Chapter 4: Just Me and My Trauma
The following self-interventions were selected from a multitude of psychotherapeutic sources, and they may invoke unexpected cathartic reactions. Be assured that unexpected strong emotion is an expression of inward pain. Unless these feelings are allowed to surface, we are mired in denial, and will stay psychologically and behaviorally regressed. I suggest you consciously give yourself permission to feel your feelings before you begin these exercises, and to allow yourself to remember the trauma that originally evoked the coping mechanism of addiction or obsessional thinking. Unless problems see the light of day, your soul may never know the freedom it deserves.
Addictions and obsessions are a method of coping with psychological stress and pain. And, the greater the exposure has been to stress, trauma, abuse and pain, the more severe our symptoms can be. Trauma is not defined by what occurs as much as how we experienced what occurred. What may be traumatic for one person might not be perceived as trauma by the next. A universal defining element of trauma is that it produces emotional and physical distress. Experiencing a traumatic event is not rare. About 60% of men and 50% of women are exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime. Half of these reported multiple exposures to trauma. Traumas are underreported, so these numbers are low estimates. Stress can reactivate unresolved psychological conflicts, or “old wounds.” Stress is the trigger for re-engaging old feelings of victimization. People who have been traumatized share common feelings, such as: anxiety, depression, anger, fear, betrayal, disappointment, guilt or shame, disbelief, anger, isolation, feeling victimized or violated, insecurity, feeling unsafe, distrust, and a sense of some responsibility for the incident or event.
Other reactions may include intrusive thoughts about the event, nightmares, sleep disturbances, feeling jumpy or “on guard,” and concentration difficulties. Some people have difficulties in relationships, sexual difficulties, and may even think of suicide or self-harm. Individuals with PTSD are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis of severe trauma, has been associated with higher levels of anger and hostility. Anger is the result of having been hurt. Think about it: the last time you hit your head, your automatic reaction (after the, “Ouch!”) may have been anger. Anger always follows the more fundamental feeling of rejection or betrayal. Anger can cause a domino-effect of poor decision-making, dismissal from jobs, relationship troubles, etc. Although anger is a natural emotion and must be expressed in order for a person to be emotionally healthy, how we express it is very important.
Trauma survivors therefore must learn extraordinary coping and communication skills. The link between addictions, obsessive/compulsive behaviors, eating disorders and trauma has been documented by research. In other words, trauma tends to create unhealthy coping patterns. We use unhealthy methods to rid ourselves of: anxiety, depression, grief, numbness, nervous energy, anger, guilt, physical pain, insomnia, and traumatic memories, among others. While our coping method of choice temporarily pacifies our needs, it prevents: self-awareness, personal growth, impairs our ability to recognize dangerous situations, removes our inhibitions (and the boundaries we had set), and impairs our ability to escape unhealthy people and places. In short, it controls us. Sometimes, anger or a thirst for revenge may be the only thing that is still keeping us “connected” to our past. When we refuse to forgive, we are refusing to bring closure to the past. This may be because we unconsciously fear we won’t be connected any longer to the person who hurt us, or to our childhood. Being unwilling to forgive others may also be a means of avoiding forgiving ourselves as well. Forgiving others may mean having to accept the reality that I am not perfect, either. Sometimes that is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if we have felt we were the “victim.” Part of us may want to go on blaming. Forgiveness takes away the victim status, making us responsible for our own happiness. If we haven’t offered forgiveness, we keep creating an identity around our pain. I heard a definition of forgiveness I really like: Forgiveness is simply the refusal to hurt the person that hurt you. By consciously engaging with the trauma memory, the individual learns that it isn’t necessary to avoid or deny the traumatic reminder. You might have heard the saying, “Forgive and forget?” That is suppression, and it’s a self-destructive way to handle resentment. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to pretend like it didn’t happen. You can forgive them and remember.
Self-Intervention Exercise: Forgive and Remember
when you (action)_________________________________________________________
because it makes me/made me feel like________________________________________.”
Make your request:
“So my request is that you (action) ____________________________________________.”
Express your commitment to move past the hurts which you sustained:
Self-Intervention: Resolving Regrets
Steps 8 & 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous ask the recovering alcoholic to make amends to all people they harmed through their alcohol-induced behavior. “These steps are designed to achieve two goals. First, they help repair damaged relationships and second, they provide the other who has been hurt by the alcoholic, an explanation of how alcohol caused the behavior” (Sacks, 2003). You may decide to share these thoughts with others who you feel you have hurt, or you may decide to settle it in the privacy of your own heart, but hanging on to past guilt and regret is not doing anyone any good. It only serves as a self-punishment, and you are attempting to put the old, negative ways behind you. Shame is another word which represents feelings of low self-esteem, belittlement, humiliation, embarrassment and stigmatization or alienation. Shame is the feeling of being “broken,” that something is “wrong” with me. Shame is often experienced as the inner, critical voice that
judges whatever we do as “not good enough,” inferior, worthless. The shaming inner voice can do considerable damage to our self-esteem. For some, their inner critical judge is continuously providing a negative evaluation of what they are doing, moment-by-moment, and play-by-play. Do yourself a favor: begin to release the self-hate and self-blame right now.
Self-Intervention Exercise: Regrets Liberation Therapy
Learning from the “voice of guilt” can be liberating. Answer the following:
1. Describe the situation that led to the guilt or regret:
2. Describe your current emotions after re-telling the story:
3. Describe behaviors that are yours vs. behaviors that are truly not yours (what part of the story is not your responsibility?):
4. Describe inconsistencies between your values and behaviors:
5. Write a heartfelt intention to make amends for the larger problems which your addicted self caused:
6. Describe what you’ve learned about yourself from the experience?
7. What would you do differently in the future?
8. Express your willingness to forgive yourself:
9. List specific steps you can take to resolve the guilt (making an apology, making restitution, performing a symbolic gesture which gives the opportunity for self-forgiveness):
10. Explain how being free of guilt could liberate you:
There is an “up-side” to trauma known as, “post-traumatic growth.” Response to trauma can result in either a risk factor or a healing factor. Researchers Tedeshi and Calhoun (1995) identified positive psychological changes as “post-traumatic growth,” and they include: improved relationships, openness, appreciativeness, strength and spiritual growth. “No one would wish traumatic events for themselves or others, but the present findings show their experience is sometimes associated with character strengths.” Maybe you’ve heard the slogan, “Get better, not bitter?” According to Tedeshi and Calhoun (1995), “The effects of these traumatic events are not uniformly negative.” Growth can result from trauma. Author Belleruth Naparstek says about trauma, “Trauma: that great terrorizer-produces heroes. No one has to override fear the way a trauma survivor does.” Donald Meichenbaum adds, “The story of PTSD is the tale of the indomitable and indefatigable human spirit to survive and adapt.” Trauma doesn’t have to define us, it can refine us.
While I’m busy giving interviews and fundraising for my next book, “Once The Storm Is Over: From Grieving to Healing After the Suicide of My Daughter,” due out Feb. 2015, I’d love to hear how this workbook enabled you to live more freely and happily! Contact me at my website