Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Elderly people are…


Elderly people are (a) wise, vivacious, generous and wonderful to be around, or (b) bitter, resentful, stingy and just waiting to die?  Which is your more common experience with older friends and relatives? Typically, old age seems to make people more themselves. If a person has always been happy and full of life, he or she is likely to be even happier and more committed to making the most of each minute, even from a hospital bed.  If a person has been mean, self-centered and unpleasant, that personality is not likely to change in old age. Erikson labels these two extremes Integrity and/or Despair. He traces the path of integrity back to an adulthood of generativity, and the path to despair back to an adulthood of stagnation.
The choices which lead to generativity or stagnation begin at birth with the way we are treated and nurtured in our childhood. Last week we talked about Stage 1, from birth to one year of age, being Trust v. Mistrust. Stage 2 lasts from ages one to three and is the stage of Autonomy v. Shame/Doubt. Stage 3 spans ages three to five and teaches Initiative v. Guilt. Erikson has only eight stages in his Psychosocial Development map and the first three are completed by the age of five. Obviously, we are vulnerable to caretakers and parents for how our development begins.
We have a little more choice over the next three stages that span about thirty years, from five until about 35. Stage 4 is the stage of Industry v. Inferiority which encompasses ages five through eleven. Here we learn we are capable of accomplishing things, like learning to read, ride a bicycle, or hit a baseball. If no caring teacher, sibling, or parent spends the time and attention needed to help us master some learning challenges, we learn to feel inferior because of what we seem incapable of accomplishing. At this stage positive versus negative feedback is essential. We must be encouraged at the things we are good at and given enough variety of opportunities that we each become good at something or some range of things.


Stage 5 is adolescence, which traditionally ended by the time kids graduated from high school, but, according to current psychological studies, is lasting longer and longer, so that today we might say that adolescence lasts from eleven to 21 or 25. The major task of adolescence is Identity v. Confusion. Children who have trouble establishing their own personal identity will gravitate toward group identity, seeing themselves primarily as part of a sports team or a musical group or a clique of kids who dress a certain way or pursue common things. We start putting people in groups like the nerds or the popular people or the jocks. This explains the appeal of gangs, too. If young people don’t find personal worth and identity, they’ll cling to a group identity. “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day,” went the song the gang members sang in West Side Story. A gang, unfortunately, is a group of un-empowered people who feel worthless, inferior and confused. People who feel empowered, adequate, capable and focused do not resort to violence. They have a whole slew of ways for getting what they want, like working for things instead of stealing them.
Early Adulthood is Stage 6 and lasts from the end of adolescence until actual entry into adulthood itself. Just to put numbers on it we’ll say from the age of 21 – 35. The task of early adulthood is Intimacy v. Isolation. This stage, more than perhaps any other, is predictable based on experiences from the first year of life. If you were raised by a smother mother, a mother who bribed you for affection, a mother who withheld affection as punishment, a cold mother who didn’t snuggle and cuddle, or a mother, who for whatever reason, was incapable of meeting the needs of a baby – intimacy will be a foreign language for you as an adult. Here is the basis of promiscuous sexual behavior: kids who have not had an intimately loving and trusting relationship with a caregiver early in life will mix up sex and love and will use sex to try to coerce love from another. I will be very black and white here: That Never Works. People who are incapable or handicapped in the pursuit of intimacy are doomed to lives of isolation, even if they’re married and have children. Being surrounded by people does not satisfy the need for the emotional connection of intimacy. Living alone or being single does not mean living without intimacy. Intimacy is bonding, connecting and feeling a part of the whole. Isolation is insulation and the emotional seclusion of being set apart.
While Stages 1, 2, and 3 are done to us by our environment and the care taken of us, Stages 4 and 5 are already partially in our control, and Stage 6, young adulthood, is entirely in our power. The caveat, of course, is that we were formed in the first three stages. We are likely to remain our whole lives in those grooves into which we were first molded.
If we learned not to trust, not to have a sense of autonomy (independence), and not to show initiative, then, frequently, we will spend our lives being distrustful and riddled with shame, doubt, and guilt. We stay with what we know. As we are formed, so we grow. And these patterns and ruts may sadly stick with us until we are elderly and living lives of quiet desperation or unfettered misery.

The saving grace, of course, is knowledge of what we are doing. We, ourselves, are the only jail keeper we will ever have. If by good fortune and the Grace of God, we happen to learn that we are being held back by our early experiences, we can do something about changing our futures. I have often said to clients that their anxiety or anger or sadness is “in their bone marrow.” It’s deep. But knowledge frees it and starts shifting it. Knowledge IS power.
One freeing, shifting piece of knowledge is: “That was then, and this is now.” Then I was vulnerable and at the mercy of adults who didn’t know any better. Now I can learn, study, observe and change. I’m presently working with a young girl from a third world culture.  She was afraid to tell me about her scary dreams. She explained to me that her mother told her that if you said your dreams out loud you made them come true. That piece of what we would call “folklore” would have silenced that young girl forever. She and I will be studying dreams, and she can draw her own conclusion on whether what she learned will become her truth, or whether she will choose an alternate understanding of dreams.
A second, related piece of knowledge is: “They taught me what they knew.” I am now free to teach myself (and my children) happier, healthier, more helpful things. I remember a woman telling me her mother made her and her siblings hide under the kitchen table whenever the weather was threatening. She now chooses to sit on her back porch with her children, watch the storm, and feel its energy. Her mother cooked with lard. She cooks with olive oil.
A wonderful teaching story used in family therapy is of the young bridegroom who saw his new wife prepare a pot roast to put in the oven. She cut off a big chunk from the end of the roast. “Wait,” he husband cried. “What are you doing?” His bride answered, “This is the way you make pot roast.” She explained that she was following the steps her mother always took. The young husband went to his mother-in-law and asked about her pot roast recipe. Sure enough, his new bride had it right. His mother-in-law told him she had watched her mother make pot roast just that way, and it was always delicious. Well, the young man was fascinated enough that he went to the nursing home and asked grandma about making pot roast.  When he described cutting off the end of the roast, grandma started laughing. “Oh, those silly girls,” she finally said. “I never had a pan big enough for the roasts I bought. I had to cut off the end to make it fit in the only roasting pan I had.”
A third empowering piece of knowledge is: “Problems can be analyzed and fixed.” One woman I worked with told me that her parents always sent her and her brother to school dirty. She had no friends. She noticed that the girls who had friends smelled and looked clean. Despite the fact that there was no hot water in her house, she figured out how to get clean herself and how to wash her own clothes. Recently, she realized people at work seemed to avoid her. Being a cleanliness fanatic, she knew that was no longer the problem. She studied the behavior of her co-workers and tried honestly to compare it to her own. She noticed two obvious differences. The others smiled more and greeted each other when they first came into work. She was astonished the difference made by smiling and saying, “Good morning.” She said she felt awkward the first few days, as though she was a fake, but by the end of the first week people were actually saying, “Good morning” back and smiling at her. That made her start feeling like smiling, and it no longer felt artificial.
If you’re unsure how to tackle a problem you perceive, just look it up on the computer. “Major reasons people avoid each other.” Or, “How to attract friends.” Or, “Tips to be a better listener.” Or, “Qualities of trusted friends.” Whatever you want to know is in cyberspace just waiting for you to beam it down.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Most of you reading this blog did not win the mother lottery and Mother’s Day is probably not your favorite holiday. I would suggest you be generous tomorrow, anyhow. A simple, “God bless you,” or “Happy Mother’s Day,” is not condoning or acceptance of what might have been some pretty miserable treatment at the hands of an abusive or neglectful woman. But, if you were not well mothered, you are likely to be clueless about the whole business of forgiveness – whether for her or for yourself. They usually go hand in hand. Mothers teach us forgiveness by forgiving us when we spill the milk and hit our siblings. They teach us forgiveness by asking their children to forgive them when they get snappy and short-tempered. Mother’s Day is a great day to practice forgiveness. Most of us mothers need our children to forgive us. None of us can look back and say we did it flawlessly. But most of us can look back and say we really tried hard. And I have never worked with a woman, no matter how shabby a mother, who intentionally set out to mess up her kids.
This forgiveness of which I speak I recommend be unspoken. I wouldn’t tell my mother or anyone else, “I forgive you.” I would just take the resentment out of the bag I carry on my back, and toss it into the creek. You don’t have to carry it anymore. It’s a useless heaviness.
Also, some of the best mothers in the world are not out biological mothers. Think about someone who nurtured you and walked with you and supported and affirmed you – or still does – and thank her tomorrow. It is fascinating that more times than not someone will step in to fill a void in our lives.
Blessings, courage and hope be yours – Susan


Thanks Mary Ellen Jelen!!

More support is waiting for you at manyfacesofptsd, manyfacesofdepression, manyfacesofanxiety and


May 9, 2015 at 10:41 AM 1 comment

The New Embrace of 2015

2015 Embrace!

2015 Embrace!

I embrace you. I embrace each of you warmly and securely. My intention for 2015 is to help you see how uniquely resilient and creative your adaption to your life has been. I dedicate fifty-two blogs in 2015 to the celebration of survival and triumph. Each Saturday we’ll drink lemonade together! Life and its circumstances may have bombarded you with lemons, but look what you did with them. As the President says to Katniss in the new Hunger Games movie: “You’ve got this, soldier!”
You’ve got this and you’ve had this. Were it not so, you would not be reading this blog. You have not only survived – although I feel you prickling at my use of the word “survived” because you prefer to think you have just done what anyone would have done in the circumstances – but you have triumphed – and I feel you prickling at my use of the word “triumphed” as most of the time you do not feel like you have overcome anything but simply lived through it. I know that more of the time you feel like you are just getting by and figuring it out as you go along. I suspect that most of the time you don’t even allow yourself to think about the past and what you have gone through to get where you are.
That’s actually where I want to start this first day of this new series of writings. As you know, I am a therapist who by chance or divine direction or both has come to know somethings about PTSD. Here’s one of the first things I ever learned: don’t let anyone ever force you to talk about or think about anything that has happened to you. You do not need to remember. You do not need to write it down. You do not need to talk to anyone about anything you have endured. You can. If you want to, you absolutely can. But, it is not necessary, and sometimes it can be downright harmful.
Here’s where your brilliant creativity comes in. You have each survived trauma in your own individual and courageous way.  As I say in the introduction to The Many Faces of PTSD, “Do not compare your trauma to that of anyone else.” Here’s the truth of that, which is a truth of life: there is always someone prettier, slimmer and less traumatized. There is always someone less pretty, chubbier and more traumatized. Everything is relative. Actually, there is a lot of humor in that statement, since many of our relatives are responsible for many of our trauma experiences. As one of my clients likes to say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”
Whatever you have gone through cannot be compared to what anyone else has gone through. That’s useless and destructive. Whatever you have gone through can only be constructed into the very foundation, framework, functionality, and style of YOU. They say that when we dream of a house, we are dreaming of ourselves. If we dream we’re in a tent, we’re probably feeling vulnerable. If we dream we’re living in a cave, we may feel we must hide our true selves. (I don’t mean this as a guide to dream interpretation.)  I am only trying to say that each of us builds a structure that becomes ME: my “self”, my ego, my personality, the persona which I “live in” as I go through life. At times we renovate and redecorate, but we have designed the very structure of our SELF based on what we have needed to live through what life has given us.
I have spoken before about the three basic ways we come through things: fight, flight or freeze. These can become the basis of a personality which is angry (fight), anxious (flight) or sad (freeze). THERE IS NO BAD PERSONALITY. Our personalities have developed, as have our egos and our personas (the picture of ourselves that we offer the world), as a result of every piece of creative response we have been able to muster. And no two people who are exposed to similar circumstances will respond in completely similar ways. I remember teaching in communication classes the list of about forty variables which affect our responses, things like culture, values, ethnicity, coping skills, age, gender, time of day, time of year, world events. . .  It’s a very long and involved list.
I have also talked about the Myers-Briggs in The Many faces of PTSD and The Many Faces of Anxiety. In the Support Letters and Guides to Healing which I’m offering through The Pillar of Light Foundation (website presently under construction, Coming soon!), I’m going to be talking in some depth about the Myers-Briggs next month. ( I mention the Myers-Briggs now because it explains how temperament factors in to our responses. We come into the world wired. It’s like coming into the world as a Smart Car or a Chevy Van or a Dodge Charger. We come in with different equipment, different skills, different styles, and different abilities, even though we’re all cars.
Self-knowledge is a necessary predecessor to self-acceptance. But make no mistake. Whatever we learn about ourselves is simply what is. For example, I like people better than animals. I have no patience with “things” and have horrible spatial skills. All these parts of me simply are. However, just because I like people better than animals doesn’t give me the right to kick the cat. Just because I have no patience with things, doesn’t give me the right to destroy “things” which frustrate me. Our preferences and dominant aspects are never excuses. Who we are in our naked, solitary moments is simply an explanation which will help us understand and accept ourselves.
If I’m a Smart Car, I’m going to get passed a lot, but I’m also going to fit into the tightest of parking spaces and save the planet by requiring little fuel. (But where do they put their golf clubs?) If I’m a Chevy Van, I’ll have plenty of room for friends and a comfortable ride, but the friends are going to have to chip in at the gas pump. (Plus, all that room might encourage my hoarding tendencies.) If I’m a Dodge Charger, I can leave everyone in the dust. That could be lonely. Plus, speeding tickets are very expensive.
No car has everything. Every car has something. The purpose of this writing is not to encourage you to figure out what kind of car or house you are. You probably already have a fairly clear idea. The purpose and hope is that you will embrace your uniqueness and your style. I pray you will spend the year, with or without my musings to stir you, seeing yourself through new, welcoming, generous eyes. This is the beginning of 2015, a year I know can be the best year each of us have ever created for ourselves in whatever ways we most need and desire.

Blessings for new beginnings, susan

Blessings for the continuity of photography by Mary Ellen Jelen

January 3, 2015 at 1:13 AM 3 comments

My Trauma Wasn’t Bad Enough for PTSD

“My trauma wasn’t bad enough for PTSD!” I can hear you saying that. Your trauma was just a little trauma. It happened long ago. Or, it didn’t last long. It doesn’t begin to compare with the horror of war. Surely, what happened to you isn’t PTSD.

Well, there are so many things to consider other than what happened. When did it happen. Who was there with you? Who protected you? Who betrayed you? Who abused you? Who neglected you?

One of the predictors of trauma becoming PTSD is trauma which occurred when you were a child (under 18). Children have no way to protect themselves. Take, for example, a little girl who tells her mother that her uncle, her mother’s youngest brother, touched her vagina. “Don’t say that. You can’t say that. Are you trying to get him in trouble? Where’d you even hear about that? You just forget about that, and I don’t ever want to hear you say another bad word about your uncle.”

The stage has been set. She can’t tell, or she’ll be the bad one. She has a secret. And now she has to swallow what she knows and forget that secret. Her uncle has just been given free reign. His victim has been rendered voiceless. 

Children are no stronger and no safer than the adults who protect them. If you, as a child, had unaware, un-protective parents, or even worse, neglectful or abusive or drunk or drugged parents, then you were a target for trauma.

Children who are abused or neglected sexually, physically, or emotionally, or children who are introduced to age-inappropriate materials, like drugs, alcohol or sex, or children to whom horror happens without a responsible adult around to protect them, are children who will come into adulthood with posttraumatic stress disorder. Guaranteed. If this is you, PLEASE be gentle with yourself. You were not kept safe as a child, and now it is up to you to learn to be your own safe keeper.


If this short blog was helpful, come back every week. I’ll be talking about PTSD and its cousins, anxiety and depression. A set of symptoms accompanies each of these and a range of coping skills and healing techniques helps diminish the negative consequences.

Each week I’ll tell stories and share ideas from my professional and personal experiences with PTSD and PTSD sufferers — or, as we prefer to call them: survivors.


August 17, 2013 at 4:24 PM 4 comments

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