Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Working with Emotional Flashbacks


My entire sense of self and place is a bit askew right now, and though it's uncomfortable, I know it's all good, as I work with and through the concepts and ideas behind Complex-PTSD.  I've never met such an accurate and helpful psychological model for myself.

None of the other boxes ever quite fit, and yep, you got it...I don't like boxes of any kind so instead I choose to see Complex-PTSD as a lens through which I am looking at myself and my life and how I do this thing called living and how I could do it so much better.

Through this lens, for the first time, really, I can see clearly and I can see far ahead and I can see that there is deep and abiding peace and joy awaiting me.  If I am willing to do the work.

Firstly, I have been working with becoming super aware of my "emotional flashbacks."  A bit different from flashbacks of the PTSD variety that are tied to a specific event, emotional flashbacks are more nebulous, not-necessarily-associated-with-anything feeling states.

Like abandonment.  Which is my Biggie.

Here's a great little bit about them for you to consider from this site:

"...emotional flashbacks (are) sudden and often prolonged regressions ("amygdala hijackings") to the frightening and abandoned feeling-states of childhood. They are accompanied by inappropriate and intense arousal of the fight/flight instinct and the sympathetic nervous system. Typically, they manifest as intense and confusing episodes of fear, toxic shame, and/or despair, which often beget angry reactions against the self or others. When fear is the dominant emotion in an emotional flashback, the individual feels overwhelmed, panicky or even suicidal. When despair predominates, it creates a sense of profound numbness, paralysis and an urgent need to hide. Feeling small, young, fragile, powerless and helpless is also common in emotional flashbacks. Such experiences are typically overlaid with toxic shame, which, as described in John Bradshaw's Healing The Shame That Binds, obliterates an individual's self-esteem with an overpowering sense that she is as worthless, stupid, contemptible or fatally flawed, as she was viewed by her original caregivers. Toxic shame inhibits the individual from seeking comfort and support, and in a reenactment of the childhood abandonment she is flashing back to, isolates her in an overwhelming and humiliating sense of defectiveness. Clients who view themselves as worthless, defective, ugly or despicable are showing signs of being lost in an emotional flashback. When stuck in this state, they often polarize affectively into intense self-hate and self-disgust, and cognitively into extreme and virulent self-criticism."

Is this familiar to any of you?

20 comments:

Heather Plett said...

Makes me wonder if my beloved may be right there with you.

Linda-Sama said...

yes. I went through it 2 years ago. but kept it to myself.

Linnea said...

Oh, yes, I see me in there -- though it's not the caregivers, it's others, likely because I was ostracized so much by my peers for my eye problems and resented by more than one teacher because I was intellectually ahead of my classmates and as such meant extra work for them. (My first-grade teacher was openly hostile to me.) I also felt like a misfit everywhere I went because something always set me apart. (I still have issues with that.)

THIS is why I hunch my shoulders and do the chicken neck. I caught myself doing it following a misunderstanding I had last week. My primary employers (when I worked in corporate America) ran the gamut from bullies to sexual harassers. The only thing I can figure out is that I'm trying to make myself small, or to make myself disappear. If they don't notice me, they can't hurt me, reasons the injured part of my brain.

Tess said...

I so admire the way in which you're tackling this and staying with it.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Linnea -- yes. That is a classic postural/somatic response to the sort of trauma you describe, and thus the importance of body work.

Talk therapy is believed by my favorite thinkers in this field to actually RE-TRIGGER the trauma, because our brains can't tell past from present.

So yoga and dance and martial arts...these are the true healing models. We need to get it out of our muscles!!

Emma said...

It's all very interesting.

I'm so glad this is becoming so useful for you. That's a great thing!

Since you asked!

I hadn't really read about CPTSD before and I thought it might be a good fit for me. The prolonged trauma causes of CPTSD match my history much more than the event causes of PTSD. However, my symptoms are PTSD much, much more than CPTSD. I have pretty much every PTSD symptom (though a lot of them have greatly diminished over the past decade, thankfully).

I think the emotional flashbacks do strike a chord with me, though, in that I've often been overwhelmed by episodes of fear, shame, and/or despair.

Anyway, I'm glad you're finding such a useful lens for the work you are doing.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Emma -- Actually the symptoms of Complex-PTSD INCLUDE ALL THOSE of PTSD and then some. Especially important in diagnosis would be your history...that's what kinda pushes it over to the complex variety.

Anonymous said...

I so see myself in your posting. I have a diagnosis of PTSD, but never came across this additional info regarding emotional flashbacks. Thank you for the gift of this "aha!" moment. I realized recently that as a belly dancer, I have only learned to do abdominal movements (esp lower abs)skeletally because my abdomen is the "basement" where all my childhood grief, anger, and fear live. I'm slowly learning to use those muscles, feel the feelings that surface, and use dance to heal. body work is a biggie!

Emma said...

Aha! I see and I do remember you writing that now.

Oh, I've been reading this page now:
http://www.outofthefog.net/Disorders/CPTSD.html#CPTSDIntroduction

I think the C-PTSD description I was reading before was too vague compared to the PTSD description (which was so very accurate for me).

Graciel @ Evenstar Art said...

your comment about talk therapy being a re-trigger and dance/yoga being the true healing models...THAT struck a huge chord. i am with you, dear christine, in hyper-awareness of emotional flashbacks. talking hasn't helped too much. time to let my body step up to the plate and accelerate the healing. thank you!!!!!

xo, graciel

svasti said...

Even sometimes with PTSD, talk therapy doesn't work entirely. That's certainly what I found, and why EMDR (where I didn't have to talk about specifics) worked for me.

Same thing with emotional flashbacks - certainly not to the extent you've described here, but yeah, I can relate to the emotional impact type of flashback as much as to specific event type stuff.

I am glad you are starting to find your way with all of this. Being able to relate to a diagnosis and list of symptoms is helpful, even if only because it helps you see you aren't just going crazy!

I get your issues with abandonment, too. I do...

claire said...

It sure is, Christine. Thank you very much for giving such a tool to understand better what comes over me sometimes...

A huge hug and a blessing!

John Chacona said...

Working on this now. I was totally surprised by the diagnosis, associating PTSD with returning combat vets and camp survivors. And it's abandonment for me, too. Innersting . . . . Am I the only guy here?

Christine Claire Reed said...

John, Yes, it is surprising to me how people think of PTSD as solely the realm of soldiers, etc. But then, I have to remember that I'm a little on the odd side with my obsessive reading...trying so hard to figure out what was going on.

Soul Murder was this amazing, ground breaking work that I read years ago, and in it, he compares abusive homes to concentration camps. The psychologist/author was really going out on a limb to say that child abuse was that detrimental.

It blows my mind but when Alice Miller dared to say that child abuse actually existed, she was ostracized by the whole psych community. And that was only just in the 1970's!!!!!

You will FEEL like you are the only guy here, by the way. :)

Christine Claire Reed said...

oh, John, I should have said: COME to my Monday night Kundalini yoga at Dharma (6 PM). No other yoga has done for me, emotionally, what Kundalini has. And other people react the same. I think I have at least one person in tears every week. It is cleansing.

Jan said...

Hugs to you, lovely one, for doing such powerful inner work. Look at all the healing you are facilitating in others too! My heart is soooo happy to read this...May you, everyone here, everyone everywhere who suffers in this way feel safe and loved and free. xo

(Self-Healing is the holiest work...)

Susan said...

Yup! Good share Christine - thank you!

Holly Westergren said...

thank you so much for this. you're wonderful. xo

Holly Westergren said...

thank you so much for this. you're wonderful. xo

Crow Steals Fire said...

I'm so glad to find your post. Just having experienced another emotional flashback and actually recognizing it and finally being able to reach out for help during an episode, I am poignantly struck by:

"Toxic shame inhibits the individual from seeking comfort and support, and in a reenactment of the childhood abandonment she is flashing back to, isolates her in an overwhelming and humiliating sense of defectiveness."

So painful. But I am confident I will heal, eventually.