As a little girl, I loved story time. I loved to read books, to feel the story in my body, to imagine myself in another time, another place with other people. Stories became my salvation, my respite, my safe haven. I imagined myself as a squirrel with a house in a tree, a Thing, a queenly elephant who loved her baby elephants, as a princess in a star covered gown, as a Beauty wandering an endless library, as a damsel in distress, as a character in an artful and colorful story enjoying a perfect Thanksgiving dinner with the most delicious looking pumpkin pie you’ve ever seen (recipe included). Later as my reading matured and I became more interested in words than pictures, I imagined myself as a heroine and sleuth, a defender against evil and wrongdoing, a strong and wise woman who could stand up to darkness and dangerous men; I saw myself in female characters written with intelligence, culture, tradition, mystery and family. They were mystics in ancient times and modern times. They wore the garb of Avalon and Native tribes. Through stories, I could take myself away from the poverty, noise and smog of the city to deserts filled with small creatures, red sand, open skies and the endless colors of the sun rising and setting on perfect moments; to green forests with babbling brooks and tiny guiding faeries. In the words of authors, I fled my own skin, my own suffering and misery. I was free.
For the mind of a child, who hated herself, her own mind, her circumstances and who could not understand why no one loved her, I needed stories. They were the parents, the family, the potential I could not see in the faces of those around me. I thought they held my future, the possibilities for my life. My family was broken and wounded, trying each day to cultivate how THEY were going to survive. Mirroring any potential to me was a near impossible task.
Aaron Beck (1976) was a trained psychoanalyst and the “father of cognitive therapy” (Frager and Fadiman, 2013, p. 246). He believed that cognitive schemas consist of our foundational beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, as well as how the world functions. Body schema is a term coined by Sir Henry Head (1920), a neurologist in the early 20th century, that refers to the organized model of our physical selves, our bodies, how we understand our bodies, and how we navigate using our body based on our experience. This model of organization is said to be structured by incoming sensory impulses that are centered around our collective life events. Schemas are developed early in life and are significantly influenced by caregivers and other important people within the nurture environment. Beck also referred to a phenomenon called “automatic thoughts”, which arise from cognitive schemas and unpleasant physical or emotional symptoms, that form cycles of function as well as thought. Automatic thoughts are defined as a “running commentary” in the mind and exist in both healthy and troubled individuals, the only difference being the quality of the thoughts (Frager and Fadiman, 2013, p. 247). These internal narratives or automatic thoughts become the reference point from which people with Developmental Trauma Disorder orient through their world on a subconscious level (Siegel, 2008). If someone is always afraid, then withdrawing from social interaction is a protective response. If a person is constantly wary of chaos and violence, then defensiveness is how one stays safe. Even if a person or situation is perfectly safe, the entrainment, interoception and inner narrative of a traumatized individual or child says shut down, run away, get angry, be defensive; freeze up, flee or fight.
The remarkable thing regarding stories from past experience is what they reveal about the present moment and sometimes what the present moment can reveal about past experiences can be just as remarkable. Throughout my literature research, then and now, I repeatedly found myself within the pages of studies conducted by numerous experts in the field of psychology and somatization (Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACEs, 2013; Alexander, 1950; Black, 1967; Cheren, 1989; Head, 1920; Lewis and Lewis, 1972; Lilly, 1972; Oxford, 1978; Saylor, 1993; Shapiro & Rosenfeld, 1987; van der Kolk, 2014; Wolman, 1988). These studies found that children who have survived natural disasters; lived uprooted lives, with no stability and absentee parents; were exposed to daily abuse and violence, surrounded by drugs and alcohol, as well as psychological and physical abandonment and neglect, also experienced a wide variety of negative conditioning paradigms. They can suffer cognitively, socially and emotionally.
Earlier in this blog, I used the word entrainment meaning to adjust the internal rhythm of an organism to synchronize with external input, a transitive verb from the field of zoology, as it relates to unconscious conditioning. I use it to describe negative impacts of trauma and the patterns that are formed.
Entrainment was taking place through the external input from my family – being ignored created a sense of feeling unloved, cultivated a deep sadness and loneliness, which fostered more isolation and fear. These in turn set up an internal rhythm from which I tried to create an adult life. My childhood stories of salvation squeezed between the hard back covers were fantasies, but my mind did not understand that. As a component of trauma, traumatic experiences often cannot be integrated using our normal narrative means – a process involving implicit (implied, automatic, unconscious, procedural, body activity) memory and the hippocampus (van der Kolk, 2014). For children, trying to sort out what is real and what is story becomes convoluted simply because the brain of a child is still forming, learning and being wired. The brain is like a hard drive.
Today’s blog is brought to you by Facebook and what I found to be an asinine comment made by someone on one of my re-posts. It involved a story a woman told. The person commenting on said story asked if her story could be confirmed. And, well… here we are. Witnesses, reports, what someone remembers, scars to prove it all happened (psychic scars are unlocateable in real time, although conjecture abounds) all collide in a moment of challenging someone’s memory, someone’s story.
Stories are personal, they have deep meaning to those who’ve written them, read them, shared them, experienced them. What does it mean to vet someone’s story and why is that always necessary? Are they quoting research or is the person speaking from personal experience? Does a personal narrative have less validity than a science lab experiment?
My story is just that – a narrative of my experience. As I’ve stated previously, throughout this blog I’ll be sharing my journey through Developmental Trauma, how it impacted my childhood and adult life, the research I looked at as well as my own personal somatic research using SiMA to heal my body-mind wounds. While someone may be able to verify certain facts – the research I looked at through my in-text cites, and references page as well as any historical information I may provide, trying to vet my EXPERIENCE may be next to impossible. And why would you? I certainly hope that rather than feeling the need to challenge my experience, this blog provides you with a chance to see and feel your own. What in my blog has value for you? Or for someone you know and love that is clearly struggling to craft a life with some kind of consistency, joy and balance? I’m not talking dreams of grandeur here, I’m speaking of holding down a job of some kind, paying bills and being able to do that with some kind of longevity, where self-sabotage sits at the curb alone and bored with itself. That is my hope. May this work be of benefit to all beings.