Friday, October 26, 2018

It’s not your fault when you’re triggered infographic

Recently when we had a heart-to-heart, my wife confided in me that in her twenties she felt there was something not quite right… with her preaching.
Something she could not identify. But fifteen years onward she knows what it is. It’s no longer there.
Then she gave me that look, as if it were my fault. Then she gave me a cheeky smirk. In the over twelve years we’ve been together we’ve experienced a lot of life… a lot of trauma. Some nobody apart from our closest circle would be aware of.
Some of it beyond anyone’s control.
Some of it beyond our control.
Some it within others’ control.
Yes, that about sums it up.
Some of it is also because
of the control others chose to practice over us.
We must acknowledge there are triggers now. Having never been assessed, like so many, including so many ministers, we have been subject to traumatic stress. When triggered, we experience post-traumatic stress. And those particular triggers, though they’re irregular enough, are fired with consistency when the stimuli are there. And if I’m honest, between us, I’m most affected.
Now I know that the ole mantra about ‘victims’ was they’d blame external factors for everything — even if the wind changed without notice, which is what tends to happen.
I have known about and studied and adopted the internal locus of control for twenty years. I’m characterised for taking responsibility; occasionally even when I’m actually not responsible, such is my innate interest in restoring a damaged relationship.
Dealing with trauma is not a negation of one’s responsibility, which we have some control over. Nor is it an excuse for anyone to gaslight those impacted by trauma by manipulating the moment through exploiting the person affected.
When a person is triggered, there is only one thing to be done: care for and care about them.
Being triggered is a direct result of the deeply psychological (i.e. almost unknowable) processes within you coming into contact with something threatening in your environment. Threats come potentially in every form under the sun. It is what you associate as the hazard that has in the past traumatised you.
What’s very important to know is:
It’s not your fault when you’re triggered.
You’re not being selfish when you’re triggered.
You cannot just ‘react better.’
Being triggered is a kind of autonomic process.
Truth be known, we ALL have triggers.
The wisdom is accepting, learning and preparing.
That’s all I really want to say.
I hope you find the following information helpful:
How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma
What would we do if we could see every psychological wound ever inflicted as a physical bruise? We would see a lot of black and blue people walking around! We might also be more careful of each other, understanding the degree of suffering we each have endured.
One of the hardest things when you are in a relationship is that there is no trauma map to refer to and even as we get to know someone’s history and the things that activate past trauma, we are often bewildered or downright indignant when trauma rears its head and our loved ones lash out, retreat, get emotional for no understandable reason, or unfairly blame us for all kinds of wrongdoing.
How do you negotiate these and other manifestations of trauma? We have put together a infographic based on relationship lessons learned by trauma survivors and those who love them.
1.      Predictability: Everyone loves surprises! Not. Trauma survivors often prefer predictability because that feels safer.
2.      Space: Allow time for the survivor to calm down and take perspective. Remember that we trauma survivors often have difficulty regulating our emotions and take longer to calm down. Maybe support self-soothing, for example suggesting you both go for a walk, maybe stay well clear! If the survivor is caught up in the fight/flight response you may be mistaken for the enemy.
3.      Perspective: Be aware when ‘the past is intruding into the present.’ Don’t take responsibility for what is not yours… gently. You can own any insensitivity or lack of consideration that has provoked the reaction and yet separate it from whatever past trauma is fueling what would otherwise appear to be a disproportionate response. Remember there is no such thing as ‘over-reacting’ – the reaction is in direct proportion to the pain experienced in the past rather than in response to what’s happening now.
4.      Rid ‘over-reacting,’ ‘over-sensitive,’ ‘over’-anything from your vocabulary.
5.      Language: Don’t refer to ‘your upbringing, your problem, issues, behavior.’ This sounds like judgment or at the very least like the trauma survivor is somehow broken or the problem. Call it for what it is – trauma.
6.      Be kind, loving, patient… But empathetically set limits – you have needs too! It’s okay to talk about when the survivor’s reactions hurt you too. “I love you and I understand how scared/angry/sad you are… and it’s not okay to hurt me.” Whatever our trauma history, we must all learn to be accountable when we hurt others.
7.      Reciprocity: Most of us had parents who lacked skills in listening, empathy, tolerating uncomfortable feelings, empowerment… Give what you also need to receive [because that’s the best way of making sure you get it back. Make sure that you are getting these things somewhere in your life. If the survivor is your friend or romantic partner, be sure that there is a two-way street. However much you love someone who has experienced trauma, it is unhealthy if you become a savior, therapist, or martyr.

8.      Control and choice. Big trigger when a survivor is denied these. Confer, collaborate cooperate. Unilateral moves even when benevolent will not be appreciated! Trauma is about getting hurt when you had no power or control over the situation, and it is immensely activating when the trauma survivor experiences that powerlessness again. If you want one way to ensure one of the fight/flight/freeze/collapse survival responses, taking away control is the way to do it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Overcoming the spirit of control

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

God is pleased by faith. But God is displeased when we surrender to the spirit of control, which has us engaging in a flash in envying, malice, strife, and other malevolence.
Fear works in each of us, and it’s not the only cause of sin, but it’s there and thereabouts so often we must learn to be aware of our fear and how it triggers us into inappropriate attitudes and behaviours.
Fear is in all of us. It drives the spirit of control, which insists on its own way.
The spirit of control does not just exist in some nebulous perpetrator of abuse ‘out there’. It exists in us as part of our spiritual fabric. It bears witness as the idols of our heart are exposed. And we all have them.
Overcoming the spirit of control is about becoming aware, being honest in that awareness, and choosing to turn from our pride in the attitude, and by the behaviour, of repentance.
God is pleased not when we expose the speck in another person’s eye, but when we remove the log from our own. God is very pleased with us when we bear the fruit of repentance.
Beauty in life is possible when we relinquish our need of control. When we free others to be themselves, we ourselves experience freedom. This is the good fruit of repentance.
Once we have overcome the spirit of control that is driven by our fear, we’re able to be in that moment what God always intended we be: a blessing.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Dozen Ways to Experience Less Anxiety

Photo by Àlex Folguera on Unsplash

We all suffer the negative effects of anxiety, but some suffer more than most.
When thinking about ways to reduce anxiety, through the frame of faith, I don’t think we can go past this advice, some of which I’ve learned through counselling studies and practice, and some through experience. The LORD says:
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
— Psalm 46:10a (NRSV)
That said, and that borne squarely in mind, the following might also help, especially when we find ‘being still’ next to impossible:
1. Stop the Self-Condemnation – The anxious person increases their anxiety when they castigate themselves for being anxious. We ought to consciously remind ourselves that anxiety is not a shameful state to be in. Our feelings are valid. We need to stop blaming ourselves for being anxious.
2. Develop a Relationship with Our Fears – When we can approach our fear, coming alongside it and giving it its due, we can learn from it, and we therefore avoid it less.
3. Am I feeling anxious today? – It’s a reasonable question. If we are feeling more anxious than normal we may be able to more consciously apply some proactive techniques. We don’t freewheel in worry so much if we are trying to do something about it.
4. Attempt to Be in Two Psychological Places Simultaneously – The skill of the counsellor in treating anxiety is to simultaneously live both the anxious road and the well-adjusted ‘coping’ road. Likewise, for us, if we can keep a foot in both camps, just a little more perspective may be available.
5. Protect Our Thinking and Thought World – One of the biggest threats is what anxiety does to our thought world. When our minds freeze it is even more important to make ourselves think; to not avoid thinking. Sometimes simply doing something that doesn’t involve thinking is a way to break through such a mental rut.
6. Find a Safe Place for Change – Few people with anxiety problems are happy to remain there. The key to change is finding a safe place to explore physical, psychological, and behavioural strategies. There may be several opportunities to find a safe place; we may need to capitalise on several strategies.
7. Am I more emotionally attuned than most? – Anxious people tend to be more sensitive regarding the emotional plight of others. They may be more naturally empathic. Their experience with anxiety has probably nurtured warmth within them. This, of itself, is something to celebrate.
8. What Attachment Styles Explain – There is a lot of research to suggest our anxiety is driven from maladaptive attachment — to our parents and guardian-figures, well before we had any decisive influence over our lives. It is not our fault we are anxious. And we can always do some work to improve our circumstances.
9. Understand the Nature of Avoidance – When we conceive that our fears cause us to develop avoidance strategies, whilst facing up to our fears makes them melt away, we see the value in challenging those things we avoid.
10. Do I worry a lot? – Another fair question. It appears that the right hemisphere of our brains — the emotional side — is over-involved in worry, yet the left hemisphere — the more logical side — can easily assist. The logical side helps when it problem solves. When we worry we should ask more often, “What can I do about it?” Doing helps. Doing the practical helps reduce worry. We do what we can; and we accept the rest.
11. The Value of Challenge – When routine life provides its own anxieties, unpredictability threatens to send us over the edge. It is a good thing, however, to get involved in some novelty; to push ourselves to try new things; to take new and little risks. Can we still feel safe in slightly ambiguous situations?
12. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) – This is a simple technique, along with diaphragmatic breathing, and other physical techniques, can help in a very practical way to relieve anxiety symptoms and assist our confidence.
The fact we suffer from anxiety is not our fault. But we can do something about it.
© 2012, 2015, 2018 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What I say to you when I wash your feet

How does Jesus respond when the disciples want to show off? He puts a towel around his waist, gets onto his knees, and in silence, washes their feet.
Let’s imagine the experience…
As Jesus washes, they watch him, and as he gently washes the crusty mud flakes off their feet, their hard hearts are gently softened. Jesus’ hands speak in the tones of love.
As his fingers caress the nodules, corns and calluses, with soothing rubs, there is a kindness massaged into their sensual experience. Jesus does with actions what words hardly ever do. And with minimal effort.
The words “I am the greatest” are ringing in the ears of a couple of them, as they see their Master — the one who has taught them all spiritual wonder, who has healed thousands in their direct sight, who has been the essence of the Incarnation of God — stooping to wash their feet, as a servant does.
There’s no complaint, simply a joy on the face of Jesus who is in his element serving the disciples he loves; those who will soon turn their backs on him.
There are no words. There’s communication, but no words. The air is thick with meaning.
Love has no compelling words. It has actions that are compelling.
Words distance. Actions attract. Words promise. Action delivers.
Words tend to turn people off. But silence! That has power. And silence with action; that’s wisdom.
What if we were to wash each other’s feet. What if I were to wash yours in the spirit Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
What I say to you when I wash your feet is, “I love you, and you are worthy of me doing this beautiful thing to you, for you.”
I’m saying, without words, that there is power in action — that love is action-oriented.
I’m saying,
“I can do this and feel on top of the world,
because this is how much you mean to me.”
And I’m saying, “While I do this, I take myself off the throne and I put Christ back there where he alone belongs. While I do this I’m safe, hidden with Christ in God, because I’m forced to be humble, and that is good for both you and me.”
If ever we’re truly honest, no matter how good we think we are, we quickly come to realise we are only a moment away from having our feet washed for us. The power in that moment is this: instantly we recognise that it is the one who washes feet who is greatest in the Kingdom of God.
The power of the Kingdom is ours to serve others when we give our power over for the sake of the Kingdom.
We are happiest when our hearts find
creative ways of authentically serving others.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The subtleties between True Kindness and Grooming

Photo by Jack Seeds on Unsplash

It suddenly occurred to me recently that there is very little difference between kindness done with a pure heart and grooming done with a malevolent heart. The behaviours could almost be indivisible.
How many people who were ever groomed by a narcissist suspected the charming kindness came from a heart bent on manipulation and control? Those who would groom someone have weaponised kindness and their charm can be impossible to detect.
Those who have suffered such entrapment, having long formed committed relationships with wretched individuals, should forgive themselves. It’s not your fault that you were bamboozled and fell for the charisma that was foisted upon you.
But it begs the question:
… how might we discern the difference between
genuine kindness and grooming,
because they can look exactly the same?
I can tell you why I’ve had this revelation. I have seen my interest in others from their viewpoint… “Why’s this guy so overly kind and gracious?” I have seen others’ interest in me… “Why is this person turning on the charm?”
When we try too hard to be kind it comes off as grooming. But the kindness may well be done authentically. And we all love to receive kindness, because deep down we believe we’re worth it. And we are.
We just don’t expect that that kindness done is done to control us.
But here’s one test to discern kindness from the kind of grooming a narcissist engages in. It all comes down to the word control. Can the person do the kindness and not seek to control you in any way whatsoever, ever… ever is the really operative word.
Grooming can start off without control,
but ultimately manipulation must control.
If a person can continue being kind without requiring anything in return they’re probably genuine.
But if someone does a kind thing and it has any conditionality about it, we ought to be wary. The truth is there are so many situations where people do kind things for us for some reason attached to what they hope to get out of it. It’s the way sales and marketing work in this world. And we’re all liable to be tempted to manipulate people and situations. The difference is in whether we do it or not.
It’s up to us to test everything, and to operate as Jesus said, shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The power of goodness in ONE kind voice

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash
My 51 years have taught me much, and I am certainly a learner, but I learned a new thing recently, or perhaps you can call it a power.
Unfortunately, words like power, privilege, and even righteousness have negative intonations nowadays. We tend to think of power as bad, in the way it may be misused, and privilege in the way of entitlement, and with righteousness we think in terms of self-righteousness.
But there is also the power of goodness.
Things that are good are thoroughly good. They are unspoiled. They have no bad way about them. There is a purity about goodness that is trustworthy.
This is the new thing I learned through a recent experience.
There was a particular matter that was important to me, and someone listened. They didn’t take my side so much as they simply empathised. They didn’t appear to be partial to my side or the other side. But they could see my viewpoint. They sought to understand. And when they spoke, they spoke kindly.
This is one thing to experience. It is another thing entirely to experience something of God in the intervening weeks, as I’ve watched what has happened in my spirit as a result. Perhaps there was some hardness of heart there. Maybe I was unconscious to it. Whatever it was, being heard in such a way as to hear our truth reflected back to us is the power of goodness in one kind voice.
One is all it takes. That’s what I was shown.
It’s only after someone has truly listened to us that we realise how important that listening was. Whenever we share something personal or confidential or important, we are not looking so much for universal agreement according to our view of things. We are looking for some form of validation that our thinking is okay. It may not be perfect. But to be listened to in a way that validates our experience is crucial. To be listened to in a way that the other person accepts as palatable.
Listening in this way is merely understanding that we see another person’s perception. We just need to see it. It’s easy to agree that’s the way they see things; we just heard them say it.
They have reason and rationale behind their view. It makes sense to them. We can see why it makes sense to them. And there is the power of goodness about allowing a person to hold their perception. They cannot and will not shift it easily. It’s how they see.
To allow another person to be themselves
is such a necessary gift of love.
Our viewpoint is not about judging or condemning, because that isn’t the point. The point about listening is not to influence; the point about listening is first to seek to understand. Only when we understand can we hope to influence, but first we must understand, and we cannot understand if we are judging another person’s perception.
We need to take the perception at face value. By listening to another person to the degree that we do not judge what they say as right or wrong is the right way to care for them as the person in our presence; a gift we’re prepared to give everyone.
Understanding is an initial, and never more crucial step.
There is a power of goodness in one kind voice.
One kind voice has the power to repeat back to us what we see and to be able to agree with us that that perception is valid.
There is great power in being believed.
An even greater power than we could imagine.
In one kind voice we hear such validation that brings instant peace. We no longer need to fight so much for our truth. Someone else has ‘seen’ us. How important is it to be seen?
There is more power in one kind voice that sees us than in ten ambivalent conspirators.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hope out of the loneliest experience

Some days, weeks and months become etched into the folklore of our lives.
The week of 4-10 October 2003 is one among two of the most significantly harsh lived experiences that have been carved into my psyche thus far.
Each day had its own memorialised narrative. Each 24-hour period profound in the breaking of me, which ultimately had the effect of remaking me, not that I knew anything but the despair of these occasions at the time.
The loneliest experience of my life was moving the few belongings I had left out of my parents’ house and into the company vehicle I had at the time and driving to the dingy little flat I had rented.
This little flat, for me, on 10 October 2003,
had the presence of death about it.
There was no life within its walls.
It was a spiritually vacuous place.
I stayed there six months,
though many nights I could not sleep there.
It was a real and present reminder that my life at that time had completely imploded. It was a Friday, and I shifted alone. It was two days after I had a calamitous breakdown that felt as if our worlds were ending, yet there was no sympathy from whom sympathy was sought.
It was a day after my father had had surgery that would push his mental health to the brink over the coming months. It was one of those rock bottom times that all families endure. Even after 15 years it is hard to comprehend just how hard that time was.
It was the loneliest time of my entire life. I truly don’t know how I held on, other than through the receipt of love that was poured into me, much of which came from unexpected sources.
What inspires me about my own story is that there were myriad times I wanted to give up. There were occasions when I seriously considered ending it all. I have massive empathy for anyone who has been on the receiving end of this kind of hell, whatever the outcome.
This period was merely the beginning of a long and tiresome campaign for recovery. It was a crusade to recover the concept of normal. And it took years. Perhaps in some ways it is an ongoing work.
But the loneliest time of my life came when I felt completely abandoned and forsaken. And yet I know God did not take me there without reason, for as I look back I can see him there, I just couldn’t see it at the time.
15 years ago, this week, I cannot believe the contrast between that life, then, and this life, now, even amid losing Nathanael in 2014. I could not have contemplated then being in the situation I am in now.
And that is life.
It is in the loneliest seasons that great change is birthed,
the sort of change we would never choose,
but the sort of change that inevitably chooses us,
and when we move with it, great is the transformation in us.
We never think we have what it takes to make it through such change.
If we are wise even though we are weak, however, we will rely on God, the provision of caring companions he provides to get us through, and our own increasing resources of resilience.
If only I go back there to that time, to sling that heavy bed on the roof rack, and how it took every ounce of my physical strength to do it, and how I did so in tears, I am thankful for that version of me that kept going.
If you are in that place now, or you know someone at their rock bottom, be encouraged, and be an encouragement. The night is darkest just before dawn, and the sun will rise on your day soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Grief that is the ugly ache that won’t go away

Photo by Justin Follis on Unsplash
Of the 18,693 days I have been alive, there must have been several hundred that I could chalk up as resolute failures. Maybe a thousand or more. But there have been periods — series’ of days — of my life when failure, as a contrast, would have been ten times brighter to what I was actually experiencing.
Grief that is inconsolable, as far as a life experience is concerned, is inestimable. In so many ways. Not that I think I agree the same as you do, but I do believe that there are potential circumstances in all our lives that bring us to the absolute end of ourselves.
Within this kind of grief that casts what was our lives into oblivion, there is an ache so ugly, a hole seemingly so daemonic, we may find it so hard to believe that God could allow this kind of pain.
The pain is unconscionable. It is so searing that it completely malforms our existence. It throbs and it threatens. Ever beckoning at our door, it cowers and bustles through the moment we give anxiety a foothold. It comes through in depression that says, ‘I cannot do this!’
Having encountered this pain known as grief we hardly reckon it could be possible. It swarms, then overwhelms. It tracks you and ambushes you intuiting trauma.
And still there is the ugly ache that won’t go away.
How many days go past and the grief refuses to be reconciled. If we have enough strength to be courageously weak — the gentle strength of humility that cannot be faked — we bear them all for a purpose. That purpose is inanely enigmatic. To a creature crying out for justice it makes absolutely no sense. It’s only when we choose to throw justice away that we can make instantaneous sense of it.
That ache that won’t go away insists on commanding our attention. It pummels and breaks us. And still we wake the following day for another foray on life. Perhaps we are surprised when a comparatively easy day comes; where energy and hope seem restored. Then, the very next day we are smashed up on the rocks again. And yet that dull ugly ache remains in the cavernous region of our soul.
Grief changes us. It runs over us like a tsunami, without apparent warning, even if we were warned, and it stays far too long, never returning us to where we have been.
Little wonder that people resent the grief
in the phenomenon of loss.
Learning to reconcile what has been taken away and may never be returned to us, and may continue to run malformed, is still the option at hand. When we have the option of healing what is unsatisfactory or of leaving what is unfathomable there, we choose the former. We cut our losses. We settle our debts and agree to get out of the town of mental chaos.
Such as it is the ugly ache that won’t go away. It insists on having its way. And though we fight it, it remains steadily stubborn until our wisdom kicks in: this cannot be beaten, and it can only be accepted. Grief is a crude and cruel negotiator.
The ugly ache that won’t go away
is the evidence of grief we need to experience.
It is good for us to understand the nature of life that occurs in so many lives. It is a blessing to know the truth, that we don’t have anywhere near as much control over life as we would like to think we have.
And strangely, that breeds an unconquerable hope within us; a joy that cannot be quenched; a peace that transcends our understanding.
Grief opens up our thinking about life. It challenges us beyond what we comfortably bear.
Grief forces us to change, and when
we change, we’re fortified by hope.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

For the Future You

Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash

Some things are so precious we need to find a safe place for them. And we need to be doubly careful we don’t forget where we hid the prized possession. So many times I’ve done that; I’ve lost what I desperately wanted to be able to find.
I feel sure this is a possession you may want; it’s a possession I value more than almost everything else. Beside God, my wife, my children and my family, this possession is about as valuable as they get.
Let me start with a story.
It involves an event that took place on October 4, 2003. About the worst day of my life, indeed it was a period of the worst days of my life. But this particular day an event occurred that saw my mental health spiral out of control.
I received news that, as a human being, you are never prepared to hear. When you hear that kind of news, there is a mixture of disbelief, numbness, anger, and emotional torment. What was already bad had become immensely worse. When the gravity of the situation hit me about 1 PM I began to react in ways that I could never have foreseen. The next few hours were perilous. The worst kind of thoughts running through my mind. I was doing a lot of driving, yet I was hardly fit for it mentally. I was a danger to people, to myself. My mind was being bombarded and heart was being crushed. The only thing that saved me was my three daughters. The only thing. I was absolutely beyond hope, suffering a cataclysmic lack of will to live. That night I didn’t sleep. I don’t think I slept the next night either. That Sunday, October 5, was just abominable. Within days I was skating on thin ice mentally. And it all culminated in a massively acute mental breakdown on October 8. They were heady days, and October 9 and 10 were a cacophony of anxiety and hopelessness. This week that I depict here was unfathomably distressing, within a generally deep and distressed time.
That was 15 years ago today; to these very days.
As I look back, I know I didn’t have the vision to hope for what I have today, because all I wanted was what I had just lost. I didn’t recognise that I couldn’t have that back. But had I hoped to be revived again, I would have hoped to be in place where I am today.
As I look back I am fond of the fact that, through faith, and not giving up, that I have arrived here, today, 5479 days later, and an earlier version of me believed enough to keep going. And now the future version of me from that day 15 years ago now has so much to be thankful for. An event happened today that confirmed my empty heart’s longing those 5479 days ago; a sense of arrival, a kind of stake in the ground… that event showed me how God’s had a hold of me all the way through… that He’s good all the time.
So, the possession is a gift from me to me, or from you to you.
The sort of gift that will inevitably be received.
When we sow our deeds of faith as obediently as we can, especially when there is no reward in the present, we pave the road in gold coloured bricks all the way to the future of version of us.
Each day is a brick. And as the days come and go the road is slowly but ever so surely paved. It reminds me of one of my favourite Bible verses that meant so much in those shocking days in 2003. This is one verse that will keep you alive when you have nothing left to live for. It did, me.
It says in Galatians 6:9 (NRSV):
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right,
for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”
For the future you, there is this gift that comes only by faith that steps as wisely and courageously as it can. The future you is a glorious and majestic reality. You will not fail to see the consummate blessing in it.
If you’re undergoing an utter estrangement from yourself that we call grief, do keep stepping wisely, faithfully, courageously, for a new and more splendid day is coming. God will help you create it.
As bad as things get, keep believing that good things are coming.
They are!
The future you is why you’re doing what you do now. Keep it up.

When it’s hard to keep going,
remind yourself where you’re headed,
why you’re doing it,
and what arriving there looks and feels like.
Imagine it. Breathe it in. Camp a moment there.
Then, watch yourself lift and go again!