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    This is What Supporters Need to Know About Flashbacks

    What comes to mind when you think of a ‘flashback’?

    A war vet? A person (usually female) pushing the other away during sex? Someone diving for cover at a loud noise?

    Yes, these are possible portrayals of flashbacks, but they are certainly not the only ones.

    Most flashbacks are not the dramatic occurrences on which Hollywood thrives. Flashbacks and the preceding triggers occur in the small moments and the simple interactions of daily life. They are subtle, sneaky and surprising. They are often difficult to detect for the survivor and for the supporter.

    Flashbacks are subtle, sneaky and surprising.

    If you are in a relationship with a childhood trauma survivor, whether you are aware of it, you have probably witnessed a flashback.

    A trigger is an unconscious reminder of past trauma. A trigger could be a sound, scent, look, word, feeling, thought, or sensation.

    A flashback is an emotionally-driven, intrusive, sensory memory from the past that feels like it’s occurring in the present. It is an overwhelming experience, which causes the brain to go on high-alert.

    (Fortunately, survivors can learn to identify and manage triggers so that they don’t go into a full-blown flashback. See this article by RAINN.)

    A Flashback Story

    Last spring, my husband, Derek (the survivor), and I went for a walk down our country road. Spring had finally arrived and we were enjoying the warm air and the budding nature around us. As we walked, I excitedly shared some ideas about a new writing project.

    The sound of crunching gravel on the road indicated a moving vehicle behind us. We moved to the side and a pickup truck passed. I kept talking.

    Halfway through one of my sentences, Derek interrupted. (It wasn’t a polite interruption. It was abrupt.)

    “Look at that truck.”

    Yeah, okay. I squinted in the direction of the truck which was now turning into our neighbor’s driveway. What about it? And what did that have to do with our conversation?

    But Derek was already headed down the road towards the truck. His pace matched that of an Olympic speed walker.

    I, on the other hand, stopped. Stunned, I couldn’t move.

    Over his shoulder, Derek shouted, “That quad has a pesticide tank attached. He’s going to spray the neighbor’s weeds.”

    Weeds? What weeds?

    Now, I had noticed the dandelions popping up everywhere. It happens every spring. But as far as I knew, weeds did not indicate an emergency.

    Or did they?

    For Derek, they did.

    The presence of dandelions sprouting everywhere triggered an out-of-control feeling. Weeds meant extra work. Weeds meant spending money to get them sprayed. Weeds meant so much more than just weeds.

    I began to walk. I passed by Derek who was in engrossed in a conversation with the weed truck driver. I feebly shouted that I was going home. I don’t think he heard me.

    That, my friends, is a flashback.

    Today, Derek and I are both much better at recognizing flashbacks when they occur. We have figured out how to communicate with each other about them. Derek is working on understanding and managing his triggers. I am learning how to remain calm!

    For supporters, an understanding of flashbacks will help lower stress and frustration with these unbidden trauma responses. It will not only improve your relationship with a survivor but will help to establish a safe relational environment–all of which contribute to a faster and smoother recovery. Everyone wins.

    To help supporters and survivors, I’ve created a short list of flashback basics. Here they are.

    Flashback Basics

    1. It’s about the brain.

    • The brains of trauma survivors are wired for emergency.
    • Flashbacks are an unconscious brain-driven trauma response.
    • The survivor is not being manipulative or difficult. Sadly, people think and say these things.

    2. Education and understanding about the impact of childhood trauma are essential for both survivors and supporters.

    3. Help the survivor access trauma-informed and trauma-specific resources.

    • Offer to go with him or her to appointments.
    • Offer to pay if they can’t afford treatment.

    4. Learn how to communicate with the survivor in a caring and compassionate way.

    • Ask: I’m curious about your response.
    • Don’t point fingers: Did you know you just had a flashback? (said with anger)

    5. Supporters, learn to manage your frustration with flashbacks.

    • It’s incredibly stressful when someone is highly triggered and seems to easily go into a flashback.
    • Take breaks, practice self-care and have your own support system.

    6. Survivors and supporters must learn to calm their own nervous systems. This is called self-regulation.

    • Regulation involves healthy self-soothing, self-nurturing, and calming activities.
    • Learning to regulate is important for supporters because the nervous system of the survivor will impact yours.
    • Breathing, essential oils, exercise, warm baths, and more settle the body and mind.

    Flashbacks are difficult, but they do not need to derail you. With understanding, self-care, and skills, supporters and survivors can work together to overcome them.

    Related articles:

    What Lies Beneath: Could it be childhood trauma?

    A Childhood Abuse Survivor’s Struggle With Self-Care and the Key That Helped Me Understand

    When Childhood Trauma Collides with Another Family Member’s Health Issues

    What do you do when one member of a family is a survivor of childhood trauma and another family member has a serious health issue?

    What do you when the other’s health issue is also chronic and disabling?

    What about other family members like the siblings, the other parent or the other partner?

    What do you do?

    This happened to us. In 2005, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome). At that time, we had no idea that my husband, Derek had an extensive history of childhood trauma. As I share in my ebook “For the Partners of Childhood Abuse Survivors,” he had dissociated from most of his childhood.

    During those years, we navigated the world of an Autism diagnosis. We enlisted medical, psychological and academic supports. At home, we supported our daughter in small and large ways. She also has attention and math disability so much of our involvement included reminders, checking homework, and helping her stay on task. Her struggles with social anxiety meant lots of reassurance from us. Although we are fortunate that she does not struggle with verbal expression, the daily input was high.

    In 2012, the collision happened.

     

    In one lane: our daughter with the challenges of Autism. In the oncoming direction: my husband mentally struggled as suppressed memories came back.

    Neither of these health issues is over. Our daughter still has Autism. Derek still has a dissociative disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My other two daughters and I still find ourselves emotionally and mentally tossed about.

    Autism Blueprint Podcast

    This week, I was honored to be a guest over at Autism Blueprint podcast. The show is called “The Trauma Tightrope: 8 Survival Strategies When Autism and a Parent’s Traumatic Past Collide”.

    The show notes include 8 Survival Tips When Autism and a Parent’s Traumatic Past Collide.

    Here, I’m modifying the concept to include any health condition.

    There are different types of health scenarios too. Three examples are:

    1. A temporary health condition. For example, one of our children had warts. It went on for three years. The extra appointments, waiting to see a dermatologist and then, the trauma of wart-freezing were really stressful!
    2. A chronic and debilitating condition. In our case, we have a daughter with a neurodevelopmental disability.
    3. Stress-related health issues. I have struggled with chronic back pain and an intermittent skin rash.

    What do you do when childhood trauma collides with another family member’s health issue?

    1. Watch for signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues in family members.

    2. If you suspect or know you have a history of childhood trauma, please consider professional help before a collision occurs.

    3. Survivors: If the health struggles of another family member trigger overwhelming feelings or memories (powerlessness, guilt, rejection) from which you cannot disengage, please enlist professional help to process your reactions.

    4. Don’t minimize or downplay the impact of the health condition or the childhood abuse. Both are difficult.

    5. Become self-aware:

    • Learn about your coping strategies.
    • Practice awareness and acceptance of your emotions.
    • If you are the ‘healthy’ parent/partner, learn to regulate your emotions.
    • Mindfulness practices can help.

    6. Inform your other children’s’ schools, coaches, music teachers, best friends’ parents, etc of your home situation. These people can play an important role in supporting your other children. (If age-appropriate, tell your children what you are doing and why.)

    7. Accept help. When someone asks what he or she can do for you, have a ready response. Don’t be shy about accepting help!

    8. Stress management and self-care are crucial. Check out the free self-care guide at Autism Blueprint. It’s applicable for any health issue.

    9. Seek education about your health issues, physical or mental.

    There is no-easy-answer when childhood trauma collides with another family member’s health issues. Keep going. Reach out for support. Be informed.

    Most of all, take a deep breath! If I can do it, you can too!

     

    If you’d like to hear more of my story, sign up here to receive a FREE download of my book.

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    April 18, 2017 / Trauma /

    Anna O: A Role Model in the Age of Trump

    Who is Anna O?

    Anna O  (pseudonym) is known as the ‘original patient of psychoanalysis’. Most think of her as Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis patient. Anna O (real name Bertha Pappenheim) never saw Freud. She received treatment from Josef Breuer, Freud’s colleague. Her case is documented in the collaborative work by Freud and Breuer, The Aetiology of Hysteria (1895).

    Anna O presented with symptoms of what was then called hysteria: altered states of conscious (dissociation), unexplainable somatic symptoms, and emotional reactions. Today, she might receive the diagnosis  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Over the course of her therapy, and while treating other female patients, Breuer and Freud concluded that the origins of hysteria lay in premature sexual experiences. In other words, childhood sexual abuse.

    These conclusions along with 18 case studies were published in The Aetiology of Hysteria.

    A century later, this paper still rivals contemporary clinical descriptions of the effects of childhood sexual abuse. Judth Herman, M.D. Trauma and Recovery, p. 13.

    With this triumph, one would have expected Freud and Breuer to continue their roles as therapists, researchers, and writers on psychological trauma. One would have expected these men to continue to educate society about the connection between hysteria and childhood sexual trauma.

    One would have expected that.

    The Betrayal: Freud and Breuer Recant

    Within one year of publication of The Aetiology of Hysteria, Freud privately recanted the theory of the origins of hysteria.

     

     

     

    His correspondence makes clear that he was increasingly troubled by the radical social implications of his hypothesis. Hysteria was so common among women, that if his patients’ stories were true, he would be forced to conclude what he called ‘perverted acts against children’ were endemic. . .Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, p. 14.

    Breuer also terminated all connection to the traumatic theory of hysteria. He abruptly terminated his therapeutic relationship with Bertha Pappenheim sending her into a mental health crisis that resulted in her hospitalization and several years of ill health.

    What Happened? The Politics of Sexual Violence Against Women and Children

    In France, in the late 1800s, interest in hysteria grew alongside the establishment of a new French Republic (1870).

    The word ‘hysteria’ was so well known that The general public understood its meaning.

    What does hysteria have to do with politics?

    The political leaders of this new government were men who considered themselves proponents of enlightenment. Their political battlefield was with the church and the aristocracy. They launched an aggressive campaign to secure their power base, which included disproving spiritual experiences such as apparitions, visions, and faith healings. These manifestations resembled the symptoms of psychological hysteria.

    These men wanted scientific reasoning to trump religious experience.

    However, the investigations into hysteria went someplace else. No one expected the investigations of hysteria to uncover the stench of society. No one expected the investigations to uncover societal scandal of unimaginable magnitude. No one expected that.

    And, with that discovery, the men of power and the structures they inhabited abandoned the cause.

    By the turn of the century, the political impulse that had given birth to the heroic age of hysteria had dissipated; there was no longer any compelling reason to continue a line of investigation that had led men of science so far from they originally intended to go. . .As long as the study of hysteria was part of an ideological crusade, discoveries in the field were widely applauded and scientific investigators were esteemed for their humanity and courage. But once this political impetus had faded, these same investigators found themselves compromised by the nature of their discoveries and by their close involvement with their women patients. Judith Herman, M.D. Trauma and Recovery, p. 17.

    Bertha Pappenheim

    In the midst of the upheaval was Pappenheim. Over several years, she recovered.

    And, then, Bertha Pappenheim did what many women and marginalized people do: She got up and did something.

    She joined other women and became an active voice in the women’s liberation movement of the early 1900s.

    She became an activist, a writer, an organizer, and a tireless advocate for women and children.

    • She translated A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft from English into German.
    • She was a social and political activist.
    • She was a director of an orphanage for girls.
    • She founded of many institutions including community homes and places of education.
    • She was President of the League of Jewish Women, a position she held for 20 years.
    • She traveled extensively speaking against the sexual exploitation of women and children.

    Pappenheim: A Role Model in the Age of Trump

    Is the age in which we live so different than that of Bertha Pappenheim?

    1. Power structures minimize, deny, dismiss, and suppress the truth of sexual trauma.
    2. When there is no political, economic, or professional gain, issues such as sexual trauma are not taken seriously -if listened to at all.
    3. Vulnerable persons continue to be blamed, slandered, and humiliated by those in power.
    4. Vulnerable persons rarely receive justice.

    Today, the tragedy of Anna O is just as relevant as it was over 100 years ago. Today, the triumph of Bertha Pappenheim rings true.

    Anna O was a victim. Dismissed by the power structures of her day, she disappeared. Pappenheim was an overcomer. She recovered, arose, and lent her voice to the causes that would bring change.From her, we learn that trauma does not have to define or destroy.

    Today, let us look to people like Pappenheim as role models.

    Today, let us continue to gather, to speak, to write, to advocate, to march, and to encourage one another.

    Today, as Bertha Pappenheim, let us not give up.

    Resources:

    A comprehensive history of trauma is found in Judith Herman, M.D.’s book: Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence-from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: BasicBooks, 1992, 1997.

    See chapter 1 A Forgotten History.

    April 12, 2017 / Child Abuse Survivors Partners /

    10 Reasons I’m Tempted to Downplay the Truth about Childhood Trauma

    At the moment, the study of psychological trauma seems to be firmly established as a legitimate field of inquiry. Now each month brings forth the publication of new books, new research findings, new discussions in the public media. But history teaches us that this knowledge could also disappear.” Judith Herman, MD Trauma and Recovery

    Last week, I attended a Trauma & Attachment Conference in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. It was an incredible time hearing top experts in the field of trauma research and treatment.

    The third day featured Martin H. Teicher, M.D., Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Teicher began his lecture by echoing the concerns of Judith Herman.

    We are in an exciting time in terms of research, acceptance, understanding, and openness to the idea that childhood trauma is a serious matter with long-term health consequences. However, history shows that openness to the roots of trauma is followed by periods of suppression of truth. When this happens, those of us in the field must be prepared to continue our fight for truth (my summary).

    It is easy to guess why institutions, organizations, and systems would downplay the prevalence and the impact of childhood trauma. A systemic recognition would require a shift in medical, psychological and social services. (See my blog post: Anna O: A Role Model in the Age of Trump.)

    And it’s easy to blame the system for the minimization of childhood trauma. The system (whoever that is) is removed, distant and intangible. It’s easy to blame them. 

    The truth is, I’m also tempted to downplay the truth about childhood trauma–even though I write, talk, and read about it every day. Not to mention that I am married to a childhood abuse survivor! I’m still tempted to minimize, to dismiss, or to try to lighten up the topic.

    Why would I do that?

    Because childhood trauma is. . .

    1. Overwhelming.
    2. Frightening.
    3. Confusing.
    4. Painful.
    5. Heavy.
    6. Sad.
    7. Childhood trauma asks hard questions about life, humanity, goodness, faith, and the world.
    8. The topic triggers painful memories of my past.
    9. Because childhood trauma survivors deserve a compassionate response, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.
    10. Mostly, I’m tempted to downplay it because it’s uncomfortable.

    Although it’s hard to do, I’ve found that getting comfortable with the emotions, the thoughts, the questions, and the past is the best way to resist the temptation to downplay the truth about childhood trauma.

    How can you practice not downplaying the truth?

    Here are five things I do:

    1. Accept the facts. One in four girls and one in six boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse. This statistic does not include domestic, verbal, or emotional abuse, all of which are extremely damaging.
    2. Get help if you find yourself struggling with your childhood. It is courageous and wise to seek professional support if you need it.
    3. Learn how to engage with survivors and families impacted by childhood trauma. Check out Sarah Beaulieu’s Tedx Talk An Uncomfortable Conversation Worth Having.
    4. Appreciate beauty. Awareness of suffering, childhood trauma or otherwise, heightens awareness of the simple pleasures in life. Take note of what you see, hear, smell, and feel!
    5. When you feel the pull to downplay suffering, pause and breathe before you respond.

    The truth is that childhood trauma is made up of all the things that cause us to downplay it. It is painful, sad, overwhelming, and heavy. The other truth is, we can get better at staying connected to it through practice, education, and acceptance.

    We can learn not to downplay the truth about childhood trauma.

    Related posts:

    7 Truths about Childhood Trauma I’m Taking into 2017

    5 Questions to Ask the Partners of Childhood Abuse Survivors

    It Happens Here Too: 5 Ways to Stop Minimizing Sexual Abuse

     

     

    March 23, 2017 / Partners Resources /

    It’s Here! My Free Ebook: For the Partners of Childhood Abuse Survivors

    A little over five years ago, I was hired for a new role: spouse to a childhood abuse survivor.

    I didn’t apply for this position. I didn’t know it existed. But there I was–confused, scared, and alone. Sometimes, I still feel that way.

    Along the way, I learned a few things that have helped me survive and thrive as a partner to a childhood abuse survivor. This short ebook is an introduction to the six strategies that, honestly, saved me, and saved my relationship with my spouse.

     

     

    Although this book is for those in an intimate relationship with a childhood abuse survivor, there’s information for any supporter. After all, statistics say that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse in childhood. Most of us have contact with survivors every day.

    If you’d like to learn more, sign up below, and I’ll send you a free download of the book. If you know of someone who could use encouragement, education, and support, especially if he or she is a partner, spouse, or close friend to a survivor, please share this post with them.

    I hope you’ll join me. I’m excited to share what I have learned!

    Excerpt:

    There is no manual to read on how to survive this kind of stuff. Often, there is no one to talk to. In our case, family was out of the question. I could not find a local support group. Therapists who said they could treat childhood trauma and dissociation made things worse. Friends struggled to understand and to know what to say. Our faith community was ill-equipped to support someone with this type of issue–although statistics tell us that survivors are everywhere. Our children suffered due to the constant upheaval.

    Our life was upended.

     One definition of survival is this:

    To remain alive after going through.

    For the last five years, that statement sums it up!

    Yet, the subtitle of this little book is:

    6 simple strategies to survive and thrive while living with your partners traumatic past.

     As a partner, is it possible to thrive? How?

    I believe you can, and this little book provides six strategies to help partners get there.

    Sign up to read more.

     

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    March 1, 2017 / Child Abuse Survivors Partners /

    Why the Month of March is like Living with a Childhood Abuse Survivor

    March arrived today. Across the Canadian Prairies, there is a collective sigh of relief. Could winter be over? Is it done? We are ready for spring!

    Hold on! Past experience tells a different story. March often brings more snow than any other month of the year. Kids still have snow days. It’s not over!

    For me, the month of March is a perfect representation of what life feels like when you live as a partner to a childhood abuse survivor. It’s up and down, calm and chaos, light and dark all in one.

    In honor of March and in honor of life with a childhood abuse survivor, here’s why the two are so similar:

    1. There are extremes: hope and hardship; light and darkness; melting and mud.

    2. Both are unpredictable. Without notice, a winter storm can blow in burying you under six inches of snow. Sometimes the storms last a few hours; other times, they bury you for days. And sometimes the storm blows right by.

    3. You must continue to stay prepared for harsh weather. Keep an emergency kit on hand. Under no circumstances, should you put away shovels, snows plows, and snow gear.

    4. Unexpected, new weather patterns often emerge: freezing rain, flooding, and thunderstorms.

    5. It’s messy outside. There’s mud and more mud. It’s tempting to let the dirt sit on cars and clothes.  But, in the long run, the accumulation of dirt leads to rust and ruin.

    6. The increase of warmth and light dispel the cold and darkness of winter.

    7. Plans for respite and relaxation form: a garden, summer vacation, or time outdoors.

    8. There’s the discovery that underneath the snow, there is new growth and change.

    9. You realize you survived another winter! It’s going to be okay.

    10. Of course, hope is reborn.

     

    February 21, 2017 / Trauma /

    When You or Someone You Love Struggles with Self-Destruction

    Face it, self-destruction is an ugly topic.

    It’s not easy to admit that you or someone you love struggles with it.

    A huge predisposing factor for self-destructive tendencies is adverse childhood experiences. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote What Lies Beneath: Could It Be Childhood Trauma?, in which I refer to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs).

    This ACE study demonstrates the higher the number of adverse experiences in childhood, the higher the risk for poor mental and physical health in adulthood. It’s also important to keep this in mind

    Incidents of abuse are never stand-alone events. And for each additional adverse experience reported, the toll in later damage increases. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, The Body Keeps the Score

     

     

    What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?*

    There are the obvious or well-recognized forms of self-destruction.

    • Cutting
    • Alcoholism
    • Drug addiction
    • Eating disorders
    • Multiple sexual partners
    • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

    But, there are also less recognized or subtle forms.

    • Difficulty maintaining employment
    • Financial mismanagement
    • Inability to recognize unhealthy relationships
    • Inability to maintain intimate relationships
    • Avoidance of interpersonal conflict
    • Difficulty facing problems or decisions

    Both categories are damaging to the individual and to those who love them.

    My story

    I have struggled with self-destruction. I meet several of the criteria of the ACE study. My biological father was an alcoholic and prescription drug abuser. Before the age of six, my parents divorced and my dad died suddenly. To make matters worse, no one grieved or talked about him again.

    Knowing what I do now, it’s no surprise I struggled with depression, anxiety and an undiagnosed eating disorder from my early teens into my thirties.

    I was fortunate. Eventually, I got the help I needed. I grieved and processed the events of my childhood and made significant changes. I no longer struggle.

    When you live with someone who struggles

    I’m in a different position today. As spouse to a survivor, I see him struggle with his issues of self-destruction: decision-making, avoidance of conflict, and difficulties with relationships.

    I’ve lived with self-destruction and I live with someone who still struggles with it.

    What do you do when you or someone you love struggles with self-destructive behaviors?*

    Please remember, these are the things I’ve found helpful. The intent of this post is not to provide professional advice. Many of these behaviors require professional intervention. Please access local resources.

    Seek help

    If you are able, access professional, trauma-informed therapy for yourself and your loved one. If not, find an agency that offers to counsel at a reduced or free rate.  In Winnipeg, check with Klinic Community Health.

    Access peer support: in person or online.

    My personal recommendation for survivors and supporters is Trauma Recovery University. Its focus is on survivors, but I have found a warm and welcoming community for supporters too. You’ll find a weekly live stream Youtube with twitter chat, a library of over 160 Youtube videos, Facebook groups (secret), and peer support.

    Take a break.

    It’s okay to take time away. This can look like a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. We have done variations of all of it.

    Know your limits and talk about them

    Know when you have reached your limit. Have an open discussion about changes that need to happen if you are to stay healthy. Fortunately, my partner is committed to recovery.

    Seek education and information

    As I’ve said before, learn about trauma and its impact on you and your loved one.

    Yes, self-destruction is an ugly topic. But understanding past trauma, accessing resources and getting support go a long way to overcoming it.

    Resources:

    ACEs Too High

    To determine your ACE score. Take the test here.

    *The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD

    Letting go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing by Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C,  President and Founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education (I haven’t read this, but I heard Ms. Ferentz on a podcast on the topic.)

     

     

     

     

     

    February 13, 2017 / Child Abuse Survivors Partners /

    5 Ways to Connect with Your Survivor Partner on Valentine’s Day

    “I have a question for you about Valentine’s Day,” my husband Derek said.

    “Okay,” I said. I didn’t make any attempt to mask my nervousness at his request.

    “Would you like to go to the symphony?”

    “But Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday,” I replied, confused.

    “They’re having a special concert this year,” Derek explained.

    I hesitated.

    “You know, I think I’ll pass.” I scrutinized his face fearing my response had triggered rejection.

    “That’s okay,”

    “Are you sure?” If I’d had a magnifying glass, it would have been inches from his face.  You do weird things when you live with a survivor.

    I explained, “With everything that’s happened over the last months, I just don’t think I can go. I’m pretty tired.”

    I held my breath and waited.

    “It’s okay. I just wanted to ask” No triggered expression, just kindness.

    I exhaled and relaxed.

    But Heather, it’s the symphony. And it’s Valentine’s Day. How romantic.

    Let me explain.

    This past fall, Derek had a flare-up of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms.  It was like living in a tornado 24/7 for weeks. It went on for most of the fall.

    You don’t go through a trauma tornado without needing time to recover. I accept that.

    I also have to accept that Derek is okay with my decline of his Valentine’s Day offer. Likely, we will go to the symphony. It’s something we enjoy. And of course, we do have the last name ‘Tuba’!

    Under normal circumstances, maintaining a connection with a partner is hard work.  Add in a partner’s childhood trauma and it’s extremely hard.

    How can you stay connected with your survivor partner on Valentine’s Day or any time of the year?

    Here are five things Derek and I find helpful:

    1. Keep it simple and small. Maybe all you can manage is a ten-minute conversation. Maybe it’s better to stay in. Maybe a coffee. Maybe a walk. Be okay with small.
    2. Remember when. What did you use to do before trauma invaded your life? What things did you enjoy doing together? Derek and I like to shop together – even groceries.
    3. Do something with your kids or another couple. We took our girls for brunch on Sunday.
    4. Take a break from ‘hot’ topics. Watch tv. Look at cat videos. Listen to ABBA. (This is what works for us!)
    5. When you can: talk, laugh, share.

    Heather & Derek

    One more thing: be gentle on yourselves. Recovery from trauma is hard, confusing, and misunderstood by so many people. There is no manual on how to do this as a couple. Yes, therapists and non-professionals like myself can make suggestions, but ultimately, you and your partner must find what works for you.

     

     

     

    February 7, 2017 / Resources Trauma /

    What Lies Beneath: Could It Be Childhood Trauma? (& links to resources)

    When I look outside I see. . .

    Snow. Ice. Wind. Frozen fields, roads, and rivers.

    What lies beneath?

    Sometimes when I look at people, I see. . .

    Addictions. Broken relationships. Panic. Chronic illness. Self-destructive habits. Eating disorders.

    What lies beneath?

    In the case of snow, it’s obvious. Ground, plants, fields, and rivers.

    With people, it’s complicated. What’s underneath destructive behavior? What’s behind some illnesses? What’s fueling an addiction or eating disorder?

    Sometimes underneath these issues are habits, beliefs, and poor choices. Chronic illnesses do have physiological and genetic causes.

    But sometimes there’s more.

    Sometimes what’s underneath is childhood trauma.

    The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study)

    Between 1995 and 1997, Drs. Vince Filetti and Rob Anda studied adult health outcomes of 17,500 volunteers. Called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, the study continues today. The results of the 1995 study and ongoing research indicate a strong connection between the effects of adverse childhood experiences (childhood trauma) and long-term physical and mental health issues.

    The ACE study has found a strong link between childhood adversity/trauma and poor adult health outcomes including increased risk of addictions, heart disease, job loss, and more.

    See the link for a comprehensive list. As a result of ACE, there are hundreds of scientific articles and workshops on this topic.

    The Struggle for Supporters

    The difficulty for those of us who care about struggling individuals with these types of issues is that we only see the surface symptoms.

    We may wonder:

    • Why can’t he just stop it?
    • Can’t she see how bad this is for her?
    • What is the matter with him?
    • Why does she keep going back to that behavior?

    As partners, friends, family, and community we want to help. I don’t want people to be stuck in dysfunctional and destructive situations. I’m sure you don’t either.

    We can feel helpless and hopeless when a loved one’s struggle doesn’t change or worsens.

    But when we understand that childhood trauma is underneath many issues, we can begin to feel hopeful. We can begin to ask the right questions and respond in better ways.

    Questions like:

    • Were there any traumatic events in your childhood?
    • What was your childhood like?
    • Tell me about your past.
    • Is it possible there is a link between (person’s struggle) and past events?

    Responses like:

    • compassion
    • information
    • help to access the right resources
    • advocacy
    • safety

    This doesn’t mean that every human struggle is a result of childhood trauma. It also doesn’t mean that we have to fix the problem. That’s why we need skilled professionals! Acknowledging childhood trauma as a factor behind human struggles creates space for questions, compassion, & trauma-informed solutions.

    Resources

    To help you explore and understand the link between adverse childhood experiences and mental and physical health, I’ve provided the links to six articles and a link to a free ebook on this topic.

    1. Trauma Survivors Have Symptoms Instead of Memories by Linnea Butler MFT at Rachel Thompson’s site.

    2.  5 tell tale signs that your coaching clients have undiagnosed trauma (and what you can do to help them heal from it) by Irene Lyon.

    3. Is it ADHD? Or Could it be Trauma? by Helene Goble.

    4. Fixing fentanyl means treating trauma that creates addicts by Gabor Maté for CBC News.

    5. The most important thing I didn’t learn about in medical school: Adverse childhood experiences by Dr. Nancy Hardt.

    6. A Child Abuse Survivor’s Struggle with Self-Care (and the key that helped me understand) by Heather Tuba.

    Free ebook

    Can Trauma Cause Chronic Illness? Veronique Mead, MD, MA is a former family physician who has retrained to understand the ways in which trauma contributes to chronic illness. Veronique also has a chronic illness. This book is informative, readable, and thought-provoking. The definitions at the end of the book are worth the download! You can find more of her materials on her website, Chronic Illness Trauma Studies.

    Again, I emphasize not all psychological, mental, and physical issues are linked to past trauma. But can we open ourselves to the possibility that some are?

    Can we consider that childhood trauma may be what lies underneath?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Featured image: Creative Commons Skating on Frozen Lake by stemberovi is licensed under CC by 4.0.
    February 1, 2017 / Child Abuse Survivors Partners /

    5 Questions to Ask the Partners of Child Abuse Survivors

    My husband (the survivor) and I (the partner) sat in the therapist’s office. The hour had passed quickly. I felt good about our discussion that day.

    I was relieved to find this therapist. After several attempts to find a skilled trauma therapist, I felt confident in this person.

    I inhaled and relaxed deeply into the chair. The therapist and my husband continued to talk. My thoughts drifted.

    Until these words jolted me out of my reverie:

    “I’m concerned about how this decision will affect you.”

    The therapist spoke to my husband. Not to me.

    I sat up on high-alert. Had I heard correctly?

    “What?” I thought in confusion. Then, anger, “He’s concerned about him? Him? What about me?”

    I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything. The appointment ended and we left.

    What About the Partner?

    How is ________? (my husband’s name)

    How are _______________? (my kids’ names)

    Since my husband’s diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder five years ago, I’ve heard these questions a lot. Of course, it’s normal and appropriate to ask about him and the kids.

    But when you are the partner to someone with a long-term, chronic, slow-recovery, complex illness or disorder, it’s just as important to ask about the partner.

    And sometimes, it’s important to ask about the partner first.

    How Does a Survivor Feel About This?

    I surveyed my husband. The question:

    “If someone were to ask how I was doing before asking about you, how would that make you feel?”

    His response: “Relieved. I would feel less stressed knowing others are watching out for you too.”

    Caring for the partner of a child abuse survivor shows care for the survivor and the partner.

    With that in mind, here are 5 questions for you to ask the partner.

    1. How are you?

    It’s basic, but it works. Ask about the partner first with full attention and eye contact.

    2. What do you need?

    Ask this open-ended question. It leaves space for the partner to say what he or she needs and it lets you off the hook for offering and maybe paying for something that is not needed.

    Partners: It’s easy to brush this question off with an ‘I’m okay. I don’t need anything’. If you are living with an abuse survivor, you need something. Be honest.

    3. Can I give you a break? How?

    This question is another version of #2. Ask before offering a solution.

    Again, what constitutes a break for one person may be stressful for another. A break for me is solitude. For another, it may be an outing.

    4. How do you feel about ____?

    Partners have strong feelings about what is happening in our lives. The trauma of the survivor affects us deeply too. The recognition and validation of the partner’s feelings demonstrates care.

    5. What is it like for you?

    You are saying:

    How has this affected you? Tell me about it. I am here to listen. Powerful words.

    Partners have stories just like survivors. When you give space for the partner’s story, it is an act of deep care and compassion.

    You can be the person who values and respects the partner’s experiences.

    These five questions are simply suggestions for you to engage the partner of the survivor. What’s important is to remember that for the partners. . .

    Sometimes, it’s nice to be the priority.

    Sometimes, it’s nice to be asked first.

     

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  • Who is Anna O? Anna O  (pseudonym) is known as the ‘original patient of psychoanalysis’. Most think of her as Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis patient. Anna O (real name Bertha Pappenheim) never saw Freud. She received treatment from Josef Breuer, Freud’s…

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What do you when your life is upended by a partner's childhood trauma?

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