Ahh… the lazy days of summer have arrived at last, from what has seemed like a brutal winter and an unusually cool spring. It’s holiday time!  Kids are out of school! It’s easy to let routines fall by the wayside in order to make the most of this short season. 

Do we approach boundaries differently during the summer months than we do the rest of the year? Is that a good idea? 

Summer is the perfect opportunity to test our boundary skills.

Boundaries get a bad rap as none of us are excited about following rules. Some of us live by the understanding that rules are meant to be broken or that all the fun happens outside the lines. 

The more we learn about healing from Complex Trauma, we understand that boundaries are designed to keep us on a healthy track. Living within our boundaries brings us routines, peace of mind and a greater sense of joy.  They help us achieve personal goals and objectives. 

We all have internal and external boundaries.  

Internal boundaries are personal disciplines of what we allow ourselves to do and what we don’t allow. They need to include a balanced approach to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. We create them to stay healthy and meet our own needs. 

Examples: eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise, be honest, don’t gossip, set a reasonable bedtime to get enough sleep, live by the golden rule: do unto others as we will have them do unto us. 

External boundaries are those we set with other people in order for us to stay safe.

Examples: avoid or set time limits with toxic people, avoid unhealthy places, have someone keep our bank card if impulse spending is an issue. 

There are so many temptations during the summer months! Especially this year as we have the opportunity to celebrate in a mostly normal post-pandemic environment.  Summer fairs and events! Graduations, weddings, camping trips, barbecues and get togethers around the campfire with friends. All of these occasions are met with decisions surrounding food and beverage choices. Do we stay up late to enjoy the moment or stay on track with our normal routines? 

This is a tough decision. Lots will depend on where we are in our recovery journey. We may need to set limits to these activities until we become healthier. 

Stepping outside of our boundaries requires a lot of self-awareness.  Know our limits, adhere to our values, listen to our emotions and show respect for ourselves and others. 

For most of us, we can occasionally step out and enjoy those moments. We need to be mindful of our behaviours. If we step out of line for too long, gently discipline ourselves back into routines. Life truly is happiest inside our boundaries. 

Imagine our boss comes up to us while we are on the job and says we have been doing great work lately. He suggests we meet next week or so to discuss some changes.

Do we become curious and embrace the idea or feel paralyzed because we are afraid of change?

The only thing guaranteed in life is that everything is subject to change. Our ability to handle change comes from our experiences as children. 

Growing up in adverse environments or in Complex Trauma, change may have been a constant worry in our lives. Every time things changed, we may have experienced more hurt, pain and abandonment. 

Broken promises from caregivers and parents may have offered disappointment, and left us feeling unworthy. 

Or, there was very little change in our lives. Routines and structure were such an integral part of our daily lives, there was no room for change. This may have provided a sense of safety and security, but may have instilled a fear of change. 

Change may have been moving from one foster home to another. From one school to another. Too much change causes insecurity. 

In a healthy home, children learn resilience. They embrace change and something good comes from it. 

For those with Complex Trauma, change is scary. In the past they may have been subjected to teasing or bullying, or set up for failure. They are convinced nothing good will happen and a lot of stress is created with anticipated change.

We have no power to stop time. Change is part of our evolution process.

We see it in nature with the four seasons. 

Businesses grow, reorganize and restructure to become more efficient.

Relationships grow and change with time as children move from pre-school, to school-aged then off to post-secondary education or the workforce.

Our lives evolve and change as we embark on our recovery journey. 

Our perception needs to change. Believing healthy change will bring positive results and improve our lives is an important part in recovery. Change can offer us a fresh start. A chance to create a happy life filled with peace, contentment and joy. 

We may have a default setting to fear change when most of our experience has left us with negative outcomes. It is scary to change our thinking to expect positive outcomes. 

Let us show you how. Visit timfletcher.ca to learn more. 

We are all guilty of it. 

We start a book, only to leave it a few chapters in to pursue  another book or some other distraction. We start a sewing or craft project, only to abandon it in pursuit of another that looks more interesting. Or we may have a few renovation or yard projects that only need an additional hour or so of attention before the job would be complete but we keep procrastinating. 

One of the 60 Characteristics identified in Complex Trauma is Great Starters, Poor Finishers. 

January comes and there are many who make resolutions to become more fit, lose weight or any number of goals are always set with the best of intentions. Two weeks later, we tend to fall off the wagon and by the time February 1 rolls around, we have lost all our motivation. 

Examples:

  • New job: we excel at what we do for about two weeks. Then we feel unappreciated      because the daily validation stops or we don’t get along with our coworkers. Then we quit. 
  • We buy a house and have a few renovation projects we undertake. We pursue them with enthusiasm for about two weeks. We become busy and distracted, put the tools down and walk away. 
  • Gym membership: we are excited and determined to become fit and go every day for about two weeks. The momentum wears off as we have worn our bodies out and have not seen any results. We stop going.
  • Going back to school: we are super students for about two weeks. Then the course may be too easy, too hard, boring or the instructors are not providing us enough support. We quit or change courses. 

It is a brain thing.

New pursuits give us an adrenaline rush. Our limbic brains love a new challenge and we always start out full of enthusiasm, with the best of intentions. After about two weeks, when the monotony of the routine begins to set in, we discover it may not be what we anticipated or we lose interest.

We begin to find fault with the plan and we find a way to use someone else as an excuse to quit or abandon the project.

Complex Trauma? 

Many with Complex Trauma have a hard time focusing on one project or goal at a time. Our perfectionism may be holding us back if we are unable to complete the tasks without fault. 

Or …

We become hypercritical of ourselves and others when it comes to a goal or task. The first two weeks of anything is a learning curve. It is when we need to be open to training and expect some criticism and instruction on how to succeed.  If we are hypersensitive to criticism or feel like we are failures for not getting it right the first time, these are Complex Trauma traits we need to address.

There is hope.

Creating awareness of our habits and patterns and understanding why we are unable to follow through is the first step to having those projects and goals realized. 

Some of us had parents who were also great starters and poor finishers and they are our role model. 

Overcoming this Characteristic has great rewards. If we are great starters and great finishers, we:

  • New job: work for awhile and are rewarded by being able to support ourselves and our families. We are able to support a charity, possibly a care child overseas and they write us a letter of gratitude. We are able to save a bit of money and purchase a car, home or take a trip. Gaining experience can lead to promotions, or a better job down the road. We can plan for retirement. 
  • We buy a house and have a few renovation projects we undertake. Focusing on one task at a time, completing the jobs, fills us with pride at our beautiful home. Entertaining friends and family is rewarding. 
  • Gym membership: we are excited and determined to become fit. We work with a personal trainer who sets a realistic fitness routine. After three months, we feel amazing and see results. 
  • Going back to school: we are super students and pursue our studies. This leads us to work in our chosen field or in a career we truly love. We are rewarded with an excellent workplace and ability to create a fulfilling life. 

Our limbic brain in the drivers seat keeps us hopping around from one pursuit to another. Using our cortex brain, this provides us the discipline required on our way to living a healthy, happy, joyful life. 

Imagine there is a glass of water sitting in front of us that is filled half way. Do we see it as half empty or half full? Our answer can tell us a lot about our mindset. 

People who see the glass half full depict a positive attitude, optimism and a general feeling of all is right with the world. 

For those of us who view the glass as half empty, we may be victims of a critical and negative mindset. Is this common, but dangerous headspace, is one that can be learned from our parents or other family members?

Or, do we develop this as a part of Complex Trauma? 

Many of us may be critical and not realize we are. It is possible we do if we have a tendency to:

  • Complain a lot and blame others for our woes
  • Expect the worst outcomes from people and situations
  • Always are in a hurry – rush for time and have road rage
  • Gossip about others, complain about the boss, fellow employees, wages, hours, etc.
  • Ask others “How was your day?” but don’t actually care

How do we develop this mindset? 

If exposed to people who are negative and critical as a child, our brain trains itself to look for the negative as a protective measure.  If one or both of our parents were negative we adopted the same approach. We may have learned this way of coping drives people away and makes it easy to avoid healthy relationships or connect with others. 

Other possible reasons may include:

  • Our inner critic believes it’s easier to judge and find fault – this is our shame
  • Feeds our sense of self-worth or value – find something negative in order to feel superior
  • Grew up with a double standard and had to live up to unrealistic expectations 
  • Use it as an excuse to blame our problems and lack of happiness on others 

What are we teaching our children? 

Children who grow up with parents who have a negative and critical attitude tend to shut down, hide and feel they can’t be themselves. They may develop anxiety, depression and feel hopeless as anything they do or try is never good enough. 

They become afraid to open up, share their hearts, ideas and dreams in fear of being judged, criticized or put down. A negative and critical environment does a lot of damage to a child.

If we find ourselves resonating with the above information, we may be a victim. When we grow up in a family who gravitates to a negative or critical mindset, is there a more positive way to live?

Yes.

Complex Trauma is the underlying cause that lurks in our background. Understanding how our parents actions negativity rewired our brains, in order to keep us safe, is the first step to creating awareness. 

Evolving research over the last 25 years has exposed this field of study, opening new doors into successful, trauma recovery. We are pioneers in this field and our programs effectively transform Complex Trauma at the deepest levels.

It is more than developing a positive attitude or changing out negative thoughts for positive ones. True transformation comes with self-awareness. When we uncover the root cause and learn how to control our thought patterns, we can stop the cycle of negativity in our lives and see positive results. 

Life can and does change.  Visit timfletcher.ca to learn how.

Does life feel like riding a roller coaster and the exit is nowhere in sight? Is it hard to find pleasure in simple things that you used to love? Do feelings of sadness or anger set in for no apparent reason? Feel lost and don’t know who you are?

Our brains and bodies are on overload.

Never before in the history of mankind have humans been under more pressure. Employment demands have increased, putting a strain on our relationships and recreation or down time is limited. Socially, our lives have been put on hold due to COVID-19. No wonder we feel out of sorts.

What underlying cause is lurking in the background?

We all know carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, flammable gas that is slightly less dense than air. We never saw a need for a detector until we became aware of the dangers. Undetected, multiple health issues arise and long term exposure can be deadly.

Complex Trauma is the carbon monoxide of the mental health and addiction world. Undetected, it has kept people stuck in unhealthy coping patterns, feeling lost, angry, sad, depressed, anxious or addicted. Over time, it has devastated the lives of millions of people for centuries.

Blame our brain.

If our world feels out of control and we notice our lives have become a patterned theme of good times and then bad or happiness following sadness, is it possible our brains have been wired this way?

Yes.

Complex Trauma is the underlying cause that lurks in our background. Our brains are the master organism that is designed to keep us safe. Becoming aware of the patterns it has developed to enable us to live, cope and relate, is the first step in creating awareness.

Evolving research over the last 25 years has exposed this field of study, opening new doors into successful, trauma recovery. We are pioneers in this field and our programs effectively transform Complex Trauma at the deepest levels.

It is more than developing a positive attitude or changing our negative thoughts for positive ones. True transformation and healing comes from self-awareness, uncovering the root cause and learning how to rewire our brains to achieve successful outcomes.

Life can and does change. Visit our website to learn how.

Narcissist – the world revolves around them and they need constant validation and praise

Co-Narcissist – feeds the narcissist

If someone were to tell me six years ago that I was a narcissist, I would have been extremely offended. I would probably proceed to disprove their beliefs by targeting their core shame beliefs about themselves… which is one of the characteristics of a narcissist that wants to remain superior. 

Understanding that a narcissist is a bi-product of extreme abuse and shame was a huge reliever and eye opener for me. To be able to look back and see that this role was handed down through the generations from my grandmother, to my mother, and then down to me was a very humbling but rather scary experience.

It was well known that our family had the structure of a matriarchy. The women ‘wore the pants’ in the family and everyone around them had to take up a co-narcissist role to support the ‘queen’. Throughout my childhood, the role I took on was either the invisible child, the hero, or the scapegoat for the narcissist’s bad behaviour. My mom was a scary monster who demanded to be ‘fed’ almost every moment of every day. If she wasn’t ‘fed’, there was a lot of hurt coming to the person who was closest to her at the time.

As an adult, my relationship roles toggled between narcissistic and covert narcissism. It was all I knew at that time. These were the only roles I was exposed to as a child. I was either demanding everyone to feed my ego or I was the quiet and shy person who manipulated everyone to meet her needs.

Understanding how these traits were passed down through the generations helped me not be so hard on myself for hurting so many people. I have felt great remorse and have made amends (where I can) for the hurts I have inflicted on others. I now know that my extreme abuse caused extreme shame which was the birthplace of my narcissism.

Through much hard work these last six years, I am able to now say that “that was who I was then – but it isn’t who I am now”. It is a continuous journey for me to relearn how to ‘adult’ in a healthy way but with each passing day, I am … ‘becoming’.

With Love,

Anita Gladu

Since the start of RE/ACT, I have noticed that the ‘emotions’ week is a very tough but important week. My goal in designing this week was not to stir up painful emotions and leave you sitting in them but rather to make you aware of your emotional world. I want you to be able to resolve painful emotions, and learn how to manage them in a healthy way; so that you will no longer go to Fight, Flight, or Freeze whenever you experience a painful emotion. I hope that you have learned some tools to do that, and have seen that getting healthy and staying clean are dependent on you developing a higher EQ (Emotional Quotient).

I want to give you two perspectives that I hope will encourage you:

  1. Throughout my life, I have seen many people go through similar experiences that involved intense pain but I have seen people respond to it differently. Some become angry and bitter and some shut down and try not to feel; but others walk into the pain, learn the lessons of it, figure out what they need to do to resolve it, and grow as a result of it. In other words, the same pain makes some people stronger and better, whereas it makes others weaker and sicker. It is dependent on how people choose to respond to it.
  2. I heard someone make an observation once, and it really impacted me. It was that as you look at history, you discover that the people God used for the greatest tasks were those who have experienced the greatest pain, and allowed it to shape their character in a positive way.

Complex Trauma created tons of pain that a child could not resolve so, in order to survive, they had to go to Fight, Flight, or Freeze. My hope for each of you is that you apply the tools you have learned so that the pain that used to send you in negative directions will now make you stronger and better. 

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

In my childhood, when my parents fought, I was never talked to after about the situation and how I felt about it. Neither of my parents said, ‘We’re sorry that happened in front of you”, “It isn’t your fault’ or asked, “How did it make you feel that you had to witness that?”

I didn’t have the tools to process what had happened around me. Instead, I would do one of two things, hide in my room, which led to stuffing or when I was old enough, flight or run to a family member or friend’s house. My feelings or emotions never mattered, I didn’t know how to identify with them because I was never taught how to.

I learned that when things were “good” between my parents, life was okay. It became my life’s mission to make everyone and everything okay.

After my parents divorced when I was 20, my mother fell apart. She had been with my father since she was 18. She lost everything she thought she knew; I understood and recognized that being a wife and mother was her identity. This was the time it came for me to “fix” everyone else as she wasn’t able to. The goal was to make everyone better and happy.

My doctor thought it would be a good idea for me to start seeing a psychologist at this time. I reluctantly went. My first visit he asked me how I was doing. I replied “I’m good”. He said “Krista, how are you really doing?” No one had ever asked me that before. Since when did I matter? He then said,

“Krista, you know it’s okay if you’re not okay”.

Those words changed me and my life after that. He gave me permission to be angry and sad and to feel those emotions for the first time. To allow them to start coming out. How to deal with them and sort out my childhood and how it affected me was a different matter.

That process has led me to today. I had to fail miserably before I could get back. RE/ACT finally gave me those answers. In writing these words, I realize, all of my heartache and pain could have been saved if my parents had provided me with the tools to identify and deal with my emotions and have had them themselves.

With Love,

Krista Michie 

As a child growing up, conflict was avoided by all of my elders. So much so that an abuser was able to remain in my family and  in close contact with children for generations. It was apparent to me at a young age that bringing light to problems or issues in my family dynamic was considered inconsiderate, vengeful and it showed a lack of trust.

Another example of this was in the schoolyard. In my younger years, conflict was not allowed in school. All the kids had to play together, even if they didn’t like each other. Everyone had to be included even if they were bullies or were being bullied.

Over the years, this feeling of disrespect grew. I felt unheard and it boiled in me like lava.

I had no understanding of healthy conflict. I viewed all conflict as bad and I wanted it to be dealt with immediately. This leads me to my teenage years. This is when we generally all start to see conflict everywhere in our lives and around us. I was so tired of feeling hurt, quieted, and overlooked that I aimed to gain tools for conflict resolution from anyone who was willing to teach it to me.

I learned to fight, both physically and verbally. I considered superior-inferior dynamics in every situation and used it to my advantage – by belittling others. I would escalate emotionally and yell or hit things when I was angry or upset and then reason my emotions saying ‘I do these things to express my true pain and hurt because otherwise people won’t really understand how I feel.” With this, I felt a sense of resolution, but it was not the conflict, but rather my ego that was being resolved. Knowing this, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that being a lawyer, police officer or corrections officer was at the top of my career list.

As time passes though, you start to recognize that the resolution you came to with each conflict was not necessarily the one you intended. I did not intend to ruin my relationships, or build mistrust and fear, but that’s exactly what I did. 

It was actually my career path that led me to educate myself more on conflict resolution. I started taking courses to prepare myself for entrance into corrections and this made me aware of how poor my coping skills were and how little coping tools I really had. 

Through practice, patience, and awareness, I have better tools now to resolve conflict. I still struggle when the other party is not willing to, or needs time to process, as this relates back to childhood when I had to sit in pain while others went on with their lives.

Now with the understanding that apologizing and owning your mistakes is one key to making conflict healthy instead of unhealthy, I am able to better address conflict in my day to day life and help others find a healthy sense of resolution.

With Love,

Kari Keam

Some of the main questions I get asked by clients during emotions week is “How do I calm down my emotional triggers?”, “What is the answer?” and “Can you give us the exact formula?”

As I’ve gone through the experience of figuring out how to calm myself down over the years, and as I’ve counselled many clients including children, I’ve learned there is not, nor will there ever be a one size calculated answer for these questions, and that frustrates many clients! Especially the ones who are more prone to wanting fast answers and quick results. It depends how they process their emotions (verbal processors vs. thinkers; crying physically vs.  talking it out) it depends on their personality (quiet, talkative, serious, silly, introvert or extrovert). It depends on the trigger or situation(private or public) and it depends on their underlying unresolved issues like shame and mental health as that will determine to what extent they distort the information in their heads and emotions and it helps give an idea of how long that distortion trigger may last.

I have learned there are 3 categories of regulation (which is just a fancy word for calming down emotions and getting back to baseline).

  1. Limbic brain regulation – right brain to right brain claiming of the fight, flight or freeze system – calming of the emotional/ body part of the brain. Remember this is the part of the brain responsible for immediate relief, instant pleasure/ reward, emotions, senses, smell, sight, sound, taste and body.
    • This is where you connect with the emotion of the person who is upset by empathy and validation of pain (even if it may be distorted! They will come around in a bit once they’re calm)
    • Empathic facial expressions, validation of he emotion through empathetic sounds or short phrases such as “Hmmm”, “That sounds hard” “I’m sorry that happened to you”, “That is really overwhelming” or “I can’t imagine how you feel”
    • Naming the emotion. In child counselling this is called “name it to tame it” – science states that simply naming the feeling that someone might be feeling will release dopamine into the brain and calm down the limbic system. For example: “Does that hurt?”, “That is scary”, “Do you feel lonely?” or “You must be angry”. All of these phrases help organize the chaos of the limbic brain.
    • Just look at them and listen, put your hand on their shoulder and not say anything.
    • Art activities or expression of emotions
    • Calm the body down or get emotions out through the body (yelling, screaming, hitting pillows)
    • Connecting with the earth elements is grounding for the senses (earth – sand, grass, rocks, trees; fire, wind; water – hot baths, hot showers, swimming, beach, a long slow mindful handwash)
    • Massage, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxing, body scan, mindfulness visualizations (PTSD coach is a great app)
    • Yoga and deep breathing together or apart
  1. Logic – left brain to left brain connection – connecting with the thinking part of the brain. Remember this is the part of the brain that is responsible for long term, big picture multiple perspectives, logic, reason, details, order and language. Some ways to calm down with logic:
    • The person that is helping you try to regulate fills out your thinking with other pieces of the puzzle that you may be seeing due to your emotional reactions (essentially they speak for your cortex that is currently out of order). They may remind you of the big picture rather than the immediate moment with phrases such as “I don’t think that person meant they do not like you by making that comment. Look at all the ways they have been consistent with you and cared for you over the years(and they list examples).
    • The person may help you calm down your emotions by problem solving the issue – helping you make a pros and cons list, or thinking about it and analyzing it from many different angles.
    • The person may help you by thinking of the long term consequences of giving into your emotions and impulses – “You will feel really bad about yourself tomorrow if you binge eat tonight, and you will probably feel worse than you do right now with shame and feeling heavy in your body”, “Maybe journaling is better” and “Let’s talk it out”.
    • Again, the focus here is words, language and using the mind – challenging distorted thoughts exercise through Cognitive behaviour therapy would fall in this category.
  1. Space – sometimes people just need to put the problem, situation on the ‘back burner of the stove’ of their mind for a while and distract themselves for a bit (with the intention of coming back to it later to process it). This could include:
    • Going for a walk, drive
    • Going to your room and watching a funny show, reading a book, completing some work or another task
    • Just going on with day to day life until you are ready and have the time and energy to sit down and do the internal work of processing. This may be a few days or a week or even longer and that is okay, again, if you have the intention of coming back to it.

A person who prefers space needs to hear phrases like “I love you, and I am here for you when you are ready to work this out”, “I’m making you a snack while you take a break from this”, “I will be sitting right outside your door ready to talk when you are” and “I’ll be praying for you while you take some space”. These phrases help the person know you are still with them in the space and they are holding you in their thoughts and heart, even in the space. It helps them not feel abandoned, but rather very supported.

Activities that can use logic and emotion: poetry and music

Sometimes a person needs a mix of all three. Sometimes they need emotional before logic. Sometimes they need logic before emotional. Sometimes they never need the emotional and only the logic. And sometimes they just need space and then they can engage in one or both of the styles. Another point is some people need to and prefer to engage in these styles on their own, and others need other people often. If you noticed from the above descriptions there are two ways to regulate – by yourself and with another person (or with your higher power). The ones that involve another person form amazing brain circuits to help the person calm down. This is called co-regulation (a fancy word for describing that another person is present in your pain and mirroring you for how to calm down which actually calms you down better and faster). The design of co-regulation is that a child is supposed to get co-regulation from their parents consistently. It is not until that age of nine that a child has the capacity to take all the skills their parents taught them and try to calm down on their own.

The goal is that consistent co-regulation helps one self-regulate more consistently and confidently. They are then able to reach out for co-regulation only then they really need it or are really stuck rather than every single time they feel uncomfortable.

My style is a mix of all three; but I generally default to needing the limbic brain regulation first. Once my limbic brain is calm either through a hug, crying by myself, with Jesus, with my friend, or a hot shower, then my cortex comes back online and I’m able to sort things out much better.

What is your mix of regulation or preferred style(s)?

With Love,

Marie Thiessen