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Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part Three

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The Healing Process

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you the third and final installment from guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma. We have already covered the basics on Attachment Theory, the way childhood trauma affects attachment, as well as our goals for this series in previous articles. If you missed those, we strongly encourage you to go back and take a look; they provide a more comprehensive background that will help make this information more applicable. But, worry not, there's enough review here that you'll still be able follow along if you've only got a minute!  Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about Jade below! We are truly thankful to her for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom, and want you to be able to locate and appreciate all of her other work, too.

 


Changing Unhealthy Patterns

 

    At this point you may have absorbed the information in this series about attachment styles and trauma and made the realization that you have some unhealthy patterns. In that case, you’re in good company.  There are very few people who had healthy enough parents to raise them in an ideal environment that fostered a secure attachment style.

    There is a lot of information out there on attachment styles and its effect on children and even their lifelong relational patterns. But, unfortunately, there is not as much information on what this looks like in adults or its implications for them. Some suggested reading is the information on adult attachment provided by Fulshear Treatment Center, which can be found here

    The good news is, many professionals do believe unhealthy patterns can be changed, and I have found this to be true in my own life. Due to the brain’s lifelong neuroplasticity, neuroscientists believe it is possible to change ingrained thought patterns and learn newer, healthier coping skills. So let’s dive right in to some places where positive change can lead to healthier relationships.

    Please keep in mind as you read these suggestions that I realize they all sound much easier than they really are. There is zero intent to sound reductive - quite the opposite, really. I’ve been in the position of knowing that these things were a struggle for me, and feeling lost and unsure of how to change. I offer these thoughts in an attempt to simplify it and make it sound more attainable. But I know that there are layers and complexities to these thoughts and behaviors, and that changing ingrained patterns takes a lot of time, attention and, quite often, sheer will. However, it absolutely can be done.

 

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Avoidant (also called Dismissive) Attachment Style:

The avoidant attachment style has a positive self-image but a negative worldview. So, this person typically does not seek help from outside resources. Their trust in others is low, and they are usually unwilling to be vulnerable or let people come close. 

People with the avoidant attachment style can work on changing these patterns by practicing taking emotional risks in their relationships. They'll need to learn how to communicate when they are feeling needy or vulnerable, and practice allowing someone to be present with them in those times. Those with the avoidant attachment style have a tendency to believe, deep down, that no one else is safe or trustworthy. This type of thinking will have to be challenged and replaced with a healthier perspective. They can also learn to identify people who display characteristics of true safety versus perceived, and form quality friendships where they can start to practice letting those people see their real selves.

 

Anxious (also called Ambivalent) Attachment Style:

The anxious attachment style presents with a negative self-image but a positive worldview. This person usually seeks help from outside resources but they have few internal resources upon which to draw. They trust others – oftentimes a bit too much – but they haven’t developed very much trust in their own self. They are often described as needy, clingy, and codependent.

People with an anxious attachment style can start to find ways to feel secure within themselves, without needing constant contact with others in order to feel like they are okay. One way to do this is to work on improving their self-esteem. They will need to intentionally set out to learn what is important to them as an individual and why they are valuable as their own person. They require practice in valuing their own selves equally as much as they value the needs and expectations of others around them. Allowing others to become a complement to their independent and secure selves is where they'll find their healthiest relationships.

 

Disorganized Attachment Style:

The disorganized attachment style has the double whammy: a negative worldview and a negative self-image. In short, those with a disorganized attachment style will require help changing both of those things. Some of the strategies for each of the other insecure attachment styles may be helpful, but often people with disorganized attachment styles have underlying trauma that needs to be addressed before those changes are truly feasible without causing more unexpected distress.

While those with each of the insecure attachment styles would benefit from therapy, those with the disorganized attachment style may be most in need of the extra support. Changing one’s self-image and one’s view of others to a more positive outlook can be challenging all on your own. Without an anchor point on at least one side of a relationship, it can extremely hard to determine for yourself what a safe, healthy and balanced relationship would even look like -- let alone trying to go about achieving it. A therapist who is educated in attachment theory can help those with a disorganized attachment style to work through attachment-related traumas and make progress in attaining a healthier self-image and a more positive view of others. 
 


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     So, we have come to the end of our series on attachment and trauma. We know this information can be a lot to digest, and even very painful. Having to uncover all of the ways in which you may have been disadvantaged before you even had a chance, can be such an emotionally-charged experience. Allow yourself the permission to grieve those things; to be angry, upset, and sad about them. Yet, on the flip side, we sincerely hope we've also been able to provide you with clarity, understanding and even real hope. Sometimes, just knowing what you're up against, and to have someone explain to you why all the changes you've been trying to make may not have been the most successful, it can be relieving and even alleviate self-blame. And, knowing there are real things you can do to change how you see yourself and the world around you - that it doesn't have to feel so chaotic and confusing all the time - can present a real opportunity for feeling optimistic. And, we know how hard optimism can be for so many of you!

    We want to thank Jade for all of her hard work on this series. Not only did she bring to you the best-researched information on this topic, she did so having gone through this exploration herself and wholly empathizing with every way this can be difficult and painful.  ...but also knowing it is ultimately really worth doing. We hope you have found this series valuable, and if you have, please be sure to let Jade know below, or find her on her various platforms to pass along the appreciation (or questions!).  We are also glad to answer any of your questions, so don't hesitate to ask!  Thank you, Jade, and to all of you who brave the hard task of facing the things that are difficult head on, and working to make those positive changes in your life. You are a beacon of light to us all.

 

 

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    Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

 -  J8 Peer Consulting       -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                          -  LinkedIn

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part Two

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Trauma's Effect on Attachment Styles

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you Part Two from guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma to share with you. If you missed the introductory article on Attachment Theory, as well as our goals with this series, you can check it out here.  But, fear not! There's enough of a recap here that you'll be able follow along if you've only got a minute - though we still encourage you to go back when you have time. So, let's just jump right into it! Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about Jade below! We are truly thankful to her for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom, and want you to be able to locate and appreciate all of her other work, too.

 


 

Trauma and Attachment Styles
 

   In the last post, we discussed secure and insecure attachment and what each mean in terms of the inner beliefs a person holds as result of each. To review:

Secure attachment occurs when a caregiver consistently and appropriately meets a baby’s needs over a long enough period of time that the baby learns to expect a compassionate response. This causes them to internalize the belief that the world is basically a good place, that they themselves are worth caring for, and that others are willing to meet their needs.

Insecure attachment occurs when – for any reason – a caregiver is incapable of or unwilling to meet a baby’s needs predictably and in an appropriate way. Babies interpret this in slightly different ways, depending on their unique personality, and thus can result in one of three types of insecure attachment.  But the bottom line will be that their view of the world, themselves, and/or others is negatively affected.

   In this post I’m going to share how trauma affects people differently based on their attachment styles formed in infancy.

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   To put it very simply, trauma occurs when something happens to someone that is beyond their ability to process it in a healthy way, so the experience is not integrated correctly on a physical, emotional, or neurological level. (Some people prefer to understand it in terms of emotional and even physical energy that becomes trapped in the body with no way of being released.) In most cases, trauma happens when a person perceives a threat to their life, bodily integrity, or sanity

    It’s important to understand that the factors that cause an event to be experienced as traumatic are unique to each individual. No two people are the same, so even those who experience the same event (e.g. a natural disaster, or siblings who witness domestic violence in the home) may react to it differently according to their unique biological makeup as well as their individual personalities and sensitivities.

 

Trauma and Individuals with Secure Attachments

   People who are lucky enough to have a secure attachment to a caregiver as infants/children are at a significant advantage when it comes to experiencing a traumatic event. Sensitive caregivers are available and able to help them process the trauma so that it becomes appropriately integrated in their bodies, minds, and emotions.

   When a person experiences trauma, but has a secure attachment to someone, that attachment can restore their sense of security and counteract the effects of the trauma. When a child experiences something potentially traumatic, they seek comfort from their attachment figure. Secure attachments help children regulate emotional arousal that occurs in the face of a threat. Later, the attachment figure will help the child form a narrative about the event so that the brain can adequately process it. Rather than the event becoming stuck in the right brain as just experience and raw sensory data, a sensitive caregiver will help the child contextualize and understand what happened - which is one way of bringing the trauma into the left brain, synching the two halves, and helping the mind integrate the experience.

   Here is an example: Suppose a child is playing on the playground in the park, and suddenly a person walks by with an aggressive dog on a leash. The dog sees the child and lunges toward them, barking and growling, before being pulled away by its owner. 

   A child with a secure attachment will most likely run to its caregiver, crying, and the caregiver will pick up the child and comfort them. A sensitive and empathetic caregiver might say something like, “Wow, that must have been so scary! I’m sorry that dog scared you!” They will comfort the child by holding or hugging them until the child is calm. The very best way of helping a child integrate the scary experience they just had would be for the caregiver to actually put the experience into narrative form. They may say something like, “You were playing on the playground and then a big scary dog came by and barked at you. It scared you really bad. Then you came running over to Mama and I hugged you until you felt better.” The brain’s memory bank is sometimes described as an elaborate filing system. And, trauma has the potential to become stuck in a separate part of the brain, instead of being filed correctly. Forming a narrative helps the child make sense of what happened to them so the brain knows how to file the memory appropriately and can then “close out” of the “file,” so to speak, once it understands. With very young children, they may need to talk about the event and hear the story repeated over and over before they are able to finish processing it.

 

Trauma and Individuals with Insecure Attachments

   If a person without a secure attachment relationship experiences trauma, the event is more likely to remain unprocessed and unresolved from an emotional, physical, and neurological viewpoint. The person is often unable to regain their sense of safety in the world and may experience the threat of trauma as ongoing, even after the actual threat has subsided. In the face of unrelenting hyper-arousal, dissociation is often next in line as the person attempts to cope.

   It’s important to understand that without a secure attachment style, an overwhelming event is more likely to be perceived as trauma, no matter whether the person is still a child or not. People who grow up securely attached have developed much-needed skills to help them process overwhelming events and reduce the likelihood that they will become traumatized by something. However, this does not mean that securely attached people are never traumatized. It simply means the risk that something will be experienced as traumatic is lower, and the amount of time it takes for them to recover from a genuine trauma is often less than those with insecure attachment styles.

   People with an insecure attachment styles do not have a healthy template with which to relate to others, the world, and themselves. They are more likely to experience something overwhelming as a trauma, because they lack the internal (and often external) resources with which to process it. Below are the tendencies of each insecure attachment style in how they cope with emotional distress (traumatic or otherwise).

 

  People with an avoidant attachment style often see other people as a source of apathy, fear, or discomfort. So traumatic experiences do not drive them to seek help from others. Rather, they withdraw internally even more, and attempt to utilize their own resources to cope with an overwhelming event. Many attachment experts theorize that people with this attachment style are more likely to develop addictions. Those with the avoidant attachment style see people as a source of indifference or distress rather than a source of help, so they turn instead to ways of comforting themselves that do not involve other people.

  People with the insecure attachment style see other people as a helpful resource, but their low self-esteem creates a seemingly bottomless void of need. These people are often drawn into co-dependent relationships because they see others as their only source of comfort and soothing. They have not internalized the ability to self-soothe because their early interactions with caregivers were inconsistent or confusing. They did not receive comfort consistently enough to learn how to comfort themselves, so they feel the constant need for contact and connection to others when they are overwhelmed.

  People with the disorganized attachment style – as noted previously – do not have any consistent way of responding to emotional upset. They view others as dangerous or scary, and themselves as unworthy of help. They have never formed a reliable strategy to deal with powerful emotions, so they are often haphazard in their attempts to cope with overwhelming events. They may seek comfort from others at times (although such comfort is rarely internalized), or they may withdraw. At other times, they may seem unaffected or numb to the traumatic experience, and they are prone to dissociation as a defense mechanism. (Please note that anyone with any attachment style can utilize dissociation; the disorganized style is just more prone to it.)

   In the example of the child on a playground, lunged at by a big scary dog: those with insecure attachment styles, if faced with the same situation, could be at risk of a lifelong phobia of dogs. Or, they could be triggered to an anxiety attack by the sound of a dog barking or growling. The fear and panic they felt then, if experienced as trauma and left unintegrated, could cause all kinds of symptoms in their adult life. 
 

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If you are interested in learning more about emotional development and/or attachment and trauma here are some links: 

・・ Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (Allan Schore)

・・ Joystarters.com – Please note that this is a faith-based blog, but there are some great articles on attachment, crisis, and neuroscience

・・ The Link Between Types of Attachment and Childhood Trauma

・・ Neuroscience Attachments & Relationships



Stay tuned for Part Three of the Trauma and Attachment series, coming soon!

 


    Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

 -  J8 Peer Consulting       -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                          -  LinkedIn

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part One

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Understanding Attachment Theory

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma to share with you here.  We know the words 'attachment theory' can sound foreign or intimidating to those without a psychological background, or even sound like something that doesn't really pertain to you or matter much.  But, it truly does, and our goal throughout the series is to demystify it in a way that is very approachable and can teach you valuable things about yourself and your healing.  It is so helpful for survivors (especially those with C-PTSD and Dissociative Disorders), as well as their loved ones and supporters, to truly understand the complexities and nuances of attachment, because they play such an integral role in how these disorders come to be and why they're so multidimensional beyond just the PTSD.  While the trauma itself is disruptive, it's the attachments we have not only to our perpetrators but with everyone else on the outside that further impact how we internalize that trauma and how we view the world around us.  We truly hope this series is both enlightening and helpful as you continue on your path of understanding and wellness.  And, we are truly thankful to Jade for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom.  Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about her below! 

 

Attachment Theory in a Nutshell

  Attachment theory is the theory that humans are born with an innate tendency to seek care, help and comfort from members of their social group when they are facing overwhelming danger and/or are in physical or emotional distress. The group of behaviors used to solicit caregiving behaviors from others is known as the “attachment system.” In infants, the primary attachment-seeking behaviors would include crying, and (when old enough) what is known as an “approach” method - which seeks physical closeness to, and comfort from, the attachment figure. (The attachment figure is usually the mother and father, but can sometimes be another relative or whoever takes care of the baby’s physical and emotional needs most often.) If you’ve ever had the chance to people-watch in a place where there are children, you’ll probably notice that very young children stay close to their parent. And if they do venture away – on a playground, for example – and something scares them, they will run or crawl quickly back to their parents. This “approach method” is an attachment-seeking behavior. The opposite of carrying out an attachment-seeking behavior is trying to “avoid” something in the environment that is perceived as threatening. Attempts to avoid a threat usually involve the baby either ignoring it or actively seeking distance from it, rather than trying to approach it.  The behavior of approaching a caregiver when distressed is simply part of our survival instinct as a species.

 

What is important to understand about the attachment system is:

1) it is primal and innate, as it has been linked to evolution and survival, and forms the patterns by which the person relates to others in the future,

2) it is formed during the earliest development of an infant through interactions with the mother, father, and/or primary caregiver(s), and

3) the attachment system is powerfully activated during and after any experience of fear and of physical or psychological pain. This is why it matters so much in relation to trauma.

  So now that you know what it is, let me briefly describe the types of attachment that can be formed, depending on those crucial early interaction patterns.


 

Attachment Styles - Secure and Insecure


To break it down for you, there are 2 types of attachment: secure and insecure.

   Secure attachment is (or should be) the goal of all parenting behaviors and interactions between mother/father/caregiver and child, from birth to independence and beyond.  Securely attached infants develop positive, healthy, and relationally-effective internal working models (called IWM’s by the psych folks) that become the blueprint – or software, if you prefer – for the way they interact with people and the world at large, generally speaking, for the rest of their lives. It also affects, to no small degree, their perspective of themselves and their own lives. The securely attached infant’s IWM is based on the belief that the world is a good place and the infant is a good person; they are forming the belief that others are capable of and willing to meet their needs, and that they are worthy of having their needs met. Securely attached babies may express distress when they are separated from their caregivers, but they readily accept comfort when the caregiver returns to them.
 

Insecure attachment, on the other hand, breaks down into 3 subgroups:  

  Insecure-avoidant (also known as insecure-dismissive) is the infant that may appear content – or even indifferent – in regard to their caregiver.  Sometimes these infants are even mistaken by people unfamiliar with infant development for securely attached children because they do not react to separation from their caregiver. They do not react to reunion either; they appear indifferent to their caregivers’ presence or absence. The truth is that these infants have closed themselves off to the world. Their IWM summary – if they were able to think abstractly – would be “the world is a bad place but I am a good person, so I will shut out the world.”  They do not turn to other people for help or comfort.  Brain scans of these babies, when placed in a situation that would normally cause distress, show that despite the fact that they do not cry or fuss, they truly are distressed and their level of distress – as shown by the brain activity on the scans – is the same or greater than their peers who are securely attached (or insecurely attached but in a different subgroup); they have simply learned to suppress it.  They don’t actively seek caregivers’ attention.  They turn inward and search for internal resources and solutions that do not involve other people.

  Insecure-anxious (also known as insecure-ambivalent) is the infant that seeks their caregivers’ attention when distressed, but is not readily comforted despite their caregivers’ attempts to do so.  Their IWM would be summarized: “The world is a good place but I am a bad person, so external comfort cannot help me.”  These infants exhibit attachment-seeking behaviors but when the caregivers try to comfort them, it takes much longer to calm them down, if calming can be achieved at all.  They seek outside help but simultaneously view such help as ineffective.

  Insecure-disorganized infants have not managed to organize their reactions in any enduring way.  Sometimes they appear avoidant, sometimes they appear ambivalent, and other times they appear secure.  Their reactions to separation or distress are unpredictable and un-enduring over time.  These infants’ IMW would be summarized thusly: “The world is a bad place and I am a bad person, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to help me.”  They are unpredictable and seem confused. They sometimes exhibit both attachment-seeking and avoiding behaviors simultaneously or in rapid succession, as if they are trying to pursue two incompatible goals at the same time.  They do not seem to know what they want or how to get it.

 

  Attachment theory is a topic that I am very passionate about, because I believe the early blueprints we develop, which become our beliefs about the world and ourselves, inform every future relationship we have with others and even ourselves. A person’s attachment style, and the availability of healthy people with which they can bond, profoundly affect the impact a traumatic experience will have on someone. I will write more about that in the next blog post.

  If you want more in-depth history and discussion of attachment theory, the research is plentiful and easy to find. If you don’t like any of those links, Google “attachment theory” or “John Bowlby” and/or “Mary Ainsworth” and you will have an abundance of reading material. Their methodology for establishing the foundation for their theories is also available, which I’m not going to discuss here because it’s not pertinent to the material at hand and I’m already attempting to condense plenty of information. If you do want a breakdown of the methodology, Google “The Strange Situation," in conjunction with Bowlby/Ainsworth.
 

In the next post I will talk about why attachment style matters and how it affects a person’s response to a traumatic experience.

 


   
   Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

 -  J8 Peer Consulting       -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                          -  LinkedIn
                                   
 

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

A Message for Survivors on Fathers' Day

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     So, it's Fathers' Day.  And our hearts are so heavy knowing just how many of you are hurting today -- who are conflicted, unsure, angry, scared, grieving, lost, or yearning.  For many of you, it's a combination of all the above.  Fathers' Day doesn't quite seem to hold the same regality to it that Mothers' Day does - and, even societally, you're more likely to see posts of people acknowledging that they had absent or hurtful fathers.  But, just because people are slightly more aware that not everyone has a wonderful dad, it doesn't make it any less difficult. In fact, we almost feel as though Fathers' Day being knocked down a peg from the pedestal family members can be placed on, actually allows for more of us to truly feel our feelings. It's almost as if there is a greater permission to acknowledge the pain given the expectation of warmth and gushing affections is lessened. Of course, that means we're more likely to be in the pain today. So, all of us here at Beauty After Bruises want you to be able to take a time-out from your Sunday, to sit with us, and to know you're in the company of people who really really get it.

     Before we get too terribly far, we want to make sure we acknowledge that dads in general can get a bad rap. They are quickly villainized and made out to be the bad guy in all kinds of situations, often unfairly. For many of you, your dad may have even been your rock, your everything -- the only reason you're still with us today.  We are so glad that fathers like them exist and always want to lift them up in the highest regard. With that, just as we mentioned with mothers, we also know that some of you have lost this special parent - your person. So today marks a day for heart-wrenching grief - a new trauma for your already broken heart. We want to help hold that for you however possible and sympathize in your brokenness. Grief and loss are emotions that so many of you may be feeling - possibly even all of you, really - and for reasons that may not include death.  For a lot of survivors, your fathers have left, or were never there from the start. Some of you have lost your dads to addiction, mental or medical health issues, or other challenging behavior that - though he's still alive - he's no longer truly here, as himself, anymore. He's not the father you knew, nor the father you want or need right now. There's an inevitable, sometimes inescapable feeling of loss that comes with that. And, it's okay and completely normal to grieve a dad who's right there with you, but just isn't present with you. For those of you who never got to feel like you had a father - just someone to share a house with - of course you're also bound to feel as if a big part of you is missing, or as if you just don't know how you're supposed to feel. We all want to acknowledge that hurt. Many are right there with you.
     

     For every shade and color of loss and grief, whether there are tears to be had or you're all cried out: you're not alone.


"Fathers' Day....  Man.  My heart hurts most for little me - the one who had to celebrate, hand-make cards for, and love the violent, red-faced, short-tempered man who tore our family apart. It confused and hurt Little Morgan to no end."

-- Morgan, 27


     This week has seen no shortage of the anticipated emotional commercials, quirky "dad bod" advertisements, full series on popular YouTube channels centering around fatherhood, annnd of course the lengthy social media posts from friends and loved ones, reminiscing and telling tales of their amazing, hard-working, selfless fathers. Yet, here today, many of you are alone, quietly hurting. The reality for Complex PTSD and DID survivors is that it's really common for 'a dad' of someone's to have been involved in your trauma (either in big ways or small). Whether that was your own fathers; a grandfather or uncle; a teacher, coach or pastor; even a cousin or neighbor who's all grown up and now has their own kids -- knowing there's a day for them to be celebrated (specifically for caring for children) can bring with it so many unique, difficult struggles.

     It's hard to see fathers universally being revered, when a father you knew wasn't the least bit good to their own or someone else's children. For those of you who only discovered in adulthood what happened to you as a child, there can be such a visceral reaction, with emotions ten layers deep, if you ever find yourself staring at photos of them holding or hugging their own children.  ....what do you do??  Many feel fear, others just relive trauma, and so many more want to "do something", "save them" or "protect them" but are stunned frozen. Others sit with heavy, heavy guilt that they didn't say something back then, even if they didn't know at the time, retroactive guilt still sneaks in like a virus. For any of you in these positions, we want you to know we deeply empathize with all the anguish and inner-conflict wrapped up in that bundle of exasperation. You are not alone in this.  You did what you could with the information you had at the time, as well as what you believed to be safe. You are STILL doing what is right for you, safest for you, healthiest for you, and what will ensure your wellbeing. The rest can and will sort itself out in time; for now you just need to do what is best for you in this very moment.


"Every Fathers' Day I'm confronted with the reminder that he left us.  He left me and my siblings with that horrible, abusive woman. He saved himself, but didn't think twice about us."

--J.D., 36


     There are so many stories, so many walks of life and paths you could be on.  Many of you have become fathers yourselves. This may be your triumphant accomplishment, one to be so proud of yourself for! Despite all the self-doubt or questioning, through it all, you found yourself in a family, or at least raising a child of your own. This is such a hard and scary thing to do, especially if most of your examples were poor or even non-existent. For those of you worrying or wondering today if you're a good enough father to even be celebrated - or scared you won't be once you do become a dad - we want to be that vote of confidence that says, "The very fact you're concerned about this, means you're leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. We are all just trying to do the best we can with the tools we have, learn more every day, try to leave the least amount of harm behind us, and work to leave things a little better than we found them. And, if that's what you're doing, you're doing it just right!"  Yet, if you are truly concerned or know you need a little help to be able to do the best job you can, there are always resources and a helping hand available to you; never hesitate to ask.  It's one of the bravest things you can do and one that requires such personal strength - not weakness. We are one of those places you can turn, who would love to help you however possible.


"Only when I became a father did I finally see how evil mine own was. I never saw it -- never. It's hard to raise kids when you only just learned how blind you were to being treated like an dog. I'm so scared now I wouldn't recognize it if I ever did the same - but hellbent on never coming close."

-- R.W., 39


     The subject of becoming a father can actually be one filled with trauma for many other reasons in a certain group of survivors. And, we want to be sure we touch on this because we feel it's something that's missing in a lot of trauma outreach. A lot of survivors are men, and a lot of those men were made to be fathers against their will as well - just like those who became mothers unwillingly. Far too many have been trafficked, abused, manipulated, or even used for the sole purpose of bearing children. Some of you may be aware of your children, while others sit there with the tormenting question of IF you're a father, knowing all the abuse you endured and the level of probability. This is something most cannot even imagine feeling, wondering or agonizing over. In each and every one of these instances, we ache for you. Just as we do for those who have also may have children they cannot see, those whose were taken from them in messy, unfair, and even abusive divorces, and those who've even lost their beloved children. All of your pain is so real, so heavy. It is seen. It is felt. It is honored and met with such true compassion.


"Fathers' Day has so much trauma shoved into one cake I'm afraid to light the candles.  It'll either explode, or melt into a puddle with my sadness....And, I don't even know which would make the bigger mess anymore."

Caroline, 42


    No doubt, we couldn't possibly cover all the ways Fathers' Day highlight so many aches, pain and scars left by the years of childhood trauma for many survivors. There are just far too many brave and hurting souls, each with a story of their own. Like, those who've lost "a dad" in their own husband, the one who was a father to their children... Anyone who is left trying to comfort broken-hearted children today because their fathers left or hurt them deeply... All whose fathers just do not accept them for who they are, how they live, or what they know to be true about their trauma.... Every adult child who was severely let down by their dad as a kid, but are now fighting to remind themselves they do have one, and he isn't a terrible guy, but it still just doesn't feel right....  And, everyone else left so confused and torn by the role that stepdads, biological dads, adoptive dads, and countless other family dynamics play -- roles that just manage to complicate things even further. No matter what - no matter why your heart is aching or why it's just conflicted and lost today - please know that we're thinking of you and so excruciatingly aware of just how many of you are out there. We even encourage YOU to give voice to all the things we couldn't get to here. Please share with us below, in our casual little circle of healing hearts, what's on your chest today and let your experience be heard. Every story is important. And, we're all listening.

    Please know, even on these "smaller" holidays, we care very much about what you are going through and all the ways it may be affecting you. Just like we mentioned in our post on Mothers' Day - oftentimes it's the smallest holidays that can do the most damage and leave survivors feeling the most alone. So, if you are a supporter, friend or loved one - we really encourage you to at least send your loved one a thoughtful text or call them up to let them know you're thinking of 'em. Family relationships are nearly always a challenge for complex trauma survivors in one form or another - so, it can never hurt to let them know they're on your mind, even if you know very little about their history.

     And, for all of our survivors: We believe these types of holidays really need to just become days to focus on YOU. Days put in place to take extra care of yourself. To do things that you love; celebrate all the ways in which you are an honorable and loyal person; get together with friends or other great people that you call your family and are proud to know. You can even enjoy some cynical or light-hearted comedy! Liiiike, tell us your favorite "dad joke" - it's okay if it's got some dark humor to it, that's how so many of us heal! Just, above all else, please just take extra care of, and celebrate, YOU.

    We will be.

MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  
  -  Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays
 
-  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
 -  A Message of Care This Mothers' Day

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Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families this Holiday

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    It’s that time again! And, no, not just the time to be overwhelmed by a busy holiday season - all the gift-getting, party-planning, and social-gathering.  It's that time where the whole world pauses to focus on family.  For many across the world, the holidays are when all the scattered relatives of each splintered tree-branch come together in one town, or even under one roof.  People will be cheerfully hugging and catching up with siblings and cousins, moms and grandpas.  There will endless Instagram photos of reunions with big smiles, quotes in curly lettering, and captions pushed to their text limit on how much family is everything.  It’s the lifeblood.  We will see, “Don’t wait to make amends; none of us are promised tomorrow!”.  Yes, we’re only days away from those insistent posts and overbearing nudges from others to revel in the company of family.  Never forget:“Forgive. Love. Cherish!”

    But, for an inordinate amount of the population?  Family is anything but merry, warm or inviting.  It’s the source of pain, and loss, abandonment, and grief.  It’s abuse and yelling, belligerence and guilt-tripping.  In countless tiny corners, there will be an adult survivor of child abuse wrestling with themselves, tearing out their insides, trying to decide if they should answer their mother’s text.  Another will have agreed to come to the Christmas dinner only to immediately regret it, and now there's no way out.  Another is dessssperately waiting for their family to invite them — anything to show that maybe they care.  Maybe they weren’t forgotten.  Maybe their family actually wonders if they’re alive or not.  The fact of the matter is that all over this globe are trauma survivors with families that are incredibly toxic.  They are not to be welcomed with open arms.  They will require courage of steel just to share the same room.  And, some shouldn’t even be spoken to, let alone ‘kissed and made up’ with.  Right now, there are survivors everywhere wishing they could have the family others have, and are messily scrambling to figure out how they're even going to be okay.  ...and WHAT on earth they are going to do.

“Should I go?”  “Should I invite them?”  “They sounded so sweet this time...”  “Maybe she’ll forgive me.”  “Maybe he won’t get so drunk this time.  He's doing better I heard.”  “I should show her I’m healthy now; she’ll be proud of me, right?”  “He’s always so inappropriate, he can’t be around my kids.”  “...but he’s sick? This could be his last Christmas.”  “I just want my mom.  ...  ...…but she’s evil.”  “I’m so stupid.  Why would I ever think they’d wanna see me again?” “ I can't breathe.”  “What if I’m just being dramatic?”  “Am I being selfish?”  “I should respond quick before they get upset.”  “What if she turns the rest of the family against me for not inviting her? They’d all hate me. They already hate me.”  “I could do it if I’m drunk. Yeah, okay.  It's just once.”  “My kids haven’t even met that side of the family. Am I keeping them apart?”  “I’ll try. I can face them! I’m an adult now. They can’t hurt me! …..right?  No… n-n-no.  Not right.

    These words, and farrrr more, are part of the endless monologues we know are running through so, so many of you this holiday season.  We know how painful it can be to watch everyone else revel in high spirits and the warm embraces of family.  They’re sharing memories and playing games, digging up inside jokes and sharing presents.  But, for you, the holidays remind you of fights.  Soooo many fights.  So much yelling and pain, mind games, abuse — constant brokenness.  And on the other side, there are those of you who recall perfect, plastic Norman Rockwell holidays that were a complete masquerade of the abusive family that lived behind them — forever confusing you of what’s real. You can’t stomach faking your way through even ONE more of those.  But how do you make it your holiday?  How do you honor yourself when that may include shutting others out?  How do you make this season safe, and calm, and what you always wanted and deserved - without the suffocating guilt or aching loneliness?  If you’ve never been taught how, what do you do about FAMILY?  There are no easy answers, but perhaps some of our thoughts can help...


1.)  Remind yourself immediately you are allowed to set boundaries. 

    You are an adult now.  You are allowed to say NO.  You are allowed to say that this year you have different plans that do not include abusive, manipulative or negligent individuals. …even if it’s a parent who lives alone or a relative who is terminally ill.  You know what you can expect of their behavior better than anyone. And, if you know it’s anything that wouldn’t honor you as an adult — or your children if you have them — then you are allowed to turn them down.  You do not owe them your heart or your home no matter how tangled up things feel.  No matter how many Facebook posts tell you that you must, and no matter how many photos of others' make you pine for what could be -- if you know that your family is toxic, or scary, or can make you feel smaller than a speck on the wall, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO SAY NO.  You have complete and total permission here.  You can set boundaries.  And setting those boundaries is what healthy, strong and respectable adults do.  It’s not being selfish.  It’s not being “dramatic”.  It’s not being mean.  It’s being mature, and level-headed, and strong as f—- frick.  ;)
 

2.)  Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

    Holidays are a prime time for reflection and fuzzy feelings — they get the best of all of us sometimes.  They can make even the baddest of people soften their edges and become just sooo very warm and inviting.  As a survivor of abuse or toxic family dynamics, it can be incredibly hard to resist.  That hurt, little you desperately wants them to mean what they say and to feel their affections.  It’s all you’ve ever wanted.  And they seem so sincere!  “This could be the year!”  And, it really could be.  Bad people can change, and amends can be made.  But if those amends couldn’t wait or you know they wouldn’t be made outside of the holiday season, beware that their intentions may not be so pure.  If they don’t wanna work anything out and speak to you about things before the holiday - or they're deeply offended by you asking to wait until after the busy season to strike things back up - they may not miss you as badly as they say they do.  They may be toying with your heart.  …again.  And it’s going to be so hard to resist.  That’s to be expected.  It’s even entirely understandable because it comes from that beautifully innocent place in you that exists in all of us.  It’s out of the purest kind of hope — and it’s one that we don’t want to see get crushed by their hurtfulness.
    If you know that your toxic family member has a tendency to turn on the charm during holidays or special events, and they're trying to lure you into holiday celebrations, convince you they should come stay for awhile, or just reeeeeally want to see you all of a sudden?  You may need to label this fluffy little sheep as the wolf they’ve always been.  Run it by a friend, see if they get the same warm feels you do.  If they don’t, trust their intuition if they respond saying they don’t wanna see you get hurt.  If it’s meant to be, your family member will be there when the holidays pass. If not, returning their messages now may just be returning yourself to being abused again.  You don’t deserve that.  You never did.
 

3.)  Take time to grieve.

    For some of you, your abusers may have passed on.  And for others, it's the idea of a happy, healthy family that is long gone and passed.  There is also the mourning of a childhood that was robbed of some of the simplest holiday joys, which can rub your heart raw as you celebrate as an adult.  Holidays can bring up so, so much grief whenever it feels like something extraordinary is missing.  For those with toxic or abusive families, there was always something vital missing.  And, as we get older and lose people in our lives, the grief of loved ones no longer here can compound all these losses into one, soul-crushing ball of pure pain.  If the person no longer alive was an abusive family member, you may even find yourself additionally vulnerable to a flood of traumatic memories, too - not just the grief.  Memories may feel “safer” to reveal themselves to you now that the person is no longer alive or a threat to you.  The same can be true even if you only set firmer boundaries and closed doors on relationships.  They may not have passed away, but a book has been tightly closed and your mind can feel a little sturdier to go back and flip through some of its pages. If you know this is a possibility, labeling it for yourself ahead of time will spare your poor heart and mind a great deal of added anguish. 
    Surround yourself with as much support as you can.  Whether that is through a therapist, friends, a partner, or other siblings/family members who may be experiencing something similar - try not to leave yourself too isolated or without support.  Once you have that, allow yourself some time to grieve. Set aside 20 minutes to let your mind go to all of “those places”.  Feel the feelings.  Acknowledge the hole in your chest.  Let yourself stomp and clench your fists at how unfair it is.  Let yourself cry.  You deserved so much better.  You always did.  It’s okay to be sad and to feel it all.  By setting aside time to feel this in small doses, it will likely save you from alllllllll that pain just washing over right as you go to put gifts under the tree, or as you're carrying dishes back to the kitchen.  Honor your feelings.  Pace them out.  You'll be freer and lighter and less likely to be taken down by a Grief Tidal Wave™.  And just trust us, those are vicious. ;)
 

4.)  Create new memories.

    The holidays are as much about reflecting on old memories as they are about creating new ones.  But, for trauma survivors, we think the emphasis should be sooo much heavier on creating new ones.  Now is the time to do all the things you wanted to as a child but weren’t allowed.  Play with kids' toys.  Make a lot of noise.  Run through the house.  Indulge in an extra dessert if you never let yourself do so.  Watch the movies you wanna watch, invite ONLY the people you want to invite, go to the parties you wanna go to, and stay home in PJs and slippers on the nights you wanna stay in!  This holiday can be 100% yours - finally!  Your life is invaluable and you should spend it how, and with whom, you are most happy.  You might not have an Ugly Christmas Sweater family portrait with all the cousins and in-laws to post on Facebook, but you also were spared a bunch of awkward conversations, backhanded compliments, and most likely being made to feel like a lot less than you're really worth.  You deserve to do things on your terms.  And for once that doesn't have to include anyone yelling at you; telling you all the things you messed up; shaming your job, or your weight, or your partner, or your house.  No fighting, no guilt-tripping, no violence.  You get to redefine what this Christmas/Hanukkah/etc means to you.  You get to rewrite what your New Years Eve will look like.  You also get to start a fresh new year!  And, guess what.  Good news is you don’t have to wait for a new year to start living for, and honoring, you.  START RIGHT NOW!  Make new memories.  Meaningful ones.  So many new ones you can't even keep track!
 

5.)  Celebrate every small victory. 

    This shizz is hard.  It's tough, tough stuff.  It is so hard to know what the right decision is at any given moment.  And you’re not gonna get ‘em all right.  …you just aren’t.  But for each and every thing you accomplish, celebrate it! Acknowledging the toxic people in your life is a big step for many of you.  Letting yourself even temporarily *consider* that not seeing them this year is even an option may also be the biggest step you’ve ever made.  Asking yourself the hard questions, acknowledging your needs along with anticipating others' intentions, signing off of social media, and tuning out any of the guilting messages around you — these are HUGE steps.  And for many of you, this year will be the very first in taking any of them.  For each and every single boundary you set, and every last one you stand strong in keeping— CELEBRATE IT!  You are doing things most can’t even imagine conquering amidst all the other hustle and bustle of the season.  Your heartstrings are so tangled up and confused and they just don’t know what’s good or bad or sideways sometimes.  And none of that is your fault.  It’s not as simple as knowing your family can be toxic and just staying away.  It’s not even CLOSE to that simplistic!  Setting boundaries is one of the most critical, most difficult, and most powerful steps in a trauma survivor’s life.  Doing so with toxic and/or abusive family members is Next Level, Achievement Unlocked kind of strength.  And, we’re right behind you 110%. For each baby step and large victory you make along the way,  know that we’re also cheering with you as you take each moment to celebrate these successes yourself.  Because it’s just that important. :)

 

    So, this holiday season, please know that you are not truly alone in this - even when it feels like it. We are here.  And there are tons of others just like you, sitting with these exact same heavy feelings, and possibly a hefty dose of envy that they don’t get to have the same easy joy the rest of the world gets to have.  They’re making these same kinds of hard decisions, going back and forth staring endlessly into their phones, lamenting over what the right call is to make, too.  And, some of you might have to face unsafe or toxic people against your will, just because the circumstances have made it so.  We know this, are pained for you over this.  We extend our deepest amounts of compassion to you.  Please know that you are in our hearts and that we are sending you all the safety nets and love that exist for you.  For others, you will have decided that this is the year you are choosing to say yes to family members again.  And if you feel you’ve come to that decision earnestly and not out of the expectations a traumatized, young version of you feels obligated to meet - then you have our full support.  We applaud the strength you’ve gathered in yourself to get to this place in your healing.  For the rest of you who are saying NO to toxic/abusive family members?  You deserve all the praise and love and support there is to go around!  You should be so so proud of yourselves.  All of you.  Getting through this season at all?  Fighting the good fight?  It's worth its weight in gold, no matter what the fight actually looks like. :)

    In closing, we know this is an incredibly tough time of year for so many more reasons than just these. We’ve even made a guide to surviving the holidays with C-PTSD that tackles the other ways this season can be far too much to take.  We encourage you to read that (or read it again!) just to recharge yourself.  That way you can feel as if you're able to head into these upcoming weeks with a clear head, a bundle of deep breaths, and a game plan to guide you through.  We are thinking of you and sending our utmost compassion out to all survivors everywhere.  And we're asking others to do the same!  May you never feel forgotten or unseen.  And, may your holidays be safe, and wonderful, and special to you.

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