Featured

The Courage to Heal

“Expressive writing is a powerful method to help people get through difficult times.” Journal writer

Photo by TUBARONES PHOTOGRAPHY on Pexels.com

Expressive writing focuses on the writer’s internal experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This writing uses reflective writing, which enables the writer to gain mental and emotional clarity, validate experiences and come to a deeper understanding of him or herself.

It strengthens their immune system as well as their minds, by assisting people to manage and learn from negative experiences. Writing is no stranger to therapy. For years, practitioners have used journals and other writing forms to help people heal from stress and trauma.  As they change negative thinking into positive focused thoughts, their lives change for the better. Journaling can reduce stress by helping one get rid of negative thoughts. They are able to confront and reframe traumatic life experiences, and make positive changes in their personal lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Writing to Heal helps them access and understand their true emotional feelings that they may not be aware of. Most mental health experts recommend journaling as it can improve mood and manage symptoms of depression. Research supports this and suggests journaling is good for mental health. It also may make talk therapy work better. Journaling can be a great stress reducer through organizing thoughts and clearing the mind.

New research suggests that expressive writing may also offer physical benefits to people battling terminal or life-threatening diseases. Studies by psychologists James Pennebaker, Ph.D., the University of Texas—Austin, and Joshua Smyth, Ph.D., Syracuse University—suggest that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses like HIV/AIDS, asthma, and arthritis.

Researchers are now beginning to understand how and why writing benefits the immune system, and why some people appear to receive more help than others. There is agreement that the key to writing’s effectiveness is in the way people use it to interpret and understand their experiences, and even the words they use. Venting is not enough to relieve stress, and thereby improve health. Smyth says, “To tap into writing’s healing power, people must use it to reflect on and better understand and learn from their emotions.

Health benefits of journaling

A groundbreaking study of writing’s physical effects appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) In the study led by Smyth, over one hundred asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on three consecutive days—seventy-one of them wrote about the most stressful event of their lives, and the rest wrote of the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans. Four months after the writing exercise, seventy patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement on clinical evaluations compared with thirty-seven of the control patients. Also, those who wrote about stress improved more and deteriorated less, than control groups for both diseases. “So, writing helped patients get better, and kept them from getting worse,” says Smyth.

Pennebaker says, “By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings. It helps you to get past them.” His research indicates that suppressing negative, trauma-related thoughts compromises immune functioning and he found that those who write visit the doctor less often.

There is evidence that the nature of a person’s writing is key to its health effects, notes health psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa. In an intensive journaling study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, the results she showed suggests that people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from the writing. They are far worse than people who write about neutral events, while those who focus on meaning develop greater awareness of the positive aspects of a stressful experience. “You need focused thought as well as emotions,” says Lutgendorf. “An individual need to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”

However, Pennebaker says, “People who talk about things over and over in the same ways aren’t getting any better. There has to be growth or change in the way they view their experiences.” In My memoir, Through It All: A Memoir of Grief and Loss, the lessons I learned was the reflections of the good the experience provided.

The language people use is evidence of their changed perspective. I provide a list of lessons I learned by reflecting on my experiences. Pennebaker found the more people use such cause-and-effect words like “because,” “realize” and “understand,” the more they appear to benefit from writing. Writing my memoir was a healing journey. I discovered things about myself and my childhood that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

Pennebaker acknowledges that some personality types respond better to writing than others. Evidence suggests that people who are unable to speak freely benefit most. A host of other individual differences like handling stress, ability to self-regulate, and interpersonal relations—all restore harmony and balance and the effectiveness of writing.

The power of writing to heal lies in the mind of the writer, that’s where practitioners can help clients tap into their healing power. Writing helps them track their progress in their thinking. The benefits of expressing thoughts and feelings on paper can complement traditional therapy.

Therapeutic journaling is any writing or related expressive process used for psychological healing or growth—it can be a beneficial supporting therapy. When integrated into a treatment plan, journaling becomes a dynamic tool for personal growth and healing. Therapeutic journaling and the benefits from its use goes beyond talk therapy.

Heddy Keith, M. Ed is a certified journal writing instructor and retired language arts teacher. She offers Expressive Writing-workshops and classes in the Milwaukee area. Contact her at Heddykeith51@yahoo.com for more information.

Holding Space: The Art of Being Present with Others

By Adam Brady,

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Sometimes the best gift that you can give to another is being present. Not just physically present, but also emotionally and mentally present. These seven tips will help you be there for those you love.

Holding space is a conscious act of being present, open, allowing, and protective of what another needs in each moment. The term has been growing in popularity among caregivers, healers, yogis, and spiritual seekers. It’s a broadly used phrase to define the act of “being there” for another. The effects of this practice, however, go much deeper than simply offering support.

Consider the individual words for a moment. To hold means to embrace or encircle someone or something in your grasp. Physically, this might take the form of a hug or the cradling of a hand in yours. But you can also embrace someone non-physically with your intention, attention, and energy. Space refers to the immediate environment you are sharing with another. This, too, may be the physical space of a room, but more frequently refers to the mental and emotional environment you are in with others. Put together, these words embody the principle of surrounding the environment with your awareness in way that provides comfort and compassion for all.

Holding space involves several specific qualities of consciously relating to others, the sum of which are greater than the individual parts. Let’s explore these attributes and see how they can deepen your ability to hold space for others.

Safety

A key component to holding space is the quality of safety. For others to be open, genuine, and oftentimes vulnerable, they must feel secure and have a sense of trust. People won’t let down their defenses until they know it is safe to do so.

Like a medieval cathedral nestled within the city’s fortress walls, you need to create an environment in which all who enter feel protected from harm. This safety implies an unspoken “sheepdog” mentality that serves as a guardian and authentically maintains confidentiality, transparency, and impeccability in all you say and do.

Suspended Self-Importance

A vitally important aspect of holding space is the understanding that it’s not about you. When you hold space you must make the conscious decision to leave your ego at the door. Holding space is about serving others and your personal concerns or needs are not part of the process. Suspending your sense of self-importance can be challenging and should be considered a prerequisite for the practice. If you aren’t able to put your ego in the back for a time, you’ll be ill-suited to be present for the needs of others. Holding space requires radical humility and the willingness to be a temporary caretaker of the feelings and concerns of another.

Attention

One of the most precious gifts you can give another is the gift of your full and complete attention. However, listening attentively without the need to respond, interrupt, or comment is a skill that takes considerable practice to master. Even with the best of intentions, your ego may sneak back in; it looks for opportunities to subtly make things about you instead of the other.

When holding space you must work diligently to maintain eye contact, be free of distractions, be fully attentive, and cultivate an openness or “space consciousness” in which there is no “me,” but rather the ever-present witness of the sounding board of consciousness.

To this end, make the commitment to cultivate what British author Stuart Wilde called silent power by resisting the urge to speak unless you are asked to. This, coupled with your full awareness, can be a profoundly powerful experience for those in your presence. Your attention, focused and all-inclusive of whatever is happening in the moment, opens the door for others to see the reflection of their own soul in you—the Self talking to itself.

Practice Acceptance

Holding space is all about allowing—allowing this person or group to feel what they feel. Allowing them to say what they need to say. Allowing yourself to be whatever they need you to be right now. Holding space, therefore, isn’t about controlling anything. Your role is that of a guardian of the space. Like two cupped hands filled with water, you are there to hold the other with your awareness. In doing so, you must allow that experience to take whatever shape it will.

Accept this moment as it is. Accept others as they are, without any desire to change them, or wanting them to be something different. This, too, can be a challenge since you are conditioned to immediately try to change things you think should be different. But, in holding space, practicing acceptance gives others a priceless gift—the freedom to be just as they are.

Non-judgement

Holding space is an impartial process. You’re not there to pass judgement or to evaluate another. When you judge another’s experience you create additional mental static that will only get in the way and obscure the truth. In the moment when you’re holding another’s fears, suffering, or grief, your opinions are irrelevant.

Unless you’ve been through what they’re going through, you’ll never truly understand their feelings. Being there is enough. Good and bad are merely a matter of perspective and in this moment, your perspective isn’t the one that’s important.

Compassion

Although you nonjudgmentally practice acceptance with your full attention, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t prefer things to be better. Compassion is an essential quality for the practice of holding space. To embrace another in acceptance is an act of compassion in and of itself. In your openness to the pain of others you are essentially saying, “How can I help you? I don’t want you to hurt. What can I do to help support your highest good?” Even if not spoken aloud, these intentions to relieve the suffering of others are the essence of compassion.

In many cases, simply being a loving presence can bring about a deep sense of relief that eases the pain of another. The world can use more compassion, so the practice of holding space provides an opportunity to continually build this vitally important skill.

Witnessing

Witnessing allows you to play a special part while holding space—that of the observer. Like in quantum physics, the observer is what triggers the collapse of the wave of potential into a particle, the non-local into the localized phenomenon. But this doesn’t involve any action on the observer’s part. In holding space you’re just there as the witness, almost like a fly on the wall. Naturally, you can participate if requested to do so, but essentially your role is that of the watcher.

It is said that when Gautama (the future Buddha) was on the verge of enlightenment, he was tempted by the forces of darkness and their king, the demon Mara. With his entire demon army descending upon them, Mara demands the Gautama produce a witness to his awakening. Gautama simply touches the earth with his fingers and says, “The earth itself is my witness.” With this gesture, Mara and his arm vanish, and Gautama becomes the Buddha or Awakened One. Like the earth the Buddha touches, you are the witnesses to those who you hold space for.

Through the practice of holding space, you serve as a container for which the healing and transformation can take place. It’s a powerful gift of presence that you can give to others through the quality of your attention.

Upending the “Black Superwoman” Trope: Balancing Power and Vulnerability

By Aminata Ciss

Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

The past four weeks have been emotionally taxing for everyone.  From the incessant phone notifications about new quarantine provisions to the morbid updates of those who have succumbed to COVID-19, everyone seems to be on high alert, as the world collapses into bedlam. There have been numerous allusions to the “Twilight Zone” and dystopian films, to make sense of the current chaos. 

In my free time, I’ve skimmed online articles about how the pandemic is specifically affecting the Black community.  In the majority of these pieces, the resilience of the black woman has been highlighted. On social media, several videos are circulating, showcasing the efforts of the tireless nurses and the selfless doctors, caring for their patients.  Across the country, during this quarantine, a large percentage of the women still working as cashiers in supermarkets and at fast-food restaurants, are black women. During these harrowing times, these women embody the “keeping it moving” ethos; but as a Black woman, I hesitate to embrace this generalized depiction of Black womanhood. Without a doubt, hearing the stories and watching others act courageously is empowering; however, I fear that these broad characterizations of the formidable Black female, help to perpetuate commonly held stereotypes. 

In the United States, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of Americans, whenever Black women publicly displayed any type of emotions, their feelings were promptly reduced to memes, trending hashtags, and buzzwords.  Despite the increased visibility of Black women in the media, there has been limited space for them to honestly express their feelings, fears, and concerns. Paradoxically, there are numerous blogs (like this one lol) and YouTube channels popping up daily, telling Black women what to do and how to do it. However, these platforms seem to merely brush the surface or give superficial solutions, if any, to the lived experiences and silent suffering of many Black women.

For centuries, Black women have fought for basic personhood; while white women have been defined as the “fairer sex”, in comparison to the dominant white men.  Seemingly always in flux, the ever-evolving concept of womanhood, with all its inherent struggles and biases, still looks to the upper-class white female as the paragon of “woman”.  Since the lived experiences of white women are antithetical to that of most Black women; the cis-gendered Black woman is essentially a woman with conditions. 

As a woman with conditions, the Black woman is therefore not granted the same privileges of softness; vulnerability, and space to cry.  Rather, in the face of trauma and difficult situations, the average Black woman must jump into a telephone booth, throw on her cape, and emerge as “The Black Superwoman!” And if she is triggered, like The Hulk, she morphs into  “the Angry Black Woman” brandishing a domineering stance with the ubiquitous chip on her shoulder.  

To this end, the meekest and most soft-spoken Black girl appears threatening and unhinged; while those who are reserved in nature, but question systemic workplace micro-aggressions, are deemed aggressive. Most professional Black women, regardless of their field have been characterized as  “difficult to work with”. Unfortunately, these mischaracterizations of the Black woman that begins as early as adolescence, help to shape the way that she navigates spaces in the world. The quiet teenager who is treated like a ticking time bomb, eventually, begins to change. She may master the duality of an “outside” and an “inside” face or she may internalize these false portrayals of her personhood.  Over time, the effects of splitting herself gradually diminishes her humanity and her womanhood.  

Looking back at my formative years, I realize that I learned to be very measured in expressing my emotions, be they joy, anger, or dismay.   As a Black teenager, even at the most difficult and trying times, I was expected to exude strength, as the “indomitable Black woman” in training.    And since superheroes don’t need protection, Black women are rarely offered the proverbial safe space, to just be.  

So, today, as the Black female anesthesiologist intubates the highly virulent patient while thinking about her two children at home, can she say, “I’m scared”?  If she protests about the lack of protective gear, will her fervent need to protect herself and her young family be heard, without first being filtered through the lens of “aggressive Black woman”?  Furthermore, will this society allow her to shed some tears, voice her fears; wipe her eyes; then throw on her cape and fly back into action?

To learn more about our upcoming events for professional black women, click here.

7 Key Factors that Cause High Blood Pressure

By Heddy Keith

Nine out of ten people with high blood pressure (hypertension) have what’s called primary or essential hypertension. Although, there is no clear medical cause it is known that some lifestyle factors can contribute.

Hypertension 3
  1. Smoking
  2. Family history
  3. Obesity (being very overweight)
  4. Drinking a lot of alcohol
  5. Lack of exercise
  6. Your diet (especially salt)
  7. Stress

Causes of High Blood Pressure                                                  

Hypertension is called the silent killer. Blood pressure can increase without any symptoms and can cause a stroke or heart attack. Hypnotherapy for high blood pressure is very effective for all of the causes, hypnotherapy helps clients with high blood pressure deal with many of the factors that cause and maintain high blood pressure.

Clients that are diagnosed with high blood pressure are told to stop smoking, lose weight, reduce alcohol and reduce salt consumption, to increase exercise and reduce the effects of the stressors in their lives. For most people that is easier said than done. Hypnosis can help clients achieve these goals.

If you have high blood pressure you already know that to continue smoking is like pointing a loaded gun at your head. Certified Hypnotists can tackle the most common emotional and lifestyle factors in an easy and fun way.

The reason hypnosis for high blood pressure works is because we use the power of your subconscious mind to change your thinking processes, making it very easy to stop. Normally people will use their will power to try to stop. This creates irritability, mood swings, bad temper, cravings and possible weight gain. Hypnosis is proven to be the best method of Stopping Smoking by New Scientist magazine. Their findings were the result of an in-depth study of all methods used to stopping smoking.

It looks at lifestyle factors such as:

  • Childhood events
  • Social beliefs and expectations
  • Conditioning and traumatic events
  • Releasing inappropriate beliefs
  • Fears
  • Family pressures
Hypertension stress-and-Hypertension-how-are-they-connected

Stress                                                                      

Stress is the number 1 cause of disease. It is triggered by an event or episode. Hypnotherapy teaches you to learn to recognize your stress triggers, and then you can learn to introduce new, alternative behaviors when you start to experience a stress trigger, thereby stopping the cycle of building triggers that contribute to high stress. While in the hypnotic state you are able to see alternative perspectives and behaviors in stressful situations. You can learn to reprogram your thoughts and actions while in a trance state to help you develop new behavior in the waking conscious state.  Continue reading →

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Hello, I’m Heddy Keith, M.Ed, CI President/CEO

Our logo

I am a certified journal writing instructor, certified hypnosis instructor, and a retired Milwaukee Public Schools teacher, I taught middle school language arts and social studies. I am an awarding winning author of three books; Through It All A Memoir of Love and Loss, Through It All Trauma Recovery Journal, and African American Scientists and Inventors: An Accelerated learning Curriculum. Our logo is an Adinkra symbol FI-HANKARE pronounced (fee-han-krah) It represents an enclosed or secured House. A symbol of sisterhood, safety, security, completeness, and solidarity. Its style is a basic quadrangle enclosed on all four sides with four rooms. We have labeled those rooms; emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental for holistic healing.

We want to welcome you to our website. The center was established in August of 2018. Our co-founders are Mary Ali-Masai, Brenda Ward, Patrice Robinson, and Sheila Haygood. When we first organized we met twice a month on Sunday afternoons. We are a group of women who believe in our mission to help our sisters navigate through life’s journey. Our choice to help Black women is because we have many obstacles to rise above. Many Black women retreat to their families, churches, and other Black institutions for a sense of safety. CLAWW provides that sense of safety and belonging.

There are 19 million Black women living in the United States. Our lives are governed by old oppressive beliefs. “Societies stubborn myths continue to do tremendous damage to Black women.” These myths often seep into our inner psyches and become internalized.

A study by the African American Women’s voices Project was designed to explore the impact of racism and sexism on Black women in America. These two women wanted to know the impact of racism and sexism on their self-image, their relationships with men, their lives as mother, their experiences with the church, and the work world. Understanding the pressures that Black women live with and the compromises that they make mentally, physically, and emotionally is of upmost the importance.

“When I stand before thee at the days end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.”

Rabindranath Tagore

Nothing Ever Goes Away

Heddy Keith M.Ed., CI

“Nothing Ever Goes Away Until It Teaches Us What We Need To Know” Pema Chodron

We can’t deny trauma, we can’t hide from it, we can’t refuse to face it.  It’s always there underneath the surface stored in our subconscious minds. Like weeds, we must pull them up from the root.

Some people won’t look at their problem; instead, they sweep it under the rug where it festers and becomes a lump that trips them. Because we don’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. That experience makes automatic decisions based on past experiences. Unless we commit to take some action our issue will keep turning up, oftentimes more serious and difficult until we address it. We’ll have the same challenges until action is taken.

You can start by:

  • Meditating for 20 minutes helps to relax and calm your mind and body.
  • Writing for 20 minutes releases the emotional pain and increases the immune system.
  • Call a trusted professional to discuss where you can begin your healing journey.
    • Take a walk for 20-30 minutes.
    • Seek the right help. Read a self-help book. Take a long bath.

Begin the healing process. You’ll feel great. Every fiber of your being will shift, and your life will change.

Writing one’s feelings gradually eases emotional trauma. Writing therapeutically can take place individually or in a group and can be administered in person. Expressive writing has the potential to provide a ‘boost’ to the immune system, perhaps explaining the reduction in physician visits. One could argue that talk and writing differ in relative cerebral dominance. If language is more related to the right hemisphere, then writing may be more related to the left hemisphere. If this is the case, then writing might stimulate parts of the brain that are not stimulated by talking.

Julie Gray, founder of Stories Without Borders notes that “People who have experienced trauma in their lives, whether or not they consider themselves writers, can benefit from creating narratives out of their stories. It is helpful to write it down, in other words, in safety, and in non-judgment. Trauma can be isolating and those who have suffered need to understand how they feel and try to communicate that to others.”

In Through it All: Trauma Recovery Journal, I share quotes and writing prompts to help get you started.

“The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. It can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviors.”

Peter A. Levine