Month: January 2017

Relaxation Part 1: Stopping the Runaway Train

by Jason Pogue, PLPC

Relaxation is an important and often overlooked skill that is helpful in dealing with anxiety, stress, and anger.

I could barely see straight as I grunted out some breaths. My friend had tackled me and pulled me aside in an effort to stop me. I remember being so overwhelmed with anger I was crying, hyperventilating, and scraping bark off the tree next to me with my fingernails. I was maybe 12 years old, and I had lost it in the middle of a pickup football game.

I looked crazy to my friends. I felt crazy to myself. But, the anger I was feeling was not crazy, and the rejection and humiliation underneath that anger was very, very real. One of the other boys, I’ll call him Jimmy, had been picking on me and suggesting I was cheating. In my escalating anger I blitzed him, and Jimmy threw the football as hard as he could at my face. In that moment, my interpretation of what was going on fueled a neurochemical takeover of my body – it felt like I could see what I was doing, was horrified by it, but could not stop this stranger I found myself inhabiting from pummeling Jimmy into the ground.

There are real reasons why my body felt this way that will be the fodder for another blog. There are also real reasons why this moment, though seemingly small, triggered an enormous amount of rejection and anger that – though valid – did not entirely come from the situation at hand. But, the question today is, what do we do when we find ourselves in a similar spot? Though it won’t treat the roots of these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, how can we at least slow down the runaway train and function in a healthier way?

One of the first tools in slowing down the runaway train is slowing down period.

It sounds silly. Or obvious. But, an incredible difference can be had if in these moments we can learn to slow our bodies down. One way we can do this is by learning and practicing breathing exercises designed to relax your body.

You’ve probably heard someone say to you or others before, “Now, just take some deep breaths!” In the moment, you might have found yourself wanting to pummel them, too! Our emotions can be big and feel overpowering in the moment, which is often why it feels impossible to stop. This is why it is so important for us to regularly practice things like relaxation breathing when we are not entirely overwhelmed – so that it becomes more and more natural.

So, right now, why don’t you take a minute wherever you are – literally take 60 seconds to try this. Find a quiet place or some headphones (check out Calm.com for soothing background noise), sit comfortably, with your back straight, your feet flat on the ground. You can have your hands in your lap, or on your thighs. Set an alarm for 1 minute, close your eyes, and begin with some deep breaths – breathing in through your nose, and out through your mouth. These breaths should be nice and slow, and from your gut not your chest – act like your belly is a balloon and you are trying to inflate it and deflate it. In – and out. In – and out. Practice just focusing on your breathing, slowly, consistently, from your diaphragm.

Once your minute is up, take stock in how you feel. What does this moment feel like, versus the moments you were reading this blog just before? Try this exercise every day for a week when you get home from work. What do you notice? Then, maybe try it as you notice some situations that activate some mild emotion.

As you gradually practice this breathing with increasingly challenging moments, you will find this tool is actually an available choice to you when your body tries to take you over with the runaway train.

It really works! It doesn’t answer the questions of why we are feeling and thinking these things to begin with – these questions need answers and healing if we want to live as whole people. But, it does help us survive the runaway train with less damage to ourselves and others. If you want some help, some more tools, or to delve more deeply into the roots behind these thoughts and emotions, send me an email or give me a call. I’d be glad to join you on this journey to take back control and discover who you really are.

Men, Sexual Trauma, and Healing…

Men, Sexual Trauma, and Healing…

by Frank Theus, LPC

Back in October 2014, I wrote a blog article entitled Abused Boys http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/abused-boys. My commentary invited readers to enter into an ongoing blogversation shattering the silence specifically for men who were discovering that they were survivors of sexual trauma, in particular, and other forms of abuse. Now two years later, in light of the work I do as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT®), I felt the need to re-visit this e-discussion.

Did you know that according the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) 1 in 10 men* – that’s 10% of the male population – have suffered trauma resultant from sexual assault.

Per U.S. Census data that would translate into the following:

  • Approximate # of Males in the U.S. 138,053,563 (49.1% of gen’l population) = 13.9 million Male sexual assault victims*
  • Approximate # of Males in St. Louis County 493,000 = 49,300 Male sexual assault victims*

Imagine with me what these numbers might mean to you. If you attend a church service on Sunday morning, which has on average 185 persons in attendance; and, if it reflected the U.S. general population, there would be approximately 91 male attendees. Of that number there would likely be nine fellow image bearers of God who are sitting next to you, serving alongside of you, suffering in silence regarding their past abuse or assault. These men aren’t numbers, they are our fathers, brothers, nephews, grandsons, veterans, coworkers, clergy, coaches, elders, deacons, husbands, neighbors, bosses, friends…

But Who Would Do This?

  • “Those who sexually assault men or boys differ in a number of ways from those who assault only females.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be sexually abused by strangers or by authority figures in organizations such as schools, the church, or athletics programs.
  • Those who sexually assault males usually choose young men and male adolescents (the average age is 17 years old) as their victims and are more likely to assault many victims, compared to those who sexually assault females.
  • Perpetrators often assault young males in isolated areas where help is not readily available. For instance, a perpetrator who assaults males may pick up a teenage hitchhiker on a remote road or find some other way to isolate his intended victim.
  • As is true about those who assault and sexually abuse women and girls, most perpetrators of males are men. Specifically, men are perpetrators in about 86 out of every 100 (or 86%) of male victimization cases.
  • Despite popular belief that only gay men would sexually assault men or boys, most male perpetrators identify themselves as heterosexuals and often have consensual sexual relationships with women.
  • These same male victims may have an additional burden of confusion, shame and humiliation if their abuser was a female.” (VA)
  • Early onset exposure to pornography due to adult permissiveness (neglect) or intentionality (abuse). (Theus)
  • Covert incest wherein the male child feels more like the emotional-romantic-surrogate partner to mom. (Adams)

As these men make their way into counseling and, in particular, the ones who come to see me for my help as a CSAT®, it’s usually due to problematic/at-risk behaviors around sex and sexuality that they have sought to hide for so many years but now has exploded into the light of day. These hurting men are at a tipping point or have “hit bottom” and, much like someone drowning, desperately need rescue.

As the rescue operation unfolds it oftentimes reveals a life story of various forms of at-risk behaviors from adolescence into adulthood, porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), STDs, immersed in shame-guilt, feeling stigmatized, dissociating, confusion, distorted-negative core beliefs, lack of boundaries, anxiety-depression-PTSD, anger, and addictive-compulsive behaviors around the use of substances and other process addictions (e.g. money, work, gambling, food, video gaming, and tanning) as an attempt to have “control”, to “survive”, to “escape” and/or to “numb out”.

As important as it is to know that rescue has been extended, my clients begin to realize that what they are undertaking is a journey into sustainable sobriety-recovery and wholeness of their mind, body, spirit, and vital core relationships.

This process is akin to a crucible, yet one wherein the client is extended invitations to explore the deepest issues of their heart in order to grow deeper insights and tools to engage their stories, past, present, and future with real courage and hope. (Allender)

Are you ready to journey? I pray you are.

 

*NOTE: Many believe – as do I — that the actual conservative number is 1:6 men or 17% of the male population has been sexually abused. If so, the above numbers would be adjusted to:

24 million men nationally
84,00 men within the county
15 men inside our sanctuaries.

 


Resources:
www.1in6.org
http://www.malesurvivor.org/index.php
Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse by Mic Hunter, PsyD
Allies in Healing: When the person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child by Laura Davis
Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age by Robt Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S & Jennifer Schneider, M.D.
Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction by Robt Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life by Dan Allender, PhD
The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dan Allender, PhD
Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse by Mike Lew, MSW
Wounded Boys, Heroic Men: A Man’s Guide to Recovering from Child Abuse by Daniel Jay Sonkin, PhD and Lenore E. A. Walker, EdD

How to Heal the Hurt

Part 1: Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

by Isaac Knopp, PLPC

Relationships can be a major source of pain. The following kind of dialogue is common amongst couples.

Him: My wife is always saying hurtful things that make me feel so small. I just get frustrated and feel like whatever I try to do does not make a difference to her. 

Her: Every time I bring up an issue, he just leaves the conversation or says he does not want to argue anymore. I don’t feel like he understands how much his silence is stressing me out.

As a human being, a counselor, and someone who is married myself, I know how easy it is to experience disconnection. Personally, I resonate with the above couple. Especially when attempts at repairing relationships seemingly end up pushing each other away. 

Is it really a mystery why our emotional connection with our partner goes wrong? Can we not simply name it outright?

When couples come to me talking about their hurt feelings saying, “I don’t know why it hurts so bad, I’m an adult, I should be able to handle it.” I am inclined to take these statements literally, it does hurt! Pain is not entirely a metaphor about other unresolved issues we should grow out of. Pain hurts because having a secure emotional bond is vital to the human mind as bread and water are to the body.

As humans and mammals, with highly sophisticated limbic systems, we need secure emotional bonds with our partner as a part of our built in survival code.

The good news is that we do have a road map for relationships like never before!

Why do I speak about this as a breakthrough revelation? Because it is! In only the last fifteen to twenty years, “science is, at last, beginning to address the core mysteries of human relationships” (Berscheid, 1999, p. 206). We now know that when we are even in the proximity of a loved one, their presence alone acts as a tranquilizer to the nervous system (Schore, 1994). On the flip side, when we feel like our partner is not available or responsive to us, our nervous system receives a shock that can put us in a state of distress. 

Further, we also know that the result of a literal shock is pretty predictable. If I were to stick my finger in an electrical socket, I would receive a shock which would more or less incapacitate me. So, when we are not able to make the vital connection we need in love, often we do not realize we have experienced a shock of another kind that sends us reeling. Usually we react out of our sense of distress. The dialogue mentioned above is very predictable. A man trying to manage his own reaction by withdrawing, and the wife trying to manage her reaction by protesting his withdrawal.

If we truly do have a new understanding of love, how with this help the hurting couple?

Simply put, when a couple understands their emotional bond with their partner they have the tools to work through their distress.

Johnson, Susan M. (2012-02-24). Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection (Basic Principles Into Practice Series) (p. 24, p. 26). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.