Our stories save us.

Often, our stories save us. 

You know the stories I mean. 

When we grow up abused; or bullied; or neglected; or otherwise in pain…our stories become REAL important to us. 

Sometimes they’re myths. Sometimes they’re fairy tales. 

Sometimes they’re movies. Sometimes they’re TV shows. 

Sometimes they’re even music videos. 

For me, it started with comic books. I was way into Superman. 

Here was a guy who could do ANYTHING he wanted. He could FLY. He could outrun anyone or anything. He was BULLETPROOF. Superman could have RULED THE WORLD if he’d wanted. 

But instead he chose to work a day job— and to use his overwhelming power to help people. 

That was a story that saved me. 

The Greek myths saved me. 

Stories of heroes and survivors, trying to stay alive and fulfill their destinies despite incurring the wrath of gods and nations— those themes spoke to me, as a kid who was trying to navigate a world where every day and every social interaction was…sad. 

Star Wars saved me. 

As a kid of a narcissistic, addicted father, I resonated strongly with Luke Skywalker’s struggle to find the good in his father— and to come to terms with the potentially dark legacy his father had left in his very genes. 

Superman, the Greek myths, Star Wars— they all had things I needed to hear, things I needed to know, woven into their very fabric. 

I find survivors of abuse and neglect often NEED those tales and heroes to keep going. 

We NEED to know that somewhere out there are people who aren’t like the ones we live with or encounter every day. 

We NEED to know that somewhere out there, someone imagined a world that was NOT full of pain or uncertainty every day. 

We NEED to know that heroism is possible. 

We NEED to know that even the most triumphant stories have their dark chapters. 

We NEED to know that somewhere out there are people who are just like us— who are struggling, who get hopeless and tired and frustrated and sad— and who persist anyway. 

We NEED to know that we are not alone…and, somehow the very existence of those stories makes us understand that we’re NOT alone. 

Many survivors reading this know what it is to be strongly attached to, invested in, stories. 

Whether it’s mythology or movies, sitcoms or novels, we return to our stories, again and again, even as adults. 

In my job as the Trauma Program director at a psychiatric hospital, I wear a lanyard around my neck with my ID and my hospital keys— a lanyard emblazoned with Star Wars characters. 

When my pediatric patients see m Star Wars lanyard, their eyes light up. 

They know, instinctively, the power of story. The power of myth. 

The power of hope. 

And that’s what we’re really talking about, isn’t it? 

Our stories remind us of who we are, what we’re all about…and they give us hope. 

They remind us that, as the saying goes, everything is going to be okay in the end. 

And if it’s not okay— it’s not the end of the story. 

The first step toward wrangling your emotions.

It’s hard to wrangle feelings until we put words to them. 

And it’s hard to put words to feelings until we’re willing to feel them. 

I know. Given what we feel sometimes, that can seem like an OVERWHELMING proposition. 

People who cheerfully tell us “healing starts with FEELING!” don’t know what they’re asking. 

Many people reading this have felt overwhelmed by their feelings for years. 

A disproportionate number of people who struggle with trauma-based disorders are highly sensitive people. 

Part of this could be because HSP’s are more vulnerable to trauma and post traumatic reactions in the first place; and part of this might be because trauma itself sensitizes and scrambles our ability to regulate— to turn the volume up or down— on how we feel. 

Either way: trauma survivors OFTEN feel our feelings turned WAY up. 

Trauma survivors very often feel STEAMROLLED by our emotions. 

We feel as if EVERYTHING effects us— a LOT. 

I can personally tell you that, for years, I actually avoided listening to certain pieces of beautiful or meaningful music— music that I loved— because I knew that listening to them would RUIN me for the rest of the day. 

Many survivors decide that the ONLY way we can keep our emotions KIND OF regulated is to cut them off entirely. 

(Dissociation might be thought of as the ultimate expression of this impulse— though we rarely “decide” to cope via dissociation. That “decision” is usually made FOR us by our nervous system.) 

Learning how to manage our feelings can be a long term project. By any measure, it’s a huge, often intimidating project. 

Lots of us have been coping— more or less successfully— for years by stuffing, denying, disowning, and ignoring our feelings. 

We’ve often NOT put words to them, because we don’t even want to KNOW about them. 

Putting words to them— naming them, getting real about what they are and what they’re all about— would make them real…and we DON’T want them to be real. 

Here’s the thing, though: our feelings ARE real. 

And they’re there— whether we want them to be or not, whether we acknowledge them or not. 

Whatever we think about our feelings, they ARE affecting our decisions. 

They’re affecting our very physiology. 

And if we’ve spent years denying  and disowning our feelings, chances are they’re affecting us in ways we don’t choose— and probably don’t like. 

At a certain point— we can’t afford to stay on autopilot when it comes to our feelings anymore. 

No matter how scary it is— we have to face them. 

We have to name them. 

We have to create a relationship with our emotional life that doesn’t run on denial and fear. 

The truth is, our feelings exist to help us survive. They’re our friends. 

Yes, they can seem overwhelming at times. Yes, when we’ve survived trauma, feeling ANYTHING often feels like being hit by a truck. 


But the fist step to reeling our feelings in, is to put words to them. 

To start developing our emotional vocabulary. 

To get to know these forces of nature within us— that have always been with us, since the day we were born. 

We start to understand them. 

We start to feel less afraid of them— little bit by little bit. 

Our emotions DON’T have to remain mysterious— and they DON’T have to rule or ruin our lives or behavioral decisions. 

It all starts with getting curious about and compassionate toward our feelings— which, as it turns out, is also a process of getting curious about and compassionate toward OURSELVES. 

Maybe.

Maybe you don’t have a “bad attitude.” 

Maybe you’ve actually worked VERY hard to have a “good” attitude. 

Maybe you’ve worked hard for years to be what everybody wants. To meet everybody’s expectations and needs. 

Maybe that project— of trying to anticipate and meet everybody’s expectations and needs— has left you burned out. 

Maybe it makes a lot of sense that, right now, you wouldn’t be all that focused or motivated about ANYTHING. 

Maybe your attitude toward and beliefs about life are informed by things that actually happened to you. 

Maybe feeling the way you do right now about the world isn’t a choice. 

Maybe you’d give ANYTHING to be enthused or open. 

Maybe you tried DESPERATELY over the years to be “low maintenance.” 

Maybe you had a belief that the only way you would ever be loved or accepted was to BE “low maintenance.” 

After all, what happens when people are “high maintenance?” 

Others get frustrated with them. Then those others give up on them. They leave. They abandon them. 

Talk about terrifying. 

So maybe you tried to develop the ultimate “good attitude.” 

Maybe you became not just flexible, but VERY flexible. 

Maybe you became not just willing to compromise, but VERY willing to surrender your needs, wants, perceptions, and priorities— because you believed doing so was necessary to others liking you, accepting you…or not attacking or abandoning you. 

Maybe years of all that takes its toll.

Maybe you’re not “negative.” 

Maybe you’re not even all that “angry,” at least not at the people around you every day. 

Maybe you’re just tried. 

Maybe you’re in pain. 

Maybe you’re struggling to scrounge together enough hope and motivation to get out of bed in the morning, let alone make it through the day. 

Maybe you really would give ANYTHING to NOT feel this way every day….but the path from feeling this to feeling anything else seems winding, uncertain— and uphill. 

Maybe feeling the way you do isn’t al that weird. 

Maybe we can have compassion for the part of you that IS so tired— and, sure, kind of cynical at this point. 

Maybe we can see what other people see as “lashing out” or “withdrawing” as what they REALLY are— your attempts to manage feelings that FEEL quite unmanageable. 

Maybe the first step to realistically managing ANY of this is to refuse to blame yourself for what you FEEL. 

Refuse to blame yourself for being tired. 

Refuse to blame yourself for being sore— physically and emotionally. 

And maybe— just maybe— other peoples’ judgments about how “negative” we can be don’t matter all that much. 

Maybe what really counts is what WE can do— to turn our attention to doing the next. Right. Thing. 

Maybe. 

“They” will try to police your experience & recovery. Don’t bite.

You’re gonna have people try to police your experience. 

I’m positive almost everyone reading this has had this happen to them— probably recently. 

You’re going to have people tell you you obviously don’t have a certain problem because you look a certain kind of way. 

You’re going to have people tell you you obviously didn’t have certain kinds of experiences growing up because of what they think they know about your history. 

You’re going to have people tell you that they know what you’re struggling with better than you do. 

None of it is going to have ANYTHING to do with your ACTUAL experience— but that won’t matter to “them.” 

Here’s the thing: when people are passing judgment on what you supposedly should or shouldn’t feel, they’re not REALLY talking about YOU. 

They’re talking about themselves. 

Most people who seem to have strong feelings about what you’re going through probably don’t even know you, or know you all that well. 

They can’t POSSIBLY know all the ins and outs of your struggle. 

But their strong feelings are often not even ABOUT your struggle. 

Their strong feelings are about THEIR life, their struggle— and their fears. 

Complex trauma is often under appreciated and misunderstood because the entire CONCEPT scares the living daylights out of some people. 

They don’t like to think that there is ANYTHING that can make human beings feel and act so “crazy.” 

They want to deny it, disown it, minimize it, stigmatize it…because they truly believe, if they can get away with blaming the victim of complex trauma for their own suffering, that somehow “inoculates” them against similar “craziness.” 

But it won’t. 

Trauma, including complex trauma, doesn’t discriminate. Every human being, under the right— or wrong— circumstances can develop the pattern of beliefs, reactions, and behaviors that we call complex trauma. 

Trying to blame survivors for their own trauma doesn’t magically make anyone invulnerable to trauma. 

Complex trauma and dissociation can be scary. They’re scariest to the people who have to live with them, every day. 

Imagine trying to live, work, and conduct relationships in a haunted house that you can’t leave. That’s what trying to live with trauma and dissociation is like. 

The thing is, we didn’t ASK to tour this haunted house. 

Most of us woke up one day to find that we’d been RAISED in it. 

Don’t let “them” get in your head about your trauma or your role in your suffering. 

Trust me, in trauma recovery, we take responsibility for a LOT of things, and hold ourselves HIGHLY accountable. There is no “dodging responsibility” in genuine recovery. 

But what we DON’T do is buy into “their” fantasy that trauma can somehow be avoided or negated through sheer will or bravado. 

Yeah. They’ll try to police your experience— get YOU to feel a certain kind of way about what happened to YOU, what YOU’RE going through. 

Just remember: that’s about them. Not you. 

You just keep working your recovery— one day at a time. 

Good Will Hunting and Punching Meat.


One of my favorite scenes of all cinema is a scene from “Good Will Hunting.”

Well, two of them, really.

The scene less relevant to what I want to write about today, but one of my favorites, is the scene where Will, having out-intellectualized the Harvard prick with the ridiculous ponytail in the bar, smugly asks, “Do you like apples? Well, I got her number…how do you like THEM apples?”

(Those who know me, for some reason, are completely unsurprised that I love that scene.)

But the other scene that I, and everybody else who is either in therapy or does therapy for a living, finds enormously powerful, is the scene where Shawn, the psychotherapist played by Robin Williams, takes Will’s clinical file, which details his history of abuse, and tells Will, matter-of-factly, “See this, all this shit? It’s not your fault.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Shawn,” Will famously replies. “Not you.”

“It’s not your fault,” Shawn repeats, until Will finally allows himself to give into tears.

It’s a scene that attempts to sum up the turning point where abuse survivors surrender the conviction that many of us don’t remember NOT having– the feeling that abusers don’t abuse kids for no reason, that it must somehow be our fault.

It’s a dramatization of that turning pont, to be sure.

Having worked with literally hundreds of abuse survivors, I can tell you that I’ve never had the magic “Good Will Hunting” moment happen so suddenly and so emphatically– so cinematically, if you will.

The closest I’ve come to it was once, while working with a patient who was hell-bent on blaming and shaming herself for her abuse history, finally, in a moment of exasperation, challenging her to align her perception of herself as “dirty” with any kind of external evidence.

She kind of sputtered, and went silent for a moment, at which point I exclaimed, “Aww, you got NOTHIN’! You got emotional reasoning, that’s all you got! Psssht.”

(For those who aren’t immersed in cognitive behavioral therapy every day, “emotional reasoning” is what we call it when we assume something is true just because it feels true, as opposed to having any kind of evidence to back up that assumption. It’s the kind of faulty reasoning a ten-year-old might be expected to use, which makes it hilarious and tragic that most adults use it to make most of our decisions.)

That patient did experience my “You got nothin’ but emotional reasoning!” intervention as a turning point, where she could no longer blame herself for abuse that was objectively out of her control (and, for some reason, she didn’t fire me as her therapist)– but even that moment came after literally years of laying groundwork.

The fact is, powerful, memorable, dramatic, flash-bulb moments in therapy are pretty rare.

The idea of the one-and-done therapeutic breakthrough is basically a myth, in my experience.

Why is it important for you to know this?

Because the number one reason people quit therapy is because they’re not getting the results they expected, at least in the way they expected them.

Very often, people get into therapy with this idea that they’re simply misunderstanding something, or they’ve repressed something into their unconscious, and once they talk, talk, talk enough, that misperception will correct itself, or that unconscious gunk will bubble up to the surface, and then they’ll be “done.”

It’s actually one of the less fortunate legacies of Freud (popularized by many movies and TV shows), this idea that there will be an “ah-ha!” moment, where everything will change in an instant.

It’s such a destructive myth, for multiple reasons.

It’s destructive not only because people sometimes quit therapy when their “Good Will Hunting” moment fails to materialize, but the myth of the “ah-ha!” moment is also harmful because it can also keep people in ineffective therapy for years, talking, talking, talking, and in some cases paying thousands of dollars over the course of years, waiting patiently for that moment to arrive.

Most of us know at least someone who has been in “therapy” for years, but who doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

My hypothesis is that at least a few of these poor souls are waiting for their therapist to soulfully tell them, “It’s not your fault,” at which point all maladaptive patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving will suddenly disappear.

Trust me, if that “Good Will Hunting” moment happened on any kind of regular basis, we psychotherapists would figure out how to reliably make it happen and market the hell out of it.

We’d bottle it and sell it like the latest and greatest smartphone.

The fact that there are still a hundred different types of psychotherapy practiced, each with a hundred different theoretical orientations, each orientation promising a very different path to that moment, suggests that we’re nowhere close to knowing how to make that moment happen with any kind of consistency.

(No matter WHAT the EFT and EMDR people might tell ya.)

The scene with Shawn and Will is powerful because it’s a cinematic distillation of a process that actually takes a long time to create– and there’s actually no magic to creating it.

The bottom line is that most people come to therapy because they don’t like the way they’re thinking, feeling, or behaving; and the reason they tend to be thinking, feeling, and behaving in not-so-great ways is usually because, for one reason or another, they’ve learned ineffective ways of dealing with their feelings and come to believe negative things about themselves somewhere along the way.

The only real way to fix that is to develop a new skillset for dealing with feelings and a new set of beliefs that helps instead of hinders…and the only way that we develop new skills and beliefs is to practice, practice, practice.

Yeah, I know.

Much less glamorous than the “Good Will Hunting” moment.

As much as I like that scene in “Good Will Hunting” for all its dramatic and symbolic charge, I also dislike it, for a very specific reason– it frames the role of therapist as kind of a magician.

Once he speaks those magic words– “It’s not your fault”– then the spell of trauma is broken, the tears flow freely, and suddenly we’re off to see about a girl. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

(Well, sometimes not metaphorically speaking. But you get my drift.)

I don’t think it’s particularly useful to think of therapists as magicians.

There aren’t, actually, magic words. Even therapists who use hypnotic techniques (don’t think of a duck) aren’t using “magic words,” really– they’re employing a specific way of implicit teaching that has more to do with how the brain processes information, not the actual language.

If we think of therapists as magicians, that means we also have to believe in magic to heal– and there’s nothing about this project of healing that’s magic.

Rather, it’s science– a process of learning how to make observations, form hypotheses, test hypotheses, and adjust our behavior accordingly.

Lather, rinse, repeat– no sleight of hand needed.

Instead of thinking of therapists as magicians, who might someday say the magic words that will allow the “Good Will Hunting” moment to materialize, I think it’s more useful to think of therapists as coaches, or maybe cornermen in a boxing match.

All a coach is, is somebody who has expertise in a particular skill, and who, standing in the corner or on the sidelines as you’re out there on the field or in the ring, has some perspective that you probably don’t, being so close to the action and all. ‘

In order for a coach to be useful to his athlete, he has to use the very small amount of time between rounds or plays to communicate some helpful insights or advice– but then the player needs to take that insight or advice back out into the competition.

All of this, of course, after hours and hours and hours in the gym, making mistakes, making adjustments, learning new skills, shedding old habits of exercise and nutrition.

Running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and punching meat and what not.

(I’m pretty sure my former mentor, who has authored multiple books, has never used the phrase “punching meat” in print.)

Yup, Will and Shawn embracing is an incredibly powerful moment on the screen. I still tear up every time I see it.

But, if you want to really get a feel for how powerful change happens in therapy? Go watch “Rocky.”

Actually, go watch “Rocky” and “Rocky II,” back to back.

Then go punch some meat. Metaphorically, that is.

The “type” of person trauma tries to turn us into.

There isn’t a “type” of person who gets traumatized. 

There isn’t a “type” of person who is more vulnerable than others to abuse or neglect. 

Trauma is an equal opportunity predator. 

There are factors that put us more at risk— but they rarely have to do with who WE are. 

They often have to do with where we happen to be, economically or culturally— but there’s nothing about YOU, as a person, nothing about YOUR personality or character, that “invites” abuse, neglect, or other trauma. 

Your brain might tell you that having been traumatized is about you, personally, but it’s not. 

You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t want it, you didn’t “make” it happen. 

Trauma doesn’t happen to a particular “type” of person…but we tend to become a certain “type” of person in the aftermath of trauma. 

We often tend to be anxious. 

We often tend to blame ourselves. 

We often tend to be avoidant— not because we’re not tough or brave, but because what we’ve experienced was so overwhelming, we don’t know how to engage with it and remain functional. 

All of those qualities might be expressed differently by different people— but many people who have been through trauma experience their version of them. 

We’re at a point where we know a reasonable amount about how trauma impacts the human nervous system. 

We know that certain patters emerge when humans are subjected to traumatic stress— and we know some things about how different types of stress tend to affect humans, even as diverse as we humans are. 

And still, for as much as we’re learning about trauma and its effects, there are people out there who minimize the impact of traumatic stress on humans. 

There are people out there who hang on to this fantasy that “trauma” is a made up word that people use to try to gain sympathy. 

There are people who think that the increasing awareness of trauma is a BAD thing— that it encourages people to see themselves as “victims.” 

I can assure you, those of us who care about trauma recovery don’t want anyone to view themselves as a “victim,” if that label does not help them understand their experience or move forward. 

I find it’s helpful to remind myself that trauma can happen to anyone. 

It happens to people who don’t deserve it— every single day. 

The hand we were dealt was not our choice. 

We may have made decisions that seemed to make our lives better or worse— but even in those decisions are frequently not as “free” as we assume. 

It’s real easy to slip into self blame. 

Toxic shame tries to push and bully us into self blame a lot. 

Trauma doesn’t happen to a “type” of person, but in its aftermath we frequently become the “type” of person who struggles to NOT blame themselves, who struggle to NOT hold ourselves to impossible standards, who struggles to be fair and compassionate and present with ourselves. 

If we DON’T want to be that “type” of person, it’s on us to NOT be. 

All of which starts with awareness. 

We need to realistically, straightforwardly ask: what is trauma doing to my experience of me? To my beliefs about myself? 

We may not like the answers. 

But even so we have to stand with ourselves in compassion and self-trust. 

ALL of which is easier said than done. 

Just breathe. 

“But is it REALLY trauma, though?”

Many trauma survivors have difficulty extending themselves the benefit of the doubt. 

Or basic compassion. 

Or basic respect. 

Trauma has a way of convincing us we don’t “deserve” these. 

Trauma even has a way of convincing us that it isn’t, you know, trauma. 

We KNOW trauma impacts the human nervous system in some fairly predicable ways— and yet our trauma often tries to convince us we’re suffering because we lack character. 

Our trauma tries to convince us our suffering is due to our lack of toughness or willpower— not the fact that our nervous system has been subjected to a stressor that human beings haven’t evolved to handle. 

Sometimes our trauma tries to get us to compare our experience with other peoples’, and uses THEIR response to similar stressors as examples of why WE’RE not handling our traumatic stress well. 

After all, our trauma tries to tell us, if trauma was the REAL problem here, wouldn’t EVERYONE be equally devastated by similar stressors? So why are THEY handling it so well, and YOU’RE suffering so much? 

It’s a trick. 

The truth is, there are DOZENS of reasons why different people respond differently to traumatic stressors— and why certain stressors seem to cause more pain or dysfunction for some people than others. 

But it has nothing to do with whether a stressor is or is not objectively “traumatic.” 

There will absolutely be people who will TRY to sidetrack you into the debate about whether what you experienced was actually “trauma.” 

The fact is, it doesn’t particularly MATTER whether what you experienced fits their, or anyone’s, definition or “trauma.” 

When we’re suffering, semantics aren’t important. 

What IS important is you accessing the tools, skills, and support you need to get safe, stable, and back on your feet. 

I honestly don’t care if ANYONE calls what I consider to be trauma, trauma. 

You can call it whatever you like. Call it “Gilligan” for all I care. 

What I care about is people getting what they need to recover. 

Very often, the “is it REALLY trauma, though?” debate distracts from us doing what we need to do to recover. 

Very often, that debate serves no purpose than to make survivors feel shame. 

“If it isn’t trauma, why am I struggling with it so much?” 

Many survivors leap to the conclusion that if what happened to them ISN’T “objectively” trauma, than the problem ISN’T what happened to them— it’s THEM. 

This reinforces the fundamental message that many survivors have been on the receiving end of for years: it’s your fault. 

All this pain, all this dysfunction? Your fault. 

For YEARS we ‘re told that. And then, when we FINALLY start developing an understanding of how trauma impacts us, when we FINALLY glimpse a context in which all this pain or dysfunction make sense…the “is it trauma, though?” crowd shows up to mess with our heads. 

Don’t let ‘em. 

Don’t get up in your head with “is it trauma?” discourse. 

What you endured affected you the way it affected you. 

It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It matters how it affected you. It matters what you need to recover. 

Focus on your experience. Focus on your needs. 

Don’t get sidetracked by others’ need to weigh in on the labels you attach to your experience. 

Trauma recovery is about structure and flow.

Sometimes recovery is about putting words to what we’re feeling. 

Wrangling what we’re feeling with language. 

Hypothesizing, in words, what this huge, overwhelming THING we’re feeling MIGHT be, or be about. 

Sometimes the most useful thing we CAN do is put words to what we’re experiencing— even if we have to start with basic, imprecise words. 

We often can’t manage an experience UNTL we can talk about it. 

Until we put words to it, around it, our emotional experience often remains this bright, pulsing, hot, heavy MASS that we can’t imagine truly dealing with. 

Then there are those times when we have PLENTY of words— but they seem empty. 

We know what we “should” be feeling. 

We know what we’re THINKING, anyway. 

But we don’t feel particularly connected to the actual feeling. The actual emotion. 

We might sense the emotion is there…but it’s like it’s behind frosted glass. 

We can kind of make out its shape its contour…but it remains undefined. 

Trauma can bully us to either side of that divide— emotion without language, or language without emotion. 

We either feel EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE AHHHH…or nothing at all. 

Recovery is about using our words AND feeling our feelings. 

Not having to choose between the two. 

Recovery is about really feeling that we have CHOICES when it comes to describing our emotional experience or attaching emotions to our cognitive experiences— not letting our default settings take over because we’re overwhelmed. 

Sometimes when we’re overwhelmed it can help to be able to say something— anything. 

Sometimes when we’re shut down it can help to feel something— anything. 

Lots of people don’t understand that self-harm is often our attempt to feel or contain ANYTHING when we’re overwhelmed. 

When we go back to relationships we KNOW are hurtful to us, sometimes that’s our attempt to really FEEL something— even if it’s painful. 

Sometimes when we engage with people who we KNOW are bad for us, it’s because we know HOW to talk to them— and we might be in a place where we just don’t have words for any of the OTHER stuff we’re feeling. 

Words, sentences, language, can reconnect us to our humanity when we’re overwhelmed. 

Emotion, feelings, can reconnect us to ourselves when we’re flat and shut down. 

We need both. 

Just like the world needs prose AND poetry; literature AND visual art; music theory AND music. 

There’s a reason why I believe poetry and literature tend to be healing for trauma survivors: they allow us to integrate the structure and support of language and the flow and creativity of art. 

In recovery we absolutely NEED structure— and we absolutely need flow. 

We need the words; and we need the feelings. 

We need the boundaries; and we need that within us that pushes and tests those boundaries. 

When you’re overwhelmed, ask yourself: do I need words right now? 

Or do I need to tap into my feelings? 

If you can think to ask— you’ll likely give yourself a useful answer. 

Trauma responses aren’t “choices.”

Trauma responses aren’t “choices.” They’re conditioned reflexes. 

They’re our nervous system having made a connection between something it’s sensing now, and something that actually happened back then. 

Something I wish more people understood— or acknowledged, anyway— about trauma responses is, they are responses to ACTUAL things that ACTUALLY happened. 

A lot is made about how trauma responses aren’t proportional to what’s “really” going on— and that’s true, in the very limited sense of “what’s going on right here, right now.” 

But trauma responses ARE responses to REALITY. 

We didn’t invent them. 

We didn’t ask for them. 

Most of us would MUCH rather NOT be experiencing them. 

But just like you can’t shut down a reflex, we can’t shut down trauma responses by merely preferring not to experience them. 

We CAN mold our responses to them, though. 

We CAN make ourselves less vulnerable to them. 

We can get to the point where they don’t freak us out or profoundly interrupt our day or our functioning. 

But that doesn’t mean we “control” them. 

We INFLUENCE our trauma responses— but that’s not quite the same thing, isn’t it? 

The temptation is to be hard on ourselves BECAUSE we have these sometimes dramatic fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or flop reactions in response to stress or triggers. 

We get to thinking, what the hell is WRONG with me? Why can’t I just be…normal? 

Thing is— maybe this IS normal for a body and nervous system that went through what you went through. 

Maybe the “weird” thing would be for you to NOT have strong reactions, given what you’ve experienced. 

Maybe what we need, rather than judgment, is compassion. And patience. And an understanding that what you’re experiencing isn’t all that “abnormal” after all. 

I know— trauma responses are frustrating. As are trauma beliefs, as are trauma memories. Frustrating, sometimes scary, often painful. 

Nobody reading this WANTS trauma recovery to be the thing they think about all day. 

But if this is the hand we’ve been dealt— this is the hand we’ve been dealt. 

I’ve never been nuts about acceptance for the sake of acceptance. 

I’m like a lot of people— “acceptance” to me feels like laying down. Letting the situation win. Letting these awful feelings and inconvenient reactions win. 

But it’s not. 

Acceptance just means we acknowledge reality exactly as it is. 

How else are we gonna change it, after all? 

If we don’t accept what is, how can we know what to do, where to go, how to focus, to creat the reality we prefer. 

We gotta start somewhere, and we gotta be realistic about where we’re starting. 

So, yes. The lousy reality is, we have trauma responses, and they’re not choices. 

But it is also the case that they are shapable. Moldable. Changeable. 

Not all at once, and not in their entirety. 

Change starts with acceptance. 

Shedding shame starts with acceptance. 

Actually changing our patterns of trauma response starts— say it with me— with acceptance. 

You are not the exception, as it turns out.

Sometimes we exhaust ourselves— even to the point of hurting ourselves. 

Not because we want to hurt ourselves, exactly— we just burn out. 

We suffer what runners and other endurance athletes call “overuse injuries.” 

We exert ourselves too hard, for too long— and we don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and recover. 

There are people reading this who AREN’T endurance athletes— at least, not physically— who nonetheless know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. 

It’s not that we’re stupid— though sometimes we may CALL ourselves stupid for winding up with an overuse injury. 

The wellness and self-help industries LOVE to blame us for burning out. 

They don’t quite get that the people reading this who burn our candles at both ends aren’t doing it because we don’t understand the risk we’re running. 

Rather, we often think we’re the exception. 

We’re the ONE person who will figure out how to keep going, going, going, with no negative consequences. 

Yes, “normal” people might need rest and recovery…but WE don’t. 

We’re tough. The laws of physics and principles of human anatomy and physiology don’t apply to us. 

Beneath all of that, there’s also the WHY we’re so driven. 

We’ve very often trying to prove ourselves. 

Part of us may believe, very strongly, that in order to be loved or accepted, we have to perform. 

We have to keep going, going going— that if we show any kind of normal human weakness or limitations, we’re going to be mocked or abandoned or ignored. 

After all, who would love us if we were just “normal,” subjected to the rules and limitations of “normal” people? 

Lots of people reading this know what it’s like to keep driving themselves, on and on and on, almost obsessively…all to keep from having to think too much. 

You know what I’m talking about— how, if we dare to stop and rest, the noise in our head will suddenly get…louder. 

Maybe it’s the addiction voice; maybe it’s the trauma voice; maybe it’s the self-harm or self-sabotage voice (and, make no mistake, all of those voices tend to say similar things, albeit in very different ways and in very different tonalities at times). 

We know what happens when those voices get TOO loud. So we try to outrun them. 

We run, and we run, and we run, literally or metaphorically…and while we know we can’t run forever, or else we’ll hurt ourselves, we can’t seem to make ourselves stop. 

We’re afraid. And kind of ashamed. 

Eventually, however, our body or our mind MAKES us stop. 

We sustain that overuse injury. 

It might be a pulled muscle; it might be a stress fracture; it might be a major depressive episode; it might be a dissociative fugue. 

But when your body or mind say “uncle,” we don’t really have any option BUT to stop. 

If we’re lucky, we hit that point BEFORE we’ve lost anything too major, or physically hurt ourselves beyond the point of healing. 

If and when this happens to you, you need to know this isn’t about you being “stupid.” 

This isn’t about you being “weak.” 

This isn’t about you being a “quitter.” 

This is about you being a human, and human bodies and minds needing rest and recovery. 

This is about you NOT being the exception— and that being the GOOD news. 

This is about you being exactly as vulnerable as you are— no more, but no less. 

And this is about you taking the opportunity to really care for yourself. 

In short— this is about you walking the talk of self-love and self-trust. 

This is about you having your own back— and proving it.