Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Tied Up In Knots: The Anxiety of Living with Unresolved Grief

Posted: April 15, 2017, 7:35 pm

Grief that is out in the open, that is part of the natural cycle of life or one of life’s tragic circumstances has a dignity to it. The person experiencing a loss feels that they have a right to grieve and to accept caring and attention from those they love. However the kinds of losses that accompany issues such as addiction do not necessarily command the respect of others nor does the person experiencing the loss necessarily feel a right to the support they long for.

But there is another kind of loss that we need to attend to as well, one that is less easy to see, that also needs mourning. The loss of self. The losses that so often accompany addiction whether from being an addict or living with addiction roll out from year to year in a never ending cycle, they lack a clear beginning, middle and end. These are losses that may have been buried under years of denial and obfuscation, losses that went unrecognized, that became disenfranchised or thrown out of conscious awareness. In addition to a loss of self might be a loss of safety, of a comfortable childhood or the feeling that we were seen and heard by those we depended upon. A loss of the space held safe in which to grow up. In these cases people may be at risk for acting out pain that they do not properly see themselves, not necessarily because they refuse to acknowledge it, but because their feelings surrounding these almost invisable losses are so confusing and difficult to find and feel. They have been neatly hidden under days gone by, the child who was not seen or listened to becomes the adult who cannot see or hear himself.

Addiction and Grief

People abusing substances have been able to medicate pain associated with grief, often for periods of many years. In sobriety, losses that went ungrieved, that were numbed through self-medication rather than felt, understood and integrated, will inevitably surface. Furthermore, the feelings they arouse will be confusing because they may reach back for years, even decades, in the life of the addict or recovering person. Without the coping strategy of self-medication, the sober addict will need to summon the strength to live through the pain that previously felt like too much to tolerate.

Addiction itself, along with codependency, carries much grief and loss in it’s wake. Grief is widely accepted as an issue that needs to be addressed during recovery from either. Oftentimes, treatment programs get legitimately concerned that addressing powerful issues of grief could undermine sobriety. However not addressing them opens the door to relapse when they eventually do emerge. Some awareness and understanding of the grief process can actually normalize grief so that when it does come up it is somewhat less derailing.

Because the addict has relied on a substance to manage their emotions and their inner world, they may have trouble mourning, they have removed their substance and will likely feel pain much more intensely, pain that they have previously managed synthetically can become overwhelming its raw and unerving form. And their issues may be complex and thorny. They may need to grieve, for example, the life they have lost through addiction, the lost time, the lost years that they could have devoted to getting their lives in order or the pain that they have caused those they love. And they may well be grieving these issues with a weakened or underveloped set of psychological and emotional tools.

A Powerful Combo: When the Past and the Present Crossover

Those who are in recovery for addiction, codependency or PTSD, can be especially vulnerable to becoming symptomatic around current life losses when they carry painful histories. When a current loss triggers emotional states from previous losses mourning can become what is known in the vernacular as “complicated”, that is unresolved pain from losses that occurred in the past gets stirred up and it leaks and seeps into the current life loss making feelings more intense and confusing than they might otherwise be. Soldiers for example are more likely to develop PTSD if they have previous histories of traumatization say within their family or community.

“One of the pervading symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder disorder (PTSD) both in soldiers and those who have experienced some form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect or living with addiction, is the desire to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol,’ says Bessel van der Kolk, expert on PTSD. This means that someone who has experienced trauma in childhood and used substances as a mood regulator because their own skills of self regulation felt compromised, may be recovering both from PTSD and addiction when they give up their substance or compulsive behavior. Sex addicts who are reenacting their victimization from childhood sexual abuse for example, by acting out sexually as adults, may need to deal with the pain from both as they recover. Similarly ACOAs who were traumatized by living with parental addiction and who themselves became addicts in order to manage that unconscious pain and resentment, will likely be dealing with both in recovery.

Some Warning Signs of Unresolved Grief

· Excessive guilt

· Excessive anger/sudden angry outbursts

· Recurring or long-lasting depression

· Caretaking behavior, displacing our unfelt sense of neediness or sadness onto someone else then setting about “fixing” in them what may need fixing in us.

· Self-mutilation

· Emotional numbness or constriction

· The desire to self medicate

Recognizing some of the behaviors listed above as connected to unresolved grief provides a way of dealing with them. Passing through the pain that has been the driver behind self destructive behaviors, really entering into a grief process not for a person who has died but the self who died or who went into hiding, is deeply freeing and healing. It is necessary. Simultaneously reigniting hope in a positive future and learning to rely on a strong recovery network is equally important in securing safe passage through this Stygian journey. But like so many things in recovery, the relief, excitement and even wonder in moving through pain, the joy of self understanding and the warmth of connecting with others makes many if not most “not regret nor wish to close the door” as we say in program, on the past that bought them to this new and more enlightened way of living and loving.

Originally published at on April 15, 2017.

Why We Grieve: The Importance of Mourning Loss

Posted: April 14, 2017, 1:45 pm

Grief is a life issue that strikes at the very heart of being human, while we live in a body, pair bond and procreate we will love and we will lose. The effect of loss can be shocking and dis-equilibrating and it needs a process of mourning or grieving to come to terms with. When loss is not accompanied with some sort of process that allows us to both feel and express our feelings of despair, vulnerability, disorientation and perhaps even relief, those emotions can go underground. But out of sight is not out of mind, they will come back to haunt us if we do not somehow find a way to accommodate and accept the loss that has taken place.

Rituals that address loss have long been built into the religions of the world. Whether a wailing wall, windows covered in black, ripped clothing, or overt crying and beating of the breast, the need to grieve is a recognized and encouraged phenomenon. Numerous religions involve rituals that are designed to trigger the grief process and eventually to mark it’s ending. Wearing black or a mourning arm band are ways of signaling the world that life is different and that the person who has experienced a loss needs special consideration for a period of time. But in our mobile, modern culture where physical distance is often a part of families and communities, and formal religion is less the center of people’s lives, we need to find alternative ways to acknowledge and process life changes and losses.

Grief has most often been associated with losses to death. But there are many kinds of losses, particularly as our life span has lengthened by more than three decades over the last century, that occur as part of a long life. In this series of articles on grief we’ll explore varieties of loss and their impact on the psyche and on our lives, including the particular types of losses that follow in the wake of addiction and dysfunction. We will also look at ways of handling loss, whether to death or disruption that mankind has developed intuitively over time and more recently through research.

Disenfranchised Loss

Some life losses do not get fully recognized and when this happens they become what is referred to in the grief vernacular as “disenfranchised”. Unlike a loss to death there is no funeral to acknowledge and honor the loss, no grave to visit, no covered dishes dropped at the door nor sitting in the company of fellow mourners and supporting each other through the tears. These losses live in unmarked graves within people and family systems who often avoid discussing them. The pain becomes covert rather than overt that is, unexamined feelings surrounding the loss may still affect us, but we may not be aware of the way in which they are impacting our lives and relationships. Some examples of disenfranchised losses are:

· The effects of divorce, on spouses, children and the family unit.

· Dysfunction in the home, loss of family life.

· Addiction, loss of periods of one’s life to using and abusing.

· Loss of the addictive substance or behavior.

· Loss of job, health, youth, children in the home, retirement, life transitions (if they trigger other losses or are overwhelming due to difficult circumstances they can be harder to handle).

The Stages of the Grieving Process

The stages that one can expect to pass through in the grieving process are laid out below. Loss here is defined as loss of a person, a part of the self, a period of life, or a situation/circumstance. I have adapted renowned psychiatrist John Bowlby’s stages and added a fifth stage that I have seen clients pass through when they can allow themselves to surrender to the process of grieving. Particularly when the grieving is of disenfranchised losses related to addiction, mental illness or dysfunction, clients can feel a new lease on life when they move through the stages of loss.

It is important to note that people’s feelings do not necessarily follow an exact course, but the stages offer an overall map of the emotional terrain covered during the process of grieving loss. The stages are:

Emotional numbness and shutdown. In this stage, we may go through a period of feeling emotionally numb. We know something happened but our feelings are shutdown and out of reach.

Yearning and searching. A yearning for the lost object (person, situation) and searching for it in other people, places and things mark this stage; ghosting, or the sense of a continuing presence of the lost person or feeling as if you are seeing them, may be part of this stage. There is deep yearning for what was lost–be it a stage of life, a part of the self, or a person–followed by searching for a way to replace it.

Disruption, anger and despair. In this stage, we may experience anger, despair and disappointment that comes and goes and is overwhelming at times. Many losses that have anger and resentment involved with them, can get complicated at this point. Ambivalent feelings may persist such as longing for the lost person or situation vs relief at its absence, or rage surrounding the loss vs despair and sadness. Sometimes for example it’s easier to feel the anger associated with the loss rather than the sadness beneath it because the sadness feels demeaning, confusing or makes us remember all that never got a chance to be and this too can become confusing and disorienting.

Reorganization and integration. In this stage we can talk about the loss without fear of sinking into it and never coming out. We’re able to actually experience the emotions connected with the loss, translate them into words and elevate them to a conscious level and thus integrate it into the overall context of our lives and ourselves. We can become mindful about our own inner world, aware of our own process which strengthens our ‘inner wittness” or the part of us that can actually watch our own mind and emotions. This is a natural stage of acceptance and letting go.

Reinvestment, spiritual growth and renewed commitment to life. In this stage, we come to believe in life’s intrinsic ability to repair and rebuild itself. We’re able to reinvest in life and relationships and to feel reasonably good about our future.

Though these stages appear in order, they do not necessarily occur in order, nor should they. We may find ourselves cycling through these stages over and over again, hovering between stages and even zig-zagging among them or skipping over some in favor of others. Whatever our process is, it will not generally look or feel tidy, in fact it is in entering what feels disorganized and messy that we may most fully plumb the depths of our own grief and emerge perhaps stronger and more confident of our ability to face what life deals us.

If we avoid or cannot move through some sort of grief/mourning process we may:

· Stay stuck in anger, pain and resentment.

· Get stuck in numbness, the first stage in the grief process, we may lose access to important parts of our inner, feeling world.

· Have trouble engaging in new relationships because we are constantly emotionally and psychologically “reliving”; we’re preoccupied with a person or situation no longer present, we have not, in other words processed the loss and moved through it.

· Project unfelt, unresolved grief onto other relationships or situations, placing unfelt and unacknowledged feelings of hurt, pain and/resentment where they do not belong.

· Lose personal history along with the un-mourned person or situation; a part of us dies, too.

· Carry deep fears of subsequent abandonment, betrayal or disillusionment.

Although mourning carries the scent of darkness and pain, it is also a time- honored path towards the light. The very vulnerability we feel along with the depth of emotion that is connected with mourning brings us in touch with our own and other’s humanity, it softens out hearts and opens our minds.

In our next article of this series we’ll look at complicated mourning or what happens when we are unable to pass through a process of natural and healthy grief.

Originally published at on April 3, 2017.

It’s COA Awareness Week: So Let’s Look Into What Happens to Children of Addiction When They Grow Up…

Posted: February 23, 2017, 3:55 pm

It’s COA Awareness Week: So Let’s Look Into What Happens to Children of Addiction When They Grow Up?

Tian Dayton Psychologist, author, specialist in addictions and relational trauma, psychodramatist

This post is hosted on the Huffington Post’s Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Much attention and most governmental funding streams have been and continue to be focused on the addict. The addict has the problem; the addict needs to get better. The country is still however, only beginning to catch on to the devastating and long-term impact that growing up with addiction has on children, and what that experience does to the most vulnerable and dependent among us.

Children of addiction (COAs), grow up carrying deep personal wounds and relational distortions that continue to impact their lives long after they leave home. They become grown-ups who look big on the outside but carry hurt little people inside of them. They become what is known in the vernacular as adult children of addiction or ACoAs. Remember the “inner child” work that was so popular in the eighties and even the nineties? It caught on like a grassfire because it called to these “inner children” and validated a sense of loss that they carried in silence and even secrecy.

One of the more mind-bending aspects of growing up with addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs or even some of the process addictions such as sex, work or eating is that reality becomes distorted. There is so much secrecy about the denied, shameful activities on the parent level, that kids start to question their own sense of reality. They don’t dare ask questions like, “is Dad drunk, is Mom’s constant eating normal, do all parents work so much that their children never see them, what is going on with Dad and these younger women” etc. Questions like this often lead to more denial that makes the child feel even more confused and crazy and they start to doubt their ability to comprehend “normal”. Kids see and sense one thing, but are told it is their imagination. Or they get into hot water for asking, they get told that they have “sharp tongues” or that they are “always looking for trouble”. Or worse, the damn breaks and there is, yet again, another fight. The focus goes off of the problem and onto the person who is trying to bring it up; namely, the questioning and perplexed child. The real issue gets denied and buried and in it’s place come a swarm of recriminations and obfuscations.

I interviewed Polly McCall, LCSW, an addiction specialist and individual and family therapist in New York City, who has been working with ACoA issues for over 30 years to get her clinical insights on the subject. Polly not only outlines the issues involved with ACoA recovery, she also gives some very useful advice on how to deal with them.

Tian: Why do COAs “guess at what normal is”?

Polly: “Kids sense that what is going on in their family is not good. But then they think that maybe it isn’t that bad or other adults would step in or their parents would do something about it. And they are very careful about getting angry as it is unclear what will happen — will things get worse? They can’t easily ask the kind of questions that would relieve their minds and give them information because they fear what might happen if they do. If you carry around a feeling of being abandoned by the parents you love and need and you’re rejection sensitive then you can’t ask those questions because you have to stay attached all costs. Even if it’s not a healthy attachment, it’s the only one you’ve got. So they stuff their feelings and the distortions continue because they don’t feel comfortable checking out what they are feeling and sensing with their parents.”

Tian: How does this anxiety manifest in their daily lives?

Polly: Kids begin to try to cure/change their parents by being super good kids — they become parentified. They take on family emotions and jobs they are too young to do, they try to fill in where their parents aren’t functioning well or they become little parents of siblings or even parents of their parents. So as adults they tend to try to over-please others. Both COA’s and ACOA’s may feel anger toward parents but often turn it toward themselves…they worry that they are inadequate or not good enough.

Tian: So what happens when these kids grow up and leave home?

Polly: Homes that feel unsafe make it difficult for kids to feel safe leaving. Often they stay over-attached and miss opportunities in the real world whether those opportunities are in the work world or the world of intimate relationships.

Also the distortions that are needed for alcoholic families to keep thinking things are ok, to maintain the “status quo”, make it very difficult when ACoAs move into the adult world and start to make decisions. ACOA’s struggle with whether or not they are seeing things right, they worry, “will I make the right decision”? They are not sure what normal really looks and feels like. And because of the “no talk” rule they worry that asking others even normal questions might be too aggressive, so they stay silent. They fear they’ll get in trouble the way they did as kids. If they ask for what they want or need, they question whether or not they are seeing things correctly or being too demanding.

Tian: How does this play out in their present?

Polly: Because ACOA’s kept trying to make their family well they need to be very careful when a situation in their current life brings up memories of the past so they don’t reenact them in their present. This is where “repetition compulsion” comes in. Are you playing out an emotional situation in your current adult life that mirrors how you were with your parents? This is an attempt to re-do — make right the original source of your pain, to try to correct it, “if only this person would do what I want, maybe this time”!

ACOA’s can have low tolerance in their adult lives for people who do not agree with them. They get angry, feel rejected and become more controlling. They believe control will help them, they’re angry they could not control their sad, chaotic, childhoods and their parents, which can be a real stumbling block.

Tian: A stumbling block when trying to have mature, comfortable relationships? Is this some of what gets triggered for ACoA’s in intimacy? And if so, how do you get over it since one of the characteristics of trauma is that the past is experienced as if it is happening right now!

Polly: Your parents disagreeing or not listening to you needs to be left in the past. ACoAs need to develop the capacity without getting anxious or fearful of listening to other’s ideas and agree to disagree when necessary. Learn to be flexible. Learn to accept that you might be wrong as we all are sometimes.

Tian: One of the characteristics of PTSD is that we remain glued psychologically and emotionally to problems from the past that feel unsolvable. Our mind keeps looking for a solution and feeling pain from the past as if it is still happening in the present. Consequently ACOA’s tend to be anxious and often have repetitive ruminations, we analyze, scrutinize and go over and over and over again, those relational dynamics that felt so confusing and painful. Our sense of hurt, helplessness and resentment gets intertwined and we get lost in our own circular thinking. We also project this unresolved and unconscious pain from the past into our relationships in the present, both intimate and non intimate, whether in work, politics or our own families. And we project it with an emotional stamp all over it that says “UNSOLVABLE” so we just keep engaging in and recreating emotional tangles that feel unsolvable. And some families carry their damage for a life time and have a hard time connecting with each other in comfortable ways as adult siblings and parents. Many ACoA’s manage to solve those problems within themselves and create happy lives, others do not, for those who stay stuck, why does this pain have such long lasting traction?

Polly: The brain stores memories particularly the painful or traumatic ones and they pass into the unconscious. But the brain does not know time or place, so as an adult a memory can be easily reactivated by experiences in life that are reminiscent of the original hurt.

The feelings I see most often in ACOA’s are:

· A sense of sadness and loss.

· Hunger for love and protection.

· They don’t trust what others say when they express affection. Because children love their mother or father, when the parents cannot return the love they need consistently because of addiction — the children have to somehow explain it to themselves. They often think they are at fault — they are unloveable.

· ACOA’s harbor a private shame around this sense being unlovable.

· As they move into the adult world they often feel helpless and alone. Alcoholic families did not talk, so ACoAs are reluctant to talk and ask questions and be pro-active. And they have a habit of managing pain on their own so they resist getting help from therapy and Alanon and suffer alone.

Tian: Can you summarize the advice you give to your clients as they move through these ACOA issues, Polly?


· ACOA’s have great trouble with basic trust. We hope kids will be raised in an atmosphere of trust but ACOA’s generally aren’t. You note that something is upsetting — your parent disagrees. You say Mommy is drunk — your parent disagrees (she is just sick, tired, stressed out). So kids develop the idea that sometimes you can trust and other times you can’t and also that your observations are confusing. Nobody can trust 100% but closing down in fear will mean a life of little intimacy.


· Learn to ask questions particularly in the workplace if you don’t understand something. ACOA’s often see questioning as aggressive. It is not. They are just questions. Kids learn by asking questions and you were most probably not given that opportunity. Ask questions of partners in a respectful way.

· Talking and resolving conflict is the hallmark of a good relationship. Practice, practice, practice.”


· Try to examine all sides of a decision. Try to talk it over with someone. ACOA’s need to learn that no human makes a right decision each time. Learn to deal with the anxious feelings that trail and error produce. Time and practice will free you from alcoholic family fears and distortions and will give you confidence in the process.


· Don’t act out: Try very hard not to get rid of the fear or anxiety with a compulsive action: overeating, overspending, sex, drinking. Instead work it through, learn to tolerate some emotional pain. It will pass; breathe, meditate, exercise or talk it through. You are not the helpless fearful child you once were.


· Check along the way whether you are becoming an alcoholic. Every ACOA I have ever had in therapy has said…”I would never drink like my mother or father…I hated their alcoholism and it caused great damage to my life” . ACOA’s believe this revulsion will keep them safe…WRONG. I said that too and went on to be a much worse alcoholic than my mother. Whatever decade you are in, if you are genetically loaded , you must keep your drinking under close supervision and maintain total honesty around it. Chart your drinking year to year. Have 2 glasses of wine become 4? We don’t know when the switch will flip and you may begin to crave alcohol. Accept that you are not a normal drinker because of genes. Watch very carefully that your alcoholism has not been activated.

· One of the best things an ACOA can do is drink very little (includes other drugs too). Limit your use. Don’t relay on alcohol to enjoy parties, or have good sex or to feel confident.


· It is essential and the ultimate freedom to realize that your parents are “hopeless”. By that I mean they may never be able to change to fully connect with you in a way that would fill the hole you feel. In dealing with this, first look at the rage that produces inside of you — feeling helpless and unable to get your parents to change. If you can accept that they can’t or won’t and LET GO, if you can stop saying in other words “if I were better or if I said it differently they could change” you will get some relief and emotional detachment. Accept the REALITY — they could not do it….they could not meet many of the needs of you as a child. Let it go. You were probably a wonderful kid and your parents were too distracted by addiction or their own problems to be really connected and empathic to your needs. Figure out how to understand that hole in your heart and fill it with love of self and commitment to want to trust and love another.

· Alanon is a great help in letting go and detaching with love, the people in those rooms have gleaned wisdom over three quarters of a century of learning and growing. Accepting the reality. Moving on. So is therapy — find a therapist who understands the alcoholic family and start talking about yourself and your feelings.


Breathe: learn to do a deep breathing technique when anxious — here is a really good one that WORKS

Inhale thru the nose for a count of 4

Exhale through the mouth for a count of 8

Repeat 4 times to start

Later you can do a few cycles of 4 times

Meditate and become mindful: Learn to meditate so if earlier trauma comes up you can at least calm your brain and body down. Then analyze what set off your fear.

Tian: Any last thoughts?

Polly: Being an ACOA is a lifetime journey, by understanding what happened to you in your family of origin and that you are out of that place and able to see reality and to cope, you can get free of a painful legacy. Bad feeling will pop up as the brain does not know time and place and trauma gets reactivated. But you can develop “decoding tools”. I call it “taking the hit” and then figuring out how to cope using your new tools. You develop the power to understand. The effect of these “hits” will diminish over time, and you are prepared to deal with them when they do arise.

Share these reactivated moments of fear or rejection with a friend or partner. Do not let them twirl around inside or suffer in silence. Let them go.

And there is great hope! Know yourself, know your talents, what you like to do. Know what being in your family produced for you emotionally and MOVE ON. Deal with reality. Don’t deny feelings or push them inside. YOU can still have a really nice, open loving life even if your parents were not or are not able to have one, or to fully appreciate you, or to move into sobriety. GRAB LIFE!

To learn more visit NACoA at

“You provide the heart: NACOA provides the help”

Originally published at on February 9, 2017.

It’s COA Awareness Week: So Let’s Look Into What Happens to Children of Addiction When They Grow Up… was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Children Learn What They Live -The Recovery Version

Posted: February 22, 2017, 8:25 pm

It’s COA Awareness Week (Children of Addiction)

If children live with parents who are high,

They learn that people are unpredictable and unreliable.

If children live with denial,

They learn to mistrust what they feel and sense.

If children live with shame,

They learn to hide who they really are.

If children live with rage,

They learn to be afraid or act out themselves.

If children live with emotional abuse,

They learn to feel bad about who they are.

If children live with trauma,

They learn to become anxious and despondent.

If children live with addiction,

They learn to become addicts.

If children live with recovery,

They learn that people can change for the better.

If children live with parents who face their issues,

They learn their own problems can be overcome.

If children live with amends,

They learn to forgive.

If children live with peace in the home,

They learn to feel safe inside.

If children live with dependability,

They learn to trust.

If children live with honesty,

They learn to tell the truth.

If children live with emotional maturity,

They’re allowed to be children.

(Inspired by Dorothy Law Nolte PhD)

Originally published at on February 13, 2017.

Children Learn What They Live -The Recovery Version was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Healing Energy of the Women’s March

Posted: January 22, 2017, 6:34 pm

Why Taking Action Rather than Collapsing Helps to Heal the Trauma Response

Just after the election I write a blog “Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something” citing research on why action trumps (forgive the pun) passivity when it comes to feeling better after a disaster. In that article I quoted folks expressing the mood of the day…

“I feel as if my world just turned upside down”

“I feel disenfranchised”

“I am sick inside, feeling depressed, anxious and afraid”

“I feel like withdrawing into my house and not coming out”

By stark contrast, after yesterday’s Women’s March I have a very different set of quotes from those who participated:

“I haven’t felt this good in months” (Chicago)

“The feeling of power and hopefulness was amazing” (Washington DC)

“This is something we CAN DO, so we’re doing it and it feels good” (London)

“This is the first day since Trump was elected that I feel optimistic. What happened today around the world has been life-affirming…” (NYC)

“We’re letting our voices be heard” (Australia)

“This is very inspiring” (NYC)

So why does taking action, even if it does not have an assured result help?

To provide a scientific explanation of the action phenomenon, I refer again to this brilliant bit of observation by Bessel van der Kolk, expert on post traumatic stress from his trip with FEMA in 1989 to aid victims of Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico:

“I arrived in the middle of this devastation, and what I saw were lots and lots of people working with each other, actively putting their lives back together-carrying lumber, rebuilding houses and shops, cleaning up, repairing things. But the FEMA officials immediately told everybody to cease and desist until assorted bureaucracies could formally assess the damage, establish reimbursement formulas, and organize financial aid and loans. Everything came to a halt. People were suddenly forced to sit still in the middle of their disaster and do nothing,” van der Kolk remembers. “Very quickly, an enormous amount of violence broke out-rioting, looting, assault. All this energy mobilized by the disaster, which had gone into a flurry of rebuilding and recovery activity, now was turned on everybody else. It was one of the first times I saw very vividly how important it is for people to overcome their sense of helplessness after a trauma by actively doing something. Preventing people from moving when something terrible happens, that’s one of the things that makes trauma a trauma.” (Dayton 2015/2017)

Doing something to change the energy, to reignite a sense of agency, self respect and hope, and doing it with others, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. It shifts a sense of powerlessness toward a sense of empowerment.

Again I excerpt van der Kolk’s research from my previous article:

“The brain is an action organ and as it matures, it’s increasingly characterized by the formation of patterns and schemas geared to promoting action. People are physically organized to respond to things that happen to them with actions that change the situation.” But when people are traumatized, and can’t do anything to stop, reverse or correct it, “they freeze, explode, or engage in irrelevant actions. Then, to tame their disorganized, chaotic physiological systems, they start drinking, taking drugs, and engaging in violence-like the looting and assault that took place after Hurricane Hugo. If they can’t reestablish their physical efficacy as a biological organism and recreate a sense of safety, they often develop PTSD. (Wylie, 2004, p. 5) (Dayton 2015/2017)

We are beings designed by nature for movement and action. Collapsing into a state helplessness is not healthy. The state of mind that grew from the marches yesterday, by engaging in as Jane Austin puts it, “the healing waters of action” is helping to restore a sense of agency and hope.

One of my favorite readings on “Hope” is by Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.

“Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.

It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,
even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.”

Jane Austin regretted that “the healing waters of action” were often denied, due to social structures, to the women of her day.

This is no longer true.

In the words of a New York marcher…

“I feel a ray of hope ….all through the organizing of women.”


Dayton, T. (2015). Neuropsychodrama in the Treatment of Relational Trauma. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

Van der kolk B. (2004) The Limits of Talk, Wylie, New York.

The Healing Energy of the Women’s March was originally published in Indivisible Movement on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Great article, I completly agree….

Posted: January 8, 2017, 6:28 pm

Great article, I completly agree….

Go Where It’s Warm

Posted: January 3, 2017, 4:33 pm

How to Accomplish the Tasks of Your Day with Greater Ease and Creativity

My daughter says of the many (read: endless) pieces of advice I have given her, one that she really uses is to “go where it’s warm” i.e. choose the activity that you feel most like doing so that you will approach it with a kind of energy, acceptance and creativity rather than resistance. She uses this as an architect before tackling a pile of work and even in the way that she organizes the course of her day as a homemaker.

I am a psychologist with a specialty in psychodrama. I help people heal , grow, and explore their inner and outer worlds through the use of role play. One of the cardinal rules of role play is to do some sort of warming up process before entering into any “drama” that requires deep engagement. In much the same way as a dancer warms up their muscles before a performance, I help people warm up their emotional muscles so that their role play will go more smoothly and naturally. Or I teach them to become aware of when they are already warmed up, and to pay attention to what they are warmed up to do.

The theory is that people just do better, freer and more creative and spontaneous work or play for that matter if they are warmed up to the particular activity that they are doing.

So there are two issues here:

1. How do you become aware of where you are warmed up, what’s the feeling you’re looking for?

2. How do you get warmed up, if you’re not?

So for question #1 just become aware of that next activity that you have the most ease of entry towards, what’s nearest your hand, what to put it simply do you feel most like doing?

Answer #2 is more complex because how you warm up is very personal. For example, some people warm up to the morning with a cup of coffee and a check into the news, without it they don’t feel quite prepared for their day. Others meditate, some exercise, some have rituals that include a variety of things, such as stretches, tea, bathing and making up. Whatever your warm up is to the day, get to know it and value it as your way of entering your next activities.

Work undertakings have similar warm-ups. I am most warmed up to writing for example, when I wake up in the morning, as opposed to later in the day when I feel resistant to that same undertaking. My warm up to writing includes waking up and becoming aware of the day, looking out the window and feeling aware of being alive in a new day, I tune in on what is in my mind related to what I am about to write I then go into to the kitchen and prepare/steep a cup of tea. Next I go to my lap top and get cozy and comfortable, I take a couple of breaths, muse a little and start writing or culling through research that I have done the day before. If I am writing a book that first writing period may be half the day with different writing rhythms such a research and editing for the second half of the day. If I am writing an article or a blog, the period tends to be shorter. If I get distracted into other activities I can loose my richest writing period, when my ideas flow the most smoothly and easily. When my children were young I started writing at 5:00 am so that I was ready for a break when they needed to be gotten off to school. So part of my warm up came through years of necessity, if I wanted to do a lot of writing and have children it worked for me to go to bed early and get up early. These days I can play with that rhythm but I still find morning to be my prime writing time and my favorite way to warm up to my day. Writing has over the years become almost mixed together as my warm up to my day and my professional task.

As a psychodramatist we have a similar sort of ritual, we “check in” in the beginning of group so that people talk about what’s at the top of their mind and others can tune in on them. The check in is timed at three minutes tops, so it trains people to focus fast, to sift through what they most want everyone to know. The shortness of time makes them more choosey about what they want to share.

About now you are thinking, “yea but I don’t have choices as to what to do when etc, etc…” but having lived this philosophy for several decades now I suggest that you do. There are so many little choice points through out the day that in fact do allow you to put your work in order, in other words, even if you have “X” number of tasks to accomplish you can accomplish them in the order you choose. If you apply this thinking to your life this year or even this month there are a few things you might notice:

1. You will accomplish things more easily because you are not introducing the level of resistance that makes things tedious and unnecessarily hard.

2. You will bring more ease, creativity and spontaneity to your endeavors because you are “warmed up ‘ to doing them.

3. You will feel less frustrated throughout your day because you’re not jammed up in the kind of ruminating, resistance and ambivalence that being stuck where it’s cold generates.

So throw this concept into the back of your mind and play with it as this new year dawns, you may find, as my daughter has, that it will let you approach the activities of your life with more spontaneity, creativity and more of you!

Tips and Take Aways…..

Go where you feel like going, where your intuition takes you, where you feel already a little engaged…

1. Figure out your best warm up to a task OR

2. Start with the task you already feel most wormed up to…

Enjoy this process and above all MAKE IT YOUR OWN!

Go Where It’s Warm was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tian Dayton on Twitter

Posted: December 31, 2016, 11:47 pm

Tian Dayton on Twitter

Tian Dayton ‏@tian_dayton 5h5 hours ago

I just published “Good Night Year” …

Originally published at on December 31, 2016.

Good Night Year

Posted: December 31, 2016, 7:03 pm

Maybe the turn of the year gives us a lovely opportunity to de-clutter emotionally and psychologically, to look over the recent past and wonder about what we want to let go of so that we don’t carry an unnecessary cloud over the coming months. I am not suggesting that this is easy nor that it can be done by simply waving a magic wand or applying some sort of bumper sticker wisdom to a real life issue. But what I have learned is that a little grief can go a long way in freeing the spirit. So I am just suggesting that it’s OK to feel the pain surrounding something you feel you “should be over” as part of your emotional closet cleaning as you pass from one year to the next, to in fact welcome the opportunity to shed a few tears that you didn’t even know were there and feel a whole lot better for doing so.

Ancient religions have long had rituals designed to mark transitions of all kinds, birth, death and everything in between. So why not give yourself permission to own your own spirit this year? Why not deep clean, take “care of your soul” and keep it up to date and alive by moving through the real feelings that need moving through (only you know for sure!) and welcome the lightness and renewed sense of energy and purpose that will likely follow!

Over my thirty five year career as a psychologist I have gradually developed an expertise in trauma, more specifically relational trauma or the kinds of things we do to each other that really hurt and really last. One thing that has become ever so clear to me in treating relational trauma in all of its forms — from the rather invisible drip, drip, drip abuse of chronic criticism or neglect, to the more obvious forms such a physical and sexual abuse or addiction — is that grief is an important part of working through emotional and psychological pain. I am referring to that sort of pain that is the residue of big hurt, the kind that hangs out in your mind and heart and exerts a sort of low hum of discontent that you can’t quite shake.

It is also my observation that alongside acknowledging and grieving pain there is, in those clients who survive and thrive, a spontaneous sort of “gratitude list” that naturally emerges. When we truly grieve and let go of that kind of frozen pain that has us feeling bad, we experience feeling good, we can actually feel the pleasure that unfelt or unresolved pain was blocking. We’re less afraid of the contents of our inner world and we feel closer to ourselves!

Originally published at

Posted: December 21, 2016, 5:01 pm

Originally published at

There’s No Place like Home: How Unresolved Familial Trauma Can Emerge around the Holidays

Holidays are filled with expectations that challenge even normal, happy families; the sheer volume of extra activities and celebrations can be both exhilarating and exhausting. This is the season for reaffirming relational bonds and commemorating connection of all kinds.

But in contrast, family trauma is often characterized by a loss of connection. Because holidays stand for all that is filled with hope and togetherness, they can highlight what feels missing as well as what is there, making the gap between what is and what we wish were seem more pronounced. Words never spoken and feelings never felt can create a sense of estrangement from the core of what makes us tick as a family unit, particularly when there is an expectation to be in a holiday mood. And holidays are inevitably a time of imbibing, which for families that have dealt with addiction can add another layer of complication.

Comparing Our Insides with Other People’s Outsides

We’re all filled with images of the ideal or even the “normal” family approaching and during the holiday season. For most of us there’s a pressure to get together with family that there isn’t at other times of the year and more than that, a pressure to be happy, grateful, and filled with joy at the opportunity to be with those we love. But if those we love have been the source of some of the greatest pain in our lives, then this pressure can become devastating. The pressure we feel from the inside and the pressure we feel from the outside coalesce, creating a cauldron of emotions that can be difficult to manage. And dysfunctional families have often not developed good skills of self-regulation or relational regulation; they may experience the kinds of emotional mood swings and unmanageability that relational trauma kindles. Approaching the holiday season we may find ourselves trying to dispel memories of gatherings gone wrong, drunkenness, fights, doors slamming, and tears — disturbing recollections of festivities from the past that became explosive and painful.

We may carry this unsettling mix of emotions along with presents, ribbons, and bows into family events. We’re torn between the holiday we wish for and the one we fear might happen. We’re confused about why we’re afraid of the people we love so much. We don’t know what to do with the resentment we carry over the family pain that has gone unacknowledged and unexpressed, that is vibrating beneath the smiles we’re holding in place somewhere across the bottom halves of our faces. We may look like (or sort of like) we’re holiday happy, but we feel on the inside like a fractured, cubist period Picasso: all our parts are more or less there, but in all the wrong places. We can feel distorted on the inside, our inner world threatening to leak out sideways at the slightest provocation.

Or maybe we’re choosing not to reconnect with family at all and are dealing with feelings of estrangement, guilt, and perhaps even relief around that. Whatever our situation, the holidays can act as a powerful trigger for the kind of unresolved pain that, without treatment, passes from one generation seamlessly into the next, finding ever more veiled ways of coming out.

The Path of Pain

Relational trauma is not a one-time car accident; it isn’t a hurricane or an operation or something that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s about the twisting of our inner world that we have to do to adapt to those close to us who are not acting anything like normal, or the shapes we bend into to stay connected, when another part of us is dying to flee or fight or simply to curl up into a little ball and hide. These are the patterns of intimacy that we learn in our traumatized family and carry into subsequent, intimate relationships. We long to be close but fear being close all at the same time. We mistrust deep connection, having experienced too many times how it has led to so much pain and hurt. And this is what we walk in the door with at a family gathering: a longing to be close and have fun with those we love and an equal dread and frozenness around what might happen. It’s the elephant in the room, the secret that everyone knows, the holiday cheer and fear that hangs in the room and is picked up on by all present, even the children.

The hypervigilance that grows out of trauma makes us vulnerable to overreacting to things in the present that carry a pain-filled scent or overlay from the past. In other words, our fear of something going wrong might mean we over react to slights that we’d otherwise let pass by. Our mistrust, our waiting for the other shoe to drop can actually become the other shoe dropping. Resentments fill us with the kind of judgment that does not allow new energy to flow in, and it prejudices our perceptions of others. Pain that has not been processed, understood, and left in the past where it belongs develops an afterlife; it seeps into the underground relationships in the present, becoming a part of what fuels new and often distorted growth. The past and the present become a tangled mass within us, and there is a pull because of the repetitive tradition of holidays, to move back to our baseline of functioning, wherever we left it.

The Child Inside: From CoA to ACoA

Children make sense of the world and their family members with the equipment that they possess at any given moment along their developmental continuum. This phenomenon is part of the family story and when that story gets revisited around a holiday tree or table, family member can regress in the blink of an eye to that place inside them that is calling the loudest to a level of maturity that is not necessarily equivalent to their current age, but rather represents a maturational arrest caused by family trauma. In some ways children who are overchallenged by early adversity can become mature beyond their years — little adults functioning on behalf of parents who are dropping the ball. But there are other ways in which these same children have not had their gradual needs for nurturance and safety adequately met. They have had to grow up too fast and as a result they may have left significant parts of themselves behind. These forgotten childhood selves call to them on the inside, not in a voice that can be heard or even understood, but in a silent scream, a stage whisper, an invisible current of need and hurt that shoots through the atmosphere of a family gathering with the alacrity of an electrical storm. The sensation inside of family members can be both frightening and awesome. Frightening because they have all been here before and it ended badly, awesome because maybe this time someone will say the right thing instead of the wrong thing, maybe this time some magical deus ex machina will descend from the heavens and deliver, once and for all, an inspired resolution to this whole mess. Maybe it will make sense of why we, a family who loves each other, can have caused such consistent and overwhelming pain to those we are supposed to care about the most.

The holidays cast a spotlight on family dynamics that may be problematic, creating a heightened reality for all present. Holidays present a script, “be happy, love one another, connect,” but family members who carry buried and denied pain can experience themselves at these times like actors going through the motions, inauthentic, mouthing the words. There is an awkwardness that lingers in the air and a powerful but unrequited wish for something we feel we cannot have.

So the question is this: Do I recover myself and suffer the survivor’s guilt of getting healthy while the rest of the system is still mired in dysfunction? Or do I go down with the ship?

Perhaps there is a third path, a deep recognition that the family we love and want may not be the family we have, but that we can enter consciously where possible and without the almost magical expectation that things will be as we wish. Because ultimately healing this kind of pain has to be done person by person and the point of healing it is so that we do not pass it down unconsciously to another generation, so that we don’t let the pain of yesterday leak into and shape our relationships of today. To do this we need to take that beautiful and wise advice of the Twelve Step programs: “Detach with love.” Because any other way of detaching leaves us in pain and closes a door to healing that may or may not come in our families of origin, but can and will come in the families we create if we can let it.

Without rigorous help and dedication to recovery, traumatized families tend to live out legacies of pain, but this of course need not be the case. Help is always there if we can seek it out for ourselves and for our children. But first, we need to speak up about the great human rights crisis right in front of us: the millions of silently suffering children of alcohol and drug addicted parents. These children need and deserve better efforts from society to protect, support, and empower them. They are in our pediatric clinics, in our schools, on our sports teams, and in our religious communities. They are the children of our clients, who do not know that they are not alone, that they are not to blame for the chaos and sadness and chronic fear they feel every day in their homes.

These children can access the help that is available when the adults in their lives speak up and guide them to support groups in their schools, to a knowledgeable pediatrician, to the youth group in their church, to Alateen or to a caring recovering adult who will share the truth with them about addiction and who will help them understand that they and the whole family have a right to recover from the pain and anguish addiction has inflicted on them. In a civilized society the elders protect and support the young. It is time that we all step up and own our responsibility to the children right in front of us waiting for someone to say something that can help.

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