Category: Carolyn’s experience

Why the symptoms of trauma make sense

Why the symptoms of trauma make sense

So this was me, then: a tick-box list of symptoms demonstrating how screwed up I was. ‘Loser!!’ it screamed at me, casually. The more items I ticked, the more it screamed: ‘Bigger loser!’ Forty items – tick, tick, tick: ‘Biggest loser in the world!’ And so shame sat like a heavy puddle of tar in my stomach.

Trauma affects us in multiple ways, and delineating its ‘signs and symptoms’ like this can be utterly devastating.

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Three challenges of trauma: why recovery is so hard

Three challenges of trauma: why recovery is so hard

We don’t fail to heal from trauma quickly because there’s something wrong with us – because we’re stupid, because we enjoy being victims, because we’re mentally ill, because we’re lazy, because we’re weak. Trauma is difficult to heal from. It’s meant to be.

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What grounding is and isn’t

What grounding is and isn’t

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?

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Trust is built

Trust is built

FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagramYoutube‘Trust me,’ says the therapist. And everything in me wants to curl up and away,...

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What triggers you to joy?

What triggers you to joy?

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?

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Shame is the handbrake on anger

Shame is the handbrake on anger

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?

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Who would you work with?

Who would you work with?

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?

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Words that make us feel seen

Words that make us feel seen

‘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 …’

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The devil in the detail

The devil in the detail

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?

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Meeting pain with pain

Meeting pain with pain

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.

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Hearing the cry

Hearing the cry

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.

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Noticing the extraordinary ordinary

Noticing the extraordinary ordinary

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.

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My experience of phase three work

My experience of phase three work

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.

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‘Don’t make me vomit slowly’ – my experience of phase two work

‘Don’t make me vomit slowly’ – my experience of phase two work

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.

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Why can’t I just get over my trauma?

Why can’t I just get over my trauma?

‘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.

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Christmas is Optional

Christmas is Optional

‘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.

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The skill of joy

The skill of joy

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!

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Why stigma makes sense (even though it’s not right)

Why stigma makes sense (even though it’s not right)

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?

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How I manage my mental health

How I manage my mental health

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.

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We have two choices when triggered

We have two choices when triggered

‘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!

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Marginal gains

Marginal gains

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

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Courage

Courage

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.

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How to calm down

How to calm down

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.

Ugh. Emotions.

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Imagining a future after trauma

Imagining a future after trauma

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.

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Why saying ‘You’re not bad really’ doesn’t work (and what to do instead)

Why saying ‘You’re not bad really’ doesn’t work (and what to do instead)

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.

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