Trauma In The Body

In working with clients with trauma, I talk often about the effects of experiencing trauma and holding unprocessed trauma in the body on the body and physical health. Trauma affects all parts of the mind and body and unprocessed trauma can manifest as many physical illnesses and symptoms. The “bible” of my practice is the book The Body Keeps The Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and I recommend it to anyone who has experienced trauma in their lives.

I work with adult women with trauma and have found that unrpocessed trauma presents in their bodies in repetitive, similar ways. The symptoms and illnesses they have are repeated from client to client to client. In my experience, women hold unprocessed trauma in areas of their body that can be tied directly to their trauma some of the time. Such as a client with sexual abuse can have body issues represented in their reproductive and genital regions that result in symptoms and illnesses related to those areas. But not always is it tied directly to the area of trauma and not all trauma people experience is physical. A great deal of trauma is emotional and mental that can represent in the body in all sorts of ways.

However, most of my clients present with similar body presentations related to their unprocessed trauma experiences. Neck, shoulder and upper back pain is almost universal. Very tight neck and shoulder muscles, sometimes as hard as rocks, resulting in back pain related to these tightened muscles. Another almost universal presentation is headaches, many times migraine headaches. Most of my clients experience some type of headache on a daily basis.

Sleep issues are also almost universally common. They can range from not being able to go to sleep, not being able to stay asleep, waking up often in the night, dreams and nightmares. Many of my clients state that they d not have restful sleep and always feel tired which then affects how they feel in their entire bodies over the course of the day.

Digestive issues are also very common among my clients. These issues can range from irritable bowel syndrome, to poor absorption issues, to ulcers, to eating disorders and more. Most of my clients state that they have some sort of digestive issue and many are on medications for those issues to try and manage them but they are still present.

Reproductive issues are also a common issue. Everything from difficult menses, to extreme PMS, to ovarian cysts, PCOS, and genital area issues such as repetetive yeast infections and unexplained pain. Many of my clients struggle with fertility issues and issues with intimacy.

Musculoskeletal issues are also very common. Unexplained body pain, inflammation, soreness. Issues such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are very common. My clients often say that their bodies just hurt all the time and there is no diagnoses just the pain.

The ongoing hypervigilant state of many people with trauma also contributes to a constant fight or flight anxiety that their bodies experience all the time. This state leads to an increased production of adrenaline and cortisol that affect many of the body’s areas and systems.

Many people will say that these types of issues are common amongst all sorts of people, which is true, but my belief is that most people have some sort of unprocessed trauma in their lives that leads to many of these issues. It is too repetitive and too often repeated from client to client to client to be coincidence or just something people have.

Again, I highly recommend that people read Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book if they have experienced trauma as it is so very helpful to understand how what we have experienced has affected all of our bodies and minds. Trauma in the body is a very real and often very painful thing and understanding why and beginning to work to process the reasons can improve not only our mental health but our physical health.

Until next time be well.

Time To Start

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Here we are another new year on the horizon. Another chance to start working on ourselves. Many people see it as a time to work on their oustide self by losing weight, getting in shape, changing their looks, but perhaps it is our inside self that we should focus on now.

Often times when clients come to see me for therapy they say I have thought about coming to counseling many times but was just too afraid to start. Starting therapy can be a very scary process. It can be overwhelming to think about opening up to a stranger about the most intimate details of your life and thoughts. It can be very scary to face our fears over possible judgment by the therapist.

Many times people feel that working on the outside is more important after all that is what other people see. The inside is hidden. Many times people can feel that they have the inside under control. They can convince themselves that the inside is not affecting them in any real way. In my experience this is never true. We cannot shut down unprocessed trauma it just finds new ways to take up residence in our lives.

When people are asked what are their resolutions or goals for the new year inevitably they relate to external things. How they look, their jobs, educational pursuits, finances, relationships are usually at the top of everyone’s lists. A lot more rarely do people talk about changing their relationship with themselves, their trauma, their negative thoughts and beliefs. That is often too personal and too challenging an idea for many people.

Unfortunately, most people also do not realize that not addressing the inside has everything to do with how the outside functions. If the inside is a mess, the outside will be also. The two are joined. The outside of you holds everything together on the inside. If the inside is not functioning in a healthy manner the outside will not either. And not just your body but everything outside will be in disarray.

This new year why not choose to work on the inside of yourself. On your trauma, your thoughts, your beliefs. Focus on the inside to affect the outside of yourself and your life. Make an appointment for therapy, go to that appointment, and stick with it even when it gets messy and hard. Keep your focus on making the inside of you happy and healthy.

There is no time like the present to start.

Until next time be well,


Grateful Choices

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Being grateful is a choice. It is a conscious choice that you can make in every moment of every day. Most people are too consumed with negative thoughts and beliefs that are automatic to find room for being grateful. That is where the choice part comes in.

Waking up every morning and making a conscious choice to be grateful with your first thoughts. Grateful to wake up. Grateful to be alive. Grateful to open your eyes. Grateful to see, feel, hear, smell. If you cannot see, can you hear? If you cannot hear, can you feel? Even if you have things going on that are not completely “normal” there are still things you can choose to be grateful for.

If you become aware, truly aware of what you are able to experience every day, you will find things to be grateful for. But it does require awareness and pushing the negative away so that the grateful things have a space at the table in your mind. It is so much easier to stick with the negative it is already there in your mind. It is ingrained. It is conditioned. It is automatic. Being grateful can become ingrained, conditioned, automatic but you have to work at it.

Every single thing that you do, see, hear, feel, taste, smell can be a point of gratitude. Do you realize that if you did that for each of these things in just one day, one hour, one minute how much joy and gratitude you would be able to experience? On a slow day, tens or hundreds of things. On a busy day, thousands or millions of things. Millions of points of gratitude. Just think about it.

If you spend only a miniscule part of your day choosing to be grateful instead of letting negative automatic thoughts and beliefs run the show, you can have a huge impact on your brain and your life. But what if you did it for the bulk of your day? Imagine the effect on your brain, your levels of serotonin and dopamine, and on your life.

What can you be grateful for right now? In this moment what can you choose to be grateful for? I will do my moment right now. I am grateful for my ability to type and compose blogs. I am grateful for my warm fuzzy cover. I am grateful for my laptop. I am grateful for my laptop pillow. I am grateful for fiber internet and streaming sports. I am grateful for coffee. I am grateful for the beautiful sunshine and fall leaves outside. I am grateful for a full night’s sleep last night.

I could keep going because if I stop and think about it, become aware of it, there are an endless amount of things I could be grateful for in a single moment in time. If you stop and think about it, be aware of it, you too would probably have an enormous list in just a moment’s time. Imagine what it would be like to have it for all of the 86,400 seconds in a single day. That is a lot of gratitude.

Start today, right now, what do you choose to be grateful for and keep it going.

Until next time be well,


Positive Focus

Most people in therapy do not react positively when it is suggested that they focus on the positive. To many, it seems like an oversimplification and that combatting life long trauma and negative beliefs cannot be that simple. It is not simple, but it is absolutely effective in combatting negative beliefs and trauma conditioning.

It is not simple, nor is it fast. Many people who come to therapy want both. A simple and quick solution to their problems. Likely, it is a combination of our society now where everything is easy and quick to get with just a click of a mouse or an app on our phones. The other part of the combination is that people just want their issues to go away like magic. Processing trauma and conditioned responses from trauma is work and nobod wants that.

The one thing people forget in all of this is that your thoughts are your life.

Whatever you think is how you will live your life. If you think you are not valued, not worthwhile, not lovable, not smart, not pretty, not able to love yourself this is exactly how you will live your life. It will be how you engage in every relationship from those points of view. It will be how you experience everything.

Negative thoughts and beliefs will impact every aspect of your life. Not only do they impact how you feel, but they also impact how you think others feel about you. Your responses will be guided by your thoughts and beliefs. Every decision will be based on what you think that gets translated into how you feel that gets translated into what you do.

Every negative thought and belief has an equal, absolute positive opposite you just have to be aware and find it. You have to be aware of the negative things you think and believe about yourself. The things you say to yourself repeatedly every day. If you stop and think about them you will know what they are. Your brain is intimately familiar with them. Ask yourself, what negative things do I believe and repeat to myself. Write them down just as they come to you word for word.

For each one also write down the absolute positive opposite. The brain works in absolutes. It absolutely believes you if you say I am not valued enough. It cannot differentiate between a lie and the truth or in this case conditioning and the truth. It will only believe what you tell it. If what you believe and think is I am not valued then the absolute positive is I am valuable. Absolute positive opposite.

You must come up with these for every negative thing you think and believe. Write them down. The next step is to incorporate them into your life. The incorpoation involves saying them, repeatedly and often. Saying them when the negatives are there. Putting them where you can see them repeatedly every day. Where you brush your teeth, on the refrigerator, at your workspace, as reminders on your phone. Say them often and with belief in them.

How long will it take for you to replace negatives with positives? There is no measurement to fit every person. For each person it is different, and it depends heavily on that person’s investment in doing the replacement. How long did it take you to get where you are right now with the negatives? A long time I would guess. But by being aware and noticing the differences that happen when your brain starts to incorporate and believe the positives, you will be able to move the process along.

Positive focus is a powerful force that can change your life forever if you are willing to invest the time and energy.

Until next time be well,


Never Too Late

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Many times my clients will feel and say that they think it is too late to change their lives. They can be younger or older but because they have lived in conditioned states from trauma for years of their lives they feel that it is too late to do anything about it. They feel that it will just be too hard and take too long to change anything.

It is never too late, unless you no longer are breathing. If you are alive, there is still time to make changes in how you think, feel, respond in your life. Change can take time and it can seem like progress is very slow but every small step forward is progress.

The first piece of change is deciding that you want to change things in your life. That is a huge step forward. It is the step that propels us to all others. Deciding that living as you have always lived is no longer acceptable to you.

The next step is to seek out ways to start building in those changes. Changes in what you think, feel, believe, and the ways in which you respond to events and people. How can those be accomplished? Sometimes, we can find those ways ourselves and other times we need help to find them. Help through mental health counseling, life coaching, behavioral therapy, addiction treatment and more.

Reaching out for help can be one of the scariest things we can do. To talk to someone we do not know about the most personal things in our lives can be very frightening. To push past those fears and keep moving forward is one of the bravest things anyone can do. And it can be crucial in affecting the changes people seek in their lives.

Once people are on the path of help, moving through the changes of acknowledgement, awareness, and acceptance can take time. Sometimes, it can take a lot of time, but it can be done as long as you are still alive and breathing.

It is never too late to live free of the conditioning of past trauma. It is never too late to replace negative beliefs about yourself. It is never too late to start building a new life of positive beliefs. It is never too late as long as you are alive and breathing and there is no day like today to start.

Until next time be well,


Magic Fix

It is not often that I have clients who think therapy will be a quick magic fix for their problems. Many times, clients come in thinking this but after a few sessions they quickly realize this is not the case. Every now and then though I do have one who finds it hard to let go of this belief and that can make things even more difficult for them.

Many of the clients who cling to the quick magic fix are those who have spent the majority of their lives in control mode or avoidance mode by way of control. They often believe that they can “fix” any problem by controlling everything around it or by applying control so that they can avoid the problem and pretend it does not exist or affect them.

They can spend years of their life thinking that they are strong and that all the trauma they have experienced has no affect on their decision making or responses. In fact, just the opposite is true. Their control mechanisms and avoidance is a response albeit one they have chosen and reinforced.

However, control and avoidance does nothing to process through the problems. They continue to affect them whether they realize it or not or more to the point choose to acknowledge what they know to be true. The only way to let the past stay in the past is to process through it, accept that it happened, and then retrain the mind to think and believe differently in order to awaken who they truly want to be.

If however, they continue to hold on to the idea that a magic fix can happen or that they can somehow just magically fix the issue without the actuall processing part, they will be very disappointed. Sometimes even angry and depressed at the realization that this is not possitlbe. That all the years they spent believing they can fix or control anything has been a lie.

They typically do not want to do the processing work and find it extremely uncomfortable. They think that to acknowledge and accept that they cannot control or fix makes them weak and vulnerable something they believe they must avoid at all costs to protect themselves from further trauma.

The only way is through with acknowledgement and acceptance and then work on changing long held beliefs. It is the only way to real freedom from past trauma. A magic fix is not possible.

Until next time be well,


Focus Your Reality

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Your focus determines your reality. Where you direct your mind is where it will go. I also believe that when you focus in one direction or become hyperfocused in one direction, that your mind will manifest more similar things to focus on. The result is the creation of a wormhole that creates tunnel vision of the mind.

Most people never notice where they are focusing until it is too late. The wormhole is already created and they are stuck in it creating ever more similar focus thoughts until escape seems almost impossible. The mind follows directions from you. The mind does not direct you to think things, but it sure will help you out if it thinks that is what you want to think about.

If you direct your mind to think you are anxious it will follow through with that directive. If it then believes what you say is true, it will offer supporting evidence of anxiety related thoughts that it has on file from previous thoughts you provided. It will show them to you like little nuggets of anxiety fuel. See this, see that, you said this is how you feel when you are anxious. You said this is what you think when you are anxious. You said this is what kind of things make you anxious. And because this is where you are directing your focus, you manifest more and more thoughts and more and more anxiety.

It is the same with negative thoughts, sad thoughts, low self-esteem thoughts. The wormhole starts small with one thought and if not confronted, it will cascade into every thought until you are trapped. But most people are not able to see the first thought clearly enough to stop the cycle. If they could, the wormhole would also be stopped.

The wormhole does not always consist of negative things or inherently negative things, but hyperfocus can create a kind of blinders where we are unable to see anything else outside of it. If we are hyperfocused on work many times the rest of our lives suffer. We have less time for family, friends, or self care.

Being focused on good things and positive things can result in the same type of wormhole but it can be of benefit to us. If we wake up and focus on a single good thought and direct our brain to focus on good thoughts, we will with the help of our brains manifest more good thoughts. I always get push back from clients at this point that the negative thoughts still come into the mind. The only answer is to push back on those thoughts. With words, with thoughts, with actions.

Confront negative thinking the moment it occurs. The most effective confrontation for the brain is immediate, absolute, positive replacement that is repeated and reinforced. Negative thought – I am not good enough. Positive replacement – I am enough. Negative thought – I will never be happy. Positive replacement – I can be happy in this moment. You cannot say the positives just once and think that solves it. They must be repeated and reinforced as often as is necessary to replace the negative thoughts that are already entrenched in your brain files.

And this is where clients give up. It is work to replace the things that have been created in your mind by trauma in your life. Notice I did not say created by you. Everything you think about yourself was created by someone else, by something else, you were born a blank slate and taught everything else you think you know about yourself. It is work to replace those things. It is work.

Where is your focus? Where do you direct your mind? If you can recognize the thoughts you can confront them. If you are willing to work.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Socrates

Trauma Responses

In my work as a therapist, I have come to believe that everyone I have encountered has experienced trauma in their lives. I believe also that most people in the world have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Trauma can be anything that affects someone in a negative way that then causes them to form beliefs and responses as a result. All trauma is personal and what some might view as a minimal experience the person experiencing it can view it as something much greater – to them.

Trauma responses which are formed as protection, or assumed protection against further trauma, then become what people view as their “personality traits” for individuals and as “family traits” for families. However, they are in fact, responses to trauma which continue with each passing day that the trauma is unprocessed. These responses lead people to react and interact with others in a variety of ways depending on what their trauma assumed as protection.

The four main responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses then lend themselves to a broader list of other protective responses that get incorporated into our lives and relationships.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed trauma version of fight, the assumed protection responses can be anger, aggressiveness, need for control, perfectionism, bullying others to get what is wanted, narcissism, taking energy and time from others without considering how they feel about it. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to control situations and people to feel safe or to push them away with anger and aggressive behavior to again feel safe.

In unhealthy or unprocessed versions of flight, the assumed protection responses can be escaping or avoiding, seeking avoidance in substances such as alcohol and drugs, avoiding responsibilities, avoiding being out of your comfort zone, escaping or avoiding relationships that are uncomfortable, moving from relationship to relationship. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to escape situations and people to feel safe.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of freeze, the assumed protection responses can be numbing our feelings and needs, being stuck, dissociation, detaching from everything around us, shutting down, not attaching emotionally to others, isolating, suppressing our feelings. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to not feel or think about how we feel.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of fawn, the assumed protection responses can be putting all our needs aside and focusing on the needs of others, co-dependent relationships, people pleasing, trying to fix others, having no boundaries, not saying no, being used by others. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to please others.

If we can identify the responses we have assumed to protect ourselves from further trauma, we can acknowledge it, name it, and understand why we are continuing these repetitive patterns of behavior. In this process, however, we must start with the root of these responses which began where our trauma began. This will likely require an investment in individual therapy to process and move through the trauma so that we can reorient our responses and change them along with changing ourselves.

Until next time be well,


Everyday Mindfulness

The world seems to be filled with chaos of all kinds. Every minute of the day we can be bombarded with words, images, feelings coming from all directions. Chaos exists in the things we want to control but cannot. We can expend an enormous amount of energy trying to desperately control everything around us and be consumed by what we see, hear or experience in the world. Mindfulness allows us to calm ourselves and focus our energy on the present moment inside our own mind and bodies. Mindfulness allows us to be proactive instead of reactive and allows us to have margin instead of being overwhelmed. Mindfulness can be accomplished in a variety of ways including meditation, paying attention to your body and your thoughts, focusing on your breath, active listening, and acceptance of the present moment among others. Hopefully, these quotes can get you started on practicing everyday mindfulness.

Practice mindfulness daily, make a habit of it and find your way to less chaos and more peace.

Until next time be well,


Stressed Out

The main subject my clients have been sharing lately is that they feel very stressed out. They feel that everything around them is in some sort of chaos. From family life, to work life, to road rage, to being way too hot because it is summer and on it goes. Stress seems to be the top emotional state for most of them currently.

In our society, whenever the economic picture starts to look stressed people soon follow. The cost of fuel has impacted the cost of everything else, which leads to a lot of stress for many people. The more they are impacted by this situation, the more stress they feel. If they are already struggling to make ends meet then adding additional costs can make it where some feel they must choose what they spend their money on even down to choices of putting off bill paying to pay rent or buy food.

When people start to fear their economic security, it impacts how they feel about being safe in the basic needs of life – food, shelter, security. This kind of fear and stress will then seep into every aspect of life. They will find they have less margin for family, friends, and work and certainly not enough peace for self care for themselves.

To add to this economic fear, there is the unsettled political climate in our society. It seems that no matter what side of any issue someone is on, there is always something to be upset about or worried about. Something to fear and be anxious about. Something to cause stress. And this is added on and makes things all the more difficult.

When people feel this kind of stress, they can become very easily emotionally charged. It can be that something so seemingly small as misplacing something can turn into an all out come apart because the underlying stress is so great. Some small thing with family can turn into a huge argument because that underlying fear is much larger than we realize.

So how do we manage in these situations that we have no real control to exert. We cannot change the price of fuel, food or anything else. We cannot change political issues very quickly because it takes time to have elections or to lobby for changes. And we certainly cannot change the weather. What can we change? Ourselves and our responses.

It is not that easy to change ourselves and our responses when we are afraid. We must acknowledge that we are afraid and admit what it is we are afraid of. We must realize what we can and cannot change about these fears. We must know what is going on right now – what do we have right now that is still safe. We must realize that nothing stays the same forever – costs will change and they will go down at some point, politics is an ever shifting landscape, and the weather always gets cooler eventually. We must believe that we can survive this moment in time and staying in control of our responses and emotions will only serve to make things easier.

Until next time be well,