The Vileness of War Tempers the Glory of Triumph

Jane A. Simington, PhD. 2017

Cenotaphs and anniversaries stir our individual and collective memories of life-changing events. November 11, like other anniversaries that mark military victories, are bittersweet for they temper the glory of triumph with the sadness of the sacrifices made and the vileness of war.

In preparation for our involvement in the November 11 ceremonies, my husband Bill and I processed some memories of our relationships with his Veteran Father. Bill’s initial thoughts were of how the war had interfered with his ability to develop a son-father connection; since for the first several years of his childhood, he knew his Father only as the “man” in the photo on the dresser. As Bill described how this lack of early bonding had impacted, even into his adulthood, his relationship with his Father, I wondered how many other men of my husband’s age had been affected similarly and, how many of today’s little boys are also denied the benefits of father-son bonding due to the separations caused by wars. I pondered too, how many other Veteran Fathers, even after their homecomings, remained distant and seemingly detached, due to their constant inward-pull, there to relive over and over, their war terrors.

Prolonged traumatic experiences, such as those resulting from combat trauma, are characterized by neurobiological and clinical features of detachment and subjective distancing from emotional experiences. The cost of emotional distancing can significantly interfere with the establishment, re-establishment, and maintenance of intimate relationships; as well as the avoidance of the necessary mental and emotional processing necessary for trauma healing to take place.

Clinicians are reporting that in ever increasing numbers, combat veterans are seeking non-conventional and complementary techniques for the treatment of their post-traumatic stress. Researchers have identified that combat veterans are doing so because they desire wholistic care that addresses their spiritual needs. James Hillman (1996) noted that people come into psychotherapy not only to relieve the pain of their traumatic symptoms, but to also find a personal story that honors their soul. Combat veterans and each of their family members need, not only their psychotherapists, but each of us to recognize and acknowledge the intensity of the inner anguish experienced as a result of war terrors and family abstinences. As we pause on November 11, to honor and thank our combat veterans and their families for their suffering, their sacrifices, and their sadnesses; may we deeply reflect on how, despite the glories of triumph, there is a vileness in war that allows for no winners.

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.

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

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Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

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.

Igniting the Spark of Inner Peace

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 As we enter the month of November I am drawn to reflect on the freedom 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 among nations, within families, between individuals, and between individuals and their environment continues.
Spiritual masters remind us that world peace begins within each of us. A number of years ago on a visit to Westminster Abby, I felt drawn to descend into the Crypt beneath the cathedral. The words on a particular tomb, apparently written by the Anglican bishop buried there, emphasize the need for each of us to start with our self.

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But, it too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one more desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: if I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed the world.

His epitaph reminds us that when we transform ourselves we transform everything around us. When we live in peace we radiate peace. Marcus Aurelius noted that “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.” To transform in the direction of inner peace is to acknowledge that healing ourselves and working toward world peace and Human-Earth ecology is the same work.

As we move into November, the month when we honor in a formal way those who have sacrificed so much for the freedom of our land, let us remember and celebrate them and let us also remember and celebrate the land. To celebrate the land is to remember the transformative aspects of the landscapes and the elements. It is to honor that the Earth is Mother to each of us. Her Rocks, Water, Fire and Air are for each of us, belong fully to each of us and are within each of us. Her Water is our blood. Her Air is our breath, and her Fire is our Spirit.

As we ponder ways to thank and honor all veterans and their families, especially those veterans who are or were a part of our own families, may we also ponder our part in making sure that those who have sacrificed and died for this cause know that we have taken up the torch. May each of us radiate so brightly that our inner torch ignites the spark of inner peace for multitudes, regardless of race, culture or religious beliefs.

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. (Oct. 30, 2013).

Suicide and Trauma: Securing Hope

September 8-14, 2013 is national suicide prevention week. In light of the relationship between suicide and trauma, strategies to prevent suicide must suicideribbonbe aimed at healing trauma. While trauma symptoms are categorized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is more to PTSD than emotional stress. The effects of trauma are experienced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritual. The accumulation of symptoms, including feelings of inner emptiness, can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb their intense suffering. When these attempts no longer work, suicide can seem like the only way out of the constant misery.

When working with someone who appears to be contemplating suicide it is important to
1) Do a reality check.

While children of all ages have some concept of death those concepts may not be clearly developed. Helpful reality checking questions can be:
·         What is dead?
·         What is it like to be dead?
·         How long is dead?

2) Explore options

It is also important to recognize that when someone is under a great amount of stress, or when they are triggered back to a past trauma, the hippocampus in the mid brain may become impaired. Since the hippocampus does much of its processing through the brain’s left hemisphere, functions of the left hemisphere may also be interfered with, causing the traumatized person to experience difficulties with judgment, decision -making and logical thinking. An important beginning question that can help you assist such a person in thinking the situation through and in exploring other options is:
·         How will suicide make your situation better?


3) Secure hope

A person who is contemplating suicide is feeling powerless to change the circumstances. One strategy I use to increase feelings of hope in the ability to change circumstances is to provide a disposable camera and have the person take picture of all the things that could be possible signs of hope. When the pictures are printed the person uses them to create a collage. These externalized signs of hope can then act as a mirror reflecting that hope really does exist.

A question that can assist a suicidal person in exploring other options and in securing hope is:
·         Where do you see yourself in a month, a year, and five years from now?

4) Provide information

During National Suicide Prevention Week some of you will be presenting information on suicide. Many in your audiences may be attending in hope of receiving the help they are seeking.

I suggest that in a presentation on suicide prevention you include:

1)     Information on how trauma affects the body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
2)    Skills to assist a traumatized person to reclaim personal power.
3)    Basic strategies to help a traumatized person heal from the effects of trauma.
4)    Specific questions to have someone at risk of suicide ponder.
5)    Information on how a person who is feeling suicidal can receive more help.

PTSD and Suicide Prevention Week

September 9-15, 2012 is designated as suicide prevention week. Many are asking how we can prevent the horrific statistics, such as those recently reported about the thirty-eight American soldiers who killed themselves in July, the worst month for suicides since the Army began releasing figures in 2009. Statistics about escalating suicide rates, for all age groups in the general population, are also alarming.

Since focusing on the causes, should always be the first step in any discussion about prevention, the relationship between suicide and trauma must be recognized. In light of this relationship, prevention strategies for suicide must be aimed at preventing traumas (such as is caused by childhood abuse and domestic violence), and when trauma does happen, the focus of suicide prevention must be on healing the effects of trauma on the body, mind, emotions and soul.

While many traumatized people experience most or all of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is more to PTSD than is usually discussed. I have worked as a trauma specialists since 1999 and now recognize that trauma can wound the soul. Many of the more than 4000 people I have helped heal from the effects of trauma have described how excruciating their soul pain and spiritual disconnection is. Most indicate that the soul pain is the most acute aspect of their suffering.

Many who have experienced trauma intuitively know that the traumatic event had created an inner disconnection causing a deep longing to again feel whole. Indigenous cultures believe that when trauma happens, a part of the soul can remained trapped in the place where the trauma occurred and remain there frozen in time. Those who feel they have left a part of themselves at the trauma scene often voice that their lives feel incomplete and empty and that they are plagued by dreams of searching and longing. For these reasons I believe that Post Traumatic Soul Disorder is the more accurate term to describe the symptoms of unhealed and difficult to resolve trauma.

The accumulation of symptoms, including the feelings of inner emptiness, can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb this intense suffering. Others slash themselves knowing that the instant release of endorphins will momentarily ease their suffering. When these attempts no longer work suicide can seem like the only way out of their constant misery.

Some ways to prevent suicide include:

1)    Assess how much unhealed and cumulative trauma the person is experiencing (pay special attention to the history of repetitive childhood trauma and trauma involving sexual abuse).

2)    Assess for soul pain and spiritual disconnection as well as for emotional and mental concerns.

3)    Offer interventions that are more holistic in nature as versus only cognitive based therapies and pharmaceuticals.

4)     Guide and teach grounding and other safety techniques.

5)    Teach strategies for the removal of flashbacks and how to stop night terrors.

6)    Use deep imagery with a spiritual focus to help the person heal and reclaim their power.

7)     Use therapeutic art to help the person heal and to believe in them self again.

8)    Assist the person to reintegrate all aspects of their soul/self.

9)    Teach therapeutic energy work and have the person obtain energy- transfer treatments such as Reiki and therapeutic touch as a way to cleanse their energy filed and release stored cellular memories.

10) Help the person work with the dream messages being received.

11)   Assist the person in rebuilding relationships

In conclusion, I believe in the need to heal the soul pain of the person who has experienced trauma. When I do so, I see the light return to the windows of their soul, and I see the person’s excitement about being able to once again walk among the living.