When we're hurting, we all want and need those closest to us to "get it," but please take comfort from the statistic that it usually does not happen that way. Why? Therapist and scholar Jack Kornfield says, "Even Buddha and Jesus had a lot of trouble with their families when they went home! So did Mother Theresa. Holding up the ring nuns wear as brides of Christ, she told a journalist: ' I'm married, too, and He can be very difficult... ' "
That's because when we humans get close, to those closest to us, that proximity turns on the fight-flight paranoia in all concerned (in everyone, not just in me). Why? That's where humans get the most vulnerable, so that's where (our bodies and paranoid brain stems feel) we could potentially get really hurt. There is a lot of literature on this problem - please don't feel alone on this! You are exactly normal.
This is why we have support groups and that is why therapists exist. In my experience it's instead my recovery partners, my trauma-informed therapist, and trauma-informed folk such on ACEsConnection who get it. And that's a life-saver.
Dr. John Townsend says:
"There will be people who are marked, at the same time as you. Find them."
Find people who are in the same boat, who are not in denial, who do get it-- and spent a lot of flight time sitting with them, face to face. That's where the real healing is. [Photo: Henry Cloud & John Townsend]
When I did that work, I didn't know about ACEsConnection. I didn't know the ACE Study is the top research on the connection between childhood emotional pain, and health -- and shows Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) actually create most medical, mental health and emotional issues in adults.
But what I did do in 2009 was to get relief by piling on many extra hours of "flight time" sitting with my Recovery partners, one whose parents were dying, and another whose spouse committed suicide. The emotional pain was excruciating, but the process worked -- because we were in the same boat.
We used the "Grief Recovery Handbook" by John James & Russell Friedman and wrote "Grief Letters" as the book assigns. It's an arduous method and they do caution: Don't do this alone!
So arduous, we were advised by the pros to "schedule in the flight hours" with a Grief Partner -- and we met in pairs every single Wednesday night for 3 hours and Saturday afternoons for even longer -- for three years. We just read our Grief Letters to each other.
We shared everything, and I do mean everything, the deepest of grief. One hour sharing by each of us of our letter of the week, sharing in turn, while the other sat with mouth shut (that's why "Hello Kitty" has no mouth) and practiced compassionate listening. After sharing 1 hour each (no one can take more than that in a day!), we'd have a snack and chat, or go walk on the beach on Saturdays.
I can not possibly say in mere writing how deeply healing that was - it saved my life!
This can not be done by email or telephone. It's the eye contact that heals the brain; ask Dr. Bruce Perry: the eyes literally carry the image of the soul from one human into another. That's how mothers co-create their babies' brains, and that is the only thing that can heal us for the rest of life. "It's all about the face time."
But our family members were just not in the same boat (or in denial; they might be in the same boat but couldn't face it; denial harmful to all concerned). So trying to get from them, something they simply do not have, was just not the best use of our truly valuable time. Sooner or later, they will get it -- but probably later. I had one family member in denial who lives 3,000 miles away, and that was all the family I had; I had to wing it from scratch. That was a big ouch by itself. It still stings.
Then I "accidentally" met my recovery partners in choir.
If no recovery partners appear magically in your 'hood, join ACEsConnection -- nation-wide and world-wide -- and go to or form an ACE meeting. Or find or form a support group at your local house of worship or county health organization. I've tried all the groups from DivorceCare to GriefShare, Codependents Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery (aka CR, Pastor Rick Warren's national group), and even Al Anon.
It was incredibly painful because so many just do NOT get it -- but I became a gold mine of ideas on how to find recovery partners. Message me, I'll help you -- I found them, I did recover -- and now I feel great most of the time.
If all else fails there are weekly Al Anon meetings in every city in America and they are not just for families of addicts. They will be there for anyone who is hurting and needs loving acceptance; just walk in and admit to that tiny streak of co-dependency that lurks in all of us.
Plus: Here is an incredibly fruitful link I just found on http://acestudy.org/faqs
Q: I'm a survivor and/or perpetrator of child abuse in search of help; what should I do?
A: Talk with your physician, and ask for a referral. No matter what your age, if you do not currently have healthcare coverage, contact the nearest children's hospital or children's advocacy center and ask for help.
This jumps to the National Children's Advocacy Center and just to illustrate, I put in my zip and up came 5 matches within 50 miles such as:
1. Child Abuse Services Team (CAST), 401 The City Dr., Orange, 92868 (714) 935-7599
2. Miller Children's Abuse and Violence Intervention Center, 2865 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, 90806 (562) 933-0590
3. Children's Advocacy Center for Child Abuse, 363 S. Park Ave. Ste. 202, Pomona, 91766 (909) 629-6300
4. Riverside Child Assessment Team, 26520 Cactus Ave., Lower Level Moreno Valley 92555 (951) 486-4345
5. Palomar Pomerado Forensic Health Child Abuse, 121 N. Fig St., Escondido 92025 (760) 739-2156
Building a Life Team
I'm no stranger to emotional pain so bad it can lead to suicide. My new book “Don't Try This at Home: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder” notes the pain was so intense, it nearly did; see AttachmentDisorderHealing.com
In fact this blog resulted from a Sept. 17 interview with Pastor Rick Warren on his son Matthew's suicide this year. Pastor Warren told CNN, "Matthew was not afraid to die. He was afraid of pain.”
Pastor Warren and his wife Kay have been passionately calling for a change in our mental health system to recognize and deal with the fact that this happens too often, starting with a July 26 statement calling for complete mental health system reform.
Among the comments I received after posting this warning about how bad the pain can get, were these:
“Thank you for sharing. I have Major Clinical Depression myself and I can totally relate to what his son went through. Many times, even the people who say they love you the most, don't really get what it's like to go through such intense emotional pain that you want it to just stop no matter what the cost. Then, those you have no choice but to turn to for support--actually work against your recovery by saying and doing things that are counter productive. It's the worst 'Catch 22' I can imagine being in.”
The next comment was:
“So very well stated! And when folks don't get that they are acting in a counter-productive way, the person in need is getting re-traumatized again; it's a mini-re-traumatization. Not unlike a micro-aggression or micro-inequity.
"Micro-aggressions/micro-inquities are usually attributed to minority experiences. There is a 'dose-response effect'... a cumulative effect of these and other traumas that create a heavier burden for the person in need as time goes by. The fundamental essence is that the person is alienated from 'the group.' Being a part of one's social group is a biological need of all mammals ! "
I replied, “No, most people can't get what it's like 'to go through such intense emotional pain that you want it to just stop no matter what.' It's so hard, that Catch 22 you talk about. Many times in 2008-2011 I was in Matthew Warren's shoes. But I had to see a friend every day whose spouse had committed suicide, so I had to look the results in the eye. That is the only reason frankly I survived.
"I've been thru micro re-traumatizations like that for decades. This is why I so appreciate ACEsConnection. Because here, I can be 100% my real self, trauma and all, and everyone 'does get it;' you get the real me. So no re-traumatizations. Priceless!”
Feel like you're at the End of the Line? Here's the proverbial bottom line:
It is SO important for us to simply be heard saying the truth of what we feel, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – and then to , receive a totally accepting response.
As in "you belong, no matter what you are feeling. " And it's just very difficult to get family to do that; it's too intense for them. It's just human nature; let's accept it.
That's why Dr. John Townsend also advises that we all create a "Life Team" of seven people who are not family - Seven "Recovery" team partners - so we can call someone every day and share how we really feel, no bull, and be accepted and validated.
He says it's only by bringing our “bad parts” into relationship with other humans, that we can heal them. Amazing. You should see what his list of “bad parts” includes, it's astonishing. He's for sharing every not-good thing we feel under the sun. Even horrid sexual impulses. Talk about the emotions, so that we can feel it and heal it – then we dissipate the impulse and don't act out.
Make the Call ! Get Your 5 Supplements...
Dr. Townsend says that everybody, every day, requires -- as a physiological need -- what he calls the Five Supplements:
Grace, Empathy, Validation, Acceptance, and Encouragement.
Can you imagine that? As an ACE survivor, the first time I heard him say this, I thought: “This shrink is out of his mind.” I'd never had such a wonderful experience in my life – let alone every day of my life and as a doctor-certified requirement of the human soul.
OK, so we need a list of seven people who will do this for us – because obviously, we are also going to be there for them and do it for them! That's what “General Theory of Love” calls “100%-100%” agape. I've been doing this and it really works.
But then: we have to make the call. That's usually the worst part, we are so mortified.
I once told my therapist: “Last night I felt like the Harlow's monkey shown in 'General Theory of Love'. ” It's a baby monkey huddled up in a ball of agony like a spider about to die -- after it was removed from even the terry cloth mother monkey and left in a cold bare wire cage.
But I had called a recovery friend the night before, and simply told them that. And got accepted telling it. And I felt better.
My doctor replied: “That's the point.The monkey couldn't make the call.You made the call!”
To which our team of wonderful commentators replied:
“Saying one's truth and being ACCEPTED as in "belonging" is just spot on! Again, it's a biological need. Mammals NEED to belong. Dr. Gabor Mate states this often.
"Sadly, an excellent example is bullying. It's why so many young kids take their lives when bullied. Being ostracized from the group is to inject disease (or as some would point out "dis-ease") into the victim; denying one from BELONGING. Then one looks at Dr. Daniel Siegel's work and understands that individual biology is modulated by interpersonal experiences (click the link)."
“I REALLY appreciate what you've both shared with us. It has a ring of truth to it (resonating loudly within me) and I wish there was a way to TEACH that to every single person on the planet. It's as basic a need as food, water, clothing, shelter. Our society suffers when WE suffer -- rejection and isolation are such HUGE barriers to self-esteem, feeling loved, being accepted.”
So that's it: Everybody, every day, requires, as a physiological need, Dr. Townsend's Five Supplements:
Grace, Empathy, Validation, Acceptance, and Encouragement.
Then, let us build our Life Teams, and let us keep working together here in dialogue.
And remember: the monkey couldn't make the call – but we can make the call.
So make the call!