Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Doesn't Trauma Get Better Over Time?

There are three reasons why trauma doesn’t get better over time. Here’s a way we can think of it:

The first reason why trauma doesn’t get better over time is because when going through an experience that was a painful or confusing or weird or troubling or upsetting or traumatic, that experience slammed into the person’s consciousness and left its impression. Picture my hand slamming into the sand and it leaves an imprint of my hand in the sand. Kind of like the sand hasn’t yet gotten the message that my hand is no longer there. The first thing that keeps the trauma stuck is that impression. Meaning the deeper part of our mind, not our intellect, but the part of our mind that controls our automatic functions, that part of our mind has a tendency to confuse the impression left by the experience, thinking it is the experience itself. It is why somebody who was in a robbery 20 years ago begins to tell you about it and as he is talking about it he gets all emotional. Why is that happening to him? Well, what’s happening is the deeper part of his mind is confusing the impression, or the thought of the experience, thinking it is the experience itself. That is the first thing that keeps the trauma stuck.

Here is the second thing that happens: When going through disturbing events a meaning gets attached to that troubling event and if you ask a person who is troubled what happened they’ll typically tell you the meaning that their mind attached to what happened, thinking that they are telling you what happened. I’ll give you an example of somebody who came in to my office. She had left work at about 4:30 in the afternoon. She walked out to her car when two men in a truck drove up. One of them punched her in the face. They dragged her and threw her into the back of that pickup truck and raped her. This is what she said when she came in to visit me. She said ‘You know I’ll never forgive myself for that.’ And I said ‘For what?’ You might be thinking the same thing. She said ‘Well, you know, being so reckless, so careless, so stupid. I can’t believe I put myself in danger like that.’ What happened was that was the meaning that got attached to that troubling experience. And, of course, the more upsetting something was, the more distorted the meaning would be that got attached to that experience. The meaning that typically gets attached to bad experiences are something to do with ‘I was bad, I was wrong or there is something wrong with me.’

The third thing that happens once those first two pieces are slammed in place, the impression and the meaning, is that our mind will have a tendency to confuse things that are structurally similar but will confuse it as identical. Let me give you an example of that. Let’s say we have a returning Iraqi combat soldier who is walking down the street with you. You guys are engaged in a wonderful conversation. It is a beautiful, sunny day and an old pickup truck drives by and it back fires. And now our soldier is on the ground, hugging the grass, screaming. What just happened to him? We call that experience, of course, a flash back. But what happened? The deeper part of his mind confused the similar sound, but confused that sound as identical and had that guy react as if he were in war.

Those are the three things that keep the trauma stuck, and those three things have one thing in common and that is they are all based in distortion. Because, my hand print isn’t the same thing as my hand. The meaning certainly isn’t what happened. And how different is a car backfiring than machine gun bullets? So Rapid Resolution Therapy clears the impression and turns the lights on so that the deeper part of the mind gets the really good news that the troubling experience is no longer happening. As soon as that happens it no longer ever confuses things that are similar as identical. No more flashbacks.