Turning the Adversity of Trauma into Resilience
It is unavoidable that we adjust and cope while going through trauma. These adjustments and coping strategies are our life-savers, but can also become our enemies. In emotional terms, when we are feeling overcome, there is always a core emotion related to a particular period or an overwhelming experience, and a coping emotion that we feel more comfortable with and that we most often seem to act out.
Working through trauma, you can do a lot to become aware of your core emotion and coping emotion as well as process the stress that underlies and fuels your emotions.
That said, a pattern that is put in place– that you have fallen back on over many years– won’t just be discarded and doesn’t have to be.
The Patterning of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms
A core emotion and a coping emotion will, in time, become a character structure build on adversity. If you process the underlying emotional stress that has given rise to the character structure, this characteristic might still be there. This in and of itself does not have to be a bad thing as long as you are aware of it when it is activated, and there is a sense of containment, adaptation, and boundaries. A default pattern is not necessarily a faulty pattern as such, and this is good to know as a trauma “survivor.”
Let’s look at some examples of core emotions, coping emotions, and the developing character, which usually sets in sometime during our childhood, and reinforces itself through later experiences in our lives.
Example 1: Brenda loses her dad when she’s ten years old. Her overwhelming core emotion is sadness, and her inability to deal with sadness creates a coping emotion which is anger.
At first Brenda arrives wanting to resolve her anger issues. In the course of our sessions, we see how her anger helps her cope with sadness. We eventually work through the sadness, giving it a sense of containment and processing it. When she gets stressed, however, she still tends to get a surge of anger that expresses itself to others as self-righteousness and feeling edgy. As she knows her tendency towards this pattern, she manages to maintain awareness of it rather than acting it out, thereby rapidly dissipating the anger-energy.
Example 2: Peter grows up with a depressive father and a neglectful and angry mother. His core emotion, related to his inability to change his circumstances, is anger. Repressed anger almost always eats away one’s sense of self-worth and gives rise to fear issues. His coping emotion is anxiety.
With Peter, as is very common with developmental issues, the need is to work on owning and giving healthy expression to his anger. Once he sees the connection between the anger and anxiety and is more comfortable with marking his boundaries, setting limits and saying no, his self-esteem rises, and his anxiety becomes significantly less. He still gets triggered from time to time into anxiety which makes him do a checkup with himself to find where he is not honoring himself enough in his relationships to self or others, and to work with that.
Changing Perspective of Dealing with PTSD
Patterns that have been there for thirty or forty years won’t just go away, and some of these will never go away. This is a reality. I am talking here about default patterns as described above. Emotional charge or residue that is part of Post-Traumatic Stress CAN be processed and is something that CAN be put in the past. It is important to recognize the difference here.
To work with patterns, tendencies, habits or even addiction, and they are somewhat related, is not to aim to resolve them but rather to change one’s perception of them. When you are aware of them– when they kick in and you recognize that they are a pattern from the past– it helps to disidentify. This means that there is neither a sense of rejection nor acceptance towards them, but rather an objective observation of what’s happening. This in itself stops the identification process and makes the energy available; this allows you to flow into awareness rather than act out a pattern with potentially negative consequences.