Now is the Time to Be, not Do

The unbridled spread of COVID 19 has caused all but essential service providers to drop what we were doing and settle in at home.

This forced slowdown is very uncomfortable for most. Notwithstanding the stress we increasingly feel about our financial security, for many of us our mental health is maintained by our participation in meaningful work. Without that work, without having something external to direct our attention, effort, and even passion to, we are left floundering to find stability and juggling myriad possibilities with indecisiveness.

Many of us have our identities and feelings of self-worth tied up in our work. We feel we’re valuable because we do. Without our regular avenues of activity, we may start to question our own meaningfulness and purpose.

But this forced slowdown is not necessarily a bad thing.

Collectively we’ve been racing through time, chasing the next best thing, devouring resources at alarming rates, and wreaking havoc in the natural systems on the planet. We’ve created such pressure for ourselves and each other many of us live on our last nerve, with heightened sensitivity and lowered tolerance for anything we disagree with or are caught off guard by.

Maybe Covid 19 is actually a gift to many of us. We have the time to stop and actually spend time with ourselves and our loved ones. We get to jump off the treadmill and take the time to look around for other possible interests to direct our attention. We have the opportunity to think, consider, choose, reflect – slow down and deepen our experience of ourselves and our actions.

This slowdown can give us a chance to reconnect with ourselves in ways we haven’t been able for a very long time as we’ve been producing and struggling to keep our heads above water in the evermore demanding push for economic growth.

We’ve seen priorities shift throughout society to mobilize against covid 19. The things we have been told couldn’t be done have been. Hospitals have been built in 2 weeks. Research is being implemented in weeks and months, not years. Money is being provided to feed and shelter those without adequate incomes without quibbling.

When the situation is taken seriously enough, society can mobilize to ensure we are all taken care of together.

Our values that we generally only give lip service to in good times are actually acted upon in times of collective danger.

So we have an opportunity with this slowdown, to reflect on our values. Reflect on our actual worth. Decide for ourselves what we want to spend our time on, not just waiting to be directed by a boss or our need to make money.

Now is an opportunity to just be, instead of do. To catch up on our sleep, which will improve our overall health since most of us are sleep deprived. To read those books we’ve accumulated on our bedside or desk or wish list. To try those new recipes we’ve been collecting for a special occasion. To sit and read with our kids, to listen to their stories and interpretations, to hear their thoughts, and snuggle them close. To play tag or duck duck goose out in the back yard. To play Monopoly or Scrabble or Yahtzee as a family, and learn how to play nicely with one another again.   

Now’s a time for us to take stock. To reflect on what’s truly important to us. To decide if we’re content with the life we’ve been living or if now that we have time that we’d like to change the direction we want to take when we all get back to work. Maybe you want to take some time now to learn a new skill, or take some online courses, or explore other employment or career possibilities. Maybe there’s a cause you have always felt passion about but have never had the time to contribute. Perhaps now’s a good time to look into local ways to get involved, if not in person, then in other ways now, and in person later.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book. Or start a podcast. Or learn a new language. Or create special crafts.

This forced slowdown is an opportunity for us to reconnect with ourselves, our values, our dreams, our passions. To slow down and take some time to just be and see what floats to the surface. To let ourselves catch up to our lives and to assess whether or not we are where we wanted to be and if not to plan how we’re going to get there.

Collectively, we’ve been racing into the future. Individually now we have the time to decide what we want that future to be and how we want to be in it. When we come back together, we can create a more intentional, inclusive, holistic, balanced society, where our priorities actually reflect our values of social cohesion and equitable opportunity.

Taking this time to be, away from the push to do, will help clarify that future vision for all of us, and use covid 19 to our individual and collective advantage.

Until then, stay safe and healthy, at home, and 6 feet away from others. And wash your hands frequently.  

Find me on Facebook and Twitter @eperryinsights

Pip had high #ACEs

It took me 5 years to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens the first time, 4 months the second.

I could relate to it much more the second time around. The language and cultural content was easier to overlook. Mostly though, as I read it through an ACEs lens, I could relate to Pip’s relational challenges.

He grew up an orphan. Both his parents died without him ever having known them. He was raised by his much older sister who was very violent and demeaning towards him. He had his one supportive adult in his brother in law Joe, who was also abused by the sister and couldn’t protect Pip to the extent that he would have liked to.

Near the end of the book Joe explains that he realized that when he stood up for Pip, the sister attacked him more vehemently, so as much as he would have liked to have protected him, he at least mitigated the assaults by not fueling them.

A couple older people were very jealous of Pip. Pumblechook took credit for Pip’s success. Orlick reeked havoc on Pip’s associates, including assaulting his sister and disabling her for years until her eventual death.

Having exploitive, resentful, treacherous adults creating havoc in the lives of children is quite common. Some adult always gets jealous and resentful of the child because they wish they could have been treated similarly and make things bad for the kids. This is universal I think unfortunately.

It’s an unlikely encounter in Pip’s early life that sets him up for success later. As a result of his kindness to one unlikely person, Pip becomes the lifelong inspiration for the recipient of his kindness to succeed and be able to return the favour on Pip.

It was Pip’s character and humanity, and his efforts to build relationships that determined his success, not the contrived efforts of adults.

Of course in Pip’s compromised state as an abused child, meeting the eccentric and bizarre Miss Havisham and the aloof, emotionally inaccessible Estella was bound to intrigue his curiosity and attraction.  He came from humble means. They presented an air of superiority and affluence, in spite of the bizarre surroundings within which they existed.

Seeing this contrast, in the context of where Pip usually existed, gave him the desire to access greater opportunity in his own life – hence the theme of the book – Great Expectations.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, Pip lacked the perspective and informed council to be able to discern for himself the façade of advantage that he was seeing in those with more than himself.

He was a surprisingly astute young man though; able to see through the false bravado of Pumblechook and the other community busy bodies.

But he ascribed benevolence to Miss Havisham, assuming she was more magnanimous than he had ever actually experienced.

Those of us who have been abused in childhood often do that. We see more generosity than is actually delivered. We project onto others with means our own character, values and behaviours. We assume benevolence of the wealthy as equal to the benevolence of the impoverished. True to form even now, 160 years later, this misattribution still persists throughout humanity. We, the unwealthy, give significantly more credit than is warranted to those we deem to be superior due to their wealth and apparent success, in spite of the contradiction evident in the calamity of their lives.

Eventually the arrogant are humbled, and the humble are valued for their integrity.

In the end Pip finally finds his way to his own level of success and happiness. The experiences of his early life had created a convoluted path to his final destination, but with support from genuine benefactors, friends, and trustworthy confidantes, he found solid footing for himself, and we are left to believe that he thereafter lived happily ever after.

Charles Dickens published Great Expectations in 1860. He understood then the toxic experiences of children growing up in an adult world, and outlined some possible effects of inadequate relational competency through the experiences of Pip’s adult life.  

Although it took me a lifetime to get to reading Great Expectations, it has turned out to be one of my favourite books. Pip is a likeable character, but more importantly, for an Adult with ACES, he is a relatable character, even though 160 years separate our cultural experiences.

Human nature hasn’t changed in that 160 years. Children are still belittled, assaulted, targeted, exploited, manipulated, and abandoned. And those children still bumble through their adult lives, getting caught in schemes, and sacrificing themselves for others, and playing the system themselves to try to make their way.

Sometimes it seems we have learned nothing in how we perceive the image of the child.

We really need to work on this collectively. The future does not belong to the adults. It belongs to the children, and they genuinely deserve to be given all the tools and opportunity possible to prepare to build it in preparation for their children to enter and direct.

In order to achieve this, adults must deconstruct their idealized perceptions of their own inadequate childhoods, and start giving our children what we also rightfully deserved, but didn’t receive – healthy attachment relationships with adults, safety, security, belonging, esteem and the opportunity to achieve our true potential.

Are You Living with an ACEs Legacy?

When I was 42, my life crashed down around me. Everything I had believed – all my relationships, my job, my perception of my family, my faith, my society – all fell apart. I had been living, breathing, working, financing a faith community for 13 years when I realized it was all a sham. I lost everything when I walked away, and spent the next number of years figuring out why that happened to me.

In 2014 I heard about The ACE Study. It was research conducted by Dr. Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and Dr. Robert Anda of the CDC published in 1998. They identified a correlation between adverse early childhood experiences which caused toxic stress, and health and social issues in the lives of affected children as adults.  

I had always known that I didn’t have an optimal childhood. It wasn’t horrific, like some, but it was pretty lonely and empty of what I just thought were nice to haves – like love, encouragement, acceptance, respect, caring, enthusiasm, security, consideration, thoughtfulness, attention.

It seems ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences – actually include the absence of those very qualities and experiences I missed. They are hidden among the 10 categories that were measured in The ACE Study: emotional and physical neglect; emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; parental issues including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, marital breakdown, incarceration.

Children growing up in non-nurturing, unsafe and unpredictable environments grow up steeped in toxic stress. Our little brains and bodies are flooded with terror because our survival is threatened. And it’s not conscious. The developing organism simply finds ways to survive. If we’re judged, we become perfectionists or give up trying. If we’re beaten we become tough or aggressive. If we’re ignored we seek attention or become invisible. If we’re insecure we become clingy or detached.

The strategies we develop to survive our childhoods become the strategies we use to navigate our adult lives. In our relationships, in our workplaces, we show up the same way we showed up as children. And eventually, if we’re actually lucky, those strategies fall short, and we’re forced to rethink our relationship with ourselves, others, and our world.

As difficult as my colossal crash was for me at first, I’m very thankful it happened, because I’ve now built my life on the truth as I have been able to access it, and all those essential ingredients for being a healthy human I missed, I either give to myself now or have relationships with people who can give them to me.

It is true that our childhoods don’t have to be a life sentence. But contrary to the way many have approached the situation before, encouraging us to just move on and leave the past in the past, I know that without facing our past and wrapping our arms around it and bringing it into our futures with us, it will track us. Like a Halloween ghoul, breathing down our necks every once in a while, it will show up in ways we may not recognize, but which will be our ACEs Legacy.

That’s what The ACE Study found. Unaddressed ACEs contribute to the development of mental health, physical health, social and economic health issues in adults. The toxic stress of our childhoods creates the unstable foundation in our bodies and minds. It lays dormant until it reveals its legacy, without us making the connection to the original cause. Toxic stress in childhood undermines our brain and immune system development.

If you have mental illness including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, check your ACEs. If you have cancer, addiction, COPD, unplanned pregnancies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, check your ACEs. If you experience chronic work, home, relationship insecurity, check your ACEs. If you have been a victim or perpetrator of violence, or involved in the criminal justice system, check your ACEs.

The way we have historically raised our children, throughout generations, especially informed by colonial beliefs and practices, has created the conditions most of us live with, and we and our society don’t have to be this way.

Developing humans need certain ingredients to grow healthy and to be able to reach our potential – safety, security, belonging, self-esteem, and purpose. We also need clean air, water and soil so we are not adversely affected by toxicity in our environments. We need to be loved, nurtured, welcomed with open arms, and valued for the unique contribution we bring into the world through our very existence.

We’re all living with an ACEs Legacy, if not individually, then at least collectively. When children live in poverty; when our parents have insecure sources of income; when we live in poorly resourced neighbourhoods; when our education is inequitable; when the very colour of our skin or our religion is an excuse for marginalization; these are and create an ACEs Legacy.

The ACE Study is the most important and most ignored research ever conducted. It explains the connection between the way we were raised and the health, economic, and social conditions we currently live in.

Finding out about The ACE Study gave me the most incredible sense of relief and perspective on my life. When I checked my ACEs, I realized my adult life couldn’t possibly have been any different than it was, considering what I had learned about myself, others, and the world during my childhood. I had experienced my ACEs Legacy in my early adulthood, and since I learned the root causes of my issues, I have been able to deal with them directly and transform my life and myself. Now, I’m working on transforming my world, by spreading the word about ACEs, and how impactful they really are in our lives, whether we know it or not.

I didn’t know I was living an ACEs Legacy until I learned about The ACE Study. You can learn more information through and If you’d like to connect with me, please reach out.

It wasn’t your fault.

It’s what happened to you, not what’s wrong with you.

Our past will not be our destiny, unless we ignore it.

Check your ACEs.

Originally published at

Why Talk About Trauma on Linked In?

When I was 41, I left an abusive relationship. It’s not what you think. It wasn’t intimate partner abuse. I left a friend, former boss, and spiritual guru after 13 years of manipulation, exploitation, and extortion through labour trafficking.

Over the years I’ve tried to raise the alarm about abuse in the workplace and unhealthy leaders parading as righteous visionaries.

I’ve had so many people tell me I can’t talk about that – business advisers, supervisors, coworkers, mentors, coaches.

I get that it’s an uncomfortable topic, especially for business people, who just want to achieve success and not have to worry about the greater social impact of their accomplishments.

I started to get excited with the introduction of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility to the mainstream. I thought people would be willing to engage about character then. Not so much.

When people started talking about Mental Health in the workplace I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. And yet that topic is still an aside – an addition – often left to the individual to self-manage. It’s not an integral aspect of most people’s consciousness and certainly does not receive equal consideration in business and HR theory.

When the concept of Trauma Informed Practice hit the mainstream, I thought, oh yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’ll be able to talk about the incidence of unhealthy relationships in business contexts and inspire responsibility, accountability, humility, and positive change. But no, trauma informed is mostly still just given lip service, without substantive personal reflection on the part of the people claiming to model it.

Recently I’ve connected with a wider international community of social innovators who share my vision and passion for all of us to actually develop a trauma lens to inspire recovery and prevention for the benefit of all of us.

You see, I’ve known all my life that people hurt people when they haven’t addressed their own hurt. It started with my mother. For her it started with her parents. It continued on for me at the hands of teachers, post secondary professors, and employers, until it came to a head with a false spiritual leader.

Recent research identifying trauma as brain injury has helped me understand just what has been going on with me and in my relationships all my life, and throughout our history.

Alice Miller, a famous psychotherapist who wrote many books from 1978 – 2010, spent the latter decades of her life recording the effects of our historical cultural childhood norms on subsequent adult populations.

In her famous book The Drama of the Gifted Child she begins with “Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood.”

She continues, “In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.”

She cautions, “If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual ‘wisdom’, we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.”

She explains, “Without realizing the past is constantly determining their present actions, (most people) avoid learning anything about their history. … They are driven by unconscious memories and by repressed feelings and needs that determine nearly everything they do or fail to do.”

She encourages, “We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.”

People who don’t deal with their own issues invariably impose them onto others. Inauthenticity and disconnection from our true selves – pain and all – enables us to act hurtfully towards others, both intentionally and inadvertently.

Of course, no one is perfect. In fact just the other day I snapped at someone who parked in my driveway because my stress response was activated after having repeatedly been subjected to disrespect and boundary violations from someone else recently. I shouldn’t have snapped, and I will apologize and accept accountability for my actions at the first opportunity. But many of us live in the same heightened arousal state as a result of years of accumulated maltreatment as sentient human beings.

We bring our trauma to work with us.

Some of us are short tempered and suspicious. Some of us are disconnected from our humanity and operate as automatons. Some of us are so hateful or empty we take whatever we can without a single care of the impact on others. Many of us just go to work hoping to have an issue free day where we can do our jobs and make it back out the door safely without being psychologically assaulted. Many of us hope we can make it through the day without revealing the pain we live with and spilling it onto others.

Whatever strategies any of us use to get through the days of our lives, if we haven’t addressed the pain of our past, we are likely subjecting others to it unconsciously.

As Dr. Gabor Mate says, “Trauma isn’t what happens to us; it’s what happens within us as a result of what happens to us.”

I talk about trauma as being the result of our not getting our needs met, and therefore perceiving a threat to our survival.

As an Early Childhood Educator, I learned what developing humans need to thrive. That knowledge helped me be very successful in my business and teaching careers as I served my clients and learners.

As I ramp up my counselling practice, I am thankful to have that foundation and the added insight that new research into trauma and neuroscience provides.

All humans, young and old, need safety, security, belonging, esteem and opportunity to achieve our potential. We need respect, and effort from our fellow travelers. We need connection not just to others, but to the planet and the universe as valuable members with vital contributions to add to the whole.

Unresolved trauma impedes us from being able to receive our needs and to meet each others’ needs.

As a community of leaders across diverse sectors of society, those of us connected through Linked In have the opportunity to help heal ourselves, each other, and our societies when we understand trauma and its impacts, and basic strategies for responding to and supporting each other with dignity, empathy, compassion and humility.

We’re all in this together. We have been forever. And we will be as long as there is a forever.

Over the last year I have connected with others who bravely speak about the need to address trauma as a social transformation initiative around the world.

I’m so thankful I’m no longer alone in this vision. Those who told me I couldn’t talk about trauma just didn’t see what I saw. All indications I observe across society now tell me many are starting to catch up.

It will be a great day when we actually do have #TraumaInformedCanada #ACEsAwareCanada #ResilientCanada where #Empathy #Compassion #Generosity and #Humility are common responses to ourselves, others, and nature across #TraumaPreventiveHumanity.

White Fragility – A Self-Reflection

By Elizabeth Perry @eperryinsights         July 14, 2019

I’m working through My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.

I was doing ok with the work until I got to the chapter The False Fragility of the White Body.

I remember when I first heard the term White Fragility. It was being screamed at an audience by a young woman who had recently experienced a very public humiliation. I agreed with her anger at the time. I just didn’t think screaming at and accusing her potential allies was the best way to get support.  I questioned at the time if my very response to her was evidence of my own White Fragility.

I’ve held that possibility in my self-check template since then, aware that if it’s true for me I will need to deal with it. I’ve been busy self-educating myself about trauma, resilience, indigenous perspectives, equity. Reading My Grandmother’s Hands has given me the opportunity to dive deeply into the experiences of many Black people in a white body supremacist world.

Much of what Menakem writes resonates with conclusions I had already come to myself and written about in “Addressing ACEs as a Social Transformation Initiative.”

Menakem writes:  “White Americans must accept, explore, and mend their centuries-old trauma around the oppression and victimization of white bodies by other, more powerful white bodies.” (Page 104)

I’ve been promoting people with power and privilege taking accountability for recovering from their own pain all my life in various ways in order to inspire them to stop creating pain for others as an effect of their unresolved hurt. This stemmed from my own experiences while growing up neglected and criticized for existing and being inadequate at that.

I was not socialized in an environment that included Black people. The only Black people I was exposed to were on the TV as entertainers.

“Whiteness does not equal fragility. That’s a dodge created by white fragility itself – a way for white Americans to avoid the responsibility of soothing themselves, metabolizing their own ancient historical and secondary trauma, accepting and moving through clean pain, and growing up.”

This is the paragraph Menakem writes on page 105 that digs into me.

I had to learn how to soothe myself because there was no one available for me to be soothed by, not a white person, nor a Black nanny. I work every day to metabolize my own temporal trauma as well as my ancestral and secondary trauma, to accept and allow myself to experience clean pain. I’ve been so grown up my entire life, I have to work every day to allow myself to be a normal human.

Is this White Fragility or just another affected human?

I recently had a conversation with a friend during which I shared some personal struggles I was going through. Just because he’s Black doesn’t mean I was relying on him to soothe me. He’s my friend and has been my friend for a few years and specifically told me he would support me through thick and thin.

Was this White Fragility? Was he just enabling my White Fragility? Or were we just two friends doing what good friends do with each other – share and support?

A young Black man leads a group I attend. I look to him for leadership and control as the authority figure. Is this White Fragility?

The exercises Menakem invites us to practice are excellent. I agree that it’s important to pay attention to my body’s responses to interactions with black people.

Imagining walking into a wedding where I was the only white person made me stop at the entrance, but I quickly caught my reaction and overrode it, entering as one human among others, and remembering I was there to support my friend. Was that White Fragility? Was I able to override my initial reaction because of my privilege of existing in a white body which may actually give me security within that context? Or have I internalized that all humans are Mother Nature’s Children and I’m secure enough in my own identity that I’m not threatened by other identities, and I’m respectful and compassionate enough about other humans that I can relate to anyone, anywhere, without fear for my safety?

I actually feel safer in groups than with individuals. But that’s because of my past relational trauma.

I recently presented some material by a third party to a group of employees to assess the usefulness of the training for their organization. I was specifically asked to present it as written, to not modify it in any way. I spent an hour being criticized for the content, and eventually the criticism became personal. Admittedly if I had known that’s what would happen I never would have agreed to the work.

The most distain was expressed by a white woman with significant power. My body felt like puking all over her self-righteous face. The one Black person present, after accusing me of triggering trauma and telling me I should be paying her for her opinion, in the end chastised me for not acknowledging my colonial heritage on unceded Indigenous territory.  

Obviously in that experience a lot of my sacred self-image buttons were pushed. I was actually proud of myself that I kept focused and kept presenting the material exactly as requested, even though I was a deer in the headlights being triggered myself by the verbal assaults.

Was my being triggered evidence of White Fragility? Or was it the result of years of relentless criticism by people with power?

When I finally snapped back at the Black woman, “What words would you like me to use?” I felt bad that I had lost the ability to disguise my own reaction for that one instant. When leaving I shook her hand and thanked her genuinely for her contribution to the discussion. I was genuinely disappointed that the opportunity for connection with her was hampered.

The disdainful white woman looked at me with disgust and refused to shake my hand. I didn’t care what she thought. She had proven herself to me to be overcompensating for her own issues. I’ve encountered enough people like that in my life I don’t give them any credence. They all probably remind me of my mother in their intellectual arrogance. I leave people like that to self-destruct on their own.

Was that White Fragility? Was I fawning over the Black woman? Was I genuinely concerned with how I made her feel? Or was I most concerned with how I was perceived and my own reputation?

When I didn’t get any support from the person who invited me to that dog fight, I had to soothe myself. Was I able to do that only because of my white body privilege or was I able to do it because I’d learned a specific coping mechanism during my own intensive trauma recovery process?

I recently attended a presentation by Deborah Levens of Harvard. She reminded us of Freud’s 8 defense mechanisms.

I wonder if everything I’ve written above is just more defense of white body supremacy that I’m oblivious to.

I don’t want to have a colonized mind. I have had many cross cultural experiences in my life. As a poor, oppressed white kid I empathized with and intentionally included and befriended the different kids in my world. As a kid I probably did it because I felt we were kindred spirits. Or more likely, I included them because I wished that for myself. I have been exceedingly blessed throughout my life by my relationships with people who embody different intersections than me.

I always valued my diverse friends as human beings and I thought that made me more accepting and appreciative of the diversity of humanity. As a white bodied human, though, I admittedly didn’t grasp their experience as non-white in my community. I knew what it felt like to be rejected, but I never had to feel that way because of the colour of my skin.

I’ve obviously got a lot of work left to do to decolonize my mind. It seems like a bottomless pit of toxic programming to unravel.

I feel betrayed by my ancestors, for more reasons than I’ve discussed here. I’ve made sacrifices in my life to protect those I love from the prejudices I experienced within my own family. I work every day to create a trauma preventive humanity.   

I look forward to the day when everyone I interact with can know that I respect them and value them as equal children of our shared Mother, Nature.

Back now to My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. I hope I finally get it and my answers by the end of the book.

Responding vs Creating

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May 2, 2019

I often have a hard time getting to sleep at night. My PTSD brain just won’t shut the f off. I know you’re thinking she should try ….. but the thing is, I do, I have, and sometimes, nothing works. I just have to ride out the torrent of thoughts and wait for them to wear themselves out.

The benefit of all this brain activity, however, is that I often catch insights into deeper beliefs that I’ve been operating on. Last night was no exception.

Few people know my whole story. I share it rarely; however I am working on my memoir, which will put together for everyone why I am passionate about what I’m passionate about and why I know what I know.

One of the challenges I’ve been struggling with over the past few months specifically, and certainly throughout my life as I recognize it now, is the fact that I have spent my life responding rather than creating.

I believe this is what some would call an external locus of control versus an internal one, although that’s not the language I use.

My hypervigilance and awareness of others – their behavior, body language, tone, perceived expectations – have been both helpful and hurtful in my effort to navigate life. Maybe I’m an empath. Again, that’s not my language.

I’ve had great success over the years in sales, teaching, and counselling because I easily attune to my clients, and proactively respond to their needs and questions often before they have had time to formulate them in their own minds themselves. I am alert to all the data they are communicating, both directly and indirectly, both visibly and intuitively. This capacity has made me very popular with some and scared others. It’s not always comfortable to know someone gets you if you haven’t yet come to terms with yourself. But I have developed that talent and skill over the years because I learned that it is beneficial to some and to me, and it’s also a survival mechanism.

When I was growing up I had to find ways to prevent being discarded. I wasn’t wanted and I was superfluous – there were enough others filling my role.

So I learned how to be helpful, how to anticipate people’s needs and fill them before they communicated them. I learned how to read the people, read the room, to make myself useful – to make my life about everyone else in an effort to be allowed to continue to have a life with my family, and not to be given away which was frequently threatened.

So now since I feel frustrated that I’ve tried to connect with other people in my field to work together and they’ve rejected me, I’ve had difficulty just going about my own business and doing my own thing, because of this underlying fear of even deeper rejection and isolation, than I already experience.

I’m a divergent learner so I always welcome different perspectives and am incorrigibly interested in an exceptionally broad range of knowledge. So it really conflicts with my fundamental values and worldview when people refuse to include my unique perspective in the knowledge they are accumulating.

And because of my fear of existential retaliation, I give others many more options to see my value than would most.

So I’m writing this now as a kind of commitment to myself – to step beyond responding to increase creating.

I long believed that “If you build it they will come” but lately I’ve allowed myself to be dissuaded from practicing that in my own life.

Maybe getting back to my own beliefs and values has been what all the resistance I’ve been experiencing has been about. Like the silly commercials on tv say – You do You.

Admittedly that’s actually a challenge for me. And I feel some shame around it. But it hasn’t been that I’ve not been helping others in the meantime.

I just have to be brave enough to share myself.

So that’s what I’m working on going forward.

Intergenerational Trauma – A Personal Account

I recently wrote this article for an ACEs forum in Fife, Scotland.
It tells a bit of my personal story of historical trauma being passed through the generations.

We have serious problems within humanity and we need serious people to address them. I believe we are each accountable for dealing with our own issues to prevent us shifting them on to others, which usually causes issues for them that could have been avoided if we dealt with our own stuff.

I get that many of us are living with the effects of trauma on our brains and in our lives. And I’m compassionate to trauma survivors. But I don’t enable avoidance and projection. My issues in my life have all been the result of people shirking the responsibility to deal with their own issues by instead causing problems for me.

We’re all adults, and we must put on our big people pants, deal with our own stuff, and stop making life more difficult for others.

I look forward to hearing what you think of my article.

Intergenerational Trauma Relayed Across the Pond

My Gran’s father died when she was 5. He wouldn’t have been home much anyway since he was the captain of a merchant ship. But the loss of her father initiated the downward spiral of her life as she would have known it.
Her mother remarried, an Irish Catholic. Naturally her Grandfather disapproved and took the 2 young children – my Gran and her younger sister – to live with him and his maiden sisters on the Isle of Skye.

I’m sure my Gran had no idea what was happening in and to her world. She discovered at 18 that although her mother had tried to keep in contact, her Grandfather had intercepted the letters. So my Gran grew up thinking her Mother had abandoned her.

Gran left Scotland when she was 18 after she discovered the betrayal by all the adults in her life. She never returned.

She met my Grandpa in Montreal in the early 1920’s. He had come to Canada after WWI, leaving Glasgow behind. His father had abandoned the family there years before through a ruse of going to America to make a new life saying, “I’ll send for you” which he never did.

Gran and Grandpa had a great relationship. I used to watch them when I was growing up. They smoked like chimneys and it was always exciting to see if the ashes growing and bending at the end of the cigarette Gran had hanging out of her mouth would fall onto the pastry she was kneading on the counter.

I never heard them raise their voices. They always seemed to be in rhythm. They flowed through life together smoothly, coming together and moving apart gracefully with seemingly little need to even communicate. At least that’s what I observed until I was 12 and Grandpa died.

But my take on them is different from the stories I heard from others. And it had to be different for my Mom growing up, because she caused major issues for me.

I was child number 5 for my parents. The mistake. The pregnancy that should never have happened. The pregnancy that was proof that my parents lacked self-control and were irresponsible. At least those are the messages I perceived during my development and heard as an adult from siblings telling me what my grandparents were really like.

They had resented my Dad – a grade 10 educated farm boy. But they never accepted accountability for threatening to disown my mother if she married the Jewish doctor she met in medical school. She gave up those dreams, married the boy next door instead, and never achieved “good enough status” with her parents.

9 months after my arrival, Mother undertook teacher’s college. She passed me off to my aunt to care for. That was in fact the best thing for me because she became my one supportive relationship throughout my life.

But my Mom leaving her kids after my arrival made me the cause of the loss of their mother to my siblings. So even though I was a cute baby and my older sisters took the lead in looking after me at home, resentment, jealousy, competition for resources – were in the air I breathed.

I wandered through my early years mostly detached. I wanted to be close to my Dad but all the adults putting him down threatened my security if I attached to him. Although my aunt was a key figure and she made me feel loved and important – she gave me responsibilities and included me in the daily tasks of the family – I couldn’t really let on I loved her either because my Mother put her down too. She was a nobody like my Dad – farm girl married to my Mom’s favourite brother.

My Mother didn’t want me but she didn’t want me to have anyone else either. She punished me for existing. I figured out a way to survive and somewhat thrive in spite of the barriers built up to hem me in. My aunt and her family became my refuge, even though all the adults said she was just using me to look after her kids. And I spent a lot of time with my best friend at her house.

I knew I didn’t have the best childhood possible, but I didn’t realize it was that bad until after my life crashed down around me at age 42. When I realized I had built my adult life on lies, I had to go back to ground zero and figure out why and get to the core so I could build the rest of my life on a foundation of truth.

I’ve been on that journey for 18 years and finding out about ACEs in 2014 was the last clarifying piece to my puzzle.

Connecting with ACEs champions in Scotland has brought my journey full circle.
My ACEs didn’t start with my Mom or my Grandparents. They started before then – my Gran was raised by people 2 generations older than her. My great great grandfather learned to be harsh and judgmental and prejudiced long before he banished his daughter from his life and absconded with her children. Sure he must have still been dealing with grief over the loss of his own wife at a young age, but still, that didn’t justify betraying his own daughter and granddaughters.

Collectively humans have a history of being cruel to each other, and when we’re cruel in the environment where our children reside, they internalize it, and either feel it or adopt it for themselves.

I’m thankful I had my aunt who taught me kindness and compassion and how to actually love and nurture children. I was fortunate because I experienced two alternate realities while I was growing up. In my birth family I was invisible. In my aunt’s family I was integral. My younger cousins have always considered me their older sister. My own siblings have never understood my position in my aunt’s family. They also don’t understand my experience of my birth family. I’m working on not letting that bother me anymore.

I don’t care to imagine how I would have turned out if I had only had my birth family’s input during my development. My aunt mitigated the effects of my ACEs but she couldn’t possibly prevent them, because although we loved each other we weren’t permitted to thoroughly attach. She was a buffer, not a savior.

I think that is a very key point in the Resiliency field that professionals don’t talk about. The extent of the relationship influences the level of protective factor. We can’t settle on the panacea of just one supportive adult. We have to address the level of attachment and the nature of the communication between that adult and child.

It was only when my aunt was in her 80s that she told me she knew I had it tough and she should have adopted me. I wonder how things might have been different if she had validated my feelings of isolation when I was a child. Even if I couldn’t have told anyone else, I may have been able to be more present if I could have at least shared my secret with someone.

One of the most shocking realizations I have had in the last few years is that I have no memories of food or meals in my childhood home. I don’t know where the food is kept. I can imagine the kitchen and the rooms in the house but there are no other people there. I don’t know how the 7 of us sat around the table. I don’t know where the Cornflakes are. I wasn’t consciously present with my birth family for the first 11 years of my life.

But I can smell the coffee and hear the toaster rise and taste the maple syrup on my pancakes, and feel the weight of the quilt keeping me warm in the spare room bed in my aunt’s house. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin as my cousins and I play in the fields while the sound of my uncle’s tractor assures me there’s an adult nearby if I need one.

My Gran told stories of the sheep on the Isle of Skye. My Mom told stories of catching crayfish and tadpoles in the stream beside their summer home in The Laurentians in Quebec. I have a few memories of growing up in my village, very few in my family home, but numerous memories of my experience on the farm.

Where were the adults in these young girls’ lives? All of us Elizabeth by the way – 3 generations of intelligent, powerful, tenacious women that due to prejudice and circumstance were impeded from reaching their optimal potential.

I like the image that’s made its way around social media showing the egg of the grandchild inside the grandmother. Our ancestors carried us and we carry them.

I find it serendipitous that I have spent my life advocating for respectful, loving, nurturing treatment of children, and as I find myself finally being able to speak my truth, I’ve found kindred spirits in the homeland of my ancestors.

I can only conclude that it’s evolution. We’ve done the best we could, even though it wasn’t the best. But as Suzanne Zeedyk tweeted recently, if we, as a society, as a culture, (and as the human species) don’t take this opportunity now to transform our relationship with our children, we will not get another chance in our lifetime.

We have the opportunity now to learn from the past and actually make a better future for the children who exist now and for those yet to come. I truly believe preventing ACEs for the new generations and helping affected adults recover is our best chance.

As I meander through my Memory Forest…

via Daily Prompt: Meander  


I’ve been working on figuring out the meaning of my life for a number of years now. I have had some pretty traumatic interpersonal experiences and as a person of faith I have had difficulty understanding what those relationships were for. One thing that has helped is to allow myself to meander through my Memory Forest, to spend time with each of the representative trees, to observe them individually and get to know them thoroughly. As I meander away from each and get some perspective, I can understand how they fit together; how they nourish and impede one another; how they vary in species but how together they tell a comprehensive story. Initially when I started visiting my Memory Forest, I meandered down the same path. But as I got more comfortable and felt more safe among the memories, I started venturing off the well worn paths and started making new trails. Now when I enter the forest I can choose which path I want to take, and which trails I want to connect. My Memory Forest now is like a spider’s web rather than a bicycle wheel. There used to be lots of pest infected and rusty trees in my forest as well as poisonous plants, but as I take ownership of my Memory Forest and consciously choose what I want to keep and what I want to burn, my forest is becoming much more lush and vibrant. I don’t remove the deadwood, because it feeds new growth. But I do detoxify my forest, so now, whenever I meander through the Memory Forest of my life, I can appreciate what has been without being further hurt by it. This has been my experience of neuroplasticity and recovery from interpersonal trauma and ACEs. Now when I meander through my Memory Forest I can actually smell the flowers and hear the insects and birds and feel the wind whistling around the trunks and see the light dappling down through the foliage and warming my face.

Why I’m Passionate about ACEs Trauma Awareness

When I was 42, I landed on my butt so hard I couldn’t imagine how it had happened. I found out that the beliefs and relationships I had built my life on and around were all lies, and my world and worldview came crashing down around me.

From that place of desolation, at what was rock bottom for me, I had to figure out what was true and not true, what was right and wrong for me, who I was – not who I had become to be acceptable to others. I needed to figure out who was with me and to what extent they could be trusted and relied on. I needed to learn how to speak. I needed to learn how to think critically. I needed to learn how to make decisions. I needed to learn how to be and live as an autonomous human being, distinct unto myself – certainly in relation to others, but individual and separate – with my own values, perspectives, opinions, ideas, and ultimately, my own meaningful purpose.

Recovering from my past and reclaiming my identity and future took a lot of hard work, radical self-honesty, pain, isolation, researching, crying, trying, stretching, growing, and a lot of money.

In 2014 at the same time that I was reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, my psychologist suggested I look into the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. I remembered having read about that in Van Der Kolk’s book, so I went back to that chapter and read it again. I then began researching the ACE study, completed the research questionnaire, and found out that my score for adverse childhood  experiences was uncharacteristically high for a white middle class female. What was even more disturbing was that the questionnaire didn’t even ask about a lot of the other types of threatening experiences I had had growing up.

I had long known that our early life experiences affected our development and I had accepted the common belief that once we are adults we can choose not to be affected any longer and can chart our own path free from our past. Yet here I was looking back at my adult life and the mess I had made of it inadvertently because I was still unknowingly affected by my past in spite of my belief that I wasn’t.

However it wasn’t just my belief. As a society we demand that adults be responsible informed decision makers and contributors to society as soon as we turn 18, and adults who can’t be that are deemed irresponsible or pathological (something is clinically wrong with them). The norm is to be a healthy adult. To be an affected adult is abnormal. Yet if children don’t have their developmental needs met, they can’t be healthy adults without making the conscious effort to understand, repair, and resolve those developmental gaps. Yet we blame and shame each other as adults for not knowing what we never learned and didn’t realize we needed to seek knowledge of for ourselves.

I had thought I was being a responsible adult. I had made very self-sacrificing responsible decisions throughout my adulthood. I was a trained professional; I was well educated; I was aware of and supportive of the need for and use of mental health services. There were no obvious legitimate reasons why I should have been an at-risk adult – until I found out about the ACE Study. That was paradigm shifting for me.

I was trained as an Early Childhood Educator in the 80’s. I understood child development and what was needed to nurture healthy growth in children. It was at that time that the poem Children Learn What They Live was broadly popularized. We collectively tried to be kinder to our children. Nathaniel Brandon launched the self-esteem movement. But we didn’t know that the actual development within our adult brains had been affected, historically and inter-generationally, as a result of our prior child rearing culture.

It’s only since the publishing of the ACE Study and the research on neuroplasticity that we have learned that threats to survival during development – without mitigating influences considered resilience or protective factors – actually affect the physical development of our brains – which cannot be fixed with willpower and belief.

As a result, many of us – even those of us with numerous factors of privilege – are walking around with ticking time bombs in our brains.

It is these unknown vulnerability factors that I want others to be aware of so they can proactively address them before they catch up with them, if they haven’t already. I was forced to shake my head and reassess where I had been and how I got there when the life I had sacrificed everything for proved to be a delusion. Yes I made it through, but not without huge costs to myself, and to my society.

I am passionate about helping others see the potential risk factors for collapse in their own lives so we can each and all address those hidden influences in our brains so we can make sure we’re seeing ourselves, others and nature as we are and not as delusion.

I know how beneficial it has been for me to learn how my childhood survival programming affected my adult decisions. I thought I had everything under control. I thought I was living a responsible life. It was shocking, embarrassing, shame inducing, and cathartic to realize it was all a sham.  I don’t wish that pain on anyone, so I encourage people to do the work of checking and resetting their foundations under their terms, before the cracks in their basements expand and cause their houses to collapse like mine did.

That’s why I’m passionate about trauma awareness, recovery and prevention. I believe human beings have awesome potential to be responsible conscious members of ecology. I just don’t think we’re there yet, and to get there, we have to address the gaps we’ve created in our developing children.

There are many initiatives underway in Nova Scotia (where I live) that focus on creating safe and nurturing environments for children.

My focus is on helping the children who have already grown up to recognize their gaps as adults and to work to transform those effects so we can create a healthy society for our children and each other.

Understanding ACEs research can aid us in facilitating social transformation. It changed how I see myself, others and nature. I am convinced it can help each of us.


Originally written May 2017

Canada is celebrating 150 years since confederation this year. Although this is an admirable milestone in some ways, for indigenous people it’s a perpetuation of the false perception that Canada was born 150 years ago, and all previous human existence and activity prior to that time in this region are irrelevant.

Since copious archaeological evidence has been unearthed proving the presence of human civilization in this region of the planet dating back 13,000 years at least, it’s understandable that many indigenous people are offended by these birthday celebrations.

During a tour of Louisbourg, I gained some insight into a root cause of the conflict indigenous people have with settlers. The representative of the historical inhabitants of this land at Fortress Louisbourg explained that the indigenous people have a fundamental cultural construct of sharing. Hence, when the settlers arrived and they wanted access to the land and resources, from the indigenous perspective the native people agreed to share. But they didn’t realize that these new visitors didn’t have their same perspective or construct. They didn’t realize that saying yes to visitors who had different ideas of their relationship to others and the land would so severely undermine the first peoples’ way of life.

Imagine someone stops by your house and you let them in to offer them shelter, and soon they’re taking over and locking you in the basement. You try to relate to them from your paradigm, but it just doesn’t work. They keep taking more and more control over your lives and you try to do everything you can to protect your way of life, but like a virus, the new construct takes over, and you are left betrayed, bewildered, frustrated, confused, and angry. And then they start harvesting your children and taking them away and hurting them, while you’re still locked in the basement.

One of the toughest lessons I learned in my life is that not everyone has the same values as me. But before I learned that lesson, I had to pay dearly.

The First Peoples of this land have paid enough. At this juncture of celebrating 150 years as the nation Canada, it’s time we sit at the table together and decide together where we go from here. The Indigenous People know this land better than anyone. Their voice is essential in conversations and collective decisions from here on.

Now is the time to turn recognition to action. Learn more at


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