Treatment of traumatic memories in c-ptsd

Lacrimosa

Learning
Hi, I would just like to ask some things regarding the treatment of complex ptsd.

I forgot which thread it was, but I've read here somewhere that there are certain traumas/traumatic memories that get grouped together in therapy. How is that done? For example, if you have multiple memories/circumstances of being shamed, which of them is chosen to be processed and healed, given they have similar emotional weights? Does healing one memory automatically heal all with the same nature? Or do you have to deliberately go through many of them in multiple sessions?

Also, what about for certain triggers wherein the origin is harder to trace? Like, what if the root trauma may have happened at early childhood, and so the memories aren't clear?

Thanks a lot.
 

Wendell_R

MyPTSD Pro
I have CPTSD, and although I experienced traumas that I remember, the biggest traumas happened when I was under two years old. I know that I was hit and I know I was emotionally neglected from things my parents told me, for example.

I have done a lot of EMDR on these traumas, so my answers reflect those experiences and what my therapist has said. In doing EMDR, it's important to stay within your "window of tolerance". If the whole experience is so painful in bringing up the past too intensely, our reactions can be counterproductive to healing. So my therapist likes to talk about a situation or feeling that I've had recently, see what that reminds me of in my past, and then follow that "thread" with EMDR. We try to find a thread that reaches into the trauma, but is not so overwhelming that I end out of my window of tolerance. An important part of the EMDR is to check in with the therapist about how we felt in the following day, to make sure of our tolerance. The course of treatment is largely to keep following those threads, based on the types of PTSD responses or flashbacks are happening in our daily lives. So, for major traumas, there are many sessions on similar things, but my therapist doesn't go about grouping the traumas. The grouping is kind of organic. The sessions build on one another, so you don't necessarily need to cover every individual trauma event. My therapist tells me that earlier in her EMDR experience, she used to plan out the sessions and approaches more than she does now. Now, she trusts that what comes up for me is a good sign of what I am ready to tackle and what I need to tackle.

All of this work doesn't rely on having clear memories. My flashbacks are highly distorted. I have had recurring flashbacks of having my head smashed to the pavement, and of having my arm ripped out of its socket. If any of those things really happened, I would not have survived. But the terror and lack of parental trust is very, very real. EMDR in that case has centered on building resources, especially of people in my mind, that can make my early childhood a safe place. When I started, I couldn't even say the phrase "Little boys should not be hit" without horrible flashbacks. Now, I can readily call up an image of young me being loved and held and adored. That all happened without knowing exactly what happened in my past.
 

Wendell_R

MyPTSD Pro
Now, I can readily call up an image of young me being loved and held and adored.
I should clarify! The image of being loved and held and adored is not what really happened in my life--it's a mental imagination of love and care that heals the wounds of what really happened. The mother in that imaginary place is in many ways more real to me than my biological mom, though.
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
What type of therapy are you in or looking for?

Therapy should be all about what you bring; how you want to explore the issues; how you group things together; how you make meaning of everything.
A good therapist will be guided by you, rather than you conforming to their notion of what happened, what is discussed, how they see things are grouped together or not.

I'm not sure I have the answers about how to tackle multiple traumas as I'm still working my way through that too. I grapple with : do I have to go through each one? Or does a theme of shame or something else cover it all? I think the answers, for me, are a bit of both.
Maybe for you the answers are different?

My T often, and also recently because I was having this similar conversation with her, says that she can connect to my trauma without me going in to specifics. But sometimes I struggle with that because the shame is within the specifics, at times.

T's are also very used to memories being fragmented or understanding about trauma when we were preverbal or too young to consciously hold the memory, or too disassociated to hold it. A lot of my traumas have bits missing in the memory. Sometimes crucial bits. But there is still meaning to take from it all

So essentially: you do what works for you. And you might or might not have a clue about what works for you. And you can explore that with your T. And what you think works for you might change over time. And that is all 💯 ok.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
in my own therapy sessions, i don't group my memories as much as i follow the threads upon which they appear. shaming is a good example. when i discover myself ashamed to stand and be counted in a veteran's day salute (happens just about every time military veterans are called to stand and be counted), the thread of any go-round might lead me anywhere from the desire to be a good mother/wife to MST (military sexual trauma) to my support of the viet nam protests in the 70's. following the thread allows me to process the sequence.

as for my triggers. . . i believe that awareness and remediation of my triggered state is more important than identifying the trigger. psych triggers are sneaky petes that continually change and pull sneak attacks at unpredictable times. my own psychotic reactions can cause an awful lot of collateral damage before is identified. i worry about the symptoms far more than the source.
 

Sues

MyPTSD Pro
In my therapy, I'm doing EMDR. We are working on my memories in each room of the house I was in. So we are working on one room at a time. My therapist asks me what represents the worst memory in that room, to briefly describe it, and then we do the processing/EMDR on that memory. Often other things come up and we just "go with that" and continue the processing. As several memories are processed, I eventually get to where I have "cleared" that room. (I don't have to process every single memory. As we work on some, others are being processed at the same time.) I can think back on that room and everything that happened in there and it's just a memory. I am free of the hurt, fear and horror. I actually feel amazing! It's so uplifting.

I started with the easiest or less horrific rooms/memories. I am so glad that I did because it worked. So now that we are working on the really bad stuff, and it's taking longer, I know it will work.
 

Lacrimosa

Learning
Thank you very much for all the replies, and for sharing your personal experiences. Highly appreciate them! Having read all of these, I guess it's really not clear-cut but an organic process, that would be unique to our own experience and response to therapy. I'm still not under professional help, but hoping to enroll in one asap. So right now, I'm trying to learn as much as I can. I guess I'm just really worried and scared too, of the whole process, of the possible difficulties and time to be spent; so trying to have an idea what to expect, kinda set my mind to it.


@Wendell_R I'm glad to read how you've progressed, and how it's now easy for you to bring up a positive imagery of being loved as a child. That's wonderful. :) No worries, I understood what you meant; I'm also currently working on developing a very loving 'Inner Mother' in preparation for formal therapy. I didn't know EMDR introduces that technique as well, and thought it only seeks to erase the negative emotions.

@Movingforward10 I'm actually still unsure. I feel inclined towards IFS, but can't find any local therapist that specializes in that method. I was able to search up someone who offers EMDR though, so hoping to save up and get a consultation soon. And hoping too that she would be a 'good therapist' according to how you described it, and that the method is something that would work for me. Thanks for the empowering advice. :)

@arfie This process of following the thread wherever it leads to at the moment sounds like a good method, rather than forcing one's own idea of which particular set of memories to settle. I appreciate you sharing a personal example and how it works for you. I guess I just also need to trust myself, and the process. :)

@Sues Oh, that is an interesting way to 'group' things somehow, makes total sense. And it's so great to read that you are free of hurt and fear, and that you now feel confident doing the same process for the worse stuff. That's highly encouraging for me too. :)
 

katz

MyPTSD Pro
When people have told me to just go ahead and process the memories - I have always told them it is like a bunch of scattered papers on the floor. I have to pick up each one, read it, and then I can file it in the file cabinet in the corner of "my room". I know that the paper is in there and that I can look at it anytime if I need to.

However, once I have read and processed it (or just mourned)- I can usually just "let it go". The comfort of knowing that I can get to it - if I want to, is very reassuring to me. I have had so many things and memories taken away or just forgotten. I have also been told that they are not important and to "just forget them". So having them within my reach is good for me.

(I wish I had a T to help me with all this - but I'm still looking. I would love to purge some of the most terrible ones)
 

Friday

Moderator
Just speaking to complex trauma, rather than to CPTSD…

…and starting from the end

Also, what about for certain triggers wherein the origin is harder to trace? Like, what if the root trauma may have happened at early childhood, and so the memories aren't clear?

You don’t need to process the (or any) trauma one iota, in order to first blunt and then eliminate triggers altogether.

Processing trauma eliminates triggers at the source. And that particular effect seems to be forever in all ways, at least in my experience. Including repeat trauma, years/decades later.

For example? All my rape & sexual assault trauma was processed to the hilt eons -decades- ago. Being raped again, since? Is not only absurdly easy TO process (couple few days, typically), but any incidental triggers/stressors are all tied to the new event, and nothing links back to the old events. No triggers/stressors, no new rapes or sexual assaults, no old trauma of other types, no new trauma of other types. There’s just nothing for new/old trauma to latch onto. Like trying to use a magnet on non-magnetic-surfaces.

Simply blunting/eliminating triggers/stressors, otoh, is more like spring loading a trap. Nope, triggers/stressors don’t cause any kind of reaction, no matter the severity of the trigger, the time spent around, etc… UNLESS … new trauma happens, coping mechanisms are lost, or stress increases past some mystery limit. At which point any/all of the previously sorted triggers and stressors can spring back into full form, along with brand new ones, all of which are tied to old/new trauma, and? Suck just as much / take just as much time to blunt/eliminate as it did the first go round.

So why go after triggers and stressors instead of always attacking the root cause first?

Quality. Of. Life.

Suffer for years being non-functional and highly symptomatic as I attempt to process all the traumas that lead TO those triggers and stressors -vs- working on both triggers/stressors AND processing trauma, in order to have the best quality of life whilst I keep building & improving my life? The second. Hands down.

I only went after symptoms (including triggers/stressors) my first go round with PTSD in the late 90s & early aughts. Because I didn’t know any better, didn’t know “this” was PTSD, and knew Jack shit about trauma from an academic perspective. That led to really phenom results. For about a decade I was virtually asymptomatic. Add in new trauma, loss of coping mechanisms, and astronomical stress in 2012/2014? And my life imploded as I was not only dealing with all the new, but hit by a runaway dump truck with all the old.

And as this already got novel long, I’ll save the rest to drafts and finish those bits later.

Does healing one memory automatically heal all with the same nature?
I've read here somewhere that there are certain traumas/traumatic memories that get grouped together in therapy. How is that done? For example, if you have multiple memories/circumstances of being shamed, which of them is chosen to be processed and healed, given they have similar emotional weights?
For example, if you have multiple memories/circumstances of being shamed, which of them is chosen to be processed and healed, given they have similar emotional weights?
Does healing one memory automatically heal all with the same nature? Or do you have to deliberately go through many of them in multiple sessions?
 

Lacrimosa

Learning
@katz That's a nice metaphor in describing how you are able to process your memories, and then file and keep them within reach. Being often told to forget them is something that I experience too, and is personally quite frustrating.

Thanks for sharing, and I wish you well in finding a T to help you with purging the bad ones.


@Friday Thank you for providing a thorough comparison of those two approaches, even sharing personal examples. As well as for offering the advice on which one leads to having a better quality of life, based on experience. I was also, for years, focused on trying to just cure the symptoms. But now, ready to "lay the axe by the root".
So this post gives me hope and reassurance. Especially this.
Processing trauma eliminates triggers at the source. And that particular effect seems to be forever in all ways, at least in my experience.

Looking forward to the rest.
 
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