I am not a meatsuit

meatsuit

 

 

Traffic backed up on the interstate as I was trying to get to my doctor’s appointment. Being late checking in (they wanted me there 15 minutes early for CYA paperwork which they never seemed to read) meant that I would be met with the cold, impatient sneer of the clerk at the front. In all reality, it was the office manager who controlled the place, all of it. From the doctor’s time to the check-ins of all the patients, from lunchtimes of the staff members to the industrial toilet paper roll, she had her hand on efficiency and saving money. This clerk was merely a cog in the wheel, and this clerk’s only power, as it were, was making everyone feel like they were objects to be processed.

 

Fortunately, I was on time, early in fact, just to be safe. She checked me in, took my insurance card, and handed me a clipboard with the CYA paperwork on it. At no time did she look me in the eye, or demonstrate any regard for me. I, too, was a cog in the wheel, one more item to be processed.

 

The waiting room was veneered in Formica, designed to look like cherry wood. Women’s magazines were stacked in some places, strewn in others. Picture books and board books were corralled in a corner, with toys and such. The buzz of the parchment-covered florescent lights competed with the Muzak, featuring the Best of Chicago.

 

A medical staff member, wearing maroon scrubs opened the door and called me by my first name only. She looked at me, and told me to step on the scale, as she pulled the blood pressure cuff from the holding basket on the wall. Three clunks (I long for the days when I may only need two) and the tapping of the top sliding weight until the arm became level preceded the announcement of my weight in pounds, loudly (at least to me. Anything above a whisper on that info is loud). I sat down in the adjoining chair after the pronouncement, and she brandished me with the blood pressure cuff and inflated it until I couldn’t feel my thumb.

 

After acquiring my blood pressure measurement, pulse and temperature, she handed me a cup, and told me to go pee in it, put it on the shelf behind the metal door, and then report to Room 4. I obliged.

 

She met me in Room 4, and handed me a sheet to use to cover myself as I was told to remove the lower half of my clothing. Moments later, after I complied, the doctor walked in with Maroon Scrub Medical person. He scanned my chart on his laptop, typed some notes, asked about symptoms, scoped areas beneath the sheet, and gave his pronouncement. He was sure, and he made sure that I was given information, and brushed off questions as pesky annoyances that dared to question his imminence. His tone and mannerisms inferred that he knew Everything, and I should just be grateful to be in his presence. In less than 7 minutes, I had been poked, prodded, squeezed, stretched, groped and diagnosed. They left. I got dressed and took my highly encoded paper to the front desk where the clerk sat to check out, but not before I snapped a picture of it to determine what the numbers meant. It turns out that I was given a diagnosis of obesity, on top of why I was there in the first place.

 

I don’t think that I have an unrealistic expectation to be treated as a human being, with needs, wants, thoughts, ideas, and other intangibles which make me more than a meatsuit.

 

Sadly, this happens hundreds of thousands of times every day in the US, and likely more places than this. I’ve actually heard in clinics, agencies, and other healthcare facilities saying statements like, “how many more do we have to knock out today?” and “the BPD case on 4 West is back again” and “the doctor needs to spend less time with those people as he is making the waiting room back up.”

 

These folks seem to have lost the most critical healing component of all: showing genuine care and concern, and being courageous enough to withstand questioning and being willing to say, “I don’t know.” Sharing the concern of one who is questioning or hurting is experienced as healing to the patients with whom I’ve spoken. For myself, if I get a sense that you actually have genuine concern about what I’m going through, and you are willing to encourage and implement some of my ideas for healing myself, I am much more willing to implement your ideas for healing me as well. This is one way to prevent causing additional trauma and illness, and maybe keep your waiting room from backing up.

 

The Grand Illusion/Delusion

manipulation1

 

Having read @godlessindixie, Neil Carter’s, story on the clandestine dealings with a group with which he was involved, so much of it rang resonant with my own story, and those stories which have been shared with me, that I had to take a bit to process. It seems that my concept of spiritual trauma is growing in definition, partly because my definition of “spirit” is growing and changing.

 

Some may argue that it is “just semantics,” and while I agree, I also know that people hang a lot of emotion on given words and phrases. To refer to a “spiritual core” to an atheist or agnostic would be missing the point, and likely alienate him or her, and rightly so. Also, to deny a “spiritual core” to someone who highly identifies with that would be to miss the mark there as well, and alienate him or her, and again, rightly so.

 

Perhaps this concept of “spirit” could be better defined (and again, the problem of words being limiting in and of themselves) as the essence of who someone is, and around which ideologies can be selected and developed, beliefs can form, and perhaps a worldview can be constructed. The trauma, or injury, of this can happen when one person or group behaves in such a way that their ideologies, beliefs and worldview(s) should be exacted upon another, in order to coerce or manipulate the other into compliance to the former’s desires or wishes.

 

This is something which I fear: the notion that we are all either manipulating someone, somewhere, or being manipulated by someone, somewhere, to an end which whose good is questionable.

 

I am thinking that in order to be willing to heal, we may have to be willing to see that we can be as much perpetrator as victim, when we use the tactics of the “enemy.” When we engage in the style of rhetoric that is shaming, blaming, snarky, scapegoating and alienating, we don’t really get the right to say what they are doing is wrong, and we have only ourselves to blame when we are alone. We may be “right” and we are also very much alone. We also don’t have the right to say that what we did “in the name of righteousness” didn’t hurt someone else emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. While some may want to tell me that I am not hurt, that I am weak or that I need to “get over it,” it is these people that don’t get it, don’t seem to want to get it, and it would probably be best to just reduce my interactions with these people as much as possible. The bigger problem is when they may be psychotherapy providers. A big question remains is how can one give feedback to someone who does not seem to be receptive to it, or willing to change his or her behavior, so that the relationship can be healed and there can be mutual respect, even if they do not agree.

 

Yesterday, a friend of mine was talking about a commune in Europe called L’Abri. He said that it was a comingling of people from every possible ideology coming together to share and to learn from each other. I can imagine the discussions, which would take place, with deep passion, strong conviction and great civility. Yet I don’t think that it was for the sake of conversion, but for idea exchange and increased mental and ideological flexibility. I am thinking that we could all heal more rapidly in an environment such as that. Dr. Sue Johnson, as well as Drs. John and Julie Gottman, among others, have researched and stated that healing from trauma occurs more completely, and quickly in a healthy relationship. I am thinking that a connection whose purpose is growing each other, rather than draining the other or injecting poison into the other, is that healthy relationship. I am also wondering if this can simply exist among friends.

 

Do you have friends who just “get” you, and do you find that you have greater resilience and healing by just being with them?

Karma Popcorn

I’m a mom. Some days, I don’t suck. Some days, well, I do. Seriously. And I hate myself for it. For a long time. And yet, not all of me is in hate mode. Some part is in guilt mode. Some part is in worry mode. Some part is in compassion mode (gets drowned out a lot by the hate/guilt/worry parts).

 

My son, his father and I were embroiled in a battle over homework/school. I live away from him, and it is difficult for me to parent the way that I would like to at a considerable distance (3000 miles). To sum it up, there was a lot of blame and shame (from me), and I just got angry that it didn’t seem like anyone else was “trying hard enough.” I mean, how DO you measure “trying?” I thought that things should be better than they are, and they weren’t, and it was because “no one was trying.” I refused to allow the idea of “trying AND not doing well” to enter my head. Stubborn Me! It’s a gift (and a curse).

 

So, I’m trying to get my business up and running, both offline and online, and it’s a serious learning curve (and I am nowhere near the summit). Along with getting my license in North Carolina as well as maintaining my license in Washington State, I’m figuring out online marketing, creating content, techy stuff, and other skills.

 

Two days ago, in the process of communicating with the people who have subscribed to my email list, I sent out an email with a dead link. I’d worked on that email 100 ways to Wednesday, checking for grammar and spelling, tone and content, and then I put a broken link in it. The worst part was that this was MY OWN LINK for my YouTube channel. When someone responded by email, saying that they couldn’t access the video with the link, I was horrified. I felt like such an idiot. Embarrassed, I responded, apologizing, and fixed the link. And then sat stewing in it for hours.

 

The irony of it all is that the link had to do with contempt, specifically self-contempt. The further irony is that I did try AND I did fail. I know what my son was experiencing, only to a much lesser degree because the person who pointed out my error was WAAAAY more gracious than I was to my son. The apology tonight will be hard. He is usually rather gracious, but I would completely understand if he weren’t, in this case.

 

Repairing relationships is hard.

 

Regret is harder.

 

What does this have to do with spiritual trauma?  To me, everything.  If I have damaged a relationship with someone, that is a form of spiritual trauma.  Taking ownership of it is my way to heal both myself and the person that I hurt.

Q&A 4:  What does healing from spiritual trauma look like?

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Healing from spiritual trauma looks differently for everyone. I know that this looks like I am trying to weasel out of this. It has been my experience that what I say is healing for me, may not be healing from another’s perspective. I want to know what you envision healing to be for you. From this, we can do some “reality testing” to see how it can hold up in your environment. To have the expectation that your experience will NEVER affect you is unrealistic. You can live with the effects, and in many ways, this can help you have greater understanding and compassion for those who have been through this. As you heal, you can help others through their spiritual trauma, because you know how different this is from other traumas, and how frequently others who have not been through this DO NOT understand it, like you do.

 

For me, my healing still has a remnant of the experiences I went through. Certain songs will get me, phrases hit me in the gut, and it still takes a measure of courage for me to even walk into certain bookstores. In many ways, it helps me remember that there are people out there who still need connection and healing, and to remember what it was like to not be believed or understood helps me to move forward to help others. I don’t want to attack “them” anymore, although I did for a long time. I thought that ALL OF THEM were the enemy, much like they communicated that “people like me” were the enemy. I don’t know if it is about forgiveness as much as it is taking care to not personally behave and/or become like the behaviors and attitudes I don’t like.

 

I think one of the key factors in spiritual trauma is behaving as though one’s actions and morals are superior to another’s, and enforcing this on others.   I can express my feelings about a behavior (such as talking about someone behind their back), and if they change this behavior (at least around me), it’s ok. If they don’t change it, it’s ok, too. And it’s ok for me to choose to not be around that.

 

So, to answer this question, I need to know what you want for yourself in terms of healing. From this, we can get there.

Q&A 3: What are the signs or symptoms of someone who has been spiritually traumatized?

 

Some of us have a strong desire for certainty, and at the same time, a deep love of wonder.Because we are complex beings, regardless of whether we have experienced spiritual trauma, there is no decided cache of signs or symptoms. There are many signs/symptoms. Inasmuch as no one “does depression” the same way, as has been stated by Bill O’Hanlon, in his book Out of the Blue, those of us who have been spiritually traumatized manifest this experience differently.

 

The signs/symptoms may have some similarities to PTSD, depression, anxiety, among other diagnoses. I have heard and worked with these (and many others), as well as experiencing some of these myself.

 

  • may have certain responses bodily (shakes, sweats, breathing shallowly, narrowed/blurred vision, gastrointestinal issues, etc)
  • may ruminate for hours on end
  • may feel repeated guilt and shame for relatively minor offenses
  • may have a heightened sensitivity to perceived slights
  • may not be able to go to certain places due to fear/anxiety
  • may have fear being associated with certain groups
  • may have fear/guilt/anger when listening to certain types of music*
  • may have a lot of anger, and perhaps even rage
  • may develop addictions
  • may have problems in social situations (and sometimes for good reason)
  • may have problems with sleep
  • may have a strong desire for certainty, and at the same time, a deep love of wonder
  • may avoid certain topics
  • may “have problems” with boundaries*

 

 

For a long time, I had this weird mutual dissonance with music. I liked my “secular” music, and felt guilt and shame for liking it, and then anger for feeling guilt and shame, and then guilt over the anger, and then, well, you can imagine where that all went. Or didn’t go. I hated “spiritual” music because I placed it collectively with the whole experience that I’d had, and yet, some of it I liked, and hated that I still liked it, and that whole mess.

 

I say “have problems” because I am finding, as some researchers have, that the term “boundaries” is used as an excuse to not help, not care, and not demonstrate empathy. In that vein, I can’t reduce people to a set of symptoms to treat, because in my experience, that places a “band-aid” on the issue, as well as objectifies and marginalizes people. I want to work on their sense of self-trust, if the fellow survivor is willing.

Q&A 2: Have you personally experienced spiritual trauma or do you just study it?

dumped

 

For those who may have interest, My Story is under the tab About Spiritual Trauma Recovery. It is a bit long, and in all honesty, it took a fair bit out of me. I was kind of scared to put it OUT THERE, and yet, I knew that there were a number of people who had been spiritually abused and/or traumatized. I had been inundated with the message(s) of “you’re just bitter with the church,” “you’re making it up,” “it couldn’t have been THAT bad,” among other things. I gave up talking about it, although I was pretty grieved with the whole thing. I sought out counselors (sadly, some of the counselors said those messages), and some helped more than others. Now that I am in the field of psychotherapy, and have been for a while, I have developed a stronger discernment as to which counselors are good and which are not so good.

 

Because the topic is taboo to discuss, even now, there are few, if any professionals trained in this. There are probably fewer of those who have actually experienced this. When I was healing, I had to assemble a bunch of different treatments, as I felt comfortable, and find what worked (and for how long) for myself. As I began to work with others, and heard a lot of “I failed recovery” or work with some people who had experienced a form of spiritual trauma (heavy on the shunning and manipulation if one didn’t toe the line on “truth”), we worked together on finding ways to build trust back in themselves (many times I heard, and still do, that people who have been spiritually traumatized feel like they were duped, and they should have known better), building trust in others, in churches or like institutions, and sometimes even God, if these were issues which they wanted to consider. We also worked on controlling anxiety or rage surrounding having to encounter church, religion or spirituality with family members or friends who enforced a “superior spirituality” and were manipulative or just unpleasant to be around. There is a lot of grief and loss of family, friends and just a sense of community, as well as a sense of identity.

 

There is usually a lot of talk around reconciliation and forgiveness. I am of the opinion that it isn’t always necessary to forgive, and one can forgive some parts and not others, and not completely implode. Reconciliation is a whole different concept, and not as interrelated as one would imagine.

 

I make every effort not to broad-brush a group of people who hold a given set of beliefs, as I was on the other end of a broad-brush myself. I know some wonderful, kind, compassionate and loving people who hold a set of beliefs that I just can’t wrap my head or heart around. I know some people who are just awful, and they share my belief system entirely. And, as the old adage goes, it isn’t what you say, it really is how you say it, and how someone says something usually carries more weight than the verbiage alone. Actions do speak louder than words.

Q&A 1: How do you define “spiritual trauma?”

 

I had a number of questions like this that came in after the webinar was over, so I didn’t address it there. On the front page of my website, I have a tab that says “About Spiritual Trauma Recovery.” In looking over it again, I can see how there can be some confusion as to what I mean.

 

Initially, I was researching the concept of mudslinging and bullying in the church, as it had been my experience, and the experience of a pastor friend of mine (and his family) who was harassed online by leadership in the church. I started reading about others’ experiences, and noted that there was so much more than just that. It wasn’t just congregants, or lay people in the church. Leadership was being beaten up as well. It was a free-for-all in terms of manipulation, gossip, slander, victim-shaming, shunning, name-smearing, scrambling for spiritual dominance, humility contests, calling people out VERY publicly to repent, among other things. When we started talking about our collective experiences, there was so much “me too!” going on, that I knew that I had to address this, using my own personal experience of it, and my training in psychotherapy and trauma.

 

I stumbled upon a couple of articles by Edward Kruk, PhD. He is a social work professor at University of British Columbia. There are links to his work at the end of this post, if you would like to read them. Basically, he defines spiritual trauma as “essentially an experience of violation of the spiritual or ‘sacred’ core in human beings, harm at the innermost level, by an external ‘social’ source.” He further notes that “social problems often induce spiritual trauma.”

 

Within this definition, one would need to define “spiritual” or “sacred” core. He states that “most agree that the child-like yet profound expectation that good and not harm will come to us is located at the core of human existence.” He goes on to quote Simone Weil (1952a), “There is a reality outside the world, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.”

 

His further explanation of this kind of trauma also has within it the idea that once this core has been violated (hence “spiritual trauma”), there is really no recompense for it. No lawsuit, settlement or any manner of “rights enforcement” has a satisfactory effect. A person who has been raped cannot be “un-raped.” A person who has had his or her reputation smeared (especially online) because of a wrongdoing cannot get the reputation back, as people’s minds are usually made up on a given matter, and when this is re-hashed over and over online, it can solidify people’s ideas. Furthermore, in certain religious traditions, to seek litigation regarding anything like this is violating its own code. This sets up the situation for bullying, not unlike the kid who is held down and beaten up and then is shamed for not fighting back, and then is shamed for trying to get some kind of resolution.

 

Spiritual trauma within the confines of a religious tradition is often seen in “my spiritual life/practice is better than yours” and a call to point that out, often publicly, to the whole of the group. Usually, this is done in reverse, meaning that “your spiritual life/practice is inferior.” Some traditions refer to this as “Matthew Eighteening,” a reference to Matthew 18, wherein Jesus is said to have stated that one is supposed to call out others’ sin in order to have them repent publicly.

 

Here are the articles of Edward Kruk, PhD:

 

http://www.stu.ca/~spirituality/Kruk05.pdf

 

http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/spiritual-wounding-and-affliction-facilitating-spiritual-transformation-in-social-justice-work

 

http://www.academia.edu/5034976/Social_Justice_Spirituality_and_Responsibility_to_Needs_The_Best_Interests_of_the_Child_in_the_Divorce_Transition

 

as well as a whole list of his peer-reviewed publications here: http://www.edwardkruk.com/writing__articles.html

 

I am wondering if this addresses this concept more fully. Please leave comment below, and let me know your thoughts on this.

Book of A Mormon

Over the holidays, I got a chance to really sink my teeth into this book, and I am glad that I did. Dr. Scott Miller is one of my “professional crushes,” and I respect his work. His focus on what makes for a “Supershrink” is some of his best.

With this being said, this book looks at his experience on his LDS mission in Sweden, back in the 1970s. For those of you who read My Story, you will know that I am/was not of the LDS type and brand of faith, yet the striking similarity with what his experience was and what my experience was (as well as the many who have contacted me about their experiences), shows that this has been an issue in spiritual communities for some time. This book reflects on something very profound, and it is summed up in one of the quotes which has been shared and highlighted by many on Amazon (and probably elsewhere as well):

“In short, no matter who we are or what we believe, each of us is capable of exhibiting the same love and hate, humility and pride, tolerance and prejudice, kindness and cruelty, truth and error, as anyone else. When we forget how similar we are, come to see ourselves as somehow different, better, even unique, the stage is set for the mistreatment of others. From world wars to bullying in the schools, life is replete with examples of what happens when we set ourselves apart, above others.”

Consider giving this book a look-see. I don’t throw out praise to just do so. Trust is a BIG thing to me. Just to let you know, when you click on the picture above, I will likely get some coffee money, which helps me write this blog to be just as awesome as you.