Archive for trauma

Oct
09

Getting through a “Long Siege”

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Eleven months ago from the time of this writing, I lost my mother, and became co-executor of her estate.

It was the beginning of a challenging season in which this unwanted, intrusive, part-time job of settling a very messy estate gobbled up time, energy, and resources, and triggered a lot of apparently unhealed “heart issues” concerning my family.

I think of these past months as “the long siege” during which I was fighting to keep as much of my own life as possible from being devoured.

Perhaps you can relate? Maybe you’re going through, or have gone through, a season of illness (your own or a loved one’s), or  unemployment, or divorce, or the loss of a home, or a bereavement, or . . . just this global pandemic, for instance?

The life you once knew is gone, and you are scrambling to move ahead, not just tread water.

How do we get through such times, which can amount to both a trauma and a crisis, and come out not only intact, but perhaps even somewhat healed on the other end?

One thing that turned out to be completely necessary for me was learning to let go of my high standards for certain things.

To get through any crisis or “long siege,” you need to let some things be “good enough,” or even to die, so that other things can live and flourish.

So I did an audit of the different areas of my life. What was most important to me, that needed to be prioritized in order to be preserved? (My morning and evening rituals, healthy eating, healthy relationships, my business.)

What could I let go of, or adjust the standards of? What does “good enough” look like?

Also: Was there any area in which I needed to raise my standards?

Turns out, there was: Self-care. I had to let go of the self-neglect that came naturally from my upbringing, and really instill in my heart that if I didn’t take care of me, there would be no “me” to take care of everything else.

I also made my spiritual and healing practices a priority. The two or three days I missed them, I really felt it.

I evaluated my resources and the current reality of what I was dealing with. I adjusted my housekeeping standards, and my expectations of my husband, myself, and my business.

In each area, I defined what would be “good enough” and let go of my former standards. (Or tried to; I tend to be an idealist and perfectionist, so this was not easy. The alternative, though, was my old pattern of pushing, which I knew would destroy my health.)

It was a painful but necessary process. It’s humbling to admit that you can’t do everything you thought you could or should be able to, that you have actual limitations, some of which weren’t there before but now must be acknowledged.

The gift from my long siege was it helped to clarify my true values, showed me patterns from my past that still needed healing, and clarified the boundaries that needed to be in place.

One of the most helpful things was to remind myself that this is “just for now, not forever.” There will come a time when the crisis will be over, and then I can reassess and re-calibrate. Lowering my standards “for now, not forever,” for a good reason (to preserve my health, relationships and business), helped me feel proactive and in control of at least something.

I also knew I couldn’t get through this without the support of other people.

I leaned on my husband, grown children (who were all wonderful), best friend (the only one who knew all the gory, blow-by-blow details that I spared even my husband), and several support groups of friends who prayed for me.

Are you going through a particularly challenging season, even a “long siege” of your own? (In some ways, who isn’t these days?) Perhaps doing an audit of your resources, redefining “good enough, for now not forever,” and reaching out for support from others will help you get through it as well.

Next time, I’ll talk about “when the long siege is finally over”–how to heal and reclaim your life. (Because, thankfully, that’s what I’ll be able to do as of next week, I hope!)

And if you would like help in any of these steps, I’d be happy to come alongside you for that support. Check out my coaching at HealingCodesCoaching.com.

Does every painful event that happens to us inevitably become a trauma?

The good news is: NO!

To understand how this can be–and more importantly, to prevent a life event from becoming a trauma–you need to understand why and how  something becomes a trauma.

Trauma and UDINS

I’ve written before about life events that become traumatic because they are UDINs: Unexpected, Dramatic, Isolating, and having No resources, recourse, or solutions.

These four elements are what make something traumatic.

Notice that one and a half of the elements of a UDIN are unpreventable.

You can’t control when some crisis will happen, or how.

You can’t control how bad it will be (half of the Dramatic element).

That’s the one and a half you can’t control.

What you can control of the Dramatic part, though, to at least some degree, is how it will affect you.

And you can control whether you will let it Isolate you, and whether you will believe that there are No solutions or resources.

According to Dr. Karl Lehman, there is a pain pathway in the brain that needs to be traveled all the way through in order for a painful event not to become a trauma. If we can go all the way through the pain processing pathway, we “metabolize” the experience and it does not become a trauma that can then get triggered again and again, and cause all kinds of physical, emotional, or relational problems.

The main reason a painful event becomes traumatic is that we feel alone in it. Relationship has been withdrawn. We become disconnected.

Dr. Lehman explains that “because we live with brains that configure all our reality and experiences in relational terms, we must learn to stay relational in the presence of our pain.”

How do we do that?

Staying Relational in the Pain

Many of us grew up in families that themselves never learned this. When they or we were in pain, it led to withdrawal. The “relational circuits” in the brain (RCs) were switched off. If this happened in our experience, we may come to believe that when we’re in pain, love is going to be withdrawn. Thus we turn off to the pain, or we go off by ourselves to try to deal with it.

Which, if we’re to believe the brain science experts, never works.

So how do we stay relational in the pain, so we can actually process it and not let it become a trauma?

Look for Someone Who Knows How to Be With You in Pain

It can be difficult to reach out to someone when you are in pain, because not everyone will know how to deal with it. Most people will instinctively try to make you feel better, make the pain go away. You may instinctively turn to something to make you feel better, make the pain go away.

The only way out of the pain, is through it. Preferably with someone else.

If you know someone with whom you feel safe, you can kind of coach them along as to how they can help you.

Approach them at a time when you both can talk. Ask them if they would be willing to just listen to you and reflect back how you’re feeling without attempting to change anything.

Note: That someone can be God. God is always with us, and if you believe his Word, he has promised 14 times never to leave you or forsake you. You can journal or pray your way through the sequence below. (For more help with this, I suggest the book, The Joyful Journey: Listening to ImmanuelYou can also contact me for some Healing Codes. This is a big part of what I do in my Healing Codes Coaching work.)

Let’s say you just lost someone dear to you, and are feeling great grief.

The VCR of Relief

Here the three steps to working through the pain. Again, ideally you will do this in the presence of someone who has the capacity to be with you in this process.

  1. Validation: name the feeling and/or belief you have as a result of the event. “I miss my friend so much. She was like  a mom to me. Who will I go to now when I need the wise, down-to-earth advice she always knew how to give? I have lost so much, so unexpectedly….”

If you’re processing something with someone and they reflect back your words to you with empathy,  you will feel validated and understood. The first step is to stay connected with the experience rather than try to escape or minimize it. Doing this with another person removes the Isolating factor.

2. Comfort: Look for the origin of the negative feeling or belief attached to the event. You may be upset by the event itself, but it may also be triggering an unhealed memory from the past. You may or may not remember what that is, but naming the origin of it as best you know can be helpful.

“This sounds silly, but it reminds me of the time my father accidentally killed my cat when I was young. I used to tell my cat my problems, and I never felt she judged me.” So now we’re dealing with more than losing the friend; we’re dealing with an unhealed memory from the past, that amplifies the pain in the current memory. Just realizing this can be comforting. It can help you begin to make sense out of the pain. “Oh, this is not just about this incident.” (And you will want to address both incidents with The Healing Codes and/or healing prayer.)

Or maybe it is just about this incident, because in itself it’s so huge.  “I’ve never lost someone this close to me before. I don’t know how to handle it.” Understanding the level of intensity of the emotion is also part of comfort.

3. Repatterning, or Returning to Joy.  When the first two things have happened–validation and comfort–you are then open to new perspectives on the situation.  A skilled listener will know just how to help you come to the new perspective yourself, rather than trying to give advice, fix you or make the pain go away. This is where you realize you are not without resources, thus eliminating the N-No recourse or resources–of the UDIN.

The last step in the Pain Processing Pathway is finding meaning in the experience, so that it leads to wisdom and maturity.

This process can take time, or it can be fairly quick, depending on the intensity and scope of the painful event. But when you deliberately reject Isolation and seek help from someone who can Validate, Comfort, and help you Return to Joy, you need not fear that the event will become a trauma that you never get over. You will emerge stronger, wiser and more mature.

If you would like some personalized help in healing your trauma, please check out my custom Healing Codes Coaching.  I have wonderful tools for helping you process such pain successfully–and permanently. And I can be that validating presence that will help you get through the trauma to the other side, where wisdom and peace reside.

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