trauma

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

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“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

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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.  

Stuck and Stargazed

When I graduated from seminary in 1977 I committed to an intern position at a large church with 24 full-time pastors on staff. I worked 85+ hours a week without compensation for three years. I would work from 7 am till 10 pm each weekday and then help the janitorial staff clean the church from 10 pm to 2 am. Many nights, Eileen and I would sleep in the parlor of the church. We lived off Eileen’s salary which was $9k per year. Why did I do that? At the time, some said because I loved God and the church. But underneath, in my desire to be the best I could be, there was a desperate need to gain the smile of approval from the senior pastor. You might say I was stuck in stargaze. 

I came into my adulthood with a hole in my soul. My dad worked hard at three different jobs to meet the needs of our family of 12 kids. I believed that if I worked really hard then I would get the attention and acclaim that I missed from my dad because of his absence. I wanted this pastor to notice my hard work. Looking back I was stuck in desperation for approval. Yet, I could never get enough. After many years of workaholic ministry, the pastor promised that I would become his replacement. However, I later learned that he made the same promise to five other guys. I felt like a fool. 

In recovery, I was challenged to examine my tendency to reach out to destructive people and believe in their false promises. While demonstrating relationship savvy in most friendship connections, I had a pattern of unwarranted loyalty and allegiance to authority figures in my life. Repeated and unresolved childhood trauma created a pattern of trauma repetition that undermined my emotional health and had to be addressed.

Do you ever wonder why you tend to bond with people who hurt you in your life? Addicts have the propensity to bond with people who are emotionally unavailable. Blindly, they lose themselves in unhealthy relationships that trigger desires to meet their unmet needs. They lose themselves in the intensity of the relationship in hopes that this one special connection will replace what has been missing. It can be a strong affiliation with a person of power at work, an intense alliance with an organization leader, or becoming hooked on a romantic relationship. Individuals frequently marry with a deep-seated desire to work out with their marital partner what was unaddressed in their family of origin. It can be an inward repressed longing that must be recognized before authentic contact can occur in an intimate relationship. 

Trauma occurs during vulnerable and early developmental stages in life and is often unrecognized and invalidated. People become fastened to this nexus of early trauma. There is a tendency to repeat the trauma in later years of life. 

Every child has developmental needs to be addressed. Touch, mirroring value, predictability, knowing that you matter, etc. are just a few developmental needs that must be met in a healthy way. When these needs are satisfactorily met safe attachment is formed. There is an embodied sense of security and acceptance. There is an ability to self-regulate with the capacity to form close connections as well as have separation from those with whom you are most personal.

However, when these needs are not met then developmentally you resemble a chunk of Swiss cheese with holes. There is an intense desire to fill the needs (holes) from the outside by achieving power, position, and control with accomplishment and relational approval. This need is overwhelmingly intense but can only be addressed with healthy attachment on the inside. In the attempt to fill these needs from the outside, you can become like a child who cannot get enough sugar. There is never enough achievement or approval from others.

As an adult, the process of addressing this destructive dilemma is to grieve the losses of deficits suffered way back in childhood. Embracing sadness, anger, resentment, shame, hate, and other feelings associated with loss is both unpopular and uncomfortable. Recognizing these painful feelings as energy streams is important. Moving the energy of unwanted feelings from the original source person to the issue (lack of attachment) and then creating what you want in your life through boundaries and personal empowerment requires accessing the maturity of adult self-parenting. Most times, people need therapy to develop this skill set.

Fritz Perls, who is credited as the father of Gestalt therapy, once said that “nothing ever changes until it is real”. You must come to a place where you recognize that the relationship with a toxic person is an attempt to fulfill a psychological need that was never addressed as a child or grieved as an adult. This is the reason that you never get enough of what you really don’t want in a relationship with a toxic abusive person. The crazy-making experience is that you keep creating the same toxic relationships with people who are emotionally unavailable and abusive.

When these hurtful trauma-bonding experiences are not addressed, people become stuck in their own stargazing experience whether it be name-dropping, preferential treatment toward those perceived as important, or pedestalizing a partner subconsciously hoping they will meet a need within. 

Addicts struggle with looking outside to others to find answers for approval that can only be discovered within. There are no gurus to lead you. The late activist Grace Lee Boggs was right when she declared that “We are the leaders we are looking for”. Trauma bonding is a way of repeating an abusive relationship hoping for safety. Those who are willing to take the courageous steps toward addressing the pain of past trauma 

Shame—The Ear Worm that Dominates the Reality of an Addict

There’s a lion and when he roars he’s telling me I ain’t no good–It’s not just what I could, but he’s bitching what I should.” (Stalking the Lion King—Kw)

Shame is like a sticky music song syndrome that works its way into your mind and quickly forms a noose around your neck with the design of choking the authentic reality out of you. It all begins when you are very young.

I grew up in a very religious household. The clergy of the church I grew up in during my lifetime were servants from hell. The first pastor was in my life from birth to the 8th grade. He was a very abusive man. I have a lot of memories that were not pleasant. There were times he would challenge resistors to his leadership to a physical fight out in the parking lot of the church. Once he attempted to undress me when I was a second grader in front of the congregation. He said he wanted to use me, as an illustration, to describe “a gutter drunk” he was trying to save from hell.

When I was a kid, I wet the bed and was embarrassed that others would know. Once, this “saintly” pastor coaxed me into going to summer church camp and vowed to prevent others from knowing that I struggled with wetting the bed. In turn, he suddenly announced to the entire camp that I wet the bed and was a “pee-baby” during a morning flag-raising ceremony. There’s a long list of abuse and antics that this clergy person did and no one held him accountable. My parents would only say “Had it not been for this pastor, we wouldn’t have a church today”! He ran out all of the incorrigibles and the troublemakers so that he would be the only thug left to save souls. Well, it took a long time but thank God, or someone, that particular church is now defunct and out of business. Upon reflection, it’s settings like this during early formative years that shape and mold young minds with the earworm of shame-driven messages that dominate in later years. James Baldwin was right when he wrote “It’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.” Shameful earworm messages work this way in your life.

After the preacher from hell finally retired, we got another one. Our new pastor was young and he related much better to the youth of the church. As a matter of fact, he related too well. He molested at least three of us and I am convinced there were many more. He disfigured the lives of so many kids that required more than a “born again” experience to ever restore. For many, it scarred and marred for life. Sexual exploitation is the abuse that keeps on giving, not just in the victim’s life but in generations to come because of the shroud of secrecy around the shameful behavior. Do you have experiences of exploitation that you have never talked to anyone about? Then you know the earworm of shameful messages that eat away at you and silently become transplanted into your next generation.

Shame that was ever present with my parents was transferred to every one of us kids. I experienced it around my inability to perform in sports. I was a great practice player but during actual games was dismal. Shameful earworm messages like “You can’t do this, who do you think you are” dominated and created miserable results.

I also experienced it around my sexuality. The only girl I ever dated as a teenager was in the church I attended. When it came to sex, shame pretty much dominated my thoughts and actions. Of course, there was no one to talk things out regarding healthy sexual experience or the crazy sexual abuse I had known previously. Under the cloak of shame, the earworm message would say that masturbation would send you to hell and that sex would be something you would automatically know what to do on that magical honeymoon night. Any other thought about it was considered dirty, disgusting, and to be condemned.

The earworm of shame would constantly ring “You must be more to keep from being less”. With the ring of shame, there is never a moment when who you are and what you have achieved is enough. No time to sit back and enjoy except for the rush you might experience while seeking more.

When I was little, my brother, Steve, and I used to mow very large lawns, 2 to 3 acres, with a power hand mower. We would take a pasture-size section and divide it in half. Then each of us would see who could mow their section the fastest. As we got closer to the finish we would mow faster and faster in an attempt to win. Eventually, each of us would be running. I remember how tortuous it felt toward the end. But, when it was finally finished, there was such a relief and adrenaline rush that felt great, win or lose! I would later try to addictively construct that adrenaline rush throughout my adult life. Truth is that the earworm of shame is often transformed into the adrenaline that comes from conquest and accomplished performance. It is a formative piece toward the development of addictive behavior.

I was often told that I would not succeed or be special in any way. It would always make me mad. I remember my business teacher in high school telling me that I would fail and be least likely to go to college. In college, my academic advisor told me that I would be a traditional “9 to 5” kind of guy and nothing special. To his point, I only wish I was a “9 to 5” kind of guy. It would have helped me live a more healthy life.

I have always had a burning desire to succeed in my life. I must admit that it became distorted in ministry in such a way that I lost myself and my way. Upon graduation from Seminary, my wife Eileen and I moved to Denver Colorado to work in a large evangelical church.

I was determined to learn to be the very best pastor I could be. I did a 2-year internship with absolutely no compensation. We lived off the 9 thousand dollar salary Eileen made working for an insurance company. I worked crazy hours. I would begin at 7 am and work until 10 pm. Then I would help clean the church from 10 pm till 2 am. During those days, Eileen and I would sleep in a gathering room at the church that was identified as “the Parlor”. I have always been embarrassed to tell people I did all of that for no pay. I wanted to be the best. There is this unrelenting subconscious need to correct the message from the earworm of shame that “I am not deserving” and that if I would keep driving myself that somehow in the end I would be enough. But, when I got to the end of the accomplishment, it was never a big deal and the approval I sought was elusive.

The dynamic of shame is all-inclusive. I have been working on this for 33 years of recovery and still must do recovery work simply to accept that what I am is enough. As a professional, I have noticed that I am not alone. Most recovery “gurus’ I know struggle with the earworm of shame in a similar way. The drive for notoriety, power, and possessions shelter this need to be more to keep from being less. There are times that this struggle becomes blatantly obvious through arrogant and socially unacceptable behaviors by some gurus. Sometimes, I have actually encountered folks who have never written a recovery book or even read one who have best exemplified managing the earworms of shame in their lives.
Earworms are common phenomenon to everybody. Shame has a way of sticking earworm messages in our hearts for a lifetime.

I am wondering if you are aware of shameful earworm messages that incessantly dominate and drive you toward addictive behavior? What shameful experiences did you have while growing up that set the foundation for the earworm of shame to drive you to your addiction later in your life? Can you identify the coping strategies that you have created in an attempt to avoid the shameful earworms that ring down deep in your heart?

Gestalt theorist Fritz Perls once said that “nothing ever changes until it becomes real”. Identifying the painful earworm messages of shame is the beginning of interrupting the pattern and creating a pathway that leads to serenity.

Unpacking Your Storyline

My brother Dave always fought my brother Jimmy’s fights for him around town. Dave was three years older and looked out after him.  Jimmy kind of had a mouth and Dave backed him up. He was a big fighter. Once, Jimmy was being picked on by Mike Sweeney who was sort of a neighborhood bully. When Dave heard about it he challenged Sweeney to a fight. They met behind the Etog Bowling Alley. Jimmy was with him but stayed in the car.  Sweeney had a chain and wrapped it around Dave’s head. I remember seeing the blood from Dave’s head spurting everywhere. Dave went nuts. He picked up Sweeney and body-slammed him to the ground and hit him in the face mercilessly until Sweeney was unconscious. Dave kept hitting him. I remember seeing Sweeney’s lifeless body flop after each hit and thinking Sweeney was dead. It was horrifying! 

Two weeks later, as friends, Dave and Sweeney got drunk and drove a 1963 MG into a concrete culvert with speeds in excess of 100MPH! Neither were killed but Dave got his eye gouged out. My mom used religion and got everyone to pray for Dave’s eye.  During surgery, they put his eye back in and he was miraculously able to see out of it again.  

Later I watched my dad, in a rage triggered by Dave coming home drunk, pull a leg off one of our dining room chairs and beat Dave mercilessly on his arms until they bled.  Dave could have killed my dad but he just closed his eyes and took it. 

These life experiences shaped my view about anger, violence, and fighting. I learned that fighting was always for survival and then you fight to the death. It always humiliated other people. I decided to never fight except to escape death. Even as an adult, I have always been unwilling to wrestle with my boys because of what I witnessed during my childhood. 

Everyone has a story to tell. The magic of healing can be found in the stories of our lives that we share. The  uncovered storyline can be the most important link to healing. Housed in every story is truth that can liberate. 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 a shared weakness. 

I learned to change the storyline about fighting and to direct it away from violence and toward healing and justice-making for self and others. Do you know the storyline you tell yourself from experiences in your life?  Is it life-affirming? What storyline did you learn from life experience? Is it life-affirming or do you need to redirect or maybe even give up the storyline altogether?  

Listed are considerations for changing your storyline from destructive to life-affirming:

*No One Passes Through Childhood into Adulthood Unscathed–It is not uncommon to hear someone declare “I grew up in a perfectly happy childhood.” Usually, this signals that someone is minimizing significant hurtful experiences. Regardless, no one is able to go through childhood and avoid disappointment and other hurts. There are major traumas and minor traumas. Both are significant. While horrifying traumas can be obvious, minor trauma is often minimized and overlooked. Many times upon exploration, what is revealed are experiences of neglect and abandonment that have been normalized and marginalized. Frequently, people have learned to practice an unspoken rule in their family to “embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious.” Understanding the impact of these “minor” traumas in average daily living takes focused effort. 

It takes courage to tell our stories and deepen awareness of what is real. We are often afraid to unravel the uneventful, uncomfortable times of our past. We fear that if we do this, preconceived notions of reality will disintegrate. Consequently, we fear that what we have always thought to be true has now crumbled into nothingness. Yet, personal healing demands that we tell our story to uncover the meaningfulness that exists in average everyday living experience.

*Authentic intimate connection happens by telling your story and understanding your storyline–It is scary to be vulnerable. I describe it as becoming emotionally naked. Perhaps people will accept what they experience of you or perhaps not. Being honest with yourself at the deepest level has always been a most difficult task. Yet without this honesty, the depth of meaningfulness in life is blunted. Average experiences in life remain just that—average with no depth of insight. Brilliance is unleashed in the depths of honesty. Yet, there is a great price. To become emotionally naked to oneself is courageous. To open your heart with that same honesty to another person is at best a risky encounter.

Without honesty, there is no authenticity. Without authenticity, average everyday experience fails to have impactful meaning. Living life unchallenged and with boredom eats away at the soulfulness of inner brilliance. Dishonesty becomes a way of embracing the improbable and ignoring what is obvious. It makes average experiences empty of brilliance and drains creative resources.

*Your story can teach you the fundamental basics of self-care in the presence of human struggle if you are willing to examine and change your storyline as needed. A common thread that ties all of us together is the story of struggle. Tragedy, death, loss, emotional and physical pain are common bedfellows regardless of how or where we live. We make up a storyline about our experiences in life. Are they affirming and life-sustaining or flawed and enervating? For example, I am getting old. In my old age, I can tell myself that the joints in my body are just going to hurt, so get used to it.  I can tell myself stories about others whose lower back hurts just like mine and that it is just the way it is for old people. The stories I listen to from others are stories of folks who sit on a couch all day and don’t stretch or exercise. Well, what I know about that is when I do that, my lower back hurts. Yet, when I stretch, run or walk, my back is stronger and hurts less. So, if I want to change my storyline about getting old, I will need to look for stories of older people who have healthier experiences in life. Those who walk long distances and exercise are motivated to doing and being active. It is all about the storyline I choose to believe about my life experiences.

Strength and inspiration come in every-day moments when we change the storyline and share connection with the human spirit of others. There is genuine depth in soothing a broken heart when we learn to steady and stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort. As we change the storyline of life experience we learn that the human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform the convulsion of wretched agony into the presence of poise and healing peace when discomfort and heartache is embraced and shared.

Emotional First Aid Expert Dr. Guy Winch on Trauma

While it’s well-known that recovering from addiction is a non-linear process, it’s more difficult to tell what throws people off course. After getting clean and sober, the difficulty of staying clean and sober is often a surprise—particularly when drugs and alcohol were previously used to medicate many different discomforts and psychological issues. It’s the latter that Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, author and pioneer of the concept of Emotional First Aid, has taken aim at.

Winch got his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University, completing a post-doc at NYU Medical School. Though he has a private practice in Manhattan where he sees individuals and couples for psychotherapy, he has also written books such as The Squeaky Wheel and Emotional First Aid. Perhaps what he’s most popularly known for, though, are his wildly popular TED Talks about practicing emotional first aid and fixing a broken heart. While his work has all kinds of helpful applications, it applies particularly well to addiction recovery.

In a recent interview with Joe Polish, Winch expanded on his concept of emotional first aid: “We really know how to address physical injuries when we have them,” he says. “We have no such practice whatsoever when it comes to emotional or psychological injuries.” As it turns out, the “injuries” that we try to ignore the most are the things that create the most problems for us. “Injuries like failure, rejection, loneliness, guilt,” Winch says. “Unless we’re aware of these things, we’re just going to get deeper in and sustain more damage than we need.”

Becoming aware of our emotional state is a practice Winch calls emotional hygiene—and  according to Winch, we should all strive to make it part of our everyday life. “One of the things I’m really for is…gratitude exercises,” Winch says. “A gratitude exercise is getting up in the morning and saying, ‘You know what? The people I really care about right now are healthy, my parents are in good health, I’m really grateful for that because there may be a time in the future where that may not be the case.’”

Research shows that substance abuse disorders are often strongly correlated to a variety of mental health issues—issues which can further worsen our emotional states. Although this isn’t specific only to people with diagnosed disorders, overly negative self-talk is one of the negative symptoms of mental illness that Winch says is a major culprit. “The self-critical internal voice that so many of us have in so many frustrating moments is absolutely useless,” he says. “It’s purely damaging, there is no utility to it.”

While negative self-talk can have any number of causes, it can sometimes be exacerbated or caused by underlying trauma. Some addiction experts like Gabor Maté have theorized that trauma or a lack of connection may be to blame for all (or at least nearly all) of addiction. While Winch agrees that trauma can be a cause, he hesitates to give a blanket explanation—and says that the reality of trauma is much more complex.

“It only takes a few seconds to have trauma,” Winch says. “It’s not a quantitative thing, it’s a qualitative thing. Trauma is something that shocks the system, something that’s impactful enough that it causes you to reassess and rethink your general views on yourself, on life, on the people around you. It causes a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in your psychological system.”

Much like his concept of emotional hygiene, Winch similarly agrees that untreated trauma could lead addicts back to drugs and alcohol, or to negative emotional states that then lead to drugs and alcohol. “When I read that ‘the generalized approach to trauma should be this or that,’ it’s hard for me to endorse,” he says. “You have to have some kind of understanding of it in a way that gives it meaning. In the narrative of your life, it has to be a plot point that leads to something of significance.” While for some people this may mean excavating the experiences, others, according to Winch, may not need to.

Perhaps the underlying problem for recovering addicts, as Winch sees it, is one of positive and negative identity—particularly as they relate to trauma and negative self-talk. “Having a strong sense of self is actually really important,” Winch says. “At a certain level of addiction, it is so prominent in [an addict’s] life that it is the organizing principle. Many people get sober but they can’t maintain it. The problem there is that the addiction has become so central in their lives that there is nothing else central enough to attract them into another way of being.”

For his part, Winch has hope from his practice and his understanding of psychology that people can make changes in their habits to increase their chances of recovery. “I’m not a psychiatrist,” he says,” but my general thought is that it’s a two-way street. Our brain chemistry, our wiring, those kinds of things, impact our behavior significantly. But there are things we can do, behaviors we can assume, that will impact our brain chemistry.” Still, he notes that it’s a bit more complicated than that. “The impact of neurochemistry on our behavior is like a six-lane highway,” he says. “Our ability to impact brain chemistry and hormones by thinking or behavior is like a single-lane country road.”

Because of these hard facts, Winch also advocates getting on medication whenever necessary to treat depression, anxiety or whatever else may be ailing a person. With that chemical boost, people can then begin positive habits to reinforce their change. What all these disparate threads have in common, according to Winch, is simple. “Self-awareness,” he says. “When you hear yourself go through the same argument and it’s not going to get anywhere, stop doing that. That’s my advice in general. When things aren’t working for you, change the script. Don’t just try the same thing but try harder. Change the system.”