Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Household - Part 4

Healthy Living Through Healing

Healing? What does this even mean? The healing process is a longer journey of turning inward, acknowledging what happened and didn’t happen, understanding what was going on for you, around you, and for the individuals responsible for your life. It’s sometimes really challenging to see outside of the neglect and/or abuse and see parents struggling themself and ultimately doing their best. This is part of the healing process and believe it or not happens! We all can come around and see that our parent(s) did the very best they could. Additionally, healing means doing the psychological and somatic work to move the old experiences and stories through and out of the mind and body. It means untangling old beliefs about oneself, creating new healthy stories and behaviors. Throughout the healing journey one becomes less triggered, accepting of the things that happened, and able to continue on with regular day-to-day activities; living a normal, healthy, high functioning life.

The psychotherapeutic work involves talk therapy, somatic body movement, trauma therapy such as EMDR therapy, group engagement, and sometimes family therapy. Each person’s healing journey is unique. If you’ve resonated with any of the blog posts in this series, I highly recommend participating in the next ACOA / ACAD – Adult Children of Alcoholic, Addiction, Dysfunction process group; coming this fall.

In addition to psychotherapeutic support here’s a few suggestions you can work with to start your healing process:

1.     Move around: Disturbances and/or trauma get stuck in our bodies; these experiences disrupt our body’s natural flow and leave us in a state of fear and hyperarousal. When you get your body moving you’re freeing endorphins and burning adrenaline, which allows your system to get unstuck. Get yourself some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Hike, rigorously walk, lift weights, play basketball, run, swim, dancing and rock climbing are good options. Participate in an activity you can move your whole body, get your arms and legs moving at the same time. While your body is moving, pay attention to what the movement in your body feels like. Notice the sensations; arms moving at your sides, rocks crunching underneath your feet, the blood rushing to your forearms as your hold on the rock wall, the temperature and rhythm of your breath, etc.

2.     Notice your thoughts: Are your thoughts negative, closed-minded? This is commonly the case of underlying fear, current, perceived threat, or unresolved issues. Negativity ruminates in the mind and as humans we dig ourselves deeper with each negative thought. Suddenly before we know it, what was simply a minor irritation gets blown out of proportion and everything in one’s path seems terrible. This leads directly to stress in the body, chronic illness, and depression. Changing thought patterns is challenging. What we bring our attention to tends to get bigger. For instance, don’t think about a pink elephant. Don’t do it! Keep that image out of your mind. See, challenging. What did you see? A pink elephant! It’ll take some will power and practice; however, you’ll be able to get out of the pattern of thinking negatively by redirecting you mind and focus on something other than the thing that is bothering you. Imagine going on your favorite walk or hike. See the blades of grass, hear the rocks crunching under your feet with each step, see the tall trees and leaves flickering from the cool breeze…you can keep this story going. When you notice yourself thinking negatively, say to yourself, “No, I am going to think about this thing over here that is positive,” and then do just that. As you practice redirecting your thought patterns you are creating new neural pathways in your brain. What used to be a negative pattern will begin to shift into a positive one.

3.     Keep yourself in good company: Although you may want to curl up on the couch or in your dark bedroom, keep yourself in good company. Isolating tends to make things worse. Connect with friends and family. Things you can do together: go on walks, drink tea, attend yoga class, any form of exercise, meditate, volunteer somewhere, watch a comedy and laugh your butt off, join a book club or other social groups. Spending time face to face with other individuals does not mean you have to talk about your childhood, trauma, or lack of feeling awesome. The connection is essential and will support you shifting out of negative thought patterns, isolating and brewing on the negatives, stimulates and enhances your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

4.     Create boundaries: What are these? A boundary is a line that marks the limits of an area ( Consider a boundary being a principle or guideline in which support you in living the life that you want. We all need to have and to constantly reinforce boundaries. Boundaries keep us safe, remind us of our limits, and enhance our happiness. Boundaries are a huge part of our lives: materials, physical body, emotions, thoughts, spirituality, and sexuality.

I often hear, “I don’t know what I want, so how do I create a boundary?” One step in creating a boundary is by reaching or experiencing something you don’t want. For instance, you may or may not have a food boundary. Mine is animal products; I don’t eat them. This is a rigid boundary for myself and I reinforce it constantly, as it is common for people to offer me animal based food items. What is your food boundary? Do you eat oysters? Ice cream? Lets look at physical boundaries. How do we each determine how close we want the person next to us to be? Our body gives us signals indicating when the person close by is too close. From there we can back up to create more distance or we can ask the person to take a step back.

One reason creating boundaries is an important element to healing the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional household is they support autonomy, safety, confidence, reduce the amount of taking care of others, and increase our capacity to live enjoyable lives.   

In closing, I’d like to remind you that arriving at a full understanding of the nuances of your past emotional influences isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. This can be a long, arduous journey with obstacles, and with the support and guidance, everything is possible. I have seen healing take place where depravity and hopelessness were all that seemed to be left. Think of this healing process similar to jogging a marathon rather than sprinting a 5K. It takes some time and it’s well worth every minute. The power of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me, which is why I’m so grateful to be working alongside people.