Lia Francisco

Experiencing Peace In the Midst of Stress

Stress is defined as emotional or physical tension, feeling pressured, or experiencing frustration. Most, if not all people, experience stress frequently throughout their lifetime. It would be odd to live life without any stress. Can you even imagine a life without any stress? What would it look like to have no stress? The first thought that comes to my mind is that if there was no stress there would be constant peace. I found defintions from Oxford Languages that describes peace as “a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended” or “freedom from disturbance; tranquility”.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker I have counseled so many people on stress, and I have come to understand that there are not many times in life where there is total freedom from disturbance. Instead, there are many “wars” experienced in life, whether it’s conflict, trauma, addiction, social or emotional struggles, illness, financial problems, parenting difficulties, or employment issues. So, I believe that in order to peace the power is in transforming your mindset, not your circumstances. I realize this is not new to many people, but it is such an important concept it needs to be emphasized over and over again.

If you wait for the absence of stress to feel peace, it is not likely to happen. If you control your mindset peace is possible. How? You are choosing what to focus on, how much energy you give to your stress, and how much power you give to negative thoughts and emotions, including anger, fear, doubt, shame etc. The stress is in your circumstances but the war is in your mind. I am in no way minimizing stress, trauma, and difficult life situations. With every trauma, loss, and stressful situation it is a process to feel peace. There is often a need to choose peace over and over again, and focus on hope rather than pain. This is not easy at all, and there is a lot of healing that needs to take place throughout the process. There are also usually false beliefs that need to be exposed in order to take away the power the beliefs have over your life. Examine your attitudes about both stress and peace, and you may find that you have beliefs that are hindering your ability to feel at peace.

When I first became a Christian I expected constant peace and no stress. I thought that I would heal quickly from all my past and current trauma. I quickly learned this was wrong. I eventually realized that my peace came from Jesus, my trust in him, and focusing on the Bible and scripture, which really does transform the mind. I learned that the process of choosing peace over and over again, rather than being healed immediately, grew me and gave me skills that I wouldn’t have learned without the struggle of changing my focus and mindset. This has not been easy to do, and I often fall short or fail. But, I continue to try. and have definitely improved. The key is to stop thoughts that are stressful and fear filled as quickly as possible.

Phillipians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is so important. These are thoughts filled with faith, hope, love, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. These thoughts focus on moving forward, new beginnings, and overcoming instead of fear, shame, or lack of faith or hope. When negative thoughts come in , focus on positive activities, self care, and gratitude. Mind and body are linked and it is easier to think differently when you are involved in activities you enjoy and/or activities that distract you. There is a strong body-mind connection and caring for both mind and body at the same time eases stress and increases peace. This is meant to be a regular practice, and not just during times of increased stress. If you regularly focus on caring for your mind and body stress becomes more manageable.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions on how you manage stress please let me know. I’d love to talk with you. Feel free to email me at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Beauty From Ashes: Mourning Loss

Trauma And Loss

We often think of grief as relating to a death or loss of a person in our lives, and this is often true. Death of a loved one is extremely traumatic, stressful and terrible. Workers in the helping professions often witness death or are exposed to death due to employment, including myself. There’s no specified length of time or end point when experiencing grief. Grief involves so many emotions and memories, and there is often a rush of unexpected emotions that have to be dealt with.

The majority of the time we think of loss as related to death, but loss and grief can also include emotional and physical loss, and/or loss of what could have been,never was, or what we hoped would be.

Emotional Loss

Emotional loss can include loss of safety, loss of peace, loss of joy, loss of innocence, loss of protection, loss of identity, loss of hope and loss of love. There are likely other emotional losses that you can think of, and each person is affected differently. All of these losses can lead to fear, anger, sadness, numbing, rigid boundaries due to a lack of trust and emptiness. What does this feel like? Fear often takes over in relationships and it’s difficult to be hopeful about people and relationships. Loss of identity prevents people from having a sense of self, of boundaries and knowing what they want or need. Self- protection and/ numbing may feel necessary to prevent further loss or hurt, preventing closeness in relationships.

Physical Loss

Physical losses may include homes, insurance, personal belongings, vehicles, jobs, food, money, mementos, and/or clothing. Injuries can lead to loss of limbs, damage to the body or loss of brain functon. Physical loss can also include loss of limbs and brain function. Loss of control over your own body occurs with sexual crimes against adults and children.

The reason I bring up such a variety of loss is because it all is hard and it all hurts. There’s definitely a spectrum of severity with loss. Losing personal belongings is definitely less difficult than not having food, losing brain function or mobility, or losing identity after years of abuse. However, every loss is hard and many times there is mourning over what could have been or should have been, not just the loss itself.

What Could Have Been?

When experiencing trauma, your life is altered. Some of the things that you expected to happen did not happen. This is a loss. In the death of a loved one we mourn everything that was, but also everything that never was. The same goes with physical and emotional losses.

As a survivor of trauma, I did not give myself time to grieve losses. I worked non-stop, and used drugs and alchohol to avoid dealing with pain. I threw myself into helping others instead of dealing with my own needs. I would read books or watch movies and cry for a long time for the characters who experienced similar trauma to mine. It took me a long time to realize that I was crying for myself and my own losses, not the characters. Instead of allowing myself to grieve, I tried to bury my emotions, but it only worked for so long when I reached my mid 20s.

I made the choice to have an abortionin my mid 20s. I made this decision as a substance abuser and alcoholic, in an abusive relationship, and thought I was sparing my child. I realized that this was wrong but it was too late. I spiraled into the worst self-hatred and depression I had ever known, and there was nothing I could do to bring my baby back. I hit rock bottom after this decision and went through a little over a year of trying to avoid feeling and thinking by increasing substance use. I finally ended up getting sober, becoming a Christian and grieved the loss of my baby with the help of a class at a local pregnancy center, counseling, and a lot of prayer from women in my church who helped me process. I experiencedalong a peace that came from being forgiven by God and knowing my baby was with Jesus. This came after one of the worst periods of my life, and reaching rock bottom forced me to deal with a lot I had been avoiding coping with for years. Once I started to face my past I became unraveled, but then began to put the pieces of my life back together in a much healthier way. I needed to grieve the loss of many could have beens, should have beens, and emotional and physical losses over the years.

I have never talked about my abortion publicly until today, but feel it is so important to help people to know that there is healing possible, even when your own choices cause trauma and loss. There is always hope. You may have made terrible choices and hurt others or had terrible things done to you that robbed you physically or emotionally. You are not your past, you are not your bad choices, you are not your tribulations or your hurtful behaviors. You are so much more. There is so much healing that can be done and much of it starts with processing loss, not running from it. Label your emotions, think about what could have been, and then let it go. This is not easy; It is a very complex process. It involves self care and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. Once you experience freedom you can begin to rebuild and move forward, because the weight of your past will not hold you back as often as it did before.

True freedom from grief and loss I experienced came from my relationship with God. I felt a peace I had never known after becoming a Christian and being vulnerable with God first, and then others. There is a scripture that states “And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3). This is the heart of Jesus for everyone, no matter what you’ve done or had done to you. It is about the healing, and the redemptive power of God. It is through relationship with Jesus that we can truly transform and heal and have freedom. He sees who we are meant to be and who he created us to be, not just what we’ve done or what was done to us.

I’d love to hear your story and help you to process your trauma and losses. Contact me at freedlifecounseling@gmail.com .

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Too Much Control?

Is it possible to have too much control over your life and emotions? YES! Many people may not believe this could be true but it is. There is an element of self-protection based on distrust or fear ( or both) that deters people from accepting, embracing, or being open to positive relationships, opportunities, and/or life experiences that better quality of life.

What Does Too Much Control Look Like?

Characteristics in people’s control include boundaries, thoughts and actions, goals, what you give your energy to, how you speak to yourself, and how you handle challenges.If you have too much control over yourself, boundaries are rigid and few people are allowed into your circle. There is a chance that these relationships do not feel authentic because you are not allowing yourself to connect. You may not make goals in order to prevent failure or negative emotions from occurring. There may be little opportunity to learn or expand because you may not receive the opinions or advice of others trying to help you. There is little opportunity for growth when it comes to challenges because by over controlling does not allow for much growth. As far as energy goes, you are likely exhausted! It is so tiring to try to remain in control all the time.

How Do You Know if You Over Control?

Needing to trust others in challenging situations may lead to frustration, negative thoughts, anger, and/or fear. You would tend to isolate emotionally, not allow yourself to be vulnerable with most people, become angry often when others try to communicate about your emotions , and you would tend to avoid emotional connections, even if you want them to happen. You would have trouble receiving and following advice from professionals and supports, and would have trouble believing others can give you sound advice. You may also believe that others are trying to harm you with their advice and you cannot trust almost anyone.


Dominating conversations, or doing the majority of the talking rather than listening when you are seeking help or advice, picking apart what is said and/or automatically having negative thoughts about what you’re hearing would likely occur. You wouldn’t be able to communicate how you feel easily when in conflict, and would have suffered losses due to the need to control situations or others to prevent discomfort or pain.

Also, the areas in the picture in this blog that are out of your control would cause great distress, and may consume you- the past, the future, actions and opinions of others, what others think of you and the outcome of your efforts. You may try to control all of those areas and get angry and hurt when it does not turn out how you hoped. You may also control yourself even more drastically to compensate.

How to Create Change

Control is hard to let go of. Control can be a form of armour. It is a way to protect yourself from harm, but problems occur because controlling at that level prevents a lot of good, not just bad. As a therapist, I have seen this over and over again. People do not do the work needed to heal because they will not allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to heal. What a high cost of remaining in control! There is so much healing, freedom, and joy when you allow yourself to be released from the pressure of being in total control. Besides, having total control is not actually possible anytime you are dealing with other people or circumstances involving more than just yourself.

The One in Control

There is so much hope as a Christian regarding not needing to be in control. If you are a Christian, you know that God is in ultimate control. If you tend to over control, it would definitely be difficult to accept Jesus’ control and allowing him to work on areas of your life that cause you to be vulnerable or uncomfortable. And, if you do allow Jesus to direct your life in those vulnerable areas, you still may avoid close relationships with others, getting therapy, or seeking guidance and advice from others who can help you to heal.

The first step to releasing control is awareness. Once you are aware and disclose, healing can begin. The first step is to slowly let your guard down. This is a difficult process and seeking help from a therapist can help. It involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable and listening to others. It also involves defining boundaries and being more flexible in boundaries. This can be a hard concept to grasp on your own and may feel overwhelming.

Keeping such control over your life takes tremendous willpower and determination but it is too much of a load for anyone to bare, and is exhausting. Change is not easy but it is possible, especially if you use your willpower and determination to focus on and create change. I’d love to hear your story. Please contact me with any questions or comments at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Take Ownership of Your Life

You are in control of your life. After experiencing trauma, especially long term, it can be difficult to believe this. Trauma scars deeply. It causes so many intense emotions and negative self thoughts (ex: I am not capable, I am not smart, I have no common sense, I cause bad things to happen). It is difficult to follow your own intuition and conscience because of shame, fear, self-doubt and negative self beliefs ( I am bad, I am unworthy, I am weak, I have no value). Often issues related to feeling helpless or believing you do not have control over your life occur. This is termed learned helplessness, and this belief prevents many people from moving forward in life, even when opportunities arise.

Taking Responsibility for Your Life

Learned helplessness sounds offensive to many and may cause anger. There is a negative connotation to this phrase; no one likes to think of themselves as helpless. The majority of the time this pattern of behavior is subconscious and we do not realize we have the ability to take ownership of our lives. There is a belief that they cannot change their circumstances. Why? A pattern of helplessness has formed after repeated situations when the individual’s control was taken away by someone else (for example some type of abuse or neglect) or or something else ( for example a severe mental or physical health disorder , substance abuse, prison system or foster care system). People who experience secondary trauma may feel helpless in their jobs after seeing extensive trauma and not having any control over the outcome. An example would be someone in law enforcement that witnesses a lot of overdoses, death and/ or violent crimes. Continuous placement in systems like rehabs, jails, juvenile facilities, and residential programs can cause learned helplessness because of the lack of independence and forced reliance on staff to have needs met.

After reading the examples above and thinking of learned helplessness as a conditioned response to repeated, traumatic life events it should no longer sound like an offensive term. It is not something you chose or desired for your life, and it does not have to be the way you respond to your future. The first step to healing is to admit to yourself that this is occuring and don’t guilt yourself! Think of it as a typical response to life by many that experience lack of control repeatedly. Many of you may have tried to change the outcome of your life or a situation and it felt futile or pointless and you gave up because you were tired, overwhelmed or sick of being disappointed and hurt.

Think of when and how this belief that you have no control started. Most likely it is tied to a situation when this lack of control was real. Coping with this can be very difficult on your own and I recommend speaking with a therapist to process through all the emotions related to this. Once you identify and process, use this new awareness to view your life choices. Is there an area or areas where you’ve wanted to do more, learn more, or change and you haven’t because of a belief that you’re incapable, nothing will ever change or get better or no one will ever help you so there’s no point in trying? Are there times where you wanted to help someone else but gave up for the same reasons? These are the thoughts of a learned helplessness response, and they can be changed.

Changing Thoughts and Behaviors

How can these thoughts be changed? Small steps! Do not start big or you will set yourself up for failure. Small, planned steps can lead to bigger steps and bigger changes. For example, I believed I had no control over relationships. I felt unable to say no to people, and it was definitely related to feeling that I had no control over my life or myself as a person; I believed I had no right to say no to people due to trauma related shame and lack of self-esteem. I slowly started saying saying no to small things- giving someone a ride, or eating something I didn’t want to eat. I gradually went on to saying no to bigger things- family or friend functions that would be unhealthy or put me in a difficult position with my sobriety, completely ending contact with harmful relationships, and not allowing my children to be in certain places or around people I wasn’t comfortable with. I would have never imagined I was capable of doing this, but the more I said no, the more I was able to take ownership of my life, use my voice, and build confidence.

Psalm 9:9 (NIV) says the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,a stronghold in times of trouble.I am so thankful that God is my stronghold. Stronghold is defined as a place that protects by resisting or preventing attack, or a place a specific cause or belief is strongly defended or upheld. Knowing God is with me everytime I decided to speak up has helped me immensly because I did not feel alone in my fight.

You have value and you have a responsibility to yourself to protect your body, mind and heart. You may want to read that statement multiple times because it is hard to believe and understand after experiencing so much pain, trauma and lack of control. I struggled with the idea that I had the right or ability to say no to others, even though my profession called for me to advocate for others and say no on behalf of others. Sometimes trauma is unavoidable, but often you have the ability to protect your mind, body and heart by using your voice, and making decisions that benefit yourself and your family. You are NOT helpless in any way, and even though fighting for yourself is exhausting, I promise it gets easier. As you overcome each obstacle there is so much freedom and a new level of confidence and empowerment with each time you say “NO”.

I’d love to hear your story. Please contact me with any questions or comments at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

Self-Sabatoge

Self sabatoge is a behavior or pattern of behaviors that has the potential of leading to self-harm, broken relationships and/ or unhealthy relationships, and goals that are not achieved. Self sabatoge may include a variety of harmful behaviors, including any type of addiction or risky behavior, procrastination, or leaving healthy relationships. There also tends to be a tendency to gravitate away from healthy behavior that improve overall health, mental health or social and emotional well-being. Examples would be exercise, attending necessary health appointments, or having healthy friendships or and/ or romantic relationships.

Finding the Root

Self-sabatoge often results from trauma and chaos. It is difficult to allow your self to be content, happy or at peace after experiencing trauma and developing a negative view of yourself. Negative self-talk and negative beliefs are often involved in self-sabatoge, as well as not valuing yourself or seeing your worth. If you notice yourself procrastinating often, quitting things that are good for your, continuing harmful behaviors, staying in unhealthy relationships, or ending or avoiding healthy relationships ask yourself what the root of the behavior is. For example, if you break off healthy romantic relationships and continuously find yourself back in abusive relationships or alone you may have some underlying shame issues, or a fear of rejection that causes you to end or avoid healthy relationships. If you stop showing up at work, procrastinate on assignments or fail to complete job duties, underlying causes could be a fear of failure, believing you are an “imposter” or fear of being successful. The root of this may be low self esteem, difficulty dealing with pressure, or a fear of being controlled by your job or schooling. It may also be a fear of responsibility. Both of the examples I gave have multiple possibilities of why self- sabatoge could be occuring. This is why finding the root is key, which can often be difficult on your own. Talking with a therapist would be a great way to process this issue and determine a course of action to prevent continued self- sabatoge in the future.

Changing Behaviors

Behavior changes are very important once you determine the cause of self-sabatoge. Making small changes daily is key. Making a choice to consistently continue to move forward and not quit is huge. It is best to avoid making impulsive decisions or decisions based on emotion. Slowing down is so important to prevent impulsive decisions from being made. There is a skill I like to use with others (and myself) from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which is a specific type of therapy that focuses on being more mindful of thoughts and behaviors, and acting on rational thought not emotions. The skill is called STOP (Stop, Take a Step Back, Observe, Proceed Mindfully). This process is focused on stopping in the moment to think about the situation and focus on what you’re feeling, and choosing to stay in the moment and refrain from immediate decisions based on emotion. Try writing out pros and cons before making decisions, especially when you have the desire to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts. Weighing your options on paper can help you to avoid self- sabatoging. The more you do these steps the better you will feel about yourself as you see growth and improvement in your life, which in turn will help you to see yourself as having value.

I often struggled with self sabatoge with addiction and in relationships. I often tried to get sober but sabatoged myself each time. I also found myself in bad relationships, including friendships. Once I was really ready to be sober, I tried very hard to completely change my life and not sabatoge. I stayed away from hurtful relationships and friendships. I met my husband after 4 years of being sober. Within a couple months of meeting him, I remember thinking that a relationship would never work. Why? Because he noticed my favorite color was purple. Strange, right? But it’s actually not as strange as it sounds. I thought he was so together and I was so…not together. I took him noticing my favorite color as a sign to me that he was getting too close and that I needed to get away before he realized how “bad” I was and rejected me. Luckily I had a mentor that was someone I respected and listened to and when she pointed this out it made so much sense to me. I realized that I was fearful and about to make an irrational decision, and that I really wanted to continue forward even though I was afraid. I saw no value in myself and thought no one good would want to be around me. There were many similar moments that followed when I had to let my guard down, be vulnerable and be open. Each situation became a learning opportunity where I had to STOP and then proceed mindfully so I did not sabatoge. I learned that I do have value, and other people see value in me. Every person has value, including you!

Learning Your Value

We often self-sabatoge a relationship with God, because we think we aren’t good enough, pure enough or don’t have it together. This could not be further from the truth. God hates all sin but loves every single sinner, no matter what they’ve done. By sinner I mean me, you, and every person on this earth, Christian or not. It took awhile but I realized that God is always faithful. He will continuously help you to change your thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and your entire life. It is hard to self-sabatoge with a God who loves you unceasingly and knows you better than you know yourself. God sees value in you even when you don’t see the value in yourself; you are made in God’s image.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Please email me at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Foreboding

Fear of the Future

Foreboding is basically fear of the future. It is a feeling that something bad is going to happen. There are some expressions that you most likely have heard before related to this feeling. “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” is one of them. This expression implies that someone is waiting for something to happen. I personally have never heard someone use this expression to imply something positive is going to happen, only negative events. It is infered that the event is inevitable, meaning it is definitely going to happen but the exact timing is not known. Another expression that comes to mind is “Walking on eggshells.” What does this mean? To be delicate and tread lightly out of fear of causing a negative event or angering someone. How about not wanting to “rock the boat,” meaning not wanting to cause some type of upset or negative situation. All of these expressions are fear filled; fear of inevitable future events, fear of upsetting or angering someone, fear of being the cause of a problem.

People who have experienced trauma often do have reason to fear the future, to walk on egg shells and avoid rocking the boat. If you have experienced trauma, especially long term, you may have noticed that anticipating negative events and trying to avoid them or minimize negative effects becomes a way of life. Foreboding becomes a coping skill by anticipating the worst to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before the event occurs, in order to protect yourself the best you can.

Obstacles to Healing

The problem with foreboding occurs when the trauma is over and healing needs to occur. Foreboding is based on feelings. Feelings shape our thoughts and beliefs. When feelings, thoughts and beliefs are fear filled and focused on the future it steals our joy in the present. This in itself is damaging, but there is more. A large part of healing is focused on changes in thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. Foreboding and fear of the future do not lead to changes in thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. Instead, it actually keeps us stuck in negative thought patterns and old behaviors that are counterproductive to healing. Growth is inhibited and internal chaos and hypervigelence continue when they may not need to.

The first tip to limiting or ending foreboding is to pay attention to your thoughts. Really analyze them. Think about the event that occured that led to the foreboding. Ask yourself if your perceptions and beliefs are possibly incorrect when you start to forebode and brainstorm some other possible outcomes. Assess whether or not your beliefs are tied to something in your past. This is actually known as the ABC method from a type of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It is an amazing way to analyze events in your life and resulting thoughts, beliefs and emotional responses. It helps to connect your current thoughts and behaviors to your past so you can move forward by creating new patterns of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. This process was so healing for me. There are many times that I was foreboding and my beliefs were based on incorrect perceptions and assumptions. I was filled with fear of situations that never occurred. I would remain anxious for periods of time but the negative events I was expecting never happened. I tend to review my thoughts very quickly, and try to be rational and calm without letting emotions control my beliefs and behaviors. I use scripture a lot and prayer to focus on truth, not fears and negative emotions.

The second tip is to communicate fears, beliefs and expectations as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so. This has helped me so much. A spouse or significant other, therapist, trusted friend, parent, mentor or anyone who is loving and truthful with you would be a great person to start with. Often, we keep our beliefs within our mind and do not speak them out loud due to fear or shame. If you speak up you may find that your beliefs were wrong which can stop foreboding and promote healing. Without speaking up the fear can continue in your mind and cause a lot of racing thoughts, ruminating, fear, shame, and avoidance. I learned to be more direct and express myself over the years. It is a continuous process, and it can take awhile to feel comfortable.

Foreboding and Relationship with God

My relationship with God was hindered (and still is sometimes) due to foreboding. I had difficulties trusting God with my future and anticipated “trials” or unrealistic terrible situations that involved God basically manipulating me. This is a very distorted view of God; I believed that God was a “puppet master” creating difficult situations that I’d need to overcome. It took years of struggle and prayer to figure this out. I did not want to think of God negatively but due to my past I had incorrect beliefs about God and people that I needed to correct. I realized after ten years of being a Christian that I was experiencing a trauma response. I loved God and read my Bible daily but it did not erase this belief because I was totally unaware of the root of the problem being my past experiences. Once I was able to understand this, I was able to work to change it through the ABC method, prayer, body work, and reading the Bible. I saw a lot of change in my perception of God, others, and my circumstances since realizing this, and began to look at suffering or the possibility of suffering much differently.

I share this to encourage everyone that reads this that even Christians have negative thoughts towards God and their circumstances at times. Before I was a Christian I did not believe this. I thought everyone in church had it more together than me, understood God better than me, and lived in perfect peace. I had no idea how false this was until I learned to understand God’s word (the Bible) and investigated how experiences shaped my thoughts and beliefs about God, others, and my environment. My feelings and fears do not control me anymore, and it’s possible for you to have the same freedom! If you’re interested in sharing your story or learning more please contact me at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Old Habits Die Hard

Trauma and chaos often go hand in hand. This is because trauma is constantly effecting mind and body, by interrupting daily thoughts, activities and behaviors. Natural disasters, moving frequently, divorce, being placed in foster care, addiction, mental health issues, medical issues, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse are all examples of situations that lead to chaos within individuals and the family system. Routines are difficult to keep when trauma occurs, if not non- existent. Crises take priority over activities of daily living. Personal space may be interfered with. Sleep is often disrupted and a constant flux in your body occurs when your fight, flight or freeze response is initiated repeatedly daily. When someone in the home has an addiction or there is an abuser in the home, life tends to revolve around the abuser or substance user, and this leads to total chaos. Any individual who is addicted to a substance or has addictive behaviors ( for example: gambling or sex addiction) is in a constant state of chaos related to obtaining what is needed to continue with addiction.

Recovering From Chaos

Chaos is addictive. It is a lifestyle. It is hard to live in peace after living in chaos for years. It is difficult for the mind to adjust to peace at first after the  trauma, addiction, or struggles with mental health have ended. It is hard to accept peace and be comfortable in peace. There can be a feeling that something bad will happen and the peace is not real. Or, boredom may set in with routine and no chaos. It is difficult at first for some people to be comfortable in peace and accept that things have really changed. Some people are drawn back into addiction, self sabotage or have a constant fear and worry that bad things will keep happening even when this is not the reality of the situation, which is called foreboding. I will cover self-sabatoge and foreboding in my next two blogs.

When I got sober I remember feeling like I was coming out of a tunnel. I had been feeling empty, alone, and dealing with abuse, self- hatred, panic attacks and nightmares. I had no idea how to live without chaos. I made friends through recovery groups and attended Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery. I went to church, spent time with new friends and did “normal” things like go to movies, parks, barbecues, and out to eat. I felt much better emotionally and had no desire to use any substancs again but I was not accustomed to living a life of peace.  I felt like someone totally different going through the motions of “normal” life. It took a long time to realize this wasn’t pretending to live- I actually was living.  I started to feel more comfortable in these settings and enjoy what I was doing, especially after limiting contact with people that tended to gravitate to chaos and were not healthy for me. I struggled with this at first, as those were the people I were used to and I knew how to operate in chaos, not peace. But, it took a long time. I did not know how to enjoy the moment and realized I had a hard time relaxing around others and being present. I tended to want to help people and was taken advantage of. The healthier I got emotionally the better I did with staying away from unhealthy people that brought unwanted chaos into my life.

I thank God for his mercy and grace in my life.  Even though my life is more peaceful, PTSD reactions can still lead me to a place of chaos emotionally at times, which is very common but totally uncomfortable.  Emotions flood and hypervigilance starts up, leading to difficulty remaining calm and rational. I’d like to say I manage it perfectly but I’m learning it’s impossible to perfectly manage emotions, no matter how much I try or how much knowledge I possess.  I just want to encourage you that this is NORMAL when experiencing PTSD and not shameful and does not mean you’re still living in chaos. It’s not a sign of moving backwards. We are all works in progress.

The Bible says that He ( God) who began a good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6 NLT). This is so encouraging because it means the God of the entire universe, who is never in chaos and always in control, will not give up on you. If you allow Him to work in you He will continue throughout your life. This gives me so much hope because it means I’m never alone in this battle, and you aren’t either! You are so much more than your trauma and your symptoms and your fear and although they bring chaos into your life, they do not have to control your life, or even your day. You can continue to process, learn, grow, adjust, and believe there is always hope.

It is a daily choice to make small steps and enjoy more peace day by day, while eliminating chaos. It is amazing how our lives can change once we begin to transform our minds and connect thoughts and behaviors, in order to build new, healthier ways of life. I can honestly say that I hate chaos and am much better at shutting down chaotic emotions and emotional flooding quickly. This in itself is progress and a way to persevere and keep chaos to a minimum. I’d love to hear your opinion or experience on this topic  Contact me at freedlifecounseling@gmail.com with any questions, comments or prayer requests.

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing



Building An Identity: Part 3

Shaped By Suffering

Part of identity is based on circumstances and behaviors that develop in response to adverse circumstances that cause suffering. Negative effects of trauma on the mind and body are almost always discussed, but it’s important to know that trauma can actually lead to some positive changes in personality. Trauma can lead to developing new belief systems about yourself, the world, relationships and faith that you learned because of your suffering, not inspite of. This is termed post traumatic growth (PTG). PTG is defind as a positive change in psychological state after coping with adverse or traumatic circumstances. There is a shift in beliefs that leads to positive beliefs about life, relationships, opportunities, strength, and/ or spirituality.

Looking at life through a PTG lens does not mean pretending trauma didn’t happen, or that you enjoyed being traumatized. It does not mean that your pain, negative emotions or negative effects of trauma on your life are minimized. It is a way to be empowered, choose hope and choose to believe life can move forward in a happy, healthy way despite what you’ve been through or witnessed. It is a way to see yourself as a person with scars, not open wounds. It is a way to recognize positive attributes and changes in yourself that have occured as a result of your hurts, pain and suffering. You have your own unique identity shaped by your suffering. Some examples of personality traits that can develop as a result of trauma are being independent, resilient, sensitive to the needs of others, humble, generous, caretaking, and/or being grateful. People can become more spiritual and reflective, and take advantage of opportunities they may not have before. Many display strength, by setting boundaries, holding people accountable, enduring, and/ or becoming an inspiration to others through their trials.

I tend to focus on PTG in myself and with clients I have treated. There is so much value in the healing process and the transformation of thoughts from negative to positive; from defeated to hopeful. Everyone has a capacity to heal and choose life and hope, no matter how much pain was experienced. It is an amazing process. I don’t know your pain or your struggles or your fears or your shame, but I can tell you that I have experienced my own pain, fear, shame and struggles and I can see some positive effects in myself. What positive traits have you noticed in yourself and who you are?

I’ve tried to think of how my life would be different if I did not experience the various trauma I experienced, and I realized that my suffering and the impact of addiction and trauma on my life is exactly what led me to Jesus and having a relationship with Jesus. I could not imagine my life without Jesus, so I am grateful that my life got to a point that I needed a Savior. There is a Bible scripture that states “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As a Christian this means to live according to God’s will and truth daily and let the truth of God and God’s ways replace your own thoughts and ways. I have always tried to do this and it is a daily need. Part of my healing is to focus my thoughts on God and to be more loving, kind, forgiving, peaceful, hopeful and view myself the way God sees me. This has been part of my PTG process ( along with a lot of prayer) as I have come to view people, the world and situations with a focus on hope, life and the belief that God is always at work, even in our suffering. There are many Christians who have suffered and grew closer to Christ because of their suffering. I have learned to embrace this idea rather than run from it, and look at suffering as an opportunity for growth and growing closer to Jesus.

PTG is a way to view your trials with hope and embrace life, not fear, shame, or pain. It is a way to empower yourself and others, and focus on the positive in yourself, others and the world. I’d love to hear from you on this topic, and what areas you’ve had growth in as a result of trauma. To contact me email me at lia@freedlifecounseling.com.

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing

Building An Identity: Part 2

Family Roles

Long-term trauma can stunt social and emotional growth, leading to set patterns of behavior, or roles, that are often unhealthy. You may have heard of some of these roles before or you may even define some of your own family members by these terms. Some examples are “abuser,” “addict,” “saint,” “scapegoat,” “peacemaker,” “co-dependent,” or “caretaker.” Labels define how the person is viewed by his/her family as part of the family system. The roles are interconnected and encompass how others in the family view each individual. This leads to many different effects on each family member that I will explain at another time, but for the purposes of this blog think of each role as being an identity that the individual takes on. When someone leaves the family system they are able to form a new identity. The label that they have been given, whether consciously or not, is often how the individual perceives themselves. Separating from family is a time where new identity can be formed. 

Growing, Evolving, and Changing 

Identity comes with time, space, and healing. Putting boundaries in place while in contact with toxic people and limiting time spent with anyone who is abusive, non-supportive, or views you in a role you do not want to be defined as, are ways to give yourself the space and time needed to heal and grow. It’s likely you know what you do NOT want, what you do NOT like, or what or who you NEVER want to be like, but you may struggle more with figuring out what you DO want, what you DO like, and who you WANT to be. Giving yourself time and space to heal allows the ability to create a life for yourself free from the roles you’ve been given. Every new situation you allow yourself to be in will mold you. Everytime you handle relationships in a new way you will grow. In fact, you will see that when you start making changes in how you cope, communicate, and interact with others people may be confused by your behavior and/or react negatively to your positive changes. This is because your behavior and identity are no longer fitting your given role in your family system, which means that other people’s behavior will need to change when interacting with you. For example: If you tend to put others needs above your own (aka “people pleaser” or “caretaker”) to the detriment of yourself, people become expectant that you will do what they ask. When people are not able to get what they want from you anymore they may become angry, pressure you, or give you the silent treatment in order to manipulate you into doing what they want. They may accuse you of being mean or belittle you. Usually a person who fits the “caretaker” or “people pleaser” role would feel guilty, but the longer they have time, space and healing, the more they will see that they are not being unreasonable and that boundaries are healthy. 

Life Beyond My Roles

Roles have been a large part of my life. Time, space, and healing were what I needed to develop my own identity.  Attending college for social work really changed my life. I learned so much from my professors about life and my own personal patterns and behaviors. I learned a lot from my roommates and classmates, many who were from other countries or other parts of the United States. I worked in a domestic violence shelter in college, which changed me in ways that I did not know were possible. I grew through advocating for others. I became a Christian and got sober when I was 26 and each of these life changes completely changed my identity. So much of my life had revolved around trauma and self medicating through alcohol and drugs, but once I stopped using substances and became a Christian all of my behaviors changed and I built a new identity in Christ. This is a difficult process to describe. The love of God changed my heart causing my desires, attitude and thoughts to reflect God and his desires and thoughts about me. This can only be learned through reading the Bible and spending time in prayer and in church. I started to see many changes in myself. However, I got so into church and my Bible that I didn’t develop beyond that. This was not healthy either. I had no hobbies and no goals, and knew very little about myself. I started to experience new activities and do things outside of my comfort zone, and I did things alone ( like go to the movies) and became more comfortable with myself. These steps seem very simple, but there is a level of vulnerability needed that can be difficult emotionally. There is a lot of shame, insecurity and fear to overcome in the process, as well as the determining of healthy boundaries. I recommend seeing a counselor to help with this process.  

Identity is always evolving and changing with age and as you develop new wisdom or roles and encounter new situations.  Some examples would be becoming a husband or wife, father or mother, a new career, or moving. These roles do not completely define you, but they add to your identity, change you, and teach you more about yourself. My previous blog, Building An Identity, talks specifically about steps to get to know yourself better and build an identity. I’d love to hear more about your story and hear any questions or comments you might have. Please contact me at lia@freedlifecouneling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotional healing

Building An Identity

Who Am I?

This is a difficult question for many, especially when dealing with long term trauma and secondary trauma. Emotional baggage, stress, shame, control by others and fear hinder growth and impact identity in a negative way. Facades are developed to fit in. Chameleons change who they are based on who they are with. Addiction leads to being consumed by alcohol an/or drugs, and leads to a lack of identity when sober.  Surviving abuse and control often leads to difficulty remembering or knowing likes and dislikes and faded hopes and dreams. This is because life had to revolve around the abuser and survival. Juvenile facilities, rehabs, and jails can all effect development of identity because there are certain norms that have to be met and a lack of opportunities.

What Are Your Passions?

The first step to becoming who you are created to be ( meaning your true self, without all the trauma effects) is to figure out what you like and don’t like. This may sound so simple, but it is not always easy. It may start with something small like figuring out what hobbies you like and trying new things. This can really be anything you want to do. Then decide which of those are enjoyable. You can even travel places you’ve never been, try new foods or spend time with a variety of people to build new friendship s. You will probably need to go out of your comfort zone, but that is really healthy for growth.

If you used to have hobbies but stopped participating in them think back to what you enjoyed, how you felt when you did these activities and plan a date and time to do at least one activity. It will get easier the more you allow yourself to take part in your hobbies again. After completing different activities think of how you felt, what emotions came up and whether it was enjoyable or not.

The next step is to write about your hopes and dreams. Is there anything new you want to learn? Are there classes you want to take? Is there a group you want to get involved in or a cause you’d like to support? Is there a topic you’ve always wanted to research or a place you’d love to travel? Is there a career you’ve always wanted or a business you’d like to start? Sometimes it’s so hard to remember or allow yourself to hope, but it is so important to try. Everyone needs hope. Everyone has dreams inside of them. If you are struggling to come up with anything, journal whatever comes to mind and work on it daily or weekly. You can think back to when you were a child and what you would loved to do as a child, or focus on what makes you happiest.

A third step would be writing a list of goals that you want to work on. These goals would reflect your hopes and dreams and give you tangible steps to achieve them. This builds confidence and self-esteem as you achieve the goals and your hopes and dreams become a reality.  You can even write down the story of your future and how you picture your life to be. You will build hope every time you read it. Decide what life will look like, sound like and feel like for you.

Finally, share your goals, accomplishments, and dreams with people who love you and care about you, and want to see you succeed and grow. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and grow with you. If it’s difficult for you to be alone allow yourself to be vulnerable and spend time alone. If it’s difficult to stop isolating, give yourself an opportunity to go to some social events. Volunteering in some capacity is always a way to help build identity. You can be learn a lot about yourself in these situations and grow as you help others, and it’s really rewarding. You may realize what you are passionate about in the process.

I personally struggled for awhile to build identity. I tended to be a chameleon and didn’t know who I was. I labeled myself with a lot of negative labels due to my past, but knew that wasn’t how I wanted to continue thinking of myself. I slowly learned more and more about myself doing the steps I mentioned above. I prayed a lot for guidance, wisdom and knowing what steps to take in order to grow. I stopped spending time with people who were not  respectful of my boundaries and did not support me. I learned more about what God thought of me by reading the Bible. I stopped thinking of myself in terms of what happened to me and what I did or didn’t do. I looked at myself as a person who was growing, changing and evolving. It was not always easy because I had a lot of fear, anxiety and shame to overcome, but slowly I became more connected to my true self and grew to like myself.

Learning who you are and developing into a person you are proud of is so valuable and provides so much hope. If I can help you in this process or answer any questions, I’d love to hear your story! Please contact me at lia@freedlifecounseling.com

#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotional healing