Feeling Too Little and Addictions

In the previous blog I illustrated some of the symptoms following complex trauma, including  feeling too little, the topic of today’s blog. Today I discuss the role of addictions in helping people to survive or numb out emotional pain, and offer some ideas on how to support the healing of addictions.

Firstly, healing addictions requires a lot more than just stopping the habit or pattern. The work of healing addictions includes a developmental/behaviour component to be healed, for example the “Puer Aeternis” (eternal youth) first described by Jung over a hundred years ago, which from a structural dissociation perspective would include the “collapse” and “flight” fantasy self- state.

Mills and Teason (2019) report that a history of trauma is almost universal among people with addictions using AOD services. Some theories suggest that self- medication of trauma symptoms like anxiety may play a role in the development of addictions. Other theories suggest that addictions are part of the magical thinking and “flight” of the younger parts of trauma survivors, helping them to escape unbearable pressure or emotions. Another idea (generated by observations within my work) is that sometimes the addictive habit or pattern is an unconscious attempt by a younger part to find an idealised “attachment” figure, (the addiction for example to cigarettes or alcohol) perhaps offering an alternative or fantasy “friend” to relate to, where they can have a special relationship, gain significance, or just find solace from everyday life. Some of these ideas are contained in the Puer Aeternis character pattern described over a hundred years ago by Carl Jung.

So if the addiction offers the fantasy escape from pain and suffering, it stands to reason that people with addictions will need to add other supports and skills to replace the “escape hatch” of the addictive substance or behaviour. We cannot expect people to give up substances and habits which they believe are vital for their survival. Addictions may be the best method the person has for surviving at first! Janina Fisher illustrates why additional “scaffolding” is needed below.

The worst part of addictions are that in the long term they damage the relationships that could powerfully help to heal trauma symptoms, cause health problems and shorten life expectancy. Worse, over time the addiction can become a “substitute relationship” while real relationships are sidelined, making the person increasingly cut-off and lonely.

 

Whatever the reason for the addiction, recovery from addiction and feeling too little takes time and work. Simply stopping the addictive pattern eg via willpower is not enough, although its a start. Significantly, work is needed around the trauma and the individual factors that hold the addiction in place, as well as building more supports and skills. This work is best done with a therapist or group that is well trained in contemporary trauma theory as well as addictions. You can also contact organisations like Odyssey for more information.

 

Co-Dependence and Addictions

In Codependence, relationship and life problems become worse over time.

These roles of victim, rescuer and persecutor are often caused by intergenerational trauma or unfairness. What holds these three roles together is denial. At some level, Persecutors have convinced themselves they are right to do what they do to the Victim and refuse to see their actions as abusive or manipulative. Victims wonder how they ‘always end up in this situation’ and feel both powerless and blameless. Rescuers tell themselves they ‘are just trying to help’ and are ‘good people’, when really they get to control by keeping Victims helpless or feeling needed. Davis and Frawley discovered that there is also a fourth position called the passive or neglectful bystander. All of these roles are interchangeable, and none of them are healthy.

To heal this relationship pattern, we need to practice doing the opposite of what we normally do.  The opposite of the destructive-fuelled by control, guilt and enmeshment, as in the co-dependence pattern above, toward a better way of loving that honours us and the people in our lives.

An honest look at the behaviour patterns we’re engaged in is often helpful. But don’t expect those around you to want to change the pattern even if you do! This pattern is often called the Drama Triangle!

Things to be curious about

  • When you were growing up, what sort of role did you play in the family?
  • What aspects of self-did you or others -have to deny, in order to play that role?
  • Do you still play the same role today, or have you adopted other roles?

To escape the co-dependence pattern I suggest that you start by learning positive skills and boundaries for yourself and others as illustrated below.Interdependence the solution for codependence

I hope this blog evokes curiosity and perhaps even a moment of clarity and self compassion. More help with changing patterns is available through CoDA or Al Anon, or via a trauma therapist on sites such as the Blue Knot Foundation or addiction therapy groups via organisations like Odyssey. 

 

 

The Aftermath of Trauma

The infographic below illustrates why healing trauma is not “one size fits all”. The aftermath of trauma can vary widely. In coming weeks I will explore each section and discuss a little of what is needed to heal each set of symptoms.

 

Sexual Abuse-Healing the Aftermath

Healing and the Aftermath

Sexual abuse creates long term problems for many people, which may not show up until years after the abuse. Abuse can be open or subtle, can be part of a “special relationship” or secrecy. The victim may be blamed by the abuser for the abuse, or worse, be told that this is “love” or that they somehow  “deserve” the abuse.

ABUSE IS NOT LOVE!

Ross and Halpern (2009) describe many of the effects of  childhood sexual abuse. Abuse impacts the development of the sexual and personal identity of the victim in profound ways, even if the survivor can’t remember the abuse at all. Common problems include a sense of discomfort with one’s femininity, masculinity or other orientations, being uncomfortable in one’s body, hypersexual or hyposexual behaviour, alteration in how a person dresses or grooms, sexual addictions, anxiety, depression, dissociation, or confusion around sexual orientation.

On the emotional level, there is often self -blame, self- doubt or self- attack. People wonder if there is “something wrong” with them (shame or guilt). There may be fear of sexual arousal or the content of sexual fantasies. People often question whether their fantasies or behaviors are normal. Others avoid sexuality and intimacy to protect themselves. Others may dissociate from their body altogether and become a “walking head” as a survival based response.

Adding to this, any form of sexual contact, even sexual thoughts, can trigger anxiety, guilt, shame or flashbacks of past abuse. This can be frightening and distressing for the person. The situation may also be distressing for their partner who may be the unwilling, and often unknowing, catalyst for flashbacks, and who may be cast in the role of the perpetrator. This puts painful strain on both people in the relationship.

Some people do not have flashbacks but instead experience a range of problems with arousal, orgasm, or have other difficulties with sex. Boundaries with others may be confused. Intimacy or connection become complicated. Some experience gender dysphoria or gender identity confusion. Others may be fused with their partner and find it difficult to say “no” or to be an individual, while others convince themselves they don’t need anyone. Trust is often be a major issue.

Miraculously, I have seen many people with symptoms of trauma like this make changes, even late in life, that transform and heal many of the problems above. The journey to healing can be slow, but hope is always possible. People experiencing any of the problems above should seek professional help, from a trauma specialist or the Blue Knot Foundation.

Adapted from: Ross and Halpern (2009) “Trauma model therapy, a treatment approach for trauma, dissociation and complex comorbidity”, TX:Manitou Communications Inc.

Healing Traumatised Parts

Healing is not all sweetness and light; or rather, the road to getting there is can be fraught with tribulations, pain, rawness or anxiety, and injury worst of all -from ourselves. Most people have parts that want help, while other parts want to run away, fight the therapist or deny the issues.

When we look at the legacy of past complex experiences including surviving many different kinds of trauma or neglect, we see all the things we have carried to this point in our lives. Healing is not a simple process. We may need to heal different parts of us that feel anger, hurt, grief, issues related to addiction, relationship or intergenerational unfairness issues, disowning of parts of ourselves including the body, certain emotions or thoughts; faulty beliefs that feel true such as the belief that we do not deserve love or belonging.

Then there are patterns or habits to heal- especially those that make us refuse to accept-or even perceive- the reality of life, or make us  live a life based on fantasy, ideals, perfectionism, or the need to control ourselves or others.  These sorts of patterns also have a sneaky way of making us very self critical and hard on ourselves, or makes it hard to get over even small upsets.

Through many years of working with people who want to heal, I would say that learning to accept and love all the parts of ourselves is central to healing.  Yet often it seems that people surviving trauma have an unspoken agreement with themselves that they will be kinder to themselves and look after themselves better only when and if they are healed. Paradoxically people continue to mistreat or neglect, criticise, drive themselves too hard , exhaust or hurt themselves in other ways, doing the things they have always done, instead of doing the opposite- loving, accepting and honouring themselves.

The truth is, if we want healing, we  need to first address the old patterns of how we relate to different parts inside.  This requires first finding a calm state then learning to be mindful or cultivate a dual awareness of what is going on inside- to unblend with old patterns and procedural ways of being in the world.

Here is a worksheet I used for trauma group sessions a few years ago which participants found useful. It is adapted from the ideas of Babette Rothschild, Peter Levine, Kathy Steele, Janina Fisher and many others.

Finding a good trauma-informed therapist or group to belong to and practice these skills is really important. Usually a safe place or a safe state is needed. Since the trauma was caused by relationships, relationships of a better kind are needed to heal the trauma. Remember. healing trauma is possible.

 

 

 

Understanding high risk behaviours

Understanding Self Harm, Addictions or Repeated Suicide behaviours in Complex Trauma

By Janina Fisher, Adapted by Claire Hudson-McAuley 2015,

As we know from the work of Bessel van der Kolk, Onno van der Hart, Bruce Perry, and the ACES study, childhood trauma dramatically interferes with the body’s ability to function and regulate itself mentally, emotionally and somatically.

The profound impact of trauma alters perception, thinking, tolerance of uncomfortable emotions, basic bodily functions such as digestion and respiration, hormonal and metabolic processes,  immune function, and the expression of genes. Relationships with others and self, trust, the ability to function in everyday life, and even the ability to learn are compromised.

Psychological development is delayed or distorted, and identity formation proceeds along the “fault lines” that result from dissociative defences and compartmentalization. Is it then any wonder that adult survivors of trauma become so remarkably adept at inventing compensatory strategies aimed at survival and  self-regulation long before they enter the doors of our offices, hospitals, or clinics?

 

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