Friday, July 16, 2010

The Problem of Self in Trauma

My main focus today has been on getting over this dang (and by "dang" I mean, "fucking") virus, because I have to teach on Saturday and will not cancel.  Will. Not.

So no post...until now...because I am obsessive and I refuse to miss a weekday, which I have not done since I started this blog.  My obsession has become a bit more tame if you consider that during the first year of this blog I would not miss any of the seven days of the week.

Today, what is on my mind has to do with Complex-PTSD.  Well, really, this has been on my mind for many days, and it become clearer as I was reading through the archives of the fabulous Heal My PTSD that Svasti sent to me.

Complex-PTSD shares everything in common with PTSD but it has all these added layers, added...complexities.

So Heal My PTSD often speaks of the "Pre-Trauma Self," and my frustrated question has become:

What if there is no such thing as a "Pre-Trauma Self" because the traumas started that young?

Just something to think about...

I have some ideas about this but wanted to throw it out there to you, wise and wonderful readers.


svasti said...

I think there is always a Pre-Trauma Self, but if the trauma started very early in life, then it might not be possible to remember that Self consciously.

My response that is: that's perfectly okay.

Because whatever it is that makes up our concept of "self", there IS a part of us that's not traumatised. That remembers love, honesty, caring and trusting. In fact, lucky you - you have that in spades in your relationship with Marcy.

I'd also go so far as to say that the person you are when you dance is also part of that Self. Probably! :)

That said, it's not like we can ever "go back" to that Self anyway. We can never undo the trauma, but we can undo the meaning that we've wrapped around those traumatic experiences. We can change what we think of ourself, and also what we think it means about the world.

In that way, we can find our Pre-Trauma Self again. I know that for certain because it's what I am doing with my life now. If you'd asked me even a couple of years ago if I could ever be happy again, OR if I'd ever be okay about what happened to me... I would have said FAT CHANCE.

And I'm not all of the way there yet, but I am well on the road.

Seems to me, Christine, you're very fortunate in that you have Marcy, the cats, rabbits, writing and dancing. All of these things are awesome tools and support to help you get through all of this. And I know you will!

Hope your cold goes away soon.

And please, keep up the resting and taking care of yourself!

P.S. Glad you found Michele's site helpful!

Christine Claire Reed said...

This is the issue, though.

If "self" (and I'm talking the psychological concept here and not the spiritual or yogic), If the "self" is developed early on in response to the primary caregiver, WHAT IF the trauma starts RIGHT WHEN the idea of self is just forming -- around 2 and 4 years old.

(Marcy would tell you that mine started in the womb. And she is not being over-sentimental here...details that I don't care to go into.)

So my "Self" only knows over-adrenalined, "inappropriate" response. My "self" is made up of trigger upon trigger...oh, thank god, for free will and all of that...but still.

I am, OF COURSE, not saying that there is not hope... I know you know that about me. ;)

I am just thinking about this theoretically (well, and concretely) but more, in terms of people who don't have the resources (internal or external or relational) that I have...

svasti said...

None of this is easy...

I'd actually say that the psychological, yogic and spiritual "self" are not separate. Not different. Well, not at their core, anyway. Even if outwardly these 'concepts' express differently.

Re: trauma starting in the womb. I believe it. In fact, I have a theory that my almost non-existent brother (who spent most of my teenage years physically and verbally assaulting me) is/was a prime candidate for such a thing. Same goes for my half brother who was adopted out.

My mother experienced all kinds of trauma while she was pregnant with my half-brother. And I can't even begin to imagine the grief and anger my mother experienced when pregnant with my other brother.

That trauma was definitely passed on in the womb. Both of my brothers (neither of whom are in my life) are very angry people. Very.

To a lesser extent, I know I copped some of that "stuff", too. Even less for my younger sister, but I know she was not unscathed either.

So I know it's REALLY difficult to undo some of those layers of triggers.

Which is why I think some of the less verbal therapies might help you - stuff that relates to your physical responses, because there aren't any words for trauma that happened so early on in life.

How could you have words for those things? How could you even understand what was going on? All you could relate to was the trauma, stress and your body's response to that.

As for people who don't have the resources you have... well, they have people like us who are going to do our best to help them. AND they might have to work harder, but if they want to, they can make it too.

Christine Claire Reed said...

I meant to say last night (but I was sleepy!) that I totally agree with your assertion that my Self is definitely found when I am dancing. My frustration (and it's a good and worthy frustration) is to move that Self from the dancing into the Always.

Also, I think Western and Eastern ideas of self are completely different. I don't have the ability to go into this, but I was just watching some Joseph Campbell and he described it so very perfectly.

When we work from the assumption that they are the same, we make mistakes about Indian culture, about the guru and ego, about psychotherapy even.

There is crossover, of course, and there are some amazing people working to integrate the two ways of thinking -- pulling the good parts from both. Like Mark Epstein, of course.


Linnea said...

My true trauma self started once I hit kindergarten and didn't get much of a break from there on out. It's too complex and in some cases, too personal to explain, but I'm realizing how much trauma my body is carrying around for me. I want to write about this so badly but I want it to be just right.

I know that this major purge of extraneous stuff I've been undertaking for the past several weeks has something to do with it. But it's important work, and I can feel the energy shifting as I undertake it.

I believe trauma can start in the womb. I have to leave it at that, but I believe it can.

(I also figured out the funky layout neck thing, since I started paying attention to when I do it. Surprise! It wasn't just during layout. But that's an email conversation.)

Take care of your nose, and all the other wounded places, too. <3

Christine Claire Reed said...

Yep, Linnea, it is so difficult to write about. I, too, keep thinking...don't do it; it's too complicated. But I wanted to attempt to start sidling up to a discussion.

You would love reading Bessel Von Der Kolk...he literally wrote the first book on PTSD in the 70s and he is at the forefront of somatic therapy and he's an MD so he gets a lot of crap from the medical community for his work. Which always lends validity to it for me...that he believes so strongly in what he is doing that he goes out on that limb. Like Alice Miller.

I'll keep sharing stuff that I'm reading. And the neck tell.

claire said...

What happens if the trauma happens in the womb or between birth and the first eighteen months?

While taking a course in Transactional Analysis, twenty years ago now, our wonderful teacher mentioned that this was possible. Very little, it was said then, can be done to help because you have no memory per se to work on.

She had a tall pile of casino token-like colorful things and showed that the foundation of the pile when bad things happen really early is very wobbly and may stay that way for a long long time...

I related very much to this then.

I expect your yoga and meditation and your work on yourself and Marcy's love, all this will contribute to healing whatever may have happened.

I see it as a very slow and incremental progress, but it happens.

Love and blessings.

Brooks Hall said...

Hey, you!
As I read this (again) today, I don't think there is a self as in something stable and solid to hold onto. You might agree in some sense... I, too, experienced  trauma in the womb. And as I tried to share about it just now I realized that it felt way too vulnerable. So anyway, my heart opens as I read this post and I wish you well.

But this thought of existing without needing a solid sense of self because life is changing, and offering opportunities and challenges, somehow is helping my faith in the life situation. Maybe life is more like a malleable energy that can adapt to the present as long as we can let go of harmful aspects of mind.

Thanks for helping me think about this! Very important stuff for me, too...

Christine Claire Reed said...

Claire, Thank you. Yes. Perfect description and exactly what I am referring to.

We can talk all we want about a Soul and essential self (I do it too...) but there is a very real and concrete level on which this is all happening in the now.

When I was about 6 years old, I asked my mother "How do I know I am me?"

She sent me to my room, of course.

I used to think, "Oh, look, I was a spiritual seeker so early on..." but now I see that as the question of a suffering little person, desperate to know if she existed.

mmaaggnnaa said...

Hi, Christine -

I have often felt the same as you . . . "what pre-trauma self?"

I agree with the conversation you all have been having . . . that we can find that true self can be discovered by finding who we are in the joyful moments. That's my guide and it is serving me well.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

- Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

Designer and Tomboy, Paula said...

I just stumbled on this conversation via twitter and wanted to thank you all for the insight.

Anonymous said...

I have been a lurker here for a long time and never felt wise enought to comment. I have had more insight and inspiration from you recording your journey than I have words for. I have to tell you that I have this sense of myself, and all of us, as "original design", the divine spark that began my life that is pure, whole and connected. It exsists no matter what my head or the pain in my body tell me, that my highest self is always there and accessable even when I feel the most crazy, isolated and wounded. I believe that for everyone I meet, and I do not believe that any amount of shadow can diminish the true light of this place. We all have different ways to access it, and when we do it gets stronger, bigger, wholer. Just my thoughts. Thank you for doing what you do with eloquence, grace and presence. I too, at 41, have begun to dance.

Emma said...

I've been reading and pondering this post and the comments. I've been unsure if I have anything to add. I'm still not sure, but look at me writing a comment just the same! :)

I haven't read a lot of stuff that refers to a "pre-trauma self." Looking it up, the top hits were this post, actually! Is the importance the idea of reconnecting with who you were before the trauma? To what end? You probably don't want to rehash it and that's fine. I'm just mulling it over.

I don't know who I was before I felt unsafe all the time - if there was ever a time before that. I guess it doesn't seem that useful to me personally (please don't interpret that as a statement about what is useful to you or anyone else). What I have now is who I am NOW and I do my best to work with that. I think my true self is just me - not the me pre-trauma.

Oh, I may be getting this all wrong...

Christine Claire Reed said...

Emma -- NO! You aren't getting anything wrong. We are very on the same page here -- confused.

A large PTSD site often uses that language when discussing steps toward healing and it frustrates me.

That was the point -- people who suffer Complex-PTSD are in a different boat, because so often, there WAS NO "pre-trauma" self as the self was born INTO trauma.

So the idea of constructing a post-trauma self gets all wiggly to me.

That's all.

Now we will all breathe...


Christine Claire Reed said...

Anonymous, Thanks for de-lurking!! :)

And I am so so so happy to hear that you are dancing!

Emma said...

I don't know that this is at all helpful, but I must share this bit of poetry that I just read. The link to this topic is clear (whether it offers us something useful or not).

"I want to go back
To the beginning.
We all do.
I think:
Hurt won't be there.

But I'm wrong.
Where the water
Bubbles up
At the spring:
Isn't that a wound?"

-Gregory Orr

Back to breathing... :)

Karen D said...

I am really finding this converstaion helpful to me. I have struggled for a long time with a diagnosis of sexual abuse with no memory for so long. The therapist I am working with has been suggesting somatic work since my body is holding the trauma that my mind can't remember. For so long I envied (i know that sounds weird) people who could remember their abuse because I felt that If I could only remember I could move past it, but my body still needs to move the energy out anyway even though I can't remember.

When I was younger I used to always feel like I was not real or my life was a dream..

Thanks for opening this conversation

Jaliya said...

I've thought, written and read a lot on this subject 'cause I experienced trauma from birth ... if not before.

Many, many years of inner work have left me thinking that with complex PTSD and pre-cognitive/preverbal trauma, there's always work to be done ... and there's also, with the intention to heal, an underlying, organic process happening over time. Years and decades pass, and the feeling of being a terminal f*ck-up gradually fades, dissipates, relinquishes its hold ...

That's my first thought ... I'm going to read and ponder some more ...

Michele's blog is a great place to visit for solid, "You can do it!" bolstering and information ... Lots of different perspectives, stories, and up-to-date wisdom ...

One thought, Christine: Read anything you can find by the author and psychiatrist Michael Eigen. When I was in hospital last year, I found my way to its library on my first day there (of course!) ... I came upon Michael's book, The Sensitive Self -- it was the very first book I nosed into there.

More later, when I've mused on your question ...

svasti said...

"My frustration (and it's a good and worthy frustration) is to move that Self from the dancing into the Always."

Keep dancing. Eventually a bleed-through occurs from the experience of joy you get while dancing to your Always experience. It takes time and continued work (which you're doing).

Re: differences between concepts of Self, we'll have to agree to disagree. I get that on certain levels, there are differences. I get that psychotherapy has certain things to say. I'm even a fan of Joseph Campbell.

And I've had my fair share of psychotherapy, as well as of course, lots of yoga and meditation, philosophy etc. And I get the struggle to reconcile them, too. But none of that actually makes them separate or different. There's cultural fit and perception, and certain things that'll work better for different people based on that. But these are still constructs and there are many, many levels to that.

I'm not saying I understand it all, or even that I perfectly understand it. But I have been able to see for myself (from time to time), that there is no difference in these 'Self' concepts, just in how we choose to relate to them.

And that has nothing to do with gurus or egos or culture.

Hope you're doing better today :)