Only A Monster Could Love Me.

I teach a mindfulness class. Inevitably, after the first class a few people drop out because they  had some misconceptions about what mindfulness meditation was. Mindfulness is just partly  breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

The primary component is noticing how you are feeling and noticing the thoughts you are having in this moment. This is a practice that many people have spent their lives avoiding. A lot of people are out of touch with their thoughts and feelings. When I ask them to pay attention it literally scares them.

This is called back draft. Sometimes when we open our hearts to our thoughts and feelings they can feel overwhelming and frightening. This is because we are trained to follow the rules no matter how we feel and what we think. This conditioning is hard to break and for some potentially impossible. We just go through the motions of our lives never having really lived. This happens so much more than people realize.

Further, some people have their wires crossed. For some of us,  the people that were supposed to love us and keep us safe did not do the best job. This can lead to shutting off our emotions completely or thinking that love is unsafe. This means that when I try to extend love or compassion to you, you will literally be repulsed by me. It is how some people stayed safe. Some people literally feel unlovable. If you try to love them they will think something is wrong with you. “After all, only a monster could love a person like me,”  they think.

What also breaks my heart are the people that do not even realize that they were abused/traumatized as a child. I once asked a person if they had any history of abuse and they stated that they had not. Some time later the person recounted the violent psychological and physical abuse they had endured. When I questioned why they denied having been abused they reported “I thought I had a normal childhood” No, that is not normal and it certainly impacts a person’s ability to be present, vulnerable, and connected in their lives.

I write this in the midst of an opioid epidemic. When the pain is too much to bear, we find a way to make it bearable, even if that means slowly killing ourselves.

Love.

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My Love For You Saw Me Through.

“Life is a journey for us all. We all face trials. We all have ups and downs. All of us are human. But we are also the masters of our fate. We are the ones who decide how we are going to react to life.”
Elizabeth Smart, My Story: Elizabeth Smart

I had the wonderful pleasure of listening to Elizabeth Smart speak yesterday afternoon. Like most people, I followed her story from a distance. The horror of a child abducted from their bedroom in the middle of the night is enough to grab anyone’s attention. She spoke with such a softness about the unbelievable trauma she endured during her nine months in captivity. I was deeply moved by her resilience and grace.

What struck me the most from her speech was what she described as the moment she decided to survive. She spoke about the night she was kidnapped and raped for the first time and the unbelievable shame she felt after the assault. She thought about giving up and dying but then she thought about her mother. Her mother told her, after a particularly challenging day, that neither God nor her mother would ever stop loving her. That no matter what she did or what happened to her, her mother assured her that her love was unconditional. She thought about that love and decided that she would do whatever she needed to do to survive. And, she did just that.

It reminded my of Viktor Frankl making a similar decision as a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp. He brought to mind the face of his wife and his love for her. He thought of her and his love for her every time he thought about giving up. He did this even though he knew she was probably dead. He survived for her. And, she had not survived.

I am constantly reminded of how important our connections are in our lives. In my own life, there have been hard times, and I too brought to mind my loving relationships and it was those bonds that brought me through those times.

We must love one another unconditionally. We must reassure the people we love that we do love them unconditionally. And then, this is the hard part, we must show up for the people we love in all the ways we can.

Elizabeth Smart started and ended her talk reminding the audience that we all struggle and we all endure hard times. But, we all have a choice what to do with the what we are given. We always have a choice: bitterness, resentment, or Love. She also said that the love of her family healed her and that she was blessed to have had them. Faith and Love empowered her to tell her story and in doing so she has helped so many people.

Love is magic, love is power, love is everything.

Love.

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Please Don’t Hit Me.

“There are generally three parties to child abuse: the abused, the abuser and the bystander.”
Louise Penny, A Fatal Grace

Recently, it came to my attention that a teacher from my former high school was charged with physically assaulting a student. A friend brought this to my attention saying, “He snapped.” I found myself reading the comments associated with the article posted on Facebook and read things like “I’m on the teachers side, she deserved to get her ass beat,” or “Someone has to teach this child right and wrong” but the worst comment was said over and over again, “My parents beat the shit out of me and I’m fine.

We know through decades of research that physical abuse and even “just” witnessing physical abuse forever changes the brain of a child (who then grows into an adult).

“Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as family dysfunction (e.g., an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member; domestic violence; or absence of a parent because of divorce or separation). ACEs have been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes in adulthood, including substance abuse, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality” (2009)

Naturally, some children are more resilient than others and not everyone is impacted the same or suffers the same degree of symptoms. But, the problem is that enough people suffer the life-long consequences of abuse that it is a public health problem.

The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States in 2008 is approximately $124 billion in 2010 dollars. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and Type 2 diabetes (Fang et al., 2012).

Simply put, it is never okay to physically strike another person. This is particularly relevant with children given the sensitive and emotional state of the developing brain. When I make this comment, I am often met with the response, “You’re not a mom you don’t understand that it’s sometimes necessary.” I will concede that I do not know the fear, frustration, and vulnerability associated with being a parent but I will not concede that I don’t understand. I say this because I spend much of my days reminding adults and children that they are safe and okay because they endured some form of maltreatment.

You see, when you hit a child for making a mistake they become fearful (and anxious) and not just fearful of you, they become fearful of everyone and everything. The child and adolescent brains are not rationale and logical. The brain does not finish developing until 24-25 years old (this is why you can’t rent a car and why your insurance goes down at that time). The child brain cannot make the connection that I colored on the wall thus I got my butt beat. The child brain says the person that is supposed to protect me just hurt me and how am I supposed to know (for the rest of my life)  who is safe. The connection may also be made that to be loved means to hurt. They may also grow up and perpetuate the same fear and pain on others.

“The life histories of 43 men on death row were examined in a qualitative analysis of the multiple intermediary factors in the cycle of violence. Severe and multiple forms of abuse were endemic in this sample of men. Abuse was typically multigenerational and almost universally linked to intergenerational substance abuse. After experiencing abuse, the majority of these men manifested extensive developmental problems, from severe difficulties in school to chronic relationship and occupational problems. For most, the transition to adulthood was seriously compromised” (David Lisak and Sara Beszterczey, 2007)

I don’t know what happened at my old high school. I don’t know the details and I don’t need to. The teacher should not have assaulted the child. Period. The child did not deserve to get hit no matter what she did. Period. No child, no person, no animal deserves to be physically assaulted ever. I understand that many people will disagree with this assertion for various reasons. This is a point that I refuse argue or debate.

If you were physically punished as a child, those events did influence you. For so many people, this is something they do not want to talk about or deal with. Culturally (and worldwide) we do a poor job teaching parenting skills. Most parents are doing the best they can with what they have in terms of parenting tools. But, as woman once said to me, you have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to still learn new things. There are a number of effective and healthy parenting interventions that do not involve maltreatment. In fact, spanking does not work! It may work in the short-term but it will only cause more problems down the line. Spanking, slapping, and hitting are not effective interventions. They do not work. 

What is most devastating, is that the children that act out the worst often need the most love. They just don’t know how to safely communicate that they need this.

“A growing body of research has shown that spanking and other forms of physical discipline can pose serious risks to children, but many parents aren’t hearing the message.

“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” says Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “People get frustrated and hit their kids. Maybe they don’t see there are other options.”

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

But spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, who served as APA president in 2008. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” (Smith, 2012)

Love.