TRAUMA can be experienced in many different forms. Whether due to a serious car accident, your house being broken into or lost to a raging fire, post surgery where there is a significant change to your life, or serious emotional or physical abuse. The list is endless and only if experienced can be fully understood. The end result is very often a feeling of ‘loss of control’. I have seen just about everything over the years in my practice as a Psychologist.
That feeling of loss of control can be paralyzing and have lasting effects, especially if it is not treated head on in therapy.
Often my clients were reluctant to seek treatment, and tried to bury the symptoms, but just as often, they went for months and years while avoidance patterns of behavior became coping mechanisms.
I saw clients who avoided driving on the freeway for years after an accident, or not being able to live in the home where they were traumatized, avoiding all relationships due to abuse they experienced in one. Instead of working through the trauma, and using tools like desensitization to neutralize their fears, they shut down or avoided.
They were not weak people for having reactions to trauma, yet they often thought they were. However, avoidance is self-limiting, and self-abusive at the bare bones level. You deserve better than that.
I am suggesting that if you have gone through such trauma, that you consider counseling which should include talking through the trauma with a professional who will listen and hopefully will also teach you about gradual exposure therapy.
Although I am retired, I still see my past clients to make sure they are not avoiding and instead have created steps to face their fears, one step at a time, and are following the three principles of Frequency, Duration and Magnitude.
FREQUENCY obviously refers to frequent exposure to the situation that has been avoided. Frequent exposure to the previously avoided situations is critical to build confidence and a sense of security.
So,as with past client who contacted me post surgery, and was allowing herself to become limited as to how often she left her home for fear of have more panic attacks, we first had to get the message across that the panic attacks were the result of her feeling less independent because she had been through knee surgery, and her future would most likely require shoulder surgery. Her body had gone through wear and tear that she never planned on or prepared for. The surgeries freaked her out because she had ignored the issue as she had always been so independent, and free-spirited and never experienced limitations. Now her mind was focused on and obsessed over this being the end instead of …”I just have to find new ways of doing things. Maybe I have to adjust how many things I do in one day”. However, this was very foreign thinking for her so she slipped into very sabotaging fearful thoughts.
So I stressed the FREQUENCY of trips to see a friend without overwhelming herself with how long she stayed, or how much she committed to doing for that friend. She had to set boundaries with frequent exposure ( meaning trips).
Then, as she saw how well she did even with the adjustments she￼ had to make due to her knee healing and her over-all recuperation, she would be ready for the next steps, DURATION, where she would stay longer, but still keep it simple. Maybe she would help her friend make a decorate a cake for the friend’s grandson.
Then with her increased confidence, we could move to the issue of MAGNITUDE, whereby she could increase the activities she would do with the friend. Venture out a bit more and include other friends, activities, and time spent with each.
In this way, she was learning to set boundaries as to what she expected of herself without giving up what was natural for her to do.
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist Emeritus
Facebook Group: RuledbyFear.com