Meditation can be such a challenge for those of us who have been sexually abused.  Closing our eyes does not feel safe, in fact it often raises anxiety which seems like the opposite of what we are hoping to achieve through meditation.  Sitting still can also feel dangerous.  It can feel like we are just sitting waiting for something bad to happen and we are powerless to do anything about it.  So, combine sitting still with your eyes closed, and you have the ingredients for a panic attack!

            If you want to reap the benefits of meditation but struggle with some of the things mentioned above, then walking meditation might be a good solution for you.  Walking meditation is just like it sounds – rather than sitting to meditate, you walk slowly, deliberately and mindfully.  Pick a place where you feel safe to pay attention to yourself rather than things going on around you. Public places can be difficult to do walking meditation because you can easily get distracted by sounds and people around you.  It is hard to relax and be mindful of yourself if you feel like you need to be on alert for danger. If you have a hallway at home or an area in your yard where you feel safe, that would be perfect.  Pick an area where you can walk in one direction for several steps, and then turn around and go back the other way.

            While you are walking, pick one area of your body to pay attention to. You could pay attention to your breath as is common in sitting meditation, but there are also many other choices.  You could pay attention to how it feels as your foot touches the ground with each step.  You could pay attention to what your arms do as you walk.  If it’s not too triggering to pay attention to your hips, you could focus on how it feels in your hip area as you lift your leg to take a step.  There really is no right area to focus on – pick whatever feels comfortable to you.  The idea is to keep bringing your focus back to whatever you have picked for your anchor.  Don’t worry if your mind wanders, just bring it back when you realize you have lost focus. 

            That’s it!  Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and practice walking meditation for a few days and see how you feel.  Remember that it takes time to build the muscle of focus and attention, so be patient.  It might feel challenging at first but stick with it and hopefully it will get easier.  If you pick one area of your body to focus on and it makes you feel uneasy, try focusing on another area of your body.  The idea is to make it work for you and not to follow rigid rules that create stress in your body and mind.  This is your practice, and you know what feels right to you better than anyone else!

Here is a resource with more ideas:

MINDFULNESS SKILLS FOR TRAUMA AND PTSD: Mindfulness Practices Adapted to Fit the Needs of Survivors: Kay, Jeni: 9798856277752: Amazon.com: Books


There is a wide range of experiences for people who struggle with dissociation.  Some people have episodes where they “space out” or have a floaty feeling for a period of time, and then it passes.  They may or may not have much memory of the time when they were checked out.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who experience dissociative identity disorder and have several different parts or personalities living within one body.  Where you lie on the spectrum will determine the tools that will work best for you.

            If you are someone who experiences dissociation as a “zoned out” type of feeling, the first thing you want to do is to determine under what circumstances the dissociation happens or gets worse.  Start journaling about what you were doing, where you were, what was going on around you and how you were feeling when you had the dissociative episode.  There can be a lot of information in understanding when it happens.  When you gather that information, then you can decide what tools to use.  If it happens in situations where it is loud and chaotic, you might try some noise canceling headphones.  Try staying on the outskirts of crowds when possible, so you don’t feel like the noise and chaos is coming at you from every direction.  It can also be helpful to remind yourself that you are safe, and even though it might be an uncomfortable situation, it’s not dangerous.

            Grounding techniques like muscle tensing and relaxing can help you come back from a “floaty” place.  Tighten your jaw and relax it, bring your shoulders up as high as you can and then relax them, push your feet into the ground and then relax.  When you can bring your attention to your body it can help bring your mind back. 

            Playing around with your breath can also help bring your mind back to the present.  Try holding your breath for 5 seconds and then let out a deep exhale.  Try breathing faster than you normally would, and then gradually slow your breath down.  Try inhaling to a count of 6, and then exhaling to a count of 6.  Experiment with different techniques and see what works for you.

            If you experience dissociative identity disorder, then your tools will be different than those described above.  Having lots of different voices all living together in one body can be overwhelming, confusing, and unsettling.  Depending on the level of communication and cooperation between parts, it can also be a logistical nightmare at times.   

            System communication can help with day-to-day life.  Find a way that parts can communicate with each other – often a journal can help with that.  Have a place where everyone can write their thoughts and feelings, and anything they need to communicate with the rest of the system. It can also be helpful to write things down to share with your therapist.

            Another way to make day-to-day life a little easier is to make agreements between parts.  For example, if you have some young parts who show up at inopportune times, make an agreement with them that if they will let you handle the adult things you need to do, then you will take them to get ice cream, or something like that.  Let them know you won’t forget about them, and you will give them time, but they also need to let you have some time to do the things you need to do.

No matter where you fall on the dissociation spectrum, professional help can be an important part of your healing toolbox.  You are unique, and your healing journey will be unique.  The ideas above have helped many of my clients over the years, but they are only suggestions.  Take the suggestions and mold them into a custom strategy that works for you.

After years of working with people dealing with dissociation, I created a journal to help with communication and cooperation among parts.  If that is something that might be helpful for you, here is the link: 

all parts are welcome: A guided journal for people with dissociative disorders to encourage communication and creativity: Bartran, Gwen: Amazon.com: Books


            Something I find myself telling clients who need a confidence booster is “you can do hard things.”  I began offering this to clients after I realized it was something I needed to hear frequently myself.  I often find myself, as well as others saying that we can’t do something because it’s hard, or we don’t even want to try something because it’s hard.  What I don’t often hear, is “it’s hard, but I can do hard things.” 

            Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t recall hearing the message that I could do hard things when I was growing up.  Usually someone tried to help me make things easier, or help me find a way around doing the hard thing, or maybe they even shared in the frustration with me, but I don’t remember anyone every saying “yes it’s hard, and you can do hard things.”  I then realized that was a great message to be giving my kids, rather than trying to help them find an easier way.  And of course, I realized many of my clients needed to hear the same affirmation.

            It can be really hard to do trauma work, to face our demons and work through difficult experiences from the past that still have a hold on us.  The emotions can be incredibly intense, so much so that it can feel like they will consume us, and we can’t see to the other side.  Trauma work usually involves facing shame that we hold onto which is beyond uncomfortable to share with someone. It can be brutal doing this work, but to be free of the hold trauma can have on us we need to be brave and work through it.  It’s hard, but you can do hard things.

            It can feel horribly difficult and uncomfortable to sit through anxiety and try to understand it rather than fight it or drown it with alcohol or drugs.  A panic attack often feels like the walls are closing in and there is no more air, which is terrifying.  Medication helps sometimes, but often the only thing to do is to sit through it knowing it will end just like it has many times in the past.  Sometimes the best way to reduce anxiety is to let it be there, acknowledge it, and continue moving through the thing that is causing the anxiety.  This is so hard!  But you can do hard things.

            I look at how many times one of my kids have said that their homework or their class is really hard.  I would try to help them so that it would be easier.  I helped look up science fair project ideas, I helped find information for history papers, I encouraged them by telling them they only had a few more weeks and then the class would be done.  If they had a particularly tough teacher, I might agree with them that it really sucks to have a teacher they didn’t get along with or share a similar experience from when I was in school.  What I didn’t tell them, was “wow you’re right, this is hard.  Good thing you can do hard things!” 

            It seems like such an obvious statement maybe, but for me it was profound.  Things were really hard after my divorce and I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to make a living and provide for 5 kids.  Day after day I was faced with so many challenges, and I kept telling my friends how hard it was.  Every time I told myself how hard it was, I would sink deeper and deeper into despair.  Bills were piling up, I had no good job prospects, kids were struggling, I was depressed, it was a miserable time.  I think if I had told myself “yes, this is hard, but I can do hard things” rather than just “this is hard”, it might have helped me be a little less depressed and overwhelmed.  Something about adding on those few extra words feels like I have a little more power, that it’s a little less hopeless. 

            It seems like there is often the belief that because something is hard, that means it’s impossible.  It’s like “hard” and “no way can’t do it” are the same thing.  There’s that voice that says, “this is hard, so I might as well give up now because it’s going to be miserable and way too tough for me to do.”  But when we tack on those extra words, it changes everything.  We bring power to the situation; the situation doesn’t have power over us anymore.  It shifts our perspective from being one of defeated, to one of facing a challenge that we are capable of handling. 

            How about adding in some power posing when you say the words “I can do hard things.”  Now there’s a great combination!  If you are unfamiliar with power posing, or the Wonder Woman pose, check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.  Affirming to yourself that you can do hard things while striking a Wonder Woman pose could give you the confidence that you can tackle anything life throws at you! 

            Or how about standing on top of a chair while you tell yourself that you can do hard things.  Sometimes a new perspective can do wonders for our confidence and self-esteem.  Maybe it’s just because I’m vertically challenged but getting a view from a taller perspective gives me the extra boost of confidence I need sometimes.  It’s like it wakes up my brain because the view from up there is so unfamiliar that it jolts me out of my slump. 

            Try an experiment.  Say to yourself “this is so hard.”  Don’t add anything on, just leave it there.  Notice what happens to your mood, to your body, to your posture.  Then, say to yourself “this is hard, and I can do hard things.”  Again, notice what happens to your mood, to your body.  Is there any change?  For me, when I just leave it at “this is hard”, I find my eyes looking down toward the ground, my shoulders slump down a little, and I all of a sudden feel super tired.  When I add on “I can do hard things”, it’s almost as if I get a little jolt of energy, or I have the feeling of surprise. My eyes and chin move up a bit, and I have a little surge of confidence and optimism.  I also get a little feisty feeling.  Like, “bring it on, cuz I got this!”

            You might realize that staying stuck in the “hard” place is a habit.  You might need a reminder of some kind to add on the second part.  I have thought about getting a tattoo to remind me, but I haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Just like any habit, it will take some time to break.  No worries.  Just notice that the habit is there and make the intention to create a new one.  Maybe a sticky note on your mirror, or notecards placed in strategic places, or set an alarm on your phone to remind you during the day.  In my personal experience as well as from what I’ve seen with clients, it’s well worth the effort to create this new message for yourself.

            Just try it for a few days.  Whenever you find yourself feeling like something is hard, remind yourself – “oh wait!  I forgot; I can do hard things!”