Negative effects of toxic stress

All negativity comes from a state of stress within our central nervous system. Stress can be an emotional, mental, physical, or chemical stimulus that is prolonged, unpredictable, and/or overwhelming to our body and mind. Stress can come in the form of having big and conflicting emotions at once, lacking skills and not knowing how to handle the situation appropriately, or having unmet needs like nutrition, rest, connection, etc. Any stress that goes on unexpressed, unprocessed, and/or misunderstood can become toxic and traumatic.  Naturally, experiences that involve actual or perceived death or serious injury increases the potential for toxic levels of stress and trauma. Toxic stress and trauma lead to dysregulation which is being in a state of STRESS beyond one’s window of tolerance and does the following:

  • Alters the chemistry and functioning of your mind/body/heart connections;
  • Creates unconscious emotions of fear;
  • Activates stress hormones and flight/flight/freeze mode of reactions;
  • Decreases ability to access higher brain functions (i.e. problem-solving, planning, language, knowing right from wrong etc.)
  • Decreases our tolerance level and increases sensitivity to stress
  • Creates more rigid, inflexible, incoherent, temperamental and chaotic reactions
  • Click the following link for more information on Effects of Toxic Stress

Our natural stress response exists on a continuum from hyper-aroused to hypo-aroused with mild to extreme reactions. Hyper-aroused is when we are over-active, on alert and in fight or flight mode. In this state, we may act out aggressively or feel anxious. Hypo-aroused is when we shut down and are in a state of freeze or collapse mode. In this state, we tend to withdraw and feel depressed. Just as we are all different, so are our responses to stress. There are many contextual layers that influence the variance in our responses and the likelihood of negative effects like our window of tolerance, temperament, environment, genetic expression, the availability of protective and supportive relationships along with the presence of risk and resiliency factors.

Our experiences, especially the ones in childhood, create our templates and filters for how to process stimuli and stressors and how to respond. The first three years of life creates the blueprint for all future relationships. Most caregivers do not realize how impactful their reactions, mood, and behaviors are on their children. Children depend on caregivers for everything so if a caregiver is unavailable, angry, depressed, neglectful, out of control or acting in a way the child doesn’t understand, then the child will perceive this as a threat to their livelihood which will activate their stress response system. It is important to note that it doesn’t matter if the stress is a real threat or not as our central nervous system just has to perceive it as a threat. Our perception and interpretation of a current event instantly get filtered through our past lens of experiences and developed belief system. I highly recommend learning more about how Adverse Childhood Experiences affect our health.

From my experience, negative consequences such as conflict, “disorders” and “diseases” are the result of an overstimulated, fearful and dysregulated central nervous system which manifests itself through different reactions and symptoms dependant on our interpersonal neurobiology. This is why they’re so many new diagnoses, disorders, and diseases as they keep evolving along with the dynamics and increase of toxins within our minds, bodies, relationships, environment, and our world. As a society, we have failed to promote sustainable, compassionate ways to get our vital needs met. We all have vital needs to feel safe, love, connected, heard, and understood. When we meet these needs, then we can naturally calm our central nervous system which allows us to access our higher brain functions and innate intelligence as well as integrate new positive experience and coping skills and even heal past trauma. When we consistently meet these vital needs, our central nervous will become securely integrated. When our brains are well integrated then we can optimally process stimuli, self-regulate, connect as well as enable more intricate functions to emerge like insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. This in-depth level of integration results in greater kindness, resilience, and well-being.

To learn more how you can promote sustainable, compassionate ways to get your needs met in your family, check out my post Promoting Resiliency and Connection Tips

You can learn more about me and my online therapeutic services at WeCounsel

Take Wonderful Care,

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Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers and seeking referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA

“Only Love Today” and Comfort zone

I started reading Only Love Today” by Rachel Macy Stafford”. It is an absolutely amazing book. So much so, as I was reading it, I found myself repeatedly saying, “Yes!” “I know!” “I do that.” and so on. I set it down for a few weeks as this way of life is truly etched in my being.

Recently, I pushed my son out of his comfort zone to do something he had never done before and it didn’t go as I hoped. I have learned not to be attached to outcomes but his strong negative reaction and feedback caught me off guard. I sadly, took his reaction personally, causing me to react negatively and I struggled to be a compassionate listener for him. I could even see my overreaction and the negative dynamic I was feeding yet I could not stay connected to my wise mind and heart and be there for him as I usually am. This made me feel even worse.

To put things in perspective, only 20 hours had passed since the initial triggering event occurred till the time it took me to feel at ease with it, and I am going through some physical health issues thus unusually wore out. In fact, I was on my way to the hospital for an iron fusion, when I decided to grab the book, “Only Love Today” as my reading material for appointment and travels. I had a feeling it could help ground me and get me back to my center. As soon as I got on the ferry and opened the book to this oh-so-relevant reminder:

 

 

I love synchronicity! Synchronicity is when events seem to somehow magically connect to one another and take on some meaning that provides guidance as they relate to our current emotional states and inner experiences. So there I was on the ferry, with tears streaming down my face, knowing how every word of this is true and exactly what I have been trying to get my son to understand yet my negative reaction fueled our deepest fears.

The more I sat with this, the more tears came but I was acutely aware I was in a public space. I was uncomfortable and vulnerable. Even more synchronous is this uncomfortable and vulnerable situation relates to my son’s recent experience and journey. I am a female and afraid to cry and be emotional, it is even 100 times worse for him. He seems to have inherited my highly sensitive trait. We feel and process deeply as well as absorb and internalize sensory information at overwhelming rates. We are like sponges and find it to be a monumental task to stop the absorption. The best way I have found to slow it down is to take deep breaths, to non-judgementally notice and connect to all my senses, and send compassionate messages to myself and all those involved that counteract the deep fears and irrational core beliefs.

Here’s another quote I really enjoying during these times of transitions:

“This week I invite you to surrender to the cycles of your life and your reality. Accept the beauty of where you are in your lifecycle, whether you are cleansing, purging and renewing or growing, expanding or even ending. Love yourself as you move through change and transition. There is no ‘perfect’ way to navigate through it all. It’s okay to scream and have a temper tantrum if that’s what it takes to get to the other side. Releasing that energy only makes room for clarity and peace. Each step in your journey is really about growth and expansion…May you remember this week to Trust and know you are fully supported on your journey and may you remember that deep underneath all of this experience is really only the grandest expression of pure, unconditional Love.” ~Karen Curry

Change, even when for the better, is uncomfortable and difficult no matter what you do. Like the growing pains of a developing child, their muscles and bones ache from all the quick growing yet they are getting taller and stronger. You can even do everything “right” and it will still cause distress as there are so many variables out of your control. This is the crux of life, learning how to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I know that all negative and painful events have inherent value in our lives which will shine through in time when we least expect it.  All the reasons why I made the conscious choice to push my son outside his comfort zone were valid. As hard as it is to know a choice I made upset my child, it is impossible to avoid negativity and I am would not be doing my son any favors by overprotecting him and robbing him of these opportunities to struggle through, grow, and learn from.

Deep breaths, baby steps, embrace fears and love MORE ❤

where the magic happens

You can learn more about me and my services at WeCounsel

Take wonderful care of yourself as the world needs you.

❤ Debra

Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

 

I have something magical I want to share…

“When someone shares something of value with you, and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others.” Chinese Proverb

You know when you have discovered something that brings you vitality, peace, and joy and you just want to share it with everyone you meet?… That’s how I feel about parenting and committed partnerships. Yet I have noticed that sharing my expertise is sometimes like a double-edged sword. These relationships are a deeply personal and often laden with landmines. The slightest expression of a contradictory belief often sets off a chain of reactions and defense mechanisms. Even sharing a positive reflection or experience can incite unconscious triggers, insecurities, and fears.

My relationships with my children and partner have become a sustainable source of peace, love, trust, security, and nurturance. Now, don’t get me wrong, my partner and still disagree more than agree, and my kids still go through all the challenging stages of development but instead of judging their behavior as something is wrong with them or as a result of something I did (or didn’t do), I am better able to see their perspective and love us all through the upsets more times than not. I know their negative behaviors are normal and/or symptoms of some unprocessed emotions, lack of skill, and/or unmet needs. We all just need a safe place to not to judged and to be heard and understood. Believe me, I know how hard this is to do as I am well trained at it yet still get triggered. And yes, we still have daily stressors, struggles, annoyances, tension, and conflict, yet our relationship is so secure that we can work together more quickly and cohesively to support and resolve in a regenerative way.

Now you want to know my magical formula for improving relationships?… It is taking responsibility for my own crap, projections, triggers and my muddled lens. The more Iintention meme am aware of my innermost thoughts, feelings, demons, and desires, the better able I can connect the dots of my past to my current reactions and learn to respond appropriately to those in my presence. The more at ease I become with distress and my internal dissonance, the more my relationships harmonize and wellbeing improves. You do not need parenting strategies or communication skills per se because when you give yourself permission to be you and can whole-heartily accept your weaknesses and negative reactions, then your innate intelligence to connect to your wise mind and heart as well as to another soul comes naturally. Your power to influence thus comes from your ability to recognize your own stress signals, to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, reactions and to proactively find healthy, safe, and nurturing ways to consistently get your needs met. Once you have connected to your true power, life seems to flow and expand exponentially. I want to highlight that taking responsibility for processing your stress and getting your needs met has nothing to do with blaming anyone, not even yourself.

The trickiest part to this magical formula is that our negative reactions are often unconscious, meaning we are not aware we are thinking, feeling or doing them. Much of our childhood, especially under the age of seven, gets absorbed unconsciously as well as negative events that have not been processed or have been misunderstood also get stuck in our unconscious brain. Sadly, many of us have not experienced a safe space to process and make sense of our conflicting thoughts, feelings, and events. A safe space where no one wants to criticize, shame, blame, fix, or judge you and lets you, be you.  Ideally, this safe space would be provided by our parents and family of origin, then by our partners. Again this isn’t about blame. You parents did the best they could with the resources they were aware of from their own level of consciousness.

Yet, the reality is that our vulnerable selves are perpetually being bombarded by negative stimuli and messages and we continue to not have enough outlets to process these experiences in order to optimally integrate into our beings. So instead of learning how to process negativity, we are forced to react, shut-down connection, and rely on external objects for coping skills as well as internalize that other’s cannot handle us at our most vulnerable state. The build-up of these unprocessed negative experiences becomes toxic and will get expressed through our behaviors and bodies. Then you combine the added stress of being afraid of upsetting the people you love most and depend on, it is no surprise then that our loved ones become a trigger, constant battle, and a drain.

It’s science, really, when we perceive a threat to our livelihood, our stress response automatically gets activated, negatively affecting our ability to regulate, reason, learn, grow, heal or connect. The more this keeps happening, the stronger the negative patterns and cycles get and the more energy it takes to soothe, process, and re-program. Fortunately, there are many proactive and respectful ways to respond that reduce stress, promote healing and connection as well as and maximize human potential. And even though you are not to blame for what has happened to you in past, you are responsible for what you choose to do today, especially once you become aware of how your actions are affecting your wellbeing and others.

The good news is all negativity can be healed in safe, nurturing, and responsive relationships including the relationship you have with yourself. What are you needing to feel alive, satisfied and joyful? What are your intentions and are your actions, thoughts, and feelings aligning with those intentions?… If not, what is keeping you from being your best connected and authentic self? You are the expert of your own life and deserve to take the time you need to nourish yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

To learn more about my approach to parenting, click here Teaching Responsibility and How couples can thrive through parenting…

You can learn more about me and my services at WeCounsel

Take wonderful care of yourself as the world needs you.

❤ Debra

Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state Illinois, USA

What energy are you emitting as a parent?

Speaking from personal experience, every time my child would act out, I would automatically have the negative thought of “What is wrong with him/her!?” which very quickly turned to “What is wrong with me!?” and “How could I have a child act this way!?” Their negative behaviors triggered my insecurities. When in reality, all these negative behaviors were and are normal processes of a central nervous learning to integrate in an often confusing, chaotic, overstimulating, toxic, and judgmental world.

My mission in life is to maximize human potential and heal transgenerational trauma so I take providing safe and nurturing environments for all human beings very seriously. I have been able to rewire my automatic negative thoughts and connect with love, trust, and empathy. I can easily remember and connect to how I felt as a child in similar situations allowing me to know exactly how to respond to them. I believe positive intent, 42085313_10161108062170107_2361642485588951040_olower myself to below or at their eye level, and say things like, “Wow, something must have happened to make you feel this way.” “What can I do to help you?” or “Would you like a hug?” then hold my tongue, breathe and really, really listen to what my child is saying by periodically and briefly reflecting back what I am hearing without adding my opinions or solutions.

This is by no means an easy feat and takes a lot of practice and fine tuning, yet when I am able to genuinely be present, it works every single time. Notice the words “genuinely be present” these are key because I can say and do all the “right” things yet if my mind, body, and heart are not aligned, creating disharmony within my being, then that’s the frequency that gets transmitted to my child. Children are 100% tuned into their caregiver’s mood, state of stress, and resonance as their livelihood depends on it. Resonating and amplifying of disharmony is also completely normal and to be expected as raising a child is 24/7, and the energy and transformational opportunities are endless. You need the contrasting signals to know where to fine tune. You do you and trust the process. Peace begins with you.

Check out my link on how to tune in to promote resiliency and connection

❤ Debra

You can learn more about me and my services here at WeCounsel

Disclaimer

Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only as this online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention.  To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA

one generation

Holiday Triggers and Partnerships

Every major holiday like Thanksgiving and Christmas, my body’s impulse is to shut down, disconnect, and cut out all pressure. My Mom slaved to create picture-perfect holidays. Most of it was magical and I am very grateful for all she did. The conflicting part for me was witnessing her killing herself to make it perfect. Sure she tried to get her six kids to help but most of it came in the form of yelling and anger as she was at her wit’s end. I just wanted to avoid her at all costs which of course stressed her out even more. It just didn’t make sense to me why she was doing all this work and seemed miserable doing it. I know now, she was wanting to give what she never had and once she earned that role, she didn’t know how to let go and set boundaries to preserve her well-being. To me, the holidays became a stress trap and really ruined the value of the holiday.

All these conflicting feelings intensified when I was 10 years old and my family of eight gathered for Christmas morning for the what turned out to be the last time celebrating all together. I will never forget it… As usual, my Mom went overboard buying Christmas gifts – shopping was her main coping skill. My Dad slouched on our lazy-boy chair, his hands nervously covering his mouth as he watched the charades. You could feel him groan as my siblings feigned enjoyment opening the overwhelming amount of gifts they could have gone with out. My Mom was ecstatic and basking in what she had given. The conflicting emotions and tension in the room consumed me. My parents separated shortly after this Christmas and there are many deep layers wrapped in this memory.

My body remembers all these layers and so every major holiday, I freeze. No tradition or holiday demand is worth sacrificing my well-being. I happened to marry a man who loves to cook lavish meals and have big parties. He truly does enjoy the process of providing a good time. He has reasonable boundaries and doesn’t go overboard yet I still get triggered. My triggered reaction of shutting down, avoiding extravagance, wanting to do less and make things simpler ends up triggering his own negative reaction related to a whole other dynamic with regards to his upbringing.

Nobody is right or wrong here, it’s just is what it is. We have had to find ways to process our feelings and each other’s reactions as well as discover ways to honor each other’s experiences and needs. 2017 was our 21st holiday season together and it is definitely getting easier yet we are still learning and growing together.  And there were many seasons we just grinned and beared it. We have two kids who naturally love holidays so we have done our best to create a few simple rituals that represent the true essence of each holiday as well as keep coming up with new ones. This year, we cut down our first real Christmas tree.WP_20171222_21_37_12_Pro

Give of yourself that brings the best out of you and create a holiday that meets your family’s unique needs. Every moment is a gift and you have the power to choose to open each moment with grace, love, gratitude and curiosity. How we feel often matters more than how things look. Be (a) present ❤

New filters to live by…

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be.

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with joy and curiosity.

 

As human beings, we are constantly absorbing stimulation from all our senses (i.e. sight, touch, smell, taste, sounds, and intuition). In order to function efficiently, our brains filter the stimuli to prioritize and respond. Our initial filter is to determine if the stimulus is a threat. If we perceive a threat, then our stress response system kicks in and we react to protect ourselves. There are more steps that occur instantaneously in this complex process. Yet ultimately, the presence of a calm, nurturing, and safe person and/or connection to secure, positive beliefs and memories can stop the stress response from taking over. Thus promoting resiliency and more positive, secure connections within our mind, body, soul, and relationships.

After receiving counseling and training in trauma and brain development, I discovered I was a highly sensitive person who experienced complex trauma. My central nervous system was also often in a hyper-aroused state. So along with having enhanced sensory sensitivity, I was hypervigilant and intensely surveying every environment I was in. I had a tendency to perceive stimuli as threats and had exaggerated reactions. I was able to pinpoint specific traumatic events that occurred during sensitive stages of my development and in my parents’ lives that I accepted that I was essentially born, wired in fear.

When I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children, overtired and not prioritizing my needs, I was constantly feeling triggered.  I was having strong negative reactions during my own children’s sensitive stages of development. Fortunately, I was aware of what was going on in me so I reflected further on what my biggest fears were. Then I came up with specific statements that targeted those fears and provided compassionate and trusting beliefs to filter the stimuli and my negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through. My son had drawn a rainbow that I had hanging on our refrigerator. I followed my impulse to take it down and scribbled down the following statements on it:

I can handle anything.

Everything that needs to be done will get done

             …when it needs to be (and not always in my control).

Let go, fear less, and LOVE more.

Today is a present, open it with joy, and curiosity.

I put it back on my fridge and read it every time I got triggered which I knew was happening when my children were upset or acting out and I connected to my “felt sense”. I would notice my chest tighten, heart racing, my body trembling and overheating, my voice tone shifting up, and negative thoughts flooding my brain. I would also take deep breaths and step outside for fresh air.

I refuse to pass on any more trauma onto my children. There is enough suffering in the world to endure. I made a conscious choice to give them a safe space to process all their negative thoughts and feelings so that they could securely connect to their innate intelligence and shine through any negative stimuli. I loved the visual of the rainbow my son drew and reminded me how the sun shines through and creates a rainbow after a storm. Here is what this creation looks like… 

 

Over time, I periodically added new messages that my body, mind, and soul needed to believe when I got triggered. We all can get triggered and easily fall back to negative habits and reactions. The goal is to take responsibility for your triggers: Notice when you are getting triggered, what are you thinking, feeling, and doing; and what will you choose to do to get through it faster. 

Healing our triggers often takes time so be compassionate with yourself as you go through this process. The ability to even notice your triggers and negative reactions is progress even if you cannot stop them yet. Awareness is first to step so when you catch your stress signals or negative reactions, do something nurturing, breathe, and love yourself through. I like to remind myself how it takes an average of 21 times to repeat a new behavior before you make a positive, secure connection in your mind, body, soul and in the relationship itself. The deeper the issue, the more times it takes. Do your best to celebrate each step and choose love over fear. Today is a present, open it with grace, joy, and curiosity.

Take wonderful care of yourself as the world needs you ❤   

Debra Wallace MS LMFT Wecounsel Online Profile

Disclaimer: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision-making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. Thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a licensed marriage and Family Therapist in the state Illinois, USA