Sometimes We Have To Break Up With Our Family

If you ask someone why family is important to them you will often get an answer that conveys no actual information.

“Because family comes first”

“Because you only have one family”

“Because blood is thicker than water”

It seems most answers to this question boil down to simply, “just because it is”.

To me, this kind of unquestioning acceptance points to the importance of our family of origin as something deeply coded in our genetic heritage and our collective consciousness. Like all such programming (like the need to look to an external authority figure for truth and guidance, the desire to fit in with the crowd and be accepted, even the unquestioning acceptance that death is inevitable) this belief is something that is worthy of deeper examination.

I believe the importance we place on our blood ties has grown out of millions of years of evolution, during which being part of a tribe was essential for survival. This tribalism came first, but the strong attachment to a nuclear family unit came later, when we started to exist less as hunter/gatherers and more as communities formed of families who tilled the land, raised animals, and depended on each other to accomplish all the domestic tasks necessary for survival. The tribe (now the village or town) was still important, but gradually the family of origin became more about informing our identity and sense of belonging, rather than something we needed to survive.

In addition to that, family actually IS vitally important in helping us form a healthy nervous system and all the mental, emotional, physical, and social skills that grow out of that.

But that only happens when things go well.

We are supposed to receive secure attachment and healthy modelling from our primary caregivers. We’re supposed to receive unconditional support, love and acceptance from them, from our siblings, and our extended family, all of which sets us up to thrive in the world. We are supposed to have our basic safety provided for and our authenticity celebrated such that we can discover our own unique place in the world and the gifts we have to offer.

But today, at least in most of the industrialized world, such healthy upbringing is the exception rather than the norm.

Today it is much more common for parents to be stressed out, overworked, exhausted, and traumatized. Industrialized society and the demands it places on us have set us up such that now there is generation after generation of unresolved trauma and suffering that gets passed down both through genetic tendencies and the dysfunctional behaviours and relational styles that reinforce and perpetuate said genetic tendencies.

This…has nothing to do with love. Love is not nearly enough to raise healthy humans.

A mother may love her child and yet be so filled with her own suffering that she is unable to attach to that child in a secure way. A father may love his child but be unable to master himself and keep from lashing out when his own unresolved trauma gets triggered.

Both parents may be relatively healthy, but simply uninformed about what’s necessary to cultivate a healthy human system, and unaware of how simple acceptance and the passing on of cultural norms are plenty to traumatize a child and set them up for a lifetime of problems. Such norms could include:

  • Children should be seen and not heard
  • Don’t express emotions that may be uncomfortable for others
  • Be polite by repressing your basic biological functions (crying, passing gas, sneezing, etc…)
  • Circumcision and other non-essential surgeries are good ideas
  • Spanking, time outs, yelling, and other forms of toxic shaming and controlling tactics are ok
  • It’s ok to be glued to your cell phone while spending time with your baby or young child (and really, it’s never great to be glued to the ‘ol screen during any time that is meant to be spent relating with others)

These are just a few of the ways a human can get messed up.

Then there are those that have been so harmed themselves they have become sadistic, psychopathic, sociopathic, and/or narcissistic and yet still end up having children; those who have no filter whatsoever and who will torture their own children or stepchildren without a second thought. Not to mention families bound up in oppressive religious systems or cults, where the entire community is toxic and abusive.

This entire range of dysfunction; from those who are simply ignorant and stressed, to those who have become an embodiment of evil and sadism, is much more the norm in industrialized society than a well-informed, securely-attached, healthy family system is; and yet that inherent belief that family comes first, that family is the most important thing and must be held on to at all costs, has not fundamentally changed; and in my mind this is a big problem for those who want to break the cycle of trauma and arrive at a place of true health and vitality.

* * *

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.  

– Albert Einstein

If we have been traumatized by our family system and are determined to heal we MUST start to consider the ways in which we think about the world, relationships, and how we have been formed by a need to adapt to and survive our family system, and that they are probably not very accurate.

We also must consider that if we want to address these problems then we are most likely an outlier – often we will be the only one in that family system who wants to change the dynamic – and the rest of our family will usually have a STRONG desire for us to NOT challenge that system.

If we are aware of the trauma and dysfunction it may seem crazy to us the rest of our family is not.

And it will almost certainly seem crazy to them that we want to go a different way! Those who are deeply attached to a dysfunctional family system will feel (usually unconsciously) their very survival is being threatened when one member tries to break the patterns and establish something new for themselves, and they will often employ every trick in the book: shaming, guilt-tripping, gaslighting, anger, threats, bribes, to try and keep that outlier hooked in.

If this is the case for you, if you are ready to change and heal and you find these dynamics of control rising up in your family system in an attempt to keep you hooked in, then you have a choice to make.

What is most important to you? Your health and sanity? Or attachment to the very system that caused the problems in the first place?

I am going to very blunt here – if you are not willing to renegotiate your attachment to the toxic system that harmed you, and/or to adult relationships that have been formed from the same cloth, then you will not be able to heal.

This doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties forever and never look back, there are a variety of ways for you to approach creating a safe container for yourself which I will get into below, but you will have to risk the possibility of permanent estrangement when you set a boundary, because the response you get may necessitate stronger action.

There needs to be a willingness to take the chance your relationship with your family system, or other toxic relationships, will not be able to survive your efforts to heal and care for yourself, because sometimes that is what happens.

Hopefully your family system will be able to support your boundaries even if they don’t understand them, or perhaps you will have to cut ties completely for a time but later on you may be able to establish some good repair if it seems warranted.

* * *

When a mammal in the wild has mounted a survival response in their system, for example – the flight/flight response has kicked in to escape a predator, they will stay in that survival response until they reach a safe haven.

Only once their system is able to sense, at a biological level that they are safe, will it allow that survival energy to be released.

The same is true for us. Only for us it is usually not one event that needs to be released from our system, it is often decades of recurring traumas and chronic stress. Nevertheless, the same paradigm is true for us; it takes much longer and is much more complex a process than simply shaking out a fight/flight response, but still, in order for healing at the nervous system level to happen effectively and be integrated, it MUST be supported by a safe environment and safe relationships.

That environment needs to be safe at a biological level; this means it must actually be safe! This means we cannot stay in an abusive living situation and simply tell ourselves we are safe. Instead we must create a safe haven for ourselves that our physiology is able to sense as real.

This creates a really complex situation for many people and I want to address this first because it is so tricky: there are many cases where a person’s system has become so damaged by unresolved trauma that they end up financially dependent on the very people who caused the problems, and in many cases they are still living with their abusers. I wish I had an easy fix for  this kind of situation but there simply isn’t one that I know of, although there are things that a person in such a situation can do to start moving towards health and healing.

  • First, if possible, find a different living situation. Living with a different relative who you have a better relationship with, or a friend, or even government-subsidized housing, may all be better options. I understand though, that sometimes none of these are possible.
  • If you must live with your abusers then start working on your boundaries, both energetic and practical. Energetic boundary building can mean a couple things. One way is to start tapping into what is referred to as Healthy Aggression, which you can read about here. Another way is to practice visualizing a sphere around you that is filled with your own energy (this is supported well by Healthy Aggression work) and that no one else’s energy is allowed in that sphere unless you decide.
  • These energetic practices are well supported by practical boundaries – having a lock on the door of your room so that no one can enter your sphere without your permission, and limiting time and conversations with any dysfunctional family members you are living with. If you are able to practice and implement this boundary work it may be that you can create a small safe haven in your room and your physiology and psyche will start to recognize it as such.
  • Spend time outside of the house with friends and have regular appointments with a good therapist. If you can find a good Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in your area then that is wonderful, but many SE Practitioners provide sessions online. Even a good counselor, or well-attuned somatic psychologist, or free crisis line worker may be more helpful than having no support.

If you are able to live on your own, or with good people whom you resonate with and feel genuinely safe around, then that’s great and the process is simpler. The first thing is to simply set some boundaries with people you need space from and see if they are respected.

For example, if your mom calls you every week, tell her to stop calling and that you will call her when it feels good to you. With caller ID standard on pretty much all devices these days it’s easy enough to not pick up the phone even if she does still call, though if she persists this shows she is not respecting your boundaries and at that point it would be fair to inform her that if she does not stop calling you, then you will block her from your phone entirely.

If some member of your toxic family system has a tendency to just show up unannounced tell them that’s not ok and to stop it, that they must ask to come first. See what happens. If they respect your boundary, then great! If they don’t, then tell them again that they MUST stop or you will cut off your relationship with them entirely.

If they still don’t stop then tell them that you will file a restraining order and that they will be prosecuted if they don’t respect your boundary. This may seem extreme, but often just the threat of some kind of actual consequence will be enough to stop this behaviour and you may not have to actually carry it out, though you should be prepared to.

That’s the general gist. Start by employing boundaries that are clear and kind and see what response you get.

Tell them that you are doing this for your own healing, that it’s not meant to be hurtful towards them, but that it’s simply what you need to do in order to heal and that you would like to have their support. Often times this will do it.

I didn’t see or talk to my own parents much for about five years. They didn’t like it, but they respected it and now, after many years of good somatic, nervous system based healing work, I am able to have functional relationships with both of them. I still need to limit the amount of time I actually spend with them as their lifestyles and energies are still quite toxic to me, but I’m not triggered by them any more and I am able to maintain a connection.

In most cases where the abuse has been because of ignorance, unquestioning acceptance of societal norms, a chronically stressful lifestyle, or because of the parents’ own unresolved trauma, I think that maintaining some kind of connection, if possible, is the best choice, simply because of the archetypal power our parents have in our psyche and because without them we would not exist at all and we should honour that if we can. This can be super powerful!

It may be entirely necessary to cut communication for a time while we do our work. Repair is usually possible with people who have passed on this kind of abuse (the kind that is not outright sadistic), and they will generally be able to accept these kind of boundaries, even if they don’t like it.

However, in cases where the parents or other family members were unquestionably sadistic; when there were outright beatings, torture, molestation, rape, ritualistic abuse, etc…, all of which happens a lot more than one might think, there is probably no value at all in keeping any connection whatsoever.

Likewise, if our family members are more in the first camp and yet are unable or unwilling to respect our boundaries once we have set them, then I think it is appropriate to cut off all contact and sever our energetic ties. We may decide at some point to try and re-establish contact, or we may not, but it will be our choice.

Cutting off contact is relatively easy. Delete them from your contacts and block them from your devices. If they are in the area and insist on showing up physically then file a restraining order as I mentioned, or it may be better to simply move to a different area of the country or world entirely.

Severing the energetic ties though is not so easy, especially with parents.

Ritual can be very helpful in this regard. There is one member of my family who I had to sever my energetic ties with because even though they agreed to no contact, they were still attacking me psychically and energetically, which I am quite sure they were entirely unaware of, and therefore would probably never be able to change. I did a ritual of ceremonially burning all photographs of them with a strong intention of severing all ties at all levels. And yet that on it’s own was still not quite enough to fully free my psyche. For that I needed to do what is called Annihilation work.

This is a very powerful form of somatic/energetic work and it is, I believe, crucial in freeing ourselves from the imprints of our abusers.

You see when we grow up in an environment of abuse and we are unable to defend ourselves, we end up internalizing the energy of our abusers. These are the self-hating critical thoughts and voices in our psyche that can continue to abuse us long after we have no contact with the actual person.

That’s because these introjections, though they may have the face and voice of our family members or other abusers, are actually fabrications of our own psyche and energy. They must be destroyed such that the energy they are holding can be freed up and be used for for our own healing and creativity. I’ve written an entire article on Annihilation Work, and you can read it here.

* * *

My wife, Irene, recently wrote a great article on why everyone can heal, but not everyone will.

The main thing that keeps people from healing is a belief they do not deserve to, and this is only reinforced by staying hooked into a toxic family system, romantic relationship or friendship. That dysfunctional system is dependant on you NOT healing, because if you do heal, that will fundamentally change the system.

If you don’t already truly know this, that yes, YOU DO DESERVE TO HEAL, it is very important for you to give your psyche and physiology that message, and part of doing that should be setting boundaries or severing ties with existing toxic relationships.

The great thing is that when we do this and start to heal, then a whole different kind of relationship opens up to us; with others and, even more importantly, with ourselves.

Here’s to your freedom, and to your bright future; it starts by making the best choices for yourself now.

 

 

 

 

This Is When It’s Ok To Annihilate Somebody…

I’ve completely destroyed my abusers a few times.abf5b49a30efb1d9a80ac783452466d3

Stabbed, pummeled and stomped them into the ground. Blew them up in fiery explosions.

I’ve stood in victorious glee over their corpses, even though those bodies were sometimes members of my own family.

And, believe it or not, this was an act of the greatest compassion. Let me explain…

Of course I didn’t actually kill anybody! I’ve never even been in a physical fight of any kind in my life.

The most important thing to understand first is, that when it comes to trauma (and sometimes even when there’s no trauma involved at all), most of us have more of a relationship with an internalized version of people than we do with the actual people themselves.

Unless a person is a total stranger, we will usually have preconceived notions and memories about them – and even if they are a stranger we may have preconceived notions about their “type”, be it their skin color, religion, political party or other.

There is a great story about the Buddha that goes something like this….

A king and queen heard tale of this spiritual leader that had emerged, and about the work he was doing helping people learn to meditate. They decided to see for themselves what the fuss was all about and so travelled to where the Buddha was teaching, that they might learn from the great master.

They followed his instruction and passed through the many days of self-examination that he led them on and, at the end of those days, the Buddha called them together and asked them what they had learned.

The king looked at his wife and the queen looked at her husband and they both told each other that what they had realized, upon deep examination, is that they didn’t actually love each other. They only loved the versions of the other that they had created within themselves.

So often this is the case.

It makes sense, even though it isn’t particularly useful or truthful, to create a version of someone within us that we can “depend” on. Then we expect the other to behave in certain ways that support these preconceptions. Then, when the actual person’s behavior doesn’t support the avatar we’ve built in ourselves all hell breaks loose and we feel we’ve been betrayed. But the only thing that has been betrayed is our own expectations.

When a child is growing up in an atmosphere of abuse, where the caretakers are mis-attuned, or absent, or violent, or chronically stressed, it is almost impossible to avoid creating this internalized version, because as children we actually DO need our caretakers to be dependable, reliable and sure.

Unfortunately, when these self-created idols are planted and watered in such ground they end up being monsters.

They are behind the negative self-talk and persistent voices of self-hatred, or violent thought loops and fantasies about hurting others that we can’t seem to stop.

They are in the somatic feelings of shame and unworthiness, the feeling that we are somehow “not enough”, that we don’t belong, or don’t deserve to be seen.

They show up as the inner-directed violence that becomes depression, and the constant unseen threat that is anxiety.

They also have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual person.

Even though our abusers actually did DO those things, they are also fundamentally wounded, suffering people who didn’t know how to NOT re-enact the abuse or neglect that they themselves were subjected to. They are not monsters, simply humans who have not gotten the support and resources they need to work their own stuff out.

A lot of trauma work stops with this viewpoint. When a trauma survivor can get to the point where they recognize that their abusers were only passing on what they had received, that they were simply flawed humans struggling to find their way, when they can actually feel compassion and understanding for the ones that did them harm, this is considered a great victory and it’s often where the work stops.

And this is an important step, but unfortunately it does nothing to address the internalized version of that person that we’ve created in ourselves. This is where this very tricky and powerful work of annihilation comes in.

Before we go any further into this, realize this…. When it comes to responding to threat, your nervous system does not have compassion.

The wiring responsible for self-protection does not have mercy. Think of a mama bear defending her cubs from a cougar. She is not going to consider whether or not the cougar had a good childhood. She will kill. That is what her nervous system is wired to do and she doesn’t have a highly developed neocortex to get in the way.

Our nervous system is the same, but we do have a big ‘ol brain that gets in the way.

We do feel compassion and mercy and so we should! We need to have understanding and empathy for our fellow humans, often (but not always) even those that caused us harm – as I said, this is an important step. AND, we also need to let the full force of our pent-up rage and violence descend upon our internalized abusers with devastating and ruthless force.

We need to destroy our internal monsters so that they can’t hurt us anymore and, especially if our abusers are people that we still need to see and interact with, so that we can have actual relationships with those actual people in a way that doesn’t trigger us into total rage or collapse.

The first step in doing this is differentiating between the real person and our internalized version of that person.

One caveat – the following is especially important if the person concerned is someone that we still are in relationship with in some way, or that we still have to see on occasion, like a family member, spouse, or co-worker. If the person who hurt you was a stranger that you’ll never see again, then this step isn’t so important, but it still might be worth a try if it makes you feel safer about what comes after.

Please note that this may not be possible to do at all if there is still tremendous charge around whatever happened!

The following is pretty advanced work and I actually hesitate in sharing this at all. Yet, there are so many people walking around with internalized monsters that are slowly sucking the life out of them that my intuition is that sharing this exercise will do more good than harm. But please be aware that this is hard work.

If you feel overwhelmed already, if your pulse is already elevated or if you feel panicky in some way, if your breath is rapid or shallow or you just feel uncomfortable in some way, then please stop now and just sit with what you have already read for a while. Maybe read the rest of the article tomorrow.


Ok, if you feel ready to give it shot, try this….

See if you can imagine whoever it was that hurt you in a way that I’m going to call, “outside of time”.

You know what they look like, but see if you can imagine what they may have looked like, or been like, as a kid. What would they have been like if they had gotten all that they needed as a kid? What were they like in their best moments? See if you can get a sense of their fundamental essence that exists, eternally, outside of this particular slice of space-time – what is their color, their texture, their nature?

See if it’s possible for you to imagine their best possible self, because that is most likely closer to who they really are, outside of all the wounding they’ve experienced.

Once you get a sense of this more amorphous kind of soul bubble, see if you can imagine that bubble floating somewhere outside of yourself. See if you can imagine it simply floating in space somewhere, at peace.

From here on, if you feel your sense of unconditional love, compassion, understanding, or mercy starting to rise up, THIS is where you can direct that energy. Send it to that eternal, floating soul bubble and know that it’s going to where it needs to go.

Now, let yourself remember the hurt. Remember some of the really painful experiences that the person put you through and notice the image of the person that arises in your consciousness. Notice the feelings in your body – the constriction, sickness, numbness, disgust, or rage. Let all those feelings connect with the image of the person that arises from these memories.

Now see if you can notice these two different versions of the person. Go back and forth. Sense and feel that floating soul bubble outside of yourself, then sense and feel the dark, scarier version inside yourself. Back and forth, back and forth. Really notice the difference.

Ok, now let yourself understand that the scary hurtful version inside you IS NOT THEM. That is the avatar of them you have made in yourself, that is the monster sucking your energy, and making you feel afraid. It is NOT them.

If you can make this distinction and identify in your body and mind the different felt sense of these two experiences then bravo! You have a made a huge step in freeing yourself and that is probably plenty of work for now.

Feel free to stop here. If you feel lightheaded or disconcerted or uncomfortable in some way, then maybe come back to this exercise again tomorrow or the next day, keep noticing how you can notice the distinction between the internalized monstrous version and the eternal, best-self soul bubble version, and know that the actual human concerned, the one that has been your focus – in day-to-day reality they are probably somewhere in between these two versions.


When you feel ready to take this work further, first refer back to this older article on Healthy Aggression. Here is the link….sethlyon.com/healthy-aggression-the-way-to-un-frustrate-frustration/

Remember to pay attention to the slow unfolding of energy as detailed in the instructions in the Healthy Aggression article.

Do not force it.

Please read through the following completely before actually trying any of it. Then give it a go.

Read through the Healthy Aggression article again and when you get to the part with practical exercises, do them with the yucky, scary, internal version of your abuser in mind.

Let the snarl be directed at them. If sound emerges let it be directed at them – imagine that sound as fire that you can breath on them.

When you use the towel, imagine that it their neck you are twisting and breaking. Feel the strength in your hands, hear the bones breaking.

These specific exercises are just to give you a starting place, now consider what else you might like to do to those bastards. Blow em up? Stab them over and over again? Melt them with laser beams from your eyeballs. Your body knows.

When you feel compassion and mercy start to rise up to stop this process remember to direct it to their eternal self that is outside of you, then resume annihilating the internalized version with murderous glee.

Eventually, what we are going towards is for you to have the felt experience of standing victoriously over the beaten, bruised and bloody body of your internalized abuser. To really see their expressions of horror, helplessness and defeat, and feel the animal sense of triumph that the mama bear has when she successfully defends her little ones.

With this work you are actually defending and liberating your own internalized little one, the one who couldn’t defend him or herself at the time, when whatever it was that happened, happened. That younger you (the one who, incidentally holds your magic, your life energy, your purpose) has been waiting for the opportunity to let out all the self-protective aggression that has been sitting inside you; stifled and misdirected and making you sick.


This is hard work.

It goes against a lot of what we have absorbed from spiritual teachings about being compassionate and forgiving. But remember, even though the actual person who hurt you is a human being too, and even though they do deserve all those higher qualities, this isn’t actually about them. It is about the facsimile of them that exists in your own psyche and physiology. And that son of a bitch deserves no mercy whatsoever.

Be merciful and compassionate towards yourself by allowing yourself to annihilate these internal demons. Believe me, the real, actual people will not be harmed. In fact, when we destroy a monstrous version of someone else that we have built up inside ourself, it actually frees up the real person a bit because we are no longer holding the projections on them that they are that monster.

It creates healing for all parties involved, and the only thing that is destroyed is something that was never actually real to begin with.

Please feel free to contact me at seth@sethlyon.com if you have questions.

“your mind makes it real”

Morpheus, The Matrix

Healthy Aggression: The Way To Un-frustrate Frustration

shutterstock_136921490Jaws tighten, teeth gnash and guts churn. The mind races, marshaling its arguments, its justifications, we lash out with harsh words or we stifle it down and seethe silently which makes us sick.

Frustration, anger, rage.

There are many ways that we, as a culture, “deal” with these powerful emotions, ways that usually result in us either hurting others or ourselves, and so the energy of these emotions is never actually processed and transformed effectively into what it really is – energy. Lifeforce.

Why?

Why is it so hard for us to really understand and harness this energy?

For 300,00 years or more we evolved as a species under conditions that could not be more different that the ones we live in today. We hunted and gathered and roamed the world. The threats we faced were real and aggression, when it was needed to protect ourselves or others, could be channeled into smashing that saber-toothed tiger, or the invading human, over the head with our club. Simple.

Now we live much “safer” lives. We have technology, we have civilization. But are we really safer?

The steady rise in the different ways that our bodies have found to make us sick seems to suggest otherwise.

The rules and norms of polite society has made it unacceptable to bash people over the head, yet we still occasionally feel threatened just as we did 100,000 years ago. Only now, instead of actual threats that are in front of our face we usually have more persistent and subtle forms of aggravation to deal with.

Pollution and environmental degradation. Stressful deadlines and non-stop schedules. Hard, unyielding surfaces surround us and disconnection from all that is green, nourishing and soft in the world has become the norm. Not only these, but also the stresses and frustrations and power-trips of the people around us that also are marinating in this toxic stew we call society.

As a culture we value persistence and hard-headedness, practicality and no-nonsense achievement, the ability to push through and shove down “emotional weakness”. But at what cost?

When we live in a world that is by its very nature hard and unyielding, when we are disconnected from the subtle and soft, our insides also become hard and unyielding and we become disconnected from what is soft and subtle within ourselves. We ignore the messages of our body until it makes us sick and then we take a pill to try and “make it better”.

There’s got to be a better way.

Today I want to talk about how to actually transform, and not just “deal with”, the emotions and energy of frustration, anger and rage, which sometimes are a response to actual threat, but more often are the result of the body being ignored while marinating in a toxic stress-stew.

The pickle that we’ve gotten into is that, in order to function as a society, we really can’t go around bashing everything that annoys us over the head. Yet holding it in, taking a deep breath, “sending love and light” to the frustration – all of this will simply repress that energy and make us sick in some way.

So what’s the answer?

Healthy Aggression.

This is tricky work and when I work one-on-one with my clients I need to use all my tools to carefully guide them through understanding and transforming their rage… but it’s tricky because it’s so powerful. We’ve been told so often and in so many ways (especially if we are survivors of trauma) that it’s either not okay, or not safe, to express these emotions. So a lot of the time, at the moment this energy is cresting to its peak, there comes an equally strong, habitual shut-down response in order to stifle it.

It takes time and patience and skill to process this stuff in a powerful and effective way, to uncouple the rage from the shame and grief that so often are layered together with it like an emotional onion, and so I can only offer so much in the way of advice to the masses, but something is better than nothing.

It is possible for you to start practicing a couple things on your own that can start to change and redirect the habitual pathways of unhealthy externalization (lashing out, temper tantrums, road rage) and internalization (suppression, depression, sickness) that have become the norm.

Here are two tools for you to try out on your own.

* * *

1. Be the animal you are: Like it or not we are mammals. Human animals. Yes we have a big ‘ol neocortex that lets us do all sorts of wonderful things that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, but that big ‘ol neocortex is also what totally screws us up as it enables the stifling of our instinctive responses. One way to tap into the real power of aggression is to learn from our simpler, and much wiser, animal friends. Try this the next time you are feeling frustrated or angry….

Notice your upper lip and encourage it to lift up a little bit. Don’t force it, just help it along. If you are an angry mammal your lip WILL want to raise in a snarl, guaranteed, but if you force it to happen all at once (in contradiction to a lifetime of being polite and unconsciously stifling this response) you will be missing the organic urge that is most important. Just play with it.

Lift one part of you upper lip a little bit and see if a snarl wants to naturally emerge, notice how when that happens your eyes will also get involved – they will narrow and tighten (an evolutionary response to enable clear focus on the threat). Really allow and feel that fundamental expression of anger that wants to happen in your face.

Let out a little sound. Don’t plan it, just see what sound wants to emerge from your throat when you have your facial muscles mobilized in this way. Feel your face and hear the sound. Feel the energy that is rising in you.

2. Snap frustration’s little neck: Fundamentally, anger is a self-protective response. It’s the emotional part of the lifeforce mobilization that surges through the whole organism so that it can defend itself. It wants to hurt and kill. No way around it, the energy of self-protection wants to annihilate that which is threatening it or its young ones (think of a mama bear protecting its cubs from a predator).

Now, that unreasonable deadline that your short-tempered boss just hurled at you can’t be killed, and you really shouldn’t kill your boss either – not helpful. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t channel the energy that wants to attack in a useful way.

Try this – find a towel or a jacket or something that you can roll up into a thickness about the same as your wrist or forearm – thin enough that you can get a really good grip, but thick enough that your hands have to work a bit to grasp it. Grab that roll with your palms facing down so that you are holding onto it like you would the handlebars of a bike. Now, let all that frustration, all that anger, all that ENERGY into your hands. SQUEEZE! TWIST! MORE! Squeeze and twist that towel as if it were a neck you were trying to snap. It’s ok – it’s just a towel, your not going to hurt it’s feelings.

Do this in conjunction with snarl and letting out some sound. REALLY do it. Commit all that frustration to to the task as if your life depended on it. Cause it kinda does.

* * *

These two simple exercise are simple and powerfully effective ways to transform frustration and anger. They also can potentially break a dam that’s been holding back helplessness and grief so make sure that you are in a place that is safe when you do them. If you’re at work go to the bathroom or close your office door. If you have no safe place at the moment then tell your frustration to wait till you get to the car or home – trust me, it will still be there!

The KEY to these practices working for you is that you feel the ENERGY!!

The emotions that have had you fuming are simply the surface presentation of a huge biological urge, and the energy that is in that urge, once it’s given a healthy channel to flow through so that it can be expressed, becomes something wonderful. It becomes vitality, creativity, focus and drive.

When it’s left unexpressed and stifled it becomes depression, rage, hatred, anxiety and illness.

Look at the world around you. We are surrounded by the results of stifled anger.

It is in the fundamental frustration that fuels our obsessive need to consume, our addiction to violence in sports and media. It’s what fuels war and all the misery it brings. It’s in the hand that strikes the child and in the finger that pulls the trigger.

Those that are “in power” and urging these destructive ways to continue actually have no real power within themselves. They are in chaos inside, with no direction or control, and so they need to direct and control others in order to feel safe.

Take the power back for yourself. Real power. Take responsibility for the anger within you, take ownership of your own frustrated life energy and allow it to transform through expression and action and you will heal a little bit of the rage and hatred that has been ruling this world for so long.

Your body knows how to do this, you just need to be willing.

The Poison Seed

Poison SeedI have a seed.

A little poison seed.

I keep it curled up in my innermost cells.

 

It was formed at the same time that I was –

As sperm met egg and they merged into one potential

One little zygote, lodged firmly against the womb wall of my Mother.

 

In that beginning the seed was planted

A poisonous seed of threat, of un-safety, of need.

 

It was watered by the stress chemicals in my Mother’s neurochemistry

So even as I grew around it, as I unfolded out from myself in all directions

Developing lungs, liver, heart and spleen, gallbladder, intestines

And all the other wondrous webs of interconnection

That toxic uncertainty, that feeling of cellular doubt remained.

 

Holographic, permeating my developing being with it’s message that all is not well.

 

It remained, this little poison seed

And it grew into a little poison tree

A nameless matrix of constriction and anxiety

That grew dark and uncertain in the forest of my body

A threat that I could not find for it was part of my very cells

And yet it’s message was clear…escape.

 

So… escape then, flee!

 

Six weeks early out of the womb and into an incubator

There, separated from consistent and sure attachment

The little poison tree grew stronger.

 

“See?”, it said, “even here, away from that poisoned well, you are still unsafe”.

 

Then from the incubator into the furnace

of silent, suburban misery where all looked well

while serpents swam under the surface, unspoken and unseen.

 

But my little guts felt all that was unsaid.

Felt the violence and rage lurking behind the uncertain eyes of my Father

Felt the depression and anxiety swimming in the cells of my Mother

Felt the hatred of their own unresolved misery as it poisoned our home.

 

The poison tree was validated when they split apart so soon after my arrival

Was vindicated the first time my Father’s hand met my flesh with violence

Was sure of it’s ground when the rage erupted on one side

When the depression simmered on the other

Was fertilized and began to flower when my brother sickened and died

When my sister left the house that Christmas Eve night

Amid shouted allegations and hatred, never to return.

 

The world is not safe.

The world is not safe.

The world is not safe.

 

As I grew big so did my poison tree.

 

It was in the depression and anxiety that now filled my body and mind

It was in the clumsiness and false bravado that led to all those stupid falls and injuries

It was in the compression and constriction of my muscles and bones

In the irregularity and misery of my bowels

In the need for that next smoke, that next hit

That next sweet and fleeting relief.

 

And so it would have stayed.

 

That poisonous seed grown to poisonous tree

Would surely have created within me

The same poisonous cancer flowers

That took my brother

If not for one thing,

 

My will to heal.

 

It was my will to heal that took me far away from my home.

 

My will to heal that led me into the wilderness

With only my backpack and my banjo on my knee

That led me to the jungle spirits of Hawaii

To the healing waters of the Oregon forests.

 

It was my will to heal that led the expedition

To explore my own untamed inner wilderness

Where I began to hack away the dead vines and rotten flowers

Where I began to uncover that hidden, suffering tree.

 

It was my will to heal that brought me the gift of my wife

Who led me by the hand out from my 15 years in the woods and into the world

Where I began to consider that maybe, just maybe the world could, possibly, be a safe place.

 

It was my will to heal that led me to discover

The everyday miracle of psychobiological healing

And to undertake that training myself

So that I could help others navigate their own uncertain depths.

 

And it was my will to heal that brought me

Yesterday afternoon, to my mentor’s office

That wise, old man who is counselor and advocate, catalyst and friend.

 

It was my will to heal

And the culmination of 20 years of self-effort

Learning, willingness to sense myself and be with what was found

That, combined with the skilled guidance of my old wizard ally

Led to me encountering, yesterday afternoon, my inner-most nemesis

That old, poison seed from whence grew that old, poison tree.

 

I lay there in the wizard’s office

On his table, in the present moment

And at the same time I was there

Within my cells, curled up behind my belly-button

Where I at last truly unearthed that old, poison seed.

 

Come

I said to those poor uncertain cells

Which still vibrated with the fear of their beginnings.

 

Come out and see.

Come and feel.

 

Feel these loving hands holding my head.

See this room where I am safe.

 

And the seed heard.

And the seed felt.

 

Spontaneously, suddenly

My body flexed and then constricted

Turning onto my side, curled up in the same manner

As that developing fetus was, so long ago.

 

The wizard moved to my side and leaned his body there

All along my back, warm and inviting – a living, present-day womb

Where I, now a little cluster of vibrating cells

Now a grown man of 42

was firmly attached.

 

And into the silence of that moment he spoke the perfect words

That the little, poison seed never got to hear, so long ago…

 

“It’s ok. We are here. It’s safe now. You are wanted. We’ve been waiting for you.”

 

The seed heard.

The seed felt.

 

The seed

Changed.

 

—————————

 

I used to have a seed.

I used to have a little, poison seed that

Grew into a big old blackened tree.

 

But now that seed is gone,

The tree is green,

And I am free.

 

You are the Healer

headache_500The energy surges in a jolt, from my heart into the front of my brain.

A massive constriction squeezes me from my hip joint up through my torso and neck into a spasm of cataclysmic grief etched across my face.

I cry out 3 high-pitched sobs of absolute despair as the final release of energy shoots out the top of my head and my feet dig into the ground and my breath returns in shudders, then deepens… and is still.

A five-second processing of deeply embedded grief and shock that leaves the top of my head glowing and my body tingling with the pleasant vibration of integration.

That’s good stuff in my book.

That kind of transformation of stuck energy becomes possible once we make one simple switch – a simple switch that can take years of work to fully embody – and that is the switch from resisting and bracing against our uncomfortable sensations, to embracing them and learning how to let them express through us.

We are so trained in our culture to freeze or panic in the presence of uncomfortableness.

We get itchy and we are taught to see the doctor, instead of learning that heat and itchiness are an expression of the suppressed rage that is within us.

We feel depressed and stuck and we are taught to examine our thoughts and behaviors and rehash our trauma through endless examination, instead of knowing that our depression is a reflection of a process that stems, fundamentally, in our nervous system – and that it can be accessed and transformed through a willingness to feel and express and ultimately renegotiate the helplessness.

In short we learn, in many ways, that we are powerless and must put our healing into the hands of others, when the truth is that we are potentially powerful beyond measure and that we have the ability to not only heal ourselves, but to help others as well.

It’s time to wake up to that.

It’s happening already.

In you, in the world.

Even as these days are full of chaos and suffering, misplaced aggression, greed, hunger and misery, and even though it may feel like our situation as a species is hopeless, there is a truth that sleeps underneath all that; and that is that we can only heal what is broken by first bringing our attention to it and having a good hard look, and that’s what I see happening everywhere I look – in my friends and family, my clients, in the world.

That which has been hidden and buried is coming to the surface and frankly, it’s about damn time.

The fundamental wound of the Universe is showing up to be healed.

You are the healer.

It starts with learning to listen to the body and trust in it’s wisdom when it speaks through the only language it knows; sensation.

It’s true that sometimes western allopathic medicine is a smart way to go – like If your leg has a compound fracture or you’re having a heart attack or some other traumatic injury.

AND it’s also true that if we are having “strange tingling” in our leg and constriction in our chest, we might need to consider learning how to just be with those sensations and allow them to transform. It’s a process that our body knows how to do and it is the root of true healing, but our culture – i.e, our schools, religions, parents, peers, movies and media – none of these have taught us how to tap into this instinctual wisdom that our animal friends have without even trying; in fact, our society actively encourages the suppression of this natural process with it’s fixation on fear and pharmaceuticals.

Luckily, back in the 1960’s a guy named Peter Levine downloaded some ancient knowledge and combined it with nervous system science and called it Somatic Experiencing! Check it out. Also Pat Ogden, Stephen Porges, Bessel Van de Kolk, Gabor Mate and a whole lot of other folks are working in the same vein.

My lovely wife Irene has created a 21-day online course that will teach you all about this ancient wisdom and modern science and give you practical tools that will help you learn how to befriend your stuck, painful sensations.

Learning to understand and speak the language of sensation is just like learning any other language; eventually, with knowledge and curiosity and the willingness to put in the time, everyone can experience the kind of full-body emotional/mental healing that comes with being fluent in the body’s language.

Wishing you many a joyous transformation.

Here’s that link to Irene’s course again, highly recommended as way to get started on this incredibly important path.  irenelyon.com/tuneup/

Happiness Vs. Joy

Why I took the red pill

redblue

The other day I was going through a bunch of old photos and found myself surprised by what I saw in some of them – specifically, the old photos of me.

I lived for many, many years very differently that I do now. I lived deep in the forest or jungle, or on the beach, in little rainforest shacks or tents; by myself as much as possible, but sometimes with a few others.

I avoided civilization and stayed immersed in mama nature.

Coming out into “the World” and having to meet all the challenges it has brought, not to mention being married to and living with my wife, Irene, has catalyzed a HUGE process of transformation and healing. I’ve managed to change old, deeply held patterns of depression and social anxiety that I didn’t even know I had, back when I was in my cozy bubble removed from the world.

Now I’m physically, mentally and emotionally healthier than I ever have been, so it was a huge surprise to look at these old photos and see just how genuinely happy and at peace I looked back then!

What the heck?!

Here’s the thing, looking at those photos I realized that I actually was happier in general back then, but I was way less joyful.

My happiness was like the surface of a still pond that, under the deceptively peaceful surface, was filled with translucent, poisonous fish.

I didn’t know that I was containing so much suffering because I had cleverly made such a nice bubble for myself. So yes, I was happy, but that happiness was only a few inches deep. Underneath the surface I was sick, but it was well contained and invisible.

This is what those of us who are carrying around unresolved trauma have to do; we find creative ways, both internal and external, to manage and contain our suffering. And this can work really well… for a while. We can create lives that are actually ok, even pleasant, but eventually the body will break down.

I am certain that if I had not met Irene and moved into the world to be with her so that I could face my poisonous fishes and transform myself into who I came to this planet to be that I would have, in five or ten years, gotten really sick.

Cancer probably, since there’s a predisposition to that in my genetic makeup, but it could have been anything.. fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, or any of the many other ailments that can take root when our nervous system, and therefore everything else, is compromised – which is what happens when we are carrying around unresolved trauma; our nervous system gets whacked and, even more than our brain, our nervous system runs the show, so then everything gets whacked.

Back then I was happier, it’s true.

But I was also unfulfilled, stuck, addicted and, if I left my bubble for a more than a few hours, I would become depressed or incredibly anxious.

Now I’m less “happy” in general but I am living a life that deeply fulfills me and is full of connection and intimacy. I’m WAY more healthy and I feel aligned and in step with my purpose on this Earth.

To me this all adds up to something even more gratifying than mere happiness…. it adds up to Joy.

It’s a tough path though.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like Cypher from the Matrix… “why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill!”. But, deep down, I think we all want to be Neo – to take the red pill and live the hero’s journey, even though it may cost us everything we thought we knew about ourselves and our world.

To be triumphant.

To be Joyful.


TAKE THE FIRST STEP:

Learn about what causes Lifeforce to get STUCK! and what you can do about it.

Download my free guide by clicking on the image below:,

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