Letting Go of “Unlikeability”

You Have Been Good Enough All Along – by @tlkateart
 
 
You may have recently seen some discussions about a post online stating that trauma survivors are “fundamentally unlikeable.” I hope it has not been too derailing to your healing.
 
If it has been derailing or activating to you, it may help if you can step back mentally and see the statement for what it is: a cognitive distortion arising from PTSD. It is also an expression of internalized ableism.
 
Remember, when you have feelings of depression or anxiety, your feelings are understandable and deserve compassion. AND–you also do not have to buy into the cognitions or judgments that arise from these feelings!
 
In Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach talks about the “trance of unworthiness” that is engendered by trauma. This is also called “SHAME.” This kind of shame is the deep sense that one is fundamentally unworthy of love. (It is different from guilt, which is a pain from hurting someone and a motivator to do better next time.)
 
In my experience as a clinician and also as a trauma survivor, shame is pretty well universal among trauma survivors and it is easy to get sucked into. But you can remember not to buy into it. You do not have to buy into internalized ableism.
 
If someone dislikes you because you have trauma symptoms, that has more to do with who they are than who you are. If you feel unlikeable because of your trauma, that has more to do with trauma symptoms than with your actual likeability.
 
Another important aspect of this is that you do not owe anyone a performance of likeability. You yourself may want or need to be liked, for your own reasons: psychological, social, practical, or safety reasons. But likeability is not something you owe to others. You don’t have to be likeable for the sake of others’ comfort.
 
 
You are not a burden, you are carrying a burden
 
You are not a burden, we are lucky to have you
You Are Not a Burden by @tlkateart
 
 
You might also find it useful to listen to the following meditation from Tara Brach*: Healing Shame
 

(Note: Dr. Brach uses “toxic shame” vs. “healthy shame” to refer to what I would call “shame” vs. “guilt.”)

 

You are already fundamentally likeable, just as you are. ❤️

 

Your Loved One Has Dissociative Identity Disorder?

If you have a loved one who has Dissociative Identity Disorder (AKA “multiple personalities”), you may have felt uneasy or even frightened at times. It can be disconcerting to think you do not really know who they are. It may be awful to think of the traumatic experiences they survived that led to the dissociation.

This is partly because for many people, the only understanding they have of Dissociative Identity Disorder comes from sensationalized depictions in movies or TV, showing DID experiencers as unpredictable, deceptive, violent–nearly supernaturally so!

But it’s important to take a pragmatic approach to understanding this experience and not to exoticize or blame your loved one.

In other words, they are not an exotic disorder. They are not their traumatic experiences. They are not possessed. They did not “cause” the disorder. They did not ask for nor deserve the trauma during which it developed. They aren’t “faking.” They are not a case for you to manage. They are a regular person who needs love, acceptance, and healing.

Everyone has “parts” –different personality presentations and experiences that are expressed in different situations. We all act at least somewhat differently at a job interview than at the club, or at church, or with a close friend who is very accepting, or in class, or around a judgmental neighbor, or around a secret crush.

The main difference is that for those who have DID, those different presentations have become dissociated from each other: there is a disruption of the underlying thread of memory and consciousness that most of us have between all our parts.

An important thing to remember is that while you may not like one or some of your loved one’s parts (and you don’t have to!), there are no “bad” parts. Every part’s feelings are a valid expression, even if not every part’s wishes should be acted on.

Nothing your loved one experiences is beyond the understanding of humans generally. You don’t need to be an expert in Internal Family Systems to connect with them. It’s useful to have some information, but primarily, just be a human with a loving connection. ❤

If you are interested in reading more in-depth about Dissociative Identity Disorder from someone who experiences it, here is an essay that is addressed to therapists but may also be useful for others who have loved ones with this type of dissociation:

TEN STEPS TO BECOMING A DISSOCIATION-FRIENDLY THERAPIST

 

 

You Are Not Your Trauma

 

An early experience of trauma can have effects that you may not start experiencing until adulthood. It can feel “crazy”! But having PTSD symptoms doesn’t mean that you will always feel that way. It means that you have emotions and reactions that are ready to be processed so that you can begin healing.

While healing from trauma can be a lifelong process, you can often start feeling better in many ways right away! You are still a whole, worthy human being, rich in the capacity to enjoy life in your own ways.

If you are ready to start processing, please review our quick chart to see how you can access our therapeutic services from anywhere in Pennsylvania!

 

You Are Already Worthy!

 

Calling yourself “lazy” or “unproductive” is usually an internalized message of shame from your formative years. The message is “If you would just ‘will’ yourself to do more, then you would be acceptable and worthy. Otherwise, you must just be a bad, unworthy person.”

The fact is, you are already acceptable and worthy, without doing anything to “earn” that worth. Now, you might feel better or happier if you were doing certain things, and they are certainly worth trying, to see if that is the case.

But feeling terrible about yourself is not a good motivator for anyone! In fact, it is likely to worsen your exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and concentration, which will make it even harder to do whatever it is you would like to be doing.

If you are ready to start healing your self-worth, please review our quick chart to see how you can access our therapeutic services from anywhere in Pennsylvania!

 

Mental Health: Accepting Healing Over Time

 

Valarie Ward has written a good breakdown of how pop mental health writing is often not only unhelpful, but perpetuates stigma and judgment. Treatment–whether chemical, cognitive, or situational–can support and help to heal mental health, but it’s not a magical instant “cure.”

It’s useful to find the type of treatment or intervention that is most helpful and supportive to YOU. It doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong” if you still have symptoms or flare-ups. It means that humans are biological, not mechanical objects that can have new parts swapped in for an instant fix. [See: PTSD as chronic illness]

There is nothing wrong with trying to find things that help you feel better and function better. We encourage you to explore treatment modalities!

But the danger in chasing a “cure” can be the idea that if it’s not “cured,” then we just aren’t trying hard enough. Plenty of people with mental illness and injury hear this message from well-meaning friends, family, and loved ones, though sometimes in different words.

“You’ve been in therapy for weeks/months/years, why isn’t it helping?”: If it’s truly not helping, then of course try something else, or something additional!

But often this really means “I’m upset that you’re not ‘cured’ yet.” Unfortunately, we may also internalize these messages ourselves, which just means that we have found another “should” with which to beat ourselves up; another way to use perfectionistic standards against ourselves.

Instead, notice how far you’ve come since you started working on your healing. Even if it has only been a few days, I bet you already learned some things that help you to comfort yourself or to reframe your thoughts in a healthy way that hurts less!

And if you’ve been working on healing for a while, I bet you are experiencing more days during which you can get out of bed. Or get out of the house. Or days you can do some meaningful work or play. Or days you can spend time with your children. Or fewer days spent in the hospital. Or a better ability to see yourself having a future. Or a few more relationships that are going a little better than they used to. I bet you’ve already done a lot more healing than you think!

So instead of beating up on yourself for not suddenly being “cured” or “fixed,” take stock of how your healing really is progressing, and be proud of yourself. ❤

 

Healing, Not Fixing, PTSD

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often best approached as a chronic condition that may have “flare-ups.” This is true of many other mental illnesses and mental injuries as well.

It can certainly be the case that someone experiences some symptoms of PTSD one time and never again in their life, but for most of us, what it means is that we are vulnerable to experiencing symptoms again during periods of stress (or in the case of activating events).

We are experiencing healing, which means we are able to improve certain things with support and as we learn to attend to ourselves, but we don’t know how much everything will heal nor how long it may take. This is different than “fixing,” which is when we remove a “broken” part and replace it, and then everything is as though nothing ever happened. You are an organism, not a bicycle.

This does not mean “I have PTSD, so now everything is hopeless forever,” it means that we need to learn how to manage our environments, life situations, and our selves in order to reduce the severity of symptoms and the likelihood of recurrence, rather than to assume “I haven’t had any symptoms in a year, this must mean it’s okay to stop attending to myself!”

It means not subjecting ourselves to unreasonable stressors and life-sucking situations, personally and in our work. It means taking our physical and emotional discomfort seriously instead of blowing it off until it blows up. It means not listening to internalized minimizing messages that say “suck it up” when distressed. It means learning to re-parent ourselves where necessary.

It means treating ourselves with support, care, and dignity, and developing boundaries to ensure that others do, too. It means practicing self-care as a habit, not only when unduly stressed. It means recognizing symptoms as symptoms, rather than as some kind of weakness that deserves self-punishment.

It means learning what events, people, and circumstances make your symptoms worse, and modifying those as best you can. It means learning what activities, people, and circumstances help you feel better, and including those more. It means taking yourself to the doctor or the therapist when you need to go. Sounds simple, but it’s not always easy!

Basically, it means learning to take care of ourselves “as though” our well-being actually mattered instead of as an afterthought. Let me repeat: treat yourself like your well-being matters, because it does. ❤

 

“Treating yourself with kindness is a life skill. It doesn’t matter whether you are ”good at” this skill It only matters that you keep going💛” — Jeffrey Marsh

 

 

Repression: A Storm Comin’

Twitter user @charlubby (Chuck Mullin) chronicles trauma recovery and other mental health issues in a series of cartoons featuring her alter ego, a relatable pigeon. This page succinctly expresses how repressed trauma can feel when it’s ready to come out and be processed:

 

For more information about @charlubby’s upcoming book, Bird Brain, look here:

 

 

What Attending Therapy Is About: (AKA We Are Not Just Sitting Here Chatting)

Everyone’s approach to attending therapy sessions is different: people’s needs, symptoms, and circumstances vary incredibly. People want and expect different things in session.

Clearly, there are specific, well-researched interventions that are likely to be effective with most people who experience a certain symptom or pattern of behavior. Some interventions can be practiced in a therapy session, and some interventions are good for a client to take home and practice on their own. I do have plenty of handouts to work on and books to recommend that you read!

But not every intervention is on a list of tips that I’m going to print out and give you outright, or on a sheet in a manual with steps 1, 2, and 3. In fact, nearly all of what we are doing while in session is an intervention, even if I do not formally announce it as such. That is to say, we are not just sitting here chatting, even if sometimes that’s what it appears to be.

When I’m asking about your week, or how you feel, if you’ve gotten over your flu, or how things are going with your family or job, for example, I’m actually assessing your anxiety, depression, hypomania, behavior patterns, physical well-being, environmental influences, sense of hopefulness, and any changes in how you are interacting…for starters.

But I’m not just gathering data. I’m also intentionally getting you to practice certain kinds of conversing, thinking, and interacting during session.

I’m getting you to practice speaking openly about things that may have felt “unspeakable,” uncomfortable, scary, or just awkward. I’m reframing or redirecting your thoughts as you speak them from “shoulds and musts” to “preferences and wants,” so that you can begin to change your internalized messages. I am giving you the chance to practice openly experiencing and expressing feelings in the presence of someone who will not censor or scold you for how “irrational” or “unacceptable” they are. I am often taking the role of defending you from your own inner critic! I am supporting you in developing an attachment that is not based in power and control or other unhealthy dynamics. I’m also simply being a trained witness to your life; checking in with you over time to see how you are changing and making sure you are okay.

Developing different patterns of thought and interaction takes time, and it’s a great deal more powerful if done with another person. That is why sessions are “booster shots” even for those who do a lot of internal work on their own. Humans are social creatures. Everyone, even introverts (like me!) must interact with others in order to process and develop emotionally.

And you know I can tell you’ve been making real progress when you stop yourself from saying “should” in session before I can give you the “shoulds” lecture yet again! ;D

So that is why–even if I didn’t give you a handout to take home or a list of suggested solutions to your situation–you made a LOT of progress in your session today.

Remember, “talk therapy” actually changes brain structure!

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CSA Survivor Support Groups at Samaritan Counseling Center

RISING TOGETHER PARENTS SUPPORT GROUP

This group is for non-offending parents and caregivers of children who have been sexually abused. The group will focus on the impact of child sexual abuse (CSA) on the survivor and the family.

Through guided discussion and shared activities, the participants will explore topics including: trauma response, grief and loss, necessary changes, fostering healthy child/family development, family impact (parents, marriage, siblings), establishing safety and creating a new normal.

The goals for this group include: Sharing information in a supportive environment, Gaining knowledge of trauma response, Imparting universality: You are not alone, and Networking to continue supporting survivors of CSA.

The group will meet twice monthly at Samaritan Counseling Center from 7 to 8:30 pm on the following Mondays: January 28th, February 11th & 25th, March 11th & 25th and April 8th, 2019. Total cost for the 6 session series is $150 for individuals or $250 per couple. Preregistration is required – register online here. Click here for additional information. Contact Lizz Durbin at LDurbin@scclanc.org or 717-560-9969 ext. 254 to register.

SURVIVORS CIRCLE OF HOPE

This series of 6 gatherings for adult survivors of child sexual abuse typically meets twice monthly for 3 months.  Participants experience a safe community and common ground with other survivors as we look at the ways that our lives have been shaped not only by our stories of trauma, but by our own strength, struggle and resilience. By exploring healing truth and hope through conversation and creative expression, we will consider the many ways that the dark or dormant periods in our lives can give way to growth and new life.

The Circle of Hope is co-facilitated by trauma-trained therapist, Lisa Hanna Witmer, MSW, LSW and Deb Helt, Senior Safe Church Facilitator & Congregational Support Specialist. Meetings are held at Samaritan Counseling Center (1803 Oregon Pike, Lancaster, PA) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays and group size is limited to 8 participants. The cost for the series is $125 for all 6 sessions.

The Spring 2019 series runs from February through April 2019. For a printable flyer with additional information about our spring circle, click here. To register online click here.  If you have any questions, please contact Lizz at 717-560-9989  ext. 254 or LDurbin@scclanc.org.

Believe Survivors, Including Yourself

Today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings have been hard for many, but especially those who have a history of sexual abuse or assault. Whether or not you watched the proceedings, it was hard to avoid hearing about them on the news and on every social media outlet.

Some people are only now realizing that some of their own experiences were abuse or assault. Others are experiencing renewed rawness of emotions that they thought were long past. Many are sad, anxious, outraged, depressed.

For many survivors, it’s not only whatever abuse or assault may have occurred. It’s also about the reactions of others, the important others and even loved ones who trivialized, dismissed, or minimized the trauma. Those who told survivors in one way or another,

“Who cares if you were upset then or now. It’s in the past! Get over it! Snap out of it! You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You weren’t actually hurt. This was nothing compared to [someone else’s painful experience]. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. He wouldn’t do that to someone so unattractive! He didn’t really do that much. Quit playing the victim! You’re always so dramatic! Be strong! Deep down he’s really a good guy. It was your own fault for being there. For drinking. For wearing that outfit. For trusting someone. For being friendly. For being bitchy. For being vulnerable. For acting tough. For not saying ‘no’ the right way. Why can’t you just be cool about it? You’re lucky he showed you attention. He only does that to girls he likes.”

It can be hard to reject the destructive, victim-blaming messages we may have internalized for years. Seeing someone else go through that process can be very upsetting. But it can also be an opportunity to recognize that while there are those who minimized or disbelieved or just didn’t care, it still wasn’t your fault. Just as you can see that it was not the fault of other survivors, it was also not your fault. It was always the fault of the assailant, no matter how powerful, successful, “nice,” or well-looked-upon.

Teen Vogue has some concrete suggestions for keeping yourself together during social crises that are PTSD triggers. Take care of yourself; you are worthy of care.

 

 

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