Crucial Tips on How to Deal with Severe Trauma
Standard EFT tools on their own will not completely clear the Big Stuff, and this article helps you understand what that Big Stuff is really about and just a few of the vital considerations and tools for working with it.
There are huge differences between traumas – but the most important differences may not be what you think. As you know from your own clinical and personal wisdom, there is a very wide variety of horrible experience, ranging from impersonal natural disaster to extremely personal intimate abuse. Even experiences of intimate abuse (i.e. from someone known or related to the client) can range tremendously, including around issues of time (how long it went on for, over what time period), and intensity (e.g. how emotionally and/or physically invasive it was, and/or how physically damaging). The thing is, these external descriptions of the trauma(s) cannot give us an indication of what it was like for the person going through it, of how destructive it may have been for them.
What Trauma and trauma are
It is useful to think of traumas in two categories: small ‘t’ trauma and big ‘T’ Trauma. Inherently, trauma of any kind is painful (even agonising), disruptive, and challenging. There are two main reasons for this:
1) The experienced event was truly overwhelming. The person’s usual coping mechanisms were highly insufficient and ineffective in the moments of T/trauma – there was no effective ‘out’ to safety, either in flight or fight. When neither flight nor fight is possible or effective, a common response is to either give up, or be overwhelmed by the futility of one’s fighting/fleeing attempts, hence,
2) Helplessness is the other vital component to trauma - helplessness to protect the psychic and/or physical integrity of the self (often perceived as failure, which generates shame, but that’s for later).
In fact, an emotional math of trauma might look like this:
Overwhelm + Helplessness = T/trauma
Lack of integration + T/trauma = long term difficulties
In an ideal world, when we are kids, and hurt ourselves in the playground, we are comforted and reassured; that comfort and reassurance helps make the world right again. When we, for instance, are snubbed at school growing up, we can have someone to go to that will comfort and reassure us, and make the world right again. Over time, we develop at least some capacities to comfort and reassure ourselves, and make our worlds right again when our lives go awry. But what if there is no comfort and reassurance? Then, the world is WRONG. The person is WRONG. The fabric of our lives horribly begins to unravel, and it doesn’t stop unravelling until we set things right again.
The main difference between trauma and Trauma is that unravelling. With trauma, even potentially agonising trauma such as a bad car accident, it is possible that the person’s coping mechanisms will catch up, both in terms of their internal resources and through their external resources, such as their friends and families and colleagues. The experience can be integrated, and the event can be left in the past. However, when the traumatic experience shatters a heart as if it were glass, when, in the words of Dr Phil Mollon, it was like “being trapped helpless and naked under the burning black sun of malice”, the fabric of our lives is not only unravelled at the edges, it is torn to shreds. We are on the brink of an abyss, where our lives, even our very humanity, are potentially rendered utterly meaningless. We no longer have reference points for being. We are lost. We have no compass to safety, to sanity, and no hope of having one without external assistance. There is some threshold of terror and that laceration of being that separates trauma from Trauma.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that it is the experience of the person that determines if an event is even traumatic , or in the category of trauma or Trauma. This is huge to really take on board, and in fact, underlies our commitment to treating clients. We practitioners act on the assumption that any event can be detoxified, any event at all. And with Trauma, we always need a compassionate, competent Other to help us set the world right again, or perhaps set it right for the first time.
Working in the Deep End of Trauma
What we’ve discussed so far has vital implications for our work, particularly with Trauma, which is the focus for the rest of this article, and only some of which there is room for here. Our tasks as practitioners are magnified with Trauma, and the potential obstacles for successful treatment are not only magnified, they are also multiplied. For instance, I had been working with a client with Trauma for months, and had built up a robust working relationship. I took the risk of making a joke, as we know humour can be a very effective healing intervention. But, not only did the joke fall flat, the whole relationship almost collapsed. It took all my skill as a practitioner to rescue the safety and trust we had been working so hard on for so long.
SAFETY is the foundation of Trauma work, and you have to build it constantly, earn that trust continually. With Trauma, the client’s system is at least unconsciously on blaring red alert, all the time. You can build that safety by offering comfort and reassurance that the client is in charge of the pace and content, and I often tap on something like:
Even though dealing with this is really hard for me, at least I know I’m in charge of this process.
Even though this is really tough for me, and scary, I choose to remain in control of the pace.
I choose for all of me that I am in charge of the pace here, and I choose a pace that is safe for me.
(and then use phrases from here in the rest of the sequence).
Clients often find this unbelievably powerful, so it’s really worth it to use, especially at the beginning of the treatment. One client told me that the safety and control she felt in their first session with this tapping was ‘worth my weight in gold’.
For now, I’ll briefly discuss two more components of Trauma work: shame and forgiveness.
SHAME is just about the most toxic emotion we can subject ourselves to, and it is humanly impossible to completely avoid. Even if it were processed immediately, we are still subject to it because it is a biologically evolved tool for social belonging. When left to fester, it insidiously undermines the sense of self. The challenge as a practitioner is that there is often shame about the shame, so it can be extremely hidden. Gently work on the compassionate assumption that shame – a lot of it – is present with any Trauma.
Although guilt is often also present, the most important difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is about an act that one takes responsibility for; there is still a separation between an event and the self. Shame is when the event BECOMES the self; the person entangles their definition of themselves with the degradation of shame. In short, guilt is ‘I did something wrongly’ and shame is ‘I am wrong and therefore unfixable’. This touches on issues of deserving and capacity to heal, which are also vital for successful Trauma work. I once had a soldier so traumatised and steeped in shamed by his war experiences he could barely do more than dissociate, or ‘disappear’ into an extremely withdrawn and curled up state – we had to work on the issue of deserving before we could do anything or get anywhere with the work.
FORGIVENESS is often misunderstood; especially if you are an experienced practitioner, you know that forgiveness is really just about letting go for one’s own sake. Forgiving does not make what happened OK, it makes the person OK with this in their past. However, lack of forgiving a perpetrator – or oneself – could be the only protection a person has against their hidden shame, even when it seems that the event has been worked on thoroughly. How would you know? If you move to working on forgiveness, and you get stuck, you most likely have a hidden shame issue. Deeper work is still required, because there are parts of the person that have not yet had benefit from healing, that are still raw and bleeding – in other words, you are back to the beginning. And, sometimes, this complex process to healing is the only way through: the hidden parts will only be won over into the safety of healing when other parts loosen and unlock the access. Although this is perhaps more obviously true for people with severe dissociative identity disorders, more commonly known as multiple personality, it is also true for anyone with Trauma.
Working with Trauma takes lots of extra skills and knowledge – ultimately, the practitioner needs to lead the client to integrate their very humanity. And before that can happen, it needs to be possible, and safe.
There are many more vital components to working with Trauma. Your clients deserve your best, and the usual gamut of EFT interventions will not thoroughly get the work done. To address this gap, I am running a workshop on Severe Trauma Relief on 12/13 September. Topics range from highly practical to the theoretical, and all are covered in-depth. They include:
• How to continually create safety for your client so that you can get the work done
• Intense reactions from clients and how to handle them
• Contact between sessions during treatment – how to make it effective and limited
• Boundaries – how to maintain the balance between compassion and detachment with Trauma work
• The Dangers of Victimhood – how being a victim can shut down healing and what to do about it
• Road closures to healing Trauma and how to clear them
• Toxic shame – how to find it when it is hidden and what to do about it
• How to make your work even more effective with the NLP tool of future pacing
• Wrangling with God/Divinity (etc.) – because all Traumas have metaphysical/spiritual elements
• Forgiveness – what it is, and how to get there when a client is stuck
• Safe closure at the end of time with an unfinished session
• Post-Traumatic growth – don’t just settle for clearing it – launch off of it into a deep spiritual process!
Contact me for more details and to explore booking: 07866 383 080, or, Shoshana@btopenworld.com. Please also feel free to respond to this article or explore any issue you are further interested in. I hope this has piqued your interest in working more deeply and safely with Trauma.