Tag Archives: PTSD

Wrestling with the Terror in the Night by @BobbiLParish


Dear Susie from Al-Anon…

personalboundaries2Dear Susie,

It’s been almost a week since the incident in our Al-Anon group.  I’ve spent many hours praying, meditating and tapping to relieve myself of the trauma caused by your actions during our weekly meeting.  It’s important for my own recovery that I become extremely clear on my thinking surrounding this incident as well as the motivation that prompts me to speak up.  I’ve been haunted by the occurrence and my resulting reactions.  Knowing myself well as I do, I work hard to clear these issues before speaking.  It has been and will continue to be the best approach for me, to think before I speak.

But now, at this moment, I’m crystal clear on most of my emotions surrounding this and am ready to speak.

 

(In accordance to Al-Anon protocol, the members in this story remain confidential.  I only identify them by first name and do not reveal the state or location of the group). 

Backstory:

At a recent Al-Anon meeting which I sporadically attend, I was singled out and humiliated in front of the group for the location in which I chose to sit.  I chose a seat at the edge of the group for reasons outlined below.  The rest of the group (over 20+ people) were sitting at several conference tables pushed together and the meeting had already started as I was about 5 minutes late. I settled in, removed my coat and pulled my Courage to Change book from my purse. (Several times before when choosing this seat, I was asked, by two women in particular, to join the others at the table but declined with a no-thank you.  It seemed to bother them each time but I dismissed it).  

This last week, a member named Susie, got up from her seat during the meeting, came over to me, grabbed both arms of my chair and jerked on them.  She says to me “We don’t let people sit back here”.  I froze.  In a split second I was triggered.  I had been invaded in my safe space, without invitation, a clear violation of my boundaries.  (She’s very lucky I have tamed my knee-jerk survival skills of physical aggression).  When I didn’t budge, she continued to pull on my chair in some weird tug-of-war and I obliging stood up.  She placed my chair where she thought it should be and I sat down.  All eyes were on me.  Whatever serenity I had achieved regarding my anxiety level was lost.  My face flushed with shame, embarrassment and humiliation.  I instinctively pushed my chair back from the table attempting to regain some safe space again.  For a few minutes, I tried to center myself.  The man next to me, who was also on the we-must-sit-at-the-table-with-our-hands-folded campaign, gestures for me to scoot up.  I say No, thank you.  He won’t give up.  More words, more gestures. Now all eyes are on me AGAIN as he attempts to get me to comply.  In a slow motion haze, completely triggered, I put my books in my purse and stand to leave.  I do not hurl the words spinning in my head, I do not attempt to make my issues the issues of the group.  I simply leave. 

 

Dear Susie….here’s what you didn’t know or take the time to find out.

  • I have logged over 25+ years in Al-Anon and am not a newcomer to the philosophies of the program. Having attended hundreds of meetings in many different locations, I’ve never had anyone question where I sat.  In fact, most meetings allow for personal safety and comfort, making this a non-issue which has always been the beauty of this program.

 

  • I am a trauma-incest-abuse survivor.  That means I’ve maneuvered and survived masters of pathologies; narcissists, alcoholics/substance abusers, perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence along with the run-of-the mill shallow and unenlightened individuals.  Acts of aggression which include the definition of assault, “Assault is an act which causes another person to have apprehension of imminent harmful contact”.  If you lunge unexpectedly toward a survivor, especially using force to grab at them (in this case my chair), most times the trauma affected brain perceives that movement as assaulting behavior.  In other words, you triggered me by your sudden moves, by grabbing my chair and with your words.

 

  • I’m no slouch when it comes to personal development. My entire life is devoted to recovery, empowerment and mindful awareness. As a retired nurse, social worker, massage therapist and overall student of life, this has been my mission; transforming a childhood of trauma and despair to one that prospers in healing and kindness.

 

  • I have a few residual health issues.  The entire reason that I choose to sit in the periphery of the group is that I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  Perfumes and laundry detergent smells are the worst of dangers to me and are often a problem when I attend.  Sometimes I take a pre-emptive antihistamine just to be present.  Sometimes I sit by the window in case I need some fresh air or just need to not be stuck next to someone who wears perfume.  To a MCS person, these smells are toxic.  They can trigger many different responses such as asthmatic symptoms, headaches, dizziness.  I know my issues as well as my boundaries on this subject.

 

  • I struggle with anxiety.  It takes me days sometimes to psych myself up to attend a meeting.  As much as I’m a social person, I also, because of recent circumstances, struggle with isolation.  Several women from the group gently nudge me to join them for dinners, meetings, gatherings.  I adore them for that.  And I work on centering myself for hours before coming to a meeting.

 

  • I’m a writer and an advocate.  I use my voice often even when it is scary to do so.  It’s what I do. I have a blog dedicated to recovery of trauma.  I serve as a moderator on a international FB page devoted to trauma recovery.  I am a virtual assistant on Twitter for a national organization for Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse.   My voice serves as an advocate for those that can’t speak. I made this vow after recovering my own memories of incest.  I will use my story to empower others, giving them a safe place to speak. I am not afraid anymore.

 

Dear Susie…..here are my direct words to you.

 

  • Examine your own agenda and ego.  Why would you make your personal agenda one that trumps an individual’s well being?

 

  • Please God, tell me you won’t treat a newcomer like that.  If I were a newcomer, perhaps filled with anxiety and trepidation about my life with an alcoholic, desperate for resources to help with a life filled with chaos, issues of personal safety, financial problems, would you treat a person with such disregard?  I hope not.  It goes against everything that these meetings represent.

 

  • How dare you compromise a resource that I needed.  At this point in time, I need community.  I’ve suffered the devastating loss of my husband and his family.  I need to know that there are groups that can support me during this time.  I’ve reciprocated to support others during their rough times and now need that support myself.

 

  • Are you speaking for the group when you say “we”?  Are you the self appointed gestapo of the group or has this group named you the seating relocation person?  This should be verbalized in the opening statements of the group each and every meeting.

 

  • Wondering if you’ve reflected on your behavior at all.  As of this writing, after receiving no response to my text to you, I called.  At first you didn’t know who I was.  When I explained the reason for my call, you did recognize me due to the circumstances.  While I did receive a “please forgive me”, you also defended and back peddled a bit as to your position.  Apparently, you felt justified in what you did.

 

  • You given me the “opportunity” for growth and got me writing again.  In Al-Anon as well as other self help modalities, we learn to thank certain opportunities for individual growth.  This situation gave me exactly that.  I got to examine the types of people I choose to be with as well as how to assert and protect myself.  There is always room for growth and self reflection, thank you for that.

 

  • Your actions and words could be viewed an act of aggression to me as well as many abuse survivors.  While you didn’t realize I was a trauma survivor, you also didn’t approach me with respect either.  We must entertain these possibilities when dealing with populations of this sort.

 

Thank you to my friends who have talked me through the triggering incident and the losses associated with it…y’all are my lifelines.

I’m hoping that this post serves to increase awareness about many topics.  It is imperative that we practice compassion in the moments of our lives.

When we know better, we do better.

 

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Dark Souls Are Not to Fear, But to Love

Darkness

 

These words are not mine but instead, those of a courageous and insightful fellow warrior.  I’m fortunate to find these souls who in the absence of my words coming together to provide hope and compassion, they take over and provide us with comfort.  Please visit the link below to see the full article and more of Matthew’s beautiful writing.

In fact, do better.  Follow his blog and mine.  Spread the word as kindly as you can about the specific limitations and ultra-sensitive delights of a sexual abuse survivor.  We are worth it.  In this age where we strive to embrace the issues of racism, bigotry, violence, LGBT, transgender, bullying, etc., let’s begin by getting to know one another, the history we’ve experienced and the path on which we forge forward.  I’m ready, are you?

 

Dark Souls Are Not to Fear, But to Love

From Matthew Eaton: Writer, Child Sexual Abuse Survivor, Blogger

 

Do you languish in the darkness, or do you thrive in it?

This question lingers in my mind as I recall a conversation in my idle time.

“You know, the stuff you post is dark – really dark – but you’re always coming in here all cheery and happy.”

I discussed some people’s need to make me be something I am not. Instead, I learned a little more about myself.

I didn’t think anything about this statement at the time, but as I worried over it like a priceless possession, I wondered if it was possible the world was wrong and I, indeed, was correct in my darkness.

I live in the darkness, laughing at my disaster.

Dark souls are not to fear, but to love

What brought this post around was recalling a devotional my mother and I read when I was young. We were still members of the Foursquare church in Scotts Valley, and we weren’t the best of advocates to the holy life. No deep bible studies, no real praying or bonding with other believers, but we did invest in small devotionals that were to be ready daily. We read them in the morning.

They were filled with allegories and mental iconography galore.

So what made this particular devotional stand out? It contained the scientific knowledge (and commentary) on plant growth and the toxicity of continual exposure to light.

Since the beginning of my time as a God-ite, I questioned being in the light all the time. The thirst my other god-ites at the time held was rather interesting and confounding. They would shun people going through darkness, in fear the darkness would get into them like some sort of transmuted disease.

Nevertheless, here we were, reading a god-ite sponsored piece regarding the value of light and dark cycles with plants.

This is paraphrasing the work itself: “Too much time in darkness, and the plant withers. It is unable to reach any potential. Too much time in the light, however, is dangerous as well. At first, the plant thrives, but eventually it also withers and dies, burned beyond the point of recovery.”

Full article here

 

 

 


Going in for residential treatment

Dear beautiful souls and loved ones,

Due to recent and horrific dips in my coping abilities combined with increased self harm and suicidal tendencies, I’m going for treatment at a residential facility.  I will take each and every one of you with me in my heart and cherish greatly the friends and tireless supporters that I’ve met here.  It is my hope that I will come through this stronger and more resilient than ever.  Until that time, live greatly and peace be with each and every one of you.  Aho. images


Grieving out loud…

For those of you that can’t handle my extreme and unbridled rage right now, let this serve as a TRIGGER WARNING.  And here is a picture of a bunny to give you the opportunity to get the heck out of here.

Hey, I'm a hot mess, time to scramble...

Hey, I’m a hot mess, time to scramble…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the rant begin.  This moment, right now, I’m furious.  I’ve snapped with grief and I’m tired and exhausted and insulted and unwilling to hold it in any longer. The music is on full blast with Janis Joplin screaming I’ll say come on, come on, come on, come on and take it!
Take it!
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby.
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now

I’ve cleaned and cried and smoked cigarettes as I look at my home that I’ve finally decided has to be divided.  How the hell did I get here?  Did I not try hard enough?  Did I not bleed enough for this relationship?  When did my beloved home turn into a cold gilded cage?  Where are my plants going to live now?  The wisteria planted in the early days of love that is deeply intertwined among the trellis and surrounding trees, how do I tell it to unwind, that there is no place for it here now?

I’m full of rage as I look at the items deciding what’s mine and what’s his.  I hate his socks right now.  They are everywhere, haunting me from the place where they were discarded at the foot of the couch for an intimate moment.  His socks are mocking me.  I still love, he doesn’t.

I’m seething at any person, at any time, for any reason has questioned my sanity.  My brain, while different and reacting unlike normal people (whoever the fuck they are) is not crazy.  It was changed.  It was changed as a child when my father and my uncles for numerous years raped the children in my family.  They forever and permanently changed the way that I see the world and severely limited my ability to trust.  But they never stole my ability to love because that I do fiercely, deeply and with loyalty to a fault. But back to crazy, I’m not.  And I’m fucking tired of folks too ignorant and lazy to become informed before slicing me and other survivors open with insane stupid comments and blatant arrogance that you know better.  You don’t.

And by the way, disassociation is a thing. A real fucking thing.  It happens because its the wondrous coping mechanism of the human under attack.  When the pain becomes too traumatic, too difficult, too much for tiny little children’s minds to process, it splits.  Bam, just like that.  You go somewhere else, someplace safer than the place you are in where your uncle is raping you at gunpoint. And guess what, when you’re gone, you’re gone.  And to the major asshole who said that my disassociative episodes were a ploy for attention, well simply put, go fuck yourself.  You speak with ignorance and venom.  Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I try and try and then I fucking try some more to be the best, intact, whole person I can be given my history.  To say anything less than that of me is cruel and unforgivable.

No, I’m not done yet, there’s more. I’m enraged at any person, for any reason who turns a blind eye to pain.  This happens in so many ways; through denial of wanting to acknowledge a person’s pain, therefore maybe having to deal with it OR being frustrated that said person struggles a lot so you offer a platitude in order to get the hell away from this person you’ve judged as insane.  Again, look at the above bunny and leave me the hell alone.  You don’t have to hurt me just to get a safe distance away.  I get it, of all people I understand that this is tough fucking shit and not everyone has the stomach for it.  BUT…there’s always the option of offering love and leaving anyway.  Bottom line, I’m left here to deal with this confusing mess of neurons on a daily basis and it’s no walk in the park. It takes hourly awareness and diligent practice to stay centered and even heal from these traumas.  Don’t add to them.  And especially don’t pretend it’s in the name of love.  I’m calling bullshit on that one.

While I’m ranting, I may as well cuss the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture drugs to make lots of money that are prescribed by asshole doctors.  My anti-depressants are giving me such incredible suicide ideation that the ideation is now taking form and making a plan.  And getting off this shit is a bitch.  Again, another mind-bending bitch to contend with.  And yes, suicide ideation and self harm is a real thing too.  It’s not just words that we in a secret meeting of the I’ve-been-molested club got together and invented.  These are real psychological phenomena.  Google it, you’ll see.  We don’t just get up in the morning, feed the dogs, have a cup of coffee and say “I think I’ll go slice on myself today and maybe for fun, I’ll go sit in the garage with the car running and see how fast I’ll puff up from carbon monoxide”.   But seriously, people talk to us as if we do this self-loathing, self-harming shit for attention.  Really?  Do you really believe that I’d prefer that method of coping to say…. working at the dog rescue shelter or taking some flowers to the old ladies at the nursing home?  If you believe that, you need a quick reality check and a good therapist.

The rant winds down here.  Be kind, everyone is struggling.  If you don’t know how to help and you want to, ask.  It’s that simple.  Is there anything I can do to help?  If you don’t care or are just socially awkward, flash a peace sign, say Kumbaya my Lord or offer a hug.  If you don’t have more, that’s fine but if you think you can fake concern, use condescension or just toss a crappy cliche’ toward me, you’re wrong.  Because here’s the other thing that develops in survivors as we are fending off our nasty fathers and uncles, we became ultra-sensitive.  I’m talking over-the-top, can practically read-your-feelings-without-you-knowing-it, living and floating in an emotional bizarre dimension that few know anything about.  We know when you’re lying and we know when you’re trying to be cruel.

End of rant.  For those who stuck around to the end, well, thanks.  You’re tougher than most.  For those who didn’t stay, block me on FB and have a good life. Kumbaya.

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The Familiar Pain

It is a brave woman that can sit with her pain. Sometimes it seems as if that’s all I do. But I will trust you on this and feel the hope again.

Beating Trauma

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*If you are sick and tired of hearing people tell you to “put the past behind you” or “get over it” or “move on with your life already”, I want to ensure you that this is not the message of this post.

Today, I had a small epiphany. I was thinking about what life would be like if I wasn’t sad, if I no longer carried the pain with me. In that moment, I felt a twinge of sadness about not being sad. I felt grief about living life without pain. I felt fearful about living with the faith necessary to open up my life. It was as if I might be saying goodbye to a long-term relationship, a dysfunctional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the pain. I push through it. I will my way through life with gusto despite it. I want…

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10 Tips for Understanding Someone with PTSD

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Reblogged from Heal My PTSD by Michele Rosenthal.

 

PTSD makes communication difficult. Many survivors can’t find the words to express what they’re feeling. Even when they do, it’s very normal for them not to be comfortable sharing their experience. Elements of shame, fear, anger, guilt and grief often get in the way of a calm, focused discussion.

Friends and family (and anyone else who is not the source of the PTSD but is standing by while someone attempts to heal) need something that translates PTSD language. Armed with knowledge, insight and awareness you’ll have an easier time knowing how to react, respond and relate to your PTSD loved one during the healing process. The more you appreciate things from the PTSD perspective the more helpful and supportive you can be. Now is the time for empathy, compassion and patience.

The list below will give you an overview of things to understand. For more in-depth information – plus content specifically geared for you, the caregiver – check out the free archives of our radio show, CHANGING DIRECTION, which features professionals and experts weighing in on what you need to know about PTSD and your role.

#1 – Knowledge is power. Understanding the process of a triggering event, the psychic reaction to trauma, the warning signs and symptoms of PTSD, and available treatment options for PTSD allows you to help recognize, support and guide your PTSD loved one toward diagnosis, treatment and healing.
We need you to be clearheaded, pulled together and informed.

#2 – Trauma changes us. After trauma we want to believe —as do you—that life can return to the way it was; that we can continue as who we were. This is not how it works. Trauma leaves a huge and indelible impact on the soul. It is not possible to endure trauma and not experience a psychic shift.
Expect us to be changed. Accept our need to evolve. Support us on this journey.

#3 – PTSD hijacks our identity. One of the largest problems with PTSD is that it takes over our entire view of ourselves. We no longer see clearly. We no longer see the world as we experienced it before trauma. Now every moment is dangerous, unpredictable and threatening. Gently remind us and offer opportunities to engage in an identity outside of trauma and PTSD.

#4 – We are no longer grounded in our true selves. In light of trauma our real selves retreat and a coping self emerges to keep us safe. Believe in us; our true selves still exist, even if they are momentarily buried.

#5 – We cannot help how we behave. Since we are operating on a sort of autopilot we are not always in control. PTSD is an exaggerated state of survival mode. We experience emotions that frighten and overwhelm us. We act out accordingly in defense of those feelings we cannot control.
Be patient with us; we often cannot stop the anger, tears or other disruptive behaviors that are so difficult for you to endure.

#6 – We cannot be logical. Since our perspective is driven by fear we don’t always think straight, nor do we always accept the advice of those who do. Keep reaching out, even when your words don’t seem to reach us. You never know when we will think of something you said and it will comfort, guide, soothe or inspire us.

#7 – We cannot just ‘get over it’. From the outside it’s easy to imagine a certain amount of time passes and memories fade and trauma gets relegated to the history of a life. Unfortunately, with PTSD nothing fades. Our bodies will not let us forget. Because of surging chemicals that reinforce every memory, we cannot walk away from the past anymore than you can walk away from us.
Honor our struggle to make peace with events. Do not rush us. Trying to speed our recovery will only make us cling to it more.

#8 – We’re not in denial—we’re coping! It takes a tremendous effort to live with PTSD. Even if we don’t admit it, we know there’s something wrong. When you approach us and we deny there’s a problem that’s really code for, “I’m doing the best I can.” Taking the actions you suggest would require too much energy, dividing focus from what is holding us together. Sometimes, simply getting up and continuing our daily routine is the biggest step toward recovery we make.
Alleviate our stress by giving us a safe space in which we can find support.

#9 – We do not hate you. Contrary to the ways we might behave when you intervene, somewhere inside we do know that you are not the source of the problem. Unfortunately, in the moment we may use your face as PTSD’s image. Since we cannot directly address our PTSD issues sometimes it’s easier to address you. Continue to approach us. We need you to!

#10 – Your presence matters. PTSD creates a great sense of isolation. In our post-traumatic state, it makes a difference to know that there are people who will stand by us. It matters that although we lash out, don’t respond and are not ourselves, you are still there, no matter what.

Don’t give up, we’re doing our best.

What have you experienced that you feel should be added to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments…. 

Michele Rosenthal is a PTSD survivor, author, speaker and Post-Trauma Coach. She is the author of Before the World Intruded:Conquering the Past and Creating the Future and Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices for Reclaiming Your Identity

 

 


Ferguson is on my mind…

be kindI’m not adding much to this post that I borrowed from my friend, Phyllis. She summarizes succintly what many of us in the Ferguson area are feeling these days.  Just the word “Ferguson” commands many images to mind as it’s become a constant loop of details and speculations, hatred and violence, grief and turmoil.  The subject has dominated most of my Thanksgiving gatherings, brief conversations in the hallway outside of a classroom, sermons at church, in line at the grocery store.  It has already divided friends and families, co-workers, teachers and students.

We are each processing the trauma in our own ways.  Some will protest. Some will pray. Some will stick to narrow minded views.  Some will deny the problem.  The evening before Thanksgiving, while shopping for last minute grocery items, I physically stood between an irate, shouting older man and a car full of teenagers who’d been vying for the same parking space.  What came out of my mouth straight from my heart was a simple series of NO’s….no, no, no, no…no more.  It was my moment of standing up to Michael Brown and saying NO, stop what you’re doing and go home.  It was me telling Officer Wilson NO, drive away from the boys and let it go.  It was my own sick worry about my own child coming out as NO, we can’t hurt people anymore…stop now…NO, please, NO. 

I pray often for the families involved in these conflicts. I send them as much love and healing energy as I can. I do what I can each day to walk through life with as much love in my heart.  We are all affected as we are all connected.

Please be kind.

Please be gentle.

Please be patient.

Please be compassionate.

 

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From Phyllis Stein, PhD., Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine

Ferguson is on my mind. For those of you who do not live in Saint Louis, Ferguson is the name of part of the patchwork of communities that surround Saint Louis, literally part of a patchwork quilt, this one called North County, no real separation from one town to another even though they have separate police forces and local governments. I live in the village of Bel Nor (pop about 1500, area about 400 acres), another of the continuous towns in North County. The effect of the events Ferguson has been an abstraction for me, even though it is only 3.6 miles from here and even though I have had direct contact with people who are involved.

Yesterday the protesters shut down some local shopping malls, including the Galleria, a large indoor mall, good for walking. It had opened again for a couple of hours when a friend and I decided to go there to take a walk.

I have never felt anything like this at the Galleria. The energy of the mall was so “off” and people were both tense and exhausted. But the reason that I am sharing this was that I could feel the intense hostility and distrust coming from almost every African-American there. As we walked, I made eye contact with one young man, and saw hatred and rage coming back from his eyes. It was a shock, and I understood, viscerally, for the first time, the massive nervous system dysregulation and ongoing trauma that has been triggered by what happened and by all of the ways that these events got amplified and fed back by different people with their own agendas and their own trauma filters.

Maybe this is a long way to say that I really “got” how much it is going to take to come back to any sort of regulation for all the people who were so strongly affected and maybe how little the goals and actions of those who are involved are informed by a true desire to bring the world to a more healed place.

You can find Phyllis’s blog here.

 

 


How we rationalize the privacies we invade

you know my name

I loved her perspective and reminds me of one of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Vanessa Martir's Blog

I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy. Privacy from the perspective of a memoir and personal essay writer who is revealing family secrets, breaking silences that were intended to protect (or at least that’s what I’ve chosen to believe) but have done more damage than good.

I’m thinking about my aunt, my Titi who is very much a surrogate mom to me. When I told her I was writing a memoir, she said, “Be careful what you write.”

“I’m not being careful.”

“I know.” She looked at me with those loving eyes of hers, no judgment, but no understanding either. Then she walked out of her kitchen, a plate of food in her hand. The heaping plate she’d just served me sat on the table, heat rising off the rice in smoky tendrils.

Two years ago, I showed her the picture I found in Meryl Meisler’s exhibit, “Bushwick in the…

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Still-face paradigm

Henry Avignon image

Image by Henry Avignon-Used with permission

 

The subject of this post is one brought to my attention by my therapist Cathy.  We often work on issues related to connection or lack thereof. We’ve been discussing my deep seated longing for connection, the elusive feeling of absolute safety knowing that I above all, feel merged with myself, with my tribe, with the divine, with my soul.  

She tells me of Dr. Edward Tronick‘s work and gently describes to me how children of mothers who are absent, abusive, drug-addicted, depressed or afflicted with other mental illnesses, show marked negative coping, often developing long term affective disorders.  I’m taken back.  Partly because I’m touched deeply by how she validates my pain and partly because her validation makes this real, an issue that will have to be explored and conquered.  

What this means to children of trauma and sexual abuse, among many other situations, is that we have extreme difficulty with trust.  Because most probably, we haven’t had a consistent, cognitive connection with an available mother, caregiver, or parent and haven’t developed the attunement necessary to function well.  We don’t know who to trust, who is safe, what situations to avoid.  It delays, distorts, prohibits and skews our innate knowing.  

What are the implications and negative effects to a child with an absent, depressed or vacant mother?  What are the long term effects of a child’s cognitive development when subjected to a distressingly unavailable mother?

In 1975, Dr. Edward Tronick, Ph.D. at the Child Development Unit at Harvard University presented the still-face paradigm addressing exactly this issue.  It continues to be one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology referencing affective disorders on infants and child development.  Dr. Tronick documents an infant who experiences his non-responsive expressionless mother after three short minutes of “interaction” View video here.  

The child...“rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.”

This video is disturbing for me to watch.  Because I get it.  Because I’m ultra sensitive and I want to shake that mother and tell her to respond to her child even though it’s a research experiment.  Because I know what that baby feels like, as a young child, as a young woman, as a full grown mid-fifties adult.  It haunts a survivor to witness an empty person, giving us no social cues to process and understand, reminding us of our initial failed connections to our own mother or caregiver.  It fills us with anxiety as we try to connect, doing all sorts of things as the child in the video did.  We smile, cajole, reach out.  When unreciprocated, we recoil, withdraw, feel rejection, depression, shame. 

I serendipitously stumbled upon an artist who creates from one of the deepest places I’ve witnessed.  We’ve not met but have exchanged a few conversations.  I don’t know Henry’s background or childhood. But Henry knows something. He understands some place within that I’ve lived.  I don’t know how but he does.  This painting represents to me, the small child, fraught with fear, frozen in emotion, empty of connection.  It provides me with a place to be, a moment where the child can release, to be seen just as she is.  I can’t entirely change my neurological programming but I can choose to honor her in the place she was given to exist.

Here are the links to his work.  I bow in respect.

Henry Avignon Art

Margot Muto Contemporary Art

 


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