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Discovering Peace: Healing Your Internal Family

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Date : July 6, 2017


Do you ever have these thoughts? “I have been in therapy for years, have attended self-help seminars, have taken responsibility for my actions, have taken a close look at my inner demons, but I still feel stuck. I still have problems with personal relationships and trust issues. Why does this nightmare continue?”

This phenomenon may be occurring because we haven’t understood the effects of amygdala. What is your amygdala? The amygdala is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. Shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system.

Many trauma survivors suffer from the flight or fight response that takes place in the amygdala part of the brain. Learning to calm the amygdala is a major therapeutic goal here.

The amygdala can be calmed through exercise, Sandtray Therapy, Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR(eye movement, desensitization and reprogramming) and other modalities.

When you are triggered, you can enter several dysfunctional states. You can withdraw and be oblivious to what is occurring around you. You can dissociate and emotionally leave the room. You can become enraged and take your uncontrolled anger out on others.

We all have different parts inside of us. The internal adults, teenagers and children usually don’t communicate very well or if at all if we have a history of being traumatized. This occurs when the amygdala is activated. The internal teen or child may not trust the internal adult to help her. The child may not believe the adult will show up to protect the child. The teen may feel like he is weak if he asks for any assistance when in distress. These reactions are based on real life horrific experiences we experienced with other adults.

The goal is for the internal parts to learn to trust each other and work cooperatively in solving problems. This happens when your different internal parts learn to tolerate uncertainty and instead of being triggered into a negative place when scary memories arise; you learn to face them, understand and work through them.

When you begin to feel the discomfort that begins when you are triggered, instead of allowing the panic to overtake you, ask the wise one inside for help in dealing with the troubling sensation you are experiencing. The wise one could be an imaginary super hero or some other icon.

You may not be aware why you are in a state of distress, but the wise one may know the answer. You could ask, “Why am I freaking out right now?” The wise one may say, “You just saw someone who resembled your abusive father and you are experiencing sensations that relate to be beaten as a child. But you are safe now. Nobody is hurting you and we know how to protect ourselves.”

Discovering and believing that you have a family/team inside you will aid in this process. You are not crazy if you communicate with yourself in this way. Creating figures who are members of your internal family can be facilitated through Sandtray Therapy, drawing figures, creating clay figures, using your imagination or journaling about this process will help.

This is not a painless process because for years we have reacted to the amygdala. These reactions could be extreme withdrawal or aggression towards others. We were not aware that we need to be focused on calming this part of the brain before it is triggered.
Steps to Discovering Peace: Healing Your Internal Family

1. The first step is to identify your internal parts and give them names. They may be identified as the adult, child, teenager, angry woman, calming man or any other identifier that seems to fit for you.
2. Create images to call up when needed. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed, bring up the internal images of the child part that feels overwhelmed. Suggest that the child ask the adult why you are feeling so anxious. The adult part may say that you are worried because you have a job interview today and you are afraid that you won’t answer the interview questions in a coherent manner. The adult says that your mother constantly berated any efforts you made to improve yourself, but you will do well in the interview today because you are prepared and smart. This teaches you to look to yourself when you are troubled instead of seeking others to tell you that you are a good person. Of course, it is a human need to have strong connections with others, but to be more self-reliant is a move towards loving yourself.
3. As mentioned previously, those of us who have been traumatized don’t look to themselves for help. We also don’t trust our internal parts. The child part may not trust the adult because you have been abused by adults. The adult may not trust the child because she has been so defiant. Therefore, it is important to practice communication with all the different internal parts to heal the internal fragmentation that comes from trauma.
4. If the internal parts work together, the amygdala will not be activated. Its automatic response that floods you with adrenaline will not occur. At this juncture, you can work through your issues without being interrupted by the triggered amygdala which will go into fight or flight mode. In other words, instead of withdrawing from your angst or acting out in an angry way, you can face and work through trauma. Those awful memories may include abandonment, physical, emotional and sexual abuse can be addressed by relying on your internal parts working together. This will take a huge commitment and consistent effort, but it will be worth all the work.

Click here for information about Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy.

If you would like to obtain more information about Sandtray Therapy, please email me at bobsandtraytherapy@gmail.com Thanks!

Written by

Bob utilizes his life experiences as well as professional ones to connect and assist with clients. Bob holds a Masters Degree in Social Welfare that he earned at the University of Kansas in 1979. His California License number is LCS 11087.He has been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The Hartford Courant, Natural Health Magazine, The Library Journal, Grand Magazine, Lee’s Summit Journal and Womansday.com. He is an expert on the Oprah/Dr. Oz owned Sharecare.com and he is a frequent contributor to the highly regarded Mentalhelp.net.

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