Understanding Chakras

If you’re new to meditation you may get nervous or confused when you hear people talking about chakras. I feel you. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about these energy centers and their colors and exploring how to use them make life better. In fact, at one point in my early 20s, I convinced myself that  my orange chakra was blocked and that’s why I couldn’t get a boyfriend. A magazine told me so; so I figured it had to be true. Eventually though, I gave up and decided chakras weren’t my thing.

Fast forward to my 30s. After leaving an abusive relationship, I found my thoughts returning to chakras. I wanted to add them to my self-healing toolbox. I found that tuning into my chakras gave me direction, pointing me to the parts that were hurting or needed attention. 

In our Guided Meditations, you’ll learn to picture the structure of each chakra along your spine just by closing your eyes, relaxing your mind, and becoming more in tune with your own body. But, until then, here’s a quick overview to make you feel more comfortable:

Chakras are the energy centers in our bodies. Some people believe there are as many as 114, but we’re going to focus on the seven primary chakras along your spine. 

Root

The root chakra is red. It’s located where your tailbone meets your sit bone and serves as our foundation to the earth.

Sacral

The sacral chakra is orange. The sacral chakra sits just below your belly button. It’s responsible for  our connection to others, including our sexuality.

Solar Plexus

This chakra is yellow. The Solar Plexus is located in your upper abdomen.  When you say things like, “I feel it in my gut” you are referring to your Solar Plexus Chakra.  This chakra is all about self-esteem and self-assurance.

Heart

The heart chakra is green. If that confuses you, you’re not alone. You’ll find the heart chakra exactly where you’d expect to: in your chest. It, of course, is all about love. 

Throat

The throat chakra is blue.  This chakra represents verbal communication. This is an important chakra to focus on as you work to verbalize your feelings. 

Third Eye

This chakra is purple.  People, including me, often get nervous when you talk about this one.  However, despite its creepy name, the third eye chakra is simply about our own intuition and wisdom. This chakra is located between the eyes.

Crown

This chakra color is up to you. I mean it!  Mine has always been a white gold. Some people have a light silver or a light purple. The crown represents your spiritual side. Your connection to the world. Pure joy.

To learn about unblocking and balancing your chakras, join a Guided Meditation.

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Trauma, Stress and the Body

Today on the Sage Advice Podcast, my friend Rachael M Belliveau LMT (Moonstone Healing Arts and True Bleu Healing Arts of Richmond, Virginia) spoke to us about the effects of stress and trauma on the body.  As Rachel mentioned our body is broken up into the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  Both are part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which covers all the involuntary functions of the body.  The PNS restores the body to its calm state and prevents it from over exertion.  The SNS refers to how the body perceives and responds to a threat.

Trauma and the Body 

When we talk about abuse, we are not only talking about physical or sexual abuse, we are also talking about various forms of emotional and verbal abuse.  In any abusive relationship, the body has a response.  In physical abuse the wounds are easier to see and the fight or flight response is typically immediate.  With mental forms of abuse, however, there is a perceived threat, now or in the future, that can cause the same fight or flight response.  Let’s take a closer look into how our body responds to real or perceived threats.

What is Fight, Flight or Freeze?

As mentioned above, the Fight or Flight response is the body’s response to a dangerous situation.  Over the past decade or so researchers have added a third type of response, freeze.  The website Anxiety Canada, refers to Fight, Flight or Freeze as the F3 (kind of makes it sound like a superpower).  F3 has been instilled in humans since the beginning of time.  It is our biological defense system and is intended to keep us alive.   If you’re confused at all about F3, just remember back to when you have been afraid.  What did you do?  How do you handle haunted houses, for example?  Some people scream and flee, others may stay and fight.  Simply put, F3 is our brains mode of self preservation. 

What is Freeze?

The concept of fight or flight was presented in the 1920s after research studies into anxiety and the brain were conducted.   More recently scientists have added the freeze response.  As is explained in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry (ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2489204) :

            “freezing—or tonic immobility—may overwhelm other competing action tendencies…Similar to the flight/fight responses, a freeze response is believed to have adapted value.  In the context of predatory attack, some animals will freeze or “play dead.”

The article goes on to describe the loss of motor function, as well as vocal abilities.  It is also somewhat perplexing to compare oneself to a dead animal but in the end, we are all animals, and our responses are often biological in nature. While the freezing response has garnered far less attention than its counterparts fight and flight, there is one area in which freezing has received much attention, cases PTSD and Rape.

            “One exception is the PTSD/rape literature wherein several studies have described rape induced paralysis that appears to share many of the features of tonic immobility (Galliano, Noble, Travis & Puechl, 1993; Mezey & Taylor, 1998; Scaer, 2001; Suarez & Gallup, 1977).  This literature suggests that a relatively high percentage of rape victims feel paralyzed and unable to act despite no loss of consciousness during the assault (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1976; Heidt, Marx & Forsyth, 2005).  Since fear, predation, contact and restraint are common in both rape and the induction of tonic immobility in animals, it has been concluded that these phenomena are essentially isomorphic (Suarez & Gallup, 1979).”

Stress, Anxiety and the F3

What happens if our F3 survival instinct is triggered but there is no present threat or danger to our physical body?  As we learn more about anxiety from a scientific perspective it becomes clearer that anxiety can cause are body to enter its F3 mode when there is little to no physical threat of danger.  Being in a physically abusive relationship puts you in very real danger, there is no argument there, but verbal abuse or stalking cases can cause immense levels of anxiety and have been known to trigger the F3 response inside the body.

When I say inside the body, I mean that sometimes our muscles and/or our musculoskeletal parts can feel the effects of stress and anxiety before our conscious thoughts get there.  Our muscles can hold trauma and memories, just like our minds.  Think about a time where you have been in constant and sustained stress.  Did your muscles stiffen up?  Did you suddenly develop tension headaches or migraines?  These can be signs that your body is holding on to something your brain is not ready to deal with yet.

Dealing with emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse is extremely stressful and taxing on the mind, body and soul.  It is important to listen to all three components.  Of course, no one can live completely stress free but often we neglect what our soul or common sense tells us.  It can be easy to turn a blind eye but when the pain becomes physical, it is hard to ignore.

What happens to the body?

When you are in an abusive relationship the chronic tension begins to affect you physically.  You might have constant shoulder pain where you never had it before.  You may be carrying stress in your feet when they have never bothered you.  The barrage of insults and attacks wear on your body as much as they wear on your soul.

According to the Cleveland Clinic when your body enters the F3 mode, or stress response, the following can happen:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • You are pale or have flushed skin
  • Blunt pain response is compromised (aka pain is delayed)
  • Diluted pupils
  • You are on edge
  • Memories can be affected
  • You are tense and trembling
  • Your bladder might be affected

Do you remember the last time you were cut off in traffic and had to slam on the brakes?  Do you remember the instant panic and frustration you felt?  That is exactly what it feels like to start fight, flight or freeze.

Can you imagine having that same feeling for days, months or even years?  Intense isn’t it.  That is what a lot of abuse survivors feel both when they are in the relationship and when they are trying to leave

How Can I Help Myself?

  1. Time: Did you ever notice that once you were finally done with a stressful project you got sick? My body experienced what I called the ‘rubber band effect’ after leaving my abusive relationship. My body was so happy to release all that pent up cortisol and serotonin that I ended up feeling sore and sick to my stomach for days. Once you remove yourself from the stressful situation, it still takes time for your mind and body to build back up.  The more removed from your relationship you are, the less chronic stress your body will have to endure.
  2. Exercise: For some people exercise is their lifeline.  Running can be therapy and moving your muscles is always a good boost for mental health.  To be honest though, for me exercise was an additional stressor.  I decided not to put more pressure on myself to be in the gym and that made me feel better.  After a few months I took up a hot yoga and it was perfect for my mind body and soul.  Remember whatever you decide to do, that’s ok.
  3. Talking: Whether you talk with friends and family, a SAGE mentor, participate in a group and/or find a specialized therapist, talking about your feelings to an understanding ear can help ease stress. Plus, you learn better coping skills and have supportive people around. 
  4. Massage: Massage can be beneficial for the mind, body and soul.  If you haven’t listened to the podcast with Rachael, you can find it here.  There are so many different types of massage and energy work that can help you relax and work muscles.
  5. Meditation: Guided meditation helped me get reacquainted with my inner self, that’s why I run the guided meditation class. It was essential to helping me learn what I needed and where to focus my healing.  Frankly, it helped me find myself again. At the very least, taking a quiet moment in a comforting place can be all you need to reset and refocus.   

Whichever way you find healing just remember these two things; that the fastest healer doesn’t win and what works for one person may not work for you.  Healing takes time, energy and effort but someday you will find yourself again only this time you will be a stronger, wiser and happier you.   

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Gaslighting: History and Basics

Gaslighter, denier

Doin anything to get your ass farther

Gaslighter, big timer

Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

                                                                                                     –Gaslighter, The Chicks

On Episode 4 of the SAGE Advice podcast, we focus on the topic of gaslighting.  As emotional abuse and manipulation becomes a more mainstream conversation, gaslighting has taken center stage.  However, there is a lot of misinformation out there so we are going to examine the roots of the term gaslight, how it feels to be gaslit and how regain your sense of self.

The Movie

Gaslight was released as a movie both in 1940 and 1944, the later starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.  The movie was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, originally created in 1938.  Needless to say, the concept of gaslighting has been around for centuries. The better we educate ourselves against emotional abuse and manipulation, the closer we are to ending the cycle. 

Gaslight is a psychological thriller about a young woman, Paula, whose wealthy Aunt is murdered. Paula is sent to live in Italy where she trains to become an opera singer.  Years later, she returns to London with her new husband, Gregory, to live in her aunt’s old house.  To quote the movie, Paula was “slowly and systematically being driven out of her mind.”

The Con

Gregory was not who he pretended to be and as Paula grew closer to finding his true identity, he launched a campaign to make her feel that she was going mad.  The campaign began soon after they returned to London and moved into the home of her murdered Aunt. Paula found a letter her Aunt wrote days before her murder naming a possible attacker and Gregory was immediately enraged, snatched the letter from her hand and spent his time convincing Paula that the letter never existed.  You read that right, he spent his time making her think she never found a letter and made it all up.  He convinced her that she was going mad, even providing ‘evidence’ that her mother had gone insane as well.  Servants and friends were all in on the con and helped Gregory with his devious plans. 

To ensure his plan was effective, Gregory spent every day confusing his bride.  This is where the gaslights come into play.  The movie is set in the Edwardian Age (1901-1910) and gas lights were used to illuminate houses and streetlamps.  Paula noticed that the lights would suddenly dim, and random footsteps could be heard coming from the attic. Gregory assured her that there were no footsteps, and the gaslights never dimmed.  One morning Paula couldn’t find the broach she set on her nightstand and Gregory told her she never had a broach. Another time she searched for a painting that he asked to see but it was nowhere to be found until magically it was right where he told her to look; a place she already looked several times.

The Truth

A policeman investigating the death of her aunt came to visit Paula when Gregory was away and proved to her the Gregory was a con man and she was being driven out of her mind on purpose.  Unfortunately, upon his return Gregory attempted to convince Paula that the policeman was all a dream.  The housekeeper even affirmed that no man had ever come to the house. At the end of the movie (spoiler) Paula discovers all of Gregory’s secrets in the attic.  When he left for work every day what Gregory really did was climb on the roof, enter the attic and play games with Paula’s mind.  The broach, the painting, the letters; they were all hidden in the attic and part of his master plan to take her money.

Watching Gaslight is a powerful look into psychological warfare.  It is an extreme example of manipulation and how love and trust can be weaponized against us.  Gaslighting starts with the small white lies or the seemingly innocent deceptions that most of us would brush aside; attributed to a mistake.  Over time lies grow more elaborate and intense; designed to make us question our own sanity and sense of who we are.  This conversation is one that needs to be had.  Gaslighting is very scary and very dangerous for the intended target.

What happens next?

At the end of the 1940 version of Gaslight, Bella (as Paula is called in this version) walks out onto her veranda after she has learned the truth and the police have taken her husband away.  She breathes a heavy sigh of relief as she stares up at the gaslight street lamps that line the road.  For me, that was perhaps the most powerful moment of the movie.  We talk a lot about the acts of the offender and the cunning manipulation makes for powerful cinema but watching Bella as she was finally free was the most powerful experience for me.

As someone who has experienced gaslighting in a relationship, I wonder how she will put herself back together.  Will she truly be ok?  The mental torture that she endured is not something that one easily gets through.  The heavy sigh of relief that the ordeal was finally over is only the beginning of another story.  There are years of her life that need to be processed.  There are even more lies that are yet to be uncovered.  There is pain that needs to be healed.  All of that takes time and lots of emotional energy. 

Tips and Tricks

There isn’t a secret or a magic pill you can take to erase the damage that gaslighting does to your mind.  It is psychological warfare and extreme manipulation.  We do have, however, some words of advice on how to start rebuilding:

  • Begin journaling your feelings, recording things as they happen. This will help keep you on task and in reality
  • Take caution with who you trust, not everyone has good or pure intentions.  Its ok to keep your circle small
  • Put your needs first in your healing process. You need to spend time with you, don’t let people make you feel otherwise
  • Talk to a specialized mental health professional, if you can
  • Strengthen your intuition to learn to trust yourself again. I found guided meditation and yoga to be the most helpful for me
  • Dig in The Dirt (keep scrolling)

Dig in The Dirt

You didn’t read that wrong, my last piece of advice is to dig in the dirt.  In fact, hug a tree while you’re at it.  Grounding ourselves into the earth and what is real can be the most healing of all.  The earth is a constant in all of our lives.  Taking time to nurture a vegetable garden or grow beautiful flowers from a tiny seed can bring you back to what is important.  Focusing on the little things, being in nature; those are excellent ways to get yourself grounded and back in focus.

When I bought my house, there was a lot of work to be done.  Most work I couldn’t do by myself but what I could do, I did.  The process of turning something broken into something beautiful was a very therapeutic exercise for me.  One major project that I could do myself was to make my back yard beautiful.  When I started there were only patches of grass beside dirt and debris.  Ivy and weeds littered the yard and had dug their roots fairly deep. For that reason, I started with the grass, covering it all in tarps designed to kill the weeds and enrich the soil.  Turns out I used the wrong tarps and thus began the journey of pulling all the weeds by hand. 

Yes, I pulled every single weed in my yard by hand.  It was a monumental task yet at the same time digging in the dirt brought me a sense of calm.  There is a whole ecosystem beneath the surface that we forget exists.  In a way my work was not only helping me but also helping all the creatures that live in the soil and on the trees.  After the weeds were pulled and the grass seed was sown, I moved onto the plants.  I chose plants that bloom beautiful colors, that attract the birds and that bring a sense of happiness to the space. Now when I sit outside, I look at all that I have created and smile at all the animals that come to visit on a daily basis.  It was something so small, something so simple that helped me recover my mind and clarify my soul.

Recovering from manipulation and gaslighting is not easy and it is not fast.  Take it slow and find calm among the storms.  You are a powerful being and a strong mind.  Your comeback will show just how strong you can be. 

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My Name is Empath, Nice to Meet You

My name is Erin, and I am an empath.  Only recently has the word Empath started to gain more notoriety and understanding.  As a kid, labels like overly sensitive and cry baby were likely attached to empaths on the playground.  I can’t tell you how many times I locked myself in the bathroom to cry for what I’m sure seemed like the littlest thing but we empaths are easily hurt on a very deep level.  In layman’s terms being an empath means you have the ability to feel the feelings of others as your own.

Being an empath is not an easy life.  At times it feels much more like a curse than a blessing.  My father, who I suspect has empathic tendencies, constantly muses that he is sought out by strangers at every party so they can share their deepest regrets and emotions with him.  I too am cursed with the gift of too-much-information (TMI) from strangers.  I can’t tell you how many times at cocktail parties’ people have begun a monologue of their lives that ends in tears, hugs and the inevitable statement, “I have no idea why I just told you all that, I met you five minutes ago!”  The empath is also a tad confused for their only question was, “Are you having a nice time?”  The empath also doesn’t know why you chose to tell them about your dog dying in 1978 or how your mother could be cruel at times but you chose to share none-the-less. 

What people fail to realize is that the empath will carry another person’s pain around for days until either it begins to wear off or the empath has learned to shield themselves.  Empaths will literally cry over someone else’s painful story or burdensome past and then wonder if there was something they could do to help.  The truth of the matter is that we will never see this person again and can’t help them because we will never speak to our second cousins, best friends, future mother in laws, sister…ever again.

Empathic Traits

If you have experienced these types of scenarios, maybe you too are an empath!  Dr. Judith Orioff MD has written extensively on being an empath and in 2016 she published an article examining The 10 Traits of Empathic PeopleHere are some of the highlights:

  1. Empaths are highly sensitive people, naturally giving, open and good listeners
  2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions, good and bad
  3. Many Empaths are introverted or prefer small groups – crowds zap their energy
  4. Empaths are highly intuitive and that’s how they experience the world, through that lens
  5. Empaths need alone time to recharge
  6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships; needing space to stay grounded
  7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires who zap their energy and peace of mind
  8. Empaths become replenished when surrounded by nature
  9. Empaths have highly tuned senses, getting easily frayed by too much noise or smell
  10. Empaths have huge hearts and sometimes give too much

(Suggested Reading: The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Dr Judith Orloff)

Like many of you, I identified with all the traits listed above but let’s take a deeper dive into #6 and #7, empaths can be overwhelmed in intimate relationships needing space to recharge and empaths are targets for energy vampires who zap their energy and peace of mind.  Take a second to think back to all of your previous relationships, looking at them through the filter of being an empath and what you have learned so far.  Then read on.

The Need for Space

I get it, you’ve found someone that you connect with and you want to spend all of your time together.  In my previous relationship, my ex wanted to spend all of his time at my house, and I didn’t object.  My house was a safe space where I recharged and centered myself.  Who wouldn’t want to be there?  Things were fine for a while; it was the beginning of the relationship and things were really good.  My house was a place of happiness and laughter and that still helped me to recharge, but that didn’t last forever.

When an empath is in a situation like this it won’t be long until we feel like our space is being invaded and our ability to recharge and center ourselves disappears.  There were times when my ex would ask if I needed to be alone. Sometimes I said yes but other times I would say it was fine, which it rarely was.  It was my fault for not recognizing that I did need time alone and my own personal space.  There was part of me that was a little scared to say no.  He’d shown me his space insecurity before and I wanted him to feel secure in our relationship. 

But there is also a dependency that forms when you see someone every day and that dependency can happen very quickly.  While controlling partners aren’t always abusive, often they are and dictating how much time you spend together or how little time you spend apart, can be a useful tool in getting what they want even if it’s not healthy for you. Some relationships can have healthy co-dependency, but others do not and its difficult to recognize what you truly feel when you lack a space of your own.  As an empath it’s essential to create a quiet space for yourself to recharge and get centered on a daily basis.

Energy Vampires

Next time someone walks into your home or office, notice the energy.  Empaths can feel the energy shift on a deep level even before their brain consciously recognizes it.  When your partner gets home from work, notice your energy level before and after they walk through the door.  Notice if you are suddenly tired or if you get a burst of energy and happiness.  This will tell you a lot about what your body is feeling even if your brain hasn’t caught up.

In my personal experience, with several ex-boyfriends, I would get home after work, start cooking, be in a good mood and have lots of energy.  On more than one occasion I started yawning the second my partner reached the door. It was during my last relationship that I really started tracking my energy before and after he came through the door.  I knew immediately if he had a bad day at work or if he was going to pick a fight with me.  I knew all of this before he even said a word.  I knew all of this before I even laid eyes on him. 

So do an energy experiment of your own!  See what you’re like when you meet up with friend’s vs your significant other.  Notice the differences in energy you feel around different types of friends.  There were times when I would show up to a friend dinner completely exhausted and having a terrible day.  It wouldn’t take long for the energy of love and excitement from my friends to lift me up to a happier plane.  It is so important to surround yourself with people who bring you true happiness and love. Be careful who you choose to spend your time with and if you partner brings your energy down, it’s time to find someone who lifts you up. 

Intuition

We all have intuition, but it takes effort to really learn to listen to that intuition.  A lot of people have asked me, “what did your gut say about your previous relationship?”  While there was certainly a point where I knew it was time to go, there were other times my intuition was sending mixed messages or rather, I wasn’t receiving messages clearly. You could say there was interference in my spiritual channel.  As empaths, if we are disconnected from our intuition then it is almost impossible to see a clear path ahead. 

When we are in controlling or toxic relationships it can be hard to decipher what emotions are in fact our emotions and what emotions are our partners emotions.  The more time you can spend alone to process your thoughts and clear away the clutter, the more confident you will be in the path forward.  Just remember, toxic people and abusive relationships can cloud everything.  Its ok if you don’t know what your gut is saying right now but you can take steps to get yourself to a better place of understanding. 

Creating Boundaries

For Empaths, creating boundaries is very difficult because we tend to sacrifice our feelings for the feelings of others.  Unfortunately, that often makes us most vulnerable to abusers and those in our lives who use emotional manipulation to get what they want.  This could be romantic relationships, friendships or family-ships because emotional manipulation is not limited to just abusive intimate partner relationships.  Often families are the biggest culprits because they’ve spent the longest learning how to get you to do what they want, guilt. Guilt works overtime on an empath because, again, we can truly feel the anguish and heartache in everyone’s intention.  All it takes is one sob story, and you’ve got an inexperienced empath on the hook. 

Learning what your boundaries are and how to protect your energy is key to learning to live in positivity and happiness.  Knowing how much time you need to yourself, teaching yourself the difference between helping someone and being taken advantage of; these are all skills that come with time and practice.  If you need a counselor to help you identify your boundaries, don’t be afraid to seek help.  You aren’t just overly sensitive, you are a fighter, so it’s time to learn how to protect yourself.  Only a whole person can truly be of help to another.

Advice for Empaths

Having wrestled with these emotions for years now, I can’t stress enough how important it is to protect yourself from negative energy and toxicity. Sometimes that means cutting certain people from your life that aren’t serving your highest good.  Maybe that means turning your phone off and taking some time to relax in nature and recharge.  You can join a guided meditation class and work on building your intuition. Why not go to the beach or jump in the pond behind your house, water helps you reconnect with your inner self. 

Remember that you deserve a partner who is uplifting and positive.  No one is perfect all the time, including you, but when a partner comes from a place of genuine love you will feel energized and ready to take on the world.  Find the quiet place.  Learn how to recharge your mind, body and soul.  Build your armor and build your positivity. You are stronger than you think.

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Listen to recent episodes of The SAGE Advice.

NEED HELP NOW?

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