What is the cure for trauma and grief? I can try to help with that, but what each of us does with this information is our own.
Step 1: Admit the possibility there is a way through, no matter how difficult this experience may be. Many treatments are out there: cognitive-behavioural therapy, exposure and desensitization therapy, EMDR, somatic experiencing, attachment-based therapy, time-perspective therapy, emotion-focused therapy, and more. The core to all of these, as I see it, is that they all explore ways to make a connection with ourselves and others, in the moment, now. They are all centred, in one way or another, around mindfulness and around decreasing the emotional impact of past memories on the present moment.
Therefore, Step 2 of the cure is to become mindful or aware that our own internal defenses are trying to protect us. Our minds are imagining the threat or the loss to be still present in our external environments, and we are very busy thinking, feeling, and behaving threatened and lost. We are in survival mode. As long as the illusion of the past experience being still present persists, there is little time for emotional care or for expressing love, only for survival. Our efforts to protect our survival have inadvertently created roadblocks against relating in a loving and caring way towards ourselves and others. Or, the wall may also prevent us from accepting love and care from others for ourselves. These others could be members of our own families whom we have “cut off” because they constantly remind us – often without even trying – of a traumatic loss in our lives. We end up feeling socially alienated, from family and from friends.
A husband might remind his wife of her father who sexually abused her, so she cuts off from him. She might even cut off from her daughter who is the same age as she was when her dad abused her. A new partner might remind of an ex whom he caught having an affair.
While these reminders are often not in our awareness, if we are aware of the reminders, we are a step farther along the path to the cure. Most often, though, the victims of these traumatic losses are not mindful of the patterns that are showing up in their lives. But these patterns are there.
Mindfulness is a discipline talked about a lot by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Dalai Lama, and by many others. Mindfulness is often identified with Buddhism. But I think for as long as minds have been in existence, they have had the potential to take a good look at themselves, to monitor their own experiences, to look at the patterns in life, and to learn something from them.
I often recommend a Workbook on Mindfulness to my clients because it can help people cope better with the sad or anxious feelings that arise in response to trauma or loss. Research done using the program of exercises in this workbook has shown it to be effective in improving mood and well-being. For more information, check out the Books in the Toolkit Menu of my website.
Wondering about the next steps in the cure? Stay tuned for the next blog…