Psychodynamic Therapy Helped Me Overcome Trauma When CBT Couldn’t

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From Psyche: “Trauma is not cognitive. It is not a set of thoughts, but a set of instincts. The US psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton writes in Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1968) that PTSD occurs when a traumatic event leaves a ‘death imprint’ or an ‘indelible imprint’ on the brain. When traumatic memories get stuck in this way, they cannot be rearranged into logical narratives. Instead, they remain trapped in the brain as flashes of an unbearable experience that leak out at the mind’s weakest moments. The part of the brain responsible for separating the past from the present – the hippocampus – becomes dysfunctional and the brain re-enters fight, flight or freeze mode every time it is reminded of the experience, even though there is no longer any danger present.

. . . I was referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist – a type of talk therapy that tries to identify the person’s unhelpful thought patterns and re-arrange them. I tried CBT for years, but it never helped me, because my conscious thoughts weren’t the problem. What was troubling me was much deeper, more unconscious, than that. What was troubling me was hidden from everyone – even me.

Abuse survivors are left, often without realising it, with a sense that there is something toxic or bad about them, something rotten that caused another person to treat them badly. This was never something I thought. It was something I felt; something pre-rational that I knew in my bones to be true. Because these assumptions are unconscious, they play out in every relationship we form without us knowing it. And because of the intense connection between trauma and shame, we find it very hard to identify the feelings that are symptoms of PTSD because they are, so often, unspeakable.

Until I met my therapist, I had never been able to articulate the worst things I believed about myself. I didn’t think anyone would be able to tolerate how much I hated myself. So instead of articulating these feelings, I spent years and years dissociating from relationships, avoiding intimacy and sabotaging closeness, imagining I’d be abandoned as soon as the other person found out how rotten I truly was. But while dissociation protects us from feeling the overwhelming emotions connected to the traumatic memory – panic, fear, pain – if it is never processed, it numbs all the other emotions, too: connection, love, joy, safety. It is the naval officer in Lord of the Flies, offering rescue but not compassion. Offering survival, but not living.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This is a hopeful article, though by my personal measure, the theory is antiquated.

    This theory aligns roughly with what Hubbard wrote up in Dianetics in 1950.

    We know much more about trauma and how to handle it well now, though the same principles still apply. To move beyond this lifetime, as we must to solve many cases, we must move beyond mind=brain. Just substitute “mind” for “brain” in the discussion, and you get the idea.

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  2. First and foremost psychiatry torture is unacceptable. – it inflicts high levels and types of harm. Destroys. Kills.

    Then moving on to about CBT:
    I had a few sessions of CBT. It was not helpful to me. I never had heard of it before. As they were teaching what it was, it was not applying to my personal circumstances. It was “group” sessions. I listened and thought about it and replied that I believe CBT can apply in particular types of experiences; i.e. if someone is enjoying being rude to you or attempting to degrade you purposely, hurting you with words or however, you can obviously get hurt and keep getting deeper in hurt. However if you realize that what that person is doing is really that hurtful person’s problem and not yours you can rethink how you are reacting emotionally. You may even be able to diffuse it some by reacting to them with smiling at them and being polite and telling them to have a nice day and just let their words slide off your shoulder and back onto theirs. Probably in events even more seriously harmful to you, you could accomplish that in a similar way.

    However, if we are talking about totally different types of events, i.e. about an event that is very traumatic and it was actually the way it was, let’s say a horrific happening, i.e. witnessing severe horrific harm or horrific death, or something along those lines, and if you have feelings and you are not a robot, then that is going to cause severe pain in you as well, especially if it’s a loved one. You cannot change what happened, and you also cannot rethink it into candy coating it or rethink it into something other than it was just so you can lessen your pain. It may work for some people to pretend to themselves or to avoid it so their emotions can react differently, but realty is realty. Also it would be minimizing the horror the loved one went through and minimizing their worth, and in my opinion that would add to the pain.

    The heart and mind cannot be disconnected. We are not parts of a robot.

    My opinion is in order to try and heal or help another to heal, there has to be honesty (by all) about what happened and then go from there. That seems to be missing in any “treatments” out there.

    Drugs certainly are not the answer, and I could go on a lot about that. It is ridiculous that drugs are pushed the way they are. Deadly.

    We cannot pretend we are not sentient beings. I would hate to think what life would be like without being sentient beings, and all the sentient beings. It wouldn’t be life. We just have to figure out the appropriate ways to deal with the real legitimate deeply painful things in a realistic way because, simply, it is real. We cannot solve real pain with fake remedies.

    It is not as someone wrote “we inflict ‘all’ pain on ourselves, and we can adjust ourselves from doing it”. As in cold heart…cold mind, cold mind…cold heart?

    The most reasonable healing possibility, and it is also mentioned above by another message posted… “honesty”. Realty of it. “be your own therapist”.

    “Be true to yourself”

    “Heal thyself”.

    “In times of trouble” “there will be an answer” JPM

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