The Slippery Slope

In Numbers 13-14 we read how God said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, WHICH I AM GIVING TO THE ISRAELITES.” 

Moses sent some of the leaders to explore the land and they came back saying, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!  Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”

This is where the doubts start, which then escalated out of all proportion.  They completely forgot that God had already promised them the land, and therefore His hand was on them. 

When Caleb tried to reason with them the people said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 

And they began to spread their doubt and fear amongst the people.  The story grew, until next we read:

“The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw are of great size.  We saw the Nephilim there.  We seemed like grasshoppers IN OUR OWN EYES, and we looked the same to them.”

The doubts continue to grow, with the Israelites crying aloud, and saying, “If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in the Wilderness!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.  Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”  

Remember this was where they lived in slavery, under unbearable rules and back-breaking hard labour.  Amazingly, this suddenly seems more appealing, despite God’s promise to give them the land.  It’s astonishing to read, and you can understand why Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in despair. 

But isn’t this what happens to us all when we allow doubt and fear to rule in our lives, instead of staying focused on what God has promised us? 

When we turn away from God and get preoccupied with fear, it escalates, taking us down a slippery slope, further and further from God.  Its a bit like Chinese whispers.  It gets more distorted and turns into some enormous catastrophic situation, like this one. 

I remember a friend of mine going to see the dermatologist for a regular check up of his skin.  He happened to mention to her some flaky skin in his eyebrow.  She told him to apply some cream to it and come back in a couple of weeks time and if it hadn’t improved, she would take a biopsy of it, but she expected it was nothing. 

During those couple of weeks, fear took hold of him and he convinced himself that he had skin cancer. The fear grew out of all proportion. He began imagining having half his face removed and thinking about how he could possibly continue to do his job because of what would people think.  He would be a freak, etc, etc, etc. . . . Exactly like the Israelites. 

He failed to notice that the cream cleared up the flaky skin and when he returned to see the doctor, he was still expecting the worst.  Instead she said to him, that it was just as she had expected . . . just dandruff in his eyebrow!

Why do we do this to ourselves?  The enemy is out to rob us of our joy, and loves to see us going round in circles like this, incapacitated, distracted from what we’re meant to do, sick with doubt and fear, and unable to enjoy life.

Some situations in the world are truly scary.  The Afghans, for instance, are facing a truly scary situation. As are those in New Orleans and Haiti. But some of the things we get het up about are all about a matter of perspective, patience, and faith in the Lord, because we will come through them and be stronger than before. Even in the worst situations we have a choice as to how we will manage them. We can be angry with God and turn away from Him for deserting us, or we can lean in closer and be comforted by His love and know Him as our Rock and strong tower.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and stay in a place of peace.  It takes practice if you’ve been a person who tends to get distracted by negative thoughts, but some mindful redirecting of your thoughts is achievable. Pay attention to where your thoughts go as a start, and then try to bring them back to a place of gratitude, which always leads to peace.

Be still and know that the Lord is good.  He is faithful, compassionate, and can be trusted in all things. 

Are you living life on a slippery slope? Have a read of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

The Basic Fault

During my clinical training some years ago, I was struck by a theory written by Michael Balint in his book The Basic Fault. His theory is based around the fact that people tend to keep returning to a familiar dysfunctional place of being, thinking, and relating; to a problem that seems to tie them to the past that they cannot get beyond. He asks ‘why fault? First, because this is exactly the word used by many patients to describe it. The patient says that he feels there is a fault within him, a fault that must be put right. And it is felt to be a fault, not a complex, not a conflict, not a situation. Second, there is a feeling that the cause of this fault is that someone has either failed the patient or defaulted on him; and third, a great anxiety invariably surrounds this area, usually expressed as a desperate demand that this time the analyst should not – in fact must not – fail him.’

However, the fact is that however the therapist responds to their dilemma, the experience will be that they will be perceived as failing him all over again because that is the lens through which they perceive things. The therapist is almost doomed by the same fate as the patient, to be experienced as having failed.

I have seen this basic fault in so many struggles, and was in fact discussing this same situation with a colleague only this morning with regards to a patient who wants to leave therapy because he feels his therapist isn’t good enough for him, rather than being able to work through those very feelings and thereby overcome this basic fault within him.

I recognise where I return to a familiar place myself, and it would be so easy to see this from a negative perspective – as something that we cant do anything about, and therefore give up trying. I think the enemy would love us to think like this. I think this basic fault is particularly prevalent when it comes to medical and psychiatric diagnoses and labels that suggest something is incurable and hopeless.

I often get referred patients who are suffering with chronic pain who have had a medical condition for which they have received conventional treatment and surgery but have failed to make a full recovery and continue to suffer with chronic pain. What I have noticed in all these cases is that there is always more to it than just the condition itself. As the person begins to tell me their story, a picture emerges of medical interventions that might have gone wrong, or doctors who have been dismissive, or even abusive. The person is left with feelings of helplessness, anger, and frustration towards the medical team and the system for having let them down. What is interesting however is how these thoughts and feelings will be familiar feelings that they have encountered at other times in their lives.

People, for example, whose parents weren’t there for them, who didn’t listen, who didn’t see or stop abuse that was going on, who let them down. People who have experienced childhood trauma of some sort but had no way of expressing it, nowhere to turn, and who had to hold it within themselves. These particular chronic pain adults may well have been children who learnt how to express emotional distress through physical symptoms and illnesses.

If these people then feel mistreated or let down by those meant to help them, they will return to re-experience the same helplessness that they felt as a child with parents who were meant to protect and care for them but in fact let them down in some way which is still held within their central nervous system. The emotional distress and pain that they held onto will get triggered by the physical pain associated with the medical condition, but it doesn’t go away with the treatment if there happens to also be an experience of similar helplessness and frustration. It will instead take them straight back to that basic fault.

Chronic pain is just one example of something in the past that hasn’t been resolved, but there are many other situations by which a person experiences a repetition that they seem unable to stop occurring. It is one thing to discover where the basic fault lies, but quite another to go about undoing it. Calling it a ‘fault’ implies a defect however and is misleading. Psychotherapy is all about learning to understand ourselves and discovering how to manage those sensitive and vulnerable areas within us that we all have.

EMDR is certainly one way of finding those associated experiences and offers a way to rescript the past so that it’s no longer triggering, and thereby healing that basic fault. And when we involve God in the healing of our lives, He just reaches right in there and pours peace over everything, transforming lives, and breaking down every ‘fault’ within us.

I hate it when somebody tells me that they have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, as another example. It’s a label that describes a pattern of behaviour, but if you buy into that, you are speaking that pattern of behaviour over your life as if you have no responsibility in the situation. That’s so not true. None of us has a fault that cant be broken down by the love of God, but each of us is also responsible for the part we play and in what we choose to believe and do.

The only label I accept over my life is that I’m a child of God, and am fearfully and wonderfully made! Many years ago I was given a similar hopeless diagnosis and the doctors said that the prognosis was poor. I refused to accept that. I spoke truth over myself every day and I fought to overcome, and chose to take responsibility for what I believed, thought, and did in partnership with God. And I walked out of the life set before me and into a different one.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work to renew your mind with truth and undo the basic fault – but it can be done. At vulnerable moments in life there will always be a temptation to return to the old way of thinking and being. The enemy knows those vulnerabilities too and will tempt you to give in, just have one drink, throw up, starve, self-harm, etc., . . . but you always have a choice as to how you deal with everything. Nobody is defined by a manmade label or hopeless diagnosis but by the identity that God has given them.

One day we will all succumb to old age, or disease, but it will be on God’s terms only, and we all need to find peace in that. That’s very different to giving into believing that you are a hopeless case, governed only by a basic fault that can never be overcome.

I’m trained in the secret of overcoming all things, whether in fullness or in hunger. And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.” Phil. 4:12-13 (TPT)

Why do I look so disgusting?

How does somebody develop intense self-hatred and the distorted pattern of thinking that we know as Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

How do we go about undoing something that is so ingrained?

I find a really helpful way of understanding it is in terms of object relations theory. All early childhood object relationships (i.e. mum and dad) are based upon identification, and if the child’s ‘objects’ present themselves as bad to her in the way they behave, she will herself feel bad.

The child takes upon herself the burden of their badness, and gains a sense of security then within an environment of good ‘objects,’ which feels safer and more hopeful. The bad ‘objects’ are banished into the unconscious, (that’s their abusive behaviour or inability to provide good and secure parenting – for instance, if mum is suffering from depression herself). Various coping mechanisms may be used to reinforce this and distract thoughts away from the reality of how
unsafe and bad their experience actually is, BDD being one such coping mechanism.

Fairbairn, who wrote extensively on object relations theory, gave this example, saying, its better to be a sinner in a world ruled by God than to live in a world ruled by the Devil. Because a sinner in a world ruled by God may be bad, but there is security derived from the fact that the world is good and there is hope of redemption. In a world ruled by the Devil, on the other hand, the individual may escape the badness of being a sinner, but she is bad because the world around is bad. In this situation there is no security or hope of redemption. He says ‘However much an
individual wants to reject the bad objects (her parents), she cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon her, and she cant resist them because they have power over her. She is compelled to internalise them in an effort to control them. They have had power over her in the outside world, and now they have power over her internal world.’

What children then tend to do is to interpret this internal sense of badness and/or disgust as that there must be something wrong with me and, specifically, with the way I look. This is the immature brain’s only way of making sense of the feelings, but this can unfortunately become an ingrained pattern of thinking. The brain then projects that badness/disgust into physical distortions which can be seen in their reflection and photos.

It’s easier to see the badness in a physical form like this as it gives an explanation to hang those feelings upon. I feel bad because I look bad. I feel disgusting because I look disgusting – but the disgust was never theirs in the first place. And you haven’t done anything wrong that makes you bad: it wasn’t your fault.

So how do we change this pattern of thinking?

The work is in helping the person with BDD to develop a more compassionate mindset towards themselves; rejecting the more familiar voice of that internal critic and replacing it with a new compassionate self that encourages, inspires, and understands.

It’s going to take a lot of convincing to risk rejecting the internalised bad ‘objects’ that have helped them to experience a safer environment around them because that would risk destabilising their entire life and way of survival. They have to learn for themselves that they can be good at the same time as being able to experience a good and safe world around them – that the two can exist together.

Also, that they can be angry, sad, or grieve over the past at the same time as being compassionate towards themselves, which can also exist at the same time. What we’re doing here is allowing ourselves to acknowledge bad and sad feelings whilst at the same time knowing that they won’t contaminate us – we’re not made bad by them. It’s ok to feel sad or be angry and to still deserve compassion.

The pattern has been to see a good, safe world around them externally, whilst carrying all the responsibility for fault, anger, and guilt within them, and they need to see that others aren’t destroyed by all this toxic stuff if they let go of it and start being kind to themselves instead.

As they learn to be kind to themselves, they can also experience good people in the environment as well. In fact, the truth is that they’re more likely to experience good people in the world as they begin to be more compassionate towards themselves. They can also be angry with somebody else without it destroying the other, or destroying them. These are big shifts to get used to and need to be worked on over time.

Over the last 18 months many of us have struggled with weight gain with the restrictions that have come about with the pandemic, myself included. I also have personal experience of BDD, and don’t like weight gain either, but I also know how key compassion is for beating this pattern of thinking. We are seeing how so many people are struggling with that internal negative voice even more than usual because of everything that has been going on over the last year.

It is realistic to recognise that as BDD has been a coping mechanism and a way of thinking for such a long time, that any stress in life is likely to trigger it off again. It can be helpful to notice for instance that when you’re stressed or upset about something, you are likely to see a more distorted and distressing image of yourself than when you’re happy. This can be helpful to notice because you can then reassure yourself with that when you think you look bad.

Think about what you were thinking about or feeling before you looked in the mirror? Make a note of it for future reference.

Not being able to swim every day or go to the gym, and then having to work from home every day has meant the inevitable weight gain. There is no denying this when your clothes don’t fit you anymore, but as with everybody else having to deal with this over the last year, it’s really important to continue with that compassionate pattern of thinking instead of despair. I don’t like the weight gain, but I have to accept it as something outside of my control right now. I can’t exercise at the moment because I have a back condition as well and it’s really important that I focus on recovery and getting stronger. This is something I can do to remind myself, and to be patient.

For everyone dealing with weight gain this year it’s hard, and for those with BDD, it may be particularly triggering. The key is to identify what is actually triggering rather than the weight gain itself. That can be a step towards being able to tackle it when it happens and to prepare yourself with something compassionate as a response.

When I was little I thought that my younger sister was the favourite, (actually, it was more like feeling completely unloved altogether) and I made sense of that as being because she was smaller than me. From an adult perspective now, I can see how irrational that was. For a start, of course she was smaller, she was younger! Duh! As an adult though, I have noticed that I tend to see a more distorted image of myself when I’m with somebody who is smaller than me. Now I can’t stop myself being triggered by it because it’s a learnt pattern within me to notice that, but because I can recognise it, I can make a choice not to despair or beat myself up over it, or to let it overwhelm me. I can empathise with my younger self who came to this faulty conclusion when I was a child, and be compassionate towards myself now by recognising that same old pattern, and understanding how I came to this conclusion, but it doesn’t stand now.

As with everything, I find my faith really helps me with all the stressful stuff like BDD and COVID when you’re fed up with it all! We don’t have to stay with the bad feelings and thinking patterns in order to experience the goodness of God, because God is always good – regardless of how we see ourselves. We can hand over all that feels bad within us, knowing that it won’t destroy Jesus and He will remain a very good object! Allowing ourselves to be filled with His Spirit means that we can also experience the goodness of God on the inside too.

‘You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare
me from the harm of my past. … Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength. …
your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night. … I thank you, God, for making me so
mysteriously complex….carefully, skilfully you shaped me from nothing to something. …you
cherish me constantly in your every thought!’ Ps. 139

Echoes in my Mind

I often talk to my clients about how some feelings are really echoes from childhood. But, like I said in a previous article, echoes are the same as looking through the lens of the past transferred onto the present. The feelings are real, but have just been triggered by something that is causing us to remember those feelings – like a flashback. When it comes to emotions, it can be hard to distinguish between feelings that belong to now and those that are flashbacks (or echoes). 

But, like the soldier who cowers at a sudden loud bang, flashbacks are experienced in the present, whatever sensory memory has triggered it. 

I was thinking about this recently in terms of my desire to move house! I think about it regularly, all the time. But, if I think about this more deeply, I know that it is hard for me to feel settled, and so does this link to my constant thoughts about moving house.  Could this be an echo too?

I have a vivid memory of planning to run away when I reached 16. I had a practice run at 14, and eventually went two weeks after my 17th birthday. It had been something I had thought about regularly since the age of 10. 

As with most echoes like this, we can get ourselves into situations in life where we then re-enact these echoes over and over as our brain is trying to process what happened and help us to make sense of the experience. 

I can think about how, without any connection or recognition of these thought processes, the need to escape from something that was actually completely disconnected to the present time gets triggered, and this sets in motion the desire to move – or to ‘run away’ again.

So can I make sense of my feeling unsettled and thoughts around moving house in terms of being seduced all over again by these ‘echoes in my mind’? 

There’s a song called Everybody’s Talkin’ which seems to describe that sense of dissociation that comes with these sensory flashbacks so well. (I’m not sure it intends to!) I can see how my thoughts about moving to ‘where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain’ are just that same old feeling from long ago, playing out over and over again. 

So now I’m armed and forewarned. When I get drawn into these feelings, I can respond compassionately to that memory tape, and press pause.

Focus on now, and remind myself of all that is safe and good. Here. Now. 

EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’

Everybody’s talking at me

I don’t hear a word they’re saying

Only the echoes of my mind.

People stopping, staring

I cant see their faces

Only the shadows of their eyes.

I’m going where the sun keeps shining

Through the pouring rain

Going where the weather suits my clothes.

Banking off of the northeast winds

Sailing on a summer breeze

And skipping over the ocean like a stone.’ (Fred Neil)

Words

Words.

Where are the words to describe that sick feeling in the pit of the stomach? Those fragile part-formed words that lose their way somewhere between heart, brain, and mouth. Words that would release the pressure gauge within, giving the body a chance to sigh, and let go of the physical pain it expresses in place of the words. If only there were words for it. 

But what good are words without ears to hear? Surely speaking into an empty silence is more painful than feeling the words? Without ears to hear there is no need for words. 

Maybe that’s why so many people are hurting. 


“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:12-13

Loneliness and Isolation: Reality or Distortion

‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.’   James 1:17

Over the last year so many of us have been cut off from family members and friends.  For those who are single, and those living in flats, this has been particularly hard. For those who have lost jobs, or those who relied on the company of work colleagues during the day before returning to an empty home, this year has been hard. But this is a loneliness that was understood and shared by us all. 

There are some though who have always felt lonely and isolated, for whom the pandemic has made no difference.  I don’t mean those who live a genuinely isolated life for whatever reason, but those who feel alone even when they have family or friends alongside them.  How do we understand this internal sense of aloneness, that no amount of reassurance or companionship seems able to dispel? From where does it stem, and how do we understand this experience in order to not only overcome, but to prevent re-enactments that will serve only to reinforce the experience?

The example I use to help people understand repeating patterns is to first recognise that very first experience from which it originated.  This is usually an experience from childhood that has never been processed or worked through.  It may even be an experience that was handed down from parents or grandparents.  It’s as if the memory has been recorded and it continues to play in the background behind present day life, somewhere in our unconscious mind, with the emotions that belonged to that child back then rising nearer to the surface when triggered by something in the present. 

Despite that child growing up to have a partner and family of their own, they may continue to feel as if they are alone at times, and feel unable to connect with those who love them.

We tend to apply the same ingrained thought processes and experiences to current day relationships and situations and genuinely believe our perceptions to be accurate.  “I’m feeling it, therefore it must be true.”

Thoughts like:  “Everybody hates me,” “They’re all out to get me,” “Nobody loves me,” “I’m trapped,” . . . “helpless, powerless, unheard, less important, the outsider, etc, etc.”

It’s as if it’s like wearing glasses with a filter in the lens which places the old experience in front of the new one so everything is experienced through the same lens.

This can be the same for any negative childhood experience, of course, not just loneliness.  For children who have been indoctrinated with views or experiences that they considered to be normal, to discover later that they were in fact being lied to, and/or abused, it can feel as if the bottom of their world falls away when the discover the truth.  It can suddenly feel as if they don’t actually know who they are anymore because the foundations have shifted.  Any situation in the future which seems to suggest that things are not quite as they thought they were, and the world once again seems to fall away from them, and it can feel like another destabilising experience.

We can’t ignore these emotions when they threaten to overwhelm – it would be wrong to do so.  They need to be acknowledged and understood in the light of those childhood experiences.  It can be helpful to work on developing a compassionate adult self with the hindsight of experience, (which can easily be installed through EMDR), to help with challenging those repeating negative thoughts that arise out of those overwhelming experiences – not with self-critical, bullying, hopeless, despairing reactions, but with the love, nurturing, support, and compassion that that inner child needed at the time of the original experience. 

When the volume on that childhood recording seems to get so loud that it drowns out the present, remember there was a child back then who was screaming to be heard and to be loved.  Your compassionate adult self can come alongside and remind that inner child self that its going to be ok; this situation is different, and they are not alone anymore.

When life feels confusing, and its hard to know what the truth is, then it’s good to know that there is a God who never changes, who is always faithful, and always there.

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.’ Hebrews 13:8

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Malachi 3:6

Forgetting and Avoiding

One of the things that so often troubles people with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) is not being able to remember periods of their childhood and the pressure they feel to uncover the truth.

But what is the truth?

The truth can feel very confusing when others are determined not to face it either because they’ve ‘forgotten’ themselves, or refuse to go there because they can’t, or won’t. This can leave the person who remembers continuing to feel isolated and alone in their experience. Regardless of the denial around them, there remains a compulsive need to search for the truth and resolve it.

My research has led me to think about how child abuse, (whether sexual, physical, emotional, or spiritual) affects the developing brain of the child, and how much this is to do with attachment.  I have thought about my own life as well as I have sought to make sense of this. 

Not only were my own family running a pretty terrifying occult group within our home on a weekly basis, which we were not allowed to talk about with anybody outside (because ‘they won’t understand’ and because ‘we’re special,’ we were told – which are surprisingly common reasons given to victims of child abuse), but one member of the family was a prolific paedophile. 

Throughout my life he frequently had very young boys accompanying him, whom he would take on holiday with him in his caravan.  Nobody said anything to anybody about it, and we were told that ‘he gets on better with children than with people his own age.’

Nevertheless it felt very uncomfortable knowing that he was sleeping outside our house in a caravan parked in our driveway with 7-year-old boys, despite being only seven myself.

This never felt right – because it wasn’t.

Years later I caught him with a teenage boy, both of them with their trousers down, and I rang the police to discover that they had been watching him for the past five years and he was about to go to court accused of sexual abuse with 17 current children.  

Sadly, not one child had the courage to give evidence and he was let off.

A few years later an adult finally came forward claiming abuse from when he was a child, and this member of my family went to prison for four years and 10 months. He was in his mid-70’s by then so this was little justice for the lifetime of abuse inflicted upon countless young boys. 

Over the years there had been police raids, the house was sprayed with graffiti, and bagsful of photos and video evidence of countless children all photographed in the same pose were removed. Images of children were even found hidden under frozen food in the freezer in an attempt to conceal them from the police. Evidence also suggested that children had been made to wear dog collars and were tied to the bed. 

So how did somebody manage to get away with such depravity and appalling abuse of so many children over an entire lifespan, despite a whole community (and family) knowing about it? And where did these children come from? Who were they, and why did only one ever have the courage to speak?

Firstly, the children came from broken homes and lived with just their mums. Adverts were placed in a local newspaper in a different location to him offering respite holidays for young boys of single mums. And these mums gladly sent their sons off with him – without ever checking him out.

The boys were then taken to a graveyard where he terrified them half to death and threatened that if they ever told anybody they would be haunted for the rest of their lives by the ghosts in those graves.

Young children believe what they are told, they’re too frightened to tell anyone because of the subtle or very deliberate threats, and feel completely trapped by their perpetrator.  

And what about all those who see but don’t see? What of them? 

While child abuse is coming ever more into the public domain with horrific historical stories involving church, boarding schools, and children’s homes which are completely shocking, people are still struggling to face the reality that child abuse has always been going on all around us.

Trying to get the police to take it seriously and to investigate is another matter, because getting evidence that would stand up in court is hard to secure. One word against another sadly isn’t enough, unless there is more to go on.  I have supported several clients in psychotherapy who have been brave enough to report abuse and then seen how hard it is for them when it either doesn’t go to court or the perpetrator is found not guilty for lack of evidence, and they don’t get justice.  I experienced this myself first hand, having had to go through the process of being filmed while questioned over extremely sensitive and graphic details, so I know only too well how this feels.

Giving evidence against a family member is even harder than speaking out against an institution. To give evidence against a family member, who is then questioned along with the rest of the family, and it then doesn’t go to court, leaves the person in a very vulnerable position, and most will avoid it.

This is hardly surprising when they have felt vulnerable, scared, and grown up believing that nobody will listen or believe them.

So situations remain unresolved; perpetrators get away with it and the truth never comes to light. Child abuse continues on around us and we shut our eyes and our minds to it, because it’s too unbearable.

Personally, it breaks my heart that this was going on under our noses and nobody said anything. Though tragic, this is not unusual.

We have prayed for all those lives which have been hurt and damaged. I know from my therapy work with others that experiences like this have a profound effect upon the developing child and it can take years to recover.

It’s not uncommon for survivors of such abuse to find themselves dissociating in life to manage the impact, sometimes so severely that they could merit a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). They keep searching to make sense of the gaps: the switching, the fear, the nightmares, the silence, and the lies.

Once upon a time they experienced what it was like to be whole, to have a united mind, and to experience being attached to mum, even if that was only within the womb.

This experience of normal attachment and of being united and whole is locked within the central nervous system and has been retained as a memory within the system before trauma caused them to fragment and lose parts of who they are.

This system has enabled them to survive but that same survival instinct is also driving them to integrate, to become whole, and to find all the lost parts of themselves. That sense of attachment is within them and while they may have never known healthy attachment relationships, there is within them the innate need to feel attached, which could be in the sense of the parts of themselves fusing back to being whole.

At the same time there is that ongoing conflict within the system to remain fragmented in order to survive because those parts are trapped in time, still reliving the trauma and being prepared to step in and take over if necessary. 

So how does somebody with DID move on from here and integrate? It is vital, crucially, that they feel heard and that they experience compassion.

While this hopefully can be experienced within a therapeutic relationship, the ideal is for them to develop their own sense of compassion towards all the parts of themselves who have helped them to survive.  They will need to work hard at seeing themselves differently to the way they were made to feel, to speak kindly to themselves, and to know that they are worthy, precious, and fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

For me, the only way to deal with such sadness over this, and over the trauma from everything else going on, was through the peace I found in my Christian faith. It helped me to hang on to scripture that told me how loved I am, and that no matter what I went through, nothing can separate me from the love of God. Part of recovery is in the need to accept that what happened, happened (EMDR helped with this too), but to know that I have a future that is not defined by that. I am defined by knowing that I am a loved child of God.

And for others with a faith, struggling with dissociation and DID, if they can allow the peace and love of God to sink in, and filter through to every part, they can integrate and find that the greatest attachment figure is in God, and with Him alongside them they will be safe and everything will be OK. As they walk in the truth of who they are, and the parts feel safe in the confidence of that, integration and fusion can begin to take place.  

There is a peace in knowing He was always there, and always will be there, even if we can’t understand why. We can recover and walk in freedom. We are defined by who He says we are, not by anything that was said by anybody else, or what happened in the past. We are free of that. I am free of that.

Finding ourselves is finding the truth, and leads also to a more secure attachment within, as that must also stem from an attachment within the parts of ourselves. 

‘So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies,’ because of what He did for us.  (Col.1:19-20)

Let’s think about the unthinkable

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how different people cope with stuff that is unthinkable – unknowable.  Some people may get angry and push it away and refuse to hear, blame the other person, or blame themselves in some way.  Some end up internalizing all that is bad and unthinkable so that the world around them can stay a safe place.   

But what about children growing up surrounded by unthinkable activities and behaviours?  Not only does the child’s brain not have the level of maturity required to make sense of the situation, but it also has the innate tendency to survive, and he/she will do so by trying to make the environment as safe and as good as possible in order to survive. 

In early childhood all relationships are based upon identification, and if this is the case, it follows that if the child’s main carers present themselves as bad, he/she will feel bad.  The child takes upon themself the burden of badness, and gains a sense of security then within an environment of good people, which feels safer and more hopeful. 

The earliest defence is repression, and the bad in others is banished into the unconscious, and various coping mechanisms may later be used to reinforce this and to help distract the mind away from the bad feelings inside, which are unthinkable and unknowable.

Someone once said ‘It’s better to be a sinner in a world ruled by God than to live in a world ruled by the Devil.  Because a sinner in a world ruled by God may be bad, but there is security derived from the fact that the world is good and there is hope of redemption.  In a world ruled by the Devil on the other hand, the individual may escape the badness of being a sinner, but he/she is bad because the world around is bad. In this situation there is no security or hope of redemption.

In this theory of what is called ‘object relations,’ however much an individual wants to reject the bad ‘objects’, she cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon her, and she cant resist them because they have power over her.  She is compelled to internalise them in an effort to control them.  They have had power over her in the outside world, and now they have power over her internal world.  

This can then become a repeating pattern of behaviour throughout life.  Somebody who has been forced to keep a secret of child abuse, for example, will feel bound to keep all sorts of secrets, even if they have buried the secret so deep that they don’t know what happened anymore.  The weight of the secret is still within the unconscious, whilst the individual is re-enacting this process by keeping a whole manner of other lesser secrets.

Whilst I see this playing out in so much of my work with abused clients, I recognise the patterns within my own life too.  Family secrets that had to be kept, swept under the carpet and ignored, within a culture of silence.  I began to notice myself once upon a time how the burden of those secrets were playing out and how I kept things to myself whilst feeling the intense pressure within me to speak up, but not knowing the words for this secret.  As I found those words, others turned away, unable to hear the unthinkable. 

The person who was once isolated by the badness they took upon themselves is once again isolated by this societal coping mechanism for things that are too bad to be thought about.

Then there is God.  God is always good.  When you first encounter God it is normal to become aware of your sin as Isaiah did when he first encountered God in chapter 6:5.  He said, “There is no hope for me!  I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  The difference with experiencing God is that as the goodness of God permeates us with His Spirit, we are not only washed clean, we become aware of our true identity as His child, of being loved and precious.  Within this relationship we can experience goodness within us as well as outside of us.  With God in us, and with us, and all around us, we have the opportunity to undo those ingrained patterns of being and perceiving the world.  With God’s compassionate mindset (as we have the mind of Christ 1Cor.2:16), we can learn to be compassionate towards ourselves as He is towards us. We can adopt His kindness and goodness within our character towards ourselves, which is what we should have learnt from our own mothers in the first place. 

In Isaiah 49:15 it says “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  And then further on in chapter 66:13 it says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I’ll comfort you.”

In my role as a psychotherapist I am all about helping people to find the words for what happened, for speaking it out, and putting an end to self-defeating repeating patterns.  I’m all for speaking up against injustice and breaking the cultural silence that exists when it comes to child abuse.  We all need to open our eyes and have the courage to speak up so that our children have the courage to speak and find the words when something feels wrong instead of taking it upon themselves and beginning a life-time of self-hatred, eating disorders, self-harm, body image problems, and psychosomatic symptoms.  We need to find the words for our emotions so that we can learn to manage emotions appropriately instead of many years later when those emotions eventually emerge as physical illnesses and chronic pain when that was the only way as a child that they could find the way to ‘say’ that they were hurting.

Let’s think about the unthinkable.

In Partnership

In Jn.21:1-14 we read how Jesus appeared to the disciples.  They were probably still in a state of shock after what had taken place with the crucifixion and they have decided to go fishing, but they caught nothing all night.  Early in the morning they notice a man standing on the shore, who calls out to them “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered and he told them to throw the net out of the other side of the boat.  When they did, they caught so many fish they were hardly able to haul them all into the boat.  Then one of them recognised it was Jesus and Peter jumped into the water and rushed to shore.

When they landed, they saw that Jesus had a fire burning with some bread and fish cooking on it. He invited them to bring some of their fish and to come and have breakfast with him.

What is striking here is that firstly the disciples are obedient even though they don’t know it’s Jesus initially.  They could have been really fed up with the man’s suggestion to throw the nets out the other side, having been fishing all night. It’s interesting that Jesus even suggests to them to throw the nets out the other side, and doesn’t just cause the fish to swim to the other side of the boat as, after all, he could have done that easily. There is something in the responding, and the following. Jesus already knows what they’re trying to do and tells them how to do it more efficiently.  He doesn’t do it for them. He already has what they’re trying to get, which he blesses them with, and more.  He could have multiplied the fish he was cooking already but instead he partners with them, using their skills to bless them with.  The story is of course symbolic for the fish he already has, i.e. them, and sending them out to bring in more.  He tells them to bring to him the fish they have caught, having previously told them to follow him and become fishers of men.

I think its also so beautifully symbolic for them being downcast, and having returned to what is familiar in order to cope with their sadness and disappointment.  But he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Mt.11:28 and in Jn6.35 he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Here he is meeting them in their sadness, saying “come to me”, and he gives them bread and fish, representing the word of God and his body which he gave up for them.

God meets us where we are at. He uses the skills and the tools we have to bless us, as well as to partner with us to bless others, and draw them to himself. We are called to be rescuers, to heal the sick, and to use what we have to bless others and show them love, as he loves us.

Spring 2021

Update on where we are now and how we are moving forwards in 2021

Over the last year all our therapy moved onto Zoom, and as a consequence of which, we are managing to provide therapy to those way beyond Reading and even as far afield as Mexico, California, and Italy!  As with individual therapy, our group therapy, courses, and training events have not been limited to those within driving distance either and so numbers have grown.  Some of our work will definitely continue on-line going forwards, but we will also gradually begin the transition back to offering in person individual therapy from May for those within the Reading area.  

There won’t be any celebrations yet, but there is much to be thankful for nevertheless.  We have found a way of working that has successfully managed to continue supporting people and we are coming out the other side of this experience.  None of us will ever be the same again, and nor will Still the Hunger.

Training and Events:

Boundaries Course: we were able to offer the Boundaries Course to all of our clients across 8 weeks during 2020.  We got to use Breakout Rooms for the first time and had some great discussions.  Several people continue to talk about how much they got out of this course and when can we run it again.  We will begin to send details out soon for this.  The course runs on Tuesday evenings from 8.15-9.45pm on Zoom over 8 weeks.  We were charging £10 per week but this time you will be able to pay up front for the whole course for £60.

The MORE Course for Therapists:  we ran a first pilot version of the MORE course for therapists and clinical professionals, which includes clinical theory, videos, and space to explore faith and healing in the context of complex mental health issues.  We got lots of helpful feedback which we’ve been able to reflect on and use to improve the material.  Some of the comments from February 2021: “Fantastic!”  “5*!” “How powerful EMDR can be – and how I need to get trained in this!” “You are a lovely relational team!”

The next date for this course will be Friday 21st – Saturday 22nd May 2021. Tickets are available to buy on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/more-for-therapists-tickets-141375045567

Encounter Room:  our monthly meetings for worship and healing have unfortunately been on hold for the last year.  We have really missed this part of our ministry and are hoping to relaunch with a fresh new look by May/June.  We will start on-line but hope to be able to meet together soon after.  Meetings will be on Sunday evenings once we restart.

StH Team:

Over the course of the last year Monia has been seeing clients on Zoom from the mountains in northern Italy, Charles from Burghfield, and I have been working from our garden studio in Caversham! We have attended various training workshops ourselves, including being able to develop our EMDR skills with training in Attachment-informed EMDR.  Beverley has been developing her work with chronic pain conditions and has used EMDR effectively with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and spinal conditions. Charles has been gaining valuable experience managing care within an intensive residential mental health facility, while continuing with his psychodynamic placement at Still the Hunger.  Monia has been home schooling her three children in Italy while extensive home renovations have been underway back here in the UK.  Despite having her hands full, she also adopted a dog whose owner passed away from COVID. The children were excited to come home to meet their new pet finally! 

Behind the scenes our prayer group has actively been praying for all our clients, as well as for the various things that each of us have been dealing with over the last year.  Despite not actually meeting together, we have seen some wonderful answers to prayer and miraculous healing.

Reflection:

In  Mt.9:9-13 Jesus asks Matthew, the tax collector, to follow him.  Later he is seen eating with Matthew and some of his friends and the Pharisees say to his disciples, “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cosy with crooks and riffraff?” Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? … I’m after mercy, not religion. I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (MSG).

Taking this story further we can see that all the disciples that Jesus called came from all walks of life, just like Matthew the tax collector, and Mary Magdalene, out of whom he cast out seven demons. This was a mixed bag of people who would likely have found it difficult to connect with each other or even get on with each other, and yet Jesus says to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jn.13:34 (NIV)

I have always thought about the early church in Acts as this group of people who are full of the Holy Spirit, devoted as much to each other as to their community, and having the most amazing time in prayer and worship together and seeing miraculous healings. I was struck by how Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love, talks about how he gave up his mega church and, after a period of travelling and searching for where God was leading him, ended up setting up a small house church that seemed to replicate those in the early church.  And I felt very envious of this experience.

The truth is however different.  Jesus called together a group of people who would find it hard to accept one another, not alone love each other, and yet this is the most important commandment he gives to them.  He is showing us something really important in this.  The friction that would have existed between them is part of our humanity, our human condition and experience, and each of us is living with, working with, worshipping with, doing therapy with, a group of people from different walks of life with different experiences – with whom there is going to be friction

Jesus modelled something for us through those people that he called to be with him. He didn’t see Matthew as a ‘sinner’, but as somebody who needed love and acceptance, and with the knowledge of that love and acceptance, he was transformed and able to love those around him.

Nobody’s family is perfect; even those who appear to have it ok will have their moments, and others may be extremely dysfunctional. We are all living with friction, whether that be our current circumstances due to COVID, work related stress, illness, mental health issues, disability, trauma, divorce, loss of a loved one, poverty, or even environmental circumstances like the recent volcanic eruption in St Vincents. Friction and tension is part of this life experience, part of our humanity and physical state of being on this earth.

And Jesus said, this one commandment I give you – despite all of this – is to love one another as I love you. We need to find a place of acceptance within ourselves with who we are in order to be able to exist with others and with whatever life experiences we face.  And we can do that if we abide in His love, lean into Him, and know how much He loves us. 

Our creator and the creator of all things.  He hasn’t messed up. He isn’t cruel and insensitive to our needs whilst inflicting upon us disease, viruses, poverty, and natural disasters. He called together a group of people with whom he lived closely with, with whom there would have been friction, and set us an example to follow. To love one another as He loves us.

I think of my own family experience growing up within a highly dysfunctional group of people who never speak to each other anymore and have gone their own ways. And I think of those within our therapy group who each come with a varying back history of their own dysfunctional and tragic set of circumstances.  Each has found their own way of coping and relating to others. Some have managed to study, some have more financial stability, some are married,… but regardless of all of this, all bring a pattern of relating based on their experiences of life that brings with it friction. That friction enables us to have a unique opportunity to work together, to understand each other and ourselves.  That friction enables us to accept others, accept ourselves, accept our experiences.  That friction is normal human life, with which we have to make our peace.  And the first step in this process is taking hold of a sense of peace with who we are, that peace that has already been given, which enables us to know that we are loved and accepted.  From that place we can experience love from others and love in return, as He loves us.