Healing Complex Trauma with SE

Healing Complex Developmental Trauma with SE
– Joel Decker, MFT, SEP

Complex trauma typically includes long-term difficult experience in relationship with a primary care-giver, as in neglect, abuse, or abandonment—though may include early repeating surgical procedures. Healing complex trauma with somatic experiencing will increase our awareness and practice of regulation through a safe enough environment. If there is neurobiological preoccupation with threat and safety than we will look for alternatives to regulate life’s ordinary frustration and stress, other than through intimacy with another, bypassing developmental milestones. The on-going traumatic experiences and neuro-plasticity of the developing child’s brain is what differentiates the complexity in developmental trauma from situational trauma.

To manage complex trauma, we may dissociate parts of our self, sinking qualities of our fullest expression of aliveness below the radar of awareness. For example, it kept us safe to put aside our emotional integrity, our defense of physical boundaries, our self-protective responses. Inhibiting authentic expression leaves us vulnerable to imagining the world though the eyes of being a victim. We expect the trauma to reoccur, the backlash of hostility, the assumed lack of respect for boundaries. The nervous system overwhelm at this depth of concern during early informative years may keep a rich part of ourselves stuck in a developmental freeze.

Focused on managing safety we may have denied our authentic self, our own needs and feelings. We may have discerned in this difficult environment that our differences, our needs, our rights and boundaries as a young animal where too much, even threatening, to our caregivers—perhaps due to their own traumas, and resulting easily enflamed irritability. Voicing our true selves may have been dangerous, leading to conflict and separation. (As a child separation is almost equally as dangerous, since we are dependent on others for our very survival.) So we allocated our energy to manage being in-between a rock and a hard place. We can’t rely on others to help, while unable to regulate the painful emotional states of losing a trusting safe relationship with a parent or care-giver on our own. This made being in a relationship feel like work. As this concern and anxiety is projected forward in life we find ourselves struggling with social anxiety and emotional triggers. We may find ourselves “regressing” emotionally as the ice begins to thaw, adding to the confusion for our ourselves and our partners.

As we enter into new relationships these dissociated parts may move to the forefront of our life again, asking to be renegotiated. It may be hard for us to tell the difference in a moment where someone we are in a relationship with is upset, and our early experience of an inappropriate upset parent, blaming us incorrectly for their own pain. When we are hurt, and feel trapped, and feel as if we have no choice, we fight back. Somatic Experiencing views anger as a self-protective impulse, the emotional integrity of our core being saying we have a right to exist. The anger is a better attempt to manage then to keep it inside, frozen in time. However, if the anger becomes chronic, reacting from the past yet unable to complete what it was wanting, not seeing that the present moment, the present relationship, actually has more choice than the earlier traumatic relationship, like asking for what we want, sensing into the options that we do have now in the present, we are left stuck. Somatic Experiencing helps us by “sensing into” these earlier traumatic patterns. Without this subtle body awareness we go on repeating, and can even bring about the very circumstance of our earlier difficult experience. Our out of control anger may bring about more anger from those around us, leaving us isolated, left to our own devices to manage, one again.

Completing these neurobiological responses to early traumatic circumstances through Somatic Experiencing opens up more choice and ways of relating that include intimacy with others. Allowing our whole self to be valued, respected, and honored—learning not to manage but to thrive in relationship. Conflict of differences can be seen as an opportunity for further creative solutions for collaboration, respect, and inclusion. Somatic Experiencing helps us differentiate the subtle internalized messages of past from present, to recognize the difference between when we didn’t have choice, and the choices available to us right now. Healing the attachment wounds from complex developmental trauma requires not only healing to occur in the sphere of a safe supportive relationship, but also in the sphere of the somatic experience, in the body. With somatic experiencing we include this relational element of respect, empathy, and acceptance, a consistent good enough presence affirming one’s rights, needs, and basic humanity, as well as working through the earlier dissociated, felt sense of relational overwhelm, allowing our whole self to be as we are, in all relationships, not just in the therapy office.

Contact Joel: 510-229-9765 Oakland Office

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