Psychotherapy for Trauma and PTSD
How do you know it’s PTSD?
After a traumatic event, even many years later, many people struggle with irritability, anger and rage. You may feel out-of-control. Substance abuse is common, as are other risky or self-destructive behaviors. Sleeping is difficult. Forget about relaxing; you’re constantly on edge. Some people may even feel like they want to end it all.
PTSD leaves people in a state of heightened alarm. It’s as if your body thinks the trauma is still happening all the time. It’s important then, to focus on ways to release the trauma that may be stored not just in your mind, but in your physical body. Heard of fight, flight or freeze? The good news is that you can learn to repair your stressed nervous system with breathing techniques, movement, and productive ways of expressing anger and sadness.
Events Commonly Associated With PTSD:
Assault or sexual assault
Early childhood trauma
Physical or emotional abuse
Childhood neglect (including emotional neglect and lack of affection)
Multi-generational or historical trauma
You’ve been scared out of your mind.
A common symptom of PTSD is dissociation. Some experiences are just too overwhelming for the conscious mind to bear, so we detach as a way to protect ourselves. This may become problematic when the dissociation continues, and we feel consistently disconnected from ourselves and others.
Longer-term therapy is the best treatment for dissociation. Over time, your consciousness can begin to trust that it’s safe enough to stick around. We will explore all the parts of you, including the part that’s been protecting you by “going away.” Eventually, you can learn to feel whole.
Grief and Shame
When processing trauma, sometimes people go through the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression are very common. However, when we blame ourselves for what happened, or we feel that what happened makes us bad, we may be stuck in toxic shame. Shame, for many, is the worst of all human emotions. Strangely, for some of us, blaming ourselves serves some kind of protective function at some point. Eventually, however, we may feel chronically unworthy of love, happiness or anything good.
Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD
Unfortunately, complex trauma doesn’t get much mention in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). However, complex trauma is very real, and it can be extremely painful to live with. Complex trauma is called “complex” because it often happens over time; there isn’t a single pronounced traumatic event. This kind of PTSD most often stems from chronic physical or emotional abuse or neglect in childhood.
Complex PTSD can, and often does, correlate with other disorders. You may have been diagnosed or misdiagnosed with OCD, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. This is not to say that those symptoms don’t fit you, but the symptoms of those disorders may actually be related to a set of behaviors or symptoms that are trauma-responses.
Toxic Shame with Complex PTSD
If you felt constantly rejected, criticized, neglected or abused growing up, it’s pretty typical to have believed it was your fault. You may have felt disgusting, ugly and unlovable; feelings that may persist into the present, even as an adult. There is something called an “emotional flashback,” where you may suddenly get flooded with feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and terror that are reminiscent of the way you felt as a child.
If you are resonating with what I’m saying here, please know there’s hope. You don’t have to continue to suffer as you have all of your life. I can tell you right now that despite what you may have believed (or been told), this condition was caused by your early environment, not by genetics or a characterological abnormality. Your symptoms, behaviors and beliefs were learned, and therefore, they can be unlearned.