Religious Trauma Syndrome

Religious Trauma Syndrome
by Marlene Winell
Religious Trauma Syndrome is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination. They may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith and/or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. RTS is a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection with one’s faith. It can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This is a summary followed by a series of three articles which were published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Today.
Religious Trauma Syndrome has a very recognizable set of symptoms, a definitive set of causes, and a debilitating cycle of abuse. There are ways to stop the abuse and recover.
Symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome:
• Cognitive: Confusion, poor critical thinking ability, negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth, black & white thinking, perfectionism, difficulty with decision-making
• Emotional: Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loneliness, difficulty with pleasure, loss of meaning
• Social: Loss of social network, family rupture, social awkwardness, sexual difficulty, behind schedule on developmental tasks
• Cultural: Unfamiliarity with secular world; “fish out of water” feelings, difficulty belonging, information gaps (e.g. evolution, modern art, music)
Causes of Religious Trauma Syndrome:
Authoritarianism coupled with toxic theology which is received and reinforced at church, school, and home results in:
• Suppression of normal child development – cognitive, social, emotional, moral stages are arrested
• Damage to normal thinking and feeling abilities -information is limited and controlled; dysfunctional beliefs taught; independent thinking condemned; feelings condemned
• External locus of control – knowledge is revealed, not discovered; hierarchy of authority enforced; self not a reliable or good source
• Physical and sexual abuse – patriarchal power; unhealthy sexual views; punishment used as for discipline
Cycle of Abuse
The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it. (These are teachings of fundamentalist Christianity; however other authoritarian religions have equally toxic doctrines.)
You must conform to a mental test of “believing” in an external, unseen source for salvation, and maintain this state of belief until death. You cannot ever stop sinning altogether, so you must continue to confess and be forgiven, hoping that you have met the criteria despite complete lack of feedback about whether you will actually make it to heaven.
Salvation is not a free gift after all.
For the sincere believer, this results in an unending cycle of shame and relief.
Stopping the Cycle
You can stop the cycle of abuse, but leaving the faith is a “mixed blessing.” Letting go of the need to conform is a huge relief. There is a sense of freedom, excitement about information and new experiences, new-found self-respect, integrity, and the sense of an emerging identity.
There are huge challenges as well. The psychological damage does not go away overnight. In fact, because the phobia indoctrination in young childhood is so powerful, the fear of hell can last a lifetime despite rational analysis. Likewise the damage to self-esteem and basic self-trust can be crippling. This is why there are so many thousands of walking wounded – people who have left fundamentalist religion and are living with Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Mistaken Identity
Religious Trauma Syndrome mimics the symptoms of many other disorders –
post-traumatic stress disorder
clinical depression
anxiety disorders
bipolar disorder
obsessive compulsive disorder
borderline personality disorder
eating disorders
social disorders
marital and sexual dysfunctions
suicide
drug and alcohol abuse
extreme antisocial behavior, including homicide
There are many extreme cases, including child abuse of all kinds, suicide, rape, and murder. Not as extreme but also tragic are all the people who are struggling to make sense of life after losing their whole basis of reality. None of the previously named diagnoses quite tells the story, and many who try to get help from the mental health profession cannot find a therapist who understands.
What’s the problem?
We have in our society an assumption that religion is for the most part benign or good for you. Therapists, like others, expect that if you stop believing, you just quit going to church, putting it in the same category as not believing in Santa Claus. Some people also consider religious beliefs childish, so you just grow out of them, simple as that. Therapists often don’t understand fundamentalism, and they even recommend spiritual practices as part of therapy. In general, people who have not survived an authoritarian fundamentalist indoctrination do not realize what a complete mind-rape it really is.
In the United States, we also treasure our bill of rights, our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. This makes it extremely difficult to address a debilitating disorder like RTS without threatening the majority of Americans. Raising questions about toxic beliefs and abusive practices in religion seems to be violating a taboo. No one wants to be pointing fingers for fear of tampering with our precious freedoms.
But this is the problem. Sanitizing religion makes it all the more insidious when it is toxic. For example, small children are biologically dependent on their adult caretakers; built into their survival mechanisms is a need to trust authority just to stay alive. Religious teachings take hold easily in their underdeveloped brains while the adults conveniently keep control. This continues generation after generation, as the religious meme complex reproduces itself, and masses of believers learn to value self-loathing and fear apocalypse.
There is hope
Awareness is growing about the dangers of religious indoctrination. There are more and more websites to support the growing number of people leaving harmful religion. Slowly, services are growing to help people with RTS heal and grow, including Journey Free. We are discovering the means by which people can understand what they have been through and take steps to become healthy, happy human beings.

Estranged Families and Christmas

Christmas is the hardest time of year for those estranged from close family
Image – CBS

With Christmas just around the corner, many will be finalising plans to see their families over the festive period. Yet for others, family relationships are challenging, distant and a source of pain. In some cases, relationships break down entirely leaving people estranged from close relatives.

Results from a new online survey of people estranged from family members conducted with the charity Stand Alone, has shown how difficult Christmas can be. The survey was completed by 807 people who identified as being estranged from a parent, sibling or an adult child.

Almost all identified the holiday season as the most challenging time of year, describing feelings of loneliness, isolation and sadness. These feelings and experiences are in direct contrast to the idealised images of happy families around the dinner table that feature in Christmas advertising and the media at this time of year. One respondent said:

Everyone always says ‘what family plans do you have for holidays?’ and look at you funny when you say none. It’s hard to explain to people why you don’t want to be with your own parents.

Two-thirds of the respondents felt there was a stigma about family estrangement. They described feeling judged or blamed – and feeling that estrangement was a taboo subject about which there is little understanding or acknowledgement.

No two estranged relationships looked alike. Yet common factors often led to estrangement, such as having mismatched expectations about family roles and relationships, clashes in personality and values, and emotional abuse.

Estrangement was found to be more complex than simply a lack of contact or communication between family members. Although most of the respondents who were estranged from a parent, sibling or an adult child had no contact whatsoever with this individual, approximately 25% had contact that was minimal in nature. These results are similar to those of Australian social worker Kylie Aglias, who has distinguished between family members who have no contact at all (physical estrangement) and those whose contact is infrequent, perfunctory, and often uncomfortable (emotional estrangement).

We also found that estranged relationships change over time and that cycles in and out of estrangement are common. Of those who said they wished that their estranged relationship was different, most wanted a relationship that was more loving, warm and emotionally close.

What can be done to help?

When it came to getting support, respondents said those friends and support services which offered them emotional and practical support and took the time to listen to them and show them understanding were the most helpful. They found it unhelpful when they felt friends or counsellors dismissed them or when they felt they had been judged and blamed for the estrangement.

It would be wrong to assume that all those experiencing estrangement wish for there to be reconciliation in the future. Feelings about the future of estranged relationships were varied. Of those who were estranged from a mother or father, most felt that there would never be a functional relationship between them in the future. Yet for those who were estranged from an adult son or daughter, most felt that there could be a functional relationship in the future or were unsure of the future direction of the relationship.

Four out of five respondents also reported that there had been a positive outcome from their experience of estrangement. These included feeling more free and independent, feeling happier and less stressed, and having gained a greater insight or understanding of themselves and relationships more broadly.

By listening to the hidden voices of people who are estranged from close relatives, we can begin to move beyond assumptions about what families could or should look like and begin conversations about families and family relationships as they really are.

The Conversation.com

Article from Cornwall Live

A woman in West Cornwall is using her traumatic experience of leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, after being raised as one, to offer a new counselling service for former members of religious cults.

Laetitia Latham Jones, from St Buryan near Penzance, recently qualified as a crisis and trauma counsellor and set up Taking The Helm, which provides counselling for everyone from victims of abuse, to survivors of natural disasters.

But it is those who have left religious cults that Laetitia wishes to specialise in helping, drawing on her own childhood experience and being disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion which she describes as having the traits of a cult.

In recent years, many former Jehovah’s Witnesses have described the religion as being cult-like, but fearing repercussions, most have done so anonymously.

Now, hoping to help others who have been shunned and left isolated after leaving religious groups, Laetitia has spoken out about what happens when you say you want to leave.

“I was born into a religious cult myself. Other people join them, but I had no choice.”

Originally from Kent, Laetitia says her parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses about four years before she was born. “They knocked on our door and caught my mum at a vulnerable time of crisis.” She explains.

“One of my older brothers had severe autism and had to live in a residential hospital at six years of age. After he left the home, my mum was obviously distraught and a Jehovah’s Witness called at her door.”

Laetitia’s mother started attending meetings, and her father could see it seemed to help her, so he accompanied her.

By the time Laetitia was born, the family were well-established Jehovah’s Witnesses, attending meetings at their local Kingdom Hall three times a week, and door knocking in the local area to try and recruit new members.

As a child, Laetitia was involved from the start. She recalls being taken out to preach every Christmas Day, something she hated because they received a lot of negative responses. She remembers a man shouting at her father, saying that his children should be at home opening presents rather than knocking on doors.

“By the time I was eight years old, I was out preaching on my own, with my parents calling on other homes in the same street. I was trained with good arguments for each subject that could be raised. I had a really good argument for evolution, and for not having or giving blood transfusions – even if it is for a family member.”

But preaching on Christmas Day was not the only thing that made Laetitia’s childhood different than most. “At school, I was kept out of religious assemblies and religious studies. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays, or Easter because we were taught they had Pagan origins.

“They feel that celebrating birthdays places you upon a pedestal and the only person you should honour is God.”

But for someone born into the religion, not having a birthday party did not seem all that strange:

“We were also encouraged not to associate with anyone outside of the religion and my friends didn’t celebrate their birthdays either.”

Although Laetitia would get in trouble for small acts of rebellion or asking too many questions, (like, ‘why have Adam and Eve got belly buttons in our pamphlet?’) she decided that she still wanted to be baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness.

“I was baptised at the age of 14 – full immersion in a pool at one of their conventions. At the time, I thought it was what I wanted. A friend of mine was baptised at 12 years of age, and I was quite close to her, so I asked my parents for the next two years until they agreed.

“The elders take you through a set of questions, to ensure you know what you’re getting into, but obviously at 14, you are still too young.”

If the elders thought being baptised would make Laetitia a more committed Jehovah’s Witness, they were wrong, because two years later, she had had enough and wanted out.

“At 16, I asked the elders to disfellowship me, because I wanted my own life, and I wanted my freedom. I was dating a young man who wasn’t in the religion, and he had all of his freedom and I wanted mine too.”

Laetitia continues: “I knew what would happen, I knew I had to choose between my family and my own life, because you are shunned once you leave. As I was young, I didn’t really appreciate the consequences, and the effect leaving would have on me way down the line.

“I was a rebellious child, and not looked upon favourably by my parents, so I thought it wouldn’t matter anyway. However, years on you realise it has a bigger effect on you than you thought it would.”

Laetitia says she was brought before three elders known as a judicial committee, who tried to convince her not to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses before the disfellowshipping. “I had been in front of them twice previously for various things, as I was not an obedient child. They tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted. I had my boyfriend, so I knew there was someone to support me. Maybe if I’d been on my own, I would never have asked.”

As soon as she left, Laetitia’s life changed: “Everyone you’ve known and grown up with shuns you. They don’t speak to you anymore. If they see you on the street, they will cross to the other side rather than speak to you, so you have to get used to that.

“With my parents, I was still living in the family home, so they had to interact with me as they usually would, but there was a definite atmosphere. They told me I couldn’t leave home unless I married, so I discussed this with my boyfriend and about five weeks later, at the age of 17, we were married and I was able to move out.”

Speaking about the adjustment that followed, Laetitia says: “When you are raised in a cult you do not realise how isolated you are from the outside world, so when you come out it is extremely difficult to learn how to mix with a community, to make friends and trust others – because you are taught to trust no-one in the world.

“Many people who leave cults are isolated and some have committed suicide, because they cannot handle the shunning and the outside world.”

Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses vehemently dispute they are in any way a cult, and have a section on their website dedicated to explaining why they are not a cult, saying: “No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. Rather, we are Christians who do our best to follow the example set by Jesus Christ and to live by his teachings.” The website continues to argue that they are not a cult because they ‘have not invented a new religion’, and ‘do not look to any human as their leader.’

Laetitia disagrees: “The religions viewed as cults interfere with your personal life. They control what you wear, what you read and what you watch on TV. We weren’t even allowed to watch Scooby Doo!

“In my research, I have discovered there is actually a checklist for cults known as the B.I.T.E. model.”

Having left her parents and the religion that she was raised in, Laetitia says there was domestic violence in her marriage when she was pregnant with her daughter, so feeling vulnerable she returned to the Jehovah’s Witnesses so that she could have contact and support from her family again.

She went through a process of being reinstated, where she had to attend church for six months without talking to anyone to prove that she was committed to being a member again.

After leaving her first husband, Laetitia eventually married again, but although her second husband was happy at first to attend the Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings, he soon realised after talking to an elder, that for them to accept him, he would have to quit his job as a policeman.

This prompted Laetitia to disassociate herself from Jehovah’s Witnesses for a second time, and disassociation results in the same treatment as disfellowshipping.

When Laetitia’s second husband retired from the police force, they moved to Cornwall with their son. She recalls visiting the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle in 1996 where she was shocked by the ways that women who were branded as witches had been tortured by people who were supposedly Christian. “So I thought, if they teach that witchcraft is evil, but can perform horrific tortures, then maybe the other side isn’t as bad as they say it is. That’s when I began looking into witchcraft.”

With a love of morris dancing as well as developing an interest in Paganism, Laetitia was invited to train as a ‘teaser’ for Penglaz, the Obby Oss at Golowan Festival in Penzance. Her tutor turned out to be Cassandra Latham, who she had previously met at the Pagan Conference in 2003.

In 1996, Cassandra became the first person in the UK to have her occupation registered with the Inland Revenue as ‘village witch’. As a much respected wisewoman in West Cornwall, Cassandra was looking to not only train up a new teaser, but a wisewoman who could work alongside her.

Laetitia and her second husband eventually divorced due to their lives going in different directions.

As a village wisewoman living with Cassandra in St Buryan, it would seem that Laetitia could not be further away from her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. However, when her father died of cancer five years ago, she attended her local Kingdom Hall following the funeral, to be somewhere he would want to be. She promised her father that she would return before he died and her grief at this time led her to become reinstated.

“Of course, when the elders discovered I was with Cassandra, all Hell broke loose, as you can imagine.” Laetitia remembers.

“They sent me a text to say they wanted to see me, and I visited the hall that evening, where two elders were waiting for me and brought up websites on their iPad with my pictures with the ‘Obby ‘Oss and Cassandra.

“They were angry and instructed me to leave Cassandra immediately, and called her an evil woman, and began questioning me about my personal life. I replied that she had been extremely kind to me as she gave me a home rather than see me become homeless after my divorce.

“I reacted angrily and shortly after that they instructed me to attend a hearing with the judicial committee of elders and I refused. The following day they called at Cassandra’s cottage and announced they were disfellowshipping me once again.”

Despite her reaction to the Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to tell her how to live her life, Laetitia says that she doesn’t hold any resentment towards her parents, who have both now passed away, following her mother’s death earlier this year.

“I don’t hold a grudge. They caught my parents at a vulnerable time, and I feel so sorry for them as they were taken advantage of. My parents lived and breathed that religion for 60 years, and now that I have more knowledge of cults, I can see they wasted their lives believing they would never become old or die, waiting each day for Armageddon and the paradise earth where they would live forever.”

Laetitia is clearly happy with where she is now, and proud of her achievements – with good reason: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we weren’t allowed to go on to further education after leaving school. We were told that college would have wild parties, drug taking, bad associations etc. They didn’t want us to have a career as we were pressured to be ‘pioneers’ where you preach for 90 hours a month and have a small part time job to earn money.

“I wanted to be a professional dancer and my sister wanted to be a P.E. teacher, but we didn’t pursue those careers as it would be difficult without parental support.

“I attended college in my early 30s and did NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3 in Beauty Therapy, went on to attain Diplomas in Holistic therapies, I teach Reiki courses and now have my Counselling Diploma.”

Looking towards the future and hoping that her Counselling Diploma and her experience can help others, Laetitia says:

“I had a friend from childhood who was a Jehovah’s Witness and committed suicide at the age of 21. He was depressed, and he told the elders he considered ending his life, but received no help.

“My research and study of religious cults show that many people end their lives because they are shunned and isolated after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults.

“I want to be there for people who reach out for someone who understands their problems.

“I could save lives in this way, just by being there, and I feel this is the reason for my life experience.”

Cornwall Live

Feedback:

I happened to come across an article about you and wanted to say thank you for sharing! Up until about a year and a half ago I thought I was the only one that experienced the aftermath of being disfellowshipped. Anyway, I hope you and yours are well! A.C

My sister, just sent me over your article from Cornwall live. Thank you for sharing your experience, it very much reflects our upbringing as a JW. I build up the courage 5 years ago to leave, not disassociate as my mum is mental and physically disabled, which you know would mean I would not be able to talk to her. Cutting the long story short, I am now a mental health nurse, due to witnessing so many witnesses disfellowshipped through acts they did whilst mentally ill. It is not all roses as many believe it is and I am so glad you have found your way and shared your story. Kind Regards S.M.

I just wanted to say well done for your brave interview on cornwalllive – good for you being able to talk openly about repression and controlling organisations and how much I respect your decision to help others who fall into these traps – also ignore the trolls as some people have nothing better to do than continue the repression this way! Lots of love. L.F.

Thank you for your article . I’m glad you were honest. I’ve left after 30 plus years . I was unhappy about the secret data base of paedophiles. Since speaking out I’ve been shunned . My daughter no longer speaks along with ..4 grandchildren. It’s just ridiculous. So many are leaving , I’ve been trying to visit people as they leave to make sure they have food . The situation has got very bad over the last few years . But I’d like to say thank you . Much love. A.C.

Feeling Like it’s The End of the World?

Two techniques to build your courage.

The challenges are daunting. Yes, we are vulnerable.

But each of us can find the courage room inside.

The first part of this article is a story about how frightening the current pandemic is for some of us, and how one young woman is finding her courage every day. (This client has given me permission to share some of her story, hoping her courage is contagious.)

The second part describes two different practices for courage-building. If either one resonates, grab a journal or open a fresh computer doc and WRITE IT OUT or (with bilateral stimulation) DO IT. The key is to act because action is POWER: a main ingredient of COURAGE.

Angel of a New Life.

She’s so distraught that she needs time to cry before the session can begin. “But I’m afraid of dying. I will die . . .This could be Armageddon. Couldn’t it?” Since COVID-19 has become a pandemic, Angel, a woman who recently left an apocalyptic religion, has experienced a resurgence of acute PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms: panic attacks, overwhelming fear, dissociation, feelings of abandonment.

I respond, into my computer screen, “No, Angel. I don’t believe it’s Armageddon. We’ve talked about this. And I know you’re scared. Before we keep going, please find your feet on the floor.”

I give her a moment. “Do your feet feel the same on either side?” At first, she can’t feel her right foot. At all: she’s dissociated—unable to feel her body fully. For Angel, this manifests first in her feet; she cannot feel the ground. This brings on a new round of panicked tears. I speak again, wishing that our two bodies were in the same room instead of on opposite sides of Toronto and opposite sides of our screens. When someone is upset, dissociating, crying, just sitting quietly with a loving witness can be a great help. Our brains and bodies are inherently social; the presence of an emotionally-regulated person brings calm to an individual or even a group in acute distress. Our emotions are contagious.

Does it work through a screen, though? Therapists all over the world are asking themselves that question right now. “Angel, I’m here. I’m with you. Keep your eyes open. Look at me. If you can’t feel the right foot, just focus on your left foot. Move your toes up and down. Lift your heel. Now touch your one hand to the opposite knee. Then the other hand. That’s it.” She shivers, sighs, touches and touches, back and forth.

After this short round of bilateral stimulation — rhythmic touches on alternating sides of the body — a wave passes through her body, top to the bottom. Though I can’t see her right foot — we’re working in separate rooms, each on our screens — I know from her and eyes face that her awareness has entered the ‘missing’ foot, connecting her back to the floor and to the present. “Back in the feet? ” I ask the familiar question.

She answers, “Yes, back in my body.”

Touching one side, then the other: it’s a deceptively simple grounding technique, but it works in profound ways. Bilateral stimulation can be tactile, visual, or auditory — gentle rhythmic stimulation to either side of the body/ears/eyes to calm and soothe the nervous system.

Eastern physical and spiritual practices like yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and all the martial arts have elaborate systems based on this technique; Western neuroscience and psychotherapy have finally joined the club. Most of the somatic trauma therapies developed in the last twenty years use some form of bilateral stimulation. Though I work a lot with visualization and mindfulness, my core practice as a therapist is OEI — Observed Experiential Integration — another bilateral stimulation therapy that changed my life twenty years ago, when I was healing from the traumas of my childhood.

We Live in a Beautiful, Traumatized World.

Many of us have extensive histories of abandonment and trauma: child abuse, including neglect, insecure attachment to caregivers, religious trauma similar to Angel’s; violent and emotionally abusive adult relationships; combat experiences; assaults of many kinds; school, academic, and workplace bullying; life-altering accidents, shootings. Many trauma victims grow into kind, productive individuals who have healed, who are healing, who want to heal. Yet many more are in prison or live in prison-like personal circumstances, trapped in the pain and disconnection of traumatic reenactment.

While life protects none of us from misfortune, with the spread of Covid-19, some people are experiencing traumatic stress as daily reality for the first time. Having never experienced anything like this before, many people are deeply confused, which often expresses itself as an inability to focus. When everything normal has changed, it is natural to feel disoriented and fearful.

Even for those of us who are relatively safe, this pandemic carries all the markers of the traumatic experience:

Powerlessness. Intense anxiety. Lack of predictability.

Fear of impending injury or death. A disordered sense of reality and time.

Disrupted social bonds.

For those who are working in essential services and healthcare, the dangers are potentially lethal. The brave work some people are doing now will leave the deep internal scars of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the rest of us also have to contend with this frightening time. Later in the session, Angel asked, “But how can my parents not even call me? How can they not check in on me? Did they never love me at all?” Her family has disowned her for leaving ‘the truth.’ She’s had very little contact with her family or old JW friends. She already has created a small circle of new friends, but she craves contact with her ‘old world’ and her parents and siblings.

Ostracism is one of the most wounding things a group can do to an individual or family unit. Social death is truly a form of death. And with this pandemic, because we’re so cut off from each other, millions of people are experiencing a taste of social death and ostracism. Our internal and external social engagement systems have been disturbed or completely overturned. Forced isolation is painful.

Single clients tell me — on a phone or computer screen, at this time — that they think they are going “fucking crazy.” I nod and say, “Let’s work with that.” We are social creatures; our bodies and our brains are social machines. We can now see on MRI scans that our brains respond to and interact with each other all the time — right down to the level of mirror neurons. We experience our connections with each other as both emotions and physical feelings in the body.

That’s why the glance of a stranger’s eyes or the gaze of a loved one can be so powerful. It’s brain to brain contact. By reading this, you share with me a moment, a small world of thought.

I continue to work with Angel on her renewed symptoms. She feels deep grief for the loss of her family. This is part of religious and betrayal trauma: in breaking away from an abusive religion or relationship, the person often loses a community as well as an identity. Sometimes, when Angel feels like she can’t cope with this world and her fear, I remind her of the extraordinary courage she found to make her escape in the first place.

My therapy and mentorship practice is called The Courage Room. That doesn’t only indicate the name of the place; it’s also another way of saying ‘the human body’. Each of us has within a room of resilience and strength. You are the courage room. am the courage room. We are in this together.

Below, you will find two techniques for building your courage (finding your calm is an extra benefit.)

Finding The Courage Room Inside: two basic techniques

#1. Make Courage Real: Visualize The Courage Resource

The first step in building courage is to imagine it. Never underestimate the healing power of the imagination.

Usually every one of us, even those who’ve lived through damaging experiences, can remember a time and a place where we were safe, where we experienced a sense of happiness and contentment. In therapy-speak, we call this a resource; remembering the resource place or activity is called resourcing. We summon up those places in our memories we can use for self-nourishment and stabilization.

These do not have to be fancy places. Often they are humble. One safe place in a house: for one client, it was under the dining room table of her childhood. Sometimes it’s a backyard or garden. A park you used to love as a kid (or still love as an adult). A safe relative or friend’s house.

So think of (or imagine — custom-build one) your place of courage and safety.

Meditate upon it. Daydream about it. Honour it in your mind and heart.

Courage can also be contained, like a talisman, in one small object in our mind or physical life. Imagine the space or the object.

Hold it in your hand if exists: turn it into your courage talisman.

Now, grab the journal or open the fresh document and write down the story of your courage room/object. Really DO IT: the physical act is an act of power. Accessing power through your imagination gives you courage. Courage COMES from the imagination. More on that in another blog post, and a book I’m writing . . .

My house is full of small and large rocks and stones because at different times, they’ve given me courage, or a view into another possibility. Rocks and stones especially are dense, beautiful objects of power. Their solidity is dependable. And one of my most important ‘courage’ rooms and talismans combined is a big tree in my neighbourhood. I visit it almost every day. I love that tree!

Close your eyes and think about how the courage of this space/object can grow, expand, giving you both strength and a sense of calm. When you experience distress, upset, exhaustion, fear, PTSD symptoms, go to your room/object and get in touch with your courage resource. The more you work with this, the more powerful it becomes.

Visualization can be many things, including a spiritual practice that’s part of meditation, but it’s also a form of brain exercise that translates into physical results. For decades, elite athletes have employed visualization in their training; a whole body of research shows how effective visualization is for building co-ordination, strength, and spatial memory.

#2. Bilateral Stimulation

Anyone can experiment with stimulating each side of their body in a simple alternating sensory pattern. When we touch the body, or focus our vision or hearing in a certain way, we send signals to the brain: it’s the brain that actually allows us to feel, see, hear, taste, smell. Focused, intentional bilateral stimulation has a regulating effect on the brain, the body, and the entire nervous system.

So next time you are panicking, ready to scream at someone, filled with the pressure to harm yourself or another person in any way (in reality or in your imagination) please count to ten, take a few deep conscious breaths, and give the techniques below a try. We bilaterally stimulate naturally when we walk, dance, push the pedals of our bicycle.

First and foremost, as I did with Angel above, put your feet on the floor. Feel your feet. Feel how each side might give you a slightly or a radically different sensation. Pay attention. Go back and forth. Just stay with your feet; the feeling will come into them.

Breathe into your belly. You don’t want to have the breath up in your throat; pull it all that way into the bottom of your lungs and let your belly fill with air.

Take your right hand and gently tap your left knee or thigh. (Further focus comes when we cross the midline of the body, hence the left to right sequencing.) Take your left hand and gently tap your right knee or thigh.

Repeat 20 times, paying careful attention to how this simple exercise helps to calm down your body. Keep breathing into your lower lungs and belly. Feel your feet on the floor. Repeat more if it helps.

If you want to get more active, stand up. Feel your feet on the floor. Lift your right knee up and touch it with your left hand. Repeat on the other side. Do this bilateral stimulation march for a few steps, remaining in place, to see if it works for you.

Turn these two basic, easy techniques into part of a mental health hygiene routine. Share these techniques with friends and family. Kids can also use conscious bilateral stimulation to calm down, to feel better, to focus on homework, and to self-soothe.

The Beginning, Not the End, of The World

Social distancing has brought Angel into a renewed period of mourning for the loss of her family; it’s an ongoing sorrow, especially in a time when most of us are anxious to connect, to remind ourselves that we belong, we are part of our families and of the human family. In a recent session, Angel talked at length about losing her family, her friends, feeling that she had died to them; none of the community members that she’s known her whole life have called to see how she’s doing.

“It’s like Armageddon has already come and I’m dead!” Her face seemed to be ready to crumple. I thought she might cry. But something else happened. Her expression altered and opened; her face lit up. And her voice became stronger as she said, “But I’m not dead. Obviously! I’m ALIVE. I’ve already resurrected myself. That’s what leaving was for me. Resurrection. And it’s the only kind of resurrection I will ever know. So I’m not going to waste it.” Then she did something she’s only recently started doing, after almost thirty-three years of living: she swore, with great feeling, “Fuck that!” We burst out laughing, each leaning in to get closer on either side of our computer screens.

Here’s to self-resurrection. Here’s to spring, which shows us every year how to come alive again.

(Disclaimer: Dear Reader, this article is not a substitute for therapy or counselling. If you are experiencing serious distress, please call a hotline or a trusted friend for support.!)

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Karen Connolly

Shunning and Suicide

Shunning, one of the most abusive practice of high-pressure groups, is often the most obvious sign that a group is abusive. It tears families and communities apart, forcing many to choose between their faith and their loved ones. Whether it is called Shunning, Disconnection, Ostracism, or De-FOOing, the harsh reality of alienation ensures that those who leave the group are cut off absolutely, often losing their entire community – friends, relatives, and their complete support system.

For one woman in Michigan who had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the strain of losing her community was too much, and, struggling under the weight of the shame her abusers had taught her to assume, she drowned the family dog and shot her husband and two adult children, before turning the gun on herself. According to family friends, Lauren Stuart and her husband had left the organization because their children wished to attend college – something the Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly discourage – and she wished to pursue a modeling career. Because she could no longer be a member of the group in good standing, former friends ignored her, looking the other way when seeing her in town, refusing to speak with her or acknowledge her presence. In a small community, such treatment can make life intolerable, and although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed in court that shunning is a “personal choice” and never absolute, their own internal convention videos show a harsh reality, where parents are coached to ignore their own children if they are disfellowshipped.

Read more here: Open Minds Foundation