Resilience that causes harm

Resilience can be useful and even help us in the face of adversities, it means being able to adapt to reasonable levels of stress and make reasonable changes it does not mean, adapting and tolerating toxic behaviour or environments or events, so whilst helpful in this way, to simply claim that all we need to do is to be more resilient or expected too in order to recover or overcome obstacles can be damaging and here’s why.

It’s not always a matter of strength, we need the right conditions in order to thrive and survive.

Poor people who are strong but have no food means they will likely die of starvation no matter their will to live. Having no medical resources means you will be unable to heal no matter your body or mental strength.

Trauma that has gone untreated for too many years, leads to brain changes and affects other systems in the body, leading to diseases that can be fatal. A lack of connection can kill the soul and those who have experienced relational trauma or attachment wounds will find safety in the very loneliness that kills them.

Can we stop thinking we can control everything? Can we please not glamorous resilience by telling people to be resilient without making those who hurt and victimise others accountable?

Can we stop suggesting those who don’t make it are cowards and weak instead of looking at who hurt them so badly to make them feel they had no other escape route?

Can we stop with the toxic positivity and just hold people in their pain and recognise the reality of pain and human experience.

Can we stop shaming? Can we stop forcing healing rather than stand with those in pain? Can we just allow people not to be okay?

We don’t know the future, we can’t promise anyone how their life will plan out, it’s not guaranteed. It is a cruel world that can be hard to navigate. So, let’s just sit with them in their pain.

Just because someone survived something once doesn’t mean they can again. In fact, sometimes this can make the wounds greater. If a bullet has missed you once or not killed you doesn’t mean another bullet will not and this is the same with psychological injuries and attacks to us.

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, it makes you vulnerable, it makes you feel unsafe, it can be deliberating.

Stop pressurising people, this just shames those who keep finding it hard to heal through no fault of their own. Life throws things that are not always surmountable. It can fatally wound us. We are mortals, nothing to do with power or strength. To claim we just have to be resilient to all adversity can actually kill us not save us. Even adaptive methods can become maladaptive when taken to the extreme.

There is nothing wrong in learning tools that help us deal with challenging or difficult emotions and to self regulate and self soothe, but to suggest that one needs to be resilient to everything, leading one to have too much resilience is expecting someone to be tolerant of adversities and things they should never have to tolerate or not rightly be affected by and this in my opinion is dangerous and invalidating. Victims and survivors have been invalidated enough.

Those that suffer from the effects of mental health, PTSD, oppression, violence, abuse, war…are strong and have been strong for too long. A bone is strong and yet if you bash a bone hard and consistently enough, it will break. We all have our limits, we are not objects or robots. We need to create an environment that doesn’t judge, that meets human needs, that functions on compassion and empathy, that has the right help, support and tools easily accessible for everyone and hold those who hurt others accountable.

When we believe others just need resilience to get them though, we don’t check on those we see as ‘strong’ as if someone can’t be strong and hurting at the same time.

We keep saying that children are resilient, again an excuse to dismiss the pain and consequences of things, if children were so resilient, having to face things that they are unable to handle, how come so many grow into adults who need therapy? who are emotionally or mentally struggling? We are not objects or robots, we are sentimental beings and the world needs to remember this instead of hurting people further with unrealistic expectations.

Resilience is being able to be allowed to sit with our pain, accept it, have support, have the necessary conditions to thieve, this is what gives us the ability to be resilient.

You can be resilient and still hurt, still feel like you want to die, still find things overwhelming and difficult and need support and help. You can be resilient and still not make it, this doesn’t make you weak or a failure, this world with it’s dysfunctional myths and messages and unrealistic expectations, oppression… failed you. You are strong no matter what, you can be strong and vulnerable, strong and hurt, strong and be weakened. To many believe that they have to be resilient which means they must do it alone, ‘toughen up’, be able to ‘deal with it’. No, you shouldn’t, you should be able to be seen, heard, validated and supported.

Understanding Suicide

  • The Suicidal brain 

The suicidal person is in survival mode, this means that when someone is feeling suicidal they are desperately trying to survive the excruciating pain leading to the fight mode, this increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is regulated by a part of the neuroendocrine system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

The aim for the sufferer of mental anguish is to fight against the pain in the only way they know how, to end the pain. The fight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The individual isn’t giving up, they are fighting to win in their battle to end pain in the only way the know how. When we are in survival mode, overwhelmed by stress and intense emotions that feel impossible to regulate, it activates the sympathetic nervous system where the amygdala which is the size of a walnut and acts like an alarm to detect danger, fear and threat is activated, just like a fire alarm would go off.

Our back brain is now activated and fully online, whilst the the front part of our brain called the pre-cortex; the region whose job it is to think logically, think clearly, make decisions goes offline, impairing this ability. Impulse control is also deactivated, meaning that one is more likely to act out of impulsive.

Like firefighters, the brains ultimate aim is to then put the fire out no matter what it takes, even if this as to be death itself. The aim is to kill the pain not oneself, but one feels no other way around this mental torture than to kill off the body; the source that feels, holds and experiences the never-ending excruciating pain. Just like when we would suffer from intense toothache and had no access to a dentist or medications would not work, we would seek to remove the source of the pain.

During suicidal mode, the front right brain that deals with emotions also affect empathy meaning that the sufferer cannot find empathy for self or not in a position to think how loved ones may be affected.
This all means that brain activity in people that are suicidal or having suicidal ideation may be different, logically contributing to a different state of mind than when one is regulated and in their window of tolerance (state of calmness and peace, experiencing no mental pain).

When the fear of living in this mental torture becomes greater than any fear one may have of death then mental anguish will be the one that kills the individual. People do not kill themselves, pain does. 

  • Is mental illness the cause of suicide? 

Dr. Mark Gouldston, a psychiatrist who has also worked with Dr. Edwin Shneidman, mentions in his article: Why people kill themselves – Part 2 – it’s not Depression, concludes what I have echoed, myself and that is, that whilst mental illnesses can contribute to a loss of life, it is des-pair and not despair that is at the core of things.

He states: Des-pair is feeling unpaired with the reasons to live, these reasons are the following:

1. Hopeless — This arises when one loses all hope of a future that is worth living and when resources are not to be found, scarce or haven’t worked, along with things such as medication and therapy.
2. Helpless — This is when one feels unable to bring themselves out of the darkness that engulfs them.
3. Powerless — This goes alongside the feeling of helplessness, feeling like one as no power over their suffering.
4. Useless — this is when one may come to believe that they are a burden to self and others (even if others don’t see them as a burden and make this clear)
5. Worthless — Feeling like they don’t have an existence or seeing no purpose or worth in their existence
6. Purposeless — This is when the individual fails to feel and see a purpose in life, one becomes alienated from self and feel aimless and ashamed believing that their life has no purpose.
7. Meaningless — This is similar to purposeless and goes alongside it, in the same way helpless and powerless do. Meaningless is when all meaning to life and to live feels futile, one cannot find meaning in living because life just means pain, and excruciating none relenting pain at that.
8. Pointless — Unable to find a reason to not end their pain, they feel this is literally the only way it can be achieved.

We live in a traumatised world, as Dr. Gabor Mate says, where our human needs are not met and where we are expected to suppress them, in fact depression comes from the word, depress which means to push down. The world teaches us that it cannot handle our pain, that it is uncomfortable with strong emotions and even the erroneous belief that some emotions are negative. We live in an oppressive world, that causes injuries and trauma to the psyche, suicide is the result of the human condition, just like many mental illnesses are trauma responses.

We need to stop attributing suicide to just mental illness as if this is the course primary or only course, dismissing all other factors and the toxic environment that we live in that shames us and disconnects us from our authentic selves, that oppresses us, that places detrimental conditions of worth on us, racism, colonialism, detrimental gender stereotypes, that alienates certain types of people and groups, that sees so many charities trying to help others because our government is rooted in damaging beliefs such as patriarchy, capitalism and so much more contributes to a world where suffering is only going to get worse and naturally cause such injuries. We have poverty as a crisis, global warming, great violence to black people and ethnic minorities with the deadly virus of racism, a pandemic of violence towards women, a world that doesn’t do enough to include those that are not able bodied, that shames any disability that is invisible, the list is endless and so is it any wonder that so many find themselves not wanting to live life if this is the life they are subjected too? If life means having to spend eternity in excruciating pain?

Don’t shame suicidal people, it is not about you, it is about them. They are not intending to hurt you or anyone. They are not cowards, selfish, weak…whatever cruel, misguided judgement is made on them, they are suffering and if you have empathy, you will realise that nobody wants that kind of pain.

To those of you that have been suicidal, had suicidal thoughts, tried to end their pain, I’m glad you are here and hope that things will get better or have for you. If you have lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you. You are not alone and I hope that this has helped to explain things, end the stigma and get the conversation started/going.

Depression wears a smile when it has no other choice.

Is it any wonder depression is so high and hides behind a smile when we live in a culture that ignores, misunderstands trauma and silences feelings? It silences struggles or feelings it deems unacceptable, yet are natural and need to be felt and processed. Suppressing them only hinders healing and causes more struggling. We’re in a culture obsessed with toxic positivity because it’s uncomfortable with the natural human experience of feelings. Examples are children being told not to cry, that “big boys don’t cry,” girls praised when smiling through the pain, children conditioned to believe not crying when they feel or are hurt is a badge of honor.

Working with children, I see this when they see a peer crying and, from a young age, announce they fell and didn’t cry. When adults tell children, “You’re OK! It’s nothing! Stop crying! That’s enough!” It is any wonder feelings we have learned are seen by others as scary and “wrong” get bottled up or expressed through maladaptive ways of self-soothing through self-harm or addictions and manifests in depression? After all, depress means to push down, and that’s exactly what the message is.

It is any wonder when we live in a world that isn’t meeting our needs? The need to be understood, to be seen, to be heard. The need to feel and be safe. How can depression not manifest with social inequalities? When poverty is an issue, long working hours exploit people, lack of housing and unaffordable houses, flats, etc. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism and all other forms of oppression. It’s not enough to tell people to talk or reach out, we should be reaching out to one another.

Also, what’s the point in talking when many times others may silence us or dismiss, invalidate and minimize our experience and pain? When waiting lists for help are so long or we are not offered support if we are suicidal? When we fear being hospitalised and when this can increase greater distress if not met with the respect and support we deserve. When many still see those who are suicidal or attempt suicide or have lost lives to suicide as selfish, cowards, weak and “just mentally ill?”

Natural responses to trauma and adversity labeled a disease rather than a dis-ease, depression is a wound and is emotional as much as biological. Our minds and bodies are not separate from one another. Our emotions are held in our bodies and emotional pain can manifest in many diseases or bodily ailments. It deserves attention not stigmatization. Even the way we see emotional pain is problematic, someone struggling is expected to look a certain way or else their pain is either missed or dismissed.

Of course, we are going to smile to hide the pain when that pain is negatively perceived or received. Of course, we can still be functional and we need to be to survive and pay the bills even. Of course, we are going to put on a mask, in fear of being judged, not seen as brave, feeling we must be incompetent instead of feeling normal because it’s normal to bleed if we get injured, even emotionally.

It’s OK not to be OK; this has nothing to do with our character. How can we not feel or become depressed when we cannot be our authentic selves, when society doesn’t accept us for who we are? It tells us we are worthy only on conditions of worth. We need to be a certain way, look, act a certain way, be perfect, be who society wants us to be to feel accepted and right and feel we belong, or else we are ostracized. When we live in a superficial and judgmental world.

What is really being done to prevent and support mental health? We need to kill the stigma that kills so many struggling with depresssion. We need to heal the traumatized world we live in. We need to create a safe and equal environment free from oppression, a world based on empathy and respect. A world where authenticity, individuality and diversity is embraced, a world that doesn’t silence emotions and understands all our emotions are messengers, part of our humanity, that we can learn to manage them, that we have a right to them and to process them. That struggling is part of being human and we need to feel free to express it, we need our pain acknowledged and heard.

We can’t heal in a toxic environment

Survivors are told they are responsible for their healing.  I, as a survivor, say we as a collective world, society and culture are responsible for creating an environment that isn’t traumatised and causes intentional harm. One that isn’t oppressive in the first place.

A plant cannot thrive without the necessary conditions. An experiment was even carried out that showed how a plant responded to being verbally bullied by withering away and dying instead of thriving and growing. Humans are like plants, needing the right conditions to thrive. I don’t believe trauma should be divided into small or big T’s,  or abuse into “worse” and “lesser.” This isn’t helpful and only brings shame, and shame becomes toxic and blocks the healing process.

Survivors shouldn’t have to justify their pain or feel they are not worthy of help or support because pain and trauma is being measured. We shouldn’t allow abuse by acting only when it’s reached extreme measures, we should be saying “no” period. Abuse is abuse. We should be supporting all who hurt and bleed not only physically, but also emotionally. It can take years for the psyche to heal, and even then, healing doesn’t mean things will be the same, it means adapting to a new life, managing the pain and triggers and emotions, and the lessening of the struggle and pain. A fulfilling and happy life is possible, but we need to adapt and learn new ways to live and function in life and new skills to help us do that.

Covid-19 was a collective threat and trauma. It took the lives of many and we struggled with all we lost. Yet, sexual abuse and violence, domestic abuse and violence and racial trauma have been pandemics throughout endless history. And in the present, continue to threaten the lives and well-being of so many who have lost their lives to offenders or are driven to end their pain by ending their own lives.

I see adverts encouraging survivors to come forward, and those who struggle with depression not to struggle in silence and to talk. How many times do survivors need to talk? We have been talking, but oppression has silenced us. Society has victim blamed us. Justice never seems served, changes take endless years to occur and when they do, it’s thanks to survivors.

The world thinks they can know pain they have never experienced, as well as judge those who have lived it.

As humans, sometimes we think we know better and know it all until it happens to us.

Survivors don’t need to speak up, the world needs to open their ears to listen, to see change and put it in action. It’s not enough saying, “I’m not a rapist, I’m not an abuser, I’m not racist, misogynistic …” because most of us have been the problem even when we don’t realize it. We need to really challenge ourselves and look within and we need to get angry collectively, not only when things personally affect us or loved ones.

If you really are in support of mental illness, stop shaming, judging, voting for leaders with narcissistic tendencies. Start believing survivors, start listening to them. Fight for equality, fight for justice, fight for the end of cruelty to all humans and animals. Start respecting the environment and world you don’t own and are not entitled to. Stop destroying life and nature and then wondering why things happen. Stop doing this and thinking there will be no consequences.

If we live in a world that doesn’t meet human needs, that isn’t safe or feels safe, do we really think mental illness is just a disease? That suicide is just the result of depression? Depression is a symptom that manifests in a world that can render us to feel helpless and hopeless and alone. The world needs to change if mental illness is to get any better.  All these things are injuries to the psyche, and naturally, the psyche will bleed. Sadly, when it’s the psyche, many are left to bleed or told to stop bleeding. You see, struggling is a normal human experience and it’s hard to heal wounds when the environment that caused them doesn’t change.

Sexual Coercion – The invisible rape

We need to talk about sexual abuse/violence in all its wider spectrum and one form that isn’t discussed much and that has survivors suffering the aftermath and symptoms without being able to give language to their experience and feeling like they have no right to feel the way they feel, is coercive rape. 

Coercive rape is just that, it isn’t sex because the consent is fabricated, if you manipulate someone this isn’t seduction it’s exploiting them for your own gain, it’s getting them to change their behaviour and actions.
If saying no isn’t respected then a yes cannot be valid and if that yes is worn down, is given due to fearing someone will leave a relationship if you don’t give them sex or worse, if the yes is achieved under emotional duress, with constant pressure before or after refusal this is coercion. It is not enough for us to discuss the fact that no means no, we must also see how the yes is obtained and when the yes is invalid.

We need to start looking at freely obtained consent but more than that, a freely obtained enthusiastic yes and not arrogantly assume consent or put the responsibility on someone to tell us to stop or say no. If someone respects you, if they are attuned to you and your body language as they should be then they can see if you are uncomfortable and stop to ask or stop altogether to be safe. Looking away, crying, saying not now, looking distant and vacant and other signs are all no or signs for someone to stop.

Abusers use this tactic because it’s not spoken much off, because it goes ignored and because it’s not given the severity it deserves. They know they can get away with it. There is no law as of yet to tackle this.
Sexual coercion is abusive, and it can causes sexual trauma. In the same way, that attempted rape can be just as traumatic as if a rape itself took place.

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone; it can be someone trying to get you tipsy or drunk so that it makes it harder for you to refuse them, it can be someone pressurising you when you don’t feel ready, not in the mood or to have unprotected sex. It can be verbally egging someone on or using social pressure such as: everyone is doing it, it has to happen sometime, you can’t be a virgin all your life, you’re old enough, what’s wrong with you? Others like it, others get off at this, come on, you’ll enjoy it once we get started, it’s not like we haven’t had sex before…it can be threats such as: I’ll leave you if you don’t, I’ll tell everyone about it…threatening emotional blackmail. It can be achieved through using guilt: If you loved me you would, come on it’s been so long, you’ve led me on, I’m aroused now you can’t just stop now…

Like emotional abuse it can be hard to identify or to pinpoint because it is not always blatant. As mentioned, it can be persistent attempts, or using a relationship to make you feel obligated.

It’s important to remember that no matter how it takes place, the bottom line is that you really didn’t want to have sex. You know it isn’t classified (by law) as rape since you “gave in”, or said yes (even when you didn’t want it but felt you should or had too) but you still feel violated. There is a reason why you feel violated even if you can’t explain it and that’s because of the coercive aspect.

Consent is enthusiastic not reluctant, and this is what we should be aiming for and accepting nothing less, it is not enough to have a “yes”. Sexual coercion leaves one confused after the experience. Sex doesn’t leave anyone confused when it’s wanted and enjoyable when it is not uncomfortable. In this situation someone isn’t respecting boundaries.

Sexual coercion is on the same spectrum as sexual assault and rape itself and I would go as far as classifying it as rape, because if a no is not respected a yes can never be valid and so consent is lacking. Even in cases where one can change their mind, from a no to a yes, it’s important to note that you can only change your mind and agree to sex when you know that both your yes and no are respected: without pressure, shame or guilt or fear. In the same way someone doesn’t pressure someone to change their yes into a no with sex, we should also accept no as a valid answer, we shouldn’t accept it as a right for someone to have to owe anyone sex.

Sexual coercion is damaging, and it can equally result in trauma and like trauma lead to PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, affect sexuality as occurs with survivors who are physically raped, because abuse is abuse no matter how it is done.

It can happen to anyone, it is also important to note that adults can also be groomed, another subject that isn’t much talked off that can make adults feel alone or shamed. We are all vulnerable no matter who we are or how old we are.

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with someone to earn trust with the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or even trafficking, again it’s a manipulative tactic of abuse.

The grooming process is much similar to how an adult grooms a child, it usually starts with a friendship in order to gain trust and then trying to take the relationship further by sexualising the friendship, it is believed to be known as ‘mate crime’ due to this. It can make it hard and confusing for a victim to identify the grooming from a romantic relationship and it starts with the abuser trying to disable their victim’s boundaries and eventually violating those boundaries and the victim. This is a slow process and can even take many years before the victim is hurt.
This can happen in person or with the world of the internet, now online. Of course, the motive isn’t always to sexually abuse someone, it can take other forms of exploitation such as material, financial, radicalisation.

The abuser will make the victim believe they have a ‘special’ bond.

Love bombarding is another form of grooming when the abuser becomes a partner and the early stages of a relationship. It is a manipulative tactic once again and emotional abuse but hard to spot because it involves flattery, gifts, attention, extravagant gestures to the point the victim believes to have met their perfect match and that they are deeply in love, yet the deeply in love is with an image and not the real person. It’s easy for us to fall in love with words and attention. It makes us feel special and that’s where the hook and appeal and being seduced comes in. It may sound or seem romantic but there is nothing romantic about love bombarding, it’s aim is for the abuser to gain power and control over their target.

Sexual coercion is sexual abuse, you should never feel forced into anything that you’re not comfortable with or don’ t feel like doing. Rape and sexual abusedon’t have to be achieved through physical means and physical force and it’s time that the world and people understood this and that we don’t accept anything that lacks respect or violates boundaries. It’s time we talked about this, we fight to make the changes, we change our own behaviours, and we address this.

For more knowledge, please consider purchasing the book: Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture.https://www.amazon.com/Antonella-Sonia-Zottola/e/B07PQ8YNHT%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

When trauma is ignored or labelled

Peter Levine (Clinical Psychologist) states thatTrauma is the most avoided, ignored, denied, misunderstood and untreated cause of human suffering.”

Trauma being ignored can be traced back to Freud Sigmund (psychologist) who changed his theory to hysteria and false memories because his original work that exposed the trauma of sexual abuse experienced by many of his patients was at the time not received well because the world did not want to believe that incest was real. Therefore, trauma got ignored and covered up. An example of many how in the world, society, culture, trauma is ignored, and survivors are silenced.

Janina Fisher, PhD
 (Psychologist) talks about the legacy of trauma, by legacy she means the natural responses that trauma leaves survivors with, the healing of these trauma symptoms. It is the legacy itself of trauma that is not only ignored in general by society and individuals in it but also in the professional fields that should be supporting those who are traumatised. Psychiatry has had a history of treating people, by seeing them as just symptoms and not recognising the symptomology of trauma, therefore, they have tended to just throw labels at survivors, rather than looking at the history of a person. They have asked what’s wrong with you, rather than what happened to you? And by doing this, they saw individuals has having something wrong with them, instead of natural consequences or changes to the brain structure such as can occur with trauma. The approach hasn’t been one of empathy and not always an accurate one either.

This approach can still be found, and a lot of work needs to be done in the field to change this. Slowly with the awareness of trauma, new information and more discussion we can hope to see much needed changes. Trauma causes the inability to self-sooth and self-regulate, yet many have been misdiagnosed with bi-polar due to poorly regulated or dysregulated mood states or the popular diagnose that was thrown so easily to label survivors of abuse tended to be BPD(Borderline Personality Disorder) also known by the term Emotional unstable personality disorder, due to again having difficulties regulating emotions, mood instability (which can be caused by triggers in traumatised individuals) and self-harm (part of the survival response; the flight response).

The names themselves tend to suggest a defect in a person. Trauma and emotional dysregulation are therefore, easily labelled and can be easily misdiagnosed. This is also why some of these conditions have also be renamed: Multiple Personality disorder was renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder because the new term accurately focuses on the fact that dissociation is what happens. Again, this dissociation is a natural survival response to extreme abuse and trauma very often in childhood that forms as a creative and ingenious way for the mind to protect itself and survive horrors that no human should ever have to endure and would be too unbearable without this copying mechanism. It is evidence of trauma and of the adaptive brain and the ways symptoms and conditions form to protect our psyche. An extraordinary ability.

Another trauma response that gets misdiagnosed is ADHD, it is not rare for children who experience trauma earlier on in life to be diagnosed more than likely with ADHD, again psychological trauma is being labelled. These are traumatic reactions and not necessarily a mental illness, because symptoms overlap this error is easily made, however, if we start asking the right questions and see people as individuals who we take interest in and show curiosity we will less likely make the mistakes, as seeing people as just their symptoms or ignoring the legacy of trauma is not an empathetic approach or useful at that.  We do not want to unnecessarily medicate people with medication that can have bad side effects and bring them shame if they don’t respond to these and that can in return have individual feel that they are not only wrong, but something must be wrong with them if they are not responding to treatment or for their dosages to be increased when the issue is one of psychological trauma and emotional dysregulation which can be treated with a variety of modalities and where medication should not be the sole or primary modality.

Gabor Mate (physician and expert on trauma/addiction/stress/childhood development) states: “All of the diagnoses that you deal with – depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, even psychosis, are significantly rooted in trauma. They are manifestations of trauma. Therefore, the diagnoses don’t explain anything. The problem in the medical world is that we diagnose somebody, and we think that is the explanation. He’s behaving that way because he is psychotic. She’s behaving that way because she has ADHD. Nobody has ADHD, nobody has psychosis – these are processes within the individual. It’s not a thing that you have. This is a process that expresses your life experience. It has meaning in every single case.” 

Society itself is based on a culture of toxic positivity or statements that silence, dismiss, or minimise the human sufferings of others and the human experience. No emotion is good or bad, all emotions are to be felt and heard and allowed the natural process of being released and healed, instead of the process interrupted, emotions denied, having to be repressed and remain unheard and unresolved and stuck in the process of healing. Emotions are road maps to what is hurting, to what needs to be addressed to the wounds caused to our psyche.

Symptoms manifest and are natural responses just as we would expect a bone to break, the skin to tear and bled in injury, a ligament to rupture, we wouldn’t think this is abnormal and that it says something about someone’s personality. How can we not see that mind, body and soul are connected? That the mind and body is not separate but that what affects the mind will also affect the body? Research has shown from the Polyvagal Theory that all emotions and survival responses are experienced in our nervous system, and that when the back part of our brain is activated and in survival mode, our front part of the brain (logic/thinking) is offline. We automatically react to survive before we have time to think of our actions or thoughts because the brain part in control of logic and reasoning is offline when a threat is posed or felt and the fear response is activated to act and defend ourselves from danger (perceived or real). If we are in this hypoarousal (Freeze/collapsed) state or hyperarousal (Flight/fight) state, we will find it difficult to emotionally regulate ourselves and for those growing up with parents who were absent or unattuned or in case of abusive ones nobody has taught us these skills. Nobody is born with the ability to self-regulate themselves.

Traumatologist John Briere stated: “If CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) were ever given its due, the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) used by all mental health professionals would shrink from its dictionary like size to the size of a thin pamphlet”. What this understands is that the role of traumatised childhoods in most adult psychological disorders is enormous.

Other misdiagnoses are those of depression and anxiety.

Trauma and its legacy can of course co-occur with mental conditions, but many can be accurately described as the natural survival responses found in trauma, example ADHD and compulsive obsessive can be responses to the fight response, depression to the freeze/collapse response. Responses that were created to protect us at the time and served the role for our survival. It doesn’t mean our suffering is any less or real or that we can’t have biological conditions, but it means we need the right treatment and support and to accurately see these experiences for what they are.

This is such so important to always bear in mind and to know and I hope that others can find it helpful and useful.

Male rape

Rape doesn’t just happen to females, it happens also to us males, just as equally we never feel the same.

The crime doesn’t make us gay, How can you think that in this modern day?

The myths are still as strong, mocked for being victims of this wrong.

Silenced by the shame, masculinity is to blame. Stereotypes are destructive, shaming us is not constructive.

Made to feel less of a man, from society we are banned.

Made to feel ashsmed, what happened to us can never be named.

It doesn’t happen to men, are you sure? I challenge you to think again, you’ll be surprised at the number of men.

The pain is just the same, the intensity of the shame, our bodies not our own. Rape against men we cannot condone. Men are silenced and all alone.

It doesn’t just happen in prison cells, it’s just that men fear to tell. But trust me when I say, men have also been to hell.

Please don’t leave men in the dark, the crime is just the same, even on men it leaves a mark, don’t leave them empty, alone in the dark.

Fight with them; have a heart.

https://www.survivorsmanchester.org.uk/breakthesilence/creative-writing/male-rape/

If you need to go no contact or no distant contact with a parent(s) or caregiver(s) then this is what you need to know

“Nothing in this world lasts without protection.”
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke
Enablers may be good and kind people, but it’s not good or helpful to enable toxic behaviours. It’s not empathy to be an enabler. You can acknowledge someone’s past without having to tolerate hurtful behaviours. You can love someone and hold them accountable for wrongs, in fact I argue that if you don’t you don’t love them or yourself or the person that needs your support, you may fear who is doing the damage so be unable to challenge them or you fear losing the attachment and if you lose someone because they have hurt you or another and you don’t like this and hold them accountable and the challenged person acts negatively then you are not in a healthy relationship or with a healthy person but a dysfunctional one.
Enabling bad behaviours isn’t loving, it’s dysfunctional and can be a product of co-dependency or people-pleasing.
People pleasing isn’t being nice or showing empathy, it is a trauma response named: Fawn. We developed it because we were denied our authentic selves, we may have been punished for being our authentic selves even with fear of being made to believe we would lose the attachment to our caregiver(s), because we learned that we had to earn love when we were being ‘loved’ only by what we did and what another wanted us to do and be like, hence on conditions of worth. To be accepted and to survive we had to adapt this.
It protects us from being rejected and abandoned and for a child to not feel accepted, loved, valued, seen or heard it is a death sentence, for we are wired for connection and dependent on parent(s) and caregiver(s), for our survival.
Codependency and people-pleasing go hand in hand and are the result of developmental trauma and injuries.
Like any survival strategies, it no longer serves us in adulthood.
Here is the thing, being an enabler (yourself or trying to fix another or ‘rescue’ someone) doesn’t serve or benefits anyone. People do not need to be fixed, rescuing someone doesn’t give them the tools they need to make the change and takes away their power to do it themselves, or making excuses for toxic behaviours is just playing right into that person’s hand. It just abolishes them of any responsibility and to never have to hold themselves accountable.
Children of toxic parents and caregivers (no matter how old even adult-children) need to be validated and heard and have their experiences and pain validated and taken seriously. Toxic and hurtful behaviours from a parent(s) or caregiver(s) are as serious as any other type of involvement or relationship we have, even more so damaging and destructive to our psyche.
Anything that affects or has the potential to affect our mental health should not be ignored or dismissed or downplayed because the world doesn’t want to admit that family members can and do hurt their families, mother’s do hurt and can hurt their child(ren) and victims and survivors should not be silenced to keep others comfortable in this illusion rather than face reality. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult and it takes great strength for the those that have been hurt to see through the fog, they don’t need to be dragged back into it.
Denial and enabling  doesn’t create a safe place, it doesn’t lead to change, it doesn’t lead to healing because it doesn’t break those unhealthy patterns or behaviours.
It sounds like: “They love you in their own way”, “Just ignore them, you know what they are like”, or another classic “be the bigger person”.
Basically don’t rock the boat, you don’t matter, that person is above reproach especially if a parent like your mother. You don’t deserve to be protected is the message leading to your own gas lightening and cognitive dissonance.
If the abnormal is made normal by everyone including society and we are taught not to question things critically then the normal becomes the normal even when abnormal and morally wrong.
We need to note that having empathy for someone’s trauma isn’t an excuse for their behaviour and to let them off the hook and it doesn’t mean allowing them to act it out on you. As you go on to do your own healing through books, through sharing your story, counselling…so should they. It is not our responsibility to take the blame or the blunt and serve as a martyrdom to be sacrificed for the sake of others to our own detriment and to have our needs and existence erased.
Just know that you deserve the best and your well being (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual) is the most important. We can’t change others no matter what we do, they will have to want that and the main thing we can focus on is our own healing and self-love. To know it wasn’t our fault and it doesn’t make us worthless or unlovable.
It will take time and strength to make the right choice for ourselves but make sure that choice isn’t what others expect or what society deems right. Make sure that choice is what feels right for you and only you as you are your own expert, don’t let anyone invalidate your feelings or tell you how you should feel and become the parent you wish you had to that inner child of yours who is so lovable and deserves love including yours. First and foremost this is the most important, the rest will slot into place at your own pace.
It’s hard to have been able to see things clearly, so don’t berate yourself if this realisation that your parent(s) or caregiver(s) was toxic finds you later on in your adult life. Remember, as a child you couldn’t knew, if you learned this was normal or made to doubt and question your own judgement this played a part. If, society shames you or makes you feel guilt it kept you trapped in the fog. There are many reasons, you also need to be ready to accept the truth and face the pain and you will do when the time is right for you. Don’t berate yourself. It’s okay to grieve and feel frustrated that you even still have ambivalent feelings or that you may have found it hard to set a boundary again, that’s okay, like a child, you are learning to walk for the first time and stumbles are normal and natural.
Be a generational cycle breaker, be a social rebel because without this, we can’t keep ourselves safe, we cannot keep others safe, we cannot create and live in a world that will be and is safe. For you generational cycle breakers, you misfits, you social rebels with a cause, you critical thinkers who think outside the box, you individuals, you people with narcissists in your family who refuse to remain compliant and submissive and called the black sheep of the family because you are seen as a threat, thank you! You bloody amazing and awesome people.

A psychoanalysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens very much contains themes of trauma, therapy, and the transformation of healing that can bring about changes.

The story almost takes the same process of self-discovery that takes places in the therapeutic process, and it has a person-centred approach to it with the client being Ebenezer Scrooge. One could say that it is based on the person-centred belief that people are inherently good and creative. They become destructive only when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process.

Carl Rogers (founder of person-centred approach) also believed that humans have one basic motive; that is the tendency to self-actualise, i.e. fulfil one’s potential and achieve the highest level of ‘human-beingness’ we can. This could be said to be true if we take the transformation of a mean, greedy, unempathetic man who changes to be altruistic, generous, regretful, merry, and charitable for the rest of his life, and by doing so fulfilling his purpose in life and his potential as a human being.

Although the Christmas spirit is temporary, the change within Scrooge goes beyond Christmas and is maintained throughout his remaining life. It’s the hope that change and transformation are possible but that it has to come from within. Nothing or nobody was able to change Scrooge but himself; his choice. It is often when the fear of things staying or being the same is greater than any fear that change will come about. Scrooge started to fear the life and consequences should he remain the same, and this propelled him to make a permanent change.

It can be said that, just like a therapist, the role of the ghosts was to be the torch shining the light on the dark parts to enable self-awareness, rediscovery, and resolution. Therapy is about making changes, learning painful things, looking deep within ourselves, and to be true about aspects of ourselves we may not like or that are not serving us well. It’s about having the courage to make the changes for healthier behaviours and to learn to become our authentic selves.

In psychology, Carl Jung stated that our shadow is an unknown part of our personality (negative or positive). In this case, the ghosts are reflecting back to Scrooge the darker aspects of his personality, so that the damage he is causing to self and others through it is consciously brought to the surface where he must confront it. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which perceived personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else.

We could say this is the case if we analyse how Scrooge hates the poor, with him stating “Are there no prisons or work-houses for the poor and homeless?”. When the man who asked him for a donation says, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die”, Scrooge comments back “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population”.

The past ghost works with memory and takes what seems like a psychodynamic approach that looks at our childhood stages of life; our unconscious wounds that may have been created and carried on in later adulthood as a result. We all know that childhood adversity can have a great impact on our psyche, especially if no support or secure attachment was to be found in difficult or traumatic events we may have experienced in childhood.

This brings us to the attachment theory which explains how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development. John Bowlby (psychoanalyst), who is known for the attachment theory, suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others because this will help them to survive.

When the ghost of the past brought Scrooge back to his childhood days, we learn that Scrooge had a lonely childhood with themes of abandonment and rejection felt. He was left at a boarding school, and it could be speculated that some form of abuse could have occurred, as many incur negative experiences such as bullying or severe punishments in boarding schools. Generally, they are not known for many happy times by those who have experienced them. The only secure attachment Scrooge seems to have is with his sister who he later loses in death. Scrooge has suppressed this additional trauma, as he says to the ghost “sometimes I forget Fred (nephew) is her son”.

We can see the unresolved pain that still lingers for Scrooge, as he is unable to look at his past for long. He states “Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!”. Also, the book quotes “In the struggle… Scrooge observed that his light was burning high and bright; and dimply connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head”.

Scrooge could be said to be struggling with what he sees, just like clients can feel overwhelmed by the sudden rush of emotions that find them when it comes to feeling and seeing through emotional eyes; painful events that have long taken place that they may have repressed for a reason and which is still a raw wound when awakened.

The person-centred approach can also be seen by the seven stages of Rogerian functioning. It could perhaps be said that like a client may move towards these (seven) stages, during the process with every ghost Scrooge too was taking this journey. We could suggest that with the ghost of the Christmas past, he was at stages one, two, and three.

  • Stage one – The client is very defensive and extremely resistant to change.
  • Stage two – The client becomes slightly less rigid and will talk about external events or other people.
  • Stage three – The client talks about themselves but as an object and avoids discussion of present events.

It is clear that at this stage, Scrooge is by no means looking for, aspiring to, or thinking about change or the possibility and concept of it. However, he connects to his younger self. He has just relived the events of his boyhood when he was left alone at school over Christmas because his father turned against him when his mother died and wanted nothing more to do with his son.

He experiences the sad and lonely feelings he has long repressed, and we can speculate that this hurtful and traumatic event was the reason he may have later developed an antagonistic view of Christmas. He may have not yet come to peace with the event that must have felt like his enemy, bringing him further pain. This could have commenced the pivotal moment when Christmas ceased to represent anything to do with warmth, family, joy, or meeting needs, for his own childhood needs were not met and this could, as we have stated, affected the sentimental aspect of Christmas. Just as with trauma, we make associations to it. It was the Christmas day when all his peers returned home for reunions, gifts, and celebrations that Scrooge was abandoned for as if he was unimportant and had no value.

It can be argued that Scrooge’s unresolved wounds led him to become a cruel, indifferent man. Pain can indeed change us. Throughout this point in his life, we see a younger Scrooge who still possesses the ability to love; a person who is still in touch with his fellow human beings. He wasn’t always the person he became, and he doesn’t have to continue to be the person he is now. It is clear that his hurt turned into bitterness, and his trauma created a fear that turned into an aspiration for money to avoid poverty.

So great was the fear of poverty and the need for money that he neglected his fiancée, who left him for this very reason. One of Scrooge’s moments of connection is when he hears Belle (his former fiancée) describe the man he has become. We see Scrooge affected by this, and he asks the ghost to remove him from the house. Also, at this point, the narrator describes Scrooge’s regret as he sees the daughter of Belle, making him realise that he has missed out on having his own family.

Generosity is a reminder for Scrooge when the ghost (past) takes him to a Christmas party held by his former and first boss – Mr Fezziwig. The event reminds Scrooge how much he loved working for Fezziwig. He describes what made Mr Fezziwig an excellent boss and insists that money wasn’t the source of his employees’ fulfilment. Mr Fezziwig showed generosity of manner in exercising his authority over his employees with kindness.

The present ghost represents clarity and empathy. This is the stage when, in therapy, things are becoming clearer, due to greater self-awareness for the client, and self-compassion is developing and starting to be found.

We can argue that perhaps it was the fear of poverty that negatively led Scrooge to take on the destructive qualities of greed and selfishness very much encouraged by the world around him. The childhood trauma that created this fear is almost symbolic in the representation of the two emancipated children (under the robe of the ghost), named ignorance and want (entitlement), which lead to the destruction of humanity and the world. The lesson here is that society should and must take care of the problems of ignorance and want, for the good of everyone.

Scrooge connects to his humanity when the ghost tells him that Tiny Tim will die unless the course of events changes. The counselling skill of reflection is also used here by the ghost, who reflects back to Scrooge his own words regarding Tiny Tim – he “better do it (die) and decrease the surplus population”. This powerful tool of reflection makes Scrooge see how heartless, inaccurate, ignorant, and abusive that statement was.

Scrooge is now progressing to stages four and five.

  • Stage four – The client begins to talk about deep feelings and develops a relationship with the therapist.
  • Stage five – The client can express present emotions, is beginning to rely more on their decision-making abilities, and increasingly accepts more responsibility for their actions.

Scrooge is in the process of slowly coming to an understanding that his actions will need to change and is seeing the consequences of this not happening. He is more willing to talk to the ghost of Christmas present than he was with the ghost of Christmas past.

The future ghost represents fears; the fears that are keeping us stuck but also the fear that leads to change, which is the fear of the death of self (emotionally and psychologically) or our death (physically) if we continue on the same path.

It’s when the fear of this happening is greater than the fear of anything else that change can be prompted. It’s also the death of parts of us we held on too, such as surviving mechanisms that served us but no longer do. It’s a rebirth and transformation, just like the phoenix.

This fear can be seen when Scrooge sees everyone rejoicing and showing no emotion for his death. He sobs at this point, pleading for change. He has come to fear the prospect of being the very person he became, the fact that he became the very person he hated. We could say that it speaks of the courage to acknowledge parts of ourselves that are painful to acknowledge; the part of us that we may be ashamed off or that is not pretty; the courage to change, as this can be scary, and the courage to make better choices and break generational trauma patterns.

By the end of the process, we see stages six and seven starting to take place.

  • Stage six – The client shows rapid growth toward congruence and begins to develop unconditional positive regard for others. This stage signals the end for the need for formal therapy (Scrooge is no longer in need of the ghosts).
  • Stage seven – The client is a fully functioning, self-actualised individual who is empathic and shows unconditional positive regard for others. This individual can relate their previous therapy to present day real-life situations (Scrooge has self-actualised, reaching his full potential as a person and putting into place all that he has learned about himself and all that he has become aware off).

To summarise, during the process, Scrooge was able to reconnect to not only his feelings that had been suppressed and repressed for many years but also to connect with an authentic self and others. Trauma causes disconnection, and it is through the healing process that we learn to reconnect.

By resolving old wounds Scrooge has freed himself from his chains. This is symbolic of how we can become our own worst enemies and how those chains (inability to change) can hold us down. Jacob Marley’s ghost (Scrooge’s mean employer) warns Scrooge that this will be his fate if change doesn’t occur. It is also a lesson that we can learn from other mistakes to reach our full potential.

Scrooge’s relationship with his father is one that reflects the author Charles Dickins’ conflicting feelings towards his father in real life. The theme of the father is also carried out with the fact that Scrooge becomes a second father to Tiny Tim, and this is also almost symbolising the parenting to his inner child. Furthermore, Mr Fezziwig (Scrooge’s first employer) treated him as a father.

The key element in the story is empathy; people are often ignorant of actual suffering, not trauma-informed, and are unable to comprehend the suffering of others unless they walk in their shoes or see life as the other person. To have empathy for others, we must also come to have empathy for our pain, as Scrooge did before he was able to give it to others. At the end of the story, Scrooge was fulfilled by changing his attitude and becoming a kind person. Also, he learned that making others happy is a reward in itself, beginning with the anonymous gesture of purchasing the largest turkey for the Cratchit family.

To conclude, the story also highlights how Christmas can be a difficult and challenging time for those financially struggling, lonely, or suffering due to their pain, and calls out for us to consider this and make sure that we do not forget those less fortunate.

In our world today, this is still very relevant. Let us remember the homeless, the elderly who are forgotten about without family, the orphaned children, those who have fled domestic violence, the ones who are in unloving and abusive homes with no way out, the ones fighting depression, the terminally ill celebrating what could be their last Christmas with loved ones, the soldiers unable to return back home, the immigrant trying to survive war and make it alive when crossing over borders, those that have lost loved ones, a pet or a child…

The message for the need to help those who are in need is as strong as it was then. The message that we are still living in a traumatised world, with traumatised people, and that greed and ignorance are still some of the things leading to this.

No, to couples counselling when domestic violence/abuse is the issue

I’m writing this after having presented a presentation on domestic violence/abuse for the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) in 2018, and having brought this important point to the table, on this very event.

I was distressed to learn that people in the field of counselling and psychotherapy and working with survivors still challenged this and disagreed, regardless they hear from survivors and victims themselves why this is dangerous, when many other voices have spoken and research carried out  raising awareness of the dangers.

I was told that they were in the domestic abuse field, for twenty years and thought they were clever to challenge a survivor and professional myself who had experience of how it is from a survivors point of view. (Having my own personal experience of domestic violence and abuse). It really concerned me they would still believe this dangerous myth, after so many years in practice an after so many years where we should know better.  I was also concerned at how they were not prepared to grow and learn but to continue to put others at risk.

This is a profession where we strive to better ourselves professionally and personally, where professional development and personal development is a part of our work and where it is our responsibility to keep our clients safe and feeling safe as much as we can and in our control. I explained my reason and stuck to my guns and I will be explaining my reasons here in the hope that others may learn and take from this.

Couples counselling is for problems and issues that occur in a ‘romantic’ relationship but if a partner is being abusive and domestic abuse is present, then this isn’t about a couple’s problem, this is about an abuse problem. This isn’t something to work out together, this only puts the blame on the victim and takes away the responsibility from who should be held accountable; the abuser.

Abuse is an abuse problem, it is not a relationship problem. 

The victim isn’t doing anything to cause it, abusers cause it with their mental attitudes and beliefs based on abuse and their desire for power and control.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and will seduce professionals and make themselves out to be the victim. Professionals themselves can be manipulated and deceived and especially if they are not aware to recognise these tactics. A victim of abuse will still be under the control and fear the abuser in the same room with them and will say all is okay and fine to point the counsellor or therapist may believe this and that all has been successful. The victim cannot feel safe and cannot speak candidly or without restrictions. It can also place them at greater risk, because abusers punish their victims for speaking out or defying them. Another example, is that it could create a false sense of safety and security for the victim, who feels able to disclose things having the therapist present feeling safe, but once out of the counselling room the abuser will take back their power and control by punishing them for that disclosure.

Couple counselling takes away the focus on the problem which is abuse, and suggests that the victim somehow contributes to this, many victims already blame themselves and the abuser brainwashes them into believing that it is them and their fault and so the therapist or counsellor meaning to or not, encourages this and gives the abuser an added reason to use as evidence. The abuser may turn to their victim and say: ‘See! Even the therapist thinks and says you’re the blame.’ This not only takes the attention away from the abuser but helps keep them in a state of denial of their own abusive behaviours.

It enables abuse and keeps victims stuck in their abuse and further feeling unsafe and that nobody understands and that nobody will help. Why are we forcing anyone to have to stay and work things out when their lives depend on it, their well-being depends on it? This is like asking rape victims to marry their rapists.

It can also be hard for therapists or counsellors to feel comfortable challenging the abuse or if seduced they may see the perpetrator as the victim, such failure then to directly confront abuse or the abuses will only contribute to minimisation and denial.

Counselling must be done separately, the victim should be supported and offered this not to be blamed, but to have her pain validated, to help her gain back her sense of worth and self esteem that has been effected, to help her explore her feelings and help her to gain back self compassion and recognise the tactics abusers use, support them with boundaries and to let them know that in no way did they cause the abuse or are at fault.

Abusive partners who want to change (it is rare that they do, due to the privileges they derive for it, but change is possible, however, it must come from them wanting it not because we want them too), have access to programs themselves.

These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although they can be referred to by other names. They focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook (this is for males and females, and also LGBTAQI+ relationships) – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5

Further reading: