Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gaslighting – and how to stop.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a term for purposefully screwing up the definitions and connections between existing experiences and the perceptions of another person involved. The term comes from a classic movie starring Ingrid Bergman where the husband decides to gain power over his wife by driving her crazy. The story is set in the early 1900s when natural gas lines were connected to the businesses and homes of those who could afford to pay, and used for many things we use electricity for today, including lighting. Lights we’re easy to use on that era’s version of a dimmer switch by turning the level of gas going to the lamp up or down.

In the movie, the husband turns the level of gas just a tiny bit up or down in different lights, changing it when his wife isn’t there. When she’s in the room and asks if one lamp seems to be a bit off from the others, he states that it seems the same to him. Then later adjusts it to match other lamps in the room, but changes a different lamp. Constantly having her perceptions dismissed and even questioned does, indeed, drive the wife crazy.

We are social beings, and work best with input from others to confirm our experience.  No matter how strong or independent someone is, there is still awareness and a certain level of adherence to the social code, and varying levels of using others as a mirror to reflect, affirm or deny, and solidify our experiences.

Social media has become a huge part of our culture for just this reason. We have friends, family, and sometimes relative strangers agreeing that yes, that is a cute cat, a funny story, sad news, important information. And we are not wrong or weak for wanting and needing this. Having these affirmations helps strengthen our understanding of our experiences in life. We have a stronger, more enriched sense of self and others when we recieve feedback that supports our own perceptions. And we become weaker and less resilient when our perceptions are consistently denied.

Who is Gaslighting?

Classically, someone gaslighting is doing it on purpose, with full awareness and intent. This does happen. While the stereotype of someone abusing their partner is a large, angry man physically assaulting his wife or girlfriend; abusers not only come in a range of genders and sizes, but also use a range of ways to control and harm their partners. Gaslighting is one common way to abuse, and it can certainly be done with planning and intent.

However, the term has expanded to include people who are not overtly planning to gaslight their partner, friend, family member, client, or co-worker. But it still happens. When anyone is misrepresenting the truth to take power away from another, that is gaslighting, whether on a major level or a less severe one.

Just as when one person kills another there is 1st degree murder, where plans have been made and carried out; 2nd degree murder, where something happened in the moment that can’t be fixed; manslaughter, an accident resulting in death in a situation where the person who killed had some knowledge and awareness that their actions and situation had the potential to cause death; and accidental death, where both the living and the dead were caught in a series of unforseen occurrences that ended horribly. At the end of the incident, though, someone is still dead.

Using this comparison, first degree gaslighting might be a term for internationally creating an odd situation and then giving misleading information with the intent to weaken someone’s resilience and emotional balance.

‘Second degree gaslighting’, or gaslighting that isn’t planned but is definitely there, often occurs when one person in an interaction has more power and doesn’t take the time or effort to extend that privilege to lift the second person up. Power in our society is granted in several ways. Wealth usually confers a certain amount of power. Being the boss at work, having a high degree of skill or fame usually confer power, and some people are seen as more credible simply due to sex, gender, and race. When the person with more power assumes that their power confers knowledge, the situation is ripe for gaslighting. When I, as someone with a chronic disability, have talked to doctors about various symptoms only to be told that I’d be better with more socializing, with not taking the medication that has been working well for years, or that I am overstating my symptoms to begin with, I am being gaslighted. I’ve felt this way alone and in a crowd, at school, work, and social outings. I can give a step-by-step description of how I feel, when my symptoms began and what makes them better or worse.

To tell me I’m not properly talking my medication, or that I’m not really having the symptoms I’m experiencing right that minute is gaslighting. It’s using power – in this case the power of study, career, and social position to invalidate my experiences.  And then a tiny bit of questioning sneaks in. I wonder if I am exaggerating or doing something wrong.

Continuing with this theme, the ‘manslaughter’ level would be when someone used their power or position to push their agenda, but had some solid evidence and shared that. And finally, mistakes do happen. Gaslighting is not the same situation as simply being mistaken.

Continuing for the moment to use doctors as an example; it took me over 15 years from the first time I went to the doctor specifically to ask about the symptoms I was experiencing to when I officially recieved the correct diagnosis. To be fair, the condition I have is rare, and isn’t discussed much, if at all, in medical school or internships. When I went to doctors during those 15 years, nearly every one of them said the same basic thing. “I’m not sure what this is and can’t be absolutely sure how best to treat it.” The way they told that to me, though, made all the difference. The doctor who told me “The first thing we need to do is address the symptoms that are causing you so many problems”, and the doctor who said, “I don’t know what you have, but you clearly have something and I’m going to keep on trying until we figure out what’s going on”, were both doctors who took pains to use their power to empower me.

The direct opposite of that was the doctor who told me that if the medication he prescribed wasn’t working, then I must not actually be feeling bad was directly gaslighting. Whether he had chosen those words specifically to make me go away and stop sayingI felt sick or was just reacting out of  frustration is something I can’t know, but either way I was not empowered. If me reporting what was said could help other patients, it might help to know if it was planned or not – but the devastation I felt was the same.

This level of devestation is even higher in a personal relationship. Most of the doctors who said, from their position of trust and authority, that I wasn’t sick or didn’t need medication barely knew who I was. They saw me every month or two or three. They had to check my chart to remember which symptoms and medications went with my name, and if they hadn’t asked about something they sometimes made assumptions, such as telling me more excercise would help when I was taking a martial arts class that met twice weekly and going to a weekly dance class as well.

Having a partner tell me that I’m selfish, when they had been there to see so many things I did for others, not only hurt worse, but it left me with a lot of self doubt. Again, it doesn’t matter if this person had thought this for a while or just grabbed the closest insult available in a discussion. The effect on me was to weaken my sense of self and my resilience to the next conversation that went badly.

The answer to ‘Who is gaslighting’ is that anyone who gives replies or information that is A – slanted from the truth, B – strengthens their emotional position at the expense of the emotional resources of the other person(s) involved,  and C – who is doing it deliberately.

To be doing it deliberately it isn’t necessary that the gaslighter have planned the conversation or the result, but it is necessary that they hold their emotional position as more important and that they are aware that they are not attempting to give valid information or to define their statements as personal opinions that their audience isn’t required to adopt as truth.

That’s why the overall way to both avoid gaslighting someone and to repel gaslighting from sticking to you lies in the simple, but very powerful, concept of the I Statement.

How to Stop Gaslighting

Gaslighting comes out of what the author and speaker Starhawk refers to as ‘Power Over’. Power over is any social  system where people with power use that power to solidify and increase their power by reducing the power that others, especially others in a perceived lesser class or position, have within that system.

The system can be as large as a country or as small as two people in a relationship. Currently at a very large level, political and social leaders have been attempting, and sometimes succeeding, in gaslighting large numbers of their constituants or society at large.

A leader making an announcement that they are working hard to improve healthcare by cutting funding to said healthcare is gaslighting on an epic scale. And in addition to cold hard facts about how many people are helped or harmed directly; many, many more are harmed subtly by trying to make these two positions make sense together. As social beings, we do look to each other for assistance. More than that, in any human brain that isn’t highly damaged, we each have a part of the left side of the brain that wants everything to make sense.

This part is more willing to handle outright lies that are logical and match previous information than to handle information that doesn’t match, or to be told that no current information is available. This part of the brain will even make up plausible thoughts and insert them in between given facts to create a full story rather than tolerate ambiguity.

Having this portion of the brain isn’t some kind of cosmic joke. It’s an important skill to be able to act, rather than be paralyzed by incomplete or  contradictory data. Still, it is the reason so many of us are willing to vote, purchase, follow, support, and otherwise act on false but plausible complete stories over accepting proven but incomplete stories. We prefer to believe we know what’s going on.

And it’s the reason gaslighting is so insidiously devestating. Gaslighting gives completing pieces to why and how things have occurred – it only requires that we  accept the blame, shame, or culpability for incidents that aren’t ours.

To combat that as a potential victim of gaslighting, we regain our own power through I statements. The concept of I statements was first described in 1960 by a psychologist named Thomas Gordon*.  I statements specifically focus on just the speaker and their thoughts or feelings. An I statement incorporates ‘I think’, ‘I feel’, ‘I believe’, ‘I want’ etc as the way to describe where this statement comes from, and focuses on what the speaker personally knows, thinks, has heard, would like, and so forth. By doing this, it bypasses the logical brain insisting on an integrated story, and allows more than one opinion to live together.

To add strength and flexibility to the relationship, follow up an I statement with a question to find out the thoughts of the other person(s). Just asking ‘what do you think’ has a lovely effect – if the questioner is listening and truly interested. This creates power WITH, instead of power over. Using I statements and honestly listening provides space for both opinions. Even if they don’t agree, two opinions can live together. I like green and you like yellow? Well, we could decorate with a pattern of daffodils or leaves? Plaid? Discover that we both like plum relatively well? Go with a neutral-ish tone and pops of several colours? Yes, this is a simplified example, and there are many situations where one choice has to take  precedence. The point, however, is to let everyone involved feel heard, and to NOT remove their power, their agency, by playing false information or slanting the truth to make the other person feel less empowered than they deserve.

There are even many situations where one person does have more power in a circumstance. The goal is to use power between each other to support and to get things done, not to retain a higher position. Since this goes directly against what many of us have lived with and been taught, it can feel wrong – but it is, I’m fact, so very right.















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Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Uncategorized


Location, location, location

We just had 2 & a half days of snow, so I’m not at the symposium I was supposed to be at, and I am thinking a lot about shelter & comfort. I was also reading. (I do that a lot. In this case it was ‘Sanctuary’ by Mercedes Lackey – yes, I like fantasy!).  In the book, there’s a description of someone standing up to speak, and the firelight casting his shadow back behind him on a wall, but much taller and larger.

That image suddenly hit home in explaining something I’ve been trying to understand.

There are people who have build large ‘structures’, metaphorically  – and sometimes physically – speaking. They have a lot of resources, provide scholarships, offer a variety of therapies or tools or instructors. Some of these people are amazing in what they do.

Some are simply big. They aren’t wonderful therapists (or gardeners or hairstylists or whatever). They’re moderately good at their labeled job, but they either started with a lot of resources or they’re excellent managers, or both. Managing is often their amazing talent.  Their structures (writings, art, theories…) are large, widely known, easy to see if you’re looking in their particular field. It doesn’t really matter much where they’re ‘located’  – who publishes their writings, where they meet clients, what they offer. They’re big enough in their worlds that they will be seen.

There are other people who have not yet, maybe not ever, ‘built’ or ‘joined’ a large structure. They may or may not be easy to see. But they are amazing in what they do. Gradually, they come to mean a lot in their community, and if they keep on in their field, they create an amazing impact on everyone who looks their way. They might be easy to overlook if you’re just trying to find the biggest structure.  But when you do see them, it matters.

For years now I’ve been trying to figure out how the people I personally admire affect so much without, or sometimes in spite of, being part of a huge structure. I’ve been trying to figure out what on earth I managed to do on the occasions when someone has told me that I helped them in a big way, when I’m not anywhere near the level of those that I admire. I’ve been trying to find a good way to see and touch the idea of one person being barely big enough, but affecting so many more people.

The idea I’ve been looking for is the shadow. For shade, and protection from things like rain, you can have a heavy, good sized shelter like the brick & wood open pavilions in parks; the ones people often hold birthday parties and stuff in in the summer.  You can have a huge circus tent, one that requires a whole tuck just to carry it & all the poles & ropes and stuff to set it up. Or you could even have a small camping pop-up, maybe with a little portable grill if we’re adding in food or warmth into the mix. (Looking out at the snow, I’m very glad for warmth. In high summer, perhaps a portable solar-powered fan and a cooler of ice & water would be more welcome.)

Getting back to the topic – each of these provides shelter. But the smaller ones, the pop-up or the wood & brick, are amazingly effective in the right place. If you put them in the wrong place, where the sun & wind blast straight in, they don’t help a whole lot. If you stick one under a lovely spreading tree, it seems a waste of effort – the tree is doing the job.  But if one is at just the right angle, working to augment any protection from trees or rocks, and blocking the angle of the sun and wind, it does so much more.

The young man in the book, with the light shining on him, making a shadow that adds to his image as he stands to speak is doing the same thing. He is, one reads, a strong person and very helpful and one of the leaders of the group, in the best sense. But as he stands, he is seen to be all of this to people who don’t even know him, because of the way the light falls.  Because of this, they are more ready to accept his assistance. Because of the angle of a well-placed shelter, it provides so more help than another one just like it set haphazardly, or worse, still tucked away and not set up at all!

This is what I’ve been trying to see. This is what I hope for everyone to aspire to. Personally, I don’t have a driving need to build a huge clinic or be known as the author of fifty textbooks. It might be nice to have an office with space for art, for dance, for groups, for one-on-one talks that weren’t all the same room, and if I have enough information to share, I might write more than a series of blog posts. But what I really want is for my space – one room or ten – to be welcoming and safe for the clients who come. I want what I write, or paint, or sculpt, to be seen by the person who needs it. I want to figure out how to stand so that my shadow reaches more people. I don’t have to be standing on top of an tower, I just have to allow the elements that are already there to work with me, rather than fighting them or hiding from them.

Location, location, location, they say. Not a physical location, not for this. It’s standing in the right place to provide a hand over the rough parts, a shelter from the worst of a blast of memories and emotions, the right amount of shade for someone to see the details in a thought. The people I really notice are the ones whose shadows give me a bit of protection to grow a bit more myself. I’m thinking if I put myself where the elements I like affect me best, but still allow others a place in the warmth or the cool, the sun or the shade, that shadow might just happen naturally.



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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


And ignorant became cool…

Today’s observation isn’t amazingly deep, I’m afraid. Nor is it packed with interesting facts or filled with pictures (although I’m working on a post with lots of pictures soon, as soon as I get them all loaded onto the computer!).  Today’s post is regarding a personal pet peeve, and what might be the exact moment that being ignorant became cool.

To be fair, there has never been a time recorded in history when there were not people who felt that ignoring facts, figures, or details was a perfectly reasonable way to live. And every time and place that holds a population of relative safety, the numbers of ignorant or selectively ignorant people rise. It’s totally logical. In something like a small frontier town in the old west, or a military base somewhere in nowhere, or a tiny village perched between harsh seas and unforgiving mountains, people kind of have to be aware, and very well-trained in the details of not only their work, but many other bits and pieces merely to survive. When one of these small populations becomes a bit larger, people can afford the time and energy to learn for the sake of learning, and many do. (And to be fair, many don’t.) Once it gets much larger, there is considerably more safety margin for people to focus on details, and more safety margin for people who really don’t want to focus at all. Just because they aren’t likely to be eaten by a bear if they don’t do everything exactly right, though, doesn’t mean I really like it. My opinion is more along the lines of someone who has that much going for them already ought to be able to reach amazing heights!

So that’s my pet peeve (well, one of them – I like pets 😉 )  I don’t mind, really, if your level of expertise and mine don’t live in the same neighbourhood. I can have a great conversation with someone who’s interested in the same things I am; and I can have a great conversation with someone who has totally different interests. I get really frustrated by people who don’t know any of it, who forgot the basics they learned in elementary school, and who kind of even take pride in this!

On New Year’s Day I was at the grocery store, and I believe I accidentally stumbled across one of the major transition pieces between a culture that had lived through two world wars and the great depression and had a strong belief in the importance of knowing their whats from their whats, and getting it right; and a population that really figured it was safe, secure, and time to stop worrying.

This bit of information wasn’t on one of the shelves – not even in the books. It wasn’t a conversation – it was late and cold and I just wanted to get my groceries and go home, not converse. The few other people in the store seemed to feel the same way. I did stop to check out the few items left on the really good after-Christmas sale. I got a bit too much candy and a new travel cup. This revelation wasn’t there, either. What I noticed was a song.

The store radio, in a fit of post-holiday-‘we don’t know what to play’ was going with classic rock. (Another pet peeve – the rules for Christmas, set up in the Middle Ages, very clearly denote Dec 24th as Christmas Eve, the 25th as Christmas Day and the 1st day of Christmas, and the succeeding 12 days leading right to January 5th as the 12th day, Twelfth Night, formerly the biggest celebration. With January 6th as Epiphany – the day set aside for the Wise Men.) For practical reasons, I suppose starting to clear up decorations and songs on the day after New Years works, but they really should  still have had Christmas music – or Epiphany carols -Yes there are too!  ‘We Three Kings’, anyone?

But in any case, they didn’t. They had a mix of ‘classic rock’ ranging all over – it seemed to contain anything from the 50’s to through the 70’s, and might have had an even broader scope – I wasn’t there THAT long!

One of the songs was ‘What a Wonderful World‘. The one that goes on with the guy who doesn’t know much about history. Or biology. Or science or French or algebra or what the heck he needs a slide-rule for. And so forth, all crooned endearingly to his supposed sweetheart. He knows ‘one plus one is two’, he knows he loves her – stay tuned for a post at some point about love. Teaser: love is an action, not an emotion – and if they both love each other it’ll be a wonderful world.

I’ve never particularly liked that song. part of it is that I go for much harder rock, if I’m going to listen to rock. Part is that almost none the couplets in the verses actually rhyme.  ‘Science book’ and ‘French I took’ are the only rhyme outside the chorus. Other than that; ‘Algebra’ and ‘rule is for’ are maybe the closest, as an assonance? ‘Biology’ and ‘history’ are hopeless. Maybe mystery & history?

So there, as I see it, is the critical moment. A song recorded in 1959 and released in 1960 hit big enough to still be playing , with lyrics, in 2016.  It’s about the world being wonderful if she loves him – and no science, math, or foreign language required. April 14, 1960 is the day at which it was announced musically that remembering all that tedious stuff just wasn’t important.

Fast forward to me buying groceries on January 1, 2016, and many, many people I know complaining (before and after that particular grocery-moment) about the demise of people who can punctuate. Plenty of people chiming in on pet-peeve lists about the difference between sail and sale, or there, their, and they’re. A lot (still a minority compared to people in total, but a lot) of people are out there, well-versed in geography and biology, trying to stop an overwhelming climate change, and maybe save a few endangered species while they’re at it. Other people who did manage to remember their algebra and trigonometry not only working on things like making sure the repairs they did to the overpass near my house this past September are put together in a way that holds cars up, but they’re designing computer stuff that, among other things, makes it so that the ‘love only’ group doesn’t have to actually think, their phone is smarter and does it for them.

I have teacher friends complaining regularly that the plain old paper notebook their student is using will NOT highlight a misspelled word, and that just perhaps their classes could check the book open right in front of them for how to spell terms and names In The Book. The conditions are amazingly right for successful adoption *sigh*, if you want to try making a pet out of this peeve yourself.

So. history, traditions, ecosystems, spell-check, overpasses that stay over… maybe my pet peeve isn’t that small after all. And anyone, ever, who has tried to make friends (let alone more) with me by bragging about just how much they forgot from high school? Yeah. They haven’t made the cut.




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Holy day or Hollow day

Somewhere along the way, most of us have learned the etymological tidbit that the word ‘Holiday’ comes from the terms ‘holy’ and ‘day’ into ‘Holyday’ into ‘Holiday’.  Whether every ‘holyday’ was, in fact, celebrated as sacred in one tradition or another at the time this word came to be, or whether it’s simply holy to take a break now and then ( I can really get behind that idea!), is a great argument for anthropologists and historians and sociologists. It’s not, however, my current concern.

At the moment, I’m more interested in how we feel on any holiday. There are days like St. Patrick’s Day or Veteran’s day where we often get parades but many people don’t even get the day off; days like Memorial Day and Labor Day – great for shop sales and your choice of relaxing or getting a major task accomplished. There’s major occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas – days associated with family dinners, many traditions and specific foods, and tons of preparation. Then there are personal holidays, like taking a week off to have a vacation, or a personal day for something like a birthday or  to just relax; and jointly-celebrated personal holidays, like a wedding or housewarming. And finally there are days that may or may not be on calendars and are usually actual holy days to those who take the time to observe them, holidays  sacred to specific cultures and religions outside of the nationally recognized ones: Passover or Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Diwali, Imbolc or Beltane; and days like Christmas and Easter that are kept holy by some, and just cultural enjoyment by others.

Regardless of the day, the culture, or the reason, the question is how does it feel? Does it feel right? Are most of the people, foods, traditions you want available? Does it feel too forced, too busy, too frantic?  Does it feel like everyone is having a good time except you, or that you’re not really worth anyone’s time or energy? Is it holy or hollow?

We start forming the ideas of what these days should be from the time we start to have ideas about anything at all. Parents – the sort who have the interest and money for such things – make a point of photos for baby’s first Easter or Halloween, ornaments for baby’s first Christmas, make sure kids have special outfits, and the younger the child, the more holidays marked this way and the more special the outfits are likely to be.  Parents are on to something with this. It’s mot just that it’s cuter or easier to have pictures of a baby in a wheelbarrow surrounded by pumpkins (try getting your teenager to put up with that!) or even a big deal for the parents;  it’s a big deal for kids to notice what celebration looks like.

We form ideas about foods and colours, time of day and weather that ‘should’ be there, and we also form ideas about what’s going on personally.  Is the day so busy and ‘important’ that people won’t take as much time to meet my needs? Am I going to feel comfortable in whatever they dress me in? Is one person more important than another? Does my family do things that look like other families? Are they aware of what’s similar or different, and will they talk about it if they are? Holy or hollow starts very young.

Shortly after these basic ideas of scents and sounds, colours and shapes and the whole comfortable or relaxed or frantic or excited or sad or angry energy and pace of the day; we develop ideas about what the day is supposed to mean.  Immediate family broadens into extended family or friends. Those broaden into church or synagogue or temple, schools, dance lessons, boy scouts, soccer team. All of these are contrasted and informed by social information through books, music, movies, television, internet…  Wherever there is a way for people to communicate in any way, there is a flow of information. By the time we’re adults we’ve accumulated a pretty big pile of ideas about every holiday, and most of us have sorted it into a paradigm of what we think the holiday ‘should’ be… and if we like it.

Now we’re adults. Perhaps barely 20, perhaps getting ready to retire, we’re adults. We’re supposed to have somehow managed to leave the nest, break out of the cocoon, get our adult colours. We’re supposed to know how to get a bank account, have a job and follow a budget; acquire nutritious food and clean the house and get to and fro safely and efficiently. We’re to meet up with at least one other person who also has all these skills to start raising young of our own.  Most of us feel barely competent to get our legos put away, but most of us also muddle through. We’re supposed to know how we feel about holidays. Which ones to celebrate, what foods and decorations and favours and gifts and guests. Not to mention the time and energy and money to do it all. If we’ve been thinking all our lives that turkey is better than ham, or roast beef is better than turkey, we’re supposed to make that change… but not upset anyone sharing our holiday. If we’ve decided to go vegetarian, or need to avoid things like wheat or sugar, or noticed that really, egg rolls are the best holiday food in any universe, or decide to eat a simple, fulfilling meal and donate whatever else we would have spent to charity, we’re supposed to figure out how to do it without upsetting anyone. And for anyone who has managed the ‘finding another adult to live with and make a household with’ part of the expectation, we have to manage to incorporate all their values, wants, needs, and traditions, too.

If you’re following along, you may have noticed that the level of this game just increased several times in just that last paragraph.  And that’s how a lot of us feel. No matter how much it’s supposed to be about religion, honouring this or that person or group, or spending meaningful time with people we love; it sort of starts to feel like one of those games with all kinds of stuff hidden all over and an infinite number of levels that everyone else is doing better at playing.

That’s for those who aren’t also dealing with a history of abuse, or trauma, or neglect. Or trying to get through the loss of someone close. Or people whose job just laid off half the town. Or who are trying to do all the things everyone else is while on crutches. Anyone who has any kind of trauma to work through isn’t just getting stuck in this game, they’re doing it with one hand chopped off, with a blindfold on, or with a game system that refuses to record points most of the time.

If it’s all a game, is it a Holy day or Hollow day? For a lot of us, that’s  really, really hard to know. I talk to people as a professional who tell me it’s hard. I talk to friends who tell me it’s hard. I experience it. It’s hard.

If we follow the traditions laid out by family and religion and culture, and those traditions don’t fill our deep-down needs, it feels hollow. Just going through the motions. Does God really care if someone wears a new dress to church? Is it going to change the world if the pie comes out right? Is it right?

If we follow someone else’s traditions, it’s hard. What if it really does make a difference to go to morning service instead of evening service? What if pie is more fulfilling than cake? What if we’re ignoring people who care? What if?

If we make our own traditions, it’s hard. I am, for the most part, in the ‘make my own tradition’ category. Specifically, I’m in the ‘keep what matters, look at what other people do and borrow ideas I like, and make up the rest until it fits’ category. It’s hard. Right now, on December 23, I’m feeling halfway between holy and hollow.

I’ve changed a lot of traditions as far as religion and spirituality are concerned. I was raised Christian. I have no problems with the Christian belief, and I love many of the traditional Christian carols, decorations, prayers; especially in beautiful buildings with lovely songs and ceremonies.

That belief system is not the best way for me to feel closest to God/Goddess/Deity/Higher Power, though. My religious leanings fall somewhere in the Pagan range.  There are groups out there – some not very far, physically – who meet together regularly. I haven’t met one that I feel really right with, yet. My spouse is also pagan, but not quite in the exact same way I am. So that’s two different sets of needs to meet.

One of the common Pagan holidays, and Holy Days, has just passed. Winter Solstice, Yule, Sun-Return, was on December 22 this year. Yesterday. The winter solstice is a pretty common astrological marker for the year, so a LOT of religions and cultures have some kind of major winter holiday.  Spiritually, I’m following mine. We exchanged gifts last night after the sun had set. Some years I’d try to stay up all night to watch the sun rise in the morning, but my schedule does need to stay somewhat in sync with my usual one. We set the alarm for very, very early and went outside to watch the sun rise. Then we had a snack and went back to bed.  I baked over the weekend and am baking more today to take plates of goodies to friends in the neighbourhood. We change the cloth and items set out on a low table to ones that are more cheerful and celebratory tonight.

I still feel a bit hollow. I miss being a part of a group sharing a spiritual moment together, even if I haven’t found the right one. Several years ago one of the Unitarian churches in town had a labyrinth walk available on Solstice night. I loved going to that! They haven’t held it recently. Holy and hollow.

Many of my pagan friends have family who celebrate Christmas or like to celebrate Christmas themselves. We have family and friends over for Solstice dinner every year, on or very near the solstice. We get to celebrate our day, and friends who are also hosting or visiting people over Christmas don’t have to try to choose. This year we had a total of 14 people (counting us). Some could only stay for a bit. Some were able to come early. Most stayed after dinner to play games. It was fun and festive and wonderful.  We decorate with garlands and ornaments and lights, choosing ones that fit our tastes and our spirituality. I’d love to have a tree, but I can’t bring myself to have a cut one, I don’t really like the fake ones, and so far, I haven’t found a variety of evergreen in a pot that grows well in our house. Right now, we have a holiday fern 😉

fern & tomtenen

It’s too small to really decorate, but it’s growing well and has our Tomte (A Tomten is a Swedish gnome-like creatures that help out, especially in the winter).

I loved having people over. It meant so much to me. I get to spend time with my spouse. I finished a batch of cookies earlier and have the butter softening to start another batch now. I’m following my traditions. It doesn’t stop me from feeling incomplete at times today, or any day. Holy and hollow.

When friends celebrate with us for Solstice and then with other for Christmas, it feels to me like they are celebrating different aspects of themselves. For friends who are also some version of Pagan, they get to celebrate their spirituality in some way on Solstice, and visit people they’re close to on Christmas to meet cultural needs, social needs, family needs. Not everyone has culture, religion, and family all connected.

Tomorrow, the 24th, I go to work. I work part-time at the domestic violence center. I’m ‘flex staff’, which is kind of like a substitute teacher. When regular staff can’t be there for whatever reason, they ask someone on flex staff to cover. I volunteered to take shifts on the 24th & 25th. Those days aren’t as important to me as days earlier in the week were, and they’re very important to others I work with. More than that, I suspect I’ll feel this time what I’ve felt in the past taking holiday shifts. I suspect I’ll feel more connected.

I celebrate my religion and my chosen family during the Solstice. At work, it seems, I celebrate my culture. I was in foster care and group housing as a teenager. When you’re in the foster system, it’s hard to hold the traditions you got from your bio parents. Even, maybe especially, if you had a choice and ‘chose’ to leave. If things were good enough to stay, they’d been good enough to keep. If you had to leave, do you want anything of them?

It’s a question with a thousand answers; name and personal items, heritage and traditions, and everyone has to answer it for themselves.  In most ways it’s no different a question than the question everyone has to answer throughout their lives. What do I keep from my past, what do leave behind, how much choice do I have? A situation like foster care simply makes it that much more obvious that there’s a choice to be made.

For myself, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two holidays or seasons that ended up mostly in the discard pile. Two years before I turned 18, my then-foster family, my biological parents, and my therapist decided together that it would be in my best interest for me to go back to my biological parents’ house. This move was made shortly before Christmas. My biological parents were jubilant – they saw me returning as an outward sign that everything was fixed, that no one had problems any longer, that we had a ‘normal family’.  I was less enthusiastic, scared, and not nearly as certain that this was any kind of good idea.

Sure enough, the next year saw me back in foster care. I was in a group environment, not a private home, by Thanksgiving. Nearly everyone else  there had a pass to visit someone for Thanksgiving. The only people who had asked me to visit were the biological parents, and I refused. Several people realized afterward that I had been alone, and that they could have asked. Several people apologized. And yet, in following years, Thanksgiving was with roommates, with people I was dating, with the families of roommates or romantic partners, or alone. Very rarely did friends invite me simply because they wanted me there.

Eventually I realized that I don’t really like Thanksgiving.  Most of the traditional foods aren’t personal favourites. My religion has a day of harvest celebration and giving thanks much earlier in the autumn. And as with other holidays, the people I cared most about often told me they were sorry, but they couldn’t invite me to dinner, they were going to parents’, grandparents’, in-laws’ – and it was for family. If there are perhaps 5 or 6 ‘family’ days in American culture, then I was ‘part of the family’ to several people for 360 or 359 days out of the year. I didn’t belong. Hollow.  I worked this year on Thanksgiving, and loved it. Holy.

Christmas was a bit different back as a teen. It, too, is a day that I am not ‘part of the family’ on. Yet the same year I was alone for Thanksgiving, I’d moved to a group home by Christmas. None of the counselors and caseworkers wanted to have to be at the group home for Christmas, and again, a lot of the kids had passes to spend the night or longer with someone.  This time, one of the caseworkers arranged to take me to her house. Not only that, she was okay coming to pick me up from my biological parents’ house late on Christmas Eve so I could visit them but not have to stay. Her family had presents for me in the morning – Christmas day. I got candy that followed a particular dietary restriction I had, a great, comfy & trendy shirt, and a necklace that I’d admired at the mall. I ate the candy, and over the years have lost the shirt, but I still have the necklace, and always will. I had dinner & played games and watched videos as a part of the family, stayed another night, and went back late the afternoon of the 26th to the group home.

The next year I was ‘on my own’, but living with roommates. One of my roommates’ parents invited us all over, had presents for all of us, dinner, hanging out, family. Belonging. it made a difference. Holy.

This year, and for many years now, I’ve had my own celebrations and been invited to others.  I don’t, personally, celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Solstice, although I’m not averse to visiting someone on Christmas, depending on circumstances. But this year I’m spending Christmas with my culture. The domestic violence safehouse has a lot in common with the foster-care group home. No one is staying there because it’s their very top choice, they’re there because they need to be safe. No one will be staying for an extended period, they’re all in the middle of transition, trying to find stable and safe places to live. Everyone has been through things they wish they hadn’t, some feel better and safer than others, yet for right now, they’re okay, and they’re going to celebrate just like anyone else. Many people who would otherwise be there will be out for the day or even overnight with friends or family who are safe, and who say ‘come in’, not ‘you aren’t family’.

At this moment it feels like nothing is going on. I have butter soft on the counter now and there’s plenty of time to bake, but nothing is currently in the oven, so there’s no special holiday smell. People and presents were before today, other people and visits are after today. Right now feels hollow. In a few minutes I plan to start those cookies. The house will start to smell like the holidays. The decoration lights are on. No one is yelling at me, no one is hitting me, I feel safe. I almost have enough cookies to make up plates to take to people. I’m working tomorrow at a place I understand. The hollow will fill up. A hollow filled with the right things is holy.




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Posted by on December 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


So what exactly is ‘trauma’ – and why does it affect me?

What is trauma?

Good question!  A lot of people go to the furthest point they can imagine when they hear the word ‘trauma’.  That would suppose that all my clients are survivors of a terrible natural disaster, or were badly abused as children, or have spent years as prisoners of war.  All of those instances are certainly traumatic, and I am qualified to work with people who have been through such things.  But trauma doesn’t have to be that severe or dramatic to be causing problems for people.

Trauma is the word for whenever your mind & emotions continue to be upset about something painful, upsetting, or scary that happened, OR that could have happened.  Yep – trauma isn’t just about things that did happen, it’s also about the threat of something happening, and that’s actually a good thing, most of the time.

Wait – it can be good WHY?

The human ability to be scared about what could have happened helps, because it means that we don’t have to actually experience something to be wary of it.  Think of all the things you haven’t done, haven’t even come close to doing, because you knew you’d hate the results!  Every time you drive a car, you try NOT to run into other cars, not to crash into buildings, not to run people over (at least, I hope you do 🙂  )  Why don’t you?  Because you don’t have to do any of those things to know that they could cause pain, disability, hospitals, insurance claims, and cars that don’t work anymore, just to name a few possible results.

You have the ability to understand the ‘what if’ – you don’t need to experience it all to know not to try it.

When you feel threatened, though, it can be as scary as if something really happened. The same part of your brain that’s upset over something happening is upset over knowing it could happen.  That’s a good survival strategy, but it also makes a whole lot more things potentially traumatic.

So okay – you keep saying ‘trauma’ – give me examples of how this works.

When you experience something physically painful, emotionally painful or scary, or have a real fear that something is likely to happen that is painful or scary, it all goes to the same parts of the brain. As far as your mind is concerned, physical pain & emotional pain hurt the same amount, and a sincere threat is scary, too.  In a perfectly healthy world, we have supportive people close to us, we have safe places to go, and we deal with the painful parts of life & the scary parts of life and we go on.  The problem is, the world isn’t always perfect or healthy.

A trauma that doesn’t heal is like stepping on something sharp that gets pushed way in and isn’t removed. The skin may heal over, we may still be able to walk, but it’s in there, causing twinges whenever anything pushes just a bit the wrong way.  It can be a small splinter or a whole nail, both hurt. To fully heal, it has to come out and the wound needs to be clean.

An emotional trauma can start from something small.  Starting with examples of things in childhood; being stung by a bee, having a large dog bark at you every time you go past on the way to see a friend, having to move away from people who really matter – these are a few types of ‘something sharp’ that happen to kids.  Being in a car accident, parents divorcing, wandering away from a picnic site or campground and getting lost for a few hours – those are maybe bigger, or sharper.

As people get older they develop more coping skills, a wider range of potential support, but we’re also exposed to more things that could hurt.  Not making the cut for a team or band or cast for a play can be annoying, or it can be devastating. Being bullied, having a friend or family member die, discovering an important part of who we are that isn’t in tune with the family or social group around us are all possible kinds of pain.  Having a hard time fitting in or making friends or figuring out love and attraction and relationships, discovering a learning disability, getting a severe injury… each of these examples is possible, and each one can be something that we may or may not have the skill & help to work through.

We keep on growing up, and we keep on finding more possibilities in life. Many are wonderful or interesting, some aren’t really for us.  Some can cause pain that we feel & grow through, some can cause pain that sticks.  A bad relationship or a rough breakup is one of the most common ‘grown-up’ traumas I hear about, but staying in a relationship with a pretty good person can result in traumas, too.  An disagreement that turns into a piece of ongoing tension causes trauma. Having a career come to a stop, not being able to have children or having unplanned children, all the times that we end up stuck with only bad choices and worse choices – they’re all upsetting, worrisome, scary, painful.  They all cause at least a bit of trauma.

From early childhood issues onward, everything that causes lasting trauma has aspects in common, which means that it can all be treated in similar ways.  It also means that in many ways, it doesn’t matter if your trauma was small or large, common or uncommon – the effects are going to be similar.

Okay – so what happens?

The difference between ‘something upsetting’ and ‘trauma’ is that trauma keeps on bothering you.  The purpose of addressing it in therapy is to get to the point where it isn’t bothering you any more.  Just what ‘bothering you’ means is up to you.  You’re still going to know what happened.  You’ll still remember that it was really upsetting and might have affected a few or a lot of the decisions you made. It could be affecting your relationships, how you raise your kids, how close you get to friends, what you do or don’t do in your free time, fears, phobias – all kinds of things. How much you need to understand, to change, and to feel depends on you, but it IS something you can do.

If something hurt and you had the right support, the right people, the best ways to express what happened, and the most understanding family &/or friends after something hurt you, you probably went through a process of feeling hurt & scared, feeling mad that it happened, wondering what would happen next, and then you started to feel like yourself again.  You hurt when you thought about it, but not all the time. You were mad, but again, not all the time. If what happened to you was something that shouldn’t happen, your experience might have motivated you to speak out for change.  If you went through something that could happen again, you learned what some of the warning signs were so you could avoid it.

With those hurts, you got through it.  It’s in the past. You aren’t still hurt and scared now.

With a trauma that is still bothering you (yep – that’s redundant, since I said the definition of trauma is that it’s still bothering you), it isn’t in the past yet. As far as your mind is concerned, it’s still happening.  The perfect process that I just described hasn’t happened yet.  If you didn’t have the right support to work on it when it happened, or if it still bothers you, that’s when it’s time for therapy.

In therapy, we work to help your brain put it in the past. This part is where things are different for each person, because people work through things differently.   For some people, processing means talking about their pain and talking about other parts of their lives that have been affected by that pain.  Some people need to take note of what has changed and what hasn’t changed, so that they can really see that it’s not happening anymore.  Some people need to express all the thoughts & feelings they had when they were hurt.  Some people are very analytical and need to make lists of now and then. Some people need to give themselves permission to feel emotions or sensations that used to hurt and that they pulled back from so they wouldn’t hurt anymore. Some people work better by drawing, or writing, or acting out what happened.

All of those ways are good ways to work through trauma – it just depends on what’s best for you.  All of these things are working toward the same place. The goal is to have the brain understand that whatever happened, it was in the past, and it isn’t happening now.

And then what?

Once the brain understands that what happened is past, it changes how it reacts.  When your brain thinks something harmful is happening Right Now, it sends out a lot of alarm Right Now. Your brain in ‘harm happening’ mode ups your adrenaline so you can fight or run away or hide.  It shuts down most of your ability to do things that take a lot of thought, like translating languages or doing math or remembering facts, so that it has more ability to react to whatever happens next.  It’s like a computer – it can be running a lot of music & video, OR doing a lot of word processing and finding information, OR fast communications, OR putting information into charts & finding answers – it can’t do all of it all at once.  Your brain wants to deal with pain first so that you get safe to do other things later – but if it doesn’t know that the pain stopped, it has a hard time believing that it IS later.

Once your brain believes that the danger is past, it can consider whether the danger was really as big as you thought it might be. It can decide what to do next time. It can worry about danger another time and let you talk with people or decide what to plant in your garden or remind you that it’s time for lunch.

If you went through something that changed your life, your brain needs to catch up.  If your brain is still in trauma mode, it isn’t paying too much attention to forming a close relationship or learning the skills to be good at your job or feeling safe trying out new things.  The more you’ve changed, the more your brain needs to catch up to where you are and where you want to be.  Working through trauma means that your brain starts to believe that what happened is past, and you can get on with your life.

So it’ll be all better?

It will be much better than it was. Working through trauma can’t change the past, and it can’t undo what happened, but you can feel safe, and you can feel comfortable being you. You can learn from things that have happened, and be able to learn from new things.  You can make decisions based on what you want, not based on what would keep you safe from something that already happened.  You can be you – and being you is a wonderful person to be!


Using my secret decoder glasses: It’s not the words, it’s the meaning

Survivors of any kind of abuse often believe it was their fault. This tendency is in part a very positive sign, even though it is not true and it is not conducive to healing. Eventually, anyone who has been abused needs to allocate the blame to the person or people who did the abusing. But the thought ‘It’s my fault’ is a part of a healthier belief; ‘I can do something about it. I can change this.’ It allows us to go forward into a place where we can make changes. But in the time and place that abuse happened, it happened, and the person at fault is the person who harmed us.

Still, that belief tags along on the healing journey. It’s often worse for people abused as children. This, too, is natural. Not only is it natural, it’s very often a requirement for staying sane until we can get to a place where we can start to heal. You see, for a child, parents/caretaking adults are the core of the child’s world. In a very real sense, children experience their parents or other guardians as god. Adults are the source of food, warmth, shelter, personal contact, medical care, comfort… For the infant, adults are the ones who can pick up a teddy bear or tuck in a blanket, the ones who find, fix, and serve mashed banana or pieces of cereal, the source of changed diapers, the ones who make light and heat go on or off. Take a moment and think about how much everything in a developing infant’s world is controlled by adults. Think about how powerful that makes adults seem to young children.

As kids get older, they learn to manipulate more and more of their environment, but adults are still the ones who really hold the strings. A child can feed themselves pieces of food from a dish – then learn to open a cabinet and retrieve a snack – then figure out how to make a sandwich, to bake cookies, eventually to cook an entire meal (or to still be surviving on sandwiches in college.). But adults are still the ones earning money, going to the store, providing the necessities. Or perhaps they’re not acting as they should, and they aren’t doing these things. Either way, a child is not allowed to open a bank account alone, not allowed to drive, has a hard time reaching tall shelves or holding a heavy dish, and hasn’t yet achieved the coordination to spread peanut butter without tearing the bread, or to cut the core out of an apple without taking half the apple along with it.

That’s just using one need – food – as an example. Children – people – have many more needs, and all of them are controlled by adults. The child’s dependency on adults and their opinion of adults as all-powerful, all-knowing, all-affecting is founded in infancy, when the infant needed help in all ways, at all times.

If a child is hurt and assumes it is his or her own fault, then the world is still safe. Children are used to getting things wrong, sometimes with really lousy consequences. It’s how we all learn. But if a child thinks a parent is at fault, then they are assuming that one of the pillars of their world, one of the people who can do everything, knows everything, is responsible for everything, is wrong. That belief is too scary. How do you, or I, or anyone live with the knowledge that the source of care, of answers, the person who can fix anything, who we completely have to rely on, is at fault? We can’t. Instead, we believe the adult is right, and we are wrong – at least until we are mature enough to care for our own needs. To believe anything else would literally crash the child’s entire world. A child can cope with believing that they are bad or at fault. They cannot cope with believing the people responsible for their continued existence are at fault and are going to continue to do the wrong things.

I’ve known all of this for a while now. My own therapy, and journaling, and reading books, and talking with other survivors of abuse, has given me a different foundation. Part of the replacement foundation for the one that was damaged in my childhood is the knowledge that to survive, I had to believe my parents were right and I was wrong when I was a small child. Another part is that this belief isn’t the truth. I know it in my head. Some days I even know it in my heart. Recently, though, I have been spending time specifically considering how and when and why I have picked up ideas that strengthen the idea that being abused is, or was, my fault.

Right away I discarded the idea that I was told directly that any abuse was my fault. Some people are told straight out ‘you made me hurt you’, or variations of that phrase. I may have been blamed directly a few times, but for the most part, no. Because my biological parents are extremely practiced at living in denial, and you can’t directly blame someone for something that didn’t happen. Nothing wrong, bad, or abusive occurred in my childhood home; (according to them). In fact, they have told me, directly, that they expect me to apologize for saying that abuse did occur. Even with witnesses, even with me put into foster care in my teens, they still expect an apology.

(They can expect as they want, I am not apologizing for doing what I could to keep myself safe, or for telling the truth.)

When I look a bit deeper, though, I see a huge source of blame, and it’s aimed right at me. In order to see it properly, you have to decode the true meaning of some common phrases used by my biological parents. We’ll consider the term ‘mad’ or ‘angry’. This is used in phrases such as; ‘Be good and don’t make daddy mad while I’m at the store’ or ‘Behave yourself in the car, Daddy is already angry today.’ I don’t think that a child should ever be held responsible for helping a parent cope with their emotions. In fact, I believe in the reverse; parents are responsible for teaching their children how to cope with emotions in a healthy way. But I can see where statements like these could refer to just an emotion, not to any behaviour.

In my house, though, they were a code of sorts. ‘Mad’ or ‘angry’ really didn’t have much to do with how much a person felt; it referred to what the person did. If ‘daddy is mad’, it means that he has already yelled at someone, or belittled them, or called them names, or hit them physically, and/or that it is very likely that he will do any or all of these things.

For denial purposes, though, everyone is supposed to remember that everyone gets mad sometimes, that it’s a normal, even healthy, part of existence. Everyone is to replace any inappropriate behaviour they observed with a mental image of someone in control of their feelings and actions who is upset by something logical. Perhaps their child misbehaved, or they are frustrated by being cut off in traffic. Every member of the family is supposed to recall only logical, sane, normal responses to everyday issues.

This is how denial works. (My biological mother, especially, is a master at this.) This is also how blame is built and directed. I can remember warnings piled on directions piled on correction. ‘Be nice to your father, he’s had a bad day.’ ‘I expect you and your brother to behave and not make daddy mad.’ ‘Maybe you can think of something to cheer up your father.’ So many different ways of saying ‘If you’re abused, it’s your fault.’   So many ways that add, ‘If someone else is abused, it’s also your fault.’

When I look at these conversations through my secret decoder glasses… (How cool would it be to have secret decoder glasses?? What if you could see little thought bubbles over people’s heads that said what they really meant?) …I see layers on layers of blame. A lot of it is piled right on me. More is on other siblings. Some is on family who didn’t live in our house. Some is even on people I don’t even know. (It’s the fault of the clerk at the grocery store, the person driving that car in the next lane, politicians, waiters… anyone who did something annoying that day.)

My mother does reserve some blame for herself. She likes to twist her own blame into creative shapes. She should have left the store five minutes earlier so that she had more time to find a good parking spot to pick up my father at the park-n-ride[1] so he could see the car better so he didn’t become angry thinking that she wasn’t there on time. It’s a sort of origami-blame.

NO blame is given to the father. I say ‘the’ father because in this worldview, father isn’t just a designation, it’s a title. This is a very patriarchal worldview – God to Priest/Pastor/ Rabbi/Shaman/etc. to Father/Husband to Mother/Wife to children. ‘Father’ comes highest. Naturally he can not be blamed under this structure, at least, not by anyone ‘under’ him, such as his family.

If you think back to the explanation of just how terrifying it is for a child to conceive of blaming the people who fill the role of ‘god’ – the parents or guardians, the source of everything as the child sees the world – there are some distinct similarities. If the father is the source of finances, the last word on decisions, the person in charge; and the mother is, perhaps, still subconsciously following her own childhood pattern of never questioning the person in a higher position for fear of overturning the entire world; then the pattern, the blame, is passed down as a generational inheritance.

Fortunately, no one has to hang on to things they inherit. Some things come with more strings than others, but if something is too cumbersome or ugly or awkward, it can be tossed away. I don’t need a whole matched set of luggage filled with blame, so I think that’s something I’ll be getting rid of. In my head, it’s already gone. The next step is to keep watch for places where it has spilled over onto my heart, or taken up residence in my pockets, and get rid of that, too.


[1] For anyone not familiar with a park-n-ride, commuters who need to travel a long distance drive, carpool, or are dropped off at a large parking lot connected to an area where city buses congregate. They get on the correct bus there to ride to their job; hopefully saving gas money, giving themselves time to work on things while they ride, and in the case I’m referring to, allowing another member of the family to use the car.

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Posted by on January 7, 2015 in Uncategorized


Creativity, sexuality, and questions

Several years ago I read something, somewhere, that said sexuality and creativity are closely linked. That made sense to me, in my gut, so I filed that info away, and added other related pieces of information (try Googling ‘sexuality and creativity’ if you want to see what’s current. – it’s pretty interesting), and didn’t really think about explaining it until someone asked me the other day what that meant. Creativity and sexuality aren’t in close brain spaces, since sex, in its basic stage, is a very back-brain, ‘survival of the species’ sort of behaviour, and creativity is a very front brain, ‘I have enough survival needs met to spend energy on self-actualization’ sort of behaviour. You don’t have to be sexually active or sexually inactive to create, and you don’t have to be creating or think you’re a creative person to have sex. So Allie, what’s up with this?

I’ll admit, I floundered a bit… or a lot. It’s been a part of the way I’ve understood things and it’s come up in so many articles and discussions over the years, that it sort of settled into the place in my brain that contains other universal truths like ‘peppermint flavoured things should be available year ‘round, not just in December’ or ‘watering the houseplants is an important step in getting them to grow. It was just something I believe.

Then I got a great idea and Googled ‘sexuality and creativity’, and sure enough, got a nice spread of articles and websites. So I presented a selection of those to the person asking me. They read through them. And they asked questions. And a lot of the questions boiled down to ‘okay, other people agree with you, or you agree with them, but what’s up with this?’

Well… darn & phooey and insert some stronger language here if you prefer it. I tried to answer the question, but it kept bouncing about in my head for a while. I’m that sort of person; the one who comes up with the perfect thing to say or do a week late. Fortunately, the person who asked me is still living and aware and interested – as far as I know.   So here’s my answer, at least today.

Real creativity requires passion. (Not passion as in satin lingerie & interesting oils, although if that’s your thing, no problem.) I mean passion as in a deep down feeling that this matters, that is needs to be expressed, that it’s worth expending a lot of energy. Creativity requires passion, interest, feeling to really be creativity. It doesn’t require being good at whatever you do, although people who are good at their creative expression tend to sell more sculpture or get more recording contracts or whatever the outlet for their creative work entails. But a kindergarten drawing of a tree and a spaceship and a butterfly can still have passion, interest, and feeling from its creator. It communicates something of the creator to the observer.

Now to consider the sex. It’s certainly possible to have sex with a minimum of interest, or passion, or feeling. If you don’t believe me, go find a handy doctor’s waiting room and read through the selection of women’s magazines. Chances are, at least one in five has something about putting the passion, romance, or interest into, or back into, sex.

(If your doctor is more the type to have architectural and bird-watching magazines, you may have to offer to take a friend to the doctor to try this.)

If you want to have meaningful sex, though; the kind where you feel your own sexuality, and reach out to a partner, and really enjoy what’s going on, you need passion, and interest, and feeling. Perhaps that’s the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’. For sex (the verb, not the noun referring to someone’s set of chromosomes) all you really need is to be physically functional enough to get the job done. Be advised that different people have different ideas of what, exactly, constitutes ‘getting the job done’, but you can Google that, too. Sexuality just might refer to sexual activity or understanding that involves feelings, and communication, and interest, and passion.

So if you believe those definitions (you certainly aren’t required to), both creativity and sexuality involve many of the same ingredients. They tend to be the ingredients that people use in anything that matters a lot to them. Quite a few of the things people do with interest, feeling, and passion are referred to as creative, even if they aren’t strictly in a ‘creative’ field. Other times, people feel strongly and are interested and have passion for something they get to use or own in some way, such as my interest, feelings, and passion for finding peppermint-flavoured chocolate and ice-cream and such in months other than December. This is often referred to as ‘interest’, ‘weird’, or ‘thank goodness, I know what to get Ms. X for her birthday’. And when people are involved on a physical and romantic level with each other and involve passion and interest and feeling, it’s using their sexuality.

For the person who asked, that’s the best answer I have right now. For anyone else who didn’t ask me, but maybe has been wondering, it’s still the best answer I have. I hope it helps. For those who might have been asked some version of this question, now you have my answer. Maybe it can add to your own.

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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


I’ve figured out where tummy butterflies come from

0726141441-02For a long time I wanted to be an entomologist.  Specifically, I wanted to study butterflies & moths, which if you’re being specific would be a lepidopterist.  But this week I discovered the origin of Tummy Butterflies, and it wasn’t in a biology class!

I’ve had the chance to do more yoga than usual this week. For me, this is wonderful.  I’m a very kinesthetic learner, so not only is it a way to exercise and to relax, but during yoga or dance I often have thoughts and ideas come together and make more sense.  On Monday morning (yes, I went and woke up early!) I was at a class that’s only going to be available this month and next month. It focuses on light during the darkest months (here in the northern hemisphere, anyhow), and is taught by a woman with a lot of experience in yoga and dance who has a strong presence in the dance/yoga/art community around here.

When I got to class and started my warm-ups I realized two things.  One, I LOVE the room we’re in. It’s in an art museum and currently it’s featuring lit panels on the walls with different circles and rays that softly change colour. It’s a beautiful installation, and it’s the reason for the class.  The other thing I realized was that I felt just a bit scared, and I didn’t know why.

I knew what I wasn’t scared of.  I wasn’t afraid of yoga. I wasn’t afraid to look weird – and if I was, I was toward the back, and with the dim lighting and changing colour on the walls it wasn’t easy to recognize people unless you knew them well. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the room, or like anyone was going to harm me, or that there was anything actually dangerous. But I still felt anxious, and I tried to dismiss it and focus on the class.

Toward the middle of the class we started a series of movement to work the psoas muscle. The psoas is the one (well, two – one on each side, or it can be seen as one half to each side) and only muscle connecting the spine to the leg. That’s it. All those core muscles in the abdomen, all those big muscles in the hips and thighs, and there’s one muscle deep in each side sticking you all together. Naturally it’s a pretty big deal in dance and exercise and massage to make sure the psoas is warmed up and stretched and relaxed. One of my dance teachers shared once that he thought for months that his instructor was referring to the “so’ ass” muscle, because if you don’t warm it up enough, yeah, your tushy (among other places) gets tight and achy after too much work!

For those who don’t do a lot of dance, yoga, or other body-centered classes, this isn’t as odd as it may sound. Many instructors give descriptions that make a lot of sense when you’re moving, but aren’t found in anatomy textbooks. You’ll hear instructions like ‘come on, I want you to move those smile muscles’, or ‘squeeze those wings on your back tight together’. The medical world doesn’t call the muscles on the face ‘smile muscles’ or refer to the space between the shoulder blades as ‘wings’, but it makes sense when you visualize and try to move that way. So it’s not too out there to warm up your so’ ass.

So I’ve been working, warming, stretching, and soothing my psoas for quite a while now. But on Monday, my instructor told us ‘if we’re anxious, we tend to carry the fear in our psoas’. That was new! And it makes perfect sense, because when under stress, people tend to clench muscles. Tight shoulders from feeling rushed, pushing our feet to the floor just in case there was an invisible accelerator when riding in a vehicle and running late – yeah, we all so it. So we did gentle lunges and stretches and worked the psoas.

And suddenly, I knew why I’d been anxious. The instructor is a fairly big deal, at least locally. She knows a LOT. The class is open to anyone, any instruction level. I’ve been doing different varieties of dance my whole life. I’ve taken various martial arts classes. I’ve done yoga for the last 13 years and counting. I’ve performed and I’ve taught and I currently offer dance & movement therapy. I don’t think I rank nearly as high as this lady does, but one of the things I love about yoga is it’s not competitive. You don’t even compete against yourself; you do what you’re up for on that day at that time. (I really dislike the concept of ‘yoga competitions’. Yes, they have them, and it makes no sense to me. How can you compete in something that’s about being with yourself where you are? If you’re competing to see who does the movement’s best, then it’s an odd form of dance, not yoga. Okay, rant over.)

So I didn’t want to be the ‘best’ in the class. But I didn’t want to have someone assume that I needed more help than I really did – or that I knew enough that didn’t need any help. Neither is true. Because it’s a dim room, she wouldn’t even necessarily be able to see the small signs of a student doing well or needing help, like being just a touch off balance, or getting just the right angle of movement. And I do like it when my instructor says I’ve got it, or I’m getting better. I know I just said I like that yoga is not competitive. I really do. But I also like knowing that I’ve done something well.

That was what I was afraid of. I relaxed my psoas muscles and my butterflies flew out of my tummy and up to deposit information in my mind. I was afraid someone who I consider really good at all this wouldn’t think I was good enough. I understood it, and I could compare it to what was actually going on, and to the instructor carefully walking through the class to be sure we were doing things right and not hurting ourselves, and I felt better.

I know where the butterflies come from, now. They fly around the whole nervous system giving information, and when the psoas is too tight they start to congregate there, fluttering in that agitated dance that we refer to as ‘so nervous’ and ‘butterflies in the stomach’. If we calm down enough, we relax the psoas and they fly somewhere else. But if we need to know, or they keep dancing, there are some neat exercises. They’re pretty easy, too. Ask a yoga or dance teacher to show you. Ask me if you’re in the Colorado Springs or Fountain area! They aren’t hard, and they just might release those butterflies.

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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

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