Archive for the ‘Trauma therapy’ Category

Survivor

May 14, 2007

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Originally VSARG stood for “Vaisnava Survivors of Abuse Resource Group”. After some discussion, however, it became “Vaisnava Support and Abuse Resource Group” in order to include a greater number of “survivors”.

When I first heard the idea “survivor of abuse” I very much appreciated the inherent strength in the expression – especially if we contrast it with the more commonly used term of “victim”.

For me, the word “survivor” conjures up a picture of someone who has been through a terrible experience, but who has come out the other side more or less intact and perhaps even strengthened. On the other hand, “victim” suggests someone who is in a helpless condition – someone who is destined to suffer and perish at the hands of another. Therefore, to be a survivor of abuse has a very different feel to it than to be a victim of abuse.

Interestingly, it is possible for us to take either stance as a response to what we experience in life.

Playing the part of a victim is not limited to violent attacks, but also to how we react to the everyday ups and downs of life. In some ways, being a “victim” is convenient because then we don’t have to take responsibility for our own failings or weaknesses, but can blame them on others.

For example, an adult who blames a parent who was emotionally distant for their own inability to express affection remains in the position of a small child – weak and helpless. Alternatively, when we as grown-ups take responsibility for our failings (understanding that those failings come from either bad choices or negative experiences), then we are in contact with the power and independence of an adult.

As with many things in life, the transition from victim to survivor is usually a gradual one. It is rare for someone to wake up one day “snapped out” of one frame of reference and “snapped into” the other. These things take time, sensitivity, patience, and compassion.

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Traumatic emotions

May 14, 2007

 

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Four common emotions in trauma are:

1) Terror

2) Rage

3) Shame

4) Sense of failure

In trauma, terror comes from the feeling that we are going to be annihilated (killed) by whatever it is that is attacking us. With high impact traumas such as falls, the “attacker” is the floor (and anything else we hit on the way down). Terror also comes up as a result of the fear that we will fragment (break into pieces) as a result of the trauma.

Rage is invoked in an attempt to protect ourselves (remember the survival response of fight-or-flight). When we are young, this rage is so strong that it can feel like it will not only destroy our attacker, but also us as well. This is very scary and another ingredient in traumatization.

Shame, especially existential shame (shame connected to our existence) means that we can feel like giving up even on life itself. This can lead to a very strong sense of failure. If we are unable to protect ourselves it can feel as if our physiology has “failed”. This is an especially overwhelming experience when the trauma happens when we are very young. A baby is really and truly helpless – there is no way it can protect itself.

All of these emotions are normal and predictable when someone has experienced a traumatic event, although not every person will experience all of them. When dealing with trauma ourselves, or helping someone else who has been traumatized, it is very useful to know that these are common emotions that can be present and to work to release these feelings from staying in the system.

Trauma first aid

May 11, 2007

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If someone is trying to deal with a serious traumatic experience then we highly recommend that they contact a qualified mental health professional for support and guidance. This is especially so if the person is depressed or suicidal. That said, there are still many things that we can do to help ourselves and others. Here are some examples of things that can help someone cope with a traumatic situation.

Tips
• Whenever possible meet with people that you trust for support. If you don’t have anyone local, then perhaps there is someone that you could phone or email.
• Focus on your resources and support systems.
• Do things that help you feel calmer or more centered.
• Avoid telling your story in a repetitive way. Especially avoid going into a lot of detail and rushing through the story – take breaks and remember things that helped you to get through the situation.

Discharging stress
We can help our nervous system recuperate its balance by understanding how it discharges when it is over-stimulated. Some examples of this are:

• Trembling / Shaking
• Sweating / Warmth in the body
• Stomach gurgling
• Breathing deeply
• Crying
• Laughing

Experiencing any of these symptoms means that we are discharging some of the traumatic energy from our body and coming back into balance. Mostly, we should just observe what’s happening in our body without judgment, just watching and understanding that our body (by Krishna’s mercy) has the innate ability to regain its balance.

For a full version of this posting, please see the “Pages” section on the right hand side of this page.

The original “space case”

May 11, 2007

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Dissociation is a trip switch to protect the nervous system from over charging, it is not pathology (a disease) but a life-saving mechanism. It is the symptom of the most highly charged traumatized state. By re-associating, the traumatized person can reconnect with their biological resources. One symptom of disassociation is when someone is able to talk about very emotional or painful material, without showing any emotions or feelings. If someone is disassociated or spaced out then talk to them about concrete things.

Man or lizard?

May 11, 2007

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To grossly over-simplify a complex area of biology so that us non-biologists can understand it, our friendly neighborhood scientists have classified the human brain into three main sections: 1) the neocortex (the part in charge of rationality); 2) the mammalian brain (the part in charge of emotions); and 3) the reptilian brain or brain stem (the part in charge of survival). The reptilian brain regulates the autonomic nervous system and its “language” is that of sensation (hot, cold, relaxed, tense etc.) which is present tense. The continuity of the self (as experienced through the felt sense) is lost in trauma. A traumatized person needs to be gradually reconnected with the felt sense (the physical body) to re-establish a normal connection with themselves and with the world.

Three main tools when dealing with trauma

May 11, 2007

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1) Titration (dealing with a little of the material at a time)

2) Resourcing (finding good things in the person’s life that helps them cope)

3) Discharge (allowing the body’s natural mechanisms to release the energy of trauma that has become trapped in the system).

Over-coupling

May 11, 2007

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There are many things that take place in our bodies and minds as a result of trauma – one of them is called “over-coupling.” This is where the trauma gets linked to (or “over-coupled” with) other elements that are in the environment around the time when the trauma takes place. These elements act as triggers (or signals) to the part of us that is in charge of survival, our “survival mechanisms.” Subsequently, these triggers can set off a fight, flight, or freeze response in us.

The process of growing up is one of collecting these “blueprints for survival,” which are meant to help us avoid similar experiences (and thus similar dangers) in the future. This mechanism is thus very important to us.

Unfortunately, the useful information about what is potentially dangerous (e.g. walking home alone in the dark in a bad area of town) is not the only information that gets attached to the trauma. For example, say at the age of five I am in the middle of enjoying my friend’s birthday party when (out of curiosity) I push my finger into a small hole in the wall (what we call “electrical sockets”). As a result I receive a bad electrical shock. Now, along with the information that these little holes in the wall are dangerous (and painful!), I will probably also have imbibed some other details about the event (e.g. the color of the walls, what I was wearing, I was having a lot of fun etc.). As a result, when I encounter these things again (especially if they come together) I can get “triggered” in some way – and feel frightened, angry, defensive, or frozen.

This same phenomenon also happens in Krishna consciousness. If a devotee experiences a trauma while engaged in a devotional activity, then the devotional activity can get “over-coupled” with the trauma. In this way, Krishna consciousness can start to feel “dangerous.” If this happens, then even innocent things in devotee’s lives such as kirtana, tilak, service, saffron, or Srimad-Bhagavatam can get “over-coupled” with the trauma and thus feel “dangerous.” If the trauma has been very bad (such as in childhood abuse) then the individual may abandon Krishna consciousness as a survival tactic because he or she is being repeatedly triggered into fear, anger, or freeze.

In our defense

May 11, 2007

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Since we, as human beings, are complex creatures, we have sophisticated ways of dealing with life. Our basic survival “instincts” however, are very similar to those of the animal kingdom.

The 3 basic responses to a perceived danger are: fight, flight, and freeze. These are automatic responses of the body which are not mediated by our higher intelligence. One reason for this is that when we are in danger we often have to react quickly, otherwise whatever is threatening us might actually harm us (at least that’s how it feels).

These basic defensive responses can get stuck on ON (i.e. the person is always angry or running “away”) or stuck on OFF (the person is unable to defend him or herself or get out of harms way).

Because, by definition, trauma happens so fast, often we do not have time to complete a flight or fight response, but simply get overwhelmed by what is happening and go into freeze. Freeze is the inhibition of the energy of flight and fight.

Freeze is a useful (if apparently strange) “defensive” measure. However, it is a fact that fighting or running are sometimes dangerous things to do. The freeze response is biologically time limited – when the danger is over our systems “un-thaw” and we continue on our way.

Unfortunately, if the freeze response get stuck on ON then the person can get stuck in a state of dissociation which then continues beyond the danger and becomes an enduring reality – they become permanently dissociated.

If someone has a highly developed freeze response then it usually comes from a very early trauma when they didn’t have access to fight or flight as an option of defense (babies can neither run away from nor fight their attackers). Someone with very early trauma is much more vulnerable to later ones because their system freezes automatically (without fight or flight available to them even as options of how to respond).

General types of trauma

May 9, 2007

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1. Inescapable attack (including war)
2. Illnesses, surgery, or being anesthetized
3. Sexual abuse (including rape)
4. High impact (including car crashes)
5. Natural disasters
6. Poisoning
7. Emotional and developmental
8. Ritual abuse and torture
9. Drowning

The good news about trauma

May 9, 2007

Fortunately, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event is traumatized by it. Let me explain. Someone has PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) when the symptoms of trauma (e.g. shock, dissociation, nightmares, depression etc.) remain 3-6 months after the event. PTSD is a predictable reaction for someone experiencing a trauma – it is not pathological (i.e. it is not a disease).