The Light at the End of the Tunnel is You!
Just got back from EMDR therapy and thought I would write this right away as I will be very tired over the next few days.
A fundamental difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that Complex PTSD also addresses the consequence and effects of emotion dysregulation (the impaired ability to process and regulate negative emotions ) and insecure attachment to a primary care giver.
PTSD can happen in those with secure attachment and adaptive emotion regulation abilities and often relates to specific events or a one off event.
Much of the therapeutic work that goes into PTSD is about reprocessing a particular trauma and the related or associated feelings of guilt, blame and fearful helplessness etc that can result from that moment of traumatic powerlessness over a particular re-experienced traumatic event.
C-PTSD is more complex in it’s treatment as the trauma meshes with wider issues, in my case, of emotion processing deficits (like alexithymia) and as a result emotion dysregulation.
We need to identify emotions in order to process then cognitively as feelings – we need to find words to put to the emotions before they become feelings – before we can properly regulate or control these feelings and whatever action we take in relation to these feelings will be the direct result of how these emotions are represented in our brain and mind.
If we have difficulty with representing these emotions as feelings then it is because the emotions are not labelled accurately (i.e. remain undifferentiated from other emotions) and do not become specifically represented in our brain and mind as particular and distinct feelings.
If we are not fully aware, cognitively, of emotions then we do not represent them as feelings to act on but act on these undifferentiated emotion states via impulsive and compulsive behaviours as if they are distress states. We act in relation to undifferentiated emotions as if they are distressing, like an emotional white noise.
I often act in an emotionally and experientially avoidant way. Most of my life I have avoided my emotions via maladaptive impulsive/compulsive behaviours.
I need to know my feelings in order to “self soothe” but as I could not “read” my feelings my attempts at self soothing have normally been external to me in the form of susbtance use and abuse or in behaviours like gambling
The problem of “self soothing” thus is a legacy of emotion dysregulation but it is also a legacy of insecure attachment to my mother which resulted in an avoidant attachment style which can become disorganised when distressed.
This attachment style, I realised today, deep in my mind during bi-lateral stimulation, is partly because I never learned to self soothe.
I was never taught it from my primary care giver and she did not appear to be able to do it either.
I never learnt to process and regulate emotions from my primary care giver either. So when I, today, was attempting to to investigate the horror of that fearful helplessness of watching my mother attempt a “cry for help” suicide attempt by trying to force pills down her throat I did not expect to suddenly understand the interlinking connection between all these things.
I expected to return to the horror of this most distressing scenario. I didn’t return to the horror emotionally but I did return to the scene and saw and felt that it was definitely a cry for help and not a serious attempt to kill herself – not completely otherwise she would not have made such a drama and spectacle out of it and had an audience to observe it.
I saw doubt in her eye, and shock at our reactions, a sudden realisation of “what the hell” am I doing here?
However, as she slumped to the floor, she, to my memory anyway, said it was all too much, that she wanted to die that she had had enough.
To us fearful children this meant she had had enough of everything including us. That we were not enough, not good enough or not reason enough to keep her from wanting to die.
When asked to describe how I felt, I, to my surprise, had this massive feeling of a huge hole in my soul, as if someone had blasted the biggest hole in my chest with a double barrel shot gun.
A hole that my alcoholism, addictive behaviours and traumatized self seeped from.
I was asked to act as an adult in this scene and immediately consoled the younger me, then my mother.
I asked mum to reassure the younger me that it was nothing to do with him/me, that she loved me. She did so.
Slowly but surely over ten minutes my younger me became united to my mother and then my sisters, and then my father. We all at on the bathroom floor, in the sunlight, holding each other and reassuring each other of our love for each other and that things would be alright.
My mother told me how she struggled on afterwards, through years of addiction and mental health problems, out of her love for me and my sisters. That this was not my fault, that I was not bad and it was not my fault – she was ill and couldn’t help it just like I could not prevent my own addictive illness.
It was the way it was. The way it is. We had to accept this.
Imperceptibly I could feel a membrane stretching and growing across my chest, over the circled edges of my hole in the soul. Like a healing.
It is a start, a great start.
The inner child stuff I have often I have thought a useful idea but not a reality until I married this psychological idea to something called the resonance circuit in neuroscience. It is the emotional circuit in the brain through which the effects of insecure attachment resonate decades later.
It is like a frequency via which trauma and insecure attachment vibrates when distress in our everyday live strikes this fear circuitry. It may be as real as any neural circuitry in the brain.
Today I felt for the first time at a profound level that this resonance circuit is how the inner child communicates his distress. It is still a “live ” part of me. A part that requires me to soothe it. To have compassion for.
I suddenly realised this is what healthy people do, they look after themselves, they self soothe. It is a part of emotion regulation.
They do so by having a compassion for their own suffering. They put their emotions and then their feelings first.
Today I experienced the benefits of self soothing, of realising that emotions were not to be avoided but discussed, shared and clarified and that I could eventually have a secure attachment with myself.
This is the main awakening. That the most important relationship is the one I have with myself.
A profound experience Paul – thank you for sharing 🙂 Plus thank you for putting into words something I have been unable to do, this: ‘an avoidant attachment style which can become disorganised when distressed.’. I have had the profoundest anxiety that I have undiagnosed BPD because of the disorganised state I revert to when distressed. Thank you also for the education about resonance circuitry – which really resonated for me too!
thank you Lucy – my therapist was very excited to tell me of this latest research from a therapist who had experienced multiple and ritualized sexual abuse throughout her childhood and was now a therapist and educator. She noticed this tendency to slip between avoidant and disorganised so there may be a fluidity to attachment style categories, particularly when distressed. It can feel like a frantic panic state. This where the self soothing comes in too. BPD is also often called a emotion regulation disorder too if that helps. I split into dissociation as a survival/coping mechanism and we can have different types of dissociation or dissociative identity types (as opposed to personalities) – as did this educator who had a dissociative disorder. Today has been a profound experience indeed Lucy and quite unexpected in many ways. A day of profound healing. The most remarkable thing to me is how profound and fluid the mind is. Using one’s mind in healing seems to, at times result, in profound alteration in consciousness and, I presume, neuroplasticity. The brain may be more plastic than I thought and the Mind does the sculpting. I left with the feeling that all we can control at times is how much we love. We fill the hole in the soul through loving others and ourselves. This is our secure attachment, starting with loving oneself. x
Lucy, it was Dan Siegel has proposed a resonance circuit in the brain if you want to research it a bit more – there s a great piece on the neuroscience of attachment here too http://lindagraham-mft.net/resources/published-articles/the-neuroscience-of-attachment/
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