Category Archives: PTSD

The Mirroring of Group Work helps Women leaving Abusive Long-term Relationships

mended heartDivorcing after Decades in an Abusive Relationship involves complex grieving. There is deep regret for staying so long, shame for not recognizing the abuse earlier, confusion, and a deep sense of betrayal and rejection. Then there is the incredible stress of divorcing an abusive spouse who manipulates the legal system to further abuse and stalk their partner, even if the abusing partner asked for the separation. These are “difficult divorces,” known as contentious divorces in legal circles. There is deep grief over the long years spent in a painful relationship with little in the way of emotional nurturing. There is deep grief over having much less time to create a satisfying new life and doubt and fear about their ability to create a new relationship that is loving.

Many of the participants have voiced the fear that they were the only one who stayed in an abusive relationship so long. The mirror effect of group is highly effective in breaking down the shame, isolation, and confusion shared by members. Group members sometimes exclaim, “Are you sure you didn’t marry my husband?” Group members benefit by learning ways to cope with abusive behavior during and after the divorce. And group members increase compassion for themselves as they feel compassion for each other’s suffering.

Typically, the abuser has mental health issues – often a personality disorder. The  attachment issues of being abandoned, neglected, and abused at an early age fuel the persecutory behavior of the abuser during and after the divorce. People with personality disorders are deeply conflicted about attaching to another person. To the outside world the abuser may look very normal, but inside the relationship, the old terrors fuel abusive behavior. This is of course a sad, unfortunate situation for both parties and any children involved.

Unfortunately, people with personality disorders can be highly resistant to change. Because the abusive partner may look wonderful* to the outside world, the abused partner may not be believed when she* shares her difficulties. This further serves to isolate the abused partner. Inside emotionally abusive relationships, the abuse is relentless (although sometimes subtle) and abused partners can find themselves in a painful, isolating Catch-22.  Group breaks down the sense of isolation and helps heal the pain.

Group counseling can help members to see these patterns and break through the confusion and brain washing in ways that are hard to do through individual counseling alone, although a combination of individual and group counseling is ideal for healing. No longer confused, group members can see themselves more clearly, separate themselves from the abuse, and start reclaiming their worthiness and identity.

*Men can be in emotionally or otherwise abusive relationships too. Personality disorders are fairly common among men and women. I see men in my practice who are in emotionally abusive relationships. Sometimes, they join the Circle of Healing group. In some cases, both parties have personality disorders or other complex mental health issues.

*Wonderful: Under close examination, this perception by the abused partner often doesn’t hold out as the abuser often has friends that have serious issues, may have acquired a number of enemies, and be involved in unethical behavior. The abuser is perceived as wonderful by his/her group of friends, which the client sometimes shares and may lose in the divorce.


Devastation at Newtown: Change Begins with Grieving

The loss of a young life is so devastating. We pour such work and love into parenting. Then, to have the gifts that that child held for the future vanish is heart wrenching. The only word I can think of to describe the death of a child by a senseless act of violence is “obscene” – something that should not be seen.

And yet it happened. It is in our awareness. While avoiding excessive trauma exposure regarding the murder of the children and adults at Newtown, it is also important to acknowledge the grief, pain & horror. It is a national tragedy that we live in a culture where we have both inadequate gun control & mental health care delivery that results in daily loss of life and frequent mass murders. As a culture, we have an opportunity to truly grieve the obscene loss of life at Newtown, & through grieving begin to transform. For, without doing the work of grieving the losses, without doing the work of resolving the trauma, Healing & Transformation cannot happen.

I am concerned that we are so focused on problem solving in response to the murder of the children that we don’t do the grieving. Resolutions to do something can trick the brain in thinking the problem is solved. The preoccupation with the horror can result in emotional numbing or be a distraction from deeper reflection. And the intent to change can serve the process of denial, averting attention from the distress caused by the losses. Focusing on resolution at the end of the grieving process is more likely to result in the kind of behaviors that result in real and lasting changes.

In other words, we may inadvertently undermine the intentions we have of effecting change. As difficult as it is to honestly acknowledge the pain, horror, anxiety, and sadness – without the awareness of the emotional distress, the psyche is not sufficiently informed to effect meaningful behavioral change. Without deep soul searching, this terrible event will fade into history with other terrible events, another media event until the next terrible, and often preventable, event happens. Moreover, we “forget” these events happen daily. The number of homicides in 2009 in the U.S. by firearms was 11,493. The number of suicides by firearms totaled 18,735. Countries with stricter gun laws have a fraction of the deaths by firearms. In half of all domestic violence cases, the abuser was depressed.

We can do better. And paradoxically, it starts with grieving.

Treating Depression as a Wake-up Call

Treating Mild to Moderate Depression

Even mild depression needs to be taken seriously. Since Depression can lead to subsequent depressions and since depression can lead to suicide, it’s important to start counteracting the loss of zest for life as soon as you notice Symptoms: Seek a professional consultation immediately to determine the underlying cause of your depression and take the following steps.

Non Pharmacological Treatment for Depression: (1) Move! Do something, even if it’s walking around the block. Exercise breaks down stress chemicals & boosts neurotransmitters that make you feel good. (2) Meditate or do yoga. Being still & breathing deeply slowly shifts things. (3) Eat Healthy & Include Protein in each meal & snacks. Food affects your Mood. (4) Avoid foods that can lead to sugar crashes & mood swings like sugar, coffee, excessive tea drinking, & excess salt. (5) Avoid Addictive chemicals, including Alcohol and marijuana (depressants). (6) Monitor Self-Talk, depression likes to talk trash, so take it out. (7) Problem Solve: Make a list of 3 goals every day and do them. (8) Call friends. Women Stress Manage by Tending & Befriending. (9) Consult your naturopath about supplements. There are a lot of new supplements designed to assist with mood regulation, but it is important that you use one that suits your needs so that you don’t wind up feeling worse.

If you have trouble doing the first 9 steps or don’t experience relief from doing them, see a psychiatrist or prescribing psychiatric nurse for a diagnosis and prescription. Depression due to bipolar disorder is treated differently than major depression. Depression can develop in reaction to severe or chronic excess stress of any kind. The source of the stress can be from a number of sources, including chronic pain, economic stress, physical illnesses, old traumas that have not resolved – posttraumatic stress disorder, intense grief, emotionally abusive relationships, poor stress management, etc. Diseases of the endocrine system also tend to cause depression and should be ruled out by seeing a doctor or naturopath.

Reducing the source of the stress is a key to healing depression without relapsing again. It is important to identify and treat the underlying cause. An important step in treating any depression is getting an assessment of the underlying cause.

Treating Complex, Resistent Depression due to Childhood Abuse and/or Neglect

Healing depression related to childhood abuse and/or neglect is more complicated, tends to be of greater duration & subject to relapse, which causes greater damage to the mindbody. Due to these factors, it is Important to find a therapist trained in a variety of trauma specific therapies and to stick with a program of recovery for a sustained length of time. Adult child abuse victims often leave counseling prematurely. Knowing that it takes sustained effort can prevent impatience with the process that leads to despair or dropping out because you start to feel better. Just because you are feeling better does not necessarily mean that the underlying issues are resolved.

Treating Moderate to Severe Depression

If you have Moderate to Severe Depression, consult your doctor about medication. There is medical evidence that SSRIs (class of anti-depressants related to Prozac) help regenerate a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which shrinks in volume when depressed. Taking the drugs will help you recover the energy and the desire to adopt the above mental health regimen. As you feel better, you can gradually phase out the medication with the guidance of your doctor. Abruptly ending medication complicates the healing process. Research has shown that the best overall treatment for depression is a combination of therapy and medication.

The sooner you begin recovery, the better prognosis for long-term health and overall well-being. Most age related disease is stress related disease. I believe that treating depression comprehensively can put you on a track for life-time health.

©Noreen Wedman 2011

Facing the Shadow

sydney-vivid-lights-festivalFacing one’s shadow psychologically is a good thing. Yet we fear facing a period of rough emotional weather. (And indeed, intense trauma is sometimes best dealt with in small manageable packets using somatic therapy.) Pretending the shadow isn’t there is SO tempting, but it doesn’t make it go away. Stuffing uncomfortable emotions and thoughts has costs: depression, PTSD, binge eating, emotional explosions, physical violence, ennui, avoidance…Facing the darkness is where the creative energy lies. Darkness will create. The level of awareness that you meet it with will determine whether what is created is beneficial or not.

Facing the shadow is the place where shift happens. “Embracing the darkness” is a technique that I use that relies on the same elements of the mind that creates dreams. The technique relies solely on the discomfiting sensory-related imagery (rather than thoughts) that emerge in connection with a disturbing memory or dream. Transformation happens by becoming “one with that image” – by “embracing” what one fears until images of transformation appear in the mind’s eye. The fogs lifts, a rainbow appears, a child sings sweetly, the scent of flowers perfumes the imagination.

Why does this work? I suspect that it works for several reasons. The amygdala (the part of the brain connected with the flight, fight or freeze response) “thinks” in symbols & sensory images, not words. The amygdala has immediate access to regions of the brain connected with touch, sight, hearing, and smell. It houses the emotional memory system. “Embracing the Darkness” also uses the principles of desensitization used to treat phobias by facing fears while in a state of relaxation. By using the “language” of the amygdala, the emotional charge around frightening and disturbing memories may be discharged and transformed. This month, I invite you to try this technique for an introductory session of $75.

There are other ways to face one’s darkness: Trying new things that are a little scary, pushing at the edge of your comfort zone, recording dreams, writing stream of conscious thoughts daily, and processing a painful memory that has surfaced with your counselor. I use a technique called “the Dive” to process painful memories, including recent situations. The Dive incorporates aspects of Focusing, Traumatic Renegotiation, the Enneagram, Somatic experiencing, and depth Psychology. A current experience is processed and a related early memory is processed, resolving the current and the old unfinished business, leaving one more present and relaxed. The goal is greater access to essential states of being: more peaceful, joyful, loving, serene, empowered, wise, intuitive, valued, Courageous, or greater ability to commit. Paradoxically, this shift comes from facing inner darkness.

Becoming Comfortable in Your Own Skin

STOP right now and Notice. What is happening in your body? Are any of your muscles tense? Is your body comfortable or contorted into an uncomfortable position? What is happening in your mind? Are you “tense” there too? Thinking Anxious Thoughts? If so, it is probably impeding whatever goal that you have because too much Stress diminishes the creativity of the mind. Continue reading

Take Stalking Seriously

The shooting death of Jennifer Paulson, a 30 year old teacher of special education students, by a man who had stalked her for years was the first thing I heard when I turned the radio on the morning of Friday, February 26, 2010. I was concerned whether anyone I knew was close to her. I thought of the loss, shock and horror of her family, friends, and students. I wondered if the man had ever had a psychological evaluation or counseling. Continue reading