What is (PTSD), anyway?
PTSD is an ’emotionally charged experience’ that occured once or over a period of time, that overloads the ability of the the body/mind to regulate itself emotionally. Consequently, there are physcial and emotional side effects which cause the person to live a life of discomfort – stress and anxiety, in one form or another. For example, there may be anger or there may be the tolerance of an angry person.
An emotionally charged experience causes the disruption of the usual way the brain processes information. This disruption in processing causes th memories of disturbing experiences (the images, unpleasant emotions, uncomfortable body sensations and negative thoughts) to be stored in the limbic brain and become locked into memory networks.
A ‘big’ emotional charge is when a person has experienced, witnessed or was confronted by an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury. The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. These are the types of experiences that are usually considered when we refer to a person having PTSD (Posttraumatic Stess Disorder).
A ‘little’ emotional charge is the experience of neglect or abuse that undermines an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or safety. It includes the inability to assume appropriate responsibility for one’s self or others, and or limits one’s sense of control or choices. ‘Little t’ emotional charges can occur as a ‘one-time’ incident, but more often occur over a period of time such as during a childhood and are often not recognized as a ‘problem’ that would have lasting effects. These types of experiences cause the symptoms of PTSD, but are not recognized as being as problemmatice, when, in fact, they are.
As a person lives life, their new experiences link into theses previously ‘locked in’ memories and these unpleasant and uncomfortable images, emotions, body sensations and negative thoughts become the basis for interpreting what is happening in the moment. When they become triggered, emotional memories influence current feelings and behaviors. Often, we are not aware of when historical emotions are triggered and that they are having a negative impact on our current experiences, and even when we are aware of their presence, we don’t know what to do about it or how to manage them.
The effects of unresolved trauma memory networks show up as a multitude of symptoms such as panic attacks, depression, anger, low self-esteem, feeling humiliated, chronic pain, auto immune type diseases, eating disorders – anything that gets in the way of effective day-to-day functioning.
How do you effectively treat the problems caused by the emotionally charge experience?
1. Identify the ‘symptoms’ or how the effects of the emotionally charged experiences show up in a person’s life. Often people are having experiences that are related to the trauma but the person is not aware that either the Big or Little emotional charges are driving the experiences.
2. Identify the experiences, either ‘Big’ or ‘Little’ charges that were problematic – their source and subsequent development. Not a lot of time is spent on that, but it is important to know what happened, if possible. If traumatic experiences were too early in life (pre-verbal) or if there were so many that individual ones are not identifiable we can still work with that but the targets are less clear.
3. Enhance existing positive experiences and build-up new ones. This comes in the form of developing a ‘calm’ place, and spiritual, wisdom, nurturing or protective figures with EMDR processing.
4. Use EMDR to process frozen or maladpative neuro-networks so they can resolve and integrate.
5. Help people develop this newfound freedom to integrate into their lives going forward.