trauma

Wounds That Boomerang and How to Stop the Re-Enactment

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“If you bring out what is inside you,

what is inside you will save you.

If you fail to bring out what is inside you, 

what is inside you will destroy you.”

The Gnostic Gospels

I have experienced this truth over and again as a therapist treating sex offender behavior. The question has always been why would anyone sexually abuse another, whether adult or child? The answer is always found in a desperate need for control, and re-enactment of being wounded, dominated, and helpless at a vulnerable time in life toward someone else. 

A common scenario is that one guy marries a woman who has a young female child. The intimacy-disabledness in his previous relationship was never addressed and worked out. So he brings that forward into this new relationship where he has become a step-parent. He repeats the same intimacy disability in that he feels one down to his partner, cannot connect at a deeper level, can’t please his partner sexually or be pleased himself, avoids conflict and only knows to dominate or be dominated by his partner. 

Things don’t work out. But, he does feel a special kinship to the stepdaughter. With her, he feels empowered, helps her with homework, becomes her confidante, and engages her in physical horseplay. To his spouse, this is everything that her previous partner would not do. 

So she is devastated when she finds out that her new partner has been molesting her daughter, watching her undress, etc. In shock, she wonders where did this come from?

He is also fearful, wishing he had never gone down this path. Now forced to do therapy he uncovers unresolved neglect/abandonment and no one to meet his needs as a child. He traces the lack of control he experienced as a child to his inability to be empowered in an adult relationship. He acts out his insecurity through attempts to meet his needs with a child through domination and control.

Does everybody compensate for childhood needs in their adult life in this destructive way? Of course not! However, none of us got through our childhood unscathed. If we do not face and address our own childhood pain of being broken we will relive the break in some form of re-enactment later in life!

The various ways of re-enacting are numerous. Whether pain and suffering have a proper place in our lives or whether we become cornered and trapped in the pain and suffering depends on an individual’s efforts to integrate the painful experience into life experience which later becomes a source of wisdom.  It has been my experience in treating trauma that what is not integrated is repeated. It is repeated through compulsions (addictions of all types) and all kinds of controlling behaviors that create intimacy disability. Not every person who has been sexually or physically abused sexually offends another. Yet for sure, everyone who has been abused in childhood will re-enact that abuse in some way as they go through the stages of life, if not addressed. There are many ways to act out the hurt and pain in hidden ways that are subconscious to the individual and acceptable to the culture. Behaviors such as workaholism, male machismo, being a social “player” and perfectionism are all examples of facades that hide many types of abuse manifested in early childhood. 

Consider the following:

1. Face, feel, and accept: Stopping the cycle of re-enacting painful experiences requires that you access the courage to face what is. Most of us won’t do this until the pain of not facing reality is greater than the pain of embracing truth. You will need to declare a personal jihad face to your own demons. To do so means that you must experience the feelings that have been creating discomfort. Leaning into the feelings is the only way to get through them and accept the reality of what is. Short of that you will tend to seek revenge to avoid facing your own shortcomings. Rather than distract yourself with schemes to get back at others who have hurt you, face your demons and find the acceptance that will create a sense of connection with others. 

2. Integrate or disintegrate:  When you are not willing to look at your part of a problem in relationship, you re-enact ways that you have been controlled as a child into a use of power to control others in your adult life. You may bully with intimidation, act like a victim, or shut down and sulk. All of these and many other strategies represent ways that you disintegrate trust and connection in adult relationships.

Integration incorporates past experience with present encounters and helps to create a different future. Integration involves recognizing how past abuse impacts present response. It includes redirecting shame carried to the caregiver who gave it to you in the first place and to the hurtful behavior you engaged in the here and now. Once you have stalked the shame to its source and redirected it to behavior, instead of self, you will be better able to integrate the wounding experience with a grounding of self-empowerment. Every time you face your own pain and brokenness you interrupt the need to re-enact old destructive behaviors in the here and now. When you don’t, you repeat the suffering and pass it on to others. 

Facing and cleaning the wounds from the past will integrate your life experience with others and strengthen the bonds between you and the world around you. Ultimately, what you refuse to face inwardly will get acted outwardly into the world around you. It will require courage for you to address your historic pain.

The Importance of Grieving—Being Able to Bounce Back

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“Grief and Resilience Live Together.” – Michelle Obama

Like some of you, I grew up in a chaotic household. There were a total of 12 kids by the time I left home for college. There were my 4 sisters and 4 brothers plus my oldest sister’s 3 children. My parents raised them for much of their lives. Chaos became normal. I learned to stuff the impact of trauma and act like it never impacted me. This included the fist fights between my brothers, my dad’s rage-full outbursts, physical violence, sexual abuse, religious abuse, and abandonment.

I hid the trauma by playing sports and having a lot of friends. The only way you might see a crack in my armor was that I did not thrive academically and was very shy around girls. However, these two issues were considered normal and other kids had these challenges as well. The warning signs for concern were well hidden.

I remember one time watching one of my brothers fight a neighbor when he was a teenager. The neighbor wrapped a chain around my brother’s head and blood spurted everywhere. I watched my brother throw the neighbor to the ground and pummel him into submission and unconsciousness. I thought my brother had killed the neighbor. I ran home and did not say anything because my mom told me I would get into trouble if I went to watch the fight. I learned to stuff my fear and anxiety and pretended to be calm and casual the rest of the evening.

I also learned to stuff the pain and fear of sexual abuse perpetrated on me and other family members by a pastor and leader in our church. The offending pastor would tell me how mature I was for my age in that I never showed my feelings of hurt in the presence of trauma and crisis. I wore that affirmation like a badge and in the presence of many traumas that happened to me and my family. I thought the way I stayed cool and stuffed my feelings made me very resilient. 

This worked very well for me later when I was a minister and I listened to listen to one horrible story after another. There was grief from death and loss from suicide. One person even shot and killed himself over the phone while I was trying to talk him out of it and get him some help. I had learned to stuff that tragic experience and so much more for so long and thought this was what it meant to be resilient. 

But then came a day when I could no longer stuff things down. It was triggered by a college student in my college ministry who committed suicide. I met the family at the hospital where she was pronounced dead. The family in their grief lashed out at me and blamed me for their daughter’s death because I had not prevented her from checking out from a mental hospital. It was an illogical accusation. I walked away from that conversation numb and disoriented. I had been in these situations many times before. But, this time I could tell I was unravelling inside. 

I went into a deep funk of depression, became non-functional, and lost 40 pounds over the next 6 weeks because I ate very little.  It felt like trying to push down one more crisis and stuff it in my memory. But, there was no room for any more. In turn, when I tried to push one crisis down another memory would spring forth. It was like a game of whack-a-mole—like old springs that could no longer be held down. all the past memories of trauma that I previously stuffed sprang up all at once. What I once thought was being resilient turned out to be dysfunctionally stuffing pain and never grieving any of the past trauma. 

Resilience requires grieving. You cannot simply recognize the reality of deep hurt and figure that you can go forward acting as if it never happened. You may think you are OK and act as if you are fine, but it does catch up with you. Trauma researcher Bessel Van der Kolk is correct in saying your body will keep the score! The trauma is kept in the tissues of your body. Eventually, I stumbled into a treatment process that helped me work out what had been stuffed deep inside. 

You will need to do the same.  Here are a few considerations to create true resilience. 

1. Scrub the wound. This is what I had to do. I went through the Rolodex of memory and grieved every memory of abuse that came up. It included all the sexual abuse, physical domination, and abandonment from my childhood to the present. I beat pillows/broke my therapist’s tennis racquet— not one but many of them. I had more rage than I ever thought could exist inside. There was a lot of energy expressed and tears shed. There were many ambivalent feelings about God, relationships, and my work. I sat with all the feelings and let them come to the surface. I learned that the only way to address them is to go through them. It wasn’t pretty but it was necessary. I learned to fall apart and put myself back together. I didn’t need to be mollycoddled, I needed to face the reality of what is. 

2. Practice regulating your emotions. At some point in your recovery, you must sit with those feelings that you avoided through addiction and a cocktail of other experiences.  When I went through a crisis, there was no somatic experience, EMDR, brain spotting, etc that is available today. However, I did engage in extensive experiential work including regressive processing. I practiced sitting with emotional discomfort and learned to go down and come back up. I practiced living with uncertainty. It is connected to the freedom of release from the bondage of past trauma. It felt like free falling into emptiness at times. It was all part of the process of learning to sit with discomfort. I am glad I did. Sitting with the discomfort, sharing what it was like, and expressing my emotions helped to regulate my feelings. 

3. Grieve the accumulated losses. If you stuffed the pain as I did, there are so many losses to unpack and grieve. Deaths, opportunities, relationships of both family and friends and the lack of presence in the moment all need to be grieved. For me, it was the emptiness that was particularly difficult to sit with. Also, it was the loss of relationships from those who left but remained among the living that has been the most difficult. Those who died I was somehow able to ease into letting go and giving them back to the universe. But, those who remain who I felt was part of my blood and bone, family members and friends who cut off relationships, have been the most difficult losses to grieve. Some losses will hurt the rest of my life. You will probably experience the same.

4. Use your imagination to create the inspiration for a positive and sustaining future.  In recovery, I learned to take advantage of the power of gratitude and to resource inspiration for fulfillment in the present moment. Gratitude combined with my imagination has transformed pain into purpose and empowered purpose from grief and loss. Affirmations, connecting with people who have similar experiences but refuse to remain a victim, and using the “as if” tool have all deepened belief in myself to create the destiny that I am here to fulfill. You will need to do the same. The possibilities of healing are all around you but you must activate your intentions. 

    In the end, Michelle Obama has it right “Grief and resilience” go together. 

    Chaos and the Big Sleep

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    “Everybody is somebody—but on any given day there is somebody who feels like nobody. At the end of the day, the question is “Does anybody care enough to walk alongside the one who feels like nobody long enough to help them feel that they are somebody again.” —KW

    You can’t change the way you grew up. Mary Main, a professor at UCal-Berkeley suggests that people learn to engage in a cohesive coherent narrative of their life. What I think this suggests is that if you are an addict it is important to not just look back and identify all the acting out you have ever done. But dig in and look at the relationships with people in your life that connect to why you do what you do and who you are. It’s sort of like making sense of the chaos and learning to connect with yourself in this endeavor.

    Chaos makes this hard to do. People who grew up with crazy chaos often carry a little crazy with them their entire lives. Chaos puts to sleep the awareness of living life through healthy alternatives. The way you survived is what you replicate later in life. Your habits for survival are tattooed on your bones.

    Therapy teaches you to talk about your chaos. You can learn a lot intellectually about what happened—the abandonment, the disorganized attachment, and all the systemic dynamics about your dysfunctional past. But most of us who grew up in craziness will die with some of it still inside. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I will die an addict.

    I, like many addicts, grew up in an environment that was so dysfunctionally complicated that it is exhausting just to talk about it, and I have been talking about it for years. Every abuse headline is connected to subheadings that guaranteed crazy living for mere survival. It’s been said that addicts learn to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. Is there any other way for an addict to survive a complicated abusive past? The web of instability is so complex that to endure required that you fall asleep to healthy behavioral options and live in a trance-like state to what is real.

    For example, I grew up in a large family. The ubiquitous presence of sexual abuse impacted our family in every dimension. There was sexual abuse perpetrated by pastors and leaders at our church. There was sexual abuse that was pervasive in our family. The church I grew up in was a cult. There was patriarchal domination of men toward women in our home and church. In a cult, church life and home life environment become one. You must develop the capacity to fall asleep to the reality of what surrounds you just to survive. When I shared my sexual abuse by the pastor of our church to responsible leaders, they concluded that my parents who had attended the church for 40 years were troublemakers and shunned them for 3 months. You would have thought that victims treated in this way would sever relationships and find another church to attend. My parents didn’t. They went to sleep about the reality of what happened to their children and to themselves. Once, many years later I asked my mom about the church shunning her and my dad regarding the sexual abuse and she responded that it never happened. Of course, it never happened when you fall asleep to reality.

    My parents fell asleep to the injustices that intruded their lives because they were overwhelmed with the history of abuses that took place in their own family of origin. If you don’t face and address injustice, the only way to survive is to fall asleep to the realities of abuse and domination that penetrate you and the people you love.

    My parents ignored what was going on in their family by singing gospel songs like “When We All Get to Heaven” or “Victory In Jesus” in order to ignore the hell on earth that had pervaded every aspect of their lives. How is this so different than the way our society ignores the lies and deceit proffered by politicians, religious leaders, and cultural icons about what is real? Rather than sifting, sorting, and researching truth, most of us choose a media service to do our thinking and fall asleep to the incongruence of our own hypocrisy and those who lead us.

    For those who choose to no longer ignore the emperor who wears no clothes, waking up takes commitment to truth and honesty. It also takes time. The effort to wake up requires that you stop doing what keeps you asleep. It’s no wonder you are sleepy if you keep taking sleeping pills.

    You will need to stop your own crazy thinking like trying to do more to keep from being less. Slowing this locomotive down is no small task.

    You will have to address your mistaken beliefs that exist and have created blocks to intimacy with yourself and others. Mistaken beliefs have been tattooed in your heart as a way of surviving the craziness of your childhood. When you do more and have more it is difficult to accept less and think you are more. Material gain is like booze. There’s nothing wrong with either one as long as you respect that both can make you drunk. Driving your life drunk is scary whether you are intoxicated with booze or the disease of more.

    The only way to stop the chaos is to wake up from the big sleep. Nothing changes until it is real. When craziness is complex, waking up means to slow life to examine the inconsistencies, face your hypocrisy, and address your incongruence.

    People talk about making America great again. Yet, if everybody, who knew somebody who felt like a nobody, was willing to walk alongside to wake them up from the chaos and craziness, maybe that would hold promise to a great future for the first time. Together, we can be somebody once again.

    Wake Up Calls: The Reality of Relapse in Recovery

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    Thirty-four years ago I was a neophyte in the recovery world. Determined to overcome my addiction, I did everything my sponsor told me to do. I read every book I could get my hands on and listened to audio tapes that would help me stay sober. I did everything my therapist would suggest. I was all in. On one occasion, I engaged in regressive therapy to resolve painful past events. The therapist was a specialist in uncovering unresolved painful events in life.

    The session itself was very emotionally charged and plunged into significant past emotional trauma. When the session was over, I recall leaving the therapeutic setting feeling pretty raw emotionally. I was experiencing a lot of vulnerability. Even though I had established a significant length of time in sober living, I found myself in a kind of trance cruising and searching for a way to act out in my addiction. What I learned was that uncovering pain from past traumatic experiences creates increased vulnerability and a high risk toward relapse unless sufficient self-care is administered before and after trauma work. I learned to practice bookending my therapy sessions with connection and accountability with support people before and after therapy sessions. 

    For sure, relapse is not necessary for addicts in recovery. Yet, learning to address lapse or relapse behaviors is imperative toward building long-term recovery. There are high-risk zones and pitfalls in recovery that addicts must be alert to avoid the backsliding into old destructive behaviors that are common for many. 

    Wake-up calls are life experiences that take addicts by the nap of the neck and shake them with the reality that they are facing major relapse unless something dramatically changes quickly. I hear wake-up stories all the time. It may be a sex addict in recovery who shared that he was on his way to acting out with an escort when his car broke down on the way. He decided to call his sponsor instead of following through with his destructive act out. As a result, he determined to re-engage his program. He was saved from the slippery slide of relapse by way of a wake-up call in a random mechanical failure. I have listened to alcoholics and drug addicts share similar near misses around relapse. For one getting lost trying to find the location of a dealer and the other who drove to her old neighborhood bar only to learn that it had closed because of a COVID outbreak, represented indelible near-miss wake up calls that are often shared in recovery circles.

    For sure, cravings for the dopamine hit that comes from addictive urges is an everyday possibility for addicts in recovery. Engaging in addictive act out can be like turning on a fire hose of dopamine to the brain of an addict, triggering euphoric response. The level of dopamine rises with anticipation and spikes when addicts act on their addictive urge. Living without the hit is tough. Usually, an addict will feel worse before he feels better. As a result, many addicts will live on the edge of their recovery program and bash boundaries around their addiction behavior. There is a certain rush just being near an addictive environment. Thus, the old adage “if you hang around the barbershop, you’re gonna get a haircut”. Inevitably, unattended high-risk behaviors will cascade you over the falls of addictive behavior. 

    Wake-up call experiences in life can be utilized to help get your attention before relapse.

    Here are a few considerations:

    1. Roll up the welcome mat to addictive behavior. If you don’t want to slip stay away from slippery places. Often I listen to sex addicts share that they are hit on constantly. One will tell me that I was minding my own business and she came up to me and began flirting and throwing herself at me. What was I to do? Or I have heard complaints like I was sitting alone and he just came to me with warmth and a smile so I had no choice but to be nice to him. It’s almost as if helplessly they are unable to prevent these high-risk people and situations from happening. It’s not as if sex addicts are the most drop-dead gorgeous people who have to tolerate being hit on. Most people don’t live a life where they are constantly badgered by sexual invites from others. Substance addicts complain the same way. Everywhere I go I am being offered a drink or asked if I want to score, some will say. The answer to these challenges can be unraveled by taking an attitude inventory. First, am I serious and committed to ending the addictive behavior? If so, then eliminate the high-risk behavior by rolling up the welcome mat. Stop communicating availability in terms of the environment you hang out, the conversations you have with others, and the energy about the addictive behavior that you communicate. Simply put, shut down the energy that you are available for sexual intrigue if you are a sex addict and turn away from addictive environments while spurning the encouragement of those who would invite you to use or sit in high-risk scenarios. When you eliminate slippery places you likely will not slip. 

    2. Decide you are going to be all in with recovery. Seriously embrace the AA saying “Half measure avail us nothing. We ask for his care with complete abandon”. Many addicts who attend 12-step meetings enjoy the community and gain from the insights shared. Fewer take the insights seriously toward life transformation. There is a difference between attending 12-step meetings and being all-in. Following through with boundaries, commitments, and program work requires an addict to abandon half-hearted attempts at recovery tasks. All in is a plunge experience. It is like cliff jumping. You put yourself into a position so that when you take the first step there is no turning back because of your complete abandonment to whatever it takes. When you compromise, make excuses, make commitments, and don’t follow through, you exemplify half-measures that never work. It’s like getting a prescription from your doctor and drinking the water while leaving the pills for treatment on the table. If you are blaming others for your downfall, keeping secrets about your thought and behavior life, and giving negative voices free rent in your head, this is the evidence that you are not willing to go to any lengths to create the sober life you want. In the presence of many new approaches and technology for healing, the only way to emotionally grow yourself up and address addiction will be through complete abandonment in your recovery program. 

    3. Wake-up calls are never heard when you are stubbornly stuck in refusing to accept life as it is in the present moment. Denying the reality of what is in your life is a setup for relapse even when there are wake-up calls ringing all around you. There are many experiences about recovery that are not pleasant. The discomfort of real consequences from addictive behavior can be an intrusive reality that is shoved in your face with no reprieve. Loss of job, family, and esteem can be repressive. The whirlwind of addictive behavior always includes unfair treatment and unfair judgment. Consequences and restrictions can seem overwhelming. Yet, you will not find peace and sobriety until you can accept the limitations and implications of your addiction behavior. “This too will pass” will only be true for you through surrender when you can concentrate less on what needs to be changed in the world around you, and more about what needs to be changed within you and your attitudes. Acceptance is an age-old process that paves the way toward long-term sobriety. Without it, the phone will ring off the wall and you will never answer the wake-up call in recovery.

    4. Wake-up calls are a reminder to understand the underlying conditions that come from unresolved family-of-origin issues that have been incompletely addressed. Questions like “After so much time in recovery sobriety, why did I so quickly reach for my addictive behavior”? “Why do I struggle so much with behavior and attitudes that sabotage closeness to people I love”? “Why do I procrastinate facing the fear of my childhood or addressing Step 4 work”?are all about the underlying conditions of unresolved family of origin issues. Relapse is about losing who you are and forfeiting your potential for who you are meant to be. Relapse gives you the opportunity to claim lessons from the past and to reclaim your truth. If those underlying conditions aren’t treated, the return of those symptoms may cause you intense discomfort that can trigger you to go back to using. That’s the primary reason there is such a high rate of relapse among people who have become dependent on addictive behavior. It has less to do with the addiction and more to do with the original causes that created the dependency. There is a wake-up call for each of us who are tempted to walk only to the first oasis in the desert and camp out for the rest of our days. The wake-up call is to go the distance all the way through the desert to the other side. That other side is the peace that comes to those courageous enough to address the unresolved family of origin issues that trigger the addiction.

    5. Wake-up calls require that you learn to bushwhack with accountability. Bushwhacking is a term that applies to a way of hiking in the wilderness. There is no trail. You just go—through thickets, over boulders, aimlessly moving into the adventure of the woods and great outdoors. It is a very uncomfortable way to travel. It may be a shortcut or may not be. What is involved is an adventure and exploration of the forest. Recovery growth engages a form of bushwhacking. Going deep always includes an uncharted course to follow that embraces getting out of your comfort zone. It calls for you to acknowledge your inconsistency. It requires that you own your incongruence. It demands that you admit your hypocrisy. It summons you to submit to the accountability of community to draw you back from these human frailties to be true to your heart. This is the wake-up call that curates relapse prevention and cultivates the character of long-term sobriety.  

    Hate Management

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    “There are only two ways: either we love–and love in action is service–or we put hatred into action and destroy.” —Mother Teresa

    When I was a junior in high school, a classmate, Chuck Fuller, shot and killed five members of the Cox family who lived in a country house a little ways from town. All the victims were children ranging from ages 5 to 16. He had been dating Edna Cox at the time. The motive for Chuck’s tragic behavior was unknown. Some thought he was upset because Edna’s parents denied his request to marry her. Others thought it to be because Chuck believed that Edna’s parents demanded that she work too hard with domestic duties around the house. I suppose only Chuck knows for sure. A couple of summers after the tragedy I worked at a summer job with one of the surviving Cox children, Tim, who was my age. Of course, he was still reeling from the tragedy with grief, anger, and hate. 

    Throughout my life, I have reflected upon the tragedies that seem to happen all around us every day. I have wondered how long a person should wallow in the extreme pain of grief and hate when faced with the sheer tragic results of loved ones killed from senseless mass murder, childhood sexual abuse, or any of a number of tragic endings of life.  I have often thought that religion and its emphasis upon a relationship with God would insure and insulate people from  extreme feelings like hate. Certainly, religious communities encourage people to avoid hate and in some cases to run from its presence. Christians admonish believers to forgive just like Jesus forgave. Yet, it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe, because you and I are not Jesus! All world religions encourage believers to quash and eradicate hate from their lives. However, who doesn’t hate? None of us would be so cruel to suggest to Tim Cox that he not hate the perpetrator of mass murder of his siblings. Be that as it may, what are you supposed to do with this bitter and biting experience of hate that at some level we all experience?

    Here are a few suggestions to consider:

    1. Lean into hate. I know it is counterintuitive to suggest that someone embrace hate. However, over the years I have learned better to embrace hate because for sure it will embrace you when you face senseless loss, deep disappointment, and dominating oppression. Hate is an energy that cannot be ignored or avoided when facing a serious crisis that alters your way of living. It is a powerful feeling that must be reckoned with. It is uncomfortable, even suffocating in its impact. 

    I once met with a man who walked into his bedroom with his partner being sexual with two men he did not know. Everywhere he goes in his mind, the image of relational betrayal stalks him like bloodhound tracking dogs. He simply cannot get away from the vile hate he felt. I suggest that you make an about-face from running away to facing the reality that an awful experience has happened and that you need to embrace the actuality that you hate the person, the experience, and the results that exist. Don’t minimize or get lost in trying to explain away your feeling of hate.

    2. Direct the hate to the person and the oppressive system that promoted the hurtful behavior. Many people are fearful and hesitant to admit what and who they hate. So they don’t. They walk through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, allowing the venom of hate to spew onto anyone and everyone they encounter. This approach to hate keeps you stuck in what hurts and leaves a venomous footprint of hate wherever you go. 

    Some people live out the mantra  “don’t worry, be happy”. They live the life described by the late John Prine in his song the “The Other Side of Town” and “A clown puts his make-up on upside down—so he wears a smile even when he wears a frown”.  These people live a life of self-sabotage. No one really understands what their frown is about because they are always smiling, hiding what hurts. People and systems can be oppressive. Naming the hurtful person and the hurtful behavior is a must if hate is to be addressed. Further, you must identify and call out the oppressive system that allowed the hurtful behavior.

    So, for the unfortunate client who walked in on his partner’s infidelity, he must name the infidelity and call out his partner who betrayed him. Further, he will need to draw critical attention to the dysfunctional system in the relationship that allowed for the oppressive behavior of infidelity to exist. At some point, he will need to unearth the way in which he embraced the improbable–the partner relationship is solid–and ignored the obvious–we are in deep trouble. You may need help to see where you were blind to the relational distance that was present and growing over time. Hate is an energy that enables you to address wrongful and hurtful behaviors perpetrated by others toward you.

    3. Transfer the hate to what you love. There is a fine line between hate and love. You can only shift from hate to love when you become indelibly clear about what you hate. The experience of hate is an energy that requires responsible adult administration. If you become stuck with who or what you hate, bitterness and resentment will take over your existence. Martin Luther King once said that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Yet,  love is not operational by ignoring what is hate-worthy–unfair treatment, domination, and injustice. It requires an adult to transfer the energy of hate by embracing what you love.

    Some people say they love others but have not addressed their own self-hate. There is an African saying, “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Maya Angelou once said, “I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ “ When you do not learn to transfer the energy of self-hate to self-love it becomes very difficult to overcome hate with loving acts. 

    The Rendezvous with Traumatic Relationships

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    Take time to think about times you felt hurt earlier in your life in ways that resurface over and again. Traumatic relationship experiences have a way of recycling throughout the course of life. For many, trauma is like being lost in the woods and walking around in a circle. It is deja vu all over again.

    It is familiar for some to consistently pick emotionally unavailable people to partner with and then wonder why they cannot connect or get their emotional needs met. This pattern becomes solidified throughout life. They marry someone who is emotionally unavailable to them. They work for a dysfunctional organization, they allow that employer to use them, thinking that if I go above and beyond then I will be appreciated. Eventually, they quit both the marriage and the job and then go find another job and partner and reenact the same dysfunctional relationship without realizing what is happening. Unresolved validation and unmet developmental needs from earlier times in life are played out in unhealthy repetitive relationships throughout life. As a therapist, I listen to people who are now in their fourth marriage relationship, all with abusive addicts who are emotionally unavailable!

    Here are a few suggestions for ending this destructive relationship pattern.

    #1: Drain the pool of pain by scrubbing the wound. As long as you clutch past hurtful experiences you will sully your present relationship experiences with misgivings. You must scrub the wounds of past experience and drain your pool of pain. It feels like wallowing in yesterday’s misfortunes. But, it is not. Attempting to ignore or avoid the pain will take you back to wallowing in yesterday’s mud hole. By scrubbing the wound, you embrace the pain and give back the shame that was perpetrated on you by a significant person in your life. You simply grieve the loss of protection and kindness, calling out the shameful message with the decision that you will not be dominated by the accompanying mistaken belief but instead, choose to move forward and act with self-empowerment. This experience is not a one-and-done event but a chosen lifestyle. Metaphorically, putting down the stones you throw or the gun you grasp for protection is the only way to give up the storyline that creates unhealthy relationships. You will begin to heal by establishing relational boundaries that empower healthy connections with care and love in relationships.

    #2: Lean into the pain. This suggestion seems far-fetched! But, think of the Chinese handcuff. I remember as a young boy sitting in church trying to work my way through another long tedious worship service. In my pocket, I had a Chinese handcuff. I took it out and began to explore. So, I put my left and right index fingers into the ends of the handcuffs. The handcuffs were cylinder in shape and made of a straw-like material that was flexible. The more I tried to pull my fingers out the tighter the cuffs held me. A surge of panic struck and I pulled harder. But, the small cuffs would tighten further. But, then when I did the opposite and leaned my fingers into the middle of the problematic cuff, the small casing slackened and I could gently and slowly work my fingers free!

    With relationship challenges, often the pulling in panic only handcuffs you further and tightens the grip of fear in your life. Running from the pain only deepens and complicates matters. Trying to think your way through only thickens the mental wool that snares you. Geniuses like Einstein or Edison when befuddled and stuck would take a break or take a nap and in surrender to the problem they discovered a solution. Leaning into the pain is facing what is real and allowing it to be, without panic. Sitting with the pain provides the eventual solution. Leaning into the problem that is gripping you will allow you to work your way free.

    #3: Practice Forgiveness. Many of you have experienced painful past trauma. It was indescribable. The struggle to survive and the enduring suffering will never be forgotten. Sometimes it seems that if you heal it will mean that you will allow what happened to evaporate from the memory of those who need to be held accountable for your agony. So you believe the only way is that you must commit to reliving the awful experience daily or your suffering will be for naught.

    However, you do not need to define yourself by past trauma. To give up this part of your storyline, you will need to forgive those who were responsible and those who could have intervened but did not. Without forgiveness, you will remain stuck in resentment which is a cancer that grows and will dominate your existence.

    Forgive means to give and to receive. You begin with receiving forgiveness. Often people wonder what I need to forgive, it was the other person who hurt me. However, it is important that you be able to identify in principle, not in like kind, how you have hurt others like you have been hurt. The one who hurt you wanted what they wanted when they wanted it, right? Think of a time that you wanted what you wanted, when you wanted it, regardless of its impact on others. Seek forgiveness for that. It might be something as obscure as forcing your way while changing from one lane to the next on the freeway. It’s not about comparing whose selfish want is greatest but just owning your own selfishness and forgiving yourself, which means not holding it against yourself. To do this you must sit with the awareness of how your hurt impacted others. This is defined as scrubbing the wound. Being able to sit with the pain of another because of your selfish behavior is necessary to create forgiveness of self. Once you do this you make a conscious choice to not hold your selfish behavior against you.

    Now, for the one who hurt you. Once forgiven, you offer the same to the one who egregiously harmed you. Forgiveness does not mean you forget what happened. Rather, it means that you will not hold it against the other person but walk in the opposite direction of resentment to the freedom of thought about the past hurt. Rather than hate, you send positive loving energy to that person. You do this so you can be free from your own emotional prison. Forgiveness is a daily action before it becomes a reality of feeling. Seldom is forgiveness a one-and-done experience in life. You practice forgiving the one who hurt you every day, as it comes up.

    You don’t have to engage by making friends with the person but letting go and walking away from resentment is your responsibility. When you learn to lean into the pain and scrub the wound through forgiveness you will end your rendezvous with trauma and stop building intimate relationships with emotionally unavailable people.

    Why Tell the Story

    READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

    “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”— Maya Angelou

    There is an interesting phenomenon when things happen that hurt. People don’t want to talk about it. When sexual abuse happens children become silent. It is common for a child to want to hide from the reality of abuse. They don’t tell anyone because they think the behavior is their fault. For many the story is not told for many years. For some, it is never told. 

    When I disclosed to the church judicatory officials about the details of clergy sexual abuse perpetrated toward me and others, the church blamed my parents for being troublemakers. The judicatory official told my sister, through my dad, to keep her mouth shut after she had confronted another person, who had made inaccurate remarks about the abuse. My dad followed orders and my sister kept quiet. I learned only a few months ago about the inappropriate behavior to my sister from the church official. It has been over 50 years since the abuse took place! 

    The tendency to remain silent when abuse and injustice takes place occurs at different levels of our society. For example, a recent 50-state survey of Millennials and Gen Z participants found that over 60% did not know 6 million Jews were killed. Approximately half (49%) of them have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany). 

    This troubling trend is assisted with a mentality of embracing the improbable and ignoring the obvious which exists in many dysfunctional families. If you don’t talk about it, somehow it doesn’t exist. It’s out of sight, out of mind. This thinking contributes to abusive behavior being passed from one generation to another. 

    The reason to tell the story is to stop the abuse. Secrets carry the shame to the next generation. Shame influences the creation of abusive behavior that dominates others. Abuse hides in secrecy. 

    Telling the story stops the crazy-making. When silence covers abuse, healing stops and reparations do not happen. It is imperative that the stories of abuse be told. This includes physical, sexual, religious, emotional, and intellectual abuses. To avoid the stories is to pass the mantle of shame to the next generation who will suffer the past generations’ unwillingness to speak to the issue. It likely recreates the abusive dynamics in their own day and time. It takes courage to stop an abusive and unhealthy legacy. Some day your children will thank you for doing so. 

    The deepest truth is found by means of a simple story. To me, the greatest single tool for my personal healing has been my own story. Powerful stories of healing are housed in average everyday living. Contained within every life story is the truth that liberates. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been so powerful for so many for so long. Within the community of alcoholics, there are “shared stories.” Each unique story is tied together through shared weakness. Nothing changes until it becomes real. No one goes through childhood and avoids disappointment and other hurts. 

    There are “Big T” and “Little T” traumas. All are significant. The accumulation of major/minor traumas creates a pool of pain that must be drained for personal healing to occur. That pool of pain encompasses the average everyday experiences of our childhood that were hurtful, whether major or minor. Understanding the impact of these “minor” traumas in average everyday living takes focused effort. 

    Many of us sort of walk “around the dead dog” in the living room when it comes to recognizing unmet emotional needs from ordinary past experiences. It takes courage to tell our stories and deepen our awareness of what is real. We are often afraid to unravel the uneventful uncomfortable times of our past. We fear that if we do so, our notions of reality will disintegrate, and all that we have always thought to be true will crumble into nothingness. Yet, personal healing demands that we tell our story to uncover the meaningfulness that exists when we allow ourselves to lean into the pain. 

    Carl Jung concluded that every person has a story. When derangement occurs, it is because the personal story has been denied or rejected. Healing and integration come when people discover or rediscover their personal stories. Voicing our story is that important! One author declared that stories are memory aids, instruction manuals, and moral compasses. Sue Monk in The Secret of Bees wrote that “stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we are here.” 

    Collective and individual healing is dependent upon you and I telling our story.

    Tire Tracks

    READ IT TO ME: Click Play to Listen to This Post.

    Alex had been cheating on Alice from day one. Secretly, he hired strippers at his bachelor party and never made it through his honeymoon without cheating with someone he met at the pool of the resort where he and Alice stayed during the week after the wedding. It didn’t stop. He slept with Alice’s best friend, hired hookers when on the road for his work, and was hooked on porn over the years.

    Alice caught him looking at porn on his phone late one night and suspicioned there was more but was afraid to confront him. Then, one evening Alex’s phone rang and Alice picked it up thinking it was their daughter needing to be picked up from volleyball. But it wasn’t. It was a strange female voice who asked for Alex. When the person recognized that it was not Alex she hung up. Triggered with suspicion, Alice checked his texts and phone messages. She discovered a ton of graphic sexting texts between Alex and a woman named Lisa. She checked the phone number and figured there were over 75 phone calls to this one woman’s number. She called the number on Alex’s phone and the same voice of woman answered the call and Alice hung up without saying a word. She burst into tears because she knew what she had been dreading for quite some time. 

    She confronted Alex about the call but he denied and lied about anything inappropriate. She stayed with it and laid out the enormity of detail that she uncovered and finally, after hours of adamantly denying and gaslighting Alice, Alex broke down and admitted that he had been having an affair with a woman named Lisa who worked at his company. He piecemealed his history of sexual misbehavior. It wasn’t till a month and a half later when through intensive therapy and an extensive sexual history polygraph that Alice learned that Alex was never faithful to her throughout their ten years of marriage. 

    She determined that the only way she would remain in the marriage would be that he move out, go to inpatient treatment recommended by his therapist, and do whatever they recommended.

    This is a common story for therapists who work with compulsive sexual betrayal. The stories vary and some relationships are able to heal betrayal brokenness while many are not. Addictive behavior is often concealed in deceit and secrets. In time, compulsive infidelity is discovered by partners and other family members. It is always traumatic for everybody.

    Healing around betrayal is difficult and dicey.  The trauma that is incurred impacts both the betrayer and the betrayed. The hurt is multifaceted. 

    Therapists treating broken trust have a number of considerations to assess when administering treatment. There are established guidelines for counselor support. However, while there are similarities that are common to all partner betrayal, no two betrayal responses are the same. Couples whose relationships have been riddled with compulsive infidelity with long-term dishonesty have a number of considerations to assess.

    1. The compulsive betrayer must prioritize the following in order for healing to be effective: Cut off all contact with the affair partner immediately. This includes text, email, phone calls, and face-to-face visits. If the affair partner is in a working relationship with the compulsive betrayer, contact must be only about business with a commitment to gate all nonverbal energy communication. Preferred accountability about this dynamic would be with a recovering person who also is working a program. The betrayer must prioritize stopping the runaway train going down the track of their entrenched compulsive sexual behavior that has been in existence for a long period of time. Individual treatment is an absolute must. Promises to stop fade away all too frequently for the one who refuses treatment intervention. 

    2. The partner must engage treatment for damage created by the betrayal. All too frequently the partner refuses treatment favoring that their betraying partner be the “identified patient”. It is familiar to hear “I am not the one who struggles with lying and infidelity. Focus on the betrayer. They are the culprit. This is like getting run over by a big mack truck and laying on the side of the road with tire tracks across your back. The paramedics are called and when they arrive they tend to the driver, put them in the ambulance, and whisk them to the emergency room for treatment, leaving the victim who was run over lying on the side of the road. It makes no sense. Betrayal breaks the heart and the spirit of every victimized partner. Induced trauma requires long-term partner treatment for recovery. Codependent responses are always triggered by underlying trauma. It must be treated and will not heal without it. 

    3. The 3-legged stool approach. I prefer the 3-legged therapeutic approach. Every stool must have solid legs in order for the stool to be stable to safely sit. I find it most helpful that when treating betrayal trauma that each party in the relationship do individual therapy and that the couple also engage therapy as a couple, ideally with three different therapist involved (one for each of the 2 individuals and one for the couple together). I have experienced good success when it is done concomitantly.  There are exclusions when situations are exempt to this approach. That said a three-pronged approach has proven most helpful in healing. 

    4. Triage priorities in treatment. Betrayal is chaotic and crisis is not uniform and predictable. Careful consideration and guidance is needed in treating the betrayer, the betrayed partner, family, friends, and extended community depending upon the roles people have in those communities. Both partners will need to embrace their wise-minded adult within, and if this is absent carefully accept the guidance from an experienced counselor to triage treatment based on your specific and unique needs. 

    Destructive behavior, broken hearts, and tire tracks across the back caused by betrayal can heal. However, it is a long journey that insists that both partners embrace the healing journey. One or the other being the “identified patient” will impact prognosis for healing and will stymy healing. Addict betrayal is not only about relational infidelity. Addicts betray their own values and the trust of those around them who are counting on them to work a program for healing.  It is crucial that the entire family treat the addictive behavior from a family systems perspective. Each family member will need to address the impact of trauma that warps perspective and undermines trust.

    Polarization

    Polarization is a problem in the world. Us versus them is a mentality that has always existed.  The criteria for who is in and who is out are determined by those who have the power.  Historically, the criteria for acceptance has been tragic. Jewish people were rejected by the Third Reich in Germany, who determined that the entire race should be exterminated. African Americans were once considered only 3/5th human in America simply because of the color of their skin. Racism, sexism, patriarchy, ageism, etc exclude some and include others because of someone’s definition about who is acceptable and who is not.

    When I was a kid I tried to hang out with only Cub fans. If you liked the St. Louis Cardinals, there was something wrong with you. My dad was a blue-collar worker and we were Democrats. We prayed for those who were Republicans and wondered why! We thought that the Pope was the antichrist. There were 3 areas of our town: Elm Ridge, where the rich people lived; Grant Park, where the poorest lived, and then the rest of us. We learned to categorize people by their address. We looked up to the folk in Elm Ridge as successful. They were the “haves.” We fought to keep our address out of Grant Park where the “have nots” lived.

    Judgmentalism has separated people throughout my life. There was the Red Scare and McCarthyism in the 1950’s. Famous people like Paul Robeson, who was a great black athlete and actor, was ostracized and accused of being Communist because he refused to bend to popular opinion. There were Christians who thought the world was going to end in a ball of fire in the early 1960’s. They were scoffed at by scientists and ostracized as Holy Rollers. Now, scientists push the alarm of a catastrophic global warming, and many of those same Christians scoff and ostracize the scientists.

    Polarization is a challenge to recovery. Healing requires integrating both the best and the beast within each person. In community, us versus them undermines the healing process. Judging others’ social status or recovery progress paralyzes the potential for transformation. It requires each person to recognize their own dark behavior in order to have compassion for other people’s struggle. It is by recognizing compassion and identification that transformation occurs. 

    No one escapes childhood unscathed. I have learned that working through abuse requires the acceptance of a victim/victimizer dynamic that exists in those who have suffered abuse. When you have been victimized it is important to face ways that you have victimized others, perhaps not in like kind but in like principle. 

    It is critical to confront behavior where you selfishly wanted what you wanted when you wanted it. It is important to face the impact of feelings and consequences that your behavior created for others and experience the gravity of their plight  because of your actions. Then, you focus on forgiving yourself which simply means to let go and not hold the behavior against yourself. It also means to stop the hurtful behavior. When you do this, you become less polarized from those who have victimized you. By accepting your own dark behavior you can create compassion for the dark behavior of others who hurt you with perpetrating abuse. Through common shared brokenness you can experience healing and forgiveness which can produce freedom from the abuse. 

    Essentially, this controversial process can be framed as a way of getting out of an emotional prison that an abuser’s behavior created. Some have described it as a healthy selfish way of forgiving the son of a b**** who perpetrated pain and devastation in your life. You don’t have to be friends with someone who has hurt you. However, polarization is less likely because you have addressed in principle the victimizer dynamic in yourself that also exists in the perpetrator who has hurt you.

    When this does not occur, communities remain fractured and polarized. Perpetrators, like sex offenders, are excluded from their communities. Some people think that if we segregate, isolate, or polarize people, then somehow we become a safer community. I don’t see evidence that this is true. 

    Through my work at Psychological Counseling Services, we have witnessed transformation and healing by bringing victims and victimizers together. When sexual abuse is the issue, careful consideration of healing factors are assessed for both victim and victimizer before such integration takes place. Through 25+ years of engaging this process, I have observed and facilitated healing and transformation for both victim and victimizer. Regarding betrayed partners, we have integrated them with addict betrayers for many years. I have listened to partners who have shared that listening to the heart of an addict who is not their partner has been helpful to cultivate compassion and healing toward their own addict partner. On the other side of the coin, I have listened to addicts state that hearing the heartache of a different betrayed partner helped them to deepen empathy toward their own betrayed partner.  

    When we face each other’s pain we promote healing and transformation and eliminate polarization. This makes far more sense to me. 

    I do not think there is just one way to heal trauma from abuse. There are many alternatives. I do believe that polarization has splintered communities throughout our country. Judgmentalism through categorizing and labeling people has been detrimental to healing in our country. I suggest that we overcome judgmentalism and polarization toward others through identification of common-shared brokenness with shared accountability and consequences.  

    Take time to be curious of someone who is unlike you or represents a position you vehemently disagree with.  Notice how judgment comes up and simply sit with gaining an understanding of another person’s plight and position about life. You don’t have to change your mind about how you think. But, you can find a way to connect with someone who sees things different than you do. A way to overcome polarization is to integrate common-shared brokenness through listening to a different perspective.