How to Be There for Someone Who Survived a Horrible Trauma

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A recent series of tragic deaths has underscored how traumatic events can claim lives years after the fact. Three people affected by mass shootings—the father of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 and two students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018—have died of apparent suicides.
In the wake of these incomprehensible losses, it’s clearer than ever that trauma can lead to years-long suffering. If somebody you love has survived a traumatic event, be it public (like a natural disaster or terrorist attack) or private (such as a sexual assault), you may not be sure how best to be there for them on this journey. While survivors can have very different responses to trauma, interpersonal support is one of the core pieces of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Here, several trauma counselors and one trauma survivor explain how to help a friend or family member who has been through something horrible. Exactly what they need from you will depend on your relationship and evolve throughout their recovery, but the suggestions below are a good place to start.

1. Validate their trauma.
“Acknowledge that what has happened to them is terrible,” Daniel A. Nelson, M.D., advisory board member of the USC National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB) and medical director of the Child Psychiatry Unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tells SELF.
You can do this by saying something like, “This is a truly horrible thing that has happened. I can see you’re in an incredible amount of pain.”

It might feel like you’re saying something obvious, but this affirmation can be reassuring. “It’s about articulating that you see they are in pain and that you are OK with holding that pain,” Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D., a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist in private practice and adjunct professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University, tells SELF.
This was helpful for Manya C., 53, who was sitting in the bleachers across the street from where the first of two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in 2013. She appreciated when people confirmed that it really was a devastating event. “Just letting me know that they [understood] that … was validating,” Manya, who advocates for and speaks about those who are psychologically impacted by trauma, tells SELF.
2. Listen.
You might feel a natural urge to fill the silence when you want to help but don’t know what to say, says Dr. Nelson, who has counseled survivors of traumatic events including the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the September 11 terror attacks, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. This typically comes out of wanting to “fix” the situation, Dr. Nelson says.

But you can’t “fix” someone’s trauma, especially not by talking non-stop. It’s better to be present as they work through their feelings. “It’s really hard to mess up if you’re just intent on listening,” Dr. Nelson says.
Manya remembers breaking down sobbing, seemingly out of nowhere, while at dinner with a friend a few weeks after the bombing. Her friend remained calm and stayed with her until she was done crying before asking Manya where her tears were coming from. “She didn’t tell me, ‘Don’t cry,’ or offer me advice. She just listened and was present,” Manya recalls.

3. Admit that you don’t understand.
Survivors are often reluctant to open up because they’re afraid a loved one will not have the emotional capacity to understand, says Marshall Woods, who has counseled active military personnel and their families in the Middle East and natural disaster survivors through the American Red Cross. Unless you’ve been through a very similar trauma, you don’t get it. And that’s fine. What matters most is that you’ll be there anyway.
Say something like, “I cannot begin to imagine what you’re going through right now, but I am here for you whenever you are having a hard time.” This kind of statement acknowledges the reality—that you don’t understand—while reinforcing your willingness to be there. “It’s a piece of security that can really help them feel safe,” Marshall Woods says.

Manya remembers how helpful it was when a friend expressed this. “Hearing her honestly say, ‘I don’t know what to do to help you, but I’m here’ was huge for me,” Manya says. “I didn’t know what I needed either. But I knew she was there to listen, and that started a really great conversation.”

4. Accept if they don’t want to talk.
It’s not unusual for survivors to prefer not to talk about their feelings, even with some of the people closest to them. Discussing trauma with someone who doesn’t understand can be draining. “There are things I don’t have to say to a survivor, for example, because they get it—things I would have to explain to a friend,” Manya explains.

While it’s OK (and encouraged) to ask if your loved one feels like speaking, respect that they may not want to, Dr. Nelson says. Part of being a good support system is being there for them regardless of how much they will or won’t share.
If your loved one is still navigating how much they’re comfortable sharing, Marshall Woods recommends figuring out a verbal or non-verbal cue they can give you to back off when they need space, no questions asked.

5. Keep checking in.
Survivors often get a lot of support immediately after the traumatic event, but attention from the media, the public, and loved ones tends to dwindle soon after. “It feels like other people have gone on living their lives normally as if the trauma has not even happened, when it’s still very much alive for them,” Marshall Woods explains.

Let the person you love know that you’re still continuing to think of them by checking in accordingly. “Knowing that someone has their eyes on them can be a real source of support and security,” Marshall Woods says. She also suggests offering to sit in silence with the person if they don’t feel like talking but don’t want to be alone.
Manya’s family members called her every day for longer than she expected after the attack. The conversations weren’t long, but the constant reminder of their presence and concern was comforting. “It meant a lot to me just to get those calls,” she says.

6. Offer to help limit news coverage.
If your loved one has been through a highly publicized trauma, such as a mass shooting, the early deluge of media coverage may continually retraumatize them. If you think they’re having this problem, you can ask if they want help limiting their media exposure. You can do this by changing their news alerts and muting certain hashtags or words on Twitter, for instance. This helps some people feel safer throughout the recovery process, Marshall Woods says.
But it’s possible your friend may want to stay up with the news coverage because it helps them feel less alone. “They [may be] grateful that people are taking notice of the pain they’re experiencing and that people are grieving with them,” Marshall Woods explains. So, even if your friend is visibly upset by news stories about what happened, keep in mind that this may be a part of their healing process.

7. Avoid clichés.
Looking for a silver lining can be great in many situations. The aftermath of a trauma usually isn’t one of them. “When someone is feeling this pain, you need to meet them there,” Marshall Woods says. “You want them to feel better now, but that is not the reality of where they are.”

Urging your friend to be optimistic or not “dwell” on the tragedy communicates that you’re not accepting how they’re feeling. What you mean as an expression of hope (“Things will get better!”) can come off as a dismissal of their suffering and make them feel misunderstood. “Usually when the individual hears something like that, they think ‘You’re trying to fix me, and you don’t know the first thing about what’s wrong,’” Dr. Nelson explains.

8. Help them find mental health support.
If you’re concerned for your loved one’s well-being—like if they are struggling to eat, get out of bed, go to work, or otherwise function months after the event—you can offer to help connect them with some professional resources like a therapist or support group, Dr. Nelson says. (Even if they are currently receiving mental health treatment, if it doesn’t seem effective, you may be able to help them find a better option.)
This is also a good idea if you begin to feel overwhelmed with the level of support they need from you. “Sometimes it’s really hard to hear these stories,” Dr. Nelson says, “and it’s important to have the proper tools to metabolize it.” Friends and family of survivors can even experience secondary trauma, according to SAMHSA. It’s OK to be mindful of your limits and communicate those needs in a compassionate way.
In that situation, Dr. Nelson suggests saying something like, “What you’re telling me sounds like it really deserves the appropriate level of support, and it may be more than I know what to do with. I would love to know you’re with somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Can we hit pause and work on finding you that help?”

9. Be patient.
The aftermath of trauma is complex, evolving, and inscrutable at times—not just to outsiders, but also to the people who are in it. “Trauma generally is an experience of something that is so chaotic that our brains really struggle to … make meaning out of what has happened,” Marshall Woods explains.

Be prepared for emotions to be intense and fluctuating, Dr. Nelson says. Also keep in mind that your loved one may struggle to understand why they are feeling the way they are, or to even know what it is they’re feeling. This was Manya’s experience in the first few months after the bombing, before she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “At the time, ‘I was thinking I should be better, I shouldn’t feel like this,’” she says.
You can’t speed up the recovery process for your loved one, but you can remain a steady, patient, and adaptable source of love throughout. “It can be a rollercoaster,” says Manya. “But people should understand it’s normal to feel this way and that they can heal.”

This May Be The Best Way To Help Kids Who’ve Been Through Trauma

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Why do some children who experience trauma seem to recover naturally over time whereas others develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and even depression? A new studypublished in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry has identified one key factor: seeing their own emotional reaction as “not normal.”

Researchers assessed over 200 kids between ages 8 and 17 who’d experienced a traumatic event, such as a car crash, assault, or medical emergency. They interviewed the kids twice, once two to four weeks after the event and again two months after the event, asking them questions about how they’ve been coping with what happened. The kids also completed a survey about what their general emotional well-being and cognitive skills were like before the event had ever happened.

What does a “normal” healing process look like?

The study found PTSD symptoms were actually pretty common earlier in the recovery process, at the two- to four-week mark. “Symptoms of PTSD can be a common reaction to trauma in children and teenagers,” said Richard Meiser-Stedman, a clinical psychology professor at the University of East Anglia in England who led the study, in a news release. “These can include distressing symptoms like intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. Health professionals steer away from diagnosing it in the first month after a trauma because, rather than being a disorder, it’s a completely normal response. … These initial reactions are driven by high levels of fear and confusion during the trauma.”

Generally speaking, though, the majority of the kids healed naturally over the course of the two months without any professional help or interventions.

How much social support they had in their lives and the presence of other life stressors didn’t actually affect their likelihood of having lingering PTSD symptoms. What did? It was the tendency to view their own response to the trauma as being abnormal, a sign of weakness, or a sign that they were “permanently damaged.” That self-judgment was the key predictor of PTSD.

“The young people who didn’t recover well, and who were heading down a chronic PTSD track two months after their trauma, were much more likely to be thinking negatively about their trauma and their reactions—they were ruminating about what happened to them,” Meiser-Stedman explained. “They perceived their symptoms as being a sign that something was seriously and permanently wrong with them, they didn’t trust other people as much, and they thought they couldn’t cope.”

That means one of the biggest ways we can support young people who are recovering from trauma is to normalize their pain. It’s vital to make sure they know that there is nothing wrong with feeling deeply distressed by what’s happened to them and that it will likely take some time before those emotions settle. Trauma certainly can change you, but it by no means “permanently damages” you.

The difference between ruminating and grieving.

Importantly, the study also found that “overthinking” the trauma was also linked to worse PTSD: “The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why,” Meiser-Stedman explained.

Past research has shown our minds generally have a tendency to ruminate on negative events, and that rumination can be disastrous for our mental health. The researchers were hesitant to give any recommendations related to how to process trauma since the risk of “overthinking” can lead to worse outcomes, but at the same time, not processing your pain at all is generally a ticket to growing up with unresolved emotional issues that lead to more reactivity, relationship problems, and poorer health as an adult.

Transformation coach Sheryl Paul offers a good way to understand the difference: Replaying scenes over and over from the negative events in our lives and thinking about why they happened isn’t necessarily the same as emotionally processing your trauma.

“Ruminating isn’t grieving. Thinking isn’t grieving,” she writes at mindbodygreen. “Grieving is an embodied experience that moves the pain out and through, whereas ruminating is a ‘head’ experience that keeps the pain stuck. Ruminating—that is, obsessively going around and around in your mind on one particular storyline, like thinking about what you or the other person did ‘wrong’—creates mental stagnation and prevents the grief from moving through you, thus preventing you from moving on.”

To help kids (or anyone) heal from trauma, make sure they know it’s OK to sit with their pain and feel it. They shouldn’t spend all their time dwelling on what happened—it’s important to be able to also resume life’s activities to be able to access a brighter mood again and reconnect with their other emotions—but normalizing the grieving process is absolutely necessary.

38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

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38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you.

Growing up with your parents under-responding to your feelings throughout your childhood sets you up to under-respond to your own feelings through your adulthood. Essentially, you are trained to ignore, minimize, and perhaps even be ashamed of, your own feelings.

But the good news is that Childhood Emotional Neglect is not a lifelong sentence. You can heal it. And it’s not as difficult or complicated as you might think.

By beginning to pay attention to yourself and your own feelings, you can begin to honor your deepest self; the self that was so ignored as a child. The more you focus on yourself, your own feelings and needs and wants, the better you can take step after step through the CEN healing process.

Why You Need Affirmations

As a psychologist who specializes in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect, I have walked hundreds of people through the 5 stages of CEN recovery. And I have watched motivated people slip off-track, distracted by the demands of their everyday life or discouraged about their inability to make it happen fast enough.

One thing I know from going through this with so many CEN folks is that the ones who succeed, who really change their lives, are the ones who never give up.

The best thing you can do to heal yourself is to keep your goals in your mind as you go through your day. And to help you do that, I am sharing with you daily affirmations in every area of your recovery: healing yourself, healing your marriage, parenting your children, and coping with your emotionally neglectful parents.

Once you get started, you may want to use some from all 4 areas, because once you start to see yourself through the lens of CEN, you may reflect differently on every important person in your life.

How to Use The Affirmations

I recommend you read through all of the affirmations below. As you do so, you may notice that certain ones jump out at you. These are the ones that you likely need the most right now.

You can use these affirmations in two different ways. You can say them to yourself when you need them, to keep you on track, remind you of what’s important, and strengthen you. And you can also use them as starting points to help you think about, or meditate on, what’s important in your healing. I hope you will use them, and use them well.

Special Note: To learn how to repair Emotional Neglect in your most important relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

38 Daily Affirmations/Meditations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

FOR HEALING YOURSELF

My wants and needs are just as important as anyone else’s.

My feelings are important messages from my body.

My feelings matter.

I am a valid human being with feelings and needs.

I am worth getting to know.

I am a likable and lovable person.

I am the only person responsible for getting my own needs met.

It is not selfish, but responsible, to put my own needs first.

Asking for help is a sign of strength.

Feelings are never right or wrong. They just are.

I am proud to be a deeply feeling person.

All human beings make mistakes. What matters is that I learn from mine.

I deserve to be cared for.

My feelings are walled off, but they are still there, and they are important.

Every feeling can be managed.

FOR PARENTING YOUR CHILDREN

My children’s feelings drive their behavior. Feelings first.

I can’t give my children what I do not have myself.

My child is important, but so am I.

The better I care for myself, the better I can care for my child.

I don’t need to be a perfect parent. I just need to pay enough attention to their feelings.

I will give my child what I never got from my parents.

The best way to do better for my children is to do better for myself.

FOR HEALING YOUR MARRIAGE

I matter, and so does my husband/wife.

My partner cannot read my mind.

It’s my responsibility to tell my partner what I want, feel and need.

My partner and I each have hundreds of feelings each and every day.

It’s okay if my partner’s feelings are not the same as mine.

The facts are less important than my partner’s feelings.

When it comes to my marriage, sharing is key.

My partner needs me to talk more and ask more questions.

FOR COPING WITH YOUR PARENTS

I did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected.

My parents could not give me what they did not have.

My parents are not capable of seeing or knowing the real me.

I am angry at my parents for a reason. They failed me in a very important way.

I can spend time with my emotionally neglectful parents. My boundaries will protect me.

I don’t have to be validated by my parents. I validate myself.

If my parents are not able to see me, I will see myself.

It’s my responsibility to give myself what my parents couldn’t give me. And I will.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

How Childhood Trauma Teaches Us to Dissociate

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What is dissociation?
Dissociation, sometimes also referred to as disassociation, is a term commonly used in psychology that refers to a detachment from your surroundings, and/or physical and emotional experiences. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that stems from trauma, inner conflict, and other forms of stress, or even boredom.

Dissociation is understood on a continuum in terms of its intensity, and as non-pathological or pathological in regard of its type and effects. An example of non-pathological dissociation is daydreaming.

From here on we will talk about pathological dissociation.

Some examples of pathological dissociation are the following:

Feeling that your sense of self is not real (depersonalization)
Feeling that the world is unreal (derealization)
Memory loss (amnesia)
Forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue)
Separate streams of consciousness, identity, and self (dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder)
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
Dissociation is closely tied to stressful states and situations. If a person has an inner conflict, they may start dissociating when thinking about it. Or if they are terrified of social situations, they may experience dissociation when around people.

Some people report severe dissociation and panic attacks after doing certain drugs. Dissociation can sometimes occur when we experience distortion in or an impairment of our senses, for instance, while having a migraine, tinnitus, light sensitivity, and so on.

Trauma and dissociation
Dissociation is a common response to trauma. The experience of being present and in the moment when we are severely abused and feel powerless is incredibly painful. This is when our psyche self-protects and makes us disconnect from what’s happening to us in order to make it more tolerable to endure.

That’s why many abuse victims, especially those who suffered sexual abuse, say that they felt like they were watching themselves be abused from the third person’s perspective and it seemed like they were watching a movie rather than being a participant.

Since dissociation is often an aftereffect of trauma, it can routinely reoccur until the emotions related to the trauma are resolved. Regardless of how often you experience it, dissociation can be incredibly unpleasant, terrifying, and debilitating.

Some people describe dissociation as their most horrifying experience. Moreover, experiencing dissociation can create new symptoms or aggravate other underlying problems, and in doing so, make the person’s mental condition even worse.

Childhood trauma and dissociation
Commonly, dissociation experienced as an adult is rooted in one’s childhood.

Since a child is dependent on their caregivers and their brain is still developing, they are unable to deal with their trauma by themselves. However, their caregivers are often unable or unwilling to comfort the child and help them overcome it without severe aftereffects.

Not only that, the child’s caregivers may even be the ones who traumatize the child. It’s not to say that it always happens out of spite, but even when done with good intentions or out of ignorance, the effects on the child’s psyche are as they are.

So what does a child do when they experience stress and trauma? Since they can’t resolve it by themselves, they dissociate. This usually occurs early and routinely. Not every trauma is “big” and evident, but even things that don’t seem like a “big trauma” can be very traumatic to a child.

So, we experience many traumas and “microtraumas” as children. And since a common reaction to trauma is dissociation, we dissociate. And over time, two main dissociative behaviors are the result. One, we may suffer from episodes of dissociation (generally, PTSD and C-PTSD).

And two, we learn to deal with emotional distress by participating in dissociative behaviors, such as addiction to food, sex, drugs, TV, the Internet, attention, sports, and anything else that helps us repress our painful emotions.

Moreover, a child can’t attribute responsibility for their trauma to their caregiver since they need them to survive, so they learn to blame themselves for it, which creates a myriad of other problems, but we won’t talk about those in this article.

People’s stories about dissociation
Recently on my website’s Facebook page, I shared two posts about dissociation. One was a picture with a quote explaining what it is (added here), and the other was a quote from my book Human Development and Trauma:

“Many abused children dissociate and unconsciously warp their perception of reality in order to survive. Naturally this requires that they justify the abusive behavior of their caregivers.”

Under those posts, some people shared their experiences and thoughts regarding dissociation, so I would like to add them to this article.

One person writes this:

“I permanently dissociated, my development was arrested at 13 years when my aunt accused me of trying to seduce her husband who was lusting for me. I spent most of my adult year feeling like a 13-year-old. Healing has allowed for a shift from that state to feeling more adult-like.”

This person shares their dissociation experience starting as early as 3 years old:

“I remember leaving my own body at night from the age of 3ish as my parents would be beating each other to death downstairs. I grew up thinking I really could fly. I only learned of disassociation last year.”

Another person says this:

“Sleep has always been an issue. If I did manage to sleep it was full of vivid horrid dreams. I had two regular dreams all my life. I was always a big reader. Escaping into books I was guaranteed a happy ending. I had to. I was exposed to awful things as far back as I can recall.”

For this person, as for all of us, repressed trauma manifested itself in nightmares:

“I remember that every time something traumatizing happened in my family, right before sleep in my bed I tried to convince myself that It didn’t happen and after that I used to have nightmares of being chased by a horrible monster in an abandoned factory or something. Now after a lot of studying I realized that it was my brain entering REM mode in order to storage the traumatic experience deep in my subconscious so I can consciously forget about it.”

This person feels dissociation when having an aural migraine, which I can confirm from my personal experience too:

“I don’t want to reduce this by any means because this may not be seen as traumatic to others however, this happens to me when I get migraines. I don’t know if it is part of the migraine symptoms or if I am disassociating because they hurt so much for such a long period. I feel far away, muffled, floaty kinda dreamlike. I respond slower cause I feel that people are not talking directly to me. My speech is slow and I feel like I am watching a TV show or like if I am drunk/stoned. It’s weird. This happened throughout my life because I have migraine with aura/fainting spells. It’s a scary uncontrolled feeling.”

And this person’s comment explains very well how dissociation is both terrifying and necessary to cope with enormous emotional and psychological pain:

“The most unreal experience of my life, literally. Would never want to experience it again. As distressing as it was, it was a relief as well. The feeling of being outside of oneself and everyone else, the inability to connect to reality, is the most distressing, but the inability to do that gives you a break from the current trauma, and there’s relief in that.”

Do you have any stories about dissociation you would like to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below!

Childhood Trauma Exposure Is All Too Common

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A long-term study of 1,420 people finds that childhood trauma is more commonplace than is often assumed, and that its effects upon the transition to adulthood and adult functioning are not only confined to post-traumatic stresssymptoms and depression, but are more broadly based.

These conclusions were reported on November 9, 2018, by a team led by 2009 BBRF Young Investigator William E. Copeland, Ph.D., of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Vermont. He and his colleagues are part of the Great Smoky Mountain Study, a study of children in 11 mainly rural counties in North Carolina.

Beginning in 1993 and continuing through 2015, the study annually observed 1,420 children, selected randomly from a group of 12,000 local children, through age 16, and again when they reached ages 19, 21, 25 and 30. Results are based on analysis of over 11,000 individual interviews. The sample was designed to over-represent frequently overlooked rural and Native American communities.

One striking perspective emerging from the study is that “it is a myth to believe that childhood trauma is a rare experience that only affects few,” the researchers say. Rather, their population sample suggests, “It is a normative experience — it affects the majority of children at some point.” A surprising 60 percent of those in the study were exposed to at least one trauma by age 16. Over 30 percent were exposed to multiple traumatic events.

“Trauma” for the purpose of the study included violent events (e.g., the violent death of a loved one, physical abuse or harm, war or terrorism, captivity); sexual trauma; witnessing a trauma that caused or could have caused death or severe injury; learning about a traumatic event involving a loved one; and other traumas, such as diagnosis with a serious illness, serious injury, or fire.

“Our study suggested that childhood trauma casts a long and wide-ranging shadow,” the researchers say, associated with elevated risk for many adult psychiatric disorders affecting many “important domains of functioning,” with impacts in the form of diminished health, financial and academic success, and social life.

The impact of trauma across the lifespan has been noted in many past studies. The newly reported study, appearing on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), differed, because it followed children from year to year. Prior studies relied upon memory-based reports of childhood events made by participants during their adulthood, which tend to be less accurate. The new study also statistically compensated for the presence of other childhood factors that often co-occur with childhood trauma, such as poverty and family instability or dysfunction.

The researchers say their results are consistent with an “accumulation” model of trauma that assigns increased lifetime risk of psychosocial impact with each additional traumatic exposure during childhood. While they do not shed light on the question of which children are more likely to experience trauma, the team hopes the results will inform public policy, via “interventions or policies that broadly target this largely preventable cluster of childhood experiences.”

The research team included: E. Jane Costello, Ph.D., 2009 Ruane Prizewinner and 2007 BBRF Distinguished Investigator; and Edwin J.C.G. van den Oord, Ph.D., 2002 BBRF Independent Investigator.

How Narcissists Conduct Psychological Warfare

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By Erin Leonard

Narcissists often lack a conscience, so climbing in the ring with one is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Wielding cruelty and abuse like it’s their right, the narcissist easily wounds a person with a conscience who often feels guilty for firing back. The guilt perpetuates feelings of responsibility and self-doubt, frequently causing the person with a conscience to surrender. So how does a person create a fair fight? The most effective way is to fully understand the narcissist’s most lethal weapon, projective identification,and to disarm it.

It’s truly amazing how unfair, underhanded and malicious a narcissist can be, but rarely do they feel true remorse for their deeds. Readily deflecting, distorting, and projecting, they alter their perception of reality, freeing themselves from accountability while simultaneously projecting blame onto another. Their line of unconscious defense mechanisms operates like a force field around their ego, excusing them from deep and sincere feelings of remorse, insight, introspection, and accountability. Thus, they feel like they are never wrong.

Occasionally, when their back is against the wall, the narcissist may act as though they feel sincere remorse. However, this may be a trick to regain the trust of the person whom they are manipulating. Also, operating from a victim stance assists him or her in controlling others through guilt.

Projective identification is the most powerful psychological mechanism in a narcissist’s arsenal. It is what creates the toxic chemistry that psychologically chains an empath to a narcissist. Projection, which is the first component of projective identification, is a psychoanalytic term used to describe the unconscious process of expelling one’s own intolerable qualities and attributing them to someone else. For example, an individual who routinely acts rude may call someone else rude. This person does not see the quality in himself or herself but perceives it in others. Narcissists utilize this defense mechanism routinely. In couples counseling, for example, I often hear the narcissist in the relationship “diagnose” their partner as the narcissist.

Identification is the second component and is the empath’s role. An empath’s access to deeper emotions such as insight, introspection, deep remorse, accountability, and empathy, automatically qualifies them as less rigidly defended. Most of the deeper capabilities cause the ego to experience a tinge of pain, so a person who has access to the deeper emotions has a stronger ego. It requires fewer defensive structures be activated. As a result of this “open heart,” the empath unknowingly absorbs the projections from the narcissist and unconsciously identifies them as their own. As the narcissist projects his or her shameful qualities onto the empath, the empath instantly feels, shame, insignificance and incompetence.

These feelings cause a tremendous amount of self-doubt in the empath. Suddenly, he or she is vulnerable to believing the distortions communicated by the narcissist. Eventually, they are convinced they are the root of the problems in the relationship, so they begin to cater and appease, giving the narcissist control. The narcissist takes advantage of their power and intensifies their tactics to isolate and cause conflict with the empath’s friends, family, and work relationships. The empath’s sense of self slowly erodes, and their support system wanes, so they begin to feel dependent on the narcissist, ensnared in the lethal cycle of projective identification.

Breaking the chain of projective identification requires the empath to become consciously aware of this unconscious dynamic. Once the insidious psychological mechanism is illuminated, the empath’s knowledge protects them from believing the narcissist’s distortions about who they are. After recovering elements of their sense-of-self that were lost, an empath regains the strength to strive for space and independence from the narcissist. Once the empath has succeeded in creating distance in the relationship, he or she is safe from the narcissist’s projections.

Healing the Effects of a Narcissist: Putting the Focus Back on You

PsychCentral Article Here

I recently wrote about why you can’t win with a narcissist. Many readers asked what steps one would take to handle the narcissist in their lives. However, that all depends on the situation.

Relationships are complicated. There’s no one surefire way to deal with a narcissist, but you can focus on yourself and heal the hurt they have caused.

The narcissist in your life may be your elderly mother, the father of your children, your boss, even your adult daughter. No one can tell you when to leave your job, your relationship, your town. These are all decisions a person has to make on their own. Likewise, no one is going to tell you exactly how to handle a narcissist. It’s a personal choice.

Can you throw this toxic person out of your life for good? Of course, and you don’t need permission to walk away. On the other hand, there are a million reasons why you would continue to have contact with the narcissist, and there are many ways that relationship can offer some level of satisfaction. That said, it’s time to finally put the narcissist aside and deal with yourself first. If you do that, you will begin to reorient your life.

First and foremost, setting healthy boundaries is key to self-care. If you’ve been emotionally abused and manipulated, it’s time to set very clear boundaries in the relationship. This means taking time for yourself.

Are there things you stopped doing because the narcissist didn’t approve? Are there old friends or family you avoid? Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try. Perhaps you just want to paint your kitchen purple. It’s time to embrace the things you like, even if you’re not sure what they are.

Don’t let the narcissist’s opinion bring you down. If you finally join a bowling league, keep them out of your head. Don’t worry if you never make a strike, if your bowling shoes are hideous, or if you ate a chili dog and fried macaroni and cheese on a stick between frames. If you feel that ever-present mocking gaze and grow painfully self-conscious, remind yourself, “I’m just being me, and I have a right to be me.”

If it turns out you kind of hate bowling (I always leave with broken nails), don’t beat yourself up about it. The narcissist likes to scoff at anything new, especially when it excludes them or is something they aren’t familiar with. But unlike the narcissist, you’re not afraid to pursue your interests and try something new.

These activities are identity-affirming. Remember that if you subjugate your needs long enough, you’ll begin to lose your sense of self. Years ago, I went on a trip with a woman who had separated from her husband just six months earlier. Despite the fact that she knew he had been cheating for years, she still spoke about him with great enthusiasm. Nearly everything that came out of her mouth for the entire two weeks was about her ex’s life. Everything she saw, every story she heard or person she met reminded her of something her ex did or saw or said. It was as if he was there, not her. It was like she had no personal history of her own.

Go looking for you. Find what makes you happy, no matter what anyone else thinks. You know the saying, “Let your freak flag fly”? Well it’s really a “I’m just being myself” flag.

Keeping the narcissist’s overblown black-and-white judgment out of your head might actually be the hardest part. As I wrote in this piece: Narcissists make you feel guilty when you experience happiness because they expect you to put their happiness first. If you’re not busy praising them, accepting put-downs so they can feel superior, and catering to their every whim, they’re not going to be happy at all.

I understand the anxiety that envelops you in this situation. Focusing on them is enough to make you want to give up. Stop thinking, “What do I say if this happens? What do I do when the narcissist does that?” There is no blueprint for navigating these relationships. It’s not about winning an epic battle or finally putting the narcissist in their place. Keep the focus on you.

I know the difficulty of shutting out the narcissist’s judgment. It’s hard to weed out the pollution of disapproval. Sometimes every pleasure seems like a guilty pleasure. All I can do is keep my compass trained on my own happiness and follow it. I trust that doesn’t mean I’ll hurt people because I’m a good person. In fact, that’s probably what the narcissist saw in me in the first place and wanted so desperately to extract.

Bowling team photo available from Shutterstock

PTSD And Complex PTSD: What Happens When You’ve Lived In A Psychological War Zone

ThoughtCatalog’s Link!

Normally when we think about “PTSD,” our minds jump to those who’ve been in combat. While it is certainly an issue for those who’ve been in real-life war zones, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex PTSD isn’t just exclusive to war veterans. In fact, many survivors of childhood emotional neglect, physical or emotional abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and rape can suffer from the symptoms of PTSD or Complex PTSD if they endured long-standing, ongoing and inescapable trauma.

These individuals face combat and battle in invisible war zones that are nonetheless traumatic and potentially damaging. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8 million people can develop PTSD every year and women are twice as likely than men to experience these symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD?
There are four types of symptoms that are part of PTSD and some additional symptoms for Complex PTSD as listed below. Complex PTSD, which develops due to chronic, ongoing trauma, is more likely to occur due to long-term domestic violence or childhood sexual and/or physical or emotional abuse. Around 92% of people who meet the criteria for Complex PTSD also meet the criteria for PTSD (Roth, et. al 1997).

It is recommended that you seek professional support if you’re struggling with any of these symptoms, especially if your symptoms last longer than one month, cause great impairment or distress and/or disrupt your ability to function in everyday life. Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you and provide an appropriate treatment plan.

1. Reliving and Re-experiencing the Trauma
PTSD: Memories, reoccurring nightmares, persistent unwanted and upsetting thoughts, physical reactivity, vivid flashbacks of the original event can all be a part of PTSD. You may also encounter triggers in everyday life – whether it be something you see, smell, hear, that brings you back to the original event. This can look different for every survivor. A sexual assault survivor might hear the voice of someone who resembles her assailant and find herself reliving the terror of being violated. A domestic violence victim might find herself being triggered by someone raising their voice. Triggers can be seemingly minor or overwhelmingly major, depending on the severity and longevity of the trauma endured.

Complex PTSD: According to trauma therapist Pete Walker (2013), you may also suffer from emotional flashbacks where you ‘regress’ back into the emotional state of the original event and you behave maladaptively to the situation as a result. Walker states that for people with Complex PTSD, individuals develop four “F” responses when they are triggered by emotional flashbacks: they may fight, flee, fawn (seek to please) or freeze. These responses are protective, but they may end up further harming the survivor because the survivor might fail to enforce their boundaries or may use excessive force in protecting themselves.

2. Avoidance of Situations That Remind You Of The Event
PTSD: You go to great lengths to avoid anything that might potentially trigger memories or feelings associated with the traumatic events. If you were in an abusive relationship, for example, you might isolate yourself from others or stop dating in an attempt to avoid being harmed by others.

If you were raped, you might avoid situations where any form of physical contact might arise, whether it be getting a massage or being affectionate with a romantic partner. If you suffered bullying, you might avoid places where group activities are likely to happen, such as large parties or even certain careers that might require high levels of social interaction. This avoidance can include trying to avoid trauma-related thoughts, too; you might keep yourself persistently busy so you don’t have to face any thoughts regarding what you went through.

Complex PTSD: Throughout your life, you may go to excessive lengths to avoid abandonment and resort to people-pleasing or “fawning” behavior. This might result in you having trouble setting boundaries with others, standing up for yourself when your rights are violated and becoming enmeshed in codependent relationships. You might be hypersensitive to signs of disapproval or micro-signals of abandonment.

As therapist Pete Walker (2013) writes, “The Abandonment Depression is the complex painful childhood experience that is reconstituted in an emotional flashback. It is a return to the sense of overwhelm, hopelessness and helplessness that afflicts the abused and/or emotionally abandoned child. At the core of the abandonment depression is the abandonment melange – the terrible emotional mix of fear and shame that coalesces around the deathlike feelings of depression that afflict an abandoned child.”

3. Skewed Belief Systems and Negative Perceptions, Including Self-Blame and Toxic Shame
PTSD: There is a shift in your belief systems and self-perception after the traumatic events. You might suffer from low self-esteem, depression, excessive ruminations, negative self-talk, memory loss related to the trauma, decreased interest in activities you used to enjoy and a heightened sense of self-blame.

Complex PTSD: Individuals with Complex PTSD may struggle with guilt, a sense of toxic shame and feeling different from others or even defective in some way. They may have a heighted “inner critic” that develops as a result of any verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse they went through in their lifetime. This inner critic might judge everything you do or say, prevent you from taking risks or pursuing your goals, can lead to a sense of learned helplessness and can often mimic the voices of any abusers you encountered, especially if you had toxic parents.

4. Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance
PTSD: You develop an excessive sense of alarm concerning your surroundings. You may experience a heightened startle reaction, increased irritability or aggression, engage in risky behavior, and have difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

Complex PTSD: Survivors with Complex PTSD can struggle with emotional regulation, suicidal thoughts and self-isolation. They may engage in self-harm, develop substance abuse addictions, and have a hard time trusting themselves and their intuition. They may end up in unhealthy, abusive relationships in what trauma expert Judith Herman calls “a repeated search for a rescuer” (Herman, 1997). They may have a deep mistrust of others but also a heightened attunement to changes in their environment as well as a hyperfocus on changes in microexpressions, shifts in tone of voice or gestures in others.

Treatment for PTSD and Complex PTSD
Treatment for PTSD and Complex PTSD requires highly skilled therapy with a trauma-informed and validating counselor who can help guide you safely through your triggers. Based on research, effective treatments can include some form of trauma-focused psychotherapy such as prolonged exposure therapy (PE) which involves facing the negative feelings you’ve been avoiding, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) which teaches the client to reframe their thoughts about the trauma, or Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy which involves processing the trauma by following a back-and-forth movement of light or sound. You can learn more about treatments for PTSD here.

Keep in mind that not every treatment is suitable for every survivor and should always be discussed with a counselor. Supplemental remedies may include trauma-focused yoga and meditation to heal parts of the brain affected by trauma and release trapped emotions in the body (van der Kolk, 2015).

Although PTSD is manageable with the right support and resources, recovery from Complex PTSD is admittedly a more lifelong process as it deals with trauma that usually originated from childhood, further exacerbated by traumas in adulthood. Grieving the losses associated with the trauma or traumas experienced is an essential part of the journey.

It is important to remember that healing has no deadline and that recovery is a cyclical, rather than linear, process. Every survivor recovers in their own way and is worthy of the support it takes to get to the other side of healing. TC mark

Great Blogs For People With Mental Illness

Hi guys, so I wanted to compile a little collection of blogs out there that are about and/or for people with mental illness.

You can never have too many resources at your disposal.

12 Great Blogs for People With Depression

The Best Mental Health Bloggers You Need to Follow

8 Inspiring Blogs to Read Whenever You Feel Alone

Hope your Mondays were AMAAZING!

Snowboarding & Suicide Series: What’s Coming Up.

I know the progress on this series has been slow, but it is constantly on my mind. This is not an easy story to put into words. Here is a lil’ preview of what is to come:

Exploring questions such as:
~What some different types and symptoms of depression are and how to try to recognize signs in yourself & others.
~Why was I not grateful for being “saved” and surviving my suicide attempt? Why did I only feel resentment?
*What are common emotions among suicide survivors?
~How to begin “coming back from the dead” I like to call it. Kind of like learning how to live when you made your mind up to just end it.
~How to prevent yourself from the temptation of trying again.

Stay tuned y’all!

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