The emotional consequences of childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse can last well into adulthood. If you experienced trauma or neglect as a child you may suffer from:
- Intense feelings of anger or despair
- Panic attacks
- Dissociation or disconnection from body sensation
- Inability to remember recent events and conversations
- Fear of other people leaving you
- Feelings of emptiness
- Mood and anxiety disorders
- Borderline Personality
- Addictions and eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Having “parts” or “alters”
If you have several of the above symptoms or problem, you are likely to be diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Beyond Talk Therapy; Phase-oriented Treatment
Simply talking in therapy about your childhood abuse or neglect can exacerbate the above problems and make everyday living harder. It is important that your recovery occurs in phases.
Coping skills are important in the beginning of treatment. I teach Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) coping skills individually or in groups. These DBT skills
include techniques for mindfulness, acceptance, distraction from negative thoughts, increasing pleasure in life and changing unhelpful thoughts. You can also learn assertiveness skills, so that others in your life are better able to support you. Armed with these DBT skills, you can tame the sometimes incapacitating symptoms of childhood onset posttraumatic stress disorder. Everyday living becomes easier, and you step off of the “emotional roller coaster.”
Learning to tolerate intense feelings in your body is also important in this first phase of treatment. Trauma and neglect reside in our bodies as well as our brains. If you have suffered childhood trauma and/or neglect, then your natural defense strategies of flight, fight, freeze, and dissociate are overdeveloped and easily triggered. You might experience rapid heart rate and breathing, tight muscles, inability to move or process information, and/or feelings of floating or not “being here.” These physiological states can be very upsetting and appear to happen for no reason. Unfortunately, thinking things like “I can’t stand how I feel” or “I have to get away from this feeling” leads to even worse emotional states and/or urges to do self-destructive behaviors. When you learn to tolerate these uncomfortable body sensations, you will realize that they do go away either on their own or by practicing some of the DBT skills.
Also in the first phase of treatment, I work with ego states. If you have dissociative identity disorder, these ego states are called “parts” and sometimes take executive functioning of the body. In that case, you likely experience memory “blackouts” for the period of time they are active. If you have complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without dissociative identity disorder, then you may experience these ego states as intrusive thoughts, voices, or sudden mood shifts. I utilize the Internal Family Systems model to help all ego states and the Self to work together instead of against each other.
In the second phase of treatment, childhood memories of abuse and/or neglect are re-processed. I utilize the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy models of treatment for the resolution of childhood trauma and neglect. First, a feeling of true safety in the present moment is established. Then you simultaneously talk about and physically experience the effects of the abuse and/or neglect. This process is taken very slowly, with an eye towards making sure symptoms do not increase. These models differ from the usual “talk therapy” in that the body is also given a “voice.” It is only by including your entire nervous system—brain and body—that true healing can occur.
Everyone has resistance to change. Getting rid of the effects of childhood abuse and neglect creates fundamental shifts in the way you perceive people and events. You will feel much better having been freed of the often debilitating effects of childhood abuse and neglect. However, your relationships and your work may need to change to accommodate the “new” you. In the final phase of treatment, we work together to manage the difficulties and fears that these changes can bring.
Often, clients must return to previous phases of treatment because new memories and/or ego states are discovered. The brain/body process trauma in a non-linear fashion.
Recovery from childhood abuse and PTSD is a lengthy and challenging task. The pay-off for this hard work, however, is happiness, peace, and true connection with the self and others. We can work together to give you the better life that you deserve.