Our Flaws Make Us Interesting: EMDR Makes Them Funny

From Chris Roberts-Antieu, Monsters and Misfortune Collection, http://www.antieaugallery.com/browse/

Maybe our flaws even make us lovable.

My Flaws

I have a few characteristics of which I’m not proud. Most of them fall into the category of “uptightness” . . . fear and shame and rigidity. Before EMDR, I would not have written this post for fear of public ridicule.

First, I have this judgmental tendency that
springs up when I feel threatened or disoriented. I sometimes
pathologize, trying to make sense of something that
hurts or scares me (or that resembles something that hurt
me in the past). My job is a bit of a risk factor for this.

Second, I build walls that protect me from shame and
(imagined) physical and relational danger. The walls
started appearing back around 1970, but
I’ve reinforced them for the last several decades. They’ve kept me from having any broken bones, but they’ve prevented me from enjoying things like water sports or blowing a whole day on Outlander episodes. I always need to be productive.

I’d love to lose the uptightness. Just let it go, so I can be fully present to enjoy whatever’s happening in the moment. Then I’d be more like normal people.

But what if my shame and uptightness makes
me more . . . me?

Can defects of personality be lovable? Or at least
amusing?

Could something you loathe about yourself actually be the thing another person finds attractive in you?

People I’m very close to sometimes laugh at my uptightness – and they’re laughing WITH me. About how I’m reluctant to throw my shoes in a
big stinky pile with everybody else’s dusty
clodhoppers at the bowling alley. My true friends
like me even though I can sometimes be too driven
and exacting – and even though I have a hard time
winding down for fun (how I’d have to be dragged to the bowling alley in the first place). They love me even though I’m awkward.  Maybe they
love me partly because of all my awkward trauma residue. They
say, “It’s okay that you have a stick up your ass. We know why it’s there.” From these people, I learn self-acceptance.

Their Flaws

Then we laugh at THEIR flaws. And I love those
those dear flaws. They’re frickin’ hilarious. The one who interrupts – literally has to bite his lip to keep from talking over you, but then you know how exuberantly he cares for your conversation. The one with the “checkered past” who is so brave to share all her humiliating sexual moments with the rest of us, so we can feel better about ourselves. The one with no self control over food, and the one with a touch of agoraphobia, and the one who can’t touch public doorknobs or poop anywhere but at home.

I’ve spent too many years trying to appear flawless, and maybe I’ve fooled a few people. But I’m starting to think my embarrassments and scars, bad hair days
and unresolved hurts and relationship failures might actually
make me more interesting . . . At least to the right
people.

Oh, and EMDR helps moderate all of this: it changes my physiology around fear and shame, makes me kind of laugh at myself.

Contact Deborah

 

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).

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Transform Holiday Stress into Mindful Rest & Giving

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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

 

Relationship Disconnect: How it affects our health.

Relationship disconnection is trauma.

Relationship Disconnection is Trauma.

Everyone I love needs to read these four books.

  1. The Birth of Pleasure, Carol Gilligan
  2. The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  3. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
  4. How Connections Heal, Maureen Walker & Wendy Rosen (Eds.)

These books have all changed my life. But today, I want to focus on #4. How Connections Heal is written for therapist-types, but it explains the basic nitty-gritty about relationships and should be required reading for every high school senior and should be in every hotel nightstand drawer and every dentist’s lobby. I think it’s that important.

It’s about Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), which posits that when we have mutually-affirming connections, we feel understood and valued. We thrive and get more creative and do our best work. We feel energy and excitement. We take better care of ourselves.

But when our relationships (even just one of them, if it’s important) make us feel diminished or one-down, when we lack equal power and voice……we suffer. We become depleted, depressed. We feel lost, lonely, bloated, unattractive, unstable, dull, unwanted, and out-of-touch. We eat and drink too much, shop too much, stare into our devices and stop looking forward to things. We feel unliked and unlovable. We wear gray and withdraw from social life. We doubt our sanity.

Relationship Disconnection Is Trauma. Here’s a story of non-mutuality (disconnection) in a friendship.

Sabine and Rachel’s friendship changed suddenly, and Sabine was confused. Rachel seemed distant and stopped returning calls. Sabine felt her friend pull away, but when she asked about it, Rachel waved her off and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just been super busy.” Then the distance got even worse over the course of six months and Sabine found herself excluded from gatherings of Rachel and their other friends. She felt abandoned and ashamed with no idea how to address the obvious rift in their connection. She thought, it must be my fault. She wondered, how do I feel so hurt when Rachel obviously feels nothing? Sabine got sick. First, a bronchitis that hung on for two months. Then, shingles. When she came to see me, she was having panic attacks and thoughts of suicide.

condemned isolation

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

Disconnection and non-mutuality happen in marriages and work relationships and families. If I (like Sabine) consistently share more, express more vulnerability, reach out more, make myself more available, I will probably, at some point, feel bewildered and blame myself for being needy. If my feelings or perceptions are brushed off or laughed off, I will start to lose essential energy: an emotional hemorrhage that I can feel in my body. In RCT terms, this is Condemned Isolation and it causes us to doubt our essential worth in the world.

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you may have traumatic disconnection in your relationships. Your body responds to condemned isolation like it responds to a physical assault. Contact me if you’d like to talk more about how to bring mutuality back into a relationship – or how to recover from this type of trauma and rebuild your confidence and zest for life.

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

I Must be a Bad Person: Recovering from Religious Abuse

Something tells me I’m a very bad person.

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Under the bridge…..beneath, “It’s my fault,” lives a more troubling idea…It hides in us like a troll under a bridge. Anyone who’s survived religious abuse knows the old thought-training dies hard.

Jim teaches art to high-schoolers. He lives with his wife of thirty years – the wife who mothered their four children. He never admits being gay, but he says he once had a “sexual problem involving other men.”

Jim was raised Church of Christ. When he tells me this, I feel a rush of heat and emotion because I, too, was raised Church of Christ. I know what this means. Religious abuse trains our own thoughts to condemn us for growing up. Religious abuse teaches us to fear our own bodies, thoughts, feelings, and needs.

We meet because of Jim’s panic attacks, which have resurfaced after 20 years of dormancy. He has them at the oddest times: once, on the highway in his Toyota, another dozen times at home, doing nothing in particular.

Jim tells me his father hit him with a belt for, “saying my thoughts out loud.” Sex was completely ignored in his fundamentalist family and his parents led a Bible study group on the evils of homosexuality.

I call this spiritual/religious abuse. I call this sadistic parenting. I call this major childhood trauma. I suggest Jim has PTSD. We start EMDR therapy. I ask Jim about his worst memories. He says, “My father barging in on me in the bathroom and beating me in the shower with his belt.”

I say, “Let’s go with that.”

Through the EMDR process, Jim shares a series of negative beliefs that come with the memory.

  • It’s my fault.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • My body is shameful/bad.

EMDR allows Jim to integrate the old guilt and reflexive, automatic, child-brain thoughts with newer, adult-brain information.

  • I am basically good.
  • I do the best I can.
  • My body is normal/okay.
  • My kids love me.
  • I’m a good teacher.

Jim releases a flood of boyhood tears. His body relaxes. This takes about four sessions. I see his face change. I see his posture change. He gets taller. He tells me he’s painting again. After another four weeks, he is clear of panic symptoms.

“I’m freer now. I can simply be angry and sad about my past.” Jim no longer has to throw a tarp over his true feelings just because they are unsightly to his family.

He still has some emotional work ahead of him. Jim has to grapple with the fact that he has never been free to be truly himself – that he’s pretended to be hetero to protect himself from his father, their church, the elders, the larger culture that surrounded it all. Jim and his wife will need couples counseling to cut through the invisible fence of secrets that has stood between them and mystified them both. Who knows where this will lead….?

But at least the secrets can be unpacked and he knows they’re not his fault. Free of this blame, Jim has emotional options that didn’t exist last year. As he talks honestly with his wife, his depression lifts. Many tears are shed, but windows of possibility open to the sky. There is life after truth-telling: life after PTSD and loneliness and despair.

I ask him what he believes about himself. He says, “I’m loved.” He says, “I’m okay.” He says, “I’m growing.”

My novel, Wife Material, is also a story about religious/spiritual abuse. Call me if you’d like to talk about this kind of trauma or learn about how EMDR therapy can help you heal from it.

Contact Deborah

 

The Life Cycle of Long-Term Love . . . Or the Many Major Traumas of Life Partnership

“Where did I go wrong?” Says the woman across from me, her husband’s chair, the third point in our triangle. “I mean, at what point did I screw up so badly that my marriage turned into a roommate situation.”

Susan’s been married to Tony for 11 years. They have two children, two healthcare careers, two cars, and two dogs. At age 40, her relationship with Tony is at 100% stalemate.

“He wants nothing to do with me sexually,” she says. “When I try to talk to him, he shuts down.” Her eyes fill like little tide pools.

“We’re here to talk about your affair,” says Tony, distress in the lines around his bloodshot eyes, his voice tight with trapped tears. “Don’t shift the focus to me.”

This is the third major crisis of their relationship.

The first happened just three weeks before their wedding when Susan discovered Tony emailing with one of his old girlfriends from college. No rendezvous, no talk of sex, but a decided flirtiness in the exchanges that Susan found one day when Tony left his email open.

“I almost called off the wedding,” she said. “But he apologized and and stopped all contact with the woman. We went to counseling and I figured out that he really did love me.” The couple renewed their commitment and enjoyed a juicy marriage for the first couple of years.

The second crisis arrived with the birth of their first child. “I blamed myself,” she said, “I was fat and completely absorbed in mommy-hood.” But poor Tony was the one in trouble again. He took a demanding job that kept him away from home most of the time. When he was at home, he stayed glued to the TV screen, nursing a beer. “I begged him to take more interest in our son, but he left all the child care to me.” At one point, Susan moved out with their baby and lived with her mother for about six weeks. Tony was devastated, the couple returned to therapy, and equilibrium was restored.

“There were little things around my second pregnancy,” Susan said. She remembered feeling unattractive again, Tony’s sexual distance from her, typical quarrels about work-life balance, child-care balance, parenting disagreements, and the like. “But we were happy for the most part and we loved doing things as a family.” Susan felt confident in their bond . . . until her children were about eight and ten years old.

“I don’t know what happened to push us apart the last few years,” she said. “I’ve felt lonely and unlovable for a while.” Susan recalled how a colleague at work, Charlie, started showing her attention. “I looked forward to work. I started exercising and wearing makeup again.” Conversations with Charlie soon extended beyond the workday. Text messages flowed back and forth between them. Susan thought about Charlie when she wasn’t with him – so much that she became distracted in her parenting and more distant with Tony.

Tony found out about the emotional affair his wife was having. He picked up Susan’s phone one day from the kitchen counter. “I think she wanted me to find those messages,” he said. “But I still can’t believe she would do this.” The couple came to see me in the crisis of Tony’s discovery. He felt the shock, anger, and crushing sadness Susan experienced years earlier when the reverse situation took place.

As we worked through their feelings, Susan revealed that she never recovered from Tony’s email affair some twelve years before. “I know it’s silly,” she said. “But it never completely left my mind. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough for Tony.” Susan enjoyed Charlie’s attentions because they restored her feelings of attractiveness and worth.

Okay, short quiz. Which of the following is true?

  1. Susan and Tony are incompatible and should probably split up now and look for mates that better suit their needs.
  2. Susan and Tony have serious issues that indicate they’re not healthy enough for a committed relationship.
  3. Susan and Tony are experiencing the normal vicissitudes of long-term commitment.
  4. Tony is emotionally abusive, so Susan should break her addiction to him.
  5. Susan is codependent, so Tony should step away from her neediness.

If you guessed “3,” you’re right. Susan and Tony’s story illustrates what I call the Life Cycle of Long-Term Love, or the Many Necessary Breakups of a Healthy Marriage. In short, Susan and Tony are normal. Neither partner is perfect – but neither Tony nor Susan have defective personalities. Are they hurting? You bet. Do they have a trauma history to untangle? Absolutely. Did they both bring baggage into their relationship. Yes, of course! Just like the rest of us.

 

But these facets make up their relational curriculum, the lesson plan they each brought into the relationship, not at all by accident. Susan and Tony, like the rest of us, found the perfect mates for creating the perfect love laboratory in which to study themselves and evolve into higher beings. This curriculum will take them through the stages of marriage.

Harville Hendrix, a noted relationship expert, says we begin our romantic attachments by transferring all our unmet childhood needs and wants onto our new partner. We feel sublime union with our new lover because we can temporarily fuse ourselves to them and believe our old hurts will be healed, our longings will be fulfilled, and we will live happily ever after. This process is completely necessary and normal.

Tony fused with Susan, believing she would be the accepting, uncritical partner his heart needed, after being raised by high achieving parents for whom his grades, his baseball performance, his mood and demeanor, the organization of his closet, were never good enough.

But at some point, fairly early in each relationship, disappointment cut in like seismic shocks, to disrupt their cozy garden of love. For Tony and Susan, reality bit their sweet romance in the butt while they planned their wedding. Susan became more possessive of Tony’s time – and Tony pulled back from her in response. For Susan, Tony was supposed to provide the unfailing attentiveness she so missed growing up in a family with seven children.

This whole debacle comes from absolute necessity. Why?

We yearn for closeness – but also need separateness. One part of us craves the womb-like warmth of complete union with another person. And . . . another part pushes outward toward individual freedom. Yin and yang, Apollonian and Dionysian, Sun and Moon. One dynamic system with complementary sides.

Tony and Susan both push in together and out toward separateness, alternately. Both want each other near – both dread too much nearness. Only on the surface does Tony appear to be the distant one. In reality, when he leans in for intimacy, Susan panics (though she doesn’t fully realize it) and throws herself into her children’s activities.

Like the ocean’s tide, couples will merge and separate, over and over, throughout the course of a lifetime together. In a forty-year marriage, seven or eight emotional divorces will upset the system the partners have created. Some will be subtle, but some will be fierce and painful . . . and yes, absolutely necessary.