Category Archives: Psychology

5 Powerful Lessons Arya Stark Teaches about surviving trauma

Arya-Stark

Arya Stark from the series “Game of Thrones” has fascinated me from the beginning. Now that we are at the end, I’m going to miss this character and the show itself. There is a rich, diverse, cast of characters in GoT, but I’ve loved watching Arya’s growth from the horrifying trauma she survived as a young girl, to the incredible woman she has become. This article addresses that very issue, and I found it to be full of insights for everyone. There are definitely spoilers here, so watch Season 8 first!

Here are the main five:

1. Her heightened instincts and ability to sense danger with alarming precision

As a child, Arya is trained by Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) to be as “swift as a deer, quiet as a shadow, calm as still water.” She also learns that fear cuts deeper than swords. These are all lessons that will inevitably help her to defeat the Night King. Arya’s training with Syrio lays the crucial foundation for her sword-fighting abilities, but it is actually the dangerous incidents she is forced to confront head-on in everyday life that challenge and hone her ability to identify and navigate danger skillfully. It is in her life experiences after her initial training that give her the platform to utilize these lessons. From living on the streets of King’s Landing to fighting a trained assassin from Braavos while temporarily blind, Arya learns to defend herself against a variety of perpetrators even when she is just a child on the cusp of womanhood.
Many of us are familiar with the term “hypervigilance,” a state of hyper-attunement we can develop to our surroundings due to trauma. Arya develops it in spades as she learns to evade danger in every corner. Often, hypervigilance is seen as a negative symptom of trauma, but actually, there are times our heightened attentiveness can be useful for our discernment of someone else’s true motives and character. According to researcher Willem Frankenhuis, people who have been abused in childhood can develop what Dr. Michael Ungar calls “an uncanny ability to detect threats in their environment, an enhanced capacity to learn new things, and even improved memories when it comes to paying attention to parts of their environment that are the most relevant.”

As therapist Athena Phillips writes in a 2012 article for GoodTherapy:
“Survivors of trauma regularly inform me of what they experience as something akin to having superpowers. The capacity to feel things other people can’t, to identify either the goodness or inherent evil in someone just by looking at them, or to ‘predict’ interpersonal outcomes are some of the new-found abilities people have described. People who have experienced trauma often indicate that they are able to pick up on covert human behaviors, and there is a great deal of trust in their capacity to intuit. Oftentimes, these powers really do exist; survivors have developed a discriminating aptitude for picking up on environmental cues that may have significance to them.”

2. Her fragmented sense of identity and search for her true identity and wholeness.

Trauma creates fragments: It shatters the connection among memories, thoughts, emotions, and the self. Complex trauma survivors often find themselves confronting disparate inner parts that developed as a result of the traumas they endured; according to trauma experts, they must find ways to identify and integrate these parts in healthy ways in order to reach their true core calm and compassionate self. Much like any complex trauma survivor, Arya tries to escape the terrors of her childhood by taking on other identities and dissociating from her past except for her justified rage at those who murdered her family members. Arya’s need for vengeance ultimately creates a “protector self” that keeps her focused on a list of people she must kill rather than her true self and her grief.
Arya’s search for her own identity is also astutely represented by her brutal experiences at Braavos where she learns to become “no one” in her training to become a Faceless Man and assassin. There, she is beaten, terrorized, and challenged to fight back. Ironically, it is her journey to becoming no one that eventually leads her to own the fact that she is indeed someone. As she tells Jaqen H’ghar bravely and with conviction, “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I am going home.” It is only when she integrates her darkness within her true self, recognizes her true power and strength from the traumas she has emerged from, that she decides she is going home. She goes home not just to her family but to herself.

3. Her post-traumatic growth and psychological self-mastery

As therapist Andrea Schneider notes shrewdly in her Game of Thrones blog series, characters who have endured trauma on this show can exhibit promising signs of post-traumatic growth, the positive psychological changes we benefit from after enduring adversity. While regaining a pre-trauma identity is next to impossible for characters like Arya, her post-traumatic growth is tremendous.
Not only does Arya learn to incorporate the life lessons of her trauma into her sword fighting and archery skills, she learns psychological mastery. She learns the art of resourcefulness even when she has nothing. She learns how to stealthily collect information (like when she does when acting as cupbearer to Tywin Lannister) to further her journey. She learns a great deal about patience, self-control, confidence, observing rather than reacting, and how to put herself in the mindset of her attackers and predators around her so she can anticipate what they will do—and can preemptively strike. As a result of her traumas, she gains wisdom and skill sets beyond her years, which many adults in the show are still struggling to obtain.
Arya has no explicit desire to be a leader or queen, but her ability to lead due to her experiences make her more fit for the throne than many others who seek it for personal power. It is her desire for justice, rather than power, that makes her unstoppable. Complex trauma survivors experience many of these same psychological benefits as they process, heal, and grow from their traumas. They can learn to navigate life with an increased sense of gratitude, fortitude, and develop a habit for making the best of their circumstances to create success and joy at an even more intense level than someone who has never been traumatized. As they heal, they have an incentive, drive, and determination that can far surpass that of the average person, as well as a greater sense of meaning.
It is only when Arya Stark integrates her darkness within her true self and recognizes her true power that she decides she is going home.

4. Her darkness has to be integrated in order to fully own her light.

Arya is a curious character in that she is not encouraged to forgive those who have wronged her or took the lives of her loved ones. That is what makes her one of the most phenomenal female characters on television: her darkness is not minimized or sugarcoated. It is recognized, along with her authentic outrage, in all of its unflinching glory. And skilled trauma therapists agree: forced, premature forgiveness can actually hinder a survivor’s journey because it invalidates how we really feel and does not give us the time or space to actually process our traumas.

Trauma therapist Anastasia Pollock puts it this way:
“The people I work with in the therapy room are resilient and courageous. They are able to work through their traumas, but many get caught up on one point: They believe they are supposed to forgive the perpetrator but can’t seem to get there. This is what I tell them: You don’t have to forgive in order to move on. Emotions are important and automatic. When we can acknowledge and appreciate even the darkest, most negative-feeling emotions, they often soften and release. As soon as I say, ‘You don’t have to forgive,’ the person usually breathes a sigh of relief.”

Unlike a woman who turns the other cheek and goes immediately into love and light without any kind of transformation beforehand, Arya turns to her sword, Needle, to deliver a much-needed message to perpetrators like Walder Frey (David Bradley). The North remembers, and so does she. She avenges her loved ones one by one, and when she does, we can’t help but cheer from the sidelines.
Although in real life this form of vigilante justice is unrealistic, not recommended and quite gory (none of us should be baking our enemies into pies—we’d have a more productive time processing our traumas in therapy), we learn an important lesson about trauma: it cannot be spiritually bypassed. Our so-called “dark” emotions must be acknowledged in order to fully own our true light. The outrage and rage we feel must be seen, heard, experienced, confronted and (while perhaps not shown on this show) healthily expressed in order to be healed. Whether Arya’s quest for revenge is misplaced is up for debate, but one thing is for sure: this young woman is not your typical depiction of a trauma survivor who forgives and forgets her way into healing. Yet her intense emotions are an all too real part of this journey.

5. Her resilience and strength would not be the same without her experiences.

While none of us would ever volunteer for the traumas we experienced, we can’t help but admit that we would not be who we are without them. We can still validate and honor the injustice of our traumas while acknowledging the internal resources and coping skills they granted us. Trauma can give us the strength and resilience of a sumo wrestler, and Arya is no exception. As whole families are killed, legacies wiped out, and kingdoms come under siege, Arya remains—one of the few survivors of her family. A weary traveler and warrior, she is forced to confront what no child should have to endure. But she does endure, and she is better for it.
At the end, it is this little girl who grows up to be the warrior woman—who ultimately conquers the darkness. No one expected her or saw her coming. Everyone underestimated her. And therein lies her greatest power. It was the traumas of her past that gave her the ability to defeat the Night King, to avenge her loved ones, and to protect her community. Complex trauma survivors, too, are capable of this same kind of resilience—and the ability to give back what they never received.
Arya is every little girl who grew up in terror and trauma. Who survives impossible situations through her resilience, grit, talent, and determination. Whose identity is previously in fragments, only to become whole as she comes into the woman she was always meant to be. And yes, she is truly ruthless when it comes to her enemies. Yet it is perhaps her ability to own her demons that make her even more powerful when she’s avenging her loved ones, enacting some sweet justice and saving the world. We can all learn life lessons about trauma from this brilliant, multifaceted and truly one of a kind character. She is all of us who have survived—and thrived.
This article originally appeared on Psych Central as “5 Powerful Lessons Arya Stark from Game of Thrones Teaches Us About Complex Trauma Survivors” 🔥

by Shahida Arabi: a bestselling author of three books on emotional abuse and trauma.

The Case for Disappointing Men

Photo courtesy of Toni Birrer(CC ShareALike)
“Women, in general, are conditioned to hinge our value and self worth on how well we can please others, what we can provide for them, how well we take care of them — because our safety, our social status, our success in the world depends on it.”

This article is such a great read! It illustrates some of the common experiences of women in relationships. I related to most of what the author sets forth here – not just in my romantic history but across the board in many different types of partnerships!

Here are some excerpts from the full article:

“My husband used to sigh a lot. He’d do it even when nothing was wrong. Sighs punctuated his sentences. He’d plop down with them, rise from his seat with them. He never noticed himself doing it, but I did. It became a point of contention in our house. Each time he sighed was like nails on the chalkboard of my soul — I felt a visceral need to get to the source of it.
“What’s wrong?” I’d always ask, immediately stressed.
“Huh?”
I would try to get him to assign the sigh a cause and he would assert that it was meaningless and to ignore it. I could never let it go, though. Because his sighs felt like soft accusations, made worse by the fact that I could not resolve an unspecified slight. His sighs signaled discontent, and I have been groomed by society to believe that his discontent is unwaveringly my responsibility. And so somewhere buried beyond my ability to transcend, every sigh felt like a declaration that I was disappointing him. And for many women, an accusation of being disappointing, no matter how soft, always feels like a threat of disposability….

And so when men express displeasure, many of us compensate. We remain on high alert for potential problems. We become so good at deterring disappointment, we anticipate needs before they have to be vocalized. We tidy messes before the messes are even made. Even this fixation is a disappointment to many men. Women are deemed neurotic, anxious, and uptight by men who only get to consider themselves easygoing because they’ve never reconciled their nature with the ways women shield them from discomfort. There are men kept so warm within the worlds women create that they forget that it’s winter, forget that generating warmth requires energy.

The other day after a very long day with my kids I mustered the energy to clean. On my hands and knees I picked up tiny pieces of hot pink play-dough, dozens of scattered toys. My son came behind me and undid it all within minutes. Something shifted in me.
“You saw that mommy went through all that effort to keep the house clean, right?”
“Yes, Mommy, Mickey Mouse,” he said, his eyes on the tv. He wasn’t listening.
I got up and turned it off, and told him to pick up his toys. He threw himself to the ground in a tantrum, and I let him lay there until he was done. I decided his disappointment was his own problem to resolve.

The way to prevent raising sons who would dispose of me for disappointing them is not to never disappoint them. It’s to teach them to be comfortable with their own disappointment. To allow myself some humanity and make them responsible for navigating their feelings. I am doing myself, them, and other women a disservice in not doing so. In a world where men feel entitled to women’s bodies, time, and labor — it’s imperative to teach them otherwise. That requires a little disappointment on their end.

…If I want to make myself comfortable in my own life, I have to decide to not be deterred by the disappointment of others. Not doing so means being chronically disappointed in myself. I am teaching myself to let people down for my own sake, no matter their power. Because power over myself is the only power not contingent on others. Power over myself can’t be taken away, only relinquished.”

How to be Happy

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Excellent new article about the keys to happiness! A lot of these things take concerted effort and discipline, but they are so worth it. I think a lot of what we do each day is based on habits, and habits can be changed.

By Tara Parker-Pope

“Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.

  1. Mind
    Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.

Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.
But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:
Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”
Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.
Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.
First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”
Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”
The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.

Controlled Breathing
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.
Try it.

Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)
Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts. Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.
We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:
Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.
Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.
Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.

Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
Get Moving
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.
Practice Optimism
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”
And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.
…………………………………………………………………………………….

2. Home
Where you live — the country, the town, your neighborhood and your home — all have an effect on your overall happiness.

Finding Your Happy Place
Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
This so-called happiness ladder is famously used as a way to measure and compare happiness across the globe. The “World Happiness Report” ranks countries based on the subjective well-being and happiness of people who live there and their responses to the ladder test. Here are the 10 happiest countries on Earth:

 

Friends and depression

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I love this passage, and really want to share it with you today. I’ve suffered from depression myself, and I know many other people with some form of mental illness. This piece shows how important friends are, and no matter what is going on with us, we all deserve to have good friends 🙂 One of the most common pieces of advice I give to my callers is to reach and create new friendships. It’s SO important to a rich life.
“It occurred to Pooh 🐻 and Piglet 🐷 that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats 🎩 and coats 🧥 and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood🌲 to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.
“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Hello Pooh. 🐻 Hello Piglet 🐷” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice
“We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”
Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.
Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”
Pooh looked and Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.” 💜💚
“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
Because Pooh and Piglet were There.
No more; no less.”

A.A.Milne
E.H.Shepard

How to handle difficult relationships

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This can be a challenging time of year for everyone and their relationships. We can feel stress, old, unresolved anger and grief from our past. Uncomfortable feelings rise up from our families, old friends, past lovers, current lovers, business partnerships, roommates and coworkers.

These unprocessed emotions can’t be solved overnight, but if you’re dealing with someone who is sick, strung out, toxic or crazy, it’s best to detach with love. Just having this course of action might give us all some comfort and support.

Read this from “The Language of Letting Go”. It could give you a valuable course of action:

“Detaching in Relationships
When we first become exposed to the concept of detachment, many of us find it objectionable and questionable. We may think that detaching means we don’t care. We may believe that by controlling, worrying, and trying to force things to happen, we’re showing how much we care.
We may believe that controlling, worrying, and forcing will somehow affect the outcome we desire. Controlling, worrying, and forcing don’t work. Even when we’re right, controlling doesn’t work. In some cases, controlling may prevent the outcome we want from happening.
As we practice the principle of detachment with the people in our life, we slowly begin to learn the truth. Detaching, preferably detaching with love, is a relationship behavior that works.
We learn something else too. Detachment – letting go of our need to control people – enhances all our relationships. It opens the door to the best possible outcome. It reduces our frustration level, and frees us and others to live in peace and harmony.
Detachment means we care, about others and ourselves. It frees us to make the best possible decisions. It enables us to set the boundaries we need to set with people. It allows us to have our feelings, to stop reacting and initiate a positive course of action. It encourages others to do the same.
It allows our Higher Power to step in and work.
Today, I will trust the process of detaching with love. I will understand that I am not just letting go; I am letting go and letting God. I’m loving others, but I’m loving myself too.”

Wearing Black

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My EP from 2005. This picture is from our photo shoot in the Castro in 2002. Chuck Butter and Liz Rose

Black is almost all I wear, honestly. I’ve often wondered why this is the case. Most of my friends wear nothing but black. What’s going on? I like what this article has to say:

“Colors excite our minds in various ways, and how we react to some of them can tell a lot regarding our personalities.

One study states that black is seen as ‘serious’ and ‘reliable,’ which means confident:

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The study states: “Black is Best Most of the Time.”
“Throughout all our survey, black came first or second in most “good” traits (for example confidence, intelligence and sexiness) and barely figured in the “bad” traits (arrogance). It wasn’t a particularly good performer in the “generosity” scale, however, coming second to last after brown, but it’s hard to imagine is being any other way. Try getting your kid to sit on the knee of a black-clad Santa.

Benevolent nocturnal visitations aside, black is the colour to wear when you’re trying to impress, reassure or woo. There’s a certain trustworthiness about it on a person that would make you hand over your life savings and thank them for the privilege.”

More from Maria Hakki:

“Black is generally an indication of “seriousness” and reliability”, so it stands at the top of the list of colors that both sexes find beautiful.

Why?

The answer is simple. Confidence. Almost half of the women and 64% of the men participating in the study think that black emits self-sufficiency. It is the most beautiful, bold, confidence-boosting and calming color that exists.

Those who wear all black are also usually very sensitive, a bit unstable, and want to draw attention on who they are and what they are trying to achieve in life, rather than on their appearance. Another study stemming from color psychology, says that people who love black often have a desire to reclaim their power.

Johnny Cash said: “I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion – against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”

 

 

Hell and back

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“Lost” by Charles Bukowski

they say that hell is crowded, yet,
when you’re in hell,
you always seem to be alone.
& you can’t tell anyone when you’re in hell
or they’ll think you’re crazy
& being crazy is being in hell
& being sane is hellish too.

those who escape hell, however,
never talk about it
& nothing much bothers them after that.
I mean, things like missing a meal,
going to jail, wrecking your car,
or even the idea of death itself.

when you ask them,
“how are things?”
they’ll always answer, “fine, just fine…”

once you’ve been to hell and back,
that’s enough
it’s the greatest satisfaction known to man.

once you’ve been to hell and back,
you don’t look behind you when the floor creaks
and the sun is always up at midnight
and things like the eyes of mice
or an abandoned tire in a vacant lot
can make you smile
once you’ve been to hell and back.

“Lost” by Charles Bukowski, from Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame