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How trauma effects how we process trauma in the future — 7 Comments

  1. Joyce, this is a terrific article!!!!! Thank you so much for posting this because most of us who have survived the trauma of an offending family member or loved one literally wonder if there’s something wrong with us because we seem unable to “get over it.”

    Speaking strictly from “behavioral sciences,” we know that continued traumas cause people to react in different ways, but similar patterns – if that makes any sense! The patterns become established and integral aspects of behaviors, and I know from my personal experiences that I never, ever, EVER expected anything but the worst possible outcome, regardless of what the situation was. This was part of what caused my constant meltdowns, even over the tiniest things – a wrong number, a car slowing as it passed my property, a cashier giving me **A Look.** All of these things were 100% inconsequential to my daily life, but each event (no matter HOW insignificant) became the Ultra Threat to me, on every level.

    Now that there is more evidence of brain structure and activity, this validates what I had experienced – yes, it was LEARNED, but the ***learning*** altered the structure and chemistry of my brain, over the years. Having typed that, it has taken some intensive counseling therapy and hard, focused work to UNDO some of that damage!

    Today……..I was thinking about this, just this morning……..today, I still have the disruptive life events because Life does, indeed, “happen” and there’s no such thing as a smooth path. There just isn’t. But, those potholes in my Life’s Path are no longer so daunting and insurmountable that I freeze, give up, and melt down. I’m finally able to move through these events in a more calm and centered way, and it is THE MOST liberating and comforting feeling I’ve ever had, bar none. To know that I can control my reactions and responses is tremendous.

    Excellent article, Joyce – thank you, so much!

  2. You are welcome, Truthy, you know with the fMRI and other objective scientific instruments, they are finding out that the structure and chemistry of the brain CAN be altered by trauma, and literally some brain cells and connections can be KILLED…and there is the aspect of what the brain was BEFORE the specific trauma. Especially in a child who was abused as the brain is actually FORMING after birth…or the child whose mother experiences repeated trauma while she is preg. ALL these things effect the brain, besides the DNA that the person started with at conception. LOST OF VARIABLES. But also lots of evidence now that trauma does effect the brain negatively.

    Yes, therapy and hard work can un do SOME of the damage, but I also realize that there are some changes that are LIFE LONG. But recognizing those changes and accepting them is IMPORTANT to healing any at all.

    After the plane crash my short term memory EVAPORATED…and has come back some in the 11 years since the plane crash that killed my husband, but I am still in the lower ranges of short term memory (as per a neuro psych test) and I grieved over that, worried over that, I WASN’T THE SAME. I now had to struggle to learn new things, forgot where my keys and glasses were, put pots on the stove and let the food burn, etc. But now I have accepted that I am not the SAME as before the crash. I ACCEPT that, and though I wish it wasn’t the way it is, accepting that I am different than before gives me peace with what IS.

  3. I got an e mail from a friend today discussing this very concept. After a life time of trauma and PTSD from her parents (her father is a serial killer and rapist who made the national news) She had a recent event that was very traumatic (a structure fire) and I had suggested she go for EMDR (rapid eye movement therapy) and she said she told her therapist that she felt like she had “puss pockets” in her brain.

    I thought that analogy was a very good one, as like an abscess anywhere in the body, in order to heal, we MUST excise and drain the corruption out of the abscess in order for it to heal. I think the abscesses we have from trauma will only get worse and worse with each new trauma if we don’t excise and drain away the corruption from the previous ones.

    And sometimes just like draining a boil on your butt, it hurts for a little while to do so, but in the end, it is the best “medicine” and therapy does help to locate and find the abscesses and then to drain them so they can heal.

    • Joyce, I agree with that analogy. I’ve actually used that visual for the past 20 years with regard to the first exspath, Victor.

      Dysfunction and trauma are exactly like a bacterial or viral infection. This emotional infection interferes with every function from thoughts, to beliefs, to actions, to physiological functions. Mind, body, spirit – it’s ALL connected and it ALL suffers when disorder, chaos, and dysfunction are deeply rooted.

      The infection of catastrophic thinking continues to grow and grow and grow until it takes on a life of its own. Trauma and catastrophic thinking actually become entities within our own heads, and they are each diseases that MUST be excised, drained, and cauterized. Events that occurred, abuses that were inflicted, and all of the rest CAUSE the emotional infections, and processing those events and feelings is part of that treatment – get it OUT of the head, onto paper or via the voice. Cry, rant, rave, punch a pillow, whatever……..but, get it OUT. And, then………follow up with “wound care” in the form of affirmative counseling.

      I’ve had MRSA on 2 occasions. The first one had me nearly dead and I have a scar on my abdomen the size of a tennis ball. I will always have that scar. The MRSA finally burst on the way to the emergency room, and I was in hospital for nearly a week on IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics, and wound care. But, the agony leading up to the rupture was indescribable. I was running a very high fever, the site of the MRSA was exquisitely painful, I was exhausted, and I was in a constant state of confusion from the fever. Once the rupture occurred, the infection drained and I was medicated for a long, long time and it STILL came back, though not as badly as it had the first time around.

      The whole point of this story is that emotional infection is much the same. I didn’t ever feel “good,” or calm. I was always hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, as we say. Something “bad” was always coming, whether it was a storm, a bill, or a beating. Until I began processing my emotional infections, I was living in a terrible state of anxiety, denial, and martyrdom that NEVER produced anything positive. Once the emotions were opened up, they drained. Sometimes, they were released and processed in one big event, while other times they were coaxed out and processed over a few days.

      No matter how it’s accomplished, excising and draining those experiences, feelings, beliefs, and traumas is painful. But, you are 100% spot-on that life is BETTER when those things are attended to. If left alone, the outcome is grim. A life spent in bitterness, anger, rage, and fear is NOT how I want to exit, so I’m working on it every single day, and I realize that I carry emotional scars. But, I’ve learned that those are just scars. They don’t define who I am. Just where I’ve been. 😉

  4. Good points, Truthy! Once the scar is healed it doesn’t HURT any more in most cases. But until it is drained and excised the pain can be terrible, and like the MRSA can literally kill you.

  5. In rereading this article today I have applied some of the evidence to some stress and trauma triggers that I have been experiencing lately myself. Having had a couple of episodes where I did think my life was ending (a car wreck was one) I realize that I responded to the triggers lately with increased stress response than I have ever responded to stress in the past.

    Even though my physical life was not on the line recently (Patrick is still in prison) I am responding AS IF my life was on the line, with fear and dread and thinking worst case outcome…now that I have finally managed to calm my anxiety to a reasonable level and realize that “worst case” still isn’t gong to leave me living in the back of my pick up truck with a tin camper shell over it to keep most of the rain off. LOL

    It is important for us who have experienced either/or physical or emotional trauma that we KEEP OUR STRESS LEVELS LOW, and there are many ways we can accomplish that…seeing a counselor and possibly medications if they are appropriate and prescribed by a physician. We MUST NOT self medicate with alcohol or other substances which will only heighten our stress and dysfunction.

    My drug of choice for stress is FOOD, and now I am paying the price of increased weight by a 12-1500 calorie diet until I get back down to a reasonable weight. I knew how I was eating was NOT HEALTHY but I did it anyway. But I am not going to beat myself up over the weight gain, but just FIX it, and I can do that though a reasonable weight loss diet. (lower than 1200 a day for a woman is not healthy)

    In the end we must all work out our “salvation” with logic and strength, turning to our higher power as AA says to increase that strength, and working with trusted people or a therapist for some insights and support.

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