Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trauma (for argument's sake)

My doctoral dissertation was a case study about a then client who's parents survived the Holocaust and unconsciously transmitted their unresolved, untouched, repressed, disavowed, and un-digested trauma into her. Now, some 13 years later.... if I were going to take on the task of rewriting it with this many years of private practice under my belt and this many long walks back up the mountain.... I'd write about "Transmission of Unresolved Trauma in Intimacy". 

Since this is a simple conversational medium and just blog, I'm going to distill it down to a uncomplex thought, opinion, and button pusher... and hopefully a conversation starter. This is entirely subjective.

I often find that people that come in for work around issues related to childhood trauma/abuse will only set about doing so by following  pathways to healing that don't require that they encounter difficult and sometimes unbearable feelings. This is the catch 22... I've yet to see any pain transformed without feeling pain. I do see superfifical improvements and those can be deeply meaningful.

The only way to entice them into the therapy is by talking and yet they fatigue around conversations rather than feel comfort in them. They move towards the black and white and away from the ineffible. And their lives are unconsciously built around this avoidance. And there is this exhaustion because so much has to be orchestrated to keep the undigested feelings at bay and out of consciousness. There is this seeking away from feeling that is so often exploited in so many well-intentioned earnest healing-arts.

There are so many pathways to reduce the intensity of the affective experience... but nothing can happen until you are in the room with them and they are in their trauma. To get to that trauma, all the while not traumatizing them... is no easy endeavor (for both parties). I don't have any stock answer for that one. Nothing happens if they aren't willing, and the arrival of  that willingness lays an expensive tax upon all involved.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Humbling Reminder

We are all in this together. Here's a little truth-bomb from infamous seeker and psyche-explorer Ram Dass (of "Be Here Now" fame).

The Bee and the Tidal Wave.

Sometimes we focus on the insignificant to avoid the unmanageable. The bee and the tidal wave is a reference to those moments when we are more focused on the bee that's about to sting us than the wall of water rushing to sweep us away. There was a study... it was too many years ago for me to recall and cite.. about behavior in plane crashes. For some, the impossiblity of what had just happened (surviving a plance crash) was so overwhelming, that instead of rushing out of the hull of the plane to safety, they lined up with their carry on luggage in hand as if deplaning at the gate.

When we're overwhelmed we sometimes shift focus to the trivial or flat-out deny ourselves reality. Like all things, this is both good and bad. It really depends on the size of the wave, the anxiety that comes as a result of not tackling the bigger things, and also honoring the idea that, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country, "I tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anyone tell you different". We are constantly doing triage on ourselves. We live busy and incredibly complex lives. Our roles are not tiny and neatly defined. We're pulled into our smart phones and Facebook at the expense of making real connections or finding time to wander and 'fart around' in our selves. There's always just so much... and the threat of the bee sitting on your arm can feel so much more immediate than the wall of water building in front of you.

 For all the things that psychotherapy can be... whether treating mental illness, finding a way through tragedy, healing a relationship, seeking spiritual growth, needing someone to bear witness, wanting to change your narrative, coming to terms with one's early life, seeking shelter and a sense of containment, finding boundaries, etc..... it's also a space to sit and do that triage. Life comes hard and fast and within it all we are tumbling at ever increasing velocity towards an end. I don't mean to sound tragic or grim... I suppose this post is somehow influenced by my peer and good friend Kellie's too early and young death from cancer a few weeks ago... but my point is that this relationship between you and your therapist is worth having. Mirrors are precious things.