Doing Life Together

couple arguingWhat happens to you in childhood matters. It doesn’t determine your life course, but does influence it. Adverse childhood experiences can derail you in adult life if you aren’t aware and learn new ways to respond. One adverse childhood experience is being raised by narcissistic parents. The impact can be long-lasting and affect your adult relationships.

Jenny grew up in the home of two narcissistic people. Her parents argued and fought most days, screaming at each other, throwing things at the walls or floor and threatening to walk out. She experienced a daily assault of self-centered parents who offered little to her in the way of emotional security or comfort. The constant chaos, lack of attunement to her emotional needs left her in a state of fear, wondering what each day would bring.

Trauma expert, Bessel van Der Kolk, tells us that the brain of a child can rewire for fear when in abusive or toxic environments. One part of the brain, the amygdala enlarges and becomes heightened to threats due to childhood exposure to trauma. Another part, the hippocampus, shrinks in volume and affects memory and learning. The part of the brain responsible for decision making and judgment doesn’t engage well, affecting our emotions, planning and organizing. As a result, complex trauma trains the brain to look for danger and toxic patterns in adult life.

The nervous system becomes programmed to chaos and goes on high alert. Stability looks boring and unfamiliar. Thus, an adult who grew up in such drama often finds themselves with toxic adults. The hypercriticism, rage and verbal attacks endured as children become familiar patterns in adult relationships. Adult children of narcissistic parents often find themselves drawn to the chaos and drama because it is what they know. They long for security and validation, but experience a roller coaster of love and abuse all mixed together. The result is confusion, insecurity and often a sense of being dismissed as a person.

Children of trauma grow up to be adults who hope to escape and find freedom in new adult relationships. But the adult child carries with her issues in basic trust, autonomy, and taking charge. Forming stable relationships is difficult because of how the brain rewires to trauma. She looks for validation and positive regard she didn’t experience as a child.

The work is to identify the toxic patterns learned from childhood—love with betrayal, mistreatment and neglect of basic needs, the lack of parental attunement and more. Fear has to be addressed and security established. The nervous system has to settle down and realize the chaos and uncertainty of trauma no longer exist. The traumatized adult has to learn not to replicate what is familiar and carve new neural pathways to the unfamiliar territory of stability and peace.

The programming related to adverse childhood trauma needs  reprogramming. The cycle needs to be disrupted and new responses learned. The neglect of basic needs is identified and self-care is learned. The inner critic of shame must be silenced. Emotional escape of pain is replaced with healing. Mind-body-spirit healing helps to process trauma and reset the body. And renewing the mind through an understanding of value and worth through God’s eyes helps rewrite a person’s life story. There is hope, healing and peace that can be found. It will take work, but the rewards will be worth it.



girl-1722402_1920I want you to try something. Put a black dot on a white piece of paper. Now, look at the piece of paper and tell me what you see. Did you focus on that black dot in the center of the page? Or did you think about all the white space surrounding the dot?

Where you choose to put your focus is a matter of perception. And your perception shapes your reality.

Next, think about how you approach life problems. Do you focus on problems (the black dot) or on all the ways you can deal with those problems or the possibilities outside of the problem (the white space)?

Focus is related to mindset. You can be shaped negatively by all the negative things that happen in your life. your mindset is negative.  Or you can have a positive mindset and respond in ways that help you grow and get through difficult times. How you respond shapes your perception of reality.

Elisa is a perfect example of this. She grew up in poverty with a single mom who worked day and night to put food on the table. After high school, Elisa determined that she would find ways to provide for herself and her mom. She worked two jobs and was grateful for the steady work. One day, she began to experience back pain and was eventually diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. Fighting for her life with few resources, Elisa remained positive. The nurses who gave her chemotherapy looked forward to Elisa’s visits. Rarely, had they met someone so positive despite her life circumstances. Elisa had a smile on her face, little money in her pocket, but talked about how blessed she was and how she would fight this cancer and make a better life for her family. Elisa saw the black dot, but chose to focus on the white space. She brightened the lives of those she touched. Her positivity was infectious. And surprisedly, she was happy.

We can’t always control the bad things that happen to us or remove difficult life circumstances. We do have a choice as to how to respond. We hold the paper of life in our hands and choose our focus—on the dot or the white space. When you focus on the dot, you feel down, discouraged, frustrated, maybe angry or even depressed. But when you focus on the white space, you see solutions, stay optimistic and hopeful. There is always light in the middle of darkness if you look for it.

For two day, try to focus on the white space and see what happens. No matter how many difficulties or problems you face, find something positive in the moment and focus on that. Do this over and over for two days and notice your mood. I am not asking you to ignore problems—notice them, do what you can to address them, but focus your mind on something positive related to those problems-look for a white space. Shift your focus away from the negative to the positive. Then see what happens! Evaluate how you feel and notice if your perspective changes.

laptop-3087585_640I looked at my colleague who used to feel passion and excitement for her job. Now, all she can do is make it through the day. Something has changed. She is disconnected and flat in her conversations. She has all the signs of burn out and needs recovery. It could happen to any of us if we aren’t careful. So here are a few ideas to hopefully prevent burn out.

  1. Balance your workload. High achievers tend to be conscientious and expect long hours in order to keep up with multiple expectations and demands. Constant attention to the schedule and self-compassion is needed. Competent people often have difficulty saying NO. Taking on too much leads to being overworked, less productive and exhaustion. Ways to help this include:
  • Say no to work overload or ask for additional staff, a contract stating reasonable expectations, study leave, vacations and sabbaticals
  • Insist on keeping your days off and protect those days
  • Look for resources to make the work less energy and time consuming
  • If you can, be selective in giving out your cell number
  1. Have choices and control. Avoid the extremes –don’t be a dictator or abdicate control.
  • Make role expectations very clear
  • Extend trust -if it becomes a problem, allow people to earn it back. Trusted people can help cover the load
  • Stop micromanaging
  • Collaborate on the development of policies  and share tasks

3. Build a sense of belonging and community. When there is a breakdown of community, teams don’t function. You being to isolate rather than do life together. A colleague uses the phrase, “Better Together.”

  • Accept people for who they are and offer much grace
  • Value diversity and opinions of others
  • Operate with fairness—transparency and mutual respect. No secret meetings, distribute rewards fairly, look beyond the bottom line when cutting staff and downsizing.
  • Be value based in all you do

girl-4256546_1920Its easy to complain about another person and much harder to work on ourselves. When you really think about what you can do to make a relationship better, it usually comes down to you making changes. So I’ve come up with 10 things you can do to improve your relationship. Read through the list. One of two or all of them may speak to you.

1) Don’t make assumptions about the person or situation. It is easy to assume and not ask, about perceptions, motivations or reactions. When we do make assumptions, we are often wrong. Even when you know someone very well, you can still get it wrong. Ask, don’t assume.

2) Don’t take it personally when conflict comes up. Stay positive and believe the person is trying to work through problems. Conflict is normal in a relationship. Learn on to handle its that when it comes, problems are resolved.

3) Don’t blame or criticize. Blame and criticism are the beginning of a downward turn in a relationship. Discuss your concerns but lose the blame. Focus on the positives, not the criticism.

4) Don’t avoid problems and hope they magically work out. Avoidance may work temporarily but is not a good strategy to deepen intimacy. Confront issues.

5) Go after the problem or behavior, not the person’s character. It’s easy to attack someone when we disagree or have conflict. But a focus on the person versus the problem will bring defensiveness and negative feelings.

6) Keep conflict between the people it involves. Don’t triangulate others into your issues. Go directly to the person who is involved and work it out with them.

7) Work out your problems in private, not in public. While it might be tempting to impulsively address a personal issue in public, this is not a good idea. You don’t need an audience, only the person involved. Keep it private.

8) Don’t bring up problems when you don’t have the time to deal with them. This is frustrating to a relationship. Timing is important. Choose a time to bring up an issue that allows for plenty of discussion and reflection. Don’t do it when someone is tired, distracted or overly stressed.

9) Wait to discuss issues when you are calm and not upset. Not when you are upset, angry, not feeling well or especially irritated. Conflict goes much bette when we are rested and emotionally controlled.

10) Keep your private problems off social media or email– deal with them in person with the people involved. It’s humiliating and embarrassing when people chose to put their personal problems for the world to see. Do your friend, partner or family member a favor and talk to them directly. Nothing gets solved on social media.