Can you imagine how your ancestors lived throughout different times in history?
The United States consists of many races and ethnicities, each with unique experiences, perspectives, and reasons for being in America.
We are all intrinsically tied to our families and our society. Imagine the days when we didn’t have social media or even phones. Back then, leaving your home, traveling across oceans to a new land, either by choice or by force, often meant being cut off entirely from your original support system.
“Social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 82). But, when people migrate to a different place, they lose the social support needed to overcome stressful times. When stressors are not handled and processed properly, they can become traumas.
Stories of Holocaust survivors revealed a phenomenon called “intergenerational traumatic transfer,” in which unresolved traumas from parents are passed onto their children who did not experience actual traumas (Cozolino, 2006, p.231). There is a reason for that. More research shows that “psychological trauma disrupts homeostasis and can cause both acute and chronic effect on many organs and biological systems” (Solomon and Heide; as cited in Carey, 2009, p.21).
When people are traumatized, it causes biological changes inside of their bodies, which often causes behavioral changes. Traumatized people pass down their trauma “along through their actions and reactions” (Cozolino, 2006, p.231) to people close to them. When caregivers act based on their reactions to trauma, even if it’s subtle, these actions affect a child’s brain development resulting in learning unhealthy ways of interacting with the outside world. Unhealthy reactions become normal reactions.
Suppose you want to understand your own inherited family trauma. In that case, you could try to trace back your ancestry to find out who went through a traumatic separation from their original society and support system.
Psychotherapy can help individuals and families heal from trauma through a variety of modalities. Finding and nurturing a trusted social system can also help support you through your healing journey.
“Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 81). You can step out from your familiar reaction patterns and start learning how to heal and live a healthier life in your new support group or your new tribe.
Carey, L. (Ed.) (2009). Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingley Publishers.
Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
Duran, E. & Duran, B. (1995). Native American Postcolonial Psychology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
“In Hakomi, we help our clients study how they create meaning and feeling out of events, that is, how they organize their experiences. Whole classes of experiences are organized around key issues like safety or being loved. To study these, we first focus on a particular present experience, like” muscle tension, a feeling, thought or an image. This experience reveals how experience is being organized and how to access the core material hidden underneath it (Kurtz, 1990, p. 11).
Two entirely different processes affect what someone experiences, including what is occurring externally around them and the tendencies and other elements that first convert these external events into primary sensory information, then into the nervous system, and eventually into conscious experiences (Kurtz, 1985).
To a large degree, “especially at the lower levels of conversion, these habits” are adaptive and not a problem. Still, it’s at the level of feeling and meaning that the conversion of events into experience can sometimes become unnecessarily inhibiting and painful (Kurtz, 1985, p. 3).
The organization of experience developed through one’s emotional-psychological history and is based upon mundane information and misinformation, beliefs, “and, at the deepest levels, memories of emotionally intense events, relationships, and interactions. These key beliefs and memories have the emotional power to create the basic habits with which we organize experience” (p.3).
In Hakomi, central organizing habits and memories are called core material. This core material strongly influences one’s personality with a significant impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The ways core material is organized can be noticed in even ordinary details of behavior if one observes carefully (Kurtz, 1985).
“The explicit study of the organization of experience is the very essence of Hakomi Therapy” (Kurtz, 1985, p.3).
In Hakomi, the therapist carefully protects “the emotional experience of the client, providing safety and support wherever possible” then within that delicate, supportive space, we initiate and assist the processes by which a client first becomes aware of and then begins to “change the habits which make some experiences automatically and unnecessarily painful, limiting and destructive” (p. 3-4).
All “therapies work with experience and its organization. But only a few work with it explicitly and consciously; call it that; make it primary; and have principles, methods, and techniques specifically designed to do so. Hakomi does” (p.4).
(This post is Part 2 of a two-part post titled Hakomi: The Organization of Experience. Read Part 1 here.)
Kurtz, R. S. (1985). The Organization of Experience in Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 3-9.
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.
Needless to say, 2020 spared no one of their fair share of challenges. With the New Year finally upon us, we’re all given the opportunity to look back on last year and reflect on the positives and negatives. News Year’s resolutions are a classic way to make an effort toward personal growth; however, they aren’t the only approach to achieving a more positive outlook for the year to come.
In fact, one could argue that putting yourself in the mindset for change is just as —if not more—effective than allowing positive change to affect your mindset for the better. A central theme of the New Year is evolution and fresh starts, so what better place to start than from within?
Step back and reflect
At times, resolutions can have an uncanny way of inspiring unproductive self-criticism and aren’t always the best solution. It’s essential to take a step back and look at the past year before making any serious changes. What did you struggle with? How can you use that knowledge to understand yourself better and translate it into a more successful year?
Be mindful of mental health
Many problems were exacerbated last year. Surveys have found that roughly 40% of adults struggled with mental health in the pandemic, if not as a result of it. Be mindful of the bad and the good because, more often than not, learning to adapt the way you look at it can be one of the best things you can do for your mental health and, thus, the changes you wish to make in the new year.
Check in on the reasons
Motivation is extremely sensitive to our perception of our problems inside and out. As muddled as it can get when we’re in a bad place, a healthy attitude can be extraordinarily helpful. You’re never obligated to view things positively all the time, but at the bare minimum, ensure you’re continually checking if your desire for change comes from the right place.
Be kind to yourself
At the risk of sounding trite, the past year hasn’t treated anyone kindly. It’s a great thing to want to engage in positivity and do better in 2021, but it’s also important to reflect on if you’re doing it for the right reasons. It goes without saying that self-care takes precedence over all else, even if many other things seem to pile up over it. While accepting yourself and the circumstances around you, there’s nothing like doing what you love to take the edge off. First and foremost, be kind to yourself.
Many of us are taking care of ourselves less this year, which is the last thing we need for our health and happiness. Whether we’re making changes to our routine or taking more time for self-care, the best thing we can all do for ourselves right now is to preserve a positive mindset.
No matter how well you may feel in the moment, there are many ways, however small they may be, you can help maintain your mental health and feel better this season and beyond.
Be Kind to Yourself
First and foremost, treat yourself kindly. Making an effort to value yourself and avoid self-criticism does more than you think. The way you perceive yourself ultimately affects how you feel and has a substantial impact on your self-worth (Harteneck).
Take Care of Your Body
Your body has just as important of a role regarding mental health. It’s been proven that proper diet and exercise significantly improve mental health. When exercising, stress-reducing and mood-boosting endorphins are released, lowering stress, anxiety, and depression (Harteneck). The same can be said for getting good sleep, which contributes to lowered irritability and increased concentration.
Surround Yourself with Love
Remind yourself what you’re grateful for and take time to do what you love. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to be a chore. A vital part of maintaining mental wellness is surrounding yourself with people and things you like. Spend time with supportive friends, family members, and groups that make you happy. Self-care comes in many forms and tends to be a gradual process that comes with adopting beneficial, healthy habits. Your happiness is a priority — treat yourself!
Do you know what to do when you feel uncomfortable or even despaired? If you struggle with indecision, it may come from your childhood.
The U.S. is an individualistic society where children “are encouraged to compete with each other to feel pride in their individual achievements” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69) overtly and covertly. In contrast, there are collectivist societies, where children “are praised for behaviors that evidence responsibility for others” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69).
Does this mean that children in individualistic societies like in the U.S. are not affected by other people? The answer is no. As your brain develops, it is shaped by interactions with your caregivers and other people around you. “Self and community are fundamentally interrelated” and “(T)he ‘me’ discovers meaning and happiness by joining and belonging to a ‘we’” (Siegel and Brayson, 2011, p. 122).
However, when your home was not a place where you felt happiness and love, your home became “a source of fear and emotional dysregulation” (Cozolino, p.231). If your caregivers didn’t validate your emotions and you didn’t feel understood even before you started speaking your language, as an adult, you likely depend on someone or something to soothe you when you face difficulties (Maté, 2010). These parenting styles and behaviors may be passed on from one generation to the next generation (Maté, 2010).
It’s never too late to unlearn what was passed onto you. Despite how you grew up and wherever you grew up, you can learn how to be kind to yourself. You can start learning how to regulate your emotions by interacting with your therapist. “We are hard-wired to be collaborative. When we are integrated interpersonally, we become integrated internally” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-6).
The good news for doing this is that “(A)cross the life span, relationships are an important source of vitality and they promote health in mind and body (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Also, “(E)mpathetic relationships help the immune system function well” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Learning how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and other people promotes your overall health. It is not a quick solution, but the reward is enormous.
Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
Maté, G. (2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R. (2009). Development Through Life. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal neurobiology. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company
Siegel, D. J. & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Healthy relationships do not always come easy; there is a degree of effort that everyone must put into them to function. Often, there is no direct “right answer” for the problems one may have with their romantic partner. There are, however, steps both parties can take to ensure a working coalition.
It is important to look for signs of relationship issues, such as excessive arguing, withdrawal, or a lack of trust. Sometimes such relationship issues are caused by “self-sabotage,” in which either partner severs opportunities to grow more intimate connections. This avoidance behavior often stems from fears of abandonment and low self-esteem. It takes a certain amount of courage to face issues with intimacy and honesty with their partner. Ignoring problems only creates more division and can aggravate resentment, and other negative emotions either partner may harbor.
Couples counseling is one great example of a way to increase communication and consequently create more harmony within the relationship. If both partners are willing to change and communicate their issues with one another without playing the blame game, there is clear hope for a resolution.
Relationships are a joint effort. Mending them can be tiring and taxing on one’s emotions, but as long as both are willing to work on it, it is a step in the right direction. Even if the relationship ends, it is best to know it ended with some sense of closure and clarity. There is always something to be learned from these experiences, so regardless of how things go, all one can do is pick themself up and carry on.
Halloween candieeees!!!! If you can eat a candy one at a time, that is great. But if you start thinking about eating candy all the time, or if you cannot stop eating candy once you have one, it can be a problem.
Do you know that you can get addicted to sugar? Researchers are finding out that sugar rewards animal brains like drugs do (Wiss, Avena, and Rada, 2018). How? In an animal brain and also in a human brain, there are “opioid and dopamine circuitry” (Maté, 2010, p.171). Both are important systems for your survival, but they are also involved in addiction. The opioid system uses endorphins, which are “natural narcotics” (Maté, 2010, p.158), and regulate your body in many ways. On the other hand, The dopamine system “has been associated with pleasure” and dopamine “has been called the anti-stress molecule and the pleasure molecule” (Blum, Braverman, et al.: as cited in Blum et al., 2015). They found that rats binge on sugar water because it releases dopamine in their brains like drugs do (Avena et al.; Rada et al.; as cited in Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008).
On top of that, they found that binge drinking on sugar water changed dopamine receptors in rats’ brains, which means they needed more and more sugar to feel the same pleasure. They also found craving anxiety and withdrawal occurs when rats only could access to sugar sporadically (Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008).
Those changes likely occur in human brains, too (Avena, Rada and Hoebel, 2008). We need to eat. Sugar is one of the foods that give us energy. When our food was scarce, our survival mechanism worked well. But “(a) s we evolved culturally, the neural circuits involved in addictive behaviors became dysfunctional, and instead of helping us survive they are in fact compromising our health” (Wiss, Avena, and Rada, 2018).
When you cannot modify your candy-eating behavior, and you became addicted to sugar, you are powerless over sugar or sweets because the opioids and dopamine systems in your brain were changed (Blum et al., 2015). It takes time to reverse the change. If you are repeating the same binge-eating of sugar and wishing someday you will stop, you cannot change your brain. Your brain is used to be in the routine and does not like change. If you try to stop on your own, you may feel fear and anxiety from withdrawal. So, if you decide to break free from your sugar addiction, you need to look for outside help, like going to twelve-step meetings, self-help groups, or seeking psychotherapy.
Avena, N.M., Rada P., & Hoebel, B.G. (2008). Review: Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32,20-39.
Blum, K., Thompson, B., Demotrovics, Z., Femino, J., Giordano, J., Oscar-Berman, M., …Gold, M.S. (2015). The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery. Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, 1,46-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.17756/jrds.2015-008
Maté, G. (2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Wiss, D. A., Avena N., & Rada, P. (2018). Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Front Psychiatry, 9:545. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545
“Sometimes the child emerges at a distance. It comes as an image of a child. A client may report seeing herself as a child or remembering herself as a child,” which may indicate that she’s not “ready to actually experience the child” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 133-134). If so, then you can ask the client’s adult aspect to talk with the child to share what’s happening.
“When the image of the child appears at a distance, it may also be that the person doesn’t want to own that child, or hates the child, hates that part of herself. It’s important, then, to try a dialogue and eventual reunion with the child” (p. 134). One of Ron Kurtz’s clients made it clear that she preferred to keep her child buried, so he did an experiential exercise called “taking over” by having her try reaching out for it while he held her back.
While someone may intensely dislike her inner child, others may overvalue or be overidentified with it. “Even though child states can be problematic and limiting, it is possible to celebrate their positive origins and protective intent” (Morgan, 2015, p. 207). Assisting “the child aspects of the client to grow and become embodied and integrated with the functioning adult self, the therapist needs to” be sure that the client’s observer adult witness part is also there along with the child, so they are not overly identified with the child (p. 208). Grief around one’s losses needs to occur in addition to experiences of acceptance and self-love that are given and received in the present (Stark, 1994).
Mindfulness, as developed in Hakomi training, and with clients in psychotherapy, assists with the awareness of the adult witness and disidentification from wounded, desperate child aspects. “With the witness present, a therapist and client can be with intense longings, evaluate potential nourishment, and notice when the nourishment is accepted at a deep level” (Morgan, 2015, p. 208).
“The core beliefs of the child are held in state-specific consciousness and are usually not available in ordinary awareness. They are available in the state in which they were first learned. For transformation to occur, the client needs to be present with his or her child consciousness, so that these early beliefs can be fully accessed and processed” (p. 210). While “it is possible to do useful work with the child and core beliefs from the place of ordinary consciousness”, it won’t “have the same impact as working directly with the child state” (p. 210).
“The child is often accessible when a memory arises in the client. The therapist can expand the memory a little by asking for the age and setting while tracking emotional and bodily expression and accessing felt sense” (p. 210). He may use a probe or a contact statement like, “Your child is here now, huh(?).”
Ron Kurtz had the gift of being able to be “a magical stranger to the inner child” in an age-appropriate and nourishing way (p. 211). Going into the magical stranger mode and offering a “missing experience” can be quite powerful for a client. A therapist can become an unfamiliar, kind person who travels back in time and who can interact with the “frozen” child, providing novel and more corrective emotional experiences that were missing from earlier in life (Morgan, 2015).
Here are some guidelines for working with the inner child:
Recognize the child as she appears in session by changes in voice, expression, posture, and so forth.
Be interested in that child; hold the experience in present time.
Acknowledge and validate the child’s experience directly.
Talk directly to the child in simple, age-appropriate language. Attune carefully, maintaining tracking and contact.
Ask the adult self for comments on how the child is responding in the moment and to nourishment.
Check out feelings of the adult toward the child. If they are negative, there is a critical, defensive part present who is not able to show understanding and compassion toward the child. This part can be brought to the client’s consciousness.
Encourage the child to name and express feelings and perceptions.
In the case of overwhelming emotions, allow for some distance to the child part (e.g., imagining placing it far away or behind a window).
Find out the meaning the child placed in the early situation.
Let the child articulate her needs.
Ask the compassionate adult self what the child needs to hear or know.
Remember that the child is the map maker, forming the core models of self and the world used throughout life.
Be attentive, validating, playful, compassionate, and creative, just as one would with a real child in the room. Draw on experiences with actual children. Adapt language and tone of voice according to what is age-appropriate (p. 213-214).
To learn more about Hakomi, please follow the tag #hakomi
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.
Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (p. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Stark, M. (1994). Working with resistance. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists and our days working from home push into the latter half of the year, the “new normal” constantly referenced still doesn’t feel so normal. While for some, quarantine seems almost like a vacation due to the varying amounts of convenience offered from working in the comforts of one’s own home. Even so, it’s important to consider what we want to have accomplished after these many months. Staying on top of things by maintaining a daily routine offers a shot at a sense of normalcy and certainty.
Many have been anxious and stressed due to quarantine, and establishing daily routines brings about a sense of order and focus. Simple activities such as making your bed, applying perfume, and working out remind us that life goes on despite all circumstances (Rivers). The pandemic is not here to stay forever; all things pass in a matter of time. Being prepared to operate as normal, whether social distancing or not, is a crucial aspect of maintaining one’s wellness. Continuing to clean, dress for work, and call people regularly helps fight the lonely and dreadful nature of our extended time indoors (Krans). Most days are the same. Time has grown increasingly difficult to keep track of. Keeping up with daily activities and adhering to a healthy, regular sleep schedule allows us to keep track of each day’s progression.
The more quarantine interrupts our regular daily routines, the more aware we are of what we used to do every day. Simply because everyone is stuck at home for so long, our typical daily practices do not need to be stalled. The order that comes with daily tasks works well in fighting the anxiety of living in the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are new limitations on our lives as a result of quarantine, life in no way has to stop moving. The new normal is only as abnormal as one lets it be.
As a therapist treating adult clients with depression, anxiety, or addiction, I have concluded that all three conditions stem from developmental trauma known as “adverse childhood events” (popularly called ACEs) (Felitti, 1998). Examples of ACES are a chaotic home environment marked by sudden angry arguments, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, parental incarceration or parental separation/divorce; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; or failure to meet the child’s need for validation, loving emotional connection, emotional holding and affectionate physical touch.
Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs)
ACEs are highly traumatic to children. They impair the structural and functional development of the child’s brain while blunting her ability to sense what happens in her body or to experience and express her emotions (Perry, 2006). They also cause the developing child to create powerful negative self-beliefs as a way of explaining why her parents treat her so terribly. A child is 100% dependent on her parents and is not capable of forming or living with the belief that they are cruel, incompetent, or uncaring, so she blames herself for being abused or ignored. She concludes that there is something wrong or defective about her and that she alone is the cause of the ACES inflicted upon her when such is certainly not true (Miller, 2007).
Negative self-beliefs are a form of self-blame for the pain of not being loved well. They operate over the lifespan like a software program buried invisibly in the unconscious mind. An adult who harbors unconscious negative self-beliefs has a tendency to keep finding evidence to confirm them. While adults without a traumatic childhood can shake off and bounce back from their missteps, mistakes, rejections, and failures, the same is not true for children who were traumatized. The more ACEs in childhood the more suffering in adulthood (Felitti, 1998).
The list of negative self-beliefs a child can develop is a rather long, sad list and includes such beliefs as: “I don’t deserve to exist;” “I don’t make mistakes, I am a mistake;” “I am invisible;” and “nobody will ever love me.” In my experience, the two most common beliefs relate to a lack of agency and lack of lovability. Let’s take a look at each one.
What does agency refer to, and why is it important? Agency is an essential component of personhood. An agent is capable of acting on her own to protect and care for herself and others, and to bring about changes in herself and her environment. An agent adopts a moral code from her life experiences and comes to know what is good or bad for her. She is able to trust her own judgment.
A child who is over-protected, ignored and unsupported, or invalidated by relentless criticism, grows up without a sense of agency. The over-protected child has no opportunities to test, develop, and see proof of her own abilities. The child who suffers from parental indifference and lack of support, grows up feeling invisible and powerless. This perception is strengthened by the fact that she must rely completely upon her own resources while competing with other children at school and extra-curricular activities. She feels alone and is filled with self-doubt. The child who is criticized over and over by her parents, may see herself as unable to get anything right or achieve anything worthwhile. Adults who lack a sense of agency are prone to fear, anxiety, and shame. When they do succeed on the surface, they suffer from imposter syndrome.
What does lovability encompass? To be lovable is to be accepted just as you are without needing to manipulate others or pretend to be more than you are to gain social acceptance. An adult who perceives herself as unlovable due to childhood trauma sees herself as broken, defective, and less than others. She hesitates to approach others for friendship, dating, jobs, or promotions because she views herself through self-degrading adjectives like unattractive, ugly, stupid, dull, boring, uncool, awkward, etc. She perceives herself to be a misfit that does not belong and anticipates social rejection and exclusion. When she is turned down from friendship or a job, she sees this as confirmation of his negative core belief and is triggered to re-experience childhood pain. Lack of lovability goes with shame, sadness, and depression.
The good news is that the negative self-beliefs formed in childhood consequent to abuse or neglect can be vanquished. This occurs when the client re-lives the painful experiences that formed the beliefs, understands how they arose, and becomes able to reject them as the logical interpretation of a child’s mind seeking to account for and cope with a miserable childhood. This process requires step-by-step progress in therapy as the client wades deeper and deeper into the waters of what is the emotional truth of her life.
At Healing Pathways, the interns are skilled in a variety of treatment modalities that can help clients process their childhood trauma and reach emotional freedom without constraint by negative self-beliefs that do not match up with reality. These modalities include EMDR, brainspotting, psychodynamic psychotherapy, expressive arts therapy, narrative therapy, hakomi, and compassionate inquiry. Our therapists can also teach clients how to respond effectively to being triggered by another person or event that brings up their most painful self-belief. We teach clients mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, the flash technique, tapping in, and a variety of skills for self-calming and self-soothing. Potential clients who share the challenges discussed in this blog are encouraged to learn more about these therapies and ask for a therapist intern at Healing Pathways who uses the therapy that seems like the most promising or the best fit.
Felitti, V.J. et al. (1998) Relationship of child abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4); 245-258, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8
Perry, B.D. and Szalavitz, M. (2006). The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook: What traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. New York: NY. Basic Books.
Miller, A. (2007). The drama of the gifted child: The search for the true self. New York: NY. Basic Books.