Complex PTSD and Dissociation-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing from Developmental Trauma

Complex PTSD and Dissociation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic experiences are by their very definition frightening and overwhelming. Events such car accidents, natural disasters, or acts of violence, change our familiar orientation to the world. It is common to feel flooded with powerful emotions, sensations, or memories as we adapt to new and often unwanted reality. Sometimes we start to avoid places reminiscent of the trauma. Or we might have or have intrusive memories and feelings. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to the presence of these symptoms well after the event is over.

There is another kind of post traumatic stress called Complex PTSD, also known as Developmental Trauma Disorder or Complex Trauma. When you experience childhood neglect or chronic abuse your primary orientation to the world is one of threat, fear, and survival. Untrustworthy parents or caregivers leave you untrusting or confused about what constitutes a loving relationship. Fear and lack of safety leaves you scanning your environment for potential threats. A neglected or abused child will rely upon built-in, biological protection mechanisms for survival to “tune out” the threat. Patterns of fear and dissociation inform the developing body and mind.

“Adults abused as children often report feeling helpless, hopeless, despair, deep loneliness, shame, unfairness, injustice, sweeping depression, and suicidal thoughts. Many continue to push the scary, yucky, painful, and confusing feelings far away by resorting to learned dissociative patterns. Even though you are safe now, it can feel overwhelming to acknowledge remnants of historical threats held in body, emotions, and mind. We heal early developmental trauma within a safe relationship that is respectful, predictable, consistent, non-defensive, and has clear boundaries. Gently we redefine our capacity for relationship with a trustworthy other. Slowly we rebuild faith in ourselves.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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6 Pillars of Resilience-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Are you Naturally Resilient?

Gratitude Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Resilience is a passion of mine. This strength based orientation is the cornerstone of my psychotherapy practice, so much so that I call my work, Resilience Informed Therapy. Resilience means adapting well in the face of adversity and is associated with a mindset that recognizes our capacity to grow through both positive and negative life events.

This week I came across an interesting piece of recent research about resilience from Arizona State University. They challenge the existing scientific claim that most people are naturally resilient after exposure to a traumatic event stating that this misunderstanding can lead to dangerous consequences. For example, individuals who do struggle after a traumatic event, who do not rebound quickly, might feel as though there is something wrong with them. Clinicians who assume clients “should” be more resilient might inadvertently blame the victim. Policy makers might fail to allocate funds for interventions post traumatic events.

I think of resilience as a process, not just an outcome. You wouldn’t brush and floss your teeth on Monday and think that sufficient for the rest of the week. Likewise, resilience is best served when we actively participate in supporting our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health each and every day. You can build your resilience by engaging in small actions such as a call to a friend, writing for 5 minutes in your journal, or taking a walk around the block in the evening. While each one of these steps might seem small, collectively they can help you to feel strong, relaxed, capable, and more connected to others in the world.This post pulls together a wide range of research on resilience into what I call the 6 Pillars of Resilience

“Resilience is not a trait that you either have or do not have; it is a set of strategies that can be learned and practiced and by anyone. There is a wide range of resilient behaviors, some of which will resonate with you and some will not. My invitation to you is to create your own personalized approach that helps to build your resilience each day.” Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Depth Psychology-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Study of the Soul

Depth Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

My family and I just returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National parks. Being in these places provided a powerful reminder of history and culture as we walked in the footsteps of the Pueblo people, gazed upon the remains of their homes and ceremonial grounds. Profound images of Kivas and the ancient people whose lives peacefully revolved around the seasons and celestial markers of time. Thousand year old stone structures were aligned with the passage of the sun revealing powerful alignments with the solstices and equinoxes. Moments of awe and a sense of being on sacred ground were amplified by the timing of our trip that happened to coincide with the spring equinox and the full moon.

This trip reminded me of my psychological roots. My mother introduced me to Jungian Psychology as it was a passion of hers as she had the opportunity to undergo many years of her own analysis. When I began my studies in psychology I too was drawn to this depth approach through many years of dream work and embodied process work. Psyche is the Greek word for “soul.” Psychology in true form is the study of the soul.

“Depth psychology explores dreams, stories, myths, symbols, culture, and history as ways to access a sense of meaning. This provides substance behind the superficial, yet equally important, aspects of life. Of course, we need to work, to pay the bills, to cook the meals, and to wash the dishes. Equally, we need to feel connected to something bigger than us to know how our unique thread fits into the fabric of all life.”
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Grief, Grit, and Grace-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Complexity of Grief

Grief, Grit, and Grace Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Grief is a normal response to loss that changes our familiar orientation to the world. We must adapt to this new and often unwanted reality. This post is part of a series exploring grief and loss with a deepened focus on the complexity of the process.

Sometimes loss brings up our unfulfilled hopes and wishes that things had been different. Sometimes we also have loving and tender memories to reflect upon. This range of complex and conflicting emotions is part of what makes grief so challenging. Having an understanding of the neuroscience of grief can illuminate ways that we can navigate that complexity. Take the time to attend to your unique experience as you move through your process of grief, grit, and grace.

“The holistic organization of who you are as a person cannot be reduced to neuroscience, nor to one set of emotional responses. Just as the music that comes from a well played violin is more than the strings, the bridge, or the bow, you too are more than the sum of your parts.”
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Healing Grief and Loss-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Sacred Journey of Grief

Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, CO

Inevitably, grief changes you. You can never go back to the world as you knew it because you are not the same. As a result you may feel as though you’ve been sent into the wilderness without a map. However, knowing models of the grief process and descriptions of the common experiences can help you find your bearings.

The process of grief is a circuitous journey. A path made of many small stones. Each step forward might feel like a micro-movement but overtime you forge new trails; loop around landmarks until, eventually, new territory becomes familiar.

“I believe grief and loss is a sacred journey. To relate to death asks us to reflect on what it means to be alive. This process is an initiation. Maybe you discover new strength, your capacity to persevere, or the necessity to surrender and let go. When death touches our lives we are reminded that it is a profound act of courage to engage in life, knowing that loss and pain can and will happen.”
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Holistic Transformation-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Sustained Change

Holistic Transformation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The late yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.”

This quote got me thinking.

“I began to think about my daily and weekly practices. The ones that help me feel grounded, clear, and ready to face each day. I thought about the tools that re-energize me when I feel drained. It became clear that what keeps me in balance is to have consistent practices that support my whole being: physically, psychologically, and spiritually. I think of this as holistic transformation; an engagement in daily practices that organize body and mind towards wellbeing. Ultimately all of our transformational practices are about coming closer to our true nature.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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A Tribute to David Bowie-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

David Bowie Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Never in the history of my work as a psychologist has the death of a musician entered the therapy room so powerfully. I can imagine similar collective waves of grief and anger after the assassination of John Lennon. Assertively I heard again and again throughout the week some version of “I am who I am today because of him” and “he gave me the courage to be myself.” This week’s post is in honor of you, David Bowie. You have left your mark on our world. Continue reading

Will and Surrender-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Challenge and Ease

yoga for holiday stress Dr. Arielle Schwartz

I was in a yoga practice earlier this week engaged in a relatively uncomfortable hold in a deep lunge. Had I been practicing at home I might have avoided this posture all together or only stayed in it for a few breaths. However, I went to a class that I knew would encourage me to go a little deeper. So, there I was, feeling the burn in my right thigh, listening to the voice in my head that said “out,” fighting the distracting urge to escape the moment. Suddenly, doing the dishes and folding the laundry seemed way more appealing.

As I continued to sustain my lunge another thought arose, “You chose this challenge.” My entire experience shifted. “Nobody is making me stay here. I can exit into child’s pose and that is a completely valid option. It’s up to me.” This time I chose to stay, directing my attention fully on the breath, the sensations in my right leg, and the feeling of my feet firmly grounded into my yoga mat. When we finally released out of the pose and came forward into Samasthiti (equal standing) pose I felt a deep satisfaction of a profoundly awake mind and body.

My Kripalu yoga teacher training emphasized that will and surrender are polarities that need to exist in balance; like two wings of a bird that need to function in tandem to create flight. Too much force and we risk becoming rigid and hard. Too much emphasis on surrender and we risk becoming stagnant or over-flexible. A beautiful metaphor for life.

“So how do we know when to challenge ourselves and when to emphasize ease? The truth is nobody gets to answer this question for you. There will be phases in all of our lives when we have the capacity to say “I want more; bring it on!” And there will be times when we are already weighed down by life’s challenges. Here we might say “I can barely get out of bed; life is hard enough, I cannot handle any more stress.” The balance of will and surrender is one that evolves to match the ever changing phases of our lives.”
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My Gratitude List-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Feeling Grateful

Heart and Head

As the year comes to a close it is a good time to reflect back on goals and intentions I had set back in January. Often these reflections are uplifting and joyful but I also notice how sometimes my mind starts to focus on the negative. What didn’t I do that I had hoped to accomplish. What is missing from my life?

Unfortunately, I got so caught up in the negative spin that I lost some sleep over it the other night. I started to experience angst over my insufficiencies and harped on my faults. Once I caught on that I was in the tornado of despair I knew it was time to ground myself focus by focusing on the good.

“From the silence of my bed, in the dark of the night, I began to reflect on what I had to be grateful for. Quickly this began to flip the long told (and sometimes believed) mental script of deficiency to a narrative of fullness. The anxiety that had been flooding my body ceased and a deep calm took over. I imagined myself surrounded by loving, caring people. I settled deeper into the bed. I could literally feel fear leave my body and calm fill the space that I created for myself with warmth. Here’s what worked for me…”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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5 Mindfulness Myths-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Demystifying Mindfulness

mindfulness myths Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, Co

What is mindfulness really? In short, it is the practice of paying attention. But, we tend to “jump ship” from the present moment when we feel uncomfortable emotionally. We avoid feeling our discomfort by distracting ourselves or pushing people away. We all do it, it’s human. However, the world needs us to show up, now.

The world is calling for authentic presence and requires that we be with emotions in healthy ways. Unsupported grief can result in feeling isolated from our community. Ignored fear and rage can turn into violence that kills. Cultivating mindfulness is about broadening our capacity to be with ourselves and others even when we feel uncomfortable.

“There are common myths and misconceptions that mindfulness is a religion, or about fixing ourselves, or about seeking enlightenment. However, mindfulness is really about showing up in the world to be with life as it is. Anything in life can be used to separate us from the world or to bring us closer to each other. At any moment you have a choice about how you want to live your life.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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