Using verbal ventilation for recovery from trauma

Verbal ventilation is a term which has been taken from literature by Pete Walker – “complex PTSD from surviving to thriving“, 2013. Walker describes each of the four methods used in grieving from trauma as a recovery tool in great detail. I intend to further provide an overview of verbal ventilation for grieving trauma (both developmental and interpersonal abuse) and provide some strategies for achieving such recovery tactic.

Verbal ventilation concerns the writing or speaking of one’s trauma and emotions in order to fully release/reflect on the repressed painful feelings associated with such event(s). Primarily; speaking holds the greatest yield in terms of recovering from trauma – writing ones feelings and experiences can be an optimal way to begin to embark upon fully ventilating through speech.

By attaching meaning to words; an individual can begin to release pain associated with past trauma. When reflecting through written word, it switches one’s left brain to become functional allowing reduced right brain symptoms (hyper vigilance, racing thought, flashbacks, emotional avoidance/flashbacks, dissociation etc) and an ability to reflect appropriately on the event(s) concerned.

Determined practice of this method can result in a survivor of trauma having a newfound ability to begin to speak their pain and hear the emotional response in their own voice. This allows for further reflection and acceptance but should be worked towards. It is not an easy method to perfect, speaking ones pain can be difficult for many survivors of trauma as they have faced abusive behavioural conditioning in response to voicing their basic human rights. For survivors of Childhood developmental trauma who have in many cases developed in such a way that speaking without self judgement becomes incredibly difficult; using writing first in order to practice a form of verbal ventilation can be helpful when working towards having the self confidence and compassion required to voice that pain.

Adult interpersonal relationship trauma often results in similar conditioning with a survivor or victim being punished for speaking out, having an opinion and judged accordingly. Both examples are what differs PTSD from complex trauma and developmental trauma as both include deep brain changes (in volume/pathways) and complex interpersonal difficulties. However both survivors of developmental trauma and adult interpersonal relationship trauma can effectively work towards finding their voice through writing to reflect. An individual can use journaling, interview style question/answers and art and creative means in order to begin processing the pain associated with the past – and slowly working towards having an ability to verbally ventilate without judgement and fear.

As one begins to hear the words, meaning becomes attached in a new way; different from the written word previously used. When we speak about our past; the words become tinged in emotion and memory and can identify repressed feeling attached ultimately removing shame and guilt from a survivor with self blame and inner critic attacks.

Speaking in an uncensored manner without fear of judgement while simultaneously focusing on feelings or body sensations provides release of the emotion of the past. For some individuals beginning their journey or using verbal ventilation for the first time; emotional identification may not come so easily. As each trauma differs; each response differs – what one recovering individual is able to attain does not equate to the other. Trauma is a multidimensional illness which differs for each and every survivor. Those survivors who can not easily identify their emotions may benefit from working on emotional labeling and processing (either alone or alongside a trauma informed therapist).

Verbal ventilation provides the same release as anger (found here) the or crying (found here) but also helps to expose the critic driven attacks which become commonplace for a survivor. When a survivor is able to increasingly verbalise and communicate their needs they take a step closer to peace. These needs that were once unmet (and unjustly so) can be attained through appropriate verbal ventilation and recovery through grieving methods. Used in succession with anger and crying; verbal ventilation serves to propel an individual with regards to recovery.

Using verbal ventilation for recovery from trauma requires courage. When hearing those words that flow from a newly freed place within; they are individually tinted and descriptive, carrying alongside anger, guilt, fear, sadness and shame. That can turn in to a dark place where the survivor may lack emotional regulation to fight off the critic attacks that can blend sneakily in to what one believes to be verbally ventilating.

Using ventilation alongside crying and anger can propel recovery through grieving and help a trauma survivor to become free from previous emotional constraints. Regular practice of this method not only increases intimacy but actually helps to remediate the brain changes which are caused by CPTSD and developmental trauma (brain changes info can be found here)

During an emotional flashback, the right side of the brain (emotion) becomes overstimulated and hyperactive while the left side of the brain function reduces considerably leading to an inability to process the emotional reaction required at that time. Verbally ventilating brings the left brain back to function. With an acquired ability to think and feel simultaneously; words translate to feelings which can be processed and resolved. There is an increase in ones ability to interpretate and communicate not only with the self but with others.

The repeated pattern of using verbal ventilation for recovery allows the formation of new neural pathways which allows the left brain and right brain to finally balance and work together ultimately leading to an ability to reflect and recover.
Such results have been seen throughout research and theorists can now see these brain changes being present on an MRI following successful verbal ventilation and reflection.

The actual practice of verbal ventilation allows alignment of both the right an left hemisphere. Whenever the right side becomes activated (I.e flashbacks); the left side can provide steps to reduce and manage the reaction.

Proficiency of verbal ventilation leads to an ability to think and feel and ultimately creates appropriate healthy responses to inner feelings. Survivors practicing verbal ventilation have shown to begin to show their selves compassion and respect the – a core trait required in ones ability to appropriately label and react to emotions.

This type of grieving method is only effective when the critic (both inner and outer) has no control over the survivor. Using anger and sadness as a first step in recovering has been proven successful in reducing critic driven attacks. Work should be completed here prior to verbal ventilation so in order to reduce the risk of oversharing or to reduce the potential from a shift from healthy ventilation to critic driven attacks (which can easily blend in to attempts to ventilate).

Verbal ventilation easily turns in to self attacking, criticism, triggering or intensifies flashbacks. For these reasons; practice in verbal ventilation should be approached slowly and if possible with support (from a recovered spouse, friend or therapist). It is common for survivors of trauma to be unaware of this shift from ventilation to critic attacks. This may be due to the nature of trauma itself and how an individual may have been forced to develop over the course of their life and trauma.

Practiced alone, verbal ventilation can be helpful. There is no other person available to hear or judge the emotive words and memories held by a survivor and can be a great starting point in recovering from trauma through grieving. It is important to note that verbal ventilation should only be completed alone if the survivor is fully aware of critic attacks.

Support can be beneficial in helping a survivor to recognise and neutralise critic driven attacks, through repeated practice; this healthy response becomes formed in those new neural pathways and thus becomes second nature in which to practice.

Verbal ventilation heals trauma and abandonment by improving our connection to others. Sharing what is important to us through ventilation forges new healthy connections with others. Completed within a safe environment and relationship; humans have an instinctual desire for verbal-emotional intimacy. Doing so creates connection and friendship increasing one’s positive experience and fueling desire to repeat successfully.

Sharing itself can be triggering for a trauma survivor. A survivor of developmental trauma may have spent their entire childhood being taught that it is not beneficial to share or open up. In fact, many cases of both interpersonal abuse and childhood trauma impacts an individual’s ability to voice opinion never mind inner most feelings. In cases of trauma with no clear beginning, middle or end; difficulties arise with perception and interpersonal relationships. This can be the hardest hurdle to recovery however can be efficiently counteracted through group or individual support (or more preffered; from a trauma informed therapist).

Trauma survivors who have successfully terminated relationships with abusers often re enter toxic relationships and can over share as a coping mechanism to past trauma. This type of verbal ventilation is not effective in recovering from trauma through grieving. Oversharing causes vulnerability and actually harms relationships by not only providing others with fearful information but by causing others to question life and their own self in the process. When an individual over shares; they reduce the strength of their personal boundaries. Boundaries which are set in order to protect.once those boundaries become blurred; it becomes more likely that the individual in question will face further trauma from interpersonal relationships.

Verbal ventilation increases intimacy through bringing comfort and restoring connection between oneself and others. Sharing appropriately produces a bond through mutual sympathy and a desire to connect. This can aid a survivor in being more emotionally intimate with their partner or within common relationships.

Grieving through verbal ventilation also reduces the abandonment fears and depression associated with past trauma. Through cognitive work and practice of verbal ventilation techniques a survivor can not only build neural pathways but form new connections and experience further positive outcomes as a result.

Tips for ventilation

Start by writing – if you have never experienced verbal ventilation it can be beneficial to build a fundamental base through first writing ones experiences. Writing for ventilation includes journaling, writing poetry, creating song lyrics, writing personal memoirs and using an interview style structure in order to aid processing and reflection.
When writing it can be helpful to write without worry of spelling, punctuation or structure. Ventilation through writing concerns an individual writing everything and anything that comes to mind – no matter how insignificant it feels at the time. Worrying about one’s punctuation or structure is incredibly counterproductive and causes the left side brain to take over from feeling.

Music as a tool – a mediator step between writing and speaking emotions would be to use music to express how you feel. When reflecting on past abuse; assigning a particular music type to it can really aid a survivor in beginning to become used to hearing the sounds of emotions as a protective step prior to verbally ventilating.
Different genres may touch you in different ways. Try all genres of music until you find one that feels right. Whether that be classical, rock, dance, pop, piano, rain sounds or meditation – assigning meaning to music can be a productive tool especially during flashbacks.

Practice – using any of the four grieving tools as a recovery tool is not a quick process. Accept that such practices of recovery can take a while to adopt. Over time it can be helpful to reflect on the progress that you have made over your time grieving.
Reflection – write down or journal emotions and feelings for the day, it may be helpful to follow a script or pre written interview when reflecting. Journaling is an effective way to set small; attainable goals whilst tracking them as well as providing opportunities for self reflection, offloading of thoughts and allowing an alternative response to be explored. Journaling or reflecting can also be useful for a survivor of trauma when attempting to replace negative self talk and behaviour.

Replace negative with positive (the key is balance) – it can be common for a trauma survivor to become enmeshed with one’s negative inner critic.
The inner critic can manifest to one’s own personality and become enmeshed in ones identity making it difficult to separate. As life continues, the critic begins to take the driving seat in ones own reactions and perception. Fighting the critic reduces such attacks by substitution of thought (replacing negative self talk with positive) and thought correlation (when i revert to; “shut up!” I will instead ask for a break etc). Such reflection leads to an increased sense of personal likeability and desire for interpersonal boundaries.

Feel, accept, reflect – feel the emotion and label it, whatever it be it is important for recovery to fully accept that its ok to be feeling in this way. It can be helpful to remember our key phrase; “I feel – – – and because I choose to feel this way.” and repeat that until emotions return. Focusing on one’s breath can be beneficial in aiding the body to physically return to normal in the sense of its biological processes.

Work with support

Support gives a survivor a second set of eyes and opinion, in many cases support can be helpful in allowing a survivor of trauma to face difficulties with conflict (either self or relationship). Support from a trauma informed therapist can be important to work through the various issues which survivors of trauma face in their day to say life, providing validation and building confidence and ultimately helping build a strong foundation for which to recover. Many survivors may not feel comfortable using a therapist for support or may not be in the place to do so. Support can come in all forms, our group supports survivors by providing knowledge and information about our own trauma in order to help others feel less alone, online friendship can be beneficial for a survivor beginning their recovery journey as it removes the uncontrolled aspects of making and maintaining “real world” friendships.

Focus on the little things

Focusing on the small positives on one’s life can also aid a survivor in managing to balance anger appropriately. Reflecting on the reason behind the anger as well as balancing with reasons they are still OK in this moment can really cement a survivors recovery especially during difficult times.
This can be achieved by replacing negative self talk with more positive affirmations and balancing the in-the-moment anger that a survivor of trauma experiences. Practicing gratitude can be helpful in building these skills.

Build a positive circle

In this age of technology and at a time of lockdown restrictions and recommendations, a circle can be a small number of online relationships and friendship. There is no neccesity in meeting face to face, the goal primarily is to form a positive trusting circle with similar individuals of whom you can open up and reflect with. Reflecting in a group can propel recovery as the brain reacts to the opinions of one’s “pack” more intensely than individual thought.

Work on staying in the present

It is common for a survivor of trauma to over analyse the past in an effort to try to understand it. This is an important aspect of recovery however focusing on just one aspect leads to an imbalance and uneven recovery. Working on staying in the present not only helps an individual from basing present day decisions on past experience but gives a sense of freedom from past abuse. As the singular event(s) is over (and in some cases ongoing); the only fuel that can be given to it is that of a survivors own mind.

Although it is imperative to process the symptoms of trauma and at times the event that occured; it must not be forgotten to balance this with healthy expression in all forms. A balanced approach stops a misdirected recovery and helps a survivor of trauma to begin to live again.

Neuropsychology of trauma

From a neurological perspective, trauma can alter areas of brain functioning leading to further difficulties and long-term additional mental health issues which are secondary to the individual trauma disorder.

Researchers in neuropsychology often split the brain into three distinct units; the hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain and focus is on the area of the brain affected by trauma.

Trauma is as individual as its role is in changing neural pathways however common issues arise within the temporal and frontal lobes in areas such as the cerebral cortex, cerebrum, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus.

I intend to look further into each of these areas in relation to how they are altered by trauma in more detail throughout. I also intend to look at how this changing of neural pathways presents itself and its potential for future mental health issues and disorders. Due to trauma altering these structures, it is common to see a patient with a primary diagnosis of complex trauma also having a secondary or tertiary (etc) mental health illness.

This is nowhere near an in-depth analysis of the brain; rather than the goal being familiarisation of major brain structures and how they relate to trauma.

The temporal lobe (TL)

The TL is found on each side of the brain (above your ears) and is responsible for hearing, memory, meaning and language as well as having a role in emotion: as the TL interprets and processes any auditory stimuli. The hippocampus is also located in the TL which results in this area forming and relaying memories.

Damage to the TL can lead to issues with memory, speech perception and language.

The frontal lobe (FL, prefrontal cortex, PFC)

The frontal lobe is the area concerned with planning, reasoning, emotion, creativity and judgement. Any act that we purposely do (i.e; speech, problem solving) is controlled by the FL.

Damage to the FL can result in changes in sexual habits, attention and socialization as an individual undertakes more risk-taking behaviours. A less activated PFC can be found as a response to stress and is impaired in its ability to regulate threat responses.

The cerebral cortex (CC)

CC controls thinking reasoning and perception. it makes an individual unique, controlling traits such as human consciousness and imagination.

The cerebellum

The cerebellum controls movement and balance, but also has the title; “emotional brain” or “little brain” as it is very deep within the brain structure however makes up 10% of the total size of the brain accounting for more than 50% of total number of neurones in the ENTIRE brain.

The hypothalamus

The hypothalamus controls temper, emotions, hunger or thirst and sleep. It connects with many other regions of the brain and is involved in secretion of hormones. This structure plays an important role in the stress response which can be altered by trauma. CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) is released from the hypothalamus: mediating fear related behaviours.

A change to this structure could cause a survivor of trauma to become overly fearful or less than vigilant in their behaviors which are critical in coping with an acute threat should it present itself.

The thalamus

The thalamus receives sensory information and release it to the cerebral cortex. The thalamus is also responsible for sending out information to the relevant parts of the brain that has been communicated by the cerebral cortex.

The amygdala

The amygdala controls emotions and regulates mood. Part of the limbic system; meaning it has the important role in the control of emotional responses and threat detection.

The amygdala’s function is seen to be increased in individuals who have experienced trauma however smaller amygdala volume has been found in patients who have borderline personality disorder and an increased volume found with depression.

The hippocampus

The hippocampus is involved with the formation and storage of memories within the frontal lobe, those with PTSD have been identified as having a smaller hippocampal structure following a traumatic event resulting in the alteration of memories as it is the most sensitive area to effects of stress.
Traumatic stress can be associated with lasting changes in an individual’s brain structure due to an increase in cortisol and neuroepinephrine responses to subsequent stressors.
The hippocampus however has an unusual ability to regenerate and can be altered through therapeutic approaches.

Trauma occurring at different stages of an individual’s life cycle has the potential to interrupt and alter the developing brain. It is normal for the human brain to undergo changes in structure and function across an individual’s life span and so in terms of trauma responses being directly linked with brain systems; there is scope and potential to alter the systems to a healthier structure.

To understand how multiple trauma can impact the brain; it would be useful to have knowledge and understanding of how the brain develops across an individual’s life.

Brain development occurs in utero and continues to develop. In the first five years, researchers found a mass overall expansion of volume; however from age of 7 to 17 years we see an increase in white matter structures and a decrease in gray matter structures with overall volume remaining the same. Through the mid part of life from the age of about 20 to 70 there is a decrease in gray matter and more so in the temporal and frontal Cortex. Trauma at different stages in life thus can have very different effects on the brain.

Symptoms of trauma manifest stress-induced changes in the brains function and structure. This is due to the nature of stress changing neurochemical systems and specific regions of the brain; resulting in long-term changes in neural pathways or circuits involved in the stress response. (1)

longer-term dysregulation of stress hormones can lead to a survivor having LOW levels of cortisol and elevated levels of the CRF. This is not always the case however in such cases of Childhood trauma, studies have shown survivors having normal cortisol and a blunted CRF (2). Early stress is associated with hippocampus alteration which may not actually manifest until adulthood.

Trauma causes memory disturbances within the brain with verbal memory deficits, dissociative amnesia and attention bias (looking subconsciously for trauma related information) as well as a reduction of neurons and volume within the hippocampus. A study researching hippocampal volume in PTSD with a veteran sample showed and 8% decrease in hippocampal volume and verbal declarative memory function deficits (3). Those survivors who progressed to having anxiety disorders also had a smaller hippocampal volume compared with survivors who had no anxiety disorder present. This shows that each subset diagnosis could actually be an indicator of changing within neural pathways. Both hippocampal atrophy and memory-based deficits reversed with treatment of SSRI paroxetine antidepressants (4).
Research and hippocampal volume has shown that the reduction in volume is associated with a range of traumatic related disorders however intervention and support following a traumatic event is critical for long-term outcomes. With time trauma becomes resistant to treatment and medication however the wrong response initially can also result in worsening of an individual’s severity of trauma.

PTSD and trauma related disorders have a broad range of effects on the structure and function of the brain as well as memory. Common areas of the brain impacted by trauma includes the prefrontal cortex amygdala and hippocampus with cortisol and norepinephrine playing a vital part in an individual stress response and memory. With stress affecting brain areas; researchers have begun to study the effects pharmacology can have in counteracting the effects of stress and hippocampal reduction. treatments that are successful in treating PTSD have been shown to promote memory, hippocampal volume and neurogenesis. However few studies focus on complex trauma or developmental trauma with regards to any changes in brain structure. Preliminary research shows a difference between multi-event trauma and developmental trauma with regards to how the brain responds. That is the reason adding developmental trauma as its own illness would be of great importance. More research is thus required in this field in order to validate results and provide new information.

Our research group can be found here

Currently we are conducting research into the causes of trauma. I have included a link to the survey here : https://surveyheart.com/form/5f06e63b3ed8765392fe12d0

If you would be interested in taking part, please feel free. If you would like to share this study i would also welcome you to use the link, many thanks!

References

  1. Bremmer, Vermetten; circuits and systems in stress, 2002
  2. De Bella, Dorn, et al; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysregulation in sexually abused girls, 1994
  3. Bremner, Randall, Vermetten et al,
    PTSD related to childhood physical and sexual abuse: a preliminary report, 1997
  4. Vermetten, Vythilibgam, Southwick et al, long-term treatment with paroxetine increases verbal declarative memory and hippocampal volume in PTSD, 2003

Using crying to recover from past traumatic experiences

The opposite to anger (recovery through anger can be found Here), crying and grief/sadness usually follows angry expression and has a close relationship in terms of recovering from trauma through grieving.

Recovering from trauma through crying

In recovering from trauma, survivors face a phase of grieving in order to propel and resolve overwhelming feelings associated with past trauma. Recovery through grieving allows an individual to work through the loss associated with experiencing trauma. Grieving effectively aids trauma recovery and helps a survivor of trauma with the death-like feeling of being lost/trapped within trauma flashbacks and memories (am overview of recovering from trauma through grieving can be found here)

Crying as a recovery tool brings relief in the same sense as anger and both work alongside the other in achieving total release of repressed emotion. Both anger and crying free a survivor from the abandonment which trauma caused.

Although both crying and anger are the main tools in recovering from trauma through grieving, an unbalanced approach is not only difficult for others to react to but can lead to negative outcomes with regards to maladaptive coping and interpersonal relationship issues. Having this in mind; the utilisation of both anger and sadness (grief or crying) can actually be socially deviant. In terms of socioeconomic culture and gender perceptions – using anger and sadness fully (in their full spectrum of feeling) can be viewed by others negatively.

Many cultural differences can impact the ability to use grieving methods throughout recovery. It does not however negate the importance of both methods being required in order to grieve effectively and fully. The British culture is renowned for its stereotypes just as any other country is. Typically, British culture is viewed as individuals who have a stiff upper lip. This refers to the concept that the British are quite reserved; keeping their emotions and feelings to themselves. With regards to the authenticity of this stereotype I am not going to debate, however generally speaking as a culture; we tend to not express ourselves as fully as we perhaps should and this will have implications when recovering through grieving.

Gender stereotypes also play a part in an unbalanced grieving response and of course age, life experience and socioeconomic status. As far as gender perceptions are concerned; males commonly show an imbalance with favouring anger as a grieving response as opposed to females who tend to use grief and crying in an attempt to fully express oneself and ultimately recover from using such grieving methods. As helpful as one method can be, an imbalance of one or the other can lead to reactionary behaviour and further repressed emotion. If possible; a survivor of trauma should attempt to balance both anger and grief when recovering. Of course only one emotion can be felt at any one time and that is completely natural. Each phase should be fully experienced on their own and in conjunction in order to fully express emotions which may have previously been unresolved. There is a cut off where coping solely with anger or grief turns maladaptive, a balanced approach has shown to be more effective in terms of recovery.

Incomplete release comes from an unbalanced grieving response. That is in terms of emotions being stored in the body and resulting in reactionary responses to both the outside world (outer critic) and self (inner critic).

Having the ability to cry without judgement actually serves to stimulate relaxation and self growth. For a survivor of trauma; ones grief and sadness may have been met by disdain or an increase in abusive events and or punishments. This can result in many survivors of trauma having great issue in terms of dealing with grief and the emotional issues that arise from said response. Crying however balances the parasympathetic nervous system; which Walker (2013) states helps to balance hyperarousal commonly experienced during flashbacks and associated trauma symptoms.

When a baby is born; it first expresses fear/anger and loss of safety as it initially screams. This is more often than not followed quickly by sadness and grief over the loss of the womb – its safe place. The newborn is quickly consoled by direct skin contact from its parental figures – more importantly; the mother. That bond that formed over 9 months is finally met in environment and the familiar smells and breathing of the mother provides an alternative nurturing comfort which was once provided in utero.

Humans are built to connect, to feel safe and to express freely. Over the developmental period however this free expression becomes stifled. Although it becomes more difficult to express in terms of sociocultural difficulties, it is still one of the most important aspects of recovering from trauma through grieving.

Using crying aids a survivor who also deals with negative self critic attacks. Crying stops the inner critic by releasing fear before it turns to a trauma response (I.e a flashback). Crying as a grieving tool actually dissipates fear, shame, guilt, self abandonment and increases a survivors ability to process anger (which in turn aids grieving).

Recovery from trauma through crying allows a survivor to grieve and provides a cathartic release which leads to fully mourning the losses associated with past trauma and abuse. This may take the form(s) of grieving over lost relationships, a lack of nurture or sense of self. When a survivor is able to feel the natural sorrow of the horrors of their past; it leads to experience and connection with not only the self but with others.

It is important that a survivor who is using grieving as a recovery tool has an ability to accept crying and sorrow whilst simultaneously riding the wave of emotion in its entirety. Fully experiencing sorrow leads to an increase in self compassion as the survivor forgives oneself for the myriad of trauma events that occurred at the hands of another.

Repeated practice of fully expressing emotions allows said practice to become habitual and this becomes the cornerstone in recovery. The increased self esteem and reduction in flashbacks and trigger reactions leads to a reduction in personal abandonment fears. As crying increases self compassion; a survivor begins to see a positive correlation with regards to maintaining healthier relationships.

With the newfound ability to be present and available begins to aid a survivor in developing new friendships which are healthier than previous experience. The release of repressed grief increases self allegiance and strengthens confidence and self esteem while providing a solid foundation in which to lay boundaries. These new additions to one’s recovery toolbox serves an individual in their personal relationships with others and the self.

In reference to a survivor who faces incomplete expression; tension may build within the body and the mind. This can range from self hate (controlling behaviour), outer critic attacks, 4f response reliance or maladaptive coping. This blocked anger or sadness usually results from repressed crying or feeling resulting in decreased lower limb activity, avoidance, headaches, dry mouth, fatigue, chest pain, chronic pain, stomach pain, nausea, behavioural overreaction, self harming behaviour and substance abuse/reliance or addiction.

Denied feelings result in limited beliefs, a lack of appropriate risk taking and poor connection. It can be helpful to use the phrase; “I feel – – – the because I choose to feel this way.” when dealing with emotional reactions that feel overwhelming.

In order to completely grieve, an individual must gain some form of closure. As is the case with anger; a survivor who is not able to fully process either sadness or anger should not continue trying to recover from past trauma through grieving. Support should be sought from a trauma informed therapist in order to complete the fundamental background work required prior to continuing their recovery journey.

Other helpful ways in which to grieve through sadness include;

Reflection – write down or journal emotions and feelings for the day, it may be helpful to follow a script or pre written interview when reflecting. Journaling is an effective way to set small; attainable goals whilst tracking them as well as providing opportunities for self reflection, offloading of thoughts and allowing an alternative response to be explored. Journaling or reflecting can also be useful for a survivor of trauma when attempting to replace negative self talk and behaviour.

Replace negative with positive (the key is balance) – it can be common for a trauma survivor to become enmeshed with one’s negative inner critic.
The inner critic can manifest to one’s own personality and become enmeshed in ones identity making it difficult to separate. As life continues, the critic begins to take the driving seat in ones own reactions and perception. Fighting the critic reduces such attacks by substitution of thought (replacing negative self talk with positive) and thought correlation (when i revert to; “shut up!” I will instead ask for a break etc). Such reflection leads to an increased sense of personal likeability and desire for interpersonal boundaries.

Motion releases emotion – simply getting up and moving your body can switch uncomfortable feelings to a more tolerable level. This can be helpful when fully expressing grief in order to ride the wave but also provide relief. As trauma and unresolved emotions are stored in our body; it is as equally important to work on releasing repressed trauma from the body through muscle release or meditation. Participation in trauma release exercise can really aid a survivor in letting go of the pent up emotions which become stored within our body. More info and examples of TRE can be found in our Facebook group.

Feel, accept, reflect – feel the emotion and label it, whatever it be it is important for recovery to fully accept that its ok to be feeling in this way. It can be helpful to remember our key phrase; “I feel – – – and because I choose to feel this way.” and repeat that until emotions return. Focusing on one’s breath can be beneficial in aiding the body to physically return to normal in the sense of its biological processes.

Heightened emotional states produce biological reactions similar to those experienced in a flashback. Breathing and taking mindful breaths can return one’s heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and adrenaline to lower levels. Focusing on any abdominal sensations can be helpful when dealing with grief as it is stored within the GI system as well as mind.

Using both anger and grief in order to recover from past trauma can be liberating and freeing; however it is not a quick fix. Using appropriate grieving methods in which to recover can take years in order to fully process however does provide a survivor of trauma with that release necessary for both the body and mind to recover.

Using anger to grieve past trauma.

In recovering from trauma, survivors face a phase of grieving in order to propel and resolve overwhelming feelings associated with past trauma. Recovery through grieving allows an individual to work through the loss associated with experiencing trauma. Grieving effectively aids trauma recovery and helps a survivor of trauma with the death-like feeling of being lost/trapped within trauma flashbacks and memories. An overview of recovery through grieving can be found here

Using anger as a grieving method

In order to recover from trauma; it can be helpful to grieve the loss of self through the four responses of grieving; anger, sadness, verbal ventilation and feeling.

Using anger as a grieving tool can serve to benefit a survivor of trauma by replacing critic driven attacks of the self with an increased self compassion and the revival of past protective instincts.

In order to vent the injustice of past trauma and injustice, a survivor must embrace the disdain of previous events and their outcomes. Trauma brings a sense of loss; the loss of one’s sense of self, compassion and perceived safety. As social animals, humans crave a sense of belonging. Grieving the loss of one’s sense of self is imperative to recovery from trauma.

Anger is a natural emotion, a warning sign that self protection is necessary as ones boundaries are tested or crossed. As a base emotion for a plethora of underlying injustices – anger is grown by the need to protect; humans are born to express emotions freely; this Instinct can become dulled through social circumstance and experience; making the notion and act of anger difficult to attain.

Anger must be processed in the mind and body; unresolved emotions such as anger can cause a range of issues for an individual. Repressed anger presents as; sarcasm, self sabotage, abandonment fears, muscle tension in the jaw, upper back and stomach; fatigue, a compromised immune system, nail biting/picking/chewing, substance reliance/dependence, addiction, control issues, difficulties saying “no”, passive aggressive communication styles and at times ultimate denial. An individual with repressed anger may be in such a state of denial they believe they are inherently happy however display physiological or psychological reactions which indicate an anger response.

It is important to note that for those survivors who cannot express anger (or any of the grieving methods) work on with a trauma informed therapist should be completed prior to recovering through grieving. In such instances, emotional labeling and becoming aware of one’s emotional waves is a great fundamental basis for prior grieving work.

Whether anger is managed alone or with support, working through such feelings alone can be incredibly beneficial in building a sense of armour in order to protect oneself from inner critic attacks.

Anger is a deep emotional response that can be productive or destructive; to oneself and others and especially if not used appropriately. If anger is processed in maladaptive ways; it can lead to the manifestation of unsafe coping and further issues with mental health. There is no need to rage directly at the abuser, especially if a survivor is still within the dynamics of abuse. It is important to remember that only some growth can be obtained whilst residing within similar toxic conditions as these circumstances will inadvertently cause triggers, Flashbacks and reliance upon one’s survival mechanisms (leading the survivor unable to fully reflect or gain appropriate perception of their environment or reactions).

Using anger to grieve past trauma rescues a survivor from feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness they once were forced to experience. Through self defence and protection, anger releases a survivor from the chains of past abuse and expectations.

When a survivor is able to vent the injustices of the past; complain of past loss (both loss of self and loss of perceived safety/nurturing relationships) and rage about previous intimidation tactics used against them – they open themselves to a new world of forgiveness and compassion. Not forgiveness of the abuser as that is not necessarily required in order to grieve, but forgiveness of the self and the reparenting (and nurturing) of one’s inner child.

It is perfectly acceptable and is encouraged that a survivor rages the neglect, humiliation, lack of safety, betrayal, protection and lack of guidance they faced or endured. To be able to accept that what happened was only the fault of those who chose to do unthinkable acts and not the fault of ourselves is to open our horizon to freedom and inner peace. When we have spent the majority of our new lives berating or criticising ourselves not only does the inner critic take on its own identity, we become used to speaking and treating ourselves in the exact same way the abuser did. We are angry at the fact the situation occurred in the first place more than the intricate acts of abuse we independently experienced.

The inner critic can manifest to one’s own personality and become enmeshed in ones identity making it difficult to separate. As life continues, the critic begins to take the driving seat in ones own reactions and perception. Fighting the critic reduces such attacks by substitution of thought (replacing negative self talk with positive) and thought correlation (when i revert to; “shut up!” I will instead ask for a break etc). Such reflection leads to an increased sense of personal likeability and desire for interpersonal boundaries.

Anger is a great tool in using to defend against critic centered attacks. The “shut up” one may revert to telling oneself can be counteracted by thought substitution and correlation which eventually becomes habitual. Stopping self hate and blame by redirecting the anger a survivor may feel towards the self with anger to the event can help to aid one’s self compass and realign ones inner needs and desires.

Anger as a grieving method also teaches a survivor to assertively respond to the self and others. It revives previous lost instincts of self protection and defence as ones inner boundaries increase; a survivor gains confidence in furthering their recovery by taking more risk and building positive experiences.

Emotional avoidance is a common maladaptive way of coping with anger. It is natural for a survivor to fear anger, in many instances anger was used as a precedent to abuse faced and so in a survivors adult life this emotional response becomes tangled with negative past experiences as well as poor self reflection and compassion making ultimately a fearful response.

Being accepting of anger as a natural emotion is crucial in using it effectively to recover from past trauma. The biological reactions that anger brings can also be used to one’s advantage; the adrenaline and cortisol can be used to get tasks done, to process emotion and to strengthen boundaries.

Anger can be productive and empower or it can take on a destructive form and turn to envy, hate, disdain, bitterness and distrust. Each destressing facet that anger may bring only arrives through maladaptive use and coping. Anger as an emotional response has a natural curve and will dull, having safety in this fact is imperative; knowing that the anger you feel is temporary and as a protective measure can be beneficial in using it safely.

This technique of recovery is not a short process. Anger naturally presents itself across recovery. The key is in using it when it does arrive to be productive to one’s trauma recovery; by using anger to positively recover one’s inner psyche over years of background work.

The reconstruction of anger towards abuser(s) limits the potential for a survivor to reenter a new toxic relationship. As is common for many survivors of trauma; toxic relationships can cause compounding of trauma experienced and a plethora of issues with retraumatization. Allowing oneself to feel the anger that is natural will open new parameters to reflection which will allow a survivor to see warning signs clearly and employ a reactionary style to preserve their inner self.

Using anger effectively increases personal boundaries and gives it strength as well as increasing self confidence and compassion. All three absolutely essential in furthering ones recovery journey, it is not without the other that one can fully accept oneself and release the blame and guilt that has been unresolved.

It is important for a survivor to take time in assessing healthier ways to express anger and use it safely. Some ways that anger can be expressed in a healthier manner are covered below

Work with support

Support gives a survivor a second set of eyes and opinion, in many cases support can be helpful in allowing a survivor of trauma to face difficulties with conflict (either self or relationship). Support from a trauma informed therapist can be important to work through the various issues which survivors of trauma face in their day to say life, providing validation and building confidence and ultimately helping build a strong foundation for which to recover. Many survivors may not feel comfortable using a therapist for support or may not be in the place to do so. Support can come in all forms, our group supports survivors by providing knowledge and information about our own trauma in order to help others feel less alone, online friendship can be beneficial for a survivor beginning their recovery journey as it removes the uncontrolled aspects of making and maintaining “real world” friendships.

Muscle release

As trauma and unresolved emotions are stored in our body; it is as equally important to work on releasing repressed trauma from the body through muscle release or meditation. Participation in trauma release exercise can really aid a survivor in letting go of the pent up emotions which become stored within our body. More info and examples of TRE can be found in our Facebook group.

Focus on the little things

Focusing on the small positives on one’s life can also aid a survivor in managing to balance anger appropriately. Reflecting on the reason behind the anger as well as balancing with reasons they are still OK in this moment can really cement a survivors recovery especially during difficult times.
This can be achieved by replacing negative self talk with more positive affirmations and balancing the in-the-moment anger that a survivor of trauma experiences. Practicing gratitude can be helpful in building these skills.

Build a positive circle

In this age of technology and at a time of lockdown restrictions and recommendations, a circle can be a small number of online relationships and friendship. There is no neccesity in meeting face to face, the goal primarily is to form a positive trusting circle with similar individuals of whom you can open up and reflect with. Reflecting in a group can propel recovery as the brain reacts to the opinions of one’s “pack” more intensely than individual thought.

Work on staying in the present

It is common for a survivor of trauma to over analyse the past in an effort to try to understand it. This is an important aspect of recovery however focusing on just one aspect leads to an imbalance and uneven recovery. Working on staying in the present not only helps an individual from basing present day decisions on past experience but gives a sense of freedom from past abuse. As the singular event(s) is over (and in some cases ongoing); the only fuel that can be given to it is that of a survivors own mind.

Although it is imperative to process the symptoms of trauma and at times the event that occured; it must not be forgotten to balance this with healthy expression in all forms. A balanced approach stops a misdirected recovery and helps a survivor of trauma to begin to live again. Anger, although commonly feared is a useful emotion to express with regards to grieving trauma.

Recovery through grieving

In recovering from trauma, survivors face a phase of grieving in order to propel and resolve overwhelming feelings associated with past trauma. Recovery through grieving allows an individual to work through the loss associated with experiencing trauma. Grieving effectively aids trauma recovery and helps a survivor of trauma with the death-like feeling of being lost/trapped within trauma flashbacks and memories.

Some methods of grieving are inaccessible to trauma survivors dependant on where they are in their own recovery and personal experience they have faced. For example, a trauma survivor may not be able to show anger or have the ability to cry, ventilate verbally or express feelings. Work should therefore explore this prior to grieving as a recovery intervention.

Grieving ingests our most painful experiences and feelings. This can cause the downward spiral, Flashbacks, suicidal ideation and active suicidality. It is imperative to have insight as to whether this recovery type is appropriate at the present moment. If one struggles with any of the four methods of grieving (anger, feeling, crying, verbal ventilation) prior work must be explored or adequately supported from a trauma informed therapist.

Through recovery, a survivor must appropriately grieve and reparent the self; leading to nurturing self thought and insight.

Insight is crucial; it helps a survivor respond to their past experiences with kindness and self acceptance. As a survivor works through the common losses that trauma will bring; insight leads to the need to process unresolved grief.

Trauma causes loss within an individuals psyche. Recovery through grieving works through the loss associated from trauma such as; a loss of Childhood, of relationships, a loss of trust in others and personal ability to protect or express feelings; the loss of safety or the loss of the perception of safety, a loss in an individual’s sense of self (self compassion or self esteem), a loss in the sense of belonging and the heartbreak of (potentially numerous) failed attempts to win approval or affection. Each of these losses that has been caused by past trauma leads an individual to grieve the original act and consequences of such.

It is only through grieving, building the inner critic and processing unresolved grief that an individual can heighten their recovery. Where first insight is required in order to understand the loss personally experienced it becomes a catalyst in recovering through grieving and finding peace within the self.

As a survivor of trauma begins to grieve and evolve; it is common to uncover unresolved grief from the absence of nurturing experience. It is within this insight that a survivor can begin to understand how unmet needs in childhood or within interpersonal relationships may lead an individual to have to reparent one’s psyche in a nurturing way in order to feel peace.

Survivors who are not able to appropriately grieve their past trauma (due to inability to express) may benefit from additional support from a trauma informed practitioner. It can be helpful to look within the body as a way to balance the difficulties that trauma symptoms may bring. Until such times, recovery through grieving should not be attempted.

Mourning the awful realities that we have experienced creates a self empowerment which ultimately acts as a catalyst in our own self care and compassion. However on this journey of recovery through grieving; many instances can bring about an acute onset of trauma symptoms which have to be addressed patiently and in a nurturing way as our mind begins to provide us opportunity to successfully self parent in a way we perhaps have not experienced before.

With sufficient grieving and support, a survivor can grieve oneself out of shame, guilt and fear. Sufficient grieving bringa the knowledge that one was innocent at the time of abuse. It is this insight which sticks and remains a constant as the recovery journey begins to progress. As self compassion and acceptance builds; the survivor is said to become ready and able to face the challenges that complex trauma can bring.

The increase of self compassion allows an individual to parent themselves (be there for) no matter what they may be experiencing internally (inner critic) or externally (outward reaction).

The inner critic is explained by Pete Walker in his book; “CPTSD; from surviving to thriving”, 2013. Walker explains that it is the inner critic that can become the greatest difficulty to recover from and cause the most issue with regards to recovery through grieving. The toxic inner critic attacks can leave a survivor of trauma feeling punished before grieving can fully be explored leading to an exacerbation of symptoms instead of relief. When tears automatically trigger toxic shame (“I’m so pathetic!”) or inner critic attacks; it is imperative to cease recovery through grieving and seek support in order to validate and pick through such attacks.

In such cases where an individual struggles with one of the 4 types of grieving, prior inner critic work should be explored before grieving can begin.

With reference to the critic, it is driven by fear. This can cause an acute onset of trauma symptoms including; flashbacks, critic attacks and intrusive thought. Fear is a core emotional experience (Walker, 2013). In such instances, emotional tools can be helpful in metabolising and managing fear responses. It is through the four grieving responses that fear is released from the psyche, by crying, angering, verbally ventilating and allowing oneself to fully feel and ride the wave of emotions. Unfortunately, each of these 4 responses to grieving can become internalised and magnified and thus start to create personal difficulties with recovery. Recovery is enhanced when a survivor can use each response to grieving in a rational and balanced way, in a way which shrinks the inner critic and allows for the highest optimal progression throughout recovery.

As we look more in depth at each response to recovering through grieving; we can identify which area or response we may find difficulty in. Our insight will aid us in creating a stronger and more nurtured individual psyche as we begin to self parent in the way by which we require in order to grow within.

As we continue to work within the body in releasing the past trauma, we make space for this new form of recovery to ensue. As time progresses our journey becomes more bountiful as we begin adding to our psyche in ways to help our inner child grow and feel safe again. We replace the fear and loss of our sense of self by our new constructed psyche as we continue on the road to recovery; we find things easier to integrate and interpret within our daily lives.

Symptoms related to trauma

I did a video today which is a more colloquial way to learn about some of the more under represented symptoms of trauma illnesses.

In this video I cover which less reported symptoms our group members have experienced due to trauma. I also cover where tension is stored in the body, the mind body connection, tension as it relates to unresolved emotions and trauma and our biological reactions to triggers.

I feel that this video can be beneficial to those individuals who may be experiencing other symptoms maybe less known to be linked with trauma. It’s also important to understand how our body stores emotion and deals with triggers as a way of identifying subtle trigger points and releasing trauma from the body.

More detailed work can be found in “the body keeps the score” literature by Professor Van Der Kolk which we have available on our group units.

I hope you find this helpful, please have patience as I gain confidence in using this format. I do believe it will be helpful for those who have difficulty with written text.

The video can be found here

Repressed memories

Individuals who have experienced trauma in the developmental period or within adult interpersonal relationships may find one of the most difficult aspects to recover is forgotten (or repressed) memories.

Research has shown there to be two types of forgotten memory; those that are consciously blocked by the individual; and those that are subconsciously forgotten as a protective measure from our brain. The latter of which generally involves a deep trauma and causes the brain to drop the memory into a “non-conscious zone”.

Memory repression is a controversial area which is still debated to this day. Originating from Freud in the late 1800s; we see the belief that memory repression is a defence mechanism against traumatic events. Freud believed that those individuals who showed signs of having set symptoms with no clear cause were actually suffering from repressed memories. Individuals suffering from memory suppression had no memory of the trauma(s) however experienced set body symptoms which suggested an underlying subconscious thought.

This causes controversy as many theorists within the field believe that memory is highly flawed and completely subject to individual bias and perception. Memories are formed by this bias; how we felt in the moment and how we felt emotionally at the time. Personally, this notion leads one to believe that in cases of complex trauma and developmental trauma; as personal emotions worsen during these relationships; instances of abuse are thus compounded due to the already abused psyche holding extreme negative emotion at the time of trauma.

Memories are still useful in exploring accompanied psychological issues however, one should be aware that the perception of these memories may have been heightened or in some cases unduly subdued through dissociation at the time of trauma.

Repressed memories are stored deep within the body, construction of this concept has led to many trauma-informed theorists adopting the belief that working with the body can be beneficial in healing from trauma; especially trauma that has been purposely forgotten.

Professor Van Der Kolk stated that unpacking suppressed memories in an attempt to remember them may not in fact be as useful as once thought with regards to healing trauma.

In contrast to this, Theorists who believe regaining ones memory to be beneficial to recovery and so offer repressed memory therapy.

Repressed memory therapy is designed to access and recover past memory in an effort to releive unexplained symptoms which accompany trauma. Practitioners of this often use a variety of techniques such as hypnosis and guided imagery to aid the recovery of repressed memories.

Approaches to this include;

  • Primal therapy
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy
  • Somatic transformation therapy
  • Brainspotting
  • Neurolinguostic programming
  • Internal family systems therapy

However, science-based research and evidence doesn’t support the effectiveness of these approaches due to the unintended consequences they bring.

Approaches to recover memory often result in an individual constructing false memories to replace the void. Such memories created through suggestion by therapies can actually cause a plethora of new issues to arise.

Not only do they have a hugely negative impact on the trauma Survivor; but the individuals who may be implicated as a result.

There are various ways in which a survivor of trauma may not hold the memory they seek. In cases of trauma occurring in childhood, simple age may be a factor; dissociation is often used by child survivors in order to withstand parental abuse whilst remaining emotionally attached to said figure(s). This detachment; also used in adult complex trauma, can blur or block the memory of event. It has also shown to be common in instances of Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) where the child may dissociate until they are emotionally equipped to deal with said memory.

In instances of child abuse or neglect; memory may take different meaning and make more sense later in life either due to life experience or therapeutic support. In such cases of realising the significance of an event or memory; it can be common for the now adult survivor to rexperience the trauma and be presented by an acute onset of trauma symptoms as a result.

Some additional symptoms which could be present due to unresolved trauma include;

  • Insomnia, fatigue, nightmares
  • feelings of doom
  • Tense, aching muscles
  • Stomach distress, GI issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Concentration/memory difficulties
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
  • Secondary manifestations of mental illness (eating disorders, OCD, generalised anxiety, agoraphobia etc)

It is important to note that a therapist should never “coach” you through memory recall, nor should they suggest any abuse experienced (a good trauma informed therapist should be unbiased).

Experts do not know enough about memory yet and so are unable to distinguish a real experience from a false memory unless evidence supports said recovered memory. The APA (American psychological agency) suggest that recovery of memory is rare and that one should treat the body in an attempt to release the effects of past unresolved trauma.

Professor Van Der Kolk is – in my opinion; at the forefront of trauma informed treatment methods which are multidimensional; taking care of not just the mind, but the body too. His work; “The body keeps the score” is seminal reading for trauma survivors who have stored unresolved trauma in their body.

As the body is said to keep a physical memory of all of your experiences; it can be helpful to remind oneself that although your mind has repressed this event; your body has not. Thus working within your body to release trauma seems to be the most effective way of doing so (also the safest as it reduces the risk of retraumatization).

As we age: we naturally forget. Memories will naturally fade. If we spend our entire adult lives seeking a truth that may never come to fruition; we begin wasting time on a quest that can be completed by looking within our bodies.

The body does not forget. memories are stored there, at times we must Trust our minds protection and although difficult as it may be, I do not think memories are required to be recovered in order to continue to heal.

Our Facebook group contains valuable resources in order to help your body recover including; trauma release exercise examples and resources on Professor Van Der Kolk’s book: the body keeps the score. In rejecting the notion that we must process and remember past unresolved trauma; we free our minds and allow it to progress along the recovery journey.

Mindfulness for trauma survivors

Overview

Mindfulness involves taking time out in order to become fully aware of personal thoughts and feelings in order to gain a choice of response.

Survivors of trauma often have reactionary styles to conflict and own personal feelings or triggers. It can lead a survivor relying on unhealthy coping and reliance of 4F responses. Feeling any sense of threat or trigger will automatically switch on a survivors inate defences and causing break neck reactions such as; fight, flight, freeze and fawn. These reactions can seem uncontrollable and fearful however they are a natural response to previous abnormal events. It is when they limit a survivors ability to make or maintain relationships that causes issues with personal circumstance and recovery progress and although these natural reactions come from our minds desperate need for protection; in order to recover from trauma – a survivor benefits from altered and healthier employment of these reactionary styles.

Each response (fight, flight etc) are beneficial to have and use as appropriate – for instance; employment of the fight response may be necessary in securing boundaries when assertive communication fails. It is when the 4F reliance comes before a more balanced communication attempt that issues may arise for a survivor.

Using mindfulness alongside other interventions has shown to be successful in processing 4F reactions making them easier to manage and utilise. Mindfulness has also been termed effective when dealing with various other symptoms that arise following trauma(s). As a practice, mindfulness merges self-compassion with observation as individuals are encouraged to see themselves from a more accepting view point than may previously been employed.

Guided mindful meditation

Mindfulness is not a skill we automatically are born with, it is taught through emotionally attached nurturing by caregivers and parents and to some extent throughout childhood experiences and systems. However, for many individuals who experienced childhood emotional neglect or developmental trauma; mindfulness may be a personal skill which is very difficult to attain (or maintain); especially for those trauma survivors who battle intrusive thought, flashback or triggers on a daily basis. Introspection can be difficult to practice; in cases of multiple complex trauma and developmental trauma; it can be “drilled” into a survivor that their view does not matter; nor does their happiness or health.

A survivor of any trauma is more deserving of these things. Is the perpetrator who is not.

Being aware of one’s inner commentary is highly important in beginning to recover from the trauma(s) that have been experienced. It restores a healthy sense of self, one which approaches conflict assertively and confidently whilst remaining safe within.

Mindfulness skills take practice and patience. Of course we can be our own worst critic, that is a relatively natural thing to do following trauma; it is human nature to want to understand why. The issue with searching for a “why” (as with any trauma experience) is that your actually trying to assign sense to a senseless act. The difficulty that survivors of trauma face when attempting to employee regular mindfulness cannot be overlooked – it is a hugely difficult task for a survivor to do and should be celebrated as such.

For a survivor to be able to let go of self blame and criticism is an incredibly fearful thing to do. It leaves a void within that feels unnatural – especially if the individual has criticised themselves for many years. Breaking the cycle of self-blame and hate propels recovery to a new field and horizon. As the inner voice changes from hateful to loving; ones self reactions follow suit.

Mindfulness tends to expand and develop the more that it is used and once habit; mindfulness expands to all levels of experience (cognitive, emotional, physical and relational) making at the central and guiding a safely through recovery making it essential in guiding an individual safely through recovery (with reduced risk of revictimization).

Impact

Survivors of trauma who have not yet acquired strong mindfulness skills new functions on autopilot; reacting quickly out of habit. Commonly thoughts resonate about personal past experience; leading to the projection of Fear into the future. This can result in survivors missing the pleasures of life or taking them for granted as inner potential is limited by negative self attitude and judgement.

The habit of using mindfulness in recovering from trauma is a highly effective way to improve upon personal skills and self-perception and thus acts as a catalyst in one’s personal recovery journey.

Mindful meditation can take many forms: for some survivors of trauma, the generic quietness of regular meditation can cause racing thoughts and over analysis; ultimately leading to trigger or cause flashbacks in survivors and so adapting mindful practice is crucial in finding a technique more suited to individual need.

Popular types of meditation worth looking at include;

Guided body scan

Loving-kindness meditation (metta)

Guided vipassana meditation

Guided mantra meditation

Guided sound meditation

For those new to meditation; it may be helpful to begin with guided meditation (as the above links will take you to) – not only does this remove the element of silence but gives the overthinking mind a task to potentially remove the cycle of ruminating thought often accommodated by silent meditation.

There are various forms of mental exercise which have been added to a unit tab on our group. Our group can be found by following the link at the top of this page or by clicking here

Those survivors who do attain positive mindful traits through practice and reflection benefit from self awareness, strong attentional control and the increased ability to enjoy life through non judgement/labelling. Strong mindfulness allows an individual to strip back and observe ones emotions allowing a survivor of trauma to realise their own potential and worth for what could potentially be the first time in their lives.

This is an incredibly empowering skill which is crucial in learning to like oneself, self compassion and ultimately beginning to recover from past trauma(s); letting go of guilt and self-blame and being free to experience life in a positive and curious way.

Trauma blocking

Survivors of Childhood developmental trauma and adult interpersonal relationship trauma often feel the need to block or forget past traumatic experiences. What is a normal reaction to abnormal experiences; and can result in many instances of trauma becoming subconscious and unresolved. As we have already found; subconscious and unresolved trauma makes trauma even more difficult to navigate as it has the potential to manifest into maladaptive coping and secondary mental health issues on top of trauma symptoms which are already experienced.

It is a natural human Instinct to avoid pain (psychological or physical), however for a Warrior who has survived multiple complex trauma; either in developmental stages or later in adulthood – trauma blocking becomes an even more common tactic used in order to preserve and protect our own mind.

The emotional toll of individual event(s) may become too much to bear and manifest into avoidance of anything similar to past events. This avoidance behaviour – termed; trauma blocking – has the potential to cause individual issues in recovery; especially if left unresolved.

Trauma blocking is used by a trauma survivor to block out any painful, residual or overwhelming emotions perceived to be caused by original traumatic event(s). This behaviour can manifest as a protective measure where an individual may avoid certain stimuli altogether as a way of ‘forgetting’ the past.

Trauma blocking involves an individual attempting to dull and forget past trauma through (excessive) use of coping mechanisms. An individual who is blocking trauma may:

  • Obsessively use social media – compulsively scrolling
  • Using “down time” to binge drink, over/under eat (ignoring hunger ques)
  • Compulsively exercise – have unattainable goals
  • Remain within toxic relationships – long after expiry of relationship
  • Obsessively/impulsively shop with no thought for budget and may lead to debt
  • Become a workaholic – poor work boundaries – including being available 24/7

A survivor of trauma commonly uses accessible tactics to dull the intensity of pain within. This is usually an imperative issue with an addiction and reliance: trauma blocking will cause an individual to relapse when recovering from addiction or reliance on substances.

Generally speaking, an individual who is relying on substances to alter mood or memories (food, alcohol, drugs, prescriptions etc) will find the very memories they had successfully blocked out – return on becoming “clean”. The memories they have been using substances to block – return and causes huge Relapse rates as the individual builds at elements and requires more (of chosen substance) in order to feel “normal”. Over time, more substance(s) are required to dull the pain of the past and the cycle continues with a ferocity that is incredibly difficult to halt.

A survivor of trauma will numb the pain of the past in order to free themselves – however, as the brain has the ability to adapt and adjust; the compulsive behaviour begins to become necessary to continue and ceasing will cause an Avalanche of emotion to ensue. As time passes; the Avalanche grows and so we find prolonged trauma blocking to cause even greater issues as time progresses.

If course, trauma blocking behaviour will feel beneficial and effective at the time of using, one may be rewarded for overworking (bonuses etc) and receive momentary satisfaction. The gratification of such as relatively short-lived and as a positive feelings begin to subside, an individual must re-employ blocking behaviour in order to protect oneself from uncomfortable feelings or memories resurfacing.

The issue that is found in warriors who use trauma blocking is that temporary relief is felt from such behaviours and coping; the body and mind will continue to process the trauma in the background despite continued attempts to block the pain. Best war which pages within creates an absence of self reflection (including flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and intrusive thought) and although that is the intended goal – this absence of natural trauma reactions leads an individual to not fully process the event at its core.

In terms of recovering from trauma blocking behaviours – an individual must acquire awareness of such behaviours and how they manifest to maladaptive coping. What years of trauma would benefit from reflecting on the personal ways which blocking trauma negatively impacts ones life. Rating these Anna diary or log can switch the brain into reflection and make it easier to retain information to working memory. Once personal awareness has been gained; a survivor then has the opportunity to grow.

For a survivor of trauma who is recovering from trauma blocking behaviours; it can also be beneficial to plan in advance healthier ways to self soothe so when the moment comes in which a survivor may need to use search tools – they are easily accessed – even during anxious states. This is of course dependent on one’s ability to reflect on their own trauma blocking behaviours – for the individual using work to cope – they may plan; ” I will take 5 minutes to complete guided meditation when I am tempted to respond to a non-emergency out with regular working hours.”

As each individual trauma differs; each trauma blocking behaviour also varies and each reflection will be your own to navigate.

Finally, when coping and recovering from trauma blocking; it can be helpful to reflect on the prices you may pay by continuing trauma blocking behaviour and not dealing with the pain within.

If beginning this path or facing ones pain feels or seems too much – trauma informed therapists are helpful in guiding a warrior of trauma through reflection on each behaviour as well as helping deal with the pain of the past – asking for additional support is not something one should be ashamed of as it shows great courage and strength.

Our research group can be found here

Currently we are conducting research into the causes of trauma. I have included a link to the survey here : https://surveyheart.com/form/5f06e63b3ed8765392fe12d0

If you would be interested in taking part, please feel free. If you would like to share this study i would also welcome you to use the link, many thanks!

The flight response

The flight response

On Friday, I wrote about the fight response in relation to both developmental and interpersonal trauma. Today, I’m looking into the flight response and how that evolves as a go-to response in situations of perceived danger.

It is common for flight types to flee and hide from things which they cannot control. The flight response can make survivors feel that they are obsessively drawn to perfection as a form of safety and thus will force themselves to achieve, act and think in such rushed ways.

It can look like ADHD in children but can also come across as the “driven student” (Walker, 2014). The flight type response causes trauma survivors to feel constantly switched on; obsessively and compulsively driven to their goals. When a flight type is not (able to) they respond by overthinking, planning or dissociating through obsessive thought.

Walker (2014) calls this left brain dissociation. Where the individual uses constant thinking to distract themselves from an underlying fear of abandonment. Not only does the flight type constantly worry, but they are compelled to stay ahead of their goals in a rushed fashion.

(Whilst writing this, it becomes more apparent that I am writing about myself in some ways…)

It is common for a flight response type to become addicted to their own surges of adrenaline. Adrenaline is favoured because it helps the individual get everything done they need to and so can lead to risky behaviours such as placing oneself in dangerous situations so as to peak their adrenal spike. This is a maladaptive coping mechanism used by trauma survivors, but one which can spiral out of control and result in substance abuse, workaholism and OCD.

For trauma survivors, it can be easy to miss the signs of flight behaviour because we are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of even ourselves. It is common for flight behaviour types to keep ourselves so busy that we have no time for self-reflection or we have become too drained to attempt to after a full day of constant overthinking. In this instance, therapy can be beneficial as it would be at least 1 required hour out of the week which a survivor can be guided to positively self reflect and become more self-aware.

Knowledge about the different responses can aid a survivor who relies on flight response by increasing awareness and helping our ability to let go of our perfectionist demands.

When life becomes a forest of thought, it can become exceptionally easy to lose your way and fear the unsafety that it brings. It’s common for survivors who are flight types to prioritise the wrong things and lose sight of key issues. A flight response doesn’t necessarily mean you run away with your tail between your legs; just as a fight type doesn’t mean you have to physically hurt another. Flight responses happen in preparing for the worst – making sure they and their lives are as perfect as possible so to minimise the risk of danger.

When triggered to a flashback, survivors using flight responses can scatter to do meaningless activities or chores in order to merge into the background in a sense.

It can be difficult for an individual who relies on flight responses to do yoga and meditation, however, it is recommended in smaller stages. One would no doubt have to be mindful of sticking through the slower pace which can cause feelings of fear to surface. When we can manage a small minute long meditation we can progress to longer, eventually accessing our emotions in a controlled way.

It is important to note that over time, any of our 4f responses can generalize and cause issues with our daily lives as our fear response and perception of danger becomes oversensitive. As adults, we normalise this in order to deal with our maladaptive coping, however we become highly reactive to any type of perceived threat in our daily life and resort to this more often.

It is common for adult survivors to revert to addiction in order to dull emotions. Addiction (soft or hard) is used to reduce stress and the addictive substance will release endorphins to reduce cortisol. That makes it incredibly fast acting and all the more sought after. The higher cortisol levels in the body, the more an individual requires these endorphins and as the endorphin system begins to react to more and more situations of perceived danger, it causes us to rely more on the substance used. I would like to write more in-depth about addiction this week.

With constant stress hormones at high levels within your body through multiple traumas, it becomes a go to respond to quickly snap back to using a flight response. It can cause us to use energy we don’t have; as we plan, prepare and overthink every detail. As adults of trauma – we may have learnt that if we acted perfectly or “appropriately” – that we can control and minimise the intensity of abuse faced and this can carry on in our lives as a constant maladaptive reaction as we become more sensitive to stress. If left unchecked, the flight response can lead to addiction, eating disorders and OCD and can be difficult to navigate without the support of therapy.