Acknowledging the Difficulty, part 1

Acknowledging the Difficulty, part 1

There is more disorganization and distress in me than I have allowed myself to be aware of.

That’s ok and normal. It is an integral element of developmental trauma that we continue to hide from ourselves the scope of our hidden suffering.

I invite the layers of myself to soften. To feel more deeply, to know more deeply just how difficult it has been to navigate life to this point. I invite the knowing, the remembering, the feeling, at whatever pace is safe enough for my system to hold. As I hold even the idea of fear and suffering, I know that I am loved and that ultimately I am safe and ok, despite the actual physical risks in this physical life.

There is a fear in me that if I know or feel how disorganized and distressed I really am, that I will explode or disintegrate. That can feel true, and it might have been true when I was very young and did not have resources and support. It is not true now.

There is a fear in me that if I admit how disorganized and distressed I really am, that it will mean I’m not worthy, I’m not capable, and I have nothing to offer.

That feels insistent and intense but it is also not true.

In fact, the navigation of this profoundly challenging path has left me with amazing gifts, that are no less amazing as I allow myself to see more of the breadth and depth of these challenges.

With humility and awe, I am willing to see more and more clearly just what difficulties are held in this body, in my lineage, and in this world where there is so much suffering.

You make me sick?/You made me sick

You made me sick

I was exploring within myself and I encountered the phrase: “You make me sick!”

It wasn’t clear if this was directed outward from me or inward toward me. But you know, I’ve been sick for several years now.

So maybe this was literal, and I figure it’s time to reframe it:

“Your lack of warmth or understanding and the emotional demands you put on me caused my body to be clenched and clogged up which both caused and exacerbated health problems throughout my life. I am making the space inside me now to gently hold the experiences of that child self so I can bring warmth, understanding, permission and acceptance to the child I was then and to the woman I am now.”

Learning to Drive this Body and Self

Recovering from Developmental Trauma and (Re-)Claiming a Sense of Self is a bit like learning to drive a car. There are many different skills required to navigate well. These skills are not automatic or intuitive, we have to consciously practice a bunch of things at once.

Here’s some high level guidance:

  • It’s ok to stay on neighborhood roads for a while, don’t push yourself to get on the freeway. Learn the skills here, and then they will work there.
  • Read the signs, they are being shown to you for a reason.
  • If you become overwhelmed, pull over and take a break.
  • Notice whether you are staying on the designated
  • side of the road, if not, pull over and take a break.
  • Try not to either speed up or slow down too abruptly, unless it’s needed to avoid a crash.
  • If you are low on fuel, make it a priority to refuel, else you might end up stranded.
  • If you find yourself on a bumpy or winding road, proceed slowly and consciously.
  • It will be uncomfortable at first but as you practice you will get used to it and some things that are challenging right now will become easy and automatic.

Self Care Template

Somatic Personal Practice

Self Care Template

Here’s the activity for Self Care, Pleasure, or Joy that I’m planning to do:__________

Here’s the amount of time, physical energy, and emotional energy it will require:__________

Here’s the benefit I expect from doing this activity:__________

My level of optimism or expectation about this is__________(high/low)

Both before and after doing the activity, my intention is to pause and check in with myself, noticing what I’m feeling and how I’m feeling.

After doing the before check in, the activity, and the after check in, here’s my report on the experience:__________

Mine today: I’m planning to take a bath. I’m planning to intentionally slow down through the whole process including even walking down the stairs to the tub. I’m planning to try to notice the experience of my skin throughout, noticing the sensations, feeling the water and the air, stroking my own skin, really having an experience of my skin. And particularly noticing what feels good. Finding words for how it feels good.

This will take 15-20 minutes and not much energy.

The benefit I might get would be calming, grounding, coming more into my body, taking up more space in my body.

My optimism is medium. I might have a really satisfying and profound experience or it might fall flat and feel more cognitive than somatic or more confusing than pleasing.

I’m checking in now beforehand with what and how I’m feeling. Nothing hurts. I feel pretty neutral – I’m not really feeling dread but I’m not really feeling aliveness or eagerness either. When I feel deeper under the surface looking for emotions, the first thing I notice is this impulse to collapse, hide, be perfectly still, be invisible, and to not have to interact with anyone or do anything. Because I’ve noticed this, I would like to make some space for this part in the tub. Space to be and to palpably experience doing nothing. So that might change my strategy around attention to my skin. I think I can do both but not necessarily simultaneously.

Checking in after.

I’m feeling a bit tired. My breath is sort of panting. I feel more connected, or more something. Not neutral like before. There’s a warmth through my body, especially my back and my upper chest.

There’s a softening. I can feel gravity. And I just took a spontaneous deep breath. There’s something like peace, gratitude, and heaviness all mixed in together.

So, how did it go? I repeatedly forgot to slow down, starting with going down the stairs, then I would remember, then I would forget.

I found that it was difficult or impossible to keep my focus on one thing, and I didn’t force myself to do that. In some moments, I intentionally paused with something, like noticing the touch of my fingers on the top of my head under the water. After a while, my thoughts went where they went and my body went where it went. For a few minutes my neck was slowly moving, stretching, being with or working on something. At one point I realized the air felt too warm. I pushed the tub door open with more and more force, but I couldn’t get it to open far enough to stay open until I sat up and leaned over to push the door wide open. Then there was cool air and hot water.

Even though my attention didn’t go where I was planning for it to go, I believe the intentionality helped me to be more aware of my body and what it feels and wants.

My breath is easy, my shoulders are down, and my emotional energy is relatively calm, not pushing or racing. This was a useful and pleasant practice.

Five Practices

I’m slowing down.

I’m affectionately bringing to mind the kindness and compassion of my guru, inviting myself to soften, receive, and enjoy the unconditional universal love that he both offers and represents.

As I make that invitation, I gently notice the various ways my body wants to clench up or change the subject, the impulse to turn away from softening.

I’m acknowledging that there is a lot of distressing emotion still hidden in this body, broadcasting danger, alert, and the perceived need for intense self-protection.

I’m inviting my body, even though it FEELS like it is under duress, to “BREATHE ANYWAY,” I’m wanting to gently counter the inherent impulse to keep my breathing shallow by locating an organic impulse to breathe (rather than overriding and forcing a breath).

I’m looking around, listening, even touching the things around me, pausing with whatever I encounter that is pleasant.

Remaining with the intention to slow down, opening to wonder, joy, delight.

Slow down.

Connect with the sacred.

Acknowledge the hidden distress.

Invite the body to “breathe anyway.”

Notice, savor, enjoy.

Great Mother

In one of those moments when I notice that my shoulders just dropped – even though I hadn’t realized again that they were up by my ears ,I imagine and feel the hands of Mother God, the Divine Mother, Yemaya, Gaia, the great Goddess on those shoulders. I hear her say to me, Hey, you are doing ok, Beautiful! Remember that I’ve got your back and I love you.”

“Let me tell you about you”

“Let me tell you about you”

Just because something is true about someone doesn’t mean that hearing it will be helpful to them.

The result of developmental trauma is that we are hiding lots of (true) things from ourselves about ourselves. We do want to become aware of those things, but at a tolerable pace, not all at once. And we want to learn them in a gentle way, not dumped in our lap.

So just because YOU can see that I am actually defensive as #%*& doesn’t mean that it’s going to help my healing process for you to point out to me that I am being defensive.

Let’s have the intention to be aware of what the other person is experiencing and to be curious about whether what we want to share is supportive of their stability and growth. This can be difficult, when something is SO CLEAR to us.

Of course, this also means that sometimes when I feel strongly that someone else’s criticism of me is inaccurate, it might be that they are on point and I can’t afford to know that about myself yet.

Humility, Curiosity, Respect, Gratitude.

Structure or Scaffolding

Here’s one way I describe living with and working with the results of developmental trauma.

When some of our core needs went unmet, we had to hide from ourselves various needs, feelings, and difficult emotions.

Also due to core needs going unmet, we failed to develop some key skills for navigating both inner and outer situations.

We built a structure or scaffolding inside our bodymind to help with these two challenges.

The scaffolding is designed to ensure that the hidden needs and feelings remain hidden and to work around the missing skills. As a side effect, this structure also limits and restricts our thoughts, feelings and actions.

In our healing journey, we ultimately want to deconstruct the existing structure and replace it with a structure that allows for more freedom and flexibility.

But that can’t happen quickly because this structure is serving a critical function.

We have to shift this whole thing gently, bit by bit.

Any movement can potentially shift this inner structure. Any positive or negative shift in our experience or circumstances can cause some part of this infrastructure to no longer work in just the same way, and that can lead to new or unexpected emotional and physical symptoms.

Our intention is to make small shifts, creating openings, spaciousness, and new possibilities. If the work is optimally titrated, we get some incremental relief, growth and change that we can build on over time. But because our systems are so sensitive, any movement can potentially spark an inner backlash. When there’s more space, something in us can cry out, “More space is dangerous! Shut it down!”

Our work becomes trial and error, to find the ways to create just a little movement, just a little space, titrated so that there is hopefully no backlash, or if there is backlash, it’s small enough to manage. Because this is art, not science, we won’t get it exactly right every time. When there is a backlash, or if things don’t seem to be moving at all, we can gently get curious about that. We can explore what came up and we can also adjust how we work in the future to go slower or faster or be more intentional about connecting with resource and breath.


I’m willing to acknowledge that the events of my early life were more difficult and painful than I’ve let myself know or feel.

And I’m not in a hurry to feel all that fear and pain right now.

I respect my body moving slowly, bit by bit feeling, knowing, sensing, remembering, integrating. Taking plenty of time to connect with each thing that arises in this body wanting to be seen and felt.

What I do want now is to soften around the whole thing. I don’t have to defend or explain myself. Or my parents. Or my story.

It’s ok that I am who I am. It’s ok that I am how I am.

It’s ok that it has taken a long time to unravel my emotions,

my body, and my story to get to this point. It’s ok that it will take more time to get to the level of freedom I’m looking for.

I am grateful for the progress, for more breath, less constriction, more permission to be me.

I invite my body right now to soften into that. And that softening, in each moment, is a movement toward that freedom.

Bringing Compassion to the Recurrence of Old Patterns

Bringing Compassion to the Recurrence of Old Patterns

Try filling in the blanks and saying this to yourself:

“Due to the stress and demands of __________(situation), it seems that I have forgotten or lost contact with __________(resources or progress) and that I have reverted to an old pattern of __________(old pattern that had improved before).

It makes sense that in the face of this stress, my body would reach for an old source of comfort or safety.

I forgive myself for this perceived regression.

I offer compassion to the places in me that feel afraid and unsafe.

I slow down, I breathe, I soften, and I intentionally reach out or drop down to connect with __________(resources).

With gentleness and kindness, I allow myself time and space to soften, connect, and integrate.”

Mine:  “Due to the stress and demands of illness and reduced income, it seems that I have forgotten or lost contact with the soft sweet knowing that I am deeply loved and safe and that I have reverted to an old pattern of constriction, disconnection and alarm.

It makes sense that in the face of this stress, my body would reach for an old source of comfort or safety. I forgive myself for this perceived regression. I offer compassion to the places in me that feel afraid and unsafe. 

I slow down, I breathe, I soften, and I intentionally reach out or drop down to connect with softness, tenderness, spaciousness and the remembrance that I am deeply loved.

With gentleness and kindness, I allow myself time and space to soften, connect, and integrate.”