Posts tagged ‘children’

Do you feel this way?

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You can’t trust people. People are out for their own interests. Everybody has ulterior motives. Don’t let your guard down. People will always disappoint you!

This is trauma talk. Most people who feel this way are trauma survivors. And most people who feel this way were traumatized as children.

Because we are children when we are growing up, we have no enlarged perspective for what our lives are like. We only know what we’re living. If we are eating once a day, that becomes our “normal.” If we hide in the closet every time one of our parents comes home drunk, that seems “normal” to us. We have nothing by which to compare our experiences to anything beyond ourselves. This lack of contrast and comparison is actually helpful. Because we cannot judge our lives to be better or worse than anyone else’s, we simply adapt to them.

How much we have to adapt, how much our bodies and minds and spirits have to adjust and compromise and realign, is the actual indicator of how adverse our childhood experiences are. Babies and children are created to eat about every three or four hours and to sleep for great long stretches of time. The food and the rest are the foundation from which we grow and develop. Children who can’t depend on having food and protected rest can’t develop “normally.” Whether what awakens you at night is the bombs of war, the screaming and shouting of mentally unstable parents, the flashing lights of sirens on unsafe streets, or the constant light show of a television which is used for anesthesia or babysitting, the result is the same. What is being created is a human who cannot rest and be still.

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Can you see and feel the anxiety that would be produced in just those two examples of inadequate food and unsafe, unprotected sleep? These children are going to grow into cynical, suspicious, on-edge, possibly hostile adults. And they are most likely going to be anxious, neurotic and untrusting. They have learned that the world is unsafe and unpredictable. Because their sleep was never protected, they were never able to enter the world of dreams. Think of all the impoverished people in the world who appear lazy and unmotivated. They have no dreams, do they? They were never safe enough to be able to have nighttime dreams or daytime dreams.

Now I start with these two examples because many people who grew up in either of these situations would be unlikely to think of themselves as “trauma” survivors. But not being adequately nourished and kept safe is indeed the beginning of a life of trauma. Certainly these two things lead to the voices that proclaim, “People are not to be trusted.”

I have a client right now who has been telling me that her parents always sent her and her siblings to school dirty. She says they were bullied unmercifully and treated like lepers because their parents didn’t have the common sense to make sure they were clean when they went to school. Now in her forties, she is finally starting to believe in herself and is wondering if it is still necessary to stay with the abusive husband who tells her no one else could possibly love her. How many people do you think she trusts?

Today I worked with a young man with horrible social anxiety because he has a medical condition which is obvious. He was ostracized and criticized and shunned. He is bullied presently by co-workers who taunt him because he is slower to complete his work than they are. He is a single man in his forties and hates to go home at night. He has no best friend. What is even sadder is that he is not his own best friend.

Have you ever heard of Chinese water torture? Chinese water torture is a single drop of water that falls on you over and over and eventually drives you crazy. It is nothing awful in and of itself. It is a single drop of water. But when that single drop of water is repeatedly used to torment a person, over and over, twenty-four/seven, something fairly benign can morph into something toxic. Even arsenic in small doses we can tolerate. Even salt in large doses can kill us.

My point, which may be as obscure as many of my points no doubt often are, is that nothing horrendous particularly needs to happen to us to transform us into trauma survivors who distrust people. Something fairly simple, like inadequate food, unprotected sleep, dirt, shunning, and even water, if it is misused, can corrupt our hearts and spirits.

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When we are programmed to be untrusting, guess what happens? We more often than not get what we expect. Suppose I go to a therapist and I am reluctant and suspicious and know before I even go to meet this person that he or she is probably not going to be trustworthy and not going to be one bit helpful. I meet him or her, and I start gathering evidence to support what I suspect to be true. Imagine that someone comes to meet me, just as an example. Let me tell you a quick personal story.

When I was two I had a virulent case of the measles with a temperature of over 104 or 105 for a number of days. When the fevers were finally under control, my parents noticed a terrible thing. My eyes were crossed. To this day, despite surgery when I was five – boy, was that traumatic!! – and glasses, when I’m tired my eyes cross. I have been self-conscious all my life about this. I have a lot of stories to explain how reasonable it is that I’m self-conscious. But here’s what I want to share: because I’m self-conscious about the POSSIBILITY of my eyes crossing, I’m sure I often avoid eye contact. Now, we all know direct and sustained eye contact means we can be trusted.

So, here comes a new client suspiciously watching for something which would render this counselor an untrustworthy person. And it’s late in the day, and my eyes are tired, and I’m afraid they’re going to cross, and so I avoid eye contact. BINGO. “I knew this counselor was not to be trusted. She won’t even make eye contact.”

I hope you can extrapolate this example. When we have learned not to trust, we go through life looking for evidence of how correct this is. And we can find it.

The person who came to see me who had learned to trust would have heard the sincerity in my voice, would have felt the authenticity in my handshake, would have looked around my office and seen the warmth and welcome. We see what we’re looking for. We get what we expect.

I have been burned many times because I have expected more of people than they have produced. But, you know what?? I KNOW that I gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, and that their failure to meet my positive and optimistic expectations had nothing to do with my expecting them to fail. They had done that all by themselves. That allows me to feel empathy for them instead of disgust. It helps me to sleep at night knowing that I didn’t project any negative expectations which turned into self-fulfilling prophesies.

The balance between always assuming the best and always preparing for the worst is, of course, a great place to be. People will not always live up to our hopes and expectations. Neither will people always disappoint us. People will be people. We, as people, are capable of despicable disappointment and the most gracious grace.

Blessings, Susan

In nature there always beauty! Watch for it!

In nature there always beauty! Watch for it!

Thanks to our most gracious photographer, Mary Ellen Jelen

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March 28, 2015 at 10:40 PM 3 comments


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