Thursday, October 29, 2015

What constitutes trauma?

I've seen a few articles recently that state that emotional abuse may be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. It's the use of the word may that bothers me. I think the best person to ask is the person who has been emotionally abused, don't you? In addition to that, every person who is physically and/or sexually abused is also emotionally abused, one cannot happen without the other.

There have also been studies about whether neglect is as bad as abuse. Maybe in some ways it's worse, because if someone is neglecting you, they don't care. Is that the ultimate rejection? But why do we even ask these questions? Comparisons really are odious. If you are showing the signs of trauma, whatever they result from, you are traumatised.

A diagnosis of PTSD is not the only way you can display the symptoms of trauma and if you don't fit all of the criteria (or any) it does not mean you are not suffering from trauma. In fact, if you don't nominate criterion A1*, you won't even be assessed for the other PTSD criteria, that is how much a diagnosis of trauma hinges on an event and not an experience. It is a symptom of the so-called objective world we live in, which many mistakenly believe is more "scientific". But human experiences are not objective, they are subjective and until we take people's experiences seriously, many people will not get the help that they need.

* The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The messages in panic and terror

A book I can't recommend highly enough is Karla McLaren's The Language of Emotions. It helps us learn how to deal with emotions intelligently rather than simplistically categorising them into so-called 'positive' and 'negative' emotions. EFT is great for discharging blocked and trapped emotions, but we need to go further with emotions. We need to unlearn habits/patterns that don't serve us anymore. Every emotion has a message and gift for us and I'd like share an excerpt on panic and terror, two emotions that might very well be labelled as negative, or even worse. Further information can be found on concepts such as grounding and setting our boundaries in her book.

When your terror and panic are activated in response to trauma, they move forward to increase your adrenaline in case you have the chance to fight or flee at any time during your ordeal; to help you freeze; to release heightened amounts of painkilling endorphins so you’ll be more likely to survive any injury; and to help you dissociate if necessary. All this preparation takes a great deal of energy, which panic certainly contains. After the trauma has passed, your panic will retreat, but it won’t disappear completely. Like fear, panic will stay activated in order to give you the energy you need to reintegrate yourself, shake and tremble all over, and replay your trauma in any number of ways. If you don’t take advantage of this cool down period, you’ll remain in a hyper activated state, and your panic will have to remain activated because the trauma won’t truly be over. This hyper activation often cycles you into panic attacks, which also contain a great deal of energy. This energy doesn’t exist to torment you, but to help you navigate through your flashbacks and reintegrate yourself. Panic attacks don’t occur without reason; they arise to help you confront your trauma (“What has been frozen in time?”), move through your replays any number of times, access new and different instincts and responses each time (“What healing action must be taken?”), and activate your body, your mind, your emotions, and your vision in service to your healing. It takes a great deal of energy to do this; panic and terror carry that much energy. 
When panic attacks or flashbacks arise, your psyche is signaling very clearly that it’s time to move to stage three [resolution of trauma], to replay the situation that separated you from the everyday world, to explore the stimuli that brought your terror forward, and to move through your traumatic memories in instinctive and empowering ways. But it’s hard to move at all—let alone move to stage three—when your terror and panic compel you to freeze and dissociate. It’s like being on fire and being trapped in a block of ice at the very same time. This kind of panic fills you with heat and energy, yet it forces you into completely frozen immobility, which doesn’t make any sense intellectually. However, when you can bring your fully resourced awareness to the situation, you can use your skills to honor both sides of panic. You can honor the enforced stillness by focusing yourself and sitting quietly, and you can honor the hyperactivated state by brightening your boundary intensely, grounding yourself strongly, and channeling the panic out of your body and into your vibrant and protected personal space.
Panic and terror bring forward enough energy to help you reintegrate after trauma. If you can stay grounded and shoot the rapids with their assistance, panic and terror will help you renegotiate your trauma, restore your instincts, and come back to life. But make no mistake—it’s an intense process. Panic can feel boiling hot and freezing cold, pains can come and go, screams can bubble up, and you may need to kick and yell or run around the room. When you come back from a deathlike experience and reintegrate yourself, you’ll need to tremble, shake, jerk, swear, kick, and fight—just like the animals in my childhood practice did when they returned to their bodies after being hit by cars or mauled by dogs. But then, when you’re back in one piece, your panic and terror will subside naturally—as they’re meant to—and you’ll have your life back. When you’re integrated, you’ll once again be able to move, think, dream, sleep, feel, laugh, and love—not because you’re perfect and unblemished, nor because you’ve erased all traces of trauma from your soul, but because you’re fully resourced and whole again.