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Tag: PTSD

September 19, 2016

I came across a question today regarding the treatment of PTSD, someone else then gave a long winded response regarding the treatment modalities for PTSD and concluded that there is no end to severe PTSD. In short the advocacy for CBT and EMDR was simply an advocacy for treatments that temporarily help relieve symptoms.

Sufferers of PTSD to include severe cases of PTSD can experience full recovery. It all boils down to what you believe. A common example given for the cause of PTSD is war. A veteran who suffers from PTSD as a result of combat makes sense. War is bad, war is bad because engaging in hostilities against other human beings resulting in the killing of those human beings is detrimental for the mind. Human beings are inherently good, this is why we function the best when we feel good, and we feel really good when we are helpful towards other people. Furthermore, people who experience good feelings from committing any form of harm towards other people are seen as mentally ill, with labels of sociopaths and psychopaths assigned to their character.

So you take a good person, introduce said person to propaganda about how awful another group of people are, train them for combat and then send them into combat. After everything has been said and done, they come to realize that they are not at peace with their actions. Those who are more astute realize that the people they fought against are also people like themselves who were fed similar propaganda against themselves and trained to engage in combat for what they believe was a good and greater cause. To make things even more complicated, most veterans who suffer from PTSD, will encounter people who strongly believe in combat against other groups of people and will praise them for their past actions. This creates a dissonance, where they receive significant acceptance and recognition for actions they have come to disagree with, which also contributes to their illness, and potential rejection if they voice their disagreement for their previous actions.

PTSD can be cured, it is a duel process of utilizing EMDR to engage both hemispheres in getting past the difficult feelings associated with the trauma and using CBT to address detrimental beliefs and practice new and healthier beliefs.

Consider another example, let’s a say you have two men who experience extreme physical assaults and both men develop PTSD. Of the two men, the one the most least likely to fully recover from the incident is the man with rigid beliefs associated with the assault he experienced. For example, if the idea of being assaulted signifies a blow to his manhood, and he continues to hold unto these beliefs throughout treatment, the best EMDR will do for him is to temporary alleviate his symptoms before his next meltdown. He will then experience a meltdown every time he reminded about being humiliated. Such meltdowns can easily be triggered by consumption of media or association with people who voice reminders of his rigid beliefs he still holds unto.

While if the other man is more flexible with his beliefs associated with the physical assault, he is most likely to experience a full recovery. This is because after he has learned to move past his difficult feelings related to his ordeal, he is least likely to be triggered into an emotional meltdown. He is least likely to be triggered because it would be relatively easy for him to abandon any beliefs and values that prevent him from accepting the true nature of his ordeal.

Ugochukwu is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC

March 12, 2015

Are you addicted to chasing chaos? Experiences from our early life experiences have a profound influence on who we become as adults.

In this research paper on childhood trauma published in the journal of infant mental health, the authors discuss the phenomenon of hyper arousal and dissociation as two primary types of symptoms that result from childhood trauma.

Hyper-arousal is a state of heightened awareness as a result of prolong exposure to trauma, where the well being of the person is consistently challenged and threatened. In comparison dissociation is a state of detachment that occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma where the well being of the person is consistently being challenged and threatened. At this point, it is obvious that the symptoms of hyper-arousal and disassociation are based on the personality type of the person exposed to the trauma. I will also add that hyper-arousal and disassociation occur  on a spectrum so most people with unresolved trauma will show both types of symptoms

In regards to chasing chaos, people with unresolved childhood trauma will often seek out relationships in their adult years that duplicate the traumatic relationships they experienced in their childhood. Regardless of how well things are going on for them in their personal lives, they will subconsciously seek out high conflict relationships in attempt to solve the problems they have traditionally been unable to solve in previous relationships. This turns out to be a repeat and rinse process where those persons with predominately hyper-arousal symptoms will habitually overreact to conflicts, leading to difficult to manage consequences. Also for those with predominately dissociation symptoms, they will consistently seek out high conflict relationships where they will under react to conflict, leading to difficult to manage consequences.

The solution is to know yourself, and work with a psychotherapist to begin the process of identifying your unhealthy auto pilot thought processes and subsequent behaviors, with the goal of replacing them with healthier alternatives.

December 27, 2013

We have two types of brains, the first being the primitive brain designed to help us during periods of emergency. The second type of brain we have is the more advanced brain, designed for problem solving, making predictions, planning ahead and creating positive intentions in our lives.

The thing  about the second brain is that to properly access it,  you have to be enmeshed in a state of genuine calm. Various States of worry or anxieties only brings you closer under the control of the reptilian/primitive brain. The closer you are to operating under the will of the reptilian brain the more impulsive you are likely to be. This is because the reptilian brain is designed to keep us responsive and subsequently alive when unexpected life threatening /altering emergencies interrupt our daily routines. An example of this would be driving, most drivers can testify just how suddenly responsive they become at the wheel when steering out of a possible collision or out of the path of a wayward pedestrian.

This is testimony to the power and importance of the reptilian brain. However the key to thriving through life is being able to create calm in your life and subsequently your thoughts. The calmer you are, the more you are able to think ahead and create positive intentions in your life.

As a psychotherapist, I see excessive reactivity and impulsivity as a symptom of unresolved trauma. Usually from early life experiences, and when working with people who are consistently reactive, I inform or remind them about their personal power. About how they now have the power as adults to remove chaos from their lives regardless of how uncomfortable they feel initially about living in peace.

We are creatures of habit, and while our individual and collective tendencies to establish rituals and routines is a strength, we also have the ability to evoke change in our lives. So even if you have experienced significant trauma at any point in your life, which has led you to adopt certain maladaptive behaviors to cope with the pain, you have the power to change.

Think about it this way, if you experienced significant trauma at any point in your life, it changed you and the initial process where your brain became rewired as you changed your habits was most likely painfully uncomfortable. Then it stands to reason that despite the discomfort you will experience as you intentionally evoke positive change in your life, it is a period of discomfort you should look forward to as the new you will bring about a happy and more thriving you.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

December 4, 2013

motivation with carrot on stick

Consider this story, a female client I worked with who experienced trauma, impoverishment and chaos in her childhood, came in to see me because she was experiencing panic attacks. This turned out to be one of many stories I have heard where people inform me about how difficult their upbringing was and how things in their lives were now much better – except themselves.

The desire to improve our circumstances is inherent in all of us, especially circumstances that are terrible at best. However we risk running into a case of double jeopardy if what inspires us to improve our circumstances is anything other than love. Like this case of the female client mentioned, it turned out that her inspiration for her economic improvement was a combination of fear and resentment. Fear of a chaotic lifestyle that placed the safety of her and her siblings in jeopardy and resentment towards her mother for being incompetent and irresponsible and her father for being absent. Fast forward almost a decade later as a married mother of two children, living in a safe neighborhood with a stable source of income, a good relationship with her husband, my former client could not understand why she was experiencing reoccurring panic attacks.

As it turns out, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, when she wasn’t recreating the conflicts in her life she had experienced as a child and teen, through conflicts with others, she was a experiencing internal strife which played out as  panic attacks. The trigger for her tendency to instigate conflicts with others or her panic attacks? Fear and resentment had always been her sources of motivation. The therapy was successful, as she was able to learn and practice drawing from peace and love in her life as sources of motivation.

This is one of many stories of people who found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of becoming emotionally stuck in the very situation they made their life’s commitment to escape. Now why is this? Common sense would dictate that after an ordeal has been experienced, the person who experienced that ordeal becomes relived about the conclusion of the ordeal and never looks back right? Actually in most cases this is the case. People who have experienced bad things happen to them, become motivated to overcome the ordeal and after the conclusion of the ordeal they go on to live healthy lives. The reason that these people go on to live healthier lives is that their motivation for success comes from love. Self love, love for others, recognition of worthiness, whatever label you ascribe to the phenomenon of humanity, people who successfully leave their ordeals in the past learned to rely on their goodwill and the goodwill of others to succeed.

What happens to those who remain stuck in the past? By coincidence of role models or culture, they learned mistrust, to be overly suspicious and developed a mental world view that portrays the world as a dangerous and untrusting place. This creates the irony that even when they have succeeded in physically removing themselves from a chaotic situation, they find it difficult to recognize and trust peace for what it is.

Our beliefs influence our perceptions, our perceptions influence our thoughts, our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings provide us with the motivation we need to initiate actions or behaviors.

If your source of motivation is negative, you will find yourself engaging in reoccurring behaviors that recreate your trauma in small or significant ways, which keeps you stuck in a cycle of negative feelings and being reactivate to your negative feelings.

The most effective strategy for getting out of such a cycle is adopting an important rule of thumb, which is to never see yourself as a victim, regardless of your trauma, but as a survivor.

Seeing yourself as a victim automatically triggers the fight or flight response, inherent in all living animals. This means that you are either going to be motivated by passive or overt desires for retaliation which amounts to a pessimistic attitude or hostile world view, or passive or overt desires to flee, which amounts to lethargy or chronic social anxiety.

By seeing yourself as a survivor, you trigger the inherent trait in you to seek the support and companionship of others, through a combination of being of service to others and being a recipient of help and assistance. This is easier said than done, but seeing yourself as a survivor helps rewire your brain’s source for motivation.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

November 29, 2013
Pain Concept
When I  was receiving basic training with Army, one of my drill sergeants took a significant dislike towards me, and he demonstrated his dislike by seizing any opportunity he had to make certain challenges especially challenging for myself.

During one of these episodes, I happened to be the platoon leader for the week and we were executing some drills for an upcoming marching ceremony. We had been practicing this particular drill for about forty minutes when we finally executed it with no mistakes.

So there we stood, at the position of attention waiting for the “At Ease” order, when I suddenly felt a tickle in my right ear. My initial urge was to bat away what I perceived to be a fly. However I thought it through and decided it would not be worth the risk to get caught flinching, when I was supposed to be at attention. The consequences, would have been that the entire platoon execute fifteen push-ups and repeat the drill.

So I stood still, hoping that this stupid fly would simply leave, but it continued. I then heard a grunt followed by a quiet giggle. It was then I realized that I wasn’t dealing with a fly, I was dealing with my head drill sergeant who had taken it upon himself to once again make things difficult for me. He was tickling my ear with what I later found out to be a blade of grass.
Once I realized what was going on, I became angered. I suddenly found myself fixated with the urge to make a right turn, snatch the grass away from him and push him away. It is pretty obvious that things would not have gone well for me if I had followed through with that urge. So after weighing my options, I decided to do nothing.

I told myself that whatever he was doing to my ear was not going to harm me, and that he would give up soon enough, once his arm got tired. Then he stopped, and gave the “At Ease” order.

Years later in my graduate program, I came to learn that by coincidence I had practiced a fundamental aspect of mindfulness. The best way I can describe mindfulness, is to say it’s the practice of being mindful of your physiological and emotional self, to include the world around you with the commitment of not being reactive.

Mindfulness is an effective practice that works best for people who struggle with trauma. Considering that our feelings are gate keepers to our past memories, traumatic memories recalled (voluntarily or involuntarily), are usually recalled with the same intense and painful feelings that were used to encode these memories into long term storage.

This means that people who go untreated with trauma risk falling into the vicious cycle of unknowingly being triggered by subtle reminders of their traumas, which sends them into a tail spin of being reactive to intrusive memories due to experiencing the same level of emotional hurt and pain experienced when these events first took place. The more frequent people with trauma are triggered, the more difficult it becomes for them to even realize when they are being triggered.

To date using a combination of eye movement desensitization reprocessing and mindfulness is the best approach I have found for treating those who struggle with trauma.

A common assignment I initially introduce to clients, is a brief mindfulness technique for overcoming urges. Just like I coincidentally practiced the technique in resisting the urge to engage my drill sergeant, anyone who struggles with trauma on any level can find this technique useful for overcoming his or her urge to overreact to difficult and painful feelings.

The exercise goes like this.

  1. Find a quiet place, where you are certain you will not be distracted externally.
  2. Sit down (preferably without a back rest)
  3. Listen to your body. Listening to your body means paying attention to yourself from head to toe. Initially the only thing you should start noticing is your breathing. After which  you would probably begin noticing some discomfort within yourself. Like an itch on your head, an ache on the back of your next, perhaps your watch is strapped on too tightly.
  4. Make a commitment to not adjust yourself, no matter what. This is the most important part of the exercise, you are practicing the discipline of not giving into your urges. What you will notice is that the initial discomfort fades away after about two minutes.
  5. Do this for five minutes (the first time you do this). You want to build yourself to about twenty minutes daily.
The idea behind this exercise is that if you can develop the discipline to cease being reactive to experiences of everyday discomfort, you can certainly use this practice in coping with the recollection of painful memories.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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