Category Archives: emotional trauma

Can therapy really help to change your life? For anyone out there who is suffering and feeling hopeless

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In my previous blog I spoke about our deep-seated fear of change. Change, in many ways, is akin to dying since it entails ‘dying’ to our old beliefs, our old ideas and ways of being. But change is also about rebirth. Just as in fairy-tales and myths, where frightening monsters are faced and conquered, the descent into our own underworld equips us with the special powers, skills and knowledge needed to make changes in our everyday life.

Most people who decide to try counselling and psychotherapy (or EFT and other forms of therapy) express their doubts as to whether this would work for them. These doubts and scepticism are very natural, normal and healthy. Indeed, how would you know if therapy can really help to change your life? If you have been struggling with depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and relationship issues for a long time it may be difficult to imagine (even if this is what you want) how they can metamorphose into joy, contentment and fulfilment.

Embarking on a therapy journey does require a leap of faith and commitment. It is similar to growing a flower: it takes time, nurturing care, and patience for the seeds that you’ve planted in the earth to bring forth their shoots and eventually blossom. This growing process is subtle and changes can be almost imperceptible until they become visible.

Therapy is not an exact science. Its effectiveness is evidence-based, and from there you can take your faith: if it worked for other people it may work for you. Below I share a ‘real-life’ story told by a client of mine, a young professional woman, with whom I have worked for over two years. It just shows how much things can change, how one’s life can heal and unfold in wonderful ways. I hope you find it as encouraging and inspirational as I do.

For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless…

My journey in self discovery and healing started almost four years ago when I felt I had reached rock bottom and had almost become unable to do the most simplest of tasks let alone run a business or deal with the family and relationship issues that I was faced with.

I had trapped myself in such negative situations, thought processes and beliefs after suffering great losses, hurt and betrayal, that it felt like I was in a prison I’d never be able to escape from. I was no longer able to trust in the world and people, and had lost considerable hope and belief in myself. I couldn’t see a solution, yet was continually trying so many things to ‘improve myself’. My physical and mental health had become so weak and fragile I felt it would be next to impossible to feel ‘normal’ again and have ‘normal’ friendships and be able to cope with the challenges of life and a demanding career.

This is where I turned to therapy as my last resort. After an incredibly challenging year of conventional counselling I sought out Ludmila because I have heard that EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) was very efficient in helping people recover from trauma.  I will admit it took a tremendous amount of effort, dedication and perseverance on both my and Ludmila’s part but, as with most things in life, the hard work eventually started to pay off and I slowly began to heal from my mental anguish, fear and trauma. And little by little, small, almost imperceptible changes have lead to several major breakthroughs in my life, which I can only fully appreciate now, looking back to where I started…

The biggest breakthrough but also challenge was accepting and forgiving my mother. It was very painful to acknowledge through therapy that my mother was actually a very damaged person. She loved her children very much but was, unfortunately, unable to give us nurturing care because of her own traumatic childhood experiences.

I was always so conflicted about my mother… On the one hand, I knew she loved me and my brother, and she tried her best encouraging our education and cultural development, acquainting us with film, art and performance, ensuring that we got to a good school and later supporting financially my university studies… After the divorce from my father she has been on her own and also juggling a full time job. I appreciate all that very much and I don’t want to wrong her and do her injustice by focusing on the negative things, and yet sometimes it was more than often unbearable growing up with her.

I was living in constant fear that she would blow any second at the smallest thing and scream and shout at me. I became an emotional punch-bag for her unresolved pain which had effectively formed into a severe mental illness. This manifested in constant criticism and resentment towards me, as well as extreme negativity and distrust of life and most of the people she knew or met. Constant mental instability, switching from a seemingly rational and wonderful person to a completely irrational, made her very frightening.

Growing up I was unable to fully understand this, I just tried to keep safe within the emotional war-zone my brother and I lived in by forming effective coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms consisted of continually ensuring my mother’s needs were met, however irrational or unfair they were. I placed them before my own in order to keep the peace and try to manage her behaviour as much as possible. I effectively looked after her emotionally in exchange for a home, food and education.  I was unaware at the time that this was abnormal, that I was just surviving and not really coping at all…

It only started to become apparent for me years later when all the trauma of those years and subsequent experiences just became too much to bear. Those learnt coping mechanisms no longer protected me, instead they became undermining. I had been living a life driven by the need to please others and putting others’ needs before my own to severe detrimental effect. I didn’t know how to enforce healthy boundaries and was almost unaware of my own feelings and needs, allowing myself to be exploited and never feeling happy or fulfilled.

Acknowledging and confronting this was painful, but also empowering. It has been essential in re-establishing a new healthier relationship with my mother and other demanding characters in my life. Coming to terms with the fact that I am not the cause of their mental anguish, and that it is not something that I am able to resolve for them, was very healing.

I learned to assert my newly-found boundaries and realized that it could be done in a non-aggressive manner. The wonderful outcome has been that my mother and other similar characters in my life now treat me with more respect and no longer seem to unleash their demons on me as much. Or – more importantly – if they do, I no longer feel responsible for their irrational behaviour.

It was very difficult for my mum initially but over time she has adjusted and it has actually brought us closer together although, sadly, we will never be really close and I will always remain on guard in order to protect myself. Nonetheless are relationship is healthier than it has been since I was a teenager, which has benefited every aspect of my life.

I came to forgive my first love for his betrayal and abandonment. Hard as it was, I came to terms with the devastating illness of my father. I also succeeded in reconnecting and repairing my relationship with my partner and learned to stand up to bullies in my professional life.  Even though it seemed almost impossible to achieve, I managed to overcome my huge fears of exam failure, shame, ridicule, exposure and guilt in order to complete my education and become a fully qualified professional in my field.

But, most importantly, I came to forgive myself for all the criticism I constantly gave myself, for not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, cool enough… the list goes on… I began to acknowledge that I am not a bad person but am worthy of love and goodness in my life.

Looking back at my life four years ago, I have come such a long way, and it’s sometimes incredible to believe the changes I have made in both my personal and professional life. I don’t believe I would have made it without Ludmila’s help, for which I am so grateful. Her strength, conviction and dedication, her compassion, encouragement and faith in me have been truly transformational.

I haven’t by any means come to the end of my journey, but I am now on the right path and feel able to trust in life again and feel secure acknowledging and accepting my hurt and emotions. For anyone else out there who is suffering and feels hopeless, as painful and difficult as it might be, try not to give up on therapy. It can sometimes feel impossible to ever recover from great trauma and despair, but I truly believe we are all capable of healing and great change with hope, dedication and perseverance – together with a therapist you trust.

Recognizing childhood trauma

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Have you suffered a childhood trauma? Probably the majority of people if asked this question would answer ‘no.’ And yet many of them will be mistaken.

It may seem to you surprising how it is possible to be unaware of such a big thing as trauma – it is like overlooking an elephant in the room! Yet this is exactly what is happening. And the reason for that is that we simply don’t recognize an elephant for an elephant. Instead we see it as an integral part of the room’s interior.

When we hear the word ‘trauma’ we tend to think of a sudden shocking event with visibly manifest physical or/and emotional injuries. For example, surviving a car crash. Or being raped.

People who have lost one of their parents as children would sometimes say it was a trauma. Often, however, they would regard it just as a sad fact of life and won’t recognize that they have been traumatized by it.

Redefining trauma

We need to rethink then what we understand by trauma. I would say this: trauma is an event or a long-lasting situation that has a damaging impact on one’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

When trauma is not addressed promptly and thoroughly it usually has long-lasting effects, which may severely undermine one’s life. Unfortunately, traumas resulting from suffering a long-term emotional distress very often go unnoticed and untreated for years, until some major crisis hits and a person suddenly finds him/herself at the point of a breakdown. It is about this type of trauma suffered during childhood that I want to write in this blog.

Fundamental childhood needs

Contrary to what we are used to thinking, being a child is very challenging! Look what a huge difference there is between a new born baby and a two year old toddler, and between that toddler and a first grader. As adults we don’t normally experience comparable developmental leaps. We tend to live more or less in our comfort zone and won’t leave it by our own accord. Children, however, have no choice! They are hard pushed by the very nature of their growing and developing – physically, cognitively and psychologically. They have very little space to bask in the comfort zone. Mostly, it is an ongoing climb.

When you look at childhood like this you can begin to appreciate how much support children need in order to transition successfully through all the developmental stages. The fundamental basic needs include:

  • SAFETY (emotional and physical);
  • Unconditional affection and consistent engaged interest of their parents and caretakers;
  • The right to make mistakes;
  • The right to express their feelings and have them acknowledged;
  • Positive encouragement and validation.

Probably most of us didn’t have all these needs met equally well at all periods of our childhood. But some people, sadly, had to grow up with the exact reverse of these conditions. Read on to see if it might have been your case.

Traumatic conditions in childhood

Existential threat

If a child gets beaten up or witnesses physical violence between the parents or towards other siblings, the child will experience it as a threat to his/her survival. Similar fear is also being engendered in a child if she or he is being constantly shouted at or hears his/her parents shouting at each other.

The lack of healthy boundaries also makes children feel unsafe. Children need a holding structure, within which they can explore, experiment rebel and grow. Growing up in a chaotic household is like being on a boat without an anchor in the open sea. Growing up with overly rigid boundaries (which usually involves punishment for breaking them) is like living in a prison.

Psychological overload

Sometimes young children are made to carry a burden that is too big for their age. For example, in a family with several children and hard working parents the elder child (sometimes at quite a tender age) may become like a parent to her/his younger siblings. This person will skip the carefree stage of childhood and grow up feeling overburdened by the heavy sense of responsibility, finding it difficult to relax and just have fun.

It also happens that a child may become like a parent to their parents if one of the parents is seriously ill or depressed. The parent’s needs in such a situation become a priority and a child learns to suppress his/her own needs in order not to disturb or upset the parent. The message that the child ingests is that of his/her own unimportance. As adults these children often struggle to express themselves, to say ‘no’, to assert their rights and to appreciate themselves and their needs and desires.

Blame, guilt, shaming

Are you constantly feeling guilty about things? Do you believe it is your fault if something goes wrong at work or at home? If your mother misses a doctor’s appointment do you gnaw yourself for not having reminded her?

Persistent feelings of guilt are a symptom of a childhood trauma. They are the result of the culture of blaming and shaming, of being made responsible for your parents’ problems and unhappiness. If you were told by your mother that she has sacrificed her academic career for you, she was giving you a guilt trip. If you have been ridiculed for not knowing the name of some composer, you have been shamed for ‘ignorance.’ The shame about your mistakes transforms into pervasive shame about who you are. It is toxic and paralyzing.

Emotional neglect

In order to thrive children need to feel (not just know intellectually!) loved, welcomed and appreciated. They feel this if parents spend enough time with them, hold them, play with them, talk to them about things that matter to them and take interest in their activities. If parents are working long hours and are only at home to fix dinner and send the child to bed, the child will feel abandoned.

The lack of caring attention during childhood is like the lack of nutrients and vitamins. It stunts the person’s emotional/psychological growth and impairs the development of strong healthy self-esteem. Emotional neglect and abandonment have long-lasting effect and can seriously undermine one’s life and ability to be happy.

Emotionally unstable parents

Children of emotionally unstable and mentally ill parents are in the highest risk category. There is virtually no safe place for them. They suffer from neglect and abandonment because their parents are preoccupied with their own stuff. They have to tiptoe around their parents to prevent them from snapping and ‘flipping.’ They suppress their needs, while trying to guess their parents’ needs and desires and learn to please in order to get approval. They can’t express their own preference or feeling without having it invalidated by the parent who always ‘knows better.’ If they do get praised it is usually for doing something that reinforces the parent’s sense of self-value. Emotional connection is either non-existent or erratic. Or a child may be made a confidante of a parent and a recipient of their psychological unloading. These children have been heavily traumatized and need help.

Acknowledging versus blaming

As a rule, parents who have failed in their role of a parent have themselves suffered childhood trauma. They deserve empathy and compassion. But so do you! It is not about blaming it is about acknowledging the facts and helping what we can help. It is about breaking the chain of trauma transmitted through generations and healing your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Please help me to help others

This blog article is the most general sketch on childhood trauma. To learn more please follow my Facebook page (Soultap Therapy) where I post links to other literature and resources.

Please share this article with your friends and people who may benefit from this information. And feel free to post comments or write to me if you have questions.

 

 

 

 

 

What are we thinking? Becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions

In my last blog I have explored how our emotions affect our life – how they influence what we do and do not do, how do we respond to other people and to the challenges that life presents. But what about our thoughts? Where do they come into play?

Thoughts are as important in shaping our life as emotions are, and the two are closely interconnected as thoughts are often emotionally charged. Sad or anxious thoughts would make us feel sad or anxious, and our body will respond accordingly: we may experience heaviness in the chest, a lump in the throat or butterflies in the tummy.

Thoughts also have a suggestive power. If we repeat the same thought over and over again, our subconscious mind incorporates it as truth. For example, if we are always saying to ourselves “I am useless, I cannot do anything right,” our subconscious mind comes to believe that this is true. And here is the trap! Once the subconscious mind “believes” in something it begins to rule us according to its faith. And thus it may cause us a lot of grievance. It may stop us from venturing to do new things because “we are not good at anything” or from developing fulfilling relationships because “nobody cares about us.”

So how do we take over control?

An important step is to become aware of our thoughts. Developing self-awareness is indeed the key for personal growth. So I would suggest: begin to notice your thoughts in a non-judgmental way, with open curiosity. Simply become interested: “What am I thinking?” Of course, hundreds of thoughts cross our mind every minute and it is not possible to note each one. But as you start observing you will notice that there are some thoughts that occur over and over again. How many of them are positive and how many are negative? As you “catch” a negative thought in your mind’s net consider what has triggered it. Is it a response to a concrete situation or is it a generalization of a sort? Suppose a colleague did not return your “hello” and you think with a habitual sigh “Nobody notices me.” But is it really so? Maybe you are forgetful of a stranger who held a door for you an hour earlier, or of a friend who came to visit when you were ill?

If you start witnessing your thoughts you will be amazed how many of them are automatic responses. A friend of mine has called them an “answering machine.” The “answering machine” kicks in every time when something triggers our stored response. By becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions we gain a greater control over them and a greater freedom to choose our responses. Sometimes, however, certain persistent negative emotions or thoughts may be a result of an emotional trauma that cannot be alleviated simply through an act of observation. In this case it would be recommended to work through it with the help of a therapist.

To get yourself into habit of monitoring your thoughts you may use a weekly thoughts calendar, similar to the emotions calendar that I have suggested in the previous blog. You may want to make a use of the template that I created and uploaded on the Downloads page (www.Soultap.co.uk/downloads). Feel free to change the suggested examples of thoughts to your own. If you need help please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will be happy to assist you with creating your person-tailored calendar.

I hope you find this information useful and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights.

With warm wishes,

Ludmila