Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Stories by tian dayton PhD on Medium

Golden Moment Map

Posted: July 3, 2018, 4:48 pm

It’s Almost the 4th of July. In honor of our country’s independence and our emphasis on individual freedom, here is an exercise to do that explores a very happy and/or empowering moment in your life.

Here Goes……

Think of a moment in time when you felt just great about yourself and what was going on around you, where life felt easy and filled with pleasure and possibility.Make a little stick figure diagram or map of yourself and then your close relationships at that moment. Include pets and even organizations. If you don’t feel like an artist, use circles to represent women, triangles for men and squares for organizations. If people feel large and distant, reflect that or small and close, overlapped…whatever. Just for you to reflect on.

Sharing About A Golden Moment Map

Share about your golden moment in one of two ways, either reverse roles with yourself at the age you were at the time this golden moment occurred and share from that age, e.g. I am Soledad, I have just gotten a part in the play, my best friend is in it too, and at rehearsal today I remembered all my lines and everyone thought I did a great job!

OR share from the point of view of yourself today, e.g. I am Soledad and it makes me want to tear up to see myself as a kid so happy and whole because I know how things changed for me. But I admire myself as well because…..etc.

Golden Moment Journaling Questions

How does it feel to look at this map today? Share a little about that.

What do you see in yourself in this moment that you feel you might have lost or that you want back?

What resentment towards others are you aware of as you look at this moment?

What gratitude do you feel towards yourself or anyone else on this atom as you look at it trough your eyes of today?

What do you want to say to yourself on this atom knowing what you know today?

Write a Letter From Yourself, to Yourself

Reverse roles with yourself at the time of this atom and write a letter, from that age, as that child or younger self to yourself today.

Write a Letter From Your Adult Self to Your Child Self

From the mature person you are today, write a letter to the happy child within you who feels great about life.

The Trauma Timeline: A Journaling Exercise for Understanding the Impact of Relational Trauma in…

Posted: June 27, 2018, 1:16 pm

The Trauma Timeline: A Journaling Exercise for Understanding the Impact of Relational Trauma in Your Life

“The essence of psychological trauma is the loss of faith that there is order and continuity in life. Trauma occurs when one looses the sense of having a safe place to retreat within or outside of oneself to deal with frightening emotions or experiences.”

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD

Relational trauma can be a confusing issue to deal with, partly because it is cumulative, it is not one incident but many small attitudes, incidents and dynamics that span time. It’s easy to lose track of when something happened, how often it happened or what exactly it was that was painful, particular if the trauma was some form of neglect, emotional abuse or disinterest.Filling in a time line helps to make these issues and dynamics visable. It can also reveal which were significant incidents, which were ongoing dynamics and what periods felt relatively safe and happy.

Next to or within each five-year span write a few words that refer to some thing, some relationship dynamic, or some ongoing situation that you experienced as traumatic. Note: neglect can be traumatic as well as abuse, divorce in the family, addiction, siblings or parents leaving, accidents, hospitalizations, family illness, etc. . . . the idea here is to understand how you experienced it, not whether or not it fits some criteria as to what is formally called trauma.Write in whatever comes to mind in this catagory we’re discussing in the appropriate lines.

0 yrs _________________________________________________________________

5 yrs

___________________________________________________________________10 yrs ___________________________________________________________________15 yrs ___________________________________________________________________20 yrs ___________________________________________________________________25 yrs ___________________________________________________________________30 yrs ___________________________________________________________________35 yrs ___________________________________________________________________40 yrs ___________________________________________________________________45 yrs ___________________________________________________________________50 yrs ___________________________________________________________________55 yrs ___________________________________________________________________60 yrs ___________________________________________________________________65 yrs ___________________________________________________________________70 yrs ___________________________________________________________________75 yrs ___________________________________________________________________80 yrs ___________________________________________________________________85 yrs ___________________________________________________________________90 yrs ___________________________________________________________________95 yrs ___________________________________________________________________100 yrs ___________________________________________________________________

Answer the Following Questions:

What jumps out at you as significant when you look at your timeline?


___________________________________________________________________ What was a particularily difficult period in your life?


___________________________________________________________________What were the silver linings, what were the gifts of trauma?


___________________________________________________________________Were there periods that were relatively easy and good?


___________________________________________________________________What painful relational dynamics from the past are you still living out today?



Inner Child Work: Having an Inner Dialogue

Instructions: “Mentally reverse roles” with yourself anywhere along the Trauma Time Line continuum and write a journal entry speaking “as” that part of self, e.g., “I am Shahara, I am eight years old and I am” or “I am Hank, I am around thirteen and I just . . .” After you have completed your journal entry “answer back” from your “adult role” of today. In other words, begin a journaling dialogue between the two parts, your childhood self and your adult self and allow your adult to help your child or adolescent self learn to talk about your experience rather than hide it from your adult self and allow your adult self to listen to, support, and guide your child self.

CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .


ADULT ROLE: (Answering back to your child self from your adult self)

___________________________________________________________________CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .

___________________________________________________________________ADULT ROLE:

___________________________________________________________________CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .

___________________________________________________________________ADULT ROLE:


End this exercise by writing a few sentences to yourself as a child from where you are today, what you know now that you didn’t know then.







Process an Emotion On Line: Try a Creative Arts Therapy Approach

Posted: June 9, 2018, 8:57 pm


Emotion Explorer is an interactive site for processing emotions. I designed it to give people a place to go to process an emotion the minute they are feeling it. Emotion Explorer is a creative, interactive site that uses a series of exercises to identify, explore and process feelings. I’m keeping this simple for today, we’re using basically four steps. So sit back and relax, take a few deep breaths and have fun looing more deeply into a feeling!

Step #1

Click on this link and look over the feelings in the circle, take your time and choose a feeling that draws you at this moment.


Now you’re going to refine your search…..

look at the list of sub-feelings that popped up in your circle….do any of these feelings come closer to the feeling you’re experiencing right now? once you have found your feeling……just click on it…….


Next is the mood meter. The mood meter helps you to understand how much or ……
how little you are feeling something so that you can begin to regulate your feeling…..

would you say you’re

experiencing just a little, say 10% of a feeling…? is the feeling in balance for you at say 50%

or are you heading towards an extreme say 85% or 90% and on your way to getting overwhelmed?………grab the meter stick and slide it up or down……


Now ….we’re going to map your feeling…feelings often have memories, sensations, smells, sounds, scenes and situations associated with them….

Write a few words or phrases that refer to or describe your associations…e.g. “a blue patch of sky”, “my grandmother’s house”, “anxious about a test in english”. “sad that I missed so and so”, “a family dinner table”, “shopping with these friends on a sat. afternoon” and so forth…..


You are at a choice point, you can continue through as many exercises as you wish or you can stop now and continue to journal about what you have become aware of so far. If you journal simply begin by saying “I am aware of……” and let the words flow. Do not edit the words in your mind simply let them come out in any way that they come out. This is for your eyes only, no one is going to look at what you write unless you share it, the idea is to allow words to fall onto the paper without controlling them so that your thoughts and feelings pour out freely.


Take a few deep breaths. Take a break if you wish and read what you wrote later or read it now. Is there anything you notice that is a new awareness? Simply be aware of what you have learned, take a few more deep breaths.

Collage Your Mood

Posted: June 7, 2018, 1:12 pm

Feeling creative or like playing around with your mood? Collage it online with this moodcollage tool. Once you have the collage you like, take a screen shot of it and journal about these questions:

  1. Has my mood changed at all through collaging it and if so, in what ways?
  2. Does collaging my mood make it lighter or more conscious and if so what would you say about that?
  3. What parts of my collage pop out to me and why?
  4. What parts do I want to carry forward into my day?
  5. What parts do I want to change?
  6. What is the most positive light in which I can see my collage?

Hope you had fun…..pass it along….

Moodcollage online tool:

Collage Your Mood was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Frozen Tears: Processing Hidden Losses

Posted: May 30, 2018, 11:51 am

Grief is normal, it is a direct result of attachment and love. There is really no one-size-fits-all approach to grief but normal grief tends to follow a pattern whereas complicated or what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised losses, can go underground and truthfully never get processes at all. This is when grief becomes what is referred to as complicated and can block our enjoyment of life and even undermine our ability to be intimate.

Grief over losses that are disenfranchised or out of the normal stream can make us feel out of synch with the world around us, and can undermine a sense of normalcy and dignity. This tends to push pain and resentment downward rather than allowing it to come up and out.

Normal grief has a dignity that allows the griever the freedom to experience her emotions and feel accepted and understood by her surrounding communities.But hidden losses are a different story. Unlike with 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 hidden losses live in unmarked graves within people and family systems who often avoid discussing them. The pain becomes covert rather than overt. Processing these losses can allow us to make them real and visit them in the here and now. It provides an alternative form of ritual for the kinds of losses that all too often go unrecognized and unacknowledged.

When the loss begins to evidence symptoms of complication, that is, when a current loss triggers emotional states from previous losses and these triggered emotions leak out in ways that make us feel vulnerable or emerge as inappropriate anger, pain, depression or resentment, we may need to take a deeper look at what might be going on.

A surprisingly large number of life events go un-grieved and thus they become disenfranchised. Some examples of these losses are:

  • The effects of divorce, on spouses, children and the family unit.
  • Dysfunction in the home, loss of comfortable and predictable family life.
  • Addiction, loss of periods of one’s life to using and abusing.
  • Addiction in the home, the loss of a happy home life and the pain of watching a loved on slowly destroy themselves.
  • Loss of the addictive substance or behavior for an addict.
  • Loss of job, health, youth, children in the home, retirement, life transitions (if they trigger other losses or are overwhelming due to difficult circumstances).

If we cannot mourn these types of losses, we may:

  • Stay stuck in anger, pain and resentment.
  • Lose access to important parts of our inner, feeling world.
  • Have trouble engaging in new relationships because we are still actively linked with a person or situation no longer present.
  • Project unfelt, unresolved grief onto any situation, placing those feelings where they do not belong.
  • Lose personal history along with the unmourned person or situation; a part of us dies, too.
  • Carry deep fears of subsequent abandonment.

Grief Self Test

Think of a loss that you wish to explore. Rate your answers to the following questions from one-ten. (the following two exercises are excerpted from Emotional Sobriety Workbook )

1.To what degree do you experience unresolved emotions surrounding this loss?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. How disruptive was this loss to your daily routines?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. How much depression do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. How much yearning do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. How much emotional constriction do you experience?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

6. How much sadness do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

7. How much anger do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

8. How much ghosting (continued psychic presence) of the lost person, situation, or part of self do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

9. How much fear of the future do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10. How much trouble are you having organizing yourself?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

11. How uninterested in your life do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

12. How much old, unresolved grief is being activated and remembered as a result of this current issue?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

13. How tired do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

14. How much hope do you feel about your life and the future?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

15. How much regret do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

16. How much self-recrimination do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

17. How much shame or embarrassment do you feel?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Stages of the Grief Process

On a separate paper or tablet, write a few phrases or sentences that describe your feelings around each stage as they relate to the grief issue(s) that you are exploring.

  • Numbness and Shut Down (nature’s way of preserving us so that we can function) Describe the feelings that went on hold.
  • Yearning and Searching: Describe the feelings of longing for what was lost.
  • Disorganization and Despair: Describe ways in which your life may feel disorganized by your loss and any feelings of sadness or despair that you may be feeling because of that.
  • Reorganization and Integration: Describe ways in which you feel you are integrating your loss and moving on in your life.
  • Reinvestment: Describe ways in which you are reinvesting the freed up energy in your current life that you have as a result of having grieved.

We grieve because we love or because we’re attached and all of this is simply part of being human.Exploring your feelings around grief, whether it’s normal or disenfranchised grief can come as a great relief. If it makes you feel vulnerable, like taking a nap or doing something that feels soothing, it is working, simply relax and let go, these are just feelings and this too, shall pass.

If you wish to listen to a guided imagery in order to process pain and feel soothed around it, log onto and go to guided imageries. And then do something relaxing, soothing and kind to yourself!

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth

Posted: May 15, 2018, 6:58 pm

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth

If I had diagrammed my family when my children were young, well most any age really, had I been really honest I’d have made myself smaller than anyone else. What I learned through my own ACA/codependency recovery, was that if I kept doing that, I was not in fact serving my children nor myself nor my husband.

Trauma has the effect of shrinking us, we get hurt and we withdraw, we get scared and we shut down, we become emotionally constricted, we’re less present and less spontaneous.

Recovery wakes us up.

Waking up is not a totally smooth process because we’re waking up feelings and thinking that we shut down, maybe as kids or teenagers, because it was too much for us to feel at that time. But waking up eventually allows us to come to life and to recognize that we’re as important as our children and that when we shrink ourselves, we teach them, we model for them, particularily for our daughters, just how to do that when they become adults.

We love our children, so how do we learn to love them in a way that will show them how to love themselves and others; how to take their proper size in the relationships that they will develop in their own future?

Bringing anxiety, pain and fear into motherhood is a subtle thing. One of the ways that old pain rolls out through the next generation is through a phenomenon called projection, i.e. we project our unhealed, unconscious pain from OUR childhood onto our children’s childhood.

Here’s a process that I have developed over the past twenty years or so that’s simple and effective. It not only frees up the child from the grip of their parent’s old pain, it gives the parent, in this canse the mom, a second chance. As we say in recovery, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!” So be good to the child you have and the child that lives inside of you and try this exercise:

1. Identify an age in your children’s lives that is difficult for you, that tugs on something inside of you…. this often manifests as excessive worry for your child at that age, concern that something is amiss or will go wrong for them.

2. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself at that same age. What was going on around you? What was occurring in YOUR life at that age?

3. Feel the feelings that you felt then, think the thoughts that you thought then.

4. Now ask yourself, “is there something from this time in MY life that is making me extra anxious about this time in MY CHILD’S life? Am I projecting or even creating pain that is more about me than my child?

5. If the answer is “yes” then see if you can allow more memory to come up, more feelings, more thoughts; let a fuller picture emerge.

6. Now let yourself just sit with this awareness, you might feel some pain because if you shut something down it was likely because it hurt. You might feel some guilt because you realize that you’ve been putting your own pain on your kid. You might feel some confusion because stuff is coming up and dis-equilibrating you. You might feel some relief because it feels so good to connect the dots.

7. Now be good to yourself, don’t rush to your child to explain yourself, just sit with this new awareness and breathe through it, visualize comforting yourself at this age. Then take your own hand and let the adult in you, take the child in you, out of harm’s way.

8. OK now relax, rest if you can or just continue through your day and let this go, the awarenesses will continue to come, just let them and remember to be good to yourself and to breathe through the feelings.

Moms have a tough job and a beautiful one. One way that the journey of motherhood can become an awakening of self, is to pay attention to where you get triggered most frequently. Realize that what triggers you most intensely may be sending up a red flag marking the territory of your own childhood pain. Then do this little process. You might find that your children’s lives become the greatest catalyst for your own healing. Our love for our children makes us want to protect them from harm and even to protect them from our own darker sides. Let motherhood be the light that illuminates the child in you as you love and adore the child you have.

Happy Mother’s Day!

For further reading on codependency click here:

Mothering and Codependency: How to Let Your Child’s Life Be a Catalyst for Your Own Personal Growth was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

I could not agree with you more Brandy….I

Posted: May 11, 2018, 5:49 pm

I could not agree with you more Brandy….I hope lots of people read your comment….having had two children myself, I am shocked at the offer of opiates in this case…..….thank you for sharing your story!

The Trauma a Child Experiences When a Parent Passes Out

Posted: May 11, 2018, 5:32 pm

A tot's anguish: Video captures mom's apparent overdose at Family Dollar store

This is a video of an increasingly occurring, very heartbreaking scene.

A little girl is tugging on her mother who has passed out in the aisle of a dollar store. The “appropriate authorities” have been called and although those who called are looking on with care and concern, the little toddler is left comfortless, no one is acting on their human response to ease the pain of a child who is clearly in deep distress? So there are many questions here…..

· How could a mother who is responsible for a small child do drugs that have the potential to incapacitate her?

· And why have we mortgaged out our human response to help, to the proper authorities, to the exclusion of reaching out and comforting a child who is in such distress?

· What are we scared of? The answer is, PLENTY.

We are scared of being sued if we touch another human being, which is a legitimate fear in our litigious society.

We are scared of the raw truth of addiction and what it does to people.

Whether or not you believe addiction is a disease or an inability of a person to stop doing what is clearly doing harm, there is little doubt that once addicted, most addicts need help to clean up their lives. They simply cannot reach out from this devastated state and do something to help themselves. And yet, they eventually have to do just that, to take responsibility for the disease that is killing them and traumatizing everyone around them. And make no mistake about it, the shame that is heaped upon the mother (no attempt was made to blur her face) is carried also be the daughter.

Children live in the three feet surrounding their parent; what happens to the parent, happens to the child.

Many have criticized the store employees for filming the incident rather than caring for the child, others have asked if it is right for the police to share this video. But no matter how you slice it, this video, filmed by shocked employees and shared by worn out and desperate law enforcers is horrifying to look at. But we have to look at it in order to see the horror, accept it and do something about it.

The field I work in, the addictions field has spent over a decade sounding an alarm to doctors prescribing pain killers because so many who started out on pain meds wound up as addicts. Until you see what addiction really looks like and the utter heartbreak of watching a desperate, hurting child try to wake up a passed out parent, it is all to easy to turn your head.

But this little child is not uncommon. Those of us who grew up with addicted parents have all done this at one point or another, tried to rouse our passed out parents, cried plaintively and without comfort at a scene that shook us to our core.

This is what addiction looks like whether it’s the cocaine addicted hedge fund guy, the returning soldier self medicating PTSD with drugs, alcohol or pain meds, the mother who has left dinner burning in the oven while she is on pills, alcohol or both, the sibling who has gotten their other sibling to lie for them because he is high on street drugs….this is what addiction looks like in the best of homes and the worst, at fancy stores or local delis. This is what addiction looks like, whether it’s to alcohol, pain meds or street drugs.

So when you are tempted to turn your head, to blame the mother, to grab the child or to wonder why police would put this out, just look at it instead. Because this is what addiction looks like, and the reason everyone wants to criticize someone is because we feel so powerless in the face of it. And we all know at some level, that to blame the mother and call her bad, could make the child suffer even more. But to tell her everything will be fine is equally damaging, because everything certainly isn’t. And telling people not to film it or share it is joining the massive denial around what feels ugly and hopeless and terrifying about this scourge that is getting worse. Because this is what addiction looks like; and to be anywhere near it is to be saddened and just generally freaked out, and to feel that nothing you can do will be the right thing, is part of what anyone struggles with when faced with scenes like this. And this is not just in the toy aisle of the dollar store, it is in all of the homes where addicts are parents. Because this is what addiction looks like.

And the only way out is to see it for what it is and try, in any small way, to understand.

Building Strength and Resiliance through Facing and Dealing with Life’s Problems

Posted: May 3, 2018, 10:05 pm

Resilient qualities are not only what we’re born with but also the strengths that we build through encountering life’s challenges and developing the personal and interpersonal skills to meet them. It is one of life’s paradoxes that the worst circumstances can bring the best out of us. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies performed by Robert Anda (2006) and his team at Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, we will all experience four or more serious life stressors that may be traumatizing, and according to positive psychology research, most of us will grow from them.

What Do We Mean by Resilience?

Research on resilience used to view resilient qualities as residing exclusively within an individual. Today this research takes the more dynamic view of seeing resilience as an individual’s ability to mobilize supports within a social context. Wong and Wong (2012) write that “In the early days of resilience research, the focus was on ‘the invulnerable child,’ who did better than expected despite adversities and disadvantages . . . [D]evelopmental psychologists were interested in individual differences and the protective factors that contributed to the development of the invulnerable child”. Rutter, however, argues that “resilience may reside in the social context as much as within the individual” (Wong & Wong). “His concept of the ‘steeling’ effect highlights the essence of resilience — the more experience you have in overcoming adversities, the more resilient you will become” (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Wong and Wong propose that certain qualities of behavioral resilience can only be developed from the actual experience of having overcome adversities (Wong & Wong, 2012).

Additionally, they identify at least three prototypical patterns that resilient people appear to display, which may occur in different contexts for different individuals. These are developed as individuals meet life challenges; they are dynamic, constantly evolving qualities rather than qualities residing only within the individual.

  1. Recovery: bouncing back and returning to normal functioning
  2. Invulnerability: remaining relatively unscathed by the adversity or trauma
  3. Posttraumatic growth: bouncing back and becoming stronger (Wong & Wong, 2012, p. 588).

Our Deep Need to Connect: How Early Attachment Can Be Life Enhancing or Traumatizing

Our highest and most evolved system, our social engagement system, is activated through our deep urge to communicate and cooperate. From the moment of birth our mind-body reaches out toward our primary attachment figures to establish the kind of connection that will allow us to survive and find our footing in the world. We fall back on our more primitive systems of defense — such as fight, flight, or freeze — only when we fail to find a sense of resonance and safety in this connection (Porges, 2004).

The body of work that researchers Dan Siegel and Allan Schore have developed, which underlies interpersonal neurobiology, postulates that our skin does not define the boundaries of our beingness; from conception, we resonate in tune or out of tune with those around us (Schore, 1999). Through relational experiences that form and inform our sense of self and through our ability to be cared for and care about others, our capacity for empathy is formed and strengthened (Schore, 1999).

Neuroception, a term coined by Stephen Porges (2004), former Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes our innate ability to use intricate, meaning-laden, barely perceptible mind-body signals to establish bonds and communicate our needs and intentions. While many of these communications are conscious, still more occur beneath the level of our awareness in that animal-like part of us(Porges, 2004).

Neuroception is a system that has evolved over time to enable humans and mammals to establish the mutually nourishing bonds that we need to survive and thrive. It is also our personal security system that assesses, in the blink of an eye, whether or not the situations that we’re encountering are safe or in some way threatening (Porges, 2004). According to Porges (2004), our neuroception tells us if we can relax and be ourselves or if and when we need to self protect. If the signals that we’re picking up from others are cold, dismissive, or threatening, that system sets off an inner alarm that is followed by a cascade of mind-body responses honed by eons of evolution to keep us from being harmed. That mind-body system sets off equivalent alerts if we’re facing the proverbial sabor-toothed tiger or sabor-toothed parent, older sibling, school bully, or spouse. We brace for harm to our person on the inside as well as on the outside.

When Parents Turn Away

Trauma in the home has a lasting impact. When those we rely on for our basic needs of trust, empathy, and dependency become abusive or neglectful, it constitutes a double whammy. Not only are we being hurt and confused but the very people we’d go to for solace and explanation of what’s going on are the ones causing us pain. We stand scared and braced for danger in those moments, prepared by eons of evolution, ready to flee for safety or stand and fight. If we can do neither, if escape seems impossible because we are children growing up trapped by our own size and dependency within pain engendering families, then something inside of us freezes. Just getting through, just surviving the experience becomes paramount.

Relational trauma impacts all facets of the mind-body social engagement system including limbic resonance, touch, expression, gesture, sign language, and finally words. Consequently, ferreting out just what has hurt us can be a very layered process. A parent who wears a scowl all of the time, for example, and who we couldn’t reach with our attempts at connection or who begrudgingly reached for our hands and dragged us across a street or humiliated us for our small efforts share our feelings to take care of ourselves, can leave a legacy of hurt behind them.

In trauma engendering interactions, “people are not able to use their interactions to regulate their physiological states in relationship . . . they are not getting anything back from the other person that can help them to remain calm and regulated. Quite the opposite. The other person’s behavior is making them go into a scared, braced-for-danger state. Their physiology is being up regulated into a fight/flight mode,” says Porges A failure to successfully engage and create a sense of safety and cooperation or to communicate needs and desires to those people we depend upon for our very survival can be experienced as traumatic. This can set the groundwork for a life long problem with self regulation.

When Children Withdraw Into Themselves

For small developing children, this refusal of connection can be traumatic if it occurs consistently over time. The child can feel that their needs are somehow incompressible if the parent does not tune into him or her. Small children have little recourse when they are young and dependent. If a parent does not support a comfortable connection, if the parent or caretaker is not available for a caring co-state in which communications on both sides are met with reciprocal attempts to understand and continue to participate in a mutually satisfying feedback loop, the child may feel very alone. They may retreat into their own little world or even dissociate. After all, why continue to try when you are getting nothing back? What about the child who is disciplined not according to their own behavior but by their parent’s mood and left unable to figure out how to act to stay out of trouble? Or how about the kid in a rage-filled home who is told to sit still and listen as the parent dumps a load of pain all over them? What recourse does this child have but to flee internally? When we dissociate, we do not process experiences normally. We do not feel it, think about it, or draw meaning from it.

How Early Relational Trauma Affects Our Relationships

People who have been traumatized in their intimate relationships can find it difficult simply to be in comfortable connection with others.The dependency and vulnerability that is so much a part of intimacy can trigger a person who has been traumatized in their early, intimate relationships into the defensive behaviors that they relied on as children to stay safe and to feel whole rather than splintered. To heal this form of relational trauma, we need to understand what defensive strategies we used to stay safe and then shift these behaviors to be more engaged and nourishing both within our relationships and ourselves. After all, if we constantly brace for danger and rejection, then we are likely to create it. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Long Term Impact of Parental Addiction

Experiences like growing up with parental addiction and the chaos and stress that surround it pop up over and over again as primary causes of toxic stress. Anda and his team were not looking for the effects of addiction in their research however it consistently emerged as an underlying factor in ACE’s. Not only are the effects of parental addiction devastating for children, but addiction is rarely a factor by itself, it is often surrounded by a cluster of other problems such as abuse and neglect. Alcohol and drugs are often used to mask depression and anxiety in the addict but rather than make depression or anxiety better, addiction makes them worse because the depression and anxiety remain undealt with and the addiction becomes a whole, new problem of its own. And being married to an addict creates pain in the partner which undermines their ability to be a present parent, so kids lose two parents. ACEs or adverse childhood experiences tend to cluster; once a home environment is disordered, the risk of witnessing or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse actually rises dramatically (Anda, et al., 2006).

During one of his lectures, Dr. Anda described why ongoing traumatic experiences such as growing up with addiction, abuse, or neglect in the home can have such tenacious effects: “For an epidemic of infuenza, a hurricane, earthquake, or tornado, the worst is quickly over; treatment and recovery efforts can begin. In contrast, the chronic disaster that results from ACEs is insidious and constantly rolling out from generation to generation” (personal communication). If the effects of toxic stress are not understood so that children can receive some sort of understanding and support from home, school, and community, these children simply “vanish from view . . . and randomly reappear — as if they are new entities — in all of your service systems later in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as clients with behavioral, learning, social, criminal, and chronic health problems” (Anda, et al., 2010).

Growing up is painful; families are only human after all. We will inevitably get hurt. But we need to repair that hurt in some way, and if repair doesn’t happen at or near to the moment of the pain, it will need to happen later. When emotional pain remains split off, it becomes somehow invisible to the naked eye and it emerges as if it a whole new problem with whole new people. But we need to embrace the challenge as adults of understanding our own childhood ACE related pain and cleaning up its affects so that it doesn’t become the pain pump for today’s problems.

The idea of growth through suffering or pain is not a new one. The systematic study of it is. Post-traumatic growth (PTG), a phrase coined by Drs. Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun — editors of The Handbook of Post Traumatic Growth — describes the positive self-transformation that people undergo through meeting challenges head on. It refers to a profound, life altering response to adversity that changes us on the inside as we actively summon the kinds of qualities like fortitude, forgiveness, gratitude, and strength that enable us to not only survive tough circumstances but also thrive. Facing childhood pain and dealing with it rather than acting it out or medicating is part of post traumatic growth and part of how we create resilience today.


Anda, R. F., V. J. Felitti, D. W. Brown, D. Chapman, M. Dong, S. R.Schore, A.N. (1999). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self.Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …

NEUROCEPTION: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety STEPHEN W. PORGES University of Illinois at Chicago Copyright 2004 ZERO TO THREE. Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder.

Schore, A.N. (1991), Early superego development: The emergence of shame and narcissistic affect regulation in the practicing period. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 14: 187–250.

— — — — — — — (1994), Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. Mahwah

Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships Part 1 At the Garrison Institute’s 2011 Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel of the …, M. (2004). Nurturing hidden resilience in troubled yourth. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Wong, P. T. P. & Wong, L. C. J. (2012). A meaning-centered approach to building youth resilience. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 585–617). New York, NY: Routledge.

Building Strength and Resiliance through Facing and Dealing with Life’s Problems was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Growing Up With An Addicted Parent

Posted: April 10, 2018, 6:27 pm

I remember as a twelve year old, sitting alone in our living room after one of our by then typical family melt downs …….trying to make sense of the pain and general devastation of our once very happy family……trying to understand how kind, decent and loving people could cause each other such unrelenting pain, how we could say the things we were saying, hurl insults, act out in anger and rage……I recall saying to myself “wars do these things to people, separate loved ones, wound hearts,tear families apart. But somehow, we’re doing this to ourselves.”

Just as in a war people are forced to witness the dark side of humanity……those of us who live with addiction come up against it as well. It was my beloved Father, the man who loved and nurtured me, who gave me café au lait from his spoon, held my hand when we walked and took such pleasure in sitting me up on the kitchen counter to watch while he squeezed fresh orange juice for me. My Darling Dad who worked hard to give me a life with so much more than had ever been given to him. It was exactly this father who would sit with a glass of scotch in his hand and slowly, glass by glass, descend into becoming a monster. Who would become cruel and terrifying, tearing down what he had worked so hard to build; devastating those he loved the most, making the house shake with his rage and doing to us with his own hand, those very things that he had spent his life protecting us from.

And eventually the gravity of his illness sucked us all in, we all at one point or another shared his private hell with him until all of us lost our grip on normal.

Living with the roller coaster ride of addiction, the unpredictability and bending of reality, the broken promises, the dashed hopes…. the disillusionment and disappointment, the secrets and lies….is a traumatizing experience. As the French say it “marks”us.

When I was young there was no such thing as family disease or family healing, we thought that if the addict sobered up the family would get better by itself. We didn’t realize how sick family members became through living with addiction.

My Father never found recovery.

I entered recovery not from addiction but the fallout of living with addiction. Because I watched the Father I adored drift slowly into a bottle of scotch that took him far away from himself, from us and from each other, I need healing.

Once I discovered them, just sitting in alonon meetings was for me deeply transformative. Saying what was in my heart and having no one jump up, accuse me of being out of line, slam doors or rage or simply quietly slip out of the room, changed me in profound ways. When people would come up to me after meetings and say they identified with me, I was dumbfounded. For so many years I had barely let myself know how different I felt. Now I wasn’t alone after all. There was a room full of us, at least.

I don’t know if this experience has made me a better person, but it’s made me deeper, funnier, wider…..and more importantly, it has taught me the value of life, it has taken me to the edge of inner experience where I had to make a choice to choose a life style or a death style; because addiction is a slow suicide.

And I chose life.

I’d like to borrow a quote from Vaclav Havel, who helped to carry the Czech Republic to freedom and was also a prolific author and playwright…..

“Either we have hope within us or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul, and it is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep sense, is not the same as joy that 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 because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is 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, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things”.

Vaclav Havel

This kind of hope is a great gift of recovery. I have come to discover through both personal and professional experience that those of us who live with addiction have a disease that is chronic and progressive, a disease that has it’s tentacles wrapped around our personality development because we grew up with it; a disease that requires aggressive treatment. It is up to us to recognize this in ourselves and to get the help we need to become well again, so that we don’t pass the effects of living with trauma onto the next generation.In finding my own strength and resilience, I have had to learn to stretch and deepen my mind and heart to include all sides of our humanity; to integrate love and hate, to learn to accept people and myself in our full range of both beauty and ugliness, to find understanding and forgiveness not just to be nice to another person, but to become whole again myself. Recovery reflects the kind of hope that Havel talks about. We enter it because it makes sense, because it is better than the alternative. We embrace it because we have hope and that hope gives us, strength to live and try new things. That hope leads us to expand the dimensions of our own souls.

Recovery deepens us because it forces us to look at both sides of life, the good and the bad and somehow hold both. It makes us more aware of the dark side of life, but paradoxically better able to love the light.

Growing Up With An Addicted Parent was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.