Trauma and the People We Choose

People are like puzzle pieces. They fit together in intriguing ways. I was talking with a lady with a history of domestic violence about her new boyfriend. She told me he had a past. I like to talk with my hands, so I made a fist with my right hand and a C with my left hand and gently, I showed how the fist fit into the C. The allusion to domestic violence was intentional. I was trying to make the point that it is hard to make good choices until you have healed from the trauma in your past.  Unfortunately there’s a thing called trauma reenactment: People choose other people to repeat their past trauma and drama. We do this until we’ve healed enough to make better choices. With a new gesture, I put my palms gently together to show how two people can come to a relationship whole and healed. One way to resolve trauma is through EMDR reprocessing therapy.  There are other forms of healing trauma as well. If you heal, it will help you make new choices and take good care of yourself.
Who knew? Puzzle piece parts have names, such as tab for the “outie” part of a puzzle piece and blank, for the “innie” part of a puzzle piece. Tabs and blanks interlock.

Anger Management

We can get at anger a number of different ways.
It is important to understand that anger serves a healthy function. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book, The Surprising Purpose of Anger he wrote that the purpose of anger is to alert you that your boundaries have been violated and give you the energy to take action to protect yourself.
Explore your history. How did you learn to express anger? Then reflect in thought in feelings. Consider your values around anger. If spirituality is important to you, incorporate that in your reflections. Do you feel led to make a change? How would you like to be different? How would you like to express anger differently from what you learned in the past?
There are many ways to work on making a change and managing anger in your life. Typically in therapy, you and I would design a plan that would include some or all of the following approaches. One is cognitive: Control anger by using your brain. Find ways to manage your anger using coping skills. One coping skill is called the Rage Gauge. You remain mindful of your feelings and pay special attention to feelings of anger. You rate how your feeling on a scale of 0 to 10 or 0 to 100. Using this measure of anger, you develop warning systems and action plans to deal with increasing levels of anger. The warning system I like is a flag system: green, yellow, red flags to help choose actions. Some things to do to manage anger as you feel it increasing include such relaxation exercises as Breathe from Your Belly, or One Minute Vacation, imagine yourself somewhere relaxing.
Another approach is to understand your thinking habits and understand the way your body works when angry / under stress.  The Sympathetic System of nerves prepares your body to defend against danger.  The Parasympathetic System of nerves brings the body back into a calm state. To address the Somatic aspects of anger reactions, you begin with mindfulness. What body sensations do you notice when you’re angry? Our bodies have not evolved since caveman/woman times and our bodies are hardwired to respond to danger. The body reacts to anger and stress the same ways. Thus, to address the fact that despite our living a modern life in buildings with no life-threatening dangers, we are still equipped to return to our caveman ways. Evolution has not caught up. For that reason, it is helpful to practice managing your anger in session. The phrase, practice makes perfect is accurate. It applies to sports and all forms of training. Thus, when you practice anger management coping skills in session, you are more readily able to implement them in real life situations.
To augment the cognitive and somatic approaches, we also address your beliefs and values. How do you want to behave toward your loved ones? This is called Relational: What is my relationship with this person?  How do I want it to go when I one of us gets angry?  (Again history comes into play.
In addition to our fight or flight systems, that prime us to become angry, the way we grew up  shapes how we get angry and respond to anger. What is your trauma history? What are the triggers for anger? By desensitizing and reprocessing past events with an EMDR therapist, you can un-do the negative effects of your past. Ultimately, it is possible to stop reacting to triggers.