The Hero We Have Been Waiting For …

When I saw this meme on social media, I knew I needed to speak more about it. As a counsellor/therapist, who works with trauma on a regular basis, I have come to realize that THIS awareness becomes the bridge to our healing.

We, ourselves, are the hero we have been waiting for. Yes. No one is coming to save us from the wounding of our prior lived experiences. We, ourselves, have the opportunity to honor our own healing with so many powerful and transformative therapeutic practices that are rooted in understanding how overwhelming experiences happening on the outside shape us on the inside.

Healing ‘what happens inside of us’ as a result of ‘what happened outside of us’ is not something we can typically do alone. However, with the help of a well-trained therapist we can seek to find the source of our internal pain. Once we know where it is rooted, we can more effectively heal.

And, when I speak of traumatic experiences … I am not just referring to explosions and accidents and abuse. While these are commonly called “big T” trauma there are many common causes of more complex trauma (often called “small ‘t’ trauma”) which are less obvious but can be even more deeply wounding and difficult to process than a single incident.

In general, trauma can emerge in the presence of any events, situations and circumstances that engage our ‘fight, flight, freeze, flop, fawn/fix’ stress responses. Especially, if/when the alarm/arousal in our system is not ameliorated by a timely return to a felt sense of ‘safety’ (emotionally, physically, mentally, socially etc). It’s complicated and I will not endeavor to explain all the layers and complexities here … but … the following gives you a sense of the defense systems that are primary protections for all of us. Flop is not discussed in this graphic … it is often termed “collapse/submit”. Fawn is sometimes called “please/appease”.

There are various names for the same autonomic nervous system responses but I think this will give you a fairly good sense of what happens when our ‘stress response’ is activated. We do not consciously choose our response. It is decided for us … by the part of the brain whose job it is to keep us safe … and the defense system that is activated will depend upon the situation. Your system might opt for ‘fight’ in one alarming situation and ‘fawn’ in another moment of threat.

Even in the presence of the same event, people’s internal experiences can be very unique and different for each and every one of us. An external event ‘triggers’ our internal stress response. Things that may be deeply distressing and overwhelming to one individual may not be as overwhelming to another. Often, things shift from scary and/or terrifying to ‘traumatic’ when we do not have adequate support to help us through them. If we have adequate support, we can experience horrible things without experiencing lingering ‘trauma’.

Trauma can also be triggered by the absence of things that should have happened. Believe it or not … lack of nurture, persistent neglect, abandonment/attachment disruption can be incredibly traumatizing. The highly respected ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study speaks to a number of stressful childhood experiences that can impact a person’s health and wellbeing over their lifetime.

Source Unknown

If any this conversation speaks to you … in any way … for any reason … even if you don’t understand why … do yourself a favor and seek out support from someone who has been trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and/or ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy). Just press the ‘Find a Therapist’ link on either site. Have a conversation with them in order to ensure that the connection feels like a good ‘fit’.

Or, you may want to reach out to someone who is trained in other therapeutic modalities that also reach beyond your cognitive and conscious awareness! There are a number of them including: Somatic Experiencing, Hypnotherapy, RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy) EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques), Brain Spotting, Trauma Informed Yoga … to name a few. It’s important to choose something that feels right for you. Sometimes people have tried counselling or therapy but have not found it helpful due to a lack of easy and effortless rapport between the therapist and the client. Keep looking until you find someone that you feel really comfortable with.

Clinicians who are well versed in trauma responses are trained to work with the changes in your nervous system that were never completely processed when stressful things were happening around you. Often, these internal changes can leave us feeling like there is something ‘wrong’ with us. Often, a response that was very adaptive and helpful during a stressful time will not be beneficial at another point in our lives. In fact, repeating the choices and behavior that got us through one challenge will sometimes create more problems for us at a later date in our lives.

For example, although anxiety and depression have historically been pathologized and are often diagnosed as ‘disorders’, they are often a very typical responses to experiencing chronically stressful or persistently overwhelming events. While medications can make it easier to tolerate the disruptions in our neurobiology, they do not typically address the source of the problem. For example, if a person went to a doctor complaining of experiencing chronic headaches every morning … the doctor might prescribe Advil or Tylenol to relieve the persistent discomfort. These analgesics work … but … it would be far more effective is the doctor knew that you were consuming a bottle or two of wine every night.

The solutions look different if/when we have enough information. We can treat a ‘symptom’ (headache) or we can address the root cause (excessive alcohol consumption). Fortunately, our mental health services are finally moving in the direction of exploring and treating the causes not just the symptoms of our distress.

Professionally, I have been trained in both EMDR and ART. And personally, I have been on the path to healing for decades myself. I have done so much meaningful personal growth … but … I would say that these particular therapeutic interventions were so life-altering for me that they are likely the most beneficial of all the counselling/therapy I have engaged in over the years. They honored the internal origins of my distress, not just the symptoms of it. The depth and breadth of my own personal healing actually propelled me to get trained so I could offer the benefits to others.

We owe a lifetime of gratitude to Francine Shapiro and Laney Rosenzweig for inspiring these powerful forms of healing. I remain deeply grateful for the healing I have been able to support in the counselling room. The protocols are hard to explain … they might seem to be a bit ‘woohoo’. My clients have stated that if they hadn’t tried it, they would never have believed the difference it would make.

It’s hard to fathom that ‘bilateral stimulation’ (e.g. moving our eyes back and forth, tapping on the body left/right etc) invites the nervous system to process distress that has been locked into our neurobiology … and then … help return it to a state of regulation and safety. But … I have seen remarkable results. Sometimes people will even have a spontaneous remission of chronic ailments. I have experienced this myself. As Bessel van der Kolk, (renowned psychiatrist, author, researcher and educator) wisely contends “the body keeps the score”. He authored a fascinating book by the same name.

Traumatic experiences also affect our immune system. Emotions are often numbed as well. Digestion is impacted. Fertility is affected. The PH of the skin is altered. Blood flow and oxygen are shunted from the part of our brain that helps us make sense of the world and so, when we are triggered/alarmed/aroused, we just can’t think clearly. It makes it hard to concentrate or learn or stay focused. The ‘whole’ of our system is impacted by ‘what happens to us’ internally when we experience ‘what happens to us’ externally.

By the way, I am not writing this to invite more clients. I am not accepting new clients currently and do not expect to be doing so at any time in the near future. I am just interested in ensuring that all people who are carrying wounds from their childhoods … and/or … wounds from any point in their lives are able to gain access to the kind of support that has not always been easily accessible (until the last few decades).

As I shared, if any of this conversation is sparking something inside you … follow up. Do yourself a favor and explore where that still small voice inside might be leading you. You are worth your time. You are worth your interest. You are worth your effort.

With deepest reverence for our collective healing, Karen

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