Here’s the next part in the series that began here: Preventing Our Children From Developing Demons (And Healing Our Own).
Please remember these things as you move through the information in this post:
1. 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.)
2. 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.
There are two aspects to healing the Connection Survival Style: reconnecting with our body and bodily sensations; and connecting with other people in a healthy way. Even relearning to recognise the difference between thirst, hunger and tiredness can be difficult when we have shut off our connection to our body, so go easily on yourself if you think you have this Survival Style!
Interestingly, I have discovered two things since the last post. One is that I can’t over-hydrate when I keep in touch with what is going on in my body. The lovely Sarah was concerned about the huge amount of water I began rehydrating with: and what really happened was that after a few days of super-hydrating I could no longer tolerate the amount I was consuming. Once I had rehydrated, by body told me to slow down. So I slowed down and am now drinking around one or two litres of water a day, as is recommended by most medical people. The other interesting thing is what happened when I combined the nose-belly breathing with exercising (not breathing through my mouth at all): I massively increased my stamina and sensations of ease, while exercising, while pushing myself harder than I have for a long time. After about 10-15 minutes on my stepper there was a noticeable relaxation in my lungs and heart-rate despite a faster rate of work and a greater amount of sweat.
So on to the next five things to help us to reconnect with our bodies and with others. Although we need other people to complete these tasks, the positive effects are not just about increased interpersonal connection but also about increasing our connectivity with our bodily sensations.
7. Eye-Contact. Yes, I am aware there are many cultural norms around eye-contact – but as I have said before, biology over-rides social expectation. The biological and automatic results of inappropriate eye-contact are the same regardless of our intentions or what our culture tells us is acceptable. Heller and LaPierre talk about ‘surge’ as the intense sensations we can experience when emotional connection happens. Eye-contact is a great indicator of our ability to manage this surge. By learning to have warm and non-intrusive eye-contact with others and at the same time, consciously tuning in to the sensations our body experiences (tightness in muscles or viscera, breathing changes, changes in heart-rate, changes in skin temperature) we can begin to integrate connectivity in a useful way, which is also somewhat healing.
8. Touch. Warm and affectionate touch is wonderful for the purposes of reconnecting and emotional healing. For some of us interpersonal touch is very challenging and if we tuned into our bodily sensations, we would even say it was creepy or irritating. The inability to tolerate warm and affectionate touch is not healthy. However, just as our desire for touch can be turned off, it can also be turned on again. The really important aspect of reconnecting anyone’s touch need is to move at a manageable pace. When I was reconnecting our eldest son’s need for touch, I couldn’t just leap on him and start being intensely affectionate as it would have turned his touch need off even further. I had to quietly sit next to him and tell him I was available for cuddles and let him come to me. He was three years old at the time, now he’s a highly affectionate and lanky 10 year old who often sits on my knee and snuggles, completely without self-consciousness – even in public. Massage can be useful but in very small doses with someone who is touch aversive. Again, our son at three and four years old hated massage, now he loves it.
9. Playfulness. The ability of us as parents to put our own agendas aside and play with our children is so important for great interpersonal connection. This means, the children are the leaders, instructors and creators of the games and we join in as the followers and do what we are told to do. These sessions don’t have to be long, and I certainly tell our boys when I’ve had enough or I have to go and carry on with my daily chores. But I also see how much taller they stand during and after a play session and any worry lines on their faces also seem to ease. To be truly connective, I suggest loads of warm and non-intrusive eye-contact and a dash of mischief. (Even very small children call learn the difference between mischief and naughtiness.)
10. Tickle-Fests and Rough and Tumble (with warm and non-intrusive eye-contact) are specific playtimes where all three of the previous ideas combine. The very important key to success with these is that the physically weaker people have any requests to stop (even if these are just very short pauses in order to catch their breath) treated with respect. As soon as the more physically capable person pushes those boundaries these become disconnective experiences rather than connective ones.
11. Rituals with other people are the last key to reconnecting with our bodies and with others. They are familiar and comforting events during which we don’t have to think consciously about what to do. Our ruminating and anxious conscious brain is somewhat taken off-line and we experience relaxation and contentment, particularly when we are completing the rituals with people we care about. Eating together as a family without any electronics on at least for breakfast and the evening meal, are a good place to start. Religious rituals can be immensely soothing and connective. I have created some seasonal family rituals as we don’t affiliate with any formal religion and we have some weekly and monthly rituals too. For example, when I go out for my Cackle Club meetings once every three weeks, Craig and the boys have a movie and popcorn evening. Daily routines where more than one family member is in the vicinity could also be considered rituals.
The other aspect of reconnection we can use to help us reprogramme our brains, is to focus in on a person or pet who was our safe-place in the past. By consciously bringing to mind the sensations of comfort and connection we experienced, our brains can find solace and begin to strengthen those synapses. The other memories and bodily sensations, which will emerge when we begin to do this, can be acknowledged, experienced consciously and released. Just keep focussing on the warm and comfortable memories. Then, the old positive times of connection can become our new template for living well. Cool, eh?