Posts Tagged ‘meditation’


Flashbacks, PTSD and You

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Of all the PTSD symptoms, flashbacks are some of the worst. They interrupt our sleep and our waking hours without warning. They chew us up and spit us out leaving us spent, exhausted and retraumatized. Flashbacks can really hurt us as they activate our amygdala, the crisis response center in the brain, and throw our entire nervous system into high gear. In the worst cases, we can momentarily lose touch with reality and become totally engulfed in a full body replay of traumatic events. As we heal from PTSD, it becomes essential to get a grasp on flashbacks and slowly eliminate them.

What are flashbacks?

Flashbacks are an involuntary and intrusive experience of a memory. Flashbacks can involve any combination of the senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic (or feeling state), taste and smell. I have found that many people with traumatic pasts enter flashbacks regularly without knowing they are having one. Movie type flashbacks are obvious; for example a soldier experiencing himself back on the battle field. But flashbacks can also be, for example, an overpowering feeling of helplessness and abandonment in the present that is not in proportion to a current event.

I have come to see flashbacks as part of the body/mind’s attempt to heal. Persistent flashbacks are like a telephone ringing, or someone knocking at your door. They are your unconscious mind demanding that traumatic events in your past be dealt with and healed. Like a persistent visitor, the knocking will only get louder and more in your face if you don’t answer the door.

How can I get rid of flashbacks?

There is only one way to really get rid of flashbacks for good, and that is to dive deep into your mind and heal your PTSD by dealing with the traumatic events that caused your injury. I realize that this is not the answer that many want to hear. It is a bit like saying the only way out of your burning house is to walk straight through the fire. In the meantime there are things you can do to lessen the severity of flashbacks and help those around you cope with them:

– Learn your triggers and inform those closest to you. The more you know what causes flashbacks, the more control you have over them. Keep a log or map them, either mentally or on paper.

– Develop a twice-daily practice of invoking the relaxation response and by that I mean something like yoga, tai chi, progressive relaxation or centering prayer. Not drugs, TV or other escapist types of activities. These techniques have been shown to improve recovery time from flashbacks and decrease their intensity and frequency.

– Strengthen your mind! Flashbacks are a time disorder. Your mind gets sucked back to the time and place of injury. Don’t let that happen! Learn to stay in the present moment through meditation and grounding exercises. That way, when a flashback hits you can stay present and not get swept away in the memory.

– Talk about it. Ever since Freud discovered the “talking cure” we have known there is something magical about telling others about our difficulties. The more we process verbally, the less grip these events and memories have over us. If your memories are too intense to share with loved ones find a good trauma therapist (see my blog on finding a good trauma therapist!).

– Do not blame your self. Shame and flashbacks go hand in hand, and are often a part of the trauma being re-experienced. Be gentle with yourself and realize that this is a process that will take time to resolve.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. PTSD can be healed. That means you will reach a point where flashbacks are no longer a part of your life, at least not in such a pernicious form. We may always have unpleasant memories but when trauma is resolved, they no longer have the power to hurt us.

Blessings on your journey of healing.




Trauma and Psychic Ability

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This past week I presented workshops at the European Society for Trauma and Dissociation in Copenhagen, Denmark. Twice during the conference highly regarded researchers and treaters of trauma, psychologist Andrew Moskowitz and the parapsychologist Etzel Cardena wondered about the connection of PTSD and psychic experiences. In The Trauma Tool Kit (Quest, 2012) I have also noted the preponderance of unusual experiences that those with trauma report. The questions that came up was why. Why do people with high levels of trauma tend to report experiences in nonordinary reality?
Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

1) Extraordinary Empathy. A person subjected to much trauma, especially growing up can develop certain survival skills. One of the skills of surviving an abusive home is to be able to anticipate caregiver’s moods and “manipulate” one’s caregivers into doing their job i.e. not being abusive but helping the child to grow and thrive. The child in this case has to develop preternatural attunement to the caregiver. Out of necessity the child may begin to develop telepathic capacity, exquisite sensitivity to mirror neurons in the brain and a sensitivity to electromagnetic energies emanating from the person.

2) Natural Psychic Giftedness is Aligned with Intergenerational Trauma. Many of the most sensitive and psychic cultures in the world are indigenous. Conquering cultures have gone out of their way to disable the extraordinary abilities of those cultures. Examples include the witch trials of the Inquisition, the British cutting off the fingers of Marma practitioners in India, etc. These conquered cultures store a great deal of intergenerational trauma that may predispose them to perpetuating the trauma through intergenerational abuse. We have seen examples of this repetition in Irish, Native American and African American families. In other words, the indigenous cultures already had these gifts and also manifest traumas recapitulating the original traumas of domination and assimilation so that the relationship is not causal but related to colonization.

3) Chakra Disruption. Shamanic healer Barbara Brennan has written extensively about the human energy body, which she can see clearly. She has noted that certain kinds of abuse, such as sexual abuse, can “tear” open the chakras of the body. This artificial opening then allows the energy body to be more permeable than someone who has not had chakric damage, leading to many kinds of phenomena in nonordinary reality.

4) Dissociation is a Condition of Psychism. All manner of psychic practitioners and shamanic healers need to learn to “unground” their consciousness in order to access information from other realms than the physical. If one has had early training in this from necessity caused by trauma, then one is already well on the way to developing these abilities by definition. This may be the reason that so many shamanic initiations include controlled traumas to open up the mind and supersensory perceptions (teen circumcision, fear trials such as being buried in the earth for several days, scarification, hallucinatory drugs and experiences, etc.)

5) Survival Techniques Facilitate Psychic Ability. Increasingly, trauma survivors are turning to techniques such as meditation, work with spiritual teachers and shamans to heal from extreme traumas. In India it is well known that intense yoga and meditation practices lead to the unfolding of psychic and occult abilities. When trauma survivors pursue these practices for healing, they naturally unlock thoses abilities, too.

It is good to see some of these avenues of thought being pursued in realms of academia and psychology. These pursuits are still fairly controversial in certain states and countries, but overall the public is becoming more friendly to these ideas. My next book Connected: How Reclaiming Your Indigenous Ancestry Can Heal You, Your Community and the World will be exploring these ideas in more depth. It is my strong belief that additional connection and perception may be the qualities needed by modern humanity to change the paradigm on planet Earth, heal the world’s traumas and brighten the future for us all.




The Root of Violence: Solutions for a Beleaguered World

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When I was in high school and the world’s population was at about 4 billion, I saw a video about an experiment in rat overcrowding. The researchers showed very clearly that up until a certain population the rats were civil, harmonious and happy. When they became overcrowded, the rats turned on each other and a cycle of violence began. I remembered wondering where that tipping point was for humanity.

Today the world’s population stands at about 7 billion, ready to top 8 billion in the next decade. I cannot help but wonder if the world is getting too crowded to maintain civil societies. At least in the old models.

Fortunately, we are not rats. We are human beings with a plethora of ingenious human tools at our disposal, the foremost being a thinking, self-reflective brain. We can not only reshape our environment, we can also reshape our bodies, personalities and even our own brains.

Clearly, it is time to evolve.

What would it take to stop the violence?

Currently it is popular to blame religion for violence. But I don’t buy it. Historically, nationalism was blamed for wars. But we didn’t abolish nations, nor could we. Anymore than we can abolish religion. The search for God and religion seems to be hardwired into the very fabric of humanity. And that’s potentially a good thing. Innumerable hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable endeavors have been supported by large religious bodies.

Look, I’m a therapist. I’ve spent a lifetime peering into the hidden mechanisms of human consciousness. I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of violence, religious, atheist, you name it.

And the root of violence is pretty simple. The recipe is this: take a human ego, prone to intense biological impulses like sex and aggression, add a dose of rejection, violence, or trauma and withhold empathy, attachment and kindness. Don’t forget to add the testosterone, or all that violence will turn inwards. This is the basic formula; there are of course endless ways to “spice” things up. Anything that disinhibits a human helps: drugs, a charismatic leader, any kind of reward real or imagined, spiritual or material. You get the picture.

When the world becomes an overall less kinder place to be, when governments exist to punish and control rather than support, when adults are too busy trying to survive than to connect, when children are subjected to all manner of abuse growing up, when basic needs are withheld (food, shelter, education), then we can be sure the rise of violence is around the corner.
My little piece of contribution centers around psychological trauma. Like the tipping point for rat populations, I believe that there is a tipping point for the number of citizens with untreated abuse and trauma issues that starts to unravel societies and the fabric of civilization gets weak, gauzy and prone to tears.

That is why I wrote The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. But one book is not enough to stem the tide.

If we want to turn this around we need the biggest investment in our humanity the world has ever seen.

Our healthcare system is broke.
Out educational system is broke.
Our national aggression is disproportionately funded.
PTSD is a national (and global) epidemic.
Our TV and media is a wasteland of violence, sex and empty, puerile stories aimed at the basest nature of humans.
Adults can’t find meaningful work or time to connect.
Children can’t get their emotional needs met so they are turning to early sex, drugs, computers and violent videogames.

Like the global climate crisis we are in, we are in a crisis of our own humanity.

We need to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be human? Are we living lifestyles that are in alignment with our values and ideals, or have we given up?

The answers are simple. Accomplishing them requires insight, wisdom and the will of the people.

1) Convert from a permanent wartime economy to a peace economy. Stop trying to control the world and get back to taking care of American citizens.
2) Reinstate the important status of mothers in the world by funding them to stay home with their children as needed. Working mothers is a redundant, and obnoxious term. We need to recognize that all mothers are, by definition, working.
3) Stop projecting our own internal demons onto other groups: immigrants, “terrorists”, “dirty hippies”, whatever. And affirm the dignity of all human beings, the vast majority of whom merely seek to be happy.
4) Reign in the vast greed industries and interests in Washington.
5) Recognize that only people are people. Corporations are sociopathic entities.
6) Fund a single payer healthcare system and come into the 21st century.
7) Throw out the educational dictates of the last 20 years and create sound educational ideas that really engage students and teachers in learning in the new millennium.
8) Turn off your TV. Or at least have enforced rules about usage .
9) Heal your traumas. Help yourself.
10) Recognize that your children, friends and neighbors may be struggling quietly and desperately in need of help. Help them.
11) Spend more time with your kids. Quality is not enough. Quantity is also required for healthy kids. Don’t let computers and TV parent.
12) Create community events for connection. Host a potluck once/month. Get involved. Talk to your neighbors. Get over your fear of the ‘other’.
13) MEDITATE. Rats can’t meditate, we can. If we all just calmed down and healed our own brains, it would be enough.

OK, then. We do have choices. It’s either us or no one. We can cower in fear waiting for the next attack, the next screw gone loose, or we can start changing our communities here and now.

I vote for now. I’ll go meditate on it, and then I will act.




Research is in: Meditation works!

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Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain

The good folks at Mass General Hospital (MGH), Boston University and other research institutions have shown conclusively in a research setting, for the first time, that an 8-week meditation program affected brain function in a positive way even when the subjects were not meditating.  The amygdala (our crisis response center) was positively affected by their modest practice.  Highly recommended reading!(Click on the title to go right to the article.)




Help! My Partner Has PTSD: Seven Strategies for Coping as a Couple

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If you are partnered with someone who is struggling with PTSD or you both have PTSD, you know your life together is challenged in some very profound ways. Fights can be explosive, resulting in fireworks or endless stony silences. Misunderstandings can abound. The non-PTSD partner may start to develop secondary or vicarious trauma just being exposed to the intense PTSD in their loved one. Life can start to feel very unpredictable, like threading one’s way through a minefield. It can be easy to start walking on eggshells or conversely getting fed up and moving away from each other. Love and connection are harder to feel. PTSD challenges couples like nothing else. Waiting it out doesn’t work and neither do threats or force. What to do?

1) Educate yourself. PTSD is a whole body process that affects every aspect of the human being. It has predictable stages (see my book, The Trauma Tool Kit) and effects on the person and the partnership. You would educate yourself if your partner had a major medical illness, right? This is no different. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

2) Set some clear boundaries around behavior in the relationship. Just because someone is suffering does not give them the right to be abusive. The anger/fear response is hardwired and amped up in full-blown PTSD. Often people with PTSD dissociate when they are angry and don’t even realize what they are doing. Sit down with your partner, ahead of time, and set rules for what is tolerable and allowed in the relationship and what is not. These can change over time depending on where each of you and your life circumstance. For instance, shouting might be OK if it is just the two of you, but if you have a child in the next room, shouting can become off-limits behavior. Violence or abusive behavior is never to be tolerated under any circumstances.

3) Learn to take time-outs, or, as we call them around here, amygdala resets. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that is the crisis response center. When it goes on red alert it highjacks the brain to deal with threats, whether real or perceived. With the amygdala in the red zone, people are very close to being out of control or they are out of control. Taking 20 minutes, the average reset time, to reboot the brain for both parties, will lend itself to a more peaceful and safe outcome. Either partner should be able to call time-out at any time. Be sure to make it a time out not an end to the discussion. Always come back together to resolve the issue at hand. If it is just too explosive get into couple’s therapy. Which reminds me…

4) Get into couple’s therapy! More research is showing that couple’s treatment can be very helpful in coping with PTSD. Individual therapy is great, but couple’s issues are complex and require their own special interventions. Not all therapists like to do or can do couples’ work well. Look for someone with previous education and training or with a degree in family work, who also is knowledgeable about trauma. Even a few sessions can make a tremendous difference. If you are worried about money (and who isn’t these days) know that there are many organizations that provide these services for low and no cost. If you are a veteran or married to one, you may be even more eligible. If money is still on your mind, remind yourself of how expensive divorces are, as long as you both shall live.

5) Study triggers together. Big rages and emotional swings are almost always brought on by triggers to PTSD. A trigger can be anything at all. I worked with a couple whose partner was an Iraq war veteran. He became severely triggered one afternoon by three events happening in close succession: he saw someone in the parking lot of the restaurant with camouflage clothing; he got a freeze headache, and he got closed in when more people joined his table. The clothing and feeling of being trapped are obvious triggers, the freeze headaches not so much. But it turned out he’d had a number of them in the desert, and it had become a trigger. The more triggers you figure out together, in the calm times, the easier it becomes to avoid setting the PTSD partner off, or resolving it more quickly if you do. This is an empowering step that often brings couples closer together. In this case, the couple avoided, what would have been in the past an angry meltdown on his part. His partner then could respond with concern and compassion.

6) Make healing PTSD a joint task in your relationship. Strategize together. Discuss medical options. Open up lines of trust and communication. Often a spouse or partner is the only person to tell one’s story to with complete safety and trust. Don’t avoid the issues just because your partner wants to. Avoidance is part of the disease of PTSD. Don’t collude with it.

7) Join together in mental and physical fitness. Develop couple’s routines around calming down the mind and body on a daily basis. This could be through prayer, meditation, tai chi, yoga, or long walks. The evidence is pouring in daily about the beneficial effects of calming techniques on PTSD. You will both be better for it!




5 Ways to Manage Post-Disaster PTSD

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I just had a lovely interview with Luke Hayes, of MyRecovery Disaster Resilience Radio. We discussed helpful ways to prevent and overcome post traumatic stress around natural disasters, that are increasing in frequency and intensity around the world.

1) Be prepared. Don’t think it can’t happen to you (denial). Have food and water items stocked. Know what kind of disasters could happen in your area. Make a plan for a quick evacuation. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of loss later. We don’t think and plan well in the midst of crisis. So plan ahead!

2) Know where to find help. Form a community organization. Familiarize yourself with local assistance such as Red Cross, shelters etc. If your community does not have such assistance consider forming a group yourself. People have much less trauma when they feel looked after by their community.

3) Practice control over your mind and emotions now. The first technique I teach my patients about PTSD is a single pointed meditation. Focus on one object for 3-5 minutes at a time. Most of us have flabby mind muscles. This exercise strengthens our ability to focus in a crisis and its aftermath while staying calm. It is easier to keep the mind calm when we have practiced at it ahead of time.

4) If you have severe trauma after a disaster seek help. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Response) is a powerful modality that involves eye movements that dissipates traumatic responses. It seems to work best on those who did not grow up with tremendous amounts of trauma. The results can be surprisingly fast and powerful.

5) Restore yourself and your body after the crisis has resolved. The body is profoundly affected and in some cases permanently altered by trauma. The endocrine system and central nervous systems may take weeks to months to heal fully affecting appetite, weight, autoimmune responses, mood swings, sleep patterns, libido and other aspects of human life. Most people tend to underestimate the results of trauma. Take the time you need to get help and heal yourself. It may take some time. 

You are valuable. You are needed. You deserve to heal!




Five Ways to Heal your PTSD

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1) Strengthen your “mind muscle” through meditation or mindfulness practice. Meditation is not “making your mind go blank”; it is focusing and calming the mind. The mind is like unruly horses, once you are in control, you can direct the mind where you want it to go. Otherwise it runs away with you (and often into flashbacks). This is the single most powerful aid to healing PTSD.

2) Eat whole, nutrient-rich and easily digestible foods. Our digestion suffers tremendously when we are stressed. PTSD is whole body event that depletes our energy and nutrients. Cut back on sugars, caffeine and alcohol that tax the body and especially your adrenals.

3) Find ways to safely tell your story, even if it is in a journal or through art. Finding your narrative and being heard are immensely healing. 

4) Safely release held feelings. Crying is necessary, and sometimes so is shouting. Go fight with the ocean waves, run, hit a ball, or watch a sad movie. All are helpful. Holding intense feelings in becomes toxic over time. So release!

5) Learn to comfort yourself. You have been deeply wounded. It is OK to focus on yourself during this time of healing. Comfort is always healthy and never creates further problems. In other words drinking alcohol is not comforting but avoiding. True comfort involves activities like: being out in nature, taking a long hot bath, getting a foot massage, listening to your favorite music, redecorating your space etc. If you need to wrap up in a large blanket and stare off into space, that’s OK. Balance comfort with necessary activity.

I feel for you and your suffering. I hope this helps!




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