Once Upon a Time: Repression and Learning to Say No

Once upon a time, I learned repression.

Once upon a time, I learned repression.

Repression: I once knew what this was and then I forgot.

Last weekend, I attended the EMDRIA conference in Minneapolis where physician, Gabor Maté, spoke about the connections between trauma, emotional repression, and disease. He told the story of his Jewish infant self, crying all the time, in Hungary, 1944, just before the Nazi invasion. He quickly learned to negate his own childhood needs in order to protect his mother from further stress. Maté’s book, “When the Body Says No,” tells about the emotional coping styles we learn as children – and how they become precursors to adult diseases. Here’s an excerpt.

Repression, the inability to say no and a lack of awareness of one’s anger make it much more likely that a person  will find herself in situations where her emotions are unexpressed, her needs are ignored and her gentleness is  exploited. Those situations are stress inducing, whether or not the person is conscious of being stressed.

I came home and bought all Maté’s books, so I could read about my two selves . . . the child version that, long, long ago, learned to cope through repression (who put her difficult feelings into lidded jars and set them on a high shelf to collect dust); and the adult version that survived cancer.

Anger & Repression & No . . . just No

Maté reviews the mountain of research that’s been done since I first studied women’s anger. He reads obituaries and tells stories about his work and interviews with dying patients . . . people with breast cancer, ALS, and other life-threatening diseases. This passage captures his premise:

                    Emotional experiences are translated into potentially damaging biological events when human beings                                           are prevented from learning how to express their feelings effectively. That learning occurs –or fails to occur – during childhood.

Bottom line: these patients repress their true feelings most of the time.

If you grew up in a fundamentalist religious group, I have no doubt you learned to repress your true feelings in favor of what someone wanted you to feel or be. I once got scammed while making change in my college retail job because I didn’t want to be a disappointing Christian young lady and hurt the perp’s feelings. Just . . . NO.

Once Upon a Time: I forgot how to say no.

Once Upon a Time: I forgot how to say no.

Repression & Dissociation in Everyday Life

Here’s how it looks. I have stress, but dissociate (cut off) from my stress. You have anger, but stay out-of-touch with it. You have anxiety, but distract from your true feelings. I may be grieving the loss of my father, but not shedding tears, just desperately trying to save a friend from his addiction. I may be furious at how women are objectified in this world, yet only aware that I feel old and unattractive. You may be afraid of being alone and unloved in the future, but only know you’re driven to work harder, be fitter, and produce more now.

How do you dissociate from the reality of the moment? (e.g., food, alcohol, work). How do you repress pain? (e.g., humor, obsessive thoughts about your body). With whom do you avoid saying no? (e.g., your mate, your boss, your mother). What do you use to distract from the real pain at your core? (e.g., religion, politics, shopping, talking). What ingenious strategies did you develop as a kid that keep you shielded from what you really feel?

These are all the same question.

Now, where in your body does the physical impact live?

How to deal? For me, writing draws out hidden feelings. When I write, I connect with the serious little girl who forgot how to say no and, instead, left her instincts in sealed jars.* I move abstract emotion out of storage and into the realm of paper and ink where it can be touched and smelled and targeted with EMDR. Also, regular, focused exercise helps me stay attuned to my body/mind, so I’m more likely to feel No and say No when I need to.

*Once upon a time, you did this too.

Contact Deborah

 

Notice Body-Mind Connections and Heal from Trauma

Bone Flowers Deck, Luca Barberini, 2010, http://lucabarberini.com/en/home

Bone Flowers Deck, Luca Barberini, 2010, http://lucabarberini.com/en/home

I used to fall a lot. On the sidewalk. In my yard. Up a flight of marble stairs. About seven years ago, after a string of bizarre falls where I ended up with scars on my shins and a pulled muscle in my back, I followed the trail of breadcrumbs and made a body-mind connection. It went like this.

  1. I have contact with a mean or narcissistic person.
  2. I feel “off balance.”
  3. I trip on my own feet or a tree root or a rock in the driveway and land on my hip or my hands.
  4. I hurt myself and also feel humiliated.
  5. I immediately recall the bullying individual from #1.

At first, when I told my doctor about this, I felt sheepish. I didn’t want to blame my clumsiness on someone else (and I didn’t want her to think I’d had a stroke). But as I told my story, I caught sight of my patient me, as if through my doctor’s eyes, apologizing for the link I’d made between mean people and my having accidents. I thought of other patients in her office, recalling what they’d eaten or where they’d been just before a medical event, and I started to feel some compassion for myself. She’s not a shrink, but my doctor understands how our emotional and medical lives intertwine. I am a shrink, and I’ll tell you, they are one and the same.

Luca Barberini, 2015

Portrait from Photo, Luca Barberini, 2015

 

Maybe it’s okay to notice the weird connections between things. Not just the physical things, but the emotional things too.

“But I don’t want to be unfair.”

I get it. But there’s a difference between blame and etiology. Just because you track the origins of your anxiety or your over-drinking doesn’t mean you need restitution from the person(s) involved.

Or maybe you do. But that’s another conversation…

Maybe you’re afraid to see how your panic attacks started in a relationship. But it’s just human and normal and natural to want to UNDERSTAND. How did I get here? What is my body telling me?

As distinguished traumatologist, Bessel van der Kolk, writes in his book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” trauma disrupts our ability to notice what we feel in our bodies – yet this interoceptive awareness is the first step in becoming more able to stay safe and meet our physical and emotional needs.

So I want to remind you  . . . it’s okay to notice meanness or boneheadedness or emotional invasion. It’s okay to notice how hearing a particular teacher or minister or political figure gives you a nauseated chill. It doesn’t make you petty or shallow to see how contact with your mother leads to a migraine or makes you sluggish or gives you erectile dysfunction. It doesn’t make you a whiner to notice you feel lonely and you crave sugar after a conversation with a certain friend. Noticing means you’re awake. It means you can detect traces of a trauma (past or present). Not-noticing means you’re in some way asleep to your experience.

So as long as you’re awake . . . I invite you to notice. Take inventory of your strange symptoms. Notice any pain or discomfort or numbness in your body. See if you can trace it back in time. Notice the picture in your mind. Write about it. Then, read about how EMDR can help you clarify the connections between things, and get resolution on bad experiences you’ve had.

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No Judgment Here: 10 Things I Love about Group Fitness

 

No Judgment Here

No Judgment Here

No Judgment…but lots of Very Cool Surprises.

Group fitness bears a huge resemblance to group therapy. Who knew? I did not. But doing group fitness at The Bodysmith has changed my life and now I can’t stop talking about it. It helps me recover more quickly from setbacks. It places my fitness in a social context. It allows me to hear from lots of other people about their normal struggles – things we worry about in common and things we’re celebrating or learning to let go or accept: aging, illness, our kids…We come from different backgrounds and generations and occupations, but we share so much, including our desire to be fitter and more conscious human beings.

I LOVE…

  1. That everybody has a different shape.
  2. Burpees: Now I can do twelve of them without stopping.
  3. Mutual soreness.
  4. That I see how we all fluctuate through our lives: leaner, fatter, more and less swollen, depending upon how stressed we’ve been lately. No need to worry about it. I can allow myself to be human and inconsistent. In this way, I’m just like everybody else.
  5. Getting stronger and being able to lift things I couldn’t before.
  6. My friends holding me accountable to come to class.
  7. Learning not to judge myself or compare myself to others. Learning this doesn’t help or matter to the forward movement of my life.
  8. That everybody knows my name there (think neighborhood pub, only without the beer).
  9. That I feel connected to my community: I learn what’s going on around me from people who go to different concerts and read different books.
  10. I bounce back more easily from those weeks of bad food or bad self esteem. It’s never the end of the world.

I’m starting to think group fitness IS group therapy. I’m starting to think you might get more bang from your buck by joining a Pilates class than by doing a traditional talk-support group (not that those aren’t great). I’m starting to see there’s no real separation between body and mind. I’m starting to get that recovery from trauma has to be part muscle, part blood vessel, part neuron, part emotion, and part imagination.

Call me if you’re curious about how fitness and trauma recovery go hand-in-hand. Or talk to anyone at The Bodysmith to learn how you can start this part of your healing.

Contact Deborah

Keep it Moving: Exercise for a Body/Mind Makeover

Pilates at The Body Smith

Pilates at The Body Smith: Body-Mind Makeover

I have a dream coming true. It involves exercise, EMDR, and the blending of health and creativity.

I’ll soon open an office downtown. In a Pilates studio. More details to come, but here’s why I think it makes sense to do my EMDR therapy in a fitness studio, surrounded by instructors who understand how to make us stronger and fitter.

I begin every day with these indispensable rituals:

  • breakfast and perfect coffee made by my husband
  • three longhand journal pages (a la Julia Cameron)

AND

  • exercise with friends

These rituals let me do what I do. They keep it all moving. Without them, my ideas get paralyzed. If I skip breakfast, I fall flat by 10:00. If I skip more than a day at the page, I lose focus and feel annoyed at everything. If I skip more than a day of burpees and mountain-climbers, I get fuzzy-headed and gloomy.

Writing in a free, uncensored flow, blablablablablabla, with pen and paper, lets me manage all the little scraps of information piled up in my head since the day before: emotions from my clients, news of the world, thoughts about the future, what’s happening in Springfield, or the random mosaics in my head…It’s like a compost bin for thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

Random Thoughts, Feelings, Perceptions

Exercise does something similar, AND helps me burn calories. But it does so much more than that. It changes me, mentally.

Movement as Mood Lifter, Thought Sorter, Body Soother

As I focus on my body and movement, I move my conscious attention away from anything that preoccupies me. This allows some alchemical mental health process to unfold while I’m not looking. I literally drag myself into cardio class with heaviness or tightness and skip away feeling free and light. I have energy for the rest of the day. I stay concentrated longer. Professional dilemmas resolve more quickly. I think more lucidly, breathe more deeply. I take setbacks in stride and I feel more compassion for people, wherever I meet them. I sleep like a stone. I get a shot of hope for the future. It’s like I’ve meditated for an hour without trying.

Research offers a number of explanations for this. Exercise may buffer the brain from stress by regulating our sleep-wake schedule and creating more feel-good neurotransmitters. Concentrated movement may also act like exposure therapy for our anxiety. It creates some of the same sensations as panic in the body – but we learn to associate them with a workout rather than a feared situation. And movement reduces the likelihood for obesity and diabetes, which both link to depression.

I’m not aware of any of these reasons when I’m doing Core Barre with friends. I’m in the moment, laughing, sweating, and pushing myself to hold a plank.

Exercise as Body/Mind Makeover in Trauma Recovery

Yoga at The Body Smith: Body/Mind Makeover

Another reason I’m so excited to practice therapy in my favorite Pilates studio: I get to wear sneakers and yoga pants to work every day. Woohoo! More to come on this…

Contact me to talk about EMDR, exercise, or a Body/Mind Makeover.

Contact Deborah

 

EMDR can help you Achieve: Be a better athlete, singer, or cowgirl.

Be better at what you do.

EMDR can help you do whatever you do better.

We all want to achieve something. When I was eight, I wanted to be a cowgirl. This never happened, but if it had, I imagine EMDR would help me achieve my team roping goals and stay fit for the arena.

EMDR therapy helps people recover from trauma, relationship stress, and all kinds of anxiety. But EMDR also improves performance in practically every area. Although everyone’s results are unique, something positive always emerges from the process. EMDR promotes better outcomes in areas where you want to achieve: artistic, athletic, professional, and personal.

Here’s a story about EMDR Performance Enhancement Therapy.

Jeff swam competitively, an Olympic hopeful who wanted to improve his time in the 200 Meter Fly. He came in for EMDR and we talked about how he felt when he was swimming – and when he was about to swim.

“How do you feel in the water?”

“I love it when I’m in it. But before I get there, I have to force myself into focus or I’m pulled away by thoughts.”

“What kinds of thoughts?”

“Remembering the last time and being disappointed with myself.”

“So, before you hit the water, you have to fight to keep those thoughts of disappointment away?”

“Yes, and knowing my dad and coach are thinking the same thing and worrying.”

“What does it feel like now as you think about that?”

“It feels tight, in my arms and shoulders – and heavy.”

“And when you notice that, what does it mean to you?”

“That I’m going to disappoint them again.”

If you listen between the lines, Jeff already feels like a disappointment even before he dives into the pool. His body takes on the feeling of a disappointing event and he’s distracted about what his dad and coach are (presumably) feeling. This sets Jeff up for failure.

As we look for details about this setup, Jeff admits he feels like a failure. His father had missed his own chance at the Olympic team, back in the 70s, by a few tenths of a second, so Jeff was his hope for redemption. Jeff’s dad most likely saw himself as a failure

The feeling of, “I’m a failure,” gets transmitted from parent to child, even if a parent tries to hide it.

So we EMDR the whole thing: the disappointing events where Jeff’s time didn’t improve, the thoughts about his dad and coach……and a curious insight popped out.

“My Dad probably feels empathy for me – like he wouldn’t want me to stress over this like I’ve been doing. He just wants me to get what I want, so it’s about how much he loves me.”

“Go with that,” I say, and we do some slow, calming eye-movements. Jeff relaxes – I see his shoulders drop.

“I’m still his son, even if I don’t make the team.”

“Go with that.”

“It’s all gonna be okay.” Jeff yawns, a sign that his parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and working to calm him down.

One week later, Jeff shaves six tenths of a second from his time in the 200 Fly.

We do more EMDR. He calms down even more. We do some reparative EMDR with Jeff and his dad.

“I’m a whole person,” he says.

“Go with that.”

“I have many layers to me – not just one. I’ll do my best and that’s enough.” Jeff yawns.

In two more weeks, he drops another second from his 200 Fly.

It’s not a magic bullet, but EMDR pushes people toward their goals. Whether it’s public speaking, barrel racing, exercise and weight management, or breaking through writer’s block, EMDR therapy can get things moving, so you achieve more. Contact me if you’d like to talk about getting better at what you do.