Cognitive Flooding for trauma?

Warrior Chicken

MyPTSD Pro
I recently listened to a David Burns podcast regarding sexual fantasies where he discussed a technique called cognitive flooding to address the intrusive thoughts.

Lately, I’ve been having some issues with disturbing sexual fantasies about things from my past. I am trying to sort out if trauma based sexual fantasies are different than what Burns discusses as sexual fantasies in the example he provides in the podcast. Both, the example in the podcast and trauma fantasies are anxiety related, so I’m not sure. Thoughts?

In the podcast he mentions the way he would recommend to deal with the fantasies is to purposely flood oneself with the fantasies (a la exposure therapy style).

This is what it seems like my brain is doing to me without the intention of doing it myself. So, rather than flooding on purpose, just embrace it? So disturbing, but maybe that’s it, don’t avoid.

So then what about retraumatization? Is it all a figure of speech? Embrace it and you’re in control?

It’s possible I missed a valuable point in the podcast or just can’t think my way out of this without some insight from others.
 

joeylittle

Administrator
I am trying to sort out if trauma based sexual fantasies are different than what Burns discusses as sexual fantasies in the example he provides in the podcast. Both, the example in the podcast and trauma fantasies are anxiety related, so I’m not sure. Thoughts?
I'm pretty certain there is a significant difference.

That advice - to flood oneself with the thing causing stress - really works for things that are:
  1. In one's day-to-day life
  2. Connected to anxiety because of worrying over having the fantasy
So - if I'm having a sexual fantasy about someone else taking control, but I also feel ashamed of that fantasy, it's likely I'll feel guilt which can lead to anxiety.

The problem is that I'm not allowing myself to think the thoughts without judgement, and that gets me stuck in them. Flooding should be a deliberate way of crushing those anxiety-producing thoughts/fears that are the real problem.

Trauma-based fantasy is more rooted in traumatic memory, and so forcing a flooding of similar fantasies could be re-traumatizing. Certainly, is not a great way to get the traumatic memory to reincorporate and get filed to the past.

One of the easier ways to understand traumatic memory is to consider it as an event from the past that gets stuck in the present. Re-traumatization happens when that stuck memory gets a big jolt of activation from a similar present-day event. Flooding can get big enough to do that. But, different people are different, have different levels of tolerance, etc....so it's not a given, just a possibility.

Risk of re-traumitization is the same reason why Prolonged Exposure therapy for PTSD isn't the be-all end-all. Clinicians developed other protocols as a way to soften the act of remembering. In theory, using psychedelics to support traumatic memory reconsolidating (trauma processing) works the same way - it creates a buffer, which makes the experience of remembering significantly less jarring, and therefore more likely to succeed.

That's a lot of babble just to say...yeah, those are two different things. Flooding to diminish anxiety doesn't work with trauma-related thoughts. Works with present-day thoughts.
 
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