Listen to ReConceive: a Healing Podcast


ReConceive: a Podcast about All Kinds of Healing

Melissa Sundwall, Deborah Cox, and Shauna Smith-Yates, The Cast of ReConceive

My dear friend, Melissa Sundwall, a great therapist who also happens to be a lot younger than me, says: “Let’s do a podcast.” And I say, “What’s a podcast?” That literally happened. About a year ago. So we teamed up with Shauna Smith-Yates, owner of The Bodysmith, and hatched a bunch of deep conversations about healing. All kinds of feeling better and living better.

Now, we’re nine episodes into the creation of ReConceive – a conversation between  two trauma therapists and a fitness coach and all kinds of interesting healers. If you work in the helping/healing arts, you might be our next guest on ReConceive –  or you might just hear that next new idea you need to keep you moving forward on your path to joy.

Here’s how that path has been unfolding for me.

Getting Out of Ruts (Learning to Think Differently about Healing)

I used to be a therapy snob. I thought you needed a Ph.D. to be helpful. I thought only psychologists understood human behavior. Only psychologists should test our true inner states. The DSM held the truth about distress and non-distress. Behavior, thoughts, and emotions were the only focal elements to produce lasting change. I really believed that.


I’ve been making fun of – and letting go of -that paradigm a little bit every day for the past twenty years. Leaving snobbery and separateness. Exiting jail. Changing clothes.

I moved my psychology office into The Bodysmith – nearly two years ago. It felt like my happy place. My place of movement and laughter. I started wearing workout clothes to do therapy and nobody objected. It was like a conversion experience.

Then, I became a patient and started sampling therapies:




traditional nuts-and-bolts behavioral counseling

craniosacral therapy

cardio workouts . . . Core Barre . . . Pilates . . . yoga

energy therapy


neuromuscular therapy

nutrition coaching . . .

. . . Each kind of work produced a benefit I could feel: more energy, less worry, vanished pain . . . just like taking antidepressants, except better.  And as I placed myself into the capable hands of these practitioners, I realized: THESE PEOPLE KNOW STUFF. And, it’s all the same work. We’re multidimensional beings who need attention to all our dimensions. While at one moment, you need to talk about it – the next moment, you just need to sweat it out.

Working Across Disciplines to Feel Better

Me, Shauna, Melissa, and all our boxing coach massage yoga energy healer spiritual guide family counseling chiropractic friends are all doing the same thing. We each focus on our particular piece of the puzzle: one foot, one heart, one trauma story at a time. In each part lives a tiny whole person and a tiny whole world. In other words, Pilates teachers are psychologists. Yoga instructors are physicians. Neuromuscular workers are spiritual guides. It’s all one thing.

That’s what ReConceive is all about. Conversations about healing from every different angle: The art angle; The spiritual angle; The brain angle; The muscular angle…..

Do you teach or mentor? Do you help people meditate or pray? Do you tend a community garden? Do you run with six-year-olds? Do you get middle-aged people to dance for the first time? Please write and let me know if you’d like to be part of this conversation.

Contact Deborah

“I’m unattractive & I Don’t Deserve Love”: Change Negative Beliefs with EMDR

By Scot Campbell from Charlotte, NC, USA [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a few Negative Beliefs . . .

I did some dumb things in my teens. I backed the family car out of the driveway, into our neighbor’s car (which had exited his driveway a second ahead of mine). I waited tables at a church banquet and spilled iced tea down the back of a well-dressed Sunday school teacher. I sat at the piano in complete paralysis, unable to remember an entire section of my Chopin Polonaise as the audience waited . . .

When I think of this chain of horrors, I want to hide and disintegrate into the soil, never to be seen again. I feel like . . . I’m a failure; I’m a disappointment.

Those two beliefs, until pretty recently, dominated my life. I never fully relaxed for fear I might bomb another important event, thus reinforcing my status as a disappointer.

Negative Beliefs sound like . . .

I’m not (good) enough.

I’m unworthy.

It’s my fault.

I’m a bad person.

I’m unsafe.

I can’t trust.

I’m insignificant.

These beliefs come from adverse experiences, especially repeated ones that happened when we were very young. The traumatized brain grabs these explanations – unless someone helps us understand and talk about what happened. So maybe your logical, adult self knows that these are false . . . but the emotional or child part of you FEELS they are true anyway.

Maybe you have old Negative Beliefs that could be interfering with your life now.

So, when you think of your worst problem  . . . the thing that causes you the most grief and heartache and anxiety:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. How does it feel when you think of it?
  3. Where do you notice that emotion in your body?
  4. What does it mean about you? . . .

There it is.

EMDR targets those old ways of viewing and experiencing our selves. It causes us to reprocess, or metabolize, old information that once got stuck in traumatic form in our bodies and it lets new information replace it.

I do the best I can.

I did the best I could.

I’m okay now.

I’m good enough.

I’m enough as I am.

I’m a good person.

I’m beautiful and I deserve love.


Contact Deborah


How Lies Put Us Into Trance and How to Stay Awake

lies and trance

Adi Holzer [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Lies often come from authority-figures. When I was growing up, preachers told the story of Abraham and Isaac: the one about how Abraham takes his child to a mountaintop and prepares to stab him to death as a sacrifice to God (whose ego must have been puny).Every time the story was told, a part of me screamed, ludicrous!!!! Another part of me got drowsy and tried to forget this awful scene on a big rock and the boy who saw his dad raise a machete to plunge into his chest.

I no longer believe that Abraham, following divine orders, set out to do away with his only child, only to be stopped at the last nanosecond by the hand of the almighty. And even if it IS true, I refuse to take it as some exemplar of righteousness, as I was taught. I see it as a pretty horrifying cultural myth . . . or a kind of lie.

How Lies Work

A client of mine was told she was “disgustingly ugly” by an older boy, when she was twelve. This lie persists in her psyche, at age 45, even though she’s beautiful by all cultural standards.

Turns out, it hurts us to believe lies. Even a little exposure to falsehood causes us to spend mental energy processing a piece of information that never completely goes away, even if we’re shown that it’s completely false.

This happens to survivors of bullying and abuse, all the time:

You don’t know what you’re talking about.

You’re too sensitive.

She didn’t mean it.

Boys will be boys.

Every child gets spanked.

You weren’t abused.

You deserved it.

You’re making a big deal about nothing.

You know I love you.

Lies infiltrate our thought-systems, sneak their way past our defenses and better knowledge. Lies become partially accepted at an unconscious level. We start to believe things that have no basis in reality – or things that a bully or perpetrator wants us to think, instead of trusting our own perceptions and conscience.


When we ingest information that fails to match up with other things we hold true, our brains go limp, trying to deal with the discrepancy. Senses dampen; energy drains. The more often we hear untruth, the more we trance. The more we trance, the more vulnerable we are to accidents, assaults, or forgetfulness (e.g., leaving your wallet at the restaurant).

Please fight trance in yourself and others. Write something on paper every day. Listen to your thoughts. Say them aloud. Keep your eyes and ears open. Stay awake. Listen to each other.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Transform Holiday Stress into Mindful Rest & Giving


mindful holiday rest

Until recently, I resented the holidays. As in, Already???? We just did this, right? Except the years when my son believed in Santa and we put together tricycles and trains, after his bedtime, under the synthetic Douglas Fir, I got a sinking anxious dread just before Thanksgiving that let up after January first. Holiday stress separated me from myself, and everyone else.

I think it came from the following factors.

  1. Pressure, everywhere, to be gleeful: to clink champagne glasses, sing carols, bake things, throw parties, and wrap the house in colored lights.
  2. Reminders of loved ones from whom I’m disconnected, including my dad who got himself banished from family holidays for bad behavior.
  3. A sense that I should be experiencing something mystical and life-altering.
  4. Consumption and constant images of consumption that begin as soon as jack-o-lanterns are thrown away and continue until time for hearts and dark chocolate.
  5. The glaring contrast between the Lexus commercials and the young woman standing on a street corner begging for food money in 30-degree weather.

Last year, I decided to accept this about myself, rather than force a false cheer. I pared down. I hung one sparkly star on our front door, forgoing the wreaths and my ceramic tree collection. I said yes to only the most sacred holiday gatherings. I wrote about how weird and separate I felt. I also asked friends and family to donate to charitable organizations instead of our lavishing each other with things none of us needed.

And something unexpected happened . . .

In the midst of the gloom, which I allowed myself to feel without any self-judgment, little sparks of joy appeared. A simple candle and some homemade bread, cozy at home with family. With lowered expectations for gaiety, I felt satisfied, warm, and thankful for my inner circle. And with some of my attention turned outward, to the needs of the wider world, I felt more connected to the universe.

Turn dread into mindfulness.

If you’re someone who hates the holidays, try on this list of suggestions to see if your mood lifts and your perspective changes, just a bit.

  1. Look for ways to give that really count. Find charities that you can endorse and ask family members to give to them, in lieu of your new bathrobe. Here’s a collection to get you started.

  1. Write about your holiday distress. Putting emotion and story on paper will both help you clarify the roots of your blah mood and improve your immune functioning through the winter months.
  2. Do less. Only go to the events you find most satisfying. Spend more time resting. Limit your decorating, socializing, and gift-giving to a few simple things. Tell loved ones you’re putting bounds around your busyness and consumption.
  3. Spend time in quietude. Turn off the holiday music, the news, the movies, and listen to your own thoughts for a while. Just notice them and let them go. Pay attention to emotions and let them move through you.
  4. Consider EMDR therapy to target bad feelings associated with the season. If your childhood holidays meant disappointment, separation from a parent, or heightened family stress, you may need to reprocess those memories and reclaim some present-day joy.

If these suggestions don’t help you feel better, just be where you are. Feel what you feel. Observe yourself without judgment. You’re enough, just as you are.

Contact Deborah


Victim Mentality & My Grandfather’s Privates


“Don’t sound like such a victim,” said somebody on Facebook yesterday.

I talk with so many of you in shock and grief about our presidential election. You feel assaulted. You fear saying how raw and threatening it feels, how sick you are.

My throat started burning Tuesday night as I watched the returns, even though I was surrounded by a community of love and support. By midnight, I ran a fever, my head clogged. One friend had a migraine. Another friend’s pregnancy was threatened. The mother of a close friend died suddenly last night. Our bodies took the impact of this unfolding news story as if we were literally being assaulted with fists and clubs.

. . . Just before voting, my mind distracted with worry about a predator poised to take over the White House,  I fell down the stairs and banged up both legs so they swelled up like giant sausages . . . An unappetizing segue to what I want to say today.

It’s okay to talk about being victimized, to cry about being devastated, to write about your fear and anger. It’s important to talk about being victimized.

“I hate the victim mentality.”

“I don’t want to play the victim.”

Where did we get this?

When I was 11, my paternal grandfather flashed his big, red penis at me.

He stepped in front of the TV as I was watching The Price is Right, and he unzipped his polyester jumpsuit and yanked it out. He laughed. I bolted, ran with bare feet through my grandparents’ house, out the back door, over the rocks in the yard to my grandmother. I cried and spluttered and she interpreted me, exactly. She knew, before I could even get the words out.

We called my dad, who thankfully drove three hours in a flash to be with me. He said, ‘Don’t tell your mother. She could lose the baby.’ I didn’t tell her. In fact, I told no one for several years, until I learned that others in my family had experienced harassment and abuse by this patriarch. Somehow my cousins and I came clean with each other. We needed to validate the disgust and shame and fear we felt.

But I thought, “I’m not really a victim. I’m fine. Other people have worse experiences. I don’t need to tell my mother.”

I cringed, silently, at sausages and hot dogs until sometime in college.

I was a victim.

The Sanctity of Victimhood

If you get flashed by your grandfather . . .

If someone tells you not to be upset, not to think about it, not to notice the impact of this election on your body . . .

If you get grabbed in the crotch by an acquaintance . . .

If your nationality or racial identity gets demeaned . . .

If you get told you need bigger breasts . . .


You’ve been victimized and are, thus, a victim. Even if it was your husband who told you to get breast augmentation. Where did we ever get the idea that being angry, grieving out loud, voicing our shock and dismay means we’re playing a role? How did the notion that a victim should act like a non-victim get started in the first place?

The concept of Victim Mentality originated with people afraid of emotions, afraid of taking responsibility, afraid of hearing your pain. Victim Mentality” came along to silence you. It came from patriarchy . . . a social system that rewards unfeeling, cold, ruthless policies that steamroller those with less power: women, children, people of color, people with disabilities, Jews, other non-Christians, and people with any sort of status that makes them “other.” “Don’t be a victim,” came from people who believe in false memory syndrome, people who refuse to make amends, who blame you for getting hurt.

If you experience abuse, you are a victim. And if you cry and scream and write angry words, the world is better because you share your truth. If you feel victimized by this election, you’re in good company.

Read Wife Material

Woman-Hate and Somebody else’s PTSD

Traumatized patriarchs learn woman hate as neglected little boys.

traumatized patriarchs

The Political is Personal for Every Woman

My woman clients said, this week feels scary, out-of-control. Sunday evening, I had heartburn like sawdust in my throat, before, during, and after the presidential debate. When I tried to sleep, my guts roiled.

I usually try to keep politics (mostly) out of my blog, so it took me all week to write this. When several woman friends told me they had migraines or were up all night after watching the debate, I decided, it’s time to stop censoring myself and just tell you what I see.

I came to graduate school at 23, fresh out of conservative Christian college, groomed to be an obedient wife. My professor handed me Carol Hanisch’s 1970 essay, “The Personal is Political,” and it turned me upside down. I still sort of blamed myself for not being sweet enough. Hanisch wrote that those impossible standards for our looks and behavior – and the rampant violence against women – were not about us as individuals. She said women’s problems were deeply systemic. I thought a drug addiction and an unwanted pregnancy were a woman’s own fault. Hanisch said, in effect, that woman is all of us.

Hanisch believed we should stop blaming ourselves for these problems and start talking publicly about our real lives.

We recoil from the morbidly obese woman; we shake our heads at the woman who loses her children to a state protection agency. But deep inside we fear becoming like them. What separates me from her? Maybe an understanding grandmother. A college education. Not being prostituted as a young girl. We know this. But we absorb the loathing (fear) for women and women’s problems from the larger culture. Then we see it in our sisters. We see it in a sister who has the audacity to run for president.

We need to forgive ourselves for not fitting a mold manufactured from somebody else’s PTSD.

I forgive me and every woman.

Our guilt and body hate, fears of being alone, dread of growing old, revulsion at women who act too masculine . . . all come from the traumatic attachment processes of countless powerful patriarchs over the centuries.

traumatized patriarchs

traumatized patriarchs

Those so-called “locker-room” comments (an endorsement of rape culture) have their roots in early childhood attachment trauma. This Frontline episode explains much of the early trauma that created Donald Trump’s woman-hate. See if you can detect how unmet need for secure attachment leads to womanizing and a desperate bid to possess and control female energy.

It’s not about us.

If we see how someone else’s trauma drives the misogyny in our culture, we forgive ourselves for weighing more than 120 pounds. If we trace the history of boys’ early childhood attachment trauma through the generations that lead to masses of men supporting Donald Trump, we let ourselves off the hook for being real humans with need. And if we see Donald and his men as desperate baby boys who did not get their needs met, we can support our sisters (including Hillary Clinton) instead of criticize them for being too much whatever.

Traumatized patriarchs learn woman hate through emotional neglect.

traumatized patriarchs

Remember that all those traumatized, woman-suppressing patriarchs were once little boys raised to deny their emotions and hide their need for mothering. They had no choice. But we have choices about how much of their rhetoric we buy. We have choices about how we treat each other. Choices about how we spend our money and judge our bodies and judge the bodies of women around us. We can raise our boys with nurturing. We can listen to our girls. We can meditate for Donald Trump and all the other traumatized patriarchs out there who starved for unconditional love.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material



Affirmations for Healing Spiritual Abuse



Spiritual abuse includes any kind of religious teaching or practice that diminishes your human rights, isolates you from the wider world, or systematically places you in positions of low power. I modeled these affirmations for healing spiritual abuse on those found in Jessica and Nick Ortner’s The Tapping Solution courses. Say them aloud or read them silently as you tap your body, gently, in a left-right-left-right motion: on the outsides of your knees, the outer edge of your eyes, your temples, your collarbone, and under your arms. You can also watch a tapping demo here.

  • Even though I have hurt places inside; and even though this old hurt causes me pain today; I love and accept myself.
  • Even though I still carry old hurt from my childhood; and even though I still feel this old hurt in my anxiety, my depression, my shame, my difficulty with relationships; I love and accept myself.
  • Even though old teaching made me feel I wasn’t good enough, I see goodness in me and I know I am enough.
  • Even though that old teaching made me feel shameful and unlovable, I now know I am good and lovable.
  • Even though the old message taught me not to make myself a priority, I now realize I need to first be aware of my feelings and my needs – so that I can care for myself. I now realize I must care for myself first.
  • Even though the old message made me feel insignificant, I now see that I matter.
  • Even though the old message taught me that I wasn’t inherently lovable, I now know that I am lovable. I deserve to be loved and nurtured.
  • And even though I still sometimes feel ashamed of my needs, ashamed of my feelings; I know that my need for love, touch, validation, rest, emotional expression, and understanding are an essential part of being alive.
  • I don’t always know what to do about the part of me that still hurts; I worry I will always have this pain; I wish I could be the person I’ve always wanted to be, but the fear and anxiety keep me stuck in old ways of seeing myself, stuck in old ways of feeling and moving about in the world.
  • Maybe I can let go of the fear.
  • Maybe I can trust my inner wisdom.
  • Maybe I already have the solution to all that old pain inside me.
  • I now open my awareness to Divine wisdom and love.
  • I open my awareness to who I really am.
  • Even though I’ve been so busy trying to be someone else’s version of me; I start to recognize my true self now.
  • My true inner self loves unconditionally.
  • My true inner self knows everything about me, and still loves me.
  • My true inner self knows what I’ve been through and understands my pain.
  • My true inner self helps me grow.
  • My true inner self connects me with Divine love, wisdom, and creation.
  • I accept my true inner self and I allow it to become more and more familiar to me.
  • Even though I haven’t always been in touch with this part of me, my true inner self keeps me company and nudges me toward higher consciousness and calm.
  • My true inner self helps me move toward greater awareness and creativity.
  • My true inner self understands me completely and knows the wisdom of every part of my life and being.

My novel, Wife Material, tells the story of one girl who exits spiritual abuse and says yes to her true inner self . . . which changes everything.

Read Wife Material


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


How Getting Grounded Makes you Smarter

I believe you.

Permission to Know What you Know

I believe you.

I think it’s important for you to know that. When someone’s taking you seriously, you stay more awake to your observations. Sometimes we knock down the disturbing ones, like a kid playing Whack-a-Mole. We fear a dawning realization. We don’t want it to be true. So let me just say right now, I trust what you notice.

She really hurt me.

I need to get out of this relationship.

He’s abusing our child.

My mother didn’t want me.

That person sexually abused me.

I don’t believe in God anymore.

When we hammer down, swat away, or block thoughts we don’t want, we put ourselves into trance. We un-ground ourselves. We zone out and fade away. We stop being present in our bodies, so we miss information being registered through our senses or body organs.

So let’s look at that spot where we erased our innermost thoughts. I’m right here with you. It’s okay to know. But it helps if you feel safe while you become aware.

Let’s Get Grounded

Some part of each of us wants truth, even if it’s devastating. But we need to be grounded. That means safe and aware of our surroundings, present in our skin, present in this moment right here.

Here’s how to get grounded.

  1. Sit comfortably. Become aware of your breathing.
  2. Look at your surroundings. Notice colors, shapes, people, plants, buildings, cars, and furniture. Notice dust motes on the windowsill.
  3. Ask yourself: what emotion do I feel? Is it more anxiety than sadness? More sadness than anger?
  4. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? Just notice it, and then bring awareness back to your breathing.
  5. Say something calming like, It’s okay for me to feel angry; I can feel my feelings and be okay; It’s 2016 and I’m a grown up now; I am safe.
  6. Hold an object like a stone or your house key. Feel the texture and temperature of it.
  7. Say something supportive like, I have friends; I have people I can turn to; I am loved.
  8. Walk around. Feel your feet on the ground. Listen to the sound of your shoes on the floor or pavement or grass.
  9. Stand in a doorway and press your arms as firmly as you can into the sides of the doorway.
  10. Listen for sounds all around you.
Grounding helps you notice.

Grounding helps you notice.

When you get grounded, it’s like waking up after a long hibernation or thawing after a long freeze. Now, you may feel all kinds of emotions you didn’t notice when you were tranced out. Know that this is normal. If you get anxious, go back to your breath. It’s always there for you. Go through the steps again. Try tapping the sides of your knees with your fingertips, back and forth, while staying focused on your breath.

Grounding happens through body awareness. Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist, teaches that awareness of the body is the gateway to all knowing.

Getting grounded allows you to perceive, more accurately, what is happening in your life. Grounding keeps you safer by letting you register danger signals and resources for safety. Grounding gives you back lost time – time you may have once spent rummaging for lost keys or shoes, getting lost, or daydreaming instead of reading. Grounding lets you use all the information available in your environment – you listen better, remember more, and connect more dots when you’re grounded . . . because you’re really, fully here.

You get smarter by unclogging your creative mind, letting even the unwanted thoughts and perceptions just be there. Those unclogged thoughts start to connect with others, and so on. Soon, you have a new conscious web of insight and feeling. And it helps to have someone you trust, someone who believes you, listening closely, bearing witness to the formation of this beautiful new web, and being grounded with you.

Oh, and writing helps with all of this too!

Contact Deborah


Dis-Fellowshipping: When People get Shunned

QUALCUNO HA PRESO IL PACCO, Luca Barberini, 2015

QUALCUNO HA PRESO IL PACCO, Luca Barberini, 2015

I have shunned and been shunned.

What leads me to turn my back? Repeated bullying or toxic behavior that takes a mental or physical toll. Abuse toward me or others, without acknowledgement of impact. It makes me sad, but out of self-preservation, I’ve sometimes hit the eject button.

On an individual level, we need to, mindfully, cut people out when they seem unwilling to stop hurting us. But what happens when a person is dis-fellowshipped or ostracized by their church? Rejected by an entire faith community? What dynamics call for excommunication? And what’s the impact?

I grew up in a fundamentalist church, the Church of Christ, that shunned or dis-fellowshipped people for a variety of perceived sins or doctrinal differences (disagreement meant heresy). The whole group refused to socialize with the person and they were officially “kicked out.” Most of the “sins” that got people thrown out of church were sexual in nature: divorce without the approval of the elders, an affair, sex outside marriage, being gay, and marrying after a divorce. The elders and deacons concerned themselves, in a big way, with our mating behavior, a big part of the story in my novel, Wife Material.

Effects of Shunning

Borders, Luca Barberini, 2016,

Effects of Being Shunned

And the people who got dis-fellowshipped? I hope they spoke their minds to someone . . . or that they were having so much fun fornicating that they didn’t care two flips about the church. But I think most of them were deeply wounded and silenced by the experience. I know some of these people, personally. Their stories are trauma stories. They felt a kind of helpless, muted rage that had no resolution. They stopped trusting people – even themselves. They experienced condemned isolation.

Today, we know more than ever about the effects of being cut out, dis-fellowshipped, or ostracized – and they’re devastating. The effects of exclusion bear remarkable similarity to the effects of physical pain. Long-term impact of humiliation and loss of community includes hopelessness, rage, depression, inability to make decisions, loss of self-care, and even suicidal feelings. We humans need connection like we need water and air.

In their research compilation, Lowell Gaernter and Jonathan Iuzzini make the case that if a person feels extremely ostracized by a community or society, they are more at risk for violent behavior, even mass violence. Evidence suggests ostracism affects young brains by limiting cognitive ability. And even just recalling a past social shunning event creates extreme distress, affecting hormonal balance and the entire nervous system.

Think about this for a moment. I think the massive human brutality we’ve seen recently stems directly from social exclusion on a grand scale. Not just “mental health issues.” Not just “weapons in the wrong hands.” Not just religious differences or poverty or racial intolerance. Not just poor parenting or untreated PTSD. It comes from all those things. And all those things come from dis-fellowshipping, ostracism, and the shutting out of people at the margins. We can no longer afford to guard our borders as if they were real points of separation. When we reject and ignore the needs of people, send them packing if they see the world differently, we contribute to widespread despair that has no outlet, no solution, no hope.

So, here’s a challenge: LET’S PUT AN END TO DISFELLOWSHIPPING OF ALL KINDS. Are you in?

Wherever you are, consider the people in your orbit who are not well embraced by the group. What do they look like? How do they annoy or confuse? What happens to you in their presence? Can you make meaningful eye contact? Consider who they are and how they could be suffering at the edges of the community. Reach out to them. Look for areas of common interest and start there.

It matters how we treat each other.

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