The Trauma Factor

Healing: When Trauma is a Factor

Much of the information I put out is generalized so it can be applied to almost anyone’s life circumstances. The vital steps to health and wellness are pretty much the same for most people, and I try to keep it simple whenever I can. While that makes it easier to grasp, the generalized information does not account for the full spectrum of challenges that are faced when there is a presence or history of trauma.

When there is a presence of trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect, violent attacks or accidents, or any long term exposure to being violated, there are additional locks and layers of perceptual distortion. There are additional steps in the healing process and these are to be handled with foreknowledge and preparation. It’s not that health is more elusive for traumatized people, it’s that the perception goggles through which they experience life have well-camouflaged distortions that are often deeply woven into their sense of security and survival; the emotional residue of trauma will undermine all therapy until it’s recognized as distortion and cleared from the perception. Clearing it is easy, but first being ready and willing to see it, that can be quite a challenge.

In some cases, the experience of trauma can render subconscious, self-protecting changes in the brain so that it permanently inhibits activity in the areas responsible for registering all forms of pain. This affects the person’s awareness of all emotional sensations and disconnects them from visceral sensation as well. Additionally, self-awareness is lowered and it becomes almost impossible to perceive life experience, or even one’s self, with reliable accuracy. This makes it quite difficult to recover using the typical holistic cues and guidelines, because in a sense they are experiencing life through a haze that diminishes their capacity to register the true resonance of people and events. Often they are disconnected from themselves; disconnected from their feelings, hopes, dreams and imagination. This disconnection can be restored when a person is ready to honestly investigate their inner life.

How does this affect the healing journey? It’s important to remember that every single individual takes a unique path to health and wellness, because the path is truly within, and it is the inner life of the individual which manifests the external choices and the path itself. When the inner life is polluted with unacknowledged distortions like self-loathing, denial, shame, victimization scripts, or fear that the truth about something simply cannot be faced – it’s as if the soul must continually fight off a self-replicating virus that seeks to undo any efforts to reconnect the mind-body-spirit interfacing. The virus must be eradicated, through a conscious process of acknowledging and releasing, so that natural healing has a supportive mental and emotional environment in which to work its magic.

Trauma experiences can also be ‘trapped’ in the physical body in the form of unexpressed emotional energy. There are great successes with therapies that involve movement, from yoga to dancing, to more personalized movements that allow someone to return to their fearful memories with physical empowerment and liberation, clearing out the emotional energy through free physical expression. There is something miraculous in staying fluid at all levels, fluidity of the mind, the emotions, and the body.

In any case of healing from trauma, the greatest recovery is observed when there is conscious, active participation in uncovering and re-discovering the Self, and in the breaking of one’s own chains. The journey out of trauma may have its own special pains and potholes, but the reward of the transcendence is that much greater. Some of our wisest and most emotionally-literate spiritual teachers and life coaches became who they are because of transcending their personal experience with trauma, abuse and neglect. The message is clear – it can be done, and it is worth it.

 

Suggested reading for recovering from trauma and/or an abusive/neglectful childhood:

-Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, by Pete Walker

-The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel Van Der Kolk

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Complex PTSD Link to Anxiety Attacks

What is Complex PTSD and how does it relate to anxiety and panic attacks? Buckle up, because this one may change your life.

The most common features of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic and social anxiety. Other characteristics include emotional disregulation, interpersonal turbulence, a tendency to misinterpret reality, catastrophic thinking, black & white thinking, self-destructive or impulsive behavior patterns, addiction and poor impulse control.

Cptsd develops usually from adverse childhood conditions, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and abandonment, and even from the often-overlooked circumstance of simply blatant, ongoing contempt and/or disinterest from caregivers. As the child is deprived of sufficient nurturing, whether he is spoiled or beaten, he is objectified, and not valued as a developing human being. And by this experience of being objectified and devalued, the child’s emotional development is stunted, and his personal boundaries are never allowed to form through healthy trials and safe conflicts. Many children in abusive and adverse settings learn to develop a shell and a false persona, one that is extra careful to avoid triggering the rage and/or rejection of the caretaker. Over time they tend to become hypervigilant, always on alert, and thus drained of energy. The child may become an ingratiating people-pleaser, denying his own needs in a desperate attempt to curry the interest and attention of the people around him. The child may become hypercritical of himself, as a naive child always assumes that love is being withheld because he is not worthy, because he is not loved. This experience ingrains an incredibly toxic inner critic into the mind of the abused/neglected child, who often grows up to become a very anxious, emotionally disregulated adult with porous boundaries, diminished self-esteem, and  – AND – emotional flashbacks that feel and look a lot like what the psychiatric community has been calling “panic attacks”.

In Pete Walker’s outstanding book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” he describes emotional flashbacks:

“Emotional flashbacks are perhaps the most noticeable and characteristic feature of Cptsd. Survivors of traumatizing abandonment are extremely susceptible to painful emotional flashbacks, which unlike ptsd do not typically have a visual component. Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandoned child. These feeling states can include overwhelming fear, shame, alienation, rage, grief and depression. They also include the unnecessary triggering of our fight/flight instincts.”

If this sounds like what you’ve been experiencing, read Pete Walker’s book as it is a wealth of guidance toward full recovery and a solid understanding of the hidden damages that abusive/neglectful parenting can render.

On a personal note, this book helped me tremendously. After years of trying it all I can confidently say that I don’t think there is any amount of meditating or praying or imagining forgiveness that one could do and even come close to resolving childhood trauma issues and the lingering effects. Facing the root of a problem is the only way to transcend it. Facing the root cause of my “panic attacks” was the only way to truly begin to overcome them. Now I know that they are emotional flashbacks driven by a toxic inner voice. Why don’t more psychiatrists know about this? (Oh right, because they want to keep calling it a chemical problem so they can justify prescribing a chemical solution…)

Thankfully we have a few psychologists like Pete Walker who go a bit rogue and start writing a new, better map of the reality of mental health. I vividly saw my childhood in Pete Walker’s book, and saw my parents, and step-parents. Finally, someone had put into words the invisible wounds and scars and saw the unmet needs that went unseen by my own parents, someone finally showed me that I had developed a lot of my self-defeating personality traits in response to my quietly adverse childhood conditions. It made sense why I felt stuck behind a mask and why it was so incredibly hard to take off the mask for good. There was still a relentless toxic critic in my head, setting me up for failure with its brutal script of rejection and humiliation and worthlessness – and just knowing that and seeing it for what IT was – as in, not the real ME – this was the key to breaking the panic attack pattern. Grabbing the reins of that inside voice and making it my most adoring, supportive champion. It’s so simple and yet so life-changing. Read the book and it goes deeply into the dynamics of family relationships and provides a lot of examples to help reveal the dysfunctions that often get normalized or swept under the rug and left to fester like a road block on our path to emotional development. It’s time to clean house and tell our inner child that we are here now, we are in charge now, and we are going to take excellent care of ourselves, starting with the ending the self-abandonment.

Another fantastic resource for Cptsd support is Richard Grannon Spartan Life Coach, he has a website and a youtube channel with lots of free videos discussing Cptsd and recovering from narcissistic abuse, something which Cptsd folks often encounter as they are similarly co-dependent and tend to attract relationships that repeat the dynamic they experienced with a caregiver in childhood.

The best news is that it can be healed, it can be changed, it isn’t a permanent “disorder” in fact it’s more of a response than a disorder, as I’ve heard some comment. We can re-write the scripts and programs that drive this response. We can fully recover. And once we’re there, we can then consider exploring the emotion of forgiveness. Forgiveness toward an abuser is not necessary, and in some cases it is not advisable or healthy. First things first – rescue your inner child. Start there and the rest will unfold for you. Hugs to you all.

-CC