A basic guide to dealing with loss and grief

I post frequent blogs about aspects of grief but have not posted a basic guide. I have had requests to do that so that is what I am writing about today.

No matter where you live, no matter who is around you, it is highly unlikely you will get through life without ever losing someone or something that matters to you.

You can lose belongings, your job, your home, your car, friendships, your familiar environment if you move away, your country if you emigrate, a beloved pet, a close friend, a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a child and so on.

It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It is hard losing something or someone. It is shocking, hard to believe, sad, a cause for anger, upsetting, painful, disorienting, devastating and many more feelings to numerous to mention.

You will respond to loss differently to another person, even one who has experienced the same loss. You may feel such intense feelings you feel you are going to explode. You may feel numb and empty. You may find it hard to stay still. You may feel you can’t eat. You may find it impossible to sleep at night. You may feel unwell and even get sick. You may feel you are learning to live with it and then something will happen and the feelings will come flooding back.

The most common belief about loss is that it relates to the death of a loved one. That is a major loss, but not the only one. As I already mentioned, there are many other ways we experience loss. For ease of understanding, I will refer to loss as due to death. But you can apply what I write to all the above situations and more.

Losing someone/thing involves a shattering of trust. It may just be a small trust issue or it may involve your whole world. The world you trusted in has just let you down. Someone you have loved is not there any more. You trusted the world to deliver the certainty of each day being as you wanted and the people in it carrying on as always. But that hasn’t happened. Now the world is an uncertain place and that is hard to comprehend.

Alongside this are your feelings. How do you handle all the terrible feelings you are experiencing? You may want to cry. A lot. You may just want to lie in bed and never get up. You may not feel like eating. You may feel guilty if you feel happy, or laugh at something. You may find just the act of living overwhelming. You may find you are focused on keeping on going and worry you are not upset enough.

Remember, everyone grieves differently. You have things you need to do. The world does not stop moving. As Paul Kelly wrote in his song “Feelings of grief”

I go about my day

There’s always somebody to pay

They just won’t go away

Nor will these feelings of grief.

The world does not stop because you are grieving.

How do you manage this grief and loss?

The first thing is to allow yourself to cry. Don’t try to hold all the feelings you have in. If you want to be angry, be angry. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to laugh, laugh. All feelings are valid. Don’t judge yourself for the feelings you have.

Ignore those who tell you that you should be over the grief by now. Or you should ignore the feelings in get on with life. You know your needs. Don’t expect to be miraculously feeling better for a long time.

Allow yourself time to yourself away from the world if that is what you need. Allow yourself to spend time alone if that is what you need.

Be okay smiling and laughing, and even having the occasional moment of light heartedness. This does not mean you are uncaring and forgetting the one you have lost. It is part of life to have different moods.

It is really important you get your chance to say goodbye. Not everyone can go to the funeral of a loved one. Even if you do, it may not be the right time to say goodbye. Find your way to say goodbye in your time.

Allow yourself to share your feelings with a trusted friend or counsellor. It is important you not suppress your feelings and deny them. Do not tell yourself other people need more attention than you do. You need as much attention as everyone else who is grieving. If you are caring for others, it is vital you attend to your grief needs or your ability to care for others will be impaired. You matter and your needs are important.

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. You need time to recover. You need understanding for the times when your emotions impact your behaviour and coping ability. Give yourself some slack.

Avoid taking alcohol or drugs. They may dull your pain, but they also prevent you from feeling it and attending to it properly. They will delay your healing and prolong your pain.

Try not to take out your feelings on others. Try to maintain an awareness of what is happening and give yourself space when you feel overwhelmed.

Never hide your feelings because you think another person will be harmed by seeing you sad. You can have your feelings and be supportive of others. In fact, you will be more supportive if you share your feelings.

I have included the lyrics to the song “Feelings of Grief” by Paul Kelly.

Feelings of grief

Breaking over me

Wave after wave like the rolling sea

These feelings of grief

Time without end

I’m gonna miss you, my friend

How do you suppose this world will ever mend

Or this heart play again?

I go about my day

There’ s always somebody to pay

They just won’t go away

Nor will these feelings of grief

Feelings of grief

Blinding me with tears

Everything that’s dear, piece by piece disappears

And all that remains are these feelings of grief

All I have, feelings of grief

Grief

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

What if anxiety is a good thing?

You know the feeling. You start feeling frightened and scared. Your heart starts racing. Your mouth feels dry. You don’t feel comfortable.

All these are symptoms of anxiety.

It may be a reaction to a particular situation. Or it may be a regular feeling you feel most of the time.

Anxiety is not a pleasant feeling.

That is the way your body designs it.

It is a feeling you are required to pay attention to. To respond to.

If you never learned in childhood to see anxiety as a positive thing, then it is unlikely to feel positive now in adulthood.

If that feeling accompanied traumatic events in your childhood, then you are unlikely to see it as positive.

Anxiety may well be a sign you have been triggered and thrown into a reaction you cannot control.

That type of reaction is one you will probably only learn to control with counselling.

But there are other times when you feel anxiety, even times when the anxious feeling comes before you are triggered.

These are the times you can work with.

I mentioned earlier that our body designs anxiety to be paid attention to.

What if you saw anxiety as something positive. As your body producing energy to allow you to meet a challenging situation. Your body getting ready to attend to the challenging situation.

What if you realised that the more challenging the situation is, the more energy your body produces to attend to the challenge.

When you were a child, you did not have the skills to attend to those challenges without help. If you had help, then you learned anxiety was something you could handle.

If you didn’t have help, you learned that anxiety was something you could not handle.

Now you are an adult and you can handle the anxiety and the challenges that come with it.

Try welcoming those anxious feelings next time. Tell them you know they are there to give you the energy to meet the challenging. Thank the anxiety for letting you know it is there to help. It won’t feel pleasant, but you might find you meet the challenge.

And after the challenge, thank the anxiety for showing you that you were able to handle the situation.

This is no magic pill, but over time it will help you change your attitude to anxiety.

As for those major triggers of your trauma, with counselling you can learn how to work with them too.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxious feelings and trauma triggers, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

6 lies society tells you about Grief

Before you lost someone you loved, what did you believe about grief?

Did you believe that you got over it?

So now you have lost someone you love.

Do you still believe you can get over it?

Do you believe you are living in the past when you remember the one you loved?

Do you believe you are developing some terrible “grief disorder” because you don’t feel like moving on with life?

About 8 years ago one of the major manuals that lists mental health disorders, the DSM, released a new update, Number 5. In this update it listed grief as a mental health disorder. At the time there was widespread criticism of this pathologising of a totally natural life event. One thing it did was give people no time to get over their feelings of grief.

Sadly, I notice that its narrow view on the time span of grief is being adopted by many practitioners including your local family doctor.

So what are the current lies about grief?

1. You should be able to just bounce back.

Really? You deeply love someone. They have become part of your life, a part of you. Your brain has developed neural connections to that person. Then they are gone. Part of you has died. Those neural connections are still searching for that person.

Other people can’t see the damaged parts. But they are still there. You are different. You don’t fit the “old you” mould. You are now a different person with the bit your loved one occupied missing.

A neuroscientist will tell you that your brain has to rebuild the neural networks that connected you to the one you loved. That physically hurts and it throws your brain into confusion. And that brings me to the next lie.

2. You should be able to just slip back into your old life and routines.

Really? Your brain is working hard breaking down old neural pathways and developing new ones. This throws you into confusion as all the neural pathways that connected to the one you love’s special pathway have to sever their connections too.

You have changed. You are different. Your brain is in total confusion. You may even have lost the purpose you once had in life. You may have lost the reason you get out of bed in the morning.

But you are still expected to front up to work. You are still expected to celebrate all those events in life that you once felt happy about, friend’s happy events, the Christmases, the New Years. The list goes on. But be a good person and be happy for everyone else.

You will be expected to accept that when you cook dinner, you may cook a smaller dinner. When you wash your clothes, the washing machine may be less full. When you go shopping, you mayneed to buy less and even not buy things that only your loved one used. You may see something in a shop your loved one would have loved and then remember they are not here anymore for you to give it to them. And you will be expected to accept that.

People will expect you to make them feel comfortable, so no unexpected tears.

You will experience pressure to carry on as if nothing has happened and you will think you are wrong because everyone is telling you to do this.

3. You should be over it by now.

Should you? Do you have to get over it? Do you want to get over it?

Never forget that you are the only person who has the right to tell you what you should be thinking.

I understand that it is not pleasant to feel so miserable. I get that sometimes you may cling to what someone is telling you about getting over it already, because you are so tired of feeling miserable.

You will never really get over it. That part of you that was occupied by the one you love will always hurt. Maybe you will not cry as often as you have, but that loss of that loved one will always be there.

4. You should stop thinking about, talking about, reminiscing about your loved one.

Ever noticed how uncomfortable people are about talking about those who have died?

Ever noticed how this becomes a taboo subject?

Many people draw great comfort from talking about their love one, particularly in the early days, weeks, months, years of losing them. Just as we will reminisce with friends and family about stories from our earlier years, so we will reminisce about those who are no longer with us.

Talking about someone also honours them. I loved it when my grandmother talked about her brother who died in World War 1. It made him alive and I liked that. Our connections to the past are important.

What I find curious is that reminiscing about a funny event from childhood is considered normal, but reminiscing about something done with the one you love is treated like living in the past and terribly unhealthy.

I wonder at the discomfort of those who try to shut you down at times like this. What are they so frightened of?

5. You have to stop this grief nonsense and move on with your life.

Why?

This statement is often accompanied by some comment about how much your pain is hurting others and should be stopped immediately. This just heaps guilt on to you, because suddenly you are being made accountable for the feelings of others. Their feelings are not your concern. Your feelings are.

Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. It is not unusual to need to just sit in the remains of your old life and spend time there. Some day, you will build a new life. It won’t look like the old life, but it will be your life.

6. I could have stopped this/prevented this.

This one is a goodie. It goes well with its partner “should have”. I should have seen this coming. I should have told him not to go there. I should have checked she had her bike helmet on before she went out. I should have gone too.

As if you have that much control over other people and what happens to them.

Time to let go of the idea that you have control over your life and accept that there is much of life that is uncertain. Then give yourself the time to grieve.

Right now you don’t trust life very much. It wasn’t so reliable as you thought it was. Now you add that to the list of things you need to process on this grief journey.

7. Time will heal the pain.

This is a good one. As time passes you will begin to feel more in control, able to feel happy, able to laugh. That much is true. But time will not heal the pain. You will always hurt over the loss of your loved one.

Your life has been forever changed.

Maybe in ten years you will remember something you and your loved one did. At that moment you will maybe shed a tear or two. You may feel an incredible sadness. You may feel a deep love for them. You may even laugh at the humour of that moment. This doesn’t mean the pain is healed. It just means you have been able to build a life that includes that pain in it.

I saw a lovely quote once by a man called John Green. He said “Grief does not change you … It reveals you.”

I love that quote. With the grief I have experienced I can see that quote expresses it so well. I have become the person I am today because of the ones I loved who are no longer here. I know that I could not have become that person I am today if those I have lost in the past were still here. I have allowed grief to guide me and allow me to be the person I am today. And I have those I have lost in the past to thank for that. This is their legacy.

5 steps to being a calmer driver

In our busy lives there is much to trigger our ancient defence mechanisms of fight or flight. Unfortunately that can lead to a range of outcomes from road rage incidents to increased stress.

It is particularly hard to stay calm when there is heavy traffic, or when you are stuck behind someone driving well below the speed limit on a single lane road.

But using mindfulness can help you to stay calm. The more you practice it, the easier it will become.

Here is how you can use mindfulness to calm down while driving:

  1. Take a slow, deep in breath into the bottom of your chest and belly. Then let that breath out slowly. This sends your brain a calm down, everything is okay, message. This gentle pause allows you to stop and think. It allows you to decide how you are going to respond, rather than blindly reacting.
  2. Ask the question “What do you need”? It is an important question and helps you to think about how you will respond to what is happening around you.
  3. Act on what you need. Maybe you need to relax. Give your body a quick mini shake and allow the tension to leave. Is there anywhere in your body that is particularly tense? Focus on releasing the tension. It can be helpful to tense that part and then release it. Continue your slow, deep in breaths. As you breathe and release tension in your body, say things like “May I feel calm, may I feel safe, may I feel relaxed”.
  4. Now notice the other cars around you. Recognise that the drivers in those cars want what you want. They want to get to their destination. They want to be safe. As you continue to breath slow, deep in breaths, say to the other drivers “May you feel calm, may you feel safe, may you feel relaxed”.
  5. Continue to focus on slow, deep inbreaths. Monitor your feelings. If you start to feel frustrated or upset, pay attention to what is happening there and attend to it.

Using this method regularly, as well as daily mindfulness practice, will help you to learn to be a calmer, less stressed driver.

What takes the place of what sorrow has shaken from your heart?

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” ~ Rumi

That is a radical thought. It is also, for the person struggling with grief, somewhat trite and quite a put down.

This is a quotation I would never give to someone who is in the first few years of grieving the loss of a loved one.

What is this quotation really saying?

The first sentence is that Sorrow prepares you for Joy.

Not something you wish to hear when you are grieving.

But there is more to it than the first sentence suggests.

Sorrow violently sweeps everything out of your life. Rumi suggests that this creates a vacuum that allows a space for new joy to enter.

Sorrow shakes the old dead and dying leaves from the bough of your heart and makes room for new leaves, fresh and green, to grow.

Sorrow pulls up the roots in your life that are rotten. It allows the new roots room to grow.

Sorrow shakes much from your heart and allows better things to take their place.

I have mentioned I would never give this quotation to a person in the first few years of grieving.

But I might consider giving it to someone who has come to the point of spending more time on the tasks of living than on the tasks of grieving.

Such a time is inevitable. There will come a time when you start to feel you are living again. A time when the love of the person you have lost is less likely to feel like a knife through the heart.

There is a point in the journey of grief when the griever wonders if there will every be a life lived in the sun again.

This quotation is a beautiful reminder of life after grief.

Yes, you will want to laugh again and not feel guilty.

Yes, you will want to make plans and do new things.

You may even be able to love other people again.

Your life will continue and far better things will take the place of the pain and sorrow.

You will always miss that person, but you will live again.

When the road of grief has been long and tiring and you just want to know there is a point where it will not be so hard, remember this. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with finding life after bereavement, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The freeze defence response

Some time ago I wrote about the fawn defence response.

This is most commonly seen as people pleasing, where a person changes their behaviour to not cause offence to others.

Many of my readers found this really helpful to understand their people pleasing behaviour as a defence response.

Today I want to talk about the next least known defence response.

This is the freeze response.

This happens when your brain decides social connection, fight, flight or fawn will not work to keep you safe.

We have all heard the stories of the person who “froze as though dead” when running away from a bear.

You often see this response in injured animals. The animal “plays dead”. It freezes and you may think it is dead. It may however recover once you are gone.

In a person the freeze response may cause them to collapse. Or they may remain upright but totally unresponsive. They may just look as though they are not there and not respond to you.

If it happens to you, you may be aware of other people but unable to respond to them. Or you may dissociate. That means you will send your mind somewhere else. Somewhere where it is safe. You may feel numb. You may have no sensation of pain.

You may experience this response in many situations.

Being attacked is an obvious one.

Being threatened by another person is another one.

Your freeze response may be triggered by events of the past. If you were an abused child, you may find it hard to leave a situation where another person is speaking to you abusively.

You may go to a family get together and find yourself unable to walk away from a family member who was abusive in the past. You want to walk away, but your body won’t respond.

You may find yourself unable to walk into a situation that frightens you, such as a meeting with the boss.

You may find yourself out with a group of people, going along with them but wanting to leave and finding you are not able to make the move to leave.

These are all freeze responses.

The freeze response is not always understood.

One sad story I heard was of a woman who had been raped when younger. He had a knife and was very violent. She was terrified. She found herself unable to move and fight off her attacker. All she was able to do was lie there and hope he didn’t kill her. She felt frozen.

She was experiencing a freeze response.

Years later she told her daughter about the event. Her daughter was astonished. Why didn’t you fight him, or run away? The woman tried to explain, but her daughter could not conceive of being unable to move. She did not understand the freeze response.

That woman felt so inadequate. She felt she had done something wrong.

She questioned whether she had tried hard enough to get away.

When she came for counselling she was able to learn that she had done nothing wrong. Her body had frozen to protect her.

We can’t always prevent bad things happening, but our bodies can sometimes work to minimise the damage.

That is where the fawn and freeze responses work. Sometimes we come to no harm, other times they minimise the harm.

If you have been in a freeze response, you have been in a terrifying situation. You will often need counselling to help process and heal what has happened.

As a trauma trained counsellor, I have the skills to help you attend to what needs to be healed. If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How do I survive this grief?

When you lose someone you love you discover that grief is a lonely event.

No one else feels quite the way you do. They may grieve, but it will not be in the way you are grieving.

Of course, there will be plenty of people around you who did not have a relationship with the one you loved. Or who had a more distant relationship with them.

Those people will either not grieve, or be less impacted by the loss of the one you loved.

Ultimately, the path of grief is a solo path.

When you are grieving there are a lot of firsts.

The first time you learn your life will go in without the one you love.

The first time you realise life goes on.

The first time you go out without the one you love.

The first time you go to a favourite place without them.

The first time you want to share something funny and they are not there.

The first time you leave the house.

The first social event without them.

The first social interactions.

The first time back at work since you lost the one you love.

The first time you do anything.

It is a lonely, frightening, difficult, depressing, overwhelming, reluctant, numb, disorienting path.

There will be days when you won’t want to get out of bed.

There will be days when you don’t care about personal hygiene.

There will be days when you wear the same grubby old clothes and don’t even notice.

There will be days you don’t remember to eat.

There will be days where the thought of leaving the house fills you with panic.

There will be days when you just want to close the world out because it insists on continuing and you don’t want it to.

Somewhere, some time, in all this upheaval, loneliness and confusion you discover a spark. That spark guides you out of bed, to wash and put on fresh clothes, to eat and to leave the house. That spark allows you to face the reality of life continuing.

That spark is courage.

For a long time you will most likely feel like crap. But courage doesn’t desert you. It will allow you to face the world again. It will allow you to trust the world again. It will allow you to go out there, meet with others and live.

The following quote beautifully sums up this experience.

“It takes a lot of courage to live life as a griever. To face the world each day with a smile when you’re actually crying inside. To engage in conversations with others when you just wish you could be left alone. To be made to look forward to the future when you just wish to go back to the yesterdays. It takes a lot of courage to reach deep down within yourself and tell yourself that you will do your best to survive yet another day.” – Narin Grewal.

Why are boundaries so important and why is it so hard to set them?

Boundaries are important.

Boundaries tell you where you end and other people start. They allow you to define yourself and know what you want and don’t want to do or have other people do to you.

In short, boundaries define who you are.

In order to know who you are you need to be able to know what is important to you. What your essential values are, who the real, authentic you is.

Once you know who you are it is easier to set boundaries without feeling guilty or needing to apologise.

If you are not used to setting boundaries, often as a result of childhood trauma, it can be hard. In truth, you usually compromise your boundaries when you are people pleasing.

People pleasing is where you seek approval from another person and compromise your boundaries in order to hopefully gain that approval.

It is not surprising that people who have experienced childhood trauma tend to be people pleasers. As a child, people pleasing was an essential tool for survival. For the child the need to be cared for and nurtured is about survival. A child who is neglected will die without intervention.

So the need to people please is a basic survival mechanism for a child.

The trouble is those early woundings don’t just go away. They remain and still influence adult behaviour.

As a child it was important to base your worthiness on the approval of others. That is the default you grew up with, unless something was done to correct it. Very few children are given the support needed to correct that belief.

One of the goals of trauma counselling is to help you to know who you are. To know that you have worth that is not dependent on other people. Not only to know this but to deeply believe it.

When you believe you are worthwhile and deserve to be able to set limits on how other people interact with you, then you are able to set healthy boundaries.

As Brené Brown said: When you believe, deepdown, that you are enough as you are, then you can say “Enough!”

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with boundary setting, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

Later this year I will be launching an online course to teach the skills that are essential for survival as a healthy adult. The first of these modules will be “Who Am I”. If you subscribe to my newsletter I will keep you posted on when that course will be running.

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How to be vulnerable when everyone else in intent on minimising your experience

Mary came to see me after getting a cancer diagnosis. She had a lump, a mammogram and ultrasound and then a biopsy. All along she was given the message that the lump was probably nothing.

Then her oncologist called. She unleashed a torrent of words about treatments and prognosis and a tiny rushed sentence about the biopsy showing cancer. That was lost in the flow of words.

It seemed to Mary that the doctor was so intent on softening the blow and not exposing her to too much worry, that she had not allowed her time to sit with the diagnosis and be able to understand it.

As Mary spoke to other people she experienced the same behaviour. People rushed to shut down her attempts to talk about this shocking diagnosis. She found people making comments like “it is what it is”, “at least they caught it early”. And then they would move on quickly to another topic.

Mary felt these people did not want to listen to her. She felt alone and that it was wrong for her to ask for help.

Even the cancer professionals she encountered rushed to minimise her experience.

She felt her experience of a cancer diagnosis, one that would result in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as well as follow up medications and doctor visits and the possibility of the cancer coming back, was being minimised.

Mary felt she was vulnerable. This diagnosis had shaken her and her assurance of the security of her life. It seemed to her that other people did not want to hear about her vulnerability. But she needed to talk about it.

Our society is really good at teaching children to avoid being vulnerable. There is an element where that is helpful. We are able to survive and adapt by pushing vulnerable feelings aside. That is great. But we are supposed to then be able to just be. To sit and visit those feelings.

If we avoid our vulnerability as human beings, we stop ourselves from experiencing the authenticity of our experience. Avoiding vulnerability creates barriers to connection with ourselves. Authenticity and connection to self is vital for our mental health and for coping with life.

It is hard. We are not taught to be okay with being vulnerable. And we are not taught to be okay with other people being vulnerable.

So we shut ourselves down and we try to shut others down.

This is most obvious when we go through hard times in life. A cancer diagnosis, a death of a loved one, losing a job, losing a house. These are classic examples of loss events that are often minimised.

Mary had good strengths. She realised she needed to discuss her issues with someone who would listen. So she came to see me.

In the counselling sessions, Mary was able to talk openly about her experience and feelings around her cancer diagnosis.

The counselling room was a safe space where Mary could be herself. She could speak openly and know that her experience would be treated as valid and there would be no attempt to minimise her experience.

She found it made a massive different to her ability to cope with the diagnosis and treatment.

Just being listened to, and being allowed to be vulnerable and explore her feelings made all the different for her in this time of cancer treatment.

If you need a place to talk to without your experience being minimised, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How to stop reliving my horrible past

a water colour painting of a memory

“The moments of life that were too intolerable to experience fully are actually preserved in our field of consciousness, energy, and body.

The body, energy, and mind in these fragments are literally tied up in the past, and are no longer available to function in the present.

All subsequent experience will be limited by the bound fragments in the body. There will be gaps where experience, emotion, and sensation are closed to life.”

There are many ways to release bound memories. Any method that helps people relax and loosen their grip on themselves, will help the release.”

~ Judith Blackstone

The above quote is a good description of how horrible past experiences continue to haunt you, long after they are over.

To understand why, it is helpful to understand how the brain experiences traumatic events, and how it stores them.

Because of neuroscientific research, we now know that our “mind” is in our bodies. We store memories as a complete snapshot of an event. The snapshot is like one seen in Harry Potter’s world. The picture is three dimensional and includes all our senses. It also includes emotions and feelings we were experiencing at the time. These memories are stored in our bodies as the sensation we experienced at the time.

If you pay close attention to the times old memories are triggered for you, you will notice that you feel sensations in your body. These are the things you were experiencing at the time of the trauma.

Have you ever had an experience where you remember something really scary from your past and can describe everything about that event, even down to what you were wearing at the time?

That is because your body stored all the information and you have been able to recall it.

Not all memories are recalled, or are recalled fully. For a child who experiences something bad it may be too scary to remember the event so it is locked away in a part of the body that is off limits. Those memories may only ever return when something triggers them to be unlocked.

Even when a memory is unlocked, it is not always fully accessed. Even after the passage of many years, the full memory may be too overwhelming to be fully experienced.

There is another reason memories can be hard to access and it is related to the difficulties some adults have in understanding their own emotions.

For many children, living in a confusing world of adult rules, it can be really confusing to combine what they are feeling inside, with what they are being told to do. For example. A child may feel unsafe visiting an uncle but may be told by their parents not to be so silly, because their uncle is a wonderful man. So the child learns to not pay attention to their body in order to obey their parents.

A lot of people who come to see me have great difficulty understanding how to listen to and respect their intuition (those body sensations that indicate what they are feeling).

I often take people back to the childhood exercises of marking on a body outline what they feel and where it is felt when they have certain emotions.

So to get back to the quotation at the start of this blog. Old memories may be locked away, but the energy that was part of the memory does not go away. Talking therapies do not work well with these memories. A lot of these memories do not contain words, just sensations and feelings. How do you express memories like that?

My number one way to work with this is through drawing or painting. I particularly love, oil pastels, chalk, crayon, and paint. I find they are so expressive and the way they flow is wonderful. It is always interesting to draw or paint something and then look at what has been created. There are always surprises and insights to be gained from doing this.

Another way I work is by using symbols in sand. They can also be very effective.

These techniques are always used with attention to sensations in the body. At first those sensations may be hard to find. Particularly if you are used to not feeling those sensations. But with time, you start to feel those sensations. There are a number of ways to help you to learn to listen to your body. Mindfulness being one of the most useful.

A word of caution: it is always important to be careful when exploring old memories. Some can be really frightening to experience, particularly if you have not learned how to calm yourself down. This is where a trauma trained counsellor like me is helpful because I will teach you how to calm yourself before going anywhere near potential memories.

It is not necessary to recall all locked away memories. There are some that will be “knocking on the door” wanting to be recalled. There are also some that may return over time as you heal other memories. If the memories are recalled, then it is appropriate to attend to them. If they remain locked away, then they should be left alone.

You can heal from past trauma without having to relive or recall it.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your recalled memories, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz