Keywords: Trauma Healing.
I am often at a bit of a loss when I am asked HOW to go about resolving Post-Traumatic Stress, more so when I have just explained at length the mechanism of dissociation and trauma; invariably, someone will ask "but how do you get rid of x,y,z?"
That very question itself negates everything I said prior to that question.
Learning, Time, and Psychological Time
Let me explain: When you study a language, you set aside time to learn the different words, the grammar, the pronunciation. With time and practice, you start to make progress and get better at it. There is a movement in time from A, not knowing the language, to B, knowing the language a bit more.
We carry that principle of overcoming over to our psychological issues, thinking that the same methodology can apply, but it can’t.
Anxiety and the Process of Overcoming
When you are anxious and that anxiety overwhelms you, you will try either to avoid or to overcome that state. Consciously or unconsciously, there is an internal voice that says "how can I not feel anxious?"
The very "how to" here is dissociative from what is—you being anxious. When you feel continuously dissociated, that is a protective response, but it also keeps you from meeting the anxiousness and working through it.
The "how to" in this context is a state of inattention, and through the act of attempting to overcome, you are actually perpetuating the very emotional state you are trying to resolve.
When you feel continuously dissociated, that is a protective response, but it also keeps you from meeting the anxiousness and working through it.
Let that sink in for a moment, because the subtlety of it might easily slip through the cracks.
Trauma Healing and The Stages of Dissociation
Let me come at it from another angle: You might have noticed that when your anxiety is too high for some time, that you will have a period where you move into feeling dissociated, numb, and disconnected from the anxiety.
With that, there might also come some fatigue, exhaustion, depression, and chronic pains or immune system issues. Those dissociated states are an outcome of anxiety. They are directly related.
If you are attentive, you can listen into the dissociated state and feel that just below it there is still the raging anxiety. That knowledge—that the dissociated states of depression, fatigue, numbness, and chronic pain are an outcome of anxiety—puts you back in the driver's seat.
Dissociation, Anxiety, and Suppressed Anger
If and when you can be in touch with your anxiety, your symptoms of dissociation will diminish.
Furthermore, anxiety in and of itself very often is a symptom of other unprocessed emotions.
When you weren't able to act, speak up, and be authentic to yourself in either a very intense moment or multiple experiences spread out over a period of time, that inaction compromised your boundaries, your sense of self, and self-worth.
Anxiety will be an outcome of that; a symptom.
As you explore and go deeper, you might see that anxiety isn't the core issue any more.
When you keep trying to overcome anxiety, it stays in place and, furthermore, creates secondary symptoms of depression, fatigue, chronic pains, and so forth and so on.
Inattention, Attention, and the “How To” in Healing from Trauma
When you start to be attentive, as opposed to dissociating, you start to be able to shift your attention through the various layers of emotional build up.
It is the very seeing—cognitively—and the very feeling through the emotional layers—somatically—that help you to start healing your Post-Traumatic Stress.
The "how-to" question, on a psychological level, then becomes obsolete and redundant.
How does your search for overcoming affect healing from trauma? Leave your comments below.
Struggling with chronic anxiety and chronic depression I have alway wondered which was the stronger. General routine is eight days of major depression followed by eight days of high anxiety. That is when everything is good. The idea that the anxiety is there all the time but the mind is using the depression and fatigue as a cover. Something to hide the chronic anxiety. For the mind consciousness to take a break from the overwhelming anxiety. Disassociating. The idea that the anxiety is not diminishing but staying relatively constant is both interesting and alarming.
Various emotional states regarding Post-Trauma do seem to become cyclic over time. Understanding this more and more can be frightening but also gives you a handle on starting to work through it.
Is anxiety THE thing we avoid the most because it does spiral in upwards into panic etc? Are you saying if we can hang with the anxiety, Then we can see/feel other emotions are behind or hidden by that? I bet you are right- I hadn’t thought of it that way.
Thanks for your comment. I think it depends on the trauma you suffered and what your particular configuration of emotions are. For some, anxiety might be their coping emotion and the hurt of sadness their deeper core emotion. For others, it might be the other way around in that anger or sadness is their coping emotion and deeper fear, their core emotion. The point is that dissociation is layered from numbness and depression to excessive thoughts and addiction to the various emotional layers.
What if you are never able to act, speak up, or be authentic to yourself without being punished due to existing in an inescapably oppressive social context? How can you possibly “heal” when the fear and anger is valid, the dissociation helps you survive and get things done, and the necessary healing task belongs to the toxic social context? Thank you for acknowledging that anxiety isn’t the real problem. But what if this kind of therapy gets used to coerce people into resolving this cognitive dissonance by moving in the direction of Stockholm syndrome? Thanks.
You would have to remove yourself from a toxic environment before you can start healing.
One of the coping strategies to deal with ongoing abuse is to please-appease. As a result, your anger gets suppressed– out of survival– and when that continues, it will very likely result in anxiety, depression and/or shutdown. It is only when you start to access your anger as healthy boundaries that your please-appease, anxiety, and depression will diminish in intensity and you can possibly become more regulated.
Everything I read makes sense and refers to my behaviour and patterns that enprison me from the early childhood trauma and neglect. I have been diagnosed with lupus and wonder if this is the result of those previous experiences. I do have inner battles with myself all the time, always wanting to please everyone. I feel so different and isolated because of this. I also feel no one truly relates or understands as they did not have to overcome the things I have had to.
Thank you for allowing me to express myself.
Thanks for sharing here Ayesha. You are not alone.
So totally always trying to “figure it out”, “process it” rather than just being with it without trying to find a way to solve it or avoid it.
I have a friend who is all about feeling it, experiencing it. Both of us have made little progress.
It’s hard to just let it be as it is for now and observe with curiosity what is happening cognitively and somatically. Progress is made in millimetres. Sooo slow!
I hear you. I’m very able to just sit with sensations, like your friend. I can do it for hours, but it’s only made my problems worse, unfortunately.
I’ve been meditating for years, in the way of people like Rupert Spira, Sam Harris, Adyashanti – just allowing, letting sensations be, noticing etc. The nondual tradition.
It’s just compounded my issues and driven activation even deeper into my system, to where it’s almost unmanageable. Very confusing, given the overabundance of advice to just be with sensations, to create space for them, to allow them to be, or to move through in their own time.
I was hoping to find some new keys or info on this site, but I find myself just coming across the same advice. It’s great that it works for so many, but I have never experienced any benefits from attending to sensations, alas.
Hi Roland. I was raised by one parent who has borderline personality disorder and another who has narcissistic tendencies. The combo was an environment that left no room for me to even know who “me” actually is. I was already trapped in please-appease responses by the time I was 3 and spent the bulk of my early childhood learning my parents triggers so I wouldn’t make things worse. I wasn’t consciously aware of any of this until this year. I just got out of a relationship with someone who also has BPD. I was drawn to her more powerfully than I’ve ever felt before and yet it was the most stressful 3 years of my life. I was very confused how that happened until I saw a therapist that helped me see my childhood differently, that even though I always knew I was loved (not perfectly), I also experienced plenty of trauma and learned patterns of behavior that I’m just now becoming aware of. I’ve suffered from chronic jaw pain for over 20 years and for the last several years have experienced chronic fatigue, lots of widespread chronic pain that no medical tests are able to render any real diagnoses for, constant difficulty concentrating, constant headaches, etc. I’ve realized that most or all of these symptoms are manifested by unresolved emotional trauma. I think I suppressed a lot of anger throughout my life. I find it so easy to be angry because of the power and control I feel. But recovering both from my childhood and from this relationship (which ended with a great deal of stress and drama and with a complete lack of closure) has required me to face the layers of emotions underneath all the anger. I listened to your meditation called “The Movement of Desire out of Suffering” last night and found myself crying at the end, as usual. Thank you for the work you do, I have found it very helpful in my healing process.
I meant to say, I am usually crying by the end of the meditations because I finally get to the underneath layers of emotion and am able to process them. I always feel better after that.
Thanks for sharing part of your story here. I am happy to hear you are using the trauma care meditations actively and that they are helpful for you.