Victim Identity?

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

Are we motivated to cling to our status as trauma victim? Even if we call ourself a trauma survivor or even a trauma thriver, we are still focused on the trauma. Why is overcoming the effects of our trauma and functioning normally so difficult for us? Obviously there are many answers to this question including the fact that there are physiological changes in our brain due to the trauma. Unfortunately these changes contribute in a big way to our attitudes and behaviors. But, is there another factor operating here? Do we take at least some of our sense of identity from the fact that we have a history of trauma? How important to us is this sense of identity as a trauma victim? How big a role does it play in our overall sense of ourselves? What problems would it pose for us if we decided to give that up? Would we feel that we were not being true to ourselves?

If we could choose to give up our identity as a person with a history of trauma, would we feel like we were abandoning a part of ourself? [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Catastrophizing

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

Awhile back I went to the dermatologist because I was having a strange rash that was not responding to treatment. After examining it she said that I might have “Bullous Pemphigoid”. I’m guessing that most people have never heard of it. I never had. After the doc left the room I asked the nurse how to spell it. She said, “Now don’t go looking it up on the internet!” Yes, of-course, that is exactly what I did. Well, Bullous Pemphigoid is an autoimmune disease that is sometimes (rarely) fatal. I remember talking to my friend, John, and telling him about it and crying. I was dying…. Well, no, I wasn’t dying. I was Catastrophizing. It turns out that I’m allergic to Sudafed and was having a “focused drug reaction”, which I also never heard of. It’s really quite interesting, but that’s another story.

Catastrophizing can take many forms. It can be reading too much into what or how a doctor tells us about an illness. It can be assuming that our spouse or partner, because he or she gets home later than expected or otherwise behaves oddly, is having an affair. [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Anniversary Reactions

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

Generally we think of anniversaries as good things. They are times to remember and celebrate cherished events such as births, graduations, weddings, the start of a business or a career, or even the birth of a nation. However, other less pleasant events also have anniversaries. We remember these as well, but we don’t usually celebrate them. However, we may have some ritual that we observe to acknowledge the day, for example, taking flowers to the grave of a loved one.

An anniversary reaction is a very different thing. It is an unpleasant emotional response to a certain day or time of year. It is caused by one or more [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Reactivity

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

In PTSD, once we have been triggered, what follows may be termed reactivity. It is a combination of thoughts, emotions and physiological responses to the triggering. Being triggered and reacting is a very natural process. It is also a very primitive process. In PTSD, due to the fact that our higher brain functions shut down under stress, we tend often to react in very primitive ways. And of course this very frequently gets us into trouble. For example we may lash out and behave in a way that we really don’t want.

This reactivity is actually a reactive sequence. It is as if there is an alarm center in our brain. I picture it as a big empty room with monitors in the center and posters plastered all over the walls, ceiling and floor. At least for us with PTSD there are a lot of posters, maybe even filing cabinets full of them. These posters depict images of past traumas in great detail including sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical sensations. Watching the monitors are two big dumb guys that don’t have a lick of sense between them, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Triggers

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

A colleague who specializes in PTSD once told me that it was no use trying to learn what all ones triggers were because there are so many that we couldn’t possibly learn them all. His advice was to focus on other ways of dealing with PTSD. I think there is a lot of truth to what he says except for his conclusion that we shouldn’t try to learn our triggers. There are a lot of triggers and we couldn’t possibly ever learn them all. On the other hand the more we understand about our triggers, the better chance we have of heading them off. This same therapist on another occasion, told me that “all roads lead to Rome” meaning that we should be open to using any and all avenues available to us to gain our objective of overcoming the effects of our PTSD. Well one of those roads to Rome is learning our triggers. Okay! It’s not the royal road to recovery, but it is a help and as such should not be discarded.

So what is a trigger? A trigger is anything that reminds us, consciously or unconsciously, of some aspect of our trauma. Honestly, it could probably be almost anything. I tried to think of something that would never be a trigger for anyone. But [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Trust

by John C. Flanagan LCSW

I figure you should approach life like everybody’s your friend or nobody is. Don’t make much difference.
Kevin Kline as “Paden” in Silverado, 1985

Yes at the beginning of a relationship it doesn’t make much difference whether you think you trust the other person or you think you don’t. Either way is okay as long as you keep your own counsel and as long as you recognize that you are jumping to conclusions based on woefully inadequate information. At the start, you don’t know enough about the other person to decide whether or not to trust them, or more accurately to know how to trust them.

In thinking about the topic of trust there are several things to consider. What do we mean by trust? How does trust develop? How do we earn or build trust? How is trust lost? How is trust regained? Is it “blind trust” or are we really talking about something else? So often when I hear clients use the word “trust”, it feels like we need to stop and define our terms. One says, “I can’t trust him anymore.” Or, “I trust her completely.” I think it’s not as black and white as this makes it sound. It is foolish to totally trust or to totally mistrust. When we totally trust we [click to continue…]

{ Comments on this entry are closed }