Child sexual abuse and shame are inextricably intertwined. As victims, we feel the shame that the perpetrator doesn’t. But why is it so hard to shift this shame? This article looks at six reasons why the deck is stacked against us.
What is grounding? What is its purpose and aim? What if a particular grounding technique isn’t actually very effective at grounding? Do we confuse the outcome of grounding with a list of techniques?
FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagramYoutube‘Trust me,’ says the therapist. And everything in me wants to curl up and away,...
As trauma survivors we all know what it’s like to be triggered by reminders of danger from the past. But do we know what our joy triggers are? And how does paying attention to what we enjoy help turn down our sensitivity to danger?
Shame so often has been conceptualised as a belief in the badness of the self, a construct of faulty cognitions. But if it serves a self-protective purpose, of acting as a handbrake on anger to keep us safe from further harm?
Why have so many of us felt brain-fogged and lacking in energy and motivation during the pandemic? Is it just the gin? Or does it have its roots in the evolutionary neurobiology of trauma?
We need the capacity to cope with the pain of facing our trauma. We need confidence that things will get better. And we need a safe therapeutic relationship … Three prerequisites for trauma processing in therapy …
Do female clients prefer female therapists and male clients prefer male clients? Or are there more pressing questions to ask other than gender? Who would you work with?
‘Does trauma always involve dissociation?’ someone asked me this week. Good question. But just as my pontificating was about to begin, I slammed on the brakes.
I stopped myself, because any response can sound like an edict, a dogma, ‘the gospel according to …’
People who are successful in life often obsess over the details. But people who struggle in life also often obsess over the details. What’s the difference?
Skin hunger, the unenjoyables, little lifts, crystal balls and ‘just’ surviving: five things I have learned during lockdown.
Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan. In this blog, Carolyn discusses the circumstances that led her back into therapy, the return of dissociative parts of the personality, and how she’s rising again after being knocked (and literally falling) down.
When we’ve suffered abuse in childhood, we often experienced pain. And that pain was reflected back in the eyes of our abusers as pleasure. We then take that template and expectation into our adult relationships, expecting only to be able to get close to people or be approved of by them if we’re in pain. This is the topic of Carolyn’s blog post in which she draws on her own experiences in one particular therapy session.
For a number of years, Carolyn was a foster carer, looking after many traumatised and abused children whose trauma, although unremembered and unspoken, was plain to see. In this post she describes the impact on her of hearing the cry of one particular baby, and how this acts as a metaphor for our own inner child.
Trauma focuses our brain on danger based on the ‘there-and-then’, and one of the hardest, but most helpful, things to do is to be able to just notice and be curious about our present experience in the ‘here-and-now’. In this blog post Carolyn talks about her experience of learning to do this.
I used to struggle to understand what phase III could possibly be about, because my life was so consumed with just surviving, and then so consumed with working through traumatic material to neutralise it, that I imagined that therapy would always be like that, and that once it was no longer happening, there would be no more need for therapy.
When I first started therapy in 2006, I didn’t know much about trauma and nothing about ‘the three phase approach’. My counsellor didn’t know much more. So although I’d like to say that we started by carefully doing the Phase 1 work of safety and stabilisation, the reality was a great deal messier than that.
‘If I could just get over it, I would,’ I say, and I’m trying not to sound irritated or hurt but I’m not quite sure what emotion my face is displaying and my throat is tight and my fists are clenched and really I’d rather not be here, and neither am I convinced that I’m a good enough actor to hide all of this.
‘Christmas is optional!’ I announce, loudly and excitedly and with an uncharacteristic degree of gusto, at the beginning of my session. We haven’t even sat down yet. Mostly sessions begin with a tense stand-off as I battle within myself to be present.
The therapist’s eyes widen. I can tell she’s wondering if I’ve switched to another part. In particular I have one whom I call ‘Play’ who is larger-than-life and copes with social occasions for me. She is skilled at banter, although not so skilled at reading social cues and divining if its recipients are edified by it. But this isn’t ‘Play’. This – surprisingly – is me.
Like a slow leak, drip-drip-drip, things changed. Trauma leaves you with a brain dedicated to danger. Fear isn’t a choice – it’s an inbuilt survival mechanism. And I used to berate myself for it. What is wrong with you?! Get a grip! Just let it go! But my survival-based back brain wasn’t listening. It’s not safe here, it would whisper back at me. We’re going to get hurt. When I heard it, I got annoyed: We’re perfectly safe. There’s nothing the matter. Stop overreacting!
Stigma is the double-whammy of life after trauma. Not only do we suffer abuse in childhood, perhaps resulting in a post traumatic or dissociative disorder in adulthood, but then we are stigmatised, shunned and shamed for it too. How can that be right?
Everybody has mental health. The question is how good it is, and how we manage it. We need strategies for managing our emotions and feelings. Here’s how.
‘It’s horrible being triggered.’
I nod. It’s an understatement. There are no words to describe it. The trigger comes and our bodies and brains surge with the aversiveness of survival: everything tells us to get away. This is dangerous! This is painful! This isn’t good! Get away, get away!
If I said I could help you improve your life by 1% you might not be very interested. Especially if your life is filled with pain, suffering, dysfunction and struggle, you might think, “A 1% difference isn’t going to do any good! I need a 100% difference!”
That’s how I thought for a long time
Courage. It’s the stuff of heroes, right? Frodo with the Ring in Mordor, William Wallace and the uprising, Henry V once more into the breach, ‘Sully Sullenberger’ parking his broken plane on the Hudson.
‘Courage’ isn’t necessarily a word we think is all that relevant to therapy, to recovering from trauma.
I was brimming. And I hated it. I hated being upset. The surge of emotion through my body. Being out of control. The pounding heart, the air being crushed out of my chest, the pain-stretchy zinginess in my arms and legs, and the scream … the lacerating, shrill shriek of a scream in my head.
Being traumatised is a tough gig. Maybe one of the hardest. It’s exhausting, it’s debilitating, it affects every area of your life and it can feel insurmountable.
So it’s difficult to think that recovery is possible, even a little bit of recovery. Maybe it feels impossible to think in terms of significant recovery. And harder still to think in grand, magnificent, skyscaper-type ways about recovery.
I used to think that one day, maybe one day (a long time in the future), I’d be ‘normal’ and then I wouldn’t have these thoughts any more.
Sometimes I would sit in bed, unable to move, unable to get up and get dressed and get on, because I felt so demoralised at the incessant torrent in my head. I was paralysed with the overwhelm of my self-hate. Ironically, the one thing I thought I was good at was finding fault with myself.
What if shame is nothing to be ashamed of … but instead is the hero in our story?
Even as I write it, my head is twisting inside-out, upside-down to get used to the idea. But it’s something I’ve come to firmly believe is true, no matter how counter-intuitive it may feel.
For a very long time, I didn’t ‘do’ anger.
In the family I grew up in, the adults were allowed to be angry, and even my sister was, but for some reason I wasn’t.