Engel, Beverly. It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion. New Harbinger, 2015.
Abuse, neglect, addictions stem from corrosive shame which poisons love, kindness, and authenticity. Self-compassion eradicates shame by reversing entrenched patterns of self-judgment and self-loathing that harm a person on an internal level and also possibly relationally in close relationships, school, and work environments. Rather than live with the horror that a significant other is abusive or dangerous and the child is trapped in a helpless situation, the child will internalize blame and responsibility for early adverse abuse or neglect. Feelings of unworthiness follow that child into adulthood where the rage and pain is projected either outward (bullying to others), inward (struggles with depression and anxiety), or some combination of the two.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMF) Everly developed the Compassionate Cure program to help clients struggling with debilitating shame. Her interest in the field was based both on seeking to help people and her own personal experiences. Much of her work is based on the ground-breaking research on self-compassion of Kristin Neff. Everly spends the first third of the book discussing why shame is so negatively pervasive and how compassion functions as the antidote. The second part explains the Compassion Cure program lays the background explaining how hard it is (and why) for people who feel shame to feel self-compassion and accept compassion from others. There are five stages to self-compassion in part three: self-understanding, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-encouragement. Realistic and well-explained exercises pepper each stage to get readers more compassionate toward themselves. Readers learn grounding, identifying with parents and the inner critic, developing a more self-compassionate and encouraging inner voice, utilizing phrases of self-kindness, and develop ritualistic ways to encourage oneself.
One thing to keep in mind is while Everly heavily cites herself and the aforementioned Kristin Neff through the actual text of the book. She does, however, provide a list of references at the book’s end where readers can go for more information. It is also important to note that while Everly uses the term cure, many experiences shape who people are and are impossible to completely forget, so coping and self-growth may be a more appropriate term to keep in mind while following Beverly’s program.
See Also Family of Origin
Haines, Staci K. The Politics of Trauma: Healing, Somatics, and Social Justice. North Atlantic Books, 2019.
Haines developed generative somatics to help people in groups not trigger one another, be kind to one another, and more effectively work toward common political causes in the realm of social justice. Generative somatics also allows individual people to become more aligned and safe in their own bodies by recouping the safety that was lost through trauma. Haines argues for a balance of the individual and the systemic. The systemic perspective attends far beyond even couples or families but rather on a collective societal level. A person or couple can do all the work in the world to heal, but if systemic injustices remain, the same barriers keep flowing down into that lower level system. Individual therapy and therapy couples and families indelibly changes lives, and wider recognition of systemic inequalities needs to flow concordantly with therapy. We all deserve safety, belonging, and dignity, and many interpersonal and systemic factors wreak havoc on our ability to sustain and experience these birthrights. Haines does an excellent job of explaining how because of familial, communal, and systemic situations, we learn to embody characteristics that deprive us of these needs. We embody shrinking, hiding, and denying our authentic selves. Physical danger clues lurk in our bodies and explode outward when we are reminded on a somantic (not rational thought or language) level of previous hurt. Generative somatics helps us slowly creep toward release of the embodied pain and step into our more authentic selves. Selves that can respond rather than react, selves that can truly be settled even in conflict with others, even when surrounded by pain and heartache. It is not that we become jaded, indifferent, or unaffected. Rather, we learn how to feel the pain and heartache while respond to it by embodying it as a force for acting for justice and dignity: to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world. Haines describes the embodied healing process in easy to understand yet also nearly literary ways. Both individuals and couples can read this book and use it as a excellent springboard for looking at how trauma and oppression has shaped who they have become and how they can slowly embody their more authentic selves in communion with one another.
Levine, Peter A. Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body. Sounds True, 2005.
Events that so profoundly shatter our sense of safety grip our bodies. Trauma symptoms appear on a tier of time, first come acute hyperarousal symptoms like a pounding heart or rapid breath lock our bodies, while relational troubles and addictive behaviors and chronic pain bear down further from the trauma if it is not resolved. Trauma expert and clinician Peter Levine advocates that while we protective protection from trauma cannot be sought, it is not something that has to haunt us viscerally in perpetuity as what he calls a “life sentence”. Animals who emerge from a life-threatening encounter and literally physically shake off the generated stress and fear. While humans have a neocortex for higher level and rational thought absent in animals, we do share in common “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous systems that fire up potent survival energy as a defense mechanism. After danger has passed, like animals, we humans need to discharge all the energy related to the traumatic experience. Levine has spent his career helping people discharge this energy and loosen trauma’s hold on the psyche and the body. Whether generated from a physical life-threatening danger, emotional abuse or neglect, sexual assault, or spiritual, Levine’s bodywork exercises can lessen trauma’s sting by releasing stress energy and promoting people’s agency and control of their own body and boundaries. His Twelve-Phase Healing Trauma Program is presented both in clean font and a guide audio CD. Where appropriate, photos illustrating the sequence of movements in each exercise is presented. The exercises flow logically to keep readers safe and in control as much as possible. Grounding exercises come first, followed by slowly deliberately encountering your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Readers draw strength by learning to sit with and experiencing the distressing symptoms and trusting them to run their course. Once grounding and tolerance have strengthened, readers can practice the discharging the distressing energy by visualization and spine straightening. The final exercises move readers toward more mindfulness presence and engaging in social connection with others. Neglecting to scroll past book chapters can sometimes be a great loss of useful information. An incredible gem for couples and families is at the end of the book and is not even designated as a book chapter. Several pages walk readers through to hold space and support a loved one who is in the middle and after a traumatic event. Nuances between partners or friends and children are presented. This guide is not meant to be in place of therapy with a licensed professional, but it is a loving labor to mitigate harm for a loved one who has been disconnected from their birthright of connection and safety.
Levine, Peter A. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Intricate masterpiece artwork, life-sustaining medical machinery, dependable flights around the earth and into space, and worldwide engineered skyscrapers belie the fact that humans are in fact highly evolved animals whose instincts precede rational thought from the neocortex involved in higher level thinking. The body will always instinctually do what it needs to do to protect itself. Our vagus nerve collects sensate data from the gut and transmits ten times as much information from the body to the brain as the brain sends down the body. Modern society incentivizes the forgetting of this nature with devastating consequences. Any time the body registers threat, the sympathetic nervous system registers danger. If the danger is inescapable, collapse and immobility as an anecdote to suffering and a disincentive for a danger to attack takes over. People detach. After a threat has passed, the body must fully release this energy, most successfully in the presence of a soothing other, or the body will continue to re-live its stuck energy in the form of traumatic symptoms. To avoid this, a person must emerge from this immobility with support in place. Otherwise, the strong body feelings easily overwhelm and become their own source of discomfort and panic. Levine invites readers to heal with his Somatic Experiencing® program. Great detail is given to how trauma gets locked into the body with clear diagrams to help readers visualize the body system or the process involved. A competent therapist trained to hold space and help clients slowly release trauma from the body can make all the difference in the world in preventing a stressful event from morphing into full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder. With a soothing human connection to ground a person and the ability to complete “fight-or-flight” actions slowly with a trained professional, trauma reactions can be decoupled and deassociated with fear itself. Otherwise, bodily sensations of the sympathetic nervous system associate with the fear itself in a dreadful loop where each invites more of the other. Levine walks readers through how this fear of bodily sensations can be broken so those sensations can become signals that invite action and analysis rather than being beholden to fear and immobility. Levine advocates that we need more attunement and listening to the body to completely experience life and use our “bottom-up” (from the body wiring) to make significant life changes and integrate all of our experiences into our lived experience.
Maté, Gabor. When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Turner, 2003.
If people are resistant to say no, eventually the body itself will. Stress adversely affecting mental health is commonly accepted; however, stress being the etiology (origin) of physical diseases has been slower to acceptance as an idea. Maté rejects the mind-body dualistic philosophy so common as a starting point for medical treatment in Western medicine. Being emotionally neglected, disavowing desires and values, parentification, and trauma, and other significant stressors tax the body with floods of stress chemicals. These physiological stresses manifest in a body even where and when its owner does not “feel stressed”. Maté breaks down explanation of psychological anatomy (that is, the anatomy that regulates, stress, calm, emotion, and other psychological processes) as well as describes robust medical scholarly literature that shows a correlation and in some cases causation of chronic disease from stress. Maté argues that is causation were king, disease development would strike a perfect correlation with behavior; that is, everyone who does something that is known to be a problem (for example, smoking cigarettes with known carcinogens) would develop the problem (in the cigarette example, cancer). However, perfect correlation does exist. Some people heavily smoke and don’t get cancer; others do smoke and do cancer, and life experience seems to partly moderate disease experience. Maté cites research that shows the development of cancer of smokers is likely due to the interact of genetics, behavior, and psychological states (like stress) brought about by life experience. The linking system to the mind-body is the immune system. Hormones and other chemical messengers can wreak havoc on the immune system, causing it to lower its defenses (and errant cells normally destroyed are able to grow into a malignant tumor) or even attack the body itself (autoimmune disorders like lupus). Conversely, he cites research that cancer patients who had group therapy as part of their treatment plan actually were statistically more likely to be alive or in remission years later. One key fact is that these stress hormone secretions are triggered by automatic responses to stress and trauma programmed over years. Often, the treads for these automatic responses are programmed in early childhood when a loving, steady caretaker is needed to avoid automatic stressful responses from becoming entrenched. That steady caretaker likely had the same automatic stress responses programmed into them. Blaming someone for their disease is irresponsible and unkind and unwarranted even under the stress-disease model. Rather, understanding the stress-disease connection can become a channel for true kindness and empathy and more holistic medical treatment. Mental health care can understand how the health of the body can grip mental health, and “traditional” M.D.’s can grasp a truer picture of a client’s health by inquiring about their stress and how moderating its influence can facilitate body health. Maté has a well-reasoned and documented argument that hits home the mind-body connection for people and couples. Readers will gain a fuller picture of mind-body health as a single entity.
See Also: Mental Health
Nakazawa, Donna Jackson. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal. Atria, 2015.
Nakazawa provides lots of research toward how chronic unpredictable toxic stress (CUTS) in childhood is a public health concern that ripples all the way to adulthood and even into subsequent generations. Vincent J. Felitti, MD, came upon the link between childhood trauma and the later onset of adult disease in one-on-one interviews with patients at the Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic in the 190s. Stunned, he teamed up with CDC epidemiologist Robert Anda to replicate his findings on a larger scale with chronic health conditions beyond obesity. Anda and Felitti developed the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) based on clusters of early struggles that patients had reported: emotional abuse and neglect, physical abuse, separation from a caretaker (death, divorce, prison), and exposure to addiction or a witness to violence. The results replicated on mass scale. Sixty-four percent of American adults with grapple with one ACE; forty percent grapple with two or more. It is more likely than not that each adult in the United States has been exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience.
CUTS alters the expression of our genes (epigenetics), by chronically exposing the body to stress hormones and sending the sympathetic (flight or fight system) into overdrive. This consistent exposure to stress aggravates physical inflammation which leads to a whole host of problems into the body. Research into the anatomy and mechanics of these processes fill the early chapters; later chapters are quite optimistic in paralleling the stress with techniques to limit the damage of ACES. Most optimistic are the chapters outlining many ways (mindfulness, EMDR, etc) to see alleviate ACES with professional help. For those looking to go beyond healing only themselves, Nakawaza includes fourteen research-based principles for being a loving, empathic, and soothing parent.
Nakawaza demonstrates with clear evidence the scope of ACES its epigenetic and public health ramifications. Childhood CUTS has a high likelihood of causing adult chronic health conditions, and in treating what seem purely “physical” conditions, patients (and their doctors) also need to look at the holistic history of the mind as well as the body. This is an excellent book for diving into ACES information and most importantly, channels to seek professional help from medical doctors and mental health conditions.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel.The Body Keeps the Score. Penguin, 2014. *
Developmental and relational traumas shape our experiences at the physiological level. Early abusive or neglectful events shape how the brain sees and responds to exterior circumstances. Serious trauma can unfortunately lock people into “survival” mode as observers of life rather than participants….unfortunately, people impacted by trauma also have more difficulty in forming and maintaining close relationships. They again feel at a distance from others, or keep themselves at a distance from intimacy to prevent further hurt. Van Der Kolk documents trauma’s history as an area of study by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals. He further describes in great detail and at times in an academic tone how a traumatized brain functions differently than a non-traumatized brain. Van Der Kolk devotes his last part of his book to interventions that have shown empirical ability to help people heal from or at the very least minimize the impact of trauma in their lives and live more authentic and joyful lives.
* See Also Prepare for the Long Haul
Spring, Janice A. How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To. Harper, 2004. *
Spring explores the process of forgiveness for both offender and hurt party. We can refuse to forgive as a shield of invulnerability (so we think) and hurt along just as much as if cheap forgiveness is our go-to move. We will find ourselves many times having something to forgive and also needing to earn forgiveness. Spring walks readers through the process of earning forgiveness, forgiving another person genuinely, or if forgiveness is not possible, encouraging acceptance of a situation for one’s own health and peace of mind. While a book discussing the freedom to not forgive may seem an odd choice on a trauma bibliography, and immovable refusal to ever forgive is bad for a marriage (or any LTR), the way Spring covers the spectrum of forgiveness, including what the hurt party must do to earn forgiveness, can put in perspective for readers whether their harm-doer is truly seeking to empathize and tune into the injured party.
* See Also Repair & Apologize
Most of these articles are going to be free online. If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.
Abramsonm Ashley. “If There Was Ever a Time to Activate Your Vagus Nerve, It Is Now. ” Medium, 10 April 2020, https://elemental.medium.com/if-there-was-ever-a-time-to-activate-your-vagus-nerve-it-is-now-2227e8c6885b
Colier, Nancy. “Why It’s So Hard to Build Healthy Relationships After Growing Up in Chaos.” Psychology Today, 24 July 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201907/why-its-so-hard-build-healthy-relationships-after-growing-in-chaos
Davis, Vauna. “Recognizing the Red Flags of Shame.” Reach 10, n.d., https://reach10.org/recognizing-red-flags-shame/
- See the Map of Emotions in the body
Fabian, Renee. “Ten Unexpected Ways You May Have Experienced a Fight-Flight-Freeze-Fawn Response.” The Mighty, 5 Feb. 2020, https://themighty.com/2020/02/unexpected-flight-flight-freeze-fawn-responses
MacCutcheon, Megan. “Intention Isn’t Everything: 7 Ways to Inadvertently Invalidate Feelings.” Good Therapy, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/intention-isnt-everything-7-ways-to-inadvertently-invalidate-feelings-1025175
Pearl, Reaca. “11 Things That Will Help You Hold Space for Someone.” Good Therapy, 23 May 2017, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/11-things-that-will-help-you-hold-space-for-someone-0523175
Pollock, Anastasia. “When It All Falls Apart: Trauma’s Impact on Intimate Relationships.” Good Therapy, 11 Feb. 2014, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-it-all-falls-apart-traumas-impact-on-intimate-relationships-0211145
Roddick, Marjie. “Big T and Little t Trauma and How Your Body Reacts to It.” Good Therapy, 19 Oct. 2015, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/big-t-and-little-t-trauma-and-how-your-body-reacts-to-it-1019154
Summers, Dyhan. “How to Recognize and Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect.” Good Therapy, 18 Feb. 2016, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-recognize-overcome-childhood-emotional-neglect-0218165
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