Trauma Responses

In my work as a therapist, I have come to believe that everyone I have encountered has experienced trauma in their lives. I believe also that most people in the world have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Trauma can be anything that affects someone in a negative way that then causes them to form beliefs and responses as a result. All trauma is personal and what some might view as a minimal experience the person experiencing it can view it as something much greater – to them.

Trauma responses which are formed as protection, or assumed protection against further trauma, then become what people view as their “personality traits” for individuals and as “family traits” for families. However, they are in fact, responses to trauma which continue with each passing day that the trauma is unprocessed. These responses lead people to react and interact with others in a variety of ways depending on what their trauma assumed as protection.

The four main responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses then lend themselves to a broader list of other protective responses that get incorporated into our lives and relationships.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed trauma version of fight, the assumed protection responses can be anger, aggressiveness, need for control, perfectionism, bullying others to get what is wanted, narcissism, taking energy and time from others without considering how they feel about it. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to control situations and people to feel safe or to push them away with anger and aggressive behavior to again feel safe.

In unhealthy or unprocessed versions of flight, the assumed protection responses can be escaping or avoiding, seeking avoidance in substances such as alcohol and drugs, avoiding responsibilities, avoiding being out of your comfort zone, escaping or avoiding relationships that are uncomfortable, moving from relationship to relationship. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to escape situations and people to feel safe.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of freeze, the assumed protection responses can be numbing our feelings and needs, being stuck, dissociation, detaching from everything around us, shutting down, not attaching emotionally to others, isolating, suppressing our feelings. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to not feel or think about how we feel.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of fawn, the assumed protection responses can be putting all our needs aside and focusing on the needs of others, co-dependent relationships, people pleasing, trying to fix others, having no boundaries, not saying no, being used by others. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to please others.

If we can identify the responses we have assumed to protect ourselves from further trauma, we can acknowledge it, name it, and understand why we are continuing these repetitive patterns of behavior. In this process, however, we must start with the root of these responses which began where our trauma began. This will likely require an investment in individual therapy to process and move through the trauma so that we can reorient our responses and change them along with changing ourselves.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Everyday Mindfulness

The world seems to be filled with chaos of all kinds. Every minute of the day we can be bombarded with words, images, feelings coming from all directions. Chaos exists in the things we want to control but cannot. We can expend an enormous amount of energy trying to desperately control everything around us and be consumed by what we see, hear or experience in the world. Mindfulness allows us to calm ourselves and focus our energy on the present moment inside our own mind and bodies. Mindfulness allows us to be proactive instead of reactive and allows us to have margin instead of being overwhelmed. Mindfulness can be accomplished in a variety of ways including meditation, paying attention to your body and your thoughts, focusing on your breath, active listening, and acceptance of the present moment among others. Hopefully, these quotes can get you started on practicing everyday mindfulness.

Practice mindfulness daily, make a habit of it and find your way to less chaos and more peace.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Stressed Out

The main subject my clients have been sharing lately is that they feel very stressed out. They feel that everything around them is in some sort of chaos. From family life, to work life, to road rage, to being way too hot because it is summer and on it goes. Stress seems to be the top emotional state for most of them currently.

In our society, whenever the economic picture starts to look stressed people soon follow. The cost of fuel has impacted the cost of everything else, which leads to a lot of stress for many people. The more they are impacted by this situation, the more stress they feel. If they are already struggling to make ends meet then adding additional costs can make it where some feel they must choose what they spend their money on even down to choices of putting off bill paying to pay rent or buy food.

When people start to fear their economic security, it impacts how they feel about being safe in the basic needs of life – food, shelter, security. This kind of fear and stress will then seep into every aspect of life. They will find they have less margin for family, friends, and work and certainly not enough peace for self care for themselves.

To add to this economic fear, there is the unsettled political climate in our society. It seems that no matter what side of any issue someone is on, there is always something to be upset about or worried about. Something to fear and be anxious about. Something to cause stress. And this is added on and makes things all the more difficult.

When people feel this kind of stress, they can become very easily emotionally charged. It can be that something so seemingly small as misplacing something can turn into an all out come apart because the underlying stress is so great. Some small thing with family can turn into a huge argument because that underlying fear is much larger than we realize.

So how do we manage in these situations that we have no real control to exert. We cannot change the price of fuel, food or anything else. We cannot change political issues very quickly because it takes time to have elections or to lobby for changes. And we certainly cannot change the weather. What can we change? Ourselves and our responses.

It is not that easy to change ourselves and our responses when we are afraid. We must acknowledge that we are afraid and admit what it is we are afraid of. We must realize what we can and cannot change about these fears. We must know what is going on right now – what do we have right now that is still safe. We must realize that nothing stays the same forever – costs will change and they will go down at some point, politics is an ever shifting landscape, and the weather always gets cooler eventually. We must believe that we can survive this moment in time and staying in control of our responses and emotions will only serve to make things easier.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Process Equals Progress

I am often still surprised by new clients who have the mistaken belief that trauma therapy can be some kind of magical fix. That if they come to a few sessions, I will somehow give them ability to magically cure themselves of years long trauma and negative beliefs about themselves. Unfortunately, that is not true nor is it possible.

To make progress in living with traumatic experiences and negative beliefs, one must go through the process of confrontation and move to reprocessing and then acceptance building in positive beliefs along the way. This is not an easy process or a quick one. There is no magic wand to erase what has happened to us or our conditioned responses as a result of our experiences. There is only the process.

This is where the rubber meets the road in therapy. Clients will decide in the moment that they realize they will have to go through the process whether or not they wish to continue therapy. They will make these decisions based on a variety of emotions, mainly fear, and then will either never come back or gather the strength to push on.

It is not easy to process through trauma and negative beliefs that have resulted from those traumas. It is not fun. It is difficult, emotional work. However, it is the only way through to moving to a place where what has happened to us no longer causes us to believe negative things about ourselves or respond in trauma conditioned ways.

We can not get rid of what has happened to us in the past. Those things exist and will always exist. We can learn to change how we think about those things and how we let them affect our lives now. Processing is a method to change how we think about what we feel. Traumas will make us feel a multitude of emotions – anger, sadness, fear and many more. Traumas will make us feel responsible, which is not true. Traumas will make us believe negative things about ourselves that are not true and did not start with us. Processing allows us to understand all these things and change how we think and what we believe.

Processing is the only way through. It will be difficult, but to be free of the control past trauma has over your life now, the choice is only one path – to process completely.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Beyond Fear

For many people, choosing to start therapy can be a very scary decision. Opening up to someone you do not know about the intimate details of your life can seem very frightening. Many people who feel that “everyone is judging” them in some way may also feel that their potential therapist will judge them in the very same ways. Still others are afraid of the changes that will come as a result of how they may change during the therapeutic process.

During my time as a therapist, I have had many potential clients come for the initial consultation, which is a time to see if we are a good fit and they seem willing and ready to start therapy. They will then come for one or two sessions and then I will never see them again or they text to say they are not ready to proceed. They can get beyond their initial fear of making a consultation appointment but when things become more in depth they are too afraid to continue.

I know that there are many others who cannot get over their fear even to make the initial consultation appointment. There are potentially thousands and thousands of people in the state where I live who contemplate therapy or who want to reach out for help and try to change their lives, but they cannot get beyond fear.

It is true that the therapist does not know the client and vice versa. However, this is a good thing allowing the therapist to be objective. It is also true that there are some therapists, unfortunately, who will make judgments about clients even though one would hope that they do not. Therapists are still human beings and as such are not always capable of separating their personal views from the counseling office. It is further true that if clients change during the process of therapy and the people around them do not change or do not accept their changes, relationships can be impacted and even ended.

I always try to get clients to do a risk/benefit analysis of continuing therapy in spite of their fears. What are the risks if they continue and change their beliefs about themselves and others, their boundaries, and what they are willing and not willing to tolerate in their lives. What are the benefits of these changes in their lives? Will they be able to live happier, stronger, less toxic lives? Is it worth the risks?

Only the client can decide these things. No matter how much the therapist might wish that they choose therapy, the client is the only one to decide to proceed and the only one to evaluate the risks they are willing to accept. The client is also the only one who can decide to do the work of therapy and implement the skills and tools the therapist provides. No matter how much the therapist provides, the client decides what they will do with it. The work resides with the client as does the decision to do the work.

If you are trying to decide if therapy might help you navigate your past, present and future please consider the risks and benefits and decide if the benefits can help you get beyond your fear. You might find that it leads you to a better life and a better you.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Necessary Awareness

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Awareness is a necessary ingredient for change.

In order to change anything, we must first be aware that there is something that needs to change. Anyone with trauma will have great difficulty finding this awareness due to the ongoing conditioning and responses caused by internalized negative beliefs and subsequent responses to those beliefs.

In fact, most people find it difficult to be aware of things outside of their normalized thoughts and behaviors. Only through awareness can thoughts and responses be addressed. Only through awareness can we know what there is to be addressed.

In order to be aware, we must be able to recognize the thought processes we have. Recognize that they are there. Recognize where they began. Recognize how we internalized them. Over time, these thoughts, that we gained from other people, become internalized in our brains as truths about us. The become so ingrained in our beliefs that we start to think we started them. Most all my clients will say that they have always believed the negative things about themselves as if they were born with them. They were not and neither was anyone else.

To be aware of these thoughts, we must be able to pause the process when it starts. The process of thought, emotion, reaction or response. This cascade happens instantaneously with the normalization of the process. This is the thought we always have. This is the emotion we always have with this thought. This is the reaction or response we always have with this thought. So we just let it flow without awareness.

To pause the process, we must be able to name the catalyst. The thought or thoughts. They must have identifying names and we must understand how we came to believe them. Where they started, with whom, and in what circumstances. Almost all will be traced to our initial caregivers as they are the teachers of all things including the beliefs about ourselves. From birth to age seven, these beliefs are taught to us just as we are taught to talk, eat, dress, read. Name them, know them, recognize their beginning, and know they are not true nor are they yours.

It is then that we can have awareness when they come up to have the margin or pause to stop the cascade of events that follows. With awareness, we can say, I see you thought. I know you thought. I recognize where you came from thought. I do not have to respond or react to you thought. I can pause and replace you thought. I know it sounds like a lot but with practice it can be done. Over time, negative thoughts can be replaced with positive truths that do come from you.

Start with one thought that causes you the most negative emotions about yourself and the most issues with relationships with others. Name it. Name the emotion. Name the reaction and responses. Name the starting point. Accept that you did not start the thought. And start to replace it with an opposite, absolute positive that comes from you.

Do that repeatedly. Form a new habit. Create a new normal. Foster awareness as a necessary component of change.

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Trauma Healing Quotes

Most all of the work I do with clients is in relation to their trauma history. The processing of trauma and moving through to acceptance and letting go can be a very difficult journey. To live a full and free life after experiencing trauma it must be completely processed and let go. If you are thinking of starting this journey or are in the midst of it, maybe these quotes can help you begin or to press on.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk

Dr. van der Kolk is the author of the book “The Body Keeps The Score” which is effectively the “bible” of my therapy practice and the best book on how trauma affects us body and mind when unprocessed.

“We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.” ~ Camille Paglia

We are conditioned and taught by our traumas to internalize negative beliefs about ourselves. However, moving through and past our traumas is our choice and our responsibility.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock

Finding a therapist that fits you, someone to hear you, objectively, can make all the difference in being able to walk through your personal pain.

“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.” ~ Mason Cooley

Not every day will be filled with huge strides and big wins over the past, sometimes the best we can do on any given day is just to get out of bed.

“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.” ~ Peter Levine

It is my experience that almost everyone has some kind of trauma and almost everyone carries on as if they do not by avoiding, ignoring, denying, controlling how they truly feel.

Instead of saying ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues.” I say “I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.” ~ Horacio Jones

The journey to trauma recovery is almost entirely based on what we say to ourselves every minute of the day. Are your words hurting or helping you?

Healing from trauma can also mean strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life – warts, wisdom, and all – with courage.” ~ Catherine Woodiwiss

We can never change what has happened to us, but we can learn to live better with it and in spite of it.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Learning Resilience

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Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness. Some people feel that others they see who are able to get through hard times seemingly easily are just born that way. I think resilience is a learned or a conditioned behavior response and I think that everyone can learn resilience if they invest in the process. People can seem to be resilient who are still living with the effects of their past trauma, but most are addicted to control and reacting in their long held trauma patterns.

The first thing on the path to resilience is processing past trauma. Until the past is addressed and the reactions to that trauma are processed and understood, it is very difficult to break the response patterns that are a result of unprocessed trauma. These patterns lead to negative thinking patterns, fear of failure, being in a constant state of fight or flight, and any of the hundreds of conditioned beliefs that have formed in our brains as a result of this trauma. Therapy is the road to being free of those things.

While in therapy, you will hopefully learn how to recognize negative beliefs and thought patterns. One of the greatest barriers to resilience is any belief that prevents you from knowing you can go through hard times and come out stronger on the other side.

In order to be resilient in the face of hard times, we must be able to form a positive thought process about the current situation to confront it without fear and/or having it polluted with our past trauma responses. We must also be able to have positive thought processes to disable catastrophic thinking patterns. We have to believe that we can overcome the hard times without fear and trauma responses and that we will be okay in the future.

Learning resilience after we have processed our trauma allows us to be able to choose our responses and maintain perspective. When we are living in our trauma response brains, we can find it almost impossible to choose our responses to any situation. We can know logically absolutely what we should do or say or how we should act, but the trauma response brain is powered by emotions. These emotions overpower our logic and cause us to respond out of fear. Fear, being the strongest emotion in the world, causes us to lose all perspective in situations where we need to make a different response.

To keep building resilience we have to be able to learn from our mistakes and failures. In everything there are lessons to be learned if we can maintain our perspective and keep our thoughts out of the trauma negative zones. All life is a lesson. When we are living in our trauma response brains, the lessons of our experiences tend to be overlooked while we are in states of fear, fight or flight, or freeze. The lessons are also overlooked in negative thinking patterns of how the mistakes are our fault or that we are always failures, which is again a product of the trauma responses. Learning the lessons of failure and mistakes can make us much stronger going forward and can also teach us what we no longer want to repeat.

Be aware of your thoughts. Practice thought awareness. Meditation is a great way to practice thought awareness. It is also a great way to practice having those thoughts come and go instead of taking up root. Meditation can also be used as thought replacement practice. Our thoughts become our beliefs become our behaviors.

Resilience can be learned. We can all choose our responses, choose what we think and believe, and choose to maintain perspective. Each choice makes us stronger and more able to withstand hard times. Cultivate resilience.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Winter Blues

After almost a month of vacation and two weeks of family illness, returning to work has been difficult. Not only because vacation is a nice place to be, but also because winter in the northern rocky mountains is very cold, windy, and grey for the better part of January and February.

After the excitement of the holidays and fun of having time off, one can find that they have a lot less motivation for their required activities. Things like going to work, cleaning house, spending time with others, and even things we enjoy doing do not seem as appealing when enduring the winter blues.

So what can we do to cope with this time of year and the lack of motivation and even depression for some that comes with it?

Anytime the weather is even remotely nice, we need to get outside. Even if it is for a short amount of time, it can make a big difference. Getting out into the sunshine can be extremely beneficial during the “grey months”. A short walk or even a drive, a trip to the grocery store or to visit a favorite specialty store where we live, a cup of coffee with a friend at a local coffeehouse or restaurant can all provide a much needed escape from the housebound doldrums.

Being intentional about getting up out of bed, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and changing your clothes. Often times, the urge to just stay in bed and do nothing can be powerful during the “grey months”. We can convince ourselves that because we can’t venture outside due to weather or don’t want to due to how we feel, that we shouldn’t bother with activities of daily living. No one is going to see us right? This only increases our feelings of loss of motivation and depression.

Making sure that you are eating regularly and healthy. Another thing we overlook during the “grey months” is eating properly. If we are doing a lot of nothing, we tend to not eat or graze eat anything that is handy. Usually those things are not that good for us, chips, cookies, candy, etc. Once again, we need to be intentional about getting proper nutrition during these times. Having food on hand to make small meals throughout our day that are warm and nutritious. Also making sure we stay hydrated with water is very important.

Keeping up our physical health by getting some form of exercise most every day and by taking healthy vitamins and supplements to keep up our immunity. The “grey months” also bring a variety of illnesses that we need to be strong to have minimal symptoms should we get sick. Exercise offers two benefits, keeping us active and healthy and releasing endorphins to keep our brain active and happy.

If where you live there is little sunshine during these months, a seasonal affective light could be extremely helpful. Getting light is so very important to how we feel.

Writing and/or journaling about how you are feeling, making goals and plans that you can follow through on, adding in some creative touches and artwork to your writings can all help you release emotions held in the body.

If you feel that you are getting very depressed and cannot seem to do any of the things above most days, seeking out help through therapy and/or adding medications to your mental health management can be very helpful. Reach out for help.

The “grey months” can be tough for a lot of people but there are things you can do to endure them in a more healthy and happy way. Start with one thing and keep doing it and then add another and another. If you need more help, please seek it out. And remember, this is a moment in time and brighter, warmer days are coming soon.

Taking A Break

I will be taking a break for the holiday season and so will this blog. During this time, I will also be on vacation, so the next blog will be the week of January 24, 2022.

In the meantime, there are many months worth of blogs on this website available to read during this time. On the right hand side of this post about midway down of the page, there is a topic entitled POST ARCHIVES. There is a drop down menu for each month and click on each month to bring up the blog posts for that month on a wide variety of mental health topics.

I will also post some inspirational things on the Mindful Montana Wellness Twitter account @MMWCounseling and the Mindful Montana Wellness Instagram @mindfulmontanawellness and Facebook pages throughout the next six weeks so please follow those as well.

I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Make sure to keep your own self care as part of this time as the holidays can be also stressful and chaotic at times.

Until next time be well,

Deborah