3 Ways of Working Through Complex Trauma and PTSD
I intend in this article to describe some of the processes that are involved in working through complex trauma and PTSD. This is by no means an extensive list, but for the sake of length, I will limit myself to these three important parts of working through complex trauma and PTSD.
PTSD Flashbacks and How Trauma Relives the Past in the Present Moment
The experience of time changes drastically when you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or complex trauma.
Events, people or circumstance can suddenly trigger an emotional response that brings the emotional residue of your experienced trauma right to the surface in the here and now. Often, it is very difficult to distinguish that your trigger and the emotional responses that come with it relate to your experienced trauma of the past, as your brain projects the danger almost perfectly onto the situation or person(s) at hand in the present.
If you can start to see where your emotional responses might be disproportional to the situation, this will help you to bring awareness to those very emotional responses of the residual trauma and hopefully give you the incentive to make a serious attempt to work through it.
One of the important “safeties” a trauma therapist needs to provide during counseling sessions is to make sure that you as a client are able to tap into the past in order to carefully relive some of your experienced trauma, while at the same time keeping one foot in the here and now.
The therapist can help you to keep one foot in the here and now by reminding you of the room that you are in, through voice and reassurance, and by drawing your attention to your body sensations. When the emotional responses of your traumatic residue do start to get too intense, it is wise to take a break and continue later on once you feel more regulated.
A good therapist should monitor you constantly, and consciously help you to move between activation, safety, and regulation.
The Extremes of PTSD Dissociation and Focusing to Overcome Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress moves you away from your center. You will often loop between being disconnected and dissociated and then back to feeling emotionally overwhelmed, and this process is extremely exhausting.
During counseling, these very processes are equally present.
The difference a therapist attempts to make to this process is to lessen the divide by curbing your attempts to dissociate, and by pulling you out when you get too focused and your trauma-vortex starts pulling you in.
In other words, over time, you will have to sit with more of yourself and grow your muscle of awareness, and this growth can be painful. As you start to “hold” more of yourself, you will notice that it becomes harder to dissociate and thus you will be more acutely confronted with the pain that lies just beneath the dissociated state.
That feeling more of yourself can be challenging because it can pull you in. You can become too focused on what you experience and feel, and that can create the desire to solve it, get rid of it, escape from it, or dwell in it too much.
The important thing to remember is that trying to “do” anything regarding your emotions is counterproductive, and you will need to get back to holding the space for yourself as you are.
Remember, holding yourself in awareness is like building muscle; it grows stronger through patience and persistence and having more resilience is the payoff. You will have breakdowns and periods of confusion. Just get up and go at it again after taking rest.
Working Through Complex Trauma and PTSD and Addressing the Habit of Illness
There are certainly different stages of working through Post-Traumatic Stress. What needs addressing first is the emotional residue related to your traumatic experiences of the past. When some of the charge that is held within the body and mind has been released, integrated and sorted through, you will have to start to address the habit of illness.
When you have released or dealt with past trauma it does not mean that the neuron patterns you created out of survival will all be gone. In some instances, they will be changed but in some cases, especially with very early life trauma, they won’t. Some fight, flight, freeze, or please patterns will always be there, but through constructive therapy and your own inner work you will have changed your relationship to those default survival patterns and you will have other tools and neuron patterns activated that will give you other options for dealing with triggering situations.
That said, there will be new periods of stress in your life where you will, for a time, be pulled back into your deep default survival strategies. The danger is that you might think that you haven’t worked through your past issues and that your current stress will start to build up emotional content again into your “old story.” This is what I call the habit of illness.
In those moments of renewed stress, you will have to be vigilant, and be careful not to slide back into the past and hang out there for too long. You will have to work on your containment and resourcing practices first. Once your emotions are more contained you can explore what is happening for you. It might be that you associate the current stress too much with your past traumatic stress and you’ll have to separate those events in your mind’s eye. It might also be a mixture of your past and your current stress where the theme of your current stress overlaps with the theme of your past trauma. Sometimes you will find that you just need to walk away from a situation or a person that isn’t good for you because they are triggering you to make associations that have no need to be made. Find out what applies to you and act accordingly.
Which of these three parts resonated the most with you? Leave your comments here below.