Overcoming Trauma – When the Passage of Time May Not Be Enough
by Walt Ferris, LCSW – For over 35 years, Walt has provided the heart space, compassion and professional expertise to thousands of people. In this blog he shares his heart and wisdom in the keys to overcoming trauma.
I have spent many, many hours, day after day, year after year, listening to people share their stories of unimaginable horrors and losses. Often, the damage is inflicted in a relational context at a young age and repeated with insidious effect. Many times, the damage is exacted by the death of a loved one. For some, the harm is imposed by recurring exposure to extraordinarily
difficult events that most of us have never experienced. Often, the wounds are not easily discernable. They can be stealthy, lurking under the surface, invisible at first glance to the casual observer. Unlike bodily injuries, there are no cuts, scrapes, or gashes to bandage. There is no bleeding out, no broken limb to mend. There are no physical scars in plain sight, telling the tale of the trauma. Yet, the wounds are real, revealed through spiritual and
psychological turmoil. They are seared into the psyche and under the skin, leaving a legacy of a scorched mindscape and chronic health problems.
Trauma is expressed through various psychological and physiological symptoms. At its heart are a set of lies and distortions that take on the facade of an incontrovertible truth; hypervigilance to threats, real and perceived; nightmares; flashbacks; avoidance; somatic symptoms such as headaches, ulcers and unexplained medical conditions, just to name a few. These are frequently the remains of growing up in an unsafe and perhaps terrifying environment and the sustained, corrosive stress brought about by numerous adverse childhood events. I have seen how the long-term consequences of relational trauma, such as domestic violence, physical abuse, abandonment, parental mental illness, and substance abuse can exact their toll decades after the events have passed. I can attest to the suffering and pain that come in the wake of sexual assaults, the carnage of combat, and brushes with and the witnessing of death. The effects are more insidious when the injuries occur at an early age and over a prolonged, sustained period of time. Trauma becomes amplified when tangled up with betrayal, perpetrated by caregivers who were both the source of essential emotional and physical resources yet also the source of great distress.
Trauma once experienced can no longer be repressed or denied. Efforts to do so in the service of protecting the psyche often result in sideways symptoms. The immense effects of trauma are the equivalent to a tectonic shift in the life of the individual. It can smother the spirit and drain vitality, often leaving individuals bereft, with little capacity to comfort themselves and prone to finding solace and solutions through addictions and suicide. If left to recover on their own, people will try to create distance from the experience, to get way from the source of the pain, much like pulling your hand way from a hot stove. The predictable outcome are sudden shifts in states of mind, from numbing of thoughts and feelings, resulting in profound alienation from the self and others, to the sudden and rampant rise of extraordinarily difficult emotions of rage, fear, and grief.
My work these days has me involved with traumatized veterans and first responders who have honorably served and protected our communities for many years. In the past, I have served clients in psychiatric hospital settings, outpatient clinics and residential programs. One might think that listening to countless trauma stories over many years would be traumatic in itself. The stories I have heard have left me stunned, but that is not the enduring impression. Despite the pervading, widely-held belief that repeated traumas causes damage beyond repair, what I have seen over the course of my career, what has awed and inspired me the most, is the drive for perseverance, not only to survive, but to thrive, even in the face of so much adversity, inhumanity and loss.
What have I learned about the human condition and human experience in helping those to whom the unthinkable has happened? I have come to believe in the capacity of the body and mind to heal in the context of an empathic response from an attuned other. The force of the damaging events can be contained and even mitigated by the curative factors of a safe, empathic therapeutic relationship. The brain, being malleable and amenable to reparative influences, contains the capacity to heal in the context of and with the assistance of a competent, compassionate, and attuned relationship. Powerful therapies such as EMDR, trauma-informed CBT and other modalities can be employed to rapidly augment the healing process.
The most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind for healing psyche wounds is through the process of reengagement with the self and one’s own internal landscape of thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Healing begins when one turns towards the wounded parts of the self with curiosity and compassion, to befriend and care for them in the manner that had been absent and unavailable in the time of need. Healing flourishes in the space occupied by an empathic other. It can be transformational, allowing one to widen the relationship with the body and mind. Facing down the effects of trauma transforms our experience of our inner world. It catalyzes the emergence of ordinary feelings, different perspectives and more adaptive beliefs about the self, the world, and the future.
Over the past 35 years, I have been privileged to be a part of this profession. Listening to the stories has shown me the collective commonality of the human experience. I have felt the joy and wonder of how the human spirit has triumphed in overcoming the cruelest of obstacles. I have seen clients transform their trauma into a meaningful and purposeful life, where their experiences have informed and guided them into making a difference not only for themselves, but for others as well. A life devastated by immense trauma and defined by suffering and pain can find a path towards reconciliation with the broken past. Life does not have to be an anthology of unhealed, festering wounds. When we reach for help, when we seek out the guidance and wisdom of a compassionate professional, we take the first steps towards healing. The challenge can be daunting. The journey in search of a quiet mind can be perilous, but the hazards can be managed and short- lived. The rewards are worth the process. The juice is worth the squeeze.
Even in these times of COVID-19 restrictions, you can start your journey with an empathic and trained mental health professional through a secure and confidential Telehealth platform. Coherence Associates is a professional group of EMDR trained therapists whose mission is to provide excellent mental health services for clients within a collaborative treatment
environment. Call us at 760-942-8663 to schedule an initial evaluation.