Complex PTSD

As the DSM-5 was being drafted, Bessel van der Kolk (of The Body Keeps the Score fame) advocated for a new diagnosis, Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This additional category recognizes that there is a difference between the trauma experienced in a one-time incident, like a car crash for example, and an ongoing developmental trauma like repeating abuse. They are obviously different, thought often treated the same. The new category was not included in DSM-5, but practitioners everywhere recognize the difference, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has now set up Complex PTSD as a separate diagnostic category.

Complex PTSD results from repeated traumatic events. Some of the characteristics typical to C-PTSD are as follows:

  • Difficulty controlling emotions.
  • Negative self-view.
  • Difficulty with relationships.
  • Detachment from the trauma.
  • Loss of a system of meanings.

Though cognitive therapies have provided helpful, somatic therapies have proven especially healing, such as EFT and EMDR.

Complex PTSD results from repeated traumatic events. There are distinctive differences between PTSD and C-PTSD. The sources of Complex PTSD abide beneath the level of the conscious mind and body-based methods often provide the best path to healing.

EFT and Pandemic Stress

One of the things we’ve discovered about the pandemic is the degree of stress it adds to everyone’s life. From front line health providers to the sick and those who love them, the unemployed, those already struggling with mental health issues, and every person who feels the loss of social connection, the pandemic leaves many feeling cut off, aimless, and full of fear.

The pandemic has also provided a “time out” for our society and world, the opportunity to reassess and reprioritize our lives. We will be passing to a new world – at least new in large respects – and the shifts we make now in our minds, relationships and vocations will have a lasting impact in the future.

Pandemics and great social shifts shake out other issues as well, like our present and ongoing unrest around racial injustice. That is also one of the effects of a pandemic.

To clear away the impediments to embracing the necessity for change we release the deep emotions that are attached to our thoughts, unconscious memories, and programmed into our automatic fight/flight/freeze responses.

By tapping directly on the most troublesome emotions – and then letting those lead us to deeper ones still – we fine the air to breath again, the flow of energy that fills us with confidence and strength.

Listen to your body and allow your mind to settle in the place where you sense emotions – in the neck and shoulders, chest, stomach, back … and use the EFT tapping regimen as you name that place in your body – its weight, tightness, color, texture – and with it perhaps an accompanying emotion: fear, sadness, hurt, confusion, anger – and by naming and tapping allow the release of its hold on you.

It is a difficult time for most and especially hard for those already struggling with past trauma and unresolved struggles. Let us remain compassionate with those around us. We have made it through hard times before and we will again.

Welcome to Marwen

Marwen is the fantasy town created by Mark, a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD following a savage assault. Marwen includes all manner of villains, dilemmas and allies that parallel his conscious everyday life. Marwen is the stage upon which his drama unfolds.

It was my pleasure to view the new Welcome to Marwen with Play Therapists and for them it all made perfect sense: Our imagination projects our issues into a third space of potential transformation. The narrative stories and characters all unfold there, even as they do in our conscious and unconscious memory. When the space is safely held we can resolve trauma and even write new endings to the unfinished narratives. This is true for children and really everyone.

In terms of Matrix Reimprinting Marwen is the place inside us where memories abide and the energetic selves of our past continue to interact with charged memories and their characters. As in Marwen, our present egos may enter that space to assist our younger energetic selves negotiate the trauma resulting from particular situations. In that special matrix our present selves may interact with past selves and other past characters. Like an internalized Gestalt exercise we are able to resolve and amend our story.

In the quantum levels of reality time is really more fluid than we imagine it to be. What we perceive as past, present and future really overlap, interact and co-exist as one. The past is not really past. And the future is simply that of which we are yet unaware.

The good, the very hopeful thing about Marwen, the Matrix, and the Child Therapist’s sand box, is the way that carefully held space can transform. We really do have the ability to rewrite our stories, especially their endings. In that sense it really is possible to heal the past from the present. And those are the gifts that an enlarged consciousness and loving support may actually bring.

We have a body and are a body

One of the remarkable insights of integrative approaches to healing is the somatic dimension, the body. Our consciousness manifests traumatic memories that live in the energy fields of our bodies.

This is why embodied pain/conflict/suffering manifests in our bodies in particular places. Because the emotional energy is localized in our bodies we are provided a powerful tool for both identifying and healing all that is blocked or unresolved. Our bodies speak to us and provide a channel for touching the untouchable.

If you ever wonder how it is that pain can actually move around our body it is because energy is fluid, shifts and may be shifted. In EFT there are many times that we “chase the pain” as it moves around the body – and therefore around our consciousness. It starts one place and moves to another, usually to the more important place.

The wisdom of our bodies speaks and provides a pathway to wholeness and healing.

Working with children and EFT

One of my great pleasures has been to engage in co-therapy with a trained and certified play therapist. Her finely tuned skills and experience escort children through some of the most difficult developmental and situational challenges of childhood. When it comes to trauma EFT has provided a powerful adjunct tool to deal with those traumas in a gentle but effective way. The somatic approach of tapping serves to not only stimulate the energy meridians as conscious and subconscious material surfaces, but the repetition acts in a semi-hypnotic way, simultaneously soothing and reducing levels of resistance and fear. The emotions attached to critical stories are exposed and then drained off. The fact that we have a method or practice to employ, a defined way to approach a problem, is comforting. The use of “proxy” stuffed animals or dolls are very helpful in not only teaching how to tap but allowing the child to project their feelings upon a “third object” outside of themselves.

Triggers and Set Points

In the most recent issue of Energy Psychology (vol 8, no 2), Dawson Church, PhD, presents research that identifies the link between our triggers – those events that signal our defense mechanisms including the autonomic “fight/flight/freeze” response and bring them into play – and the “set points” that make those triggers more or less easily activated.

Our set points for almost any emotion or cluster of emotions are learned and shaped by deep experience and continual reinforcement. And what starts as a behavioral adaption becomes translated into an automatic biological/neurological function. Church draws an analogy between the presets on your radio in the car; each of those stations have a particular level at which they are activated. Under stress certain stress points become obvious. And they vary from person to person.

For example, the same event is received very differently by different persons. A lamp unexpectedly falls over and crashes to the floor and one person is mildly interested, the next irritated, and the next diving under the chair. Their set points are located very differently and automatically so. Over time the set points become habitual. Some people have very low set points for sadness, anger and fear and they are triggered easily while others have much higher set points and it takes much more intensity to affect them. The same can be said of pain and what is experienced with or without great suffering; people have different set points for the experience of pain.

Initially set points served as part of the evolutionary survival instinct. They keep us alive. But when activated too easily in settings that are not representing real threat they become maladaptive.

Thankfully, it is possible to reset these set point presets. This is where energy psychology comes in. The practice of tapping on meridians – the body’s energy points – while imagining or experiencing triggers actually soothes and helps reset the triggering intensity. In clinical trials EFT and EMDR have been shown to have high effectiveness in decreasing Beta brain waves and increasing Alpha waves. Of special importance is the way that coupling tapping or eye desensitization with verbalizing, imagining and experiencing those triggers soothes the amygdala, seat of the fight and flight response which releases cortisol into our system to mobilize our defenses. Persistent and constant cortisol presence is destructive to the brain, resulting in decaying quality of life. Tapping on body meridians while exposing troubling images, memories and emotions reverses the stress response and resets the set points.

The good news is that set points can be changed. We can actually shift our habitual set points from terrible emotions to the set points of greater relaxation, peace and happiness. It is what the great spiritual traditions have taught and practiced for centuries. Now we call it mindfulness. But in the past it was simply called prayer, contemplation or meditation. Coupled with the ritualized behavior of tapping which stimulates the meridians of our natural energy network healing is more possible than ever before.

How Does EFT Approach Disassociation?

Disassociation is the phenomenon of a personality that splits off from itself, most usually separating from unresolvable conflicts or painful emotions. It is a coping mechanism that often results in a flat affect, the feeling of being out of touch with one’s feelings and body. When asked “How are you feeling?” the person who is disassociated is usually unaware and has accompanying sensations of numbness and looking in at life from the outside.

EFT coupled with somatic approaches connects with submerged emotions; tapping on the meridians stimulates the flow of energy and the repetitive nature of the tapping allows for subconscious and repressed material to surface much more easily and with a sense of safety. Continued tapping on the emotions that arise helps to drain off the raw emotion which resides in the consciousness/body and block the natural flow of energy.

As a paradox, when working with Matrix Reimprinting one attempts to remain disassociated from the earlier subconscious self (the ECHO) in order to listen to, assist, support and help it to release a variety of persistent emotions.

EFT and other somatic approaches are often more effective than cognitive/behavioral talk therapy. Why? Because disassociation is a function of the rational ego state of the mind which is itself the locale of resistance. Limiting oneself to cognitive approaches generally slows the process down without addressing the real root of disassociation. It may in fact reinforce it.

The Matrix is not just a movie

I have just received certification as a Matrix Reimprinting Practitioner. Matrix is an advanced specialty of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). Matrix work involves going into the subconscious, past memories and energetic selves where we may resolve that which still operates beneath the surface of our awareness. Through a variety of techniques we clear the painful and troubling emotions and thoughts affiliated with past trauma. It is a wonderful extension of and accompaniment to EFT.

Strung Out

Nothing stands in isolation, and that is especially true of trauma.

Most usually current traumas are preceded by early forms of the same thing; there is a progression of occurrences and the emotions/thoughts that have been attached to them. If we address and clear the present struggle its more complete resolution is most usually found as we follow the energy to the early places. Once visiting, clearing and reframing those energetic aspects that are alive and functioning in our subconscious the present challenge frequently resolves very quickly.