How to work on Emotional Containment for Effective Complex PTSD and PTSD Treatment

To contain emotion is to have enough energy and resilience to stay with your internal suffering without reacting to it any further; neither getting too focused on what you feel, nor getting pushed out of it, causing you to dissociate.  This is a hard one.

To build up resilience to assist containment requires that you slowly go into uncomfortable emotional territory and track your ability to hold to what you are feeling. If you go overboard, it is necessary to take a step back and disconnect from your felt sense, or focus on something else for a little while.

It is this constant moving back and forth, while slowly focusing on opening up into feeling more of yourself and coming closer to the emotional wound, that helps integrate or release that excess energy.

With regards to PTSD and CPTSD, this process needs to be done together with someone who knows how trauma works; who can guide you through these steps, and who is able to intervene when you get too activated or go into a freeze response. This is essential while addressing complex PTSD.

When Extremes of Emotion Prevent Effective PTSD Treatment

One of the recurring issues with feeling overwhelmed and dealing with PTSD symptoms, is that you tend to swing between extremes of emotion. You’re either disconnected from the underlying emotional wound and your energy is taken up by coping habits, or you are full-on overwhelmed and identified with your hurt, your anger, your sadness and are in overflow.

Both extreme states tend to give rise to the other. Feeling too much too quickly (when you are triggered for example), will either make you feel ashamed, embarrassed, or too exposed and vulnerable, bring up self-reproach and judgment, and flood your body-mind with too much activation.

When the adrenaline and its fight-flight-please survival mechanism has run its course and gets depleted, the pendulum naturally swings in the opposite direction towards dissociation, numbness, depression, freeze response and low energy. This is cyclic and you can get locked into it.

The Addiction of Release in Treating PTSD

Release is not resolution. You might release emotion through catharsis, through an emotional outburst and feel good, or freed for awhile, but the emotion tends to build up again over time. Emotional release does not necessarily mean integration.

Without a framework of understanding of what is happening to you, and sufficient emotional containment, effective PTSD treatment will not happen.

Going through or pushing for emotional release can also become addictive. It can start with your resting on the implicit belief that something is happening or shifting because emotions are felt and, as their release often happens in a therapy setting, this tendency leads to creating dependency on your therapist.

Without knowing the intricate mechanism of trauma, of containment and resilience, of build up and release, and the necessity for dissociation, this can become one of the pitfalls of PTSD counseling and why you might stay in therapy for PTSD for far too long.

What I would like to know from you is: Which is the dominant emotion that tends to keep overflowing for you?

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