Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Bringing Light Into Darkness: The Christmas Tradition of Light, Charity and Fun

Posted: December 17, 2017, 8:43 pm

Traditionally Christmas began as a way to bring light into darkness, to use ritual to provide a sense of warmth and plenty in a period that was otherwise cold and sparse. Pulling together around a burning hearth and celebrating was, at its very base, a way of maintaining a sense of warmth and wellness, of warding off the doldrums that a long, cold winter could bring. Though often referred to as having pagan roots, the human needs that Christmas addresses attest to the psychological and emotional sensitivity of older cultures and their understanding of the benefits of ritual, celebration and community. In the absence of light from the sun, people found a way to come together and generate another kind of light, a light of the spirit.

So what are the salient components of this kind of ritual that we can not only celebrate during the holidays, but learn to bring into our lives throughout the rest of the year? From a modern perspective, the holidays provide the psychological lift gained from resourcing within the community and affirming a positive sense of connection. Of huddling together for warmth both for the body and the spirit.

In our modern era we put great emphasis on self examination and reflection as a way of dealing with emotional problems but a look at how the druids might have dealt with basically these same issues reminds us that community, attitude, ritual and creating positive circumstances amid challenging ones, can have a powerful impact on how we feel. Ronald Hutton an historian at Bristol University in the United Kingdom. He suggests there are three themes running through these holidays, those of light, charity and fun and that each one of these has very practical roots. So let’s take them one by one.

Light

On the practical side Christmas dates from a time of year when days were shorter and darker and when food was rationed so that it would last all the way through a long winter. The darkness frankly got to people as would have the lack of easy mobility and the nourishment and comfort of food. The festival says Hutton, “depends on certain basic human needs. One is the obvious: for light, warmth, greenery and merrymaking in the darkest, coldest and most dismal time of the year.” Christmas is an excuse to light candles, gather around a blazing and equally importantly, warm fire. Long before the Christmas tree it was in vogue “holy and ivy”was brought indoors as decoration and a reminder of the plush greenery that surrounds us when the sun shines longer. And the word “gather” is of particular importance throughout all of these themes, Christmas is synonymous with community and having meaningful relationships, according to current research, helps us do everything from reduce disease to live a longer life.

Charity

And then there is the need for extra charity for those less fortunate. In medieval times this charity was designed to help those in need to survive the long winter. For them, watching others feast and celebrate while their bellies were empty would have been painful. And for those enjoying plenty it wouldn’t have wise given that people lived year round in close proximity, helping your neighbor was better for the health of the whole community. And there are other benefits to charity recognized intuitively in medieval times that have also been borne out by modern day research.

“Our findings”, says Donald Moynihan lead researcher, “make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.” Reflecting on being generous one study finds, makes us want to keep a cycle of generosity going because we feel better about ourselves when seeing ourselves in this light.”

Another review of 40 studies on the effect of volunteering on overall health and well being was published in the journal BMC Public Health. It found that volunteering extends beyond making us feel good about ourselves and our lives, it is also linked with decreased depression and a lower risk of dying early.

“From the time that evidence survives,” continues Hutton, “midwinter was a great time for the giving of food, drink or money to the less fortunate. In the Middle Ages people known as hogglers or hognels in each parish would often volunteer to collect and distribute them. In addition, poor women and children would go from door to door asking for such gifts, a custom known, according to your region, as Thomasing, gooding or mumping. The fitter men from the poorer families would visit their wealthier neighbors with plays, dances or songs, and earn the goodies in return; that is why customs such as mummers’ plays, sword dances and carols are so important at this time.” Now we see a picture of a celebration with true personal and social roots taking shape.

Fun

Hutton further describes the winter as a time when thieves and robbers stayed home and law abiding family folk could relax and renew their energy in relative peace, they could do what I, as a born Minnesotan, like to think of hibernating and recharging my batteries. But as a psychodramatist who uses role play as a form of healing his next point is of particular interest to me. As part of the gaming and relief that winter brought, “masters and mistresses could pretend to be servants, the greatest churchmen give up their places to the most humble, and schoolteachers do the will of their pupils. It is traditionally the time of the Lord of Misrule, the Boy Bishop and the Feast of Fools. In our more democratic age, there is less need for such role-reversals …None the less, the paper crowns and silly jokes in the crackers are a modern reminder that it is the festival in which to stop taking the world so seriously.”

J.L. Moreno, father of psychodrama used this principal in all of his work. When hired to improve hospital staff dynamics for example, he had the workers reverse roles for a short time with each other. Nurses became janitors, doctors nurses and so forth. He was not only doing the obvious thing of creating empathy but also, by playing roles one didn’t normally play, providing what is known in our trade as “role relief”. Vacations do this, tired moms get to feel pampered and reminded that they do, in fact have their own likes and dislikes, their own personalities. Worn out professionals leave their work behind for a week and get up to other things.

The millennials seem to have intuitively addressed this in the ease with which men now do household or childcare tasks and women bring home the bacon. Theoretically according to role play theory, this should enhance a sense of spontaneity and creativity that will generalize to other roles as well as enhancing mental, emotional and behavioral flexibility. Expanding our “repertoire of roles” is central to our emotional health says Moreno. Moving in and out of roles gives people a feeling of not being stuck, of feeling energized and “relieved” of the burden of rote behavior.

So this holiday season take on a new role, try on behaviors that are different or if you’re really adventurous, reverse roles for a few moments and see what comes out of it. And make a toast to those you love and tell them why you love them, say a prayer of praise and appreciation with your families, sing songs, play and affirm the joys not only of the season, but of the sustaining beauty of family, friends and community.

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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 17, 2017.

What Women Don’t Like and Why: Is it Closeness or Coercion?

Posted: December 14, 2017, 10:28 pm

What Women Don’t Like and Why: Is it Closeness or Coercion?

Sexual coercion is confusing for women. We are wired by nature to read and respond, to interpret facial expressions and gestures, to pick up on moods, expectations and intensions of others. Evolution has selected and reinforced these traits in females so that we can better preform our job as mothers. This is our biological mandate. Without this fine tuning, this ability to perceive needs and desires almost instantaneously, our babies and children would not have survived and thrived. This strange and almost mysterious faculty that women have, has been understood throughout history and is often referred to as “women’s intuition”. It is a trait that women count on and that often men do as well. For women who are in a caring and loving relationship with another human being, this can open the door to satisfying and lasting intimacy and men too can and do learn from it. A caring partner often recognizes this feminine trait and values it.

In motherhood, this sixth sense as it were, is relied on by children for their very survival and indeed when a mother is not attuned, when she cannot read what her helpless and vulnerable baby is trying to tell her, the baby can carry the scars of that for life.

Because of this inborn capacity to decode the signals of others and respond accordingly women, we that is, get confused when we are being subtly coerced. Our deepest selves are telling us to respond in an attuned manner, there is a strong pull within us to accommodate. So we experience a conflict, “do I do what comes naturally and literally go with the flow or is something off base in this covert command I am sensing”? You see the conundrum taking shape before you. Afterall we as women are wired to read silent signals, we are wired to read gestures that have no words, so when we’re being silently seduced our brains and bodies go into a deep process of response in which we’re unconsciously trying to match or interpret what’s coming towards us. This is how and why women sometimes feel complicitous in these cases of sexual coercion, we feel that we have participated. And we ask ourselves, did I do something, too?

And then there is the touch itself. When human beings touch, whether it’s a pat on the back or an embrace oxytocin, that body chemical that makes us feel warm, connected and cozy gets released which makes us want to get more warm and cozy. The whole idea of “good touch” and “bad touch” in a way flies in the face of this. We crave touch in fact, without it our immune systems cannot function properly.Touch nature says not only feels right, but is necessary for our survival, babies cannot talk or understand words but they respond to our touch and the cooing and pleasant sounds of our voice. So we’re wired for this too, to enjoy touch and what psychologists refer to as “cooing” and “wooing” tones. More confusion. More having to go against the dictates of our bodies and minds.

Here we are as women, caught in an evolutionary bind that is sending us in two directions. Our feminine selves are telling us to read, respond and connect, to feel warm inside, but our fight/flight scan for danger selves, also wired into us by nature, are (hopefully) telling us to be afraid.

What happens from here is based on the individual and their history, training and personality.

For the little girl who has been empowered to listen to and respect her own feelings, there may be the learned ability and developed sense and solidity of self to move away from what she senses to be smarmy and slimy.

For the little girl who has been taught to override her own feelings and inclinations and do what she is told to do by those in authority, no matter what it feels like to her, the path is less clear and distinct. She may find herself denying and rewriting what is going on before her eyes, just as she was taught to do. She may feel she needs to go along with what is happening no matter how it feels to her.

When we’re caught in this space, we cannot tease out the subtle nuances of interpersonal interactions, process our own feelings and separate them from the expectations and insinuations of others. We cannot grab a hold of our sense of self while in the presence of someone we feel out-powers us, long enough to understand what we actually feel about it. We get caught in an emotional, physiological and psychological maelstrom that we cannot get clear of long enough to form any sort of clear strategy. And to complicate this moment even further, the more scared we feel the more immobilized we may become. And this is important. One of the direct results of feeling terrified according to Bessel van der Kolk, world renouned expert in PTSD, is that our thinking mind shuts down when we’re very stressed and scared or when we’re terrified. Our limbic system which processes our flight/flight instincts (and by the way our instincts to bond and respond) goes into high gear. But when we can do neither, when the door is shut and we’ll lose the fight, we freeze. Being backed into a corner by an insistent, aroused, powerful man who is much stronger than we are, is a very scary thing for a woman. Add to that, that they may hold our livelihood or career in their hands and it gets even more complex and threatening.

Predators know this and they use it.

They sense it like animals in the wild and they behave like animals.

The climate that has so recently come upon us in which men are actually being held accountable for what has historically been ignored, has all of our heads reeling. Women are coming out of the woodwork with stories, as a friend of mine said recently, “I think in a room of women if someone asked if we have stories about some form of sexual coercion, every hand would go up.” And while we’re understanding our perpetrators, it behooves us to try to understand ourselves so that we can learn to tell the difference between what is good for us, nourishing and sustaining and what is not. And also so that we can tell apart what is despicable behavior that should be called on the carpet and immature, stupid behavior that needs to be cleaned up. So that we react and lead compassionately, as well as with new empowerment.


What Women Don’t Like and Why: Is it Closeness or Coercion? was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Being Greek Food Rituals Were Everything!

Posted: November 2, 2017, 8:08 pm
Arni me Fasolia

My father’s and my favorite dish was lamb and green beans, “arni fasolia” in Greek which is what we called it. My father would take me into the kitchen if he’d made it and give me a spoon to taste immediately, we always thought it was our best try ever. And it always was. As I grew up he’d take me to restaurant suppliers deep in the unvisited areas of Minneapolis where we could get fresh vegetables, meat and fish like cod or squid. Then we’d go home and he would show me how to make it.

When my parents divorced and my father moved to Florida the first time I visited him he had made arni fasolia. Suddenly that strange kitchen seemed familiar, suddenly we were there.

I made arni fasolia for my family regularly. It was part of my building and entering my own family, passing down what meant love and intimacy. My children are married now and have their own children. The first time my son and daughter in law had us for dinner since they became parents my son made arni fasolia.

I had made it for them growing up, it was part of my entering into a family, my family, part of feeling close. I am not at all sure how the meaning of that food passed down to my children but it did, we never talked about those stories. But they understood its special place, they felt all that it carried.

The food rituals from my growing up years fall into categories. American and Greek. American consisted of chocolate chip cookies, brownies and occasionally, popovers and pop corn balls. We were all experts in all of these, the other American food that entered our house were made by whoever was working for us at any given time, my mother avoided cooking pretty much as much as possible. None the less, bagels, cream cheese, marmalade and hot coffee on the balcony was a ritual that our family loved, it was one of the few things my mother really loved making and so we all loved eating it, often for hours and hours.

Other than that, everything was Greek. My father was an excellent cook, he was “Mediterranean” before it was ever named, I grew up on olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, grilled fish, lamb and seared meat at high temperatures. We had restaurant equipment and we made smoothies, malts, fresh orange juice, all of it. And everything he cooked was an opportunity for me to learn not only how to cook, which he explained, but about him, about his childhood growing up on an island in Greece, about his career as a restaurateur.

My grandmother loved cooking for her family. She and “Poulie” (from the Greek Papouli) upsized when their children left home, they viewed their family as expanding rather than shrinking and they needed more space. They “built it and we came”, in numbers and all the time, their home was the second home for all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, we knew what was in every closet, drawer and certainly what was in the kitchen. And food was at the center of it. We ate lunch on Sundays at my grandmothers, it’s where we learned what it meant to be a family. To this day our cousins share the warmth that lived and breathed in that house, around that table, in that kitchen.

We always said the Lord’s Prayer in Greek before we ate and did the sign of the cross.If you’re Greek God is sort of laced into everything and especially food.And especially family. And life.

Grammie felt that she was a wonderful cook and we all agreed, I am not even sure that she was but she cared so much about what she made that it all tasted perfect. We could drop by her house unannounced any time and she could feed us, she always made extra dolmathes, horta or keftethes to freeze, just in case. And then there was the Sara Lee pound cake, vanilla ice cream and Hersey’s chocolate syrup. She always had something to give us, even coffee and a half a piece of toast at Grammie’s tasted great. The ritual was this. You came in, she kissed you, “hi Honey,” she never got our names straight though we each felt loved exactly and precisely for ourselves (or close enough, the spillover love felt great, too). So she asked us which thing we wanted. We sat in the kitchen while she made it. We went into the library and ate it on TV trays then she asked us how we were and she sat, spell bound (we all felt) while we told her. Monologues. When we took a breath she asked us another question. She laughed at our jokes, giggled at our stories and congratulated us for whatever we did that was good then reminded us to thank God for whatever it was because it was always a blessing and you should be grateful (then you’d get more). And food of some sort or another was always and I mean always the warm up, even if we didn’t eat it.

When my parents divorced and our house seemed to empty out in 18 months, we could still go to Grammies. I think that saved the day. Coffee and a half a piece of toast. And a place to be. A place to remember who I was, who we all were together, who we once were and were no longer, and who we could still become.And I became that and much more, I fullfilled their dreams and mine. And food, the love and laughter that surounded it set a template in my mind so strong that even when I thought I had lost so much, I found it all again, I filled in the grid, it was there all the time and I knew what to do, what to look for and what felt like family. And food was always part of it.


Being Greek Food Rituals Were Everything! was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Being Greek Food Rituals Were Everything!

Posted: October 28, 2017, 5:50 pm
Arni kai Fasolia

My father’s and my favorite dish was lamb and green beans, “arni fasolia” in Greek which is what we called it. My father would take me into the kitchen if he’d made it and give me a spoon to taste immediately, we always thought it was our best try ever. And it always was. As I grew up he’d take me to restaurant suppliers deep in the unvisited areas of Minneapolis where we could get fresh vegetables, meat and fish like cod or squid. Then we’d go home and he would show me how to make it.

When my parents divorced and my father moved to Florida the first time I visited him he had made arni fasolia. Suddenly that strange kitchen seemed familiar, suddenly we were there.

I made arni fasolia for my family regularly. It was part of my building and entering my own family, passing down what meant love and intimacy. My children are married now and have their own children. The first time my son and daughter in law had us for dinner since they became parents my son made arni fasolia.

I had made it for them growing up, it was part of my entering into a family, my family, part of feeling close. I am not at all sure how the meaning of that food passed down to my children but it did, we never talked about those stories. But they understood its special place, they felt all that it carried.

The food rituals from my growing up years fall into categories. American and Greek. American consisted of chocolate chip cookies, brownies and occasionally, popovers and pop corn balls. We were all experts in all of these, the other American foods that entered our house were made by whoever was working for us at any given time, my mother avoided cooking pretty much as much as possible. None the less, bagels, cream cheese, marmalade and hot coffee on the balcony was a ritual that our family all remembers fondly, it was one of the few things my mother really loved making and so we all loved eating it, often for hours and hours.My mother taught us, through this ritual, how to stretch breakfast into lunch, how to have fun together. And how to make endless and amusing conversation at the table, or to just eat and talk about how good it was and just what to combine to make it perfect!

Other than that, everything was Greek. My father was an excellent cook, he was “Mediterranean” before it was ever named, I grew up on olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, grilled fish, lamb and seared meat at high temperatures. We had restaurant equipment and we made smoothies, malts, fresh orange juice, all of it. And everything he cooked was an opportunity for me to learn not only how to cook, which he explained, but about him, about his childhood growing up on an island in Greece, about his career as a restaurateur.

My grandmother loved cooking for her family. She and “Poulie” (from the Greek Papouli) upsized when their children left home, they viewed their family as expanding rather than shrinking and they needed more space. They “built it and we came”, in numbers and all the time, their home was the second home for all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, we knew what was in every closet, drawer and certainly what was in the kitchen. And food was at the center of it. We ate lunch on Sundays at my grandmothers, it’s where we learned what it meant to be a family. To this day our cousins share the warmth that lived and breathed in that house, around that table, in that kitchen.

We always said the Lord’s Prayer in Greek before we ate and did the sign of the cross.If you’re Greek God is sort of laced into everything and especially food. And especially family. And life.

Grammie felt that she was a wonderful cook and we all agreed, I am not even sure that she was but she cared so much about what she made that it all tasted perfect. We could drop by her house unannounced any time and she would feed us, she always made extra dolmathes, horta or keftethes to freeze, just in case. And then there was the Sara Lee pound cake, vanilla ice cream and Hersey’s chocolate syrup. She always had something to give us, even coffee and a half a piece of toast at Grammie’s tasted great. The ritual was this. You came in, she kissed you, “Hi Honey,” she never got our names straight though we each felt loved exactly and precisely for ourselves (or close enough, the spillover love felt great, too). So she asked us which thing we wanted. We sat in the kitchen while she made it. We went into the library and ate it on TV trays then she asked us how we were and she sat, spell bound (we all felt) while we told her. Monologues. When we took a breath she asked us another question. She laughed at our jokes, giggled at our stories and congratulated us for whatever we did that was good then reminded us to thank God for whatever it was because it was always a blessing and you should be grateful (then you’d get more). And food of some sort or another was always and I mean always the warm up, even if we didn’t eat it.

When my parents divorced and our house seemed to empty out in 18 months, we could still go to Grammie’s. I think that saved the day. Coffee and a half a piece of toast. And a place to be. A place to remember who I was, who we all were together, who we once were and were no longer, and who we could still become.And I became that and much more, I fullfilled their dreams and mine. And food, the love and laughter that surounded it set a template in my mind so strong that even when I thought I had lost so much, I found it all again. I filled in the grid, it was there all the time and I knew what to do, what to look for and what felt like family. And food, food that smelled “delicious” that tasted “just right” was always part of it. Food that said a thousand things and taught so many lessons, the ritual of dreaming up, preparing, comparing and eating together.

Deep Work: Achieving Flow, Focus and Fulfillment in the Activities of Your Life

Posted: August 28, 2017, 12:42 am

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I began the practice of deep work in my twenties and since then it’s become increasingly a part of my life. Before becoming a psychologist I studied acting at Cal Arts and after that I became a Montessori teacher. Both of these, acting and teaching are creative endeavours and foster depth and focus. Maria Montessori felt that a child who was allowed to have an extended and uninterrupted “work period” as she liked to call it, would have subsequent work periods that were deeper, longer and even more effective and satisfying. Anyone who has paid attention to the way an engaged child sinks into their activities, understands the beauty of her theory, kids in this state are spellbinding, they have the concentration and sense of exploration of a scientist and the ancient, forever look in their eyes of someone in deep meditation.

When it comes to deep work, adults are a lot like kids, we call on those natural states that allows to stretch and do what is meaningful to us.

Next on the deep work front in my case became writing.

I began writing books when my children were young. That meant that I had to find extra hours of the day, come to understand my optimal times of high concentration and output and somehow manage them in a way that wasn’t stress inducing. I found being a mom gave me the motivation to be much more focused and efficient with my time, mostly becuase there was so little of it that was actually mine.

I am what’s known as a lark so getting up at dawn is no great effort for me. For fifteen years or so I followed this schedule. I woke up at 5:00 without an alarm having gone to bed at 9:00 or so. I made a cup of tea and went straight to work….although it didn’t really feel like work. It felt like a priviledge, like the flow state that Michalay Csilszentmihali of the University of Chicago refers to in his writings. And as his research found, I too would emerge from this time feeling rested, integrated and more whole.

Then I made breakfast and got the kids off to school, got dressed and went back to work till ten or eleven. At that point I took a break and usually walked in the park with a friend. After an hour I went back to work. I generally got in another couple of hours in before I needed to stop, move along with my day, change venues, do other work or whatever. I often came back for another “deep work” session in the afternoon but the work was different, I found editing was easier for me in the afternoon while the early hours were best for writing.

More Breaks….

Cooking was a break, a change of activity that was both practical as I could set up dinner and do something creative and food oriented, which is to say basic, yummy, satisfying. Shopping wasn’t bad either, errands in the neighborhood, but fun slightly self indulgent errands.

I started this pattern before email existed so that wasn’t an issue but today I try to minimize emails until after I have this first burst. I answer only the emails from countries like India or Rumania where the time difference is an issue and I keep them brief. If I were really smart I wouldn’t even check them to be perfectly honest.

This way of working has not only made optimal use of my best time of day for focusing, it has also given me somewhere to go that feels like me. Being a wife and mother and also a professional means that there are a lot of tasks in the day. Being a writer means that you can close the door (sort of Moms cannot ever really do that). But you can talk to the world from a very quiet, private space, you can sort of hide in plain sight. And if you like to be alone and quiet as I do, then it’s way to be that and still be moving your work life forward.

I am often asked how I can make myself sit down and write all these books and the question never really makes sense to me. If I had to make myself do it I wouldn’t write. I see writing as a great privilege, a communion with myself and the world. A way to sort through what it means to be human on both the micro and macro level.

I am also a psychodramatist, this is a role play method of healing that can be anything from interesting to downright remarkable. When I direct I enter a state that to me feels very Zen. One of the dictums of psychodrama is that the therapist/director is to follow the lead of the protagonist or the person doing a drama or role play. Essentially that means that the therapist’s head has to be present, that thinking is not the way to direct. All I can describe is that what I do is simply be present with no agendas. I am fully trained and have done literally thousands of these dramas so the techniques of the method are second nature to me. When I am asked to explain after a drama why I did what I did, I find it an effort to answer because the honest answer is “I am not altogether sure, it is just where the moment led me for a thousand different reasons that are too numerous to name.” What I experience when I direct a psychodrama is that flow state, I emerge from directing more alive and integrated even if it is someone else’s work. I think that the state of mind that I direct from is very deep and wide and truthfully hardly feels like my own. I suppose I could say it’s a sort of shared state but even that would feel too prescriptive. It simply is. I am engaged and challenged just enough to hold my interest but not so much that I feel anxious. I am aware that it is the protagonist who is doing the “time traveling” that is part of a role play like this and that I am both a sort of guide and follower and even a witness. It is certainly meaningful, a cherished look, carved out of time into one’s psyche, heart and mind. The requirements of the role or at least the role as I play it are that I stay in a neutral enough state so that I can do whatever seems necessary. Sometimes this is very active directing, sometimes it is simply standing by and holding the space and watching the work happen. It’s great practice for living, actually.

These two activities form the core of my professional life and they are both deep and as I enter them in an uninterupted manner over and over again in the course of my professional life, my capacity for deep work increases, just as Montessori theorized.

This is worth a watch from the man who discovered “Flow”.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness | TED …

And…

Recently I took a break from writing academic books and created an adult coloring book. If you’re looking for just a break…a change in activity and you want to feel your hand moving color around a page….try this…..

www.Amazon.com/books


Deep Work: Achieving Flow, Focus and Fulfillment in the Activities of Your Life was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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 www.huffingtonpost.com 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 www.huffingtonpost.com 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?

WORK ON BASIC TRUST

· 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.

BE BRAVE

· 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.”

MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS:

· 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

· 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.

BEWARE

· 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.

DETACH WITH LOVE

· 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.

· DEVELOP SKILLS TO CALM YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

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 www.nacoa.org

“You provide the heart: NACOA provides the help”

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com 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 www.huffingtonpost.com 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.”

REFERENCES

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.