We know for a fact that animals naturally and instinctively shake off their stress. Whether or not they do it while singing Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off is another matter. We also know for a fact that humans don’t do this consciously. We’re more likely to engage in therapy of the alcohol, retail, or epicurean kind.
That physical shaking is a signal from the brain’s limbic system (responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response) that the threat has passed and the nervous system can return to pre-stress levels. In humans, when the limbic system takes over, the prefrontal cortex can go offline temporarily, making it impossible to think our way out of the situation.
We also know from the Law of Conservation of Energy (also the First Law of Thermodynamics) that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. So that stress energy we feel? It has to go somewhere. And if it isn’t transformed into movement or heat, as in shaking, then it continues to reside in the body.
This is one part of the research that has led us to understand that trauma lives on in the body, both in cellular memory and changes to how cell DNA is read, and in how chronic stress can (and often does) result in medical conditions and illnesses years and even decades later.
For survivors of trauma or anyone who can get triggered (meaning a current situation triggers a past traumatic, terrifying, or overwhelming event), this is especially applicable. We also know from studying trauma that when a person’s past trauma is triggered, their brain (as seen in functional MRI scans) reacts to the trigger and the resulting recall of trauma the same way as if the trauma was occurring in the present moment. Consequently, the limbic system takes over with its fight/flight/freeze response (there is also a fawn response in some situations) to the trigger and doesn’t shake it off when the perceived threat from the trigger has passed.
One of the ways that energy gets stored is in muscle tension. Think about it: trauma survivors are often hypervigilant, waiting for the next threat to come, the next shoe to drop (given that there may be an infinite number of shoes). Repeated and chronic muscle tension can lead to myofascial pain syndrome. And over time, some doctors believe that myofascial pain syndrome may lead to fibromyalgia.
It’s no secret that a very high percentage of people with fibromyalgia are also survivors of some form of trauma, whether abuse or assault by another person or a particularly challenging illness or medical condition. For me, it’s a bit of both: years of abuse and then an especially challenging pregnancy ending in a stillbirth. The pain began sometime during or immediately after the pregnancy and didn’t let up. After a battery of tests and everything else was ruled out, fibromyalgia was the diagnosis.
I’ve noticed in the fourteen years since that diagnosis that my pain is worse, not after physical exertion, but after emotional highs or lows. After stress. Remember too that even exciting and fun events can be interpreted by the body as stress. Stress itself is not the problem. Stress is a part of life. But the combination of triggers, the limbic system takeover, muscle tension, and not shaking off the stress can create a vicious cycle in which the stress response can beget another stress response.
And that’s where I find myself as I write this: nearly a week into a fibromyalgia flare and then I was triggered yesterday. It was a minor trigger, but a trigger all the same. One in which I was back in the past for a brief period, not knowing if I could trust anyone, not really knowing that I could trust the people I was with (because temporary prefrontal cortex shutdown), and then all those original emotions and sensations from the original trauma running free in my body and brain with no place to go. And because I was already in significant pain from the flare, my options for shaking it off were limited.
One of my active triggers is sharing my thoughts, feelings, and ideas, as well as messages from my guides, and then experiencing retribution—immediately or delayed—in the form of verbal abuse, public humiliation, and occasionally physical assault. I grew up with this. As both a child and an adult, I experienced this repeatedly from my nuclear family.
So as I begin to regularly share my thoughts, feelings, and ideas, as well as messages from my guides, is it any wonder that my physical response to posting and commenting is to tense my muscles and wait for what my child parts consider inevitable punishment for speaking out?
And yet, I will continue to share because I know some people need to hear this. And I will continue to find ways to shake off the stress energy and remind myself that the threat is over. Some singing might be involved. Some energy might be transformed into writing articles like this one. In any event, the mistreatment by people I grew up with needs to stay in the past where it belongs.
This begs the question: how can that mistreatment stay in the past where it belongs?
It’s clear to me that a child part of me was what was triggered. That child part is what holds the pain around retribution for my speaking up. (According to Internal Family Systems therapy, we all have parts and it’s a normal, natural part of being human.) And since it is a child part, that part can be reparented. The adult, empowered part of me knows what I needed back then (love, acceptance, value, voice, belonging), and I can give it to this child part.
Back when I was a child, I had precious few resources. My guides were my biggest resource. I knew of no relatives who would believe me over my parents. My parents were active in my school and friends with my teachers and principal. My father was close with law enforcement.
When trauma happens, children are known to do three things: 1) in the absence of clear and specific explanations by authority figures, they believe they are the cause; 2) they make rules about the trauma and apply them throughout their lives (e.g.: “Everyone will react as my parents did.”); and 3) the powerlessness and limited options they experience are stored along with the traumatic memory, such that when the trauma is triggered, the now-adult still feels powerless and with limited options.
Retraining the brain takes practice and repeated, supported experiences under safe conditions to learn that 1) the child is almost never the cause of their trauma; 2) the rules created only applied to that situation and that time; and 3) the adult has far greater resources than the child did. Trauma-informed coaching and/or therapy can significantly help with this, and connection with your own guidance is a priceless and profound resource.
And so I end with this: My voice matters. My experience is that I often help when I speak up or speak out. I was not the cause of the mistreatment from the people I grew up with. I have vast resources now. I have people in my life who support who I am and what I do. People who attack me because of what I say or share are acting out their own issues, which have nothing to do with me. I share how I experience the world in the hopes that it will benefit others. I can and do shake off My experience is my experience and that’s all it needs to be. I too continue to move from silenced and squashed to vocal and free.
It would be great if connecting with our soul guides was as easy as plugging in an electrical appliance or adding a new mouse to your computer.
Plug-and-play guides. I’ll recommend that to my guides and see if they can run that up the chain.
“It really is that simple,” Dresden (my primary guide) said when I mentioned it to him. “The problem is that every person has their own unique operating system, customized by experience and belief.”
“How do you solve that problem?” I asked.
“Identify and implement the unique method for connection within each person,” Dresden said.
There are hundreds of books published about how to connect with spirit guides and angels and most are marketed to “everyone.” But Dresden’s right: no one method works for everyone. And the methods that are most commonly used in books and meditations are not trauma-informed.
What does trauma-informed have to do with this?
There are far more people who have been affected by trauma than those who identify as trauma survivors. One of those effects is a heightened need for safety. Very often, guide-connection meditations start with the person closing their eyes and then imagining themselves on a beach, or in a meadow, or on a path. Trust me when I say that for most people with trauma in their histories, this does not feel safe.
Another one of those effects of trauma is difficulty trusting. Most guide-connection books and meditations lead you to a presence, often appearing as a human or animal, and instruct the reader/listener to follow the guidance of that presence.
Sounds easy enough, but imagine for a moment that I give that instruction to a small child:
“You’re on a path. You don’t know where it leads. You’re alone right now but that’s okay because at the end of the path, someone is waiting for you. Walk down the path and when you come to the end, you’ll see someone. You can trust them. Listen to what they have to say.”
I’ve known my guides most of my life, and even I have an Oh hell, no! reaction. I would never tell one of my kids to do that. Why would I tell someone who needs to feel safe and has a hard time trusting that they should do exactly the opposite of what they need?
The bottom line is that people affected by trauma cannot meet and trust their guides until they feel safe and know the guides they’re meeting really are guides and can be trusted. Kind of a Catch-22.
How do I get around that?
Before I can answer that question, I have to return to what Dresden called our unique operating systems. Not everyone is going to see their guides. Not everyone is going to hear them. Even among those of us who are fully connected with our guides, we don’t all have the same method of communicating with them. Some use meditations. Some use dreams. Some go into trance. Some have full “downloads” of words, concepts, or instructions. Some see images, symbols, colors, or words. Some smell scents that don’t currently exist in their physical environment. Some hear voices. Some feel sensations, temperatures, textures, pressure, nudges, pokes, or even tickles.
Telling someone whose operating system is geared toward sensation to listen for their guides isn’t going to help and might just set them up for failure. Telling someone to imagine walking down that path and seeing their guide at the end isn’t necessarily going to work for someone whose dominant communication style is knowing something beyond doubt, without knowing how they know it.
Some people have been taught to believe that anything outside the boundaries of their holy texts must therefore be evil, which immediately brings fear into the mix, and fear and safety don’t play well together.
Movies and TV and stories have further taught many that messages from guides and angels are delivered with trumpet blasts or bright light or a booming voice from the heavens. That works great in a medium like a movie, where you have to portray intensity and power through visuals, sound, camera angles, and dialogue. But the real thing? It’s subtle. It can still be intense and powerful, but what you’re tuning into is subtle.
There’s a reason the Hebrew and Christian bibles both refer to a “still, small voice.”
Where am I supposed to start, then, if I want to connect with my guides?
Start by identifying where, when, and how you feel safe. Are your eyes open or closed or open a little and focused a few feet in front of you or something else? Does it help you to have an object to focus on like a rock or a candle (lit or not) or a stuffed animal or a photograph? What does your environment need to be like? What temperature? Sitting, standing, laying down? Lights on, dimmed, or off? Door open or closed? Do you prefer silence, white noise, relaxing music? Is there a best time of day or night for you? Everything about your environment should be there to support you.
Believe that you are worthy of having guides. As much as we joke about our spirit guides face-palming, day-drinking, or giving up on us because we’re not listening, that does not happen. (They might roll their metaphorical eyes now and then.) Our guides may be more hands-on or hands-off, depending on what arrangements we made before birth, but we are always free to change our minds (YAY free will!) and they will accommodate us.
Set the intention that you are going to meet your guide(s) and only your guide(s). Ask your guides to protect your meeting so that you only meet them. If a ritual helps you do this—lighting a candle, creating a circle around you, reciting prayers before and after—feel free to do so.
Are there energy beings who do not have your best interests in mind? Yes. I think of most of these entities as the leeches or lampreys (eww) or mosquitos of the spiritual world. I don’t say this to create fear, because you have a lot more power than you think you do. At the same time, it’s best not to invite them into your energetic home for dinner.
Be open to all the ways in which your guides may communicate with you. Ask questions. Good questions to start with are, “Are you one of my guides?” “What is your name?” “What do you want me to know in this moment?”
I highly recommend keeping a journal and writing down or recording (if you prefer audio or video) what comes up. Notice anything that comes up. Any sensations, images, emotions, memories, thoughts, scents. Keep track of any dreams you have after trying this.
And keep trying. This is a practice, not a task to complete. I’ve been in contact with my guides for over fifty years, and there are still times—especially highly emotional or stressful times—when I need to go back to the basics and solidify my connection with them.
What if I still don’t feel safe or like I can trust this?
What if I’ve tried this a hundred times and it still doesn’t work?
I can help. I can work with you one-on-one to create safety, establish trust, and identify your strongest methods for communicating with your guides. You don’t have to do this alone.
Andrew Cuomo has resigned as governor of New York.
Whatever you feel about this is valid. He is a complex human being. He held a great deal of power. He used some of his power to harm others irreparably. He used some of his power to lead.
Most importantly, this news is likely to trigger past sexual trauma in those who lived through it.
If you do NOT have a history of being harassed or assaulted, please be mindful of where and with whom you share your feelings. DO share them. Just be discerning with who you’re talking to.
If you DO have a history of being harassed or assaulted, please be extra gentle with yourself. Share your feelings with trusted safe people. If you have a coach or therapist, please consider contacting them about this, especially if this triggers any thoughts of self-harm.
If you don’t have a therapist or coach, if you don’t have safe people to talk to, if your strong emotions are only directed at yourself, please text HOME to 741741 and talk to a crisis counselor.
Yes, this is a triggering event. Yes, this counts as a crisis.
You have my full permission and support to take care of yourself first.
To all the people who keep insisting that you always get to choose what you feel:
This is NOT true for trauma survivors OR people coping with health issues OR people grieving the loss of a loved one. PTSD is not a choice. Depression is not a choice. Anxiety is not a choice. Chronic pain is not a choice. Grief is not a choice.
Trauma is not only individual but can also be communal and generational. Racism, sexism, and LGBTQIA-hostility can all create trauma, and the feelings of those who live with it day in and day out are also not always a choice.
Telling someone they only feel what they feel because they chose it is harmful and shaming. Please stop.
There are a lot of names for it, but these are all ways to refer to a pattern of inaccurate thoughts or beliefs that keep us stuck and unable to heal old wounds and trauma. The other day, I was asked about one of mine.
“What will take you out, every time?” one of my coaches asked.
I knew well enough not to think too hard about it but instead go with my intuitive sense. “Criticism,” I said.
And then, working with that, I was able to narrow it down. It wasn’t just criticism. It wasn’t just uninvited criticism. It was uninvited criticism about how I expressed myself—my words and appearance. That pointed to an old wound, heavily criticized as a child by family members as well as peers about how I told stories, how I sang, how I dressed, my hair, my weight, my teeth, my height, my intelligence.
It’s as if one of my child parts got stuck as a skinny nine-year-old, deep-thinking weirdo with buck teeth, braces, long, stringy hair, and messy handwriting. A person assigned female at birth with severe body dysmorphia who talks too much, sings too much, cares too much, talks to invisible people, and spends too much time writing and daydreaming and not enough time doing chores.
That nine-year-old was convinced they were too much and not enough, all at once.
But adult-me doesn’t generally get that kind of criticism, and if I do, it’s from someone I don’t trust and don’t have room for in my life.
So, it’s not criticism that takes me out. It’s the anticipation of criticism. Because that nine-year-old is still expecting it around every corner.
What have I done in reaction to that fear, that anticipation? I silence and squash myself. I make myself small, unnoticeable, forgettable. I will even breathe so shallowly that no one can hear me, and I can barely feel it myself.
It’s almost as if I will myself not to exist anymore.
That’s no way to live. In fact, I could argue that that’s a kind of death.
When I work with my clients, we invite our soul guides in. What are soul guides? I use “soul guides” as an umbrella term to encompass spirit guides, angels/messengers, ascended masters, animal spirits, ancestors, our higher self, and the Source of All. Each one may have a different role to play in supporting us to experience what we’re here to experience.
It’s not about following their directions or doing what they say. (Real guides won’t tell you what to do; they’ll offer suggestions and defer to your free will.) Rather, it’s that our guides see us as we really are, underneath the self-criticism and shame. They see our true essence, with loving eyes, not critical ones.
Some people don’t silence and squash themselves. They make themselves bigger, better, best. It still hides the same self-criticism and shame. And their guides can see through it.
“If you saw yourselves the way we see you,” Dresden, my primary guide, said in my forthcoming book 10 Things Your Soul Guides Want You to Know: Especially If You Have Anxiety, Depression, Chronic Pain, or PTSD, “you would treat yourselves like the divine beings you are.”
It’s a process to begin accepting such a perspective. I argued for years against it, until I exhausted my arguments and came to realize that I was arguing for silencing and squashing myself. I was, in effect, betraying myself every time I shut myself down. I didn’t even need those uninvited, untrusted critics. I was doing their dirty work for them.
Today, I’ve got that nine-year-old’s back. They grew up into a thoughtful, loving, compassionate person who still talks to invisible people, even (or especially) while doing chores. It’s time to stop silencing and squashing ourselves. It’s time to live from our whole essence.
I’ve talked this week about trauma, especially unsupported trauma. This is where an event or situation takes place that overwhelms a person’s nervous system (their fight/flight/freeze/fawn response gets stuck in the “on” position), their brain senses a threat to them, and they feel powerless. And then they are alone with these feelings or when they try to reach out for support, they’re ridiculed, told they’re wrong, told not to be “so negative” and to only “think positively,” or otherwise invalidated.
I’ve said that sources for that support can (hopefully) be friends, family, partners, therapists, and coaches.
Another source of support is your guides. Spirit guides, angels, animal spirits, beings of light, all can provide you with that needed support and validation.
I hear two primary arguments from people about looking to guides.
Relying on non-corporeal beings is not as effective as relying on people physically present in your life
Guides aren’t real
Let’s take these one at a time.
Relying on non-corporeal beings is not as effective as relying on people physically present in your life
It’s different, yes. No question. But different doesn’t mean worse or less effective. We’re trained to trust what we can see, smell, touch, taste, and hear. We’re not often trained to trust what we feel energetically.
Religion works really well for some people. And I’m sure they’d say that relying on God or Jesus or Allah or Hashem or Brahman or El or any of the other thousands of deities found in human religion is at least as effective if not more than relying on humans. Humans can let us down. Humans get caught up in their own lives. Humans forget. Humans sometimes put their own interests before others.
If you’re lucky enough to have a human in your life who has never once let you down, then more power to you. By definition, trauma survivors have known the less pleasant sides of humanity. Many of us have been betrayed, hurt, rejected, and worse.
Guides aren’t real
What reality are you talking about? The reality where people have a near-death experience (NDE) and their lives change? The reality where people experience miraculous healing, and their lives change? Or maybe the reality where there are numerous stories about a rescuer—tow truck driver, paramedic—who, when asked about later, no one has ever seen or heard of?
Or how about my reality? The one where the more I worked with my guides, the more I healed, the more I was guided to people who could continue to help me heal, the more I began to trust myself, love myself.
Look at the results. If a person has a mystical or spiritual experience, meets their guides, or is the recipient of what might be called a miracle, and as a result, they also experience more joy, more love, more peace, and more healing, then I’d encourage them to continue.
If, on the other hand, their health and relationships deteriorate, they trust themselves less, and they live in a constant state of fear, anger, or numbness, then whatever they’re doing isn’t working.
That said, with the hundreds of people I’ve worked with (professionally and informally) over the years, helping them with their guides, not one of them has suffered as a result of relying on guidance.
I say that I’m about helping people to live the life they’ve always wanted, the life that they were taught they couldn’t have or didn’t deserve.
Let’s talk about what that means. And what it doesn’t.
It doesn’t mean that all your wishes will come true or that your guides operate as genies or that your life will magically become easy, and you’ll never want for anything again.
Here’s the thing—well, three things—which I’ll be talking about again:
1.We don’t create our lives in a vacuum.
2.Everyone does not have equal access and resources.
3.Guides are not a quick fix.
We don’t create our lives in a vacuum
Despite what many Law of Attraction teachers say, manifestation doesn’t occur solely because you really want something and visualize it and think happy thoughts about it all the time. And not having what you desire doesn’t mean that it’s your fault and you just didn’t want it badly enough.
The truth is that we co-create this physical world. And we have free will. And all choices come with consequences, some of which are pleasant and some of which are unpleasantly unpleasant. Further, some of those consequences can last for generations or centuries. We live, to some degree or another, with the consequences not only of our own choices but also the choices of others.
And that leads me to…
Everyone does not have equal access and resources
Everyone has access to guides and their resources, yes. Not everyone is comfortable with that, for any number of reasons. But I’m talking specifically about access to and resources for the life you’ve always wanted but were taught you couldn’t have or didn’t deserve.
You can have some form of the life you’ve always wanted. And you do deserve it, simply for existing in the world. But how you get there may be easier or more difficult than it is for others, depending on what obstacles are in your way. What obstacles, you ask? Those same obstacles that are the consequences of others’ free will choices, which includes (but is not limited to) racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, inequalities in employment, housing, education, medicine, and law, food insecurity, and disability.
If you face one or more of these obstacles, it does not mean you can’t have the life you’ve always wanted. It does not mean there’s no point in trying. It means that it might not look like others’ lives, it might not even look like how you think it should look, but it will give you the experiences you want in your life. And your guides can help you.
Which brings me to…
Guides are not a quick fix
Quick fixes are popular. What’s not to like? Do something that requires minimal effort, minimal time, preferably minimal cost, and get what you want. Sounds awesome, right? Whether it’s in the form of something you ingest, something you apply, something you wear, something you keep nearby, or something you use in another way, these quick fixes can make our lives easier, more comfortable, more convenient. But they don’t always (or even often) create lasting, permanent change.
Some people do teach connection with guidance as a quick fix. They have you listen to a meditation, meet your guides, and then—voila!—you can ask them anything you want and get answers. I saw one promotion for an inexpensive, self-guided, online class where you’d allegedly learn to connect with your guides and then life would become easy. Rainbows and unicorns.
Guides do not dispense vending machine advice. What they offer is a partnership with you. What they offer is a relationship. And that takes some time and effort.
What “living the life you’ve always wanted” really means
Living the life you’ve longed for means learning to trust yourself and your guidance to discern what is for you to do yourself, what is for you to do in community, and what is for others to do (or stop doing). It means learning that you are not broken or unlovable, that there is nothing wrong with you, and that you have permission to have the life you’ve always wanted. It means asking for help and support. It means showing up and taking action to make that life a physical reality.
It is not our guides’ job to intervene to make life more fair, or to even the playing field, or even to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity. It’s not their job to intervene in our free will at all.
What they can do is remind us of the truth of our divine essence, help us experience what we came here to the planet to experience, and guide us to truly know authentic, messy, tear-stained love of self and others along the way.
Can you guess which of the following paid occupations I’ve NOT had?
1. Law clerk
2. Mental health counselor
That was…a trick question. I’ve had all of them. But I want to talk a bit about my work as a mental health counselor.
In the early 1990s, I was hired by a residential addiction treatment facility for women who were pregnant or had children under age three. My job was initially to create a relapse prevention program that offered additional resources and tools to residents who were survivors of trauma (most notably child and domestic abuse). I then began counseling these women, as an adjunct to other required therapy, on how they could cope with their manifestations of trauma instead of self-medicating.
In this facility, we focused on those who self-medicated with drugs or alcohol, but there are many more who self-medicate with shopping, gaming, gambling, sex, relationships, self-harm, food, exercise, and on and on. It was the beginning of trauma-informed addiction recovery there.
Fast-forward thirty years and I’ve healed decades of abuse I endured. I’ve raised two children to healthy, well-balanced adulthood. I’ve been through my own intense trauma treatment with EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and Somatic Experiencing®. I live a trauma-informed life.
I am not a mental health counselor anymore. I’m not licensed and I don’t practice therapy. I also don’t consider myself a healer. I do, however, offer coaching.
What’s the difference?
Here’s my take:
A therapist helps a person heal their present by addressing what led them to this point (e.g.: trauma, core beliefs, emotional avoidance, etc.). Especially in clinical settings, it requires a “problem/ solution with measurable progress” paradigm. It is the surgery of the psyche, going after the root of the issue.
A coach helps a person change their present by addressing their thoughts, beliefs, and actions in the present moment and moving forward. It can operate as both problem/solution and also support/ celebration/accountability. This is the physical therapy of the psyche.
A healer helps a person change their present by addressing their energetic and physical health in the moment and moving forward. This is the medicine of the psyche.
While there are some overlaps, they largely have their own areas of focus.
When I’m coaching, we honor the past and acknowledge that it has an impact, sometimes profound. But we don’t go digging for it. We don’t go back to the past to try to heal it. That’s for therapy, which I usually recommend be trauma-informed.
Instead, we focus on the now. And that’s where intuition and soul guides—mine and yours—come in. Because guides can see patterns and what can happen if you continue to engage in the same patterns of thought, belief, and behavior. (Some humans, including me, can do that too. Guides are better at it.)
If you’ll pardon a food metaphor, you’ve been picking at a plate of rubber chicken, cold lima beans, and undercooked Brussels sprouts for a lot of your life, because that’s what other people told you that you were supposed to want. That’s the life that would please others. It doesn’t please you.
You want a plate of, well, your ideal meal. Food that makes your taste buds come alive and your brain sing with dopamine. Some people—and sometimes society in general—have told you that you can’t have that ideal meal because of who you are, or because of your race, your income, your religion, your sexuality, your gender, your job, your weight, your intelligence, your mental or physical health, or something else.
Working with your guides and/or your intuition is the fork or spoon (no sporks here) that is going to get that ideal meal to your mouth, bite by divine bite. (Usually not all at once; divine stomachaches are not a walk in the park.)
And I offer more than one-on-one coaching, because not everyone is into that. I’ve been writing articles for years on these topics, and I have a new book coming out later this year: 10 Things Your Soul Guides Want You to Know: Especially if You Have Anxiety, Depression, Chronic Pain, or PTSD* *With arguments and questions from a human with all four
If you’re at all interested in any of this, sign up for my weekly email list, with informative articles, resources, book updates, fun with guides, and more: https://bit.ly/SheynaGalyanNews