Lost in the playback loop of horror

October 20, 2016 psychologyWriting  No comments

SPOILER ALERT: from this point on, I will be examining Running to Stand Still in-depth. If you haven’t read it yet and don’t want it spoiled for you, stop reading now.

On top of how prolonged trauma marks and defines Jamie’s life, the effects of trauma are brought again into sharp focus when she is attacked in the parking lot.

Some effects of trauma:

Loss of Self

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The Reorganization of Perception

Easily triggered
The stress hormones of traumatized people, in contrast, take much longer to return to baseline and spike quickly and disproportionately in response to mildly stressful stimuli.

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Depersonalization: blank stares and absent minds.

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Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own. The sensory fragments of memory intrude into the present, where they are literally relived. As long as the trauma is not resolved, the stress hormones that the body secretes to protect itself keep circulating, and the defensive movements and emotional responses keep getting replayed. 

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Flashbacks could be even worse. You never know when you will be assaulted by them again and you have no way of telling when they will stop.

When those areas [the right and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex] are deactivated [during a flashback], people lose their sense of time and become trapped in the moment, without a sense of past, present, or future.

During flashback, Broca’s area goes completely offline.

Without a functioning Broca’s area, you cannot put your thoughts and feelings into words.
You have no way of processing, and thus integrating, the trauma into your whole person narrative. It stays stuck, somehow outside of you and yet all of you at the same time. Brain activates as if the trauma were actually occurring presently, in real time.

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Breakdown of the Thalamus explains why trauma is primarily remembered not as a story, a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, but as isolated sensory imprints: images, sounds, and physical sensations that are accompanied by intense emotions, usually terror and helplessness.

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Blame and shame
One of the hardest things for traumatized people is to confront their shame about the way they behaved during a traumatic episode, whether it is objectively warranted (as in the commission of atrocities) or not (as in the case of a child who tries to placate her abuser).

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But if you can be an active participant in your rescue or escape, you will be less traumatized.
Almost all had in some way been trapped or immobilized, unable to take action to stave off the inevitable. Their fight/flight response had been thwarted, and the result was either extreme agitation or collapse.

Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scars.

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The body holds the response to the original trauma. To integrate trauma into your overarching life narrative, you have to feel what you’re feeling.

You can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.

Reliving a strong negative emotion causes significant changes in the brain areas that receive nerve signals from the muscles, gut, and skin—areas that are crucial for regulating basic bodily functions.

Knowing what we feel is the first step to knowing why we feel that way.

If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations—of you can trust them to give you accurate information—you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.

I begin the process by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies—not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations: pressure, heart, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on.

Trauma makes people feel like either some body else, or like no body. In order to overcome trauma, you need help to get back in touch with your body, with your Self. There is no question that language is essential: Our sense of Self depends on being able to organize our memories into a coherent whole.

The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind—of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves (1) finding a way to become calm and focused, (2) learning to maintain calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations that remind you of the past, (3) finding a way to be fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you, (4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.

As she gained ownership over her physical sensations, she also began to be able to tell the difference between past and present.

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All italicized quotes are direct from The Body Keeps the Score.
pgs. 46, 66, 16, 69, 43, 70, 13, 31, 55, 27, 95, 96, 96, 101, 247, 203-204, 131


Until next time, farewell & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity.

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