RECOVERY Archives - Childhood Trauma Recovery

Category Archives: Recovery

These articles contain a wealth of information relating to recovery from childhood trauma, including therapies and self-help.

Can Effects of Childhood Trauma be Fully Resolved?

The resolution of childhood trauma is best viewed as an on-going process throughout one’s life. Different issues related to the trauma are likely to be resolved at different stages in life, and, even once resolved, may be re-triggered at times of acute stress ; this is especially likely if the individual experiences in later life events which are similar in nature to the original trauma and trigger memories of it. For example, a person who was abandoned by his mother as a child may find the traumatic response is re-activated if his wife walks out on him.

Therefore, if a person completes a course in psychotherapy, and, at the end of it, feels his emotional difficulties have been resolved, but later experiences a relapse due to a particular stressful event later in life, he should not see his original therapy as a waste of time or himself as having somehow failed. Relapses at times of high anxiety are perfectly normal.

Because of this, by the end of a course of therapy intended to resolve the experience of childhood trauma, it is essential that the therapist has taught the client relevant coping strategies for such an eventuality.

The client should also be made aware that effects of severe trauma can never be absolutely guaranteed to be over and that there will always be some chance of recurrence. If a relapse is severe enough, it may, of course, be necessary for the individual to return to therapy.

SIGNS OF RECOVERY :

One of the best signs of recovery from trauma is the ability to return to pursuing normal, everyday activities and the return of the capacity to experience some pleasure in life, especially in connection with relationships with others.

Another indication of recovery is when the individual becomes less obsessed with the past and starts to be capable of focusing more upon the present and the future.

SEVEN CRITERIA FOR THE RESOLUTION OF TRAUMA :

Seven criteria for the resolution of trauma have been proposed by the psychologist Mary Harvey ; these are :

1) the physiological symptoms of the post traumatic stress have become manageable

2) the person is able to cope with the unpleasant memories connected to the experience of the trauma

3) the traumatic memories have ceased to be so intrusive

4) the memory of the traumatic event has resolved itself into a coherent narrative

5) the person has regained a sense of self-esteem

6) the person has been able to re-establish significant relationships with others

7) the person has reconstructed a coherent system of meaning and belief that makes sense of the traumatic experience and its subsequent damaging effects

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Our Experience Of Severe Trauma

 

 Why Trauma Can Be So Hard To Talk About 

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.’

Gustave Flaubert

Whenever I have become highly emotionally upset about my traumatic childhood experiences, in the presence of another person, I have found I become highly inarticulate, unable to communicate coherently what I am feeling and why I am feeling it.

It is as if there is some kind of mental blockage, rendering me incapable of conveying verbally my state of mind in any meaningful way. Essentially, I seem to regress, leaving myself with the verbal dexterity of the average three- year- old (albeit, perhaps, on occasion, a three- year- old with a precocious knowledge of swear words).

As it transpires, it would seem there is a scientific and neurological explanation for this loss of articulacy when in such emotional distress relating to one’s traumatic experiences:

Our inability to verbalize our feelings about our traumatic experiences is most powerful immediately after the traumatic experience itself and during periods in which we are experiencing flashbacks (when we experience flashbacks, the brain reacts in much the same way as it did when we experienced the original trauma).

During such periods, research has revealed that the part of the brain responsible for language production, known as Broca’s area, all but shuts down. In some cases, the traumatised individual may enter a kind of speechless daze.

Broca's area

In calmer moments, traumatised individuals may talk about their traumatic experiences, but in a superficial way that does not remotely capture the intense distress, rage and mental agony their experiences may have evoked – language cannot adequately convey what it is like to experience such feelings.

Because we can’t communicate properly what our experience of trauma was like, or how it has made us feel, we can start to feel extremely isolated and cut-off, emotionally, from the ‘normal’, everyday world.

No -one can understand what happened to us or how it affected us as our experiences are, quite literally, beyond words; this produces, in many of us, an especially intense and profound sense of loneliness.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Can’t Let Go Of Childhood Trauma? Here Are Possible Reasons Why

Why Many Can’t Let Go Of Childhood Trauma :

Sadly, in the absence of effective therapies, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing Therapy) or other forms of psychotherapy, the adverse effects of childhood trauma can endure for a lifetime. But why is it so hard to let go of childhood trauma and finally free ourselves from the intense psychological suffering that, for all too many of us, it entails, in some cases leading to a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, complex posttraumatic stress disorder, or some other appalling mental condition making the lives of those afflicted all but unendurable (or unendurable.[ PERIOD ] – as in the tragic cases of those who take their own lives).

The reasons are complex and numerous, but I describe, as concisely as possible, some of the main ones below :

MIS/ INCOMPLETE / SUPERFICIAL DIAGNOSIS : many who go to see their doctors with mental ailments such as depression, anxiety, addiction and myriad other psychological complaints are treated only for the presenting problem with little or, more usually (in the UK, at least) no effort expense  to uncover THE UNDERLYING CAUSE WHICH IS OFTEN CHILDHOOD TRAUMA; THUS, THE UNDERLYING TRAUMA REMAINS NOT ONLY UNTREATED, BUT UNRECOGNIZED – a culturally entrenched failing or, even, perhaps not unarguably, wilful blindness in some cases.

THE BIOLOGICAL IMPACT OF TRAUMA : significant and protracted childhood trauma can adversely affect the physical development of the brain ; for example, if a child grows up in an environment in which s/he is constantly made to feel anxious and/or fearful, the region of the brain called the amygdala may be harmed, resulting in difficulties controlling intense emotions (this is known as emotional dysregulation).

DISSOCIATION : the child’s childhood experiences may become so psychologically painful that, as an automatic defense mechanism, s/he shuts down his/her emotions to block off conscious experience of them, entering a state of emotional numbness; this phenomenon is known as dissociation. However, the trauma will still negatively impact on the child on an unconscious level without his/her conscious awareness that this is the case. Therefore, when s/he is an adult, s/he may develop various psychological problems (such as addictions) oblivious to their underlying cause.

SUPPRESSION : because the memories of our traumatic experiences can be so painful, some try to force them out of their minds and suppress them.

DENIAL / MINIMIZATION : similarly, because it is so painful to accept that our parents, for example, might not have loved us or resented our very existence, we may, as a psychological defense mechanism, have entered a state of denial and/or have minimized the extent of the cruelty with which they treated us.

LACK OF RECOGNITION : when we are children, we have nothing with which to compare our family situation and no frame of reference. Therefore, even those who grow up in very dysfunctional families may not realize how abnormal their upbringing was until much later in life.

INVALIDATION : others may invalidate and undermine our perception of what happened to us as children as well as the pain we feel engendered by our early adverse experiences. For example, parents may deny they were abusive and ignorant members of society may glibly suggest that we  ‘just get over it and move on’ ; such invalidating attitudes can be highly damaging.

INTRUSIVE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS – those who have suffered childhood trauma often have intrusive negative thoughts such as ‘I am worthless’ or ‘I am unlovable.’ They may, too, suffer from flashbacks and nightmares.

COMPLEXITY : interactions with our primary caretakers are extremely complex and although we might know there was something profoundly wrong with how they interacted with us whilst we were growing up, clearly identifying why this was can be an impossibly overwhelming task- there is simply too much data to process and analyze

SUBTLETY :  out primary caretakers may have damaged us in subtle ways of which we are not consciously aware

DIFFICULTY TALKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO US : what happened to us may be too painful for us to talk about.

IDEALIZATION OF PARENTS : we may idealize our parents even if they treated us very badly; this is a psychological defense which you can read about in one of my previous articles by clicking here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

The Vital Importance Of Having Our Traumatic Experiences Validated.

validation of childhood experiences

Research has established, beyond doubt, that, all else being equal, the greater our experience of childhood trauma, the worse both our physical and mental health are likely to be during our adulthood, and the more likely we are to die prematurely.

Research has also shown that having our perception of our childhood trauma, and its adverse effect on us, validated is an essential part of our recovery.

Surrounding my own childhood experiences there has always been a conspiracy of silence by family members. My feelings about my early experiences have been met variously with evasion, denial, contempt, disdain, cold dismissiveness, minimisation, stone-walling, passive -aggression and straight- forward lies.

When our experiences are NOT validated, or, worse still, shamelessly refuted, recovery becomes almost impossible : insult is added to injury, with the likely outcome that our condition will actually become worse .

When our experiences and their effects remain NON-VALIDATED, our very sense of reality is undermined which puts us in danger of developing psychosis (a condition in which we become pathologically detached from reality).

child trauma

When we are told things such as ‘stop harping on about the past’ or, ‘you sound like a broken record, let it go’, it is this very contemptuous dismissal of our feelings that perpetuates our condition. The tacit implication is that we are self-absorbed, self-pitying, egotistical and should stop blaming our problems on our childhooods as this is wrong and selfish. But let’s examine the logic (or lack, thereof) of this rebuffal to our fundamental beliefs about our early traumatic experiences:

Can we take seriously the suggestion that a child who was frequently beaten to a pulp by a drunken father (as a hypothetical example), or the person whose brain development was impaired by emotional abuse (as another hypothetical example), and develops psychological problems in adulthood as a result, is somehow being weak and self-indulgent, and is wrong and unentitled to suggest his/her childhood may be linked to his/her adult difficulties?!

Of course, we can’t. In fact, it takes an awful amount of inner, mental strength to face up to and acknowledge the harm done to oneself by one’s childhood, and doing so is absolutely key to one’s recovery. 

Recent research has shown that if a person’s feelings about their traumatic experiences in childhood are just sympathetically listened to and validated, and their pain and suffering as a result of their trauma is acknowledged and authenticated, their condition improves, even in the absence of any additional, active therapy.

This is powerful evidence that having our feelings about our childhoods validated is absolutely essential in order for us to recover from our adverse experiences.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc, PGDE (FAHE).

Steps To Trauma Recovery

steps to trauma recovery

steps to trauma recovery

The psychoanalyst, Rothschild, in her excellent book ‘Keys To Safe Trauma Recovery‘, suggests that recovery from trauma entails just a handful of majo elements and I list these below. Underneath some of the elements that appear on the list I have added my own short elaborations and elucidations in terms of how each element may relate specifically to recovery from childhood trauma.

1) Recognizing that one has experienced trauma and survived it.

In the case of childhood trauma it is essential that the victim’s feelings in relation to it are validated by at least one significant other ; the psychotherapist and childhood trauma expert Alice Miller termed such a person an ‘enlightened witness’. An enlightened witness is so vital because It is not unusual for other members of the traumatized individual’s family to invalidate the his/her feelings (e.g. belittling them or dismissing them) for reasons connected to their own guilt and complicity.

2) Coming to terms with flashbacks and understanding their relationship to traumatic memories (to read my article Horowitz’s Information Processing Theory, Flashbacks And Nightmares‘, click here).

3) Self-Compassion

Many individuals suffer from IRRATIONAL feelings of self-blame and guilt in relation to their traumatic childhood experiences ; for example, a child whose parents divorce may erroneously blame him/herself for the parents’ marital breakdown. It is essential to free oneself from such inaccurate and self-destructive beliefs.

To read my article on ‘Compassion Focused Therapy For The Effects Of Childhood Trauma‘, click here.

steps to trauma recovery

4) The need to overcome feelings of shame

Closely related to self-blame and guilt, irrational feelings of shame are also extremely common amongst survivors of childhood trauma and the victim may require significant therapeutic intervention to facilitate the amelioration of such feelings.To read my article entitled ‘Shame And Its Agonizing Effects‘, click here.

5) Recovery from trauma best achieved by breaking the recovery process down into small, manageable steps.

6) Mobilizing the body out of its ‘frozen’ state

Trauma affects the body’s biological functioning and can have the effect of ‘freezing’ it into a state of physiological HYPERAROUSAL and FEAR. Exercising for about 30 minutes a day can help ‘unfreeeze’ the body, not least because it helps to return adrenaline levels to normal (those ‘frozen’ in a hyperaroused and fearful state have an excess of adrenaline coursing through their systems, contributing significantly to feelings of physical tension and associated emotional distress.

7) Deriving meaning and purpose from one’s traumatic experiences in a way that leads to self-improvement.

This essentially refers the concept of posttraumatic growth. A whole category of this site is devoted to posttraumatic growth articles (see MAIN MENU at the top of the page).

 

THERAPIES :

Therapies that can be effective for individuals who have suffered childhood trauma include ‘talking therapies’ such as counselling and psychotherapy. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be very effective.

RESOURCE :

What Is The Difference Between A Therapist And Psychologist?

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Alfred Adler : The Importance Of How We Reconstruct The Past

Alfred Adler and memory

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), the famous Austrian psychotherapist, emphasized that it is our interpretation of the past, rather than the ‘objective’ past (even trying to explain what the ‘objective’ past is in relation to our own lives is fraught with insurmountable, philosophical complexities) that is crucial is determining its emotional and psychological effects upon us.

Indeed, our pasts are of such complexity that our recollection of it is, of necessity, a simplification and reconstruction. Obviously that is not to say it is all a reconstruction – we know what school we went to, if our parents got divorced and so on, after all – nevertheless, we all have our own personal narrative about our pasts as a whole; in essence, it is a story we tell ourselves, built on the scaffold of some blunt facts but given personal meaning by the way we interpret and reconstruct its key events and experiences.

Alfred Adler

Above : Alfred Adler (1870-1937).

Alfred Adler And The Importance He Gave To Our First Memory :

The above is borne out by the importance Alfred Adler placed upon his patients’ first memories. This is so because he was relatively unconcerned about the actual accuracy of this first memory (after all, it was not possible for him to confirm how accurate these memories were). The reason for this relative lack of concern was because Adler realized it is what we believe has happened to us in our lives / childhoods is what really counts.

This does not imply that what we recall bears no resemblance to what happened, only that it is how we recollect our past and what we believe its meaning to be that is paramount.

After all, the effect of false beliefs are just as powerful as those of true beliefs : if a doctor lies to us and tells us we have three months to live and we believe it, its effect is precisely the same on our emotional state as it would be were it true. Our beliefs, in such cases, dictate how we feel – irrespective of reality.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Escaping The Pain of The Past

 rp_childhood-trauma-fact-sheet9.png

If we had a troubled childhood, it is not unusual to find we become preoccupied with certain elements of it, or even obsessed. In this way, we can let it define who we are now in a way which is not good for us, preventing us from enjoying the present, and stopping us from feeling any optimism regarding the future.

We become, essentially, prisoners of our past.

However, freeing ourselves from this darkest of prisons we have constructed around ourselves is not easy; in fact, it is a process which can be both long and arduous.

A very important part of this process is to allow ourselves to fully experience the feelings that the memory of our traumatic childhood gives rise to and not to repress them. In other words, we must allow ourselves to grieve for our past and for our lost or stolen childhoods.

KUBLER-ROSS’S FIVE STAGE GRIEVING MODEL:

Kubler-Ross’s model, which can be applied to the grieving process that relates to remembering a lost or stolen childhood (although the model was originally intended to describe the grieving process following the death of a loved one) involves five stages we may need to go through before our grief can heal. These five stages are shown below:

1) Denial – during this stage, we find it hard to believe our loss has actually happened; it can seem unreal. In the case of childhood trauma, for example, we may find it very hard to believe that our parent/s or primary caregiver had/have betrayed us.

Instinctively, we do not want to think ill of our parents, especially when we’re children.

This is why many children who are mistreated feel guilty; they (irrationally) turn the blame that should be directed at the parent/s onto themselves to protect themselves from the knowledge that their parents are bad/have behaved badly.

2) Anger – once such denial has been overcome, anger about one’s lost childhood can follow (to read my article about childhood trauma and anger, click

3) Bargaining – not everyone experiences this stage but it may include trying to make ‘deals’ with any particular deity one believes in through prayer (eg ‘ if you just get me through this, I promise…’ etc).

4) Depression – now that the reality of one’s loss really starts to sink in, together with its accompanying implications, one can finally allow oneself to feel the sadness evoked by the loss. It is important to allow oneself to fully feel this sadness, as it is cathartic in that it allows one to work through and process one’s pain (click here to read one of my related articles).

5) Acceptance – finally, we reach a stage at which we have processed what has happened to us, have psychologically integrated the experience and accepted it as part of our life experience. We have come to terms with it and no longer let it control and hinder us – we are ready to move forward in our life.

It is important to note, however, that not everyone goes through these exact stages – therefore, when we go through the process of grief, we need not worry if our evolving feelings precisely mirror this model.

After coming to terms with our adverse childhood experiences, there are various things we can do to help us move forward in our lives:

1) We need to stop seeing ourselves as a victim.

Clinging on tenaciously to our sense of betrayal, our anger and our blame of others serves mainly only to hurt ourselves. Whilst we cannot change the past, we can change our attitude to it and, by doing this, we can prevent the memory of it from inflicting further serious damage on our progress in life.

For example, we can start to consider what we may have gained from our experiences – perhaps it’s made us stronger or given us the empathy any insight to help others experiencing various forms of psychological distress.

2) Take a step back from life and consider what we really want from it, and then start setting ourselves relevant, challenging, but achievable, sub-goals and goals to help us to achieve our desires, whether these be to run our own business, help others, study or whatever else we set our heart on.

3) Surround ourselves with positive, like-minded, empathetic and supportive people (as far as this might be possible). This may involve joining a particular club, group or society or changing our social milieu.

4) Seek out opportunities, however small, to help us to achieve our sub-goals and goals. We are much more likely to achieve our goals if we choose something we really like doing and for which we have an aptitude. Whilst most of us need to make money, the importance of doing a job/having a career that is intrinsically rewarding cannot be over-emphasized.

Indeed, studies show that once we’re reasonably comfortably off, having more money, even vastly more, makes very little difference to our happiness in the medium and long-term. Some people waste a lifetime learning this, becoming trapped upon what psychologists refer to as a ‘hedonistic treadmill’.

get_over_the_past

Hypnosis downloadable audio for help with getting over the past. CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)