Mary Ainsworth’s experiment called The Strange Situation was conducted in the 1970’s and has been instrumental in understanding attachment. Her study involved exposing 12- to 18-month-old children to a series of situations to observe the way they interact with the world in the presence and absence of their caregiver. Her findings generated knowledge about four different attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment. Below, you will find a breakdown of each attachment style, a summary of the hypothesis underlying each style, and a brief overview of the concept of rupture and repair. 

Secure Attachment

The Strange Situation experiment included observation of the child through tests such as being alone with their mother, having a stranger enter with their mother still present, their mother leaving them alone with the stranger, their mother returning, etc. These observations revealed that babies with a secure attachment to their caregiver appeared to explore their surroundings more readily in the presence of their mother, regardless of if a stranger was present or not. When their mother left, babies with secure attachment showed signs of distress, but were easily comforted upon the mom’s return. These observations indicate a secure attachment because these caregivers have been able to act as a secure base for their child. When children see their caregivers as a secure base, it fosters the child’s ability to feel safe enough to explore their surroundings. Becoming your child’s safe place also means that they are going to seek proximity to you in times of distress, which is what these children do when their caregivers return to the room after their brief separation from the child. Secure attachment is fostered through hundreds of interactions where the caregiver is consistently present for their child in times of stress. 

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

The children with anxious-ambivalent attachment styles exhibited signs of anxiety and distress through each phase of the experiment. These children were distressed before, during, and after separation. Their caregivers were not able to easily console them upon reunion. It is hypothesized that this attachment style stems from a caregiver who is often inconsistent. Caregivers who are inconsistent in the way they respond to their child in times of distress often fail to act as a secure base for their child because their child is unsure how their caregiver will respond from situation to situation. Children require a high amount of predictability from their caregivers. Predictability fosters a child’s ability to regulate because they can rest in the knowledge that their caregiver will show up for them in times of hardship. Regulation creates a sense of safety so that children can explore and learn about the world around them. It is clear through this study that children with caregivers who are inconsistent in meeting their needs do not feel safe to explore in the presence or absence of their caregivers and this is likely due to the lack of safety and predictability that they experience in their daily lives. 

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

The children with an anxious-avoidant attachment style were often perceived as having a flat affect at each stage of the experiment. They did not seem to explore much regardless of where their caregiver was and did not indicate signs of distress when they were separated from their caregiver. Upon reunion, their affect did not change. The hypothesis behind this attachment style is that these children likely have caregivers who are either absent or rejecting of their children. These children learn from an early age that their caregiver will either not respond at all or will not respond with loving-kindness and understanding. They have learned that it is not safe to express their emotions, and that their needs would not be met even if they did show emotion. Exploration of their surroundings is hindered because their caregivers are not a secure nor safe base for them.  

Disorganized Attachment

These children often exhibit unusual behaviors in the presence and absence of their caregivers. Their behaviors upon separation vary and can include, loss of body control, high amounts of fear, or completely freezing/shutting down. Upon reunion, these children will often vacillate between connecting with their caregiver and disconnecting from their caregiver. Disorganized attachment stems from caregivers who instill fear in their children either through abuse or neglect. They have often experienced so much abuse and neglect that they are highly dysregulated, which is another reason you may see the bizarre reactions to separation and reunion. When a child has disorganized attachment, connecting with their caregiver is often confused as secure attachment. This is especially true for children with disorganized attachment who are adopted. However, this is not the case. Connection for these children is often done purely for the sake of survival. Simply taking a child from an abusive home does not automatically undo the years of trauma that have led to this way of interacting with the world and others. This will be discussed further in part four of this blog series. 

To summarize, the way that children are parented has the greatest impact on a child’s method for relating to others and exploring the world. Children require a consistent parent who is attuned and responsive to their needs and emotional states. They need to feel that they have a safe and secure base with their parent so that they can regulate their bodies and emotions and take developmental steps forward. If any of the insecure attachment styles ring true for you or your child, it is important to understand that hope is not lost. Today, I have talked about many ways that ruptures can happen in relationships but in future parts of this series, we will talk more about how repair can also happen in relationships. Listed below are each of the sections I will be posting regarding the topic of attachment. If you, your child, or someone you know is struggling with issues related to trauma, attachment, etc., please contact me, Madison Slinkard, LCSW, through Psychology Today, or schedule an appointment at Little Rock Counseling and Wellness. I would be happy to talk more with you about treatment options! 

Series Outline: 

Part One: The Biology of Attachment (already released on 10/5/22—can be found on our Facebook page or our website)

Part Two:  Trauma and Attachment: Secure Vs. Insecure Attachments 

Part Three: Attachment into Adulthood 

Part Four: Neuroplasticity: Therapy for Attachment Issues 

Part Five: Attachment and Regulation 

Part Six: Attachment and Inner Connection 

Part Seven: The Inner Working Model and Feelings of Self-Worth

Clients often come to me confused and hopeless about themselves or their child. They may say things like “I just don’t know what else to do,” “it’s just so hard to trust people,” “behavior interventions don’t work for my child.” I have found through working with these clients that attachment theory is often their missing link. It’s the thing that makes it click for them and understand why they (or their child) think/act/feel the way they do. If you relate to this (or even if you don’t) keep reading. We are all effected by attachment. Today, I will be discussing how attachment impacts us on a biological level.

The human brain is wired to search for cues of safety and danger. This innate survival mechanism is one of the many reasons babies form attachments to safe people. When we are born, our brains have not yet created connections that will lend a hand to healthy attachment relationships throughout our lives. However, our brains are typically ready to make these important neural connections as soon as we enter the world. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but today we are talking about neurotypical brains. Let’s look at a child with a loving caregiver who attunes to the baby’s emotions, meets their needs, and is available when the baby is in distress. These loving and nurturing interactions will help the child form neural connections in their brain’s limbic system in ways that allow the child to feel safe in their world and with those around them. The brain has three levels: the brain stem, the limbic system, and the pre-frontal cortex. Our limbic system is the part of the brain that handles attachment.

Without nurturing experiences with a secure and safe attachment figure, however, these connections will not happen, and the brain will ultimately cease to develop naturally. A healthy limbic system sets babies up to begin developing their pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that handles planning, organizing, empathy, etc. These are skills that are often required of children to be perceived as “successful” when they begin school and socialization. So, to summarize, nurturing children and creating secure attachments with them, is a building block to their success as they move forward in life.

Let’s look at a child who does not receive the care and nurture that every baby requires for healthy development. In this example, the parent may have a hard time understanding and attuning to the baby’s emotions, therefore they may struggle with knowing what the baby needs in times of distress. This child learns that their needs will not be met by their attachment figure, and their brain does not develop the neural connections needed for healthy brain development. Each of us has what is called a threat activation response that causes us to seek proximity to attachment figures when we feel distressed, fatigued, threatened, or fearful. This response is even more activated when our fear is related to losing our secure attachment figure. For people who grew up with healthy attachments, this response will likely turn off when the threat goes away. However, for individuals, such as the baby in the example above, who have experienced attachment trauma (i.e., loss of a caregiver through adoption, foster care, death of a parent, divorce, neglect, etc.), it may be harder to feel that the threat is ever neutralized. They may consistently live with the feeling that people are going to leave them or fail them because that is all they have ever known.

So, as you can see, attachment is a huge deal for healthy development in all human beings. Healthy attachment comes from nurturing, attuned, and reciprocal relationships with caregivers during early childhood. It is important to note that just because someone has experienced attachment trauma, does not mean that they cannot heal and function normally in society. It may just mean that they need extra help and healing, and that is okay. Only you know your journey! I will be discussing more about attachment as I move forward in this series. Listed below are each of the sections I will be releasing regarding the topic of attachment. If you, your child, or someone you know is struggling with issues related to trauma, attachment, etc., please contact me, Madison Slinkard, LCSW, through Psychology Today, or schedule an appointment at Little Rock Counseling and Wellness. I would be happy to talk more with you about treatment options!

Series Outline:

Part One: The Biology of Attachment

Part Two: Trauma and Attachment: Secure Vs. Insecure Attachments

Part Three: Attachment into Adulthood

Part Four: Neuroplasticity: Therapy for Attachment Issues

Part Five: Attachment and Regulation

Part Six: Attachment and Inner Connection

Part Seven: The Inner Working Model and Feelings of Self-Worth

“Trauma is a fact of life.  It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”

Dr. Peter Levine 


What is Somatic Experiencing? 

Most of us can easily identify with the feeling we have when we are faced with a threat of any kind.  The other day I was driving down the highway following an ice storm.  It was a sunny day and the roads had cleared, however, many vehicles were still carrying around sheets of ice as they traveled at a high speed.  Twice as I was driving, huge pieces of ice flew off of another vehicle and hit mine.  Each time I startled and noticed my breath change and my heart rate increase.  I was gripping the steering wheel tightly.  This was my body’s response to the threat.  It was preparing me to respond.  Thankfully, I was safe and only needed to settle my system.  I took a few deep breaths, widened my field of vision, and paid attention to my legs as I grounded myself.  This type of situation happens all day at varying levels in our body’s nervous system.  We have activation and then deactivation and settling.  The choreography of the central nervous system.  When it is in a state of flow, it moves along naturally without incident, doing what it is designed to do.

Trauma can be defined as an experience that was too much, too soon, or too fast for us to process.  It overwhelms our coping mechanisms.  It is something that we are not able to process or digest at the time.  The result is that all of this energy that we can’t process at the time is stored in the body.  The experience of too much or too soon can be more of a shock type of trauma such as an accident, a fall,  or a single incident of violence.  It can also be experiences that are more ongoing such as childhood trauma, domestic violence, cultural or generational trauma.  When this survival energy is stuck in our bodies it can result in the onset of many debilitating symptoms such as: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues
  • Nightmares
  • Somatic complaints and syndromes
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Relational problems
  • Mood disturbance
  • Disassociation
  • Memory difficulties
  • Loss of interest 
  • Emotional regulation difficulties

Somatic Experiencing is a treatment approach created by Peter Levine, PhD., designed to help facilitate the processing and healing from trauma.  This method is a body-oriented approach working to release the unprocessed energy held in our bodies while restoring connection to self and to others.  

SE works from a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in fight, flight, or freeze responses and provides the tools to resolve these fixed states.  This approach facilitates the completion of this survival energy which is bound in the body and the nervous system, addressing the root of many traumatic symptoms.  It is a gentle approach designed to help someone build their capacity and resilience over time while learning concepts of containment and resilience.  This can be deeply encouraging to those suffering from traumatic symptoms as these feelings, sensations, and thoughts can be overwhelming to the survivor.  Rather than focusing exclusively on the thoughts and/or emotions related to the traumatic event, Somatic Experiencing utilizes the body or somatic responses and also their innate capacity for healing.  

As a client works with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP), they learn to navigate the symptoms of traumatic stress and build awareness, coherence, and self-regulation.  Together they are able to help release the unresolved trauma response and work to manage stress and navigate life transitions.  A person finds they are able to re-engage in life.  Renegotiating trauma is the process of restoring life and a connection to life.  

Several therapists at Little Rock Counseling and Wellness are committed to helping individuals, marriages, and families recover from the impact of trauma.  There are many wonderful treatment approaches which have been designed to work with those suffering from the symptoms of trauma.  Many are trained in several specific approaches to the treatment of trauma including Somatic Experiencing.

If you find you feel “stuck” in your trauma or the symptoms of trauma we can help.  Please contact us to find a clinician who can help you navigate as you work to heal.  You can also visit the Counselor’s page on our website to learn more about our clinicians who are trained in Somatic Experiencing.

Our Therapists

For further information of Somatic Experiencing here are resources:

  2. “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine, PhD
  3. “In an Unspoken Voice” by Peter Levine, PhD
  4. “Healing Trauma” by Peter Levine, PhD

July is National Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about racialized trauma, how it might show up, and using rest to help navigate the current and generational trauma of racism and systemic oppression. As I begin this post, I would like to acknowledge the fact that we exist on Native ground. Our life experiences and cultural norms and habits are interconnectedly woven with the atrocities faced by the native people of this land.  Countless transgressions have occurred for that to be our position today in a country that continues to embrace and empower systems and institutions that force our Native brothers and sisters to remain invisible. Feel free to join me in taking a few seconds for reverence. 

 Honoring BIPOC Mental Health this July is particularly different as most of the country and the world is grappling with the aftermath and continued struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the shared experience of collectively traversing through the challenges and difficulties of this prolonged crisis; a shared experience that provides a sense of togetherness. While also noticing this shared experience we encountered, I can’t ignore that there were unique struggles that some of us faced during the pandemic that lacks that togetherness quality. BIPOC people were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as we, also, faced heightened racial tension. Much of what we encountered was not necessarily foreign (which in itself speaks to the breadth of racism and systemic oppression of this country), however, the intensity, frequency, and magnitude of what was happening amidst a pandemic, gave rise to increased stress and trauma within the BIPOC community. 

 If you’ve been able to keep up with the blog posts thus far, you’ve noticed many others have eloquently written about trauma—what it is and how it affects us. As others have mentioned previously, trauma is less about the event. Trauma happens when something happens too fast, too much, and too soon in a way that overwhelms our nervous system. It’s very important to take note that trauma is not a weakness. On the contrary, it is a highly adaptive and effective tool for safety. Our beautiful nervous systems are wired for survival. As I write that, there’s an invitation to smile and take in the beauty of that gift. If it feels right for you, I invite you to take a few seconds and sit with that as well. 

Trauma is stored in our bodies. Because trauma is in our bodies, many BIPOC folks are not only navigating daily racialized trauma, but also the intergenerational trauma that accompanies us as well—genocide, colonization, enslavement, land theft, and displacement. As Resmaa Menakem talks about in his book, “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies,” our traumatized bodies don’t speak the same language of the brain. Therefore, our brains cannot distinguish the difference between what has occurred in the past and what’s to come in the future. Our traumatized bodies only understand the now. Things that have happened and are happening to us show up in our bodies in the present moment. James Baldwin concisely communicates this, although I don’t believe he was intentionally referencing trauma and our bodies, his quote still holds weight here in this conversation.  

History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us.

James Baldwin

 This is exactly why it can be so exhausting, confusing, and infuriating when we bring up the effects of past, race-related, harmful events, and we’re gaslighted and/or minimized because it’s deemed as irrelevant because of perceived time discrepancies.  Our bodies know no difference.   At times this racialized trauma might show up in our bodies as anxiety, feeling stuck, rage, dissociation, indifference, and overdrive. We’ve had to and continue to have to use these mechanisms to survive a place that feels unsafe. 

 I can only speak to the specific experience of being Black and hope that other BIPOC folks can and will take up space to speak on the ways in which racialized trauma shows up for them. For brevity’s sake, let’s focus on how this shows up in Black folks as being in overdrive. Historically speaking, black folks were enslaved and forced to work. Our worth as human beings (actually considered property at the time) was synonymous with how much we worked. Slowing down, resting, choosing to not work, or pacing ourselves could have literally resulted in death. Today, those same patterns present in our bodies (overdrive) as we continue to have to navigate a system that perpetuates similarly harmful patterns (the continued tenets of racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy). As Black folks, we’ve heard our fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, and uncles declare that we must work twice as hard as others to be on the same playing field. Oftentimes, rest seems out of reach. 

In addition, our society exalts exhaustion. Tricia Hersey gives a very sobering perspective regarding exhaustion in the U.S.

We exist in a culture that supports sleep-deprivation; we have been brainwashed by capitalism to work at a machine-level pace, and to equate our worth with how much we can produce.

Tricia Hersey

We have these mechanisms as adaptations to exist in environments that are not safe. The goal, then, is not to extinguish mechanisms that keep us safe, but to have the ability to sense into and feel moments when these protective mechanisms are not needed. 



 relax, take a rest, ease up/off, let up, slow down, pause, have/take a break, unbend, repose, idle, loaf, do nothing, take time off, slack off, unwind, recharge one’s batteries, be at leisure, take it easy, sit back, sit down, stand down, lounge, luxuriate, put one’s feet up, lie down, go to bed, have/take a nap, catnap, doze, have/take a siesta.

– The Nap Ministry @thenapministry


Rest is a tool for healing that deepens our resilience. Rest is not something we should try to earn by exhausting ourselves, but it is our birthright. Profoundly put by the Nap Ministry, rest is also a form of resistance.

Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.

The Nap Ministry

 BIPOC folks, when we rest, we heal. We can reclaim our birthright. Doubt may show up here as you read this and that’s okay. I, myself, am still navigating the fears associated with taking up the space to properly take care of myself in the form of rest. You might need to lean on communal support to process that and begin actively practicing self-love through resting. It might also be beneficial to speak with a healer/therapist to work through how you can begin to tap into the wisdom your body has to offer.

 Walking in the liberation of rest is not wrapped in simple, quick fixes. It will take active engagement in an embodied way. Healing is available for you. In the same way that trauma is held in our bodies, so is healing. I’ll leave with this last quote as it offers a beautiful offering for those who have sacrificed before us.

One of your ancestors’ wildest dreams was being able to rest. Sit down today. Take a nap.

@geecheeexperience from @KeNaiyaa


Resource List: 

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem

The Nap Ministry– Here you’ll find the link to a blog, podcasts, articles, playlists, and other resources to support your rest journey.

As Dr. Phillips mentioned in the last post, trauma is considered the experience of something that happens too much, something too soon, or something too fast. Considering the last year of our shared pandemic experience, it seems reasonable to consider that we might all have had something unexpected to navigate. Perhaps we were also already working to navigate other charged circumstances that had happened before. Or maybe during this bigger life event, we had a number of other unexpected life events happen that tested the limits of our coping. Whatever is true for you and your system, you are still here. The beauty of the human nervous system is that it is wired for survival. 


Considering that trauma does not reside in the event, but in the body, we can then consider that trauma healing becomes a journey with the body. By inviting movement into our awareness, we can invite the wisdom of the body—the nervous system—into a process of release and recovery, deepening our capacity to navigate uncertainty. The goal of nervous system regulation is to support a space of optimal responding that is congruent with the current environment, meaning that the response may not always be a state of calm. 


One way to consider being in a state of overwhelm is to consider that we have lost contact with our internal observer. The internal observer is the element of awareness that supports our system of engagement. By inviting this internal resource back into the conversation of our experience, we can begin to notice our body, or images of ourselves, or our external environment in a different way; perhaps even inviting space for cycles of distress activation to find a place of resolution or completion. 


Let’s play with this a little bit.. 


Starting where you are, maybe you want to be reclined, seated, or find a place to stand. As we begin to play with some movement, be curious. Notice what might be happening in your sensation experience. Consider if this experience might be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. If you find the sensation unpleasant, be curious what happens if you might change your position slightly, slow down or speed up. 


If you are reclined, allow your body to softly land against the support that is underneath. Begin to notice the places of contact between your body and what is supporting you. Working from the bottom up, begin to notice the soles of your feet. Notice the curling and stretching of your toes, feel the muscles of your feet. Be curious if your ankles need to move and flex. Allow your attention to travel up your lower legs, knees, and upper legs; flexing and releasing these muscle areas. Notice your hip joints and hips. Begin to notice your lower back, mid back, and upper back. Be curious if you can soften what might be tensing. Notice your abdominal area and soft organs underneath your rib cage. Experience the movement of your breathing. Notice where your breath lands in your body. Allow your attention to travel to your shoulders and chest, perhaps lifting shoulders, up, back, and down. Notice the muscles of your upper arms, elbows, and lower arms; flexing and releasing. Notice your wrists, hands, and fingers. Feel the muscles of your hands. Allow your attention to travel to your neck and jaw. Allow your jaw to move gently side to side. Release the tongue from the roof of your mouth. Soften your eyes and forehead. Allow your head to be supported, and rest. Notice what is different with your sensation, thought, feeling, or image experience. Consider if this is what you need.


If you are seated, begin to notice the places your body makes contact with any supports. Perhaps this is the floor or the object in which you are seated. Consider if you need to make any small or large adjustments to allow your body to feel a greater sense of ease. From here, bring awareness to your abdominal area, lift your shoulders up, back, and down. Allow your arms to fall where they may, hands can be resting in your lap, on your thighs or knees. Beginning from the lowest place, scan over your body from feet to crown, and consider what your system needs here. Perhaps this is enough. Perhaps you are noticing a desire to move. As you continue to notice your body being supported, begin to open and close your hands. Notice how your muscles feel as they move in opposite directions. Notice if any other gestures or movements have started or are wanting to happen. Consider allowing those gestures to happen. Once you have given your system what it might need, take an easy, full breath, and then rest. Notice what is different in your sensation, thought, feeling, or image experience. Perhaps this is enough; consider how you will know.   


If you are standing, place your feet hip width apart; hip width is the distance of two tight fists between your feet. Leaving a slight bend in your knees, begin to lengthen through your legs, chest, and spine. Bring awareness to your abdominal area, lift your shoulders up, back, and down. Allow your arms to fall to your sides and extend through the crown of your head. Keeping your feet where they are, begin to invite some sway into your knees and arms. Perhaps you continue in this way. Perhaps you bring more swaying motion with your arms, moving in a way that brings your forward hand to your opposite hip and reverse, like a washing machine. Notice if your system is okay here, or if you might want to speed up or slow down. Once you have given your system what it might need, begin to slow your motions until you have returned to a place of stillness. Allow a moment of integration to consider what information you are receiving from your body. Notice what is different in your sensation, thought, feeling, or image experience.  Consider if that can be okay. 


Whatever you have chosen for your system today, trust that you have given yourself what you have needed. You are both a witness and protector of your own system.

One year ago, our lives were drastically changed. What we now know as “everyday life” was said to be a two-week process in order to flatten the curve. A year later, we are still living in this very challenging situation. It has tested us in ways we could not imagine. It has tested our mental health, physical health, emotional health, financial health, relational health and our community health. If you are like me, you are exhausted. In our practice we are seeing more and more people seeking counseling and other mental health services to help them deal with this state of overwhelm.

Anniversaries can be moments of celebration but they can also be moments of painful remembrance. As we mark one year we find that we are taxed by what all the past year has brought us. If you feel burned out it is because you should. The pandemic has overwhelmed all of our capacities in different ways. You may find that you are experiencing depression and anxiety in ways you have not experienced in the past and seem stuck and unable to move out of those states. You may be struggling with issues related to food or alcohol and find that you are turning to more dysfunctional means to cope. Again, this is what so many others have been struggling with.

Feeling stuck is often a normal trauma response. Many of us have experienced various levels of “stuckness” over the past year. Trauma can be defined as too much; something that happens too soon, or happens too fast. When something is too much, we are not able to integrate the experience and respond with our normal coping mechanisms. It is more intensity than what the nervous system can handle. Too much fear, too much uncertainty, too much disconnection. It goes beyond what we have the capacity to manage and we don’t have access to enough resources or connection to help us stabilize and regulate. This is exactly what has happened for so many over the past year.

If you have felt stuck or frozen it is completely normal. We have all felt this in various degrees over the past year. We can help to mobilize these feelings and help our nervous system rebound and grow in resilience even in this situation. Take time to notice what you feel. Talk to someone. Move. Reach out for help. Find a therapist. Gentle movements are one of the best ways to try and help our system mobilize out of freeze or “stuckness”.

One constant in life is that we are faced with the unexpected time and time again. At times the unexpected is in the form of a beautiful gift you did not expect, a wonderful gesture from a friend, the chance meeting of someone who will be in your life for a long time. However, we also are deeply aware that the unexpected also brings painful visitors; being let go from a job, the loss of a loved one, a traumatic event, even a pandemic. These life crises happen to all of us. How well we do in navigating when we are faced with the unexpected often comes down to a concept known as resilience.

Resilience is often defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, significant sources of stress, relationship challenges, illness, tragedy, or trauma. Some have defined resilience as our ability to bounce back after these types of traumas. Resilience helps us to come out of this sense of “stuckness”. One of the most encouraging aspects of resilience is that we can actually work on it.

As we are at the year mark of the pandemic, we notice the difficulty of the past year and we also notice the ways we could be moving into change and are seeing hope. If you are noticing that you have been struggling with feeling stuck or frozen then you are like so many who are navigating this time. There are ways to help yourself move out of freeze and into more resilience. We are starting a three-part blog series focusing on just that. One of our therapists, Lisa Hunt will write about how movement can help us deepen our resilience and come into more flexibility in our nervous systems. Then we will have a post by another one of our therapists, Savanna Scott, focusing on how yoga can help children navigate these same issues. Children of course throughout the pandemic are struggling with the same issues as adults and are just as overwhelmed.

Let’s focus on what can help. We have several therapists on staff who specialize in helping navigate trauma and trauma reactions, helping to grow resilience and come out of overwhelm or shut down. Please let us know if we can be of assistance.

Growing up, we are often corrected through a tap on our hand to ward off danger or a swat from a caregiver’s hand to correct our attitude. Some of those hands were soft, but others too firm or even abusive. Many times, those who are supposed to nurture and love us do not and instead use their hands to harm. Not all of the hands that touch us are physical hands. Some hands fall in the form of illness, accident, or trauma. Hands can also be offered to us in the form of healing. What if that hand could help you mend, light as a feather, through healing touch therapy? What if you could heal the trauma you received from a caregiver, family member, medical condition, spouse or acquaintance?

Let me
be as a feather
Strong, with purpose,
Yet light at heart
Able to bend,
And tho I might
Become frayed,
Able to pull myself
Together again

– Anita Sams

What is healing touch therapy? It is an energy-based healing method that works with your natural energy field to help restore your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This light as a feather touch allows your body to relax and promote healing. It reduces stress, decreases pain, calms anxiety, and helps with depression. This calm, hour-long service allows your mind, body, and soul to relax and become whole again. Book your next session and experience healing touch therapy for yourself.

Have you ever felt stuck in a relationship where part of you wants to take a risk and move closer to your person, but part of you wants to protect yourself from that same person? If you’re breathing, the answer will be a definitive yes. It’s because you are human. And in our humanness, we hold an interesting dilemma of trying to hold two parts of ourselves in one space. Part of us has a longing to be connected to another person, to be loved, accepted, comforted, and safe while the other part of us feels the need to protect ourselves from the pain of feeling alone, rejected, disconnected, and hurt by the people we love. This presents a dilemma for our closest relationships whether it’s dating, marriage, parent and child, and/or close friendships. The closer we are, the more inevitable it becomes for this dilemma to present itself.

Partners, like past attachment figures, are then simultaneously a source of safety and a source of threat, and every interaction is a potentially impossible choice between isolation and dangerous connection.

– Sue Johnson

We feel the tension between this source of safety and this source of threat as we live alongside others. We don’t live in a bubble; instead, we are forced to live out these two very important parts of ourselves. I sometimes relate it to a parent and child going to the fair. I remember my first experience of going to the fair with my children. They wanted to run from one ride to another so quickly that they didn’t want to wait for mom and dad to hold their hands. I can remember the fear I had when one time they moved too quickly into a sea of people and I couldn’t see them. My children longed to experience all of the fun and excitement of the rides and all-you-can-eat funnel cakes without a care in the world. My children didn’t think about if there were dangerous people lurking or if the rides were put together safely with all of the screws. But my husband and I, as protective parents, saw the possible dangers as we looked for the threats that our children could not see. When you think of this scenario, is there a right one and a wrong one? Of course not! There’s nothing wrong with having a longing to ride rides and eat funnel cakes and there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to protect our children.

If we only allowed the protective part to have a voice, we would have been too afraid to risk our children getting on any ride or eating food from a fair concession stand. Who wants to go to a fair and not experience the rides and food? If we only allowed the longing part to have a voice, our children would have run from one ride to another without any supervision and eaten anything and everything that appealed to their eyes and stomach. The beauty occurred when we, as the parents, saw the longing our children had and embraced that part while our children saw the need to be protected and embraced that part. The longing and protective parts were both seen as healthy and vital by all of us and the holding of both parts allowed us to enjoy the experience in a safe and fun way with rides and funnel cakes along the way.

It is the same way for us in our relationships. We all want to learn to hold both the longing part of us and the protective part of us in a way that helps us experience love and connection with our people in safe ways. If you are struggling in finding this balance in your relationships, please know you are not alone. We all struggle holding both. You are only human. As therapists, we want to offer a safe place for you to be able to find healthy ways to hold both in your current relationships.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jellaludin Rumi

It is very difficult to think about welcoming all guests when some of them are deeply painful, confusing, life altering, and challenging. We have been in a state now for several months where we have guests in our home that we never dreamed of, the unexpected and the uninvited. We have a pandemic, fear, confusion, and transition. We have violence, fear, protesting, inequality, rage, courage, and the hope of change. All of these are visiting at the same time. If you are like me you are not sure that your house has enough rooms to manage all of these unexpected guests. Could it even be possible that all of this is coming to guide us to something greater, some joy, some change?

A few years ago, I started a new trauma training called Somatic Experiencing. In that training I heard a new word related to our ability to manage states of distress, emotions and physical sensations. The word is capacity. I had never thought of that word before as it relates to me personally. I had heard capacity used related to how much your refrigerator could hold for example or how many people an auditorium could handle at one time but never how much I could manage effectively within myself at a certain time. Now that I know the word in that way I find myself using it all of the time. It actually makes so much sense. My whole system; body, soul, mind, and heart are a container much like a refrigerator or an auditorium. I too have boundaries of space and limitations. Recently my husband cleaned out the refrigerator. This is a dreaded task in our household. You never know what you are going to find. Yet it is completely necessary because each time we returned from the grocery store we had more and more trouble fitting in the new because we just had not cleaned out the old. We were pushing the capacity of our fridge, and who really needs 5 jars of pickles. Literally, 5 jars. Apparently, we just kept buying pickles because one jar would get lost in the back behind the milk and the juice and another on a separate shelf behind the eggs and the containers of left overs from 3 weeks ago. At times you have to clean out the junk to make room for the new. We are not too different from this.

Capacity simply means, “the maximum amount that something can contain.” I am sure that if you are like me you know what it feels like internally when you are beyond your capacity. You have maxed out on what you can contain in a healthy way. The tricky part is, we all have different capacities. Right now, many of us are stretched in ways we never imagined. Our capacities are at their brink. Some of us have spilled over, our capacity overwhelmed and now feel that it is all just too much. This is not something to be ashamed of, it is very normal. At times, things are just too much, beyond our capacity. In these times, we need more help. We need more simplicity and more self-care. We need to slow down and attend to our boundaries, emotions, relationships, and our bodies. As we attend to these they speak to us and let us know how we can care for ourselves in the moment.

By talking about refrigerators and auditoriums I absolutely do not want to trivialize or minimize the enormous stress on our capacity as individuals, families, communities, and countries at this time. We have exploded outside our ability to manage and are currently in a state of complete chaos and stress. It is one thing when our refrigerator exceeds its capacity and another thing all together when it is the world in which we live on a daily basis. It is terrifying and can feel totally out of control.

In her book, “Rising Strong” Dr. Brene Brown discusses resilience and stories from people who have shared their experiences in times of extreme stress, their stories of being brave and stories of falling and learning to get back up states that a commonality among these people is that “They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.” She later states, “The process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.” This is a challenging process but it is necessary. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time and it is testing all of us. How will we Rise Strong? We start today with a simple invitation.

Invite the guests. Listen. Learn. Allow the sorrow and allow the joy. These are all guests. They all have lessons to teach us. As we learn we heal. We grow and we expand. When the guests of this time leave we have expanded capacity if we choose. This capacity allows for more. Right now. Right here. It matters. We invite these guests. The ignored. The rage. The sorrow. The pain. The Beauty. The Strength. These are all guests who need to come and stay awhile in our guest house. We need to learn. We need to imagine. We tear away what was old so that something new can arrive. At times this comes in violent ways. Is it terrifying? Yes, at times. Change does not come easily for most of us. It can be painful. Yet, it is necessary. When we can learn to accept all of the guests we expand our capacity and our resilience. Reach out and get help if you need it. We all share in this process of humanity. You are not alone.

As I was writing about my reflections from the therapy room in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found that another article was already brewing in my mind about more practical suggestions and tangible resources that could be helpful. So here it is.

…there was always a way to get through a difficulty. If you just keep swimming, you’ll find your way. And when your brain wants to give up because there’s no land in sight, you keep swimming, not because you’re certain swimming will take you where you want to go, but to prove to yourself that you can still swim.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

I’ve found myself coming back to one of my very favorite book recommendations several times over the past couple of weeks- Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. I’ve used a few of their quotes throughout that seem to apply especially well to what I’d like to share here. If you currently have the capacity to do so, I would highly recommend listening to this on audiobook, as the authors do an excellent job of narrating it.

The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

When I first outlined my thoughts for this article, I had separated it into two or three different practical ideas that could help us all cope more effectively with this crisis. Then, I realized, there was really only one point I was trying to make: we need to move. 

No, I don’t only mean exercise, per se (though, that isn’t a bad idea). Perhaps even more aptly, we need to mobilize. Since my passion, and much of my nerdom, is related to the healing of trauma and the effects of adversity, some of this idea comes from what I’ve learned working as a trauma therapist. Without digging too deep into theory here, I will do my best to summarize, and perhaps oversimplify for the sake of brevity, what we know about the nervous system and traumatic stress as it applies to what we’re going through right now.

Some brilliant leaders in the trauma therapy world, like Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Stephen Porges, and Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, have helped us realize that when we experience stress and trauma, we must look to the body to both understand what’s happening and know how to intervene most effectively. We know that the body’s number one goal is to survive at all costs. So what happens when our biology detects that there is a threat in our environment, whether seen, like a bear, or unseen, like a novel virus? Immediately, it prepares us to run or fight, whichever seems most likely to help us survive. What many of us don’t realize is that this energy must be “spent.” This mobilizing energy doesn’t seep out of our pores or simply dissolve with time. When we’re unable to mobilize, as our bodies prepared us to, or instead go into a freeze or shutdown mode, this leftover energy can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies. This can result in a myriad of symptoms like anxiety, depression/shutdown, illness/poor immune function, irritability, brain fog, PTSD, etc. What’s especially tricky about unseen threats, like the one we’re experiencing now, is that we’re less able to react organically to allow this energy to move through, as we would automatically run from a bear or instinctually slam on our brakes to avoid a car accident. This means we simply have to be more intentional and mindful of what to do to help this energy move its way out of our system.

So my main encouragement over the past couple of weeks has been to find a way to mobilize. Find a way to mobilize the energy that our bodies naturally produce in response to any kind of threat. This includes moving our bodies, most importantly, but also finding, as I mentioned in my previous post, what we can control and what we can do and doing that. Below, I’ve included a list of free resources that I’ve gathered that may help you, as Emily and Amelia say in Burnout, to “do a thing” to help move your stress through and perhaps even be stronger and more resilient on the other side of it.

The moral of the story is: We thrive when we have a positive goal to move toward, not just a negative state we’re trying to move away from.

― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Free Resource List:

Yoga With Adriene– Free via YouTube

Online classes with local yoga studio, Blue Yoga Nyla

Breathing for wellness with Audrea Morado (our new massage therapist!)

Self-Compassion Meditation Sessions

Dr. Brené Brown’s new podcast 

*The first episode addresses the pandemic specifically

Webinar from Robyn Gobbel: “Nurturing Your Children (and self) During the Crisis of COVID-19: Tips and Tricks from a Stay-At-Home Mama That Used To Be a Play Therapist That Used To Be a Preschool Teacher”

Webinar, also from Robyn Gobbel, about a deeper dive into some of the concepts I’ve presented here, including application to parenting.

*Free with code “safe” at checkout. I’d also recommend looking through all of Robyn Gobbel’s other on-demand webinars. She’s got a lot of great parenting resources!

Resources for cultivating mindfulness & restoring calm from Sounds True

Video series about the power of self-compassion

List of homeschool businesses that are offering free subscriptions during the COVID-19 school closures

If you are able and would like to support relief efforts for our community, you can do so through the Little Rock Cares COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund which benefits food relief efforts provided by World Central Kitchen and the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 related expenses.