Trauma – grief and loss

Grief and Trauma

When it comes to trauma, grief and loss isn’t talked about enough. In fact some psychologists believe that grief is a more important factor in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After all once the trauma (s) are over there is almost always loss. Loss of meaning, in some cases loss of identity, loss of childhood, loss of dignity, loss of power, loss of control. Does this make sense? So while the symptoms of PTSD can absolutely be treated, grief is something that takes time to sort itself out.

New meaning comes out of  processing the grief and there is no time limit. You can’t treat it in a few months weeks or years. While the grief tends to get less and less as time goes on;  the sorrow of what was lost is always there even though it changes over time.

Grief can feel a lot like depression but its something very different than depression. You can’t challenge negative thinking when you are grieving because there is nothing to challenge. Its painful period. We have to move through it no matter how much it sucks.

We can medicate it with alcohol, substances, addictions, or distractions, but it isn’t going anywhere. The best we can do is make sense of it so that we can come to a place of acceptance with what happened. This doesn’t mean we have to forgive, or like what happened, but simply to come to a place of acceptance with it so that we can move on with our future.

Who we were before the trauma is gone. Who we will become is up to us.

The meaning that we make of the past is also up to us.

How we make sense of it, as well as what we decide to do with what happened to us is a choice.

This we absolutely have control of.

 

external resources~

male-lion-112940815797In                                                                        

Do you have a safe place to live?

Is your partner/room-mate supportive?   Can you count on them?

Do you have enough income to support yourself?

Do you take care of yourself and include a physician and dentist as part of your self-care?

Do you eat at least three regular healthy meals a day which include fruits and vegetables as well as protein?

Do you exercise at least 3 x a week?

If you are abusing substances,  are you willing to cut down,  or reduce your use,  or consider an alternative way of coping with distressing feelings?

Do you have at least three  supportive friends/family in your life that you connect with regularly?

Do you schedule in time for fun in your life? Do you take part in pleasure activities that do not include alcohol or substances?

When we think of external resources we can think about Maslow’s  hierarchy of needs

 

If your physiological , safety and love/belonging needs are being met, then you are in a good place to begin trauma work.

If this is not the case, then it is a good idea to begin building up your external resources. We can do this

Internal Sensations~ From Foe to Friend~

MAC-Wonder-Woman-Collection-3For many of us, internal sensations are the enemy~ We spend most of our time doing anything and everything to avoid sensations.  A heart flutter, butterflies in the stomach, hot or cold flashes, chills, burning in the abdomen can send us straight to panic or worse a panic attack.  When the sympathetic nervous system has been activated enough that we fight or flight, it is in this state that we are not in touch with our sensations because we are busy abandoning the threat in our environment.  The same is true for our reptilian response of freeze. In the freeze state our heart is racing, our ears are tuned for the predator and our body is in a frozen state waiting for the right moment to wake up and run or in the very worst case scenario die.  Repeated episodes of attacks on our nervous system can reap havoc in our lives and on our nervous system making the baseline state nearly impossible. It’s no wonder then, that our internal sensations become a foreign and sometimes terrifying experience.

The techniques that are helpful in gently bringing us back into the body are mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness means = Doing one thing at a time un purpose without judgement.  The most famous exercise that exemplifies this is eating a raisin mind fully.

How to practice mindfulness to prevent panic or anxiety attacks

Mindfulness is helpful in preventing anxiety when a body sensation triggers anxiety or panic.  When a body sensation triggers panic, simply engage fully in what you are doing without allowing your thoughts to dominate. For example if you are cooking when you experience a body sensation and begin to feel anxiety, engage fully in the cooking activity while noticing the anxiety but not allowing the feeling to dominate by staying fully present and engaged in the activity of cooking. You might verbally say  out loud what you are doing. ” Right now I am stirring the soup in this steel pot. ” “I am noticing the hot steam on my hand and I am smelling the spices in the soup,” I am feeling anxiety and at the same time I am stirring this soup, and feeling the heat on my hand and noticing this pot on the stove.”

When a negative thought comes in, just notice the thought and immediately return to the activity participating fully in the activity without getting distracted in another activity. This mindfulness practice usually dissipates anxiety. You may have to return to the activity over and over again but eventually the anxiety will pass. As you get better at practicing mindfulness you will find this to be a very powerful strategy for grounding all distressing body sensations and emotions.

Example of eating a raisin mind fully. 

First put the raisin in your mouth and see how the raisin feels, the texture, shape, and taste. Observe how the raisin feels in your mouth to suck, and chew. Observe the amount of times you chew the raisin.  When a thought comes in that judges this experience such as ” oh this is delicious, or ” this is sour,” just notice that thought  and let it go, remembering the object of mindfulness is to just notice, staying fully present in the activity without judgement about the activity. No matter how many times a thought comes in to your mind, return to chewing the raisin, participating fully in the experience of chewing the raisin until it is swallowed.

What Mindfulness is not.

There are  many spiritual practices that incorporate mindfulness activities, and what is called mindfulness meditation. In the Buddhist philosophy mindfulness meditating is simply focusing on your breath and when your mind wanders, without judgement, noticing the thought and bringing the mind back to your breath.  This kind of mindfulness practice is considered an advanced strategy. Unfortunately mindfulness practice is also confused with religious meditations and other spiritual practices which can make it confusing for people.  Mindfulness sometimes gets put in the same class as meditation practices.

Mindfulness is  not chanting, closing your eyes and meditating until you leave your body. It is not a religious practice. While mindfulness is borrowed from Buddhist practice, Buddhism is not a religion, rather is it a philosophy.

Regardless,  mindfulness has been backed up by science and has proven to be very effective for integrating both the right and left side of our brain. Daniel Siegel in his book,  Mindsight,  speaks to this and his research that he has done at Harvard on how mindful practice affects the brain.  The exciting facts are that mindful practice can not only help integrate the brain, hence helping the nervous system achieve a calm state, but such practice has shown to change brain function in positive ways.  Neurons that fire together (for better or worse)  also wire together. We can actually grow our brain through mindfulness practice!

Parts of self trapped in trauma time

 

pexels-photo-296301.jpegWhat are parts of self? Do I have parts? Does everyone have parts?

We all have different parts of ourselves. You likely have a part when you talk to your kitty: and another part when you talk to your boss, partner or friend. These parts are not rigid – they are flexible and malleable.  You can move in and out of these parts with ease, usually in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, you can properly switch from talking to your cat to your partner.  When you use the appropriate part at the right time and in the right situation, we call these parts integrated.  Parts are also sometimes called ego states. However, if a person has experienced extensive childhood trauma, they will be vulnerable to dissociation and in these dissociated states, move into parts that are trapped in a time when a traumatic event took place in their childhood. Sometimes a person will move into the child state.  Other times, a protective part such as an angry  teen part will move into the person’s consciousness to try to protect the child part.  When a part shows up at an inappropriate time or place, we sometimes call this a dissociated state.

Parts are ego states split off at the time of a childhood traumatic event or events. For example, a child experiences feeling intense pain and vulnerability after being physically abused repeatedly at six years old. The six-year-old doesn’t grow up. Instead this six-year-old stays six even though real-time child continues to grow up. Once an adult, she finds herself triggered, or distressed when the threat of feeling the same way she did at six presents itself in a present day event. She may then move into this child part, or more likely, move into a protective and angry part that reacts in a defensive, dismissing way to protect the vulnerable child part. For this person, interpersonal relationships are challenging because every time in the present that this person is reminded of  the past, they will act from another part – a vulnerable six-year-old part, an enraged “monster” part (in the worst case), or some less intimidating but still challenging angry part. They may continue to feel triggered in the present over and over again until the trauma of the past has been processed.

These parts or ego states don’t integrate. Put simply, these parts are trapped in trauma time. They are child parts, teen parts, or infant parts. The older parts (such as teen parts) typically try to protect the child or infant parts.  This process has been carefully outlined in two important theories: Structural Dissociation Theory and Internal Family Systems Theory.  Sometimes a part can appear as a monster, or demon part, however, this part isn’t really a monster, or demon but rather a part doing its best to protect a vulnerable child part. A monster will almost always dissipate, or disappear from a person’s system once it believes that the adult (Functional Adult State) can take control of their internal system, and the trauma that drives the monster to activate is processed.

For more information on dissociation read blog posts at this site on dissociation.

Ways to integrate parts include group processing therapy and E.M.D.R. In group you talk about your trauma and process it with a trained facilitator.  This therapist creates a safe place for you to re-experience some of the feelings that created the need for protective parts in the first place.  With E.M.D.R. you process the original traumatic events in a controlled safe way once you master skills to control dissociation.

 

Crystal Arber MSW RSW

 

Making Sense of Trauma Group

Crystal Arber:

Making Sense of Trauma

Making Sense of complex and post traumatic stress injury.

Making Sense of Trauma Group is back by popular demand.

When 

Every Wednesday evening  starting

October 11th from 7:00pm – 8:30pm for seven weeks.

Where

 Vancouver 

There are six seats available with the possibility of another group running on Thursday’s should the group fill up fast.

What 

  •  An educational skills building group for those who are interested in learning how to contain distressing symptoms caused by past traumatic events or PTSD like symptoms.
  • In this seven week closed group you will learn how traumatic experiences affect the nervous system, and brain.
  • You will learn types of treatment available.
  • You will learn the difference between complex developmental trauma and PTSD.
  • You will learn skills to manage and reduce distressing symptoms, i.e. dissociation (zoning out) anger, avoidance of people or places, mood swings, hypersensitivity to sounds, attention…

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