Understanding Diet and Mental Health

Today’s interview is with Tyema Sanchez who is a wellness coach and plant-based advocate. I wanted to interview Tyema because I have long been interested in the connection between our diet and our mental health. I am a fairly healthy eater, but like us all I fall short sometimes and am inconsistent in my diet. Because of this inconsistency I notice a difference in myself in relation to how and what I am eating. When I am eating a healthier diet, I feel great, I have more energy, I am better able to focus, I am motivated to complete task, and my mood is over all increased. While the opposite is true when I am eating unhealthily. When I am eating unhealthily, I am lethargic, my mood is low, I lack motivation, and I am not performing at optimal level. I know that one of the most important things that I must do for my mental health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is so much research out now that supports the saying that we have all heard as a child, we are what we eat. My goal as a mental health professional is to increase the conversation about diet and mental health because I feel that this is something that is overlooked. As with any change start small and do what feels right and comfortable for you. Your health is your wealth.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live” – Jim Rohn

A disclaimer before we start, the information today might be overwhelming but living a healthy lifestyle is a marathon not a sprint and one of the key components to success is moderation.

What does the research and literature say about the connection between diet and mental health?

Today, childhood mental illness affects more than 17 million kids in the U.S. Recent studies have shown the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher quality, whole-food diet. Let me break down a Western diet vs a whole-food diet. Western diets mostly consist of processed and sugary food while whole-food diets consist of plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Examples are whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is a protective factor while an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. Research is finding that a nutritious diet is not simply good for the body; it is great for the brain as well. I would like to discuss some ways diet affects your mental health.

  1. It is crucial for brain development.

We all have heard the term “We are what we eat!” When we eat real food that nourishes us, the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body. Which puts the brain into grow mode. Certain nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc, boosts levels of this substance. On the other hand, a diet high in a saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on the brain proteins.

2. It fills the gut with healthy bacteria.

Trillions of good bacteria live in the gut. They fend off bad germs and keep your immune system in check, which means they help tame inflammation in the body. Some gut germs even help make brain-powering B vitamins. Food with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help maintain a healthy gut environment, or biome. A healthier microbiome is going to decrease inflammation, which affects mood and cognition. A high-fat or high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and, therefore, your brain.

Why do we feel tired after we eat unhealthy and heavy food?

Although, all food is digested in the same manner, not all food affects your body in the same way. Some food can make you sleepier than others. In fact, the food we eat should give us our energy. If you primarily eat food that offers little nutritional value, you will most likely begin to feel sleepy after eating. Foods that do little for your energy levels are typically high in saturated fats, sugar, and salt. A spike in our blood sugar levels from eating can also make us feel fatigued. Most processed food fall into these two categories. Your body breaks down and absorbs these foods quickly, causing your digestive system to work hard for a short period of time, which leads to fatigue. Food providing good nutritional value take longer for your body to break down and absorb, thereby giving you energy for more extended periods.

Are there any foods that help to increase production of the feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin?

Another disclaimer, I am a plant-based advocate so when I make suggestions I will lean more towards plant-based food, but as a wellness coach, I do try to meet people where they are in their journey. The internet will say that yogurt, eggs, and meat with low-fat content are food that help release those good hormones, but my suggestions would be beans, almonds, and pineapples. I know we are discussing food but again as a wellness coach, I have to mention exercising is the best way to increase those feel good hormones.

Are there any foods that we absolutely should not eat?

Food with Gluten, which are bread, pasta, pizza, rice, and cereal. Gluten provides no essential nutrients; it helps food maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. People with celiac disease have an immune reaction, which is triggered by eating gluten. They develop inflammation and damage their intestinal tracts and other parts of the body when they eat food containing gluten. My second suggestion is mucus-producing food which are dairy, alcohol, sugar, soy products and red meat. I know at this point you are thinking “What can I eat?” but If it is difficult to remove these foods, I suggest eating them in moderation.

If you had to pick only one healthy food choice that you would recommend people eat everyday what would it be and why?

Fruits and vegetables, the reason I cannot say just one food is because all fruits and vegetables give our bodies different nutrients. That is the mistake people make when they eat the same food every day. Eating a variety of food from the five major food groups provide a range of different nutrients to the body, which promotes good health and can help reduce the risk of disease – as well as keeping your diet interesting with different flavors and textures!

Please provide some tips on how to ease into a healthier lifestyle.

  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
  • 80/20 rule – Your plate should be 80% of fruits, vegetables, greens or legumes and 20% meat, pasta, dairy or fish. The 80% are the foods that help flush the toxins of the 20% out your body.
  • Substitute snacks with fruit/nuts

Tyema can be contacted with the information below.

Tyema Sanchez, Founder of The Healthy Pledge

Plant-based advocate, Wellness Coach and Yogi

Social Media –  IG: @Thehpledge, Facebook Fan Page: The Healthy Pledge, Twitter: @thehpledge

Website: http://www.thehealthypledge.com

Email: thehpledge@gmail.com

Understanding Racial Trauma

Being an African American and constantly experiencing racism under a system controlled by the majority population that literally hates you because of the color of your skin is hard.

“In a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S., perceived racial discrimination was associated with a lifetime history of major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder independent of SES, age and gender” (Chou, Asnaani & Hofmann, 2012).

To be black and born in the United States of America is to feel, from the moment you take your first breath after leaving your mothers womb, that you are inherently wrong. Can you imagine what that does to the psyche of people of color, what that does to our soul, and our sense of self. We have inherited soul wounds from generations before us. We were ripped from our homeland where we lived as royalty and emperors. Despite what the media would like you to believe, the continent of Africa is a beautiful place with beautiful people and beautiful practices. To transition from being kings and queens to being property is demoralizing, dehumanizing, traumatic, and destructive to our souls, and our self-concept. We do not know who we are as a people because our culture and customs were taken away from us. Then add insult to injury, in addition to being unaware of who we are culturally and spiritually, what we do have left of ourselves is considered a threat.

“Racial trauma is one term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that people of Color often experience after exposure to particularly stressful experiences of racism” (Carter, 2007).

The black experience in America is an experience of trauma. Race based stress is when racism is the source of stress. A component of trauma is feeling like you have no control of what is happening to you. So, it is no surprise that racism is something that people of color experience as uncontrollable because we often feel powerless living under a system that is set up for our demise. Can you imagine living in a world that hates you, fears you, and expects nothing of you? Can you image living in a world that treats you as subhuman simply because you were born with a pigment in your body called melanin.

You know what guys, I am being completely transparent here, as an African American woman and mother of two black sons I am having an awfully hard time writing and finishing this piece. My heart is so heavy that I can barely string my thoughts together. The emotions I feel range from anger, to sadness, to confusion, and they all are palpable and visceral. Then I get numb, and I realize that I have been suppressing my anger as a defense mechanism because I do not know what to do with this anger. I know I have to allow myself to feel my feelings, but this pain and anger is to intense that I feel like I will be crushed under the weight of it. This is probably what it is like for most African Americans right now and this is true suffering.

Ways to cope:

Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling without judging it. Your feelings are normal, natural, and valid.

Disconnect from the media, social and otherwise. The constant reporting is causing us to be inundated with information and its sensory overload. Either limit your time with media or unplug all together.

Stay in contact with your support system, be around people that love and support you.

Talk about how you are feeling, express yourself to release your emotions.

If you are tired of the injustices and want to make a difference, take some type of action that will bring about change. Sign a petition, join a peaceful protest, organize a peaceful protest, call your local politician, vote in elections, join causes, and lastly, speak up and use your voice.

Engage in activities that you enjoy that can serve as a healthy distraction.

Understanding How To Advocate Within The Education System

Today’s interview is with Naomi Studevan, owner and founder of Advocacy Unlimited LLC, her mission is to provide parents with the ability to navigate the education system in a way which provides their child with the educational and behavioral health services needed to succeed in school. ​In this interview Naomi and I discuss some of the common problems and challenges she encounters while working with parents, their children, and the school system. Naomi offers some advice on how to navigate the system and advocate for your child’s right to be treated fairly and educated properly.

Naomi: I have been a professional advocate for about five years now. And I have been an advocate for 15 years now. When I was pregnant with my son, there were a lot of complications. I felt like things were not right. And when I went to my doctor about it, instead of checking me out, he just assumed it was hypertension, and that it was hereditary. My son ended up having a lot of major medical issues. And then there was a point where he was probably around two or three, he was having a lot of issues. I kept going back and forth to the doctor, and they kept sending us home. And there was one time we were at the hospital, and I was just tired, tired, tired, tired, and they came in and said we were being discharged. I told them you are not discharging us until we figure out what is causing this. So, for me that was like that first moment where I realized that if I stand up for myself and not just take the word of the quote unquote, professionals that I can see things through. I can make sure that me and my children get the support and the help that they need. Okay. So fast forward. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, and I have worked in the mental and behavioral health field for years from the time that I graduated. And what I saw was that my goal was always to help children. But in doing the work, I started seeing a lot of discrepancies with children in the home, children in the schools when I work in the schools on case management. I saw that there were unfortunately a lot of teachers who did not have the student’s best interests at heart.

Akiva: What type of mental health issues do you primarily see when you are working with parents and students?

Naomi: Because I have experience in behavioral health, and I have done TSS work, when you go into the schools and you sit in these meetings, a lot of times the focus is on the behavior. The students are throwing desks, they are flipping out, they are hitting students, they are arguing with teachers, they are walking out, they are running the school. And what I have found is that the more you listen, the more you realize that there were antecedents to these behaviors. So, a lot of times when it comes to mental health that is where I see my role. I am almost training school staff on how to handle children who have ADHD, ODD, and Autism in order to figure out what is going on so that you are not seeing these behaviors as much. For example, if a student starts having behaviors right before math, it could be because they are struggling with math and do not want to do it.

Akiva: Do you provide training for the teachers because it sounds like they need it.

Naomi: That’s what I want to do. That is one of my major goals right now, to partner with the schools. Unfortunately, there is an awful, awful relationship right now when it comes to schools and anybody who is considered an education consultant or advocate. There is this aggressive animosity between schools and these people who are supporting parents in navigating that system. And so that is where I’ve kind of hit a wall when it comes to me supporting schools because I would love to do that. I would love to offer that professional development and have it where all staff members receive the same professional development.

Akiva: So how can you navigate this hard relationship between the advocates and the school system because this relationship is important, and it is needed.

Naomi: Exactly. And so, what I have been doing is trying to attend meetings and build rapport with people within the buildings. My approach to advocacy is more so of a mediator.  I am all about the student and how can we all work together to figure out what is best for this student. And so, I have in the past, started building relationships with some of the special education directors and people like that, who seemed to truly just have the best interest of the child at heart. I am hoping that my reputation will begin to show them that that is what I am there for, and that they will see me as someone that they can trust, to provide them with information.  Because at the end of the day, what is happening is that because the schools are not providing children with the appropriate services when it comes to behavior, it in turn affects the way that they are receiving education.

Akiva: That’s really disheartening because these children are being lost in the sauce.

Naomi: Yes, yes. And that is what I say. Unfortunately, that is what happens. Red flags are not noticed until children are at least two years behind. And that is what one of my other efforts has been. To reach out to preschools and daycares so that early intervention is in place.  So, when they make that transition from those early pre k years into kindergarten the ball is not dropped during the transition. Because if they have services in pre-K, and then they go to kindergarten, but services have not been transferred. It typically takes two years before services are properly in place. And so now we have someone going into third grade, reading, writing, and doing math on a kindergarten level because they did not get the services if they are not transferred.

Akiva: Do you notice that you get called for one type of issue over another?

Naomi: Unfortunately, the red flag is risen because of behaviors and this is where I see it the most. Parents become frustrated with the phone calls. They are frustrated because they keep getting phone calls about behavior, but nobody is doing anything. Or it is education related. This is why I say that now is a perfect time for parents to do observations of their own. Because parents are now home schooling, they are realizing that their children are not doing as well as they thought they were.  Parents are seeing that in some school environments, they are not grading for correct answers they are grading for answers.  And so that is why I say right now is a perfect time for parents to start taking notes. And now you can hold the school and the teachers accountable, because now you are seeing what you were not seeing before.

Akiva: That’s interesting. So, with that example, because parents are homeschooling their kids, and they see that their kids are not understanding what they are learning, but you are coming home with A’s and B’s. What would you then recommend the parents do?

Naomi: Call them out. Everything is documentation, documentation, documentation. And so again, it will be a process. So, we would start with an email, so I would say, I see we are covering some of that same information, but they are not understanding the concepts. Or ask, can you get on with them, so that you can explain it the way that you’re teaching it and so that I can sit in and listen and make sure I’m not doing something different, because I just want to make sure that there’s no deniability in there. But now you can say, I need my child to be assessed on their understanding and comprehension. Now you want them assessed in the school environment because anytime that you see any discrepancies, or you have concerns for their abilities, you can request for them to be assessed. A lot of times parents will say, well, the school said they do not need to be assessed yet. It does not matter. If you have documentation that shows that there’s legit concerns. You have every right for them to be assessed.

Akiva: What would be a message that you would like to get out, and general advice you would like to share?

Naomi: My biggest message to all parents is document, document, document, and go with your gut. If you have a concern of any sorts you need to reach out to someone, and you always start with the initial person whether it’s a teacher or staff member and you work your way up the hierarchy. But you always make sure you do so using documentation. You send an email, in this day and age we have to utilize our resources, document what we are doing, how we are reaching out. And if your concerned do not feel like you are being a crazy parent, do not feel like you are being an overprotective parent, you reach out and you ask for help. If you are not getting it there, then you need to go outside of the school and get additional support.

Naomi can be contacted with the information below:

http://www.advocacyunlimited.net/

(215) 572-0612 ​

 info@advocacyunlimited.net

We all have a voice and an internal guide for a reason, I know it is all to easy to allow our inner voice to be silenced in the face of experts. We sometimes tend to think that because a person has on a white coat, or all these fancy degrees, and letters behind their names that they know more than us. While they may be more educated and have more training in a particular area, that does not give them the right to dismiss or mistreat us and those that we love. Always trust your gut and follow your instincts. You have the right to advocate for yourself and be advocated for.

Understanding Trauma Bonds

So, what exactly is a trauma bond? This term has become popular in recent years and complete transparency here, I did not understand it myself until I started researching it. Prior to researching it, based on the term I thought a trauma bond was when two people bonded over a shared trauma. Or that people bonded to someone that was reminiscent of their trauma. The later is partly accurate, but the former is completely out of the ballpark. The term trauma bond was coined by Patrick Carnes in his book titled The Betrayal Bonds. It is important to note that trauma bonds can happen in all types of relationships not just romantic relationships, and a key element of these relationships is expolation.

A trauma bond is essentially a cycle of abuse. Cycles of abuse include both positive and negative behaviors and experiences. In trauma bonds the initial connection with the person is strong and intense, it is like you fall and you fall hard. Because the relationship started off so good and because the connection was so strong, we tend to crave that. However that is the first sign that you maybe in a trauma bond, when you connect with someone and it’s hot and heavy from the beginning that serves as a red flag, because love doesn’t usually happen that way. I mean there are people who believe in love at first sight, but realistically how can you love someone that you barely know? So you just start dating someone and this person seems perfect, and they feel that you are perfect, they are complimenting you, telling you things like they’ve never felt this way about any one before, the honeymoon stage has you feeling over the top in love with this person. But then some type of conflict happens, something you did or said, or did not do or say upset this person and now they are abusing you, either physically, verbally, or emotionally. The person that you were just head over heels in love with, is now the source of your fear. You are simultaneously afraid, yet feel deeply in love with this person, and that in a nutshell is a trauma bond.

You are bonded with this person because the initial attraction and connection was so strong that you now crave it, even though true colors have been exposed. It is especially important not to judge or get upset with yourself because there is a biological factor at play here. With any pleasurable experience, dopamine is released and once we get a surge of dopamine, we want more and more of it, there is a reason it is called the feel-good chemical. Dopamine has an interesting relationship with cortisol, which is a stress hormone. When we are stressed and our fight and flight system is activated, cortisol among other neurotransmitters are released. Because our bodies are only meant to endure acute stress, our system gets overwhelmed when too much cortisol is released, and therefore our system wants dopamine to balance us out and bring us back to homeostasis. When things with your partner are going well, dopamine is released, when things are not going well cortisol is released. It is a dance between these two and the brain and body always want to restore homeostasis, or balance. It is remarkably similar to what happens to the brain in addiction. This craving sometimes causes us to ignore and accept things that we normally would not. In addition, to the biological process that is going on, the abuser is often manipulative. Abusers have the ability to make the victim feel like the abuse or conflict is their fault. In addition to being manipulative they are often charming. This is where buying roses after they abuse you comes from. They charm you by showering you with gifts and becoming that person you fell in love with again. This is the cycle of abuse, this is a trauma bond, and this is crazy making. It is confusing because it is the cycle of love, then abuse, then love, then abuse.

“We all eat lies when our hearts are hungry”

When you are in a trauma bond it may be hard to get out because the intermittent reinforcement of the positive behavior makes you think the abuser is sorry and they really love you. Some people are especially susceptible to trauma bonds if they’ve experienced childhood trauma. When a child experiences childhood trauma, and the abuse is also accompanied by love, the child learns that abuse and love are one in the same. The type of relationship that we experience with our parents and caregivers lays the foundation for how we think all relationships should be. Therefore, when a child experiences both love and abuse from the person who is their model of love and relationships, they will think this behavior is normal. This makes it challenging to one, recognize the abuse, and two leave the situation. It takes strength and courage to leave an abusive relationship.

It could be argued that an underlying theme of a trauma bond is love seeking. When we did not have proper and positive examples of what real love is, it can be hard to recognize. This seeking of love is what keeps us in trauma bonds because there are periods when the abuser makes us feel loved. Those moments are treasured and sought after and sometimes we will do anything to get it, including ignoring red flags that can lead to abuse. If you are in a trauma bond, there is help for you and things you can do. Seeking psychotherapy can help you to understand the relationship and take steps to end it. Community is also a tool to use. When we are in a situation it is hard for us to look at it objectively, this is where family and friends can be useful. As they are on the outside looking in, they can see what we cannot see. Enlist your trusted friends and ask them to be your eyes and ears. Ending contact with your abuser is one of the best ways to start to end the trauma bond, however this must be done with caution and safety if physical abuse is a factor. Learning to focus on yourself and developing healthy relationships with self and others is also a tool in learning to break the bond.

The most valuable thing a person can do to end a trauma bond is to recognize it for what it is. It is abuse, it is not love, because real love does not hurt.

Understanding The Compulsion To Repeat

We sometimes find ourselves in the same relationship, meaning we are always having the same problem but with different people. On the surface the problem may even seem different because it may manifest differently, however the root of the problem always seems to be the same. Self-awareness is key to fixing any problem, in order to know how to fix a problem we need to know what is causing the problem. The recurring themes in our relationship is an invitation to look at ourselves and examine what is going on. This is where we can ask ourselves, why do I keep having the same relationship experiences, like what is this about really? Theory explains our tendency to be in the same relationship repeatedly as the compulsion to repeat. We maybe repeating relationship patterns that we have witnessed in our families, or we maybe repeating the same patterns in our individual relationships. No matter what the scientific or theoretical explanation is, at the end of the day it is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. As that is what all experiences are meant to be, they are learning lessons. The experience is the teacher and you are the student. I invite you to be a student of your life and learn all that you need to learn so you can be the best version of yourself. Whether your compulsion to repeat is about you trying to overcome something, or if it’s about being in something that feels familiar, no matter what it is for you, just let it teach you something. Learn from it. Grow because of it. Be better because it happened.

If you have ever been in a serious relationship have you noticed how you and your spouse basically keep having the same argument although it appears different on the surface? However, if you really analyze it perhaps, you will notice that it is the same overarching theme. Due to our childhood experiences and because we all were raised by imperfect human beings, we all tend to have some experience with feeling unworthy. And this may sometimes be the underlying theme in our relationships. On the surface you maybe be arguing about your spouse not listening even after you’ve told them the same thing for the hundredth time, but in reality, what’s really happening is your wondering why am I not important enough for them to listen? Why am I not important enough for them to care? If they really cared they would not keep doing the same thing repeatedly? And for the life of you, you tell yourself that the next relationship will be different, and it maybe appear different, but underneath it is the same thing, right? Or if you remain in the relationship, you say this problem will not exist anymore. And you wonder why this keeps happening? Do not beat yourself up or blame yourself for it because there is a theory that may explain it. The compulsion to repeat.

“We repeat what we do not repair.” —Christine Langley Obaugh

According to Freud the compulsion to repeat is our attempt at mastery, it is our way of correcting the original experience that we felt unsuccessful at. It is our attempt to prove that we can get it right and that we are worthy of love. According to Freud the compulsion to repeat leads to the resolution of the original pain, however the research does not support his theory. Freud is not the only person who attempted to understand this phenomenon. Bessel Van Der Kolk often discusses repetition compulsion in his research on trauma. His research highlights the fact that sometimes people who experience trauma, sometimes unconsciously find themselves in situations that are like the initial trauma. On the outside looking in, its easy to wonder why someone stays in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. From a limited perspective it does not make sense, but from a biological and primitive perspective it might make more sense than we realize regarding traumatic relationships.

A primary function of a human being is to survive, and our brain works extremely hard to ensure our safety on a moment to moment basis. There are complex neurological processes happening in our brains every second of the day. While it may seem absurd to think that our brain has anything to do with our compulsion to repeat, it makes perfect sense. Think about our primitive ancestors who lived in the wild. They survived via repetition, imagine a lizard out in the wild looking for food. One day while out hunting for food, it encounters a threat in the form of an animal bigger and stronger than him. Luckily, he escapes so the next day he takes a different path, on this path there is no threat and he also secures his meal for the day which guarantees his survival. So, the next day, which path do you think the lizard is going to take? Of course, he is going to take the path that ensured his survival and was absent of any threat, right? And while we are  not lizards and we have other parts of our brain that evolved us to the thinking and feeling humans that we are, we still have that reptilian brain and that reptilian brain is what is responsible for our survival. In short, we do what we know works. We do what kept us safe the last time we encountered this threat.

Now I know it seems like I am going on a tangent and you are probably wondering what one has to do with the other but hold on I promise it will make sense in a minute. At a primitive level, our survival is centered on the evasion of pain and the replication of pleasure. I went to a trauma workshop once and the speaker was sharing her experience with trauma. She explained how she was being sexually abused and subsequently was removed from the home and placed into foster care. She then shared how she ran away from her foster home to go back to the home where she was being abused at. Her explanation as to why she did this made perfect sense to me, she said “the unfamiliar is scarier than the familiar.” Like the saying goes “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” It is like choosing the lesser of two evils. She explained that while returning to that home was putting herself in danger, at least she knew how to protect herself from that danger. For example, she knew if her abuser were coming, she could hide in the closet. Being in a new environment, those threats were unfamiliar, and she had no defense against them, going back home, while dangerous, at least she had a better chance for survival.

Ok, so let’s bring this back to our compulsion to repeat and how it relates to our relationships, especially the unhealthy and or traumatic ones. In short, we have the tendency to engage in repetitive patterns of behavior because it is familiar. We seek out relationships, people, and experiences that are familiar because we know how to survive them. In life we have had many experiences and experience has taught us what works and what does not. When we find what works we tend to repeat it because it ensures our survival. Ok, maybe not in a literally since, but in a metaphorically since, especially since our brains does not know the difference between a real or perceived threat. To our brains an argument with our spouse and a tiger waiting to pounce is an equal threat. When we are in relationships with people that mean something to us and give us some form of pleasure, we want that relationship to work because we want to experience that pleasure, even if it sometimes accompanies pain. Our brain tells us that pleasure is good for our survival and we must repeat that pleasure for continued survival. No relationship is all good or all bad, even in what seems like the worst relationship possible, some type of pleasure is derived and seeking that pleasure is what keeps us in relationships we otherwise think we should not be in.

There are multiple theories out that there that aim to explain why people stay in unhealthy relationships. Whether it be because of a trauma bond, or a primitive need for survival, or conditioning, or feeling like you do not deserve to be happy and treated well. At the end of the day all relationships serve a purpose and that purpose is to heal. Our relationships expose our wounds and present an opportunity to fix them. However, we sometimes miss out on this opportunity because it is not always easy to look at ourselves. If we find ourselves in the same relationship repeatedly, with the same underlying theme, which is different for each of us, we must start to pay attention to what our compulsion to repeat is trying to teach us. While there may not be any empirical data on the fact that our compulsion to repeat is our attempt to correct the original experience, this theory makes sense to me.

Understanding Our Wounded Inner Child

Have you ever wondered why you are the way you are, or why you do some of the things you do? There are many theoretical models and research that aim to answer these questions, but in short, it’s because we are the sum total of our experiences. What and how we experience things determine who we are, and it starts the day we enter the world. When we are infants, we are completely dependent on the adult caretakers in our lives for all our developmental dependency needs, and at a primal level our survival. Think about it, what can an infant do for him or herself? As infants we can’t fend for ourselves, we can’t feed ourselves, we can’t change our own diapers, and we certainly can’t pay any bills. This means that our survival literally depends on the adults who are meant to take care of us, and this is where the learning begins. This is when who we are and how we are to be is formed.

We learn how to respond to ourselves, others, and the world based on how our caregivers respond to us. They are our models, our teachers, and they lay the foundation for all our future interactions and relationships. Much of who we are comes from the response or lack of response from our caregivers and important people in our lives. For example, if a baby is crying because they are hungry, or wet, or sleepy, the response from their care givers teach them a valuable lesson about themselves in that moment. If the caregiver responds by being attentive to the child and meeting the need in the moment, the child can learn that they are loved, worthy, and important. On the flip side, if the caregiver doesn’t respond the child can learn that they are unworthy, unlovable, and unimportant. When we are helpless and defenseless infants it is crucial to our development that our needs be met. Think about a 3-month-old baby laying there crying, hungry, in need of a diaper change and no one responds to him or her. What message is that baby being sent? What does that do to a development of a healthy sense of self? That baby maybe taught that he or she isn’t important enough to be responded to, to be loved, and to be taken care of properly. That is very damaging to our sense of self, our healthy development, and our souls. It arrests our development and leaves a big void within us that we sometimes aim to fill with destructive behaviors. This has the ability to stay with us forever if it goes unchecked.

When we have early experiences that teach us that we are unlovable we tend to hold onto that experience, and it shapes who we are. A lot of times we then unconsciously seek further experiences to reinforce that core belief that we are unlovable. The opposite is also true when our needs are being met and we carry that message with us as well. We create core beliefs based on our experiences and those core beliefs govern our lives. A core belief is just a thought, however it is a deeply held thought that we believe to be true, unless and until we learn to challenge those beliefs. Core beliefs are consequences of our experiences and most of our core beliefs develop in childhood. But the thing is we could have developed a core belief when we were five years old, and that’s why it’s important to challenge our core beliefs. While the belief may have been true for the 5-year-old, is it now true for the 30 or 40 year old? When our core beliefs go unexamined the person who created the belief is running the show, which means that there is a 5-year-old masquerading as a 30-year-old.

No matter what type of family we come from, how much or little money we have, none of us are exempt from experiencing childhood wounds. We are all raised by flawed human beings because humans are flawed by design, and those flaws lead to our wounds. It’s important to know that our caregivers, are always doing the best they can with what they have at the time. Their mishaps are not a demonstration of their lack of love for us. They are probably just as wounded as we are, and until the wounds are healed, we will continue to have wounded children raising other wounded children. There is a wounded inner child in each one of us and that wounded inner child is running our life. It’s that child who gets triggered when we don’t get what we want, or our needs met. It’s that child who keep finding themselves in failed relationship after failed relationship, because that’s their way of trying to get it right. They are trying to have a corrective experience and prove that they are lovable, worthy, and important.

“She held herself until the sobs of the child inside subsided entirely. I love you, she told herself. It will all be okay.”

― H. Raven Rose, Shadow Selves: Double Happiness

So, it’s not that our childhood is affecting our life, it’s that we are that child. That child goes no where until we rescue him or her. That child will continue to wreak havoc on our lives and sabotage what we say is important until we give him or her what we want. The healing of our wounded inner child is our responsibility because we are the only ones who knows that child still exist. It’s as if there are toddlers wearing adult bodies as costumes. Imagine a toddler trying to be in an adult relationship, image a toddler trying to manage adult responsibilities. Its an impossibility. We must honor our wounded inner child and give them what they want, which is to be loved, feel important and know they are valuable. The healing of our wounded inner child lies in us learning to reparent ourselves. We are the only ones who know what we truly need and want, and we must learn to give it ourselves. We must learn to break the pattern, because we learn how to treat ourselves based on the way we were treated. We punish ourselves the way we were punished, we shame ourselves the way we were shamed. Part of the healing process is learning to interrupt the old patterns and learning to love ourselves as whole, complete, and perfect beings, because at our core that’s who we are. We are all worthy, lovable, and important, some of us forgot this and our wounded inner child requires us to relearn this lesson. You matter because you are here.

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Understanding and Managing Stress

Today’s conversation is with Michelle Govan who is a stress management coach. Michelle and I discuss the difference between good and bad stress, the impact that chronic stress has on our mental and physical health, and lastly some tips to manage stress. Stress is a normal part of life that none of us is exempt from, however the key is to learn to manage it effectively. As Michelle explains perfectly, our response to the events in our life is what determines our level of stress. It’s all about changing your mindset.

Michelle: My name is Michelle Govan and I worked in radiology for 32 years. During that time, I went through transitions with program directors at a radiography program that I taught at. I had found myself becoming very stressed because of different demands and expectations, lack of communication, and different things started to transpire. So long story short, I was literally going to work crying, coming home crying, and my hair began falling out. I was just a blob of a mess. Eventually the radiography program closed, and I ended up losing my job, but I thought of it as a relief because the stress began to diminish. Once I got myself together, I thought to myself, I could not be the only person in this world experiencing this type of stress, especially in the workplace. I began to research programs, enrolled into a course and became certified as a stress management coach. I began to bridge my teaching skills with the stress management, married them together, and begin to teach others how to manage their stress. There is a need for stress management coaches. The World Health Organization has stated that stress was the 21st century’s epidemic, but it’s something that we have basically embraced in our life. We have embraced that hamster in the wheel lifestyle, to keep going and going and going and we have to learn to set limits and get off.  There has to be a time when we say enough is enough.

Akiva: Mm hmm. Well, I didn’t know that there was this sector of the field for a stress management coach. I love that idea because especially in our community, the African American community, although therapy is on the upswing, it’s still not widely accepted. You know, a lot of people are stressed, and for people who may not be ready to go the therapy route, maybe they can see someone like you, who is a stress management coach that can help them. I love that option and think that’s so awesome. How would you explain, in a most simplified way, the difference between positive stress, which is technically called eustress and the negative stress, which is technically called distress, how would you explain that to someone?

Michelle: I would say eustress is something that, you know, like you said, it’s a positive stress. It’s a stress you may experience if you’re buying a house, you’re excited about it. Like when you’re getting married, it can be stressful, but you’re excited about it and then it’s going to come to an end. It’s something that’s very positive. You’re not necessarily worrying or have anxiety for specifically a long time. Now when you’re talking about distress, you have acute and you have chronic stress. With acute stress you can be stressed like let’s just say, I kind of even put it in the realm of like an athlete sometimes, like when you’re playing a football game, or like Tiger Woods when he’s playing golf. You know he’s trying to get that hole in one and they’re trying to get that touchdown. It might be a little bit of distress, but then it ends, it stops. Where the problem comes in is when we’re operating in chronic stress. When it’s day in, day out, day in and day out, and there’s no decrease in that stress. A lot of people kind of huddle right there. 75% of the general population experiences some type of stress every two weeks. It’s just a matter of managing that stress and then letting it go because it could just be for the moment. When you’re in that chronic stress, like I said, you’re replaying like a story in your mind, and you’re constantly worrying and, and there’s no release. That’s where you’re gonna really see symptoms start to manifest themselves.

Akiva: So, you said something very important. And I think it’s important to expound upon that a little, you said we are kind of accustomed to being on the hamster wheel and, we just go and go and go, like we think stress is normal. Why do you think that is?

Michelle: I think it is the current expectation of our culture. I would say also, the expectations of our employers.  There was never a time where you would check your emails at home. Now we’re working at work, and we’re working at home. This lifestyle and expectation have taken a toll on our families and on relationships. There has to be a time that you disconnect. As I mentioned previously, our culture has changed to that 24 seven mentality to keep going and going and going. We feel like if we stop that we’re going to miss something. So, we just keep going, we keep grinding, especially if you’re starting a business or something like that. When you don’t set parameters and limitations, not realizing that if something happens to you, you will not be able to take care of your business, your family, ministry, or any of those things that are important to you. This has been a gradual change in our culture because my grandmother, when she passed, she was 104. Now, there is not a whole lot of people nowadays living healthy with their right mind to that age, because the stress is different. They knew when to relax. They knew on Sundays, I’m just relaxing and being with my family, they knew when to cut things off, but now it’s the constant full steam ahead. It has affected our whole way of life. We have to put a stop to that by creating limits, creating boundaries and purposefully and intentionally getting off the hamster wheel.

Akiva: And that is such a simple takeaway. Just relax.

Michelle: Yes, yes.

Akiva: It’s so simple, but it’s so hard for so many people.

Michelle: So hard

Akiva: What do you think are some of the negative effects regarding mental health from prolonged and chronic stress? Like what type of mental health issues are caused from the chronic stress?

Michelle:  One would be avoiding other people. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a lot of stress, you get to the point of isolation. You don’t want to be bothered with people. If you do have interactions with people, you can become easily agitated and frustrated, and that’s where my husband was. He fell in that category right there with me. He wasn’t doing anything to really agitate me, but somedays if I just heard his voice, I would just get so agitated and upset. I was just under so much stress and I just didn’t know at that time, how to relieve that stress. You can also experience that feeling of being overwhelmed and like you’re losing control. You can find yourself constantly worrying because there’s many people that might have slept from let’s just say, nine o’clock at night to seven o’clock in the morning, and they still feel tired. Well, that’s because your mind never shut down. Your physical body might have been lying in the bed, but your mind was going, because you’re worried about whatever the circumstances are. You’re not getting the rest that you really need, so you get up tired, because mentally you’re thinking of these things and you’re not actually resting, and your mind has not stopped.

Akiva: Yeah, so it sounds like the mental health problems could morph into anxiety, depression, probably even like panic attacks.

Michelle: Yes. I had one once and I was like, oh my gosh, is this what it feels like. When I was going through my situation, I felt this pressure, like a physical pressure on me and it sent me into, almost a panic while I was driving. It was a feeling that I didn’t want to feel anymore.

Akiva: Okay, well good for you for recognizing that and knowing that you need to do something about it.

Michelle: Yes!

Akiva: So okay, now let’s move to physical health, because I know that there is tons of research out there on how stress causes our physical illness. I don’t remember the exact percentage and statistics right now. But I would say most our physical health problems come from stress. What can you say about that?

Michelle: Let me tell you, you’re absolutely right.  Many doctors now, when they can’t pinpoint an actual reason why people are experiencing certain symptoms, they will ask, what is stressing you, or are you worried about something? Do you have anxiety? What I personally experienced was, as I mentioned the hair loss and an upset stomach, and I had upset stomach all the time. I remember the doctor saying, are you stressed about something because that can cause certain types of GI distress. When you have aches and pains and tense muscles, you’ll feel that all in your neck and throughout your back. You can also have weight gain or weight loss, depending on how you go. Some people when stressed, may overeat and overindulge, and some people will just stop eating. Others may experience a clenched jaw and may have TMJ problems because of clenching their jaw all the time and grinding of their teeth. Frequently, people experience headaches and possibly increase blood pressure. So those are some of the physical things that you might experience.

Akiva: Oh, wow, that’s good info. So, what would be some stress management tips that you can offer? In general, but especially now going through what we’re going through with the whole COVID chaos as you put it, how can people minimize their stress?

Michelle: Honestly, I would say disconnect from the TV, the electronics, social media and give your mind time to relax and rest. Information is running rampant on every channel, everybody is broadcasting about COVID 19 and that can send you into a frenzy, information overload. It’s just so much and we have to take time to disconnect from that. I mean watch something different, watch something funny because one of the things that people don’t realize is that laughter helps to boost the immune system. I would say to continue to exercise.  Walk around your development, keeping your six feet and really get outside on the days like today when it’s nice outside for your physical and mental wellbeing. Also set limits.  Learn to tell people no. You can’t say yes to everyone’s request.  Also, because of the current situation, people are very frustrated. They don’t know what to do. They have to accept that there’s somethings that are out of their control, and they just have to shift their mindset. The COVID 19 is here. Okay? How do I manage my family? Okay, my job tells me now I have to possibly shift hours, etc. So, it’s a matter of adjusting. But some people will be stressed about those adjustments. Others are a little more resilient and will just say, you know these are the cards I have been dealt, and now I need to do what I have to do. I think that’s the best way to handle it because there’s always going to be a change happening, whether it was this or something else, but really, stress comes from how we respond to change.

Akiva: I love that! That was perfect.

Michelle: Whatever the change is, how we respond to it, whether negatively or positively, during any stressful time and even now, it’s about making the right choice.  You have to make sure that you are choosing the right tools to reduce your stress. You don’t want to choose destructive releases because some people might turn to drugs. Some might turn to alcohol; some people might turn to compulsive behavior. Now that is going to add on to your stress eventually. So, you don’t want to use destructive things to address your stress. You want to do something that’s going to be positive. That’s going to build you up.

 Akiva: That was perfect. So how about we finish out with anything you would like to add, anything you think will be helpful.

Michelle: Okay, my takeaway tip is even though we’re going through stressful situations and stressful times, remember that these times won’t last always. It’s about changing your mindset. You deal with the moment, and then you keep on going. Stress has tentacles that can reach and affect your mental, your physical, and your emotional wellbeing. It can also affect your finances; it can affect your relationships. Your response is going to be what’s going to either keep you down, or are you going to be resilient and use your bounce back buoyancy and come up and rise out of the circumstance.

Akiva: Perfect, thank you. I feel like that is an excellent place to end.

The entire world is living through uncertain times, we have never experienced any thing like COVID-19 before and it’s normal to be stressed and afraid. However you are not alone, if you need any assistance navigating these uncharted waters Michelle and I are here to support you.

Akiva’s contact info is:

http://www.beyondlimitsmhw.com

Michelle’s contact info is:

Email: micgovan@yahoo.com

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/micgovan

Corona Virus: Survival Requires Adaptation

In an effort to protect my energy and my mental state, as a rule of thumb I generally don’t watch the news. It’s just to depressing and it’s overwhelmingly more bad news than it is good news being reported. But the little girl in me always hears my mother’s voice saying, “You have to know what’s going on.” So, I occasionally watch the news, just so I can know what’s going on, and let’s be honest, with the advent of social media I couldn’t escape the news if I wanted to. So, when I first started hearing reports of the Corona Virus aka COVID-19, because it was in China and no immediate threat to me or the people I love, I paid it no mind. I assumed it would have been like all the other out breaks that while was devastating, would not hit close to home, and would soon pass.

I couldn’t have been more wrong; I constantly find myself saying “I have never lived through anything like this before.” It’ jarring to say the least. I live in Montgomery County, which was the epicenter for the outbreak in Pennsylvania, so not only is it close, it is literally in my back yard. I’m not a person to live in fear but being transparent, it’s really challenging not to be at least concerned. This virus is potentially deadly, and its reach is so far and vast. It’s almost in every part of our world, and while more people recover than those who die, the fact remains that people are still dying. Lately in the hundreds each day and this is something I wish people took more seriously.

When the announcements were made that schools and non-essential businesses were closing, it was like I was living in the twilight zone. Yet gain I found myself saying, I have never lived through anything like this before. It’s crazy making. Like how are we living in a time where our government officials have to tell us to stay inside, in an attempt to guarantee our safety? It’s like a movie. This can’t be real life. I remember two weeks ago when it started to get worse in the United States, and locally, here in Mont Co. I went to a Whole Foods and the parking lot was so crowded I had to drive around 3 times before I could find an empty parking space. This was before the announcement was made that schools were closing, so I was really confused as to why there was this mad dash to Whole Foods. Then later that night I went to Walmart to buy food, just because it was my normal time to go grocery shopping and it was the same thing. It was a mad house in there, certain aisles were completely empty. And again, because I don’t watch the news that often I was baffled as to why there were so many people in the store buying up all the toilet paper.

This is when I decided to watch the news and learned that all Montgomery County schools, and non-essential business were going to be closed for two weeks. Then Philadelphia followed suit and closed all their schools and non-essential business as well. And again, I find myself saying, I have never lived through anything like this before. In fact, I don’t think any person alive now, I don’t care how old you are, has lived through anything like this before. We are definitely in uncharted waters and as such a large majority of us are freaking out. We are freaking out because we thrive on routine, we learn how to survive by figuring out what works. And once we figure out what works we do that nearly every day, almost robotically. We fear change because with change comes uncertainty, and most of us run the other way when we see uncertainty coming.

However, I would like to challenge that notion and invite all of us to think of change as a way of survival. The process of natural selection proves that only those organisms who adapt to their environment survive. So, in essence true survival requires adaptation, that’s the natural process of the universe, if we don’t change, we don’t grow.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

― Bruce Lee

One of the best definitions of acceptance I’ve heard is that acceptance means to be in alignment with reality. COVID-19 is our reality, and as strange and unfamiliar as it is, this is what we are faced with and our task as human beings is to learn to adapt to this so we can grow. As the quote from Bruce Lee says above, become like the water, which means to me, that we must be one with it. Which is acceptance in its truest form. We must be one with our reality of COVID-19 and accept our new normal, this is where we have to learn to be flexible and adaptable. Think back to our early ancestors, if you believe in the theory of evolution, we modern humans wouldn’t be here today, if our early ancestors hadn’t learned to adapt to the changes in their environment and survived. Our society today wouldn’t be the way it is if people hadn’t learned to adapt to the changes in infrastructure and technology.

In life we encounter things that are out of our control, and the days and times that we are living in now, is certainly out of our control. However, what we can control is how we respond to it and I think one of the biggest lessons for us all to learn, one that I have been reminded of, is that we must be flexible. We must learn to go with the flow because when we fight against the current, we create resistance and we all know that doesn’t end well. In addition to learning to be flexible and go with the flow, I also invite you to find the good. There is always a silver lining, always something to be grateful for. Perhaps this time at home as allowed you to finish a home project, you know, that one you’ve been putting off for months. Or maybe you’ve finally read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand. Or maybe you even started writing a book. Maybe your spending more time with your friends and family. Perhaps you now have time to talk to people you were to busy for before. Maybe you cooked that special meal you’ve been longing for. For me personally, my cousin and I started a text chain where we send each other all the memes we see about the virus, not at all suggesting that our current situation is funny because it certainly is not, but we are finding some joy in it. I know we both crack up laughing when we send those text. So, for me, I am enjoying this special moment between my cousin and I that we would not have had if it weren’t for our current reality. I implore you to find the good, always know that there is something to be grateful for.

Understanding and Healing Trauma

Today’s blog consists of an interview with one of my sister friends, Samaria Williams. I’ve known Samaria for years now and it was a pleasure to sit with her to discuss trauma. We discuss what’s misunderstood about trauma, what trauma can look like so people can learn to recognize it, and ultimately how to heal from it. Samaria bravely shares her personal experience with trauma and what her path to healing looks like. The discussion of trauma is important because it is so misunderstood, many families and cultures, particularly the African American culture, live with trauma on a day to day basis, and because it’s so common to us we’ve normalized it. My intention with this interview is to raise awareness, provide some insight and education, and most importantly to let people know that they don’t have to suffer because help is out there and healing from trauma is a possibility, although it is a continuous process.

Samaria: I am a licensed clinical social worker, certified in addictions treatment, and a trauma recovery. I specialize in supporting women heal from emotionally dysfunctional childhoods. I believe I have a passion for empowering people with the tools to heal from trauma. I think subconsciously I felt drawn to supporting people heal from addictions and mental health because both of my parents had addiction issues, it was a big part of my experience.

Akiva: I have a similar experience, I mean you know we met in my internship while I was in grad school and we worked at a drug and alcohol facility, however at the time I had no intention on working in drug and alcohol, but I agree with you  because both of my parents are also, well my father is deceased but he was addicted when he was alive, my mother is still currently addicted and I do agree with you that working in that field, it really helped me to look at addiction differently and helped me to get a better understanding.

Samaria: I gravitated towards that field because it was what I had the most experience in. So, I really began to learn how integrated care is what helps someone recover from addiction. When someone has experienced a great amount of trauma there are mental and emotional and psychological impairments that the trauma itself has caused to the nervous system. So, my personal experience has really been in integrative care. How do you help someone with their addiction issue but also with their mental health issue and then how do you help them to live as a recovered person?

Akiva: So, I think that is a great Segway into the discussion about trauma because as we both know that most of the people that we work with who do have experience with addiction, they have untreated trauma.

Samaria: Yes!

Akiva: And even more alarming some of them don’t even recognize that they have trauma

Samaria: Nope

Akiva: So, let’s start there, because I feel like trauma is so misunderstood in the community, like outside of our profession so how would you describe trauma to a lay person who has no idea what this is about?

Samaria: My working definition of trauma is anything that we experience as a threat to our survival or overall well-being. Almost anything can be traumatic to a person.

Akiva: Yeah so that’s true trauma is subjective, and its individual to each person. I was just like randomly having a conversation with someone about this recently and she was talking about trauma and the best way for me to explain it to her was very similarly to what you said. I said trauma is anything that we experience that we felt incapable of handling.

Samaria: Yes, that’s a beautiful way of putting it.  

Akiva: Like if our brain and our body is overwhelmed by any type of a situation and we feel incapable of securing our safety in that moment that’s a trauma.

Samaria: Yes, that’s beautifully said.

Akiva: Thank you

Samaria: And like you said it can be anything. People think that all trauma is huge trauma, and you were the first person that I heard say there is big T trauma and little T trauma but it’s true some people think that it has to be this big thing like a house fire or somebody dies or like something huge but it doesn’t. It can be things like I said that somebody may experience and not feel traumatized by it, but you may have felt that way. So, I think that’s a big myth that all trauma must be life altering huge.

Akiva: That’s something I learned in school the big T and little T, I got that from one of my college professors and it’s very true because not all traumas have to be big. Ok so how do you think trauma impacts our lives?

Samaria: On every level! What took me awhile to learn is that trauma impacts a person at a cellular level. Even when you’re doing all of these things to be well it can impact your immune system, how often you get sick, how fast your recover, the way that your body processes stress, the way that you deal with adversity, all of these things can be impacted by things that you experienced as a young child. And so, I would say that I think trauma impacts you really on every level of life, emotionally, physically, your heart, psychologically, your physical health, your emotional health, your finances, your ability to be assertive, your ability to protect yourself and have healthy boundaries. A person may not have issues in all those areas but certainly if you’ve had a good amount of trauma in your life at some point many or all those areas can be affected. However, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to healing. When you heal any of those areas it tends to create healing in other areas as well.

Akiva: I love your mention of the body because trauma is stored in the body even when we experience traumas and we are not old enough to consciously remember them, our body remembers them. I went to a play therapy training a few years ago and the case that was used to demonstrate the effect of the work of the play therapy was a little girl, who was born prematurely and she had a lot of medical complications when she was born and all of her play was surrounding her medical trauma. Her body remembered the trauma even though she was just born, and she consciously couldn’t remember. I was blown away that, that’s what was coming out in her play because that was what her issue was.

Samaria: That is amazing to me, I have more to say about that later when it comes to my own personal experience with trauma but it’s true that the body does store suppressed trauma, and I’m hopeful because we have so much more training and information about how to help kids heal and adults heal from trauma now than we did years ago but it’s still so astonishing that the body remembers so much that we don’t even have the words for it.

Akiva: So, what do you think happens when the trauma is untreated, what does it look like when people are untreated?

Samaria: It looks likes dysfunction.

Akiva: Mmmmm, yes!

Samaria: Any time you have dysfunction I believe that there is untreated trauma somewhere. When you hear people say that they have tried multiple ways to heal yet life is still very dysfunctional for them. A person often can look like they are having challenges in certain areas if they had emotional or physical trauma as a child. So, it’s still the major areas, I feel like it’s relationships, I feel like it could be money, it could be physical health, emotional health. I think a lot of mental health challenges are emotional challenges and psychological injuries that happened as a child and the body learned to compensate for that disruption in different ways. The challenge is once we grow up and we’re no longer a child anymore some of those same dysfunctional coping skills that maybe helped you survive in childhood; they literally don’t work in adulthood. And that’s when they dysfunction and dysregulation becomes clearer.

Akiva: Umm Hmmm

Samaria: But there’s often less compassion for adults who are dysfunctional than there are for kids who are dysfunctional

Akiva: Yeah that is very true because, at the end of the day that really is about survival. People who experience trauma, especially chronic and complex trauma they are always dysregulated.

Samaria: Yes

Akiva: Their central nervous system is always out of balance, they are always in fight and flight and everything is about survival so whatever experiences they have had previously that made them feel safe in that moment, whether it’s adaptive or maladaptive, it’s like hey this worked for me, this kept me safe last time so I gotta keep doing this.

Samaria: Beautifully said. I think it is all about the nervous system and we’re learning so much more about that now and ways to help regulate it. Whenever you have dysfunction, I believe there is dysregulation there also.

Akiva: So, I agree that we have a lot of advancements, I love the neuropsychology and neuroscience around it and studies of the brain and we’re learning so much. However, there is still a lot of misunderstanding. So why do you think trauma is so misunderstood?

Samaria: Well, that’s a good question, I think for so long mental and emotional health wasn’t as valued as it is now as far as how important it was to someone’s well-being. We know that people value physical health of course, we want our bodies to work well, but I think people underestimate how much mental health played a part in someone’s wellbeing. I think the confusion comes in when people look at it more as a moral issue or a will power issue vs nervous system dysregulation

Akiva: Yes! That is excellent. I’m sure you heard of her Tonier Cain; I had the luxury of going to one of her trainings. She’s not clinical, she just had her own healing and started sharing her journey of healing. One of the things that she said which always sticks out in my mind, she said instead of asking someone what’s wrong with you, ask them what happened to you?

Samaria: Yes, exactly.

Akiva: Because that is what leads to the dysregulation

Samaria: It’s true, I had that same moment with a client at a place of employment some years ago where she was sharing how she struggled to remain clean and how she had lost custody of her son. So, I’m like what happened that would cause you to relapse even though you love your son so much. She had this significant abuse history and she said to me, you know no one’s ever asked me that before and I’ve been in therapy for over 10 years and no one has ever asked me what happened. And so, I learned the power of that question.

Akiva: Yeah, that’s amazing so with this discussion of trauma do you think it’s possible to fully recover from trauma is this something that you can get over?

Samaria: That’s a good question and it’s a hard question, I think that a person can recover from trauma I would put an asterisk beside fully. I think that for someone to fully recover from trauma it takes a lot of determination and I also think that it takes a lot more resources then our current insurance system will provide. So a person has to really work on their own independent healing journey and often the cost of that is out of pocket, it’s self-pay and the reality is many people don’t have access to the kind of healing that impacts neurobiology and mental programming. Because its more than just about moving through what happened it’s regulating the nervous system and when you talk about regulation your talking about certain modalities that will help that. There are natural modalities I think we discussed them before, there’s yoga, there’s talk therapy, there’s acupuncture, and there’s massage therapy, neurofeedback, NLP, all many more techniques that help regulate your nervous system. But when you use the words FULLY  heal I think you have to heal body, mind, heart, spirit, and psychology for all of those to be healed it’s not just talk therapy, it’s not just medication, its these different modalities that have to be integrated, like you said the whole person must be treated.

Akiva: Ok so this is a great Segway to the next question, so how can people begin their process of recovery?

Samaria: I believe it’s all about self-awareness, I believe that we must start looking at what in our life is not working and thinking about how we would like it to be. I think that If you start there you can begin to find the threads of the dysfunction and the dysregulation and that will lead you to each next step of the healing process. So, if relationships are really a challenge for you, going back and looking at you know how you grew up and what your relationship was with your caregivers, was there dysregulation was there chaos, was there trauma that occurred. For some people was there emotional support, was there abandonment, was there neglect? We never want to through our parents under the bus but sometimes we did have circumstances that just weren’t healthy for us as children its not to say that a parent or caregiver intentionally hurt someone. But maybe they were not able to give the nourishment that the child needed and so there became a wound. So when you look back over your life and look at what some of these wounds are that will share with you what needs to be worked on for you to have a different experience and for you to create something different  in your life

Akiva: I totally agree awareness and acknowledgment. First you must be aware of whatever the issue is, and you must acknowledge it and acknowledging only means that your stating that this happened. You must be able to acknowledge that you know maybe mom or dad didn’t do the best, but it was their best, but unfortunately their best wasn’t good enough for you and it left you with certain scars.

Samaria: 1000% and it takes a very very wise therapist to be able to say to you just like you said a caregiver could care so much about you and still make mistakes that hurt you. It’s not either or its not one or the other, it’s a big part of the healing process. Life is often about both / and paradigms. I think some people like you said, they don’t want to embrace awareness because they are so scared of what acknowledgment might mean.

Akiva: That is very true, so if your comfortable I would like to transition a little bit, and again it’s whatever you are comfortable sharing about your own experience with trauma and let’s talk about your healing journey. One thing that I do know for sure is that our experiences are not our own and when our test becomes our testimony, I feel like it’s our right to share it. So maybe that we can help others.

Samaria: You’re right. I agree with that 100%. I had a chaotic childhood. And again, it wasn’t necessarily that my parents meant to make the mistake that they made, because they both had addiction issues. And some things I think are cultural and maybe even like being a victim of a time period. I think that the late 70s and 80s were hard on the African American community because, you know, cocaine and crack were introduced to environments that were already a  bit vulnerable, because the industries were changing, so people were losing jobs. They were feeling, you know, kind of hopeless. And I think that it was kind of bad timing for a lot of children born during that time.

Akiva: (laughing) that’s a good way to put it…. bad timing

Samaria: Right? You know, I mean, because it’s taken me a long time to really like, embrace that, because I blamed my parents like, WTF? What was the problem. So, I say that to say again, both of my parents had a lot of untreated trauma. A lot of dysregulation and again, back then there wasn’t as much of an invitation, I think for African American people to go to therapy to have different services, to help them have a better life. And I think a lot of kids paid the price to that. And so, I experienced significant sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and abandonment, and just general chaos for years. My mother, doing the very best that she could, also had significant mental health issues. We were left alone a lot. We weren’t necessarily with babysitters, and a lot of terrible things happen that really shouldn’t have happened. And so, for me, like what we were talking about earlier, much of the memory of what had happened to me had been suppressed for a long time because I was highly functional. PTSD symptoms were present and I was sick a lot, no matter what I did. Exercise, eating right, keeping the stress down, and having healthy friends. I was still very sick for all for a long-time, the doctor couldn’t really figure out what was going on. Years ago, I had no idea what complex PTSD was and how it showed up. I had a car accident in 2007, a pretty significant car accident and had a spinal injury. And so, what we now know about trauma is that whenever the neck area, the spinal area, or concussion occurs, it can open old traumas.

Akiva: Wow. So, your car accident is what triggered your memories of trauma?

Samaria: Yes, they didn’t all come back at once. And I’m grateful for that because I don’t know if my system could have handled all that at one time. But I did begin to experience chronic, daily, all over body pain. And in some ways, I think the chronic pain helped me prepare me for the emotional pain. I had a lot of developmental trauma early in life and the pain had been suppressed for a very long time. When trauma occurs there’s, less oxygen going to the brain, when a child is being abused / traumatized. And so that creates psychological issues, mental issues, emotional issues and even physical issues as far as memory and focus and mental clarity as well as physical health. Because your brain has lost oxygen for periods of time, and so when kids have experienced trauma for significant amounts of time, the body, to protect itself goes into shock. And that’s what my body did. And for so long, I was stuck in a survival pattern. I would shift between freeze, fight and flight modes, but I was burning out my nervous system to the point where more medical issues came up because there was this underlying emotional dysregulation happening. Years passed, I worked hard to recover, I feel in love we had a daughter, she’s healthy, things were good. However, when a person feels safe, that is when more trauma can open because the system feels like there is a capacity to absorb what wants to be revealed. So, things were going well in my life, but more trauma came to the surface of my memory, and then it became too much Years ago, it was just like, wow, like, why is this happening now, when things are finally good for me. I realized I had to get some support in my healing journey. I did not get help because I wanted to, I feel like if I didn’t get help, I was not gonna keep my sanity at this point in my life. I was a mother. And so I had to be well for my daughter, which is a reason why I did whatever I needed to do, get second jobs to pay for different therapies and different healing modalities to help my body to move through the healing of the trauma. And it was worth it. But I realize that it was more of a process than I could have ever imagined.

Akiva: So, you said something I think it’s significant. You said when things were going well in your life and your body felt safe, that was kind of like an invitation for more trauma to come. Can you say more about that?

Samaria: Yes, and it’s something that I’ve hated to hear, since the first time I heard it, but it’s true. I had a lot of traumatic memories come up in my relationship because I did feel safe for the first time with a man. And so, because I had trauma involving other men in my past, the trauma came up when I had the significant relationship and more capacity to deal with the suppressed / repressed memories of what had happened in my childhood.

Akiva: Thank you, the answer was perfect. It was very enlightening for me as I’m sure it will be for the readers. So, what was your healing journey like? What were some things that you’ve done to facilitate your healing?

Samaria: Yeah, it was a lot. I mean, it was this awareness, the awareness was big, not even just awareness of like, the actual details of the trauma, but just also the awareness of deciding that I didn’t want to live my life dysregulated. I made a conscious decision, I decided to do whatever needed to happen for my experience as an adult to be different than what I had known as a child? I intentionally decide that I would raise my daughter in a different, more conscious way which started with taking care of myself. So, it was a big acknowledgment piece to say, I can’t do this on my own. But I need support from people who have been through this and people who have helped other people to get through it. As black women, we can get caught up in being a martyr and that’s not healthy. And so definitely talk therapy has been a big piece of my healing process. With people who were trained in trauma therapy, I think that you have to have specialized trauma training, to be able to hold space for people who has experienced significant trauma, because it can be so overwhelming to the system. And so, for me, it was about self-empowerment, and personal development as well. I healed a lot through empowerment strategies, because I think that’s how we heal trauma by finding our own personal power. I’m going through a path of self-forgiveness. I have a very strong faith and I grew up in the Christian faith, and so there’s this big ideology about forgiveness. And so, I was trying to force myself to forgive people who have hurt me very deeply to be a “good Christian”. And I really had to look at that to say that even though I do want to forgive, I have to make sure that I go through a proper healing process for myself so that I can ensure that the forgiveness is authentic. And not just me saying it because I want to be a good Christian. Yeah, that was a very difficult process for me because I was like, some of the stuff just doesn’t make sense. It’s like, the Bible talks about forgiveness, but it also talks about repenting for our sins. And I think that often we can put more energy into victim blaming than holding people accountable who have hurt us very deeply.

Akiva: I love that you brought up forgiveness, I know the sayings are so cliché and we’ve heard them all, but forgiveness really is for you. It’s not about the other person, forgiveness is giving up that emotional charge that’s connected to that person or that event. Okay, so how has your life improved as a result of your healing journey?

Samaria: Oh, so much. I mean, it’s improved even in the way that I feel. I really do feel whole as a person and I’m able to have the life that I always wanted to have which is really like a nice normal life with a mom and dad in the house. With all the bills paid, you know, the kids happy and healthy and everybody’s on the same page, like a regular kind of life, but with regulation and learning how to move into thriving together.

Akiva: So, it sounds like you just wanted normalcy, which is such a beautiful thing because so many of us don’t have that normalcy. And now that you have that, that’s amazing. So, with that, are there any areas where you still struggle with regarding your trauma?

Samaria: Yeah, I mean, I have things in my life that that no one else in my family have experienced. So, when you talk about being like a business owner, when you talk about having a healthy relationship and a marriage. When you talk about raising kids in a more conscious way, and how do you, you know, love and spoil them and not give them so much that they feel entitled like they don’t have to work hard? Some stuff can still feel traumatic because your inner child is like what are they doing? I had to overcome so much and now things are so easy, you know, for these kiddos.

Akiva: okay, so let’s wrap it up with this. So, what advice would you give someone who’s currently struggling with trauma?

Samaria: Be patient with yourself. Please Be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself, get support from someone who has a background in trauma recovery in any way that you can. But trying to heal from trauma on your own is not always the best. You need someone to help you to hold all that’s going on for you. But I would say be gentle with yourself because as much as we want to feel better quickly, it’s almost like having the flu no pun intended. We’re gonna feel bad for a while before it gets better. And even when you start to feel better, you still may not be back at your full strength. So, when it comes to trauma healing, you must take it bit by bit. And of course, you’re gonna make progress, but there might be things that feel like setbacks, which is why you must be gentle with yourself. And you also must have support and I would also encourage community. I think having a group or peers who are safe, but who can relate some extent to what you have gone through to help you to feel less isolated is vital.

Akiva: I concur, healing trauma is not something that no one should try to handle on their own because that’s just not wise. It’s unwise and it’s unhealthy. Because you can trigger yourself and who knows what could happen.

Samaria: There are many different ways to heal but first you must realize that you’re not alone, and that you’re not making shit up. It’s like when your healing on your own, like for a long time I thought this didn’t really happen, it’s like your trying to talk yourself out of what your body knows is true. Denial is powerful. But when you’re with somebody else and they can be that witness for you, they can help you to normalize what’s happened. We need someone else often to say what happened to you should NOT have happened but healing is always always possible.

Akiva: Well, I am so proud of you, and all your work that you’ve done personally and professionally, and I just felt good. I feel like this was such an amazing interview. I feel like we both did such a great job.

Samaria: Yeah, me too. You did excellent.

If this article trigged something in you please contact either Samaria or myself so we can provide you with resources and get you on the path to healing and recovery.

Akiva S. Harris, MS, LPC can be reached at:

www.beyondlimitsmhw.com

Facebook: Beyond Limits Mental Health & Wellness, LLC

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beyond_limitsmhw

Samaria Williams, Licensed Psychotherapist, can be reached at

http://www.sacredsoulpractice.com

@sacredsoulpractice     

@andshespokeup

FB: https://www.facebook.com/sacredsoulpractice/

Understanding Self Esteem

What is Self Esteem?

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane usage of words, we tend to use words in the manner in which we are accustomed to hearing them and sometimes the actual definition of the word gets lost in translation. I think the definition and concept of self esteem is something that is easily misunderstood and it’s even hard to define in the sciences. The topic is so vast that even researchers have a difficult time coming up with a concrete definition of it. I love words, and learning about the root and reading actual definitions, I even have the Merriam Webster dictionary app on my smart phone which I utilize often. So, let’s get to the root of this complicated subject of self-esteem.

Esteem; as defined by Merriam Webster is: The regard in which one is held. Worth, value, opinion, judgement. Ok so let’s take this a little farther and define regard.

Regard as defined by Merriam Webster is the worth or estimation in which something or someone is held.

Since this definition includes words such as worth and value, what does that tell us about what self esteem is? One of the definitions of value as defined by Merriam Webster is: something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable. These words (regard, worth, value) are all synonymous with one another and basically mean one thing, that self esteem is all about the value you place on yourself.

Loosely translated to: How much do I like myself? How much do you value yourself? What are you worth? What do you think of yourself? What kind of opinions do you have about you? Are they favorable or unfavorable? How do you hold yourself? Self-esteem refers to an overall sense of yourself. Now that we understand that, let’s talk about how it’s developed.

How is self-esteem developed?

Now that we’ve defined the word, it’s important to understand that self-esteem is a construct (it’s formed, it’s developed), it’s something that’s created and it’s also something that can be changed. It can be changed because self-esteem is based on our beliefs rather than facts and beliefs can be changed because beliefs are just thoughts. We always have the power to change our mind.

The beliefs we have about ourselves are learned based off experiences that we’ve had, especially childhood experiences. When we have experiences that stick with us and are memorable because of the emotional charge connected to it, we form a belief about it. The stronger the memory, the stronger the stronger the emotional charge, then it becomes a defining moment in our life and creates a core belief. Core beliefs are thoughts that are usually deep seated, firmly held, and strongly impressed in our minds. They are the judgments of ourselves, our worth and value as a person.

Some examples of negative experiences that can lead to low self-esteem include punishment, neglect, or abuse, and not being responded to when are you in need. As well as feeling like you don’t you fit in or belong. Some examples of positive experiences: getting attention, being praised and affirmed, being told how special you are and knowing that you’re loved, parents coming to games and sporting events, knowing someone is proud of you. Simply just being taking care of properly.

A child’s self-esteem is fostered when they are assured that the important people in their lives make sure they are safe and well taken care of. Self-esteem is reduced if the opposite is true. When we are little kids, our self-esteem is formed by their perceptions of how the important people in our lives value our qualities and judge us. Important people are not only parents, they are other family members, teachers, and peers. In short, the opinions we form about ourselves are largely influenced by the opinions of those important to us, especially in childhood. As stated above, self esteem is not fixed it’s malleable and below are some tips on how to improve self-esteem.

How to improve self-esteem:

Practice positive self talk

Use positive affirmations

Do more of what you love and like to do, do things that make you feel good about yourself

Stop comparing yourself to others, because the people you’re comparing yourself to, are also comparing themselves to others

Make a list of your positive traits and qualities

Words have power, reframe the way you say things to yourself

Stop should’ing yourself. Instead of saying I should do this, say it would be nice if this happened

Most importantly- Be aware of and acknowledge the areas of your life where your self-esteem is low.

A way to start liking yourself is to build your confidence

Praise yourself and learn to accept praise from others.

“Apart from disturbance whose roots are biological, I cannot think of a single psychological problem—from anxiety and depression, to underachievement at school or at work, to fear of intimacy, happiness, or success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spouse battering or child molestation, to co-dependency and sexual disorders, to passivity and chronic aimlessness, to suicide and crimes of violence—that is not traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem. Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.”

~ Nathaniel Branden from The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

I want to close by saying that talking about self-esteem is important because our level of self-esteem is a factor in the relationships we have, the relationship with ourselves and others, and it determines how we are treated and what we allow. Our self-esteem forces us to constantly ask ourselves, what am I worth and what do I deserve?