Being a Child Witness of Domestic Violence

Being a Child Witness of Domestic Violence

As I wrote this I struggled to find adequate words to thank, encourage and inform supporters of Northwest Family Life and then I thought about those we are really here to support and my thoughts went to my 84-year-old mother. At the age of 23, on January 26,1963 she and my Dad (also 23 at the time) were married. Both of them, having migrated from the South a couple years earlier, were hoping for a better life. The following year on March 1, 1964, my older sister Regina would be born. I wouldn’t show up until 5 years later in January 1969.

My mother often talks about those early years when she felt that she and my Father were working together to build a home, family and a business. Although I do not know the exact details of when or what took place, my mother recently shared that the abuse began around 1972 when I was 3 years old and my sister would have been 8. I do recall the abuse and how scared both Gina and I were. I also recall running at different times to the neighbor’s home or homes of family members, like the home of my Mom’s brother, my Uncle Willie. I also recall an extended stay when we traveled throughout the night and moved to Pensacola Florida where we could flee the abuse sometime in 1976. Here we would temporarily stay with my Mom’s sister, my Aunt Bobbie until my Mom secured a job and a home for us. This I recall being a big deal, because Gina and I had to transfer to a new Catholic school. It was quite a culture shock as a child, having to learn to navigate a new environment.

The one thing that stands out for me during these times of upheaval are the looks we received from family, or neighbors every time we had to be relocated from one place to another. These looks and stares I believe taught me early to not be disruptive or rock the boat so to speak, because having a home or place to live meant stability. My Dad would come down during Christmas of that year and we would return back to Cleveland early the next year in 1977. This of course meant transferring once again back to our school. Of course, the abuse would soon pick back up and would eventually end in 1979 when my Mom resolved to leave my Dad for good and divorce him.

Flash forward to now, I think of all of the things my mom endured at such a young age and how she had to start over on her own with two daughters, me at the age of 10 and my sister 15. I know it wasn’t easy, but she always found a way and would eventually not only survive, but thrive. What assisted her were these things:

  • Her faith in God which shaped her identity. She knew she was not created to be abused.
  • Her desire for both Gina and I to know we were worth more, so we would not think the abuse was normal.
  • Establishing a safe community of friends that she could talk to who would not judge but embrace her.
  • Utilizing her creative gifts and talents including but not limited to sewing and baking as an outlet and sharing these gifts and talents with others to help where needed.
  • Journaling her feelings and writing stories and poems.

 

To this day, these areas continue to shape and strengthen my mom, who I dedicate this to. I write this to women who may be in the midst of DV situations to date. Please know that your children value you and see you even in times that you don’t see yourselves. They see and know your worth and value and they need you. The decisions you make impact them in more ways than you know. As a child witness of domestic violence, I know what it is like to carry fear and I am grateful that my mother chose to leave and remove my sister and I from a violent household. In leaving, she modeled what it is like to live in faith and not fear, and to believe and hope for better.

I never imaged that I would be an Affiliate of Northwest Family Life. How I got to this place was in attending what once was Mars Hill Graduate School and is now The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Having attended the college, they established a DVA program which I will be forever grateful for. Although I applied for the counseling program, I never realized that I’d not processed the grief and trauma of my childhood until I met Dr. Nancy Murphy and attended one of her classes. Once I’d sat in her class, I was hooked and would be fortunate to be an intern there at NWFL working with the women and children.

While at the Seattle School, I not only completed a degree in counseling, but I also obtained a certificate in domestic violence advocacy. During my time at the Seattle School, two individuals that I was most inspired by were Dr. Nancy Murphy who taught the DV course and Dr. Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting who taught the Multicultural Counseling course. I continue to be inspired by them both to this day and will forever consider them to be mentors. They both genuinely cared and helped guide and encourage me while in the program at Mars Hill and beyond. I also feel in some way that God placed them in my path to not only guide me toward my career, but to help heal some of my brokenness as they modeled genuine love and compassion even in difficult times and spaces.

I believe it is for this reason that I ultimately came to a place where I now teach about the issues of power and control which is the root of both domestic violence and racism. I feel blessed to be able to engage individuals in teaching and learning opportunities that support diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. I have been able to continue to do this within my full-time role as faculty at Walden College in the Clinical Mental Health Department as well as in an affiliate role at Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center.

In Honor of my Mom, Minnie Lee Williams. Thank you for being you!

Kristie Williams, PhD, LPC

 

 

 

 

Domestic Violence in a Christian Relationship: Part 1, “The Good Wife”

Domestic Violence in a Christian Relationship: Part 1, “The Good Wife”

This is the transcript of an interview with JJ, a survivor of domestic violence, and Pastor M, a pastor, mentor, and friend who walked with JJ during her marriage and divorce. This is the first of a two part series.

JJ: My ex and I were in our early twenties when we got married, and we were involved in ministry. I can say that marriage definitely did not turn out like I expected. I was taught that if you work really hard, you will create a good marriage. But that wasn’t my experience. 

Tabitha: At what point did you realize that the difficulties in your marriage were more than just “regular” struggles? How did the culture of your church/evangelicalism impact your ability to recognize abuse?

JJ: It’s complex, because there was so much emphasis on how the Bible calls us not to be selfish, but to be kind and caring. But the church, in my experience, tends to put most of that burden on women. It felt expected that I would cater to the needs (and whims) of my spouse. “He’s tired. He’s been working all day. He needs sex. He doesn’t have the capacity to help around the house or with the kids.”

Tabitha: Did you have an idea of what a “good woman” or a “good wife” was? Obviously this messaging comes from more than one place–your theology, your family of origin, and the culture at large.

JJ: The subliminal messaging is part of what makes it hard to recognize abuse. It’s an unconscious framework that makes you feel validated the more exhausted you feel, the harder you work, the less you ask for, the more you have sex when you don’t feel like it. To question that framework makes you selfish or ungodly.

Tabitha: Paster M, how do you feel hearing that?

Pastor M: Triggered. Uncomfortable. Those messages are being passed around. So much of what I and my peers were taught, as far as pastoral ministry goes, was behavioral modification. And we didn’t (and don’t) understand the far reaching impact of our words. For example, serving the “needs” of your spouse–or any other person–might be the last thing they need. Saying “No,” might be the most loving act. Giving a spouse sex whenever they demand it might be feeding the beast within them.

Tabitha: JJ, how do you think your marriage appeared to those on the outside vs. what was really happening on the inside?

JJ: I worked so hard to be the “good wife.” That meant always being at the church, volunteering, babysitting everyone’s kids, and protecting his reputation. But on the inside, I was stressed, exhausted, without purpose, and so, so, lonely. Sometimes everything would be too much and I would reach my boiling point and explode, which of course just worked against me and made me look crazy. 

Tabitha: Your (understandable) reaction to abuse would then be used against you.

JJ: Exactly. Then I would think, “I am this terrible, horrible, angry, selfish person.” Pastor M, what were you seeing on the outside?

Pastor M: Obviously this changed overtime as more things came to light, but I saw you as someone who was very devoted to her husband. She adored him, respected him. They seemed fulfilled. I didn’t realize at first that she was unhappy. Later, there were whispers of struggle, but I was reassured by others that it was in the past. I had no idea at first what was going on behind the scenes.

JJ: From the inside, it’s just so hard to recognize abuse because you are taught from the time you are a child, “Forgive 70 times 7, love as you love yourself,” so when abusive behavior happens it’s easy to blame yourself, or to think, “I just have to try harder.”

Paster M: What ends up happening is we create a narrative with a “front stage” and a “back stage,” and behind the curtain is where we keep all the ugliness. We just don’t let anybody see it. Something Donald Miller says that has really stuck with me is, “Everyone has a story, it’s just not the one they are telling.” And I can see how that played out with JJ and her ex, and many other couples I’ve worked with throughout my ministry.

JJ: Behind our curtain was this unsolvable mess, and I didn’t even realize it. What I needed was a demolition crew, but I was just trying to push it all around with a broom, telling myself, “Okay, I just have to love more. I just have to forgive more.” 

Tabitha: And those messages, such as, “We’re all sinners, everybody struggles, nobody’s perfect;” those messages get twisted when you are a survivor. You ignore warning signs because you think it must be normal.

JJ: Yes, and that’s why my favorite verse is “The truth will set you free.” Because it does, even though it’s extremely difficult. Sometimes telling the truth, for a survivor of abuse, makes it worse before it makes it better.

Pastor M: Yes, and that is so scary. If you think it’s hard to deal with the pain quietly, what happens when it’s out in the open? But we really do need a demolition before we can rebuild.

Tabitha: That brings us back to a pivotal point in this story. Pastor M, when did you begin to realize that the issues JJ and her spouse had were more than regular “marriage stuff.” What made you realize that this was actually an abusive situation?

Pastor M: It was a slow realization as I got to know them more. I realized that her spouse needed a lot of support to confront his own issues, and we offered a lot of mentoring opportunities. But he was very good at manipulating people, making himself into a victim, and blaming others. However, it wasn’t until I sat JJ down in my office and asked her to tell me the real story that I realized how bad it actually was. She “pulled back the curtain,” like we said earlier, and that was when I took action and tried to set up the support that she needed.

Letting me see what was going on was such a brave thing for JJ to do. It took so much courage. And I want to mention that while it can be helpful and essential to let people know what is really happening, not everyone is safe to do that with. Just because someone is a pastor (and I say this as a former pastor), doesn’t mean that they will be safe. There were a lot of well intentioned people in JJ’s life and it was still really messy.

Tabitha: JJ, is it fair to say that things got harder after you spoke up?

JJ: Absolutely. When I kept silent, I could still plaster over the cracks in our relationship most of the time. But once I cracked it open, everyone could see our mess and comment on it. 

To this day, I can’t even remember what I told Pastor M in his office. I didn’t have the vocabulary to call it abuse, I thought it was just “marital difficulties.” 

Pastor M: When she was talking, I could sense that there was abuse, even though I didn’t really know how to define it. 

Tabitha: Right. Nowadays, most people in our society hopefully understand that physically assaulting someone is unacceptable. It’s a lot easier to label that as abuse or violence. But what many don’t realize is that emotional, spiritual, verbal, and psychological abuse often precede physical abuse, and can be just as destructive and controlling.

JJ: It’s hard to recognize that you are experiencing it, let alone for others on the outside to understand how that type of abuse can devastate someone.

Tabitha: Often when domestic violence and the church are discussed, you hear two different experiences. Either the church was life saving and supportive–which is great; or, the church compounded the abuse by not believing victims, blaming them, or telling them to remain in unsafe relationships. Something that’s impactful to me about your story is that it’s really in the messy middle. There were people who knew that something wasn’t right and wanted to help, but JJ still got hurt. What went wrong?

JJ: In the beginning, my goal was to try and save his reputation. I wanted him to have as much dignity and respect as possible, because he was in ministry. I had a small group of people who tried to support me. They tried to be everything I needed, and I am and was grateful for their efforts. I didn’t have a family to support me, and I didn’t really have friends or community outside the church. I needed people that I could call and cry with. But within that support group, their goal was to save the marriage.

What I wish they understood is that, in an abusive relationship, if preserving a marriage is the highest priority, then the entity of marriage becomes a god and the oppressor is constantly given the benefit of the doubt.

It creates a permissive attitude towards the abuser, and undermines any support offered to the victim.

Pastor M: Something that I used to say (but definitely wouldn’t now) is, “I’m not on either person’s side, I’m on the side of the marriage.”  But now I know, some marriages should not be preserved. Some are dangerous. When there is violence, manipulation, or abuse, I can’t tell someone that their marriage is worth more than their life.

But in JJ’s situation, I don’t think the people in her support team believed that. The church doesn’t like failure. We say we believe in the redemptive power of God, we say we believe in hope, but what happens when redemption and hope don’t look like what we thought they would? 

JJ: Sometimes the church’s best efforts are actually the tower of Babel. We want something glorious and grand when it actually never should have been built.

Pastor M: When we make an idol out of marriage, something that is holy and intended for good becomes a beast that can destroy us.

Tabitha. Yes. Something you said earlier, JJ, reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis: “Anything that becomes a god becomes a demon.” I think the church has turned the sacrament of marriage into a god. We’ve made it a qualifier for ministry and have therefore neglected the much higher goal of human flourishing. When we talk about there always being hope, what does that mean? Does hope die when people divorce? Or does hope transcend the dissolution of a violent relationship and rise up when survivors rebuild their lives?

JJ: One of my favorite songs is by Nicole Nordmann, it’s called The Unmaking. It’s about how there can be total destruction in our lives–and sometimes there needs to be–but God can still work. I went through this terrible situation, I divorced the man who was hurting me, but now I’ve found a calling that I’m truly passionate about.

Yvette Stone on Narcissistic Abuse

Yvette Stone on Narcissistic Abuse

Yvette is a NWFL affiliate therapist specializing in trauma and abuse. Her clients often include women who are recovering from psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and physical abuse.

 

One of the areas you specialize in is recovery from narcissistic abuse. Can you tell us what that means?

 

Narcissistic abuse is a particular form of psychological abuse committed by someone who has high narcissistic traits. Those who have suffered narcissistic abuse often struggle to feel they own their own mind from the cycles of manipulation, gas-lighting, and interpersonal exploitation that have conditioned them to focus on the needs of their abuser instead of their own. This often makes survivors feel crazy, when in reality, they are far from it. My work with survivors is to provide them a safe space to begin to feel and untangle all that has been manipulated in their relationship with a narcissistic person so they can begin to trust their gut, which has often been denied in the cycle of abuse.

 

How might one’s intuition become injured?

 

This is where gas-lighting comes into play. Gas-lighting is when an abuser intentionally makes you distrust your perception of reality and question your sanity. And there are many subtle ways this happens. Over time, as this continues, victims lose a sense of grounding and dismiss what their gut is telling them. In this, their intuition becomes stifled, or injured. It doesn’t register danger, threat, or violence the same way as those who have not experienced abuse. What is important to point out, is that while our intuition can be injured, it can also be healed. Learning to listen to our gut, trust what it is telling us, and then act on it, are ways we feed and strengthen our intuition.

 

Talk to us about those ruminating thoughts that survivors of abuse often suffer from.

 

There is much to say about the dynamic of rumination. On one level, rumination is a distraction from the terror and grief of facing the reality that the person who is supposed to cherish and love us the most is not. Worse yet, they are actually harming us. When a survivor ruminates, they are trying to make meaning, and usually land in a place of self-blame or self-annihilation. This is a conditioned response to abuse and what keeps a victim stuck in the cycle of abuse. What needs to be said, is that at some point in life (likely childhood), it served as a means of survival. To blame ourselves and work harder is often easier than facing the wrath and terror of calling the abuser out. And in childhood, calling out abuse is often not an option. In my experience, what is usually under rumination is a sense of fear, panic, or dread. And it can be so hard-wired in us that rumination is often well underway before we are even aware it is occurring. But this too, can heal over time. Once we feel safe, we can learn to observe rumination in ourselves, be curious about what it serves, extend compassion, and then begin to imagine new ways to direct that energy.

 

Can you speak to the chemical addiction in the brain that happens with abuse?

 

When abuse occurs, there is a heightened sense of arousal, meaning our bodies are very alert. This requires certain neurochemicals to dump in our body. These chemicals are a cocktail of stress chemicals, as well as bonding chemicals, and the rise and fall of these chemicals leave us in a state that needs soothing. They are very powerful and cause intense cravings to reconnect with the abuser. This is why it is often hard for victims to leave. Getting out of an abusive relationship is like giving up a drug. Initially, everything in the survivor’s body and brain will feel compelled to go back to the abuser. That’s why it is important for survivors to understand how their biology is affecting their cycle of abuse. The antidote for this addiction is sustained healthy connection, which is why safe friends, support groups, and therapy are important for survivors to heal. To understand more about the neurochemical process, read this article.

 

Do you find that women in abusive situations are usually very competent?

 

Absolutely. Especially when it comes to narcissistic abuse. By definition, a narcissistic lacks a sense of self, so they prey on competent partners to help fill the void they cannot acknowledge in themselves. Women in abusive relationships are often insightful, empathetic, attuned, intelligent, self-reflective, and hard-working. In the beginning of abusive relationships, abusers will praise their victims for these strengths, but over time, they begin to envy and resent them, and that is when the psychological abuse begins.

 

Tell us about your theory of change.

 

Gregory Bateson said, “Things are what they are because of the way they relate to other things.” This is true not only for nature, but for humans. We are what we are because of the people, places, cultures, and ideologies we have related to. To me, this speaks of Trinitarian theology and a model for relationship. We are meant to be connected, yet individuated, and the field of neuroscience has confirmed this: we are open loop systems designed for attachment. To change, we need a safe and healthy relationship where we can explore all that has contributed to shape us as people. As a trauma and abuse therapist who uses interpersonal and narrative therapy, I believe the stories of our lives are held in the body. If you think about it, the only “thing” that has been with us in every moment of our life is our body. In order to change, we have to listen and engage how stories are held in it. When we do this with safe others, we are given opportunities for reparative experiences that heal and move us along in our healing journeys.

 

Can you talk about how survivors often learn to live in their brain because it’s not safe in their body?

 

When our primary attachment figure who is supposed to love us, harms us instead, it feels too scary to live in the body. This is a coping mechanism. Like rumination, it protects us from feeling the terror of abuse and neglect. Often, it was learned first in childhood. In therapy one of the main goals is to create safety so we can begin to be curious and feel what our bodies hold. This is also how we begin to repair and nourish our intuition.

 

What does internalized trauma look like?

 

To me, internalized trauma is more of a sound than a look. Meaning, there are scripts we say over and over again to ourselves that are accusatory, dismissive, harsh, unloving, dogmatic, etc. They are the sentences that are usually behind the sentences we first hear ourselves say internally. When we listen closely, we realize these scripts serve the narratives of those who benefitted from our abuse. And, in my opinion, that’s the worst part of trauma: we learn to become complicit in abuse against ourselves. It’s what evil wants. As a therapist, that’s what I get to disrupt, and I can’t think of a higher calling.

 

Talk to us about what you call survival mode vs. creation mode when it comes to abuse survivors.

 

It may sound obvious, but survivors know how to survive. It’s what they do. When in an abusive relationship, survivors are living in survival mode. When confronted with choice, it is an easy decision: go with whatever helps you survive and mitigate further harm. But when a survivor has moved out of an abusive relationship and threat is no longer present, choice is no longer based on survival, but on creation. There is freedom to choose and create. And to many survivors, that can be terrifying. It can be hard to trust it is possible to move forward freely, and without abusive relational consequences. Plus, it can expose ways we never got to develop certain abilities or capacities. And that can bring up grief. Survivors need a lot of support and celebration in this phase. It is a time of individuating and deepening in our sense of self. It also feeds and strengthens our intuition. It can be both exhilarating and scary at first, and that is completely normal.

 

Would you give us that quote you love by Dorothy Allison?

 

“Throughout my life somebody has always tried to set the boundaries of who and what I will be allowed to be. What is common to these boundary lines is that their most destructive power lies in what I can be persuaded to do to myself – the walls of fear, shame, and guilt I can be encouraged to build in my own mind.”

Yvette recommends Healing From Hidden Abuse, by Shannon Thomas, LCSW as a straightforward and easy read for those dealing with psychological abuse.

Yvette has offices in Seattle and Kirkland. To get in touch with her, please visit www.WhisperingTreeTheapy.com, or call (239) 410-7084.

 

Lesley Joy Ritchie on Parenting and Attachment

Lesley Joy Ritchie on Parenting and Attachment

Lesley Joy Ritchie is an affiliate therapist of Northwest Family Life and works as an attachment informed trauma therapist. Lesley centers her work on the understanding that what is broken in relationship is healed in relationship. Her specialties include working with families who are either in the process of fostering/adopting or who have adopted a child with developmental trauma, as well as trauma-informed individual counseling (children and adults), general family therapy and working with clients healing from domestic violence. We spoke with her about parenting and attachment.

Tell us about the PATCh program.

PATCh stands for Parenting Adopted and Traumatized Children. This program is designed to help build a foundation of attachment and attunement for foster/adoptive families as they navigate the very difficult and chaotic process of rebuilding after significant trauma. Our program provides parents with the necessary framework for understanding the impact of trauma on the developing brain as well as how to parent a child with significant trauma. We walk parents through Trauma 101, parenting strategies for kids who are easily triggered into fight, flight, freeze reactions, self-attunement skills for parents and self-regulation skills for parents, and attunement building between parent and child through play and a variety of connective experiences.

You’ve said that trauma creates a superhighway in the brain. Talk about changing the trauma cycle to one of attachment.

This is where we get to see the magic of connection and when we get to watch the tragic brokenness of past relationships become restored by safe and secure present relationships. Whether a child or adult, the reactive impulse is a cry for help. The healing begins to occur when we can replace the maladaptive self-soothing or reactive parenting response with an attuned and connective response of affirming feelings and meeting needs. The more we respond to self or others with this attunement and care, the easier it will become. This is because the superhighway of fear and rage becomes increasingly calmer and less frantic as the hurt is being nurtured in a bond of trust vs. rejected or threatened in a bond of abuse and neglect.

What is Filial Play?

Filial play is the open and free place space for parent and child to build this connective, healing bond in a therapeutic setting. In a few words, the child gets to be in charge and to feel full agency in a safe play space where the parent does not direct or correct. The goal for the play is to see the world through the child’s eyes and to find ways to mirror delight and synchronicity. The parent does a lot of mirroring with body position, facial affect and verbally. It is a beautiful space for healing.

Talk to us about kids expressing their needs in prickly ways.

We all express our needs in prickly ways when we are in some degree of distress. If the distress has reached the level of severe abuse and neglect, the prickles will look like a child being the tiny dictator that is running the household (lots of need for control, because they have lost all control to unsafe adults in the past). Another prickle I see often is long and drawn out rages that send a child into a state of hyperarousal with a racing heart rate, difficulty breathing, etc. What is being expressed here is a need for an infantile kind of steady soothing and presence that is not shaming or corrective- often the child’s emotional age is much younger than their physical age.

Can you share about creating a high nurture, high structure environment?

I think this differs depending on who the parent is and who the child is. The language I use with parents for structure is setting limits and creating a daily rhythm. So much of this process of attachment is not easy to define. It seems evident that all humans seem to thrive with a healthy mixture of freedom, creativity, routine and rhythm. I encourage parents to get to know the child and to look closely at what times of the day the child is more emotionally resilient and which parts of the day they are more emotionally reactive. The child will need a lot more nurture in those stressful parts of the day and some of the schedule will need to become more flexible, but overall life needs to be predictable and consistent- especially the emotional response of the parent(s).

Talk to us about parenting methods that affect real behavioral change but that are damaging to the child/parent relationship, such as yelling.

Every parent knows that yelling at a child is not the ideal way of correcting misguided behavior. Every parent does it at one time or another and often parents tell me that it is hard not to yell because it is the only thing that “works”. When we as parents say this it is important to look at what we mean by the word “works”. What we usually mean here is that the child submits to us and follows our direction. What we want is real change in the child, not a fear-based appeasement of the parent. Yelling works in the short-term but makes more “work” for the parent in the long term as the nervous system just becomes more dysregulated and the trauma reactions become more ingrained.

How could the parent / child power differential overlap with themes of domestic violence?

When humans are distressed we seek to self-soothe. When children are constantly powerless in an abusive/neglectful dynamic with adults, they learn to either submit to the scary adult or fight for power and control in a variety of maladaptive ways. The deep seated belief becomes, “I’ll just disappear until the scary person goes away,” or “I will never let anyone push me around again. I am in control from now on,” etc. Thus, the trauma reaction is the same as in adults and we can find ourselves in an abusive relationship where we are the one in need of all power and control or we may be the one who disappears to make it stop.

Often the trauma that is locked inside a foster kid’s body can get transferred to the foster parent. Talk to us about the importance of foster parents caring for their own mind and body, and how they might do that.

You can call this vicarious trauma or secondary trauma. It is a real phenomenon and it often looks like depression in how it manifests in the body. We are interconnected as humans, and especially as family members living in the same home. If a child is screaming for over an hour, everyone in the house is on edge. If this happens regularly for weeks and months, then everyone is exhausted, irritated and often burnt out. This is most often the reason for disruption of foster placements. If a family can get the support and care they need early on when a terrified child is placed with them, then the home environment can be preserved for all members living together. If foster parents are healthy (self-attuned) and not reactive and if they know the child’s triggers, many of these huge stress reactions can be largely decreased in frequency and duration and in many cases, eventually eliminated completely.

Talk about how one’s relationship with self can be a healing thing.

What is broken in relationship is healed in relationship… this includes our relationship to ourselves. When we are abused by another person we often blame ourselves, especially as children. When shame and self-loathing take over, the cycle of abuse continues. The focus on soul care and self attunement is THE MOST IMPORTANT ACT for those who have endured severe trauma. Moving from self-hatred to self-acceptance and refusing to abandon and retraumatize the most fragile parts of our soul/spirit/body/mind is the only hope for healing.

What is a 30 second burst of attention and when might parents use it?

Imagine yourself in the kitchen at home, dinner is cooking and you are tired after a long day. Imagine your 7 year old running into the kitchen screaming that her brother keeps locking her out of his room and won’t play with her. She is getting increasingly upset and dysregulated, demanding that you get her into the bedroom. You have the choice to:

A. Tell your daughter that you are cooking and that she needs to find something else to do until dinner is ready and ignore her screaming and kicking you while cooking.

B. You turn down the stove burner, move toward your daughter and down to her level and listen to her story about how mean brother is, show her that her feelings are important to you and focus on meeting a need in the moment (ex. can I pour you a glass of juice and can you help me finish dinner and we will solve this later, I promise). Then end the burst of attention with a silly face competition or a short staring contest.

It takes intention to meet needs and the burst of attention is an intentional but quick way to de-escalate a child’s stress reaction and to help them regulate through connection and attunement.

What are some books you would recommend to parents? How about children’s storybooks?

I love to say that the best book for a parent to read is a book that they want to read. If you don’t like to read books then listen to music, get fresh air, watch a favorite comedian, listen to a podcast that connects to your passion etc. Books are great but there is so much more than books that will get the wind back in your sales. I do love to learn, so here are a few of my favorite books, youtube videos and podcasts that have helped me and those I know on the journey of healing:

Kids books (beneficial for both kids and adults, and everyone between): Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, I love you Through and Through by Caroline Jayne Church

Adult books: The Connected Child by Karen Purvis, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Changes that Heal by Henry Cloud, Conscious Living by Gay Hendricks, The Healing Path by Dan Allender

Favorite podcasts:
The Post Institute- Bryan Post’s Daily Dose on Facebook: or on Youtube:

Tapestry Podcasts

Flourishing Foster Parenting Podcasts

A podcast I was interviewed for on trauma-informed parenting- Trauma-Informed Parenting: A FFP Coaching Call with Lesley Joy Richie

Favorite educational videos with therapist Kati Morton

You can connect with Lesley here or check out the Northwest Trauma Counseling website for more info on the PATCh Program.