This resonated with me today

I’m being brave and aligning myself with a particular individual’s approach to helping others by sharing this short video. This is something I try to avoid doing, as I sincerely believe that when it comes to helping one another professionally and personally, we learn most from listening to what works best from those in distress, as opposed to handing out tried and tested ‘models’.

This video is narrated by Brene Brown, a psychologist and I would say, philanthropist, whose vision for encouraging empathy and bravery in all of us is, I believe, extremely relevant in today’s chaotic times. Her take on empathy here certainly resonates with me.

On a practical level, I would sincerely advise leaning in towards those that offer true empathy and taking its counterpart, sympathy, with a pinch of salt, particularly when it often hits far wide of the mark in terms of helping you recover and feel better about yourself.

I’ve commented before about what I believe to be the key component of any healthy healing process, be that a conversation with a friend or a course of therapy treatment, and that is the honesty and integrity of the relationship. The irony is that we all know what it is to feel shame, fear, rage, and heartbreak for example, yet somehow struggle to use this to our combined benefit. To do so is to share and step even closer to one another in a much deeper sense than simply showing concern and offering an ear. Stepping into someone else’s’ shoes, as sincerely and often as uncomfortable as it can be, and walking the line with them through the storm, hail and seemingly endless wilderness, is what it really takes for us to feel loved, worthy and most importantly, to come out the other side in one piece.

I hope this clip is helpful to others. Just a reminder that I am not here promoting any particular individual’s therapeutic model, such as Brene Brown’s; in fact, I think a lot of what psychology has to say, we all already know on a deeply human level, simply struggle to believe in and practice for fear of ‘getting it wrong’.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about this, her website can be found here

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What is it to be traumatised?

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Clients often report feeling fraudulent entering therapy, stating that they had a happy childhood and no significant traumas in their life to date. In their mind, it is they who are fully responsible for their ongoing depression or anxiety. We tend to think of traumatic events as those extremes we hear about in the media: rape, assault, terrorism etc. In reality, the link between trauma and a traumatized brain is less clear cut.

Life is littered with uncertainties and perceived threats, to our lives, self-esteem and confidence. In the face of such threats, some of us are simply unequipped to deal with the psychological fall out – through no fault of our own. To assume full responsibility for how we react to these events, is inaccurate and disregards all that we now know about the brain. Brain imaging has revealed our limitations as human beings to differentiate between perceived and real danger. As a result, it may be more accurate to attribute some responsibility to our innate physiology.

I prefer to use the word ‘traumatized’ in therapy rather than labeling specific events as the moment trauma occurred. This allows clients to identify behaviors, emotions and thoughts that may indicate a ‘traumatized brain’. Put simply, a traumatized mind is a ‘confused or disorganized’ mind, involuntarily firing on all cylinders and largely out-with our control due to our evolution.

A traumatized mind is separate from the traumatic event. We are not born with the skills to self-soothe in the face of danger (perceived or real). We may seek them out in infancy but there is no guarantee these needs will be met through our environment. We have to learn these skills, to enable our brain to successfully access the parasympathetic nervous system, which essentially sends in the ‘para’-troupers in times of stress to calm the flames of anxiety and fear.

We learn key nurturing skills in early childhood, largely from care givers. Given that care givers are only human, and may well be inexperienced at managing their own emotions, we may find ourselves vulnerable to developing self-compassion. This is not to say our parents or peers are to blame for our underdeveloped brains rather that it is in no way our own fault as individuals for getting trapped in a traumatized mindset.

The good news is, no matter how traumatized our brains may be, brain imaging has shown that these key nurturing skills can be learnt at any age with the help of psycho-education and/or appropriate psychotherapy. Schema Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychoanalysis and Mindfulness all offer ways to calm the traumatized mind and gain essential self-regulatory skills.

It might be useful to consider the mindset that is engaged in the face of danger for you personally? Remember, our brains may be limited by insufficient development, but they are also extremely flexible, allowing new neural pathways to develop and arming us with more efficient and effective skills. A traumatic event can never be eradicated from our memories but we can significantly re-wire how our brains relate to these memories.