Out of Darkness: Toward Trauma Recovery

HOPE

My year started off full of anticipation, promise, and hope.  Lots of positive progressions that had seemed so far off for so long were now directly in front of me, staring me in the face.  I had worked hard, slept little, and sacrificed much – all for this moment.  I felt ecstatic.  I felt like I could breathe comfortably again for the first time in years.  I was exactly where I had wanted to be.                

THE FALL

Then life, as it seems to do quite often, threw me yet another curveball.  It actually threw me several of them all at once.  I didn’t have enough hands to catch all those curveballs!  My excitement, energy, and hope waned as though I’d been knocked into a well and Lassie was nowhere to be found.  I have to admit, I sat in the well for some time.  It seemed, at that moment, that I had two choices.  Make a little spot for myself in the well and hide out, or start engineering a makeshift ladder to crawl out.

CHOICES

Lots of people seem to think my choice should have been obvious.  Some of you might understand that, in that moment it wasn’t.  Really, if I hid out for a while, maybe more curveballs would just fly by overhead.  My hands were full, after all, and balls were already dropping all around me.  I was pretty exhausted, too, and just the thought of the energy it would take to build anything seemed pretty overwhelming.  So I did just that.  I made myself a little nesting place, got as comfortable as one can in a well, and hid out for a little while.

DISCOMFORT 

Wells, as you might guess, do not offer the most pleasant living environment.  It was dark, damp, and didn’t smell too great.  I felt pretty uncomfortable, but it really took some time to decide that the uncomfortable comfort of what had become familiar was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my days.  Somehow, someway, I was going to have to figure out how to start that makeshift ladder if I wanted any more than my dark, lonely, and miserable well existence.

TRAUMA

For people in general, but especially those who have had to live through trauma, life can seem like a series of events that push us into a well – into a dark, lonely, frightening, and overwhelming place.  The fall really hurts!  It’s scary and devastating.  It’s not something you get used to – or something that doesn’t faze you anymore.  It seems impossible to plan, build, and climb a ladder – just to risk more curveballs, and more pain.

Sometimes it seems like the work required to heal from trauma will never end.  Sometimes it feels overwhelming and scary.  Sometimes it seems easier to hide out for a little bit.  But building a ladder is not impossible.  Healing from trauma is not impossible.  Hope for something different is terrifying, but the options that life above the well has to offer can be so worth the risk.

A WAY OUT

So if you are sitting in your well, in that little dark spot you’ve crafted to hide out in, and you’re pretty uncomfortable…

If you’re starting to wonder if maybe you can think about leaving the discomfort of what you’ve gotten used to…

If a part of you wants to move toward creating a way out…

The first step is to decide you want something different.  You want to see if it might be more comfortable above ground.  If you think that, just maybe, you want more than can be found in your well, then take a little inventory.  What materials do you have available?  What will work as a makeshift ladder, and what can be tossed aside?  What coping skills have you already acquired to help you manage the task? Which of those skills will work for you now, or need a little tweaking, or need to be tossed aside altogether?

 

YOU DON'T HAVE TO FACE IT ALONE

Today, you have a bonus piece of ladder material, just there for the taking.  Today, I extend my metaphoric hand out to you – to help you weigh the pros and cons of moving out of the well.  To help you take inventory of what materials you have, and what materials you might need to create.  To help you start building for something different – something outside of the well.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in trauma recovery, midlife transitions, caregivers' issues, women’s emotional health, and LGBTQ+ concerns. Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.

 

Why is it so Important to Develop Internal Communication When You Have DID?

I understand the rationale behind not wanting to get to know or start to communicate with your insiders.  What if you lose control?  What if you are flooded with their memories?  What if you just want them all to go away?  What if they take over and you can’t get back?

Fear of getting to know your insiders is common, and will be addressed in a later post.

For now, I want to talk about the importance of getting to know your parts inside.  You may have been told something different - that it's not important to develop internal communication, that your insiders aren’t welcome in therapy, that you need to heal from them, or that you need to get rid of them altogether.  I do not believe or agree with those opinions – not at all! 

All of your insiders are parts of you.  You all share a body and brain.  All of the parts of you should be welcome in therapy, including all of your insiders.  All the parts of you deserve to be acknowledged and heard, and all the parts of you deserve to heal. 

Internal communication is one of the first, and most important steps toward healing when you have DID. 

Your insiders were there to help you through horrible experiences.  They took over when bad things happened.  They helped you survive and manage when things were overwhelming, unimaginable, and unmanageable.  They allowed you to go away in your mind.  They protected you.

Without internal communication, you will likely continue to lose time.  No one likes to be ignored, or treated as if they don’t exist or matter.  Part of getting to know your insiders opens the door for those parts of you to stop feeling ignored, isolated, and alone.  If they can’t receive that validation and respect from you, then they will likely try finding it elsewhere – and if you aren’t willing to listen, then they’ll probably do it behind your back, causing you to lose time.  However, if you start to develop a dialogue with them, letting them know that you hear, respect, and honor what they have done to protect you, and are willing to listen to what they need – it opens the door for negotiation, compromise, and teamwork.  As you get to know your insiders, the need to keep you in the dark becomes less and less important.

If you try to ignore your insiders, they are more likely to act out (taking over, flooding you with traumatic images or memories, harming the body, suicidal gestures).  It’s really no different than if you had gone to the ends of the earth to help your best friend, and in return, your best friend is now ignoring you.  That would really hurt, right?  Again, your insiders were there to help you through some of the toughest times of your life.  They don’t need or deserve to be hurt more.  They didn’t need or deserve to be hurt in the first place.  No part of you needed or deserved to be hurt!

Internal communication allows you access to some of your greatest assets!  You will get to know insiders who hold great strength.  You might get to know your nurturers who are able to soothe and comfort you.  Still other insiders might be very adept in social situations.  Some parts of you might be more creative about finding solutions to problems. 

Honestly, the fact that you have insiders at all – in and of itself – means that you are strong, resilient, brave, creative, and capable.  The fact that you went through experiences that were horrific enough to develop DID, and survive them, means that you have the strength and resilience to heal from them.  Getting to know those internal parts of you is one of the very first and most important steps toward healing.  And all the parts of you deserve to heal.

I welcome any thoughts or questions, from any part of you, in the comments section below. 

Warmly and respectfully,

Kristen

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is a DID therapist in Austin, TX. Her specializations include working with dissociation, facilitating trauma recovery, and helping highly sensitive people. For a gentle, respectful approach to healing, contact her for your free 30-minute consultation.

Dissociation: Understanding Depersonalization/Derealization

What are Depersonalization and Derealization?

Depersonalization (DP) is a dissociative experience in which you feel detached or disconnected from your own body, thoughts, or feelings.  Derealization (DR) is the experience of feeling like people or things around you aren’t real.  With DP and DR, you understand that your experiences are skewed, off, or not quite right.  Symptoms of DP and DR can last from minutes to months, can become more or less intense, and can be really hard to describe especially to folks who have never had similar experiences. 

Symptoms of Depersonalization:

  • Feeling disconnected from your own body, emotions, thoughts, and/or experiences
  • Feeling like a stranger to yourself
  • Feeling like you are observing yourself from outside of your body
  • Feeling like you’re not connected to the person looking back at you in the mirror
  • Feeling hollow or empty
  • Feeling like there is a block between you and reality
  • Feeling robotic, or like you are on auto-pilot
  • Feeling intense anxiety, panic, or depression, or
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling like you are going crazy
  • Experiencing visual, auditory, or other perceptual distortions

Symptoms of Derealization:

  • Feeling like you are living in a dream or a movie
  • Feeling as though things and people around you aren’t real, robotic, or plastic
  • Experiencing the outside world as fuzzy, foggy, or detached
  • Feeling like there is a block between you and reality
  • Feeling intense anxiety, panic, or depression, or
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling like you are going crazy
  • Experiencing visual, auditory, or other perceptual distortions

How does DP/DR Develop?

DP/DR are both dissociative experiences meant to protect you from some feeling or experience that, if fully felt, would seem overwhelming.  Dissociation in general is a defense mechanism, and the brain’s way of attempting to make unbearable experiences feel less overpowering.  It can result from intense feelings of anxiety or panic, in the face of traumatic experience, or from certain types of drug use or withdrawal.  DP/DR is also listed as a potential side effect for certain prescription medications. 

Often, DP/DR symptoms can be experienced temporarily, especially in the case of a single traumatic event, drug use, withdrawal, or as a side effect of prescription medication.  Many people experience depersonalization, derealization, or both at one time or another.  However, when the symptoms become chronic, recurrent, or disrupt your ability to function in day-to-day life, it’s time to seek help!

How Counseling and EMDR can Help:

Counseling can help you to understand more about the causes of depersonalization and derealization, and why symptoms occur, specific to your life experiences.  With understanding of the origins, then various coping and grounding techniques and resources can be learned and utilized to help you feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. These skills can help to manage the overwhelming experiences that are causing the dissociation in the first place. 

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a specific psychotherapy approach that can help you to reprocess and resolve traumatic experiences that may be causing symptoms of DP and DR.  Whether your first experience of DP/DR was the traumatic experience, or the DP/DR resulted from some other trauma, EMDR can help to greatly reduce the associated distress, and facilitate healing of the psychological trauma on a physiological level, enabling lasting change.

To learn more about EMDR, you can visit the EMDR International Association, or schedule your free 30-minute consultation to discuss how EMDR can help you with your unique concerns.

 

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in trauma recovery, working with highly sensitive people, and those struggling with dissociation.  For a gentle, respectful approach to healing, contact her for your free 30-minute consultation.

Narcissistic Abuse

You feel like nothing you ever do is good enough, no matter how hard you try.  Your sense of self-worth depends on what you do, instead of who you are. 

Sometimes this means that you give up and just stop trying, asking yourself, “what’s the point?”  Sometimes this means that you try even harder, going out of your way to please others at the expense of yourself.  You achieve great things, yet you cannot give yourself credit.  You feel guilty, ashamed, and empty.  Your thoughts, opinions, experiences, and feelings are trumped every time, so much so that you start to believe that you don’t matter.  You might even start to question your own reality, and feel like you’re going crazy – but you are not crazy!  Narcissistic abusers depend on you feeling crazy, and do everything they can to make sure that you question your sense of yourself and your reality.  When you try to question them, they become defensive, angry, and sometimes violent, trying to convince you that you are the one with the problem.  The results can devastate you, leaving you anxious, hyper-vigilant, unable to sleep, angry, depressed, dissociated (feeling disconnected from yourself or the world), or suicidal. 

Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic parents thrive on either living through their children, or being cared for by their children (parentification).  They might tell you that you should be grateful to have opportunities that they did not have.  They might make you feel as though, having brought you into the world, you now owe them (a debt that you are never quite able to repay as far as they’re concerned).  They seem to take every opportunity to put you in your place, ensuring that you never feel you are good enough, or that there is something wrong with you.  Narcissistic parents often criticize, belittle, invalidate, manipulate, reject, humiliate, and control you.  To the outside world they might seem like the perfect parent and project the image of the perfect family.  On the other hand, they might tell everyone they know how difficult a child you are. 

Adult Relationships with a Narcissist

Narcissists are experts at making you feel important and special… at first.  Once they have charmed you, things slowly start to change.  They begin to isolate you from friends and family, making themselves the center of your world and demanding all of your attention.  They will say something, then deny ever having said it.  They will accuse you of cheating or lying, but they themselves will lie.  They will judge, criticize, threaten, belittle, and manipulate you.  They are emotionally volatile, and can become physically abusive.  They control your every move through emotional abuse or verbal abuse, creating confusion, difficulty making decisions, and an inability to trust yourself.  You can never be "good enough" in the eyes of the narcissist. 

Reclaiming Your Life

Narcissistic abuse is devastating, whether you were raised by a narcissist, or found yourself in a relationship with one.  You might tell yourself that things weren’t that bad… other people have it worse.  You have been well trained to minimize your own experiences and pain!  However, when you buy into all of these lies that you’ve been told, you can never find your own truth, identity, or freedom.  You deserve to be heard, to be validated, to feel what you feel, to think what you think, and to live your life on your terms.  You are SO worth it!

Are you ready reclaim to your life, and looking for counseling for narcissistic abuse in Austin?  Set up a free consultation to see how I can help.

4 Tips to Make Today Better than Yesterday when you have Dissociative Identity Disorder

This time of year can be a more difficult time than usual for a lot of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  It’s the time of year when self-care, self-compassion, and coping efforts need to kick into high gear. 

Fall is full of holidays that can be difficult for various reasons, depending on your personal history.  People may not have treated you well in the past.  They may not have treated you with respect and kindness, both of which you deserved then, and you deserve now!  Let me assure you – that was on them.  It was nothing you did, and it had nothing to do with who you were/are.  It was not your fault!

There was nothing you did, or could have done to deserve to be treated badly, cruelly, or abhorrently.  Today, though, there are things you can do to ensure you are treated with gentleness and respect –

1 - Start with treating yourself and all of your insiders with compassion, admiration, and tenderness.

You, and all of your insiders played an important role to get you as safely as possible to where you are today.  Please remember to say, “Thank you,” even if you didn’t or don’t always understand how each insider is trying to help.  Remember, too, to give yourself appreciation and support – don’t forget to include yourself in the list of folks you are thankful for!

2 - Ground yourself in the present.

Some insiders may have not yet found their way to the present.  They may feel stuck in a dark and frightening past.  Reassure everyone that it is 2016, and that things are very different now, and that you are safe!  Practice grounding exercises you have learned, and get as many insiders on board as possible.  If no grounding techniques come to mind, visit my prior post on favorite grounding techniques to center yourself into the here and now.

3Schedule in some fun, and spend time doing something you truly enjoy.

Engage in activities that are safe and healthy, or at least not harmful.  Invite everyone to enjoy the experience with you!  Make new, safer, kinder, and better memories.  You, and everyone inside, has worked hard – and you all have earned some joy this season! 

4 - If you find yourself struggling beyond what your learned coping strategies can carry you through, please reach out for help! 

There are people who genuinely care about your safety, wellbeing, and happiness.  There are people who are willing and wanting to help you find your peace, and a way to appreciate and care for all of yourselves.

Be SAFE!  Be WELL this season – and take good care of you and yours!

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, is passionate about helping those who have experienced trauma and abuse, and struggle with dissociation including Dissociative Identity Disorder.  Her additional specializations include supporting the highly sensitive person navigate through their unique circumstances, those struggling with caregiver stress and burnout, and people grappling with social and generalized anxiety.  She offers an affirming environment for members of the Trans and LGBQ+ communities. Contact her for your free thirty-minute consultation.

5 Favorite Grounding Techniques: Coping with Dissociation, Flashbacks, Anxiety, and Panic

Purpose

The purpose of grounding is to bring us back into the present moment.  Typically, dissociation and flashbacks result from a trigger that cognitively transports us into the past.  Anxiety and panic generally result from a worry about some future event that may or may not happen.  We cannot change the past, and the act of worrying in and of itself will not change the future.  We CAN, with practice, change how we are experiencing the present moment. 

Practice

It is important to practice grounding techniques as often as you can – before you need them!  Symptoms that manifest as a result of a trigger can feel automatic, and occur quickly.  Your body and mind have practiced these quick responses to triggers repeatedly over a lifetime.   It takes time and practice to make grounding techniques as easily accessible – and automatic.

Ground

1.          Play a current popular song that you enjoy and dance around using large, exaggerated movements.  Play air guitar, sing aloud, and drum along on your couch, coffee table, or the floor.  Feel the exaggerated movements of your body.  Notice how your breath changes.  Focus on the objects you are using as your drum.  Use the current sounds, sites, and textures to re-orient yourself back to the present moment.

2.          Take holding ice cubes to the next level and fling them against the shower wall.  Chew one of the ice cubes while you throw the others into the shower.  Hear them shatter.  Notice how they look as they explode against the tile.  When you have finished throwing the ice, sit barefoot on the edge of the tub and stir your feet around in the remaining ice.

3.          Speak or sing your favorite silly song in front of a fan, noticing how it distorts your voice.  Move closer (while maintaining a safe distance) and further away, paying attention to how your voice changes.  Feel the breeze on your face.  Now, get a cool, damp washcloth and wet your face, noticing how the blowing air changes the sensations on your face and throughout your body.

4.          Walk barefoot to your mailbox.  Notice the feel of the pavement or grass under your feet.  Pay attention to how hot or cold it is outside.  Look to the sky.  Is it sunny, cloudy, foggy, or drizzling?  When you get to the mailbox, pull each envelope out one at a time and read the postmarked date stamp aloud.

5.          Spray your favorite cologne or perfume, diffuse an essential oil, or burn a scented candle or incense.  Notice the fragrance.  Come up with five adjectives to describe the aroma.  Notice any changes in your thoughts or the feelings in your body, and describe them aloud. 

If you practice a grounding technique, and it doesn’t seem to be working for you, move to the next one.  Cycle through them as many times, and as often as needed.  The more you practice grounding from your techniques tool box, the more likely it is that you will remember to engage in grounding the next time you need to.

If you continue to struggle, reach out for help!  The more techniques you can add to your coping tool belt, the easier it becomes to manage times at which you find yourself somewhere other than the present moment.  What techniques have worked best for you?

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in trauma recovery, midlife transitions, caregivers' issues, women’s emotional health, and LGBTQ+ concerns. Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.