The Mask of Trauma and Abuse

I have talked before about the dangers of leaving a mask on too long.  Today I would like to talk about the many different masks survivors wear, the reasons we wear them and the danger of becoming too attached to the mask.

There are many different reasons events that could make a person adopt a mask, but the underlying reason is the same.  “Fear”!  Fear of appearing to be a failure, fear of someone finding out your past, fear of looking weak or emotional.  But fear is a dangerous bedfellow and can easily make you lose yourself altogether.

Those very things in our past, the hurts and insecurities are begging for release and releasing them leads to freedom.  The first step to removing the mask is realizing what mask you wear most.  The people pleaser?  I have to do everything for everyone or they won’t like me.  I will put him first and he will love me. Or maybe its the perfectionist? I must stay in control and do everything right.  I crave help but I am afraid to ask or accept it.  The I must be attractive all the time mask?  If I must be beautiful to be worthy of love. There are of course others.  The approval mask or the performer, and many wear different masks at different times or even multiple masks.  Doesn’t it get tiring?

To begin to take off the masks though, we must face our past hurts, traumas and experiences and discover how they came to be.  Maybe it goes back to winning a parents approval as a child,  a negative relationship or a traumatic experience.  I will acknowledge that for me this exercise helped me to realize how many masks I wear and how they have led to more negative experiences that in turn created new masks. It has been eye opening to realize how many I still wear and how they have piled up.

I have also realized how much of my true self and beauty is hidden and how revealing it can lead to true contentment.  To not be afraid to speak up about something you feel is unfair, to allow someone to see your weaknesses, to accept help from someone or actually trust another person.  In order to accomplish any of these we must learn to remove the mask and trust that everything will be ok.  That the people that truly love us can handle it and those that don’t we don’t need in our lives anyway.  That God does have a plan for us but by wearing the mask we are hiding our potential to live out his plan.

So how do we learn to take off the mask?  Although everyone is different, my suggestion is that you first identify your masks and the events that caused it.  Then, as hard as it sounds, you face your negative experiences, fears and traumas and you forgive and continually forgive anyone that harmed you.  Lastly you put your faith fully in Gods plan for you.  Lean on him and his words for comfort and strength.  And if you still struggle, reach out to someone.  A therapist, friend or family member and let them know what you are struggling with, what masks you wear and why.  Voicing your story is difficult but cleansing at the same time, and it may help someone else you know take off their mask.

The unfortunate Truth about Sex Scandals.

Its hard anymore to look at any news or social media outlet without seeing a new sex scandal.  At first, as a previous victim myself, I was proud of these women.  Speaking up, coming forward to help others with their stories, but now I find myself conflicted. It seems to be becoming a very easy, too easy, way to get known, be relevant,  get past a problem or just get even with someone.  Don’t get me wrong, the women that actually were abuse or assaulted have every right to speak up, but doesn’t society also have an obligation to at least do some research or critical thinking before just declaring someone guilty?  Isn’t that a form of abuse too?

There have now been several stories where even the “victim” admits that at the time it was consensual, but after more thought…..or decades of reflection,  has decided that it made her feel “bad” so now she is accusing someone of assault and because its good headlines, we (as a society) immediately declare that person guilty. Bad or badly advised sex is not sexual assault, its poor judgement.

When someone later does recant, it’s usually a small quiet event compared to the media storm that came first.  Why does this bother me?  I keep thinking of the boy who cried wolf, eventually no one listened… Not to mention that I am starting to see this on a smaller level when a girl just doesn’t get what she wants.  Failed a class, accuse the teacher.  Lose your job, accuse the boss…..Its a slippery slope where if we continue to blindly accept the word of the “victim” and go after the assailant without any proof, research or at least the thinking part of our brain anyone can become a target.

I fully understand how hard it is to come forward after an assault but we had come so far in getting our stories listened to and acted on and this has the potential to set us back ages.  Back to the disbelief and questions…..To the little or no action when someone does assault or abuse someone, to the hesitation to hire a woman.  I have started to hear these things, and they are not completely unfounded.  There was recently a graduate student that was marginal at best, but when she failed her most recent class she accused the preceptor.  Luckily, he had documented all of the times she failed to do an assignment or was graded low by other peers. If he was famous though, none of that would matter.  We would have already passed judgement and no amount of evidence the other way would help.

So what do we do?  First we teach girls how to say “NO”.  It sounds silly, right?  But you wouldn’t believe how many girls and young women I see that fully admit to having sex because they didn’t know how to say “No” or were afraid of making the guy “upset”.  “I’ll have sex with him and then break up over text later” is an actual statement I’ve heard in the past few weeks.  We need to teach them how to keep themselves safe and how to say “NO’.  Secondly, we teach our boys to hear and respect a no from someone else. The idea of “No means No” seems to have gotten lost on the younger generations.   Lastly, we educate everyone that this is not to something to be thrown at someone, idly and without true cause.  A persons faulty judgement one night or a bad sexual experience isn’t sexual assault, and both sides need to understand this.

Let me reiterate that I don’t believe that all women would do this.  I am just seeing more and more unsubstantiated claims and stories where the girl states that it was consensual but she changed her mind the next day or week or years.  That is what concerns me, that and the women that use this as a tool to get what they want.  Its time that we all become a little more interested in letting a person be innocent until they are proven guilty.



Our Children need us to Hear Them.

The other day I counseled two very different clients.  One was a parent that lost her son to suicide.  Over and over she exclaimed that she wished his son had said more about the bullying that was going on at school, about how much he was hurting before he took his own life.  Every time I see her we have to work on guilt release because she feels she should have better seen the signs that he was planning something.

A bit later I was working with a young girl, also middle school aged.  She has been dealing with significant depression, self harming and has almost completely stopped eating.  When we talked to her parents about the severity of her symptoms *as much as I was able within the confines the girl wished, which were pretty broad.  The parents were unwilling to hear it.  “What does she have to be anxious or depressed about?” Was the immediate reply.  In separate talks with both mother and father I was met with anger and disbelief but no compassion for the child and no willingness to go a step further to give her the help she needs.  I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, I wish I could introduce these sets of parents……How much could one that has lost a child and wishes nothing more than the opportunity to listen better teach parents that believe their child just needs to toughen up?

Parents like to believe that their kids have it easier than they did.  “We give them everything”, is a comment I hear a lot as justification for their disbelief.  They have a phone, Ipad and computer, they should be happy……The problem is, that if you just give them these things without support and guidance, there is a very good chance that what you are giving them is a 24 hr all access grant to the bullies, comparisons and negativity that exists via these devices.  I am not saying that they are all bad, just that children need our help, supervision and guidance if they are going to have access to them.

We live in a different world now then we did 20-30 years ago.  Children are pushed to grow up faster than ever including making decisions and being in situations that are far beyond their age of understanding.   They need to be able to check in with their parents or another adult on a regular basis and be listened to, not talked at.  No “when I was your age”, just listening.  Remember that the important thing is how THEY are experiencing these years.  If they are sad or anxious, listen with an open heart and mind to what is going on.  Ask questions and be curious about their life, friends and feelings not judgemental.

I will leave this here, never think your child is too young to be depressed, anxious or suicidal.  I have known children as young as 11 that were planning a suicidal act and as young as 12 that succeeded.  Children in that same age range are already under pressure to do drugs, have sex and meet impossible physical standards.  Like I said before, we are living in a different world these days and it is having a very negative impact on our children.  If we don’t listen to them, who will.

Why Christmas music makes me cry…

I woke up with morning with that odd mix of irritation, sadness and confusion.  Nothing had happened, so why was I in such a funk?  More importantly, how was I going to break it.  I started with the obvious.  We traveled for Thanksgiving and came straight back to the grind of the week so the house wasn’t in order, that tends to make me feel out of sorts so I organized the kids room and front porch, threw out some things, took others to charity.  Doing for others always makes you feel better right?  And it did……but not like it usually does…..I was still off.

Then I decided to begin the Christmas decorating, maybe that would help, but first I had to go get some new things, it was the music in Lowe’s honestly that did it.  It brought everything flying back into my mind so clearly that I was shocked I hadn’t realized it why I first woke up.  Its almost December.  Friday is December 1st in fact.

I’ve had 6 miscarriages.  All but 2 have been in December.  The last two being the furthest along and the last one being by far the most traumatic which was in late December and thus mentally, intrinsically linked to Christmas music.

Its not just the music.  Its the season.  During the last miscarriage I was under so much pressure to perform as if nothing was wrong.  We had three other children that I wanted to provide a good Christmas for (one a one year old) and my in laws were going to be in town and staying with us.  Unfortunately, due to the other miscarriages, we had kept this pregnancy a secret planning to reveal it at Christmas which put me over 12 weeks and thus in the safety zone.

The week prior to Christmas at my 13 week mark I week for my check up and my doctor failed to find one heartbeat, I was devastated.  The week before we had two.  He consoled me, prayed with me and told me to come back the day before my in-laws landed. I did and learned we lost the other.  I endured the week of their visit in a blur of hiding and crying in my room and probably more alcohol than is healthy and had surgery the day after they left.  New Years Eve.  They played Christmas Music.  My in-laws never even knew I was pregnant.

I have since more than made my peace with God.  I understand why I went through what I went through and I whole heartedly accept his decision and love Matthew (our youngest, born the day before Thanksgiving the following year) so much that I can’t even contemplate him not being in our family.  That being said, even 8 years later, Christmas music makes me cry.

The body always remembers grief and makes you acknowledge it, no matter how hard you try to move on.  Outside of the mother that lost the baby though no one else really acknowledges a lost pregnancy, it really is a lonely grief, especially years out.  I have learned though, that taking a few minutes to look at those old sonogram pictures tends to keep the grief at bay for another year.

Bad Habits Die Hard…..

I was speaking with a friend today about our exercise class.  We planned to go this morning but a meeting came up for me, than tomorrow I can go, but she can’t and on and on…. We reflected on how this has become our usual saga.  The times I am free, she is slammed and when her schedule is better, mine is crazy.  But then as I was driving home for lunch I kept thinking, I could have squeezed in class if I really tried.   True, it would have meant skipping lunch but with more prep on my side, it was doable.  So could I not make the class, or did I choose not to make the class.  The reason it becomes important in my life, is because I have a history of being very excited about exercising for a few months until I see results and then just loosing interest…….so am I busy or falling into bad habits?

I counsel people daily that are fighting the bad habit demon.  Some are as innocuous as my exercise aversion and some are far more deadly.  At the core though they have the common thread.  We know what we are doing something bad for us.  We know we should be doing something different, but we make excuses for our behavior to justify it in our own eyes and in the eyes of those closest to us.  The question that arises in therapy is often why?

The answer is often what is in inside yourself that you are trying to disown?  We hide through our bad habits what we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves.  Sometimes its a past hurt or trauma or some action that you’ve linked to the habit.  Sometimes its a current situation that we need to deal with such as anxiety or depression.  But until we own it, name it and deal with it, the habit is almost impossible to break.

I have clients use line journaling often to get to the bottom of their emotions.  They start of with a simple statement of their current feelings “I am mad/sad…”, the next line is “I am mad(sad) because and on and on. If you are unsure of what is prompting your behaviors this is a good place to start. Look for patterns in your habit. Days, times, activities or moods.

If you do know and you are ready to start breaking the habit find replacements for your time or a plan that you can put into place.  Of course, it always helps to have support so let a friend or family member know what you are going through and enlist support and remember everyone has good moments and bad moments.  If you have a bad one, don’t let it ruin your day.  Pick yourself up and move on to a better day.


Finding God in Tragedy

As the details out of Las Vegas continue to unfold more and more questions are raised.  The usual why did this happen and how could this happen of course. Then comes the blame and the divisive talk. And then inevitably we get to “where was God?”

I can tell you without question that he was in every miracle story coming out of Vegas, in the heart of every person that was running into the line of fire when others were running out.  Giving courage to the first responders that ran into the hailstorm of bullets repeatedly to save lives.  Thats where God always is.  He is in each and everyone of us that invites him in, allowing us to accomplish superhuman feats of bravery and strength.

See we hear these stories often, but many quickly dismiss them and deny Gods hand.  That being said, when there is a tragedy on this level these same people are quick to look around and ask “Where was your God?”  God never left, but maybe you did.  And its time you came back.

I implore each of you this week to look for grace in yourselves.  To hear focus more on the miracle stories than the what if stories. The what if there was a second shooter, what if he was on a medication, what if he …… Instead, start looking for Grace, Miracles, God.  Because, I promise, if you seek, you will find.