The Journey from ACES and Gun Control to Comfort and Healing

Wow, this issue is big!  It has many layers.  Who is responsible and who is in charge?

Our society has evolved over time.  People have had adverse childhood experiences from the beginning of time.  That is because we are human!  We make decisions and choices everyday.  How we chose to respond to things that happen outside of our control is what determines our experience.

So, when children experience neglect or abuse or are exposed to violence (domestic violence or TV or Video Games) they have reactions within themselves.  We cannot know how other people are feeling.  I would like to believe that witnessing one human being hurting another produces emotion and that being a more negative than positive emotion.

The brain responds to trauma with fight, flight or freeze reactions.  

So if over the many years humans have existed they have learned to shut down to violent acts, the threshold for humans tolerating violence has been raised.  

Children need to feel safe and loved. That is the basis of early attachment.  That is basic common sense in my mind.  The words  “safe” and “love” may need updated and common definitions in our society.  Our threshold for tolerating hate and violence and neglect is pretty high in our country.  Look at the children in our schools and look at the number of people going to prison, and yes, look at the massive shootings.  

We need to lower the threshold of pain and tolerance.  When I see young children going to march against gun laws because they don’t feel safe, something is terribly wrong.  Are our children taking care of the adults in our world?  You betcha.  Lot’s of children are parenting themselves at very early ages.  I don’t think they quite have the skills so how it looks is what you are seeing. Yes these young men and woman are amazing and strong, but they are also acting out of “fear”!  

People are scared and acting out. 

Individuals are hurting so much that they are shooting their friends and classmates.  Children are being medicated because they can’t sit still in school and are acting out.  We have well intended and meaning “Board Certified Behavior Analysts” in schools who are trying to figure out how to get children to behave in ways that we “think” they should behave, often, because they are creating “unsafe” situations for themselves and others.  I feel that in many of these situations we are overriding children’s emotions.  Without understanding what they are “feeling” and why they are feeling that way, we are not truly relating to children.  

Let’s take that one more level.  It is challenging to understand how other people feel if we aren’t in touch with our own feelings. We are a reactive and interconnected people and will often pick up on the emotions of others without even being aware.   

I had this conversation with my niece.. “Why do we have to “walk up” to people who are hurting? Why can’t we just “walk out?”  What is happening in our world is unacceptable.  I had to pause.  This resonated with me deeply as a life lesson I have learned. 

Boundaries!  Healthy Boundaries!  Our students are children.  They are innately kind and compassionate if they have been treated kindly and compassionately. We should not be asking them to take care of the hurting students in their classrooms.

The individuals who are harming and killing others were not treated kindly and compassionately, nor were their parents, or their grand-parents I feel that is safe to say.  We have all faced adversity, some more than others in all different ways.  We need to understand that and heal that adversity!  Heal it as soon as possible.

If we are hurt or treated unkindly we can have a reaction and shut down or act out.  Fight, flight or freeze.  Our brain does not like it when we are hurt.  It tries to protect us.  

If children are born into stressful situations their brains never experience a calm state of wellbeing.  And because they can’t talk or move we have no way of knowing how they are feeling.  These days, people don’t want children to cry or have discomfort.  Discomfort is different than being hurt.  And when you really understand where different sources of pain come from we do have more control than possibly understood.

If pain happens inside of us, it can be the result of the way something outside of us is connecting inside of our bodies.  And the mind get’s to play a role here too.  If a baby is given milk and the milk is not good they will get sick.  If the baby is having gas in their belly and experiencing pain, that pain came from outside of them. It is up to the adult to provide comfort and identify the source of the pain.  If babies are happy they don’t cry.  If they are comfortable they are comfortable.  We need to get to a point of congruence between feeling and actions.

When I hear that a child is “acting out” in school or “refusing or avoiding” work,   the acting out is the child’s way of saying “I have a pain”.  “I am not comfortable” or possibly “my brain is on fire”!  

If the child is refusing or avoiding they are also expressing “I am uncomfortable and I am getting away from this source of discomfort”.  This is where we need to understand where the source of discomfort really is coming from.  

If a baby is not comforted, that pain gets repressed in their body and their mind thinks, “I have to have this pain, it’s just the way it is”.  They may cry for a while and eventually their nervous system will absorb the pain or they might even tire out from crying.  But without the soothing and comforting they don’t come back to a state of wellbeing and comfort, they have a new brain set ready for the next pain and so it goes.

Many individuals, I include myself here, have learned to live with pain and discomfort that can and should be healed.  There are lots of opportunities to heal and comfort others.  People are now volunteering in hospitals to hold newborn babies when their parents can’t. 

I ponder several questions around healing and welcome you to share yours:

What are we doing to heal ourselves?  

We all have wounds or discomforts.  No we are not going to be happy all of the time.  We are going to stub our toe, (but not very often if we are paying attention and in the present moment.)  There is healthy adversity and unhealthy adversity.

What are we doing to make sure we are in the present moment so we can discern whether our experiences are needing immediate attention?

What are we doing when we feel pain arise?  

It may be directly related to something we are experiencing in the moment (see, hear, feel, taste, etc)  or it may be related to a prior experience that has been repressed.  (The child that doesn’t want to go home from school because it triggers a memory of pain that has occurred or is on going.)

“We don’t know if we don’t know”… or “we don’t know what we don’t know!”  No we can’t know everything, but we can learn and be curious, especially in the face of pain.  

We are not meant to be in pain for long and ongoing periods of time.  Our medical field will do anything to keep the physical pain and the emotional stress away.  When I went through Cancer treatment I was given unlimited supplies of anti anxiety and limited amounts of pain medication.  I was told just take it until this is over.  Being a sensitive person I went without as much as possible.  I wanted to feel and be aware of the pain that was happening in my body so I could feel it and heal it.  If it was temporary, I needed to help my body understand that and offer it comfort and compassion.  Yes, I learned that I could comfort myself.  Huge lesson! 

So:  What are we doing to model comfort and compassion in the face of adversity?  We have generations of individuals who have experienced unhealed adversity and have transferred their pain onto others over generation through parenting and family dynamics.  

This is not intentional behavior!  this is the human condition!  We have amazing memories.  If we try to change the behavior with extrinsic motivators or medication we are manipulating the human condition and externally trying to make it look like the person is comfortable when in fact they may not be because they never learned what true comfort really is.

So what is true comfort?  What is well being?  

Let’s keep this conversation going with parents, grandparents and youth who are experiencing discomfort – what is their story?  Where did the pain start? We can begin to heal with comfort and compassion.  Understanding the story – our own story is the beginning! 

Feel free to share your story here, I will listen and I will offer you comfort and compassion.  

Stay tuned for future topics:

  • Healthy relationships and healthy boundaries – causes of comfort and joy! 
  • Self Love and Self Compassion – essential healing elements.