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Memory, trauma and moving on.

Counselling,Trauma — admin @ 3:20 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week one event that stopped everyone in their tracks for a few minutes was a shower of hailstones. It was Tuesday afternoon and the weather was following a pattern which is normal enough for our little island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean; we had sunny spells and scattered showers. This has become a well worn phrase for the men and women of the met office as they try to prepare us for what kind of weather the day might bring. The afternoon in question was following this well worn path, sunny and warm one minute and raining the next; nice soft rain mostly.

In a sudden change the clouds quickly became much darker. Then the heavens opened in a ferocious hail storm and even in our fine, solid old building it became hard to hear for the noise of the hail on the roof. It was quite a scene and we stopped what we were doing and looked out and listened to the falling hail. It being a June day in Ireland the sun appeared again within minutes and the streets quickly began to dry. So much so that we decided to take a break then and there and trust that the sunshine would last long enough for us to enjoy a walk around the block.

We love the seasons here and the different weather it brings and we like to play around with what it might be analogous with in our inner lives. Things that we normally don’t stop to notice because we are too busy with our day to day lives are our stock and trade here in Counselling Connections. Then we did stop and notice; we were walking along beside the river that runs past the end of our garden when we noticed that the runoff from the recent hail shower was causing a blockage as the water passed under a small, low-lying bridge. There was a grid there to catch leaves or branches or anything else that might float along.

Examining blockages and going about clearing them up are another of our specialties here. We got to talking about how we can get blocked up in life and in particular how memories can seem to become dammed in this way. Major life events, traumas even, like the larger branches caught in river can fail to pass quietly along with the flow of our memories. They can become stuck and block the flow of other memories behind them. How we remember things and how we later recall them are a big part of therapy. This is doubly so in the case where the therapy is about dealing with trauma.

In what can feel like real moments of revelation during therapy we can successfully come to terms with difficult memories. This can then leave us feeling like we are becoming more open to new experiences. Then we can suddenly experience a whole different set of memories. It seems that our focus on one particular memory or event has taken so much concentration that we failed to notice or to focus on other, perhaps happier ongoing events in our lives. We had become stuck and our memories and the emotions attached with them had become blocked.

By talking about memories and emotions and maybe even getting past our fear and re-experiencing them we facilitate the discharge of these events. They are then free to flow away and no longer cause us to feel blocked up and unable to fully experience our inner self and day to day life. This process is facilitated by slowly recalling and working through life events. There can be storms along the way. A bit like our unpredictable weather we can go through life experiencing both scattered showers and sunny spells. And if there is a bit of a flood after a particularly heavy fall well then a chance to talk it all through in therapy can help to let it drain away.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

A kind of trauma.

Psychotherapy,Trauma — admin @ 10:26 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about trauma. We are all familiar with the effects of a single, catastrophic event and we have no difficulty understanding how such a trauma can send your body into shock. This can lead to flashbacks and difficulty sleeping as well as quite strong anxiety. The event which caused the trauma looms large in our minds sometimes even after the passage of a good deal of time. This kind of trauma can be worked through in counselling and it is possible to recover well quite quickly. Sometimes when we are working through a trauma that has a single obvious cause we find traces of previous, more subtle traumas. These other kinds of trauma will have created their own difficulties and it is these that we want to talk about this week.

What we are describing are effects of trauma that have come about as a result of a series of smaller events. These can be more difficult to recall because they often lack the sudden impact of a larger traumatic event. It can also be confusing to look back on because it is one of the characteristics of these types of events that we try to play down their importance. There are often day to day events which we simply adapted our selves to. It is in these adaptations that the problem can be found. They are stories from what is often initially referred to as a normal childhood.

As children if what we have to say or how we feel is not received well, not welcomed in our environment, we will adapt. We will learn to say things and maybe even begin to learn to feel things which we know are accepted. These responses are to the ordinary day to day admonishments of parents to a child that rise in intensity to the point where they are consistently delivered too harshly. In this way we develop a false self. It is probably fair to say that we all have a false self to a greater or lesser extent. We do not say how we feel all of the time in every situation. But as a child, if our playful expression is met with a consistent harsh response we will experience these as a series of traumas and react accordingly.

We become accustomed to reacting in a way which is in keeping with the family culture. We do not consider what may be right for our own self but rather how our interaction will be received. We can grow up then without really knowing how to get in touch with our own self or even how we feel. This can leave us as adults with feelings of being detached or with difficulty in forming close relationships. It can also leave us feeling dissatisfied with life because we have learned to adapt to others without any account of what may be right for us. We then have to go about undoing the habit of a lifetime.

Again and again we see examples of a life lived under the stifling influence of an overly harsh parent. This can leave us fearful and inhibited and feeling unable to get in touch with what we would like to achieve. Indeed, it can leave us unable to consider that there might be any value in something which might come from our own self so accustomed have we become to adapting our wishes to those others. It can take some time in therapy to work through the events that led to this situation. This may be accompanied by the re-emergence of strong feelings that have been buried away for years. This process continues with beginning to find some confidence in our self and our ability to find our own way in the world. The hope is that this way will lead to a more fulfilled and contented way of being in our personal and professional lives.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Human response to Trauma

Trauma — admin @ 5:24 pm

We awoke on Friday last 11th March to the news of a nine magnitude earthquake in Japan and a subsequent tsunami that caused great devastation and loss of life. The scenes of cars and houses being swept away by the waves were almost unbelievable. It happened in the afternoon when children were still in school and workers in offices, just getting on with everyday life. One wonders what the problems each was facing that morning before disaster struck and how this dissolved into oblivion with what followed.
As many of you have said, it brings to light our vulnerability as a human race. In the face of natural disasters, we are unprepared, despite our best efforts. Japan has apparently some of the best protective procedures in place with respect to earthquakes and tsunami warnings. These manmade efforts were in vain last Friday. The knock on effect of the damaged nuclear plants and the pending meltdown now adds to the magnitude of the problem. We can barely take it in.
World disasters like this prompt us to lift our heads and look towards what other people have to face in countries where natural disasters are more common than here in Ireland. There is often a mix of relief and guilt that we don’t have to face what other countries do. Human nature sees us fascinated for a while with sky news on continuously, followed by a retreat to one’s own life as the days go on. There have been numerous world disasters over the past few years, one seeming to be followed by another. We’ve been asking ourselves here, what is it in human nature that prompts us to eventually dissociate from the realities of what others go through, when we have been shocked and upset by it initially?…
When we face traumatic situations in our own lives, to help us to continue on living we ‘split off’ or disconnect from the feelings associated with the event. In counselling terms we refer to this as dissociation. Often the person reports feeling as if they had left their body and were looking on at the event. This is an inherent defence mechanism which allows us to keep functioning and helps us to get through. It works temporarily. If we were to feel the feelings at the time, we fear we may be overwhelmed. However, these feelings are still inside and will need to be dealt with at some point. Counselling seeks encourage the client to feel in relation to traumatic events, a little at a time.
Take Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a car accident. The person may be dealing with other people involved in the accident, physical injuries, being grateful that all are still alive. But over the coming weeks and months the person may experience feeling down, crying, insomnia, worry and stress. This is the person coming to terms with the actuality of the accident, of what they felt and witnessed at the time. The body and mind need time to work through and adjust to what it has experienced. We also see this at play with adults who have been traumatised as children. It’s as if they can only afford to deal with it now as adults, that it may not have been ‘safe’ to feel the feelings before now.
So when we look at the tragedy and the trauma Japanese people are suffering, of course we feel sympathetic but in order to keep going in our own lives, we disconnect at some level from the enormity of what it must be like to be there. To allay our guilt in doing this, we look to contribute financially to a recovery fund. When we are faced then with stories from individual families or people in crisis, it evokes an empathic response in us because we can now identify with them as being like ourselves. Like with the four month old little baby who was found alive, we find ourselves drawn into the real life situations and wonder did the baby’s mother survive. But these feelings in us are temporary. We close them off when we close the newspaper or turn off the TV and we get on with what we have to do. It is human nature, not because we just don’t care. Were the countries reversed, Japanese people would be having the same reaction as we are. No doubt there are thousands of traumatised people who are trying to recover the basics of their lives food, shelter and clothing. It is only over the coming months that the reality of the devastation will impact psychologically on the victims.

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