Social Question

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

What do you do with intense emotional trauma?

Asked by WillWorkForChocolate (23098points) July 25th, 2012

Say something happened to you as a teenager, and it was truly godawful. It’s 15 years after the fact, and you’re still traumatized. You have nightmares all the time, you can’t stop thinking about it. It has affected your life in so many ways, and it’s still haunting you.

Other than possibly seeing a psychiatrist, what the hell do you do?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

38 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Lady, lay into me. Hit me with everything you’ve got.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

This is really getting to you. Don’t hold it in. I’m tough.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Honestly, not think about it. I imagine my brain making deeper and deeper groves like a broken record when I am dwelling on emotional trauma. So I make a conscious effort to think about something positive.

I take all of those thoughts and visualize a box, labeled “Early Heart Attack” and put them in there, then lock it and think happy thoughts, then have a drink.

Hope that helps.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I won’t actually give details, because it would be really personal and no one needs to know about all that. We’ll just say that because of him, (and an idiot doctor from when I was a child) a particular aspect of my life was ruined. I will never be “normal” in that area. There’s a lot of other trauma that goes with it. I’ve never been able to get past any of it.

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought I’ve tried that approach. It doesn’t seem to work most of the time. UGH, maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate well there you go. You are thinking about the thing, then you are thinking about how you are not handling the thing, and now you are worried you are not trying hard enough to not think about the thing.

That is an awful lot of thinking. Just put it in the heart attack box and think about your kids, or that time your husband was nice randomly.

Kardamom's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate You don’t necessarily have to see a psychiatrist (do you have a particular reason why you would not want to go that route?) but because you are still dealing with the pain and agony from the experience, from 15 years ago, especially the nightmares and constant replaying of the experience in your mind, I’m not sure how you can deal with this on your own. Not even a million pounds of chocolate could fix this problem.

It sounds like you are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You should probably try to find a therapist (could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, behaviorist, hypnotist, etc.) that deals specifically with PTSD or one that can give you the tools to help yourself to stop thinking about it all the time. Hypnosis might be an option. Desensitization therapy might be useful too (kind of like how they help people with phobias).

You might also want to join a support group (online or in person) that deals with the specific trauma that you suffered.

Another thing that can be helpful for some people, is to take your secret out of the closet and start working with other victims of the same type of trauma, and talking to people about what happened to you. That can be very empowering.

You might also want to add into this mix, doing some art therapy or yoga or tai chi.

You can also tell us where to find these people and all of us Jellies will hunt them down and shove them into the pit toilet, plop plop, just like in the other question about the worst people you know personally LOL.

anartist's avatar

easy and cheap
go to sleep

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@Kardamom Thanks. I’m not really opposed to therapy, in fact, I recently began considering it. I’ve tried it before but it didn’t seem to help. Maybe it’s time to check into it again. And I really needed that support and humor, so I appreciate it!

When it comes to the doc, I don’t think he actually realized he was bothering me. He was doing what he was supposed to do, but for a 10 year old, it was very invasive and humiliating. For four loooong years. Ack. He should have used his brain and thought, “Hmmm… perhaps she should be seeing a female doc for this.” But he didn’t. Which is why I think of him as an idiot.

As for the other guy, the Jerry that I mentioned in that “worst people” thread, that would be insulting to the pit toilet.

janbb's avatar

I would go for therapy and probably meds if it is impacting your life to that degree. I don’t know of a better route.

athenasgriffin's avatar

The way I’ve dealt with the bad things that have happened to me (I’m not sure anyone, even I, would advocate it but it works for me.) is that I’ve changed who I am so drastically that it is like those things happened to another person. I relish in the fact that who I am now would never allow the things I allowed to happen then.

I try to surround myself in things that make me feel strong, and people who respect my strength. I don’t try to control things, because I know I can handle anything that comes along. I keep myself busy, trying to constantly do things that make me feel uncomfortable, because those are always the things that expand who I am. I make sure that I deal with all of my issues as they come along so I don’t add scars, other than the ones I developed then.

The way I got to the place I am now wasn’t easy though. I lied to everyone, even myself, about who I was and how I felt. I faked it until I made it. I pretended I was happy, never admitting to anyone that I wasn’t. But it was years of faking, and it alienated people who had known me before. In the long run this was healthy, because the people I had held me back, not on purpose, they were not bad people, but by their expectations for me. I have no friends currently who have known me more than a year.

Obviously, most people have too much holding them back to change completely. Obligations, family, people who they truly love, who they can’t abandon. But anyone can change small things. I’m a strong believer in the idea that there isn’t a static you. Who we are is defined as what we think, and since what we think is constantly changing, so is who we are. You may as well alter your thoughts deliberately. Some people are so scared of losing who they are, and if you think like I do, it isn’t a problem. You will always be who you are. It is literally impossible to not be.

Kardamom's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate LOL, I guess you’re right, pit toilets need love too : P

Mariah's avatar

Talking about it helps me. In depth with trusted friends, or with a therapist, or even unloading my baggage all over the poor Fluther community. :)

I have had life-changing realizations in therapy, and anti-depressants have changed my life in a big (good) way too.

So sorry something rotten happened to you, hon.

Aethelflaed's avatar

EMDR is really the go-to therapy for trauma right now, and for incidents that happened only (“only”) once or a few times, can often be dealt with in a small handful of sessions. Trauma gets stuck in the left brain, and EMDR is a way of moving it through your brain to completion so that you can heal.

I’ve found a lot of help by seeking out trauma-based therapists who are up on the latest therapies for trauma (there’s actually quite a few).

Mama_Cakes's avatar

Therapy has been working for me. That, and staying away from the person who caused the trauma, which I’m doing. Even years later he was still trying to manipulate me, so I decided to cut him out of my life. When I was younger, it was sexual abuse.

wundayatta's avatar

I agree with @Kardamom. It sounds like PTSD. But I think it’s the kind of thing that should be treated through therapy. PTSD causes people to avoid situations that are like the one that caused the trauma in the first place. For example, a soldier who was in an IED bombing on a street in Baghdad might have an impossible time walking down a street in Los Angeles, because they keep on triggering the fight or flight response whenever they see a vehicle that looks like the one that exploded in Iraq, and caused them to lose an arm.

Girls who have been sexually abused sometime respond by being unable to trust any men and that makes it really hard for them to have love relationships with men. Some might only have relationships with women, as a result. Others may continually sabotage any relationship they start with a man. Some may even get the fight or flight response around men who remind them of their abusers.

One technique being used to treat PTSD is desensitization. So, for example, with the soldier, you would slowly introduce them to walking down the street in little bits. One day they would open the door to look out. The next they might take a step out the door. The next a few more steps, and so on. They are using video games to help with this. The DOD has built virtual models of Baghdad streets that allow soldiers with PTSD to virtually walk down these streets and build up a tolerance for being in the dangerous situations.

In the case of therapy, the therapist would help you build a clear mental story or model of the situation(s) that caused you the trauma. Then, over time, they would help you re-imagine the situation, and to think it through, until you were able to think about it without exhibiting the fight or flight symptoms. Your goal would be to learn to assess threat differently. You want to be able to identify real threats, not just respond to a threat that reminds you of the old one, but actually is not a threat at all.

As long as your automatic response system is overwhelming you with the urge to fight (or flee), you won’t be able to assess the threat realistically. You’ll be raising your hackles all the time when it really won’t help you. This causes undue stress, and can lead to things like agoraphobia and anxiety and generally impede your ability to live the life you want to live.

I think it is possible to work yourself through this on your own, but I wouldn’t want to do that. A therapist who is knowledgeable in these kinds of problems would make it so much simpler. But if you did want to do it on your own, I would build a model of the threat. I would write down as much as I could stand to write. I would expect that the process of writing about it would bring up a lot of the fight or flight response and it would be very difficult and scary and might cause depression or even suicidal thoughts.

But that’s what I’ve been doing in trying to cope with the trauma of depression and having suicidal thoughts. For a long time, I couldn’t think about anything that led me into depression. I couldn’t really think about depression itself, because simply thinking about it felt like it would make it happen again. But slowly, over time, I wrote more and more about it, and it became more possible for me to think about it without feeling like the simple thought would make me want to kill myself. It took about three years.

I wrote my way through it, though. I’m still doing it. I’m sure people are bored and tired of hearing me talk about it, but they don’t have to read anything I write. I don’t really write for others. I write for myself. As therapy. If I wrote for others, I would surely not write because, while some people do appreciate what I write, most people seem to think it is shit. But I have found a way to be ok with letting other people’s opinions go, and sticking to my own purposes.

So I would write about the event (and not in public—just in a diary or something or some other private place) over and over. First without much detail. Later more. This is a desensitization practice.

At the same time, I am trying to create as detailed and accurate a picture of the trauma as I can. I do this so I can analyze it. I want to analyze it for threats, so I can learn to take alternate steps if the same thing happens. I also want to analyze it for threats that probably aren’t really there, so I can start talking to myself about those and retraining myself. I want to be able to tell myself when a threat arises that really isn’t a threat, so I can not respond to it.

WIth respect to alternate responses, I want to train myself to protect myself against those threats in a more effective way. For example, if you have been assaulted in the past, you might want to learn the art of self defense, so that you fight off an attacker. Often times, people respond by never going out at all because they don’t trust themselves to stay out of dangerous situations. The only way to stay out, is to never go out. But if you learn to fight, you may feel you can handle a dangerous situation. Another thing to do is to learn how to identify safe situations so you can allow yourself to go into them. I mean traumatized people in general, not you specifically.

But again, this is all easier done with professional help. I have no training in this. I only have my own experience and thinking about that experience. I tend to analyze things in great depth, which annoys most people, but I find it helpful. I have been able to retrain myself to some degree. I did indulge myself in one of my defense mechanisms in this, but I knew I was doing it and modified it so that I was not unrealistically dissing myself, as I used to do all the time.

It’s hard to deal with trauma, and I would imagine it is even harder to deal with trauma from decades ago that you have been avoiding for all this time, or unaware that it was the source of your problems. I’ve had to deal with trauma from my father, and I’ve found that while I got very angry with him for a while, I was also able to calm down. He still does this stupid shit, judging my children the way he judged me, and it’s hard to deal with. But at least I don’t have to visit the same thing on my kids. And in a way, when he does it, it reminds me that I’ve been falling into bad patterns, and I remember to stop it. So his faults are an object lesson for me. I kind of blessing in disguise.

I wish none of us (in my family) did this. But if someone has to do it, I’m glad it’s my father, who rarely sees my kids because he can be such an asshole. When he does see them, and he behaves in that assholish way, I can see it, and I can protect my kids by talking to them about it later on. Or by intervening. So in being an asshole, my father reminds me of coping skills I need to train my kids with. The silver lining in the cloud, I guess.

Your trauma, too, will have a silver lining some day, when you learn the coping skills you need to deal with it. Those skills we be useful in far more ways than just dealing with the trauma, as important as that is, now.

augustlan's avatar

As many of you undoubtedly know, I was sexually abused for the first 13 years of my life. Therapy, therapy, therapy, girl. I cannot stress this enough! It (along with medication for anxiety/depression) was a life changer for me.

Look for a therapist you mesh well with, and one who will give you practical steps to take. My practical steps involved deciding never to see my abuser again (he was a family member, so this was difficult, but incredibly necessary), eventually doing the same with my mother (who allowed the abuse to continue), and trying to bring charges against my abuser (unsuccessful, but at least I knew I tried.)

Today, I am happy and whole. I wish the same for you. <3

Bellatrix's avatar

I think you need to seek some therapy. It didn’t work before but perhaps it was the wrong therapist. If you can call someone in a support service for people who suffer similar trauma, perhaps they can give you the names of some therapists who are really good when it comes to the sort of trauma you experienced. You may have to try more than one person to find the right therapist for you. Someone who you can connect with.

I don’t think just trying to push this sort of trauma to the side or trying to ignore it and that type of thing will work.

hearkat's avatar

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and suppressed it until the nightmares were becoming too disturbing in my mid-20s. I tried therapy and medications, and I had one therapist I really liked working with, but no major breakthroughs occurred and no medications ever made a big difference for me. Still, talking about it was definitely an important way to de-stigmatize my past in my own mind. Also therapy techniques have evolved since the 1990s, so I would recommend starting there.

Other things to do on your own is to find a support system of others with similar trauma – I didn’t have the world wide web in my 20s, either, and it’s a tremendous way for people to connect and support each other. I also found that journal king helped – really digging deep and working through my rage. When I saw how my dysfunction was impacting my son (I was a single mom), I focused on getting us both healthier and more stable and we each went to therapy. Again, it helped us communicate better with each other, but personally, I still had to work to change my self-thought and actions. That can only come with time, and more therapists are incorporating cognitive-behavioral techniques, which is similar to what I was doing on my own. Finding a professional with whom you click and having that support really is beneficial. The woman I worked with the best was a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

I think the EMDR that @Aethelflaed mentions is electro-magnetic therapy. They were doing research studies on that about 8 years ago, and I was very interested, because I hadn’t responded well to medications. But I didn’t have a center near me. Ultimately, for me the breakthrough came when I decided to accept myself as flawed and damaged as I am, and to forgive myself for the poor choices I had made in the prior decades. There are many other posts here on Fluther where we discuss depression, PTSD, and forgiveness… search through them and you may find more help and insight.

Just know that it is possible to move beyond your past and to find peace-of-mind. If I can do it, anyone can… never give up on yourself. <3

Shippy's avatar

It is said to talk about it a lot, to whoever does help.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@hearkat No, EMDR is not electro-magnetic therapy. It stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and is a way to engage both sides of the brain so that trauma can get unstuck.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Thanks everyone, I appreciate all the answers. I think I’ll try to find a therapist nearby (because I can’t stand driving too far from home) and go from there.

Mariah's avatar

A great step forward! Keep us posted, girlie. We all care about you a lot.

hearkat's avatar

@Aethelflaed – Oh! I was intrigued by that theory, too. I remember hearing about it, but I imagine that my eye muscles would get tired or even crampy from trying to force REM-type movements.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@hearkat Lol. They eye movements are more like the hypnotic movements, but I’ve actually found few therapists actually use eye movements, because they often end up getting shoulder injuries from moving their finger back and forth. Most now use an electronic device that either buzzes in each hand alternatively, or can beep in each ear alternatively (pic). (I prefer the ear beeping.)

hearkat's avatar

@Aethelflaed – I listen to beeps all day in my career as an Audiologist… that won’t have a hypnotic effect on me. X-/

janbb's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate Therapy really helped me deal with the traumas of my childhood and learn to like myself and function better. I would try to find one that uses a variety of modalities as needed – but mainly one that you are comfortable talking to.

Having a great therapist who has known me for years has helped me so much in dealing with the breakdown of my marriage.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@hearkat It’s not hypnotism, I was just using that to illustrate what type of eye movements are done.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Going to see a recommended therapist this afternoon. Wish me luck, so I don’t turn into a basket case in her office!

janbb's avatar

Good luck!

Kardamom's avatar

Just picture all of us Flutherers nekkid while you are in there. That should calm your nerves. Good luck, dearie.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Okay, I like her. She was very comforting and had some really good suggestions for me until our next visit. Woohoo!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Oh, and she did say that what I’m going through is PTSD. I forgot to mention that, as a nod to those who suggested it previously.

Apparently, already having anxiety issues is bad enough (and she believes my anxiety disorder is massive), then when the PTSD peaks at random times, it makes everything worse. Yay me.

Kardamom's avatar

One small step for Fluther, one giant leap for @WillWorkForChocolate ! I’m so glad to hear that you took your first step toward dealing with this awful situation. We’re right behind you!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Oh shit, you mean that feeling that I’m being followed ISN’T because of paranoia?

Kardamom's avatar

You really were being followed! Just like we’re following you on this thread : )

augustlan's avatar

I’m so glad for you, girlie! Please keep us posted. :)

wundayatta's avatar

I’m glad you like her. That’s a great start. It took me a long time to come to trust my therapist, though. I couldn’t figure out if she was giving me an honest answer when she said she liked me. I figured she had to say she liked me, no matter what, if she was going to treat me. I don’t know exactly what happened, but eventually I decided to believe her. Maybe it was because she seemed to laugh naturally at my jokes.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther