Last Summer, a year ago, was my last blog post. We were all still pretty new at lock down, and I had just entered, in earnest, the realm of learning about healing trauma. I loved that piece of writing. The topic was trauma denial in relationships being the real pandemic.
For the past year, as promised at the end of that article, I have delved deeply and continuously into the world of methods, modalities and models for understanding and healing trauma, mainly, Developmental Trauma and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is associated more with what is called “shock trauma,” and CPTSD is usually linked with long-term, childhood trauma (though it can be in adulthood) from lack of attunement and/or abuse and neglect. Developmental Trauma is always in childhood.
The topic of trauma, and also parenting, along with my foundation of relationship work, will be focal points of my personal and professional development for the next stage of my life. My interests are for my own journey as a mother, partner, and individual, as well as a professional working with clients.
My learning journey has included entering therapy myself, for the first time in years, this time with a trauma specialist who is certified in EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitization Processing), a leading, research-backed technique for working with transferring the location of traumatic memories and emotions in the brain from places where they have a reactive grip on the person to places where they don’t. People report alleviation and disappearance of symptoms they’ve had for years – physical, mental, emotional.
I have never before seen myself as someone with trauma. In fact, I was taught in a professional training long ago that there is a difference between wounding and trauma and for years I thought I must be one of the wounded, not the traumatized.
That may be true for my childhood – wounded, not traumatized – I’m still working on figuring that out. But, over the past few years, I went through such chronic stress (over the course of separation and divorce from a partner with a background of complex trauma, bearing the burden of parenting and financing two kids on my own, dealing with the emergence of their special needs and mental health issues, my mother’s death, multiple relocations in search of a new home, relationship distress with a new partner who has a history of complex trauma, and numerous health issues that developed in me), that it ended up creating trauma symptoms in me.
For the first time in my life, my challenges crossed a line from just difficult – even very difficult – to actually creating a kind of stutter that happened when word retrieval failed me every time I tried to talk about my situation. This told me that something had gotten into my brain and my body that bypassed the consciously cognitive thoughts, the accessible emotions.
Then I understood more what trauma is.
Trauma. A word I never really related to, that I help many clients relate to, that I now see has colored much of my life, even if mostly second handedly. My family of origin is riddled with trauma, and my adult life has attracted much of the familiar. Now I understand more deeply that my father was a severely traumatized child, and an unhealed, traumatized adult. My mother was also subjected to emotional and physical – medical – trauma in her childhood, and in some ways never recovered, even though she functioned fairly well.
My parents’ marriage was mostly a re-traumatization, projecting their unhealed wounds onto each other, as was their divorce and the aftermath. My brother’s childhood suffered from the shrapnel. Mine did as well, but I was younger, the effect on me was more subtle, harder to identify, more like emotional neglect, even in contexts that seemed otherwise.
When I was younger, I thought I came out of that childhood “alright” because I had been so young when all the worst went down. However, stuff got in there – my psyche, my brain, my body, my emotional self – and then there was other damage over the years, that I now see as Attachment Disruption from lack of attunement.
All together, my nervous system and identity were effected, and have attracted and reenacted familiar scenes and themes, including partners with developmental trauma in their background, which spills over into the relational dynamic. I have two children adopted from China, one who had surgeries as an infant.
I’ve come to see recently that, overall, my family unit has been way more effected by trauma than I had realized before.
I’ve seen numerous therapists in my life, but it wasn’t until I saw a movement therapist over twenty years ago that I entered graduate school to become a professional myself. It wasn’t that I even liked the movement therapy – I didn’t. But we did the sessions with our shoes off, in comfy clothes, sitting and stretching on the floor of her studio. It was physically different than the standard office scene, and that helped me. I said to myself, “If therapy can be like this, there’s a place for me to do it.”
Over the past twenty years, I’ve been working with couples and individuals to help them have more reliable connection and successful communication in their lives. I’ve done post-graduate training to give me tools that help me do my work, mainly, Imago, Gottman and NVC (Non Violent Communication). As time went on, I started to realize that many clients were having chronic relationship conflict from triggers that were very difficult, if not impossible, to control. I developed a style of helping people address these triggers, and, over time, have come to see that underneath recurring reactivity is almost always old, automatic trauma responses.
I wasn’t interested in becoming a trauma treatment provider myself, so I started learning more about what was out there, and began referring clients to what I found was the modality that got the best reviews based on research, EMDR. EFT (Emotion Freedom Technique) is also research-backed, is a good method that I’ve actually tried, but for some reason, EMDR gets more press.
We are living in the era of the brain. We are fortunate. The field of psychotherapy must catch up and become trauma-informed, which means being much more brain-and-body-based.
EMDR is pretty cool. There are some things about it that aren’t a perfect fit for me, but it helped me in the beginning and I know it helps a great many people. My chronic stress has been subsiding and I’m not exactly dealing with PTSD or CPTSD, though my healing and growing journey continues. My therapist is wise enough to let my needs be met with some adaptations to the technique, and I feel myself moving into some shifting territory for next steps.
As I write this, I’m looking into Brainspotting, and I’m feeling signed on in terms of my interest. David Grand was a master EMDR practitioner who developed his own adaptation to it called Natural Flow EMDR, and then he discovered what he came to call Brainspotting, his life’s work, by accident. It sounds effective, efficient and right on. I’ll be referring a family member, as I am on the trail to find the most accurate modalities to meet our needs, which will educate me as well for referrals to clients.
In addition, a. new discovery is that I want my whole family, myself included, to receive Neurofeedback, an outgrowth of Biofeedback that actually trains the brain with operant conditioning to regulate itself. So far, in this newer application of the technology that has been helping people for decades, empirical evidence in clients is showing tremendous relief from chronic symptoms linked to Developmental Trauma, including things that weren’t even identified previously to be just that. I highly recommend Sebern Fisher’s book, listed below.
The learning has brought me to numerous, well-respected teachers. I have watched tons of Youtube videos, and I mostly listen to books on Audible. My recommendations include:
- Books and talks by Dr. Gabor Mate, and the recent documentary featuring his work, The Wisdom of Trauma (books: In an Unspoken Voice, When the Body Says No, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Scattered)
- Healing Developmental Trauma, by Laurence Heller, Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM)
- Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and The Tao of Fully Feeling, by Pete Walker
- The Body Keeps the Score, and other books by Bessel A. van der Kolk
- Brainspotting, by David Grand
- Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma, by Sebern Fisher
- Somatic Experiencing, by Peter Levine
- Running on Empty, and Running on Empty No More, by Jonice Webb
- Hunt, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucla
- Hold On to Your Kids, by Gordon Neufield and Gabor Mate
- The Apology, by Eve Ensler (now, “V”)
- And, as I write this, I’m delving into learning about Attachment Theory.
Trauma is way, way more common than we think, than is talked about and taught about, and still way too often missed, misunderstood, and inadequately addressed. It touches most of our lives directly, and all of our lives indirectly, but not very distantly. There’s still a lot of denial. We have a lot to learn, but the good news is that once we open up to it, it is a field that has very good research, cutting edge modalities being developed as we speak, and impressibly reliable results.
I love that what I’m learning about trauma and the healing of it is that it’s all about the brain and attachment.
I love that trauma offers some crucial answers about a lot of previously confounding and devastating mental health, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, psychological, developmental, functional and learning issues, including ADHD, addiction, Sensory Integration, OCD, Anxiety, Depression, dissociation, Personality Disorders, insomnia, rigidity, irritability, reactivity, abuse, intimacy blocks, communication problems, lack of presence, chronic triggers, conflict and unmet needs in relationship.
I love that the path has become more defined, more blazed, more hopeful.
Thank you for reading.