My fellow Texans,
This week has been horrendous. Let’s just be real.
For many, it has been traumatizing and that is not being overly dramatic.
We know many of you were forced to sleep in your cars as the only option to keep your kids and pets warm.
Many of you have health issues that require electricity for medical devices or oxygen and the lack of electricity was potentially life-threatening and very frightening.
We know you struggled with hard choices of whether to stay in a home that dropped to 35° inside or risk leaving your house and attempt the dangerous roads to make it to a Warming Center.
Many were concerned about the risk of contracting COVID while at a Warming Center.
We know many of you had pipes in your home burst and have extensive damage to deal with as the temperature starts to warm up and local plumbers are already backlogged.
Feelings of isolation were overwhelming for many Texans.
Our nerves are fried and tension within households is beginning to show.
It has been an extremely difficult week.
We will get through it.
Don’t forget to eat something on a regular schedule.
Try and get a few minutes away for yourself to take some deep breaths.
As we emerge from this catastrophic event, remind yourself to take one task at a time. The whole picture is too much to take in all at once.
It will be a few weeks before we emotionally and physically regulate back to normal.
Be patient with yourself and others.
It is widespread for survivors of psychological abuse to blame themselves. The abuser blamed all the relationship issues on the survivor, and it is very easy to come into agreement with a false narrative about ourselves. When someone berates us by highlighting our character defects, and we know we are a flawed human being, it is easy to slowly begin taking the blame and letting the abuser entirely off the hook for their toxic behaviors.
What does it look like when a survivor of abuse blames themselves? They say things like, “I did make mistakes in the relationship” or “I know I am not easy to get along with.” These statements might be accurate, but we have to look at the context and environment of the relationship.
Abusers push their targets to behave in ways that are abnormal to the target’s personality.
In the case of childhood abuse, toxic parents push children and teens to an emotional and physical breaking point. As adults, the same goes for toxic partners, family members, co-workers, and religious leaders.
Each abuser revels in their ability to get the target to fall apart or lash out.
When a survivor has either of these emotional responses and everything in between, the abuser feels validated in their complaints against the victim. The spotlight of responsibility has shifted, and it lands squarely on the survivor.
Blaming ourselves is a normal stage that I believe all survivors must address at some point in their recovery. Telling ourselves how stupid we were for falling for a toxic person doesn’t help our healing. Words are powerful, and our inner dialogue will either help or hinder our recovery progress.
As tempting as it is to want to focus on what you did wrong in the relationship, I am going to ask that we hold off on that discussion until you’ve reached Stage Five: Restoration in my book Healing from Hidden Abuse.
Looking at your part too early in the recovery journey is harmful to your healing. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me when I say that early in the process, any self-reflection is going to be tainted by the abuser’s voice, words, judgments of you, and their lies about your value. In my counseling practice as a trauma therapist, I have seen this play out time and time again. My clients know that I push this particular self-reflection conversation away from our early work and leave it for later in the healing process. I do this so any false guilt and shame from the abuser have already been adequately addressed and deprogrammed.
To recap, victims of psychological abuse blame themselves because the abuser pushed all responsibility onto the victim, and it’s easy to take on lies about ourselves when it’s directed at us by someone we once trusted.
Keep Dreaming Big!
For those of us who live with the daily task of recovering from trauma, there are a few realities that we must authentically acknowledge and even embrace. Post-trauma life can be amazing, but we cannot afford to be in any denial about how our life experiences have changed us and our daily life. Trauma survivors in recovery know the importance of being truthful with ourselves and those around us.
Some people cannot be in our inner circle.
When we’ve experienced trauma, we don’t have the luxury of having high-conflict people in our life. There are some individuals who enjoy snarky dialogue or pushing buttons just for the purpose of creating tension. Trauma survivors cannot emotionally or physically afford to allow these people to come close. Our body and mind already have been on adrenaline and cortisol overload. High-conflict people cause us to go on a roller coaster ride that has very negative consequences for our well-being.
Be prepared for extra body pain.
Trauma survivors often experience symptoms of chronic body pain, headaches, poor digestion, and an array of other stress-induced physical symptoms. We must be prepared for flare-ups and have a trusted regimen to help bring down the intensity of a body reaction to living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What works for one person, may not for another. For example, ice may help a trauma survivor with muscle soreness, but can cause a flare-up for another person. Through a trial and error process, people will be able to create a trusted go-to list for when trauma shows more intensely within their body.
We rebound slower from everyday stress.
Even though it feels offensive, and even unfair, life continues after we’ve experienced a traumatic event or continuous trauma in the case of relational abuse. We will have days or weeks where we are exhausted from demands at work or a string of tough parenting days when a little one refuses to sleep all through the night. Normal life happens around us and to us; even when we don’t believe we have the capacity to face life challenges in a healthy way.
We must maintain a gentle self-awareness that normal life stress will impact trauma survivors more intensely. It is not because we are weaker or less capable. It’s because our entire system has already been at full capacity because of the trauma we experienced, and additional stress will cause a new surge of overload.
Before everyday stress begins to take its toll, it’s important to be proactive in our recovery. When we have a big deadline at work, let’s create extra recharge time to help us get through. We cannot expect ourselves to throttle at full speed without some kickback in our wellness. Planning ahead for a dip in our energy will keep us from falling into a trigger slump that could potentially cause a pocket of situational depression to creep in.
Tough days will come, but they also fade out.
Those of us living in trauma recovery know that some days you open your eyes in the morning and can just feel something is off. Nothing new happened to create a shift in our recovery path. We may have even recently reached new healing milestones, so waking up to an unannounced bad day feels like our mind and body is revolting against us. It can be extremely confusing.
Why do tough days happen in an unprovoked way for trauma survivors? At times, our subconscious may have been processing uncomfortable aspects of our life experiences while we were sleeping. Other times, stress in our lives could have been building over the previous several days, or weeks, but we didn’t notice it until the tension landed heavy on our emotions and body.
It is very important that we are compassionate with ourselves when the tough days jump out at us. These are the hours when we take one step at a time. We make a true must-do list that consists of only those items that are critical to that specific day and nothing more. On these tough days, it’s perfectly okay to let family and close friends know that we’re having an off day and are needing their support.
Bad days in our recovery journey are not permanent set-backs. They are days when we get to exercise gentleness and work our recovery program with even more purpose. It helps to not make hard days a catastrophe.
Trauma can whisper that rough days are signs that we are not “really healed” but that is a lie. Tough days come and they go. Our attitude will help to move past them quicker.
We will have a heightened awareness of our surroundings.
PTSD can create sensory sensitivity that causes us to live in prickly awareness of our environment. The extra jarring car ride can feel overwhelming. The scent of cologne or perfume worn by a co-worker will bring on a headache or nausea. Our skin can feel like it’s on fire. Layered environmental noises can cause an anxiety attack to creep up. We live in a world of overwhelming sights, sounds, smells, touch, and that’s before experiencing trauma. Post-trauma life can bring us to a saturation level.
When we find ourselves in a sensory overload, it’s critical that we first acknowledge that we are overwhelmed, take a few cleansing deep breaths, and begin to turn down the sensory overload. Stepping away from our phones, turning off the car radio, using foam earplugs to create a quiet space, turning down the volume on the television, softening the room lighting or other ways that work to create gentleness help in reducing trauma-induced sensory overload.
Living a post-trauma life has it challenges, and we must be committed to finding a quality of life that works for our particular situation. Being aware of specific ways to reduce trauma triggers and a recovery program that works are both vital to living a vibrant life with PTSD.
Keep Dreaming Big!
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) I am amazed how getting out of a routine for even a few days can lead to all kinds of bad habits reemerging. With my house in disarray because of a remodel, the normal routine is out of whack and good habits go bad quickly for a lot of us. The key is to get right back into our healthier routine as quickly as possible. Let’s not dwell on the bad habits and instead start right now with getting back to those habits that make us feel healthy, strong and positive about our self-control skills.
2) God really does orchestra great things for us, even when we are not so sure at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 and we can often see later on why a certain thing in life didn’t work out and it was ultimately for our benefit. If today something isn’t working out the way you had hoped for, hang tight. With enough time and distance from the disappointment, clarity WILL come and you might even end of up feeling grateful for that thing that didn’t work out.
3) We should never underestimate the power of good people in our lives. They are the human clue that helps hold us together when life is less than desirable and they are the ones that bring the biggest smiles to our faces. If you have these types of friends in your life, you are blessed indeed. If true authentic companions are missing from your life, don’t feel embarrassed about that fact. A lot of people feel the exact same way. Get busy, not just doing the same thing everyday, but try new activities and you might just find one or two special people to brighten your life and theirs.
4) There are some great schools with great teachers in the classrooms. However there are also some less than stellar schools with teachers who are doing emotional harm to youth. Bullying doesn’t just come from other kids. Unfortunately it can and does come from adults towards kids in schools too. Listen to your student and hear what he/she has to say about how they are treated in the classroom. If something doesn’t sound right, follow up on it. Don’t just assume all teachers have children’s well-being in mind, sadly.
5) Anxiety is an over accumulation of feelings that weren’t dealt with at the time so like air going into a balloon, if the feelings (air) don’t come out…POP! A panic attack follows. There are many therapeutic resources available to people who are dealing with anxiety. Living with anxiety is exhausting which leads to more anxiety, which leads to more exhaustion, which leads… At some point, we have to try something different to get a different result and the same goes for getting free from anxiety.
What’s on your list?
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) Some days go by so fast and furious that I can forget to post my “weekly” blog on its usual day, Wednesday. So here you are getting it today; a day late. Yes, I am very human and forget things all the time.
2) There are times when medication for depression and/or anxiety is exactly what is needed to help the current situation. I am a big advocate of trying everything else before getting a medication consultation with a doctor or psychiatrist. But when meds are needed, they are needed and are a huge blessing to many people. If anyone judges and says that going on medication is not “trusting God,” feel free to politely inform them that the conversation is over. Allowing ourselves to continue under a heavy burden can’t be God’s heart for us; in my opinion.
3) Make a list of all the things you use to do as a couple before you got married. How many of those activities do you still do? If many have fallen off and not replaced with new ones, start making some plans to get busy. We can’t expect to feel the same if we don’t act the same.
4) If parents want to allow their children to dress up as Spiderman or a Princess and go mooch candy from the neighbors on 10/31/13, that’s their choice as parents. Yes we should be educated about the history of activities we engage in but I have seen one to many Facebook posts this week that just reeked of judgement from well-meaning people. We can share our views and leave it at that; without putting down people’s parenting.
5) Brett Favre just needs to stay retired and that’s all I have to say about that.
What’s on your list?