February 26, 2013

Embracing Yourself in Love

I am so pleased to bring you the next installment from, Misa Leonessa Garavaglia. This week she speaks to the importance of conquering the negative voice and learning to give to ourselves the same generosity and love that we extend to others.

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Do you ever stop to listen to your self-talk?  I mean, REALLY listen.  You know, that inner voice that babbles on throughout your day and tells you its opinion about everyone and everything, especially yourself.  When I first started paying close attention to what that voice in my head was saying, I realized it wasn’t my friend.  Instead of telling me how wonderful I was and how proud it was of what I was becoming, it was constantly telling me that I wasn’t enough, that I was a failure and unlovable.   It criticized me continually and doubted every good motive in my heart.  I would never choose to have a friend who treated me that way, yet I let this voice go on day after day, year after year, dragging me down into its pit of negative thinking.

When we are abused as children, we internalize the negative messages that are communicated (mostly non-verbally, but perhaps spoken to us as well) by our abusers.  Our own mind then picks up where the abuser leaves off, speaking the false beliefs that have been ingrained into our brain until our hearts believe nothing else.  We reject ourselves. 

When our wounded inner child doesn’t even have an advocate in our own head, they are truly alone.  Then perhaps we search for someone else who will tell us the truth of our beauty that we cannot tell ourselves.  Rare is the person who can see us beyond the layers of false beliefs we have taken on.  They exist, but are few and far between.  And even when we find one, we often reject the truth of our beauty that they so compassionately speak to us.  We just can’t believe it.

Before we can even begin to embrace love from another, we must start to love ourselves.  We need to come to see our own wounded parts as the beautiful, lovable children they were before they were abused.  We must make room in our hearts to receive them and embrace them in all their beauty and brokenness. 

The first step to doing that is to pay close attention to what you are saying to yourself in your own head.  Where are those thoughts coming from?  Were they planted by someone who did not see you and accept you in your beauty?  As you consider the source, you may decide that you no longer wish to accuse yourself with these judgments.  If that is the case, you can choose to stop thinking them, and instead, replace them with thoughts that are true about you. 

I’d like to share a couple of tools that I used to help me in this process.  First, I made a conscious decision to no longer allow other people to invade my self-talk.  I believe that the only one who knows the full truth about me is my Creator.  I started a habit to stop those thoughts and ask Him what He thinks about me.  Then I chose to believe it.  Next, I began to write to myself.  I started a notebook called Conversations with Myself and started to let my inner child tell me what was on her mind and heart, creating a space to receive what she shares with me without judgment, with patient love and understanding.  I would offer the same to anyone else who shared the deepest secrets of their heart with me, so it made sense to offer it to myself, as well.

The more I rid myself of those voices that peppered my thoughts with rejection and the more I wrote in my notebook, the more I came to see my little wounded part with compassion.  I found the negative, rejecting thoughts disappearing and they were being replaced with a loving embrace.  It felt good.  And it started to change how I interacted with other people, too.

I started expecting others to treat me well, to love me the way I was growing to love myself.  And I was better able to love them.  Those words of rejection I had been chanting to myself had also served to criticize others, whether out loud or just in my head.  The new compassion I was practicing on myself began to leak out toward those I loved, and even to people I didn’t know.  I started acting out of the beauty that had been hidden inside underneath the wounds, the lies, and the self-rejection.  My outward actions became consistent with my inward beauty.

My hope for you this week is that you will learn to think and speak the truth to yourself and leave behind all of the rejecting, destructive thoughts that others have planted in your head.  I have created a PDF document with the Conversations with Myself exercise, as well as a Letter to Myself that I use for my course, Living from the Heart.  You can find it here if you’d like to give it a try.  Next week I’ll share more about the changes that happen in our lives when we learn to embrace ourselves in love.



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Check in next week for the third part of Misa’s story.

Misa Leonessa is a life coach and spiritual director specializing in trauma recovery, relationships, communication and spiritual growth.  She has walked the path from surviving to thriving herself, and has a passion to help people heal from childhood abuse. She loves to work with individuals who are committed to pursuing greater relational, emotional and spiritual wholeness.  She created Living from the Heart, a 9 month course and group coaching experience to help people grow deep, authentic intimacy. 

Misa is the host of Beyond Abuse Radio where she shares the wisdom gleaned from her own journey of three decades of healing, as well as interviewing other survivors, helpers, and experts in trauma recovery, providing support and encouragement for those on their healing journey.  She facilitates workshops and conferences for people ready to break patterns of fear and self-protection to find their new inheritance of life, love and joy.

Misa has BA’s in Sociology and Non-Profit Administration from University of the Pacific, is a graduate from Life Skills International and holds a certificate from Mercy Center’s Spiritual Director Institute in Burlingame, California.  She a member of Spiritual Directors International.   She also volunteers for the Survivor’s Healing Center of Santa Cruz and is a TEDX speaker trainer.

Learn more at www.misacoach.com.

February 19, 2013

Beautiful You

I am so pleased to introduce you today to guest blogger, Misa Leonessa Garavaglia. Misa and I have known each other for a couple of years, and she continues to be a mentor and inspiration for me. I know she will do the same for you!

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Beautiful.  That is you. 

Imperfect.  And beautiful.

Is your nose bigger than you might like?  Your ears stick out a little further than a model’s?  Maybe your calves are sturdy and muscular instead of the thin shape you’d like to see.  There are things we’d all like to change about our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.  Because we don’t live up to our particular vision of perfection, we often swing to the opposite end of the pendulum and reject ourselves.  We are not what we wish we were so we are not enough.  If only we were more patient, more creative, smarter, and ten pounds lighter—THEN we would be beautiful.

Stop that right now.

You ARE beautiful. 

How do I know?  Because I believe that EVERYONE is beautiful.  Every single one of us.  And that includes you.  And the more of the authentic you that you become, the more your beauty will shine.

Confucius says that everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

Do you see your own beauty?

My guess is that if you grew up abused, you do not.

So let me tell you again.

You are beautiful!

You see, we are all born with innate beauty.  Sometimes things happen to us that cause us to paint layers over our beauty. Sometimes many layers.  And those layers keep others from seeing the real person inside.  Maybe they keep us from seeing our true selves too.

Do you remember the picture of the darling girl on her third birthday?  Or the cute little boy on his tricycle?  When you look at those pictures, I’ll bet you see a beautiful child.  That was you.  If you have children of your own, I’ll bet that you think they are beautiful, too.  For good reason.  They are! 

You have just lost sight of your own beauty. 

The reason we see beauty so easily in a child is that most children are so comfortable in their own skin.  They are who they are and it just leaks out of them.  Young children don’t know how to hide their unique little selves. 

As we grow older, we cover our sweet beauty with layers of self-protection, especially if we were abused.  Our openness is hidden by skepticism.  Our vulnerability covered up with control.  Our playfulness turns to perfectionism and our honesty becomes a carefully managed image.  But our beautiful, authentic selves are still there.  They are just a bit harder to see.

As a coach and spiritual director, it is my passion to uncover all the beauty in my clients.  For many, they haven’t had more than a glimpse of it every now and then for many years, even decades.  I am blessed to get to spend my time doing little treasure hunts.  Every client that walks through my door (or meets me through Skype or by phone) comes with some disappointment, broken dreams, and some degree of self-rejection.  They have lost sight of their beauty.  It is the best job in the world to help them find it again!  The transformation that takes place as they discover it is astounding.  Fearful turns into courageous and sadness becomes joy.  They begin to step out and take appropriate risks.  They learn from their failures and celebrate their successes.

I know well the journey.  I have lived it.  I suffered great rejection as a child, teen, and young adult.  I took on the self concept that my abusers communicated to me and continued the pattern through rejecting my own wounded places.  Only as I have been able to embrace those parts of me with love and patience have I been able to rediscover my beauty and live from it.

The wonderful news is that you can find your beauty, too, and grace the world with the glory of your authentic self.  Really, you can!

In my next blog I will share with you about that process of embracing your wounded parts in order to live out of the beauty that is hidden within you.  In the meantime, try an experiment.  Look into the mirror and say, “I love you.”  It will probably be hard the first few times, but it will get easier, I promise.

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Check in next week for the second part of Misa’s story.

Misa Leonessa is a life coach and spiritual director specializing in trauma recovery, relationships, communication and spiritual growth.  She has walked the path from surviving to thriving herself, and has a passion to help people heal from childhood abuse. She loves to work with individuals who are committed to pursuing greater relational, emotional and spiritual wholeness.  She created Living from the Heart, a 9 month course and group coaching experience to help people grow deep, authentic intimacy. 

Misa is the host of Beyond Abuse Radio where she shares the wisdom gleaned from her own journey of three decades of healing, as well as interviewing other survivors, helpers, and experts in trauma recovery, providing support and encouragement for those on their healing journey.  She facilitates workshops and conferences for people ready to break patterns of fear and self-protection to find their new inheritance of life, love and joy.

Misa has BA’s in Sociology and Non-Profit Administration from University of the Pacific, is a graduate from Life Skills International and holds a certificate from Mercy Center’s Spiritual Director Institute in Burlingame, California.  She a member of Spiritual Directors International.   She also volunteers for the Survivor’s Healing Center of Santa Cruz and is a TEDX speaker trainer.

Learn more at www.misacoach.com.

February 12, 2013

The Abused Addict: Roads to Recovery



Today, I am pleased to bring you this final post by David of Together We Heal. It has been a true honor to have had him on. I know I've learned so much and hope you have too!

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Over the last few weeks we have talked about childhood sexual abuse as it relates to addiction, depression, anxiety, abandonment, PTSD, the impact it may have on our DNA...Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!!! I only make a joke not to make light of our situation as survivors, but rather to bring a little levity to a situation that for some of feels like the sky is falling and we are being attacked on multiple fronts by creatures that can devour us. So with all of these potential pitfalls and problems seeming to lurk around every corner, what do we do?

Having done my usual research and even stepping into waters just being tested, I have come across both the usual suspects of therapy and a couple not so well-known. It is my hope that no matter whether one of these specific therapies helps you or a loved one or not, you find one that does, because what I do know is that healing from abuse is not something that happens naturally. It takes help, it takes time and it takes work. So please do whatever you need to reach out and find the help that is available.

Under the category of "usual but relatively proven" therapies we find Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, and Self-Help Groups. 

Psychotherapy consists of a series of techniques for treating mental health, emotional and some psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy helps the patient understand what helps them feel positive or anxious, as well as accepting their strong and weak points. If people can identify their feelings and ways of thinking they become better at coping with difficult situations. 

Psychotherapy is commonly used for psychological problems that have had a number of years to accumulate. It only works if a trusting relationship can be built up between the client and the psychotherapist. Treatment can continue for several months, and even years.

Some people refer to psychotherapy as "talking treatment" because it is generally based on talking to the therapist or group of people with similar problems. Some forms of psychotherapy also use other forms of communication, including writing, artwork, drama, narrative story or music. Sessions take place within a structured encounter between a qualified therapist and a client or clients. Purposeful, theoretically based psychotherapy started in the 19th century with psychoanalysis; it has developed significantly since then. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally short-term and focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior.

The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior. For example, a person who spends a lot of time thinking about plane crashes, runway accidents and other air disasters may find themselves avoiding air travel. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment. Because CBT is usually a short-term treatment option, it is often more affordable than some other types of therapy. CBT is also empirically supported and has been shown to effectively help patients overcome a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.

(Note from Rachel: As as little aside, the Beyond Surviving program I developed for adult survivors of abuse draws upon many of the techniques used in CBT.)

Delivered in a group of people, Group Therapy and Self-Help Groups are for people who have experienced abuse and can be an extremely cathartic experience. Individuals who feel different, ashamed, or guilty as a result of the abuse will benefit immensely from discovering other people who have lived through similar experiences. Although not limited to groups like SNAP and The Lamplighters, they are certainly organizations that have proven themselves to be helpful for survivors of CSA.

(Note from Rachel: I lead an Adult Survivors of Child Abuse support group every month in San Francisco. Learn more!)

Next we have some relatively newer therapies, with regard to years of experience in the realm of psychology. TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) is one. TRE is a simple technique that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulates from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences.

TRE is a set of six exercises that help to release deep tension from the body by evoking a self-controlled muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors. The uniqueness of this technique is that this shaking originates deep in the core of the body of the psoas muscles. These gentle tremors reverberate outwards along the spine releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium. 

Another is by a former associate professor at the University of Kentucky's educational and counseling psychology department, Kate Chard and it centers on Cognitive Processing. "It was the first NIMH-funded treatment outcome study on childhood sexual abuse," she says. This three-year study of women (Chard has done an equivalent study with men) took adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse through a 17-week, manual-based program, with individual or a combination of individual and group sessions.

"What you think affects what you feel, which, in turn, affects what you do," Chard says, summing up the basic theory behind cognitive therapy. "We build on this by saying that due to the traumatic event, the ability to process cognitively has become impaired. Biologists can look at the neurotransmitter connections in the brain and actually see differences between people who've been through traumatic events, such as childhood abuse, and people who have not."

Another option is coaching. While still fairly new, coaching is a great option for survivors of abuse who are reading to move into the final stage of recovery. If you would like to learn more about coaching, you can of course give Rachel a call or email her. She’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about how coaching works.

While these are by no means all of the potential therapies out there, the point I am hoping comes through today is that no matter which type of therapy you seek as a survivor of abuse, the point is that you indeed seek one, and don't stop until you find the one that works for you. As I mentioned earlier, it is of the utmost importance that you find professional help. Just as a police officer or military person is required to see a therapist when they go through an extraordinary time of trauma, so we as survivors of childhood sexual abuse must get assistance. What we have been through is beyond an extraordinary event, it's beyond the pale. And seeking help does not mean we are weak, it shows no signs of lacking anything. To the contrary, it means you care enough about yourself and the ones that love you that you will take the necessary steps to ensure your continued growth as a person. Let me say this again, you aren't weak, you are human, it's ok for others to help you.

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References:

- British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) Mapping Psychotherapy. 
- David Berceli, Ph.D.
Christian Nordqvist
CDC
NIMH
Kate Chard
- University of Kentucky



Learn more about Together We Heal.

David spent years on a healing journey that continues to this very day. This led him to seek out groups specifically for men as well as those who had been through a similar trauma and ultimately inspired the foundation of Together We Heal, an organization focused on providing counseling and guidance for those who have suffered the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
As the Executive Director of TWH, David works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
TWH follows the saying, "one person might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person."

February 6, 2013

The Abused Addict: How Trauma Can Change Our DNA

This week, David's continues as a guest blogger and tells us about some of the fascinating research out there regarding how trauma can impact the DNA of some survivors.

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Did I read that correctly? Childhood Sexual Abuse can alter my DNA???

What is wrong with me? Why can't I move on like others are? I stopped using drugs to numb my pain from being sexually abused, and I am facing my demons with a sober mind. Why am I stuck, feeling depressed, anxious, having all of these negative thoughts when I know there is light at the end of the tunnel, not an oncoming train?!

I have since learned that the damage done was much farther reaching than I could have ever imagined. I wondered why it felt like it was taking me longer to work through my struggles than others who had "just abused or were just addicted to drugs regardless of sexual abuse." I recently found a potential reason behind this struggle.

Without getting so nerdy that you are bored to tears, here is the bottom line. Researchers and scientists have documented for the first time that childhood trauma leaves mark on the DNA of some victims. These changes have been shown in three genes: the FKBP5, the 5-HTTLPR, and the CRHR1. 

They have determined that some abused children are at a higher risk of anxiety and mood disorders due to traumatic experiences that can induce lasting changes to their gene regulation. As a result, those affected find themselves less able to cope with stressful situations throughout their lives, frequently leading to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety disorders in adulthood. Therefore, they are less able to process and work through their personal challenges, sometimes even leading to suicide.

We talk about DNA as if it’s a template, like a mold for a car part in a factory. But DNA isn’t really like that. It’s more like a script. Think of Romeo and Juliet, different directors using different actors produce different versions. Both productions used Shakespeare’s script, yet the two are entirely different. Identical starting points, different outcomes.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.

More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members undergoing a comprehensive physical examination chose to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. Progress in preventing and recovering from the nation's worst health and social problems is likely to begin by understanding that many of these problems arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

Possible legal and policy implications of this area of research remain far in the future, but could include identifying earlier critical periods for childhood intervention programs, better understanding abuse as a mitigating factor if the person is later convicted of a crime related to an abnormal stress response, or calculating damages in a civil lawsuit against the abusive caregiver. The most significant implication is better understanding epigenetic pathology caused by childhood abuse and neglect, which may be an important part of a multi-faceted approach towards treating survivors of abuse who continue to suffer from its lasting effects.

So once again, here is an even greater validation by scientists on the cutting edge of DNA study why we MUST do all we can to prevent childhood sexual abuse in order to ensure that children do not suffer the trauma and long-lasting effects.

Doctors and scientists hope these discoveries will yield new treatment strategies tailored to individual patients, as well as increased public awareness of the importance of protecting children from trauma and its consequences. And isn't that the true bottom-line—protecting children from trauma in the first place?


References
- MPI of Psychiatry, Munich Germany, 2003-2012
- Nature Neuroscience 2012
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention
- Maggie Brown, MS, ELS
- Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism
- Colin A. Hodgkinson, PhD
- Pei-Hong Shen, MS
- Dr. Sarchiapone
- The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance, by Nessa Carey (Columbia University Press, 2012). 
- Christine Heim, Bekh Bradley, Tanja C. Mletzko, Todd C. Deveau, Dominique L. Musselman, Charles B. Nemeroff, Kerry J. Ressler, and Elisabeth B. Binder
- Benoit Labonte, Volodymyr Yerko, Jeffrey Gross, Naguib Mechawar, Michael J. Meaney, Moshe Szyf, and Gustavo Turecki. Differential Glucocorticoid Receptor Exon 1B, 1C, and 1H Expression and Methylation in Suicide Completers with a History of Childhood Abuse. Biological Psychiatry, 2012
- NIMH
- National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Center for Research Resources
- National Institutes of Health
- Emory and Grady Memorial General Clinical Research Center and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund
- Binder EB, Bradley RG, Wei L, Epstein MP, Deveau TC, Mercer KB, Tang Y, Gillespie CF, Heim CM, Nemeroff CB, Schwartz AC, Cubells JF, Ressler KJ. Association of FKBP5 Polymorphisms and Childhood Abuse With Risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Adults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 299 (11): 1291-1305. March 18, 2008.
- Kelly Lowenberg, The Stanford Center for Law and Biosciences 
- Moshe Szyf, a McGill University epigeneticist, and Michael Meaney, a McGill University neurologist

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Check in next week for the final installment of David's series.

Learn more about Together We Heal.


David spent years on a healing journey that continues to this very day. This led him to seek out groups specifically for men as well as those who had been through a similar trauma and ultimately inspired the foundation of Together We Heal, an organization focused on providing counseling and guidance for those who have suffered the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
As the Executive Director of TWH, David works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
TWH follows the saying, "one person might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person."

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