You’re Over-Reacting!

The dictionary defines “over-react” as “react disproportionately, act irrationally, lose one’s sense of proportion, blow something up out of all proportion, make a mountain out of a molehill.” That sounds like a very childish, immature, inappropriate, and all those other good things, to do. Something that will make others look down on you and shame you.

Ah, but if you dig a bit deeper, it isn’t so terrible.

A psychologist once said to me, “If somebody over-reacts, that means they had to under-react in the past.” Made sense to me.

If at some point, you had to stuff your feelings, they didn’t go away. They sat there waiting for a chance to show themselves. When you were in a similar situation, they saw their chance and came rushing out. Basically, we are talking about an emotional flashback, with the present-day situation being the trigger..

(Here’s a previous entry about different kinds of flashbacks, including emotional ones.)

People tend to blame you if you over-react. “Stop being so dramatic.” “Stop being such a sissy.” “Just suck it up.”They don’t know what to do, and they are annoyed. You don’t often hear “You look so upset. Is something the matter? Is there anything I can do?” They don’t want to know what caused those extra emotions in the first place. Chances are, when you figure it out, you won’t want to know, either. But you are stuck with it, because it has happened and now it is yours to live with.

I have a hard time figuring out if I am over-reacting, under-reacting, or getting it just right. Under-reacting is as much an emotional flashback as is over-reacting. In the past, you weren’t allowed to show your feelings, and so you hid them. Now you can safely show your feelings, but the old training kicks in and you hide them. It’s fear from the past that makes you do this.

When I freak out, I try to stop a moment and consider that I may be feeling two sets of feelings, one from the present and one from the past. It helps me sort my feelings into a past pile and a present pile. Then I can react appropriately. Of course, this is easier said then done.

It was all but impossible until I found a one-size-fits-all response to any situation. “Let me think about that.” That bought me some time. Then I thought of a sensible, level-headed person I knew and said to myself, “What would he or she do under these circumstances?” That gave me a good handle on the present and suggested a course of action. The final thing I had to do was set aside a time to deal with the feelings from the past. The technique doesn’t always work perfectly, but over-all it works pretty well.

Book Review: We Have Come Far

“We Have Come Far:  Gifts of Healing from Survivors of Extreme Trauma”
Ani Rose Whaleswan, Editor
Sojourn Press, 2014

This summer brings us three important books — a cornucopia of information and support, more than we have had in the whole past year. Just for fun, I’ll keep the titles of the other two secret until I review them. You are welcome to guess in the comments section. That way, I may discover a fourth or even a fifth and a sixth.

As far as I know, this is the only anthology of writing about healing by survivors and only the second anthology of survivor writings, period. The first one came out in 1995. Can you imagine! There had been nothing for almost twenty years and then somebody saw the need, responded to it, and invited others to respond to it. Hooray!

Ani Rose sees the book as a collective endeavor and honors each person’s point of view and voice. She doesn’t footnote, explain, or change wording, she just lets each person’s wisdom shine in words that come straight from the heart. Although the stories and poems and styles are very different, all twenty-one chapters have truth, hope, and courage in common. Each is truly inspiring.

You may recognize some of the names: among them are Wanda Karriker, Lynn Schirmer, Alikina, Janet Thomas, Ani Rose, and me. Others will be new to you. You will find that they have every bit as much to say as the more well-known authors. Many of the entries are full of ideas I never thought of. Many are intensely spiritual and brought me to the verge of tears. All of them touched me deeply and will stay with me for a long, long time.

I’ll end by quoting from Ani Rose’s introduction.

“We have come far, and we will continue on – as we always have. May the real life experiences here inspire you with the knowledge that you are not alone as a survivor or a professional or a friend, and encourage you to continue on, to share your own stories when and where you can, to educate, to whistleblow and advocate safely, and to always remember that we are always strong – and we are stronger together. A braver, kinder world is possible, and we are helping to create it, globally.

It is when we connect that we are strongest. Abuse is always about isolation, about power-over, about difference. But life itself, and living it fully (perhaps the best definition of “healing”) is about connection, power-with, and what we all have in common.”

May you never again believe that you are alone.”

Mike Skinner, Activist Musician

Mike splits his time between his music, teaching about abuse and mental health stigma,  “Surviving Spirit” (a non-profit and also a newsletter), his family, many friends, and fun things, like hiking and camping. As you might guess, he has a lot of energy.

He had an awful childhood that included physical, sexual and emotional abuse from his parents and their friends. What saved him was reading about people who survived against all odds and the Beatles, who opened up another world to him. He became a drummer and joined local bands, eventually touring England for two years with the hard rock band “American Train.” He then spent fifteen years running a small record company and managing an agency that booked 20-30 groups.

At that point, Mike had a flood of memories and came into the mental health system. Here is an excerpt from his blog at

“I came to dread those words (‘mental illness’ or ‘mentally ill’) back in the early to mid nineties, when the horrors of my childhood abuse came back to ‘visit’ me in 1993. I became grief-stricken and overwhelmed by the terror associated with my early life. I was numb with shock and pain and deeply depressed because I was finally dealing with the unresolved sadness, hurt and losses associated with my childhood years. The flashbacks associated with that time frame seemed to roll on in an endless loop – having to ‘watch’ and revisit all of the sexual abuse memories I had worked so hard to suppress was overwhelming and it brought great suffering. Labels were placed upon the experiences I was having now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and Major Depression…and yes, within those descriptions came the many treatment providers letting me know that I was “mentally ill”, and life as I knew it was over. My life, as they were prescribing, would be one of over-medication and the belief that I would never be able to work again. Hmm…a person becomes sad, frightened and overwhelmed because of these horrible life experiences and that means you are destined to a life of nothingness? Wow! How sad and oh-so wrong to believe that. Please know, there were some wonderful mental health treatment providers who did not espouse these hurtful views to me, but sadly, many of them were part of a “mental health” system that did believe in these warped thoughts.”
Well, Mike  proved them wrong, in spades, and built a whole new career based on helping others.

Because of how he was treated when he was in the first stages of coming to terms with his past, he puts  “Please know, I AM NOT A DIAGNOSIS” and “A diagnosis is not a destiny!” all over his websites and newsletters.

Mike writes and performs in two areas, abuse education and fighting mental health stigma, and everything else. Everything else includes his own songs about life, love, loss and hope and cover songs from the Beatles, The Eagles, Cat Stevens and classic rock. He performs  in settings ranging from intimate coffee shops to concert halls with audiences of several thousand.

His music of advocacy and education is performed just about any place people want him. Some of the big names that did want him are Oprah Winfrey, the United Nations, and the State Department.  He’s on the Board of Directors of dozens of non-profits working to end child abuse and human trafficking and has spoken on Webinars, TV and the radio.

Plus he puts out a monthly newsletter describing about 20 artists and activists involved in healing projects; “Surviving Spirit: Healing the Heart Through the Creative Arts.” It has several thousand subscribers internationally.  He’s also active in the non-profit of the same name. You would think he worked thirty-hour days, without sleep.

Now if you are a musician, a writer, a dancer, an artist working in paint, ink, sculpture, fabric (or just about anything else) or a public speaker on child abuse or the stigma of “mental illness,” please remember that Mike is extraordinary in many ways. Try not to compare yourself with him! Each of us is different, each has a different talent and approach. And we need every single person to stand together and give strength to all of us for this long, hard, but intensely rewarding fight.

Use Mike as inspiration to help you start and get through the day. Please write him, let him know what you are doing and ask to be included in the newsletter, so that you, too, will inspire others. You will join his circle of friends and learn of many people doing fascinating work.

You can listen to tracks from his three CD’s, “Train of Tears,” “Waitin’ for a Train,” and “Pirates.” Go to and pull down the “Music” tab.

Check out the back issues of “The Surviving Spirit” at
Ask to subscribe at