Grandfathering Strengthens Intergenerational Bonds

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

Parents who have had a child die often feel that they have lost a huge part of their future. All the goals, dreams and aspirations they had for that child and for their relationship with that child are gone, and in their place is a deep sadness and a longing for what will never be.

As a bereaved mother I know that while my son Billy can never be replaced and that the dreams we had for him will never be achieved, I have come to recognize that within that knowing is tied a deeper recognition of the cycle of life and of the value of meaningful relationships.

Each day, I marvel at my husband’s parenting and grandparenting. Now that Bill is mostly retired from the world of paid work, he rarely misses a morning phone call to our youngest daughter asking if she needs any help that day with the “boys”. His strong bond with our three grandsons, created from being so frequently present to them and involved in their activities, has helped him fulfill in so many ways some of the unfulfilled dreams he had for Billy and for his relationship with him. The positive effects of Bill’s grandparenting has increased my understanding of how when a family tragedy happens, each member of that family must assist in healing the family wounds and also of how when that healing takes place, the strengthening of relationships becomes like a glue to cement intergenerational bonds.

The family surname creates a substantial link from one generation to the next. Since Billy was the only male heir, upon his death that link was lost. Recognizing the grief her father experienced around that loss, our youngest daughter hyphenated the surnames of each of her three sons. Now, on occasion, to fit the backs of their hockey sweaters, their hyphenated names are shortened to reveal only Bill’s surname. While this may seem insignificant to others, to Bill and me it not only provides momentary joy-filled reminders of how proudly Billy would often turn his back to reveal for his dad his surname and number; it is also for us a knowing that by hyphenating her sons’ names, our daughter contributed to healing our family wound and helped to increase our grandsons’ understanding of their belonging to an extended family, where each family member contributes in both great and small ways to the establishment of bonds of healing, love and family support, that will extend these same strengths into their generation.

Both Bill and I are conscious of how involvement with our grandsons has helped to fill the empty spaces created by our inability to see Billy live to his adulthood; yet we are also keenly aware of how enriched our grandsons’ lives are because of Bill’s frequent involvement with them. It is difficult to say who gains the most from experiences such as when, under his Grandfather’s watchful guidance, our oldest grandson drove for the first time, his Grandfather’s red Camaro convertible; or when his Grandfather did not win any of the car races at Speeders, between him and his middle grandson; or when the youngest grandson urgently ran back home from school, to get the Coonskin hat his Grandfather has previously bought him, so that he could be appropriately dressed for his school field trip to Fort Edmonton.

While it impossible to say who acquires the most from such experiences, Bill and I both acknowledge that the giving and the receiving across these generations has increased our awareness of the fullness of the cycle of life and of how each of us contribute on a daily basis to the turning of that wheel.

Christmas and Helpful Communication In Times of Loss

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

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December is upon us and during this month, many will spend time with loved ones for whom Christmas does not bring joy but instead exaggerates their grief responses. While we tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are actually four major types of losses that those in our workplaces and personal lives may be grieving. These are: the loss of meaningful relationships and include losses resulting from death, separation, divorce, abortion, or of children taken into foster care. Losses of meaningful objects are the second major category and include the losses of a home or treasured objects; and can result from a house fire or relocation such as what happens when someone enters a long-term care facility and can take only one box and one suitcase of possessions. A loss of context is the third major type of losses and includes losses of routine and the familiar; these losses can also include losses of goals and dreams and a loss of a sense of one’s past, such as happens when a parent dies, or a loss of a sense of one’s future, as what happens when a child dies. The fourth major category is losses of parts of the self. These losses include sensory losses, loss of a body part, a loss of identity, or a loss of a sense of self, self-worth, or dignity. These major categories of losses are not mutually exclusive, for many who experience a significant loss in one category will subsequently experience losses in another or even in all the other categories.

Many who desire to be helpful, struggle with the best ways to communicate with a griever, especially with those who are in the early stages of grief, or with those who are experiencing a renewed rawness of their grief and of all the memories of what they no longer have and will never again have. A renewed rawness of grief is often triggered by an anniversary reaction, such as what happens at Christmas time. The following points on helpful ways to communicate and not-communicate with a griever can allow a caring person to become one who is capable of knowledgeable caring:

  • Create opportunities that allow the griever to speak about the losses or about the person who has died, since a great fear for grievers is that their loved one will too soon be forgotten. Relating any positive life events and memories of your experiences with the griever or of their loved one who has died can boost the griever’s self-worth and help them to know that their loved one or their contributions are not forgotten.
  • Be comfortable with tears for they are a normal part of grief and can help grieving persons release deeply felt emotional and soul pain. It is also okay to shed a tear as you listen to the griever’s tear-filled stories. Remember however, that crying and weeping are not the same things. When we have a tear in our eye, grievers can sense our empathy. When we weep however, we have altered the relationship for we are no longer able to support the griever for something about what they have said or done has triggered unresolved feelings within us and the griever may end up comforting the one who should be providing the comfort, but is no longer capable of doing so.
  • Remain focused on the griever and on the griever’s experiences. Many people have a difficult time remaining “other-focused.” The moment a griever attempts to describe a portion of their grief experience, a listener that is unable to be other-focused for more than a few moments, will piggy-back on the griever’s story and interject into the conversation, a life narrative of their own grief. To do so may make the griever feel that the listener does not hear the significance of, nor really care about, the griever or about what the griever is attempting to communicate.
  • Allow the griever to describe their beliefs about their life circumstances rather than offering “false reassurance.” False reassurance is delivered in expressions such as: “It was for the best.” “It was God’s will.” “Something good will come from this.” While these phrases may seem comforting, they are considered by grievers as the least helpful words spoken to them. Expressions such as these come from the speaker’s belief system and may not match the beliefs of the griever. False reassurance has been shown to increase anger at God as well as at the conveyor of such expressions, and thus interferes with the therapeutic relationship.
  • Offer the griever undivided attention. A griever’s life and sense of self have been destroyed. Grievers deserve the full attention of their listeners. To give full attention that conveys care, support and empathy, turn your entire body toward the person, make direct eye contact and drop everything else you are doing as the grieving person is speaking. My youngest daughter taught me the power of facing the speaker and making eye contact while listening. One afternoon, while I was busy at the stove and she was excitedly relating her kindergarten day’s events, she stopped mid-sentence to retort. ”Mom you are not listening!“  “Oh yes I am,” I replied, and repeated some of the things she had said. “But,” she cried! “You’re not listening with your eyes.” My child’s honest expression made me remember that the eyes truly are the windows of the soul and to make eye contact when someone is attempting to share deeply with me communicates that I am emotionally and soulfully present to them.
  • Keeping our eyes connected also keeps our eyes and hands off technology devices, such as phones or iPads. Focusing on devices when another is relating their feelings indicates in numerous nonverbal ways that we are more interested in what we are doing on the devices than we are with the person who at this moment needs our undivided attention.
  • Encourage the griever to create a nonverbal signal that communicates when they are becoming overwhelmed in a situation where they may not be able to tell you this in words. The nonverbal message can be anything from pulling on their left ear lobe to rubbing their right knee. Once the nonverbal communication strategy is established, it will then be an indication for you to find a way to excuse the griever from a situation in which they are becoming physically and/or emotionally exhausted.

Christmas is for many, a time of family gatherings. Contained within such gatherings are often reflections of the joys and family gatherings of past Christmases. These reflections, the season itself and all it contains, including the expectations of what it should contain, can add to the emotional emptiness felt by grievers. Many of us will, over the holidays, spend time with one or more persons who are experiencing grief. While we may not be able to make their lives joyful, we each can communicate in ways that convey care and support, knowing that feeling cared about is a first step in regaining a sense of hope that may one day lead to inner peace, the true gift of a joyous Christmas.

From Inner Peace to World Peace

© Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

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The month of November calls us to gratefully reflect on the freedoms we are privileged to experience as a result of sacrifices made by the family members who, as veterans, served our countries in the maintenance of peace and liberty. Yet despite their sacrifices, the search for peace continues among nations, within families, between individuals, and within the emotions and spirits of the individuals who fought for our freedoms.

My recent involvement with a colleague’s family member, who had completed his course of duties in a war zone and received honors for his services, amplified my knowing that there are really no winners in war! As we dialogued, I heard the intense pain this man was experiencing. He spoke of the guilt he felt about being a part of what he had been personally involved in, as well as from what he had witnessed and heard about from his colleagues. He described feeling judged and shunned, especially by those who had seen him as a hero, for not being able to “just get over it,” and how their inattentiveness to his need to voice his remorse added to his sense of shame.

His dialogue revealed an incremental soul searching examination of every event, every word he had spoken, every command he had received or given, and every action he had taken or not taken. He wept when I asked if this intense search was a search for answers, or was it a search for the parts of him that had remained at the scenes of the traumatic events he had experienced and witnessed.

 

Indigenous peoples from around the world hold a common belief that the soul pain experienced at the time of a traumatic event can cause soul parts to fracture off and remain within the energy of that time and place. As I listened to his soul pain and heard his soul-longing for wholeness, I felt extreme gratefulness to have the knowledge and skills to help him. And while it was not without intense emotion that he reclaimed those parts of himself that had remained as if frozen at those numerous soul fracturing events, it was with incredible joy that I witnessed his look of anguish dissolve into one of deep peace and stillness as he reintegrated his fractured soul parts.

 

As we move into November and ponder ways to thank and honor our veterans let us be mindful of the value in acknowledging their personhood. Let us recognize that perhaps the best way to honor, especially those veterans who are family members, is to listen to them with open minds and hearts, and remaining ever aware of how the horrors of war can damage a human psyche. Even though listening to their narratives may be difficult for it can stir our own unresolved pain, their need to reexamine, in order to heal the horrors they experienced, may be great. When we are able to listen and respond at the depth they require, we do our part in helping them find inner peace and thus one person at a time, we add to a collective movement toward world peace.

When Suicide Becomes An Option

When Suicide Becomes an Option
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Worldwide, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death for adolescents and young adults.Nearly 90% of all suicides are associated with a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder.2 The unbearable feelings of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness resulting from their mental illness, trauma, significant grief or abandonment can, despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, cause nearly one million people globally, to attempt suicide each year.3 The feelings of loss experienced by professionals and loved ones are magnified when the death they grieve is by suicide. Those whose grief results from a suicidal death are at high-risk for developing a major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behaviours and prolonged and complicated grief.4

photo of someone depressed perhaps suicidal

The above information and my experience of working professionally with clients who are threatening suicide and with those who are attempting to heal from the effects of complicated grief and the associated feelings, including the stigma and shame which keeps them from seeking the help and resources they need, has led me to develop a training program to assist professionals in offering effective help to those who threaten suicide and to support the bereaved when suicide results.

This forty-hour Suicide Intervention Certification training is accredited by The Canadian Counsel of Professional Certification Global (CCPC Global.) Graduates of this training from Taking Flight International may apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Suicide Intervention Specialist (CSIS.) Certified graduates of this training also receive 27 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) toward certification or re-certification as a drug and alcohol counsellor from the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (CACCF;) as well as from the International Association (ICADC).

1. Young I T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., et.al. (2012). Suicide, Bereavement and Complicated Grief. Clinical Research, LLS SAS. www.dialogues-cns.org

2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Surviving a Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide. Available at http://www.afsp.org Assessed, 2016-08-01.

3. Ibid Young, et al.

4. Hawton, K., van Heeringen, K. (2009). Suicide. Lancet, 18,373:1372-1381.

PreRequisite: Trauma Recovery Certification

Click Here to see training dates and download application form.

The Not-So-Happy Father’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

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On June 19,th many will extend a “Happy Fathers’ Day” greeting that is received with feelings of joy; yet the day and its associated traditions will be for others, a further reminder of what was once paramount and is now of little significance. This holiday, because it vibrates with expectations of personal and family happiness, and satisfaction with traditional roles and responsibilities, can conjure up feelings of deep grief over what once was, and is no longer. These same expectations can also trigger painful reminders of the disenfranchised grief resulting from goals and dreams that have never been and, because of circumstances, will never be achieved. For those Fathers whose life experiences do not match the social and traditional expectations, the Father’s Day holiday and all the expectations regarding what and how a Father should be, can be a source of increased emotional pain and mental anguish. It is my hope that the following suggestions will assist family members whose circumstances require them to find supportive ways to honor a Father who is mired in grief that can result from any one of the major types of losses.

The first major type of loss is a loss of meaningful personal relationships such as what happens following a death, relocation, retirement, or job loss. The second major type of loss is a loss of valued objects and includes the losses resulting from a theft or a house fire. The third major category is a loss of parts of the self. Such losses include the loss of a body part, a sensory loss, or the loss of mobility or strength. Also included in this categorization are psychological losses, such as the loss of identity, self-respect, and self-worth. Included also in this category can be a loss of Spirit resulting from soul brokenness. The fourth major category is a loss of context. Context describes one’s way of being and one’s set of circumstances. These losses can result from an inability to achieve aspirations or fulfill a role, and can include the loss of a sense of a bright and fruitful future. This categorization helps identify that, while losses result from many sources, each loss is grieved, even when the losses are disenfranchised. Disenfranchised losses are those that are not acknowledged for what they are; thus leaving the griever unsupported in the pain.

While the categorization advances understanding of losses, it is important to recognize that a loss in one area tends to be accompanied by losses in one or more of the other categories. This overlapping of losses also tends to be disenfranchised and therefore unsupported. Following the death of our son, my husband had a subsequent need to leave his long-time and much-loved career; this second major loss then also overlapped with his loss of identity and self- worth.  

Some experts believe that males grieve differently than do females, with women tending to have a greater need to be supported while they express feelings; while men tend to work through their feelings in more industrious ways. Others believe that this is not so much a process of nature but rather one of nurture, meaning this behaviour results from how men are socialized regarding their need for touch and the expression of their feelings. While it is important to recognize that human beings, regardless of gender, do grieve in their own unique ways, because we tend to socialize our boys to believe that the needs to be held, cry, and verbalize feelings are signs of weakness, during times of grief both men and women may need help in overcoming these beliefs. As I walked beside my grieving husband, I was aware of the need to reframe my own beliefs and help him reframe his ideas of what was “okay” behaviour for a grieving man. While I too, was struggling with grief, our crisis forced me to acknowledge and permit his need to grieve, even though witnessing grieving behaviors in the man whom I had always thought of as strong and capable of supporting and protecting me, threatened my sense of safety and security.

During that time I was taking a counseling course. The required practice exercises made me recognize that certain ways of communicating convey acceptance and enhanced self-worth. The exercise that I believe made the biggest immediate and long-term difference in helping heal my husband’s grief and in perhaps helping our relationship thrive is the one I will share with you to hopefully encourage you to also use to support the grieving man you wish to honor on this Father’s Day and on future days.

In this exercise, I was guided to give my husband my full attention each time he spoke. This meant stopping anything else I was doing, look him directly in his eyes, and listen earnestly, conveying in nonverbal ways an interest in what he was saying. I recall being truly amazed at how this seemed to almost immediately change how he began to share with me how vulnerable he felt and how he ached with pain. This in turn increased the depth and intimacy of our conversations and of our interactions, thus our relationship, and I believe in time helped him and I to make the steady progress required to heal from our own grief.

During my time of healing and in helping my husband heal from grief, I learned the power of the Nairobi proverb, “Hold the one you love with both eyes and with both hands.” My wish is that on this Father’s Day, every father be honored in this way. I wish this to be especially so for all the not-so-happy fathers.

 

Grief and Trauma Care during Pregnancy

© Jane A. Simington, PHD

It is well recognized that a mother’s varying stress levels affect her unborn child. Grief and trauma are major stressors, causing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social responses. Therapists who work with grieving and traumatized clients will at some points in their careers struggle with the decision of whether to leave a grieving and traumatized pregnant woman to manage these stressors as best she can, knowing their impact on the unborn child or, to offer her therapeutic services. The decision is not an easy one since the therapist will also recognize that, as the pregnant woman examines the issues surrounding the difficult events and moves through the healing processes, she will re-experience some of the same reactions she felt at the time of the initial tragedy. This will cause her body to release many of the same neurochemicals it did originally. These resultant reactions and neurochemicals will in turn, be transmitted to her unborn child.pregnancy

Here are some guidelines I have found helpful and I encourage you to consider them when you are working in situations that involve a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

If the mother is in the first trimester of her pregnancy, the brain and nervous system of the fetus are still being formed. During these three months, it is best to teach the mother self-care strategies to decrease the impact of the stressors. Affirmations, deep breathing exercises, grounding and shielding strategies are all appropriate. When the mother has learned to keep herself grounded, she will feel a decrease in the fear and anxiety she experiences and thus less of those highly charged sensations will be transmitted to the fetus. Teaching the mother to communicate with the unborn child, continually telling the child it is “safe, loved and protected” is also highly recommended. After the mother has learned to shield herself, she can be encouraged to visualize shielding her child in a similar way.

To assist the mother in feeling safe and protected, you will also find it valuable to help her connect with the unborn child’s and her own Spirit Guides, including their power animals. You as the therapist will also feel more secure, as you work with her, knowing she has established these connections.

When the mother is in her second and third trimester, you will want to continue to use all of these same safety measures before you move more deeply into any therapeutic work and healing processes. It can be helpful to audio-record grounding and shielding meditations to send home with the mother; or alternatively, give her my CD audio recordings, Journey to Hope and Healing, and Shielded with Light. Both of these recordings are also available in MP3 format that she could download from www.takingflightbooks.com.

When you assist a pregnant woman to heal the wounds and scars of unhealed grief and trauma, you help her to create a significant and positive difference in her life and future and in the life and future of her child. Ponder the impact on the lives of the many others these two healed people will then be able to make, and hold in your heart that through your knowledge, skill, genuine love and care, you will have been the catalyst for the healing of many.  

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As Life Ended He Knew He Had Done the Best He Could

Jane A. Simington

Developmental theorist Eric Erickson1 described our final developmental task as being the need to review our lifeto determine if the gods are pleased. In doing a life review, we sort through the various aspects of our life and conclude either with believing we have done the best we could, or determining there are things we need to make right within our self or in our relationships.

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Some time ago, my husband called me for help with the frightening visions that were being experienced by his dying father. As my father-in-law’s life was drawing to a close he began having visions of uniformed soldiers walking around his bed. Each time he described the experiences, he concluded these were the soldiers killed during WWII battles because of the orders he, as their commander, had given.
My father-in-law described that over the years he had often thought about these men, wondered how their families managed their grief and how they had survived without the son, husband or father who had been killed. He mentioned that he had often pondered what the dying soldiers thoughts were of him. Had they blamed him? Had they cursed him? As he reviewed this time of his life and these circumstances, he indicated that over the years, and especially now as he was examining the various aspects of his life, he thought a lot about some of the choices he felt were required of him during the war years.

As my husband and I listened to his testimony, I became aware it was likely that my father-in-law’s feelings about his fears and regrets had become embodied. Embodiment of emotion is not uncommon both during dying and during grief. Known as personification, it is a process in which inanimate abstractions or feelings become endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.
Acknowledging that part of bringing a satisfactory closure to his life required allowing him to share these deep emotions, and to describe in more detail some of the life events he was now reviewing, his son and I listened attentively.
Over the next days we became aware that in relating some of his experiences, most of which he had rarely spoken of, the visions of the soldiers moving around his bed seemed to lessen and become less terrifying for him. Following one such vision, when he described the uniformed figures and how threaten he felt by them, I asked if it was possible these were soldiers from the unit he had commanded, and that they were coming to welcome him to the other side where he would again be in comradeship with them? My father-in-law was able to accept this reframing of his visions, and through it, alter his own interpretation.

My father-in-law’s remaining days appeared to be peaceful, and since he never again spoke of the soldiers, my husband concluded his father had completed reviewing that aspect of his life and was now able to rest peacefully believing he had done the best he could.

Reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, is activated by many things including visits, photographs and song. These things naturally stir memories that when stirred can be explored. Happy memories can be re-lived and re-enjoyed, and ways can be found to release the emotional load attached to the difficult ones. In many cases, it is the sharing of a difficult memory with a trusted person that allows for the release of the emotion attached to that memory.

Robin Butler2 described life review as a human need to balance the good in life against the negative. The goal, when assisting another during life review, is to have the person recognize that while their life was made up of both positive and less than positive events, the good outweighed the negative. Circular questions, such as “Tell me what happened after that,” followed by “And then what happened?” and again followed by “And then what happened?” are valuable when helping the person acknowledge the positive outcomes that flowed from what was initially viewed as a negative experience.
It is also important to help a person who is examining past choices recognize we often judge past events based on today’s standards. There is great value in helping the person view events within the context of the circumstances when their choices were made, and then to assist in helping to reframe perceptions of those past circumstances so the person is able to acknowledge that the best possible choices were made.

References

1).Erickson, E. H. Childhood and Society. New York: WW Norton.
2).Butler, R. N. Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial and Biomedical Approaches. . St. Louis: Mosby.

Autumn Gifts: Lessons of Death and Rebirth

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

The gardens have lost their freshness and here and there along the path red and gold leaves show themselves, like the silver hairs that now appear among my blond ones. The autumnal changes that awaken the cyclic rhythm within my own life cause me to once again reflect on how the shadow of summer’s death turns me inward, tearing away the veil revealing all that is now a part of the past.

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My son died in autumn. He had been in the springtime of his life. I will never see his abilities in their summer or autumn seasons. Watching the gathering of the field grains reminds me of the many years of etching my sorrow into the prairie paths. Walking those same paths today I am able to acknowledge the lessons of death and rebirth revealed in the seasonal changes of nature. I have learned to gratefully appreciate the splendor of the autumn fields, the meadow, and the lake, for their numerous tales of the continuing process of life. Over the years their encouraging whispers of perennial rebirth have reminded me that life goes on despite visible signs of death.

While the awareness of autumnal decline holds a strange mystery which adds to the gravity of my moods, I believe that autumn offers opportunities for life review and reverie that only a backward glance can provide. The season allows us to take advantage of the gifts wedged between summer’s hectic beauty and winter’s harsh decline, and in so doing can make us more able to truly focus on and appreciate the richness of our personal harvest.

A Garden Metaphor: Resolving Guilt and Regret

©Jane A. Simington

 

For years now, my garden has been a great teacher. I treasure the soulful prompting I receive daily in witnessing the seasonal changes of growth and decline. Today I ruminate on how fruitful some early spring decisions and planting choices have been, and on how underproductive others were. Why did some not turn out as planned? Was the planting time wrong; the location unfavorable? What can I do now to altar those early choices? What will I do differently next spring?

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Looking back at the choices and decision we have made at an earlier point in life can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Guilt and regret are the emotional expressions of the spiritual need for self-forgiveness. Guilt is an expression of things done we wish we had not done. Regret is an expression of things not done we know we should have. These emotions are often articulated in phrases such as “If only…” and “I wish I had…”

If you are holding guilt or regret over a past event here is a four-part process I find to be both helpful and healing.

1)    Place yourself right back in the event over which you are experiencing guilt or regret. See yourself and your circumstances exactly as they were then. Now ponder; “If I were right back there under those same circumstances and in that same time and place, would I make the same decision?”

We often judge yesterday based on the knowledge and experience of where we are at today, yet when we place our selves right back in the circumstances of the time when we made the choices over which we now hold guilt or regret, we will likely be more capable of seeing and experiencing that situation as we saw it then.

2)    Following the examination of those past circumstances and the conclusions about the choices you made, take a few more moments and ponder how that event and the action you took, changed the course of your life. To do this, I encourage you to use a circular form of questioning. A circular form of questioning is to simply repeat the same question over and over after each answer. In your case, now that you have examined the details of the event and the actions you took, please ponder…“and then what happened?” When you find the answer, ask again…“and then what happened?” When you find that answer, ask the same question. Repeat this question and answer process until you are able to see how the choices you made at that time changed the course of your life. Then spend some moments pondering this question: “Did my actions at the time of that event result in some positive outcomes?

3)    List at least three things you learned from making those particular choices. Now conclude what is the greatest lesson you learned from taking the action you took. Reflect on these and then journal in detail your responses. There is great value in taking the time to externalize in written form the thoughts and ideas that are free-floating in your mind. Writing them down rather that just thinking about them will make the process more concrete and real, thus adding to the healing benefits of this exercise.

4)    To conclude this therapeutic activity, memorize and use frequently this affirmation. “I have grown and changed since those days. I made the choices then that were right for me. If I am ever again in a similar circumstance, I may make different decisions because I can now make choices that are right for me at this time in my life.”

Has the above therapeutic exercise to release guilt and regret made you more compassionate with yourself? Self-forgiveness is an exercise in compassion. Self-forgiveness is an exercise in freedom. As the past is released, space becomes available for the planting of seeds in ground rich and ready to support new life and growth.

A Time to Begin Anew: Applying Lessons of the East

Jane A. Simington, PHD.

© May, 2015

Help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.

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Many training and practice models designed to guide therapists use as a framework the three phases for healing trauma described by Judith Herman.1 The three phases are: Safety First; Remember and Mourn; and Reconnecting with Life. Clients often report however, that while their trauma experiences tore them apart, and their healing processes reshaped them in ways they themselves often did not recognize, their therapists paid little attention to helping them through the processes of Reconnect with Life. For them, that would often have meant claiming a new identity and taking major risks as they tiptoed through doorways of the numerous new beginnings awaiting them. Clients also indicated they would have perhaps moved further and more quickly along their journey toward transformation had their therapists helped them acknowledge the forward movement they had already made, and helped them recognize the signs indicating their souls were urging them to celebrate the healing they had done and that they were ready to reconnect with life in new ways. A number of years ago, one woman stated this clearly. “Jane, you must help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.” In this article I will describe symbolic indicators of readiness to reconnect with life in new and exciting ways and I will offer strategies for affirming in ourselves and others progress made along the healing journey.

1)    Pay attention to the rhythms and the cycles of nature and align with these rhythms.

Some years ago a client commented how strange she found it that on each of her daily walks she seemed drawn in an easterly direction. Listening to her awoke within me a similar memory of a time following my son’s death, when regardless of the path I had chosen for my morning walk, I would end up heading East. I still recall the excitement in her responses as I described my discoveries of the significance of the East and the symbolic reminders it holds. She positively connected with the teachings surrounding the Teutonic Goddess Ostara, after whom the East was named. Ostara was celebrated as a Goddess of new beginnings because of her associations with dawn and springtime and therefore the increase of sunlight. In helping this woman recognize the connections between her internal rhythms and the energy of the East, I recalled how affirmed and validated I had been when during my own time of healing someone reminded me; “It is often darkest just before sunrise.”

I also remembered the “awe” of another woman, who had similarly related being drawn to the East when she related her discovery of the Medicine Wheel teachings associating the East with new beginnings. One of these teachings emphasizes the value of making a morning journey into the East to allow the goodness of the new dawn to enter our being. According to this teaching, the golden rays of dawn energize the energies required to live in wholeness.

The Medicine Wheel and various other cultural and spiritual teachings also associate the element air with the East. Based upon this, I love to encourage people to pay attention to the direction from where the wind blows so as to absorb the related teachings. Winds from the South remind us to pay increased attention to the maintenance of our physical strength; winds from the West encourage healing; the North winds bring wisdom and remind us to be grateful; and winds that blow from the East encourage us to welcome newness into our lives.

2)    Pay attention to the birds and other symbols of transformation.

In most ancient societies, people studied the natural world to understand themselves. This knowledge lingers within many cultures. One common belief is that birds are messengers from the spirit world. The Eagle, one of the noblest of birds, is placed by some in the East of their Medicine Wheel.  A rooster is also a symbol of a new beginning. To have one appear in a dream or in art work forecasts that a new day is dawning. The crowing of a rooster reminds us that from the darkness comes the dawn.

3)    Pay attention to the colors worn and the colors used in art work.

As we awaken to the powerful symbolism surrounding us, we acknowledge the many forms in which we are being provided guidance. We begin to see that colors are significant; we pay attention to their mirrored reflections and ponder the meanings of those reflections. On most of the Medicine Wheels, yellow is placed in the East, and is therefore the color associated with new beginnings and with the gaining of clarity. The color yellow resonates with the third chakra, the energy centre associated with risk-taking. When I feel drawn to wearing yellow or notice myself or someone else using a lot of yellow in decorating or in art-making, I believe it is important to ponder the color and its message of encouragement to take the risks required to move life in a new direction.

As we pay more attention to the symbolic messages being continually given and as we align more closely with the rhythms surrounding us, we acknowledge our capacity to recreate ourselves anew and welcome our journey into the East for we can now accept that we can transform ourselves and our lives, regardless of what we have been through.

 

1). Herman, J. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror . Basic Books.