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What is trauma and how we heal from it?

Trauma:


We tend to think that trauma is a massive incident that happens to us, an earthquake, a sexual assault, physical abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing and suffering violence. Chronic emotional abuse or neglect.

Yes, all that can cause trauma; however, trauma is not the incident, rather the disruption of our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth. The disruption of actualization. Instead of thriving we’re surviving, all the energy, talents, skills, potential is stuck and consumed just to be afloat. There is no movement.

It’s a time that we feel overwhelmed.

The self, breaks down as a means to cope. A part of us is scared and numbs through drugs, sleep, overeating, under-eating, excessive shopping, gambling, serial dating, instagramming and facebooking. A part of us fights, with our mothers, fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends, competes at work, evaluates and criticizes. The most detrimental fight of all is the fight with the self.


A part of us is frozen, needs and craves, becomes codependent and afraid, it self-sabotages and hides from the world.


Trauma is disconnection with the self and others.


Healing from Trauma:


Therapy doesn’t require talking about the incident necessarily. Sometimes we are not even aware that we have been traumatized, this happens when the trauma is chronic and complex, usually emotional abuse or neglect.

Back to talking about the trauma: forcing yourself to talk about it, can be re-traumatizing, as it will trigger the unprocessed trauma.

However, admitting to yourself that you have been traumatized is validating, we don’t need to analyze.

The concept is: this happened to me, and I survived. Now it’s time to thrive and be happy.


How?

Grieve the losses that the incident brought to your life. The time of grieving can take time. In our society, unfortunately we want quick fixes. “Okay, this happened fifteen years ago, or thirty, I just need to move on.” Sure, I hear you. One part of you wants to move on and another part is frozen in pain, exiled and disenfranchised, not allowed to express the pain for fifteen years. Thus, see “it”, and let it grieve.


I said before that when we are overwhelmed and disrupted by a traumatic incident, the self compartmentalizes to cope. What do I mean with that?


Example with a client who had developed bingeing behaviors due to emotional neglect in childhood, let’s call her Maggie.


Maggie: I really want to eat healthy, and I do till 9 pm, eating just fruit and yogurt, then I go to the cabinets and eat all the candy bars and then I hate myself. I’m so gross, that’s’ why I don’t have real friends and I cannot find a girlfriend.


Here we have at least two parts:


One wants to be healthy and eat well, perhaps it’s a bit unrealistic and perfectionistic as just yogurt and fruit is an extreme approach. Then there is another part that wants to eat and does, and then the perfectionistic one shames it about eating.


The result: low self-esteem. Most of the people will think that the reason of low self-esteem is caused by the part that over-eats.


Well… No! The perfectionistic part that shames is responsible for Maggie’s low self-esteem. The hostile approach and the shaming contribute to her low self-esteem, her critical part. The more her critic shames her, the more the other part will overeat as a means to comfort itself from rejection, abandonment and pain.


A vicious cycle of recycling and regenerating pain.


Maggie came to therapy to STOP binge eating. She didn’t even know that she had suffered emotional trauma and neglect in childhood. She had two good parents that worked a lot to provide for her and her sister. Her mother, used to make comments about her weight because she wanted Maggie to be socially successful.


Maggie didn’t stop binge eating the first year of our work. I know you’re sorry to hear.

She needed time because she had first to sit down with the part that overate.

I asked her to observe it.

Then, I encouraged her to ask it: what does it need?

Well, when the part felt safe and comfortable enough in session, it said that it needed to feel good. To forget about being all alone and watch TV.

In psychotherapeutic terms: this part needed: numbing and distraction from loneliness and disconnection.

I asked Maggie, how old is this part and she said crying that it is just seven years old. Both of her parents were working till very late as they had some financial struggles at the time, and she had to be by herself long hours.

Most of the times, parts that engage in addictive behaviors are younger versions of the self, frozen in time, neglected and disconnected.

In Maggie’s case, it was a seven-year-old girl all alone, emotionally starved, not because her parents were bad people necessarily. Not at all, they just worked a lot, they were stressed, had just to deal with life and they were NOT available. They were disconnected from their child. Food became comfort and buffered the loneliness.

In the second year of our work, Maggie, started re-parenting her inner child. She didn’t need to give her candy, chips or ice-cream rather connection and validation.

Connection and validation through checking in with it when it had the urge to binge: I see you. what do you really need?

Maggie has stopped overeating, she joined the gym and a yoga class, and started dating Helen. She still feels alone at times, and she still has cravings to binge. But this is okay for her. She accepts and loves this part, but she decides to not give in its childish requests. At times, she has to numb allow it to numb and distract. The difference is awareness. She doesn’t engage in the vicious circle of: addictive behavior-shaming-more addictive behavior.


In a nutshell:

Healing requires openness to observe these very parts that we don’t like, or we don’t see and are exiled in our bodies, out of cognitive/mental awareness.

Healing requires bravery to accept and create space, lots of space, so our parts can be seen and co-exist together.


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