The Journey to Me: Shadow Work and the Many Moons of the Self

I recently completed a course called Shadow Work, offered by Amy Wright Glenn at the Institute for Birth, Breath and Death. In honour of this darkening time of the year, I’m sharing a version of my final paper with you here.

Each of us are made up of parts that make us complex and unique individuals. For most of us, some of these layers are hidden in shadow, not unlike a Russian Nesting Doll or that dark corner in our basement. While they are always present, it can be hard to know when they show up and become revealed, and for what purpose.

As humans, each of us also has the experience of living through some type of trauma or pain. Depending on the support we are given at the time, it can become a deeper wound or shadow that then presents itself when triggered later on in life. Shadows are embedded in us. Carl Jung shared that the shadow is a part of a person’s psyche that stores the parts of the Self that are seen as unacceptable or uncomfortable. They then move into our shadows and become unconsciously unaware. Shadow Parts show up later in life by trying to keep you safe and not get hurt, but sometimes it’s overdoing its job.

We do not have just one Shadow, but several, built over time. One type of Shadow is our Inner Child – raw, immature emotions that get stuck in us during an especially hard or unfulfilled time in our life.

Shadows start to form in childhood, especially after age 8 or 9 when human development connects to autonomy, self-esteem and a sense of self. As my own children are 11 and 8 years old, I am seeing in real time how this starts to happen. Their full personalities are forming, as are the parts of themselves that they are self-critical about or struggling with. They also mirror the parts of myself as their parent who is modeling for them how I cope with the big emotions in my life. As Amy Wright Glenn shares in her book Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go, children need to see our smaller grief and ways that we heal it, so that we create scaffolding for our children against the bigger losses that happen later in life.

The Shadow side may compare yourself to others, or even other times in our life. It wants to preserve connection with others, so may fawn or appease to get that connection, even if it means that the Self is being martyred or self-sacrificed. That is usually from a history of not having secure attachment or healthy bonds in childhood. As humans, we thrive on social engagement, not unlike other animals like wolves or elephants.

Many family dynamics include intergenerational trauma as well as learning. We inherit our ancestors’ shadows, and they can become active or remain dormant in us. Trapped emotions become shadows as they are like hungry ghosts in us that cause disharmony; we also taught that only easy and good emotions are valid to be seen or shared so many more get hidden in shadows of Self.

The concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is when a Shadow part is triggered and brought to feel sadness, confusion, despair or a crisis. When we recognize this work, it is a deep awakening to the healing, growth and transformation we can go through. The Shadow is fuel for the fire that doesn’t want to get to the light.

A word of caution: While the terms shadow and light were historically neutral, we need to be mindful of the covert nature of claiming darkness as bad, wrong or ugly. In today’s world, we need to reclaim the term so that it doesn’t get tied down to white supremacy and internalized power. The dark is not inherently bad. Good grows in the dark too. Think of the seed planted in dark soil, or the beautiful butterfly that is born out of a dark chrysalis state. We can be transformed because of the dark too.

When we befriend our Shadow, we not only heal and accept it, but we accept our true Selves by not cutting off any of the pieces that live with pain.

Over these last few years, I have been doing some soul work, and diving deeper into myself. As a trauma-focused therapist myself, this work is integral. As I have been learning more about Shadow work, Inner Child Healing and somatic bottom-up work that connects the body to healing the mind, I see more fully how my own Shadow lives in me.

For instance, I see how shadows may be in charge when we are triggered by someone else as a quality of them is activating us. For instance, it used to be really hidden in shadows when a certain tone of voice or energy scared me. Now I help people connect it to their own childhood. Maybe your parents grew up in difficult family structures, homes where some feelings were not welcome, or anger and stress overruled affectionate touch. While they tried their best to raise you, they brought their shadows with them when they became parents themselves. Just like Peter Pan’s shadow, they were quite tethered to the parts of their life they were trying to leave behind.

There are shadow sides of the feminine as well as masculine. As a girl growing up in the big world of 1980s (or pick your decade!), I learned quite early to have a strong emphasis on being good, pretty, or embody positive vibes. I had to cast out negativity in order to feel safe, which meant I also couldn’t show the harder feelings like sadness or anger, let alone fear. This led me to be stuck in a rut of sameness as I was conditioned to be the good girl to a fault. Good girls don’t complain or disagree. They don’t have strong feelings. Like many people, I learned to say “I’m fine” even when I’m not. This too is a shadow part trying to protect us: Instead of being honest, these words cover up my true feelings as they are seen as too sensitive or vulnerable. Even though girls are conditioned to be more sensitive than people in male bodies, it is still quite unacceptable to show the fuller range of emotions and vulnerability.

I got my period at quite a young age and so my body was also sexualized by men. A shadow side that was brought forth was the part of me that should know more about toying with men or flirting with them, and yet the innocent side of me didn’t align or allow for my sexual self to be accessed as I got older. I hated my sexual body for a long time. It has been a wonderful journey to reclaim it.

I shy away from conflict. And when in conflict, our shadows tend to show up because they were not taken care of before. They are trying to protect us and instead we complain and our pride gets in the way of healing and repair work. I used to want to flee but now as an adult, a part of me goes into fight mode. I used to fawn more, and have been working on this people-pleasing part. Shadows live in the murky boundaries that don’t get enforced. They rely on our loyalty. As Pixie Lighthorse shares though, “comfort is not a companion to change.” We need discomfort in order to create the shift that is needed.

Based on our survival response, when in conflict our shadows show up and say:
Fight – “No I’m not, you are!”
Flee – “I’m out of here”
Fawn – “oh my goodness I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
Freeze – “I can’t do anything so why try…”

In order to see the gold in us, we need to practice alchemy to bring out the shadow parts and integrate them. Yet we hang it in self-doubt, negative self-talk and worthlessness too long. We judge ourselves and are critical of others when we are scared. My Inner Critic keeps my Imposter Syndrome alive and active so I don’t take those esquite risks. I see this in myself, especially as I continue to be a perpetual student instead of embracing my own expertise and knowledge to be a leader. What else am I training for?

Our own amazingness also lives in our shadow Self, as doubt and shame are a shadow. We tend to hang out in worthlessness too long. Ironically the stems from being told having pride or a positive self regard is also a negative aspect of self or ego. We need to feel in connection with others in order to lessen the impact of shame or doubt. When we are in community and share stories, we see the mirrors of our soul reflected in others experiences that are so similar.

Imposter Syndrome sets us up to fail as it’s in bed with our Inner Critic voice. While technically trying to save us from getting hurt, it is in fact what is hurting me. We need to embrace a collective change to be inclusive and supportive of each other instead of competitive and comparative in suffering, productive and successful to a fault.

There is Work to Do
Shadow Work has been brought to light in many ways, especially these last few months during a global pandemic as well as with anti-black racism in the States. Generally, shadow work is a personal process, one that is about the individual facing, confronting, and then integrating their shadows. As we live in community and thrive when in connection others, we cannot negate the relational aspect of also needing to heal our collective shadows that live in our external worlds with others. Hence, shadow work needs to be both internal and community-based intentions.

We have been called to unlearn inherited stories, and instead focus on collective healing. This work is the calling to bring what was before unconscious and subconscious to the forefront. Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response as our shadow always wants to be revealed and integrated with love.

“Rituals are created to serve humanity and help us awaken from slumbers of ignorance” shares Amy Wright. One key part of this work is to intentionally connect individual repair work to the more collective reparations that are needed. It may be hard to say sorry and own our mistakes and yet this is crucial to repair and integrate our Shadows into our true Selves.

Shadow Work is uncovering what is hidden in the layers of the sub- or unconscious so that we can integrate them and also heal our lineages. We need to see it for what it is and give it self-care and nourishment, just like we would a physical wound or ailment. We need to like and appreciate all our parts.

Pixie Lighthorse wisely shares that a return to liberation as “shadow work is an act of liberation” as it is a collective healing and anti-oppression work in its full essence. She further shares in her book Goldmining the Shadows, “composting fear and pain in order to grow self-compassion and overall wellness is alchemy which needs fuel and functionality.”

Shadow Work is very similar to Richard Schwartz’ work with Internal Family Systems, where he talks about the 8 C’s of Self – compassion, calm, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, clarity, confident, and courage. My Self needs to be in charge, so I know it is there if any of these “C’s” are present. When we get stalled, it’s because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. When we show empathy for the parts of our Self that weren’t loved before, this new wholeness helps interrupt Parts that are so wounded and exiled that they can’t see a way out.

Another layer of Shadow Work is spending time in mindful contemplation of our body: Somatic work like this helps us notice where the shadow lives in my body. For me, it lives in my stomach or gut (our second brain) as well as my racing heart. When I feed my shadow love, compassion and attention, it feels more calm and cared for.
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We also need to re-parenting ourselves, which accesses hope for a secure attachment, possibly for the first time. It is not indulgence but rather self-preservation to do this work. Amy Wright shares how “love weaves meaning between the 2 thresholds…as the work of holding space for our fears and the hungry ghosts is ultimately one of love.” One way to do this is to practice the art of re-parenting ourselves. Reparenting isn’t denial of the parent we had, but rather what our inner child still needs. That young brain needs to heal what it needed back then and didn’t receive.

Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response, unbeknownst to us our shadow does always want to be revealed. This work is self-compassionate work for our body mind and soul.

We need to feel your feelings or stay with them in order to get through them. Otherwise they keep showing up, coming out of the shadows to test us. Nothing is permanent, even our feelings. We can’t rush this work, nor is it a quick lesson. Working with our shadows needs a personalized healing balm to care for Mind Body Spirit in intentional ways. There are some great ingredients like knowing self-regulation AND co-regulation exercises and learning more about Polyvagal Theory and Vagus/Soul Nerve. As humans, we need a sense of belonging and collective. Our Shadows rely on being alone in order to stay alive in the darkness. Nature can also heal me like a tree or lake needs Mother Earth. Self-compassion is a practice of building trust in myself and what I need in the here-and-now moment.

This is a crucial time in history. The elections in the States have shown the dark side of the moon, and yet there is hope moving forward. “In becoming intimate with your injuries, you are befriending your innermost self.” This trust will help you develop deeper relationships with others as well. This is the reward of shadow work – being seen for my shadows as well as valuing yours. I hold space for us both and we step towards the light.

When we get stalled it is because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. It is time to slow down and notice what is hidden then. You can do it alone, or ask a trusted friend what part of you needs to be tended to with self-compassion. Sit with your Shadow and welcome it with open arms.

What lives in your shadows?

Tips to a Find a Good Trauma Therapist

you are already whole just like the moon, who is only going through stages

I’ve been going through a bit of a metamorphosis in my own life, as i have grappled with a decision to do what is best for me, versus something that may have been more aligned with an earlier version of me. I think my wings of transformation have been able to be fully opened now.

I recently made a big decision in my life, which is to fully embrace my private practice full-time. While it was something that i have been deliberating about for some time, i have been in the VAW (violence against women) field so long that it has shaped my identity as a therapist and human. After over 22 years, it is now time to accept this transition. It was hard to let go of this identity, as i jumped into it with all my being. It is also what has made me be the therapist i am today.

When i started my private practice in 2015, it was to complement my work as a gender-based violence counsellor. The work i did initially in my practice was supporting new parents, especially those that experienced a traumatic birth or were having a hard time integrating this new role of parent in their life. It was also a way to balance the hard, necessary and all-encompassing work as a VAW/gender-based violence counsellor.

As my two work hats started to blend over the years (because we cannot separate the intersections of parenthood, trauma, and past abuse), it gave me pause with where i wanted to go moving forward.

Covid and the pandemic has played a role in my decision. As a working mother, it is important for me to balance and have a rhythm that works for me. When schools, extra-curriculars and summer camps all shut down, i noticed the toll of working from home with my children home as well. I also noticed that i need more clear boundaries and self-care practices in order to be the mom and therapist (and friend and partner and daughter) i want to be. Let alone the woman for my own Self. Yes i was burning out, and yes i was not alone with this. And yes we deserve better. (In another post, i will speak to my anger with how this year has gone for us as working moms). I may be a therapist who knows about vicarious trauma, burn-out and self-care, and i am also a human experiencing a collective trauma with everyone else.

Welcome to the new me here: The trauma therapist

While working my decision to make this change, i sat with what kind of therapist i am, what kind of therapist i strive to be, and what makes a ‘good therapist.’ Last year, i shared my thoughts on what is important for therapy to work. You can read it here. Of course, as anything, what makes something good for one person is not necessarily true for others. And yet, there are some important factors to think about when you are looking at starting your path with a therapist.

You have the right to shop around to find the fit that feels right. Book calls with a few therapists – if they don’t offer this free consult, that itself is a sign. Read about what you need in therapy, like Annie Wright’s article. What feels right may be different for each of us, but some things to consider are:

1) Relational
As a general rule, we need to have RAPPORT so that you feel safe enough to want to come back and share intimate things. Rapport is a bit of a vague term, so some things i look for are: using humor, a warm smile and nod, holding space and making room for all emotions and choices, being a compassionate witness to your pain – i really do care about you and have hope for your healing journey. I want you to live the life you love.

Building trust, respect, rapport and a safe container are probably the most important key ingredients for therapy to work. If we don’t have trust, it is hard to go deeper. I can’t promise to fix you or even have a fully safe space, but i do work from a relational place and am honoured when you choose to get support from me. Trust is earned and respect is something we all deserve all the time (and i know that we don’t always get). For instance, when I make a mistake, can you call me in and do i make the changes you ask of me? Do you look forward to therapy, even if that means you may cry or bring up stuff? Do you feel lighter when we are done, even if you feel raw?

Some other ways to show respect are how i treat my space, your boundaries and information. For instance, i strive to provide a safe(r) space and container, which includes privacy. I am committed to write you back quickly, write client-centred notes that i share with you. It is also important to me that you know I am listening fully. My room (even virtually now!) is inviting and i remember details of your life, like the name of your dog or a favourite vacation.

Working from a relational place in therapy means i have a unique, good and special relationship together with you, and what comes up in session is organic and active. I share my delight in seeing you, i see the best in you no matter what, and am grateful and honoured that you come and share vulnerability with me. Our relationship does not exist in a bubble, even though it is a unique one, that usually does live in some secrecy from the outside world. Is the foundation of the relationship solid, and do you get a sense of my authenticity, empathy and compassion for you?

My work is rooted in attachment theory so it shows up in sessions in an overt way. I don’t just mean i ask you about your childhood (full disclosure, i do), but we also work on healing old attachment wounds by repairing your unresolved need for attunement. As social creatures, we thrive when in connection with others. Healing this type of rupture with a therapist is instrumental to get to a more secure attachment style in your present life. This itself depends on the relationship between us that we are working on together.

2) Trauma-Informed
Not all therapists work from a trauma-infomred place, even though we all work with trauma as each human has experienced trauma in their life. So, a respectful and more safe way to support people is to have trauma humility. It starts with learning about what is trauma, the systems that perpetuate trauma, and ways to help integrate the traumatized part into the rest of our Self. This means therapists need to support you to have resources before going to trauma resolution work; we need to ensure you feel safe enough and are within a window of tolerance (or capacity might be a better word to describe this. We are not just building tolerance to hard feelings but the ability to handle them). If we open the wounds too fast, the healing takes longer.

If you are human you have experienced trauma

Being trauma-informed also means that i hold hope for you and you can feel it. I believe that you can get better, and have hope for healing with post-traumatic growth. I am just here as an alchemist, adding the right ingredients to help you get there. You are doing the work. I act as an anchor to guides you and gives you the resources you need to take the plunge.

Another part of trauma-informed care and philosophy is the awareness of Intersectionaity for each of us. Living as a cis-gendered white therapist, i have to do my own work to unpack my inherited white privilege. I can do harm if i do not prioritize this work. A layer of this is to to have unconditional positive regard and a non-judgemental stance of you. I am not afraid of you, and all your emotions are valid, though i can be worried FOR you.

Being a trauma-focused therapist takes it a step further. To help you heal the traumatized part means i honour and sit with your pain without trying to change it, but rather help you find resources that are already there within you. I co-regulate from a place of a regulated Nervous System myself; I do this by staying present and regulated even while feeling compassion and moved by your experience. As Resmaa Menakem shares in his book, this is a necessary part of a good therapeutic alliance: I provide a safe container without assuming safety.

A lot of clients earlier in my career believed it was important for their own healing to tell me their trauma story. While i struggled with this as i intuitively knew this was re-traumatizing them, I honoured their need. Now i know better in how to frame this support. Trauma resolution doesn’t mean I need you to share the details of the actual event; In fact, it is not necessary or even helpful to do so. It runs the risk of re-living the abuse.

3) Integrative
Therapy as a practice is not a new concept. People have been talking to others for support, guidance, and a listening ear for millennia. It is actually also an art, with things coming up organically in the space where there is no agenda. It is a very present and attuned practice. When people come to me for therapy, i do not hold an agenda in mind and the hour flows from there.

We need to be client-centred in order for the work to have any effect. And so there are so many different modalities and styles, approaches and specialities. I believe that knowledge about trauma, anti-oppression, body-based therapies, and working from an integrative and holistic place are the ingredients to make therapy impactful. Honouring the mind body spirit is also integral. That also means that therapists need to continue learning, adapting, unlearning and being vulnerable with their peers. Growth happens when we are uncomfortable as that leads to change.

There are so many therapists with all sorts of training. It is a sign of strength and passion when therapists want to keep learning, as it keeps them humble and human – no one knows everything. I may know a lot about trauma and supports that work, but i cannot assume any expertise in what you need – that is up to you.

Good therapists also seek their own supervision, whether with another colleague, in a peer group or more informally. I do all of these, and i also see my own therapist. This helps me stay grounded, accountable, and present at all times. It also helps me take notice of transference or counter-transference experiences.

I also think it’s important for the people i support to know that i am passionate and committed to this work. I may make people cry for a living, and my compassion for you helps me hold space for you when those tears come up. Do you get a sense that i am skilled and confident in my abilities as a therapist? Do i show that i want to do the best for you?

I wholeheartedly believe that good therapists have learned various modalities. Even if they have a couple of preferences (mine are Feminist Narrative Therapy and somatic therapies), no two people are the same. Part of the art of therapy is that we follow the flow of what comes up organically in a session. So, we need to be integrative because the client is their own expert and the approach on a given day also depends on what is present in the room at the time. We may pull from several modalities in one session, or for one situation are you struggling with. If you are new to therapy, read about the therapists’ bios and see if it feels like a right fit – does the idea of somatic or body-based attunement speak to you, are you more into staying cerebral, for instance?

Further, therapy should not just be talk or cognitive-based – it is imperative to also include emotion-focused resources, as well as somatic/body tools and other ways to learn like expressive arts mediums. There is a time for talk and there also needs space for pause, quiet, and using our pre-verbal, creative part. This is also where our Ventral Vagus Nerves lives, so it makes sense that it needs to be activated in therapy sessions.

This year specifically, i have made a commitment to learn more about how to be a better Anti-racism co-conspirator. I have read books, taken courses, had discussions, and made changes to my business to honour this work. The learning is not a one-time act, nor should it be performative.

4) Own Expert
You are on your Own journey. While i have the honour to support you for a time, i only see you for an hour each week. In between sessions, or when you move on after therapy, you have your Self to get you through. I am happy to meet you where you are willing to go, and to model self-regulation as a mirror. What you do with it is up to you.

I meet you where you’re at and i am next to you on this journey. I may make suggestions – and not the dreaded ‘should’ statements. Sometimes, people i support ask for me what i would do, or to give them advice, and i need to remind that i cannot answer this. I am not in their shoes and empowerment to feel good after a decision only comes from within.This is where change lives too. I do not want to set up for failure either. At times, i may share my own experience. I do this not for you to copy my choices, but rather as a way to honour the attunement and self-compassionat practice of shared humanity.

I also believe that therapy must include advocacy for you and larger systems at play. I am hear (spelling intentional) to help you heal as well as challenge the systemic issues that are impacting our collective healing. We heal in community as we are social creatures, not unlike jaguars, wolves and elephants.

You are in charge of the session. My service to you is professional and catered to what you need. That means you navigate the session and i do not act on my own agenda. If i every steer you away from something you want to focus on, it is your right to get back to the work you want to do. This is Agency. I don’t take this personally. I also ask explicitly (called a frame) what direction you want to go to when we are faced with two paths. This is an example of consent being sought intentionally.

I am a trauma survivor and have done my work to resolve it. This knowledge informs my work, as well as gives me access to lived experience and a shared humanity that healing is possible. I am at a very good place in my own life, as i have done my work, and my nervous system is regulated: You do not need to take care of me when feelings show up in the room together.

Sometimes, we need to normalize the experience of your reaction, by also honouring your unique story. I offer psychoeducation about your reaction as a way of providing safety when a part of you starts to feel shame, guilt, or even anxiety about choices you made when you were scared or hurt. When we know others have felt and responded in similar ways, it resets our nervous system and negative self-talk that we are a worse version of ourselves.

5) Exquisite Risk-Taker
It takes courage to seek out therapy. I push you to take exquisite risks that are NOT beyond your limits. Therapy does not exist in isolation. The hope is that you start to see increments of change, even after a few sessions. Therapists cannot guarantee to ‘fix you.’ Therapy is also NOT a cyclical or linear process, as each session is unique and alive in the here-and-not moment. But it is a moving forward process. It is also not a place to purge your thoughts without also being a space for reflection and support. It helps to think about what is said in a session during the week, and see if you want to work on the resources that are offered. It is not ‘homework’ that gets marked or judged, but rather an opportunity to practice a new language of self-healing.

One of my favourite compliments is when i hear “What would vania tell me.”

I am hear to offer you choice and options, whether it is for resources, or things i hold in my grounding basket. I may make suggestions when i contact (notice) a body or emotion-based response during a session, but i don’t want you to feel that i cannot handle your emotions. I will not pass you a tissue to suggest you need to stop crying. I am here to welcome and honour all the feelings, and to slow them down in order for you to build your capacity to sit with them. Our society is not good with the hard feelings – we typically only welcome joy, surprise, and sometimes fear. Otherwise, we feel like we have to hide the other ones as the person who is with us cannot handle them – which turns into an internalized translation to them not being able to handle us.

I love the word “Organicity.” Pat Ogden’s body of work Sensorimortor Psychotherapy speaks about this concept. It means what happens in the room during a session is what to work on, or what happens together is the work. Sometimes there is some risk to stay with something that is only poked at typically, or passed over quickly. Narrative Therapy and somatic therapies both intentionally dive deeper into the implicit. Kind of like Russian Nesting Dolls where we open up to a new story or opportunity, or version of our Self. We do experiments together, with curiousity. Taking risks can get to a more whole and new stage in your healing. We need this courage to get to a new place, otherwise our cycle remains active.

One way to start to notice if the therapist you are working with is a good fit is to take stock and see if you can sense the change in you and see new positive opportunities. Do you laugh together and have a sense of play together? Does your therapist delight in your progress and process without claiming responsibility or saviourism? This is the balance of taking risks and being held.

I will meet you there.

I am still transitioning into this new role, and version of myself. As a white, cis-gendered and able-bodies female therapist, I know i carry and hold a lot of power and privilege. The world of private practice therapy already feels so reflective of the two-tiered approach that I usually cringe over. This is part of my work – continuously reflecting, checking, and sitting with my discomfort and working towards a new feminist model of private practice therapy that is more inclusive and accessible.

Did you notice how I tilted this ‘good therapist’ and not great or perfect? For one, i don’t believe in perfect anything but i do trust that there are better fits just like there is a perfect hair stylist for each of us. I also think you are the one doing the work, and i am beside you, so the emphasis of the work being done is for you, not for me to take the credit.

Harvesting a Good Feeling

Raise your hand if you have been having some big feelings these last few months! Don’t worry if you are reading this alone, because chances are, all of us are raising our hand in a big YES to this question.

And guess what?! We can slow down the overwhelm of big and hard feelings. Magic happens when you practice alchemy by adding more time noticing the good and gentle feelings. The magic is when we can control the cognitive realm of our Self by adding positive cognitions and more present awareness.

Does that sound hard or give you a headache? One amazing aspect of our body is the energy it exudes, so we become more intentional or in control of our thoughts. Our body has an energy field called Torus, which is the external expression of our nervous system. Our heart is known to have a donut-shaped (torus) energy. This is that feeling you have when you ‘just have a feeling’ or a gut instinct. I love how this aura permeates from our centre, as it can also symbolize that feeling when we are close to someone meaningful and special to us. It shows up in those butterflies in the stomach or blush on our face. These are some ways we can start to notice the impact of our thoughts and choices, and how they might linger in our body. A beautiful outcome of this energy is the glow we can feel when we are accessing something positive or happy even.

Our body gets impacted by intergenerational trauma and well as more direct experiences of trauma. A traumatic memory starts to linger in the body and becomes so blended that it makes it hard for the person to step outside of the traumatized part. This is when the torus field gets compromised and then impacts our general physical health with continued ailments, health challenges, and continued incidents of trauma. During MRIs, our brain lights up as the colour blue when we feel rested and at peace, and red when it’s in fight or flight, or anxious. We need to find ways to get the brain to be blue, to rest and get to the glow.

When we start to balance or titrate these harder experiences with more pleasant, positive or optimistic ones, we give our body a chance to rest. We then start to heal that part that is still struggling. Our toric field and nervous system starts to heal and notice signs of distress earlier. Taking time to take stock of our energetic somatic level is a great way to start intentionally building an emotional wellness toolkit, especially as the Winter months are coming.

The wonderful work on Polyvagal Theory has brought so much rich goodness to healing and living more embodied, especially during this pandemic. In Deb Dana’s latest book, Polyvagal Exercises for Rest and Connection, she speaks about Glow and Glimmers. Glimmers are the opposite of a trigger; they are the sensations in our body that help us get to a safe and connected zone. Glows are the more sustaining feeling when our Ventral Vagus Nerve is activated. They are the deepened state of feeling calm and connected.

Another beautiful concept of this body of work is the ‘Soul Nerve’, from Resmaa Menakem (the author of the important and pivotal book My Grandmother’s Hands). In his book, he shares that this is where we experience a felt sense of love, compassion, and the full range of emotions as well, like sadness, hope anxiety, disgust, fear, grief. The felt sense lives in our body, in our lizard brain and also is easiest to access near our solar plexus and gut (known sometimes as our second brain). The amygdala aka lizard brain is where our body feels the 4 F’s (flight fight freeze fawn) and respond. We need to intentionally activate the mammalian brain of connection and rest, where we feel vibrant, and relaxed as well.

So, what do we do with all this knowledge of our body and brain? One simple way is to start to have a pleasure practice. Pleasure does not have to have an overtly sexual connotation but rather a more embodied sense of feeling ease and pleasure in a here-and-now moment. For instance, you can meditation, stroke your body in a self-massage, slowly add lotion after a bath or shower, masturbate, do a yoga yin practise, connect with the 5 senses to anchor a good moment in your body, be present, watch a candle burn for a few moments and follow it with your breath.

I recently heard a helpful strategy called the “5 percent Pleasure Rule by Ann Nguyen; find ways to ask yourself how to make an event or activity 5 % more pleasurable than it is right now. Maybe you are eating dinner – can you make it a bit more pleasurable by lighting candles, having a cloth napkin or tablecloth, or maybe it is adding lemon slices to your glass of water. How can you build capacity to ENJOY your day more – this increases pleasure which then tells your body and mind that you are resting and not always activated in flight or fight.

Think about in the bedroom, where you enjoy more sexual and intimate pleasure. Can you surrender a few percent to build up the pleasure muscle? How might that look for you?

The Vagus nerve (as I’ve written about before) is active throughout your body. As it’s known as the second brain in the gut as well as easily accessible in the solar plexus, there are ways to help access it intentionally when you’re feeling activated or under distress. Think of ways to access it now that you know where it lives in your body – as you are reading this now, see what happens when you hum a bit, sigh out OM, buzz like a bee, give yourself a vagus throat stroke, sing, chant, rub your belly, do belly breathing, rock or sway. Did you notice an exhalation or softening?

When we notice what is happening in our body and have resources to take care of ourself, it helps us hold agency and choice. We can then follow the pull for rest versus feeling compelled to push through.

We have been taught that we need to be productive even during a pandemic. We’ve also been taught that self-care is selfish and rest is both a sign of weakness as well as a luxury. One big step is to reclaim this process and see you rest as worthy and actually sustainable. These breaks can help productivity AND also increase your access to the nerve that helps your body rest and digest.

Here is a list of ways to relax and access the ventral vagus nerve. What might you add to your own personalized list?

* Take a break – re-centre yourself, pause, take in the surroundings, do it during a busy day
* Cook or bake something new
* Be off social media, devices
* Read for hours
* Journal
* Laugh
* Hammock or swing – sway back and forth
* Between moments of busyness take in your senses – 5 senses game
* Get bored to unwind after feeling overloaded – jog, podcast, one thing at a time
* Meditate
* Draw or paint
* Play with clay or dough
* Dance
* Change your meal plan
* Play catch
* Skip rope
* Sing
* Play music while cooking and sing
* Eat a fresh veg and fruit meal – find ways to savour them and pick your own fresh produce
* Treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers
* Watch adorable videos – cute animals
* Clean a spot in your home and relish that order
* Water bath – swim, look at photos, bliss out in the water
* Enjoy a view – mountain, forest or beach – in real life or photos
* Hug someone even yourself
* Talk to someone you love
* Tea break with a ritual process
* Do nothing but watch a kettle boil
* Eat chocolate
* Write a real letter to a loved one and mail it
* Watch a favourite happy movie scene or show
* Re-read a favourite book and recall where you read it before
* Cuddle a pet or someone else’s
* Play a fun game like Animal Crossing, or a game that takes you to your youth like Go Fish or Connect Four and recall how it made you feel back then
* Be barefoot outdoors
* Nap
* Cuddle with someone
* Sit in a rocking chair
* Plant something in soil get your hands dirty
* Wake with the dawn – watch a sunrise or sunset and look closely at how the horizon change
* Cold bath plunge
* Bird watch – or watch a butterfly in flight, a snail at a slow pace…
* Self-massage
* Happy place mediation

It might be overwhelming to think of things to do so why not split them up by season? With the Fall Equinox happening this week, it’s a great time to intentionally notice what things might help you glow. Fall is a perfect time to get back in rhythm as it shows us how cycles can be re-invigorating and helps us bring this awareness into our own life. Think of the 5 senses to help you start a list. Notice how you can navigate a new mindset shift and bring a sense of peace and warmth to your everyday. When we can anticipate a GOOD feeling and something we are looking for instead of dreading, that is a healing way to reset and get back to a rhythm. Have you heard of the concept of Hygge? This is the perfect time to add cozy and rest-encouraged activities and rituals in your everyday life. Let’s harvest some.

What are some things you look forward to this Fall?
* Drink chai or a spicy tea
* Puzzle play, crosswords, stock up on board games and new books
* Knit (or learn to)another new craft like weaving or macrame
* Get a new journal to write in and capture moments of gratitude
* Light a candle or oils
* Put lotion on your hands and feet at bedtime
* Put together a calming playlist and listen – do nothing else but catch your breathe
* Make Fire Cider
* Have a bath
* Can some fresh food for winter
* Apple picking
* Get a cozy blanket and keep it ready
* Stock up on indoor plants
* Witness a sunrise or sunset
* Get comfy clothes
* Hot apple cider
* Bake – bread, cookies, warm up store-bought cinnamon rolls
* Hug a tree and stare at its branches – fractals are repetitive patterns that help your brain meditate, or effortless looking
* Forest bath – mindful walk in a forest. Lie in it. Be still and focus. Hike. Notice the leaves and their change in colours
* Sitting by a crackling fire

In the next few days, why don’t you sit down with a cup of warm nourishing tea and a piece of paper and pen. Then, jot down some ways that you can add these activities of rest for yourself. What you come up with will be part of your Wellness Toolkit as we prepare for the Winter ahead, one that may be harder than years past. See what you can harvest. Find what makes you glow.

Parts of a Mother

My kids have been wanting to paint the walls. And not just figuratively, which they surely have been doing during this pandemic. They have been admiring the graffiti and street art in our city, and need to look no further than our own alleyway. Some artwork merits a smile and blush, others are thought-provoking, and some are eye-rolling.

We had the opportunity to fulfill this summer bucket wish last week. Our neighbour wanted to put her own tag on the wall and cover up some questionable artwork. So, luckily i was able to share with her that my daughter’s wish all summer was to use spray paint. What a good mom i am, right?

We were at the right place at the right time – paint in hand and ready to be accomplices, or rather apprentices, depending on your stance on graffiti art. I supervised the endeavour. I was happy to oblige my kids and a part of me was excited about the opportunity. And then i noticed the various parts of me that showed up alongside this joyful moment. Some were invited like the Good Mom. Others were a surprise like the Enforcer. And one happy surprise was the Inner Child who happily and tentatively held a bottle and made her mark.

After a while of being sous chefs, the kids were allowed to go wild and paint to their hearts content. They wrote lovely mantras like “love yourself” and “Me cool, you cool, we cool.” They were silly and they were in the moment. They were happy. And yet, i was surprised to notice my own voice barking at them, instructing them to not take up too much space. To not hog the space or take over. To not waste the paint. To not make a mess. I was able to notice it, and i apologized to the other adults whose project it was originally, to only notice later that who i needed to say sorry to was the kids because THEY weren’t doing anything wrong (and yes i know that graffiti is technically illegal). I felt guilty for them taking up too much space on the wall; i was directive and bossy and deferred to my neighbour as a way to people please – that other Part of me that gets exiled because i want to be assertive and confident, and yet she visits because i want to be liked and included. And like most of us, i have stories to tell from my youth of not fitting in and being bullied, and being afraid of conflict. I’m a work in progress too, and it’s taken years to notice that I withdraw from conflict and fawn to that person who is holding the reigns: It’s a safety survival reflex.

Internal Family System is a therapy modality that uses our parts of our Self that have become embedded in who we are. They are formed over our years of living our life, as tools to help us during a hard or scary moment. Typically, we have Manager, Fire Fighter and Exiled parts. We then have wounded parts that have become exiled and only show up when we are being triggered or if that part thinks we need their help. As a Feminist Therapist, i like to look at all these parts of my Self as my Archetypes – the Inner Goddess, Child, Warrior, Wise Woman, Apprentice, etc. Each of these has a role to play and our hope is that they get integrated into our true full Self, the person we are becoming and is our authentic wholeness. Think of your Inner Critic voice – from what Part do you think that comes from?

Our Parts are a bit different from the roles we play – i am a woman, partner, therapist, parent. I am also embodying all of these roles in my own unique way. For instance, let me take being a parent as a reference. In a given moment, my Perfectionist, the Inner Fraud, the Nurse, or maybe the Researcher or Governess shows up. Preparing my kids for school during a pandemic is definitely activating a few Parts so my Researcher hat is helping guide me. When i feel overwhelmed by my daughter’s messy room, my Perfectionist Part is kicked in gear. She’s there to try to help make sense of things and calm my nerves that get triggered by mess. It takes some time to notice what presents for you, and it can be helpful as it gives a way in to see what may need to change. When we notice the parts of us that show up in a harder moment, we get to engage in our own infrastructure. We also get to Reparent what is needed now, as well as what i needed back then.

Re-parenting my Self is a practice of self-compassion. And it’s indulgent because it is a way of building a secure attachment for the first time. We are working on meeting our need for nurturance and attention, sometimes for the first time. When we take time to learn how this looks for us, we are able to practice meeting our needs and getting to a place of a fuller, more happy life.

What are some parts you notice in you? What are some that you intentionally bring up to support you? Do you have an angry part that helps you when you need to address someone who’s being an asshole. Do you have an artsy side that helps you when you are stuck on something to wear? Name them – give them a voice so you can also talk back to them. These parts may need the same compassion your friends need. Thank them for trying to help you, remind them that you want to do try first and you well reach out to them if you need them. Send them a Dear John letter!

My journey to inner work is both one for myself as well as for the people i support. I’ve found such insight in books so i wanted to share some resources with you that may be helpful if you also want to learn more about Inner Parts work:
Recovery of Your Inner Child by Lucia Capachhione, a renowned art therapist
– Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner life by Tom Holmes
– books by Richard Schwartz, Frank Anderson, or Bonnie J Weiss
– this lovely deck of cards that i use in sessions and for myself; sometimes i pull a card to help me reflect on how to channel or nurture that Part, or sometimes it’s a way for me to guide my day with intention.

How do you say hello to the possibly long forgotten Inner Child Part? Do you notice any glee or happy shriek in your body as you skip with a skipping rope, or catch bubbles, or play with clay? Taking a ride on “Party Island” at the cottage has always been a happy place for me, as it gets me back in tune with my Inner Pre-teen Surfer wanna-be.

During this pandemic, I’ve been intentionally saying hello to my own Inner Child. I had one mantra that guided me: Get outside, laugh and move my body every day. It has helped me get through the harder days. I’ve been doing crafts I love like macrame and drawing, dancing on my own, eating comfort food, napping, playing in water. Earlier on, we had sleepovers as a family and watched a lot of classic movie marathons. These moments are not to escape this reality but rather finding a way to slow down and notice what my body is needing to balance this scary time. It’s also a way to capture what supported me as a child when times were hard: Life goes on.

Perfectly Imperfect Summer Vacation

Today marks the End of vacation mode for me. We were supposed to go to France the first 2 weeks of summer vacation, in honour of 20 years together with my partner. It was to be the first major trip for our family and the honeymoon I never had. While that’s not what ended up happening (thanks Covid!), we did a get an extended cottage break outside the city.

I’m not ready to go back to the city just yet. We’ve been away for close to 2 weeks and it’s been the break we all needed. It’s not France by any means and yet it was the remedy for some hard months.

Here are some of the things i will hold on to:

I swam daily, sometimes more than 3 separate times

I paddleboarded quite a bit and saw the bottom of the lake

I read 3 books while here and am onto book 4, #12 since the pandemic started

I found an abundance of new heart rocks to add to my collection

I saw my parents for the first time since February

I was creative – I sewed, played with clay, and knit a new summer sweater

I slept with my children, as we played musical beds as we would on a vacation

I had mindful moments watching butterflies 🦋

We had family time – in the water, which has always been our salvation, video games and we watched the whole first season of the new The Babysitters Club show

I lead my kids through some witchy classes to give them some routine

I saw the full moon and said hello to the stars most night

I sat in my beloved Donut Donut

That may sound like perfection, or at least an easy vacation. But of course, travel with kids is never that. Anywhere you go, life gets in the way.

Of course this time away wasn’t perfect and there are things I’m sad I never got to do. Maybe my expectations weren’t realistic, and some things were out of my control.

So….to keep it real:

Our yard in Toronto is a small square and we have so much green space here but we never went for walks in the forest.

I only did yoga once and only then because my back hurt too much so it was more for necessity

I never slept well until the last night

I didn’t journal once

My kids still had epic fights and there was some family yelling

I made a huge mistake in the romper I wanted to sew

My parents only stayed for a quick visit even though this is their space

We didn’t play any board games as a family, and we brought several from home

And I only read in the hammock once, because my kids needed me more and this time away was about attuning to each other.

I share both sides because we are prone to compare ourselves to others, making our side the deficit. I know I’m incredibly privileged to have access to an oasis during a heatwave. And ever, for that matter. I also know that I wasn’t able to truly relax into it. I worked still and so did my partner, still had to manage the kids needs, and the dishes were never ending.

One thing i noticed only in retrospect is that some of my expectations were of times past. So while realistic as a teen or twenty-something, now with young children of my own, going to the cottage means something else. I can definitely swim and read, but not for the hours of end i grew up doing. No wonder i was a bit disappointed – my expectation was just out of the realm of realistic.

This is every day life after all, pandemic or not. Vacations are just as imperfectly perfect as every day life and they don’t escape the “full catastrophe” of living.

My son is having a hard time holding on to any good moments. We review each day at bedtime, helping him notice that there were moments in the day that were good, even during a pandemic whhen his life was thrown upside down. I’m not suggesting to avoid the hard feelings, as I’m not a positivity cheerleader. And yet, when we can hold space for BOTH/AND experiences in our body, we allow more space for good feelings. This is Titration and helps heal us when we are going through hard things. It makes it easier to go through it when i know i can also feel good in a day, even for a few moments.

So, instead of focusing on the hard part of life, it helps to notice moments of joy. Our bodies can relax and get a handle on the hard. In a few weeks’ time, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m going to recall this time away. I’m going to sit and breathe in the sounds of the birds chirping, or the cool lake water on my feet, or the grass under me when i read a book. This intentional practice will let me body relax and sigh out a bit more.

I am a bit nervous about regular life as this summer looks so different than usual. So when i need a boost of joy, i will feel the sun on my body, some shared giggles and slowing down these past two weeks: I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

The Tipping Point: Power and Control During the Pandemic

I have worked in the Violence against Women Sector all of my career. Fresh out of university, i jumped into work in various shelters and helplines, both in my own city, as well as in India and Kazahkstan. It is something that i am very passionate about: My identity as a therapist is very connected to the part of me that is a VAW (violence against women) Counsellor, and has been for the past 22 years.

In my new role as a private practice therapist, I work predominantly with various types of trauma, especially with people who have experienced relational trauma as well as developmental trauma from their childhoods. While abuse from relationships is just one type of trauma, it is one that has lasting impact and yet we can still heal from it.

I share this history into my work past as it holds weight for what I know – abuse is still prevalent in our homes and is even more intense now because of the Covid19 pandemic. The pandemic is a ‘perfect storm’ that intensifies this type of trauma for both adults and children alike.

I also know that abuse isn’t just directed to women from men, and I appreciate the more inclusive language of ‘gender-based violence’ as it takes many forms, including intimate partner violence of people from all genders. And yet, it is without question mainly women that experience this type of abuse, by their male partners.

Why? Because of the need for Power and Control. That is also very steeped in male privilege, patriarchy, misogyny and gender-based violence. Men who use violence are also victims of our sexist society that views vulnerability as weakness, imperfection as a demerit, crying as a fault, and the old boys club status to aspire to.

During the pandemic, the pull for power and control is even more amplified because so many of us feel out of control, and that leads to internalized feelings like guilt, shame, fear or insecurity. Loss of work impacts our sense of status and contribution, it also makes us question or worth as we are taught to be productive at all costs. That internalized felt sense needs an output and for many of us, we were not taught how to expel anger, fear and sadness.

Then we lash out to get the feelings out and to feel in control again, even if that means we are not controlling others or displaying power OVER someone instead of power within.

I also know that people who use violence are not just the perpetrator but most likely have lived through their own story of abuse and trauma from their past or childhood. Some of the responsibility in this consequence of the pandemic lies not just on interpersonal relationships but at the systems that perpetuate them. Funding for shelters and helplines have been drastically cut, and people are isolated from each other and cannot access help.

No one deserves to be hurt no matter what.

One of the first tools I learned when i school to be a Feminist Therapist was the Power and Control Wheel, originally created in Wisconsin at the Duluth Centre. It helps create a visual image of the various ways that abuse is perpetuated. Since its original example, many others have been created to show reference to inclusivity and intersectionality. In all of them, they show how power and control are at the centre. They also depict the various forms of violence, especially ones that are more covert and therefore less likely to be noticed. This tool may be hard for some to read, and please note it’s used for educational reasons, to help others see what types of abuse exist. The impact on the person who is being abused is unique to each person and will be the focus of another article soon.

I’m not sure if the folx at the Centre have created a wheel for the pandemic: As no one today has ever lived through a global event like this, I wanted to share how abuse can be started or escalated during a pandemic. The wheel looks at interpersonal violence, so it’s important to note that there is a larger societal role that is steeps in how our community and global society continue to perpetuate Power and Control (stay tuned for another journal article soon on this).

In following the original model, we can assume most people have a general sense of Physical and Sexual Violence – for the most part they are easier to see or detect, and are a criminal offence. And yet there are other more covert or implicit types of violence as well. In keeping with the Wheel, I have broken them down here. This pandemic also alters the types of violence used, even physical and sexual examples. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, as there are unfortunately other examples as well. It is also a draft as more research and sharing of experiences is just being collected. Some of these examples are from the people i support first-hand.

Physical Abuse
Hitting, slapping, pulling hair, pushing; all mainly focused below the face as it is the only visual cue to others if the person is using video conferencing for work or social calls.

Sexual Violence
Forced sexual acts against consent; kissing and other forms of touch without consent or use of
health and safety precautions; being coerced or pressured for sexual acts because they are claiming to risk their health to come for a visit or are lonely and need to feel connected; not disclosing health concerns to sexual partner; having more than one sexual partner without disclosure; pressure to do sexually things virtually that makes person uncomfortable

Financial Abuse
Making the person take a leave from work and collect CERB or another social welfare program as it keeps them at home all the time; not allowing them access to funds – whether cannot go to bank machine due to pandemic or not sharing funds directly; Threaten to report person to take department or social welfare office to intimidate them; this is a form of financial abuse, threats, as well as privilege because it is used as a form of power if they are not using the same sources of income; not allow partner to share planning budget, paying bills, and otherwise knowing what the household income is; controlling what is bought for the home including groceries when only one partner leaves the home; quitting work themselves without consulting partner and relying on them for financial support

Threats
Using intimidation or threats to keep the person at home and not socializing, even via social media; threatening to tell authorities if person breaks ‘physical distancing’ rule; threaten to leave them or hurt themselves if partner leaves; intimidation to be violent with words or actions; breaks belongings or threatens to take things important to them; threats or hurts pet; partners may not live together and one uses power to pressure the other to visit even if they do not feel safe due to health and safety cautions.

Impact on Children
When abuse starts or escalates at home with children, they witness it even if they do no see it directly; can also increase incidents of child abuse due to stress at home and misdirected anger; using children in between former partners during exchange or access visits; telling ex-partner they cannot see children due to fear of getting virus; not allowing partner’s children from other person to visit or stay with them; involving children to be messenger of info

Emotional/Mental Abuse
Being at home with the person who uses violence is very stressful – there is no break and tensions can rise; conflict or stress can escalate and the perpetrator may be more diligent and hurtful in their language, put-downs on food preparation, demands on time, name-calling or derogatory and mean words. They may minimize their actions (called gaslighting); blame the person for the abuse or being stuck at home; claiming safety concerns to justify behaviour; minimizing the threat of the virus and using conspiracy theories to pressure partner to go out when they feel anxious to; not asking them how they are and providing support and only focusing on positive feelings

Isolation
During a pandemic when we are to stay in our homes is isolating enough; people who use violence can use this to not allow their partner to contact friends or family by phone or video; pressure them to not go out in the community; jealousy and control that leads to partner not wanting to go out; do all the social outings like groceries, etc which keeps the person stuck at home and not able to ask for help; ghosting their partner during Covid19

Using Privilege
Treats partner like a servant and makes all the decisions regarding the household alone; other forms of privilege include threatening to out the person if they are LGBTQI2S and want to leave partner, or having white privilege and is not a target in the community, or citizenship privilege and can access supports that someone who doesn’t have status can’t; able-bodied privilege where they do not understand the further impact on someone who needs physical support and their care workers cannot do home visits during pandemic.

There have been some great initiatives that have started during this pandemic to help support people who have experiencing this in their homes. If you are someone, or know someone who needs support or to learn about safety plans, please be mindful when doing searches online. Reach out for help, as you are not alone and deserve better.

The Alchemy of Resilience

It is week 10 of Pandemic Living: As we are settling into a routine of sorts, it comes with resistance as this is not the life I want to be living. I want to see my friends in person and hug them, and i miss my everyday life of going to my office to work, getting groceries, and picking my kids up from school.

And yet, like all change, I was in denial at first, and am moving into a place of acceptance. It hasn’t been easy, and at times it has been mixed with grief, anger, fear, and such sadness. My Window of Tolerance is shorter than ever before and being stuck at home (a place i love typically and know i am very privileged to have) makes it hard to settle into this life.
But like a butterfly, we are going through these stages of Metamorphosis. At first, we were defiant and messy in adapting to this new life, then we worked on a new plan to accept the transition (called Liminal Stage). As we are starting to accept that this life during a pandemic is nowhere near as short-lived as we hoped, we need to start working on what comes next. Transition is the time to claim the life I want. It’s when I need to turn inward and practice Introspection. When we are asked to do this during a pandemic with no clear end in sight, this transition is more challenging.

Once we start accepting the reality, we have reached the Integration stage. This Initiation process means we are moving closer to our true Self and move to a version that is hopefully better than before. When we reach integration, that means we are more able to bounce back and seek out things we love to balance the shit and hard times of this so-called life.

A big part of how we adjust to change, both Rites of Passage like parenthood or unexpected change like a pandemic is Resilience. We all go through change but some of us adapt and bounce back better. I know this is a buzz word, and yet when we are living through a massive global change, resilience is a necessary tool to help us get to the other side of that rainbow we keep seeing everywhere.

Not only are we experiencing a pandemic, it is also a collective trauma, as I have mentioned before. Trauma is not just something that hurt us, but also something where we were not able to experience the good stuff that we were looking forward to. This is where grief comes in about things we have lost during this time. Children look to their adult caregivers to help support the healing after trauma. This helps them build resilience and immunity from future trauma. But how do we offer this to others when we are still struggling too?

There is hope.

Resilience is how we weather the storm. It happens when we tap into our own inner strength, believe it’s there, and use it when things are hard. This is our Sense of Self.

Some definitions of resilience include 1) the ability to restore balance and come back to your centre 2) the ability to overcome difficulty and move through trauma or adversity, 3) the capacity to recover quickly so that you can take in pleasure and have a healthy nervous system response and 4) resilience is acceptance of adversity. It is not just about how we recover from a challenge but also accepting when we cannot change something. That’s how we integrate and move on.

Alchemy is the magical way of combining ingredients to get to an even better new item. As a student of resilience, it is a big part of my work as a trauma therapist. Here, I’ve curated a recipe of sorts to help build your resilience.

6 Factors of Resilience
* REST – Find more peace and strengthen your relationship with your Self; learn to self-sooth, regulate and manage your thoughts; nurture yourself with good food, practice self-care and self-compassion; access those old resources that worked in the past; take news and social media breaks; get outside to be in nature; sleep as well as you can.
* Acknowledge your FEELINGS – Be mindful in moments to slow down the overwhelm; learn tools for worry brain or anxious mind; notice you sensations in your body and respond to them; be honest with yourself and your family about how you are feeling; allow time to feel your feelings and let others do the same, notice your fears specifically and help yourself get to the end of the fear by naming it – this helps lessen its effect on you.
* GRATITUDE – Kindness for self and others; intentionally notice the good in the day; notice how much of the news you can take in; share things you are grateful for in a journal or with a loved one; seek out the things that you appreciate now.
* Reach out for SUPPORT and Connection – Connect with others; hold space, empathy, listen without trying to fix; find new ways to connect by also respecting boundaries and safety; find the shared experience instead of the ways you are struggling more.
* PLAY – Be creative and find joy; do things you enjoy and have been meaning to do so that there are things you look forward to and are proud of; laugh and have pleasure in your body; being creative and curious helps us build resilience as it shows our brain that we are not stuck in flight or fight response; find ways to move your body (song, dance, throw a ball, get outside)
* Have a ROUTINE – You don’t need to over-schedule yourself, in fact the opposite is true. When you have a rhythm that your body recognizes, it experience that bounce back quality. Find things you can control to help balance the overwhelm and uncertainty in your body; cook or do thins in your home that you know you can do. This certainty helps deepen your adaptability and helps get to a place of radical ACCEPTANCE.

Mother told us to pause and retreat. So retreat with nourishment and reflect. Go inward. Danielle LePorte

Collective Resilience
We are all enduring this experience of the pandemic, albeit in different boats. Common threads coming up include a heightened sense of fear and anxiety, the social disconnection from being forced to distance can increase loneliness or at worst violence in the home, and the overarching thread of the unknown. ((Cue Into Unknown song in Frozen here))

This then impacts our health – our individual health, the interrelatedness to others in our personal life, as well as our collective larger community. When we seek out ways to practice enhancing our resilience, we are not only helping ourselves but our community. As humans, we are built to survive and also thrive. As i mentioned in a previous article, our brain has 3 systems, Defense, Social Engagement and Drive: This is where our Drive comes in, which is our uniquely human brain’s capacity to thrive.

This is the time for intentional pause so we can commit to a Sacred re-prioritization. We need to root in the earth instead of be unearthed by this massive change that was dumped on us. We need discomfort to grow. Danielle Laporte recently shared that this is not about going back to the way things were, but rather transforming from my heart-centred place. It’s about an ego death, hence the opportunity to re-prioritize your values from your true Self.

Here are some journal prompts that may help you unpack this further:

Journal Prompts
1) How can I live my life according to my values? If not all day but some time with each day, how can i practice this?
2) What is my Passion Project – these fuel the fire within. It allows your mind to still, to become clear and helps you focus on something to look forward to. Spend some time imagining this and putting it on paper, even in draft form it helps get the wheels turning.
3) Shapeshifter Visualization – who do i want to be after this? How can i evolve into a different version of myself. How can i accept that nature has its course to take as well.
4) Create a manifesting collage (or “Wombifesting” thanks to Latham Thomas’ reclaiming of the word to allow things to happen versus mange them happen). Get your old magazines and glue sticks out and create a vision board of who you want to be 6 months from now. Two years from now.
5) What’s the thing you’ve been wanting and what’s the fear you’ve had that has come up now again? What’s standing in the way? What armour do you need do build up your strength to challenge your fear?
6) For those of us working a lot and now working at home – notice how you can work from home and order things online. How is this helping or harming your life plan? Ask yourself: Am I living the life i love? What can I change to be more aligned with it?
7) Looking at the above list of ingredients for resilience, What can you add or change to your practice to ensure more opportunity for resilience?

When we experience something traumatic, we are not doomed for it to take over us indefinitely. There is always potential for growth and recovery. So, as not a lot is in our control now due to the pandemic, we can still review our Locus of Control, and identify what is within our realm of control. This is where we can make choices for wellbeing. A new identity is forming now so it’s a good time to ask yourself why am i here? What do i want in my life now? This is about taking the opportunity for EVOLUTION, that than bouncing back to what was.

We are not on the other side of the rainbow just yet. As we are learning more about ourselves and what works for us, when we make intentional choices to do things that comfort us and balance the harder feelings, that is resilience. We are not on the post-traumatic side of this new reality, and yet post-traumatic growth is itself a journey of resilience. What you do now will help you recover in the new world post-pandemic.

A Tiger Named Covid

I’m a big fan of tigers, jaguars and panthers. I love how they live in a pack, are caring for the little ones, and are so tough. And yet they are used a lot as reference to the things our bodies fear the most. Have you heard the expression “your body is afraid of the tiger in the bushes?” We either flee them, play dead, or try to fight back. In today’s current global crisis, Covid has become that tiger. Our body prepares to keep us safe by bringing up times we were in harm’s way, similar to an alarm system. Our ancestors surely faced more dangerous tigers, and we still embody this primitive, reptilian reaction in our present life.

I’ve spent my career supporting others who are healing from trauma, both relational or developmental trauma as well as birth trauma. I’d like to think I know a few things about how to help others heal. In fact, I am so passionate about helping people heal from their past trauma and believe that they can. I have gone through my own experiences of trauma and pain. And yet, I have never gone through a pre-traumatic event with any of my clients or community.

None of us have.

This pandemic is the first collective trauma of this kind any of us in this lifetime has endured. Of course, some of us have endured other forms of trauma including relational abuse and war. Some of have faced institutional oppression, racism, and genocide. Some of us have ancestors who experienced violence and trauma and still are impacted by it – as well as us as our bodies have inherited that lived experience of trauma. In today’s pandemic, we may not be impacted by it in the same way, and yet we are all experiencing some level of pain from this global health crisis.

Our body and brain are experiencing some levels of stress. Some of us still have to leave their homes to work and that is anxiety-inducing. Some of us have family members who need to leave home to work and that is nerve-wracking. Others of us have to stay at home with someone who is abusive towards them, and they are in a constant state of activation. Others have lost income due to jobs that are no longer there, or have family who has been diagnosed with Covid19.

The current collective trauma is a re-traumatizing experience for those that experienced trauma in the past. Being stuck indoors reactivates the body’s reminder that it cannot leave and needs to flee in order to be safe. Some clients have shared with me that their former trauma is really resurfacing for them as their body recalls similar sensations as in the past trauma experience. Their bodies feel stuck, they can’t release their feelings, or feel like they are walking on eggshells in order to not cause a volcano explosion – their partners, theirs, or their children’s. A lot of us are just within or outside our Window of Tolerance of regulation.

We do not have to be trauma survivors to experience fear and trauma during this crisis. Double trauma is the new experience mixed with old ones, and peritrauma is the potential of becoming traumatized during this event. After all, trauma is defined as something too big, too much and too fast to bear. I know I am experiencing a lot right now that is too much and too fast to digest.

Trauma is an embodied felt sense after experiencing something hard we are not able to rebound from. Trauma lives in our body as well as mind so we need strategies that help both parts heal. This helps us move past a startle defense response that keeps trauma active in the body.
We are now past the initial “Honeymoon stage” of life temporarily in Quarantine and Distancing. Some of us have found some ways to imbed a new routine and others are feeling more activated by the ongoing pandemic and its impact on our everyday lives. We have the potential to bounce back after this experience, but the uncertainty of when it ends keeps us feeling stuck.

Our brain’s Central Nervous System is made up of 2 parts – the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). Our sympathetic nervous system helps us prepare for things and keeps us protected. You many have heard of the term “Fight or Flight” as reference to our body’s way of reacting to feeling unsafe and needing to either flee the tiger or fight off the tiger. Two more ‘f Words’ are Freeze and Fawn, which are at the other end of our brain’s way of responding to threat to safety. Each are an innate instinctual response to threat, as our body’s alarm system is activated to respond in a pre-determined way. We can’t typically change how we respond but we can lessen the impact and severity.

An embodied sense of trauma is not so much about what happened to us as how it lingers in our body, so we don’t need to talk about the event itself. Rather, what we need is having empathic listening, resources, and rest. We have an innate capacity to move through trauma, it just needs to be supported. It helps to have someone bear witness to us so that we don’t hold inside the trauma in absence of a compassionate witness. In my previous post, I shared ways to build this community so you feel less alone in your experience.

Trauma processing work doesn’t erase the trauma but rather minimizes how it grabs us. A main goal of therapy is to uncouple trauma-based emotions from the sensation that is stored in your body. This will then help you integrate the impact in your body as a memory rather than a real-life reminder in the here and now.

You can definitely do things in the here and now to lessen the impact of peri-trauma in your body. While therapy is a key support, it is not alone in ways to help yourself.

Things to do for you now “Without tools trauma rules”

We build resilience as we build our capacity to take care of ourselves after trauma. It may help to notice what your response is. Do you have a sense of this already? If not, this article may help a lot as it may be beneficial to sit with your thoughts as you reflect on times in your life where you reacted to something that upset you. Try not to think of something too big as it may make you re-live it, but rather a time when you were surprised and how your body responded.

For instance, I am a Freezer. I freeze when I am scared. My body feels stuck in place and my feet feel like they are frozen in ice. And not like Elsa. Let me share this story to paint the picture a bit better: my son fell down the stairs once when he was not even 2 years old. As he inched closer to the stairs, I noticed my alarm system react. But I felt stuck in ice or quicksand and could not move to rescue him. I screamed and responded to him when he was already at the bottom of the stairs. He was fine, and only bit his lip. Now, whenever he or his sister is at the top of any staircase, I recall this sensation in my body.

My son is a Fighter – even the lightest tickle will turn my son into a green mini-Hulk. He cannot bear the sensation, even if by accident and he will hit with fists to protect himself. My daughter is a Fawn who seeks closeness to us when scared, and also is more quick to bounce back and people please after a conflict.

Once you get a sense of the reaction in your own body, it makes it easier to know the tools, resources and exercises that help you in the here and now moment of your SNS kicking in. Here are some tips to help you when your Alarm system (aka SNS) is on and you can’t access the parasympathetic part of social connection or rest. Accessing these resources may help you get back into regulation during this pandemic.

Flight
* Go outside – take a drive, even your balcony, and look for nature prompts to stay in here and now. Play the 5 Senses Game to stay present.
* Walk around home space or go for a walk outside safely. Do a mindful walk or ecstatic dance and move your arms. Let your arms take flight as your reaction may feel stuck in the core of your body. Moving your periphery is very stabilizing
* Orient in the space around you with your eyes – move your head side to side to help you see different perspectives. This bi-lateral work is great for your brain to regulate.
* Do a sun salutation yoga sequence to get you flowing
* Breathe work – try a Self-Compassion Break exercise

Fight
* Roar like a Lion – Have an outburst of anger and scream as tension in your body gets stuck in the throat so breathing helps it be let out.
* Move your breath down to your belly – short breaths are connected to running, and we associate running from tigers. If we can breathe deeply then we are not scared. It sends a message to your brain that you are safe.
* Have a cool shower to regulate the heat that is rising with anger
* Run in spot then bring breath back, jumping jacks, box in pillow to get the anger out in a safe way
* Give yourself a small smile too as it loosens the tension in the jaw and sends a message to your brain that you are okay
* Push your hands against a wall, with your feet planted firmly on the ground
* Do some yoga Warrior poses

Freeze
* Warm UP – the felt sense of numbness, disconnection, chronic pain, disconnected from emotions needs warm so use a warm bath or blanket. Get your shoulders to feel the weight and warmth of it.
* Do some breathe work with the word Vooo to release some of the stuck energy.
* Body exercises like alternate foot step, progressive muscle relaxation, or playing catch with a ball helps your brain also get stimulated and distracted. This movement also warms your body up.
* Guided visualizations of a warm soothing place
* Lie against a wall and put your legs up the wall – this helps your flow and energy change and your heart beats more rhythmically.
* Find a restorative yoga class to follow online

Fawn
* Connect with others – join groups online or classes, or reach out to others
* Listen to podcasts to hear another voice in your home to decrease feeling of loneliness
* Heart breath work including placing your hands over our heart and breathing out more slowly than in but saying ‘shhhhh’ outloud
* Visualization of a happy memory activates estrogen, a bonding hormone
* We orient to others to engage so turn your neck and eyes from side to side, to seek out someone in a photo, the radio, on TV
* Write a letter to a loved one or look at photo albums
* * Give yourself a hug or get a hug from someone, try the Butterfly Hug. This helps slow down the stress hormone cortisol and slow breathing into your chest. Hug a pillow and breath out – we need to get to belly breathing here too

Not knowing when the trauma or fear is going to leave is what re-triggers the body in the here and now. Our brain stays stuck in the activated part to keep our alarm system on, but it works too hard and doesn’t know when to shut off. Kind of like that fire alarm in your home that doesn’t stop when the battery runs out. With any of these reactions, think of a part of you that needs to know it can move – feet, arms, orientation of periphery and tend to it. You can massage your feet, dance, move, walk around. Send lovingkindness, compassion, and gratitude to your body for being there to protect you.

Think of learning these resources like a way to enact a Nervous System bubble. In our current situation, think of things that are activating you. Is it wearing a mask? Is it seeing others in masks? Is it going to the grocery store? Or is it being stuck at home and unsure of what the future holds? Once you have somatic resources like these listed above, you are better able to respond to the need and titrate the sensation.

In previous posts, i have shared the concept of Titration; it allows us the experience of looking back at the trauma in the body but in a way that is controlled and not overwhelming. As we start to look at this, our body can resist and get overwhelmed because it’s been so used to holding back or stopping feelings from coming up again. So, pause and think of a more gentle memory. Slow down the overwhelm or anxiousness that enters your body but intentionally connecting to what you sense.

I love to garden and April is meant for planting seeds of intention, so having this affirmation handy may be a way of taking care of your heart too: you are the medicine for your own trauma. Dig deep for only you can make those wildflowers bloom again (source unknown)

Having a natural curiosity to explore your options to heal trauma is a key ingredient to heal. It may feel scary to do this work in this moment and yet staying with your feelings and doing somatic mindfulness work in the here and now is what will help your body know you are safe right now. Of course you are scared and overwhelmed – that makes so much sense with what we are living through right now. Give yourself the practice of self-compassion – speak to yourself about yourself with a kind heart, give yourself grace and patience.

How to Soothe Yourself During Times of Crisis

I know I’m not alone with having a lot of mixed feelings during this global health crisis. It’s times like this that I am grateful that my work choice gives me access to many tools for emotion regulation.

This week was supposed to be a gentle staycation with my kids, as it’s the start of March Break. Instead, we are home and needing ways to co-regulate.

I’m reminded of the importance of routine in our daily life, as it helps us foster the resilience that is in all of us. As I’ve written about before, children need 3 things to have the best chance of resilience – play, rest and access to feelings. I’d say that adults also need these.

There are many great exercises to help regulate ourselves during a crisis or in everyday stressful situations. Here I’ve collected some of the ones I know work because I do them for myself and my family.

Resource #1 Find time to Rest Play Feel
When was the last time you got to stay home and rest your body? Especially in this day and age where productivity is most valued, being told by those in power to stay home feels confusing, to say the least. Seize this opportunity to do less. Do not pressure yourself to do all the things every day this week. We need a relaxed and healthy nervous system so that we don’t stress our bodies. A body in stress is more susceptible to illness.

Instead of working and cleaning, running a home school and doing chores, play. Laugh, do a messy craft. Go to bed earlier. Talk to people about what worries you (make sure to ask them for permission to be slimed by your fears first). Dance to a good playlist. Eat good food (not just healthy but the good comfort food too). Write in a journal and process these thoughts. Find some free yoga or meditation classes online to help your body get to rest. And yes, do get outside! Nature is healing in so many ways, and the Spring that is sneaking up in my garden is a good reminder of resilience.

Resource #2 Connection
While we have been advised to social distance ourselves to keep us all as safe and healthy as possible, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with others. Reach out to friends and families. I am so glad that I have a couple of chat groups that are keeping me connected – my peer consultation group that holds space for each other, and my friend group where we talk about what worries us, what angers us, and what confuses us. And it’s not always about the Virus. We compared favourite TV shows and how to keep our white laundry still white.

My children and I made cards for family, and will Skype call them this week and next. We cuddle with each other, read in the family bed, and we go outdoors where some trusted neighbour-friends also venture out.

When we know we are in community, we also then see that we are not alone in this fear of situation. When I worry about how to pay my expenses next month, I remind myself that everyone else is worried too. When I am struggling with my children squabbling, I can share this feeling with others and know that so many of us are in this together. That Shared Humanity is a crucial part of self-compassion work – we are stronger together!

Resource #3 Titrate Your Attention
We are getting all sorts of information and news about Covid19. That doesn’t mean we need to read them all. Choose the places that you trust the most, and pace yourself with getting access to the news. Then, intentionally go to a better place in our mind. That may be your Happy Place. Notice the sights, smell, sounds, body sensation, and flavours that linger in your mouth in that place. This process helps your body access this place more easily and linger in our body. It literally then helps your nervous system regulate.

Pendulation is a helpful way for your body to slow down the impact of stress. It intentionally works by pendulating back and forth between something good and something hard. This article shares more about it. This intention helps you lessen the impact of a negative or scary thought. You balance it intentionally with positive or more soothing thoughts. You can do it but thinking of something that is hard for you, noticing how it sits in our body and where it is, then go to a more gentle thought. Embody this new positive thought and then go back to the first one. It’s a way to slow down by envisioning a volume control button, dimmer light switch, or remote control as you do this.

There are some great resources online that walk you through some of these exercises and meditations. Here is just one source. It shares a bit more about Somatic Experiencing and how it is so helpful during times of crisis like now.

Titration is literally a way to notice just one part at a time, like a puzzle piece instead of the whole puzzle. It’s a way to separate out and work on only a small bit of the emotions or sensations and leave the rest for later, when you are more resourced. Speaking of puzzles I’m working on an epic one with my family this week and it is a great tool for distraction and focus!

Resource #4 Eyes Smile Nod
Gordon Neufeld talks about this tool to help parents ensure they have their children’s full attention. This is a great tool for anyone in contact with others – when we can make eye contact and smile, we are literally accessing the Ventral Vagus Nerve, that is used to help us get to a more relaxed and rested Parasympathetic Nervous System. The vagus nerve lives in your body right behind your eyes, cheeks and mouth and continues down to your perineum. The nod also accesses that part of the brain that bilateral stimulation is engaged. EMDR also does this, as does tapping your feet in alternate steps, or swaying side to side. This is so soothing for your nervous system.

Want to learn more about this theory? Stephen Porges has given us the gift of Polyvagal Theory. Irene Lyon is a great source of info too, and she combines polyvagal theory with Somatic Experiencing tools. Check out her video here for more info. And, you can definitely incorporate ways to access the vagus nerve with how you model co-regulation with children. This article shares some ideas.

So, even if you are not in direct contact with people the next few weeks, when you are on a video call with them, or across the room or street, make a point to give them your eyes, smile and nod. Your nervous system will thank you.

Resource #5 Hold on to a Good Moment
Our brain has a natural tendency to focus on the negative. It’s our brain’s way to protect us from that tiger in the bushes. Our sympathetic nervous system is built to keep us safe and go into Flight Fight Freeze Fawn response when it needs to. That doesn’t mean we need it all the time. When you notice that you are activated or triggered by upsetting news right now, you can instead make a point to balance this fear by telling your brain that you are safe. One way to do that is to go to that good moment in your memory bank. This moment is stored in your body as well as your brain. A somatic tool helps you access it by getting to it from the bottom up, meaning from your body. Up. To your brain last. I can share a memory from my childhood with my beloved gazebo as an example. It has many good memories attached to it, and the image of a treehouse is a perfect analogy for your brain to get to the upstairs part versus where the amygdala lives in the downstairs part of the primitive brain.

Here are the steps:
After recalling the memory, notice first what the body sensation is connected to this moment. For me, it’s a warm glow in my heart when i can picture myself in the upstairs room of the gazebo. The glow is warm and yellow like a sunflower in my heart.

Go through the 5 senses to bring out the image more – the white gazebo fence, the sounds of many birds singing, the smell of flowers in my mom’s garden, the feel of wood on the chair I’m sitting on, and the taste of chocolate (i imagine a lot of Mr. Christie’s chocolate chip cookies in this playhouse)

Now notice the body movement with this memory – as you recall it, what does your body want to do? For instance, i can picture running up and down the staircase and feeling the breeze. So I feel the movement in my thighs moving up and down

Now, think of what is the emotion attached to this moment? I was happy here; this place felt cozy, safe, fun, playful, and content, even if my world didn’t always feel that way.

Finally, what is the thought that comes with this memory – the house symbolizes a felt sense of happy child and imagination for me.

Resource #6 Say Hi to your Hero
This is a good time to seek out your support circle. I don’t mean the people in your actual life, but the superheros or characters that have had your back over the years. It could be you cat, Captain Marvel, or June from Handmaid’s Tale. It can be people in your life but in the past. Who are the Recalled Resources that have held you in scary times? I have some goddesses I look up to and some are online like Gottess or therapists with fabulous instagram pages. When I seek out their words, my whole mind body and spirit are hugged. When the world is sharing this collective fear, call upon those you trust and look up to for their strength, wisdom and fierceness. Spend time reading their work, or watch their movies, read books about them. You get the idea. Make a plan for a personal development project with their expertise in mind. Channel their wisdom and strength. For me, that means taking cat naps like my cat, strengthening my body with home yoga/walk/dance sessions, emerging myself in more moon studies. And yes I’m watching Marvel superhero movies and staying season 3 of Handmaids Tale.

#7 Have a Room of Your Own
When we are all self-isolating to some degree, that may not be from our own direct family. Some of us may find this time especially hard or unsafe. It’s important to plan a safety plan that incorporates how to ask for hep when the person who is hurting you is home with you. Think of code words for friends to listen for, hide your browser history, connect with people regularly to check in and confirm you are safe.

It is also important for all of us to find ways to regulate ourselves so that we can keep community with each other. That means, in order to regulate back into our Window of Tolerance, we need to adopt Virginia Woolf’s idea of the room of our own. Even if that means for 15 minutes a day, you lock yourself in the bathroom and have a long soothing shower, pleasure yourself (remember I how i mentioned above that the fabulous Ventral Vagus Nerve goes right down to your perineum!) when everyone else is in bed.

Make an agreement with anyone you may live with that it benefits all of you to get planned time alone. You don’t have to be an introvert to need this. It will help even more to find time for self-reflection, practice gratitude, and also have time to yourself so that you can repeat this all again tomorrow. Write in your journal and answer questions like this 1) what is something I’m grateful today 2) what is something I can let go of 3) I forgive myself for … 4) I’m looking forward to ….

There is always room for hope and looking forward. It helps if you spend time with it intentionally, so your body can feel it too.

Take care of you these coming days.