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Healing the Past

Below are the articles in the Healing the Past category. Each article title is followed by a brief summary introduction to the content. Click "Read Excerpt" for a more comprehensive review. Click "Add to Package" to buy or redeem the article.

Healing the Past

Bounce Back: Developing Emotional Resilience

Resilience is key for successfully navigating the major upsets in our lives. Fortunately we all can enhance this universal capacity.

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Major disruptions are a “gotcha” we all experience at one time or another in our lives. We get fired, laid off or passed over; a loved one dies, leaves or gets into trouble; a project stalls or gets cancelled. The list, unfortunately, is endless.

For some, the impact of these hard times is overwhelming. Recovery, if it comes at all, can be painfully slow. Others show resilience and are admirably able to glide through these times fairly easily, bouncing back to a normal life again quickly. Resilience—the strength required to adapt to change—acts as our internal compass so we can resourcefully navigate an upset.

When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. The good news is that each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after a disruption and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness. Though it’s easy to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, life disruptions are not necessarily a bad thing because they help us grow and meet future challenges in our lives. It’s a lot like a bone that was once fragile or broken, and is now strong from being used.

So how can you become more resilient? Here’s a look at seven key characteristics of people who demonstrate resilience during life’s curve balls.

Interpreting Experiences in a New Light

The ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called “reframing”) can minimize the impact of a difficult situation. Resilient people take a creative approach toward solving a problem, and don’t always use an old definition for a new challenge.

Finding an Antidote to the Poison of Shame

Article explores the sources of shame, how shame serves us, and how to begin healing.

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Every time Grace—a gifted drama teacher—taught a class, she returned home with an awful sinking feeling. She didn’t understand why. “I had such fun and did a great job,” she thought to herself. Yet, rather than expand from the delight and exuberance of her time in the classroom, she contracted.

Grace’s contraction comes from the experience of shame, a poison that keeps us from experiencing our own joy and disconnects us from the aliveness within and around us. Whereas guilt is associated with a particular memory or event and having done something wrong, the feeling of shame is about being wrong at our core. It is a debilitating feeling we have about ourselves that comes from a core belief that we are basically and unalterably flawed.

Sources of Shame

The poison that is the root of shame is absorbed in early childhood. As a result of not being seen and loved for who we are, we develop the belief that we are unlovable and that something is inherently wrong with us. Perhaps we were told outright that we were bad, stupid or undeserving, or perhaps we were physically abused, from which we concluded we had no value. The thing we may have done “wrong” might have been simply expressing our joyful authenticity. Like Grace, we learned that again, being who we truly are is not safe.

From Hopelessness to Happiness—a Learnable Life Skill

Some people are optimists and others are pessimists. However, optimism isn’t an accident—it’s a skill that can be learned, one that can help us feel better, resist depression and greatly improve our lives.

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Psychologist, clinical researcher and bestselling author Martin Seligman has spent 25 years studying optimism and pessimism. In his book, Learned Optimism, he states that pessimistic thinking can undermine not just our behavior but our success in all areas of our lives.

“Pessimism is escapable,” he writes. “Pessimists can learn to be optimists.”

By altering our view of our lives, we can actually alter our lives, he says. First, he says we must recognize our “explanatory style,” which is what we say to ourselves when we experience a setback. By breaking the “I give up” pattern of thinking and changing our interior negative dialogue, we can encourage what he calls “flexible optimism.” He believes that focusing on our innate character strengths (wisdom, courage, compassion), rather than our perceived failures boosts not just our moods, but our immune system. Research has shown that optimistic people tend to be healthier and experience more success in life; therefore, he encourages parents to develop the patterns of optimism in their children.

Healing From Trauma

Two people are robbed at gunpoint. One experiences overwhelming helplessness and has a difficult month. The other experiences intense rage, and years later still struggles with the trauma. How can she heal as well?

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Not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way. Just as pain thresholds differ, so do trauma thresholds. But as William Shakespeare wrote in his play Othello, “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

Having studied trauma intensively over the past couple of decades, researchers now know that a traumatic event’s impact depends on the perception of it. Perception is influenced by a number of factors including age, physical characteristics, level of support, etc. Thus, emotional trauma can result from a single extreme and deeply felt experience or from a series of low-intensity events. Even everyday happenings—falls, difficult births, betrayals, medical/dental procedures—can cause the same lingering traumatic effects as extreme or violent events, such as physical abuse, combat or serious accidents.

Fortunately, even traumatic effects that linger for years can be resolved, and the result can be a new present-day reality that includes, but is not dominated by, a traumatic past.

“The same immense energies that create the symptoms of trauma, when properly engaged and mobilized, can transform the trauma and propel us into new heights of healing, mastery and even wisdom,” writes Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

Healing the Roots of Self-Hatred

You may never silence the voice of self-hatred completely, but it is possible to lessen its impact, and find relief and healing.

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The Critic is a common and unfortunate constant in our inner lives. This internalized voice assumes the tone and language of our mother, father, religion and/or society. After every step forward there it is, doubting or damning our choice.

But for many people, “critic” is much too mild a word. The voice they hear is relentless, a vicious screaming that cripples and controls. They might call their voice the “Self-Hater” or the “Killer Critic.”

Not everyone hears self-hatred as a voice in their heads. Sometimes, it’s a way of being that manifests in myriad forms, including:

• sabotaging healthy relationships or good jobs,

• attempting to prove worthiness by being perfect or through high achievement,

• being drawn again and again into abusive situations.

Healing With Poetry

For years the prospect of poetry filled millions with dread. Either it meant crushingly long epics that put students to sleep, or it was so filled with hidden meaning that only professors and graduate students could understand it. The times—and poetry—have changed.

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Poetry has become more personal, and therefore more popular. It has also become a powerful tool in helping people make lasting changes in their lives.

Language can influence us deeply—not just what we say, read or write—but also what we think. When we put our thoughts on paper and examine them, it’s a first step in finding out what we want. And when we know what we want—whether it’s in our relationships, jobs, financial dealings or life goals—that’s when we are most effective at making change.

Poetry is particularly effective because it’s short and sweet, and gets to the point quickly. It has become such a simple and natural everyday form that even those who don’t consider themselves writers can use it. But it doesn’t have to be written to be effective; reading other people’s poetry can also be a way to shift the way we see our problems and perhaps come up with a different solution. Reading poetry has become so popular that it’s on buses in London and several Canadian and U.S. cities.

Poet Mary Oliver says that this simpler form of poetry is like a “coiled spring, waiting to release its energy in a few clear phrases.”

How to Support Your Own Happiness

Our brains can be trained to cultivate happiness; some training tips.

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When you were little and the teacher asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you surely didn’t answer “miserable!”

At every stage in life, unhappiness is not a state to which we aspire. But with the economy rolling downhill, the vision of our own prosperity can seem like a tiny, inflatable raft in an ocean of fear. In such unstable times, the pursuit of happiness can feel like a taunt rather than an inalienable right.

Still, it’s worth the effort. Emerging research shows that while trauma has a profound impact on the brain, the brain is not as hard-wired as previously thought. We can learn to be happier. In fact, the most popular class at Harvard University is one in which students learn to train their brains to cultivate what instructor Tal Ben-Shahar calls the ultimate currency: happiness.

Journaling to Grow and Thrive

As long as there has been something to write on, humans have been keeping journals. You could even say that the earliest cave drawings were journals. What are the benefits of keeping a journal? And how does one begin?

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A journal is a place for recording a life, safekeeping memories, dwelling within and working through. Journal writing is a way to know and express ourselves. It’s a safe haven, a best friend and a trusted confidante. Within the pages of your journal you can try out ideas, explore your feelings, rant and rave, vent emotions and tell secrets.…

You don’t have to write every day, but the more frequently you write, the easier it will become and more productive you’ll be. If you can set aside twenty minutes or a half-hour every morning or evening, or during lunch break, and simply begin writing, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

You don’t need a lot of instruction to begin keeping a journal; there’s really no wrong way to do it. Here are some ways to begin:

❏ start with “Today I…” and write the first image or words that appear. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. In fact, don’t worry about anything, just write.

❏ start with “I feel…” or “I want…” or “I think…”

❏ describe what you see out your window, or the weather, or where you are:

“It’s 7:30 in the morning and I’m sitting at my kitchen table…”

Making Medicine of Our Regrets

Use regret to make changes, pursue that never-forgotten dream, or make peace with the choices of the past.

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There is no such thing as a life without any regrets. We all have them. They may be small or large, recent or rooted in a long ago incident. Perhaps what most of us also have in common is wishing we didn’t have them, wishing we hadn’t made that choice, taken or not taken that life-changing action, or behaved inappropriately.

Perhaps we should not wish them away so quickly. Regret, according to Neal Roese, Ph.D., author of If Only: How to Turn Regret Into Opportunity, is an essential mental skill. “Regret is useful,” Roese writes, “for signaling to people that it’s time to change their strategy.” When we allow our regretted choices to inform us and affect our behavior, they can be seen not only in the context of what is lost, but also what could be gained, and can serve as motivation to move forward.

Living with nagging regret as our daily companion, however, can become a burden that restricts our future and corrodes our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Even small regrets diminish our contentment and keep us from living in the present. In the case of crippling regrets, the results can be devastating. Psychologists have linked severe regret with a wide variety of mental and physical disorders, including sleep and mood problems, migraines, and skin conditions.

Surviving Improper Parenting

Healing from improper parenting and becoming better parents for the next generation.

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Because parents are usually the first influence in our lives, what we learn or do not learn from them when we’re young can have lasting repercussions. Unfortunately, this can translate into many people suffering from the effects of improper parenting.

If not addressed, those effects can be felt for a lifetime, and they include low self-esteem, being drawn into abusive relationships, unhealthy habits or inhibitions and feelings of worthlessness.

Improper parenting can include physical, sexual and verbal abuse, physical and emotional neglect, rejection, favoritism of one sibling over another, lack of discipline, forcing choices on children and being overly protective or indulgent.

Because we often parent as we were parented, it’s important to heal our own wounds and learn proper parenting techniques so that we don’t perpetuate the cycle. As P.D. James wrote in Time to Be in Earnest, “What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give.”

The Impact of Unresolved Trauma on Relationships

This article addresses the origin of unresolved emotional trauma, how it affects current relationships, and how to resolve the trauma.

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Physicians use the word “trauma” to describe a serious injury to the physical body resulting from a sudden impact, such as an accident or a violent act. But you can also suffer emotional trauma, which can cause an equally painful wound to your sense of self as a whole, coherent being. Just like a wound to your physical body, emotional injuries also require care and attention so that you may heal.

When this trauma is left unresolved and your experience of yourself is one of not being whole—of somehow being broken—you are likely to bring the footprints of this to your relationships. To have healthy relationships, you must first have a healthy sense of your own being and place in the world.

The Journey of Healing from Sexual Abuse

While public attention has turned away from childhood sexual abuse, the problem has not gone away.

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The sexual abuse of a child is a profound betrayal of trust. Well into their adult life, survivors typically experience a wide variety of persistent and often debilitating symptoms.

In addition to suffering from the actual physical sexual abuse, the survivor often carries the painful burden of the terrible secret and/or internalized shame. The journey of healing sexual abuse always begins with telling the truth—firstly to oneself, then to another. Tell a trusted friend. Tell a therapist.

The Healing Journey

Moving Forward with Professional Support

Talking to an empathic professional, especially one who specializes in recovery from sexual abuse, is an important step towards healing. Bodywork can also be helpful for healing trauma that has lodged in the body as chronic pain or habitual patterns. You may also want to join a therapy group with other survivors. Sharing stories with others who have had similar experiences dispels the illusion that you are alone in your suffering.

Using Story to Heal the Past and Change the Future

When we think of “story,” we tend to think of three bears, a girl with loathsome stepsisters, or the latest novel we’ve read. But story is integral to our personal lives, as well as our collective culture.

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The U.S. was birthed as a nation based on a shared story of “equality for all.” Our individual lives also are shaped in this way. John grew up in extreme poverty, and as a result decided as a young man that he wanted to help end hunger. As head of The World Bank in a Third World country, he contributed to the welfare of millions of people. He was a wealthy banker, yet the core story that fueled his life was that he was a man who fed hungry people.

Change Your Story, Change Your Life

Current popular teachings contend that we have the ability to transform our lives by changing our thoughts. This transformation is facilitated by the recognition that our thoughts are part of an organized structure of reality—a story—that we are living. Rather than having to catch endless chaotic thoughts midstream, examine the story you tell about yourself to yourself and decide how you want to rewrite it.

Jim Loehr, author of The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life, says the success of our lives is at stake: the stories we tell about our work, relationships, accomplishments and shortcomings become our destiny.

Why Therapy? Exploring the Strengths of Seeking Help

Suffering in silence, out of society’s gaze, no longer is the rule. Now, going to a therapist is seen as a positive step in people’s lives.

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Long before there were therapists, there were family members. Grandpa and Aunt Jane listened, or gave us advice, or sometimes just told us to buck up. If family couldn’t help, there were friends or a clergy member. But most likely, we were also warned not to broadcast our troubles, and many people suffered their mental problems silently.

Times change, and so has society’s acceptance of seeking help. The old stigma of being seen as weak or incapable is largely gone, helped by many well-known writers, actors and politicians being open about their struggles with, and treatments for, everything from depression to chronic shoplifting. Going to a therapist is now seen as a positive step in most people’s lives.

“Therapy is a unique relationship and what makes it valuable sets it apart from friendships, working partnerships, family connections and love affairs,” says Carl Sherman, author of How to Go to Therapy: Making the Most of Professional Help.

In his book, author Sherman describes therapy as a balance in which two people are “collaborating on a single project: helping you deal with your problems and achieve the change you want. There is no other agenda.”

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