Post Traumatic Stress

There is a written exercise that starts with drawing a large egg on a piece of paper. I did not create the exercise. I do not know who to give credit to, but I do know it is an Imago Relationship Therapy exercise. The egg represents you. You draw a crack somewhere on the egg and write on the crack the first trauma you remember from childhood. The earliest traumatic memory you have or story you have been told, if you were too young to remember. You then make another crack in the egg and write on that line about the second trauma you remember or have been told. And so on, throughout your life up to the present.

In the end you have your trauma history. And you have a visual picture of how cracked, wounded and hurt your own self has been over the many years of your life. You carry the results today of those assaults to your soul, the insults to your heart, the wounds and pain dealt to your body and mind. I nearly stopped breathing when I realized how many times I have faced death in my life; my own death, the death of a dream or a promise, or the death of someone I loved.

Sometimes I experience death and uncertainty hovering around me; rather like an ominous cloud that threatens to take me into darkness.  It makes sense to me that I get anxious when I am physically ill. I am remembering when I truly did not have the information or the skills or the energy to keep myself safe and alive. I was only 3 years old when my world as I knew it and had reason to trust it had been turned upside down. The sense I made out of what was happening to me was that my parents no longer wanted me and gave me to someone else who also didn’t want me. Neither of these beliefs turned out to be true when checked out and looked at realistically as an adult. But as a child, it was the best I could do. Out of the stories I made up in my head about what was happening in my world I learned that I might not be fully lovable and that it might not be safe to trust adults or those who appear to be in charge.

Lately I have been feeling vulnerable myself and not totally sure why. Probably because for the last few days I have been physically unable to take good care of myself and I have had to phone friends to ask them to go to the pharmacy for me or to pick up some soup at the grocery for me.   That feeling of being helpless is pretty awful. Thus I have renewed respect and understanding for people who are frightened when they are vulnerable because I am smack dab in the middle of my own vulnerability, both physical and emotion. I remember when I was scared as a child. Today I almost feel like that child again. It makes sense to be frightened now because it is about remembering the past. I am remembering having feelings like: anxiety, vulnerability, fragility, uncertainty, weakness, fatigue, fear, exhaustion; all of which are feelings that we have felt in the past when our world was not safe and we did not know what to do about it.

When deeply stressed and frequently frightened by real or perceived danger repeatedly as a child and/or as an adult, the mind, and body remember and develop chronic fears of abandonment and loss. There is a belief that no place and nobody is safe. Trust has been destroyed.

Almost everyone has at one time or another experienced being not safe, not understood or seen, taken advantage of and hurt. When that happens over and over again, by those with whom we should be feeling safe, it is traumatizing. Labels are sometimes hurtfully and inappropriately given to people who are in the midst of remembering.  Labels like needy, dependent, lazy, shut down, unavailable, depressed, or weak are not helpful or true and are very deeply hurtful. Words like that cause our self-esteem to shatter. Labelling is a sign of not seeing and not understanding the whole person. Simply one part of the self is getting noticed.

I say to clients,” I do not believe you are necessarily depressed, and I know you are not weak or avoiding. I think your body and your soul are remembering traumas. I think you are forgetting how very courageous you have been and how very wise you are. It is time to remember.”

Healing begins when the body and soul are remembering. That healing comes in many forms depending on you and what you find comforting and helpful. Things like rest and sleep, reflection, dreaming, meditation, sharing, writing, turning to nature, asking to be held or asking for a hug, finding ways to honour yourself, are all possible ways to begin healing the wounds of trauma. Buddhist teaching and meditation helps settle a chaotic mind. It is a perfect healer for Post-Traumatic Stress. Creating space for peace, calm, and hope helps separate fearful thinking that causes you to feel immobilized or frozen. Buddha teaches feeling follows thought. In the empty space created during meditation you can identify your negative and hurtful thinking and take the opportunity to change that thinking into something positive. You can learn you have a choice. You can choose to feel frightened or you can remember the realities of today and choose to find something new to think about.

Negative thinking is a familiar fall back feeling. Over the years the feelings of being scared, or hurt, lost or victimized begin to kick in so regularly that the pathway in your brain only knows fight, flight, or freeze as a response. It is time to teach your brain something new. Time to let the old pathways that are so familiar, thus you think of as comforting, to no longer drive you. You let the old ways of thinking and responding just settle and prepare for change. And you begin to create new responses, staring with reminding yourself of the truth of today. Today’s truth is that you have new information, you have today’s skills and opportunities. You have resources you have never had before.

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