Thursday, 27 August 2015

A biopsychosocial understanding of childhood adversity

 How early emotional experiences influence our psychological and physical resilience:

(image taken from

 Growing Pains stock photo

I just read this compelling article by Donna Jackson Nakazawa on Psychology Today's website. So many people who seek medical attention with a myriad of chronic illnesses have experienced adversity (poverty, neglect, abuse) in their childhood lives. Anectdotally, all healing professionals could site countless examples of this. This takes the 'nature versus nurture' argument in whole other direction, because, of course, they are connected. I often say that emotional well being and coping skills (emotional regulation) are something that we learn in part, much like reading. When we are reading we learn that symbols have sounds, and that those sounds then join to make words. With emotions and coping how we learn is based on how our early emotional needs, for security, for strength, for being understood, for attunement, are met by our caregivers. These experiences are like symbols and sounds that we put together. If we need soothing, for example, but are further frightened by our caregiver this 'sets up up' more greater emotional vulnerability. This explains why some people are hyper-sensitive to criticism and internalize this (as in depression) and how for some people relatively benign stressors are fear -provoking (as in anxiety).  There are of course long term consequences from this stress on the mind and body  I have shared the article below:

Part II of the article - not yet posted - includes the phrase "How we come back to who we really are" in the title. I would bet that this includes self inquiry and self care. 

I hope you found this research as interesting as I did! 


Thursday, 7 May 2015

 (Artist, Delilah K. Stephens, copied without permission)

 A Mother's Day Message

This post began as a rather childlike rant in my mind about how much I dislike shopping for Mother's Day cards. These at best sappy, at worst saccharine, messages decorated with butterflies and pastel coloured flowers provide a lovely token for some children to offer to Moms, or a frustrating dilemma for others who find it very difficult to offer a lie about who their mother is or has been to them. At last check I did find some cards that attempted to be funny by talking about potty training.  (I pause now to say thank goodness for the 'Blank Note' category at the card store). Of course, not everyone needs to celebrate Mother's Day or perhaps the day is one to be avoided due to grief and loss. 

I would offer up a suggestion that we take a moment to honour the Divine Feminine, mother energy, Mother Earth or whatever term makes sense to you. In Celtic tradition the month of May brought the Beltane Fires, a time of renewal, reconnection to the earth and a welcome back to the light. 

By all means, take the time to recognize those you love and time to receive those thanks from children. I have every single crayon-crafted, construction paper card and macaroni masterpiece I have ever received from my two daughters over the years. But I suggest we look for something deeper, more meaningful - that we can't find on a greeting card. 

Blessings to you,


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Lines in the Sand - Healthy Boundaries and Relationships

Lines in the Sand - Healthy Boundaries and Relationships

Image result for free images lines in the sand

(If this is your first time visiting please have a look at the first blog entry). 

Another common issue that people bring to therapy is that of being disappointed in their relationships. So many people are very puzzled by why they seem to give and give and never receive.  Relationships, are of course, a 'two way street', and we can't always influence or change other people, however we can have more fulfilling relationships if we cultivate a healthy sense of self and understand where our 'blind spots' are in our expectations of ourselves and other people. This would be the pillar of Self Awareness (and maybe Self Care).  These blind spots are neurologically hard wired  as we learn to relate to people from birth and our experiences of being 'heard' and 'understood' by our caregivers. So many people describe the experience of receiving love conditionally, that sort of 'quid pro quo' that includes that we are lovable if we do certain things in a certain way. This is a common dynamic in families that were 'closed systems'; where parents' behavior and habits (such as alcoholism) meant that there were rigid expectations of what face the family showed the outside world. This is also the case when children learned not to ask for help so as not to bother their parents. If you quietly go about meeting their needs you will be ok.  In the extreme this can create 'co-dependent traits', where your well being is predicated by helping someone else.  This is where we learn our own 'line in the sand'; where we can trust that we will get what we need or be fearful and set up maladaptive behaviours and defense mechanisms.  An example of this (and one I endure myself) is the belief that if we are giving people will love us, and give back. What we all eventually learn, however, is that givers attract takers. (Pause for a moment and consider if you have had these patterns in your life). For decades I have been a gift-giver, question asker, concerned person -  only to be disappointed when these overtures appeared not to be appreciated or reciprocated. This delusion was based in my early conditioning that I had to please people to be accepted - that just simply being me was not good enough. The flip side of being giving is that people perceive you as a push-over or a doormat.  The other twist here is having any expectations of anyone, at all can leave you feeling disappointed. The folks in your life who you were supposed to have expectations of did not deliver and this has set you up for skewed ideas of give and take in relationships, including the things you believe people should give to you.  People, by the way, have a right to choose how they respond - even to you! 

Over the years I have researched and shared the resources that follow with many people. I hope you find this helpful on your journey of self recovery.

Personal Bill of Rights:

1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands I can't meet.
3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
4. I have the right to change my mind.
5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect. 
6. I have the right to follow my own values or standards.
7. I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values. 
8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
9. I have the right to NOT be responsible for others' behavior, actions, feelings or problems. 
10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.
13. I have the right to feel scared and say "I'm afraid". 
14. I have the right to say "I don't know".
15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
16. I hve the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.
18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me. 
20. I have the right to be in a nonabusive environment.
21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
22. I have the right to change and grow.
23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
25. I have the right to be happy.

From:  The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.  

Here are a couple of articles that I think are 'bang-on' in terms of helping to awaken to unhealthy patterns in relating to people. Lynn Namka has a great website that looks as unhealthy boundary patterns in families, as well as how to help children cope with anger. "Light" has a fantastic website for adults of parents who were and are self-absorbed.

A footnote for parents:

Although we all want for our children to be happy - our OWN happiness should not be contingent on this. I once heard a quote from the t.v. show The Middle that:  "you are only as happy as your unhappiest child". I thought this was funny - but really we can be frustrated with any unhappy child, we can have empathy, but we really should not base our own feelings of worth or effectiveness on our children's happiness.