August 2019Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via eMail Share on LinkedIn

From the Editor

Welcome to the August edition of Breaking Free.  This month we publish the second part of our two-part series which looks at the challenges of parenting with a complex trauma history.  We continue to explore strategies to help support parents through the journey of raising caring and independent young people.

Our Self Care Resources article discusses compassion and self-compassion. It suggests techniques that you can engage the next time you feel yourself judging and criticising your perceived shortcomings.  With the right support and practice, these skills can develop over time.

We have a busy few months coming up with lots of opportunities to be involved.  The dates for Survivor Workshops have been set and bookings are now open.  Power Threat Meaning Workshops are also filling quickly, so take the opportunity to participate in this insightful and practical workshop if you can.

Also, Blue Knot Day isn’t far away and we are finalising details which will be published in the coming month.  There will be plenty of ways to get involved and help share the message of “Untangle the Knot of Complex Trauma”.

Until next time, if you have any comments about what you have read in this issue, contributions for the My Story section, or suggestions for future issues, please contact the editor at newsletter@blueknot.org.au

Warm regards
The Blue Knot Team


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Book recommendation


Waking The Tiger - Healing Trauma. The Innate Capacity To Transform Overwhelming Experiences. Peter Levine Ph.D. with Ann Frederick. 1997
 

Peter Levine believes that each of us has a great capacity to heal ourselves with support of family, friends and counselling. In his book Waking the Tiger, Levine offers a hopeful vision of trauma recovery. He explains how old cultures that use rituals and shamans to heal trauma may use primitive and superstitious practices, “but they have one important advantage – they address the problem directly… most modern cultures, including ours, fall victim to the prevailing attitude that strength means endurance; that it is somehow heroic to be able to carry on regardless of the severity of our symptoms…(ignoring the gentle urges to acknowledge and heal the pain).”

When ignored …”the traumatic effects will grow steadily more severe, firmly entrenched, and chronic… frozen in our nervous systems like indestructible time bombs… real heroism comes from having the courage to openly acknowledge one’s experiences, not from suppressing or denying them.” (p62-63)

Levine describes a series of exercises that can be tried at home inviting the reader to develop self awareness and recover sensations by developing an understanding of felt sense which is the foundation of somatic experiencing therapies. These easy activities are excellent for family and supporters of survivors. 

Later chapters discuss the human instinctual healing forces that are shared with our primitive past stating that “nature has not forgotten us, we have forgotten it.  A traumatised person’s nervous system is not damaged; it is frozen…rediscovering the felt sense will bring warmth and vitality to our experiences.” (p86)

In addition the book discuss the human response to threat, the unified defense system - fight, flee or freeze. Freezing being the more common response for children experiencing trauma and abuse – Levine discusses the cumulative effects of freezing. This helps explain how many survivors will sometimes live with unresolved trauma until their middle or older adult years at which time they may be triggered into an overwhelming response that brings all of the past trauma experiences into the foreground, requiring immediate attention and treatment. 

In this book Peter Levine explains: “Somatic Experiencing is a gentle step-by-step approach to renegotiation of trauma.  Using the felt sense… it is akin to slowly peeling the layers of skin off an onion, carefully revealing the traumatized inner core.”  Levine acknowledges that this process is very slow and can run over many years. He recommends to seek support with a counsellor trained in somatic therapy. The process is not explained in the book however many counsellors in Australia have trained in this area. Some can be accessed by calling the  Blue Knot Helpline and asking the counsellor for their details.

Levine goes on to describe and explain many of the very common symptoms of complex trauma  - hyperarousal, dissociation, and helplessness.  He provides a series of easy exercises that explore these symptoms so that everyone can get a sense of what they feel like. Later he discusses the larger list of possible symptoms and how they affect physical and mental states.

This book is recommended reading for many callers to the Blue Knot Helpline and anyone who wants to explore the premise that trauma is part of a natural physiological process. Levine normalises the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal. 

Waking the Tiger is full of interesting information, case studies, stories and reflections. The book can be purchased here.


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Survivor Workshops

As a result of the generosity of our supporters and the success of our EOFY campaign and other donations, Blue Knot Foundation is excited to announce that we will be scheduling survivor workshops, 1 in each state and territory of Australia.

Melbourne 12 October 2019
Townsville 30 November 2019 
Adelaide  29 February 2020 
Launceston      14 March 2020 
Perth 18 April 2020
Canberra 23 May 2020
Darwin 20 June 2020

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

Due to high demand, the Sydney workshop has been filled by those on the waitlist and we are looking to schedule another Sydney workshop as soon as possible.  We will advise when the next date is confirmed.

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IN THE NEWS

Pell's Freedom Bid Rejected

For many survivors a conviction being upheld against a high profile once powerful perpetrator underlines faith in the justice process and the possibility of speaking out. Believing the victim in this case sends a message to so many other victims that what happened to you mattered and will now be more likely to be believed than ever before.  Read more


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Church digs in on confessional disclosure of abuse

Whatever justification Church authorities present to support this stance, the continued suggestion that the Catholic Church is above the secular law of the society in which it operates is unfortunate to say the least. Survivors of the widespread clergy abuse which is substantiated unequivocally by the recent Royal Commission, Catholic parishioners, and society at large will draw their own conclusions on this.  Read more


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George Pell takes his case to the high court

According to reports, the disgraced Cardinal has instructed his legal team to push forward with a last-ditch effort to clear his name.  Read more


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Howard Stern talks childhood trauma, and a trauma psychiatrist talks about its lasting effects

With the awakening in society of the importance of mental health, combined with advances in neuroscience and psychiatry, much needed attention to trauma and childhood trauma is slowly forming. In a recent interview with Anderson Cooper and in his latest book published on May 14, Howard Stern discussed childhood adversity and trauma.  Read more


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Challenges of Parenting with a Complex Trauma History – Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series about the challenges of parenting with a complex trauma history. Part 1 appeared in the July edition of Breaking Free.

Building self esteem 

Many survivors struggle with the way they feel about themselves. Feelings of self-blame, guilt and shame are common and can continue from childhood into adulthood. If you feel like this you may struggle to care for yourself, identify your needs and attend to them.  It can help to find support to enable you to develop greater compassion for yourself, and to learn how to better meet your own needs, so you can meet your child’s.

Developing compassion for yourself, will help you become more empathic to your child. Children develop their sense of self through their interactions with their parents. Your body language, tone of voice, words and actions can play a big role in helping your child to develop their own sense of worth. It is important to be as honest as you can when interacting with your child – praising and rewarding them when they deserve it and reassuring them when they make mistakes.  Loving our children doesn’t mean that you always love what they do. A part of any parent’s role is to help your child to feel okay about learning and developing skills and this includes making mistakes. One of life’s certainties is that we continually need to learn and develop throughout our lives.  Building comfort in making mistakes and acknowledging them, and the capacity to learn and develop new skills and ways to approach issues is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

Modelling the behaviours and attitudes you want to see 

Many survivors of childhood trauma have not learnt to regulate their emotions as effectively as they might. This can be because their own parents didn’t have these skills or were not able to help them develop them. If you experienced anger and aggression, or your caregivers showed little interest in you, or withdrew from you, you may find it useful to seek some support so you can build the skills you need to manage your own emotions. These are skills people can acquire at any age with information, insight and support. 

Many survivors hope to raise their children differently from how their parents or caregivers raised them. Children learn from you just as you did from the adults in your world. Think about the ways you would like your children to develop and approach their world and model those behaviours. Whatever we focus on as parents will grow and develop in our children. If we focus on their deficits these will grow but if we focus on their strengths and resilience, these will grow instead. We don’t always get it right but if we are kind and compassionate to ourselves  and approach parenting in a way that we are continually learning and growing skills, we can reflect on why a rupture in the relationship occurred and problem solve how we might do it differently next time. Treat your child as you wanted to be treated when you were a child, with compassion, empathy and understanding. But also, at times, as the parent who creates boundaries and protects and takes care of your child. And remember that there are lots of books, programs and services which can support you to build your own skills, for yourself and for your child.

Learn how to set reasonable boundaries

You may have grown up with no limits or alternatively have been left to your own devices. Or perhaps you grew up with harsh, violent or chaotic discipline. You may have grown up with a combination of both, never knowing how your caregivers were going to respond. Because of this, you may struggle with setting boundaries. Getting support around this can help you reset your understanding and practice around boundaries, for yourself and for your child. Part of this is setting reasonable rules. When you are creating boundaries it is important to be kind, firm and understanding. When your child has behaved in a way which is not appropriate there will always be reasons for this. Understanding this can help you respond fairly rather than punitively and help them learn for the future. 

All parents need to help their children learn the difference between right and wrong. This means setting consistent limits but also being adaptable and flexible. We need to be flexible around giving more freedom as our children move through their developmental milestones. This is the basis of good parenting.  

All behaviour has a meaning and children’s behaviour expresses a need that the child can’t clearly articulate.  Understanding your child’s basic needs in a particular situation helps the child feel heard, cared for and understood. It doesn’t mean that we can’t ever say “no” to children or direct them but it does mean that we understand what the child needs in relation to this boundary setting. This is attachment-focused parenting and there are many program, books and services that can help you understand this process and develop these skills.

Good communication and flexibility are important

When you grew up you might not have had any explanations as to why you had to do something a certain way. Like you, all children deserve to understand why they are expected to behave a certain way or need to comply with your rules. Children want and deserve explanations just like adults do. If we don't explain things, our children will question our motivation. 

Let your child know what you expect and if your child doesn’t meet your expectations, work to understand what your child needs in the particular situation, and how they feel.  Help them settle some of their distress first before letting them know why the issue is important and work on a solution with them. This can include consequences. Make suggestions and offer choices but always be receptive to your child's suggestions too.  If your child’s behaviour repeatedly disappoints you, you might need to review your expectations, as well as your understanding of your child’s needs. Reading relevant books and information can help, as can speaking with other parents. Be flexible, as different children behave differently at different ages.  Each milestone brings with it different challenges for parents. Be open, adaptable and seek help and support when you need it.

As a parent, it is your role to guide your children as they become more independent and learn. You will have to confront your child at times but when you do, be gentle. Avoid blaming or criticising them as this can undermine their developing self esteem. No matter what happens, show them that you love them regardless. And that you are with them on the journey of developing knowledge, relational skills, emotional intelligence and independence.  At the end we want our children to be competent, connected, contributing, caring independent young people in the world.

 


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Self Care Resources

Compassion and self-compassion

Having compassion for ourselves is really no different to having compassion for others. When we show compassion, we can see that another person is suffering in some way and feel moved by their experience.  When we feel compassionate towards another person, we feel warmth, caring and a desire help and support them.  
When another person is compassionate towards you it helps you to feel understood and to experience a sense of kindness and non-judgement towards your circumstances. There is a sense that as humans we all make mistakes, or don’t know the way at that point in times, and the other person provides comfort and care.
Self-compassion is really no different. This article discusses the ways in which we can start to be compassionate with ourselves and move away from judging and criticizing ourselves for our perceived shortcomings. 

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

Childhood trauma and self-compassion

When those who care for children are not attuned to a child’s needs or if a child grows up in an environment that isn’t psychologically, emotionally and/or physically safe that child can grow up without the opportunity to develop the skills they need for some of life’s challenges. Children learn about themselves through their relationships with those who care for them. If the messages that the child receives about themselves and their self-worth are harsh, critical and judgemental, the child can and often does internalise those messages. Those messages can become fixed beliefs over time. We call this negative self- talk and it can mean that the child can find it difficult to be compassionate and caring towards themselves as they grow up.
Many survivors struggle with a sense of feeling worthwhile and good about themselves. However, with the right support and practice these skills can develop over time.

Self-Compassion

Being compassionate to ourselves is as important as being compassionate to others.  Many people who have experienced childhood trauma find it easier to be compassionate to others, than they do to be compassionate towards themselves. Self-compassion  means that you honour and accept your humanness and this means accepting that you will make mistakes, fall short at times and have limitations. However, this is a shared human experience that doesn’t define you as a person.
For many survivors, self-compassion is very challenging. It takes time and practice to begin the process of opening your heart to being kind to yourself, understanding that you are human and taking a balanced approach to managing the  negative self-talk developed in childhood and the emotions and patterns of thought that accompany them.

“The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish” says Kristin Neff, the pioneering self-compassion researcher, author and teacher.

Neff and her colleagues have conducted research over the past decade. The results show that “self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives, helping us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation… The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.”

The first place to start is to acknowledge that for many of us, it doesn’t come easy. Being kind to yourself builds self-compassion and a sense of wellbeing, and little steps can be the way to go. Here are some suggestions that you might like to try and remember - everyone’s different, and if it isn’t the right time for you to start, that’s okay too.

Mindfulness

The state of mindfulness is a way of paying attention to what is happening in the present in a non-judgemental manner. It is a skill that we can develop over time. It can teach us to be more self-aware as well as less reactive to negative events. Through a mindfulness practice we can become aware of the times that we have critical or harsh thoughts about ourselves and others and make choices about how to manage these patterns.
 
With mindfulness and awareness, you may start to notice not only how you typically judge and criticise yourself but also become aware of the language that you use. You might then start to reframe your language to be more kind, supportive and understanding, remembering that you are human, acknowledging your vulnerabilities and flaws a take a continued learning approach to life. What can I learn about myself in this situation and how can I be more understanding and curious about why this happened?

Compassionate breathing

Start with finding a comfortable and safe place, either sitting or lying down. You may

fluff your pillow/cushion, pop another one under your arm
place a warm rug on your lap
move your chair
stretch your arms
turn on some soothing music, dim the lights, light a candle
Place one hand on your chest/heart space. 

Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice where you feel your breath. Some people feel it in their nostrils, perhaps a cool breeze on the upper lip. Other people feel the rising and falling of their chest. Others feel their breath in their abdomen as their belly expands with every inbreath and contracts with every outbreath. Gently explore your body and discover where your breathing is easiest to notice. Just stay with your breath for a while – when you notice your mind wandering bring it back to the breath.

Some people find it easier to pay attention to just their inbreath or their outbreath. Just let your body breathe for you and notice how the breath moves through your body. Now place your hand on your heart for a moment to remind yourself that you will be bringing kind attention to your breathing. Be aware how your breath nourishes you whether you are paying attention or not. It has been with you from birth and has sustained your life wherever you go. If your mind wanders gently bring it back to the breath with gratitude and appreciation. Rest in the experience of your body and when you are ready gently open your eyes.

There are a number of strategies that people may use to help develop self-compassion aside from mindfulness and self- awareness. These include:

Healing Heart Activity

Place one hand on your chest/heart space. Consider perceiving your hand as a ‘healing hand’. As it rests on your chest you might like to notice your breath. Perhaps this calms the mind for a few moments – spend a few minutes getting really comfortable. You might place both hands on your chest and notice the difference between one hand and two. You may make small circles with your hand. Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and out. Linger with this feeling for as long as you like.

Nurturing Yourself

Prepare a drink or some food which you might find comforting and which is healthy– maybe a cup of tea, bowl of porridge, hot chocolate – do you have a comfort snack? You might like to write a list of comforting foods and keep it handy for times when you might need a reminder to be kind to yourself.  Make sure that these are not only comforting but also health promoting and nutritious. Notice when you are eating or drinking these and bring your focus on the gratitude you feel for this nurturing that this food/drink is giving your body

Practice Forgiveness

Accept that you are not perfect and be gentle with your shortcomings. Understand that you don’t have to be a certain way to be worthy of love. Some people have sayings that help them and remind them about this, such as: “There is no sense in punishing your future for the mistakes of your past. Forgive yourself, grow from it, and then let it go” Melanie Koulouris

Employ a Growth Mindset

There is a lot of research about the impact of our mindset on wellbeing. Viewing challenges as opportunities to learn and grow rather than obstacles to enhance our wellbeing.  

An Island of Calm

“Self-compassion provides an island of calm, 
a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive & 
negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop 
asking, ‘Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?’ 
By tapping into our inner wellsprings of kindness, 
acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, 
we can start to feel more secure, accepted, and alive.
It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime, 
but at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax,
allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. 
It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.” 

Kristin Neff

Read a full article by Kristin Neff about the benefits of self-compassion. 

Remember you are worthy of love and care. Next time you feel yourself not rising to the expectations you have for yourself, pause and take a moment to reassess by using some of these techniques or others with which you are comfortable.


 

 


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Book now for Power, Threat, Meaning Workshops

This unique event will be delivered in Perth and Sydney by Professor David Pilgrim straight from UK. David Pilgrim is Honorary Professor of Health and Social Policy, University of Liverpool and Visiting Professor of Clinical Psychology University of Southampton.

This one day workshop presents robust research from biology, neuroscience, and trauma studies, and marries them with social science and psychology to explore the dynamics of power, the threats power imposes, our responses to those threats and the meaning we, as individuals, and as a society have made of those responses.

This framework complements and extends existing models to foster a holistic understanding of people's thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions. This evidence suggests that if we know enough about people’s relationships, social situations, life stories, and their past and current struggles, including trauma and adverse life events, then we can make sense of these experiences. And that if we also think about people’s strengths and supports, we may be able to come up with new ways forward.The Power Threat Meaning Framework supports the acknowledgement of prior and ongoing trauma including working towards culturally safer environments.

Registration Fee is $385 and includes a complimentary copy of The Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview (138 pages). Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea is included in the cost. Present your registration ticket on the day to collect your complimentary copy.
   
Blue Knot Foundation is hosting workshops that will explore how power operates in people’s lives, the threat it poses, the responses people have and the meaning they make of it to offer new ways forward. Attendees from all backgrounds are welcome.  If you missed out last time, now is your chance to participate in this insightful and practical workshop.  If you are interested in reading about the framework and are unable to attend a workshop, the publication may be purchased here.             


Perth

Sydney
Date and Time
Friday 1 November 2019         
9:30 am - 5:00 pm AWST
Date and Time
Wednesday 6 November 2019
9:30 am - 5:00 pm AEDT

 
Location
Adina Apartment Hotel
33 Mounts Bay Road
Perth  WA  6000


Location
Aerial UTS Function Centre
235 Jones St
Building 10, Level 7
Ultimo  NSW  2007
 Book Perth Now  Book Sydney Now
   

 


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Blue Knot Day

Blue Knot Day 28th October 2019Monday 28th October 2019

Our 10th annual national Blue Knot Day, a day on which Blue Knot Foundation asks all Australians to unite in support of adult survivors of complex trauma is fast approaching. This year the sails of the Opera House will be illuminated in blue to mark the occasion, to help raise awareness around the foundation and embody the theme "Untangle the Knot of Complex Trauma".  

There will be a number of ways you can take part and show your support on the day.  

  • By holding an event in your workplace or community
  • Sharing through social media
  • Purchasing Blue Knot Foundation merchandise 
  • Making a donation

We will also be holding other events throughout the week including an Interfaith Service.  Details are currently being finalised and will be published in the next edition of our newsletter. 

Regular updates and information on how you can take part and support Blue Knot Day will be published on our website.

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Disclaimer - Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.