Are You Suffering from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Unresolved trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a threatening event that happens to you which causes an automatic survival response where your mind splits from your body. That event could be any of the following:
- Sexually, physically, and/or emotionally abusive relationship
- Physical or sexual assault
- Being in combat as a soldier
- Motor vehicle accident
- Life-threatening disease or condition
- Witnessing a threatening event happen to someone else
If you have experienced one or more of the above traumatic events in your life, you may currently be experiencing any number of negative symptoms. Please read the following questions and see if any of them apply to you.
- Do you find yourself often hyper alert in your life?
- Do you feel anxiety when your body begins to relax?
- Do notice yourself checking-out or dissociating often?
- Do you feel disconnected from your body?
- Is it difficult for you to trust others in close relationships?
- Is sexual intimacy scary or sometimes a struggle for you?
- Do you react strongly to certain things in your environment but don’t know why?
- Do you feel like a past abuse holds you back in your life in ways that you don’t want and don’t understand?
- Does your rational mind know that you’re safe, but your body and emotions do not?
- Have you lost your radar for what feels safe and/or dangerous for you?
- Do you struggle with chronic pain?
- Are you drawn to doing high-risk activities that you puts your life unnecessarily at risk
5 Common solutions for PTSD you may have tried but haven’t worked for you.
1.) Unhealthy Living: Sometimes past trauma will cause you to find unhealthy ways of coping with the resultant stress and pain. These ways can range from substance/sexual addiction to codependent relationships to extreme behavior around food and more. Though these ways may very temporarily ease your suffering, they are usually unsustainable and can often to lead you to feeling out of control in your life, ultimately driving the trauma deeper and deeper into your unconscious.
2.) Ignoring it: The number one common solution for unresolved trauma is simply ignoring it and hoping that it’ll go away with time. This solution definitely works at times and is utterly necessary when you have a life to life. Perhaps you are a mother and are caring for young children. Often, you are not able to easily stop and deal with the trauma that has happened to you. You must go on and live your life the best that you can. However, sooner or later, symptoms start to arise more and more until it becomes your life feels unbearable if not unmanageable.
3.) Medication: Another common solution is prescriptive drugs. Though taking pharmaceutical drugs can certainly ease the symptoms you may be struggling with, it doesn’t get to the root of the trauma. These drugs are designed to balance the neurotransmitters of the brain so that we can function easier in our lives. This may be a helpful stepping stone toward being able to make your life more manageable. However, the reason why your nervous system is imbalanced and needs those drugs to find balance isn’t being addressed. Sooner or later, your body will find a way to show you that the past trauma is still there awaiting resolution. Your body might communicate this to you through new symptoms, such as chronic pain, difficult dreams, or feeling distant in your close relationships.
4.) Healthy Living: Another common solution is taking good care of yourself through exercise, yoga, eating well, and more. This solution is very helpful in establishing a resourced and healthy experience in your body and therefore mind. If you take skillful care of yourself, then you have a felt-sense of what it is to feel well-resourced in your self. This doesn’t mean that you don’t still experience symptoms of trauma, it’s just that you have an established place of safety in your own experience. This in itself doesn’t resolve past trauma, however it does create an important foundation for doing deeper therapeutic work that does deal with the trauma through the body.
5.) Traditional Talk Therapy: One final common solution that you might have tried with varying results is traditional talk therapy. This approach to treating trauma certainly begins the process of directly dealing with the trauma, however it does so only from the cognitive portion of your brain. Talk therapy simply doesn’t address the trauma’s impact on other non-cognitive or sensorimotor portions of the brain, and therefore can only go so far. This form of therapy may also be beneficial if you are fortunate enough to form a safe therapeutic relationship with your therapist or counselor. All in all, talk therapy may be helpful in managing your traumatic symptoms, however to get to the root of the trauma an approach is needed that truly honors the sensations and impulses of your body.
Why these solutions don’t work?
Trauma largely affects the older parts of your brain that instinctively reacts to a threat with either a fight, flight, or freeze response. This part of your brain is known as the reptilian brain and, to a lesser extent, the limbic system. If you are unable to fight or leave the threatening situation through flight, then your last resort might be to freeze. Though the freeze response helps you survive in the short-term, in the long-term your body can easily becomes stuck in this defensive response pattern causing a disorganization between the different key functioning levels of your brain. In essence, your nervous system and thus your body long stay in a trauma response while your life continues to go on. This eventually causes your body to be disconnected from your mind. Again, the disconnection is intelligent because it insures your ability to function in your life. Though you may be able to function in some ways in your life, you may also sense the shadow of the trauma not very far behind you through the various symptoms described above.
What does help with PTSD & trauma? A mindfulfulness-based, body-centered approach to Counseling & Psychotherapy.
The Body Tells its Story: All the solutions mentioned above don’t work to actually resolve the trauma itself because they don’t give a safe place and clear intention for your body to process the trauma. Your body and the non-thinking part of your brain very well know exactly what it needs to do in order to thaw that freezing response and find the resolution that it has always longed for. However, it takes a lot of safety and trust in the therapeutic relationship for this to happen. And it also takes a profound honoring of your inner experience of your body. Your body doesn’t express itself as your thinking minds does; your body express itself through inner-sensations, emotions, impulses, images, and movement. For you to resolve your past trauma, you must give yourself a safe place where your body is allowed to tell its story. And that story may be different than the story your thinking mind will tell about the trauma. It can be important to temporarily let go of your thinking mind in order for your body to get to tell its story. As world-renowned psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk M.D says, “the body keeps the score.” Ultimately, however, true resolution from trauma is when the experience of your body integrates with the narrative of your cognitive mind, and the struggle and disconnection ceases. Your body and your thinking self are valuable parts of you and integration happens when they work together in such a way that gives your life the intimacy and fulfillment that your hearts yearns for.
Developing Inner-Resources: In addition to giving a place in therapy for your body to processing and releasing the trauma, it equally important for you to develop a resourced experience in your body separate from the trauma. Indeed, it is an indispensable part of working with trauma because it provides a solid anchor that you can come back to within yourself over and over again when processing the trauma becomes too much. You already have resourced places inside yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to survive. Part of this type of therapy is cultivating conscious awareness of those resources and begin to build on them. For instance, perhaps one of your resources is your spouse. You will begin to feel into the safety and love that your spouse generates in the felt-sense of your body. Another resource that is an essential part of this therapy is the therapeutic relationship you create with me. It is an imperative that you feel safe and comfortable with me. The relationship that we create will go a long way to allowing your body to feel safe enough to allow the past trauma to emerge, be seen, and let go.