Facts versus Feelings – guest blog by Janis Isaman; Part 2

Last week, we read the first half of the blog by Janis Isaman, Marianne’s Compassionate Inquiry colleague, and how she experienced her year of training with this psychotherapeutic approach of Gabor Maté. In the first half, she made a distinction between the story we tell ourselves (the facts) and the emotions that come with an experience (the feelings). In this second half, she dives more deeply into the bodily experiences, on what happens inside us.
Janis’ blog originally appeared on the website Elephant Journal, where Nicole Cameron is the managing editor.


When we focus on the story, we don’t need to explore what happened inside of us. Stories and facts are external. Feelings and sensations are internal.
When we connect to the somatic, then attach it to an emotion and identify all of it out loud, we take responsibility for the events inside of us, rather than the (often disputable) facts of what occurred.
We are pulled away from life as a court ruling and toward our experiences as connecting, vulnerable, and healing.
One of the most present and authentic things we can do for ourselves is to notice and name the physical sensations happening in our body. I can think back in my life to moments of laughter, love, rage, and ruin, and recall precisely the sensations that a photograph could never capture.
The details of our body matter, and we can titrate and dose the amount we can tolerate. Perhaps it is: “I notice my body” or “I notice a hot sensation.” There is a possibility that we can add detail, tone, and specificity.

The last time I was triggered, it was by a tone of voice. My stomach clenched, like a fist had been inserted inside my abdomen and squeezed. Atop it, my chest cavity tenderized, like a scratching so deep within threatened to make it raw with heat. My throat inexplicably narrowed, almost as if a sickness was coming on, my vocal cords narrowed, a lump building and threatening to overtake it.

I spoke, my voice stern: “Please watch your tone. It’s scaring me.”
And I could notice that I had fear.
The fear was old, rather than the young voice sitting beside me and speaking the words that sent my body sideways.
Just like I had been with my friend, my body was two.
During my year of studies, I could slowly, as I practiced the skills over and over and over, identify that I was triggered.

We can start to piece together the combinations of body sensations and emotions that led to our youngest belief system:
I am not good enough. I am not lovable. I am a failure. I am a bad person.

When we have sensations and feelings that lead to these perceptions of shame and unworthiness, our coping strategy is to go back to facts.
Mine was: Tell the story. Prove I’m right. Discredit the other person.
But in the year of my course, although we had the usual lectures and reading list, the work was not intellectual. The monthly meetings and weekly practices with my colleagues required me to, time and time and time again, pull back into my body. I did hundreds of practice sessions.
Sometimes, I couldn’t go into my body. It was intolerable and I dissociated. Sometimes, I could add nuance and stay with the feeling until it dissipated like a firecracker or a hot air balloon floating away from me that I still wanted to hold.
And then I graduated.
In the pause without information intake or formalized practice sessions, I could practice on my own.

Now, my body has become the only part of the story that matters. What is happening inside me is indisputable, no matter what someone else has done. I tell shorter stories and spend more time on what my body is sharing.
I can notice and name sensations in an instant.
I can identify when I’m triggered and I can take responsibility for it.

These seemingly simple questions took a year of practice, and another year of integration. And they are the most profound learnings of my life.
The same conversation I had previously with a friend wouldn’t end up the same way these days. Now, I would share that I have a pit in my stomach, and that the anxiety I’m feeling is reminding me of being a small child on a tricycle.


A small child on a tricycle… we can almost see Janis. Most us of will be able to picture a two or a three-year old cycling, full of wonder; we may have children that age or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbour kids, kindergartners in our class. It should not be too hard to understand that for such little ones the world is a completely different place than for an adult. As an adult, we have so many more options to take our lives into our own hands. We can move if the house is dreadful; we can change our daily environment if the atmosphere is nasty; we can sever ties if we feel unjustly treated. These are all options not available to young children.

And speaking of justice… Janis mentions ‘life as a court ruling’. That is a beautifully applicable image, as it also implies the presence of judges. Judges listen to the facts, to the stories, and based upon those facts they pass judgment. In personal experiences and interpersonal relations, judgments are usually the things that do not solve but rather create and exacerbate the turmoil.

Judging others, judging ourselves… not so much good comes from it, most of the time, yet for most of us it is very hard to go through life without passing judgment towards others or self. That is to a great extent because it is impossible to get all the ‘facts’ straight. Can we really know the other person’s emotional life well enough to understand their response or behaviour? Is it actually, factually true what we make ourselves believe about ourselves?

As Gabor Maté often quotes the Buddha: “With our minds we create the world.” What we consider to be a response to the facts, is often primarily our perception or our interpretation of those ‘facts’. And why is that? That is, as Gabor follows up on the quote, because before with our minds we create the world, the world creates our minds. Our daily life, the social environment we grow up in, is the biggest factor in molding our brain and our stress regulation. Already before birth it is our mother’s stress level that literally infuses our womb world, through the umbilical cord. If she has a tough life while she carries us, we will be physiologically prepared for a harsh world. If the first years or our lives are filled with toxic stress and ACEs, we will develop features and behaviours that try to help us survive in a hostile environment. All of that makes perfect sense; as Gabor says: ‘It is a normal response to an abnormal circumstance.’

As Janis’ blog amazingly illustrates: we do well making an effort to provide our little ones with a living environment where their emotions are welcome, seen and heard, embraced and accepted. The more acceptance the child feels for genuine emotions, the easier it will be to self-regulate, as safe expression of emotions means they do not have to be suppressed. Suppression of emotions is exhausting; it will wear us out and often make us ill in some way. And even if we have not yet reached that illness stage that Gabor describes as ‘suffering into truth’… it is a big assignment to re-establish the connection with all those emotions once we have built habits and personalities around their suppression.

Recognising what Janis speaks about is easy; I, too, have a biweekly session with my group of eighteen students, a weekly session with my triad, several Zoom-calls and facilitated workshops every month, heaps and heaps of videos to watch and digest, and most of all… an almost insane amount of introspection 25/7 to disentangle all the different threads of emotions, triggers, perceptions, beliefs, personality parts, concepts, disappointments, characteristics, and bodily experiences. But like Janis, I also immensely enjoy being in a community where I can go through “the most profound learnings of my life”.

Facts versus Feelings – guest blog by Janis Isaman; Part 1

For the regular readers of our blog, it will not come as a surprise that we are big fans of the work of Gabor Maté. Marianne has been a Compassionate Inquiry-student (CI) for the professional training since February this year, after doing the short course last year. Now that she is in the midst of the learning process, she is in regular contact with other CI-students who share about their experiences and the impact the training and the approach have on their personal development.
Last week, a blog was shared by one of the students, Janis Isaman, on the website Elephant Journal, where Nicole Cameron is the managing editor. With Janis’ permission, we share the text here. We start with the first half and add a few considerations at its end; next week, we will share the second half.


Facts vs Feelings: What I learned from a year of studying with Dr. Gabor Maté.

I heard myself saying: “I feel like I’m two.”

My throat was dry, and I could feel a column of heat in my chest. A flush of pressure rushed to my ears and they felt like they needed to pop, like I was on an airplane. The pit in my stomach seemed to swallow my body.
I was on the phone with a friend who had served me the news that he wasn’t available to talk.
I have no recollections of what else I said, as the sensations of my body swallowed me whole. I spent the entire next day assessing, analyzing, and being anxious about it. I didn’t understand that I was triggered.
But that was all about to change as I embarked on a year of professional studies with Dr. Gabor Maté.

One of the most important things I garnered from my time in the training is this:
The story doesn’t matter.

Our culture teaches us to tell stories. When someone hurts us, we translate the events to text, even if we speak them out loud: “and then he said,” “and then what happened is,” “and then, I mean you won’t believe this…”
We typically turn our lives into scientific diaries of details and facts and events, much of which is filtered through the lens of proving that we are right or defending ourselves so that we can be more correct than the other person.
I didn’t viscerally understand that stories are not facts. And that perceptions of what happened are not feelings.
Perceptions are interpretations, and storytelling requires us to take no responsibility for our coping mechanisms or triggers.
With Compassionate Inquiry, Dr. Maté’s therapeutic approach, I learned to approach my emotional experience as though it were a visit to the doctor. I practiced analyzing myself and my experiences through the sensations in my body rather than in my brain.


I learned to ask myself important questions, like:

>> What is happening for me?

>> What is the quality of my skin? What sensations are present in the abdomen? The chest? The spine? The back? The neck? The face?

>> Do I feel a temperature change? Where is the sensation? And what is it? Is it burning? Searing?

>> What is the feeling I am experiencing? And finally: what do I make that mean about myself? How old is this memory? How old am I?

These astoundingly straightforward questions, this approach, changed the way I relate to myself, my body sensations, my emotional experiences, and my triggers.
I, like many my age, was raised to mitigate my emotions. Intelligence and rational thinking were the prize tools upon which to earn favor.I remember screaming when a spider climbed on me. I was on my tricycle on the cement pad behind the house. The Daddy Longlegs tickled my left leg, but when I looked down upon it, it seemed to occupy a quarry of my leg.
Fear overcame me and I froze, feeling and watching the giant spider make its way toward my torso. I started to scream. Bloodcurdling.
My dad dropped his tools from across the yard and ran over. When he discovered it was only a spider, he blew it off and told me, “It’s only a spider. Don’t make so much noise next time.”
He never asked me why I was screaming or what was happening in my body. He never validated that a spider scares a lot of people, especially children. He never bore witness to my fear.

So by age three, in order to win favor and stay alive by way of affection, food, and shelter, I learned to ensure that my emotional reaction was never larger than the story itself.
I became a gifted storyteller. Words and precision mattered to me. A single incident on a date could weave a yarn for dozens of minutes or portions of hours during drinks out.
I took writing classes, and became obsessed with continuing education. Facts. Certifications. The solidity of the written or spoken word held my grip, as it was the way I could access my experiences and connect with others.

 No one had ever told me that the story didn’t matter.


The story… a fascinating way of looking at what happens.
Janis speaks about how her father was not able to put himself in her shoes and truly recognise and acknowledge what her emotion was, how scared she felt by what she perceived as a huge animal crawling onto her body. He focused on the story, on the facts of what happened from his perspective, which was very different from his daughter’s perspective and her feelings. With this, Janis makes a crucially important point. The little three-year old girl she then was, was fully dependent on the care and comforting from her parents. To understand the world and to learn how to regulate herself, it was necessary for her to be allowed to express and feel welcomed with all her emotions, such as anger, shame, joy, sadness, and in this case – fear. If there is room for all of the child’s emotions, the child will get the experience that the world is a safe place and an event with big emotions is bearable: ‘name it to tame it’. If that learning process unfolds well, emotional states will become something transient. They can be intense, but they pass.

If, upon upsetting events, the child does not experience calm and stable safety from regulated adults (sometimes called ‘buffering protection’), the states meant to be only temporary become embedded in the child’s body and being. It is sometimes described as ‘states become traits’. If we often feel unsafe at an age where our brain is still fully developing, we may create mental default settings like (but not restricted to) alertness, mistrust, withdrawal, or aggression. These arise to protect us. If we feel not safe expressing all our emotions, because they are not noticed by our primary caregivers or because they are dismissed as ‘overreacting’, we find other ways of handling tough situations. Our urge to survive may lead to behaviours that, again, are aimed at securing our safety under all sorts of circumstances, but that are detrimental in the long run. We may become inclined to please others, so that they remain friendly and do not become hostile (which would threaten our safety). We may subconsciously decide that the needs and views of others take precedence over our own. That may lead to the belief that manifesting authenticity is both risky and arrogant (which, again, would threaten our safety). And as functional and protective all of this may be when we are dependent children, later on it usually becomes dysfunctional, getting in the way of smooth interactions with 0thers, of enjoying challenges, of feeling joyful and trusting in this world.

Next week, we will read the second half of Janis’ experience, in which she focuses on the bodily sensations.

Training youth healthcare: which interest is central?

Recently I had an exchange with a lactation consultant colleague about a training she will shortly follow. She reported to me that she had felt really awful about what she had been reading while preparing for that training. She had the feeling that the interest of the baby was fully inferior to the interest of the adults. This is in line with the Adult Supremacy concept we have written extensively about here before. I would like to give an impression of what we discussed.

C(ollegue): I just read the literature for a webinar I will follow and in which all sorts of things made me raise my eyebrows. It was about a particular problem in the breastfeeding relationship, and what I was very concerned about with most of the topics dealt with was: ‘Who has the problem and who has to adapt here: the adult/parents, or the child? How do we view this in our culture? Who is able and responsible to approach a problem with empathy – the newborn or young child, or the adult?’ Another question that arose is: ‘Is it ethical to force children into something that is not developmentally included in their evolutionary nature, their biological blueprint, and which is mainly focused on serving the adult interest? Are you not sending the message to the baby that they are not good enough? In the preparatory literature it was mentioned that one third of all infants do not go to the breast just like that. How am I supposed to understand that…? Is the statement that about 30% of children naturally tend to starve themselves by not going to the breast…? In other words, is not breast feeding natural behaviour or is it the result of how we handle situations? To top it all off, it was suggested that a child should not be offered the breast for 24-48 hours if necessary in order to force a certain different behaviour. In my opinion, you are actually saying to the completely dependent baby: ‘If you don’t do what we want, we will punish you.’ I was so angry… I experience this as psychological torture of the child. Those are heavy words – I realise that, but with the knowledge I have, they feel appropriate.


M(arianne): Oh, that sounds very intense…

C: Yes, it was… Sometimes I get so tired of these kinds of views, which I still see far too often… How come society changes so slowly and leaves children so unbelievably in the lurch?

M: Yes, that is a huge problem indeed… Do you do something with this feeling? Do you express it in a professional, constructive way? Do you write about it?

C: I find that difficult. I also see that it actually concerns two disciplines, namely anatomy and physiology and their impact on the breastfeeding relationship on the one hand, and the psychology of (parenting) views and their impact on the child on the other hand. That is the tricky part about it.

M: Hmmm… well… but if you look at it holistically, then there are no different disciplines around the child. Then we are only talking about this new little person who has needs in all kinds of ways, which ideally are well met by the parents/caregivers/society. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. It seems to me that unity of these fields should be at the heart of everything we do regarding the care of children.

C: Yes, I completely agree. I’m just afraid those who host the webinar do not look at it that way. And it is probably not even something conscious. That is why I have asked a number of questions about this, for the sake of raising awareness. This does bring up the question, however, of who we are there for as lactation consultants: for the needs of the parents (with the result that an attempt is often made to ‘fix’ the child) or to support the parents, but with the perspective and the needs of the child as a basic starting point?

M: Opinions probably differ on that one, too… 😉 Personally, I never think it is okay to put the child’s perspective aside, in any role! And of course this primarily concerns the relationship between the child and the primary caregivers, usually the parents. I just think that in many settings the attitude of being child-oriented is not yet as powerful as it should be.

C: No, I think so, too, so the question is how to get a good picture of both needs and how to satisfy them. Because it is so important that certain needs are fulfilled in childhood, I think that the best interests of the child deserves to be leading. At the same time, society asks so much from people that personal wishes and choices are often at odds with societal ‘demands’. As a result, daily practice is often at odds with the needs of children. That is a serious statement, but a true one nevertheless.

M: Absolutely, totally agree! How we organise society has such a big influence on parenting! Have you read ‘The myth of normal’ by Gabor Maté yet…? There does not necessarily have to be a conflict between the well-being of the parents and that of the child. If the parents could first (learn to) look with compassion at what they themselves missed and where they suffered pain… that would already be so helpful!

C: Oh yes, and that is exactly the hardest part. I really tried to raise my kids with child-oriented approaches, but I made a lot of mistakes in that too. That is an observation; I do not feel guilty about it, but it does make me sad. The result is partly that one of my children struggles with major psychological problems. You never know how things would have turned out differently, but it keeps me wondering. Fortunately, the other children are doing well.

M: Yes, I recognise what you mention. At the same time, it is also important not to view and approach our children as ‘the result of our own mistakes’. No one likes to be seen like that. Most parents do the best they can for their children. What we can see is that many parents lack assets and there are many reasons for this, including a lack of knowledge about the influence of early experiences on later life. It is therefore important to ensure that that parental competence can develop as well as possible, so that parents have a good understanding of how they can lovingly guide their child into adulthood. When parents dare and are able to explore what they missed in their own childhood (with some therapeutic support if necessary), it usually helps enormously to understand why some things in life are so difficult. If they do that before the birth of the first child, that is of course beautiful, but it is never too late to increase your insight. Understanding the difference between reacting impulsively from a trigger on the one hand and responding intuitively from awareness on the other hand is the essence. For that you have to dare to look at those own triggers, as well as at the explosive charge underneath. That is a big, but crucial task for adults.

We talked a bit further about the details of what she had been reading. I know this colleague as a very involved lactation consultant. I was pleased to hear that she felt so much resistance to the child-unfriendly suggestions and that she felt the question about the power relationship bubbling up. What I regretted was that in 2023 lactation consultants (and also other healthcare providers, for that matter) are still being given this kind of advice. From neurophysiology and interpersonal biology, we now know an incredible amount about the impact of disconnection from the child on brain development. Ignoring, threatening, neglecting, punishing, intimidating… they leave deep traces in the stress landscape of the body. They are not trauma sensitive at all and do not do justice to the child’s complete dependence and need for authenticity. Given the state of present day science, such practices do not (or no longer) belong in youth health care advice.
I hope that the colleague receives satisfactory answers to the questions she has asked and that she nevertheless keeps having the courage to put a child-orientated approach at the heart of her own work. Knowing her, I have every confidence in that!

‘Raising Resilience’ – the ACE Aware NL podcast

Today is International Women’s Day! This year’s international theme is ‘Embrace Equity‘ and the Dutch theme is ‘Unlimited livability‘ – a call to work together to ensure that as much as possible, we can move through our living world, our life world, without social, cultural, financial and emotional limitations. For this, resilience is important. Resilience is sometimes described as the ability to deal flexibly with life’s challenges, among other things by truly really welcoming all your emotions. To achieve that and raise resilience, it is helpful if feminine energy has the upper hand, in both women and men.

The first 1000 days of a human life have a major impact on the rest of one’s existence. No longer is there any doubt about that now; this has been demonstrated in all kinds of ways and has been substantiated both empirically and scientifically. So the first 1000 days, from conception to about the second birthday, are essential. What happens during pregnancy and around birth really matters. In that phase the foundation is laid for the life that follows. When there is a lot of stress in those early years, it usually becomes more difficult for a child to handle things smoothly and to stay healthy on all fronts. Even when social and health problems do not appear until later in life, upon careful examination they often turn out to have their roots in childhood. With that knowledge in our pocket, the conclusion is obvious that we would all do well to cherish that period, so that life after birth can be lived in an unlimitedly livable way and can continue to be. And then it gets exciting… do we accept that challenge? How can we embrace equity in a practical sense? I do have some ideas. Let’s raise resilience! Let us take good care of our pregnant women, see the interests of children as equal to those of adults, and let us give vulnerability a more prominent place in our society.

In the context of vulnerability, this morning I thought of an amazing woman who has said beautiful things about it, namely Brené Brown. One of her most famous quotes is: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
Vulnerability as courage – choosing not to be armed to the teeth, but to allow yourself to be wounded and to be open to your own feelings and those of others, even if it hurts. That can feel very scary. In a society where individualism is almost an ideology, co-reliance is a difficult concept. Do we simply dare to acknowledge that we need each other, that it is difficult not to feel connected to loved ones? That is quite normal, namely, because people are ‘wired for connection’: their entire neurophysiological system is set up for meaningful connection with others. When that connection is missing, sometimes already very early in life, it produces feelings of deep pain and loneliness. This can lead to the belief that you are ‘not good enough’, that you are not worthy of being loved, that you don’t belong and that you have to survive on your own. And then… what if that threatens to overwhelm you…?

A few years ago I saw the movie ‘The House I Live In’, in which addiction expert Gabor Maté says: “When people are in pain, they want to soothe that pain. So the question is not ‘why the addiction?’, but ‘why the pain?’ ” I was perplexed. That illness is usually an expression of a (especially emotionally) disturbed balance – that was a conviction I had already lived with for a quarter of a century. The layer that Gabor Maté added with this statement, however, felt like an inevitable paradigm shift. I felt like I had been given some kind of key that unlocked everything. To me, this seemed to be the essence, a vision that urgently deserves to be followed everywhere in society.

That is the idea from which ACE Aware NL was born: creating awareness about ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and recognising that many behaviours and habits that are labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘unhealthy’ are in fact survival strategies and self-medication for the pain of loneliness and exclusion. That is why I started ACE Aware NL, together with Victor Bodiut. And speaking of courage and vulnerability: without him I would not have dared to. Together we have laid a wonderful foundation, on which we now continue to build. The so-called ‘feminine’ energy has a prominent place in this: soft receptivity, intuition, room for ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’, attention to the emotional life, from the inside out, as inspiration for the more masculine energy.

Everywhere in nature, growth always takes place from the soft spots. This is very clear in babies and young children. For healthy growth, it is therefore important to ensure that this softness is protected and that no (physical and emotional) hardening occurs. Love, closeness, compassionate attention… those are the things the young child thrives on and with that you can raise the child’s resilience. How can you shape that? And what are the consequences of the lack of such care?

In order to discuss this extensively with experience experts and professionals, ACE Aware NL now also has a podcast entitled ‘Raising Resilience!’, together with Petra Bouma, who has been making the beautiful visuals for the blogs for some time now and who also put together artwork for the podcast, I have now set up the infrastructure for it and the first four episodes are online! You can listen to Nikk Conneman, Eefke Postma, Marie-liz de Jongh and Hilde Bolt. In the near future a lot of interviews will take place again and we will meet many more beautiful people. They will talk about their work, but also about their own experiences, which often contain a lot of touching wisdom as a result of grief.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and judgment around the subject of ‘trauma’. Those are not helpful, because they cause many people to experience a barrier to telling their story. People keep suppressing everything, eventually often resulting in illness. Opening up about the pain and grief of your life history… that takes a lot of courage. There is often so much wisdom in what people have to say about what was difficult for them and how they overcame those difficulties. I really have deep respect for that, because I also know how complicated it can be not to let the loneliness of the past fully influence your life in the present.

The tune of the podcast is entitled ‘Here Forever’. While preparing the launch, this fragment seemed to present itself to me. Here forever – forever here. To know that there are people you can always count on and perhaps to be such a person yourself for others… that is what creates a deep sense of security, the feeling that you are welcome with everything that belongs to you, just like you are. For many people, that appears to raise hope and confidence and resilience. The Raising Resilience podcast is therefore also a powerful plea to be alert together to what the youngest in our society need to grow up joyful and happy, on the way to an unlimitedly liveable future. We hope that you will enjoy the specia stories and insights with us and who knows, we may welcome you as a guest in due course!

Aspects of (in)secure attachment – a team training

The training had been in the pipeline for so long and yet it just did not come about. Busyness on all sides, difficulty synchronising calendars, bottlenecks in budgeting… when would it happen? My contact person and I regularly got in touch in an attempt to prepare a team meeting in a concrete way, but that was it. Now that we had finally been able to find a date, from my passion for the subject I had of course eagerly said ‘yes’. The knowledge must go into the world! People have a right to receive insights that help them better understand their own grief and to understand where ‘bad habits’ come from! So yes, let’s get together with that group and share knowledge!

When I was preparing shortly before, I realised that we had not discussed any compensation for my work at all. I dropped the financial issue into the app. “Would you like to call?” was the answer. After a few minutes the conclusion was: “If I have to agree a fee on such short notice, they will probably say that the training should not take place, so if you insist, we will have to cancel and look for a new date.” We sat on opposite sides of the line together in a deadlock. Was this what we wanted? No. Did we understand each other’s point of view? Yes. We then brainstormed together, focussing on a solution. Providing training that supports both residents and their counsellors in trauma-sensitive attitudes – that is simply adding value and that deserves a fair reward, even if it is difficult to free up budget. Running a healthcare institution in a way that departs from the standard protocol forms and does much more justice to the individual stories – that is simply adding value and that deserves a fair budget, even if it is difficult to find. How might we address the dilemma caused by what was experienced as an overall lack of money? We found a nice solution: I would provide the agreed training and in return we would schedule a meeting with the director of the foundation to explore how my expertise could be used more broadly and lead to a paid training series for the entire organization. A remedial educationalist and a group leader would also be present at the now planned training, so that they too would get an impression of what I had to offer. So we agreed and we were mutually happy with this decision.

The day was there; I called my contact person to say that I had arrived at the premises. He did not answer. I waited a while and called again: “Yes, I will be right there, but we are in a very heated meeting and I cannot leave right now. Have a seat downstairs.” Phew… I clearly felt the tension. A moment later he came down: “Hi! Good to have you here! Yes, it was quite intense and I cannot say a word about it – it was that complicated. Come on, I will take you to the room.” We walked upstairs and I entered the training room. It was noisy and still pretty filled with people. Some had gone out for a cigarette or to get some air, but the tension was still there. I unpacked my bag, connected my laptop, laid out the materials to be handed out and poured myself a cup of tea. I was curious what would happen.

When everyone was inside, I handed out a print of the Mood Meter developed by Marc Brackett. I said that as far as I understood that they had all had a rough meeting and that it makes a lot of difference what your mood is when you work together. That is why I said I wanted to do a round to gauge that mood. A lot came up: worried, irritated, restless, disappointed, pessimistic, pissed off, despondent, tired, shocked, angry… Fortunately, there were also some people who mentioned that they felt calm, relaxed, hopeful. However, the high, unpleasant energy clearly prevailed. I explained that if that sets the predominant mood, it is probably more difficult to pay attention, stay focused, and absorb new knowledge. I said it is nice if there are also people in such circumstances who can stay calm and who can help to co-regulate the restlessness of others, so that together you can return to a more calm, less stressful state of mind.

So already after five minutes we were fully immersed in everything that has to do with secure and insecure attachment, with stress regulation, with balanced functioning, with whether or not you can empathise with what the other person is going through and what they need. It was good to know this; this inventory helped me enormously, because I noticed that the mood was a bit wild and unhinged. They all had had to keep their heads together in the meeting and, after the break that was actually too short, they had not really calmed down at the start of my training. Therefore, I felt no annoyance or impatience when I noticed that they began to go back and forth, responding to each other’s input with teasing and humorous remarks. They had yet to rage. This was not about me; this was about the problem they had been discussing and what it had stirred up in them.

Nevertheless, the team leaders wanted them to learn something from my story and after a few minutes everyone was asked to try and maintain their focus again. I asked them to get up and arrange themselves in alphabetical order and answer three questions in pairs: name, age, and place of birth; the most difficult thing in contact with other people; the main goal in their work. After some puzzling, they all had a conversation partner and they exchanged exuberantly. They were then asked to introduce their neighbour to me, and here, attachment-related aspects also came to light. How difficult or easy is it to listen carefully and reproduce what the other person has told you? How open are you in answering the questions? How vulnerable do you dare to make yourself? Do you like to talk or do you prefer to listen? Does it feel like an opportunity or a threat to tell something about yourself? Do you implicitly encourage the other person to open up by revealing yourself first or do you give socially desirable answers? Do you have to think long and hard about your personal characteristics and ideals or are they perfectly clear to you?

The feedback showed distinct differences in the degree of vulnerability that everyone had been able to muster: self-protection is still indispensable sometimes. At the same time, there were wonderful similarities. It was great to hear that there was so much motivation across the board to make a positive difference for residents and clients. There was also a clear drive to eradicate injustice, to provide quality of care, to encourage trust, fairness and safety.

When explaining ACEs, I handed out the score sheet. To ensure the safety and privacy of all the people present (especially after the frenzied meeting that I suspected was linked to ACEs), I added a small blank piece of paper for people to write their scores on. Folded and then handed to me, they did not have to say anything out loud and even I did not know which score was whose. Still, the scores were impressive. Fortunately, there was also five times a zero, but also a 6, a 7, twice an 8, a 9 and twice a 10. A group of about twenty people and seven people with a 6 or higher… that is quite something. That means there is a lot of spicy life experience in the team, to put it euphemistically. It was therefore not very surprising that halfway through my story some people left. The combination of the meeting and what I had to say was too much for them. The team leaders handled it admirably. It was explicitly stated that everyone was allowed to take care of themselves and that leaving the meeting had no consequences for their position in the team.

One of the team members was Joy, whose story we published as a blog last week. The team listened attentively to her, despite how fatigued many of them were. This was their colleague and she spoke openly about the misery she had endured. Many praised how she uses her own experience in contact with residents and how her raw childhood experiences are extremely valuable in this regard. It was my pleasure to present her with a copy of José Al’s book on childhood trauma, as a thank you for her blog and encouragement for her work.
The training will certainly be continued soon and I look forward to supporting these motivated people in their important work!