Honoring The Lessons Of 2013

Let’s celebrate the New Year and welcome 2014 and all of its mystery and possibilities and honor the lessons of 2013.

One of the most common statements by family members and clients is, ” My life was wonderful and perfect, there is no trauma or causes, there is no reason for my despair, addiction, unhappy life, out of control behaviors, dysfunctional relationships, self harming behaviors, low self esteem, anger, anxiety….”fill in the blank”.

And then we begin the story telling process… Usually stories from other group members that begin to awaken a sleeping tiger. (Thanks to Peter Levine)

Clearly when someone is recommended to see a therapist or go to treatment there are signs and symptoms that are red flags indicating someone needs help.

Some of the reports that come from families are that their loved one is angry, depressed, anxious, shut down, or unmotivated, slovenly, unkempt or hyper-active and out of control or isolated and alone or has new, strange friends and out all night, or failing in school, changed eating, sleeping or social patterns or that they have been caught lying, cheating, stealing, using drugs, watching porn or self harming or dissociating or in an eating disorder and that these are new behaviors for their loved ones.

The challenge is to not give a quick diagnosis or medicate the signs and symptoms. The challenge is too recognize that the behaviors all make sense when you understand the “story” and that very often it is a “trauma” story.

So what stories are most prevalent? They are stories of inadequate and unhealthy attachment leading to difficulty in developing healthy relationships and the ability to survive and thrive in social environments. Created by circumstances often out of the control of parents or by parents who are stuck in a generational cycle of unhealthy or inadequate attachment.

Another story line is neglect and abandonment where an individuals needs were not met and that this was a consistent pattern. This pattern is a core arena for low self esteem and can set up a vulnerability to victimization or for many enormous resilience. Again parents are often stuck in a generational pattern of neglect and abandonment.

These “stories” don’t seem to be a “big” deal until you start outlining the layers of events that begin to weight very heavily on a spirit.

Childhood and adolescent health Issues loom large in explaining patterns of behaviors. Often, this is an arena for perceived abandonment and neglect, grief issues, loss of social engagement and isolation. The behaviors associated with sexual abuse and rape are often found in children with health issues because of physical intrusion, betrayal of the body, and strange adults in control of physical circumstances. So very often those events have been kept secret.

So let me describe a “typical” Trauma story:

Born into a normal family, middle class, both parents work. Child begins day care at 3yo or has caretaker at 3. Parents divorce at 7 yo, child later discovers there was an affair. Mom is really angry for a very long time. Dates several men but never remarries. Works a lot. Discovers porn on Dad’s computer at 8 yo. It is a comforting and exciting experience because he’s a lonely, latchkey kid. Has friends at school but bullied by 1 big kid who terrifies him. No one to tell. Does great in school, drinks and smoke pot around 13yo. Spends alternate weekends with Dad but there is a new step mom and other step children. Bullied by oldest but never tells anyone. Drinks and smokes pot in HS, has a few girlfriends,1 who cheats on him with best friend. Gets in lots of fights. Kicked out of school. Sent to Wilderness program for 6 months. Does well, enters college, starts to smoke just a little pot. 1 Girlfriend in college, gets pregnant, she has an abortion and he is terrified, sad and guilty. Discovers it was not his baby. Begins skipping class, drinking and drugging, watching lots of porn and masturbation. Introduced to OxyContin, gets hooked, stealing to get drug,gets arrested for possession, drops out of school, life out of control. Seeks treatment, again.

The behaviors make sense. Is he an addict? Probably, but also in jeopardy of chronic relapse unless we address his attachment issues, grief and loss of the perfect family, betrayal by Dad’s affair, combined with betrayal by girlfriends, bullying and it’s connection to not being protected and cared for in the family system. We must also address his porn and masturbation issues which are intricately connected to all of the attachment, grief and betrayal issues.

And finally, this work must be done with the family in a thoughtful and sensitive way, without blame and with everyone’s “perceptions” of the events honored and heard, because the family behaviors all make sense too when you understand how ALL the trauma stories intertwine. And intertwine they do. The very best work assists the whole family in the healing process. In later blogs we will discuss how that is best accomplished.

Have a Magical and Miraculous 2014.

In our next blog we will investigate Generational Trauma.