Posted by: Judy | May 21, 2015

I think I need to learn this…

Healing from Complex Trauma shared Shear’s post on FB:

Too often, survivors of abuse feel hopeless because even after years of therapy, they are experiencing only marginal symptom management and little to no healing. People often ask us what makes truly trauma-informed care different. The excerpt below from trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk’s latest book illustrates one important technique beyond traditional talk-therapy. (Note: our stance on medication is that it can certainly be necessary at times and we are not discouraging the often life saving use of medication nor do we believe that van der Kolk is; but merely pointing out that it doesn’t truly heal the problem in the case of trauma.)


Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

In my practice I begin the process by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies—not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on. I also work on identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure. I help them become aware of their breath, their gestures and movements.

All too often, however, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with such distressing physical reactions. Of course, medications only blunt sensations and do nothing to resolve them or transform them from toxic agents into allies.

The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve been feeling stuck. The above was posted a couple of weeks ago, and I filed it here. Last week, my nephew and I were talking about my need to be more present when I do my stretches. I tend to zone out and think about other things. It’s easier, on so many levels. However, I’ll probably get more out of the stretches if I’m concentrating on what I’m doing instead of avoiding.

This past week, I worked on being present when I was doing my physical workouts and stretching. I think it helps.

My wonderful friend, whom I sometimes think I should pay for sessions, helped me recognize a grave error on my part. I’m focusing too much on the CPTSD label. Yes, I know, awkward. I was just complaining early this week about being labeled. I do it to myself.

My last counselor informed me he would not diagnose me with anything because he didn’t want me to feel stuck. He assured me that I wasn’t a label, but I was seriously messed up. The closest he came to labeling me was having me read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He told me that my life has been like a prisoner in a concentration camp. Why this doesn’t scream serious to me, I don’t know, but it doesn’t.

Maybe my need to at least acknowledge I’m dealing with CPTSD originates, in part, from my second counselor telling me to stop glomming everything together like a pizza. By stating I have CPTSD, I’m able to separate out the symptoms with which I’m dealing, instead of glomming them all together under “you’re not handling it well.” I’m able to look at my unreasonable moments, examine them more closely, and follow the thread to the source of the difficulty or at least as close as I’m able to go.

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe what I really need is to find another touchstone type of therapist. Someone who will help me reparent myself in healthy ways.


  1. When I was an AA regular, people would often comment on my body language. I tended to curl into myself in my chair, sometimes even putting my feet up so I could wrap my arms around my knees to make myself small. And if anyone leaned into my personal space, they would comment on how I’d instinctively move away. It’s tough to unlearn that stuff.

    I was thinking of you today when I saw this in front of a church (hope the link works)

    • I don’t think I truly appreciated how tough it is to unlearn. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It helped clarify why I felt the need to identify what I’m dealing with as CPTSD even though my counselor did not. My counselor assured me I did not suffer from a detachment disorder. Unfortunately, I was so focused on that I never talked to him about disassociation. I read something “Healing from Complex Trauma…” posted and thought: Wow. I go blank all the time. I hate it. It’s like my brain is buffering. 🙂

      Sadly, the link didn’t work. 😦

      • See if this one works

        I’m not sure if I have a detachment disorder. None of my therapists have brought it up. I tend to think I’m more protective than straight out detached. But I spent plenty of time drinking away my feelings, so I think there is a degree of detachment or rather desire to be detached from hurt

        • Love the picture!

          Here is what my counselor asked me, “Do you care what happens to your sister?”


          “You don’t have detachment disorder. You’ve enough other problems without adding another one.”

          Disassociation is another kettle of fish. I think it’s a matter of others and self.

          Detachment means you can’t connect to others.

          Disassociation means you struggle with connecting with yourself.

  2. I like your definition of disassociation. I’ll add it to my next PTSD post about missing time. I am starting to look at PTSD, CPTSD, DID and every other label as keywords to get me started on research.

    My first counselor spent quite a bit of time with me asking me to checking in with what I was feeling compared to how my body was reacting. I learned that anger and excitement and fear all have similar body reactions. Accelerated heart rate, increased breathing, tension in my body, you get the idea. I was frustrated as to how I would know which I was feeling if my body labeled them all the same. There are subtle differences. Most importantly what am I thinking at the time of the physical reaction. This connection can be tracked in journalling. Interesting homework assignment. This assignment was when I finally understood how much of my life I spend angry, then depressed to stop the anger…Now I am trying to teach myself to search for the root problem, heal that, then the emotions sort themselves out. Hugs.

    • I really struggle with focusing on what my body is feeling when a strong emotion pops on stage. For me, the emotion takes over everything. If I’m able to look past the emotion to what I’m physically feeling, I’m already calming. bah. ((Ruth))

      • Looking past the emotion to what the body feels is a calming practice. Yea, 2 counselors have worked with me on this calming method.

  3. […] Stated by my sister Judy […]

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