Childhood trauma is trendy right now. Grant money is flowing toward fascinating treatment possibilities involving brain wave alterations and drugs like Ecstasy and specially adapted yoga. Mental health conferences are making it the topic of the year, and every kind of healing professional is finding a way to tie “trauma informed care” into their services. This is all positive! In fact I can hardly believe that, at last, the world is beginning to get it about this insidious condition that sucks the life out of millions of people. And there is hope!
Research has shown almost no definitive pattern of effectiveness associated with any particular approach to treatment — this despite thousands of practitioners who claim that they treat the effects of childhood trauma.
I don’t pretend to know everything that’s available out there for treating the effects of childhood trauma on adults (I’m still learning). And I know some people are finding help — especially those with a lot of funds and willingness to keep trying different things (including a lot of treatments that often cause more harm than good).
Yet every week, I speak to dozens of people who have tried common treatments and who are still struggling. They know what’s wrong with them now, but their trauma-related symptoms continue, including depression, anxiety, health problems, money problems, marriage problems, work problems and, most damaging of all, problems connecting with others.
So as someone who has recovered from most effects of childhood trauma, I want to give you my first “tough love truth”: The best solutions are those you can use any time, for free, as needed. YOU are the one who can heal this. You owning the solution is so much more powerful than you waiting for someone other than you to take care of it for you.
I’m not saying you should shun professional help: You should search and experiment to find what works by any means you can. People who work to help traumatized people have a lot of experience and much to teach. But in the end, they can only point you to solutions (generally unproven solutions, at that). You are the one who will practice the techniques. You are the one who will read the book. You are the one who will persevere with courage. And you are the one who will learn to change your reactions to PTSD triggers.
You are also in charge of solving the other big problems that are often entwined with our PTSD reactions — the distorted thinking and harmful behaviors that tend to ride shotgun with PTSD.
Circumstances may have prevented you from making sane and self-respecting life choices in the past, but only YOU can now untangle that damage and begin to live in a better way.
When I first understood this (at age 30), it came not as a disappointment but as a tremendous relief. I was at the end of my rope with trying to get help from others. I was in therapy three times a WEEK for Pete’s sake. I had tried self-help books, doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, psychics, hitting pillows, “rebirthing,” women’s empowerment groups, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, “the right boyfriend,” a masters degree, confronting my parents, hiding in my apartment, smoking, ranting, and pretending I was fine. But I was not fine. In fact, each year I was getting worse.
The problems were (using knowledge I have now) about 35% neurological and 65% self-created through my own behavior. Talk therapy at that time could not address the first problem at all, which meant the other problems never even made it into the conversation. I have never received any meaningful help from talk therapy, nor from doctors, clergy or teachers.
How I DID get help was from an ordinary person who herself had been traumatized — a 23-year old ex-street kid who showed me how she got free from her reactive mind, and was able to turn her life around. She showed me how to use written inventory and meditation to calm my over-reactive brain. Then she helped me begin to see (and eventually change) the self-defeating behaviors that I’d developed to express, soothe, hide or compensate for my over-reactions. I was very resistant at first, but then I gobbled it up and made it my way of life, simply because it kept working for me. After more than 20 years it is still working for me, and apparently it works equally well for many others with whom I’ve shared it.
By the end of the year I’ll have a book that details what I’ve learned, so anyone who wants to can change their life too. Drop me a line if you’re interested! In the meantime you can learn the written inventory part here.
I’ve got eleven more Tough Love Truths coming out in the next several weeks. If you want them e-mailed to you, click the Follow button that appears at the lower right corner of your screen (or in the sidebar for WordPress users) and enter your e-mail address. Then you’ll get these posts and others the moment each one is published.
See you then!