Complex PTSD Recovery and What Prevents Healing

Keywords: Complex PTSD Recovery.

We have different levels of being from which we act, react or interact.  There are the more dense states such as fear, sorrow, seeking gratification, insecurity, and depression; and "higher" vibration states like attunement, affection, compassion, autonomy, love, and clarity.

Leaving aside for the moment the question "Which state is more or less 'in balance'?" I would like to discuss which approaches give the impression that they are effective, but in reality fail miserably.

1. Catharsis

2. Overcoming

3. Focusing

Complex PTSD Recovery: Catharsis

Catharsis means a strong emotional release. In many modalities of psychotherapy, it is an encouraged practice to bring the person to a point of emotional releasement, in the hope that the shift will be lasting and not just temporary. While emotional releasement can be very beneficial, there are some pitfalls to be wary of.

For someone who is not "in touch" with their felt sense, a catharsis can lead to overwhelming feelings of being in danger. This may also involve a sense of shame towards the self for losing "control" through angry words of rejection toward the therapist. This thereby overrides the desired effect of emotional integration and reorganization.

For someone who is more "emotionally" rather than intellectually "wired", a catharsis will be fully embraced and even indulged in. The release provides a high, which is the desired outcome. At first sight, this type of release is deceptive, as it appears that there is a shift towards emotional integration and reorganization. The reality, however, is that a release of this kind may often lead to a rebuilding of the original emotional charge. This, in turn, can lead to addiction, attachment and emotional instability in which there is a constant desire for releasement and consequent reconstruction of the emotional charge.

Complex PTSD Recovery: Overcoming

Unfortunately, "to overcome" is one of those expressions misused in a well-meaning way in addressing problems such as addiction or emotional issues. The assumption is that when an emotional state has been overcome, that the recovery will last. To overcome effectively means that you generate enough energy to temporarily cancel out a certain state of mind. Moreover, of being in a "higher" vibratory state of mind altogether in which a "lower" state is no longer perceptible.

For example, feelings of fear and depression can be canceled out or suppressed by vigorous exercise, spiritual practices, meditation or yoga; however, these outlets merely serve as a prop. The moment there are stresses and a drop in energy level, the issues of fear and depression resurface.

Someone who suffers dejection and low self-esteem might, in an attempt to overcome, try to please and interact with others in order to be accepted. When expectations are not met – for example, someone sees the falseness in this kind of behavior and refuses to budge or be flattered – feelings of low self-esteem and dejection will resurface.

Similarly, bodywork and massage can give someone the impression of having overcome an emotional issue, whereas once the person comes back to their senses, the old habitual patterns seem to come back.

Lastly, certain psycho-therapeutic modalities that move very quickly through denser states and bring the person into a "higher" vibratory state can give the impression that there has been a shift, but when the energy levels drop, emotional issues resurface.

Complex PTSD Recovery: Focusing

Focusing, in a sense, is still part of the mindset that tries to overcome. I am emphasizing focusing here as I want to make a distinction between awareness, which is non-dual, and focusing.

Focusing on an emotional issue is a mindset which carries the intention to get rid of an undesired emotional state. Furthermore, that emotional state is accompanied by body sensation.

The current emotional state accompanied by body sensation is perceived as negative, hence the desire to overcome it through the focused effort of trying to understand and solve the issue. This angle of vision does not bring about any fundamental change as its nature is reactive. In reality, it perpetuates and actually aggravates the emotional issue at hand.

To illustrate this, Jane, who is been abused as a child, is often overcome by feelings of incompetence and anxiety. The accompanying physical sensations are shallow breathing, tightness in the chest and a fidgety nervousness all over. When she is overcome by these feelings, her mind, unconsciously I might add, focuses on the turmoil which makes her dwell in those feelings rather than move through them.

How are you dealing with Complex PTSD recovery and where do you get stuck? Leave your comments below.

  • Bernadette says:

    good information, the question i like to ask i have moments of laughter over silly things, which feels good, but why can i not get out of freeze and all i can is feel that tightness in pelvis, it is wearing the immune system?

    • Roland says:

      Post-trauma goes together with a rupture of boundaries. When that persists it indeed start to affect the immune system as well.

  • Nisaaa says:

    This is very good. I have these of kinds of releases or carthasis moment all the time where I start to hyperventilate and cry until it is all released, and I have learned to avoid them, because yes there is a release but the tension can come back stronger afterwards, and I am left very weak and without energy. You are the first to be able to explain or understand what is going on. I don’t understand why this would lead to attachment but I can see why it leads to emotional instability. This is definetely my problem, but I often do not see what else I can do, when the emotions come over me. I have done it all my life, so it feels like it has made the protective skin that protects me from the rest of the universe very thin.
    My question is, if this tactic is not a skill but indeed quite dysfunctional, what is the other option?

    • Roland says:

      Hi Nisa. Happy to hear you can identify with this and it is of help. Post-trauma either pushes you out of it, as in dissociation, or pulls you in, as in dwelling in it or going into catharsis. The art is to find the middle ground where you can hold the space for what you are experiencing without rejecting what you feel nor ‘becoming’ it. With overwhelming feelings/emotions related to traumatic events I would suggest to work with someone to help work you through it.

      • Nisaaa says:

        Dear Roland, thank you for your reply. Finding the middle ground seems quite elusive. I have a DBT therapist. She says we will go into working on negative core beliefs and trauma when I am more stable. Thank you again for your insights.

  • Penny says:

    Yes, thank you for naming it, Dr. Roland. After inpatient treatment this spring, I experienced the higher vibrations of attunement and self compassion. But in not continuing with my therapist after getting home, the self doubt, depression and anxiety returned like the nightmare it is while the concious work of catharsis and overcoming evaporated like the memory of a good dream.

    I’m stuck in the basement again and without professional help I’m back to suicidal thoughts and feelings of unworthiness and crippling inadequacy anxiety. (I hate Facebook!)

    How then, do I get my brain to quit hijackng me? Puppies, kittens and rainbows in the way of focus to overcome my darkness gets kicked away by the bouncer of depression standing sentry every time. As I told my dad, if I could use Harold Hill’s ‘Think Method’ I would have ages ago. My mindfulness skills are in a bag somewhere, as are my breathing techniques, along with the keys to the rest of my soul. How do I get back to them without professional help?

    Thank you so much for this forum, and your work with trauma.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Penny. Good to have you here. If you can’t have access to personal counseling for now do go through all the resources here on the website. Keep tuned in.

  • Mary says:

    Yeah. Trauma therapy tends to be more traumatizing than the trauma itself! I’ve lived with this sense of Fear, self-hate, doctor-hate, therapist-hate, frequent crying spells and incessant skin-picking (where i actually feel no pain atal but review and ruminate on EVERYthing that happened to me EVER (both recently and in the past) to such an extent that my life has become totally dysfunctional and i simply cannot move forward. Literally. I am an emotional cripple. Not numb but feeling too much. All the time. It’s been going on for so long now i am in despair… it feels like there is a PHYSICAL cause for all the extreme moods i experience – and as it is far easier to deal with THAT possibility, i recently attended a gp/ alternative-type consultant who did €100’s worth of blood tests (results are still piling in) – it seems my copper levels are very high (most notable result to date) and that THAT could account for my really poor mental health. So i will try to fix that. Finished with trauma therapist as her style was that of a “Devil’s Advocate” and i think it’s support i need, not criticism. 🙁 still feel suicidal at times. And very impulsive (especially when angry) Am so afraid i will “try something” when in one of my extreme emotional states… 🙁 it is far safer for me (at least for now) to give therapy a wide berth and concentrate on my physical health. Have yet to find a supportive therapist that understands my overwhelming need-to-remember that which was deleted. Whether the deletion was due to illegal, non-consensual drugs; inappropriate psychiatric interventions inflicted on me – or simply dissociation and inability to face up to my own sense of shame, embarrassment and self-blame for what happened/ may have happened.

    Please tell me – is it really ok for trauma therapists to be so CRITICAL and DISAPPROVING of a client’s own methods of coping? Especially when such rejection leaves client feeling even worse than before?


    • Roland says:

      Thanks for your comment Mary. It can work both ways, traumatic residue impacts the and its health and to much toxic build effects one’s psychology. Both need to be addressed. I do hope you find a therapist to work with who will consider your coping mechanisms as survival strategies and will be able to work with that as opposed to against that.

    • Harry says:

      Hi Mary, your therapist did very wrong by playing the devils advocate! You did well ditching him/her. Also, critique on coping mechanism should only be discussed if it is clearly harmfull / no long term solution. But in the beginning of the therapy, they should first teach healthy coping before criticising you. I hope you can find a therapy form that helps.

  • Una says:

    One of the most important and accurate things I’ve ever read on trauma. This is what I really needed to hear. Gives me such comfort to see my experience written in black n white and with some sense of guidance of what to look out for and not look out for. I think the not doing has so much guidance in that gap. Thanks Roland, you are a real gem.

  • Claire says:

    Wow! This explains so much of my own experience to myself. I cannot thank m you enough for these words.
    My only question now is: what do I do instead of these three techniques, when a new issue has come up and is very intense. I understand that these three techniques are not the way to go but now I am sitting here, not knowing what to do with all the traumatic stuff 🙂 Thank you again for your articles. All the best!

  • Harry says:

    I think cataharsis is helpful if the emotions from the original trauma are released. And you’ll need to stay in the window of tolerance. You can train that, for me it is a conversation with my inner childs and I can ask them to isolate memories and process aspects of really extreme memories aspect by aspect. Retraumasation can occur when you’re out of your window of tolerance. It is not structurally helpfull if the negative emotions in the current time keep piling up and you release that. You’ll need to set boundaries that prevent current time negative emotions. And that’s quite a process.

  • Dolores says:

    I ws plced in personlity disorder programme treting my persoanlity rther thn trum. My care co-ordinaror nd support woker were psycologiclly abusive. I informes mental health andpersoanlity disorder was blamed and i was told i was stuck and what made me think i was the victim. I was told therapy would make me iller.
    That concerned me considering I was stuck in hyperarousa. The care co-ordintor ws promoted nd took ny suport i had away even accessing my address from my surgery and pssing it on as he wokrs in the same surgery,
    It was almost a feeling of I was the problem or the past and my reactions were the problem. I lost accomodation, support abd so decided to go to a traua therapist who has really helped me . When i read more on the resources I develop so much trust that I am with a well trained therapist now.
    What is shocking that the lack of boundaries and care within my previous programme and so much blame and a real lack of understanding really was toxic and I was so concerned about being left in a state of hyperarousal with no support. I was so concerned with the impact it would have on my health!!
    Trauma is so misunderstood

  • Cathy says:

    I found this article interesting. I was discharged from therapy a couple of months before I embarked on training to become a counsellor. I passed the first year then decided against continuing. There were valid practical reasons why I didn’t continue and I was ok with it at the time. But 18 months on I’ve come to realise that maybe I didn’t pursue it was because I just didn’t want to re-hash all my past trauma again. I found it uncomfortable in my journals revisiting certain things that I had put to bed. So I guess that means I’m not as healed as I thought I was, and now I feel I’ve failed at what I set out to do and once again feel like I’ve made a mess of my life and will amount to nothing. I’m 53 and feel like I’ve gotten nowhere.

  • Russell Cobleigh says:

    all they focus on is my brain contusion, not my ptsd

  • Russell Cobleigh says:

    i feel like i am invisable and no one cares what i am going through due to this work injury

  • Russell Cobleigh says:

    no one here in Värnamo seems to care what I am and have been going through since my work injury in 2015

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