Saturday, July 17, 2010

Breaking the Cycle

Many of us were exposed to some things as children that were inappropriate at the least and abusive at the worst. These things may include but are not limited to early exposure to alcohol, guns, drugs, sexual activity, pornography, graphic language, adult-themed movies, or other issues from which we should have been protected. Those of us with insight can see some of the negative ways those early experiences affected our views of ourselves, other people, sexuality, violence, trust, and safety. If we are not careful we can repeat this cycle and expose the children and youth in our care to the same unhealthy experiences. There are a few important strategies to help us to stop the cycle.

1. Recognize the things that you were exposed to that were not healthy or appropriate. When we make excuses for these things we set ourselves up to create confusion in someone else’s life. So do not credit bad situations for making you the great person you are today. You are who you are because you worked hard to deal with those issues not because those things were good for you. We often don’t want to see our parents or caretakers in a negative light so we minimize things that were really out of order. If we continue to operate out of denial we are very likely to continue the patterns of dysfunction. So not in a spiteful way but in a honest way think back and consider what are things you wish had been done differently to better protect you.

2. Be honest with yourself about the impact those experiences have had on your life. When we continue to say I don’t see the harm in children being exposed to adult experiences, we are not living in a healthy place emotionally. It is the inability to acknowledge the harm that puts people at risk from moving from victims to perpetrators. The truth is there are long term consequences to starting smoking, drinking, getting high, watching violence and pornography, and participating in adult conversations and activities at an early age. It affects us on many levels and we have to see those wounds clearly so we can be motivated to interrupt these cycles to the best of our ability.

3. Look for the warning signs. We have to be vigilant, be careful about who we allow access to the children in our home, community, schools, Churches, etc. Some people have unhealthy intentions and some may have good intentions but have bad judgment. When we are na├»ve and live with blinders on refusing to see what we or others are doing, we create more unhealthy cycles. We never want to be the ones who refuse to see, refuse to believe, refuse to respond, and refuse to speak up. Many inappropriate things happen because of bystanders – those who sit back and say nothing. It may feel easier to remain silence and simply hope and pray it is not what we think it is but silence is a choice. It is a choice that supports the endangerment or disrespect of those who are most vulnerable.

The final and most important aspect of stopping these cycles is to create positive experiences for the young people who are around us. Our best memories are not just based on the absence of the negative but the presence of positive people. Positive adults who can bring safety, affirmation, insight, inspiration, and encouragement make all the difference. You have the capacity to be a life changer, not just for yourself but for someone from the next generation. Just because we experienced dysfunction doesn’t mean we have to continue it. Break the chain. Start a new legacy of wholeness, healthiness, and ha

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Power over Painful Memories

All of us have had painful experiences in our past. Many times we are able to push forward with our lives but when we haven’t deal with these difficult memories, they continue to dominate our thinking. Even those, who have tried to deal with these memories, will have times when disturbing thoughts and feelings come up. Psychologists call reminders of these painful memories “triggers”. A trigger may be a particular smell, a person, people who remind you of a person, a place, a specific touch, the time of year/anniversary of the event, getting close to a person/intimacy, or having a child who turns the age that we were at the time of the event. It is normal for there to be things that remind us of the past. The key is for us to find healthy ways of navigating these memories.

1. Find healthy ways to express the things that happened in your past. This may be through journaling or talking to someone who you can trust such as a counselor. Trying to push it out of your mind is not a long term solution.

2. Remember that distracting yourself from the memory with unhealthy tools such as drinking, smoking, eating, engaging in risky sexual activities, compulsive shopping, or gambling end up leading to more problems.

3. Be patient with yourself, recognizing that difficult wounds have a lasting impression even if they happened as a child.

4. Remind yourself that the memory affects you but doesn’t define you. In other words there is more to you than your past.

5. Start to be aware of what triggers you have so you can be prepared. If you get upset around the same each year, begin engaging in self care activities before that date so you better manage the distress. For example, you may want to create a healthy ritual for remembering but not getting stuck in the past or you may want to make plans with people who are safe and affirming. Another example is sexual intimacy. If it is difficult for you because it reminds you of the past, try to keep your eyes open so you can see that the present is not the past.

6. Instead of focusing all of your energy on the negative, make a list of the good that has happened in your life as well as the good you want for your future.

7. To combat the tendency for self-blame and shame, consider the positive traits about yourself. You are a survivor and quite possibly there are even ways you have grown and thrived. Don’t allow the pain of the past to diminish your view of yourself or your possibility.

8. Commit to living positively and renew that commitment each day. Even if you don’t feel like it, let yourself rest, eat something healthy, work to build good relationships, invest in your mental and physical health, and pursue your purpose.

Memories are powerful. The past is beyond our control but you do have the capacity to shape your present. Allow yourself to acknowledge the past, to work through it, and to affirm the gift of the present. Healing is a process that requires patience and perseverance. Don’t give up.