Archive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Update on Cathy’s experience with Neurofeedback

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Guest blogger Cathy sent me the following letter about her first two Neurofeedback sessions:

Dear Mary:

The emotions that are coming up for me right now are very intense and, at times, overwhelming. So far, I have had two Neurofeedback sessions. I have another session tomorrow and another session in a few days’ time.

I have been reading the book that I got last week about the use of Neurofeedback in treating developmental trauma. I can relate to so much of what the book has to say about developmental trauma. So I am hopeful that Neurofeedback will help to give me some inner peace and relief.

My body seems to crave gentle and safe touch right now. Neurofeedback
involves only minimal touch, so I’m going to a cranial therapist as well.

Mary, this journey is so hard and so consuming. It’s hard to believe I’ve
been on this path for almost 20 years!! Although a key piece of information about my past (sexual abuse) only became available and accessible to me 2 years ago.

I’m looking forward to a time when healing is not my primary focus. I’m
looking forward to a time when I can devote my time and attention to lighter
aspects of life.

Thank you for the opportunity to share. It’s great to be able to share with
someone who understands and who has ‘been here.’

Best wishes,

Cathy

Guest Post: Somatic Sensations, Symbolic Imagery & Somatic Releases

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When we’ve been traumatized by child abuse, we generally feel we’re the only person in the whole world to experience strange emotions and physical symptoms. I’m grateful to guest blogger, Cathy, for sharing her own somatic results of trauma.

Over the course of my 17 year journey in recovering from childhood trauma, I have come to understand that past trauma can manifest as physical sensations in the body (‘somatics’). Throughout my healing journey, I have regularly experienced physical sensations in my body and symbolic imagery in my mind’s eye. I now believe that these symbolic images are ‘messages’ from my subconscious mind (‘my depths’) to my conscious mind (‘my surface’) which help me to understand, comprehend, process and ultimately, to work through an aspect of my original trauma or a particular stage of my healing. My understanding is that these symbolic images in my mind’s eye are a bit similar to what happens during Focusing (www.focusing.org), where we’re able to get in touch with our own ‘felt sense’ or our innate, inner wisdom within our bodies.

Below is a summary of the somatic sensations and symbolic imagery that go with my own sense of the emotional pain and tension that I’ve experienced within my body over the years:

  • A strong sense that there is a fist-sized boil in my heart area that needs to be lanced.
  • Fantasising about using a large diameter drill to drill into the fist-sized boil in my heart area, releasing a huge spurt of pus that flies across the room, immediately releasing and freeing up the massive build-up of pressure, discomfort and pain in my heart area.
  • Fantasising about lying on a table in an operating theatre in a hospital and having a surgeon cut open the area around my heart to surgically remove my emotional pain. My EMDR/trauma therapist told me that some of her clients had actually had body parts surgically removed due to a “persistent pain” in this area only to find that their “persistent [emotional] pain” returned to another area of their body post-surgery.
  • Fantasising about a zip running down the centre of my chest that I can unzip to release a flock of doves out of my chest, allowing them to fly away freely off into the sky.
  • Feeling as though I have a volcano inside my torso that is about to erupt.
  • Seeing another adult me sitting within me, in the pit of my stomach, naked, in the snow, shivering, defenceless, cold, alone, isolated and desperately wanting to get out.
  • Watching another me bending down to look into the shards of a broken mirror shattered all over the floor and seeing my fractured self reflected back at me from the many, many shards and fragments of broken mirror spread across the floor.
  • Experiencing my own sense of internal fragmentation as: can you imagine that you’re staying at my house, you have a bag of belongings with you and your belongings are spread out all over my house, with at least one of your belongings in each room of my home? Then I say to you, “we have to leave in 30 seconds” and in response you experience a sense of panic as you attempt to collect all of your belongings from their sprawled out places all over my house in an instant. This is how I often feel, I need to ‘collect’ all of the different parts of myself to literally ‘bring or pull myself together’ before I get out of bed, begin a task or step out of my front door.

Over the course of my 17 years of therapy, particularly over the last 5 years as I’ve discovered and increasingly explored different body-centred healing modalities, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), FasterEFT, reiki, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Network Chiropractics (www.reorganizational.org), I’ve progressively experienced more and more somatic releases (ie. expressing, ‘surfacing’ and releasing of my inner pain from within, out through my body). Here is a summary of the full range of somatic releases that I’ve experienced over the last five years of the emotional pain, terror and tension resulting from my childhood trauma that I have carried within my body/being/organism since the original trauma occurred:

  • Burping – burps that come from deep within me, they almost have an old, musty book smell or quality to them, suggesting to me that they come from my past (not the present moment), sometimes my ‘trauma release burps’ demand my full attention, I have to drop everything, brace and prepare myself in order to allow them to surface.
  • Sneezing – excessively loud and powerful sneezing, often demanding that my whole body gets involved in my sneeze. Did you know that our current tradition of saying “bless you” after someone sneezes originated from an ancient idea that we are releasing bad spirits when we sneeze? This makes perfect sense to me!
  • Coughing – excessive, lung wrenching coughing for sustained periods occasionally during Network Chiropractic sessions, like a chain smoker, even though I’m not a smoker
  • Stiffness in my jaw and aching and soreness in my face, particularly around my temples and behind my eyebrows
  • Excessive stomach grumbling, gurgling and tingling
  • Spontaneous full body shaking, jerking and tremouring (as per Traumatic Release Exercises, TRE, bercelifoundation.org)
  • Contractions or tightening in one area of my body such as my heart area, almost like labour contractions, suggesting to me that something substantial wants to be ‘birthed’, or released from deep within
  • Giggling and laughing
  • Crying and sobbing
  • Screaming
  • Yawning and sighing
  • Farting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • More frequent urination.

My Network Chiropractor informed me that the body’s capacity to suddenly and rapidly expel substances from our bodies is a primal fright or flight instinct, designed to ‘free up’ the body, to literally ‘lighten our body’s load’ in response to a life threatening event (or even an event that is ‘only’ perceived to be life threatening, consider a vulnerable, defenceless small child’s take on this!!), to allow our mind/body to focus it’s attention and energy exclusively on preparing for freeze or flight, similar to a pilot in a hot air balloon who decides to throw heavy objects overboard in the event of an unexpected descent.

Our mind-body system is endlessly fascinating to me. Through my somatic experiences, symbolic imagery and somatic releases, I’ve come to understand and know that our mind and body are intricately and completely linked.

Peter Levine has developed a healing technique called Somatic Experiencing (www.somaticexperiencing.com), he is also the author of a book called Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, a fascinating book about the phenomena of somatic experience.

Silken Laumann: Olympic Gold Medalist. Survivor of Childhood Trauma.

When I think of Silken Laumann, I picture a stunningly powerful woman who rowed her way to an Olympic gold medal. In her autobiography Unsinkable, Silken tells why she was able to ignore pain and push past obstacles that would have stopped another athlete. What was behind her fierce competitive edge?  Surprisingly, she credits the pain and shame of childhood trauma with giving her the ability to ignore pain and push past any obstacles coming between her and winning.

Laumann was born to postwar German immigrant parents. Her mother’s destructive, critical nature and narcissistic coldness traumatized Silken. Attempting to survive her mother’s shaming and negativity, she learned to dissociate. By age 16, cutting herself with a razor provided an outlet for her unbearable pain. In an attempt to control her environment, she became anorexic. She obsessed over her athletic body.

Does all of this sound familiar? It’s the pattern of normal human development to abnormal circumstances. As so many of us who are survivors of childhood trauma, she was pressured to view her family as ideal. The need to comply with the family myth was as damaging as the actual abuse. Having her reality negated made her crazy all over again, she says.

Reading her story and appreciating her intelligence and honesty, I felt very warm toward her. I’m so glad her story has a happy ending. She got the good professional help she needed in order to come to terms with her overwhelming childhood. She makes it clear that knowing the truth about her childhood provided the road to sanity and to the healthy life she now shares with her husband, Patch, as together, they parent his children and hers.

Silken Laumann with Sylvia Fraser, Unsinkable: My Untold Story, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2014.

There’s No Such Thing as a Bystander

  • Anyone witnessing or knowing of child abuse is forced to take sides. You’re on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a bystander.
  • All the perpetrator asks is that we look the other way and do nothing.
  • If we “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” we help the perpetrator.
  • The victim, on the other hand, needs much more. The victim needs us to get involved, to feel the pain and disgust, to take action.

Judith Herman, in her classic book on psychological trauma, Trauma and Recovery, explains that the perpetrator will do everything possible to discredit the victim. The perpetrator thrives in an environment where people still can’t believe such crimes happen to children.

That’s why we have to keep telling our stories. We need to be brave enough to inform those that claim such things don’t happen  ….. that Joe Smith wouldn’t do such a thing…. that one if four girls and one in six males is sexually abused before the age of eighteen.

What can YOU do to help the victim, not the perpetrator?

Please leave your comments below.

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, Harper Collins, Basic Books, New York, 1992

A Perpetrator Apologizes?!

 

I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth (March 23,2014 blog post)

Is it never possible to get the perpetrator to confess? Almost never? Never? Under certain circumstances?

Many years ago in my practice as a trauma therapist, I worked with a family where the father admitted he’d sexually abused his daughter when she was little. The man’s wife stood by him as he expressed his guilt and sadness for the harm he had done to their child, who was now an adult. Part of the therapy was coaching him in telling the victim he was sorry: that he was the only guilty party and that he would do anything in his power to ease her burden.

Now I’m writing a novel. In this fictitious work, the heroine turns out to have been sexually abused and is dealing with her father. I didn’t plan to have the plot revolve around child sexual abuse, but fiction has a way of writing itself. My characters have come alive and, in a way, have taken the story out of my hands.

In 2010, I published my memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: a Memoir of Healing and Transformation. The memoir is not fictitious. It’s a very personal account of my own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, filtered through my professional experience as a trauma therapist.

In the piece of fiction I’m now working on, (tentatively entitled Miranda’s Secret) I had Miranda’s father inform her that he’d sexually abused her. It just didn’t ring true. I’ve had to change the plot and tell a story of Miranda gradually realizing the truth about her childhood and her family. That’s the way it happened for me and for hundreds of clients I’ve had the honour of accompanying on their healing journey.

Except for the one example in my practice years ago, does anyone know of similar cases?

I need your help. Please let me know your own experience in confronting – or not confronting – your perpetrator.  Use the space reserved for comments following this post.