DO WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT TRAUMA:
Warning! Some of the material about trauma has the potential to trigger an individual’s pain. Please seek support if you find yourself being triggered.
Trauma treatment has been studied since the advent of mankind. The treatments have changed over a period. They were primarily shamanic in nature in the time of our ancestors. With the advent of psychology, they became less “somatic” based treatments and more based on introspection of thoughts. The “talking cure” was discovered.
The question that we hear most often is if it is necessary to go back into the horrors of a traumatic experience and remember it, process it and resolve it. The answer to that question is involved. We will explore that briefly in this conversation. The brief answer is that it depends on the unique circumstances of a person. Following are some of the factors that we need to consider when deciding on how to approach trauma.
Traumatic memories are typically avoided by individuals who have experienced them. Typically the presentation of trauma consists of re-experiencing. This phenomenon consists of people feeling as if they are back in the traumatic experience. This can present as nightmares, flashbacks or being triggered by any reminders of the trauma. A lot of times these reactions are unconscious in nature. For, there was a veteran, an extremely pleasant man who would have a change in personality every time he would enter a particular restaurant. He would become demeaning and nasty to whoever he was with. The problem was that his wife really liked eating at that restaurant. It was only after discussing it with his therapist that he was able to figure out that the restaurant contained a picture on the wall that reminded him of the fields that he fought in while serving in the military. Till brought up it was completely out of his awareness. In such a situation having some level of processing about the trauma would help and going back into the history of the traumatic event would be useful.
TOLERABILITY OF PAIN:
One of the ways that we deal with trauma is to be in denial about the way that we have been hurt. And then stemming from that how our hurt has affected our behaviors. Denial keeps us locked into unconscious behaviors that are fear based and not love based. Disassociation is a form of denial. And when we are in denial of the pain, we also start denying the joyful in life. Denial is however not all bad. It helps us deal with the painful and the intolerable. It is often the support that keeps us functioning for our survival and the survival of our loved ones. It is not the job of the therapist or the doctor to “break denial” in a person. Unfortunately, a lot of psychotherapy, can sometimes unknowingly hurt by making the dealing-with-the-denial as the main goal of therapy. Unless a person is ready, it runs the risk of retraumatizing. Readiness is often in the form of a safe trusting relationship, having the ability to self soothe in the face of painful memories and then having the coping resources to work through the pain and grief that comes up. It is like how a poisonous snake bite used to be treated by tying a tourniquet. And loosening the tourniquet a little bit at a time to let a little bit of the poison into the body so that it can metabolize it before letting a little bit more of the poison into the system.
HAVING THE BODY INVOLVED:
Sometimes it is less important to have the thoughts and the mind involved in helping heal the trauma. Instead it is more useful to have the body involved in healing the trauma. If we can master the ability to change the balance of fight-flight and rest-digest system in our body, our thoughts follow with being balanced out. In such a case recalling particular details about the trauma becomes superfluous. Especially if the aim of the psychotherapy is to gain maximum functioning in the present. Acupuncture, Yoga (among many other modalities) are all ways that the body can be involved in the healing of the mind.
Freud is well known for his theory that all our adult behaviors are shaped by our experiences in our childhood. There are some people who even believe that our experiences during pregnancy also affect our behaviors. It is impossible to recall details of events that happened when our nervous system had not developed the ability for language. Language is one of the primary means for us to organize our memories in a comprehensible linear way. As a result traumatic memories in such cases are often not logically organized and might contain flashes, emotions, notions, feelings or impulses. Trying to heal them with recall is not very useful in that situation.
Deciding what is appropriate in your situation requires working with someone and taking an active part in “planning” your treatment. It is good to have a conversation with your therapist about what the goals for treatment are and how you are going to work towards achieving them.
Reach out to us! At Blossom we can provide you the space where you can get this dialogue started between you and your therapist.