It’s about more than thoughts and feelings.

Lots of complex trauma symptoms aren’t just thoughts and feelings. 

When we think of psychological struggles, we often think of painful thoughts and feelings. 

Very often discussions of psychotherapy revolve around cognitive therapy— a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts and feelings. 

When we think of therapy or recovery meetings, we think of people talking to each other about their feelings. 

But many times trauma symptoms, notably flashbacks, AREN’T confined to thoughts or feelings. 

Rather, we “feel” them…everywhere. 

Lots of people reading this know what it’s like to get triggered, to be thrust into flashback…and for our ENTIRE body to respond. 

My own pattern of physical responsiveness when I’m triggered is shaking and shivering. 

Often we’re not even all that aware of the thoughts or feelings that accompany getting triggered, because our body’s physical reactions are so overwhelming. 

Sometimes when we’re triggered we’re actually separated from our thoughts and feelings, at least for a moment, by dissociation. 

When we experience an emotional flashback in particular, it’s not so much that we’re thinking in child-like ways or feeling things we felt as a child (though that does happen)— it’s that we feel LIKE a child. 

In my experience, talking ourselves through a flashback or abreaction is incredibly important— but it’s only the start. 

The aftereffects of abuse, neglect, and other trauma don’t just distort our thinking or hurt our feelings— they get hard wired into the physical cells and reflexes of our body. 

Because of this, many trauma therapists feel that physical movement and soothing is central to trauma recovery. 

Some theorists, such as Peter Levine, believe that getting trapped in traumatic situations short circuits our instinct to flee and escape a dangerous situation— and that to resolve trauma symptoms, we need the opportunity to physically discharge the energy from our thwarted escape attempt. 

Many people who utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) techniques in their therapy or recovery describe its impact not just on their thoughts and feelings, but on their overall physical reactivity. 

Some people report that tapping on various points of their face and body, like proponents of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) recommend, helps create change in their body as well as their thoughts and feelings as they work to integrate trauma. 

People who have experimented with the “HeartMath” technique report a similar phenomenon— that it takes their recovery work beyond thoughts and feelings, and anchors it in their physical self. 

The research literature on what works and doesn’t work in trauma recovery can be complicated and sometimes confusing. There are valid criticisms of the way psychological research is conducted in general— and it’s hard to make generalizations about what will work for specific people, based on what’s performed well in a research trial. 

People and their traumatic experiences can be very, very different from each other. 

What works to heal them may look very, very different— and it may not necessarily conform to the “by the book” application of ANY known healing technique. 

What we DO know is that healing often has to go beyond what we think and feel. 

Trauma hits is in the body as well as the mind— so we have to pay attention to our body if we want to realistically recover. 

This might mean more than talk therapy or support groups. 

Keep an open mind. 

Keep your recovery focused on you. 

And remember: it’s not just about thoughts and feelings. 

I think I heard somewhere that “the body keeps the score.” 

No. You’re not an “oversensitive needy piece of sh*t.”

I hate when people oversimplify the concept of “ask for what you need.” 

With complex trauma survivors it’s just not that simple. 

Complex trauma survivors have not only a complicated relationship with our needs— we have a complicated relationship with the very IDEA of HAVING needs. 

Of all the words that tend to be repulsive to a complex trauma survivor, “needy” is among the MOST repulsive. 

We’ve often learned to blame ourselves— specifically, the fact that we have needs— for what happened to us. 

Sometimes we’ve had experiences where we HAVE expressed our needs, we HAVE asked for our needs to be met— and had it all used against us. 

Sometimes when we’ve expressed our needs, we’ve been mocked. 

Sometimes we’ve been ignored. 

Sometimes we’ve been refused in ways that were cruel— even scarring.

The thing about the very concept of having “needs” is, it’s necessarily entwined with the concept of vulnerability. 

Complex trauma survivors tend to be EXQUISITELY aware of how vulnerable expressing our needs makes us. 

After all, when we express our needs— let alone ask for them to be filled— we are showing someone else a vulnerable side of ourselves. 

I HATE when people frame “ask for what you need” as a matter of courage versus fear. 

It’s just not that simple specially for victims of abuse and neglect. 

I’ll spoil the suspense: you’re NOT an “oversensitive, needy piece of sh*t” for just wanting— or needing— to be comforted when you’re feeling sh*tty…no matter how you feel. 

(Yes, I took that turn of phrase word for word from someone— not a patient of mine— who expressed feeling that way.) 

Needing comfort does not make you child-like. 

Needing support does not make you weak. 

Most human needs are universal— and when we’ve had experiences like abuse or neglect that deplete our resources and damage our nervous system, those needs become even more important. 

After all, as Abraham Maslow hypothesized, it’s really hard to get higher level needs, like self-esteem, met, if we’re still struggling with more basic needs, like shelter or safety. 

If you feel a certain kind of way about having needs, let alone expressing them, you’re not alone. 

If you struggle to identify your needs, you’re not alone. 

If you struggle to believe that you are worthy of getting even your most basic needs, like safety or comfort, met, you’re not alone. 

You need to know that that ambivalence about getting your needs met isn’t about fear or weakness. It’s about what you’ve been through. 

Complex trauma survivors, by definition, know the cost of vulnerability. 

We know the potential costs of being expressive about our needs. 

We know that there really ARE people and institutions out there that WILL take advantage of our neediness. That’s not our post traumatic imagination— that’s real. 

The thing is: it’s far, far riskier to NOT be in touch with your needs, than it is to realistically acknowledge your needs. 

Yes, we often have to pick and choose how and to whom we express our needs. Yes, the pool of safe people to be openly “needy” around is often smaller than we’d prefer. 

But we’re not gonna realistically recover if we deny, disown, and stuff our needs indefinitely. 

Needs, like feelings, don’t stay stuffed. 

As the saying goes, we banish them to the basement— and they go down there and lift weights. 

It’s never “just” grief.

It’s never “just” grief. 

Grief and loss have a way of triggering so much more than grief. 

Coping with a loss is bad enough— but very often, especially for trauma survivors, grief and loss trigger a cascade of symptoms and memories that just make everything else more complicated and painful. 

If you have an addiction, grief has a way of turning up the heat and making your well-rehearsed coping and safety strategies seem far away. 

If you struggle with an eating disorder, your ED will often find a way to twist your experience of grief into a perfectly reasonable-sounding argument for why you’d feel better if you just skipped a meal or three. 

If you struggle with depression, grief has a way of making all the work you’ve done in learning to talk to yourself in more realistic, compassionate ways seem stupid and trivial. 

If you struggle with complex trauma, grief has a way of throwing open the doors to memories that you may have thought you’d processed— or you may have not even been aware of— to come flooding in. 

Our temptation is often to try to compartmentalize grief. To keep it over here, until we feel we have the bandwidth to return to it. 

But grief is like trauma in that it has a tendency to quietly seep over and under every psychological barrier we try to put in its path. 

The thing about grief is, it doesn’t hit the same way twice. 

Sometimes a loss hits us and knocks the wind out of us— leaving us almost dissociated from it’s true impact. I always think of the character of Pete Campbell on “Mad Men,” who, after he was informed his father had been killed in a plane crash, blankly asked Don Draper, “Am I going to cry?” 

Some losses feel like they tear right through you. Literally shred you. 

Some losses feel like an atomic blast that you see and hear from miles away, unfolding in slow motion, almost unreal. 

Very often a loss will trigger some of our least adaptive coping strategies to surface and do their thing. 

It’s really, really hard to take care of ourselves when we’re hit by a loss. 

The temptation can often be to try to take care of everyone around us. Part of us might think we can keep our grief at arm’s length if we reframe OUR responsibility here. 

But we can’t. Not really. 

Even if grief is kept at arm’s length— it’ll wait there, patiently, until our arm gets tired. 

We need to remember, when we get hit with a loss, that the game hasn’t changed in terms of what we need to do to protect our safety and stability. 

The temptation is to throw out all our recovery stuff. 

I did that once, when impacted by a loss. I don’t recommend it. 

It’s REAL important that we remember the things we’e established we NEED on the daily to stay stable and safer. 

I’m always talking about how we don’t get days off from recovery— and that includes days when we’re trying to keep our head above water after a loss. 

The basic tools of recovery— internal communication, self-compassion, time and energy management, activation of internal resources, safe space imagery— all become EXTRA important when we’re grieving. 

Everybody reading this has had to cope with loss. Everybody reading this has had, and will have, to face the question of how do we stay stable and safer even as we grieve. 

The answer to that is the same as the answer to a lot of other “in recovery, how do I…?” questions. 

One day at a time. 

Trauma can make us allergic to small talk.

You and I are not for everyone— and that’s okay. 

Although there’s going to be a voice in your head that is going to try, hard, to insist that it’s NOT okay. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve had experiences in your life that not everybody is going to understand. 

Those experiences may not be easy to explain. Trying to explain them may cause embarrassment or spike shame in us. 

The reactions and responses those experiences have created in us may not be easy to explain. And they’re often VERY difficult for other people to understand. 

The truth is, after we’ve ben through certain things, our capacity to relate to other people is often altered. 

We often have difficultly relating to people who can’t, or won’t, understand what we’ve been through. 

And we can’t just ignore that fact. 

It took me a long time to accept that I was never probably going to have a relationship of much depth with people who didn’t share at least some of the experiences I’ve had. 

Because there’s no explaining— not really— what I go through when my addiction is pouring poison in my ear. 

There’s no explaining— not really— what I go through when my instinctive fear and hatred of abandonment is spiked because of something in the present that’s triggered memories of the past. 

I may WANT to explain those things to someone— but the real truth is, not everybody on the planet is going to “get” it. Not really. 

So we’re faced with the reality that having experienced certain things DOES kind of limit the pool of human beings with whom we’re probably going to have particularly deep friendships or relationships. 

This used to make me really sad. 

Like every complex trauma survivor, I was already convinced that there was something “wrong” with me, and I didn’t feel I could particularly AFFORD for the pool of friends and relationship partners out there to be any smaller than it already was. 

Now, I feel a little differently. 

One of the things experiencing trauma tends to do to many people, myself included, is it decimates any inclination we ever had to engage in small talk or superficial conversations. 

It took me a LONG time to realize that my massive social anxiety was at least partially due to the fact that my past has left me almost allergic to talking about the weather. 

I know now that the people with whom I’m ever going to be particularly close are probably going to be those people who, like me, like to dive deep— who see no point in playing in the shallow end of the pool. 

I know I’m not for everyone. My intensity; my complexity; my struggles and what I’ve had to do to conquer and contain those struggles— they’re all working against me when it comes to establishing and enjoying uncomplicated relationships. 

But I know now that’s okay. 

I know now that those experiences, as painful as they’ve been, have actually made it so that I’m FORCED to examine the questions of what I want and need in relationships. 

They’ve FORCED me to ask questions about who I am that I might not have otherwise gotten around to. 

 I wouldn’t say I’m grateful for these reflective opportunities. I’m not, particularly. 

But I am at the point where I don’t hate the fact that my past has probably limited my prospects for friendships and relationships. 

After all, who wants to talk about the weather anyway? 


Dealing with regret in trauma recovery can be really tricky. 

A lot of trauma recovery is letting go of things we weren’t responsible for and accepting things we could not change. 

That work is hard enough for most survivors. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that the things we endured were our fault. 

Often in recovery, we’re exhorted to “take responsibility” for our lives— which, to a lot of people, seems to mean blaming ourselves for whatever we went through and the emotions and behaviors that have developed in the aftermath. 

What we learn in trauma recovery is that the truth of “taking responsibility” is often nuanced: while it ABSOLUTELY requires us to take responsibility for the choices and responses we DO have influence over, it also requires us to place appropriate blame on the bullies and abusers who caused us pain in the past, and relinquish our need to control emotions and behaviors that we DON’T have influence over. 

Sorting through all of that can be a bitch. It can take awhile. We can’t rush it and we can’t be glib about it. 

Then there’s regret. Things we did, and wish we hadn’t. Things that we wish every day we had the chance to do over or undo. 

Sometimes our regrets are related to our trauma history, but in my experience, often they’re not. 

My own regrets deal mostly with my relationship history. 

My brain loves to remind me of times when I didn’t express things I should have expressed; when my boundaries were either too rigid or too relaxed; when I prioritized my comfort and what I perceived to be my emotional safety over authenticity and intimacy. 

I can look at my relationship history and see where my experience as a survivor of complex trauma influenced my behavior in relationships and friendships—  but while contextualizing my behavior can help explain some of it, it doesn’t change that a lot of my relationship decisions in the past strike me now as infuriatingly immature and inauthentic. 

When we think of our regrets, we tend to cringe. 

And for survivors of complex trauma, it’s REAL easy to let that train of thought lead us to a pretty dark place. 

Complex trauma survivors often believe we are broken. That we just can’t function normally, especially in relationships. That we’re hopeless and may as well not even try to get close to people. 

The truth is, human beings of EVERY background struggle with relationships at times, and making poor relationship decisions shouldn’t mean a “sentence” of lifelong loneliness for ANYONE; but because complex trauma survivors come with the baggage we come with, it’s easy for us to get into that groove when we’re reflecting on our relationship history. 

It is for me, anyway. 

If you follow my work, you know the emphasis I place on self-compassion. Talking ourselves through rough moments. Being on our own side, having our own back. 

It’s REALLY hard to do that when we’ve been ruminating on our regrets. Particularly our relationship failures. 

The bitch of it is: it’s in those moments, when it’s REALLY hard, that it’s MOST important to be on our own side. 

To have our own back. To not abandon ourselves. 

To not buy in to what we were told about ourselves once upon a time by our bullies and abusers. To not repeat the behavior of our bullies and abusers toward us. 

Tonight, I’m really struggling with relationship regrets. And, just like many survivors of complex trauma, i’m convinced that nobody in the universe could possibly understand my pain, its complexity, its nuance. 

After all, I, like every complex trauma survivor out there, believe that I’m fundamentally alone in my pain, fundamentally unique in my brokenness. 

But I’m not. 

And part of me knows that, too. 

It’s a part of me I’ve developed, on purpose, in the course of my recovery. 

We all need to cultivate a part of us that can sit with the hurt, angry, lonely part of us on nights like this one— when thinking about our regrets has led us down a path. 

We cultivate that compassionate, supportive part of ourselves the same way we develop any part of us: one day at a time, with intentionality and consistency. 

You’re not alone. 

Neither am I. 

Complex trauma and feeling “in trouble.”

Feeling “in trouble” is a major trigger for a LOT of complex trauma survivors. 

It’s a VERY familiar feeling for many of us. It takes us back decades. 

One of the most common triggers to an emotional flashback is feeling “in trouble.” 

It’s also one of the hardest triggers to talk about, because by the time we’re adults we’re supposed to have gotten over that anxiety. 

Adults aren’t “supposed” to freak out at feeling “in trouble.” 

And yet— we do. 

We’re often very good at concealing it, but feeling “in trouble” often absolutely destroys complex trauma survivors. 

Many of us were controlled for a long time with guilt and shame. 

Many of us functioned for a long time under the threat of physical, verbal, or emotional violence. 

Many of us became VERY attuned to the “early warning signs” of being disapproved of. 

Feeling like we’re “in trouble” hits nearly the same trigger button as feeling disliked or rejected. 

We know what comes next— rejection, maybe attack. 

That may or may not be what’s going on in the here and now— but it’s what happened once upon a time, back then…and our nervous system learned to respond to those threat cues. 

Now, as adults, we carry those threat cues around with us. 

We can tell our nervous system that it’s time to give up that hypervigilance— but if you’ve ever tied to have a rational, reasonable conversation with your nervous system, you likely know how that turns out. 

Our nervous system isn’t interested in “rational” or “reasonable.” 

Our nervous system is interested in keeping us as far away from threatening situations and people as possible. 

Over the course of years, our nervous system paid very close attention to the kinds of cues and signals that preceded threatening or violent situations— and it red-flagged them. 

Now, whenever we get even a hint of a whiff of those cues, those red flags spring up— and our nervous system springs into action. 

Feeling “in trouble” can make us feel ashamed. 

It can make us feel young. 

It can make us feel confused and powerless. 

Often, these reactions happen at a gut, instinctual level. They’re not reasoned, thought out, intentional responses. 

That is to say: we may not be able to completely prevent those reactions from happening. 

What we CAN do, though, is recognize what’s going on when it’s going on. 

We CAN learn to recognize the thoughts, feelings, images, and body sensations that go with that “in trouble” trigger. 

We CAN learn to recognize when we’re in an emotional flashback— and from there, the task of MANAGING what’s going on is similar to any OTHER flashback. 

We use our senses to get grounded. 

We talk ourselves through it. 

We use our grounding routines and totems. 

We remind ourselves of who we are, what we’re all about, and when and where we are. 

We breathe; blink; and focus. 

Emotional flashbacks are no fun. Emotional flashbacks are among the most confusing and debilitating symptomatology that occurs in complex post traumatic disorders. 

All we can do is what we can do: recognize them for what they are, and handle them step by step. 

The knowledge and skills you develop in recovery will serve and maybe save you every time. 

“Taking responsibility” is NOT the same as self-blame.

I agree— in order to meaningfully recover from trauma, addiction, or anything, else, we DO have to take responsibility for how we feel and function. 

But “taking responsibility” seems to have very different, and sometimes loaded, meanings for people. 

There is a subset of people who seem to think that trauma therapy and recovery is all about blame. 

They resist trauma therapy and recovery because they don’t want to fall into the trap of blaming other people for how they feel and function. They want to “take responsibility.” 

I fully understand not wanting to blame others. And I fully understand wanting to take responsibility for your life. 

But it’s important to remember that realistically taking responsibility means untangling some of the issues surrounding whether the things that happened TO you were your “fault.” 

Many people in trauma recovery experienced abuse or neglect in their early lives that they came to feel responsible for. 

It is OVERWHELMINGLY common for survivors of abuse or neglect to arrive at a narrative that they must not have been “worthy” of love and safety— otherwise, why would the things that happened to them have occurred? 

We often know it doesn’t make “rational” sense. We know that kids don’t ask to be abused, or cannot “make” a caregiver neglect them. 

But nonetheless we carry around this sense that it MUST be our fault somehow. 

We MUST not be good enough. Lovable enough. We MUST not have been attractive or entertaining enough to AVOID having been abused or neglected. 

Those messages die hard in the gut of a trauma survivor. 

Fast forward to adulthood, and we’re faced with recovery tasks that ask us to “take responsibility.” 

Unfortunately, many survivors struggle to separate the concept of “taking responsibility” for their recovery from the self-blame and toxic shame they’ve experienced for years. 

If we’re actually going to take care of the child you once were, and who you still carry around with you in your head and heart now, we NEED to affirm for ourselves that there is NOTHING shameful about having experienced trauma. 

As painful as some of the things were that we experienced, there is NOTHING about us that inherently invited those experiences. 

There may be LOTS of reasons why we WERE abused or neglected— but NONE of those reasons revolve around your “responsibility,” as a victim, to prevent those things from occurring. 

How do we ACTUALLY “take responsibility” for our recovery as adults? 

It’s not by blaming ourselves for our past vulnerability or pain. 

It’s by learning the skills and tools we need TODAY to keep our focus on thing we CAN effect, things we CAN change. 

We CAN take responsibility for focusing on THIS moment. 

We CAN take responsibility for identifying old patterns and experimenting— however awkwardly— with new ones. 

We CAN take responsibility for pushing back against the narrative of self-blame and shame that has been pushed at us by our culture, and maybe even by certain people around us, for years. 

As a person in recovery and as a therapist who supports people in their recovery, believe me, I am all ABOUT responsibility. 

But I’m all about REAL responsibility. 

Not the bullsh*t catchphrase buzzword thrown around for likes and retweets on social media by people who think self-shaming and blaming the kid we once were EVER accomplished anything therapeutic. 

Acknowledging trauma is not about “making excuses.”

Trauma recovery isn’t about making “excuses.” 

I’ve worked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of trauma survivors. I’ve never once met one who was primarily looking to “excuse” ways they’ve behaved or treated others. 

Trauma recovery IS about understanding. 

It IS about giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. 

It IS about meeting who we were, and who we are, with compassion and trust, rather than cynicism and hostility. 

Many people come to trauma recovery not thrilled with how they’ve lived their life. 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to feel that you’ve alienated people you used to be close to. 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to have missed out on or sabotaged professional opportunities. (I know that feeling VERY well.) 

Many people reading this know what it’s like to walk around feeling like you simply having lived up to your “potential.” 

Eventually we come to understand that a lot of what we have or haven’t done in our lives may be related to trauma we’ve endured and our nervous systems’ conditioned responses to trauma…but even then, many of us are resistant to really wrapping our heads around that fact. 

After all, we don’t want to make “excuses.” 

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that WE are the problem— and that to acknowledge what may have contributed to our behavior is making an “excuse.” 

Almost every trauma survivor I’ve ever worked with has been very clear that they are NOT interested in “making excuses” for anything. 

In fact, many trauma survivors struggle to even acknowledge the role trauma might have played in their behavior, specifically because they don’t want to avoid responsibility. 

Here’s the thing, though: understanding what’s going on with us is not making an “excuse.” 

There is a BIG difference between an excuse and an explanation. 

The vast majority of the survivors I’ve worked with very much want to understand what the hell is going on with them— but they also very much do not want to reject what they’ve been told is their “responsibility” to “own” their behavior and reactions. 

We can only “own” our behavior and reactions when we understand them in context. 

And we can only realistically change them when we meet what’s going on with us with acceptance and compassion. 

NOBODY has ended up in trauma recovery because they planned or wanted it. 

NOBODY planned or wanted abuse, neglect, or other trauma to dramatically affect their beliefs, thinking, emotions, and behavior. 

EVERYBODY in trauma recovery is in a process of discovering and understanding what the hell is going on. Making it make sense. 

If we’re hell bent on judging ourselves for situations and reactions we didn’t freely choose, we’re NOT going to meaningfully understand what the hell is going on. 

If we start out from a place of judging our past self for reactions that were the result of trauma conditioning, we’re only going to stay at war with our current self. 

I know. Exploring our trauma history and our past behavior with curiosity and compassion is a tall order— ESPECIALLY when we’ve been conditioned to hate and judge ourselves for what we’ve experienced and what we’ve done. 

But self-acceptance is a bedrock of recovery. 

We’re not going to recovery and shame and reject ourselves at the same time. 

We’re not going to forgive and judge our past self at the same time. 

We’re not going to understand and vilify our nervous system responses at the same time. 

Understanding ourselves isn’t about making “excuses.” 

It’s about meaningfully constructing a future— and, when we need to, making amends— WITHOUT having to worry about making excuses. 

The most important boundaries we can set.

The toughest boundaries I ever set were with myself. 

And they are STILL the toughest boundaries I have to enforce every day. 

Growing up, I learned to relate to myself a certain way. Talk to myself a certain way. 

Lots of us grew up learning to relate and talk to ourselves in certain ways that didn’t exactly make us feel awesome. 

Why? Because that’s how we were related to. That’s how we were talked to. 

When we were abused, bullied, or neglected growing up, yes, it’s awful— but it’s also instructive. It “teaches” us what we’re supposedly worth. 

It “teaches” us how we “should” be talked to. 

We get USED to being related to and talked to like we are not worthy. It becomes familiar. 

We internalize it. We learn to talk to ourselves in aways that are self-downing, dismissive, mean. 

Then, when people come along and actually treat us with respect or kindness, it feels…off. Wrong. Weird. 

The reason for that is because it clashes with our conditioning— but we don’t know that. 

All we know is, we have a “feel” for what we “deserve”—and what we “deserve” is to be put down. 

Most of this happens implicitly. We don’t wake up one day and DECIDE that we’re going to treat ourselves like sh*t, because we’ve only BEEN treated like sh*t. 

It just becomes part of our conditioning. Part of our programming. Often the cornerstone, the baseline of our conditioning. 

When I got into recovery, a lot of the stuff I was learning felt “wrong”— because it clashed with what I was used to. 

Recovery asks us to be kind to ourselves. 

Recovery asks us to be on our own side. 

Recovery asks us to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. 

My conditioning tells me that I don’t deserve ANY of that. My conditioning told me that suggesting I deserved kindness was some sort of “excuse.” That it was me trying to get out of what I “deserved.” 

Turns out: we can’t recover AND talk to ourselves like we’re someone we hate at the same time. 

We have to set limits on how we talk to ourselves. 

When our conditioning nudges us to behave in self-harmful or self-sabotaging ways, we have to set limits with it. 

We have to set boundaries with ourselves. 

And it’s hard. 

My brain wants what my brain wants, when my brain wants it. And if what it wants is to beat the living sh*t out of me, it feels “wrong” to set a boundary— even if that boundary is just, “I will not beat the sh*t out of myself.” 

Sometimes my brain wants to relapse. I have to set a boundary with it— that we don’t relapse just because we want to. 

Boundaries of all sorts tend to be difficult for trauma survivors— but boundaries with ourselves are often the MOST difficult to stay consistent with. 

Our old programming, our old tapes, WILL kick back when we try to set a boundary. They will NOT like it. 

But we’re not in recovery to stay loyal to our old conditioning. 

We’re not in recovery to stay loyal to our old abusers. 

And that’s who we’re REALLY settling limits with when we set boundaries with our conditioning, isn’t it? 

Yes it is. 

Don’t abandon yourself for Christmas.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably no stranger to the pressure to pretend everything is “okay.” 

Especially at this time of year, with lots of us either opting in or roped into family commitments, the heat is often on to present to the world as, you know, “fine.” 

After all, nobody wants to be a downer. 

Nobody wants to develop a reputation as “bitter.” 

Nobody wants to be that person who ruins the Christmas party by being glum or complaining. 

So— we get in the habit of presenting to the world not what we really are or what we’re really feeling…but what we think, what we assume, THEY want us to be, THEY want us to fee, THEY want us to express. 

This isn’t to say that we’re always miserable, and always hiding it. 

It IS to say that we get in the habit of not really “being” ourselves— but playacting what “they” want. 

For many of us it’s a form of the “fawn” trauma response— playing along with what we think “they” expect or want, in hopes that in meeting “their” expectations, we might be more or less safe. 

Safe from what? Abandonment. Mockery. Shaming. 

It all feeds into this belief system we develop that we aren’t enough just as we are. 

That there’s something inherently WRONG with us. 

That we can be a lot of things to a lot of people— but we certainly can’t be authentic. 

After all, to be authentic is to risk— to risk being abandoned, mocked, shamed. Rejected. Hurt. 

This isn’t news to a lot of people reading this. A lot of people reading this are VERY familiar with this project of putting up a front all day, every day. 

The project of becoming who we think “they” want and expect. 

The thing is, there’s only so long we can do that before our self-esteem kind of collapses in on itself. 

Self-esteem is built on self-acceptance. 

It’s built on NOT denying, disowning, or rejecting who we really are, what we really feel, what we really need. 

When we build our entire LIVES on NOT being authentically us— our self-esteem suffers. 

We become convinced that our anxiety is right— maybe there really IS something wrong with us. 

We become convinced that we can’t possibly be authentic in ANY context, even our most important and intimate relationships— because what would happen if we WERE authentic, if we DID let our real feelings and experiences and needs show…and “they” didn’t like us? 

It’d be heartbreaking. 

Very often we’re not willing to risk that kind of humiliation or abandonment. 

No shame. Everyone reading this knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about. You’re definitely not alone. 

In recovery, we begin to rediscover— or maybe just discover for the first time— who we really are. 

We start to use our voice— our authentic voice— again…or maybe for the first time. 

We start to face up to our fear of abandonment— realizing that if we let that fear run our life, we are actually abandoning ourselves. 

Think about that. Denying and disowning who we are because we fear abandonment, IS actually abandonment— it’s US abandoning US. 

It’s REAL important we not abandon ourselves. 

We are, after all, the most important relationship in our life. 

We are with ourselves 24/7/365. We are talking to ourselves all day, every day. 

If ANY relationship is worth NOT sacrificing, it’s the relationship with ourselves. 

If you’re not okay, you’re not okay. Even if it is the holiday season. Even if you’re “supposed” to be okay. 

And you know what? That’s okay. Your not-okayness. 

You can make the decision whether or how much of ANY of it you reveal to ANYONE— but it’s real important you BE real with yourself. 

Your experiences, needs, and feelings matter. 

Okay, not okay, and otherwise.