Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting Through It

We hear it all the time and it is probably the most difficult thing to do. And that it to be positive. Now, not being positive does not necessarily mean that we are negative. Sometimes we are ambivalent or in a state of limbo. We find ourselves in the middle of an intense life situation and we do not know how to get through it. Just the mere fact that times passes and that everything changes is one way we are assured that we will get through it. As the U2 song laments, "We are stuck in a moment and can't get out of it". The moment can be an actual moment or a situation or an hour, emotion, behavior or a multitude of many life's problems. At the time really isn't as important as to how we got there than it is to learn how we must move forward and get through it. It is often said that by talking about it, you move forward but this isn't easily done. Sometimes we just relive the situation and there is no forward movement. So what to do?

My last post was indicative of emotional, psychological and physical trauma but this post can be applied in any situation. Big or small. Not just the traumatic ones. One thing to do is to be conscious of knowing, as I have said, that time passes, whether we like it or not, and the world will change. Our goal is to encourage change in a positive direction instead of an undesirable one. One cognitive function is called, "automatic thinking". A situation occurs and from our past experiences, we automatically know what the outcome will be. And it usually isn't a good one. So, we must recognize our automatic thinking. Stop and look at the situation with an empty head (yes, that is possible). Erase all past thoughts and experiences when caught in a perceived hopeless situation and start to think about the good (or at the very least, the easiest) things that could come out of our situation. The may be require quite abstract thinking but the goal is to change the way we feel (the hopelessness) of the issue. Try to think of all the solutions that can be achieved, whether they have happened to us or not. When something of advantage crosses our mind, the hopeless situation may not seem like one without merit anymore. Exploring each possibility can take us away from the negative repetitive thoughts that we automatically find ourselves engaged in and a new feeling, whether it be hope, joy, curiosity, open minded may blossom.

By no means is this easy to do yet we read about it (like here) all the time. So, I say to think outside the box and be open to many possibilities. Not necessarily ones that have dragged us down in the past. We just may find that we are feeling a new sense of strength and act in a way that is reflective of our new way of feeling. An example: I lost my job, I'm depressed and feel worthless so why even leave the house. A new way of thinking: Wow, now I can the chance to do so many other things, excited and feeling hopeful and getting out in the world making our new goals come to fruition. Again, I want to stress that this is not easily done and we will try and fail, slip and slide into hopelessness from hopelessness but once we accomplish this ONE time, then we have a new history in which to draw from. You know, even thinking that things can get worse can challenge our hopelessness feelings, hence...encouraging us to be a bit more assertive to make a change. Two steps up and one step back. When we find our behavior helping our lives, it re-enforces this new advantageous thoughts that we are thinking, effecting emotions....and so on and so on. This is how the cycle of change can work in a positive way instead of our automatic thinkingthe same thoughts that are keeping us stuck to begin with.

When we try and fail, we need to get right back up and start changing our thoughts over and over over again. This perseverance starts to become a new automatic part of our make-up. The assistance of a professional, a friend or even alone will soon give you more confidence regarding your new set of skills. Yes, many of us fear change because of the unknown but change is going to occur naturally and I, for one, would like to be at the helm when these changes are happening. Sometimes the change isn't what we expected but to accept it, we must change the way we feel about this unfamiliar situation if we are to do the next right thing. The next right action.

Start with small changes and see how it works. To discover where you feel powerful over the process. This could be a good impetus to be prepared for the bigger unexpected changes that occur in our lives. We can all change but we must all put effort into it because, good or bad, nothing in life stays the same. Be the master of your destiny with an adequate amount of awareness with new skills to learn how to use your power.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Surviving Trauma

What constitutes trauma? It many be different for all of us but the core feelings are the same. Fear, anger, withdrawal, confusion, intimidation are all emotional elements of those who have survived a traumatic situation. Working through it can be a lifelong process and it involves many types of coping skills to deal with it effectively. I am not speaking about physical trauma but rather psychological trauma though one can certainly lead to the other.
Many years ago emotional trauma brought up the feeling of shame. It was hidden away by families and never spoken about, fearing the stigma of having survived trauma would cast a disgraceful light on the victim. The 'we do not air our dirty laundry' syndrome. Blocking out the incident was the only means of treatment but, of course, this did not solve the problem. Learning to withdraw or disassociate from the memory of the event was encouraged but this merely suppressed intense negative feelings, rendering the victim to live a wounded life. Never being able to escape the multitude of emotions associated with surviving trauma. And when those feelings are ignored, they eventually re-emerge in the form of self-destructive behaviors.
This was especially the case with soldiers who had experienced the horror of war. So overwhelming were the experiences causing death and severe injury, the mind could not comprehend the magnitude of the situation at the time. Long after the event, if not processed, a triggering (reminde event caused them to live the memory of the trauma over and over again and believing that it was happening again. Never being able to obtain peace. Thus, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became a diagnostic psychological impairment in the psychiatric world and a new way of approaching treatment came to light.
We do use our survival skills to get through the trauma (though it may not seem like we do at the time) to ensure self preservation. It is the aftermath that creates the severe difficulties in our thinking and behaving. As I have said, repression is usually the first condition noticed. We use this as a defense mechanism in which to deal with the event but this usually cannot last forever. At some point, when the sufferer cannot function well in the day to day living situations of society, the issue must be gently addressed. Associated with repression, reoccurring nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, addiction and depression can consume one's life. The decision to address the traumatic event is a major breakthrough and only then can the intricate work can start to occur. It is not a decision that is easily reached. With the guidance of a qualified mental health professional, the victim discovers that they are really a survivor. This change in thinking sets the stage for the rest of the work. It is important to address the details of trauma in a safe environment. A therapist can pace the amount of information revealed and will recognize when the survivor is become overwhelmed. In some cases, it is a delicate balance but the therapist usually takes his/her cue from the client with the hope that, in time, the entire event can be processed.
I usually discourage those sitting alone at a computer to relive the details of their trauma as they can become devastated by the disclosure and there is no safety net in which to fall. I understand the human need to allow others in but emotional safety must be considered. A therapist will remind an overwhelmed client that the trauma is not happening in that moment. The trauma was done in the past and that the client is not in any immediate danger. This is very grounding for the client as they realize that they are, indeed, talking about the past without the danger of re-occurrence. The goal of therapy is not to eradicate the trauma from the clients psyche but rather to make the memories more manageable; no longer paralyzing them or destroying their quality of life. Discussing the event on a regular basis assists in reducing the emotional power that the client initially feels their trauma has over them. In support groups, talking to others who have experienced trauma and discussing the feelings that they all share can be very therapeutic in showing the client that they are not alone. Once the event no longer rules over the life of the survivor, they are free to experience the positive aspects of their lives. We all want the best possible life and learning healthy coping skills to deal with past traumatic events can be life saving.
Remember to be kind to yourself during this process. You did not ask for this. We are all fragile human beings, sometimes feeling alone with our past so processing it takes love and patience. No one wants to live in fear. We want to live in the sunshine, reclaiming our lives and relationships. It is never a requirement that past traumatic events must rule over our lives indefinitely. We learn to be the ruler over the after effects of our crisis situations. We can live with the knowledge that our trauma is behind us and we can have exactly the kind of life that we want. It is all possible.

National Center for PTSD:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tangible Connections

We hear it all the time. We read it and truly believe it. I am even guilty of saying it myself. Most religious, spiritual and metaphysical beliefs endorse it. Almost every philosopher, past and present, has used it as the basis of their individual creed. I suspect that even those in the animal kingdom instinctively base their annual rituals on it. I speculate to say that even aliens from other world's light years away embrace it. Almost no one can deny it. What is it? Four simple words: "We are all connected". There are as many interpretations of this phrase as there are sources that incorporate the meaning, whatever that may be, into their daily lives. It is such a universal phrase, easier to say than to explain but it sounds profound so surely there must be some existential truth to it. Being connected spiritually, connected biologically, connected emotionally are but a few of the popular accepted concepts. I think that the phrase promotes peace and is perceived as a cosmic welcome mat into our neighbors world. Among the myriad of connections we, also, have physical connections....tangible connections. How can we visibly connect to each other in less elusive methods? The answer lies within our community. There are pockets full of people everywhere in this world. There are groups coming together socially (fun) or coming together out of necessity (cause). Coming together socially, a group can ebb and flow as they merrily control the input/output of their activities. A ski club, for example. But what about the groups that come together out of necessity? These groups have little, if any, say at all regarding the purpose or variables of their circumstances. A children's cancer ward springs to mind. These strict in structure groups feel isolated from the rest of the world. They are always challenging. Yes, they have each other for support but, similar to the free flowing social groups, they need to feel connected to the world. One very effective way to do this is by bringing the external into the internal. Recently, on my social web site, Twitter...I have started to provide information on how we can tangibly connect with these isolated pockets of people. Whether it is assisting with our homeless population or bringing a moment of joy to those living in an end of life care facility. We need them and they need us. By our donations, we raise our own self esteem, as well as making others feel loved. By receiving, they feel gratitude and experience being part of the real world. Connections. There can be simple tasks such as bringing a box of chocolates to a hospice or donating a teddy bear to a children's hospital pediatric unit. Some tasks may require a bit more involvement. Such as offering a homeless person a ride to a shelter in sub freezing weather. Bring a friend for support if you are weary about being so close to a stranger. You get the picture. I am asking us all to raise the bar a bit in terms of tangible connections. You can make these symbiotic connections alone or with a group of friends. It is a well known fact that there are always countless volunteers to assist in soup kitchen shelters over the holidays but what about the rest of the year? Our small contributions can be life changing 365 days a year. And I do not necessarily mean only money. Sometimes people just do not know what to do or where to start. This is where I actively come in. Either for pure joy or maybe out of necessity, I will be suggesting who may need what. What would make life at a shelter, a mental health group home, a detox facility and other such places a little bit easier?What would make those at such places feel more connected to the world?
Once accomplished, this short term volunteering can be an inspiration to others. Charity work is justly contagious. I realize that money is tight everywhere so my recommendations for purchases will always be very modest. Even the smallest amount of money can be divided between friends. Donating money is important. It is a quick fix but why not take a little time and custom make some of your donations, emphasizing the human touch...which is getting lost in a world of fast paced technology. Price aside, your heart will burst with love for yourself and humanity knowing that you have made someones life a little happier. You would be bringing a slice of the real world into the isolated lives of others and maybe lessen the burden of worry...if only for a moment. There is no other feeling like it. As my gift to you, I want everyone to feel this omnibenevolence. In good times and in bad times, I feel it almost everyday. I feel rejuvenated at every junction of assistance. Once you are touched by the hand of altruism, the sensation will stay with you always. Of course, anyone can donate anything anywhere but if you are indecisive on what to donate or where to go, just contact me at Twitter and I will gladly give you appropriate suggestions with exact locations in your city where your gift/donation will make the greatest difference. This is a joy for me to participate in. We will make tangible connections this year. Everyone wins at this. Every one's heart will grow a little bit larger and a little bit stronger. My name is Rich Bassett, CADAC and can be reached at: