Embodied Heart

Questing After Validation: Refreshing an Unquenchable Need for Approval

Are my blog statistics improving? How many likes did I get on Instagram? What can I do to increase my Twitter follower count? As of late, I’ve found myself desiring more validation from other people: more likes, more followers, more engagement. Every time I get positive feedback, however, it feels like it only increases rather than slakes my thirst. As I contemplate the unmet needs I am experiencing, I perceive myself as lacking two forms of validation and compassionate witnessing. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I’ll be describing how I am being called to more fully provide necessary care and attention to myself as well as to go deeper in my sharing with others.

Self-Validation

There are parts of myself with whom I struggle to empathize; I conceptualize them to be needy children and rebellious teenagers. The children have often cried as they express fear or boredom. They’ve whine for attention and clung to me in moments where my focus was elsewhere. They have desperately searched for compassion in my eyes and have often found it absent. I’ve parented them in the ways I was parented: screaming, stifling and shaming them into submission.

My interactions with my dog, more than any other experience, have taught me how to respond to the needs of my inner little selves with more kindness. On the rare occasions where I yell at him, seething with rage in my voice, he physically shakes and appears frightened. Within seconds, I am brought to my knees with tears in my eyes, able to see in his reaction the reflection of my inner children who hide from me in terror as I did when I veiled my vulnerabilities from my own parents. He and I reconcile and another layer of compassion covers and soothes the disemboweled heart I was left with as a childhood trauma survivor. I still have much to do, however, to improve my inner gaze of compassionate witnessing when life becomes overwhelming.

The teenagers are my strongest critics. They see where I am flawed and delight in reminding me of these gaps in my façade. They act as protectors, silencing me through their mocking smirks lest I attract outward derision. Their contempt for me is paper-thin; it serves to cover their own insecurities and wounds. The more I allow them to have their ridicule and carry on anyway, the less effective it becomes in blanketing them from the inner work of healing in which I am engaged. Many of my talents lie with them; they have both the passion of youth and the eagerness of young learners necessary to engage inwardly and outwardly in reforming and mending the fractures of my heart. When I praise them instead of rejecting them, I see bright faces shining in pride, their cloaks of scorn tattering as they select capes of strength and hope.

Naked Validation

One of my most finely-honed skills as an individual is being able to appear to be both deep and open in how I connect with others without genuinely risking very much. Most people who meet me would describe me as authentic and direct in my communication. These are hard-won characteristics that stand in contrast to my experience in my family of origin. Although true, they belie the shrouds with which I cloak myself to avoid true detection and validation of the weaker and more child-like parts of self whom I conceal from onlookers.

In service of shadowing my scars, I have carefully crafted my blog to be general in ways that allow me to remain relatively anonymous and have avoided topics such as sex that are particularly difficult for me to discuss. I find that parts of myself are craving being seen through and through, although most of me is aware of the potential fallout of mingling, for instance, my professional and personal lives. I strongly suspect that my drive to stack up accomplishments in terms of readers and replies is a call to go deeper, rather than to cast a wider net.

My intention in terms of how I will address this need is to begin a new project, one in which I play at the layering of garments with which I hold myself secure. I have started writing a full-length non-fiction book in which I anticipate increases in vulnerability and fewer generalities in my sharing. I have discerned a clear message from Goddess that the purpose of the book is simply to create it; in other words, it is not about scribing a tailored and easily marketable product. Rather, it is meant to be an act of gifting of myself, including contributions by the little selves from whom I typically hide, as an offering for whomever She intends as its recipients.

There is a garden growing of my spiritual leadership. Some of the shoots will inevitably die off. Others may produce flowers or fruit. A particular tree or shrub may gain a long-lasting foothold. My traditional method of care-taking the products of my soul has been to over-plan, over-weed and to stand over each plant obsessively shielding it from any potential threats; these acts unintentionally block out the sun and the rain and pluck out potential growth at the bud. My relationship with Goddess is enabling me to settle myself at garden’s edge, intervening as minimally as needed and allowing to come to full bloom all that She has seeded.

Regarding the ways in which you share of yourself publicly, how vulnerable are you, and how does the level of vulnerability you reach square with your inner needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of withholding aspects of who you are from scrutiny? What activities are you undertaking that may require more of you to surface in ways that allow others to see through your normal shields? Lastly, how do you direct your seeking of inner and outer validation?

Embodied Heart, Surviving & Thriving

Write It, Speak It, Sing It: Why Languaging Our Suffering Matters

One morning on my way to work, my eyes locked on an electronic billboard. Displayed on it was a tearful woman’s face, a reference to #MeToo, and words to the effect of “We believe you.” I felt my breath catch in my throat and was nearly in tears. It was one of the most visible displays I’ve ever happened upon that signified that anyone in the external world actually recognize the existence of sexual trauma and the value of vocalizing it. In passing by the sign again, I saw that it was for a local women’s domestic violence center. The intersection of catching a moment to remember the pain I carry everywhere I go and of realizing the message was evident to everyone driving by impressed upon me again the power of our collective stories as trauma survivors. For today’s #SurvivingnThriving and #EmbodiedHeart post, we’ll explore the difficulties as well as the positive outcomes associated with giving voice to our nightmares and grief.

Unspoken Trauma Harms

The harm done by traumatic events, at least for children, is not based solely on their intensity or frequency. A crucial factor in distinguishing trauma which lingers and scars the mind are those events that are experienced without the compassion of a loved one to help restore the child’s sense of safety and belonging. This experience of violation and danger followed by abandonment creates a hormone stew in the brain known as toxic stress. Toxic stress is linked not only with negative mental health outcomes; it is also linked with an increased likelihood of developing physical disease and even early death. Experiencing horrors, coupled with a lack of a loving witness, crushes body and soul.

Social isolation is a natural outcome of experiencing traumatic events which lack a spoken account. If we are unable to state what has happened to us, our perspective is lost in any retelling of the experience that might happen. In the case of childhood abuse, perpetrators are often more than happy to alter the fundamental facts of the event in order to protect themselves. So, not only are we silenced, we may be made out to be the “crazy one” or the one with “issues.” We may then carry these internalized rejections into new social encounters, always on edge that others will turn against us.

By Body If Not By Word

Traumatic events that are not articulated or held in a supportive environment do not go away. Instead, we may find that we live out that which we cannot voice. Of the many forms this unconscious repetition may take, behaviors rooted in relationship are often the primary expression. For instance, we may enter into and maintain connections with abusive individuals or mistreat our own bodies. In either case, when we are unable to speak our truth, our bodies become the tapestry on which the story of our horror is displayed.

Some of my deepest shame wells up when I can see my little self wanting to be seen by another but also feeling terrified that the other person will treat me as I was treated in the past. In a few key situations where I’ve been “seen” as an adult, the other person has actually acted in a way that re-traumatized me. Past and present blurred into a haze in these moments and I walked away vowing the story must be completely hidden from sight. Mustering the cognitive skills as well as the courage to put impulse to language when my body wants instead to dissociate it is extremely challenging for me.

The relationships reenactments I’ve experienced can sometimes be subtle. For instance, I may find myself repeatedly opening up to someone I know will act in a judgmental or dismissive way towards me. It can take quite a while before I realize I’m stuck in a “trauma trap” and that I need to adjust my expectations and/or behaviors in order to better honor my own needs.

In Story, Healing

Trauma therapies frequently involve narrating what has occurred. Some newer forms of trauma therapy such as EMDR do not include a requirement of the person going into great detail about the story, but they do include both internal and external witnessing. Complementary therapies such as art or movement may enable survivors to make manifest the dark threads through skilled weaving and loosening. I will soon be participating in a trauma-focused yoga class and am eager to see what manifests.

Each character in my story of my childhood trauma has become an internalized entity. The past external event is fixed; the motions and menace existed as is. I feel as though the characters in my head are playing non-stop improv theater, hoping that this time through something will shift and the narrative will no longer hold. That maybe it all didn’t really happen and wasn’t really so bad. On the other hand, some parts of me stand as frozen effigies to the specific trauma that formed them. The past feels full of ghosts and actors.

Although I’ve been in an ebb lately, through #EmbodiedHeart as well as my individual therapeutic work, I’ve made progress in giving voice to who I was and what happened to me. Something in me has decided that speaking publicly in some form may stripe another layer from the façade of “nothing to see here” that I’ve been able to maintain in much of my life. Ultimately, though, what heals is being witnessed in a supportive environment, and, on a personal level, bearing witness to who we were and what happened to us.

Where are you at in your healing journey as a trauma survivor? To what extent does being witnessed promote healing for you? What has helped you to integrate your past experiences?

 

Embodied Heart

Defeated by a Door Handle (And Other Sacred Glimpses)

“…how innocently all of us seek experiences, when either way, it’s the same. It’s the same Source which is love. So right here and now, right where you are, this is holy land, and this the holy moment.” ~Francie Halderman, interviewed by Rita Marie Robinson in her book Ordinary Women Extraordinary Wisdom: The Feminine Face of Awakening. pgs. 160-161

How I’d anticipated my first week-long vacation I was to have in years, spent relaxing at a bed and breakfast tucked into the countryside. They even allowed dogs! I loaded my entire car with books and paints and all manner of supplies and headed off.

Upon my arrival, it was rapidly apparent to me that it was not to be. There were already two significant strikes against it working out by the time I saw my room—the owner’s dogs came bounding up to my car without collars or leashes, scaring my dog (who then barked at them), and the interior of the house smelled ferociously of an undetermined repulsion. We reached the room in the attic in which I was to be staying, and, as we turned to walk back down, I inquired about the key for the door. I was told the door had an antique handle so there was no lock. I knew I would get no sleep and so I cancelled the reservation, forfeiting my deposit.

As I drove away, I burst in sobs which I at first attributed to the frustration of the situation. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with hysterics, barely able to maintain myself on the road. Although I discerned enough to know I was no longer simply upset my vacation had been cancelled, I could not make heads or tails of exactly why I was feeling what I was feeling. I mentally reviewed the events that had just transpired; when I got to the door, I knew.

We’d had antique door handles in the house in which I spent my childhood, most of which failed to lock properly. The memories are jumbled, but there were at least two incidents of sexual abuse that occurred in our attic.  The prospect of being in a similar room with walls narrowed by the half-floor, into which anyone could walk in at any time, was untenable for me.

Unspoken and unprocessed terror, purified as it is, muddles past and present on the tableau of our physicality. I’ve fallen away from actively processing my trauma as directly as I would like to, and I know now that I need to redouble my efforts. I was struck by the fact that my primary reaction was one of sorrow, as this is atypical for me and feels like I was perhaps able to reach a layer deeper than I usually can into my psyche. As soon as I was able, I opened to embrace the little selves that needed comfort.

I am a proud person, and it is hard for me to recognize and admit when I’ve reached the end of myself. A part of me wishes I’d stayed and “fought” through my fear, as I know I’ve only made it harder for myself to travel again. This is the second trip I’ve cancelled this year and I am concerned about the stifling quality my inner protectors seem to have on my life. At the same time, I am glad that I didn’t force myself to endure an unpleasant vacation.

As I reflect further on the experience, I find that shame still underlies my “no.” In determining something did not meet my needs, I feel wrong for having needs at all. I actually apologized to the innkeeper for “inconveniencing” her, when in fact I was also very much inconvenienced. I returned home and set up a tent in my living room, making my own form of a staycation complete with a pile of books in which I found the quote above that struck a chord with me. Perhaps the “holy” moment is happening wherever we are, so long as we consciously perceive it. And, for me as a trauma survivor, conscious perception, meeting the stillness, is a rare and elusive gem, one I seem to have unearthed for a time by honoring my body and my needs.

What has been your experience when you’ve honored your “no”? To what extent does the idea of each moment being sacred connect with you? What happens when you open to your inner needs, and when you greet the day with conscious awareness of the present moment?

Embodied Heart, Goddess Thealogy

Alternatives to Hatred and Hopelessness in the Face of Immortality

In the midst of the migrant crisis on the U.S. Southern Border, I found myself baffled by people’s responses. People whom I thought had at least a basic moral core responded with flippant rationalization and indifference to the suffering of children. I floundered around, unsure of how to process the experience. Finally, as I was listening to one of my favorite radio personalities, Bill Press, I heard him state “This isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” It was as if someone had flipped the proverbial light switch; I saw in stark and exposed grain what before had been only edges and the feel of a bannister.

I’d figured I left behind concerns about morality with the dissolution of my fundamentalist upbringing. I realized that I am still very much concerned with it, but that the calculus has been rewritten. My version of morality is encircled by the degree to which any particular behavior causes the suffering of a human being, and, to a lesser extent, any part of Nature. What compunction do we have to compel people to care about others if there is no threat of hell or reward of heaven at the end? This article hit home for me my feeling of helplessness in the face of an unwillingness to consider the needs of others who are different, and it was written a full year before the latest horrors. Rather than turning away from my feelings, I sank into them to contemplate, for today’s #Thealogy and #EmbodiedHeart post, what morality means from the perspective of my pantheistic Earth-based Goddess Spirituality belief system.

Owning Our Own Moral Failings Before They Own Us

I cannot deny the wisdom of taking the plank out of our own eye before we look for the speck of sawdust in another’s. I believe we need to clean our own house of hypocrisy and lack of heart towards those with whom we struggle to empathize. I do not think this means we need to devote all of our energy to reaching the very people we struggle the most to humanize. Rather, we can at least refuse to dehumanize anyone and can refrain from stereotyping others. I’ve been surprised at my own willingness to write off entire states, for instance, as places I view as “less than.” Unrelenting passion for each person’s worth as a human being builds the strongest bridges. When we realize we’ve fallen short of this idea, self-compassion can keep us from shame and can allow us to make fertile compost of the scraps of our failure.

Conscious Compassion

I’ve pondered this topic previously in response to sexual abusers. I do not think we owe everyone the same offering of compassion, especially if we were specifically victimized by them. We can spend our time trying to force drops of love out of stone, or we can unload the buckets of it that overflow from places where we’ve been wounded. In other words, most of us have people in the world with whom we readily empathize and for whom we care deeply; I do not think channeling our compassion towards these individuals is cowardice. Trauma survivors, in particular, risk re-traumatization if we continually frustrate ourselves in attempts to win over those who are cutouts of the ones who abused us or the ones who allowed us, through their indifference, to be abused.

At the same time, if it isn’t our own life’s purpose, we can welcome and support those who are able and willing to walk the long road towards those we see as “enemy,” flowers of hope in hand. Some are here to seek out the most vile beings in order to seed and water the tiny, crusted nugget of humanity in them, and I wish them well in their work. This story, for instance, of the blues musician Daryl Davis who convinced dozens of Klan members to leave and give him their robes speaks to this type of mission and inspires me.

Even the Monsters Are Human Beings

People can be evil, but the people who frighten me the most are those who explain away the evil ones. Knowing that a person finds it acceptable to worry solely about “me and mine” and cares not for anyone who, by sexual orientation, gender identity, ableness, race, religion, national origin or age is outside of their circle terrifies me. There is no level of atrocity that is “too much” if we write off entire groups of people. I do not think we need to force ourselves to beg and plead for these people to see the light, but we cannot discount them as being worth less or worthless. My heart tremors with the knowledge that each of us as humans can dim our light of morality if we do not give it careful and sustained energy.

We need people to rise above blind outrage and hatred; some of us to pour ourselves into caring for the victims, and some of us, with tears streaming down our faces, to compel the hard-hearted to soften to the suffering of the least of us. Anger is a wholly appropriate response to victimization; even in our anger, I believe the tender spots in our heart, raw and bleeding, will not be healed if we slip into a caustic hatred that degrades and dehumanizes our oppressors. Instead, anger must galvanize our feet and our hands and our voices to protest, to hug, to write, to do whatever it takes to scream our demand that no one is outside of the family of humanity; we harm ourselves when we kill, maim and imprison each other.

Moral Character Is A Work in Progress

All that we can ask of ourselves, I believe, in terms of our own morality is to be willing to examine and re-examine ourselves, bathing our wounds in the warm light of compassion and prying from our frightened hands any sticks of bloodlust with which we wish to bash the oppressive forces that seek our submission. No one arrives at a place of enlightenment from which all decisions and all impulses are purified. We are primates who, through whatever evolutionary quirks, can see or hear the cries of other primates we’ve never met and, on a soul-level, wish to tear apart any barriers, wire by wire, in order to free them. Let us, in our desire to rid the world of pain, be ever vigilant and careful not to fall for the cheapest form of self-esteem—the Light found me and I’m better than I was yesterday, so I must be better than you. Goddess as Earth surrounds each of us; we are all part of Her world and deserve to be treated as such.

How do you sit with instances of immorality when you see others suffering? How do you respond to those who are indifferent or who are committing evil acts, and to what extent do your actions retain the acknowledgement of their humanity? How do you direct your compassion?

Embodied Heart

Alone in the World

For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share about my experience of being a witness to aloneness. I am not totally, finally and in all ways alone in the world. I have friends and co-workers (and a dog) who care about me. But on the “most important relationships” marker, I am without, as I do not have a romantic partner or child and am not in contact with my family-of-origin. Rather than attempt to downplay my lack of familying, I’ve come into awareness of the power and value of this position.

What I saw in my mind’s eye was a circle, but it was entirely darkened without any light. I saw those of us there, the alone ones, furtively cowering and enclosing ourselves away, ashamed of our position. Society tells us people are most worthy when they are “good” children to their adult parents, married, and parenting their own children. For each of those conditions that are removed, worth decreases in many people’s minds. This can be very subtle—not an outright rejection but rather a no-holds-barred fight to help the person escape the circle of darkness.

We see it that way, I think, as a pit. Somewhere no one should be—alone—and certainly not for very long if it happens. I’ve witnessed people staying in relationships far past their expiration date to avoid falling into this pit, as well as denying that, for all intents and purposes, they were in fact in it.

In my vision, I saw myself striking a match and lighting a candle in this place without brightness—illuminating that which is often denied, discounted or maligned. A knowing settled into me as I did this that I am probably in this for the long haul. Most people I meet who are in a state of aloneness are there temporarily, after a major relationship shakeup or loss. They stay there briefly and then move through this place. I do not wish to delay them on their journey. Rather, I want them to know that even in a place of feeling abandoned—unheard and unseen—they are still witnessed. They are witnessed because I (and others like me) are there shining light, existing unabashedly in this small corner of human existence.

All it took was for me to write one blog post and to speak my aloneness in one public setting for this aspect of my journey to feel solidified. I have been in this place for a decade, by and large, and yet have spent almost the entire time shrinking from who I am and feeling distinctly less-than the familied ones. Now I know I’m not, and that treating this way of existing as something to be rushed through or forgotten desecrates the sacredness which with I think it is imbued. Not everyone is willing to stand in the midst of experience that bucks our evolution and desires and own being there.

I am not totally at peace yet with this place. I have voices internally (and sometimes in the real world) telling me that I am here to spare myself more grief—that I am “skipping” the hard parts of being married or of raising children. But this place is its own kind of sorrow. What I’ve seen as my purpose in life becomes clearer here—if I can speak myself whole in this way, I open space and give others permission to speak themselves whole in their places of grief. If we live long lives, we lose loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and often too soon for our hearts to catch the blow. We are awful as a society at acknowledging, honoring and holding space for each other in these losses. Those of us who, like myself, are willing to simply stand, light in hand, and remind people around us that both they alone and their grief is seen, heard, holy and worthy, may not achieve the happy ending for which every story pulls, but we play a crucial role in the process of mourning.

What is your experience of being in a place of aloneness (without family)? How does it differ from the “in relationship but feeling alone” dynamic? To what extent do you, in whichever places your story has taken you, hold vigil for those who suffer similar losses or who grieve similar failures to find relationship?