It’s harder than you think, isn’t it? You’re still going to do it because it’s mostly an unconscious gesture. But there are things you can do to change this habit and protect yourself, and it’s important to stay healthy and keep others healthy.
Carry tissues or a handkerchief (remember those?) with you always, or wear a scarf or Buff around your neck. (I love Buffs. You can pull them up over your nose and mouth, keep your hair out of your face, keep your neck warm, protect your thyroid from WiFi/5G, etc.)
As soon as you become aware of touching your face, immediately repeat the same gesture but with a tissue, handkerchief, scarf, or Buff over your fingers.
This will work much better than “don’t touch your face” to train you to become more aware of touching your face! When we hear “don’t x” we hear the action “x” more clearly than we hear “don’t”. An action is something to do, even when we desire not to do it!
So you’ll touch your face unprotected, and then touch your face protected. And…what’s been unconscious becomes conscious.
Keep doing this, and with repetition, you will remember that you want to just touch your face with protection, and you will begin to omit touching your face unprotected.
The more you do it, the more the habit becomes ingrained.
Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.
So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.
For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.
I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.
Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.
It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.
You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.
Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.
Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.
Investigate peace, and savor it.
Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.
Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.
Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.
Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.
Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?
What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?
At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.
This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.
Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.
We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.
So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?
By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.
After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.
If you’re anything like me, you like to start off a new year by focusing on what you want to change in your life. January seems like a great month for doing that, after the excesses of the holidays. It’s time to get grounded again, look within, think about what you want for yourself in the coming year, and begin to manifest it.
You probably have some bigger goals (travel, education, remodeling) and smaller ones (eat healthier, drink more water, exercise, study, read, meditate, etc.).
For tracking my daily activities, I really like this free downloadable monthly habit tracker from Clementine Creative, which I’ve used for several years. You can print it in different sizes (A4, A5, US Letter, etc.). Then circle the month, add the days of the week (S M T W TH F S) across the top, and list the habits you want to track down the side. Print 12 copies, put them in a binder or on a clipboard, and use the fun office supplies of your choice to track the habits you want to cultivate.
Now you can get an editable version where you fill in the days of the week and the habits you want to track before printing, instead of printing first and writing them in by hand. That version is $3.50 USD.
Also, here’s something I’ve learned from experience. If you are the kind of person (as I am) who does not enjoy strict routines, who starts chafing at the bit after a while and wants to rebel against sameness or rigidity, but you still like to see results from your efforts, you get to decide what’s a win for you. If you make your bed 3 days out of 7, you get to decide if that’s a win. What was that month like? How often did you do it before tracking? Maybe next month, 4 days out of 7.
Your habit tracker should serve you and not make you its slave — unless, say, taking life-saving meds is something you track. It’s about clarity, motivation, and information. Have compassion and allow yourself to be imperfect.
I’ve also found that once a habit becomes ingrained, you can stop tracking it — only add it back to your list if you notice you’ve slacked way off, and you still want to do it.
With enough persistence and learning, anything can become habitual. The four stages of behavior change are:
unconscious incompetence — you are unaware that you don’t know how to do something
conscious incompetence — you are aware that you don’t know how to do something, and you want to do it
conscious competence — you consciously work at doing it, learning, failing, figuring it out
unconscious incompetence — you do it automatically and don’t have to think about it any more