self-worth

3 Things to Know When Processing Trauma

 Guest Post by Allie Chapa

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

The middle is a disheartening place; you don’t quite see the beginning and you definitely don’t see the end. This is how I would describe my process with mental illness and trauma right now. I’m in the foggy, muddy middle and quite honestly, most days I want to give up.

For the last year and a half I’ve been focusing on recovery from my latest episode of depression and anxiety. I have found that for me, medication and counseling are what I need during this time, even though it may not be what’s best for everyone. More specifically, I have been doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a specialized therapy that focuses on trauma. (You can learn more about EMDR therapy, here.)

Within the last five years, with the help of a counselor, I have learned that my childhood was abnormal from others. I have a loving mother who did her best raising me but unfortunately was also emotionally abusive. The pain from this has manifested in a multitude of false beliefs about myself and others—beliefs so deeply embedded in my mind that I didn’t know they were false until this past year as I’ve processed them for the first time in EMDR therapy.

This journey has been long, hard, and freeing all at the same. I have found relief that the things I believe about myself and others are completely wrong. I have found more anxiety because there are so many false and negative beliefs. I have found hope that I can believe new things. I have found frustration because truly believing those new things is really hard. I have found despair because I feel like I’ll never get past all of my trauma. I have found that I not only grow as I go through the process but I also fail—a lot.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I can’t say these tips will apply to everyone because I don’t believe the journey looks the same for everyone. We’re all unique individuals, and our journeys will also be the unique. But here are some things that I’ve found help me as I get through the middle of my journey with trauma. (Note: these are all things I’m still learning to do and definitely have not mastered!)

1. Take time to take care of yourself.

The battle to replace your old belief system with a new one takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting. Make sure to be kind to yourself and do things that give you peace and bring you joy. I usually go and buy some dark chocolate after my EMDR sessions and find time to take a nap to rest.

2. Focus on one new belief at a time.

As my journey goes on, I tend to get overwhelmed and feel despair when I think of all of the new thoughts and beliefs I’m working on. Instead of trying to believe 15 new thoughts, I’m working on focusing on just one at a time. It helps me to write mine out on a large chalkboard I have and display it somewhere I can repeatedly read in my house.

3. Give yourself permission to feel pain.

This one is really hard for me. I’m learning that when it comes to trauma, there are layers and layers of pain to be dealt with. No one likes to feel pain, but I’m told that there’s no other way to get to the other side without feeling the pain.

If you are someone who has experienced trauma, I want you to know that your pain is real. I don’t want to pretend to know your kind of pain, but I do know it can hold you back for too long. Please, don’t wait to find help, because there is so much more to your life than the pain you have experienced.

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How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Guest Post by Faith Badders

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Over time I have learned that my mind can create something beautiful or something dark and destructive. When I was young, I was a pretty content girl and passionate about living my life to its fullest even when times were tough. As I entered my senior year, I started to evaluate my life and noticed how average I was as a student, dancer, tennis player, daughter, sister, and friend. I felt like everything I once was content with no longer measured up to what my mind was telling me I should have become. At the same time, I was dealing with food sensitivities, recovering from a breakup, and embracing the life changes that would come after graduating high school. 

Slowly but surely I started to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I was hypersensitive to my emotions and how I felt about food; it was if my gut was an irritable monster that wanted to avoid discomfort at all costs. I never restricted and developed anorexia, but I did eliminate a lot of foods out of my diet and obsessively thought about when and what I would eat. I became anxious and even annoyed around food and how much it consumed my thought life. After six months of dealing with this unhealthy relationship with food, I dropped to an unhealthy weight and was not capable of gaining weight back on my own. 

After graduation, I planned on going on a mission trip to a third world country. However, my parents did not let me go because they did not want me losing any more weight. My parents saying no turned my life around, and I am greatly appreciative of their decision. Instead of going on the mission trip, I decided to admit that I was powerless and needed to surrender control. I spent my entire summer at a treatment center and embraced a journey to receive complete healing. Talk about a humbling yet powerful experience. 

Treatment was hard, pushed me to my edge, and grew me as a person. Every day I had to decide to work hard, rest in grace, and receive the help and support needed to get through the program. Even though my family and friends did not always know how to address the situation, they were very supportive and loved me throughout the process. I am very thankful for the people in my life who love me and support me, but I have learned to acknowledge that I, myself, am ultimately responsible for my recovery and maintaining a healthy mind, spirit, and body.

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Every person’s journey with food is different, but here are a few suggestions on how to walk alongside them in the midst of an eating disorder.

Have conversations about it—and don’t forget to listen.

It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations, especially when it comes to a sensitive topic like an eating disorder. But broaching the topic opens the door for dialogue and the road to recovery. Ask questions and listen, and most of all, be patient and supportive. Validating feelings, asking questions, and withholding judgment are vital for recovery.

Don’t give quick fixes.

Even though comments like “Just eat more” or “Just look in the mirror—you look great” can seem like a natural response, they can do more harm than good. These statements imply eating disorders are casual problems rather than the complex situations they are. If a statement starts with “just,” think twice before saying it out loud. Instead, encourage your loved one and speak truth about their value as a person.

Offer to help look for professional help.

Finding a doctor or making an appointment with a counselor can be intimidating for many people. Offer to look up providers in the area or to take them to an appointment. Receiving compassionate care can help a person understand any diagnoses they may have as well as screen for any related medical problems. Optimally, eating disorders are addressed holistically, with a team of people helping to talk through nutrition, their relationship with food, and healthy coping mechanisms (counseling was my favorite).

Stay away from shaming.

Stay away from focusing on your emotions and blaming an individual for them (i.e., “I’m scared when you don’t eat” or “I feel guilty that you’re not doing well”). Addiitonally, rather than making comments about actions you disagree with (not eating enough, hurting yourself by doing this, etc.), ask about the emotions or motivations behind these actions. Instead, ask questions about topics like what they find stressful in life or what drives their fear of gaining weight.

Learn about eating disorders.

The more you know about eating disorders, the more likely you’ll be able to offer empathy and positive support. Researching will help you understand what kind of treatment your loved one might need, and it will also make you aware of personal challenges or biases you may not be aware of.

Tips for Parents

While these next few are especially useful for parents, we can all implement them in our lives.

Set a positive example.

This goes far beyond what (or how much) you eat. It includes being mindful of your own self-esteem and self-image and speaking positively about yourself and your body. It also includes avoiding criticism about appearance (your own or anyone else’s). In conversation, try focusing on character qualities instead of physical appearance.

Hold your child accountable, but don’t hover.

Instead of acting like the “food police” or trying to force them to eat, set limits. Using natural consequences to their actions instead of “punishments” you prescribe can be much more powerful motivators. For example, when I was in a weakened state, it wasn’t safe for me to go on a trip to Belize, so my parents didn’t allow me to go.

Don’t blame—your child or yourself.

Instead of focusing on the “could have” and “should have” moments in life, look forward and identify action points you can take today. Evaluate what you have learned and how you can incorporate that into you relationship with your child. Instead, continue to provide hope to yourself and your child by focusing on every victory, no matter how small.

Make meals enjoyable.

Eating meals as a family or inviting friends over for dinner can make mealtimes something to look forward to. Having fun with each other instead of talking about the day’s complications or problems can help create a positive atmosphere, which can become associated with food.

Last of all, take care of yourself.

Make sure you have a support system where you can talk about your struggles and the complex emotions around a loved one with an eating disorder. Consider setting aside a regular time when you can process verbally with a friend, family member, or therapist. By practicing self-care, you’re not only ensuring you can parent your child well, but you’re also modeling self-love in a practical way.

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Growing Up as a Banana

“Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” That’s what the term “banana” means. You guessed it: I'm Chinese American

I grew up in a primarily Caucasian Houston neighborhood, and though I wouldn’t say I faced discrimination, there are a few things I experienced simply because I wasn’t white. I dismissed those memories as unimportant for a long time, but today I want to recognize them because they do matter—especially as a child, which is when these experiences occurred.

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 Memory #1: Playground Woes

We were playing a game of tag on the playground at the YMCA during my brother’s baseball practice. My sister and I joined the other players’ younger siblings to swing, show off our monkey bar skills, and finally play tag. It was all fun and games until one of the little boys asked what my ethnicity was.

“I’m Chinese American,” small, elementary-aged me replied proudly.

“Oh! China!” came the quick response.

Before I knew what was happening, this little boy egged on every child on the playground to chant with him: “Chi-na! Chi-na! Chi-na!” (And not in a kind, we’re-cheering-you-on way.)

Unfortunately, I happened to be “it” at the time, so I tried extra hard to tag another person and get rid of this unnecessary attention. Confused and upset, I just couldn’t catch them, and all of a sudden, as kids do, this little boy changed the rules of the game. 

“You can’t climb on the playground when you’re ‘it,’” he announced. “Only the other kids can climb.”

The rule change was accepted without second thought.

Thus began the real frustration. Somehow my younger sister also ended up being “it” (another unfair rule change in the middle of our game?), so the two of us ran in circles on the ground while the other boys and girls stood on the structure, taunting us by hanging off platforms until we got close, and then scurrying back into the middle of the play structure, out of reach. 

Over and over it happened. The little ringleader boy would stick his foot out. We’d see it and feverishly lunge toward it to tag him, and he’d pull back just in time and retreat to safety to laugh at us. All the while, the chanting continued.

“Chi-na! Chi-na! Chi-na!”

Suddenly, baseball practice was over. Parents came to pick up their children, and everyone dispersed. Practice ended, the game of tag ended, and so did my innocent pride for my heritage. I was humiliated.

I held my dad’s hand as we walked across the grass toward the parking lot.

“What country were they shouting?” he asked gently.

“China,” I mumbled, and then all was quiet.

Up until now, that’s the last time I spoke of this event to anyone, ever. Shame has that effect. As a child, I learned many things that day, but most of all, I learned to be ashamed my heritage was different.

Memory #2: The Eyes

This isn’t necessarily a single memory as it is a collection of them. It happened so many times I can’t even count or recount them all. But basically each time was the same:

Chinese anything came up in conversation—Chinese culture, Chinese names, Chinese food—and one of my little Caucasian friends would impulsively put their fingers to their eyes and squint to make it look like they had “China eyes.” Sometimes gibberish would come out of their mouths as they spoke “Chinese.”

Occasionally moms and dads would scold their children, but most of the time parents weren’t present. To say it was awkward is an understatement. Sometimes the kids didn’t even know I was Chinese, and after a few initial times of telling them to “please stop because I am Chinese and it isn’t nice to make fun of people,” my spunk shrunk and I shut up.

Now, much later in life, every once in a while close friends and I will joke about my eyes, but there’s a definite line between mutual joking with a friend and mocking someone’s (or a whole people group’s) appearance.

It took me a lot longer than the playground incident to learn this lesson as a child, but learn it I did: it’s not cool to look different from other people. I learned to be ashamed of my appearance because I wasn’t white.

Here and Now

Were those children trying to make me ashamed of who I was? No, I don’t believe so. Children do and say inappropriate things all the time. That’s how they learn. I’m sure I said and did plenty of offensive things too when I was young. There is grace for all.

Why then am I even bringing this up? Because although there is indeed grace, there’s also a very real impact these events had on my perception of self. Today, I am so grateful for the diversity of my upbringing. I’m proud of the fact I grew up in a Chinese American family, and I’m proud of my heritage. Yet it’s taken some time to regain this pride.

I know now the “yellow on the outside” isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s something to be treasured. I am not less beautiful because I am Asian, and the unique heritage I carry is a gift and an honor.

In a time when there is a huge push for “tolerance” and “acceptance,” perhaps it’s wise to remember the actions which seem most insignificant often have the deepest and most long-lasting impact on those around us.

 

 

Thanks for reading! There are many issues I didn’t address in this post, and I would love to hear your thoughts on them:

  • Is there an imbalance between the passion around ballot issues for equality and the willingness to identify & adjust our personal, everyday biases and shaming practices?
  • If so, how do we address everyday shame-creating actions/conversations?
  • How do we help young people process these shameful moments/interactions?
  • What are ways childhood experiences shaped how you view(ed) yourself (race-related or not)?
  • How did you process these experiences?

Leave a comment, send an email, or come share a cup of coffee with me and tell me what you think in person!

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The Half Truth Trap

I used to play "two truths and a lie" a lot. It was one of the most popular youth group icebreakers when I was a teenager. The goal was to tell the group two truths and one lie, but in such a way others couldn't guess which was the truth and which was the lie. It didn't take long to discover the fastest way to trick others was to slip a hint of truth into the lie (I know, this church youth group game taught me how to deceive people more effectively. Ironic.). Yet I think most of us know this principle about deception from other realms aside from the game: the most believable lies have a thread of truth in them. That's what makes them so believable. We learn this from experience, from weaving lies or from falling prey to them a few too many times. Slide some truth in with deception, and the lie just became much more convincing. And another game of "two truths" is won.

However, there's a much weightier issue with half truths than winning an icebreaker game.

A while back I came up against a mental block I just couldn't seem to get past. Logically, I knew this belief I held about myself was false, but for some reason I couldn't move past it. My heart wouldn't accept truth. In moments of quiet, accusations would start piling up in my head about why I wouldn't ever be able to embrace truth and move past this false belief. And unlike other instances where I could easily shoot down lies with logical facts, I had no defenses against these accusations.

When I was a child, I remember going to Target with my family. My mom would point to the big, red concrete balls outside the store and joke with us, "If you can pick up one of those balls, I'll give you $100!" (Or maybe it was $20, which is basically $100 when you're 9.) My siblings and I would always try, straining with every ounce of our tiny bodies to lift that concrete ball. I never could pick it up, no matter how hard I tried. And boy did I try!

That struggle to pick up a concrete ball is exactly what it felt like when I was trying to let go of my false belief and embrace truth. It felt like I was putting everything I had - all my mental energy and strength and effort - into the task, but it just wouldn't budge. No matter how hard I tried, it didn't lift or move or roll or shift. Not even a millimeter.

To get past this false belief - this felt like an impossible task.

I was worn out. Discouraged and frustrated, I alternated between feverishly scheming some new plan to convince my heart to believe the truth and feeling utterly defeated, sitting down with my back against the concrete ball and hanging my head low.

Shout out to my sister Christina & her friend Liz for the picture!

Shout out to my sister Christina & her friend Liz for the picture!

Eventually, someone had to help me break the belief down into two parts. Someone had to help me recognize the thread of truth mixed into the false belief I couldn't seem to let go of. The result was resounding freedom.

The little thread of truth - the half truth in a bag of lies - is the big, red concrete ball we cannot move. It's what makes the accusations in our heads impossible to deny. Yet when we dissect our false beliefs and identify the thread of truth in them, we gain freedom. We are able to treat the thread of truth as truth (as the big concrete sphere we can't possibly move) and the rest of the bag of lies as lies (which are much easier to stop believing when we can separate them from the half truths tripping our brains up). 

Half truths come in many forms, such as:

I am not lovable because I am...

  • imperfect
  • not an outgoing person
  • not a quiet person

Or, I am inadequate because I...

  • am not good at public speaking
  • have to ask for help frequently
  • learn/read/talk/etc at a slower pace than the person next to me

Or, my circumstances are difficult because...

  • everyone in my life hates me
  • I have no natural gifts/talents
  • God doesn't love me

The list goes on and on. But when we can separate truth from deception in these false beliefs, the lies lose their persuasive power. The truth may be that we are not outgoing people or are quiet, and it's certainly true we are imperfect. We may not be good at public speaking, and our circumstances may indeed be overwhelming. We cannot change those things, and that's okay. These truths do not mean the rest of the sentence is true; we are not unlovable or inadequate or defined by our circumstances.

When we recognize the slivers of truth as the big, red concrete balls we cannot move, we are free to stop trying to do the impossible and change the facts. We are free to step around the immovable, keeping the truth and letting go of the lies. We are free to move past the concrete balls of truth into the rest of life which, just like a great big retail store, has so many wonderful things to offer us.


Are there mental blocks you've faced that seemed impossible to move past?
How did you end up moving past them?
Are there half truths are you believing? About yourself, your circumstances?

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear from you in the comments or an email!

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