Connecting the Past and the Present: Healing Abandonment and Abuse Through Awareness

Many people I work with in therapy or in my writing-as-healing classes discover stories that surprise them–stories about the mistakes they felt their parents made, power imbalances in the family, or stories about physical or sexual abuse. The darker stories are often a surprise: when writers sat down to write, those issues were not directly on their minds, but deep, revealing stories erupted from the pen. Though they were unexpected, for some they were a relief. People who have been in therapy have had the same kind of experience–the subject matter in the forefront of the mind is not the material that “accidentally” arises during the session. The therapy session begins with a particular subject in the present–for example dissatisfaction at work or trouble in a relationship, but often travels back in time with associations to parents, school, or past relationships.

It has become a cliché to talk about “dysfunctional” relationships and families, but most people do not have perfect families, and many have had to struggle with a range of problems–alcoholism, abuse–physical, sexual, or emotional, eating disorders, and depression, to name a few. No one likes to be reminded of the past but when it keeps coming up, we are pushed to learn new responses as we search for more peace and positivity in our lives.

The past is not dead–it’s not even past. -William Faulkner

Different kinds of abandonment

For people who have been abandoned, either literally by actual physical absence, or emotionally–a parent can be in the home and not there for us–the abandoned child syndrome may remain years later, showing up through insecurities and fears, clinging behaviors or its opposite–walls to intimacy. The abandoned child inside the adult can create havoc such as alcohol abuse, repeating their own abandonment by abandoning children, or refusal to have children out of fear of repetition. Depression, lack of energy and creativity, anger, and trying to fill up the emptiness may be manifestations of these issues.

When the abandoned child is feeling its pain and loss, the rest of the adult person is unable to find emotional balance. New skills are needed to help sort out the confusion, and to create new, healthier patterns. Part of the healing may include grieving and anger, as those repressed feelings are released. But it is equally important to look at strengths: how well you are doing and what you want to contribute to the world as well as the positive side of parents and caretakers. Most people do the best they can.

Healing is a process of peeling the onion, so to speak. Revealing one layer after another, with time for rest and integration, leads to inner peace, resolution, and forgiveness.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Write about parallels between the past and the present. Become more aware of old patterns finding their way into your current life.

2. List all the ways you feel you were abandoned. Don’t worry if the list doesn’t make logical sense or is too long or short. Just write what you feel and remember.

3. Look at photographs of you and your family from those time periods as a way to help you remember details. Becoming more aware of the past can help you sort issues in the present.

4. Write an “unsent letter”–do not send it!–to your mother, telling her all the ways you appreciated her.

5. Now write an “unsent letter” listing the ways she let you down. DO NOT send unsent letters in the exercise–these are just ways for you to help yourself to heal.

Do the same for your father.

1. Write about your intentions for today, this week–what do you want to change? What are you goals in your life now?

2. What are you doing well now, and how is it different and better than what you or your family might have done in the past?

3. What are your strengths? Name 10 things your friends would say are your best traits.

4. Write about how you are your best friend. How you take care of yourself and like yourself.

Linda Joy Myers, Ph. D., prize winning author of Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story, is a Marriage and Family therapist and teaches memoir-as-healing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Linda’s work has been praised by reviewers, healers, and radio and television interviewers.

Be Here Now! Get Back into the Present!

The Power of Now. This is the title of a book that requires reflection and introspection. The value of this book’s philosophy is very personal but it does reflect an important universal truth.

Most people’s stress can be related to the their mind wandering to and then dwelling in the past or into the future. We can easily get caught reliving some difficult situation from our past memory. This memory can have a great deal of power and elicit the flight/fight response just as the original experience create a major response. This past response does not even have to have been traumatic, but the re-experience can still feel life threatening.

The future is unknown. The unknown creates a fearful response for many people. When we project ourselves into the unknown future, we can create the uneasiness that will trigger our sub-conscious survival mechanisms. As an example, imagine that you were asked to speak to a group of world leaders, offering your proposals for world peace. It is a great opportunity, but most of us would feel some significant level of stress. Chances are good that if we were actually in this situation, our lives would not be threatened by these leaders, but our body responds as if this were a life or death situation.

Remember, our body has only one way to respond and this involves the triggering of our primitive survival mechanism, the flight-fight response.

Learning to re-engage and to live in the present moment can not only put things back into perspective, it can help to minimize our stress response. If you can be in your body in a positive way, you can change your response to stress and get back in control. With practice it only takes a few seconds, but can be a the difference from getting a distracting headache, an upset stomach, or having an over active mind that does allow you to rest at night.

The following simple (but powerful) exercise can give you needed control over your stress response. Remember to bring your mind back into the present moment as you focus on this technique.

Remember to breathe!

This will help to keep you in your body in a positive way and in present time! Distractions will surface, but gently return your mind’s focus to the process of slowly breathing…. inhale then exhale. You may even want to feel for cool air as you inhale and warm air in the breath you exhale. Imagine that as you exhale you can begin to release distracting thoughts, pain or discomfort, even anxiety. Some people will even be able to imagine that with every breath they can take another step down into comfort and relaxation. With every additional breath you allow yourself to let go of stress and slowly drift deeper into control.

It requires practice and some discipline, but this will work for you. Try it!

Do not let the smaller stresses carry you off into dysfunction or despair. It takes practice, but you will learn to not get sucked in to unnecessary anxiety.

Try this. It can really work well for you.

Please take good care of yourself.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training.

Training / Presentations: Training Adults, Not Teaching Children

Adults are vulnerable to personal and professional embarrassment from poor performance in the training program. Poor performance in the classroom may become the basis for personnel decisions by supervisors or the source of ridicule by peers. Economic benefits or promotion may be associated with the training program, creating a feeling of pressure to succeed. The way you handle these fears will largely determine the effectiveness and usefulness of your training program. To fail to recognize that adults have legitimate fears, or to treat them as children, is to guarantee failure.

Because adults tend to be more critical than children and are used to having more control of their environments than children, it is particularly important to provide learning environments that are comfortable both physically and psychologically. Each adult has a unique expectation of the course. Trainers must allow students to clarify and articulate these expectations before getting into the content. New knowledge and information must be integrated with adults’ previous knowledge. This requires active learner participation, a supportive atmosphere, and freedom of expression. Adults take errors personally, and are more likely than children to let them affect their self-esteem. Therefore, they tend to use tried and true solutions and to be unwilling to take risks. Trainers should design risks which feel safe and calculated.

Training that is in conflict with the basic values of an adult is unlikely to be effective. The trainer must be very conscious of the values of the people in a training program and structure the material so that these basic values are not threatened. However, the concepts presented in the course should also be explained from another perspective to give trainees a broader understanding. This quote by Edward Lindeman sums up the notion that adults must receive special treatment in the classroom if training programs are to be effective. “None but the humble become good teachers of adults. In an adult class the students’ experience counts as much as the teacher’s knowledge.”

Copyright AE Schwartz & Associates All rights reserved. For additional presentation materials and resources: ReadySetPresent and for a Free listing as a Trainer, Consultant, Speaker, Vendor/Organization: TrainingConsortium []

Training / Presentations: Educating the Adult in You

Think about how most people feel at their first day at work, in a meeting with a new group, or making your first major presentation to your peers or upper management. They might be like ducks, calm on the surface and paddling like crazy beneath the water.

Sure, adults are more independent than children, but that doesn’t mean you can leave them alone in the classroom. For the most part, children are open to new ideas and people, enthusiastic, and curious. However, they also have short attention spans and limited knowledge and life experiences. Adults tend to be more closed and cautious when facing new information, but they have longer attention spans and they may be very knowledgeable in the subject area being taught.

Their wide variety of life experiences may be useful in solving problems or constructing useful idea structures. While adults may at times feel threatened by new things and ideas, and be reserved and controlled in class, they do not require constant supervision, they are capable of being less dependent and emotional than children are likely to be, and they are less likely to be passive recipients of information.

Adults expect recognition on a level close to equality with the instructor; they expect acknowledgment of their contributions to class and their knowledge in the field. In short, unlike children, adults want to be partners of the instructor instead of beneficiaries of his wisdom. But still, there are many very real reasons for adults to feel defensive and fearful in training programs. They are often attending training because of orders which imply that they are not performing well.

Copyright AE Schwartz & Associates All rights reserved. For additional presentation materials and resources: ReadySetPresent and for a Free listing as a Trainer, Consultant, Speaker, Vendor/Organization: TrainingConsortium []

CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.