Friday, April 20, 2018

The Role of Trauma Therapists in the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

A great change is upon humanity. The Age of Aquarius which values social conscience combined with love and unity is replacing the Piscean Age of dualism, hierarchy, and power. No one knows exactly when each age begins or ends, but most experts seem to agree that humanity is in a very important transition period. Unprecedented change and upheaval can happen when Piscean values that have lasted for over two thousand years is taken down to make room for a new world. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic with its devastating impact on health and the economy is related to such a seismic shift.

This transition to a new age is gradual and has been in progress for a long time. The world will become a better place once the transition is completed, and humanity can celebrate the promises of the Aquarian Age. Such promises include peace on Earth, end of poverty, love and kindness, pure spiritual awareness, true democracy and more. Some of these promises are happening now as humanity is racing to combat the coronavirus with medical breakthroughs, along with caring for the sick and dying. The sacrifices of the frontline medical personnel and many essential workers reflects humanity’s  love and kindness.

Everyone has a role to play in welcoming the new energy of the Aquarian Age. It involves letting go of the illusion of materialism as the “secret” road toward fulfillment. Instead, embracing cooperation and humanitarianism is a part of this evolution of consciousness that is needed for this major change. Without a fundamental shift in consciousness and spiritual evolution, humanity won’t be able to move in the new direction. The pure spirituality associated with this new age is the innate knowing of the Divine’s love within one’s heart and not extreme religious ideology.

During such a challenging transition, pure spiritual leaders, along with trauma therapists, can play major roles in helping people. Spiritual leaders can  help humanity realize that this shift to a new era can become less chaotic when people stop worshipping money and power as their source of security. When the world economy is based on infinite expansion which leads to the depletion of the Earth’s resources, suffering is inevitable. Given the fact that economic expansion has resulted in replacing fish in the oceans with plastic,  forests with urban housing, clean air with pollution, and turning the ecosystem into a garbage bin, transformation to a new age is necessary. Spiritual leaders need to remind everyone that an outdated frame of reference to a past era won’t help  love the Earth back to health. It is time to welcome the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” as humanity stands upon the cusp of the Piscean-Aquarian Age. They need to be prepared for disruptions that can happen before the completion of this major shift. As exciting as it sounds to move to a different era that can open the world to the splendor of a new life, the transformation might be intense and at times beyond  humanity’s “window of tolerance”. There might be more climate catastrophes, pandemics, mass shootings, political chaos, terrorism, wars, xenophobia, homophobia and other ugly phenomena. To be aware of what is happening allows everyone to prepare, and work in cooperation with this  energy of the new era. Crisis is not always about danger but also the opportunity to transform. Trauma therapists are more than ever needed to hold space and help people  recover from the intensity that is associated with this major transformation. They can play a vital role as the universal trauma holders and healers. Helping people to stay centered and grounded during a crisis is among the contributions that healers of any kind can offer.

Those of us who have spent decades helping traumatized people feel safe again know that trauma is a fact of life. Healing from any kind of injuries involves offering helpful resources for those in need of treatment. Since it is easy to feel helpless in the face of trauma, resource is power. One of the most accessible resources for anyone looking to grow, evolve, and/or heal beyond any traumatic experience is working with the body, in particular the nervous system. Healers who are trained to work with trauma can help people  become more resilient living in this transitional time by teaching them how to find safety within their bodies. As a recent example, a man who survived the AIDS crisis of the past century, and now recovering from a COVID-19 infection, shared during the peak of his illness, there was an episode in which breathing became very difficult to the point he thought he was going to die. It was a scary moment for him since he was living  alone at the time. He did not know if he was experiencing a panic attack, difficulty breathing due to COVID-19, or both. He reported what helped him  lessen the intensity of that terrifying moment so that he could call 911 was hearing a “gentle voice” of his therapist inside him inviting him to notice his feet, hands, and the felt sense of the support his body was experiencing lying on the bed. Perhaps, knowing how to track his pleasant sensations initiated a physiological event that resulted in helping him breathe a little easier until the paramedics arrived. How to track his bodily sensations was an important resource which he described as a “lifesaver.” Another woman, who was struggling with COVID-19, reported listening to calming music helped her chest  feel less tight and began to experience warm sensations flowing around her heart. Tracking her pleasant sensations improved her mood and her physical symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered many people’s survival mechanisms, and their nervous systems have become fixated in one or more processes. For some in a high sympathetic tone (fight/ flight) that can involve being restless, anxious, and for others in the state of  dorsal vagal response that might involve shutdown, freeze, and other acute stress response. Body-inclusive therapy offers  techniques that can help people in distress  shift their autonomic state that is stuck on FFF (fight/flight/freeze) toward safety and relaxation. Offering people resources to lower activation and regulate their nervous system is an example of the important roles trauma informed healers can play during the current pandemic or any crisis. “Body-inclusive” therapy is one approach that healers can offer people in distress to lower their activation and regulate the nervous system. There are many different paths toward healing. One size does not fit all. A resource needs to be tailored to the needs of the individual.

As the planet goes through a turbulent transitional period paving the way to the Aquarian Age, humanity can witness disastrous events, turmoil and other intense experiences. The transition from the Age of Pisces to Aquarius might feel like a traumatic birth that once endured will result in a glorious birth of a new consciousness with universal love at its core.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Healing Our Fragmented Rainbow

As a gay man who understands the importance of a supportive community, it saddens me to realize how disconnected gay men are becoming from each other. The essence of gayness is love. We come out to love freely, and yet many of us who broke free from living a closeted life and moved to gay neighborhoods such as WEHO, Castro, or Chelsea are not finding a nurturing connection under the rainbow flag. It is even worse for many gay men of color who often feel marginalized within the community. The experience of being a minority within a minority places them at higher risk for discrimination. When as a community we don’t strive toward building a safer and more welcoming environment, it fragments the rainbow of our unity.

Many gay men that I have the privilege of listening to reported feeling humiliated by how they were rejected by other gay men. For example, a number of gay men who are relying on apps such as Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder reported the rejection takes on a more brutal level on those apps. The shame they experience is often a result of being negatively judged about their looks, age or ethnicity. Such shaming experiences make these men build walls and avoid connection. It is not uncommon for these men to experience depression, suicidal ideations. and health related problems that not only stem from feeling estranged from the gay community, but also growing up with homophobic mistreatment.

For many of us, growing up gay was painful due to homophobia. Schools felt like a scary place for those of us who were scapegoated as queer. As a community, we have been very successful in addressing the trauma of growing up gay. Raising awareness about the issue has helped many people become concerned about the mistreatment of not only LGBTQ kids but also any youngsters who do not flow with the mainstream. In addition to raising awareness, we have done a great deal of activism to fight discrimination against LGBTQ people. However, I believe we can do a better job with embracing diversity and creating solidarity among our community members.

As human beings we are not meant to live an isolated life. The need for connection through community involvement is healthy and necessary. When such a need does not get fulfilled, it can lead to emotional pain. This pain coupled with a lack of connection to a supportive community becomes a recipe for addictions. Working in the gay community, I have learned the rate of addiction is higher among gay men who experience a sense of isolation or exclusion. I also have noticed gay men’s disconnection from one another leads to feelings of emptiness and apathy. Such painful emotional experiences might also cause them to engage in thrill seeking activities like risky sex or dangerous sports.

Gay men who tend to blame their loneliness on how they look can spend a great deal of money on cosmetic surgery and other unnecessary procedures. When it comes to finding a friend or boyfriend, showing love and kindness provides a better result. As a community, learning to know ourselves and working through the emotional injuries that were inflicted on many of us while growing up can add vitality to our struggle for equal rights and protect us from reenacting our lonely childhood experiences. For some of us being bullied and rejected were the norm. Since what is familiar tends to get repeated, many of us are at a higher risk for unconsciously reenacting our painful past. Just like the rainbow that needs sunshine and rain to be complete, we need to access our inner light to make our wounds conscious and wash them away with healing tears that come from sharing and having regard for our traumas. External changes such as marriage equality or the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy alone cannot heal us from the homophobic mistreatment and rejection we received growing up.

When I started practicing psychotherapy in the gay community over twenty years ago, we did not have hook up or dating apps. Since then, I have noticed a dramatic shift in not only how gay men relate to each other but also people in general. We are given tools of technology without the consciousness of knowing how to use them in service of embracing oneness. This is a missed opportunity, and one of the reasons why so many gay men feel disconnected from each other. The disconnection also comes from turning these apps to a hunting ground. As human beings our ancestors were hunters. Having sexual desire without the participation of our higher self to facilitate such fulfilment can create such a hunting environment. This intense quest for hooking up not only happens on apps but also at bars and clubs. Gay men need to stop hunting each other and start loving each other. This issue of objectifying one another on hook up sites is not just limited to gay men. Humanity in general is creating a mess out of the tools of technology.

Some gay men who attempt to meet others on apps or in person wear a persona that can become a barrier toward building a real and healthy connection. Often such a persona involves rejection of the anima (Jung's term for the feminine part of a man's personality) and oppressing it with a fake “straight acting” masculinity. Many gay men who as children were made to feel ashamed for being in touch with their feminine side are more vulnerable in relying on such persona. They put pressure on themselves to act extra masculine at the expense of being affectionate and emotionally present. Without healthy integration of our masculinity and femininity finding true love can be challenging. The feminine side of love desires a nurturing relationship, and the masculine part helps to find and protect it. This lack of partnership between the feminine and masculine side is not just limited to some gay men. Many heterosexual men who were raised to deny their feminine side also having difficulty with maintaining intimate connections.  

Rejection by other gay people can hurt more than the rejection by homophobic politicians and institutions. Not having a welcoming community can make the coming out process very painful for those of us who need validation and support during it. Given the negative health consequences of experiencing alienation, there is a high price to pay for not embracing a more inclusive and welcoming gay community. Our community leaders should bring more attention to the need for building a more nurturing environment. As gay people, we are naturally creative and industrious. We are often a small percentage of any population and yet our societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and other queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. In such a short time, we achieved a great deal of civil rights, faster than any other oppressed groups in this country. Triumphs like taking care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are. Given the fact that we know how to make changes quickly and effectively, it is time we put more effort into our own backyard and take a better care of each other. Somewhere over the rainbow as Rumi puts it, “beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field” where we can connect through love. Somewhere over the rainbow, as a community, we can make authentic connections. We can be more empathic toward each other’s pain of loneliness, and we can embrace our true gay essence.

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© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a writer and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com