Living Better Through Trauma

photo of woman in pink long sleeve shirt and blue denim jeans sitting on brown sofa with her eyes closed

I often have clients ask me the question, will I always be affected by my past traumas? The answer is yes and no.

The answer is yes because there are only a few ways to completely remove memories from the brain that I am aware of. Lobotomy. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) possibly. And the controversial memory manipulation therapies that have been used to change memories or even implant new, false memories.

There is also research that has been done in the past and that is being done now on the drug propranolol (used to manage high blood pressure) and controlling the emotional response in trauma survivors. It does not erase memories. It changes, sometimes dramatically, the brain and body’s response to painful or scary memories. However, taking this drug every day if you do not have high blood pressure is not generally recommended. Some people do already use it for panic attack inducing situations taken before participating in those situations so that it allows them to get through them without panic.

None of these removal processes sound particularly good, which leads to the memory of trauma will always be present in the brain. However, how that memory affects us can be changed.

The answer is no in that traumatic memories can be acknowledged and confronted. They can be understood and accepted. They can be processed and minimized in their effects. Several therapies can be utilized to help trauma survivors live better. EMDR is used to reprocess the brain’s response to traumatic memories. Hypnosis has also been used to retrain the brain. CBT is used to change how people think about themselves and their experiences. And other therapies that reduce emotional response to traumatic memories are also used.

As I tell my clients, it is not the memory or the experience that continues to affect them throughout their lives, it is their emotional response to those things that drive their behaviors, choices, thoughts, beliefs, etc. The memories make them FEEL fear, sadness, anger, worthlessness, doubt, and more that then translates in a response in the brain that moves through the body and becomes manifested in actions, thoughts, beliefs.

The hardest thing for my clients to hear is that I cannot eliminate their trauma memories. That we must find a way through them. To find a way to live better with them. It is at this point that clients either decide they are willing to try to do that or they are not and they stop seeing me and keep searching for a way to remove the memories.

I wish I had a magic wand and could make all the horrible things that have happened to people disappear. But I do not. But you can find a way to live better even with the memories.

It is hard work. It is not comfortable. It is a daily process of choosing to live differently. But it is possible.

Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose. ~ Michele Rosenthal

Losing Yourself

alone cold fog forest
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

The more time I spend working in the trauma-focused world of counseling, the more I realize codependency is far more widespread than previously thought. Especially traumas that are experienced in childhood, which makes sense as that is where everything is set for future behaviors, beliefs, and choices.

Codependency most often stems from a childhood that contains either physical/sexual abuse, witnessed domestic abuse, addiction in parents, lack of parents, neglect, parents with mental illness, emotional abuse or any combination of these. Codependency also occurs if the child has no parents especially mothers in their lives.

The child will develop beliefs about themselves and an absolute need to try and contain, control, or cover up the situations they find themselves in. All while desperately wanting to maintain the relationship so their parent will love them or at the very least acknowledge them in some way.

The child will spend every waking moment trying to make sure the parent is okay or in their minds “happy.” If people are happy they won’t take their unhappiness out on them. They also spend their lives being small adults caring for parents who cannot care for themselves. Cooking, cleaning, providing alcohol or drugs, doing what the parent wants no matter what it is to keep them happy, taking care of siblings.

Always, always, seeking love from the parent, approval, even just being noticed is enough to keep the child repeating the cycle.

Through this behavior, the child develops a very low self-image believing they are not worthy of love. They develop poor boundaries and in many cases no boundaries. There is a constant need to save others or make others happy. They never consider what they need or want. There is a constant need for perfection so that they might be lovable. And an absolute need for control over anything that they can control because life with their parent is always chaos.

All of these things become set inside the child between birth and age 7. After this, these beliefs, behaviors, and choices become solid in the psyche and they are then seen as “normal” and they are not questioned. They are just repeated and repeated throughout their lives in every single relationship they have.

They seek out relationships with those who need saving. They never consider what they want or need or how they feel. Every relationship is the one they had with their parent or the one they didn’t have with their parent because the parent wasn’t there. They control their children’s lives because they couldn’t control their parents. They never say no in relationships because they need the other person’s approval for their own self worth.

Codependency can be extremely hard to change because by the time someone seeks out help it has been their norm for years and years. They have no concept of self-love or self-care. Boundaries are a foreign concept. Being alone is an all consuming fear. Children will always want their parent to love them no matter what the parent has done even when they are no longer children – it is genetic.

Learning to say no is one of the most important things codependent people can do to begin to set boundaries with others. Understanding the difference between saving people and supporting them without enabling their behaviors. Self-care and self-love are absolutely necessary to breaking the chains of codependency. Knowing that they have worth in themselves and do not need others to provide it for them.

Counseling can help codependent people see things more objectively and offer ways to start to change. The biggest thing that keeps people from letting go of codependent behaviors is fear. Counseling can help process through this fear and open the road to moving forward. Reaching out for help can be the first step to change.

Until next time,
Deborah

Illusion of Control

17_illusion-of-control

For many trauma survivors, the illusion of control provides a way to feel control so that they balance out feeling out of control when memories, flashbacks, and emotions of their past traumas surface. If they can control as much as possible about their daily lives it can appear to them that they are no longer out of control as a result of their traumas. The more control they have the better able they are to avoid the distress that comes with facing their traumas as described in this study Perceived Control and Avoidance in Posttraumatic Stress.

Many times a trauma survivor will seek out anything they think they can control in order to avoid the distress of their trauma history. The illusion of control is defined as “The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events; for example, it occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence.” Many times people with trauma history will feel they can control everything around them and even convince themselves that the control they think they have is real.

If they can hold on to this belief that they are in control, then they do not have to confront the loss of control they feel when they relive their traumas. Even if they believe they control one thing, it is better than feeling as if they control nothing. This control can take many forms and some of them can be very destructive.

Self-harm is a classic trauma control. If someone is cutting, they are in control of the release of their pain. If someone is controlling their family members lives and choices, they are in control of trying to make their life different from what it was during their traumas. If someone is enforcing their control of themselves with drugs and alcohol, they diminish the emotions of their trauma.

The other side of control is avoidance. If someone can feel as if they are in control they can avoid confronting their traumas and the emotions that go with them. The very ways that they exercise control can be avoidance. For many trauma survivors, avoidance is automatic. They would do anything to not have to experience the emotions that come with remembering and talking about their traumas.

The illusion of control can seem very real, but it is false no matter how one might try to convince themselves otherwise. The illusion of control can seem to be real for a long time, years even, but there are points where it is evident that it is not and there will come a time it will not hold in the face of the emotions of trauma. These times usually come when their are anniversary dates involved with traumas, when flashbacks and memories occur, when someone engages in therapy, or when nightmares surface.

The illusion of control is only a covering, like a blanket of snow that remains for a while but eventually starts to melt, have holes, and disappear completely.

Until next time,
Deborah