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.

This Is a TRANCE STATE.

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.

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Voice Medicine: Connect & Create Change

Saturday was Voice Medicine for me. Not only did I march and yell, I connected with thousands (millions) of others and said, We All Belong Here. It countered the heavy weight of worry and dread I’d been feeling for the last two and a half months (maybe longer), made me feel lighter, less alone, more powerful, more able to speak.

Voice Medicine lets me know I’m not alone in noticing what is not normal.

  1. I breathe more deeply.
  2. I feel hope and humor again.
  3. I sleep better.
  4. I stop eating sweets.
  5. I get my voice back.

. . . which is why you need your tribe: people who get why you feel the way you do.

Build community and find your voice.

Nasty Women, Be The Change

Right now, more than ever, voice builds community.

All those years of sitting silently in my childhood church made me confused, isolated, and mute. But standing up with other women and men, BEING LOUD, lets me hear my actual thoughts and lets others know I’m there for them too.

Here are some steps toward Voice Medicine:

  1. Join (or start) a support group for survivors of abuse.
  2. Meet a new neighbor; find out what they have in common with you.
  3. Volunteer at your local domestic violence shelter.
  4. Seek out like-minded people online. Ask them to tell their stories.
  5. Take a group of friends to a senator’s office to voice your concerns. Tell them you’re paying attention to how vulnerable people are treated by our government.
  6. Make eye contact with people begging for help . Ask them what they need most.
  7. Start an action group to end workplace bullying.
  8. Reach out to someone being harassed or abused; reach across the color or gender divide.
  9. Form a walking group in your neighborhood.
  10. Tell your kids, connection matters; talk to their friends and their friends’ parents.

Tell anyone who will listen: voice changes things.

Please let me know if you are interested in becoming part of an ongoing Voice Medicine group. Be the change.

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Why You Need a Higher Power Right Now

 

We all need higher powers.

I went through a hard-core atheist phase. In my 20s. I ran from organized religion and chafed at any mention of a higher power. This was it. Just the here and now. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade that liberation for anything. Throwing off all my childhood spiritual training meant tossing the baby AND the bathwater. It allowed me to start over to find my own sense of ultimate reality.

So I get it. And I appreciate your honesty. You don’t believe there’s anything out there that/who cares. You can’t imagine how a higher power could allow such domination, such violent inequality, to exist in our world. I feel you. In fact, I sometimes feel so estranged from “God” that I can’t give thanks or meditate on the healing of the world. That’s when I feel dull inside. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus. I relate to the void.

And yet . . .

Something like an invisible cord pulls me back to an awareness of presence . . . an indescribable sense of life force . . . a sense there’s more, a bigger picture just beyond my view. Then I’m awake, breathing again, in touch with my senses.

Having a Higher Power Means We’re All Going Somewhere Good

. . . and this is the main reason you need one.

Evolution Means God.

Evolution happens, whether we believe it or not. I see it in my clients, who learn and change: their faces look a little brighter, their energy more focused, with each new week. I see evolution in teenage boys, who deftly solve my bluetooth problems and show a generosity that will change the world. Evolution suggests presence. Presence suggests mind, learning, and growth. Good things are in the works. We are not standing still. We are moving forward. Toward higher consciousness and love.

Every morning, I write a letter to the Great Creative Force. I got this term from writer Julia Cameron, who says we don’t have to believe any particular thing, but we do need some sense of a presence that is larger or more encompassing than our own individual reality. Wise mind. Higher wisdom. Universal consciousness. However it makes sense to you.

Your higher power provides a listener for your thoughts and helps you trust them. It prompts the questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? If you answer, I don’t know, you may feel unsettled, untethered, in free-fall. I recommend experimenting: pretend you had a higher power. You can borrow mine if you want. Try it on for size. Speak to it. Imagine yourself in the presence of wisdom. Just pretend. See how it feels. Go from there.

Here’s what having a higher power does for me right now:

  1. Assures me the universe is moving toward higher consciousness, in spite of what looks like de-evolution.
  2. Gives me hope that today’s horrors are part of something larger that is ultimately good.
  3. Allows me to trust each person’s healing process and know it comes from a place of wisdom. We heal in spite of ourselves.
  4. Gives me patience for people who seem immature or willfully ignorant: even very mean or destructive people have good in them.
  5. Hints at how EVERYBODY evolves, so I can see myself, not as a big disappointment, but as a work-in-progress.
  6. Hears my disjointed morning ramblings; answers my questions; reassures me there’s a reason.
  7. Sends me dreams chock full of clues about who I am and what I need to keep growing.
  8. Calms and centers me. Reminds me, All is in Divine Order.
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Why do I want this? Skip resolutions and Go Deep instead.

My Bodysmith friends and I have been asking ourselves: Do we even want to make resolutions for 2017? Does it make sense to replay the same self-assignments, year after year? The question makes sense if you think about how New Year’s resolutions have evolved over time. From ancient Babylonia to our present civilization, people tend to declare something anew at the beginning of the year.

But that new something keeps morphing as our worldview shifts over time . . .

When resolutions began, thousands of years ago, we reminded ourselves to pay off debts and keep the gods happy. If the gods were happy, the world ran smoothly. As society became more military, we pledged allegiance to a king as we prepared for the next round of battles.

At some point in modern history, our focus shifted inward, to self-improvement. We set goals to make us more physically, spiritually, financially, or mentally fit: give up sugar, pay off credit cards, start a running program, go to bed earlier, stop smoking . . .

But just a relative few years into the new millennium, people trend toward making no resolution at all. Why is that?

Why we’ve stopped making resolutions.

Yes, we still care about being in shape, taking care of our bodymind, but we see more deeply into that goal set than we once did . . . or we want to. We know more about our brothers and sisters living in poverty at home and abroad. Our resolutions start to look shallow in relation to the refugee crisis or human traffiking.

the bigger picture of our new year's resolutions

from “Borders,” www.lucabarberini.com

A question emerges – and I hear this question between the lines of every therapy conversation. Why do I want that? Why do I want to make more money? What makes me want to be thinner, calmer, and stronger? What drives me to want better concentration? Why do I care to read more books? Watch less TV? Spend more time in quietude?

Does it even matter? We glimpse a bigger and more complicated picture than just our own personal fulfillment. We see how we are connected to every living creature. We sense a deeper spiritual meaning in our quest for a smaller waist and we want to understand why we put so much energy there. Who am I? What’s this part of me that needs to be more solvent, improve my marriage, and give more to charity? What’s this part of me that needs to fit into my skinny jeans?

To see if a new awareness could be happening to you, try this exercise.

  1. Get your notebook, a timer, and pen. Light a candle. Get some tea. Write this question: What do I want? Try not to judge your answers. Just write them down. Make a list.
  2. Take several deep breaths and then write this question: Why do I want that? Pick an item from #1.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes. Answer the why question. Keep your pen moving on the page without stopping, for the entire ten minutes. Repeat for each item on your list, or if they fit together, write about them as a set.

Talk to someone about this exercise and what you learned. You may suddenly see more deeply into your motives and needs. This deeper vision of your why is a way more powerful motivator than a simple list of resolutions. Your why is what your higher self knows you need to help you continue growing, becoming a better person, becoming all you can be, all you were meant to be. Return to this page anytime you need to remind yourself why you do what you do and see if it helps you get motivated to action.

P.S. My resolution is this: Protect myself from things and people that drain off my creative energy (more on this later).

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Be More Self-Centered and Save the World

image copyright Moyan Brenn

What does it mean to be self centered?

Your Self is your wise spiritual center. But outside this center, we live under a weighted blanket of stress and uncertainty, threatened by darkness and greed from all angles. We feel disconnected from neighbors and afraid of people on the other side of the philosophical aisle. 18% of the population suffers from a full-blown anxiety disorder and depression continues its 80-year rise in the general population. Lots of us medicate this pain with alcohol and other drugs. We separate from self.

When I glimpse the big-ness of our broken world, I often think: DO SOMETHING!!!! Reach out to more people! Give more money to charities! Convince people to stop hitting children and get themselves into EMDR therapy!!!

. . . And then I remember My Self. My limits. My small-ness and human-ness: my need for sleep and meditation and stillness.

All I can do is heal My Self, become calm and conscious, untangle from ego. Which means understanding who I am. Some spiritual teachers recommend constantly holding onto the thought, Who am I? The question takes us deeper into our spiritual center. This is what it means to be self-centered.

Who Am I?

How to use this question? Start with these lists and see what you learn.

  1. Make a list of things you know, for sure, about yourself (e.g., I work hard; I want to make more money; I like being by the ocean; I get upset when people don’t do their jobs . . .). Concentrate on the list and ask yourself, What does this mean about me?
  2. Make a list of your accomplishments (e.g., I finished college; I became a teacher; I had a family; I organized a new community board . . .). Study this list and ask, What does this say about me?
  3. Make a list of your failures (e.g., I didn’t pursue acting; I dropped out of college; I left my one true love; I can’t get rid of my depression . . .). Then ask, What does all of this mean about me?

Self Center as the Path to Enlightenment and Calm

Now you have some reference points for the question, Who Am I? Choose a few new habits to help you continue getting to know your inner self. Take long walks and allow your mind to wander. Start a quiet yoga practice. Begin doing Morning Pages in a notebook. Add five minutes of quiet coffee time to your morning. Allow thoughts and feelings to emerge; notice as they pass.

Insights and preferences may show up as you find your spiritual center. I prefer not to marry this person. I can change my religious habits. Alcohol robs me of mindfulness. I need to make music. I can best love that friend from a distance . . .

When we center ourselves in this question, we become less fearful, less narcissistic. We start to learn our cosmic roles and see ourselves as connected to the whole universe.

What Do I Do with My Self?

The question, Who Am I? deepens us over time as we start to see our roles in universal learning. One of my cosmic roles: shining a flashlight on what bothers me: hypocrisy, disconnection, and domination. Writing autobiographical fiction lets me illuminate these – with the hope that someone in my audience will benefit. It also keeps that question front and center.

As you discover your cosmic roles, you get the desire to do something, even if just to breathe and notice. Trust this impulse. Keep asking, What does this mean about me? Where does this idea come from? You also grow calmer and realize how your life history makes sense. There are no mistakes. Everything happens to further our development as connected souls. It’s all good.

P.S. EMDR helps this process along.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Transform Holiday Stress into Mindful Rest & Giving

candles-1843668_1280

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.

http://www.thekitcheninc.org/our-programs/rare-breed-youth-outreach-center

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/

https://www.nrdc.org/

http://refugeerights.org/donate/

http://www.naacpldf.org/

  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

 

The Air We Breathe: Panic, Mental Health, & Misogyny

,woman-with-mouth-covered

Woman-Hate=Mostly Unconscious Fear of Women’s Empowerment.

One day, in 1992, I had a panic attack. It came out of nowhere. I got up early and dressed for work, made breakfast and started a load of laundry, turned on the morning news while I finished my hair and my (ex) partner snored peacefully. I stood in front of the TV as a string of commercials hypnotized me.

In one commercial, an attractive young woman mopped her kitchen floor, wearing an outfit cute enough for a dinner party or church. She looked so satisfied. Next thing, I was on the floor, my heart hammering. The apartment spun and the oxygen disappeared. I tried to yell for help, but nothing came out. I thought I would vomit or die and I grabbed desperately for cold table legs to stop the flames in my face and neck.

Ten minutes later, nothing. I got in my car and left for the day, wondering what the hell had just happened. Years later, I connected the dots.

A Woman’s Distress and The Fear of Women

Misogyny (woman-hate) comes from fear: fear of change, fear of disruption to the existing social order. Misogyny fills our cultural consciousness right now, because people fear the change that comes with women’s power.

How do I know?

Here’s how: These signs show up in my office and social life every day. A woman’s panic attacks, her sense of being flawed, her belief she is ugly . . . all point to a bigger problem. She is surrounded by other women just like her, with those same panic attacks, that same guilt.

Symptoms of Woman-Hate Culture

Misogyny is a mental health issue. Notice how many of these symptoms apply to you. Now, more than ever, I see the problem of gender inequality and panic in the presenting problems of my clients. Cultural woman-hate creates individual distress.

  1. Child sexual abuse in our family history.
  2. Hating our bodies.
  3. Not being perfect enough.
  4. “Family Values.”
  5. Depression that comes and goes throughout the lifespan.
  6. Post-partum depression.
  7. Guilt about not being nice enough.
  8. Fear of our sexual desire.
  9. Not having any sexual desire
  10. Resenting other women for looking better or accomplishing more.
  11. Panic attacks or anxiety that’s sort of always there.
  12. Fear of telling him how we really feel; fear he’ll leave if he knows how strong our feelings are.
  13. Being called crazy and believing it.
  14. Thinking we’re too sensitive, too easily triggered, too selfish.
  15. Focusing so much on fashion that we don’t have time to write.
  16. Taking care of everyone else, but not getting enough rest.
  17. Fear that we’ll be one of those bitter women.
  18. Fear of aging.
  19. Being bullied by other women. Not trusting them anymore.
  20. Thinking, “I expect too much.”
  21. Thinking anger makes me ugly.
  22. Believing a good leader acts like a man, looks like a man.
  23. Feeling that my very nature is broken, fallen, sinful, and unlovable.
  24. Forcing ourselves to wear clothes and shoes that feel bad, because to refuse them would mean we’re not feminine.
  25. Believing our gut feelings are silly, our emotional responses irrational, our intuition untrustworthy.

Evolution & Health

My list barely scrapes the surface. But you know what I’m getting at. Those perfect images make us feel sick, but pressured too. We panic because we breathe the fear and loathing of women in the air; not because we’re weak or paranoid or mistaken about the world. We didn’t make this up.

But. On the Upside. We Evolve. Whether we intend to change or not. A pendulum drags us through the whipping wind. We feel afraid. And we change. In spite of ourselves. This change is the heart of my novel, Wife Material: one girl’s evolution and empowerment.

Every empowered woman helps us all evolve. She makes the world a healthier place for all of us.

 

  How to Cope with Woman-Hate Right Now

  1. Know that change is happening for the better.
  2. Try to relax, breathe deeply from the belly.
  3. Look for good in the women you know. Even the ones you don’t trust.
  4. Repeat this mantra: I embody goodness and love.
  5. Make eye contact with as many people as you can, regardless of their gender. Send them love.
  6. Meditate on all the art and music being made in the world.
  7. Focus on something beautiful.
  8. Do physical anger work. Whack a punching bag and hurl obscenities. Let it out of your body.
  9. Get as much rest as possible.
  10. Know that it’s all going to be okay.

 

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Uber Calm in a Narcissistic World

image

Several years ago, I did a talk for a local GLBT advocacy group. I stood at the front of a large meeting room and talked about discrimination and ignorance, the need for education. A topic I lectured on every week in my classes. But in the middle of my presentation, not one, but two bullies, from two different parts of my life, strode in together and stood at the back of the audience – both of them tall with chins held high, both having exploited my trust, attacked my reputation, and interfered in my relationships.

I choked.

My throat like sandpaper, my oxygen disappeared. My speech evaporated into meaningless dry word-strings. I cut it short because I couldn’t inhale and I slumped into a chair on the front row. Later, a student of mine came over to (I suppose) be friendly and said, “Not a public speaker, are you? Me either.” I wanted to slap him. I wanted to explain how Broca’s area shuts down in the presence of danger . . . but that part of my brain was still frozen in (irrational) fear.

From that moment forward, I used the words Bully and Narcissist interchangeably, because they’re almost synonymous.

A world full of narcissists?

It seems like it these days. And the more grandiose the bully, the more apparently successful in this world. If she lacks conscience, she can bend the truth to create alternate planes of reality that favor her. Lacking empathy, he can use people, make them feel inferior and in need of him. Our narcissism epidemic springs from widespread attachment trauma, early childhood neglect, and the indulgent, self-absorbed elements of our capitalist culture.

We all deal with narcissism, ours or someone else’s. Some looks obvious: inflated ego, meanness if you stand up to them, destruction toward other people’s work and relationships. But a lot of narcissism happens covertly as emotional sabotage.

I grew up around lots of unwitting bullies. In my family’s fundamentalist religious group, boys had too much power over girls. They learned, from their fathers, to dominate. Families passed down traumatic attachments through the generations. And the combination of sexist dogma with early emotional deprivation made these men very afraid of sharing power with women. They abused, gaslighted, and made women feel ashamed of their bodies and sexuality.

I grew up primed to be bullied by a narcissist. Now, with distance from the fundamentalism and the bullying, I see narcissistic patterns in every part of our society.

More than ever, we need to notice bullies for what they do to us. We need awareness of how we’re being manipulated to feel fear and shame.

Who’s Your Narcissist?

Who makes you nervous? Who do you dread? Who triggers all your feelings of inadequacy, unattractiveness, and insignificance? Who do you over-admire? Who seems so cool and smart you could never be good enough for them? Maybe a leader. Maybe someone who’s made your work miserable. Maybe someone close who drains you, leaves you lonely and confused with each contact. Maybe someone you love.

Narcissistic people try to silence us. They overpower with bluster, triangle themselves in our friendships, and invalidate our thoughts. Narcissistic people don’t always look like criminals. Sometimes they look like our parents or neighbors.

You need a way to differentiate from the narcissist, become more you (less apologetic, less nervous, less someone else). With narcissistic people, you need a way to stay grounded and know who you are.

Consider a radical act: Get calm in the presence of your narcissist.

The disobedience of calming helps you become more you, not so compliant or ashamed, not so easily manipulated.

You already do yoga. You meditate. You tap. You have a mental calming place . . . a mountain cabin, a treehouse, a hammock. You take deep breaths and exhale slowly. You think of your most trusted friend.

Calm at the Center

Calm at the Center

 

Try this . . .

  1. Think of your calm place now. Breathe.
  2. Notice what happens in your body when you think of your favorite chair, your yoga mat, your run.
  3. Notice the center point of stillness as your body-mind slows down.
  4. Now, imagine having this calming process while in the presence of your narcissist. Allow that person to do whatever they do, to be agitated or aggressive (they are always more anxious than you), while you stay still at the center.
  5. Just notice everything. Watch with curiosity. Come back to your breath.
  6. Affirm yourself: I can leave if I want to; I have my own thoughts and feelings; I can keep myself safe.
  7. If you notice guilt, pressure, or anxiety, just acknowledge it and let it slide away from you.

Now write for 10 minutes about this exercise. What do you notice about yourself? What is it like to get still and focused on your inner calm while the narcissistic person is there, doing whatever they do?

This exercise will not solve the entire problem of being bullied or dominated, but it will help you start seeing differently. It may even help you regain something you lost (like, um, your voice).

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Stuck in the Pigeonhole Vs. Becoming More of You

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

Okay, everybody. Here’s a little quiz. Consider List 1 and check all that apply to you:

  • A good daughter □
  • Married to one mate, for life □
  • A good provider □
  • A sweet girl □
  • Skinny □
  • Happily married □
  • A good Democrat □
  • A good Republican □
  • A dutiful son □
  • Law-abiding citizen □
  • A good Christian □
  • Grateful (to your parents and grandparents or whomever has helped you get a leg up in life) □
  • A patriotic American □

Now, raise your hand if you’re a little uncomfortable. A little stuck. Me too.

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

. . . Because these are basically a load of crap. They mean nothing. They’re just icons of what to be (or not be), aka, Culturally Controlling Images.

Controlling Images pigeonhole us. They get promoted by those with more power. They organize people of lesser power into niches that have no real, personal meaning. Yet we get caught in them, tangled in them, defined by them.

Controlling Images make us toe the line. Controlling Images are relational, but not in a good way: they keep other people from knowing us. They form barriers to stop people from asking the deeper questions.

Like, What do you dream about? What do you wish you could say to your mother? How should we treat the families fleeing Syria?

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

Exit the Pigeonhole and Get Un-stuck

Consider List 2 and check all that apply to you:

  • Childless/Barren □
  • Twice Divorced □
  • Old Maid □
  • Drug Addict
  • An Angry Person □
  • Widow □
  • Old Man □
  • The Ungrateful Daughter □
  • Homeless □
  • The Crazy One □
  • Atheist □
  • The Gay Guy □
  • The Fat Girl □
  • Unemployed □
  • The Cancer Patient □

Now, raise your hand if you feel depressed. Me too.

Controlling images work in both directions. We try to present the images valued by our society (List 1); we fear the images deemed unworthy by it (List 2).

But development demands that we drop the images that block our awareness of who we truly are. In fact, when we buy into the pigeonholes, the stereotypes, the images of what should be, we stay stuck in a childlike fantasy about ourselves until we no longer can . . . until something devastating happens to shatter List 1 and yank us out of the pigeonhole.

Development happens when we smash the images and enter the present moment. This is just me and I don’t know what I believe anymore and I’ve lost my relationship and my identity and I’m just here with my sadness. This is just me with my imperfect, aging body and my fears and financial failures. This is just me with my needs and I don’t know what’s happening in this crazy world. This is just me, breathing in and out.

This is how we become real.

How are you stuck in List 1? How are you stuck in List 2? What trauma led you there?

Write a poem about smashing the illusions. Write a story where you become more of who you were meant to be.

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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.

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