What is your definition of “trauma processing”?

As always, please take what helps and leave the rest.

I think one factor that matters is the "window of tolerance." When we are outside our window of distress tolerance, we are often
(1) flooded by disconnected emotions and/or memories. They are intrusive and loud and painful and there is nothing productive happening - we're just swept up in the flood and banged about.
(2) dissociated, disconnected, numb. How did I get here? Why does everything feel so far away? Meh, not sure. When did it start? Shrug.

Trauma processing doesn't go so well until we figure out how to access it in manageable chunks. Sometimes, these chunks are unbelievably, infinitesimally, frustratingly small. I can't stand red scarves, so I take a blue scarf that I love and weave a single red piece of yarn into it, in the shape of a heart. And wear it and wear it and wear it until I don't notice anymore. Or I begin chipping away at shame, looking for tools and ideas and metaphors that have helped others on this site begin to make sense of their shame.

A really good, skilled trauma therapist is useful because they can do things like
(1) read our window of tolerance from the outside
(2) catch warning signs that we are moving outside that window before we do
(3) teach us to recognize when we are inside that window and when we are outside of it for ourselves
(4) teach us tools for responding to the symptoms that arise when we are outside our window of tolerance (grounding, etc.)
(5) offer help and tools within that window that help us to process, make connections, have compassion for ourselves
We can learn these things ourselves, sometimes, it's just harder.

I am not ok with any of what happened to me - it wasn't ok. But some of it doesn't haunt me in the same way, anymore. I don't think I could have accomplished that without outside support of some kind.
 

Elsewhere

Learning
@One step at a time, I like the way you talk about a window of tolerance. Those 2 manifestations are so familiar. And your mention of shame is very apt. In the last year or so, I went from thinking shame, although often mentioned as a symptom, wasn’t a factor for me—after all, “what do I have to be ashamed of?”—to realizing that I’m basically shame-based, and much of my non-shock trauma (i.e., the more emotional, complex-trauma stuff) is indeed about me feeling shame, even when I shouldn’t be. Like I am shame, almost. A lot of the haunting memories that I’ve been dealing with lately are more about the shame and degradation I’ve felt all throughout life than the early beatings. This took me a long time to figure out.

Furthermore, it has helped me a little to start realizing that so much of my depressive rumination is due to shame, and that so much of my shame is irrational (for lack of a better term). Self compassion has helped. I guess I need to keep pounding away at it.

I really appreciate everyone’s responses. They have already started to help. You guys are awesome
 

grit

MyPTSD Pro
I am so moved by your post @Elsewhere and I am especially haunted by this comment:
Sometimes I worry that things are just getting more deeply embedded in my brain rather than discharging. That terrifies me.
and honestly all the question you are asking reminded me of many questions and thoughts I have had over the years BUT mainly since I have been to therapy more so cause that is when I was stuck on the word "processing". I have to say first and I really do not mean to come off as ass licker (not that is even necessary) but you sound extremely intelligent and gentle soul and I think whatever that happened to you as a child (if I am correct to assume your trauma is child based) has happened in such that it is so confusing for an adult to understand forget about a child who is vulnerable, impressionable and still forming both mind and body.

Unfortunately I do not have an answer or definite one for you but I wonder and ask if you have an image, a goal, a safe relationship in your life, a desire, an ambition that may offset the processing to become a dominant area of your life.
As another person said above, hope you take my comment with grain of salt and leave anything else as my own spillage.

The way I see my trauma processing now is like I have had an extra leg (childhood trauma) that was problematic -ptsd and I cut it (cognitively fully understood I am out of the line of fire now) and now I have a very sensitive stump that I have to tend to by going to therapy and by reflecting and also becoming introspective about my life and inner world by observing my mental states and finding the general feel of my experience.

What I mean is (hopefully) is ultimately for me the processing of trauma is impossible unless I bring it to the here and now and see it what it looks like in my life. I will give you a very personal touch of my therapy process of my trauma: I finally admitted to myself first that deep down inside, I have been aggressively using the therapist as means to end, meaning not for learning love or loving them or even recovering from trauma but means of keeping my own self protection intact. Well one wonders where is this coming from? Cause I am not the kind of person who "uses" people! What? if any, I have given every extra time and effort of my life helping others for over 20yrs no less. Shame! but when I looked below the shame and judgement, I realized that using the therapist to means to end is precisely how I also used my mother to means to end of surviving her...not loving her, not loving me, no joy or exploration- to survive! That need for survival become my own DNA and showed in therapy all these years and the question is now what to do about it? I could go crazy Rambo on my own thought, feeling and insight and punish myself as I have been trained by my lovely mother! NOT! or I could acknowledge this insane side of me so embedded in me I wonder if I was using my husband and how and why? Until I realized oops I am chasing the goose here. Or I could acknowledge no surprise this is how I am formed as an organism needing to survive in a hostile environment, take morals out and make sense of it. I am not discounting the uncomfortable, the grief of learning I am a user and the shame gosh could the therapist see that side of me - I felt when I realized this encompassing feeling and fog that I sort of carry it in my life. So now I feel that is me, it is a side of me, not all of me, and there is obviously a side of me that recognized, observed, and is accepting and both are mine (one side is made by my experience and the other is innate) and by sharing this with my therapist, it has taken its own path to become nothing. All of sudden, I have become more open to accept her, acknowledge her anchoring me, but yet give more weight to my own mind and authority of being transparent and vulnerable to open up and admitting no wonder I often felt yuck in therapy...cause well...it is obvious.

I share this with you because first I do not have intrusive thoughts but I do find the process of therapy triggers me by the mere fact it is a relationship that is not symmetrical just like a child and a parent and no wonder I started to operate similar manner.I would argue even if you feel love and respect to your therapist, one must ask, what is the love and respect with a person whom you are often feeling so much in pain in their presence? I would say that is a good reminder of this relationship reminding a loving a parent who also deeply hurt us...and to make that connection by itself is sometimes a relief.

Ask yourself why are you experiencing this in this time, with this therapist, and precisely in this manner? The feelings are intrusive because something in your environment is triggering (could be the act of therapy itself) and until you find that and face it, it will just go on or you will probably get tired and leave the situation only to find yourself again slaying the same dragons. I know most therapists do not like when asked directly why am I experiencing this with you? and they will most likely said one way or another it is not me -it is your memory but I often ask this: then how come I do not feel this same thing with who and who outside of therapy? People bring sides of us to the surface, these feelings are on your surface cause you are focused on them with someone else and I hope you have the strength, the agency, and safe space to confront gently and with the intention of working through in the here and now. Cause it is a fact, you will never have another chance to go back and correct.

Long response and mostly blahah but hope you find something that may resonate with you. Wish you great luck. My English is bad...too many languages so feel free if I can clarify something.
 

enough

MyPTSD Pro
By this, do you mean we have to consciously be aware that an event was traumatic before we can start to process and defuse the memory?
Not sure.... I hired my T to help me with Traumatic memories and intrusive thoughts about them. That alone makes me aware they were traumatic.
Heres an analogy: If I had hired him to help me bake a cake I wouldn't want to spend the money learning everything there was to know about flour and it's origins, and having him teach me just a recipe, complete or not, would have been cheaper in a book. On the flip side, I think that since we are going to bake a cake it would be wrong for me to keep it a secret that I know nothing of measuring systems and can't bear to break an egg due to past events. We are going to have to get the whole pints in a gallon, cups in a wuart thing worked out and then work on the egg for awhile, and hopefully bake that cake.
I had a hard time getting past the points I had always stopped some intrusive thoughts, hitting pause way before the end. We figured that out, I played the tapes all the way through (measuring system stupidity, egg breaking fears) and he stayed on the course of actually teaching baking skills and we have made some cakes together.
It was important to see the whole traumatic event, before, after during and how I remembered it before ,after, during the replay, and how we could adjust it for future intrusions and eventually just see them as a manifestation of my brains duty to keep me safe. Thanks brain, that cake has been baked.
 

Rumors

MyPTSD Pro
For me, trauma processing is being able to take implicit and explicit memories and integrate them in to the here and now. With integration, there is the component of not allowing those memories to take me back to the time they happened and trigger me into believing I am experiencing the trauma again, but instead be connected to where I am today which is in a safe place, feet on the ground, sun on my face, cool breeze....safe....
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
@One step at a time, I like the way you talk about a window of tolerance. Those 2 manifestations are so familiar. And your mention of shame is very apt. In the last year or so, I went from thinking shame, although often mentioned as a symptom, wasn’t a factor for me—after all, “what do I have to be ashamed of?”—to realizing that I’m basically shame-based, and much of my non-shock trauma (i.e., the more emotional, complex-trauma stuff) is indeed about me feeling shame, even when I shouldn’t be. Like I am shame, almost. A lot of the haunting memories that I’ve been dealing with lately are more about the shame and degradation I’ve felt all throughout life than the early beatings. This took me a long time to figure out.

Furthermore, it has helped me a little to start realizing that so much of my depressive rumination is due to shame, and that so much of my shame is irrational (for lack of a better term). Self compassion has helped. I guess I need to keep pounding away at it.

I really appreciate everyone’s responses. They have already started to help. You guys are awesome
hi @Elsewhere, most of my depressive rumination is also due to shame. Your not alone. It's an ongoing struggle. I'm still not sure how to deal with it.
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
I was so unwell most of my life and it really after my decision making and behaviour. I just try to say to myself that, that's in the past now. I've changed and I'm not that person anymore. What matters is who I am now. And to learn from my mistakes and forgive myself.
 

Sues

Confident
Can anyone testify to processing to the point of being ok with any of your traumatic memories? Or is everyone still in the middle of processing, and it really does take forever? Sorry if that’s a dumb question, I don’t really know how to ask
Hi, yes, I can finally say that I have one single memory that when I now think about it, it no longer bothers me! I've been doing EMDR and a week ago we finally finished this memory and it is so strange to be able to say that it no longer "bothers me" to think about it. I have many years of trauma to "process" still, but we take it one step at a time.

I was skeptical of EMDR, and I was very surprised when it "worked." I know it's not for everyone, but I am so glad that it is helping me. It is such a relief to know that something will finally help.
 

Elsewhere

Learning
Hi, yes, I can finally say that I have one single memory that when I now think about it, it no longer bothers me! I've been doing EMDR and a week ago we finally finished this memory and it is so strange to be able to say that it no longer "bothers me" to think about it. I have many years of trauma to "process" still, but we take it one step at a time.

I was skeptical of EMDR, and I was very surprised when it "worked." I know it's not for everyone, but I am so glad that it is helping me. It is such a relief to know that something will finally help.
Wow, that’s very encouraging. Thanks for sharing, @Sues

If I may ask, how many sessions (or how long) did you end up working on that one memory?

Also, are you able to tell (yet) whether you are no longer susceptible to getting spontaneously triggered by things related to that event, or are you talking more about not feeling negative emotions anymore when you consciously recall the event (...or both)?
 

Mach123

MyPTSD Pro
Hi 2 things. No grinding is not processing. I don’t do this anymore and you reminded me of it. I used to call it episodic behavior, like returning things at stores. Something would get on my mind and I’d just keep running over and over it and I couldn’t stop it like if I got insulted or backed down from someone. Self hate. That’s horrible and I’m sorry if you are going through that.

Processing trauma in therapy is going over and over it. Things I could never look at or talk about now I can say like it’s nothing, other things I still can’t say. But I think doing this relieved what I was talking about before. That other behavior and grinding was because I had all that trauma I needed to process and couldn’t get it to the surface enough to deal with it.

I don’t t grind anymore about the negative stuff not nearly as much I know what it is. I’m still very repetitive and robotic but I stick with pleasurable things now. It’s easier.

It took a long time though in therapy before I calmed down. Hopefully you will process in therapy and so get some relief in day to day life . I hope this makes sense it does to me. I don’t miss that grinding, that was really awful and I was always like that.
 

Friday

Moderator
Is this “processing”? Even if it’s involuntary?
Maybe... in part. Similar to how boiling water is maybe, in part, cooking dinner. But one whole helluva lot more than boiling water goes into dinner, if you actually want to eat anything.

What it sounds like are intrusive thoughts & flashbacks. Which are symptoms rather than a solution. And the steps youre taking to begin to manage your intrusive thoughts. Which is part of the solution.

involuntarily revisiting and reexperiencing past episodes of trauma, over and over again.
^^^ Flashbacks & intrusive thoughts ^^^
So, when I get stuck on something distressing that won’t leave my brain, I find that the only thing “useful” that I can do is try to take a step back and contextualize it, seek to understand why it has such a powerful effect on me, try to objectively look for cognitive distortions that are counterproductive to my wellbeing
^^^ Beginning to manage your intrusive thoughts & flashbacks ^^^

Note I said beginning. You’ve found one method that works in some ways, and (probably) tried a lot of methods that don’t work at all or as well, but there are also (probably) a whole lot of symptom management & stress management tips/tricks/methods out there TO try/master... as well as going after the root cause... IE trauma processing.

My experience with trauma processing / what it means to me :

Result =
No flashbacks, no nightmares, no panic attacks, no anxiety attacks, no intrusive thoughts, no zoning out/ no disassociation, no avoidance, no triggers, no stressors, et cetera. Zip, zero, nada, zilch.

Yep. No symptoms TO manage.

Some of my trauma I’ve totally processed, some I haven’t. The trauma I HAVE processed? I can talk about, think about, be around all durn day and not even get a whisper of a reaction. No different from talking about shoes, thinking about shoes, walking by shoe stores, listening to other people talk about shoes, etc. Or celery. Or birdwatching. Or whatever.

One better? I can go through that exact same trauma again, and be all better in a matter of a few days to a few weeks, IF I’m bothered by it at all. Because it’s not more trauma stacking up on old trauma, but a brand new thing... almost. Because all the work I did processing the old trauma? Seems to have immunized me against the new stuff getting it’s claws in me.

Sadly? That only “works” for me on the same trauma type. So I can not only talk about rape, think about rape, be around people who’ve just been raped, etc. and be perfectly fine (not pretend fine, but actually fine; including perfectly normal reactions like getting pissed off or compassionate or tired or whatever)... and only have a few days to a few weeks of trauma response to being raped again... but my unprocessed trauma? Is JUST as hard as it’s ever been. With symptoms just as violent & volatile. Headdesk.

That doesn’t mean it’s not nice to know first hand the results of processed trauma, but it just doesn’t aid in unrelated traumas.

Method = Too many to easily list.

One of the most common & effective for people with single traumas, or single type* trauma is EMDR... which is a type of exposure therapy. In recent years EMDR has also started to be used effectively on more complex trauma, but that requires years of advanced training (someone who is only certified in EMDR won’t touch complex trauma with a 10’ pole, until they’ve not only gotten their second level EMDR cert, but then ALSO done the complex trauma trainings & supervised hours, AND specialized in the types of trauma that make up that complex trauma. So it’s a very very narrow end of the spectrum of EMDR therapists who handle complex trauma patients.

* As an example of trauma “type” I’m going to talk about the one I’m fine with rather than any of my hard stuff... I’ve been stranger raped, gang raped, raped as part of being held prisoner & tortured, MSA (military sexual assault), drugged & raped by a stranger & someone I knew & someone I was in a relationship with & my husband, raped as a punishment, raped as (someone else’s reward), raped as a warning to others, and sort-of-grey-area given the choice between “sex” & being killed, or “sex” & someone else being killed. ALSO I’ve witnessed rapes I was helpless to do anything about, witnessed raped I dove into the middle of, & witnessed rapes I chose to do nothing about (yes, following orders not to interfere, but that’s still a choice.
^^^ALL^^^ of the sexual assault pieces above? I’m fine with. The military, combat, torture, K&R, trafficking, and domestic violence parts? Sooooooo not fine with. It cracks my therapist up, because if I need a break from talking about the parts I’m not fine with? We can “bridge” by talking about the sexual assault parts so I can calm down. Heart rate slows, voice smooths out, sweat dries, muscles relax, and... whoo boy! Complete sentences, with details, & insights, & whatever else. As easy as talking about apple pie. 🍏 🥧 🍎 Without actually changing the subject, which makes it easier to return to the stuttering, body shaking, sweat dripping, zoning out, anger rising, thoughts vanishing, puking hard stuff.

Not because rape & sexual assault aren’t hard. Just because I’ve already processed all my rape trauma 6 ways from Sunday

Did I do EMDR on my rape trauma? Nope. But it IS one of the most common & effective ways. And listing out all the ways I did, much less are out there, would be a novel. As this is already a novel, I should probably end it here. Although if you’re interested I can talk about the various ways I processed my rape & sexual assault trauma in another post.
 
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