Have you ever heard people say, “you have to love yourself first before you can love anyone else” or something like that?
I’d agree with this for sure. But then again, I see people in relationships who are still obviously in process with their own wounds and lack of self-love. Hhhmmm.
And hold on, what kind of relationship am I referring to hear? Of course, the first assumption is romantic. And that’s what I meant. But it’s a trick. A trick to get you to open and read even though you’ve got other things to do. A trick that makes you think I’ll expose my deepest darkest secrets, and I still might. But in fact, I'm not in 'a' relationship, I'm in many.
Do I love myself? Some days. And I’ve learnt to embrace the idea of this as a priority. But it’s a practice.
Yesterday we had a professional development day and a woman who was an expert and influential person in the child safety/ child protection area ran a session. I fell in love with this woman. Compassion, intelligence, style, power. Wow. I know who I want to be like when I grow up. (I know, I can’t be her, I can be my own unique version of awesome! But still.)
OK, but back to the point. She talked about trauma informed practice. She referenced research into the effect of trauma on the nervous system. The younger the child, the more spongy the brain, the bigger impact the trauma. In utero trauma = biggest impact.
And that’s me. I know this story. The nervous system gets built in a hyper-alert state. Always on guard for danger. Agitated, anxious, nervous, permanently freaked out. The smallest “trigger” or perceived threat will tip us over the edge. What I learnt yesterday was that another response to trauma is that the nervous system can go into a hypo-alert state. Too off, rather than too on. Non-functioning, disengaged, morose, mute. Hhmmm, that’s me as a pre-teen right there.
Some people will say that this impact is permanent. But it’s not. Research shows that the brain is plastic up until the day you die. That doesn’t mean it can change overnight. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can impose harsh consequences for traumatised kids dysfunctional behaviours. In fact, any kind of punitive reaction will be experienced by them as intense trauma.
So a couple of things come up here. How do we support them to change? And how do we respond to their problematic behaviours? Same answers. Be kind. Be safe.
If they’ve never had safe before, they’re going to expect you to give up on them, to react harshly to their dysfunctional behaviour, to judge. That’s the point of understanding this stuff. “Hold space” is an overused term but it’s relevant here. Be a safe place. That’s how change happens. Repeated safe experiences over extended periods of time change the neural pathways. Safe relationships with adults over long-term periods. Change happens.
Without that experience the capacity to connect and build healthy relationships in adult life is seriously jeopardised.
And then there’s personal capacity for action. Change happens when new neural pathways are experienced repetitively over extended periods of time. Relationships can do this. So can anything that calms the nervous system so that a person can experience safety. Mindfulness, being present in the body in the moment, breath, nature. Repetitive practice. Extended periods of time. Kinesiology has also worked wonders in my life. It somehow magically switches off that constant fear state I’ve lived with almost my whole life. Reprieve. Even with all that repetitive practice. It still takes work for me.
So I’ve gone completely off track from what I sat down to write about. Which always happens. I thought to write about the Reconciliation Week dinner I went to on Wednesday and the challenge and importance of building relationships with our Indigenous community. I thought to write about the challenges and gifts of friendship. This is a huge topic for teenage girls to navigate, and for me. And there’s so much I could say about the value of support from my women friends and the frustration I still feel when I interact with women who want to compete. I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t want to be better than you. I’m totally happy to celebrate your success without feeling I’m in a competition I never signed up for.
I wanted to talk about the sense of connection and commitment and vulnerability I feel in my work relationships, and the priority this has in my life. I wanted to talk about the love that it’s possible to experience, and that I do experience with men and women friends and family in my life that’s so fulfilling and important. And the process of letting go of the judgement and stories of ‘should’ and concepts of success and failure in romantic/ partner relationships.
I wanted to talk about the conversation we’ve started with the Mirrawoong women in the East Kimberley about running a Mother Daughter Rite of Passage program up there in May 2020.
Oh well, I’ve run out of space now. But I’ll keep you posted.