Sometimes, fear, loss, and regret are so magnified that they manifest in unpredictable panic, insomnia and nightmares, intrusive and disturbing thoughts during the day, near amnesic repression of memories, increased isolation due to avoidance of triggering situations, physical tension and health problems, substance abuse or addiction, and a moderate to severe inability to maintain work and/or relationships. Treatment of such intense symptoms requires regular time spent in a quiet, safe, calm environment with a nonjudgmental, gentle-yet-confident clinician who is trauma-trained, up to and including study of or certification in evidence-based treatment protocols.
The humiliation felt by an embarrassed or endangered kid, the pain and terror felt by a victim of crime or abuse, the aggression and shame felt by a perpetrator of crime or abuse, the literally life-and-limb-threatening experiences of service men and women can and must be approached and resolved. Traumatic events can absolutely be integrated into a workable if not meaningful part of an integrity-rich life story. Without support, however, PTSD sufferers can fall into a counterproductive, even dissociative and dangerous, re-experiencing of their traumas. When this happens, the client feels as if a past trauma is somewhat presently occurring, and such a vivid and time-confused experience could lead to further repression of difficult material and perpetuation of PTSD symptoms going forward.
The mechanism by which all evidence-based treatment protocols for PTSD (like EMDR and CPT) succeed is in supporting the client’s ability to presently, and with reasonable physical calm, experience memories of a prior traumatic event. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Current references to past horrific or humiliating events are overwhelming, obviously. And because the daily environment can trigger trauma references without warning, the PTSD sufferer has become hypervigilant and skilled at avoiding any and all situations that stir up that material. All this has likely led to extreme isolation and despair for the sufferer as well as the sufferer’s family, and it requires help to sort through.
Choosing to presently and calmly experience traumatic memories in therapy is a very difficult yet necessary step if trauma resolution is to occur — and again, resolution is possible! Just as a serious unexpected/unwanted physical infection naturally heals when obstacles to healing are removed and careful treatment is given by a properly trained health care provider, serious unexpected/unwanted psychological impairment following trauma will naturally resolve once obstacles to healing are removed and careful attention is given by a trauma-trained mental health clinician. For more information on trauma resolution, please see this article from my blog.