extremities, body posture, tone of voice, and breathing patterns to name a few. Most of these signals are involuntary, and usually, the person transmitting them doesn’t know that they are doing it. In addition, the person who is receiving these signals may know something is being communicated but is seldom able to identify the source of these signals. To make matters worse, the receiver usually doesn’t have enough information to interpret these signals accurately. Thus, you get a dialogue that looks something like this:

Mom: “Jeffry, I see that you got a C on your geometry test. Are you having trouble understanding the material?”

Jeffry: “No, Mom, I just had a bad day when I took the test. I’m doing fine in the class.”

Mom: “No need to get defensive, Jeffry, I’m just concerned about how you’re doing in school.”

Jeffry: “Well, you don’t need to jump all over me about it Mom. It’s not like I’m a bad student.”

Mom: “I’m not ‘jumping all over you.’  I just asked a question. I don’t appreciate the tone you’re taking with me.”

Jeffry: “I don’t have a ‘tone.’  I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re getting all ballistic over a stupid test!”

The next thing you know, both Mom and Jeffry find themselves locked in a battle over who’s attacking who and which of them is being overly sensitive.  Both of them find themselves frustrated by the conversation.  It’s a common scenario that can sometimes lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and disrupted attachment between family members.  What Mom and Jeffry don’t notice is the role each of their respective micro-expressions is playing in the unfolding drama.  There is a great deal more to this conversation than just the words they are using and the content they are conveying.

How many times have you had a family member say to you, “What was that look about?” or “What’s the matter?  I can tell something’s bothering you,” and you have no idea what they are talking about?  Often, these micro-expressions are communicating emotional states that you may not be aware of in the moment.  Consequently, a whole assortment of miscommunication happens in a short amount of time.  If left unexamined and unaddressed, these miscues can lead to some disruptive outcomes for families.

Here at The Meadows, we prioritize healthy communication between family members. One aspect of our intensive Family Matters Workshop is fostering clear, direct communication. This includes, but is not limited to, the words that each family member says to one another.  Each individual must also gain a better awareness of their own emotional states and micro-expressions, as well as those of their loved ones.  This is an essential component of healthy communication.

The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows offers customized intensive workshops for families that are struggling to communicate effectively as well as numerous other relational problems.  If you would like to know more about our Family Matters Workshop or any of our other workshops, contact our intake department at 1-800-244-4949 for more information or visit our website at https://www.rioretreatcenter.com/workshops/relationships/family-workshop.

Written by:  John Parker, MS, LMFT, SATP, CSAT, Therapist at Rio Retreat Center

Grief is normal, it is a direct result of attachment and love. There is really no one-size-fits-all approach to grief but normal grief tends to follow a pattern whereas complicated or what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised losses, can go underground and truthfully never get processes at all. This is when grief becomes what is referred to as complicated and can block our enjoyment of life and even undermine our ability to be intimate.

Grief over losses that are disenfranchised or out of the normal stream can make us feel out of synch with the world around us, and can undermine a sense of normalcy and dignity. This tends to push pain and resentment downward rather than allowing it to come up and out.

Normal grief has a dignity that allows the griever the freedom to experience her emotions and feel accepted and understood by her surrounding communities. But hidden losses are a different story. Unlike with a loss to death, there is no funeral to acknowledge and honor the loss, no grave to visit, no covered dishes dropped at the door nor sitting in the company of fellow mourners and supporting each other through the tears. These hidden losses live in unmarked graves within people and family systems who often avoid discussing them. The pain becomes covert rather than overt. Processing these losses can allow us to make them real and visit them in the here and now. It provides an alternative form of ritual for the kinds of losses that all too often go unrecognized and unacknowledged.

When the loss begins to evidence symptoms of complication, that is, when a current loss triggers emotional states from previous losses and these triggered emotions leak out in ways that make us feel vulnerable or emerge as inappropriate anger, pain, depression or resentment, we may need to take a deeper look at what might be going on.

A surprisingly large number of life events go un-grieved and thus they become disenfranchised. Some examples of these losses are:

  • The effects of divorce, on spouses, children and the family unit.
  • Dysfunction in the home, loss of comfortable and predictable family life.
  • Addiction, loss of periods of one’s life to using and abusing.
  • Addiction in the home, the loss of a happy home life and the pain of watching a loved on slowly destroy themselves.
  • Loss of the addictive substance or behavior for an addict.
  • Loss of job, health, youth, children in the home, retirement, life transitions (if they trigger other losses or are overwhelming due to difficult circumstances).

If we cannot mourn these types of losses, we may:

  • Stay stuck in anger, pain and resentment.
  • Lose access to important parts of our inner, feeling world.
  • Have trouble engaging in new relationships because we are still actively linked with a person or situation no longer present.
  • Project unfelt, unresolved grief onto any situation, placing those feelings where they do not belong.
  • Lose personal history along with the unmourned person or situation; a part of us dies, too.
  • Carry deep fears of subsequent abandonment.

Grief Self Test

Think of a loss that you wish to explore. Rate your answers to the following questions from one-ten. (the following two exercises are excerpted from Emotional Sobriety Workbook: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance

1.To what degree do you experience unresolved emotions surrounding this loss?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. How disruptive was this loss to your daily routines?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. How much depression do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. How much yearning do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. How much emotional constriction do you experience?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

6. How much sadness do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

7. How much anger do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

8. How much ghosting (continued psychic presence) of the lost person, situation, or part of self do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

9. How much fear of the future do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10. How much trouble are you having organizing yourself?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

11. How uninterested in your life do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

12. How much old, unresolved grief is being activated and remembered as a result of this current issue?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

13. How tired do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

14. How much hope do you feel about your life and the future?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

15. How much regret do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

16. How much self-recrimination do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

17. How much shame or embarrassment do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Stages of the Grief Process

On a separate paper or tablet, write a few phrases or sentences that describe your feelings around each stage as they relate to the grief issue(s) that you are exploring.

  • Numbness and Shut Down (nature’s way of preserving us so that we can function) Describe the feelings that went on hold.
  • Yearning and Searching: Describe the feelings of longing for what was lost.
  • Disorganization and Despair: Describe ways in which your life may feel disorganized by your loss and any feelings of sadness or despair that you may be feeling because of that.
  • Reorganization and Integration: Describe ways in which you feel you are integrating your loss and moving on in your life.
  • Reinvestment: Describe ways in which you are reinvesting the freed up energy in your current life that you have as a result of having grieved.

We grieve because we love or because we’re attached and all of this is simply part of being human.Exploring your feelings around grief, whether it’s normal or disenfranchised grief can come as a great relief. If it makes you feel vulnerable, like taking a nap or doing something that feels soothing, it is working, simply relax and let go, these are just feelings and this too, shall pass.

If you wish to listen to a guided imagery in order to process pain and feel soothed around it, log onto tiandayton.com and go to guided imageries. And then do something relaxing, soothing and kind to yourself!

If you haven’t already noticed, you will likely start to see some significant changes to how your food is packaged and sold.

Rolling out Obama-era policies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring food makers to implement a new Nutrition Facts label, which will include the following information and updates [1]:

  • Increasing the type size for “Calories”, “servings per container”, and the “Serving Size”
  • Bolding the numbers of calories and serving size to better highlight this information
  • “Added Sugars” in grams and as a percent of Daily Value will be included on the label
  • Manufacturers must declare the actual amount, in addition to the percent of Daily Value, of Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium
  • The list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared is being updated

Intention Behind Nutrition Regulations

What do all these changes mean for nutrition facts labels on your food products, and why is the FDA pushing for these changes?

On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods with the intention of making labels easier for consumers to make better-informed food choices. According to the FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, “Consumers are starting to have access to an updated label that’s based on current science and provides more information to empower them to choose healthful diets [2].”

Many other nutrition initiatives that began in the Obama administration are beginning to be implemented under the current Administration, including regulations that would require calorie labeling on restaurant menus in addition to the updated “Nutrition Facts” panels on food products.

These new initiatives, which have been termed as the FDA’s “Nutrition Innovation Strategy”, are attempts to tackle certain health conditions in the United States, including heart disease and obesity. The FDA is also considering other initiatives that would encourage food manufacturers to make their products healthier for consumers and giving incentives to those who do.

How this Impacts Consumers

With public health concerns about preventable health conditions that impact millions of Americans, it is hopeful that the implementation of these new initiatives will create a positive change. However, it is yet to be fully understood as to how these new regulations will impact consumers.

While the FDA has promoted that changes to the Nutrition Facts label will make it easier for consumers to make more informed choices about their food selections, these initiatives do little to bridge the disparities with overall access to quality food, healthcare, and nutrition education for all Americans.

Many of the common health issues that Americans are facing today, including obesity and heart disease, are multifactorial, and there is little research to show that changes to nutrition facts labels alone will make a difference in preventable disease. It is important to consider how some of these changes and increased focus on nutrition labeling may affect individuals who are struggling to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Focusing on Ways to Stay Healthy

The potential issue with the Nutrition Facts label changes and other initiatives by the FDA is that this can create fear for many consumers about eating certain foods. An overemphasis on food labels and nutrition facts rather than learning how to enjoy a variety of many foods can take the joy away from eating and make it more complicated. It is possible to navigate your food choices by trusting your body and learning to enjoy a variety of foods intuitively.

Simply put, achieving a healthy lifestyle involves many more factors than just opting for the lowest calorie food items. The caloric value of a food alone is not reflective of the nutrient content of a food. Living a healthy lifestyle includes enjoying a variety of foods, engaging in movement and exercise, getting adequate rest, and learning how to effectively manage stress.

Keeping focused on these big-picture goals, when it comes to health, will ultimately be much more effective than hyper-focusing on nutrition labels and calorie counts.

What are your thoughts on the new updates to the nutrition facts label?

The Meadows Behavioral Healthcare family of treatment programs treat more than just the symptoms of addiction, trauma and the co-occurring conditions, we treat the whole person from the inside out. This includes promoting all aspects of wellness as well as nutrition. Our holistic approach helps patients create a healthy, satisfying lifestyle for long-term healing.

References:

[1]: US Food and Drug Administration, “Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label”, https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm Accessed 30 April 2018

[2]: The Washington Post, “One Year After Delaying Obama’s Nutrition Rules, Trump’s FDA says it will embrace them”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/29/one-year-after-delaying-obamas-food-reforms-trumps-fda-says-it-will-embrace-them/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4b1be8c8a3fb Accessed 30 April 2018

Resilient qualities are not only what we’re born with but also the strengths that we build through encountering life’s challenges and developing the personal and interpersonal skills to meet them. It is one of life’s paradoxes that the worst circumstances can bring the best out of us. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies performed by Robert Anda (2006) and his team at Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, we will all experience four or more serious life stressors that may be traumatizing, and according to positive psychology research, most of us will grow from them.

What Do We Mean by Resilience?

Research on resilience used to view resilient qualities as residing exclusively within an individual. Today this research takes the more dynamic view of seeing resilience as an individual’s ability to mobilize supports within a social context. Wong and Wong (2012) write that “In the early days of resilience research, the focus was on ‘the invulnerable child,’ who did better than expected despite adversities and disadvantages . . . [D]evelopmental psychologists were interested in individual differences and the protective factors that contributed to the development of the invulnerable child”. Rutter, however, argues that “resilience may reside in the social context as much as within the individual” (Wong & Wong). “His concept of the ‘steeling’ effect highlights the essence of resilience — the more experience you have in overcoming adversities, the more resilient you will become” (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Wong and Wong propose that certain qualities of behavioral resilience can only be developed from the actual experience of having overcome adversities (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Additionally, they identify at least three prototypical patterns that resilient people appear to display, which may occur in different contexts for different individuals. These are developed as individuals meet life challenges; they are dynamic, constantly evolving qualities rather than qualities residing only within the individual.

Recovery: bouncing back and returning to normal functioning
Invulnerability: remaining relatively unscathed by the adversity or trauma
Posttraumatic growth: bouncing back and becoming stronger (Wong & Wong, 2012, p. 588).
Our Deep Need to Connect: How Early Attachment Can Be Life Enhancing or Traumatizing
Our highest and most evolved system, our social engagement system, is activated through our deep urge to communicate and cooperate. From the moment of birth, our mind-body reaches out toward our primary attachment figures to establish the kind of connection that will allow us to survive and find our footing in the world. We fall back on our more primitive systems of defense — such as fight, flight, or freeze — only when we fail to find a sense of resonance and safety in this connection (Porges, 2004).

The body of work that researchers Dan Siegel and Allan Schore have developed, which underlies interpersonal neurobiology, postulates that our skin does not define the boundaries of our beingness; from conception, we resonate in tune or out of tune with those around us (Schore, 1999). Through relational experiences that form and inform our sense of self and through our ability to be cared for and care about others, our capacity for empathy is formed and strengthened (Schore, 1999).

Neuroception, a term coined by Stephen Porges (2004), former Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes our innate ability to use intricate, meaning-laden, barely perceptible mind-body signals to establish bonds and communicate our needs and intentions. While many of these communications are conscious, still more occur beneath the level of our awareness in that animal-like part of us(Porges, 2004).

Neuroception is a system that has evolved over time to enable humans and mammals to establish the mutually nourishing bonds that we need to survive and thrive. It is also our personal security system that assesses, in the blink of an eye, whether or not the situations that we’re encountering are safe or in some way threatening (Porges, 2004). According to Porges (2004), our neuroception tells us if we can relax and be ourselves or if and when we need to self-protect. If the signals that we’re picking up from others are cold, dismissive, or threatening, that system sets off an inner alarm that is followed by a cascade of mind-body responses honed by eons of evolution to keep us from being harmed. That mind-body system sets off equivalent alerts if we’re facing the proverbial saber-toothed tiger or saber-toothed parent, older sibling, a school bully, or spouse. We brace for harm to our person on the inside as well as on the outside.

When Parents Turn Away

Trauma in the home has a lasting impact. When those we rely on for our basic needs of trust, empathy, and dependency become abusive or neglectful, it constitutes a double whammy. Not only are we being hurt and confused but the very people we’d go to for solace and explanation of what’s going on are the ones causing us pain. We stand scared and braced for danger in those moments, prepared by eons of evolution, ready to flee for safety or stand and fight. If we can do neither, if escape seems impossible because we are children growing up trapped by our own size and dependency within pain engendering families, then something inside of us freezes. Just getting through, just surviving the experience becomes paramount.

Relational trauma impacts all facets of the mind-body social engagement system including limbic resonance, touch, expression, gesture, sign language, and finally words. Consequently, ferreting out just what has hurt us can be a very layered process. A parent who wears a scowl all of the time, for example, and who we couldn’t reach with our attempts at connection or who begrudgingly reached for our hands and dragged us across a street or humiliated us for our small efforts share our feelings to take care of ourselves, can leave a legacy of hurt behind them.

In trauma engendering interactions, “people are not able to use their interactions to regulate their physiological states in relationship . . . they are not getting anything back from the other person that can help them to remain calm and regulated. Quite the opposite. The other person’s behavior is making them go into a scared, braced-for-danger state. Their physiology is being up regulated into a fight/flight mode,” says Porges A failure to successfully engage and create a sense of safety and cooperation or to communicate needs and desires to those people we depend upon for our very survival can be experienced as traumatic. This can set the groundwork for a life long problem with self-regulation.

When Children Withdraw Into Themselves

For small developing children, this refusal of connection can be traumatic if it occurs consistently over time. The child can feel that their needs are somehow incompressible if the parent does not tune into him or her. Small children have little recourse when they are young and dependent. If a parent does not support a comfortable connection, if the parent or caretaker is not available for a caring co-state in which communications on both sides are met with reciprocal attempts to understand and continue to participate in a mutually satisfying feedback loop, the child may feel very alone. They may retreat into their own little world or even dissociate. After all, why continue to try when you are getting nothing back? What about the child who is disciplined not according to their own behavior but by their parent’s mood and left unable to figure out how to act to stay out of trouble? Or how about the kid in a rage-filled home who is told to sit still and listen as the parent dumps a load of pain all over them? What recourse does this child have but to flee internally? When we dissociate, we do not process experiences normally. We do not feel it, think about it, or draw meaning from it.

How Early Relational Trauma Affects Our Relationships

People who have been traumatized in their intimate relationships can find it difficult simply to be in comfortable connection with others. The dependency and vulnerability that is so much a part of intimacy can trigger a person who has been traumatized in their early, intimate relationships into the defensive behaviors that they relied on as children to stay safe and to feel whole rather than splintered. To heal this form of relational trauma, we need to understand what defensive strategies we used to stay safe and then shift these behaviors to be more engaged and nourishing both within our relationships and ourselves. After all, if we constantly brace for danger and rejection, then we are likely to create it. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Long-Term Impact of Parental Addiction

Experiences like growing up with parental addiction and the chaos and stress that surround it pop up over and over again as primary causes of toxic stress. Anda and his team were not looking for the effects of addiction in their research however it consistently emerged as an underlying factor in ACE’s. Not only are the effects of parental addiction devastating for children, but addiction is rarely a factor by itself, it is often surrounded by a cluster of other problems such as abuse and neglect. Alcohol and drugs are often used to mask depression and anxiety in the addict but rather than make depression or anxiety better; addiction makes them worse because the depression and anxiety remain undealt with and the addiction becomes a whole, new problem of its own. And being married to an addict creates pain in the partner which undermines their ability to be a present parent, so kids lose two parents. ACEs or adverse childhood experiences tend to cluster; once a home environment is disordered, the risk of witnessing or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse actually rises dramatically (Anda, et al., 2006).

During one of his lectures, Dr. Anda described why ongoing traumatic experiences such as growing up with addiction, abuse, or neglect in the home can have such tenacious effects: “For an epidemic of influenza, a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, the worst is quickly over; treatment and recovery efforts can begin. In contrast, the chronic disaster that results from ACEs is insidious and constantly rolling out from generation to generation” (personal communication). If the effects of toxic stress are not understood so that children can receive some sort of understanding and support from home, school, and community, these children simply “vanish from view . . . and randomly reappear — as if they are new entities — in all of your service systems later in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as clients with behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems” (Anda, et al., 2010).

Growing up is painful; families are only human after all. We will inevitably get hurt. But we need to repair that hurt in some way, and if repair doesn’t happen at or near to the moment of the pain, it will need to happen later. When emotional pain remains split off, it becomes somehow invisible to the naked eye, and it emerges as if it a whole new problem with whole new people. But we need to embrace the challenge as adults of understanding our own childhood ACE-related pain and cleaning up its effects so that it doesn’t become the pain pump for today’s problems.

The idea of growth through suffering or pain is not a new one. The systematic study of it is. Post-traumatic growth (PTG), a phrase coined by Drs. Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun — editors of The Handbook of Post Traumatic Growth — describes the positive self-transformation that people undergo through meeting challenges head-on. It refers to a profound, life-altering response to adversity that changes us on the inside as we actively summon the kinds of qualities like fortitude, forgiveness, gratitude, and strength that enable us to not only survive tough circumstances but also thrive. Facing childhood pain and dealing with it rather than acting it out or medicating is part of post-traumatic growth and part of how we create resilience today.

REFERENCES

Anda, R. F., V. J. Felitti, D. W. Brown, D. Chapman, M. Dong, S. R.Schore, A.N. (1999). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …

NEUROCEPTION: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety STEPHEN W. PORGES University of Illinois at Chicago Copyright 2004 ZERO TO THREE. Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder.

Schore, A.N. (1991), Early superego development: The emergence of shame and narcissistic affect regulation in the practicing period. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 14: 187–250.

— — — — — — — (1994), Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. Mahwah

Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …, M. (2004). Nurturing hidden resilience in troubled youth. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Wong, P. T. P. & Wong, L. C. J. (2012). A meaning-centered approach to building youth resilience. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 585–617). New York, NY: Routledge.

Orginally posted on Medium:  https://medium.com/thrive-global/building-strength-and-resiliance-through-facing-and-dealing-with-lifes-problems-c7fe0acdb85a

Written by Tian Dayton, PH.D. and Senior Fellow at The Meadows