Core Self as Shepherd    

Maine lighthouse: shepherd of ships…  

It’s a small, small world. In a recent 50th anniversary show about Disney World, a young Julie Andrews sang this song while holding hands with people representing different countries. Hearing the cheerful tune launched my mind into reverse; I enjoyed Disney’s Small World ride (a few times) when my children were small. I think I liked it more than my kids as I imagined those international dolls representing the possibility of a problem-solving and peaceful world.

Fast forward to last week: “You’re looking up into the future and down into the past. What we’re looking down upon is Mother Earth and it needs protection.” I listened with tears to the moving tribute to our small, small world from 90-year-old William Shatner (“Captain Kirk”), now knighted as an astronaut aboard the “New Shepard” rocket. Shatner and three others traveled 62 miles above Earth to the “edge” of space. With an extraordinary view of our precious planet, Shatner was visibly moved by his fleeting glimpse of our planet’s fragility and blueness surrounded by an endless unknown.  

Back on the Earth, many of us are “on edge,” a different edge. We sail in collective water where trauma is like surround sound in this pandemic era. Uncertainty permeates everyday life. Some forgo an ability to have a sense of awe in science. Where is a lighthouse to shepherd us through choppy water?

If you ever took a Psychology 101 class, you heard of the Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, and his operant conditioning experiments. Pavlov studied dogs who were kept in cages in his basement laboratory in St. Petersburg. A winter thaw created a flood in the nearby River Neva. The basement dogs were trapped in icy water with no escape route. While water receded and the dogs survived, they continued to be terrified even though they were physically intact. We might understand the trauma signs of dogs – lying listless, unable to show curiosity in their surroundings – as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if we were discussing humans.

Like people, the dogs displayed different reactions. Their stress responses showed a continuum of strong excitability to depression. For some animals, even a minor sound produced an extreme response; others barely flinched.

Trauma comes from the Greek work for “wound.” Originally, trauma meant physical wounding, but today we also acknowledge psychological wounds. We often look outside of ourselves for some lighthouse to guide us to safety post-trauma, while we overlook the compassion of a core self. Psychiatrist Gabor Mate shines a light on the possibility of inner resiliency: many people say that their traumatic experience has been “the best thing that has ever happened to them.”  Acknowledging and working through trauma opened them to connect with their essential selves.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) quiz:

22. When do you connect with essential or core self?

23. How do you shepherd yourself when you experience physical or psychological trauma?    

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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