Are there specific issues for women struggling with addiction?
The roots for women suffering from addiction are often emotional and/or related to trauma.
Lisa Erickson is a mindfulness and meditation expert and has devoted a lot of her career exploring this and how it specifically impacts women.
Lisa Erickson and Mindfulness
Lisa Erickson is a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and her area of specialty is in women's energetics. This includes the practices and tools that women can employ to heal, empower, and awaken themselves.
She focuses on chakra meditation and sexual trauma healing as well.
We're going to talk with Lisa about her life and her work, and our focus will be on the underlying issues that cause addiction for women and how to heal them.
Lisa: Thank you, Caroline. I'm so glad to be here, and thank you for sharing this work with more people.
How did you get started on the path that you're on, and what drew you to working in women's energetics?
Lisa: Well, I was drawn to meditation in college, which is now almost 30 years ago. It had to do with health issues that I was having: headaches, insomnia, things like this. Eventually I became a meditator and I've been meditating now for almost 30 years.
A big part of my practice is chakra meditation, focused on energy centers aligned along the spine. Of course that's just one form of many forms of meditation, but that was the form I was drawn to.
Then much later, about 12 years ago after the birth of my first daughter, I experienced a lot of health problems. I started getting more interested in chakras meditation from a healing perspective. I started studying with Cyndi Dale, a very well-known author and chakra energy healer.
I got more into the mind-body connection, the subtle body work, the psychological connections that lead to physical issues. I started working with the chakras from that perspective.
Now, I really work with the chakras both as a meditation modality and as a healing modality, and I'm most interested in those emotional patterns that get lodged deep inside us and impact both.
You wrote 10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving as an Empath. Can you maybe take us through a few of those and tell us about what's helpful to protecting your energy if you're someone who just feels things really deeply?
Lisa: Well, the way I approach being an empath is … we are all composed of energy.
We have our physical body, and then we have this energy field. If you're empathic, we generally think of that as being emotionally sensitive -- which it is -- and taking on others' emotions, but technically it happens on an energetic level first.
You actually have a tendency to take on the energy of other people, whether that energy is physical, emotional, or mental. Different types of empaths experience it differently.
Some empaths, when they're near someone who's angry, they may get a headache because they take it in physically.
Other people may start getting irritated themselves; it's like they take on the anger. Other people, their mind just might get really busy and frenetic because they're taking on that angry energy.
It can impact you differently, and it's important to think about how am I impacted by people and environment, to ask, “How does it specifically impact me?”
Then from there, you can really start to clear out those energies.
Some of the basic ways for clearing out energy that you may have taken on from others are a lot of the same self-care things that we do to stay healthy physically.
For example, exercise.
Exercise helps push out energies that are lodged in your subtle body, just like you sweat out toxins physically.
Contact with water really, any nature. Any contact with nature at all, because that vibration is the opposite of human vibration.
If you're in a natural place, especially around trees or water, that feels naturally healing to you. That clears out your body.
Other tips are having your home really be a nest, where it feels good to you and it really is a home base for your energy so that you naturally replenish there whenever you're there.
Then I think a lot of the work from that point has to do with seeking to understand the emotional patterns you may have that are causing you or contributing to you taking on energy from others: people pleasing, fear of conflict, a lot of other things that can keep us from enforcing our boundaries.
We do all have a natural ability to create a boundary and filter these energies out. There's a lot of visualizations that I teach and things for helping someone start to establish that boundary.
Ultimately, someone will only be able to do that if psychologically, they really believe in their right to have boundaries.
A lot of the time the work is emotional. You have to really be thinking, “What emotional patterns have I taken on that have triggered or created this pattern of me taking on and feeling responsible for other people’s energy a lot of the time?”
People who come here have two things in common: they're smart and they're sensitive. Often they turn to addiction because they don't know how to manage those things, So they try and escape in a different way.
Lisa: Yes. I work with a lot of abuse survivors, sexual abuse survivors, but really all kinds of childhood abuse.
Of course, there's a very high correlation between childhood abuse survivors and addiction as well, whether it's emotional or physical abuse.
What happens when a child grows up in a home that doesn't feel safe is they do become very attuned to danger. Every time when they walked into their house as a child, they had to sense, “What is the mood, what is it like today?” They had to develop this very fine-tuned sense of, “How do I need to act today to stay safe?”
As an adult, that can turn into a beautiful gift of intuition if someone can own it in that way.
It can also make someone so sensitive that they are just conditioned to take on so much of what they feel from other people.
I also like this image of someone who might struggle with sensitivity and with addiction and having felt unsafe. When you walk into a room with people that you haven't met yet, you'll immediately want to go in a corner and scope it out first, asking, “Who are the safe people? Who can I handle being around?” That kind of thing. Do you find that that's true for a lot of the people that you work with, that they have that feeling?
Lisa: Absolutely. That can manifest as many different things.
In some people it manifests as needing to dissociate. The danger just feels like too much, so that can play into patterns of addiction, et cetera. That feels like, “Ugh, just for a little bit of time I cannot feel anxious.”
For other people, it plays out in many different forms of escapism in addition to addiction. There's internet and television and all sorts of things, all sorts of ways that people can try to hide from the world in order to not feel scared all the time.
I think that's one of the most common emotions that I deal with is helping someone start to actually feel more comfortable with anxiety, because if you spend your whole life just trying to create circumstances where you feel safe, you can honestly never do that. You honestly never can.
You actually have to get more comfortable with feeling anxious and work from that place. That's one of the most common starting points for the work I do with people.
Let's talk about those underlying core issues that can cause addiction for women. What are some of the other ones that crop up?
Lisa: Well, I think obviously there's a whole biological component to addiction.
I focus on the emotional. Coming from the emotional perspective, the most common things that I work with or I see in addition to anxiety are feelings of unworthiness and shame.
These feelings of just somehow being bad, being less than. That is so painful to experience, that someone feels they just can't experience it.
Then that may play out in a lot of different ways.
It may play out that in social settings, they only way they can deal is if they are using a substance. It's the only way they can be around people, or they feel they have an altered personality that all of a sudden they can be outgoing and they're not the wallflower. There are all these different ways that those feelings of shame and unworthiness can be present.
Then that's our starting point: Where do you feel that part of you that just feels I am terrible, I'm not worthy of anything?
That can take a long time, just to allow yourself to even feel where that is lodged in your body and your subtle body, because it's painful.
Once you do, you can let it out, you can work with it, you can heal it. You can start to look at all of the other personality patterns that have developed on top of it.
I think those are really the underlying emotional patterns from my perspective.
There is that part of me that I had been afraid to look at, afraid to feel … that sense of unworthiness, that I don't deserve to be loved. What's the first step to finding that feeling? Is it meditation, getting quiet? How do you start?
Lisa: Well, the way that I work, it really is about feeling it in the body. Then I have two different modalities that I work with. One is the chakra meditation, one is another technique that comes out of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition called feeding your demons.
They both start the same way: you try to find where you feel it in your body.
To do that, you would use what I call a selection memory. It’s a memory of a situation in which you felt it very acutely. But then instead of going into the story of the memory, like you might do in talk therapy, you bring up the memory just enough that you start to feel the emotion, and then we let the memory go.
We really try to define the feeling in your body.
Exactly where is it? What shape is it? What color is it? What does it feel like? What chakra is it nearest to?
Then we kind of work from there to bring other energies from your heart or from elsewhere into your body into that place, to heal it.
We might also externalize it, and that's what the feeding your demons is based on. That's based on externalizing that energy and you actually interact with it.
It's almost in a dreamlike sequence, it helps surface things from your psyche. It lets it speak. You're letting an energy within you that normally you're trying to hide and avoid speak.
Depending on the person, I may work with it in different ways. But that's the starting point. What are those dark shadows that you don't want to feel in your body? Let's go there. Let's go there so that you don't have to fear them anymore.
What do you think of Gestalt therapy, working with let that part of you speak and actually listen to what it has to say to you?
Lisa: Yeah, and that's why I liked a lot of what I saw on The Clearing’s website is well, it is this very unified and Gestalt approach, which is very prevalent in the feeding your demons work and in the way that I work with the chakras as well.
Also this connection to the body, which to me is so important. A lot of the people that come to me have been through talk therapy, and they learn so much because they came to understand especially how their childhood impacted their present self and their patterns.
Then they get frustrated because they feel like, “Okay, I understand all of this, but then when I'm in a situation that feels threatening I still respond the same way.”
Then you need another step, and there's a lot of different tools for that, but that's part of what this work is. Okay, imagine you're in that situation again, feel it in your body, where is it, what can we do right now with that energy as it arises?
Before you just habitually go into that defensiveness or reaching for the drink or whatever it is, whatever your method of coping has been in the past.
Can you catch it before you go to that next step? That takes time.
Yes, actually going underneath that and figuring out, “Okay, what is this? What is this hurt that I'm carrying around?” And then actually being able to choose something different when it comes up again.
Lisa: Yes. For a lot of people, and it's different for everyone, but for a lot of people the key or the thing that really helps is training themselves to tune into their body and feel where it is in my body.
It gets you out of your head, it gets you into your body and then you're dealing with that. That's a lot of the tools that I'm working with, that's what that's about.
Can you talk a little bit about how to start with that, and also some of the changes that you've seen in working with students as a result of creating those healthy boundaries?
Lisa: Yeah. I think the first step is I do a lot of visualizations, and one of the main visualizations I'll just share right now because it's very simple.
Someone visualizes a red light at their tailbone and at their navel, because those are the focus points for the first and the third chakras, and they're very linked to our ability to create this kind of sense of a boundary.
You visualize red light at your navel and at your tailbone, and then you visualize that red light meeting and just creating a second skin all the way around your body. You literally have red light just as a second skin, all the way around your body. You just intend that that is a filter, that it is filtering out any energy that is not yours and that doesn't serve you … but that your own energy, anything you choose to emanate out can easily emanate out. It's just a very simple visualization.
What happens as people do it is it becomes habitual. What's really happening is psychologically it starts to shift your belief that you - as we were talking about earlier - have the right to not take on energies if you don't want to and if they don't serve you.
That's often where I start, with this very simple boundary.
And then we get into the psychological and emotional work about maybe why in the past you haven't been able to assert boundaries, or the beliefs that you have that have caused you to take on others' energies. Or the self-care and the ways you're not taking care of yourself that maybe you need to start doing in order to feel better energetically.
Just doing that visual for a couple of weeks whenever you're going into a situation surrounded by a lot of other people ... many women report this amazing shift in their sense of their right to have that boundary, that's the main shift.
Once that belief starts to shift, it changes everything.
They don't believe they have to be afraid every time they're in a room where there's potentially going to be conflict anymore.
Certainly one of the most troubling and prevalent forms of trauma in our society is sexual abuse. Statistics suggest one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence. Can you talk a bit about that work and what the healing process looks like?
Lisa: Yeah. I'm glad you added that introduction to trauma, because it is a difficult thing to define.
In fact, some of the women that I work with may not even have been physically touched, but there were shocking episodes in their childhood or there were inappropriate episodes or photographs, they were photographed against their will, that kind of thing, and it is experienced as a trauma.
Though there's a lot of differences between how someone might respond to that situation versus childhood abuse versus an assault when you're an adult, there's definite differences, and I don't want to lump them all together.
There are certain common themes that many people tend to experience.
One is the pattern of disassociating in some way, disassociating from the physical body.
What often happens, if there's repeated abuse - and this happens with any form of childhood physical abuse, but most specifically sexual abuse - often a child will develop as a survival strategy the ability to go away during an abusive episode.
To go into a part of their mind and leave their body, if you will.
Then as an adult, that is their habituated response to any situation that feels the least bit unsafe.
This has direct ties to addiction, because for many people that can then translate into substance abuse, trying to capture that same feeling.
For many other women, it's other forms … it can just be being very mental, not being able to feel their body, or any sort of pleasure in their body at all, not even be able to exercise in some cases.
From an energetic perspective this is about being disconnected from the lower chakras. The chakras are aligned all along the spine from tailbone to the crown, and what happens is energetically, all of someone's energy is up here [in the head]. There's no energy down here, there's no balance.
Then from an energetic perspective, what I'm working with is how to help a woman really connect with her lower chakras, her lower body, and the psychological themes linked to the lower chakras, which are safety, feeling grounded and present, in the case of the first chakra.
In the case of the second chakra, it's more about feminine energy, fluidity, feminine power, the ability to enjoy sensuality. Forget sexuality, just sensuality. All of those sorts of things, so that's a big part of the work is connecting to those lower chakras.
Then I think some other patterns are obviously linked to the heart in the way someone processes relationships, and how they think about masculine and feminine energies, or yin and yang energies, which we all have inside of us.
Someone will just decide, “I'm never going to be weak again,” and they kind of take on a lot of yang energy and they decide they think of all yin energies as being weak, so they won't allow themselves to experience any of that. Then there's balance that needs to be had.
Other women may come to develop self beliefs that all they are is passive, and they don't have any right to assert themselves, so then there's too much yin and we need to bring more yang into their psyche and into their body.
There's different variations, but I think those are the two main energetic things that I'm working on, connecting to the lower body and energies, and the balance between yin and yang internally.
Can you talk about how the subtle body is affected by sexual abuse and then how to heal?
Lisa: Yeah, those are the main two areas, the disassociation and the balance of yin and yang.
Then there's all these other things.
One of them ties back to our very first discussion at the beginning of the interview, the sensitivity issue. It's partially the chakras that are associated with intuition are often up here, like the third eye and the forehead. Very often, abuse survivors have very well-developed third eyes.
They're very intuitive, they're very sensitive for all the reasons that we discussed.
In order for that to be a gift rather than a curse, it needs to be integrated with their whole being and with the sense of being able to protect themselves, a sense that it doesn't happen against their will, that energies don't just come at them against their will, that they can actually control it, boundary it, and ground themselves in their body and in their life.
That would be the other big thing.
Can you talk more about energetic lives and boundary setting and that process and how it works?
Lisa: Yeah. Well, of course in that example that you gave, these are friends or these are people that they're part of your support network. In that sense, it's like feeling that connection of energy line as a very positive thing.
I think of it as your mandala, your energetic mandala of support that you need to draw upon. Even with those people what I would often do is visualize myself in this middle of mandala with all my support network around me, and a very clear gold line from my heart to theirs.
That's called clearing the line. It's really just a way of affirming for yourself, “I have support. I am not alone.”
The flip side of that is people in your life with whom you're taking on a lot of negative energy, but they need to be in your life for whatever reason. They're coworkers, they're your neighbors, whatever.
Or old associations that you really need to let go of, but somehow you still feel you're energetically connected. It's with those individuals that I often deal with visualizations in which you really visualize cutting the line and saying goodbye.
I would say one of the most common is ex-relationships.
There comes a point where you need to just do a very simple exercise. You visualize yourself and the other person, a line between you, you cut it and you just say, “I love you, I forgive you, I'm sorry, goodbye,” which is actually from a Hawaiian healing technique.
It's just a way of cutting that line, symbolically.
You visualize the line coming back into you, the other end of the line going into the other person. It's a way of just symbolizing that our energy is just separate now for once and for all. There may be healing still to do around the relationship, but our energy is separate.
Often we need to do that periodically.
Again, for me, it's partially really happening energetically that you are cutting this energy line, but it's also about going through the processes about this psychological shift that occurs. You start to really think about who in my life contributes positive energy, who does not, and I'll just cut that line.
Even if I see someone every day, I don't have to be impacted by their energy, I don't have to take that on. Even if someone was a big part of my life and that relationship is now done, I don't need to still have all of their energy coming into my body through this line that we forge.
It's time to let that go.
Can you say more about about owning and reclaiming your sexual energy and how that looks?
Lisa: Yeah. The way that I usually work with that is I think about all the themes of the second chakra, which for a woman is where most of this energy is located.
The themes of the second chakra, or the powers or energies of the second chakra, are creativity, fluidity, sensuality, and sexuality.
I asked someone to think about which of those areas is already strong for them. Someone may be very creative, but they feel like they're shut down sexually. They may be sensual in some areas of their life, like they can go out in nature and really appreciate the smells and the sounds of nature, or they can appreciate beautiful artwork.
In that case, they're open sensually. We work first with wherever you're strong: creativity, sensuality, sexuality. We work on getting more and more comfortable with those energies. I call them all the juicy energies of life, right?
Then we gradually start to tie that over into sexuality and sexual energy.
Whether someone's working with a partner or they're working alone, in terms of masturbation and things like that, which is a reality of getting more comfortable with yourself as a sexual being, that's often the next step then is trying to create a bridge between sensuality and the beautiful things in life that you experience in sexuality.
That's really what sexuality should be connected to, right?
That's the next step in the healing is trying to create that bridge as opposed to whatever association has already been made with sexuality through abuse.
Just in general, what's something that you wish more people knew about your field, about what you do, about women's energetics?
Lisa: I'd love to take the kind of “out there” connotation away from it.
I think it really is a balance to psychological work, and it really isn't simply about sitting in meditation for hours on end, visualizing colors in different parts of your body.
There is that, but it's really much more about, “What do you feel and where do you feel it?”
Then you can start to understand how where you feel something is connected not just to your physical body but to your subtle body, your energy body.
You have this whole other level of awareness that's just naturally there once you start to tune into it. It's not hocus pocus. It's very based in what you're feeling and in your life.
Any final things you'd like to share, words of encouragement, anything else that you feel like we haven't covered that you'd like to?
Lisa: I guess ... don't give up. I think the biggest thing is with a lot of the trauma survivors that I'm working with - and this is very true for addiction patterns as well - it takes time.
There's some long-standing patterns in there, but anything can be re-written.
You have to just view every setback as providing new insight. In some part of you that was not yet seen, some shadow that you had not yet noted ... now you've seen it, it gives you the opportunity to see it and move two steps forward, and to just keep doing that.
Everyone has the birthright to happiness.
That's beautiful, thank you, Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you.
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About Lisa Erickson
Lisa Erickson is a meditation teacher, energy worker, writer, and mom of three. Her websites are EnlightenedEnergetics.com and MommyMystic.com, and she offers online courses, private energy work phone sessions, teleseminars, classes, and retreats.
Lisa Erickson is a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and her area of specialty is in women's energetics. Her primary modality is chakra-based meditation and energy work.