Romancing Yourself Using Love Languages

Romancing Yourself Using Love Languages

How do I love me? Let me count the ways.

Ask anyone who’s been in a long term relationship what the secret to success is and they’ll likely mention two things: You have to work at it every day and you have to make your partner feel special on the regular.

That’s sound advice, but it’s advice we rarely do in our relationship with ourselves.

Do you work on making yourself feel special every day? If not, why not? We all need to take time to celebrate and love on ourselves daily. It’s important because if we’re only relying on other people to make you feel special and loved and it doesn’t happen, it can trigger self-critical thoughts of being undeserving.

You (yes, YOU) deserve to have something happen each day that reminds you of how lovable, worthy, special and awesome you are. You are a beautiful ball of sentient stardust (shout out to @domesticblisters for that description) and you absolutely should be reminded of this, daily.

Let me tell you a trick for how I started doing this for myself. First, if you don’t already know your love languages go here to find out your top two or three. My top three are acts of service, words of affirmation, and receiving gifts.

Next, figure out ways that you can do these things for yourself!  You’ll have to get creative here. How can I perform acts of service for myself? Well, I can hire someone to clean my house every few weeks. Or order food delivery once per week. What about words of affirmation? I can make a list of all the things I’m proud of myself for that week. Receiving gifts? Easy – I make sure if I see something I like when I’m out, like flowers or a yummy smelling candle, that I either buy it at the moment or add it to a list I have on my phone of stuff to get myself later.

If I find that it’s been a few days since I’ve done any of these things, I make a point to do it. And when life is especially sucky, I make a point to schedule them in. After my last break-up, I scheduled weekly flower delivery for myself for a few months and wrote myself encouraging notes to be included with the delivery. Every damn time I looked at those flowers, I smiled.

Now, I want you to pay very close attention to your inner critic when you start to do this practice. If I’m at the supermarket and I see something I’d like as a treat (a gift for myself) and I think, “Oh, that’s a nice thought, but I don’t really neeeeeeed it,” then I stop and take stock. If I saw my best friend’s favorite candy bar in the whole world at the market right before I was about to meet up with her, would I buy it for her? Of course I would — I would be so excited to do that for her! So, why wouldn’t I be equally as excited to do that for myself? If there’s any part of you that tells you you’re not “worth it”, there’s some shadow work to do, right there. I recommend bringing in your inner caregiver or protector to help you work through feeling undeserving or not worthy.

Because my friend, I promise you that you are worthy of that and so much more.

I hope you try this out and let me know how it goes. Like any change to our belief systems of self-concept you may have to “fake it till you make it” and almost force yourself to do small acts of love for yourself at first as the inner critic “I’m not worthy” voice comes up. But once you make it part of your routine, and part of who you are, then your daily practice of letting yourself know how special you are becomes one of the best parts of your day.

If you want to know more about how exactly to translate your love languages into things you can do for yourself, then check out my group course starting on April 25th, Unconventional Tools for Healing. We go into this in-depth and you can get personalized coaching from me on how to do this to make the most positive impact on your well-being.

Xo Megan

What if You Don’t Know How to Care for Yourself?

What if You Don’t Know How to Care for Yourself?

One of the most insidious aspects of growing up with emotionally unavailable parents is that I didn’t have models of how to be cared for. I didn’t grow up with examples of what it’s like to be comforted when I felt vulnerable, sad, afraid, or ashamed. I also didn’t have examples of what it was like to have a cheerleader, someone who became happy and proud on my behalf when I worked at something important to me.

Without external models of how to be cared for in these ways (comforted and encouraged) I couldn’t internalize these models into my own self-concept. This meant that in times when I was feeling upset or needed validation or encouragement, I didn’t have an inner voice that could give me these types of messages, because I didn’t even know what these messages sounded like.

This didn’t just happen in response to external circumstances, either. When my inner critic would start spouting off, there was no competing voice in my head. Without any other narrative, my inner critic would run rampant and I’d end up feeling awful.

I decided to create another voice in my head, one that was supportive, validating, kind and encouraging. I didn’t want to call it my inner parent because the word parent doesn’t have the best connotation for me. So, I called it my inner caregiver. I used polysensory mental practice to create a new voice in my head that said all the things I needed to hear, all the emotional nutrients I needed but never got when I was growing up.

I soon realized there was a big problem. Sure, it was a great idea to have a part of me say all the right things, but what were those things?

Like I said, I never had a model. If I didn’t know what comforting and loving language sounded like, how could I start to talk to myself this way? I looked to parenting books, positive psychology research, and nonviolent communication and restorative justice models for their language.

I knew my inner caregiver needed two ways to respond to my inner critic, as the comforter and the protector. The comforter says things like, “I am proud of you,” or “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m here for you.” The protector keeps my boundaries with my inner critic and says things like, “You don’t get to talk to Megan like that,” or “No. I don’t receive that message.”

I’ve used this model with clients as well. Each of us has different needs for who this new voice needs to sound like, and even for its name. Inner caregiver works for me, but for others, they need an inner nurturer, inner mentor, inner big brother or sister, inner parent, or an inner protector.

The messages we need to hear are all different too. I was raised by a narcissist, so I need to hear that I am valuable and worthwhile. Others may need to hear that they are prized for who they are, or that no matter what they do, they will never become unlovable.

Your inner caregiver (or protector, nurturer, etc) is a powerful way to develop self-compassion. But discovering what it is you need this voice to say can be hard for all of us who never heard these things from our own parents. We need to look elsewhere.

I invite you to gently and lovingly start to look for messages that feel good to you. They may be loving messages, anti-bullying messages, messages of worthiness or lovability. You may hear them in real life as you watch your friends parent their children, you may hear them in a movie as one character comforts another, or you may sense them deep down as that thing you always wanted to hear from your parents or caregivers, but never did.

You’ll know them because when you hear them, you’ll have strong sensations/feelings in your body and emotions will bubble up. These are the messages that are speaking loudly to you — they want to be part of your inner self-talk and your self-compassion routine.  

If you don’t know where to begin finding them, here’s a place to start.

I’m still working on developing my inner caregiver, and now have both a woman and a man’s voice in there helping me feel worthy, loved and safe. If you like the idea of having this loving and protective voice in your head and want some help and guidance through the process, this is one of the things we do together in my Unconventional Tools for Healing group program. I’m running it again, starting in a few weeks on the 25th April 2022. If you think this course is something that would give you the information and support you need right now, I invite you to join us.

Xo Megan

Why Mindfulness is The Bedrock of Mind-Body Healing

Why Mindfulness is The Bedrock of Mind-Body Healing

Mindfulness is one of the bedrocks of mind-body healing. Without it, you can’t accomplish any significant healing on a physical, emotional or spiritual level.  I want to look at what I mean by mindfulness and then give you some examples of how it integrates with other healing tools.

Mindfulness is really two different things: the ability to be in the present moment AND metacognitive observation of this moment.  

Being in the present moment means you are only experiencing what is going on right now in your environment, body and mind. Mindfulness is our natural state when we are feeling calm, relaxed and connected. When you are mindful, you don’t get swept away in thinking of a conversation you had earlier today, or lost in worry about how things may turn out in the future, you stay grounded in what is actually happening right now.

Metacognitive observation is the gentle, nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s going on in the present moment. It’s observing the situation and our reaction to it without adding any mental chatter about why it may be “right” or “wrong”. When you are mindful, you notice thoughts come up and say to yourself something like, “Ah! It’s worry. I’m worried about how my presentation will go tomorrow.” In this way you are not getting lost in spiraling thoughts about the worry, but rather you observe the worrying thoughts in a nonjudgmental way.

Mindfulness is a prerequisite to almost any other type of healing work because without the ability to be present and observe what’s going on and our reaction to it, we won’t be able to identify or change harmful thoughts, belief systems, or patterns of reactivity.

Mindfulness is the tool we can use to self-diagnose our own maladaptive patterns.

Without mindfulness, we’ll continue to engage in these patterns unconsciously, and the true nature of our difficulties will remain hidden from us. Doing healing work without the foundation of mindfulness is like going to the doctor and asking for treatment without having identified any specific symptoms other than “I don’t feel well”.

Mindfulness is the basis for the best healing tools for stress and trauma. For example, thought work is based on being aware of both our thoughts and our emotions at any given time. Cultivating our inner caregiver can only happen if we can catch our inner critic when they’re in action. You can only develop your intuition in a present and open state. Even physical healing from illness or injury only happens in the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system state. (Note: if you’re curious about any of these tools, I’ll be talking about all of them in the next few weeks!)

Not only that, but mindfulness is incredibly healing on its own. Observing your own emotions, thoughts and reactions from a place of gentle, nonjudgmental acceptance can be the key to undoing years of bullying, emotional neglect and other trauma. Being in the present moment allows us to look around and see what’s good, safe and inspiring right now in both our internal and external worlds.

However, if you’ve experienced chronic stress or trauma, mindfulness may be much harder for you. You may feel pulled out of the present moment by anxiety, depression, hypervigilance or dissociation. For people with anxiety or depression, it can be challenging to observe our thoughts and feelings without internal mental commentary. People who dissociate may not even be registering what’s going on at all, and it’s impossible to observe experiences that you aren’t even aware of. In fact, people who have experienced chronic stress or have C-PTSD may spend most of their time in these other states, which can make both mindfulness and all of the other healing tools that stem from it that much harder to access.

If you’ve tried mindfulness or meditation before and it hasn’t worked for you, then I’d like to invite you to join me for my upcoming group course “Unconventional Tools for Healing” where I’ll teach you my trauma-informed take on mindfulness, and teach how to finally be able to get to that calm, relaxed and connected state even if it’s eluded you in the past. And from that state, miraculous healing can occur

Click here to learn more and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the course or if it’s right for you.

Xo Megan

This Email Almost Sent Me in a Tailspin

This Email Almost Sent Me in a Tailspin

The term “shadow work” has been everywhere lately. But what is it really? 

I think of shadow work in terms of healing and clearing the way for better spiritual, emotional and intuitive connections. Shadow work uses strategies or tools to look at the parts of ourselves we’d rather not look at like shame, feelings of unworthiness, or our deepest fears (You know, the stuff we’d rather have remain in the shadows if we could help it) and then find ways to heal or bring comfort to those parts. 

If you’re not sure what I mean, think of something you believe about yourself that you’d do anything to prevent from being shared on the internet. There’s a shadow, right there.  

Identifying and noticing your shadows is the first step in shadow work. Sometimes, we already know what our shadows are, like things we’d be embarrassed to admit or fears we have about how other people judge us, but sometimes they’re still in our subconscious and we have to do some work to name them and identify them. Most often, those hidden shadows will be our triggers. Someone will do something that really triggers us, to the point where our reaction seems disproportionate to what happened (“Why am I so mad/sad/terrified about this?”) and that’s often a sign that there’s subconscious shadows influencing our behavior. 

I want to share with you some real-time shadow work I did this week to illustrate both how to identify a shadow and how to work with it, aka “do shadow work.” Here’s what happened…

As part of my marketing strategy for my business, I’ve been reaching out to lots of podcasts lately to see about being booked as a guest. I usually do this by sending an email to the host telling them that I like their podcast, why I might be a good guest, naming a few topics I think could be interesting to their listeners, and linking to a few of my past podcast interviews so they can get a feel for me as an interviewee. Pretty standard stuff. Most often I get either a yes, or I don’t get a response at all. Occasionally, I’ll get a note saying “thank you for reaching out but it’s not a good fit for us.” All of which are fine and just part of the deal. 

Last week, I sent out about 10 emails to various podcasts with the usual ratio of some positive responses and some crickets. But one response I got was unlike any I’ve received before: 

[“Dear Megan,

Thank you for reaching out with your guest interview proposal.

I have visited your website and listened to one of your interviews (one link is not working at all).

While I don’t question your personal experiences or your medical intuition skills, and you can certainly talk to these topics –  when choosing my podcast guests I tune in and look at them holistically, beyond just the good fit of the topics of their professional expertise and whether they interview well.

I’m seeking the energetic resonance.  This means that if something about the potential guest bothers me, anything at all – I don’t invite them to my show, as they are ultimately not a good match at the energy level.

I don’t know how much information on my website you have read, so I will tell you that I’m highly intuitive, and interface with people and the world at the energy level, the 6th sense. I am Reiki Master, I work with energy every day, and so the energetic resonance is the most important qualifier for me.

I could have just politely declined; however, since you have addressed your email to me personally (unlike most guest proposals I receive), I feel that you deserve to hear my feedback and the reason why I decline your proposal, for your benefit – regardless of what you choose to do with it.

When I went to your website and read the big header:

“You’re here because you had a crappy childhood and you’re done letting it affect your life” –  I was INSTANTLY put off and wanted to leave. If I were a potential client – that’s what I would have done. Why?  I didn’t have a crappy childhood (quite to the contrary) and while the heading is generic of course, I found it offensive, presumptuous, judgmental and aggressive. Like many people, I have had a fair (or unfair) share of issues and traumas in my life which happened later on. My childhood was the happiest time.

Now – I know NLP very well, all about using presumptions, embedding expectations, “mind-reading” and all that jazz.  I’m a very experienced Life Coach and use NLP in my work with clients and know-how and when to use it, but my first reaction to your homepage was “how can you know why I am here, you know NOTHING about me, and you are wrong”.

Anyway, this is not a coaching session so I’ll keep it short. 🙂

As I perused your site I found few other points that bothered me (meaning- created energetic dissonance with me, like a scratch on an old record playing lovely music), including words like “shit” and “goddamn” which I would never use in my professional setting.  Your website is peppered with negative energy which you are not even aware of. This is clearly your style, your language which is absolutely fine – for you and perhaps many other people, but not to me.

I read people very well, on many levels, and your website gave me a lot of insight into your personality and your approach. I am not saying it is wrong, right or indifferent. I’m not making any judgment. All I am saying is that as a guest you are not a good match for me and my podcast. That’s all.

Thank you for considering my podcast for your interview.

Wishing you all the best on your journey

XXXX {name redacted} ” ]

I want to take you through what happened to me step-by-step as I read this reply, both to share what a trauma response looks like and how I did shadow work to address the trauma response

  1. I felt terrible. I felt deep fear, almost a feeling of terror, that I had done something wrong (I know, I know— I hadn’t — but this was my unconscious trauma response safety system kicking in) and that I had somehow been inappropriate or overstepped my bounds. Then, I felt myself dissociate, which feels a bit like I’m looking at what’s happening from a distance, with a bit of numbness and brain fuzziness thrown in. 

 

  1. I recognized that my emotional response was BIG and that I was having overwhelming, unpleasant emotions as a response to this. My dissociation happened because the response was so overwhelming that my brain decided it was better to “go offline” than experience something so unpleasant. (Meditation and mindfulness practices have helped a ton in being able to observe and identify both my emotions and dissociation in real-time.) 

 

  1. I understood that this person’s email was inappropriate, but I second-guessed myself and wondered if I was overreacting by being so upset by it. This is a complex PTSD response that happens when, as children, we were consistently told that our reactions to abusive behavior were too much in some way like, “you’re overreacting” or “we can talk about this when you’ve calmed down” or  “don’t be such a drama queen.” When this type of gaslighting happens, we lose the ability to trust our own feelings and reactions and learn to downplay them. (Jeffrey Marsh has some amazing videos on this topic if you want to learn more.)

 

  1. I started 3rd guessing myself and realized that my self-judgement as “overreacting” was also probably a trauma response, so I reached out for help with what I call “reality testing.” I forwarded the email to someone I trust, my business coach Caroline Leon, and said, “I just got this reply to one of my podcast pitches and I’m not sure what to make of it. It seems unnecessarily harsh. I mean, I usually have a thick skin, but this is over the top, right?” She replied and said, “Oh Megan, I am so sorry that you had to receive this email. This isn’t someone you ever need to listen to or feel triggered by. This person is self-aggrandizing, judgemental, lacking in self-awareness and clearly has some personal issues.” 

 

Caroline’s response helped in two ways. First, it confirmed my suspicion that my judgment that I was overreacting was wrong, this email was really terrible. Second, it made me feel seen and heard, something I didn’t get much of growing up, and something I know I need to seek out now as I reparent myself as an adult. She then offered to hop on the phone with me, and my first instinct was to say, “I’m fine, I can handle this” but, lately, I’ve realized how much I’ve “I’m fined” my way through some pretty horrible shit in my life when, in fact, talking to someone and feeling comforted was exactly what I needed to complete the stress response cycle

 

  1. Once I felt sure that this email was in fact an attack and inappropriate, I looked at why I had such a strong reaction to it. I’ve had people be rude to me or say nasty things to me many times which did not cause a trauma response, so why did this one trigger me so much? I realized that this passive-aggressive set-up of “I’m doing this for your benefit” followed by an attack on me was exactly how my mom spoke to me as a child. She’d say things like, “I want you to know that I spoke with your friend’s mom and she only hangs out with you because her mom is forcing her to. I’m only telling you this so you can look at how you could be a better friend and think about why no one wants to be around you.” (None of this was true, by the way, she never talked to my friend’s mom, but I didn’t find that out until years later. This type of abuse is common with malignant narcissists.) 

 

  1. As I came to understand why this email had felt like such an attack, I took care to do some deep self-compassion work for myself. I meditated and brought to mind what I call my “inner caregiver”, a character in my head who is kind, supportive and stands up for me against this kind of bullying. I imagined her coming to be with me, soothe me and defend me. It felt wonderful. 

 

  1. I recognized that the person who wrote this email is likely in a lot of pain themselves. “Hurt people hurt people” as they say. When I felt calm and strong enough to do so, I sent them the Mettā prayer of compassion, “May you be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.” 

 

  1. Over the next few days, I made sure to check in with myself and make sure I was okay, much like I’d check in on a good friend who had been through something rough. I gave myself some extra leeway to take it easy if I felt off in any way. 

 

Within 2 days, I felt much better. I could even read the email and feel only compassion for this person without being triggered at all. (Note: it’s taken me almost 20 years of practicing this kind of shadow work to get to this place. Even 5 or 10 years ago, I would have been a wreck for weeks if I’d received this email and probably would have read it over and over or felt the need to reply and defend myself.) 

I’m sharing this story with you because I know when I first started trying to heal my shadow parts, it felt monumental and insurmountable and I didn’t even know where to start. So, I’m hoping that sharing my process can either give you some ideas for your own shadow work or at least can show you what’s possible if you work at it. Obviously, I’m still a work in progress and I suppose if I’d really worked through all my stuff this wouldn’t have triggered me at all. But I know that I’m in process, I’m doing the healing work of wherever I am, and that’s okay, too.

We’re all exactly where we should be (which may not be where we want to be, but that’s also okay) and I hope you know that wherever you are in your healing process is just as right, just as good, and just as perfect as where I am with mine. 

Xo Megan

Why Mindfulness Meditation doesn’t Always Work

Why Mindfulness Meditation doesn’t Always Work

If you’ve tried mindfulness meditation and haven’t been able to stick with it, I think I may know why. 

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing our attention on one stimulus (like our breath or a mantra) and being mindful of any thoughts or other sensations that may take our attention and focus away. The practice is to notice when our mind wanders, and gently bring our focus back to our breath or the mantra again. This practice can be especially challenging for people with CPTSD because many people with a history of complex trauma think and process emotions differently. Here are two main reasons why it’s hard and what you can do to help fix these issues. 

Why is it so damn hard? 

  1. A heightened inner critic voice. For many of us that lived through complex trauma, especially emotional abuse, have internalized the voice of our abuser as our own inner narrative. This can lead to frequent thoughts like, “I’m not good at anything” or “There’s something wrong with me, I can’t do this.” 

This can make it challenging when thoughts or distractions come up in mindfulness meditation (and they do come up for EVERYONE, even Buddhist monks!) because instead of being able to just let the thought go, we criticize ourselves for “doing it wrong” or “being a failure” for having the thoughts at all.

  1. Hypervigilance/over planning. In order to survive as children in adverse circumstances, whether that danger was physical or emotional, we became EXCELLENT noticers and planners. 

The ability to be tuned in and notice the environment, people’s moods, and read the room was a smart survival strategy when we were in the midst of an ongoing dangerous situation. Oftentimes, we were able to avoid or lessen the abuse if we could read the people around us and preemptively make adjustments to our behavior or the situation and avoid triggering the abuser.

Another strategy that kept us safe and protected to plan for multiple outcomes. Are you someone who thinks of everything that could go awry in any upcoming situation and has not only a plan A, but also a plan B, plan C, and plan D? Then you are an over-planner. Over planning can also look like mentally rehearsing upcoming challenging conversations over and over, or planning every last detail of an event so that there will be as few surprises as possible. 

Hypervigilance and overplanning interfere with mindfulness meditation because it makes it especially hard to turn our brains off. Given any moment of downtime, our brains will fill it up with noticing and planning. So as soon as we try to meditate, here comes the tidal wave of thoughts, planning and noticing. 

What can you do to fix this? 

  1. Self-Compassion. Cultivating a self-compassionate voice in your head to counter the inner critic is vital for those with CPTSD. I call mine my “inner caregiver” and she does two things when the inner critic comes up. The first is to speak to me with patience, kindness, love and respect instead of criticism. The second is that she tells the inner critic off by saying something like, “Hey! This is our girl. You do NOT get to talk to her like that. She is a gem and we will treat her with the utmost respect and kindness.” 

During meditation, this would look like responding to the inner critic’s thoughts with something like, “Oh no, you don’t get to criticize me like that. You know what? I’m just learning this. So it’s okay for me to not be good at it yet, that’s what learning is for!” If it helps to picture a particular character when you are cultivating that voice, that’s fine! My inner caregiver sounds like Carol Kane and one of my clients says Eugene Levy comes when she needs this type of mental TLC. 

  1. Name the type of thought. Another powerful tool when hypervigilance and over planning starts is to name the type of thought. For example, if I find myself rehearsing a challenging conversation I need to have, I’ll stop and think “planning” and then gently come back to my breath. If I’m worried about something in the future, I’ll think, “worrying” and return to paying attention to my breathing.  Once I name the type of thought I often combine it with my inner caregiver voice and say something like, “Thank you, brain, for helping me with planning, but that’s not what I’m doing right now. I love you and I’m going to go back to my breath.” 

Mindfulness meditation has been one of my favorite tools for healing from CPTSD, but there is a steep learning curve, especially for those who have experienced complex trauma. It took me years to get to the point I’m at today, but now I can’t imagine not meditating each day. I look forward to it as one of the best stress relief tools I have in my toolbox. 

If you have struggled with mindfulness meditation in the past, I hope you’ll give these two fixes a try. And let me know how it goes for you! 

Xo Megan

What is a sensory profile? And how is it connected to trauma?

What is a sensory profile? And how is it connected to trauma?

I used to work as an occupational therapist for children with autism, ADHD, and other types of neurodivergence. One of the most effective treatment tools we had was the sensory profile because it allowed us to look at how school and home environments conflicted with their brains’ own natural sensory needs.

I think this tool is valuable for all of us. Knowing your sensory profile is immensely helpful, because no matter who you are – neurodivergent or not –  your unique sensory profile affects how you interact with your world on a daily basis. In addition, sensory profiles can change after a period of trauma, and knowing how trauma has affected your profile can help you take better care of yourself.

But, let me backtrack for a minute — what is a sensory profile anyway?  Let’s start with looking at our senses. Each of us has 8 senses (sorry, M. Night Shyamalan) connected to our nervous system:

  • Visual (sight)
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Gustatory (taste)
  • Tactile (touch)
  • Vestibular (sense of head movement in space)
  • Proprioceptive (sense of body position in space and feedback from joints and muscles)
  • Interoception  (sensations related to the physiological/physical condition of the body like hunger, heart rate, breathing, and more)

Each of us has different likes and dislikes when it comes to each of these senses. For example, some people may love the smell of perfume while others find it overwhelming. Some people may love a big hug and for others that may feel suffocating. Your particular collection of likes and dislikes for each of your sensory systems is your unique “sensory profile.” 

But really, it’s too simplistic to say likes and dislikes. This stuff is so intimately tied to your nervous system it can activate either your “happy place” nervous system (parasympathetic) or your “get me the hell out of here” nervous system (sympathetic).

Imagine an environment in an idyllic location, maybe a beach, the forest, or a busy Parisian cafe. You’re wearing the most comfortable clothing you’ve ever found, you just ate some of your favorite foods, and you feel perfectly satisfied — not hungry but not too full. There’s a smell of something (Is it the ocean? Coffee? Petrichor?) That immediately makes you feel happy. Got a good image of all of this? Fantastic — you’ve just described something that fits your “sensory seeking” profile of things you like to have in your environment.

Now let’s do the opposite. Imagine you’re in an environment that you hate —it’s way too loud, or so quiet that you can’t hear anything but your own spiralling thoughts. It’s so hot that sweat is dripping in your eyes. Your clothing is awful. It’s either too tight or way too baggy and the material is creating the most uncomfortable itching sensation you’ve ever felt on your skin. You haven’t had anything to eat or drink in hours and you’re officially hangry. But also, something smells really gross and you just lost your appetite. Got that image in your mind? That’s a scenario that fits your “sensory aversion” profile, or a group of sensations that you’d try to avoid in the world.

When we find ourselves in a situation that fits with our sensory seeking preferences, our whole nervous system relaxes. That sets off a wave of other chemical and energetic reactions in our body that signals safety, security and happiness. When we find ourselves in a sensory adverse situation, our nervous system gets tense, and releases all sorts of stress chemicals that cause feelings that range from discomfort to panic.

(Side note: the reason that this awareness is so important to the neurodiverse community is that sensations that would only cause a mild nervous system reaction for neurotypical folks can cause a panic reaction in someone with an atypical nervous system. This often includes sights, smells, and sounds that are quite common and would go unnoticed by most of the population.)

So, you can see why knowing your unique sensory profile could help you navigate the world with a happier nervous system by seeking out things that make you calm and avoiding those that cause you distress.

But how does trauma affect your sensory profile? 

Let’s start with a pretty classic example. If you look at someone who has PTSD, let’s say from fighting in a war, they might now have a panicked reaction to an auditory sensation like fireworks or a car backfiring. It’s something that might go unregistered or only cause a mild awareness in people without PTSD, however for someone with PTSD this could cause a full-blown panic attack. Similarly, a woman who has been sexually assaulted may feel panic when she senses someone walking behind her in the supermarket, while for the rest of us we’d just register that there was another human shopping in the same crowded store and our nervous system would interpret it as no big deal.

With complex trauma, it’s more… um, well… complex. If you need a good primer on what Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is, I wrote about it here. Complex trauma happens over the course of years and as a result, our nervous systems, which includes our sensory systems, can slowly change and start to “hardwire” as a response to these small, daily traumatic events. Let me give you a few examples from my own sensory profile.

I have insanely acute hearing. This comes as a result of listening to my abusive mother’s movements around the house. If I heard her come in the front door, move around the house or start talking, I would freeze and listen carefully so that I could ascertain what kind of mood she was in, and therefore what the potential danger level was at that moment. Because of my acute hearing and careful attunement to background noise, I now can’t work in noisy environments. I need absolute silence to work because my sensory systems are hard-wired to listen for danger in any background noise. 

Another example would be my high pain tolerance. (Pain is part of your interception and tactile sensory systems.) I didn’t even realize I had a high pain tolerance until I was in the emergency room one night with what turned out to be a kidney stone. The nurse asked me what my pain level was on a scale of 1-10 and I answered that it was a 7 or 8. My boyfriend then added, “If she says 7 or 8, that’s a 10 on most people’s scale.” That was news to me! Afterwards, I realized that my interoceptors had probably been altered by my traumatic experiences. When I felt pain or felt unwell as a child, there was usually one of two reactions from my mother: either rage that I was bothering her with my needs, or an overly dramatic trip to the doctor where she would be in complete hysterics and insist that I undergo every medical test under the sun, and I would be poked and prodded in myriad painful and uncomfortable ways. So, I learned to keep it to myself if I felt pain. Eventually, my nervous system acclimated to that and turned down my pain receptors.

Even though I’m no longer living in that dysfunctional household, both my auditory and interoceptors were wired in a different way via these experiences in my formative years. They are now part of my unique sensory profile.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Now that you know all this cool, new stuff about your sensory profile, how can you actually use it? Well, there are three main ways:

First, make a list of the things that fall under the “sensory seeking” category for you. What are the things that you love to smell, eat, or hear? What kind of fabrics do you like? Do you like big hugs or light touch? What kinds of art do you like to look at? What’s your favorite natural setting — desert, rolling hills, or dense jungle? Then make yourself a “sensory toolkit” where you can have these things handy if you start to feel stressed.

Second, what are your “sensory aversions”? What are the things that make you feel like you want to crawl out of your skin? What smells, sights, noises or environments make you feel stressed out and exhausted? Make sure that you only get these things in small doses or use strategies to help you tune those out. For example, I use my noise-cancelling headphones with no music on when I’m working in noisy environments. That way, I get my own little cocoon of quiet in the middle of a noisy place.

Thirdly, practice self-compassion. (I mean, my advice when dealing with any kind of trauma fallout is self-compassion, really.) If you get stressed by certain sensory experiences, I want you to practice listening to your inner caregiver. Listen to them tell you how smart and resourceful you were to be able to have a system in place to sense the danger coming. Feel them send you so much love and acceptance for who you are, regardless of what your body and mind may be doing at the moment. Imagine what your ideal parent or caregiver would say or do for you to calm you and help you feel safe and sound in this situation. Know that you deserve all of this love and care and more. 

I’d love to know what you’ll take away from this post! Did you figure out anything about your own sensory profile? I hope this info can help you care for yourself in the most exquisite and loving way — you deserve nothing less, my friend.

Xo Megan