Over time as most people fail the survivor's exacting test of trustworthiness, she tends to withdraw from relationships. The isolation of the survivor thus persists even after she is free.
PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.
But on Kwajalein, the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity. This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind.
I was not descending in a plane, coming Home. I was watching an alien world as it ascended towards me - and one that I could never begin the process of readjusting to, because I knew that I would just as soon be returning to another world, whose normality was as alien to this home as I now was.
My family says they are proud of me. Of course, I would rather hear this than the contrary, but I cannot say that I am proud of myself, so I find that I cannot 'talk about it'.
Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection with others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity.Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed---faith, decency, courage---is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself. At that moment, the survivor begins to rejoin the human commonality...
In response to threat and injury, animals, including humans, execute biologically based, non-conscious action patterns that prepare them to meet the threat and defend themselves. The very structure of trauma, including activation, dissociation and freezing are based on the evolution of survival behaviors. When threatened or injured, all animals draw from a library of possible responses. We orient, dodge, duck, stiffen, brace, retract, fight, flee, freeze, collapse, etc. All of these coordinated responses are somatically based- they are things that the body does to protect and defend itself. It is when these orienting and defending responses are overwhelmed that we see trauma.The bodies of traumatized people portray snapshots of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when we prepare to fight or to flee, muscles throughout our entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions, we fail to discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations. This energy becomes fixed in specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. The person then stays in a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word- they have become stuck in an aroused state. It is difficult if not impossible to function normally under these circumstances.
So, what role does memory play in the understanding and treatment of trauma? There is a form of implicit memory that is profoundly unconscious and forms the basis for the imprint trauma leaves on the body/mind. The type of memory utilized in learning most physical activities (walking, riding a bike, skiing, etc.) is a form of implicit memory called procedural memory. Procedural or body memories are learned sequences of coordinated motor acts chained together into meaningful actions. You may not remember explicitly how and when you learned them, but, at the appropriate moment, they are (implicitly) recalled and mobilized (acted out) simultaneously. These memories (action patterns) are formed and orchestrated largely by involuntary structures in the cerebellum and basal ganglia.When a person is exposed to overwhelming stress, threat or injury, they develop a procedural memory. Trauma occurs when these implicit procedures are not neutralized. The failure to restore homeostasis is at the basis for the maladaptive and debilitating symptoms of trauma.
One of the paradoxical and transformative aspects of implicit traumatic memory is that once it is accessed in a resourced way (through the felt sense), it, by its very nature, changes. Out of the shattered fragments of her deeply injured psyche, Jody discovered and nurtured a nascent, emergent self. From the ashes of the frantically activated, hypervigilant, frozen, traumatized girl of twenty-five years ago, Jody began to reorient to a new, less threatening world. Gradually she shaped into a more fluid, resilient, woman, coming to terms with the felt capacity to fiercely defend herself when necessary, and to surrender in quiet ecstasy.
Early relational trauma results from the fact that we are often given more to experience in this life than we can bear to experience consciously. This problem has been around since the beginning of time, but it is especially acute in early childhood where, because of the immaturity of the psyche and/or brain, we are ill-equipped to metabolize our experience. An infant or young child who is abused, violated or seriously neglected by a caretaking adult is overwhelmed by intolerable affects that are impossible for it to metabolize, much less understand or even think about.
Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.
If your body is screaming in pain, whether the pain is muscular contractions, anxiety, depression, asthma or arthritis, a first step in releasing the pain may be making the connection between your body pain and the cause. “Beliefs are physical. A thought held long enough and repeated enough becomes a belief. The belief then becomes biology.
...repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses.
The traumatic moment becomes encoded in an abnormal form of memory, which breaks spontaneously into consciouness, both as flashbacks during waking states and as traumatic nightmares during sleep. Small, seemingly insignificant reminders can also evoke these memories, which often return with all the vividness and emotional force of the original event. Thus, even normally safe environments may come to feel dangerous, for the survivor can never be assured that she will not encounter some reminder of the trauma.
Attitude Is EverythingWe live in a culture that is blind to betrayal and intolerant of emotional pain. In New Age crowds here on the West Coast, where your attitude is considered the sole determinant of the impact an event has on you, it gets even worse.In these New Thought circles, no matter what happens to you, it is assumed that you have created your own reality. Not only have you chosen the event, no matter how horrible, for your personal growth. You also chose how you interpret what happened—as if there are no interpersonal facts, only interpretations.The upshot of this perspective is that your suffering would vanish if only you adopted a more evolved perspective and stopped feeling aggrieved. I was often kindly reminded (and believed it myself), “there are no victims.” How can you be a victim when you are responsible for your circumstances?When you most need validation and support to get through the worst pain of your life, to be confronted with the well-meaning, but quasi-religious fervor of these insidious half-truths can be deeply demoralizing. This kind of advice feeds guilt and shame, inhibits grieving, encourages grandiosity and can drive you to be alone to shield your vulnerability.
Then again, he supposed the healing process, in contrast to trauma, was gentle and slow... The soft closing of a door, rather than a slam.- John
She's terrified that all these sensations and images are coming out of her — but I think she's even more terrified to find out why. Carla's description was typical of survivors of chronic childhood abuse. Almost always, they deny or minimize the abusive memories. They have to: it's too painful to believe that their parents would do such a thing.
While in principle groups for survivors are a good idea, in practice it soon becomes apparent that to organize a successful group is no simple matter. Groups that start out with hope and promise can dissolve acrimoniously, causing pain and disappointment to all involved. The destructive potential of groups is equal to their therapeutic promise. The role of the group leader carries with it a risk of the irresponsible exercise of authority.Conflicts that erupt among group members can all too easily re-create the dynamics of the traumatic event, with group members assuming the roles of perpetrator, accomplice, bystander, victim, and rescuer. Such conflicts can be hurtful to individual participants and can lead to the group’s demise. In order to be successful, a group must have a clear and focused understanding of its therapeutic task and a structure that protects all participants adequately against the dangers of traumatic reenactment. Though groups may vary widely in composition and structure, these basic conditions must be fulfilled without exception.Commonality with other people carries with it all the meanings of the word common. It means belonging to a society, having a public role, being part of that which is universal. It means having a feeling of familiarity, of being known, of communion. It means taking part in the customary, the commonplace, the ordinary, and the everyday. It also carries with it a feeling of smallness, or insignificance, a sense that one’s own troubles are ‘as a drop of rain in the sea.’ The survivor who has achieved commonality with others can rest from her labors. Her recovery is accomplished; all that remains before her is her life.
I'm not crazy, I was abused. I'm not shy, I'm protecting myself. I'm not bitter, I'm speaking the truth. I'm not hanging onto the past, I've been damaged. I'm not delusional, I lived a nightmare. I'm not weak, I was trusting. I'm not giving up, I'm healing. I'm not incapable of love, I'm giving. I'm not alone. I see you all here. I'm fighting this.
Part of the process in healing from trauma, like recovering from addiction, is developing connection and support with others.
The victims of PTSD often feel morally tainted by their experiences, unable to recover confidence in their own goodness, trapped in a sort of spiritual solitary confinement, looking back at the rest of the world from beyond the barrier of what happened. They find themselves unable to communicate their condition to those who remained at home, resenting civilians for their blind innocence.The Moral Injury, New York Times. Feb 17, 2015
Blame is a Defense Against PowerlessnessBetrayal trauma changes you. You have endured a life-altering shock, and are likely living with PTSD symptoms— hypervigilance, flashbacks and bewilderment—with broken trust, with the inability to cope with many situations, and with the complete shut down of parts of your mind, including your ability to focus and regulate your emotions.Nevertheless, if you are unable to recognize the higher purpose in your pain, to forgive and forget and move on, you clearly have chosen to be addicted to your pain and must enjoy playing the victim.And the worst is, we are only too ready to agree with this assessment! Trauma victims commonly blame themselves. Blaming oneself for the shame of being a victim is recognized by trauma specialists as a defense against the extreme powerlessness we feel in the wake of a traumatic event. Self-blame continues the illusion of control shock destroys, but prevents us from the necessary working through of the traumatic feelings and memories to heal and recover.
Fear and anxiety affect decision making in the direction of more caution and risk aversion... Traumatized individuals pay more attention to cues of threat than other experiences, and they interpret ambiguous stimuli and situations as threatening (Eyesenck, 1992), leading to more fear-driven decisions. In people with a dissociative disorder, certain parts are compelled to focus on the perception of danger. Living in trauma-time, these dissociative parts immediately perceive the present as being just like the past and emergency emotions such as fear, rage, or terror are immediately evoked, which compel impulsive decisions to engage in defensive behaviors (freeze, flight, fight, or collapse). When parts of you are triggered, more rational and grounded parts may be overwhelmed and unable to make effective decisions.
After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.
Patients with complex trauma may at times develop extreme reactions to something the therapist has said or not said, done or not done. It is wise to anticipate this in advance, and perhaps to note this anticipation in initial communications with the patient. For example, one may say something like, It is likely in our work together, there will be a time or times when you will feel angry with me, disappointed with me, or that I have failed you. We should except this and not be surprised if and when it happens, which it probably will. It is also vital to emphasize to the patient that despite the diagnosis and experience of dividedness, the whole person is responsible and will be held responsible for the acts of any part. p174
It is always a mistake to underestimate how long it takes for mankind to understand the traumas it has suffered, especially the self-inflicted ones.
It is a rare person who can cut himself off from mediate and immediate relations with others for long spaces of time without undergoing a deterioration in personality.
Several researchers demonstrate the ways people fail to label trauma as such or underreport traumatic experiences. In a sample of 1,526 university students, Rausch and Knutson (1991) found that although participants reported receiving punitive treatment similar to that of their siblings, they were more than twice as likely to identify their siblings’ experiences as abusive as they were to label their own in this way. The authors reported that participants were likely to interpret parental treatment toward themselves but not parental treatment toward their siblings as deserved and therefore not abusive. Other studies similarly indicate that those reporting abuse experiences often do not demonstrate a metaconsciousness of having been abused (Goldsmith & Freyd, in press; Koss, 1998; Varia & Abidin, 1999; Weinbach & Curtiss, 1986). KNOWING AND NOT KNOWING ABOUT TRAUMA: IMPLICATIONS FOR THERAPY (2004)
Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings, we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning.… Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.… They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror, and evoke the responses of catastrophe.
The shrinks call it Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I call it hell. The demons are waiting in each corner, ready to drag me back to the battlefield.- Puncture Wounds (2014)
There needs to be a nationwide awareness programme for all NHS staff, to educate them about dissociative disorders. Diagnoses need to be more obtainable within the NHS; people's lives should be placed ahead of funding restraints and bureaucratic red tape. We need minimum standards of care and treatment agreed and implemented within the NHS to end the current nightmare of the postcode lottery—not just guidelines that can be ignored but actual regulations.
Dissociative Disorders have a high rate of responsiveness to therapy and that with proper treatment, their prognosis is quite good.
Many people with Dissociative Disorders are very creative and used their creative capacities to help them cope with childhood trauma.p55
Dissociative identity disorder is conceptualized as a childhood onset, posttraumatic developmental disorder in which the child is unable to consolidate a unified sense of self. Detachment from emotional and physical pain during trauma can result in alterations in memory encoding and storage. In turn, this leads to fragmentation and compartmentalization of memory and impairments in retrieving memory.2,4,19 Exposure to early, usually repeated trauma results in the creation of discrete behavioral states that can persist and, over later development, become elaborated, ultimately developing into the alternate identities of dissociative identity disorder.
When preparing for Book One, I talked to a couple of psychiatrists about psychosomatic phenomena, neuroses and dissociative conditions, for example the so—called hysterical blindness suffered by many who saw the Killing Fields in Pol Pot’s Cambodia: their eyes objectively see, but they are not aware of it and are blind because they believe they can’t see. One specialist told me that among modern Western people, ’metaphorical’ symptoms such as Fredy or those Cambodians evince are much rarer now than earlier in the twentieth century or before. Nowadays most people are better equipped by education to verbalise their neuroses, and have lots of jargon in which to do so. For most of the dissociative dimension, I could draw on things I knew from within myself.
Trauma destroys the fabric of time. In normal time you move from one moment to the next, sunrise to sunset, birth to death. After trauma, you may move in circles, find yourself being sucked backwards into an eddy or bouncing like a rubber ball from now to then to back again. ... In the traumatic universe the basic laws of matter are suspended: ceiling fans can be helicopters, car exhaust can be mustard gas.