If you’re new here, this is part four of a series that begins here: Preventing Our Children From Developing Demons (And Healing Our Own).
In order to protect the essential relationship with our parents, those of us with a Connection Survival Style had to give up a certain portion of our sense of existence (depending on how severe the disconnection was), that is we had to disconnect from the sensations in our bodies and relationships in order to become invisible. Our degree of invisibility kept our parents, somewhat, within our emotional/physical reach. By not threatening (with our biological and unconscious needs) our parents more than they could manage, we kept the attachment relationship present – even if it was an unhealthy or unsatisfying relationship. This was an automatic survival strategy over which we had no conscious control. And it worked, we survived.
A key to the NeuroAffective Relational Model is that we acknowledge the past and that our survival styles were useful to us as infants and children, but concentrate on moving forward now that we are adults and those survival styles have morphed into self-imposed prisons. (This is the term Heller and LaPierre used and I thought it was a useful analogy.)
As with all the information I present in this series, if you think you many have experienced severe trauma or you find yourself overwhelmed by some of the exercises I suggest – PLEASE seek help, ideally from someone who is trained in NARM or Somatic Experiencing.
Connection Types used emotional and visceral/muscular freezing to survive. When we begin to unfreeze it can be terrifying. Numbness is more familiar than the sensations (of energy surging) within us and it is frightening to feel again – even small surges of sensation can be upsetting. Connection Types suffer from one or many common modern diseases: depression, asthma, allergies, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, migraines, panic attacks and so on and so on. It is likely we are a Connection Type or a responding to life with this survival style if we are compulsively involved in an activity that is blocking/protecting/denying us true emotional/social connections. Cleaning is a good thing, manic-hectic-continuous cleaning is not. Reading is a good thing, reading and studying to protect/hide us from the world is not. Work is a good thing, manic-hectic-continuous working is not. Completing any task well is a good thing, perfectionism is not. Gambling, smoking, shopping, boozing, eating, not eating, busy-ness and so on are all indicators that we probably have a Connection Survival Style to some degree. If you want to address this shadow issue, read on – otherwise, have a great day.
At all times, please, go slowly and allow months to integrate these exercises into your life before moving on to the next series of exercises. These are my suggestions based on the information presented in the book.
I have 11 key ideas for reconnecting ourselves and our children. I shall cover the first six in this post. These are in the order I suggest you bring them into your life, not the order I DID bring them into my life. Had I known different, I would have done things different – you all know how that one goes!
1. Water. One of the biggest confusions uz modern people have is knowing the difference between our thirst, hunger and tiredness. These are also three areas that we can all address without too much stress or strain, which is why I suggest introducing these first. I am currently drinking a load of plain, boring, uncarbonated, unflavoured, uninteresting water a day. (Between 4 and 8 standard sipper-bottles.) This is far more than is usually suggested by experts and no, it’s not easy and yes, I do pee a lot. A. Lot. The reason I am drinking so much is that I haven’t drunk a lot of water for a long time and I suspect I am chronically dehydrated. I have no idea if I am or not, as my thirst/hunger/sleep awareness has been pretty messy for a long time. I am on day six of this exercise and now am becoming aware of my need for water rather than food. I am beginning to connect to my body’s need to be properly hydrated. If water quality is an issues and you can’t afford that amount of bottled water, you could boil tap water at night and store it in the fridge for the next day. I have cut my coffee consumption down to two perked cups and one instant cup a day and drink nothing else. Wine o’clock weekends might have to be missed for a while.
2. Food. I have spoken about menuing and automating food before. It just makes life more easy and makes it more likely that I stick to the plan. Our bodies need good food. Really good food. We need it regularly and we need it in a way that keeps our blood-sugar levels even. A combination of The Zone diet and Paleo eating is calming – I’m not getting into discussions about the healthiness of these diets over others. The reality is the combination of always (every snack and meal) eating some protein, mostly veges/fruits as carbs and a little good fat (nuts, avocados, olives, fish-oil), as suggested by Dr Barry Sears, does keep our insulin levels even. Even insulin levels means we can more easily stay calm and in touch with the other sensations in our bodies. And for goodness sake, eat before you go to bed. (Make it low-sugar yoghurt and a few nuts and you’ll lose weight too.)
3. Sleep. It’s been said a million times before, but here it is again: our bodies work best when we go to bed at around the same time each night, sleep in a pitch black room (where we can’t see our hands in front of our faces) and wake and get up at around the same time each morning. I have discovered it is the getting up at the same time each day that keeps me in tune with my sleep needs more than the going to bed at the same time each night, but I have no idea if that is true for everyone.
4. Posture. We can’t solve our issues by just improving our posture but interestingly, we cannot solve them at all if we don’t. Posture is a key to reconnecting with our bodily sensations. The best instructions I have heard for doing this is to keep thumbs facing forwards and lift our rib-cages up – by doing these two simple things our posture is altered for the better.
5. Learn to breathe properly. Seriously. The more efficiently we breathe, the more likely we can remain calm and connected to what we are actually feeling. We are meant to take around 8 breaths per minute, but I’ll bet few of us do (you can’t test it yourself, but have to get someone to do so when you don’t know it’s happening). The way to re-jig breathing patterns is to breathe only through your nose and in such a way that you can lift books up with your tummy when lying down or without moving your shoulders when standing or sitting. The real magic happens at the end of exhaling. There is meant to be a decent pause then before our lungs automatically inhale. The longer this pause is, the more efficiently we are breathing. This is what I am working on at the moment and it is odd to actually feel my lungs working properly. I am coughing more as they have to work harder, but I am feeling a whole lot more energetic and better within myself for the effort. I am consciously working at sleeping on my side and with my mouth closed too. The more efficient my sleep breathing, the less sleep I need… Children naturally breathe more frequently – 12- 20 times a minute for 5-10 year olds moving towards that magic number of 8 breaths per minute the older they get. Children learn their breathing patterns from their parents too. Sigh.
6. Exercise. Yawn. I know. The more efficient our breathing the more likely we WANT to exercise. (See, I told you my breathing is pretty inefficient.) Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates give us the best of both worlds here, but some sort of cardio is probably useful too. The reason we need to exercise is to both release tension and to make our bodies more efficient at eliminating waste. If you are a Connection type you have a lot of stored energy in your muscles that needs to get out – just don’t make exercise the next manic activity that you use to avoid emotional connection. We can also feel our muscles more, the more we use them. If you can exercise for a decent amount of time while breathing only through your nose you are doing it right and you are off my Christmas Card list for being such a show-off.
In all seriousness though, if you can introduce these things and keep them as part of your life for the rest of your life you will go a long way to reconnecting yourself to the sensations in your body. We’re making changes for life here, so the more we can make our habits good ones the better off we’ll be in the long run.
Expect that the more you reconnect, the more disturbing memories will pop into your consciousness. The easy way to manage these is to allow the pictures to fill your head, and let the sensations that come with them fill you without forcing them away. Again, if it’s all too much, please seek professional help.
You can introduce all of these concepts easily into your children’s lives simply as an approach to healthy living. If they have memories that are unpleasant they are possibly going to tell you all about them. Often their interpretation of events is different to ours: this doesn’t make anyone wrong.
Good luck, don’t rush and pop back soon for the next installment.