Great article by Paul Levy (a pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, and a healer in private practice) regarding psychiatric abuse (psychiatry’s invalidation of trauma and protection of the abuser). Psychiatry makes the sane ones.. the sick ones, the invalids (the in-valids).
I am a survivor of severe psychiatric abuse. There was a year or so in the early 1980’s when I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals at least four times. During my visits to the hospital I was in the midst of a spiritual awakening that I was struggling to contain that was triggered and complicated by extreme psychological abuse at the hands of my father, who was a very sick man. I was suffering so deeply from the psychic violence perpetrated upon my mother and me by my father that it was making me “sick.” One of the most difficult parts of my ordeal in the hospitals was not being listened to by the psychiatrists, either about the abuse by my father or the spiritual awakening. Spiritual emergences/emergencies oftentimes become activated because of a deep experience of wounding, abuse, or trauma. In its initial stage, a spiritual awakening can look like and mimic a nervous breakdown, as our habitual structures of holding ourselves together fall apart and break down so that a deeper and more coherent expression of our intrinsic wholeness can emerge. The spiritual awakening aspect of my experience was so off psychiatry’s map that it wasn’t even remotely recognized. Instead of hearing me, about either the abuse or the awakening, I was immediately pathologized and labeled as the sick one. Being cast in the role of the “identified patient,” I was assured that I was going to be mentally ill for the rest of my days, as if I was being given a life sentence with no possibility for parole, with no time off for good behavior. The fact that I wanted to dialogue about this and question their diagnosis was proof, to the psychiatrists in charge of me, of my illness. The whole thing was totally nuts. Fully licensed and certified by the state, the psychiatric system’s abuse of its position of power was truly unconscionable. What the profession of psychiatry was unconsciously en-acting was truly crazy-making for those under their dominion. I was lucky to escape the psychiatric world with my sanity intact. Many others are not so fortunate.
Psychological abuse is debilitating and it’s harder for people to understand. If he punches her it’s very easy for her to say, ‘That’s violence and it’s not okay.’ It’s easier for her to seek help.
But psychological abuse is sick and twisted, manipulative and subtle.
“It’s a beginning of understanding why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness and why mindfulness in principle doesn’t work for traumatized people” Van der Kolk had sent many of his highly traumatized patients to do mindfulness exercises with Jon Kabat-Zinn and found that many of them were returning in a state of upset and agitation”
.“As they became silent and started to pay attention to themselves, they get overwhelmed with the physical sensations and they would flee, because being mindful means that you get confronted with your internal world.” In other words, the sensations of the internal world can be so intense that, lacking the tools to work through those sensations, people dissociate during mindfulness exercises. This is not limited to mindfulness exercises but happens in other types of movement, meditative, or healing practices, such as qigong, yoga or massage”.
“Now, many people who don’t know a lot about trauma think that trauma has something to do with something that happened to you a long time ago. In fact,the past is the past and the only thing that matters is what happens right now. And what is trauma is the residue that a past event leaves in your own sensory experiences in your body and it’s not that event out there that becomes intolerable but the physical sensations with which you live that become intolerable and you will do anything to make them go away.” (Bessel van der Kolk)
Last week, during a two-day deep cleaning/paint prep binge (see the kitchen ceiling to the right!), I listened to a recorded talk by Bessel van der Kolk given at the May 2011 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference. The title of van der Kolk’s title is a mouthful: “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical…
View original post 945 more words
Looking at our capacity for expansion after overcoming adversity
Post Traumatic Growth refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning. (Wikipedia)
Many scientific studies have shown the negative impact that stress and trauma have on our physical, mental and emotional health. Experiencing suffering or trauma does not necessarily mean that what comes after the event is a damaged or dysfunctional life. While coping with traumatic events, some people discover their ability to grow in ways they hadn’t before.
Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun at the University of North Carolina pioneered the concept and they were the first to coin the term post-traumatic growth in 1996. The Posttraumatic growth (PTG) theory’s research shows that significant development occurs within the context of loss and pain.
The most consistent benefits shown are increased personal strength, self-confidence and determination. Closer relationships and compassion towards others is another positive change that signals PTG, as well as a greater appreciation of life in general. An individual’s priorities and philosophies can change for the better, and they can experience a deeper spiritual connection. Another PTG benefit is that people perceive new opportunities that are available to them after trauma.
This does not imply that an expectation should be placed on an individual to live a radically “improved” life after trauma. The opportunity for expansion is possible, but there are many factors that can influence how a person manages through crises.
The Importance of Engaging with the Trauma
According to Tedeschi and Calhoun, “certain kinds of personal qualities – extraversion, openness to experience, and perhaps optimism – may make growth a bit more likely. The degree to which the person is engaged cognitively by the crisis appears to be a central element in the process of posttraumatic growth.
The individual’s social system may also play an important role in the general process of growth, particularly through the provision of new schemas related to growth, and the empathetic acceptance of disclosures about the traumatic event and about growth-related themes. Posttraumatic growth seems closely connected to the development of general wisdom about life, and the development and modification of the individual’s life narrative.”
Spiritual teacher and author of the seminal book Be Here Now, Ram Dass, suffered a massive stroke at age 65. The grace and wisdom he gained from this experience is a poignant example of posttraumatic growth. Author Sarah Davidson recounts listening to the first time Ram Dass spoke publicly about his loss of faith after his stroke: “Everyone saw me as a victim of a terrible illness. But what happened to my body was far less frightening than what happened to my soul. The stroke wiped out my faith.
In the following months he began to look at the effects of the stroke in a different way. He had been deeply humbled by the compassion of others, and he had learned what it was to be dependent instead of being the one who helps.
The stroke was giving me lessons, advanced lessons. It brought me into my soul, and that’s grace. Fierce grace. – Ram Dass
Sometimes families become so dysfunctional that a family member decides that he can’t stay connected any longer to a specific person in the family or, in some cases, the entire family. Typically people who estrange themselves from family tend to be over the age of 18 years, because that is the point when they begin to reach adulthood and have more independence. I have counseled clients through the estrangement process, and have also seen clients who have come to see me after the estrangement has already been established.
The psychology of splitting from your family of origin
Estrangements from family are one of the most psychologically painful experiences anyone could experience. It almost goes without saying that estranging yourself from family is absolutely counter-intuitive: Who, after all, would think to terminate a relationship with someone who raised you? Sadly, the answer is that it’s typically only people who have been neglected, abused or exploited in some way who would pursue such a tumultuous split within the family dynamic.
Adding more stress to the already-stressful mix, society tends to project harsh judgment on people who reject their family – even as disturbed as some families can be. As a therapist who, by profession, must work to find the empathy for anyone who comes for treatment, it is hard to swallow the fact that some men and women can be so judgmental about others’ experience – especially when they have no real idea about how bad things may have been in the estranger’s family!
Overall, Agllias (2013) explains that family estrangement is often experienced as a considerable loss; its ambiguous nature and social disenfranchisement can contribute to significant grief responses, perceived stigma, and social isolation in some cases. In researching to write this article, I found how little research actually exists on this topic, and that lack is due largely to the stigma associated with estrangement: Most people don’t want to talk openly about why they estranged themselves from family for fear of judgment.
How to conduct a family estrangement most effectively – and least painfully for you
If you’re considering estranging yourself from family, never initiate a full-blown estrangement without first trying an approach of measured contact.
To try measured contact, decide the exact frequency of contact you would like to try with the family (e.g., once every two weeks, once per month). Next, decide the type of communication are comfortable with (e.g., in-person visit, telephone call, email, text). After that, decide the length of time you are willing to try out the new plan of measured contact before determining if another more extreme approach is necessary (e.g., 3 months, 6 months). Once you have set the amount of time, put the date on your calendar so that you can have some mental organization when dealing with this emotional struggle. Write down the specific reasons why you need to try measured contact and keep those reasons in an organized place where you can refer to them regularly (e.g., in your purse or shoulder bad, in your journal, or inside your nightstand). During this process, you may start to feel anxious or guilty, so you will need to refer back to your reasons on a regular basis to stay focused and avoid emotional reasoning (which could pull you back into your dysfunctional family).
If you determine after your period of measured contact that you need to stop talking to your family altogether, explain to your family that you need to take a break from talking – but still do not pursue full-blown estrangement. Try writing a letter or calling your family members to say that you want to take a break, and tell them clearly the amount of time you are taking (e.g., another 3 months, 6 months). Explain that you feel that taking some time apart could be helpful for you and them to take some time to figure out how to navigate the relationship better, and state, “Because I do want to get along with you and I do hope we can have a better relationship in the future.
Estrangements are messy and emotional for all parties involved. If you can avoid an estrangement and find a way to improve the relationship dynamics with measured contact, that may cause you less stress in the long run. If your family lives nearby, it is worth asking your family members if they would consider going for a couple of sessions to talk to a therapist. Another option, if your family lives far away, is that you contact a therapist where you or your family lives and someone travels to see the other and have a long therapy session to discuss the issues.
Finally, taking good care of your physical and mental health is never more important than during a period of estrangement. Cortisol levels go through the roof when people get stressed, and nothing adds stress like the anxiety and guilt that so frequently come with major family conflicts. Make sure you cultivate a good support group that can be available to you when you feel lonely.
Feel free to explore my book on dysfunctional relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve