Emotional pain you experience in the present can be used as a bridge to help you identify and then heal past traumas that are holding you back.
In complex trauma the link between the emotional dysregulation you experience in the present and the unresolved traumas of the past is not conscious. Unlike in shock trauma that results in ordinary PTSD where there may be intrusive thoughts and images that are clearly associated with a particular traumatic event, in complex trauma these linkages are often buried in the unconscious.
Instead of having direct access to traumatic memories along with the emotional component, many people with complex trauma experience pervasive emotional flashbacks which are disassociated from the original trauma. There is often pervasive shame and fear with sudden overwhelming spikes in these emotions triggered by certain situations or interpersonal circumstances with no clear and consciously accessible link to past events.
The repression of traumatic memories can be so extreme that memories are difficult to access in general. Often the ability to re-experience any memories you do have is tenuous. The emotional and visual components of the memory itself are repressed. In addition, your ability to re-experience the traumatic memory in the first person with the full realisation that this actually happened to you may be unavailable. Your sense of self is in general nebulous or ill-defined. You exist in a reactive state reverberating from moment to moment with unpleasant emotions with no clear sense of who you are and what you want. The sense of personal agency and interest in your own inner world that beckons many people towards self-examination and self-discovery may be absent. Instead you experience chronic shame, a sense of worthlessness and aversion to anything to do with yourself which keeps you unable to focus on your own inner experience and trapped in your current state. This was how I experienced things for most of my adult life until the past year or two.
I realised that there was really something wrong in Women’s Aid groups. I would have real difficulty listening to other women describe what had happened to them. Listening to their stories I would involuntarily tremble and cry but I could feel literally nothing when I tried to access my own experiences almost as if nothing had ever happened. The disparity between my experience of listening to others’ stories versus trying to access my own alerted me to something. Rationally I knew I had lived through very similar experiences. I was kind of thinking “God how f**!ed up am I?” because I was getting messed up listening to other people’s stories but somehow couldn’t access my own at all on an emotional level. I had this “Yeah whatever” attitude towards my own story but I was clearly traumatised by what had happened because of my reaction listening to others tell their own stories. My memory of events was fragmented and repressed. I could not access the emotional component. Rationally I knew that everything I went through with my psychopathic ex and the custody case involving my son was really bad and that it was affecting me significantly in my life in the present. I knew that I was more anxious and depressed than before. I could see however that some other people were easily able to talk about what happened to them and they had an emotional reaction to it and were processing it. I realised I couldn’t do this.
This is a typical response of someone whose personality structure is dissociated due to earlier trauma. Apparently dissociation is a primitive defence mechanism that is particularly common for people who had early childhood trauma before 5 years of age. In my early childhood up to age 5, my dad was a violent alchoholic. There were incidents like him holding up the boarding house my mum ran in town with swords threatening the guests with people jumping out of first floor windows, a fire breaking out, my dad being taken away by the police. My earliest memories are being kicked about on the floor, having plates thrown at me and being told to stay away from my dad. Clearly something was not right back then and I guess that was when many of my responses to trauma were laid down. Dissociation is one of the most basic coping mechanisms and is used by young children. If there is no escape from the trauma then eventually the person disappears psychologically. The response pattern laid down in the early years continues into adult life. Later traumas only serve to reinforce the emotional dysregulation and tendency towards dissociation that was learned in early childhood.
I’ve started to recover from this dissociation however and found a technique that creates a bridge from the emotional dysregulation in the present through to the original trauma giving you the opportunity to finally resolve it. In complex trauma, you might not have the memory directly available to you to work with. It is possible however to use emotional flashbacks to access buried memories through meditation. The subconscious seems to be somehow accessible via emotion. Language and rational thought do not seem to be able to pierce through to these realms. Instead you need to dive down into the depths of the subconscious mind on emotional bridges when you are in a relaxed state.
I have been using a method I found on the Vappole YouTube channel where there is a guided meditation (in Italian) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWRqrOZQoNE.
Below is an abridged version of the guided meditation and some of the explanation around it. It has helped me to access and resolve these buried traumas.
Some traumas are straightforward to resolve. Others may be more difficult and may be layered with various memories and emotions involved.
If during the meditation you feel that in age you are transported back to a certain point in your life e.g., very early childhood, it can suffice to have an idea of what was likely happening to you at that time based on what you know and you do not necessarily need to access a concrete memory from that time.
Meditation to Heal the Inner Child
Take some deep breaths and relax.
Move your attention through your body starting with your lower limbs and moving upwards, through to your trunk front and back, your shoulders and arms, and finally your neck head and face.
Imagine yourself being transported upwards and flying across landscapes. Imagine the cities, hills and fields and take in the beauty of the world.
Choose a place to alight. You are in beautiful surroundings and the atmosphere is peaceful and serene.
In front of you imagine a television with dials that you can control to go back to any point in your life. You can also turn it off at any moment if you feel overwhelmed and return to your tranquil place.
Now turn on the television and go to the last time in your life that you felt a very negative and difficult emotion. Go back to the scene you were in. Without resistance or judgement completely re-emerge yourself in the unpleasant emotion and re-enter the scene. Let yourself drown in the unpleasant emotion and welcome it with open arms. Remember that you can turn the television off at any time and return to your tranquil surroundings.
When you are completely immersed in this negative emotion, try to remember the last time that you felt this same emotion as your current state. Try not to force yourself. Let you “emotional body” or spirit respond and transport you to an earlier time.
When you have found the last episode feel the emotion fully. Try to accept it completely without resistance or judgement.
Then ask yourself again when was the last time I felt this same emotion.
Repeat this process going further and further back in time until you reach the root. It doesn’t matter if you remember precisely what happened.
Relive the episode in your infancy/childhood. If you don’t remember exactly then it is OK to infer from what you know of your early circumstances what was likely happening around you. If you see it in third person try to relive it in the first person. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember exactly. The important thing is to reexperience the memory from the perspective of your inner child and allow your inner child to feel all the emotions.
Now with your adult self go into the memory with your inner child. Tell your inner child that all the emotions that your inner child feels are valid and that he/she has every right to feel that way. Let your inner child cry and wail with you and let he/she express all of their emotions in your presence.
When your inner child feels completely relieved of these emotions remain present with your inner child giving him/her your presence and unconditional love. Ask your child what they need – perhaps a hug or an explanation. Give them what the person who should have helped your inner child could not. Let them know that whatever happened does not mean that they do not deserve love. What happened was not right and they have every right to feel bad.
Stay present with your inner child and wait until your inner child gives you their own advice on what you should change in your life. The you can return from your meditation.
This meditation has been really helpful for me to get through the dissociation to access repressed memories and resolve some early traumas. I hope it helps you too.
All the best.