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Trauma

Prior to reading this page, I would encourage the reader to scan the "Stress" page first to learn more about the overall human response to stress.

A traumatic event is any event that overwhelms our stress response, to the point that we are unable to cope. Those that look at a particular event and do not understand "how is/was that traumatic?," misunderstand trauma itself.

Trauma is not about the event itself, but the experience of the event. If one feels hopeless, powerless, trapped, or overwhelmed...the event can be traumatic. There are several factors that contribute to experiencing an event as traumatic that are unique to each person.

One event that is traumatic for one person is not for another. These differences can be based on age, gender (which carries cultural and societal influences), general development, emotional intelligence, the degree of understanding and support from others, and degree to which a person felt they had any control over the situation.

These factors and more contribute to RESILIENCY; the ability to recover from negative events. Individuals, have very little control over keeping negative events from happening, but significant control over our response/recovery to/from these events.

***Resiliency has innate qualities, but most importantly can be grown. Meditation, personal growth, religious support, and therapy are just some avenues for seeking out growth.***

Resiliency starts in childhood. It is influenced by our relationship with our parents/caretakers and how they role model the management of challenges. For example, having a caretaker speak negatively about themselves versus positively when they experience a challenge "I am stupid vs I am having a hard time."

It is not just about having compassion and empathy for oneself (or others), when hardships/challenges/negative events occur, but also a sense of overall ability to succeed. Basically, focusing on previous or current accomplishments (mainly emotional) creates empowerment and hope.

The process of guided imagery, with regards to EMDR, also creats the skills necessary for a person to process their trauma. The sensations that follow a guided imagery practice can feel "odd." Having personally gone through the process, I can say if can feel as if one has been hypnotized or as if your body and mind are slightly out of sync. Technically, this is true. Your brain and body are used to working one way (it hasn't been working, but they are used to it), then you start a new process and everything can been out of sync. Largely, because they are as you work towards a new method of working.

It is a good idea to rest after a session with guided imagery, similar to after a massage or chiropractic session. Your body needs time to process and recover from these experiences. Drinking water and resting are often recommended, with no significant physical exertion.

WARNING: This process can lead to an increase in nightmare and anxiety.

This is due to the process, potentially, unlocking areas in your brain that have locked away unprocessed trauma memories. However, this may not occur. More often than not one will likely see a reduction in nightmares and anxiety attacks, as the brain begins to process the trauma. Even at the beginning stages with early guided imagery.

I give this warning, because anyone considering EMDR should be properly informed before beginning the process.

After a person has been prepared with the development of coping skills and guided imagery techniques, a person then selects which trauma memory to process. It is recommended to select one's first and/or worst trauma memory.

This is to allow for the top-down method to work. This relates to the aforementioned part about how trauma can become generalized. If a person picks a smaller part of their trauma (stating a high level of distress), but as they go through an EMDR session find that this connects to some that creates even more distress. They may find this level of distress untolerable and negatively impact the work.

By selecting the most distressing event/aspect of an event, any branching generalizations will be extinguished with the processing of the most significant event

EMDR:

The process of EMDR (EYE MOVEMENT DESENTIZATION & REPROCESSING) has been proven to be an effect means of turning a "traumatic memory" into a "standard memory" neurologically. 

A standard memory is formed by creating connects between the cortex and the limic areas of your brain. The opposite of what occurs when triggered/overly stressed (when the cortex disengages from the limbic). EMDR achieves this through the use of bilateral stimulation (TAPPING), in which the left then the right side of the body are stimulated (via tapping, sound, lights, etc). This back and forth activity allows a person to stay "oriented" to their present while mentally reprocessing their past trauma.

Before any of this can occur certain safety precautions must be taken. If, reading about the above process created some anxiety, that is normal. The thought of reprocessing one's trauma (even for the better) can be scary to consider. One of the reason that people avoid even discussing their personal issues.

Thus the reason that the following precautions are taken. If, EMDR is not done is the correct order or before a person is properly prepared the results can be significantly negative.

A persons distress tolerance must be increased to the point that they can tolerate a mental reprocessing of their trauma. Meaning, that the development of coping skills is vital. This is done the same as it would be for any person seeking therapy services, to improve their ability to manage their symptoms. For example, learning what one's triggers are and body's response to those triggers. This might include any forms of criticism and the body getting hot, chest tight, and certain negative thoughts.

Upon learning to recognize these sensations and thoughts, to have a plan for how to reverse the process. This may include breathing, taking space, use of "I-statements", stress ball, going outside, positive affirmations, etc. A person would likely learn to recognize their triggers earlier, plan for the eventual outcome, and then in sessions process the underlying emotions from those body sensation brought on by those triggers.

Guided imagery is used throughout the EMDR process. This method helps people to learn to compartamentalize their negative emotional concerns. This is a significant tool for anyone. This allows a person to set aside anthing that is distressing for a later time, when it is more function to process their distress. Such as, getting upset with your partner, but not getting into an argument in the moment (in front of your kids), but later when it is more appropriate.

For the pupose of simplicity, I am going to focus on two main areas of the brain. First, the cortex (most outer part of the brain) and the limbic (most inner part of the brain). These areas work together regarding memory and trauma.

If, your hand were your brain; your wrist would be your

spinal cord, your thumb folded into the palm as your limbic

area, and your four digits folded over as your cortex.

When are are stressed those four fingers lift up exposing

the limbic area ("Blow your top!"). This matters because,

your cortex includes executive processing and decision-

making. While, your limbic includes emotional regulation

and the fight/flight/freeze reponse.

When the cortex is not maintaining a calm and appropriate response; the limbic area has kicks in to express emotional reactivity and survival mode.

Again, this happens when we are STRESSED.

When a stressful event has been traumatic; our brain repeats this action even when the trauma is no longer occuring. When a person becomes triggered (has reminders of the trauma) which can occur with any or several of the senses (smell being the strongest for memory recall), the trauma reoccurs in the brain.

This is the reason people refer to these events as "It is as if it is happening again/I am back there." The brain is literally reexperiencing the trauma and the cortex is disengaging while the limbic goes into overdrive.

With support, empathy, and coping skills a person can recover in a healthy manner. Eventually, the trauma (if processed) can become a "standard memory" and not cause reexperiencing. However, a person can appear to recover and "go about their lives", largely by avoiding known triggers. When they do experience a trigger, it will still cause the same reexperiencing of that trauma. Potentially, for the rest of their lives or at least until the trauma is processed.

This does not mean fully descrbing the trauma to someone. This can actually lead to retraumatization.

Therapy, has come a long way. It is now better understood, that teaching people to understand their trauma, themselves, and develop coping skills (RESILIENCY) they can recover in a healthy manner, without going into vivid detail about their truamas. As doing so, can cause reexperiencing of that truama.

There is an aspect of trauma that makes it particularly difficult. For some trauma will remain specific to an event, time, place, person, action, etc. For many, trauma will become generalized. This means that someone that is attacked, at first will have anxiety regarding the gender or position of the person that attacked them. Later, it may develop into anyone of the same size/build or smell of their attacker. Eventally, it may become all people are a trigger/reminder of the attack. These people may even become agoraphobic, meaning they do not leave their house, prefer to not leave their house, and takes severe measures to not leave their house.

Trauma tends to have basic symptoms that tend to apply to everyone, but do vary. Some people may have all of these symptoms most of the time, while others may have some of these symptoms some of the time.

These include nightmares, night terrors, anxiety/panic attacks, hypervigilance (paranoia)/increased awareness, flashbacks (think daytime nightmares), poor/limited emotional regulation, depression, increased agitation and/or aggression, and dissociation (feeling numb or losing time). Additional symptoms include denial, shame, guilt, eating dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, self-blame, self-harm, poor or limited concentration/thinking ability, reduced self-esteem, withdrawing from other/society, and avoidance of triggers. This is not an all-inclusive list.

Trauma can lead to a development of and increase of suicidual and homocidal thoughts/tendencies. If you or someone you know is experiencing either of these contact professional help immediately. See Home page for more information about crisis help.

Elevating these symptoms are just one reason to seek help (professional or otherwise). In addition to improving the quality of your life, in the present, you improve your life for the long-term. It has been shown that trauma (due to the physcial manifications of stress) decreases one's medical health, job performance, and quality of relationships. All of which are factors to a long healthy life.

Lastly, trauma often becomes generational. That is, one person can experience a trauma, and it effects everyone in their life. Their anxiety, fears, poor/no coping skills, etc get passed on to the next generation and can lead to trauma in the next genteration. Either by the experience of their family member's unhealthy coping with their trauma (i.e., addiction, violence, depression, anxiety, abuse, etc); OR a lack of learning healthy coping skills from their family member(s) leading to poor resiliency. That means they are more vulnerable to trauma occuring in their lives and developing unhealthy coping skills in lieu of not having any skills.

This is referred to as Complex/Chronic Trauma. This is different from a Simple (Single Incident) Trauma, that occurs with one event of trauma in adulthood. Any time a person has experienced trauma in childhood or multiple incidents of trauma that is considered Complex/Chronic; which requires more time and energy spent developing skills and processing these experiences.

There are many ways of addressing one's trauma symptoms, talk therapy is one method. There is EMDR, medication, trauma-informed yoga, meditation, prayer, somatic therapies, art therapy, DBT & CBT; as well as, developing experimental forms.

It is important to find a method and person(s) that you feel comfortable working with, for best results. Remember, these is a process and it will take time to recover. This is no different than recovering from a physical injury or surgery. Love yourself. If you are having any trouble, seek help from professionals, your religious figure(s), family and friends. Emotional support is the number one factor for healthy recovery from trauma. While it may be scary to consider telling/talking to anyone about what has happen, it may just save your life. It most certainly will, eventually, make your life better.