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PTSD Therapy 1: Trauma Basics

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 20:25
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Though I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve found some of the best stuff from the book, Healing from Trauma; A Survivor’s Guide To Understanding Your Symptoms & Reclaiming Your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori.

I’ll be paraphrasing some of the pertinent points that especially apply to me and commenting.

What IS trauma? Basically, it occurs whenever a vulnerable person (perhaps from a dis-empowered class, a child, or someone not raised with enough acceptance and affection) is exposed to a life-threatening event or personal attack and feels completely overwhelmed and unable to either fight or flee. Trauma occurs most often when a person is forced to freeze and endure whatever is inflicted. Whether from the laws of physics (natural disaster, or vehicular accident) or crime. The trauma can even come from a direct threat to well-being or sanity, not just life itself.

After such a disorienting blow, those who endure trauma often find they dissociate from the event, often repressing it afterwards. Although it can come roaring back to consciousness with any trigger, since trauma does not (they know from brain research) get processed as a PAST event, but rather is treated as an ongoing present or near-present circumstance.

Why do some suffer and not others? Or suffer worse symptoms?

Its worse if its intentionally inflicted by another human (torture, sexual assault, physical assault, betrayal, etc.) than if its from bad luck like a natural disaster or accident. Its even worse if its someone you know who hurt you because it calls into question your ability to find safe harbor in the world. Its worse if you weren’t given the skills to make you resilient while young. Its worse if you’re intelligent! Apparently, the ability to ruminate and wonder about things, to imagine, and to rationalize takes a dark turn if you become traumatized. It is ALSO worse if you’re NOT an asshole! Sociopaths, and those who use some of their methods, either are automatically emotionally shut down OR learn how to shut down their empathy and ‘softer’ emotions and so rarely suffer the effects of trauma.

*SO, in short, if you’re an intelligent, kind person who had indifferent or bad parents, then ran into extraordinary bad luck– you’re kind of doomed to get PTSD. Hum…. you don’t say?

What other things can exacerbate trauma?

Growing up in a home especially, but even in a wider society, that is trauma-blind. That is to say, who refuse to acknowledge that an injustice has been done to you or others. Jerky, selfish people, interested in keeping the status quo for their own comfort who turn a blind eye to the suffering of other people in their vicinity or family make it all worse because the person facing trauma feels alone and unsupported. Also, it makes them feel a little crazy, like a wider type of gaslighting– their experience of reality is denied.

*I think of my mother acting indifferent when my father was terrorizing me and even blaming me for his behavior, saying that if I didn’t react, he wouldn’t be so apt to pick on me! … yeah, what a bitch, right?!

What’s the WRONG reaction to trauma?

You should always always always offer support to someone who has been traumatized, even if you can’t help them in any other way, acknowledge their pain and the unfairness of their plight. As someone who has been traumatized, if your system re-sets and you move on- great! But if not, suppressing your reactions out of shame or denial will only make it worse.

*Everyone who mocked my issues by calling me a ‘drama mama’ can kiss my ass!

WHY does trauma create PTSD?

Apparently, it happens when we’re not allowed to act or react at the time of the event in such a way as to protect ourselves or others. In addition, afterwards, there is some block to ‘shaking it off’ and we don’t cycle all the way through to the ‘rest and reset’ part after being in emergency survival mode. Shit gets stuck!

“Stacking” & “Kindling”

Worse yet, once your nervous system has been re-set from one trauma, your entire body-brain system is wired to over-react to each additional trauma in an effect called stacking. Every time physiological arousal gets triggered, it can automatically go quickly to hyper-arousal and in that state, one is more vulnerable to negative events. Often, victims of this find they careen back and forth between being hypersensitive and numb/dissociated. Repeated traumas cause changes in cells’ chemistry. This process of ever-escalating excitability then can be triggered by the nervous system alone, without serious outside triggers, in a process called kindling.

Repeated trauma shrinks the hippocampus, decreasing memory and the ability to put events in the past in proper context (the past.) The amygdala, meanwhile, gets put into overdrive, disallowing peace, contentment, joy– as it scrambles constantly to find and avoid threats, which could be potentially anywhere. This leads to trouble concentrating or focusing, poor short-term memory, poor impulse control & judgment, and being disorganized!

*This is why you can’t either shame a person OR inspire a person OUT of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Language and logic are higher brain functions that bow to the superior power of the basic survival system of our automatic reactions and emotions. When the emotional part of the brain takes over, the thinking part shuts down. And also–? YES. As a very mental person, having my emotions override my cognitive abilities DRIVES ME CRAZY!!

What is needed to heal trauma?

Positive events, support, and emotional states! This can be daunting, because once you’re in a trauma-influenced state, your entire emotional direction goes negative. Even when things are going well, it can be easy to discount. However, positive influences are required to heal– and if one can become receptive to that (by say, MDMA or similar substances in guided talk therapy) this control switch can be tripped back into normal mode, if only temporarily, reminding the brain that life is not always a survival emergency!

Eventually, a victim of PTSD needs to return to a state of self-regulation or self-modulation, finding ways to self-soothe, self-comfort, and just bring the physical state of arousal back DOWN to normal. With dysregulation, irritation too quickly turns to rage, or slight fear into panic. Dysregulated people have a very difficult time planning anything, let alone keeping their plans, because they are always at the mercy of unexpected reactions to often very small triggers. Simple problems become ordeals, and ordeals quickly escalate into crisis. As the victim is in a constant state of bouncing from crisis to crisis, their other chronic state (when not hyper-aroused) is exhaustion.

Victims must develop resilience, which is the ability to bounce back and recover from life’s ups and downs. When the nervous system is jammed up with trauma-related issues, it has no time or flexibility to deal with any more stimulation or challenges. It loses the ability to find balance again, which requires training the nervous system to deal with stressors without activating further emergency signals.

“Pendulating” & “Oscillating”

This is not easy and takes time and patience. [By all accounts, most people aren't able to do it if they've had PTSD longer than a year or 2, for those with issues lasting over 10 years, it gets REALLY fucking hard!] However, it has been found to be possible by a process Levine calls pendulating or oscillating.

Essentially, this means those with PTSD must go back and forth between processing their trauma and good memories and feelings, at first in small intervals, then gradually increasing it. First being ‘in’ the trauma, then getting ‘out’ of it, over and over, gradually re-training the nervous system and lower brain to re-learn the difference between ‘pain then’ and ‘no pain now.’

*I’ve found information about therapeutic weekends, where one takes a day to concentrate ONLY on positive stimulation/memories, then on the other day, they dive into the shitty stuff they prefer not to deal with. You switch up which goes first, but you’re supposed to learn the technique from a therapist, but then repeat on your own until dealing with crap and letting it go becomes second nature.

I’ve already experimented with this technique, along with helpful medications, and found its the only thing that works at all. In fact, if you do it right, you can erase the effects of specific traumatic incidents one at a time. However, it only seems to be effective if you have a person to work it with you as a ‘mirror.’ Ideally, 2 very close friends can take turns and be one another’s mirrors.


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