What does nature want for you?

A different kind of blog today.  Some pictures taken on a roadtrip inland, back from Sydney.  I had been visiting my Mum in a nursing home, her Dementia rapidly advancing.  Such special and emotional time, in a relationship that had been, well, frankly, fraught.

The trip took forever, but the landscape had something for me.

 

Miles in to miles.

 

Me and the road and the boulders.

It was an aching drive and an opening drive.

A stupidly long and boring drive.

 

More and more distance between Mum and I, yet how big she is in my heart along the lines of rust metal fences, broken down road and yellow wild flowers.

 

Slowing for each small town, a pub or a church, and letting the big country get inside, open the walls, let the breath get big. Surreal. Crazy tired. Slightly dissociated.

 

White flowers now, like fields of snow under the parched sun.

 

Past Armidale with memories of stories from Dad and his travels and onward north, to the boulders that split my heart, big from the ground, pouring the love from me and meeting it strong. Safe. Pink glow, late sun.

 

This country is in me. It’s here for me when nothing else is. It fills the spaces inside me and loves me.

 

slinky effect - ACES adverse childhood experiences

HPA, DNA and the slinky effect

Could your life struggles today be the effects of a neurochemical slinky set in motion long ago?

Repeated adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) can change the body, brain and nervous system and ultimately the whole life that follows. Better insight promotes self-acceptance and targeted strategies for healing.

For some of you, the absolute struggle of life may have begun a very long time ago.

Now, you may be an incredibly resilient person. No-one is more resilient than the person who is called on to use these skills, moment by moment, day by day, ad infinitum. The person with an easier life and more harmonious childhood may appear more resilient, but they have not been tested in the same ways.

You may be an incredibly resourceful person – likewise, life has probably helped you hone these skills.

You may be highly intelligent, empathic, kind or creative. You may feel very connected to your spiritual self. You may be navigating through life from you heart and your smarts and yet wonder … why is it not coming together for me?

Now, this article is not for everyone, but it will be for some of you. And some of your friends or loved ones.

I want to talk about the longer term life impacts of childhood complex trauma.

It’s a big word trauma. We hear it most often when talking about returned service people who develop PTSD after experiencing the horrors of war, after witnessing and participating in events that were chaotic and overwhelming to the nervous system, shattering to the psyche. These people return from war and can’t sleep, are triggered by flashbacks and memories, may be angry or hostile and have difficulty resuming loving relating with partners and family. Difficulty being in the present and working toward a meaningful life at all.

This scenario is outside is what we consider “normal life” and somehow easy for us to understand what it is and how it occurs.

When communities are distressed after a natural disaster wipes out their homes and towns, it is easy to see this as unusual and to understand the grief. Often the phenomenon of communities pulling together is a saving grace for survivors and important emotional resource as well.

Complex PTSD

Less well understood is Complex PTSD. This relates to abusive and traumatic situations that occur during childhood. They occur repeatedly, the child is unable to escape, and it occurs before their brain systems, cognitive abilities and sense of self are properly formed. In fact, it affects the way the organ of the brain and its communication systems develop, ensuring the individual orients around response to threat and danger as a default.

This is a critical survival strategy in the threatening environment. The amygdala responds quickly and decisively to smalls signs of threat, the distress response system is activated quickly and often consistently, the body coursing with adrenaline and cortisol to ensure the child can try to fight back or run away to be safe. Often neither of these options are available to the child and so with a body full of stress chemicals, the child shuts down, dissociates and goes into a freeze response.

Living in this way over a long period of time has a big impact on the body, as well as the psyche. The stress chemical overload impacts the functioning of the immune system, the digestive system, the inflammatory environment of the body and may contribute to a range of psychosomatic symptoms where what cannot be spoken shows up in the body. All kinds of illnesses that may be latent in our genetics as a potential experience in this lifetime, can be triggered into expression by this kind of chronic stress and trauma.

For most of us, the often unacknowledged sense that threat is ever present, continues throughout adult life, even once we are in apparently safe environments.

Our body holds the code for this.

What’s worse is that our stress response that was so adaptive in the abusive environment, is completely not adaptive for a flexible, connected and fulfilling adult life.

Who can function in a job or relationship where the smallest emotional sleight sends stress hormones soaring? Or where bullying behaviour of a colleague sees the whole system in shutdown, unable to interact with and respond to the immediate environment?

The sense of chronic isolation, judgement of emotional responses, impact on ability to live up to life potential can see many turn to coping mechanisms to dull the pain and slow down the stress response – drugs, alcohol, over spending, sex addiction, over working. Anything to dull and distract from the internal terror.

Others may find themselves drawn again and again to recreate in their adult life the scenario that generated the childhood trauma – ending up in all the wrong relationships, either because it is familiar, we think it is all we deserve or the child inside thinks “this time I can fix it and make it right”.

This is not the everyday stressors of a busy modern life we are talking about, it is the impact of trauma on a nervous system and a life.

The ACES study

From 1995 to 1997 a US study involving 17000 participants* measured the number of adverse childhood experiences in this population and tracked participants through life to explore the relationship between ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and health and life functioning.

ACES included such adverse experiences as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical abuse, physical neglect, substance abuse in home, mental illness in home, incarceration of family member, parental separation or divorce and witnessing violence against the mother.

ACES were found to increase the risk for:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • Lung cancer

Below is a TED Talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris who has brought the results of this study to life in very clear and simple way that demands action as a community.  My role is to support adults impacted by adverse childhood effects to discover the chain reaction from this and to put into place the right resources and style of therapy to bring into play now, what was most needed back then.

The table below shows how having four or more ACES increases the prevalence of these health and life problems in each population group.

Population prevalence no ACES Population prevalence 4 or more ACES
Problems with alcohol 1 in 20 1 in 4
STD 1 in 20 1 in 6
Smoking 1 in 14 1 in 6
Depression 1 in 18 1 in 2
Suicide neg 1 in 6
Serious financial problems 1 in 10 1 in 4
Serious job problems 1 in 20 1 in 6
Absenteeism (at least 2 days/mth) 1 in 17 1 in 7

If you would like to check you own ACES score, you can find the test here.

If you are struggling with multiple health problems, life survival, isolation, ongoing financial issues, mood management, sleep, despite all your best efforts it could be you are impacted by adverse childhood events more than your realise. It’s not about attitude, it’s in your neurochemistry and the activation of your DNA potentials. Often we blame ourselves or others do too, when we do not have a complete picture of what is driving the health, emotional and social problems.

If any of this rings bells for you, I can help you piece together your own story, including all of your strengths, resourcefulness and achievements. A clearer picture can help you put together a holistic program for support, healing and expression of your true self. The picture for complex trauma is unique and the right answers are not always the things you read about in pop psychology books and magazines.

My approach to working with trauma. 

*Source: Weiss JS, Wagner SH. What explains the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult health? Insights from cognitive and neuroscience research (editorial).  American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1998;14:356-360.

2014 wrap and 2015 open into new

Reflect on what 2014 has brought you.  Love it & let it go.  Breathe into the new.

My season’s gift to you is a process here, to reflect on the year you’ve just had and what it’s brought you and to open deeply into the now, the new expression and new energies filtering through.

Do it with a friend or partner – it’s a chance to hear each other on a deeper level and hold space together for new intentions and emerging energies.

2014 review & 2015 open into new djp
2014 wrap – 2015 new

(click for your free program download with journal pages, video questions and meditation)

 

PART A – Video reflection questions for 2014 (6 min)

  1. What was the landscape and feeling tone of 2014?
  2. What are you most proud of?
  3. How has life delighted you this year?
  4. What are you most grateful for?
  5. What almost got the better of you this year?  How did you get yourself through it?
  6. What was bittersweet in 2014? How did that enhance your connection with what is most meaningful in your life?

PART B – Guided meditation to open into yourself and what is now emerging through you (7 min)

If you want to get straight into the video, here’s the link:

2014-2015 review and renew

PART C – Journal pages to record what you notice and choose for yourself.

Click through to download your journal pages and video links for the “Review and Renew” process.

The Power of Empathy

EMPATHY is one of the most powerful social skills you can have.

When you offer empathy to a person – watch as they move from a less conscious perspective, mired in their defences, fighting or avoiding things .. and then  drop into their truth, find what they really feel and know.  Watch further as they find a simple wisdom that will make things better for themselves and those around them.  Watch as the energy that was caught up in stress, now becomes focused empowerment and creative ideas.

I really believe that if we all got highly skilled at empathy, we could solve a lot of the world’s problems – more cohesively and creatively.  It’s a skill you can use to help your partner really show up and offer more of themselves, to help your children tap into their own answers and to bring forward new possibilities with colleagues.

In a global social-political-economic landscape that is seeing greater polarization and fear-based responding impacting the way we all live or struggle to live, it’s a skill that we can’t afford not to hone.  All of us.  It’s a contagious, pay-it-forward kind of thing.  The more it’s offered, the more others are freed up to do the same.

And it’s not mysterious.  It’s not just something that counselors do.

Karla McClaren is a social science researcher and educator who has dedicated her life to the study of empathy and emotions.  She defines it this way:

“Empathy is a social and emotional skill that helps us feel and understand the emotions, circumstances, intentions, thoughts, and needs of others, such that we can offer sensitive, perceptive, and appropriate communication and support.”

We all want to feel understood, to know that someone else out there gets it and gets us. Without this, we can feel terribly alone or misunderstood.

As human beings, if something concerns us, our first healthy ‘go-to’ response is the tribe.  We run it by someone else, get a perspective, ask for help.  Empathy is a critical skill here.  If it doesn’t bring what’s needed, we’ll tend to then go into a flight, fight or freeze survival response.

But if we get it, the mirroring, the soothing simply from the presence of another in it with us in it, ideally someone who sees, hears and can communicate what they sense is happening with you until you are feeling understood, accepted, cared about, well, all kinds of things are possible:

  • Your brain will settle into its “exploring” mode, as exposed to anxiety and safety seeking.
  • You will be more able to inhabit the present moment, rather than fixate on worried or fearful potential outcomes
  • Your own wisdom voice will speak up and make options and priorities known to you
  • You will be able to hear it
  • You will feel more confident to take action on your own wise sense
  • You may well come up with something fabulous that benefits others involved as well as yourself

What does empathy make possible for you?  What makes it more challenging to offer?
Share your thoughts or questions here on Facebook.

Living tender

Modern life.  So much rush.  So much pace.  So much surface.

Tenderness can seem a luxury.  Something for another time or someone else or a special scene in a movie.

How much do you allow tenderness to move you if it happens?  You’ve really got to be ready for it, to notice and soften and receive it with your whole heart.  Let your heart go big with it.

How much tenderness do you show yourself – your tired feet, your thirst, the crick in your neck, the ache in your heart?

Practice being tender with someone near and dear.  Do it consciously.  Step outside of a pattern of logistics or being right and offer up some seeing and some tender.  Notice what happens.

Big things grow from tender places.  The way we care for tender parts determines what grows.  Get the coding right in the small whisper of hope or yearning or hurt or longing.  Listen in.  Offer a little of what’s needed.  Watch beauty grow in your life.

Living tender

So much in so little.

Transparent.

Amber heartbeat.

It’s lived through so much, been worn and washed and tossed up here and there.

Deep down below the currents, in the cold, dark, wet place, aonic whisper of something more, of warmth, of glow, of being heated through with a love that doesn’t go anywhere and cannot be escaped.

Transparent,

Pretence washed.

Trying washed.

Even hopes and dreams washed.

Transparent, but far from brittle.

Transparent, amping the sunlight through curls that see because they know; that touch gently in to tend the hurt, touch the untouchable, with such delicately filtered love.

Tiny part of the whole of the sun.  So needed right here and right now.

Extended, reaching out from the anonymity of the dark stem.

So far out.

And so beautiful in that fragile reach, at once so tender and time-worn.  Reaching into places barely there but yearning to be seen and held and fuse with the golden burn of the orb.

Burning on.  Burning through.

Flying hammocks; lifted, lighted by a breeze.  Strong in their place, in their part of it all.

by Deborah Jackson

 

 

 

 

Songs for the Women by Kaylia Dunstan

I feel very lucky.  Special.  I have a secret.  She’s a friend of mine.  A clever, clever woman with the courage to go deep and talk about it.  Her words touch in unexpected ways, wake things up, bring sisterhood and soul and soothing.  I already know this, but others are just discovering … Read more

What started your descent into love with yourself?

In my 30’s it began.

I romanced myself in the gothic bathroom of the old semi in Balmain. Jasmin grew from outside in the cracks of the rotting window sill and hung long down into my bath-tub. I lit candles. The floor was concrete, the room was big, it was a dreaming space and a sexing space. I sang made-up songs loudly with the shower steam amp on full.

I bought a big case of chalk pastels from the lovely old art supplies store and sat in bed playing with colour. Some nights I traded the chalk for paint and allowed the energy within to create shapes and colour and movement on the page, and sometimes on the bedsheets. One night I did this with a friend. We drank vodka and created an art show of woven limbs on a page that really could have exhibited anywhere.

Workshops. Journals. Books and books and books until no books had anything to add to what had woken up inside. The Hum. The every question has it’s own answer; question and answer being one, no more questions. I dreamed big dreams. I played happily in small moments. I cried and ached and dreamed again. I started a business to bring spiritual awareness to the corporate world and pounded the pavement and achieved some perhaps, a little here, a little there.

I walked down into the cliff face at the Dawn Fraser pool and sat on the rock in the middle of the amber wall and meditated, merging with the water, the trees and the old town.

I danced through many, many nights, running across the city with my heart open and heels high … heels … high and made very many new best friends.

I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and in my room I was all kinds of ill and lonely and desperate and wise and expanded. So much life inside and so much watching and waiting as the world went by over there someplace. Day turned into night, then day and night waiting endlessly for my body to fire up with energy again.

I got clear about all the things I wasn’t – I wasn’t an “ungrateful child”, I wasn’t the awkward fat one (or maybe just a little, but with all kinds of deeply sensual woman love fuelling me), I wasn’t the ambitious career woman (except when I was), I wasn’t the suburban girl, after a time I wasn’t Little Miss Inner City either, I wasn’t a hippie (although a sweet flower child resides inside), I wasn’t a push-over, whilst sometimes in desperate straits I wasn’t a desperate person, I wasn’t much of a follower … so freeing to experience and notice this, one by one.

In my 30’s I experienced wild freedom and great limitation. Somewhere, in the tension between these two forces, I fell in love with myself.

Something woke up. I touched my body as a lover would. I offered the same touch to trees I befriended (no drugs involved, honest). I looked in the mirror and it warmed and stirred me. No matter what pain or darkness followed, and it did, my primal state, the ultimate known truth, was of being in love and absolutely lit in joy and awe and wonder at the energies that moved through me.

Looking back I guess I see some kind of imperfect alchemy between expression and containment, the feminine and masculine and a burning desire for truth and wholeness.

So, I ask you, what would it take to fall in love with yourself?

Not to hate yourself, not to have a balanced view of yourself, but to let go and surrender into yourself, so that each breath beats alive with the pure joy of being you. So that you lose yourself as in a lover, but in truth fall more deeply into and through the layers of you; an open heart field through which universal energy flows. Welcome flow, river rising you to higher and higher. Expanding you way beyond places fumbling lovers touched.

You and the flow are one … and not. For the dance remains. And the dancer being danced. A delicious all that melts your field and changes what your eyes see.

What would it take?

For me it was chalk and tears, midnight and mad dancing, rising, falling, rising, falling, til it no longer mattered if I was rising or falling, or maybe a little, but the essence of me remained, the voluminous river running through, ever expanding me.

What would it take?

Some places to start.

1. Retire the tired.

Notice what is tired and old in your life, the roles you’ve outgrown, the mental habits. In the slowing down and noticing, you may find you have less energy or desire to keep it up. Notice the needs you were trying to meet in this way and hold them kindly and consciously.

2. Tune in to you.

Think about the people and places where you are most yourself. Notice how that feels in your body, how you behave and express yourself. Now imagine expanding this way of being into other areas of your life.

3. Love into the closure

Become aware of where you may suppress you true needs and desires around certain people. Take a moment to really notice and be with that. Feel into the closure, the state of protection and from this safe place, what would be the next small step towards opening. Even staying present in the dynamic, but consciously opening up your chest and your breath, connecting your belly and your breath, while the same-old, same-old is going on, will start to change things.

4. Find it and amplify it

Now let’s try the other way, think big. If you knew you would always be safe and respected and accepted, what would you like to explore, speak or play with? Be known for? If you took the essence of you-ness and turned up the volume to 100, what would that look like, who would you be with, what would you be doing, what would that feel like?

5. Never forget to breathe

With your whole body and all five senses.

 

See the article in “elephant” conscious living journal here:

 

Interview on Australia Counselling: Helping clients achieve mind-body wellness

I was recently interview by CEO of Australia Counselling, Clinton Power, about my practice.  It was great to have a chance to think carefully about who I help and how.

[hr]
Australia Counselling member Deborah Jackson is a psychologist practicing on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Deborah provides counselling services to help individuals heal through trauma, mood disorders and life crisis, to embody more of their essential self and make their true contribution to life.

In particular, she is passionate about supporting her clients in achieving mind-body wellness through a holistic approach that respects the client’s own internal wisdom.

Here’s what Deborah had to say about her counselling work when we spoke to her recently.

Tell us a bit about your practice – where it is, who you work with and the services you offer?

I work with adults who are troubled by a mood disorder or life crisis and seek to work through it using a holistic framework. My clients are seeking not just to heal through the mood issue or life crisis, but in doing so to connect a little more fully with their essential self and what wants to create in their life from that place.

My face-to-face practice is on the Gold Coast and I work via Skype anywhere the time zones line up, offering counselling and life coaching.

How did you become interested in counselling and working as a psychotherapist with mood disorders?

I have always been a big champion of the potential in people and possibilities in life. For a long while I worked in
organisations, helping people to uncover the true and needed essence of a brand or business and to deliver that through people, culture and authentic customer relationships. It involved a lot of working with business leaders and uncovering their hopes and fears, losses and secret desires to make a difference.

These are often high stress, highly competitive environments. Without the right coping skills, stress can morph into an anxiety disorder. Too much stress over too long, without enough resources or hope for change or positive sense of self can lead to depression.

Depression and anxiety disorders can get in the way of people offering up their gifts and making their best contribution to life. Seeing this, I wanted to hold a space for deep healing where people’s true self can come through and make a difference.

What do you consider a mood disorder and how would someone know if they had one?

A mood disorder reflects variations and intensity in mood that go beyond the normal ups and downs of life. Usually the person has difficulty managing stress, anxiety and low mood and this impacts their work, relationships and general health and wellbeing. For example, they may find themselves avoiding things that are important due to excessive worry or negative thinking. It also tends to have a physiological impact and may affect sleep, appetite, concentration and energy levels. Anxiety and depression are two common mood disorders.

How do you believe people overcome mood disorders?

First up, it’s important to develop skills for calming down the physiology that goes with the stress response, settling down the fight-flight-freeze response, reducing the flow of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) and allowing access to more of the whole brain, particularly the regions that help us stay in the present, to give expression to true feelings, to reason and have some flexibility and choice in the way we respond to the world.

Once in a calmer and more present state, learning how to think in a realistic rather than overly negative way, is the next step. This includes evolving the core beliefs about life and how to be in it that hold us back. Even so, difficult things happen to all of us and developing a capacity for accepting what life is calling on us to accept is also an important step towards healing. This frees us to take action on what matters most, without denying or fighting ourselves.

Cultivating our capacity for present moment awareness, including deep appreciation of the small things, can go a long way towards recalibrating neurochemistry to support calmer and more manageable mood states. Working with natural character strengths and the things that energise and light a person is also a big part of the way forward.

Tell us about your approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping people with mood disorders

I bring a mix of the disciplined approach that comes with psychology as a profession and also a holistic awareness, helping people to integrate their mind-body wellness and also to listen out for and act from the wisdom of their soul-self.

Tell us what a client can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you

To feel deeply heard, understood and accepted. To get clearer about the real nature of the problem and how the issue is impacting their health and wellbeing. To receive feedback about the likely path we will take towards wellbeing. To take away something immediate – a new perspective, a tool, some feedback, some reading or a new process to try.

On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time

I’m big into photography – love to go on dates with my camera into the great outdoors and also photograph people in a way that shows them back something beautiful about who they are.

What continues in the crying?

There’s different types of crying.  Some are a relief and a let-go and bring a sense of healing.  Others are more desperate and hopeless.  There is a wound that comes up in one area of my life that sees me in this place at times.  Sometimes I get fired up and passionate, sometimes I am accepting and soulful, sometimes open and optimistic, but the tricky one is the collapse response.  The slow caving in.  I watched this as it came on this morning after my morning walk, not wanting to be tearful and at the same time watching the unfolding.

I still had my observer self intact, which is great.  Sometimes the observer gets pretty small and the pain gets big.  In the midst of this today a question arose – what continues in the crying?  The collapse may sometimes feel like an annihilation, but what continues in the crying?

I noticed for me today, it was my breath and a sense of spaciousness as I watched the process of tearful collapse begin.  In that there was easing for me, mellowing, gently inhabiting more of the current moment.

If you are someone who ever finds themselves lost or drowning in a difficult emotion, notice your present moment experience through your five senses and ask yourself … what continues here, through this emotion?  Keep some of your attention with this and some with the emotion.  Watch what happens.

Counselling approaches that help.

Why is self-belief important?

A student at Bond asked me some questions today about self belief:

1.    Why do you think it is important to believe in yourself in order to succeed in life?

When someone believes in themselves they are likely to take little risks, to embrace opportunities to approach life from an open place, know that they have the resources within them to deal with whatever may arise.  Without enough self-belief we can find ourselves shrinking back into an avoidance pattern that limits our opportunities for connection and achievement in life.

2.    What is your advice for people who want to start thinking more positively about themselves?

If you feel that your self-belief could be a little shaky … slow down a moment, get a little reflective and start remembering the good times, the fun times, your past achievements, times when you felt in the flow and in the zone – what personal qualities were you drawing on in those moments … how did you help create those experiences?  Now become more aware of when those qualities are at play in your own life, draw on them consciously as you go about your day, to deal with challenges, to create connection, to step towards your goals.

3.    Do you come across many patients who struggle to believe in themselves?

Most of us struggle, on some level, to believe in ourselves enough.  Life can be quick to put barriers and challenges in our path.  It’s a very human trait to focus on the fear or worry, rather than on the personal strengths that can help us navigate the worry.  But with practice it gets easier.  Start to notice the strengths in others too and reflect it back to them. This way we can start to create mini communities or networks of people who support each other to operate from their strengths and the whole thing starts to get easier.

There’s a link here to a scientifically validated strengths assessment tool – VIA Character Strengths. 

There’s a short and long version.  If you have 20 or 40 min free, do the questionnaire and it will reflect back to you your top 5 unique character strengths.  Notice how they operate in your life today.  Bring them into play more consciously and start to experience the rewards of feeling more authentic, at ease and creative.

Consider personal coaching to get more from working with your strengths.