Listen to me discuss my book on BTR’s Podcast

I recorded a podcast with Anne Blythe from Betrayal Trauma Recovery.  We discussed teaching children about healthy sexuality and my book.  Listen to the podcast or read the transcript here.

For those of you dealing with Betrayal Trauma, her website has wonderful resources for hope and healing.

What do I do with Triggers?

Sometimes when life is going fairly well, you can still get hit with a trigger out of the blue.  You are able to see that the situation is a trigger and not based in reality (Sariah at Back Pocket Yoga calls this trigger vs. truth).  When this happens sometimes it seems logical to push the trigger away, or try to ignore it and move on with life. Often if we try this approach we find the trigger lingering.  It can be more helpful to validate yourself in the situation. Consider, “is it normal for me to have been triggered by this situation based on my past life circumstances?” More often than not you will find that being triggered is a normal Betrayal Trauma response.  Hold some space for that thought: this is a normal response to my circumstances. Don’t shame yourself, or push the reaction away, or ignore it, or freak out. Just accept it and hold space for it. Breathe into that validation. It is amazing how this can clear your mind and bring relief.  Relief that this is normal and an acceptable reality to be in.

Once you have validated yourself, and have accepted your reality you are in a better space through which to process, assess your situation, and move forward.

Deciding What Boundaries to Set

There are two helpful questions to ask oneself in the development of boundaries. The first involves asking yourself what you need to find safety and serenity.  The second involves asking yourself what kind of person you want to be.

The question, “what kind of a person do you want to be?” is referenced in boundary literature.  “I am a person who_____.” The answer could be “I am a person who deserves to be treated well.” “I am a person who is worth having a marriage of fidelity.”  These questions give your boundaries direction. If that statement is truth, then what do you need to implement to create that? If you are a person who deserves to be treated well, what do you do to create that if you cannot control other people?  If you deserve a marriage of fidelity but you do not have it, what do you do to stand in the space of deserving that?

This brings us to another wonderful process in the development of boundaries that I love to use as I work with people (I can’t accept credit for the concept, but I don’t remember where it came from).  “Spitballing” is my name for it, from the Mission Impossible movie where they’re trying to figure out what to do and Simon Pegg’s character says “I’m just spitballing, it’s not all going to be gold!” The idea is that it is very common to get stuck trying to figure out what to do.  You literally can’t see options because your brain has shut down and is in trauma. (Therefore, another person is very helpful in this process).

To begin, you begin by finding the extreme options to handle the situation.  The extreme options are always way further than you’d ever go, and are clearly unbalanced for the situation.  Once you have those extremes then you can see to begin to fill in dozens of options in between. So for example the extreme options I often offer others include: do nothing on one hand, and killing someone on the other.  This usually produces a laugh and then we get down to business—finding myriad options in the balanced middle ground, one (or a few) of which usually feels good.

For those still struggling, let’s consider the truths above and walk them through a boundary setting scenario:

“I’m a person who deserves to be treated well.”  What do I do then if I’m in a situation where I am being treated poorly?  First your extremes: allow yourself to be walked on, or kill the person treating you poorly (haha).  Clearly these are actually two options I have (so now I know I do have options), but I don’t want to do either.  So what are some middle ground balanced options? I can leave the situation. I can stop the person speaking poorly to me with a phrase such as (I credit a good friend for this one), “I’m not accepting commentary on that,” or a version of this phrase I helped someone develop, “I’m willing to accept/consider commentary on my life that is delivered kindly.”  Another option is to leave the relationship (if it’s with the checker at Wal-Mart this may be a decently viable option—you don’t ever have to see them again). There are dozens of others we could come up with as we “spitball.” One will feel like a good option and I can start there.

“I’m a person that deserves to live in a relationship of fidelity.”  So what options do I have if this isn’t the case in my life and I can’t control whether someone else chooses to be loyal?  Extremes: I can allow no fidelity, or I can kill the person I’m in the relationship with. Again, both are options I could choose, but may not choose based on the consequences (I’m not a fan of being in prison).  So what are more balanced options? I can divorce immediately. I can choose to only be in a relationship with someone in recovery from sexual addiction (so if they choose not to recover, then I pursue further action).  I can choose to allow certain actions that may be more acceptable than divorce—pornography or masturbation. I can choose to separate and gather more information about what my partner plans to choose in the future. That separation can be in-home, in-neighborhood, or across country (more choices).  I can choose to ask my partner to leave, or to leave myself (if I ask my partner to leave and they say no, that is also helpful information for me in terms of where they are in our relationship). Again, we could come up with many more options, and one will feel like a good place to start.

What is a Boundary? What are your Motives?

Boundaries can be tricky.  One of the things people I work with often want to know is, “what is a boundary? Give me a list.”  My answer is that it depends on your motive. The same action can be a control/manipulation or a healthy boundary depending on your motive.  What you are trying to accomplish is what makes the difference. If you are trying to control or change someone else, or the outcome of a situation, that is controlling or manipulative.  If you are trying to create emotional safety for yourself and choosing how it’s acceptable for yourself to be treated (notice the complete focus on self), that is a boundary. I tell people that motives run on a continuum with complete and utter control or manipulation on one end, and complete focus on oneself on the other end.  Often you won’t be completely one or the other as you practice setting boundaries. And that’s okay! The phrase in 12-step programs that I love is: progress not perfection.

The idea is simply to look at your motives honestly.  

Sometimes people accuse you of trying to control and manipulate them with your so-called boundaries.  That is understandable since motive is often the only difference, and they can’t truly know what’s going on inside you.  If you’ve considered your motives you can stand tall inside your own skin knowing their conclusions are inaccurate, and you don’t have to prove yourself to them.  Your boundaries are for you. Others are welcome to accept them and participate in the relationship, or not.

Live in Your Own Life!

**Note:  This post contains doctrinal concepts from The Church of Jesus Christ, to which I ascribe. Take what you like, and leave the rest.

I teach a Sunday School class of 12 and 13 year olds.  Like 15 of them. And it’s awesome. It’s a fun challenge to try and keep them all engaged.  There are a few key concepts that I harp on constantly. If they learn nothing else from my class, I want it to be this:

Why are you here?  (Nope it’s not to get a body.  Nope, it’s not to be tested….blank stares at this point).  You are here to become Gods. Period. All those other ideas are simply parts of becoming a God.   And when you truly understand this and approach life from this perspective it’s a game changer. We talk about how important knowing the Plan of Salvation is, but if you don’t understand the end game you are going to get lost.  We are here to become Gods. Unfortunately in our discussions of The Plan, we leave this key piece out a LOT.

There’s someone who wants us to forget that key piece.  Someone who is glad we just leave our Sunday School answers at “getting a body” or “being tested.”  Usually my class can come up with who: Satan. But why? He wanted to be a God, he wanted to be the only God, and his ultimate-power ku was thwarted.  And now he hates you. HATES YOU. Why? Because you have the chance to have a body, a life, and ultimate power (because of that body and the life you choose to live).  He hates you for it. He wants you to squander what you have. And here is the interesting thing: he often gets us to.

Usually we think of squandering our lives as “sinning,” or making hugely negative choices that impact ourselves and others.  Today I want to consider a “small and simple” way we all fall short from time to time. Being present.

  • Have your children ever talked to you and you weren’t really listening?
  • Have you ever been in a conversation with a friend while one of you was on their smart phone?
  • Have you ever been somewhere and been too preoccupied to see the beauty?
  • Have you ever binge watched Netflix, or looked up and realized you had just been on Facebook (or another social media outlet) for hours?
  • Have you ever checked out of your life long-term because it was too hard or painful?

If you’ve experienced any, or all, of these (I certainly have), you have experienced not being present in your own life.  Here is an extreme example. When I was first married, for my job I was in charge of a dorm building full of boys. Online gaming was fairly new.  We struggled to get the boys out of their dorm rooms and into interactions with other human beings and living life. They would stay glued to their screens for sometimes days, skipping classes, meals, and human interaction.  Some of those games allowed them to create a complete online life with a dream wife, dream job, dream car, dream house, etc. Others simply allowed them to create false self-worth through worthless or meaningless leveling up achievements.  They had “no life,” no substantive relationships with self or others, and some of them flunked out of school, as they continued to grasp for this false world. This is the epitome of not being present in your own life. It is so sad to consider, and yet each of us do it in small ways every day.

Satan does everything he can to keep you from living in your own body.  He wants you to live your life without really living your life. He wants you to complacently allow life to pull you in whatever direction it will.  He does not want you to live consciously. A few scriptures come to mind that illustrate this point:

  • “Behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.”  —Mormon 5:18
  • “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prosperity, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”  —2 Nephi 28: 21

Not living presently and consciously keeps you from your potential, from becoming a God.  When we live our own lives, there are innumerable blessings.

We truly see. We see the beauty around us: beauty in the world, beauty in others, beauty in humanness, beauty even in pain.  We see ourselves as we are, and others as they are.

We live in reality.  We live in our lives as they really are.  We don’t live in a fantasy of what we hope they would be, or in denial of what is.

We connect.  Life=Relationships with self and others.  This is why when we say someone has “no life” we are referring to them not getting out and being with other beings, or at least truly being with themselves.

  • We connect with ourselves.  This means we discover ourselves, who we really are what our particular body, mind, and spirit need in general and at any given moment.  We learn to choose consciously in all aspects of our lives. We have more power to create physically what we have created spiritually in our minds, or to use yoga language, we have more power to manifest through our lower chakras what we have envisioned in our upper chakras.
  • We connect with others.  Connection with others is essential, and I don’t mean through screens on Facebook or even email.  Interpersonal connection, face to face and voice to voice, when your energy touches someone else’s, produces hormones of well-being, security, and happiness.  We think we can just text or email or Facebook for connection, but those essential hormones are not released. We have to BE with someone. As I practice being present in my relationships I find myself stopping what I’m doing to get down on my children’s levels and listen to them.  I find myself turning off my phone, or leaving it in another room to have a meaningful conversation with my husband, or a friend. When I’m in public I look to smile at and converse with those I come in contact.

Conscious living takes effort and produces growth, authenticity, deeper relationships, and more love.  We choose our choices and create lives we want to live in. We feel serenity and peace and are grounded and centered.  Ultimately we become perfected through the work we do in ourselves and with others in moving toward charity/love and purity.  Because God works through natural law, this space of BE-ing is the space of ultimate power. Scriptural reference? “Thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:46).

Airplanes and Buffalo

**Note:  This post contains doctrinal concepts from The Church of Jesus Christ, to which I ascribe. Take what you like, and leave the rest.

As I was thinking today about betrayal trauma, and other things that pull us away from serenity, I thought of the analogy Dieter F. Uctdorf once gave of an airplane going into turbulence.  He said that while one might think it would be a good idea to rush through and get it over with faster, usually the appropriate course of action is to slow down.  He said this was true also of our lives. We tend to think when life gets busy or stressful that we should speed up and get through. To avoid damage or crashing, the wise course of action to avoid damage is to slow down, to focus on the basics, and the things that matter most.  (He defined these basics as our relationships. Relationship with self, God, family, and others).

This morning, as I was doing my sun salutations during yoga, breathing, and putting on essential oils, I reflected on how connected this is to the truth found in yoga and other mindful, whole-body practices.  These practices teach us to slow down. But why? Why is this an eternal principle and one found in these practices?

When we slow down we become more aware, more present.  We are living in our own skin. We become grounded and centered.  We wake up to our own emotions, choices and will, our capacity to love and receive love.  We become able to speak our truth, to listen and follow our intuition, and are more connected to the divine.  And we become aware of the blocks created within us that stop our full access to each of these things, from emotions to love, to divine connection.  (This is the epitome of a relationship with self, and opens a relationship with the divine, or God). If you follow the practice of yoga, and have an understanding of chakras, this will sound very familiar to you. If you don’t, it is still obvious the great blessing each of these things are in our lives, and their importance most especially in the times of stress, busyness, or pain.  Just in writing this I can feel my whole body deeply sighing in relief.  This is truth. This is what I want and what I work to achieve every day.

Another great benefit of slowing down is that we learn to go through rather than run from our pain and experiences.  In 12-step literature there is a story of an individual watching a herd of cows and a herd of buffalo on the plains. A bad storm rolls in.  Each herd reacts differently. The cows run away from the storm, while the buffalo stand their ground and hunker down, gathering their babies by their side.  It may seem like the cows had the right idea, but you can’t outrun a storm—all that happens is that you are in the storm much longer. The Buffalo put their heads and shoulders down and lean into the storm.  It is over much more quickly for them. Going through stress or pain is not the “roses and butterflies life” in which we’d sometimes love to bask. It is difficult. But when we breathe through those experiences, feel them, and are present with them, we don’t get stuck forever in a storm we are trying to outrun.  I’ve worked with many, many people who have run. At times in my life I have run. I didn’t know a different way, and neither did they. And we have paid a price. We have paid a price in emotional health, physical health, and/or our serenity and peace. When we run those we love also pay a price as we either abandon them to the storm as we run, or try to control them to lessen the effects of the storm on us.

As someone who has gone through hard things as a mother, and someone who wants to be fully available to nurture others, living consciously is an invaluable tool.  To consciously live, to stay present, to be aware of my needs and the needs of my family members and hold space for them as the mother buffalo did is truly nurturing for both myself and others.  This is my relationship to family and others. This is how I can truly be connected to them, because of and through my connectedness with self.

Finally, to tie it back into doctrine, Satan, or the adversary, doesn’t want us to be present with our lives.  He doesn’t want us to consciously live. Conscious living takes effort and produces growth, authenticity, deeper relationships, and more love.  All things he’d rather we do without. And with that background knowledge, it is no wonder that societal trends are moving away from those things toward more busyness and less connectedness with ourselves and others.  He’s convincing us that we are cows: that running away from ourselves and real life is the answer.

I’d rather be a buffalo.

Healing Comes With Safety

For those healing from Betrayal Trauma, one of the first things that needs to be assessed is their current emotional safety.  If they are not emotionally safe, nothing we do in therapy will be very healing. This is one of the reasons I believe that couples therapy is often not useful very early in the recovery/healing process.  The betrayed spouse needs to develop boundaries, and the betraying spouse needs to find some emotional stability and sobriety. Both of these are necessary for them to hold space for the third entity, the relationship, which includes the pain and issues both people bring to it.  Individual healing and recovery must occur to the point where couples are in a space to work on the relationship. Therefore, couples therapy is indicated either when that individual healing and recovery is underway, or when there is a need for conversations as a couple in the development of safety and healing (such as working out the setting of specific safety boundaries, or determining together what “recovery” or “sobriety” looks like as defined by the couple themselves).

The analogy I use is that of a PTSD war vet.  No one would ever conceive of convincing a war veteran to heal and work through his PTSD before he has left combat (technically at that point he wouldn’t be a veteran, but you see the point).  The trauma is ongoing. There needs to be a level of safety present before healing can be attempted. For the betrayal trauma spouse, that safety is boundaries.  

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