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« Freud and Mackenzie Phillips on Trauma and Childhood Sexual Abuse | Main | Healing the Healer »

October 12, 2009

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Oh, Kellen. Where to begin...

I can tell by reading your post and knowing your attitudes from previous posts, that you consider the term 'mindfulness' as an alternative to dissociation and that you understand how painful and disruptive dissociation can be. You seem like a very nice person. I just want to share something with you while you (and I) are on the topic. It has been my experience, and that of many other trauma survivors, that many therapies do not use 'mindfulness' in the same way in which you mean it in this post. The problem is so bad, that like the word 'forgiveness', the word 'mindfulness' has become meaningless to me (except as a PTSD trigger). There are a lot of therapists out there who really misuse this word and use it beat people back INTO dissociation (DBT is a good example of this). The logic gets twisted into something like this: Mindfulness means focusing only on the present moment. If 'your' present moment contains bad memories, then that is not the present. Get rid of that and 'be mindful'.

A therapist actually told me once that if I could not focus on the present moment, then that meant I needed to be medicated. He said it because I was crying and very upset and scared over having had a flashback from a dissociated rape. I didn't need to be medicated and I didn't need to 'mindfully peel an orange'. I needed it to finally be okay to scream. I needed it to be okay to cry without being diagnosed as being defective. Instead I was rejected and treated coldly because I could not just go on with my life a week after a very formidable dissociative wall finally exploded one night in my living room. The things that happen in a lot of therapies are just not right and people get hurt. Sadly, it's often the people who have already been hurt so badly that they can't afford to take on any more damage. I hope your own honest attitude toward these things catches on, Kellen. I really do.

-- No Longer Anon

Hi Ethereal,

I cannot tell you much I appreciate your words or how sorry I am that you have had these experiences. I know this is done because I have seen therapists do it. They do not mean to cause harm, they are just afraid of your emotions. But that is their deficiency, not yours. We seem to think that everyone should be happy and that anyone who is unhappy should be made happy, even if we have to medicate them. I'm sorry your feelings were not honored. That is the entire point of trauma therapy, to get in touch with those memories and feelings and to have them. I'm sorry you were let down at a time when you were extremely vulnerable. I'm pleased to hear that you know this is wrong and that you honored your own feelings and hung onto them.

In my humble opinion, mindfulness is not about being in the "present", it's about being - period. Sometimes our present is being ruled by things in our past which we have not resolved. In this case, "being in the present" means stopping in the present time to go back and deal with our past. I have heard it said about history, "He who does not learn from his past mistakes is doomed to repeat them." This is true with humans as well. If we block out our past, refuse to remember it, ignore the feelings caused by what has happened to us and fail to learn from those experiences, we cannot be fully in the present. Our brain is very self respecting. It demands that it be heard. If you refuse to listen it will makes itself known in nightmares and panic attacks. But then your nightmares and panic attacks are running your life and you don't know why. Then your past is messing up your present.

You cannot get into the present fully until you have experienced the past - fully. That means you have to feel the feelings of what happened to you, not imagine them away or distract yourself from them. I'm glad you realized that you needed to scream (or cry or rage or whatever) and that this did not make you "defective" or mean that you had a "disorder" or mean that you needed to be medicated like a mental patient. Trauma is a normal reaction by a normal person to an abnormal situation. Everything you are describing sounds like the normal trauma process and I'm glad you held on to it.

Oh dear, I'm preaching to the choir aren't I?

I am honored to meet you Anon and have a real name to go with a very real person. You are truly a courageous survivor and if anything I say here helps you on your journey then my work here has not been in vain.


It's a whole new world for me now that I'm listening to my body and feeling the feelings. When we do this, we really can make much healthier choices. Thanks for this excellent, informative post. And thanks for allowing us to use it for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. I'm glad you could join us. BTW: I just found you on Twitter and I am now following you there.

Hi Marj,

I'm pleased to hear that you found this article valuable. I am a very big fan of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. Other readers can find it at:

http://survivorscanthrive.blogspot.com/

You folks do a terrific job providing information for child abuse survivors. Keep up the good work and I hope to see you Twitter!

Great article, although sati/smrti is the primary term that is usually invoked by the word mindfulness in a Buddhist context, it has been asserted "in Buddhist discourse, there are three terms that together map the field of mindfulness, [in their Sanskrit variants] smrti (Pali: sati), samprajanya (Pali: sampajañña) and apramāda (Pali: appamada)."

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