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A Parent’s Struggle with their Child’s Anxiety and Violence

A new healing modality is emerging that incorporates three different therapeutic body-based modalities: CranioSacral Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and Prenatal and Perinatal Somatic Psychology. This is a fancy way for explaining a therapy that ultimately tracks the autonomic nervous system while understanding how the body behaves, takes shape, and experiences stimuli from the environment in which it develops pre-conception, in-utero, and during the earliest period in life (infancy through adolescence). The therapy synthesizes this information to help a client settle in their nervous system, discharge energy from past situations that were overwhelming and are still present in their bodies in the current time, trace back to unmet developmental needs they had in specific time frames of their life, and consciously assess how those developmental needs can be met right now in the present moment. This process of “consciousness rising” allows for new neuronal pathways to be entrained in the nervous system. This new experienced awareness can be applied to life moving forward. Neuroscience today has proven that the brain and the body display plasticity—meaning that cells in our body can regenerate under new conditions. DNA that has been methylated (tagged) can be switched on and off by changing the cellular environment. Like Bruce Lipton and Joe Dispenza are saying, your thoughts create your environment. Most of our thoughts and habitual patterns are automatic by the time we reach our thirties. If we become aware of what is driving our thought pattern, then we can change it! The best way to understand this phenomenon is to consider a real-life scenario.

Client’s Predicament: Parents have a four-year-old child who has constant stomach aches. They take him to the doctor for numerous tests to see if the child has food allergies or a specific pathology. At the doctor the child had a violent anxiety attack to the point the medical staff became hypervigilant and critical of the parents. For the tests to be run, the parents had to hold their child down by force. The parents could sense their child’s terror while they were simultaneously feeling a sense of rage, helplessness, shame, and embarrassment in front of the hospital staff. Ever since this visit to the doctor, their child struggles to settle and has become violent with their dogs and is almost impossible to put to sleep at night. Bedtime routine takes anywhere from 2-3 hours leaving the parents exhausted, worried, and anxious that something is seriously wrong with their child. Sometimes bedtime routine goes awry and ends in screaming matches between the parents and child. Repetitive sagas unfold of anger and shaming, leaving the parents and child both bewildered, unsettled, and exhausted. This scenario describes a classic example of incoherence. The task set before the parents and therapist is to heal the betrayals, or moments in time when a human need was not met or acknowledged and to build coherence in the relationship, otherwise described as connection or consciousness.

The Path To Healing
Intake with Parents
First Step: Hear the Birth Story and Childhood history of the child through the parent’s eyes

During an intake with a parent(s), I establish baseline to create a space between myself and them that feels safe, honors confidentiality, is neutral, fosters frequent eye contact, promotes mutual support and cooperation, and allows for choice, self-care, and pauses. I name that I will be utilizing my craniosacral therapy skills during the session to slow the pace, feel into their states of being within their autonomic nervous system, and sense into discomfort that is presenting in their bodies through behavior, body positions, or visceral sensations.

After establishing the principles and explaining how I would be working and communicating with them, I discovered the mother had a miscarriage prior to conceiving their present child. Her pregnancy was wrought with anxiety and fear that something would happen to the child and result in another miscarriage or unforeseen tragedy. The mother went into early labor, which developed into more serious circumstances that ultimately led to C-section. They were discharged from the hospital at the normal length of stay. When they returned home, their infant stopped breathing and turned blue. They rushed to the hospital where the son was admitted to the NICU and stayed for almost a month in an incubator.

During the telling of this story, I could sense discomfort in my stomach and speediness in the space between us. I called frequent pauses to slow the pacing of the storytelling and ask the parents to feel into their bodies to name what they were experiencing. They could sense their stomach discomfort. After hearing the birth story, I explored childhood history of each parent. One parent grew up in a very dysregulated home, he often cried himself to sleep or would have great difficulty settling at night, but he was too afraid to tell his parents for fear of being shamed or punished. He witnessed a lot of arguing between his parents, who ultimately divorced, and he was now estranged from his mother who cut him out of her life in favor of his brother. The other parent had overly critical parents, particularly the father. After some inquiry, she even remembered that often when she was in grade school, she would go to the bathroom and be extremely sick to her stomach before certain school activities or tests.

What to do with all this information and how to map it back to their child?

I dig a little deeper into what are the biggest challenges the parents are facing right now in the present moment. I discover the Dad is having problems with his family and he runs a business with them. His mother is estranged and favors his brother over him to the point that she is mean and critical of him. He works a great deal and exercises by lifting weights and doing heavy cardio. Settling in his body has always been difficult and even more difficult at bedtime routine with his son.

I call a pause at this point and do a few breathing and grounding exercises with both parents to help them become more embodied in a slow-paced rhythm. I could feel the tension rising in the space as the father told his story. He was clearly troubled by his mother and hurting from her lace of acceptance, support, closeness, trust, understanding, warmth—all needs that every human hopes for from their mother (or primary caretaker). I asked him to tell me what he noticed in his body and he realized again how tight and unsettled his stomach was. After naming this in the open space between the three of us, the field started to ease and his stomach pain dissipated.

The mother explained her biggest challenge was the amount of work it took to be present with her son. He stayed at home with her all day and often had to mediate between the frustrated father and the child’s needs. She explained how the birth of their son was overwhelming for her. The months leading up to it were wrought with fear and anxiety. She explained that her parents were extremely disappointed when their grandson was born, and he was spending so much time in the hospital. Her mother did not understand why her daughter had to live at the hospital. She expressed her concerns in such a way that she judged and shamed her daughter for not paying more attention to her needs. I could see a number of needs not being met her similar to Dad’s, but more importantly, the need for security was at play here. No one was supporting and reassuring the Mom that her ability to mother is innate and good and right. Throughout her childhood she was criticized by her parents for her appearance, and she just needed to be seen, to be known, to belong, and feel appreciated for her own gifts and beingness. Going on to name these needs helped her to settle, also to commend her for the heroic role she has been playing all along with her own child. Reinforcing her intuition in all that she has done to be at his side, meet her son’s needs like hers were never met started to help her feel peace and hope that she was on the right path and that by applying her own knowingness to the situation, trusting her gut, her son was going to improve.

We finished by doing craniosacral therapy, I had them both just lie on their couch together and feel their heart beats, and I held the space. After a few minutes tension in their kidneys accumulated and then released, leaving a space of clarity and harmony.

In the second session, we did a deep dive into the child’s birth story, which was quite traumatic, fast-paced, and terrifying for the mother. I explained how they could use belly messages to craft messages of repair. By taking some time to envision the birth they wanted and recognizing that their son was sentient and conscious throughout his whole journey. The technocratic procedures could leave imprints on his nervous system, like implicit memories stored in his body, including the incubator. Often babies in incubators are isolated and can have a sense of being cut-off from their parents. This scary place is often overwhelming with constant noises from medical equipment, cries from babies around them, lights and commotion that make it difficult to settle. Often times, babies will dissociate in their nervous system to handle such extreme environments. Taking him to the doctor or any hospital could potentially solicit these memories to stir in his subconscious mind, meaning in his body.

The situation that recently happened when he had to be held down created a repeat scenario for a time in his life that had yet to be integrated into his conscious psyche. Since he is a child and his brain is not fully developed, his parents needed to start by creating coherency and awareness on his behalf. I shared with them techniques to use at bedtime to down regulate his nervous system. These exercises can be found on YouTube and are easily accessible, gentle joint compression and distension techniques, compressing his body slowly and rhythmically with a pillow, gentle massage, gentle squeezes of his arms and legs, belly rubs in clockwise motion to help release his diaphragm and relax his abdominal muscles, fascia release of his psoas muscles. We practiced these in the space together, and I also helped Dad feel more present in his body while reading stories. I explained the more present he can be in his body and mind while telling the story, he will create a more coherent space that the son will detect and ease into more coherence in his own body. Lastly, I had Dad stop exercising for two weeks and practice Qi-gong each morning. The point of this was to help him slow down his own revved nervous system and give his body more energy by cultivating energy stores in his own body. Intense aerobic exercise can exacerbate a person who already is living from a state of hyper-vigilance or “fight-or-flight” in their nervous system.

The story unfolded more in subsequent sessions, but after only two sessions they were able to implement some basic tools and practices and noticed immediate improvement in their son. Slowing down transition times was key to their success, and in the long run required less time to put their son to bed. We set up some play dates to which I could come and work with their son and his birth story through play. Children tell their birth stories all the time through their play, and with a trained eye, a practitioner can help the child recreate their story and bring in harmony around moments of discord and wounding.

Both parents received the benefits of craniosacral therapy by just sitting in the Field and allowing presence and breath to ease their body functions. They were so thrilled with the immediate reliefs they experienced in their family field. The road to recovery was not complete and much work had to be done, but they were well on their way to healing. The sense of empowerment was strong and fueled their dream to manifest harmony and connection in the family they were creating through their own will.

The whole experience was so rewarding to behold. Their son will be forever changed in ways we can only imagine at this point, but as the saying goes, “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

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