You Are Not What Happened To You

“I feel like I’m damaged goods.”  This statement and other similar statements can come from people who have experienced trauma.  The trauma may have been a sexual assault or other crime, it may may have been a toxic relationship, it may have been a near death experience.  Why so often do survivors believe these events leave them forever damaged?

Trauma does change us.  Some of what it can impact includes how we think, the emotions that we feel, our behaviors, our physical response to stimulus, and more.  This is a normal response to an event that has shook our world. In time, many will return to their previous (or similar) way of functioning.  Some may do this naturally on their own and some find their way back with the support of others.  

There are people who hold the belief that what happened to them has left them “damaged.”  Trauma impacts our view of ourself and our place in the world.  It’s not uncommon to have thoughts like “I’m bad”, “This was my fault,” or “I have no control.” 

I think we like to believe that awful things can’t happen.  When something awful does happy we try to figure out why.  We want to know what we can do to make sure something awful never happens again to ourself or to loved ones.  We start to come up with reasons and justifications like “If only I had…” The amount of victim blaming that we hear in society, especially around sexual violence, further compounds the blame that we place on ourselves. 

Through the support of loved ones it is possible to begin changing the way we think about our trauma.  When someone says to us “it’s not your fault” and “I’m here for you” it goes a long way.  We no longer feel alone.  Their statements of support start to counter the self blame statements that are in our head.  The more we hear these statements of support the more we start to believe them.

Therapy can also help us to heal and to shift those negative thoughts about ourself.  EMDR therapy helps the brain to process an event.  Instead of having a negative thought about ourself we have a positive thought like “I’m good,” “It wasn’t my fault,” and “I have control.”  IFS therapy helps us to release the negative energy, thoughts, and emotions about an event.  Once that unburdening happens it invites us to take in other positive qualities like calm, confidence, connection, and courage. EMDR and IFS are two of the therapeutic approaches that can help individuals to heal from their past trauma.

Through support and therapy a person can reach a different understanding of the event(s) and the meaning can change.  It no longer defines the person.  It is part of their story but it’s a matter of pages and not the whole book. Experiencing trauma does not mean that a person is damaged. The person may change in some ways or their path may change. Life changes us in all sorts of ways.

“Yes I have been through awful things.  It wasn’t my fault though.  I’m strong.  I’m going to do amazing things.”  This type of statement and other similar statements have come from people that have worked through their trauma.  I have heard these statements from clients in my office.

Are you ready to start your healing journey? Contact me to make a therapy appointment.


Most Holidays Aren’t a Hallmark Movie: Tips for the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of year.  Or is it an emotional and stressful time of year?  Likely, it’s somewhere between the two.  

If you are someone who struggles finding constant joy this season you are not alone.  The holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons.  It can feel like there’s pressure from society to have this picture perfect family holiday full of traditions and nothing but laughter and good times.  You may feel like that is true for others but the reality of your life is different.  There may be the thoughts like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be ‘normal?’”  Maybe your holidays are overall “ok” but… Maybe there are feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe they’re stressful for other reasons.

There is no “normal” or “perfect.” We all need this reminder.  Also, I can guarantee that there are other people having similar thoughts. In my years as a therapist (and all my years of being alive frankly), I have seen many people struggle this time of year.  Heck, I’ve struggled at times.  There can be an increase in mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression. There can be an increase in substance use or relapse for those in recovery.  There can be an increase in interpersonal conflicts.  So what can you do to get through the season?  

Helpful Tips for the Holidays

  1. Self Care - This is important year round and is especially important during the holidays.  Schedules can get hectic with travel or holiday related events.  Don’t neglect yourself.  If you have found a routine of exercise, meditation, or other forms of self care try to keep this a priority.  If you miss something one day, forgive yourself and get back on track.  

  2. Keep Your Boundaries - These could be boundaries with how you spend time or boundaries with individuals in your life.  Keep the balance that works for you. Sometimes holidays mean being around people you don’t usually see.  It could be family or other individuals that caused pain in the past. Identify people that can offer support if needed at events and people that will be there to reach out to after.  

  3. Sleep - Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and sleep goes out the window.  Sleep is key to our physical and mental wellbeing.  If you get off schedule, give yourself time to get back on track.  

  4. Make Room for Your Feelings - Don’t try to eat or drink them away.  These and other forms of numbing only “work” for a short time and they’ll still be there. Acknowledge your feelings.  Be curious about them.  You don’t have to put on a facade of constant joy because of the season.  When we make room for our true feelings, we learn to ride the wave because they will change.  Journal about them.  Talk to someone about them.  Most importantly, feel them. 

  5. Live in the Moment - Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the planning of events and gifts that before we know it we have missed enjoying being in the moment.  Slow down.  Breathe. Enjoy what’s happening in the now.  

  6. Practice Gratitude - Notice what it is you do enjoy and appreciate.  Maybe it’s something about the season (ie weather, movies, music, events, peppermint mochas, or gingerbread).  Maybe it’s something you value year round that you want to give extra acknowledgement to and thanks for.  This actually helps build positive emotional pathways in the brain. 

  7. Take the Pressure Off Yourself - You don’t have to work so hard trying to create the perfect holiday for others. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do (within reason of course).  If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, you don’t have to.  If you can’t afford to give that expensive gift, don’t.  Listen to your gut.  You do you. 

  8. Make the Holidays Your Own - Someone else’s idea of a “magical” holiday season doesn’t need to be what yours is.  If there are holiday events you want to attend, go for it.  If you want to cook yourself an awesome meal, you can do that. If you want to go sit on the beach with your dog, that’s cool too.  You can start your own traditions.  You get to choose.  

  9. Connect - Sometimes we want to hide in our safety cocoons.  That can be ok to some extent.  Sometimes when we want to isolate, what would really be best for us is to connect.  Find people to talk to.  This may be friends or family.  It may be professional support like a therapist.  Talk to someone about what the holidays are like for you and how you are doing this season.  You don’t have to go through it alone.  

When we stop trying to make the holidays fit an ideal, we give ourselves permission to find enjoyment in what they really are.  Again, your holiday can be whatever you want it to be.  Take a few minutes and think about what you really would enjoy doing this time of year.  Picture your ideal holiday.  Make plans to do as many of those things as possible.

Remember, the stress of the holidays will pass.  It is normal for emotions to fluctuate especially during the holiday season.  There may be moments of stress, moments of joy, moments of tears, moments of laughter, and so much more. 

Wherever you are in your life this season, take care of yourself.  It’s both ok and normal if your holidays aren’t like a Hallmark Movie.  Maybe they’re more like a prime time drama or a reality show on Bravo. Whatever the holiday season brings, know we’ll all muddle through somehow.  2019 is just around the corner.  

If you need extra support do not hesitate to reach out. You can email me to schedule a therapy session. For 24/7 Support contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

From Stuck to Breakthroughs: EMDR for the Business Professional

Have you ever felt stuck in your profession? Something holds you back from having the confidence to taking things to the next level.  Maybe you are struggling to ask for that promotion or to make that sale.  Maybe you struggle with owning your professional identity or with taking on new projects.

The events and relationships throughout our life shape us into who we are today.  For better and worse.  

Have you heard of EMDR?  It’s an AMAZING form of therapy.  I have seen professionals go from feeling completely frozen in some aspect of their work to gaining clarity and confidence. 

Isn’t EMDR for trauma? Yes it is and that’s not all it can help with. 

Have you ever had any of these thoughts?  I’m not good enough.  I’m not smart enough.  I have to be perfect.  I cannot get what I want.  I cannot trust anyone.  I’m a failure.  I am not in control.  I do not deserve… 

We all have negative thoughts about ourselves from time to time.  Sometimes all the time.  These thoughts are contributing to us being stuck.  

Through the use of EMDR we can explore what events and relationships in your life may have led to these different negative thoughts.  Sometimes the connection is clear.  Sometimes it may surprise us.  Sometimes it’s a big event.  Sometimes it’s something small.  Sometimes those small things add up and impact us in a big way.  

After we identify what contributed to these negative thoughts, we use EMDR to process the event.  This will help to reduce the emotional response to the memory.  The thoughts we have about ourself when we think of the event will also change.

After EMDR therapy, you could have thoughts like these:  I am good enough.  I am smart enough.  I am good the way I am.  I am strong.  I can get what I want.  I can choose who to trust.  I can succeed.  I have control.  I deserve good things.  

When we shift our thoughts and our emotions, our behaviors change.  EMDR will help you to truly embody these beliefs.  EMDR helps you get unstuck so that you can be fully grounded in the present with confidence.  

Conquering your self doubts boosts internal confidence.  When you feel confident, you act confident.  People gravitate towards that energy.  They want to succeed with that person.  

You deserve that promotion.  You will make that sale.  You can take on that new project and do well.  You are a talented business person.  You can succeed.  And you will… 

Are you ready to see how EMDR can help you?  Contact me to make an appointment.  

Numbing the Pain

Tell me more about your pain.  Where do you feel it in or around your body?  What does the pain look like?  How long has the pain been there?  Can we get curious about it?  What does it want you to know?  

Some clients can go through these questions with a level of openness and imagination.  Some clients may have a quick reaction of “Hell NO” when asked to explore their pain.  They want to talk about what to do to make the pain stop.  I’ve also heard everything in between the extremes.  It can be uncomfortable to make room for emotions that we don’t like or don’t want to feel.  

Many of us are experts at what helps us numb the pain.  We distract with Netflix binges.  We over compartmentalize and try to lock those boxes away where we can’t feel them.  We over eat.  We shop.  We drink.  We use drugs.  We overwork.  We daydream.  There are endless ways that we shut down uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.  We all have our go to’s.  Some days these methods “work.”  But sometimes what we are trying to do to cope with the pain ends up causing us more pain.  

The problem is… that you cannot selectively numb emotions… You can’t numb the hard feelings without numbing the other affect and emotions. When we numb those we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness, and then we are miserable and we’re looking for purpose and meaning. And then we feel vulnerable so we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
— Brene Brown

A question that I often ask my clients is “How’s that working for you?”  Then we explore how it helps and how it doesn’t. Whether it’s using substances or other avoidance tactics there is always a reason why we do the things we do.  At one time it worked.  That reinforced the behavior.  Chances are though that it’s not working so well anymore.  That’s why you are reading this blog.  That’s why you are thinking about making a change.  

There are some ways we numb the pain that are “less harmful” than others.  All methods have the potential to become harmful especially when done to an extreme.  When we continue to do something in an effort to cope despite negative consequences we are entering the realm of addiction.  When we start talking about addiction whether that be to a substance or a compulsive behavior we also start to talk about judgement.  Judgement may come from ourselves or from others.  Likely it is both.  

Part of me wants to stop and part of me doesn’t.  When we acknowledged the ambivalence the work can truly begin.  Tell me more about the part of you that wants to stop.  Tell me more about the addict part.  There are things to be learned from both.  

It’s “easy” to numb the pain.  It’s more challenging to make room for it.  It’s “easy” to judge our addict part and our “bad behaviors.”  We all have a critic inside that has a lot to say about what we do.  It’s more challenging to spend some time with that addict and that critic (and the many other parts we have).  These parts have a lot to say.  They have been doing their best to help us through life.  They have been trying to protect us from that pain.  

In order for any behavior change to be lasting we need to look at what is fueling the behavior.  There’s a reason for it.  Once we get to know the part that feels like this behavior is the only solution we can start to heal it.  Then we can look at our pain and begin to heal that.  

I want to invite you to take a look at the ways you numb your pain.  Maybe there’s a part that looses itself in TV.  Maybe there’s a part that likes to shop.  Maybe there’s a part that uses substances. Let’s get curious about the part. How long has that part been around?  Do you remember what was happening when it came into existence?  What does it fear would happen if you didn’t do this?

Next the inner work begins. Healing is possible.  Change is possible.

The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.
— Gabor Mate

Healing from Trauma

What is trauma? When people hear the word trauma they may think of PTSD. That can then make them think of “Big T” traumas including combat, rape, natural disasters, and near death experience. There are also “Small T” traumas. These are smaller “everyday” or less pronounced events and may include bullying, neglect, difficult relationships, and loss. Now I need to say using terms like “big” and “little” in reference to the type of trauma gives me mixed feelings.  Depending on the individual circumstances, any of the “Small Ts” I mentioned could be a “Big T.” I do like that describing trauma this way opens the door for people to recognize a multitude of events as traumatic – because they can be. However, I don’t like that it inadvertently has us quantify these events.  This is something that we may do automatically. “What I went through wasn’t ‘bad enough’ to be considered trauma.” “Other people have experienced worse.” Trauma is trauma. It leaves a mark. Sometimes it impacts us immediately and sometimes we don’t even realize its impact until later in life. 

Experiencing a trauma also does not automatically mean we have PTSD.

The mark left by events that we have experienced doesn’t mean that we are “damaged” or “broken”. It is possible to heal. It is possible to turn that experience into something that makes us even stronger. Things may get harder while we are doing the work. It can be similar to when we clean a cut or a scrapped knee.  It stings while we clean the wound. I often use this metaphor to explain what therapy can be like for clients. 

How do we heal? The specifics of how to start may depend on the event. It’s important for the person to re-establish safety.  When a person has been impacted by trauma they may feel unsafe in their body and in relationships.  A person may need medical care. They may need to physically get to a safer place and in contact with supportive people. 

To heal we need to reconnect to our body.  See, our system has this fabulous coping skill of disassociation. We all do it. Have you ever zoned out? Have you ever been driving somewhere then poof you’re there and barely realize the time went by?  These are just a couple every day examples.  There are many ways we dissociate. Another example is when a person feels like they are outside of their body watching themself.  Also, sometimes when someone is experiencing trauma their system checks them out  (it’s almost like they aren’t even there) in efforts to protect them from feeling and thinking everything associated with what’s happening.  Sometimes our system gets so good at doing this that it happens all the time…. Sometimes when we don’t want or need it to.  That’s why we need to find a way to get back in our bodies.  Some of the ways we can do this are through meditation, grounding exercises, and physical exercises like yoga or cardio. 

To heal from trauma we need to find a way to make sense of it and process what happened. Two amazing therapeutic approaches that I use with my clients are EMDR and IFS.  These are both evidence-based practices.  Research has shown that they work.  But for me it’s more than just the research that makes me believe in them.  I’ve seen it work with clients that I’ve supported in therapy.  Additionally, I experienced my own healing through EMDR and IFS when I was the client on the couch.  Next, I’m going to share a bit about these approaches to explain how they help individuals heal from trauma.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of trauma.  When a traumatic event happens that memory can get stuck.  All the emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations we had got stuck in time.  When that memory is triggered we can get flooded with emotions and get overwhelmed.  It’s almost like it’s happening again. EMDR helps an individual to process what has happened so that the person is in a more balanced state and grounded in the present.  When the person thinks of the event, it’s a memory that doesn’t overwhelm them.  There isn’t the same charge. 

IFS (Internal Family Systems) is a form of therapy that uses the language of “parts” as a working metaphor for our internal experiences.  We use this language every day.  After a stressful day, part of me wants to go workout and part of me really just wants to go to DQ and get a soft serve.  We all have parts.  Our different parts are trying to help us out.  Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they get stuck in roles that aren’t helpful.  Maybe we have a people pleaser part that is often sacrificing our own needs to make sure people around us are happy.  Maybe we have a part that believes the quickest way to deal with feeling overwhelmed is to drink a bottle of wine or get high.  These parts are doing what they think is best to help protect a part that feels vulnerable. This part may feel unworthy of love.  Once we get to know our parts we can work creatively to help them find new healthy ways of helping us out.  We can help transform that vulnerable part. 

What I love about both EMDR and IFS is that they help us get to a place of deeper healing.  There are many types of therapy that can help us learn about ourselves and gain helpful skills.  Some tools only take us so far though.  We don’t just want to put a Band-Aid on a wound so that it doesn’t get dirty or infected.  We want to no longer NEED the Band-Aid because the wound has HEALED. 

Scars and stitches always fade
and only strengthen me.
— Guster

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment.  Let me know if you relate or if you have questions.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month.  This is a topic that I’m passionate about.  It’s why I’ve decided to start blogging at this specific time.  My intention is to do a series of blogs this month related to the topic of Sexual Assault.